The Snake You Know
by Chris J. Ueberall


Pairing: Ezra/Chris
Rating: Slash, PG-13
Category: OW, Angst, Episode Related

Disclaimer: The characters from Mag7 belong to MGM, Mirisch, and Trilogy. No copyright infringement intended, this story is strictly for fun, not profit.

Summary: "Serpents" happened. This is the aftermath.

Notes: This story was first published in "My Seducer 2" an Ezslash Anthology.


'"He's around here somewhere."

Struggling with Mary, he watched helplessly as Ezra walked up to the assassin and stopped the bullet by simply being in its way. He saw Ezra fall... falling. And then he was at his friend's side, seeing the wound, precious blood soaking the tailored shirt, streaming into the earth.

"Ezra." Nathan was there, trying to stop the bleeding, all the while shaking his head.

"Damnit, Ezra." He was furious, oh, so furious. Knowing the gambler was dying, feeling helpless, feeling guilty for not stopping him, for not telling him... What? The thought eluded him. But the pain was there, and the fury. He was in Ezra's face, daring the man to break eye contact.

"I told you not to run out on me again," he heard himself say, the threat clear in every syllable.

Emerald eyes laughed at him coldly. "Mr. Larabee, don't you trust me? Don't you trust me? Trust me? Don't trust me. Trust me..."

The words were fading, and when he looked down at the gambler again, there was nothing there to see but blood.

He looked up and met Nathan's gaze. "Seems we're only six now," the healer said.

And from somewhere he heard Vin's voice. "Guess he should have taken the money. He'd still be alive, then."

And then Josiah saying, "Another victim of greed."

"Don't you trust me, Chris?" the gambler's voice whispered into his ear.

He turned around...'

...And found himself in his room, alone and soaked with sweat.

'Don't you trust me?'

The question was still echoing through his mind.

"Of course I do," he told the voice, only to add, with a frown, "No, I don't." He sat up, feeling irritated with himself. "I don't know."

He massaged his temples. He did trust Ezra, didn't he? Just not with money.

It had sounded totally sensible before. After all, Ezra was always talking about money, about being rich. Hadn't he already been planning all sorts of things he would do with the money?

Yes, he had, and he had been quite open about it, too. Not the smartest thing to do for someone who'd really take the money and leave without a trace.

'But he thought about it!' Chris tried to reason and had to laugh at himself.

'Like probably everyone else.'

The difference was that Ezra had talked about it. Chris had no way of knowing what his other companions' thoughts on the money were. All he knew was that he hadn't been tempted - or at least not for long - because he really had no idea what to do with the money. He had all he needed and no dreams left. None that money could buy, anyway.

Though he had to admit, if Sarah and Adam were still alive... He might have been tempted. After all, as Ezra had pointed out, the money didn't belong to anyone. And seven dollars a week was not really that much money for the risks they took everyday.

He wondered...

'Had Vin been tempted?'

With that much money, he could buy himself his life back. Money could take the sharpshooter off the Wanted posters. Money had such power.


He couldn't imagine the preacher being tempted, except maybe for wanting the money for the church.


Now Buck had been busy, but starting a new life, a family or just helping his girl on her mission would be that much easier with, say, 1000 dollars or more.

'And JD...'

He could impress Casey, or he could try to fulfill his mother's wish and go to college after all.

'Or Nathan...'

The man could have used the money to find some real doctor willing to teach him all he needed to become the kind of healer, even doctor, he so craved to be.

So many possibilities, how could they not be tempted? But they hadn't said a word. Hadn't fantasized like Ezra had. Not aloud.

And, of course, they hadn't taken the money. But Ezra had, showing that he really couldn't be trusted. 'He was running out on us. Again.' The Southerner had taken the money and probably had been on his way to the livery when he had encountered the sniper, but instead of running, he had done his job as a protector.

'By stopping the bullet with his body! Stupid! So stupid. He could have been killed. He would have been, if not for the money. But he couldn't have known that the money would slow the bullet down enough to just nick him.'

No, Ezra didn't know that. The gambler had done what the job required, had even put his very life on the line, knowingly.

'As if he didn't care.'

The thought frightened Chris. How could Ezra not care if he lived or died? Especially with 10,000 dollars hidden in his coat, enough money to really start anew and make your dreams come true.

'I need a drink.'

He looked out the window. Too late or too early even for the most tenacious drunks to still be around. The saloon would be closed. He sighed. Still, he couldn't stay in his room; he needed to clear his mind. Fresh air might just do that.

