Long As I Live
Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended, this story is strictly for fun, not profit.
Summary: Someone is trying to break up Chris and Ezra's relationship.
Author's notes: Thanks to Kris and Sherri for beta'ing this story. I was told this story is heartbreaking, so consider yourselves warned. I can tell you there's a happy ending with enough sugar to make you all diabetic, though. <bg> This was inspired by my favorite French poem, which you will find at the end of the story. 'Long As I Live' is the english translation.
Feedback: Always welcome. <bg>
**Long as I live, my heart will never vary
For no one else, however fair or good
Brave, resolute or rich, of gentle blood
My choice is made, and I will have no other**
Ezra snuggled contentedly into his lover's naked body. It was good to have Chris back after a week away for a weaponry symposium in New York. He didn't remember the 'welcome back' lovemaking, but it must have been something else because he was feeling extremely fatigued.
A stray thought tingled in the back of his mind but he pushed it away; he wasn't ready to wake up just yet. He nuzzled Chris' chest gently, tongue darting out to lap at the smooth skin, enjoying the soft moan his caress wrought from the other man.
Somewhere in the house, a door opened and a beloved voice called out, "Ezra, I'm back! Where are you?"
Footsteps echoed throughout the apartment, obviously searching for him. The stray thought rushed full force into his consciousness at that moment. He had no recollection of Chris coming home, no idea how he had ended up in bed, naked. And the musky scent of the male body nestled with his was all wrong.
He raised his head abruptly, staring wide-eyed into the face of a perfect stranger, just as the footsteps reached the bedroom. Feeling his heart breaking with every breath he took, Ezra looked up at the man standing by the foot of the bed. Chris' eyes were wide with shock, disbelief, betrayal, and anger.
Without saying a word, the blond man turned and stormed out of the room.
"No!" Ezra jumped from the bed, snatching a sheet to cover his nudity, and rushed after his lover. "Chris! Chris, please! This isn't what it looks like!"
Chris swung around suddenly, nearly knocking him off his feet. "Not what it looks like?" He spat angrily. "A year. A fucking year, Ezra. We've been together for a year and you couldn't do without for a week?! Is this how you love me? Going behind my back?"
"Chris, please!" Ezra pleaded brokenly, trying to make himself heard over his lover's shouting. "I've never seen that man in my life, I swear! Please, let me try to explain --"
"No! Not another word or so help me God --"
Ezra watched Chris clench his fists, eyes squeezed tight, breath coming out in harsh pants. He took a step back. Chris' anger was so strong, it was pouring out of him in waves, making it almost impossible to breathe or even think around him.
With a sudden shout, Chris pulled his arm back in preparation to throw a punch and Ezra closed his eyes, waiting for the fist to make impact with his body. He wasn't going to put up a fight; as out of control as Chris was at the moment, they could end up doing serious damage to each other.
He felt the air shift as the fist hit its mark, then the sound of bone breaking. For a long moment all he could hear was their painful panting, then a door slammed closed and he was left alone in the hall.
Opening his eyes slowly, he saw the dent on the wall. Chris had punched the wall, not him. Somehow, whilst in the middle of a murderous rage, the other man had still cared enough not to hurt him.
Stifling a sob, he walked back to the bedroom. He thought briefly about going after Chris, but by the time he got dressed the other man would be long gone. And it would be better to let his lover cool off before trying to reason with him. Now he would just be spoiling for a fight.
The bed was empty, but he could hear noise coming from the bathroom. He dressed quickly, then moved to the kitchen to make some coffee. He was pouring the strong liquid into two cups when the man walked in, looking strangely subdued.
"Sit down," Ezra ordered in a soft, but firm voice. The man obeyed, sitting down by the kitchen table, and Ezra handed him a cup before taking a seat himself. "Did we do anything tonight?"
The man shook his head. "No."
Now that Ezra was beginning to think clearly again, a strange sense of calm settled over him. He felt numb, emotionless. He watched the other man quietly. He was in his mid-thirties, tall and slim, with curly, blond hair and clear, blue eyes. Quite handsome indeed, Ezra thought dispassionately.
