Thy Best, Thy Heavenly Friend
Pairing: Al Swearengen /Seth Bullock
Rating: M (or NC-17, whatever) for slashy sex and language. Oh, the language!
Summary: Set right after the Season One finale, "Sold Under Sin." Al Swearengen and Seth Bullock didn't quite finish their little talk.
Warning: As you can probably tell, contains spoilers for the end of Season One.
Disclaimer: I own nothing and make no money, etc.
Many thanks to Atra, who was kind enough to beta-read this for me!
Across the thoroughfare, Alma closed her curtains. Seth withdrew from the balcony and returned to Swearengen's office. He glanced to the right and saw what must be Swearengen's bed in an alcove. That couldn't be pleasant--Swearengen would wake up, and the first thing he'd see would be his work waiting for him. Hell, at least Seth slept above his business.
The tin star at his chest seemed to prick him even through his coat, waistcoat, and shirt. Fuck. His business had just gotten exponentially bigger, hadn't it? You could take a night off from running a hardware store--unless you were Sol, in which case you ate, slept, and breathed retail. You couldn't take a night off from justice, and that was just what he'd come to Deadwood to escape.
Just then the door opened, and Swearengen came in, carrying his now-empty shot glass. He gave Seth a sharp look. "When I said you could take your time about lingering and giving the good Widow Garret your moonstruck looks," he said, "you should know I didn't mean it to be half a fucking hour."
"It hasn't been half an hour," Seth said through his teeth, determined to be as civil as possible. Within reason, that was. He and Swearengen had just come to some kind of truce--and Seth had learned today the consequences of letting his temper get ahead of him. Again.
"No shit? Well, what do I know?" Swearengen said, raising his thick black eyebrows. He strode over to his desk and poured himself another dram of whiskey. "What do I know about how love makes the fucking hours fly by on wings of silver? Moreover, why should I care? Now get the fuck out of here. And do me a favor, when you return to console the grieving widow, ask Trixie to get her ass up here--if you see her on the way out." He tossed back the whiskey. "'Less you want another fucking drink first. In my experience, law enforcement officers enjoy pouring any free booze they can find down their cocksucking throats."
"I wouldn't object," Seth admitted. It had been a hell of a long day, and while he did want to get back to Alma as soon as possible, he felt like he could use one more swig. Without a word, Swearengen refilled the other shot glass and passed it to him. "Thought I'd stop by and see the Reverend before I left," he added. "I heard you put him up in the whores' quarters. If he's fit for visitors, I'd like to speak to him." He swallowed, remembering the last time he'd seen the Reverend--terrified and half-delirious in the hardware store, and then so grateful to be walked home by Seth and Sol. Soaking up any drop of care and sympathy like a sponge. He'd come to the wrong fucking place for that, when he'd come to Deadwood.
Good people didn't belong here, and that was God's honest truth.
Swearengen stared down into his emptied glass for a long moment--so long that Seth thought he hadn't heard the request. But then he said, "Lemme ask you something, Bullock."
"Yeah, okay," Seth said, bracing himself for another one of Swearengen's goddamn battles of wits. He really wasn't up to it right now. He wanted to pay what would likely be his last respects to a dying man of God, and then go back to the hotel and see to Alma some more, before the little girl returned for the night. If she hadn't already.
"Have another drink first," Swearengen said, and without giving him time to refuse, filled his glass again. Seth sighed and tossed it back. That was the third shot he'd had in the last thirty minutes, and on an empty stomach. He'd have to watch himself.
Swearengen took another drink himself--he had to be farther along than Seth, by this point--and repeated, "Let me ask you something. You ever cared about anybody without really knowing 'em?"
Seth glanced at him in quick surprise. That wasn't at all the kind of question he'd ever expected to hear from the likes of Al Swearengen. "Sure," he said carefully.
"'Cause, you know, some people just got that air about 'em. Right? Like they, they remind you of somebody. Right?"
Holy shit, Swearengen had obviously had a lot more than three shots. Looking at him closely, through his own increasing haze, Seth could see that the almighty lord of the Gem was about three and a half sheets to the wind. "Okay," he said. "Sure, I can see that. You talking about the Reverend?"
"Fuck you, you don't tell me who I'm talking about," Swearengen snapped, pouring himself yet another drink, slopping whiskey down onto the floor where it ran into and mixed with the bloodstain. "Does that make any fucking difference? All I'm fucking asking you is, do you know what I'm talking about? That feeling of--of connection?"
Seth shrugged. He felt like he ought to be upset by Swearengen's belligerence, but he was more curious than anything else. Swearengen had never been drunk in his presence before, and it looked like he was the type who got loquacious when in his cups. Might say something interesting. He sure as shit wouldn't talk like he was talking now, if he was sober.
