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Wicked Ones

Chapter Text

To say that Joshua Faraday was pissed off was like saying that the ocean was a bit damp. He had just spent the past day, since he got into Amador City, working on Powder Dan… and Sam Chisolm went and shot him in the chest, killing him dead in a heartbeat. And if that didn’t cap off an already bad day, he didn’t know what would. It made the slide easier.

“Money for blood’s an awful peculiar business, innit?” he drawled low and dark, traces of an accent that hadn’t been there moments before sliding into his voice.

If Sam Chisolm was surprised to see him there, it didn’t show on his face or in his voice. “Fancy running into you again, here of all places.”

He didn’t even bother to hide rolling his eyes. “Is this supposed to be payback for me shooting that July Bully bastard out from under you, Chisolm? Because I can’t say I much care for it. Maybe next time I’ll let the bounty finish getting the drop on you and take out one member of the competition.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t have waited so long on Powder Dan,” Chisolm returned mildly enough.

“Some of us prefer not to have a whole damn saloon gunning for us.” Because there was no chance that at least half of the recently departed inhabitants of the saloon weren’t forming a mob, with or without the sheriff being involved. And from the sound of things outside, it looked like that guess would be correct. “Speaking of which, you had best go deal with your public, Mister Chisolm.”

The minute Sam Chisolm’s back was turned, he cleared all the money from the table he had been sitting at, leaving the bits and bobs—someone’s pocket watch, an IOU for some shiny new tack, a shiny cigarette case, and a few other pieces—but holding on to the bottle of Busthead that Chisolm had left on the bar, and headed out the back door of the saloon…

…Right into the less than welcoming company of the Babington brothers.


As it turned out, Earl and Dickie Babington had not been an issue for all that long. In fact, all it took was a little affable Joshua Faraday-style sleight of hand to distract then… and a little slide into something else to put a single bullet in each of their heads. They hadn’t exactly been bad men, even if they had been willing to kill a man over fifty dollars lost fair and square in a card game, but they had touched his guns, taking three out of the four off of him and too dumb to check the small of his back behind his vest to find the banker’s special he had worn for years as an additional layer of backup.

Dickie Babington’s rifle wasn’t anything special, not by any stretch of the imagination—certainly not worth the effort of keeping—so he swiftly unloaded it and tossed it back in the dirt a few feet away from either body. There wasn’t anyone living here who could pick it up to shoot him with it, but he had learned the hard way over the years to be a bit beyond careful with any kind of gun. Of his three main guns, two of them were currently stuck under Dickie, so he rolled the body to retrieve them, even as he returned the banker’s special to the small of his back.

The Colt Peacemaker he’d long ago named Ethel went back into the strapped down holster on his left thigh, out of the way but ready to use if it ever came to it; it hadn’t, because he would generally prefer to reload the other two than use her. Maria went back into his side holster, ready to use again at a moment’s notice. It wasn’t his best gun by any means; that honor was reserved for Ethel herself; but of the guns he called himself willing to use in a fight, it was the best. He had not been of a naming mood when he’d taken the Army-issue Colt off a former bounty, but it was a good gun, accurate and fairly reliable. It went into the quickdraw holster on the front of his hip.

Staring down at the two bodies, a part of him almost wanted to apologize for killing the idiots. But they’d touched his guns, threatened his life, and insinuated that he had had to cheat at cards to beat them. Gambling might not have been his main profession, but he took pride in it. The days he had to cheat were few and very far between lately.

He could live with the insinuations. Hell, he could live with them threatening his life, since people did that often enough to him these days. But they had touched his guns—Dickie in particular putting his damn hands all over all of them, especially Ethel, called her a pretty thing—and that he couldn’t live with. Ethel was all he had of better times left to him these days; his brother had given Ethel to him after the War, fresh off the flush of their first successful bounty brought in, and he aimed to keep her. Hell, some days he aimed to be buried with her.

He should get the hell out of this town, he decided as he stooped to gather his cards from the dirt as well. Powder Dan had been the only bounty of any size readily available, certainly the only one that fit his particulars: crimes against ladies or children, potentially challenging, and worth a few greenbacks. But Sam Chisolm had damn sure taken that one out of from under him, and the Babington brothers had all but ambushed him leaving the saloon.

He might as well start out into the hill country north of here looking for that vaquero he had a writ for: Gabriel Vasquez. Vasquez didn’t fit too many of his particulars, but that amount—five hundred dollars—was certainly appealing and he might well yet be a challenge. Clearly Amador City had already dried up for him. Now he just had to get his horse, Wild Jack, back from the stable master and get on his way.

Of course, twenty-five for Jack was a steal, even having lost him in a dice game and paying an extra premium for that, especially when he had paid nearly twice that much for the horse to begin with—and that was prior to all the training Joshua had personally put into the creature. He had three times that amount in the saddlebag thrown over his shoulder, flush off a few good bounties and a decent few hands of poker. Seven and two bits for his tack was a bit rich, though, given its age. And that was the part he was intending to haggle over—provided the leprechaun of a stable master took his hand away from his gun, given how the very act made something dark in his head want to slide back into place—when Sam Chisolm bought his own damn horse right out from under him.

The other man was flanked by two people—a childlike man with a baby face and clearly very little experience in the real world, and a young woman who had seen something a bit more of the dark in the world, except for wearing a top that he knew ladies of the evening who wouldn’t be willing to go out in public wearing—who were so obviously out of their depth that it was actually funny. Chisolm called the woman Joan of Arc; she claimed her name was Emma Cullen, with the baby-faced boy being her ‘associate Teddy Q’.

Chisolm called this expedition impossible, like he knew just what to say to get Joshua interested, and just like that, he was in. Granted, two bounty hunters was a good start to an army, even if one of them was too honest for his own good and the other…

Well, Joshua knew he had a bit of a reputation. He leveraged it at every opportunity he could—a trick he had learned from sources he wasn’t thinking about too much these days—but he also had a separate reputation going as a lackadaisical and fare-thee-well gambler, which led to a lot of people underestimating him… and that worked just as well by him. Everyone in the world could underestimate Joshua Faraday, as far as he was concerned, as long as no one did the same for Joshua Robicheaux.

Chapter Text

“Whose execution do we seek, Chisolm?”

