Ezra shuffled the cards with breathtaking skill; the cards a blur as they moved between his slender, pale fingers. He smiled brightly at the three men seated around the table before him, and then he allowed his eyes to fall upon the other three men lounging close by. It was not often that all seven were together in one room though rarely were any left alone in this world -- only when they wanted to be alone, and sometimes not even then. Usually they stayed in groups of two or more... just rarely all seven.
He enjoyed it when they all came together, enjoyed the camaraderie that had not faded with the passing decades, often giving thanks for the day he decided to stop in that small frontier town more than a century ago. He had been out of funds and out of luck, chased from town to town by disgruntled cowboys who'd lost a week's pay by chancing their luck with him. Though too often he'd be forced to move on without that money lining his own pocket.
His luck had turned that day -- though he had not realised it at the time.
He glanced across the green baize to his sire, to the only one present whose mind he could never read, not even with practice. That had always seemed to be the case between them though, even before he was brought over but it had never diminished their comradeship. He smiled again as Chris leaned back in his seat, studying the cards that Ezra had dealt with blinding speed.
Longish strands of wheat gold hair flopped over his forehead, obscuring his keen eyes but then he pushed the strands aside and looked across at Ezra with a small glare. Soft green eyes pierced Ezra to the depths of the soul he had been assured that he no longer possessed.
Poppycock, he thought as he recalled some of the fiction he had read about his kind. There were other creatures of the night that could be described thus, but not them. He could see Chris's soul shining in his bright and clear green eyes, could see Vin's in the halo of peace that surrounded him as he stood side-by-side with his eternal lover. JD's beamed from the still boyish laughter, Buck's in the twinkle of his blue eyes. The loud, booming laughter that filled the room with warmth came from Josiah's soul and Nathan's shone in his gentle smile and kind words.
Ezra smiled again, broadly, enjoying the small frown lines that creased the otherwise smooth forehead. This inability to read his sire went both ways and, for the hundredth time, Ezra wondered if that was the reason why it was Chris rather than Vin who had sired him.
Certainly they had chosen the most opportune moment to step back into his life after five years of absence. Years of working in claustrophobic, dust and smoke-filled saloons along the borderline had left him with what his mother called the Gambler's Curse... Consumption. Ezra let his thoughts flow back to that night...
He was dying. The coughs that wracked his too thin frame left him exhausted but still he sat in that dirty saloon close to the Mexican border dealing yet another hand. Often he would allow his card partners to win a hand or two, anything to keep them at his table so he could stave off another lonely night in the pretense of companionship. He pulled a lace-lined handkerchief from his inner pocket and coughed as delicately as he could, carefully wiping away all traces of blood from his lips so as not to scare off his company.
The batwing doors swung open and Ezra glanced across covertly, having spent far too many years watching for danger to still this old habit. He smiled derisively as he looked across. He was dying and yet he would fight to hold onto his last breath of life. He didn't want to die even though the loneliness of his existence tore him apart some nights.
His eyes widened as two familiar figures came inside and Ezra melted back into the shadows of his darkened corner as they moved gracefully to the bar.
How long had it been since he had seen them?
The five years seemed to disappear in a flash as an old familiar warmth of camaraderie infused him. They looked different and yet they had hardly changed at all. In truth, the years had been far kinder to Chris Larabee than to him, and the handsome man looked far younger than Ezra recalled, and certainly far younger than he would have expected from a man approaching his mid-forties. If Ezra had not known Chris Larabee then he would have placed him in his early thirties, in the prime of life. In contrast, Vin had not seemed to have aged a single day. He was still the handsome man with thick curls of light brown hair and summer blue eyes that danced with inner laughter.
Chris and Vin had left together five years earlier, spending one last evening in the saloon of that small town they had all protected before disappearing into the night. Buck had left soon after, unable to stay too far behind his oldest friend, and Nathan had never returned from a visit to Rain's village, deciding to stay and marry her.
JD had taken Casey for his wife but lost her soon after when a fever struck the town... and Josiah wandered off on another pilgrimage to see his sister in Vista City, never to return. And so he had been left alone. He fancied the idea of courting Mary Travis for a while but then realized that his tastes had never been inclined towards the ladies. Eventually he moved on when it became apparent that they no longer needed his services as a protector, nor desired his gambling occupation within their saloon.
