I replaced the previous chapter with my updated work before realizing it would not notify people. This chapter is now the same as the one before except the one before has my "disclaimer" at the top explaining why it has been so long and what to expect.
My footsteps shuffled over the parched earth, the cooled bite of the night air stung under my skin like a thousand needles. The light from the windows of the house dug into the details to either shade or illuminate them, Rose standing uneasily with her reins tightened in Potter's hands. Everything inside me fell in relief and she tossed her head slightly, her hoof beats shifted through the dirt as if she shared my thought.
"Oh, no, no, no, no," Tucker urged, stepping in front of Pa with his pistol raised dangerously in his hands. "This is my horse now." Pa stared back at him; his eyes flickered over to Velvet and a set of disappointment to his eyes that only skimmed his surface.
"Come on over here," Tucker directed, leading Pa to another horse, the faded light breaking over their steps across the dirt. Pa glanced over at me and I stepped closer to Rose, pressing my lips to her nose and leaning my forehead between her eyes. Her eyelids fluttered against my hair, stirring it and she nudged her head to mine as if in comfort. The scent and warmth of her pressed to my skin in sweetened reminder and I ran my fingers down her jaw as I pulled away. I walked around Potter and set my foot into the stirrup and swung my leg over, the air frozen through my blood and biting its way numb through my skin. I adjusted myself on the saddle, gripping at the horn and the leather of it stung through my palm and nipping up my arm. Potter held out the reins to me and I grasped them between my hands, the stitching burned icily into my palm. He paused for a moment; the light glinted through the thickened rim of his glasses. He dropped his eyes to his hands and peeled off his gloves, the lightened leather of their insides softened in the shadows.
"Here," he said, holding them out to me so the fingers feel uselessly over one another. I paused, the strange kindness of the act conflicted inside me and I raised my eyes to Pa, his eyes stared back at me and his arms patiently folded over the stirrup. I turned back to Potter and carefully took the gloves from him, the leather warmed from his skin and roughened under my fingers.
"Thank you," I said quietly, sliding them onto my hands and the feel expanded and hung over my wrists. He nodded, stepping back to his horse and I gritted my hands inside the leather to hold onto their feel, the reins uncertainly gripped between my fingers. The hairs on the back of my neck curled and rose and I raised my eyes, William bent over the hitching post and his eyes frozen to mine like an icy fire burned in their depths. I dug my fingers deeper into the gloves, the stitching burned under my nails and a sense of sudden darkness and emptiness twisted inside me as it dawned on me that I may never see him again. The feel plummeted deeper and I readjusted my hold on the reins, everything inside me shattering and falling into an emptiness that had no logic or reason behind it. Rancher stepped up beside him, his hat shaded over his eyes and his voice lowered as he spoke quietly to William. William stood violently, determination burned inside him and intensified to hold stiff every minuscule move he made.
"Let me come with you," he insisted through his teeth, the light burned and lit along the back of his neck and curled into his darkened hair.
"Well, you can't," Rancher patiently responded, his hands folded over the hitching post and dug along the lines of its shape.
"I could help," William insisted, his breath clouded in the air and his shoulders violently raised and fallen in a desperation that seemed to bruise along his skin.
"You're fourteen years old," Rancher politely pointed out, the light burned along his face and goldening the edges of it.
"Look, I can ride faster and shoot better than any one of them," William continued, glanced back at us and his gaze catching mine, like skin tearing when he looked away. "The Pinkerton's hurt, Potter's no good, that railroad man's dead weight, and that other bastard …" He broke off, Alice speaking too softly for me to hear and he lowered his eyes, something suddenly broken and heavy in his shoulders.
"I … need to go," he said, his voice almost too low for me to catch and he raised his eyes, a desperation that seemed to tear at the unbearable broken in them. "Please …" Rancher glanced over at me and I turned away, the bite of the air nipped at my cheeks to lacework them pink.
" … Just a girl," Rancher murmured, his head turned so the brim of his hat clipped in shadow. William shoulders tensed angrily and he looked back at me before pushing himself off the hitching post and marching back into the house, each footstep ached in their sound and what they meant.
"So, boys, where are we headed?" Pa asked cheerfully, a grin of enjoyment to his lips that creased along his jaw.
