Getting What You Paid For
Crossover: Hercules: The Legendary Journeys
Ezra was sure they'd moved the town. He'd been riding for hours in this unbearable heat and some hateful miscreants had removed his return destination to Timbuktu. He was sure of it; as sure as he was of the tickling drops of sweat running down the back of his neck. There was no other explanation. He'd been riding in the right direction for the prescribed length of time and yet, no town. Maybe Mary Travis had talked the rest of population into upping stakes to a more congenial locale. Ezra sighed and looked back to the desert stretching out behind him. Warner's Cove was definitely back there but he had no intentions of returning to that municipality while he was sane and breathing since retracing his steps would mean the loss of both. No, he turned back around in his saddle, he'd just ride on through the heat until his horse keeled over and they both perished in the desert, unmissed, unmourned, un--
His horse suddenly snorted, getting up on his toes to perform an agitated two-step that signified that no, he wasn't at death's door but there was something rather dangerous ahead.
Patting his horse's tense neck, Ezra studied the horizon, trying to pick out any obvious dangers but, after a moment, his horse soon settled again. Concluding that his mount just took a dislike to a particularly odd shaped bush or two, Ezra settled back into his depressing reverie.
By the time they were passing the thick patch of tangled bush that had been looming up on their left for quite some time, Ezra knew he was almost home and had almost forgotten about his horse's previous nervousness. This time, it was his turn to start when a huge patch of sandy-yellow fur moved out of the shade of the bushes towards him. On second thought, Ezra realised that the creature was not some kind of massive mountain lion eager to devour his flesh. Unfortunately, his first thought was to shoot at it before if got too close.
However, upon hearing a bullet whiz past its floppy ear, the largest dog Ezra had ever seen didn't run off as any sane animal would do; instead, it plonked its bulky rear down on the sandy ground and panted up at him rather cheerily.
"Pleased to meet you too." Ezra frowned down at the dog before scanning the surrounding bushes. "Forgive me for saying so, but you don't look like a stray who has missed his meals so I have to assume that your owner is around here somewhere. Hello?" he called into the bushes. "Your dog's over here startling unwitting travellers."
The following silence was broken only by the dog panting and his horse snorting impatiently.
"Well, I suppose you're right." Ezra patted his horse's neck. "We'd best get going. But what should we do with our new found friend?"
The dog continued to watch him brightly.
"He does look like something of a pugilist," Ezra continued, studying the long, strong legs and thick, well-muscled body. "Although I doubt he'll ever win any beauty contests," he added as his attention came to rest on the floppy, black daubed face. "On the other hand," he went on while cautiously dismounting and approaching the dog. "Such an unusual creature must be worth its substantial weight in gold to someone." He reached out carefully to pet the dog's head. Even sitting, the animal was huge and snuffled at Ezra's watch chain with ease. "Ah, that's enough, thank you." Ezra pushed the soggy face away from him and caught sight of something unusual on the inside of the dog's ear. "Graegus?" He squinted at the tattoo. "You're name is Graegus?" The dog inclined his head in a manner Ezra took to be an affirmative. "All right then, let's get back to town, Graegus," he said as he mounted his horse. "I doubt your owner really is Ares God Of War as your tattoo states, but you do look like a hellhound, I'll give you that. Either way, your owner should turn up in the nearest town eventually if he's looking for you and that's this way." He nodded ahead then gigged his horse on before turning back to see the dog stand up, give itself a vigorous shake, then follow with a merry, waggling swagger.
By the time they reached the outskirts of town, Graegus had taken up the lead and trotted on as if he owned the place. Everything and everyone that passed got a generous snuffle from his soggy nose and not one of them complained even if they looked like they wanted to. Even the sassier of the town dogs made a sharp exit at Graegus' approach -- not that Ezra blamed them.
"What on earth is that?" Buck grinned as he came out of the saloon to find Ezra standing by the water trough while his horse and Graegus drank.
"Why it's a dog, Mr Wilmington, what does it look like?"
"A damn bear!" Buck returned just as JD came out of the batwings behind him.
"Wow! A Masti!" JD called, wasting no time in stepping over to Graegus and giving him a friendly pat. "Damn, he's a big one. Where did you get him, Ezra?" he asked, ignoring Buck's warning about the dog biting his head off.
"I take it from your comments that you're familiar with this breed, JD?"
"Sure, they had them back on the estate."
"Then, in that case, I also assume that such a dog would have some monetary value attached to it?"
"If you mean they're worth money, yeah." JD nodded. "I've never seen one this big before but he's a Mastiff all right. And they've got a good temperament, Buck. Most of the big dogs on the estate did. It was the lapdogs you had to watch out for."
