Watching the warden breathe his last, Chris didn't feel anything. Even the constant thrum of hate and anger that had been his companion every waking hour in this hellhole of a prison had ebbed away, leaving a dull kind of pain and emptiness. Mechanically, he walked past the warden's body towards the collection of wooden shacks that made up the prison offices and bunkhouses. The quiet of the night seemed to press in on him after the insistent sound of gunfire that had welcomed his escape. He wasn't surprised to see a familiar figure walking cautiously out of the darkness towards him.
"Chris?" Vin said, his gaze searching the gloom that wasn't quite illuminated by the weak oil lamps that dangled precariously from the high prison fence behind. "You all right? Where's the sheriff?"
"Dead," Chris replied, his voice sounding as flat and unforgiving as the night itself. "Warden too."
Vin nodded. "Reckon they had it coming."
Chris just kept on walking, brushing past Vin who eased into step beside him, warm and close.
"Some of these men ain't supposed to be here," Chris spoke again in that oddly flat tone while watching another two familiar figures approach them.
"Like you, we know," Vin said softly. "We were planning on getting them out too."
"Right after we got you, big dog!" Buck called, stepping forwards to envelop Chris in an all-consuming hug. "Good to see you in one piece," he said by Chris' ear, his voice deep with relief, his embrace completely undeterred by its lack of response. Just as Chris felt that cold emptiness within him begin to warm, Buck moved away with a grin and a nod. "Next time you go wandering off, try to staying out of trouble or you'll have us all worrying over you like Mary Travis."
Rousing up some kind of half-smile from somewhere for Buck's bright gaze, Chris nodded back before turning to Vin. "The records are all in the warden's office."
"We know," Ezra spoke from behind Buck but made no move to come forwards. "Josiah's seeking them out as we speak while JD and a Mr Phillips secure the guards and a Doctor Simmons attends to the injured. Indeed, it seems our work here is almost done, gentleman."
"Almost," Vin agreed, "'Cept I reckon you'll be needing a good meal, a hot bath and a few hours sleep before we set out come morning, Chris."
"And I know just the place," Ezra said, stepping forwards with a grin. "This way, Mr Larabee."
The warden's rooms still stunk of the bastard who had lived there. Standing just inside the open doorway, Chris watched Ezra stride through into the back bedroom oblivious to the heavy stench of fear, hate and smug superiority that hung in the air. After a few moments of rustling around in the bedroom, Ezra came back into the main living room with an armful of blankets and sheets. Still feeling a little disjointed from the world, Chris forced himself to close the door before walking into the middle of the room to watch Ezra make up a bed on the long, comfortable looking couch. How Ezra knew he would refuse to sleep in that man's bed, Chris didn't know.
"Well, while my domestic skills leave much to be desired, I'm sure this will do for now." Ezra finished smoothing down the sheets to face Chris with a smile. "I'm afraid your evening's repast and suitably hot water may be quite some time but the management--"
Ezra stopped talking as Chris began to strip, unceremoniously dumping his filthy prison clothes on the floor and toeing out of his boots before going over to sit naked on top of the bedclothes on the couch.
"Or, or, alternatively," Ezra said, blinking rapidly. "You can always just sleep now and, and--"
"Whisky?" Chris meant to ask but it came out more as a guttural, growling noise.
Unfazed, Ezra immediately reached under his coat and brought out his flask then stepped forwards to hand it over.
Chris reached out to take the flask but instead of closing around the warm silver, his hand chose to close around Ezra's fingers instead. "I killed those men," he said into Ezra's wide green eyes. "They hurt me and I killed them."
Without trying to withdraw, Ezra answered ruefully, "I doubt the masses will mourn their demise." He drew breath to go on but stopped when Chris' grip tightened on his fingers.
"It wasn't them; it was me," he said low, but saw only confusion in Ezra's steady gaze.
Seconds staggered by.
Chris released Ezra's fingers and pulled the flask up to his mouth for a long swallow of whisky. He must have closed his eyes at some point because he opened them to the feel of Ezra's body settling on the couch beside him. Wordlessly, he handed the flask back and listened while Ezra took a small drink before tucking it away.
"I don't think anyone blames you for what you did and, quite frankly, we're just relieved to have you back in your entirety," Ezra said quietly.
"Entirety?" Chris echoed, a mockery of a smile twisting his lips.
"Relatively unharmed then?" Ezra offered in response.
Chris scowled at the floor. "Back when my family died, I went dead inside," he said dully. "I shot men dead on the street just because they called me out. I could have let them live but I didn't care about them or anything else." He paused for a moment, searching for the words. "I thought that part of me had gone, but it hasn't." He met Ezra's gaze again. "I thought I'd changed but that ain't true."
Ezra frowned, considering. "Tell me, Chris, did you ever gun down any poor, defenceless souls who weren't trying to kill you first?"
"That ain't the point."
"On the contrary, that's exactly the point," Ezra retorted. "They made their choice and you made yours."
"It wasn't a choice." Chris turned his attention back to the floor. "When I feel that way inside, there ain't no choices for anyone."
Ezra made a slight movement that may have been a shrug. "If you look long enough into the abyss, eventually the abyss will look into you, but the trick is not to stare and you don't, Chris. You're a good man," he said with a light kiss on Chris' shoulder. "Who can say who deserves to die but I'd rather it was them than you. It seems we'll just have to try a little harder to keep you away from the edge."
"Won't be easy," Chris returned low, facing Ezra once more.
Smiling, Ezra leaned forward to kiss him softly on the lips. "I think we're up to the challenge."
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