The man in the shadows watched twenty thousand dollars ride away into the pale Wyoming dawn. Kid Curry and Hannibal Heyes, infamous masterminds of the Devil's Hole gang, were getting away again. But that was good... because if they got away, that meant no other pursuer would know where they had gone. But he would.
Because he knew the mind of Hannibal Heyes, and he knew where they were going. And when they got there, he would be waiting.
Heyes dropped his reins and stretched in the saddle. The horse jogged on, unconcerned, as he twisted around to look behind him. The low, rolling hills which defined the somewhat vague boundary of the Wyoming Territory sprawled out behind him, devoid of any signs of pursuit.
He settled back in the saddle and picked up his reins again, satisfied. No one had followed them- this time. They were safe in the almost violently isolationist state of Colorado. Now if they could just manage to avoid the Army, and any bounty hunters, and any trouble- then they'd be home free.
They followed the cattle trail down towards Denver, pushing the horses fairly hard. A full day out of Cheyenne, Heyes finally relaxed enough to feel sociable and responded to Curry's next attempt at conversation.
"What's with these mountains, Heyes?" Curry was sitting sideways in his saddle, looking at the Rockies.
"Huh? What about them?" Heyes took a look for himself. Rather short, red rock covered with green scrub- yeah, looked like the Rockies. The sun was dipping down behind them, creating dramatic shadows and highlighting a red rock formation known as the Devil's Backbone.
Heyes laughed at the affronted tone. "Just this part of them, Kid. Don't worry, there's plenty more mountains that are plenty impressive down a bit further south."
"Are you sure these are the Rockies? I mean, I expected big."
"Yeah, I'm sure. Trust me, okay Kid? The big ones just aren't visible from here."
"Okay, then- if you say so." Curry turned away from the disappointing mountains. "We stopping any time soon? Sun's almost gone."
"Yeah- we actually can't go too much further, there's a military outpost up ahead. I'm sure they've had news of us by now."
Curry grinned. "Yeah- bet it was one of the post riders that tried to run us down."
"Probably. Rude little bastards, ain't they? Imitation Pony Express boys, think they're so good- but all they ever do is run like hell and ride horses into the ground carrying 'round messages."
"Yeah." Curry was quiet for a minute. Then he spotted something that looked promising. "Heyes- how about over there? There's a stream, got a black spot where someone had a fire, couple dead trees..."
"Yeah, looks good to me."
So they stopped and laid out their bedrolls. Heyes collected some wood for a fire, while Curry took care of the horses. They'd stopped earlier at the trading post just outside of Fort Collins- an experience which still made the hairs on the back of his neck prickle, as though he were being stared at by hundreds of hostile eyes- and picked up some essentials for the trail: bedrolls, travel rations, some grain for the horses, spare clothing. Then they'd left, relieved to be out from under the shadow of the stockade. It had been a risk, yes, but a worthwhile one since they hadn't exactly stocked up before clearing out of Cheyenne.
"You know, this reminds me of home," Curry said later, as they leaned up against their saddles in front of the fire. Overhead, the glittering band of the Milky Way arched across the black velvet of the sky.
"Home? How so?" Heyes was surprised. Curry never talked about his life before becoming an outlaw.
"My Pa was a rancher. We used to go out together, riding fence. Just the two of us, no Ma or screaming little ones- real quiet and peaceful, like. Be out for days on end, sometimes finding something to fix, more often just out under the big old sky enjoying the scenery."
"Sounds like fun," Heyes said. He thought briefly of his own father, trying to picture the quiet accountant riding a horse on the open range for days on end- a very amusing picture.
"It was." Curry propped himself up on one elbow and looked at Heyes. "What about you? Where are you from, anyway? Something tells me it ain't Kansas."
"Colorado," Heyes said shortly, then closed up, as distant and remote as the stars above.
Curry sighed and laid back down, head on his saddle. One of these days... one of these days, he was going to break through those defensive walls and find out what Heyes was all about.
"Heyes- you sure about this?" Curry looked around nervously, the faint light of the carefully shielded lantern illuminating him with a soft glow.
"'Course I'm sure." Heyes didn't pay his partner's nervous fidgeting any mind, just continued his patient twirling of the dial. "Why wouldn't I be? Something wrong?"
"Just- it's Wells Fargo, Heyes! No one can crack one of their safes, you know that. Maybe we shoulda-"
"Ha!" Heyes laughed quietly. "They just want you to think no one can crack their safes. Me, I know different- I helped make this damn thing, after all. Now will you be quiet?"
"You made that thing?" Curry was thoroughly distracted from his lookout duties now. "What do you mean?"
"I'll tell you later. Now will you just shut up?"
Curry did, although Heyes could tell it was costing him a lot of self-control. But that didn't matter. What mattered now was the lock beneath his fingers now, hearing the mechanism turning inside, remembering how the separate individual pieces had been made, how they fit together... Good job, boy- no thief'll ever crack this safe. Now I'll set in the combo- get back to work.
And the way he'd laughed inside, when Master Lewin had said that- because he knew the fatal flaw of this supposedly unbreakable lock, and that was in the metal used... there! He felt the first telltale catch and smiled. No safe had ever been made yet that he couldn't get into.
It took a while, but then he'd known it would. Eventually, though, the safe surrendered and swung open. Kid's eyes nearly popped out of his head when it did.
"You did it! You cracked it!"
"Told you I could. Now would you grab a bag so we can get out of here?"
They took a bag each, as they'd agreed previously- not being greedy, just a thousand in gold apiece- more than enough to keep them in comfort for a long time down in the Arizona Territory. More than enough to deliver a stinging slap to the faces of Wells Fargo and Master Lewin, as well. Then Heyes relocked the safe with a chuckle, wondering how long it would take for the discovery to be made- and how long it would take them to figure out that it wasn't employee theft, but that their prized safe was no longer safe. Curry cleaned up all signs of their presence, carefully, not missing a thing. Then they made their way outside, where the horses waited, and concealed the bags of gold in the saddlebags. They mounted and rode quietly through the back alleys, working their way from the elegant Capitol Hill district down to Colfax Avenue. Here they at last came out in the open, talking and laughing with each other a bit too loudly and heartily- just like the dozens of other men out there, where the bars were still open and few paid any heed to the late hour, under the bright and novel electric lights.
Underneath the pretense of being a cheerful drunk, Heyes kept a sharp eye out for trouble. There was none. Even the Denver policemen stayed away from Colfax at night. Then they were away from the lights and the noise, and into a quiet residential district.
"Dammit, Jones, can't you remember my name?" Heyes hissed, eyes darting around and searching for any possible witnesses to that slip. There were none.
"Uh- sorry, Smith. I forgot." Curry fidgeted, tugged at his hat a little.
