Such Fractured Shadows
"I mourn, now that your house contains such fractured shadows. This wine you've handed me tastes sour. I joke and you do not laugh. When you speak, assuming my approval, I stare into discoloured depths of my glass, longing to get away..."-Harry Guest, Death Of A Friendship
They never find Patricia alive.
Two years of searching, following every report of a girl held captive by the Cheyenne, looking into every face of the endless wave of women and children on every reservation they pass, questioning at every town north of the border, and it all ends a rainy Friday night at an army post behind four worn walls.
She's a small, fragile body, delicate and broken, and she no longer looks white to his eyes, not with the beads and buckskin and the blood-stained feathers still braided into her hair. Her eyes are closed and none of the soldiers saw that they were blue, not in the frenzy of battle and killing, the slaughter of her tribe, until it was too late.
Two Persons lays his hand on her's and Quentin stands silent, head bowed, fists clenched, his knuckles white on the handle of the doctor's bag that's no longer of any use.
"Truly sorry, son." The Captain tells Quentin, rubbing a hand over the stubble on his jaw, and his hands fly out as Two Persons lets go of Patricia and lunges at the officer, screaming curses in Cheyenne, as if something penned up inside him has broken loose.
Quentin catches him around the chest, the bag tumbling to the ground, instruments spinning across the plank floor, holding him with all his strength until he stops struggling, going stiff as a board against him, breathing heavy, the rapid rise and fall of his chest pushing through his ribcage.
The officer spits a stream of tobacco that runs between the planks and instruments like a thin trail of blood staining the wood, and his eyes harden. "All breeds are alike, ain't they?"
"All whites are alike." His voice is cold, dripping bitterness, a dagger toward the soldier, and Quentin's stomach tightens, a prickle at the back of his neck when Two Persons doesn't meet his eyes, and forgets, if just for a moment, that's he's white, also, that they both are.
Or perhaps he's already forgotten.
He's quiet after that, barely speaking. When he calls out in his sleep it's only in Cheyenne, muttered words he won't translate, names of people he lost, all those who died the day they brought him back to the white world. He's distant, cold even, and they keep on drifting, habit now and nothing more.
Patricia is buried and they're miles away before Quentin ventures a question, the one he'd never found the courage to ask. It claws at his throat as he stares across the fire and watches Two Persons where he sits huddled against his bedroll.
"Did Patricia ever talk about me?" His voice is steady, emotion hidden beneath a calm tone.
"No." He pokes the fire and the flames reflect in his eyes, a mirror of their cabin burning all those years before. There's no other words offered and the single syllable is frozen, lacking all emotion. Quentin rubs his hands together slowly, the fire's warmth seeping into his skin.
"Was she happy?" A hundred questions linger just behind the one voiced, asking all that he can't say aloud, whether she remembered her name, missed her family, cried in her sleep for the doll burned in the fire, or thought of him at all.
There's a nearly unbearable length of silence, the flames writhing within his eyes, screaming like wraiths, memories fighting to escape. When Two Persons speaks his eyes lift, meeting his for the first time in days, crushing him with a single stream of words.
"I do not think she remembered you."
They're riding through the hills when a rattlesnake crawls from underneath a rock and Quentin's horse rears, screaming in terror as he loses his grip on the reins and hits the ground in a tangle of bones and clothes and dust. He doesn't have time to register the pain of the fall before fangs sink into his leg and he's firing, fingers numb around the gun as the snake jerks a final time and lays still.
He hadn't heard himself call but Two Persons appears beside him, slitting his pants leg and ripping the shreds away from the wound. The knife comes down in an X and he bends over him, sucking the poison and spitting it out.
"Come on, Quentin." He drags him upright and both legs buckle, his full weight slumping into his brother's arms. Two Persons grunts, heaving him across his shoulder and over his back as he starts toward a crevice in the rocks, the closest shelter.
He lays him down, not hard but not gently either, and he goes back to working on the wound, touching the edges.
"How bad is it?" His words come out stiff as if his tongue is stuck to the roof of his mouth, craning to see. Two Persons reaches up and pushes his hair out of his eyes, not meeting his gaze.
"I think it missed the bleeder."
"Th't's good." His words slur, vision blurring. Some of the venom must have gotten in his bloodstream despite that. He tries to remember the page in his medical book on snakebites, but it blurs, words running together. Two Persons spreads and lays the blanket across him, tucking in the edges as he shivers. He ducks out of the cave, returning a few minutes later with a plant crushed in his palm. He bends, wordlessly, and smashes it into the wound, packing it.
"Ch'enne med'cine?" His vision is fuzzy, weak.
