Anatomy Of A Storm
Disclaimer: Characters from "The Magnificent Seven" were used without permission, no copyright infringement is intended. I'm not making a profit, and I truly hope I don't burn in the eternal fires for writing slash. <g> I figure there are other, far more grave charges in my docket. Like the fact that I've never had a beta-reader, so any and all typos belong solely to me.
Author's Notes: This story was inspired by the freak storm that came through earlier this week, and to the $4400 in damage it caused to my car. Originally, I hadn't planned to write C/E, but Chris tends to assert his own will on these matters, and I would be a fool to ignore him. Oh, and I know that 'snug' is not a verb, it just plays one on TV.
Feedback: I will squeal with delight if you leave me feedback!
It was raining ice.
Ezra had seen something like this once before, in St. Louis, when the heavens opened up and pelted the earth with opalescent stones the size of marbles. That had been bad enough; this was worse.
Many were the size of a man's fist, well JD's perhaps, but large enough all the same, and hurled with the force of gunshots. It was loud. Alarmingly loud.
A spear of lightning tore the sky, startling, angry, the explosion of thunder that accompanied it scaring the few horses being pulled down the street by their battered owners. The wind couldn't pick a direction, howling and moaning between the buildings, rattling the shutters. Restless ghosts clanking their chains.
Ezra wondered if he shouldn't close the shutters. That, however, would mean opening a window to get at them, and he wasn't about to. Not for love or money.
Though if enough money were involved, admittedly, he'd be out on the roof naked.
A lone hapless tumbleweed was yanked into the air, buffeted about by gusty fists, and smashed against the front of the general store, its dingy yellow splinters carried away by water and wind.
Ezra snugged his robe tighter about his neck, almost in sympathy, and shivered.
Rain came as well, a pounding, unrelenting deluge from the turbulent clouds, slate-grey and oppressively low. It wasn't rain; it was a vertical ocean. The wall of clouds the outer reef, and the buildings the rocks upon which all things untethered broke themselves.
Waterfalls gushed from gutters to join the wider torrent below, surging on main street, deepening and swirling in the channels along the boardwalk, making perilous all travel by foot or horse. Ezra would not have been very surprised to see the Ark and all its animals float by.
He had never been so glad to have this room, for free nonetheless, small but warm and cozy, and nicely appointed he might add. His feather bed had never looked so tempting. But he didn't stray to it yet, being mesmerized by the violence outside, the fearful bursts of light, the answering explosions of thunder shaking the glazed windows, and the sound of a Gattling gun on the shingles. Galloping horses on the rooftop would have made less noise.
A shattering canon blast of thunder and Ezra ducked instinctively, his muscles tensing, his skin tingling with that rush of adrenaline always roused by sudden fear.
He shook his head, feeling ridiculous, but at the same time awed by such a violent force. Blackened sky split by wicked grins of light. The wind and rain and power of it all. Devastatingly beautiful. And deadly.
His hands were trembling and he stared at them in the lamplight, watching them shudder and finally go still.
Few things so stimulated him.
It was the precipitous edge of playing a con that very well might get him killed if he made a single misstep. It was the thrilling sensation of revealing that final winning hand in a high-stakes game of seven card stud at a table full of armed men.
Blood rushing, heart hammering, senses acute. Itching fingers and restive hands.
It was how it felt to stand near Chris Larabee.
Ezra had perceived this same reaction in plenty of men since he'd come to Four Corners. Eyes widen in fear and respect, men stacking their own worth against that of a legend, choosing whether to rush in as fools, or to take the advice of angels and tread elsewhere. So many men dying to know just how fast he really was. And some did - die to know.
Ice was drifting like snow in the horse troughs and along the sides of the buildings; the rain unabated, the thunder and lightning on top of one another now. Ezra let loose the curtain and turned away from the window. Enough watching for now. He could lie awake in the dark and listen to the storm, let it remind him to be thankful that his talents netted him enough to sip warm brandy and sleep in a feather bed. For a moment, he pitied those who were out in this mess, who had been caught unawares as the storm began. But just for a moment.
He pulled his linen nightshirt out of the bureau and laid it at the foot of the bed, perfunctorily smoothing its wrinkles even as he was about to put it on and sleep in it. Taking off his robe made him wish he had a fireplace in his room. These walls were not sturdy enough to keep out the cold or the searching fingers of the wind. A draft wafted through the room, elusive and taunting, the wind outside a mocking laugh at his failure to discover the source.
No matter, he would be bedded down and warm soon enough. He hung his robe in the closet and hooked an empty hanger on the closet doorknob as he slid his braces off his shoulders and unbuttoned his shirt. His onyx cufflinks and shirt studs he had removed earlier, along with his vest and shoulder holster and derringer rig. Each lay in their appointed places, guns within easy reach, onyx eyes blinking inside their mahogany box atop his bureau.
