Chapter 1: Sometimes saving people can be a pain in the butt
The air inside the sheriff’s office was stagnant and unmoving. The midday heat beat though the windows making the small office even more clammy than usual. The windows were open but not so much as a breeze blew through them, but what would you expect from a town in the middle of the barren land that was Dead Bird Gulch.
Sheriff Doherty lounged back in his chair, his feet resting up on the table, his hat over his eyes as he dozed. The half bottle of whiskey rested on the table, almost, forgotten about. Another couple of bottles lay scattered around the floor and near the bin, one even managed to have landed in the bin surprisingly. To the outside observer it would appear that the sheriff of this town was nothing more than an old has been drunk with a gun, which would have been accurate to a degree. But even now the time weathered gun slinger was something to be reckoned with. If the golden feathered bird could shoot a hat off a man from 40 paces while half drunk, the idea of what he could do sober was enough to deter most criminals in the town.
The bird dozed gently in his seat, swatting at the fly that had decided to start annoying him for the last few minutes. The buzzing noise that tarnet was making wasn’t doing anything for his hangover he had been nursing all day. But that’s what he gets for nearly getting black out drunk again last night, and the night before, and the night before that. The buzzing suddenly grew louder as the fly came back around to make another rush at him, and with a growl the Sheriff slapped the bug out the air before delivering a quick stomp to the downed insect once it hit the floor.
“Will ye just pecking shut up for one minute! Ye think I’m trying to have 40 winks for me own good?” Grumbling he slumped back into his chair, the peaceful atmosphere lost and his desire to try and sleep gone. Letting out a sign Doherty fixed his hat atop his head and stretched, hearing his joints click slightly. He was getting too old for this sheriff’s racket. Too old since… He shook his head suddenly trying to dispel the thought as he reached for the whiskey bottle as he always did. He was just about the pry the lid off the bottle when his eye, if that’s what you could call them. Spotted something outside the window. A couple of teen trouble makers he had had to lock up or beat some sense into where prowling around outside by the local watering hole.
Placing the bottle back down on the table, Doherty approached the window, making sure to stay back enough within his office the kids wouldn’t spot him, he wasn’t in the mood to chase them down today, maybe he could just fire a warning shot off at them. His lips curled into a small smirk and he chuckled to himself, remembering the first time he’d done that to them. The younger had straight up nearly shit himself.
He could see them whispering back and forth to one another, a few frantic hand waves and looks thrown between the two of them. It wasn’t until one of them glanced back towards the sheriff’s office and the kid spotted him did he finally decide that something was going on. The younger kid, McCallum he believed, glanced off the side and just happened to lock eyes with a rather, as he always looked, angry Sheriff. The colour from the youngest drained from his face as he grabbed the elder kids arm. This caused the other to look and without a word both of them booked it back around the bar and off out to the outskirts of the town and towards The Plummet.
“They always have to run don’t they…”
Groaning to himself the bird grabbed his gun belt and bolted out the door.
As always the kids were faster than him, but they were also sloppy and made it obvious which direction they had gone in. A few liberal uses of the work “peck” and “gettin their damn asses back here” was enough to spook one of kids into messing up as the youngest tripped and skidded in the dirt. Doherty was on him in an instant as the kid tries to pick himself up, feathers a mess and covered in dust. A gun to his back and hand on the scruff was enough to get them to squeak and begin to blubber out excuses and apologies. Like always.
“Listen kid I’m done with having to tell ye to keep ye nose clean. How many times have we been in this situation before? Hm? I think this would be… the 7th time by now?”
The kid just sniffled and hiccuped, trying to wipe his eyes with his scuffed up hands as he apologised again. Rolling his eyes Doherty sighed and pointed the gun to the side firing off a round making the kid scream and sob louder.
“Ye going to come out and help ye friend or am I gonna have to make sure the next round doesn’t miss this time?”
The yellow bird’s voice was cold and authoritarian as he turned his head slowly to the right, spotting the elder kid shaking as he dropped the branch he’d been holding as he tried to sneak up on the sheriff. There was a small smouldering bullet hole in the tree next to him.
“Now are either of ye two gonna tell me what ye were up to?”
“Bullshit! Innocent people don’t run and ye two are the sketchiest looking bastards around town right now. So cut the shit and tell me what the peck ye are upto!”
The last past came out as a growl as both boys shrank back from the older bird. They glanced at one another, the elder mouthing not to say anything to the other. But the look of fear in their eyes was a dead give away and the youngest soon cracked.
“T-there were some m-men out but the edge of The Plummet! T-T-They had some fancy guy with em an-and it loo-”
“Arthur shut it! You wanna get us both killed!?”
“L-Look I-I don’t know what it is to you, but I am way more scared of Mr Doherty then of those guys!”
The two birds continued to bicker before Doherty clicked his fingers in front of them both getting them to jump and fall silent. Apparently the kids might not have actually been the cause of the trouble for once. But from what he had gotten out of them, looked like a local gang was about to get rid of some unwanted rubbish from atop the cliff. He’d seen it before, well, he’d seen the aftermath or what remained of the victims. You don’t end up with a whole recognisable lot after a mans been thrown from a 200ft cliff.
Doherty chewed his lip slightly as he mulled it over.
“Alright ye two peck necks. Tell me where ye saw these men and I’ll make sure I don’t have to tell ye mothers about ye two trying to assault a sheriff. Which is a federal crime you know~”
The two boys went pale and quickly nodded as they pointed down a sheltered path, the overgrowth almost hiding it completely if you didn’t know where to look.
“W-we saw em going up there. They had guns and when t-they spotted us one of them threatened us both to k-keep out traps shut or we would end up next!”
Doherty held his hand up to silence the two birds and glanced up the path, scowling slightly in thought.
“Ye two peck necks head back to town and go home to ye mama’s. I don’t wanna see either of ye up to anything again or else.”
The kids didn’t need to be told twice as they booked it back to town, leaving a cloud of dust in their wake. The corners of the old birds lips twitched slightly at the sight. No matter how hard they tried to be, they were still kids in the end. Turning his head back to the path, he furrowed his brow and fixed his hat before heading off down the path, his gun drawn and his trigger finger ready at the first sign of anything foul.
The path was covered in old bush weeds and untamed plants who were trying to reclaim the path back as theirs. Creeping forwards Doherty kept low as not to alert anyone to his presence. A small blessing about being a dessert born and bred bird, natural camouflage in an environment like this. One of the reasons he had never left and why he was so damn good at his job. After a few minutes of creeping through the bush, his ears perked up at the sound of voices. Angry voices actually. Heading further up he soon spotted a clearing, with a group of birds surrounding another laying on the floor hog tied and a rather impressive drop off the side of the cliff.
Keeping low he positioned himself behind a tree on the outskirts of the clearing. A quick peek around, gun ready, as he tried to make out who he was dealing with. There were 4 other birds standing over the one on the ground. 3 of them crows, likely just the lackies, and then a tanned feathers one yelling down at the victim, obviously their leader. Another couple of quick glances confirmed that these birds weren’t from any of the local gangs. Actually, Doherty didn’t recognise anything about the gang they must have belonged to. Too well organised, too meticulous to be from any gangs he knew of. A glance at the heat they were carrying also confirmed that theory. The weapons the birds had tucked on their belts were well taken care of, and had seen their own fair share of use from the looks of it. Never a good sign.
His eyes soon drifted to the huddled mass that was laying before the birds and Doherty felt his feathers bristle slightly at the sight of blue feathers. A penguin? This far south? Now that was not something you saw everyday. Running his eyes over the blue bird, Doherty noted the fine, if a little dirtied, clothes they wore. Their black hair was tied back in loose dreads and a pair of glasses lay discarded off to the side, obviously knocked from their beak by the punch that had left them spitting out that blood he could see.
Obviously they were just some well off pretty city boy got himself in trouble with a gang and tried to skip out on paying his loans it seemed. But…
Something about it seemed off to the old bird. The penguin seemed obviously confused, eyes darting between the birds, but there was also an anger in them. If looks good kill he was sure he would be having to call up Old Tim to make up 4 new coffins. Doherty found himself smirking slightly at the city boy. Even when he knew he was gonna get a bullet between the eyes he hadn’t backed down yet. Almost admirable. He was suddenly dragged through his thoughts as the tanned bird grabbed the penguin up by the ropes that bound him forcing him to sit up.
“Now ye fancy fuck, ye gonna walk to the edge of that cliff. Imma pop one right between ye eyes and then ya gonna have a nice little trip down the mountain.”
“And again I ask what is this all about?! I don’t know you people and if it’s money you want I can give you some, so untie me at once!”
Oh now that surprised Doherty. Didn’t think the city boy would talk back or sound like that. The penguins voice was smooth, almost calming if he hadn’t been yelling and spitting out blood as he spoke. Kinda the opposite of his own voice really, heavily accented and scratchy from all the years of smoking and drinking. Maybe he should quit…
A yelp of pain caused him to grip his gun tighter. One of the crows and decked the penguin in the back of the head with the butt of his gun, yelling at him to shut his trap. The other two rather unceremoniously dragged him to his feet and started towards the drop. To his credit the city boy put up a good fight, stronger than he looked as he yelled and tugged at his restraints as they neared the edge.
Doherty took a deep breath steadying himself, damn he wished he had had that glass of whiskey now. Cursing himself he stepped out from behind the tree gun drawn and aimed at the crows with the prisoner.
“Now laddie’s that ain’t no way to show an out of towner the sights of our beautiful town now is it?”
His voice was cool and unwavering as the birds heads all snapped back to look at him, hands reaching for their arms. A quick grin and glare from the sheriff tho had them hesitate.
“Ah, ah, ah don’t wanna be doing that now do ye ye peck necks. I might not look it but I’m one hell of a shot, and I’m rather sober right now so I promise my aim won’t be to maim only. So imma only ask ye once. Drop the city boy and put ye hands up where I can see em. One wrong move or if I think ye gonna try and play me imma, oh now how did ye put it… Right, put a bullet right between ye peckin eyes. Got it?”
The crows looked stunned and panicked as they glanced towards their boss. The other birds features were twisted in anger as he grimaced at the sheriff. But he slowly raised his hands, quickly followed by the crows meaning their captive was rather rudely dumped into a pile on the dirt.
“Now Sheriff, you don’t wanna interrupt me and me boys now do ye? We were just doing as we were told and for both our sakes I suggest you just walk away and forget what ye saw this day.”
The leader spoke slowly, an obviously fake smile replacing his glare as he tried to sweet talk the older bird. Doherty just scoffed as he pointed the gun at him.
“Like Imma do that kiddo. I know some sheriff’s might look the other way for certain people or for a bit of drinkin money, but I ain’t one of em. Now you gonna tell me what ye doing or imma gotta start giving you a close up with my old buddy here?”
The tanned birds expression quickly turned sour as the conductor spoke. While he acted confident, which he was, he couldn’t help shake the feeling that he had walked into something much bigger than he should have. People from the North rarely came to the South, just different environments for a start, but also the main economies where up North. The cities and their new fangled inventions and businesses were all up there. Down South it was still wild and uncontrolled. People fighting day to day to survive, but it was honest work and it was good work.
Doherty watched as the crows eyes darted between their boss and Doherty, he could feel the tension in the air and knew this wasn’t going to end in an easy surrender. Well at least it would be less paper work.
One of the more nervous crows hands twitched and like a flash they went for their gun. Doherty was quicker on the draw as he spun his gun on the crow and with a twitch of his finger the bird was sent flying as a bullet hit them square in the chest. After that the shit show began. The other birds drew their guns too as Doherty dived behind the tree he had come from. He could hear their boss screaming orders as they opened fire on him, but he didn’t really have time to care about what they were. Steadying himself, he glanced around the tree, narrowly avoiding a bullet that embedded itself next to his head. Now that just pissed him off. Growling he rolled away from cover and sent out his own spray of bullets, all found their targets in the other two crows who quickly crumpled to the ground around the penguin, who had remained quiet during all of this. Only cowering slightly and trying to make themselves as small as possible to avoid being hit.
Spinning his head around Doherty tried to find the boss, only to yelp as a bullet grazed his arm as the perp darted from behind cover over to his captive. Hissing curses under his breath the sheriff quickly regained his composure and aimed again only to be greeted with a worrying sight. The tanned bird stood behind the penguin, barrely of their gun pressed to his temple. A look of panic on the blue bird’s face and he swallowed nervously, wincing as the barrel was pushed hard against them.
“Drop the gun sheriff or the fancy fuck gets it! I ain’t messing with ya now!”
Doherty could just make out the other bird’s face, grinning in triumph from behind the penguin. It made his blood boil to see some low life like that get the upper hand on him. He really was starting to show his age it seemed.
“Drop the gun or this guys brains are gonna be on your hands!”
Another low growl escaped Doherty, but reluctantly he dropped his gun to the floor and help his hands up.
“Let the city boy go kid. I’m sure the big boys up North will notice if some city slicker like him goes “missing”.”
“Oh I doubt that very much Sheriff. Now imma have to be off, gotta get proof I did me job and all. Just a pity you won’t be alive either once it’s done.”
Doherty felt his stomach twist slightly at that comment but didn’t have time to think it over as he saw the other bird steady the gun. Doherty felt a twinge in his gut and was about to run for his piece when he heard a yelp and saw the penguin slam his heel into the other bird’s foot. A screech escaped them as they pulled back, cursing up a storm but that to was cut short as the back of the blue bird’s head connected with their beak. Blood spurted from the broken bird’s beak as it stumbled back, a little too far back. All they managed was a quick confused look back at the two others before they screamed and disappeared from view over the cliff.
The remaining birds both just stood there in silence until the scream stopped abruptly. Neither spoke for a moment as they both just processed what had happened. The penguin was the first to speak. His voice breaking slightly, as he spoke, obviously shaken from the whole ordeal.
“I-I killed him. I-I didn’t mean to I… I just…”
He soon fell silent as Doherty went to retrieve his gun, quickly holserting it before examining the remaining bodies.
“Ye get used to it. Tho I doubt ye need to do much of that up North in the city eh?”
Doherty glanced up at the blue bird, mouth turned up in a half grin before he let it fall seeing the penguin just staring down at his feet. Clicking his tongue he straightened himself and pulled a knife from his pocket as he approached the other bird. Hearing him approach the bird’s head snapped around and his eyes quickly widened as he spotted the knife.
“Easy mate I’m just gonna undo ye bindings. Can’t have ya running off like that. People think ye gotten into trouble or something. Or into some weird stuff.”
The penguin didn’t relax exactly at the joke but did turn around so Doherty could untie their wrists. Once the ropes were undone, the other bird rubbed his raw wrists and glanced at the other bodies scattered around. The blood starting to seep into the surrounding dirt and rocks as the flies began to buzz.
“I-I don’t know what happened. The crows were supposed to be guarding me as I headed back home but they just suddenly turned on me. Why would they do that?”
“I dunno, who did ye piss off? Gotta any loans ye wanted to run off on? Maybe a vengeful lover who wanted ye dead?”
The rather pissed look he received from those comments made Doherty chuckle as he turned on his heel to head back to town.
“Regardless ye might wanna head back home to the North mate. Not alot of your kind around here, especially a penguin. Ye stick out like a cherry pie in a fruit basket! So take me advice and be off with ye. Don’t wanna end up like that sorry guy do ye?”
Doherty began down the path again only to hear rapidly approaching footsteps behind him. He rolled his eyes as he went to open his mouth but was quickly caught short as the penguin spun him around by the shoulder. They were beak to beak now. Well sort of. The penguin was actually a fair bit taller than he was but still, the sudden lack of personal space has the conductor’s feathers bristle on end.
“You don’t understand I need to get back to my home in Steelwork! I hired these birds to take me there because I knew the risks. Obviously that was a mistake on my behalf. One I will need to be careful to not make again…”
He suddenly fell quiet as he looked Doherty up and down and hummed quietly to himself as he crossed his flippers.
“Now you on the other hand seem quick with a gun and at least have some morals. How would you like to be hired for a job?”
Chapter 2: Penguins and heat do not mix
“Out of the question! I’m a sheriff not some pecking nanny!”
DJ sighed as he jogged to keep up with the yellow feathered bird who seemed determined to get as far away from him as possible it seemed. They had been like this all the way back down from the cliff. With DJ propositioning the old sheriff to assist him on his travels while the other bird cursed him out and, in his own words, told him to “peck off”. The sun was beginning to reach its full height now, beating down mercilessly on the two birds as the headed back to the town. DJ cursed himself under his breath as he shielded his eyes from the rays. He really should have chosen a different outfit to wear, but how was he to know he was going to have a gun drawn on him halfway through his journey and been thrown from his stagecoach and then nearly off a cliff! It’s not something one plans for…
He tugged on his collar slightly as he plowed through after the other bird, hoping they would arrive at the other’s destination soon, or at least some shade. Once they hit the main town streets however DJ suddenly felt eyes locking onto him and a sudden wave of anxiety hit him making his stomach tighten. A blue feathered penguin in an expensive peacock green suit was sure to draw attention but he never thought he would have the whole town's attention from the moment he walked in. He dragged his eyes away from the group of birds who were glancing up from their porch at him as they passed, their eyes running over him before they whispered something to one another. This was not the place he wanted to be in and frankly he felt as if the other bird didn’t want him to be here either.
“Are ye gonna keep following me like some puppy or ye gonna peck off like I asked ye to before?!”
DJ was snapped from his thoughts by the irritated yell of the other bird who seemed to have finally lost his patience with him. It really was so hard to talk to the local down South, all seemed so angry and frankly rather unhelpful. Tutting the penguin, rolled his eyes causing the other bird’s feathers to bristle.
“I told you I need to hire you so I can get to Steelwork. And unless you have some way to instantly get me there I’m going to need your assistance.”
“Listen ye snooty city boy, I am a sheriff on this here town. I ain’t some hired gun, or some babysitter who’s gonna wipe ye arse and help ye get home to ye mama. So now just turn around and get out me town before I throw you over that cliff myself!”
With that DJ watched the bird spin on his heel and storm back into what he presumed was the sheriff's department, slamming the door behind him.
The penguin groaned rubbing his face with a flipper. What was he supposed to do now? Maybe he could ask around if there was someone else who could accompany him to the city. But who could he trust now. The last people he hired and nearly killed him if it hadn’t been for that bloody sorry excuse of a sheriff. Maybe he would get lucky if he kept his mouth shut this time. Glancing back over his shoulder he noticed some younger birds sniggering and pointing at him from down an alleyway causing his feathers to prick up. He really did stick out like a sore thumb in a place like this but what could he do. Swallowing he straightened himself up, finally deciding what to do. He silently prayed that this would work this time around before straightening his suit jacket and heading inside the office himself.
