Queens Of The Wild Frontier
by Red Shiloh
Parts 5-6 added 8 June 2005
Parts 7-9 added 9 June 2005
Parts 10-11 added 10 June 2005
Parts 12-15 added 12 June 2005
Parts 16-17 added 13 June 2005
Disclaimer: I claim no right to the premise or characters of Magnificent 7. This is a work of fiction and I'm merely borrowing them. Mog created the ATF AU. Nor do I own Charlie Brown, Monkey (Magic), Harley Davidson, or any other modern day references you recognise.
Pairing: Ezra/Buck (mention of potential Ezra/OMC)
Rating: NC-17, I guess.
Warnings: Language, moderate violence, attempted non-con, M/M relationship.
Summary: On their way to an assigned Safe House, Ezra and Buck's car runs out of gas, they encounter a posse of angry biker types, a rifle with a happy trigger, and a raging waterfall. And that's just the half of it.
Author's Note: Inspired by the song 'Kings of the Wild Frontier' by Adam and the Ants. Any similarities to other stories are unintentional.
Thanks: Thank you, thank you, thank you to Angie and Limlaith who kindly beta-read this story for me. Without their suggestions this story would have been full of errors and pansy-Bucks *g*. You two are ace! I made a few tiny changes after they looked at it, so any mistakes are mine. (In ref' to the Britisms: That's my fault too. They both suggested I change them, and I probably should, but I tend to be a bit pig-headed about that.)
"And even when you're healthy
And your colour schemes delight
Down below those dandy clothes
You're just a shade too white
Shade too white!
Shade too white!"
Adam and the Ants: Kings of the Wild Frontier
THE ANTICLIMAX AND OTHER ANTIMATTERS
It was common knowledge that of all the bad things to happen, it was always the anticlimax that was the worst. Big bangs at least provided excitement and something to talk about afterwards. Granted they could be painful, and they often ended either with someone in tears or an eye rolling across the floor. But at least they didn't have that infuriating sense of 'incomplete' that the fizzle of an anticlimax had.
Anticlimaxes were small, annoying and garnered no sympathy whatsoever.
On this occasion, with the car merely switching itself off and rolling to a gentle stop next to a large snow bank, it was most definitely an anticlimax.
'There could have at least been a crash,' Buck grumbled to himself, 'or maybe even an explosion or two.' But then he remembered that he was sitting in said car. It was difficult to garner sympathy when you were scattered over the road in so many smoking pieces.
It still felt bad. Bad in the 'going limp during sex' sense of the word.
Beside him, Ezra fiddled with the ignition, cursing under his breath. The engine sputtered and choked, but otherwise remained dead. It reminded Buck of those awkward moments in bed with him fumbling and the woman in question holding back impatient sighs and eye rolls. The more he fiddled, the more the mood was killed.
Not that he would ever admit to having trouble in that area. To be honest, he didn't. It was less the 'getting it up' and more the 'where he got it up' that was the trouble. Sometimes he just couldn't keep it down, like in the office. He didn't even want to know why that happened. He liked his job, sure, but not THAT much.
"Well this is just great," Ezra snapped, reminding Buck that now maybe wasn't the best time to be pondering his cock. Ezra sighed, his head falling back against the headrest and covered his face with his hands. "Marvellous." His voice was muffled. "Splendid. Fan-fucking-tastic."
Buck stared askance at him. Ezra had just used up an entire day's worth of sarcasm in seconds. He should probably stop him, save the man before he went into malfunction or something. He hadn't ever seen anyone do that before but he was sure it wasn't pretty. Death by dagger tongue. Ouch.
"Yeah, it sucks," he agreed and blew air into his cheeks. Ezra had been prickly for days, more so than how he usually was and, frankly, it was wearing thin. If Ezra had been a woman, Buck would have put it down to that time of the month. But, since Ezra was very much male, he put it down to him not wanting to go to the cabin. Buck couldn't blame him.
He'd been in safe houses before, and he knew how boring they could be. It was strange, any other day and he would have jumped at the chance for a paid vacation. He supposed it was the whole having a gang of gun traffickers out for your blood that put a damper on things.
"Oh it sucks? Really Buck? Because I would never have guessed that on my own." Ezra waved a hand at the empty gas gauge and then motioned to the wilderness outside. "Honestly, without your wise words I would have mistaken this as a good thing. Why if you weren't here I may just have been happy about being stranded out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by nothing but snow, mountains and chipmunk shit!"
"Chipmunk shit?" Buck frowned.
"Jesus." Ezra drove a fist into the steering wheel, he triggered the horn accidentally and they both jumped.
Ezra snatched his hand away from the horn and held it near his chest, eyeing the steering wheel suspiciously.
"Why didn't you fill up the gas?" he said. Buck presumed Ezra was talking to him rather than the wheel.
"Me?" he sputtered, and then sputtered again because it really was stupid. He thought maybe sputtering a third time would just ruin the act of innocence. "Why didn't you? Why is it that I always have to check the gas?"
"Because I asked you to?" Ezra suggested. It probably would have been more helpful if he hadn't sneered. Sneering just made Ezra look like a feral cat, and no one listened to people who might bite them.
Buck glared at him. Bastard.
"You never asked me."
"I asked you back at the gas station while I went to pay."
"And I told you I had to take a piss first, you'd already pulled the car out onto the road by the time I got out and I thought that..." Buck paused. "...You didn't fill it up while I was away?"
"I thought you'd already done it!"
"Didn't you check the gauge?"
"...I was in a rush."
"So we've just paid for gas we didn't get?"
Ezra blinked, his lips quirked slightly.
"You think they'll give us any gas if we went back and asked nicely?" Buck suggested. Ezra snorted a little, biting his bottom lip to keep from laughing.
"Funny," Ezra mock growled, eyes twinkling.
Buck smiled and chuckled, pleased that for the moment Ezra seemed over his hissy fit. He stopped when he remembered their predicament.
"So what're we going to do?" he asked.
Ezra shrugged and exhaled heavily. He glanced out of the windshield and then down at the gas meter, as if glaring at it would scare it into suddenly filling up.
"Call for help I suppose." Ezra reached into his pocket to pull out his phone, but then after a short glance tossed it over his shoulder onto the backseat. "Out of range," he said.
Buck nodded but didn't feel as disappointed as he should have. The rest of the team wouldn't let them live it down if they called them up asking for help. Especially after both Buck and Ezra had insisted that they could reach the safe house on their own.
"What was the last thing we passed?"
Ezra looked up, searching his memory.
"There was a bar a mile or so back."
"Hell, that biker bar?" Buck frowned. "Shit. Place is going to be full of stinking biker mountain types."
Ezra sighed and closed his eyes.
"What else do you suggest?"
"How far do you reckon this house is?"
Ezra opened an eye. "No," he said, shaking his head slowly. He grew in resolve with each shake. "No, no and no. We are not walking the rest of the way. We could be walking for days for all we know!"
"We only had two more turns to go, it couldn't be more than a few hours away."
"No," Ezra said again. "No! We're going back to that bar and that's final."
"Fine," Buck said, he sat back in his seat and glared out the window. "But don't blame me if we get attacked by Davey Crockett in leathers."
It took them two hours to reach the bar. It would have taken less time, but Ezra had insisted on taking his suitcase with him. Buck hadn't seen the point since it wasn't like there was anyone around to steal anything anyway. Ezra had just pointed out that one of his suits would cost the same as Buck's wardrobe put together, to which Buck openly wondered why anyone would brag about poor money sense.
In the end, exhaustion won out and the two men walked the rest of the way in silence.
When they finally reached the bar, they both let out an involuntary sigh of relief.
"Roy's Hog Log," Buck read aloud, expression openly skeptical. Ezra shrugged, half leaning on his propped up case.
"It fits," he said, noting the log cabin exterior and the small collection of Harleys visible within a large shack.
"Cute." Buck snorted, then his demeanour changed dramatically. "There's still time, you know. We could still go. Did you bring your cell? Maybe there's a signal here. You should check."
"What do you have against bikers?" Ezra asked, still a little breathless from the walk.
"Have you ever been in a biker bar?"
Ezra shook his head 'no'.
"Well I have," Buck continued, "it's not pretty, trust me. They tear guys like us apart for fun."
"Buck," Ezra said and waited until his friend was listening. "Have you ever been to an Ivy League bar?" He mirrored Buck's tone exactly. It was Buck's turn to shake his head, and Ezra smiled. "Well I have, and trust me. If I survived Ivy League students, I can survive a few bikers."
Buck didn't look convinced but Ezra was feeling too cold and tired to care. With a grunt, he hefted up his case and trudged to the entrance of the bar. After a moment's hesitation, Buck swallowed heavily and followed.
HELLO? (AKA: ARE YOU LOCAL?)
The bar was dimly lit and decorated with a personal collection of Harley Davidson memorabilia. There was even a cuddly Hog perched on top of the beer taps. It was the bartender Roy's pride and joy; he'd named it Pigsy after a character in a show he had seen once. It had been Japanese, or maybe Chinese. He could never tell between the two.
A few years ago he and the boys had started this game with Pigsy. Anyone who went on holiday would take the Hog along. The walls were now full of framed pictures of Pigsy in different countries. Everything from Pigsy in France by the Eiffel Tower, to Pigsy in a sombrero in Mexico. Roy's personal favourite was of Pigsy outside the Harley Davidson museum. Mick, who had taken him on that trip, had been too scared to take the toy inside in case they thought he'd stolen it.
Roy looked up when the door chimed and two men walked in. They looked the city sort. Smart clothes, clean cut, not the type usually found around these parts. The one with the moustache looked nervous, like a sharp sound would drop him dead. He kept close to the shorter one, so close Roy suspected perhaps they were more than just friends. But then he wasn't one to judge. Some of his boys might have a problem with it, but they were a decent sort, they'd keep quiet as long as the two didn't go all pansy in public.
The moustached man stayed by the door, hovering from foot to foot whilst the shorter man with the suitcase walked up to him. He smiled the type of smile Roy saw on TV a lot.
"Good evening," he said, and he sounded Southern.
"You're a long way from home, Dixie," Roy said. He put down the mug he'd been cleaning and leaned both hands on the counter. He wasn't sure but he could have sworn Moustache had just squeaked. Dixie nodded and sighed heavily.
"Very far," he agreed.
"Your friend alright?" Roy nodded over Dixie's shoulder to where Moustache looked fit to burst. If he wasn't careful, one of his boys would take him for a greenhorn.
Dixie glanced back at Moustache and rolled his eyes.
"I believe he hit his head," he explained. Roy frowned; it wasn't uncommon for city folk to injure themselves out in the wild. They weren't built right for it. Too dumb to know how to survive.
"Did he slip on the ice?"
Dixie shook his head again.
"No," he said, and sounded mournful. "When he was a baby."
Roy laughed out loud at that and slapped the counter.
"You." He pointed at Dixie, "I like you."
Dixie smiled but didn't respond.
"Do you have a phone I could use?"
Roy jerked a thumb over his shoulder to the back corner of the bar.
"Behind the jukebox," he said, "it says add money but you don't need to, just dial the area code."
Dixie nodded gratefully and hefted his case up again. Roy watched him go, before returning to his mugs. He kept an eye on Moustache as he did. The man looked ready to bolt.
Ezra gave a small halleluiah when he saw that Roy had been telling the truth about there being no need for money. He wasn't even sure if he had any change on him.
He called Chris out of instinct more than anything, mentally preparing himself for what he would say while he waited for the other end to pick up.
"Larabee," Chris greeted in his usual terse manner. The line was fuzzy and tinny from the weather.
"Chris, it's me."
"What? Hello? I can't hear very well.... Damned line is... Ezra? Is that you?"
"Chris, yes. It's me. Listen our car," Ezra hesitated. A little white lie wouldn't hurt, Chris didn't have to know they'd run out of gas, "broke down and--"
"Ezra? Ezra. Hello?" There was a loud tapping and Ezra held the phone away from his ear.
"Don't do that, please."
More tapping and Ezra squinted his eyes.
"Chris, stop tapping the phone. I-ow! Stop it!"
"Ezra? If that's you... Are you alright? ....is going on? ... Wolffe's men follow you?"
"No, we're fine and no they didn't. Our car though, it broke down. We need you to come and pick us up. We're at-"
"Ezra! Ezra why is the... If you're in trouble then.... Damn well let you go alone!"
Ezra rolled his eyes, wishing Chris wouldn't keep interrupting him.
"We're at Roy's Hog Log. We need someone to come and collect us." He spoke loud and slow, hoping Chris would understand.
"Where's Buck? I can't..."
Ezra sighed and after a moment he hung up. He hoped that Chris had understood him; at least enough to put two and two together and eventually get four.
Just as he was about to go back to Roy and ask if there was anywhere close they could find some food, a sound stopped him in his tracks. Shouting. From outside. Buck's shouting.
"Think you might want to go get your friend, Dixie," Roy said, catching sight of Ezra, "he got himself in an argument with Big Al."
Ezra hung his head, eyes closing slowly. Damnit all, Buck.
Buck had always been more of a lover than a fighter. Even as a child he'd been content to stand aside and let other people do the battling.
Chris had always been the one getting into scuffles and he'd always been the one to tell him 'I told you so' at the end.
With this in mind, how had he gotten here? One minute he'd been waiting for Ezra to ring Chris and the next, he was being circled by a man at least twice his size. Big Al lived up to his name. Terrifyingly so.
It was cold outside. Freezing even. The wind was harsh and he had barely warmed up from being out in it before. It was really not the temperature for fighting, and he told Al so.
"Couldn't we ah, maybe find another way around this?" He raised his eyebrows hopefully. Al was grinning nastily, hands poised like a grizzly bear. "Maybe a friendly game of thumb war?" Buck glanced at Al's thumbs. Big enough to crush a nut. "Maybe not." He bit down on his lip. This was not good. Not good at all.
"C'mon then, Pansy." Al leered and his teeth really weren't pretty, Buck noticed. Kind of yellow. "Let's see how well you fight."
"I'd rather not," Buck said. It was then that Al pounced. He closed in on Buck, mighty hands grappling and Buck leapt backwards with a yelp. His feet crunched over the gravel and he had to fight to keep his balance. Al came up at the end of his charge empty handed, but he wasn't deterred. He spun, delivering a roundhouse punch straight at Buck. Buck dropped to the ground, feeling it fly over his head with a snap of air.
He came up fighting. He hit out at Al's chest and the man staggered back, more surprised than injured. Buck didn't care; he leapt on the sudden space and punched again, driving his fist into Al's cheek. His knuckles cracked as they struck the bone. Buck drew his fist back again and hit as close to the same spot as he could. Al howled and he staggered away, clutching his jaw.
Buck clutched his own hand, dancing away. Damnit, that had hurt!
There was a natural pause as both men kept their distance, all but circling each other. Buck glared, Al's cheek was already beginning to bruise-good. He kneaded between his knuckles and tightened his fist, preparing.
Al let his hand drop from his face; his mouth was set in an ugly snarl, tempered by the hamster effect of his swollen cheek.
"Piece of shit," he growled, obviously annoyed by the fact that Buck had turned out to be more of a match than he'd thought. He feigned a lurch, chuckling when Buck tensed. Al feigned again, rocking on one bent knee and Buck was bizarrely reminded of a trick he'd been taught once. 'The Fox and Chicken', pretend to strike so many times that when you finally move, your opponent is caught dumb. It had been for sports practice, but it fit the situation so perfectly.
Buck sidestepped away from the man but Al turned to follow him, he feinted again. Buck almost groaned.
"Would you stop already?" he snapped. Al sneered. He lurched again, but just as he was pulling back, he followed through, charging for Buck. Wilmington had been expecting it, however and he stepped aside, neatly dodging Al as a matador would a bull. Al spun; he looked like a bull, all flaring nostrils and ruddy cheeks.
"You're beginning to piss me off now." Buck glared. Al charged with a shout, he ducked his head down and braced his arms for a rugby tackle. When Buck dodged aside, Al veered to follow, wrapping his arms around Buck's waist. Buck yelped as he found himself drilled back across the car park and his feet twisted and turned, fighting to keep from tripping under him. He latched onto Al's shoulders, all but being carried by the man.
Once they reached the far side, Al realised his charge wasn't going as planned and he pulled away, pushing Buck off balance. Buck tripped over his own feet, swayed by the momentum of the charge and he swung blindly at Al. His punch landed badly, barely grazing the big man's shoulder. With the acceleration, he couldn't dodge fast enough and Al swung straight through, catching him square on the side of the head. Buck's feet slipped out from under him on the icy gravel and he fell, his head striking the ground so hard it bounced. It made his ears ring and his teeth rattle and he lay there for a moment, completely stunned.
Al followed through relentlessly. He pulled Buck back to his feet where he'd fallen.
"Reckon I got lucky there," he sneered, face inches from Buck's. From this proximity, Buck noticed that Al's breath really, really stank. He tilted his head away, fighting not to gag, still dizzy from the ringing in his ears. He hung in Al's grip, watching blankly as Al pulled back his arm, fist raised. Any second now and Al would strike. Buck just knew he'd do something crappy like faint. He really didn't want to faint.
"What on earth?" a southern voice sputtered in the doorway. Both Al and Buck turned to look at Ezra, staring on in shock. Buck didn't think he'd ever been so glad to see his friend.
Ezra looked from Al to Buck and back again.
"What is going on here?" he asked.
Al laughed. "You gotta' bring your faggot in to protect you now?" he asked of Wilmington. Buck choked, and it wasn't from the hand on his shirt.
Ezra either hadn't heard the comment or had ignored it and marched over to the two men.
"Let go of him," he said evenly. Al, in mocking, made as if to think about it.
"Nah," he decided and grinned, hunkering Buck up further by the collar. Buck realised dimly that his feet were now dangling a good few inches from the ground.
"He annoyed me."
"How?" Ezra asked and he was using his 'I'm talking to a frightened animal voice' on the man. Buck looked at him, panicked. 'Don't talk to the man!' his mind screamed. 'Help me and run!'
"Kept looking at me. Pissed me off."
