Chapter 1: Buck, "I was a lawman once" (OW, pre-canon, gen)
Buck's one and only brush with the right side of the law began and ended in Mason, back in '66, when Dick Mason was trying to found a town and Buck was trying to convince Miss Susanne to take a nice little stroll in the moonlight with him. Of course, Miss Susanne, being a bright and pretty young thing, saw right through Buck almost immediately (Buck managed to snag a kiss or two in a barn before Miss Susanne's revelation) and told him in no uncertain terms that she wasn't going to be seen stepping out with him until he'd cleaned himself up and got a proper job.
The cleaning weren't hard – Buck did enjoy a nice bath whenever he could afford it – but the job? Hell, he wasn't much good for nothing but riding and fighting, and he made a pretty good living being a hired gun at that. But Miss Susanne said that being a hired gun didn't count because that was no kind of a living and didn't bring in enough money to feed a family.
Anyway, Mason was offering $20 a month to act as the sheriff of his new little town, and Buck figured that shiny little star he got would work wonders to melt Miss Susanne's icy walls (it did, but not nearly as well as he'd hoped).
'Course Buck's luck being what it was, turned out Mason was too poor to buy a buffalo turd fire, let alone pay him for a month of work, and all the women in his proposed town were either old, married or ugly as sin. And even the ugly ones had beaus.
In the end, Buck lasted as the official sheriff of Mason for all of five days, before he had to leave (there was a misunderstanding relating to Buck's purely friendly attentions to Mason's pretty little daughter who'd rode into where the town was going to be the day before, like a breath of fresh air), two jumps ahead of Mason and his shotgun. But that was okay, because Buck had never been one to set down roots – especially somewhere where the roots were still being set – and besides, who else was going to accompany Miss Donna all the way to Carson City?
Chapter 2: Vin Tanner: Best Damn Whore in the West (OW, gen-ish)
Vin figured out he was a bit different from most other folk when he was 16 and stopped for the night in the same town as Pony Bob, who decided the greenhorn needed to be made into a man – can't have no boys riding the Express, right? And apparently the fact that Vin had managed to live to 16 without a Ma or Pa or, hell, even an uncle to care for him didn't make him a man in old Pony Bob's eyes because next thing he knew, he was being taken into a room above the saloon by one of the girls and her hands were on his belt. And he knew what he should be doing, knew how this sort of thing went, at least according to the stories the other riders told him, what he'd heard 'round the campfire. Hell, what he'd seen in the alleyways of some of the rougher towns where the saloon was just one story.
So he did it, mostly. Because Pony Bob was drunk and shouting at him to be a man, and Vin knew the importance of having a man's reputation.
He did it, but it weren't…well, it weren't like that time he and Johnny Rivers had gotten drunk one night and got handsy with each other. And it definitely weren't like the time he'd gone into White Hawk's tent and the old injun took him in his mouth and –
'Course, no time was like that time.
Anyway, he got to talking to the girl, after, found out her name was Amy and she was from some small town in Okalahoma. That she'd come out West looking for a better life. That she made decent money being a whore, and the big fella downstairs kept her and the other girls from getting beat.
And he remembered Amy and the way she'd gleamed like gold, right after the last bounty he went after damn near killed him. And he thought "Hell, why not?"
Chapter 3: Vin, Ezra, Reaction to Jock Steele's book (OW, gen)
He recognizes the book immediately, what with that picture on the front of it, even if he don't know what the words say, precisely. And while he ain't never been one for reading, he'll admit he's a mite curious about what's being said about him.
He thinks about asking one of the others to read it to him – Josiah, maybe – but decides against it. They don't need to know what don't concern them. Anyway, he figures if he waits long enough a copy's bound to get 'round to Ezra and Ezra wouldn't be able to keep his craw shut even if it got kicked in by a mule.
And, sure enough, when he makes his way into the saloon, there's Ezra holding court, the book in one hand and a shot of whiskey in the other.
"'His gold tooth gleamed like a diamond in a coal mine and the temptation of Eve shone from his eyes,'" Ezra reads and then he tosses the shot back and throws the book down. He paces to the bar to get another shot and then comes back to the book. "I've been called a right number of things over the years, but 'temptation of Eve'? That's a slur upon my good name. And what's more, it's just plain awful writing."
Vin tilts his hat down to cover his smirk and settles in to listen.
Chapter 4: Josiah, Confession (OW, pre-canon, gen)
The last time Josiah went to confession he was twenty-seven and his sister had just killed their father. He still had the old bastard's blood under his fingernails and when he dipped his hands into the basin of holy water to bless himself the rusty specks swirled out into trails of pale pink.
They reminded him of the koi he'd seen swimming in that geisha's garden back in Kyoto.
Vista City was a damn long way from Kyoto.
"Father," the abbess said, breaking his reverie. "Will you hear our confessions?"
"I ain't no father," Josiah said, and looked down at the pink-tinged basin and up at the plain crucifix. Two fathers -- two bastards -- who set impossible standards that their children could never hope to meet. Well he hoped his fathers were happy now – one child mad, the other maddening.
"Leastways, not that kind, anymore."
Chapter 5: Vin, Good pair of boots (OW, pre-canon, gen)
The way Vin sees it, there are three things a man should always have: a good gun, a fine horse, and a damn good pair of boots. And iffin' a man's reduced to just one of them things, Vin figures boots is what you ought to hang onto. After all, a man's always got his legs to fall back on when he ain't got a horse, and it's no good havin' a gun iffin' you can't stand up and shoot.
Unfortunately for him, the three men who just bushwacked him knew that too.
So now he's got no horse, no gun, and his boots are riding off into the sunset on the feet of some other man. Out of all the predicaments he's gotten himself into over the years, this surely ain't one of his better ones.
Vin sighs, a little, and takes the lay of the land. In the distance he can see what looks like buildings – a township maybe, or one of the larger mining camps.
At any rate, it's bound to be a place where a man can get a decent pair of boots.
Chapter 6: Ezra and Buck, Smoking (OW, gen)
"Gentlemen. GENTLEMEN," Ezra says, raising his hands for quiet. It doesn't work, but Ezra does it anyway – it's all part of the show, all part of the con, the smoke, the mirrors, the razzle dazzle. Act as if you control the crowd and the crowd will be controlled. At least that's what Mother always said, and she surely knew how to control a crowd. "I realize we do not see eye-to-eye on this issue but—"
"Don't see eye-to-eye?" Buck laughs, loud and brassy. "That's one way of puttin' it Ezra."
"Oh, well, please, Buck. Do tell me how you would describe this little contretemps?"