He shivered as bare skin met with the cool air, and he hung his shirt quickly, straightening it but not bothering to remove its collar. It was placed alongside the others in his closet, not as many as most people assumed. In truth, he didn't travel with or own as many possessions as was generally supposed, his chosen profession frequently necessitating swift departure from any given town. All he possessed could be packed within ten minutes, or left behind without much sense of loss were it imperative.
There was always another con, another game, another identity. Or, there had been.
It was not lost on him how long he had lived in this town, nor how uncomfortable it made him to think of leaving. He did think of leaving, often, but always gave himself an excuse, a reason to stay, another week, one more month, until the Judge no longer required his services. A dollar a day still didn't pay for his bullets, but anymore, he wasn't sure he could hang a price on the bullets he spent or the reasons why he spent them.
The lightning and thunder were further apart now, the blasts less ferocious though the ice continued to rain. Unbuttoning his trousers, he stepped out of them carefully, not letting them fall to the floor, and after a pause, hung them over the back of the chair beneath the window. His cotton drawers followed, and these he set aside to be washed the next time he had his laundry done.
Now he was really chilled, but he wanted one last look outside and crossed the floor to blow out the oil lamp beside the bed. In the dark, it seemed that the sounds of the storm were magnified, resounding, closing in, and Ezra glanced upward as if the ice missiles might actually puncture the ceiling like the gunfire they imitated. He drew back the curtain and stood naked in the eerie storm light, rubbing his arms to draw warmth to his flesh.
Main street was a muddy river, flowing fast, churning and carrying bits of debris. Indeed, the Ark would not appear out of place, nor would Moses, staff and all, if he needed to cross the street.
Just as Ezra turned to go to bed, he caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of his eye, paused, and stood, then, transfixed by the sight of a man riding heedlessly fast through the water and ice into town. His shape was hard to determine, bent as he was over his saddlehorn, collar pulled high around his face, falling ice buffeting horse and rider alike. Some poor bastard who didn't have sense enough to come in out of the rain, Ezra scoffed, shaking his head.
Just then a tremendous rift of light split the sky, and the answering thunder was so loud, so close, that Ezra put his hands to his ears, the horse in the street skidding to a halt and rearing in fright. It slipped, water rushing high against its legs, and fell back upon its haunches, teetering onto its side, threatening to crush its rider and trap him beneath it in the water. And for that brief flash of light illuminating the world, Ezra recognized the rider. Recognized the shock of blond hair revealed as the wind tossed a black hat into the water.
And then the head disappeared beneath the dark water and the light was extinguished.
Not for love or money Ezra heard himself repeat. The horse was up, skittering and neighing, tossing its head against the pelting onslaught, and then it was gone, and so was Ezra. Shirtless and bootless, he almost didn't worry with buttoning his pants before descending the back stairs, taking them two at a time, gripping the frozen railing to keep from killing himself with his reckless flight.
Nearly numb already, his feet sunk deep into the icy mud of the alley, frigid water swirling around his calves, and the shock was almost more than he could bear. He stood for a terrible moment, stricken, wheezing, pulling in painful lungfuls of air. Hailstones stung his skin, biting, bouncing off to be lost in the murky waters, and they propelled him to movement. The mud sucked at his feet, leeching between his toes, making each step an ordeal, a test of balance and strength of will. That strength kept him moving, hugging the side of the hotel as if it provided shelter, as if it provided anything more than a solid surface off of which the hail could ricochet.
Holding one naked arm and splayed hand before his face, Ezra stepped out into the street and was nearly overcome by the force of the water around his legs, treacherous eddies sweeping around the corner of the hotel and sucking debris beneath the boardwalk. He used the walk for purchase as long as he could before launching himself in the direction of the man in the street.
"Chris!" He could hardly hear himself shout, so he was surprised when the blond head came up and turned toward him. Surprised and relieved. "Chris!" His fingers were so numb he feared he wouldn't be able to bend them as he reached out to grasp a lapel.
Chris was dazed and kneeling in the water, shaking his head and coughing. He was drenched, soaked completely through, as was Ezra by this point, but Chris was heavily weighted down by his overcoat and jacket and guns, and the force of the mud gripping his legs.
They struggled for a long minute, Chris' hands sliding off of Ezra's bare arms, both of them flinching and cursing the hailstones, and in the end, they had to hold fast to one another, using each other for leverage as Chris stood, found footing, and they forged toward the boardwalk. Twice Chris nearly fell, his feet anchored in the mire, but his legs caught by the current, knees threatening to give. And twice Ezra held on, until they could flatten themselves against the side of the hotel, heaving and exhausted.
