The pile of money on the table was growing, and Remy couldn’t help but smile. Utopia did not live up to its name in most regards, but for the first night since leaving New Orleans, he was having a hell of a time. The men sitting across from him didn’t share his enthusiasm, as their wallets got thinner and their luck got worse, but that was just part of the fun.
“Goddamn cheating bastard,” one of them said, after throwing down his cards and finishing his drink in one gulp.
Remy had been watching him since he came into the saloon, and knew no matter how much money he lost, he was still good for more.
“It’s not cheating if it’s skill. But stay another round and I’ll go easy on you.” He didn’t need to cheat, not when his opponent was drunk and stupid and had too much cash than he knew what to do with.
He spit on the floor, but by the look of his glare, he was thinking about pummeling Remy’s face in. Getting into a brawl now might ruin his plans for the night, so Remy bought him another drink in good faith, and the man stayed a little while longer. Thieving was a job of planning and patience, he couldn’t risk screwing up on it now.
A month ago, stealing from the likes of Sebastian Shaw was only a dream. A daunting prospect to brag about over drinks, the kind of heist most thieves talked about pulling but never dared to execute. One of the richest men between the coasts, he never traveled without a cadre of mean bastards quick on the trigger and hungry for blood. What better way to keep outlaws from robbing you blind than to put them on your payroll? It worked, too. Those very men, coupled with Shaw’s financial reach and political connections made him a thief’s worst nightmare. Most weren’t dumb enough to try. Most weren’t Remy LeBeau.
To be fair, he probably wouldn’t have either, until he killed a man. It didn’t matter that it was self defense, that Julien Boudreaux pulled on him first. Too much trouble was brewing in the aftermath, too many rumors to sort through. “Killed him in cold blood,” they said, but nobody could figure why, and nobody took the time to ask. The thieves guild dealt its own laws, and even they drew the line at murder. So the only life he ever knew turned its back on him. He took a few days to accept that, then a few more to accept that he wasn’t gonna accept that. Then he got angry, and spent a night or two drunk. Then he just moved on.
He found himself in a nowhere town outside Louisiana, near broke and hungover. The place was called Utopia—small and humble, and nothing much worth stealing, but a bed was a bed, and he needed one after so long sleeping on hard ground. To get a bed he needed cash, and to get cash he gambled.
As luck would have it, Sebastian Shaw was also staying in Utopia, just another stop on his way to California, hauling thirty thousand in cash and coin. Those men he employed were as dumb as they were mean because once they got a few drinks in their belly, they couldn’t stop from bragging about their employer and all their riches to the local girls, which is exactly what Remy overheard while hustling the poor slobs in a game of poker.
And what better way to say au revoir to the thieves guild than to pull the job they never would? Maybe it was the whiskey, or the ache in his chest, but it sounded like a damn good time.
All his worst ideas did.
Remy smiled as he laid down his hand, in part because he just won the pile, and also because he was thinking about what they’d say about him back home after he pulled this off. The man across from him scowled, and pushed his chair out from the table. The girl on his lap slipped off and frowned.
“Horse shit,” he mumbled. “I’m going to the whorehouse.”
“I imagine those ladies will appreciate your money as much as I do, homme,” Remy said. “Maybe more. I hear they play dirty.”
The man shot him a look before leaving, one that might scare the piss out of someone who wasn’t used to it. Remy scooped up his winnings, and scanned the saloon for the remainder of Shaw’s men. There were six in total, a barmaid told him, after flowering her with compliments and boyish smiles, making her feel like she was the only thing in the room that mattered.
She pointed at two men nursing drinks at the bar, told him they were prone to fighting.
“I hope they haven’t caused you any trouble here, chere,” he told her. “No woman such as yourself should be expected to serve such animals.”
She tried to hide her flushed cheeks behind a crop of curls. “They keep mostly to themselves, or to the girls down at Emma’s—the whorehouse. They go in shifts, so mister Shaw’s never alone, but I swear, all hours of day and night I seen ‘em walking to and from them whores like they was starving.”
“Then they must be bursting at the seams with cash.”
“They was. I don’t figure they are anymore.” She was quiet, then leaned in close. “Say, can I ask you something?”
He looked at her intently. “Anything your heart desires.”
“What’s the matter with your eyes? I never seen anything like that before.”
There was no reservation in her question. Another man might’ve taken it personal, but Remy had expected it. Somebody always asked eventually, figured he’d want to ask too, if he saw somebody with red eyes. At the very least, he preferred it to “where are you from?” and “why are you here?” He leaned back in his chair and rest his foot on the edge of the table.
“C'est la passion, ma chere. Burning for you.”
“You probably tell that to all the girls,” she said, but her cheeks had to be sore from grinning so big. The rest of his drinks were free of charge.
He sat and watched Shaw’s men in the saloon a little while longer, drinking till their faces were red and they were swaying in their seats. Two had left for the whorehouse already, which meant probably two more at the hotel where Shaw was staying, sober and itching for a fight. He paid for another couple drinks to go to the men at the bar, and told the waitress to keep it quiet who they were from, then he set aside a portion of his winnings from the night and took it to the whorehouse. Getting a clean shot at Shaw’s money meant knocking down the men in his path, what better way to do that than with their own vices? Job like this was much better off approached with subtlety, not a gunfight, and that suited Remy just fine.
But Emma’s brothel was the furthest thing from subtle. The smoke was thicker there than in the saloon, and the music twice as loud, but he was grateful for that part, because he had no desire to overhear the goings on upstairs. He slipped the cash to the first woman who greeted him and gave her the descriptions of Shaw’s men, told her they had a particularly rough few days and to treat them well all night long. They might be unemployed tomorrow, but he figured they’d owe him a thank you for that at least.
“What about you, honey?” she asked him as he turned to leave.
“I’m too fragile, chere,” he said, then pushed some cash between her fingers. “But if anyone comes around asking about me, you could tell them I been here all night.”
She pursed her lips, deciding, but seemed satisfied enough with the deal.
On his way out he caught the sober eyes of the madam, Emma Frost, and a chill ran up his spine.
As Remy made his way to the hotel, he noticed someone else watching him too, a short looking man surrounded by a cloud of smoke, thick from a cigar. The marshal’s badge pinned to his shirt gave him pause, but he nodded hello and kept walking, every step feeling those eyes on his back like daggers.
Sundown was near making the orange glow from the windows of the Xavier Hotel look more and more inviting. It’d be a nice place to stay if he could, but he was already planning his getaway route. He kept Lucifer tied to a hitching post outside the hotel so he could ride out of town before anyone knew the difference.
The woman behind the desk had hair white as snow, which cascaded down a dark face in tight braids. Her beauty was unparalleled, Remy thought, as she stared him down from across the counter. Her name was Ororo Munroe, and something in her eyes made it seem like she could see right through him, like she could rip the air from his lungs if she wanted to.
“How many are with you?” she asked, running her finger against the guest registry. He tried to get a look at the names and the room numbers without being too obvious, but she swiftly covered it with the top of her hand.
“Just me, belle. Unless, by any chance, you wanted to keep me company,” he said with a wink.
The corner of her mouth twitched, barely giving way to a smile, but her hand didn’t move. “I’m sure, mister—”
She paused. Took him in for a moment with dissecting brown eyes. “I’m sure, mister LeBeau, there are plenty of women here who would take you up on that offer.”
“But not you?”
“You would not survive the night, I’m afraid.”
Remy leaned against the edge of the counter and smiled. He couldn’t tell if she was serious or not, and a part of him would’ve liked to find out. Before he could ask, a young girl came trampling down the stairs so quick she nearly stumbled when she hit the bottom, and collided with another guest, sending him to the floor.
“Jubilation!” Ororo yelled as the girl hurried to help the man she brushed into.
“Sorry, ‘Ro, Logan’s waiting for me.”
Ororo left her post behind the counter to smooth things over with the fallen guest, while Jubilation kept on running out the door. Remy ought to buy the kid a drink after that distraction. While Ororo was away, he found Shaw’s name in the guestbook by room six, then casually waited for the drama to pass.
When Ororo came back, she looked apologetic, before she realized she left the book wide open. Her gaze lingered on Remy, peeling him apart piece by piece. She knew he was trouble, she just didn’t know which kind. Hopefully she wouldn’t have time to figure it out.
Finally she handed him a key with a cautious hand. “Room eleven will do you well.”
He thanked her with a smile and a wink then paid with the last of his winnings from the saloon.
Room eleven would do him well, if he planned on staying. It was nice enough, cozy if not small. There was an ornate mirror and a nameless painting hung up to cover tears in the wallpaper, and a bed frame crafted from metal, long rusted. The mattress was thin and uncomfortable but still beat out his bedroll ten to none.
Outside the narrow window, the saloon was in sight. He could even hear the music. If he closed his eyes it almost sounded like home—if he still had one. He was tempted to crawl into bed and let the piano play him to sleep, pretending he was gonna wake up tomorrow as part of clan LeBeau same as always.
When he closed his eyes he still saw Julien standing there in front of him, ready to draw. “Don’t do it,” he said, only this time he was talking to himself.
The gunshot echoed between heartbeats, where it stayed.
He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and kept watching through the window, hoping his cards were played properly. If they were, the two men from the saloon would be too drunk to notice the time, and the two in the brothel wouldn’t care.
When he saw one gruff-looking bastard walking from the hotel in the direction of the brothel, hand on the butt of his pistol, he had a good feeling they were. Night descended heavy against Utopia as the man disappeared into the darkness.
Remy adjusted his gun belt, though he hoped not to use it, and slid a knife from his saddle bag into the side of his boot just in case. He could probably handle one man without shooting, but it was best to be prepared for the worst.
When he was outside of room six, he secured a neckerchief over his nose to hide his face and took a deep breath.
“Telegram,” he declared against the door as he knocked three times.
Silence followed. The halls were empty. Most everybody was asleep by now. He almost knocked again when the door swung open and a gun was shoved in his face before he could blink. A hand pulled him inside. The door slammed shut behind him and locked. So much for preparing for the worst.
All he saw was the barrell. On instinct, he reached towards his pistol, but a woman’s voice stopped him.
“Don’t try it,” she said, calm like ordering breakfast. “Unless you think you can pull faster than I can squeeze this trigger.”
He froze, a fingertip away.
“Anna, take his gun.”
He hadn’t noticed the second woman until she was beside him, ripping the gun from his side. She handed it to the other, who placed it in her own holster for safe keeping.
Now that he was looking, there was a lot to take in. A body dead on the floor with a knife plunged into the chest—the security most likely, and Sebastian Shaw himself bound to a chair, fabric stuffed in his mouth to keep the sound in. Remy scanned the room, looking over the chaos. It was nicer than his own with space to walk and a desk to sit at, but what really caught his eye was the strongbox sitting against the wall, a perfect case for thirty thousand.
“Put your hands up,” the woman said. Then to Anna, “Keep your gun on him.”
They both did as they were told as she patted Remy down, searching for anything he might have hidden, not too gentle either. He was relieved when she moved past his boot without checking for the knife. Last thing she did was pull the neckerchief down, revealing his face to the man he planned to steal from. Shaw watched with narrow eyes, memorizing every detail.
“You got anymore weapons on you?” the woman asked.
Remy forced a grin. “Might be more fun if you keep searching, non?”
With the weight of her gun behind her fist, she landed a punch to his jaw. The impact made him stumble back as blood rushed into his mouth.
“Raven…” Anna started, concern seeping through restraint. She was met with a cold, daring gaze, and took a step back.
“Who the hell are you, and what do you want?” Raven asked, locking Remy back in her sights, ready to blow his head off it she had to. Her hair was the color of blood, and he wondered how she got it that way.
“How about you drop the gun and we can talk about it?” he said, charm slipping from his cadence. When Raven lowered her aim to his groin, he tried to smile through the discomfort and laughed awkwardly instead. “Not exactly what I meant.”
She kept it fixed on his middle while she sat him in a chair beside Shaw.
“Tie his hands back,” she told Anna.
“You gonna kill him?”
“Don’t know yet. It depends.”
Remy didn’t dare move. “May I ask on what?”
“On if I like your answers or not,” she said. “What’s your business here, and don’t bother lying.”
Remy focused on the madwoman as Anna tightened some rope around his wrists, but not so much he couldn’t move. He noticed without giving away that he did. When he looked at her, she refused to look back, face concealed beneath the hood of a cloak. Shaw, on the other hand, fixed his eyes on Remy and wouldn’t look away. He didn’t seem panicked, only annoyed.
Moving his wrists in small motions, Remy thought about his options.
“Just delivering a telegram,” he said, hoping to bide time.
She cocked the hammer back on her pistol. “Try again.”
The sound sent a wave of panic through him and Raven didn’t even blink. There were better ways to go than to bleed out from your groin. He swallowed hard. “I’m a thief. I got no business with you,” he said. “Happy to be on my way. We can pretend this never happened.”
“He doesn’t work for you?” Raven asked Shaw, who shook his head slowly. Remy thought he saw a smile beneath the fabric shoved in his mouth.
“We could let him go. He ain’t gonna talk,” Anna said.
“Don’t be so naive.”
Her voice was lower than a whisper, but loud against the quiet. “You said no killing.”
“He’s seen too much.”
“I only see a body, how it got to be dead remains a mystery. As for him?” He looked at Shaw. “Not my concern.” He worked his wrists slowly against the rope but every inch of him froze when Raven pushed her gun flush against his skull.
“You don’t want to be talking right now.”
Anna jerked the barrel of Raven’s pistol away until it was aimed at the floor. Fury burned from her every inch as she turned her scowl to her partner, silent, waiting for explanation.
“No more killing,” Anna said, emphasizing every word.
It was just the lapse Remy needed, as the ropes fell from his wrists. Before Raven had time to notice, he knocked her gun away and pushed her to the floor. She was quicker than he gave her credit for, and let off a shot before the gun flew from her grasp. Shaw groaned with pain as the stray bullet hit his foot.
Remy pulled his gun from Raven’s holster with one hand, and slipped his knife out with the other. She opened her mouth to speak, but he held the blade to her throat. “You don’t want to be talking right now,” he said with smug satisfaction.
Instead of trying for words, she pursed her lips and spit across his face. He did his best to wipe it clean without letting up on the knife, then felt a familiar presence against his skull.
“Let her up,” Anna said, gun to his head.
“You’re all kinds of confused, ain’t you, chere?” he said, pulling back on the knife. When the blade was clear of skin, Raven shifted her body from beneath him, kicking him hard in the stomach as she did. He tried to catch his breath, staring down the barrel of another gun. He saw Julien Boudreaux on the other side and closed his eyes before the flash of the muzzle, but it never came.
A hard knock on the door interrupted them all. Shaw’s eyes darted to the sound and he yelled from under the cloth.
Raven pointed her gun, but Anna knocked her arm down.
“There’s no time,” she said and the two of them darted out the window and disappeared, running down the path he had planned for his own getaway.
The door slammed open and the girl, Jubilation, was there with Ororo who rushed to help Shaw and his bleeding foot as soon as the sight set in.
Remy slowly placed his weapons on the floor, showing them he wasn’t a threat.
“It ain’t what it looks it,” he said, trying hard to find the humor in it, even if there wasn’t any. He still choked out a nervous laugh as Jubilation drew her gun on him.
It just wouldn’t be his life if everything went according to plan.
This fic is the by-product of binge-reading 90's X-Men comics and my unstoppable love for the western genre. I took pieces of the comics lore/character histories and fit them into the setting in a way I think makes some sense, or at least I hope, but obviously certain changes have been made. These characters don't have their mutant abilities, but some of them are a bit more than what they seem, which you will see more of in coming chapters.
Chapter 2: Scum of the Earth
The marshal wasn’t long behind, asking Remy all sorts of questions he didn’t know how to answer, mostly because he was still trying to figure them out himself. He sent Jubilation and Ororo to escort Shaw to the local doctor before slapping iron shackles around Remy’s wrists like he was already guilty. The jail cell didn’t help with that feeling either.
One wooden cot and a chamber pot, and nothing else but an iron door.
A single oil lamp was lit beside Logan Howlett’s face, shadows dancing across scars and a lifetime of pent-up rage. Cigar in one hand, bottle of whiskey in the other. “Whatever you don’t tell me I’ll get from Sebastian Shaw.” He took a minute to size Remy up with his eyes. Remy didn’t look like much and he used that to his advantage. Logan on the other hand, looked like the type of man who settled most scores with his fists, and usually won. “What were you doing in that room tonight?”
Remy leaned back in his cot, still craving the comfort of a bed—any bed, even one as used and flat and pungent as this one. “M’sieu Shaw will tell you I’m a thief.”
“And why would he do that, ‘less it was true?”
“Because that’s what I said when there was a gun to my head.”
“That why you killed that man back there? Gun to your head?”
He paused. “I’m no killer.” Not unless I have to be, he almost added.
Smoke circled Logan like the rings of hell. He was right, there wasn’t any use in lying now, so Remy used it as an opportunity to bend the truth a little. He heard a commotion down the hall—light sleeper, he mentioned. The door to room six was cracked open, and without knowing who was inside, he went to offer help. That’s when a woman shoved a gun in his face and tied him to a chair.
“Just one woman?” Logan asked.
“There were two,” Remy clarified. “But only one who would’ve killed me. The other, she looked like she didn’t want to be there, like in some way there was a gun to her head also.”
Logan sat in silence while he finished his cigar, thinking on what he just heard. Without saying another word, he walked out. Remy sat up, waiting for something to happen. The jailhouse was empty, quiet. After a minute, he pulled a lockpick out from a seam on his belt and got to work on his cell. Shaw’s money was left unguarded, and in a foolish mistake, so was he. Nobody here knew any better yet, and he was hoping to be gone before they did.
He worked quickly and carefully, fishing for the right spot inside the lock until he heard a light click. After some gentle tinkering, the iron bars creaked open.
Remy thought he was home free until the jailhouse door opened and Jubilation was staring at him, trying to figure out what the hell was going on. She fumbled with her pistol and pointed it with sloppy aim somewhere in the vicinity of his chest.
“You best be careful with that, petite. A gun’s no toy,” he told her, leaning against the frame of his cell with cool authority, like maybe he could convince her this was normal.
“Don’t you move a damn muscle unless you’re interested in getting cut in half.”
“That thing even loaded?”
“You wanna find out?” She was small-framed, draped in clothes that were a few sizes too big, and shaking in the fingers but her voice carried as well as any grown man’s and packed a punch all on its own. What she lacked in experience she made up with conviction—which was a good place to start—but her gun wasn’t cocked and something like that really shattered the illusion. Remy didn’t much feel like telling her.
“Marshal says I’m liable to shoot anybody who tries to break out,” she said.
“Good thing I’m still here.” He smiled wryly. “Jubilation, right?”
“Jubilee,” she snapped. “What’s it to you?”
“Names Remy. Thought maybe we could be friends, and friends help each other out, non?”
Her nose scrunched up at the notion. “I got plenty of friends already, so whatever you’re trying to pull just give it up and get back behind those bars. Wouldn’t want my finger to slip on this trigger, would you?”
“No, we wouldn’t,” he said, but she still hadn’t caught on about the gun. Could get you into trouble, a mistake like that. “You ever shoot that thing before?”
She narrowed her eyes as he made a gun with his hands, then gestured to the hammer, like he was pulling it back. Her face went red with a mix of anger and embarrassment as she thumbed it, causing the cylinder to click into place.
He might regret that, but it could save her life someday.
“I won’t cause you no trouble, petite,” he said. “Now how about we keep this little incident between the two of us?”
“I don’t goddamn think so,” Logan said, every step more menacing than the last as he stomped inside.
“I’m handling it,” Jubilee grumbled.
“Like hell. Put that gun down before you hurt somebody.”
She sighed, but laid it on the desk anyway. Remy would have told her to disarm it first, but Logan grabbed him by the shoulder before he could, twisting him around until he hit the wall so hard it shook. He let out a groan as Logan’s arm pressed against his neck like a tree branch, threatening to choke the life from him.
“Five more bodies turned up,” he said through gritted teeth. “Six dead on the same night you ride into town and that’s just a coincidence?”
He pressed down harder. Oxygen stopped flowing. Everything felt slower struggling to breathe. Remy ripped at the pressure, trying to make space and failed. Head got light, staring into the deep pits of Logan’s eyes, and it was there where he saw something that wasn’t quite human.
Jubilee watched intently. She said something that didn’t quite make it through the static. Logan’s gaze trailed towards her and he began to ease up. Remy nearly fell to the ground when he let off completely, coughing and gasping until the life came back to him, slow as it did.
“Coincidence,” he said between rapid breaths. “Bad timing.”
“Yeah, for you or them?” Logan pulled him by the collar of his shirt and pushed him back inside his cell, slamming the iron bars shut without mercy.
Remy collapsed onto the cot and rubbed the sore spot on his neck. “Lemme guess, those five bodies happen to be the rest of Sebastian Shaw’s personal security?”
“You know a lot about it for somebody who wants to look innocent.”
“You can paint me whatever color you want, I know I’ll never look innocent,” Remy said. “That don’t mean I’m guilty. I bet a judge will tell you that.”
“Judge is gone. Ain’t due back for another week.” Logan shoved his hand through the bars. “Whatever you used to pick this lock, give it here.”
“You’ve taken my dignity, can’t I keep my pride?”
He kept his hand there waiting impatiently until Remy finally followed through, tossing him the lockpick from his pocket.
“So what happens to me for the week?”
Logan shrugged. “Get comfortable. Or don’t. I couldn’t care less.”
He leaned his head back and sighed, already tired of the view in his cell while Shaw’s money sat waiting for him. His throat felt all bent up inside, and he was sure it’d bruise by morning. Comfort was the last thing on his mind.
When Logan looked at Jubilee his shoulders slumped, and he was a different man—calmer, less feral. “Keep an eye on him, I gotta go figure this shit out.”
“I can help,” she said, quietly defiant.
He opened a locked drawer at the bottom of the desk and deposited Remy’s gun, knife, and lockpick there. “I need you here. If he tries anything, you know what to do.”
When he was gone, Remy asked, “What’s the matter with him?”
“What’s the matter with you?” she snapped, as she sat down at the desk and picked up her gun again. She twirled it around in her hands like she had something to prove and looked at him with adolescent rage. “Don’t talk to me. We aren't friends.”
“All right, then,” he said, closing his eyes. “But one more thing. Push the hammer back when you aren’t ready to shoot.”
He heard the gun click again. Jubilee didn’t make any attempt at conversation so Remy tried to sleep. At least he had a bed.
The news washed through town quicker than a flash flood, but it wasn’t everyday that six people turned up dead in one night. People wanted to hang onto that excitement, even through their own horror. Of course it didn’t take long for Remy’s name to become the center of gossip either—handsome stranger with the eyes of the devil, awfully curious about Sebastian Shaw’s business. That’s what the barmaid from the saloon had told Logan and just about everybody else in town.
By the time morning came around, everybody thought they knew the truth already; Remy LeBeau was a thief and a killer. He deserved to swing. It sounded awfully familiar.
Every once in a while, someone would come by the jail to get a peak at the vicious murderer through the windows, whispering curses and lies and the occasional, “He don’t look like much,” before Jubilee shooed them away. She stayed all night, attitude growing with boredom, though the only time her composure really cracked was when an older woman came by to ask about the investigation into some mutilated cattle a month back. Jubilee puffed up and told her they were working on it, and to stop asking. Remy kept his back to her, and pretended he wasn’t listening, but he was starting to think Utopia might be a lie.
Logan didn’t come back until the afternoon sun was beaming down, eyes heavy with fatigue, gulping whiskey from a flask.
“You come bearing breakfast, mon ami?” Remy asked, rubbing a knot out from his back. His first night in a bed wasn’t what he had been hoping—backache, neck hurting, throat bruised. He missed the temporary comfort of the Xavier Hotel.
The jingle of keys preceded words as Logan unlocked the cell door and the iron bars clanked open.
Remy perked up, but he didn’t move, trying to read Logan’s face through the glower but all he saw was a man on the edge. His body blocked the doorway, broad as a wall. “Shaw asked to see you.”
“Don’t he know I’m busy?” Remy said, smiling with arms wide, gesturing to the expanse of his accommodations.
Jubilee snorted, but Logan’s demeanor didn’t change.
“You’re gonna be busy bleeding if you keep talking,” he said. “So go ahead, keep talking.”
Remy bit his tongue. He knew Logan meant it by the twitch of his fingers.