His foot immediately connected with an old whiskey bottle sending it skidding across the room to knock gently into the opposing wall. Making a face he soon spotted the other bottles and was quickly piecing together what type of man this “sheriff” was. Side stepping the rest of them he came to a rest in front of the desk the other bird was lounging behind, their hat covering their face as they tried to ignore him
“Listen I think we got off on a bad footing back there and if you would just hear me out I promise I can make this worth your while Mr…?”
“Me name won’t matter to ye cos I ain’t gonna listen to ye and ye are about to get out of me town before I throw ye in jail.”
The penguins scowled and folded his flippers in front of his chest as the other bird continued to indignant.
“And what crimes would I be arrested for “Shreiff”?”
“Disturbing the peace.”
“Mine ye peck neck.”
DJ groaned as the other bird smirked to himself, obviously pleased with his little joke. He took the silence that followed to glance around the office, pulling a face at how unkempt the place looked, not to mention the bottles. The empty bottles.
“It seems like maintain the law keeps you busy Sheriff. I wouldn’t know where you would find the time to drink down all this.” As he spoke he kicked another empty bottle, listening to it roll off. He smirked slightly to himself as he saw the other bird stiffen slightly and lift his hat up to glare at him.
“Listen what I do in me own time is me own pecking business. So ye can peck off with that attitude of yers.”
DJ raised his hands in mock innocence and glashed the other bird a coy smile, making them sit up and growl.
“I’m just stating the evidence Sheriff don’t get mad at me for it.”
The yellow feathered bird just grumbled and reached for the half full bottle that had been resting on his desk before pouring himself a drink. Seemed like it was going to be harder to win this one over but DJ did always keep an ace up his sleeve. Drinking took money and from the looks of it this old washed up had been spending all he had on the stuff, which means DJ now had a way to get him to listen.
“Now I didn’t intend to hire you to work for me free of charge. I can happily reimburse you for you time and efforts to escort me to Steelport.”
The other bird scoffed and looked up from beneath his hat at him.
“There ain’t no amount of money ye can give me that would interest me in helping ye city boy.”
He chuckled and turned in his chair to look out the window as he threw down his shot.
“How does $5000 sound?”
He couldn’t help the snigger that escaped him as he watched the other bird do a spit take as he told him the sum. Their head shot around to look at them, mouth dropped open as they stared at him in shock.
“You heard me. $5000. $2500 now and $2500 when I reach the city. That should be enough to tide you over for the next few years, right?”
To him the money was no sweat off his back, but to someone out here that type of money was enough to let them live out a comfortable life. And from the Sheriff’s reaction it was definitely something he was interested in. DJ watched as the other bird’s features twisted in thought as he mulled over the amount that had been offered him. He could almost see the gears working in that head of his, surprised he couldn’t see smoke coming out of his ears as this was probably the most thinking he had had to do in a long time.
Finally the bird slammed his glass down on the table and let out a frustrated groan, admitting defeat.
“Fine! I’ll take ye up to Steelwork, but ye better not be lying to me about that money or I swear I’ll make ye life worse than those bleeding peck neck on the cliff ever could.”
“Sheriff I am not the type of bird to go back on a deal once I’ve made it.”
DJ gave the Sheriff and smirk as he held out his flipper to him. The other bird eyed up hesitantly before glancing back up at the penguin.
“So do we have a deal?”
The bird let out an exasperated groan but took the offered flipper and shook it.
“Fine, yes we have a deal. Anything if it will shut you up and get ye out of me town quicker.”
“Excellent! I’m so glad you came around! I’m sure you won’t regret this sheriff. Anyway I never formally introduced myself, I’m DJ-”
“Don’t care. Just shut up and let’s be off.
DJ bristled and bit his tongue as the Sheriff rose from his chair and headed out the door. The nerve of these people! No formalities, no common courtesies! Sighing he followed after the bird. This was going to be a long trip.
Outside he spotted the Sheriff, loading a saddle onto, what DJ presumed was his horse. The creature looked a little old but he hummed to himself as he saw the bird gently pet it’s mane and speak softly to it. Seemed the other bird did have a soft spot. Glancing around DJ suddenly came to a realisation.
“Um, what am I to do for transportation?”
“Ye got feet don’t ye?”
The penguin yelled in surprise and drew the attention of a few locals. The Sheriff lip curled into a cruel smirk as he mounted his stead.
“Steelwork is a 4 day trip from here! You expect me to just walk there while you get to ride?!”
The yellow bird gave him a smug look as he kicked his heels, letting the horse start to move off. DJ just stood there in disbelief. Was this bird mad?! There was no way he would be able to make the trip if he just had to walk! 4 days walk in blistering desert heat, dressed in unsuitable clothes and not to mention being A PENGUIN! Letting out a pitiful noise the blue bird quickly jogged to catch up with the horse. He was definitely going to die at this rate. He should have taken his chances with the gun, would have been a quicker death.
They walked had been walking in silence now for the last 2 hours. The first part of the journey had consisted of DJ throwing out insults and demanding a horse himself while the stubborn old has been refused to give him one or let him at least ride on his with him. He had eventually given up when the other bird would just mock him or give him that awful smug look of his. DJ had finally resigned himself to just trotting behind the horse and keeping his mouth shut as it was not getting him anywhere. Besides he was so unbearably hot! The heat had been steadily rising as the sun moved across the sky. Any smart bird, or anything frankly, would know better than to be out in this weather unless they were dressed right or had a deathwish. But here DJ was, stumberling behind the horse, suit coat discarded as he tried to keep up.
There was no sight in end from the blistering heat or these empty plains to be honest. Everywhere looked the same to the penguin. Empty, barren and dying. This was nothing like back home. But then again, he had spent most of his time growing up in the icy covered North or been sheltered in Steelwork’s bustling city metropolitan, unless he left for business. But he liked it like that! It was just too hot out here and he was miserable. The Sheriff on the other hand seemed quiet at home and content as he steadily carried on, softly whistling to himself. Eyeing up him the penguin, started to take in more details about his escort. The bird, if you could call it that, was dressed in an old weathered poncho with a slightly worn, but well taken care of, sheriff’s badge proudly pinned to the front. Their hat had seen better days but again seemed to have been taken care of, mostly. DJ was pretty sure he could see what might have been a bullet hole in the side of it. He cringed slightly at the thought of gun. Hated the things, hated them even more after what had just happened. Sighing he covered his eyes with a flipper as he glanced up at the sun. Was it him or was it starting to get harder to breath? Also was there always two sun? Suddenly without warning the world went dark and DJ felt himself lose consciousness before he even hit the ground.
“...eck neck? ...Oii...pe...ck… DJ!”
The Penguin groaned and slowly let his eyes fluttered open as he felt his name being called. His vision was swimming as he tried to focus on where the voice had come from, eventually it settled and he saw the angry looking face of the Sheriff crouched beside him.
He swore he saw the other bird relax slightly and sigh before he was greeted to another harsh look. Glancing around as he tried to sit up, DJ found that he was under the shade of a tree. The conductor was knelt beside him, his horse grazing a little bit away from them both.
“H-how did I get here?”
“Ye passed out ye daft peck neck! I’m just trying to mind me own business, the next thing I know I hear a thump and turned around to see you gasping and out cold on the ground. Guess ye Northerners can’t deal to great with the heat. Especially with how ye dressed.”
Sitting up fully DJ groaned and gripped his head. He had a splitting headache, either from dehydration or from hitting the ground. Either way it killed. He closed his eyes for a moment to steady himself before he felt the Sheriff thrust something into his face.
“Here drink this. It should help.”
The penguin took the flask offered to him before glancing from it back to the conductor, eyebrow raised slightly. The Sheriff seemed to catch his drift and huffed giving him a pissed look.
“It’s just water ye peck neck. Like I would give ye any of me whiskey.”
“Oh how generous…”
DJ brought the flask to his mouth a took a few good mouthfuls of water before coughing slightly.
“Easy now, little sips or you’ll just make yourself sick.”
Giving him a small nod DJ sipped at the flask again as the other bird straightened himself and brushed the dust of his knees as he headed back to his horse. He watched the other bird tend to his horse before turning his attention to the flask he held loosely in his flippers. What was he doing? Just yesterday he had been travelling in luxury and now here he is. Sat in the dirt after passing out from heat exhaustion after being made to play keep up with some drunk on his horse. He sighed and closed his eyes as he leant back against the tree. He really wasn’t going to make it back in time at this rate. All his hard work gone to waste. He suddenly snapped his eyes open as he felt a sharp kick to his leg.
“Alright get up! If we keep heading up with way we should reach the next town in the next few hours. When we get there you can get ye own horse and some decent clothes. Cos right now ye look pecking stupid and will only pass out again if we don’t get something cool on ye.”
DJ just blinked in surprise before dumbly nodding. He did think to make a quip about having his clothes insulted by the scruffy dressed bird but frankly his head was still too woozy to think of a good insult. Getting to his feet shakily he glanced down at the road ahead and furrowed his brow as he scowled slightly. The yellow feathered bird next to him seem to notice the look.
“Look I ain’t gonna make ye walk behind the horse. Ye can ride on the back of mine for now, but don’t think this means I like ye! Ye were slowing us down and frankly it was hard enough trying to carry yer fat arse over here that I wouldn’t wanna do it again when ye pass out for a second time.”
“Oh how kind of you. And there was me thinking you were doing something out of the kindness of your own heart.”
That made the Sheriff snort and give him a smirk.
“Keep talking like that and I will make ye walk. Peck Neck.”
Rolling his eyes the penguin followed after the other bird and watched him hop up onto the horse before offering a hand down to him. He eyed the hand up before hesitantly taking it and letting himself be hauled up onto the back of the horse.
They rode on for the next few hours in silence before DJ spotted a town in the distance, shimmering slightly in the heat. It seemed a fair sized one from what he could see, so hopefully they would have what he was looking for. And maybe a room for the night for him to stay in as he would really like a break from the sheriff.
As they rode into town, a few eyes glanced their way but none tended to linger for more than a moment. A sheriff and a fancy city boy riding into town. Sounded like the start of a joke frankly. As they approached what DJ would presume was the local inn he heard the Sheriff chirp softly.
“Finally a place where I can get a drink!”
DJ shot the other bird a look. Was that seriously all he thought about? Drinking? He scoffed, which made the other bird’s ears lower slightly as he kicked the horses sides and yanked on the reins, causing the horse to buck throwing DJ from the back of it and onto a pile on the ground with a loud yelp.
“WHAT THE HELL?! HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND YOU DRUNK BASTARD!?”
DJ struggled to his feet dusting his clothes off and shooting daggers at the other bird who was grinning ear to ear as he returned the look.
“Oh I’m sorry! Did I get ye nice clothes all dirty? Just a little accident I swear.”
DJ growled and straightened himself up to his full height, vaguely aware of the crowd the Sheriff’s little stunt had attracted.
“You did that on purpose!”
“No shit Sherlock now peck off so I can drink in peace and finally have a break from you.”
With that he watched as the other bird turned his horse towards the stables by the inn without another word. The nerve of him! That lowlife drunkard bastard! He really should have just taken his chances by himself, anything would have been better than having to spend another moment with a bird like that. Huffing and turning sharply on his heel, he quickly headed off towards the main area of the town to find a horse and some new clothes. During his silent cursing of the Sheriff he noticed a group of men watching him from a darkened alley before they turned their attention towards the direction the other bird had gone. DJ just tutted and carried on his way. Like he was going to deal with it now, it could be all that pecking sheriff problem now for all he cared.
Chapter 3: Never trust a dame
Doherty stormed into the bar pissed, tired and in desperate need of a drink. Having to deal with that ungrateful, smug, bleeding peck neck of a city boy was testing on his last nerve. Never before had he met someone like that. Someone who was so persistent, so arrogant, so demanding! Grumbling to himself, he quickly plopped himself down on the nearest bar stool.
The bar itself was set out in the bottom floor of what he presumed was the inn. It was a large open room with tables and chairs scattered almost haphazardly around it, with no semblance of order or planning really thrown into the arrangements. There were a fair number of other people dotted around the bar drinking, talking or playing cards. A few glanced up at him as he walked in, but a look at the badge on his chest made them quickly avert their eyes as to not draw the sheriff's attention. An old owl sat playing a piano in the corner, a soft but jaunty melody drifting in the air to complete the atmosphere of the bar.
Doherty felt himself begin to relax almost immediately as he got more into his element. No matter where you went, a bar was a bar, and as long as there was whiskey the sheriff was a happy bird. The barkeep, a vulture like bird, approached Doherty as he cleaned a glass. They spoke with a voice like sandpaper as they asked what his poison would be today.
“Double shot of whiskey and keep a tab open for me. I’m sure me new penguin friend would be happy to pay for it.”
The vulture gave a curt nod before turning to prepare the sheriff drink. Doherty felt a smile tug on his lips as he thought about the type of tab he could rack up before the city boy got back. Imagine the look on his face when they realised they would have to pay it! Oh now he couldn’t wait to see that. He chuckled softly to himself as the barkeep placed his drink down in front of him. He knew he had agreed to take the penguin to Steelwork and he was a man of his word. But like hell he wouldn’t have some fun with it. Be that getting black out drunk or annoying that city boy till he left of his own free will. Regardless he would be the winner in the end.
Smirking he sipped his whiskey as he tuned out the background noise to focus on the piano playing. Absentmindedly he fiddled with the ring on his fingers through his glove. He always did it when he was drinking or upset or angry or well anytime really. He couldn’t help himself. It had already been nearly 10 years but he still couldn’t let it go. Couldn’t let her go. He sighed and grabbed his glass, downing the lot before holding it up to the vulture who nodded and went to make him another. He started drinking like this after he lost her all those years ago. He knew what she would say if she was alive today but it helped him numb himself and forget for a little bit. Doherty rubbed his face gently as another drink was placed down in front of him. Before he could take another shot he felt someone watching him.
His ears went down slightly and he scowled. He knew he would draw attention. A sheriff from another town here was sure to do that. Get people taking you know. Wondering why he was here. Was he after a perp, was he tracking down a killer, or maybe he was here to collect a bounty. He had had it happen before, and a quick glare and flash of the gun would quickly make people go back to their own business. So Doherty was rather surprised when he looked up with a look that could send most men running only to find a lady eyeing him up nervously from across the bar. She appeared to maybe be bar staff or possibly a working girl. Or both. You could never tell in a place like this. She was a pretty thing, got curves in all the right places and even Doherty had to admit she looked good. But the look on her face was what drew his attention in the end. She had a look of worry and fear in her eyes as they darted around the room, only to land on him, before quickly darting away again. Doherty hummed before picking up his drink and moving further down to sit closer to where she stood.
“Yer alright there miss? Ye look a little on edge.”
“O-oh? Oh no sweetie I’m fine! Just dandy even!”
The quiver in her voice told him otherwise, but pressing a victim to hard never got you anywhere. Gotta take these things slow, get them to trust you and then ask them if they are having a problem or two. Doherty hummed and nodded in response before he returned to his glass, necking down the drink before asking for another. He sat there in silence as he continued to watch the lady out of the corner of his eye, watching her eyes dart before it looks like she finally gave in.
“Ar… Are you really a sheriff sir?”
“Well I don’t just wear this badge to make myself feel good ye know.”
She relaxed slightly and smiled a little at the joke before she moved to sit beside him. She was quiet for a few more moments before she sniffled. Spotting her face Doherty pulled an old handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her which she accepted after a slight hesitation.
“So what appears to be the problem miss? You look like ye got yerself worked up over something. Or someone. Anything I can do to help?”
“W-well you see sir the… the issue is my boyfriend. H… he’s always so mean to me. He even hit me and now he says if I don’t make enough money today with my work h-he’ll beat me again!”
She turned and covered her face with her hands as she sniffled and Doherty saw her shoulders shake.
Now if there was one thing he couldn’t stand it was some guy thinking he could hurt a little lady this and think he could get away with it. Made his blood boil the mere thought of it! Finishing his glass he gently placed a hand on the ladies shoulder causing her to jump slightly and turn to look at him. Her eyes were red and puffy from trying to hold back tears.
“Ma’am would ye like me to go and have a word with this boyfriend of yers? Maybe talk some sense into him about how he should treat women, especially the women he’s with?”
The bird perked up before hesitantly nodding.
“Y-you think you could do that for me sir?! O-oh aren’t you just the sweetest thing thank you!”
Doherty stiffened slightly and felt his cheeks heat up as the lady pulled his arm close to her chest as she thanked him. He tried to avoid looking at it as, there was a fair bit on show there right now and he was too drunk to hide his embarrassment.
“He’s just upstairs! C-Could you have a word with him now sir? I would be ever so grateful…”
The last remark was made with a flutter of her eyelashes as Doherty felt a blush creep onto his cheeks. He wasn’t one to turn down a lady in need but maybe he should let her know afterwards that while he was flattered he really wasn’t the type of man to just bed someone like that. Coughing he cleared his throat and calmed himself.
“Y-yes of course ma’am. Now can ye show me where he is and I’ll take care of the rest.”
She nodded and thanked him again as she took his arm and led him towards the back of the bar and towards where the rooms must have been kept on the second floor. As the music slowly began to dim behind them Doherty was starting to get an uneasy feeling. Something about this seemed off. Not just the whole situation but also with the dame herself. Not many women he had helped in situations like this were as eager as she was for his help. Most of the time it took some convincing and a lot of time and effort. This whole fiasco however seemed off. Staged even. But the whiskey in his system was dulling his senses and he just pushed his doubts to the back of his mind. As they reached a room towards the far end of the building the lady went quiet and pointed towards the door.
“H-He’s in there. I hope he won’t hurt you…”
“I can take care of meself ma’am. I’m a big boy you know.”
Flashing her a smile he knocked on the door and was surprised as it swung open on its own. Cautiously he moved into the room, hand slowly reaching for his gun before he heard a noise behind him. He only just had time to spin around before the lady behind him swung the fire poker at his head knocking him to the ground. He groaned softly as his vision began to get dark and he heard the sound of a man’s voice coming in from another adjacent room. He couldn’t make out what was being said but soon everything went black as he passed out.
He heard the sound of voices, angry voices as he slowly started to come to. His head was killing, either from the poker that had him or from when he hit the ground. Doesn’t matter, it pecking kills regardless. Slowly he opened his eyes, blinking slightly as the light blinded him slightly. Once fully he opened, he quickly glanced around his surroundings and realised he was in the same room he had been attacked in. Turning his head slightly he spotted the source of the voices. It was that lady again and this time she was with a group of 3 men. They all seemed to be buddy buddy with one another, and the dame and the roughest looking one of the trio seemed to be a lot more with how they were holding onto one another. He guessed that was her “abusive boyfriend” then. Doherty was kicking himself for falling for such an obvious ruse. Of course it had been a set up. They probably just planned to rob the first sucker from out of town and just his luck it turned out to be him.