With that in mind, he left the bed and grabbed for his clothes, wondering about his nightmare while he put them on.

He was still pondering his dream, and the feelings it awoke, as he walked down the silent streets of Four Corners.

'Why the fury?'

He was still a little furious, a little angry at Ezra. How could the man dare to even think of running out on them again? It wasn't really about the money. It was about the breach of trust.

'Don't you trust me?'

The question was there again. And he realized that Ezra wouldn't have thought of leaving if not for the money, which he had not trusted him with to begin with. So what kind of trust had been betrayed? None, as it seemed that there never had been any given in the first place.

'But that isn't true, I trust Ezra. I do. Just not...'

He couldn't finish the thought, and the fury in him increased. Fury at himself, this time, for not understanding himself, for feeling helpless and scared.


Just like in his nightmare.

'I told you not to run out on me again.'

He shook his head. What a roundabout way of saying, "Don't die, Ezra, hold on." And that was what he had meant in his dream and in the moments after the shooting, after seeing Ezra fall.

'Don't you dare die on me, Ezra. Don't you ever die on me.'

The vehemence of his own thoughts was like a dose of cold water. Like suddenly drowning in a river, and he came back to the surface with one clear thought that encompassed all others.

'Don't leave me.'

And finally, understanding. Understanding of the fury, the anger, the fear.

It had never been about trust. It had always been about fear. His fear. His fear of losing what he just had found, had just discovered anew.


Anger had always been his way of masking his fear. When in doubt, attack.

He realized now that he would have tried to put the money out of Ezra's reach, even if it had been one of the others suggesting they share it among themselves. Even only 1000 dollars might have been enough for the Southerner to start a good con or even an honest business. Somewhere else. After the fiasco with the saloon he would not try his luck in Four Corners again. He might leave.

'And that is unacceptable.'

Chris was almost shocked about how possessive he felt.

'Lord, was I like that with Sarah, too?' Probably.

Probably scared Buck fiercely when the womanizer had joked about trying his animal magnetism on Sarah. But had he ever tried to tie her down?

He laughed. Of course he had. He had married her, hadn't he? He had given up his own freedom for her, and had been sure of her then. Absolutely sure that she would never leave him. After all, she was his wife and the mother of his son.

He had no such assurance concerning Ezra. The man didn't even know that Chris loved him.

'And now he thinks I don't trust him. Great work, Larabee. Great work.'

Suddenly, he was torn from his musings. It took him a moment, but then he realized that someone was walking towards him. Even in the dim light, he could identify the preacher.

"Josiah," he greeted. "Not a good night for sleeping, it seems."

"Chris," Josiah acknowledged. "I found sleep elusive with a heavy burden of guilt on my mind."

Chris frowned, but didn't ask. He was a private man himself and didn't want to pry into others' lives. Yet Josiah's next question changed that directive forcefully.

"Have you seen Ezra?"

"No." Looking up at the taller man, he felt a chill run down his spine. "Why? He should be in his room sleeping."

Josiah nodded. "Maybe he is, but when I was there just a moment ago, he didn't answer his door." There was a heavy sigh. "He probably didn't want to speak to me, or maybe he drank a little more and really didn't hear me, but... I admit I felt the urge to make sure he didn't leave town."

'Leave town?!'

"Why would he do that, either not answering you or leaving? What happened between you two?" And then he remembered something else. "And why did you give Ezra the money? What the hell were you trying to prove?" The anger was back in full force, as was the fear.

"Hell," Josiah muttered. "You have no idea."

"Josiah," he growled, wanting his answers now.

The bigger man looked down at him with an expression that bore almost as much anger as Chris was sure his own face was showing, but he didn't feel intimidated. He just glared back. Finally, it was the preacher who gave in.

"You don't realize what you did when you gave the money into my care. You were the serpent, and you gave me the apple. Greed is a sickness to the soul, and money the poison that starts the fever." He breathed deeply. "I didn't know I could be tempted. Didn't realize the darkness in my own soul, until I had the money in my hand. Touched it. Felt it. I had no clear idea what to do with so much money, and yet I heard its siren song pulling me into an abyss." Josiah shook his head; his hands went through his hair. And there was a look of utter sadness in his eyes.

"I was still shocked to find myself so easily tempted. Was still fighting my own demons, when Ezra came for my help and advice. He was hurt, truly hurt by the lack of trust his friends were showing to him. He came to me to ease his pain, probably hoped that I could explain how his friends could think of him so badly, but nevertheless, be his friends. He needed a friend and a sign of trust."