"They want to tar you blacker 'n a kettle in a coal mine, Ezra."
"As colorful as ever, Mr. Wilmington. I do realize the gravity of our situation—"
"MY situation, then," Ezra says as he triggers his derringer's rig. "I propose we deal with it, post haste."
"Well shoot," Buck says, his gun appearing in his hand as if by magic. "Now you're talking my language."
Chapter 7: Vin and Nathan, Scars (OW, gen)
He sees them when he's patching up Vin's arm – long thin lines, purple at the edges but shiny white in the middle. They crisscross his back up at the shoulders: narrow then wide then narrow again.
He knows what makes those kinds of marks.
"You done yet?" Vin's question is brusque, a challenge. And there's…something in his tone. It's not shame. Or anger – though there's anger there, just not from the scars. Not the kind of anger Nathan feels when he sees the scars on his own back. Vin's anger is something deep and personal, anger at this…intrusion. Anger that this secret came out by necessity, not choice.
Nathan looks away from the scars and finishes with his splint.
"Yeah," he says, handing Vin his shirt. "I'm done."
Chapter 8: Josiah, Good omen (OW, pre-canon, gen)
He saw the sign on the third day, a brilliant shaft of sunlight that pierced through the lowering clouds to shine only on the ruined church. And maybe it was a sign because he was wandering in the wilderness and was looking for something – anything – to be his guide. And maybe it was a sign because it was the will of God that His rudderless priest command His shattered boat. And maybe it was a sign because after three days of riding, his ass was sore and his horse was tired and there was a well in that little courtyard in front of that ruined church and right now he didn't care if that made the water any holier than any other water out here in this dry and barren land.
And maybe it wasn't a sign at all, wasn't anything more than what it looked to be: an abandoned church in the middle of nowhere, as ruined and forsaken by God as he was.
And maybe that was the truth of all his wandering – that there was no God, no holiness beyond the miracle of life, no sanctity beyond the barrenness of weathered stone.
Josiah hitched his horse to what was left of a choir rail and looked around. The harsh sun left no shadows on the broken stones and made the world outside this little ruined nave look doubly gray.
The water from the well was musty but cold. He drank long and deep and tasted nothing beyond disuse.
Maybe he'd stay here for a while.
Chapter 9: Nathan, First love as an adult (OW, pre-canon, gen)
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
It's dark in the belly of the steamboat. Dark and damp and it smells of river mud and river death. Nathan can hear the slow creak of the paddle wheel, the hiss of steam and, far, far away, the sound of white folks havin' a mighty fine time.
He wonders if them rich bastards know what their fancy steamboat's really used for. Wonders if they know there's three niggers in the belly, waiting for the whistle blow for Cairo.
Ain't far now, he reckons.
It's dark in the belly of the steamboat, and he can't tell how much time has passed. Ain't no call for lights down here, down in the muck and bilge. He closes his eyes and holds tight to the light he remembers, to the hope that never died yet, no matter how many beatings he was given.
He don't pray, though. Praying is something the white folk do, and them as wants to be white, wants to be caged. He ain't never gonna be like them.
Ain't never gonna be like his daddy.
The paddle wheel creaks. The riverboat rocks. The white folks laugh and gamble high above and then, through it all, a whistle shrieks. The riverboat's motion changes, and there's another shrieking whistle. Another hell of a hullabaloo.
And then silence.
Silence except for the soft groans of the ship settling. The distant noise of port. The sounds of a mighty queen heading for her righteous rest after a long day's work.
It's still dark in the belly of the boat.
And then there's light.
A crack in the floorboards, a shine of a dark lantern, and then a voice calling out, "C'mon now. Softly like."
The three of them descend onto a smuggler's raft, and Nathan's so dazzled by the brightness of the world after what seemed forever in the dark that he can't see the face of the man poling the raft. Can't see the point where he stops being a slave and becomes a freeman.
The stranger who rescued him poles the raft into a small cove and Nathan steps off onto free soil. He takes his first breath of freedom and though it stinks of river mud and river death he breathes deep and long and in that moment he feels nothing but love.
Look Ma! I done (internet based) research!
Ok, a bit of an explanation here. We know Nathan's family was sold to a slave owner in Alabama when he was 7 (although he was probably older if we're ever to reconcile the canon inconsistencies about his age). Other than that, we have no real concrete evidence on where Nathan was between age 7 and his early 20s, other than the fact that he worked on a plantation and remained with his father until his escape . Because the odds of a successful escape would drastically decrease the further south he was located, and because he lived/worked on a plantation where the master was physically present, I've placed his slave home in Northern Alabama, specifically near Decatur . Now I like to think that after he escaped, he made his way to Memphis and slipped onto a steamboat heading North. This makes the most sense to me because it'd be a faster method of getting to a free state and he wouldn't have to make his way across Tennessee (skinny state though it may be) and part of Kansas to get to Illinois. It also makes sense to me because Nathan would be less likely to be noticed (and therefore captured) in the bustle of a fancy riverboat preparing for embarkation from a busy city port than he would making his way across land during a time of heightened national tension – especially if he made his way onto a boat with a primarily black crew.
Note that I'm basing his age at the time he escaped off of Nathan's statement that he was born in 1839 in conjunction with Rick Worthy's comment in an interview that he saw Nathan as being a freeman for 11-12 years -- although it's not clear whether Rick Worthy meant Nathan had been a freeman for 11-12 years at the start of the show or that he'd reached 12 years of freedom by 1872. I'm assuming he's been free for 11 years at the start of the show, primarily because as hard as it would've been for a slave to escape from Alabama prior to the Civil War, I imagine it would have been twice as hard after – unless, of course, Nathan was sent to the front lines and escaped from there. But that doesn't jive with the statement Nathan makes to Obidiah in "The Trial" ("Well, Daddy, you didn't have to stay. You could've come with me.") – there's no way for Obidiah to escape with him if Nathan was sent to the front lines and escaped from there. So assuming he's been free for 10 or 11 years in 1870, that'd make him either 20 or 21 at the time of his escape. I'm using the date Nathan gives us (1839) as opposed to the date Obidiah (implicitly) gives us (1846) because if Nathan was 26 in penance, and escaped from slavery before the official start to the war (so sometime in 1860 or earlier) he would have been 14 at the oldest.
 Although Nathan says he learned to fence on a plantation, the fact that he had a personal – if not very good – relationship with his owner, and the fact that his father survived into old age, leads me to believe that (a) Master Jackson did not run a cotton plantation in the deep south (mostly because he was actually present on the plantation – which from what the internets tell me, was not common on the Deep South plantations – and because I strongly doubt he would have pulled a healthy slave off of cotton farming to be a fencing partner) and (b) Master Jackson lived somewhere where he'd have the need of good fencing skills (for duels and the like). So: Decatur, Alabama – far enough north to make running away a viable possibility, plus on a major riverway, which would give Nathan the idea for stowing away on a steamboat to escape.