Before they left, Logan told Jubilee to take the day off. “Go help Ororo at the hotel, get a good lunch and some rest,” he said. She wanted to protest, but she didn’t, almost as tired as he was. On her way out she said, “You need sleep, too.”
The words fell on deaf ears.
Shaw was staying with doctor Cecilia Reyes, who was treating the bullet hole in his foot. He was holding in pain as she rebandaged the wound, and regarded them both with a frown as they came in.
“You look even less assuming in the daylight,” he said.
Remy shrugged against Logan’s grip on his shoulder. “You ain’t the first to say that.”
“I don’t doubt it.” He looked at Logan with similar disappointment. “Some privacy, perhaps?”
His hold on Remy tightened for a moment, then released as he grumbled under his breath. “Don’t even think about trying something stupid.”
He walked outside but stayed in view of the door, too smart and stubborn to stray far.
Remy pulled his wrists against his shackles, testing their weight and forced a smile. “There a reason for this little soiree, or did you just miss me? I know I make a good first impression.”
“Do you know who I am?” Shaw asked, propping himself up on his elbows.
“Only by reputation,” he said.
“Yes, most thieves know that much.” His eyes were clear for a man in pain, but as Cecilia finished tying off his foot, the mask slipped for a moment and he glared. Remy thought he saw her smirk before she left. When she was gone, he added, “I know your reputation too, mister LeBeau.”
Remy’s whole body went tense, though he tried not to show it. “Glad to hear I’m still popular.”
“I make it my business to know, but don’t flatter yourself. As far as I’m concerned, thieves are the scum of the earth.”
“You’re forgetting this thief saved your life.”
Shaw laughed like it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard, but he sobered fast. “I’m telling you so you know where we stand. So there won’t be any misunderstanding when I offer you a job.”
“Like all those other unfavorable men you employ?”
He nodded. “I travel with shit to distract the flies.”
“So which one am I?” Remy asked. “The shit or the fly?”
“Neither, if you play your cards right.”
Remy took that in carefully. Something about it almost sounded like a threat, but the way Shaw described it was tempting, mostly because he didn’t give much choice. He had a new batch of security coming in but it’d be a few days before they arrived and those two ladies didn’t seem like the type to wait. Least not one of them.
“The drunk marshal’s got his hands full as is, and that underdeveloped deputy is as good as worthless. A girl has no place in the law—”
Cecilia came back in time to hear that, and slammed a cabinet door so hard it sounded like the whole thing near cracked in half. Remy admired her attitude, but Shaw brushed it off and waited until she left again to continue.
“Until my men arrive I’m as good as dead.”
“And what a shame that’d be,” Remy muttered.
“I know you weren’t involved in this mess, but when the marshal asks me I’m afraid my memory might be hazy.” He straightened his back and tried to look taller, lying there in bed. “And who would he believe, I wonder. An accomplished businessman or a wretched thief?”
Remy clenched his jaw so tight it hurt. He looked back at Logan, still watching from outside with crosshairs in his eyes, clear as crystal even despite drink. He knew that familiar look—It was the same one Julien wore as his finger squeezed the trigger. Right before the bang.
Shaw’s face was no better, sickly in a different kind of way, the kind that comes with power, like a child stepping on ants. He continued after he let his words sink in, a glimmer in his eyes. “However, if you agreed to stand by my side while I’m recuperating, I’d be happy to stand by your innocence. Like most men of your mindset, I think you’ll find my life as invaluable as my money.”
He laid it out like it was fool proof, like he’d already won, and by the look on his face he really believed that too. Good thing for Remy then, that he was so good at disappointing.
“Or, M’sieu Shaw,” he started, smile spreading. “I sit back in my cell and wait for miss Raven to return and gut you like a pig.”
Seeing the satisfaction fade on Shaw’s face was worth another night locked in the Utopia town jail. Might even be worth hanging for.
“If I die, you’re just a killer. There’s nobody left to clear your name.”
Remy shrugged, shackles clanking with every movement. “Guess we’ll see how the cards fall. ‘Sides, I already signed my deal with the devil.”
“Not even he could save you now,” Shaw said.
There was an undeniable cold emanating from those words, but Remy was already numb to it. If he took Shaw’s offer he wasn’t a thief no more, just kindling for the fire, another outlaw bought and sold. Choosing one cell over another? It still meant you were a prisoner. Damning a man to death wasn’t usually his style, but there were plenty of others for
Shaw to bribe, and if not, he’d learn to defend himself same as anyone else.
Shaw left him with a warning, no attempt to hide his disdain now, not in his eyes or in his voice. “Any thief who steals from me begs for the noose eventually. Nobody gets away with it.”
Remy was eager to leave the man behind, already half out the door when he replied. “Like I said, guess we’ll see how the cards fall.”
He wasn’t sure they’d be in his favor, but he was counting on a lucky streak.
Logan was waiting for him on the veranda and didn’t say a word, but he looked Remy over again, like he was seeing something new. He didn’t push or pull as they walked back to the jailhouse, but trusted Remy to follow on his own. Something was different about him, but he couldn’t figure out what.
He tried to enjoy the fresh air while he could, before the musk of his cell became home for a week. Horse shit and sulphur with the hint of gunpowder, it wasn’t much better but he was already getting used to it—even if this place had not been kind to him. Strangers saw him as a killer and leered from across the street, or they wouldn’t look at him at all. If he stayed a little longer, it might start feeling like home.
The door to the jail was open and swaying in the breeze.
“Jubilee? Thought I told you to get some sleep,” Logan said, as they made their way up the steps.
“It ain’t Jubilee,” a voice said inside. Remy recognized it like he’d heard it every day his whole life.
Logan had his gun out in an instant, aimed with intention at the cloaked figure inside.
Anna pushed her hood back and kept her hands raised where they were visible. Remy wasn’t entirely surprised to see her, but he hadn’t expected it to be like this. Then again, she did leave those ropes loose around his wrists. Guilt knows guilt, and she just had that look about her.
“I wanna turn myself in.”
Chapter 3: Jailhouse Hustle
Logan wasn’t a man to hesitate when looking into the eyes of a killer or anyone else he thought was guilty, which Remy understood the moment he tried to choke the life out of him, so he thought it was interesting now that he waited so long trying to figure Anna out. But she did have a face you could get lost in, he understood that, too. More so now that he was seeing her in the daylight.
“That ain’t the one you need to worry about,” Remy told him, but Logan looked like he hadn’t decided yet. It felt like days before he dropped his aim, and even longer before he blinked.
Before Logan had a chance to search her, she offered up her gun, barrel down, and a curved piece of brass that fit across her knuckles, stained with rust and blood, then shrugged the cloak off her shoulders. She looked smaller without it, but still strong enough to knock you on your ass. She was young, but had wise eyes, and a peculiar patch of white hair at the peak of her curls to go with them. He hadn’t noticed that before. He liked it.
It also occurred to him, as Logan shoved them both into a cell, that her confession would clear his name if she told it right, so he listened real close to everything she said, and with a voice dripping Mississippi honey it was hard not to.
Leather clad hands wrapped around the bars to her cell, barely in view of Remy’s field of vision. “I need to speak to the marshal, it’s why I’m here.”
“Thought you were turning yourself in.”
“I was afraid you’d shoot me if I said anything else.”
“I probably would’ve, after what you done here.”
She was quiet a minute. “I didn’t kill anybody, if that’s what you’re referring to.”
“Six bodies don’t lie, darlin’.”
“Fine, if you’re so sure,” she said. “But if you don’t hear me out, you’re gonna have a lot more than six bodies to worry about, sugah.”
Logan lit a cigar, pondering on that. Then he asked her why she really came back and she told him, but she didn’t say more than she had to. Remy, who made a life out of half-truths, knew she was hiding some key elements to her story. You’d have to be deaf not to hear the pauses in her voice, the careful hesitations, but Logan took every word silently, never giving way to what he was thinking.
Anna didn’t kill those men, and neither did Raven, except for the one in the hotel, which she insisted was self-defense. When Logan asked who did the others, she swallowed hard.
Remy felt his skin crawl when she named Victor Creed, and suddenly that massacre made a little bit more sense. Logan went white at the mention of him too, though it was hard to tell through the haze of smoke.
Most folks were familiar with Creed in some manner, whether through campfire stories, newspapers, or personal experience. Remy had the misfortune of the last, on a train hold-up a couple years back. Creed and a few others blew the tracks, for one reason or another, maybe just for fun. Too many dead. Job botched.
Bad news followed Victor Creed, and Raven sought it out. Anna didn’t know about it till it was too late, till she was staring down a dead body and Sebastian Shaw was tied to a chair. The plan, she claimed, never involved killing, and it certainly didn’t involve Creed. Remy couldn’t tell if she was being honest, but he knew she regretted it either way.
“Why Shaw?” Logan asked at the end of his cigar.
She answered in a cold, distant way like she was reciting a script someone else had written. “Intimidation is an effective way to extract information.”
Raven needed names, she explained.
“Some men came by our ranch a while back, told us Sebastian Shaw bought up the deed to the property and we’d have to pay them double each month if we were inclined to stay on it. Raven told ‘em she wasn’t paying a cent for what’s rightfully ours and if Shaw had a problem with that she’d introduce her shotgun to his ass.” She paused. “They came back a week later and burned the place down while we were sleeping. Barely got out alive.”
Remy wondered how much of that thirty thousand was earned honest and how much was earned in blood. It put a bad taste in his mouth.
Logan snuffed out his cigar on the bottom of his boot. “Sad story. It don’t explain why you’re here.”
“Raven won’t stop until she gets what she wants, and with Creed at her side it’s a damn near guarantee that more people are gonna die.”
He looked at her like he was waiting for more, arms crossed over his chest.
Anna sighed. “I know how Raven thinks. I can help you find her, and we can stop them before anyone else gets hurt.”
“You’re the one who brought ‘em here, why should I trust you?”
She was quiet. Remy knew what it felt like to hear those words.
“What do I gain from coming here?” she said. “Think about it.”
“Could be a distraction, a trap, a mole.” He stopped when his point was made, but it sounded like he could go on.
“Give her a break,” Remy said, leaning up against the bars to his cell. “Even if she’s lying, it’s a threat worth considering, don’t you think?”
Logan glared at him. It was a look Remy was getting used to, but this time it softened, as better judgement overcame the slow boil of rage that constantly bubbled beneath his surface. Still, he couldn’t help the slight recoil as Logan moved toward him, the memory of choking still evident on his throat. He stopped just within an arm’s reach, and Remy took half a step back just in case.
Words came out like a growl. “Six people are dead ‘cause of her.”
“And more could be if you don’t heed what she’s saying,” Remy said.
He looked between the two of them, weighing the options, though by the look on his face he already knew what to do. He began opening drawers and gathering bullets for any gun he could find until he had a small arsenal from all the crevices of the jailhouse.
“You need me,” Anna said, a little more desperate than before.
“I’m sure that I don’t.”
“I can track them!”
“So can I.”
Logan was fastening a second gun belt across his waist when Jubilee walked in.
“I’m coming with you,” she said, like she’d been listening the whole time.
“You’ll need all the help you can get,” Anna added casually.
He didn’t look up. “Thought I told you to take the day off.”
“Not until you do.” She picked up a gun but Logan’s hand stopped her.
“No,” he said. “You can keep watch on things around here, make sure these two stay put.”
“Watch this, guard that! It’s all just an excuse for me not to do anything at all!” She put her hands on her hips and tried to look bigger than she was but it failed. “I might as well be locked up with them.”
“You ain’t coming. You can barely shoot a gun and you’d just get in my way.”
“That’s not fair, you never—”
“I said you ain’t coming. You wanted a job, and this is part of it, so you better get good with that, or leave your badge on the way out.”
He was halfway to a snarl by then, but Jubilee huffed and sighed, red anger flushing her cheeks like it’d make any difference. The faintest hint of guilt flashed over him, eyes softening, so quick you’d miss it if you blinked. Jubilee didn’t notice. The frustration was plain on her young face, but she pulled out a chair and sat down anyway.
“If you’re going through with this, can you promise me something?” Anna asked as Logan was at the door, one gun on each hip and a carbine on his back. He scoffed, but waited for her to say it. “Creed’s the one you gotta worry about. He’d skin you alive just for the fun of it, so if it came down to putting a bullet in him, nobody’s gonna shed a tear. But Raven…” Her words trailed off as sadness crept in. “She means well, she’s just angry. She needs help, is all.”
His face was void, no indication of how he felt about that, or of what he planned to do. Before leaving he stopped at Remy’s cell. “Killer or not, I don’t trust you. So you’re staying right here till I get back.”
“That legal?” Remy asked, not that it mattered. Logan didn’t answer before he was gone.
“He’s got a deathwish,” Anna said to no one in particular.
Jubilee looked over, grim.
In the silent solitude of the the jail, Remy listened to the gentle, burdened breathing on the opposite side of the wall. Occasionally Jubilee would grumble something to herself, but mostly she was quiet too. She was young, and exhausted and more than once her eyes fell shut and her head nodded until she was hunched over in her chair, sleeping off the anger and the worry. Her presence was still enough to keep him from doing something stupid, like trying to fashion a pick from the loose nail in the floorboards of his cell and breaking out again—he probably wouldn’t be let off so easily a second time. Instead he shuffled a deck of cards from his pocket and tried to keep his mind off it, because the more he thought about it the better it sounded.
“You play?” he asked, quiet enough not to wake Jubilee.
Anna didn’t answer immediately, and he thought she might be sleeping too.
“Sometimes,” she said after a while, voice as distant as the sun.
Remy cut the deck to reveal the ace of hearts, then reshuffled. “So who is she to you? Raven, I mean. Thanks by the way, for the save. Don’t think I mentioned that before.”
“I dunno what you mean.”
“‘Course not, but don’t worry, chere. I can keep a secret.” He flipped the deck in his hands a couple times. “You didn’t answer the question.”
“And I won’t, ‘cause it ain’t your business.”
“She your kin?” he asked anyway.
“You hard of hearing, sugah?”
He couldn’t help his smile as he shuffled the cards again. Once satisfied he cut the deck and reached his arm through the bars as far as it could go, leaving half the cards outside Anna’s cell.
“We both draw cards,” he explained. “Whoever draws highest gets to ask the other a question under the assumption we both answer honest.”
“And what makes you think I care enough to do something stupid like that?” she asked.
“Because we’re stuck here,” he said. “And it’s a good distraction.”
After a minute he heard the cards shuffle in Anna’s hand.
First thing she asked was where in the hell he was from. “Long way from the french quarter,” she remarked after he said so. “How come you left?”
“For that, chere, you have to draw another card.” He stayed at the edge of his cell, and waved a jack of diamonds outside the bars so she could see it. In return she groaned, showing a ten of clubs.
“Who’s Raven?” he asked.
“Why are you so interested?”
“I like to know the names of those who wanna kill me.”
“She’s just—” Her words got lost somewhere after leaving her tongue. She paused to think about it. “She’s just someone who found me when I needed help.”
“Funny way of saying she’s your momma.”
He could imagine Anna’s face through the silence, hard edged with years of practiced fury learned from Raven’s wrath, but delicate underneath. It was only a guess, but he recognized the way she defended her. “My old man did the same thing for me.”
“Your old man kill people?”
The question was quick and quiet and felt like a bullet to the chest. He didn’t bother drawing another card.
“No, he never killed anybody.” He saw Julien’s body behind his eyes. “I think I disappointed him.”
“Yeah,” she said, not in agreement but understanding.
Eventually, Anna held out a nine of diamonds and they continued, keeping each other from dwelling on the dread. They drew cards until they exhausted the deck, keeping mostly to useless facts like whether or not Anna could swim (she could) and what was the first thing Remy ever stole (a silver coin from a drunk).
When they were finished, Anna laughed. “I never asked your name.”
He hadn’t realized. “One more card then?”
The deck fluttered against itself as she shuffled one last time, but just before she pulled, Jubilee’s head shot up. Her eyes went wide once she realized what she’d done, but relaxed as she looked into the cells, seeing the two of them still inside.
“How’d you get those?” she asked about the cards.
Remy shrugged. “You believe in magic, petite?”
She shoved her hand through the iron bars, and mimicked Logan’s demeanor. “Hand them over.”
It’d be easy to do that something stupid now. She was small enough for a gust of wind to knock her down. He could grab her wrist, twist a little. Remy wasn’t that desperate yet, or that mean, but it might not be long until someone came around who was.
He placed his cards in her palm. “Somebody’s gotta teach this town to have a little fun.”
She asked for Anna’s cards next and Remy held his breath. He didn’t think she was that mean either, but it was hard to say sometimes. He relaxed when Jubilee tossed them atop the desk without incident.
“Guess I don’t gotta tell you my name,” he said, leaning his back against the wall that bordered Anna’s—imaging her do the same.
“Guess not,” she said. “I think swamp rat suits you just fine.”
He smiled crooked. “Fair enough.”
The day had gone slow but it was gone nonetheless. There was no sign of Logan, and he figured there might not be. Logan was certainly formidable in his own rights, but the odds were against him. Despite Anna’s assertion that Raven wasn’t much of a killer, Remy had looked into her eyes and seen things that chilled him to the bone.
Anna kept dragging her hand along the iron cell, making the metal sing, and when she wasn’t doing that, she was pacing, or throwing a rock against the wall, anything but sitting still. Remy closed his eyes, and could see her movements, back and forth, always in motion.
Once the sun had set, Jubilee lit a lantern—the glowing orange light that emphasized the lines and shadows of her face almost aged her up ten years. The worry aged her another five. Anna too, probably, though Remy couldn’t see her. He had his own concerns, like all that money he couldn’t steal, or Shaw hanging him for it if he did, and how long it’d take the thieves guild to forget about him completely.
He nearly drifted to sleep thinking about it when Jubilee stood up and shushed Anna. Silence settled over the jail. The distant clamour of voices and music could be heard faintly from the saloon, but even that was closer to an echo.
“Did you hear that?” Jubilee asked, ear pointed to the door.
“Not a thing,” Remy said, but she went for her gun anyway.
It was quiet as she walked towards the door, pistol to the floor in uncertainty. Probably not Logan’s best idea to leave her alone, for more than one reason. Remy started to tell her it’s the wind, but she raised her hand to quiet him.
As she reached the threshold, the door swung open. He expected to see Logan, clouded in smoke and fury, but it wasn’t the marshal who stood there, it was someone much larger, wider, and bulkier in every way. Covered in dirt and something that looked like blood, he dwarfed Jubilee in comparison. As he stepped inside, the lamplight revealed a violent glimmer in his wild eyes, one that Remy recognized, one he never wanted to see again.
Anna’s voice was barely more than a whisper as she uttered the name in horror.
Creed’s gaze settled on her from afar, even as Jubilee held her gun on his chest.
“No trouble,” she said, knowing who he was without having to ask. That was another mistake. He swatted her aside with one hand, like she was nothing more than mosquito. Her gun clattered to the floor as she hit the wall hard enough to knock her down. He picked up the pistol and stepped over her body, locking eyes with Anna.
“You turned your back on us, didn’t you, girlie?” Yellow teeth glistened beneath a smile. “You’ll live to regret that, but not for long.”
“Come near me and I’ll drop you,” Anna said, steady enough to hide the fear.
With long strides he hulked forward, looking between both cells. Remy felt a cold coming off him and as he stopped in front of his door he couldn’t tell if it was lucky that he was trapped on one side, or unfortunate that he had nowhere to go.
“Lucky for me,” Creed said, lingering. “Dinner and dessert.”
As Creed moved on to Anna, Remy began twisting and pulling at the loose nail he noticed earlier, anything he could to free it from the floorboard before it was too late.
“Raven sent me to give you this.” Creed took a folded piece of paper from his pocket and flung it at her “But I figure while I’m here, I may as well make the best of it.”
“She don’t take kindly to changes in her plans,” Anna said flat.
“I’ll take my chances with that.” Creed shot the lock off from her cell and the heavy door creaked open.
Remy only heard the chaos beside him. Something dragged across the floor, maybe the brass bed frame. A crash of steel and bone. Creed groaned. Remy’s fingers were bleeding as he worked the nail. Anna’s body flew across the desk, nearly shattering it to pieces. Creed stalked after her with predatory hunger, lifting her up by the collar till her feet were swinging.
“Guns too quick for you,” he said, tucking the pistol into the waistline of his trousers.
Anna’s hands balled into fists, and before he even noticed, she retrieved the keys off the desk and tossed them into Remy’s cell. They landed beside him as he finally pulled the nail from it’s home.
Creed turned at the rattle of keys, just in time for Remy to free himself. He dropped Anna. She rolled to the floor, trying to regain her composure, breathing hard.
In a fight, Remy often relied on speed. He was wiry and quick, and unafraid to play dirty, using anything he could to his advantage. As a boy, he survived the streets of New Orleans doing just that, but Victor Creed was a different monster entirely. Both swift and powerful, he hardly gave Remy enough time to think about anything other than dodging blows any way he could, waiting for the right moment to strike. It almost worked, till it didn’t. One missed step and Creed’s fist collided with his face like a trainwreck, and just like that he was counting stars. Another hit to the stomach brought him to his knees.
He spotted the gun on Creed’s waist and went for it, but Creed twisted and grabbed it before he could.
“This what you want?” He waved it in his hand, then flipped it, holding it by the muzzle. “You only had to ask.” Swinging the pistol like a club, he cracked the handle against Remy’s skull at full impact. Red clouded his vision and everything blurred.
Before Creed had time to relish in that, Anna splintered a coat stand across his back. Wooden pieces exploded in every direction and the gun flew from his grasp as he arched in pain. It only stopped him for a moment, until he lashed out with a hand swinging and hitting any part of Anna that he could. She matched him blow for blow, refusing to give in, all fists and blind fury until finally she finally fell.
A stillness surrounded them. Creed stood above her, like he’d already won, smiling at the blood that spilled from her lips. Remy watched through blurry vision. The world was in doubles and nothing looked the way it should, except Anna, collapsed and cornered like a rabbit in trap. He groped for his gun before he remembered he didn’t have it, but there was something else. His fingers tightened against the nail in his hand. Pushing through the haze, he struggled to his feet, and as Creed turned he plunged the sharp end into his left eye.
The wail that escaped was not human, and neither was the clawed hand that grasped Remy by the hair and flung him into the iron bars of his cell.
Time stood still as Creed drew a knife. Remy could barely see through the fog in his head, but he knew this was it. The end he deserved, maybe. He wondered if Anna was thinking the same thing.
He closed his eyes and was back in New Orleans. A gunshot echoed through the streets. Julien was dead, and that would always be his last memory of home.
When he opened his eyes there was a body writhing on the floor. It took him a minute to realize it was Victor Creed.
Jubilee stood in the doorway, gun still aimed in her shaking hand.
This time she remembered to cock the hammer.
Chapter 4: Orphans
Selfishly, if he was looking on the bright side, it was nice not being the center of conversation, but the bright side pretty much ended right there, and Remy knew the price wasn’t worth being paid. Cecilia Reyes diagnosed him with a concussion, after he puked a few times in her practice, and nearly fell on his face every time he tried walking, but he had it alright compared to some.
Anna was bruised up and down, but she hid the pain beneath a solemn mask. Her knuckles were still coated with Creed’s blood long into the morning, and every once in a while, Remy caught her running a finger over the scrapes. Cecilia offered to help her clean the wounds, but she recoiled from the touch, and opted to fix herself up. And while Anna lingered on the border of rage, Jubilee gave way to something else.
Her hand wouldn’t stop shaking since they arrived and she refused to say a word to anybody but Logan, who still had not come home. For once she wasn’t trying to be bigger than she was—not stronger, or harder. She had proven herself, and now she deserved to let that blustery facade slip for a moment.
The Bullet entered Creed’s abdomen through his back, and lodged someplace in his gut. Cecilia spent a long time fishing for it, unsure if he’d make it through the surgery or not. Nobody was holding their breath for Victor Creed, but by sunrise it had been extracted, along with the nail in his face, and he was dosed with a tincture of opium for the pain. He hadn’t move since. Remy liked him better that way.
Jubilee shackled him to his bed frame on both wrists and ankles and never took her eyes off him, too distracted to mind that Remy and Anna were basically free. Another part of the bright side, he figured. The one person missing was Sebastian Shaw. Remy tried not to be be interested in that, but Creed was lying in the same bed that Shaw had been, and when Cecilia examined his head she must’ve noticed his curiosity.