"I never looked at you!" Buck cried. Ezra gave Buck a look. Buck almost snorted, he couldn't believe it but Ezra was actually telling him to stop. Him! Not Smokey-the-sociopath-Bear over there.
"I apologise for my friend," Ezra said. "And I'm sure he's sorry too. Right Buck?" Buck shook his head. Ezra widened his eyes, silently urging Buck to agree.
"Sorry, very sorry!" 'Your mother' he added mentally, which was ultimately useless, but helped him.
"I don't like your kind," Al said, eyes boring into Buck's with a look of pure hate. "I don't like seeing your kind, I don't like hearing your kind, and I sure as hell don't like smelling your kind."
"Alright," Ezra said in the same calm tone. He had walked out of both Buck and Al's line of sight and Buck felt a moment of panic.
'Don't leave me!' he almost shouted. Al didn't seem to care either way; he had what he wanted in his grasp. Bracing his fist again, he angled it and winked at Buck. Buck closed his eyes, hoping the punch would at least knock him out and get it over and done with. Suddenly, Al let go of him, and Buck fell to the ground in a painful heap.
'Shitshitshitshitshitshitshit!' Buck covered his head with his arms, half expecting to feel Al's foot in his ribs. When nothing happened, he opened his eyes.
And saw Ezra standing over Al's toppled form, case in hand and looking shocked. He was panting a little, and when he looked up, Buck saw his eyes were as wide as saucers.
Buck let out a breathless laugh.
"Jesus Christ, Ezra..." he began, "I think you killed him." Talk about unexpected.
"Run," Ezra said suddenly. Buck frowned, and Ezra shook his head frantically. "Leave, we need to leave. As in right now." He glanced nervously at the entrance of the bar. "When they find out. We're dead."
Ezra dropped to his knees by Al's unconscious form and rifled through his pockets until he pulled out a set of keys. He looked back over to where Buck still lay.
"Move!" Ezra shouted. Buck didn't need to be told again. He scrambled to his feet, swaying a little as he was hit with a bout of vertigo. When he could focus again, Ezra was already racing for the shack of Harleys and Buck followed.
"Shit, shit, shit, shit." Ezra said in a quiet mantra as he fumbled clumsily with the keys. He stopped suddenly, glancing at Buck in panic. "Which bike is his?"
Buck looked at the line of bikes helplessly. Until he noticed one at the very end, decorated in green flames. The same design that had been on Al's biking gear.
"Thank you, Lord, for colour coordination," he breathed and headed for the bike, Ezra hot on his heels.
The bike was a classic low rider style with a long seat big enough for two people. Another small mercy Buck praised as he slipped in behind Ezra.
"Do you even know how to drive this?" Buck frowned as Ezra fumbled and nearly dropped the keys.
"Don't care," Ezra responded. He slammed the key into the ignition and fired the bike up. For a moment Buck thought they were going to fall as Ezra wound erratically through the shack, wobbling more than a kid on their first two-wheeler. But once they reached the drive outside, the bike balanced out and they sped out onto the road, tearing past the entrance where Roy and a couple of regulars were only just stepping out.
"Hey!" Roy shouted after the retreating pair. "Come back with that bike!"
Ezra pressed down on the accelerator.
HE'S NOT DEAD, HE'S RESTING
'I killed a man I killed a man I killed a man...'
Ezra stared straight ahead, his mind frozen on his litany. He could feel Buck's arms around his waist and every now and then Buck shouted over his shoulder to keep straight. Don't swerve. Watch out for that tree.
'I stole a bike.' Ezra's mind took an unexpected angle. 'I killed a man and stole his bike.'
Oh lord. He was going to hell; if it hadn't been determined before, it sure as hell was now.
"Ezra. Ezra, Ezra!" Buck's hand slapping his back snapped Ezra back to the present and he saw their abandoned car approaching them on the road. He slowed, pulling the bike in unsteadily. Once it had come to a halt, Buck leapt for the ground and walked in short circles, obviously glad to be alive.
"You," he said, pointing an unsteady finger at Ezra, "can NOT drive that bike."
Ezra blinked at him owlishly, he released his white-knuckle grip on the raised handlebars and slunk back in the easy rider seat.
"What're we going to do?" he asked softly. Buck looked back the way they had come.
"We can't stay here, no telling what those bikers would do if they found us. Reckon we just collect what we can and head on to the safe house..." He stopped, blinking rapidly. "Ooh," he cried and held out a hand to steady himself. "Vertigo."
It was then that Ezra remembered Buck had been hit, and quite soundly. He'd heard the smack of the fist from across the car park. Swinging off the bike, he took hold of Buck's elbow and guided him to the car.
"Can you see straight?" he asked. Buck sat down heavily on the bonnet of the car.
"Yeah," he said, even though his eyes were closed. "Ears are just ringing a little."
"You might have concussion. How many fingers am I holding up?"
Buck opened his eyes and found Ezra's fingers millimeters from his nose.
"Too close!" he flinched back.
"Sorry." Ezra pulled the hand away, but kept the fingers up.
"I'm not concussed. I can see fine."
"How many," Ezra repeated.
After a moment, Ezra dropped the fingers.
"Alright," he relented. "But you can't go to sleep."
"I wasn't even going to!"
"Well good... don't start now." Ezra glanced hesitantly at the side of Buck's head where he'd been hit. He fanned his fingers over the short hair there, which strangely enough, stung. Buck never thought your hair could actually hurt.
"It's bruising," Ezra frowned.
"It'll be fine," Buck gingerly touched at where Ezra's hands had been and hissed out sharply. "Is it swelling?"
"It'll go down," Ezra grinned and nudged at Buck's knee. "You'll be pretty again in no time."
And then Buck remembered what Al had said. He froze, looking at Ezra in sudden concern.
"Shit, that bastard called you a faggot."
"It's fine," he said, picking himself up. He used Buck's knees for leverage and frowned down at the damp patches on his shins.
"He called both of us pansies, but shit, Ezra. He doesn't know what he's talking about."
"Buck," Ezra smiled down at Buck. "It's fine. It isn't like it's the first time I've been called that kind of thing." He gestured down at himself, indicating his smart shirt and khakis, hidden as it was beneath his coat. "I'm used to it."
"They're fucking assholes." Buck growled, wanting nothing more than to punch Al again, and this time actually do some damage. Ezra arched a brow.
"Is it really that much of an insult?"
"Well yeah," Buck looked back at Ezra. "He called you a faggot!"
Ezra looked at Buck for a moment, not saying anything. Growing uncomfortable, Buck hopped down off the car bonnet. He braced himself when his head spun unnaturally. When he could see again, Ezra had opened the boot of the car and was rifling through the contents.
"What do you want to take with you?"
"Put a couple clothes in with the satchel and that'll be fine." He wandered around the side of the car and peered down at Ezra. "You got the map?" Ezra froze. Slowly, his eyes lifted to meet Buck's, and he swallowed.
"I uh. I left it in the front of my case... back at the bar."
"Shit." Buck rested his back against the side of the car. "I can't even remember which way to turn. Can you?"
"We had two more turns," Ezra confirmed. "But I don't know if they were left or right."
They both looked around them uncomfortably. All they could see around them for miles were snow-capped mountains and white trees. A hawk screech echoed in the distance. They were suddenly starting to feel very, very small.
"I've got a coin," Buck suggested. "Heads means left and tails means right?"
Ezra sighed; glad they'd thought to pack food in the satchel at the start of the journey. He only hoped it would last.
"Shit," Chris muttered to himself. He sat on the arm of the couch with a Yellow Pages propped open on the coffee table and his cell to his ear. Several numbers were circled in blue ballpoint, but none of them seemed right. 'Roy's Logs'. Chris was certain that was what Ezra had said. But why would Ezra be at a logging factory? "Shit," he said again.
Giving up, Chris flipped through the pages at random and punched in the first number that came to mind.
"Hello?" Josiah answered after the fifth ring. He sounded tired, voice slurred a little from lingering sleep.
"It's me. Why're you asleep at," Chris glanced at the wall clock, "seven pm?"
"Nap," Josiah said at the end of a throaty yawn. "You should try one." After a moment, it clicked in Josiah's mind who was calling and he asked, "What's wrong?"
"Ezra rang me before. I think something's wrong. Do you know anywhere in the mountains that does logging?"
"Logging?" Chris could swear he heard Josiah frown.
"Yeah. He gave me a name. 'Roy's Logs'. I've never heard of it before."
"They don't do logging up there," Josiah said. Chris heard him scratch the stubble on his chin. "It's a protected area, lots of rare wildlife."
"All I know is what Ezra told me and he told me they're at Roy's Logs. He said something's broken... Or I think he did." Chris furrowed his brow; to be honest he wasn't altogether certain what Ezra had said. "I think they're in trouble. Maybe one of Wolffe's men has them."
Josiah was silent for a moment, breathing in deeply.
"Are you sure it's Wolffe? His court hearing isn't for another two weeks, and it was pretty definite the safe house was just a precaution until Buck and Ezra could testify."
"No," Chris admitted. "I'm not sure. But Ezra rung me, and there's something wrong. I don't know what it is but I know it's something."
"What're we going to do?"
"Call the rest of the boys," Chris said. He frowned again at the Yellow Pages. "And then find out where the hell Roy's Logs is."
They reached the first crossroads after an hour of riding. The sun had begun to set already and it cast hues of pinks and purples over the land. It was strange how something so white as snow could hold so many colours. It was almost pretty.
Ezra braced his feet against the ground as the bike purred beneath him. It had been agreed that he'd drive, but not until after a long argument. Buck still refused to trust his handling of the bike, but as Ezra pointed out, Buck could barely walk without listing to the side.
Reluctantly, Buck had agreed, but kept a cast iron cast grip around Ezra's waist, almost as though if they did crash, Buck would use him as his own personal airbag. The thought disconcerted Ezra, so he chose not to think of it.
"Alright," Ezra huffed and his breath was visible in the air. He could barely feel his fingers on the handlebars, even with the double layering of gloves. "Left or right?"
Buck fumbled for his coin and tossed it.
"What is it?"
"Um..." Buck hesitated. "Which one did I say tails was again?"
Ezra closed his eyes. Left, right, left, right. Eeny meeny miny mo. What had their last turn been?
He looked up one way, then the other. They each looked just as foreboding as the other. He'd hoped that perhaps he'd memorised the map subconsciously and so would have felt an instinctive pull to one of the roads. The hope had been in vain.
"What about straight?" he said, looking ahead at the glow of the sun hidden behind silhouetted mountains.
"No, it was definitely left or right. I think maybe..." Buck pocketed the coin and wrapped his arms around Ezra's waist again. "Shit it's cold," he grumbled, tucking his fingers into Ezra's coat.
"Focus, Buck." Ezra reminded calmly.
"Right." Buck frowned. "Left."
"Left, I meant right as in yeah let's go left."
"Yeah... mm, wait. Maybe..."
Ezra turned left.
Michael Wolffe was not a careless man. He never had been. He liked things to be neat and tidy, he absolutely detested mess.
And jail was definitely a messy place.
Which was why he didn't want to go there. And he wouldn't go there, that he could be sure of.
He was a man that was good at mingling. He knew people who knew people, and as such, he knew how to get out of his 'nasty mess'.
Walking over to his desk, Wolffe picked idly at the ornate bowl of cherries that sat there. It was used more for decoration than food. He did so like the colour of cherries.
All he had to do was prevent Standish and Wilmington from testifying. They were the two key witnesses of the hearing, and with them out of the way, the law would have nothing on him.
"Sir," James said from the doorway. James was a young lad; he'd been with Wolffe for only a few months, but he showed much potential. "Brennon just phoned in, he says he has a lead."
"Oh?" Wolffe asked.
"Standish rung Larabee. Brennon says the line was bad and cut off half way, but he has a location."
"Somewhere in the mountains. The call was made from a small bikers' bar up there. From the sounds of it they're heading to the Clancy safe house."
"How long ago was the call made?"
"A couple hours ago, but there's already men on the way out there." James gave a small but eager smile. "He says he'll have them by dawn."
"And he knows to ring me when he has them."
"I made sure to remind him."
"Excellent. You can go now."
With a nod James left the room.
Wolffe ducked his head and smiled to himself. For the first time in a long while, he felt genuinely happy. Standish and Wilmington would be found; he wasn't going to jail, and all of it in under 24 hours. He popped a cherry into his mouth. Yes, life was very good.
"Why'd you stop?" Buck asked after a moment of silence. He tentatively let go of Ezra's waist, even though it was warm. A feeling he was starting to miss. Riding in the open air in the middle of winter was not a good idea.
"Because," Ezra said, sucking in a breath and his voice shaking. "I can't feel my damned hands." He pried his fingers from their grip. The gloves cracked, covered in a light frost. "I need to... feel my extremities." Slowly Ezra slid off the seat and Buck noticed he was shivering so much he was practically doubled in on himself. When Ezra turned around Buck could see his nose was reddened and his lips alarmingly white. Almost blue.
Ezra stamped his feet as he paced across the road, breathing in and out harshly.
"This was not a good idea," he ranted quietly. "Not a good idea at all. We should have waited in the car." He spun on his heels. "We've been driving for hours now. Where's the second turn?"
Buck pressed his lips together, his own face feeling numb and heavy. At least he'd stopped feeling dizzy, although the side of his head still hurt like a son of a bitch.
"I think maybe we went the wrong way."
"You think?" Ezra bit out.
The sun was almost completely gone now and it was difficult to see, but Buck swore he saw Ezra's eyes flash. It was frightening.
"I'm sorry," Ezra sighed and slumped back down on the bike, shivering. "I'm just really, REALLY cold."
An understatement if ever there was one.
Buck unslung the satchel from his shoulders and rifled through the contents. He pulled out two power bars and the thickest sweater he could find. It wasn't very thick.
"Here," he said, tossing the sweater into Ezra's lap. "Put this on, it should help." He glanced at Ezra's bright red nose. "Give me your scarf," he said, thankful to see Ezra was wearing one. Ezra looked at him warily, but removed the item. He shrugged out of his winter coat and pulled the sweater on over his own.
It was too big for him, but it wasn't too bad. Hell, Buck noted, it suited Ezra better than it did him. Brought out his eyes.
'Brought out his eyes?' Buck frowned at the thought. Where had that come from?
"What is it?" Ezra said and Buck realised he had frozen. He unraveled the scarf and wrapped it around Ezra's neck, stretching it so it covered his mouth and nose.
"Can you breathe?"
"Want me to drive for a bit?"
Ezra shook his head.
"Your head," he said, voice muffled.
"It's fine now. Look," he stood up and spun. "No dizziness... ok." He sat down suddenly. "When I spin I get dizzy. But that's natural." He thought further. "Maybe you should keep driving."
"Do I take it you trust me not to crash?" Ezra grinned.
"I didn't say that, so don't get cocky."
Ezra just laughed and pried a small mouth hole into the scarf.
"Ezra." Buck began a little uncomfortably. The tone of his voice had Ezra's attention and he looked at Buck intently. "Before, when we were back at the car, I was wondering something."
"About?" Ezra sounded guarded. He folded his arms, the move hampered a little by the multiple layers of clothing and the remaining shivers.
"Just about the ah," Buck hesitated and could have kicked himself for it, "the gay thing. You said you were used to it and ah-"
"Buck," Ezra interrupted. He nodded his head toward the darkened sky and then the woods beyond the road. "Could we save the discussions for a more... opportune moment? When we're not in danger of hypothermia?"
"Sure." Buck looked down at the trampled snow covering the road. "So ah... should we head back for the crossroads? Maybe turn right this time?"
"By the time we get back there it'll be completely dark and even colder than it is now." Ezra let his eyes drift to the darkened road ahead of them. "This has to lead somewhere. I imagine we're closer to whatever that is than we are to the safe house."
"Here's hoping this doesn't lead to a dead end then," Buck muttered as he slid back on the bike to make room for Ezra. Ezra shifted the scarf more securely around his nose and then waited for Buck to take hold of him again.
"Onward," Buck grinned and Ezra gunned the engine.
Oh no, no, no. No. No. No. No. NO!
"Come on," Buck coaxed under his breath. "Work, damn it."
He was crouched over the bike, twisting uselessly at the ignition. It was no good. The machine was well and truly dead.
Off to the side sat Ezra. He didn't seem to notice the cold snow that soaked into his clothing, favouring the need to rest over the need for comfort. He was holding his arm to his chest, the wrist supported in a way that showed it was injured.
The bike had been working fine only moments ago, but then out of the blue, it began shuddering, and then it began shaking. With one final wheeze the headlight died and the bike swerved off the road. It had taken both Buck and Ezra by surprise and they'd found themselves vaulted over the handlebars and into the midst of a deep snow bank.
A small part of Buck's mind thanked God for the snow. Without it, there might have been so much more than a few scratches and a sprained wrist. Or was it broken? Buck couldn't tell in the dark and he hadn't thought to pack a flashlight.
"Shit!" Buck shouted and kicked the bike in annoyance. The bike shuddered against the violence and its front wheel lilted against its stand.
"It might be out of gas," Buck said, turning back to Ezra. He wiped his hands off on his pants, trying to warm them. "I can't tell though, too dark. Either way it's dead."
"Great," Ezra snorted and hugged his arm closer to his chest. In a move reminiscent to the one Ezra had done only a few hours earlier, Buck crouched down in front of his friend and took the injured arm gently into his hands. Ezra offered a moment of reluctance, but it was half-hearted.
"Can you move it?" Buck asked. Ezra shrugged and nodded.
"It's just twisted," he explained. His voice jumped as he flinched against Buck's fingers and he let out a harsh gasp.
"Yeah, twisted. Sure it is." Buck made a face. He wished he could see better. Even a cigarette lighter would have been better than nothing. "Do you think you need to support it?"
"No, I'll just-- ouch! Don't do that."
Buck snatched his hands away.
"Sorry," he said sheepishly.
CHRIS GETS A CLUE
Five of the seven sat around in whatever makeshift seats they could find in Chris's living room. It had been two years since the team had formed, and just as long since it became official that the main meeting place was Chris's ranch. Yet the man still hadn't bothered to buy more chairs.
