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Don't Push The Viper

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The heat in Rose Creek had risen considerably. Sweat was dripping from everyone’s skin, even the horses were drenched. Warm winds blew down the street, kicking up dust as the townsfolk wandered around, sluggishly getting ready for the battle that was on the horizon. They still had time, which was a god send in itself because everyone had stopped working to their full potential about two hours ago.

Billy stood in a quiet corner beside the saloon, escaping the overbearing laughter of those inside. Goody was midway through telling an exaggerated story to Sam, Horne, and Red, but Billy had heard it many times before. Hell, he’d been involved.

But, he trusted those three enough that he left Goodnight’s side, stepping out to have some fresh air and enjoy the hazy quiet that heat always brought to towns like this.

He had just been considering going back inside when he heard a familiar man approaching.

"I'm just sayin'," The voice of Faraday travelled far, he had no concept of quiet unless his life depended on it. He was heading towards Billy, most likely about to go into the saloon, though he had not seen him yet.

Beside him walked Vasquez, shaking his head. Vas spoke next, softer, not wanting to be overheard. "Si, well, don't let Billy hear you say it."

Had it been anyone else, Billy probably would have ignored the comment. He didn’t care for gossip or speculations about himself until they threatened his life. But, with what happened with Faraday and Goody when they first took over the town, Billy was more inclined to investigate.

"Hear what?" Asked Billy as he emerged from his spot in the shadows, both hands resting comfortably against his knife belt.

Faraday looked at him, like a man tempting death.

Vasquez glanced between the two, and took a step back.

"Hear what?" Billy repeated, with more of a growl.

Faraday tilted his head to the side, and shrugged as if the words coming out of his mouth wouldn't anger the man before him. "What's the use of a sharpshooter that can't shoot?"

Silence held heavy in the air, more suffocating than any heat. Billy’s gaze narrowed, and he had to resist baring his teeth in a snarl. Who did Faraday think he was? He didn’t know shit about Goody and Billy wasn’t about to stand by and allow him to pretend he knew what he was talking about. Billy was vaguely aware of people emerging behind him from the saloon, but his blood had started to boil. "What exactly are you implying?"

Faraday has the balls to grin. "You know what I'm sayin'. Ain't no point in having Robicheaux here if he can't shoot shit."

"Goody can shoot." Billy all but snarls, his fingers itching with the desire to throw a knife. He wouldn't, but it was tempting all the same.

"Don't doubt that, I'm sure he can, or could. But he ain't killing anyone now is he? He gone belly up?" Faraday glances to someone behind Billy, and his gaze seems to have a hint of guilt to it.

But Billy barely realises, his shoulders tense and his back coiled, ready to strike. Faraday had no idea what Goodnight struggled with, how far he’d come, how much courage it was taking for him to still be here. Billy knew it was a slippery slope, and that Goodnight’s supposed dept to Sam was most of the reason he hadn’t bolted, but Billy had faith. Goodnight was a good man; he would come through when the time came. "Don't you dare talk about Goody like that. He's the best man out of all of us."

The venom in his voice apparently didn’t go unnoticed. Faraday glances behind him again, and then refocuses all his attention to Billy, for the first time showing a little bit of caution as he looks to his knives.

"Billy." The soft warning sounds behind him, but even Goodnight's gentle tone can't bring Billy down from his anger.

Billy doesn’t turn around, too angry to even think about taking his glare off of Faraday. "No, Goody. He's got no right to speak about you like that." He growls, and the rest of the seven are dimly aware this is the most animated they've seen the man since the first fight here, and it’s definitely the most sentences they’ve heard him speak in one go.

Faraday sighs dramatically, his hands resting on his belt. "I'm just being practical here. Cos if he goes no doubt you will, and I don't want this plan to go tits up at the last second because he can't stomach it."

"I'm not going anywhere, and Goody will fight too. Don't need you worrying over hypothetical things that will not happen about shit you don't understand." Billy knows Faraday won’t even understand what hypothetical means; he himself learned it from Goodnight and his accent rolls over the word.

Faraday makes a split second look of confusion before shaking his head, getting back to his point. "What? Look, I'm just expressing a valid concern of the Angel of Death flying out on us."

Billy's lip curls, and he can practically feel Goody's inner flinch at the name behind him. "Watch it, Faraday."

Faraday's gaze hardens, and his hands tighten on his belt. "Are you threatening me?"

"You keep talking about Goody like that I damn well am." Billy snarls back, growing increasingly irate.

Clicking his tongue, Faraday shakes his head. "Now why'd you have to go and do a thing like that?"