Emma Cullen was a firebrand, and that was for certain. She certainly wasn’t in any way responsive to the lightest conversational measures he was willing to try. Joshua could respect that in a lady. He certainly preferred that type to the shrinking wallflowers of the big cities. But for all that abruptness and barely hidden temper, there was too much grief, much of it very recent, for her to be of any appeal to him, even if he had any more of a leaning in that direction. Easier to move on along and try to coax some particulars out of Sam Chisolm.

“Bartholomew Bogue.”

Times like these, he figured that Chisolm had ice water running in his veins, to just toss out a dry comment like that like it didn’t even matter. It wasn’t the first time Chisolm had left him flat-footed before, but even he had to take a second to gather his thoughts up again.

“Bart Bogue? The robber baron?” he asked incredulous… before his mind took to considering all the possibilities. “Means there’s gold in the equation, but gold don’t do you much good when you’re buried with it.”

“You want out? Feel free to leave,” Chisolm returned, side-eyeing him. “Just leave my horse… ‘cause I paid for it.”

Definitely ice water in that man’s veins… And besides at this point, he was entirely too curious to point out that he could pay that money back with interest, as well as for the tack. Taking on a man like Bogue, it was suicidal and crazy, and he liked the sound of it.

Crazy and suicidal fit well into his plans quite nicely these days.

“Just speaking out loud,” he replied instead, all affable Faraday in his voice, not a hint of the slide coming. He actually wanted to stay on with this a bit, and letting the bounty hunter part of himself out would not be the way to go. Little Teddy Q might well turn tail and run, though he doubt Miss Emma would even consider it.

“Twenty miles east of here, Volcano Springs supply station. You look for a Cajun—”

He had heard men describe a feeling of their stomach sinking all the way to their feet. He had experienced it only once before, a little over eight years ago, but he had been too mad at the time to place note of the exact feeling. The sensation now was remarkably similar. Honestly, he wanted to throw up every ounce of Busthead he had managed to pack away today, and Chisolm hadn’t even finished speaking yet.

“—name of Robicheaux.”

“Goodnight Robicheaux?”

“That’s right.”

“The Angel of Death…”

This time Chisolm just continued talking as he had not spoken, giving them meeting instructions: outside of Junction City in three days. Chisolm even included an aside that was probably meant to be as funny as Chisolm ever got, about how if he wasn’t there, then he was probably dead and Joshua could keep ‘his’ horse.

Chisolm was already turning to speak to Miss Emma, his horse turned towards the hills to the north, when Joshua’s brain finally caught up to what was going on around him. “You’re going after that vaquero, right? Gabriel Vasquez?” Chisolm nodded once, carefully. “I’ll go get him. You find Robicheaux.”

“I reckon not, Faraday.” The use of that particular name seemed deliberate, maybe even too deliberate. “I imagine Mister Vasquez would be more likely to come along if there’s not too much danger of him getting shot dead for his troubles. Some of us don’t have a reputation of shooting first.”

“Tell that to Powder Dan,” he fired right back.

“Be that as it may, I figure you’re more likely to get Goodnight Robicheaux to commit to this crew than I am at the point, and I know I’m a good deal more likely to be able to find Gabriel Vasquez than you are. Miss Emma, you’re with me,” Chisolm concluded, the pair of them taking off.

In the back of his head, he was already cussing Sam Chisolm in every language he knew a swear word in: French, Spanish, English, even a few words here and there of Gaelic he remembered from his Ma. He imagined his face was a granite wall, though, since he had long since perfected his poker face. He felt like it might be slipping around the edges, though.

Hell, he could admit that it was a pretty good plan. Yeah, more of his bounties came back dead than they did alive, and if Vasquez knew who was hunting him, then his instinct did seem to be to hide far and deep, well away from the world. If Chisolm had some insight into finding him that Joshua didn’t, then that might not be the worst idea. Especially because they didn’t have the time to find him all over again, no matter what the purpose of detouring after a wanted man happened to be.

He didn’t much care for the idea of Sam Chisolm stealing another bounty out from under him, but maybe he had something in mind for that five hundred dollars that could make this whole thing a little less suicidal. What, he didn’t know, but he would never doubt that his fellow bounty hunter had tricks up his sleeve that he couldn’t guess at. You could buy a lot of rifles and ammo for five hundred dollars, and a lot more rifles and ammo on their side meant a better chance of them all surviving this to get their hands on that gold.

But he figured Chisolm was thinking wrong on one aspect: he was in no way the best to get Goodnight Robicheaux to join their little band. He hadn’t talked to his brother in eight years, after all, and they had parted ways under some… less than stellar conditions. Words had been exchanged that couldn’t be taken back. Also, there were certain punches that had been exchanged that stood in the way of a good reconciliation.

Aside from that, he had a pocket in his saddlebags full of letters Billy Rocks had written to him. He had only burned the first one; the second one he almost had but he had quickly fished it back out of the flames, and the thought hadn’t even crossed his mind from then on. He had never once gotten a letter from Goody himself. And hell, for that matter, he had put a letter to post only three weeks ago, his fifteenth or so… and he had been determined that it would be his last one.

As of a month ago, Billy Rock and Goody were still together, out somewhere near the Nevada-California border. Per Rocks' latest letter, they were even still doing quick-draw competitions, so really, not that much had changed with them over the last few years. He couldn't even remember the last time he heard of Goody picking up a bounty, but it had probably been a year or so after they had parted ways. A vicious part of him thought that Goody probably couldn't hunt bounties without him; he needed someone to be able to shoot up close, and bringing a bounty to hunt a bounty just seemed like a losing hand, so far as Joshua was concerned.

Little Teddy Q looked like he was considering speaking up, like he was confused as hell and wanted answers but didn’t know how to get them, like he was liable to kick up a fuss in the near future. In short, he looked like every rebellious youngster that he had ever had the displeasure and misfortune of knowing, It wasn’t particularly something that Joshua wanted to deal with, so he turned Jack and started southerly towards Volcano Springs.

This was not going to end well.


 

He was still stewing on his annoyance when he rode into Volcano Springs with Teddy Q the next morning. Teddy had spent much of the night inquiring as to the person they were meant to collect, until Joshua had given some serious thought to either finding a way to literally sew his mouth shut or possibly just shooting the little bastard. He didn’t doubt that he could easily do either one in order to get a decent night’s sleep. He had rolled over—again—facing away from little Teddy Q and gleefully dreamed of fishing out a needle to take to the young man’s face.

