The sunset bled out on the horizon, so only the silhouette of the town could be seen haloed in the remaining light. Tony stood from where he had crouched in the dirt and swept a hand over his brow. He surveyed his handiwork grimly before hefting his shovel over his shoulder and clambering out of the hole he’d dug.
That was a lot more fucking effort than he had ever wanted to put into anything.
He was filthy, covered in dust from digging, and his boots were muddy from when he’d reached the damp clay that lay a couple feet below the surface. He eyed the bag of gold at his feet and then the hole again.
“Damn it, Greg,” he said. Tony shoved the sack into the hole, and it landed with a dull thump, a few loose coins jingling when it hit the ground.
He should have seen it coming. Tony had known that eventually he would end up trusting the wrong person at the wrong time. He’d just thought that when that day came, he’d have his brother, at least, to back him up. Instead he’d barely gotten away with his life.
Unfortunately for Greg, Tony fancied himself a futurist…so he got away with a little more than that.
The way Tony figured it, he had originally given himself about a three day head start before Greg had realized that Tony had swapped the gang’s gold out for gravel.
Greg and his men—actually Tony’s men, god damn it—had been hot on his tail for weeks. He’d had one heart-stoppingly close call, where Tony had seen Greg and his men not twenty yards away. He’d been riding into town just as Tony was riding out, but somehow Tony had managed to slip by without notice. Following that, Tony hadn’t heard any news of him.
It had been several days later before Tony finally let himself believe that he might have given the gang the slip. Now he needed to act fast, and that started with a little bit of an investment for a rainy day. He let his shovel clatter to the ground and crossed over to fetch himself a smoke from his saddlebag.
Tony’s horse didn’t so much as twitch at the noise, lazily grazing on the little patch of grass growing beneath the shade of the rocks. Tony brushed a hand over his bag, as though to reassure himself that the neatly folded bank notes were still safely tucked inside.
He had picked the spot because the outcropping of rocks was easily recognizable. It had been a pain in the ass to dig through the hard-packed earth, and he’d had a very brief battle with a cactus in an attempt to get at an easier spot to dig, but he was fairly certain that his gold would be safe here. This was just a temporary arrangement, anyway. Until he was sure that Greg and his gang were far behind him, and the bounty on his head wasn’t quite so fresh.
He still didn’t like it.
But he didn’t have much of a choice, either, and seeing as riding was a hell of a lot easier without the extra weight, he was willing to let the gold lie for a while. At least until he had the opportunity to come back for it (safely) and put it to use.
Tony picked up the shovel again. “Don’t suppose you’d like to help?” he asked his horse. He hefted the first shovelful of dirt into the hole, and she idly flicked her tail at a fly in response. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
Tony finally rode into the town just after dark.
Even in the darkness, he could make out the bright white lettering of the sign, Welcome to Triskellion. It looked freshly painted, which couldn’t be said for the rest of the town. Tony made his way quietly down the main road—the only road, really, and wasn’t this place quaint—and quietly stopped in front of the lit building. It was labeled Wasp’s Nest Saloon and Inn in large, chipping block letters. There were three horses and a mule hitched to the Saloon rail, and Tony made his way up to them.
The smell of wood smoke, burnt sugar, and alcohol hung in a haze outside the little inn, and even as he was tying his horse he could scarcely breathe for the smell of it. Tony ran a hand over his horse’s flank in passing and took the stairs two at a time. All he wanted right now was a comfortable bed and a couple shots of whiskey to help keep him there, and he was lucky enough to be able to find them both in the same place.
Music and raised voices bled through the doorway and into the street. It looked as if the entire town had turned up to drink and play cards. A few people glanced up at him when he entered, but most of them turned back to their drinks almost immediately.
After everyone else had lost interest, one set of eyes still lingered. There were a group of men playing cards in the back corner, and among them was a remarkable piece of man with light blonde hair and the brightest blue eyes Tony had seen west of the Mississippi. He caught Tony’s gaze from across the room and held it. Tony grinned, tipping his hat. Finally one of the blonde’s companions called him back to the game. The man broke his gaze and didn’t look back.
Tony got quite a few curious looks from the rest of crowd, but they were the looks given to a curious stranger, not looks of recognition, and Tony could immediately feel himself relaxing as his suspicions were confirmed.
His bounty was new enough that it hadn’t reached this far west yet, although it was only a matter of time before the post caught up to him. He’d move on tomorrow morning, heading west with a hope and a prayer that he’d find somewhere his bounty couldn’t reach him before he hit open ocean. Running didn’t sit well with him. He felt like a coward, but then again, maybe that was the price he had to pay for his sins.
Tony grabbed a stool on the far end of the bar. He was careful to put a space between himself and the two men drunkenly flicking pinto beans into a spittoon. He caught the bartender’s eye, and she wandered over, still cleaning the glass in her hand.
“Hey, Stranger. I’m Jan.” She was stunning, even in the low lighting of the tavern. Her pretty, delicate features made her stick out like a beacon among the plain clothed men and women gathered around the bar. She dressed like a city woman, with a haircut and a sharp smile to match. Tony liked her immediately. “What can I do you for?”
“I’m looking for a room,” he said, “And a whiskey. Just the whiskey, if you please.”
Her eyes narrowed immediately.
“I don’t cut my whiskey, if that’s what you’re implying.”
“I would never,” Tony replied. She turned the glass in her hand up on the counter, and set a metal key onto the bar beside it. When Tony reached for the key, she slapped a hand over it.
“Payment’s up front.” She turned one hand to him, palm up. Tony pulled a rumpled five dollar bill from his pocket and flattened it into her hand. She stared at it as though she’d never seen one before, folded it twice, and stuck it into her shirt. She looked him over once, eyes lingering on his dirt-blackened hands, and sighed. “Make sure you use a sheet.” She pinched the bridge of her nose.
“Can do,” Tony slipped the key into his pocket, and then reached over the bar to pour himself a drink. She didn’t move to stop him, so Tony just recapped the bottle and set it at his elbow.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
He should probably lie. Just in case. “Tony.” Or not.
“Been riding long, Tony?”
He’d been running nearly nonstop since Louisiana. This was the first town he’d felt comfortable stopping in since he started, and a large part of that was the fact that he’d finally folded and decided to bury his gold for safe keeping.
“Not too long.” Tony drained his glass and set to refilling it, half so that he would have something to do. “I’m heading to California, god willing.” That wasn’t true at all—the way things were going, he’d probably have to head to South America before he managed to outrun his reputation. But a couple of days or weeks from now, when his bounty ended up on the saloon wall, hopefully Jan would tell everyone he’d headed to California.
“You’re a little late, if you’re looking for gold.” Tony jumped at the new voice in his ear.
The poker game must be taking a break, because the man from before was leaning against the bar. Tony got the distinct impression that he was being weighed and measured. If the look of interest on the blonde’s face was anything to go by, he probably hadn’t been found wanting after all.
He’d been making no attempts to hide his staring since the moment Tony walked inside—if Tony was more easily spooked, he might have suspected that the man recognized him.
The man dropped into the empty seat beside Tony, and Tony leaned against the bar to regard him. Of course, there was more than one way to get a good night’s sleep. Jan raised a surprised eyebrow at Tony’s companion, but handed him a glass without him having to ask.
I don’t need any more gold, Tony wanted to say. There was enough gold buried just outside of town to hold him over for a lifetime, if he played his cards right. Instead he just shrugged and tossed his drink back.
“I’m not looking to mine, actually,” Tony said. “I hear there’s lots of work in California, what with all the miners the gold brought.”
“Work,” the man said at length.
The way he said it was odd, but Tony just shrugged, not quite understanding the look he was giving him, and understanding the tone he’d used even less. He’d said it like the term was loaded, like it carried more than Tony had intended it to—
Christ. He thought Tony was talking about hooking.
“I just meant,” Tony clarified, “there’s easier ways to make a living.” Well, that didn’t really sound much better.
The man frowned, clearly not agreeing, but he nodded like he understood which no he absolutely did not. He didn’t give Tony any opportunity to correct him.
“Do you have a room?” he asked. “Here, I mean. Are you staying over here?”
Tony smirked at him, turned on his stool so that his knee was pressing into the man’s thigh. “What’s it to you?”
Tony expected the man to fumble then, maybe get a little flustered, but he just shrugged nonchalantly. “Nothing,” he said. He cocked his head at Tony, seeming completely content to sit there staring at him.
Well fine. Tony grabbed the tumbler sitting in front of the man and knocked it back too.
“Come on then,” he said. Tony stood from his stool and the man followed wordlessly, though not without some significant looks from the rest of the bar. Popular guy, Tony guessed, though not so quick to tumble in the sheets with a stranger if the surprise on the bartender’s face was any indication.
Lucky me, Tony thought.
They made it three fourths of the way up the stairs before Tony was on him, pressing them back against the rail and into the shadows. It had been—well, too long—since he’d last kept the company of another person, and he certainly wasn’t going to slow down now. Tony was fairly certain this guy was convinced he was some kind of prostitute anyway. He swore to God, if he tried to pay him—
Well, he’d probably take the money. But he wouldn’t be happy about it.
His companion tried and failed three times to get Tony back on track, each time being pulled back in for an increasingly fervent kiss. They were never going to make it to his room at this rate.
“Woah, watch it—” someone said behind him, although he sounded more amused than upset. The stranger chuckled, and Tony wouldn’t have given a shit if Steve hadn’t been distracted enough to break their kiss. “Hey, Steve, who’s your friend?”