“He’s back at the hotel. Good riddance, as far as I’m concerned.” She moved a finger side to side in front of him and knitted her brows. “Your eyes are strange.”
“But I’ll live?”
“Not the concussion, the coloring. I’ve never seen anything like it. Have they always been like that?”
“Since I was a pup, though the nuns at the orphanage didn’t find it so fascinating.” He paused. “Did Shaw happen to mention when he’s expecting to move on?”
“You don’t give up, do you?” she said quietly. “Even after what he told you.”
He remembered the threat, in fact, he couldn’t forget it. “You were listening?”
“Thin walls. I thought you were smart not taking his offer. Now I’m not so sure.”
Remy sat with that as Cecilia moved onto Anna, who had kept her gaze on Creed’s unconscious body most the night, that letter he brought her hanging loosely from bloodied fingers.
“He’s not getting up,” she said in a soft kind of way that was so different from how she spoke to Shaw. “What I’m giving him, he’ll be dreaming for days.”
Anna clutched the paper, causing it to crinkle. “He don’t deserve to dream.”
“Maybe not, but there’s nothing we can do about that.”
They both watched Jubilee pace at Creed’s bedside like a rabid dog. Without saying anything, Anna walked out the door.
Remy watched her leave from the veranda, wincing as the sun hit his eyes. Light had been a problem since Creed leveled him, like a sky full of knives. He didn’t see the doctor approach him, but she stood there at his shoulder.
“She’s got a look about her,” Cecilia said, watching as Anna strode away.
“You tellin’ me.”
“I’ve seen it before. Usually in people fixing on bad ideas.” She looked at Remy. “I see it in you, too.” As she walked away she shouted over her shoulder. “Bed rest is my advice! But I’m sure you won’t listen.”
He followed Anna back to the jail and found her kicking in the locked drawer that kept their weapons in attempt to force it open.
“You try charming it first? Sometimes that’s all it takes,” he said with a smile as disarming as his words.
Her head snapped up and she froze. When she saw who it was she went back to her work unperturbed. “Don’t got time for that.”
“Better hope that Jubilee don’t find out, she might hang us both.”
He didn’t think that was true, but Logan might. If he was still alive.
Anna landed a few more kicks until the frame of the drawer finally collapsed. She pulled it open with ease and retrieved her personal effects, leaving Remy’s inside.
“You goin’ after her?” he asked. He didn’t need to clarify.
“I have to.” She checked her gun for bullets. “She ain’t going down without a fight, so if that marshal finds her first, it won’t be pretty.”
“If it hasn’t already come to that,” he said. “What’s that letter Creed delivered say?”
She chewed on the inside of her bottom lip. “You don’t gotta concern yourself with that, swamp rat. Besides, ain’t there some money you gotta steal?”
He didn’t bother giving her an answer and she didn’t wait for one.
Before leaving she met his eyes and a tender smile lit the toughness of her face. “You got a second chance. Don’t waste it.”
“Yeah,” he said, knowing that he probably would.
He took his things from the drawer; knife, pistol, lockpick, then pocketed a silver pewter flask from the desk. He might need that later if his head didn’t stop pounding.
Ororo took pity on him as he went to pack up at the hotel, allowing him to sleep some in his room even if he couldn’t pay for it. His things were still inside where he’d left them. He changed his clothes and tried to sleep off the headache, but rest mostly eluded him—taunted him, in fact, as his thoughts strayed to Shaw and the money he couldn’t touch if he wanted to live, and the way Julien Boudreaux crumpled after he was shot. When he did dream, it was of home.
He woke up disappointed, head still throbbing, knowing that he wasted his time. This town hated him, cleaned him out, and rubbed his face in the mud before spitting on it. He had nothing to prove to the thieves guild no more, nobody left to impress except his own ego, and tempting as it was, Utopia was on the verge of imploding. He didn’t want to be around when it crumbled. It just wouldn’t work, he reminded himself, as he packed his things slowly. You can’t steal from a man who knows you’re gonna do it, and you can’t impress your family when you don’t got a home.
On his way out, he found Ororo and thanked her.
“You’re leaving?” She looked surprised.
“Not much point in staying.”
Her eyes narrowed, like she was seeing right through him to the bone. “You don’t strike me as the quitting type.”
“What do I strike you as?”
That stayed with him even after he left. But it didn’t matter, ambition wasn’t a replacement for good sense and all his were screaming, “Get out while you can.”
He went to get Lucifer from the livery before he changed his mind and felt his stomach drop when he found the stall empty. He searched through the whole barn, heart picking up its pace as he moved faster, but the horse wasn’t there. He found a stable hand who seemed just as confused about the disappearance, but Remy had a pretty good idea what happened the more he thought about it—course that didn’t make him feel any better. He convinced the man to rent him a horse for the day free of charge under the agreement he paid double the normal rate as soon as he was able. He didn’t know when that would be, but he kept quiet about it.
Lucifer’s tracks made him easy to follow, with an indent on his left forehoof that stood out in the dirt. He kept close to the trail as long as he could, but the wind picked up the further he went, and it got harder to follow. After a few miles he was riding blind, then it became a guessing game. He didn’t know Anna well enough to figure which way she’d head, let alone Raven. He wasn’t a tracker either, and though he had some experience outrunning the law, this felt different. They weren’t running, just biding their time. To make matters worse, his head felt like it’d been split in half, and there wasn’t a gait that made any difference. The mare he rented, Tulip, she was a bit temperamental, which made it even harder to stay upright when his own balance felt completely wrong.
Before long he stopped at a patch of green oasis and let Tulip drink from a stream while he wet his face and tried to cool the pain swimming in his head. The sun would be setting soon and Remy would be grateful for the darkness, hoping it might ease the headache. He was glad to have the flask stolen from the jail if it didn’t.
He thought he was seeing things when a pale reflection appeared in the stream beside him, rippling as water dripped from his face. He blinked a few times but it was still there.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Anna said, looking down at him from Lucifer’s back.
Remy dried his face with his neckerchief and tried not to show how relieved he was to see them both. “You stole my horse.”
“You believe in fate, chere?”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself now, I just picked the first one I saw.”
“You got lucky,” he said, running a gentle hand down the horse’s forehead. “Lucifer’s the best horse I ever owned, and just about the only damn thing I got left.”
“You named him after the devil?”
“Seemed fitting at the time.”
She shrugged, and gestured to the mare. “I’ll trade you then.”
“Can’t do that. I gotta make sure she gets back in one piece. Horse theft’s a hanging offense, y’know.”
“That ever stop you before?”
The sun was setting behind Anna, casting a long shadow down below as she looked at him. He couldn’t read her expression through the glare of light above her head.
Remy smiled. Anna wouldn’t give up the horse without a fight and he had his fill of that for a while. “Suppose I tagged along,” he said. “To keep an eye on the horses.”
She was quiet, a painting across the dimming horizon. When she answered she was already kicking Lucifer into a gallop, chin turned over her shoulder. “Only if you can keep up.”
They sped away, leaving nothing but a cloud of dust to choke on. Remy hurried onto Tulip and followed the blur of motion ahead of him. He never made one good decision in the face of a beautiful woman, and he wasn’t about to start now.
He ducked low, struggling to keep his eyes ahead as light pierced into his head like a bullet. Lucifer was fast over short distances but couldn’t keep the pace for too long, certainly not while Anna zigzagged him over hills and unsteady ground trying to outrun them. Tulip was fast too, and it wasn’t long before they were near, and even as Remy’s head pounded with every beat of her hooves, he couldn’t help but smile when Anna looked over bemused at seeing him beside her.
She eased up and stopped at a copse of trees, near enough to the stream to keep everything green. As good a place to make camp as any. Remy was grateful for the stillness and the shadows the canopy provided, even under the dark blue sky. He rubbed at his temples and didn’t stop until he felt Anna’s eyes on him.
“You should’ve stayed back,” she said, gathering up some wood into a pile. “If we run into Raven—”
“She’ll kill me?” he said before she could finish.
“No.” She paused, face twisting with a flash of anger, jaw tightening. She didn’t want to admit that it was the truth, even if she knew it might be. “It’s complicated.”
He got the feeling it wasn’t really, that she just didn’t want to talk about it. It’s the same thing he used to tell people about his own clan, when he’d rather be saying something else. He didn’t press it.
“Don’t you worry about me, chere.”
“I wasn’t,” she said, quick and quiet.
“You’re breaking my heart.” He held his chest with a dramatic hand, as if keeping shattered pieces together, and was pleased when she smiled, small as it was.
They finished setting up camp as the sky went all dark. Anna sat close to the fire, gazing into the flame with a vacant look. Shadows danced across the soft edges of her face. In the dim glow it was hard to make out the circles beneath her eyes, or the bruise. For a while, the light was all that moved.
Remy propped his head against his saddle and kept his eyes on the horizon, wondering how in the hell he wound up right here and all the ways it could end bad. The sharp pain behind his eyes had dulled but the headache was still there. He pulled out the silver flask he pocketed from the jail and let out a quiet laugh.
“What’s funny?” Anna asked, keeping her head down.
“The only thing I’ve been looking forward to since leaving New Orleans is one night in a decent bed.” He took a quick drink of the toxic waste Logan called whiskey and groaned. “Still hasn’t happened yet.”
“I’d kill for a long, hot bath,” she said.
Remy held the flask out to her. She looked at it for a minute before finally plucking it from his fingers and taking a swig. She swallowed hard, and took another drink before passing it back. “To all the things we don’t have.”
There were too many to name for both of them.
“I’ll drink to that,” Remy said.
And so they did.
Anna had the last pull. Her cheeks were flushed when she finished it, tossing the flask back to Remy, who caught it with loose fingers and placed it inside the breast pocket of his coat. He was right about it helping his head. Not enough to forget the pain, just to ease it some.
They had stayed quiet mostly, listening to the soft crackle of the fire as the night got darker and colder. Anna inched closer to the light, unfolding that letter of hers only to fold it back up again a moment later. She did that more than once. After the fifth time she asked Remy if he would’ve left home if he hadn’t killed that boy.
“I left home lots of times before that,” he told her. “It’s not about leaving, it’s about knowing I can’t go back.”
“But what’s stopping you?” Her voice was heavy with sleep and drink and something else he couldn’t quite name. “You got a family and a place you belong, that’s more than what some of us can say.”
“If I had any of that I wouldn’t be here, chere.”
“It’s out there waiting for you, just go take it back.”
“It’s not that simple,” he said, more forcefully than he planned.
Anna matched his tone. “Yes, it is.”
“Why ain’t it?”
“‘Cause maybe I don’t deserve it.” The words tumbled out before he could stop them, and hung in the silence longer than he liked. He sighed, feeling stupid for saying it, stupider because he still thought it was true.
“There ain’t no hope for us, is there?” She pulled herself away from the fire and sat beside Remy, arm brushing against his. The letter was open, clutched between her fingers as she pushed it into his hand. “Your old man ever say anything like this before?”
He held the letter without looking at it, waiting for her to change her mind. When she didn’t, he leaned forward and read the scrawled writing in the dim glow of flame.
“Anna,” it said, “don’t come back. I know the choice you’ve made, and you know mine. Someday you might even understand it. Until then, stay out of my way. If not, I’ll shoot.”
He read the words over another time, and Anna read them again too, over his shoulder.
“You believe her?” he asked, folding the letter up slowly.
Anna’s shoulders moved beside him. A small, delicate gesture, like it was all she had left. “I don’t want to, but I saw the way she looked at Shaw. I could hardly recognize her.”
“To be fair, Sebastian Shaw takes all our best intentions away.”
“I think she would’ve killed you, too.” Her voice was tender and bleeding, raw with realization, like she’d just discovered hell. But Remy didn’t need her to tell him so.
“It’s a good thing you were there, non?” he said, and he meant it.
“You’re damn right, sugah.” She forced a smile that stopped at her lips.
“You admitting it this time? You couldn’t resist my charm.”
“You’re awfully confident for someone who nearly died twice in two days.” Her smile was more genuine now, glowing in the firelight.
“Three times, actually,” he said. “Maybe four.”
She was quiet for a moment, like she couldn’t figure out if he was bragging or lamenting. He didn’t really know either, he was just used to it. Then she laughed, unrestrained and sloppy. It was the first time he’d seen that kind of joy from her, and he found it was contagious.
“That kind of thing, it’s normal for me,” he said after a while. “Still haven’t figured out why.”
“It’s in the blood,” Anna said, sobering fast. She reached towards him and took the letter from his hands, tucking it away safely.
Stillness weighed heavy against them and Remy realized how close her body was to his, how soft she was beside him. His eyes settled on hers, a mask of green that rivaled the purest emeralds, hiding the fear buried deep within. She met his gaze slowly and let it linger, dissecting him in the same way until they were both disarmed. Something pulled them closer, drawing them together until Remy felt the warmth of her breath against his skin. They stayed there, in the comfort of each other’s loneliness.
The world could’ve stopped and Remy wouldn’t know the difference. He studied the curve of her lips as she chewed on the inside, the way she did when she was thinking. That should’ve been a sign, but neither of them moved, not until Anna brought her hand close to his chest trying to decide of she should touch him or not. He wrapped his fingers against hers and despite the cold leather of her gloves, a warmth traveled up his arm.
She tightened her grasp just slightly and closed her eyes. Remy tilted towards her lips, heart pounding, and just before they touched, Anna pulled away.
The sudden space between them felt like a mile.
“I’m sorry,” Remy said as a rush of cold air went over him. “I shouldn’t have—”
“It’s okay.” She cleared her throat and fell back to her bed roll. “I’m just tired.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Me too.”
Neither one said another word, but Remy felt the echo of her hand in his and it kept him warm all through the night.
At dawn he woke to her burning the letter in a freshly made fire, half of it already ash as she held it over the flames. He thought to apologize again for before, but she didn’t stay in one place long enough to give him a chance. Every time he got close she made herself busy elsewhere. He couldn't blame her for that after what happened. He could blame the whiskey, even if it was a lie. Ultimately he blamed himself. Being alone together was always better than being alone by yourself. And he still hadn’t figured out how to handle that one yet.
They packed up camp and set out by sunrise. Remy took Lucifer this time, giving Anna the reins to Tulip. The plan was to circle around town. Raven wouldn’t try another attack until she had a reason to, some kind of distraction. Until then she’d stay close, Anna seemed sure of it. Remy had no reason to believe otherwise, and they stayed true to the path, riding in a silence that was only broken by the occasional snort or whinny of the horses, and eventually the hungry cry of crows, circling above in the distance.
Remy’s gut turned, and as Anna sped away towards the direction of death, he hoped that it was only an animal being feasted upon, but it never seemed to work out that way. His head had cleared up well, and he had no problem seeing in the daylight, but looking ahead now he almost wished that it hadn't. Anna’s jaw fell open, frozen with horror at the sight.
An old barren oak stood solitary against the line of the horizon, sunbaked but sturdy, and on it’s lowest reaching branch was Logan Howlett hanging by the neck.
Chapter 5: The Practiced Art of Dying
This chapter contains a temporary shift in point-of-view to another character near the end. It's the best way I could portray the story, and I hope it's not too jarring.
The wind sent his body swaying gently from left to right. The rope was wrapped around the branch a few times, and taut beneath Logan’s chin where the skin of his neck was pale and lifeless.
Neither of them knew him well, if at all, but they shared in silent horror for a moment unable to move, until Anna leaped off Tulip’s back and rushed towards the tree, shooing away any lingering vultures waiting for their scrap of meat.
She yelled at Remy to bring his knife. He slipped it from its sheath without hesitation and followed her down to the body. She held Logan still at the legs while he severed the rope, causing him to collapse on the unforgiving ground in a motionless, broken heap.
He looked different like that, Remy thought. Not at all the beast who crushed his neck like a toothpick, or the stone wall that could carry a whole town on his shoulders. He couldn’t figure out what changed so drastically looking at him now, and then it hit him as Anna unwound the rope from his neck. He was a man—not an animal, not a force of nature—just a man, and that’s how he died.
Without trying to, Remy thought of Jubilee, and the way she carried herself, always emulating Logan’s hard edges, the way kids do with their heroes. He didn’t want to be the one who had to tell her.
Anna leaned in close to Logan, trying to watch for the rise and fall of his lungs, hoping maybe she could will it to happen if she tried, but he was already far past the reach of prayers.
“He’s gone, chere,” Remy said in a gentle voice, the first thing he said to her since last night. He touched her shoulder, but she stiffened like a kicked dog so he pulled back.
“I didn’t think she’d do this,” Anna said with quiet disbelief. “I thought we had more time.”
“Time runs different for everybody.”
“It’s my fault.”
“It ain’t,” Remy said, kneeling down beside her. “She made her own choice, same as you, just like that letter said.”
“Don’t take this personal, swamp rat, but you don’t got a clue what you’re talking about.”
She was right, of course. He didn’t know what she could’ve done sooner, or what she failed to do when she had the chance. But he knew what he saw, which was guilt swirling around beneath her skin, eating her alive, and the only time that happened is when you’re good on the inside. He had to believe that for his own sake, and for hers now, too.
“Quit looking at me like that,” she said.
“Like what?” he feigned, but he knew what she meant—quit looking like you know me, but before she had the chance to tell him, Logan’s corpse moved.
An entire hand twitched like it was grabbing for something out of the air. Remy blinked a few times. Anna saw it too. They waited for something to happen, then she laid her ear close to his heart trying to listen. Her eyes got wide and she jolted away fast, jaw gaping.
Logan shot right up like he was struck by lightning, sucking in mouthfuls of air at a time and groping at his neck where the rope had been like he couldn’t yet tell it was gone. His eyes darted between the two of them, wild and confused and full of fear, something that looked strange on him. It wasn’t long before it ceded to feral rage, then faded back to his natural state of restrained anger—all before Remy could figure out what the hell was going on.
The two words that rasped from his cracked lips between breaths were haunting in their simplicity. “How long?”
“Two days since you left,” Anna said.
He struggled to his knees, then to his feet, using the trunk of the oak to catch himself when he stumbled. Anna reached out to help, but he ignored her.
“What happened to you, homme?” Remy asked. “We could’ve put you in the ground.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time.” He glanced around in dismay as he realized his horse and guns were gone. It was hard to believe Raven could get the better of him. Hard to believe a lot of things, Remy thought, staring at him. Anna seemed to have a tough time with it too, but the relief on her face was plain as day. Logan shoved past both of them, straight to Tulip, like she was his own. “Why ain’t you in jail where I left you?”
Anna clenched and unclenched her jaw like she was chewing on something real hard. “Creed, he—”
“Creed?” Logan tilted his head. Something was flashing behind his eyes, and it looked like it came back to him all at once. His fingers curled into fists at his sides. He didn’t need to say anymore. Creed had helped hang him.
It was quiet as the realization dawned on each of them.
Logan’s death, Creed’s imprisonment. Those were the distractions.
No time was wasted before mounting up. Logan took Tulip, ducking low against her crest. Remy gripped Lucifer’s reins tight. Anna was stiff as stone behind him, tense at every turn that brought them closer to town. It wasn’t hard to imagine what she was feeling, all that anger and regret and fear. It bled off her, same way it bled from him.
Smoke billowed visibly above Utopia, smearing the sky black for miles. Remy felt Anna’s hand tighten beside him and urged Lucifer to his limits. By the time they got there the fire had spread through half the town, eating away any building in its path without mercy.
Before they even slowed to a full stop, Anna dismounted and ran towards the chaos. Remy left Lucifer as far from the flames as he could, and pulled his neckerchief over his nose to help with the smoke.
The doctor’s office was ablaze, as was the jail and most everything surrounding them. A crowd had gathered, pouring dirt and water from troughs onto the flames with little effect. Cecilia was among them, trying to save what supplies she could from the hospital, sweat dripping from a soot-covered face. Remy helped her carry a basket full of medicine and bandages, and as soon as she spotted Logan she hurried towards him.
“It was Creed,” she managed, hardly enough time to speak full sentences within the
chaos. “I don’t know how—” Her words cut off with a fit of coughing, knees trembling with exhaustion.
Despite Logan’s thick exterior his eyes gave way to panic. “Jubilee?”
“She went after him.”
He looked as dead as he had been when he was hanging, but only for a moment, as he allowed himself to feel what Cecilia was saying. It didn’t last long. He grabbed Remy by the arm. “Find Raven. Bring her in, or do what’s gotta be done if it comes to that.”
His brows furrowed, searching for Logan’s intention, but he had a pretty good idea what he meant. “Why me?”
“I don’t got the time to chase down a posse, or find somebody else.” He ripped the badge from his chest and put it in Remy’s hand. “I’m trusting you, cajun. Don’t make me regret it.”
He studied the badge, ran his finger along the cold edges and engraved letters across the front which was rough with scars, like a hundred little stories mapped out over the surface.
“Where are you going?” he asked before Logan left.
“To see an old friend.” The words were a growl from deep in his throat.
Remy watched as he disappeared through the smoke, tightening his hand over the badge. As he pinned it to his chest he knew already he liked the way it felt to be trusted.
The Xavier Hotel was untouched by the flames, but the guests had already left to aid in extinguishing the fire. Ororo Munroe was the last one out, passing Remy with calm, light steps, as if she were floating. She stood beneath a blue patch of sky, raised her chin towards the heavens and closed her eyes in concentration. Remy thought he saw a smile cross her lips before he hurried inside.
Room six was ajar. Anna’s voice carried down the hall, a mix of hurt and anger, as she pleaded for Raven to stop. Remy approached slowly, hand near his pistol just in case. He pushed the door open cautiously, and a bullet flew past his head, cracking into the wall on the opposite side of the corridor. A warning. He never was any good at taking those.
Shaw was on the floor, tied up and bleeding enough to hurt but not enough to kill. Raven, too. He must’ve gotten a shot in before she bashed his skull with her pistol or something similar. Her left arm was tight against her side, bleeding from her bicep. The other was aiming a gun at Remy’s head.
“Seems we’ve danced this dance before, chere,” he said. He hadn’t pulled yet, but his fingers touched the grip of his gun.
Anna positioned herself between the two of them and gave him a pleading look. “Get outta here, swamp rat, I mean it this time.”
“No, stay,” Raven said, smile spreading. “I think I owe you a bullet for before.” Her eyes didn’t move from Remy, not even as Anna took a step closer.
“The only thing you’ll get out of this is a rope around the neck, don’t you understand? You can’t outrun the law forever.”
“Then I die knowing I did what I could to make things right.”
“Like what?” Anna snapped.
Now Raven’s attention was on her alone, swallowing rage like bitter whiskey. “Like making sure he pays for his crimes.” She kicked Shaw hard in the ribs, causing him to let out a breathless groan.
Anna shook her head. “This ain’t the way.”
“What a disappointment you turned out to be. This world will eat you alive.” There was real pain behind those words, underneath all the anger.
“Don’t you worry about that,” she said, inching closer. “I won’t be easy to swallow.”
“Then maybe you learned something from me afterall.”
They stared at each other for a moment. Remy considered unholstering his gun while Raven was distracted, but his fingers felt stiff and his heart quickened and Anna didn’t want him to. He took a few slow steps towards Shaw while the two of them argued about right and wrong. Despite the circumstances, Shaw still looked at Remy with contempt, glaring a hole through him as he brought his knife out to cut the ties, hands first. Maybe that look was deserved, because as Remy caught a glimpse of the strongbox in the corner, he couldn’t help thinking about how easy it would be to take that money and disappear. He could do it this time, too, with Logan distracted, Shaw indisposed. Maybe they’d even welcome him home. Thirty thousand dollars did a lot to change a mind.
He didn’t have time to think about it more than that. Shaw’s eyes got wide as he struggled against his remaining ties. Raven’s gun was on him, and in the time it took to pull the trigger, Anna moved in a blur. They both toppled onto the ground, throwing fists only family could understand.
Remy cut the rope around his feet and pushed him into the hall, where Shaw tried to remain collected. “So now you want to help me? What changed your mind, I wonder.”
“I haven’t decided yet,” Remy said. “You better go before it changes again.”
Shaw smirked. “And leave my valuables unattended while a thief takes advantage of a tragedy? Don’t think I didn’t recognize that look in your eyes, I’ve dealt with my fair share of scum and they all end up in an unmarked grave.”
