Nathan had often wondered what had made him stop in that small frontier town all those years ago. He had been drifting west ever since he left the killing fields of first the plantations and then the war behind him. Both had scarred him in both mind and body with the stripes on his back the constant reminder of his former slavery, and the scars in his heart from watching so many young men die so needlessly. The echo of warfare still thundered through him at times, gifting him with terrible memories of limbs torn from soldiers' bodies or hacked off by the Sawbones in a last ditch attempt to save a life.
The screams of the injured and dying haunted him as he moved from township to village, seeking a way to earn his own peculiar brand of penance for the seemingly heartless way he had dealt with those boy soldiers. With so many of them crying for their mamas, or cursing the color of his skin in some belief that all this death and destruction was for him personally, Nathan had lost his compassion for a time.
He turned his head on the soft pillow, staring deep into the verdant green eyes of his immortal lover. The twitch of a smile and the impishness that crept into those eyes revealed the mercurial nature of the vampire he had bedded for almost a century. Ezra Standish was everything Nathan had thought he hated about the South. His accent, his mannerism, his fancy clothes and his quaint way of talking all scraped against the scars in his mind, tearing them open like bloody welts, and bleeding from the past into the present. Yet, that was a lifetime ago now and that rich voice with its two-dollar words spoken with a silvered tongue sent nothing but shivers of pleasure racing along his spine. His gentlemanly attire had long since dropped to the floor, scattered around the bed in the lust-frenzy that gripped them whenever the full moon rose above them. Instead, his lover lay naked beside him with alabaster skin glowing in the moonlight.
Nathan reached out, loving to see the contrast of his mahogany flesh against that pale, almost translucent skin.
"Ain't too proud of what I became during the war...just another ungrateful nigger carrying the dead and dying off the battlefield."
Ezra leaned up onto one elbow and looked down into Nathan's eyes; a wry smile played about his lips.
"Have you by chance considered that you might have been suffering post traumatic stress?"
Nathan frowned. He was supposed to be the healer among them, the one who knew all about fixing broken bones, removing bullets, and about illness both mental and physical. Certainly, he had dedicated his continued life to gaining more knowledge and skill. Yet he had never considered the possibility that he might have been a classic case of PTSD. His life had not been easy and he had to admit that he had only started to heal once he, in turn, had become a healer, though the process had been slow until he chanced upon a small western town and met six others who became more than just comrades but brothers in blood.
"Since when did you get so wise, Ezra."
"Since I had decades to ponder on these--"
Nathan pounced, knocking Ezra onto his back and covering his cool, smooth white skin with his own. He captured the smiling lips, sharp teeth nibbling on the fleshy lower lip and lapping up the bead of rich blood that welled from the tiny bite. The scent and taste intoxicated him, mingled as it was with the unique scent of his lover. His hands stroked down the firm body captured beneath him, feeling the shivers of pleasure that vibrated through both of them, body and mind. He heard the rippling, silver laugh of Ezra in his mind as Ezra's smaller hands traced patterns of fire across Nathan's darker flesh. All too soon those hands were clutching at his ass, a cheek held firmly in each as Ezra pulled Nathan into a tighter embrace, their shafts bumping and rubbing, grinding hips together as the incredible sensations built within mind and body, spilling over into ecstasy as their seed spurted between their close-pressed bellies.
The rocking and thrusting slowed to luxurious rubbing with hands gently petting flesh even as Nathan slid to his lover's side so he could gain greater access to the softly glowing skin. He suckled on one ear lobe before nibbling down the creamy throat to lay a temporary mark of possession upon the soft flesh, sighing as the mark faded quickly before his eyes.
"That, my beloved, is why I wear this." Ezra wiggled his fingers so the lamplight glinted off the band of gold inset with onyx that never left his wedding finger.
Nathan laughed and pulled his impish lover into a warm, mellow kiss that lacked lust and yet burned with a deeper passion. At times like this he wondered why it had taken mortal death for him to realize how amazing and beautiful this man was to him, and how much he had always loved him and wanted him. While mortal, Nathan had not been able to see beyond the southern gentleman with a high class act concealing what seemed to be sleazy tendencies. Only now with the dark gift of shared thoughts, could he see the truth behind so many of Ezra's actions and accept those human failings spawned from Ezra's less than noble upbringing.
The warmth of Ezra's thoughts enfolded him and he snuggled down against the cold flesh of his lover, his mind drifting towards the necessities of their continued existence and the hot blood that would flush and warm their bodies. They would need to feed soon and Nathan was aware that Ezra had already marked a potential target for them.