“Fuck off,” Tony said, at the same time Steve swatted at the guy. The other man ducked, grinned impishly and dashed down the stairs. Steve hooked his fingers through the belt loops on Tony’s trousers and pulled him back in.
“Clint,” he said in way of explanation. “Don’t mind him.”
“Wasn’t planning on it.” Tony took another step down the hall. It suddenly struck him that he didn’t know which door was his, but Steve seemed to know where he was going.
Tony had to try twice to get the key into the lock, and it certainly wasn’t helping his concentration that Steve had pressed himself against Tony’s back, and was working on the buckle of his belt. When the gentle nipping at his neck turned sharp, Tony nearly dropped the key entirely. He was fairly certain that if he didn’t get this door open pronto he was just going to say to hell with it and make room on the floor.
When he finally managed to fumble the lock, Tony pushed the door open and had just enough time to drop his bag inside before he was being spun around and pinned against the door. Tony would have been surprised at how quickly the blonde could jumble his thoughts, but he was too busy trying to regain control of the kiss. Tony Stark laid down for no one, least of all a stranger, unless he wanted to.
Tony pushed Steve’s jacket over his shoulders and then dropped his hands to his waist and started pulling the fabric free in rough handfuls, desperate to reach bare skin. The room was already too warm in the summer night, and they were wearing far too many clothes. He dragged his fingernails up the plains of Steve’s stomach, savoring the little, anticipatory shivers it earned him, and yanked Steve’s undershirt the rest of the way over his head.
With his back against the wall there wasn’t much room to do anything, but Tony was nothing if not resourceful. He rolled his hips forward, forcing them to grind together, and was pleased with Steve’s low, surprised groan.
“I’ll admit,” Tony gasped, “this is not how I saw this evening going when I rode in.” He could feel Steve growing hard against him, and had to suppress a groan. He pressed the heel of his hand against Steve’s chest and urged him to take a step back; he wasn’t going to be reduced to writhing against a wall just yet.
Steve tried to close the distance again, but Tony put a hand on his hip to hold him back. Tony leaned in for a slow, drawn out kiss, intent on pulling those noises out of him again. Steve grabbed a handful of his hair, tugging lightly against the kiss and urging Tony on. He must have felt Tony react—it was hard to imagine anyone not being able to feel the pangs of desire shooting down his spine like cannon fire. Tony smirked against his mouth, sucking Steve’s bottom lip between his teeth and Steve stilled with a groan, hands dropping back down to settle on Tony’s waist. There were a lot of things he’d like to do with those hands, but first—
“Can I?” Tony dropped a hand to Steve’s belt, already tugging the buckle loose.
Steve let out a little huff of air; Tony relished the way his lids fluttered half shut. “Has anyone ever said no to that?”
Tony grinned and spun them around, so Steve was leaning against the wall. He slipped to his knees, unbuckling Steve’s belt with steady, unhurried fingers. He unbuttoned his pants and pulled them open just enough to gain access. When he put his lips against the thin fabric and breathed hotly against it, Steve groaned and wound his fingers tightly into Tony’s hair.
“Don’t tease,” Steve ordered, tugging lightly on the strands. Tony shuddered at the sensation, one hand dropping to press against his still clothed erection.
“Impatient,” he teased, but he pulled the fabric away anyway. He wrapped a hand around Steve and pumped a few times, earning a pleased hum for encouragement. He wanted to kiss Steve’s dick—so he did, letting his tongue poke out to taste. Steve groaned, and Tony migrated to the head, kissing him there, wet and unashamed, and letting his tongue slide over the slit.
He caught the head between his lips, sucking lightly. The fingers in his hair tightened, and a second later Tony heard the little thump of Steve’s head hitting the wall. He licked a broad stripe from base to tip, painfully slow. When he reached the head the pressure against his neck increased, and instead of resisting it Tony opened his mouth wide and swallowed him down.
Steve made a rough sound, the muscles under Tony’s hands rippling like he was trying not to jerk forward. He reached blindly up to yank Steve’s pants the rest of the way down so that he was standing naked over him, and Tony still fully clothed. The thought alone had Tony groaning again, and he pulled off to put a wet kiss onto the inside of his thigh, open and wanton, and took him into his mouth again.
When Tony looked up Steve was watching him hungrily, lips slightly parted, and Tony shivered. He flattened his tongue against the underside of Steve cock and, with one steadying hand on his hip, pulled him slowly further into his mouth, savoring the slide over his tongue and the thrum of a heartbeat against his lips.
When it could go no further he took a breath through his nose and relaxed his throat. Steve gasped, jerking forward involuntarily, and Tony had to use every ounce of restraint he had to keep from choking or pulling off. Immediately Steve pulled back with a mumbled sorry and Tony grunted in response.
“If you stop again, you’re gonna be sorry.” His voice sounded deliciously rough to his own ears, and the effect was obvious on Steve as well. When Tony opened his mouth wide again, Steve hesitated only a second before sliding back into it.
It only took a few moments for them to find a rhythm. Steve slowly fucked Tony’s mouth, pausing every few seconds to let him catch his breath, and Tony took care to drag his tongue over Steve’s cock or apply suction on every backstroke.
“Christ, just.” Steve’s thumb ran along the corner of Tony’s mouth, and Tony’s eyelashes fluttered at the touch. He angled his head slightly down, slightly more open.
“Like that,” Steve gasped, and slid in again, a little more roughly, and Tony moaned.
Tony sank all the way down until his nose was buried in coarse hair, throat fluttering and spasming, and held there, until Steve let out a noise so unbelievably hot that Tony nearly lost it right there, without ever unbuttoning his pants. He recognized the telltale signs from Steve, muscles fluttering, a quickening of breath, and quickly pulled off, wrapping a hand around the base of Steve’s cock. He wasn’t done with him yet.
He made absolutely certain that he would have control of his voice before he spoke, and even then it sounded rough and abused to his ears. The hand in Tony’s hair tightened just short of painful, and then dropped away entirely.
“What’s ‘a matter, sweetheart?” Tony grinned, all sharp teeth and intent. “Moving too fast?”
Tony had a moment to register the amused challenge in his eyes before Steve leaned down and those hands wrapped around his thighs, lifting him clear off the floor. Tony yelped when his feet left the hardwood.
“You’ve got quite the mouth.”
“Well, it was occupied.” He leaned forward, wrapping his knees around Steve’s hips, and stopped just a ghost of a breath away from Steve’s lips. “And now it’s not. Whose fault is that?”
Steve’s mouth latched onto to Tony’s again, and he crossed the room in two steps to drop them onto the bed without ever breaking the kiss. Steve made a hell of a picture in the low light, and Tony suddenly wished he’d paused to light a few candles so he could properly see him. He didn’t need a candle to see the smug look on his face though, and Tony immediately set out to wipe that smirk off it. He unhooked one leg and planted it on the bed, turning Steve over onto the pillows. Tony suspected that Steve had let him—he was a lot bigger that Tony was—but he let it slide.
Tony quickly shucked his shirt and Steve reached to do the same to his pants. Tony obligingly lifted his hips to help, but was too busy mapping the plains of Steve’s stomach with his hands to do more.
Tony traced his fingers over the scarred, uneven skin. Tony had had his fair share of bullet holes, but he had never seen so many scars on a person that wasn’t already dead. He dipped his tongue into a dimpled bullet hole on Steve’s hip, wondering distantly how it had gotten there, and sucked a mark into the skin. Eventually he pulled off to admire his handiwork, pleased by the slight flush of arousal the sight caused him.
Tony was leaning over to mark the other side when a hand wound into his hair again. God had he ever underappreciated having his hair pulled. Steve pulled him back up for another kiss. Tony bucked his hip forward, grinding against Steve’s thigh and groaning along with him at the friction.
Tony grabbed Steve’s hand from where it was clutching his hip, and licked a stripe across the palm. Steve’s eyes flashed as he wrapped a hand around them both between them, and Tony had to brace his elbows around Steve’s head to keep from falling over.
“Oh, God.” He thrust shallowly into Steve’s grip, savoring the contrast of slick and calloused, and tried his best to keep his eyes open. He wanted to watch. Steve leaned up to kiss him again, open and wet, as the strokes became quicker and more erratic.
Steve came with a soft, heady moan, thrusting forward once, twice more, covering himself and Tony in thin stripes. Tony moaned, thrusting harder against Steve’s slackening hand and the mess on his stomach. When a wet finger pressed lightly against his hole, Tony shuddered and spilled messily onto Steve’s stomach.
Once he’d finished blinking the spots from his eyes, Tony rolled reluctantly over to the empty side of the bed, wincing at the slick mess between them. A few moments later, he felt the bed dip beneath him, and instantly cursed the way something in his chest dipped with it. There were a few seconds of Steve gathering up his clothes in the darkness before Tony was startled to have something slightly damp smack into his chest.
A match hissed and the tiny light was enough to see the damp undershirt Steve had tossed his way. Steve’s hair was in disarray, his skin flushed red for exertion, and Tony could only imagine how he looked. He wanted to lick him.
“Clean yourself up,” Steve said, when he noticed Tony staring. He lit the cigarette between his lips and shook out the light. Tony watched the little beacon make its way back across the room and settle onto the bed once more. Steve’s arm brushed lightly against his, and when Tony finished and tossed the shirt into the corner, Steve took a long drag from the cigarette before he handed him the smoke. Tony accepted it and Steve rolled over without another word, content to keep the silence between them. By the time he’d finished the smoke and stubbed the butt out on the ashtray, Steve was already asleep. It wasn’t long before Tony joined him.
Tony was warm. It had been a long time since he’d last slept in a genuine bed. The gang had been large, and they were much better off striking camp outside of town rather than risk drawing attention to themselves. Near a settlement was even worse; there even making a campfire was unnecessarily dangerous.