"Because you're being a dick." Billy shoots back, and Vas sniggers in the background.

"Alright. Let's have it." Faraday growls, unbuckling his belt and dropping his guns to the floor. He brings his fists up, and starts bouncing on the balls of his feet.

Billy thinks it looks hilarious, but he's not about to comment on it when his blood is running hot in his veins. His knife belt comes off, and he simply holds it out behind him, knowing Goody would be there to take them. There's a deliberate brush of fingers, and Billy takes a second too long to pass the belt over. It's all the comfort he can offer at the moment, but Goody knows there's no real danger in this fight.

"Hairpin too, I've seen what you do with that thing." Faraday says, his eyes light with mirth.

Billy offers the tiniest hints of a smile, and takes that out and hands it to Goodnight too.

It's quiet for a moment, the two men squaring each other up, Billy deadly still and Faraday continuing to bounce from foot to foot.

Then, Faraday lurches forwards, sending an experimental punch towards Billy's stomach. Quick as a cobra, Billy strikes back.

Gripping hold of the wrist that flies at him, Billy lunges forwards, bringing them closer so he can send a hard knee up into Faraday's chest. Faraday makes a low huff as the breath is knocked out of him, but he quickly recovers. Keeping themselves locked tightly together, the two men trade punches and kicks, growling their threats through clenched teeth.

It doesn't take too long for one of them to gain the upper hand.

Billy is covered in dirt, blood smeared across his cheek where he's bit his lip. Faraday is in a tight headlock, his body pinned by the iron strength in Billy's legs. He has a bloody nose, and is panting with the effort to free himself from Billy's capture.

"Ge'off!" Faraday tries to snarl menacingly, but it only gets a bark of laughter from Horne and Red.

Billy shakes his head. "Apologise to Goody."

Goodnight sighs from where he stood on the porch watching with the others, giving Billy a quick look. "He doesn't-"

"Shut up Goody, he isn't getting away with speaking about you like that."

Faraday holds his hands up in submission. "Alright! Alright. I'm sorry, Goodnight. Shouldn't have talked about you behind your back, should have voiced my concerns to you and the group."

Billy doesn't release him.

Goodnight glances at Sam as Billy keeps his hold, and the man gives an amused shrug as Goodnight rolls his eyes. The action is more a show than anything, Goody feels like his stomach is turning itself inside out as his mind races through all the different ways Billy could kill Faraday. He’s not quite so sure this is still a friendly scrap with the fury burning behind his partner’s eyes. "Billy, he's apologised. I accept, let him go."

But Billy doesn't budge. Instead, he leans towards Faraday, his voice a low and dangerous whisper. "Next time, there will be sharp objects involved. I will not tolerate any disrespect towards Goody, and I will not have you trying to force him into doing something he doesn't want to do, jammed rifle or not. Do I make myself clear?"

Faraday is deadly still in his grasp. He knows a real threat when he hears one, and Billy is not someone he wants to properly fight. He’s not sure what the deal it between the sharpshooter and the assassin, but Billy’s making it pretty damn risky for him to keep trying to figure it out. "Crystal. We done?"

Finally, Billy lets him go.

Faraday gets up, shaking his arms out and brushing off dust, ignoring the blood on his face.

Sam is leaning against the railing of the saloon, and he nods between the two men, a small smirk on his face. "That settled now?"

Billy gives a tiny nod as he moves to stand beside Goodnight, taking his belt and nudging their shoulders together. Goodnight relaxes the instant they touch, his easy smile returning as the two share a look.

Faraday grumbles but nods, his gaze flicking between Goodnight and Billy. "Yeah. We're fine."

Red says something in Comanche.

Goody glances at him, and raises an eyebrow to Sam.

But Sam just laughs and waves them all off. "Doesn't matter."

 

-

 

It's later, when they're all seated in the saloon that another incident occurs. Faraday seems hell bent on nosing his way round Goodnight and it's starting to really get on Billy's tits. Now he’s picking his moments more carefully, with the whole group and townsfolk surrounding them where Billy can’t just launch himself across the table and punch him in his smart mouth.

"So you fought against Sam, right?" Faraday asks out of the blue, and Billy feels Goody tense in his seat beside him.

He's quiet for a few moments, and answers in a low voice, his gaze on Faraday hard and closed off. "Not directly."

Sam doesn't say anything, despite being able to hear the conversation perfectly.

"So how-" Faraday starts, but he's cut off quickly.

"Jack, where are you from?" Billy asks, loudly over the top of Faraday's question, drowning his voice out. His question comes out a little more aggressively than he intended, but he has to lean across Goodnight to face Horne, effectively blocking him from Faraday’s line of sight.