"Who are you? Why did you do this?"
"My name's Paul Lagerfeld. I... I was paid to do it. A guy approached me in a bar this afternoon and offered me a thousand dollars. Said all I had to do was get us both naked in bed and wait for someone to come and catch us together. I was told the door would be unlocked and you would be drugged. I don't know the guy's name, never seen him there before. I know I shouldn't have done it, but I needed the money. My wife's pregnant and I'm out of a job. For what it's worth, I'm sorry."
Ezra nodded absently. He had worked long enough as an undercover agent to know Lagerfeld was telling him the truth. "Give me the name of the bar."
"Rainbow. It's on 5th and Main."
"Very well. You can go now."
Lagerfeld was clearly surprised. "You're not going to call the cops?"
"No. I believe you are speaking the truth."
The other man rose from his seat on the table. "Thank you. I... I'm a regular at the Rainbow. If you need anything, I'll be there."
Ezra was oblivious to the man's exit from his home. He was too busy trying to decipher who had done such a thing and why. And how he was going to convince Chris he was innocent. The blond man was the first good thing in his life since he could remember; he wasn't about to let him go without a fight.
The next morning he arrived at the office before 9:00 am. If not for the numbness in his heart he would have laughed as Buck nearly fell from his chair when he saw him.
"Ezra," Buck breathed incredulously. "It's Monday morning, not even 9:00 am yet. Are you okay, pard?"
"My God!" Nathan exclaimed from somewhere in the room. "Ezra, are you sick? What are you doin' here so early?"
He ignored their questions for the moment, searching the room until his eyes settled on Vin. "Where is he?" He asked simply.
"Called a few minutes ago, said he was takin' some time off." Vin replied. "Why? Something happened between you two?"
Ezra could see the worry on the five men's faces. Buck had told him recently that one of the happiest days of his life had been when Chris and Ezra had announced they were a couple. That they looked good together and that he couldn't remember Chris being that happy in a very long time.
"What happened, hoss?" Buck asked softly, as if reading his mind.
"I need your assistance," Ezra told them quietly.
It was hard for him to ask for their help, but he knew he would be powerless against Chris' temper. With Vin and Buck by his side there was a chance the other man might listen to him. If he tried it alone, Chris would either refuse to even speak to him, or would simply disappear.
A phone ringing broke through his forlorn train of thought. He knew it was his phone, even knew who it would be, but somehow his body didn't obey his command to move.
He watched JD reach for it instead. "Hello? No, it's JD. Oh, hi, Tom, what's up? Yeah, I'll tell him. Sure. Thanks. Bye." He hung up, then turned to the others. "It was Tom from the lab. He said to tell Ezra that he was right; the whiskey was drugged. It'll probably take a couple of days to identify the drug, though."
"What's goin' on, pard?" Vin asked, with a worried frown.
"Let's move to the conference room, brothers," Josiah suggested. "I'm sure Ezra will feel more comfortable speaking to us there."
Ezra nodded gratefully and they moved to the meeting room, taking their usual seats. He refused to even look at the chair at the head of the table where Chris usually sat. Better to keep his mind off his lover and on his plan.
"Now, why don't you tell us what's goin' on?" Nathan asked gently.
It took a while, but Ezra did tell them what had happened the night before, from the time he had woken up to his conversation with Lagerfeld.
"And the whiskey?" Josiah finally asked.
"It was the last thing I recalled ingesting," Ezra explained softly. "I brought the bottle with me this morning. I left it in the capable hands of the lab personnel before I came up to the office. Told them it was urgent."
"But why do this?" JD asked with a frown. "What for?"
"I spent the night making phone calls, trying to discover who might have ordered it done. My relationship with Chris is not public knowledge, obviously. It could never be. Only a handful of people have been told." Ezra said, looking at his hands. "I believe I know who's behind it. I also believe I can wring a confession out of that person. What I need from you gentlemen is help in explaining the whole situation to Chris."
