Note: I'm so sorry for the long breaks between chapters. Chapter is unedited.
In reply to a comment: There's a big difference between shooting someone for survival and shooting an innocent as a mistake.
Glissando – Between
The door clicked shut so quietly it was drowned out by the dull beating of boots against wooden floors. Clive let his hand slip off the copper doorknob and faced the mahogany wood, smelling of home and all things he held dear, with a neutral sigh. With a smile gracing a mouth above a newly shaved chin, he said without looking up, "We trusted him once, Gallows, with our very lives. Must you hold such animosity towards him?"
The burly man scoffed, arms crossed over his bare, tanned chest and stared stubbornly at the winding patterns in the oak floorboards. "That's exactly why I don't trust him. Once was enough, and look what he did – packed up and left like a dog with its tail between its legs. Do you even know what it says on his wanted posters? Two murders were scratched on to his list a couple days ago."
"We don't even know who he killed."
"So? They were murders!"
Clive pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, exasperated. "Gallows, that would make us murderers also."
Behind their secret conversation, the soft drone of a voice gone ragged read out the simple and fantastical lines of a children's bedtime story about tea parties, kites and castles in the snow. Every now and then, a lighter, freer voice would chirp with laughter as Kaitlyn clapped her hands with glee, no doubt practically bouncing on the chair. She had heard the story hundreds of times, but magic died hard in youth.
Gallows frowned. "You're leaving the squirt in there with a man like that?"
Clive stepped away from the door, and the other man knew the threshold would not be crossed again tonight. It was a battle long lost. "I said," Clive repeated, with the patience of a father and the wisdom of an elder tainting his composed voice, "I trust him like I trusted – like you trusted – him before. He will not lay a malevolent hand on my child."
"Well, you never know…"
"Kaitlyn will not be harmed." Clive repeated, strictly.
The protectiveness and the strength in that voice never failed him. It was a voice they all had relied on countless times before, a voice that told of the fierce but gentle, kind but iron-handed man behind it. It was the kind of voice that instilled a sense of awe in the listener, the kind that people listened to regardless the circumstance. It was the kind of voice that could end a conversation and an argument with the stubbornness that was a Caradine.
The Baskar would-be priest could only huff. "I know, I know. All I'm saying is that we shouldn't warm up to him just yet. Give him a few days to prove himself a better man than before." He paused, voice growing softer with a sad sort of pain from days long past. Was it that long ago, when they had all laughed freely? Their throats had shackles and chains on them now. "A couple years can do a lot to a man."
"That's true," conceded Clive. "They can, quite a lot to a man, quite some more to a woman." He looked up, just as the sound of Virginia's light footsteps echoed to the rafters from the doorway below. Her bell-like voice chirped a greeting to Catherine, wishing the woman a good day and if Kaitlyn could come out and play perhaps?
Gallows shook his head slowly from side to side. "Are you sure this is it?"
"I think," answered the other, a grin etched with an enigma dropping into place. The expression was a bafflement, and slightly unsettling. Gallows shifted on his feet. "I think it has always been it. I think it has never been, could ever be, anything else. They will be fine." Famous last words and they both knew it. Clive looked to the floor and Gallows to his face with a slightly mocking frown. "I'm sure they'll be fine."
"She really hasn't been herself lately."
Downstairs, there was a bang, a thud, a crash and a high squeal of laughter as Virginia discovered, once again, that her hands, no matter how adept at handling a pistol, were not meant for housework, and that her rear-end, no matter how accustomed to a horse's saddle, still ached when introduced rudely to the ground. "Oh, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to drop that!"
"Oh, dear, are you alright?" Catherine asked, but the question was a struggle in itself, the asker trying desperately not to burst into peals of giggles herself.
Behind the mahogany door, a silver-dusted head left its sanctuary buried amidst the endless words and capricious whims of a children's fairytale. His eyes were glazed and distant as they looked beyond pages and pictures, while his reading slowed to a definite halt.
