They drove in silence for what felt like a long time, Mathias unnecessarily grinding the clutch as much as possible and getting a teaspoon's worth of satisfaction every time Standing Bear grimaced.
When he glanced over at him, Standing Bear was staring down at the handcuffed wrists nestled between his knees, his face unreadable and his body tense. Too tense. Mathias's triumph began to dwindle, and by the third time that they hit a bump and Standing Bear jerked in pain he finally pulled the truck over. The blood. A person couldn't lose that much blood without a fairly major injury.
"I got shot," Standing Bear told him without looking up, the words clipped.
"No kidding," Mathias fought the urge to roll his eyes. He'd been thinking about the blood staining the truck's seat for hours. The blood, and what the blood meant. Part of him had hoped that Standing Bear would deny it, that he'd give Mathias any excuse… The corners of his mouth turned down as he considered his options.
"Did you even see a doctor?" he asked, and Standing Bear's stubborn silence was answer enough.
Mathias did roll his eyes then, wishing that just once something in his life could be simple. After all, his job was supposed to be the simplest thing in the world: either people were breaking the law or they weren't.
Nothing was the way it was supposed to be.
Heaving a sigh and knowing he was probably going to regret it, he jerked the truck into a U-turn and headed down the dirt road that led away from the tribal police station. Standing Bear's brow furrowed, but he stayed silent as Mathias jolted along the rutted road, finally slamming on the brakes in front of his house.
Standing Bear finally turned to stare at him as Mathias roughly grabbed the chain of the handcuffs and pulled it toward him, clicking the key in with practiced ease.
"Come inside," he ordered, pushing the truck's door open and marching around to yank open the house's rusting screen door, not looking back to see whether Standing Bear was going to comply.
Inside, he dug through the closet until he found a clean sheet. He draped it over the couch with a snap of his wrists before nodding at Standing Bear. "Take off your pants and lie down. I don't want your bleeding on my carpet," he told him, before disappearing into the bathroom to find the first aid kit.
Mathias figured the chances of Standing Bear doing what he was told were about 20 percent – 25 if he thought the alternative was going immediately to jail. Standing Bear didn't have much of a history of listening to anyone other than Walt Longmire, and he certainly didn't have much respect for Mathias, a sentiment that Mathias returned with interest. Mathias also figured that he didn't give much of a fuck what Henry Standing Bear thought about him at the moment. Standing Bear was going to do what he wanted one way or another, because the tribe was always bigger than both of them. That was all that Mathias cared about when he came back to the living room with the first aid kit and a fifth of whiskey clasped in his hand to find Standing Bear frowning at the sheet, nonplussed.
Mathias shoved the bottle at him. "Drink up. Don't worry, it's not the good stuff."
Standing Bear studied the label. "I can see that."
Mathias ran a hand over his face, suddenly feeling utterly exhausted. "I'm not trying to get you naked, Standing Bear, I just want a look at your bullet hole. Try not to get blood on my couch, while I'm doing it, either."
Standing Bear raised a considering eyebrow at him. "I will do my best." He placed the bottle down carefully and pushed his sweatpants down to his knees. He sat down with as much dignity as he could muster.
He didn't make a sound when Mathias peeled back the makeshift bandage and peered at the bloody mess underneath it. "This is like hamburger," he told him. "It'll be a miracle if you don't get an infection."
Standing Bear didn't even make a sound as Mathias poured on the peroxide, and Mathias was not as careful as he could be. Would be, probably, with anyone else.
At last, satisfied that he had done as much disinfecting as he could, he went over to wash his blood-covered hands in the kitchen sink. "You need stitches," he said, turning on the tap, "but I guess you know that already."
"I will be fine." Standing Bear was watching him, eyes dark and uncertain.
Mathias shook his head. "I figured you'd say that. It makes it easier on me if I don't have to take you to a hospital, but if it looks like it is infected, you're going whether you want to or not."
Standing Bear frowned at that, but Mathias just held his gaze. Finally, Standing Bear nodded once.
Mathias pulled out the gauze from the kit and pressed it over the wound, making Standing Bear hiss. "You okay? You're not going to pass out or anything, are you?"
"I have been better," Standing Bear snapped through gritted teeth.
"Worst is over," Mathias reminded him, wrapping the bandage tightly. "Need another drink?"
Standing Bear shook his head, and Mathias shrugged.
He finished the bandaging securely, with practiced hands. The Rez might have less violent crime than Absaroka County, but Mathias was willing to bet they had more fights, more broken bones and spilled blood. He'd done more than his fair share of bandaging in the back of his cruiser.
He sat back on his heels and reached for the bottle himself, "I think your life might be a lot easier if you stopped being friends with Longmire."
Standing Bear made a soft sound, a laugh or a snort. "I will take that under advisement," he said, and Mathias had to smile a little at how measured and even the tone was, even when Standing Bear's hands were balled into fists and his face pale from the pain. Standing Bear had always had the most control Mathias had ever seen, and that was saying something. It was something he had always admired about him… not that he would ever admit it.
Mathias got to his feet, dropping the bottle onto the table with a dull thud. "You're done. Probably aren't going to be able to sit without a twinge for a while, even if you don't get it infected." Mathias paused, letting the moment stretch into something else. It was easy to forget sometimes, in the midst of all of his anger at Longmire and his disgust for Standing Bear's constant loyalty to him, that the Bear himself was a force to be reckoned with, clever and strong and tougher than Mathias could even begin to understand.
"I will be fine," Standing Bear said, though the ragged edge to the words betrayed him a little.
Mathias lifted his chin. "Maybe, but I suppose that depends on you, Hector."
Standing Bear's eyes narrowed. "Meaning what, exactly?"
Mathias crossed his arms. "I have a problem on the Rez and it's mostly your fault. I'm not sure what's going to help, but I know that putting you in prison isn't going to help me get anyone's respect back."
Standing Bear nodded slowly. "That is probably true. The Rez has always needed a shadow path of justice. Even if you take that away, it does not mean that they will trust you."
Mathias fought down a flame of anger. "I wouldn't go quite that far. After you got Hector killed, things were –"
"Things were always boiling under the surface." Standing Bear shifted, one hand pressing lightly against the bandage. "You are more than willing to bend the rules to get what you want, but that is not enough."
"You think the Rez needs you?"
"It needs someone," Standing Bear shrugged, "and I am willing to do what needs to be done. Even when it happens to be against the law."
"Because you feel guilty about Hector," Mathias said flatly.
"Because I feel guilty about many things, but mostly because I am able to do it."
Mathias considered that. "Who knows the truth about you being Hector?"
Standing Bear shook his head. "No one, besides Gab, and she has left the Rez."
That brought Mathias up short for a second. "For good?"
"For good," Standing Bear confirmed.
"Not even Longmire?"
"No." Standing Bear met Mathias' gaze.
"He must already suspect someone. If you get caught – " Mathias started.
Standing Bear shrugged. "That will be my problem."
Mathias shook his head. "Not anymore. If I let you go back to being Hector, it's our problem if you get caught. That's going to be part of this deal."
"We have a deal?" Standing Bear quirked an eyebrow at him and Mathias resisted the urge to haul him back out to the truck and down to the station. Some things were more important than his intense dislike of Henry Standing Bear, but if they sat in a room together for much longer Mathias wouldn't be able to remember what they were.
"The deal is this," he said with clenched teeth, "I need to know about potential issues before you go vigilante on people."
"Plausible deniability will only be possible if you do not know," Standing Bear countered, and Mathias knew he had a point.
"I don't care. You check in with me, and we work together, or this isn't going to work at all." This time, he was the one that held Standing Bear's stare until the other man looked away.
"So we have a deal," he said, finally.
Mathias considered for a long moment. "And… you have to show me that I can trust you. No more lies. No more helping Walt Longmire on the Rez, with Rez cases."
Standing Bear nodded once, minutely. "I agree."
"If I find out you just lied to me, I'm calling the Feds and giving them every scrap of evidence I have on you, and this time you're not going to get out after a few weeks."
"I understand." Standing Bear stood up, straightening his clothes.
Mathias rummaged in the first aid kit until he found a packet of Tylenol which he handed over, noting how swiftly it was plucked from his hand. "There's water in the kitchen. I'm going to make something to eat."
Breaking bread with him might not help him like Standing Bear more, but it seemed like a slightly more auspicious way to start to their partnership, if that's what it was.
Even if Mathias still wasn't convinced it was really going to work.
He was halfway through making a couple of sandwiches when he heard Standing Bear's phone ringing. Mathias dropped the knife in the sink and leaned against the doorway to the living room, not bothering to pretend he wasn't listening in on Standing Bear's half of the conversation.
He needn't have bothered. All Standing Bear said was, "Is he all right?" and "Do they have any idea who did this?" followed by long, ominous pauses. When he hung up he ran a hand through his hair and glanced over at Mathias.
"That was Cady Longmire. Walt has been attacked – shot, several times. He is in the hospital." The words were spoken calmly enough, but Mathias recognized the fury in Standing Bear's eyes. He'd seen it once before, and it hadn't boded well then, either.
"Do you need a ride somewhere?"
Standing Bear shook his head. "Cady says there is no point going to the hospital now. He is going into surgery and it will be hours until he is out again."