The healer within him balked at the idea of killing to sustain his immortal existence and yet, as Ezra had reminded him on so many occasions, they had accepted killing as part of their lives long before Chris's dark kiss. While mortal, they had protected the innocent from marauders, robbers and murderers and in this they had not changed. The passing decades had served only to reinforce this need to protect the innocent from the true bad element, stealing away their soulless victim's life and blood before he or she could add another mortal to their own list of victims. Those who preyed upon women and children, or made life unbearable through vicious prejudice called to Nathan's blood, and Ezra shared his passion in that respect with his distant memories of an abused Chinese girl still fueling his blood lust.
They made love with passion and pure abandonment, tasting and biting, licking and sucking on exposed flesh, enjoying the cloying scent of blood filling their mouths as they bit deep only to share the life force. When that sweet moment of rapture overtook them, they spiraled into long unseen sunlight, feeling the heat and brilliance of the sun upon their flesh before they dived back into the shadows of the night and each other's arms.
Later, as the lethargy of waning night came upon them, Nathan felt the pull of memories once more and he pondered on how he came to be one with the night...
Nathan knew the end had come when Buck saddled up his horse that day. He had tied all his worldly possessions to the back of that horse which, admittedly, were few considering they had spent several years in this small town. Saying goodbye had been far harder than even Nathan had anticipated, perhaps because he had never got to say a proper goodbye to Chris and Vin. In hindsight, he knew that Chris and Vin had made their final goodbye in the saloon that night so many weeks before though none of them had recognized it as such at the time. Yet, in hindsight, he should have seen it. He should have recognize the change in both men, seen the youthful vitality of a decision made that had erased some of the lines of pain and the weight of years from Chris's face. He had looked more at peace in that moment than at any time Nathan could recall. The love shining from Chris's eyes and shining from Vin's impossibly blue ones, each for the other, should have forewarned him of changes. They had found each other at last, no longer content to dance around the love they had shared since the moment they met. To hell with civilized convention, he thought. To hell with the narrow-minded, so-called Christian attitude of others. They had plundered the depths of their love and found it was not a soulless, demonic act. It had liberated their souls and freed them from the pain and loneliness of the long years stretching both behind and in front of them. He could only be happy for his friends, unwilling to condemn them to Hell for loving each other.
The next day, when he realized they had gone, Nathan could only feel regret that he had not wished them an eternity of good fortune and a life filled with passion and love for each other. Still, he made that wish with all his heart knowing that a vengeful God would ignore it but a compassionate one would find favor with it.
JD announced his intentions towards Casey within a week, marrying her quickly, though not quickly enough to forestall the rumors that proved all too true that it was a marriage borne out of necessity as much as love. By the time their first child was born, barely six months after the wedding, Nathan had long since left the small township in the hands of a more than capable doctor from the east; another Bostonian who regaled the town's sheriff, JD, with tales of names and places they both knew.
He had never meant to simply disappear like Josiah, Chris and Vin. He had meant to come back and let JD and Ezra know his intentions but once he arrived at the Seminole village, he knew he could not face saying a real goodbye. He tried to convince himself that Ezra Standish would not care anyway, refusing to admit that even the mere thought of Ezra not missing him filled him with such sorrow.
He never expected to miss Ezra.
Rain was everything he had hoped to find in a wife. She was beautiful and passionate, strong and kindhearted and yet something was lacking in their relationship, and in her. Her voice held none of the smooth, honeyed sweetness that he craved and her mind was not sharp and knowledgeable leaving them little conversation beyond the boundaries of the village and its mundane business. The thrust and parry of tongue was missing, with memories of jibes and insults going over the heads of Buck and JD yet leaving Chris and Josiah roaring with laughter while Vin chuckled quietly but knowingly.
After a few months, he stopped trying to explain the wonders of the world beyond the Seminole village for she neither understood nor cared about them. She could not imagine the massive ships that carried people and cargo from the Old World to the New World; she could not comprehend the medical frontier of the microscopic world with creatures smaller than the naked eye bringing whole cities and even countries to their knees. Oh, she understood sickness and death but not the causes and though she was more open-minded than most, she would turn away in annoyance, telling him that he had to put aside all his fanciful notions of real doctoring; they had no place in her world.
He gazed up at Rain through pain-filled eyes as she wiped a damp cloth across his fevered brow, his limbs too heavy to move, his body too fatigued from the disease that had already taken the lives of a dozen or more of the villagers. He had tried to tend the sick, working with little rest as their bodies succumbed to the disease brought to them by a passing band of sick Indians. Sorrow filled his heart, for the old and the young had fallen first, with their bodies too fragile to fight off the microscopic bacteria that multiplied relentlessly inside them. His one consolation was that he and Rain had never brought a child into the world for he doubted he could have withstood the loss of that child to this terrible disease; the same disease that had taken Casey Dunne within months of her birthing hers and JD's only child, almost a year ago this day.