"Ain't none of your business where we're headed, Wade," Tucker roughly pointed out, his breath clouded in wisps in the chilled air. "You're a prisoner. You don't speak, you don't piss, you don't goddamn breathe unless we say so. Same goes for your daughter." He glanced over at me, his teeth bare beneath his lips in malice. "You understand that?" Pa smiled wider in response, biting onto his lip as if he was holding back a laugh to a joke only he understood.
"We're taking you to Contention," Byron answered, the sound of his horse broken onto the grass and the faded light darkened into the strands of his beard. "Putting you on the 3:10 to Yuma day after tomorrow."
"Shouldn't have told him that," Tucker said through his teeth, the reins tightened in his hands and the pressure of it lined along Velvet's face.
"Relax, friend," Pa assured him, his grin twisted to a smirk. "Now if we get separated, I know where to meet up." He turned to me and winked, clicking his tongue to urge his horse forward in uncertain steps.
"I'd like to thank you for your hospitality, ma'am," he directed to Alice, her face buried to Rancher's shoulder and barely raised at the sound of Pa's voice. "Hope I can send your husband back alright." Rancher pulled from her grasp and glared at Pa, the light broken over his face and traced over it to sharpen it dangerously. I adjusted my hold on the reins, twined between my fingers and clicked my tongue to urge on Rose, my hips jerked somewhat as she fell into careful step. I licked over my lips as the other horses gathered and stepped, their heads lowered with their breaths clouded in the chill. I sank my teeth into the skin of my lip to steady myself from looking back and seeing him one last time. Don't turn back, don't turn back, don't … instinct sank its teeth into my chest and I turned back to look for him; desperately scanning the house for any detail or sign and finding it standing at the window. His gaze locked onto mine and I felt frozen by it; the ache that instinct left throbbing like its own separate heartbeat in my chest and in my ears. I followed the line of shadow down his nose and over his cheeks; the image of him blurred by the distance and candlelight but I could still see it like he was standing right in front of me.
Rose's flank shifted back and forth beneath me, the muscles bruised along the inside of my thighs. I blinked rapidly, every sense of me faded and muffled with exhaust and cold and adjusted the hold of the reins in my hand. William's face burned through my memory, every detail intensified and raw like a shock that burned through me to boil my blood.
"You know, Byron," Pa began; his voice casual and light in the chilled air, the faint moonlight caught and carved along the sharpened sketch of the mountains. "My Crew knows every back road; they'll be on that Marshall by dawn."
"What makes you sure they'll come for you, Wade?" Tucker asked in twisted enjoyment. "And why should they? They got all the money."
"Oh they'll be coming," Byron assured him, his voice roughened in the cold like a blade that had rusted. "They're lost without him. Like a pack of dogs without a master." The reins fell slack in my hands and I righted myself, the feel of them tightened and entwined between my fingers.
"Don't be nervous, Doc," Pa politely said, his shape shifted on top of his horse and his stance held high like neither sleep nor cold could touch him. "Just have yourself another drink." Doc Potter responded, his voice a bare warm whisper that I couldn't decipher and I blinked again, every part of me hung heavy. Something crunched distinctly and snapped through me like a shock and I tightened the reins in my fingers, Rose falling to a stop with a slight toss to her head. My heart rate caught painfully in my chest and intensified it' beats, Rancher and Byron dropping from their horses with their rifles cocked, the sounds overly loud and aware to my ears. Their footsteps shuffled through the dirt and Pa lowered from his horse, the handcuffs to his wrists clinking and he stepped over to me.
"Get down," he murmured, his fingers pressed to my leg in the demand and I swung my leg down from Rose's back, cold seized and broken through my skin as I dropped to the ground.
"That's my boy," Rancher said, turned back to Byron and his hand fisted over the barrel of his rifle to hold it back. Everything crashed and shattered inside me, pierced and bleeding through my veins and riding my entire being raw.
"Is that the quiet one or the one who won't shut up?" Pa asked in boredom, his head tilted in only the presumed look of interest. Rancher turned back to glare at him, walking over to the shape of William and his horse, the edges of him trembled in his movement and the splintered moonlight.