Mathias nodded. "Do they know who –"
"There is someone in custody. Walt – well. No one is sure what the exact circumstances were. They are still investigating."
Mathis considered. "Better get some food into yourself now, then."
He worked quietly in the kitchen, finishing up the sandwiches and putting on a pot of coffee. He stopped every few minutes to peer through the opening into the living room, half-believing that one time or another the couch would be empty, Standing Bear gone as quickly and silently as a shadow disappearing in sunlight. But it looked like the Bear was actually going to stay put, and Mathias wasn't sure if he was more disappointed or relieved.
Later that night, alone in Jacob's king-sized bed, Jacob raised an eyebrow at the bruises on Mathias's stomach.
"The usual," Mathias shrugged. Jacob didn't really care about the trivial shit Mathias had to wade through on a daily basis, so that would usually be that.
Except nothing was usual anymore.
"Any sign of Gab?"
Mathias didn't look at him. "She's not on the Rez, and I doubt she's coming back," he said shortly. Jacob's finger hesitated slightly on his left nipple, before pinching it decisively.
Mathias closed his eyes, trying to focus on the sensation. This was a means to an end, for him and for Jacob, and there was no point in bringing his worries about Standing Bear and his place on the Rez into it. Tomorrow morning he'd go back to his desk, piled high with paperwork he was too busy to look at, and he'd have to think through all of it, but for right now all he wanted to do was feel Jacob's hand on his chest and his own hand wrapping around a thick cock until there was nothing else.
That was the whole point, after all.
Standing Bear's apartment above the Red Pony always reminded Mathias of the house he'd lived in growing up: dingy and dark and mostly empty, the house he didn't even like to drive past as an adult, because it still featured prominently in too many of his nightmares, all these years later.
It made no sense, because Standing Bear had been to college in California and the war in Vietnam and he'd traveled, seen parts of the world that Mathias couldn't even imagine, and he still lived in a dirty monk's cell without anything to remind him of any of it, and that made no sense at all.
He leaned stood along the wall next to the door, watching Standing Bear sitting at the kitchen table, ignoring the invitation to sit down.
"You look better," he observed.
"It is healing," Standing Bear said neutrally, "slowly but surely."
Mathias nodded, then looked around, frowning. "You could at least bring that big screen TV up here from your office."
"It is no longer my office," Standing Bear said evenly, though his hand tightened on the edge of the table. "And I do not spend enough time up here to watch it."
"Right. Guess I forgot."
Standing Bear looked at him with narrowed eyes. "I thought we both agreed there would be no more lies," he said mildly.
Mathias licked his lips. Needling Standing Bear was such a longstanding habit for him that it was nearly impossible to imagine not doing it. Taking a deep breath, he changed tack. "You're going to keep living here? Even with Malachi downstairs?"
"I have not really had time to think about it," Standing Bear said, and Mathias debated throwing his accusation back at him. I thought we both agreed there would be no more lies. But the Pony wasn't something that Mathias had the energy to worry about. Figuring out how to get the bar back was Standing Bear's problem.
Standing Bear must've seen something in his face, because he continued, "Jacob Nighthorse has said he may be able to help me."
"Did he?" Mathias scowled, trying to fit that piece into the half-completed puzzle of things he knew about Jacob Nighthorse. Considering how much he'd always seemed to hate Standing Bear (a sentiment that Mathias was more than somewhat sympathetic to), the piece remained stubbornly apart, unplace-able. He wasn't stupid enough to expect Jacob to stop playing all sides of the board at once, but. But. "In exchange for what?"
"My help bringing down Malachi."
The piece clicked into place. "I think Jacob will have a line of people wanting to help with that," Mathias observed dryly.
"Wanting to is not the same thing as being able to. Most people are afraid of Malachi, and rightly so," Standing Bear pointed out.
"Some of them are afraid of you, too," Mathias shrugged. "Jacob knows what he's doing. You should watch your back, though. I don't think Jacob likes you as much as I do," he said with a quirk of his lips.
"I am not sure Jacob likes anyone."
Mathias snorted in agreement. There was a silence as they both watched each other.
"What now?" Mathias finally asked.
"Now," Standing Bear sighed, "I think our best bet is to see what his plan is. I expect it ends with Malachi dead rather than going back to prison." He eyed Mathias. "I remember when you were very loyal to Malachi yourself."
"That was a long time ago." And not a time he was particularly proud of, in retrospect.
"It was," Standing Bear agreed. "You are a very different person now."
Mathias wasn't sure how to take that, so he ignored it. "Did you tell Jacob about our partnership?"
Standing Bear shook his head. "I think the fewer people who know about that, the better," he said carefully.
Mathias nodded, relieved. "Good. You're going back to Hector's wall today?"
"I will let you know if I find any interesting letters."
Mathias wondered how much of that was true, but he pushed off the wall and pulled open the apartment door, looking back over his shoulder at Standing Bear. Whatever Mathias had wanted to say – some biting comment about the Red Pony or the shitty apartment, something he didn't even have to think about – dried up in his throat at the sight of Standing Bear watching him, and he only jerked his head once, stiffly, before heading down the stairs. He'd known Henry Standing Bear his entire life, but it was hard not to feel like the man in front of him was a stranger, and a dangerous one at that.
Considering how the rest of his day was going, Mathias wasn't at all surprised to find Cady Longmire waiting for him in the front office of the tribal police headquarters. Roberta and Michelle were steadfastly ignoring her, aggressively filing paperwork while watching her over the edges of manila folders. "White girl here to see you," Roberta drawled as he walked by.
Cady stood up when Mathias walked past the front desk, and even he could tell, with a small pang, that she looked exhausted. He'd always liked Cady. He led her back to his office debating what to say. "I heard about your Dad. How's he doing?"
If Cady was surprised that he was asking, she didn't show it. "He's doing fine. The doctors can't keep him in his hospital bed, and they keep complaining that he's wandering the halls."
"They should be used to that, from him." He pushed a pile of forms off a chair for her.
Cady smiled – a real smile, small but hopeful as she sat down. "With any luck it'll just make them release him sooner."
Her relentless optimism was enough to even make a side of Mathias's mouth quirk up, just a little. Longmires. "Probably his plan. Annoy them to death." He dropped heavily into his own chair.
"Probably," she agreed. "I offered to stay with him at home, help out, but he wouldn't hear of it."
"So you came here to find someone else to help?"
Cady hesitated, pushing her hair back behind her ear uncertainly. "I'm not sure yet," she admitted.
Mathias dropped his keys on the smallest stack of papers on his desk, making sure it didn't tip over. "I'm sure I can dig up some more files for you, if you give me a few minutes."
"Actually, I came for some advice."
"Advice… from me?" Mathias asked slowly, incredulity and suspicion immediate igniting.
"I got this," Cady said, reaching into her pocket and presenting him with a piece of paper that he unfolded carefully.
He peered at it for what felt like a long time, wheels turning in his head. Jacob. "This is a lotta money," he observed finally. "Do I want to know what it's supposed to be for?"
"From what Jacob described, it's for legal aid for people on the Rez."
Mathias's eyebrows shot up. "This can buy a lot of legal aid."
"That's the idea. I just – I'm not really sure where to start. I know when I reached out to the people in the files it didn't go so well." Cady took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I want this to work. I need this to work, and I am hoping you'll tell me what will make that happen."
Mathias tapped his fingers on the side of his desk, thinking. "You really want to know?"
"I was thinking things besides not being white."
"It would help," Mathias shrugged. "But since I guess if you can't change that, you probably need to find people to work with on the Rez. People who are respected. They'll work as your front. Call me cynical, but it seems like it's the only way to get people in the door."
"I was hoping you could help with that. Just a little, I swear."
"I'm not sure how much help I can be, but I'll do what I can," he promised, kicking himself internally. The problem with Longmire optimism was that it tended to be infectious at the most inconvenient moments.
"I was going to ask Henry if he had any ideas, too."
"I'm sure he will." Mathias thought of the waterfall of letters with Hector's name on them. "But I'll be honest with you: if you really want to help people on the Rez – professionally help them, I mean – you need to have an actual office for them to meet you in, with phones and computers and… the whole nine yards. Mostly, though, you need Cheyenne staff."
Cady nodded. "I know. I don't suppose you have any empty office around here?"
Mathias snorted. "Good luck with that."
Cady let out a small puff of a laugh. "Yeah, that's kind of what I figured."
"I guess if you're not going to be too picky I may have an idea or two. Brian Strong Oak has an old trailer you could get for a few hundred bucks. It's a Rez staple, might give you a little credibility, which won't hurt. He's an old friend of Standing Bear's; I'm sure they'll be able to work out some kind of deal."
Cady visibly brightened. "Thanks, Mathias."
Mathias shrugged. "It's not a big deal. Standing Bear's going to do all the work."
They smiled at each other, and Mathias felt his mood shift into something more pleasant. Most of the time all he could do was offer bandaids, temporary fixes for the Rez's problems. What Cady was offering might be something else, if it worked, and that was worth almost anything.
