If he lay very still and stared hard enough into the night sky, he'd start to feel as though he was falling upwards, slung out to the heavens by the gentle spin of the earth.
It was a trick he'd learned as a boy, a distant recollection he'd almost forgotten. It had been hidden away with most of his other childhood memories. But now....
Heyes gazed up and felt that same sensation lift him. There was no moon, but the sky was clear and the stars glittered sharply, the way they did best during the deepest part of the night. The Pole Star was easy to spot, shining bright. He picked out some of the constellations he knew: the Little Dipper, the Big Dipper. Orion the Hunter. And Gemini.
He reached up and framed the two brightest stars in that cluster with his hands.
The Twins, Castor and Pollux. According to myth, they were sons of Zeus, devoted to each other and inseparable. One even offered up his own immortality to save the other. Now they were forever joined in the night sky, inseparable even in death.
He let his arms fall back to the ground. The left one brushed against his partner, and he turned on his side to look at him.
At this range of mere inches, all he could see was Kid's face. Everything else was blocked from view. He didn't even need the starlight, or the faint glow from the banked-down fire nearby.
Kid's eyes were half-open and Heyes grimaced. "Sorry," he murmured. "Didn't mean to wake you."
"'S okay." Kid yawned, then he rolled his head over to look at Heyes. "Something wrong?"
"No. Just looking... at the stars."
Kid glanced up. "Sure are pretty."
"Sure are," he agreed, but he wasn't looking at the sky anymore.
Kid started turning to face him, but stopped abruptly, hissing in pain. Heyes sat up in a shot. "Careful of the arm!" He watched, anxiety hitching his breath as Kid eased back down, eyes squeezed shut and jaw locked tight. "Kid?"
After a few moments, the blue eyes opened. "I'm all right. Just forgot, is all."
How do you forget nearly being crushed to death?
Heyes couldn't. All he had to do was close his eyes, and he could see it happening again....
Ironically, they were not running from a posse, or facing down disgruntled poker players, or doing any of the other things the dime novels called "thrilling and adventurous" because "scary and deadly" didn't quite have the same public appeal. No, they were doing "honest work," which of course meant hard, dirty, back-breaking labor at a paltry wage; in this case, helping to re-build several large buildings gutted by fire. Neither of them liked the job; Heyes in particular had taken an instant dislike to the foreman, Travis Dulles, who was a loud, obnoxious jackass. The work was a little more risky than they cared for as well. Not that it should have been, with the appropriate precautions; but Dulles only cared about getting the job done in the least amount of time and using the least amount of money, safety be damned. Several workers had already been hurt and others had quit, but beggars couldn't afford to be choosers. There really were no other prospects, so they decided to stick it out for a week or so.
They'd been sent to clear out one of the burned-out stores when it happened. Without warning, the weakened structure above them creaked ominously. Heyes was grabbed and shoved hard against the nearest wall just as the world came crashing down. Everything swirled and roared as blackened timbers fell in, and soot and ash filled the air.
When he could see and breathe again, Heyes found himself pinned, face down, underneath a motionless Kid. He could hear the confused shouts of the work crew outside, but not a sound came from his partner. Fighting down panic, he struggled to turn; and as he tried to shift the heavy body, Kid began to cough and stir.
"Kid!" he said, relieved; but when the weight pressing on him didn't let up, his heart skipped a beat. "What's the matter?"
"My arm; it's caught," Kid said, groaning. "Can't get out from under...."
"We need some help here!" Heyes shouted, and was gratified to hear the other workers finally approach. "Hang in there, Kid, okay? Won't be long now."
But it was interminable. What remained of the building around them was still unstable, and the workers had to proceed slowly and cautiously. Shoring up the shaky structure—something that should have been done in the first place, Heyes thought bitterly—seemed to take forever. Because of the way he was wedged in tight against the wall, he couldn't see Kid, or reach for him. Heyes could feel him, though—feel him breathe, harsh and labored. Feel him tense up when the weight on his arm shifted and settled. Heyes' repeated words, "It'll be over soon, Thaddeus," sounded hollow to his own ears, but it was all he had to offer. Eventually, Kid said, "Just shut up, Joshua," his voice ragged with exasperation and pain. Heyes stopped talking, but he felt the frustration simmer inside him, making his chest ache and his head pound.
Finally, though, they were freed. Other than a lungful of grit and a few bruises, Heyes was unhurt. The Kid, though, had taken the brunt of the collapsing debris, and his battered right arm was hanging at an awkward angle that made Heyes' stomach turn. Grudgingly, Dulles ordered a couple of the crew to help them back to their room at the boarding house and sent for Doc Greenley.
Roger Greenley was a familiar face around the job site, and Heyes liked the friendly doctor. After a quick examination, he confirmed Kid's dislocated shoulder, and winced in sympathy.
"Hurts like hell, don't it? Gonna hurt some more, I'm afraid; can't be helped."
At the doctor's behest, Heyes sat behind Kid to hold him still and to provide counterbalance as the Doc prepared to put the bone back into place. Heyes put his arms around Kid's body and braced himself against the headboard.