A sad smile touched his lips for the child had survived, only to see her father gunned down a few weeks later, his body laid to rest beside his wife in the town cemetery. Had Nathan been a white man then he would have offered to bring up the child as his own for Nettie was well passed the age where she could handle a newborn, passing away a few months later of a broken heart. Instead, Mary Travis had adopted the child, accepting Gerard Whitman's renewed offer of marriage and setting off with the little girl and her own natural son once the town fell back into lawlessness.
It pained him that the seven would no longer ride together and he wished he had kept in better contact but opportunities to ride into the nearest town were few and far between. Still, he had heard from Ezra only a month ago, telling him tales of the Mississippi and of the magnificent river boats where great fortunes could be won and lost in a single hand of cards. He had read the letter three times in a row, chuckling anew at the images conveyed by the flowery handwriting, almost smelling the river air and the tobacco-filled decks. Reading between the lines, Nathan could tell that all was not as wonderful as Ezra described, sensing a little loneliness from the lack of mention of any name in particular other than the ones they both knew. Sadly, Ezra had asked after JD, unaware that their young friend had found an early grave.
Two weeks later, Nathan had been tempted to write in the hope that the address would still be current, silently wishing that the terrible news might bring Ezra back to the area but then the fever had struck and Nathan was glad he had not acted rashly out of his selfish desire to see Ezra. Better that Ezra stayed far away until the disease had burned out, except Nathan had never considered that he might die of it.
Now, as he lay close to the end of his life, he felt the well of regret rise up within him along with guilt for it was not Rain's touch or her beautiful face that he wanted to see. He wanted Ezra Standish. He wanted to look into the intelligent, bright green eyes, seeing them alight with mischief and mirth. He wanted to see the handsome face with its dimpled cheeks, the flash of gold from his tooth matching the twinkling of his eyes. He wanted to feel the touch of those fine, quick fingers and feel the softness of the strands of brown hair beneath his finger pads, recalling the one time Ezra had fallen sick and Nathan had tended to him. Despite the memories of the cotton fields and of the whip that lashed his back and stole away his mother, Nathan wished he could hear the soft southern drawl one last time and he felt a hot tear trickle down his cheek.
Why had it taken until now for him to realize the truth? The person he wanted to be with was the same person who had riled him so much during their short acquaintance.
He sobbed weakly with regret, uncaring that Rain would interpret his tears as ones of physical pain.
The lamplight cast deep shadows about the small room and Nathan knew he would not live to see the sun rise. He let his heavy eyelids close, not wanting to see the reality of his surroundings, wanting to find comfort in the past as he recalled that last night in the saloon before Chris and Vin disappeared. He smiled as the images came back into sharp focus, seeing again the handsome face of their leader, green eyes glowing like emeralds yet softened with love and caring for the men around the table. He saw Vin chuckling softly, unable to stop those summer blue eyes from drifting across the table to Chris. Buck regaled them with more of his seemingly inexhaustible conquests from the past and they laughed at the vision of Buck climbing through windows half naked to avoid a disgruntled husband, while JD looked on and sighed in exasperation. Josiah and Ezra began a philosophical debate that tested each man's knowledge and wits, the poker face missing for once leaving Ezra's face animated with pleasure as others were drawn into the discussion.
Pain rippled through Nathan but he clung fast to that memory, trying to hold onto the sweetness of Ezra's expression, the shyness of his smile, and the glint of teasing in his eye as Josiah argued back more fervently... until he recognized the teasing and bellowed up from his chair, grabbing Ezra in a bear hug that had them all falling about in tears of laughter. Quiet companionship followed as they relaxed into simply enjoying the presence of each other's company until Chris and Vin rose from the table almost as one, making excuses of fatigue, never to be seen again. Yet Nathan could hear Chris's soft voice still. He could hear the answering gravel tones from Vin and the softer response from Buck, Josiah and even JD but the voice he wanted to hear one last time was missing.
Nathan forced open his eyes, expecting to see Rain's tired face above him but, instead, he found Josiah's compassionate blue gaze.
"J'siah," he whispered. "Is... really you... or just... fever?"
"I'm here, Nathan. So's Chris and Vin, Buck and JD."