Spoken like a man with nothing to fear. Remy didn’t doubt that was true, that Shaw was a killer and a liar, and a thief in his own right, but the threat was lost on him. He almost laughed, and when Shaw’s face fell at his amusement, he pulled his coat open just enough to reveal the badge pinned on his shirt. “Killing a deputy marshal don’t look good.”
“I knew the law in this town was a farce,” Shaw said. “It makes no difference. Come after what’s mine and you will pay the consequences.”
“So will you, eventually. That’s a guarantee.”
“Then we have an understanding.”
Remy nodded. He watched Shaw leave and hoped it would be the last time he ever had to see him.
Anna had kept Raven busy. Only minutes passed but they were both bleeding, waiting for the other to give out. Standing just outside the doorway, Remy drew his gun.
“Shaw’s gone. There’s no reason to keep this up,” Anna said.
Raven scoffed. “I got the names, my work is just getting started.”
“It doesn’t have to be like this.”
“Raise your gun.” Her voice was cold and hard, but fragile in a way, breaking. There was a shift between them, like the ground was splitting in two, Raven on one side and Anna on the other, a chasm too wide and far reaching to get across, maybe for the rest of their days.
“Let’s go home,” Anna said. “We’ll start over someplace new where nobody knows us.”
“Raise your gun!”
Anna shook her head, blood dripping from her nose. “I won’t.”
The second Remy stepped inside, Raven fixed her aim on him. “Thought you’d have the sense to get while you still had the chance.”
“I wish I did,” he said, briefly glancing at Anna, who was near on her knees. She regarded him with a nod, which he returned. “Something always pulls me back.”
“Too stupid to learn,” Raven replied.
She’d never know the truth of that statement, or how looking at her now all he could see was Julien staring back at him. He gripped his gun so tight his knuckles hurt. As his finger traced the trigger he thought about all the things he could’ve done better, or not done at all. The list was long, but it all came back to one moment in New Orleans.
“Raven,” Anna said, voice trembling as much as her bones, pulling herself up on unsteady feet. “No more killing.”
Those words drilled into Remy’s head. Julien’s blood spilled onto the street. He was on his knees trying to keep it all in. Anna raised her voice, desperate to break through the static. Gun smoke stung his eyes.
The shot echoed through the hotel, and Remy couldn’t tell if it was a memory or a wish, or cold hard reality until he was staring at the ceiling. He couldn’t breath for a moment as the impact traveled through him, and he realized Raven’s bullet had nestled against his chest, like it was meant to be. A deep pressure cut into his skin. His ears were ringing so loud he barely heard the second shot, or the words spilling from Anna’s mouth, or glass shattering. The world was ending around him in the blink of an eye.
Anna’s gun fell to the floor. “Why’d you make me do that?” she asked, repeating it under her breath a few times like she was trying to figure out why she did it too.
When Remy’s vision cleared Anna was staring, wiping blood and tears from her cheeks, but she wasn’t crying for him.
He ran a hand over his chest where the pain was burning and pulled up the marshal’s badge. The front was concave, dented and deformed where the bullet had stopped, and where it had stayed.
“Your damn luck,” Anna said quietly, trying to swallow the sorrow.
He sat up slow. Raven was gone, left nothing behind but a stain on the floor. Anna had shot her, and she fell through the window, where smoke and rain came through. Remy stood and looked out. Utopia was alight with vibrant colors, glistening beneath a downpour that smothered the flames. Shards of glass littered the ground below, but there was no body.
Anna wiped her nose, snot mixed with blood. The tears stopped running or she forced them back. “I lost her.”
“You let her go,” he said, rubbing the sore spot on his chest. “Told you I can keep a secret.”
She joined him at the window, so close they nearly touched. “Why’d she make me do that? Why’d she make me shoot her?”
“Wish I knew,” Remy said. “Maybe you can ask her someday.”
Anna looked up at him and he knew exactly what she was thinking. A steady mix of what now? And where do I go from here? He wished he knew that answer too.
She nudged his hand with her own. He hadn’t expected it, even less when she did it again. Without thinking much about it, he gently wrapped his fingers around hers and they stayed like that as they watched the sky drench the fire until there was nothing left of it but embers.
Dying never numbed a thing, though there were many times in his life that Logan wished it had. The ache in his bones, for one. The constant crawling and itching from inside when his skeleton refused to settle. The putrid smell of death over the horizon, which was always there taunting him, just out of reach. The emptiness inside when he failed, hands stained red.
He didn’t let himself think about it much, but sometimes it was hard to ignore.
Creed’s stench stood out over his smoke-clouded senses. Logan hunched low, following the pull in his gut that lead him like instinct. He passed by people who reeked of fear and panic, knowing he should help them, and knowing he couldn’t—not when Jubilee needed him more.
The world was a smear of grey, and every step made it harder to see. He kept his teeth tight together, biting back on the rage that coursed through him, threatening to take control. If the time came, he might let it.
He followed Creed’s scent past the fire, trying to pick up on the sound of Jubilee’s heartbeat, but it was lost through cracking flames, and moaning buildings, and scattered voices. Even his own heart drowned within the chaos, and that’s what he told himself over and over as he searched, because he refused to acknowledge the alternative, that Jubilee’s heartbeat was no longer there. Creed would never tire from the taste of blood, not after six bodies, not after a hundred.
The further he got from the fires, the clearer the trail of blood and hate became, till it was so thick he nearly choked on it. The hair on his neck stood up as he turned the corner between two empty streets and saw Victor Creed kneeling beside Jubilee, face bloodied but obstinate. Her eyes lit up when she saw him. Creed’s did too, in a different kind of way. He waved a clawed hand that glistened red.
“Was wondering when you’d show up,” he said. “Took you longer than I thought it would. Maybe you’re getting old.”
Logan let that slide, focused on Jubilee instead. “You okay, darlin’?”
“Just another day on the job,” she said, but her voice cracked and got low. Her gun was tossed aside, too far to reach for, but judging by the scratches on Creed’s face she wasn’t quite defenseless either. He taught her well. Course that didn’t mean much of anything if it got her killed.
Creed jumped up, casting a long shadow over Logan as he sauntered forward. “You got a nice kid on your hands, I wonder if she knows the truth about you, wonder if any of them do.” A smile cracked the width of his face, exposing teeth sharp as knives as he tapped Logan in the center of his chest. “Can’t imagine they’d put you in charge if they did.”
In one motion, Logan grabbed his hand and twisted it until the wrist nearly snapped. Creed only laughed, deep like a growl, as he ripped his hand back.
“Make it easy for yourself,” Logan said, pulling his own gun from its holster and dropping it on the dirt. “Turn yourself in, or I break all your bones.”
“Like to see you try, runt.”
His mouth twitched, almost to a smile. “I was hoping you’d say that.”
Logan remembered the rope around his neck, tightening like a leash after Creed fixed the noose to that tree. The anger in his chest broke free through his fists, growing with every punch, every strike, and the more it went on, the looser that leash became. His knuckles split with blood.
Creed’s bones crunched. He focused on the sound, lost himself within it, and somewhere distantly he heard the wolf calling, familiar and feral and hungry. The howl echoed through his ears. His body went rigid. There was no moon to change him, but the fury was there, clawing its way to the surface, taking what was left of Logan Howlett’s mind someplace far away. Creed welcomed it with a smile.
Now as they fought, it wasn’t between men. They were beasts, carving with claws, tearing each other to pieces. Every attack was matched with equal force by the other, until blood poured from the both of them. The world disappeared—not into grey this time, but red.
Everything was red.
It stayed that way as Logan crouched over Creed, squeezing his neck, dripping blood and saliva from a snarl. How much pressure would it take to snap his spine? That voice in his head wanted to find out, but there was another voice that got louder and louder. Jubilee, shouting until she could reach him. He couldn’t understand her words, just the plea behind them as her face scrunched up with concern.
Creed was finished, corpse-like beneath him but breathing. Logan kept his hand on his neck as Jubilee slowly came forward. Her face was blurry. The wolf hardly recognized her, but a part of Logan buried deep inside still knew, and that’s the part that reached out.
He loosened his grip.
Jubilee sat down beside him. She drew in a deep breath and slowly let it out. Logan did the same. After the third time, the wolf left him completely.
She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and he let her keep them there for a while.
“We’re gonna be okay,” she told him.
The stillness surrounding them was almost jarring, and Logan had only just realized the rain coming down, washing up the blood like it was only a bad dream. He wished that were true, but it never was. He knew it wouldn’t be long until Creed was talking again, even walking, or swinging, or killing. And the full moon was only two weeks away. The blood would return, and so would the wolf.
“You did good today. It takes guts to face this one,” Logan said after a while. “I’m proud of you.”
Jubilee looked up at him, eyes wet, black hair clinging to her face. “I learned from the best.”
He smiled faintly but it faded fast. There was only one end in their line of work, and it would always be bloody. She deserved more, that kid.
“You want to take some time off I understand,” he told her, hoping she just might.
Her eyes fell to the ground while she thought about it, quickly dancing over Creed’s unconscious body until they settled back to Logan. She swallowed down something heavy in her throat.
“You can’t get rid of me that easy,” she said, trademark bravado masking uncertainty. “Besides. You need me.”
“Maybe you’re right,” he said.
Maybe we need each other.
Anna didn’t stick around after the grief settled. She seemed alright at first glance, but Remy could see the edges of her mask and underneath it was despair. It might not be long until it broke, but it wasn’t his place to tell her.
She pointed to the strongbox on her way out. “There’s your money. You ain’t the only one who can keep a secret.”
The brass casing glistened in the light like a guiding star. He ran his fingers across it, imagining what Jean-Luc and the others would say if he rode home with the whole take in tow. A smile crept across his face while he thought about it, but it didn’t last long. Probably it wouldn’t change a thing. Julien was still dead and New Orleans would always be the place where he was a killer.
The smoke cleared outside the window, and rain pattered down sideways against the building. Ororo Munroe was outside, hands outstretched beneath the downpour, like she was drawing it from the heavens herself.
The whole town was strange, but there was an energy, intoxicating as much as it was peculiar, that reminded him of something he could call home. He pulled Logan’s badge from his shirt and studied the bullet that was lodged against it like a reminder. There were worse lives than a thief’s, but there were probably better ones, too. Maybe all he had to do was find the middle ground.
It didn’t take much to crack the locks. He worked fast and when the box was opened, he almost choked on his own breath. The money wasn’t exaggerated, and looking at all those thousands he knew the man was right to travel with armed guards. It took most of his self-restraint not to pocket it all right there. Instead he used his knife to carve a message into the interior of the wooden frame, so small it was hardly noticeable, but enough to satiate his spirit.
Écume de la terre.
Smiling to himself, he pulled one single dollar from the stack and slammed the box shut, leaving the rest behind.
One day after the fire, Shaw’s new security arrived in town and he left without ceremony, entirely unperturbed at the devastation his presence there had caused. Though to blame the man himself for the chaos and loss of life wouldn’t be entirely fair, he could have at least helped carry the cost of construction. Instead he scowled, wiped the dust from his jacket, and never looked back. Nobody there would miss him, certainly not Remy LeBeau.
He picked up a paper on his way into the saloon, and read the front page with somber sensibility. The press was not kind to Shaw, but it’s not that part that gave him pause, it was the allegations of blackmail, arson, and murder that accompanied the piece—a story provided by an anonymous source who claimed that Shaw and a group of men had forced her and her family off their property and burned their home to the ground. The rumors weren’t new, but knowing what he did now, they felt tangible, and left him with something like a rock in his gut. Knowing Shaw, he’d sue the paper for libel, if the story ever reached him all the way in California, but until then those rumors sat heavy over the town that had paid the consequences in blood.
Good news was that the hatred for Shaw made folks forget their hatred for Remy and the barmaid brought his drink over without spilling it or spitting in it, and she even blushed when he smiled. The judge got to town shortly after Shaw left and upon hearing the whole sad story in court, charged Creed with all six murders, taking the heat off Remy and Anna both. So at the very least, if nothing else, he could drink in peace, and even gamble. He turned Shaw’s dollar into enough to sleep on for a night or two, but his bills were racking up. On top of Lucifer’s stable expenses there was the bill for the horse he’d taken on loan. Even when gambling was good, he wasn’t making enough to keep everything covered for an extended time, so he struck a deal with Ororo at the hotel. Playing to her sympathy, he managed to get the same offer she’d given Jubilee—room and board in exchange for cleaning and handywork. It wasn’t so bad. People were known to resort to much worse for a lot less. Even so, it was rough to accept for a lifelong thief, but a home worth having was worth working for, and he was starting to like this place, for all it’s strange people and all their equally strange eccentricities.
Seeing as he had no plans left on the horizon, staying around for a while and helping where help was needed would suit him just fine.
Anna had a similar idea. He found her by Cecilia’s, helping move out burned up debris to make room for fresh cut lumber. The building was barely standing, it had been the origin of the fire, and the flames ate through the medical supplies before anyone had time to realize it was happening. By the time they did, it was too late to stop it. Creed made sure of that.
“You need some help with that, chere?” Remy asked as Anna struggled to haul a beam twice as big as she was out from the rubble that was left of the Doctor Reyes Medical Practice.
“I’m doing just fine,” she said without looking.
“I’m glad to hear it, but that’s not what I asked.”
She dropped the board to the ground and wiped a bead of sweat off her forehead with a handkerchief, waiting for him to say more.
There wasn’t any amusement in her face, and he didn’t blame her. Only two days passed since she put a bullet in her mother, and for Anna that moment may never end.
Raven was still missing, and it must’ve been like salt in the wound, never knowing what happened to her. She became invisible through the chaos of the fire, and the rain washed away her tracks as quickly as they appeared. Some people blamed Anna, but despite herself, she went looking harder than anybody. Maybe she thought there was still a chance left to salvage something, but after a full day and night of searching she came back empty. Whether or not she actually found Raven remained a mystery, and Anna certainly wasn’t talking about it. Now she kept herself busy in other ways.
“I thought I might ask you to dinner” As a thank you. Or an apology. He wasn’t sure yet. “You deserve a nice meal after how hard you’ve been working, non?”
“You can’t afford me.” She kept her eyes down as she struggled to pull another board free from beneath a pile of rubble. “‘Sides, I can take care of myself.”
Remy grabbed the center of the beam and helped heave it up until it was loose, flashing an effortless grin. “That, I don’t doubt for a minute, but where’s the fun in it?”
“Is that all you care about?” she asked.
“It’s what makes life worth living, n'est-ce pas? Especially after the week we’ve had.”
She thought about it, chewing her, a gesture that was becoming familiar. “I appreciate the offer’n all, but—” She put her hands on her hips, looking around at all the devastation surrounding them—the leveled businesses, the loss of time and money, the people who risked their lives to fight the fire. “I don’t think it’d be right.”
“So you gonna punish yourself instead? How long does that last?”
“Until this town is up and running again, for starters.”
She shrugged. “Haven’t figured it out yet.”
“What happened here, you can’t be blaming yourself. You ain’t a bad person, Anna. Take it from me, I been one a time or two in my life.”
He saw it again in her eyes, the guilt living there—but there was something else now too, and it burned brighter than all that pain, and nothing stood a chance against it. He couldn’t quite figure out what that meant yet, but he knew enough.
“I know if you were half as rotten as you think you are, you would’ve found a way out of here the first chance you got,” he said. “That’s what guilty people do. They run.”
She looked at him for a while. Too long, like she was dissecting him. By the time she was finished, she almost had a smile on her face, but it wasn’t quite there yet. “You’re still here too, y’know.”
“Yeah, I guess I am,” he said, but the sentiment wasn’t the same. He already ran, now he was just too tired to keep it up.
She looked down at her feet, hiding the softness of her face. “You never told me your name.”
“How about I tell you over dinner?”
She looked up like she wanted to deck him straight in the nose, fists balled at her sides ready to swing, but the anger was playful and instead she pushed past him, nudging him with her shoulder. “I told you sugah, you can’t afford me.”
“A drink, then?” he asked, testing his luck. “We could both use a proper one.”
She focused her attention back on the work, and nodded loosely. “One drink.”
“One drink,” he repeated with a smile, and caught a glimpse of her eyes again before leaving. That fire burning in them, it was hope, he decided. Not just wanting to be better, but knowing that she could change.
With small steps maybe they were both on their way.
His obligations to Ororo Munroe drew him back to the Xavier Hotel, where he dusted furniture and fixed creaking steps like a responsible employee, which he wasn’t quite used to yet. Occasionally he’d lift small relics and treasures, not for the purpose of taking, but to see if Ororo would ever notice them missing. A pocket watch, an ornate brass wall mount, a silver ring. Only small items, and she always knew almost immediately. He thought that was something, her precise eye for detail—just like a thief.
This time she caught him plucking a decorative quill from her desk while he was supposed to be mounting an oil lamp to the wall.
“Remy LeBeau,” she said, voice ringing out like a storm. “Does your immaturity know no bounds?”
“Not that I’ve found yet, chere, but I’m still growing.”
Her rigidity gave way to a smile, as it always did, and she placed a wicker basket on top of her desk. “Logan Howlett came by looking for you, I figured you could take this to Jubilee when you see him.”
He cracked the top open and took a peek inside. Delectable cakes and tarts and pastries, one after the other all the way to the top.
“How come you never bake like this for me, Roro?” he asked, mouth watering from the look of it alone.
She slammed down on the lid of the basket and nearly took his nose off along with it. “Stop calling me that and I may consider it.”
It was good of her, to look out for Jubilee. She hadn’t left Logan’s side since the fire, where she felt the safest. She’d been through a lot in the last few days, more than what anyone that age deserved, and it changed her—trauma always did, hardens you so next time you aren’t so easy to break, though Remy had a gut feeling she’d wear it as a badge of honor eventually, kid like that.
“He didn’t want to arrest me again, did he?” Remy asked, running the feathered part of the quill along the desk before Ororo snatched it out of his hand.
“If he did, you’d already be in jail,” she told him. “But it sounded serious.”
“Does it ever not with him?” Remy asked.
Ororo smiled. “You’d be surprised.”
“You know him well?”
“We’re friends.” There was always something mischievous about the way she said things, this time accentuated with a bat of her eyes. Remy could guess what that meant, but even so, it was hard to say with Ororo. She walked over to a framed photograph on the wall and pulled it down. “We helped build this place.”
It was blurry and badly lit, but Ororo’s cloud-white hair stuck out against the grain. To her left was Logan, a grin haphazard beside untamed stubble and between the two of them an older gentleman sat dignified upon a wheelchair outside the framework of the unfinished hotel.
“Lemme guess,” Remy said, pointing to the man in the middle. “Xavier?”
“They very same.”
“What happened to him?”
She regarded the photo with a gentle fondness that could only be cultivated after years of longing for simpler days, then carefully hung it back in its place. “Charles was a man on a mission. He wanted to build somewhere anybody could call home. When he was finished here, he set off to do it again, and again, and again, I imagine.”
“Sounds like a saint,” Remy said, only half joking. Truth is, he felt comfortable here and it was the first time in his life he imagined more for himself than just drifting and thieving, whatever it was. It could be a home, if he worked at it.
“He saw the best in me, and taught me to see the best in others,” Ororo said, musing. Then her eyes gleamed. “Even l'écume de la terre.”
Remy cocked his head to the side, trying to decipher the smile on her lips as she spoke those words, knowing she must’ve seen them from the box he’d carved them into. A moment of panic washed over him.
“We have a lot in common,” she said, leaning in close with a whisper. “I didn’t take the money, either.”
He raised a brow, starting to piece together the mysteries of Ororo Munroe, or at least a fragment of them, and felt a kinship that wasn’t there before.
“Some folks around here, they be calling you some kind of weather witch after the fire,” he said, recalling drunken conversations from the saloon in the wake of the tragedy.
“You don’t strike me as the type of man to listen to gossip, especially considering how often you’re at the center of it.”
“True,” he said, “but I can’t help noticing this whole place is a little strange, including some of the people in it.”
“Then I suppose you’ll fit right in.”
He didn’t argue about that.
The fire left enough of the jail untouched to keep it operational, which Victor Creed had not accounted for, under total lockdown within the confines of his cell while he awaited his own hanging. His clothes were bloody and it was impossible to tell which of it belonged to him and which of it belonged to Logan, or Jubilee, or anyone else unfortunate enough to cross his path. His eyes, half-lidded with predatory hate, locked onto Logan and didn’t move, even as he paced the width of his cell. Despite his injuries he looked well, strong even, like he could still take on an army with nothing but a clawed fist. Not at all like he’d been shot and unconscious two days before.
“I don’t understand why I’m here, mon ami,” Remy said, watching as Creed watched Logan. It had been quiet since he arrived. He placed the basket of baked goods on the desk in front of Jubilee, but she barely paid them any mind.
Creed’s face twisted with a smile that looked unnatural on him, and just plain mean. He pointed to the basket. “What’d you bring me, pretty boy?”
“I’m flattered, but you ain’t my type,” Remy said. He turned his attention to Jubilee, sitting with her legs drawn up to her chest, mirroring Creed’s hate. “Foods for you, petite. Courtesy of Ororo.”
She ignored him, refusing to take her eyes off Creed.
“Well, if you don’t want ‘em—” He reached over to open the basket, but Jubilee hit his hand away. There’s that spark he remembered. She pulled out a scone and took a few small bites just to establish her territory.
“Why don’t you see if you can’t help Cecilia with repairs, Jubilee. Get some air,” Logan said, turning his back to Creed for maybe the first time since he locked him up. His face was unshaven, and his eyes were shadowed. They could both use a break, it seemed.
“No way,” Jubilee said. “I’m not going anywhere.” Not without you, is what she meant. She was a bundle of fear and anger, holding onto anything that would anchor her home.
Good thing Logan was just as stubborn as she was. “Just a few minutes.”
Her shoulders dropped in what could’ve been defeat but was probably understanding. She took her scone, and on the way out mouthed to Remy, “Touch them and die.” She almost looked like she meant it. He saw her through the window of the jail, half broken same as everything else thanks to the chaos. Anna was still out there too, covered in dirt and dripping sweat.
“There’s a word for men who stare at women from afar,” Logan said. “A few of ‘em, actually. None are kind.”
“We got a date me’n her.”
“It don’t give you an excuse.”
“So, you gonna throw me in the cell next to him?” He tilted his head to Creed, whose yellow teeth glistened beneath a snarl.
“I got a reason to?”
“Not one I can think of.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the badge that Logan had given him, the bullet meant for his life still sitting against the metal. “Been meaning to give this back.”
Logan considered the badge with narrow eyes, then took it. The smell of whiskey was thinner on him than before, but it still lingered there as an afterthought. “I’m surprised you ain’t left yet. You plan on sticking around?”
“Might be, ‘till I figure some things out. Afraid you gonna miss me?”
He scoffed. “Not likely.”
“I sure would,” Creed interjected in a shallow voice, ringing like a song.
Remy tried to ignore it, but the sight of him alone made his skin crawl. Logan didn’t seem to have a problem. He lit a cigar and puffed smoke.
“Still haven’t figured out what happened to Raven,” he said. “Damndest thing.”
“Mysterious woman, that one.”
“Mhm.” Logan squinted, looking him up and down. Remy was afraid to ask what he was thinking, until he said it. “I gotta start facing the possibility that she might be back.”
“Hard to believe. She got what she came for.”
“Or she didn’t.” He nodded towards the window where Anna worked outside.
“I don’t think—”
“And that one,” Logan said, glaring at Creed, “might have friends.”
“Now you’re talking crazy.” He waved away the smoke in his face and raised an eyebrow. “You looking for friends yourself, then?”
“Might be good to have a little help around here. Jubilee’s just a kid and I almost got her killed.” He let smoke filter through his teeth. “I’d like to avoid that in the future.”
“You offering me a job?” His eyes went wide with amusement and Logan’s face dropped.
“Temporarily,” he said, adding emphasis to every syllable. “On a short leash.”
Creed’s laughter bellowed through the singed walls of the jail, joyous as it was sinister. “You may as well pin a badge on me.”
Despite the insinuation, it didn’t put a damper on Remy’s delight.
He waited for Anna in the saloon, passing time with poker, another pile of winnings sitting in front of him like a sign of the future. If his luck kept up like this, he might not need a real job after all. He could always count cards when things got bad, that didn’t change, even if it felt like everything else had. But it wasn’t so different. He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, taking in the sound of the piano at the corner of the bar, clinking glasses, two gamblers arguing over a single coin. A gunshot.
