He watched intently, still and silent, tracing the smallest movement with his eyes. The rise and fall was slow and slight, but he was sure it was there, as sure as he could be in the diminishing light, as the embers of the fire receded to little more than a glow.
There it was again, an only just perceivable fluctuation. His eyes began to sting with the strain of looking. Blinking away the dryness, he continued watching. That was all he could do. Watch the movement, watch and hope that he could still see it and that it didn't stop.
He kept his vigil through the long, dark hours, afraid that if he took his attention away, even for the briefest moment, he'd miss something. He became conscious of his own breathing, willing the breath into the man who lay a few feet away. The rest of the world had ceased to exist to him. All that he cared for in this world was so close and yet unreachable. He wanted more than anything to go to his side and let him know he was there, but the bindings that held him prevented him from doing so, and the cloth in his mouth stifled any sound he could make. His throat was dry and sore and felt constricted, more with fear and desperation than anything else.
For hours now he had strained against the ties, trying to work his way loose, but they were still secure and he felt no give in them. Sharp pains periodically shot through his arms as he twisted them against the thongs that held his wrists.
Time slipped away and he felt a rising panic and hopelessness taking hold. With the passing of time, the life and breath of the other man was also slowly, slipping away. For quite a while now, he had heard no sound and seen no other movement, apart from the vaguest undulation of the man's chest. Now he found himself denied this privilege as the fire faded and all he could see was a dark, indistinguishable shape. And he could do nothing, but sit and watch and hope.
Periodically, through those long, dark hours he tested the ropes that pinned him to the tree, each attempt filling him with more despair, as they would not give way. After each endeavour he slumped with exhaustion and failure. The night air was punctuated with the gasps and grunts of his exertions of his determined efforts to free himself.
With each hour came more misery and an emptiness filled his heart as he struggled with inner demons. What had they done so wrong to be tortured and punished in this way? They had struggled for so long to overcome all that life had thrown at them. OK, he was willing to admit that they hadn't led model lives, but neither had ever set out to intentionally hurt anyone. They had both endured so much but managed to see their way through it and now, had begun to look to the future and plan and build a new life for themselves. For their hopes to be ended in such a way seemed downright cruel and unjustified.
He strained again at the ropes and let out a muffled cry of frustration and angst. He knew time was running out for him and his partner. They were totally vulnerable in their present situation. He had always promised to watch his friend's back and ironically, here he was, doing just that, watching him slowly die. He had no intention on breaking such a promise, no matter the circumstance, and it was this thought that spurred him into action once again, fighting against the bindings.
The sky began to lighten with the start of another day and gradually he could see the other man more clearly, lying on his side, on the dusty ground, head turned away. He willed the head to turn and look in his direction. At this moment he would give anything to see those deep, brown eyes looking at him. But the head did not turn and he could not see those eyes.
As the sun rose and the shadows faded it was gratifying to know that the darkness had not played tricks on him and that there was still a small, faint movement.
The sun was almost fully up now, and he became aware of the dark shape that spread from the man's body. In the darkness he had thought it was a shadow but now as the light hit it he could see it was a dark, rich red. The sight of it made him kick out with his feet in sheer frustration. He felt a nausea rising within him; not at the sight of the blood but at the futility of their situation. He couldn't believe it was going to end in this absurd manner. Once again he twisted in the ropes that pinned him to the tree and felt his arms burn with the exertion. Around his wrists he could feel the all too familiar sensation of his own blood, trickling onto his hands, as he tore at the thongs.
Exhausted, he stopped for a moment and rested his head against the tree, taking in long, deep breaths through his nose. His chest rose and fell as he tried to get more air into his lungs, causing a tightness to grip him as the ropes around his body constricted with each intake of breath. Beads of perspiration were beginning to form on his forehead and his whole body ached from being held in this position for so long. But he had no intention of giving up and considered what options he had left. At this moment he could think of none, other than getting loose, and that was proving to be impossible, he thought despondently.
Once more he strained at the bindings, his movement getting more and more frantic with his increasing desperation. Yanking at the ropes, he realised that his emotions had taken over as warm tears rolled down his face, soaking into the gag in his mouth, giving it a salty taste. His throat was parched and his stomach empty, having only eaten sparsely over the last couple of days. But that seemed irrelevant now.
His thoughts returned to how they had come to be in this predicament. It had all happened so quickly. He went over the series of events in his mind once again. Could it really only have been yesterday morning that things had started to go wrong? It seemed a whole lifetime away that he had been riding to meet up with Heyes in Jacksonville.
He had been so tired after that last job, delivering some documents to that ungrateful lawyer, who had refused to pay him the agreed, full amount of two hundred dollars, as he had been half a day late. Feeling disgruntled and keen to meet up with his partner, he had ridden straight back out of town and hadn't had much sleep or food in the last few days. Usually he was ever aware of his surroundings, but yesterday his thoughts had been elsewhere, mostly on the emptiness of his stomach, and so hadn't been fully alert to the dangers, as he rode along the road towards the town of Jacksonville.
