(Old West)

by Ranger

Written for: MsGordo

I pride myself on my ability to read my fellow man. As a skill ingrained in me from birth by my dear mother, one would hope that I would have become adept by now. She always states that one cannot pick their marks without first being able to read the weaknesses to exploit and the strengths to avoid. The same, of course, applies to games of chance. Take the current examples sat at my table.

Mr Caruthers put his full repertoire on display within the first five hands. A scratched ear dictates a mediocre hand, the scratch smoothing to a rub when he believes he can win. A loud sniff of those bulbous nostrils, and he opts to bluff. His finale coming with squinting eyes when he's on to a winning hand. The newly arrived Mr Spencer is a slightly more difficult customer, but quite amusingly obvious once his tells fall into place. He seems to have a nervous twitch that has him tapping his feet, something that seems oddly coordinated when observing his cards. A tap of the toe suggests a good hand, a tap of the heel a bad one. Then there's a little nervous dance of heel-toe when he attempts to bluff.

Everyone has something that gives him or her away. My mother has told me repeatedly that it is in my eyes, although in rare moments the same can be said for her. It appears to be character fault of her descendants, which is no doubt galling to her, as she cannot blame my father. Most people try to hide part of their lives and feelings. Even the blatantly obvious Mr Dunne is attempting to deny how he feels for young Miss Wells despite his honesty in all other areas. Discovering such weaknesses becomes a way to pass the time in this town I currently claim residence of - there is little else to occupy the periods between peacekeeping duties and finding myself being offered for target practice. And you never can tell when such knowledge could be useful.

I had thought I was faring well with my task; little surprises me anymore when it comes to my fellow protectors. That was until earlier this evening. Now I'm not at all confident anymore, and I feel I may have to start from scratch with one of my compatriots in particular. Tonight, Chris Larabee kissed me. Chris Larabee... Me...

It occurred when I went to relieve him of his nightly vigil at the jail. He rose from behind the desk with an odd look on his face that interrupted my usual greeting, a look that reminded me of a predator as he ambushed his prey. The rare change in his demeanor towards me left me confused and I would have said something had he not chosen that moment to thoroughly take possession of my mouth with his own. My gasp of shock only gave him free reign to taste every inch.

It was only when my mangled brain caught up with what was happening that he stopped. He pulled back with a strange smile on his face and with one last glance turned and walked out of the jail. Not one word uttered. Certainly no words formed in my own addled consciousness.

I had stood there for some time until a lucky gust of wind caught the door, shutting it with a bang before it proceeded to crawl up my spine. The shiver brought me out of my numbness, and I moved to fall into the recently vacated seat, warmth still lingering from its previous occupant.

I don't know whether to be angry with Chris Larabee for taking liberties, or angry with myself for allowing it to happen... Frustrated at my lack of composure, or frustrated at my lack of foresight... Or just angry with myself for enjoying it more than I should have.

It was possession. In that moment in time he could have done whatever he wanted and I truly believe I would have been powerless to stop him. I can't let it happen again, can't lose control so easily to a man that needs control to breathe. Yet I'm not sure I have the strength to deny him should such strange fancies ever take him again. Even now, as Mr Smithson cheats again, and badly I might add, I find I don't care as I feel those heated eyes on my person without the need to seek them out to confirm. I cannot help but wonder what else there is to discover about the man in black that my observations have failed to recognize.

* * * * * * *

At least he didn't shoot me. Punch me. Walk out on me. Run out on me... So many different endings had run through my head before I drank enough courage to finally kiss him.

Buck wanders through life with many a pretty face grabbing his attention before he pursues and, more often than not, conquers. I don't look, and sure as hell don't pursue. But sometimes something makes me take a second glance, and I usually find myself hooked. It's happened a few times, the biggest fall I ever had was with Sarah, and that was enough to pull me away from anyone and anything.