Horne starts, surprise evident on his features at the sudden question. "Me?"

For some reason, Red takes an interest after a quick glance between Faraday and Billy. "We know little of you before." He says, and Horne tilts his head to the side.

"Well now, since you asked..." The man trails off into a brief explanation of his childhood, keeping the attention of most of the group.

Billy glares daggers at Faraday, his hand beneath the table resting on Goodnight's jittering leg, thumb tracing soothing circles as the conversation turns back to safer territory.

Faraday glares back, and it’s only a firm hand on his shoulder that breaks their staring contest.

Vasquez has an oddly blank look on his face, and he tugs at the corner of Faraday’s waistcoat. “Come, I need some fresh air.”

“Well why do I-“ Faraday starts to protest, but Vasquez shakes his head, and tugs more insistently on his shirt.

“Come.” He repeats, beginning to move away with his sly smile returning to light his eyes. “There’s a cigar in it for you.”

Faraday considers it for a moment. “I want a drink too.”

Vasquez shakes his head as he laughs. “There’s no pleasing some people, eh?”

Faraday can’t hide the little grin that comes, and with one last glance at Billy, (who was still trying to kill him with his eyes) Faraday scrapes his chair across the floor and follows Vasquez outside.

As soon as they reach the porch, and Faraday has lit up a cigarette leaning against the railing, Vasquez is on him.

"You got a death sentence, vaquero?"

Faraday turns to him, arching an eyebrow. "Now what makes you say that?"

Vasquez actually looks angry, and he swipes away the cigarette hanging from Faraday's lips. "You keep poking round Goodnight and Billy's gonna poke you full of holes."

“I weren’t done with that.” Faraday huffs, but he doesn’t light another. After all, he is now owed a cigarette and a cigar. "Not if I get him first."

Vasquez looks at him in disbelief, throwing up his arms as he speaks. "Ha! Are you taking the piss? Billy's the deadliest of us all, and you are rubbing him up the wrong way."

Faraday shakes his head and shrugs. "I'm just interested is all. Don’t get why he’s so defensive."

Vasquez looks at him like he’s an idiot, shaking his head slowly. "Stop being interested before you get your head shoved up your ass."

Faraday waves a hand dismissively, but Vasquez has one more thing to say.

"Listen, friend. I'm scared. If you really upset Goodnight then I am not going to fight Billy to save you. It would make me sad to see you go that way. My mother used to tell me and my brother, No empuje la víbora. You should listen too.”

Faraday glares at him, “You know I don’t speak Spanish.”

Vasquez laughs, “I’ll tell you when you do it. Then I can say I told you so.”

 

-

 

Vasquez gets his gloating rights not too long after their discussion on the porch. They’d had a hard day digging trenches, and they were standing by the bucket of water that had been brought up to them when Goodnight and Sam came to inspect their work.

As soon as Faraday saw Goodnight without Billy, he shot Vasquez a quick glance. The Mexican gave him a quick hard shake of his head, but even as he said the silent ‘no’ he knew Faraday was going to ignore him.

“I think they need to be a little wider, you ain’t gonna have room to turn round down there with a rifle.” Goodnight said, jumping down into the trench and demonstrating, switching having his back against one side of the trench to the other.

Sam hummed his agreement, apparently oblivious to the fact Faraday had just picked up a rifle.

“Show me how much further we need to dig.” Faraday said as he tossed the rifle down to Goodnight.

But, he didn’t get the reaction he was expecting. Goodnight caught it easily, and demonstrated again, with the end of the rifle scraping against dirt each time Goodnight turned. “See? Need a good couple inches more if you got guys with rifles down here.”

Vasquez took the opportunity to shake his head again.

Of course, he was ignored.

“You gonna be down there when Bouge comes?” Faraday asks. It was meant to sound like a casual question, but it was dripped in the unsaid assumption that Goodnight wasn’t going to shoot.

Goodnight stills as he stands in the trench, glancing around with a gaze that was far away. “Naw, I’m up in the tower.” He says slowly, making no move to get out. “But I’ll probably be down here after.”

“We all might.” Sam says, holding a hand out to help Goody climb out.

Vasquez huffs a laugh. “Cheerful.”

Faraday doesn’t respond, and as the silence stretches, Sam and Goodnight move off, talking more tactics and strategies.

“Well that was disappointing.” Faraday mumbles, half to himself.

Vasquez shakes his head. “What were you expecting? He’s not afraid of the rifle, he’s afraid of the fight.”