But it did mean that he was in a sour mood riding into the supply station, more so than he likely would have been otherwise. Because, really, this wasn’t going to end well for anyone.

It looked like two-thirds of the town was gathered around the corral. It was a fair bet that that was where they were holding the quick-draw contest. After tossing Jack’s reins across what passed for a hitching post around here and waiting a moment for Teddy Q to catch up to him, he nodded in the general direction of the crowd that was forming. “You’ll find Robicheaux over there. If you want, place a bet on the Rocks guy. I hear he’s good.”

“Where’re you heading, Mister Faraday?”

“I need a drink.” And wasn’t that the God’s honest truth? Between drying out on the trail here from Amador City and the stress of what was likely to come soon, he needed to find a bottle of whiskey to crawl into. The Busthead from Amador City was long since gone, and he needed more. He needed it, like a fish needed water.

Yesterday he had had misgivings about all of this, he mused to himself. Today, he flat-out wanted to get back up on Jack, start riding any direction but back towards Amador City or this little Rose Creek.

Teddy Q looked all set to argue, so he didn’t give him the chance, by turning away and walking to what passed for a saloon around here. Unless Goodnight had changed a lot, the barber’s that was also in here would be call lure enough for them to stop by sooner or later; he had never been able to resist getting gussied up whenever the chance presented itself. So he settled himself at the table closest to the barber chair with a bottle and a glass and got to drinking.

Half an hour and half a bottle of cheap ass whiskey later, sure enough, he could hear Goodnight and little Teddy Q coming in. He would assume that Rocks was in tow, trailing somewhere behind Goodnight, even if the man was silent; a quick glance in the mirror over the bar confirmed it. Rocks was, in fact, sitting in a low chair next to the barber chair that Goodnight had settled into, eating with his hands, some kind of food that Joshua cannot identify in the mirror’s reflection. Goodnight might have been in the barber’s chair getting soaped and lathered, but he was also holding court, entertaining little Teddy Q mightily in the way only someone with that famed Robicheaux charm could do.

“‘Duly-sworn warrant officer from Wichita, Kansas, and seven other states’?” Goody—Goodnight was saying. “Do we have the same man?”

Teddy must have made an affirmative sound of some kind that didn’t carry over to Joshua’s table. Teddy’s following question made it that far just fine though: “Should we talk someplace more private?”

“No, I like it right here. Billy, you like it here?” Goodnight was all loud expansiveness. It was his version of digging in his heels on a subject—or it had been years ago. It covered much of whatever Rocks was saying; Joshua could see his lips moving, just a little bit, a couple of times in the mirror, but that was it.

Instead what he got next was another question from Little Teddy Q, and there was no mistaking how disapproving the boy sounded, like someone’s old maiden aunt. “How did y’all meet?”

Goodnight laughed, and it almost even sounded like his old self. Almost. That was the point that Joshua turned back to his drink, trying his best to ignore the tale Goodnight was spinning about how he met Rocks while serving a warrant on him for the Northern Pacific Railroad. The bare bones of it was correct, excepting how it had been the two of them, it hadn’t precisely been bareknuckled as Rocks had involved his knives at one point, and that had been the beginning of the end for the Robicheaux boys as a bounty hunting team. They hadn’t brought in a bounty together since then, and it didn’t look too likely on them ever working together again.

Hell, it wasn’t exactly news to him that Goodnight was making money off Rocks’ quick-draw fights. It was news that they were going equal shares on it. “Between fights,” Rocks was explaining, “Goody helps me navigate the white man’s prejudices.”

And Joshua was seeing red. He had known from the letters that Goodnight let Rocks use the nickname that had previously been reserved only for Joshua himself. Hell, that had been the reason why he’d burned Rocks’ first letter. It was one thing to know it. It was another altogether to hear it said out loud like it was just another simple thing.

“Mm-hmm,” Goodnight agreed. “I keep him employed, and he keeps me… on the level.”

This time Joshua’s hands were shaking as he poured his next drink. It had been a long time since that had happened, that he had been so mad that his hands shook. He had known that him—and by extension, little Teddy Q—being sent after Goodnight was a bad idea and he had suspected that it would be a trial for him, but he hadn’t expected just how much it would hurt… or how much it would piss him off.

“Well,” Teddy began, and Joshua could have kissed him for the distraction, much less for his choice of words, “Mister  Chisolm sent us to come fetch you, but he didn’t say anything about your friend over there.”

“Wherever I go,” Goodnight stated, completely level, no trace of levity to be found in his voice, though at least he didn’t seem to have noticed Teddy’s slip in using ‘us’ in that little declaration, “Billy goes.”

Teddy folded like a house of cards in a stiff breeze with a muttered “Yes, sir.” There was a long pause, one where he was willing to bet that Goodnight was staring little Teddy Q down as he ascertained whether or not the boy was taking him seriously.

Finally, Goodnight commented, “We understand each other then. Now Billy and I—”

And that was the last thing that Joshua could stand. He shoved the now completely empty bottle away from himself as he pushed himself to his feet, even if he was none too steady on them. He half turned, mostly facing Teddy, though he could see Goodnight’s startled expression out of the corner of his eye as he shot up as well, Rocks a half beat ahead of him, and snapped out, “We’re leaving in an hour. Meet us by the corral then.” Because he needed to spend some time with Jack, cooling off before he did something he would really regret.

He managed to take off and get as far as the door before a hand wrapped around his arm. For a split second, the face he saw when he looked over his shoulder was Monsieur Robicheaux before it resolved into Goodnight. Even so, he could still see the similarities between his brother as he had aged and their shared bastard of a father. It was in the goatee, trimmed neatly but still greying. It was in the light brown hair, always closer to blond than his own reddish hair had ever been, hints of steel starting to streak through it. It was in the weathered eyes that still seemed centuries too old for his body. Hell, it was even in the clothes, just as fine-cut as Monsieur Robicheaux had ever favored, even if these were older, clearly mended, and trail worn, and the two fleur-de-lis pinned to either side of his vest collar. It wasn’t quite like looking directly at the old bastard all over again, since there was enough of Maman Arthémie there too: her blue eyes, a general softening of features that had been harsher on their shared father.

But it wasn’t too far away from him either, Joshua thought to himself in a moment of sheer desperation, yanking his arm to free it.