Chapter 10: Chris/Ezra, Legend (OW, teen-ish)
The first rumors are started by a couple of the younger lasses about town. It's entirely scandalous so of course it spreads like wildfire, and Ezra hears it not two days after young Henrietta Wilcox first whispered "I wonder if it's really that big" to Charlotte Hayes.
"Well," Gloria Potter asked him. "Is it?"
"Is what?" Ezra replied, though he knew, of course, exactly what they were referring to. It was hard to miss Chris's…healthy virility, especially in those pants he wore. Still, he was feeling obstinate today, and he wished to hear Gloria Potter actually come right out and ask him if Chris's cock was truly as large as it appeared to be. But Gloria just blushed, then gave him a stern stare – as though it were somehow his fault that she had nearly been indiscreet – and bustled away down main street towards her store.
"What'd she want to know?" JD asked.
"Oh, she was merely curious if Chris's reputation was as legendary as it appears to be."
"Shoot, I coulda told her that," JD said, and Ezra nearly spat out the beer he'd just supped, though he knew that JD couldn't possibly know what had been asked. Still the thought of JD with Chris…It made him shudder, made his blood run cold; and made him uncomfortable in a way he couldn't rightly explain. "Everyone knows Chris Larabee's the best there is."
Vin eyed JD from under the wide brim of his hat then looked at Buck, eyes twinkling with mirth. "You want to be the one to 'splain this to him?"
Buck grimaced then stood. "Well, reckon I should."
Vin grinned and settled back down into his chair, and that appeared to be that.
And yet, Ezra couldn't stop thinking about it. He'd noticed Chris's frequent tendency towards arousal early on in their acquaintance. He'd thought it peculiar, at first, and then amusing, and then he'd stopped thinking on it at all – it was just a part of who Chris was, much like the pink bandanas were a part of who Vin was. That Chris wore absurdly tight pants and apparently eschewed drawers was merely an…eccentricity. Nothing more. Certainly nothing that Ezra need concern himself with.
But that didn't explain why he suddenly found his eye drawn more and more to Chris's proud member. His fixation was…unusual, and not simply because until now he had always been his mother's son: sex was a weapon, not something to be enjoyed simply for itself. And there was no gain in seducing Chris; there was no gain in seeing if Chris's cock would grow even more outside the confines of cotton and wool.
Except. Well. Perhaps there was some gain to be had. Yes, if he seduced Chris – if he satisfied the curiosity that had begun to plague him as badly as it plagued the town – then Chris would…what? Would be more lenient? Hardly likely. No, a single encounter wouldn't be enough to ensure leniency on Chris's part. He would need to play the long game here, force Chris to need him, to want him, to love him.
A long con – but how to con Chris? Subterfuge had never worked on him before. Honesty may be the best approach, but which truth would he spin? Which face would he present?
It was a puzzle, and while Ezra normally enjoyed the puzzle of humanity – the game of finding out what made a person tick – he was…frightened to play this game on Chris. Frightened not only of what he might find – for Chris was a man with a darkness inside him as deep as any one of them – but of what might happen. Failure was not an option here; to fail now would mean more than a few nights in prison or tar on his clothes.
Ezra twisted the puzzle around in his hands, in his mind, shifting each moving part, prodding each known fact. And yet no solution appeared before him. No easy answer, no edge to exploit. He had no options beyond, perhaps, the most obvious one. And perhaps that was the answer after all.
And so he rode out to Chris's place one day – unsure of what he was doing, but knowing that it had to be done if he were to go on living – and said, simply, "Is it real?"
Chris grinned at him and pulled Ezra's hand down, pressed it hard against the thick length of his cock.
"What do you think?" he said.
Chapter 11: Chris/Ezra, Buck Finds Out (OW, gen-ish)
Buck is untacking his horse when he first notices that something just ain't right in the Livery. Too much hay drifting down for it to be the wind, and there's a funky sort of smell – like someone just dumped a bottle of neatsfoot all over the floor. He takes his saddle to the rack and as he walks, he glances up at the hayloft. Ain't unusual for couples to go a-courtin' in here, after all. Damn stupid place to do it, he reckons, but then again, he ain't twenty-two no more and he don't find the idea of hay in the unmentionables as much of a turn on as he used to. Ain't no motion, though, so he reckons he's just imagining things – maybe it's Nathan walkin' bout and knocking some of the hay down – and he finishes putting all his tack away and filling his horse's manger with hay. He's just about to leave when he hears a small noise – like a sneeze quickly stifled – and he looks up just in time to catch the flash of a red jacket.
Well now. Ain't too many folk wearing red jackets round here, he reckons. And now that he thinks on it, there ain't been too many women to catch Ezra's eye, either. He reckons its his solemn duty to find out just what kinda woman Ezra's taste run to – so he can warn the rest of 'em off, of course.
He walks to the exit with loud, clomping steps, then pulls the heavy barn door shut. He takes off his boots and sneaks back to the ladder up to the hayloft and hides in an empty stall. For a long moment the only sounds in the Livery are those of the horses sighing and shifting and eating their oats. And then, just as Buck's about to lose his patience, Ezra says, "I still don't see why we need have our tryst here. We both have rooms in town."
"Yeah, and everyone knows we got those rooms," Chris says back, and Buck can feel his mouth drop lower than it did the time a mule kicked him in the fork. "You want JD interruptin' us again?"
Ezra snorts, a noise half-amusement, half-agreement. "I suppose not. But really, Chris. A hay loft?"
"Beats a hay stack," Chris says, and then, "we could always stop."
"That is a truly terrible thing to say, Mister Larabee," Ezra says, and then there's the noise Buck knows so well – that sound of kissing and flesh on flesh and the rustling of clothes.
Buck shuts his mouth. Well, that weren't at all what he expected. 'Course, Ezra never does anything anyone expects, and Chris…Shoot, Buck reckons he ain't got no call to tell Chris what his business is. Buck don't get it, but Ezra ain't bad looking as these things go.
'Cept when he wears a dress, a-course.
Buck gets to his feet as quiet as he can and turns to exit the stall. His foot comes down in an abandoned feed bucket and he windmills his way out the stall door to land hard on his ass in the middle of the Livery aisle. All around him horses neigh at the sudden noise and Buck considers making good on his escape. But his damn foot is really well wedged into that bucket there and besides, there's more rustling from the hayloft above as Chris's head appears over the edge.