It was only after Cady had left that he started to question why Jacob would want Cady Longmire, of all people, to lead this. It wasn't like there weren't other lawyers, most of them a lot more versed in tribal bureaucracy than Cady was. Mathias leaned back in his chair and sighed. As much as he hated to admit it, he was beginning to understand why Walt was so suspicious of Jacob. It was beginning to seem like all roads really did lead to him, and Mathias hated not understanding why.
It was more than enough to ruin his good mood.
By the time he headed home, all he could think about was a hot shower and a cold beer, then bed, and with any luck he'd be able to sleep without staring at the ceiling for half the night. That was all Mathias wanted in the world, those three things, and he didn't feel like he was asking for too much, but of course the universe had other plans.
It always did.
It looked like every light in his house was on when he pulled up outside, and he could hear the television blaring as soon as he turned off the engine of his car. He sat behind the wheel for a moment, listening to the engine tick and considering going somewhere else – anywhere else. Taos, maybe.
He let the screen door slam behind him. His nephew, Elijah, was sprawled on the couch, empty bags of potato chips dotting the floor around him. He didn't look at Mathias until Mathias grabbed the remote and switched off the TV.
"What are you –" Elijah started, scowling.
Mathias ignored him. "Why are you here?"
Elijah half sat up, glaring. "Mom kicked me out," he answered sullenly.
Mathias sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. "What did you do?"
"I didn't do anything!"
"What did you do?" Mathias asked again, irritation creeping into his tone.
"It was only like fifty bucks!"
Mathias closed his eyes for a minute, shaking his head. Without a word, he threw a mostly clean blanket at Elijah before he went into the kitchen and got a beer from the fridge. He counted the rest of the ones in there for good measure before slamming the fridge door shut.
"One night," he said, heading for the shower. "Apologize to her in the morning."
"It won't matter," Elijah said resentfully, picking at the skin around his fingernails.
"Do it anyway. Have you eaten? Something besides potato chips?"
Elijah shrugged. "Yeah."
"Good." He couldn't think of anything else to say – at least, anything else that he hadn't said a hundred times to his nephew before. "I'm going to take a shower and go to bed."
"Whatever," Elijah told him, which was probably as warm as things were ever going to get between them.
Sometimes Mathias wished he'd been an only child.
"We have a problem," Standing Bear said quietly, leaning over the bar as he put a cup of coffee in front of Mathias.
Mathias shrugged, watching the ripples across the coffee's surface instead of the intent look in Standing Bear's eyes. "Of course we do. What is it this time?" He would never admit it, but the Red Pony's coffee was some of the best he'd ever had. He sipped gratefully.
"Most of the new letters are small things, but there is one that is not. It mentions Phillip Running Elk."
"He just got into town, staying with his brother, I think." Phillip had been in Seattle for a couple of decades at least, the last he'd heard. They had gone to school together, and the Phillip who had come back from the West Coast bore almost no resemblance to the skinny kid Mathias had known. He wondered if Phillip would say pretty much the same thing about him. "Is he in trouble?"
"I am pretty sure he is trouble," Standing Bear corrected, wiping the bar with a dirty rag.
It figured. "What kind of trouble?"
There was a pause. Mathias could hear the muffled sound of the bar behind him. It was still early enough that they had enough privacy to talk, but that wouldn't be the case for long. "That is the million dollar question," Standing Bear finally said. "The letter is not explicit, nor is it signed."
Mathias frowned. "How do people expect Hector to do a job if he doesn't know who's going to be paying them?"
"Ghosts don't need payment. They also don't need names."
"Helpful," Mathias muttered sarcastically. He thought about the few times he'd seen Phillip around lately. "You think he's involved in drugs?"
Standing Bear cocked his head, considering. "Drugs…or something worse. He seems to spend quite a lot of time in my old office these days."
"And there are a lot of somethings worse we know Malachi is guilty of."
"I don't suppose you have any idea what they're up to?"
"I do not." Mathias heard him draw in a deep breath. "But I will try to find out."
It was very late by the time he got to Jacob's, gliding the car through the darkness and empty streets mostly by muscle memory. He hadn't even meant to go to Jacob's at all, if we went home he'd have to deal with Elijah, and he was too exhausted for that.
He also had a few too many unanswered questions, but he was definitely too exhausted for that. At least, that's what he told himself.
He leaned against the car for a long moment, buttoning his coat against the cold and taking in the dark house. Jacob was obviously asleep, and usually that would be enough to turn Mathias around right there, but not this time.
Just once, he wanted something solid enough to hold in his hands.
When he knocked, it took a long time before Jacob peered at him through the sliver of glass next to the door, head cocked slightly, hair in disarray. It was only then that it occurred to Mathias that Jacob might not be alone, but the worry was dispelled when Jacob raised an eyebrow at him and swung open the door.
"It's late. Better come to bed."
Later, after, Mathias pressed a hand to the bridge of his nose, trying in vain to head off a headache. This was usually when he left, but the unanswered questions were right there, waiting. He had never been much of a coward.
"You gave Cady Longmire a big check," he started. It came out more reproachfully than he had intended, surprising them both.
Jacob regarded him for a long moment. "You don't think that was a good idea?"
"I didn't say that. Our people deserve to have good legal counsel as much as anyone else."
"Then why are you upset?"
That was the real question. Mathias clenched his fists and forced himself to consider his response. Cady and Standing Bear, helping the Rez in their own ways, ways the Rez, he had to admit, needed and wanted them to. For the most part. Helping in ways that Mathias couldn't, and slowly eating away at everything he was. Everything was changing, and none of it ever seemed like it was in his favor.
"I'm not," he sighed. "I just want to know what you're planning."
"Maybe I just want to help out people get the legal aid they need. For once." Jacob's tone was light, but there was an edge to it. Mathias was skating a little too close to things that were none of his business, and they both knew it.
"As if you've ever done something for only one reason."
Jacob looked at him. "You think I'm lying?"
"I think you're telling half a truth, which isn't the same thing. I also think you're more complicated than that. I think having Cady Longmire feel like she owes you something is definitely something you want. I think having Cady and Standing Bear in your pocket – as much as they can be, anyway – is your best bet in controlling Walt Longmire."
"Controlling Sheriff Longmire, huh? I have to admit that even I'm not reckless enough for that, no matter what else you think."
Mathias watched him closely, but either Jacob was a much better liar than even Mathias had supposed or he was telling the truth. There wasn't a single flicker of eyelid or hesitant syllable to betray him.
"Anyway," Jacob said, turning over on his back and fluffing the pillow, "haven't you heard? Malachi is my enemy at the moment, not Longmire."
"I didn't realize the two were mutually exclusive."
"You know, Mathias, these are really starting to sound like accusations."
They looked at each other for a long moment.
"I just want to know what you're doing," Mathias said. He rolled over, reaching for his jeans by the side of the bed.
"Maybe if you really want to know, you should bring me down to the station. I'm sure Longmire would love that."
They both looked at each other for a long moment.
"I'll let myself out," Mathias told him.
There wasn't a lot of violent crime on the Rez, but there was a constant trickle of other crime, enough to keep ten police Chiefs busy. Domestics, property damage, low level drug use and dealing, endless fights and drunk people weaving home from the Red Pony and Blind Tiger, looking for trouble and finding it.
Living on the Rez and knowing every single person on it made all the arrests and warnings he issued more personal, he thought, than they would be anywhere else in the world.
He had already thrown two second cousins in the limited holding cells he had, waiting for them to cool off, and it wasn't even nine in the morning yet. Mathias decided to take a break, and went to find Strong Oak.
It turned out that the trailer was more decrepit than Mathias had remembered. To be fair, he hadn't been inside it for at least a decade. The windows and doors were all skewed at odd angles, and the slanted canopy of the porch awning was nearly collapsing in on itself. Inside was a ground-in mustiness that made him flee back into fresh air after half a minute. It wasn't much, all in all, but the best feature about the trailer was that it could be moved close enough to the tribal police station and the BIA office to guarantee that Cady would get a steady stream of visitors.
For a fraction of the money that Jacob that given her, Cady could buy something new, hell, even have something quick and dirty built, but there were two problems with that. After all, Cady had asked for his advice. Out in Absaroka County, people might judge a lawyer worthy of their business if the office exuded expense, but on the Rez it stuck out, showed that it didn't belong. Cady would already be doing more than enough of that herself. Second, it was a waste of money. The money seemed like a lot – and was a lot, on the Rez – but there was so much need, overwhelming need, and Cady, Mathias knew, wouldn't want to waste a single cent on something unnecessary. Not to mention the fact that if Mathias could convince Strong Oak to sell his wreck to Cady, it would count as a show of support from one of the tribal elders, and that would count more, in the long run, for having people trust Cady enough to let her take their cases. A hell of a lot more than a nice office with new fixtures and minimalist furnishings.
Mathias looked back at the falling-down trailer and sighed. Now he just had to convince Cady.
Standing Bear squatted by the back axle and frowned at the rust. "I do not think this is structurally sound."
"It's only moving down the road," Mathias countered, tossing a few stones into the tall grass. He watched the wind ruffle Standing Bear's hair before shifting his eyes down and then away, trying to ignore the twin twinges of guilt and arousal. "You're not limping as much," he offered.
Standing Bear turned to look back at him. "I seem to be healing," he said with the hint of a smile.