It took an appalling amount of pulling to set the joint right again, and Heyes could only imagine the agony that the tension was doing to the already painful injury. Kid, ashen and sweating, had gotten hold of Heyes' forearm, and clung to it with a crushing grip. When it was over at last, he slumped against Heyes, panting heavily, as the doctor fitted him with a sling.
"Son, you are one lucky bastard," Greenley said, shaking his head. "Arm coulda been broken or crushed. Hell, if that load had landed on your head, we probably wouldn't be having this little talk. As it is, the skin's not even broken, you're just bruised as all get out. It'll ail you for a while, but you should heal up just fine. You're gonna need to take it easy, though. Don't want to do anything to the shoulder that could cause permanent damage."
Heyes saw when that hit home: permanent damage to his right arm, his gun arm. Kid's face got even whiter and he swayed.
"Whoa, relax. Just lie back," Heyes urged. He got up and carefully eased Kid down on the bed.
Dulles had entered the room while the doctor was finishing up. Ignoring the injured man, he spoke directly to Heyes, "Well, I guess that's it, then. Jones ain't gonna be any more use on the job. You staying on, Smith?" As Heyes looked at him, speechless, Dulles continued, grumbling, "We already lost half-a-day's work 'cause of him, and now we'll be short-handed again. Oughta dock his pay."
Heyes went from shocked silence to an incensed snarl in the blink of an eye. "You fucking asshole—"
Greenley broke up the fight before Heyes broke more than the bastard's nose, but the damage was done. He was fired on the spot, without pay. So was the Kid. Dulles even tried to get Heyes arrested, but the Sheriff, who obviously didn't like Dulles either, just ordered Heyes to be out of town by morning.
Heyes wanted Kid to stay at the boarding house, with its relative comforts, but his opinion was apparently worth fuckall. If Heyes had to go, they would both go—end of discussion. Thanks to the doctor's dose of laudanum, Kid slept well—better than Heyes, in fact—and stubbornly insisted that he was perfectly fit to ride. He did somehow manage to keep his seat for most of the day, even grousing at Heyes for the snail's pace he set. Eventually though, the constant jostling took its toll, and Kid didn't object when Heyes stopped to make camp, even though the sun was still high.
Heyes found a good spot, with ample grazing for the horses, a running stream nearby, and a large shady tree. They were still a ways away from the next town, but fortunately the weather was mild, and sleeping outdoors was possible—pleasant, even. They had enough supplies to last for a while, and he was determined to stay put for at least a few days, hard-headed partner or no.
Kid fell asleep almost before he'd finished his meal, a clear sign that he was more tired and hurting than he let on. Heyes sat and watched him for a long time, watched the play of light and color from the sunset wash his face, watched as dusk shadowed him, watched until it was dark. Then he lay down himself, stared hard up into the night, and fell upwards.
He shook himself, shook off the shadows, then forced a smile.
"Yeah? What do you need?"
"I need you to switch sides." Kid patted the ground on his left. "C'mere."
Heyes scooted over and sat next to his good side. "How're you feeling?"
"Better, actually." Kid half-shrugged, testing the movement. "It's not so bad. Just can't roll over on it, I guess." He fumbled at the sling, which still hung around his neck. "Here, help me get this off. I don't think I need it when I'm sleeping."
Heyes carefully eased the sling off his arm, then over Kid's head to remove it. He hovered while Kid flexed and straightened the arm. Nodding, Kid said, "Yeah, much better." Relieved, Heyes let out the breath he hadn't realized he was holding.
The soft sound seemed to draw Kid's gaze to his face. The blue was washed out some by the starglow, but his eyes still shone. In that special way, for him alone. Heyes felt his pulse quicken.
Kid grasped the back of Heyes' neck, squeezing gently. "C'mere, I said." Kid tugged until Heyes yielded, stretching his body out alongside Kid's; but allowing only his forehead to touch, letting it rest between Kid's neck and shoulder.
Kid tried to pull him closer, but Heyes resisted. "No, you're... I don't want to—"
"I'm not gonna break," Kid said.
"What the—" Kid started, then, "Oh." He stopped pulling, instead he carded his fingers into Heyes' hair, rubbing soothingly. Heyes felt the press of lips near his temple, heard a litany of I'm heres, it's okays, and I'm sorrys whispered against his skin.
Heyes tried to relax, tried to let the comforting touch and soft words draw out the worry and the strain. He felt most of it bleed and trickle off, but it didn't take away the one overriding fear that was always there—
"I could have lost you."
He hadn't meant to say it out loud; it was little more than a muffled breath against the broad chest. But when the words found voice, the hand in his hair stilled, then it was under his chin, urging it up. Kid waited until Heyes met his eyes.
"Never. You can never lose me. I love you, Han."
Heyes felt something inside him uncoil, slip free.
Then they were kissing, and Heyes knew that it was his heart that was free, and now that it was released, it was soaring, flying high. Yet it wasn't flying away. It was circling, swooping, but staying close to the one to whom it belonged.
