Authors: BA Tortuga
Tags: #Male/Male Erotic Romance, Western, Sci-Fi
“I’m glad you got to him. Don’t no one deserve that, ‘specially not him.”
“Thanks, Cyrus. I appreciate that you take up for him.” Jess twitched, moaning, and Ez patted his chest as gently as he could.
Cyrus shrugged. “Different don’t mean bad.”
“No. I know. The boys, though, they hate him.” Ezrah choked down a few bites of oats, feeling as if he was chewing wood bark.
Cyrus shrugged. “He’s nothing they get, I reckon, looking like a tribesman.”
“Sure.” Cyrus was right. He couldn’t blame his boys for a natural inclination. He knew Jess; they didn’t. Hell, he knew Jesse bone deep. The man wouldn’t hurt a flea. He believed in a mystical connection to all things.
“Ez, Ez, there’s a fire,” Jesse said, moaning.
Jesus. There was, he had no doubt of it, but it was far enough away that he couldn’t see a glow, couldn’t smell smoke.
“What do I do, Cy? I can’t just leave him like this. I have to try to help.”
“We have to camp a few days, we’ll see how he is then. The rest of the boys will heal up by then.”
Ezrah bit back a protest. Cyrus was right. He had to give it time, see what happened. Not fly off in all directions. Everyone needed a rest, a moment to catch their breath.
He had to give Jess a chance to come back to him.
He rolled his head on his neck. “So, north we got cracks big enough to swallow us. Tomorrow, we need to send a rider east, see what it looks like.
“I agree. Someone on a fast mount who has a head on his shoulders.”
They grinned at each other. “Dooley.”
He clapped Cy on the shoulder, hooting a little bit. He was glad, balls to bones, Cy was with him, having his back. The man was solid as a rock and smart as a whip. They’d known each other so long it was weird Cyrus called him boss sometimes. The man had done a lot of fathering for him and Emmett over the years.
“We’ll send him out first light.”
Ez nodded, the simple act of having some semblance of a plan making the whole situation easier to deal with.
“I’m gonna turn in.” Cyrus slurped the last of his coffee. “I’ll be just on the other side of the wagon. I got the boys set on watch. You stay with him.”
Ezrah frowned, wanting to pull his weight. “I can take my watch.”
“I know, but we got it. He’ll need you, through the night.”
“Yeah.” He sighed, watching Jess twitch. “Thanks again, Cy.”
When Cyrus left him, he moved closer to Jess, the night colder without a big fire.
Jesse was muttering under his breath, shifting in the blankets. Ez didn’t know what else to do, so he stretched out next to Jess and tugged the man close.
“Ez. Ez, I came. It hurts, man. I left when they told me, and now I’m here.” Jess wasn’t making no sense at all.
Ezrah talked back, though. “I’m glad you’re with me, baby. I am.”
“I needed to come. You’re Ez. I had to. I won’t leave you alone.”
“Then come back to me now, baby. Jess. I’m all alone.” He needed Jess to look at him. To see him. Then they could sleep.
“The quakes are coming. I was in the dark. Then it was burning. Dark and light.”
“It’s dark out here, but we’re above ground.” He kept talking, stroking Jesse’s back.
“You came for me.”
Yes. Yes, thank God. That was sense. Ezrah rewarded those words with a tiny kiss to Jesse’s dry lips. “I did. I will always come for you.”
“Always.” Jess saw him, eyes open, red and wet. “Ez. Am I dyin’?”
“No.” He said it just as fierce as he’d told Emmett to stay, but Jesse he thought he could save. “You just need time to heal.”
“I believe you. Water? Throat hurts.” Jesse swallowed, which sounded like a click.
“You got it.” He grabbed his canteen, dripping some water into Jesse’s mouth. Not too much; he wasn’t sure Jesse’s head would survive retching if it came back up.
Jess licked his lips, trying to get more. Ezrah gave it, but slowly.
“No getting sick,” he said. “You need to keep it inside you.”
Jess shivered, settling into the blankets, cheeks burning. Poor baby had a fever. Ez cuddled, close, wishing Emmett was there to help him plan their next move.
“I miss Em, Jess.”
“I’m sorry I got you into this.” He rubbed noses with Jess, feeling lower than he had since Em had passed.
“The quake would have gotten me at home, and no one would have found me. I lived under the dirt.”
Now, that was the most sense Jess had made since Ez had pulled him out of the ground. He grinned, nodding. “Okay, I can buy that.”