Buck had once said it was because Chris was as tight as tight could be. And he wasn't wrong.
Josiah, being the first there had laid claim to the house's only armchair. Vin and Nathan had stolen the couch and JD perched on the arm closest to Nathan. Chris stood before them, in the middle of a phone call to the last name on the list. They had gone through every log related business they could find. Logging, carpentry, development, they had even chanced it on trying a few house doctors for termites.
Chris hung up the phone and from his expression it wasn't good.
"Maybe we should just head down to the safe house?" Nathan suggested. "We might bump into them on the way." It was obvious from his expression that he believed it as much as he did in the possibility of a termite related kidnapping. That had been JD's idea, and Nathan had been the first to dismiss it as ridiculous.
"What's that name again?" JD asked. He was frowning deeply at his hands as if they held the answer. Vin groaned and decided that losing his seat was worth going in search of food.
"You still got those Nacho Doritos from last time, cowboy?"
Vin grinned and winked.
"Just the way I like them."
"You're disgusting, you know that?" Nathan called after his retreating back. Vin flipped him the bird in response.
"JD?" Josiah asked, the first to notice that JD had been staring at his hands so intently he hadn't moved to steal Vin's spot. JD looked up with a start. "What're you thinking?"
"Could I check your internet for a second, Chris?"
Chris motioned to his laptop, pushed to the side of the coffee table. It was buried underneath a scattering of papers and yellow post it notes.
"Be my guest."
JD grinned and pounced on the computer, pushing the papers onto the floor.
"You're picking those up when you're done," Chris scowled.
Vin returned with the half empty bag of nachos. He stopped momentarily, surprised to see his spot still empty and slipped into it quickly.
"So what'd Travis say about Wolffe?" he asked amidst a spray of stale corn chips. Nathan rolled his eyes but refrained from commenting.
"He's been quiet apparently. But that doesn't mean he hasn't been getting other people to do his dirty work."
"What about his phone lines?" Josiah asked, knowing full well Travis had managed to slip discreet bugs into the man's landlines. He wasn't sure how, and frankly he wasn't sure he wanted to know. No doubt Ezra had a hand in it.
"They've been silent," Chris sighed and rubbed at the back of his neck. "That's not a good sign if you ask me."
"Reckon they found a way past the bugs?" Vin batted Nathan's hand away from the nachos and held them at a safer distance.
"I'd be willing to bet they did."
"Ahah!" JD suddenly crowed. All men watched expectantly as JD sat back and lifted his hands from the keyboard with a flourish. "That name's been bugging me ever since you told it to me." JD explained as he twisted the laptop screen to face them. "There was this bar that was in the news a few months ago. Press was covering a story on how everyone there used to take this toy pig they had with them on vacation. Pig's been more places than the lot of us put together. They treated it like a joke at the time, but I remember the name of the place being weird."
JD pointed to the link of the news story he'd uncovered. It had a picture to the side of a log cabin. Outside of which stood a line of Harleys and a small group of Hells Angel type bikers. They were gathered around a toy hog, beaming like a group of children at a fun fair. Behind them the sign for the bar stood out clearly in black and white. 'Roy's Hog Log'.
"Do you think maybe Ezra was saying that? It's not too far from the safe house."
"Shit," Chris said and smiled. He pulled on his coat, expecting his men to follow his example.
"Bless you, JD," Josiah chuckled, buttoning up his fleece-lined jacket.
"For being the geek you are," added Vin.
JD beamed, then stopped.
"Hey!" he cried, glaring at Vin.
Ezra stumbled as they walked. At first it was every now and then, usually when he tripped over an unseen dip or rock, but then gradually, as time wore on, it became more and more frequent until with a tired sigh, Buck wrapped an arm around Ezra's waist and hefted him upright.
Ezra sputtered at first, insisting it was just his arm that hurt and he really didn't need help. But after a while, his indignation quieted, and he slinked a reluctant arm around Buck for support.
At least, Buck supposed, it provided more warmth for the two of them. But it also reminded him alarmingly of two refugees stumbling along.
For God-sakes, they were on their way to a safe house. How the hell had that landed them all the way out in... Buck looked around. He couldn't even think of where they were they were so far out in it.
The road had gradually narrowed as they progressed and the tarmac gave way to dirt. Not visibly noticeable due to the snow, but painfully noticeable when walking on it. More than once he found himself having to stagger a step to keep from tripping.
"This is not fun," he said, voice grim. Ezra snorted and bobbed his head. He was panting a little, but then that wasn't odd. Buck was finding it a little difficult catching his breath himself. The damned snow was difficult to walk through.
"I think we would have been safer back in the city with Wolffe."
"Would have at least been a quick death," Buck agreed.
Ezra jerked as his ankle twisted under him and he gasped, stumbling sideways into Buck. Buck staggered with the motion, cinching his arm tighter around Ezra's waist. He noticed that Ezra's scarf had fallen away from Ezra's nose, but it didn't seem to be bothering the southerner any more.
"Sorry," Ezra panted, his good hand clinging onto Buck's far shoulder. Buck grunted and righted the both of them back onto the path.
"I'm starting to think maybe you were lying about what else you hurt, Ezra." Buck said and his tone warned Ezra to tell the truth.
Ezra hesitated, and that was enough.
"It's not bad, I just twisted my ankle a little bit."
"A little bit like you twisted your wrist a 'little bit', yeah?"
"How's your head?" Ezra asked pointedly.
"Got a hell of a goose egg but it's fine." He shook his head, expression darkening. "What I wouldn't give to land one on that stupid son of a bitch."
"I'm sure it hurt him as much as it hurt you."
"I'll bet." Buck barked a harsh laugh. "At least you got him. What the hell did you do to him anyway? He looked down for the count."
"I ah," Ezra wiped at his nose, sniffing a little. "I hit him with my case."
"Shit." Buck laughed. "How the hell did you get it that high?"
"Do you know, I have no idea," Ezra grinned, sounding genuinely baffled. "Adrenaline is a marvelous thing."
"It's a fabulous thing." Buck agreed.
"Fantas-what's that?" It took a moment for Buck to realise Ezra had stopped and he almost fell backwards from the loss of balance. He looked up, following Ezra's gaze to a sharp curve in the road. Beyond that, through the trees they could see a weak glow. It looked soft and warm, and so wonderful Buck felt like he could just cry.
"Oh thank you, God," he laughed, picking up the pace with haste. "Thank you and halleluiah we have salvation!"
Brennon worked so long and so hard picking the locks without setting off the alarm, that when he and his men found the safe house empty, he almost screamed.
Cursing in ways that would make a sailor blush, he snapped out his cell and dialed Wolffe's number.
"They're not here," he snapped when the other man answered.
"What do you mean not there?"
Brennon stomped into the kitchen where two of his men were lounging. They were dressed from head to toe in black, with their balaclavas rolled up to their nose and sipping mugs of coffee. Coffee!
Brennon hissed at them like a feral cat, chasing them out with orders to search for the two missing agents.
"I mean that we got here, and the fucking place is empty! No one's been here for months."
"That can't be."
"Well that's how it is! They're not here, damnit!"
"Maybe they heard you and are hiding?"
"What?" Brennon glared at the mugs of coffee. He'd have to clean them up, or they'd arouse suspicion. Well shit. "Are you saying that I can't break into a god damned house without being detected?"
"No I'm not saying that," Wolffe said calmly. Patronising son of a... "Now let's think about this rationally. Maybe they're just running late and haven't reached there yet."
"Shit." Brennon rubbed at his receding hairline. His wife had been on at him to get plugs, maybe she was right... "They won't be late. They were already on the road when Standish phoned Larabee."
"You said they broke down. Maybe they're still back there."
"No." Brennon shook his head. "No I checked there already. They'd left after they made the call, pissed the hell out of the bikers though. I think they stole one of their bikes or something."
"Can you think of anywhere else they'd be?"
Brennon toyed with the handle of one of the mugs, mentally mapping out the area.
"There's a homestead, but that's miles off, way back at one of the crossings. No way in hell they'd have gotten all the way out there. It's in the middle of nowhere!"
"Go look." Wolffe said.
"Have you looked outside lately? It's pitch black."
"Shit." Brennon cussed. "You'd better double what you're paying me for this."
"We'll discuss the money once you've done your job."
"You're a fucking asshole, Wolffe."
"Wrap up warm," Wolffe said and ended the call.
Brennon shook his head, literally seething. He'd never been known for his patience at the best of times, never mind when chasing two jackass pigs. He picked up the nearest mug of coffee and swallowed it in two throaty gulps.
And to top it all off, he'd just burnt his tongue.
ENTER BETH AND EARL
It was the bullets that stopped Buck and Ezra in their tracks. The first one whistled by inches from their heads and they were faced with the horrible realisation that they didn't know which way the bullets were coming from. The second one kicked up a spray of snow by their feet. That was enough to spur them into motion, and both men stumbled into the woods. Buck pressed himself against the trunk of a wide tree and Ezra dropped down behind a natural snowdrift.
"What the hell?" Buck hissed at Ezra as more bullets splintered bark from trees. "Stop shooting!" he shouted. He flinched as a bullet hit the side of his tree, throwing bark into his face.
"Buck? Are you alright?" Buck looked into Ezra's frantic eyes. He was pressed flush against the snow, the bank doing little more than obscuring him from view. If they aimed at him....
"Stop it, damnit!" Buck practically screamed. "We mean no harm!"
There was a pause in the fire and the forest seemed bizarrely silent in comparison.
"Why were you trespassing?" a female voice demanded.
"We weren't! Our ride broke down a few miles back."
Another hesitation and Buck imagined he heard footsteps tramping closer through the snow. Oh please don't let them start shooting again.
"Why were you even down here? There's nothing along here but us."
'Would have been nice to know that earlier' Buck thought.
"We were lost. Have you folks never heard of sign posts?"
"Beth!" a man's voice called. Someone ran across the ground, skidding to a halt a few yards from where Ezra and Buck were taking shelter. "Beth what's going on?"
"These two men here are lost," the woman, Beth, responded.
Buck sighed and stepped out from behind the tree. He kept his hands at eye level, just in case. Behind him he heard Ezra stumble to his feet. He was expecting it when Ezra fell against his back and so didn't stagger. Much.
"You two all right?" the man asked, noticing Ezra's lurch. He shone a flashlight over the pair, causing them to squint their eyes against it. He was old, but not overly so. Even in the darkness a messy beard noticeably obscured his face.
"Oh lord," Beth gasped, a hand fluttering to her chest. "I didn't shoot you did I?"
Buck shook his head 'no', but then he wasn't altogether certain....
"Ezra?" he asked a little warily.
"Free of holes," Ezra confirmed. He let out a disgusted groan. "But cold and soaking."
"Jesus Christ, Beth," the man snapped. "I'm sorry about that. We've had a bit of trouble with poachers lately. They've been setting traps on our land." He gestured to Beth with a nod of his head. "Made us a little highly strung."
Beth batted at the man with the butt of what Buck could now see was a long-range rifle. Both he and Ezra surreptitiously stepped out of range of the barrel.
"Careful with that, woman!" The man snatched the rifle out of Beth's grasp and hunkered it over his shoulder. He cast a shrewd eye over Buck and Ezra.
"Suppose you'd better come with us. The two of you look like a pair of refugees."
Buck and Ezra looked at each other. It was only then, in the relief of the torch that they realised just how awful they both looked. Buck's bruise had spread to accommodate almost all of the left side of his face, and Ezra's skin was blotchy and raw from the wind. They were both soaked through from the snow.
"Just a goose egg, hmm Buck?" Ezra arched a brow.
"Seen your wrist lately?" Buck grumbled. Even under the cover of his thick coat, Ezra's arm had noticeably swollen to almost twice its size.
"Oh hey!" JD grinned as they walked into the bar and bounded to the far wall. He looked up at the wall of pictures. "It's Pigsy."
Nathan rolled his eyes with a smile, muttering under his breath about silly white boys. The rest of the group approached the counter where Roy stood.
"You heard about old Pigsy, eh?" Roy chuckled. He had a checkered towel slung over his leather-tasseled shoulder. Chris just shrugged, not understanding the allure of the hog. Well-traveled or not, it was just a tatty old toy.
"We're looking for a couple friends of ours. Ezra and Buck. One's southern, the other's..." Chris searched for an apt description of Buck, "a moustache."
Roy arched a brow; he stroked his goatee with a calloused hand.
"Yeah I reckon they came through here. They stole a bike."
"Oh," Chris said. Crap.
"Can't say I blame them though, Al over there," Roy nodded across the room to where a large man sat nursing a cold beer. He had a compress held to the back of his head and was looking very sorry for himself, "started some trouble with them."
"You gotta understand something about these parts. We're not like you city folk. We don't see much of what you do and so some aren't as," Roy made a face, "liberal."
Vin glanced at Chris from where he was leaning against a stool. He didn't like the connotations of Roy's words.
"JD get back here," Nathan called out. He'd noticed the surreptitious looks some of the patrons had been casting them and the oblivious young man.
"See, Al over there. He's not a bad guy, just a little hotheaded. I don't think he took to your friends'... relationship very well."
"Relationship?" JD laughed at that. "Are you saying you think Buck and Ezra are gay?" He laughed again, earning a cuff on the back of the head from Josiah. "I'm sorry but Buck? Gay? He's like the most not-gay you could get."
Roy looked steadily at JD. He pulled the cloth from his shoulder and wiped it over the bar. It did little to remove the beer stained rings.
"Either way. They got in a bit of trouble, they left their case here too." Roy nodded to the case barely visible by his feet.
"Can we have it back?" Josiah asked with a toothy grin.
"Bring the bike back and you get the case back."
"Wait a minute." Nathan crossed his arms and stood back. The rest of the group recognised his stance as his 'righteous pose'. "You commit a hate crime against two men on the grounds of -- which you're wrong by the way -- them being gay, and then you refuse to return the bags you stole?"
"They left it behind." Roy was beginning to get defensive and he tossed the cloth down onto the counter, mirroring Nathan's pose. "Do you know how much the bike they stole costs? It was a 1988 low rider classic. Classic." He stressed the word. "You return the Harley and you get your," he tried to remember the name of the suits he'd seen, "Amaretto back."
"Amaretto?" Nathan frowned.
"It's Ezra's case. I think he means Armani," Vin supplied helpfully.
"Hey Roy, what's going on?" The big man they knew as Al leant against the counter close to Vin's elbow. He still held the compress to the back of his head and his expression was twisted in a permanent wince. Roy looked at him offhandedly.
"These boys are looking for the pair you chased off."
"Oh right." Al pulled the compress away and inspected it. There was a small patch of blood in the centre and he hissed in annoyance. "Those fuckers stole my bike."
"We know that." Chris glared. "And you attacked them. I don't like people attacking my friends."
"He gets a little weird about that," Josiah commented, grinning.
Al scratched at the back of his head and inspected the dried blood and dirt under his fingernails.
"Just get my fucking bike back off those two pansies, all right?" he snapped and slapped a note on the table for more beer, already done with the conversation.
Chris rose slowly.
"Chris?" Vin said uncertainly. "Larabee." Chris stepped away from the counter. He smiled, looking every bit like a prowling lion and walked towards Al.
"Chris. Chris, stop.... Oh shit."
Beth and her husband Earl turned out to be lovely people. Neither Buck nor Ezra had noticed it before, what with the whole being shot at ordeal, but in truth, they were very pleasant.
Beth had tended to the men's respective wounds, tutting all the while as she did so. She gave Buck a compress for his head, though the bruising had already developed to its fullest extent, and wrapped Ezra's wrist securely. His leg was bruised, but not enough to warrant wrapping.
"City folk need to learn how to stop getting themselves killed," she had clucked, patting Ezra's shoulder in a motherly manner.
Earl had pulled out a few items of clothing from an unused crate in the shed. They had belonged to the couple's son who'd moved East a few months ago. The boy had obviously been a country bumpkin what with his checks and denim and mother-of-pearl buttoned cuffs. But the clothes were clean, and dry, and didn't fit too badly.
Once Ezra and Buck were dressed and relatively comfortable, Beth and Earl had offered the two of them a hot meal and a bed for the night. The couple were farming types, with a lot of land and only the basics in technology. Their phone line had been cut off a few months ago after a storm and they hadn't seen the need to have it mended in a hurry. In consolation, Earl mentioned that the following morning he could give them a lift back to the gas station in his pickup. He'd needed to drive down there anyway to stock up on provisions.
And then they had pulled out the home brew.
"Try it," Earl had said, offering Ezra and Buck a mug each. He beamed as they sniffed at it and took experimental sips, obviously proud of his concoction. "A couple more months and it'll be right for selling. I'm gonna' make a fortune out of this lot, I just know it."
It was toxic stuff. So strong that the smell of apples filled the house even before Earl had cracked into the barrel. Ezra almost choked after his first swallow and he dropped the mug onto the table with watering eyes.
"It's good," he gasped breathlessly. Beth rolled her eyes, smiling and Earl roared a proud laugh.
"It's beautiful!" he corrected, and then looked expectantly at Buck. Buck had already worked his way through a third of his pint.
"Best drink I've ever had," Buck grinned from behind his foamy moustache.
"Take as much as you like, boys." Earl grinned and slung an arm around his wife's waist. "I got a shed load of it out back."
"You just had to, didn't you?"
"Shut up." Chris rubbed his aching fist, making a point of not looking at Nathan. Even though he could feel the man's eyes boring into the back of his head. Sometimes Nathan could be very, very intimidating.
"Well," JD reasoned with a pleasant bounce. "At least we got Ezra's case back." Nathan ignored him.
"You just couldn't talk rationally. Oh no. Not Chris Larabee. Not the white boy's Shaft. You just had to hit him, didn't you?"
"He attacked Buck and Ezra."
"Did you not see the back of his head? I'd say they got their revenge and then some."
"They weren't going to give Ezra his case back."
Nathan snorted and glared out of the window. Beside him Vin let out an unintelligible grunt and prodded Nathan in the ribs. He settled his head back down on Nathan's shoulder and went back to snoring quietly.
"Don't make excuses. You're just way too willing to use violence." Nathan cast an accusing glare around the rest of the car. "All of you."
