Title: Apology Spurned.
Author: The Phantom Black Sheep.
Disclaimer: I don't own them. Don't sue me.
Rating: PG-13 Not much, mainly just talking. They say the 'F'word
Description: Of realisations, rebuffed apologies, and shirking talks.
Chris didn't raise his eyes from his absent inspection of the dark wood table he sat at. He didn't look up when Buck Wilmington, his oldest friend, and probably the man who held the longest standing record of pissing Larabee off without receiving a bullet in return, jogged down the steps leading to the boarding rooms of the saloon (returning from direct orders to 'Wake that lazy assed southerner up'). He didn't look up when 10 minutes later, Ezra descended the very same stairs, and he certainly didn't look up when the both of them headed out of the batwing doors and made their way to the town jail.
He just continued to stare downwards, toying absently with his full cup of black coffee, and nursing what felt like the mother of all headaches, the results of his foolish alcohol binge the previous night.
Minutes of quiet chattering from the saloon's afternoon crowd and distracted bustling from outside later, Chris finally did look up. He climbed to his feet, pushing clean away from the table and still full cup of coffee, and with a set determination in his stride; he headed out of the saloon and towards the jail. The sudden change from the musky interior to the blazing sun sparked merciless pain in his skull, causing him to duck his head downwards and pull the brim of his Stetson lower. He glared out from beneath the minimal shade, calculating his steps to take him at such a speed that he neared the jail's doorway only when Buck had breezed out of the doors and had trotted off in search of JD.
Chris followed his retreating movements absently, allowing himself that brief pause of his footsteps to let out a deep sigh; preparing himself for the conversation he had spent the better part of the morning planning out. He rotated his shoulders, first one way, then another, letting his head fall backwards. His Stetson slipped from his forehead to instead rest against his shoulder blades, the leather cord tugging gently at his neck.
Finally satisfied that he was as prepared as possible to face the man within the jail, yet still afraid that it wouldn't be that much of a challenge for Ezra to dance him into a dizzying circle, twisting every word he had planned out to fit his own way of thinking, Chris pushed the door open and stepped inside, once again having to blink his vision back into focus, accommodating it to the once again dull murkiness of the jail's interior.
"Mr. Larabee," Ezra's southern drawl greeted him casually, although the ice within the tone was still all too visible.
"Ezra," Chris returned the greeting out of habit. He glanced ahead into the poorly lit shadows of the two adjoining cells, his gaze moving dismissively over the single prisoner, seated uncomfortably on the bed which had now developed a considerable dip in the centre due to housing many a rear, most of which ranging in the larger extremity of size.
"He caused any bother yet?"
Ezra lifted his gaze from the deck of cards he had previously been manipulating, following Chris's gaze to the miserable felon. Piercing green eyes blinked languidly before returning to the deck of cards, the fact that they didn't once stop on Chris wasn't missed by the gunslinger.
"Nothing worth remarking on." Was the reply. Chris nodded to himself and stepped further into the room, he ignored the almost overwhelming urge to turn and walk away, almost as if the very room itself were warding Chris off, the air pushing him back out, away from where he wasn't welcome.
Ezra didn't look up from his cards.
"Listen, Ez. About what I said the other night-"
"Although, he has been complaining of an upset stomach. Maybe it would be prudent to alert Mr. Jackson of this."
Chris hesitated; he glanced again to the felon who, although from looking very sorry for himself, his head rested in upturned palms, didn't at all look like he was going to be witnessing a return of anything he had previously eaten.
"Nathan can see him when he actually vomits," he dismissed. Ezra shrugged in reply, but apart from that, showed no other signs of hearing Chris. Larabee shuffled forwards a few more steps and uncomfortably came to stand in front of the jail's only desk, one of the few furnishings in the otherwise sparse room.
"See, I'd had a bit to drink and-"
"Apparently he remarked to Josiah that he was coming down with a cold before he attempted to purloin our fine bank," Ezra cut in as he continued to fan his cards from one hand to another, not shifting in his position behind the desk. A position that almost looked relaxed, if it weren't for the almost tangible stiffness residing down the length of his spinal cord.
"I was out of line and I'm-"
"That in itself is his own fault, but considering no one particularly wants to clean up after him, I suggest that the most wise of actions to partake would be to-"
"Would you shut up for one second? I'm damn well trying to apologise here!"
The cards within Ezra's grasp paused partway through their dance and for the first time since he had entered, Ezra turned his green eyes to stare up at Chris.