The sheriff after cursing himself out for a few moments eventually attempted to reach for his gun before realising two things. First thing, he was tied to a chair and unable to move his arms. Or leg. Or anything really bar his head. Secondly, his gun was missing and a slightly panicked look around the room revealed the gun was on the table besides the door he had come in. Across the room from him. Of course.
He grumbled to himself before his feathers bristled up hearing the sound of the other birds fade as they realised he had woken up.
“Ah so the sleeping beauty has finally decided to wake up! We were beginning to think my girl here had killed you with how hard she hit you!”
The main bird chuckled as he got up and moved to stand in front of the sheriff, a sneer on his face as he looked down at him.
“Now I hear you have been causing us a fair bit of trouble sheriff. Care to explain yourself?”
“I don’t know what ye are talking about laddie. I’m just passing through here on me way to visit me poor sick mama. She’s terrible unwell and I really mustn’t be keeping her.”
The other bird smirked before he socked Doherty in the mouth with a mean right hook. That caused him to see stars and taste the familiar copper taste in his mouth as he started to bleed.
“Cut the shit old man, we know you came into town with the penguin now just tell us where he went and we’ll be out of your feathers.”
Doherty shook his head slightly, trying to get his vision to stop being blurry so he could focus. The penguin? Why were these guys after the city boy too? What the heck was that bird up to that they couldn’t even head into the following town without one of them being beaten. The sheriff was starting to think he had gotten himself dragged into something a lot bigger than he originally thought and something a hell of a lot bigger then $5000.
“Penguin this, penguin that! I’m starting to feel like I should be jealous. Why are ye peck necks so interested in some city boy anyway? Who did he piss off so badly that everyone wants a piece of him?”
“Now that would be telling wouldn’t it and my beneficiary would prefer to keep that information on the down low you hear?”
Doherty just scowled at the bird before his looked over to the side with the other birds were. Just like the last gang he ran into, these birds were packing heat and some good heat at that. Whoever had hired these peck necks had money and a lot of it. Probably some rich prick, city boy annoyed.
“Look as much as I would like to get that blasted, no good, peck neck penguin out of me life. I made a deal with him and I intend to honor it. The laddie just wants to get home is all and I can’t bring myself to let him get murdered. Even tho part of me would appreciate it. So why don’t ye untie me and we forget this ever happened?”
The bird looked him over before bursting into laughter, quickly followed by the other 3.
“Oh like we would do that Mr Sheriff but that penguin has to die. The sooner the better as we can’t be allowed to reach Steelwork.”
“And why is that?”
The yellow bird suddenly felt like he was missing out on some crucial evidence right now. These birds all knew a lot more about the penguin then the peck neck seemed to have let on to him and his reasons for wanting to get to Steelwork. The other birds soon stopped laughing, the leader wiping his eye as he calmed himself. Spotting the confused expression on the sheriff’s face he gave him a look of disbelief.
“You really don’t know who that bird is do you? Even after you agreed to help him get all the way to Steelwork? Oh boy Mr Sheriff are you going to be in for one hell of a surprise when you find out.”
Doherty felt a surge of anger as he growled and went to demand more details but before he could even open his mouth there was a bang on the door and the sound of a familiar voice.
“WHY THE HELL DID YOU SET UP A TAB IN MY NAME SHERIFF!? I WALK IN HERE TO FIND YOU AND WHAT IS THERE FIRST THING I’M ASKED TO DO?! PAY UP YOUR TAB!”
The bird felt his stomach drop as he heard DJ. The pecking idiot had just walked right into a trap and he didn’t know any better! Well, admittedly Doherty had done the same. But that wasn’t the point! He opened his mouth to yell at the penguin to run but before he could he a pair of hands around his beak, preventing him from doing so as one of the guys lackies pinned it closed. The fear began to rise in his chest now. Neither of them were going to get out of this. The end of the road it seemed for the both of them and the city boy wouldn’t know what hit him. Doherty whimpered softly to himself as he felt a pang of guilt and worry for the other bird. He didn’t deserve this no matter what a pain in the neck he was. The sheriff watched with growing dread as the leader motioned for the dame to go and open the door as he went for his gun on his belt.
Doherty couldn’t watch as she opened the door slightly and grinned at the bird on the other end of the door.
“Oh hello sweetie, how can I he-”
“OH YOU HAVE GOT TO BE PECKING KIDDING ME?! First the tab now he just hooking up with random broads?! Guess he’ll want me to pay you to that losey good for nothing drunk!”
The dame was shocked by the sudden outburst that she didn’t even attempt to stop DJ as he shoved past her, glaring angrily around the room before his eyes landed on a rather unfortunate sight before him.
“O-oh was this a bad time…”
He yelped slightly as a gun was drawn on him and pointed directly at his face. The leader chuckled and smirked at him as Doherty watched the blue bird go pale at the sight of another gun being drawn on him.
“No not really. Actually I think it was perfect timing as me and my boys were just about to head out to try and find you.”
“Seems I’m rather popular, admittedly with the wrong type of folk.”
“Seems that way doesn't it penguin~”
Doherty struggled against the other bird who held his beak closed. If he could just get DJ to grab his gun then they could have a fighting chance. But the bird kept a painfully tight grip on him refusing to budge no matter how hard he thrashed. DJ’s eyes darted over to the sheriff and gave him a scared look. Doherty felt a pang of guilt in his chest as the pitiful look the bird gave him. Shit. Shit, shit, SHIT! There was nothing he could do, unlike last time. He sighed and surrendered himself as he fell limp in his bindings. He didn’t want to watch what would happen next but he couldn’t bring himself to look away from those scared eyes.
Doherty watched sadly as the penguin looked back at the barrel of the gun being pointed at him.
“So I’m going to just need you to stand right there okay. Don’t worry this will be over in a jiffy.”
With that the sheriff watched the bird take aim and he shut his eyes looking away. He flinched as he heard the gun go off but was surprised to hear a yell of pain. Not just that, the sound of a female screaming in pain. Eyes shooting open he looked over and saw the dame screaming as she clutched her shoulder, blood pouring from an obvious bullet wound. What the hell? His eyes darted over to DJ and the other bird to see them both wrestling over the gun. Seemed DJ wasn’t so ready to just kneel over and die like Doherty had been.
The yellow bird watched in awe as the two birds wrestled with the gun, neither of them willing to back down or give the other any opportunity to overpower them. He never thought that the city boy would be able to hold his own in a fight but here he was, and he was actually winning. Feeling a surge of anger he managed to pry his beak from the bird holding it closed and clamp down hard on their hand, causing them to shriek in pain as he heard a crunching sound. Like hell a peck neck city boy would get one over on him and show him up! He wasn’t about to roll over like some mutt was he?! He was pecking Sheriff Doherty for peck’s sake!
Releasing the lackies hand, the yellow bird quickly called over to the penguin.
“WATCH OUT FOR THE OTHER PEC- oh never mind.”
He watched DJ’s head spin around to glance at him before he was tackled to the ground by the other lackie who hadn’t gotten involved yet. As they fell over the gun DJ and the leader had been fighting over was knocked out of their hands and sent sliding across the ground and under the wardrobe. Doherty sighed in relief as the gun vanished from view but his attention was quickly drawn to the two birds not going at it on the floor. The lackie was attempting to punch DJ as he tried to block them best he could. Doherty was still tied up and couldn’t do anything to assist the penguin. Until he remembered.
“ME GUN LADDIE! GET ME GUN! IT’S BY THE DOOR!”
The penguin’s glanced up at him then towards the door where he spotted the gun on the table. Exerting what strength he had left the penguin attempted to shove the bird off him before he sighed and growled.
“Oh peck this!”
Before the bird had time to react DJ delivered a painfully hard kick in between their legs causing them to yelp in pain and crumple to the ground as they covered themselves and tried to not puke. Doherty felt himself stiffen and clamp his legs tighter together at the sight. A low blow he admitted but surprisingly effective given the circumstances. He would need to keep note of that underhanded technique if he ever pissed the penguin off again. That’s if they go through this.
He watched as DJ shoved the crying bird away and stumble towards the gun just grabbing it in time as the leader made a go at him with the poker he had been trying to find during the scuffle. Both just stared at each other panting and disheveled, with DJ aiming the gun at the other bird. Doherty only just now realised he had been holding his breath the whole time as he watched this unfold.
“Ha! Seems we have the upper hand now doesn’t it?! Well done city boy! I didn’t think ye had it in ye but am I sure happy I was wrong about ye.”
The saw the penguin’s eyes dart to him and what appeared to be a flicker of pride in his eyes as he heard the sheriff’s compliment.
“Now I need ya to keep that gun aimed at that peck neck son of a bitch and untie me okay. Then we can high tail it out of this pecking town.”
Doherty watched as DJ started to carefully move around the other birds who were softly crying in pain, gun still aimed at the leader as he moved over to Doherty’s side. The leader just watched them coldly before smirking and chuckling again.
“Ye think it’s going to be so easy to just walk out of town? You think we were the only ones hired to take out this bloody penguin do you?! You leave here with him and your both dead men you hear me.”
The yellow bird watched as the other bird’s shoulders slumped slightly and he glanced over at him with a pained and guilty look. He knew what DJ was asking without the other bird saying a word. Doherty sighed and looked up at him and gave him a lopsided smile.
“I promised this peck neck I would get him to Steelwork and I am a man of my word. Regardless of the trouble it brings.”
The look the penguin gave him was something else. He honestly couldn’t figure out if it was awe or if they were going to cry. Probably a bit of both. Their attention was suddenly snapped back to the leader as he tutted and started towards them.
“Well it’s your grave not mine.”
He raised the poker as DJ yelped and aimed the gun pulling the trigger in panic. But. There was nothing but a soft click. Staring at the gun in bewilderment the penguin tried to pull the trigger a few more times with the same result. Doherty groaned when he realised what had happened.
“Like you think I would leave his gun laying around with bullets inside it. You must think I’m stupid or something.”
They had been so close. So so close. But trust the penguin to not realise the gun wasn’t loaded. Doherty sighed and gave the leader an angry look as he began to close the distance between them. But once again the penguin surprised him. Cursing they threw the gun at the other bird causing them to side step and laugh.
By the time the other bird had brought their attention back to DJ the other bird had already drawn his fist back and socked the bird right in the break causing them to stumble back and crumple to the ground out cold. The city boy had managed to deck him with a single punch. Oh now that was impressive.
Doherty looked up at DJ, his mouth dropped wide in surprise as he watched the penguin curse and rub his knuckles.
“That hurt like hell! What are the birds down here made of? Steel?”
Doherty couldn’t hold back the snort before he burst into a fit of laughter causing the penguin to look at him and scowl.
“Why are you laughing you nearly got us both killed!”
“I know laddie I’m just shocked a city boy was able to take out 4 armed birds all by themselves. Well 3. I did the 4th but who’s keeping count right?”
The blue bird just tutted as he continued to rub his hand before he went to help untie the sheriff. Quickly pushing past DJ, he grabbed all the pieces he could find along with his own before quickly taking the bullets and throwing the useless guns back on the ground.
“Come on, let's get out of here before people find out what happened and more of them arrive.”
“Agreed. I’m not really fond of or want another gun pointed at me today thank you very much.”
The two of them quickly made their way out the back entrance of the inn and back around towards the stables. Doherty spotted a rather fine looking mare standing besides his own horse and looked over to the penguin.
“I see yer got ye own horse?”
“Well I had no choice did I. A certain someone kinda threw me off their own horse just a few hours earlier and it was either walk or relent and get me own.”
The quickly mounted as Doherty rolled his eyes and they quickly headed out, heading towards the edge of town. It was now the sheriff noticed that his companion had had a wardrobe change. Gone were the peacock green suit and pants and now in their place was a brown get up of waist coat and duster, topped off with a wide brimmed hat that shielded the penguin’s eyes. He hated to admit it but he looked good. A little too clean and rounded around the edges to pass as a real cowboy but at least he shouldn’t die of heat exhaustion now.
Looking closer however he spotted an odd tie pin attached to the band on the hat. He hadn’t noticed it before but the bird must have been wearing it on their tie before the outfit change. It was a yellow star broken into three pieces. It looked rather distinct and Doherty was sure he had seen it before but couldn’t remember for the life of him where from.
“So I’m not going to get a thank you for saving your life back there?”
Doherty was snapped away from his thoughts by the slightly annoyed tone of the other bird. Of course trust him to ruin the mood.
“We’re even now peck neck. That should be thanks enough.”
He heard the penguin tut and could feel them roll their eyes. The yellow bird just sighed and cursed them silently under their breath.
“I said thank you. You really did save both our lives back there so… thanks.”
“Oh. You’re welcome Sheriff.”
“Call me Doherty.”
He glanced back and saw a look of surprise on the other bird’s face before he gave him a soft smile.
“Well you’re welcome then Doherty.”
Doherty nodded back at him as they continued to ride away from the town as the sun began to slowly set behind them, casting long stretching shadows in front of them as they raced on.
Chapter 4: How to train your City Boy
DJ groaned as he rolled over and tried to get comfy. Sleeping on the ground in the wilderness had not been part of his plan when he decided to hire Doherty. He thought they would have at least stayed in a comfortable, if not nice, inn. But of course the first inn they get to, the bloody idiot gets himself seduced and captured and they had to fight their way out. He groaned again in exasperation and rubbed a flipper over his face. Last night had been awful and he was exhausted from it all. Firstly the good will that had developed between the pair had been short lived. Only when they couldn’t see the town in the distance and Doherty was sure they would be fine for now did he decide to inform DJ that they would be camping and that he wasn’t going to share his tent with them. That had started up another heated argument, with both parties swearing each other down. A lot of peck necks, drunk bastards and city boys were thrown about. It all came to a head when DJ had managed to steal the Sheriff’s bottle of whiskey and threatened to dump the lot if the yellow bird didn’t share his tent with him. That finally got the other to relent but not without a lot of threats and that “he’ll be sorry for this.”
Letting his flipper fall off his face, DJ let out a long sigh. He had only gotten a few hours sleep. The floor was far too hard, he had been cold most of the night and to top everything off Doherty snored. He just had to keep reminding himself that this was only for 3 more days and then he’d be free of the wash up. Looking over to his side he inspected where the Sheriff had been sleeping. It seemed they must have gotten up already. Speaking of which. DJ sniffed the air and quickly sat up when he smelled something cooking. Poking his head out he spotted Doherty sat beside a small fire with a skillet over it cooking breakfast. DJ felt his mouth water as he eyed up the food. The other bird must have heard him as he saw one of their ears twitch in his direction.
“Ah so sleeping beauty finally woke up. Yer enjoy ye sleep ye highness~?”
DJ shot him a look and tutted before he climbed out of the tent, dusting himself off and putting his hat back on.
“I wouldn’t recommend this establishment to sleep in. The other guests are far too loud and the room service atrocious.”
He saw Doherty’s lips curl into a smirk as he chuckled and took the food off the fire. He must have noticed DJ eyeing up the food and gave him a cocky smile.
“Oh hungry are we? Well too bad this is mine. Ye wanted to eat ye should have brought ye own food.”
DJ stared at the other bird with a hurt look before it was quickly replaced by an angry look. That bloody peck neck! If he had known that he would have gotten some of his own supplies. Not that he really knew what that consisted of. He really wasn’t used to having to do his own shopping… Doherty seemed to be watching him before he hummed and caught DJ’s attention.
“Sorry penguin did I forget to mention that as part of the deal. Too bad.”
The yellow bird grinned at him before dropping the bacon he had been frying whole into their mouth as DJ just watched with a heart broken look. He could feel his stomach turning and grumble. He really hadn’t eaten anything since yesterday and he was starving. He whined a little but mostly to himself. He’d need to make sure he did get something in the next town or else he wouldn’t be making it to Steelwork any time soon.
Watching Doherty make a show of licking his finger clean and humming to himself about how good the food was, he scowled and went to move off to his horse before he heard the Sheriff call to him.
“Not yet city boy, I wanna do something with ye before we head out.”
“And what would that be Sheriff?”
Doherty raised an eyebrow at him sensing the other was still pissed at him by the fact he was calling him by his title again.
“Now now that would spoil the surprise~ Follow me and I’ll show ye.”
With that the bird picked himself up and headed off to behind some rocks. Cautiously the penguin followed, trying to keep an eye on the yellow bird in case they decided to pull any stunts on him again. Coming around the rocks he saw Doherty standing a little away from some bottles that were positioned in a line on some rocks out in front of them both.
“So watching ye yesterday I noticed something. Ye good with ye fists and ye seem to know how to fight. Which I admit I was surprised by. Ye handling of a gun however. Absolutely pecking awful I’d be surprised if ye could even shoot yeself in the foot.”
DJ was surprised by the compliment and found himself smiling but it quickly turned into a frown after the later part. Of course he didn’t know how to use a gun! Firstly he didn’t like them and secondly that was the first time he’d ever held one!
“So imma teach ye some of the basics. Not because I’m trying to be nice, but ye seem to be attracting a whole lot of trouble and I would prefer it if ye at least knew how to somewhat fire and aim one of these if the situation arises. Just don’t wanna have to die cos of some pecking city boy alright?”
“Crystal clear Sheriff. But I’ll have you know I detest guns so I will try to stay away from them is possible.”
“Whatever you say princess but down here, most people settle issues with a gun before trying to talk someone down. So shut it and get over here.”
Sighing DJ made his way over to where Doherty was. The other was already loading one of the guns he had taken from the gang the day before and once done held it out in front of him.
“Right so to load em you just need to pop the bullets in the cylinder okay? This is just a basic revolver, I ain’t giving ye anything nice or powerful cos I would prefer neither of us be around ye with something that can actually do a lot of damage. Once loaded just swing the cylinder back in and it’s ready to go. Got it?”
DJ just nodded as he watched Doherty operate the gun before flinching as the Sheriff spun the gun on his finger and held the handle out to him. He saw the other bird smirk slightly before he took the gun off him and held it in his flipper. He didn’t like this, but what choice did he have. The Sheriff, as much as it killed him to say, was right. He did need to learn how to use one. He saw the other bird motion for him to stand where he did and DJ did as he was instructed.