As he wandered from town to town, barely escaping from being tarred and feathered on more than one occasion, he overheard talk of the others, and sometimes a letter from JD, Josiah or Nathan caught up with him though none had ever seen or heard from Chris and Vin. Occasionally, he wrote back, informing them of his location, and misleading them about the state of his health.
However, until now he had not seen any of his former compatriots in five long years though he had been tempted to seek out these old friends on numerous occasions. Their letters were always filled with assurances of a warm welcome should he pass their way and yet he had deliberately remained absent from their company.
Ezra drew back deeper into the concealing shadow as Vin looked around the crowded room. He knew why he had stayed away. He was ashamed of his ill health, ashamed of his neediness, not wanting to find pity instead of welcome in the eyes of his friends. Afraid that he would lose the last shreds of his dignity if he allowed them to comfort him in his dying days.
Chris and Vin settled against the bar, nursing shots of whiskey just as they had in the past, and Ezra decided to sneak away before they saw him. He didn't want to meet them again, at least not like this... with his face pale and sweaty from illness, and with the metallic taste of blood on his lips. Chris seemed to look in his direction, and Ezra felt his heart flip in his chest. He'd always found the man to be attractive--both of them--but there was something ethereal about Chris now, something exciting yet dangerous about both men.
Others had picked up on this innate quality, staring at the handsome pair with lust filled eyes. Ezra felt desire flood through his weakened body, felt the heat rising in his face and knew the flush would be noticeable against the deathly pallor of his hollowed cheeks.
"You gonna deal or what?"
Ezra looked back in dismay across the table at the wandering cowboy he'd enticed into a game that night. He smiled brightly but, inside, his mind was in turmoil. He needed to escape from this place.
"My sincerest apologies but I must forgo the pleasure."
He scooped up his night's winnings but a strong, callused hand slapped down upon the table, making the coins jump, sparkling as they were caught momentarily in the lamp light.
"I ain't finished playing yet, Gambler."
"I have. Now... if you would kindly excuse--"
"I got a good hand here. Good enough to win back some of that money you took from me--"
Ezra groaned silently, too caught up in his need to escape to recall that they had been playing a hand. He should have waited. He should have let the man win so he could walk away quietly. With uncustomary generosity, he pushed some of his winnings back towards the cowboy, hoping to appease him but it didn't succeed. The cowboy stood up abruptly, knocking aside the table with a loud crash, and Ezra felt every eye in the room turn towards them as the dollars and glasses scattered across the dusty floor.
A dulled and pitted colt appeared in the cowboy's hand, barrel aimed at Ezra's chest, finger squeezing on the trigger. His reactions were too slow in comparison, dulled by illness, and he knew there would be a bullet piercing his body before his small derringer had reached his hand.
Ezra felt a moment of pure bitterness, knowing he was about to meet an ignoble death in the presence of two people he had truly cared about, and who had seemed to care about him. He prayed it would be fast, that the bullet would be true to its mark, stilling his heart so he did not spend the last minutes of his life staring up into Chris or Vin's eyes from a dirty floor.
Suddenly the cowboy looked bewildered, the gun no longer in his hand, whipped away faster than the eye could see--or so it seemed to Ezra.
"Won't be needing this."
Ezra looked across into well remembered green eyes, seeing glints of mischief and gleeful pleasure in the soft depths. This was the Chris Larabee that he recalled most of all, rather than the dark, brooding one that most others tended to remember.
He looked sideways to find Vin almost close enough to touch him, leaning nonchalantly against the saloon wall right beside him. But how did Vin get past him? How did he manage to squeeze between Ezra and the wall without him noticing? A familiar mischievous smile twitched at the soft lips, recalling all the times when they had played practical jokes upon each other in gentle, devil-may-care rivalry.
"Mr. Tanner. Mr. Larabee. Your arrival in this... fine... establishment had passed unnoticed--"
"You don't miss a trick, Ezra," came a low response, letting him know he'd been caught in a lie. He hid a swallow of uncertainty behind a grin, unsure what to make of these two men he had once thought he knew.
There had been a time when he felt he could trust them with his life, and he longed for those days again. Longed for the easy companionship, longed for the long evenings sipping whiskey and playing cards, deliberately losing a hand because they were his friends and not his marks.
Chris smiled softly, eyes seeming to mist with nostalgia as if he had read Ezra's thoughts and then the moment was gone as he flicked a hard stare at the people crowding them. A chill swept through Ezra even though that infamous stare was not aimed at him, and he saw the ghoulish onlookers quickly sidle away until they were left as alone as they could be in a crowded saloon.
