The first time Heyes awoke he gasped and immediately began to choke, coughing and then retching as the pain in his ribs flared. Kid was beside him, hand behind his neck holding him up and pressing a wet handkerchief to his lips, but he pulled it away when Heyes started to choke.
When Heyes finally stopped coughing, he looked around desperately, unable to fit his surroundings into any recent memory. He fisted Kid’s shirt and looked up into his bloodstained face. “What did you do, Jed? What the hell did you do?”
Curry shushed him and put a canteen to his lips, rationing tiny sips into his mouth and making soothing noises at him. Heyes made out his name a few times and what sounded like, “Take the damn water you stubborn son of a bitch.” Heyes threw up twice before he kept any of the water down. He fell back into unconsciousness still clutching Kid’s shirt.
The second time Heyes woke up he was lying on a pile of blankets in the shade of a rock overhang, and every part of him hurt. The blankets helped, but his back was a misery. When he opened his mouth to call for Kid, no sound came out, but Curry was beside him in heartbeat anyway with the canteen. His face was clean.
After a few sips of water, Heyes was able to croak out, “I need to…”
Kid nodded. “I’ll have to help you.”
Heyes rolled his eyes. It made him a little dizzy. “I can manage to relieve myself, Jed.”
Kid looked grave and shook his head. “I don’t think anything is broken, but we’ll have to have a doc say for sure. There’s no way you can’t walk on those feet though. What did they use?”
Heyes flexed his foot involuntarily at the mention and winced in pain. “A razor strop. They said I might be able to get out of ropes, but I wouldn’t be able to run.”
Curry’s gritted his teeth for a second, anger darkening his eyes, before he calmed himself and reached down and helped Heyes sit up. After he stopped swaying, Curry helped him up and half-carried/half-dragged him away from their campsite and held him steady until he had taken care of his business.
By the time he got Heyes back to his blankets, his patient was ready to go back to sleep. Kid arranged his bedding and made him drink more water before letting him lie back. As Hannibal was drifting off he heard Kid ask, “How did they get you?”
Heyes sighed and muttered, “We fought.” That’s as far as he got before he was out again.
One day out of Santa Fe, Heyes was fed up with hearing about how “likable” Jim Stokely was. He was ready to suggest that Jed go back and play cards with him until the charm wore off, but he was afraid he’d lose all their hard-earned money. Besides, even the fistfight hadn’t dimmed his glow for Kid. Heyes was gritting his teeth not to say anything. They were flush for the first time in ages and Heyes wanted to enjoy it a little, so he let Kid prattle on like a school girl with a crush and dreamed of a few weeks in a decent hotel. Maybe he would even get his own room.
Of course, they would have to get to Mexico first. They agreed that Mexico gave them their best chance for rest and relaxation. Hidalgo del Parral had plenty of cheap, clean accommodations, gambling, and pretty girls. They were both looking forward to getting there; they just couldn’t agree how.
Heyes favored a direct southern route. Curry kept pushing for a more roundabout route, going through a few small towns to the east. Heyes had a sneaking suspicion that Jim had recommended a couple of them and he wasn’t inclined to tarry on Jim Stokely’s word.
They bickered until they stopped for the day. Long summer days meant they usually stopped while it was still full light. They came to a likely spot near a small creek well before sunset and set about making camp for the night. Once the chores were done and Kid was bent over the fire heating their supper, Heyes propped himself up against a large rock and opened Life on the Mississippi.
Curry looked up. “I thought you finished that.”
Heyes didn’t raise his eyes from the page he was reading. “I did. I’m reading it again. Sometimes you pick up things you missed the first time.”
Kid stopped stirring their beans. “You mean you’re going to ignore me for a book you’ve already read?”
“You ignored me the whole trip to Santa Fe and now you want my attention?” Heyes snorted. “Why don’t you use the time to write a letter to your friend, Jim?”
Heyes still didn’t look up, but he heard the annoyance in Kid’s voice when he replied, “Jim? What’s your problem with Jim? How could you not like somebody so likeable?”
Heyes finally closed the book. “I have nothing against Jim. I just don’t feel the need to fawn all over him.”
Curry stood up. “Fawn all over him? I wasn’t fawning!
Hannibal’s mouth twitched. “If you say so.”
Beans flew through the air as Kid stabbed the air in Heyes’ direction with the spoon. “Don’t try agreeing with me either! I’m not falling for that!”
Heyes raised an eyebrow at him. “Well, we could fight some more about the route if you’re set on disagreeing.” He nodded toward the fire. “By the way, your beans are burning.”
Kid cursed and pulled the pot from the fire. “Now look what you made me do.”
Heyes sighed and made a decision. He stood and walked over to his horse and began to tack up.
Curry was still trying to save some of their supper. “What are you doing? Why don’t you try to help me with this?”
Heyes pulled half their money out of his saddlebags and put it in Curry’s before hanging them on his saddle. “Remember when that crooked lawyer had us?”
Kid glared at him. “I’m not likely to forget.”
“Remember what you said”
Kid just looked at him.
“You said, ‘After this is all over, you go your way, and I’ll go mine.’” He tightened a strap. “I think you were right. You take your way to Hidalgo del Parral, and I’ll take mine, and maybe we’ll get along better when we meet up.”
Kid didn’t say anything. He just stood there holding a spoon dripping beans onto his boots as Heyes swung up into his saddle and rode away.