Whatever shock that had been on Goody’s—Goodnight, damn it—face had all but vanished during Joshua’s split second of horror, and it had been replaced with anger. And wasn’t that a too damned familiar expression on that damned face? “Thought you were done working with others,” he all but growled out, and at least the voice didn’t sound much like Monsieur Robicheaux. “Yet here you are playing babysitter to… well.” He gestured wildly at Teddy Q, and yeah, really, that was all there was to say on the matter of the boy.

“Your buddy Sam Chisolm bought my damn horse out from under me. This is me, being the honest citizen that I am, paying off a debt,” he hissed back.

Goodnight snorted and switched to French. “I’m surprised you didn’t just back-shoot him and take that damned wild animal back. I’ve heard how honest you are now. Word gets around.

He narrowed his eyes and bit back on the growl that wanted to arise, before returning in kind, “At least I’m earning a living on my own merit and not someone else’s skills…” He paused, giving the words a second to sink in, before a smirk built on his face as he went for the one-two punch, “Ain’t that right, Monsieur Robicheaux?

There was a long breath of stunned silence, like the entire world had fallen away, and then he realized that solely because his ears were ringing and the room was spinning around him. Goody—Goodnight—still hit like a train, after all, catching him hard in the left eye. For another stunned minute, all he could think was how glad he was that the actual Monsieur Robicheaux had never managed to hit anywhere near as hard as Goodnight did.

The other man’s voice was like ice as he spoke again, still in French. “The way I hear it, I may have the old bastard’s look, but the temper and attitude are the bread and butter of the younger brother.” He didn’t call him ‘the bastard’, but it felt like his brother—no, not that, not anymore—had only just restrained himself from saying those words. “Sound about right, T-Jo?

And you know what, he decided to himself, fuck this. He still harbored some fond memories from his childhood of his brother, so he wasn’t about to do anything permanent—such as draw his gun, even if there was no chance he could miss at this range, or even return the favor of aiming for an eye, when Chisolm likely wanted Goodnight to be a sharpshooter for him now—but he could always pay the insult back in kind. It was easy to swing hard, right from the hip, like he had learned all those years ago in muddy battlefields across Maryland and Pennsylvania. Yeah, he was a lot bigger now than he had ever been then, but when he was mad as hell, it was what he always fell back on.

And unlike Goodnight, he didn’t aim for an eye. Instead, he caught the other man right in the corner of his mouth and felt a visceral kind of cheerful rage to see Goodnight’s lip split and blood well up. A dark grin pulled at the corners of his own mouth, and it felt so damn good.

You don’t get to call me that anymore. You gave up that right years ago, remember?

I almost feel sorry for you.” And almost immediately he could feel himself bristling. Where the hell did Goodnight Robicheaux get off talking to him like that? “But fine. We can finish this conversation later.” And yeah, apparently he was done, because he switched back to English before continuing, “Thirty minutes, then we should be set to ride. Get as far as we can before nightfall.”

And then Rocks was right there, always sticking his nose in where it didn’t belong, always oh so fucking willing to come between the two of them. “Get cleaned up, Goody,” he commented quietly. “You shouldn’t leave looking like this.”

He rolled his eyes, hard. “Yeah, go on and get ready, Goodnight. Your buddy Chisolm wants us in Junction City in a day and a half.”

Goody—God fucking damn it, it was Goodnight now, and his stupid mind needed to remember that—actually looked more struck by the use of his full name than he had by the punch, and that was saying something, he figured, since there was still a little blood mixing in with the brown and grey of Goodnight’s goatee. “Fine,” he commented dully, and it almost felt like victory. Or it might have, had he not switched back over to French to finish, “Was a time when you wouldn’t call me by that name, Joshua.

Once again he narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest. He wasn’t going to throw another punch, not if he could help it, but he always wasn’t going to lose at getting his fair share of the verbal battle in either. “And I figure it don’t much matter, since it seems everyone gets to call you ‘Goody’ now,” he fired back, sneering as the color rose up Goodnight’s neck and into his cheeks, just like it always had when he was mad as hell, before quickly chancing another verbal blow. “I certainly don’t remember you being quite so… free with that sort of stuff back then.

And there was that damn freight train again. Honestly, it felt like Goody had pulled his punch a bit the first time, at least compared to the second, because hell, that really did feel like getting hit by a train, because he hit the ground and tasted blood this time. He certainly felt like he’d had his bell rung like it hadn’t been in a few forevers, and it took him a few painful minutes to pick himself up out of the dirt, pushing himself to his feet and dusting himself off with his hat.

Little Teddy Q looked like he had suddenly had the knowledge visited upon him that he was in over his head. His green eyes were wide enough to pop out of his head, darting back and forth between Joshua in the doorway and the closed door that Goodnight and Billy had disappeared behind like one of them was going to end up biting him, and he actually looked a little pale. Yeah, he definitely had no idea what he had gotten himself into, and a vicious part of Joshua wanted to grin savagely with bloody teeth at the image he presented.

Instead, though, he paid for one more shot of the cheapest stuff in the bar, using it to painfully rinse the blood from his mouth. He even managed to ring the spittoon with blood-tinted rotgut before finally wiping at his mouth and saying, “We need to get back to the horses. It’s a long ride to Junction City, and I’m sure your little Joan of Arc ain’t going to be too happy with any of this.”

Chapter Text

Goodnight wasn’t overly concerned with the spectacle set to begin in the paddock. He remained relaxed as he was, back against a post and legs stretched out along the rails, raising his flask in a small salute to the poor bastard about to die and took a long pull. He really should cut back on the drinking, but there were constant issues clamoring in his brain, and sometimes a drink helped to keep him from getting too lost in them.

The issue that was always and forever at the forefront of his mind was Joshua.

They had not parted ways on the best of terms, to put things mildly. They had strongly disagreed on what should be done with one Billy Rocks, and he had slung a few angry slurs that he could never take back. Joshua had likewise slung some slurs and words in anger, and he knew for goddamn sure that there had been punches thrown, and in the aftermath he was left with his horse, his bounty, and the back of his baby brother headed out of town at top speed on that goddamn wild horse of his.

He’d been angry as hellfire for all of two months, but then the regrets had set it. Sure, his initial assessment of Billy had been correct, and the man was a mighty good friend in those early days, but he was no Joshua. It was about another month before he really started to feel remorse, but by then it was far too late for reconciliation.

