12/25/09: To all those who have reviewed or followed the story up to this point: THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR PATIENCE AND LOVELY FEEDBACK. I hope you will not be disappointed with the long-overdue additions of the next few chapters. (Please continue to grant me the generosity of your reviews if you don't hate me too much for not updating in forever.)
Ben Wade sat silently, his mind pensive with only the droning muffled noises of the town's somewhat interrupted daily life playing soundtrack to his thoughts. Dan lay against him, breathing quietly for once. His wounds had, hopefully, finally gotten the chance to heal. Absently running his hands along Dan's chest, Ben sought out the bulk of the bandages, muttering under his breath when his fingertips can away with subtle tinges of crimson. Apparently Dan's wounds were determined to be as stubborn in their healing as his head in everything else.
"Dan, Dan, Dan," Wade whispered to himself, relaxing for now in the unsettling uncertainty that there was, for once, nothing he could do to escape this situation. Dan was injured. They were both handcuffed. Dan was injured. The cell wall had recently been repaired.
Dan was injured.
Escape was not a possibility, so Ben Wade set his mind to wait, though sitting and idling were not a part of his plan. His mind slowly sifted through ideas, through all the things he remembered about the town from their ride in and all the things he could recall from his first visit. It wasn't much, granted the astounding number of distractions in both situations, but it was sometimes the smallest details which allowed one man the advantage.
Unfortunately, there was seldom a clue as to which little detail would prove useful until the moment itself arrived.
Dan stirred in response to the ringing of stirrups in the sheriff's office, the rancher trying and failing to sit up. Ben held him tight, whispering into his ear clipped fragments of command.
"Pretend. Asleep. Now."
Dan made a single noise of protest before lying back again, features far too tight for slumber, at least to Ben's more accustomed eyes. He hoped their visitor wouldn't notice.
"Wade—" the man began, voice stuttering into silence as his eyes zeroed in on Dan's still form, the man's discomfort apparent in his awkward stance before the iron door. His mouth opened and closed a few times, like a fish gasping for air, before he dipped his head, clearing his throat and staring at some indiscernible point above the imprisoned pair's heads.
"Ben Wade," the man said, his former air of authority tainted with the underlying unease at the primary prisoner's posture. "You are formally charged with un-talliable counts of theft and murder."
"Un-talliable? Really?" Wade replied, signature smirk just barely lifting the corner of his lips and one brow. "Wasn't aware that was a word."
The man made a series of choked noises before regaining his composure. "You are also formally charged with the kidnapping of a minor. And possibly of Mr. Evans here, as well."
"Possibly?" Wade growled in return, enjoying the look of genuine fear which crept over the other man's face. He pulled Dan tighter against himself. "And what do you have to prove whether he's a victim or an accomplice?"
"I believe the folks down at Yuma would love to decide that, Ben." Wade's eyes flickered from the small fry before him into the shadows of the sheriff's office, following the new voice.
"Bobby," he said quietly, the name carefully devoid of inflection. Perhaps too much so.
"It's Sheriff Cane now, Ben Wade. Just like my ol' daddy. I've got the gold badge and everything."
"Looks a little rusty to me, Bobby," Wade said in return, his tone not quite matching the words. "You sure it ain't just bronze?"
"Har-har, Benny-boy." Wade tensed as the sheriff moved closer, crouching against the iron bars to gaze straight into his captive's eyes. "But it doesn't really matter what this—" he paused to flick his finger on the badge, allowing himself a small smile at the metallic ring, "—is made of. I can carry out the law of the land all the same, gold or brass."
"I said bronze, but since you're willing to admit it's—"
"Shuttup, Ben. I've got you this time. If only my pa were here to see you. Oh, he'd treasure the moment you danced on that center scaffold, at last paying for what you did to my uncle Jeffery and all those other innocents. You're going to dance, Benny-boy, and it's going to be your last time moment of fame."
Wade's response was flat, his face composed. "You do know I've been to Yuma before, right, Bobby? What is it, three times now?"
"Yes, Ben. I also know that every time you've gone to Yuma you've been alone. You've never had an accomplice before." He smirked, standing and brushing off his knees. Ben sat silent, his hold tightening slightly as he felt Dan's entire frame tense, fingers trying to convey a message he didn't have the words to say at the moment. "I think you're losing your touch, Benny-boy, and I think it's going to cost you this time." The sheriff nodded his head to his nervous lackey and both men departed, each with a little more swagger in their stride.