Kaitlyn leaned forward on her chair until she almost toppled over, eyes wide and wondering. "Jet? Mister Jet? Are you alright?"
His chin snapped up so quickly his teeth clattered, and he blinked, eyes shaded with a strange emotion she had never known, at her. He had never truly been a child before, didn't remember a time when he was as unadulterated because there never was such a time. Drowning out accusations, stolid whispers, and a lady's footsteps he could hear through thin painted walls, "No, nothing's wrong. Where was I again?"
"They went to find her!" answered the girl attentively, instantly revitalized in a world where if one said they were alright, they were. She never knew better, and he hoped to every deity that she would stay that way for as long as possible.
This little child was, in a way, heartbreakingly beautiful, made of brightness and sunshine and butterflies on clear-blue days. Maybe she would stay that way, hoped cloudy skies and thunderstorms would keep their distance, maybe Time and Evil would gloss her over. It was nice, having something made of everything so good near him. She clapped her hands and pointed eagerly with short thin fingers to the exact line, phrase, word he had stopped after.
"Oh, right. So it was snowing…"
"No, not there! After that!"
Meanwhile, brows furrowing, Clive added, "It is not our place to interfere."
Both of Gallows' thick eyebrows rose very sharply at that. All he muttered was, "Huh."
With an almost furiously straight face, "I am very injured, Gallows," he stated with mock injured pride, voice deadpan but eyes glittering. "I do believe that was a mockery of my morals. For your information, my dear friend, I am not interfering, merely," he made a rolling twist of his hand on his wrist, a vague and silly gesture, "helping things go along, aiding fate if you will. A mere background puppet pulling a few of my own strings… But if you insist, we'll see how it goes on a mission."
Gallows frowned deeply. "We're bringing him on a mission?"
With a nod, "Yes, you're bringing him on a mission. A simple one, nothing too grand. See how it goes; see if it brings back anything in him, we've yet to see how the years have changed him. It will be fresh change, don't you think? After all, you'll need someone for that last lead we had since I'll be 'retiring', so to speak. Consider this as my…parting gift, to, as I said, aid fate. It'll be for their own good," finished Clive, with nothing other than great and elegant flourish.
Could anything less than aplomb come from him? It was absurd to think otherwise.
"Fate, huh. How…fatherly of you," Gallows managed to coo and smirk at the same time. The man's face had a plethora of expressions, and yet he did not wear his heart on his sleeve. None of them were as simple as that. "For their own good, of course."
"Of course," Clive echoed, with a secret little smile.
It was almost like old times, he noticed with a dull painful ache in his chest that was pummeled down by his steady heartbeat. If only Clive stopped shooting worried glances over the rim of his glasses, he thought, poking at his plate with a silver fork. He knew the man meant well and tried to be subtle, but if Jet could notice him that easily, then his idea of subtleness was in dire need of aid.
Gallows occasionally threw not-so-benevolent glances over his shoulder too, and if looks could do as much as they were meant to, the left side of his head would've been annihilated by now.
Catherine sat politely next to her husband, flushed with a humble sense of pride over a dinner well served. The space between her chair and Clive's was smaller than that between anyone else's and the way she naturally leaned against him for a sort of unsaid support was simply sweet.
Occasionally, she reached over to tap Kaitlyn's wrist whenever the child got out of hand, but that occasion was rare. She watched everyone at the table with equal interest, observing with a woman's eye every movement not made, every word not said.
Kaitlyn laughed at a joke she didn't quite comprehend, doing so merely for the sake of laughing. She always swallowed before she did and always wiped her mouth with her handkerchief afterwards. Clive was not looking at her, but watched her all the time with a warm swelling in his chest.
To the left, Virginia smiled broadly. Everything she did was hardly small. She talked and walked and acted big in a world she saw as merely bigger. To her, small voices fell on deaf ears; small actions were seen by the blind. She was never loud, never brash, strangely gentle but strangely big. Amidst her buoyant, seemingly endless chatter, she turned and asked quietly why Jet wasn't eating.