That had led to a pretty serious fight, with Billy saying he should at least try and get in contact with his brother and Goodnight cursing him for fifty varieties of a fool for the suggestion. It had ended with punches thrown once again, Billy refusing to speak to him for three straight days, and Goodnight crawling into a bottle of quality bourbon in an attempt to drown out the fact that maybe he should make an attempt to communicate.

When his friend finally spoke to him again, an apology on his lips, Goodnight offered his own apologies and voiced his concerns.

“Then don’t send any letters,” Billy had said. “At least get everything out.”

That was the day he ceased heading his journal entries with the date and location and began addressing them to T-Jo… the old name he’d called his baby sibling once upon a time, when the family that mattered—Maman and Colette but never Monsieur Robicheaux—had still been alive and after when it was just the two of them versus the world. The name he’d used right up until that damned fight and he’d called his only living relative a drunk green Paddy.

He could admit to himself, in the years between then and now, that he’d definitely deserved to be called out as a molly trying to get a leg over. It hadn’t exactly been true at the time, but over the years, his relationship with Billy had shifted from somewhat distant friends to those sharing pleasurable benefits to something more like husbands, and he occasionally thought about trying to get word to his brother and see if they could start again as a family.

Then he would come to his senses, drink half a bottle of whatever he could find, be it fine bourbon or rotgut whiskey, and write a long journal entry to his baby brother with all the things he could never bring himself to say aloud.

Rumor had it, over the years, that Joshua Robicheaux had become rattlesnake mean. There was only one man left alive to reveal that Goodnight Robicheaux could be a right pit viper himself if you dared to mention the younger brother in any ill manner to the elder’s face, and that was his partner. Billy was the only living soul who could probably attest to how many unmarked graves littered the deserts of the western territories, but he was a wise enough man to keep Goodnight’s secrets.

Goodnight let his attention drift back to the paddock as ol’ Eddy set out the rules of the competition and pulled his gun to signal the start. His blue eyes roamed the crowd, noting the turnout and calculating the winnings since inevitably someone would make a wise decision and bet on his Billy to win instead of on the challenger. He wasn’t so sure about the nervy looking kid hovering at the gate but figured he’d probably been sent out by his daddy or someone to make a name of himself.

Granted, he’d heard tell that there were men who acted like real fathers, but given that his only experience was life with Monsieur Robicheaux, he wasn’t entirely certain there was truth to the rumors.

As per usual, Billy won the draw effortlessly, and the other man began to make his way over to join Goodnight. In a moment, he would hop down and go about collecting their money, and maybe today Eddy wouldn’t have to bury another body out back of the livery.

Then Arcade, the dumb shit, had to open his mouth.

“Let’s do it for real,” the man spat. “Come on, you sap-sucking runt of a man. Double or nothing.”

Billy stopped still, turning a questioning look to Goodnight. The Korean man may have been a deft hand with both a gun and a knife, but he tried to keep killing to a minimum unless someone deserved it. To him, that meant someone who was bound to harm an innocent human being or, on at least one occasion, an animal.

To Goodnight, however, that meant anyone who might be a threat to their continued, somewhat happy existence. He turned a hard eye to Arcade before glancing at Billy and nodding ever so slightly.

Looked like there was gonna be another grave dug today after all.




“Mr. Robicheaux?”

Goodnight let his eyes drift over to the nervy kid he’d noticed earlier, quickly taking in his measure and ultimately dismissing him. The boy wasn’t far into manhood, that much was clear to him, and put him vaguely in mind of Joshua back before things fell to pieces. Still, Goodnight had done his time as a mentor and had no intent of taking a stray under his wing.

Not when it was too much still to think he and his Billy wouldn’t have to take off again in a few months’ time, that maybe they were just having a run of incredible good luck that no other bounty hunters had come looking to collect on that hundred dollars for the past eight months.

He stepped past the kid, collecting his winnings from the last couple of men who were standing on the other side of the gate. The kid’s next words, though, drew his full focus:

“Sam Chisolm sent us.”

Goodnight hadn’t thought much on ol’ Sam Chisolm over the years, not really since he’d left the bounty hunting business and gone into a form of gambling instead. The last real communication they’d had was shortly before the fight and had involved a bottle of that damn Busthead he and Joshua preferred and some drunken reminiscing with his old acquaintance. That was how he knew about what happened to Chisolm’s mother and sisters, how he knew that the man himself had been lynched and lived to tell the tale, should he so choose.

Also, from every indicator present, this boy was alone. Yet he’d clearly said us, and damn it all if Goodnight didn’t let his curiosity get the better of him on occasion.

“Really now, son?” he drawled, all Louisiana charm in his tone. “What say you and I and my associate,” he nodded towards Billy, who had approached on cat paws and returned his pin to his hair, “head inside and discuss this over a drink?”

Goodnight led the boy—Teddy Q, he’d said was his name—into the saloon, making his way to the barber’s chair. Part of it was a genuine desire to get cleaned up, but the larger part was to keep a keen eye on the people around them. He may bank on his own, good ol’ boy reputation, but when you kept company with a wanted man, you tended to keep your guard up at all times, regardless of how it appeared to others.

A quick glance showed nothing too suspicious, although there were a few newcomers present. The closest one of them had seated himself at a table just a few feet away, his back to them, half a bottle of shit whiskey and a tumbler in front of him. The man didn’t appear to be watching the room, but Goodnight knew well that the mirror over the bar allowed for one to see everything behind you even if you were just pretending to keep your eyes to the front.

Choosing to keep a bit of a close eye on the people he didn’t recognize scattered about the room, he settled in and let out an affable chuckle.

“Sam Chisolm. ‘Duly-sworn warrant officer from Wichita, Kansas, and seven other states’? Do we have the same man?” At young Teddy’s affirmative response, Goodnight offered another smooth smile, but it shifted away a bit when the boy spoke up.

“Should we talk someplace more private?”

Hell, no, Goodnight thought a bit viciously. I don’t know you and I don’t rightly trust whomever else you came with since I ain’t set eyes on them yet. Aloud he said, “No, I like it right here. Billy, you like it here?” He gave a sidelong glance at his partner, grinning a bit more honestly when the other grunted in agreement and held out an opium cigarette.

Goodnight accepted it but made a point to brush one finger against Billy’s—a signal they’d arranged some time back to covertly keep watch if the other was preoccupied. He had the feeling young Teddy here was going to require more of the Goodnight Robicheaux War Hero persona than any more honest aspect, and he trusted Billy to watch the room for him.