"What did you want?" Heyes settled back in his saddle, reminding himself to look normal, to look as though he weren't carrying a thousand dollars in stolen gold in his saddlebags.
"Just wondering how far we're going to go, that's all. Tonight, I mean."
"Tonight, hell- once we hit that trail, we're off. No stopping until late afternoon."
Curry sighed. "And where will that be?"
"Your guess is as good as mine, when it comes to that. I've never been south of Castle Rock."
"But you know where the railroad crosses the trail?"
"Yeah. Why? What's eating at you?"
"Nothing, Smith. Just tired, that's all."
"Well, don't worry, Jones- you'll be a lot more tired before we stop." Heyes grinned. He wasn't tired at all- more exhilarated, and ready to get the hell out of Denver. He'd done what he'd come to do, gotten a subtle sort of revenge on the city itself and old Lewin in particular, and now he was ready to leave. Too many memories here. "Four, maybe five days of hard riding will get us down to Trinidad and the rails. Then you can have your rest."
"Damn, Hey- er, Smith- think the horses can take it? We've already used 'em pretty hard."
"They can take it. Just think, after we hit Trinidad, they're getting turned loose and can be just as lazy as they want. That make you feel better?"
Curry sighed again. "Not really, but I'll be glad to see the last of this worthless cayuse. Never sat a rougher gait."
Heyes chuckled. "Poor Jones."
"Nah, it's poor Jones's ass." Curry rose in his stirrups, straining to see ahead in the moonlight. "Is that the trail up there? That big wide patch?"
Heyes followed his gaze and saw a wide break in the residential district. "Must be- can't think of any other street that big in this town. Hot damn- we're really off, then."
Heyes smiled. He looked away from the trail, up where the nearly full moon hung over the Rockies, and spared a moment to appreciate their ancient beauty. Even in the night they were majestic, rearing thousands of feet above the sleeping city on the plain below. Joshua had always loved them, wanted to take a trip up to one of the mining camps up there...
Heyes swallowed hard and lost the smile. Joshua had never made it up there, never seen the wonders the mountain men and trappers described so glowingly. But that didn't matter anymore. All that mattered now was that he and Curry were on their way out of Colorado with two thousand in gold between them and no sign of pursuit on their trail.
It was midday before Heyes felt safe enough to allow them a rest stop. Curry halted his horse and nearly fell out of the saddle in his eagerness to reach the ground. Although sweet-tempered and willing, the horse he'd acquired on the way out of Cheyenne had a punishing hard gait. Felt like his legs were about ready to break right off, after so many hours in the saddle. But here was a chance to move around a bit, to have a drink from a briskly flowing little stream and sit on something that wasn't jolting him around, and even eat a little.
Heyes pulled his saddlebags off and sat down with them near Curry.
"Whatcha doing now, Heyes?"
"I'm not happy with the way this load is sitting. I'm going to split it up into two bags, so the heavy side isn't always dragging on the left. Looks kind of obvious, don't you think?"
Curry looked at his own saddlebags. Sure enough, the left side was significantly lower than the right, and had a visible bulge. He clambered to his feet on uncooperative legs and relieved the horse of its uneven burden. The horse raised its dripping muzzle from the creek and slobbered down his shirt. "Leave off, you ugly brute," he told it, but rubbed its nose gently before he returned to where Heyes sat.
"How are you going to do this, anyway?" Curry asked, folding his legs under him and laying out his saddlebags. "There's only the two sacks."
"Yeah, but if I wrap half of it up in my spare shirt, that'll keep it from sliding around or making too much noise." Heyes regarded his shirt for a long moment, sorrowfully. "Too bad there won't be a chance to have our stuff- and ourselves- cleaned for a long time."
Curry chuckled. "Poor Heyes, stuck living like a dirty outlaw."
"Nobody ever said an outlaw couldn't have class." Heyes spread the shirt out on the grass and dumped about half the contents of the Wells Fargo bag onto it. The gold coins lay there gleaming in the sunlight, and Curry whistled his appreciation.
"Whooee, Heyes, but that's purty! Still can't believe you did it."
Heyes wrapped the coins up quickly, then began repacking his saddlebags. "'Course I did it. Ain't you got no faith in me?"
Curry smiled and started unloading his saddlebags. "Sure do. That's why I ride with you. But no one is supposed to be able to crack one of those newfangled safes. And hey," he looked up, taken by a sudden memory, "what did you mean in there, when you said you'd helped make that thing?"
Heyes grinned, that good old cat-in-the-pantry grin. "Why Curry, you mean to tell me you didn't know?"
"Know what? How am I supposed to know anything when you haven't told me?"
"I'm a journeyman locksmith by trade."
Curry looked at the smug grin on his partner's face for a long moment before he burst out laughing. "No wonder! No wonder them locks never give you no trouble!"
"Guess I never told you, huh?" Then Heyes sobered abruptly. "'Course, I never told anyone, outside of Denver. I don't want that getting out."
"I can see that," Curry nodded agreement. "Don't worry, I won't tell. So you're from Denver then?"
"I was- up until... I had to leave." Heyes got very quiet, focusing on his saddlebags with more intensity than was required by the task.
Curry watched him, trying to figure out what was behind that shuttered expression. He'd always liked Heyes, ever since he'd ridden into Devil's Hole and taken charge of the gang like he was born to it. But this trip had been showing him another side of Heyes, one he wanted to see more of- a glimpse of the personality lurking beneath the tough outlaw exterior. But then, every time he started to open up, let Curry see the real man underneath, he'd get like this- closed off, remote, untouchable.
Curry finished repacking his saddlebags in silence. He left out some jerky and trail bread, gnawing on them thoughtfully. Heyes was still lost in thought, although perhaps not so remote as Curry had originally believed- he wore a faint expression of pain, and his eyes, though distant, reflected a sadness that tore at Curry.
What's wrong with you, friend? he thought, looking at the quiet man as he stared sightlessly at the mountains. What makes you so sad? And what would make you smile again?
They buried him on a Sunday. Even the sky was dark, as was fitting- rain drizzled down over the small group of mourners as the casket was lowered into the ground. Hannibal Heyes stood there, dry-eyed, and watched the descent of the shiny black box with morbid fascination. He knew that his friend's body was in there, but couldn't shake the irrational feeling that Joshua was lurking behind him, just out of sight, laughing at him for being so upset. The image of Joshua smiling at him was almost enough to replace the memory of how he'd found his best friend in the parlor that day, how the blood had gone everywhere, how the quiet and peaceful face had been horribly belied by the gaping bullet hole in his chest...
At least his family had covered some of the cost of the funeral. Hannibal couldn't bear the thought of his best friend being consigned to a mere pauper's grave, with only a cheap wooden cross to mark the passing of his life. Joshua's family had fallen on hard times, indeed. They'd lost nearly everything, but for the house and the family plot. And now they'd lost their eldest son, the one who had such hopes and dreams and was bringing about changes with his wage as a 'prentice to the farrier.