His head was lowered, frowning at his plate. "The food's great and everything, but I'm not very hungry," he said half-truthfully and did not say how awkward he felt between so much laughter and happiness and light, but she seemed to understand as she nodded and, underneath the table, brushed her fingers over his hand.
His jaw tensed, but she only noticed that he did not pull away and that was good enough.
She used to touch him all the time. It was nothing new. They were never more than fleeting brushes, but the fact that she touched him was important nonetheless. Sometimes she would just push lightly against him ass he walked past, or maybe laid her hand on his shoulder. Sometimes, in a fit of fright she would clutch at his arm if he were the nearest one. It was nothing special. Virginia was a touchy sort of person. She depended on Gallows and Clive the same way.
Still, he should've warned her not to do that, he thought, after all he had done in a little rundown town west of Claiborne.
"So," Virginia began offhandedly, reaching to her left to pick up a golden brown roll, "didn't you have something to ask, Clive?"
Gallows covered his mouth with his hand and let out something that sounded suspiciously like, "Ugh, not another speech."
Virginia turned to him, buttering her roll with easy finesse, and smiled her brightest. "Something wrong, Gallows?" The knife in her hand stopped moving, glinting in the soft light. "If there's something you need to say, go ahead."
The Baskar eyed the utensil in her grasp and shook his head. "Uh…no, thanks."
Clive smiled and his glasses glinted. Their leader always had the upper hand. He stood up and raised his glass, tapping his fork against it lightly. It was not surprising; he had always been a steadfast fan of formal rituals. Clearing his throat, "Ahem, yes, thank you, Virginia, I had been meaning to use tonight's meal to make an important announcement to everyone here."
Catherine took the glass when he handed it to her without even needing to be prompted and set it safely on the table. There was a very small, sweet smile tugging at her lips, trying to manifest itself even as she held her finger to her mouth to tell her daughter to be quiet. The woman glowed with a certain sense of humble beauty. So she already knew, Virginia thought with a soft smile, happy for the Winslet family.
"I would like to formally announce that from today on, I will be retiring as a drifter," he said, though in truth it was a fact just needing to be verbalized. His comrades had known it would happen some day, seeing his nostalgic expression on certain mornings. His family had always known it, because no number of miles could separate the bindings of the heart. Jet looked up from his plate, eyebrows raised. He had been the only one unaware.
"Really, Daddy?" Kaitlyn burst out.
"Congratulations, Clive!" Virginia exclaimed, as the table rose to toast the man.
"So Clive really is a family man after all!" Gallows bellowed, a little flushed with wine. He clapped his friend soundly on the back. "I can't say I won't miss you and that I want you gone, but you definitely deserve it! And it saves me from your winding lectures!"
As they settled down, Catherine fixed a warm gaze on her husband as Kaitlyn bounded out of her seat to throw her arms around her father's neck. Virginia and Gallows gave each other thumbs-up while the family wasn't looking. Jet looked from one face to another and could not understand what the emotion hanging in the air was. Somehow that fact made his stomach feel oddly cold.
"How did you get up here?" a voice said suddenly, startling him out of his quiet reverie. "Not even I knew how to get up here before Catherine told me tonight."
He threw a look over his shoulder. "I climbed the tree."
Amused, "You…climbed my tree? That's…something I didn't know you could do."
"Do you want me to get off your roof?" he asked nonchalantly, swinging one leg listlessly over the edge and resting his elbow on the knee of the other. The shingles were cutting into the back of his knee as he moved, but that discomfort was lost since he paid no attention to it. "Because if you do, I'll just jump off if you want."
Clive dusted his hands free of sand and dirt and shook his head, approaching where the boy sat with steady cautiousness. His footsteps fell lightly as not to wake the people beneath him. "Oh, no, feel free to sit on my roof for as long as you please. My house is open to my friends, every part of it, after all."
The line of Jet's back stiffened. He said, "Yeah. That's….why I was asking."