"Buck," he says.
"You spying on us?"
"Little bit," Buck says, grinning up. "Thought maybe Ezra'd discovered what joys women bring."
"Callin' me a woman, Buck?"
"Nope." Buck pulls his foot out of the bucket and stands up. "You ain't the one who wore that damn dress."
"Mister Wilmington," Ezra says, his head now appearing beside Chris's. "If you do not retract that slur –"
"Shoot, Ezra, I don't mean it like that. 'Sides, a woman is a right beautiful thing. Delicate and pure like the driven snow. Reckon you're 'bout as pure as the snow behind a saloon alley." He grins at the both of them and tips his hat. "Now you two love birds just go back to your cooin', y'hear? I'll just go stand guard, make sure you two have time to…adjust yourselves"
"I do not 'coo'," Ezra mutters. "Doves coo. I, sir, am no dove."
"Nope," Chris says as he pulls Ezra back away from the edge. "You're many things, Ezra, but not a dove."
"Damn straight," Ezra says, before he lets Chris kiss him into submission.
Chapter 12: Casey, "The Sound of Music" (OW, gen)
Casey remembers her Ma and Pa a little. They died when she was real young, back when Nettie's husband was still alive. She remembers Ma much more than Pa, 'cause she was just a baby when Pa died in that flood. But she remembers talking to Ma, sort of, and she remembers that Ma had hair the color of good hay, and that the one thing Ma loved the most was that music box.
Pa had given it to her on their wedding day, she said. Back when she and Pa still lived in the Old Country and Pa was learning how to make singing birds. Ma always told her it was a symbol of hope, even if that hope didn't pan out, and Pa went bankrupt 'cause all the little boxes he'd planned on selling in Boston and New York and Kansas City got lost in a storm. And anyway, people didn't want to buy singing birds that just popped up out of a little box – they wanted the birds to pop out of guns, or fly in little gilded cages.
So Pa never did end up making his boxes, 'cept for this one, which had survived a sea voyage and a wagon train and Indians and fevers and floods and bears and it still sang as sweetly as the first day Casey had ever heard it.
She don't wind it much, though, 'cause that'll wear out the springs and there ain't a soul around who'd be able to fix the little box if it broke. 'Sides, she's usually too busy helping out on the homestead to do something silly like listen to a music box, and anyway there're plenty of real birds who sing better'n the metal one ever could.
At least, that's what she tells herself for the first little while after Ma dies and all she wants to do is wind that music box up until it'll sing forever. And, after a while, it becomes true enough that Nettie doesn't have to keep the little box high up on the mantle where Casey can't reach it.
So now she only listens to it sometimes, like sometimes after she's taken a bath and she sits down at Nettie's side and lets Nettie brush her hair out real fine. Times when it don't hurt so bad to remember losing Ma, 'cause Nettie's right there, taking care of her.
When Guy Royal picks it up, it feels like she's losing Ma all over again.
Chapter 13: Vin, sitting on a rock outside the Vinnebago, cleaning his guns at sunrise (ATF-ish, gen)
Over the years, Vin's had plenty of time to appreciate the freedom of his Winnebago. When you travel with your home on your back, there ain't never a place where you'll feel homesick, his Pa used to say, and back when Vin's more nomadic and erratic lifestyle led to not wanting anything like a permanent address, or a space entirely out of his control, he'd completely agreed with his Pa's words. Now, of course, he has a life, a family, outside of the aluminum walls of his '76 Brave, and the old girl is more of a hobby than a house. And he loves his team, his misfit family. He does. It's just, sometimes he has a hankering for the old days, when he answered only to himself, and didn't have to worry about things like Federal warrants. He misses driving to nowhere in particular, and seeing all the things that folks up in planes normally miss; he misses the little Mom and Pop shops, and the tourist traps, and the constant reminders of how vast and wonderful this country is.
What he doesn't miss, however, is running out of gas in the middle of the fucking Bonneville Salt Flats.
The fact that this is the third time this has happened to him doesn't make him feel any better about the situation, but it does mean he knows where the nearest gas station is, and he just barely manages to coax the old girl into the small lot in the middle of nowhere. It's a five-fifteen, and the station is dark and abandoned looking, but Vin reckons that someone will show up sometime. In the meantime, the sky is lightening, and he reckons his guns need some cleaning.
Chapter 14: Buck and Josiah, children (OW, Buck/Kate, gen)
"Woman, you get off that horse this instant!"
Josiah puts down his book at the sound of Buck's voice and looks out door of the church, to where Buck stands in the middle of Main Street, arms outspread, and glaring bloody murder at Katie Stokes. He's a brave man for doing so, Josiah thinks, for all that Kate's his wife in every eye but that of the lord and the law – specially now that Kate's growing belly has forced her to trade in her six shooter for a Winchester rifle.
"Buck Wilmington, I know you ain't telling me what to do."
"Damn straight I am! You can't go riding out in your condition!" Buck's glare softens, as does his voice, and he approaches Kate slowly, like he's trying to run down a skittish horse. "Now come on, darlin', we talked about this."
"And I told you, I'd be hunting down those murdering bastards."
"Damn it Kate! That's my baby in there!" Buck shouts, all out of patience. He throws his hat to the ground and the movement makes Kate's horse start and sidle crab-wise away from him. Kate calms the big black with a quiet "hush now" and a firm hand on the reins, then glares down at Buck.
"And it's my body. Now you gonna move or do I have to run you down?"
"She'll do it, Buck," Vin says as he rides up. "You know she will."
"And you!" Buck rounds on Vin. "Don't you be encouraging this! You ain't got no call to ask a man's pregnant wife to be your wingman on a bounty hunt!"
Vin shrugs and manages to convey in that simple movement that he is both smug and not at all ashamed of himself. "She's a damn fine shot, Buck. 'Sides, all y'all look down right ugly in a dress."
"I know that! Still ain't no reason to—" Buck begins and then jumps out of the way with a yelp as Kate canters past him. Vin rides past a second later, tipping his hat to Buck as he passes by.
"Kate! KATE!" Buck shouts, though he knows it'll do no good. He sighs and picks up his hat – trampled flat, now, and dustier than Josiah's hymnals – and walks up the steps of the church.
"Thought you said children were a blessing, Josiah," he grumbles as he beats his hat against his leg.
"They are." Josiah follows the fast disappearing forms of Kate and Vin until their brown coats become one with the brown earth. "Ain't never said what kind."
Chapter 15: Nathan and Buck, children (Safecrackers, missing scene)
Nathan turns to him during one of the innumerable stops they have to make so Olivia can take a piss – girl's got a bladder the size of a dried corn kernel, he swears – and says, "You don't like kids much."