The day I first saw Ezra, I looked twice. Not that he's hard on the eyes, but there's just something about him that draws you in. Whether it's his personality, his outlook on life, the color and energy... I don't know, but at that point I wanted to know more. So I went against my better judgment and asked him to come with us. It surprised me how disappointed I was when he rode out, despite knowing I should have expected it. But it nowhere near got me as badly as when he came back. Yet my temper caused me to strike out, and dragged a threat from me to prevent him from ever trying it again. I doubt he knows just how lost I was. How lost I am.

I should be glad that he's not running now. That he's not steering clear of me, or changing his habits. But he is avoiding looking at me. I know this because my eyes have not left him since he came back from his stint at the jail. If Josiah has noticed, he's not said anything. Buck is unlikely to notice anything beyond Inez, and I don't have to worry too much about JD the way he's teasing Buck. I suppose I should be grateful Vin is at the reservation with Nate. Otherwise I'm damn near positive I'd have some explaining to do.

I'm just not sure I could explain myself, certainly not to Vin, and I think Hell might have to freeze before I could answer that question if Ezra voiced it. All I can say is that I had to find out whether the images that keep me awake at night were anything like the real thing. And they're not. The images can't describe his scent, his warmth, and his taste. Nor can they get me as hard as the reality. I don't think I dare imagine what it would be like if he actually returned the kiss.

So I didn't end up full of lead, or have a black eye or broken nose, and I don't have half the town running me out of the territory. But I have ended up with Ezra refusing to look at me, not even talking to me, and there was certainly no evidence that he wanted to make use of the desk in the jail. And I thought women were difficult to get a handle on.

Once was not enough. Will never be enough. But I somehow have to find the courage to see just how far I have to reach before he'll take my hand.

* * * * * * *

I flick the lid of my pocket watch closed, knowing that I can't put this off any longer. I have been sat on the boardwalk outside the saloon for hours, nursing a single beer that has become so warm to be undrinkable, and a book of prose of which I have managed to read the same verse over and over. I've scrutinized the sun going down on this town, observed people disperse homewards for their evening repast, and I've watched the shifts change at the jail.

JD bid good afternoon to Nathan, who kept his watch between chapters of the medical journal that recently arrived on the stage whilst he was out at the reservation. And a few hours ago, Nathan gratefully handed over to Chris.

I haven't spoken to him since the incident yesterday. I won't say I have been avoiding him, as that would not strictly be true, I have merely elected to keep to myself. A fact that has strangely been noticed among my colleagues, up to the point whereby they have constantly been checking on my presence. I did observe Buck walking out of the telegraph office earlier, his empty hands and confused look in my direction suggesting that he was attempting to see whether a communication from my dear mother had set me upon this melancholy they think I have. If only they knew the cause was a little closer to home.

On occasions, Mr Larabee has ventured out of the jail to lean against the support posts. At which point I have found myself reading the same line over and over, whilst my entire being is strung high with the awareness of his presence. I am so unsettled it verges on painful. I can accept that it happened. That he kissed me. What I can't rectify is why. Or more to the point how I feel about it.

He wanted to play a joke.... But I see no-one laughing. Mr Wilmington didn't barge through the door pointing his finger and belly-laughing his amusement. Mr Larabee didn't grin and highlight the brilliance of his diversion.

He was drunk... Yet although he tasted of whiskey and cheroots, he did not strike me as being inebriated. His co-ordination was far too precise to be wholly effected.

He wanted to kiss me... The one point I find hardest to believe is that he wanted to kiss me because of attraction, or at least of need. A man that rides off with barely a word to such dens of depravity as Purgatory to satisfy his carnal requirements, could find something that appeals in a gambler and a conman.

And how do I feel about it?

Scared. I never looked at Chris Larabee with rose tinted spectacles. I believed my relationship with him to be one of tolerance, mutual respect and professionalism. That I consider him as a friend is a given when one compares him to the previous pitiful list of acquaintances that I could possibly have assigned that moniker too. That he calls me a friend also is a surprise. That he regards me as something special, is frankly too fantastical to have predicted.

