The man walked in the saloon, the wooden doors swinging heavily behind him. Gravel crackled under his boots as he was welcomed by the reek of cheap alcohol and gin sweat. The handful of drunken men barely spared him a glance. Someone was singing a crooked, out of tune, love song. Worn out cards slapped on wooden tabletops, the tired clinking of glass against glass as someone poured a drink.
William Hunt didn't pay attention to any of it.
He had the best part of a whiskey flask in him, a gun heavy at his side, the stubble of four days on his face, and a sure lead. A lead he might have dragged out of a whimpering man, pressing the barrel of his gun hard into his cheek and wondering out loud whether at this particular angle the man's eye would explode as the bullet tore through it before it blew up his brain. The man couldn't speak fast enough to tell William what he wanted to know.
William hadn't shot the man, of course. He hadn't even intended to. He was just good at knowing what it would take to make a man talk; it came with the job after all. This one you could scare into spilling, that one you had to beat up, that one would crack after you broke a couple of fingers.
Whatever it took to get information.
William knew where James Campbell was holed up, and that was all he needed.
"But it makes you uncomfortable, having coffee with a man who could draw his gun on you at any second."
Andile's dark eyes were shining, though, and the light in them looked nothing like discomfort. "Something like that."
Tomi placed the chipped mug on the table, and while Andile sat to drink, he unclipped his pistol belt and slid the coat off his shoulders. The coat went over the back of a chair, and the pistol belt went back around his hips. "So," he said, very casually, like he was trying to keep a wild dog from startling. "Tell me which confederation has hired you to fuck up our server."
"Fuck up your server?" laughed Andile. "You've got it all wrong. I'm here to fix your server. There's some kind of connection error—"
"Like hell Command wouldn't have told me if they'd flown in a Terran to fix a connection error," Tomi said. "Like hell they'd bring in... what are you, anyway? An American?"
"From New York," said Andile. "My mama was from Zimbabwe. And I'm a hardware engineer, I swear. Look, scan my irises; my ID will come up right away—"
"Like hell it will. Finish your coffee."
"I'm Avery, by the way," he said into the silence. He could hear the other man fumbling with something behind him. "Avery Belfour. From Burning Grounds. And you are?"
"That's an odd name." Avery could feel his chances of survival decreasing every time he opened his mouth.
The gun withdrew. He had time to briefly fantasize that the stranger was going to let him go before the gun smacked him across the back of the head. He should have expected that. Avery fell forward and caught himself on his palms seconds before his face smacked into the dirty floor. Dust tickled his nose. He started to rise but the cock of a hammer stopped him.
"Stop talking." An explosion marked the stranger's words. Someone had brought out the big guns.
Avery's muscles protested the strange position. The sooner he could sit up, the better. He wasn't used to being bent over like this while still fully clothed. A familiar scent caught Avery's attention. Blood. He knew it wasn't his own, which meant that the smell was coming from his captor. That, or there was a corpse in the room, but Avery liked to think he would have noticed that when they'd walked in.
"You're injured." He could feel the stranger's ire growing as he spoke. "I can help." He'd gotten out of more than a few sticky situations by offering aid. He doubted it would be enough to get the man to let him go, but maybe it would put him on a bit better footing.
Ignác returned to his room before dinner to find Cistalan Konrád sitting at the foot of the bed. Being on edge had sharpened Ignác's reflexes. His draw was faster than normal. Ignác was inside his room and nudging the door shut before his mind fully registered it was Konrád.
"Rózsa Ignác." Konrád's voice was steady, but his eyes widened when Ignác drew his pistol, and he held up his hands in surrender. "I have come to beg a favor."
"Would that favor be ignoring that you picked my lock?" His voice shook, and Ignác couldn't tell if it was from anger or fear or something more troublesome.
Konrád flashed him a wan smile. "I have come to beg two favors."
He did not want to like Konrád's smile. And he certainly did not want to like the twist of desire he felt at Konrád's use of the word beg. But he did. Ignác sighed. "Beg, then."
His reply sparked a quick flare of heat in Konrád's eyes. "If the circumstances were different, I'd be tempted to beg three favors." His smile took on a bitter twist. "But then, if the circumstances were different, you would not be here."
It was hard to keep his pistol steady. It felt twice as heavy under Konrád's gaze. "What do you want?"
"I want..." Konrád's voice was raw. "I want many things. My School back, for one, but I have seen enough to know it is lost to me."
"You won't touch me again until we can be together forever."
"Flynn!" Agony ripped through him, like the agony of the bullets that had once torn apart his legs. He couldn't be parted from Flynn, wouldn't.
"The gun came to you because we were meant to be together. Don't disappoint me. Do you want to leave me here, all alone and heartbroken?" Flynn's voice cracked. "Do you want me to be trapped in this world forever, without you? Only seeing you in your sleep?"
"God, no." Tyler trembled. "I'll figure it out Flynn. I will."
"You have to figure it out quickly. I've waited too long."
"Yes, yes." Tyler would do whatever it took to get to him. The gun was the key. The gun would let him and his lover be together forever…
Tyler awoke with the muzzle pressed to his temple.