Buck glances at him and then back to where Olivia's disappeared into the bushes. "I like kids just fine. Just so longs as they keeps their distance, anyways."
"Uh huh." Nathan is smirking, just a little, and he looks from the bushes to where Terry stands. "You know you ain't never gonna get a woman like that to look twice at you without you making nice with her kid."
"I know," Buck says, and he does. Oh he does, and a few years ago Olivia wouldn't have been a problem at all. A few years ago, it never would've crossed Nathan's mind that Buck might not like kids.
Of course, a few years ago, Sarah had been alive.
And a few years ago, he wouldn't have looked at every child and felt the aching gap of Adam's smile.
Chapter 16: Nathan and Ezra, humid afternoons (OW, gen)
Nathan notices Ezra's stiffness right away, though he doubts anybody else does. Ezra's too good of an actor to let fall any hint of weakness.
But Nathan is intimately familiar with Ezra's body; with all of his friends' bodies; seen them all in sickness and health and everything in between and he knows the difference between what Josiah looks like when he's slouched in his saddle because he's just tired and what he looks like slouched in his saddle because his old bones just don't take to long days of hard riding like they used to and all his joints are screaming like the devil hisself. Besides, he's too good a healer to miss the pain in Ezra's eyes, the way he holds himself perfectly straight and doesn't reach casually across to grab the bottle of whiskey he's clearly longing for.
Nathan thinks he knows the problem, too, and so he slaps Ezra on the back – a little harder than need be, perhaps – and watches as Ezra stills even further, face going carefully blank, breath hitching just a little.
"You come on up to my clinic, hear?" he tells Ezra, quietly, but in the tone he uses on Josiah when he's drunk and ornery and in need of some stitching. Works just as well on Ezra as it does on Josiah, too, because Ezra nods stiffly and excuses himself from the table.
In the clinic, he helps Ezra take off his coat and shirt – slowly, of course, and with more gentleness than he showed earlier – exposing the red and angry skin bit by bit.
"You're a damned fool," he says. "What were you thinkin', spending all that time in the sun without yo' shirt?"
"I did not realize it would be quite this bad," Ezra replies stiffly. "I am well aware of my own limits, Mister Jackson, and have always taken great pains to preserve the integrity of my skin."
"Damned fool," Nathan says again, and he spreads the cool salve across Ezra's sunburned skin. He feels Ezra shudder at his touch, and the movement sparks an anger in him he didn't know he had. And he don't know its cause, 'cept for the fact that it reminds him too much of 'Bama. Makes him think 'bout other times he's used this salve on other backs and other wounds – wounds deeper than those caused by exposing ivory skin to the hot, dry sun.
"This ain't the South," he snaps at Ezra. "Heat's all different here."
"Indeed. I had not noticed this fact," Ezra says, voice as dry as the desert air. "I thank you for your most…astute observation."
Nathan snorts, and the scent of sage and dust and sun-baked wood push back the humid ghosts of long dead afternoons.
Chapter 17: Chris and Josiah, reading (OW, gen)
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
It's not like they planned it out in advance – just one of them things that happens, as natural as the sunrise. Sunday afternoons, he and Josiah sit out on the porch of the church and read, quiet like. No talking, no preaching – just them and the books and some coffee. A little break from the madness that usually plagues this town. Takes him a mite longer to read a book through than Josiah, but there ain't no shame in that. Never did like reading much as a young'un, though he appreciates it now. Something soothing 'bout the way the paper feels, the regularity of the words before him. And it's nice to know that there's a truth to these words, unlike the ones Mary prints in her paper.
He turns the page and takes a sip of his coffee – cold, but not too cold, warmed as it's been by the sun.
"Hey Josiah, Chris." JD stops to lean on banister of the church's steps, wrapping his arms around the big end post and rocking idly from one foot to the other. "You guys reading?"
"Yup," Chris says. He turns another page.
"Well, now, that's a good question," Josiah says as he puts his book down. "See, some might consider this book," and he taps the hefty tome in question, "blasphemous for it seems to discredit the almighty power of the divine, for it suggests that we are not formed by God's direct purpose, but rather through the chaos of the world. 'How much of the acclimatization of species to any peculiar climate is due to mere habit, and how much to the natural selection of varieties having different innate constitutions, and how much to both means combined'? And yet, did not God create the land around us that led to this acclimatization? Is it not by his hand that the coyote has adapted to live in both the desert and the plains, while the Great Auk is now no more?"
"Uh huh," JD said. "Chris?"
"Man's got a whale to kill." Chris turns another page. "My money's on the whale."
The passage Josiah quotes is from Darwin's On the Origin of Species. Chris, of course, is reading Moby Dick.
Chapter 18: Ezra and JD, fathers (OW, OT7-ish, gen)
Ezra cuts the deck one handed – a trick he's done a thousand times – and begins to deal the cards. They flash out across the green baize like a flock of some strange breed of bird scattering to the four corners of the world.
"Well, gentlemen?" he asks. "Stud or Draw?"
"Why we gotta play poker at all?" Vin grumbles. "Too many damn rules – why don't we play Faro instead?"
"Faro, Mister Tanner, is a game for the masses. Poker is the game of kings."
"Thought that was horse racing," Josiah says. He picks up his cards and looks at them contemplatively. "Or is that chess?" He looks up at the table and grins his off-kilter grin. "Or perhaps it's beheading."
"Faro's a cheater's game," Buck says, but mildly. He looks over at Chris and begins to laugh at a sudden memory. "Remember that time up in Grenville? When Joe Hart's box broke and it turned out he was using a deck with five Queens?"
Chris grins, a little. "Yup. As I recollect, that was also the time you lost all our money betting on that crooked table."
"Well now," Buck begins, and the two of them are off, bickering at each other like old women. Ezra sighs and collects the cards back. He shuffles them again, then begins to cut the ace of spades in and out of the deck; he pulls it out with a flourish each time, and makes the card flicker between the fingers of his left hand before cutting it back in. JD watches him intensely, then leans back in his chair and shakes his head.
"Your Pa teach you how to do that?" he asks.
"My father?" Ezra says glibly. "Which one?"
JD's brow furrows in confusion and Ezra sighs.
"No," he says seriously. "I never knew the man from whose seed I sprang. Mother's third husband was a jeweler, I believe, and her fourth was a politician – and a greater con man I have never seen. And then, of course there were assorted 'Uncles' who came and went."
"Uncles?" JD says. "I didn't know you had relatives Ezra. They all back East?"