They continued as quickly as they could manage, not speaking, Ezra leading the way, one frozen hand still clinging to the front of Chris' duster, the other held above his head to ward off the attack from above. He no longer felt the hail, no longer registered where it smacked against his skin, his scalp; he was aware of nothing but the desperate struggle to get indoors, and of the man behind him touching his bare shoulder with an icy claw. When they finally reached the back steps, they practically crawled to the top, hands catching them as feet failed in their sole purpose to provide footing.
Once inside, they stood panting in the dark, shoulder to shoulder, and heard the thunder shake a final fist at them and their narrow escape.
"Come on," Ezra breathed, tugging on the coat yet in his hand, and Chris nodded.
Their feet slid on the hardwood, Ezra's too numb and Chris' too muddy to achieve more than an ungainly shuffle. Ezra let go of Chris long enough to open his door and usher him inside, where they stood, once again, panting in the pitch dark, and then he reached out, still feeling frantic, to grab some part of the man, needing to reassure himself that Chris was still alive.
Several wet coughs and Chris spoke. "Fucking horse." A few more deep breaths and then, "Shit." It was followed by loud chattering of teeth, and Ezra wasn't sure if he was hearing his or Chris'.
The relative warmth of the room made them practically convulse with cold. Ezra came belatedly to his senses and felt his way to the bed, fumbling for the table and the matches. He slipped the fluted chimney off the lamp and lit its wick, realizing that he could let the match burn to his fingertips and he wouldn't know it without looking. He couldn't tell he had fingertips without looking.
Turning, he started and gaped at Chris and the blood streaking his cheek, running down his neck.
"What?" Chris sounded angry, affronted, and his eyes took on the glare usually leveled at those foolish enough to even think of drawing on him.
"You're b-bl-leeding." Ezra pointed, and Chris lifted a hand, patting his head in general, obviously unable to feel where he'd been struck.
"Yeah, well," he shrugged after wiping his hand on his pants, "I'm al-also fr-freezing to d-death."
There was that. Ezra thought his skin might flay off he was shaking so hard. He couldn't even form the words to respond; his jaw was otherwise engaged. So he nodded, very small and rapid, and twirled a hand in the air at Chris, indicating that he should probably divest himself of his clothing before he either froze solid where he stood or caught pneumonia. Chris caught on and dropped his duster from his shoulders with a soggy thud.
Had Ezra not been so exhausted and so cold, the thought that Chris might very soon be standing naked in his room would have brought about the same results - breathless rigidity.
As it was, he simply snatched his robe off its hanger, flung it onto the bed, and then took down the spare quilt he kept in his closet. He knew he had no clothes that could fit Chris' taller, leaner frame, so he didn't bother looking. Socks or towels he could spare though, and on that thought he turned back into the room.
He paused then, looking at Chris, looking down at his own legs, looking back at Chris, and laughed. He didn't know why it was so funny, and obviously neither did Chris, who glanced up sharply, still angry, as only Chris could be. But they were both absolutely, completely, utterly filthy. Mud was caked on their pant legs up past their knees, acting almost like plaster of Paris by this point, turning Ezra's feet into solid bricks. He could almost not tell where Chris' trousers ended and his boots began. Add to that the sodden mess that was the rest of their collective clothing, the blood, and the fact that Chris' skin was almost blue - Ezra had to laugh to keep from crying.
So much for his pristine room.
Brandy, towels, socks, Chris isn't wearing a shirt. That was the order of his thoughts.
Chris was indeed not wearing a shirt, and Ezra knew his jaw would be hanging open if it weren't actively knocking his teeth together. Devastatingly beautiful. And deadly, he reminded himself sternly, blinking stupidly at the sight of all that pale, defined, revealed skin.
Freezing to death, his brain nudged him, and Ezra threw the quilt behind him onto the bed as he knelt at his bureau and opened the bottom drawer. All the towels he possessed joined the quilt and he stood stiffly, shivering and fumbling with the buttons on his trousers. Apparently Chris was having the same difficulties, and they looked at each other a moment, coming to the same conclusion that they needed to warm up a bit first before their fingers could function properly.
Ezra grabbed the quilt, the nice clean quilt, and without hesitation wrapped it around Chris' bare shoulders, rubbing and squeezing the length of his arms as he pulled the soft fabric around front. Their hands met trying to secure the quilt, and for some reason, Chris found that amusing. He quirked a grin, spearing Ezra with a glance that Ezra wasn't sure wasn't flirtatious.
All that darkness split by a wicked grin, Ezra's mind echoed loudly.
He dropped his hands and looked quickly away, trying to think of anything but the imagined possibilities of that smile.
His shivering kept him reasonably sane, under the circumstances, and he grabbed a towel. He had to use two, one for his feet and ankles, cleaning them as best he could, and one for the rest of him, soaked and tingling. Vigorous rubbing brought back much needed circulation in his arms and shoulders, and he refused to think about vigorously rubbing anything else.
