Whoa-ho! An update!
I just checked my email for the first time in ages (I use a different email account for fanfiction than for personal stuff), and I had a lot of messages from one new and incredibly enthusiastic fan. (You know who you are.) I was deeply flattered by your praise and decided to write, in spite of the fact that I have absolutely no time for it anymore.
Still intend to finish this story. Hang in there.
Chapter Thirteen: Green
That night, the sun tripped but, it seemed, did not fall completely. The wagon stopped when the air began to cool and Charlie got a fire going, split a can of beans with the girl even though he wasn't even approaching hungry. She picked at her own portion, and he was willing to bet she was feeling the same kind of sick he was, the sick of knowing that everything was about to come to a head, once they reached the dirty yellow spot that perched on the horizon. The light Nogales threw dulled the stars and drained the ink from the sky.
He saw her staring at the place where they both knew the city was, regardless of whether or not they could actually see it. There was no way for him to know what it meant for her – not unless he asked her, and he was already worried that his curiosity was getting the better of him. She confused and fascinated him in a way he could only attribute to the natural ways of women. They made it their business to torment men, to fill their dreams with visions of fire and roses and their stomachs with more lust than a body should be able to survive. Being alone with her for only a few days, he'd had to grapple with this insanity countless times, the desire was so strong. And the desire only awakened other things, things like anger and fear and hatred, things that had him wanting to wrap his hands around her throat just for existing, things that got both easier and harder to bear every time she spoke. Her words distracted him and soothed him in an elemental, instinctive way, and for that he only wanted to kill her more, because it only sharpened the edge of his agony.
"How many days now?" she asked.
"If we move fast, we'll be there by nightfall tomorrow."
"How fast can we move?"
He offered her the bean can and she waved her hand in refusal. He put it down next to the fire.
"What will you do after this?" she asked him.
He caught a chuckle in his throat, held it there.
"I'm not about to tell you," he said. "Made that mistake once already, and look where it's gotten me."
"I don't want to know where you're going. I just want to know what you'll do."
"What I've been doing, I imagine."
"I thought you were intelligent," he grumbled.
"I know you're a thief," she said. "That doesn't tell me anything."
"What do you want to know?"
She looked up at him and an understanding passed between them.
Charlie Prince had seen forests before. Beyond the deserts of this barren state, the wombs of the world were fertile, lush with water and wood and green. At the outfit's cabin in the mountains of Colorado, trees exploded with wide leaves like open palms, collecting dew in the morning, whistling lonely songs at night. Charlie Prince had stood on the inside of windows that had never known curtains, watched the leaves burst out from claw-like branches, turning them soft, watched tiny flowers bloom alongside the delicate bushes. It was all so exhibitionistic, so bewildering. The first time he retreated there, he was used to hard sand with cracks so deep you could almost hear them. In Colorado, the world opened up to him, showed him water when he'd only known fire, showed him green when he'd only known red. Looking into her eyes, he felt like that all over again, like green was an alien language he couldn't understand, let alone speak. Her green spoke of forests where the air was sultry and fine, where tendrils reached out and lapped the sweat from the back of your neck and the bottoms of rivers were dense with moss so soft, even the rich couldn't afford it. An Eden for godless men.
He realized he didn't need to explain to her the knife's edge he walked. Tomorrow, they would arrive at Nogales and would part ways, probably never see each other again. She didn't know anyone who knew him, and he didn't know anyone who knew her. There would be no speaking of this, no way for it to haunt them.
"I want to know what you do, when you're not robbing wagons and terrorizing bars," she said.
He shook his head, prodded at the fire with a long, thin stick.
"I've never been the artistic type," he said. "Never been the talkative type either. The truth is, between aiming, shooting and killing, this life is the only one I've ever been good at. When I'm not robbing wagons and terrorizing bars, I'm waiting to. I'm the one on the wanted posters. I'm exactly who anyone would tell you I am."
"No you're not," said Will. "That man would have killed me."
"Maybe I still have plans to."
She smiled. "Maybe you already have."
"No." He tossed the stick aside. "I didn't kill you... I don't know. I've never killed a woman before. I've never been the one driving a wagon to a rendezvous either. Killing you... it felt like bad luck waiting to happen. That was stupid, though. It was worse luck, keeping you alive. Hammond on top of everything else."
"He would have recognized you whether I had been there or not."
"I could have paid him off, if you hadn't been there."
"You could have left me."
"No, I couldn't." He paused, added: "You would have told him everything. Nogales, the rendezvous. There would have been law all around that place by the time I got there."
He thought for a moment.
"You didn't have to shoot those officers," he said.
"I've said that before."
"Why did you?"
"It felt like the right thing. Maybe if I had thought about it first, I would have done something different."
"You ever killed a man before that?"
She picked up a handful of dust, tossed it into the fire. It crackled and sparks flew off the tiny rocks.
"No," she said, "never. Deer. A wolf once, after a herd of cattle. Killing a man wasn't as different as I thought it'd be." She considered, said "I'm not sorry."
From the inside pocket of his jacket, Charlie pulled out a small silver flask that caught the light of the fire and threw it over to Will like a wink. He unscrewed the cap and drank cautiously, minding the fragility of his shoulder as the joint turned. Will hesitated when he offered it to her. She made a point of not drinking.
Then again, there was something so pivotal about this moment, this decision that hung between them as he held the flask out to her. She took the flask from him, poured the sharp, stinging liquid down the back of her throat, bit the burn like catching a bullet in her teeth, and from that moment on, she didn't look back.