Someone To Watch Over Me
Disclaimer: I don't own them, or the show they rode in on. I wrote this for fun, and no profit is made from it.
Pairing: Ezra / Chris
Archive: my regular archives --- all others, please ask.
Summary: A short tale of a shift in perspectives over time.
Warnings: Male/male loving.
Author's Note: My favorite genre - a 'first time' slash story.
Completed: 30 May 2004
Feedback: email@example.com welcomes comments
It was a tiny sound, nearly inaudible, the sound of worn bits of paperboard gently rubbed against each other, slid past and flipped over. The room was echoingly empty at this hour, so near the break of a new day. The gambler sat at a back table now, deep in his own corner of the world, lightly teasing his deck into entrancing displays of legerdemain, thought there was no audience to be entranced. Ezra Standish was tired but knew that his oversight was nearly done.
One other person remained in the large public room. Slumped over a nearly empty whisky glass, one hand lax on the base of a bottle that was still rather full. The gunslinger was sleeping uncomfortably over his last drink, head tipped forward and hidden beneath a flat-topped, wide-brimmed black hat. His forearms, exposed when the dark shirtsleeves had been shoved up hours ago, rested upon the scarred tabletop where Chris Larabee sat.
Into the pool of near silence, came the creak of the wooden doors swinging open, propelled by twin, gloved hands. Vin Tanner paced in on quiet feet, eyes bright with the new day. He'd slept well in his wagon, content to let their well-dressed gambling man stay the course of the night in company with Vin's best friend. The tracker's sky blue eyes reached into the still dim corners and met the waiting, tired green ones. A nod was enough. Then Vin sought out the form of his friend and leader, placing one hand on the table by a sprawled elbow.
"Mornin', Cowboy." Vin's gravelly voice was pitched low to insinuate rather than surprise.
The dark shape stirred and head tipped up, exposing Chris Larabee's worn face, still sleep blurred. Dusty lashes broke their moorings and slowly edged apart, exposing soft greeny-hazel eyes. "Vin."
"Got some coffee hot, over at the jail."
Larabee sat up and back, grimacing at the stiffness in shoulders. He'd sleep at the boarding house later in the day, mid-afternoon maybe. Get some real rest before the new evening and his self-appointed task of watching over Ezra began again. If Vin was here, then Ezra was safe, likely already gone upstairs to his down pillow. Damn, used to be able to stay awake longer. Leastwise I was here, should anything have happened. Should he have needed me. Chris twitched stiff muscles inching back to life.
Vin grinned down at the lethargic movements. He stepped back and leaned against the nearby bar, hooking elbows back and one heel up against the smooth wood. For another minute, he watched his friend shift and stretch, then Vin looked to the other corner of the saloon. Empty now.
It really was funny how loud Ezra could be --- and how quiet. Never heard him leave.
Vin raised his eyes toward the balcony railing and found a smiling Buck looking down. Buck nodded toward the hallway disappearing into darkness behind him, signaling the safe retreat of their late-night friend. Buck yawned and windmilled his arms, then cracked the silence open with solid thunks from his big boots as he thumped down the long staircase to the main floor of the saloon. A stray down feather floated away in his wake. He'd had a pleasant night with Miss Ariel.
Ezra eased out off his bottle green jacket, setting it on a hanger and placing it, with precision, in his small closet. He stepped out of boots. He removed belt, trousers, vest, derringer rig, and white shirt. Undergarments were shed. He hung his shoulder rig and gun belt on the headboard of his four-poster, then walked over to his open window on padding, naked feet.
Below, on the dry street, where the faint light of another day was pushing back shadows, he observed Vin Tanner, Chris Larabee, and Buck Wilmington strolling over toward the adobe jail. A hunting pack of wolves would not be as dangerous. Ezra smiled down at his fellow lawmen, they would keep the peace for another day. There'd be coffee there, thick tar that the tracker had made. The others would tease him, add some whisky to dilute the grit, and then come back outside to the porch to sip their morning brew and watch day begin again in the hamlet of Four Corners.