"Hey," JD frowned. "What'd I do?"
Josiah just drove the car, happy to stay out of it. The headlights caught something in the horizon and he slowed down, recognising Buck's old car.
"Here's where they broke down," he said, ending the discussion as everyone peered out of the windows. "Don't see them anywhere though."
"They'll have headed up to the safe house." Nathan tried to sit forward but another elbow in the ribs from Vin stopped him. "What should we do about the car?"
"Leave it," Chris said and Josiah sped past the abandoned vehicle. "We'll call a tow truck in the morning."
WELCOME TO THE HOTEL CALIFORNIA
"What?" Ezra mumbled, not opening his eyes.
Ezra didn't bother replying. With a patient sigh, he rolled over onto his back and blinked up at the dark ceiling. Beside him Buck mimicked him and then sat up, Ezra could just make out his silhouetted figure. The move pulled the covers off Ezra and he jerked them back up to his chest in annoyance.
That had stopped them in their tracks initially. When Beth and Earl had said they had a room going spare, they hadn't thought it to be literally one room.
And certainly not one bed.
But it was big enough for the two of them, and they were both tired -- and on Buck's part more than a little drunk -- so their complaints had been short lived.
That was until they realised they had no pajamas and would have to sleep in their underwear. Buck had refused, and had been very vocal about it. That was until Ezra gave him a choice. Either sleep on the bed or sleep on the floor.
It hadn't been hard to decide after that. But now Ezra was beginning to seriously regret his ultimatum as Buck would just. Not. Shut. Up.
"I'm thirsty," Buck complained in a whisper.
"Then drink your water." Ezra had already filled a glass from the bathroom. He didn't make a habit of doing favours for others, but this time it was as much for his own benefit as it was for Buck's. A hydrated Buck meant no nasty early morning wake up calls of vomit on the bed sheets. "Honestly," Ezra sighed in annoyance. "Why did you drink so much?"
"It tasted good," Buck defended, voice an octave higher than usual. Ezra had barely finished his own drink before the bite of the alcohol had begun to feel like it was wearing a hole through his oesophagus. He had no idea how Buck worked his way through four pints.
There was a clink of glass against wood and then someone swallowing noisily. Buck gave a refreshed sigh.
"Ran out of water," he said.
"Well go fill it up."
"Can't move." To prove it, Buck wobbled and fell back against the pillow. It bounced Ezra from the lull he had fallen back into and he crawled out of bed, hissing in annoyance. He snatched up his own glass with Buck's, reasoning it would save an extra trip.
"Don't say I never do anything for you," he snapped as he headed for the door.
"Thank you, love you," Buck's singsong voice followed him into the hall.
Ezra rolled his eyes. He couldn't help but smile softly to himself as he filled the two glasses and padded back down the hall. It was extremely surreal sharing a bed with Buck in the middle of nowhere. Surreal, but not entirely unpleasant.
His smile dropped the minute he stepped back inside the bedroom.
Buck was sprawled on the floor. His top half was hidden beneath the bed and he drummed his feet happily against the carpet, humming an off key rendition of Purple Rain.
"What on... earth?" Ezra placed the mugs on the bedside table and nudged at Buck's foot. "Buck?" he began warily.
Buck's feet froze.
"Ezra!" Buck cried happily. "I fell out of bed," he added after a moment.
"How?" Ezra frowned, genuinely baffled.
"I ran out of bed when I rolled."
Ezra squatted down.
"Get up," he ordered gently. Buck obediently sat up. There was an almighty crack and Buck's let out a pained groan. Ezra visibly winced. That had to hurt. Taking hold of Buck's arm with his good hand, he managed to pivot Buck sideways and out from under the bed and then half pulled, half lifted Buck back onto the bed.
"Alright?" he asked. Buck nodded against his chest and Ezra could feel every hot breath he took. "Let me see your head," Ezra pulled away, dropping back down to his knees. He searched with an errant hand for the bedside light and after a moment it switched on. They both squinted against the unwelcome brightness. "Oh lord, Buck." Ezra let out a sympathetic hum and pressed gently at the side of Buck's head. Along with the morbidly spectacular bruise he already had, he was developing another smaller one on the opposite side. "You goon."
"Goon?" Buck slurred the word.
"Mmm, it means fool. My..." Ezra paused, not certain he really wanted to share his past. But then, he reasoned, it wasn't as if Buck was in any fit state to remember. "My grandfather used it at times."
"Father or mother's side?"
"Please," Ezra arched a brow. "Can you imagine anyone from Maude's side using slang?"
Buck grinned, but then pulled something off his tongue between thumb and forefinger.
"Dust bunny," he explained, making a face. "So where is your grandpap, anyways?"
Ezra shrugged offhandedly and straightened. He winced as his twisted leg gave a sharp twinge and shuffled back to his side of the bed.
"I'm not sure, dead I imagine."
"You don't know?"
Ezra pushed the covers aside and eased himself onto the mattress. It shifted, accommodating to his weight.
"I lost contact with my father's family after he and my mother split."
"Didn't they try to find you?"
"I'm certain they tried." Ezra idly rubbed at his chest and lay back against the pillows. His tone took on the distant quality of remembrance as he pictured his father and grandparents. He could remember them so well. "They were good people."
"Do you wish you'd stayed with them?"
"Sometimes," Ezra admitted. "But then again, sometimes not." He rolled over, uncomfortable with the conversation and nudged Buck's shin with his toe.
"Drink some water or you'll regret it tomorrow."
"I'm mostly sober now anyway." Buck reached for a glass. He came up short by a few good inches. "Okay, maybe not." He frowned.
Brennon crouched down by the bike. It was partially covered by a collapsed snowdrift but he could just make out the green flame design spiraling down the sides. There were deep furrows beside it made by two bodies. By the looks of it, Standish and Wilmington were injured. They couldn't have gotten far.
Brennon smiled to himself and stood up. He signaled for his men to return to the car.
"Are we going to take the bike?" the driver asked as he ground the butt of his cigarette into the snow.
"What's the point?" Brennon said. He slipped into the passenger seat and chuckled. "We only need the men."
Some time later, Ezra woke up to the feeling of someone pressing sugar-soft butterfly kisses against his collarbone. It wasn't an unpleasant sensation, but it was one he hadn't expected. He opened his eyes in alarm.
Buck was curled up next to him. No, not next to him, but practically on top of him and the top of his head moved with each kiss he planted.
Era's eyes bugged. Buck. Butterfly kisses. Him!
His mind rushed desperately to remember the whys and wherefores of how he and Buck had ended up sleeping together. He noted with some dim annoyance that his mind was not the only thing rushing.
There was definite tentage of the blankets.
Buck made a sound, a sleepy gurgling sigh and stretched an arm across Ezra's chest. One of his legs hooked against Ezra's thigh, dangerously close to his erection.
Ezra bit his lip to keep from groaning.
It was obvious that Buck was -- or mostly was -- asleep. He, no doubt, had no idea who he was currently kissing and, more than likely, imagined it to be one of his many women. With this realisation, Ezra was faced with a dilemma. He either had to spring out of bed, hide his erection and claim baffled innocence. Or he could close his eyes; keep as still as possible and pretend to be asleep. With an erection. Crap.
Buck shifted again. His leg crawled higher, the knee brushing against the base of his cock through his boxers. It twitched and Ezra almost yelped. That decided it.
With a speed that came only from desperation, Ezra slid out from under Buck and rushed for the door. He didn't stop until he reached the small bathroom at the end of the hall where he closed and locked the door.
"Oh lord," he groaned to himself, sitting on the lowered toilet seat and looking forlornly at his crotch. It strained pathetically against the material, desperate for attention and if it could talk, he knew it would have been screaming 'look at me!' at the top of its little voice.
"You can just be quiet," he growled down at it. It didn't listen, and only strained further at the material.
Groaning both at the strain, and the absurdity of it all, Ezra reached down with his good hand and jerked off until he came.
APPENDAGES SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED A VOICE
When Ezra shuffled back into the bedroom, it was to find Buck sitting up in a very dejected manner. His arms were draped over blanketed knees, and between them hung his head.
Buck looked up when the door swung open, but he looked away quickly.
"Listen, Ezra," he began uncomfortably. "About before. I thought that uh... and you, and ah. Sorry."
"What?" he asked quietly. He was very aware of the fact that he was dressed only in a pair of boxers and he wrapped his arms around his chest.
"When you ran out. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have been all..." Buck gestured helplessly. "I just thought that you wanted it and ah... yeah. Sorry."
'Oh,' Ezra thought dumbly. Oh.
'Told you! Told You!' his cock screamed. 'Toldyoutoldyoutoldyou!'
"You were awake when you...?" and Ezra gestured. They were acting like a couple of school children, unwilling to admit to anything.
"Yeah." Buck sighed. His knees slid down on the bed. "Yeah. Shit, I feel like some kind of creepy pervert. I didn't mean to freak you out."
It took Ezra a moment to comprehend, but when he did, he almost choked.
"So you, you meant to... do that?" Ezra wasn't sure if he meant the kisses or the leg.
"Jesus, Ezra. Yes. I'm sorry."
Buck shoved the blankets aside and swung his legs off the bed. His back was hunched and he wrung at his hands, frowning down at them.
Ezra stared at the man, simply unable to look away. He was just so... so. Naked. When had that happened?
Buck seemed to realise this at the same time, and hastily scrabbled for the sheets. He wrapped them around his waist.
"I don't even remember doing that," he admitted, blushing furiously.
"So, ah. You meant to do that... with me?"
Buck looked at him. His jaw was tense and the beginnings of irritation shone in his eyes.
"I'd appreciate it if we moved off the subject." He looked around the room, and then under the bed. "And where the hell are my pants?"
"No, wait. Could I just..." Could he just what? Stop? Think? Act? "I just need a moment." He saw Buck's discarded boxers at the foot of the bed and he picked them up absently. They looked like some kind of battered tomato. All red and green stripes and splodges. The pattern was so very Buck.
Buck took the pants from him and Ezra realised he'd been staring at them longer than necessary. Ezra averted his eyes when Buck pulled them on, surprised to feel disappointment.
'Sayitsayitsayitsayit!' his cock cried. Ezra glared down at it.
"Buck," Ezra said, and found he actually wanted to smile. "You must have felt me... reacting."
"Yeah," Buck rubbed at the back of his neck. It was so strange, the both of them standing in a farmhouse style room surrounded by doilies and practically naked. "But it's not like you can exactly help that. Don't worry, you running out of the room like your ass was on fire said a lot. I don't know, I guess I just... allowed myself to believe, you know? I really am sorry." The last part was said quietly, brokenly.
"Shut up," Ezra growled at his crotch.
"What?" Buck looked up.
"Shut up," Ezra repeated. And he kissed him.
They weren't certain what time it was when they reached the safe house, but by the end of it, Chris was fuming, Nathan was still sulking, and Vin had drooled on his shoulder.
"It doesn't look like anyone's there," JD said with a small frown. The house was indeed dark. No lights were on, save for the tinny beam of the porch light. Beneath it moths spiralled and ran into each other, desperate to reach nothing in particular.
"It's late, they're probably asleep," Chris said as he jumped out of the car even before Josiah had finished parking.
"Safety first," Josiah called out, expecting to be ignored, which he was.
Chris bounded up the slight rise of the frosted path, closely followed by Nathan and JD. Josiah and a still groggy Vin brought up the rear at a more sedate pace. They watched as the rest of the team gathered by the front door, wondering why they seemed reluctant to go in.
"The door's unlocked," Chris explained in a quiet murmur as they cleared the three porch steps. He placed a hand on the butt of his gun, flicking the safety off. Silently waiting for the others to do likewise, he held up three fingers in a silent countdown.
On three, they slipped through the door, gathering in a crowd in the main hall. Two doors stood on either side of them, and ahead of them was a staircase leading to the bedrooms.
"You two upstairs," Chris steadied a gaze on Vin and Nathan. "JD check the garage for that damned bike." He looked finally at Josiah. "You go left, I go right."
Chris watched as his men filed off to their assigned destinations and then inched towards his own door. It stood ajar and he could just make out the corner of a couch, highlighted by the moon. He shouldered his way into the room, drawing his gun as he did so and quickly backing into the nearest wall.
The room was empty.
He cautiously moved to the television set and placed a hand on top of it. It was warm.
"Jesus Mary Mother of God!" Josiah's voice suddenly roared. Something loud and heavy slammed into a wall and Chris imagined he felt the entire foundations rattle.
"What! Josiah!" Chris charged back into the hall. He caught the gaze of Vin and Nathan as they raced down the stairs, taking them two at a time. The three of them thundered across the room and into the opposite door. The room was dark, a lot darker than the one he had just been in and he spun wildly.
"Josiah, answer me!" Chris shouted. There was a click, and light filled the room. Chris, Vin and Nathan cried out simultaneously and their hands flew to cover their eyes.
"Sorry about that," Josiah said somewhere to their left. Chris cracked open an eye and saw Josiah with his hand over the light switch. He didn't look harmed.
"You shouted, what happened?"
Josiah had the grace to look a little sheepish and he gestured to his feet. Chris noticed for the first time a body lying there. He was sprawled over a toppled chair, a trail of blood running steadily from his hairline.
"The bastard startled me," Josiah explained. "I may have... hit him a little too hard." Another sheepish shrug and Josiah heaved the man up and away from the chair.
At that moment JD came skidding into the room.
"What is it? What happened?" he panted in a rush. He caught sight of the man dangling in Josiah's grasp. "Oh," he said, as if that explained it all. "Is that one of Wolffe's men?"
"Probably," Vin answered. He'd discovered a half eaten bowl of cereal left on the kitchen counter and was poking at the soggy flakes, debating as to whether they were worth rescuing.
"Is the bike here?" Chris asked. JD shook his head.
"It doesn't look like Ezra and Buck were ever here," Nathan said. "Buck's case wasn't anywhere upstairs and the beds haven't been touched." He looked at the unfortunate man still held up by Josiah. "Do you think he knows where they are?"
"Doubtlessly," Chris said, voice grim. "Anyone know how to wake him up?"
If Ezra was honest with himself -- which he rarely was -- he would admit that this was what he had been waiting for.
Months of watching, hoping -- dreaming even -- and here he was. Straddling Buck's thighs and kissing him senseless. He could feel Buck's erection poking against his stomach, he could smell Buck with every breath, and the sight. Oh lord, the sight was glorious.
Buck threw his head back against the pillow, gasping wantonly. His fingers raked down Ezra's back, and Ezra smiled with perverse pleasure, urging them to leave red furrows. He wanted to be marked by Buck, and he wanted it to last.
"Jesus, H." Buck panted beneath him, breaking the kiss. His hips bucked frantically against Ezra's, demanding more contact. Ezra rolled his own hips, a small movement intended to entice. It worked. Buck let out a long, low groan and splayed his feet against the mattress. He tried to lift the both of them higher, but the mattress gave, and they tumbled over, landing with Ezra under Buck.
"Oof!" Ezra blinked up in surprise, and then he laughed. He ducked his head up, catching Buck's lips in a chaste kiss. He kissed him again, and again, until Buck followed through and demanded Ezra's lips to open with his tongue. Ezra parted them obediently.
Buck's hands were running down his chest now, his fingers spanned out over his skin, Memorising it with a heated curiosity. It struck Ezra that this was probably -- no definitely -- the first time Buck had been with another man. He pulled away; staring at Buck with what he hoped was severity.
"Are you sure about this?" he asked even as Buck's erection clashed with his own between their boxers.
"Yeah," Buck gasped. He squeezed his eyes shut and took hold of Ezra's forearms. "Oh God yeah."
"If you want to stop... just say so."
"Yeah, yeah. Sure. Gotcha'" Buck stroked a thumb over Ezra's bicep and kissed him, stealing his words and his breath. When Buck pulled away again, Ezra saw something in his expression. He remembered it from his first time all those years ago.
Buck was completely and hopelessly lost on what to do next. The willingness was there, but not the experience. Ezra had to admit this was different to being with a woman. Not quite so... straightforward.
Ezra decided, in an entirely selfless manner of course, that it was up to him to take the lead. He slipped his arms out of Buck's grasp and rolled them back over so he was on top.
"Oh... oh crap." He winced as his wrist gave out on him. He'd forgotten about that.
"You ok?" Buck looked worried for a moment.
"Mmm," Ezra hummed and sat back on Buck's legs. Massaging his wrist, he let his eyes drift from Buck's flushed face, down his chest and, finally, to the best part. "Let's get these out of the way," he muttered to himself and began easing the red and green boxers down. Buck lifted his hips, which, Ezra realised, was not only a big help, but was also a very, very sexy move. Buck's cock sprang out from the material. Now free, it stood tall and proud.
Absolutely fucking gorgeous.
Ezra moistened his lips in anticipation, feeling himself react almost painfully to the sight.
"You know, I knew you were." Buck said suddenly and Ezra looked up, disturbed from his in-depth inspection of the wonder that was Buck's cock. "Gay I mean, I knew it." Buck grinned down at him.
"It's why I'm used to hearing it," Ezra replied distractedly.
"So how long had you known? Was it like... a born thing? Have you only ever been with guys?"
"No," Ezra curled his legs around Buck's thighs, tilting Buck's hips a little. His cock sprung up eagerly and Buck let out an imperceptible gasp.
"Oooh fuck yeah," Ezra thought he heard Buck pant. He hadn't even touched him yet. That had to be a good sign. "So who was your, ah," Ezra lapped his tongue over the head and Buck wriggled, his fingers curling into the bedding. Ezra could feel Buck's thighs muscles tensing beneath him. "Who was your first?"
Ezra engulfed Buck, and his questions dissolved into one long ecstatic groan.
THE CONVERSATION EVERYONE HAS HAD
"That was very," Buck caught his breath, blinking up at the ceiling. The sheets were damp beneath him and they clung to his skin. "Very, mind-blowingly, amazing."
Ezra sat back on Buck's knees with a coy grin. He wiped almost self-consciously at his lips and his tongue darted out to follow, moistening them. Even after having what had to be the greatest orgasm ever, Buck found himself growing semi-hard again.