Deadly, remember the deadly part, Ezra.
"What?" Ezra blinked and stared at Chris, who was staring quizzically back. Oh God, had he just spoken aloud?
"You said remember the deadly part."
Yes, evidently he had.
"I had forgotten how deadly these winter storms can be," Ezra recovered, gracefully, then placed a clean towel on the edge of his bed and bodily moved Chris to sit on it. He took another towel and began to dry Chris' hair, not thinking about it, just doing it. Chris hissed and snarled, his wound agitated, but Ezra ignored him, worried more for the wet and cold than the reasonably small slice in his notoriously hard head.
"Your feet," Ezra pointed, as if Chris might not be sure his feet were still below his ankles, "lift them."
Chris frowned, but obeyed, extending his legs so Ezra could remove his boots, barely recognizable as such. They came off with a soggy plop, Ezra's face grimacing as he placed the offending articles onto the towel pink with Chris' blood. So many ruined towels. He removed Chris' socks too and hissed through his teeth at the touch of the wrinkled skin.
It was peculiar, but instinctive, as Ezra took the left foot and tucked it under his arm, pressing it against his ribcage, Chris' toes jabbing him in the armpit. He held his breath at the shock, the foot so much colder even than he was, but that was the point. The other foot he held sandwiched between his hands and massaged, trying to get the blood to flow. After a time, he switched feet, tucked the right one and massaged the left, until he was satisfied that Chris was not going to catch frostbite.
Only as he set both feet on the floor did he raise his eyes, and was startled to find Chris watching him with the oddest expression on his chiseled face. Part humor, part curiosity, and something warmer, deeper, closer. Closer to affection than Ezra had ever seen.
He cleared his throat, standing, pretending to notice nothing other then his own cold, and turned from Chris to take up his robe and change out of his trousers. They were ruined, probably beyond any hope of laundering, and clung to him still. There was nothing for it but to peel them off, and he took comfort in the low light, inconstant and flickering, that Chris wouldn't be able to fully register the shriveling effects of the cold on his body. Oh well.
He slipped into his robe, a blessed haven of dry warmth, and threw the pants into a heap in the corner. A small sound turned him around, and he found Chris trying to hide laughter behind a fist. Face burning instantly hot, embarrassed, angered, Ezra clasped the robe tight in front of him and opened his mouth to speak.
Chris waved him off, grinning obnoxiously. "Your ass is as wrinkled as my feet are, Ezra."
It took several seconds for Ezra to realize that meant Chris had been staring, and he was once again thankful for the variable light masking his blush. "As I'm sure is yours, Mr. Larabee." He finished with a coy flick of a brow, securing the belt of his robe and folding his arms across his chest.
Chris shrugged, sobered. "Anything to drink?"
"Need you even inquire?" There was warmth in his green eyes, and he respectfully turned his back as Chris stood and let the quilt fall onto the bed.
Ezra's hands were trembling with more than cold as he retrieved the brandy and two mini snifters. There was the unmistakable sound of a gun belt being removed and hung on the bed post, then the sound of wet cloth being stripped down and stepped out of.
Naked. Chris Larabee was naked in his room. At night. Naked in his room on his bed at night. On his bed naked.
The ever circular sequence of thoughts twirled through his mind, and Ezra tried to corral them, to harness them before they ran wild. Of all impossible things, fate and weather had conspired to thrust this untenable situation at his feet.
He turned and nearly dropped the glasses to see Chris, unashamed, unselfconscious, standing in full view to wrap the quilt around his nude body.
"Lord have mercy," Ezra whispered, too late to prevent it, too loudly to avoid being heard, and Chris glanced up at him, worried momentarily that something was wrong.
"What? Am I bleeding again," he asked, fingering his scalp once again.
"N-no," Ezra stammered. He shut his eyes, swallowed, regained his composure. "I wish I had a fireplace. I am still most chilled." Then he added a false smile and walked easily to the bed, sitting down at the foot and extending a glass to Chris. Chris accepted it with a nod, and waited until Ezra had filled his own before raising it and holding Ezra's gaze intently.
"Thanks, Ezra." For much more than the drink was implied.
Ezra's eyes flirted with a smile, but he replied, casually, "Think nothing of it. Salud." The brandy went down hot and soothing, more refreshing than water had ever been on his thirstiest day.
"This is good." Chris said, surprised, turning his empty glass in his hand, then holding it out for more.
Ezra grinned, and poured another two fingers into the glass, stupidly happy to be sharing it with someone. To be sharing it with Chris.
After a minute's silent appreciation for the warmth of alcohol, and the fact that they were dry and alive, Ezra shifted to pull the corner of his quilt over his bare legs and cleared his throat again. "I was under the impression you were in Eagle Bend with Messrs. Tanner and Wilmington." He phrased it as a question, voice inflecting at the end, and Chris gave a wry chuckle.