His eyes went wide. The sound was distant, barely an echo. Whatever it was, it didn’t concern him, probably just drunks. The world kept on spinning, same way it always did, with or without the thieves guild.
Anna appeared in the doorway, staring at him from across the room. Despite all the things that had happened, she smiled. Remy did too.
It was a good start to something new.
This chapter marks the end of the "first part" of this fic. I wrote these six chapters together and finished the majority of the edits before I began posting so they could function as a complete story on their own if they needed to. I'm currently working on more chapters but my writing process is long and tiring so I'm not sure when they will be posted. Ideally, within a month or two. In the meantime, thanks to those of you who have read this far. This fic is highly self-indulgent and was intended as a fun break from original work after a long bout of feeling completely uninspired, and it's brought me so much joy to write, even if I'm the only one who really digs it. I hope you've enjoyed it, too.
Chapter 7: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Just so there's no confusion, this chapter starts after a slight time jump.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The piano had stopped playing. Remy only noticed the silence once the tables cleared out between him and the gunman who was standing half drunk a few strides away, but he figured it’d been a while since the last note sang, considering the pianist was hunched in a corner awaiting gunshots like everybody else. The hushed chatter that surrounded him grew less and less coherent as the seconds spilled on, and what Remy could make out was nothing more than a jumble of confusion hitting him all in a rush.
“The thief’s gonna kill somebody!”
“He ain’t a thief, he’s the marshal.”
“Where the hell’s his badge, then?”
Remy didn’t take his eyes off the pistol across from him, but with one hand felt the spot on his shirt where he usually pinned his badge and realized he’d forgotten to put it back on, which wasn’t gonna look too good in the long run. He only took it off because nobody much wanted to gamble with a lawman and somehow it didn’t feel quite right wearing it then anyway. He felt lighter without it, luckier even, like he could finally breathe and be himself. Course, he never intended to forget where he put it and now it was too late to look.
The drunk pointing a gun at him didn’t seem to care one way or another.
“I know you stole it,” he said, eyes glassy but stubborn like a bull.
“Why don’t you put the gun down so we can figure this out like gentlemen, mon ami?” There was only a slight plea in his voice to match the shaking hesitation of his trigger finger. Some busted pocket watch hardly seemed enough to die for, or kill over. ‘Sides, Remy didn’t plan on keeping it, he just wanted to feel that thrill again, the way he used to before life got heavy, like being a kid again and knowing the world was yours for the taking. And because old habits? They die hard.
“A thief ain’t a gentleman, and neither am I,” the drunk said, snorting. “Not in the least.”
Remy sighed. Against his better judgement—at least what was left of it—he lowered his gun. The man didn’t move a muscle. He only wanted payment in blood. Lucky for him, blood made a good distraction.
“Alright, then. First hit’s free. No jail time. Best deal you’re gonna get.”
The murmurs swelled around them as the other man’s eyes twitched in thought, taking in each world carefully, probably because his head was too foggy to take them any other way. Silence settled across the saloon when he finally decided, replacing his gun with a cocked fist.
Leaning forward, he threw the punch hard into Remy’s gut. The hit was sloppy, but did enough damage to double him over. Before straightening, his eyes flickered up to the drunk, who was unhappy at the slight curve of a smile on Remy’s lips.
“That all? If I knew you hit like that we could’ve been done with this a long time ago.”
The man’s face scrunched up and as he let drink take over common sense, his fist flew again, this time to Remy’s jaw. That was the invitation he was waiting for. After all, only the first hit was free.
In the momentary break between catching his breath and tackling that man to the floor, Remy wondered if he was cut out for a job like this. He swallowed blood and decided it didn’t matter.
Chaos erupted throughout the saloon as others joined the fight, cracking furniture and breaking bottles. Blood and teeth flew with abandon in a sea of fists and boots and mayhem. Remy could hardly tell one body from another, heartbeat ringing in his ears as he crawled on hands and knees away from the action. With everybody else distracted, he pulled the watch from his pocket and let it fly from his fingers—just another casualty of the destruction. Nobody seemed to notice it at all.
He was on his way back to join the fight, or to stop it—he still wasn’t sure—when a gunshot echoed through the building. His blood ran cold as everything froze, looking at first for red pooling across the floor, then a body, a death on his hands. He found nothing. Slowly, he stood and gazed out across the still crowd, holding his breath in till it hurt.
Smoke billowed from Logan’s pistol, aimed at the sky. The scowl on his face carved so deep Remy thought it might stay that way forever.
Nobody dared to move when he began making arrests.
“You’re supposed to be stopping fights, not starting them,” Logan scolded, back at the jailhouse when everything had calmed down. The cell was crowded with nearly every man in the bar brawl, and Remy barely had room to move from the back of the wall to the iron bars after Logan locked him up with the others. He hoped he wouldn’t be inside that cell again, least of all with ten other bloody, sweaty men facing the same charges, but he always had a knack for finding trouble. Or starting it.
“I was trying to break it up, but you beat me to it,” Remy said, putting on his best face. It faded fast when a few others came forward to dispute that claim, the drunk who’d drawn on him in the first place among them.
“I’d like to lodge a formal complaint against this man,” he said, pushing forward through the mass of bodies. “He stole my watch and told me I wouldn’t get no jail time for punching him in the face like he rightly deserves.”
Remy turned his head away from Logan and spoke in a low whisper, albeit with bite. “You even bother looking for that watch because I bet if you went back you might find it.”
Voices rose and overlapped till nothing made any sense and Logan reached the end of his patience. The cell door opened before anyone realized. Remy stepped forward, eager to be free from the noise and the stench and the cramped quarters, but Logan stood in his way, looking past him. “Everybody else is free to go, but you’ll all be fined for the mess at the saloon.”
They filtered out until Remy was alone and the iron bars slammed shut in his face, which still wouldn’t be so bad if not for Victor Creed’s laughter in the next cell over, mocking and melodic and hauntingly sinister.
Logan kicked the cell door with the heel of his boot, but looked like he wanted to do worse. It shut Creed up fast. The iron rang like a bell for a moment, as he took a cigar from the desk and twirled it between tense fingers.
“You steal that watch?” he asked, standing in front of Remy’s cell.
“No,” Remy said, without thinking too hard about it. Technically he only borrowed it, but he didn’t think he should say that either, especially not with the temper flaring in Logan’s eyes. “I’m a marshal now, mon ami. A better man.”
He found it hard forcing those words out and Logan didn’t look much more convinced than he was. “Where the hell’s your badge?”
Remy feigned surprise, looking down at his chest like there was a hole through it. “Must’ve misplaced it in the chaos.”
A scoff came from Jubilee as she shook her head. “Amateur.”
He almost forgot she was standing there in the corner. Remy had been taking the brunt of her name-calling cruelty for the better part of a week, but he found it amusing mostly, like a kid sister he never had. And despite that, he knew she was happy to have someone there fresher at the job than she was, somebody to take Logan’s heat when he felt like running hot—which happened more and more as of late.
“I know you’re only saying that ‘cause you care, petite,” Remy said, smirking as she rolled her eyes.
Logan sighed deep before finally lighting his cigar. He looked at Jubilee from over his shoulder. “Why don’t you go fix up the loose nails in the boardwalk today.”
“Me? I’m the one who still has my badge, why should I—”
“Because I’m asking you to.”
Her face hardened like a statue, ears burning red. Suddenly the humor was drained from the room, and Remy felt nothing but sympathy twisting around inside him as she stormed out, slamming the door behind her.
“Kid’s got spark,” Creed said. First words he spoke in a while. Remy could hear the smile in his tone and understood why Logan wanted her to stay away. Creed could get in your head, mix things up. Jubilee was better off away from him. Safer, too.
Logan groaned, but it came out like a growl. His fingers twitched, like he was thinking about whether or not he should answer Creed’s remark. Instead, he fished keys from his pocket and opened the door to Remy’s cell. The smoke from his cigar meandered between them like a serpent, slowly wrapping it’s belly tight against Remy’s throat. “Best find that badge by day’s end.”
There was a warning in his voice. Remy had no interest in testing it.
He caught up with Jubilee on the boardwalk just past the jail. She sat with her legs crossed, chin in her hand, a pile of tools untouched in front of her. Everybody sort of passed her by like another hole in the ground, without stopping to notice she was a person. Remy sat beside her, but she tilted her head away, looking in the opposite direction.
“Don’t you have work to do?” she asked bitterly.
“Don’t you?” Remy said, trying to be playful but she only glared. “Take it easy, petite. I’m not the enemy.”
She looked at him then like he was the biggest idiot in town, eyes wide like she could hardly believe what he’d just said. “This is all your fault.”
“He hired you to replace me, and you don’t even care about this job. Logan and this badge are all I’ve got and you just—” Her words hitched in her throat as she took a breath. “You probably sold yours, or lost it gambling, but I’m the one who’s being pushed away.”
“That all you think of me?”
In her defense it was a fair assessment. One he was used to hearing, but it still hurt knowing the way people thought of him. Despite everything, he was trying. Trying to be somebody different. Somebody better, even if he wasn’t any good at it.
Jubilee sighed and turned her back towards him and didn’t say another word.
“Go easy on Logan,” Remy said as he stood. “He’s only trying to protect you.”
He knew that wouldn’t change a thing, but he thought she should hear it anyway.
The rest of the day was spent searching for that badge. Finding it might clear up some doubts—to everybody and most of all himself. He tore his room apart at the hotel, before Ororo knocked on the door asking if everything was okay. He didn’t know how to answer that so he took her up on a game of poker instead and lost three hands in a row. They wagered chores instead of money and by the end of it Remy owed her a week’s worth of laundry and dishwashing, then decided not to press his luck any further.
Last place to look was back at the saloon. On his way, he passed the gallows. It was being constructed in the center of town. The old one had been destroyed in the fire, now they wanted to make a spectacle of Creed’s death. The newspaper had been covering it since his conviction just over a week ago, counting down the days till that vindicating moment of justice. Remy passed the big, wooden structure everyday but didn’t share in the town’s excitement. Watching someone die, it wasn’t sport, or entertainment. Took him long enough to get the face of Julien Boudreaux out from behind his eyes, and even if Creed deserved it—deserved it more than anybody, maybe—it also served as a reminder: every man gets what’s coming to him eventually.
And that could be a hard truth to swallow.
Remy couldn’t stop his skin from crawling every time he passed it by, or the itch in his throat that felt like suffocating. That feeling followed him to the saloon, when everybody glared straight at him as soon as he stepped inside. Half the chairs were broken, and random pieces of debris from the fight still littered the floor.
He didn’t figure anyone would tell him anything, even if they had found his badge and he was right. So asking turned into drinking which he hoped might lodge free something he forgot, but all it did was make him want to do something stupid, like steal the worthless no-name painting that hung over the bar just to have some fun. And because Jubilee was right about him, everybody was. He wasn’t cut out to be a lawman. Trouble’s in the blood after all, and try as you might, you can’t change blood.
“You look like you’re thinking hard about something.”
It was Anna’s voice in his ear, and with it a smile that brightened the room, along with his spirit.
“Just wondering how long it would take for anybody to notice that painting gone.”
“By the amount of dust on that thing, I’d say nobody’s noticed it in a long time.” She waved over the bartender and ordered herself a drink. “Thought you left that life behind.”
“Looking, not touching. No harm in that.”
“Guess not,” she said, tossing her drink back.
Remy caught a glimpse of her and couldn’t stop looking, hair pooling down across her shoulders, settling against a green blouse that matched the color of her eyes missing the top most button. She wiped her mouth with the back of a gloved hand and scowled. “You best keep those eyes on that painting, sugah.”
“It’s not nearly as interesting as it was before you walked in, chere.”
She rolled her eyes so hard her whole head moved with them. Even in anger there was a softness to her, though he knew not to press it and focused on his own drink instead, watching her reflection in the foggy glass as she slid something towards him.
“You better take this before I decide not to give it back.”
His badge glistened against the bar when she moved her hand away. Remy’s shoulders felt lighter as he held the star in his hand, half in disbelief and half utterly amazed but he bit back on both so he didn’t look quite as desperate as he felt. “Where’d you find it?”
“Emma’s.” She tried keeping her voice casual, but he could tell she wasn’t quite used to the concept yet. It’d only been a couple days since she started working security at the brothel. She was well suited for it, dealing her own kind of justice when men got too handsy or tried taking more than what they paid for. It put a roof over her head, too. And the girls needed her, after what Creed did everybody in town was scared.
“Somebody tried using it as payment. Kinda figured it didn’t belong to him.” She paused, glancing back at the mess of broken furniture. “I heard about what happened.”
“I’m as popular as ever,” he said, hoping she might laugh but her face was blank.
“Why’d you steal it?”
“The watch? I didn’t.”
She saw right through him and he knew it, eyes piercing past whatever clever guise he had left to offer, not-so-patiently waiting for an answer as she twirled her glass between fingertips. The look on her face wasn’t disappointment—not yet, but it might be soon. Usually, things turned out that way.
“It’s what I’m good at,” he said. That was the simple truth of it. Nothing more, nothing less. “Don’t worry, I gave it back. I’m a marshal now.”
It didn’t get any easier to say, and there was a bitter edge to his voice that he hadn’t anticipated. Anna heard it too and her eyes went to the badge laid out in front of him like it was a cruel reminder of something they both felt rough about.
“It’s okay to miss it, y’know. After everything that Raven did, I still think about her every day. It ain’t easy leaving the past behind.” Her hair fell forward as she tipped her head, hiding things that might’ve been revealing. “But my advice? Don’t steal the painting. It ain’t worth it.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he said.
Anna nodded, and dropped a couple coins on the bartop for her drink. “Stay outta trouble, swamp rat.”
“You too, chere.”
She left with a smirk tugging at the corner of her mouth. “Only if it don’t find me first.”
Remy considered the painting again. He watched the bustle of life behind him—the drunks and the gamblers, a few of the same men he spent time with locked in a cell. Men who thought they knew him. He spun the badge a couple times between his fingers, watching the reflections of the saloon blur across the surface. Anna was right, of course. The painting wasn’t worth it. Most the jobs he took never were. Maybe not till this one.
He pinned the badge on his shirt, and did so with the intention of keeping it there.
He’d go to Logan and set it all straight. Apologize for causing that fight in the saloon, and losing his badge, and taking it off in the first place. He told himself over and over what he’d say so Logan knew he was serious now, that he wanted to change and he was ready, but by the time he got to the jailhouse it all flew out from his head.
The door to Creed’s cell was cracked open. Remy couldn’t see inside at first, but he could hear the noise all the way down the steps of the jailhouse—the distinctive pounding of fists against flesh in perfect rhythm with the beating of his heart. He drew his gun carefully as he approached the cell, eyes widening at what he saw.
Blood pooled out from Creed’s face, coating his shirt red, the same color as Logan’s split knuckles. One hand twisted around his collar to keep Creed in place, the other balled tight in a fist, striking anywhere it could land.
It wasn’t a fight. It was a beating. Maybe even a murder.
Remy froze, watching as Logan pummeled Creed’s teeth into shards. He didn’t bother fighting back. Probably, he couldn’t. Hard to tell if he was even conscious. Logan didn’t seem to notice he had an audience—didn’t seem to notice anything at all—till Remy called his name a couple times and he paused, fist glistening in the air. Nothing moved but his eyes, gleaming yellow as they bore through Remy with a malice he recognized from once before. They were the same vacant, vicious eyes that nearly killed him, strangling the life out of him the way water snuffs a flame.
“You alright, mon ami?” Remy’s voice was dry, struggling to rise in his throat.
Creed’s body dropped to the floor like a corpse as Logan unfurled his fingers from the shirt and turned towards Remy. His shoulders straightened as he stalked forward, slow and deliberate in his movements, but like something was just barely holding him back. Each step made the leash looser, the eyes narrower. Feeling suddenly like prey to an animal’s dinner, Remy stepped back. Instinctively, he cocked his pistol. The faint sound was heavy as an earthquake, rupturing the last shred of control that Logan held over that rage. Remy could see it—his muscles tightening, teeth bared in a snarl.
At the same moment Logan lunged forward, Remy whipped the cell door shut, slamming it in his face before he could breach the threshold. He hit so hard the walls shook dust from the rafters. It was enough to send him back on his ass and enough to keep him there.
Remy’s heart still hadn’t settled. He stood outside the cell, waiting for him to get back up again, but he didn’t move. Neither did Creed beside him.
When he was sure the threat was gone, he collapsed into the chair at the desk and let himself breathe, hoping to forget the look in Logan’s eyes—that empty, feral gaze—but every time he blinked it haunted him. His hands were shaking when he plucked the badge from his shirt and twirled it around clumsy fingers, and the only thought that came to mind with those eyes looming behind his was: What have I got myself into this time?
It took me so much longer to get these next few chapters written than I had anticipated, but as you know, Life Happens. I ended up scratching multiple drafts before I finally got it right and worked super hard to make them the best I could, so I hope you all enjoy the way they turned out. I have six written, and mostly completely edited. I'm aiming to post one per week, to sparse it out a bit and to give me some time to figure out where to go next, (but that timeline is tentative, so who knows!)
Chapter 8: To the Slaughter
Logan leaned against the iron bars of Creed’s cell, glaring at Remy with impatience. He looked mostly himself again. The lines on his face were heavy, and the shadows beneath his eyes were two days deep, but that was typical. Only thing left of the incident, which Remy chose to call it, was the slight tapping of his fingers against the bars, like something was turning endlessly inside of him.
“You gonna shoot me, then go ahead and do it,” he said, “but let me the hell outta here while you decide.”
Remy kept the gun on the desk beside him, just within reach. “Think this is for your own good.”
Or mine, he meant.
Logan scoffed, and glanced back at Creed, who hadn’t moved much since being beaten an inch from death. Remy thought he should get doctor Reyes, have her take a look. But that meant making a decision about Logan, and he still didn’t know what to do.
“You scared, cajun?”
“Not the word I’d use.”
“Creed had it coming, don’t bother feeling bad for him.”
He didn’t, not really, but that didn’t stop the dread building up when he thought about it.
“You could’ve killed him, and that’s a dangerous line to be treading, mon ami.”
“Maybe,” Logan said, “if it was anyone other than Victor Creed.”
Remy watched his eyes for a minute, searching for whatever thing he saw behind them earlier, a hint of beastly yellow rage. All he found was clear blue sincerity. He walked to the cell, keys in hand, but stopped before opening the door. “What happened back there, Logan? Something you wanna talk about?”
“No,” he said, but there was doubt lingering behind the word, quiet enough to be masked to someone who wasn’t searching for details the way Remy was. Logan’s gaze shifted to the floor as the cell door swung open, and he shoved past him like he had a problem, but there wasn’t much force behind it. Maybe he was tired, or maybe he felt guilty.
“You found your badge,” he said, as he rifled through the bottom desk drawer for his flask and a smoke. He didn’t sound too impressed. “Should I ask where it ended up?”
“All that matters is I got it, non?”
“I plan on keeping it this time.”
Logan scoffed at that and Remy’s jaw tightened. He couldn’t remember the speech he rehearsed on the way over about wanting to start new, but easily found two choice words to give him in that sudden rush of anger. Creed’s voice cut him off first, gurgling through a mouthful of blood. It took a moment for the sound to register, but the hair on Remy’s neck rose when it did. He was laughing. Like a drunk, twisted, maniac—he was laughing while choking on his own teeth.
They looked at each other while the wet croaking laughter continued, until Logan waved his hand and brushed the conversation away before it even started.
Cecilia Reyes came by later to check on Creed, though it didn’t seem to matter much how he was doing. The gallows was nearly finished. Remy watched the structure from the window, standing proud on main street. Another day, maybe two at most, but probably not.
“What the hell happened to him?” she asked, kneeling down as she wiped at the blood crusting across his face. Creed groaned. She wasn’t gentle.
“He fell,” Logan said.
Cecilia glared for a moment, before returning to work. If it was anybody else she might’ve asked more questions, but just as Logan had said before: Victor Creed deserved it.
When she left, he looked better but not by much. Purple bruises bloomed like wildflowers across his face, now bumpy and swollen and split in places where Cecilia left stitches. Logan had done a number on him, probably enough to kill a less stubborn man.
Logan lit a cigar and as the flame danced across the match, Remy noticed the blood drying on his knuckles and beneath it there was no bruise or cut. Bone crushing bone, hard enough to paint a man unrecognizable, and he had walked away without a scratch. Remy remembered Logan hanging from a tree, and how dead he looked once Anna had cut him down.
“You wanna say something?” Logan asked, eyes sharp through a haze of smoke. He leaned back in his chair but every bit of him looked tense.
“No,” Remy lied. He turned towards Creed, and across that wreck of a face, lips peeled back to bare yellow, broken teeth in a smile that made his blood run cold. “I’ll be back for my shift tonight.”
When Creed was arrested, Logan made out a schedule to keep eyes on him till his hanging. It made people feel safer, knowing he was watched. They’d alternate between him and Remy, and sometimes Jubilee though Logan hated leaving her alone and usually didn’t. He’d bring in a few other folks from town, people he trusted, like Ororo or a german priest Remy only knew in passing, or anybody who could handle a gun and wanted to help. Anna too, when she had the time. The job was easy, but unsettling. Creed just had that way about him. Usually Remy ignored it, played cards, or anything else to keep himself busy, but this time it was different. This time he had something to say. The thought had been stuck in his head since he spoke with Logan, following him all day long no matter how hard he tried to forget it. A fly in his ear buzzing with purpose.
He stood outside Creed’s cell, looking in at the bloody heap of him with a sinking feeling in his gut that only got worse once he woke up. Creed was quiet at first, only watched the same way Remy did, and though his eyes were just slits, he could feel that stare to his bones.
“See something you like, boy?” Creed asked suddenly. Despite the grin, his voice was a wheeze, grating against Remy’s skin.
“You weren’t surprised to see Logan alive after you hanged him.”
“That a question or—”
Amusement sparked across the gravel road of Creed’s face. He moved slowly to the edge of his cell, carrying himself like it was almost too much—feet dragging, weight uneven. He looked like an old man by the time he reached the bars, hunched over and barely standing.
“I thought you were gonna ask why he was pounding my face into mud.”
“What makes you think I care?”
“Maybe you don’t,” Creed said, jagged smile cut from ear to ear. “But I bet you’re wondering if he would’ve done the same thing to you.”
Remy shrugged against the tension in his shoulders. “He didn’t.”
“He wanted to.”
“Then I guess it’s a good thing you were here to keep him occupied,” Remy said, but he didn’t feel any better about what had happened. In fact, he felt worse.
Creed shuffled back to his cot and collapsed against it with a groan. “Just wait, boy. You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Those were the last words Victor Creed spoke that night, and they followed Remy home in the morning. When he tried to sleep he saw Logan’s eyes again and again—glowing through the dark like a phantom, watching him back through the shadows, ready to spring forward, jaw extended, teeth glistening red—
A knock on his door broke him of the nightmare. Sweat fell down across his face, cooled by the breeze from the cracked window. His heart was racing like he’d ran for miles, and as the doorknob clicked and turned, he reached towards the bedside table for his gun.
Ororo stood at the threshold, holding a basket full of linens and blinked at the sight of the pistol.
“Is this a bad time?”
Remy sighed, letting the tension out with his breath. He set the gun down and wiped the sweat from his face. “Never a bad time for you, chere.”
“The longest. Much improved upon seeing you, Roro.” He gave a tired, if not lazy smile. Best he could do.
“Flattery will not relieve you of your commitments,” she said sternly, dropping the basket where she stood. He did, after all, owe her a weeks worth of laundry, but there was a twinkle in her eyes that softened the blow. “It may, however, earn you a free breakfast.”
He nodded, and just as she turned to leave, added somewhat offhand, “You and Logan are close.”
It wasn’t necessarily a question. He remembered the photograph of the two of them hanging downstairs and couldn’t keep the words from spilling out.
Ororo stared at him from over her shoulder, surprised by the suddenness of it.
“You know him better than most,” he added, filling in the silence.
“What is this about, Remy?”
“He seems a bit off, is all.”
Her face was blank, impossible to read. “Are you inquiring as a friend or a marshal?”
“A concerned citizen.”
She paused, eyes narrow. Try as he might, Remy couldn’t figure out what was going on inside her head, but she looked as if she knew exactly what was going on inside his and she didn’t like it. There was a sudden cold emanating off her that simply wasn’t there before, guarding her like armor.
