When Death Comes

Patrick sat beside his grandfather’s bed, reading to him. The old man was unusually quiet today. That was never a good sign. His brows furrowed slightly and he peered over the top of the book to sneak a peek.

Grandfather’s eyes were open. A faint smile touched his lips when Patrick stopped reading. “What’s wrong?” he said, his voice soft.

For a moment, Patrick didn’t know what to say. Then, he leaned forward and said, “Does it hurt?” His voice sounded small and scared in the quiet little room. “I mean… they said your aura’s disintegrating. That sounds… like it would hurt a great deal.”

Grandfather chuckled softly and shook his head. His eyes closed and he sighed. “Not so much, really,” he said, after a moment. His eyes opened again and he smiled. “Of all the things I feared in life, death wasn’t one of them.”

Patrick nodded. “Should I read the rest?” he asked, holding up the book.

Grandfather shook his head. “Just sit with me until…” he trailed off, then, as a strange expression came over his face. He seemed to be looking at something Patrick couldn’t see. “It’s so beautiful,” he breathed.

He said something more, but Patrick couldn’t make out just what. Then, his eyes closed and he seemed to sigh softly as the breath went out of him. Patrick gasped and then touched the old man’s neck with a trembling hand.

Patrick bit his lip and blinked back tears that blurred his vision. Then, he forced a smile onto his face. Grandfather was with Grandmother and Great-uncle Connor now. He was happy – at peace. He’d survived long than anyone previously had with his condition.

Sighing, Patrick stood and stepped into the corridor. He needed to find a healer and tell them. He had to wonder though, just what Grandfather had seen that was so beautiful. He was certain Sean would tell him that it was his aura, as the last of it fell away. Patrick liked to think it was heaven.

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Experience

“So,” the village elder said, looking from Morgan to Ezra and back, “first we need to know about any previous… experience you might have had.”

Ezra blinked. “Experience?” he said, tilting his head to one side. He shook his head. “What kind of experience? I’ve never been hand-fasted before, if that’s what you mean.”

He was surprised when the elder blushed and looked at Morgan. Morgan patted Ezra’s shoulder and smiled. “He’s a bit of an Innocent,” she said. Then, she turned to Ezra took both his hands in hers. “He means the sort of experience to people who care deeply for have, sweeting,” she said.

“Ideally,” the elder murmured.

“Oh,” Ezra said, flushing. He dropped his gaze and murmured, “I should have realized that. Of course… um… I’ve only been with two others, besides Morgan: Keller and Devin.”

“Keller?” Morgan repeated.

Ezra grimaced. “Yes, well,” he let his voice trail off and shrugged. “I’d rather forget about him, if it’s possible.” He looked thoughtful for a moment and added, “It wasn’t bad with Devin, but I think I’d be happier if he’d have been my only other… partner.”

“I can well imagine,” Morgan said, patting his hands. She smiled at the elder. “My turn, right?” she said. The elder simply nodded.

Trying Something New

Ezra trailed along behind Morgan. She had him by the hand, guiding him through the crowded amusement park. “Isn’t this great?” she called back to him. She turned and grinned at him.

Ezra smiled and then nodded. What could he say? She was determined to ride the park’s newest roller coaster. He wanted nothing to do with that. He’d never actually been on a roller coaster. He was too frightened to try. Now, he might not have much choice.

As they reached the end of the line for the ride, Morgan looked her arm in his. Drawing him close, she said, “Nervous?”

“I – I’ve never been on a roller coaster before,” Ezra admitted. He grimaced and shook his head. “What if I don’t like it?”

Morgan kissed him on the cheek. “Just because you haven’t done something, doesn’t mean you won’t like it,” she said. In a softer voice, she added, “I was the first woman you were with and you like that.”

“It’s… better,” Ezra admitted, flushing faintly. He looked up at the roller coaster and bit his lip. If he had to try something new and frightening, at least Morgan was there to share the experience with.

