Disclaimer: Although this is a work of copyright infringement, I feel that it is my civic duty to abide by Art. I ยง8 cl.8 of the Constitution and do everything I can to promote science and the useful arts. My forum of choice is fanfiction on the internet. Do you really want to hurt such a nice, inoffensive, patriotic person such as myself? Can't we all just get along?

Rating: PG-13 for language and violence

Notes from the author: This is the sequel to 'Tame the Whirlwind', and 'Reap the Whirlwind'. If you haven't read those two fanfictions previously then you might be a tad confused reading this one. I highly suggest you go back and start at the beginning. It's generally not my practice to post part of a story before the whole is finished, but this one is taking longer than expected. Blame Wolfwood, he absolutely insisted on being in it and I ended up having to change the whole storyline. Damn priest.

Inspiration Soundtrack: White Flag- Dido, Making Love Out of Nothing at All- Air Supply,

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We have been with child, we have been in pain, we have as it were brought forth wind; we have not wrought any deliverance in the earth; neither have the inhabitants of the world fallen.
-Isaiah 26:18

Inherit the Wind

The man in the long brown coat slumped onto a stool at the corner of the bar, his huge luggage sack dropping at weary feet. Not bothering even to glance at his surroundings he leaned his forearms onto the smooth rubbed surface of the counter and closed his eyes. Even with his belongings removed his back still bent as if under some great weight. Dirt was caked at the corners of his eyes where the harsh blown sands had forced tears. Blonde eyelashes swept soft over pallid cheeks. With his coat in need of a good repair and boots nearly worn through, he looked as if he had just dragged himself across the desert from November Town on foot. Grady pursed his lips wondering if that had been just the case. Regardless of where the stray cat of a man had recently been and how he had gotten himself to the bar, the wise barman recognized his look and went to work.

Without a word he poured a tumbler half full of whiskey and then strolled along the bar until he stood in front of the man. Setting the glass before him he leaned to rest against the inner edge of the counter and took a good long look at his newest patron.

Eyes opened as the man sensed his presence. They flicked towards the barman and he caught his breath at their oddity. They were blue-green, like the sky on the horizon after a sandstorm, but that was not what made them so surprising. Whereas most people's eyes caught the light and reflected it in shining slivers, his eyes seemed to emanate with their own radiance. It was somewhat unnerving at first exposure.

Noticing the glass before him the man reached out one dark gloved hand to draw it towards himself. "Thanks," he said gratefully, tossing the drink back in one fell swoop.

"No problem," Grady replied, and refilled the glass for him. This time the man just let the glass sit untouched before him and curled long fingers about it. He was staring at is as if trying to read imaginary words etched in the bottom of the glass, clouded by the whiskey. His countenance had not improved.

Wondering momentarily if he should bother, Grady continued to lean against the bar rail in a conspiratorial manner. Deciding he had nothing better to do, he casually threw out the question that had been skipping around in his head ever since the man had sat down.

"So what's her name?"

The man in brown looked up suddenly, grinning at the barman in sheepish surprise. "Is it that obvious?" he asked with a twisted, self-depreciating, half smile.

"Nah," replied the old barman. He straightened and, hooking his hands together behind him, stretched his back. "Good guess. Nine out of ten guys that come in here with that kind of look on their face are tormenting themselves over some female or another." The man nodded, his smile fading, and turned his attention back to his drink.

"So?" the barman continued before the stranger could lose himself again in contemplation. The man looked up quizzically. "Her name?" he prompted.

Blinking, the man replied, "Meryl." The barman squinted at his charge. Funny, he could have sworn he saw a light flash brightly across the other man's eyes for a moment, but there was nothing in the bar to have caused such a reflection. Passing the experience off to an overactive imagination he concentrated on the man's expression. The area around his eyes seemed stretched thin with pain and a much wider, and completely unconscious, smile now lit across his face. Not the look you normally saw on a desert wanderer straight off of the sun blasted plains. Yep, he had it bad.

"She drive you crazy?" he went on. The man seemed confused. "Do you want to kill her sometimes, but end up kissing her instead? Does she tell you not to do something and then go right out and do it herself to save you the effort? Do you think about her all the time you're awake and dream about her every night when you sleep?" The man was now staring at him with wide, incredulous eyes. Smiling, the barman simplified the question. "Do you love her?" Withdrawing for a moment into himself, brows pinching down into serious consideration of the matter, the man at the bar replied.

"More than I ever imagined was possible."

The barman nodded, pleased with his assessment. Deciding that, since his instincts seemed to be running smoothly, he might as well take a risk. "Why haven't you married her then?" The mysterious man was ripped out of his introspection, both surprised and amused by the question. Grady made a motion towards his hand. "No ring," he explained. The strange man's eyebrows raised in recognition of the barman's astute powers of observation and then lifted his left hand slightly to glance at his empty ring finger.

