The moon hung high in the sky, turning the world outside into a tableau of deep shadows and soft silver light, but the lamps still burned inside the saloon, and drink still flowed.
“I believe,” Goodnight announced, dragging a hand against the growth of beard on his jaw, “that I am going to raise, gentlemen.”
“Was that a signal?” Vasquez demanded, lightning fast as Goodnight nudged the loose collection of corks they were using in place of coins — Emma’s gentle suggestion following two rounds straight of Goodnight and Billy bleeding poor Teddy dry — into place. He twisted to the side to fix Billy with a flat stare, before returning to study Goodnight.
“You’re too paranoid, hombre ,” Faraday drawled, the edge of his mouth drawn down as he winced, pushing through it to peer at the cards laid out on the table.
“Not paranoid if I’m right,” Vasquez pointed out, snapping his hand of cards closed and then carefully fanning them open once more and studying them as if that action could have changed their values.
Billy tapped the ash off the end of his cigarette, catching Goodnight’s eye as he did so and, with a grin that was salacious as sin — all teeth and sharp edges, beautiful and deadly — deliberately tapped his hand of cards against the back of his wrist.
“Goodnight, tell your man to stop cheating,” Vasquez demanded, gesticulating wildly and not managing to catch Faraday tilting his head just so in order to peek at his hand.
“Tell yours!” Goodnight laughed. Faraday couldn’t manage to sit upright fast enough, his recent injuries still troubling him, and Vasquez scowled at him, brows drawn tight.
“I’ll meet your bet,” Faraday drawled, lightly bumping Vasquez with his shoulder, the other man leaning over to allow a kiss to be pressed to the soft skin just next to his ear.
“I am surrounded by conmen and criminals,” Vasquez sighed, rubbing at his temple, “I’ll pass.”
Goodnight’s grin didn’t widen — he was too much of a professional to have so obvious a tell — but the aura of smugness seemed to thicken.
“My daddy used to say, a faint heart never filled a spade flush.” Goodnight plucked the cigarette from Billy’s waiting hand, neither man looking at each other, familiar and comfortable in a way that made something twist in the other two men’s chests.
Billy glanced at his cards, then stared at Goodnight, eyes narrowing. “Is that what you’re going for?”
“I don’t kiss and tell, cher.” Goodnight sat back in his chair, eyes crinkling at the corners as he took a long swig of his drink.
“Yes you do.” Goodnight choked on his drink at Billy’s flat words, shaking his head as his shoulders shuddered, suppressing the coughs. Billy jabbed a finger at his partner, gaze locked onto Vasquez — who was quickly reminded of Billy’s skill with the brace of knives decorating his hips with that single motion. “After I kissed him for the first time, he wrote a poem and a letter back to his family.”
“He’s exaggerating,” Goodnight tried as Faraday howled with laughter, head thrown back to reveal the purpling bruise Vasquez had carefully bitten onto the curve of his neck the night before.
“No I’m not. I’ll match.” Billy pushed his own tokens forward, swapping his drink for Goodnight’s with a quick grin.
“Alright then. Let’s see who wins the pot.”
Goodnight and Billy flipped over their hands, Faraday following suit with a flourish that was only slightly fumbled due to his now missing fingers. A reverent hush fell over the table as each man studied their hands and their opponents. Vasquez leaned forward, drawn in, despite himself.
Billy held a full house, Faraday four of a kind, while Goodnight had won with a straight flush.
“You’re getting better at lying to me,” Billy told him, sitting back with a sigh and shrug. He offered a cigarette to Vasquez who gladly accepted, leaning over so Billy could light it from the stub of his other. It was a familiar gesture, born out of countless sleepless nights of holding silent bedside vigils when neither could sleep out of fear so vast it consumed all other thoughts.
“Oh, I could never lie to you, cher. Only bluff.” Goodnight winked and, as Billy snorted and shook his head, moved to pick up the tokens.
“Hands of my winnings, Robicheaux,” Faraday rapped his knuckles against his displayed hand, wide grin splitting his face.
“Your winnings?” Goodnight raised an eyebrow, glancing quickly at Billy, before returning to stare at Faraday. He pulled on the final drag of the cigarette and crushed out the glowing end.
“A four of a kind beats a straight flush.”
“No, it does not!”
“Does so! I don’t know what weird Southern rules you’ve been playing from, but a four of a kind always beats a straight flush.”
“I have never—”
Billy shifted closer to Vasquez, gesturing for him to do the same as the other’s voices grew in pitch, Goodnight’s accent thickening with every word as Faraday’s language shifted and blurred like rain driving against the earth.
“How long do you think they’re going to argue?” Billy didn’t need to lower his voice, the other two so wrapped up in their argument they were nearly blind and deaf to the rest of the world.
“Knowing guero? Until he wins.”
“He’s not going to win. I love Goodnight, but the man is stubborn. And Faraday is wrong here.”
“Si. I will not argue about that.” Vasquez yawned, wide enough to crack his jaw, and caught sight of Billy ducking his head to copy his actions out of the corner of his eye. “It has been a long day, huh?”
“And tomorrow will be longer.” Billy sighed, the smoke sweet and lingering on the air. He watched Goodnight and Faraday argue, both gesticulating wildly and speaking too fast for him to follow. “I have an idea, if you agree to it.”
“At this point, lindo? I'll try almost anything.” Vasquez moved closer at Billy’s urging, brow furrowed as the other man whispered in his ear, his own mouth moving silently as he thought. A grin unfurled across his face, excitement burning in his chest. “I am definitely fine with that.”
“Good.” Billy’s voice was only a little smug, and he reached up to pull his hair pin out, carefully placing it on the table. Vasquez was distracted by the fall of Billy’s hair, a few strands curling across his brow and cheek like something out of a painting, before he realised that Billy had cupped his jaw, gently pulling him closer.
Vasquez had kissed many men in his life, but kissing Billy was something different. He tasted sweet, beard scratching and Vasquez tilted his head to deepen the kiss, feeling Billy grin against his lips. Billy’s hand pushed to the back of Vasquez’s head, fingers carding through his hair for a long moment before they parted.
Silence greeted them and Vasquez glanced from Billy’s eyes — pupils blown wide, gaze dark and seeming to pin him in place — to see Goodnight and Faraday staring, cheeks pink and mouths open.
“We are going to go to bed,” Billy told them, continuing to play with Vasquez’s hair, and he couldn’t help but lean into the gesture. “You both can come too or continue the argument. Your choice.”
He stood up, Vasquez scrambling after him, every nerve alight, and moved towards the stairs that led into the boarding house. They made it halfway up the first set before Goodnight and Faraday were jolted into action, their boots heavy on the floor as they ran after them.