I lay awake last night trying to resolve my own jumbled thoughts and feelings. That if by some freak of nature, Chris Larabee was attracted to me and wished to have a tryst, what would I feel? I tried to imagine his hands, his mouth, and his whispered drawl. And it only served to worry me, that such a new concept could floor me with the perceived intensity. I have no doubt that should such a union ever come about, that the combined passion would rule our heads and bodies. And at that, I began to worry for my heart. Such attention shown to myself is a sure fire way to buckle the weak defenses I have and I would find myself falling. I have no idea if he would catch me, or if he would walk away and let me fall.

I'm scared that he's going to try to kiss me again.

I'm scared that he's not.

* * * * * * *

I'm glad it's dark now, and that no one has felt the need to clean the dust from the windows. I can stand here and watch him without thought to who is watching me. I wouldn't have thought anything could shake his confidence as much as this. Fair enough, we gave him a rough time of it when Stutz came on the scene, but he never really showed how badly we hurt him, and he bounced back so quickly and easily that I never thought about how he must have felt.

Maybe we're all a little more protective of him now, more observant of what we say and how it could be read. We all hurt, and badly, when we looked back on those few days, not least because at the end of it all it was Ezra, who despite all that had been said and done, put himself at risk. Josiah scared us all badly when he suggested that Ezra might not have cared whether he lived or not at that point. Why else would he have failed to pull any of those guns he carries and simply stood in the way of a killer? Making sure no innocents got caught in a gunfight, Buck had suggested. But not even Buck believed that.

I realized at that point I could have lost him. For some reason I thought that he would keep his unspoken promise to never run out on me again. But all those months I had simply been lucky that he hadn't just ridden out, that he hadn't been killed taking one stupid risk too many. It was that realization that made me decide to act. Building up the courage to do so took me a bit longer.

I don't regret it. I want more. I don't know whether I'm going to get more, but Ezra's reaction and preoccupation makes me think that he's at least thinking about what happened. Whether he's thinking about what else could happen, I can but hope. He has an air of vulnerability when he's unsettled, and I hate to see that in him when it was, in part, his confidence and liveliness that initially caught my attention.

He stands now, and I wince in sympathy at the stiffness and cracking joints that I can sense from here. It's his turn on duty, and no matter what difficulties he has he won't let that affect his job. This will be the first time he's been unable to avoid me, my heart's beating faster in anticipation of his reaction, and somehow I have to keep calm.

I allow him to step in the room before I turn to him, and my breath catches at the intensity in the green eyes fixed on mine. I read a challenge in them that speaks of his dignity and strength, yet I also see a quiver of apprehension that he can't quite hide. His body and face are well-schooled masks of indifference, and I wonder if I kiss him again tonight if he'll submit and allow me in. My fingers dig into my palm to bring myself back to the moment, and amazingly I manage a small smile of greeting and a 'good evening'.

He nods once, and his eyes never leave mine as I move towards the door. I can see him stiffen slightly as I get closer, and I know tonight is not the right time to replay what happened last night. Instead, I reach a hand out and trail it slowly down his arm as I pass, fingers lingering lightly on his for a moment before I head out into the night, closing the door softly behind me.

I breathe out a long sigh, and I wonder how long I can live with my dreams when the warm reality is there to reach out to.

* * * * * * *

It's torture. Sweet at times, but nonetheless it leaves me uncomfortable. For the last three nights I've exchanged shifts at the jail with Mr Larabee. For the last three nights I've been the subject of gentle touches, almost caresses, as he bids me goodnight in a soft drawl that is out of place for such a renown and feared gunslinger. A brush of the hand against mine as he exits, a more purposeful lingering squeeze of a shoulder, a warm hand curving around my hip as he makes a move past me. And yet not once has he attempted to replay that initial kiss.