“Now to fire ye gonna need to pull the hammer on the gun back with ye thumb to lock the cylinder and get it aligned with the barrel. Ye need to do this for each shot alright so don’t forget or else someone will probably shot ye while ye trying to figure out why it hasn’t gone off. So ye got 6 shots in this so also remember to count. Now let’s work on actually firing it.”
DJ was still glancing down at the gun before he squeaked slightly as he felt Doherty’s hand on his side. Blushing slightly he looked at the other bird who just gave him a look before kicking his feet into position.
“So you gonna wanna position yourself so the recoil doesn't knock ye aim off alright? Ye probably gonna try and shoot with two hands, but well practise with one so ye actually look like you know what ye doing. That can do a lot for ye when ye in a standoff, trust me.”
The penguin was only half listening as he felt Doherty move closer against him, lifting his arm up gently to position it and show him how to aim and hold the gun correctly. DJ couldn’t help himself from just watching the Sheriff out the corner of his eye. He hadn’t seen the other this close up before. The other bird look rough around the edges, face and arms covered in scars and injuries he’d picked up through his career but DJ couldn’t deny the rugged look suited him. Made him look handsome even. He felt his cheeks suddenly begin to warm up. No. No way. He wasn’t starting to fall for this guy! He was a pecking drunk bastard who was mean and cruel and frankly uncultured. But then again the way he spoke to him now was different. His tone was softer and less abrasive. His touches were also gentle but confident as he lifted DJ’s hand for him to explain about something to do with recoil and where to keep his hand or something but the penguin really wasn’t listening any more. Just watching the other and trying to stop himself from leaning into the other bird.
“... So ye get all that?”
Doherty was looking at him and DJ felt his face go redder as he realised the other had been talking to him.
“O-oh yes of course…”
“Well alright then let’s see what ye can do. Just don’t shoot ye eye out and if ye do manage to hit anything I might give ye a reward.”
He nodded dumbly as the Sheriff pulled away, leaving DJ to suddenly feel alone and missing the warmth he felt from the other. He really was doing this. To Doherty of all people? He’d only met the bird a day ago and was swooning like some dame. But… But it was always the same wasn’t it with him. He sighed and kicked himself, trying to push those feelings deep, deep down and focus on the task at hand. Steadying himself he took up position raising the gun in front of him. Trying to remember what Doherty had been jabbling about he took aim and fired, but the recoil made him yelp and the bullet went high, completely missing any of the bottles.
“Oooooh~ That was soooo close city boy. If ye were aiming for the sun or something.”
Yep and it’s getting suddenly a lot easier to repress those feelings now. Huffing DJ aimed again and fired a couple more round, missing predictably but getting closer. He was getting visibly annoyed now with himself, with the whole situation and was just about to throw the gun before he heard Doherty.
“Ye too tense DJ. Relax yeself a bit, ye doing fine just keep trying.”
DJ felt his heart jump slightly and glanced back at the other bird who was lounging on a rock watching him closely. He never expected a compliment. He felt a smile tug on his lips as he turned back and aimed again letting off his last shot. He heard the sound of glass shattering as he quickly lowered the gun spotting a glass being blown off the rock into numerous fragments.
“I-I hit one? I hit one!”
He beamed and felt a sense of pride as he heard Doherty whistle behind him.
“Guess ye actually can use that thing city boy. Well done and as a reward here.”
DJ turned around as he watched Doherty pull off a glove with his teeth and root in the bag he bag he had by his feet and pulled out some jerky for the penguin.
“It ain’t much but ye earned it. Just need to pick up extra rations for the both of us in the next town.”
Accepting the food DJ started to eagerly tucked in before he spotted something glinting in the morning light on the Sheriff’s finger. A ring. No. A wedding ring. DJ felt his stomach clench and he stiffened at the sight of it. Oh, he was married. Wait so what if he was married? It didn’t matter to him. But at the same time it didn’t stop the pang of sadness he felt.
The penguin motioned to the ring on the other birds finger. He was them suddenly stiffen, feathers going on end as they quickly shoved their glove back on, giving the penguin an angry look.
“It’s none of yer business peck neck.”
“It might be if things go sour like they have been doing so. I would prefer not being the cause of a windowing.”
“Ye don’t have to worry about that.”
“And why wouldn’t I?”
“She’s already dead.”
DJ bit his tongue as Doherty said that. He messed up big time with that. He just looked as the Sheriff’s angry expression suddenly turned to one of pain as he quickly started to root through the bag pulling out his whiskey. Ah. That explained it. The penguin was starting to put the pieces together about the other bird and it explained a lot. He looked down at his feet, guilt rushing over him.
“I’m sorry I didn’t mean to press. You have my condolences. I… I know what it’s like to lose a loved one too. So I’m sorry to bring that pain up for you.”
“Do ye ye peck neck?! Do ye really?!”
The penguin stumbled back slightly as the other bird rounded on him, glaring at him as he sized him up. DJ didn’t back down tho and rather than getting angry at the outburst like he usually would he just nodded and sighed sadly.
“I… I lost my family, mother, father and sister a few years ago. Tragic accident the said. I should have been with them but I was sick so I couldn’t go with them and then they… Regardless it still hurts even now. I miss them.”
He trailed off and finally looked away from the Sheriff, the pain from the memory just being too much for him. It had been 7 years ago but even now the pain was still there. He just pushed it deep down into himself. Like he did with all his unwanted feelings and emotions. The other bird seemed to settle down a bit and back off of him, before just going to sit back on the rock. Fiddling with the lid on the bottle absentmindedly.
“I… I lost me wife to illness a few years back now. Love of my life. Would do anything for her but she just got sick one day. I tried to do everything for her, but with my job and everything it was impossible to tend to her and protect the town. She thankfully died peacefully but I wasn’t there when she needed me.”
“I’m sure she was thankful for what time you did give to her. Seemed up two loved each other a lot.”
“Ye, ye we did.”
They both just stayed like that in silence for a moment as they mulled over what had been said. DJ felt almost relieved to have gotten it off his chest. He hadn’t talked about their deaths in such a long time but here he was. Talking with some stranger who didn’t even really know him but for some reason he felt better. Like a weight had been lifted. He finally looked up at the Sheriff who was still toying with the bottle lid but seemed more… at ease. Relaxed even.
“Guess we both kinda messed up with our own trauma hey?”
DJ nodded slowly as the Sheriff spoke. Finally Doherty prised the lid off the bottle and held it up.
“A drink to those we lost.”
He took a swing before handing the bottle to DJ who hesitantly took the bottle. He eyed up the liquor before taking a swig only to cough and gag slightly on it. What the hell was in this stuff?! It felt like trying to drink hot coals and the taste. Bleh! As his coughing died down it was only then he realised Doherty was laughing. He glanced up wiping his eyes as he watched the other give a hearty laugh over his misfortune.
“Oh they really don’t teach you guys up North how to handle ye booze do they?!”
“You call this booze? It’s like trying to drink sandpaper that’s on fire.”
That had the Sheriff laughing again as he took the bottle back off the penguin and dropped it back into his bag.
“Oh I’ll need to toughen ye up city boy! Ye ain’t gonna survive out here until ye get a taste for the fire water~!”
DJ watched the other bird as he headed back to camp chuckling to himself before he smiled and fiddled with the forgotten gun he still had in his hand. Maybe this journey wasn’t going to be so bad after all. Maybe. He felt his cheeks heat up again as he thought about how close they had been before, and how Doherty had looked at him. Shaking his head he quickly followed after the other bird. Suppress them DJ suppress them. Can’t get attached now. Or even worse… He shook his head and picked up his pace trying to push the thoughts out of his head.
Chapter 5: Trains? Trains.
Once everything had been packed up back onto the horses and the both of them saddled up again DJ and Doherty headed out again. It was still fairly early in the morning so the sun was still low in the sky, the air crisp and the sky slowly starting to turn to the familiar blue Doherty was accustomed to. He loved riding during this time. It was peaceful and relaxing. He used to do it back when he was younger. Just go out for early morning rides when he was a teen and younger bird and just head off with no destination in mind, but just a desire to lose himself for a few hours until the sun got to high and he’d have to head back. He sighed contently before glancing back at the penguin to see how DJ was doing. The blue bird seemed to be lost in thought, his eyes occasionally glancing up at Doherty before quickly darting away. The Sheriff just shrugged, odd bird, but he guessed he could be okay and was actually not a bad listener when he decided to actually keep his beak shut. Doherty fiddled with the ring on his finger in thought before he smiled sadly. It was weird. He almost felt… better he guessed after having opened up to the penguin. He hadn’t talked about his wife’s death to anyone in for so long but here he was. Opening up to a stranger and them just comforting him, but not pitying him like the others had. Just being sympathetic to what had happened. Maybe it was cos they could also relate to it. The yellow bird chewed his lip slightly as he quickly eyed up the other bird. He felt devastated having lost his wife, but losing your whole family in one go? He couldn’t imagine what DJ had to have gone through. It made him look at him in a different light. Not enough of one to actually like him but who knows. Maybe with time. That’s if he learnt to handle his drink first.
They rode quietly for another couple of hours before a noise caught Doherty’s attention. His ears shot up as he reigned his horse back slightly and cocked his head listening for where it came from.
“Sheriff? Is something wrong?”
“Shh! I’m listening.”
He shushed the other bird earning him an unimpressed look but he ignored it. Yep he was right in what he heard and he quickly kicked his horse into a canter as he pulled off the path and over towards a ridge a little while off.
He heard the penguin groan in exasperation before they followed after him trying to keep up so as to not lose him. They slowed as they neared the edge and, yes! Yes he was right in what he heard. Below them was a set of train tracks, snaking through the barren landscape heading off to what must have been one of the other major cities down here. Doherty grinned to himself, feathers ruffling in excitement as he peered off into the distance spotting a plume of smoke heading towards them.
“Yeah I thought I could hear one, didn’t realise we were so close to the railway line.”
The penguin gave him a puzzled look as he followed his gaze before turning back to him.
“So you ran over in, nearly giving me a heart attack, because of… a train?”
Doherty felt his eye twitch slightly as he turned to give the bird an angry look. Of course the penguin probably wouldn’t understand but trains out here were a big deal. They had only started to appear around the last 35 years or so. Doherty remembers his Ma taking him when he was a little chick to go see the first one being sent off from Steelwork. They were amazing pieces of technology and engineering and had helped connect the major areas down here in the South and improved the lives of so many of the birds. He had fallen in love with them since that special moment.
“Yes because of a train. I… I like trains. Just wanted to see what one it was.”
He knew it was silly, but he didn’t care what the city boy thought. If he didn’t care about the teasing his siblings gave him about it when he was a chick, like hell he’d care now if the penguin did the same.
“Oh, okay then. I quite like them myself to be honest, just never seen someone so eager before. It’s nice.”
Doherty made a surprised face and looked over at the penguin. Well, he wasn’t expecting that response. He mostly kept the hobby to himself and really didn’t keep up with it as he got older and after everything that had happened. Would only indulge himself from time to time. Never thought a city boy like DJ would be interested in such things, but as he seemed to be doing a lot on this trip, the city boy surprised him. He found himself smiling softly as he turned back to watch the train approach.
As it got nearer he felt his tail feathers wag slightly in excitement. The penguin seemed to notice and smirked slightly, but didn’t say anything. As the train chugged along below them Doherty grinned as he watched it. Ah it was B534 model, a little old but still one of the more reliable ones. Used for transporting cargo mostly but still a work of art. All the trains here were owned and controlled by the Northern Lights Railway. One of the most powerful companies around, in both the North and the South as most railways were run by them and they were employed by both the governments in the two areas to run the railways there. The company was run by the Jeffersons, one of the richest and most powerful families in the whole country. He remembers reading that the owner of it had been killed a few years back in a freak accident to do with the train they were riding on exploding or something. It was a tragic accident that also claimed the lives of the other family members who were with him that day. Except the youngest, who he thinks now ran the company but largely kept out of the public eye after the incident.
“I wanted to be a conductor ye know when I was a scamp. I loved the idea of driving a train and running one. The wind in my feathers as I roared down the track, not a care in the world. I asked for a real train when I was 10. Surprisingly I was told it was out of me Ma’s price range.”
He chuckled slightly as he saw DJ grin, probably imagining a little Doherty trying to drive a huge train all by himself.
“You never pursue it when you became older though? You seem you would be good at it and it’s obvious you would enjoy the job?”
“Nah, where I was from the trains hadn’t reached us by then and I was kinda made to become the Sheriff. Me old man had been and as the eldest it fell to me to kinda take up his mantle ye know. I mean I don’t mind being a sheriff! But still, I wouldn’t have complained about being a conductor.”
They both watched the train speed on past until Doherty spotted a familiar image on the side of one of the cargo doors of a container. A yellow star broken up into 3 pieces. Spinning his head around he stared at the penguin who was still watching the train and his eyes quickly settled on their hat.
“I knew I’d seen that logo before! Yer wearing a Northern Lights pin on ye. Do ye work for em or something?”
He saw DJ freeze, a look of panic coming over his features, his flipper quickly going to his hat as he felt the pin that was still lodged in his hat. He quickly glanced over at Doherty, eyes darting about without settling on him as he seemed to be trying to come up with an answer.
“O-Oh um… yes. Yes I do. N-nothing major though, I just work in the offices and help with maintaining the schedules.”
“Okay? Is that why you live in Steelwork?”
“Y-yes exactly! I had to go on a trip away to do some business for the company and I was heading back until that fiasco happened.”
The other bird was acting so nervous, and he could see them ringing their flipped on the reins as they still refused to make any real eye contact with him. Something was up. They both knew that but, it really wasn’t Doherty’s problem in the end, or his business. The penguin could be a stripper for all he cared and it wouldn’t matter. He just needed to get the penguin home and get paid. But then a thought struck him.
“This business ye had to take care of, it wasn’t anything shady was it? Could explain why people keep coming after us...”
The penguin quickly shook their head, an insulted look on their face.
“Definitely not! I pride myself in being a good citizen and honest bird, I would never stoop to do something like that. Besides, barely anyone knew what I was heading out there for so I doubt it could be connected to it. B-besides it wasn’t anything major! Just working on maybe adding another station on one of the tracks.”
He awkward laughed at the end, seeming as if he hoped what he was saying would convince the Sheriff. Now Doherty had been in the business a long, long time and he could spot a lie a mile away. The first part of what the city boy had said seemed to be the truth but the other part where he suddenly panicked seemed to have been a fabrication he had added. Maybe he didn’t wanna actually say exactly what he was doing. Maybe he couldn’t? He knew big companies like Northern Light were likely do keep their employees hush hush about certain things.
“Alright if ye say so…”
He wasn’t convinced but wouldn’t press the bird any further. The city boy was annoying and a peck neck but did seem to be an honest and good bird at heart. They watched the train start to disappear into the distance before Doherty headed back towards the path, followed by DJ. They rode on in silence for awhile, both just lost in their own thoughts. It wasn’t an uncomfortable silence tho, even after what had happened before. Both just seemed to be fine with not talking as the rode on, the dust kicking up as the horses hooves dug into the loose dirt that made up the path.
The sun was high above them now as they rode on. They’d have to stop soon to let the horses feed and drink and probably get something for themselves Doherty thought to himself. He was also aware of the penguin besides him. Even though he was dressed appropriately now, the laddie was still suffering under the sun. Penguins really were suited back up North so he couldn’t imagine how much he was suffering right now. Peering ahead he spotted a small gathering of trees that seemed to be over by a small stream that was meandering through the rough environment.
“Head for the trees over there. We will rest for a bit and let the horses have something to eat before we carry on. At this rate we will be at the next town by early evening so we can find somewhere to rest there.”
“And hopefully not almost be murdered in this time I hope?”
That made Doherty snort and flash the other bird a grin and a face that said “it was just one time”. He saw DJ giggle and Doherty swore he saw his cheeks go pinker as they smiled back at him. But then again it could have just been a trick of the light. Settling the horses to graze and drink, Doherty set a small camp up for the both of them and began rooting through his bags looking for the rations he had as DJ went to gather them both some water. As he rummaged his hand brushed the cool glass of the bottle that was in his bag. He stopped for a moment and let his fingers trace over it for just a second. At home he would have already have been through half a bottle by now. But now he just didn’t feel like drinking. Well he did, he always did. But… he just didn’t feel he had to. Maybe getting out and about for a few days would be good for him. Maybe it was being with the city boy? The last thought caught him off guard and he made a face, his cheeks heating up. No! No of course it wasn’t because of the pecking city boy! It was just the company in general! Would happen if it had been anyone he reassured himself. Shaking his head he quickly left the bottle and pulled out some bread and biscuits they could share. Before getting up to search for the pecking city boy. He had been gone too long for someone just getting water.
Heading around the trees he made his way down to the little river where the horses and DJ were standing besides. As he approached however he found himself slowing down before coming to a stop, just inside the trees to avoid being seen out right. He could hear something, not something someone. DJ. DJ was softly singing to himself as he tended to the horses who were leaning into him as he gently rubbed their noses with the back of his flipper. The animals seemed to like him, even Doherty’s horse who was known for hating everyone bar him and being just as stubborn as their owner. But here they were., just letting DJ gently pet them and taking the food he offered them as he sang. Seemed the horses liked it and Doherty could easily see why. The penguin had such a nice voice, it was deep and relaxing to listen to as he continued his little melody. Even Doherty found himself just quietly listening along to it, pressing himself back against a tree, not wanting to be spotted and ruin the moment.
Then he felt it, his cheeks warming up again and his heart starting to beat faster in his chest. Tearing his gaze away from the other bird, he clutched his chest as he felt his heart beat increasingly fast. What was up with him?! Was he sick or something? No. No he knew he wasn’t but he didn’t want to admit it to himself. He knew what this feeling was. He was all too familiar with it as he had felt it before when he first laid eyes on his late wife. He silently cursed himself and tried to get his heartbeat to return to normal. There was no way he was going to fall for this peck neck city boy! He couldn’t! But here he was hiding behind a tree, because he smitten with hearing that beautiful voice. He groaned and hit the back of his head against the tree to try and quiet his thoughts. You just need to get him back home and then you won’t need to worry about him again. It’s that simple.
Taking a deep breath he pushed himself away from the tree and headed down to the river. When DJ heard his footsteps he quickly shut his beak and gave the sheriff a worried look. Probably thought Doherty would be mad at him for taking so long or for hearing him.
“A-ah Sheriff there you are. I’m sorry to have kept you waiting, I was just checking on the horses.”
“I-it’s fine. I got us some food out so we can rest here and have something to drink and then head back out.”
The penguins features changed slightly to one of concern as he looked Doherty’s face over.
“You alright Doherty? You seem off, and your face is flushed. Do you feel okay?”