Billy gave a slight nod at his side, disguising the movement as turning his attention to his lunch. Even so, Goodnight knew his other half had eyes locked on any suspicious movement in the room, and he trusted that would keep them on the level, as it were.

Young Teddy frowned and spoke again: “How did y’all meet?”

Goodnight let out a genuine laugh, amused that the kid was actually asking even if he sounded put out at a southern gentleman and what he likely thought of as an Oriental keeping company. It would be honestly funny if’n it hadn’t meant Joshua left in a flurry of insults, fists, and unspoken promises to never again cross paths.

Rather than say anything along those lines, he decided to break down the barest of necessities of the tale: “How did we meet, Billy? I was serving a warrant on him for the Northern Pacific Railroad.” He shrugged and offered an aside of, “Is what it is. I found Billy down in an old redneck saloon in Texas, and these good ol’ boys, they didn’t wanna serve Billy’s kind, right.

“So this, uh, petite son of a bitch took on the whole room bare-knuckled. I watched in awe. And I said to myself, ‘Goodnight, this is not a man to arrest, this is a man to befriend.’”

“You make your living off his alley fights?” Teddy asked again. Bless his heart.

Billy turned half an eye to the boy, one part of his attention still obviously focused on the room around them as much as on his meal. “Equal shares,” he answered. “Between fights, Goody helps me navigate the white man’s prejudices.”

And for no discernible reason, the man with his back to them seemed to pause for a moment before taking another drink. Curious, and Goodnight tapped a finger on the side of his chair: Watch this one.

Billy didn’t give a visible response that a casual observer would notice, but his gaze turned towards the man at the table near them.

“Mm-hmm,” he replied to the boy’s question. “I keep him employed, and he keeps me… on the level.”

“Well,” young Teddy said again, and Goodnight was honestly beginning to hope whomever the kid was traveling with would show up and take over the conversation, “Mr. Chisolm sent us to come fetch you, but he didn’t say anything about your friend over there.”

Once again, the use of us rather than me, but he decided to briefly ignore that. “Wherever I go, Billy goes,” he said firmly.

He kept a stern gaze focused on the boy, and as expected, he folded under the pressure with a meek, “Yes, sir.”

Goodnight waited for a moment to see if there were going to be any further arguments, then offered a slight smile. “We understand each other then. Now Billy and I—”

And the man with his back to him shoved the now-empty bottle and glass away and stood up, the chair scraping against the floor at the action. He half-turned to face the boy, and goddammit, Goodnight knew that fucking profile. He straightened up abruptly, noting that Billy was as always a half-second faster to move.

“We’re leaving in an hour,” Joshua, goddamn Joshua, snapped out. “Meet us by the corral then.”

The younger man stalked towards the door, and Goodnight was out of the chair and across the room quicker than he realized he could move in that moment. Adrenaline and something akin to pure rage was fueling him, and he reached out with one hand to grab hold of his brother’s arm. Joshua looked over his shoulder, green eyes going wide in shock for a second or two before he yanked the limb free.

Goodnight wondered what Joshua had seen for a moment. Much as he hated to admit it to himself, he knew that he favored Monsieur Robicheaux when it came to looks. His only real saving grace was seeing Maman’s eyes rather than the old bastard’s hazel. If he could pull off a full beard, he’d prefer to grow out his goatee that made him wince sometimes when he glanced in a mirror, but that had not worked well for him in the past, and he felt like he was far too world-weary to go about clean-shaven these days.

There were times, quite honestly, than he’d envied Joshua inheriting much of his coloring and features from his own mama. If he’d managed to inherit Maman’s much fairer looks beyond the eyes, he might be able to ignore those features that came from their shared and much hated father.

Then he was back in the present… and a bit more angry than he was a moment before. “Thought you were done working with others,” he said, tone bordering somewhere between a hiss and a growl. “Yet here you are playing babysitter to… well.” He didn’t even try to come up with a word for young Teddy, just gestured behind him to where the kid was likely staring at them with his jaw on the floor.

“Your buddy Sam Chisolm bought my damn horse out from under me,” Joshua bit out, not looking any happier to see Goodnight himself. “This is me, being the honest citizen that I am, paying off a debt.”

Goodnight actually snorted. “I’m surprised you didn’t just back-shoot him and take that damned wild animal back,” he snapped in French. “I’ve heard how honest you are now. Word gets around.”

Joshua’s eyes narrowed, and he looked fit to spit nails. “At least I’m earning a living on my own merit and not someone else’s skills,” he snarled out then paused. A slow, sly smirk crossed his lips, and Goodnight felt himself start to tense for a real fight. “Ain’t that right, Monsieur Robicheaux?”

He didn’t realize that he’d thrown the punch until his hand started to sting, and he glared through a fog to see that he’d managed to nail Joshua in his left eye. Good, he thought viciously, glaring as the younger turned a surprised look his way. Behind him, he could hear Billy talking to young Teddy, and if the boy was smart, then he’d let them work through this shit.

“The way I hear it,” he said coolly, “I may have the old bastard’s looks, but the temper and attitude are the bread and butter of the younger brother. Sound about right, T-Jo?”

For about half a second, Goodnight was positive that his little brother was going to pull one of those shiny revolvers out and shoot him down. Part of him hated the thought that they’d split apart so much, but the rest wouldn’t be a bit surprised. After all, he’d only gotten mean once they’d parted company, and on most days, it was only Billy who was able to keep him from going off the rails.

Then that thought disappeared as Joshua’s fist caught the corner of his mouth, and he could feel the lip split. The taste of blood in his mouth was almost enough to shock him back to his senses… almost. The visceral anger still remained, however, like a living entity all its own, and he waited to see what else this stranger wearing his brother’s face beneath nine yards of scruff had to say.

“You don’t get to call me that anymore,” Joshua said, a smug grin on his face. “You gave up that right years ago, remember?”

“I almost feel sorry for you,” Goodnight said, his blood like ice in his veins. Yes, he had been in the wrong, but he’d come to regret it. Apparently, his younger brother wasn’t of a like mind. “But fine. We can finish this conversation later.” Switching easily back to English, he continued, “Thirty minutes, then we should be set to ride. Get as far as we can before nightfall.”

Billy stepped up behind him at that moment, hovering in a manner than Goodnight knew was concerned but keeping his hands to himself. “Get cleaned up, Goody,” he said softly, pitching his voice so that only those within a few feet could hear him. “You shouldn’t leave looking like this.”