"Good," Mathias said, and meant it.
The hint blossomed into a full grin. "If you are not careful, I might start to think you care, Mathias."
Mathias rolled his eyes and turned away, his own hair fanning out behind him. It took him several seconds before he could quash his own smile and turn back around. "You're going to talk to Strong Oak?"
"I am sure we can come to an arrangement," Standing Bear agreed. "Once he understands how much good Cady can do, I do not think he will be able to say no."
Mathias snorted in disbelief, but let it drop. He wasn't sure he actually wanted to know what Standing Bear was going to do to convince Strong Oak.
Standing Bear must've been able to follow his thoughts pretty well, because he smirked before turning away to kick the somewhat deflated tire. "Tonight is Rodeo Night," he said without turning around. "You should come by."
There was a silence as Mathias tried to figure out why Standing Bear was making a point of inviting him. He considered and rejected several responses before settling on the least offensive one. "I've never much liked rodeos."
"That's because you've never been good with horses."
Mathias bristled despite the fact that it was nothing but the truth. He got the feeling Standing Bear was laughing at him.
"You should come anyway, just to watch."
"We won't be able to discuss anything important," Mathias pointed out doubtfully.
"Not everything is about work, Mathias." This time there was something like pity in the tone, making Mathias grimace all the way back to the station.
He left work even later than usual, debating with himself about heading to the Pony even as he left the Rez and headed west. He was just going to stop in, see if he could get a bead on what Malachi and Phillip were up to. That was all. It had nothing to do with Standing Bear.
He pushed open the heavy outer door, music and whooping from the pit already loud. The place was packed, and Mathias had to push his way through the crowd to reach the bar, hyperaware that he was still in his uniform.
Standing Bear looked like he was getting run off his feet, but Mathias knew he loved it when the Pony was jumping – or had loved it, anyway, when the profit had actually been his. Mathias held up a hand to get his attention, and the constant polite smile that Standing Bear always wore behind the war rearranged itself into something else, something that showed his teeth. For a second Mathias thought he was going to say something, but instead Standing Bear just dropped a cold bottle of beer in front of him and hurried off to help someone else.
Mathias reached for the bottle before he realized that the person sitting to his left was Walt Longmire. "Sheriff," he said, hiding his surprise behind a heavy pull of beer.
"Mathias," Longmire returned, glancing at him out of the corner of his eye before looking back at the can of Rainier in his hand.
"Should you even be out of bed?"
"That is what I have asked," Standing Bear's voice cut in, rough with disapproval or weariness, "several times."
"I'm fine," Longmire said to the room at large.
"You were shot," Standing Bear reminded him.
Longmire shrugged. "Just a little. Besides, you've been shot before. You didn't stay in bed for weeks after." Standing Bear's poker face was nearly as good as Jacob's – Mathias noticed only a little tightening around his jaw, but he could only hope like hell that Longmire hadn't seen it or didn't know what it meant.
"I was shot in the war," Standing Bear said calmly. "It was a very different situation."
"All I know is, if I leave Vic in charge for any longer she's going to start World War Three, and we're still no closer to finding Gab, or the person who shot Walker's accomplises."
"And yet none of those circumstances explains why you are here."
"I wanted a beer."
"Because beer goes well with pain medication," Standing Bear said sarcastically. Nevertheless, he placed another can of Rainer in front of Longmire. "Do not blame me if you can't walk in an hour."
If he was hoping to distract the Sheriff, it didn't work. Longmire cracked it open and looked over at Mathias. "Speaking of… any word on the shooter? Or Gab?"
Mathias pursed his lips, flicking his gaze over to the Sheriff and away. "No. Nothing."
"What about your deputies? Where were they a couple of weeks ago?"
Mathias narrowed his eyes. "You think one of my deputies killed the oil men?"
Longmire pursed his lips, watching Mathias closely. "I think someone was an excellent shot. You or your deputies are all good shots."
Mathias shrugged, bringing his bottle up for another drink.
"I'd ask you where you were, but we both know you'd never lift a finger to help someone else."
Mathias inhaled sharply through his nose, using every scrap of self-control not to do or say anything he would regret, which at the moment was almost everything. He pointedly did not look over at Standing Bear, and instead concentrated on peeling the edge of the label off his beer bottle with his thumbnail. He and Longmire had been going rounds for so long that he wasn't sure how if they knew how to have more than a temporary truce, if such a thing were ever going to be possible. "Whatever you say."
"Then you don't mind if I question your deputies?"
"As a matter of fact, I mind a lot. You know you have no jurisdiction on the Rez." Mathias drained the rest of his beer in a single pull, slamming the bottle down on the bar a little harder than he'd meant to.
"Be careful with that bar," Malachi said, coming up behind them, his low voice cutting through the din like a knife.
Mathias felt his mouth go dry, and knew that his entire body had stiffened. It wasn't fear, even though he knew better than anyone what Malachi was capable of, but it was a mess of emotions that Mathias didn't have the time or patience to unwind, even if he had thought it would help. He had spent years waiting for it all to coalesce into a hard gem of anger, but it never quite managed it.
He couldn't bring himself to hate Malachi, but that didn't mean he didn't want to.
"Malachi," the Sheriff nodded, his voice cool. It was the same greeting he'd given Mathias, and not for the first time Mathias wondered if Longmire even saw any difference between them. Longmire wasn't any better than Mathias at hiding his dislike of people, and sometimes it made Mathias wonder how either of them had ever been elected to anything.
Malachi walked behind the bar, making Standing Bear's whole body tense at he got close. He and Mathias shared a quick glance before Standing Bear pushed back into the kitchen, leaving Malachi standing at the bar, watching him.
"We should talk, Mathias."
Mathias raised an eyebrow. "Should we? About what?"
Malachi gave him a slow, predatory smile that Mathias didn't like at all. "Oh, you know, this and that. You always seem so busy."
Whatever Malachi wanted, Mathias wanted no part of it. He didn't even want to be alone in a room with him. He pushed away from the bar. "Well, between the rapes and murders, things have been eventful."
If anything, Malachi's smile widened, making something unpleasant drop in Mathias' stomach. "As a matter of fact, that's exactly what I wanted to talk to you about. It seems like crime has exploded on the Rez in the last few months, and to be honest, many of the residents feel like the police force, such as it is, is not looking out for their best interests. It might be time for a change." Malachi shrugged, as if he found it all baffling, but then the smile was back. "When you have a moment, stop by my office, and we'll chat."
Mathias could only nod once, jerkily, before he pushed his way outside and gulped in cold air, his head beginning to spin. Malachi moving against him wasn't wholly unexpected, but he hadn't thought it would happen so soon. He definitely hadn't expected it to happen so publicly. Malachi's MO was to hit him in the dark, when he was least expecting it. If Malachi was moving against him so obviously, then he had to be at least somewhat assured that his move would be successful. He had to know something that Mathias didn't. The problem was that Mathias had no idea what that could be.
He put his hands on the cold metal roof of the cruiser and focused on breathing in and out until he felt calm enough to drive back to the Rez.
When he got to the station the next morning, Mathias found Standing Bear leaning over the front desk and chatting in a low voice with Michelle. Mathias rolled his eyes and strode past, picking up a pile of phone messages from the basket. He was flipping through them distractedly when Standing Bear caught up with him outside his office. Mathias took one look at him and closed the door firmly behind them.
"You could've called," Mathias offered, eyeing Standing Bear as he settled behind his desk.
"Then I would not have been able to bring you this," Standing Bear shrugged, brandishing a foil-wrapped plate. When Mathias reached for it, Standing Bear whapped his fingers lightly.
"It is not for you," he admonished.
"You just –" Mathias started, feeling more bewildered than he had in a long time. Feeling it, and not bothering to hide it. Leave it to Henry Standing Bear.
Standing Bear ignored his protest. "Walt told me what Malachi said."
At the mention of Malachi, Mathias felt his jaw clench in anger. "He isn't wrong. Things have been more chaotic than usual lately. Everything keeps going sideways. It's…" he shook his head. "It's no wonder no one around here trusts me anymore."
"We need to move against Malachi before he moves against you."
Mathias furrowed his brow at the "we," but the truth was he could use all the help he could get, and they both knew it. "What did you have in mind?" he asked carefully. "I'm already keeping an eye on Phillip, but besides going to the Pony and the Casino practically every day, he's not up to anything I can bust him for."
"I am assuming you or your deputies have also been following Malachi."
Mathias shook his head, snorting. "You're assuming wrong, then. He'd see us coming a mile away. He knows the police playbook better than I do."
"He does not know mine, though," Standing Bear pointed out. "Nor does he know we are working together."
"Our one advantage."
Standing Bear gave him a small smile. "Better not waste it, then." He pushed the foil-covered plate forward. "I was going to give you these last night, but you left before I had a chance."
"I thought they weren't for me," Mathias said warily.
Standing Bear smiled serenely. "They aren't." Mathias wanted to hit him.
Instead, he peeled back the foil. "Indian tacos?"
Standing Bear nodded. "They are only meat, cheese and fry bread – I believe that is how Elijah likes them."
"That kid," Mathias sighed. "He was only supposed to stay for a night."
"That is not my experience with family situations."