That’s embarrassing

Chris peered into Ezra’s workshop and frowned. “You can’t wear that to the meeting, Ezra,” he said. “You’ve got… what is that? It’s all over your clothes.”

“Plaster,” Ezra said. He shrugged and then loosened the buttons of his top. He headed out, moving towards his apartment. “I have clothes laid out on my bed. I was just waiting for you to come and pick me up.”

Devin said, “That makes sense.” He paused as they entered the apartment. “There’s some on your trousers too. How do you get so messy?”

“I enjoy my work,” Ezra said, grinning. As he started to unbutton his trousers, Chris squawked and covered his eyes. “Is there a problem?”

“You can’t undress in front of people, Ezra,” Chris said, his voice high and strained. He shot a glare at Devin. “Doesn’t it bother you, when he does that?”

“He’s done it before,” Devin said, shrugging.

“What?” Chris said, his cheeks darkening. For a moment, he stared at Devin, who smiled and shrugged. Then, he looked at Ezra. “You changed in front of him?”

Ezra smiled. “Why, Master Chris,” he said, his tone light and teasing, “I do believe you’re blushing.” The comment earned him a low growl, at which he chuckled. “When Master Devin made it clear he had no intention of leaving me alone, what choice did I have? I couldn’t go out in public in paint splattered clothing, could I?”

“I guess not,” Chris said. His cheeks had just returned to their normal shade when Devin spoke up. His comment had both Chris and Ezra flushing with embarrassment.

“Besides,” he said, “he knew I’d already seen him naked loads of times.” He smiled at Chris. “You said to keep an eye on him.”

“I didn’t think you’d be voyeuristic about it!”

A Goal for Which to Strive

“What do you want in life, Ezra?” Chris said, his brows furrowing. He shook his head. “I’m curious because the things people normally work towards don’t seem to interest you. If you wanted power, you would have worked harder in Keller’s organization. If you wanted to get ahead in the Underground, you wouldn’t have turned on them.”

He looked intently at Ezra. “Love? You’ve got that. We all know how Morgan feels about you and, as much as you say you’re a coward, you put yourself in danger with nearly every decision you make. So, what drives you?”

Ezra frowned slightly. Why did he do these things? What was he working towards? “I… just want to understand,” he said, his voice soft. He blinked and looked up at Chris. Shrugging, he added, “I worked with Keller – followed his orders – because I had to, but I didn’t try to escape, even when I knew it was a bad situation because I couldn’t understand why he did such terrible things to people.”

He thought back to when he’d met Chris and smirked. “I turned, originally, because I needed to understand why the rules of the game suddenly changed,” he said. He adjusted his glasses, and said, “I continued for the same reason I’d always obeyed Keller: I didn’t see a choice.”

“And Morgan?”

He smiled. “That’s part of the reason why I love her, Chris,” he said, his voice soft. “Her, I can understand.”

It’s a Very Bad Habit, But One I Find Hard to Break

Ezra’s gaze drifted over to the platters that Morgan had set out. He reached out and snatched one of the crackers. He munched on it contentedly for a moment. Then, he slipped a pepperoni off another platter.

“Ezra, are you snacking?” Morgan called. A moment later, she peered into the sitting room and smiled.

Ezra was sitting in the corner with a perfectly innocent look on his face. “Would I do that?” he asked, blinking. “The guests haven’t arrived yet and – and we’re meant to be sharing these treats with them.”

Morgan laughed and shook her head. “Don’t eat too much before they get here,” she said. Then, she headed back to the kitchen.

“Right,” Ezra said, as he snatched a piece of cheese off a platter. Whenever there was food in front of him, he couldn’t help but eat. It was a terrible habit and one from which he struggled to break himself.

He smiled and snatched an olive out of one of the bowls. Yes, bad habits were a burden. He popped it into his mouth. He chuckled to himself and glanced outside. Just where were they now? They should come soon. Right?

