At first, it had actually been kind of funny.
In the immediate aftermath of the battle for Rose Creek, where everyone took a few minutes to check in on one another and see how they fared, spirits were high and they were all happy to make it through to the other side. More of them than not were the walking wounded for a good while, and they stuck around the town for about a week to recover.
Three days into that state of convalescence was when it became pretty goddamn clear that Billy Rocks was Not Happy with Goodnight Robicheaux.
And, again, it had been funny to start with. Faraday, being Faraday, actually enjoyed playing the middle man and passing along messages from one to the other. That probably had a lot to do with the fact that his bed was in between theirs, and it was easier than yelling over him. And Red had rolled his eyes at the initial antics but ferried along information from Billy as requested.
Because… that was how it started out. Billy just flat out refused to raise his voice and talk to Goodnight over anyone else, so it just seemed like he was taking the time to rest without overtaxing himself. This obviously annoyed Goodnight, in that every time a message was relayed to him, whether he’d actually heard it himself or not, he got this tightness around his mouth and eyes and would enunciate every word to the point his drawl all but disappeared.
When it was while they were still bedridden in the town, it remained funny.
It stopped being funny when they’d been three days’ ride out from Rose Creek and Billy asked Sam to see if Goodnight needed to stop anytime soon due to his leg—after all, it had nearly broken and the man was probably going to have a limp for a very long time to come.
That was when, for Vasquez and Sam, that this whole thing stopped being amusing.
It was another three days before Red just told Billy, “No,” when he asked the Comanche to relay a message to Goodnight when the man was seated across the campfire from him.
Another day passed before Jack just started giving them both disappointed looks, and it was nearly ten full days after leaving town that Faraday started scowling over the behavior.
Yet there was no sign that this was stopping any time soon. They would travel for a while, Billy would pose a question to Goodnight through the only remaining proxy who would relay a message, Faraday would heave a sigh that spoke volumes of how Done With This Shit he was before relaying the question verbatim, Goodnight would get that tightening around his eyes and speak very properly in response.
This went on for three weeks after leaving Rose Creek before the tipping point finally came.
They had been traveling in an easterly direction, none of them really having a set destination and hoping that Billy and Goodnight would cease this odd war they had going on between them. It was around mid-afternoon, maybe three or so hours after they’d stopped for a quick lunch, and for the most part, they’d been chatting amicably amongst themselves.
Granted, Goodnight had been… a little bit mean for a good two weeks by this point. Whatever frustration he had towards Billy at the moment had been internalized to the point where he had snapped at Faraday one evening when the others had been gathering supplies for their camp. There may or may not have been something said about certain people being too loud in the night, and that maybe they should be fucking elsewhere so the rest didn’t have to hear it.
(Frankly, Faraday had been almost too shocked to be embarrassed, at least until he realized that Vasquez and Sam had come back at that point; then he had quietly suggested to the other younger man that maybe they should be a bit quieter at night. And although Goodnight had sort of apologized, it was still a very clear sign that this had gone on long enough.)
So, when Billy turned to Faraday today, the redhead was already beyond fed up with this behavior from men who had at least a good five to ten years on him in age.
“It would probably be a good idea for us to find somewhere to stay for a while,” the older man said; from Faraday’s other side, he could practically hear Goodnight grinding his teeth. “Any ideas on where we should go?”
Faraday actually stared at him for a very long minute before deliberately turning to Goodnight and saying, “Goody, Billy has posed a question. Which you no doubt have heard because you’re riding right beside me and Billy wasn’t exactly whispering.”
“Oh,” Goodnight replied in that tone of voice that every single man amongst them had grown to hate as he brought his mare to a sudden halt, “I heard him just fine. And if y’all would excuse us for a moment, I think we need to have a private talk.”
The remainder of the seven likewise brought their mounts to a stop, turning to see what was going to happen next, much like pausing to watch a train wreck. Billy, on the other hand, just gave the Cajun a blank stare with one eyebrow raised in that subtle, judging way of his.
Which was, apparently, going to be the last straw.
