Worse Than His Bite
(Old West)

by Cyc

This was getting comfortable, so comfortable it was making him uncomfortable.

The other three were reading, lounging around on the jail boardwalk, just out of reach of the afternoon sun, reading. He was the only one without a book in his hands.

At the sound of that familiar, low giggle, Chris looked over to see Ezra turn another page of the book JD had left behind entitled 'Casino: How To Gamble And Win'.

"Oh lord, can this hombre ride, rope and shoot!" Buck looked up from his dime adventure novel to grin at Chris. "He's almost as good as me. Sure you don't want to borrow it, big dog?" he offered the book.

Chris closed his eyes briefly, barely shaking his head before glancing over at Vin, who was mouthing the words to an Ambrose Pierce novel.

"The creator of this volume should be prosecuted for published indecency," Ezra announced gleefully, catching Chris' attention again as he giggled over another page. It seemed Ezra didn't have to do much of late to catch his eye. Just watching the way he moved in that smooth, cocksure way was enough of a distraction. But why? Chris studied Ezra. The man was good-looking, sure enough, smart and quick too but that was hardly an excuse for what they did together.

Chris jealously watched Ezra's fine hands stroke the book cover. Then his gaze travelled up to watch the tip of that clever tongue just poke slightly out from between those mobile lips before Ezra giggled again, shaking his head in wonder.

Shifting uncomfortably, Chris deliberately looked away. The glimpse of that tongue had nearly been too much, recalling the activities of the night before when Ezra had insisted on kissing and licking all his bruises better. Chris would hardly have been able to move at all if he had all the bruises Ezra swore he'd found.

Damn that bastard Grover! Chris glared into the darkness of the jail doorway, but the injuries the man had inflicted on him during the arrest the previous morning had nothing to do with his surge of anger. If there were two things Chris couldn't stand in a man they were cowardly lying and being cruel to those weaker than yourself just because you could get away with it. Grover had done both. He'd gotten drunk and beaten an unarmed, nineteen-year-old boy to death with a shovel -- all in front of his own ten-year-old son. Then he had denied it. What kind of a man beats a boy to death then makes his own son go through the hell of a trial? He would be convicted, and most likely hung, with the physical evidence alone. The devastated child probably couldn't testify in any case but the whole situation made Chris' blood boil. How could that bastard look his boy in the face after that?

Yeah, so he had lost his temper a little when the man had stood there calling his son a liar after Chris had just coaxed the child into giving his own stuttering account of the events. Luckily, the others had stopped him before it had gotten out of hand but Chris had saw the fear in Grover's eyes, the fear and the guilt.

"Chris? You sure you don't want a book?" Buck asked, his tone deceptively light in an attempt to cover his concern. "I've got a good Dodge City one inside."

Not even bothering to make any kind of response this time, Chris looked away from Buck's all too easy to read face to the more enigmatic figure of Ezra, who was still enjoying that gambling book in a way that the writer had never intended. But that was Ezra all over. Last nights' conversation had been a prime example:

"What you doin'?" Chris had asked him just after they had collapsed onto the mattress, sweating and spent.

"Why, nothing at all," was Ezra's soft response but the fingers dancing over his ribs had continued their strange, almost tickling movements.

"Stop it," Chris had growled but made no attempt to arrest Ezra's touch.

"If you must know, I'm counting your ribs."

"They're all there," Chris had snapped back, wondering what Ezra had meant by that, but that was the end of the conversation because then they were kissing again, moving against each other with that addictive rhythm that had become their own. But, still, Ezra's comment had bothered him. It wasn't that Chris was body conscious, he just hadn't had comments like that directed to him in a long time -- if Ezra had meant what he thought he had meant. Of course, Ezra wasn't about to just come out and tell him he was losing a bit too much weight of late and that he should make sure he made the time for regular meals no matter how busy the judge kept them. Not even Buck would assume such familiarity, and Buck assumed a lot. Chris found a smile for his old friend and Buck looked up to return it with a slight frown.

"What? What's goin' on in that sneaky old head o' yours? You best not be plannin' any of those night patrols o' yours until after my date tonight. I'm warnin' you, Chris."

"I ain't plannin' no patrols," Chris answered low, looking over at Vin again to watch his lips form the words he was reading so intently.

So why was he attracted to Ezra and not to Vin, who was someone with whom he felt much more at ease? There was no doubt that he and Vin were on the same wavelength, able to finish each other's sentences, if not thoughts. It had been like that right from the start and Vin was smart and easy enough on the eye too. Perplexed, Chris watched Vin's lips move with the words a moment longer before turning his attention back to Ezra -- and losing a heartbeat.

Ezra was watching him. Not openly, but not exactly surreptitiously either. He was furtively studying him in that completely smooth manner that only he could pull off with those perfect green eyes. Ezra was all shadow play, feint and counter feint, but Chris could tell he was picking up on the tension just as well as Buck and Vin. Reading Ezra was getting easier the more they saw of each other, the more the spoke together.

