Letting Off Steam
"You're pure mean, Larabee," the muleskinner growled. "My boy was only having some fun with his friends. He didn't deserve that."
"Sixteen years old ain't no boy to me," Chris replied low. "Your son was old enough to break the law, mister, so he's old enough to face the consequences," Chris said with finality, settling further back into his chair on the jail boardwalk. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the muleskinner and his two surly looking friends, but kept his gaze on the swirling dust devils moving lazily down the street.
"Seems to me your boy needed that lesson," Josiah said as he came to stand in the jail doorway. "He learned it. No harm done."
"No harm!" the muleskinner spluttered. "He humiliated my boy in front of his friends. He forced him to--" the man broke off as Chris stood up to meet his gaze.
"Your boy's lucky no one got hurt," Chris said, deadly soft. "That's the end of it."
The muleskinner blinked and worked his jaw but then backed off without another word. As the cowed man and his friends grumbled their way back up the street, Chris settled down in his chair once more.
"You know, Chris," Josiah sighed, "as much as I agree with a hard lesson when justified, what you did to that boy was pretty damn mean."
"He'll get over it," Chris said to the swirling devils and Josiah went back inside with a grunt.
"Larabee, Larabee, wherefore art thou, Larabee?" Ezra grinned as he walked up the street to the foot of the boardwalk steps, looking perfectly turned out in his scarlet coat and gambler's trappings. Ignoring Chris' warning scowl, he went on brightly, "You certainly are the talk of the town this morning, my fine, fearless, felon-seeking friend. Why, I doubt that young muleskinner will ever be able to look his catapult, or indeed his friends, in the eye again."
Paying no heed to Ezra's baiting, Chris turned his attention to the stray dog skulking along the boardwalk towards him. As strays went, it was an unremarkable one of medium size with long, skinny legs and a matted grey coat. He usually spared it some time because it reminded him of Reb, Adam's first dog, but, on the whole, it was a mangy, bad-tempered animal.
Typically, Ezra went on without missing a beat. The man needed no audience other than himself. "While we all realise that public safety was at the heart of your decisive if rather surprising solution to the hazard this young man posed, I have found that the general consensus in our happy hamlet is that forcing the boy to ingest his own ammunition was a tad... how did they so colourfully put it? Oh yes, 'gila monster skinning, rattler eating mean'."
"Those ball bearings could have been as lethal as a bullet and they know it," Chris said evenly.
"Ah, an excellent point, and one I made in your favour before Mister Wilmington informed the gathered assembly that any wayward shootists best watch out in case you decided to make a habit of force-feeding men their ammunition." Ezra walked up the steps to lean against the rail post then take off his hat and brush off some dust. "All in all, your impromptu lesson in the proper town etiquette for young men wielding catapults made for an amusing if rather fable-esque anecdote for Mrs Travis' publication." He smiled only to scowl a moment later when the stray came up to rest its head on Chris' knee. "Oh, please." Ezra winced as Chris rubbed the dog's ragged left ear. "You do realise that it probably has fleas, lice, and all manner of wildlife infesting its fur -- and I use the term loosely."
"Ain't you never had fleas before, Ezra?" Chris smirked. "Never shared a bed before?"
Ezra blinked back at Chris before glancing at the open jail doorway and clearing his throat. "I'm sorry to say that not even a gentleman such as myself can traverse this country for any length of time without falling victim to some form of parasite, human or otherwise. However, Mister Larabee, courting their attentions is something I have learned to avoid."
"You don't like courtin', Ezra?" Chris continued to rub the dog's ears.
With a glower at the growling stray, Ezra moved closer, lowering his voice, "You do realise that your current course of action will have its consequences?"
"Fine." Ezra moved away, clearing his throat. "Fine," he repeated just as Buck came up the boardwalk loudly announcing that something he was railing against 'made as much sense as squatting with your spurs on'.
Chris ached. There was nothing he'd have liked better than a long, hot bath, but the bathhouse had long since closed its doors and he was too tired to head back to town in any case. After settling his gelding in the corral by the side of his cabin, he dully turned for the long walk to bed. Maybe there was a kernel of truth in Vin's mocking after all; maybe he was getting too old to chase straying sheep all over--
He stopped dead in his tracks, staring at the thick smoke swirling up from under the cabin door. Cursing, he turned back to the water trough, grabbing the nearby bucket and filling it before charging into the cabin.
The sight that greeted Chris as he burst in, snarling with his bucket at the ready, was not what he had been expecting. However, looking back on it, it was exactly what he should have been expecting, inexplicable cabin combustion aside.