“Yeah,” Joshua chimed in, and it took every ounce of willpower he had not to react, “go on and get ready, Goodnight.”

Okay, that actually stung. He could just barely remember a time when his brother hadn’t called him by the nickname he’d made up as a boy, but that was years gone now. And it seemed like they weren’t missed by the younger man at all.

Joshua continued, “Your buddy Chisolm wants us in Junction City in a day and a half.”

Goodnight bit back a sigh. “Fine.” He turned to head for the boarding house before pausing to add in quieter French, “Was a time you wouldn’t call me by that name, Joshua.”

His brother’s body language shifted to something more defensive, crossed arms and narrowed eyes, squaring up to stand his ground. Chances were good he wasn’t about to get hit again, but Goodnight wasn’t going to take it for granted either. After all, he knew from experience how quick Joshua was and currently had a split lip as further evidence.

And then Joshua was speaking instead, and it was worse than a physical blow: “And I figure it don’t much matter, since it seems everyone gets to call you ‘Goody’ now.” As Goodnight felt his hands clench into fists again, the other man he had once called brother continued, “I certainly don’t remember you being quite so… free with that sort of stuff back then.”

He wasn’t gonna deny it this time. It felt damned good to punch that smug grin off his little shit of a brother’s face. He didn’t bother sticking around to see his reaction, blood pounding in his ears as he turned on his heel and stalked off to his and Billy’s shared rooms to gather his belongings.

Too bad he didn’t have time to write a quick journal entry. He needed to vent, but obviously the flesh and blood version of his brother wasn’t going to listen and he wasn’t inclined to calm down and talk rationally at the moment either.

Chapter Text

If nothing else, the ride to Junction City gave Goodnight plenty of time to think on the past. It also gave him ample opportunity to question his memories and wonder if there was something he had missed over the years prior to their split, but he’d long grown used to self-loathing introspection.

No matter how much he loved and trusted Billy, there were some secrets he chose to keep. Most of them were his own, of course, but there were a few of Joshua’s that he doubted the younger knew he was still keeping locked up tight.

Secrets like Goodnight recognized full well that the bruises his baby brother sported oftentimes as a child weren’t from playing too rough, because he had worn more than a few of the same himself.

Secrets like Goodnight would feel his blood freeze in his veins any time he’d turn around as a teenager and his little shadow wasn’t behind him, especially when he knew goddamn well that Monsieur Robicheaux was at home.

Secrets like Goodnight didn’t kill the old bastard sooner only because he was worried that Maman would fall under suspicion, since it would have been unheard of for the slaves or indentured servants or children to do such a thing.

Secrets like Goodnight had argued with Monsieur Robicheaux the day the man decided they were joining the army, and that he’d been very careful with his left side when signing his life away under the bastard’s watchful eye.

Secrets like, when Monsieur Robicheaux contracted dysentery on the campaign march, Goodnight hadn’t hesitated to mix a little oleander into the bastard’s canteen to make sure death came for him that much faster.

Secrets like Goodnight continued to have nightmares wherein he deserted and rushed back to St. Martinville only to find out upon arriving that Joshua had died from the yellow fever as well rather than bounce back the way he had in reality.

Secrets like Goodnight also had nightmares wherein he called out to his brother over the battlefield only to be answered by a ringing silence.

Secrets like Goodnight had honestly, truthfully hoped that reconciliation was possible when he’d received that letter from Joshua two years back, only to wait in Carson City for six weeks before having to kill three men — Billy’d taken down four of his own — and make tracks without setting eyes on his brother.

He still didn’t rightly know if it had been genuine or if it had been an ambush, but the letter had been Joshua’s handwriting. And given their reunion, it looked a lot less like the former was anywhere on his brother’s mind.

But that was okay. It was fine. Goodnight would follow through on Chisolm’s mission, and then he and Billy would slide back into the world again.

Maybe this time he would be able to leave all of the past behind.

 


 

When Goodnight finally decided to turn his attention back to the world around him, he was almost surprised to find Billy riding next to him. He may have been sleepwalking that morning, but the previous day when they’d set out, his lover had placed himself between Joshua and young Teddy, keeping him as far from his brother as possible. He had assumed that Billy would do the same once they were on the trail today, but it looked like he was mistaken.

Young Teddy wasn’t saying anything, thank God. Or if he was, then Goodnight was doing a grand job of ignoring him. And Joshua appeared to be drinking still, just the same as the last time and every other time he’d been paying attention during this damned trip. Thankfully they were nearly to Junction City, and if he knew Chisolm, then it would be outside the town rather than in the middle of the main thoroughfare.

And wouldn’t you know it, when they crested the hill, Goodnight spotted three horses grazing near a copse of trees, with three people-shaped figures settled around the largest of the trees. He let an affable, Goodnight Robicheaux, Hero and Legend, smile slide over his features, and he could feel Billy glaring at him. The other man hated the facade, but it had suited him well over the years; he could be the bastard when people actually managed to cross him

“Sam Chisolm!” he called once they were close enough to be heard, and ignored Joshua completely. Chances were good the boy was too drunk to really have anything polite to say. “Aren’t you a sight to see with the storm on our backs?”

“Well, now, the rain ain’t over yet,” Chisolm replied. “And I reckon the storm will be on us sooner rather than later.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” Goodnight mused, climbing off his mare and moving to greet the other man with a friendly hug; he knew well that they really weren’t much more than somewhat amicable strangers, but none of the men with him knew that, and the Cajun was never going to let his brother know the truth of the matter. He stepped back and nodded towards Billy. “This here’s my companion, Billy Rocks. He could be of some help on this endeavor, I hope.”

Billy gave a nod to Chisolm, moving to remove some of the tack from their horses to let them rest for a few moments before they were to set out again. Young Teddy slipped from his own mount and bustled to the woman, and Goodnight rolled his eyes.

Not out in the big wide world alone, after all. Firmly attached to a mother-figure’s apron strings instead, he thought meanly.

Instead of saying so, he nodded towards the woman and asked Chisolm, “Who’s this?”

“Our employer, Missus Emma Cullen.”

Well, well, well… It wasn’t often that he saw a woman out on the trail like this, and if the situation was one that Chisolm had called upon him for, it was likely that a vendetta of some manner was in effect. He thought it possible that he might get along with this woman famously.