Anger rose within him as he recalled how the bounty hunter had caught him off guard. It had taken him a few moments to register that the voice, shouting down from the rocks, telling him to take out his gun, by his fingertips and drop it on the ground, was directed at him! He had obliged and found himself at the end of Wes Harlen's rifle. Harlen was a very experienced bounty hunter and adept at his business. Before long he had found himself with his hands tied behind his back, going back along the road, down which he had just ridden.
Luckily, his partner had spotted the bounty hunter, in Jacksonville. Heyes had trailed Harlen out of town, in an attempt to warn his partner, but didn't expected him to make his move quite so quickly, and the bounty hunter had his quarry secured before he had time to reach him. Heyes had followed them, at a safe distance, throughout the day, waiting for the right moment to make his move and rescue his friend. He was all too aware, that, being as securely tied as he was, his partner wasn't going to be of much help, and getting him released was totally down to him. So, he patiently bided his time, watching and waiting whilst the bounty hunter stopped to make camp for the night. Heyes was concerned at the way that his partner had been tied to the tree and gagged, but relieved that at least Harlen wasn't being unnecessarily violent towards him.
It was evening by the time he decided the right moment had come to make his move. Cautiously he entered the camp with his gun drawn. His friend had been overjoyed to see him, but this was short lived. Harlen had been caught by surprise and instantly had gone for his gun, but Heyes had got there first, impressing his friend, who was the one with the gunslinger reputation, with his accuracy, as he shot the man's gun from his hand. Heyes instructed Harlen to put his hands on his head, which the bounty hunter grudgingly did. What Heyes didn't know was that Harlen always carried a back up derringer, under his vest. The bounty hunter had spotted his chance when Heyes took a swift look in his partner's direction, to flash a smug grin at him. In an instant Harlen had gone for the derringer and aimed at Heyes.
Spontaneously, Heyes pointed his Colt .45 at him and pulled the trigger, hitting Harlen straight in the chest, killing him instantaneously, but not before a return shot had been fired. His friend, unable to do or say anything, watched in horror as the bullet slammed home somewhere in his Heyes' side. He was so close he could hear the rip of the bullet as it tore into his flesh. Heyes slumped to the floor, falling on his side with a sickening thud, lying with his back to him, just a few feet away and had lain there ever since.
And so the night had passed with him being able to do nothing but sit and watch. His feeling of inadequacy gnawed at him and he wished with all his heart that Heyes would just open his eyes. Time slipped interminably by, but he never gave up and pulled at the ropes until his own blood began to seep through the sleeves of his shirt, where the restraints cut into his arms.
Then he thought he heard it. A soft moan. It was barely audible but he was sure he heard it. Driven by this new development he made an attempt to call out Heyes' name. The cloth in his mouth muffled the sound, so he tried again, using his throat to make a low growling noise. For the first time through that long night he felt a glimmer of hope. He tried to 'call' to him again. Tears of sheer frustration sprang into his eyes, as every part of him wanted to scream to get Heyes' attention.
He waited a few more minutes, watching, listening and silently praying to himself. But there was nothing. Perhaps, in his desperation he had imagined he had heard something? All was still and quiet except for the gentle rustle of the breeze through the leaves of the surrounding trees and the occasional call of some creature. He turned his attention to his bindings once more, twisting and contorting his body in every conceivable way he could think of and physically attempt.
At first he didn't notice, being so immersed in the task of trying to release himself, but then he did. Heyes changed position, ever so slightly. Widening his eyes, so as not to miss the slightest movement, he stilled himself to watch again. It was brief, but he was convinced he saw a motion in the Heyes' shoulders. Again he made a noise to let him know he wasn't alone and to try and bring him back to consciousness. He felt so pathetic and hopelessness at this point as his mind raced trying to figure a way out, but nothing came. It was at times like these that he really valued his partner's genius mind, he thought despondently.
There it was again, the unmistakable shift in his shoulders. He made a higher pitch noise through the gag, hoping that this sound would reach his friend. A rush of exhilaration shot through his body as the figure began to roll onto his back with a low groan.
Again he tried to rouse his friend by making a rasping sound with his throat. In desperation he kicked at the ground, sending a flurry of loose earth and stones in Heyes' direction. Still no response. He kicked again, harder this time, dislodging larger pieces of dirt and was pleased when they scattered against Heyes' side. He stopped and watched for any reaction from his partner, and was rewarded as Heyes began to stir. He looked on, pleadingly, willing him to come round.
Slowly, Heyes began to move his head, letting out a gasp from the pain that sliced through his side. Cautiously, he partially opened his eyes, feeling very disorientated. He had no idea where he was or what had happened. All he knew was he felt like a wagon had run over him. The sharp pain in his side drew his attention and made him grimace as he tried to move.
As he felt the nausea that rose within him, he got the feeling he was not alone. He tried to look around but his body was not yet ready to respond and stubbornly refused to do as he asked. It was then that he heard the sound - a groaning noise. His immediate thought was some sort of animal, but that didn't seem right. There it was again, low and somehow plaintive. He summoned all his little energy and turned his head in the direction from which the sound had come.