"And so you showed him your trust by giv-"

"No. I gave him the apple. And I added my demons to his own. It wasn't an act of trust, Chris, and it was anything but an act of friendship. I was angry at myself for being weak, but instead of facing my weakness and fighting it, I vented my anger at him. I gave him the apple so that I couldn't taste it anymore. And being the snake I am, I bit him instead of myself, and thus planted the seed of weakness within him."

Now it was Chris's turn to shake his head. He hadn't grasped half of what the preacher had said. There was only one thing he was sure of: Ezra had been hurt by their lack of trust.

And that Josiah felt guilty for not helping Ezra. Like he felt guilty for...

"But we were right not to trust him with the money. He took it after all." Briefly, he wondered whom he was trying to convince.

"Of course he took it, Chris." Josiah sighed. "When everyone tells you you're no good, you'll believe it yourself eventually. And if all the people you thought were your friends, the very people whose opinion of you matters the most, tell you they don't trust you, despite everything you did before, where is the point in being good anyway? Why not prove them right? They know best, don't they? After all, they are your friends. And if they aren't your friends, why care at all? Why not take the money and leave? It's what everyone wants, everyone expects, isn't it?"

"You've thought about this for a long time, haven't you, Josiah?"

"Yes." The bigger man nodded. "Experience has taught me that. Experience has also taught me how deeply words can hurt, and because of that I'm really, really disappointed in myself. Of all people, Ezra is the one to take every word to heart. Words are his forte, and he wields them like a sword, but he also feels them as if they were blades. I couldn't sleep. What I said to him wouldn't let me, and I decided that it can't wait until tomorrow. I don't want the poison to fester in his soul, anymore than it already has."

"He seemed okay, even asked about the money again," Chris said, not really because he believed it, but because he had to try to defuse the dread that crawled up his spine.

'As if he didn't care.'

"Chris, what did you expect? He showed more of his inner self than he ever did before, more than anyone of us ever did, and we all walked over his feelings uncaringly. And I stabbed him but good when he was already down and bleeding. If he ever again shows us anymore than the mask of the uncaring gambler, I would be surprised. Actually, I'd be surprised if he's still here."

Chris knew he paled at those last words, but he didn't say anything. Then he found himself running to the livery, his only thought that Ezra's horse had to still be there.

Reaching the livery, he found the door open, and as he peered cautiously in, he saw a light on the other side. As he listened, he could hear a voice over the general rustle of the horses. Silently, he went into the livery, feeling Josiah close at his heels.

Concealed by some stacks of hay bales, Chris recognized Ezra's voice, even before he could see the Southerner. Ezra was sitting on a stack of hay, his face turned towards his horse. His left arm was still within the sling, but instead of holding it still, the gambler used it every so often to lift a bottle of whiskey to his lips.

Chris sighed in relief. So Ezra was here on some drunken binge, and not actually getting ready to leave town. His relief, however, was short-lived, as the gambler's words finally registered, and as he realized that in his other hand, Ezra held his derringer.

"So, I'm still here. Why, I wonder?" Ezra's speech was slightly slurred. "And saved by money, no less. What wonderful irony." He laughed, a short, humorless bark that hit Chris like a winter's breeze.

"But I did good. Chris said so. And I saved Mary. Mary!" Again this hollow laughter that grated on the gunslinger's nerves. "Like I did in Wick's Town. Like I do every time when I'm called to stand up for this godforsaken excuse of a town." The gambler took a deep sip. "Hell, they probably believe I do heroic stunts to impress that woman. Fool me, that I don't care for her at all. Fool me, to care at all. Tell me, why should I care?" he asked his horse, but not surprisingly, got no reaction.

"See, you have no answer either. Oh, hell." There was silence for a moment as Ezra seemed to contemplate something, then suddenly he brought his weapon up and held it before his eyes.

"I wonder... Would that count as running out? Technically, I wouldn't be running. Actually, I wouldn't be running if I just mounted. I would be riding. But you're my horse and you might run, so I guess that would count as running out on him. But if I don't leave town... He never said I couldn't die. I mean, they expect it of me, seven days a week for one dollar, don't they?"

Still hidden, Chris knew he'd lost what color had remained in his face.

Ezra was thinking of taking his own life.

'Whatever for? Why?'

He wanted to run over to the Southerner and shake some sense into the man. But he couldn't move, and from the lack of action at his side, he knew that Josiah was just as shocked as he.