Mathias grunted, rewrapping the tacos gently. "Thanks for these. It'll be nice to get something into him besides potato chips."
"Any time." There was a lightness in Standing Bear's eyes that Mathias didn't recognize. He opened the door to leave, and Mathias bit his lip, hesitating.
"Be careful," he finally ground out.
Standing Bear turned back to stare at him.
"Just be careful, all right?" Mathias repeated, cursing himself and Standing Bear in equal measure.
Standing Bear's grin was instantaneous. "I will be. You, too."
Mathias ran a hand over his face and tried to pull himself together. It was clearly going to be a long day.
Once Standing Bear had left, Mathias took the plate out to the front office to put it in the fridge.
"Henry left awfully fast," Michelle complained. She crossed her arms and glared.
"He's too old for you," Mathias told her.
"Says you. He's got a great ass."
Mathias opened his mouth and then closed it. This was not a conversation he knew quite what to do with. He was saved from having to respond at all when Frankie came in, yawning.
"Good morning," he muttered.
"Morning," Mathias replied, "you stopped by Brendan's place last night, right?"
"He swears it was Ryan Leastwolf who hit him. I stopped at Leastwolf's on the way back and his truck is all fucked up, so I'd say it's pretty likely."
"You talk to him?"
Frankie shook his head. "He wouldn't answer the door. Might talk to you, though."
"Might," Mathias agreed. "I'll head out there now, I guess. You on the speed trap this morning?"
"Michael's on it this morning, if he ever gets here."
"Fine. I'm heading out to Leastwolf's."
He'd just pulled up in front of Leastwolf's house when his radio crackled. "Mathias?"
Mathias let out an annoyed breath, grabbing the speaker on his shoulder. "What is it?"
"I think you might want to get back here," Michelle said. "The white sheriff is talking to Michael and Frankie."
"God dammit." Mathias stared into space for a moment before the world snapped back into focus. He tore down the drive, his anger building into a red spot behind his eyes. He had told Longmire to leave his deputies alone, and as always, as always, Longmire had ignored Mathias and run roughshod over the tribe's sovereignty.
He found Longmire leaning over Michael, talking to him in low tones that Mathias couldn't make out, but he could hear the cajoling, the bullying edge to it. Michael was stonefaced, staring at the floor, and seeing one of his deputies like that lit the fire inside Mathias more than anything else could have.
Mathias marched right up to Longmire and grabbed the lapel of his sheepskin coat with enough momentum to spin even a giant like Longmire around. "Are you actually incapable of staying on your side of the fucking line?" he all but screamed at him.
Longmire's face was red with fury and he shoved Mathias back hard. "There are people dead, Mathias!" He didn't quite bellow it, but it still rang like a bell through the room. "And I think that counts a little more than anything else right now."
Mathias's hands were clenched into fists. "That's always your excuse!" he shouted. "You think you can justify anything you want whenever you want, and you don't give a shit who you walk over to do it."
"Murder doesn't need justification. It is justification! Maybe if you pulled your head out of your ass and did some real police work –"
That was all it took. Mathias swung at him, and was only somewhat disappointed when his fist connected with mostly cheek instead of breaking the bastard's nose.
Real police work. The words reverberated in Mathias' head for the rest of the day, popping up unexpectedly in the middle of paperwork, in the middle of showering, in the middle of half-dialing Standing Bear's number ten or fifteen times until he finally put his phone away.
There was always, always going to be a part of him that wasn't sure he knew what he was doing, that was positive someone else could do it better, and having it put like that by Longmire, of all people, certainly wasn't helping.
He almost drove by the trailer. Again. He and Michael had stood outside the station and watched the derelict piece of junk towed up the street, shedding pieces of fiberglass and plastic like tickertape behind it. That was when Mathias began to wonder if he'd given Cady good advice after all.
"It's not as bad on the inside," he'd offered.
Michael had just snorted. "It's worse," he said, and that was true, too.
That had been a week ago, and Mathias had been avoiding the trailer ever since. He had never been good with guilt.
When he knocked on the door he half wondered if Cady would even want to see him, but she ginned happily at him, pushing the broken screen out of the way and ushering him in with aplomb. She had a streak of white paint down her cheek that Mathias found ridiculously endearing despite himself.
"I brought you this." He handed her the tiny cactus, trying not to feel awkward. "I know it's not technically a housewarming, but I thought it might help brighten up the place." He looked around at the freshly painted interior and the new carpeting. It actually did look a lot better than he'd dared to hope. "It's not so terrible in here," he offered.
"That's honest, at least," Cady chuckled, taking the cactus and putting it on top of a filing cabinet. "I've been working my ass off. I think it needs all the help it can get."
Mathias let out an amused breath. "You've done good work," he told her sincerely.
Cady blinked at him. "Was that an actual compliment? I'm not sure I know what to do with that. Are you feeling okay?"
Mathias rolled his eyes. "Let me know if I can do anything else to help," he said.
Cady hesitated. "To be honest, I wasn't sure if I was going to see you anytime soon. I heard about the blowout you and my Dad had."
"I'll bet," Mathias shrugged. "You know it's nothing that hasn't happened before."
She smiled tentatively. "I know he can be a little determined sometimes," she offered.
"That's one word for it," Mathias grunted. "But your father has nothing to do with this." He gestured at the trailer. "You don't have to inherit his enemies, which I guess you already know, since you're also working with Jacob Nighthorse."
Cady's lip twisted and she sighed. "Yeah, he's not really pleased about that. But… he knows I'm an adult and I get to make my own choices. Dating Branch was enough to get that point across, I guess. Anyway, I'm glad we're friends."
Mathias wasn't sure what to say to that. To cover up the moment, he reached into his pocket and pulled out the list of names he'd put together of potential staff. "Here's the other half of what I promised."
Cady's eyes widened. "Wow. You came up with all of these?"
"I had a little help," he admitted. "Standing Bear and I pooled our resources."
Cady's head snapped up and she looked at him for a long moment. "I didn't realize that you two were friends, too."
Mathias scowled. "Standing Bear and I aren't friends," he said automatically.
"Spending time together on purpose when no one's been murdered?" Cady grinned. "Kind of sounds like you're friends to me."
Uncomfortable, Mathias headed for the door. "Let me know if you need help contacting any of the people on the list. I doubt you'll need help, though. I have met you before."
Cady laughed. "Thanks for all your help, Mathias. Seriously. If you were anyone else, I might try to hug you right now."
"But you won't."
"But I won’t," she agreed.
It was odd, but Mathias did feel lighter as he walked back to his car. It was definitely the first time that had ever happened around a Longmire.
He was half lying on his couch, luxuriating in its temporarily Elijah-free state, more listening to than watching the UFC and mechanically cleaning his service weapon when his phone rang. He looked at the Red Pony's number and considered letting it go to voicemail, in case it was Malachi. On the other hand, if it were Standing Bear…
"What," he growled.
"Good evening to you too, Mathias."
Mathias could hear the noise of the bar behind him, and could imagine Standing Bear leaning against the wall, cradling the phone with his shoulder as he opened bottles.
"It sounds busy."
"It is very busy," Standing Bear confirmed. "And I definitely should not be on the phone. Unfortunately, this cannot wait."
"What's going on?" Mathias asked, sitting up straight and dropping his rag on the table.
"I have news about Malachi, and your job."
That got his attention. Mathias took a deep breath. "What is it?"
"There is a tribal council meeting tonight." Standing Bear's voice lowered. "A last minute tribal council meeting. I overheard Malachi saying he would be there."
Mathias tapped his finger on the coffee table, thinking. "There's no way that he's going for my job."
"I believe you are right. I do not think that even he can erase the past and make that happen." There was a pause as they both considered that. Malachi had already proved that he had a longer reach than should be possible. "At least, he cannot make it happen without Jacob's help, and we both know that Jacob is not going to help him at this point."
"You mean we hope we know that," Mathias pointed out.
"He came to see me today to talk about Malachi. You and I will need to discuss it later."
"Fine. But if Malachi's not after my job, you think he's trying to shoehorn in Darius?"
"Or Phillip," Standing Bear said grimly. Neither option was very good.
"Wonderful," Mathias said shortly. "Anything else?"
"No," Standing Bear said thoughtfully. "But… try not to do anything rash, Mathias."
Mathias hung up and resisted the urge to fling the phone at the wall. He had never been very good at playing the tribal politics game. He'd never even wanted the Police Chief gig, really, not at first. He probably would never even accepted it after Malachi was ousted but it was one of the few really stable jobs on the Rez, and that had been that. It was the same reason he'd become a deputy in the first place – he'd more or less fallen into it, choosing it only in the sense that the rest of his options had seemed even worse. The thing was, he was good at it. Really good. He knew that, even if Longmire's snipe about real police work had been chiming in his head like a gong.
He was good at it, and everything he'd spent the last few years building was about to be torn down, and there wasn't a fucking thing he could do about it.
Standing Bear had said they would talk later, and Mathias was learning that Standing Bear usually meant things a little more literally than most people. He wasn't surprised when he opened the door to find Standing Bear on the other side, looking back over his shoulder at the quiet street.