“I’d rather die in the air, I think.”
“I would, too.” He held on, not wanting to think about Jess passing at all, there or here.
Jesse’s fingers squeezed him, held on tight. It was more than he’d thought he’d get from Jess so quickly, and enough to give him hope. Tonight they would hold on to each other.
Tomorrow would be soon enough to see what was left of the world.
His dreams were filled with the smell of smoke, with the cries of hundreds of people running from the big city in droves. The mountains themselves seemed to be belching out fire, huge sections of rock sheering off and covering the foothills in dust.
The world was falling again.
Jesse groaned, brain searching through the rubble for answers, for something he could use. His nerves felt raw, as if he were right there in the flames.
“Shh. I got you, Jess. I got you.”
Why was Ezrah there? He’d get hurt. He had to run.
“Ez. Ez, there’s fire. Denver is on fire. You can’t stay here.”
“We’re not in Denver, baby. We’re okay.” Ezrah touched him, stroking his cheeks. “There’s a little shaking, but it’s not too bad.”
But he was. He was in Denver. He could see the buildings, the streets mostly dirt and grass now, the animals right there in the street. “The people are running. The mountain is spitting fire.”
“You’re all mixed up with what you saw underground, baby.”
He nodded, shook his head, so confused. “Help me.” He was lost.
“I’m trying, baby. I am. We just need to figure this out.”
Figure it out. Denver was burning. The mountains were burning. His face was burning. Maybe his hair was on fire.
“Is my hair on fire?”
“No. No, baby. You’re fine.”
He didn’t feel fine. He felt hurt. Worried. Scared. His skin was too tight, too hot. Why was he so hot?
Jesse held on to Ez, though, who he could feel. Solid. There.
It was so easy, to wander through his head, through his memories. So much easier than trying to focus, to see the world as it was.
He could feel Ez, pushing at him, trying to wake him up. He just wanted to sleep and wander. Ez, though, Ez was worried. Frightened. A cowboy had to be pretty terrified for it to be that obvious.
Jesse licked his lips, searching for water.
Cool and clear, it trickled into his mouth, as if by magic.
Oh. Oh, good. So good, Ez. He was so dry. He lapped at the tiny stream as if he were an overheated dog, wanting more.
“Careful, Jess. You’re so dry.”
He knew that. That was why he wanted water! He rose up a little, trying to reach the canteen, tongue searching.
“No. You’ll get cramps in your belly.”
“Ez.” He moved his head and his eyes rolled, pain flooding him. His skull might cave in on itself.
“Shh. Oh, baby. Your poor head.”
He gritted his teeth together so hard they squeaked. That didn’t help the pain at all. It just made his teeth hurt, too.
The only option was to run, push into the wilds of the new pathways burned into his brain. He sank into them, trying to find a way around the fire.
A way around the pain.
Ezrah was kind of surprised to wake up the next morning. Cyrus nudged him out of sleep with the toe of one boot, offering coffee.
“Morning. Everyone good?” Ground still whole?
“So far, yeah.” Cyrus squatted, sipping another cup of coffee.
“That’s a blessing. Dooley gone for a looksee?”
“Yep. He headed out just before dawn.” Cyrus sighed. “We got a problem, boss.”
“Spit it out.” Hooray. More problems.
“The boys blame all this on him.” Cyrus motioned at Jesse. “Overhead them making plans.”
“What? He caused the quakes? Jesus fuck, Cy.” The man knew better. Surely he did.
Cyrus grimaced. “I know, Ez. You know that. Dooley was the one came and got me, told me to go listen.”
“I can’t move him, Cy. He’ll die.”
“Just leave me here and go, Ez. Your hunter, he’s got his hands full with the shakers.” Jesse’s eyes were open, watching him.
“No. I’m not leaving you.” That was out of the question. Jess had come to help him, and he wasn’t going to repay that by walking away.
“Take the cattle and go, Ez. It’s okay.”
“No. I don’t think that’s gonna work, son.” Cyrus smiled at Jess, looking old, the lines around his eyes sunk deep. “I think Ez needs to get you fixed.”
Jesse tried to sit up and the skin on that poor face. God. God, save them both. Jess grabbed his hand, grip weak as a drowned kitten.
“It’s okay, Ezrah. You can go. Promise.”
“Shut up, Jess.” He’d said it so many times when they were kids, it popped right out.