"It wouldn't be right," he said in a deadpan voice, "She deserves better." The barman grunted, drawing the attention of the dusty traveler.

"Did she tell you that?" The man's mouth opened as if to reply, and then closed on silence. He sat up straight and his look became less dark and more considering. Grady chuckled. "Didn't think so."

Pulling his cleaning rag out from where it was stuck in his apron, he began to buff the spotless counter. "After you've been at this job as long as I have you start to sense these sorts of things. It's gotten to the point where I can tell what type of person a guy is, what kind of history he's had, and whether or not he's likely to make trouble by the time he's made his way half across the floor."

"Really?" the strange man replied with interest.

Grady nodded in affirmation. "Take you for instance, you're an outlaw, right?" The man's look changed in an instant, his friendly curiosity clouding over with an almost feral stare. The eyes which had been so surprising before seemed now to burn in their sockets. Backing quickly away from the bar, Grady raised his hands in simulated surrender. "Hey, it doesn't matter one way or the other to me, guy. As long as you pay your tab I won't turn you in." The tension in the brown man's shoulders relaxed a little, but he still glared at the barman in cautious consideration. The barman shook his head and went on. "We get all types in here. I've known lawmen who were perfect demons and I've known bandits with hearts of gold. It's not my business how men get the money they pay for their drinks with." The strange man seemed to relax further. Grady thought he could chance heading back to the counter's edge and resume his casual lean. Folding his arms atop the bar, he gave a self satisfied smile. "Wanna know how I do it?"

The man glanced suspiciously at Grady out of the corner of his eyes, then nodded.

"Well, the big ass gun's the first giveaway," he said leaning back and pointing at the holster half concealed under the stranger's long, flowing jacket. He went on, "No identification so you're not with the law. Bounty hunters walk into a room and stare at every face, looking for their man. Outlaws, though, they cross straight to the bar like you did without looking at anyone and, if they can, sit right here at the corner of the bar with a wall at their backs and a good view of the entrance." The barman smiled at the dawning appreciation he could see on his customer's face. "But here's the kicker," he said, warming up for the impressive finish and lowering his voice to just above a whisper, "Gunslingers sway."

The man arched an incredulous eyebrow. "I sway?"

"Don't worry," Grady comforted, patting him on the shoulder, "It's a very manly sway, even on the women." Smiling and returning to his needless polishing, "Like cats balancing their way across a fence row, yah know. Graceful." 'Predatory,' he added silently to himself.

"Oh," the outlaw replied.

"Ah huh, the real ones anyway. The fakers and wannabes stop just inside the door so that everyone can get a good look at them and then swagger like bowlegged thomases to their table." He shook his head derisively. "Fools," he grumbled, almost angrily. There was silence between them for a little while, Grady rubbing down the bar with very little of his attention on the job at hand and the mysterious patron contemplating his glass and swirling the liquid around inside of it. Raising the drink up to his eyes, the man looked at Grady over its rim.

"Hey barkeep," he called, a hint of sarcastic amusement in his voice.

"Mmmhhhmmm," Grady answered.

"You give pep talks to everyone who comes in here?"

"If I think they need one, yeah." Grady couldn't keep a small smile from tugging at the corner of his mouth. It wasn't every day someone showed appreciation for the time honored position of pub psychologist.

"Why?"

"Hmmmpf," Grady replied thoughtfully, "I never really thought about it." Fiddling with the ends of his apron ties he cocked his head thoughtfully. "I'm a bartender, it's what I do." Shrugging off the self-examination as if it was something uncomfortable that he didn't usually like to do, he went on, "I guess I figure, they're in my bar, they're my responsibility. Right?"

"Yeah," said the man, draining the remains of his alcohol, "Right."

Satisfied that he had at least got the guy to open up a little, Grady stepped down to the other end of the bar to handle another patron. He kept one eye on the stranger in brown, though. The man was very still, his glass sitting on the bar with one hand resting neatly around it. He was staring off into space with a thoughtful look. Grady turned away and began systematically stacking tumblers and tall glasses into stable pyramids behind the bar. It was then he heard the sound of shattering glass behind him.

'That Else,' he thought, 'That's the third time this week and this time it's coming out of her wages.' He whipped around to give his waitress a good talking to. What he saw caused him to gasp in surprise before scrambling for a clean towel.

The man in the brown coat was sitting in the same place he had been before, but wherever his mind had gone to, it wasn't in the bar. He seemed to be staring right through Grady as if he didn't even see him. His eyes were wide and blank, like those of the man who had been killed in a duel right outside the saloon. Grady remembered well the way that man's blue eyes had stared blindly up at the sky while his life's blood seeped into the dry earth. It was that comparison that had caused Grady's sharp intake of breath as he thought momentarily of the walking dead.