But Hannibal didn't really care about their problems right now. What he cared about was that the casket had finished its final descent, that the ropes were being withdrawn, that Joshua's mother had cast the first handful of dirt upon the box which housed her son's body. Each of them in turn, down to Joshua's favorite little sister, threw a handful of the rich soil upon the casket. Some of the children were crying, while the rest wore looks of blank incomprehension- too young to really understand yet that Joshua wasn't coming back.
And then it was his turn. Hannibal bent down, scooped up some of the dark brown dirt, and looked down one last time. Dirt was piled in a pitiful mound on the shiny black enamel of the casket, scattered over the flowers which his own mother had insisted on having buried with him. "He loved them so," she'd said, through her tears. "Let him take them with him..."
He couldn't do it. With a strangled cry, Hannibal threw the clump of earth back where he'd taken it from, turned, and ran. He heard startled voices, but ignored them. His mother called out, but his father hushed her- he could imagine the words: Let the boy go, he's had a rough time of this, don't worry, he'll be okay.
But he wasn't okay.
They reached Trinidad after four days. Men and horses were exhausted, pushed to the limits of endurance by Heyes's obsessive need to get free of Colorado. They released the horses just north of the tiny whistle-stop town, then hauled their weary bodies to the train ticketing agent.
There was no real depot here, just a shed for the ticketing agent and a maze of corrals and ramps for loading cattle. They purchased two tickets on a train due in just under an hour- amazing timing, Curry thought- then settled on the bench outside the office while the agent hung out the red flag to stop the train.
"So where you heading, boys?"
Heyes looked at the railroad man, mildly annoyed. "Got family business down in Flagstaff," he said.
"You're brothers?" Disbelief was plain in the man's voice. Heyes would have laughed, if he hadn't been so tired.
"Nah- it's his family. I'm just along for the ride." Curry picked up on the story and played off it effortlessly, keeping the chatty ticketing agent occupied while Heyes tried to relax.
Funny how well they worked together, really. True, they'd always gotten along back in Wyoming, far better than the rest of the gang. But on their own, they made quite a team. Kid's gun and his brains... unstoppable.
Heyes snorted. Yeah, right- if you're so smart, why are you running from the law? But he knew the answer to that, and it was nothing to do with brains. It was more along the lines of he was fed up with society, and the easiest- and most beneficial- way to get out of it was to apply certain skills he'd learned during his apprenticeship.
Heyes listened to the rambling conversation between Curry and the railroad man with half an ear. Idly, he wondered why he was getting along so well with Curry- and worse yet, why was the man always reminding him of Joshua. He'd sworn never to forget Joshua, true, but he'd tried not to remember his old friend more than necessary- it was just too painful. But now he was thinking about Joshua far too often. And it didn't make his mind any easier to realize that he was thinking about Curry even more than he was about Joshua.
He drifted, losing track of the conversation and trusting the Kid to warn him if there was anything wrong. He was so tired... The marble headstone reared in front of him, inscribed with his own words... "The best friend a man could ever have." There was a mound of fresh earth packed neatly where the hole had been, sealing his friend away from the world of light and air for all eternity. He stood there for a moment over the grave, knowing this would be the last time- he was all packed and ready to go, heading for the wilds of Wyoming Territory. "Joshua," he said, through the thickness of tears he refused to shed, "I would have loved you if I'd known how." Then he laid a single rose on the grave, the last one he'd been able to find in his mother's garden, and left Joshua behind forever.
"Heyes, train's here."
Curry's voice intruded into the grief of the half-dream, half-memory, and Heyes sat up abruptly. The engine of the train was pulling in, puffing and blowing clouds of billowing smoke and steam. It let loose an impressive squeal of brakes, then stopped alongside the wooden siding. Heyes and Curry grabbed their saddlebags and headed for the middle of three passenger cars, tucked in between the first-class coaches and the cargo-laden boxcars. They boarded and found an empty seat. The train began moving again before they'd even sat down.
"Don't waste much time, do they?" Curry observed. The motion of the train jolted him into Heyes, who automatically helped steady the other man. Then Curry smiled in thanks, and he let go as if burned.
"No, they can't- they have to keep their schedules." Heyes let Curry take the window seat, then stowed his saddlebags under the seat in front of his and sat down.
"Damn, this is as bad as that horse," Curry said, shifting uncomfortably.
Heyes laughed. "You're saying that already? Just think, we've got several days of travel ahead of us."
The seats were slatted wooden benches, like one would expect to find in a park- hardly his choice of seating for an extended time period, but it would do.
"My ass will never be the same," Curry moaned pathetically. Then, quieter, "I still think you should have bought us first class tickets. We can afford it."
"Hush," Heyes said sharply. "We don't look like we could afford it, and that's what matters now. And here comes the conductor to get our tickets, so keep your big mouth shut."
The train crawled steadily across the countryside, carrying them out of Colorado in short order. Heyes felt a load lift off his shoulders as soon as he realized they were free of his old home state. Perhaps now he could leave behind the old memories and look forward again, to a future that, while filled with uncertainty, was still promising.
The journey continued on and on forever. Heyes and Curry alternated between sleeping and talking, in between meals and stops at stations along the way. Curry was in seventh heaven, despite the discomfort of the wooden bench seats, because he was finally getting Heyes to open up a bit and talk to him. He was more than willing to put up with the discomforts of the journey, because Heyes was making it worth the suffering.
And at night, when they attempted to find a comfortable position to sleep in on the unpleasantly cramped benches, he would stare at the blackness outside for hours, thinking about the man leaning up against him and wishing he dared follow his dreams.
News of their latest exploit reached the man waiting in Flagstaff long before Curry and Heyes themselves did. Edward Brown merely smiled when he heard the news- how the infamous duo had managed to spoil Wells Fargo's perfect track record and carry away thousands of dollars from the Denver depository. He smiled, because all was going exactly as he'd known it would. Having successfully gotten enough money to finance themselves over the next year, Heyes and Curry would be riding hard for Arizona. They'd probably catch the train down in Trinidad, then they'd be heading straight for him. In fact, given how old this news was, they could be nearly here by now...
Brown smiled. Heyes was heading right for him, would probably be within his grasp in a week or so. And then... ah, yes. Then he would be able to carry out his plan.
The train pulled into Flagstaff after three delays and over a week of ceaseless travel. The two weary travelers stumbled off the train into the station, still in a daze brought on by too many hours- days- in the uncomfortable conditions of one railway carriage after another. Heyes looked around and sighed. No use standing around here, better get moving- it was getting late already. The sun was dipping below the white capped peaks of the mountains and the air was distinctly chilly. He forced his legs to obey him and pushed through the crowd of travelers towards the ticketing booth. There he obtained a name and directions for a respectable boarding house and set off, towing Curry in his wake like a detached shadow.