Something that was not lost on Ezra. He arched a brow pointedly.
"It knows no limits," Buck said with a shrug. Ezra chuckled and flopped down on the bed beside Buck.
"Well I do," he said, shifting a little closer. Buck pulled him the rest of the way over until their arms and legs were intertwined.
"That was good, though. That was really good. I mean," Buck let out an explosive, contented sigh and kissed the corner of Ezra's mouth tenderly. "Wow."
Ezra laughed. He wiped again at his mouth.
"Want to go brush your teeth?" Buck asked, not offended if the man did. He hadn't ever tasted sperm before, but he couldn't imagine it tasting nice. Ezra shook his head, but reached for one of Buck's mugs of water.
"It's fine." He swirled a mouthful of it and swallowed, then took another quick sip. "Just gets stuck in your teeth sometimes."
"Oh," Buck said. "Ew."
Ezra laughed again.
"Sorry," he grinned, not sounding like he meant it in the least. "Other than that though, it doesn't taste bad." After a shrug he relented. "Well I don't think so. As long as you don't eat curry before."
"That affects the taste?" Buck asked curiously. "Really?"
"Mmm, my last..." Ezra hesitated. "Someone I was with claimed that if you ate one type of food for two days solid, it would taste exactly like that."
"Have you tried it?"
"No," Ezra admitted. "But I have to say, it's made me curious."
And that was it with Ezra. He was curious about anything and everything. So much so it was practically a physical entity with him.
Buck was overcome with a strange sense of tenderness and he planted a soft kiss on the tip of Ezra's nose.
"What was that for?" Ezra smiled.
"I had an urge."
"Talking about flavoured semen gives you urges to kiss?" Ezra shook his head in mock disgust. "You're disturbed." The happy twinkle in his eyes took away the edge of his words. Buck buried his face into the hollow between Ezra's neck and shoulder and breathed in.
"You're the one who likes the taste of it."
"Try it before you disparage it."
Buck realised then that he hadn't done anything for Ezra. Whilst the other man had -- quite expertly -- gotten him off, he himself had been left hanging.
"I could," Buck started a little tentatively, his eyes glanced down Ezra's chest to where he was still wearing his boxers. "Do you want me to?"
Ezra shook his head sleepily.
"I ah... took care of it before in the bathroom." He yawned, masking the move against Buck's arm and if Buck hadn't found the action so cute, he would have been annoyed.
"Oh," Buck said. "Oh," he said again with more force when he actually worked out what Ezra meant. "Yuck."
Ezra laughed and slapped at the spot on Buck's arm he'd just yawned on.
It was then that the door slammed open with such force the doorknob left an indentation in the wall. Ezra leapt up and away from Buck with a frightened yelp that Buck could relate to. His own heart missed a beat and the only reason he stayed on the bed was because he was certain he'd leave his own skin behind if he moved.
Men swarmed into the room. They were clad in darkened fatigues -- army enthusiasts -- and were all aiming their spectacularly intimidating guns at him and Ezra.
"Get on the floor!" the man in the middle, obviously the leader, barked. Buck glanced at Ezra, who returned the look with a stunned one of his own.
"Get on the floor!" the man repeated, kicking the leg of the bed for effect. It jolted the frame by a good few inches and Buck yelped despite himself. After a moment's hesitation, Buck saw Ezra sink to his knees out of the corner of his eye. He silently thanked the lord and all that was holy that Ezra had only pulled his boxers to his knees and not all the way off. Pulling them back up to protect his dignity -- what was left of it -- Buck slipped off the bed and onto the floor.
"Come to the front of the bed and keep your hands by your heads. You make one sound and I'll blow your god damned heads off."
And how could you refuse someone who asked so nicely? Buck duck walked on his knees to the foot of the bed. He felt Ezra's forearm brush against his own, finding security in the warmth. The Leader sneered at the both of them, obviously disgusted by the connotations of their lack of attire. Two of the fatigue-boys roughly snapped handcuffs onto the both of them. Buck heard Ezra's breathing sharpen when the man cuffing him jerked his injured wrist, but he stubbornly refused to make a noise.
"On your feet," lead fatigue-boy ordered. It was with some difficulty with their cuffed hands, but eventually Ezra and Buck did as ordered. The Leader looked them over once more, and then he turned to one of his men. "Put some fucking clothes on them. They look ridiculous."
The fatigue-boy did as instructed and soon, Ezra and Buck were both dressed in their clothes and being re-cuffed.
A young man in a capped hat stepped inside the room. He looked askance at Ezra and Buck before approaching the leader.
"There's no one else in the house, sir."
Buck glanced at Ezra in alarm. He saw the same question in Ezra's eyes as his own. What about Beth and Earl?
"Are you sure?"
The young man nodded, his cap bobbing.
"Looks like there might have been others, but they're gone now."
The Leader and the young man slowly turned to Buck and Ezra. Buck swallowed.
"Where are they?" the leader asked simply.
"The people you were with. Where did they go?"
"Ah..." Buck searched the room desperately. A distraction would have been good right about now. Or perhaps even a clue as to what the hell was going on. "What people?"
He was expecting the punch to the side of the head and so he fell with it. It didn't hurt. Much. He dimly heard Ezra shout and rush one of the men. There was a smack of flesh on flesh, a grunt and then Ezra was falling down next to him.
"Hey," Buck said to him, attempting cheerful. Ezra just looked at him, his tongue slipping out to dab at the blood that ran sluggishly from his split lip.
Buck groaned, purposely not watching the move. Now was not a good time to get hard again.
NO GOOD YELLOW JELLIED COWARDS
As it turned out, it took half an hour, two bowls of ice water, and a dozen slaps to wake up the man Josiah had downed. After that, it took a 'Chris Larabee patent glare' and one of Josiah's giant fists placed conveniently in the man's line of sight for him to tell all.
Shortly after that, the five men were on the road, doubling back on themselves at an alarming speed. They reached the crossroads in record time; now confident they were hot in pursuit of their errant team members.
"Are you sure this car can handle the snow?" JD squeaked when they fishtailed over a patch of ice. He had one hand placed squarely against the car roof; the other was wrapped around the door handle in a death grip.
Josiah grunted. His jaw was set as he spun the wheel left and right. His response, or lack thereof, was not a comfort and JD tightened his grip.
"Snow bank," Chris pointed a finger calmly ahead. The car swerved, tossing the three in the back seat to the left. Vin choked on his mouthful of Cheerios, the box cradled to his chest.
"Do you ever stop eating?" Nathan muttered in annoyance, wiping Cheerio crumbs off his arm. Vin's response was to shovel another handful in.
"We are going to die. We are definitely, definitely going. To. Die."
"We're not going to die, JD," Chris said over his shoulder. "Turn left."
JD, Vin, and Nathan slammed into the right window.
"Stop! Stop!" Nathan suddenly shouted. Josiah slammed his foot on the brakes, and the car skidded to a halt a few meters later. It left twin lines of black over the road where it had kicked up the snow.
"What is it?" Chris craned his neck to look out the back window. Nathan disentangled himself from Vin, brushed more Cheerios from his coat and mirrored Chris's move.
"Back there, I saw something. I think it was green."
"We're in a pine forest, Nathan."
Nathan glared at JD.
"Just back up the car, Josiah."
As the car slowly reversed, the group of five crowded to the right side, watching as they came back in line with the snow bank. Sure enough, a green flame body was just visible beneath the snow.
They tumbled out of the car and crunched their way over to it.
"1988 low rider classic," Vin said, grinning. He pulled the bike out from the drift and hefted it up, wiping some of the powder from its body. "Sure is pretty."
"So where's Buck and Ezra?" JD spun on the spot, half expecting the twosome to come bounding out from behind one of the trees at any given moment.
"We're having to say that entirely too much," Nathan commented dryly. "Couldn't they just stop somewhere and stay there?"
"That'd just be too easy." Vin was now straddling the bike and flexing his fingers around the handlebars. He looked like he was enjoying it entirely too much. "What do we do with her?" he asked, patting the bike's framework.
"We don't have time for it, just leave it here."
"Oh yeah, great." Nathan rolled his eyes. "And when that Al guy sues us for grand theft auto and repeated GBH, then what? We hit his lawyer too?"
Chris scowled. Nathan had a point, but it didn't mean he had to like it.
"We'll come back for it later." He noticed that Vin seemed reluctant to let the bike go -- now running his hands over the padding of the seat. "Vin, put the bike down."
"Al doesn't deserve her," Vin sulked. After one last longing stroke, he laid the bike gently against the snowdrift and backed away. Nathan cast a sympathetic arm over his shoulder as they headed back for the car.
"Wait, wait. Stop." JD hadn't moved and they all turned to look at him. Chris was about to ask what he thought he was doing, when JD held up a finger. The other hand went to his ear. "Listen."
And they did.
In the distance they could hear voices. Faint, but resolute. A man and woman bickered steadily between themselves over the dull hum of an old motor.
The five men stepped out on the road and watched as a beat up old pickup rattled over the snow towards them. The windows were gaping, even despite the cold weather.
"...And another thing, you old witch. It's not jellied, it's bellied!" the man was saying, gesturing expansively with one hand out of the driver's window.
"Jelly, belly, whatever it is you're still a yellow coward!"
"What did you expect us to do? Stick around and play nice? It was their damned fault for poaching anyway!"
"Oh, ho!" The woman laughed scornfully. "That's rich. Because I just know that you've never set traps before."
"Ah just shut up with your --" the man stopped. He had noticed the wall of men in their path and pulled the truck over with a rattle and a wheeze. "Can I help you boys with something?" he asked warily. He stuck a generously bearded face out of the window.
"Have you seen two men come along here? They would have been on foot and..." Chris stopped when he noticed the man's expression. He looked absolutely terrified.
"Oh crap. Oh flaming balls of crap." His head disappeared back through the window. There was a choke and a splutter as he tried desperately to fire the dying engine up.
"What in the hell are you doing, Earlgood Brown?" the woman snapped and kicked open the door. It stuck and she stumbled out onto the icy road, wrapping her coat tightly around herself.
"Damnit, get back in here woman!"
The woman glared back into the car and slammed the door. She picked her way carefully around the truck towards the five.
"Are you friends of Messrs Wilmington and Standish?"
"What do you know?" Chris asked.
The woman rolled her eyes, an action obviously aimed at the man still fussing over the stalling engine rather than at Chris.
"My name's Beth, and my dear, brave, wonderful husband over there," the sarcasm was not lost on the group. "Is Earl. We found your friends earlier in the night." She paused, and in a tone much more urgent, she continued. "I'm afraid your friends may be in danger."
YOU CAN CHECK OUT ANY TIME YOU LIKE...
Buck stumbled into a tree. He glared over his shoulder at whoever had pushed him and the line of soldiers looked back at him blithely.
"Eyes front!" the Leader ordered. He drilled the butt of his gun in-between Buck's shoulder blades, spurring him forwards a few steps.
"Do these guys have a fucking 'don't look at me' complex or what?" he hissed bitterly. Ezra chuckled beside him, though it came out more as a wheeze. He had been on the receiving end of a gun in the ribs only a moment earlier and was still working on getting his lungs working again.
They hadn't been walking for too long. A half-hour at the most, but already Buck and Ezra were hopelessly lost. Every way they turned, it looked exactly the same. Just trees, snow, and soldiers. As time wore on and they ventured further into the woods, Buck had to admit he was feeling more and more dejected. Even the warm knowledge that Ezra was right next to him was beginning to wear thin. It only meant he had more to worry about than just himself.
And that was just annoying.
"Where do you think they're taking us?" Ezra wondered aloud, though not loud enough for any of the soldiers to actually hear him. Buck snorted.
"With the rate it's been going for us lately, I'd say we're about to come across their super-advanced, super-secret, super-painful torture-chamber-with-a-view."
Ezra gave him a look, not at all amused.
"Don't joke," he warned, "with our luck it could be true."
Brennon stormed through the darkened house, checking and double-checking every room he came by. Sometimes he even triple checked a room.
"Why aren't they here?" he cried, voice tight with frustration. He raked anger-tensed fingers down his face, mussing up his carefully jelled hair and leaving deep red tracks over his cheeks. "Why. Are they not. In this. God damned. House?" A stamp of his foot and a slash of his fist accentuated each pause.
His men inched away from the thrashing appendage. They knew not to approach their boss when he was in one of his moods.
"Why the hell is it so hard to find two god damned ATF agents?"
Brennon pounced on the closest target. It turned out to be a young trainee named Andy. Andy eeped a little when he noticed he was the focus of his boss's rage.
"All I want to do is kill them," Brennon all but pleaded of the young man. "Is that so much to ask?"
"Sir?" a man said from the doorway.
Much to Andy's relief, Brennon moved away from him to greet the newcomer.
"Have you found them?" Brennon said hopefully.
"Ah, no sir."
Brennon cried out and sank to the floor.
"But we've found tracks leading into the forest."
Brennon stopped his wailing. Red faced and teary eyed, he climbed back to his feet.
"Should we ah... go follow them sir?"
"Yes." Brennon nodded, brushing down his cuffs, now the epitome of decorum. "Yes, that would be agreeable."
Buck wasn't certain what it was he noticed first. The rushing sound of water, or the fact that one of the soldiers had taken a healthier than normal interest in Ezra and continually propelled him to the ground with the butt of his gun.
Whichever it was, they worried Buck equally as badly.
"Where are you taking us?" he asked out of desperation. He tried to step in behind Ezra, shielding him from the soldier but the man only manhandled him away. The soldier savagely shoved his hand against Ezra's back, and Ezra tripped into a tree.
"We'll be there soon enough," the Leader smiled. It was an ugly smile, more of a sneer. Buck tried to return it. His was tempered with a wince when Ezra fell again. That shove had to have hurt.
"This," Ezra looped his cuffed hands around Buck's arm and pulled himself to his feet with a pained grunt, "is getting tiresome."
"He says we're almost there," Buck replied just as quietly.
Buck shrugged. He wouldn't admit it, but he was beginning to regret the secret torture chamber comment. Fate was not a pleasant entity to tempt.
One of the soldiers scouting ahead gave a happy shout and bounded back to the leader. Buck saw it was the same capped soldier from before.
"Sir! It's just beyond that line of trees!" He rushed, skidding over the snowy ground. Cap-boy cast the two captives a quick glance and licked his lips anxiously.
The sound of rushing water had steadily grown louder as they'd walked and now it was a constant roar. It almost sounded like...
Like a waterfall.
"Take them down to the cave," the Leader said.
Two pairs of hands propelled Buck and Ezra forwards.
'Cave?' Ezra mouthed to Buck, his eyes wide and flashing.
"They're after our boy," Beth explained as they drove toward the homestead. Chris had relinquished his passenger seat for her, like any gentleman would, and had stolen JD's window seat. JD and Earl took up the very back seats that pulled out from the trunk.
They had at one time been christened 'the booby seats' though no one would attest to inventing the nickname. The seats were positioned right over the back wheels. They rattled, they bounced, they creaked, and they smelt distinctly of must. They were not coveted. By anyone. "He was in the army once, you see."
Earl squeaked with every word Beth said. JD was certain that the man couldn't sink any further into his booby seat if he tried, but then he had also thought that several shrinks ago.
"He got in a... bit of trouble while there so he deserted." She shrugged. "And next thing you know, he's the second most wanted man this side of the border." It was said so casually. As if it was an everyday thing to be top of the army's hit list.
"What'd he do?" Chris asked. He had one arm braced on the car roof and his left foot wedged between the floor and the front seat. Josiah was driving hell bent for leather along the small road. No one dared tell him to slow down.
"I'm not entirely sure but he said something about some documents and took off a few months ago. Soon after that the army came knocking on our door knowing he'd been there and wanting us to tell them where he went. They've been coming down every night ever since." She huffed an irritated sigh and folded her arms in her lap. "They ruin my home every time they come."
Chris looked at Vin expectantly. When it came to the forces, Vin was the expert. He was the only one amongst them with actual military training.
"What do you think?"
"I don't know." Vin let his eyes drift to the fast moving scenery outside. Fresh flakes had started to fall. It wouldn't be long until they became a blizzard. "But if it's an outside troop, I wouldn't trust them as far as I could throw them."
"And now they have Buck and Ezra," Chris noted grimly, saying what everyone had been thinking and dreading.
...BUT YOU CAN NEVER LEAVE
The cave, as it turned out, was hidden behind the spray of a very big waterfall. The roar was deafening. It echoed through the damp rock, as if there was a crowd of power metal fanatics screeching and head banging just out of sight.
It physically hurt.
Buck squinted his eyes, both against the din and the icy spray of the water, unable to repress a sharp shiver. The water came from an underground channel that filtered out from the snowcaps that dominated the horizon. He could feel the dampness soaking into the back of his jeans, clinging to his skin like dozens of tiny icicles.
The Leader emerged through the small gap between rock and water, ducking away from the heavy torrent.
"Well then," he said, brushing the spray from his fatigues. "Tell me what you know."
Buck blinked. He risked a glance at Ezra, but Ezra looked just as lost.
"About...?" he ventured.
"You were staying at the Brown's home." The Leader eyed the two of them speculatively. He squatted down on a blanket laid out over a relatively flat rock, a hand cupping his chin. "You're about the right age." A disdainful eye took in their checkered shirts and cowboy jeans. "Same type of clothes. It's fairly obvious you know Leroy Brown."
"Ah," the Leader nodded and his eyes sparkled with mirth. "It's like that, I see."
"Like what?" Buck struggled to his knees, finding it difficult with the slippery rocks and his cuffed hands. "Listen, I'm sorry to disappoint but we don't know anything about anything."
"Hmm," the Leader sat back on the rock, he tilted his head in his hand. "You see, I think you do. I think you know what we want." He flashed a grin. "And we know how to get it."
The Leader gestured to one of his soldiers standing by the mouth of the cave. It was the one who had spent the past walk shoving Ezra into the middle of next week. The man was shivering pathetically against the mist of the water, but he jerked into motion the minute the Leader gestured. Following an unspoken command, he wrapped his arms around Ezra's torso and half dragged, half pushed him to the entrance of the cave.