Vin nodded in understanding. "He won't listen to us if we just say we heard the confession. He's too mule-headed for that. We have to make him listen to it as well."
"But how?" Nathan asked. "There's no way we can ask him to meet us somewhere. He'd know immediately what this is about and refuse."
"We could record the confession," JD suggested. "Use a bug."
Buck grinned suddenly. "I have somethin' better. The new video cameras we got last week, we haven't used them yet. They're the size of a button, can be rigged anywhere and the sound/picture quality is supposed to be excellent. Once we have the confession on tape, we can show it to Chris. Even if we have to tie him to a chair to do it."
"Could you install one of the cameras in my living room?" Ezra asked him.
"Sure! Better make it two or three just to be on the safe side. In case somethin' goes wrong, we have more than one copy."
"Good. Time to set the trap," Ezra remarked, reaching for his cell phone and dialing a number. "It's me," he stated when there was an answer on the other side. "Something... something has happened. I need to meet with you. Yes, my apartment will be fine. After lunch, yes. Very well. Thank you." He ended the call. "Everything is set. Mr. Wilmington, I will drive you to the apartment so you can install the equipment."
"Are you going to be okay, son?" Josiah asked gently.
He thought about using one of his usual diversionary tactics, but decided to settle for the truth. "I'm not certain, Mr. Sanchez. It will depend on this venture's outcome. But either way, this afternoon I will be facing one of the most painful moments in my life," he said, abandoning the room and leaving five perplexed men behind.
Ezra heard the doorbell, but didn't make a move to answer it. He looked out the window, seeing the surveillance van that concealed his friends, knowing they would be surprised by his visitor's identity. The bell chimed again, then the sound of keys was heard and the door opened.
Footsteps approaching alerted him to the fact he was no longer alone in the room, but still he didn't move.
"Why didn't you answer the door?" His visitor asked, annoyance clear in her voice.
"I wanted to see if you still kept the key I had given you." Ezra replied, finally turning to face her. "Mother, you look lovely as ever."
"What did you wish to see me about, Ezra?" Maude asked impatiently. "You know I'm on my way to Los Angeles, child. I believe I mentioned this when I paid you a visit on Saturday."
He remained silent for a long moment, staring into the face of the woman who should have loved him unconditionally and yet never did. He tried to control the hurt she always brought with her whenever she was around, but as he felt his heart contract painfully in his chest, he knew he had failed.
He should have known better when she had appeared unexpectedly on his doorstep Saturday morning. She only ever visited when she wanted him to accompany her to some fancy party to impress the new millionaire on her prospect list, or when she needed something from him. But after over a year without seeing her, he had been too content to remember how things were between them.
"Why did you do it?" He asked suddenly. "Was it because I refused to travel with you to Los Angeles and marry the 'rich brat'? Was it because I told you I was in love with Chris Larabee? What?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Don't play games with me, mother! I know this is your doing. Until Saturday the only people who knew about my relationship with Chris were our friends and I trust them with my life. Then the day after I tell you, suddenly this happens. What did you do? Tell me, damnit!"
"All right!" She snapped. "I did it! Is that what you wanted to hear? I couldn't believe my ears when you told me you were in love with another man. Lord, there we were, having lunch together for the first time in a year and suddenly my child, my only son, tells me he's in love with a man. I didn't raise you to be a sodomite, Ezra!"
"How?" He asked flatly, ignoring the hurtful words.
"You had mentioned Mr. Larabee would be returning Sunday night from a symposium, so I knew it would have to happen then. You said that you were going out Saturday night to meet with Mr. Tanner and Mr. Wilmington, so I waited until you left and used the key to enter into the apartment. You had the alarm off, and even if it was on, you had given me the code as well. The drug was easy to come by, you know I always get what I want and money is no problem. I drugged the whiskey and left."
"How did you know I wouldn't drink it before the right time?"