"And just how much would these Mastiffs on your old estate, sell for, JD?" Ezra asked with a smile.
Chris had a crick in his back that wouldn't go away. Consequently, he had been thinking on Ezra's clever fingers soothing that knot away -- then going on to tend to other things -- for most of the day. For this reason, it was with no little anticipation that he made his way up the back steps of the saloon to Ezra's room.
It wasn't until he had his fingers on the door handle and was just about to enter the room that he heard the odd cursing and struggling noises coming from within. With a frown, he slowly opened the door to find Ezra naked and sweating on top of a heap of twisted bedclothes, desperately trying to shove the biggest, most ugly, most yellow dog Chris had ever seen off his feather mattress onto the floor.
"Listen, you brute," Ezra panted, oblivious to Chris' presence. "I only share my bed with one other and that is most definitely not you. Now get off!" He gave an almighty push and the massive dog plopped off the bed to thud solidly onto the floor with a muffled snorting, snore.
While Ezra scowled down at the furry lump that had offended him so, Chris walked into the room and shut the door loud enough to startle him.
"Finally," Ezra sighed at Chris. "I thought I was going to have to deal with the hound from hell all night alone."
"It's still asleep?" Chris moved around to look curiously down at the gently snoring dog.
"If he wasn't asleep, I'd never have gotten him off the damn bed," Ezra returned before flopping back on the mattress with an exhausted groan. "No dog, and I use the term advisedly, can be worth this torture."
"Buck told me JD thought it was worth a few hundred." Chris nodded with a smirk while starting to undress. "Turning out to be more than a handful?"
"Ha," Ezra returned, glaring at the ceiling. "More than a handful would be a distinct improvement on our evilly malodorous friend here."
"I don't smell anything," Chris replied, toeing out of his boots.
"Wait," Ezra said, ominously low.
"Why don't you just put him outside?" Chris asked shimmying free of his remaining clothing and climbing onto the bed beside Ezra. "Ain't no one going to steal him."
"While that was my chief concern once upon a time, I now find myself praying for the kind of thief that makes off with snoring monster mutts. However, any burglar with any sense would quickly realise that the creature is completely uncontrollable and return him post haste."
"That bad?" Chris asked as he mouthed along Ezra's collarbone.
"Worse," Ezra growled. "I suppose Buck told you about the disaster in the livery stable? They still can't find Mr Santos' mule. I'd have my suspicions about that if it wasn't for the fifteen dollars worth of steak the brute ate."
"Least he doesn't snore loud," Chris murmured while moving over to take Ezra's mouth in a teasing, lingering kiss. Just as Ezra began to relax and respond, pressing his body needfully up towards Chris, an almighty growling, sawing, snoring noise that sounded like the Heavens themselves rupturing began vibrating along the floor and up the walls until the bed started quivering beneath them.
Ezra went limp, his eyes screwing shut in denial. Cautiously, Chris ventured to the edge of the bed to glare down at the dog. The animal seemed to be sleeping peacefully.
"C'mon," he tugged Ezra up into a reluctant sitting position. "We're leaving."
"But wha--" Ezra broke off as Chris threw his clothes at him. "What about the dog?" he finished, already pulling on his shirt.
"Like you said, ain't no one going to steal him," Chris replied, shrugging into his own shirt.
The morning sun was still pale and new and the town was just beginning to stir when Ezra made his weary way up the back steps of the saloon to his room. Spending the night with Chris at his cabin may not have been particularly conducive to sleep, but the little aches that still pervaded his body only served to remind him that he would have to repeat the exercise as soon as possible. How Chris had managed to--
Ezra's train of thought hit a brick wall and he froze at the sight of his room door hanging wide open on cracked hinges. Noting that the door's lock had been violently mangled, he pulled his pistol before edging carefully into the room. "Oh, hell," he cursed when it became apparent that Graegus, as well as any chance of getting his deposit back on his bedroom furniture, had well and truly gone.
Wasting no time, he dashed back out of the room to rattle down the stairs at top speed before hitting the street at a run, searching for signs of the trail of destruction that was undoubtedly in progress somewhere. When no signs of a doggy instigated disaster made themselves obvious, he headed over to the jail in case Buck had somehow managed to apprehend the villain during the night.