"I had a brother once," Swearengen continued, staring at the wall of his office at nothing in particular--at least, nothing Seth could make out. "Did all that shaking and falling down. Had fits and shit like that. Barely knew where he was half the fucking time, before the end."
Seth blinked. He had a hard enough time believing that Swearengen had family--surely he'd been shat out by the devil himself--much less believing that Swearengen had ever given a damn about anybody else. "Oh," he said lamely. "I'm sorry."
"Don't you fucking 'sorry' me," Swearengen said, moving towards Seth with a step that was veering quickly towards a stagger. "I didn't have two cents to rub together then. I fucking saw my own brother dumped into a pauper's grave. Now here I am giving out thousands of fucking dollars to cocksuckers who weren't fit to lick his boots and he's rotted and gone in some godbefucked cemetery full of poor shitheads just like him."
"Uh…" How the hell was he supposed to respond to that?
But Swearengen didn't seem to need a response. He just kept on talking. "A funeral, that's what my brother deserved, a damn fine funeral. And that's what he'll get."
Seth frowned. "You're going to give your brother another funeral? A better one?"
"My brother?" Swearengen looked at him incredulously. And boozily. "What the hell are you talking about? What kind of faggoty cocksucking place do you come from where they bury people more than once?"
"You said," Seth said, holding on to his patience, "that you'd give him a damn fine funeral."
"The Reverend, you dumbass," Swearengen snapped. "Fuck. Who's gonna lead it, is what I wanna know. Unless you got another man of the cloth stashed away beneath your moustache, we're gonna have to find somebody else to do the honors, and it sure as hell ain't gonna be me, I'll tell you that much." He took yet another drink, and smacked his lips, making a face. "Christ."
Bullock carefully set his glass back down on Swearengen's desk. "The Reverend--he's dead already? Or are you making plans for future events?"
"Of course he's dead," Swearengen replied, striding over into his bedroom alcove and looking out the window. "I just fucking killed him."
The seconds and the silence crawled by together, while Seth tried to decide which part of that statement he had the biggest problem with. "You killed," he began, hearing his voice catch. He tried to start over. "The Reverend's--"
"You gonna arrest me?" Swearengen asked, never looking away from the window.
All Seth could see was the Reverend standing at Wild Bill Hickok's graveside, his smiling face turned up towards the sun, shining with divine revelation, wanting to offer comfort to everyone he saw. Quoting Scripture without having to look it up once, like every word of it was etched right onto his heart. Desperately proclaiming God's goodness even in his final days, when the very fact of his illness drove it home to Seth that there couldn't possibly be a God at all.
"How," Seth croaked, "how could you--"
Then Swearengen rounded on him, his eyes burning with an unholy fire that the Reverend would never have understood. "How could I?" he roared. "How fucking could I? You should have been in that fucking room with me, Bullock. What, do you wish you were, so you coulda stopped me in a fucking fury of self-righteousness? You wish you were there?" He threw his glass at the opposite wall, where it smashed into a hundred pieces. "You wish you coulda seen how he flopped like a fish and talked like a goddamned lunatic?"
Seth held up his hands. "Mr. Swearengen," he said, trying to stay calm, "today was an eventful day for all concerned. I'm willing to accept that you put a good man out of his suffering. Now let's settle down and leave it at that."
"Well, aren't you the most gracious bastard I ever laid my eyes on," Swearengen said, leaning against the wall. Then he stepped forward, lurching towards Seth. "And how far does your graciousness extend, Your Holiness? He seemed to like you. Of course he fucking liked you. Shit, he probably liked me too, but I bet you anything he had to try at it. So you gonna help me, or what?"
"Help me," Swearengen said, enunciating every word as if Seth were a small and very stupid child, "with the goddamned funeral arrangements. What, like I know how to lay out a guy with class? Or did you want I should follow my usual modus operandi?" He narrowed his eyes. Al Swearengen had, bar none, the darkest, coldest eyes Seth had ever seen. But tonight, they gleamed with something other than contempt, or fury, or any other emotion Seth had seen in them thus far.
"Did you want I should feed his body to the pigs?" Swearengen whispered, coming closer still. "Did you want he should wind up decorating the backyard of Mr. Wu? From dust we come--to pigshit we return?"
Seth clenched his fists and stepped forward before he could think about it. "Shut up," he said, baring his teeth.
"Don't fucking tell me to shut up. I still got lips to speak and lungs to give power to my speech, unlike that poor bastard."
"He's dead," Seth said, feeling his eyes smart a little just thinking about it. God, the Reverend-- "Don't talk about him that way. Can we at least save the fucking curses for the living?"