She smirked. "I know you. That's your special whiskey. You only drink it once a day, right after dinner. Since you went to meet with your friends Saturday night, I guessed you would only drink it the next day, Sunday."
"And the man?"
"I met a gentleman in my hotel bar on Sunday morning. Using my considerable charms, it wasn't too difficult to convince him to help me. I paid him royally for his services, of course."
"Of course." Ezra echoed sarcastically.
"I gave him a thousand dollars, told him to search for a handsome young man and gave him your address. Told him what time to send the man, that the door would be unlocked and what I wished him to do. With that taken care of, I waited until after dinner and used the key to go into the apartment again. As I suspected, you had already drunk the whiskey and were sleeping soundly on the sofa. I walked out, leaving the door unlocked. The rest, as they say, is history."
Ezra laughed bitterly. "It was a brilliant plan, I grant you that. A year ago it would have worked; I would have gone running back to you, leaving Denver far behind, along with my career. I would have gone along with your scheming, becoming the shallow jet-set butterfly you wish me to be. But not now."
"I did, mother. I found a family with those men you believe to be so 'beneath' me. I found someone I love and who loves me back. Nothing you can think of doing will change that."
She shook her head, clearly exasperated. "Ezra, you are withering away in this place. You have any idea how much money that girl's father has in his bank account? More than you and I have ever seen in our whole lives! We could spend the rest of our days traveling the world, mingling with the best of them, living it up."
"You mean *you* would do all those things, I would have to play the good husband and put up with a wife who, according to you, is a 'spoiled brat and mean as a snake'."
"It would only be for a few years, then you could divorce her. You could be so much more, Ezra! You are bright, resourceful, handsome... You could use those attributes in your favor."
"I already do, Mother, to apprehend miscreants."
"And getting shot at, being beaten within an inch of your life, having to commune with the lowest forms of human life and getting a miserly pay in return. Lord in heaven, why did you have to be so stubborn? I have tried and tried to get you out of this debasing profession, why do you keep fighting me?"
He looked at her suspiciously. "What do you mean by that?"
"Did you truly believe it was merely a coincidence that I gifted you with the Jaguar when I did? Right at the moment when the rumors about you being corrupt had began?"
"You knew?" He asked, incredulous.
She laughed softly. "Knew? I paid all the right people to spread them. I wanted you by my side, where you belong. Enjoying the comfort and luxury our position in society affords us, not crawling around filthy streets chasing dangerous criminals. I wanted you safe and sound and as far away from law enforcement as possible. You are so much better than those brainless agents, you deserve to be so much more," she huffed disgustingly. "I confess I never counted for your stubbornness. The more the rumors, the more you fought. Then, you were transferred and I had to stop my campaign or risk discovery."
"I don't want to hear any more," he whispered dejectedly. "Get out, Mother."
"Ezra, you can't possibly --"
"Mother," he interjected roughly. "If are not out of this house in a minute, I'll have you arrested. Do you understand?"
Her eyes flashed angrily, but she nodded. "Very well. But you'll be sorry. I was only watching out for you, trying to protect you from yourself and your so-called friends. How long do you believe these men will stay by your side? How long do you think Chris Larabee will keep on loving you? In the end, I will be the only one left, Ezra. Remember that."
He didn't hear her leaving, he didn't remember falling on his knees to the floor. He was brought back from his daze by gentle hands cupping his face and forcing him to look into Nathan's concerned eyes.
"Ezra? How you doin'?"
Finding his voice with some difficulty, he replied, "Could be better, Mr. Jackson."
"I bet!" Buck murmured from beside him. "Here."
Ezra reached for the beer, drinking most of it in one swallow. "Did you get everything?" He asked.
"Every single word, Ez," JD answered sadly.
"Good. Go find Chris and give him the tape."
"What are ya goin' to do?" Vin asked softly.
"Me? Get impossibly drunk and try to forget this day ever happened."