Looking across the ground his eyes slowly came into focus and came to rest on a familiar pair of boots. He followed up the legs and body until his eyes met those of his partner. It took a moment for this to register before Heyes attempted a weak smile. As his vision cleared, and he could see his partner more distinctly, Heyes became aware that all was not well, by the expression on his face. Motivated to action by the need to help his partner he struggled against the instinct to close his eyes and forget about the rest of the world.
"What happened, Kid?" he asked, weakly.
Kid Curry tried to answer his friend, but the gag muffled his words to an indistinguishable mumble.
At first Heyes was confused by this, but as his thoughts became more coherent he began to understand the situation. Here he was, lying on the ground, in considerable pain, while his partner was tied to a tree a few feet away. It was obvious really - and just another day in the lives of Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry!
Slowly, Heyes rolled onto his side and tried to manoeuvre himself onto all fours, but his arms refused to hold his weight. He strained again, desperately struggling to pull his legs up into a kneeling position. Once again he failed. Becoming conscious of a low, groaning noise he made contact with the deep, blue of Kid's eyes, which had a look of pleading in them.
With enormous effort and a loud moan of pain, Heyes managed to summon his energy and began to drag himself towards his restrained partner. It took him a good number of minutes to cover the few feet between where he had lain and the tree to which Kid was tied, leaving a tattered trail of his own blood in the dust. All the while Kid willed him on, with a look of concern and trust, knowing that his partner would do everything he possibly could to save them from this situation.
By the time Heyes reached his partner, he was totally exhausted and collapsed, with his head landing on Kid's thigh. He looked up at his face and was rewarded with a look of reassurance from Kid. Even though the gag restricted any real expression, Heyes could see his partner was smiling at him, his blue eyes bright with happiness and relief.
Heyes returned a feint smile before making his way behind Kid to begin working at the ties that bound him. It was slow and frustrating work for both of them. Heyes' lack of energy made him tremble and fumble at the ropes, as his fingers felt disconnected from the rest of his body, unwilling to do as his brain directed.
Kid sat still and patiently, acutely aware of how sick his partner was, not quite believing he had managed to get this far. This man never ceased to amaze him. Gradually he began to feel the ropes loosen, until he felt more able to move his arms and work them free of the bindings that had held him for so long.
Although his hands and arms were numb and tingled from lack of movement and circulation for so long, he quickly loosened himself, and managed to pull the gag from his mouth.
"Oh God, Heyes!" he exclaimed, his relief and emotion clear in his voice, as sharp pains coursed through his body with every shift of position. He took a moment to catch his breath before turning his attention to his injured partner.
Heyes was lying sprawled on his back, where he had collapsed after his struggle with the ropes that had held Kid. His breath was coming in deep, long rasps and the pain he was enduring was evident in his face.
Kid crawled to his side and for the first time, in that long night, he was able to take a close look at the wound in his partner's side. Kneeling besides him, Kid paused for a moment, looking down at Heyes. No words needed to be spoken, as the friends looked at each other with an understanding of the position with which they were faced.
Trying to lighten the situation, Kid smiled at Heyes before saying, "Nice of you to wake up finally and do something useful! Godamn it, Heyes, you've been lying there all night, leaving me tied to that damn tree! Hope you had a good rest 'cos I in hell didn't!"
Heyes rewarded him with a slight smirk, before gritting his teeth and screwing his eyes shut, as another spasm of pain passed through his side. Kid's stomach tightened and he knew he had to work quickly as the bullet had been in his partner's side for quite a while now and he didn't know the extent of the damage that it had inflicted.
He cautiously began to tear at Heyes' shirt to look at the wound, which he thankfully found had stopped bleeding. It was hard to believe there was any blood left in Heyes, considering the amount that was spread on the floor just a couple of feet away from them, Kid thought to himself. Because Heyes and Harlen had faced each other in such close proximity, the bullet had gone in deep and Kid was pretty sure it was still in there. He carefully rolled Heyes onto his side and looked for an exit wound in his back. There was none.
Kid considered his options. He could ride for help, but he knew he would not be able to leave his partner here. He could try and get Heyes on a horse and risk getting to the nearest town, but that was nearly a day's ride away, and he felt pretty sure Heyes wouldn't make it that far. Or he could try and get the bullet out himself, an undertaking that would be difficult and painful for both of them. The responsibility of their circumstances was weighing heavily on him now. He relied on Heyes for his wisdom and intelligence so much that, at times, he found it hard to trust his own judgement when faced with difficult decisions, especially when the repercussions could mean the difference between life and death - for his partner.
Kid drew a breath, rallying himself for the task he knew lay ahead. He would have to dig out the bullet. While he contemplated what he was going to need and how he was going to do it, he suddenly felt Heyes' hand on his arm as he looked up at him and quietly murmured "Water!"
Kid had been so taken up with concern for his friend that he neglected to think about such basic needs as a drink. He realised just how thirsty he was too, from having had every drop of moisture sucked from his mouth, by the gag, which he had endured throughout the night.