The ever-present smile faded off of the elder man's face slowly, lit only by lamplight. It was dark, but not enough for it to be too cold to stay outdoors. Faintly, he could hear crickets chirping, and the sound was still relatively new to him. There had hardly been crickets a few years before, since there had hardly been any green place for crickets to live in. "Mind if I sit by you?" he asked, thought it was mere formality. He was settling down even as he said it.
"It's your roof anyway," Jet reminded bluntly.
Clive sighed, running an ungloved hand through his neat hair. "If it means anything, I still consider you a comrade."
Jet made no motion to reply. He craned his neck to see the sky. He felt oddly comfortable here, in the night and the dark with the stars scattered above him. After a minute or so, he lowered his gaze and rested it on the one-time-teammate beside him. Slowly, carefully, and disbelievingly, he asked, "How could you? Why do you?"
Clive smiled again. "The way conditions are now, if you're not my enemy you're my comrade."
"That's a pretty simplified way of thinking."
"Everyone has human faults. It'd be hypocritical if I were not able to forgive someone for his mistakes when I have made a great number of my own, don't you think? I knew you once, and I don't think you have changed enough to fully alter the very core that makes you who you are. I trusted you then, and Virginia still trusts you now, therefore so do I. Gallows may be a little suspicious, but he'll warm up soon enough. You remember how he was; he hasn't changed either."
Jet frowned. "Sounds like a bunch of lies," he said frankly.
Rubbing the back of his neck in a familiar, recognizable, sheepish gesture, the man admitted, "Yes, I do suppose it does, but it's true. When you've seen all the things we have in the past few years, you'd learn to forgive the little things too. What you did, compared to the sins of many others, is nothing. Don't be so hard on yourself. If you haven't gotten the point yet, what you did is forgivable. We don't hate you for it. We're not beating you up over it, so don't take the liberty to beat yourself up instead."
Fiddling with the rolled up sleeve of his jacket, the boy shrugged noncommittally.
"Always one for words, I see."
"I never thought I would say this, but right now Gallows does seem like the smartest of you three. At least he knows who he should and shouldn't trust."
"Oh, nonsense," said the man, waving a dismissive hand in good humor. "Buy him a beer at an inn and he'll consider you his best friend in the entire world. He's fickle like that."
The younger drifter turned his head away, trying to hide his reluctant smile.
Ah, so things weren't hopeless, Clive thought. "I believe that the issue isn't whether or not we trust you, but whether or not you're ready to trust us again. You never were the type to fancy relying on someone, after all. Until you can accept the fact that once in a while, you must, we won't be able to help you."
"…Whatever you say."
There was more to be said about what didn't go past his mouth rather than what did. He had not made an attempt to deny Clive's claim, and that was significant in itself. He wondered why, afterwards, and when he did, long nights without sleep with only the stars to talk to came rushing back. Not that he needed anything more, he had told himself, but now he recalled the sheer warmth surrounding the dinner table that night and the justification seemed very lacking all of a sudden.
"Truth be told," began the ex-drifter slowly, watching the other's face for even the slightest reaction to guide him, "I had a request to ask of you."
Jet turned to him. "Well, you did give me room and board. I guess I owe you."
"Now, now, I said that was only my duty as an old friend, if you will."
Scoffing, "Just tell me what you want me to do, Clive."
"Join again." The boy was startled; it was clear. Jet reeled backwards and only caught himself in time not to fall off. "You don't have to make your decision right away, if you're not sure. Now that I'm retiring, you see, Gallows and Virginia – they're short a hand, and things will be difficult for them. I'm sure you could help them somehow, and your aid would be appreciated. It'll help you get your mind off other unpleasant things, I'm sure."
The outlaw's eyes widened suspiciously. "How did you…"
"Oh, come now. We're all wanted men here. It wasn't hard to see your face when you came in the day before. That sort of look isn't from road-weariness. Something must be bothering you. So just go on one mission with them. There'll be no strings attached. If you can handle it, stay and help them. They'll be helping you along the way. If you can't, you are always free to quit and leave."