“I-I’m fine ye peck neck city boy! Just thirsty is all. I’m sweating like a sinner in a church here it's that bloody pecking hot.”
Doherty could feel his face getting warmer and warmer as his blush grew the more DJ looked him over and the more embarrassed he became. He kept his vision away from the blue bird and off towards the distance, pretending to be surveying the scenery.
“Ah okay. Well I got you that water so make sure you drink plenty. It would be awkward if you passed out from heat exhaustion this time.”
Doherty quickly nodded and snatched the offered flask, quickly making his way back to camp. His face burning along with the back of his neck, as he tried to not let DJ see the mess he was becoming.
They ate in silence mostly, neither really looking at one another as they ate. It felt awkward now. Should he say something? Ask something about the penguin? Why did he feel so pecking nervous all of a sudden?! Eventually the yellow bird spoke up first.
“I uh… I heard ye singing. Before with horses.”
He watched as DJ blushed hard and swallowed nervously, flippers quickly going to fiddle with his flask.
“O-oh right yes, sorry about that. I didn’t realise you were there. I-it’s just a silly hobby I’m sorry if it bothered you I won't do it ag-”
“N-no, no I didn’t mean it like that! I meant um… Ye good laddie. Got a nice voice.”
The penguins head spun around to stare at him before he shyly glanced away, a small smile playing on his lips as his blush grew. The sight made Doherty’s heart skip a beat and he found himself returning the smile.
“You think? Well… thank you Doherty. Seems like you can be nice when you want to be.”
“I can be very nice, it’s just harder for a city boy like ye to actually get me to act it. And ye don’t gotta stop singing. I… I wouldn’t mind hearing some more of it. Just cos ye know how boring it can be during these long rides! Could help break it the menotiney of it all… maybe...?”
He trailed off slightly at the end when he realised he was ramberling. He quickly glanced back over to DJ, who was giving the sheriff a wide grin, his eyes sparkling slightly at being asked to sing.
“I’m sure I may know a few more songs Sheriff if you’d like to hear them.”
The yellow bird found himself returning the smile and just trying to take in how the other bird looked in the moment before quickly snapping his head away. Don’t start now you stupid pecking idiot. He is just a client. You just have to get him home. End of story. Besides. He probably has someone waiting for him back home. Handsome bird like that. He cleared his throat and quickly set about tidying up.
“We better be off. Go fill the flasks up and get the horses will ye?”
“O-oh right. Of course.”
Was it Doherty, or did DJ almost sound disappointed they had to head off again. Probably just lazy and didn’t want to have to ride in the heat again but what did he care. He just wanted to get to the next town and get something to drink and sleep. He watched the other bird get up and leave out the corner of his eye, a sudden twinge of sadness as he watched them trudge off. He needed to be gone of this bird as soon as.
They set off shortly thereafter and as the sun started to go lower in the sky they reached the next town. It was smaller than the previous one they had visited but there was an inn, a bar (thankfully) and a couple of shops. As they rode in DJ headed off towards the inn as Doherty went to follow him only for something to catch his eye. He came to a sudden stop causing the other bird to stop as well as he turned in his saddle to watch him.
“Sheriff? You see another train or something?”
“No, no just. Just take my horse and get them in the stables while I do something.”
He quickly dismounted and handed the reins of his horse to DJ who gave him a concerned look, but did as he was told and lead the two animals off towards the inn. Doherty watched them go before he glanced back at the shop window he had stopped in front of. He couldn’t believe he was doing this. He was kicking himself but here he was walking up to the shop not even trying to stop himself. He hoped he wouldn’t regret this.
He found DJ a little while later, already sat up at the bar obviously waiting for him. Two drinks were by him. One was filled with some light pink drink, which was obviously the penguin’s but the other one was whiskey. Doherty chewed his lip slightly as he took the seat next to the blue bird and eyed the drink up before pointing at it.
“Is that for me?”
DJ jumped slightly, not realising the other bird had arrived back. He quickly nodded and pushed the glass towards the sheriff.
“Ye I wasn’t sure what you would want but whiskey seems to be your thing so…”
He trailed off slightly as he played with his own drink, slowly swirling the liquid around his glass as he watched the sheriff to see if the offering was okay. Doherty felt the corner of his mouth tug into a smile as he took a swig of the drink.
“Ye, ye this is fine, thanks.”
He saw the bird smile as they realised they had made the right choice. He hadn’t been drinking with someone like this in a long time. Usually he would get his drink and just stay by himself at the bar until he was cut off. But having someone beside him was nice.
“I got us a room, we’ll have to share as they are pretty full right now. Apparently a lot of people are coming through the area recently and so have set up here for bit. But if your fine with that then it’s all good. And yes before you ask, I did cover the cost. Though I might make you pay for my drink considering that stunt you played in the last town.”
“Yer spoiling me city boy~”
They both chuckled at that and flashed each other a grin. They fell quiet again for a moment before he heard DJ speak again as the other turned in his chair to face him.
“Oh that reminds me, you okay from before? You just ran off I thought something had happened.”
“A-ah right about that… um… I-I just saw something and well…”
He was stumbling over his words as he suddenly found himself nervously trying to explain himself as the penguin raised an eyebrow, giving him a look. Slowly from his pocket he pulled out a scarf similar to the one he wore, but in red this time. He quickly handed it to the surprised and puzzled bird.
“I-I saw this and I thought yer might appreciate one too. Helps keep the sweat off and the dust out yer face. Also it’s… it’s to say thanks for the other day. I really owe ye one for that. I didn’t think I would get out of it but yer surprised me city boy. So… thank you.”
He watched the other bird nervously as they ran a thumb over the material, trying to gauge their reaction. He jumped slightly as the penguin turned and beamed at them, before tying the scarf around their neck.
“Thank you Sheriff, that was very kind of you. Being nice to me twice in one day. Keep that up and I’ll start to think you actually like me.”
“Fat chance city boy. Like I would be friends with someone drinking that shite.”
“Cheeky beggar. We can’t all be alcoholics like you.”
He snorted and downed the rest of his drink at that comment. The penguin was starting to be able to keep up with his banter now. Hopefully he kept it up.
“The scarf suit yer by the way. Red’s yer colour.”
The penguin looked up surprised by the compliment off the sheriff and smiled, a small blush forming on his cheeks.
“You think? I’ll keep that in mind then…”
Doherty just nodded his head before he ordered another whiskey which again he said the penguin would be paying for which earned him a dirty look from the other bird. The continued drinking together for a little longer, while Doherty shared tales of his harrowing adventures and his brave exploits and DJ just gave a few halfhearted oohs and aaahs as he mocked the sheriff. It wasn’t long till the penguin was rather drunk but the sheriff wasn’t surprised as he didn’t look like he didn’t think a city boy would handle his booze well. And he was right. Doherty was starting to loosen up himself too and beginning to have a good time drinking for once until he felt eyes on both of them. He had been aware of the stares before, mostly directed towards the penguin, as even dressed like that, a penguin down South drew a large amount of attention. But this time it felt difference. It put his feathers on end. He felt like prey being watched by a predator who was getting ready to go in for the kill. He went quiet and decided that it would be best to get DJ up to their room and out of public as soon as possible. It was then when another drink was placed down in front of his companion.
“From the bird across the bar. He says he hopes you enjoy it.”
Doherty was on edge immediately as the barkeep pulled away and DJ eyed up the glass.
“Ohhh looks like I have an admirer~ I wonder who it could beeee~”
The sheriff pulled the glass away as the penguin reached a flipper out for it, which earned him a stroppy look and a whine. Doherty hushed him as his eyes darted around the bar before settling on a raven that sat a little off from them. They were dressed in black, with orange accents and were staring the sheriff down with a cruel smile on their lips. Their only visible yellow eye moved from the sheriff to watch the blue bird as he whined and tried to get the drink back from him. He saw their eyes narrow as they found their target and seemed to enjoy watching the penguin try feebly to get his drink back. Obviously it was him who had brought the penguin the drink and Doherty didn’t like it one bit. Everything screamed “I’m here to murder you” vibes and Doherty needed to get DJ up to their room. Now.
“We’re going to the room, come on.”
“But we were just starting to have fuuuuun-”
“Shut it DJ. Ye need yer rest alright we need to up early tomorrow.”
The penguin pouted and was going to complain and throw a fuss but Doherty grabbed his arm and tugged him behind him. He could sense DJ was about to kick off and start a scene when he felt a considerable amount of resistance as he tried to head up to the rooms. He had forgotten how strong the bird was and knew he couldn’t make him move if he didn’t want to. He needed another plan as he watched the raven turn in their chair, eyeing them up and down.
“If yer come now I’ll teach yer how to play cards how does that sound?”
DJ hummed and made a show about thinking it over before eventually nodding. Doherty sighed and quickly turned on his heel to get DJ out of there until he heard a voice calling to them.
“And what is a handsome penguin like you doing this far down South?”
The yellow bird’s blood ran cold as he whirled his head around to see raven had gotten up and approached DJ. He found himself scowling, for some reason, as DJ giggled at the compliment and his cheeks went pink. Great the bird was going to flirt with him. The idea pissed him off even more than the bird just trying to kill him.
“It’s a secretttt~ I can’t say.”
“Oh is it now~ Well maybe if I get you a drink your friend here will actually let you have, you can share it with me~? I’d love to know.”
That’s it! Doherty pulled the giggling DJ away and pushed himself between the two causing the penguin to whine softly and the raven to smirk and look down at him.
“Protective aren’t you?”
“It’s what I’m being paid to do. So can ye peck off before we have to take this outside peck neck.”
He put his hands on his hips as he spoke, flashing his gun and getting the bird to let out a small chuckle as he saw it. The other bird shrugged and but his hand up in mock defence.
“Okay okay I can see you’re very protective of your little penguin. I wouldn’t want to intrude.”
He flashed Doherty another smile that made the bird’s skin crawl before winking over at DJ, causing them to giggle again.
“Maybe another time cutie. Same to you Sheriff. Be seeing you around~.”
With that Doherty grabbed the penguin’s arm and quickly took off for their room, still feeling the raven’s eyes burying holes into them as they hightailed it out of there. This wasn’t good. This wasn’t good at all. He didn’t know who that bird was, but all his senses were screaming at him to stay as far away as possible from them. And to keep DJ even further away if he could.
Chapter 6: Can we please stop trying to kill each other for 5 minutes.
Song used in the chapter is "Two Knocks" by aeseaes.
Also Idris is kinda bird Snatcher, sort of. But he's also a cowboy.
DJ groaned as he groggily opened his eyes. It was too bright and his head was killing, causing him to whine and bury his face back against the pillow. Last night was foggy. He remembers bits and pieces but nothing completely fits together. He remembers Doherty pulling him away from some handsome bird but it’s fuzzy. Wait Doherty. Opening his eyes again, the penguin scanned the room searching for his companion, a small twinge of panic in his chest. His eyes quickly found the yellow bird, sat on a chair facing the door on the other end of the room. DJ frowned slightly and chewed his lip. Had he been like that all night?
The other bird’s head spun around to face him as he pulled him from his thoughts. The look he gave him made him worry even more. A mix of nervousness and anger.
“Finally yer awake, come on we need to head off as soon as possible.”
“Have you been up all night? What’s wrong you seem on edge…”
The other birds brushed him off as he grabbed their stuff and peeked his head out the door as DJ got himself ready. This was so out of character for the sheriff that it made DJ’s stomach twist in knots. What had happened last night to make him like this. Maybe the other bird? He groaned and gripped his head, he really wished he could remember and help the other bird out. He didn’t want to be a hindrance to him again or get them in trouble. One he was ready he met Doherty by the door who after checking nodded and quickly slipped out followed by the penguin. They kept their heads down as they hurried down the corridors, every feather on DJ’s body stood on end as he felt the tension radiating off Doherty. The bird didn’t relax either when they got out and went to the stables.
“We’re going to need to get some supplies but ye gotta stay close to me. Keep ye head down and beak closed until we’re far from this pecking town.”
“Doherty what’s happening? What’s going on?”
“DJ I’ll explain later okay but for now I just need ye to trust me and listen to me. I know it’s not ideal but can ye do that for me?”
The fearful look on the other’s face was enough to silence any more questions the penguin had and he hesitantly nodded. Doherty gave him a relieved but anxious smile and nodded before he mounted his horse.
“Thank ye. Now come on before everyone else begins to wake up.”
They quickly headed to the general store and collected a few more supplies. Doherty had DJ go and gather them while he stood just inside the shop, looking out into the streets, hand resting on his gun as he waited for something, or someone. Once everything was collected they quickly rode out of town still in silence, this time with DJ taking the lead so the sheriff could keep an eye on their tail. Something had spooked him last night and the longer they didn’t speak the more on edge the penguin became. He felt like he wanted to be sick with how the nerves were twisting in his stomach along with guilt that maybe it had been something he had done. He glanced back over his shoulder at the sheriff who just nodded at him.
“It’s alright. Just keep going.”
Nodding DJ pulled his hat lower as he kicked at his horse causing them both to take off into a gallop once they passed out of the city and into the familiar barren expanse that they were quickly becoming accustomed to.
They rode in silence for an hour before Doherty seemed to relax. Seemed whatever had scared him mustn’t have followed them and they seemed to be okay now. As they slowed to a trot DJ filled with his reins slightly as the sheriff moved to ride alongside him. Glancing down the penguin noted that he had had his gun in his hand while they had been riding out. What the hell was going on?
“You wanna tell me what all that was about?”
“It was nothing don’t worry about it.”
“Doherty you can’t tell me that was nothing and expect me to believe you. You were terrified, I’ve never seen you look like before. It… it was scary. So please tell me or I can’t help you.”
The yellow bird sighed as he finally slipped his gun away before glancing over to see the penguin’s pained expression, the fear in his eyes must have been evident as he saw Doherty tense slightly at the sight.
“So last night, at the bar some bird brought ye a drink. He then tried to get ye to go and have a drink with him and talk to him. Get ye to leave me and just sit with him.”
“And that scared you?”
“What?! No! No of course not ye peck neck!”
Defensive much. DJ couldn’t help but try to remember what had happened that night. He remembers the bird slightly, and Doherty being rather protective and insistent on getting him away from them. Was he jealous? The penguin smirked to himself at the thought of Doherty being jealous that another bird was trying to hit on him. His amusement soon faded although as he saw the sheriff’s face, and how his how tightly he was gripping onto his reins.
“I don’t know who that bird was DJ, but the moment I saw him I knew he was bad news. And the way he looked at ye. It made my skin crawl.”
“He… He scared me. He scared me more than any other bird I’ve met before and I’ve met the worst of the worst city boy. But him. Him I was terrified of.”
The sheriff's words hung heavy in the air as both of them just looked at each other. DJ had never seen the bird so scared and that’s what terrified him so much. If this bird had had that effect on a hardened sheriff like him, he really hoped he didn’t meet the bird again.
“D… Did it happen because of me? Cos I was drunk and being a naucense again. Let my guard down and all… ”
Doherty’s head snapped up at that and his ears went down. DJ just looked down and fiddled with his own reins. He’d heard this said to him before. Scolding for being a bother and causing issues again. Just like when he had gotten sick and couldn’t go with his family on the train…
“Peck no laddie! This wasn’t ye fault, besides ye were just letting ye hair down. I was there anyway and I didn’t notice it until it had already happened. Don’t blame yeself alright? We’re safe now so don’t worry.”
The penguin looked up at the sheriff who was giving him a soft smile trying to reassure him. He knew the sheriff was right but it didn’t stop him from feeling the guilt gnawing away at him. He tried so hard to put on face but when it came to stuff like this, he usually ended up blaming himself. Still looking down at his reins he suddenly felt the other bird pat him on the leg.
“How about ye give us one of ye tunes? Help pass the time and take our minds off of that little fiasco back there. I bet ye know some good ones.”
“I… I probably won’t know any that you would know. Although I bet they are all drinking tunes you sing when your 4 shots in.”
“Hey I know some songs other than drinking ones! Admittedly most of them are drinking songs…”
DJ snorted and gave the sheriff a look but soon both of them were laughing. Doherty seemed to have a way of lightening the mood and putting the penguins eases at rest. The previous tension in the air slowly dissipating as they both started to relax and get back to their normal selves.
“So come on then! I want to hear a song. Serenade me city boy~!”
The penguin chuckled before he mulled over which song he could do. He knew a few off the top of his head but wasn’t sure which the sheriff would like. Eventually he settled on one he thought suited the other’s tastes.
“Alright got one, but don’t laugh now! You laugh and I won’t sing for you again.”
The sheriff pretended to lock his mouth and throw away the key before settling back on his horse to listen. DJ steadied himself and took a deep breath. It had been a long time since he had sang in front of someone, and he felt nervous but also excited. For some reason he really hoped Doherty would enjoy the song. Maybe if it was good he could sing to him again? The idea made the penguin’s cheek light up and his heart flutter. Slowly he opened his mouth and began to sing as Doherty listened quietly.
“Cold fire tonight and head slow
Ironed eyes and lead to hide the gallows
The crowd's stoned out on
Bottles in the back and the red rope
Bottles in the back and the red rope
I shot him down
Two knocks at the door and he hit the ground
One last breath, well I suppose
And the beat goes
And the beat goes
And the beat goes”
He turned his head slightly as he continued to sing, wanting to see how the other bird was reacting to his song. He was surprised, and overjoyed, to see the bird listening so intently, fixed on him as he watched him sing. His ears were up as he seemed to not want to miss one note. DJ could feel his face going redder as he pulled his eyes away from the transfixed stare of the sheriff and continued his song, his voice getting more confident as he went on.
“On broken strangers filled with blind hope
Perched the thing with feathers made of red smoke
As the sun bleeds down on
All the tangled rivers and the loaded guns
All the tangled rivers and the loaded guns
I shot him down
Two knocks at the door and he hit the ground
One last breath, well I suppose
And the beat goes
And the beat goes
And the beat goes”
He could feel the sheriff’s gaze on him. It made his heart race and his mind go all fuzzy as he continued to sing. He didn’t want this moment to end. Just the two of them, riding together with the early morning sun on their backs and not a care in the world. Allowing himself a small glance over at the other bird, he saw Doherty smiling at him. And that smile just made him melt. The way he looked at him and they way he stared transfixed on him was something the penguin wished he could capture and keep forever.
“The sun goes black as the cello plays
The kind of cinematic swell that makes the critics say
If only we had made
Something out of nothing before a quiet grave
Something out of nothing before a quiet grave
I shot him down
Two knocks at the door and he hit the ground
One last breath, well I suppose
And the beat goes
And the beat goes
And the beat goes
And the beat goes.”