Ezra had only enough time to give Buck a frightened look before his head was pushed under the full brunt of the waterfall. He reacted violently, kicking out at the soldier holding him. His shoulders twisted and his arms jerked against the cuffs. He made no sound, the breath stolen from his lungs by the biting chill.
Buck lunged instinctively after Ezra, shouting his own curses. Unseen hands held him back, restraining him with bruising force.
"I wonder how long before he suffocates, hmm?" the Leader wondered idly. He was watching Ezra with perverse objectivity. "Or perhaps his heart will stop. It tends to do that in extreme temperatures."
The soldier holding Ezra sneered spitefully. He didn't seem to notice his own arm was caught in the icy stream and he pushed Ezra in further. Water started sluicing over Ezra's back and shoulders, soaking the man.
"Let him go!" Buck bellowed and he fought against the hands.
"Tell us what you know," the Leader said, quite calmly.
"I don't know! I don't even know who Leroy is, damnit!"
"Then why were you at his home?"
"Our car broke down!" Buck watched desperately as Ezra's struggles began to weaken. The soldier jerked as suddenly Ezra collapsed to his knees. It appeared the only reason he was still upright was from the hand on the back of his neck. "Please! We were just staying there for the night." Buck took a deep breath, trying to even his breathing. He looked at the Leader, asking -- no, begging -- for him to believe. "We don't know anything. Please."
The Leader sighed. For one horrifying moment, he didn't move and Buck's heart leapt as he thought that this, right here, right in front of him, was where Ezra would die. And then, with a firm set to his jaw, the Leader waved carelessly over his shoulder, signaling for Ezra to be released.
Ezra fell to the floor in a heap. Choking and gasping, and shivering so violently it looked like his spine would snap, he curled in on himself. Buck let out an explosive breath and sank to his own knees, feeling the hands restraining him melt away. He didn't take his eyes off Ezra, willing him to get up.
Ezra didn't move, save for the violent shivering and the frantic coughing. He no longer seemed aware of anything around him.
'Come on, Ezra,' Buck silently urged. 'Get up.'
Slowly, painfully, Ezra rolled onto his back. He blinked up at the ceiling for a moment, his chest heaving and jerking, and then with a graceless floundering, he dragged himself on his front to the back of the cave. To Buck.
The soldiers stood around, watching him dispassionately.
"If you go back to the main road you'll see our car there," Buck growled, not looking at the Leader as he spoke and instead gathering Ezra up against him. He hissed in a sharp breath when he felt just how cold Ezra's skin was. It felt like ice.
"Where are Beth and Earl Brown?" the Leader frowned.
"I don't know." Buck rubbed vigorously at Ezra's forearms, but the ice seemed to sap any warmth he created. Ezra was like a living, breathing freezer. "I guess they saw their chance to run and took it." It hurt to admit. He had genuinely thought they were nice people.
'No', the annoyingly coherent part of his mind corrected. 'Not bad, just desperate.'
The Leader clicked his tongue against his teeth, obviously annoyed.
"This is not good," he commented, frowning at his men. "Not good." He stood up and paced from one end of the cave to the other. "We'll have to find them and follow them, perhaps they're on their way to their son."
"Sir," Cap-boy stepped forward. "What should we do with them?"
The soldiers all looked to where Buck and Ezra lay. Buck stared back at them evenly, he held Ezra a little tighter, feeling the shivers transfer into his own body. The Leader looked suddenly uncomfortable and he faltered in his pacing.
"We can't let them go or they'll talk."
It came as no real surprise to Buck when he realised that these men were deserters in their own right. A group of rogues who deviated from their own ranks to take the law into their own hands, that was probably the reason why they were so desperate to find this Leroy Brown. He wondered what illegal evidence the man had on them.
"We'll deal with them later. Johns, Kane." The Leader pointed at cap-boy and, to Buck's dismay, the soldier who had pushed Ezra under the waterfall. "Keep watch over them, we'll return tomorrow evening."
Johns and Kane saluted and the rest of the soldiers filed out through the small gap between the rocks.
The waterfall roared all the more loudly in the sudden silence and Buck glared at the two men, hugging Ezra tightly to his chest. Ezra let out a shaking groan, but otherwise lay unresponsive.
By the time they reached the homestead, the blizzard was so thick they could just have well been walking blind. There was no way they were ever going to find any tracks, it would be hard enough just finding the trees.
Chris hissed in annoyance and hunched his collar up around his neck. Even with the multiple layers of fleecy clothing and waterproofs he was freezing. Stomping the residue snow powder from his boots, he shuffled back into the house and forced the door shut.
It cut the wind off instantly, and the flakes that had slipped in fell to the floor, quickly melting into puddles.
"If they're out in this they'll be dead before morning," He glared at the far wall, all but burning a hole through the floral wallpaper.
Beth shifted uncomfortably. Sensing both the authority and the urgency in the men around them, she and Earl had shrunk into the background, providing a continual flow of coffee and food for the group.
"I really am sorry," she said, pushing a steaming mug into Chris's frost bitten hands. Chris savoured the warmth, feeling his reddened fingers prickle with pins and needles. "We didn't mean to get you all involved in this. If we could have helped it..."
"Do you know where they could have taken them?"
Beth shook her head.
"There's nothing around here for miles."
"What about the..." Earl started. Everyone looked at him, and he blushed a furious red. Ducking his head, he busied himself with the brewing coffee.
"What?" Chris demanded.
"There's ah. There's a cave out by the falls. It's pretty secluded, the only place I could think they'd go without their trucks."
It had been JD who had spotted the camouflaged trucks tucked away in the cover of the barn. Ever since, they'd kept a close eye on them in hopes that someone would return for them. But in this weather, it didn't seem likely to happen until morning. Which would be too late.
"How far is it from here?"
"Chris," Nathan looked up in concern. "We can't go out in this blizzard. It'll do them no good if we get ourselves lost."
"Shit," Chris scowled. Once again, Nathan had a point, and he hated it.
An hour later and Chris was back outside. He stood in the drive, squinting against the bite of the wind and the snow. He heard the door open behind him, but he waited for the newcomer to speak before turning.
"Nature can be vicious," Vin said in his usual drawled croak. He didn't need to raise his voice to be heard over the howl. Chris grunted.
"Beth's put some strudels in the oven." Vin smacked his lips in anticipation of the treats. "Cinnamon apple flavour. They should be done in a few minutes."
Chris grunted again.
"You know glaring at it won't make it stop."
"I can try," Chris replied evenly. Vin chuckled and slapped a hand on his shoulder. They lapsed into silence, both staring out at the woods they could barely see through the snow.
"Do you think they're alright?" Vin said suddenly and Chris breathed out evenly.
"They'd better be," he replied, not quite certain who he was threatening.
CHEER UP, CHARLIE BROWN
Ezra's lips were blue. It scared Buck. He'd heard of it happening, he'd even used the phrase himself a couple of times. But he had never seen anyone look so... pale before.
It was terrifying.
It was terrifying that he had to continually hold a hand to Ezra chest and over his mouth, just to check he was still with him. It had been twenty minutes since the rest of the soldiers left and so far -- thankfully -- little had happened.
Johns and Kane had kept largely to themselves at the other end of the cave. Johns, who he learned was cap-boy, appeared nervous. He toyed with the sling of his gun and glanced continually towards the mouth of the cave. Kane, on the other hand was as calm as calm could be.
That was another thing that scared Buck. The man unnerved him. From the looks he gave Ezra to the way he sat so easily on the blanket, legs splayed, as if he were boasting.
Ezra stirred under Buck's hand, he wouldn't have even noticed if he hadn't been consciously searching for it. The fact that Ezra had stopped shivering was not a good thing. But Buck allowed himself to believe it was.
"Could you at least uncuff us?" Buck demanded, losing his patience with the restraints that only hindered his attempts to warm Ezra. "We're not exactly going to run anywhere, are we?" Johns looked at Kane and Kane shrugged, uncaring.
Johns inched carefully over to Ezra and Buck. He pulled the keys out from his pocket.
"I need a change of clothes," Buck said urgently now that the man was in reach. Johns swallowed, for a moment he looked as though he was about to relinquish his coat. But then Kane spoke up from where he was lounging.
"He stays in what he has on."
"He's freezing. He'll die unless he warms up."
Kane stood. He rolled up the blanket he'd been sitting on and tossed it across the cave at Buck.
"Then strip him, he's not getting any clothes."
Johns gave Buck a look that could have been sympathy, or could just as easily have been something he ate, and sat back down next to Kane.
Putting every ounce of hate he could possibly fathom into one glare, Buck turned away from the two soldiers and peeled away Ezra's ice stiffened shirt. His jeans were relatively dry, a small mercy Buck could have cried for joy over. He wrapped Ezra in the blanket and tried not to notice how Kane watched them.
He seemed almost hungry.
At that moment, all that existed in Ezra's world was fog. Cold, horrible, biting fog. It hurt. Every part of him hurt.
Even breathing hurt and he wished so badly that he could just stop.
Once there had been warmth. Not much of it, but it had pressed against his back in such a way that it alleviated some of the pain.
But now that was gone. And he was back in his world of hurt again. Alone.
He didn't think he had ever been so cold, and it just kept getting worse.
Nothing made sense. Images jumped and changed with no real sense of order. First there was Buck, and then he was gone. There was water, horrible icy water that seemed to peel at his skin. And then there was rock.
And the worst of it? He knew how to stop it. All he had to say was who Leroy Brown was.
No. Where he was. That was it.
But who was Leroy? Had he ever met a Leroy? Had he ever met a Brown?
Charlie Brown. Ezra laughed and then groaned when it hurt. He knew a Charlie Brown.
Charlie Brown and his flash dog Snoopy and -- what?
He thought maybe the warmth was back but he couldn't be sure. It had to be Buck... He hoped it was Buck. If it wasn't...
He sunk into the warmth, craving it.
Lord, he wanted to die.
Brennon and his men stood in a rough semicircle, dotted in-between the trees. They had already been a good way into the woods when the blizzard hit, and whatever tracks had been there were gone now.
Brennon hated to admit it, but they were well and truly lost.
He turned when he noticed Andy approaching him. The young man had his head ducked low, his chin tucked deeply into the neckline of his coat.
"It's no good sir," Andy called. He glanced up momentarily, teeth chattering. "Every way looks the same."
Brennon growled in annoyance.
"We'll head back to that house. Standish and Wilmington won't be going far in this." He spun, first to the left, and then to the right.
"Which way did we come from?"
His men looked blank.
It wasn't until Johns was standing over him that Buck realised the soldier had even moved. He'd been concentrating on Ezra, thankful that the man finally seemed to be warming up. Even though he still looked worryingly pale and was barely coherent.
"You ah, you need to come with me."
"What?" Buck snapped. He looked at the mouth of the cave, envisioning the snow and cold he knew would be waiting for them. "Why?"
"Just follow me," Johns insisted. He nudged at his gun, not taking hold of it, but reminding Buck of its presence. Sighing in annoyance, Buck shifted and began helping Ezra to his feet.
"No." Johns shook his head. "Not him. Just you."
Buck looked over Johns' shoulder to Kane. The man was grinning. He caught Buck's gaze and licked his teeth, mocking him. Slowly, Buck began to shake his head.
"No," he grew in resolve. "No. I'm not leaving him."
"You don't have a choice," Kane answered for Johns. "You're taking a walk and he," Kane pointed at Ezra, "isn't."
"You can't seriously be saying you agree with this." Buck looked at Johns, begging the man with his eyes.
Johns looked away. He seemed to draw resolve from the cave wall over Buck's shoulder, and with a squared jaw, he readjusted his gun and nudged Buck insistently to the mouth of the cave.
Buck resisted. He glared at Kane, jerking his shoulder away from Johns' grip.
"I'll see you dead before I leave here," he growled. Kane laughed.
"The way I see it, you can leave and he lives, or you can stay here and watch me kill him." He lifted his gun and aimed it at Ezra's head as if he were only pointing with his finger.
"If you hurt him..." Buck warned, voice of steel. Kane gestured for Johns to leave.
"I'm sorry," Buck thought he heard Johns say. But he couldn't be sure.
SHOULDN'T THERE BE A SUPER SOMEWHERE?
Buck watched the snow to keep from screaming.
It whipped at his hair and shirt, cutting through the thin material as if it wasn't even there. The ice underfoot soaked through the cracks in his boots, soaking his socks.
He'd get frostbite if he wasn't careful.
Johns walked just behind him. The barrel of his gun swayed in the corner of Buck's vision, encouraging him further through the woods. Buck couldn't miss the occasional shivers that wracked Johns' frame.
"Maybe we should head back," Buck suggested, trying to keep the desperation out of his tone.
"Just keep walking," Johns growled. He was uncomfortable, everything about him screamed of it.
"Your leader said to keep watch over us until he returned." Buck didn't risk turning to face Johns, but he slowed his progress through the woods. There was a part of him terrified that even if Johns did decide to return, they wouldn't be able to find their way back through the blizzard. "I don't think he'd be happy if one of us ended up dead."
Dead. Buck wanted to slap himself. He just had to say that. He just had to bring those mental images up, didn't he?
Johns' step faltered, Buck could hear the break in his stride even through the wind.
"Please," Buck attempted. He glanced at Johns and then quickly down at the path. "Take us back. Don't let him..." He stopped. Let him what? "Just don't let him, please."
Johns glared at him.
"Keep walking," he growled, bolstering his words with a shove of his gun. Buck stumbled away, catching himself on a nearby tree.
He'd caught the uncertainty in Johns' eyes. He knew that he could convince him. All he needed was time.
Licking his chapped lips, he began walking again at a snail's pace. He only hoped he had that time.
For the first time in a long while, Ezra tried to open his eyes. It took a second attempt for him to do it successfully.
At first, all he saw was darkness. But then gradually, light began to register and he found he was staring at the cave floor. Moss coated the rocks like a dirty black carpet. Probably why the ground was so damned slippery.
For a moment he couldn't remember what had happened. He couldn't understand why his muscles had seized and it hurt to move, or why there was a chill lying so deeply in his bones he didn't think he'd ever be warm again.
But then it came back to him in a flash, and he gasped from the force.
"Oh lord," he groaned, voice raw and painful. He dimly realised he was probably catching a cold. After all, he mused acidly, it was the perfect weather for it.
Something shifted beside him and Ezra realised he wasn't alone. He also realised with some dread that the person wasn't Buck.
He had no idea where Buck was.
The side of the blanket he'd been cocooned in pulled away, baring his right shoulder blade to the cold and he shivered, wanting to shrink away from it. Slowly, but surely, the blanket was further peeled away, and then the unseen hands rolled Ezra onto his back. Ezra came face to face with Kane. Kane grinned down at him. It wasn't a pretty sight.
"Are you awake yet?" Kane asked and Ezra blinked.
"What?" he tried to ask. It came out as a broken croak.
"Good enough." Kane placed a hand on Ezra's chest. His fingers were ice cold. "So," Kane continued in an oddly conversational tone. He let his fingers trail down Ezra's chest onto his stomach. "Is it just Freddy Mercury wannabes you like or do you fuck anyone?"
Ezra's heart froze and for one horrible moment he couldn't breathe. Kane continued unmindful. He fanned his fingers over Ezra's skin until they came to rest at the waistline of his jeans.
"You better not be so fucking cold all the way through," Kane warned as if Ezra could help such a thing.
And then he started unbuttoning Ezra's fly.
Buck stopped so suddenly that Johns stumbled into him, letting out a startled yelp.
"What're you doing?" he gasped, and then with more force he ordered, "Move!"
Buck stood on the path, eyes wide and staring straight ahead, seeing nothing.
"No," he said softly. Resolutely.
"Look," Johns kicked through the snow until he was standing in front of Buck. "There's a bridge further down the river. We'll cross it and circle back, alright?" He bit down on his bottom lip and Buck noticed that it had cracked. Tiny pricks of red spidered out over the chapped skin.
"No," he said again, with the calm of finality, "It'll be too late."
Ezra reacted violently. He bucked his hips, knocking Kane's hands away and rolled off the blanket onto the damp cave floor. His body was still caught in the spasms of hypothermia and he stumbled when he first tried to stand.
It gave Kane enough time to charge him, slamming him back into the cave wall. Ezra grunted and cried out as his sprained wrist was crushed under his own weight. He kicked out, driving his heel into Kane's shin and then fell away. Kane cursed and he clutched at his leg. This time Ezra didn't try to stand. He half crawled, half lurched his way across to the other side of the cave.
Kane followed him. He caught Ezra before he reached the wall and drilled a foot into the small of his back, driving him to the ground. Kane twisted his heel and Ezra hissed in pain.
"Are you done?" Kane laughed.
Ezra's fight had been feral, but short lived. Weakened from the cold, he stood no chance against Kane, and the man knew it.
Kane lifted his foot and straddled Ezra's back. He leaned over, pulling Ezra's head back by his hair.
"Not fucking good enough," he hissed into Ezra's ear. Ezra struggled and bucked against the weight. "If you want to make it better for me then keep doing that," Kane said maliciously. "I like it when they react."
He tugged Ezra's head back brutally, so much so that the tendons in Ezra's neck screamed in protest. Kane leaned down and kissed him. Ezra almost gagged, his mouth opened to Kane's insistent tongue, but he fought with every reserve he had to resist it.
"If you do that again I'll bite your tongue off," he gasped when Kane pulled away.
"Cute." Kane shifted and the weight lifted from his back, but his lips remained by Ezra's ear, mocking him with his heavy breathing. A hand brushed over Ezra's spine, brushing lower and Ezra noted with a sickening lurch that the man was searching for the waistline of his jeans.
He bucked again, struggling with renewed desperation. Kane planted his knee on Ezra's back, right where the spine dipped. It was absolute agony.
"Don't you ever learn?" Kane chuckled. He snapped his teeth right by Ezra's ear and Ezra flinched, "I like when you do that." His hands seized the back of Ezra's jeans. He yanked ruthlessly, jerking Ezra's hips away from the floor without loosening his knee and Ezra cried out. He clawed his fingers desperately against the blackened moss, wishing he had the strength to pull away.