Ezra knew this routine, he could even repeat the most common refrains of the three men. In the first weeks of their tentative partnership, he'd been a silent observer to the routine, hidden in the shadows, needing to know. Know everything about his new working companions. Trust was not a commodity that Ezra dealt with and so he sought out knowledge with stealth and dedication to life preservation. But, that was then. Now he trusted these men to follow their routines, to watch the town and watch his back as well. So now, he would sleep. He turned away from the window and toward his lonely bed.
"He win much last night?" Vin's curiosity was legend among the seven men.
Larabee stared down into his black coffee, then up at the empty window on the second floor of the saloon. The window to Ezra's room. He shrugged and took a small sip. "Took the last hand dealt."
There'd been some visitors on the stage, a drummer and a businessman passing through, wanting a night off the rattling carriage. They'd looked like fresh meat for their gambler and he'd lured them into a game of entertainment and promise early in the evening. A few ranch hands had filled out the poker table for most of the night, drifting up and down from the platform, where Ezra ruled. Never were the stakes too high, or the losses too tragic. The raconteur's patter filled the air, along with smoke and soft laughter, resigned groans or yips of temporary triumph. The oil lamp sconces and overhead wheels of light kept the room bright in a yellowish way, their glows stabbing at the darkness of recesses and corners, sharp relief to the card players' fanned hands of pasteboard.
Chris stood at the bar for hours, watching the crowd surge and thin. He'd had companions for some of the night. Josiah had been in early for dinner, along with Nathan. JD and Buck had near-galloped in and told jokes, gossip and tales as the others ate. Nate had been called out by a worried farmer whose farmhand was ill on the homestead. Josiah had shared another hour of companionable quiet with Chris at their regular table. JD wandered off to check the streets, Vin Tanner slipped in and shared a glass of beer with them. Buck continued to regale them with raunchy stories, laughing and pounding Josiah on the back when the man topped one. Sanchez's toothy grin and sly look enough to have Vin grinning and Chris hiding a smile in his drink.
Still Ezra dallied with the stagecoach passengers and a few bored cowboys, leading them through one game after another, the gentle discourses he rained upon them keeping the feeling amicable at the raised table. Chris' eyes never drifted far from the gambler. If the others noticed, no one said anything.
Buck disappeared up the stairs with a new bar girl, one he'd been chatting up at a small table by the windows for several hours and several drinks. JD reappeared for a while, bolting down a late supper with Vin before nodding to the others and heading off to bed. Josiah rose to take the last watch at the jail, patting both Vin and Chris on the shoulders as he left with a rumbled goodnight.
Tanner slouched beside Larabee until the crowds began to wane a few hours before midnight. Then the plainsman nodded his own goodnight and drifted out the saloon doors, to take a final swing through the town before bedding down for the night.
Chris stayed on. He always did these days. Had from the first. He was used to spending late nights over a drink or three. Or more. Sometimes never finding a bed at all. That's how it had been when he first began this protection of the town. It changed, sometime ago. He stopped drinking so much, though few beyond his companions knew it. Just nursed a drink into the night, watching over their late night bird. Their bird with glittering plumage, who chattered and played deep into the night. Their gambler. Ezra. One late-night-disgruntled player was all it took. Man had accused Ezra of cheating. Drew on him. Chris had flung aside his drink, gun in his hand before he'd taken another breath. Ezra had already popped his derringer and was facing off the bleary drunken challenger. But the specter of Chris Larabee arriving with long barreled gun in hand had the other man slinking away before Standish could even dismiss him. The remaining two men had exchanged measuring looks, but neither had spoken that night. Nor ever after about it.
And Chris Larabee began to wait for Ezra to finish each night. Some nights stretched longer than others. But the gunslinger never spoke about it, never demanded the gamester depart earlier, finish a game before the other players were ready to leave. He just sat back in a dark corner and watched, waited. And when Ezra tipped his hat brim to the man, before stepping up the stairs to his room, Chris would rise and stalk outside into the dark, to his own bed at the boarding house. Another night done, his friend safely in bed. Friend. Ezra had moved from grifter to partner to friend over time with neither of them commenting.