“Creed has everyone on edge, I suspect even you,” she said after a moment. The cold around her began to dissipate, as her words moved around him instead. “Don’t let him under your skin and perhaps when this is over we can all move on in peace.”
It was a nice thought, moving on—pretending like nothing happened—but Remy knew life didn’t work that way, no matter how much you wanted it to. And there was another problem with her advice. Creed was already under his skin. They both saw something in Logan, and if Ororo knew, she wouldn’t say. When he asked Jubilee about it, she was similarly guarded and more reserved than usual, eager to change the subject, and he couldn’t even find Logan at all. Not that it would matter. Creed was the only one willing to talk, and stupid as it was, despite his better judgement, a part of Remy wanted to listen.
By the time his shift at the jailhouse started that night he had a feeling he would regret whatever happened, one way or another. At first he tried keeping his mind focused on anything other than Logan or Victor Creed, which was difficult with Creed beside him, and a hundred little signs of Logan left behind, like a half-smoked cigar and stains of spilled whiskey over the paperwork left out on the desk. Dried blood on the floor beneath his feet.
He scraped at it with his boot, but the red smear wouldn’t budge, long dried and soaked into the floorboards by now, left behind to taunt him. The cards in his pocket weren’t any better distraction. Each time he pulled one from the deck, he thought about days spent reading their faces like tarot, and each card gave him a worse feeling. Nine of spades. Guilt. Five of diamonds. Loss. A few more and he set them aside, moving to the window instead.
Down the street, painted in the dim orange glow of an oil lamp, the gallows was finished. An itch crept up Remy’s spine. Come morning Creed would hang and take his secrets with him. Utopia would be better off. The whole world would.
He slept silently in his cell, or seemed to, with his face turned to the wall, breathing slow. Remy’s heart ticked on like a clock, waiting for him to move, like he was faking it. He paced around the jail, trying to come up with something better to do than the stupid thing he was thinking but he ended up outside the cell, rattling on the iron bars till Creed peered back at him, eyes clear as day.
“What do you know about Logan?” Remy asked.
A slow smirk spread across his face. “He’s a son of a bitch.”
“Why do you wanna know so bad?”
Remy thought about it a moment. “Logan would’ve killed you. He could’ve killed me. How long till someone else gets stuck in his crossfire, and what if they aren’t so lucky?”
It sounded good when he said it out loud, right even, but he still had trouble convincing himself. He knew Logan was a good man. But he also knew what he saw in those eyes and it wasn’t Logan lingering beneath the surface—it was something else, something worse.
“I ain’t that easy to kill,” Creed said, harsh suddenly.
“All the same.”
There was a pause before he sat up in his cot, grimacing as he settled. Straw blonde hair fell across his face, hiding the cuts and bruises. “Information’s gonna cost you.”
“Non,” Remy said. “You didn’t have a problem talking before.”
“Before I knew you wanted to listen. There’s a case of cigars in the bottom drawer.”
He looked back at the desk. It was a risk, given the circumstances, probably a game. But Remy liked games too, especially when he could control them.
The bottom drawer was locked, and after shuffling around the desk for the keys, he used his lockpick to open it instead, before slipping it back into place on his belt. There were three cigars left. He took one and tossed it into Creed’s cell. It landed just beside his boot, and the smile faded from his face fast. Holding in a groan, he leaned forward to pick it up.
“Can I get a light?”
“Not till you talk, and not till I know you aren’t lying.”
He gave a joyless laugh and sniffed the cigar. A reminder of something nice. “You believe in curses, don’t you, cajun? Course you do, so I probably don’t gotta explain that the moon has a way of changing people. Some more than others.”
Remy was quiet, face blank. He tried not to show much when he glanced out the window, up into the dark sky. The moon hung heavy above town, so close to full it could just about fool anybody. Growing up in New Orleans, you hear stories—the kind that keep children god-fearing and well-behaved. The kind that don’t ever end well, like monsters wearing the skin of a man, changing into beasts beneath the moonlight. A rougarou is what they called it when he was a kid. Remy encountered all kinds of monsters back in the day, picking pockets just to feed himself. They came in all shapes and sizes, feeding off the weak, killing, slaving—but every last one of them was human. He never gave much thought to the rougarou. Not until now.
“Takes a lot to put a man like that down. Trust me, I’ve tried.” He rolled the cigar in his hand as he spoke. “Me and the runt go way back. Couple days before the moon he’s a little cranky. But tomorrow?” Creed snorted. “Tomorrow’s gonna be bloody.”
His words were blunt, his tone uninterested, like none of it mattered at all. It felt more like a harsh truth than it did a lie and while Remy’s bones were too rigid to move, Creed leaned back in his cot without a care in the world.
“How about that light now?”
He waited, studying Creed once more before he finally struck a match from a box nearby. Creed struggled to the cell door as Remy leaned in carefully and held it till the end of the cigar caught light, flaring red as Creed puffed.
A moment passed where only smoke moved between them.
The flame was halfway down the match when Remy finally shook it out. Just as his hand cleared the bars, Creed’s shot out and caught him by the wrist, pulling and twisting at the same time, wrenching his arm back behind him. His spine slammed against the unforgiving cell door, ripping the breath from his lungs. They both reached for the gun on his hip at the same time, but Remy got to it first. Twisting out from Creed’s grasp, he aimed the barrel at the spot between his eyes and cocked the hammer back without so much as a blink.
“I had to try,” Creed said, raising both hands in surrender. The cigar was still tucked in the corner of his grin, bouncing with each word. He pointed to the fading scab on his face left over from when Remy had plunged a nail near his eye socket. “Retribution.”
“Sit down,” Remy said without lowering the gun.
“Pulling that trigger only proves one thing—that you’re a killer. That you ain’t no different from me.”
“Or I do the people of this town a great service.”
“That’s a big gamble.”
“Taken bigger ones, homme.”
When Creed sat, Remy was relieved, but he kept the gun trained on him because it didn’t feel right putting it down yet. Especially not when he laughed with delightful, contemptuous joy.
“Tomorrow’s the full moon, kid. You got bigger problems to worry about than me.”
“You’re probably right,” Remy said. He tilted his head to the window, where the gallows waited just down the street and finally holstered his gun. “Good thing you won’t be around much longer.”
“Yeah,” Creed said. “Damn good thing.”
The words lingered heavy like the smoke between them, sucked away as soon as the door swung open. Jubilee barged in, breathing hard from a run. Her face scrunched up when she saw what she walked into, but she focused on Remy, words spilling out in a rush.
“There’s a problem at the saloon. Somebody with a gun asking for you specifically.”
It was hard pulling his eyes from Creed, trying to process everything all at once. “Where’s Logan?”
“I dunno, he’s off duty tonight.” She was apprehensive. “He’s asking for you!”
Remy looked between the door and Creed’s cell, trying to ignore the grin on the man’s face as he puffed on the cigar. He sighed, and gestured to Jubilee’s pistol. “You remember how to use that?”
She nodded, but looked like she wanted to hit him just for asking.
“If Creed says anything to you, shoot him in the leg.”
He knew she didn’t need permission, but he wanted Creed to hear it just in case. Though he didn’t like leaving her alone with him, Jubilee had earned her place, and he was the last person who wanted to question that. He knew how it felt being doubted. ‘Sides, the crowd at the saloon was big and getting bigger, drawn to the gun, the threats, and the excitement.
Remy wasn’t surprised to see the same drunk who owned the pocket watch at the center of it, waving around his pistol like a toy and claiming he was wronged, beaten by the law and jailed for no good reason.
When his glassy eyes settled on Remy, his face went red with anger. “There he is everybody, the thief is here!”
Remy didn’t have the patience this time to humor him. He walked straight up through the parted crowd, and whacked him on the side of the head before he could even process what had happened. Nobody came to his aid, only watched, whispering around the two of them.
The drunk fell to the floor, gun dropping from his hand. Remy picked it up, and looked him dead in the eyes.
“You gonna hurt someone someday, homme, and then we’re gonna have a real problem.”
“We already got one.” He scowled at the badge on Remy’s shirt. “That thing don’t fool me. I know who you really are.”
“Maybe you do,” he said. Biting down hard on his jaw, he slipped a hand into the man’s coat pocket and swiftly pulled the watch out, just like he’d done when he took it, only this time he wanted everyone else to see. “Then again, maybe you don’t.”
He ripped the thing from Remy’s hand. “I only happened to find it after the fight that you started!”
“And if I stole it, you wouldn’t have found it at all.”
He was quiet, sputtering curses under whiskey-drenched breath. The crowd began to disperse, no longer enthralled with the accusations. Remy tossed the watch back but kept the man’s gun. “Go home and sober up. If I see you here again I’ll arrest you on sight. That’s a promise.”
“This don’t change a thing,” he said, struggling to his feet. Nobody else was listening anymore, but he kept going anyway. “A thief’s a thief. You gotta pay for it someday.”
Remy left him at that, but he waited a minute outside the saloon to make sure he went home, and because he had a gut feeling that the drunk might be right. The gallows left a tall shadow down the side of the street, that spilled closer to Remy than he liked. He took one long, last look at it before finally pulling himself away.
When he got back to the jailhouse the door was hanging open. Light pooled out onto the steps. He reached for his gun when he saw Jubilee lying on the floor inside. Blood ran down the side of her face but her chest moved slow and steady. Relief washed through him, knowing she was alive. The comfort didn’t last. He turned towards the cell and his whole body froze.
Victor Creed was gone.
Chapter 9: The Past Ain't Through With You
A crowd had gathered by the time Remy was on his knees, bleeding from the nose as Logan swung at him again. He ducked this time and managed to knock Logan to the ground. They rolled through dirt for a while, till Remy twisted around him like a snake, hoping to avoid another punch because he still hadn’t recovered from the last one. Logan was all temper and bite, and the anger might’ve slowed him down, giving Remy the opportunity to go for the soft spots—stomach, kidneys, groin. Fighting dirty didn’t much matter when you’re staring into the eyes of a man who could kill you. Course fighting Logan was closer to wrestling an alligator, or something worse. Remy kept close watch on those eyes, waiting for that something worse to make an appearance, but it didn’t show. Not even as the moon taunted them both from above.
The rest of the world came to him in pieces between fists, like the people all around them, and Jubilee watching in fear, or the gallows finished and empty, and waiting just down the street for something that wouldn’t come.
Remy was still swinging and kicking anything he could when something grasped him by the shoulders and dragged him away from the fight.
“You trying to kill each other?” Anna said. He barely heard her through the pounding in his ears, but her arms were tight around him as she pulled him to his feet, breathing hard till everything started to slow down again.
Logan’s voice was ragged, exhausted, like he’d been fighting a whole war alone. “This don’t concern you.”
“This concerns all of us, sugah.”
Her arms loosened around Remy when she was sure it was over, and he shook the static out from his bones, feeling how sore his ribs were for the first time and tasting blood in his mouth.
Word had spread that Creed was gone. When Remy lit that cigar and Creed pulled him back against the bars, it wasn’t his gun Creed was interested in, it was his lockpick. Remy checked ten times over to make sure it was missing, till Jubilee told him what happened. He caught her off guard, the cell door opened so quick she couldn’t think, and the gun misfired. She was shaking as she recalled it, angry at Remy and at herself. Didn’t take long for the news to reach Logan and when it did? That’s when the fists started to fly. Couldn’t blame him for that. Nobody could.
The crowd had grown around them. Most the saloon had emptied into the street at the commotion. Ororo was there too, and Cecilia, who had come to tend to the welt growing on Jubilee’s face left by the butt of a gun. Neither of them looked impressed by the show. It’s not exactly what Remy needed, more people to judge him. But most of them already thought the worst of him already, how much lower could he be?
“You’re fired,” Logan said, wiping blood from his mouth.
Remy went rigid. There wasn’t an ounce of apology on Logan’s face, not that there should’ve been. He deserved it really, but that didn’t stop it from hurting when Logan ripped the badge off his chest and turned away. He whispered something in Jubilee’s ear and her eyes dropped to the ground. Whatever it was, she didn’t argue. That was strange for her, and made Remy feel worse, like her spirit was broken and the pieces were scattered out in front of him. He expected her to yell, to shout at him or call him one of the insulting names she liked so much but she didn’t do any of that. She hardly looked at him at all, which might’ve been worse.
The street emptied out. A search party was organized to find Creed. It’s possible he was still in Utopia, but Remy figured he ran far as he could, and they’d never find him in the dark. Anna must’ve felt the same. They sat outside Cecilia’s, on the veranda beneath the lamplight as she checked Remy for broken bones or serious injury besides the blow to his ego. His head was pounding and his body was sore, and none of it hurt as much as disappointing the only people who had given him a chance.
“You okay?” Anna asked.
He forced a smile. “I can take a beating or two.”
“Or twelve.” They both laughed, but the sound was hollow and Anna straightened quick. “But that ain’t what I meant.” Her gaze fell towards the empty space on his chest where the badge should’ve been.
“I’m fine,” Remy assured, though he wasn’t so sure of that himself. “I dunno what I was thinking wearing that badge, anyway. Probably better for everybody I stick to what I know.”
Anna frowned, and watched while Cecilia finished up. The damage wasn’t serious, and the bruises would heal up on their own time, but she told him to take it easy while they did.
“Easy ain’t ever been my style,” he said, wishing that it weren’t true.
Cecilia paused before retreating inside. “You may want to consider changing it, then.”
The door shut and left nothing but the low hum of the lantern to fill the silence. Anna’s eyes stayed on him for a moment before she finally spoke.
“What happened back there with Creed, Remy?”
He still wasn’t used to the way she said his name. He was fond of the nicknames, but nothing came close to the way it rolled off her tongue in that twang of an accent, soft and sharp at the same time. Just like her. He wanted to get lost in that, to forget the night for as long as he could even if it was impossible. Some mistakes, they stay with you, and they don’t ever leave. As it turns out, Remy was building a collection. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t try replacing them with something new.
“Run away with me,” he said. The words were abrupt, distant in his own ears.
“You must’ve got hit harder than I thought.”
“London or Paris. Anywhere you want.”
She crossed her arms, and tried to fight the smile that came through despite her efforts. It was enough to ground him, to let reality back in, even if it hurt. She was worth that much. Course he didn’t know how to tell her what had happened back there without the part about Logan, even if it sounded crazy. Then again, it was no less crazy than witnessing the man come back from the dead, which is what he lead with when he finally told her everything—about the curse Creed mentioned, the look in Logan’s eyes, the rougarou.
Anna was quiet while she processed the information, eyes swimming in thought, teeth working against her bottom lip. It was a lot to put on her, so he understood the silence, though the longer it lasted, the worse he felt.
“You’re delirious,” she said finally, like her initial diagnosis was right all along. “I think Reyes needs to look at your damn head again.”
“Logan was dead, and then he wasn’t. How do you explain that?” He lowered his voice. The words were only meant for the two of them. “It’s the curse, chere. Gotta be.”
“And you’re just gonna take Creed’s word for it?”
It felt like a blow to the chest all over again, as bad as Logan’s fists and maybe worse. “I know what I saw. He was different. And I think it’s gonna get worse tomorrow night.”
She didn’t look convinced, but her face softened with sympathy, and just before she had a chance to tell him he’s crazy, her eyes moved to something in the distance.
Jubilee was on the other side of the empty street, hardly a shadow through the dark as she left the jailhouse carrying a bag over sloped shoulders. When she noticed the two of them, her mouth opened like she wanted to scream, but instead she slammed it shut and kept walking in a line straight to the stables.
He recognized the look in her eyes, one that said she’s about to do something stupid. Just like gazing into a mirror. Anna saw it, too but he stopped her before she followed. It was Remy’s apology to make. At the very least, he owed her that.
The only light in the barn was a small lantern flickering in the corner. Made it hard to see Jubilee, struggling to keep the weight of a saddle from falling straight on her toes as she dragged it from the rack. She took a deep breath before heaving the whole thing up into her arms.
“You running away?” Remy asked as he came inside. It was meant as a joke but she snapped her head up in a glare when she saw him, the mark across her face like a dark cloud, spotted with blood in the middle. Guilt pooled inside his gut. Creed was in a hurry, it’s the only reason he hadn’t killed her. He made his voice soft. “I’m so sorry, petite.”
“Stop calling me that. I’m not some kid, I’m a marshal, and I’m going after Creed.” The saddle slipped from her fingers and fell to the ground and without hesitation she kicked it a few times, and then a few more. A nearby horse huffed while it watched, like silent, judging laughter.
Remy leaned against a stall and waited till she calmed. “It’s my fault what happened, not yours.”
She looked surprised to hear that from him, or like he beat her to it, but it was no use pretending any different. She shook the confession off like it was nothing. “It doesn’t matter. I gotta find him.”
“You got nothing to prove.”
“Yes, I do.” She tried the saddle again, only to drop it once more a few steps away. With that, her shoulders fell and she collapsed beside it, breathing hard and angry like it was the only way to keep everything else inside—the tears, the pain, the humiliation. Her voice was so low, Remy almost missed it. “He doesn’t want me around anymore.”
She kept her eyes down on the saddle as Remy kneeled beside her. He couldn’t see the bruise beneath the shadows of her face, but he knew it was there. A reminder for both of them.
“He doesn’t want you to get hurt. There’s a difference.”
“If I bring Creed back then I’ll know that I’m supposed to be here, and everybody else will know, too.”
“It’s not a good idea,” Remy said, though he could hardly believe the words coming from his own mouth, and knew how bad it sounded for him to give anyone else advice on what is and isn’t the right thing to do, but here he was, hoping she’d listen. The look of dismay on her face suggested she probably wouldn’t. When she reached for the saddle again, he put his hands on top of it, weighing it down.
Jubilee’s nose scrunched up and her eyes narrowed. “Move.”
“I’ll go after Creed,” he said, trying to think fast for a reason that she’d understand. “It’s my fault, and I’ll fix it.”
She ignored him, and tried pulling the saddle up but he held still for a while, and when she was just about ready to hit him, that’s when he settled on it.
“Tomorrow’s the full moon.”
She paused and sat back, letting her hands fall to her sides like that meant something to her.
“I know about Logan,” Remy said. He watched her reaction carefully. She was searching for a clever way to lie about it most likely, concentrating too hard to figure it out. “He’s gonna need you here to keep an eye on things when it happens. When he changes.”
Her silence was all the answer he needed, and when her eyes dropped he knew he was right about that curse, that Creed hadn’t lied. Relief mixed with some kind of fear rolled through him and he couldn’t tell if that made it better or worse. They sat with the secret lingering between them, until Jubilee let out a sad, wet sounding laugh.
“I never even wanted to be a marshal, you know? Not really.”
“But here you are,” he said, like it was the answer to a question nobody asked.
“Logan saved me once. I was alone, he brought me back here and gave me a home. I just wanted to—I dunno.” Her gentle words grew sharp as she picked at loose strands of hay across the floor. “It doesn’t matter, I guess.”
Remy sighed. He knew what she meant, how she felt. “I was taken in by somebody who had no reason to keep me around ‘less I was useful. Thought if I didn’t prove myself he’d throw me out and I’d go back to being nothing.” Jubilee stayed quiet, but he could feel her watching him as he picked the saddle up off the ground and walked it back over to the rack. “That kinda pressure takes its toll, changes you. Makes you feel temporary.”
“Why are you telling me this?” she asked, voice flat.
“‘Cause that ain’t Logan,” Remy said. “You’re not temporary.”
She let out a breath, probably one she’d been holding in for a long time. When it was gone completely, she stood. Her eyes glimmered in the dim light. “You’d better find Creed.”
“I will, peti—” He caught himself, and swallowed the word down. “I promise.”
Hard to tell in the dark, but there might’ve been a smile at the edge of her lips.
Anna was waiting outside the livery when he came out, leaning against the side of the barn, watching the door impassively.
“How long you been there, chere?”
She shrugged. “Long enough to know we’re going after Creed.”
“Hope you didn’t think I’d sit this out,” she said. “I had my bags packed as soon as I heard he was gone.”
“Should’ve known,” Remy said, trying to hold back a bit of his excitement. It’s exactly the thing he wanted to hear.
When first light came, nobody wasted any time. Creed was a full night ahead of them, and there were a lot of places out there for someone like that to hide. Remy knew from experience, laying low and biding his time after jobs with the thieves guild. He hoped that might better their chances at finding him.
Logan was up before dawn ready to find Creed all by himself, even if it didn’t work out too well for him the last time. Remy passed him on the way to the livery, a cloud of smoke trailing behind him as he walked. Their eyes met for a half a second before Logan turned away.
“I’m going after him,” Remy said abruptly.
Logan paused, and took the cigar between his fingers. When he moved, it was as if every piece of him was working against the other—slow, broken. “I can’t stop you.”
“No, you can’t.”
A drizzle of rain began to fall over the town, singing against the buildings and splashing into troughs. Logan brought the cigar to his mouth once more before it was snuffed out, and his eyes flashed with malevolence when he walked away.
“Give me a chance to make things right,” Remy called after him. “You got enough to worry about tonight.”
The words stopped Logan dead as he peered over his shoulder, part anger and part something else, teetering on the edge of fear.
“I’m good at keeping secrets,” Remy said, as if it would help.
It was hard to hear Logan’s voice over the hum of the weather, but what he said before he kept walking was as succinct as it was threatening. “Stay out of my way.”
Remy only hoped he could.
Anna was waiting at the barn, horses packed and ready. She kept, Tulip—the mare she’d bought so she didn’t have to steal one again—beside Remy as they left Utopia. It was quiet besides the rain, like the place hadn’t fully woken up yet. If he didn’t know any better, Remy might mistake it for a ghost town. The image wasn’t so hard to imagine with Victor Creed running loose.
“That was good of you last night,” Anna told him once they were on the road. “What you said to Jubilee.”
He watched her from the corner of his eye. The hood of her cloak was up to keep the rain off her head, made it hard to get a look at her. “How much did you hear?”
“Enough to know you ain’t so bad.”
“Don’t go spreading that, chere. Could ruin a man’s reputation.”
She nearly laughed but it stopped halfway. “I’m serious, Remy. It’s the little things that make up who we are, ain’t it? Long as we know the truth, it doesn’t matter what anyone says.”
“And what’s that?” he asked. “The truth, I mean.”
“We’re better than we were yesterday. That’s all anybody can do.”
There wasn’t an ounce of doubt in her now, but he still had a hard time believing it the way she did. About himself, at least.
“You aren’t so bad either,” he said.
“If Raven saw me now she’d think I’m the stupidest girl in the world.” There was a pause, and the edge of a smile became visible. “As it turns out, that’s exactly what I’m shooting for.”
“It’s her loss,” Remy said.
“I know.” Her head tilted and her hood came down like a veil, concealing her face once more. “His loss, too—you’re old man.”
Remy tightened his fingers against Lucifer’s reins, like it was the only thing keeping him forward. It ain’t easy leaving the past behind, that’s what Anna told him once before. It follows you no matter how far you go, always raw and bleeding, even when you think it’s healed. But if you’re lucky you find someone who keeps it from hurting so bad, who reminds you to keep going. Someone who understands.
He smiled, and followed Anna as she spurred her horse into a gallop.
They spent most of the day searching any farm or trading post or hideout Remy could think of, the same ones he’d made use of in the past, owned by familiar faces who offered haven to the thieves guild if they ever needed it. He didn’t mention he was looking for Creed, only wondered if they’d heard anything about him. Most folks didn’t want to make an enemy out of a man like that, and you could tell a lot about the truth in the way someone answered, even if it was a lie. But far as Remy could tell, Creed hadn’t stopped anywhere at all and the longer they rode the worse he felt about finding him. The rain washed away trails and flooded the road, and made the ride unbearable. By mid-afternoon Remy was soaked through to the bone and thunder boomed across the horizon.
“Storm’s getting bad,” he mentioned when they reached the nearest train station. “Maybe we should wait it out.”
Anna shrugged her cloak off beneath a wooden awning and wrung the fabric out like she was strangling the life from something. Neither of them liked the idea. The longer they waited the further Creed got, and the less chance they’d ever have at finding him.
“Check the train schedule,” she told him. “He might’ve been here. I’ll ask around.”
If Creed had hopped a train, he wouldn’t do it at the station. Too many eyes to see him, too easy to follow. Remy knew that from experience too, but he took down the schedule anyway. He studied it for a while like the answer was right there in front of him if he only looked hard enough, but something else quickly caught his attention on a bulletin board nearby.