Chris wanted to see some sort of reaction within those orbs, surprise, shock. Even anger. Just something that he could go by, something he could read. But there was nothing. Ezra's mask was, as per usual, perfect, not even a crack in the protective facade. His eye blank, his mouth lax, his eyebrows only twitching minutely at the sudden outburst. If it weren't for the suddenly stilled hands and the increased tension within the room, you wouldn't have guessed Chris's outburst had even been registered.
Chris sighed, his sharp exhale cutting through the resulting silence like a knife.
"Hell, haven't even started and now I gotta apologize for that too."
"There's no need for you to apologize for either accounts, Mr. Larabee."
"Yes there is, Ezra. I shouldn't have shot off at ya like I did, you weren't doin' anything and I guess I just saw ya as a target."
"I understand completely, and believe me, there's no need for you to seek atonement."
Chris glanced up from his inspection of the rusty inkwell imbedded within the desk. He was sure he'd never noticed that ink stain which looked suspiciously like a horse before.
"Yes, although at that given moment, no trouble was surfacing. That wasn't to say nothing could have happened," Ezra pocketed his cards and sat forwards in his chair. The old wood creaked against his movements, fighting him all the way.
"I'm sure you would have done exactly the same thing with Buck, should the husband of one of his genteel guests he'd been entertaining show up. Or with Vin on the off chance that his being at the saloon should notify a group of bounty hunters of his presence." Green eyes, alight with a fury which simmered silently, not once surfacing yet still there, tainting the words of the gambler, turning each one into a figurative strike, the forked edges hitting Chris full on with a bruising subtlety.
"Naturally, you were only looking out for the well-being of your town. The best cure is prevention rather then amendment."
Ezra turned away from Chris, his eyelids lowering, shading the one thing that could give anything away or allow Chris even the faintest chance of reading him.
"You would have reacted in exactly the same way with anyone of our cohorts."
'Ah shit.' Chris thought to himself. He watched Ezra carefully, following his every move. Noting the stiff hand movements as his thumb ran repeatedly over his index finger, the tightening of his mouth, his jaw jutting out the barest of millimetres.
Chris could almost see the new layer of shields being erected between them. This wasn't how this talk was meant to go, he was meant to apologise, he was meant to make it better. Somethin good was meant to come of this, anything was meant to come of this.
Something had. He had successfully pushed Ezra further away.
"Geesus you sure don't make this easy on a guy," Chris quietly pointed out, his voice a grim rumble. Ezra titled his head, barely a flicker of movement wasted in recognition he was still here.
"I just told you there was no need to apologise, it no longer matters. Surely that eases this whole process."
"Fuck it, Ez! I know what I did was uncalled fer, doesn't me sayin' I know count for anything?"
"It wasn't uncalled for. You reacted on instinct and instinct can only be created from what is right in front of it."
"Instinct can make you run from a fire into sinking sand."
Silence answered this, silence broken only by the plaintive creaking of springs as the prisoner shifted on his bed, stretching his wiry form out, vainly trying to gain comfort in a place it dare not tread. The outlaw shifted again, dropping onto his stomach before, with a low groan, he hung over the edge of the bed and with a chocking heave, vomited.
The wet splatter of stomach juices hitting cement turned both stomachs of the two men present.
"I think now would be a good time to attain Mr. Jackson," Ezra spoke, his voice casual, yet his muscles tense. Chris nodded in defeat and turned out the room, having no choice but to accept that once again, he had managed to push away the man he valued most.
The remainder of the day passed without incident, both men keeping protectively to themselves.
Gradually, the next day crawled by, just as quiet as the previous one, followed by another, and another, until an entire week had passed.
During these seven days of stilted and painful silence, almost nobody noticed the ever-growing rift between Ezra and Chris. Almost nobody noticed how they barely spoke more then two words to each other. Almost nobody noticed the slowly smouldering bridges, just waiting for a gust of wind to ignite the embers and turn them into a raging fire
Almost nobody noticed, but not everybody was blind.
Somebody did notice. Somebody had been watching them, noting their behaviour and the subtle, almost unnoticeable changes. The slight slump of both shoulders, the heaviness of footsteps. The sighs they let slip when they believed nobody to be watching.
Somebody had witnessed everything, and through their quiet observations, they had been learning. An outsider to the vicious circle, a mere casual observer who had only been watching for a period of one week had learnt and realised more knowledge then both the men in question could ever hope to have gained in what felt like a lifetime.
On the seventh day of that week, just as the last rays of light disappeared beneath the umber horizon, blanketing the world in inky darkness. Josiah stretched his bear-like arms up above his head and came to the conclusion that he would need to give his friends a gentle shove in the right direction.
