A Knight Out
Crossover: Have Gun, Will Travel
Pairing: Chris/Ezra (Richard/Ezra)
Ezra stared out at the busy morning street. The clatter and clank of wagons and buggies, horses, mules, and oxen heralding the arrival of still another day in this dusty outpost. He suddenly yearned for the quiet pleasures of a large metropolis, the still back rooms where only the invited would play on the green baize tables. Where the loudest sound might be the knock of one billiard ball into another. He inhaled, then exhaled hastily, the rising dust making deep breaths a poor choice. The smell of French perfume on the decorative ladies, fine liqueur swirled in fragile balloon glass, and pomades of the well-heeled gentlemen, now those were the scents that his nose twitched to rediscover.
Last night, a particularly slow night during an extremely slow week, he'd forgone his cards for a game of chess with Josiah Sanchez. Fingering the white knight he'd captured from the older man, his thoughts had suddenly taken a turn. Perhaps that is the reason for my current discontent? Ezra stood close to the curtain and looked down, eyes finding and following a black-clad figure who strode across the street. Heading for a confrontation with our lady editor, no doubt, he thought as he pictured Chris Larabee's frowning face, only to have it blur into another. Ezra closed his eyes, reaching out and back to catch at the rocking chair behind him. Sound faded and around him the town disappeared as memories stirred.
It might be time to go. Ezra fingered the smooth wooden arm supports of the rocker and leaned back, letting the chair move gently. I am a piker compared to - I wonder if he's in San Francisco now? Or out on one of his jaunts? His missions to save a piece of the world for the downtrodden. Ezra frowned at the loss he felt. Richard had been his first lover. Had groomed him and turned him from Maude's brash, sneaky youngster into a man of the world, with a bit of polish, a dash of intellectual worth. Would he be proud of me now? Now that I, too, have turned champion? Ezra wiped at his face, wondering when his feelings for Richard had turned from love to gentle affection.
Men in black seem to haunt me.
Ezra opened his eyes and turned to look over his shoulder at his unmade bed. The wreck of it mute testimony to his night with his current lover. What a crass way to describe him. Ezra pushed up out of the still moving chair and walked slowly back across the room to pause by the bed and rest one hand, ring flashing, on a spindle of the footboard. Comparisons made him melancholy. Perhaps if more had been involved than the simple lusty act? Ghosts of conversation drifted about him, words of poets quoted, philosophers disputed or expounded, amused discourse interspersed with the most delicate and refined touches. Touches that had enflamed him, enraptured him and emboldened him. He sank gracelessly onto the slipping coverlet, ignoring the lumps of the churned featherbed, caught in a past life. Time to travel.
Ezra had his bag packed in a thrice. He strode out of his room, not even bothering to close the door.
If he's not there, he'll return there soon. Never does he leave for long. I'll wire ahead, get a room and hope. He stopped at the telegraph office, scrawling a quick message and tossing the clerk a coin.
"Will you want a reply, Mr. Standish?" Otis asked, hesitating.
"No, sir, just sent that." Ezra was already half-way out the door.
Vin Tanner straightened from his slouch, blue eyes bright with curiosity. He watched their gambler come out into the harsh morning sunshine, already dressed and carrying a small valise. He tracked the man with his eyes as Standish stopped briefly at the telegraph office, then walked straight over to the livery. Don't seem like Ezra. Vin stepped down into the street from his position in front of the jail and wandered over to the entrance to the livery, only to step back smartly as Standish appeared in the doorway astride Chaucer.
"Good day to you, Mr. Tanner." Standish's hat was touched in a formal salute.
"Ez?" Vin wasn't sure how to ask but had a feeling he better get it out fast. "You going somewhere?"
"Yes, yes, quite obviously, my good sir." Ezra must have made a quiet signal to his mount because the chestnut gelding moved forward, already speeding up to a quick walk.
"When you coming back?" Vin had to call out to the man's back.
There was no answer. Worried now, Vin trotted back up the street, on the lookout for any of the others. He spotted Chris Larabee stomping out of the Clarion, a red-faced Mary Travis following him out the door, her hands on her hips, shaking her head.
"Cowboy!" Vin's urgent call caused the gunman to turn his head swiftly to the side, to look over at his best friend.
"Something wrong?" The blond dropped off the boardwalk into the dust of the street and met the tracker, both turning automatically toward the saloon, walking side by side.
"Ezra just rode out."
Chris stopped in his tracks. "Rode out?" He shook his head. "He doesn't have patrol today."
"Know that." Vin became uneasy at the way his friend was staring at him now. "Had a travel bag with him, not just saddle bags."