"I left home," he called, his voice sharpened and raw, shattered through the air and pressed to every inch of my skin.
"Huh?" Rancher yelled after, anger in his voice and the tense moves of his steps. He drew closer and their voices dropped only hums that held firm in the air. I couldn't see his face, the faded light only touched and broken over his shape as a desperate reminder that he still stood there. Rancher turned back, every movement of his stiff and even in the broken light a glint of anger in his eyes. William sat uncertainly on his horse and I stared at him, fragmented shades to him only visible and yet my mind clung to them like cracked glass, bleeding between my fingers and yet refusing to release. Pa clicked his tongue and patted me on the shoulder and I dug my fingers into the cantle of my saddle and swung my leg over the seat and fell into the hardened grooves of it. I clicked my tongue to urge on Rose, my every muscle held in trembled force to keep myself from looking back, the gathered hoof steps of the horses around me overlapped and yet dulled in my thoughts.
"It's a difficult age between the hay and the grass," Pa said thoughtfully, his hands visibly folded patiently over his lap.
"He's stubborn," Rancher simply replied the small mention and detail crackled inside me.
"You can't plant a radish and get an onion, Dan," Pa solemnly remarked, his shoulders set with his own confidence that found its place on the edge of arrogance.
"Don't talk to me like you know me, Wade. We aren't friends," Rancher bitterly answered, his voice darkened and like the sharpened twist of a blade caught in the moonlight.
"You know why I'm so hard to walk away, Dan?" Pa asked curiously, continued on like he hadn't heard Rancher's words or didn't care either way. "Why farmers give me shelter and ranches give me food, judges let me off and jailers let me out? You know why? People like me." He finished his words with a grin that seized upon the air like it was claiming it, an inaudible chuckle hummed after.
"They take pity on you because of your daughter," Rancher replied, his shoulders straightened forward and logic broken between his words.
"That may be true," Pa thoughtfully admitted, the words played over his lips like they were his own thoughts and not Ranchers. He turned back to glance at me, a smirk touched along his jaw before straightening forward again, his tongue clicked to urge on his horse. I sank my teeth into my lip, the frozen bite of blood bitter coated along my tongue, burned through my throat and pressed along my skin in a resentment that twisted along me like the rusted flesh of broken metal.
The fire crackled restlessly, the flames caught and sparked up into the darkness with pops of red and gold faded. I shifted against the rock; the broken edge of it pressed to my back and dug itself under my skin. Pa stared into the flames, the reflection goldening their edges and looking for all the world like he didn't have a care or worry that could break him. He glanced over at Doc Potter, a smirk along his jaw and I followed his gaze, the Doc pressed over his shoulder with a flask to his lips.
"So," Butterfield began, his voice sudden in the near stillness of the air and his pistol clinking between his fingers. "Were you conscripted into Lincoln's army, Mr. Evans or did you volunteer?"
"Neither," Rancher said quietly, staring down at something between is gloved fingers, the golden details of it collected in the firelight and he slipped it back into his jacket, his face etched in sudden thought. "Maybe both."
"What does that mean?" Butterfield asked, his eyes darted between his pistol and back to Dan, the flames flickered orange over his face.
"Means I was a volunteer …," Rancher began, his back perfectly pressed and shaped against the rock behind him. " … In the Massachusetts State Guard. Then, in '62, the federal government was running low on men, so they called in the state militia's to protect Washington."
"And that's when you got hurt," Pa gathered, his tongue played behind his parted lips and his forehead creased in thought. I shifted further down against the rock, the crunched grass beneath me broken and the burn of the fire pressed deeper up my legs. He turned back to Rancher, the alternated shadows and light crumbled over his face and neck. "What are you doing out here, Dan? You got a family to protect. You're not a lawman. You don't work for the railroad like Mr. Shiny shoes over there." He tossed his head in Mr. Butterfields direction, his shape burying itself under his jacket and his pistol still tightly gripped in his hand. "You're not a Pinkerton." He stared down at Rancher, his eyes calculated and with a precision like he was applying pressure to see what could make him break and crumble.
"Maybe I don't like the idea of men like you on the loose," Rancher offered, his head to the rock and a sort of exhaustion that him that was like a roughened second skin.
