by Alexa C.
Summary: A bounty hunter and a down-on-his-luck lawyer have a moment. In the Old West.
Notes: Beta by Heph. The day I wrote this, I A) saw a bumper sticker that said "Save a horse, ride a cowboy," and B) was reading one of the books in Cap Iverson's "Dakota" series, with gay cowboys. OZ/H:LotS crossover. Originally Internet posted Oct. 18, 1999.
Dimness greeted him inside the saloon after the searing noontime sun, and Dennis Knoll paused near the entrance - to the side of the doorway, not in it, where he would have made a nice, big, silhouetted target - hip cocked and hand hovering near the gun resting heavy against his thigh as he waited for his eyes to adjust. The cool air was like balm brushing against skin grimy from the dust of the trail and the sweat of the day, and he flicked out his tongue to moisten parched lips as he swaggered up to the bar, duster shirring against denimed calves, boot heels thunking on the wooden floor under the oblique scrutiny of the other patrons.
He met the bartender's stare with a raised eyebrow and motioned with one finger, tossing down a coin and turning to sprawl back against the bar, deceptively casual, giving his audience a cocky grin from under the brim of his hat as the whiskey splashed into the glass at his elbow. New kid in town, sizing up the situation, with the steel behind his eyes and the coiled restlessness in his limbs to back up his arrogance, the center of attention for everyone except one man at the other end of the bar - and his studied concentration on the glass in his hands drew Dennis' attention.
The bounty hunter shifted, turning his focus to the fresh-scrubbed, bespectacled man who sat ignoring the stranger in favor of the amber liquid in front of him. Clean, tender and citified, probably a denizen of one of the clapboard offices lining the street outside. Unnaturally pale, alabaster in the gloom, and Dennis watched one of the square hands shake as the other man raised the glass to his mouth.
Hair of the dog, my friend?
A hand reached up to loosen the pristine white collar digging high and tight into the soft skin of the man's neck, setting up - or tearing down - for an evening's stay at the bar, and Knoll could see in his mind's eye what the other man would look like flushed from his next few drinks, skin sheened moist with sweat, clothing rumpled. He fought an almost overwhelming desire to stretch out his arm, muss that tawny hair with his own fingers, to see what the other man would look like tousled from Dennis' touch, fine linen of his shirt undone to reveal the rest of that supple flesh. A desire to get him ... dirty, smudged with the grime laying hard on Dennis' own skin, to find out what lay under the diffidence and reserve that bound him as tight as the silken prison of a lady's whalebone corset.
Dennis' nostrils twitched, catching the other man's clean, soapy scent before it was overwhelmed by the heavy smell of rosewater on the woman who glided to his side and pressed up against him, soft pillow of breasts pushing on his arm. He tore his gaze away and looked down at her, grinning.
Velvet rustle of skirt and fancy scent rising from the bar girl's warm skin, coquettish glance ... and movement from the other end of the bar, pulling Dennis' eyes back to the man who finally turned to study him, setting down the empty glass with the too-deliberate care of a drunk fearing rebellion from his fingers.
Sulky look, staring up at him from under golden brows, circumspection pushed aside by the soft cushion of alcohol, and sky-dyed eyes met his own, widened behind the spectacles as if the other man had recognized some threat. Dennis felt his own breath catch in a throat already powdery dry as the other man studied him, seeming to read the thoughts he'd believed well-buried, and the glance suddenly sharpened, razor-blue and calculating and just a touch defiant, sizing up the stranger who had ridden into town with unknown intentions. The whiskey may have dulled reflexes, but there was still a sharp mind behind those eyes, and Dennis suddenly wondered what depths were lurking inside this little city mouse set incongruously down on the frontier.
He smirked at the other man, watched him lean back slightly in his chair before the icy glance was broken as a soft draft and a softer scent announced a new arrival behind Dennis.
"Tobias," the young woman in the doorway said, softly, meekly. Her hands twisted together, pleating the front of her skirt, and she darted quick glances around at the other patrons, dark head bowed, ill at ease in the saloon and poised for flight like a hummingbird. "Tobias, come home now."
Shame in her eyes as Dennis caught her glance before it darted away, and a matching shame in the eyes of the blond man - Tobias - as Dennis looked back at him. Knoll caught the heat burning off the other man, scorching as the sun outside as a flush rose in his face and he pushed past the bounty hunter and out of the saloon.
He would be back, Dennis knew that. Whatever had driven him into the bottle would drive him back again. And Dennis made a vow that he would be gone by then, out of this saloon, on the outskirts of this town, tracking his prey, trying to put thoughts of tender Tobias with the feral, untapped depths out of his mind.
Dennis Knoll had a job to do.