Looking around the camp Kid quickly located a canteen. He also became aware that Harlen's lifeless body was just a little further away. He felt a pang of conscious that he had paid no heed to the dead man throughout the night, his only thoughts being for his partner and himself, and their predicament. Taking a blanket, he covered the body before walking stiffly across the camp to collect the canteen. His limbs still felt heavy from the incarceration they had sustained through the night. But with each stride, the ache, that he felt, eased a little. As he lifted the canteen and shook it, he was relieved to find it was over half full and returned to Heyes' side and carefully lifted his head so that he could take a drink. Heyes swallowed deeply, savouring the feel of the cool water as it slipped down his throat. Suddenly the water caught the back of his throat, causing him to cough and splutter, contorting his face with the pain that ripped through his body.
Kid gripped him around his shoulders, trying to hold him still as he could think of nothing else to ease his friend's pain. He held Heyes in this position until the coughing convulsions stopped and then gently laid him back on the ground. As Kid took a much needed drink, he noticed a sheen of perspiration forming on Heyes' forehead as fever began to set in.
"Hell!" he exclaimed, as the realisation that the fight for survival wasn't over yet and there were some serious obstacles to overcome before they could feel safe again. Never one to sit around, being more a man of action, he began to prepare for the job in hand.
First, he wanted to make his partner more comfortable, so laid out a bed roll and folded his old, sheepskin coat to use as support for his back. As Kid started to manoeuvre Heyes into position onto the bed roll, he moaned and briefly opened his eyes.
"Hang on, Heyes. I'm just going to make you a bit more comfortable, then we can see about doing something about that darn bullet in your side."
Heyes gave a small nod in response, looking at his partner with total trust, gripping Kid's arm, as he gently lowered him down, placing another blanket over him, tucking it around his sides, trying as best he could to keep him warm.
Next, he got the fire going again, building it up with whatever wood lay conveniently close. He began to search the bounty hunter's saddlebags. Luckily for them, Harlen was a man who came prepared and had a good set of supplies. Kid was grateful to find a bottle of whiskey, although there was only a paltry amount, but it would just be enough to give Heyes some respite from the pain and clean the wound when he had finished. Kid dug deeper into the saddlebags, pulling out Harlen's spare shirt and was delighted to find a small sewing kit. Next, he searched for an instrument to get the bullet out with. His own knife was fairly small and the blade would be too short to delve deeply into Heyes' flesh. He considered that Harlen was bound to have a knife and as he hadn't found one in his saddlebags or with the rest of his gear, that it must be about his person.
Kid's jaw set as he made his way towards Harlen's corpse. He lifted the end of the blanket that covered the man's feet and felt inside his boots but found no knife. Lifting the blanket further he looked to the man's belt and at first could see nothing. Then it occurred to him to roll the man over to check his back. As he pulled at the man's side he was shocked when a rumbling sound came from the body.
Startled, Kid let go of the body and scrambled backwards. He had been sure that Heyes had killed him and to think that he had been alive all this time filled him with dismay. Harlen lay perfectly still and Kid searched for any further signs of life but could find none. Stealing himself, he went back to the body and pressed his fingers to the man's neck to feel for a pulse, but found nothing. It dawned on him that what he had heard was the air still trapped in Harlen's body escaping as he had moved him. Relieved at this thought, Kid let out a long breath, through pursed lips, and shook his head before returning to his search.
On Harlen's back Kid found a large hunting knife, secured in a sheath, attached to his belt. Kid drew it out and its blade glinted ominously. He ran his finger down the edge and felt that it was extremely sharp, but this knife was a little large for his purposes. Tucking the knife into his own belt, he covered Harlen's body again and made his way back to Heyes.
By now the fever was taking hold and Heyes was becoming delirious, shaking and trembling, as sweat poured from his body. Kid cursed again, knowing he needed to be quick if his partner was to have any chance of survival. He was still considering what he could use to reach the bullet that lay so deep in Heyes' side, when it occurred to him that a lock pick would be fine enough to probe deeply without tearing at too much flesh.
"Heyes?" Kid said his name quietly, part of him not wanting to disturb him. There was no response from his partner, who had slipped back into unconsciousness; he just continued shuddering with fever. Kid reached down to Heyes' left boot and eased it off. He knew exactly where to look and quickly found the tool, slipping it out of the slit in the boot where it was kept, 'just in case', as Heyes liked to put it. Kid paused, momentarily, his fingers wrapping around the slim, spiked tool, his eyes clouding. It felt strange that he was going to use this pick to try and save his partner's life. This object that was so inextricably linked to the man, so part of the way they had chosen to live, and now, Kid thought ironically, it could be part of the way Heyes was going to die. He pushed this thought to the back of his mind and turned his attention back to taking care of his partner.
Pouring water from the canteen into the coffee pot, he put it onto the fire, which had built into a satisfactory flame. While he waited for it to boil, he laid the rest of the instruments needed to deal with the injury on a blanket, to his partner's side. He eyed the tools with a look of reluctance and trepidation. He ran the palms of his hands across his face knowing what needed to be done. He just wasn't sure he was able to do it.
As steam began to spurt from the spout of the coffee pot, Kid prepared himself for the task ahead. First he opened Heyes' shirt to expose the wound. Kid caught his breath at the sight of the raw flesh that confronted him, but set his jaw and focussed himself. He was grateful that Heyes remained unconscious so that he could work unhindered. Without anyone to help hold down his partner, the risk of his moving about too much would be reduced, by his unconscious state.