"So..." Ezra rubbed his hands together, ever conscious of his sweating palms, and also aware that the disgruntled cowboy had been one of those to back away fearfully, leaving his money scattered across the floor. "Mr. Larabee. You appear to be in remarkable health--"
"Which is more than we can say for you, Ezra."
"Ah yes. An unfortunate but not unexpected condition."
"For a gambler."
Ezra felt that strange sense of panic fill him again when he saw the knowing smile that crossed both faces. These two had always seemed to know what the other thought and yet it had never been so apparent until this moment. He could almost hear the whispered thoughts traveling between them in silent communication. The fear left abruptly, replaced by a pang of loneliness. He had missed them. He had missed them all these past five years. Ezra indicated towards the now emptied table that Vin had righted with such ease.
"Perhaps we can sit awhile. A game of chance, perhaps?"
"Sounds good to me, Ez."
Vin swept a chair back from the table and sat down, taking off his hat and dropping it to the tabletop. He ran a hand through his hair, and Ezra became mesmerized by the gleam as the soft light-brown curls reflected the orange glow from the oil lamps as they cascaded over his lean fingers. Chris drew back his seat with a little more dignity but no less grace. He sat down easily with no sign of the twinges that used to crease his face from old damage caused during his early years of horse taming. He took off his flat brimmed hat, laying it down beside Vin's in an almost symbolic gesture of their togetherness. Lamplight seemed to set his golden hair ablaze forming a halo around his strangely angelic features.
Suddenly afraid to be caught staring at the beautiful pair, Ezra pulled a pack of cards from his pocket and began to shuffle them. He knew he displayed far less grace than he had in the past though he also knew he was still sharper than most with a deck. He dealt the first hand, looking from one man to the other with practiced indifference even though he was burning up inside from fear and curiosity combined.
"So. What brings you to this... less than desirous establishment?"
Ezra almost misdealt in shock but quickly recovered. "Me?" His heart beat quickened at the thought that they had sought him out, but then he recalled how sick he was, and how little he had left to offer any of his... former associates.
"Friends," came a soft voice from across the table and Ezra felt the unfamiliar prickle of tears as he met Chris's eyes. He rubbed a hand across his own delicately, even more undone by the gentle tone when he realised there was no pity in the eyes that beheld him.
"I do believe the smoke in this establishment has become quite dense--"
"Then maybe we should find some place less smoky."
"Yes... perhaps we should, Mr. Tanner. Perhaps we could take our game to quieter, more intimate surroundings. I have acquired a small room close by."
"Lead on, Ez."
Vin stood quickly, snatching up his hat and waving towards the batwing doors. After a moment's hesitation, Ezra stood and led the way through the crowded room, ignoring the eyes of strangers that were focused on the two men following in his wake. His room was set at the end of a row of identical little rooms on the outskirts of the little Mexican town, its single window looking out across the desert.
The fresh air hit him within a few steps of leaving the saloon and he tried to suppress the urge to cough out the smoke congealing in his disease-riddled lungs... but failed. He brought his handkerchief to his lips, dabbing at them carefully once the fit passed, and then continued onwards to his room as if nothing untoward had occurred.
The moon had risen, casting a silvery glow over the landscape and illuminating the small yet clean interior. Ezra dropped his hat onto the rough table and reached for the oil lamp but he paused when he felt a cool hand placed over his. He looked up to see Chris's eyes almost glowing in the pale moonlight, his face only inches from his own.
Shock rippled through him as Chris closed the distance, his lips touching Ezra's almost in benediction. The tip of his tongue slid along Ezra's lips as if tasting something strange yet exquisite, and with dismay Ezra recalled the too familiar taste of his own blood in his mouth after the last coughing bout. He drew back in regret and fear, so aghast at his loss of common sense in allowing another to kiss him, that he had forgotten who was kissing him.
And then that realization came, bringing fresh shock and alarm. Not because it was wrong, but because it had felt so right... so good.
"Yes. So good, Ezra." Chris leaned in again, kissing him with more force yet still with such gentleness. He felt the insistence of a tongue and parted his lips to welcome the invasion, sighing as strong hands slid through his hair, drawing him closer.