JD was a great one for declarations of friendship, had been very taken by the penny-book on their adventures as magnificent gunmen. But the others mostly just laughed and learned better how to live amongst themselves. Some noticed the change in Larabee, none said anything.
Ezra closed his eyes and tried to relax. Things had changed yet again. Now he stayed to keep lookout over Chris Larabee late into the night, into the morning. It wasn't that Larabee over indulged in spirits any more, Ezra was observant. Chris simply stayed late. No matter what the day may have demanded of the man, he stayed. And now, some nights, he fell asleep before the gambler's final deal. When the last man left the saloon, with a friendly wave to Standish, Ezra would relocate to a corner under a sconce, enough light for a game of solitaire. There he'd stay until Larabee awoke and left or until, lately, Vin Tanner arrived and rousted the tired gunman, escorting him off for a morning cup of coffee. Then, knowing that Chris was in the safe-keeping of the tracker, Ezra would quietly slip up the stairs to his own beckoning bed. Only, sleep no longer came so easily.
It worried Ezra that Chris was so determined to wait him out. Some days, Ezra knew that Chris would ride a long patrol, have meetings with the town council and with the newspaper editor, spend time with the banker and the stage manager, walk the streets of the town and maintain watch at the jail. Ezra suspected that the man was pushing too hard lately. And then he'd stay up to keep watch on Ezra's card games. Does he fear I'll start cheating and cause a scene, perhaps a dispute and violence? Does he not trust me yet? Ezra chewed at his lower lip and stared sightlessly at the ceiling of his rented room.
Chris watched with amusement as Billy Travis burst from the front door of the Clarion, Mary Travis in pursuit, calling out for the boy to come back and finish his breakfast. Kid's got enough energy, doesn't need any more food if he's running that fast this early. He wouldn't say anything but he did share a smile with Tanner and Wilmington as Mary came up short at the edge of the boardwalk, shaking her head and then turning to go back inside, spotting the men and waving before disappearing within.
And so the days went by. And the nights. Some quiet, some not so.
It was a rough frontier town, striving to be civilized, still needing to settle and still hosting bad elements uninvited. Robberies, thievery of livestock, general rowdiness, the seven men were there to stop the violence, often with their own too-human bodies.
Ezra stirred and opened eyes that seemed insistent on remaining closed. The rough board ceiling told him that he was in Nathan's clinic. A tiny shift of his body was enough to tell him why. Pain rattled through his ribcage and throbbed in one leg. A warm, firm hand pressed his shoulder and he turned to look up onto Chris Larabee's calm face.
"'Bout time you woke." Larabee looked pale, almost gaunt.
Ezra wondered if he, too, had been hurt in the latest gunfight with bank robbers. He swallowed harshly on a dry throat. Chris slid an arm under his neck and raised him enough so that he could drink cool water from an offered tin cup.
Ezra swallowed again, less painfully, and looked around the deserted room. No sign of Nathan or the others. He looked back at Larabee, questioningly.
"Been a while." Chris sat back, one hand staying on Ezra's shoulder. Too damn long. Ezra'd just been sleeping according to Jackson, but until Chris saw those beautiful emerald green eyes again, he'd fretted. Now he relaxed, relieved and content. "Nathan had to make some calls out at the ranches, said you'd be fine." Chris leaned forward and ran his free hand down Ezra's scratchy cheek. "Said all you really need to do is sleep and heal now."
Ezra found nothing strange in the touch of the gunman's thumb and palm on his cheek. It was comforting. "You are unhurt?"
"'M fine." Larabee spoke quietly, patiently.
Ezra rolled his eyes to reassess the empty room, still not one of the others in sight. He opened his mouth to speak only to be once again confounded by the man in black.
"Everyone's out, doing what needs doing."
"Except you." Ezra breathed out the words and met the quizzical eyes that sat upon him.
"I'm doing what needs doing too."
"And that is?"
"Watching over you." There was something in the tone of Chris' voice that made Ezra shiver.
Instantly, Chris became alert, hand dropping onto Ezra's forehead to competently gauge temperature for fever. None. Larabee stretched to the side and then brought up a damp cloth to wipe at Ezra's face.