If something wasn't done, if this rift wasn't healed, then not only would it tear Ezra and Chris apart, but it would destroy the rest of the seven as well.
And he knew that both men were stubborn enough to remain ignorant to this fact until it was too late.
There was no way in hell he would let that happen.
The lively chatter, merrily ignorant of the stilted music blasting from the out of tune piano within the saloon signaled yet another successful night of business.
It was the end of the week, Sunday. Both a day of worshipping the Lord, and the only night off ranch hands were given.
Not that the people of 'Four Corners' weren't kindly God-fearing folk, but when greeted with the crossroads of remaining at home, painfully sober and choking down burnt meat, a poor attempt at a Sunday roast whilst saying grace. Or going to the saloon and basking within the musky glory of alcohol, gambling and working girls.
The Lord just never stood a chance.
Drink after drink was being purchased, numerous amber shots of whiskey were being downed, and countless amounts of money were being lost and won at the gambling tables. There wasn't a spare inch of free space for lively bodies, each trying in vain to replay various amusing incidents, artfully dancing in between bodies, angling elbows just so, making sure they weren't digging into others' ribs. It was often rather remarkable how graceful one could be in a house built especially for drink.
The jolly mood, added with the sleepy tone of the oil lamps lining the walls was most definitely infectious, a fact picked up immediately upon stepping into the threshold through the batwing doors.
Chris was no exception to this fact. He smiled to himself as he slipped in and out around strange bodies, making his way to the table full of lawmen in one corner of the room. He'd just returned from his shift on afternoon patrol duty, having been replaced by Vin for the nightshift and was now in search of a good strong drink.
Buck grinned to him and kicked out the chair beside him, Josiah nodded and poured an extra glass of amber liquid; Nathan smiled amiably whilst JD waved him over with an eager grin, just in case Chris happened to not notice them in their usual place.
Chris nodded to each of them and sat down in the offered chair. He grabbed hold of the shot glass and with a toss of the head born out of years of practice; he easily downed the intoxicating drink.
"Where's Ezra?" He asked. The fact that the southerner wasn't seated in his usual position beside Josiah and Buck didn't slip past him.
Truth be told. Chris had begun to realise that he hadn't seen Ezra all that much as of late. In fact, the only time he recalled laying eyes on the brightly clad gambler had been a number of fleeting glances as Ezra disappeared upstairs or out of the batwing doors. That man could really keep a grudge.
"Went up ta bed," Buck replied around his drink, unwittingly confirming Chris's suspicions. Larabee's expression momentarily darkened with remorse as he fingered his shot glass. Instead of moving to refill it, he pushed it aside, suddenly not all that attracted to the numb world the liquid induced.
Josiah watched him closely with a thoughtful frown.
"Bit early for him, isn't it?" The night patrol started at ten, Vin had only come to relieve him ten minutes ago.
Nathan started at this, slamming his beer mug down onto the table. The frothy liquid spilled over the sides and gathered in sticky pools on the already tacky wood of their table.
"You see? That's exactly what I said! Ezra never goes to sleep unless the birds are singin'," he shook his head darkly as he glanced around at his friends.
"Mark my words, that man's getting a cold."
"Nate, you checked his forehead before he went up, remember?" Buck groaned. In remembrance, Nathan lifted a hand to absently rub his shoulder gingerly. Chris smirked secretly, wondering just how the southerner had reacted to that apparent show of 'mother-hen' antics
"You said yourself he didn't feel hot."
"Doesn't mean he won't get sick."
Josiah, who had been silent up until this point, instead watching Chris intensely, let out a deep rumbling sigh and methodically poured himself a glass of whiskey.
"I don't think it's a sickness what's disturbing Ez," he rumbled, not taking his eyes from Chris. Larabee's head whipped up, dark eyes focusing on Josiah in a surprised glare; the knowing tone within the preacher's voice struck a nerve within the gunslinger.
Josiah continued to stare at him, his lips quirking into a sombre smile. He tilted his head towards the door.
Larabee sighed and without a word stood, pushing away from the table. The screech of his chair running unsteadily back on the wooden floor was drowned in the lively guffawing within the room. He turned towards the door and walked outside, shouldering his way past a gathering of men just inside the entrance. After a few minutes, Josiah tossed back his whiskey, held up a hand to cut the others seated at the table off before they invaded him with questions, and followed Chris out of the saloon into the cool night air.