Speaking with Ezra in bed afterwards was not something Chris had accepted easily. It just hadn't come naturally to him, but Ezra had persevered, going to great lengths to try and find something that would engage his attention. And, in the end, Chris was glad he had. He now treasured those moments spent listening to Ezra's voice in the warm darkness, or watching his expressions shift under the cool moonlight, almost as much as the lovemaking itself. That was unless Ezra was in one of those self-deprecating moods in which he insisted that he wasn't really a lawman and that it was all just a fašade, that fašades were the only thing he was ever really good at. That always pissed Chris off no end and usually ended in an argument with Ezra pushing him away. It was a dance Chris was tiring of, but he wouldn't give up the rest of those moments for heaven itself.

Sighing, Chris squinted up the street to where Billy Travis was talking to the youngest of the Simmons girls. Sarah was a dark-haired, chatterbox of a child, a year or so younger than Billy, with whom everyone in town was familiar -- whether they liked it or not. She was a Main Street afternoon fixture that always wandered too far from her parents' storefront. Today she was skipping around with what looked like a piece of a log tied to a length of rope.

Just as the children laughed at some shared joke, Chris' temper snapped and he stormed into the jail, snatching up the keys and reaching the door to Grover's cell before Vin, Buck and Ezra clattered in after him.

"Now, Chris, the judge said you weren't to go in there again. Don't make us stop you," Buck warned as Chris turned the lock and Grover edged away from the opening door.

"Don't worry, Buck, I ain't goin' in. Grover's coming out, aren't you, you lying sack of dirt?"

"I ain't going nowhere with you, Larabee." Grover shook his head. "No way, no how."

"Why, I'd thought you'd want to see your boy, being the caring father that you are." Chris sneered. "Or aren't man enough to look your son in the eye when you call him liar?"

"It didn't happen like that," Grover protested. "He's just a kid. He doesn't know what he saw."

"He saw just fine and I'll tell you this, he'll never look at you that way again. Most men wait years before their sons lose that look, that look that says you're the world to that boy, but you managed to put it out with one stroke. It wasn't the drunken rage that did it, either. It's the cowardice, the lies and the denial you're putting your whole family through." Chris paused to take a steadying breath as Grover's gaze dropped away. "It's likely the judge will hang you tomorrow either way, but don't you want to see that look in your boy's eyes once more? Wouldn't you do anything to see that again?"

There was a long silence broken only by the occasional sound of the street bustle drifting in on the light breeze before Grover looked up to meet Chris' gaze. "I would," he mumbled, his eyes bright with tears. "You may not believe it but I'd do anything for that boy."

"Then tell the truth," Vin said softly. "That's all anyone's askin' of you, mister."

"I will." Grover nodded, the tension suddenly easing from his body. "It's a hard thing to admit that you killed a man, but you're right." He looked back at Chris. "Some things are worse than dying and not being able to--" His voice breaking, Grover looked away. "You men can witness that I'm saying I did it. I killed that boy even though I didn't mean to and I'm sorry. I guess a man's courage leaves him in the shadow of a noose but I'd mightily appreciate seeing my boy again, his maw and the girls." He looked up, meeting the gazes of all four of them in turn. "If you men could see your way clear to letting me supper with them tonight, I'd be indebted to you all."

"Of course you can." Buck nodded firmly.

"Indeed," Ezra added, "but maybe a more suitably family clime could be found? The back room of the hotel, perhaps?"

"I promise I won't try anythin'." Grover looked hopefully at Chris until Chris finally nodded and closed the jail cell door without a sound. After a moment, Vin volunteered to check the room was free and left them with a brief squeeze of Chris' shoulder.

"How about you and me heading over to the restaurant for a late lunch, Chris?" Buck turned to ask while preceding Chris and Ezra back onto the boardwalk. "Only Vin and Ezra are meant to be on duty and there's nothin' for you to do now."

"I guess I could eat something," Chris allowed as Ezra came to stand behind him so their bodies just touched out of Buck's sight.

"You guess?" Buck queried, eyebrows raised. "Does that mean I get your piece of pie?"

"No," Chris answered with a grin then turned his attention to Sarah Simmons, who was approaching them with her log in tow.

"'Afternoon, sirs," she smiled up at them. "Do you like my dog?" She pulled the log on a rope forward for their scrutiny.

"Why, that's a lovely dog, darlin'," Buck immediately offered, bending down to pet it. "Friendly too." He winked.

"Mr Wilmington is quite right, my dear." Ezra smiled. "Never have I seen an animal of such fine breeding and excellent manners. I congratulate you on your choice of pet."

Then the girl's big brown eyes latched onto Chris, waiting for his response. When a brief nod and a smile didn't dislodge the patient stare, Chris asked, "What's his name?"

"Log," she replied cheerily before skipping off, her 'dog' rattling along the boardwalk behind her.

Buck waited until she'd turned to cross the street before laughing. "That girl is going to make one mystifying but mighty fine woman in about fifteen years."

"That she is." Ezra grinned back. "But tell me, Mr Larabee, why were you so reticent to congratulate the young lady on her fine taste in canines?"

"Yeah," Buck joined in. "Judging by the look on your face, I thought you were going to tell the girl that her dog would get whittled 'round these parts."

"Nothin' wrong with the dog." Chris walked down the few steps onto the street. "His bark was worse than his bite."

"Ouch, that was a bad one," Buck laughed as he fell into step beside Chris and Ezra giggled off back to JD's gambling book. "But ain't no one can say that about you, big dog. No sir!"


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