He knew he shouldn't have listened to Josiah. He should've gotten drunk like he had planned. Instead he lay on his bed, eyes closed, trying unsuccessfully to still the deafening whirlwind going on inside his head. Dozens of thoughts rushed through his mind, too flitty for him to catch and analyze rationally. Why? God, why? Why didn't she love him? Was it his fault somehow? Had he done something to make her stop loving him? And how could he still love her after all she had done?
Voices from the other side of the closed door told him Josiah was no longer alone in the living room. He wasn't certain of how much time had passed since his mother had left, but a few hours at least must have slipped through his control. It was probably just the others returning from their mission.
His heart thudded in his chest at the thought that maybe Chris hadn't returned with them. That maybe the tape hadn't been enough. Maybe there would be no turning back for them. Maybe it was all over.
He kept his eyes closed as the door opened and someone walked in quietly. He could hear nothing but the other man's breathing, soft and steady, and he knew it was Chris in the room with him.
Ezra felt a pressure on the bed behind him as Chris sat, then shifted, coming closer until he lay alongside him, wrapping his arms carefully around him from behind. One hand was wrapped in a cast, and he remembered the dent on the wall and the sound of bone breaking during their fight. Had it been just the night before?
"I'm sorry," was suddenly whispered in his ear, so softly and full of regret that he felt his heart breaking. He tried to turn but Chris tightened his hold on him, preventing him from moving. "Don't," he begged gently. "Please, Ezra. I just want to... apologize. I want to make it right. I know I can't... but I need to try. I'm a coward; I can't face you. If I try... the words won't come out right."
Swallowing hard, Ezra nodded his consent, lifting his hand hesitantly until it rested on Chris' wrist. He brushed his fingers gently against the smooth skin, silently giving his support to the other man.
"I loved Sarah and Adam with everything I had in me," Chris began, his breath tickling the small hairs at the nape of Ezra's neck. "When they died... part of me went with them. I couldn't even hear the word 'love'. I was angry at the world, at myself for lettin' them die. I didn't want anybody else, I didn't *need* anybody else. Or so I thought. Then you stormed into my life and everything changed. I knew what was happenin' and I fought it, and you, tooth and nail. But it was too late. Best thing I ever did was punch the jerk who was groping you in that bar. It certainly got the ball rollin'," he added ruefully and Ezra chuckled. "Thing is, I just don't get what you see in me, Ez. I'm an insensitive bastard, I have a mean temper, more life-scars than I care to remember, and I'm older than you. You've traveled the world, you have money and birth, you're educated... Everything I'm not. I guess I've been waitin' for the moment when you realized what a lousy bargain you were gettin' and left."
"Chris, no! I --" Ezra began, again protesting his lover's words.
"Wait," Chris interjected softly. "Let me finish or I'll never say it. When I walked in the room last night and saw you in the arms of another man I thought that moment had finally come, you'd finally seen the light and were through with me. It doesn't make right what I said, what I did, I just want you to understand. And I *am* sorry."
Ezra finally twisted out of Chris' grasp and rolled over to face him. "Lord, you're a moron," he stated with a grin. "I love you. I wouldn't have cared if you were the poorest, grumpiest man on Earth. That's not how this works. Your temper and your scars don't matter to me; I have my own. And no matter what you think, you do care. Sometimes too much. You're a good man, Chris Larabee, you have a good heart. *That's* why I love you. The rest..." he shrugged, "are just quirks I can live with."
"Yeah?" Chris breathed, a slight smile breaking through.
"Yeah," Ezra replied, then brought their lips together in a gentle invitation.
Instantly, arms caught him tighter, drawing him closer. He was crushed against the blond man, a mouth devouring his, hands roaming over his body feverishly, remembering, rediscovering what was thought lost. And at that moment, there was a knock on the door. They broke apart, chuckling a little breathlessly.
"I believe our colleagues are somewhat worried about us."
"You might be right, Ez," Chris replied as they sat up, leaning against the headboard.
The door opened and their five friends walked in quietly, sitting meekly on the bed.
"Everything okay?" JD finally asked.