As he finished his song, the penguin realised the two of them had been staring at each other as he had sung his final verse. Unable to tear their eyes away from one another. Even now as they sat in silence he found himself unable to look away. All he could hear was the sound of his own heart jack hammering away in his chest, ready to burst at any moment.
“Beautiful song penguin, but I’m sorry I’m going to have to interrupt this little moment~”
Both of their heads snapped around as they saw a black raven appear from behind a rock further up ahead. DJ saw Doherty immediately go pale and begin to turn his horse in the opposite direction.
The penguin was so confused as he glanced back over to see the other bird smirk and kick at his own horse sending it charging after them. He tried to keep up with sheriff but when he turned his head back around he heard them curse loudly, the path back the way they had come was now being blocked off by another 6 birds on horses. One of which DJ recognised as the bird he had knocked out in the hotel, now sporting a rather broken looking beak. He could see the sheriff panic as he tried to figure out a way out of this but there was nowhere to go now as the other birds closed in on them.
He saw Doherty go for his gun before a shot rang out causing the penguin to scream and cover his head as he cowered from the sound.
“Ah ah ah~ Don’t get any ideas sheriff. Hands where I can see them or I put a bullet in your little penguin right here, right now.”
“DJ get behind me now. I won’t let them hurt ye.”
“Oh so protective of him until the very end. How gallant.”
The raven approached them, gun drawn on them both as he chuckled coldly. He glanced over at DJ causing the penguin to flinch and try to shrink into himself. He could see what Doherty meant when he said he was scared of the bird. He found himself averting his gaze as the bird’s yellow eye bore into him.
“Oh don’t act like that now cutie~ You were so eager to talk to me last night and now here you are trying to run off before we even get to know one another properly. You’re breaking my heart~ But it’s okay you can make it up to me now and we can go and have a nice long chat together~”
DJ and Doherty found themselves being escorted as gunpoint off the path and towards what appeared to be a cave. On closer inspection DJ realised it must have been an abandoned mine, with the boxes and equipment he could see scattered about and left to gather dust. He swallowed nervously and glanced over at Doherty. The yellow bird hadn’t said a word the whole ride over here and the way his feathers all stood on end was a clear warning to DJ that this might very well be the end of the road to them. The penguin found his eyes starting to well up at the thought. Every other time they had been in a situation like this he had remained calm and collected and done his best to fight back. But now he just felt like a frightened little child and found himself worrying more about Doherty then himself. He didn’t want to get him killed because of him. The raven suddenly came to a halt outside the entrance of the mine and dismounted as he glanced around. DJ yelped as he found himself forcibly dragged from his horse, his arms being pinned behind his back as he was brought before the raven.
“Get ye pecking hands off of him yer sons of bitches!”
“Language sheriff. I just want to talk to your companion is all don’t worry I won’t hurt him. Yet.”
DJ swallowed nervously before looking over and seeing Doherty struggling with the two guards who had his arms held behind his back. He seemed to be putting up a good fight into lackie from the hotel socked him in the stomach causing him to keel over and cough.
He attempted to make a run over to him over for the guard holding him to hold him still as the raven grabbed his facing forcing him to look up at them.
“Now now penguin, eyes on me. You’re going to hurt my feelings overwise.”
His skin crawled and he tried to pull his face away but the raven had a tight grip on it. Tears stung his eyes as he desperately tried to check up on the sheriff but he couldn’t see him.
“Easy now cutie, your handsome sheriff is okay. I won’t hurt him. Do you want to see him? Is that what’s got you so worked up?”
He yelped as the raven grabbed him by the scarf and dragged him over to where Doherty was being pinned down onto the ground, his face being pushed into the dirt by one of the birds holding him. He growled and glared up at the raven, shooting daggers up at him as the other just chuckled.
“Ye touch him and I’ll pecking kill ye.”
“Oh how protective you are. Is that a promise sheriff? Shall we put it to the test?”
DJ felt the raven grab his face again as he struggled. He squeaked and froze when the bird came within inches of his face though, their beaks nearly touching as he spoke.
“Poor little penguin so far from home. You’ve been through so much already haven’t you? Poor thing. Oh and how rude of me I’ve forgotten to introduce myself. I really should do that before I kill you and your little boyfriend here shouldn’t I? My names Idris and I’ve been waiting a long time to meet you again “DJ”.”
The bird soon closed the distance, capturing DJ’s lips in a deep kiss making the penguin squeak and freeze up. His mind went blank as he tried to process what was happening. It wasn’t until he heard a furious yell did he snap back to reality.
“GET YER PECKING HANDS OF HIM YER PECKING BASTARD! I’LL PECKING KILL YE!”
Idris pulled away with a soft chuckle as he heard the sheriff out burts and saw him growling and snapping at the birds that pinned him down. Trying to do everything to get free and get his hands around the raven’s throat. DJ just stood there as he tried to figure out his emotions with what had just happened. Then he decided on one. Anger.
“Now now sheriff don’t be jealous~ I’ve been waiting 7 years to do this so I’m sure I’m entitled to this first.”
Idris turned back to DJ, who was still holding his face in his hand.
“Now, where were we-”
He was suddenly cut off by DJ spitting in his face and giving him a venomous stare.
“Don’t you pecking tounch me again.”
For the first time, DJ saw the features of the raven change. His usual smug, cool look quickly turned to one of anger and disgust as he wiped his face. DJ didn’t have time to react before he backhanded hard across the face causing him to yelp in pain and Doherty to start up his screaming again. The penguin fell to the ground and whined as his cheek began to sting. He glared back up Idris as the bird fixed his hair and gave him a sour look.
“Seems you’ve been picking up bad habits from the sheriff “DJ”. It really is below someone of your statue don’t you think?”
With that he bent down and yanked the penguin up by his hair causing him to yelp in pain as he was dragged to his feet and over to Doherty who had also been picked up. Pulling his gun out he pointed it at the sheriff causing both to still their outcries and struggling.
“You two are starting to become a pain in my neck ever since my men botched up the job of just throwing you off that cliff. I was going to at least give you a quick death but I know some of my men would much rather see you two suffer for what you’ve both done.”
DJ’s eyes glanced over to the bird from the hotel who was boring a hole into him with his stare right now. The penguin would prefer not to find out what he would do to him if he got a chance. A sharp yank on his hair caused him to look back at Idris and Doherty, who looked just about ready to rip someone’s throat out with his teeth if given the chance.
“This was supposed to be a simple job after the mess up all those years ago but here we are. 3rd time lucky I guess. My employer really wants to make sure you don’t get lucky and get out of it this time around so I had to be called out to make sure the job was done right. But I admit it was worth having to journey all that way to finally see you again Dewit.”
DJ froze. His blood running cold as he heard his name, his actual name, being used. His eyes shot to Doherty who looked at him with a puzzled look. The raven noticed this and a particularly cruel smile across his features.
“”Dewit?” Do ye know him DJ?”
DJ went to respond but his voice caught in his throat and he found himself unable to speak. He was scared. Doherty couldn’t find out who he was now. He’d worked so hard to keep it a secret after last time. Not that it mattered as they would both be dead soon. But he wanted the sheriff to remember him as DJ, not…
“Hohoho~! You really don’t know do you? You really don’t know who you’ve been transporting for the last 3 days do you? Oh Dewit you are such a good little liar aren’t you~ This is too good.”
DJ couldn’t bear to look at the other bird as they looked over at him, trying to get an answer, any answer from him. The shame was unbearable along with the guilt. He should have told him. But after what happened last time. He figured it would be better to just use his childhood nickname to try and draw less attention to himself. Plus he hadn’t fully trusted Doherty to not turn on him and try and off him himself. Crying out his face was forcefully pulled back up so he was looking at Doherty again.
“Come on “DJ”, tell the bird the truth. No? Fine, I’ll at least let him know before I kill him.”
Idris chuckled lowly and held DJ still as he moved his gun to aim it at the penguin. Doherty looked so confused as his eyes darted between them both, trying to get some answers from either of them.
“Sheriff Doherty, may I formally introduce you to Dewit Jefferson. The sole air of the Jefferson family fortune and, most importantly, the head of the Northern Lights railway. Bit of a big deal isn’t it Dewit, probably wasn’t something you should have kept from the nice sheriff, but it would explain why so many people have been after you wouldn’t it~”
The raven chuckled softly and nuzzled DJ’s cheek gently as he refused to let him look away from the other bird. DJ watched as the sheriff’s features dropped in realisation as the information finally sunk in and everything started to click into place. The tears were back again, pricking and stinging his eyes as he tried not to cry and look away in shame from the bird he had slowly fallen for. He would hate him now surely for lying to him. Hiding who he was and putting them both in such danger.
“Who cares who he is.”
His eyes snapped open as he heard Doherty speak again. Head spinning to look at him as he was greeted with the bird’s usual grin.
“Doesn’t change the fact he paid me to do a job and I intend to do it. Tho if I had known he was such a big shot I would have asked for more money. Yer a cheap skate DJ ye know that. Pecking city boy.”
The penguin felt his eyes well up again as he felt a wonderful sense of relief flooded over him. He wasn’t mad. Hell he didn’t even seem to care who he was. He sniffled slightly and smiled back.
“You’re just bad at bartering sheriff.”
“Yer rude ye know that city boy. But, it’s alright. We can talk about this when he get out of here alright?”
DJ quickly nodded and smiled back at him as the raven just groaned and pointed the gun back at Doherty, causing the other to scowl and growl softly.
“Right yes yes that’s all very good and I’m glad we had a moment here. But frankly it’s starting to become irritating so instead I’m just going to have you watch as I put a bullet in your sheriff’s head Dewit. Then we can have another talk about your manners.”
DJ struggled as he watched Idris pull the hammer back and aimed it at the sheriff, a cold sneer on his face as he enjoyed watching the penguin panic and flail about as he tried to stop him. Both were taken aback tho when Doherty chuckled.
“Like ye said, he’s been spending too much time around me. Picking up bad habits. But the same could be said about me. Started to pick up some habits from the city boy too.”
With that Doherty reeled back, clocking the bird who had been holding him in the beak with his head causing them to curse and release him. A swift kick to the junk from the sheriff made sure they were down for the count. Idris looked on with a surprised look, giving DJ the opportunity he needed while the raven was distracted. Tugging himself free, he took a leaf from the sheriff’s book and bite down hard on the hand that was holding the gun. Idris immediately screeched in pain, dropping his gun as DJ pulled back, spitting out blood and feathers as he did so. The raven was cursing as he held his injured hand, blood quickly starting to drip down onto the dirt. The penguin didn’t waste a moment as he grabbed the discarded gun as he dived behind cover quickly followed by Doherty who had already pulled out his own gun and was starting to return fire on the birds.
“Nice move there, but yer still got some blood on ye beak.”
“I’d say the same but I doubt that bird is going to father any chicks with the kick you just gave him.”
Doherty laughed before he popped up from cover to fire off a few more rounds as DJ heard Idris yelling orders. He really didn’t know if they were going to get out of this one alive, but at least they would die trying. As Doherty ducked after a barrage of bullets flew over their heads DJ found himself smiling at the old sheriff.
“Thank you Doherty. For everything.”
“Ye can thank me later alright peck neck. And… and call me Cornelius. Seeing as we are learning each other’s names now.”
“Pleasure to meet you then Cornelius.”
“Heh, same to you Mr Dewit.”
They shared a tender smile before another spray of bullets made them both duck. Peeking around DJ spotted the other birds starting to try and advance on their position, Idris just behind them as he cradled his hand and glared at him. Swallowing, DJ aimed the gun he had taken and fired off a few shots himself, a few went long but only found it’s target hitting a bird in the shoulder sending them crashing to the ground, screaming in pain.
“Good shot city boy! I don’t know how much longer we can last but even taken out a few more of those bastards will make it worth it. But leave that peck neck raven to me. I want some words with him after what he did to ye.”
DJ glanced up at the other bird before shyly nodding. He hadn’t seen Doherty so protective before, kinda gave him a warm feeling made him feel… No he wouldn’t say that. Not yet. DJ went to fire before noticing an old wooden box just a little while from them. Crawling over to it he quickly recognised the warning and symbols on it. He had been with his father when they were first building the tracks as a child and had seen these before many a time. Been warned even more times to not go near them. Fishing through the box he grinned as he spotted what he needed and quickly hurried back to Doherty who was cursing softly, as he tried to reload his gun.
“Do you have a lighter sheriff?”
“A lighter? Back pocket but why do ye want a pecking lighter now?!”
DJ ignored him and rooted through his pocket before he pulled the lighter free. It took a few attempts to get the bloody thing to light but when he did he quickly lit the fuse and after waiting a few seconds quickly peaked over and lobbed it as far as he could, right into the middle of the advancing gang of birds.
Doherty spotted the sparking item as DJ threw it and quickly looked down at him with a puzzled look.
“What the hell was that?!”
“Oh. WAIT DID YE SAY PECKING DYNAMITE?!”
The sheriff stared at him, his mouth dropping as the penguin pointed to the crate where he had gotten it from. It took the sheriff a second to process it before he grabbed the penguin’s flipper and bolted away from the gang to try and find better cover. DJ glanced over his shoulder as Doherty dragged him away just to see Idris’s face twist into a look of fear as he realised what had been thrown at them.
Only a few of them had time to scatter before the explosion went off, sending chunks of rocks and debris in every direction. DJ yelped as the shockwave hit them sending them crashing to the ground, Doherty throwing himself over the penguin to protect him best he could. After the ringing in his ears had stopped, DJ felt the other bird shift slightly as he looked around. Everywhere was quiet now bar and the dust cloud kicked up by the explosion was slowly starting to settle.
“Holy shit city boy. Ye could have killed us both and also how the hell ye learn to use dynamite?!”
“Some of our workers used to let me go out with them when they were building the railways and let me help them set up. Kinda picked it up there.”
Doherty just gave him an exasperated look before laughing hard and flopping back onto the ground. DJ joined in and once they were both out of breathe the sheriff picked himself up and flashed the penguin a genuine smile.
“Ye really are full of surprises DJ. Please don’t ever stop surprising me.”
DJ’s face immediately started to heat up at that, his heart skipping a beat. He had to tell him. He couldn’t hide it anymore. With all they had been through and all Doherty had done for him, he had finally come to accept his feelings.
“Doherty, I mean Cornileius, I have to tell you something. I-OH PECK YOU’RE BLEEDING!”
The sheriff’s head shot down to look at what the penguin was looking at. A deep red crimson was starting to slowly spread out from around his side, an obvious gunshot hole in the side of his shirt. The adrenaline must have stopped him from noticing before but now that he had pointed it out the sheriff finally seemed to notice it.
With that Doherty collapsed to the ground, with DJ only just managing to catch him. Panicking he quickly scooped the unconscious bird up bridal style and quickly hurried off to find their horses. He needed to get the other bird away from here and patch him up before he ended up bleeding out. Like hell he was going to lose him now after all they had just been through.
“Stay with me Cornileus! It’s going to be okay, I got you.”
Chapter 7: Whiskey is a painkiller right?
When Doherty finally came back around the pain was the first indicator he had he was still alive. Everytime the horse he was riding on moved it would send a fresh jolt of pain through him, forcing him to grit his teeth against it. The next thing he noticed was that he was resting up against DJ’s chest. The other bird must have carried him away from the fight and had been trying his best to support him and keep pressure on the bleeding as they rode. He felt a small sense of relief as he realised the penguin mustn't have been hurt during the fight which was a blessing. He was so glad they had managed to both walk away from that fight but more so that DJ was unharmed.
Doherty’s grip on DJ’s shirt tightened slightly as he replayed what that peck neck bastard of a raven had done to him. Talking to him like that, hitting him and even kissing him. It made his boil just thinking about it even now. When he got his hands on that Idris he was gonna throttle him with his own two bare hands. He felt a twinge of jealousy deep down but he wouldn’t admit it. Shivering slightly he snuggled up closer to the other bird, happy for the warmth as the sun had started to go down by now and a chill was setting in. Noticing this the penguin’s head quickly turned to look down at him. A look of fear and concern plastered over his features as he tried to work out if something was wrong with the sheriff. Wearily Doherty gave him a small smile and patted his arm.
“I’m alright Laddie, can’t get rid of me that easily.”
He saw the relief in the penguin’s eyes as he started to tear up and smiled back at him.
“Thank goodness! I was so scared I’d lost you there for a moment. I didn’t know what to do.”
Doherty felt himself melt under the penguin’s soft gaze. Something in it just made his heart flutter and his face heat up. Had it not being for the sudden sharp pain shooting through his side he would have enjoyed it all very much. Letting out a small groan of agony, he clutched his side again, feeling the warm damp patch that had been steadily soaking through his clothes.
“W-we need to make camp soon alright city boy. I need to clean this up, b-before it gets any worse.”
DJ quickly nodded and lead the horses off the road and towards a small cluster of rocks where they would be able to set up camp without the fear of being disturbed and be hidden from the road.
Once they reached their goal, DJ helped Doherty down off the horse, which proved to be difficult as the sheriff would yelp and curse everytime the other bird tried to grab him. He was fine with dealing with the pain but the penguin insisted on helping him, no matter how much he threatened and yelled at him. Eventually he just gave up and let DJ carry him like some newly wedded bride off the horse and up to the small campsite he had set up for the both of them. It was humiliating to be honest. The penguin could lift him up and carry him around like be weighed nothing. It was a feeling the sheriff couldn’t figure out if he hated or secretly enjoyed. Letting himself be placed down on a log, he started to inspect the damage. Lifting his poncho up, he could see the crimson covering his shirt, soaking through the fabric and making a worryingly large amount of mess. He was sure it looked worse than it actually was, considering he wasn’t dead and hadn’t bled out as of yet but it would still need to be treated. Sighing he let the poncho fall back down as he applied pressure to the wound to try and help stem the bleeding.
He could see the penguin desperately rooting through one of the bags he had on the back of his horse, obviously searching for something. Probably some medical supplies, but in all honesty Doherty would have appreciated a stiff drink right now. His wound was killing him, every breath he took causing another ripple of pain to coarse through him. Letting his eyes close for a moment, he tried to force himself to relax. He had had worse injuries than this and pulled through. This wasn’t anything new. His eyes snapped open as he heard the city boy exclaim and quickly hurry over to his side, joining him on the log.
“I knew I brought one in town! After our many run ins with people with guns and a desire to kill us, I took it upon myself to get us some first aid materials in case such a situation arose. I really wished I hadn’t needed them but, better safe than sorry I guess.”
He gave the sheriff a small smile, his brow still furrowed tho as it was clear he was still worried about his companion. Doherty just smiled and reached for the kit.