It took Kid the best part of an hour to get the bullet out of his partner. It had buried itself deep within the flesh and probing as gently and carefully as he could, it had taken a while to locate it through the ever seeping blood. When the tip of the lock pick had finally touched metal, Kid had felt a wave of relief wash over him. Slowly he had managed to work the bullet to the surface, before finally hooking it out. All this time he was thankful that Heyes had remained unconscious, although he had moaned and braced himself on more than one occasion, as Kid had poked inside his body.
Having removed the bullet, Kid carefully cleaned the wound with the whiskey and set about stitching up the gash. As he pushed the needle through Heyes' skin he involuntarily began to wretch. God, he hated doing this, and these days it seemed to be happening too many times, where one or other of them was having to doctor the other. He took a good swig of the whiskey himself, to try and quell the nausea he was feeling, before carrying on sewing up the wound.
It was only when Kid had accomplished what he had set out to do, that he sat back on his heels, and took a breath. He took another slug of whiskey from the bottle and as the liquid coursed down his throat, warming him, he felt his head spin. It occurred to Kid that he hadn't eaten in a good while and the alcohol was going straight to his head, making him feel slightly unsteady and suddenly, extremely tired. He pushed the top firmly back onto the bottle. The temptation to drink some more to help ease the tension he had been feeling was great, but he resisted, knowing that he had to keep alert for Heyes' sake.
After making sure that his partner was comfortable, he prepared some food for himself, from Harlen's supplies. As he bit into the bacon and biscuits he realised just how hungry he was, and the meal was quickly finished. He tried to rouse Heyes, enough so that he would take a sip of water, but as he tipped the cup, most of the water ran down his chin and onto his chest.
"C'mon, Heyes. Help me out here." Kid muttered, as he tried again. This time Heyes managed to open his mouth, and he took a small amount of the water and, almost cautiously, swallowed it down.
Kid smiled briefly, relieved that his partner was responding. He placed his hand behind Heyes' head and lifted it again, trying to get him to take a little more water. Heyes complied at first but then began to cough.
"Easy now." said Kid softly, as he lay him back down. Heyes seemed to have drifted back off into a restless sleep, so Kid made himself comfortable, leaning back against the tree to which he had been tied that previous night. For the first time he took in his surroundings properly.
They were in a clearing in a wooded area. It was late afternoon by now, and the sinking sun sent shafts of dappled shade through the leaves, creating dancing pools of light across the ground. For a moment Kid was entranced by the movement and shapes. As the sun sank lower and the day began to draw to a close, Kid reflected that Heyes' life could also be drawing to a close.
As this swam through his head, he thought 'What a beautiful place to die!'
"Damn!" he cursed himself out loud, as he realised what he was think ing.
Looking across at the now peaceful figure, of his partner and friend, he called out: "Don't you go and die on me now, Heyes! You hear me, god damn you? Don't you dare!"
Kid's head dropped forward, as he rested his arms on his knees. He was really missing his friend. There had been so many times that he had just wished Heyes would stop talking. By his own admission, Kid wasn't one for using unnecessary words and preferred to watch and listen. But he had been doing that all night long, and now, what he wanted more than anything, was for his friend and partner to talk to him.
He found himself becoming drowsy, so roused himself and stoked the fire. He moved across to Heyes to check his fever. Although still warm, his trembling had become less violent and he had eased into a more peaceful sleep. Kid searched Harlen's supplies for some coffee he had noted earlier and set about making a pot. While he waited for it to boil, he checked Heyes once again. There was little that he could do for him now, but try and keep the fever down and wait and hope he could pull through this.
The hiss of the contents of the pot boiling onto the fire drew his attention away from his sleeping partner. He poured himself a cup of coffee and settled himself once more against the tree. He solemnly sipped the hot, bitter liquid, letting it burn its way down to his stomach.
The sun was nearly down now and dark shadows were beginning to creep across the ground. Kid's eye was suddenly drawn to the dark shape of Harlen's body under the blanket. He cursed to himself, knowing that he wouldn't be able to rest easy in the darkness of the night, with a corpse in such close proximity. Having drained his cup, he tossed the dregs to one side and with a groan, pushed himself up. For a moment he stood motionless, considering what to do - there was no spade, so burying the body wasn't an option. If he left it out in the open then it would attract all sorts of vermin. Taking his hat off, he ran his fingers through his hair, in an absent minded gesture. He pressed the hat firmly back on his head as he came to a decision.
With long, strong strides, Kid walked over to Harlen's body and taking hold of his feet, dragged him along the ground. Just beyond the clearing was a small outcrop of rocks and this was where Kid was heading. He cleared the ground of the smaller loose rocks and stones that were scattered about. When this was finished he made sure the blanket was still firmly around the body, before rolling it towards the large fixed rocks. He proceeded to cover the blanket with the loose rocks and earth, using his hands as best he could.
Lost in his work, it suddenly occurred to him that this is what it must have been like for Heyes when he buried their folks after their farms were raided, all those years ago, except that Heyes had been only a boy and had been burying his kin. Kid knew there was no way he would ever be able to truly repay him for that day and the days that followed, when Heyes had always been there to look out for and protect him. 'Things ain't changed much!' he thought, the image of Heyes' face as Harlen's bullet had struck him flashing through his head.