Ezra stops playing with the cards and stares at JD. Surely the boy couldn't…
"JD, surely your mother had gentlemen suitors? Perhaps one who stayed the night a time or two?"
"Well, there was Mister Roosevelt. But we lived in his house, so I don't think it counts." JD takes another sip of milk. "Anyway, Ma said I was the only gentleman she needed. 'Sides, she said it was only right to respect my Pa's memory – he was a war hero, you know."
Ezra manages to stifle a laugh, though there really is nothing terribly funny about JD's naivety. "Well what a coincidence," he says. "So was mine."
Chapter 19: Chris, his 'harem' of six men (ATF, crack)
"This," Ezra said, "is the stupidest idea I have ever heard."
"Stupider than that time Vin and JD decided to –" Nathan began, but Ezra cut him off with a glare.
"Yes," he said. "This is stupider than any thing Vin and JD have ever thought up. Including that time they decided to play GPS hide-and-seek."
"Look," Vin said, words muffled by the cloth of the burka he was wearing, "that was an entirely sound training scenario."
"You played GPS hide-and-seek," Ezra said. "On the top of a mountain. In sub-zero temperatures."
"Oh just put the damn burka on," Vin snapped back. "Ain't like it's the first time you've worn women's clothes."
"It's not the fact that these are women's garments that I object to," Ezra said. "It's the fact that the six of us must wear them while Chris gets to pass himself off as our quote-unquote husband."
"And?" Josiah said.
"And? And?! How many blond-haired and blue-eyed Afghanis have you seen?"
Chapter 20: Josiah and Vin, bullets (Steampunk!Seven, gen)
In general, Vin Tanner is a cautious man. He's deliberate. He thinks things through. He don't act on impulse, and he don't jump feet first into a fire or a gunfight – well, most times he don't, anyway. Sure, he's put his foot in a few hornets' nests in his time, but who ain't? And anyway, at least he's always had the commonsense to run like the dickens after doing so.
So why, he asks himself as he listens to Josiah babble excitedly at him, ain't I doin' just that?
It's a rhetorical question, a'course. He knows damn well why he let himself be talked into being Josiah's latest guinea pig, why he's standing out here decked out in so much boiled leather that he can barely move, and sweatin' more than just standing 'round in the hot desert sun warranted. It's lust, pure and simple, that's drivin' him to ruin – or if not ruin, then surely some sort of damned painful accident. Lust, and he ain't ever been one for the Good Book, but he reckons he understands now why that's a sin, and he resolves that if he gets outta this alive, he ain't never gonna be tempted again.
He's damn proud he manages to keep that resolve all the way up to picking up the gun. That big, shiny, sleek lookin' gun Josiah done built. That big, shiny, sleek gun, with polished brass inlays and the dark wood stock sanded so fine it's like holdin' satin. That big, shiny, sleek gun that called out to him like the Devil himself from where it lay, all oiled and ready, on Josiah's work bench deep in the gloomy belly of his workshop below the church. That big, shiny, sleek gun that's just beggin' to be lifted, stroked, cradled up snug against his shoulder…
Vin pulls the trigger, and even though he's braced, even though he knows that anythin' Josiah makes has a tendency to go boom, he still ain't even half-prepared for either the gun's recoil or the hellfire noise it makes goin' off. He's on his ass faster than a greenhorn fallin' off a buckin' bronco, and his ears are ringing like he's sittin' right under the damn town bells. His shoulder feels like he's been kicked by a mule, and for a moment he fears that the fact that he can't feel his damn hand means it's been blown clean off.
But no, there it is, right at the end of his arm where it's s'posed to be and eveythin' appears to be functional even though it's a damn strange feelin' to see his fingers wigglin' and not feel them move.
Josiah's shadow passes over him and he looks up into the crazy preacher's wild, beaming face.
"Great!" Josiah roars, passing him a bullet that's at least as long as his index finger, "now let's try firin' it live!"
Chapter 21: JD and Chris, fathers (OW, JD/Casey implied, gen)
Chris heard JD's approach a good ten minutes before the young man actually rode into view. A man would have to be deafer than a post not to hear him – or rather, not to hear the squalling baby he had strapped to his back. She was only six months old, but it was damn clear that little Annie Dunne had quite a bit to say about the world, and most of it right uncomplimentary at that.
"JD," Chris said over the baby's wails, nodding an amiable greeting to the tired looking young man.
"Chris." JD dismounted carefully and slid the cradleboard off his back. He had dark circles under his eyes and a three-day beard, and Chris had to look down to make sure JD didn't see his grin.
"Here to see Nathan?"
JD shook his head mutely and jigged the baby up and down a bit; Annie hiccoughed and then began to cry again, twice as loud as before. JD stared at his wailing daughter in utter dismay, and Chris couldn't stop the laugh the welled up at the sight.
"Ain't funny!" JD snapped, though he still kept his hold gentle as could be. "She's been cryin' for a fortnight! Casey and I ain't been able to sleep a wink, and she's scared all the chickens out of laying!" He jigged the baby up and down again, and added with a touch less acerbity, but a great deal more defensiveness, "Reckoned a change of scenery might do her some good."
"Damn smart idea," Chris said, as placatingly as he could. "Here, let me hold her." When JD hesitated, he added, "Come on, kid. You look like you're 'bout ready to fall down in the street."
"Ain't a kid," JD grumbled, but he handed the crying Annie over willingly enough.
"You'll always be a kid," Chris said as he undid the cradleboard's ties and pulled Annie free from the swaddling. "Ain't that right sweetheart?"
Annie hiccoughed again, and Chris began to rock her gently in his arms, humming the same old song he'd sung to Adam when he'd been fractious and wouldn't sleep. Annie yawned, huge and toothless, and swung her tiny fists in protest at the injustice of being loved and swayed to sleep, and Chris felt himself smile again. He had loved Adam at this age. Well, he had loved Adam at every age, but there had been something special about six months, something precious and wonderful – a whole new world to explore, a whole new way to see life through his son's wide and wondering eyes.
"Think I'll ever be as good a dad as you?" JD asked, soft and low and oddly innocent. Chris looked up, startled, and then looked away, unable to face the naked adoration in JD's eyes.
"Here," he said instead, handing Annie over. "Reckon she'll sleep for a little while now."
JD nodded, and cradled his daughter gently in his arms. He stroked the wisps of dark hair on her head, and for a moment Chris had a painful flashback to the life he'd lived before – the life of wife and child and future and hope. And then it was gone and he was once more staring at JD looking down at his child as though amazed that he could have brought something so small and precious into this world.
"You're a good father," Chris said, at last, and he didn't look at JD's face, but stared resolutely down at Annie. "Calmin' a cryin' baby just takes learning and a full night's sleep. You're doin' just fine."
