Chris opened his eyes, staring up at the shadows on the ceiling and wondering what had woken him from a sound sleep. He listened carefully but all he could hear were the sounds of night, the crickets chirping outside and the cry of a wolf somewhere far off in the distance. A glimpse of white caught his eye and he turned his head toward the open window. There was a gentle breeze blowing in, making the curtains flutter and ripple before sinking slowly back against the window frame. A beam of pale moonlight spilled into the room and across the bed allowing him to see that nobody else was there. He was still alone, still trapped in this place of nightmares, still trapped in a body that was sick and frail and fevered.
A stronger gust of wind pushed the curtains in again, the night breeze bringing some little relief from the seemingly sweltering temperature of the room as it ghosted over his sweaty skin. His foot ached, his toes throbbing with phantom pain so strong that he couldn’t resist looking down, knowing that the ugly reality would only sicken him further. He squeezed his eyes closed, fighting the tears of despair and humiliation and lay there for a long time simply struggling to breathe.
When he was able to, he took a deep breath and then opened his eyes again, blinking away the remnants of tears and turning his head to watch the curtains ripple and wave in the breeze. He felt numb and detached and completely exhausted and there was nothing he could do but allow his thoughts to drift and his eyelids to grow heavier.
In his hazy half conscious mind the curtains became two long arms stretching out, reaching toward him, and then a moment later, the arms were connected to a body and a familiar figure was smiling down upon him.
“The one and only,” the figure replied in a gentle, hushed tone as he perched on the edge of the mattress. Chris couldn’t help the momentary feeling of warmth that spread over him at the sight of Buck’s warm, loving smile. It was the smile that could charm the paint off a wall, the one that still made his heart flutter; and for a moment it almost allowed him to believe that everything was right in the world. But that wasn’t true, and the dark blue eyes he loved only confirmed what he already knew. Buck could smile and laugh and be as cheerful and rowdy as the next guy, even when he was hurting, but one look at those expressive eyes was all it ever took for Chris to know how the man was really feeling. Windows to the soul, he’d once heard that expression, and right now, Buck’s soul was filled with love, tenderness and a powerful anguish.
Chris felt gentle fingers stroking through his damp hair, pushing it back off of his forehead; then he felt them sliding down to trace over his forehead and across his eyebrows. “Close your eyes,” the voice murmured, and Chris did. Soft lips covered his; the bristle of a mustache tickled his nose as his lips were parted and then he was being kissed with all the love and tenderness and anguish he’d seen shining in those eyes. Strong hands skimmed over his bare skin, touching him in all the right places. Chris knew those hands well, large and calloused, sturdy and capable and so very gentle when they needed to be. They could hold a rifle steady and aim dead straight, or curl into fists and become brutal weapons of defense. They could carve a whistle, build a home, gentle a horse or tend an injured animal; they could tease and tickle and soothe a small boy as easily as they could a lover. And how many times had those hands picked him up off the floor, brushed him off and set him back on his feet? They’d been there always, offering comfort and support through the best and the worst moments of his life. And they were there now, just like he knew they would be ever after.
Somewhere in the back of his mind a little voice reminded him of the direness of the current situation. Even as he acknowledged the voice, he let his anxiety float away, feeling safe with Buck - certain that Buck would watch their backs and handle everything that Chris was too tired to face. He gave himself over to the tender touch, simply allowing himself to relax and feel, to revel in the taste and scent and texture of this man he loved more than life itself.
Lips were brushing over his eyelids, nuzzling into his hair while those beloved hands caressed his frail body, massaging away the pain and weakness and desperation. He felt the rough pads of fingers skimming across his shoulders, tracing along his collarbone, then down his chest, pausing to press his nipples, sending little sparks of heat to simmer low in his belly. The fingers fanned out over his ribs, barely touching but so soothing as they traveled over his aching bones and flesh. He felt thumbs pressing his hipbones, moving in feather-light circles, edging slowly inward. Any other time this touch would have him needy and panting, begging for more, but he was in no shape to do anything other than lie here and enjoy this for as long as it lasted. Which wasn’t nearly long enough. All too soon the hands were gone, leaving his skin damp and tingling.
“Only a little longer,” he heard whispered into his ear.
And then the apparition was gone and Chris was left in a too-hot room, in a too-weak body, with his wrists tied to the posts of an overly soft bed and a madwoman standing over him, smiling and murmuring in a voice that seemed far away, telling him how much she loved him, vowing that nobody would ever come between them again, and that they would always be together.
With a sigh, he closed his eyes, closing out everything else in the process. Completely drained of energy, he was no longer able to find the strength to even consider justice or vengeance. But he found that it took no effort at all to focus on the image of his lover’s smiling face, the memory of his touch and scent and the whispered words of promise. Only a little longer. No effort at all for him to just let go, and let the world around him simply fade away.