To the one who loved it. Loved him.
They had never said the words to each other before. Oh, they loved each other, no question. It had been there through all the good and bad times, the hard and sad ones. It had been there even before they'd ever made love; and when they finally had, all the mindless fucking of nameless faces that had gone before, faded into nothing. Even when they'd argued; hell, even when they'd full-on fought, the love was there. Always.
But they had never said the words. Until now.
Heyes broke off the kiss, but only just; they shared the air between them as they panted. He waited until he caught his breath, then said, "I love you, Jed."
The glow in Kid's eyes beat out every star in the universe, and Heyes knew his own had to be reflecting that same incandescence. Something incoherent was said, he wasn't sure what or by whom, but it didn't matter, because they were kissing again and any rational thought that might have been left must've fled for safer ground.
Heyes finally pulled away to run his lips and tongue down Kid's neck. A small part of his mind heard the ragged growls coming from his partner, but most of him was too busy reveling in the texture and taste of this man to be distracted. He couldn't seem to get enough, it was a thirst that defied quenching. He sucked at the hollow at the base of Kid's throat and felt the sensations skittering through the warm skin under his lips.
Heyes lifted himself up to straddle Kid's hips. He had to have more, touch more. He hastily undid the buttons of the Kid's shirt and brushed it open, stroking his palms across the bare skin with wide, sweeping circles—
Until he saw the bruises.
Even in the faint light, they were glaringly obvious; dark and ugly, running from Kid's right shoulder down towards his chest. He knew, if he looked, that the same pattern extended up, over and down Kid's right arm. His own chest tightened and his hands stilled.
"Han. Han, it's okay. You're not hurting me." Kid was brushing his left hand up and down Heyes' side. The voice was coaxing and reassuring, but Heyes couldn't look away, couldn't stop seeing what might have been. Finally, Kid grasped a fistful of Heyes' shirt and ground out impatiently, "Damn it, Heyes, if you stop now, so help me, I'll flatten you!"
The blunt threat broke through where the cajoling had not. Heyes' hands started to move again.
"Okay," he conceded, "but I do the work." Avoiding the bruises, he brushed fingertips lightly across Kid's chest. He teased the nipples with barely-there strokes before bringing his mouth down to lick and nip each in its turn. They hardened under his attention, and further down, he could feel something else hardening as well.
Heyes slid lower, taking his time, loving the way Kid flinched as he scraped his teeth lightly along his flat belly. By the time he got to the Kid's navel, Kid was bucking and twisting, and he had to pin him down so he could undo the buckle. The bulge under his fingers was rock solid, threatening to bust the fly. Heyes worked faster.
He heard Kid gasp in relief as the buttons finally parted and his cock was released. Then he heard an altogether different kind of gasp when he took Kid in his mouth and began to suck.
Damn, the taste, the smell of him—Heyes' senses were on overload. He stroked Kid's shaft, his balls; used his tongue and lips to tease the crown. Kid's hips began to pump, and Heyes watched with fascination as Kid threw back his head and moaned.
Seeing Kid lose control and fall apart under the onslaught of desire—desire for him—was the hottest thing on the face of the earth, and Heyes was suddenly burning up. He reached down to his own crotch, trying to forestall the inevitable.
"Get up here."
The command, delivered in a voice so rough as to be almost unrecognizable, was enforced by the hand that grabbed and pulled him, hard. Heyes released his prize with reluctance and allowed himself to be dragged up.
Kid fumbled for Heyes' belt, but he batted Kid's hands away and undid his pants himself. He was aching now, and wasted no time in bringing his cock out to rub against Kid's. The slide of heated flesh on heated flesh was driving him out of his mind. Then Kid slipped his large, warm hand between their bodies and held the two cocks together, squeezing and stroking. It felt good, so good, so fucking incredible....
"Oh damn, Kid...." he groaned and Kid responded in kind. Heyes couldn't hold back; he moved frantically, and Kid arched up to meet him, thrust for thrust. He heard Kid's hoarse shout, felt the come hitting his belly and chest, and it was enough, it was too much; he followed his partner over the edge.
Heyes didn't want to move, but it was getting cooler and the fire needed tending. He rolled over and sat up.
"Hey, where're you goin'?"
Heyes smiled at the deep, lazy drawl. "To put some wood on the fire. Get a blanket."
"It can wait. Stay here."
Not a hard choice. It really wasn't all that cold. He settled back down, content to be where he was, at his partner's side.
Heyes knew it would be a long time before they'd say the words out loud again—if ever. But that didn't matter. They had been spoken; plain and solemn as a vow. Those words promised that, no matter what physical distance might separate them, they would always be bound to each other. Inseparable.
He looked up at the sky again. The black velvet texture of it had shifted; the night was on the wane, but the stars were still visible.
"Hey Kid. I ever tell you the story about Gemini?"
He reached up and framed the two brightest stars in that cluster with his hands.
"See there? That's Castor and Pollux...."