Stunned, they listened to the gambler's ramblings.

"Mother would be appalled. But at least she has the satisfaction of being right. I should never have stayed. I should have left the moment the thirty days had passed. Why didn't I?" Again he was speaking to his horse, or maybe to some silent spirits surrounding him. "I should've known better. I should have known that friendship is not for people like me. Should've known that he'll never..." A sound close to a sob could be heard, and some harsh breathing, as the gambler obviously tried to control his emotions.

"Damnit!" Ezra rose, stamping his foot on the ground. "Face it, Ezra, the man can barely stand you, doesn't trust you. He wouldn't love you if you died to save his life!"

The Southerner's voice had risen in fury, but suddenly dropped to a whisper. "Which you tried and failed to do today, didn't you?"

Cocking his head, Ezra nodded. And, as if the words hadn't been his but had been spoken by an invisible person, he said, "Point taken." Then Ezra suddenly smiled, a carefree, almost innocent smile which, under different circumstances, Chris might have called angelic. It chilled the gunslinger to the bone, as did Ezra's next words.

"But it doesn't mean the situation won't arise again." Looking at his weapon again, the gambler sighed loudly. "I can hardly wait." With that, Ezra pocketed his weapon and moved towards the lamp placed on the ground before him.

That moment, the backdoor of the livery opened, and three men walked in, briskly dragging a fourth, bound one with them.

They stopped at seeing the light, and before Ezra could even say a word, the first one had already drawn his weapon and fired at the surprised gambler.


Chris felt his heart stop as he saw Ezra jerk backwards from the bullet's impact, and then fall to the ground. His nightmare had just come true.

He never found out if he had cried out in anger and pain, or if he had said something to the men who'd come in, but suddenly they turned towards him and Josiah. The first one was already firing again, while the other two reached for their weapons - they never made it.

There were five shots, then there was silence.

Exchanging a glance with Josiah, Chris saw the preacher was unharmed, as he was himself. As one, they moved forward to make sure that the other men were dead. They were. One bullet for each of them from Chris, and one from Josiah too, for the one who had shot Ezra.

Amidst the dead stood a young man, still bound, trembling, his eyes wide with fear.

Neither of the two protectors had more than a glance for the boy, as both now rushed towards their friend.

"Ezra." Chris fell to his knees beside him and helplessly touched his shoulder, while Josiah kneeled on the gambler's other side, looking over the wound. Finding it dangerously close to his heart.

To both their surprise, green eyes flickered open and a tentative smile chased over Ezra's pale features. "That was soon," the Southerner whispered. Then his gaze fell on the gunslinger. "Chris."

Chris swallowed. Everything Ezra felt for him was plain to see in the shining green eyes, and to hear in the almost worshipping way he said his name. He also realized that Ezra was expecting death to embrace him, and welcomed it.

That was not an option as far as the gunslinger was concerned.

"Ezra!" he said sharply while, in contrast, he took the gambler's face gently between his hands. "Listen to me. You will not die. You can't die."

There was no reaction to his words, only an almost blank look.

Tears sprang into Chris's eyes, tears of pain and fury. He was about to lose what he only had just realized he had, could have had.

"Don't you dare run out on me." He choked on the words. "Don't leave me, Ezra. Please."

There was a flicker in the green orbs, and for a moment, he could see surprise and then hope blossom on Ezra's face, before the wounded man took a long shuddering breath and went limp.

Scared, Chris looked to Josiah, who shook his head. "He's hanging on, but I don't know for how long." And without further preamble, Josiah took the gambler into his arms and walked out of the livery, Chris alongside him, both oblivious to the young man trailing silently behind them.

"I'll get Nathan ready," Chris said suddenly, feeling the need to do something.

He tried not to think as he ran across the street towards Nathan's room, but bits of his nightmare were cruelly flashing through his mind.

'Seems we're only six now.'

Gravely, Chris looked at the man lying on the bed. Ezra's breathing was shallow, but at least he was still breathing, and that alone, as Nathan had made it clear, was a miracle.

A shot from that close... Ezra's guardian angel had outdone itself this time. Or maybe it should be, had outdone itself again. After all, not even a whole day had passed since another close shot had only done minor harm to the gambler.

Not this time though. And tomorrow might still greet only six protectors.

Chris rubbed his weary eyes. He was tired. The sleep that had eluded him earlier was now calling to him like those sirens Josiah had mentioned. But he wasn't ready to give in. Not until... until...