"Now." Kane jerked his hands again and pulled Ezra's jeans lower. "Hold," he grunted, "still." His other hand took hold of Ezra's shoulder and Ezra felt his jeans slip lower. He squeezed his eyes shut.
'No,' his mind repeated over and over in a silent mantra. 'Please, God, no.'
Hot breath hissed into his ear and Ezra heard a zipper being pulled down.
He recoiled instinctively at the sound. Every part of him wanted to escape. Every part of his being protested so violently it became a literal roar inside his mind.
Kane's knee lifted away for a moment as the man positioned himself. It couldn't have been for longer than a second, but Ezra seized the moment. He rolled, drilling his knee into the first vulnerable spot he could find. Kane's groin.
Kane shouted both in surprise and pain. He fell away from Ezra and curled in on himself, his hand clutching between his legs.
"Jesus!" he gasped from between clenched teeth.
Ezra didn't waste a moment. Clambering to his feet, he stumbled through the sudden rush of vertigo and staggered for the mouth of the cave, fumbling to pull his pants back up and refasten them. He couldn't see straight and Lord knew his mind was a mess, but all he knew was he had to get away from Kane. And to get away meant to go outside. Into the cold.
He would rather freeze than let Kane near him again.
His foot caught on the slippery rocks and he fell forwards into the snow. The wind was a shock. It pummelled into him, stealing his breath and almost driving him back into the cave.
Ezra got back to his feet. He stood silently for a moment, looking out over the snow, past the icy water and to the tree line beyond. It was strange. The blizzard blinded him, but he felt strangely calm.
He knew where he was not so much through seeing it, but through feeling it. He wondered idly if that was what came from freezing. A bizarre, almost ethereal level of knowing. The thought was short lived.
All that he truly cared about was escaping.
Barely even feeling the wind against his bare chest, he took off running. By the time Kane struggled to the mouth of the cave, Ezra was no more than a dot merging into the blizzard.
Two of the soldiers jogged ahead when they reached the clearing of the homestead. The blizzard was starting to lift a little, but the wind was still fierce. As practical as their fatigues were, they weren't very warm.
"Get the jeeps ready!" the Leader shouted after the two men. He and the rest of his group followed at a more sedate pace, picking their way over the snowy drive. The two men threw hasty salutes over their shoulders and disappeared through the barn doors.
When the rest of the soldiers reached the barn entrance, they found the two men by the jeeps, looking to the other side in confusion.
"What is it?" the Leader demanded.
The closer of the two soldiers jumped, not expecting the loud question. He gestured nervously and the Leader stepped forward to see a new vehicle hidden away behind a pile of tarps and farm equipment.
"That wasn't there before." The soldier sounded uncertain. "Was it?"
But before the Leader could answer, a rifle was cocked behind them.
"Hello, boys," said someone with a distinct Texan drawl.
The Leader spun, coming face to face with five men. At the front stood a man dressed head to toe in black. Even his puffer jacket was of the deepest tone of the spectrum. Beside him, grinning happily was the man who had spoken. He supported the large gun casually, like he had been born wielding it. The rest of the men each held a gun of their own, and the same determined expressions.
"Did the Browns get you?" the Leader glared.
"No." The man up front shook his head. "But we're here to get a couple of our friends." He wore a menacing grin. "Maybe you know them."
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
It was somewhere between the pleading and the bridge that Johns finally caved.
Buck could have kissed the man.
He didn't fool himself into believing that it was because of any personal feelings towards Ezra. Buck knew that for all Johns could care, Ezra was just one of many prisoners, they were going to kill him soon anyway so why worry. What really changed Johns' mind was his ultimate fear of the Leader. He was terrified of what would happen if the man were to return and find one of the two captives Johns and Kane had been left to watch mauled and dead.
Either way, them turning around meant that Buck could get back to Ezra. He ignored the growing fear in his heart that they would get there too late.
"Kane?" Johns' quietly voiced question stopped Buck and he looked to where the man was peering. With each passing moment, the blizzard lessened more and more. It was little more than a flurry now and through it, Buck could see the distant fatigue clad form of Kane staggering through the snow on the far bank. He seemed to be moving with difficulty, his stride a little too wide and lagging.
For one awful moment, Buck thought that maybe Kane had killed Ezra, and was now fleeing the scene. But then why would the man be looking so... furious?
And then he saw it. A little off into the trees there came a flash of pale colour. The figure stumbled over a log and fell back out onto the clear of the bank, clawing on hands and knees to regain his footing. The figure was sans shirt, more than a little haggard, and very definitely Ezra.
And he was running for all he had to escape the pursuing Kane. Buck couldn't help but smile as relief washed over him. He should have known that no one could keep Ezra down. The man was as slippery as a greased pig.
But just as he thought of it, the reality took precedence and Buck truly realised what was happening. Ezra was running from Kane. The man who -- Buck didn't know what Kane had done but he couldn't imagine it being good.
Ezra was running for his life.
And it wasn't fast enough.
For all his desperation, Ezra had been weakened by the ordeal. His muscles raged with adrenaline, but they were overtaxed, exhausted and pushed to their limit, and that was just when taking the cold into account.
With each step that Ezra took, Kane gained on him. Every time Ezra's feet slipped or he lurched over an unseen obstacle, Kane ate up the gap.
"He won't make it," Buck realised with sudden dread. "He isn't going to make it."
Beside him, Johns was watching the chase with his mouth agape. His eyes were as wide as a rabbit's, completely stunned.
"How far is the bridge?" Buck demanded. Johns blinked, and then blinked again; taking breaths he had previously forgotten to take.
"I've seen that look before," he said, ignoring Buck's question and speaking of Kane. "He's going to kill him."
Buck growled and took off along the bank, running parallel to Ezra and Kane. He didn't dare shout across, not wanting to distract his friend and give Kane another advantage.
"Hey!" Johns shouted after him. "Stop or I'll shoot!"
"Then fucking shoot me," Buck grunted loud enough for the soldier to hear because, frankly, he genuinely didn't care.
'Come on, Ezra,' he willed silently, desperately. 'Run faster!'
Ezra couldn't breathe. The air was too cold, or his lungs were too tired, or something was too something. It burned. His wrist, his skin, his veins. It burned so badly, but was also so cold. Like heated ice.
But the fight for survival won out. His blind desperation to escape Kane kept his muscles fighting. He could no longer feel his legs or feet, but he knew they were working, and that was all that mattered.
There was a steady, dull roar in his ears, and beyond that, he could hear Kane grunting and gasping behind him. How close was the man? He didn't dare look. He just had to get away.
A fallen branch hidden by the snow came up to meet him and Ezra cartwheeled through the air. He landed on his bad wrist and the pain shot up his arm like fire. It caused him to cry out. For a moment all he saw was red, such a change to the white.
But he kept running. He picked himself up even as he was still skidding, and pounded the ground, his feet hitting at a tandem to the pounding of his heart.
As Buck ran, he cast desperate glances ahead of him, searching for the bridge. It was nowhere in sight. Lord, there wasn't enough time. By the time he crossed the river Kane would have caught and killed Ezra fifty times over.
He heard Ezra shout and watched as he pulled himself up from a fall that had to have been painful.
"That's it," Buck panted under his breath, urging Ezra on. "Keep going. You're almost there."
He hoped to God that what he said was true.
Ezra tripped again, hitting the ground hard. He could have cried, he could have curled up then and there and just given up. The snow burned his bare skin and he knew that if he weren't so terrified, he would be freezing.
He climbed to his feet again, his momentum destroyed. Behind him he heard Kane race closer. Only a few more steps and he would be on him, and it would be over.
Ezra couldn't let that happen. But he also couldn't stop it from happening. He hated the feeling of being helpless.
As he staggered, his hand hit something in the snow and he thought he heard it clink. He frowned, not knowing what it was or why a chain would be in the middle of the woods. He brushed the snow aside, revealing the metal links. They led through the snow to a larger bulge and when Ezra tugged at it, it came away, jerking towards him and shaking loose the powdered shell.
Ezra's eyes took in the shape, and with a sudden warm surge of hope, he recognised what could be his salvation.
"Why aren't you moving?"
Buck had stopped when he realised Ezra was no longer running. Ezra was crouched on the ground, holding something in his hand and staring just ahead with a look of pure wonder. And Kane was getting ever closer. He was practically on top of Ezra.
"Move!" Buck urged. Johns skidded to a halt beside him, gasping desperately for air. "Move!" Buck shouted again, loud enough for Ezra to hear.
Ezra looked up and across the river. He stared at Buck; his brow furrowed in utter confusion and Buck saw his lips part in silent question.
"Shit, he's on him," Johns said, even as Buck hollered for Ezra to turn. They both winced when Kane struck Ezra across the back of the head, knocking him into the snow.
"Kane!" Johns waited until the soldier was looking across at them. "Stop it! We're not meant to kill them!"
Kane sneered. He stood over Ezra's form like a hungry wolf, lording over his prey.
"Stop him!" Buck cried, unable to take his eyes off Ezra's prone form. Why wasn't he moving?
"I can't!" Johns snapped back. They both watched as Kane squatted down over Ezra. His lips were moving, but they couldn't hear what he was saying. Kane reached behind him, drawing his gun.
"Kane!" John shouted. "Damnit, Kane! Stop!"
'We've had a bit of trouble with poachers lately. They've been setting traps on our land.' Earl's words came so clearly to him now, he wondered why he hadn't thought of them before.
Ezra lay back on the ground, and from his position, Kane had never looked so big. The man literally loomed over him.
Ezra could feel the metal trap knock against his shoulder when he gave a weak struggle. It gave him some comfort and he fought to still himself. He had to time it right if he wanted to live.
His hand snaked through the snow, fingers wrapping around the ice stiffened chain and he stared up at Kane. He met the man's gaze evenly, even as he felt his heart was ready to leap from his chest.
"Slippery little shit, aren't you?" Kane wheezed. He squatted down over Ezra, hands on his knees and catching his breath in heavy gasps.
Ezra's mouth tightened when Kane drew his gun, eyes flashing in momentary panic. His grip on the chain tightened.
"Looks like now we have an audience." Kane gestured to the far side of the river but Ezra didn't look. If he saw the fear he knew Buck's eyes held, he wasn't sure he could go through with his plan. "Thing is," Kane leant in close to Ezra. Balanced on the balls of his feet, he nudged the gun up Ezra's cheek to the side of his head. "I don't know whether to give them the show before, or after I kill you." To Ezra, the metal barrel felt twice as cold as the snow he lay on.
The trigger clicked by Ezra's ear and he winced. He squeezed his eyes shut counting one... two... three...
The chain was a comforting weight between his fingers.
"Ezra move!" Buck hollered at the same time that Ezra did actually move. He curled his legs up to his chest and then kicked outwards and upwards. His knees caught Kane's legs and toppled the man over, vaulting him over Ezra's head. Ezra was already rolling, yanking hard on the chain and pulling the trap in sharply. Right beneath Kane.
The scream was inhuman.
Kane wailed and thrashed, frantic hands clawing at the metal teeth. Now on his knees, Ezra stumbled back in the snow. He watched the man with wide-eyed detachment.
Kane choked. He flopped onto his stomach and screamed, trying desperately to escape the trap, but the chain held him in place. The teeth bit into his side, ripping at flesh and scraping bone. His eyes rolled and frothy spittle bubbled from the corners of his mouth.
Ezra lifted a shaking hand to wipe his cheek, unsure if it was wet from sweat or blood. He noted with some fascination how quickly the white snow turned red. It didn't fan out or dilute, but rather sunk deep into the snow, so thick it looked black. Pink slush marked where Kane's hands and feet thrashed.
The forgotten gun lay a few feet from the two men and slowly, slowly, Ezra crawled towards it and picked it up. He didn't aim it at Kane. The man was in too much agony to be of any threat. He didn't even seem capable of seeing Ezra any more as he yanked at the trap. The teeth only dug in further, threatening to tear the flesh from his ribs.
"Ezra!" Buck shouted again. He sounded horrified. Ezra turned slowly to face him. Everything around him seemed to be moving slower than normal. He felt almost... calm.
And so when he saw Johns standing forgotten behind Buck, his gun aimed at the back of Buck's head, Ezra wasn't scared.
"Behind you," he croaked. His throat hurt and he began to shake. Buck looked at him, his face blank. "Behind you!" Ezra said again, louder.
Buck spun and ducked, just as Johns fired, but he was too slow. Buck jerked. He fell onto the bank and Ezra saw a spray of red mist arch out into the air.
Ezra cried out imperceptibly. For what seemed the hundredth time, he saw red. He aimed his gun and fired. There were six bullets in the canister and Ezra fired every one of them. He continued to press the trigger when they had spent, the mechanisms clicking over and over.
When he finally dropped the gun, Johns was lying parallel to Buck on the far bank. Blood seeped out over the snow. Neither of them were moving.
The blizzard was over and everything seemed strangely still. Even the wind had stopped, leaving silence in its wake.
The group of five men sped through the trees with grim determination. They had changed their direction away from the cave and the waterfall to where they had heard the gunshots.
Chris was in the lead, and behind him he could hear his men racing after him. He pushed aside branches and leapt over logs as if they weren't even there. Nothing would stop him from reaching his men.
God help anyone who had hurt them.
Ezra staggered across the bridge. It had only been a few yards up a bend in the river, a few more minutes of running and he would have reached it.
He was shivering violently now, so much so it took all of his will just to keep from curling up then and there. His skin was a mess of bruises both from Kane and the cold and his fingers... He didn't even want to think about his fingers. He doubted he'd ever be able to feel them again. From the sharp painful twinges that snaked up his arms, he doubted he'd want to.
The only thing that kept him moving was his need to get to Buck. He had to find Buck.
He thought of the blood and flinched.
Where had Johns hit him? What if...?
When Ezra reached the other side of the bridge, he stopped thinking. He moved clumsily over the snow, crawling on all fours more than he did his feet.
Gradually, two dark lumps came into his limited view and Ezra sped up. He fell down beside Buck's body with an exhausted hiss, knees pressing down into the red snow.
Buck blinked up at him languidly. A slow, almost intoxicated smile stretched his lips.
"Hey," Buck began, his voice barely existent. Ezra gave him a brief look but focused on the blood. For a moment he couldn't see through it, couldn't see where the wound was and he fanned his hands helplessly.
"I think it's my..." Buck winced, groaning. "I think it's my shoulder."
Ezra peeled the checkered shirt aside to find the ugly wound. It literally pulsed, the blood oozing out and over his chest.
"You look... like shit," Buck drawled. His breath was shallow, and his voice so very soft. Again, Ezra didn't speak. Putting all the force he didn't have into his good arm, he pressed down on Buck's shoulder. Buck groaned and almost screamed, but he bit down on his tongue.
"Hurts," he choked out.
"I know." Ezra closed his eyes.
When Chris reached the river, he had to stop for a moment. The scene was... surreal.
Ezra was crouched bare-chested over the prone form of Buck. Beside them lay a young man dressed in fatigues, unseeing eyes staring at the sky. And across the river a man thrashed and twisted. He looked like he was trapped, held down by something Chris couldn't see.
And everything was coated in blood.
It looked like a scene from the slasher movies JD always watched.
The rest of his men came to a halt around him and he heard JD hiss a sharp breath.
"Oh my god..." he murmured, stunned.
Nathan pushed his way to the front of the group and picked his way over the soldier's body to crouch down beside Ezra and Buck.
"Ezra," he said softly. Ezra didn't react. "Ezra, let me see."
Ezra blinked at him in confusion.
"Nathan?" he breathed. He looked behind Nathan to the rest of the group, and his brow furrowed.
"He's a little..." Buck swallowed. Nathan hadn't realised Buck was awake and was startled for a moment. "He's in shock," explained Buck. Gently so as not to frighten him, Nathan took hold of Ezra's hand and pried it away from Buck's shoulder. Buck made a noise deep in his throat and his eyes closed tightly.
Nathan peeled the shirt aside with a practiced hand and inspected the wound.
"How is it?" Chris said. He watched with a stern gaze as Vin and Josiah settled down beside Ezra. Josiah unpeeled his padded coat and draped it over Ezra's shaking shoulders.
"It went straight through," Nathan explained, fingering the torn skin. "I'd say it nicked his muscle. It'll be painful for a while, but should heal." He looked up at Ezra, noticing how pale the man was and his grossly swollen wrist. How long had he been running in the snow half naked? "They need to go to the hospital."
"Not to be an ass, but how're we going to do that?" JD gestured to the woods surrounding them. The trees were too closely knit; there was no way they'd be able to get a car through them.
Chris stepped out onto the riverbank, looking down at the thin layer of ice that coated its edges. The river moved too swiftly to fully ice over.
"Ezra just sit still for a moment, Buck's right there, see? Don't knock your arm." Ezra's voice cried out in surprise, obviously doing just what Josiah had warned him against. "You see?" Josiah didn't sound annoyed. "Now just keep still."
"What happened here?" Chris didn't realise Vin was beside him until he spoke. Vin frowned across the river at the man whose struggles had slowed and become sluggish. In the encroaching dawn, the steel trap attached to his side was only too obvious.
Chris looked back to see Josiah trying to hold Ezra still by the shoulders. Ezra seemed totally unaware of everything going on around him. Even with his violent shaking, he was trying to crawl to Buck.
"I'm not sure," Chris said grimly. "I'm not sure we'll ever know. Not totally."
'Like why Ezra's half naked,' he thought, and then grimaced. He wasn't sure he wanted to know.
Chris turned around at Nathan's voice.
"We need to get them out of the cold." Nathan's face was calm, but his eyes were intense. "Now."
"Can they walk?"
Nathan was about to answer a negative, when Buck waved a hand at them. He kept the arm with the bullet wound deathly still.
"I'm fine for walking." He tried to sit up but fell back with a groan. "Just need a little help."
"They're both in shock," he touched a palm to Buck forehead and brought it down to his cheek, pulling a face. "And freezing. I don't want them to exert themselves."
"We've got no choice," Chris said. Nathan sighed, everything about his expression and stance saying he didn't like it. After a moment, he nodded.
