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Morning Call

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Some days Chris woke up feeling more like the bad element than others.

This morning, for instance, he didn’t wait for his second cup of coffee. Found he couldn’t take the company right now. Had to leave the restaurant table.

“Well now that ain’t very polite,” Buck said to his back, peeved.

Nodding to Vin’s muttered “you all right?” and guessing Tanner’d be fine with it anyhow, impolite or not, Chris went out to sit on the boardwalk with a smoke.

It was unusually quiet about town.

Twitchy, Chris stared up the street from where he sat. And then he stared down the street.

Some days, rules and politeness and expectations be damned, you just needed to do the things you needed to do.

He finished his smoke and got to his feet. Even though he supposed it ought to be, Duty wasn’t calling him. For a moment he trained his gaze across to the jailhouse, and then the same impulse that had sent him from the breakfast table sent him right down the steps in the opposite direction. All the way along to the Saloon. Passing through the batwings, he stopped. It was empty in there, which suited him fine, smelled of Mexican food, and from the kitchen out back came the sound of singing. Signorita Recillos was busy. Happy. Occupied.

His feet took him steady up the stairs. It was a track he’d followed a fair few times late at night, but certainly never at this time of day. Perhaps it was overstepping his privilege to sneak in behind Inez’ back. Perhaps it was downright uncivil. Feet couldn’t stop moving though.

He tapped on a particular door upstairs, heard no response. Then he tried the handle and found it locked. That didn’t surprise Chris much, for they all had reason to look to their own protection. Hoping the occupant had at least had the foresight to keep the lock free, he dug in his pants pocket. Inez knew the spare key was mislaid but had no idea who’d been as insolent as to filch it from the key board.

Inside the room it was dim but not dark, the drapes open a chink. Chris shut the door quietly behind him, turned the key again before tucking it back in his pocket.

“Hey,” he said in a gruff whisper, approaching the bed. Its occupant was belly down under the sheets and blankets, one arm crooked under the pillow, the other in a dog-leg by his head. Sleeping soundly, hair well mussed.

There was no response. Keeping his eyes carefully on the small space between the little pistol on the night-stand and the free hand, Chris risked a touch.

The reaction was instantaneous, a snake poked with a stick. Chris caught Ezra’s striking hand by the wrist before it found the gun.

“Whoah there,” he said sharp, making sure to grip hard until all the messages were processed. “Just me.”

Ezra’s shoulders rose for a moment off the mattress, and then slumped down. He cussed, punched the pillow when Chris released him.

Chris blew out the adrenaline surge on a breath. Still careful, he perched on the side of the mattress, shuffling his butt until the body under the covers moved to accommodate him. With poor grace.

“Just doin’ you a favor,” Chris told him, voice gruff, “wakin’ you up before Inez closes the kitchen. Guess you’ll be wanting breakfast same as anyone.” He trailed his hand down, let it trace the contours of the sleep-warmed back exposed by the dislodged sheet.

As he uncovered more skin his breath hitched in his throat. “You," he got out, "you ain’t got a stitch on.” He nudged the sheet further down. “And that ain’t a bad thing.”

Ezra kept very still. “You,” he batted back, as if he was trying not to groan, “are rude.”

“Reckon I am,” Chris responded, short. "Reckon I just woke up that way." His hand roamed, unchecked, into ever more interesting territory. He couldn't help a reflexive squeeze, fingernails digging in, and his voice roughened into the very edges of dangerous. "There a problem with that?"

"No, sir, Mr. Larabee," Ezra stuttered out in a way that made Chris's belly tighten, gave him a hard rush of want. "Not even a little."