Not until he knew for sure that Ezra would survive.

He hadn't left the injured man's side since Josiah had brought him in, for once taking on the role of Nathan's assistant, leaving Josiah and the rest of the seven to find out what those cowboys had been up to.

They had learned that the boy was a rich man's son, and that he had been kidnapped to be exchanged later for a great deal of money. The boy was safe now, was at his father's side again, and probably telling him how uncaring the town's peacekeepers had been for his plight.

Chris couldn't care less if the boy was upset or eternally grateful. His world had narrowed down to the man in front of him.

The man he loved and who returned his love.

"We must talk," he said to the unconscious figure, his hands holding Ezra's left. "There's so much I didn't say, and some things I never meant..." He swallowed. "Don't die, Ezra. Hold on. I... I need you." Letting go of his hand, he stroked Ezra's pale cheeks gently.

"I know I never showed it, but I love you. You got under my skin, into my blood. That's what always makes me defensive, and I snap when I feel that way." He laughed shortly. A memory played out in his mind. "There was only ever one other person who could get me so enraged, just by being herself. And I married her. Do you get that, Ezra? I married Sarah."

Leaning forward, he kissed the wounded man on the forehead, and with a sigh, settled back into the chair. "You got it all wrong, Ezra. I only ever snap at people I love. Those who truly annoy me, I shoot."

"I'll tr...y to re...member that," a weak voice commented, gasping every so often for air.


Chris was out of his chair and leaned over his friend, staring into green eyes trying to focus on his face.

"It seems it still isn't the time for my demise," Ezra said, his voice still barely more than a whisper, but getting stronger.

"No. And you won't die anytime soon if I have a say in it." He had meant to say it lightly but was aware that it sounded more like a threat.

'Still the same bastard, Larabee.'

Ezra blinked but didn't say a word.

In an attempt to calm himself, Chris sat down on the edge of the bed and gently squeezed his companion's shoulder. "You scared me, Ez. We nearly lost you." 'Again.'

He closed his eyes for a moment, the truth still hard to bear.

"You were there?"

Ezra's question brought him back to the present. He nodded. "Josiah was looking for you. Seems he felt sorry for something he told you and was afraid you'd leave us because of that." Seeing the frown that marred the gambler's face, he elaborated. "He said something about having been tempted and adding his demons to yours. I didn't really get it. You know how he can be. Between you two, a man can feel pretty dumb sometimes." The latter earned him a small smile from the gambler, and he grinned, sure now that Ezra was over the worst.

"Adding his demons to mine? Tempted?" Ezra mumbled, then sighed. "Seems Mr. Tanner is not the only man with bad timing."

"What's Vin got to do with this mess?" Chris asked, irritated, wondering if he had missed something else.

"Nothing. Just a parallel experience which taught us that it's not a good idea to ask someone for help when this someone is troubled himself. Advice I would have heeded, but I didn't realise Josiah was troubled."

"What did he tell you?" Chris wanted to know.

"To look at myself." A bitter smile crossed the pale features. "And I looked and didn't care for what I saw. And then I took the money and... And the rest is history."

Swallowing, Chris remembered the preacher's words that Ezra had shown his inner self and they hadn't cared. Now he did care, and he was grateful that the gambler wasn't hiding behind his mask.

"You'd have come back," he said to Ezra's obvious surprise. "As you did last time. And you knew it too."

"I was on my way to the livery. I made up my mind, I was leaving."

"Without a bag? Leaving all your things behind?"

"With 10,000 dollars, you don't need much. You can buy everything new."

"I'm not talking about your clothes. I mean personal things, and of course, the small things you take with you on a ride. Like water. There's no town near enough to reach within a day. You know that. You didn't mean to leave for good. You were angry and hurt, and probably just wanted to get away. But you'd have come back." He grinned. "If only to see how we'd react."

"Your trust in me is charming, Mr. Larabee, though I think a little bit misplaced."

The words hit a nerve, and Chris became serious in an instant. "No, not misplaced. I know you. I trust you, even with money."

A dubious brow was raised questioningly, at that.

"I know it didn't look that way, but it's true. As far as I'm concerned, you can rob the bank and buy whatever you want with the money, as long as you do it here."

"Here?" Ezra echoed.

"Here, where I am." He swallowed. "I'd like to say as long as you take me with you, but I can't stand those big cities. They're just not for me. As this place is not for you, but without money, you were bound to stay and I-"


He stopped his ramblings at this almost shy calling of his name and looked into emerald pools. "Yeah?"

