The Lay of the Land
by Stan Lee
August 2008 - 30 minute timed challenge
Note: I cheated a little. I took a snippet from my WIP file and used the thirty minutes to finally finish it off.

He waits until they've finished, hard and fast because Chris is still too anxious to take things slow and easy. He knows what he's about to say won't help things any, but Chris has the right to know.

He watches for the right moment, Chris sleepy and sated, the aftershock of his release twitching through him still and Buck is sorry that he has to do this now.

"Josiah knows."

The effect is instant. Every muscle in Chris's body clenches hard and his head comes up sharply. No need to elaborate; Chris knows what he's talking about.

"He gonna be trouble for us?" he grates out.

Buck shrugs. "Hard to say. His daddy was a preacher. Might be a problem." He reaches but Chris is already up and swinging his legs off the bed, hissing when they touch the cool plank floor.

"Pack your things," he orders.

"Come on, now, Chris. Don't over-react," Buck tries.

"I said pack," Chris growls. Buck can see the effort he makes to bring his rising panic under control. He watches the memories chase each other across Chris's face; the beating in Abilene that left Buck with two broken ribs and a fractured wrist, the escape through the back window of the boarding house in Carson with the mob baying for blood out front. They'd parted ways for a while after that, Chris too riled up, unable to even look him in the eye squarely leave alone let Buck try to touch him. Looked like it was about to happen again.

"Can't always run, Chris," he says. Because he's tired of it and thinks Chris might be too. Tired of looking over his shoulder when they're together; tired of the all too frequent times they'd had to part; tired of the miles of separate, lonely road they'd hewed. "Might be different here," he ventures.

Chris pauses from his frantic scrabble to clothe himself, leg halfway into his longjohns. "Won't be. Can't be," he says, but there's a tone in his voice that tells Buck he can push this if he has a mind to; that Chris wants to be persuaded otherwise.

"We'll cool things off for a while, maybe," Buck suggests. He hates the thought of keeping his distance, now that they've found each other again, but the thought of Chris making them light out of here only to force them on their separate ways - he hates that so much more. "I want to stay put for a while, Chris," he says. "Wish you'd stay too."

Chris continues to dress, but slower now, the tension easing out of him. "Just friends?" he says.

"While we figure out the lay of the land," Buck agrees.

"And Josiah?" Chris asks.

"I'll handle that," Buck says. There wasn't much to it. Either the preacher would let it alone, or he'd go Old Testament righteous. They'd never found anybody taking up the middle ground on this.

Chris stands up, fully dressed now. "We'll stay," he declares, "if Josiah can be trusted."

Buck nods.

Chris crosses to the door and it looks like he's set to walk away without a backward glance, until he turns all of a sudden. "But if Josiah ain't inclined to let it alone, and if it don't look like the land is gonna lay for us, we're leaving. Together. Just spent four months without you, don't aim to repeat that anytime soon."

Buck sighs out his relief. He doesn't want to spook Chris with too many words, so he just smiles at Chris's retreating back.

Looks like they might be putting in some time at Four Corners. There were plenty worse places to be.

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