It's a game of seduction that he's playing; that much is clear. What he wants in return is not so lucid. I imagine if it was simply carnal satisfaction he was after, he would by now have found an easier mark, or he would have been more forward in voicing his wants. Not a word has passed between us for near five days. In response, all I can do is listen to what he is showing me instead. A strange gentleness, yet with a need that he cannot hide in his eyes or his body. He's waiting for my decision to his silent question, waiting for me to acquiesce. He must know what he makes me feel, and still his touch lingers only a moment before he's gone. I can imagine his frustration, yet not an inkling of it shows when he looks at me.

I know his frustration, because I feel it too. I hate that I cannot just let go of my control and see where he'll lead, follow him without the fear of what would happen if I'm wrong. I hate that I go to sleep at night with images of him in my mind, and an emptiness that's almost painful when I can't feel what I see. Most of all I hate just how much I need him to kiss me again.

* * * * * * *

For a man that sees all, I can't understand how he fails to see how much I want him. Ezra must have been hurt so many times if he can't recognize that I'm serious about this... that it isn't just a one-time itch scratching. I swear I couldn't be more obvious if I gave him flowers and asked him to marry me. Although that would be tempting just to see how he'd react, I reckon he'd turn a shade of red close to the color of that jacket of his and then shoot me.

I'm dreading taking over from Nathan. Vin and Josiah are giving me pointed looks that quite clearly state that I'm to blame for upsetting Ezra, which maybe I am but just not how they think. JD and Buck have been less obvious and have just plain asked me what I've done to create the silence between us. It's not like Ezra hasn't fallen back into his routine the last couple of days, he gambles, drinks, even sits and eats with the boys. He just doesn't seem to be wholly on his game. And he hasn't spoken to me at all. Nathan thinks he's sickening for something, but Ezra has pretty much told him outright that if he so much as attempts to go near him with a 'noxious foul-smelling brew' he'll be more than happy to share it with him. Forcibly if necessary.

I really am in for it if Nathan is on form. Ezra's been unusually absent in the saloon today and he's bound to have noticed; not much escapes Nathan's attention if he's mother-henning it and I'd rather face down a rabid dog with my bare hands. I did try to find Ezra earlier, but wherever he'd hidden out it was somewhere I couldn't find; I even fed that damn horse of his candy while waiting for him to turn up at the stables. I figure if actions aren't enough, maybe I need to find some words. At least I have the next few hours of my shift to work out what the hell I'm going to say.

Stepping up to the jailhouse, I take a deep breath, knowing this isn't going to be pretty. Opening the door I come face-to-face with a pair of soul-piercing eyes and I know I'm in trouble. I gently shove the door closed behind me with a boot heel, unable to break the look I'm held by. And then he moves. A grace I've seen so many times carries him to within a hairs width. The soft feel of his warm breath ghosts over me and I can't help but let my eyes drift shut with a sigh. I can sense his lips close to mine and I want so badly to bridge that gap, as I open my eyes to look I'm caught by a flash of deep green before he closes the distance.

And I just feel.

My eyes drift shut again as I feel his lips, and his tongue as it caresses mine. Feel the hands that are tightly wound into my shirt, and the strong muscles of his thigh as it pushes between mine. I feel the hard wood of the door as it meets my back from his push, and the silken feel of his hair as I bury my hands into it.

And I wonder how much longer I could have gone on without feeling this.

* * * * * * *

I know I initiated this, but I can't stop. Just as I knew it would be, it's all about the feel and the passion. Control, as something we both live by, is strangely absent and I cannot muster the ability to mourn its loss. All I care about now is the haze that has settled over me, and the sensations building within me.

I can feel his calloused fingers touching my scalp, and against my back as they burrow beneath layers of clothing, the smooth silk of my shirt bunching as he reaches his goal. I can't stop the moan or the tug on his lower lip as the warm hand trails blazing paths across my back. I hear the hitch in his breathing as I tear my own hands from his shirt to slip under the fabric. And I can't help but push impossibly closer as his grip tightens at my waist, as his muscles quiver under my roving fingers. But it'll never be close enough.