Neither one of them was able to make a good impression on the good Miss Martha, the imposing matron who ran the boarding house. But she took a chance on them anyway and let them have a room for a week. The two made their way to the room, too weary to even eat or bathe first before going to bed.
Heyes peeled out of his clothes without hesitation, dropping them in a pile in the corner. He left on his underthings out of innate caution too deep to shake, checked to make sure the door was blocked adequately, and hung his gunbelt where he could reach it easily. Then he sprawled across the bed with a sigh.
But perversely, his body betrayed him. He was comfortable for the first time in longer than he cared to remember, he was relatively safe- still no signs of pursuit, he'd be willing to lay bets that there was quite a healthy search going on in Wyoming though- and there was no reason he shouldn't be able to go to sleep.
But he was also, oddly, too tired to sleep, and conscious of the smallest details- like the way his head itched, and his skin was crawling with need for a bath. And Curry's breathing, beside him on the bed- funny, the way neither one of them had considered getting separate rooms, just automatically gotten a single. He wondered if Curry was awake too.
He moved, rolling onto his side. It was hard to move, so hard- he was incredibly tired. Why couldn't he just sleep? Curry moved too, just enough that he must be awake also.
"Yeah." Curry sighed. "Ever been too tired to sleep?"
"Yeah. I'm having that problem now. We shoulda ate something."
"Maybe. But I'm too tired to eat, too."
"Yeah. Me too."
There was a brief silence, the Heyes spoke up again. "Kid, you ever get lonely?"
"Huh? How could I?"
Heyes looked across at his companion. Moonlight from the open window silvered his hair and skin, making him seem nearly unreal. "Because there's never anyone else around to talk to, you know?"
"But Heyes- you're here." Kid smiled, a glint of teeth in the darkness. "How can I be lonely?"
Heyes sighed in frustration. Too many things were crowding together in his mind, things he wanted to say but didn't quite dare. Things he couldn't say, because he couldn't quite figure out what they were. "Dunno, Kid. Just. never mind."
Curry moved, pushing himself upright in the soft feather mattress. "No. Not never mind. Something's been eating at you. I mean, I may not be as sharp as you are, but even I can tell there's something wrong. What is it?"
"Nothing's wrong, Kid." Heyes rolled over, away from the other man this time.
"Bull," Curry said. He shifted closer, put a hand on Heyes's side. "If nothing's wrong, then why are you acting so weird? Are you lonely? Getting tired of me?"
"Not hardly," Heyes protested automatically. "I just. look, Kid, maybe I just don't know what's wrong, okay?"
"Hmmm." Curry rubbed lightly, up and down, like he would with a skittish horse. He felt Heyes relax a tiny bit. "Okay, I can understand that," he said, then yawned. It was really getting late. He stretched back out on his side, still rubbing. That felt good. he didn't want to stop.
"Kid. what're you doing?" Heyes protested, but didn't move away.
"Nothin', Heyes," he replied, around another yawn. "Just thinking. "
"About what?" Heyes shifted back onto his back, eyes wide and staring in the moonlight.
"Just wondering how you could feel lonely. We got each other, ain't we?" Curry, deprived of a side to rub, hooked his arm around Heyes's middle. After a moment, he felt a hand come to rest on his arm.
"Yeah, Kid. We've got each other."
Silence fell over the pair. Curry drifted, not really aware of anything but the warmth of Heyes in the bed beside him.
Heyes shifted again, closer this time. Maybe he didn't have a name to put to the demons hounding him inside, but he was able to recognize when they'd been chased away. He moved closer still, so he was pressed up against the Kid, who sighed and rested his head on Heyes's shoulder. Maybe he didn't know what he wanted, but for now, for this moment, life was very good. He relaxed and drifted off to sleep at last, wrapped in peace.
Heyes stiffened and turned away from the stubborn safe. He'd tried to crack this one, many times before, but it just wouldn't cooperate. He knew he could get into it, knew he absolutely had to get into it because there was something in there more valuable than gold, but it was just too stubborn. So he turned, and he saw Joshua there, alive and whole, just as he knew he would be- Joshua was the only one who'd ever called him Han.
Joshua. You're here.
Of course I'm here. Where else would I be? Joshua smiled and sat down on the bloodstained couch. Heyes cried out in wordless protest, stretching a hand out as the stain spread and spread and threatened to engulf Joshua. But Joshua merely smiled. You've got to stop remembering me like this, Han. Think about the good times, not the end. And quit feeling guilty, would you? You great idiot, you. A strangled sound wrenched free of Heyes, half laugh and half anguished moan. But then Joshua ran his hand over the couch and the stain vanished.
Come over here, Han, and Joshua patted the seat invitingly. Heyes got up, struggling through a heavy feeling that made it hard to move, and sat beside his friend. He couldn't quit staring. Joshua was there, he was whole, he was there, and he was talking...
You're being an idiot, Han. You're so afraid of caring- Joshua reached out and touched his face gently. Heyes closed his eyes and shivered. You have to get into there. I think you'll be surprised at what you find.
There was something he had to say, something he desperately needed to say, but what was it? Joshua was pushing him back towards the safe now, standing beside him as he twirled the dial and finally he could hear and feel the catches that marked the combination and he got it right and the door sprang open-
And Curry was inside.
Heyes backed away from the welcoming smile Curry wore, straight into Joshua, who was bleeding again just like he had before but still managed to grab hold of him. Quit being an idiot, Han. I'm telling you, it's all right.
Heyes tore his eyes off Curry and remembered what he'd been trying to say.
I would have loved you, if I'd known how...
Joshua smiled. I know. I heard you. And you loved me well enough. Get on with your life, now. And then Joshua was fading, and there was only Curry there smiling at him.
But Heyes reached out desperately, calling Joshua...
"Joshua," Heyes said, then woke with a jolt at the sound of his own voice. Beside him, Curry murmured a sleepy protest. Heyes looked at him, sprawled peacefully over three quarters of the bed, with wide eyes. What had Curry been doing in his dream? And for that matter, why did Curry have an arm wrapped around him? But then he remembered last night, falling asleep with Curry's head pillowed on his shoulder, floating in a fragile peace- until he'd had that dream.
Heyes sighed. Why did life have to be so complicated? He slid out from under Curry's arm. A cool breeze blew through the open window of the room, fluttering the gingham checked curtains. Heyes smiled, thinking of the surprise on the face of the matron of this boarding house when they'd requested a room for a week. But she hadn't turned them away, despite the fact that they'd reached Flagstaff looking like they'd been dragged facedown through hell. So they had a secure place to rest and recover from the journey, and to plan for the future.