“Oh, you wanna do this right here, then, cher?” and that was Goodnight’s full, unabashed accent coming in thick with his outburst. “Fine, we can do this right now. I was trying to keep this private, but—”
“Why, so you could run away again?” Billy snapped in response, the first thing he’d said directly to his lover in the past month.
“Oh, shit,” Faraday muttered under his breath. Next to him, Vasquez nodded as he watched with wide eyes as their friends glowered at one another.
“Really?” Goodnight replied. “Are you fucking kidding me? I told you two days before that I had a bad feeling about the whole goddamn thing! Did you think I was being funny?!"
“No, I thought you had some sense in your head, keijun geobjaeng-i,” was the hissed response, and from the way the sharpshooter’s eyes narrowed into slits, he at least was aware of what insult the Korean had slung his way.
“So, what? Because I had an anxiety attack—and don’t you roll your goddamn eyes, you son of a bitch—you’re gonna hold that against me?” There was a moment of silence where the air felt charged before the blond scoffed. “You know what? Fuck you. Eight years, you know that this happens to me more often than not, and this is where the line is.”
“You left me!” Billy snarled, and it was clear that all of this had been building up for some time. Possibly from before Rose Creek, possibly during those aforementioned eight years. “No warning, and no, a bad feeling does not count! I have done everything in my power to help you live with this, and the thanks I get for that is you leaving right before a goddamn life or death fight?!”
“Nope,” said Red, and with that, he climbed off his horse and moved off to one side. Jack and Sam exchanged a confused look even as Faraday and Vasquez remained enthralled by Billy and Goodnight’s continuing argument—and they were still going, neither of them willing to admit that the other had a legitimate reason for being angry—with the horrified expressions of two young people seeing their caregivers fighting for the first time.
“Son, what are you doing?” Jack finally asked Red as the Comanche set about gathering rocks for a fire pit.
“Making camp,” the young man replied, inclining his head towards their arguing companions. “They’re going to be a while, and I will kill them if they fight like that while we’re traveling.”
“I’m with Red,” Faraday said abruptly, easing his way down from Jack and patting the stallion’s neck fondly. “I’ll go grab some firewood.”
“No, you will not,” Sam remarked as he climbed off Horse. “You’ll go sit over there and see what we have to entertain ourselves while Vasquez gets some firewood. Don’t think I didn’t see you rubbing at that leg of yours.”
Jack chuckled even as the redhead rolled his eyes and grumbled but complied, moving to sit on the ground near where Red was already setting up the boundary rocks. Vasquez shook his head fondly and moved to do as instructed, pausing for a moment to bend down and steal a quick kiss from Faraday first.
Sam and Jack then exchanged a look before the former cleared his throat and called over to the pair still arguing. “Why don’t you go and get some water for coffee?” he said, waiting until they stopped their shouting and turned to look at him. “We’ll start moving again in the morning.”
Goodnight gave him a long look, one that spoke volumes of just how not amused he was at the interruption, before huffing and climbing down from Adelaide’s back. The mare moved to join the other horses even as her rider stalked off in the general direction of the river they had passed not long before stopping. Billy drew in a deep breath before climbing down from his horse as well, only to stop short when Jack caught his arm.
“Why don’t you go help him with that, son?” he requested in that tone that said do not even try to argue with me right now. Billy, being Billy, gave him that self-same unamused stare he gave to anything that displeased him—which, for the past month, had included Goodnight—before glancing away. He even grabbed the bucket that his lover had walked off without and followed at a much slower pace.
When both men were out of sight, Faraday let out a huge sigh and pulled a wad of bills out of his pocket. Counting out a few, he slapped them down on the rock next to him and said, “Five dollars says they finally fuck it out and let the rest of us go back to a relatively peaceful life.”
Vasquez, who had returned with an armload of wood scraps as Billy was disappearing from view, chuckled and dropped to sit next to his own lover. “No bet on that, güero,” he replied. “They will make up, hopefully before they come back.”
“Well…” Jack said, trailing off and causing every one of their number to look his way. “I’m just saying that there is a lot of tension between them right now, and that our young Billy has good reason… That’s why I’ve got five dollars saying he’s gonna come back alone,” the older man concluded, dropping said money onto the rock with Faraday’s.