I tear my lips from his when the need for air becomes impossible to ignore, but I don't go far and our gasping breaths combine. A soft curse moves his lips, and through the roaring in my ears I wonder if I hear right when he whispers his need. I know I should step back, remind us both of where we are and the propriety required of us. But he trails a thumb softly down my face to tilt my chin upwards and I know from the heat in his eyes and the lips that are descending toward mine that I'm going nowhere. I find I don't mind at all.

* * * * * * *

I've fallen asleep many times with images burned into my mind of how it would be, how it would feel, how Ezra would feel once he'd let me through those defenses. But shit, that was nothing... if I thought I was lost before, I have no hope now.

Somehow I manage to think enough to reach a hand to tug on Ezra's cravat, and fumble around enough to free the buttons of the shirt and waistcoat. He hisses into my mouth and shudders as I ghost a path from his neck to his navel, and still I won't let him go. Not now he's let me in.

As he presses close again, thigh brushing against me, I find myself writhing with the sensations. Pushing my own leg between his to return the favor, I can't help but feel the purr as it resonates through the kiss we can't seem to end. And his hands are busy again under my shirt, one dipping low enough to tuck inside the back of my jeans squeezing briefly before pulling us together, forcing more pressure against our groins.

And I realize that not even Hell will take me in after this.

* * * * * * *

It's too much, yet it's not enough, and as my hand moves to the buttons of his pants I briefly wonder if I should be doing this here, now. A whimper when my hand stills is all the encouragement I need to continue. His gasp forces our lips apart as my hand takes him in a strong grip. The solid thud of his head against the door gives me a great sense of satisfaction; smugness Chris would most likely call it. I take advantage of his exposed neck to trail a path of kisses to his jaw line, back down again to lick random shapes along his collarbone and just take in the taste, the scent that is all Chris Larabee.

He moans deeply as my hand changes pace, and the sound washes through me. I feel his fingers digging into my back and I'm so caught up in this that I almost miss the motion of his other hand as it slips my pants from my hips. But I can't miss the sensations rippling through me as his hand closes around me. I can't help but feel totally possessed as he surges forward to claim my lips again, sucking my tongue in time to the rhythm he's setting with his hand. I match him and it becomes a duel.

The entire world could fall at our feet and we would fail to take notice.

* * * * * * *

I just wish this could never end, but the way this feels there's no chance of me holding on much longer. And Ezra knows it, or maybe he's simply responding to how he feels. And his fingers tighten and scrape against just the right spot...

The world grays out and our rhythm falters. Stars surround my vision.

Ezra pulls me close even as we both shudder our release, our joined mouths smothering any cries we can't control. The power of it causes my knees to buckle and I slide down the door bringing Ezra with me as I sink to the floor, holding him as close as I can. And I wonder if anything can match this.

* * * * * * *

I rest my head against Chris's shoulder and just breathe. I doubt I shall be capable of anything else for some time. So I just soak up the lingering feelings from our mutual desire, and try to cling to some vain hope that it'll happen again. I know I need this now, whatever power it is that sparks between Chris and I. Yet I don't think I can ask for it.

People leave. That is a constant in my life. They take what they need and they turn their backs and walk away, that is if they don't eject my person instead. It's safer to leave before pushed out, and I can't help but wonder how long it will take this time before I have no choice but to go.

It feels like an eternity before he moves. I slowly lean back and can't quite suppress the fear that he'll walk away from this now he's got what he wanted. He must sense my weakness as a brief flash of pain dulls his eyes. I try not to lean into his touch as his hands almost tenderly frame my face and he presses a gentle kiss to my lips.

He asks me to never walk out on him. And the gentle pleading wrenches a promise from me that no threat could ever have done. I reach for the hand he holds out to me, knowing now that he won't let me fall. I know his weakness now, but it is also his strength, as it is mine. I need know nothing more.


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