Heyes rummaged through the new carpetbag he'd purchased along the way, locating some of the new clothing they'd found, ready-made, at a catalog outlet shop during one of the breaks while they waited to switch trains. He put them on, then found some clean underthings as well. The clothing wasn't anything special, but it sure beat the denim trousers and flannel shirt he'd worn all the way down from Wyoming. Those garments could pretty nearly sit his horse on their own, now.
"Heyes?" Curry sat up, blinking. "Where you at?"
"Over here." He straightened up from the floor and Curry smiled with relief.
"Howdy. Thought you'd gone away."
"Nope, not yet anyways. Needed to grab some clean clothes, then I'm hitting the bathhouse."
"Sounds like a fine idea." Curry stretched, somehow managing to cover even more of the bed. Heyes shook his head, with a faint smile. The man was like a cat- give him any comfortable surface, and he'd take up more of it than was physically possible.
"Don't want to scare poor Miss Martha any more than necessary, after all."
Curry laughed. "I thought for a minute she was going to refuse us the room, last night. Good thing you have such a way with women."
"Huh." Heyes snorted. Way with women, indeed. "Well, I'm off. Better get a move on if you want any hot water."
He ignored Curry's sound of protest and left the room. Down the hall, take the back staircase with its narrow creaky stairs, through the kitchen and out the back door- and there it was. The long narrow building which housed running water and tubs for washing both people and clothing stretched out in front of him, lit by the peculiarly brilliant morning sun. Heyes paused for a moment in the patch of full sunlight between the back porch and the door of the bathhouse, simply enjoying the moment. The sun warmed him, fighting off the morning chill. Its efforts were countered by the brisk pine-scented breeze, which was welcome after days of breathing the sooty smelly air on the train. But then the lure of a hot bath penetrated his enjoyment and he moved on, into the wooden building.
Heyes was well into his second attempt at scrubbing off the accumulated grime before Curry appeared. The Kid didn't say anything, just started water running in another tub and peeled out of his clothes. So Heyes didn't say anything either, just continued scrubbing and rinsing until he felt he might possibly be clean.
He finally decided he wasn't going to get any cleaner and climbed out of the tub, rubbing himself dry on the slightly scratchy towel provided by Miss Martha. Getting into clean clothing, along with being totally clean himself, was pure pleasure.
"You heading back in now?" Curry emerged, dripping, from his own tub and reached for a dry towel.
"Yeah. I'm about hungry enough to eat a horse." He caught himself smiling faintly at the sight of Curry drying off and turned away abruptly. Stop that, he told himself firmly. Just stop that right now.
He went back out into the yard separating the two buildings and stretched in the sunlight. The good night of sleep and the bath had made him feel like a new man, ready to take on the world. He dropped a hand down and checked to make sure his gun was still in its holster- it was. Then he double-checked the contents of his utility pouch- everything was as it should be, and there was nothing unusual about an armed man out West carrying around twenty dollars in gold.
Curry hurried out of the bathhouse while he was still standing in the sunlight, enjoying the view of the tree covered mountains all around. Not quite as spectacular as the Rockies, but the volcanic San Franciscos were quite respectable.
"Think she'll have anything available for breakfast?" Curry asked, joining him.
"She'd better," Heyes replied. "It's included in the price, after all- two meals a day, remember?"
"Not a bad deal at all," Curry said. They went back into the kitchen, where they found that there was indeed food available- all the flapjacks they could eat, with maple syrup and fresh butter.
The tore into the food with a will, seated in the modestly-sized dining room. Heyes decided he liked this place much better than the hotels he'd stayed in. It was more comfortable, less commercial, and there were far fewer patrons.
They did very little that day, just sat out on the front porch of the boarding house resting. The house was located on Butler Avenue, right in the center of town, so there was plenty of activity to watch.
At one point, Curry thought he saw someone he recognized, but shrugged it off as a coincidence. All this time they hadn't had any signs of pursuit- surely they were safe. Nobody knew where they were.
Curry forgot about the incident when Heyes suggested they go for a walk. They wandered down the main street, pretending to look at all the little shops and things in the town, but in reality getting a feel for the layout of the place. Flagstaff was a small town, clinging determinedly to the sides of the surrounding mountains and filled with industrious people. Curry lost count of how many loads of huge logs he saw, hauled patiently by strong horses and oxen.
There were also a few prospectors around, either living it up if they'd been successful, or quietly nursing drinks in bars if they hadn't. In all, it was quite a pleasant town, but Curry wasn't terribly impressed with it. He'd rather be out far away from society, preferably alone with Heyes.
They returned to the boarding house in time to take dinner with a few of the other patrons. Curry found himself chatting with a friendly young lady, while Heyes did his best impersonation of a grouchy bear, fresh from his cave in the springtime.
"What's wrong with you?" Curry asked later, when they were alone in their room.
"Nothing. Why?" Heyes threw himself on the bed and pulled his hat down over his eyes, arms crossed.
"You're acting downright nasty tonight, that's why." Curry perched on the bed beside Heyes.
"Just worried, that's all."
Heyes lifted his hat and peered out for a moment. "Think about it, Kid- ten thousand dollars on each of our heads, a bank job that's the talk of the town even down here, and no pursuit. That we know of. What's that indicate to you?" He dropped his hat back down and recrossed his arms.
"Uh... you think there's someone after us that we don't know about?"
"Brilliant, Kid." Heyes's voice was slightly muffled by the hat. "That's exactly what I think. And there ain't a damn thing I can do about it, either. So I'm just going to stay here, with you, where it's safe."
Curry shook off the odd feeling of foreboding and concentrated on that last bit- Heyes finally felt comfortable and safe in his presence. That felt good.
Curry sat for a while and watched Heyes sleep. By rights, doing such a thing should have been boring, but it wasn't. Heyes was a delight to watch, awake or asleep. Perhaps especially while he was asleep, because then Curry didn't have to hide what he was doing. He could sit there and think about what he'd like to have happen without worrying that Heyes would figure it out... he could daydream, pretend that Heyes cared about him, that all he had to do was reach out and touch the sleeping man to have him wake and come willingly into his arms...
Curry shook his head. Ridiculous, really- he would never have a chance at that kind of happiness with Heyes, so why even bother thinking about it?
But after he'd stretched out on the bed beside Heyes, the thoughts refused to go away. So he went with them, enjoyed them, built once again the little fantasy world where Heyes didn't close up and turn away from him.
Curry awoke in the brilliant sunlight with a foul taste in his mouth and a rotten headache.
"What the hell happened?" he asked Heyes, rolling over and prying his eyes open. The bed was empty. "Heyes? Where are you?"
He sat up and looked around. No sign of Heyes.
He looked around again. No signs of struggle or disturbance, there was still a chair in front of the door, the saddlebags- shit. The saddlebags had been pulled out of the carpetbag and lay, sagging open and empty, on the floor. Curry got up, wincing as the motion jarred his head, and checked through all the bags. Nothing. The only stuff remaining was his. There was no gold left at all, and not a single personal belonging of Heyes's.