It was strange, to say the least. For a long while Tony lay just on the edge of sleep, wondering if perhaps he was dreaming up the warm weight on his hip, or the limbs tangled with his own, just barely poking out from beneath the end of the blanket.
Slowly, Tony became aware of the warm breath feathering against his neck. He sniffed and cracked one eye open, squinting at the sunlight filtering in through the cracks in the curtains, pooling buttery light in the room. He rolled over carefully, trying not to jostle the bed too much. It didn’t seem to matter. His companion was still fast asleep, breathing slow, even breaths.
Tony studied his face, features soft with sleep. The sunlight, creeping up his pillow as well, hadn’t quite reached him, but the light still shone in his hair—as if to make a halo. His eyelashes, so fine and light they were hard to see, shone gold where the light struck them. His cheeks were a little flushed, likely from the warmth in the room—and the blankets that were too heavy for the heat-spell they’d had lately—but Tony could very clearly imagine that blush being his doing. Steve’s hair, perfectly coifed last night, was now hanging loosely into his face. Tony hesitated a moment, then reached up to brush the stray strands aside.
Suddenly feeling foolish, he pulled his hand back and carefully untangled himself so he could stand. It was late in the morning, judging by the angle of the light through the window, and he could hear the sound of someone moving around in the hallway. Tony had been a little preoccupied last night, so he spent a minute poking around the room before he found the basin in the corner. There was a pitcher next to it, full almost to the brim with warm water, along with a cake of sweetly smelling soap. He frowned at that, because he couldn’t imagine the water having been there before they came in—it would have long since gone cold—which could only mean that someone had come in earlier this morning to drop it off.
Tony glanced back at the bed and couldn’t help but chuckle. He imagined how the woman he’d rented the room from would have reacted to that sight. It didn’t matter much to him, either way. People had caught him doing a lot worse.
Tony poured a little into the basin to wash his face. He was hot and sticky but the water felt good on his skin. He scratched at the stubble on his neck. He needed a shave. There was a razor in his pack, but he hadn’t had the chance to use it. Now he went to fetch it, stepping lightly over the clothes strewn across the floor. He brought it back over to the little mirror by the basin. It was small enough he couldn’t see his whole reflection in it without taking a few steps back, but it worked well enough. After, he splashed water on his face, and then groped for the towel sitting next to the pitcher.
He looked back to check his work, and then turned back to the piles of clothes on the floor. He stepped past his own, immediately going for Steve’s. Time to see what kind of money he kept in his pockets.
He found a couple of nickels in the pocket of his pants, but nothing more. Irritated, Tony kicked the rest of his clothes over, looking for anything that might have fallen loose. What kind of man went to the saloon with so little—
Something clinked onto the floor, and Tony instantly perked up at the sound of metal rolling across hardwood. Ah, ha—
He snatched it up to get a closer look. He didn’t need any more gold, but who ever said Tony stuck to what he needed? He turned over the coin, and the blood drained from his face when he realized what it was. It was gold all right. Gold and star-shaped—it was a badge and this guy—
“Shit!” he dropped the sheriff’s badge as though it had burned him, and it clattered dully to the floor. Tony’s gaze snapped up to the man in the bed, wincing at the noise but not really caring either, because shit, holy shit, how the fuck hadn’t he noticed that last night?
He was out the door almost as quick as he could pull his pants on, shirt and boots still in hand. God, he was such an idiot. This was exactly the opposite of what he needed right now. Tony took the steps two at a time, pulse thrumming and hangover flaring up from the excitement. Even if they didn’t have the latest wanted posters yet, it was only a matter of time. Not only had he managed to find the one man in this entire town who was most likely to want to catch him when he learned who he was, but Tony had fucking slept with him. He’d have a whole slew of federal marshals on his ass in an instant. God, he was a mess.
He just…he had to leave. Tony felt a little pang of sadness at that, but he tamped it down. Now really wasn’t the time to be getting attached—Greg had pretty much guaranteed that for him.
Half-way down the stairs, Tony froze. He’d left his bag. In his hurry to get the fuck away from there he’d left his bag and his money and his gun. The money was less of an issue. Steve would probably be suspicious if he saw all the bills in that bag but what would Tony care? He could just ride out to where he’d buried his gold, dig up a few pieces, and leave before suspicion became anything more.
The gun was another matter. As much as he didn’t want to, he’d definitely have to go back for the revolver, at least, because with the way things were shaping up this morning he would be needing it sooner rather than later. He spun back around and stared back down the hallway. It was irrational, he knew, to expect the sheriff to come barging out guns blazing, but that didn’t make him want to go back and tempt fate.
Tony nearly jumped out of his skin, head snapping back around. The same woman—she’d introduced herself last night. Jane? June? No, Jan—was standing at the bottom of the stairs, smiling wryly up at him from where she leaned against the rail. Tony tried not to look too nervous. It was probably too late, anyway. He glanced down at the clothes in his hand.
“I was just…” Tony fumbled for a good excuse for what exactly he was doing. He came up blank, but she waved him off, anyway.
“You don’t really have to sneak. Trust me, he sleeps like a rock.” She crossed her arms in front of her thoughtfully. “Where are you from, honey? Because I can tell you right now that sneaking off doesn’t work too well in a town where everyone knows everyone.”
Tony hesitated for a moment, not sure how much he should say, before deciding to hell with it. It was an innocent enough question.
“New York. Originally,” he said. And pretty much every city in between big enough to have a bank, though that would be telling.
She whistled low, nodding like that explained his behavior nicely. She squinted at him like she was sizing him up. After a moment Jan motioned back toward the bar.
“I’ve got breakfast if you’d like,” she said.
Tony hesitated, but she was already wandering off to fix him a plate. There was one other man at the bar, leaning on the countertop, fast asleep. Tony thought he’d seen him last night, but whether the man had come early or been here since then he couldn’t say. He grabbed a stool on the end just as Jan set down two plates, one for him and one for herself. It wasn’t anything fancy—just eggs, beans, and fried potatoes—but Tony was starving after the workout he’d gotten yesterday (digging and after).
“Any place I can buy some cigarettes around here?” Tony asked, popping a piece of potato in his mouth.
Jan cracked a smile and pointed. “About four days, that way,” she said.
Tony nearly choked.
“You’re joking,” he said. “You’re joking, right?”
“Whole town’s fresh outta cigarettes,” Jan said. She produced a cigarette case from her pocket and popped the clasp for him. “We’re fresh outta a lot of things, actually. Not a lot of money round these parts.”
Tony’s gaze swept over the room, and the relative state of disrepair. “I might have noticed. Uh, no offense,” he said.
Jan waved him off. “We buy what we can and when we run out we’ve run out. Not the most comfortable system but it works. Every couple months Carol Danvers and Deputy Wilson make the trip to the next town over, to stock up, get the mail and the like,” she said.
“Wait,” Tony said, leaning forward slightly. “The mail? As in, you don’t get post delivered here.”
Jan laughed, misinterpreting his interest. “You finding that hard to imagine, City Boy?”
“You could say that.” Tony nodded. “Any idea when they’ll be getting back?”
“Hard to say,” Jan said. “Likely another week or so. It’s always slower going down the mountain when it’s rained a lot, and they usually stay in town a few days.”
Tony felt like grinning. No post meant no new wanted posters. A number of towns he’d passed through had already had them posted—and he’d torn a good few of them down himself. He’d hoped he could move through faster than he could be recognized, avoiding the larger settlements until some of the heat had died down. But this was better. A town so far removed from the neighboring ones that they only updated their posters every couple of months.
Tony hadn’t had the chance to stop anywhere since Greg had turned on him, and now he had an entire week. It felt like Christmas.
“I could introduce you, if you’d like. Do you think you’ll be staying that long?” she asked.
“You know,” Tony said, pulling out a match to light the smoke Jan offered, “I think I just might.”
Once Tony finished his breakfast, he braved going back up to his room. Well, technically he stalled with Jan a bit, chatting about how the weather had been around these parts (rainier than usual) and how the town had been (falling apart) and how often they had visitors (pretty much never, if you discounted Tony himself). Once he’d exhausted every possible topic he could think of to pass the time, he finally psyched himself up enough to go up there and try to not seem suspicious. Which, okay, he may have overreacted a bit that morning, but he had been caught off guard, thank you very much.
Now that he was moving past his initial panic about being arrested, he was very quickly moving into awkward territory. The night before he could do—the morning after, not so much.
Tony couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept with someone that wasn’t a one-night stand. Sex was a lot easier to keep “no-strings attached” when he was blowing the bank’s vault and riding out of town the next morning—there was a distinct lack of opportunity for anything else.
Tony hadn’t expected to get the chance to stay more than one night in this town, either, and now he didn’t know what to do. He hadn’t really been thinking about whether or not Steve would be interested in continuing whatever this was between them because he hadn’t been planning on staying long enough to find out.
Hell, he was at least ninety percent sure that Steve hadn’t even caught his name.
Tony spent a few minutes pacing the hallway, trying to decide what would be best to say to the man, and he came up with a whole lot of nothing. Eventually he just gave up and decided to cross that bridge when he came to it.
He eased the door open quietly, just in case Steve was still sleeping. In the end it didn’t matter—the room was empty. A little curl of disappointment unfurled in his stomach. He didn’t know why he’d expected him to still be here; it was a little hypocritical after trying to sneak out himself.
Steve must have taken the back door while he and Jan here talking. The bed was nicely made and Steve’s clothes were gone from the floor. His badge was gone too, and if not for the fact that the room still smelled like sex, cigarettes, and flowery soap, he could have believed that it hadn’t been slept in at all.