"It's late," Mathias said, yawning, but he stepped out onto the porch anyway, shutting the door behind him. Elijah was asleep on the couch.
"I brought coffee," Standing Bear offered, holding up a thermos.
Mathias frowned. "I have coffee here."
Standing Bear's mouth quirked. "I brought good coffee."
Mathias was too tired to glare. "There's nothing wrong with my coffee," he grumbled. He led Standing Bear to his cruiser and got in, not wanting to talk about anything important out on the street. Paranoia tended to keep him alive.
"We need to talk about Jacob," Standing Bear started.
"I figured," Mathias sighed, helping himself to the thermos.
"I think he knows about me being Hector."
Mathias went very still, coffee nearly sloshing over his fingers. "He said that?"
"He alluded to it. He mentioned how much Walt would love to know who the new Hector was, and how devastated he would be to find out it was someone under his nose all along."
"He was just fishing."
"Yes," Standing Bear agreed, "but between what Walt already knows and what he can find out, a whisper of accusation is all he needs to hear."
"You don't think Longmire would turn you in or anything, do you?"
Standing Bear was quiet for a long time. "No," he said finally. "But it is still not a possibility I want to explore. For many reasons. Meanwhile, Jacob would have a lot to gain from exposing Walt when he tries to cover up my involvement."
That was definitely going to be the ultimate prize for Jacob, and they both knew it. "What does he want from you to keep quiet?" Mathias asked, leaving the for now unspoken.
"That I do his bidding, basically. He is gathering evidence on Malachi's wrongdoings at the Casino – which appear to be both larger in scope and breadth than we realized – and he needs me to gather similar evidence of the money laundering happening at the Pony."
"What's he going to do with this evidence?" Mathias couldn't imagine for a single second that Jacob would turn it over to Longmire, or him, or even the Feds. "We both know Malachi was able to buy his way out of jail last time – "
Standing Bear shook his head. "I do not think he will try to see justice done through the official channels."
"Then why – "
"Why is a question I have been asking myself all day. I do not think it is really evidence he is after. I think Jacob wants to know all of the details of Malachi's various scams and associates because he wants to know who not to trust, bus also so that he can duplicate them, if necessary."
Mathias had to admit that that seemed like the most likely explanation. "That sounds like Jacob."
"I thought so, but I have to admit that you know him better than I do." Standing Bear raised his eyebrows. "Much better."
Mathias turned his whole body in the seat to stare at him, but Standing Bear's face was impassive, his gaze fixed on Mathias.
For a split second Mathias considered denying it, but… no more lies. "I didn't realize you knew about that."
Standing Bear shrugged. "There are not many secrets on the Rez."
Mathias knew that much, at least was true. He'd just thought he'd been able to keep one. "I'm not entirely sure that anyone really knows Jacob," he said. "Or his motives. You know that following Malachi is going to be dangerous."
Standing Bear nodded, his lips stretching into a small smile. "Do you think I am worried about that?"
Mathias thought for a moment. "What if I deputized you? If something happens, you would have some authority."
Standing Bear snorted. "You know I prefer to work outside the law."
He hadn't really thought Standing Bear would go for it, but the rejection still stung more than Mathias had expected. "I know Longmire has done it in the past," he said, and he sounded sullen even to his own ears.
Standing Bear's eyes were still on him. "Not for anything important," he said carefully. "If you plan on taking Malachi down, you need to do it in a way that doesn't involve any complications."
"Your past is a complication," Mathias agreed.
"Prison tends to be, no matter what the circumstances."
"Malachi will probably kill you if he catches you," Mathias pointed out. He hesitated, choosing his words. "You should try not to let that happen."
"If you are not careful, I might start to think you care, Mathias." The words were the same ones Standing Bear had used before, but the tone was different, less amused and more… searching.
Mathias bit his lip. "And I might think you want me to, Standing Bear."
"You know, as we are entering into a dangerous situation, I think the least you can do is call me Henry."
"Henry." Mathias practically rolled his eyes as he said it, but Standing Bear, Henry, smiled.
"The world didn't end."
Mathias gritted his teeth. "You'll call me when you know something? Or if you even think you might need back up?"
"If I think the situation warrants it, I will call. I am sorry, but that is the best I can promise."
It was honest, at least, Mathias had to admit. "Fine. And be – "
"Careful, yes. You, too." Henry clasped Mathias's shoulder lightly, squeezing once, before pushing open the car door. "You know," he said over his shoulder, "you should be flattered. Malachi would not go through the trouble of trying to get rid of you if he thought he could control you. He knows he cannot."
"That's what you consider flattering?" Mathias narrowed his eyes.
Henry stopped and looked at Mathias for a long moment. "Yes," he said simply, and was gone.
Chapters 6 & 7 are shorter, and I'm hoping to get them up by the end of next weekend!
Mathias laid awake half the night trying to come at the problem from a hundred different angles, and he still couldn't seem to come up with any real solutions. Part of it was that he still didn't know exactly what Malachi wanted from him, but most of it was that he couldn't seem to sort out what he wanted, either. The truth that he could only admit to himself as he stared into the dark was that he felt a lot less lonely than he had for a very long time. The clandestine meetings with Henry were quickly becoming the best part of his day, and he wasn't sure how he felt about that. Having a partner, a real partner he could depend on, was a new thing to Mathias. He had never been able to trust anyone completely, even his deputies, but Henry was becoming something else entirely. Mathias just didn't know why and he definitely wasn't sure what he was going to do about it.
It was something he actively avoided thinking about during the day, but at night his brain went to all the uncomfortable places without his consent.
He was worried about Standing Bear, that much he could admit to himself – he was worried that Malachi would catch Henry at whatever ridiculous cat and mouse game Jacob had him playing, and that would be that. Malachi already had the Pony; he had no real use for Henry anymore.
That thought was enough to get him out of the house, sleep or no sleep. Mathias had work to do, and he just needed to trust Henry to take care of himself.
Considering how Henry usually took care of himself, that was easier said than done.
Partially because he wanted to stop worrying about Henry and partially because he'd put it off longer than he should have already (and was probably going to pay for that, one way or another), Mathias stopped at his sister's on the way in to work.
They hadn't gotten along even as kids, and things had deteriorated even more as adults. They were just too different, and neither of them wanted to dig up the past.
Mathias thought that was probably the most normal thing about them.
He had half expected (and very much hoped) that his sister would be gone when he got there, but her rusted pickup was parked out front, one tire half on the curb and both windows open, the wind shifting around the fast food detritus on the front seats. The sight of it pulled Mathias back to when he was a kid, when they were both kids, and life had just been hard all around. It still was that way for Arlene more than it was for him, and he never failed to feel a little guilty about that.
That was almost enough to make him retreat back to his car, back to his job, but he took one deep breath through his nose and continued on to the trailer itself.
After a few minutes Arlene wrenched open the door. She was in a bathrobe, her hair wild, deep bags under her eyes.
Mathias immediately forgot everything he'd been prepared to say. "You're going to be late for work," he told her, feeling the old irritation welling up and not bothering to tamp it down.
She scowled at him, more from habit than anything else. "Shows how much you know. I quit that job last week."
Mathias sighed. "Why? Why, this time?"
She regarded him, her eyes narrowed. "Like that's any of your business?"
"It's my business when your kid is living on my couch. It's my business when I need to pay your rent, again."
"Don't worry about that. I got money. I don't need your handouts. In fact, we're looking moving into a better place next month, if things go okay."
Mathias closed his eyes for a moment, wishing he could believe that. "Where'd you get that kind of money? What are you involved in?" This time, he wanted to add.
She must've heard it anyway, because Arlene's scowl grew, if it were possible. "We're done here, Mathias." She nodded at the door.
He didn't need to be asked twice, practically slamming the door behind him. He wasn't sure he wanted to know what his sister was up to, and he had more than enough on his plate at the moment, but he could never seem to stop worrying about her anyway.
Considering how his morning was already going, Mathias wasn't at all surprised to walk into his office and find Phillip sitting in his chair, flipping through some of the paperwork on his desk.
Phillip smirked. "You're late. Kept me waiting."
Mathias resisted the urge to snatch the folder out of his hands. "I didn't know you were here. If I had, I would have made sure to be a lot later than this."
Phillip shook his head. "You might want to rethink that. When you piss me off, you piss Malachi off. Trust me, you don't want to do that."
"What do you want?" Mathias asked in exasperation.
Phillip held up his hand. "The last time he saw you, Malachi asked for a meeting. He wants that meeting to happen today."
Phillip shrugged. "You can ask him that when you see him."
"Tell him I'm busy, and get out of my chair."
"Malachi was hoping you wouldn't be difficult."
"Yeah, him and everyone else," Mathias sighed, "but here we are anyway." He dropped his bag on his desk and looked pointedly from Phillip to the door.
"He'll be in touch," Phillip said, standing slowly and underlining every inch he had on Mathias when he bent over to look him in the eye.
"Something to look forward to," Mathias muttered sarcastically, folding his arms across his chest and glaring until Phillip had left.
He called Henry as soon as he was sure Phillip was gone, hanging up once he got voice mail. If Henry was working he wouldn't be answering his phone, and Mathias was going to need to go get something to eat eventually anyway.