Strong arms circled him from behind, slowly easing his jacket from his shoulders before returning to loosen his cravat and then tease at the buttons of his shirt. He knew he ought to be pushing them away yet it felt so wonderful to feel Vin's cool hands sweeping across his hot body, playing with his sensitive nipples while Chris kissed him soundly and yet so sweetly.
Vin's hands trailed down his body, opening his pants and sliding one inside to send delicious sensations rippling through Ezra. He pressed forward into the hand, his hips thrusting gently, and his soft moans of delight stolen by the man still kissing him. The cool night air washed over his fevered skin, raising goosebumps before he felt Vin's cool, naked flesh pressing against his back. Other hands began to stroke down his sides and, with surprise he realised that Chris had slowly stripped while they were still locked in their never-ending kiss.
Never-ending... yes... that's what he wanted. He never wanted it to end. He wanted to stay like this forever, with his body cocooned with the strong arms of these two men. He could feel the pleasure pulsing through him as the velvet-covered hardness of Chris's erection slid against his own, imprisoned alongside his hard shaft by Vin's hand. He could feel the evidence of Vin's desire sliding between his ass cheeks, silently wishing he would push inside and possess him as deeply as Chris possessed his mouth.
He gasped into Chris as his wish came true, intense pain quickly giving way to intense pleasure, crying out the loss of Chris's mouth and lips until they nuzzled against his throat. Sharp pain exploded through his nerve endings as Chris bit deep into his neck, quickly soothing away, mingling with the incredible sensations filling him. His vision narrowed until all he could see was the silver moon rising over the desert, his passion washing over him like a balm to his soul as he came hard against Vin's cool hand, his spent seed smearing over Chris's hard belly and his own.
Still Chris sucked on him, the powerful suction seeming to draw the blood from his body, leaving him empty and dry. His heart grew sluggish in his chest, his limbs too weak to support his own weight, but he had no fear for they held him tightly between them, worshiping him even as he slipped towards death.
His hungry lover pulled back and Ezra saw the small trickles of blood running down Chris's chin from the corners of his beautiful mouth. Without fear, and without thinking, Ezra let his head sway forward, tongue lapping at the spilled blood, knowing he tasted himself. His head was pulled back in strong hands.
"I know you want to live." The power of Chris's gaze caught at him, dragging him back from the edge of the abyss that was death. "Drink from me... and live."
He felt his head pressed down against Chris's throat and he smelled the cloying scent of fresh blood, and then felt the slickness beneath his parched lips. He licked at the blood tentatively at first and then was consumed by an insatiable desire to suck every last droplet from Chris's body. He sucked hungrily, mouth filling with the salty offering that tasted like nectar from the Gods.
He cried out when Vin pulled him away, falling to the ground beside his bed and curling into a ball. Sharp pain ripped through his innards, his stomach and bowels contracting in agony... and then... nothing. The pain was gone. Not just the agony of the stomach cramps but also the constant tightness in his chest. He took a deep breath, uncaring of the stench that filled the room as his lungs drew in the air so easily.
A soft, wet cloth smoothed over his soiled body, and Ezra opened his eyes to stare in wonder at the two creatures kneeling beside him. They were beautiful, ethereal, their hair shimmering in the moonlight, eyes more alive than ever before, with their ivory flesh glowing with vitality. He could see it all, as if the moon was the sun, casting the brightness of day upon the world around him rather than merely reflecting the silvery light.
"I feel..." He frowned. "I feel hungry."
"I know." Chris grinned, looking more beautiful at that moment than at any other time and Ezra startled when he realised he was sharing that thought with Vin Tanner...
"You gonna play this hand or daydream, Ezra?"
Ezra's attention snapped back to the present and he grinned again at the frown creasing Chris's forehead wondering if Chris now regretted being the one to sire him. He heard Vin's soft laughter and turned to face him, easily reading the thought aimed his way.
"Ol' Chris regrets that all right," came Buck's laughter-tinged response.
A soft chuckle drifted over him, smooth as melted chocolate, and Ezra looked up into his lover's dark brown eyes. No. He was never alone now... not even when he thought he wanted to be alone.
"Full moon's rising, Ezra."
He smiled into Nathan's pleasure-filled eyes and lay his cards down on the table, no longer interested in the game, but knowing that Chris, Vin and Buck wouldn't mind in the least. Tonight there was a full moon rising--a silver moon--and on a night like this it felt good to be alive.