deannie: Don't Bother Me (Default)
So, here's the deal: I started writing a cool future-dystopic-superhuman AU and stopped. And then I started rewriting Ghosts of the Confederacy as if all of them were secretly superhuman.

Here's where we meet Ezra....


Ezra Standish was damn tired. And he was bored. A week in this town and he’d gained himself exactly forty dollars at the tables. The people were poor, by and large, and he didn’t lack all morals, the way his mother did. He couldn’t sap them for everything. So he worked the cards as hard as he could sometimes to make sure even the worst players didn’t walk away destitute, while still lining his pockets enough to get the hell to San Francisco. Or Denver. Anywhere where he could start over again after that fiasco in St. Louis. Lord, if he never saw his mother again, it’d be too soon.

He knew himself better than one might credit, to look at him, and he knew that when he was bored, he was known to make poor decisions. So it was little surprise to find himself pulling the Drunk Man Shoots the Ace con. Because it was a con that could get you killed, and he needed a little excitement.

He barely took notice of the four men who walked in and set up at the bar—and only then because he recognized the black healer, Jackson. He’d seen the tall white man womanizing here in the saloon, a harmless peacock out for fun and charming, as his Aunt Carine would have said. The other two were the ones who’d saved Jackson’s life that morning.

With a bit of help. Helping to thwart those idiots in the street today had been fun, even if no one had known he was there.

“You gonna take the bet or not?” one of the men at the table asked him. They were all cowboys, headed toward Mexico with a herd to be delivered to some wealthy senor. Easy marks and soon to be on their way, so he could stay in town if he needed to. Never did to piss off the townspeople until you were ready to leave.

He tossed back another shot of whiskey—actually drinking this one—and stood unsteadily, making sure to put his foot close to the bottle he’d seen lying on the ground a moment ago. He pulled out his Remington and sighted the ace of spades he’d drunkenly demanded someone pin to the wall moments ago.

“Stand aside, sir,” he told the man between him and the card, slurring his words realistically. The Lothario with the mustache at the bar was watching him with a broad smile that made him nervous. “You are... obstructing my view.” He let his aim yaw back and forth a moment. “This should be a piece of cake.”

He didn’t actually mean to hit the ugly stuffed bird on the mantle, but he wasn’t sad to see it go when he purposely let the empty bottle roll under his foot and send his shot high.

The cowboy to his right slammed a triumphant fist on the table. “Pay up!”

“Nonsense,” he averred, weaving slightly. “I was encumbered by the debris on the floor.”

The man laughed at him with his friends. The perfect mark is a mark who thinks he’s superior. “Well, let's just try it again.”

Ezra spread his arms extravagantly, noticing with some unease that the three white men at the bar were watching the spectacle. “With pleasure. Double or nothing.” He fumbled with his wallet, doubling his stake while flashing enough money to keep them all interested.

The man laughed again and slammed his money down on the bar. “It's your money. Get ready to duck, boys.”

Ezra smiled as he drew his second weapon, and again, that demon boredom took him. He made a mistake that, in retrospect, he never should have made.

He shot true once, piercing the ace with as much ease as ever. He shot a blank. He kept shooting blanks because, well… He really was bored. Somewhere in his head, he was hoping for a fight.

“He put all six in the same hole!” he heard the bartender gasp.

“My, my,” he murmured, an amused smile on his face. “How astonishing. I've never done that before.”

The cowboy was a fool. But not a complete fool. “You sure sobered up quickly, Mister,” he growled.

“Must be the desert air,” Ezra replied, letting a bit of steel seep into his voice. He readied himself, figuring if it came to bullets, he could always disappear. But he was figuring on fisticuffs.

He was hoping for fisticuffs, actually.

True to dream, the men all stood, spoiling for a pounding. “We don't take kindly to being hustled.” Oh dear. Except that the leader pulled his knife. Knives were a little more of a challenge. “Let's see how good you can shoot with one eye.”

Ezra made the first move, ducking under the blade and tackling the man behind the leader, using his momentum to spin the much larger man around and stop the leader from shoving the blade in his flank. Two of the men dove for him and he slipped his way out, but not before they each got in a solid punch.

By this time, of course, it was inevitable that other patrons got involved. It was just the way of barroom brawls—Ezra had been in enough of them to know. By the time he’d tripped over a leg for the third time and collected more head shots than he was really comfortable with receiving, he decided it was about time to disappear.

