AN: So, this came about in a strange little way. I had posted a story on here a while back containing these two characters, and as the story progressed, it became apparent that there was a lot of tension between them that I hadn't planned on writing. Anyone who's ever written in-depth characters probably understands what I mean, how you're sometimes blinded by unexpected complexities in your characters that you hadn't accounted for in the beginning. I've never written anything like this before; it mostly began as an experiment, to see where these characters took me. If this isn't your cup of tea, please go find something else. Flames will be used to gleefully catch things on fire. If, however, this IS your cup o' tea, please enjoy it, and all CONSTRUCTIVE criticism is welcome. As I said, I'm new to this kind of thing, and I don't entirely know what I'm doing.

Also, for those of you who might have missed it: This is eventual SLASH, meaning male/male relationship. Read previous cup of tea advice above.

Chapter 1

Locke Jager was a man of many talents. Normally, he wasn't one to boast, but what kind of beer-drinking poker player in a bar full of losers wouldn't want to brag a little at the fact that he had been winning at the game of luck for the last twelve hands? He was well aware that most of the men playing the game were pissed at him and suspected cheating, but tonight that actually wasn't the case. Tonight, it was honest to Goddess luck.

The only man at their table who wasn't grumbling angrily was a young man sitting across from him, and that was because the young man had managed to hold his own and not lose too much money to Locke. He was probably no older than Locke himself, who was the prime age of twenty-five. No more than a kid to most of the other men at the table, but the legal drinking and gambling age in Victoria was eighteen so Locke felt his place at the tavern had been well-earned. And besides, he had just finished a fairly difficult job completely successfully, so he felt it only fair that he be able to celebrate his good fortune in peace.

It seemed, however, that those whom Luck did not shine down on refused to let him win in peace. The table was jarred and cards went flying as one of the haggard men jerked to his feet and slammed his fists down on the table. It startled several of those at their table and the others surrounding, though Locke and the boy across from him just watched with narrowed eyes.

"You cheat!" The drunken man screamed, and Locke slowly lowered his cards to the table, face-down, and removed his white leather jacket from his shoulders. Underneath, he wore only a black sleeveless shirt. It was warm in Victoria this time of year, but he wore the jacket to partially conceal the handguns he kept strapped beneath each arm. It wasn't illegal to have them, but sometimes people were unaccustomed to seeing such weapons on a daily basis. The purpose of removing his jacket was to show the abrasive gentleman that he wasn't hiding anything up his sleeve.

It didn't help. The man grabbed the black cloth at his neckline and yanked him to his feet. Locke's dark blue eyes flashed dangerously, but he didn't yet make a move to put down the man.

"I want my money back, boy!" He snarled, spittle flicking onto Locke's lower lip.

Deliberately, Locke reached up and wiped his face off.

"I didn't cheat, you filthy, drunken son of a bitch. Take your hands off me before I make you."

The man was smart enough to glance down and regard the pistols at Locke's sides warily, but his grip didn't ease.

"You took two weeks' worth of paychecks from me, boy," he spat, his eyes falling to the pile of money that Locke had acquired.

"Then maybe you should consider finding yourself a new hobby, since this one seems to not be working out for you. I'll give you one last chance: let me go, or reap the consequences."

The drunk reared his fist back to hit Locke, who watched unafraid, but neither got another chance to move. A tanned hand reached up and grabbed a fistful of the drunk's hair. Before the burly man could react, the hand yanked him backwards and kicked the bend of his legs at the same time. He went down with a yelp, and Locke followed the bronzed arm up to the owner's face.

It was the young man who'd been sitting across from him. He tossed a bill down onto the stunned man's chest.

"Buy yourself a cup of coffee and go home to your wife," the young man recommended, gesturing to the wedding ring on the fallen man's finger. "Before you lose more than your paycheck."

The mysterious man turned toward Locke once he was sure the drunken man didn't plan on attacking him again. He stuck out his hand, which Locke regarded warily.

"Tristan Donovant."

Locke grasped the man's hand and shook it warily. "Locke Jager."

"Why don't I buy you a beer for your trouble?" Tristan asked, gesturing at the bar over his shoulder.

Locke grinned lopsidedly, only one corner of his mouth turning up. "No, thanks. I think I've worn out my welcome here."

"Don't be silly. Just because one guy got his panties in a twist is no reason for it to ruin your fun for the rest of the night. You just beat us all at over a dozen hands of poker. You deserve to celebrate your good luck!" Tristan punched Locke lightly in the arm.

"You did your fair share of winning," Locke replied, giving credit where it was due. Locke may have won a dozen hands there at the end, but Tristan had done enough winning of his own that it didn't hurt his pocket to let go of his money when the tables turned.