“Ya think?” Faraday asks, and he’s about to say something else when he spots an all too familiar figure heading towards where Goodnight and Sam were walking.

Vasquez starts to laugh, shaking his head as he rests his hands over the handle of his spade. “Aquí vamos.”

In the distance, Sam has left Goodnight with Billy, who is standing very close as they speak. Goodnight seems fine to them, but Billy can see the tension he carries in his shoulders, and the fear he hides in his eyes. Faraday didn’t even think he’d managed to get a rise out of the man, but apparently Billy thought different.

Faraday didn’t realise that standing in a trench talking about death brought back some painful memories for a soldier, friends and brothers dead in the mud. He didn’t realise that Goodnight had years of learning how to hide most of his anxiety, that he had quite a good poker face with someone trying to push all his buttons. He was however starting to realise Billy could see through all this, and didn’t like what he saw.

When Billy starts stalking towards him without Goodnight, Faraday begins to rethink his decision to push either man.

“Fuck. Vasquez save me?” Faraday pleads, only to receive a laugh.

“I told you so.” Vasquez says with a laugh. “Don’t push the viper.”

Faraday groans. “Seriously? Is that what you said the other night?”

“It’s good advice, no?” Vasquez says, grinning as Billy gets closer.

Sighing, Faraday looks to his fate. “Sure, if I’d known what it meant earlier.”

“You would have done it anyway, and now you get punched.” He laughs.

Faraday shrugs. “Or stabbed.”

“No, no, you get stabbed after the battle.” He said.

Faraday is about to reply, when Billy gets in range. A knife flies past his head and buries itself in the wood of the wagon behind them, and before Faraday can even blink there’s a powerful fist colliding with his jaw.

Faraday drops to the floor to the sound of Vasquez cackling and Billy’s furious panting.

“Fucking OW!” Faraday yells into the dirt, sitting up to hold his throbbing jaw.

Billy points at him with another knife, his teeth clenched together like he was fighting not to throw it at him. Which he probably was. “I will not tell you again, Faraday.”

“Tell me what again?” Faraday asks, one eyebrow twitching upwards.

Billy snarls gibberish, which Faraday assumes is quite colourful language in Korean. Thankfully for Faraday, he’s got more important things to do than kill an annoying overly nosy gambler. Billy turns to stalk away, still growling threats under his breath as he heads back in the direction Goodnight had disappeared.

“Well amigo, are you finished being stupid?” Vasquez asks, unable to wipe the smirk of amusement from his face.

Faraday grumbles as he gets up, ignoring how he already had a splitting headache that Billy was definitely not going to give him any opium for. “Maybe?”

Vasquez laughs again, and he moves to start widening the trench. “Never change güero.”

 

-

 

The sun is sitting low on the horizon when Faraday stumbles out onto the top porch, seeking some fresh air and a chance to stretch his aching legs. Being bed ridden wasn’t fun, and the man was beyond bored. Not even cards were entertaining enough, and Vasquez kept having to go off to help rebuild the town instead of amusing him. Totally unfair if you asked Faraday.

What he didn’t expect to find was Goodnight Robicheaux sat with one leg propped up in plaster watching the sun set. Alone.

“Where’s Billy?” Faraday asks immediately as he carefully drops down into the chair opposite Goodnight.

Goodnight glances over to him, shifting around in his seat to get comfortable before he answered. “Gone for a walk down to the stables. I told him not to overdo it, so if we see him riding past please throw something at him for me.”

Faraday chuckles a little, looking off in the direction of the stables. It had been rare enough before the battle to see either of them alone, but after? Billy had barely left Goodnight’s side to get a glass of water.

“Why do I get the feelin’ you’re gonna start asking questions now you know he ain’t getting back up here any time soon?” Goodnight asks. Faraday expects to see a glare when he turns to face him, but all he gets is a glint of amusement and a friendly smile.

He shrugs, keeping Goodnight’s gaze. “Depends. Are you gonna let him punch me again?”

“I didn’t realise that was what he was going to do.” Goodnight said quietly.

Faraday laughs. “Yeah right.”

“No honestly! I thought he was going to stab you.” He says with a wry grin.

The chuckles from the two men are easy and relaxed, and Faraday figures if he’s gonna get any answers to his curiosity, now’s the time to try.

“Y’know, I never meant to upset ya.” Faraday says, lighting up a cigarette he’d stolen from Horne. The doctors reckoned he had too much smoke in his lungs from the explosion to smoke, but to hell with them.