"Alright, but once we get back to the Browns' we're finding a phone and calling for an ambulance."
They all turned to Josiah and Ezra when they realised the larger man was having some trouble. Ezra's struggles had increased and his lips were moving frantically in a quiet mantra. Josiah for his part tried to calm the man, ever mindful of his swollen wrist.
Josiah caught Chris's gaze, looking both concerned and curious.
"He keeps talking about Charlie Brown," he explained. "Apparently he knows him?"
The going was slow back to the Browns' homestead, and by the time they got there the only thing keeping Buck standing was Nathan and Vin's supporting arms. He wasn't faring well.
And Ezra wasn't doing any better. Every second step Josiah had to guide him back on the right course. He seemed in a daze; flinching each time Josiah touched him. Josiah and Chris shared a concerned look at that, but neither said anything.
Beth and Earl rushed out to meet them when they broke through the treeline into the clearing. They both faltered upon seeing the state of Buck and Ezra. The way their demeanour changed so suddenly could almost have been construed as guilt. Chris greeted the two of them with an abrupt, not altogether pleasant nod.
"The army's sending some people down," Beth said, eyes wide and unable to look away from Buck's bloodstained shirt. "They'll clean up all this mess."
"There's another two men out by the river," Chris said. He watched Ezra out of the corner of his eye as Josiah guided him to the porch steps. Ezra sat down heavily, head bowed and shoulders hunched. "One's dead for sure."
"What happened?" Beth ventured. She too had followed Ezra's unsteady path with her eyes. Chris looked at her sharply and said nothing. He helped Nathan and Vin guide Buck to Ezra. Buck's eyes were hooded and his head lurched as he was lowered to the porch. Without a word, JD had disappeared into the shed for Josiah's car.
"We need a phone." Chris stood up from his crouch, pointedly ignoring the blood that had smeared on his shirt. He'd barely even touched Buck for more than a minute.
"I'm sorry, we don't have one." Beth wrung her hands together. "We didn't mean for this." She shook her head, horrified. "We didn't."
Chris crouched back down in front of Ezra. Ezra's face was obscured from view and his good hand worried at the denim of his knee. His broken wrist hung limp by his side, grossly swollen.
"Ezra," Chris ducked his head, trying to catch Ezra's gaze. "Hey, look at me for a second."
Slowly, Ezra looked up. His eyes were wide and glazed. His lips parted in silent question. Chris resisted the urge to lay a hand on Ezra's knee, remembering how he flinched from Josiah. Now he had Ezra's attention, he didn't know what to do with it.
"We're going to patch you and Buck up, alright?" he waited for a moment, until he was sure Ezra understood him. "And then we're taking our car, and getting out of here. Alright?" Ezra blinked, his head drooped and his eyes lowered to the bottom step beneath his feet. "You'll be alright." Chris held his hand so Ezra could see it, and then slowly patted Ezra's knee. It wasn't much, but Ezra didn't shrink from it, and to Chris that was enough.
He stood back up and turned to watch JD slowly driving the car out of the shed. The tyres crunched as they rolled over the snow.
"What the hell happened here?" he said quietly to himself. And that was the golden question.
The question they were all asking.
SHADE TOO WHITE (AKA: TYING UP THE ENDS)
Buck lay in the hospital bed counting the tiles on the ceiling. He'd gotten to tile number one hundred and eleven when he decided he was completely and utterly bored.
He'd been in the hospital for a week now, recovering from the bullet wound. It wasn't the first time he'd been shot, but that didn't lessen the pain any and he was thankful for the drugs.
Narcotics, Buck decided, were absolutely marvellous. Over the days the rest of the team had visited him regularly. When he first came out from his surgery, he had rarely been alone. If it wasn't Vin munching at his untouched hospital meal, it was Josiah and Nathan bickering amongst each other about their latest game of chess.
But there had been one face conspicuously absent. Ezra's.
Chris had told Buck that Ezra had been released on the fourth day. He'd fractured his wrist and suffered from acute hypothermia, but after a few days of monitoring, he was good to go.
Buck had hoped that Ezra would have visited him at least once before leaving the hospital. Chris admitted that none of them had seen very much of the man since. He'd holed himself up in his home and avoided all attempts to contact him.
It worried Buck. He didn't know what had happened in the cave, but he knew more than Chris and the others. And he didn't like it.
He was desperate to see Ezra and just ask him. Did Kane? Did he try? Did he succeed?
There was a light knock on the hospital door and Buck turned to greet the visitor, expecting it to be Chris or one of the others. He blinked in surprise to find Ezra standing there, dressed in smart but warm clothing, with a rolled up magazine tucked in the sling supporting his arm.
'Speak of the devil,' Buck thought, but aloud he said Ezra's name. It came out croaky, and he had to clear his throat before repeating it.
Ezra for his part looked incredibly sheepish. He stepped into the room and pulled out the chair by Buck's bed.
"They told me at the desk that they're releasing you tomorrow." Ezra's eyes scanned over the side table fit to bursting with grapes, apples and bottles of juice. He propped up the magazine beside a lurid get-well card, specially chosen by JD.
"I'm hoping they'll let me go today. Good behaviour and all." Buck grinned as he said it, never taking his eyes off Ezra. The man looked all right. A little pale and bruised, but that would fade. "How're you?" he asked, wanting confirmation.
Ezra shrugged a little awkwardly and rubbed his good hand over the knuckles poking out from his cast. Buck noticed that his fingers were bruised from the frostbite.
"I'm alright." He shrugged again. "Extremely tired and I have the heating on full all the time now. But otherwise..." he trailed off with a smile. His gaze lingered on Buck's bandaged chest and shoulder. "Does it hurt?"
"Not badly," Buck said. He waited until Ezra met his gaze again. It took a while. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Ezra shook his head quickly. He hadn't stopped rubbing at his knuckles and the movement had become a little anxious.
"No I, ah... I'm fine."
"You're going to have to some time."
"I'm fine," Ezra repeated. His tone was clear. Leave it.
Buck sighed. For now he would follow Ezra's lead. For now.
"So, I bought you this." Ezra shifted in his seat and picked up the magazine. He unrolled it and slid it onto Buck's chest. Buck turned it around to face him and read the cover: 'Bikes of America'. "The selection was appalling," Ezra continued. "This was the best of the lot, I'm afraid."
"I'm just glad you didn't bring me grapes." Buck shook his head, chuckling. "I don't know what it is with patients and grapes. Never liked them myself."
Ezra smiled and popped one into his mouth.
"I never had grapes in hospital," he confessed, sitting back in his chair. "I was always brought oranges." He shook his head in distaste. "The smell of them lingers for days."
Buck, who had been flicking absently through the magazine, came upon the second-hand section on the last few pages. The columns were dominated by beaten up classics in need of repair and odd parts.
"I wonder what happened to that Harley?" Ezra said, reading over Buck's shoulder.
"Vin and Chris picked it up when they went back for my car," Buck said, not looking up from the bikes.
"What," Ezra started softly. He took a breath, before repeating, "What happened to the soldiers?"
"The state's dealing with them. They're renegades apparently." Buck flicked back through to the front of the magazine. "Army's been searching for them for months."
"Will we have to testify?"
"Nah," Buck closed the magazine and dropped it down the side of the bed. Ezra nudged it aside, distasteful of the mess. "They want to keep it all 'hush hush'. We have to sign some secrecy agreement though."
"I imagine it's mandatory," Ezra muttered.
"Hey," Buck looked up suddenly. "Did you know that Wolffe had sent someone after all?"
From the surprise on Ezra's face. Buck guessed that no, he didn't know.
"Yeah, apparently some guy had been hot on our tail since the bar, Brannigon or Brennon or something. The ranger up there found him and a few other guys wondering around the woods like a bunch of greenhorns half frozen out their skin."
Ezra grunted. He sounded more irritated than amazed.
"I'm beginning to think there isn't a single group alive who wasn't out to get us."
"Makes you think though. If we got to that safe house we'd probably be dead now." Buck beamed happily as a thought hit him. "Looks like my car saved the day."
"Your car?" Ezra looked baffled. "How does your car take all the credit?"
"It broke down. Chain effect."
"If you look at it that way, then the credit goes to my case for having the map in it when we forgot it."
"Nah," Buck said smugly. "You didn't mean to lose your case -- Josiah has it now by the way." Ezra smiled. "But anyway. You didn't mean to lose it. My car meant to break down."
Ezra gave Buck a measuring look.
"You're delusional, aren't you?"
A nurse came in at that moment and began to check over Buck's vitals. She appeared pleased with what she found. The both of them watched her work in silence, before Ezra scooted back in his chair and laid a hand on Buck's arm.
"I'll see you later." He smiled, squeezing his hand. Buck took hold of it before Ezra could pull away and held him there, meeting his gaze.
"They're releasing me tomorrow morning." He looked at the nurse for confirmation. She nodded with a polite smile. "I want you to be here. Will you?"
Buck smiled. "I'd like that."
Ezra worked his hand out of Buck's grip and headed for the door. He glanced over his shoulder, hesitating, and then disappeared down the corridor.
Buck let his head fall back against the pillow, trying not to think about the fact that neither of them had mentioned what had happened in the Brown's home. He only hoped that it didn't mean they never would talk about it.
Because damnit, he didn't want that.
Ezra didn't come to greet Buck when he was released. It wasn't a surprise, but a part of him had... hoped it would be different.
Chris only shook his head and shrugged at Ezra's conspicuous absence.
"Guess he just needs more time," he had said.
Buck had a feeling it wasn't time Ezra needed but distance. He also had a feeling that the distance would be permanent. And that was something he wouldn't -- couldn't -- allow.
After a hasty explanation on his part, Buck parted ways from the team later that day and headed to Ezra's home alone.
The door was locked when he got there, but he knew where Ezra kept his spare key. After a brief search for the fake rock, Buck let himself in.
The apartment was dusky, the only source of light being what filtered in through one of the windows. All of the rest of the blinds were drawn and it reminded Buck of a hermit shell.
He could hear the muffled sound of running water, so he settled down outside the bathroom door, waiting.
Five minutes later, and the water switched off. Ezra stepped out a few minutes later, wearing a robe and rubbing a towel over his hair. He froze when he saw Buck, his eyes flashed with an emotion Buck couldn't identify.
"How did you...?"
Buck swung the key on its chain and grinned. Ezra looked at it, annoyed, then walked past Buck into the kitchen. Buck followed him. He propped his hip up against the counter as Ezra set about brewing coffee. It was an unspoken ritual they all shared. You had visitors, you made coffee; you didn't have coffee, you served beer. JD had asked once what happened if you didn't have beer, Buck had told him to get out of his house.
"Aren't you going to get changed first?"
Ezra only glared at him over his shoulder. A strand of his damp hair curled over his brow and a droplet of water dangled from it.
"So why are you here?" Ezra asked, setting the coffee down by Buck's hip. He swiped the errant hair away from his face.
"You weren't at the hospital before," Buck patted his sling, noticing idly that Ezra's was absent. The thought of Ezra showering with a plastic bag tied around his cast was oddly amusing to Buck.
"Ah." Ezra's head ducked down, hiding his eyes. "Sorry. I had some... trouble sleeping." He sipped at his coffee and pulled a face. Too hot.
"Mmm." Buck quirked his mouth humourlessly. He caught sight of a brown paper package on the kitchen table. It was stamped locally.
"What's that?" he asked, nodding at it. Ezra followed his gaze, he smiled softly.
"Oh, it's just something those bikers sent me." He picked up the parcel and pulled out the small frame within.
"Bikers as in 'used my head for a football' bikers?"
"The very same," Ezra grinned and handed Buck the frame. "Well technically it's from the bartender. He wanted to say sorry for almost killing us."
"Nice of him," Buck grumbled. He frowned down at the framed photo. It depicted a group of bikers -- sans Big Al -- gathered around Buck's car. In the middle of the photo, cradled fondly in one of the biker's arms was Pigsy the Harley Hog. "That's..." Buck searched for the right word, "strange."
Ezra laughed and took the photo from Buck. He placed it back down on the table on top of the wrapping.
"They were alright with me. It was you that annoyed them."
"I didn't do anything!" Buck cried in annoyance. Ezra nodded in an 'I'm humouring you to save time' type of nod.
They gathered up their mugs and settled down in the living room, both more comfortable now that the atmosphere had cleared a little. They were seated on the same couch, but there was still a sizeable gap between them.
"So," Ezra said as he took a sip of coffee. He held the mug by his mouth, letting the steam warm his cheeks and nose. "I presume there's a reason why you came."
"Other than to find out why you didn't come when you said you would?"
Ezra set the mug back down on the table. He rubbed an absent hand over the edge of his cast where it had begun to wear.
"I'm sorry about that." He glanced at Buck. "I am."
"Chris and the others say they haven't seen much of you." After a thought, he added, "And not for lack of trying."
Ezra sighed and pushed his hair from his eyes again. It looked different when wet. Longer.
"I haven't felt up to company."
"You know, they say it's best to talk about these things sooner when it's easier."
Ezra snorted ungracefully.
"That's debatable." He was staring at his mug of coffee like it was the only thing in the world.
"Ezra." Buck sat forward in his seat. If one of his hands hadn't been bound by the sling, he would have steepled his fingers. "I don't know what happened back in the cave. But I know you can't just ignore it."
"I'm not," Ezra said softly. His eyes darkened and his fingers clenched and unclenched in an unconscious action. "Believe me on that. I'm not ignoring it. I can't." He tore his gaze away from the mug to Buck. He looked desperate. "I can't stop thinking about it. I haven't slept a night without reliving it. I haven't --" He cut off and moved as if to stand, but then slumped back down into the couch. "I wake up fighting," he admitted in a breath.
"Did he...?" Buck was almost afraid to ask.
"No," Ezra shook his head, and then shook it again violently. He laughed humourlessly. "No, I fought him off. But he --" He closed his eyes, brow twisting with grief. "He came so... close."
"I should never have left. I shouldn't have left that fucker alone with you."
Ezra just gave him a short look and reached for his mug.
"Don't," he said between a sip. "If you stayed he would have just shot the both of us."
"He could have killed you. He almost did."
"But he didn't," Ezra reminded. And Buck had the horrible thought that he'd done as good as. He hated himself the moment he thought it. Ezra wasn't dead. He was fine. He was...
"I just need time," Ezra said and he seemed to grow in resolve the more the thought lingered. "I'll be fine."
They were sitting on the same couch, but the distance between them was as good as a mile. It seemed like such a trek, but Buck reached out and laid a gentle hand on Ezra's thigh. Ezra tensed for a moment, a knee jerk reaction. He looked down at the hand, and then at Buck's face, moving from his lips, to his nose, and finally to his eyes.
Slowly, he placed his hand over Buck's, and he squeezed.
EPILOGUE: A WEEK LATER
"A new Royal Family
A wild nobility
We are the family"
Adam and the Ants: Kings of the Wild Frontier
They left the courtroom as a group. Each one of them looked extremely satisfied, but Buck and Ezra more so.
The hearing had been fairly definitely in their favour to start with, but after the evidence of Wolffe actually hiring Brennon to murder the two key witnesses, the man was as good as convicted before he had even set foot in the courtroom.
It had been a good day. A day much needed after the one they had faced two weeks ago. It was hard to believe that it had only been 24 hours they'd spent in the wilderness. To Buck and Ezra it seemed like so much longer.
Vin stretched languidly, shaking each foot out in turn. He hated courtrooms. The benches were always so stiff. "Thank God that's over."
"Jesus, Vin," Nathan shook his head when Vin yawned and cricked his neck. "You act like you just built the wall of China on your own. All you did was sit on your ass for a few hours. You didn't even speak!"
Vin flipped him the bird, his grin taking the sting out of the action.
"Where're we headed to now?" JD said as he stepped aside for a young woman.
"What's the time?" Nathan asked. Josiah checked his watch.
The seven reached the grand staircase of the courthouse. Groups of people stepped aside as they descended, venturing curious looks over their shoulders.
"Do you reckon the saloon will be open?" JD ventured. Vin grinned and nudged him in the back.
"I know it'll be open."
Buck and Ezra hung back as they descended the stairs. It was unspoken, but the two gravitated towards each other, walking side by side. Buck ventured a look at Ezra and the look was returned.
"I was wondering." He waved at Chris when the other man turned back to them, gesturing for the others to walk on. "After the saloon, what do you say to coming back to my place?" Ezra's intake of breath was harsh, and Buck rushed to continue. "Not to do anything you don't want to. Just to... you know. Talk?" It sounded weak even to him. "Or something."
It took him a moment to realise Ezra had stopped walking, and he had to backtrack a few steps.
"Are you sure?" Ezra asked quietly, the undertones to his question clear.
"Yeah," Buck said, and he really was sure. Ever since that night, he'd come to think of him and Ezra as something of a couple. He thought it about time he updated Ezra on the fact.
"Oh." Ezra adjusted the cuff of his suit over his cast. His reaction -- or more correctly lack of one was beginning to worry Buck.
"Is that a no?"
"No, it isn't that. I just... presumed really that you were --" When Ezra looked up again, his eyes were squinted with confusion and just a little suspicion. "Well, that you were mostly straight."
"Mostly straight?" Buck arched his brows. Ezra nodded.
"Mm, it's not unheard of for straight men to experiment."
"Satisfy curiosity." Ezra stared evenly at Buck. "Fulfill an urge."
"I know what it means." Buck frowned. "You thought that's what I was doing?"
"Well no... Yeah, maybe back then. But..." Buck glanced up and down the staircase, ensuring none of the others were nearby. "I like you. I really, really like you." Buck took hold of Ezra's shoulder and grinned a little sheepishly. "Really."
Ezra looked down at Buck's hand. When he looked up again, he too was smiling.
"Really," he said in a deadbeat tone, eyes shining.
"Well," Ezra said, "I think I'd like that. Going back to your place, I mean, to talk."
"Well, good." Buck nudged Ezra with his shoulder and winked at him.
They walked in companionable silence the rest of the way to the doors and stepped outside into the afternoon sun.
(And there it is. Thank you to everyone who stuck with this fic, I do really appreciate it. :) I hope you're happy with where the story led, let me know.)
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