Tristan shook his head. "Not like you, I didn't." He held up one arm so Locke could see inside the gap where his sleeve covered his wrist. Locke could see just enough to realize this boy had literal cards up his sleeve.

Locke couldn't help grinning at Tristan's audacity. "Well, how do you know I'm not the kind of guy to throw a fit about my opponent admitting he's a cheater?"

"You beat me fair and square even when I was cheating. I'd say you're the victor here. And besides, I can take care of myself, even if you did get upset like our dear friend over there." He eyed the drunk in the floor. It seemed the man had passed out once he'd gone horizontal.

"I don't doubt that," Locke replied, somewhat noncommittally.

"So what do you say? Drinks on me, because you're such a lucky guy?"

Locke didn't immediately answer. He studied the face of the man standing before him. Eyes so dark it was impossible to tell where the pupil ended stared back at him, unblinking. Locke could see little mischievous stars twinkling in his eyes. Everything about Tristan was dark and mysterious, from his eyes to the way he smirked and tilted his head toward the bar, urging Locke to make a choice. Chocolate brown locks fell haphazardly into the young man's eyes.

"One drink," Locke agreed. It made Tristan smile. They gathered their earnings and moved to the bar.

Once both boys had an amber bottle in their grip, Tristan said, "So, you really weren't cheating?" He cast Locke a sideways glance. He looked like a man who wanted to learn a secret.

Locke laughed, tipping the liquid into his mouth. "Scout's honor, man," he replied.

"No shit? You're just really that lucky?"

"Tonight I am." Locke dug around in his jacket pocket for the crumpled pack of cigarettes he knew were stashed there, and when he took one out for himself he offered the pack out to Tristan.

"Thanks," Tristan said, helping himself. "Got a—ah. Thanks." Tristan leaned over and lit his cigarette with the match that Locke held out after lighting his own. "So," he continued after taking a couple of lazy drags, "what do you do?"

"What do you do? Besides rip people off at cards," Locke replied, completely avoiding giving an answer.

"Come on," Tristan said. "I've been doing shots all night and now I'm starting on beer. Chances are I won't remember this conversation in the morning, anyway."

"You seem remarkably sober to me."

"It's a talent." He paused; Locke could see him staring at him from the corner of his eye. "Come on. This is what bars are for. Story for a story?"

Locke sighed, but it was less begrudging than he'd expected of himself. Normally, he was a bit of a loner. The life of a mercenary wasn't particular social, after all. He'd always worked alone. Still, Tristan had a point. He was likely never to see this person again.

"My parents died nine years ago," Tristan began, taking it upon himself to go first. "When I was sixteen."

"I'm sorry," Locke said seriously. He knew what it was like to lose loved ones.

Tristan shrugged. "Anyway, moved to Victoria and started doing odd jobs to get by. Eventually, odd jobs turned into doing whatever it took. I stole from stands in the marketplaces, and I'm something of a master at picking locks now."

"We share that in common, then," Locke uttered through a wicked grin.

"Really? You can pick locks?"

"Most any kind, actually."

"And what would you need a skill like that for?"

Locke put out his cigarette in the ashtray on the bar before replying. "I'm… I guess you could call me a hired gun."

"Well, isn't that a coincidence," Tristan muttered.

"You, too?"

Tristan nodded, putting out his cigarette. "Five years now."

"I've got you beat there."

"How's that?"

Locke held up nine fingers.

Tristan frowned in confusion, but when realization hit his eyes went wide. "You've been doing this for nine years? You look no older than me!"

"I'm twenty-five years old."

"Me, too. So, you've been a mercenary since you were sixteen?"

Locke nodded.

"How? Why?"

Locke sighed. "You're very persistent, aren't you?"

"Hell yeah. Need another beer?"

The mercenary glanced down at his dwindling beer and decided: why the hell not? "Sure."

"Good." He got the bartender's attention and gestured for two more beers while Locke thought of what he was going to say.

He waited until their beers arrived before beginning. "My mother died giving birth to me. Dad wasn't really a dad; more like a drunk with a grudge. I ran away when I was fourteen, after a night when he got so drunk he thought killing me was the best idea ever."

"Dick," Tristan murmured before taking a swig of the amber liquid.

"Exactly. I went to Lyria and did the same thing you did, eventually becoming a thief. Only difference is that I tried to pick-pocket a mercenary."

"Oh, shit," Tristan put in. "Did he kick your ass?"

"Quite the opposite, really. He seemed to understand my dilemma, I think. He took me under his wing—taught me everything I know. I started working on my own a year later."

"So technically you've only been a real mercenary for eight years."

"If you want to get picky about it," Locke relented.

"Well then," Tristan said, sitting up and holding out his beer bottle to Locke. "To happy coincidences."

Their bottles clinked together pleasantly, and Locke grinned. Maybe this guy wasn't so bad after all.