And so he did. Luckily, the man about to tackle him was waylaid by a large paw that smacked him to the side, and Ezra’s transition to invisibility went unnoticed. He made his way to a wall and skirted the action until he got to the bar, where he collected his winnings and slid out the back door with no one the wiser.

Until he ran into a brick wall with a black duster on.

The surprise of the collision almost made him lose control of his invisible state, but he held it together and tried to slide around the man who’d helped rescue the town’s healer just that morning. The man moved to intercept him.

“This might be easier if you go ahead and show yourself,” the tall blond told him, a thoroughly engaging smile on his face. Lord, he was a vision.

And could tell exactly where Ezra was even though he couldn’t see him, which was a puzzle Ezra just had to address. The scales of invisibility sloughed off of him and he smiled winningly. Which made exactly zero impression on the man before him.

“And how, pray tell, did you, ah…” He chuckled uncomfortably. “Sense me? See me?”

The man’s smile grew positively feral. “Smelled you.”

“Well now, that’s just rude—“ Ezra began, only to be interrupted by the arrival of the other three the man had collected around him.

“Slippery little thing, ain’t he, Chris?” the mustached man said, leaning against the wall like a cat finding a place to nap. Despite the seeming indolence, he was clearly watching Ezra like a hawk.

As was the thin man in buckskin. “Nice shot, pard,” he said amiably, his voice a lazy Texas drawl.

“Lucky shot,” Ezra corrected cautiously, waiting to see what the man named Chris would say to the others. He’d only been found out once before. He still had the scars to remember the occasion. Freaks of nature were notoriously vilified. “I expect the lure of the pot focused my aim a might.”

Chris looked over at the mustached man as if asking a question, but Ezra couldn’t see that he got any answer.

“First shot was louder than the other five,” Chris said bluntly.

Ezra knew he was being baited, but couldn’t help responding. "What are you attempting to suggest?” Lord, proving that he really had cheated could be almost as dangerous as revealing his true nature.

But Chris didn’t seem interested in either eventuality, and all three white men were relaxed. Jackson was tense and annoyed at the side, but that wasn’t all that surprising. Ezra could hardly expect to be trusted by someone like him—and the feeling was more than mutual. “First bullet was real,” Chris announced easily, but quietly enough that only the five of them could hear. “The rest were blanks.”

He was amused, Ezra realized. And inclined to keep Ezra’s secret, which, along with his looks, endeared him to the southerner immediately. “Well, sir, I abhor gambling, and as such, leave nothing to chance.”

The answer seemed to satisfy him. “We’re looking for guns to protect an Indian village. You interested?”

Indian village? Honestly? It was so absurd it was almost intriguing. “Who’s financing?”

“The village,” Chris replied. “Five dollars a man.”

Okay, more absurd, less intriguing. “Five dollars wouldn’t even pay for my bullets.” Jackson was glaring, and Ezra did so hate to be glared at.

And none of this was his fight anyway. Better to get out now, before this man Chris let anyone else in on his secret. “Will <i>he</I> be riding with you?” When the mustached man nodded, a frown creasing his forehead, Ezra made up his mind. “Not interested.” Jackson grimaced, as if it was all he could expect of a fancified Southern white man.

And it probably was.

The man in buckskin moved forward, almost too close, as a loud crash and a query as to Ezra’s own whereabouts sounded from inside the saloon. “Reckon you should be leaving town anyway,” he said, a grin in his voice that was a shade too gloating.

Perversely, it served to make Ezra think twice. Mostly because his mind was a damned contrary place. “I’ll sleep on it,” he allowed.

“He must have went out the back!” cried one of the cowboys from inside the building behind them. “Let’s get him!”

“Meet us at the livery at dawn,” Chris said, as if Ezra’s participation was a foregone conclusion. His mouth quirked invitingly. “If you live that long.”

The quartet moved off, leaving him standing against the back of the building. The second they were around the corner, he made himself invisible and followed them, hearing Jackson speak for the first time.

“Why would we want to use a cheater?” Ezra sighed, watching, unobserved, as the black man shook his head in disgust.

Chris turned back and looked directly at the space Ezra occupied, though Ezra knew he couldn’t be seen.

“Might need one,” Chris said quietly, before moving them all on down the alley.

“And we are right back to intriguing,” Ezra breathed to himself, watching the man walk away.

to be continued...


deannie: Don't Bother Me (Default)

July 2017

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