Because everything looked a little too put together, he turned the covers up and then went to check his bag. It was still where he dropped it last night, and though it didn’t look like it had been opened (normal people don’t go through their bedmate’s things, Tony guessed) he still counted the stack of bills he had tucked into the bottom of the satchel. He double checked his gun as well before finally allowing himself to believe that the sheriff hadn’t been through his things.
There was a chest at the foot of the bed, and Tony tossed the bag inside and locked it before heading back downstairs.
Jan caught him as he passed the bar.
“If you’re looking for Steve, he’s probably wandered off to the Sheriff’s Office by now,” she suggested.
“I’m not looking for him. Why would I be looking for him?” he asked. She shrugged, and mercifully chose not to mention how defensive that had sounded.
And then, because he was a total mess, Tony went to look for Steve.
He wasn’t hard to find. The town had a total of two buildings that weren’t houses, and the inn was one of them. Tony stopped in front of the Sheriff’s Office and stared at the door. He couldn’t actually believe he was doing this. He was a wanted criminal, and he was walking right the fuck up to the Sheriff’s front door. It was a little surreal.
There was an extremely drawn-out pause, to the point where Tony almost figured that Steve was not there as promised. He was almost ready to wander off to look elsewhere when the door opened. Tony jumped a little, despite himself.
Steve just turned around and walked back inside, leaving the door hanging open. Tony hesitated a moment in the doorway before stepping inside. He was reluctant to close the exit behind him, but did it anyway.
“I figured it was you,” Steve said. “No one else in this town bothers knocking.”
Steve went back to his desk and kicked his feet up. The pieces of a gun were laid out in front of him, and he picked one of them up to resume cleaning it.
The rest of the room was spartan. There was another desk and chair pushed into the corner of the room opposite Steve’s desk. Tony assumed that was where the deputy was supposed to sit. He couldn’t imagine this little town actually needing a deputy—he could hardly imagine it needed a sheriff more than once in a blue moon—but he kept that to himself. The office seemed to double as Steve’s home, if the stove in the corner was any indication. There was a door to the back, and Tony would bet good money it led to Steve’s bedroom.
The only other thing in the room was a single iron cell. Tony kept his distance.
“What are you up to?” Tony asked, for lack of anything better to say.
Steve gave him a look. “Well, I’m working,” he said.
Tony glanced meaningfully around the room. “I can see that,” Tony said. He raised an eyebrow. “Yep, business is booming.
“In fact, you seem a bit overworked, if you ask me,” Tony said.
“Yep. Might do you some good to get out, stretch your legs, stretch your…” Tony trailed off. Steve didn’t pay any attention to his jabs, so he tried again. “Okay, I feel like I’m in trouble, being in here. Am I in trouble?” he asked. “Seriously, just being in here makes me itchy, I feel like you’re going to…I don’t know, clap me in irons or something.”
“Not unless you want me to,” Steve said casually.
“That…” Tony’s brain stuttered to a halt. He turned a shocked look at Steve, just to see if he’d actually heard that right. He cleared his throat. “Um.”
Steve just smirked.
“Well, actually…” Whatever Tony was about to embarrass himself with was cut off by a loud gunshot in the street. Tony reflexively ducked his head. Steve didn’t so much as bat an eye. “What the hell?” Tony said.
Steve sighed and got up from his desk at the same time. He grabbed his rifle on his way out the front, almost as an afterthought. “Hey!” he shouted down the street. “What the hell are you doing?”
Tony followed him, his curiosity outweighing his survival instincts. There was a small group of people gathered on the other end of the street, aiming at a row of bottles lined up along the road. One of the group turned to watch Steve approach, an amused expression on her face, but for the most part everyone ignored the question.
“Fixing to settle a wager,” she replied. “Who’s your friend?”
Steve blinked at her, opened his mouth and closed it, then turned to stare at Tony with a little perplexed expression on his face.
Tony laughed. Steve didn’t know his name. Knew it.
“I’m Tony,” he said, taking her hand for a handshake. “What’s the wager?”
“You know there’s no shootin’ in town, Jess,” Steve said.
“Whoever busts the most bottles fastest wins. Loser buys drinks,” Jessica said. She patted Steve on the arm. “Don’t worry. We’ll move when we’re done.”
Steve didn’t seem very angry, but he still shook his head. “You’ll move now.”
“Right,” she said. “After this round.”
“Jess,” Steve said, exasperated.
“And then you’ll move?” Tony asked.
“Yeah, sure,” she said.
Tony pulled his pistol from his belt, fanned the hammer and let off three shots, rapid-fire. The bottles exploded into little piles of glass, and Tony cocked his head at the mess before turning back to the rest of the group. Steve was giving him a flat look, but the others seemed to be varying degrees of impressed.
“Wow,” one of them said. “Nice shot. Not your turn though. Doesn’t count.”
Tony shrugged, and Steve sighed again. “Okay. You’re done. Take it outside town if you want to continue.”
Without waiting for a response, he grabbed Tony lightly on the arm and ushered him away from the group.
“That was pretty good shooting for a whore,” Steve said.
Tony rolled his eyes. “I’m not a whore,” he said.
“Fine, prostitute, whatever you want to call it. Listen, I’m not judging, you do what you like and you’re mighty fine at what you do—”
“Steve.” Tony held up a hand to stop him from talking. “I’m not a prostitute. At all. I have no idea where you got that idea but, uh, no.”
“Oh,” Steve said, looking acutely embarrassed. He hesitated, like he was considering apologizing, but Tony let him change the topic instead. “Where’d you learn to shoot like that?”
“My brother taught me.”
Steve shoved his hands into his pockets, sizing Tony up with a languid look. “So, last night…”
“That was just me,” Tony said.
“So I take it you’re staying for a while?” Steve asked.
“For a day or two,” Tony agreed.
“Why don’t you come find me later tonight, then,” he said. Tony grinned.
“Happy to.” With that Steve headed back to the Sheriff’s Office, and for a moment Tony watched him go. Then he walked back over to join the group of gamblers once more.
A day or two quickly turned into three or four, then a week. Tony kept telling himself that he’d leave tomorrow for sure, but then he’d wake up next to Steve and for a moment forget why he had to leave in the first place. It was stupid. He needed to be long gone when they finally learned who he was. The thing was, he just didn’t care. He was going to enjoy this while it lasted.
Jan stopped him one morning on his way to the Sheriff’s office.
“Do you really have to go, to California?” she asked.
He wanted to say no, but he just shrugged. “’Course I do,” Tony said. “Where else would I go?”
“All I’m saying is, if you wanted to—that room could be a permanent arrangement.”
Tony stared at her. He didn’t know how to respond to that, except that he knew he couldn’t accept. Besides, she wouldn’t be offering the room to him if she knew the truth about him. And that was what it all boiled down to—no matter how welcoming they were or how much he wished otherwise, Tony didn’t belong here. The bounty on his head made certain of that.
She leaned over the counter to him. “Listen, Tony. If all you’re doing is looking for work, there’s something for you here.”
“I—can’t. I’m sorry.”
“Why can’t you?” she asked. Let it never be said that Jan Van Dyne was afraid of confrontation. Tony didn’t answer, and Jan frowned. “I’ve known Steve for a long time. He really likes you.”
“I—” really like him too. “I really like it here. But it’s not that simple.” Tony could tell by the frown set on her face that she wasn’t done arguing with him. Still, she seemed willing to concede for now, and sighed, leaning back off the counter.
Tony didn’t really mind that she wasn’t finished with him. He’d be leaving any day now—tomorrow, probably—and there wasn’t anything anyone could do to stop him. Still, Tony couldn’t help but hate the treacherous part of his heart that didn’t want to leave any more than she seemed to want to see him go.
He wondered what she’d meant when she said Steve liked him. Of course he liked him—a guy doesn’t just fall into bed with someone he doesn’t like. Still, maybe it was wishful thinking to wonder if she’d been speaking beyond that. It was certainly dangerous thinking, no matter the case. He couldn’t afford to grow (any more) attached to these people. He knew it couldn’t last.
And it didn’t.
Tony was sitting at the bar in the inn, tucking into a sandwich that he’d fixed himself, and watching a small group—lead by Clint—throwing knives at the wall. He wasn’t sure what they were doing, exactly, only that Jan had told them to knock it off and they had steadfastly ignored her.
Tony was halfway through his lunch when an unfamiliar woman sat down next to him. That was suspicious in itself—Tony had been here nearly a week, and he’d never so much as caught a glimpse of her before now. She glanced at him once and then made a double take, obviously just as surprised to see an unfamiliar face as he was.
Tony immediately stilled under the suspicious look she was sending his way, but just as it looked like she was going to say something, the kitchen door slammed open and Jan came running out to greet her.
“Carol,” Jan beamed, “you’re back early!” She leaned over the bar to give her a kiss on the cheek, and the ruckus drew the attention of the rest of the bar.
Tony slipped quietly off his stool in the distraction, heart hammering in his ears.
She was one of the two who had gone to get supplies. Which meant that right now, Steve’s deputy was probably tacking a poster with his face on it onto the Sheriff’s Office wall.
Tony flew up the stairs, taking them two at a time, and threw his bedroom door open. He’d overstayed his welcome. He never should have stayed in the first place, shit, shit fucking—
Tony got as far as grabbing his bag before he hesitated. He had to go. There was no two ways about that, but… Tony opened the bag, slipping a stack of bills—more than enough to get by on—out of the bag and into his pocket. He scraped the pencil and paper off the nightstand and scribbled a quick note, before leaving the whole lot on the bed.