Dan was still until both men were out the door. Instantly, as soon as the sound of their spurs had faded from the sheriff's office, he had jolted upright and about to face Wade's impenetrable features, no doubt jarring his oozing injuries. Ben refrained from commenting.
"They're right, you know."
"Of course they're right, Dan," Wade replied patiently. "It's common knowledge that I've never been taken in with a partner-in-crime before. Even you, especially you with all the reading of them penny dreadfuls your boy does, should know that."
"Am I supposed to be comforted by that fact, Wade?"
"Well, Dan, I was hoping you'd at least feel special, having the opportunity to have such a first and all. I bet you'll make quite the character in the next one of them books. One-legged rancher and Ben Wade. I'd read that one."
"I'll buy it for you. If we get out."
"Is that a promise, Dan? Cause if it is, that means you have to stick with me long enough for that there book to come out."
"I reckon I ain't got nowhere else to go, Wade."
Dan sighed, rolling his eyes as he pulled up his pant leg. "Fine," he grunted, tugging off the prosthetic with a jingle of his cuffs. "It's a deal."
They both stared at the red patch of skin where Dan's prosthetic had been attached, Wade's eyes tracking the rancher's fingers as he absently scratched the irritated surface.
"That doesn't look too good, Dan," Wade said quietly, blue-green orbs narrowing at the extent of the rash.
Dan was silent for a moment, his turning his detached limb this way and that, eyes silently flickering over the wood and metal. Abruptly, he smiled, an almost maniacal grin creasing his wind-worn face. "But this is good," he replied, jabbing his prosthetic toward the outlaw. One of the metal support bands running up the fake leg was snapped jaggedly in half, the lower end protruding awkwardly from the toe—broken neatly around a bullet hole in the wood—while the upper bent sideways upon itself.
"Isn't that where you got shot in the alleyway?"
"Seems to be an even luckier shot now, Wade," Dan replied, his face settling back into a more normal expression.
"What's the plan, Dan?" Wade paused for a moment, running his finger across the seemingly fragile metal and wondering how the rancher had managed to jump off buildings with such flimsy support. Just as Dan opened his mouth to explain, Wade cut in. "Is this why your leg is always hurting?"
Dan clamped his mouth shut in a frown. He spoke slowly. "It was amputated, so it hurts sometimes—"
"No. Is it because this is broken?" Dan paused, then nodded slowly, hazel eyes narrowed in barely masked confusion.
"You bought medicine, fed your cows, decided to go and take an outlaw in, got thrown off of horses, and jumped off buildings with a broken leg?"
"Broken fake leg," Dan corrected, hurriedly finishing with a tentative, "Yes?"
Wade sighed. "First thing we're doing, Dan, when we rob a train or an armored carriage. First thing we're doing is getting you a good prosthetic."
The rancher looked surprised for a moment, but his eyes lit up, obviously enjoying some private joke.
"What is it now, farm boy?"
Dan grinned, dirt and shadows making the expression seem wider than it really was. "Farm boy?" he shot back incredulously. "Really? Is that the best you can do ,Wade? Not going to dredge on dressing me nice and all?"
"I've given up trying to reform your wardrobe, however painful to the eyes. This, at least, you will use. Because you have to. Or you will have to once I get rid of that pitiful excuse for a limb."
"In some way, I'm sure that was meant to be touching, Wade."
"You're welcome," he replied with a slight twitch of his lips. Dan's amused grin was almost identical in its subtlety, though perhaps less frequent in its appearance. They both sat in silence for some moments after that, eyes trained once more on Dan's enflamed limb.
"Ben," Dan said quietly after a good period of silence. "Will you answer me one question seriously?"
The outlaw paused a moment before responding, blue-green eyes careful in their observation, prepared to shut out the outside world at a moment's notice. "What are you asking?"
"Why did you get on the train?"
"Why did you take me there?"
"Not the same questions, Wade."
"It's not the same question. Ben."