“Guess yer not as useless as ye look city boy, now hand it over and I can do the rest.”
He was taken a bit aback as the penguin pulled the kit away from him and shot him a stubborn look, like his old ma would do after he did something naughty.
“Cornelius I’m not letting you treat that wound by yourself. You’re in no fit shape to and besides it’ll obviously need stitches and dressing. You can’t do that by yourself.”
Doherty felt his eyebrow twitch in annoyance. Who did this penguin think he was ordering him about like that? He scowled and made another reach for the kit about to tell the other bird to peck off and hand it over before the penguin got up into his face, making the sheriff shrink back and snap his beak shut.
“This wasn’t up for debate Cornelius. Now please let me help you or so help me I’ll make sure you wish that bullet had hit you higher.”
Doherty just nodded and sat quietly as the penguin sighed a thank you and started to search through the kit for what he wanted. The city boy hadn’t spoken to him like that before, so authoritarian and collected. This must be like that he was like in work. Being the head of a massive company like Northern Lights railway you would have to be able to command and have your employees listen to you at a moments notice. The sheriff kicked himself as he realised he liked seeing that side of DJ. He was snapped from his thoughts as the other bird nudged his arm with a bottle.
“I don’t have any strong enough pain relief to help you so this is probably the best I can do for you right now.”
Doherty grinned and eagerly took the bottle off the bird, quickly fiddling with the lid and prising it off.
“Finally, just what the doctor ordered~!”
He tipped the bottle to his lips and eagerly took a swig, relashing in how the liquid burned his throat and warmed his belly. There really was nothing better for pain then his old friend whiskey. He was aware DJ was rolling his eyes and giving him a look but he just shrugged.
“I’m injured and poorly~ Ye can’t blame me for wanting to take the edge off it can ye?”
He gave the other bird and pouty look causing them to sigh before giving him a small smirk. He grinned back as he took another swig. It was getting easier and easier to talk to the other bird each moment they were together. Just seemed almost natural now. The petty insults, the banter, the quiet moments, heck even the silence was somehow welcomed and just seemed right, even nice. He found himself smiling gently as he thought more about the bird next to him. He really was something else. So full of surprises, and such a beautiful soul at the end of it. He was aware of how hot his cheeks were getting but he was sure the penguin wouldn’t notice in the campfire’s light. He jumped however; when he felt the penguin tugging his poncho up to inspect his wound.
“Easy city boy! Warn me next time!”
“Sorry, but I need to have a look at your wound. Hmm, take it off so I can see it better.”
He felt his face go bright red as the penguin attempted to start undressing him. Nope he wasn’t ready for this and he grabbed at the other bird’s flippers as he attempted to stop him.
“Nope! Nope you’re not doing that city boy!”
“Cornelius I can’t sew it close or dress it unless you take your shirt off.”
“It’s fine! Don’t worry about it.”
“CORNELIUS TAKE YOUR PECKING SHIRT OFF RIGHT NOW BEFORE I RIP THE BLOODY THING OFF YOU!”
The sheriff felt DJ loom over him as they got into his personal space, finding himself even having to lean back to avoid being beak to beak with the other bird. He swallowed nervously before nodding slightly, never taking his eyes off the other. Okay, so maybe the penguin was a little hot when he was mad.
Doherty slowly undressed himself, DJ having to help him his arm out of his sleeves when the time came as the pain made him wince and bite his tongue to stop himself yelling out. A few more gulps of whiskey and he was soon starting to feel the warm fuzzy feeling as the alcohol took effect. He felt awkward just sitting there in his pants, shirt and poncho discarded and most likely ruined beyond wear. He found himself sighing sadly over the fact. He really did like that poncho. Looking back over at the penguin he found the other bird to be staring at him, eyes slowly taking in everything about him. He found himself smirking slightly as the other noticed him looking and their head snapped back down and he quickly busied himself with the first aid kit.
“Ye like what ye see city boy? Probably don’t have birds as rugged and handsome as me back up North do ye~?”
He heard the bird make a noise in the back of their throat before they took a deep breath.
“If your definition of rugged is unkempt and handsome is feral looking then yes, we do not have birds like you back up North.”
“DJ ye hurt me~”
He gave the penguin an exaggerated hurt expression as they just snorted and rolled their eyes, pouring out some alcohol onto a gauze swab Doherty watched then quietly as he wondered if the penguin did actually like what they saw? He couldn’t deny he was a handsome bird. A little rough around the edges of course, but you couldn’t deny his charm. He maybe could have worked out a little more, and the scars that littered his body didn’t help but they just added to his character! Made him seem tough and gave him a bad boy rough and tumble cowboy look. He hissed slightly as DJ started to dab and clean his wound, the alcohol on the swab stinging and biting at him.
“Easy DJ! I can still feel that even with all the whiskey in me right now.”
He let the penguin work, clearing the blood off his feathers and returning them to their usual vibrant yellow. Taking another gulp of the liquid he suddenly had a thought.
“Now I know who ye are city boy what would ye prefer I call ye? Dewit or just keep using DJ?”
He felt the penguins flippers falter slightly before resuming their job.
“Dewit is what my colleagues on the board call me, you can keep calling me DJ. If that’s alright? I… I prefer hearing you call me that. Just feels nicer you know. Less formal.”
“DJ it is then.”
He saw the penguin flash him a soft smile before they pulled away, seemingly happy with the wound now.
“Okay so it doesn't look too bad, and doesn’t seem like a bullet actually hit you, maybe some sort of shrapnel but doesn’t look like it got stuck in you. I’m going to still need to sew the wound close and dress it although. You might want some more of whiskey, it’s not going to be pleasant.”
“Say no more city boy I’m well ahead of ye!”
DJ wasn’t lying when he said it wouldn’t be pleasant. Doherty found himself having to drink half the bottle to just get through the pain of it. The sympathetic and guilty looks the other bird kept giving him everytime he grunt or groan didn’t help. Once done, Doherty was sweating but grateful to the other bird for fixing him up. He offered up the bottle to the penguin as they finished bandaging him up. He put up a flipper to politely decline but Doherty pushed the bottle into it.
“Come on city boy, it’s out last night together! I gotta make a real cowboy out of ye tonight or else what will everyone think? And I think ye deserve a drink for what ye been through today.”
DJ eyed it up before taking it and taking a swig only to splutter slightly making the sheriff laugh. He still couldn’t handle his drink but that didn’t stop him from sharing what was left of the bottle with the sheriff. By the end of it they were both pretty out of it and buzzing.
“So DJ, tell me something. Why where ye business up North? Ye can tell me now can’t ye cos we’re friends right~?”
“Maybeeeee~? Okay okay I’ll spill! But don’t tell anyone! It’s a secret~”
Doherty chuckled as the penguin slurred their words slightly and gave him a childish look putting a flipper to their mouth. Doherty put a finger to his own mouth making the penguin giggle. Leaning on closer, the penguin’s voice got low as they whispered, making Doherty have to lean in closer to hear them.
“Well I’mmmmmm building a new railway that will go allllll the way from the North to the South~! Connecting the two halves together! It will be the first of its kind in the wholllleeee country! Isn’t that great!”
“Seriously ye can do that?! DJ… DJ that’s amazing!”
The blue bird beamed at the compliment and swayed slightly as they giggled. Being able to connect the North and the South properly using the railway would be a massive achievement and also provide new opportunities to both sides. The two areas where so isolated from one another that people rarely moved across the borders as it was just too much effort and could at times be treacherous. But with a railway connecting the two, birds would be able to move freely to and fro from the two sides. The benefits for both sides would be huge.
“My father had the idea while he was alive and started to work on the plans for it but after the incident I took over. It was his life’s work and I wanted to complete it. Imagine it Cornelius~. So many people’s lives would be helped by it, it would do so much to help unite the North and the South. Maybe in the future I could even have more trains running in and out and finally have the whole country connected together. Wouldn’t that be wonderful~?”
“Yes, yes it would. Yer really something else aren’t ye DJ?”
The penguin looked up at him the comment, his expression one of surprise before it turned to a shy smile that made Doherty’s heart beat faster. The booze in his system was making his thoughts foggy and all he could think about right now was how incredible the penguin was. He didn’t even seem to consider how much money such a plan would bring him. Instead he was just focused on the good he could do, the lives he could help. Doherty couldn’t help himself as he returned the bird’s smile. DJ hummed in thought before he gasped and shifted to slide up closer to the sheriff, their faces inches apart now. They were so close he could even smell the whiskey on the others breath he they leaned in closer, Doherty’s heartbeat getting faster at the sudden closeness.
“You know Mr Sheriff~ If you ever wanted to give up this dangerous life I’d need a new conductor for my train. I’d need someone who’s strong, and dependable and so very brave~ You wouldn’t happen to know anyone would youuuu~?”
Their beaks were practically touching now and Doherty couldn’t even process what was going on. All he could think about how could DJ looked right now.
“I might know someone… They ain’t cheap tho. Need to butter them up first probably, but they’d never let ye down. Never leave ye side if ye asked...”
He practically breathed out that last part, unable to pull his eyes away from the other birds lips. He really wanted to do something he was sure to regret the following morning. However when the bird giggled and pulled away he found himself cursing softly.
“What a dependable bird! You really must let me know who they are so I can hire them~! But… if they are anything like you Cornelius I’m sure my train would be in the right hands and well taken care of.”
Giving the sheriff another grin, Doherty found himself almost sadly returning it. He missed his chance. Whatever that chance had been. He wasn’t sure what he was going to have done in that moment. Well he did know. He knew all too well what he wanted to do. But… but he couldn’t bring himself to. He didn’t want to upset DJ, especially after what that pecking Idris had done to them before. He felt himself scowl as he pictured the scene in his head again. That bloody raven kissing his city boy. THE city boy. Not his. Never his.
He felt a flipper on his hand causing him to be pulled away from his thoughts, locking eyes with said city boy. He had an anxious and bashful look on his face as he played with one of his dreads with his free flipper. The flipper on Doherty’s hand tightening slightly.
“C… Cornelius, I just wanted to thank you. For everything you’ve done for me. You’ve saved my life so many times and protected me and been so brave and kind to me.”
“Hey I think yer the one who’s saved our lives the most times. But yer know who’s keeping count and all.”
He gave an awkward chuckle as he felt the penguin shift slightly beside him, their eyes darting around slightly.
“The fact remains, I wouldn’t be here without you Sheriff. So thank you. Thank you so much.”
“Hey it’s no problem just doing me jo-”
He was suddenly cut off but DJ’s lips against his own. Doherty felt himself freeze and go tense as he realised what was happening. The penguin was kissing him. DJ was kissing him! He tried desperately to process what was happening but his mind was blank. What should he do?! He just couldn’t think. After what felt like the briefest of moments he felt the penguin pulling away. No. No he wasn’t done yet. He briefly caught the hurt look in DJ’s eyes before he pulled him back in for a deeper kiss causing the other bird to squeak in surprise. Slipping his hand into the the other bird’s dreads he held him there as he continued to kiss him, practically melting as he heard a soft moan from DJ, their flipper coming up to gently cup his cheek as they deepened the kiss. Doherty’s mind swam as he gently kissed the other bird. All other thoughts lost as he just focused on the here and now, and on DJ.
Eventually they broke the kiss, both panting softly as they remained holding onto one another, almost afraid to let go and let all this have had been some sort of dream. Doherty just stared transfixed on the bird in front of him. Trying desperately to will his fuzzy brain to remember every detail of how DJ looked at this moment. Face flushed, the way he looked at the sheriff and the soft chuckle he gave as he leant in to gently nuzzle his cheek against the sheriff hand.
“Peck yer beautiful ye know that… ”
“Your not bad looking yourself either sheriff.”
He let out a soft chuckle before he gently pulled DJ closer to him, so he could learn his head against his shoulder, his hand slipping around his waist as he did so. Resting his head head on the penguin’s head he heard the other sigh contently and snuggle up closer to him. His breathing started to become steady as he slowly began to nod off. The alcohol having finally gotten to him. Doherty just smiled and placed a gentle kiss on DJ’s forehead earning him a soft contented chirp that made his heart soar.
Looking back at the fire as he held the penguin tightly in his arms Doherty found himself wishing this moment would never end. He wished the two of them could just stay like this, not a care in the world and no one to bother them. That would be a dream come true. But then a little thought wormed its way into his head. One he’d been trying to push back for awhile now. What would happen when they got to Steelwork? He’d have to say goodbye to the city boy. Probably never see him again. He sighed and felt himself pull DJ closer, burying his face against the other’s hair. This is why he didn’t let himself fall for anyone. Saying goodbye to them was always too hard. Besides did he think it would ever work out between them? An old has been sheriff who drank too much and someone like DJ? The penguin wasn’t from just from another class he was class itself, the top of the top. Someone who towered over Doherty in every way. Sighing he held the penguin close as he watched the fire slowly dance, casting shadows all around him. He really wished he could be the bird DJ deserved…
Chapter 8: Home At Last
Song used in this chapter is "As It Was" by Hozier.
A loud sound of a pot dropping followed by cursing was the first thing DJ woke up to. He groaned and buried his head under the blanket. His pecking head. Why the hell did he drink that much last night?! He should have known better but here he was again. Clutching his head and trying to stop himself from throwing up due to the migraine he was experiencing. He deserved this and he knew it but that didn’t mean it didn’t suck. Grumbling he popped his head out the blankets, pushing his dreads back as he looked around the tent. Empty again. Doherty must already be up and be making breakfast for them. He frowned slightly and groggily sat up rubbing his eyes. The Sheriff really shouldn’t be moving around like that not after being injured like he was. Actually speaking about the injury, the last thing the penguin could remember was stitching it back up. After that everything seemed… fuzzy. He could remember bits but everything was a blur.
He hummed slightly as he racked his brain. He remember he told Doherty something. Something important… He puzzled over it before sighing and running a hand through his hair. He really couldn’t remember a single thing! Great, the sheriff would be on his tail mocking him again for not being able to hold his drink. He tutted softly to himself before he slowly made his way out of the tent to check on his companion. He winced slightly as the early morning sun hit his eyes, doing nothing for his headache but it did get the other bird’s attention. They quickly sat to attention, ears perked up as he scanned him over, almost on edge.
“Morning Cornelius. You up early.”
“Y-ye. Couldn’t sleep. Ye know the stitches and all, plus someone had to keep an eye on ye! Ye were out cold and it was a nightmare to get ye into the tent. Ye not light ye know!”
DJ gave him an apologetic smile before stretching and joining him on the log the other bird was perched on. He saw the other bird eyeing him up as he sat, seemingly trying to gage the situation. What was up with him today? He hadn’t seen Doherty this on edge before. Just filled with nervous tension, ready to go off at any moment.
“You okay Cornelius? You seem off. Did something happen?”
“O-oh! O-oh no, no it was nothing… Just tired is all don’t worry bout me. Ye better eat up, we got a fair rides today but we should reach Steelwork by the afternoon. Guess yer will be glad to be home.”
DJ felt his stomach knot at that as he took the food he was offered. He had suddenly lost his appetite and just stared down at his bowl. He really would be home soon. That should have made him happy. It did don’t get him wrong but at the same time, it made his heart ache. He knew the reason why. He had known for the last couple of days actually. He just wished he could admit it to the other bird. Admit how he felt to him and maybe it could lead somewhere. But they were from two different worlds but he knew he could make Cornelieus happy, support him and take care of him. If the other bird even felt the same why about him. He sighed sadly and nodded.
“Yes, it will be great to be back home. I’ve got some much stuff to do when I get back. Plus everyone if probably worried sick about me. My security mainly. I love those penguins but they will not let me go anywhere without an escort. This is the first time in years I’ve been on my own.”
“So their yer nannys? Make sure ye don’t get a booboo while signing a contract?”
DJ gave the sheriff a look as they just chuckled and busied themselves with their food. The joke was welcomed but seemed forced. Like the yellow bird was trying to put on an act to show DJ he was himself still. The penguin had seen people do the same thing to him after the death of his parents so he had become rather good at being able to spot it. He chewed his food over slowly before deciding to ask Doherty about what had been bothering him since he woke up.
“Sheriff did anything happen last night?”
He saw Doherty choke slightly on his food before he quickly recovered and stared at him, a slight look of panic on his face.
“W-what do ye mean city boy?”
“I just meant I don’t seem to remember anything. I think I might have drank a little too much. M-my minds all foggy and swimming. All I remember was dressing the wound and… I think I told you something. But I don’t remember what. Was it something important?”
He was surprised by the bird’s reaction. He saw them sigh in relief before a sudden look of sadness washed over them. Their ears drooping slightly as they frowned. Collecting themselves he saw them nod slightly, more to themselves then to him.
“Ye, ye did. Ye told me about ye wee secret project ye were planning on doing. The train from the North to the South.”
“I-I did? Oh damn it that was supposed to be a secret. And kind of a surprise. I was going to tell you about it when I got back to Steelwork. Damn it…”
“Ye, yer ain’t great at keeping ye mouth closed after a few drinks are ye city boy?”
He glanced over at Doherty who seemed to be watching him very closely. Looking out for something.
“Was… was that all I said Cornelius?”
He saw the bird stiffen as he was quiet for a moment before nodding and giving the penguin his usual smirk.
“Ye that was it laddie. Ye told me that, seemed to be real proud of yerself then promptly passed the peck out and I had to drag ye fat arse to bed. Ye kinda the worst drinking buddy I’ve ever had ye know.”
“I’m pretty sure I’m your only drinking buddy Sheriff.”
“And yet ye are still the worst. Impressive city boy.”
That made the penguin snort which had the other soon going and by the end both of them were laughing. The tension in the air was still there by the time they both composed themselves but the mood was still lightened nethertheless. If that’s all the penguin had said to the sheriff then that was fine. However, he still had this nagging thought that maybe Doherty wasn’t being completely honest with him. The sad glances the other kept giving him when he thought he wasn’t looking was evidence enough that something had happened last night. But he didn’t want to push the subject. If this was going to be their last day together he wanted to leave the sheriff on good terms. It’s what the other deserved.
Once they had done eating they packed everything up before heading back off again. The sun was warm on their backs as it slowly crept higher into the sky. DJ was finally starting to get more accustomed to the heat but it was still unbearable to be in. He really did miss being back up North. It was nice and cool up there, heck where he had been born it was covered in snow for 7 months. Perfect weather for a little penguin to grow up in. That was until his father had moved them down South to start the company. He rarely got to visit his home nowadays with how busy he was. He sighed and eyed up the other bird who had been quiet for most of the journey, apparently lost in his own thoughts as he furrowed his brows slightly. Maybe he could take Doherty there one day? Maybe when the train was finished he could invite the other bird on its maiden trip. Take him up North and show him the sights. Bet he would love seeing the Northern Lights for the first time… He found himself smiling of the thought of seeing Cornelius riding up front with him as the train headed through the desert towards the mountains that separated the two nations. Bet he would want to sound the horn as often as he could. He giggled slightly to himself, his cheeks lighting up at the silly thought.