What caused his frantic search for a rag was the fact that the glass in the man's hand had shattered into a thousand pieces, most of which seemed to have imbedded themselves in his skin. Grady rushed over to the man with the cleanest cloth he could find on short notice.

"Here, mister, use this," he said holding out the towel. The odd man in the brown coat continued to stare through the barkeep in that disturbing, uncomprehending manner. Spitting out a curse under his breath Grady reached carefully for the man's hand. Taking it into his own he raised it from the bar and let the loose glass pieces slide unto the counter. The man didn't make any protest to Grady's treatment, but neither did he give any indication that he noticed it at all. Grady hissed through his teeth, aside from numerous little imbedded shards, a rather large glass piece had stuck itself deep into the patron's palm. 'Damn,' he thought, 'How the hell did this happen anyway?' Gently gripping the shard in one hand and steadying the man's hand with the other, he gave a fair warning.

"This is probably going to hurt, mister."

He pulled the shard out as quickly and cleanly as he could. Blood gushed out of the open wound and trickled down between the man's fingers and onto the counter-top. The man in the brown coat didn't even blink. 'This guy is either severely tanked or severely hard core,' Grady thought ruefully to himself. Cursing louder this time, Grady did his best to find the remaining stuck shards and remove them, getting the stranger's blood all over himself in the process. The man shifted his position on the barstool slightly and blinked his eyes clear. Although he was no longer acting as if the bartender didn't exist, he still didn't show any signs that he was in pain. Slipping out the last of the glass shards, Grady began wrapping the towel around the major cut and tying it tightly. Blood started soaking through the makeshift bandage right away.

Looking up at the patron with a reprimanding air he said "That's it, guy, I'm cutting you off." He couldn't help looking at the man's eyes, though. The dead look had left them and been replaced with a gaze of intense concern. Grady sincerely hoped that meant his patron had finally come to the worrisome conclusion that he was injured pretty badly. Brows low and eyes slitted the man pushed himself to a standing position with his good hand, using the bar rail like a crutch.

Lifting his face to meet the barkeep's stare he said almost dumbly, "She's hurt."

"She?" asked Grady, thinking for a moment that the man was talking about Else. Shaking his head, he realized what the stranger was getting at. "You mean your little girlfriend. What makes you think she's hurt?"

"I know," the man replied in a voice that didn't bear questioning. "She needs me. I have to go." Pulling some coins out of his pocket, he tossed them on the counter and reached down for his bag.

"What . . . now?" Grady said incredulous. He was about to remind the traveler that he'd just walked in out of the desert and it wouldn't make much sense to be heading right back into it, that he should at least stay the night and get a fresh start in the morning. But something in the way the brown coated man spoke, the way he moved to lift his heavy sack with his now injured hand, made him hold his tongue. 'Hell, it's his hide, and from what I've seen that's pretty tough. Bah, young love.'

"Thanks," the man said turning for the door.

"Hey, be careful out there!" Grady cried after the retreating man. "And come back once you've put a ring on that girl!"

The man stopped, halfway to the door and turned back to bathe Grady once more in those striking aqua eyes. They now seemed to burn with a different intent, with determination. The man cocked his head at the barkeep as if trying to figure out if he was serious. Apparently deciding that he was, the man broke out into raucous peals of laughter which caught the attention of the few remaining patrons who hadn't already been attracted by the glass incident.

Grady leaned with one arm onto the bar. "And what exactly do you think is so funny?"

"Nothing," the strange man said, his laughter dying like a candle flame snuffed by a hand. He produced a pair of yellow colored sunglasses seemingly out of nowhere and, clutching his bag strap with his injured right hand, placed the glasses on his nose with his left. He looked at Grady from behind their edges. "It's just that you're the first bartender who's ever invited me back."

And with that the man turned and, pushing his way through the slatted half doors, made his way out of the bar. His tall form slid along the porch, past the front window, and then was gone from view.

Using his cleaning towel Grady carefully picked up the remaining pieces of glass and put them on a drink tray. He carried them to the waste basket and tipped them in, then went back to clean up the red mess the stranger had left all over his counter and floor. On his way he was accosted by Else, who was balancing a tray with three full drinks precariously on one raised hand.

"Who WAS that guy?" she asked.

Grady looked across the bar to the doors he had disappeared through. Early afternoon sun streamed into the bar in shafts through the half doors and angled in through the large painted windows. There was certainly enough light in the bar to see by, but somehow the place seemed darker with the strange man gone.

"An outlaw with a heart of gold."