"I was. Rode back early to check on things. Got caught in the open and rode like hell for town. Fucking horse," he cursed again, "Took off right for the livery, which is where I was headed anyway. I don't suppose I'll ever find my hat again." He downed his drink as if it were whiskey, and shuddered as it hit home.
"A small loss, all things considered." But the mention of Vin gave Ezra pause, and a brief fretful look stole across his face. "Poor Mr. Tanner. His wagon will be destroyed." He sipped his brandy, not over-worried by that realization, finding more humor in it than he should.
Chris snorted. "Hadn't thought of that. But yeah, I reckon so."
The wind outside had lessened some, the hail with it, the lightning and thunder further away. All that persisted was the rain, dreary, heavy, unyielding. But it was quieter now than it had been, and Ezra felt the need to break the silence, to keep talking before he fell victim to the intense gaze of the man on his bed.
Before he fell victim to his own foolishness and got himself shot.
"I saw something like this once, years ago in St. Louis. It rained ice pellets for an hour. These though," he gestured towards his window and the disaster outside, "I have never been witness to anything this destructive."
"Never seen a tornado then," replied Chris, matter of factly. Ezra shook his head, thinking all the same that he might know what one felt like, given the whirling in his mind and heart.
Chris was a vision, though he couldn't exactly say a vision of what. Something unapproachably beautiful, untamed and perilous as the sea, larger than life even sitting there wrapped in a quilt, hair hopelessly disheveled. But that was beautiful too. Fickle lamplight dancing on the angles of his face, giving highlights and shadows to his wheat blond hair, and making his eyes burn like coals.
Ezra was about to get lost in some long weepy metaphor about his eyes, when Chris asked, again, "What?"
Having no adequate response readily available, Ezra shook his head and finished his glass of brandy. He stood, needing to think about something else, but scuttled his own better sense, offering, "You may stay here this evening, if you like." He couldn't believe he said it, but where else was Chris supposed to go?
"I didn't think even you would throw me out, Ezra. Seeing as I've got no horse, no hat, and no clothes." Ezra ignored the jibe, nodding silently, his back still to Chris. "I'm not much for sleeping in those dresses you wear to bed, and I tend to thrash, so just elbow me if I get to tossing and turning too much."
Apparently, that settled the matter for Chris, and Ezra straightened stiffly as he heard Chris rise and blow out the light, plunging them into darkness, then forage beneath the bed covers for a comfortable position.
Terrifying. Perhaps he would be better off out in the rain, or in Vin's likely to be dismantled wagon. Ezra placed bottle and glass on the bureau, steeled himself, and returned to the bed, feeling for his nightshirt.
"This is not a dress," he retorted, tardily, and heard Chris snicker. Damn the man! For being out in the rain, for needing Ezra's help, for blithely climbing into his bed as if he had the right. Of all the places Ezra wanted him, this was the last - and the first.
"Well, are you coming or what?"
Ezra jumped, shaken out of his thoughts, and almost cursed. He folded his robe on the back of the chair, and forced himself to relax as he climbed into bed beside Chris. Beside Chris in bed. In bed. Naked. Damn his thoughts too, while he was at it.
There was shuffling, repositioning of bodies and covers, breathing in the dark. Ezra's senses were on high alert; he was so horribly aware of the man next to him that he thought he could hear Chris blinking.
Then he yelped. "You're feet are freezing!"
"Move over to your side of the bed then."
"This entire bed is mine, Mr. Larabee. Both sides of it."
"And it's real comfy. I can see why you hate leavin' it."
"You're feet are still freezing."
"And you're still warmer than I am."
Well, great, now that they had established that fact, Ezra could ascertain his view on world religion and politics and they would have nothing left to discuss. He sighed wearily.
"If this is such a fucking indisposition, Ezra, I can get dressed and sleep in the livery." Irritably he thrashed about, moving as though to stand, and Ezra reached out immediately to stop him.
His hand found skin. Much more skin than he had intended.
"Oh, Lord in heaven." Ezra withdrew his hand in an instant and nearly fell out of bed in his haste to retreat to its edge. "I'm-I'm most dreadfully sorry." But Chris was laughing, low and throaty, and it was nothing if not unsettling. "I truly apologize, Mr. Larabee, I was only attempting to reassure you that you are not an inconvenience and that I experience no hardship in putting you up for the evening." Oh God, could he have picked worse words to use? They tumbled ungracefully from his mouth, and Chris chuckled through them all.
"Shoot, Ez, you didn't take long enough to make it worth my while."
At that, Chris laughed out loud, shaking the entire bed, laughed until he was wheezing. "I'm gonna have to tell Buck that one," he croaked between laughs, "The day I best you with words."