"Buck," he said distractedly as he winged into the jail, still checking the street over his shoulder. "Have you by any chance seen the--" He stopped talking abruptly upon realising that Buck was a) not alone, and b) making frantic shut up gestures behind the backs of the two men who had turned to face Ezra's arrival. "Good morning, gentleman." Ezra smiled at the two tall, very well-built, very handsome men who filled out their exquisitely tailored clothes perfectly. In fact, Ezra would have pegged them as escapees from Fugleman's Fashion catalogue if it weren't for the air of seductive menace that seemed to flow from the slightly taller, black-clad one on the left. As much as Ezra tried to look away from this menacing stranger's dark gaze, he could only get his attention to dance briefly over the man's neatly sculpted beard and wavy black hair before being hopelessly drawn back to that hypnotic gaze.
"Are you the m--" the stranger in black began in deep, velvety tones but was cut off with an elbow in the ribs from the stranger in blue. "I mean," the black-clad one began again with a growl, "Are you the guy who st--" Another elbow. "I mean, found--" He spared a glare for his reddish-haired companion before continuing, "My dog yesterday? He's a big, yellow--"
"Ugly, lazy, smelly, lump of furry irritation that eats anything and snores like your own personal, under bed thunderstorm," the blue-clad stranger finished then added, "That's when you can get him off the mattress."
"His name's Graegus," the dark one added but Ezra had focused his attention on the blue-clad gentleman and fully intended on keeping it there. Even though the reddish-haired stranger was not quite as strikingly handsome as his friend, he didn't have that dangerous air. Instead of a dark gaze set in a forebodingly beautiful face, this man had warm brown eyes and a clean-shaven, expressive face with a temptingly lush bottom lip he seemed to be in the habit of chewing when his companion vexed him. Such as now.
"And I'm Iphicles Corinth," he released his bottom lip to say before glancing at his companion. "And this is Ares..."
There was a long silence in which his friend merely raised one eloquent eyebrow as if daring him to go on.
"The God of War?" Ezra asked with a grin, offering his hand. "Ezra Standish." He shook hands with Mr Corinth but Ares, god or not, folded his arms and looked even more intimidating.
"Look, we haven't got all day, m-- Mr Standish," Ares said low. "Either you know where my dog is or you don't. Which is it?"
Ezra looked between the two men at Buck, who merely shrugged then went back to the dime novel he was pretending to read. "Well, gentleman," Ezra began, focussing his attention mainly on Mr Corinth. "There's good news and there's bad news..."
"Josiah, please tell me you either have a large, yellow hound lurking on your premises or at least know of where I can locate one?" Ezra asked tiredly, his boots thumping dramatically on the church floor as he walked up the centre aisle to where Josiah knelt varnishing a chair that had definitely seen better days.
"Lose something, Ezra?" Josiah asked, amused.
"Misplaced," Ezra corrected with a rueful smile then glanced back at the doorway just as Messrs Ares and Corinth entered the church, frowning around as if they'd never seen one before. "Misplaced all over town, that is," he added quietly. "And I get the distinct impression that my new found friends are losing their patience. Well, one in particular," he continued before grinning and nodding at Ares in particular.
"Let me guess," Josiah said as he stood, wiping his hands on a varnish-stained cloth. "It's the dark gentleman with the devil in his eye that's concerning on you?"
"He's the one." Ezra smiled painfully. "If I don't discover the whereabouts of his canine in the near future, I doubt I'll be having much of one. A future that is."
"Let me have a word." Josiah nodded stepping forwards.
"Good luck," Ezra replied, stepping back to give Josiah a clear field.
"Gentleman," Josiah greeted as he approached them. "This church is open to everyone, all faiths are welcome here. Is there anything I can do for you?"
While Mr Corinth smirked and turned away, Ares narrowed his gaze before saying low, "You're a priest?"
"I was a priest." Josiah nodded. "Now I'm just a man trying to do God's work as I see it."
"Can your god find my dog?"
"Well, if he's meant to be found," Josiah replied admirably evenly. "I take it you've tried the favourite canine haunts of the parish? Round the back of the livery, the vacant lot next to restaurant, the creek, the--"
"There's a river nearby?" Ares asked, moving in close.
Josiah nodded slightly.
"Does it have any eels?"
Josiah shook his head a little as Ares moved seductively nearer. "No, but it has fish and there's sometimes rattlesnakes up on the rocks," he said hoarsely.
Ares nodded, stepping back before striding out the church without another word, his companion close behind.
"Well done, my friend!" Ezra cheered, moving up to pat Josiah on one broad shoulder. "If nothing else, you've bought me some invaluable time with which to formulate a contingency plan." He grinned his thanks before giving chase to his would-be benefactors, leaving Josiah standing there frowning, rubbing his temples as if trying to shake off a bout of dizziness.