Tony was careful to take the back way out, cutting down the stairs through the kitchen, half because he thought that Carol might have recognized him, and half because he didn’t want to explain to anyone where he was going. He made his way around front, unhitched his horse, and rode out of town without incident.
It would have seemed too easy, if not for the fact that he desperately did not want to go. The ache in his chest, at least, seemed fitting, and Tony didn’t do anything to try to stop it. It wasn’t supposed to be easy. Maybe next time he’d follow his own fucking rules, and he wouldn’t have this problem.
Steve grinned when the door to the sheriff’s office opened. He’d already seen them ride in, but it was good to see Sam in person.
“How was the trip?”
“Smooth sailing all around,” Sam said. He dropped the stack of post on Steve’s desk, where they could sort out whose letters were whose. Sam yanked the top parcel off the stack from between the lengths of twine that bound them, and carefully unfolded it.
“New bounty?” The corner of Steve’s mouth turned down as Sam smoothed out the page.
“Yep,” Sam said, “and a mean son of a bitch, judging by the sum on his head.” He stuck the page through the nail on the wall, straightening it out.
Steve caught one look at it and tore out of his desk, damn near turning it over in his haste to get a better look at it.
“What?” Sam looked startled, but Steve ignored him. Jesus Christ.
“This is…” he trailed off, reaching out to touch the poster. It was Tony, mouth twisted into a sneer that didn’t seem to fit. The reward—$500,000—seemed insanely high, more than the government was ever willing to pay for one man. Steve suspected it was a private bounty. That whoever he’d wronged, and whatever laws he’d broken, he had made enemies of the banks or the rail companies or both.
Steve tore the poster off the wall, anger already building in his stomach. He’d been played. Christ, Tony must have though he was a real joke, sleeping with a criminal without ever suspecting anything. He tore off to the inn, Sam hot on his heels, but even approaching he could see that Tony’s horse wasn’t there.
His suspicions were confirmed a moment later, when he pushed the door of the inn open to find Carol shouting over the bar.
“Him. He was sitting right there. Where did he—”
“Carol, calm down.” Jan said, holding up a hand to silence her. “He didn’t do anything—”
“Yes he did, Jan,” Steve interrupted. They both fell silent, and everyone who’d gathered to watch the show turned to look at him. Steve held up the poster, and saw the realization in her eyes the second it hit.
“I knew it! I knew I recognized him,” Carol said.
Steve tossed the poster onto the table. “He’s already gone,” Steve said. “Must have seen you two coming and realized someone would put two and two together.”
“So let’s go after him,” Sam said. “He can’t have gotten far. We’ll—” He hesitated, realizing that everyone was staring. “What?”
“Steve was sleeping with him,” Clint said helpfully.
“I didn’t know!” Steve snapped. He crossed his arms defensively added, “We should go after him.” Disgust, with himself, with Tony, settled in Steve’s stomach. He tried to push the feeling away, but if anything it intensified.
How could he have been so stupid? He never fell into bed with a stranger. Hell, he rarely let a stranger pass through town without finding out what kind of a man he was, and yet here he’d let one of the most wanted bandits in the country waltz straight through town as though he owned the place.
The one time he’d decided to relax, and he’d made a complete fool of himself.
“Why go after him?” Jan slammed her fist on the table. “He didn’t hurt anybody. I say let him go.”
“He’s hurt lots of people, Jan,” Carol said. “Whole towns gone, from here to Mississippi.” Jan deflated, just slightly.
“That—that doesn’t seem like—if that was true, then why not us? I don’t believe it.” Jan threw her hands up, stomping into the kitchen. “If you want to hunt him down, fine. Leave me out of it.”
“Well?” Sam asked, turning to Steve.
Steve knew damn well what he wanted to say—that he agreed with Jan, that they weren’t going to do anything—but he also knew that what he wanted and what he needed to do had to stay separate.
“We’ll go after him,” Steve said, and immediately the room broke into a chorus of assents and dissents. Steve raised a hand to the divided room, trying to quiet them down. He didn’t get the chance, however, before Jan’s voice cut through the confusion.
“Steve, can I talk to you?” Jan had reemerged from the kitchen. From the look on her face, she wasn’t asking. She came around the counter, wrapping a hand around his wrist and tugging him along behind the bar and towards the kitchen. They got a few curious looks, but everyone was more or less preoccupied with the prospect of forming a posse to go after Tony.
Steve stumbled into the kitchen back-first through the swinging doors, and Jan followed. She caught the door with her heel on the backswing, and eased it shut.
“I’m fine,” Steve said, because he was fairly certain that he knew where this was going. He wasn’t some kind of fragile flower. Hell, it had only been sex. Fantastic sex, but it was no strings attached, and certainly wasn’t going to cloud his judgment.
Jan gave him a flat look, as if to ask are you really? and then pointed back to one of the chopping blocks. “That’s not why I wanted to talk to you. He left that in his room,” she said. “Steve, there’s nearly five thousand dollars in that bag.”
“Jesus, Mary and—”
“And there was a note,” she continued. Steve stilled, as Jan pulled the folded piece of paper from her pocket and pressed it into his hand.
“Hey Steve, thanks for the good time. Think of this as an apology for having to run on such short notice. Maybe now you can clean this dump up,” she recited.
“Still think he’s a killer?”
“Just because he’s willing to pay us off, doesn’t make him less of a killer,” Steve said.
“Except for the fact that neither of us actually think he killed anyone.” She stuck a finger in his face before he could protest. “Don’t tell me you do, Steve. I know you better than that. I think you’re just hurt that he lied to you. But can you blame him? He’s got a five hundred thousand dollar bounty on his head, Steve, and you’re the sheriff.”
Steve set himself, determined to at least look like he had conviction. “He’s a crook.”
“Oh, for God’s—” Jan threw her hands up. “They’ll have him hanged, if he’s caught. Are you going to be able to sit by while that happens?” Steve didn’t answer. He couldn’t answer, and Jan knew it.
Jan sighed, and before Steve could stop her, she’d grabbed the satchel off the table and kicked the door of the kitchen open. The doors slamming open immediately silenced the argument outside. The silence became even more meaningful when Jan tossed the bag onto the bar and its contents spilled over the counter and onto the floor.
“Tony left us a present,” she said. “Said it was to fix up the town. We need to decide if we’re going to do that or not.”
Carol grabbed one of the stacks of bills and flipped through them with her thumb. “This money’s stolen?”
Jan nodded. “Most likely.”
“See, he can’t be all bad,” Jess said.
“Leaving a payoff is hardly evidence of a kind soul,” Sam said.
“You never met him,” Peter pointed out, stepping up beside his wife.
“Steve agrees,” Jan said, and Steve glowered at her. “We’ve never given a damn about who came through our town, why now all of a sudden? If it’s the bounty, then we’ve got more than one reason to forget it right here.”
“Steve?” Carol asked. Steve clenched his fists at his side, but what could he say? Forget it, he can be a killer so long as he makes a good first impression and leaves them a nice bag of cash for their troubles? They should bring him in. Let the federal marshals deal with him. Who were they to decide if he was guilty or not—
“Hey, Sheriff?” Clint said. When Steve glanced over, he was staring out the window into the street. “Looks like trouble.” Steve resisted the urge to sigh, but only just.
“What now?” he asked. Clint shrugged, jerking a thumb in the direction of the blinds.
Steve pulled back the blinds on the window just enough to see out. He could see two riders, both clearly armed, making their way toward the inn. That in itself wouldn’t have worried him, if not for the dust rising further down the road that suggested company. Their little town was lucky to get more than a handful of visitors each year, and it definitely seemed suspicious that they were getting so many at once.
“Think Stark’s got something to do with it?” Sam asked.
Steve dropped the blinds and sighed. He’d like to think that Tony hadn’t tried to set them up—why would he leave them money if that had been his intention?—but he wasn’t ready to rule out the possibility that they weren’t related in some way.
“Don’t know. Doesn’t matter.” Steve checked his pistol was loaded, and slipped it back into the holster at his hip.
He turned to Sam, and pointed to the money on the bar. “Take care of that,” he said, “and all of you stay inside. I’ll see what they’re after.”
“You stay inside,” Jan said, pushing past him. “I’ve got customers.”
Steve resisted the urge to grab her, knowing that that would only succeed in getting her angry at him. Even though she’d called them customers, it was obvious that Jan was sizing the newcomers up.
Neither man seemed to notice, even though the only way Steve thought she could have been more obvious was if she had stopped to grab herself a gun. They both glanced up when the inn doors opened, and as Steve and Jan stepped onto the deck, one of the riders was making his way over.
There was another man waiting just a few feet off, and Steve could easily see the dust from what looked like another ten men coming up the road. Most of them were wearing variable shades of dust and black and nothing expensive. In the group that was riding up the road, Steve could see one rider wearing white, so bright and pristine it was as though he rode in a bubble to guard against the dust.
The first rider spoke up, taking Steve’s attention away from those riding toward them. “Scuse me, miss,” he sneered, “got a general store around here?”
“No store, just the inn,” Steve said. “What do you need?”
The man mulled this over, tapping his hat a couple of times against his knee. “Not sure. The boss’ll be along in a few minutes, I’ll ask him.”
Steve wondered if the man in white was the boss, and just what exactly he was a boss of.
Not one of these travelers was unarmed, and Steve could tell at a glance that they weren’t the savory sort. Still, their town wasn’t anything worth raiding—of course, discounting the satchel that they’d acquired less than an hour ago. Steve sincerely hoped that Sam or someone else would have the presence of mind to hide the bag somewhere safe until these men passed and they had a chance to decide what to do with it.