"Shhh." Two Persons touches his forehead, and for only a moment he's gentle, concerned. Quentin wonders if he's dying. He's the doctor, he should know. But he's too weak. There's a few murmured Cheyenne words - a prayer, he thinks - and then he's gone, like the wind snuffing out a candle.
When he wakes up it's dark out, and he's weak but the fever has broken. Two Persons lifts his head and water slides down his throat, soothing the dry membranes.
"Thank you." He whispers, and Two Persons retreats to the other side of the crevice, past the fire between them.
"I carried you on my back when you broke your leg down by the creek." Quentin says quietly, voice thick with the memory and the traces of venom lingering in his veins. "It went straight through the skin. Ma was scared stiff that it'd never heal straight."
Two Persons doesn't look up, snapping another stick and tossing it onto the fire. "I do not remember." He doesn't limp at all, only the slightest offstep indicating it was ever broken at all. No one would ever know.
"We were only children back then."
"We are not children anymore, Quentin." His voice is almost hard. He doesn't speak again.
Two Persons tends him, hunting game for both of them, bringing water, and covering him with both blankets. But he keeps his distance, eyes staring into the firelight, watching it play across the rocks in a twisted dance with an empty and unsearchable gaze. The old Two Persons would have slept beside him, holding him to keep him warm like the time when he took the ax in his spine and shook with fever and blood loss through the night, his arms bracing him against the shuddering. And in the morning when he opened his eyes he would have seen the relief mirrored there, the quiet "I thought you were dead" in a voice numb with grief and disbelief, anything but the silence.
Something in his chest twists painfully.
Somewhere between one town and the next Two Persons stops calling him his brother.
It ends the inevitable questions, and the undercurrent in town mutters something about "whites travelling around with half breeds", no one suspecting they carried the same blood in both their veins. They look nothing alike, people always said as much, and no one ever believed they were brothers anyway.
Quentin doesn't correct them.
It's the anniversary and he can't stop remembering, seeing their faces. His knuckles are white on the reins, and twice he takes out the faded and worn image of Patricia and rubs his fingertips over her sweet and childish face, just a little girl then, so long ago.
"You should give that away." Two Persons says, and Quentin knows it's one of his Indian ways, the way they put away everything belonging to the person they loved, as if the sight will make them grieve more.
"Our family died today, all those years ago." He looks over at him. "I never stop thinking about it."
For a long moment he thinks Two Persons hasn't heard him. When the reply finally comes it's a dull whisper.
"My family died later."
And his chest throbs painfully, somewhere in the vicinity of a broken heart.
Sometimes he has a fleeting thought that he identified the wrong man that day, that the boy spared because of his golden hair wasn't truly Morgan at all. Morgan is dead, he thinks, and it's true in one way at least. Morgan, the towheaded boy who followed him like a second shadow, who hung on every action and mimicked them, who liked to go fishing and always pulled off his shoes to wade into the shallow water, is dead.
But it is him because even changed so much he'd know him anywhere. He'd known him that first day, that stranger in the corner of a dark cell, the yellow hair contrasted against the buckskin, strong arms and legs and not the spindly, lanky child he remembered, yet unmistakably Morgan.
He can feel him in his arms that day, breathing, alive, as he'd impulsively grabbed him, crushing him against him. He was all the family he had left, and at first he'd thought Two Persons didn't remember him, no longer remembered English, and that the horror of all he'd seen would turn him cold, make him even more of a stranger.
He wonders now if he wasn't right all along.
Halfway across Arizona and in front of a trading post they meet a soldier with a squaw tied to a hitching post, and as Quentin lifts water to the woman's lips and finds her already dead, Two Persons calmly drives his knife into the man's heart and twists it deep. Quentin feels the air leave his lungs, black spots darting in front of his eyes as he finds his feet and takes a step toward him.
"He wasn't armed." His voice is numb. "Morgan, he wasn't armed."
"He killed her." He jerks the knife free, wiping it against the splattered uniform. "Left her out in the sun to die."
"It was murder, Morgan!" He bites out, and the steel flash of blue eyes sends a tremor of fear through him.
"Look at what your people did to her." The words are ground out, a low hiss, the syntax not lost.
It's always your people now and never our's. They shared the same blood once, years before they purged the white blood out of him and made him a different man.
"There's the law, a trial. You can't just kill a man, Morgan!"
The fist slams into his mouth with such a fury of uncontrolled rage that he's too stunned to realize who hit him until Two Persons is on top of him, pinning him down, a hand clenched in his hair, the tip of his knife pricking the skin below his adam's apple.
"Where were you?" He grinds out. "Eight years, when the army was butchering my people, when your people killed my wife?"