Chris began to walk again, no longer looking at Tanner. "Did he say where he was going?"
"No." Vin had to hop to it to keep up with the long strides that the blond gunman was making. "Chris?"
Larabee paused, one foot on the second step up to the saloon, but didn't turn around. "I didn't send him out. Didn't say anything." But, did I do something? Chris was working hard not to show his fear right now.
The dim light of the saloon made it hard to see for a moment after the sharp light of the sun outside, but as his eyes adjusted, Larabee saw the person he sought. "Inez?"
The Mexican woman looked up and stared at him. "Senor, he said he wasn't sure he'd be back." She bit her lower lip and stopped polishing the bar top. "He said to have his things boxed up." She shrugged, "That's all I know."
"He did not say." Her brown eyes conveyed regret as she met Larabee's. Tanner had appeared behind him so she did not say what was in her heart. You did not speak enough. You did not share your heart with him, only your body. It was not enough to keep him. She turned away and began to put glasses up on the shelf. Vaya con Dios, Senor Ezra.
San Francisco. Ezra P. Standish smiled as he drew rein in front of the stables near the Carlton Hotel. There was a Yankee here that he wanted to see again. It had been too long.
The hotelier was beaming. "Mr. Standish!" He came out from behind the large desk to stand and bow. "It has been so very long."
"Thank you, Mr. Hanover." Ezra nodded in response to the bow.
Clarence Hanover was already gesturing to a small Chinese man in the hotel's colors who quickly appeared at Ezra's side, relieving him of saddlebags and valise. "We received your telegram and a room has been prepared, but we wondered if this was a mistake?"
Ezra, in the act of removing a cigar from the inner pocket of his tailored black jacket, met the man's worldly eyes. "I wasn't sure of my welcome upstairs."
"He has missed you, I think." Clarence cleared his throat and dared a short glance up the elaborate stairway to the side of the lobby. "He should be back tomorrow, he sent word to prepare his suite."
Ezra licked his lips and deftly tucked the cigar between them to hide the nervous tell. Perhaps this was a mistake? And then a large shadow fell over him, covering his own on the oriental carpet and Hanover was smiling faintly and backing away with great discretion.
"Ezra?" The gravel-voice sounded tired, pleased, and puzzled.
Ezra swung around and pulled the cigar from his mouth, looking up into piercing eyes in a rugged, worn face. He looks so much older. But he's been away, he always looked this way coming home. Home. "Richard." The name slipped out so easily. Yes, it was like coming home.
The man in black stood there, filling the door with his larger than life presence, his long barrel Colt low on his thigh, saddle bags over one shoulder. The normally neatly buttoned shirt was open at the throat, dark hair curling up in the opening, to balance the black mustache and hair that dropped down over his lined forehead. "You've come back?"
"If you'll have me?" Ezra wasn't sure any more if this is really what he wanted, but how could he say otherwise in the face of that weariness and joy that mixed in the normally blank, suave face.
Silence filled the room for a few beats, then the tall man looked over at Hanover, back behind his desk, apparently busy with some ledgers. "Clarence. Send up some champagne. Arrange a suitable welcome home dinner for our prodigal." Then the big man stepped right up to Ezra and leaned in, head dipping, lips catching lips in a devouring kiss.
Richard pulled back and smiled. "Let's go upstairs, I feel a bath calling our names."
"A bath?" Ezra found himself falling into step beside his old lover, a smile in his voice as he asked the question.
"You don't share any more?" A muscular arm fell down on Ezra's shoulder and drew him closer as they matched steps going up the staircase.
"This is it." Buck sat back on his horse and studied the narrow front of the older looking, elegant hotel. Carlton Hotel. San Francisco. Who knew he'd be back in San Francisco again? He stole a glance over at his old friend. Chris was looking stoic. Always a bad sign.
They'd left Four Corners only two days after Ezra. Going after Ezra. Chris Larabee had called in the others and sat with them in the saloon, told them he was going. Told them why.
Josiah had scratched his head and nodded. "He needs more than just to be bedded, Chris, you should have known that."
Nathan shook his head. "He won't come back." Brown eyes were serious when they met Larabee's. "Can be real stubborn, ya know."
"But he has to come back!" JD seemed unperturbed by his hero's revelations. Only upset at the thought that Ezra might be gone for good.
"Didn't even seem angry or anything," Vin muttered, sitting back and swallowing some beer from his mug. "Just matter o' fact about it."
Buck wondered how things had gotten so far out of control without any of them noticing. He was the only one that made a suggestion. "I been to Frisco. Could probably find that hotel."