"That'll be a cold day in hell."
"Or night," Chris said on a giggle.
"I am delighted that you find my mortification so amusing," Ezra drawled, distinctly annoyed. This was not funny.
"You gonna scoot back over?"
"I thought I was suiting you."
"Don't flatter yourself, Standish."
Pouting now, Ezra squirmed back towards the center of the bed, carefully avoiding any contact with his bedmate. Bedmate. Mating in bed. Everlasting curses be upon his agile mind. He huffed, and realized he shouldn't have, as Chris began that low chuckle again.
"You gonna behave?" Chris was teasing him, and Ezra balled his hands into fists.
"I always behave," he retorted haughtily, and at Chris' immediate snort, threatened, "But I might shove you out of this bed onto the floor!"
This time, Chris' answering laugh sounded like a challenge, and Ezra was hideously tempted to try, but he held back, and held silent. After a while, it seemed that even the wind and hail were going to sleep for the evening, and the only sound in the room was the steady cascade of gutter water and quiet breathing.
Ezra said nothing in response, perhaps pretending to be asleep, perhaps still feeling the sting of Chris' teasing. Definitely remembering the feel of something else. It was enough to drive him insane. So much skin so close. Just inches away. He could smell him, the wind and rain and leather and horseflesh, and those smells would be in that pillow for days.
He wanted to groan. He wanted to make Chris groan.
No, no, no, Ezra chastised himself, wondering how on earth he was ever to fall asleep like this, with these visions in his head, with the memory of Chris cock seared onto his palm. It had been perfect and... perfect... and unless it was his overactive imagination, more than half erect. This was a cold night in hell, and he was damned to spend it in bed with Chris Larabee. And his penis.
How that was punishment exactly, he couldn't work out, except that he couldn't touch, couldn't taste, couldn't have, and couldn't sleep.
He couldn't sleep for a long time.
Ezra was startled awake by the back of an arm landing across his face. He had his Remington in hand and cocked before he was even aware of where he was. Chris, however, was manifestly unaware, of everything but whatever dream had spurred him to flinging about, and was now as manifestly on Ezra's side of the bed. With his arm disturbingly draped across Ezra's torso, palm up, fingers still twitching in sleep.
Ezra wanted to shoot him for good measure. Exhaling slowly and releasing the hammer under his thumb, he put the gun back and gently lifted Chris' arm off of his chest. He laid the limb on the bed in the much narrower space between them, and then gave Chris a tentative nudge on the shoulder. Nothing. He nudged again, with a little more force. Still nothing.
He tried jostling the man, and all that yielded was a grunt and a slurred curse. That went well.
Ezra wasn't certain if Chris had been serious about the elbowing, but he didn't think he should try his luck. With Chris, the deck was always stacked against him. Part of the attraction, he supposed, though, as far as that was concerned, all of him was attractive.
Chris twitched again, but didn't thrash or roll around, so Ezra scooted as far to the edge as possible and turned on his side, facing out into the dark room. It smelled of mud and smoke and things mildewing. And it smelled of Chris, of warm flesh and musk.
The rain had stopped, and he wondered how long he had been asleep, wondered if Vin's wagon had survived at all. Wondered what would have happened if he hadn't been standing at the window engrossed in the fever of the storm.
It was worth it, then, his filthy room, braving the freezing rain, nearly getting himself killed. Always had been worth it, the times he'd scarcely cheated death - from the moment he turned his horse around and rode back to rescue the man from the displaced remnants of a Confederate army. Come to think of it, this was at least twice he'd saved Chris Larabee's life. At least. And that ought to count for something!
He yawned. Maybe Chris would be nicer to him from now on, maybe - if he stopped needling him. And maybe the moon was made of green cheese.
Ezra drifted back to sleep with a small smile on his face.
And awoke sometime later to much more than an arm.
Chris had followed him to the edge of the bed, and Ezra's only means of escape was to fall onto the floor. For escape he must, or give up and die right there. The entire length of Chris body was plastered along the entire length of his, knees bent, feet nuzzling one another, an arm encircling his waist, soft breaths behind his ear.
Ezra's nightshirt was hitched up much higher than it had been, high enough that he could feel the hairs of Chris' thighs tickling the backs of his. Shirt or not, nothing could have prevented his feeling the soft mound of Chris' genitals pressed neatly along the cleft of his backside.
Except a medieval suit of armor, perhaps. And even then, Ezra wasn't so sure.
This was the best worst moment of his life, and there had been many, good and bad. For a moment, just a moment, he let himself revel in it, wallow in it, luxuriate in the sensory overload of having Chris like that, all around him, everywhere, the smell and feel and steady breaths ruffling the hair at the nape of his neck. He leaned closer to the warmth, impossibly closer; there wasn't any space between them as it was.