Swearengen sneered and raised one hand to his mouth before realizing there was no shot glass in it. He stared down at his empty fingers in befuddlement, and then looked back up at Seth, the sneer sliding easily back into place. "Sure we can, Bullock. Sure we can. Excuse me for offending your delicate fucking sensibilities. When'd you pick those up, by the way? When you were beating the shit out of the Widow Garret's father? Or when you were fucking said widow? Because I'm damn sure you have." He tilted his head to the side and waggled his eyebrows. "And you a married man, from what I hear."
"That's not to the purpose," Seth snapped. "You were asking me about--"
"Hypocrisy. You know what? Dan said, he said to me, 'sounds like he's about near enough a hypocrite to do honor to that badge.' 'He' meaning 'you,' of course, Mr. Bullock, and none other."
"This conversation's over," Seth said, turning to leave, "and you can make your own fucking funeral arrangements."
"And yet he called you his friend!" Swearengen staggered after him, and actually laid hand on his arm. "You, with the stink of self-righteousness on your breath--"
Seth rounded on him, about two seconds away from knocking somebody's teeth out for the second time that day. "Better than what you've got on your breath right now, you drunk son-of-a-bitch--"
"But what the fuck," Swearengen continued, "would you have done to ease his suffering? Hah? You? Could you have done what I did tonight?" He leaned heavily against Seth, and then leaned harder, pushing them both against the nearest wall. His eyes weren't quite focused, and yet, Seth had the impression that he was more in command of himself than he seemed. And more, that he wasn't too happy about it. What would it even take for a man like Al Swearengen to let go? To want to let go?
"You did care about him," he said wonderingly.
"Fuck you, Bullock," Swearengen breathed, still leaning against him. "I know a fucking saint when I see one. He's better off out of here, I can tell ya." He narrowed his eyes, looking into Seth's own, and, out of the blue, said: "I'm so fucking horny I could die. What do you reckon? The life force, or what?"
Seth's eyes widened and his breath hitched again. Swearengen never once stopped looking into his eyes.
"I'll go fetch Trixie," he said, "like you asked me to--"
"Trixie," Swearengen spat, "is probably off fucking your filthy Jew partner. Or if she ain't, I still don't wanna know about it. Now you tell me, Bullock, after the events of today, you don't wanna get off as bad as I do, even if you already did."
Seth could feel Swearengen's breath on his own lips, and Swearengen's hand on his arm. He swallowed hard. Really hard. Quickest way to answer was a swift punch to the gut, and he was sorely tempted, but he was also half-convinced that this was a dream. Because in real life, he was pretty sure Al Swearengen wouldn't pin him to a wall and offer to--
"All the time," he said, "you just throw around the word 'cocksucker' like--"
Swearengen grabbed hold of his chin with speed that belied his intoxication. "You self-righteous asshole," he said. "Any fucking port in a storm, Bullock, and you and me are here right fucking now, and this goddamned well better happen sooner rather than later or that ain't gonna be the only bloodstain on my floor--"
Then Swearengen reached down and grabbed him between the legs, just like that. And when he squeezed what he found, he gave Seth a wide, shit-eating grin. "Looks like," he said, "you ain't entirely opposed," and he squeezed again. With that, Seth, to his horror, went from half- to all the way interested, and bucked his hips forward. "Yeah," Swearengen breathed. "Look at that--His Holiness approves."
He was dreaming, or drunk, or--no, he was obviously both. He was also as hard as a nugget of goddamned gold. Swearengen's chest heaved against his own, and everything felt real hot and close. This was no good, Seth had just agreed to be the sheriff, an upstanding pillar of the community, a figure of responsibility. Only he didn't want one more fucking iota of responsibility. Right now, drunk and half-delirious, he just wanted--
"Fuck you, Swearengen," Seth moaned, and stuck his own hand down between their bodies. Goddamn it all, anyway, what did it matter? Swearengen smelled like sweat and whiskey, and a little like blood and piss, both of which probably weren't his own, but those of whatever poor bastard he'd killed in here tonight. Seth realized, with a growing sense of hysteria, that he just might be the only person who'd ever stepped into this office and gotten Al Swearengen by the balls.
Swearengen hissed as Seth grabbed and squeezed him in turn. "It ain't gonna break, goddamn you," he said, squeezing Seth harder to prove his point; and then they set up a rhythm, which only broke when Swearengen leaned forward and mashed his open, panting mouth against Seth's. Seth knocked him out of the way with his chin, feeling Swearengen's teeth cut into his skin as he did so. "We're not doing that," he said.
"The hell we're not," Swearengen replied, and without another word slammed their mouths together again, grabbing the back of Seth's neck with his free hand. And oh shit, it wasn't at all like Alma's kisses of just an hour before--all sweet, both passionate and delicate--this was fierce and mean and kind of nasty and sloppy too.