One of the other riders finally finished scanning the windows of every building and rode right up to the inn. He paused just short of the steps, and spit a glob of tobacco juice into the dusts. “How you folks doin’ today?” He grinned, showing a row of stained and crooked teeth.
“Just fine,” Jan said easily. “We don’t have many rooms here, if that’s what you’re after. Not used to too many visitors at once.”
“Had any visitors recently?” he asked, and Steve was relieved when she immediately answered in the negative.
“Not for a few months, we haven’t. I’m sorry to say that there’s not much to see in Triskellion.”
“That’s all right, miss. We’re just passing through anyhow,” he said. “We got a schedule to keep.”
The rest of the riders were finally catching up to their scouts, and Steve’s uneasy feeling about the group was only heightened by the way the leaders face was mostly shadowed beneath the rim of his hat. He was just beginning to wonder if it was deliberate attempt, or simply him being paranoid, when the original scout turned to him.
“Hey, Greg, what’da we need for supplies?”
The white rider took his hat off his head, dusting it on his knee, and Steve started.
“Tony?” The man’s head swiveled in Steve’s direction, and Steve immediately realized that it was mistake. The hard lines of his face were nothing like Tony’s, and the hair color was wrong. He turned a sharp gaze onto Steve, the corner of his mouth twitching in irritation.
“What did you just call me?” Greg pulled on the reigns of him horse, moving closer to the inn so that he was looming over them. Steve could sense the change in attitude in his men, too, and he quickly tried to cover for himself.
“I—Sorry. You looked like someone else.”
“I know damn well who I look like,” Greg said dangerously. “In fact, we’ve some unfinished business, Tony and I. You gonna tell us where to find him, or are we going to have trouble?”
“Why?” Steve asked.
“That’s between me and him,” Greg said.
“I don’t know where to find him,” Steve said, and he was thankful that it was the truth.
“I think you do.” Greg said. He pulled the gun from his holster and rested it on his knee. And idle threat, but not one that Steve hadn’t met before. Thankfully, no one inside the inn jumped to action, although Steve didn’t doubt that there was a gun at every window as they spoke. “And I think you’re protecting him.”
“We ran him out months ago,” Jan cut in before Steve could respond. “We haven’t heard from him in as long, honest.”
Greg sneered. “Well, we both know that’s not true, because up until a couple months ago Tony hadn’t once stepped a foot west of Louisiana, and we’ve been tracking him ever since. So unless he can fly, he must have just left.” One of the two original riders snorted in offense, as though he’d just grasped that he’d been lied to.
“Hey, lady, I thought you said you ain’t had any visitors in months,” he growled, reaching over the deck for her. She stepped smoothly out of his reach, and while Steve didn’t doubt she could knock the moron clear off his horse, he wasn’t going to wait and see how the rest of the gang would react.
He pulled his gun from its holster, leveling it on the man. The action spurred a flurry of movement, and the sound of nine hammers cocking quickly followed. Only the leader and the man Steve had on the end of his gun didn’t move, but Steve kept his aim steady.
“We don’t want any trouble,” Steve said.
“Well, that’s where we agree,” Greg said. “Tell us what we want to know, and there’ll be no violence needed.”
Steve glared. “Leave town now, and we won’t call the marshals down here after you.”
“Drop your gun, Sheriff.” He tsked, obviously disappointed in their lack of cooperation, and casually raised his gun. “You’re outnumbered, and more importantly, you’re outmatched.” He pointed over Steve’s shoulder, and the rest of the gang followed his direction. A mixture of dread and anger washed over Steve when they turned their guns on Jan instead.
Her expression darkened immediately, and he could hear her whisper don’t you dare just quiet enough that, had he not seen her lips move, he wouldn’t have known she’d spoken at all. Steve could sacrifice a lot of things for the sake of the greater good, but she wasn’t one of them.
Steve hesitated a second more, and then tossed his gun into the dirt. If that made him a coward, then let him die one. He could hear Jan hissing threats under her breath, but tried not to listen and hoped that no one else would either.
“Good man,” Greg said, and then raised his voice for the rest of them. “I want everyone who’s inside, outside. And I want your arms,” he pointed to a spot in the dirt, right beside Steve’s pistol, “right where I can see them.”
Steve watched the rest of them filing outside. The pile of weapons looked small to him, and Steve wasn’t certain if that was because they’d left their guns at home that day, or stashed them somewhere inside before coming out.
“Oh, they woke up the wrong passenger,” Jan hissed to Carol, who looked equally put out at being held up by a gang of miscreants. “Wait’ll I get my shotgun.”
“Shotgun? All I need is a knife and a few solid—”
“Quiet!” The gangster shouted. He looked absolutely giddy at being backed by his boss, and Steve had to wonder how Tony had been involved with these men. The poster had said he was the gang leader, but this man—who looked remarkably like Tony—was obviously running the show.
Had Tony been wrongly accused of this man’s crimes? He wanted to think so, but these men obviously knew Tony, or wanted something from him—not to mention the matter of all of the money Tony had somehow had on him.
“Who are you?” Steve found himself asking. He was nearly as startled as the rest of them, but stuck to the question. The gang seemed equal parts amused and insulted that he had to ask the question at all.
One man piped up. “We’re the law.” A murmur of amused agreement swept over the rest of the group, and he added: “The only law that matters, anyhow.”
“I’ll show you the law—” Carol started. Steve cut her off before she could start spouting threats.
“But what do you want from Tony?” he asked.
“That’s a family matter,” the boss said with a hint of a sneer, confirming what Steve already suspected. The resemblance was uncanny, the only difference Steve could see beyond the color of his hair was the dark and the unsavory look in his eye.
Tony had always looked carefree and kind, at least in the short time that Steve had known him, and that was a hard thing to fake. This man looked less pleasant than a snakebite, and not at all like Tony beyond the purely physical. Still, Steve would have been more surprised to find that they weren’t related.
“And as it happens,” Greg continued, “we’re in a hurry. So how about you tell us when he left and where to, and we can all be on our merry way.”
The demand was met with stony silence from the crowd, either from a sense of loyalty or simply from sheer stubbornness and spite. Steve shook his head.
“I told you once, we don’t know any more than you do. He got here, he left. Nothing more.”
“Can’t remember.” Steve anticipated the blow an instant before it came, and he managed to stay on his feet through sheer force of will. One arm went out immediately to go across Carol’s shoulders, blocking her advance. She sent a dark look in his direction, although he knew it wasn’t intended for him, and Steve wiped at his sluggishly bleeding lip. He spit into the dust, a dark red spot against the sand, and glared back at Greg.
“Can’t remember, meaning recently,” Greg said. “Or is he still here?”
“He’s long gone,” Jan piped up. Steve didn’t doubt it was true, but Greg ignored her completely.
“You’re protecting him? What, are you friends of his?” He looked to each of them, as though he would be able to tell on sight. Eventually, his gaze settled on Steve, and Steve thought he could see an idea building behind those eyes. “I asked, are you friends?”
When Steve didn’t answer, he sighed as though irritated by a petulant child. “Fine, we’ll find out.” He turned to his men, nodding in the direction of the inn. “Maybe baby brother will come back to visit. And if not… I’m sure we’ll come up with something more persuasive for the friendly folks of Triskellion. Light it up.”
“Don’t you touch my inn—”
“Half an hour,” Steve shouted. The men dismounting their horses paused, and a cruel grin met the leader’s lips. Steve could feel the stunned stares at his back, and did his best to ignore them, despite the shame curling uneasily into the back of his mind. He wasn’t going to put everyone in town in danger for a criminal he’d just met, even if they were going to let him. “He left half an hour ago. Less. If you hurry, you can catch him.”
“Half an hour?” Greg smirked, and nodded for his men to continue. “Good. Then we won’t have long to wait.”
Tony knew he would be making better time if he stopped thinking. Still, as he guided his horse through the canyons, letting her do most of the work, he couldn’t keep his mind from wandering to the stupid, welcoming town. Like the people there were old friends, and Tony wasn’t a complete stranger to them all. To the room in Jan’s inn that she had been willing to just give to him. The completely blissed look on Steve’s face when Tony—
Jesus Fucking Christ, stop thinking about it.
Tony urged his horse faster to put some distance between himself and Triskellion. This was what he got when he let himself get attached. They wouldn’t be so welcoming when they saw the bounty on his head, or heard the stories circulating on how he’d earned it.
No, welcoming him back would be the last thing on their minds.
Still, when Tony came along a long, curving stretch of the canyon, he couldn’t help but glance back the way he’d come. He jerked to a stop so abruptly that he nearly went flying off his horse, who stomped and threw her head in irritation.
Tony’s throat felt thick with dread, and he worried the reigns between his hands. He shouldn’t have looked back.
This was what he got for fucking letting himself grow attached.
He stared at the fat black pillar of smoke rising out of the canyon. Greg, it had to be. “Son of a bitch.” Tony felt his stomach roil at the thought of putting those people into harm’s way. They offered him a home, and he threw them to the wolves.
His horse must have sensed his unease, because she shifted uneasily to the side in short, jerky movements that sent rocks scattering back into the canyon. Tony tightened his grip, putting out a hand to soothe her, but he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the black column.
Greg would be waiting for him to turn back. He knew that much. He could outrun them easily, if he kept going now. They’d never been very good trackers, and the benefit of riding alone was that he could move quickly and unobtrusively through the canyons. Tony knew he could outpace them, and so of course Greg knew that as well. This was why Greg would playing to his weaknesses, and trying to trap him with sentimentality.
