Hidden Places, Forbidden Spaces
Author's Note: Birch Challenge Answer
Completed: January 2005
The crawlspace was low, dark, and filthy dirty. From the smell, something had died under here. Ragged pieces of crackling plastic overlapped on the ground below, protecting the house from moisture but making crawling over it difficult as the stuff shifted beneath their scrabbling hands and knees. Nathan and Ezra inched forward, breathing as shallowly as possible, side-by-side, each held a pistol in one hand and a small flashlight out to the side, in the other. Ezra's was bright, but Nathan's was dimming.
"Huh!" Jackson took in a short, quick breath, starting back at the long dark shape emerging from the gloom inches from his bloody knuckles.
"What?" Ezra hissed, leaning in, shoulder jostling shoulder as he aimed his flashlight in a tight arc in front of his partner. The brighter light shone on the full, discarded skin of a snake, glistening silver-white in the cone of brilliance.
Neither man said anything and Ezra's light joined Nathan's, back in a dance across the ground in front of them, and then out to the sides. Somewhere under here, one of the gunrunners had fled, leading the two ATF agents a chase through a quiet rundown suburban backwater. The rest of the team was back at the abandoned supermarket where the bust had gone down. Jackson had been covering the back and swung in behind Ezra when Standish came charging out, hot on the heels of one of their targets.
Two quiet, dark streets, three back yards, two of which had been fenced, and then the man had gone to earth. They had followed, belly down through the access doorway to the crawlspace of what looked to be an empty ranch-style house. Each had flipped open their portable flashlights, Ezra's was a halogen one on his key chain and it out-shone Nate's emergency light stick that had been hanging on his belt. Fumbling in the dark, lit only by their hopelessly inferior torches, the men moved cautiously, listening for any sign of the man they were after.
Nathan raised up unwisely onto his knees and smacked the top of his head into a substructure beam. He grabbed his skull, ducking back down onto his elbows with a soft grunt. Damn, that hurt!
"I'm fine, Ezra, just knocked my head on the overhead." Nathan spoke in a bare whisper, then smiled to himself at the concern in Standish's voice. Ezra could be a worrywart sometimes. He squirmed ahead, face screwed up in disgust at the greasy quality of the plastic, littered with dry grit and unidentifiable bits and pieces, some of which squished. He paused to wipe one inner wrist against his leg, his flashlight darting wildly as he did so.
Before him, a pistol cracked, fire spitting in the dark, the flash nearly blinding in intensity. Ghostly beams came to life above them, gray and black plastic littered ground tarp beneath them, darkness and rough wood lattice alternating with unfinished cement piers surrounded them in that brief flash of light. The sound of Ezra's answering fire made another flare of light. The first flash had been off center and arced away from them but Ezra's bullet flew true. Jackson fell back, squinting. "Ezra?"
The satisfaction in the tone had Nathan breathing out in relief. Then he grew cold at the thought of how close they had been to another ending. He shuddered. They cautiously approached their antagonist, separating with a light tap on each other's arm. Meeting over the corpse, Ezra frowned down at the body. He hadn't wanted to kill the man, but here in the darkness, pinpoint accuracy gave way to survival.
"Leave him." Nathan's voice sounded low, tired, and husky in the darkness. "We'll let the PD boys pick him up."
Ezra could hear Nathan shuffling around and then his noises began to move away. "Nathan, wait."
Standish wasn't sure why, but he didn't want to be left alone down here, not in the dank, closed space. He wiped at sticky cobwebs that clung to the hairs on his exposed forearm, where he'd raised it to cover his face during the shooting. He felt clammy and on edge. "Nathan?"
Ezra started in surprise at the warm breath in his ear. He turned his face towards Nathan and found his lips brushing his friend's cheek accidentally. They were that close. He began to push away but his back rolled next to the corpse, still warm and soft. He instantly reacted, jerking forward and right up against Nathan.
Nate felt the butterfly soft touch of Ezra's lips on his cheekbone for a brief second and then the man was moving away. Before Jackson could react to that, Ezra was practically flinging himself at Nathan. Who naturally caught him.
"Whoa!" He manhandled Standish back down to the ground, telling himself that he just wanted to calm him, he might be in shock. Small places did that to some folks. He had suspicions about Vin Tanner in that regard, could be Ezra was the same. Nathan felt like he was blathering in his head. He shook it in confusion. "Ezra? What's going on?"
Ezra didn't answer at first. He relaxed, feeling safe with Nathan's strong arm over his chest, holding him down. Somehow he'd not expected to feel that way. He brought up his free arm, holding the small flash and aimed it at his friend. Nathan shut his eyes at the light and Ezra studied the smooth, broad features, the generous mouth and slight tilt to the eyes. This close, he decided that Nathan was very attractive. Attractive?
Ezra dropped the flash and ignored it as it rolled away, lighting the back of the crumbling cement block support wall of the house above them. Leaning into the space between them, there in the near darkness of in-between, Ezra daringly found Nathan's lips and kissed them with his own. A quick touch and he drew back, and then, more slowly, touched again with questing lips and tongue tip. Nathan's lips were soft, dry, and gave beneath his curious tongue. His body just naturally followed, curling over to press against Nathan's. The medic's arm slid from a light hold on his chest to a curved clasp of his side and back, wide-splayed fingers pressing into Ezra's back, bringing them even closer together.
When Ezra finally drew back, unable to part without licking those warm lips again lightly, he found his own were smiling. "Nice."
For a moment, there was silence, then Nathan's other hand came up from under them to gently pat at Ezra's face, like a blind man seeking knowledge. Ezra raised his head, still smiling, to better meet that tender touch. Nathan shook his head, unable to hide his answering smile. "Very."
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