That Fateful Day
Summary: (Ned Kelly) Bit of an AU. Ned arrives just in time to see Joe die. One-shot.
Let us begin.
Being at the inn was a comfortable change to hiding in the bush. I mean, honestly, we got drinks here! That's always a plus in my opinion. Being a full-blooded Irishman meant enjoying my ale, which was precisely what I was able to do when housing in civilization.
"Hey Ned, you wanna come up an' get a drink with me, mate?" I asked my friend. The bloke was in his own head at the moment, not letting the noise of the circus performers distract him or his own mates cajoling to get him out of his funk.
"Nah Joe, I'll just be going for a walk. It's gettin' a bit cramped in here with all the company."
Dan, Steve, and I watched him go. I could tell the others were worried about him like I was. He had been quite and thinking all day, which just wasn't like him. But we couldn't do anything about it until he got back – and most likely not even then – so we began to talk. That was the thing about Dan and Steve: the world could be ending, but neither would know it. The topics they discussed were always out there, always dragging them into a little universe all their own. Call me poetic, but in a way, I saw them as younger versions of Ned 'n' me. Ned Kelly had always been my best mate and always would be, that much I can tell ya for certain. With him, there wa'n't any chance of betrayal. Ned knew what he meant to me, knew what loyalty meant, and knew what love meant. We were bound, me an' him. Same with Steve and Dan. With two pairs as strong as us together, who would ever be able to stop the Kelly Gang? Piss on all who try! the drink in
It took me five minutes to remember that I hadn't gotten my drink and was still indeed thirsty, so I struggled out of the tin armor that restricted my movement and ambled my way through the crowded floor and up to the bar. Many of the patrons were already fully inebriated, as was shown by the numerous shot glasses littered across the countertop, but I found a relatively clean one and poured myself a liberal amount of the glorious drink. Considering for a minute, I raised the glass above my head and a hush fell over the barroom crowd.
"Many more years in the bush for the Kelly Gang!" I cried elatedly, brandishing my arms but managing to keep all the drink in the glass and downing the liquor in one swallow. Dan and Steve followed my lead as the circus erupted into cheers. We may be brigands, but we certainly were charmers. The bitter liquid burned my throat as it slid down my throat and I shook my head to try and stop my eyes from watering.
Suddenly and shot rang out and there was a swift impact and then another burning sensation, but this time it was in a place I knew it shouldn't be: my lower stomach. I didn't really notice letting go of the shot glass and clutching my abdomen, but the sticky, hot fluid running in between my fingers caught my attention pretty fast. Looking down at the blood now pooling in my hands, a thousand thoughts must have run through my head. But the one that I kept coming back to was the question of 'how'. How did this happen? And then I remembered. The armor, the immobility, the frustration – I'd taken my armor off when I'd gone up to get the drink... same one, probably, that was held in the glass currently smashed at my feet. I was beginning to seriously regret the whole armor-taking-off decision as I collapsed painfully against the bar counter, sliding down to the floor. And then cometh the avenging angel.
Being in the inn was a great change to sleeping outside but being constantly surrounded by walls was a feeling I hadn't had in quite a while. Being in the brush had become the norm, so the new situation was beginning to make me feel claustrophobic and twitchy. I could see the others' faces but I wasn't registering them, even though their concern was humbling. My gang was my life, but I'd always been the one to do the protecting and worrying, never needing it. The years when I was in prison were probably the worst of my life, not because of the work or the guards slander and abuse, but because I couldn't take care of the ones I loved. And not just that, either. I couldn't take care of them and I knew that I was hurtin' 'em. Just the thought of any of them cryin' over me was enough to bring tears to my own eyes.
For some reason, Joe had been a constant in his mind throughout my imprisonment, even more so than my sister, mother, or even Dan. Thoughts 'bout how he was doing would always be there; worries about if he'd gotten 'imself into some kinda trouble kept me up more nights than any other nightmares put together. Joe was different, he was special, and he didn't deserve to be locked up like everyone else – he didn't deserve to be locked up like me. Maybe that's why we've always been a pair – opposites attract and all. Dan was blood and Steve was his friend, so I felt some obvious obligation to protect them, but with Joe... I knew he was with me because he wanted to be. Not outta duty or because he was roped into it, but because he wanted to be with me and be a part o' what I was doing. He's my best mate... if anything were to happen to him because he wanted to be in my life...