The coolness was stimulating and Ezra's eyes cleared more, his thoughts clarifying. This wasn't Chris' job. If Nathan couldn't tend the wounded, it was Josiah who kept watch. "Has something happened to Josiah?"
"No. He's over at the church, sanding down some pews, think he said." Larabee cocked his head to the side, studying the disquiet of his patient. "Everyone is fine, Ezra." Best to head off any more quizzing.
Ezra sank deeper into his pillows, a small grunt escaping at the renewed pain in his chest. He'd fallen hard on the edge of the boardwalk when one bandit's lucky shot clipped Standish's leg out from under him. He remembered that. Remembered shouts and shots and --- and Christopher Larabee looming over him, standing astride him as he lay crumpled and in pain on the dusty street. Blood loss dimmed the day and then he'd fallen unconscious, waking only now. Surreptitiously, Ezra checked down his thigh to find his leg intact. He'd often heard that soldiers with amputations thought they still had their missing limbs, still felt them. So he always checked after an injury to an arm or leg.
"You'll be fine, Ezra. The gunshot wound was clean, you lost some blood, but Nate says you aren't going to have any trouble with it." Chris' hand had somehow come to rest on Ezra's upper chest, thumb reaching up to stroke Ezra's chin slowly.
Ezra licked his lips. He was tired of simply observing. Seemed Chris was too.
Larabee watched the awareness grow in the green eyes staring at him. Couldn't help himself, he touched Ezra's face lightly, thinking to be reassuring but feeling something deeper, more exciting in that simple touch. He knows too.
Ezra tilted his head back, offering his mouth, his lips.
Chris leaned down, hand slipping to the side of Ezra's face to brace himself as he lowered his face to the gambler's. Stopped and hovered, eyes connecting directly to guts, to hearts. A silent message passed. And Chris let his lips drop down softly onto Ezra's.
For a timeless moment, the men rested, mouths touching, not moving. Then Ezra pushed upward with his tongue and Chris began to suck.
Both men began to smile against each other's lips. Curls of humor and affection. Then Chris reluctantly drew back and met those cunning green eyes again.
"Can think of better ways to spend an evening---"
"---Or a night---"
"---Or a night, than sitting and watching."
"Sitting and gaming."
"Maybe time we did something about it."
"Mayhaps, it is."
Ezra snaked his arms up around Chris Larabee's neck and tugged, finding the gunman remarkably compliant in response. With a soft laugh, Ezra recaptured willing lips and arched up against the taller man's chest. Only to loose his hold and cry out in painful surprise.
Strong hands caught his shoulders and settled him back on the pile of pillows. "We'll get to that. For now, you need to heal up."
Ezra frowned in frustration. On the edge of discovering love, he was unhappy at his body's traitorous betrayal. He did not want to lose this man, praying that this was no sickbed delusion, no illness induced fantasy dream.
"It's real." Chris smiled down and cupped the younger man's face carefully. "I think we been lovin' each other from a distance for some time now." He leaned down to plant a small kiss on an adorably short, straight nose, ever so lightly freckled. "Think the others all knew before now." At the silent question in Ezra's eyes, Chris shook his head and chuckled. "Damn near broke their own legs, making sure they were out of here and leaving us alone soon's they could."
"I've been alone for a long time, Mr. Larabee."
"Me too, Ezra." Chris shifted over to the bed to sit close beside the reclining man. He was careful of the injured leg, swathed in bandages. It didn't take much effort to raise the slighter man up a bit so Larabee could situate himself against the headboard and support the tightly wrapped ribs against his own chest. "Not goin' to be alone any more. Got you now."
Ezra turned his head to rest against Chris Larabee's shoulder. How amazing. He snuggled in closer, rocking his frame cautiously out of respect for his twinging ribs, feeling the warmth of the lean man holding him in strong arms. Ezra's hand strayed up to play with the flexed knuckles of one gripping hand, tautly holding his body.
"Sleep, Ezra." Chris' rough jaw scraped along Ezra's, then dry lips were ghosting warm air against his ear as Chris murmured, "From now on, we'll keep watch together."
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