"Morgan." He manages, lips numb, and the knife breaks skin, a thin red droplet welling up against the tip, not enough to hurt or do any damage, yet.
"She was carrying my child." He bites out, and there's a world of anguish behind those words, years of toddling steps and growing blotted out in a single, terrible past tense. And Quentin wants to scream with him, cry for him because he won't cry for himself, because he's Indian and he doesn't mourn that way, but he can't because he's white and the white army stole everything he loved.
The hand releases, knife leaving his throat, and for the briefest of moments he sees Two Persons as he used to be, the brother who led him wounded on his horse through a duststorm in the middle of nowhere, who never gave up hope, who shared food with him when they were low, and killed a gunfighter to save his life. But he doesn't speak to him, nor does he look at him as Quentin scrambles to his feet, weaving and touching his throat.
There's a storm that night, lightning and thunder and the soaking rain and when he wakes the following morning the blanket next to him is empty.
Quentin hangs out his shingle in a small settlement of Norwegian immigrants. It's a good job, if not especially rich in monetary wealth, and the families trust him. He stitches farm injuries, sets broken limbs, delivers babies, and doctors cows, and he doesn't complain when they pay him in chickens or ham because the child who brings the payment is walking straight and he was the one who rebroke the crooked leg and set it.
He's been there six months when he hears that fifteen braves jumped reservation. A week after that there's sixteen as the people whisper about a yellow-haired man riding with them, a Cheyenne captive turned savage. The men clean their guns and check their doors, the women don't let the young ones stray into the fields, and the children's games are Indian raids and captives.
There's no glory in the killings, because the days of the Indian Wars are long over, the braves and the dreamers who saw the spirits of the land long dead or locked behind the borders of the reservations, and after a while they fade away, the reports fewer between until they finally stop.
But the army never recaptures them.
It's been four years when the attack comes, so long that the fear has died down, the worries reduced to lines in penny novels, legends instead of flesh and blood killers. Quentin is a day's ride from town, leaving after tending a man wounded in a hunting accident, and the braves don't kill him straight off, only slam the butt of a stolen rifle into his ribs and bind his hands harshly behind him.
He's heard the stories about the people saved for torture but he doesn't plead for his life, doesn't beg like the others inside the cabin. His head stays slightly down, eyes closed, blotting out the cries that quickly are choked off and replaced by silence. There's a soft step to his left and his eyes open, chin lifting to meet his torturer without fear, and he sees him standing there, knife in his hand, hair loose and long, the wind tangled in it.
He's changed, the softer lines of his face chiseled into hard bones against the skin, youthful body shaped into the leanness of a mountain cat poised to leap and tear his throat out. His eyes burn into him and for one moment he thinks he doesn't recognize him, that the years have changed him as well or that he's made himself forget. Then something moves in his eyes, and he dismisses the brave holding him with a sharp word.
He turns him around roughly, the edge of the knife coming against the small of his back, and for an instant Quentin thinks he'll drive it in, a sudden thrust of his hand and his life will bleed out into the earth. But the knife lowers and slices forward, severing the leather strap binding his wrists together. He glances over his shoulder but Two Persons's eyes are down, sheathing the knife as he pushes him forward in the direction of the wheat field, a violent shove.
"Go, now." He says, voice firm, without a hint of caring. "You will not be harmed."
He catches himself, walking forward uncertainly, one step in front of the next for what seems like an eternity, his pulse loud in his ears.
"Quentin." The word comes out flat with sharp edges from somewhere behind him, far away and fading.
He stops, inches from the field, so close he could put out his hand and touch the wheat, crumble it like chaff between his fingertips and let it blow away on the wind. But he stands motionless, like a man on the edge of a cliff.
"I remember the creek." Two Persons says quietly, so quietly it's almost a memory whispered in his mind, a hypnotic suggestion and not the spoken word, as he sees himself, a small child wet and shivering on the rocks, Morgan on his back, half dragging, half carrying him, stumbling up the embankment and into their parents' arms, his mother with the scent of fresh bread and the apron tied around her, a blue print speckled with tiny dots like checkers stretching across a board. Morgan's fingers come up and catch his hurts, Quentin and he squeezes, the pressure tight between their skin as if he can take some of the pain into himself, protect his little brother from the world I'll take care of you, I promise.
And for a moment he aches to turn, to wrap his arms around him and cling to him, to erase eight years and six more, to paste the broken pieces together.
But he can't.
He doesn't answer, breaking into a run as he enters the field, not looking back, not seeing as the crop slaps at his hands and face like a thousand lashes, eyes stinging, heartbeat loud in his ears, as no one follows him, no war drums and death chants, no sign of life at all.
He thinks the field goes on forever, and when he looks back there's no one in the distance.