The sun was at its highest zenith, flooding the ravine with the oppressive heat that announced the arrival of another summer. Caught between the stony walls was the Colorado River. It ran swift and sure along a craggy bedrock carved centuries ago. Above it, floating in the clear blue skies, was a solitary hawk, its cry echoing down to the lone figure standing at the edge of the river.
Without warning the man stumbled and fell to his knees. Jagged rocks cut into the heavy fabric of his pants and he cursed, cursed not only the pain but cursed the weak and useless hand that dropped his heirloom flask into the fast-flowing river. His profanity shattered the silence, the harsh sound slamming against the rocks as he watched the silver container slip beyond his reach. Making one last attempt at recovery, he over balanced and pitched forward, his hands splashing into the cool water. The sudden exertion tested him, and a suffocating cough gave evidence of his failure. Crimson droplets fell and stained the crystal blue water for a mere instant before losing their way in the tossed currents.
Cold and numb fingers swiped across a sweat dampened brow in an attempt to tame the strands of hair that had grown too long and now danced over the starched collar of his shirt. The callused hand and its partner trembled uncontrollably, and their unsteadiness betrayed the man and the meager life he so desperately clung to.
A white handkerchief was pressed into his hand in the same instant a familiar husky query broke the silence that had once again descended upon him.
Lending their warmth, long, slender fingers lingered on his chilled flesh, but before gratitude could be expressed for the small measure of comfort, his exhausted body was assisted upright by a strong grip that held firm until he could find his footing.
John Henry Holliday wiped the blood from his lips and looked up into the face of his longtime friend. "Do my eyes deceive me for I declare I am standing in the presence of the world-famous Wyatt Earp. Truly I am honored."
The US Deputy Marshall laughed heartily, throwing his arms around the man whom many years ago had laid claim to his heart. "You old reprobate!" Wyatt exclaimed. "God damn it, I've missed you." The happiness at locating his friend was tinged with an overlay of disquieting concern, and instinctively he tightened his hold. Sadly, the fierce embrace only drove home the startling proof of Holliday’s frailty. "Doc, how are ya?"
Wyatt examined his friend and lover and was shocked by what he found. Holliday, who was three years younger than himself, now appeared a lifetime older. His physique, which had always been lean, was now beyond thin, almost emaciated. Wyatt noted the man’s sickly pallor, the clammy coolness of his skin and the constant tremors of his hands. The congested cough and labored breathing, often ignored in the past, were now more pronounced and almost too frightening to hear.
Threading his fingers through damp strands of dark auburn hair, incredible sadness overwhelmed him, causing his heart to fracture into a million pieces. He knew without a doubt his beloved friend would not survive another ride with the Immortals. The foreboding specter of death had placed its hand upon Holliday, and Wyatt questioned if the man would make it through another winter much less another year.
The gambler's bemused expression woke him from his reverie. Putting away thoughts of the solitary future looming before him, Wyatt again confessed, "Missed ya something awful, Doc." After a second quick hug, he released his friend and stepped back. "Haven’t played a decent game of cards in months."
He led Holliday to a nearby stand of aspen trees, and the two of them lowered themselves down to the ground, finding a comfortable seat upon a carpet of discarded leaves. Holliday tried to sit beside him but Wyatt wouldn't have it. He pulled at his friend until his slender frame was settled between his outspread legs. "It’s been so long, Doc. Let me hold ya, okay?"
Wyatt coaxed Holliday to lean back against him, and for several long moments he rejoiced in the simple pleasure of holding the man he loved. The feel of Holliday’s body flooded his heart with gentle warmth, and he wasted no time in allowing his hands free reign. There was a slight desperation in his touch for he had not held his friend in nearly a year. The need to commit Holliday's physical presence to memory was overwhelming, and his body answered his heart's call without hesitation. He frantically released buttons, pushed away garments that prevented a more intimate contact, and when his ears captured the breathless welcoming moan his friend could not contain, he smiled.
Wishing to hear that rare sound again, he traced the sparse feathering of hair on Holliday’s chest. Immediately his touch provoked a verbal response.
"Dear God in heaven," Doc pleaded. " Touch me properly, you blue-eyed demon."
Wyatt lowered his head and offered his mouth to Holliday. Offered the unspoken emotions that strangled in his throat. Words he knew by heart but was unable to release into the moment, afraid they would express a vulnerability he was not yet ready to reveal. Not now, maybe not ever.
He fought to explain his silence but his words were snared by lips that panted his name over and over. The possessive kiss robbed him of breath, of will and reason, of propriety. He ignored the voices that screamed at him, the cries of moral outrage. He ruthlessly silenced the protests and gave himself to the man he loved above all others.