The movement was enough, however; enough to stir Chris in his sleep, to cause him to move his hand on Ezra's stomach.
And that was enough to cause Ezra to go stiff. All of him.
He froze, silently begging Chris' hand to continue on its downward path, silently praying the opposite, hoping that Chris would not pick that instant to wake up even as his cock had so chosen to.
Oh God how he wanted it. The near touch was killing him, the dormant fingers so close - if he moved his hips maybe Chris would move his hand. This was madness. Ezra could feel himself begin to perspire from the strain and wondered if Chris could hear the blood rushing through his veins. He had to escape. He could roll slowly to the floor, find his clothes in the dark, and spend the rest of the evening in the saloon, after a brief visit to a nearby privy to take care of his now urgent erection.
As it turned out, he didn't need to move his hips at all. Chris mumbled something and moved, swept his hand down over Ezra's cock and across his thigh. It wasn't a caress, was more like a flail, but Ezra could no more prevent the tense moan that escaped him than he could hold back the rain. He snapped his mouth shut, grating his back teeth, hoping to Heaven that Chris' sudden tension was due to a dream.
Apparently not a dream then.
"Yes?" What could he possibly say to Chris at this point? Thank you, perhaps? He waited, and the waiting was terrible, the silence stretching intolerably between them.
But Chris wasn't moving, wasn't giving any indication that he was about to roll over to his side of the bed with an apology or a laugh or an angry threat. When he did move, it was the very last thing Ezra expected, with the wee part of his brain still functioning normally. A warm, calloused hand trailed up Ezra's thigh, starting on the outside above the knee and working its way inward, at the last second skirting his testicles to thread into his pubic hair and drive him insane.
"Ezra," Chris asked again, a whiskey burr right in Ezra's ear.
"Yes," he squeaked in response, not having the faintest notion of the question. He sincerely doubted Chris was asking for permission.
"That's what I thought," came the wry growl from behind, and Chris touched him. A single finger teased the underside of his cock, from base to tip, then paused to trace the defined corona, and back down again. "No hardship at all, hmmm?"
Ezra's eyed rolled back in their sockets and he bit his lower lip, reeling from the contact, the calloused fingers beginning to stroke his aching length. Soon the hand closed around him, and he was flying, falling, soaring, dying, probably dreaming, but it didn't matter.
"God yes," moaned out of his mouth as Chris worked his aching shaft with steady strokes. Not hurried, not rough, the touch was sure and smooth. Exploratory. Celestial. Every now and then a thumb would sweep over his crown, across the slit, and he would twitch, wanting to thrust hard into that hand, wanting to throw himself on top of Chris and he didn't know what. Everything. He wanted everything, yet nothing more than this.
His breathing was erratic, hitched, his left hand clutching his pillow in a death grip, his right hand covering his mouth. A strange thing happened then, almost out of context in his deranged mind. Chris shifted again, sliding his left arm beneath Ezra's neck, disengaging his hand from the pillow and holding it. He interlaced their fingers, his palm to the back of Ezra's hand, squeezing tight, and Ezra held on for dear life. Chris was as hard as he was by this point, and Ezra pushed his hips back, giving him something to rub against.
He was in Heaven.
The hand paused to tease his balls, then sped up its strokes, twisting and tugging, and Ezra came without sound, jerking, unable to control his hips, or seemingly the rest of his limbs. He felt split at the seams, shattered, his body taking a long time to come down.
Chris gave him a minute, then said, "Lift your leg."
Ezra didn't know if he could, but he did, raising it and settling it back down on the top of Chris', hiding his foot in the sheets. He hadn't been aware that Chris had simply caught his semen, had a whole handful of it, until he realized Chris was coating his own cock with it, slippery sticky sounds muffled beneath the covers.
A finger brushed across his anus, teeth closed around his earlobe, and Ezra moaned, "Please," with a little more desperation than necessary. Surely this had to be a dream then. He had expected Chris to hold his legs tight together, fucking him like that, anonymously, without asking. Truth be told, he hadn't expected any fucking whatsoever, nor the hand job, or the hand holding. The hand that was still being held.
Fingers probed this time, circling, pushing, breaching his ring of muscle, and Ezra sighed, long and happy. He was so relaxed already, and so willing, that it didn't take much preparation for Chris to withdraw his fingers and place the tip of his penis at the loosened opening. He squeezed Ezra's left hand and graced one shoulder with the merest of kisses as he pushed in.
Ezra tensed with the initial pain, remembering, ah yes there was pain involved, and Chris hesitated.
"You okay?" It was quiet, sincere, and he waited.
Didn't have to wait long as Ezra whispered, "Yes." It was tight and a little abrading, but only for a second or two.
More pushing, as purposeful and powerful as everything the man did, and Chris sighed when he was seated fully within. He held still for a couple breaths before he began to move.