First, though, he wanted to stop by Linda Langton's house and make sure there hadn't been any more unwanted visits by Newett Energy employees. Since the arrest of Browning things had been tense all over the Rez.
Unlike Longmire, Mathias didn't judge Linda for taking the money from Browning, but it was just another piece of Rez life that filled him with an unending sense of despair. There was no way to win, not really, and the best they could hope for was to survive… Mathias stopped short, his mouth hanging open for a second. "Son of a bitch," he breathed.
Henry was behind the bar, deep in conversation with one of the waitresses when Mathias slid onto a stool, though his smile widened unmistakably when he glanced over.
Mathias tried to ignore the warm feeling that that smile sent spreading through his chest, but he found himself smiling back before he knew what he was doing. That was not how he had envisioned this meeting at all. He glowered down at the bar, wishing he could start the day over again.
After a few minutes Henry pushed a glass with clear liquid in front of him.
"What is this?" Mathias asked suspiciously.
"Only soda water. I assume you are still on duty." Henry raised his eyebrows questioningly.
"I didn't realize you knew my schedule so well," Mathias muttered, uncertain if he should be flattered or not.
"Occupational necessity," Henry explained, cocking his head and regarding Mathias steadily. "At least, it was. Now I just like to know."
"And why's that?"
"It seems like it is good information to have, in case I need to keep you out of trouble."
"Is that what you think is happening? Because I seem to remember it being the other way around."
"I prefer to think we will have ample opportunities to do it for each other," Henry said, smiling, and Mathias found himself smiling back again, like Henry held the strings on the sides of his mouth.
He cleared his throat, forcing himself to look away. "You make it sounds like that's a good thing." He sighed, rubbing his face tiredly. "These days I'm not sure why anyone would even want my job. I don't even want it, sometimes." That was a lie, though, and from the sympathetic look Standing Bear gave him it wasn't a very good one.
"Do you remember the time I tried to teach you how to throw a hook shot?" Henry asked suddenly.
"Of course," Mathias said cautiously.
"You were, what? Thirteen?"
"Fifteen," Mathias corrected.
Henry chuckled. "You were never good at basketball."
"I'm still not."
"I know." Henry's usual smile had settled into something more searching.
"But you spent hours trying to teach me anyway, God knows why."
"I did. I suppose I had far more patience when I was younger."
"It was nice of you to do it, even though you had to know I was never going to be even halfway decent."
"I saw something in you, Mathias. You were always full of potential, even when you did not see it yourself."
Mathias waited for the punchline, and the silence stretched out between them for a long, long moment.
"The Rez needs you," Henry said simply. "We will stop Malachi together, whatever we need to do. That is all I wanted to say."
Mathias drank the rest of the soda water in silence, thinking about that. Unfortunately, he couldn't go home yet. He had one more stop to make, and it was going to be the worst yet.
Jacob's office at the casino always seemed huge and strangely sterile to Mathias after his own cramped quarters. Part of him would probably always envy Jacob, but it seemed like that part got smaller and smaller every time he saw him. Mathias didn't have much, but he was learning how much value what he did have held for him.
He just wished he'd figured that out sooner.
Jacob came around the desk to meet him, smiling in the shark-like way that Mathias h ad learned not to trust. "Take a seat, Mathias," he said, waving at the comfortable-looking chairs in front of the desk.
"I don't expect this to take long," Mathias told him, his voice cold. He watched Jacob take in the tone, the stiffness of his posture, and the smile disappeared.
"I see. And what is 'this,' exactly?" Jacob asked slowly, thoughtfully.
Mathias chose his words carefully. "I went by my sister's this morning."
"Did you?" The question was asked with polite curiosity, nothing more, and not for the first time, Mathias wished he could open up Jacob's skull and peer into his brain to see what was happening there.
"I noticed that she has money all of a sudden. More money than makes any sense. Sort of like Linda Langton did."
Jacob didn't blink. "You think Walker Browning paid off Arlene the way he paid off Linda?"
"I don't think Walker Browning has ever heard of Arlene." Mathias took a breath. "But you have."
"Obviously I know who she is; the Rez isn't that big."
Mathias nodded. "You also know who my nephew is. I didn't put it together, him staying so long and the way my phone kept disappearing. Did you have him following me, too?"
Jacob looked at him for a long moment. "That's a pretty serious accusation."
"Cut the shit, Jacob. I just want to know why. Don't you owe me that?"
Jacob's eyes narrowed. "I wasn't aware that you and I owed each other anything. Isn't that the whole point of our arrangement?"
Mathias ignored him, mind skipping ahead over the various possibilities. "Did you think I was working with Malachi?"
Jacob pursed his lips. "No. But he certainly thinks you will be. I guess he doesn't know you as well as he thinks he does."
"Malachi doesn't work with people. He finds people he can use and then he throws them away. Malachi wants me to come back under him because he thinks he can keep his thumb on me." He cleared his throat. "I guess I was a pretty good minion for a whole lot of years, but that was a long time ago." It felt even longer.
"Well, you know what they say about old habits. Believe me, I work in a casino." Jacob held up both hands. "I know all about old habits, and bad ones, too. Let's just say that you don't get to be in my position by taking anything for granted."
Mathias looked him in the eye. "I'm not working with Malachi. Not now, not ever."
"No," Jacob agreed, looking Mathias up and down, "but you are working with Standing Bear. I definitely did not see that one coming… especially considering he's the new Hector." The shark-like smile returned, albeit a little tighter than before. "It's interesting how many people would love to have that information, isn't it?"
Mathias felt he mouth run dry as the insinuation sunk in. "What did you do, Jacob?"
Jacob folded his hands carefully. "The only smart thing: I cut a deal with Malachi. I found a way to get him out of the casino. It was even easier than I hoped. Did you know he had an army of Brotherhood members who would have eventually destroyed this place? Malachi's best trait has always been his determination to survive, and there's no way that going after him wouldn't result in things getting even worse." He sighed. "Anyway, you can thank your friend Standing Bear for getting me that information. Tell him I appreciated working with him."
Mathias tried to keep his voice even. "He helped you and you sold him out for it?"
Jacob shook his head. "You're missing the point, Mathias. It was never about Standing Bear."
"Longmire," Mathias guessed, feeling drained. Longmire. At the end of the day, destroying Longmire was all that Jacob really wanted. Longmire would never let Henry go to jail again, and Malachi would be anticipating a cover up and use it to send both of them away. It wasn't a terrible plan, but. "I'm not going to let you do that."
"I'd be surprised that you care about saving Longmire, but we both know he has nothing to do with it. Would you lift a finger if Standing Bear wasn't involved?"
Mathias didn't bother answering.
"It doesn't really matter, anyway. He knows everything. Whatever Malachi's going to do, it's already in motion." He shrugged. "The good news is, if you help him against them, I'm sure Malachi will leave you out of it. He'll probably even let you keep your job, as long as you follow his orders."
"I'm not anyone's puppet. I won't do that." Mathias took a steadying breath. Even the thought of working for Malachi again was making panic bubble in the pit of his stomach. "I can't do that."
"Malachi isn't going to take no for an answer."
Mathias said nothing. He knew that much was true, but even he wasn't sure exactly how far Malachi would go to punish him for refusing. Would he have to leave the Rez? It made Mathias go cold just thinking about it. He had thought the threat to his job had been bad enough, but now he thought that it was probably just the beginning.
Jacob studied him. "There won't be anything I can do to protect you."
"I don't expect you to. I would never have expected you to," Mathias told him honestly.
After a moment, Jacob nodded. "Whatever it is you're looking for, Mathias, I hope you find it."
For the first time, Mathias thought he might actually be telling the truth. "I hope you do, too."
On the drive home he thought about how a year ago, a month ago, he would never have believed he'd choose Henry Standing Bear over Jacob. Hell, a year ago he wouldn't have chosen Henry over Malachi. Not for keeps. A lot of things had changed, and Mathias wondered if he'd ever get used to what this new life he was living felt like.
Mathias tried calling Henry three times on his way home, and he wasn't sure if the fact that Henry didn't answer was a bad sign or a terrible one. By the time he got home he wasn't sure if he should turn around and head to the Pony, or he should wait until he figured out a plan. For the first time in weeks the house was dark and empty – Elijah was gone. That wasn't a surprise, but Mathias wished things were different between his sister's family and himself, not for the first time.
It was as he was crossing the porch that part of the house's shadow detached itself and headed toward him. Mathias had drawn his weapon before he recognized the shape of that particular shadow.
"I've been trying to call you," he told Henry, who lounged against his front door as if he hadn't noticed how close he'd gotten to having a new hole put in him. Mathias knew better: Henry noticed everything.
"I have been a little busy," Henry told him.
Henry followed him inside before answering. "Following Malachi. I think there might be something happening tomorrow."
Mathias flicked on the lights and turned to look at him. "Any idea what?"
"No, but there have been several hushed conversations about it. I suppose I will find out tomorrow."
Henry's eyes glittered dangerously. "Always."
Mathias rolled his eyes. "Do you want some coffee?"
"Your coffee? Definitely not."
"I think you should have some," Mathias told him. " I need to tell you something."
Henry's eyes searched his face. "How bad is it?"
"Bad," Mathias admitted.
