Chris stared at his hand of cards. It was his worst one yet, in part because he'd somehow managed to talk himself into believing it'd get better with a few extra cards.
Needless to say, it hadn't.
Ezra looked smug, but then, he usually did. Josiah looked inscrutable - no hints there, either. J.D. looked nervous, which might mean he had a very good hand and was worried about getting yelled at for being lucky, or a very bad one which meant he was worried about losing.
"Now, Ezra, you wouldn't happen to be cheating in a friendly game of poker among friends, would you?" Chris asked. " 'cause that'd definitely be rather unsporting."
Ezra looked slightly less smug and slightly more indignant. "Chris Larabee. On my sainted mother's grave - "
"Charming woman, your mother," Josiah said. "Bet you she wouldn't be blaming a run of bad luck on anything other than fate being a fickle, fickle thing."
"I would take that bet," said Ezra, glowering at Chris, who shrugged.
"He's not even had that many winning hands, has he?" J.D. asked, charmingly naive.
Chris looked at Josiah, who made a gesture as if to say 'what can you do?'. True enough, J.D. won several hands. His total winnings weren't even half of what Ezra's were, though.
"Now, Chris," Josiah said, "between you and me, I'm sure we'd have noticed if any funny business was going on around here. My advice to you, therefore, is to play the hand you're dealt, and accept that you may find luck in other aspects of your life than playing cards."
Chris wondered if that was Josiah's way of saying he knew damn well what was going on between Chris and Ezra, and preferred not to know any details. Not that Chris'd been planning on providing any. Just - at some point, he rather felt they ought to say something. An explanation for why they ended up sharing rooms often as not, at the very least.
"Good advice." Ezra smiled. "To which I would add: never bet anything you're not willing to lose."
"Even better advice," Josiah said. "Too bad hardly anyone ever seems to take it. World would be a happier, more generous place if they did - and a good many folks would be a good deal richer, whereas some unlucky few might find themselves a whole lot poorer."
Ezra shrugged. "Like Chris, I play the cards I'm dealt, whether it's by the game or life itself."
"Speaking of playing cards," J.D. said, "we still doing that? 'cause there doesn't seem to be much of that going on from where I'm sitting."
"Young people nowadays, eh?" Josiah shook his head. "Call."
Chris stared at his hand again, unsurprised to see it had not magically improved. "Fold."
Ezra sighed and tossed his cards on the table. "Fold."
"Fine." J.D. looked at Josiah. "Let's see them, then."
Josiah grinned. "Look and weep, young one."
"My. That is a very good hand indeed," Ezra said, expression saintly, while J.D.'s face fell. "If only I could have gotten a hand like that - which I might have, I suppose, had I been a less scrupulous man."
Ezra smirked. "Another round, anyone?"
"You cheated," Chris said. Evidence be damned: sometimes, you simply knew something.
"A little," Ezra admitted, doing something complicated with a deck of cards. Using only one hand.
Chris wondered why he still felt the tiniest bit surprised. And hurt. "I knew it."
"Though technically, it was perfectly true when I claimed I wasn't cheating in a friendly game among friends."
Chris narrowed his eyes. "How's that, now?"
"You and I - we're a bit different from just friends, aren't we?" Ezra shrugged. "Some ugly words for what we are, and one or two not so ugly. Lovers, perhaps? Does that sound agreeable?"
"Don't see why we need a word for it," Chris said. "And cheating's still cheating."
Ezra turned over the top card of the deck: Ace of Hearts. "I only cheated you. I didn't interfere in any way, shape or form with anyone else's hands. Really, you should take it as a compliment."
"A compliment," Chris repeated. "Right. I sure feel flattered, what with you making sure I didn't get one decent hand in ten. What's next, putting water in my boots?"
Ezra sighed and started reshuffling. "I simply thought it might be nice to not sit up all night playing cards. So then I thought, well, what's the one thing bound to cut the evening short?"
"Well, congratulations," Chris said. "Evening's cut short, all right."
Ezra gave him a sly look. Chris - well, not like he hadn't seen that look before. Plenty of times. Nothing decent ever followed that look, although a certain kind of meaning of the word 'good' might apply.
Wouldn't be all that hard to let bygones be bygones, focus on the here and now of Ezra, ready and willing and all his, with nobody the wiser as to what the two of them were getting up to up here.
On the other hand: "Not really in the mood," Chris said.
"You're not a very good liar, you know that?" Ezra sighed. "Fine. Fine. I'll make it up to you, how's that?"
"Meaning you'll give me my money back?"
"Good heavens, no." Ezra's expression was genuinely shocked for a few moments, before he went back to looking at Chris in a way that made it very easy to stop thinking about being angry. "I was thinking more of a compensation in trade, so to speak. Surely there must be something I can do for you. Or to you, as the case may be - I'm wide open to any and all suggestions, really."
"Mighty generous of you," Chris said. Cynical tone notwithstanding, he felt his body already respond to the idea, the prospect of getting Ezra to do anything he wanted, more or less.
Of course, this being Ezra, it'd likely be rather less than more, and it was hardly as if Ezra wasn't plenty obliging in the regular course of things. Chris tried to be obliging, too, reasoning that was how relationships worked, really. You gave some, you took some, and as long as everybody was happy, it was all good.
"It is, rather," Ezra said. "Or so I believe. Then again, if you're not interested ... "
Chris sighed. One of these days, he promised himself, he was going to let Ezra get what was coming to him: a lonely night, spent in a cold bed, and never mind that Chris would be condemning himself to a likewise fate.
Not today, though. "Never said I wasn't."
Ezra put down the playing cards and grinned. "Well, all right then. What's your pleasure, Mr Larabee?"