"What do you want, Josiah?" Chris's quiet, yet demanding words asked before Sanchez had even fully exited the saloon. Josiah blinked slowly before answering, accommodating his eyes to the sudden change from the warm saloon lamplight to the shadow filled glow of the outside street fires.
He moved slowly along the boardwalk until he came to where Chris perched, his legs dangling above the dusty road below. With a tired exhale of air; he lowered his looming frame into a crouch beside Chris, his feet easily planting firmly on the trampled dirt of the street.
"You like him, don't you?"
Chris remained silent, he refused to look to the side, refused to acknowledge Josiah any further then he previously had done.
"No," Josiah spoke softly, correcting himself.
"You more then like him. I don't know if it's love, but it's scaring you, whatever it is."
"What the hell do you know?" The response was sharp, each word cut off, distorted into a growl.
There was a moment of silent contemplation before the large preacher responded.
"If I should die and leave you here awhile. Be not like others sore undone, who keep long vigils, by the silent dust, and weep," Josiah began. His gentle voice rolled into the surrounding darkness, lingering on the silent air. The distant echo of bustling noise within the saloon not far away seemed almost to drown out completely in respect of the oak-like voice rumbling the bittersweet poem. Seeing as his only reply from Chris was a tense silence, he continued.
"For my sake turn again to life and smile. Nerving thy heart and trembling hand to do, something to comfort other hearts than thine. Complete these dear unfinished tasks of mine, And I, perchance may therein comfort you," he tapered off slowly, the last few words turning into no more then a fading whisper.
Chris remained silent for a few minutes, his form so tense it very nearly trembled. Something that Josiah pretended to ignore, pretending the sea of shadows flickering over his features masked such movements.
Finally, after a long pause, Chris let out a shaking breath, almost a mournful sigh and hung his head.
"What the hell's that supposed to mean?" He ground out, his voice containing an unspoken threat. Warning Josiah to back off from unwelcome territory.
"I think the message speaks clearly brother," Josiah replied gently. He wasn't one to listen to threats, spoken or unspoken.
"I'm not meaning that," Chris snapped. His head whipped up, eyes blazing with fury burning through the fleeting firelight to glare at the man seated beside him.
"What the hell's you telling me this supposed to mean?"
"What do you think?"
"I think you don't know what you're on about."
"Well I think you know it's not just yourself you're hurting. What I don't think you know is it's three people, not just two."
The fury melted away, along with the resolve. Josiah could have sworn he saw a look of pain flicker over those lightly weathered features before the blonde head turned away from him.
"What the hell do you know?" Chris repeated his previous words, yet the tone was laced with sadness, remorse, and pain. It was weak, almost pleading for an answer.
"Nothing." The preacher noticed the slump of Larabee's shoulders at this answer, the man still thinking he was hidden within the comforting blanket of darkness.
"But I think she'd want you to live again," he was done with skirting around the topic, sometimes the straightforward approach worked best. It shocked. Stripped away defences, revealed true feelings, true fears, true needs.
"She'd want me to keep her memory alive."
"You can't do that unless you live yourself."
"It's not that easy." Chris sighed. He lifted a hand and ran it through his blonde hair, pushing the unruly strands from his vision.
"Nothing ever is." The preacher quietly pointed out. Chris turned to look at him one last time, his eyes glistening as they reflected the dieing rays of the street fire. He blinked slowly, almost mournfully before slowly pushing himself to his feet and walking away. Josiah watched his slow process down the boardwalk, waiting for the pause he knew he was coming.
He wasn't disappointed.
"I can't do it, Josiah, it's too hard. I can't lose her again...I can't lose him.... I...I can't see how to stop either of those happening," he hung his head and peered half over his shoulder, the right side of his face radiating a cold glow.
"You think chasing him away will help stop that happening?" Josiah asked.
"This way's easier." The man shook himself, rolling his shoulders as he silently repeated it, convincing himself that what he had just claimed was indeed true.
Josiah shook his head, sadness radiating from his blue eyes, a sadness lost on Chris who was once again moving away, not letting Josiah continue. The shadows of the night engulfed him fully as he turned a corner, moving to his own lodgings within town.
Remaining where he sat on the edge of the boardwalk, the preacher's eyes moved from where he had last seen Chris standing to the darkened windows of the rooms above the saloon. Somewhere, in one of those dwellings, he knew the other half of something which refused to join together, yet couldn't survive on it's own resided. Most probably pondering and living out his own silent demons.
With one last shake of his head, he climbed to his feet and trudged wearily across the street towards his battered church, positioned near the outskirts of town.