Tony also knew that if he didn’t show, Greg would slaughter them all.
Greg had always warned him that he couldn’t afford to grow too attached. Well… it was a little late for that. Without another moment of hesitation, Tony dug in his heels and started to ride, head bowed, back toward Triskellion.
He rode hard the entire way never once tearing his eyes off the column of smoke in the sky.
Tony came to a stop just at the peak of the hill, less than a hundred feet out of town. No one had noticed him ride up, but he could clearly see the gang, tearing apart the already broken down town board by board as though they had some itch for destruction that couldn’t be scratched.
Greg was still sitting on his horse, his white jacket and hat slowly turning gray from the rising ash from the remainder of the inn. Tony felt a pang of regret go through him at the sight of the fire. Greg was watching the townspeople and the southern skyline with equal interest, as though he expected Tony to ride over the hill at any moment.
Tony saw Steve immediately in the crowd. He was talking to Greg, and whatever he was saying was obviously irritating his brother, that much Tony could see even at this distance. Tony raised his gun—at a hundred yards he could split a hair, a hundred feet was inconsequential—and fired.
The hat jumped off Greg’s head and he jerked down in the saddle. Tony couldn’t help but laugh at the expression on his face. He wasn’t sure if they’d heard him or had just realized which direction the shot had come from, but both Steve and Greg’s gazes swiveled in his direction.
“Fancy meetin’ you here!” he shouted, trying to taunt him. Egg him into following.
Both mouths formed the same name, one in anger and the other—dread? Tony didn’t give himself time to think about it, and pulled hard on the reins. He shot off over the hill, trying to make the canyon before Greg could pull his men together enough to give chase.
He still had a chance at outpacing them, slight as it was. He knew the area, hell he’d ridden it once before not more than an hour ago.
For a long moment there was nothing but silence and the furious pounding of his horse’s hooves against stone. Then, all at once, a clamor of voices rose up behind him as Greg’s men finally gave chase, and almost immediately the gunfire followed.
A bullet whistled past his ear, the sound of the gunshot following close behind, and Tony slunk lower in his saddle.
“Jesus Christ.” He pushed forward again, aiming for a turn in the rock face. He made it round the bend just a hair’s breadth before another shot rang against the rock face, and then he was barreling down along the canyon wall as fast has he could push his horse. He kept at it, ignoring the shouting behind him and praying that he was just imagining it getting closer.
The ground was rough and difficult to maneuver, and the path he was forced to take was slowing him down more than he liked. At another bend in the path shale exploded a few feet behind him, sending shards of rock out to pepper his face and neck. Tony forced himself to breathe through his nose, to relax, to—
His horse jerked beneath him, and Tony tightened his hold on the reigns, thinking she’d started, and then the ground was coming up to meet him. Tony braced himself at the last second for the impact.
It was a mistake. Pain shot up his arm when he hit the ground, and a startled shout escaped him. For a second, he was too stunned to move, but then his horse shifted, trying to get up, and a new wave of pain shot up his leg. Tony choked as all his breath left him in a strangled gasp. His horse stilled at the noise, and though each panicked breath still put pressure on his leg, Tony could at least begin to wiggle himself up.
She’d been shot, Tony realized, and badly. He felt sick, although he wasn’t sure if it was from broken bones or grief.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Shh, just…Shit.” Tony put his left hand on her neck and pushed, trying to pull his leg out from beneath her. He couldn’t even uncurl the fingers of his right, although he didn’t think a broken wrist would be much of a problem in about ten minutes.
Tony squirmed and pushed until finally he managed to drag himself out from beneath her. His leg ached, but not in the way that a broken leg ought, so he just threw himself down and lay panting in the dirt as the gang finally caught up to their shooting. The horse turned wild eyes to him, and Tony felt his heart clench at the sight.
He put a hand on her neck. “I’m sorry—” Tony jerked at the sound of the gunshot, turning his face away. Her pulse stilled beneath his fingertips, and Tony knew it was the right thing to do. He just wished he’d been the one to do it.
“Gonna shoot me too, Greg?” Tony asked. His entire left side throbbed, and he was very certain that he’d broken more than a few ribs this time, but he still pulled himself painfully into a sitting position. “Put me out of my misery?” Greg seemed unmoved, and Tony couldn’t find it in himself to be surprised.
“Where’s the gold, little brother?”
“I buried it,” Tony said.
“Where did you bury it?” he snarled, and Tony knew now wasn’t the time to push his luck. Which, of course, meant that was exactly what he did.
“I’ll give you a hint… it’s next to a cactus.” Greg struck him in the face, and though Tony tried to roll with the blow, it still knocked him flat. His vision went white, and it took him a few seconds to blink it back into color. “Right. Maybe it was a rock.”
He hit him again, and this time Tony was certain he’d been out a fair few seconds, because when he jerked back into focus, one of Greg’s men had dismounted his horse to shake Tony awake. He let go of Tony’s shirt the second he saw his eyes open, and Tony groaned when his head smacked hard against the bedrock.
“If you keep hitting me,” Tony rolled over onto his side and spat into the dirt. He saw his pistol sitting in the dirt a few feet away, but it was just a little too far for him to reach. “I won’t even remember where it is.”
Greg pulled the hammer back on his gun, leveling it at the side of Tony’s head. “I’m going to give you one more chance, Tony. Enough games.”
Tony didn’t even turn to look at him. “If you shoot me, you’ll never get your money.”
“Shame,” Greg said. “Where else will I get, say, five hundred thousand dollars quickly?”
Tony laughed, despite the pain that shot through his chest, the tightening around Greg’s eyes, and the finger he held on the trigger. “You’re going to collect the bounty? How do you think that’s going to go over, with your own fucking face on the poster?” He pushed himself up again, because by God no one had ever accused him of knowing when to quit and they weren’t going to now. He pointed to Greg’s men. “What are you going to do, wait on the sidelines while they turn me in? They rolled over on me for the promise of a bigger share. What do you think they’re going to do to you when they’ve got it in their hands?”
“I’ll take my chances,” Greg said.
“No, you won’t,” Tony said. “You don’t take chances, Greg. I’m sure you’ve already thought of everything.” Tony’s eyes flicked over the rest of the group. “He’s not worried. So what is he planning?”
“Shut him up, Greg.” Someone behind Tony snarled. He heard the hammer of a pistol click, and his heart jumped. He didn’t want to believe that Greg would shoot him (but he knew he would) however he had no delusions that any of his men would hesitate.
A gunshot roared—not behind him, but up on the canyon ridge—and Tony felt the spray on the back of his neck. Another gunshot, and the man at his elbow folded neatly to his knees as though going to prayer, his pistol clattering to the ground. Tony flinched toward the man’s gun even as the rest of the group jumped into action, drawing pistols, returning fire blindly into the canyon side.
A boot landed solidly on his hand, hard enough that he could feel the bones creak, and hard as he tried he couldn’t pull free. Greg wrapped a hand around his neck, yanking him to his feet, holding him close. Another gunshot, and suddenly they were the only ones standing.
Tony’s hands went up on instinct to grip at Greg’s arms, but Greg’s hand only tightened around his throat. Tony could see the horses lined up on the canyon. The townspeople weren’t even bothering to take cover, lined up along the ridge with every brand of gun.
Tony’s heart leaped at the sight, and he forced himself to remember that he was a criminal, that Greg had just burned their town inn to the ground. Of course they’d come after him. It would have been stupid not to.
“Put him down, Gregory,” Steve said. The hand on his neck tightened a minuscule amount, and Tony forced himself to focus on breathing, on staying on his feet, and not on the cold press of the gun against his neck, or the fact that it was his brother that put it there.
“Well, that would just be stupid,” Greg said.
“You have to know you’re not walking away from this,” Tony said. “Just give it up, Greg.”
“You’ve always been trouble,” Greg scoffed, “why couldn’t you just have hanged like you were supposed to, instead of starting all this nonsense?”
“Why would you want to see you own brother hanged?” Tony asked.
“It was for the good of the gang,” Greg said.
Tony scowled. “It was for you you selfish piece of—”
A burst of dust and rock jumped into the air at their feet, shocking them both. Tony immediately drove an elbow back, breaking Greg’s hold on him. He spun, left elbow coming up to crack Greg cleanly along the jaw. His gun dropped into the dirt and he staggered.
Tony dove onto one of the fallen pistols, praying that it was loaded. He rolled onto his back in time to see Greg’s gun coming up, and squeezed off a round without stopping to think. The bullet slammed into Greg’s shoulder, sent him staggering back. The pistol dropped heavily into the dust, and Tony slowly, painfully pulled himself standing.
“You son of a bitch.” Greg spat into the dirt at his feet, swaying.
“Get out of here, Greg,” Tony said. Greg dropped to one knee, and then settled onto both. Tony had to resist the urge to go to him, to help him up. “I’m letting you go. Get out of here!” He desperately wanted him to listen, just once fucking listen when Tony told him it was time to call it quits.
Greg fumbled blindly in the dust for his dropped gun, right arm hanging limp at his side.
“Don’t,” Tony said. “For God’s sake, please, don’t make me kill you.”
“You’re a jackass, Tony.” Greg’s hand closed around the pistol, pulling it up. “You’ve always been a—”
Tony shot him.
He let his gun drop, still smoking, into the sand. He tore his eyes away, and stumbled over to sit down on a stone. He had a cut over his eye that was still bleeding sluggishly, and Tony wiped at it uselessly before setting his head heavily into his hand.