Sam shook his head. “Now, Jack, they’re both a mite angry with each other... but Goody is a marksman.” With that, he put another five dollars down; he didn’t need to say that it meant his bet was on the Cajun coming back alone.
Vasquez cackled. “No, they will both be back, and they will be happier,” he said. “I’ll put ten dollars on it.”
“And I will put in another five to agree with my vaquero here,” Faraday remarked with a grin, doing just that and leaning against Vasquez.
Two more dollars were slapped down by Red. “We find their bodies in the morning.”
Everyone blinked at Red before all of them started chuckling.
“Damn, Red, that’s morbid,” the Irishman said through his laughter. “I knew I liked you for a reason.”
It didn’t take Billy long to reach the river, even though he had been dragging his feet since he left their makeshift camp. Despite the fact that he was more than pleased that Goodnight had returned to Rose Creek at the time, he’d had a week of convalescence to think far too much about the implications of the whole thing.
And when he came to the conclusion, right or wrong, that Goodnight could leave again any time he wanted with even less warning, well.
To say that he was angry was an understatement. He may have given thought to quietly slicing his lover’s ankles just so to keep him from even walking again, just to make sure he could never leave. That thought lasted all of an hour, and only his own sense of betrayal kept him from doing so.
…that, and the fact that Goody’s horse doted on him nearly as much as he did on her, and she would probably find a way to haul him onto her back should he decide to just ride out.
But… maybe pretending to ignore Goody’s existence had been the wrong tactic as well. He had done it to avoid a fight, because even as angry as he still was he didn’t hate the other man. He loved him far too much was the problem, and it been almost physically painful to talk over and around him; it had been especially so in the past week with just how quietly Goody had taken to speaking, how tightly he phrased things and schooled the Louisiana away from his voice.
Billy had a temper, yes, and he knew it. He also knew that Goodnight had a pretty explosive one of his own, fueled by years of fighting a war he’d become disenchanted with early on and only barely contained beneath anxiety and stress.
And for close to a month, his two primary means of coping—opium and sex—had deliberately been kept from him by the man who usually brought him those means of comfort.
So Billy was honestly expecting to pass through the trees to the river and find himself staring down the barrel of that Peacemaker his lover carried yet rarely used.
Instead, he found Goody seated on a flat stone looking out over the water with a pensive look on his face.
Clearing his throat to catch the other man’s attention, he bit back a sigh when the only response was a quiet hum. “You forgot the bucket,” he said instead of any number of things he may have in the moment.
“Come over here, please,” Goody replied after a moment, voice almost too quiet to be heard over the soft babbling of the river but just loud enough to hear the faint lilt of his accent. Which Billy was grateful to hear, he really had missed it during the past several weeks.
He carefully made his way over to sit down next to Goody, setting the bucket down on the ground beside them. He glanced over at his lover, who was still looking out over the river, and tried to think of how to word what he was feeling without attacking the other man. Again.
But it was Goody who spoke up first of course.
“I know I make mistakes,” he said quietly, again just loud enough for Billy to hear without too much effort. “Have done for most of my life, and that probably won’t stop even after I’m dead. But I do my best to make amends for them, little good as it may do in the grand scheme of things.”
Billy sighed softly. “You’re only human, Goody,” he replied, debating on whether reaching out to touch, even casually, would be accepted at the moment. “Humans make mistakes.”
Goody huffed, the sound only vaguely one of amusement. “But I really fucked it up this time, cher. You’re right; I left without thinking ‘bout anyone other than my own self, and I should have thought about how you would feel.”
“Yes,” Billy said, a hint of his anger coming back briefly, “you should have.”
“I would promise that I’d never do it again, but…” and here the Cajun trailed off for a moment. The silence stretched for long enough that Billy considered speaking up. “You said it yourself. I’m a coward, and I can’t guarantee that I won’t get that scared again.”
And, honestly? That was what he needed to hear to pull his thoughts together.
“I was out of line,” he said softly, giving in to his desire to touch and wrapping an arm loosely around Goody’s waist. “I was happy you came back, Goody. More than. But while we were all laid up… well…”
Goody leaned into his side, rested his hand on Billy’s knee. “You got to thinking it was gonna happen again,” he finished the thought.