Tha's it. There was a voice in my head... weren't m' thoughts s'posed to be me own? 'Enough o' the trip down memory lane. Enough o' dreading the future. Time for a walk.' Maybe being back in the open would do me good; I'd just have to make sure the stay out of plain sight from the roads. There were woods to the side of the inn – a perfect place to clear one's head.
"Hey Ned, you wanna come up an' get a drink with me, mate?" Joe. Didn't he know that he wa'n't s'posed to be the caretaker? A rush of affection took over me when I caught his worried gaze in mine and I shook my head slightly, givin' him a small smile.
"Nah Joe, I'll just be going for a walk. It's gettin' a bit cramped in here with all the company." Company o' my memories and fears. A walk would be good.
The cool night air felt good against my sweaty face. Even though it was summer, the temperature was still bearable in the day and downright pleasant at night. Australia was different from Ireland, that's for certain. Not nearly as much rain, and it had damn good temperatures. I sighed contentedly and began to walk away from the inn.
The path I'd picked was well trod, though it was up in the air who had walked it before me. This place was pretty deserted in the height of tourist season and there weren't many people in the area 'round the inn, so best I could guess was the some adventurous kid had wandered up here outta curiosity and scared his poor ma half to death before he'd wandered back again. But I'd come out here to stop thinking. Emptying my head, I let myself meander along.
It had barely been five minutes when I snapped my head up, looking back the way I had just come. I could've sworn those were gunshots I heard, but that couldn't be. No... there it was again. Dread laced through my being, turning my feet back and retracing my path at twice the speed I'd made it. In two minutes (too long) I'd come up on the back of the inn. Gunfire, it was unmistakable now. Tearing to the inn and pushing open the side door, I was met with the most horrifying sight I had ever seen.
Ned pushed the door open frantically, and was met with a horrible sight. Windows were broken from the bullets pouring in from the outside. He glanced out one of the windows quickly to size up the attacking force and was disappointed when his eyes registered more than the four of them could deal with, about twenty to twenty four in all. Dan and Steve he could find easily, seeing as they were the only form of resistance with all of the performers and townspeople fleeing through the back door. 'But one's missing. Where's Joe?' Ned thought, panic threatening to overwhelm him. Just then, as his eyes swept over the small room, he saw a figure slumped against the bar with blood pooling all around him. Terror was the only emotion the gang leader could register after the sight greeted his eyes.
"JOE!" he screamed in anguish. Joe raised his head weakly at his friend's cry, the blood loss already making his vision blur and his eyes unfocused slightly. Ned was fighting his way to him, picking off anyone who was in his way. Finally reaching his fallen comrade, the elder Kelly knelt in front of him, dropping his gun and desperately pressing his hands onto the wound to stop the bleeding. It was futile and both of them knew it, though only one could admit it.
"It won't stop, oh God it won't STOP!" Ned cried, fear written all over his features and coating his voice so thickly one would think it was his own life leaking away in the form of a sticky red liquid. Glancing up quickly to meet Joe's eyes, he did a double take as he noticed how they were dimming. "Joe! Joe, don't you dare leave me! Don't go before your time! Me, Dan, and Steve, we'll take care of you. This li'l shot, it won't be the thing to do ya in, Joe. Please, I'm begging you, don't give up!" The injured man shook his head weakly.
"You and the police seem to have different opinions on when my time to die is. And I don't think I can hold on much longer." Joe whispered. Ned shook his head desperately, trying to deny the truth they both knew was naked before them and the Death that hovered before them, but the reality of the situation made itself known by the wetness covering his hands. Joe's life was slipping through his fingers and all Ned could do was watch. With the last of his failing strength, Joe brought his blood soaked hand up and put it on Ned's shoulder in a gesture of comfort. Ned responded by covering that hand with his own and reaching out his other bloody hand behind Joe's head and neck, his thumb stroking Joe's cheek; he hoped to impart some comfort of his own to his dyi – wounded friend. They remained that way, completely oblivious to Dan and Steve's efforts to keep the cops away, until Joe's wheezing breath came no more. Losing the battle to keep the tears at bay, Ned wept openly, calling his friend's name as a way of begging him to come back, but the sightless eyes still locked on his face showed that Joe Byrne had passed from the world of the living.
On the day, that fateful day, of June 28th, 1888, Joe Byrne, second-in-command and best friend to Ned Kelly, died from a gunshot wound to the groin. It symbolized the end of the Kelly Gang. They will always be remembered as Australian legends.
A/N: review! it is part of my diet! an essential part, i might add.