He hadn’t even begun to pull himself together when he heard foots steps approaching in the gravel. They stopped a few feet away, and Tony didn’t have to look up to know to whom they belonged. He glanced up, and then over to the ridge. He could see Jan, Carol, and Clint still watching, but the rest of the shooters were nowhere to be seen. They’d probably gone to fetch a wagon.
“Sheriff,” Tony mumbled. “Come to cart me off? I won’t go willing.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Steve demanded.
“You mean, why didn’t I tell the sheriff that I’m a wanted man?” Tony asked. Steve looked willing to concede the point, but Tony realized that he didn’t want him to. “I never planned on any of this. I wasn’t even going to stay in town, but then I found out that you didn’t have the post yet.” Tony sighed, scrubbing a hand through his hair. “So I thought I’d get a night in an actual bed. And then you—I didn’t want to leave.”
“And you didn’t think staying here would put everyone you were keeping that secret from in danger?”
Tony winced at the anger in his tone.
“I figured the worst that would come out of it was hurt feelings,” he said weakly. “I didn’t even know Greg was still following me.”
“And Greg? Who was he?” Steve asked.
Steve snorted, “Yeah, I gathered that much. Maybe this wasn’t the case for you two, but most brothers don’t try to kill one another.”
“I—we started a gang. Together. His only rule was don’t get famous. Mine was don’t kill anyone. And everything was going fine, until my—our—face ended up on a wanted poster. It was my fault, and he said he forgave me for it, but he seemed—too okay with it? And then reports starting popping up saying I’d done things I’d never done in places I’d never been—”
Tony scrubbed a hand over his face, wincing as it pulled at the bleeding cuts peppered over his skin. “I guess that’s when I started to wise up. I found out he was planning on turning me in to get the heat off himself, and I ran and…god damn it, he followed me, why did he have to follow me?” The last part was quiet, almost to himself.
Steve was silent for a moment.
“So you were a bandit. You made that choice,” Steve said. Tony nodded miserably, knowing exactly where this was going. And then, Steve surprised him: “But now you’re not?”
“Not even a tiny bit.”
“And what are you going to do now?”
“That… really depends on what you’re going to do, Sheriff.”
“I’m going to call the federal marshal.” Tony winced, and Steve dropped a hand on his shoulder, warm and reassuring. “And I’m going to give them a body. Then we’re going to rebuild the Nest, and if you think you’re getting out of helping just because your wrist’s broken, you don’t know us very well.”
Relief hit him like a physical blow, and Tony sagged under the weight of it. “I—thank you,” he said thickly. Steve reached out a hand for him, and Tony allowed himself to be pulled unsteadily to his feet.
“You look like shit,” Steve said. Tony huffed but didn’t even try to deny it. Instead, he turned a critical eye back at Steve.
“You’re bleeding too,” Tony pointed out. Steve rolled his eyes.
“I’ve got a split lip. You look like you were thrown off a horse.”
“And punched in the face.”
“And punched in the face,” Steve agreed. He took Tony’s chin gently between his fingers and turned his face this way and that, sizing up the damage. Tony’s breath caught uncomfortably in his throat, and he quickly tried to clear it, put some space between them before things got more uncomfortable, but the grip on his chin just tightened.
Not enough to hurt, but more than enough to hold him in place. When he glanced up to meet Steve’s gaze, he was staring back with the no-nonsense, you will listen to me or face the consequences expression that seemed to be universal among people in Tony’s life.
“We’re going to let you get away with it this time,” Steve said. “But if you ever try to throw your life away for any of us again, you’re not going to get off easy.”
“Right,” Tony squeaked, “good to know.”
“I mean it, Tony. We—” He sighed, brushing a thumb over Tony’s cheekbone. Tony shivered at the touch. “We’ll figure this out later. Let’s get you to a doctor.”
Tony was a little disappointed when Steve dropped his arm to wind around Tony’s shoulders, offering support. He was definitely looking forward to whatever “figuring this out” might entail. Almost, as it turned out, as much as he wasn’t looking forward to scaling the canyon wall to get to Steve’s horse.
His ribs still screamed at him every time he tried to lift his arms above his head, and it was damn near impossible to climb two handed, let alone with one. If it hadn’t been for the fact that the ridge was more incline than sheer rock, and Steve was hovering just beside him like he was afraid he’d slip at any moment, Tony would have told them to go fuck themselves, and bring the damn horse to him.
Still, even with Jan calling “encouragement” from above, and Clint and Carol not even trying to hide their snickering, Tony was a lot happier with an arm around his shoulders than he’d ever been with a sack of gold on his hip.
Things were looking up.
Watching Steve talk to the Marshal gave Tony hives. Presently, Tony was hiding out in Carol’s living room, along with half the town. They just didn’t seem to know what to do with themselves without the inn, and all it had taken was a few bats of Jan’s eyelashes for Carol to open her door to everyone.
Jan and Sam were sitting with Tony in the kitchen, where at least the windows had curtains to hide behind. Tony sat at the kitchen table with the curtains pinched between his fingers, half listening to Jan and Sam’s conversation and half trying to resist the urge to peek out the window again.
It didn’t matter than he was safely inside and out of sight, or that Steve had lined up Greg and his gang in the street for the Marshal to be preoccupied by. Tony probably could have been in the next town over, and he still would have been uncomfortable.
He kept peeking out from behind the curtain, despite the fact that Jan swatted his hand every time, and that she threatened to swat the broken one next. They’d already dug the grave, and Steve had sworn he wouldn’t let them take the body, but Tony couldn’t shake the feeling that the marshal would want to take Greg back east with him. The idea put him on edge.
“Relax, Tony,” Jan said. “Steve’ll work things out.”
Maybe he shouldn’t care as much as he did, but Greg was still his brother. While he didn’t know exactly what he felt about him after the last few years, Tony still believed that Greg had deserved better than to be strung up in the streets and made an example of. The papers would do enough of that with his name, with or without a body. Steve crossed his arms over his chest, chin stuck defiantly out, and Tony knew they were arguing over just that.
Eventually, the marshal made his way back over to the bodies, studying each intently, and then motioned for his men to load them up into the wagon. Eleven bodies were carted off, but true to his word Steve didn’t let the marshal take Greg away.
Tony sighed and dropped the curtain. Later today, Steve and anyone who was willing would help him bury his brother. Tony didn’t really want to think about it, so he pushed it to the back of his mind.
“So, Jan. Any ideas for the new inn?” he asked. Her face took on a pinched expression, which Tony hadn’t been expecting at all.
“Smaller,” she sighed. “We can’t collect on your bounty without giving up the body, and we just can’t afford anything else.”
“What are you talking about?” Tony asked. “What happened to all that money I left you?”
“Burned,” Jan said forlornly.
Tony gaped. “You—you let them burn my money. Christ, do you know how much was in that bag?”
“Relax, crook. It wasn’t your money, you gave it away,” Sam said, “and it was stolen, anyway.”
“Oh, too good for stolen money?” Tony raised an eyebrow. “So I guess you wouldn’t want any of the gold I’ve got buried out in the desert? That’s stolen, too.” Jan’s eyes flashed with interest, but before she could say anything, Sam scoffed.
“You don’t have any gold buried in the desert.”
“Don’t I?” Tony teased. “You’ll eat those words…but someone else is doing the digging. I’m never digging another hole again.”
Steve pulled the door open, creaking softly, and Tony leaned over to pull the curtain back again. The marshal’s wagon was gone from the street.
“You know you’re lucky they were distracted,” Steve said. He leaned over the table to knock Tony’s hand back, and then pulled the chair out next to him. “I saw you in the window half a dozen times.”
Jan shot Tony a look that screamed I told you.
Tony scoffed. “I was careful. What did the marshal have to say?”
Steve sighed. “Have I ever mentioned how much I hate him?”
“Oh, maybe once or twice,” Jan said.
Steve huffed a laugh. “Well, I got him to leave.” He nudged Tony’s foot under the table. “I think that’s the best I can do.” Steve grinned, and Tony smiled fondly back.
“Hey.” Tony reached out to stop him, hooking a finger in Steve’s collar to draw him in. “Thanks for talking to the marshal. You didn’t have to do that.”
“Of course I did,” Steve said.
Sam glanced between them, rolling his eyes. “Well, as much as I’d love to sit here watching you two make eyes at each other, we’ve got an inn to rebuild.”
“I should probably go help.” Jan winked, following after. She paused in the doorway, “And don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. That is Carol’s kitchen table, after all.”
Steve rolled his eyes, “I don’t think that’ll be an issue, Jan.” She shrugged, pulling the door shut behind her.
Steve nudged Tony’s foot again. “Are you ready? Or do you need more time?” Tony ran a hand through his hair—he didn’t think he would ever really be ready. He felt another hand playing with the strands on the back of his neck, and Tony gave him a half-hearted smile.
Steve tilted his head. “We can put it off. I’m sure Jan wouldn’t mind help with the inn.”
“No.” Tony pushed himself up with his good arm, “That’s okay. I should…” He sighed, and Steve reached out to pull him over for a kiss.
“I know you feel guilty, but—”
“He deserved it?” Tony said flatly. He was having a hard time convincing himself of that.
Steve shook his head. “But it’s not your fault.”
“Yeah, well. I made a lot of choices that brought me here, and I’ve got to live with that.” Ton sighed. “Let’s just get it done.”
When Tony moved to pull away, Steve’s arms tightened around him. Tony exhaled slowly through the nose, allowing himself a moment to hold and be held. He was going to go out there, and bury his brother. And help build an inn. And then maybe, later tonight, they would rechristen Steve’s bed as their bed.
Yeah, Tony thought, giving Steve’s hand a final squeeze, he could do this.