Cyrus snorted. “I’ll get the cattle to market, any market, and get the money home. God knows what is really out there. You know I will. I been with your people since you was a boy. I got a powerful admiration for your momma.”
“I know. I just don’t know what to do with Jess.”
“Take him to one of them tribes he’s good with. Find a healer. They got more knowledge than we do.”
“Throw the Grounder off a cliff. He was jacking with something under there.” One of the drovers stood there, a long bullwhip in hand, stance threatening.
Ezrah stood, hands on his hips. Christ, he hadn’t even had his morning piss yet. “You going against me, Gavin?”
“He’s cursed, boss. Devil himself follows his kind. We’re trying to save you.”
“I don’t need saving. He’s not the enemy.” He was going to lose his shit and start shooting folks any moment.
“Enough. Gavin, get on. Now. I’m talking with the boss.” Cy’s voice snapped harder than any bullwhip.
Gavin’s mouth set, his chin jutting, but against Cyrus and Ez, the man just couldn’t keep it up. He stalked off, muttering.
Ez was fixin’ to lose it, just go into a jibbering hysterical fit.
Cyrus met his eyes, serious as a heart attack. “I’ll get the herd to auction, Boss. Kansas City if I have to. Get your momma the money. You need to get him healed. It’s important.”
Ez wasn’t sure, exactly, what Cyrus saw in Jesse, but he knew what he did. He was just grateful Cy didn’t agree with the rest of the boys. “We’ll need just enough provisions to get to the tribes. I won’t leave y’all in the lurch.”
“He won’t need much and, if y’all don’t find the Tribes, it won’t matter.”
“Okay.” Ezrah couldn’t believe how fucking out of control everything was. He was just handing off his herd to Cyrus and going off into the badlands.
He had no idea if Momma was okay, if the ranch was still there. If anything was how it had been. All he knew was he had to get Jesse fixed. He felt the urgency of that in his bones, and he thought Cyrus did, too.
He set to making a travois, something where Jess could be safe, if not comfortable. They’d head southwest, toward the Tribes, toward the Diné.
“I’ll cull you a couple of horses,” Cyrus said. “Get you some supplies.”
“You’re a good man, Cyrus.”
Cyrus looked at him, lips quirking. “I am. You remember me in your prayers and that’s enough for me.”
“I’ll see you back at the ranch.” The ranch would be there, damn it. Momma would fry chicken, make them a pie.
“I’ll be there, holding things down. You have my word, Ezrah.”
They shook on it, and both got busy, time passing with him giving Jess sips of water and Cookie bringing him a pack of provisions.
Cyrus helped get Jess tied into the travois. Heat poured off the man’s skin, and there was the beginning of an odor—one that said they needed to hurry. He gagged, but swallowed it down.
“Make sure the boys get paid,” he told Cookie. “Cy is a good foreman.”
Cookie nodded and spat on the ground. “We’ll do you proud, Boss.”
“You will. I’ll see you back at the ranch. Godspeed, y’all.”
He was the one to leave. The herd would take hours to get moving, and Ez didn’t even know if Dooley was back from his exploratory search. He just knew he had to get moving.
Jesse was dying, and he’d done lost enough for one year. He wasn’t about to lose Jesse, too.
Not so soon after finding him again.
The sun burned into his skin, drove into his eyes, even through the cloth Ezrah had covered them with. Burning. He was burning alive, like Denver.
“Nonsense. You were just too stupid to unplug your damn fool self in time.”
Oh. Oh, Emmett. That was Emmett talking to him. Jesse laughed, called out. “Em! Em, Ezrah though you were dead and gone!”
He got a grin, playful and wicked. “Does he now? Poor Ez. He works hard.”
“He does. Oh, Em. Em, I’m so glad. They’re moving the cattle. Another quake came, did you feel it? It shook the world.”
Em just snorted, so familiar. “You need to forget the cattle for now, Jess.”
“Yeah. I forget a lot these days, Em. I’m a little scrambled, and it hurts. I told Ez to go on without me. Oh, he’ll be so glad to see you.”
Emmett's face swam before his poor burned eyes. “He won’t see me, Jess.”
“Sure he will. Ez loves you, man. He won’t be mad. I promise. Ez…Ez is the best of us. Always has been.” That’s why Jesse loved him.
“I miss him. Tell him for me.”
“Oh, don’t go yet, Em. Em, please. Ez needs you, so much more than he needs me.” Ez’s life was better with Emmett. Jesse knew it.