Curry sat on the floor with a thump, then swore again when his head pounded in protest. He considered the possibility that Heyes had run out on him, then realized something with a chill that froze him right down to the bone- he knew who had set it up to make it look like Heyes had run out.
That was the face he'd seen yesterday, the one he thought he'd recognized. Edward Brown, who hated Heyes with a psychotic fervor that had Curry shivering in dread even as he looked over his few belongings, trying to decide if there was anything worth keeping. There wasn't.
At least he'd fallen asleep fully dressed, and still had his gun- Brown must have been feeling overconfident to leave him armed. He pulled the pistol out and checked it over, to make sure there were no nasty surprises waiting for him the next time he used it. There weren't. So he reholstered it and headed down the stairs.
He found Miss Martha there, checking in a new guest. He waited until she'd finished her business, then approached her.
"Morning, Miss Martha," he said. His voice came out reasonably close to normal, only a little strained. "Have you seen my partner?"
"Mr. Smith? I certainly have." She smiled. "He left earlier with his friend."
Curry's breath caught, and his heart tried to jump into his throat. "Kind of short guy, not much hair, looks like a banker?"
"That would be the one. They didn't leave a message or anything, but I do know that man lives somewhere nearby- perhaps they've gone off to his place?"
"Yes, I believe they have. Thank you right kindly, Miss Martha." Curry nodded respectfully, then headed out the door. So Heyes was going willingly with Brown. What the hell had the man threatened him with?
All right, first things first- he had to find out where Brown was staying. Then he had to get there- hopefully before Brown killed Heyes.
The cold touch of metal along his face roused Heyes instantly. His eyes flew open, and the first thing he saw was a smiling face from his nightmares.
"Hello, Hannibal," said Edward Brown. His smile widened. "How very nice to see you again."
"Bastard," Heyes snarled without thought. Then he froze as the cold touch of metal slid down his cheek to his chin, then came to rest along his other cheek, allowing him a clear view of the muzzle of the gun in the madman's hand.
"Nice boys don't use such words, Hannibal," Brown chided. "And we both know you're a very nice boy."
Heyes choked back a snarl. "What have you done with Curry?" he asked, keeping his voice calm with an effort.
"He's right beside you, sleeping like a baby," Brown chuckled. "And such a sweet couple you two make, if I may say. But he's not coming with us."
"What makes you think I'm coming with you?" Heyes wished he could move, find some way to make sure Curry was all right. But the gun wouldn't let him.
"I was hoping you'd ask that." Brown's eyes took on an unpleasant glitter in the morning light. "How would you like your- friend-" and the emphasis he put on the word made it somehow, slimy, insulting- "to wake up next to your body, lying in a pool of your blood?"
Heyes shuddered violently at the sudden vivid memory of Joshua. "No," he whispered.
"I didn't think so. So now you're going to get up like a good boy and come with me. No fuss, now- make it look natural, or sleeping beauty here dies."
"But we're both worth more alive," Heyes said, with a touch of desperation.
"Not to me, you're not. And the reward states dead or alive, anyway. So get up."
"Move your damn gun and I will."
Brown laughed. Then he pulled the gun away from Heyes's face. "All right, boy. But only this time."
Huh? Heyes was puzzled. Clearly Brown had gone around the bend at some point. But he really didn't want Curry to have to face waking up next to his body, so he cooperated- for now. He carried the loaded pack Brown handed him without complaint, then walked beside the man out of the boarding house, seething internally like a hive of furious bees. There were two horses waiting outside. At Brown's insistence, Heyes got on one and followed him out of town.
Just south of town, Brown halted the horses and pulled out a coil of rope. "Look what I've got, Hannibal!" he said, with evident glee. Heyes sighed and allowed himself to be tied securely, with his hands behind his back. It was awkward, but bearable. Then Brown took the reins of Heyes's mount and turned both of them towards the west, heading down out of the tree-covered mountains.
Heyes did his best to ignore Brown as they traveled. In fact, he tried to ignore everything, except for their surroundings. He kept careful track of where Brown was taking him, just in case he got a chance to get away.
The day wore on, and Brown never stopped. The terrain changed from high mountains to rolling hills, then began to slope upwards again until, by midafternoon, they were crossing a high grassy plateau. The sun was nearly all the way down when Brown led the way into a deserted farmstead.
"Here we go, Hannibal my lad! Home sweet home."
Heyes glared at Brown, but didn't say anything. Brown knocked him off the horse and he fell heavily to the ground, nearly stunned. He hadn't been expecting that at all. But he still remained quiet, even when Brown prodded him to his feet and made him go into the empty barn. Now that Curry wasn't here to have to deal with his body, he really didn't give a shit about pleasing this lunatic.
Once inside the barn, Brown pushed him to the center of the straw-covered floor. "Kneel down, like a good boy!"
Heyes resisted, until Brown kicked the backs of his knees. Then he went down with a thump.
"Now stay right there, Hannibal. I need to get something."
He heard Brown's footsteps across the underlying dirt floor, then the sound of a trunk being opened. There were rustling sounds, then the footsteps came back.
"Oh, what a good boy! You didn't move at all!" Brown's voice was disgustingly pleased. "And now I'm going to tie you all up, just to make sure you continue to be so good."
Heyes fought with all his strength, but somehow Brown still managed to tie him up securely. Then, red-faced and panting, Brown made another trip to his trunk and returned with a thick riding quirt.
"See what happens when you're bad?" his voice said from behind Heyes, where he lay facedown in the straw.
Then the sting of the quirt drove all thoughts out of his head, until Brown had worked off his anger.
Curry slipped unnoticed through the deserted farmstead. He hoped that his information was right- he didn't want to think about having to start the search all over again. But there was indeed a farm, right where it was supposed to be, and fitting the description he'd been given. And there was a light in the barn, and the sound of voices in the clear night air. He crept up to the side of the barn and found a crack large enough to look through.
This was the place, all right- there was Brown. And laying on the ground at his feet- Curry swallowed, hard. Heyes didn't look too good.
But he was alive, and he needed rescuing. So Curry looked over the barn and assessed its weaknesses carefully. There was only one entrance- on the main level. He smiled when he saw the rope dangling from the hayloft above. He pulled on it, gently at first, then with his full weight behind it. The rope held. He climbed up it quickly, ignoring the burn of hands and arms unused to such work, then entered the hayloft as quietly as he could.
Good. It was only a partial loft. He moved silently through the dust and leftover wisps of hay until he reached the edge. He could travel along the rafters to a point directly above Brown and Heyes- it wasn't all that far to the ground from the lowest beam, maybe twelve feet or so. That would work. Then he could pick Brown off from a position of perfect safety.