"When I awoke, you were saying something about only snapping at people you love, is that right?"

He nodded.

"Do I count then? As someone you love?"

"Yes." His own voice only a breeze, he leaned forward so that their lips were almost touching. "You stole my heart, mister. Do you plan on giving it back?"

Ezra shook his head slightly. "Never. But I would give mine into your keeping if you want it."

"Deal." He smiled. Then he took possession of the gambler's mouth, showing his soon-to-be-lover how deeply his feelings ran, how strong they were, baring his soul with this kiss, knowing that Ezra was doing the very same.

Ezra was breathing heavily when they separated, reminding Chris of his friend's injury and that anything more had better wait until the Southerner was healed.

"Glad you're awake, Ezra," a voice said from the door, and Chris spun towards it, hand going to his gun, stopping when he recognized Buck and Vin.

"Peace, Chris." Buck raised his hands in mock surrender.

He glared at Buck, then turned back to Ezra, only to look back to his other two friends, realizing that they must have seen the kiss. He waited for a comment, but they just walked over to the bed and looked down at the patient.

"How are you, pard?" Vin asked, his eyes showing honest concern, mirroring the expression on Buck's face.

"I'll live," Ezra said, and then added, with a glance towards Chris, "Actually it never before felt this good to be alive."

At that, Buck laughed loudly and Vin grinned.

"We believe that, Ezra, and we're happy for you two," the ladies' man said, obviously speaking for Vin, as well.

"Thank you, Mr. Wilmington. Mr. Tanner."

Again Chris looked from one to the other, feeling irritated by their easy acceptance, and foolish for not just taking it graciously. "You don't seem surprised."

Buck grinned. "Hey, Chris, I know you. I was there when you met Sarah, remember? I know your courting rituals by now, though I still think my way is better."

"Don't know about that, Buck. He got his man, didn't he?" Vin piped in.

"True." Buck shrugged good-naturedly.

"And you? You don't know my... courting rituals." Chris looked at Vin, who actually seemed a little embarrassed.

"No. But I knew that Ez was in love with you and just hoped for a happy ending." The tracker shrugged. "Glad it came."

Chris nodded. "So am I."

Gazing at his best friends, the gunslinger felt a wave of gratitude for their understanding and caring, not only for him but for Ezra as well. It was a good thing to have such friends. He wondered briefly if the other three would be as accepting, but put that aside to worry about later. Right now, he was a happy man.

"If you gentlemen would excuse us, I think Mr. Larabee and I still have some things to discuss."

"I think he wants us to go, Vin."

"Nah, why should he want such a thing?"

Chris grinned at his laughing friends, then looked down to see how Ezra took the teasing to find the gambler's eyes closed.

"He all right?" Vin asked, concerned.

Touching the wounded man's chest Chris could feel the steady rise of it and he nodded. "Just sleeping."

"We'd better go then," Buck said, relief plain in his voice. "You take care of him, Chris. We'll take care of the town."

"Thanks." Chris nodded, then remembered something. "What about your lady, Buck?"

His friend smiled. "She'll keep." Then he and Vin left the room.

With a sigh, Chris sat down in the chair again, ready to take on a silent vigil.

"It would be easier to talk, or do other things, if you were to sit on the bed, Mr. Larabee."

The Southern drawl brought an amused smile to Chris's tired features. "Thought you were asleep."

"Now why would you assume such a thing?" Green eyes sparkled with laughter. "I was just closing my eyes to wish our two compatriots away, and voilą, they are gone."

Chris grinned and sat on the bed again. "You're a sneaky bastard, you know."

"As a snake. I've been told so before." There was a flicker in Ezra's eyes that told the gunslinger that, on occasion, this comparison had truly hurt his friend.

Caressing the gambler's face, Chris leaned slightly forward as if to tell a secret. "Don't tell anyone, but I like snakes. They are interesting animals. Survivors, fighters, and fast as lightning. You can learn a lot from them."

"You can?" Open mistrust.

"Yes. Granted, some are better left alone, but some are... different. You just need some time to get to know them. They kind of sneak into your heart." Chris grinned, and seeing Ezra fighting to keep his eyes open, he kissed him briefly. "Sleep now. I'll be here."

"Love you, too," Ezra whispered, and then, with a smile on his face, lost his battle against Morpheus.

As did Chris only a few minutes later, one hand pillowing his head, the other holding onto Ezra, making sure that the gambler would not run out on him. Ever.


© 1 September 2001



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