He touched Annie's soft hair, listened to her snuffling little breaths, and said again, softer this time and with a sideways smile at JD, "You're doin' just fine."
Chapter 22: Kate Stokes: Turning her land into something more than a weedpatch (OW, Kate/Buck)
The first thing Katie did when she got to her farm was chase all the critters out of the shack. A whole family of raccoons had set up a nest in there, and they chittered and chided her the entire time she swept out the clutter and dirt and tidied the place up into something that almost looked like a home, if you squinted hard enough. She liked the noises they made, and she chittered right back at them, the way she'd used to chitter for Maddie, when they'd been little, and Pa had been on one of his drunken rages. They'd hide out in the hills and pretend they were little forest critters, and Katie wondered, idly, if the broken down lean-to they'd made was still there.
She didn't go and look for it, though.
She hired a couple of young men from town to help her clear out the weeds and plow the fields, paying them with Del's cash, and she didn't talk to them at all. They were young and she was wary and could see the meanness lurking behind their eyes, even in the scrawny, pimply one who was only good for handling the mules. They were polite enough, she guessed, for they all called her ma'am and touched their caps to her, and still Katie paid them off with one hand and kept her other on her gun, and made sure they all saw it was there.
Del had ruined her, she reckoned, or Buck had, for she couldn't see any smile but his without flinching. But she reckoned time would heal that wound, like it would heal the wound in her heart, the wounds on her body, the wounds Del and Pa had left on her soul. Time would heal it, and if it didn't, well, she was done with men.
Day by day she rose with the sun and worked the land, bending it to her will. It wasn't much, and it had been Pa's, but it was all she had left in this world, and she wouldn't lose it too. She planted corn and hay, bought a cow and some chickens, and let her big black gelding grow fat and fractious in his pasture.
Day by day she rose, day by day she toiled, day by day she slowly turned the farm from a shack in a weed patch into a home. Or something like enough a home, at least on the outside. On the inside, though, it was still so hollow, so cold, so silent.
She'd never known such silence.
When she saw the lone rider in the distance, she thought it was one of the boys from town, come out to court her despite all her efforts at driving them away. She went to the house to grab her Winchester, and when she got back the rider on the dappled gray had reached the fence surrounding her little flower garden. Buck had his back to her and his horse was munching on the wild flowers she'd planted there and Katie wasn't entirely convinced that she shouldn't just shoot him right now – it'd be the easy thing, after all, and she was, in a way, content with the life she'd carved out of the land.
Buck turned to her and smiled, his eyes twinkling like he'd never seen sadness before, though Katie knew that he had.
"Well howdy, darlin'," he said as he gave her a wink.
Katie put down her gun, and smiled, and finally felt alive.
Chapter 23: Pen & Paper (Nathan/Rain, gen, modern AU)
The very first thing Nathan can remember is writing. He remembers, with aching clarity, the slant of afternoon sunlight spilling across the empty backside of the rough, brown paper bag, the way the pen felt in his hand – not too heavy, but solid, present, an old fountain pen that had belonged to his granddaddy – and the way the lines wavered and wobbled across the makeshift page. They hadn’t had much, back in those days – barely enough money for food and decent clothing and the outrageous rent their slumlord charged them – but they’d always had paper and pens. It was amazing what toys, what landscapes of childish imagination, could be created from such simple objects – knights and princesses and dragons and heroes and castles and dark, deadly forests, colored garishly from broken half-sets of stolen crayons, or left light brown, like Mama’s skin.
After Mama died, Nathan found a different use for his pen. Then it became a weapon, a way of pouring out all the hatred and anger and despair and fear and confusion, of making sense of everything inside him, of turning the turmoil into manageable words that still didn’t quite capture everything he wanted to say. Sometimes there were no words at all to describe what he felt, and in those times the pen and paper became a map of his soul, full of dark creatures and dragons and burial mounds. He’d write, and write, and write, scribbling and drawing all of his thoughts, until Bobby Delancy saw him writing on the stoop and snatched away his home-made journal (a thing of string and ragged bits of paper held together more by a young boy’s love than by any real mechanism) and read the poem Nathan had written for Sarah Wallace (who was the prettiest girl he’d ever seen, and who was white, and even though it weren’t the 60’s anymore, it still wasn’t considered right for a black boy to write poetry to a white girl) and it took seven days for Nathan’s black eyes to go away; of course it took two months for Bobby’s arm to come out of the cast, so Nathan figured those seven days were worth it.
Still, after that, he didn’t seek out pen and paper quite so often. He played sports, instead – ran track, played second base, got enough of a sports scholarship to get out of ‘Bama and head to North Carolina, to Duke for undergrad, where pen and paper were instruments that got in the way of his fun. The cheap pens wore a divot in his finger, and the notebooks got wet and messy and splattered with beer and pizza and soda and gunk; they weren’t the objects of reverence that they used to be. They were just tools, to be picked up and discarded and the doodles Nathan drew in the margins of his notes were just abstract patterns to keep himself awake while the Professor droned on about covalent bonds. Besides, computers were the thing, now – computers and word processing and email, and nobody really wrote anything using pen and paper anymore. Why bother scribbling down in a diary when a blog was so much easier? And in the vastness of the internet, it was probably more anonymous and protected than a real life journal ever could be.
And then he met Rain, and suddenly he was the little boy again, with no money to buy toys but enough imagination to not care. Suddenly he wanted Rain to know everything about him; he wanted to communicate in a way that let her see who he really was, let her know that he always wrote his ‘f’s with a little flourish, and that his ‘a’s and ‘c’s could be indistinguishable if he wrote too fast. He wanted to show her all the secret places he’d learned as a child – how a ‘d’ could become the toe of a dragon, and how an ‘m’ was the lowest foothill of a mountain. He wanted to write the world for her and change it with each stroke, and he couldn’t do that behind a computer.
So he found his granddaddy’s old pen, and paper that was smooth as linen and the color of old satin, and he wrote, with painstaking clarity, “you’re beautiful” upon the smooth expanse; wrote the words over and over, until they formed a rose made up of letters and longing.
He slipped the note into her purse as he walked past her lab station in Organic Chem, and waited, heart beating, for her to find it. It seemed to take ages until she had to open her bag, and Nathan ducked his head, suddenly shy in this moment: would she be pleased or creeped out by his little gift?
A small piece of paper – notebook paper, torn out and folded into a triangle and sent skimming through the air – bounced off his head and he looked up and over to where Rain sat hunched over her experiment. He took the paper and unfolded it, and smoothed it out, until he could read scrawled out in pencil and ugly enough to be a doctor’s hand: “you are too.”