The paper was a bit faded, and the image might’ve been hard to make out through the busy display of posters and notices, but Remy recognized it easily. Mostly because it was his face, printed beneath a single, bold word:
Dead or alive.
Payment upon delivery to Sebastian Shaw.
Chapter 10: When the Man Comes Around
Five thousand. A lot of money to some men, but not to Remy LeBeau. Least not as a price tag. Not as the summation of a life spent thieving. Not for one of the best there is, as he liked to think of himself. And not to Sebastian Shaw—a man who could afford ten times that without worry. Hard not to take it personal, a price like that.
He ripped the poster down. Behind it was a similar one with Anna’s face, and beside that was Raven’s. Together they’d make a nice chunk of change for some desperate lowlife or bounty hunter. Remy took them all, folding them up into his pocket and bringing the collar of his coat up close to his face. He kept his head down. Maybe nobody had seen it yet.
“Think we got a problem,” he said close in Anna’s ear when he found her drying off inside a cafe and asking fruitless questions about Victor Creed.
“Yeah, nobody in this town knows a damn thing about Creed,” she said, annoyance rising in the back of her throat. By the time her sentence was finished she was just about yelling. A few eyes shot up at them, and Remy turned away. The place was filled with business. Wandering glances were unavoidable, but best to avoid them if they could. He pulled Anna aside, to a table near the back where he laid out the posters for her to see. Her eyes narrowed, then went wide as she understood what she was looking at.
“We got a problem, alright.”
Water dripped down from the both of them, blotting against the ink of the paper and deforming the images below. Remy folded them up again, like having them out was an invitation for trouble.
“Lots of people coming and going in a place like this,” he said. “We keep a low profile and hopefully nobody will know the difference.”
“We saved Shaw’s life, and this is how he thanks us?” She was talking quiet, mostly to herself by the sound of it. He wasn’t sure if she even heard him as she trailed on for a little while longer. The two venomous words Remy made out at the end of it was, “Goddamnit, Raven.”
He could see the tension in her face, and how it weighed on her, heavy as the rain clouds. Remy always knew one day there’d be a price on his head, that in some ways he’d always be outrunning a bullet carved with his name. Anna was less prepared, but it wasn’t fear brimming in her eyes. It was anger. A ferocity that wouldn’t die so easily. He pitied whoever would try to claim it.
With the storm rolling through there weren’t many options beside staying outta the way and hoping nobody recognized them till they could move on. The hotel was good a place as any, though it was near full and the window looked out over the town so anyone could see in from below.
Anna drew the drapes closed, but they left a crack open in the middle where the rain came down sideways against the glass, painting little streams as it fell. The rushing water sounded closer to a river than it did rain, and made it harder to hear footsteps down the hall or voices from downstairs. Remy didn’t like that, not knowing if someone was coming or going or if his name was on anybody else’s tongue. He turned the deadbolt on the door and hoped it would be enough.
“Won’t be too long,” he told her, peeling his coat off and leaving it hanging on the back of a wooden chair. Water dripped into a puddle near their saddlebags below. “If we’re lucky, Creed got caught in the storm, too.”
“If we were lucky we wouldn’t be stuck here in the first place,” Anna said flat. She sat on the edge of the bed and drew her pistol, checking the bullets in the chamber and twirling it a few times absent-mindedly.
“It’s not so bad. Worse people to be stuck with than me, non?”
“I dunno. Never any peace and quiet when you’re around.” If it weren’t for the curl of her lips he might think she was serious.
“Peace and quiet ain’t any fun, chere.”
“But it might be a nice change of pace every once in a while.” She slammed the chamber shut, then opened it again with stiff fingers, counting each bullet one-by-one like it might’ve changed in the last few minutes. Remy put his hand above hers and she froze, looking up at him slow. Raindrops like pearls fell down the side of her face as warmth pooled between them.
“Nothing’s gonna happen,” he said, voice low and steady.
Her eyes dropped and she pulled her hand from under his, taking the gun and the warmth along with it. Almost flustered, she finally holstered the weapon. “Could you give me a minute? So I can change and dry off?”
“Course,” he said, heart beating hard suddenly.
He stood in the hallway and heard the door lock behind him. The storm was quieter away from windows and distant voices echoed all around him. A door opened a few rooms down and a group of three spilled out, eyeing him as they discussed something between themselves. Remy turned his back to them, but felt their eyes behind him, watching. Waiting. The cold from downstairs rose up through the corridor and cooled the water in his clothes, causing a chill to creep up his spine. Made it hard to stay in place.
He went downstairs, glancing over his shoulder every now and again. The group followed a few paces back. He measured their distance by the sound of the creaking floorboards behind him, a pulse that kept steady with his footsteps.
The calm downstairs felt strange against the rush inside Remy’s head. A man with a red neckerchief held a paper beneath the brim of his hat, and someone played a slow, easy song on the piano. Keeping a hand close to his hip, Remy ducked behind a corner and waited. Shooting a gun off in the middle of the hotel would do a lot to draw attention, so he hoped it wouldn’t come to that. He held his breath as the footsteps behind him got louder, and the voices stronger. When they were close, his fingers tightened against his gun. The piano dulled in his ears and nothing but the drumming footsteps came through, louder and louder the closer they got till they passed right by him. Not a single one gave him a second glance.
Remy let a breath out as his hand fell to his side.
“Nothing’s gonna happen,” he told himself, feeling foolish now for thinking it would. He wasn’t used to nerves, not usually. Any time he ran a heist or a job with the thieves guild he never felt anything but the thrill. Now that was gone, the only thing left was the hard parts—the fear, the worry. All over a single dollar stolen from a man rich enough he shouldn’t even care.
He went to the hotel bar for a drink, hoping to cool those feelings, and thought about buying a bottle but stuck with a glass, emptying it in one swallow. The party of three that had followed him down were at a table, unaware of his existence and caught up only in themselves. He couldn’t help but laugh, watching them now.
He hardly noticed the man beside him till he spoke.
It was the man from the lobby, neckerchief tied above the collar of his shirt, long coat covering a gun belt. One drink wasn’t enough to stop the pang of uneasiness rising in his gut, but he swallowed it down nonetheless.
“Afraid you’re mistaken,” Remy said, trying to sound like it was true. Not the first time he needed to lie about his name, but he hoped it was the first time that it worked. He kept his eyes forward, and reached slowly towards his holster in case, but something hard jutted into his ribs, stopping him fingertips away. Didn’t take him long to figure out it was the muzzle of a gun. The feeling was familiar by now, and so was the sound as the man thumbed the hammer back.
“Afraid I’m not,” he said. He was close enough to keep the gun hidden in shadow, and if anyone noticed it, they didn’t care.
Remy’s heart slowed as ice ran through his veins.
“I got a way of ending up in situations like this,” he said. “And a way of getting out of them.”
“Is that a threat or a warning?” the man asked, tone flat and unfazed by the insinuation either way.
“Just an observation.”
“By all means, if you think you’ve got it in you, take your best shot.”
Remy didn’t move. His hand was mere inches from his holster, but it might as well have been a mile. No way he could make it there before a bullet ripped through the whole of him.
When he placed his palms flat on the bar top the man said, “You’re smarter than you look.”
“On occasion.” Remy glanced over at him for the first time and caught a glare so sharp it almost distracted him from the marking on his face—a tattoo over his right eye that stretched down towards his chin and made him look older than he probably was. Meaner too, though he didn’t need the tattoo to do that. “What do I call you?”
“Name’s Bishop,” he said, with the impact of a bullet.
It didn’t sound familiar, but there was an air of calm surrounding him, like this was just another job, another payday. For as accustomed Remy was at finding trouble, he had a feeling Bishop was seasoned at bringing it in.
“Well, Bishop. I ain’t gonna make it easy for you, homme.”
“Where’s the girl?” he asked, ignoring the threat as he pulled the gun from Remy’s holster and tucked it behind his own belt. “I know you arrived together.”
A whistle cried in the distance, piercing through the soft noise of the hotel before the low rumble of the train shook the window panes. “You must’ve missed her. I was only escorting her to the train.”
“You keep lying and you’ll regret it.”
“You gonna shoot me in front of all these nice people?”
Bishop was quiet and in his lack of response, there was an answer.
“Didn’t think so,” Remy said. “You smarter than you look, too.”
It wasn’t a question but an expectation, one that rubbed Remy the wrong way. He pushed a laugh through the irritation. “Seemed to have forgotten which one it was.”
“Twelve,” Anna said, coming up from behind. “But you might find it empty.”
She had her gun pressed against Bishop in the same manner he did Remy and a hard glint in her eyes that said she’d pull the trigger, but Bishop didn’t flinch, or lose the controlled calm that flowed through his every word.
“This won’t end the way you think it will.”
“I was gonna say the same thing, sugah.”
The three of them stood still as the rest of the bar circled on around them, clinking glasses and swaying in seats to the swell of music without a care in the world.
“You pull the trigger, so do I,” Bishop said, low to Anna. “You’d best make right with that decision.”
Her gaze shifted to Remy with uncertainty. The hesitation in her eyes might’ve been flattering under different circumstances, but she didn’t move either way.
“I thought as much,” Bishop said, like he had all the answers. He turned slightly towards her and if Anna replied, Remy missed it, focusing instead on the empty glass in front of him. He stretched his hand far as he could against the bar without moving it much, slowly at first, till a fingertip grazed the edge.
Palming the glass, he shattered it against the side of Bishop’s face and ignored the cut against his own hand. Shards broke into skin, blood fell against the countertop. The whole bar went silent, watching with eyes wide.
Bishop clasped a hand over his head, letting the gun drop momentarily from Remy’s back, but it’s all the time he needed. He grabbed Anna by the arm and pulled her along with him as he ran.
They flew out the front of the hotel, into the pouring rain. Remy didn’t look back, and he didn’t slow down either, fighting against the mud that pulled him down with every step. Anna stayed beside him, clutching her gun tight as she aimed it back and squeezed the trigger. The sound was almost lost against the storm and the gunshots that followed could’ve been thunder, if not for the ground exploding beside Remy’s feet—little pieces of rock and dirt blown upwards from the bullets. Bishop wasn’t far behind. The shots came quicker but always low or high. He was either a good aim, or a bad one, it was too soon to tell.
Without thinking too hard, Remy cut a corner and turned into the first open building he saw. The general store, no one but a clerk inside, white as a ghost. Anna slammed the door shut, and fell to the floor beneath the line of the windows as a stillness settled upon them.
“Nothing’s gonna happen, huh?” she said, struggling to reload her gun with slick fingers.
“No need to rub salt in the wound, chere,” Remy said. He looked to the clerk, who hadn’t said a word and probably couldn’t with how hard he was shaking. “You gonna wanna stay low, mon ami.”
The clerk didn’t ask questions before quickly ducking low behind the counter.
Remy glanced out the window, searching the street for Bishop. The rain was thick, and clouds darkened the sky. For a while it almost seemed like they were alone, till he finally spotted him, walking a straight line towards the store, a Winchester rifle held in his hands, big enough to cut Remy in half and then in quarters.
As Bishop pulled the lever back, Remy dropped and flattened himself against the floor. The window shattered and glass rained down above his head. Anna ducked as a hole exploded beside her. Another bullet caught a sack of flour and it poured down over them like fresh snow.
“LeBeau!” Bishop’s voice rang so loud, it pierced through the storm. “This doesn’t have to be a fight.”
“Hate to tell you this, but you’re the one shooting,” Remy shouted back. He slowly lifted his head above the now vacant window, but only enough to catch a glimpse of where Bishop stood—straight ahead, a few paces away, rifle aimed and ready to fire again.
“Got any ideas?” Anna asked once he ducked back down beside her.
“Two of us, one of him,” Remy said. “Those aren’t bad odds.”
“‘Cept we only got one gun.”
He looked around the store, searching for something that might be useful while Anna rose the gun above her head and shot out the window, aiming high but still low enough to worry anybody. Maybe it would buy them time, but not much. Bishop kept yelling from outside, and each time he did his voice got a little louder, a little less patient. Closer, too.
Anna fired again to slow him down and without saying a word they each rushed behind a tall shelf, waiting till the door opened to move.
“Throw your gun down and you won’t be harmed,” Bishop said as he came inside. Though they were hidden, it wouldn’t be long till he found them—weren’t many places to look in a store so small.
Remy was about to answer when Anna shook her head. She gestured to one side of the store and then the other. Splitting up might be the only option left besides shooting Bishop dead. He didn’t much want to do that if it could be avoided. And considering she hadn’t done it yet, Anna probably didn’t either.
Before they could make their move, the clerk shot up from behind the counter, arms raised, yelling about not wanting to die and pointing to the shelf where they were hidden. Anna’s eyes settled on Remy with intention, and he nodded. They moved at the same time. Anna left, and Remy right. For a moment, he thought they could get by. Remy nearly made it to the door when Bishop swung the rifle around like a bat into his stomach, and in the same motion brought it around to Anna’s feet, causing her to stumble. The gun slipped from her hand and clattered to the floor but she shot up fast, power wound tight in a fist as she reeled forward.
Remy went for the gun at the same time, his eyes away from the fight for a moment. He picked it up and held it tight, but when he looked up again Bishop’s pistol was at Anna’s head. Though she was smaller in stature, enough of her covered him to make aiming hard, especially as she struggled, stomping on his foot and twisting away. She shoved her elbow back hard as she could, but Bishop pivoted, tightening a hand against her shoulder. He matched her every turn, like he knew the dance already. Remy raised his gun anyway.
“Shoot him, Remy,” Anna said in a growl.
He kept his aim steady. There was a window, the smallest opportunity to shoot past her head, albeit a small one. He could probably hit Bishop without hurting her. Probably. But he wasn’t sure.
“Give me the gun,” Bishop said, low, demanding, and unperturbed, like he knew already what Remy would do, which made him want to shoot just a little bit more. His eyes moved between the two of them, trying to think it through slow. If he was as good as he liked to believe, he could make that shot. Drop Bishop before he could pull the trigger, miss Anna altogether. But there’s a chance, there’s always a chance. She looked him in the eyes and nodded, like she knew what he was thinking. She trusted him.
Water dripped down his forehead and clouded his vision. He tried wiping it dry but only made it worse.
If it was anyone other than her…
He twirled the gun in his hand and held it grip first with the muzzle pointed down.
Bishop walked over, dragging Anna along with him, and ripped it away. When it was tucked safely in his belt, his hand loosened and with all her weight Anna turned, heaving a fist straight into his jaw. He wiped his mouth but let it slide.
“Sorry, chere,” Remy said.
Anna was quiet, anger and defeat both twisting around in her eyes.
Bishop kept a gun on them both as he lead them to his horse and a water-soaked buckboard with low wooden sides. He tied them to steel brackets in the back and didn’t say a word until Remy asked, “Where we going?”
“California,” Bishop said.
“You think it’s wise, traveling in this weather?”
“We can’t stay here.” The answer was brief, and matter-of-fact before he stepped up onto the seat of the buckboard and cracked the reins.
The sky was dark when they left town, occasionally painted white with flashes of lightning. Remy caught glimpses of Anna’s face and couldn’t tell what she was thinking. He decided not to ask. They rode in silence for a long time, soaked and hurting.
Thunder rolled across the horizon, so loud Remy could feel it in his bones. Bishop’s horse reared at the sound, and the buckboard skid to harsh stop.
Quick, short bursts came after that. Just like gunfire.
The wall of the wagon splintered in front of Remy, sending wood flying in every direction. For a moment, he thought he saw blood, but didn’t have time to dwell on it. A bullet sliced through the other side and more followed, coming from too many directions to keep track of.
He ducked low as his restraints would let him. Anna struggled against hers avoiding fragments of wood and buckshot. The bullets didn’t stop once. Bishop fired a few shots back with the rifle, just enough to give them an opening. He rushed the horse into a gallop and raced hard as he could as the gunshots became a distant echo, lost to the wind and to the storm.
Remy struggled to sit up again and Anna’s eyes widened staring at him.
“Remy,” she said, concern seeping through the ringing in his ears. “Your shoulder.”
He looked down to see what she did, red pooling across his shirt and an unmistakable warmth that grew into a sharp piercing pain the further from the fight they went.
“I changed my mind, chere. You were right,” he said, looking down as the stain got bigger.
Her eyes narrowed with confusion.
“A little peace and quiet might be nice.”
Chapter 11: The Good, the Bad, and the Unlucky
The gunshots tapered off after a while, once the fight became a chase instead. Bishop rode hard and erratic over the rough, sinking land, mashing through thick mud. Every bump and turn of the wagon sent waves of pain shooting through Remy’s arm. He couldn’t tell where the bullet had hit exactly, just that it was stuck somewhere and he didn’t want it to be.
Anna shifted her weight against a splintered edge on the buckboard, and dragged her ropes back and forth across the sharpened wood like a knife. She kept telling him nice things like: it’s gonna be okay, don’t worry, sugah, you’ll be alright. He wanted to believe her about the hole in his shoulder, but wasn’t so sure about the other thing—the gang of outlaws or bandits or bounty hunters—whoever it was shooting at them, who wanted the price on their heads. Dead or alive, the paper said, and in situations like that you can always put your money on dead being more tempting. Even if there were exceptions.
With the rain pouring and the wind howling and the distant crack of bullets, Bishop didn’t seem to notice as Anna finally severed the rope around her wrists. She crawled to Remy and took a closer look at the wound though he figured she didn’t know much more than he did. Her face looked grim either way.
“You holding up okay?” she asked close to his ear.
He focused on the hard line of her mouth beside him and decided there were probably worse ways to die. Biting back a grimace with a grin he said, “A kiss might make it better.”
“You best try your luck elsewhere, sugah,” she said, but her eyes lightened with something that might’ve been amusement when they rolled. “You still got that knife of yours?”
He nodded, and she knew exactly where to find it from the night they had met. She was tying him up then, now she was helping him get free. Funny, the way things change.
She got the knife from his boot and as the blade grazed the ropes, Bishop pulled on the reins and she slid to the back of the buckboard. The horse skid to a stop and the knife flew from her grasp. Remy gritted his teeth as his shoulder hit hard against the side and pain swelled like fire through his chest.
Anna reached for the knife again, and as as her fingers tightened against it, Bishop swung around with his rifle.
“Don’t,” he said, eyes intent over the barrel.
She paused and considered it. Neither one of them moved till the knife dropped from her hand. Bishop lowered the rifle. It was a mistake. Remy could see the flicker in her eyes, like that’s exactly what she was waiting for. In one single moment, Anna rushed forward. She shouldered the muzzle and twisted her arm around it, pulling until Bishop’s body followed to the ground. They both landed hard, but Remy could only hear the struggle, the sloshing of mud and water below.
He pulled the knife forward with his boot, and stretched his hand trying to get to it. A sharp pain shot down his arm but he pushed through, twisting and clawing until he could feel the cold blade touch his skin. When he finally had it in hand, he worked fast, sawing against the rope with awkward, bloody, cramped fingers. He slowly felt the twine loosen, and held his breath, leaning forward till it snapped.
Anna tried wrenching the rifle from Bishop’s hands as Remy stumbled out from the buckboard, but she slipped back into the mud. He kept it aimed on her for a moment, but something else caught his eye and he readjusted to the horizon, firing off a shot. A distant silhouette fell from the top of a horse.
Bishop kept the rifle raised. “The longer we stay here, the easier targets we become.”
“I don’t plan on staying here long at all,” Anna said, hurrying to her feet. She’d fight till she died if she had to and Remy could tell by the look in her eyes she wasn’t afraid at all.
He turned towards the horizon, waiting to see another rider, knowing it’s only a matter of time till another one came along. “He’s right, chere.”
Anna stopped, looking slowly towards Remy like she hadn’t noticed he was there.
“A lot of people want the price on your head,” Bishop said. “I may be the only one willing to take you alive, unless you give me reason to shoot.” It was a warning to both of them, the rifle in his hand like a punctuation mark at the end of the sentence. “All that commotion back in town? You might as well have announced it. They’re coming for you, rest assured.”
“And what difference does it make?” Anna said. Her words were to Bishop, but her eyes stayed on Remy. “We go to California and Shaw will kill us anyway.”
“Maybe,” Remy said. “Maybe not.”
She stared at him a little while longer, like she was wondering if they could still make a move, but he hardly had the energy to lie to her. He clasped a hand over his bloody shoulder, and she saw what he feared—a weak link. She bit down on her bottom lip and dropped her shoulders, looking at Bishop like she wasn’t impressed.
“You try tying me up again and I’ll bite your fingers clean off.”
“As long as you don’t make this more difficult than it needs to be.”
She was quiet at that, anger brimming on the tip of her tongue. But she nodded, and Remy did too.
He did find it strange, Bishop keeping them alive after everything. But there are two types of bounty hunters Remy knew of: the kind that cares about the money, and the kind that cares about doing what’s right. He had a good idea now which one Bishop might be.
The sky was all black as they began hiking up a series of hills. Steep rock walls made the shadows darker than they had any right being. Not even the moon could brighten their path upwards, glimmering like a silver coin nice enough to steal. The idea was sound. Get to higher ground, wait out the night and the outlaws. Bishop had left the buckboard behind, and circled around to create a false trail in hopes it might buy them time. The rain had stopped but it was a hard trek in the darkness, harder yet when you’re bleeding through your shirt.
“Keep moving,” Bishop said, as Remy slowed his pace to catch his breath, bracing himself against a tree.
Anna stopped beside him. “He needs a doctor.”
“I’m fine,” he said but she didn’t seem to hear, and it wasn’t much the truth, anyway. If he moved a certain way he could feel the bullet inside, itching and burning at the same time.
“If we don’t keep moving—”
“We die. I got it the first time you said it.”
“I was beginning to wonder. You said you wouldn’t make this difficult.”
“Difficult?” Her hands coiled like snakes ready to strike. “You ain’t seen difficult—”
A loud, bellowing howl echoed through the sky, eating her words as it bounced through the trees surrounding them.
Remy’s stomach dropped, remembering Logan’s words to him just before they had left—Stay out of my way. Probably, it was nothing, but the full moon loomed above like a reminder, cold and vacant the same way Logan’s eyes had been. He tried to swallow down the edge in his voice but it remained despite his efforts.
“We should keep moving.”
Anna agreed, and helped him the rest of the way.
Halfway up the hilltop they stopped to make camp. Bishop stirred a fire of dull embers, just enough to dry out his socks overnight. It’s warmth wasn’t enough to soothe Remy of the chill that crept up his spine, but Anna sitting beside him comforted him in other ways. Selfish ones, maybe.
“Just like old times, non?”
Hunting for Raven and Creed, he meant. Trying not to kiss her. She rubbed her hands together and held them in front of her cold, red nose. Her jaw tightened for a moment, lips curved.
“I could really go for some of Logan’s whiskey right about now,” she said with a laugh that got Bishop’s attention. Remy was almost thankful for that. He didn’t much want to think about Logan, least not more than he already was.
“Keep your voices down,” Bishop said. The light from the embers painted a dull red glow across his face, and though it didn’t make him any easier to read, Remy tried anyway.
“That your plan, Bishop? Stay quiet and hope for the best?”
He didn’t answer. The fire hummed lightly between them and without taking his eyes off Remy, he pulled the bandanna from his neck, wet it with water from his canteen and tossed it over. “For your shoulder.”
“I’m so flattered you care,” Remy said but Bishop’s face remained flat.
“No more slowing us down.”
He said it like it was the terms of an agreement. Remy didn’t know if he could keep that promise, so he kept quiet, pulling his stiff bloody shirt away from the wound. He tried not to wince as the fabric caught against torn skin—or when he wiped the blood away and found the cut nastier than he imagined beneath all that red. He couldn’t help biting down on his teeth. The bullet went in below the collarbone, beside his armpit. It missed bone, that was the good news. Bad news was everything else. Feeling Anna’s eyes on him, he tried to grin.
“How about that kiss now, chere?”
She didn’t smile or laugh, looking down at the wound instead of his eyes, which made him feel even worse, like he really was dying.
He let her take the cloth from his hands and run it over his shoulder, dabbing at it gently. It felt better when she did it, though her fingers were rough and calloused in a way he never noticed before. Years of fighting and working, powerful all by themselves, but gentle as they touched him, warm despite the cold.
Worse ways to die, indeed.
She paused, as if she’d been woken from a dream and didn’t quite know what to make of it, but her eyes settled on Bishop with new fire. “People are gonna die because of you.”