“Ye alright there DJ? Having a wee giggle to yerself are we?”
His blush grew darker as he realised the sheriff had heard him and was looking back at him with a smirk on his lips. He quickly looked away, pulling his hat lower to hide his face more.
“I was just thinking about something silly don’t mind me.”
“Wasn’t about me now was it?”
“Strangely you’re not on my mind 24/7 sheriff.”
“I’m insulted city boy.”
Another lopsided grin and the other bird turned back to watching the road as they continued onwards. DJ felt his smile fall slightly, he really did seem to have the sheriff on his mind constantly now. It’s all he could think about. He really should be focusing on what he had to do when he got back home. About having to talk to all the board members and tell them what had gone down in the North and tell them his plans for the following evening. Sighing he rubbed the bridge of his beak slightly as he tried to will himself to focus. Stop thinking about him, you have bigger things to focus on. Besides by tonight he’ll be gone. Out of your life probably for forever. He clutched his chest slightly at the thought. Oh that hurt just thinking about. But what else could he do?
They rode on in silence before they saw the city starting to appear upon the horizon. DJ felt a thrill go through him as he finally spotted home, a place he knew and a place they would be safe and be able to finally properly rest. He started to speed up slightly, wanting to get home as soon as possible. Wanted to show the sheriff around and he had a surprise for him. He was stopped however by the other bird who quickly trotted in front of him, keeping his horse in front of him and close by. The penguin went to open his mouth before he noticed what the other bird was staring at. As they got closer to the city DJ noticed that there were more and more birds starting to appear, obviously all making their way to the same destination as they were. Doherty kept himself between DJ and the other travelers, throwing a few mean glances this way and that to keep people at bay. Even so close to the city the sheriff was still trying to keep him safe. He felt the soft smile returning to his lips as he let Doherty take the lead as they slowly trudged their way to the city.
Steelwork was a massive growing metropolis. Large building were sprawling out from the ground, around them smaller ones all clustered closely together as the city continued to spread out and expand. It had originally only been a small city, the centre of the South were the government had been situated. But since the Jefferson’s had moved their company here it had seen a massive, and quick, growth spurt with an ever growing economy that had made it the central hub for the entire nation. The city had originally specialised in steelworks, as the name implied, and was famous for the metal work that was done there. The Jerfferson’s had chosen the city for that reason when they started up the railways. And now they spread out from the city like the strands of a spiderweb, cutting their way through the barren landscape.
The closer they got the more excited DJ felt. He couldn’t wait to show Doherty around and also spoil him to say thank you for everything the bird had done for him. Wanted to show him just how generous the Jefferson’s could be, how generous he could be. As they entered the city, the penguin noted how the other shifted to ride alongside him, hand resting on the butt of his gun. Always so on edge, he should relax, no one would try anything here. But he could see the look of awe on the other’s face. The way he would scan the crowds before tilting to look at the massive structures around him. The way his head would dart about as he tried to take in all the sights, all the sounds all the smells.
“So what do you think of Steelwork Cornelius? Little different than your little town back in Dead Bird Gulch right?”
“Ye, ye it certainly is. How do ye live in such a place with so many people? There’s too much going on!”
“You get used to it. Or you’re just too busy yourself to notice it. I don’t really get out much to see the city really, always working or at home. Never really been out in quite awhile... “
He sighed slightly as he looked up, watching the light glinting off the glass in the buildings above him. He could feel Doherty’s eyes on him as the other seemed to hum slightly in thought.
“Ye should get out more city boy. Doesn’t do ye any good to always be cooped up in the same place for too long.”
“Yeah, yeah you’re right. Then in that case how about we do some exploring together? I can show you the sights and maybe but you a drink. It’s the least I could do to thank you.”
“O-oh, oh yer thanked me more then enough already DJ…”
“Nonsense! Come on, it'll be fun! I don’t want to head back to the office or home yet anyway they’ll just have me explaining myself and then I will never be allowed to leave or go anywhere by myself again. So come on what do you say Sheriff?”
He gave the other bird his best pouty face and puppy dog eyes making him chuckle, his feather ruffling up a bit. Was that a blush he saw creeping onto his cheeks?
“Fine, fine! Ye win! But I expect to have my tabs paid in full. I’m travelling with the great Mr Dewit Jerfferson after all~! Money is of no concern.”
That made the penguin laugh loudly and playfully hit the other bird on the shoulder. They continued to tease one another as they headed through the streets before they dismounted as they approached a large, ornate building comprised of glass and steel. This is what DJ had been intent on showing the sheriff and the moment he saw it come into view, he could see the other’s eyes light up and a huge grin spread across their face.
“Steelwork central station! It’s just how I remember it when I was a kid! It’s still just as impressive as back then. Can we go have a look inside?”
“Of course we can, why do you think I brought you to it?”
The other bird’s tail wagged slightly as his grin grew larger, before they headed off towards the station at a brisk pace. DJ had to jog slightly to keep up with him, their eyes fixed on the building in front of them. Once inside he heard Doherty audible gasp as they tried to take everything in. The penguin had been here hundreds of times over the years so he had seen it all before as he slowly followed after Doherty, watching he darting to and fro from the platforms. He had never seen someone so excited before. It was like watching a child open their presents on Christmas day. It made his heart beat a little faster as he saw the smile the other was wearing. He really was too cute. In a rough and tumble, drunk bastard kind of way that was. Catching up with the sheriff as they read over one of the timetables, DJ nudged their arm slightly.
“You know owning this place has certain benefits to it. Such as being able to go anywhere I want in it~”
He saw his head shoot up as he processed what the penguin had said. A cocky smile spread over his face as DJ returned the look.
“Oh does it now? What we talking about here city boy?”
“I want to show you something okay? But it’s a surprise so come on before it starts to get too late.”
Doherty gave his a suspicious look before humming and following after the penguin. They headed towards the back of the station, and after a quick word and the staff all crowding around to see their employer who seemed to have gone native and looked so much different than what they were used to, they were heading up some stairs. DJ looked back at Doherty as they climbed upwards, the sheriff had been quiet the whole time obviously still trying to take everything in. He hoped they would like what he wanted to show them. It was one of his favourite places and he would come up here regularly to just get away from everything and have a moment to himself. As they reached the top DJ stopped and turned back to the sheriff.
“I need you to close your eyes okay?”
“Why do ye need me to close my eyes?”
“So you don’t ruin the surprise obviously.”
He gave the bird a unconvinced look but sighed and covered his face with his hands.
“There they are closed.”
“Are you sure because you don’t really have eyes to see so are you actually covering them of just saying that.”
“My eyes are pecking closed! Just show me what ye wanna show me or else I show ye how well I can shoot by only using my hearing.”
DJ rolled his eyes and chuckled making the sheriff scowl and turn his head in his direction. Gently putting his arm around the other’s shoulders he opened a small door and lead him through it.
“Okay, a few more steps. Annnnnnnnndddddd open your eyes!”
DJ stepped back as Doherty pulled his hands away and gasped. They stood on a small viewing platform on top of the station overlooking the city. You could see for miles in either direction, the train lines snaking their way out into the distance and far off, the mountains of the North were barely just visible. The sunset coloured the barren landscape shades or orange and pink, casting dark shadows that stretched out beneath the building around them. A soft breeze ruffled their feathers as DJ watched the other bird staring out across the city, their mouth open slightly in amazement. Pushing a few of his dreads away from his face, he joined the sheriff at the edge of the platform, holding onto the railing as he took a deep breath in and sighed contently.
“It’s beautiful up here isn’t it? I come up here from time to time. Just a nice place to come and think, take a breather you know.”
“It is something else isn’t it. Breathtaking.”
DJ smiled at the comment, he had been worried that the sheriff wouldn’t have appreciated the view and had honestly been debating just showing him the train sheds. It wasn’t until he turned back that he realised the other bird had been staring at him. His cheeks immediately grew warm as he shyly glanced away. How long had he been looking at him? Had those comments been made about… him? He quickly shook the thought from his head as he turned back. Doherty was looking back over the city landscape as if nothing had happened. If something had happened that was.
“So you appreciate my surprise now sheriff?”
“Ye I do city boy. I’m starting to see why ye like it here. Nothing to my gulch but ye know. It’s an alright view.”
That made the penguin smile and nod.
“Guess you’re right sheriff. Now how about I treat you to a glass of something?”
“Only a glass? Come on DJ I deserve at least two drinks for all I’ve done.”
“Fine. 2 drinks~ Come on then you drunk let’s go and see if I can handle my drink any better.”
They made their way back down the stairs, an easy, relaxed atmosphere surrounding them now. Both just enjoying one another’s company as they headed of the station in search of somewhere to get a drink. DJ knew about a few upper end restaurants they could go to, but he wasn’t sure if they would let them in with how they were currently dressed. They did only cater to a specific clientele. He was however dragged from his thoughts as Doherty grabbed him by the collar and dragged him into a rather scruffy looking bar.
“Ah this is perfect, come on city boy.”
Doherty plonked himself down at the bar and dragged DJ into the seat next to him. This wasn’t the usual place DJ would drink in. Actually the penguin would have avoided this place like the plague on any other day but it was the sheriff’s choice tonight and he couldn’t bring himself to argue. The other bird quickly ordered himself a whiskey before ordering something “weak” for the penguin which earned him a look from the other bird and a snort off the barkeep. As they drank DJ noticed out of the corner of his eye that there was a little area set up for music and a band was just finishing up their act.
“Hey why don’t ye go up and have a go? Ye ain’t half bad and I’m sure they won’t kick us out cos of ye singing.”
“What?! No I can’t go up and sing, I don’t sing for people.”
“Pfffft, ye sang for me why are these people any different. Come on, ye sing one song and I’ll call us even for everything. Go on! Pweassseee~?”
DJ felt his heart melt as the other bird dropped his ears and pouted, clasping his hands together and whining softly. He really couldn’t say no to that face.
“Fine! Fine, whatever it is to get you to stop complaining!”
Sighing he made his way over to the small area, before turning to give Doherty a pained “am I really don’t want to do this” look. Doherty just smiled and gave him a thumbs up as he spoke to the barkeep making the other raise an eyebrow and turn to watch the penguin. And now people were watching him. Great! He groaned before he took his place. Peck he can’t believe he was doing this. He noticed as the barkeep signalled to one of the band members who nodded and went to join the penguin, picking up his guitar and waiting for the other to start. There was no backing out of this now it seemed.
Taking a deep breath and steadying himself, DJ softly began to sing, the bird next to him started to strum. He kept his eyes low so he couldn’t see the crowd who turned to listen and watch him.
“There is a roadway, muddy and foxgloved
Never I'd had life enough
My heart is screaming out
And in a few days I would be there, love
Ever here that's lived in me is yours just as it was.
Just as it was, baby
Before the otherness came
And I knew its name
The love, the dark, the light, the flame.
The eyes at the heights of my baby
Let's hope at the fight of my baby
The lights were as bright as my baby
But your love was unmoved.”
Stealing a glance upwards, DJ saw the faces in the bar all turned to look at him. There drinks almost forgotten as they listened to him intently. Gaining confidence as he saw their reaction he started to sing a little louder, eyes glancing over to Doherty who stared at him in awe. That look was enough to make his knees weak, heart fluttering in his chest.
“And tell me if somehow some of it remained
How long you would wait for me?
How long I've been away?
The shape that I'm in now is shaping the doorway
Make your good love known to me
Just tell me about your day
Just as it was, baby
Before the otherness came
And I knew its name
The drugs, the dark, the light, the shame.”
Singing lowly he let his eyes fall closed as he continued his song. There was no other noises in the bar except the sound of his voice and the guitar softly strumming along to him. He hadn’t sung in front of a group of people like this before as the idea was always so daunting to him. But with Doherty it didn’t seem to scare him. But the truth was he wasn’t singing to them. He never had been. He was singing for someone else, hoping they would understand his song and somehow know how he felt.
“Eyes at the heights of my baby
And this hope at the fight of my baby
And the lights were as bright as my baby
But your love was unmoved.
And the sights were as stark as my baby
And the cold was as sharp as my baby
And the nights were as dark as my baby
Half as beautiful too…”
As he sang the last part he opened his eyes again to look over at the sheriff who seemed to be unable to lock eyes with him, hand gripping the glass in front of him. DJ felt his heart sink slightly as he finished the bar suddenly erupting into applause and chants for an encore and another song. Overwhelmed the penguin pushed his way through the crowd, thanking them for their compliments and kind words and awkwardly accepting the offers to buy him around. Finally making his way back to the bar DJ sat trying to catch his breath as the sheriff downed the rest of his drink and ordered another.
“That was a good song DJ. Ye really do have a lovely voice…”
“Thank you sheriff. I’m just not used to singing for so many people. Singing for just you was scary enough but this, this was a little more out of my comfort zone then I think I’ll try again any time soon.”
The other bird nodded before patting him on the shoulder.
“Well you did it. So well done city boy, plus ye just got us free drinks so I ain’t going to complain!”
DJ rolled his eyes as as Doherty turned to watch the crowd yelling something out to a couple of drunk birds who cheered back at him making him laugh loudly. DJ fiddled with his empty glass, contemplating what had just happened. He couldn’t figure out the sheriff’s reaction from before. What did it mean? Did he get the message of his song and reject him? He didn’t seem to be acting any differently to him? He certainly didn’t seem to accept his feelings behind it…? He sighed softly and went to order another drink before another was placed in front at that moment along with a black rose. DJ quickly glanced up at the barkeeper who just slid a note across the table to him.
“Some bird in the corner told me to give you this and a drink before they left. Guess they liked yer singing penguin.”
Nodding slightly DJ eyed the rose again before picking up the note to read.
“To my little penguin,
Seems you’re quite the little songbird at heart aren’t you~?
I’m so glad I caught your song, really very beautiful. Wish you were singing it to me but we both know who it was meant for don’t we?
I hope we can see each other again soon. I really need to teach you some manners after what you did to my hand. But don’t worry I’m not mad~
DJ felt his blood run cold as he gripped the note, reading it over a few more times before he quickly scrunched it out in his hand. How could the raven be here? He was sure the dynamite would have gotten him. Panic started to well in the back of his throat as he quickly glanced around the room, seeing no sign of the other bird. They needed to get back to his home. Now. Downing the drink, DJ gently tugged on Doherty’s sleeve as he swore at some other bird earning him a laugh.
“We need to head back to my home now Cornelius.”
“Whaaaattt? Come on city boy we just got here and I’m going to go play cards in a minute. That pigeon won’t know what hit him after I’ve got his rent money.”
“Cornelius please we need to leave. Now.”
He couldn’t hide the fear in his voice as he spoke that time and the sheriff turned to look at him a look of concern on his face.He hesitated a moment before nodding as he finished his drink and motioned for the penguin to follow him.
“Alright come on, ye lead the way.”
Smiling softly he nodded and headed quickly, daring a glance back at the rose. It made him shiver and skin crawl as he looked at it. He begged for everything the raven wouldn’t try anything while in the city but he knew he was asking too much from how cunning a cruel they had already proven to be. Leading the way, they quickly got their horses and headed towards the centre of town, passing into the obviously more affluent area. They carried on for a little while longer until he heard Doherty audible gasp as they neared the last house. A sprawling mansion lay on at the end of the road, its own private path leading to it through a set of pristinely maintained gardens. Sneaking a look he saw the sheriff’s mouth drop as he just pointed then glanced at the penguin. The blue bird gave him an embarrassed smile and nodded.
“YE PECKING LIVE IN THAT?! ARE YE THE PECKING QUEEN?! WHAT THE PECK?!”
His reaction made his giggle as the bird continued to freak out at DJ’s home. As the approached the gate, two penguins appeared and started towards them, hand going for the gun inside their jackets as Doherty did the same to the one on his belt on instinct. It wasn’t until they got closer that they stopped and their flippers dropped as they recognised DJ.
“Boss? Is that you?”
“Mr Jeferson you look… different. Not bad of course! Never could! But where are your escorts? Who’s this bird?”
One of the penguins came over to help him off and take his horse as the other eyed Doherty up and down, giving him a sour look as the yellow bird just growled softly. Getting between them he noticed them both immediately ease up and looking at him.
“This is the man who saved my life. He’s going to be staying with us tonight so I expect everyone to treat him like a guest. He’s done a lot for me over the last few days so please give him everything he wants, it’s the least we can do.”
The penguins quickly nodded after realising what the sheriff had done for their boss. They quickly took his horse too and ushered them through the gate. Another group of penguins greeted them at the door along with a multitude of other birds who were all fusing over DJ and trying to take his hat and coat and asking if they should run him a bath, would he like some new clothes? Oh had he eaten yet?! He looked like he was wasting away! DJ felt rather embarrassed as he noticed Doherty chuckling to himself as he watched the birds all fuss over the penguin. He didn’t want the bird to make another comment about how he was babied and nannied but he couldn’t deny that that’s what it looked like. He quickly dismissed them and turned back to the sheriff who gave him an amused face.
“Don’t. Not a word okay. They are just worried about me is all?”
“Worried about their lil baby~”
“You keep that up and I will make you find your own place to sleep.”
“Oh ye wouldn’t. I’m yer special guest, I can have whatever I want~ And I want a drink. Ye probably got that good shit here ain’t ye city boy?”
DJ snorted and nodded before he beckoned for the bird to follow him. The headed down one of the many hallways of the sprawling mansion before they reached the drawing room and DJ saw the other bird’s ears perk up as he saw the bar that was set up in one side of the room.
“Help yourself, it’s an open bar I guess~”
DJ watched as Doherty busied himself as he flicked through the drinks of course going for the most expensive bottle he could find. They were however pulled from their thoughts as there was a quick knock on the door followed by a maid penguin poking her head around the door.
“Sir, Mr Archers is here. He rushed over when he heard you were back. He seems rather frantic to see how you are and what happened up North. I think he’s worried about tomorrow.”
Archers? How the hell did he know he was back already. He shook the thought from his head before he nodded at the maid.
“Y-yeah send him through.”
She nodded back and scampered out the door as Doherty gave the penguin a look. He didn’t seem all too convinced and something about his expression made DJ feel uneasy. Something seemed off to the both of them but DJ didn’t know what it could be. He just hoped it had nothing to do with a certain raven.