“Yeah.” Billy paused before adding, “I gave about an hour’s thought to hobbling you before realizing Adelaide would just carry you off on her own if I did.”
His lover started laughing, and honestly Billy chuckled at his own dark, absurd thoughts. It felt good to just be together, and he hated that both of them had been too stubborn to even try to communicate their concerns and fears for the better part of a month.
“I will promise that, should I get to that point again,” Goody said once he calmed down enough for words, “I’ll actually talk to you instead of glossing over it. Fair?”
“Fair,” Billy replied, leaning in to kiss him soundly. “And I promise I won’t ignore you if you should still need to leave. I’ll just come with you.”
Goody smiled at him and stole a quick kiss of his own. “Now that we’ve worked this out and have a plan set for next time it happens”—and neither of them were naive enough to think that it couldn’t happen—“we should probably do what they sent us out here to do and get back to camp.”
Billy didn’t let his lover even get to his feet, tugging Goody into his lap and wrapping both arms firmly around his waist before giving him a long, slow, devouring kiss. “No,” he said, smirking at the way his lover’s eyes darkened with want. “I think we need to settle a few more issues we’ve ignored for a bit too long before heading back.”
“Oh, come on!” Faraday was complaining when they walked back into the camp, Billy carrying the bucket and the both of them holding hands. “It’s only been a little over an hour. They’re old. It might take them a while!”
“What might take who a while?” Goody asked suspiciously, eyes narrowing further as the younger man let out a whoop of victory.
“Yes! Told you! Me and Vas win!”
Sam gave Faraday a Look. “Now, Faraday, you had some… stipulations on certain goings-on along with your bet.”
Billy had let go of his hand and started walking over to the fire pit when the redhead turned and asked loudly, “Hey, Goodnight, y’all fucked it out, right?”
He could literally feel his face heat up with shocked embarrassment even as he saw his cher trip over nothing from the corner of his eye. Their reactions to the words set Vasquez wailing with laughter and drew a triumphant look from Faraday.
“Pay up, assholes,” he said. “Me and my Mexican won fair and square.”
“Were you,” Goody found himself stammering, “were all of you betting on that?!”
“I bet you were going to kill each other,” Red offered casually, shrugging when Billy shot him a glare. “Two dollars. It’s not a big loss.”
Goody blinked slowly before turning to his oldest friend. “Sam,” he said shortly.
“Hey, now, I was betting on you coming back,” the man in black stated with a grin. “Now, Jack, he thought it would be Billy leaving you dead in the woods.”
Goody sighed and rubbed at his eyes. “I am so sorry for all the shit we’ve put you through these past weeks,” he offered sincerely.
“Three weeks,” Faraday said testily. “And consider this payback.”
The Cajun just stared at the younger man for a moment before remembering what he’d snapped at him not even a week ago. “Oh my God,” he replied softly, “I am so sorry for saying that. For the record, you weren’t.”
He could feel everyone’s eyes on him, but he ignored it in favor of Faraday’s dark look gradually clearing up to a wicked grin. Apparently he was going to be forgiven for his rude, untrue comment; hell, if anyone was going to have the right to complain, it was the younger man. He was pretty quiet while he and Vasquez had sex, whereas Goody shamelessly accepted the fact that he himself wailed like a cat in heat.
“Just don’t do it again,” Faraday remarked, “and I’ll consider us even.”
“You are going to share some of that pot with us, right?” Billy asked, suddenly appearing at his side.
Vasquez snorted. “Hell, no, cabrón,” he replied easily. “We deserve it after the misery you put us all through.”
The older man weighed this for a moment before nodding. “Fair enough.”
And with that, everyone settled in for an early evening encampment, talking amongst themselves and getting along peacefully for the first time in close to a month. It was definitely a lighter mood all around, and when night fell, they all moved to settle in to sleep.
The only sound for a long time was muffled murmuring between young lovers, someone shifting to try and get comfortable on the ground, and a little heavy breathing as someone got a bit frisky in their shared bedrolls. Silence slowly fell over the group, broken only by the sound of crickets. Then:
“That isn’t loud at all.”
“Goddammit, Billy, go to sleep!”