The ride out to the creek was short and uneventful, despite the fact that the large, black mare Messrs Ares and Corinth shared attempted to take a bite out of Ezra's horse or, failing that, Ezra himself at any given opportunity. After securing his mount in the shade, out of reach of the mean-spirited mare, Ezra walked over to where the other two gentlemen were looking up and down the visible length of the creek.
"Can't see him," Mr Corinth said rather moodily for some reason Ezra couldn't determine.
"He's probably up there eating snakes," Ares said, squinting up at the high rocks on the opposite bank. Just as Ezra was about to question this possibility, Ares yelled loud enough to wake the rocks themselves, "GET OVER HERE, MUTTFACE!"
The tremendous echo hadn't even faded before a blur of furry yellow Ezra took to be Graegus appeared over the top rocks and hurled itself some twenty-odd feet down into the river with a muffled yowl of glee.
"Good Lord!" Ezra almost yelped in surprise at the huge splash but neither Ares or Mr Corinth seemed to be perturbed by this turn of events -- even if Mr Corinth was edging warily back from the creek's edge.
All became clear when Graegus' large, domed head broke the water surface a moment later and he swam strongly towards the bank with what looked like a good length of thick-bodied rattlesnake clamped firmly between his jaws. Realising what was in store, Ezra backed off a few judicious steps before Graegus hauled his sopping wet mass onto the bank for a shake that splattered the surrounding area with water, dog drool and the odd spot of reptile blood.
"Don't even think about it," Ares warned as his dog came bounding merrily up to him. When Graegus took the hint and plonked his ample rear down on his madly wagging tail just in front of his owner, Ares reached out and rubbed his floppy ears, murmuring something about 'daddy's ugly boy' that was clearly only meant for the dog's ears. "Either eat that or leave it here," Ares then continued sternly, but Graegus still looked up at him with an adoring gaze.
"And don't even think about giving it to me," Mr Corinth called over from where he stood adjusting their horse's saddle. "I've had enough half-eaten bits of animal dumped on me," he added to the mare who looked back at him without malice.
"Ah, I take it all is well then, Mr... Ares? You have your fine canine back and equilibrium has been restored, yes?" Ezra asked, keeping Ares between himself and Graegus, who was still sitting with the rattler in his mouth, beating the ground to death with his tail.
Ares turned on Ezra with a calculating smile that would have sent warning bells off if it weren't so damned attractive. "Oh, I'd say so," he said smoothly.
"So," Ezra went on with an encouraging nod. "I recall talk of a reward on our ride over here?"
"Yes." Ares' smile widened until Ezra could pick out his dimples. "What was your name again?" he asked, moving in close.
For some reason, Ezra's heart had the poor judgement to start hammering in his throat just at the moment so he could hardly get any words out around it. "Eh-Ezra," he choked.
"Well, Ezra," Ares continued in a butter soft, liquid sex voice that sent hot bolts of arousal down Ezra's spine. "What kind of reward did you have in mind?"
"I-I--" Ezra blinked rapidly, the difficult task of answering any question posed in that tone from those lips suddenly made impossible by the brush of strong fingers caressing down his cheek.
"Hold that thought," Ares almost whispered before easing Ezra into a full-bodied kissing embrace that almost had him coming where he stood.
When Ares finally released him with a wicked grin, Ezra's ears were ringing, his breath was coming in laboured gasps and his body felt as if it was on fire.
Rooted to the spot, he watched Ares stride away towards Mr Corinth and mount their mare. Through the buzzing in his ears, he heard Mr Corinth demand, "Did you ever meet a pretty mortal you didn't like?" as he climbed up behind. "That's the last time I fall for the old I-can't-find-Graegus-because-of-the-time-distortion-field-so-let's-get-this-mortal-to-find-him-for-us trick."
"Yeah, whatever," Ares sighed, turning their mare away.
"I mean it," Mr Corinth insisted as they rode off. "Usually I put up with your need to fuck anything with a pulse but not on this trip, Ares. You wanted him the moment you laid eyes on him, admit it."
"Laid being the operative word," Ares returned but the rest of the conversation was lost on the morning breeze.
Still feeling rather hot under the collar, Ezra was just about to turn his attention to the swift moving water and some much needed relief, when something heavy slapped wetly against his boots. Looking down, he found he didn't have the energy to jump in disgusted shock at he sight of a decapitated rattlesnake resting over his feet. Instead of being pointlessly alarmed, he just looked up tiredly into Graegus' bright expression.
He didn't know dogs could grin like that.
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