Then Swearengen pulled away, gasped, "Hraaarrh," right in Seth's ear, and rubbed hard against his palm. Seth could feel his dick pulse beneath his trousers, and then felt the damp beginning to seep through.
"Heh," Swearengen panted, and Seth could tell the shit-eating grin was already back. "So come on, you lazy fuck." He leaned in and sucked hard at Seth's neck, right above his collar, where he hadn't washed all day, and Seth came in his hand. It didn't last long, and it wasn't that great, but it was something, and it made his mind buzz and his vision go blurry.
After a second, Swearengen let go, and Seth let go, and they staggered apart from each other. Seth's pants were sticky. Shit. He was going to have to go change before he saw Alma again. Oh fuck, Alma. How could he possibly look her in the--
"Did he have a hymnbook?" Swearengen demanded.
Seth gaped at him. "What?"
"A fucking hymnbook, Bullock! The Reverend, did he have one? Or did you think this should be a non-singing funeral service?" Apparently oblivious to the mess in his pants, Swearengen spread his arms wide in a mockery of inquiry. "I'm open to suggestions."
"Uh." Seth shook his head hard, and then shook it again. Had somebody doped him up without him realizing it? Had he just dreamed that whole thing up? He touched his chin, and felt the tiny cut where Swearengen's teeth had sliced him. "Uh. I don't know--I only ever saw him with the Bible."
"Well, do you know any hymns yourself? What the hell gets sung at a funeral? Like I said--something classy." Swearengen hitched his pants higher up around his waist. "I figure everybody can come back to the Gem and get stinking drunk afterwards, but beforehand, we want to exhibit some good fucking taste, right?"
Mister Swearengen, the Reverend had said, on the last night they'd spoken, has a new piano at his saloon. He'd told Seth and Sol about the music, about how it had helped his headaches as nothing else could.
"Uh, yeah," Seth heard himself say, his mind running through the (too many) funerals he'd been to. Hymns? Not "How Firm a Foundation." They'd sung that at Brom Garret's service…what else had he…
"'Be Still My Soul,'" he said. "They play that at funerals. That's a good--"
"Great." Swearengen ran a hand through his hair. "Whatever. Just--you set it up, okay? Do whatever has to be done, and I'll pay for it. Get him a nice box. And a decent headstone. I don't know from shit about that stuff. Who the hell's gonna do the talking?"
"Not Farnum," Seth said automatically. Swearengen rolled his eyes. "And the Doc'll say no. Probably Merrick will. He liked the Reverend."
Swearengen looked at him then, and for the first time, Seth saw something like grief in his eyes. "So did we all, Bullock. Just come to me with the bill, okay? Otherwise I don't wanna hear about it 'till I'm standing at the graveside. Now get out and send Trixie up."
Seth couldn't help it--his jaw dropped. "Trixie--? You're drunk as a skunk and you just--"
Swearengen raised his eyebrows. "Well, excuse me if my recuperative powers far exceed your own, Mr. Bullock," he said, and thrust his hips at Seth. "Now get lost, 'cause you ain't getting another demonstration."
"That's a fucking relief," Seth snapped. "Understand this, Swearengen. We don't talk about this again. We don't think about this again."
Swearengen rolled his eyes once more. "You break my heart, Bullock, you really do. Now will you kindly get the hell out of my office and send up the whore?"
Seth stormed out of the office, and slammed the door behind him. He saw Trixie sitting at the bar, watching him go by with hooded eyes. He didn't stop to speak to her, or to anybody else. He didn't stop, in fact, until he was standing outside in the cool night air, where he leaned against a post and looked up at the stars, watching his breath make clouds in front of him.
Then he closed his eyes, picturing the Reverend's grin in his mind; the grin that, by the end, had been equal parts ecstasy and mania. "Jesus," he whispered. And the Reverend had a wife, hadn't he said so? A wife he was hoping to bring to the camp, once he'd made enough money to pay her way. Oh God, of all the people who hadn't deserved it…
And Seth was bringing his wife, too. And his son. And across the street, in E.B. Farnum's hotel, waited the woman he'd just taken to his bed. Right across the street from the man who'd just--
Seth hissed out a long breath, and forced himself to remember what Sol had said only that afternoon. The day's not over yet. As long as you were breathing, you had time to change your ways, and do your best to make amends. It was a solid thought. He knew the Reverend would have agreed with it.
Goddamn Al Swearengen, anyway. With a little luck he'd be too drunk to remember this had even happened.
Seth shoved his hands in his pockets, tried not to hunch his shoulders, and headed off across the muddy thoroughfare.
Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.