Chapter 24: Piano (Nathan/Rain, OW)
Prompt: Nathan/Rain, a subsequent visit to town, after Rain tells him more about her father, Nathan brings Rain to the saloon after hours so she can see/play the piano.
Of all the things Nathan loves about Rain, the way she hums ever-so-slightly off-key while she’s distracted is pretty high up that list. It’s an unconscious thing, Nathan knows, and he supposes that if he didn’t love her he’d find it incredibly annoying, because sometimes she just hums the same three bars over, and over, and over again, and sometimes she’ll start humming one song and switch abruptly to another. She hums as she flits about his clinic, and she hums as she strokes a gentle finger down his scars, and she hums as he escorts her through town.
“I will not be long,” she tells him as they pause before the Potters’ store, her eye caught by a hat with white feathers.
“I’ll be here,” Nathan replies, and laughs as she hums a pleased little trill and presses a chaste kiss to the side of his mouth before darting inside. She’s fingering a pale green dress and humming the first three bars to “Lindy Lowe” over and over again, her low contralto voice carrying clearly into the street, when JD walks up. He cocks an ear to Rain’s humming, then turns to Nathan, a grimace on his face.
“Don’t that drive you crazy, Nathan? The humming?”
“Nah,” he tells JD, and it doesn’t because when Rain is humming, it means she’s in town. And when Rain is in town her presence just fills Nathan up to the brim with incredulous, possessive joy.
“Guess she learned it from her Daddy,” JD says and he sighs. “Kinda wish he’d taught her more’n three bars, though.”
Nathan doesn’t say anything, but he thinks about JD’s words. They don’t talk much about fathers in these parts – mostly ‘cause they don’t really got any. He thinks Chris’s daddy is still alive somewhere back in Indiana or Illinois or someplace like that, and he knows Josiah’s daddy is a real touchy subject, but the rest of them…shoot, he spent the better part of his life hating his daddy, and then watching him die, and he thinks he’s really the luckiest one of them all when it comes to fathers. At least he had a daddy for a little while; at least he got to say goodbye.
That thought pulls him up short, and it occupies all of his mind as he walks Rain and her new hat to her horse, keeps him from really doing more than giving her an absent-minded kiss as he lifts her into the saddle. Rain looks down on him with her old, laughing eyes, and doesn’t question what’s in his mind, and the part of him that’s not reliving the last weeks with his father loves her all the more for her silence. And yet, there’s a part of him that wants to talk to her about this, wants to ask her what it was like growing up free and with a father – was Eban fierce or gentle, did he teach her to bow before the white man or did she learn her fierceness from him? It’s not hard to imagine Eban, puffed up like a cockerel, ready to fight any man who dared lay a hand on his daughter; it’s not hard to imagine, too, that when faced with an arrogant white man, he would bow his head and mumble “yas suh” and “nuh suh” just like Obadiah had all his life.
What did Rain remember – pride or subservience? And did she feel the odd shame, the learned fear, the burning anger that he felt when she thought about her father?
Or maybe all she remembers is his music, and now Nathan wonders if her humming is perhaps the only way she has to keep him alive – if, perhaps, these songs are the only legacy she has, much like the white rope bridle is the only thing Nathan has of Obadiah. And he wonders if perhaps the reason she repeats the same three bars is because she can’t remember any more of the song and fears that this means she’s losing the memory of the man that taught it to her.
Nathan thinks on this for a week and a bit – the length of time it takes for Rain to decide to make the ride back into town again – and in that time he thinks he has a solution of a sorts. The idea of it fills him with nervous pleasure, and he alternates between smiling and snapping, between wanting to sit still and wanting to scream out his secret from rooftops. Rain watches him with her patient, knowing eyes, and laughs at him when he drops his books and sighs at him when he’s a little too impatient with Buck, who’s got it into his mind that he’s losing all of his hair ‘cause of a spell Vin put on him. He can barely eat a bite during dinner, just pushes the food around on his plate, and Rain frowns at him, because they both grew up knowing better than to waste food.
“I’ll put it by the oven, yes?” Inez says to him as she’s clearing out the last of the patrons, and she winks at him in a way that makes Nathan blush from his roots to his toes. “You can eat it later.”
“So,” Rain says, after Inez whisks their plates away. “What is this surprise you have been dying to tell me all day?”
“Ain’t got no surprise,” Nathan tries to lie, but he can’t lie at all in front of Rain’s patient, loving smile. “Fine. Come with me.” He takes her hand and walks her over to the corner where the piano sits. It’s a fine, fancy piano – Ezra’d brought it in special from Chicago, back when he owned the saloon – all dark rosewood and real ivory and ebony keys. An instrument for a real musician (there’d been rumors of contracts for a real piano player, all the way from New York, right around the time Ezra lost the place to Maude) and ever since it arrived, it’s mostly been covered with a sheet and gathering dust.
“Nathan?” Rain’s eyes are laughing at him again, and he smiles, giddy and lost in his love for her, then pulls the sheet off the piano with a flourish.
For a moment Rain just keeps smiling, although her smile is confused now, and then the smile slips, slowly, like the side of a hill after a heavy rain.
“Ta da?” Nathan says again, although he’s hesitant and worried now. Her silence is unnerving, her stillness like that of a man who's just received a mortal blow, and he finds himself searching for something to say to fill the quiet stretching between them. “It’s a piano.”
Rain nods and strokes her hand across the satin-smooth wood, caresses the elegant curve of the music stand, the ornate carvings that decorate the front and through which the silver strings dully gleam.
“You ain’t…you ain’t mad, is you?” Nathan asks. “Only, well, you hum so much, and I figured, your daddy maybe taught you to play, and I asked Inez and she said if you wanted to, you could play here sometimes, so you could be close to him again. If you want.”
Rain is still silent, still grave, and now Nathan’s worried. He shakes his head and twists the sheet in his hands. “Aw hell. It was a dumb idea. I’m sorry.”
“I hated his piano,” Rain says, softly. And then louder, “I hated it.”
“He said it was the only thing that was his, that it was his most precious possession. But I was his too! I was his daughter! Wasn’t I more precious than any thing of wood and metal?”
Nathan gapes at Rain, unsure of what to say, of how to react. “I—“
“He died for that damn piano!”
“I—“ he says again, and he wraps her up in his arms, holds her tight as she sobs into his shoulder, strokes her back and whispers soothing nonsense until the flood of tears subsides into no more than a shuddering trickle. “But the songs,” he says at last. “The humming.”
“I hated that piano,” Rain says. “But I loved him.”