After piling the last stone, Kid returned to Heyes' side, feeling his forehead for fever. It felt a little warm still. Kid tried to get a little water into his still unconscious partner, managing to get a small amount into his mouth, allowing him to instinctively swallow it down.
It was near dark now and Kid rebuilt the fire so that it gave off a good enough light so that he could see Heyes fairly clearly in the gloom. The night was still and silent, much as it had been the previous night. Here he was again, watching his partner, waiting to see what fate awaited them both. Watching and waiting to see if he would survive.
Kid Curry rubbed his face with his hands, in an effort to make himself feel more alert. He had no intention of sleeping this night and would keep vigil over his partner once again. Periodically he wiped Heyes' head with a cool, damp bandana and made sure that his temperature hadn't risen any. And all this while Kid felt the weight of guilt on him. He just couldn't get it out of his head that it was his fault that Heyes lay, fighting for his life, a second night, because of him. Why had he been so stupid as to have got caught like that? Why hadn't he done anything to warn Heyes about Harlen having a second gun? He knew in his heart that there was nothing he could have done about either situation, but still it irked him. The thought that because of him, Heyes might die, rocked him to the core, and if he did, Kid had no idea how he would be able to carry on. Heyes had always been there for him - an ever present, dependable strength for him to rely on.
Hugging his knees into his chest, he looked up to the star strewn sky, then screwing his eyes shut, let out a stifled cry. Again, he found himself contemplating how they had come to this point in their lives. Reflecting on the things they had done in the past, he decided most of it had been down to pure survival and desperation. But as they had gotten older, and supposedly wiser, he had to admit that much of it had been the arrogance of youth, which had made them carry on. When he had rejoined Heyes at Devil's Hole, after a temporary split, it had been bravado, greed and a feeling of invincibility that had carried them to the next job. Heyes had always enjoyed the challenge, of course, and had been more willing to take risks, than Kid. They had argued over this many a time, but Kid was always there to watch his back and steer him straight. Heyes had been there for Kid too, calming his quick temper and guiding him out of trouble as best he could.
And now, here they were, in a clearing, in a wood and because of their previous actions, they were constantly having to look over their shoulders, for fear of being recognised and hunted for the bounties on their heads. They had lost their freedom and now, possibly Heyes' life. To have come this far down the road in a bid for amnesty and for this to happen now just seemed downright spiteful. He felt like the boy he had once been, in the Valparaiso Home for Waywards, all those years ago, when he would be waiting to see if Heyes was alright, after taking a beating, often for something he had done. He had felt hopeless in that situation and felt the same now.
In those dark hours Jedediah 'Kid' Curry made a promise to himself - if his partner pulled through this he would watch his back for the rest of their lives, no matter what life threw at them.
The long hours of watching and waiting finally took their toll and Kid slipped into an uneasy sleep. Visions of his and Heyes' lives together rushed through his head and more than once the dreams jarred him awake, as they ended in fear and death. After only a couple of hours of this restless sleep he awoke fully, feeling more exhausted and wrung out than he had before he's slept.
Once again the sun was just beginning to rise above the horizon. Kid was scared to think about what this new day would bring and almost had to make himself look in his partner's direction, afraid of what he might find. His gaze was met by two, dark brown eyes, staring intently at him.
"Heyes?" Kid stuttered and scrambled to his friend's side.
"Hi!" came the simple, but satisfying reply.
"How you feeling?" enquired Kid, his exhilarated smile turning to a soft, frown of concern, as he felt his partner's forehead for fever, relieved to find that it had cooled and the fever had broken.
"Felt better!" replied Heyes, in a deep, rasping voice.
"Here, try and take a little water." Kid encouraged his friend, as he reached for the canteen. Heyes obliged and took a good few mouthfuls.
For a moment there was silence between the pair, before Heyes asked weakly, "What happened, Kid?"
Kid recounted how Harlen had taken him off guard and how Heyes had come into the camp the previous night.
"That was quite a shot you made there, my friend!" Kid smiled at his partner, reminding him how he had shot the bounty hunter's gun from his hand. "Glad to know that you sometimes do listen to me!" he added, with just a hint of sarcasm.
"What happened to Harlen?" was Heyes' next question. Kid paused, trying to find the right words. His partner was no killer and he knew that he would take it hard that he had taken another man's life.
"Kid?" Heyes persisted.
Having decided that it was better to tell it like it was, Kid simply said, "You shot him, Heyes. He's dead. Buried him a little ways off." He inclined his head in gesture towards the rocks.
Heyes turned his head in the direction of the rocks and makeshift grave and softly said "Oh."
Wanting to distract Heyes from what had happened to the bounty hunter, Kid pointed at his side and said "Mind if I take a look at my handy work to see how I did? "
Heyes frowned at him. "What did you do to me?"
"Got the bullet out and stitched you up, that's what!" Kid retorted with feigned annoyance.
"Hope you did a good job!" exclaimed his partner.
"You're still breathing, ain't you?" Kid threw back at him.
Heyes smiled now, a genuine smile that spoke volumes before saying, "Thanks."