It wasn’t long before trembling hands joined his, guiding them across damp skin, assisting them in breaching the obstructive clothing. Wyatt leaned back and allowed Holliday to direct their loving. He gave way to his companion’s needs, allowing his hands to be pressed firmly over hardening flesh. A hoarse whisper pleaded with him, and he obeyed its request, slowly stroking his companion’s awakening erection.
"Perfection," Doc confessed.
Wyatt chased after Holliday’s mouth, nibbling and tasting and devouring the lips that now spilled forth moans of pleasure. He permitted only seconds of separation, acknowledging the need for air before reclaiming the wet heat that was searing his soul.
His attention was snagged and redirected from Doc's mouth to the trembling urgency of his lover's body. Elegant fingers clawed at his hand, demanding more, obliterating every need except for that of the frantic rhythm of release. Wyatt glanced down at his lover's face, captivated by the evidence of passion in the parted lips, the flushed skin and the wild gaze. Their eyes met and he was stunned by the unguarded look of love staring back at him. He reacted by tightening his grip on the weeping shaft in his hand. The pressure was more than Holliday could tolerate. His fall from control was attested by cries that fractured the quiet, their breathless joy echoing off the walls of the canyon. The sound was still reverberating when the liquid fire of his release erupted and flowed over their joined hands.
Wyatt relaxed the embrace he had his lover trapped in and began to ease his hands away, intent on securing the handkerchief he’d offered earlier. The task of cleanup was suspended when Holliday grasped his hands and brought them to his lips, kissing each finger. Wyatt gained his own release as his lover licked and sucked his flesh clean, his ever-talented tongue teasing in and out between fingers.
"Doc! Sweet Mother!" Wyatt surrendered to his lover’s attack and within seconds his body dampened his clothing with spilled seed. Countless minutes slipped by before his dazed mind registered the fact that his hands now rested against the heart of his lover, perceiving the rhythm that matched his own. Strength was garnered momentarily and he slid down to rest beside the drowsy gambler. He kissed the breast that guarded his beloved's heart and drifted off to sleep.
Wyatt awoke to the soothing caress of Holliday's fingers threading through his hair. He smiled and rubbed his face against the muscled firmness of his lover's abdomen. A silly grin broke out as he teased Holliday’s navel with his tongue, and his heart abounded with happiness at the quiet chuckle that escaped his friend's lips.
His smile quickly faded when the younger man was caught in the grips of an exhaustive coughing spell. He sat up and steadied Holliday, lending him his strength as the gambler succumbed to the affliction that ravaged his weakened form. Once the coughing abated, he cradled Holliday close to his body before wiping away the blood staining his mouth. Through it all Wyatt maintained his silence. His cherished ‘Doc’ was dying, and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do to change that god-forsaken fact.
"Doc?" Wyatt knew there were no words he could utter that wouldn’t reveal the fear he felt inside. And with Holliday clutching at the folds of his duster, gasping for breath, he felt even more a prisoner to the nightmare he grappled with every night – the nightmare that would be his life once Holliday left him for good.
"Doc?" His heart wept when his lover finally found the strength to speak.
"Wyatt," Holliday whispered hoarsely. " You're a good man, a man of honor. A man I am proud to call my friend." The ghost of a rakish smile drifted across his wasted face. "Not to mention you are a most excellent kisser."
Wyatt could not contain his laughter, realizing his friend was trying to ease his sadness with a touch of humor. He brushed his fingers across the all too familiar grin, hoping to halt the words he knew were coming. His stalling tactics worked, and the grin settled into a loving smile that was accompanied by tender kisses scattered across his hands.
Moments drifted by in a familiar companionable silence. The sun was peeking through the lower branches of the aspens by the time Wyatt noticed his lover’s gaze was focused on a spot further up the ravine. He wondered if Holliday was searching for the future he would never live to enjoy. The resigned sigh and words that slid into the fading sunlight confirmed his musings.
"Wyatt. This is a nice spot. I like it here. Would it be an imposition for you to . . . . ?"
Wyatt pressed a kiss to Holliday’s ear before whispering his understanding. "Yes, Doc. I'll see to it." Gathering his friend closer, he surrendered the words his heart kept hostage for years. It was time, beyond time.
"I love you, Doc. I'll always love you." Choked with emotion, he clumsily smoothed an errant strand of hair away from Holliday’s pale forehead. "Rest, my friend. In case you don’t remember, you still owe me a game of cards."
A slack embrace acknowledged his confession, and tears pricked his eyes when shaky hands searched his upper torso. They finally came to rest over his heart.
"Tomorrow, Wyatt," Holliday conceded. "Tomorrow I'll play cards with you."
Wyatt claimed one of the hands resting upon his chest and blew a warm breath across its chilled flesh. "Good enough, Doc. Tomorrow is good enough."
Disclaimer: This work is not intended as an infringement upon the rights of those that own these characters and is meant solely for non-profit entertainment purposes only.