He was telling the truth too. While he wanted to see what set Goodnight off in regards to how they were going to win that bloody battle, he was more interested in seeing how Billy would react than Goodnight. But he still didn’t know why he always reacted so badly.

Goodnight nods, his gaze turning back to the setting sun. “I realise that. Just Billy that didn’t.”

“Nah.” Faraday said, watching the stables for a sign of movement. “Nah, he knew. Just didn’t care.”

Goody snorts, grinning wide enough that his gold tooth glinted in the sunlight. “Now I think you might be right about that.”

Faraday pauses, taking a long drag of his cigarette and coughing with how his lungs hurt. “That’s what I was most curious about if I’m honest. Not what set you off, but why he was the one to go crazy.”

Goodnight is quiet for a moment. “Dost thou go on incessant to destroy, our grief’s to double, and lay waste our joy?”

Faraday stares at him. “What?”

“It’s a poem. To a Lady On the Death of Her Husband. Just… remembered that line is all.” Goodnight says, fiddling with the edge of his shirt.

Faraday frowns at him. “O-kay.”

“Why’d you want to know about me and Billy? It’s not…” Goodnight pauses, glancing around as if he was looking for a threat. “It ain’t really something we talk about.”

Faraday shrugs. “Just curious.”

“Well, All due respect, I risk a lot talking to you about it.” Goodnight mutters.

Faraday doesn’t move as he spies movement by the stables. “All due respect, you ain’t that subtle. We all know there’s something between you two fellas, and I just want to know more.”

“Why?”

Sighing, he leans back in his chair, shrugging once. “I just do. You’re both friends, family even now. I want to know through you tellin’ me, not me trying to trick and coax a reaction from ya both. Cause I think that might get me killed.”

“Took you long enough just to figure that out.” Goodnight said with a laugh, and he relaxes into his seat.

There’s more movement below them, and Billy appears with Red from the stables, limping slowly back in the direction of the saloon. He’s not spotted Faraday yet.

“You love him?” Faraday blurts out as he watches Goodnight track Billy’s path, his gaze concerned and undoubtedly affectionate.

Goodnight freezes for a second, and takes a moment to consider Faraday. “I do.”

Faraday nods, his satisfaction at knowing the answer clearly showing on his face.

“If you say anything to anyone I will kill you.” Goodnight growls.

But Faraday just grins at him “You mean Billy will.”

Goodnight can’t keep up his glare, and it melts into an amused grin. “Maybe. He’s quicker than me.”

“Oh really?” Faraday asks, waggling his eyebrows until Goodnight was cackling his laughter.

“I ain’t even gonna dignify that with an answer.” He says, still giggling.

They both fall quiet, the final strips of sunlight disappearing beneath the mountains, washing the sky in a beautiful pink. The creak of the door opening is all that brings them back from their own thoughts, and they both look up to see Billy and Red.

Goodnight smiles, practically beaming as Billy limps over to him with a scowl thrown in Faraday’s direction. But when Goody bumps their fingers together, Billy relaxes his glare, and Faraday gives him a smug smile.

“You should get inside.” Billy says to Goodnight, pretending Faraday wasn’t there.

Goodnight sighs. “Miss this beautiful sight? It’s worth the chill Billy, look at those colours.”

But Billy doesn’t look; he only has eyes for Goody. His tone is soft and gentle when he next speaks, and Faraday wonders how he could have ever missed it. “It’s average. You should have taken the blanket.”

Their easy banter flows uninterrupted as they both help each other get back inside. Red is on hand to help bear Goodnight’s weight when needed, and Faraday watches as they all re-enter the saloon to disappear into their room.

It takes far longer than Faraday expected for Billy to come back outside, arms crossed over his chest as his glare returns to try and set fire to the gambler with just the power of his eyes.

“What did you say to Goody?” Billy growls.

Faraday shrugs. “Nothin’ much. Talked about you, talked about some poem, talked about the sunset.”

Billy clearly isn’t happy with that answer, because he doesn’t budge. “What poem?”

“I don’t know. Some lady’s death or something. Didn’t make much sense.” Faraday says with a shrug.

“Wheatley?” Billy asks.

Tilting his head back, Faraday looks at Billy through squinted eyes, as though he was suddenly tired and could barely keep his eyes open. “I don’t know Billy, go ask him.”

Billy is silent for a moment. Then he nods once, turning on his heel to leave.

Before he closes the door behind him, he turns back to Faraday. “I will kill you if you say anything.”

Faraday just grins, nodding to himself as he hears Billy turn to go. “You’d kill anyone for him.”

“True. But you first.”

They both smile as the door closes, and for once, Faraday understands.