"JD's dead," Nathan sighed, eyes drifting closed as his medical mind cataloged the delirium but he forced them back open. If this was his dying vision then it did not matter if his friends were alive or dead. All that mattered was that they had come for him, all except the one he most wanted to see.
"Ain't his time yet, Nate."
Nathan felt fingers wrap around his, the healer part of his mind wondering at how fevered he must be for Vin's fingers to feel as cold as ice upon his heated flesh. Vin leaned in close, his words little more than a whisper in Nathan's ear.
"Need to ask you, Nathan. Do you want to ride with us again? Do you want to live?"
"Missed you and Chris... missed all of you... Miss Ezra."
"Sounds like a yes to me," JD exclaimed as impatiently as ever, gaining a chuckle from Buck.
"Good enough for me too," Vin replied, and Nathan could hear the smile in his voice.
He felt the covers swept back from his fever-racked body. Strong arms lifted him as if he was no weight at all, carrying him through the single doorway into the cold night air. He shivered uncontrollably, eyes falling from the bright starlit sky to the strong profile of the man carrying him like a babe in arms.
A familiar soft smile lifted the corners of Chris's lips, his eyes shining with compassion and love but Nathan could not keep his eyes open, closing them and dropping his head upon the surprisingly broad shoulder. He felt nauseous, wondering when they had mounted up for he could feel the wind rushing past, battering against his face and body, and yet he could not feel the gait of the horse beneath them, could not hear the thunder of hooves upon the dry packed earth. The wind died suddenly and he felt Chris lower him to the ground, feeling the roughness of a blanket beneath his naked back.
"Do you trust me?"
Nathan looked into the strong yet gentle face, awed even within his fevered mind at the openness and compassion so visible. The guarded expression that Chris mostly wore was absent from the handsome face, leaving him looking as young as the last time Nathan saw him, perhaps younger.
"I trust you, Chris. Always have... always will."
He smiled in pleasure. "Then trust me now."
A ripple of something akin to pleasure pulsed through Nathan's weary body as Chris kissed him; his lips soft and plump, setting Nathan's lips tingling as he felt the swipe of a tongue. The lips trailed away, nuzzling at his cheek and chin before sliding down his throat. Nathan felt a momentary pang of concern that such overt intimacy was not permissible but the thought evaporated as he felt the sharp sting of pain against his throat. Then he was soaring, seeing visions of Chris's life, his family, culminating in the passion he shared with Vin. Nathan felt the pure love as two perfect bodies collided, biting and licking, kissing and sucking, hands and lips worshiping strong flesh with searing kisses as they climbed into ecstasy. He saw Vin through Chris's eyes, the perfection of his body with lightly tanned, almost hairless chest arched up beneath him, the bud of a pleasure tightened nipple admired before sharp teeth nipped at the sensitive flesh, drawing beads of blood that were lapped up fervently, the wound closing before eyes that seemed to see beyond the mortal world. He gave his own life in return, letting Chris ride the storm of his memories, of his mother and sister, of his father and the cotton fields, of the masters who sought to own his body, some with kindness while others resorted to the lash of the whip. He relived the terrible days on the battlefield, hot tears falling down his cheeks as his mind tried to hide away from the never-ending pain and suffering that he could not relieve, could not heal.
His heart felt sluggish, his body growing colder, head lolling against Chris as he suckled against Nathan's throat, letting Chris see his final empty years despite Rain's presence in his life, reaffirming the truth that he had missed his friends... and Ezra most of all.
Strangely, Nathan had never felt more at peace than in those last few moments as his heart slowed to a last few stuttering beats. His mouth was already dry from the fever that had stripped his body of vitality and he lapped greedily at the warm metallic liquid that filled his mouth, with his need to sate his thirst becoming more voracious with every droplet spilling down his arid throat. Chris thrust him aside suddenly and Nathan curled in on himself as terrible cramps ripped through his body, grateful for Josiah's strong arms supporting him. He cried out in agony, body betraying him as he took his final breath, his heart stilling in death... until he opened his eyes and saw the magic of the desert before him. Turning his head, he looked into Josiah's face and saw a beauty there that had never been more apparent than in this moment. He sat up and looked back over his shoulder to see Chris and Vin entangled, arms wrapped around each other, mouths demanding passionate kisses without any consideration for their audience. Yet no one looked on with disgust or shock, all seemed to reflect the pleasure in their friends' coupling with JD moving into Buck's embrace, to be held with a more brotherly love than that displayed before them.
Vin and Josiah accompanied him on his first feed, teaching him about their kind. Though it shocked him for a moment, with childhood tales of blood hunters filling his imagination, just one look at the radiance of love surrounding Chris and Vin quickly sent those fears running. Five of his brothers stood beside him once more and Nathan had no regrets apart from one.