It did not go unnoticed the way the man proposed the idea. He was very good at manipulating words. "If you like" was an offer, but "if you can handle it" was a challenge. Jet looked down past the shingles at his foot as it stilled to a complete halt. Minutes passed, the stars glittered, and when it was almost too chilly to stay outdoors any longer, he raised his head and said, "And you're not even going to ask what it is I did?"
"We all have our secrets. You'll tell yours in due time. It isn't my place to force you," replied the elder simply. Now if that's the only thing stopping you, will you go with them?"
"If they'll have me." The drifter's shoulders were huddled, both knees drawn into his chest and Clive wondered if he knew how worried he looked just by posture alone. "I'm not reliable, though, and I'm not trustworthy."
The sniper stood, brushed his jacket off out of habit and held out a hand for the other to take as he helped him up. "They'll be leaving tomorrow afternoon," he said, disregarding the last statement,"so you best get a good night's rest and prepare in the morning."
Jet followed the man down the ladder he had not even realized was there and was shooed politely into his room. The Winslet house was not bigger than he had remembered. There was still only one guestroom with three beds. The lights were out when he pushed the door open with a painfully sharp creak to slip through and Gallows was snoring like he meant to bring the house down using volume alone.
"Che," he huffed as he looked down at the Baskar, "he still snores like a bull."
"Jet?" came a softer voice and he started. She wasn't asleep yet? "Is that you?"
"Yeah. Go to sleep," he replied shortly, dismissively, crossing to the floor to reach the empty bed in the left corner. Back then, he had slept in that one too, his mind told him distantly, and that made his heart shudder. Half-way across the wooden boards, a hand shot up and grabbed at his scarf, effectively restraining him from going any further. "Hey!" he hissed, "What's the big idea? Let go of me!"
"You're still so easy to rile up." Virginia's eyes were very bright in the shadows. They stared, wide and perhaps hopeful, up at him as she propped herself up on her elbows in her bed, causing him to retreat a step away. There was so much unguarded emotion in that look; he turned away to look out the window. She let go once she was sure he would not bolt, and said, "Did Clive ask you?"
"So you knew," he answered, but somehow he had known that all along.
"Did you accept?" she continued, straightforward as always.
He turned and found that her brows were creased. He didn't realize how badly he wanted to believe Clive's words until then – how badly he wanted someone to trust him now that he could hardly trust himself. "Yeah, I'll try it out if it's alright. I'll…" he began, feeling as though he needed to make some sort of promise to this girl – anything oath he could keep just to prove himself after failing once. "I'll…do a better job this time around."
"It's alright," she told him, closing her eyes so that the room seemed all that much darker. "It really is more than alright. I'm just…glad you agreed."
He paused, thinking of words to say and settled for a soft, "Yeah."
It was a ghost of a touch, but for a moment she laid her palm atop his. "Don't worry about it too much. Everything will work out."
And would it? Gunshots rang in his ears and the sight of human blood scarred his vision. Little Twister and a jail cell and the reek of death – that was only a couple days ago. What would they think, if they knew about that? He tried opening his mouth to tell her that no, things wouldn't work out, but found that his jaw wouldn't budge. It was only after his teeth hurt from clenching that he realized it was fear. In this world, there were so little people who trusted him; he didn't want to reduce that number anymore.
"I…you don't know what I…" he began, the words choking him.
"Don't worry about it," she interrupted with a confident shake of her head. Without waiting, she burrowed back under her covers, turning so that she faced him with her back, murmuring a soft and satisfied, "After all, I've got my own promise to keep. When I said I was going to help you recover your memories, I wasn't lying. Goodnight, Jet. See you tomorrow."
That was a promise, he realized later on as he fell onto the mattress. 'See you tomorrow' because one time I had woken up and you weren't there, she meant. He sighed, running his fingers across his scalp and stared at the colorless ceiling. Seven minutes later, he was past consciousness and by then it was too late for him to realize that that was much shorter than the hours he had spent plagued with insomnia for the past few years.