It was brilliant the way Ezra had to shove back with every thrust, to keep from falling on the floor. There were definite benefits, then, to sleeping perched on the edge of the mattress. Chris' thrusts were long and steady, punctuated at the end, almost grinding, his grunts half muffled in the fabric of Ezra's nightshirt. He would rub Ezra's thumb occasionally, their hands still clasped, his arm still under Ezra's neck.
Of all things, Ezra never imagined it would be like this. Almost lovemaking. Personal and intimate. Quiet and fiercely intense - two more things that encapsulated Chris as a person, every bit as much as the temper and the arrogance and the ceaseless quest for justice.
Ezra arched his back slightly, parted his legs more, and they both groaned, Chris driving that much deeper. Ezra's cock wanted to wake up again, and quivered each time Chris stimulated him so expertly from within. Soon, the thrusts became slightly less calculated, harder and faster, and Chris bit into Ezra's shoulder to stifle the sound of his orgasm. Ezra squeezed around him hard, and Chris bit harder, snarling low as he emptied himself, hips shuddering and finally going still.
Afterwards they lay there awhile in silence, just breathing, Ezra cataloguing the moment, memorizing it for all future nights of his life. He wanted to whimper a protest as he felt Chris' cock slip from his body, yet Chris didn't withdraw the rest of himself. He lay as securely crushed to Ezra's back as he had been.
Outside it was still. Only the faint drip-drop of water from gutters and shingles testified to the fearsome storm that had raged, and was now gone. The room felt warm and smelled of sweat and sex and damp leather. Balmy post-coital lassitude settled in, and Ezra was almost asleep when Chris gave his hand one last squeeze and moved away.
Instantly, Ezra's back was cold. He didn't know if he should roll more fully onto the bed, acknowledge what had just happened, give Chris a goodnight kiss - so he did nothing, feeling stupid for doing nothing, feeling more stupid for feeling anything at all.
"You stay over there you're gonna fall off the bed."
Ezra took that as his cue to scoot over, an invitation of sorts, and he turned onto his back, straightening his night shirt down below his waistline once again. He knew he should say something, anything. "At least you're warm now," was not, perhaps, the most gracious, but it did make Chris laugh again.
"Yeah, I am that." There was a pause, the laughter dying away. "Been wanting to do that for a while now."
"But you hate me." Uppermost on his list of idiotic things to say, it slipped out anyway, sounding childish and bewildered. Better, easier for Ezra to finally say it in the dark, and given what had just happened.
"Not quite," was the odd reply, followed by, "Most days I want to either knock the shit out of you or fuck the shit out of you." Chris sighed, longsuffering. "But like I've said, I have to choose my fights carefully these days." He chuckled at himself then, sounding more self-conscious than amused.
Ezra could find absolutely nothing to say in response, so he whispered, "Okay," and assumed the discussion ended. He was too jaded and too cynical to hope that they would be doing this again any time soon, if ever. But it was a nice thought, the fact that Chris thought about this at all.
"Good night, Mr. Larabee." The quirky formality reestablished was directly nullified by Ezra's hand coming to roost shyly on the crest of Chris' hipbone. Chris laid his hand equally carefully on the bare wrist, stroking gently.
Mid-morning found Ezra sitting on the boardwalk, idly shuffling cards, watching the townsfolk mill about, assessing the damage, repairing broken windows and wood, collecting possessions that had floated away. The sky was a pale rain-washed blue, and the sun was lazy. Ezra leaned back in his chair, propping the heel of one boot on the toe of the other, acknowledging but not minding the faint breeze on the chilly air.
JD appeared round a corner, tromping the mud off his boots, and sat down uninvited. "That was some wild night, huh?"
The barest of smiled curled his lips, and Ezra replied, "Indeed."
Morning had been pretty wild too. Chris had awoken first, hands groping, finding, seizing, and Ezra's nightshirt had ended up rucked up under his armpits, Chris fucking him hard and fast. Ezra had been taken by surprise, loved it, and had come hard, gushing all over his stomach. Chris had grinned maniacally and had done his best to break the bed slats. But he had kissed Ezra quietly when it was over, twice, eyes open, lips soft. And had gotten dressed and left without another word passing between them.
"You seen Vin's wagon," JD asked, unaware that Ezra was floating on an updraft of memory.
"Not yet." He kept shuffling the cards in his hand, one-handed, gaze searching and latching onto the black figure walking up the street. It appeared that Chris had found his hat, and that made him smile.
"What do you think causes a storm like that, Ezra?"
A gold tooth flashed briefly, Ezra humming before responding. "There's no telling, son. But it was incredible." Truly.
"Never seen anything like it," JD commented, shaking his head and looking about.
"Indeed." Neither had he.
The wind and rain and power of it all.
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