Wade stared for a moment longer at the younger man before him, taking in the vulnerability radiating off of his frame without the protective illusion of whole-ness created by his prosthetic, seeing how broken Dan must perceive himself after so many mishaps on his crumbling ranch. He stood, swaying awkwardly into the motion with his bound hands, before moving away to look out the iron bars, half-cursing himself as he did so for so blatantly drawing a line between them, for making Dan further bask in the pool of pity he was stirring for himself.
"I got on that train because I wanted to, Dan." Wade replied slowly, turning back while his mind struggling to navigate the delicate balance in the room and unable to reconcile that with his usual detached manner. "I like you, Dan, at least some parts. So I got on the train."
Dan was quiet, hazel eyes ticking back and forth across his cell-mate's face from his lower vantage point. "Why did you kill your crew?" he asked, voice almost whisper-soft.
"I'm violent. Impulsive. A notorious outlaw. I don't know, Dan. Don't make me go into this."
"That's two questions, Dan."
"Dammit, Dan, why do you have to be so stubborn?"
"I'm not stubborn."
"In this case, Dan, it's nothing but stubbornness."
"Then answer and be done with it, Wade," Dan snapped back.
Wade let out an exasperated sigh of frustration, nearly stomping back across the splintering wood panels to stand before Dan's sprawled form on the floor, his amputated leg a horrible parody of the strength he was trying to exude. "Why do you think, Dan?" he hissed, eyes dark, pupils large from the gloom and something else. Wade crouched down, still taller than the smaller sprawled figure, maintaining dominance with his firmer stance as he encroached upon the rancher's space. The other flinched away slightly, dropping the prosthetic with a hollow clap.
"I don't know," Dan replied, scooting the few inches remaining between him and the wall, eyes darting downward, seeking refuge in absent shadows. Wade followed, crushing into Dan's personal space.
"You have no idea?" he breathed, breath rushing across Dan's unshaven face as the outlaw crouched over him, hands splayed tight above Dan's shoulders, binding him in place with the metal of the chain and blocking any foolish attempts at escape. "Give me one good guess, Dan, one good one."
"Just tell me, Wade."
"Dammit, Dan," he growled angrily. Dan looked up at him in surprise, hazel eyes now an emerald green in the dimness of the cell. "It's Ben."
Taking advantage of his upturned face, Wade leaned down, biting the rancher's lips aggressively, pressing him tighter against the wall, one hand cupping the back of his head forcefully to keep him still and ignoring the pressure of metal cuffs against his wrists. Dan emitted a whine of frustration, tugging forcefully away for a second or two before succumbing and giving into Wade's rough motions.
"Good, Dan," Wade growled against his ear, nipping harder than was necessary and drawing a yelp of pain. He huffed in amusement and smothered the noise with his other hand, nosing further down Dan's neck, moving his own leg between Dan's and nudging the prosthetic out of the way across the cell. The rancher's neck rolled to the side of its own accord. "Good, Dan, good," Wade murmured again, hands clumsily coordinating to push the battered jacket aside and grant further access for his teeth. He pushed his knee firmly against Dan's crotch, smiling at the instinctive roll of hips in return. A puff of hot air pulsed against his palm as the younger man moaned.
Spurs sounded in the sheriff's office, interrupting the moment. Dan's eyes flashed open, pupils shrunken in alarm, hands roughly shoving against the bulkier form atop him.
"Ben," he pleaded, "please, get off." His eyes dashed between doorway and outlaw until Wade grinned and rolled aside, a self-satisfied smirk plastering itself upon his features as he reached across for the discarded artificial limb.
"Do you have the answers you wanted?" Wade's voice came out a hoarse whisper; Dan's answering silence was the only thing quieter. The sound of the spurs faded away. "We at least friends now, ain't we, Dan? Answer me."
Dan turned to face him, brows furrowed in thought. Wade grabbed the rancher's disheveled jacket with one hand and yanked him closer with a chink of chain, brining their faces close enough to mingle breath. Hazel eyes stared into blue-greens, each seeking something in the shadowed depths of the other's. Neither spoke.
"I reckon we're at least friends now, Wade," Dan said quietly, belatedly amending his statement with a soft-spoken, "Ben."
"So," Wade said quietly after a few seconds more of silent observation, unsure if he'd seen what he desired to in the rancher's exhausted eyes. His voice was gravelly and nearly inaudible over the busy soundtrack of life still playing outside of their cell. "What's the plan, Dan?"