He missed Ezra.
Two Years Later:
The small Mexican town was a far cry from the luxurious Mississippi showboats with their decadent saloons and Nathan felt saddened to see how far Ezra had fallen on bad times. He watched from a vantage point in a darkened alley as Ezra made his way from a small room to a dusty and dirty saloon. Ezra paused partway, coughing pitifully into a lace handkerchief, concealing the spots of blood before shuffling onwards with far less grace than Nathan recalled. As a healer, Nathan recognized all the signs and he knew the end was near. No sanatorium could save Ezra from the gamblers curse, consumption. His face was gaunt, those brilliant eyes dulled by pain and debilitation and yet Nathan had never loved him more than at this moment when he pulled himself up, putting on his airs and graces to fool the crowd inside.
"Chris. Got a favor to ask of you."
Even though the sire-child bond meant that they could not read each other's thoughts, Chris grinned, clapping a hand upon Nathan's shoulder and nodding.
"Know what you want, Nathan. It's time."
Nathan had always wanted a brother and though he would have welcomed any of the six friends that he had made in that small frontier town, he desired Ezra Standish most of all. His existence over the past two years had changed him, opening his eyes to possibilities that could never see the light of day. He grinned because he did not need the sun. He owned the night where two people of the same gender and with differing skin color could come together as one, and with little fear of mortal man.
The evening moved on slowly while Chris and Vin hunted, wanting to gain strength for the task ahead but Nathan refused to move. Instead he remained in the shadows across from the saloon, his body tingling with desire for Ezra, knowing Ezra's mortal form would die this night and be reborn. Behind him, the others waited in barely contained excitement. Tonight they would become Seven again as the last of their brothers joined them in the night.
Nathan chewed his lip as Chris and Vin slipped into the saloon, sighing with relief when they came out some time later with Ezra between them. He could feel Vin's compassion for their sick brother radiating outwards, though only Nathan and Chris could read it. Buck and the others felt Chris's love instead, smiling as the full moon rose from the desert to cast a silvery light into the tiny room where Chris and Vin gave meaning to Ezra's last mortal moments before Chris brought him across.
He knew Ezra would be hungry now, needing more of the rich blood that fueled their existence. He knew he needed to feed too, being little more than a fledgling despite his two years of riding the silence of the night with his brothers, and he was about to turn away, hoping he might see Ezra before they both succumbed to the pull of the dawn when Chris stepped out in front of him. A beautiful smile transcended the already handsome face of his sire as Chris stepped aside to reveal Ezra.
"Ezra," Nathan whispered almost reverently, feeling the answering echo of joy through the blood link they shared.
Without any fear of rejection, Nathan drew Ezra to him and kissed him, one arm wrapping around the slim frame while the other reached up to card fingers through the fine, silken strands of brown hair.
"Figured we'd hunt together this night. All seven of us," Vin stated. "And I know just the place to find us a nest of murdering, thieving bandits."
That first night of Ezra's immortal life, they hunted side by side, quenching their hunger on the blood of marauders who had burned a young family alive in their homestead before stealing all their horses. Chris's pain and anger bled through the familial bond they shared with Vin and the others, his need to see justice for the young woman and her children almost as voracious as the hunger that drove them. Sated, they returned to a hidden cave, many miles away, whiling away the rest of the night in renewing their friendship, and only drifting off to their hidden graves deep inside the cave when the dawn was but an hour away.
With a nod of approval from Chris, Nathan led Ezra away towards his concealed sleeping place and, with dawn closing in, Nathan felt Ezra growing heavy against him, his head tucking in against Nathan's shoulder, one arm thrown carelessly over Nathan's stomach. The pale flesh against his own darker skin enthralled him once more and he tilted Ezra's head to press a sweetly possessive kiss upon the still warm lips, watching them curve up in sleepy appreciation as the lethargy of the day stole Ezra away from him.
A century later, Nathan reflected once more on the day he almost hanged in that frontier town and on the two strangers who had stepped out of the shadows to save him.
Chris and Vin; his sire and his sire's eternal lover.
For those first two years as a vampire, he had almost envied them for their closeness, for the passion that grew stronger with each passing night. The love they shared ran deeper than mere physical, transcending gender and proving to him that the social conventions of mortals had no place in their world of the night. Yet, until he had Ezra lying in his arms, he had not understood the true power of holding one's beloved.
The silence of the night died with the dawn chorus but Nathan did not hear the song of the sun, already caught in dreams of the coming night and of making love to the man he held in his arms forever.