"That's up to Ezra," Chris replied softly.
Ezra looked at him, seeing nothing but love in the beautiful eyes, and smiled. "Yes, Mr. Dunne, everything is just fine."
"What about your mother?" Nathan asked. "What do you want us to do?"
"Nothing?!" Buck exploded angrily, jumping from the bed. "She destroyed your life, Ez! She should pay for what she did!"
"I know," he replied, looking down at his hands. "I don't think she has any idea of the enormity of the error she made."
He allowed Chris to hold his hand. "Anything in particular you're thinking on?" His lover asked.
Ezra hesitated. It wasn't that he didn't want to tell them, but some things were better off left alone.
He looked into Josiah's warmth-filled eyes and knew they deserved to know of his past. He owed them that, and so much more. "A few months before Chris and Vin went to Atlanta to check me out... I was undercover and when I needed help there was no backup available. Or so I was told. Everyone knew I was in trouble and no one cared. I almost died on that case. And it hadn't been the first time. I was trying to swim against the current, but it was getting harder and harder to keep from drowning. I don't know how much longer I would have lasted." He looked into Chris' eyes. "You saved my life. You all did."
"And ya still don't want us to handle her?" Vin frowned unhappily.
He smiled slightly. "I didn't say that, Mr. Tanner. I just... I have no wish to see her in jail. No matter what she did, she's still my mother. But I do need one of you gentlemen to do me a favor."
"What?" Nathan asked suspiciously.
"You did mention you were going to make copies of the confession, did you not, Mr. Wilmington?"
Buck smiled, rubbing his hands gleefully. "Oh, yeah! Can I be the one to give her the tape? Please? Please, Ezra?"
Ezra chuckled at the child-like pleading. "By all means, Mr. Wilmington, please do. She's staying at the Ritz. Let her know that if she ever tries anything against me or any of you gentlemen ever again, a copy of that tape will be sent to the proper authorities. I don't enjoy having to resort to blackmail, but it's the only way to prevent this from happening again."
Nathan rose from the bed. "I think we should all go, the five of us, I mean. Someone has to keep an eye on Buck."
The others nodded eagerly and moved to the door as one, making both Ezra and Chris chuckle at their antics.
"Subtle, Mr. Jackson, very subtle." Ezra grinned as the other man winked.
"We'll let you know how it went later," Vin told them with a final wave.
"Vin?" Chris called after him.
"What?" The sharpshooter asked, poking his head in the room.
"*Much* later. Okay, Cowboy?"
Vin laughed. "Got it, pard. Have fun, you two!"
"Oh, we will. We will," Chris replied, leering at Ezra. "It's been over a week since we've been together in this bed, Ezra. Time to correct that mistake."
"Then stop talking and let's do it," Ezra retorted with a smile, already discarding their garments.
And they did, he did. Loving Chris with everything that he had, that he was. Seducing, teasing and playing with him in preparation for his possession. He had been careful, taking his time, as if loving Chris for the very first time. Pressing a slick finger in, stretching tenderly. Later, there had been two, then three, which had stroked and caressed and aroused until it was finally time.
And then Chris had taken him into his body, accepting his hard shaft, submitting to his hunger. Writhing and panting and begging for him to move harder, faster, deeper. And Ezra had obeyed each command gladly; losing himself in the other man and their lovemaking, thrusting and stroking, kissing and nibbling until together they fell, whispering each other's names as they climaxed.
And as he felt strong arms embracing him, Ezra knew he was going to be fine. His relationship with his mother was probably never going to get better, but he had six dear friends to lean on now, people he trusted and who would be there for him. For as Francis Bacon had once said, 'Nothing opens the heart like a true friend, to whom you may impart griefs, joys, fears, hopes, suspicions and whatever lieth upon the heart to oppress it'.
Tant que je vive, mon cueur ne changera
Pour nulle vivante, tant soit elle bonne ou saige
Forte et puissante, riche de hault lignaige
Mon chois est fait, aultre ne se fera.
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