Mortimer and Manco huddled in the hills outside of Agua Caliente nursing their injuries.
“You know he’s going to send them after us?”
“That or they’ll expect us back by morning. If they have half a brain amongst them, they’ll realize we won’t just run.” Mortimer refreshed his handkerchief with more water from his canteen before holding it back against his eye. It’d bruise no matter what, but he didn’t need a swollen eye as another distraction.
“Alright then, what’s the plan?” Manco sat back against a rock and winced as an edge caught his back.
“Right now we need to rest. We can get back there around dawn and be ready for them.” He couldn’t quite contain a groan as he got to his feet and retrieve a blanket from his horse. He got one from Manco’s packs before the other man could make to stand.
“Who gets first watch?”
“My boy, they’re anything but quiet. Dead on our feet though we are, we’ll hear them coming a mile off. Call me an old man, but I’d like to get some semblance of sleep tonight.” Mortimer glared at the younger man as if it were all his fault they were in their current predicament.
“Not so sure about this partnership anymore, are you?” Not that he thought he’d have been able to take them all out himself, but Manco was beginning to wonder if all that money was worth this much trouble.
“I’m plenty sure of it; just as I’m plenty sure I’d like you to stop talking before dawn,” came the even more disgruntled reply.
“Right then. I leave you to it.” Not that he planned to get much sleep. He had a plan to put into play. Mortimer’s response, or lack thereof, to his question about what had happened to make life so precious to him was enough of one that Manco was certain Mortimer was after Indio for something personal. The bounty was either secondary or not even part of it. While they did work well together, Manco was also starting think Mortimer only needed him to help take care of the others to get to Indio, and he’d bet all that money that the old man was going to want Indio for himself. Young and reckless he may be, Manco considered himself clever enough to have survived as long as he had out here.
Manco came back to himself when he heard Mortimer’s breathing change. Good. He should be just deep enough asleep for him to get the watch from his pocket. Or so he thought. Manco resisted the urge to groan and put his head in his hands. Mortimer had curled onto his left side away from Manco and he had his arms wrapped around his abdomen. He was willing to bet the old soldier slept just as light as himself; there’d be no way for him to get the watch without waking its owner. But if things went tomorrow how he was suspecting they might, Manco needed that watch. There was nothing for it then.
Manco wasn’t lying that far from Mortimer and he tried to shift as naturally as possible closer to the other; he stood a slightly smaller chance of not getting shot (again) if Mortimer thought he’d shifted closer in his sleep. Hot though the days were, the nights held enough of a chill to justify unconsciously shifting towards a source of warmth. He was close enough to feel the heat radiating off the other man before he let himself settle as though he were falling deeper asleep. He let his eyes close just in case Mortimer woke and turned toward him. He must have been more exhausted than he thought was Manco’s vague thought as he fell asleep despite his best efforts to stay awake.
Manco came to some time later while it was still dark. He had shifted in his sleep and had managed to wrap his arms around Mortimer. Mortimer who was still apparently sound sleep despite Manco being practically wrapped around him. It was close enough to dawn that Mortimer could wake at any moment, so Manco wasted no time shifting his hands to get at the watch. He didn’t have move much before he felt the cold metal of the chain and he followed along it to the little watch. How the devil Mortimer still slept through this was beyond Manco’s comprehension at this stage.
Success! The younger man had to restrain his elation at extracting the watch from its pocket. He held his breath as, by feel, he worked the chain loose from the watch and made to tuck the chain back in the pocket.
“You know, if you wanted to get to know me better, you could have asked.” Manco froze as Mortimer started to turn toward him. Moving as quickly as he dared, he pulled his arms from around the older man’s waist and he let the gold watch slide down the sleeve on his right arm. He kept his face as blank as possible as Mortimer finally faced him fully.
“I, uh, must have still been half-asleep, old man. My apologies. I guess we should get going.” As Manco stood Mortimer shot out a hand to grab his left wrist.
“You don’t want to continue what you started? I didn’t figure you for the sort who’d cut and run like that.” Mortimer seemed to be daring Manco to do something. So something he did.
The young man didn’t let himself think about it for long as he turned around, leaned over Mortimer, and kissed him. Mortimer released Manco’s wrist and instead wrapped his arms around the other and hauled him down on top of him. Manco deepened the kiss and braced himself on his right arm above Mortimer’s head; he let his left hand smooth over Mortimer’s jaw and his thumb brushed along a sharp cheekbone. Finally they parted to catch their breath.
Panting the two men stared at each other for several long moments, eyes tracing over each other, faces still mere inches apart.
“As much as I’d like to continue this, we should get going if we want to put an end to Indio and his men.”
Manco reluctantly shifted away, still careful with his right arm and the watch it hid. He held his breath as Mortimer got to his feet and straightened his waistcoat and coat; fortunately the former soldier didn’t seem to notice the missing watch.
Manco cleared his throat. “Yeah, we should get a move on.”
“Not to worry. I’m sure we’ll have time to get to know one another better after all this is over.”
Mortimer seemed to be terribly pleased and amused at the direction their partnership had taken. Manco wasn’t so sure the older bounty killer would feel the same once he noticed his missing watch and realized who had taken it, and why. But he’d face those consequences when the moment came. For now they had a job to do and he’d enjoy their comradery while he could.
The two bounty killers set off in the dark back toward Agua Caliente to settle their scores.