And that had been that. They'd packed up and left. Chasing after Ezra. Well, he'd got them here. Larabee had been silent and morose for most of the journey, a couple of times getting angry for no real reason, then he'd yell at Buck, real mean. Calm down again, but not apologize. Buck understood. He's worried, naw, he's plum scared. Afraid he's losing Ez. May already have. Buck sat up straighter in the saddle, rolling his shoulders, tired from the long days on the trail.
"Maybe we should clean up?" His question was met by deaf ears.
Chris swung out of the saddle and handed off his horse without a second glance to the youngster from the hotel steps who came forward. Buck figured he better stick to his pard and did likewise, having to stretch his stride to catch up to Larabee who was moving fast.
They burst into the lobby and looked up at the sound of Ezra Standish's laughter. A happy trickle of sound from the stairs. The two trail dusty men stood, in rough clothing, dirty boots, and riding gear, in the middle of the brightly colored tapestry rug. Unshaven chins lifted in unison and dark blue eyes and hazel eyes widened to stare at the two men coming down the stairs.
Ezra was wearing a glowing dark green jacket with black velvet facings, his white ruffled shirt looking like a waterfall over the top of his silver vest and peeking from beneath the dark cuffs of his coat. His pinstriped trousers allowed only the tips of his polished boots to show. Accompanying him, an arm thrown comfortably around his shoulder, was an older, bigger man, face furrowed with creases that were wreathing his face in smiles at the moment as he watched his companion, an amused, affectionate air about him. He, too, was dressed in elegant fashion, a town peacock, Buck decided, eyeing the ruffles, the silver and gold ornaments at watch fob, cuffs, and collar. The tailored suit was even more refined than Ezra's, the colors lighter and picked out in careful styling.
At that moment, Ezra looked away from the man at his side and saw the gunmen standing below. Green eyes widening, the only sign of his surprise, he slowed, and the other man looked up.
"Paladin!" The name come out in an involuntary challenge from Chris Larabee, who instantly shifted his stance, brushing his long black duster back from his gun rig.
And Ezra was dashing down the stairs and standing in front of him, livid. "Don't you dare, Chris Larabee!"
Larabee eased his hand back away from his own peacemaker and stared down into Ezra's brilliant eyes, the rest of the room forgotten. "Ez, I've come to get you."
"Get me?" Indignant, Ezra jerked his head back as if slapped. "Get me!" He jutted out his chin and folded his arms angrily. "I think not, Mr. Larabee."
By now, Richard had reached the foot of the stairs and strolled over to stand behind his friend. Looking over the top of Ezra's head, he nodded first to Buck in a friendly fashion, removing a cigar from a simple case in his coat, then lighting it with practiced ease as the men in front of him continued to stare at each other, clearly oblivious. He tilted his head, and the motion was enough to cause the other gunslinger to raise his eyes instantly.
"Chris." Richard puffed out a smoke ring and smiled. "You know my protégé, Ezra?"
Greenish hazel eyes narrowed. "He's yours?" The stance returned, challenging.
"MISTER Larabee!" Ezra's arms came down and one hand reached out to slap at Chris' gun hand. "Stop that right now!" Then Ezra eyed Chris and looked back over his shoulder at Richard. "You know each other?"
Richard nodded. "Our paths have crossed over time."
"Met once or twice." Larabee nearly growled.
"Then we shall have to have a drink upon the re-acquaintance of your good selves." Ezra made a small movement and Hanover was scurrying across the floor to open a discretely curtained door to the side, beyond the stairs.
"Gentlemen." Ezra spun on his heels and led the way. He could feel the hairs on the back of his neck rise, and he knew that Chris stalked along just at his heels. There was an energy in the air now, that had been lacking despite his pleasure in Richard's company. He shivered and looked back. The thundercloud behind him was being trailed by Buck Wilmington, looking bemused, and then Richard, who was moving with that lethal grace that gave him the air of a leashed panther. The veneer of civilization very thin on his corpus.
The room was a private office and games room, available for select guests when Richard was not in residence, his alone when in town. It was showing few signs of use yet since his return. He'd been otherwise engaged upstairs with his younger friend. Hanover couldn't quite suppress a sniff as he bowed himself out, eyebrows still raised at the two westerners who'd invaded the hotel and provoked his honored and permanent guest. Guests? He wondered, as he carefully closed the doors, if Mr. Standish would be staying.
Once inside, Ezra sat in an armchair by the cold fire. A twin chair flanked the first and Larabee quickly claimed it. Buck looked around curiously then sat down cautiously on a rather elaborate and brocaded settee, its back to a wall of books. Richard stood by the door and surveyed the room, eyes warming as they paused on Ezra, then flicking coolly over to Larabee. "Chris, I had no idea that you and Ezra were friends."
