Slightly AU - just getting Rooster out of my system through a tiny drabble. His POV.


"Lil' sister, wake up."

I shook her gently, but she lay still as death. There never was much colour in her cheeks to start with, but now she looked waxy and hollow. Her hair, unbraided, lay about her head in a limp and sweat-tangled mass. I shook her again, and she groaned long and low.

"Come, sis. Open your eyes."

She hadn't truly woken since I'd shot that horse of hers. Didn't move when we got her in and laid her down. She screamed, once, when the bone-saw snagged— opened her eyes and stared, but I don't think she saw much of anything. The blanket now was sunken on the far side of the bed. Flat, where it should have been tented by her arm. There weren't many prospects for a maimed girl-child with a tongue like a whip of fire, but on thinking of it, the loss didn't seem so severe as all that. If I knew Mattie Ross at all, the lack of a limb would not warrant much more than a shrug and a sniff.

If she'd just open her damn eyes.

I gripped down on her shoulder and leaned close. "Girl, you come round this moment or by the grace of God I will whip the very tar out of you."

If I'd hoped for a revelation, I was to be disappointed. Even that insultingly empty threat produced no high-handed retort, no sharp glance. The lashes did not so much as flutter. With a grunt, I subsided. Leaned back and settled into the worn chair I'd claimed. They'd tried to remove me from the room once— and only once— and since then I had become an institution. The doctor simply moved around me during his periodic visits, as though I did not exist at all.

I reached out, then— slow and careful, like I was approaching a she-cat with kits— and touched her that tangled mass of hair. "I hope you found what you were lookin' for," I muttered. "I hope it was all worth it." My knuckles ran lightly down her cheek before I let my hand fall heavily to my side. So young. What a fool of a thing.

Settling back into my chair with a grumble for the sake of sore bones, I tilted my hat down over my eyes and got ready for another evening of silence, save for the quiet sound of her breathing and my own rasping cough.

When a small hand slipped into mine long moments later, I did not move.

And when a small voice whispered, "It was," I made no sound.

But when the hand had fallen lax and her breathing was slow and even, I think, for a moment, that I may have smiled.