Standing in the middle of the main room, shirtsleeves rolled up as he emptied the contents of a steaming bucket into a very hot, very full copper bathtub, Ezra greeted him with a smile. "Ah, Mister Larabee, I see you have brought the other bucket in with you. Thank you." He rubbed his damp brow on his forearm. "If you could just pop it down over there, I'll be with you presently."
"Ezra, what the hell are you doing here?" Chris dropped the bucket unceremoniously on the floor.
"Making you up a nice hot bath." Ezra grinned. "A task that looks a lot easier than it is, I assure you," he added ruefully before turning to fidget around with some brown paper wrappings. "If you mean how I arrived, with the bathtub, of course."
Chris eyed the tub. It looked suspiciously like the ones in the bathhouse, right down to the compartment underneath where the coals to kept the water warm, only this one was bigger and had little seashells imprinted along the edges. "That's not my tub," Chris pointed out grouchily but could already feel the steam relaxing his sore muscles.
"It is now," Ezra replied sunnily, "courtesy of a Mister Bagshaw from Philadelphia."
"Hope you got more than a tub for your trouble," Chris said, shrugging out of his coat and letting it drop to the floor as he toed out of his boots.
"I assure you, the evening will be well worth my while," Ezra murmured to the water while pouring a fine white powder into the bath, distracting Chris from his words.
"What was that?"
"Soap," Ezra answered simply.
"Didn't look like soap," Chris returned suspiciously but continued to strip, unbuckling his gun belt and hanging it over the back of a nearby chair before pulling his shirt over his head and moving over to take a closer look at the bath and its foaming surface. "It stinks like a whore's parlour."
Ezra met Chris' unflinching gaze with a hard look of his own. "Well, as much as I hate to disagree with a specialist in his area of expertise, I assure you that your common or garden prostitute couldn't afford anything of the kind. Now, if you'd care to peel off your remaining garments, we'll get started." He turned away to tend to the fire in the stove, muttering something.
"You're not burning my clothes," Chris warned as he got naked then climbed into the bath. Damn it was hot! "Don't even think about it," he breathed out, breaking into a sweat as he sank deeper into the steaming water. He closed his eyes, luxuriating in the feel of the water burning and soothing him, lapping teasingly at his nipples. This was exactly what he needed. He should have bought his own proper tub months ago. How come it took Ezra to figure out how much he needed this?
He had no idea how long he'd been relaxing there with his eyes shut but when he opened them again, the steam was still rising and Ezra was crouched by the side of the bath, his forearms folded on the rim, pillowing his cheek while he watched Chris with a soft, green gaze.
"Good?" Ezra asked, eyes flicking away to watch his fingers wriggle in the water. "Not too hot, I trust?"
"Perfect." Chris leaned forward, closing in for a kiss, but Ezra moved away, standing up and moving behind him.
"So, as many have often wondered, what colour is your hair, Chris Larabee?" Ezra enquired lightly before pouring a cupful of warm water over Chris' head. "Care to take a wager? Is there a strawberry blond somewhere in there?" he continued while Chris sat very still, not saying a word until Ezra began to wash his hair as if he had a blood vendetta against it.
"Ezra!" he snarled, pulling away to glare and ending up getting soap in his eyes.
"I'm not going near that hair until I'm satisfied it's free of any unwelcome guests." Ezra beckoned him back. "Come along, it won't take long."
"I can wash my own damn hair," Chris snapped back then did just that. Sure enough, Ezra directed his efforts until he was completely satisfied, but it wasn't long before Chris was sinking down into the water, relaxing again. "You coming in?" he asked sleepily as Ezra settled down by the side of the tub again.
Ezra shook his head slightly then reached out to finger along Chris' nearest shoulder then down his chest to a nipple. "I like this view."
"You just want to watch?"
"No." Ezra grinned mischievously, his hand stroking further down Chris' body, making his stomach muscles tighten in anticipation and his cock stir in its eagerness to meet Ezra's clever fingers.
"You've done this before," Chris said with a slow smile.
"No," Ezra responded, his fingers brushing Chris' rapidly hardening cock. "I just have a very vivid imagination." His fingers tightened, squeezing and stroking.
"You've given this a lot of thought?" Chris asked, leaning forwards to find Ezra's mouth for a torturously slow, world-consuming kiss even as Ezra found a rhythm that made him break the kiss to gasp a sharp breath.
"You could say that," Ezra admitted hoarsely, worrying Chris' bottom lip. "Over the months, I've considered it." He pulled Chris in for a plundering kiss while building the pace on his cock to a punishing climax. "Probably from the first time I ever saw you wet."
Chris came hard, reflexively pulling Ezra towards him.
Ezra fell into the bath with a splash and a muffled yelp.
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