"That might be a trifle overstated." Ezra shifted in his chair, looking bland, having finally reapplied his poker face.
"We're lovers." Larabee sat back in a lordly manner, but his words were stiff, nearly spat out.
Ezra raised an eyebrow and stared at the man. He worked to maintain his facade, but his pulse was starting to race. One thing Ezra had never expected was for Chris to openly declare their relationship, even if he wasn't sure that Chris really meant those words. At least not the way Ezra had hoped they'd be meant.
Buck rubbed his hands together and crossed his ankles. Clearly he already knows this, Ezra thought, eyeing the man for a moment. Chris has been busy. What in the world?
Richard came further into the room and took a seat behind the desk, instantly changing the dynamics of the gathering. "Really?" He puffed again on his cigar and leaned forward on one elbow to poke his chin out toward Ezra. "Ezra?"
Ezra felt like pouting. He was the one who'd been ignored, taken for granted, treated less than chivalrously and now he was being forced to acknowledge Larabee like this. Ezra began to simmer. "No, not really. We traded sexual favors a few times. Love? I think not."
Chris froze. His coloring drained away, leaving him white as a ghost. Buck sat forward alertly. Ezra sat back, having tossed the gauntlet, he now realized it may have been a mistake to do it in quite that fashion.
But Richard rose majestically and moved out from behind his desk, one finger toying with his mustache. "Ezra, the man has ridden all the way from the Territories. Since you've only been here two days, he didn't wait long." Richard came to a stop at Ezra's chair and leaned on the top of the wingback, his hand dropping to toy with his friend's boyish face, lightly tracing the cheekbone and jaw. He looked over at Chris Larabee, pale and mute. "Chris, Ezra and I have a long history. We were very much in love a long time ago." He leaned down and kissed Ezra goodbye. "But now we are just very old, good friends."
"Who sleep together." Larabee gritted out the words and everyone heard the pain there.
"Our affection runs deep." Richard lounged back slightly, his hand coming to rest on Ezra's shoulder. "But, I think you and he have achieved a deeper level than we ever did." Richard squeezed the stiff shoulder under his hand. "Poets speak of love but seldom find it, kings pay ransoms for it, but never can buy it, and you have had it in your hands." The man stepped forward and drew his hand down Ezra's sleeve to his hand, lifting it and encouraging him to rise.
Chris stood up as well, unsure and angry. "Might be good if you stop touching him."
"Yes," Richard nodded knowingly, and tugged the smaller man at his side toward the dark clad gunman in front of them. "And, perhaps it is time you started." Richard released Ezra and watched as Larabee, without hesitation, pulled the man to him. Nodding more to himself than anyone else, Richard said, "And this time, tell him what you feel, not just what you want."
Hazel eyes flashed over Ezra's shoulder, meeting the Paladin's dark eyes, and sending a message of gratitude as Ezra finally relaxed and curled into Chris' arms. Chris dismissed the others from his thoughts and bent to capture and retake the fortress of his love.
Buck stood up slowly and smiled, then nodded at Richard's wave and they left the room and the lovers behind. Out in the lobby again, Richard led the way to a pair of simple armchairs in a corner. A young man appeared quietly at his elbow with a tray and two glasses of amber liquid. "Thank you, Hey Boy."
Buck helped himself and toasted the other man. "Thanks."
"Chris Larabee is a good man," the dark haired gentleman settled comfortably in his seat. "Ezra and he make a good pair, much as Ezra and I did long ago."
"Regrets?" Buck wondered aloud.
"Not really. This time around, Ezra and I just enjoyed some moments of simple pleasure together, but neither of us committed a heart to the matter. Just the affection of friends."
"We haven't really traded names, sir," Buck said quietly. "Mine is Buck Wilmington, I've ridden with Larabee on and off for a long time."
"A pleasure, Mr. Wilmington." The man before him looked across the expanse of carpet before looking back at Buck. "Ezra has always called me Richard."
Buck hesitated, then decided not to push. He took another sip of the fine whiskey. Then looked down in surprise to find the other man offering a small white pasteboard.
"My card." Richard sighed and looked out the window. "In case you or they ever need help."
Buck turned over the simple rectangle of white card and read. He looked up. "You're THAT Paladin?" Buck was suddenly very glad that it hadn't come to gunplay today. He glanced over at the closed door across the room. Damn, those boys sure know how to mix legends. He grinned and pocketed the card, nodded back at Richard. Have Gun, Will Travel. Hot damn.
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