He set off along the beams, careful not to make any sound. There was a partial ceiling below him, blocking his view of Heyes, but enough light penetrated the holes to make climbing relatively easy.
Just a little bit farther now- he was almost directly overhead. He could see the flickering of the lantern below, could hear voices again. He froze. That was Heyes- sounded pretty rough, but alive.
"What are you talking about?" The ragged edge to his voice tore at Curry. It spoke of pain, major pain, because Heyes would never expose weakness like that to an enemy- especially not Edward Brown.
"You know damn good and well what I'm talking about," Brown growled. "I know everything about you. I know all about the real Joshua."
"Huh. What's to know? Ain't nothing interesting there."
Curry edged a little closer, curious now. Joshua was someone Heyes would never talk about, beyond saying that he'd been a true friend.
"Oh, yes there is." Curry really didn't like the tone of Brown's voice. "I know what you did with Joshua- how you were never apart, how he fucked you, just like I'm going to. That's why I killed him."
For a single, stunned moment, Curry didn't comprehend the meaning of those words, or the sounds of struggle that followed immediately afterwards. Then it washed over him in an angry red tide- that was Heyes down there, his Heyes, and this dirty scumbag was going to- no.
Quickly now, no longer keeping quiet, Curry scrambled along the beam until he had a clear view of the scene below. Heyes was thrashing frantically, kicking out at Brown as best he could with his arms and legs tied, and Brown was laughing at him, snapping his quirt and-
Curry dropped out of the rafters, mostly onto Brown's back. "Bastard," he snarled, then Brown recovered from his shock and started fighting back. But Curry had the advantage, not only of surprise, but of nearly insane rage- this scumbag had threatened his Heyes, was going to take by force what Curry had yet to win by love- no.
"Curry- Curry! That's enough! Don't you think we'd better get out of here? Kid!"
The sound of Heyes' voice finally penetrated the blinding red rage, and Curry returned to awareness. He quit trying to pound Edward Brown's head through the hard-packed dirt floor and looked around. Heyes had managed to get to his knees, but that wasn't helping much. The lantern had been knocked over at some point and there were flames burning cheerfully around it, in the straw, already spreading.
"Oh, shit." Curry fumbled for his knife- funny, he hadn't even thought to use it, or his gun, on Brown, he'd been way too mad- and cut Heyes loose. "Gonna make it?"
Heyes scrambled upright, wobbly but mobile. "Yeah. What about him?"
Curry glanced at the unconscious man. "What about him? Leave him."
Then he put an arm around Heyes and helped him stagger outside, while behind them the barn went up in a spectacular whoosh.
"Quick- gotta get out of here before the silo goes!" Heyes lurched forward, and Curry supported him in a stumbling run across the stableyard.
They weren't quick enough. The gasses from the silage within the silo, trapped by the nearly-closed top, blew with a dull roar. The shock of the explosion knocked the men off their feet, sending them sprawling in the dirt.
Curry lay where he had fallen for a long moment, fighting for breath. Then the heat from the fire behind him spurred him to his feet. He automatically checked for Heyes- already back upright and heading for the concealing brush. Curry caught up to Heyes and together they vanished into the night.
It was easy not to think, at first- easy to concentrate on slipping noiselessly through the shadows, avoiding notice by the people who were beginning to arrive on the abandoned farmstead to gawk at the fire. He had to concentrate on the simple things, like remaining upright and forcing stiff muscles to work. There was no room for thought when he snagged Curry by the sleeve and pointed out three horses standing ground-tied on the edge of the clearing- he had to concentrate on moving quietly then, as opposed to just moving after so many hours bound. Together they slipped silently up to the horses and each caught a set of reins. They were safely mounted and away before a thought tried to intrude on Heyes's concentration- lying there bound and helpless while-
No. He buried the thought, following behind Curry. Hopefully the Kid knew where he was going, because Heyes was in no shape for leadership tonight.
That's why I killed him, whispered a stray thought. He ignored it. Brown was dead now.
Evidently the Kid did know a good place, because he led the way to a perfect hideout. About an hour's ride, maybe a little longer, from the flaming wreck they'd left behind loomed a vast boulder, herald of a pocket of jagged terrain capable of concealing both men and horses from casual lookers. Kid halted his horse behind the biggest of the boulders and dismounted. Heyes roused from his daze enough to halt his horse, then kicked his feet free of the stirrups and slid down the horse's side. He stood for a minute against the saddle, grateful for the support of the horse.
-cut of the whip into his flesh, gonna die you bastard you can't do this to me-
"Heyes? You okay?"
Curry laid a hand on his shoulder. Heyes kept control of himself for a brief second, then turned and threw himself into Curry's arms.
"You okay?" Curry asked, voice low and soothing. "You're shaking like a leaf. Can't blame you, though. Thought I'd lost you for a while there..."
There was more, but Heyes didn't hear it. The thoughts finally broke free, and he relived the entire filthy episode over and over again, at the increased speed provided by memory.
But it wasn't real, it wasn't happening again, and finally reality broke through and Heyes regained control of himself. Face still buried in Curry's shoulder, feeling his friend's hand stroking his hair, Heyes examined the memories dispassionately, from a distance this time. He examined them, accepted them, and then conquered them. The vanquished memories slunk off to an unused corner of his mind in disgrace and, for the first time in what seemed like days, Heyes felt his mind clear. He took a deep breath and let it out on a long sigh.
"Sorry about that," he said quietly, pulling away from Curry. The Kid released him reluctantly, peering at him in the dim starlight.
"You sure you're okay? How's your back?"
"Back's fine. Brown may have thought he was a big tough man, but he has about no strength. I'm just cold."
"Aw, hell," Curry said, glancing around quickly. "Only blankets we've got are the ones these nags are wearing. Suppose we'd better pull the saddles off, eh?"
"Yeah." Heyes turned to his horse and loosened the cinch. The horse sighed gustily. Heyes smiled and patted its side, rubbing it before returning to the business of unwinding the long cinch strap so he could pull the saddle off and get to the Navajo rug beneath. "Hey Kid? You got an extra bandanna on you?"
"No, why? Whatcha need?"
"Mine's long gone. I ain't got nothing to hobble this beast with."
"Huh. Wait a minute, mine does have saddlebags- let me check in here." He rummaged around for a minute, then produced a short length of cotton rope and tossed it to Heyes. "This'll do ya."
Heyes caught the rope and twisted it into a hobble quickly, then pulled the bridle off the horse, who promptly dropped its head and began to graze on the scruffy grass.
By the time Curry had finished taking care of his mount in a similar manner, Heyes was wrapped in the strongly horse-scented blanket and leaning against one of the boulders. "Who would have ever thought it could get this cold in a desert?"