The first night Heyes was back with Kid, he woke up screaming. Kid came running and soothed him back to sleep, but when it happened again, he gave up and just shoved his blankets over next to Hannibal, moving in close. Heyes woke up the next morning with his sore head pillowed on Kid’s arm.
Kid made thin, gruel-like oatmeal for breakfast and watched closely as Hannibal ate. He had used his saddle and some more blankets to give Heyes something to lean against while he ate, but he still seemed to have some trouble staying upright.
“Once you feel up to riding for a while, we’ll keep going toward Mexico. A few months out of the country is a real good idea right now.”
Heyes nodded. “How did you even know?”
“I rode after you the next morning.” Kid shrugged at Heyes’ surprised look. “I didn’t want to go to any of those places without you. I figured I’d just take your route. I found your horse the next afternoon wandering around alone.”
Heyes smiled at him. “Thanks for coming after me.”
Kid shrugged again. “How did they catch you?”
“I think they were following us since Santa Fe. They seemed put out that we’d split up.” He put his bowl down. “I wasn’t hard to catch. The little one was stopped on the trail, pretending his horse was lame, and when I stopped to help, the big one clubbed me on the back of the head.”
Heyes had come to on the ground next to a large rock with his hands tied behind his back. His boots were missing and his head felt like someone had fired it out of a cannon. He could hear voices behind him.
“We need both. I’m not leaving half the bounty out here.”
“We ain’t leaving nothing nowhere, but we gotta make sure this one can’t go anywhere, then we can use him to lure the other one in.”
Heyes began to struggle against the ropes. He thought he might be making some headway when he felt his side explode in pain as one of the men kicked him in the ribs.
“Stop squirming!” The man took his bare feet and propped them on the rock, holding his legs. “Do it.”
Heyes saw the other man on the far side of the rock with a razor strop in his hand. “Gonna keep you from making any trouble, Hannibal Heyes.”
Heyes started to smile and deny, “I’m not--”
The man swung the strop and hit the soles of Heyes’ feet. He kept at it for a good, long while before his arm got tired.
“They asked where you had gone. I tried to send them west, told them you’d gone to San Francisco, but they didn’t believe me.” He smiled. “They said I have a reputation as a liar.”
Curry shook his head. “I should have found you sooner.”
Heyes sighed. “They only kept me alive because they thought they could use me as bait for you.” He laid a hand on Kid’s boot, the closest part of him he could reach without moving from his blankets. “You being free kept me alive.”
Kid patted his hand and then got up and took their dishes to the small watering hole nearby to clean them.
Heyes slept most of the day, while Kid took care of some things around the campsite. He gathered scrub for the fire, repacked their things, tore the last of the bounty hunters clothes into new bandages for Heyes. He’d left most of their things and untied their horses to run to wherever, but he had taken their blankets and spare clothes. Heyes’ money and boots weren’t theirs to begin with.
That night, Kid bedded down with Heyes again, pressed up against him with an arm under his head.
“Jed, how did you find me?”
Kid was silent for a long moment. Heyes was beginning to think he wouldn’t answer at all, but then he heard him whisper, “I heard you screaming.”
Two days was a long time without food. It was even longer without water. The bounty hunters thought it was a long time, too. He wasn’t breaking nearly fast enough to suit them.
After some discussion on the third evening he was with them, they decided that some pain would probably make him more pliable (although it hadn’t so far), which was how he found himself draped over the rock where they’d stropped his feet while they took turns beating him with a belt.
He would wonder later if he would have told them which way Jed had gone if they had just stopped long enough to ask him. He didn’t think he would have, but he would have nightmares about it, selling the Kid out just to make it stop.
They finally stopped when they heard a crashing noise in the dark, beyond the range of the fire.
“What the hell was that?”
“How should I know? You go look.”
“Because I said so, that’s why.”
Heyes lay on the rock, glad for the reprieve, while the bounty hunter stalked around the fire and waited for his partner.
That’s when Kid stepped into view, covered in blood, and shot the man right between the eyes.
“You didn’t shoot the other one?”
“I didn’t want to spook the one still with you with the shot.”
“What did you use?”
Heyes considered that. “Huh.”
“Go to sleep, Heyes.”
The next day was much the same as the one before, except that Heyes stayed awake longer. In the afternoon, he started to fidget a little, tired of being an invalid. Kid asked if he could get him anything.
“Well, I hate to ask, but I think I left my book with you. Could you read to me?”
Kid looked sheepish. It was so unexpected on his face that Heyes was startled by it.
“Before I found your horse, I threw it in a ravine.”
Heyes was quiet for a moment. Then he started to laugh. After a minute, Kid joined him, and they laughed until the tears ran down their faces.
When they stopped laughing, they played cards.
When Heyes woke up early the next morning in the gray light of pre-dawn, his head was once again resting on Kid’s arm. He looked at Jed’s face, relaxed in sleep, and pressed his lips to his mouth, not thinking, just wanting to and doing it.
Jed awoke at the first touch and Heyes drew back, afraid that he’d gone too far, but Kid just blinked at him sleepily and scrubbed his hand quickly over his face before grabbing Heyes by the back of the neck and pulling him in to kiss him thoroughly.
Heyes ignored his aching body’s protests and burrowed into Curry, squirming next to him, wanting to be closer.
Jed pulled away and smiled. “No more your way and my way, you hear?”
Heyes nodded and whispered, “Just one way from here on out,” and went back to kissing the Kid.