His silence seemed to make it worse, but it certainly didn’t stop Anna. She told him about Creed, and how they were looking for him—how every moment they were out here, Creed was out there, hurting somebody, killing them.
“If you cared about doing the right thing that’s who you’d be after,” she said, voice sharp. “Not playing puppet to Sebastian Shaw.”
The anger that crossed Bishop’s face was more subtle than Anna’s, building slow like a dust storm, but Remy could still see it through the dark, festering with every word she spoke. He looked between the two of them, like he didn’t see a difference from the right she mentioned, and the wrong.
“I know who you are,” he said. “Both of you.”
The words were hollow in Remy’s ears. He was getting tired of hearing that.
“You think you do,” Anna said, straightening towards the dull warmth of the fire, glaring over the light.
Bishop’s face didn’t change. He was as confident as she was. “How many scams did you run with your mother? How many jobs did you help her with until you realized she crossed a line? I was a sheriff once. I’m familiar with her work, lying and cheating her way through life.”
Remy never asked much about Anna’s past, but he figured it wasn’t any more pleasant than his own. Her muscles tightened beside him, like she had to hold herself back from leaping right over the fire and rearranging Bishop’s face right there. That probably meant he was right about something.
“Though I suppose your list of sins is not nearly as long as his,” Bishop said, eyes trailing slowly towards Remy with that look he was so used to, the one that said guilty.
He didn’t bother trying to argue as he wrung out the wet bandanna with one hand. Red water cascaded down his fingers.
“It don’t matter,” Anna said. “Maybe we’ve done things we ain’t proud of, things we can’t take back. But right now? Right now we’re trying to help people, and you ain’t letting us. That don’t sit well with me, sugah.”
“My point is this—Shaw’s no friend of mine. When his time comes, I will be there, same way I’m here now.”
“What about Victor Creed?” Remy asked. “What about his time?”
“It will come, too.”
Anna scoffed, and dug her feet into the mud. “Not soon enough.”
It was the first time something changed in Bishop’s eyes, though Remy might’ve missed it if he wasn’t looking. That cold, hard stare narrowed with seeds of doubt. He didn’t say any more, he couldn’t. They all knew Anna was right.
Silence crept in around the camp, and stayed long into the night.
Remy tried to catch some sleep, but his shoulder kept him from being comfortable, pushing against the side of a rock, or the trunk of a tree. No matter which way he turned, the pain swelled, cutting through him like fire with each breath. With one hand he struggled to wrap the wound and after a few failed attempts and even more silent curses, Anna woke up to help, tying the bandanna so tight he hissed.
She apologized as she went to loosen it, but Remy stopped her before she could.
“It feels better,” he said. “Think you got the magic touch, chere.”
In truth, the pain was still there, lingering through the whole of him, but it was better to see that smile inching up through her lips. Best part of the night, that smile. Only good thing that happened to him in days. Made him forget some of the bad, even if it didn’t last long.
Bishop kept his rifle across his lap, more of a warning than anything else. He cleaned it for a while, picking dried mud off the barrel to stay busy and awake. Remy could feel him watching through the dark till a gleam of light pulled his attention towards a ridge. Bishop aimed down the slope below, gazing only through the scope for a moment, before moving quickly to kick dirt over the embers of their fire.
Anna stood slowly, trying to peak at what was below.
A gunshot thundered nearby, lost within the thin line of trees that surrounded them. Bishop answered it with a bullet of his own, and then another. Shouting swelled from down the hill and lanterns scattered like fireflies dancing through the night. A fusillade of gunfire rang out as Bishop ducked behind a tree, most his focus lost now on the impending threat ahead.
A spark lit in Anna’s eyes and Remy knew what she was thinking before she said a word. Might be their only chance left to get away, even if it was a bad one. Bishop would keep the others busy, and they’d keep him busy, too.
She helped Remy to his feet. He hesitated for a moment, trying to figure the odds before he decided it didn’t matter. Bishop had no time to notice them missing, hunched low against the ridge, aiming for whatever moved below. A cry rang out like he’d hit one, but gunshots enveloped it too fast to tell.
They disappeared into the shadow of the brush before Bishop yelled after them. The anger chased them in an echo, growing louder and more furious with every step. If they could double back to his horse they’d be good as free but they’d hiked a long time and the longer Remy went, the harder it was to keep up with Anna, who cut through the forest with power and ease, destroying anything in her path like it was nothing. It was almost contagious, that strength of hers, but Remy knew it wouldn’t make a difference, not with the hole in his shoulder. The longer he ran the less distance he made. His head was light and his arm was on fire and before he knew it she was gone, lost to the shadows.
She didn’t stop for nothing, and he hoped she’d keep that up as he slowed down before changing his mind. Alone she could make it. Stealing her some time might be the last trick he’d ever pull, and as Bishop caught up to him—swinging a fist straight into Remy’s nose and knocking him on his ass—he thought it was a good legacy to leave behind. Worth it, even as the taste of his own blood filled the back of his throat, staring down the mouth of Bishop’s rifle.
“Give me one reason why I shouldn’t kill you right now.”
“I can give you two,” Remy said, trying not to choke on the blood in his mouth as he coughed it all up. He took a moment to breathe before answering and found it difficult. “For starters, carrying my body down this mountain sounds like more trouble than it’s worth, non?”
He paused for reaction but Bishop didn’t look like he found that funny, staring dead-eyed over the barrel. Remy tried to breathe again before continuing. “You’re a good man, Bishop. ‘Least you think you are, which is why you didn’t kill me first chance you got, or the second chance, or the third. Why I’m still talking now, too.”
“Don’t test me, LeBeau. You won’t like the results.”
“Think I already got ‘em.”
Bishop was still, darkness set across his face. For the first time Remy found it easy to read the frustration, the threat, deepening through his eyes, so cold he thought for a moment that he might be wrong, that he’d pull the trigger. Instead, he straightened, and moved the rifle off him.
Remy tried not to, but he couldn’t stop himself from glancing back into the darkness where Anna disappeared. He hoped she wasn’t doing the same. If he never saw her again it meant she had a chance, and she deserved that much. He was happy to give it to her. Had a good feeling about it, too, between the hurting—his shoulder, his face, his chest, deep inside somewhere gnawing at him like a swarm of mosquitoes—missing something he never had.
“What kind of girl do you take me for, swamp rat?” Anna asked, appearing from the shadows, voice like a dream. The hair on his neck rose up as if he was staring at a ghost. “I don’t leave my friends behind.”
He would’ve laughed if not for the knot in his chest. Relief and dread circling around him at the same time. It’d be easier if she left, better for her. But he was glad to see that smile one more time.
The sound of Bishop’s rifle clicking into place pulled Remy out of his head.
“This constitutes difficult,” he said to her.
She was about to say something, to tell him off, but light flickered through the gaps in the trees ahead of them and her mouth fell open, wordless. The marching steps of the posse came closer, stomping like an army ready to fight.
“Could use a gun about now,” Remy mentioned off hand as he took a few steps back. Bishop ignored him, and turned his rifle to the others.
“This is my bounty to claim,” he shouted at the shadows. “You’d do best to move on.”
The leaves rustled through silence, then everything stopped altogether. A low growl rumbled close by, and a chorus of screams sang through wild, random gunfire that clipped the edges of trees.
The moonlight caught blood as it flew through the air, shimmering red like the sunset over clear water. Bishop lowered the rifle, stunned as the screams choked out one by one.
Remy’s heart stopped. In that brief moment of stillness he saw the two yellow eyes that haunted him, peering through the darkness. He blinked a few times, but they remained. All at once he was a kid again, telling stories of monsters and beasts only now he knew they were real. Anna stepped back beside him. She knew it, too.
It was staring at them—not quite Logan, but something worse. Humanlike in body, standing hunched with the maw of a wolf, blood dripping in lines from his jaw.
Remy could hardly utter a single word, but when he did, he made it count.
The ground cracked beneath his feet like breaking bones. Leaves, twigs, rocks. It could’ve been a graveyard for all Remy knew. There wasn’t time to think, so he didn’t try, though it was hard to ignore the way each breath kind of choked him, and how hot his skin was burning. Made running hard, till he remembered what was behind him—a storm ripping up the earth, and if he stopped it’d swallow him whole. He pushed himself further, and didn’t look back, didn’t look anywhere at all as he tried to outrun those eyes. His heart pounded a hole straight through him, ears rang with that howl, with those screams…
His knees went out from under him, chest heaving as he gasped for air. He turned on his back and laid still as he could, hoping if he wasn’t moving it might stop hurting, but it didn’t. The bullet stuck in his shoulder bit back with a vengeance as he held a hand over the wound. Pain spread through the entirety of his chest, sharp and bitter and getting worse, but the rest of the world slowed down around him.
The moon loomed above, neatly between two trees that looked like shadows. He reached up gingerly and tried to rip it straight from the sky, but his arm fell limp beside him. With the sounds of distant gunfire echoing inside his ears, everything fell back into darkness.
Teeth brought him back, digging into the flesh of his arm, dragging till he thought it might rip from the rest of him. He jolted awake and saw only Anna’s familiar green eyes staring down as she pulled him to his feet, voice like an angel fluttering quietly against his ear.
“Don’t be,” he said, leaning against her to stop the world from tilting beneath him. Her arm on his shoulder kept them close, helped hold the weight. “Could get used to this.”
She elbowed him gently in the ribs, but her voice was friendly. “You use all your energy trying to be charming and we’ll never make it outta here.”
“Don’t get the wrong idea, chere. I got plenty of stamina.” He took each word slow, between a smile that probably didn’t look as good as it did in his head. Smug, the way he liked to be, like if he could pretend hard enough then he’d be okay, and it wouldn’t matter that he was slowing her down or that she’d be better off without him.
Anna’s face went flat, unamused for a moment before she moved her arms away and let him balance on his own, which wasn’t so difficult, aside from his head spinning in circles with the wind. He braced himself on a tree till the world set right again.
“That thing back there,” Anna said, pausing as if she were thinking about the right word. “Logan? That’s what you were talking about before?”
“Hate to be right about it.”
“Kinda thought you were crazy.”
“I wish you were crazy.”
She drew in a deep breath and let it out slow. “What’s he doing way out here?”
Hunting, Remy thought with a bad taste in his mouth. He hoped it wasn’t true and stayed quiet, but Anna looked like she knew what he was thinking and changed the subject instead.
“You see Bishop at all?” Anna asked.
He shook his head. They were both silent, thinking about what might’ve happened. Despite what Bishop had done, Remy’s stomach turned thinking about it. He could already imagine the outcome of that fight—too much blood to tell the difference between the two of them and if he had to put money down on the cornered animal or the man with a gun, he’d put it all on the animal every time, especially when that animal is Logan Howlett, who almost killed Remy with his bare hands once. No telling the damage he could do with claws.
Anna frowned. “We gotta go back to Utopia, get you to the doctor. Tell somebody—”
Her eyes went sharp at him before falling to the ground. Probably, she had the same thought he did. It wouldn’t be long till somebody else came around, hoping to take the bounty for themselves, raining down fire on whichever town they happened to step foot in. Too many people could get hurt and Utopia wouldn’t survive any more grief, not like that.
Nothing but open country all around and they were still somehow stuck in a cage. Worse yet, the cage wasn’t theirs. It belonged to a beast who knew they were intruding and wanted a slice of flesh for his trouble.
A fierce howl ripped through the sky, stretching all the way down to where they stood. The sound was close, but far enough to echo till bullets cut it off. Three booming shots from a Winchester rifle. Maybe the fight wasn’t over quite yet for Bishop.
Anna looked around frantically, trying to determine the direction of the shots until they were replaced by a silence thick as fog.
They waited to hear something more, hoping that it wasn’t over. Bishop didn’t deserve to die like that. And Logan? Come morning, Remy had a pretty good feeling that he just might regret murder. Still, there was a part of him that knew this was the moment they had been waiting for, the only one left to take if they wanted to run. The thief in Remy told him to, but something else kept him in place. The blood on his shirt spread across his chest, over the spot where he would’ve worn his badge if he never lost it. But it’s not the badge that kept him there, or the need to prove everybody wrong. He stayed because Bishop might need help. Because it was the right thing to do.
Anna bit down on her jaw, probably facing the same momentary dilemma. It didn’t take long for the silence to pass.
“Stay here,” she told Remy. A demand colored with concern that might’ve been touching if he didn’t already feel useless. Bleeding was one thing, being a burden was another and if he had to pick between the two, the choice was easy.
He stood, and almost stumbled back. Head was lighter than he remembered. Anna frowned, something that might’ve been fear flashing in her eyes.
“You don’t have to—”
“But I am,” he said. “Don’t worry, chere. I been in worse spots than this before.”
He wasn’t sure that was true the longer he thought about it, but it didn’t matter. He swallowed down the pain and used the trees to help him balance. Every now and again Anna looked back at him, and he made sure to straighten his posture, to put on that facade he was so good at keeping up.
There were no more gunshots, no more growls, but something fluttered threw the trees ahead and they froze, waiting till the edge subsided, though it never went away completely. Anna picked up a fallen branch and kept it at her side as they crept forward.
Remy’s boot sunk heavily into a mud puddle. When he pulled it out there was a color to the dingy water below, barely noticeable in the dim light of the moon. He studied it as Anna stopped beside him.
It wasn’t water that caught the light, but blood—spilling out in every direction, making a kind of river as it ran slowly down the slope of the hill.
Four bodies were strewn across the ground up ahead, tattered and torn up, leaving a feast for the vultures who were drawn to the stench of death.
Remy didn’t recognize them, but he knew they were the outlaws who had come for the bounty. His eyes swept quickly over each of them, taking in the details and fighting the urge to turn away. Maybe he wanted to prepare himself for the inevitable. Maybe he just needed to see.
“This was Logan?” Anna said like she already knew, lip curled up as a hand covered her mouth, trying real hard to keep something in.
Remy knew the feeling, and swallowed something stuck in his throat. He kneeled down beside one of the bodies, getting a closer look despite everything inside telling him to leave it be. There was a long slash over the front of the chest, but something different caught his attention. A smear of blood across the side of the face—not a clean cut from claws or the jagged edge of teeth—it was an exit wound. A bullet hole.
He stood and looked across the rest of the bodies. Each and every one of their gun belts were empty.
“We should keep moving,” Anna said, avoiding the spill of blood as she hurried past.
Remy didn’t argue about that, but he stayed for a moment, gazing into the darkness between the trees. A cold breeze brushed past his face and the shadows seemed to move, to sway—circling him, watching right back. The wind kicked up the smell of copper, sour in the air, enough to choke on as the darkness began to encroach upon him. Each breath came slower than the last till they stopped altogether.
A branch snapped behind him.
“Remy!” Anna called, breaking the tension from his bones.
She found Bishop, shirt torn and bloody though Remy couldn’t tell how bad it was till he got close. A few cuts ran down the length of his arms, nasty ones but nothing that would keep him down. He clutched the rifle so tight in his hands it could’ve been a death grip as he loaded in new rounds.
“I’m surprised you came back,” he said without looking up.
“We ain’t the monsters you think we are,” Anna said.
His face didn’t change, like he wasn’t sure yet. He pulled the lever of the rifle back. Blood smeared across the silver plating wherever he touched. “That thing’s still out there, licking its wounds.”
“You shot him?” Remy asked.
“I shot it,” Bishop corrected. “Would have killed me otherwise.”
Remy met Anna’s eyes for a moment, and she looked just as disturbed as he did. They’d both seen Logan treat death like a vacation. A bullet wouldn’t do anything besides piss him off.
“We should go while we got a chance,” Anna said. Smart, practical. Bishop wasn’t convinced.
“That thing needs to be put down before it can hurt someone else. You want to leave? Go right ahead. I’ll deal with you both when I’m done.”
Remy stepped in front of him before he could move, surprised at the anger spilling out of himself. “That isn’t a thing, it’s a man. A friend of mine, and he deserves better than to be treated like an animal.”
It felt strange, calling him his friend like that, and Logan would probably disagree, but Remy was beginning to understand that everybody’s got something inside of them they ain’t exactly proud of. It doesn’t define a person—at least it doesn’t have to. If it did, then there’d be no hope for anybody at all.
Bishop made a noise that might’ve been a laugh, or the closest thing he could muster to one. “You didn’t see it like I did.”
“I seen him plenty, homme.”
“Remy’s right,” Anna said, voice hardly cutting through them. “Too many people back in Utopia count on Logan. They need him.”
The words meant nothing to Bishop, who pushed past Remy, shoving against the side of him. It would’ve hurt if he didn’t have something else to focus on, like slipping the pistol from Bishop’s holster, a movement so slight he didn’t even notice once it was gone. The world slowed down, muscles acted on memory, on instinct. A lifetime spent swiping wallets and watches and whatever else he ever wanted—to Remy, it was just like breathing. It’s who he was.
Pain shot through his arm as he cocked the hammer back. It felt heavier than it should’ve been, but it was only the hole in his shoulder messing with his mind. He used two hands to keep the gun steady, and even then it trembled as he fought against the pressure. Course he didn’t plan on shooting him, but it still felt good for the tables to turn.
Bishop glanced back slowly, staring straight into the barrel where Remy held it at his head. He didn’t look impressed, but maybe a little annoyed if the twitch of his nose meant anything.
“I’m doing you a favor,” Remy said, knowing Bishop wouldn’t see it that way. It didn’t matter. He didn’t know what Logan could do. Better for both of them to stay out of each other’s way. The moon was in an arch to the west, falling deep to the horizon. Soon the sun would come and kiss it goodbye. Once it did, maybe the nightmare would end. He only needed a little time.
“Thought you weren’t the monsters,” Bishop said.
“We ain’t.” Anna made her words as deadset as his were. “You can thank us later, when you’re still alive.”
The end of his rifle pointed down to the dirt, but he didn’t let go of it, like he was reconsidering whether or not he should kill them both. He turned abruptly, unflinching as the gun bore down on him, and stared straight into Remy’s eyes. There was that look again, like he’d do it. He’d pull the trigger and cut him in half. Remy had seen it before—different people but always the same. You or me, it said. Only one can walk away.
His arm sank against the throbbing in his shoulder. Fingertips went numb. Anna’s warmth beside him, unwavering like Bishop’s stare till she forced her way between them.
“We don’t got time for this.”
Bishop’s gaze shot towards her, and then quickly past, widening as the woods creaked behind them. Remy turned in time to see Logan emerge from the darkness, walking slow. Yellow eyes swept over them, curious almost. Contemplating.
“Don’t shoot him,” Remy said, but Bishop raised the rifle to his face anyway.
The shot deafened his ears, but not so much Remy couldn’t hear the cry that came from Logan as the bullet cut through his stomach, or the growl that followed, low and guttural and furious. Blood spilled down his center, enough to drop a normal man, but that wasn’t Logan. Not tonight, not ever.
As Bishop pulled the lever back again, Logan leapt forward, so fast Remy only saw a blur till they were on the ground. He fired a second shot but he was on his back now, using the barrel of the Winchester as a shield from Logan’s claws. Anna’s mouth dropped open, yelling, but the sound was lost against the ringing in Remy’s ears. He stood frozen, stuck somewhere between the past and present. Each movement Logan made was familiar and from a distance he almost looked like the same man—the one who gave him a chance when nobody else did, who believed in him, who trusted him when he had no reason to.
Anna got close and used all her weight to pull Logan back. A distraction, a momentary lapse. It gave Bishop time to move, but he didn’t. He couldn’t. Clawed hands swept at Anna, drawing blood, but she didn’t stop fighting. The sight of her, a vision of war and grace, pushing through blood and fear—it woke Remy up.
Familiar stinging pain worked its way to his fingertip as he pulled the trigger straight into the air.
Logan went still at the sound, shoulders hunched forward like suddenly the world was weighing him down. Yellow eyes rose to meet Remy, narrow and colder than the crisp air. He moved slowly, drawn forward to the new threat.
Remy took one step back, just one, and looked to Anna with a plea. “Get Bishop down to the horse. I’ll meet you there.”
“Are you insane?” she said softly, helping Bishop to his feet anyway.
“Popular opinion seems to think so.”
Logan crept forward, teeth in a snarl. Like a nightmare, Remy was too afraid to look away, but in the corner of his eye he saw Anna standing defiant.
“I don’t leave my friends behind.” Her voice was a hash whisper, but he could hear the fear behind it, cutting through him like a knife.
“I know, chere, but I’m asking you to,” he said. “Please.”
She was quiet, unhappy, but something inside her seemed to understand, even if she hated it. She grabbed the rifle off the ground and led Bishop back into the safety of the woods. He half-expected her to turn around but she didn’t. Not this time. It hurt for a moment, watching her go, but as Logan came closer, dripping blood and bile, he knew it was for the best.
“Just you’n me,” Remy told him, talking low the same way he would to his horse in a storm because it just felt right. The words seemed lost on Logan, but he kept them coming, anyway. The sky was slate blue. Night was fading, slow but sure. “Thought you were supposed to stop fights, not start ‘em.”
A growl rose from deep in Logan’s throat and his eyes fell to the gun in Remy’s hand so he dropped it, hoping that might help.
“I’m not gonna hurt you, mon ami.”
The ground crunched beneath Logan’s feet. His head went low, muscles coiled, hands tensed. His claws, jagged and grisly, rose from his side. Remy fought the urge to step back, to run. He wouldn’t make it far. He knew what was about to happen—same thing as before, back at the jailhouse, only now there was no cage to stop him, no iron door to shut between them.
Remy took a deep breath. It was all he had time for before Logan lunged.
They hit the ground hard. Remy twisted, till weight came down against his shoulder, pinning him. Flashes of pain made it hard to concentrate, but he fought the best he could. Logan was stronger than before, but sloppy with rage, not that it mattered much. With one good arm, there wasn’t much Remy could do. They rolled for a moment, down a small hill, grunting and spilling blood. When they stopped, Logan was above him, saliva dripping down from bared teeth. The stench of cigars lingered beneath the smell of death.
A clawed hand clasped Remy’s shoulder, and like nothing had changed at all, Logan’s arm came down heavy across his throat, sinking there like a rock. Maybe some part of him remembered, buried beneath layers of animal instinct. It was personal between them, had been since the day they met. Figures it’d end like this.
Remy didn’t have enough strength left to fight it, his whole body too heavy to move. His arm went numb, breathing slowed, but before his vision went white completely, he saw a shift in those eyes peering down at him. Logan’s expression changed, pulling back from the feral rage that eclipsed it. Half man, half animal and then it was gone. Just like night and day.
Pale light stretched across the horizon, reaching out with long fingers as dawn broke through the darkness.
The weight lifted from Remy and Logan collapsed beside him.
Neither of them moved. Remy focused on breathing instead—gasping at first, then wheezing, till he managed something resembling a breath. When he got a hold of that he nudged Logan with his elbow, hoping for some kind of response that sounded human and got nothing for a while. Then he finally got a groan, like a drunk waking from a bender. A word came next, muttered and distant as it was, cloaked with exhaustion and wet with blood, repeated on his tongue before unconsciousness finally took grasp.
“Creed,” he had said. “Where’s Creed?”
Remy’s whole body went cold as a laugh bellowed out somewhere from behind.
“I should be thanking you. Keeping him distracted like that.” A shadow stood above him. Stained, chipped teeth flashed in a prideful grin. Remy would never forget Creed’s smile, or the the taunting inflection of his voice. “Hell, if it weren’t for you, I’d be dead two times over.”
It made sense, then—why Logan was so far from home, how come those outlaws were missing their guns. Creed had them, strapped to his waist and to his back. It was a good place to lay low, this mountain. Anybody’d think the same thing.
Remy would’ve laughed, if he could manage it. He did it, after all. He found Victor Creed.
“I really do owe you one, which is why I ain’t gonna kill you,” he said. The smile twisted into something different, something serious. “That don’t mean you’re gonna like what happens next.”
“And what’s that, homme?” he managed through a cough, ragged and sharp against his throat.
“You ever been to California?”
Remy tried to lift his arm, to move away, to do anything, but his body was spent and wouldn’t listen before Creed’s boot came down across his face and everything went black. Last thing he heard before the cold, cruel quiet was four simple words:
“You’re gonna hate it.”
This is the last chapter I currently have written, so there won't be updates for a little while. I'm slowly trying to piece together the rest of the story, and working to a definite end. Until then, I hope anyone whose read this far has enjoyed it.