"Huh." Curry settled down beside him, close enough that their shoulders brushed. "As for that, who would have ever thought there was grass and trees and mountains in a desert? The way people talk, I expected nothing but sand and Indians."
"Yeah." Heyes fell silent again, staring off at the glittering stars.
"Heyes," Curry said awkwardly, "I gotta ask you something."
"No," he said.
"No. It isn't true. What he said about Joshua."
He felt Curry shift beside him and wondered what was in the other man's head. Confusion? Disgust? Anger? Not likely, given the way he'd dropped from the rafters like an avenging angel and pounded Brown into the ground.
"Uh." Curry shifted again, tension settling over him so strongly that even Heyes could feel it. "If it was... I mean, you could tell me, if..."
"It wasn't. Joshua was my friend, closer than a brother. Not... what he said."
"Oh." Curry fell silent. Heyes allowed his eyes to drift shut, and this time no memories overtook him.
Sometime later, Heyes was peripherally aware that Curry was moving, slipping down until he was laying flat on his back. Heyes shifted, decided that moving would be a good idea when he couldn't feel his behind. He slid down also, but turned onto his side, facing away from Curry. His back stung a little, where Brown had gotten frisky with that damned quirt, but he really hadn't done much damage. Worse than the sting of his back was the dull ache in his shoulder, from where he'd hit the ground like a sack of potatoes. He hunched the saddle blanket closer around him, wishing it was large enough to cover his legs as well, then relaxed into sleep despite his discomfort.
The ratcheting call of some nightbird followed him. So did the cold. So did a weird feeling, like he was freezing cold but warm at the same time- tense as hell, shivering, but with this core of inner heat. He tucked his legs up, nearly to his chest, and decided he was awake. So it was quite a surprise when Curry started playing with his hair. Hmm... feels nice. He heard Curry chuckle, then he shivered when Curry bent in closer and kissed him gently on the cheek. Hmmm... feels even nicer."Heyes!"
But then he realized what had happened and lunged away, fear chasing him away from Curry and straight into what was left of Joshua. The quiet face might have belonged to a sleeping man, sprawled as he was across the horsehair sofa in the parlor. Came to see me, I was out, he fell asleep... Joshua? But the wound wouldn't allow him to respond, the gaping hole in his chest which had torn the life out of-
know what you did with Joshua
-the best friend a man could ever have-
fucked you, fucked you, fucked you fucked you fucked you
-no, dammit, Joshua was like a brother, wasn't like Curry... but Curry'd never...
the quirt cracked again across his back, and he heard Brown laughing maniacally, and he was undoing his belt, and he was going to-
"What!" Heyes jerked awake, heart pounding. Brown was- no, Curry was hovering anxiously over him.
Curry laid a hand on his shoulder and he jerked away as though burned. "Just a dream." But he was shivering, and it was more than just the cold, and he couldn't stop.
And he wanted to be safe in Curry's arms so badly it hurt.
"What happened to Joshua?" Curry's voice was quiet, almost gentle. Even in his confused state, Heyes wondered where his friend and partner had been hiding all this compassion and caring.
He debated not saying anything, but figured he might as well let his demons out to play. "He got shot. In my family's parlor. On our sofa. Because someone thought he was a pervert. Always suspected it was Brown. Now I know."
"Shit." Then, awkwardly, "I'm sorry."
"It's dangerous to be different, you know," Heyes remarked casually. "Joshua found that out. He was the gentlest person I ever knew- always trying to help people. And animals. God, you should have seen him with the animals. He wanted to be a horse doctor, had talked the local farrier into taking him as 'prentice, 'cause the vets were all too set on university education. Joshua had very little money, you know. His family was fallen on hard times. But he had a promising career ahead of him, had grown into quite a man from the scrawny little kid I met so long ago, and got shot on my sofa waiting for me to get home by a heartless bastard that thought we were-"
He broke off, unable to even think it, let alone say it.
"Lovers," Curry said. No disgust, no animosity or fear- just a normal tone, as though they were having a normal conversation. Heyes felt some of the tension leave his body.
"Yeah. But it wasn't like that. I hadn't ever- ah hell. I mean, he might probably have thought- wanted- but I-"
"It's okay, Heyes," Curry said. This time, when he felt Curry's hand on his shoulder, he didn't flinch away. "It's okay."
"You sure? You're not mad?"
The hand tightened on his shoulder. "Now that's where you're wrong. I am mad, enough to spit fire, but not at you. At Brown."
Heyes shuddered. "Thanks," he said. "For getting there in time."
"I had to."
Something in Curry's tone made Heyes want to see his face. He uncurled his legs, rolled onto his back, and saw Curry watching over him in the starlight. The movement released the little body heat he'd managed to store up and he shivered in the crisp cold air. But it was worth the cold to see Curry.
"I couldn't have lived with myself if I hadn't gotten there in time. If he'd-"
"But he didn't, thanks to you." Heyes found a smile somewhere. Just a small one, true, but it was a smile and it brought an answering one to Curry's face. He reached up with one hand, touched his friend's cheek lightly. The nameless demons within him suddenly took on shape and substance, and he knew what had been bothering him all this time. I'd have loved you, if I'd known how... his own words to Joshua, as he lay cold in his grave, returned to haunt him now. "Kid..."
"Couldn't let him do it," Curry whispered. "Couldn't let him have you, not when I can't."
"Kid..." he said again, then swallowed. He took a deep breath, another one... "You already do."
Then, almost desperately, he pulled the other man down into his arms.
Ah, shit! was Curry's first thought when Heyes grabbed him. What if he's not ready for this? What if he can't take it?
But then his better judgment was overruled by the demands of his body, which had been waiting far too long for an opportunity like this.
"Heyes," he said, making a half-hearted attempt at caution. "You sure?"
"Not sure of anything anymore, really," Heyes replied. "But I can tell you- I wouldn't have minded if it was you that wanted me before."
Curry shivered, but not from the chill in the air. "And if it's me that wants you now? What then?" He ached to kiss those inviting lips, so close to his own, but restrained himself and waited for the reply.
"I don't know," Heyes whispered. "Show me what to do, how to do something with what I'm feeling inside..."
Now Curry gave in and kissed him. Suddenly the night wasn't cold anymore, not with the way his blood heated. "You really sure?" he asked, one last time- because this was simply too good to be true. At any moment now he was going to wake up, or Heyes would come to his senses and run like hell, or beat the shit out of him and then run like hell... "You're not afraid of winding up like Joshua?"
Heyes flinched. Then, unexpectedly, he broke into laughter. "Kid," he gasped, around his mirth, "think about it for a minute, would ya? I've got a ten thousand dollar price tag on my head- there's plenty of people gunning for me just for that reason alone, what do I care if there's a few more?"
Curry grinned crookedly. "Well, when you put it that way- okay, then."
So he gave in, quit thinking of the consequences, and just enjoyed.
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