"No need to thank me. It's what we do, look out for one another. Partners, right?" Kid began to lift the torn shirt that he had used to bandage the wound and was relieved to see that there was no fresh bleeding. He was secretly pleased at how neat a job he had done, considering the circumstances, although he wasn't too sure that Heyes would see it that way!
Heyes let out a moan as a corner of the shirt, dried on the wound with blood, pulled at his skin.
"Sorry!" murmured Kid. It was then that the tensions and fear of the past forty-eight hours released themselves.
"Godamn it, Heyes. I'm sorry!" he shouted.
Heyes was somewhat taken aback. "What you yelling for?" he asked. "It's not that bad - I'm OK!"
Kid sat on the floor and hung his head. "I thought I'd lost you." he said, in a barely audible voice.
"That would have been very careless of you!" Heyes answered in a jovial manner, sensing that he wasn't the only one hurting. In a softer tone he added "I'm still here , Kid. I ain't going nowhere."
"But it was my fault that you got shot in the first place." Kid turned his blue eyes on his partner with a intensity and sorrow so fierce that for a few moments Hannibal Heyes was lost for words. "If I hadn't been so stupid, this wouldn't have happened." Kid continued, casting his eyes back down to the ground.
"You listen to me!" Heyes commanded. "You are not stupid - you were just having an off day, that's all!"
Kid's eyes flew back up again and narrowed at his partner, giving him a hard stare. He was rewarded with a wide grin.
"Even Kid Curry has off days, don't he?" laughed Heyes. The movement caused him to flinch as the stitches in his side pulled at his flesh.
Kid reached over for the whiskey bottle and offered to his friend. "Here." he said as he held the bottle out to Heyes. "This might help some."
Gratefully, Heyes took it and had a sip of its contents, enjoying the warming sensation as it ran down his throat. He tipped the bottle to his mouth as second time and took a longer draft until he felt his head swim a little and the numbness that he craved creeping into his body.
"Steady!" warned his partner, "You ain't got nothing in your stomach. Could make you sick if you take too much. How about I fix you something to eat?"
Heyes nodded his head in agreement, before slumping back onto the bedroll and closing his eyes. In the meantime, Kid started to prepare some biscuits and bacon for him. By the time the meal was ready Heyes had fallen asleep. Torn between trying to get some food in Heyes, or letting him get some needed rest, Kid decided on the latter. He looked down at the plate of food he had prepared. "Shame to let it go to waste!" he muttered as he sat down near to his sleeping partner and began to eat.
It was near to midday by the time Heyes awoke. He opened his eyes, blinking at the sunlight that trickled through the branches of the trees above. The sharp pain in his side reminded him what had happened and he looked about for his partner. He didn't have to look far. Kid was sat close by, concentrating on cleaning his gun, a job he had seen him do many times before. This time, however, Kid had a different look on his face. Usually the activity had a calming effect on him, but today he looked troubled and deep in thought. Heyes watched him for a while before deciding to get his attention.
"Hey! Where's that food you promised me?" he called out, making Kid jump slightly.
Kid turned towards him with an apologetic look. "I'm sorry, Heyes. I ate it!" He replaced his gun in his holster and went to the fire. "I'll get you some more. Thought you could do with the rest. You feeling any better?"
"I will when I get something to eat!" came Heyes' reply.
As Kid cooked, Heyes watched him. He had seen his friend in many different situations and in a variety of moods. He could read him like a book. Eventually he could stand it no longer.
"What's bothering you, Kid?"
Kid raised his eyes to him and then frowned. "What makes you think anything's bothering me, Heyes? After all, you're lying there, all shot up, there's a dead man buried in those rocks and if a posse decides to come riding by, there ain't no way in the world you'll be able to get on a horse and ride out of here in your condition! Why would anything be bothering me?!" he exploded.
"OK, Kid! No need to get proddy. I was just asking." Heyes responded meekly. Although he knew Kid was right, they weren't in a particularly good situation, he also knew that it went deeper than their present predicament. After all, they'd been in tighter spots ... possibly!
Kid passed Heyes the plate of food and sat down next to him. While Heyes ate, both men remained silent, Kid absentmindedly drawing shapes, in the dirt, with a stick. They stayed in this companionable silence for a while until Kid eventually broke it.
"Heyes?" he said softly "How much longer do you think we can survive living like this?"
The sincerity of the question took Heyes off guard for a moment. He looked at his partner, who kept his eyes averted, not wishing to betray the sense of hopelessness he was feeling. Then he turned his head towards him and said, "It's just that I don't think I could watch you dying again, Heyes. Think we've both seen enough death in our lives. Don't you?"
"Yeah, I guess." responded his partner. Heyes lay, considering what Kid had said for quite a while, trying to come up with an answer - the right answer.
"Kid, we knew the risks when we started robbing. We always knew there might be the chance of us getting shot or killed. That's why we did it, ain't it? I mean, we looked death in the face the day our folks died. Nothing could be worse than that ..." He trailed off, remembering, before adding, "It was a choice we made wasn't it?"
"You made it, Heyes." Kid didn't mean to say it out loud and there it was, hanging in the air, like a stray bullet. Perhaps he was just looking for someone to blame.