"Its men's nature to take what he wants, Dan," Pa smirked, the turn of his face broken in the firelight. "That's how we're born."
"Well, I make a honest living," Rancher quietly assured, the sound of his voice soft and faded.
"It might be honest, but I don't think it's much of a living," Pa pointed out, a grin widening and re-carving the firelight along his jaw. "You must be hurting bad for money to take this job."
"Go to sleep," Rancher tiredly said, his fingers gestured as if through sheer will he could make Pa shut his eyes and close his lips. Pa stared back at him, the edges of his face tinted orange and the tiniest shards of a smirk pressed to the corners of his lips and etched along his face.
"I imagine debt puts a lot of pressure on a marriage," He observed simply, his gaze fallen to his hands and slowly turning them over in the firelight so their shadow eerily shaped and twisted over the dishevelled dirt.
"You imagine?" Rancher dryly asked, his head raised and the movement cutting the shadow from his hat severely over his face. "What would you know about marriage? We can't all be cutthroats and thieves." His words came out pronounced and heavy, a sharpness burned to them that seemed to spark and crackle in the chilled deadened air.
"Well, I know if I was lucky enough to have a wife like Alice, I'd treat her a whole lot better than you do Dan," Pa said matter of factly, a faint smile of amusement at the end of his words nearly faded but instead sketched darkly by the flickering flames up his jaw line. "I'd feed her better, buy her pretty dresses, wouldn't make her work so hard …" His voice dropped lower and the flames flickered sharper along his face, a glint of something in his eyes that ran itself bitter and raw. He stared at Rancher for a moment, his eyes tracing over his face as if he were running a knife along his skin and calculating the moment to apply the pressure and watch him bleed. "…Yeah, I'll bet Alice was a real pretty girl before she met you."
"You shut your mouth," Rancher snarled, on his feet and across the fire, throwing himself to his knees in front of Pa as if in prayer but for the gun in his hands. He forced it up and under Pa's chin and against his throat, turning it at an angle so if he turned sharply enough he would break Pa's neck.
"Shut your mouth. You shut your mouth about my wife. You say one more word I'll cut you down right here," he leaned in close to whisper the harsh threat yet I heard it like a blunt knife working its way into my chest. He tilted his head forward so his nose almost touched Pa's and a glint in his eyes of animalistic hatred that I couldn't explain away as firelight. Pa found it as I did, a look of knowing crossing his eyes as he recognized the wound that he had made; that he had torn too deep but that the reward was all the better for it.
"I like this side of you, Dan," he said, a brief incline of his head in approval and awe to his work.
"Mr. Evans," Mr. Butterfield reprimanded, standing and leaning over the fire with his hands on his hips and tucked under his jacket. His Adam's Apple bobbed as he nervously swallowed and shuffled his steps back and forth in impatience before the Rancher slowly pulled back. He kept his eyes on Pa as he went back to his perch by the rock and his movements slower this time and crackling over one another like they weren't supposed to be done in succession like this. I watched, my mouth dry and film on my tongue as he settled himself with his head bowed and gun clutched to his chest. He raised his eyes as if he felt me watching him and I stared; the weight of his eyes holding me and the note that they were the same colour as Williams.
"My watch now," Turner said, speaking from the shadows between the Rancher and Pa and I tore my gaze away from him to note the smirk in his voice and click as he adjusted holding his gun to his chest. Mr. Butterfield took his words for a reclaiming of control and tentatively went back to his space with his eyes now on Turner who was staring down Pa like an animal he was hunting and had cornered and wounded. Pa seemed not to notice it though; smiling to himself as he went over what had happened and how the outcome had worked in my favour. He felt me watching like my gaze held a weight that he had decided not to shrug off. He looked up and something solemn touched his eyes when he noticed me like he was repeating to himself a joke and discovered that it wasn't funny.
"Here," he said, reaching and bundling up his jacket that laid beside him and throwing it up and over to me. It landed heavy on my legs and I curled my fingers under the collar to pull it up onto my torso and chest. It smelled like smoke and burnt grass and I pressed my nose into the leather to keep my eyes down and away from the uneasy silence that had fallen on the fire.