"Better make it a large cup, then," Henry sighed.
By the time Mathias was done telling him everything Jacob had done, he was having trouble keeping his eyes open, despite the coffee. It had been a long day. He felt the couch shift as Henry came to sit beside him.
"You should get some rest," Henry said quietly.
"So should you. Tomorrow's going to be hard for both of us, I expect."
"I plan to," Henry assured him. "I am scheduled to open the Pony for breakfast in the morning."
"One of us should call Longmire, too, I guess," Mathias frowned. "Tell him everything."
"I will, in the morning."
Mathias tried not to show how relieved he was that he wasn't going to be the one to have that conversation with an angry Longmire, but Henry smirked anyway.
Mathias closed his eyes for a moment, feeling himself start to relax for the first time all day. It wasn't all going to rest on his shoulders anymore. He and Henry would work together and handle everything Malachi threw at them. Everything was going to be all right. Probably.
He jerked with surprise when he felt a gentle touch along his jaw. When he opened his eyes, Henry was a lot closer than he had been a moment ago, close enough for Mathias to feel the whisper of his breath against his cheek.
"Hello," Henry said softly. He leaned in unhurriedly, giving Mathias more than enough time to pull away.
Henry's lips were light against his, the kiss more of a question than anything else.
Mathias took his time answering, one hand tangling in Henry's hair as he pressed their lips together harder, his eyes falling closed again.
It was Henry who pulled back, finally, his breathing quick and shallow. He looked at Mathias steadily. "I will see you tomorrow," he said, on his feet as graceful as a dancer.
Mathias watched him leave, running a hand over his face and wondering if this is what Jacob had meant by what he was looking for.
He was still wondering when he hauled himself off to bed.
It was midmorning when he went to the Pony, the dead time between breakfast and lunch, when Malachi was usually in Henry's old office with Darius. That much Henry had already told him. There were muffled noises coming from the kitchen and Mathias skirted the bar quickly, not wanting to draw any attention. He knocked on the office door, once, quickly, trying not to doubt himself too much.
There were so many ways Malachi could reject his offer. So many ways Henry could still get hurt.
Darius opened the door and glared at him, but after a moment he opened the door wide enough for Mathias to enter.
Malachi sat behind the big wooden desk, and he smiled when he saw Mathias. "Well, well, well. I was wondering who I would see first today. My money was on Standing Bear, but you were a close second."
Mathias shook his head. "I want to talk to you."
"It took you long enough," Malachi told him.
"Not for my job; for Standing Bear." It hurt to admit, but not as much as he'd expected. "What are you willing to trade for his freedom?" He licked his lips. "Phillip – or Darius – can have my job, whatever you want. If I leave quietly, if –" He realized he was begging and forced himself to stop. This was not going quite the way he'd hoped.
Malachi and Darius exchanged a look. "Come take a ride with me, Mathias," Malachi said, getting to his feet. "I want to show you something."
There was no one there to see them leave.
Malachi drove, Mathias in the passenger seat with Darius and Phillip sitting alert in the back. The sight of bulky Darius curled practically in half in the backseat might've made Mathis grin in other circumstances, but this was pinging ever danger flag he had. He knew this was about to get worse than he'd ever expected.
"Do you know what I love about Wyoming?" Malachi asked, swinging out onto the road.
"It's got all the room in the world. Prison taught me to appreciate space. Now, I don't think I could stand to live anywhere else. Could you?"
"I've never tried."
Malachi looked over at him. "You ever wanted to?"
Malachi raised an eyebrow. "I don't know if I envy you or not, Mathias. You really don't want anything more than what you have, do you?"
"I guess I just don't know any better."
Malachi snorted. "I guess. I thought I taught you better."
That was a memory lane Mathias definitely didn't want to stroll down. "What exactly would it take for you to leave Standing Bear alone?"
There was a long silence.
"You used to by my second-in-command, you know."
"I trusted you. You betrayed that trust."
"I never betrayed you," Mathias argued, not caring how ill-advised that was.
"No, that was Standing Bear, the man you're suddenly so determined to help," Malachi mused. "You know, you may not have betrayed me, but you didn't help me, either."
"No, I didn't," Mathias admitted.
Mathias could feel Malachi looking at him, but he watched the road unwinding under them. They were headed along the Powder river, toward the National Park, away from the Rez, and the cold feeling in Mathias's stomach intensified with every mile. He couldn't think of any way this was going to end well.
"Well, at least you're honest about it," Malachi said finally.
Mathias had had about enough. "Where are we going, Malachi?"
"You'll see when we get there. You sound a little nervous."
"I'd be a fool not to be."
"And whatever else you might be, you're no fool."
Mathias grunted in response. He wasn't so sure about that.
The car finally bounced along a gravel road, trees closing in on both sides. Mathias was beginning to wish he'd been able to see Henry, just a glimpse of him, even, but he figured there was a non-zero chance that Henry had already taken this ride with Malachi, and that was why Mathias couldn't reach him. Except… he doubted it. Malachi was going to use Henry to hurt Longmire, and that meant making him suffer. A shallow grave in the woods was hardly the worst Malachi could do to him… but Mathias himself was a different story. Malachi had to worry, even a little, that forcing Mathias out of a job would just focus Mathias's anger on him. No, better to get him out of the way permanently.
Mathias had seen it coming, he just hadn't thought it would come so soon.
The car left the road altogether, hitting some undergrowth before finally coming to a stop.
"Get out." Mathias wasn't at all surprised to see Darius produce a gun. He thought about his own gun, which he'd deliberately left at home after some consideration. It had seemed like a gamble then.
"Not willing to do this yourself?" Mathias asked Malachi.
Malachi rolled his eyes. "That's your problem, Mathias: you always think so small time."
"Yeah," Mathias agreed, "I guess it is." He got out of the car, taking his time to cross in front of it. He didn't bother trying to figure his way out of the inevitable.
Phillip waved him down the slope, and Mathias went.
Malachi stood at the top and watched, smiling. He raised a hand.
He started to turn away, and that's when it happened. Mathias saw Phillip go down before he understood what was happening, and by the time the second shot rang out Darius had swung around to start firing at the trees.
It was Malachi who jerked once, falling to his knees. Mathias got down, trying to make himself as small a target as possible, but he was hopelessly exposed. If someone was taking out Malachi and, chances were he'd be going with him.
Darius started firing wildly, and after a second Mathias felt a punch to his calf. It was only afterward that he felt the heat and the blood and realized he'd been shot. He wrapped his hands around his bloody leg and concentrated on breathing.
There was another shot, and Darius was down, too.
Mathias stayed down, waiting for the shot that would end him, but there was only silence.
He finally pulled himself up a little and looked around, but there was no one. A bird called from the trees to his left, and the wind rattled the branches. The quiet stretched out as Mathis pulled himself over to Darius, then Phillip, pressing bloody fingers to their pulse points, feeling nothing.
Someone was an excellent shot.
After a long moment, he fished the keys out of Darius's pocket and crawled to the car. Malachi wasn't moving on the bank, and Mathias didn't have to check him to know it had been a kill shot.
It took him a long time to drive in with one leg, the blood spreading on his jeans, but he made it eventually.
By the time he pulled up at the hospital, he had more than a few theories about what had happened.
He practiced what he'd tell Longmire, and more importantly, what he wouldn't.
Malachi had a lot of enemies, but Longmire would focus on Jacob and the casino, which worked to Mathias's advantage. Not for the first time, he wished the shooting had taken place on the Rez. Longmire was a lot smarter than the Feds, and it was unlikely that he'd miss anything. The most Mathias could do was distract him, keep him from focusing too much on details. Mathias would just have to trust that even if Longmire suspected Henry, he would never move against him.
All he had to do was give Longmire what he was looking for anyway, and everything would be fine. He might suspect Mathias or one of the Rez deputies again, but anyone could have told him what a ridiculous idea that had been. Despite what Longmire thought, Mathias had never been that good of a shot.
His second call, hours later, was to Henry, and this time he picked up.
"You're answering your phone. Will wonders never cease," Mathias drawled, mostly to cover up how relieved he felt to hear Henry's voice.
"Are you all right?" Henry asked, and Mathias smiled despite the pain in his leg.
"It was a clean shot," he responded, "through and through, unlike some people I know."
Henry didn't rise to the bait. "I was worried," he said simply.
"Me, too," Mathias admitted. He sighed. "Longmire's going to be investigating."
Henry's tone was neutral. "Yes."
"You're ready for that?"
"As much as I can be. First, though, I think you will probably need a ride home."
Mathias looked leaned back against the hospital bed they'd forced him into. He hadn’t thought quite that far ahead yet. "You gonna play nursemaid for me this time?"
"It is my turn." Mathias could hear Henry smiling through the phone. That… was new. "You can get the next one."
"Sounds good." Mathias closed his eyes.
"I'll be there in an hour," Henry promised. "Try not to get in trouble until then."
"See you soon," Mathias said, and didn't even try to hide the fact that he was looking forward to it.
There was still a lot of bad shit happening on the Rez, and things weren't going well. But Mathias thought he could get a handle on it, if he was working with Henry. Together, they could still turn things around.
Things weren't better, not yet, but maybe they would be.