"What the hell's that supposed to mean?" Heyes shot back angrily, twisting around to look at his friend. Unfortunately, the sudden movement caused one of Kid's carefully administered stitches to tear his skin and Heyes let out an involuntary yelp. Kid was at his side in an instant and reached to take a look at the damage. He was shocked when Heyes smacked his hand away, snarling, "Wouldn't want to lead you into any more trouble!"
"I'm sorry, Ok?" Kid snapped back but then lowered his voice to continue, "I didn't mean it to sound the way it came out. I chose to follow you, it was my decision too."
Their eyes met briefly before Kid continued, "It's just sometimes I'm sorry for the choices we've made and the things we've done, especially when we end up in situations like this. We made the right choice to go for amnesty, didn't we, Heyes? D'ya reckon the Governor's ever going to give it to us? I mean, I don't think I can go on living like this much longer."
It was a big speech for the usually reticent Kid and it was plain to Heyes that his silver tongue had its work cut out to convince his partner they were doing the right thing. Only trouble was he wasn't feeling that strong at the moment and wasn't sure he would be able to find the right words.
"Kid, we knew it wouldn't be easy, trying for amnesty," Heyes started reluctantly, but he knew his partner needed reassurance now. He shifted position, trying to ease the gnawing pain that was developing in his side. Gritting his teeth he continued, "And I know it's not been easy the last few months, but you've got to have a little faith. We'll make it, you'll see. It's our one chance at a better life and ..."
"If we both live to see it!" Kid interjected.
"We've had a few set backs but things'll work out, trust me!" Heyes smiled at Kid.
Kid returned the look with raised eyebrows, "Says the man with a gunshot wound in his side!"
"Speaking of which ..." Heyes groaned "I could do with a little more of that whiskey!"
"Oh, yeah. Sure, Heyes. Sorry." Kid said as he passed him the bottle.
"And stop apologising!" Heyes scolded him before taking a large swig of the golden liquid.
"Sorry!" Kid replied, with a mischievous grin, adding "How about you let me take a look at that now?"
After cleaning the wound and putting a fresh dressing on it, Kid prepared an evening meal . When they had finished eating, both settled down for a third night in the clearing.
"Think we ought to think about moving on tomorrow." Heyes said.
"Yeah, probably. If you think you're up to it." responded Kid.
"You worry about staying on your horse and ..."
"I'll worry about staying on mine. Yeah, heard it before, Heyes!" Kid finished for him, as he settled down for his first nights sleep in three days.
The night passed without incident and both men awoke feeling rested. Heyes was still not really in any condition to be moved, but both were well aware of the risks of staying any longer, in the open country. Anyone might happen along, and they couldn't chance that happening.
While Heyes drank a cup of coffee and prepared himself for the endurance of the day ahead, Kid packed up their belongings. He left Harlen's gear where it lay on the ground. They had no need of it. Kid had turned his horse loose the previous day, but it had hung around, wanting the safety and company of the other horses. He had tried to 'shoo' it away but it kept returning, as a constant reminder of its previous owner.
After checking that there was no fresh blood seeping through the makeshift bandage Kid had put on him that morning, Heyes placed his worn, black hat on his head and attempted to get up. He had some difficulty getting to his feet and found his head spinning and his knees beginning to buckle as he stood up. Seeing this, Kid discreetly moved to his side and put out a hand to steady him as he swayed a little.
"Why don't you sit here while I load the rest of the gear?" he said, indicating a nearby rock to his partner. Heyes nodded his head in grateful agreement and positioned himself on the rock, exhaling sharply as he lowered himself down. Kid knew better than to make a fuss and carried on packing up their things and putting them on the horses. This only took a short while but when he turned back, to where he had left Heyes sitting, he had gone.
A brief look of panic crossed Kid's face as he scanned the clearing for his friend. He spotted him a few yards away, looking at a pile of rocks, just beyond the clearing. He walked towards him, solemnly and gently placed a hand on his shoulder as he came up behind him.
"Let it go, Heyes. He ain't worth it." he told his friend.
Heyes turned his dark eyes to Kid. "How do you deal with it, Kid? Killing someone?"
"In all honesty, I'm not sure that I do, but I learn to live with it and you will too, Heyes. Come on, let's get out of here."
Kid started to make his way back towards the horses and with one last look over his shoulder, Heyes followed him.
At first, Kid stood a discreet distance from his partner, as he attempted to mount his horse. It was evident that Heyes did not have the strength to pull himself up into the saddle. Kid moved behind him and helped place his foot into the stirrup and then shouldered him up onto his horse, with no more than a "You OK?" He knew Heyes would be finding this difficult enough as it was without any sympathetic gestures from his partner. Heyes ventured a smile of reassurance, which turned into more of a grimace, before giving him a decisive nod.
Kid was relieved when they were both on their horses and finally leaving the clearing and all its memories. Taking one last look at the tree and the blood stained ground, that had promised to be their final resting place, he turned his horse after his partner. He followed close behind Heyes, making sure that he was coping with the ride. As they made their way along the trail Kid called out "Take it steady, Heyes. I'm watching your back!"
Then, more softly he said "I'll always be watching."