That He Might Someday Be Of Some Renown

Ezra fussed with his announcements for that morning. His brows furrowed slightly as he realized that everyone, now, knew his name – his face. He’d always wanted to be well known. At one time, he’d thought that fame would come from his artwork. His problems with Keller had shattered that dream just as it was beginning.

In Shynia, he was well known as a member of the band, Velocity. However, they hadn’t released any of that music here yet. Here, he was a face seen on an almost daily basis – delivering announcements from the Shynian Embassy to the American people.

A faint smile touched his lips as he stepped up to the podium. He’d never wanted to be famous for something that placed him so fully in the limelight. He’d always thought that was too much like his mother. Now, he wondered if that was such a bad thing after all.

A Friend in Need

Ezra moved around to one side of the statue and then the other. His brows furrowed. His lips pursed. He stepped forward to place his hands against it. Then, he tried to push it towards the door.

Tried was the operative word. It didn’t budge. He squeezed his eyes closed and tried again. Still, it wouldn’t budge even an inch. He stepped back then, to stare at it in frustration.

Chris and Devin were in the other room. If he called them, they’d help him. He was certain of it. However, he hated imposing on his friends. He’d made the sculpture and it was his responsibility. He sighed and leaned on it again.

This time, it slid. It moved just enough to make an aweful scraping sound on the floor. Ezra bit his lip and continued pushing.

“Need help?” Chris said, from the doorway.

Ezra opened his eyes to see Chris staring at him, tilting his head to one side. He had a curious expression on his face. “No,” Ezra grated. “I’ve… got it.”

Chuckling, Chris said, “You’re going to hurt yourself, Ezra. Let us help you get that out here.” He peered out of the room and said, “Devin, come here and help Ezra get this sculpture out into the gallery.”

Devin smiled at Ezra. “You know where you want it, right?” he said, arching an eyebrow.

Ezra sighed and sat on the floor. “Yes,” he said, nodding.

Who’s In Control

The train moved down the tracks, leaving North Lake far behind. Now that Ezra felt like he could breathe, he was thinking. His whole life, someone had told him what to do, whether they’d meant it that way or not. His mother still tried to control his life. Keller wanted to control his thoughts and actions. Even Chris had forced him into the life he’d been living until now.

“Ezra?”

He looked away from the window. “Morgan,” he said, blinking away tears, “I was just… thinking.”

“About what?”

Ezra sighed. “All my life, I’ve just done what I had to do to survive,” he said. “I did whatever my mother told me to when I was growing up. I did what my master told me to as her student, then whatever Keller wanted. When I met Chris… every decision I made was so that I wouldn’t go back to prison.”

She nodded and he continued. “I just… for once in my life, I want to decide for myself what to do. I feel like I’ve just been waiting for the time when someone tells me that it’s my turn to decide.”

He wiped his eyes and gave her a wan smile. “Maybe all this… insanity was just that,” he said. “Maybe God got sick of me sitting back and letting people push me around and decided to light a fire under me.”

Telling Tales

Ezra’s brows twitched as he listened to the story his mother was telling about his childhood. It wasn’t a complete falsehood. Some of those things had, indeed, happened. However, his mother made it seem as if she’d not only been there, she’d played an active role.

“What’s wrong?” Morgan whispered.

“Mother… tends to embellish stories,” he murmured, shaking his head.

Nodding, Morgan said, “People do it all the time: exaggerate how exciting something was, add things they wish had happened or that they considered saying.”

A faint smirk touched Ezra’s lips and he nodded. “I don’t,” he said. If anything, he tended to downplay the role he played in certain events of the past and gloss over the details. He looked thoughtful for a moment, then he said, “I think it’s because Mother adds things to fit how she wished the past was and I leave things out to hide things I wish had never happened.”

“Is it really that much different?” Morgan asked. “Both of you tells your own version of the past, rather than what ‘really’ happened.”

“I guess not,” Ezra said, his voice faint.

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