The Sleep of the Righteous

Seth Bullock is not a good man. Not to say he doesn't try. Every morning he's that determined to be the man he wants to be. But there's shit to swim in every damn day, more shit that gets in the way of all he intends to be, and it's rare the night he can put his head down on his pillow feeling righteous.

This has been a day with more shit even than most. And he'd do well to be in bed by now, closing his eyes and waiting for the morning to come; that brief glimpse of sun through the window glass, golden with promise before it all twists to something dirty. Instead he paces the living room, his boots still on, his teeth clenched. When he cocks his head to one side and rolls his shoulder, he hopes the sharp crack of his bones will relieve some of the violence burning in his blood, burning through his reason. It doesn't. He turns sharply on the ball of his foot and stomps through the living room again, his heels echoing hollowly against the boards.

Martha looks up from her sewing. "It's late," she says. It's late, and he'd be better in bed. A good man would be in bed by now.

But he's not feeling too much like a good fucking man. What he's feeling is the hard scorch of rage as he forces coherent words through his clenched teeth. "I cannot seem to settle."

"Perhaps some air," she suggests mildly. No mention of fucking Hearst. No mention of the shots fired today. No mention of Mrs. Ellsworth. They never mention Mrs. Ellsworth unless they have to. They never mention a lot of things. But she is always there between them just the same, filling up every room of this house. Just like everything unsaid filling up Martha's eyes before she bends her head over her needle, her hands steady.

His hands are not so steady.

A good man would not be grabbing his coat on the way out the door, jamming his hat on his head. Nor would he allow his feet to carry him toward that cocksucker Hearst. Toward the violence he wishes so desperately to do, so desperately it feels like there is murder in his fucking bones, bright red bloody murder pressing hard against his hands, screaming to be let out through his fists.

A good man would not hesitate outside her house. Lurking and peering at her window like a degenerate, waiting for some glimpse of her. Hoping that some glimpse of her could be enough to turn him from blood when his own will isn't. When has his own will ever been enough?

A good man would turn away when the curtain is pushed aside, and her face appears behind the glass.

But Seth Bullock is not a good man.

She opens the door before he raises his fist to knock, and there's so much crowding in him, so much murder and rage and heat and regret and guilt and want and pain, that it takes him a while to say anything, to find a way to slip the words past the tight crushing squeeze.

"You are unharmed?" he finally manages.

"As you see." Her voice is cool, controlled. Her voice was always cool like ice sliding down his back on a hot day, the kind of cold that burns somewhere between pleasure and pain, putting a nervous shiver in his spine. Her voice was always cool, but there was heat behind her eyes right on the edge of fire, like a lion caged. And her skin blazed against him. Still smolders in his memory sometimes though he tries not to let it. He knows a good man wouldn't let it. Not when he has a woman like Martha, patient as a saint and kind, waiting for him in the bed he built her.

He rotates his hat slowly in his hands. He doesn't know when he took it off.

"Will you come inside, Mr. Bullock?" she asks.

"It's late."

"I am aware of the hour."

"Too late for business."

"And yet I find it too early for sleep. The..." she casts about for the right word, "...agitations of the day have not yet released me." Her fingers hover restless above the hollow of her neck, where her cameo would be if she weren't already wearing her dressing gown. Her fingers do not settle, putting the lie to the control in her voice. He is staring at her pale fingers, at that sweet hollow, at the lace on her elegant wrist. He is staring too goddamn long.

"Anyways," he clears his throat.

"Why are you here, Mr. Bullock?" she asks finally, her cool voice drawing sparks like metal scraping. Her cool voice was always like steel, so sharp you don't notice the cut until you see you're bleeding.

"I want to kill a man tonight," he says quietly, quietly so not to lose control, whatever small control he possesses. "And I don't want to be a murderer." It's the truth, but he doesn't think it's how he meant to answer exactly. It's too tight and close and hot inside his head, too hard to breath, to speak. Hard enough to get any words out at all, much less the right ones. He raises his eyes from his hands, where his fingers are mangling the brim of his hat.

She stands back a little from the door, silently leaving him passage. A good man would turn away from that open door. But Seth steps forward, his arms circling round her waist to hold her to him tight, tight, to bury his nose against her neck and breath deep.

They are not gentle. They never were gentle. Her lips are hungry, and her slender fingers frantic. He knows his hands will leave bruises on her hips, her ribs, but he doesn't ease his grip as he sinks inside her. He buries himself in all her pale softness and her icy heat, buries himself in her sweet smell and the rich, thick drape of her dressing gown and the smoothness of her skin. Buries himself in something beautiful, the only bright and beautiful thing in this mud and shit and blood soaked place. Buries himself until she's moaning into his mouth, and he's so filled up with her that the murder in his veins is burned away from a roar to a whisper.

She always was so bright and beautiful surrounded by this muck. She shudders around him, her eyes closed, her fingers digging into his back. He presses his lips to her forehead, her cheekbone, her lips. Gently. Just once gently.

They part silently, without the teasing, the lingering of the lazy days before everything changed. Before there were other people in the spaces between them, other people to be crushed when they reached to close those spaces.

"Go home, Mr. Bullock," she says, her back straight and her eyes clear, her voice cold as steel, sliding down his spine like ice.

A good man would be fast asleep in his own bed by now. But Seth Bullock is not a good man. Not tonight.

Maybe tomorrow, when the sunlight is streaming in golden through the window, making blocks of bright light on the clean floor, and his hands are not yet covered with the new day's shit.

Maybe then.