“Enchante, ma cher,” Goodnight greeted, still all Louisiana charm. Obviously uncertain as to what to expect, the young widow accepted his handshake. “Your hands are cold, Emma. You nervous?”

If she was a cautious woman, this Miss Emma would have denied the accusation; if she was a fool, she would have boasted that she was afraid of nothing. Instead, Miss Emma proved to have nerves of steel by making no reply at all.

Goodnight’s smile slipped from affable charm to something more real, with a bit more world-weariness to it. “Don’t be,” he advised. “We will help you seek that which you are due, or my name’s not Goodnight.”

When she offered a small smile of her own in reply, something fragile and broken but still hardened in spite of or perhaps because of her pain, he nodded slightly and moved to where Billy was settling in by the fire to steal a bit of food. Goodnight’s gaze fell onto the other party in the small camp and wondered absently why the man looked vaguely familiar.

It was only when his brother started hassling Chisolm about a bounty that he realized the stranger was a fugitive. And he wondered to himself what manner of army his old “friend” was building around him.

A Grey who just wants to kill his past, a Korean who puts up with far too much of my bullshit, a Blue with his own vendetta, my drunken and mean as hell brother, a Mexican outlaw, a young woman likely seeking revenge, and the little boy trailing in her shadow. We are a party of dead men unless Chisolm actually has a goddamn plan here.

 


 

There were days that Joshua thanked God he wasn’t skilled in medicine… or else he might give into the urge to take a knife to the blood vessel behind his right eye that alway wanted to throb with every hangover. Hair of the dog did a lot to dim the sensation, and he was most assuredly liberally applying it.

Today was easier than yesterday. For starters, Rocks was no longer riding between him and little Teddy Q… and little Teddy Q between Rocks and Goodnight. He might have been able to handle them trying to separate the two of them—the better to avoid more fistfights, after all—but there was no cause for Rocks to separate him from Teddy as well as Goodnight. Yeah, he might have given some thought to sewing the boy’s mouth shut, but it wasn’t like he had followed through on the thought.

At least that hadn’t carried over to today’s ride. Goodnight and he were still on opposite sides of the group, but Rocks was next to Goodnight and Teddy was next to him. And he was applying additional cheap whiskey to a cheap whiskey hangover. So far, so good: it was helping. And they had to almost be on top of Junction City by now, seeing as how they’d been riding since dawn and had covered some good ground before full dark last night as well.

They made it over another hill, and he could see three horses first of all: Chisolm’s big black chestnut, Miss Emma’s palomino, and a pale one that was new to Joshua, either white or light grey or some combination of the two. It was probably only thanks to his hangover that he heard the quiet whistle that was obviously a signal to the other people in the camp, because it set that blood vessel behind his right eye to throbbing again.

The closer they got, the easier it was to tell that the figure under the tree was Sam Chisolm, while the one bustling up from the little creek the campsite was next to was Miss Emma. The third person, the one half behind that flea bitten grey horse—now that he was close enough to see the color—he couldn’t see well enough to identify. He got the impression of a lean man, with at least two guns, a white shirt, a dark vest, sinfully well-fitted black trousers, and a dose of paranoia that was perhaps heavier than normal, given the hand hovering just above a hip-holstered pistol and wariness written large throughout his body. Who in the hell had Chisolm found to help them in this fool’s quest, and what the hell had he told him about what was going on?

But none of that really mattered too much when Goodnight was breaking away from the group to greet Chisolm in what had to be the loudest voice he could possibly manage: “Sam Chisolm! Aren’t you a sight to see with the storm on our backs?” Chisolm returned the greeting by name as Goodnight dismounted and moved over to him, the pair of them louder than seemed wise.

Rocks was glaring at Goodnight, even as he slid off his horse and started fussing with his tack… Never mind that, he was fussing with both of their tacks. Even little Teddy Q was sliding off his horse and sidling over towards Miss Emma, followed quickly enough by Goodnight. And that was his cue to all but fall off of Jack, the horse sidestepping just a little to help keep him upright.

“I see you manage to convince Goodnight to come after all,” Chisolm commented dryly, only a little less friendly with him than he had been with Goodnight… though certainly a good deal less effusive. “Though I must say I wasn’t expecting the other addition.”

He shrugged. “Goodnight weren’t leaving without him. Besides, Rocks seems to be a fair hand with those pigstickers.” The compliment was begrudgingly given, but he certainly wasn’t going to lie about anything here if he could help it. “How did you do?”

Chisolm gestured a bit in the direction of the final person in their camp. “See for yourself.”

He turned for a better look at the other person, now taking full note of everything about him: at least as tall as Joshua himself was, wearing a black leather vest over the white shirt he had noted earlier, silver buttons on the vest, silver spurs, those two flashy guns he’d noticed before as well, a deep red sash tied around his waist, dragging the eye down to those trousers that had gotten his attention so quickly and thoroughly before… all of which added up to precisely one thing.

“Oh good, we got ourselves a Mexican,” he muttered under his breath, before his brain caught up to his libido and noted one more small but ever so crucial detail: the man had a darkly handsome face… that bore entirely too many similarities to one he had only recently been checking out on a wanted poster. “You brought the bounty along with? Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Chisolm, what the hell were you thinking?”

“That we might need something a little… outside the law on this, taking down a man like Bogue.”

“What the hell did you promise him? That he’d have two bounty hunters off his back for helping?”

“No, not at all, Mister Robicheaux… Joshua, if I may…” Chisolm said magnanimously, conveniently ignoring how the outlaw seemed to lose a few shades of color from his face, as well as how his hands were suddenly approximately a mile away from his guns as they crossed over his chest. Clearly, someone had heard the rumors about how exactly Joshua’s bounties kept ending up dead then and what had precipitated those turns of events. “I only promised I would forget all about his bounty, seeing as I’m the one that managed to find him in the first place. I certainly would never want to speak out of turn on your behalf, after all.”

God, he wasn’t nearly drunk enough for any of this shit. Chisolm turned from him, taking a few steps over towards where Goodnight and Billy were setting up a small camp. Gabriel Vasquez… Jesus Christ… Well, Chisolm could have picked a lot of worse criminals to recruit for this little endeavor. All Vasquez had done was kill a Ranger, and frankly, every single Ranger that Joshua had ever met had needed a little bit of killing. Five hundred dollars worth of guns would have been nice, if impractical for transportation purposes, but a deft extra gun hand would go a long way as well.

And besides, he might end up needing someone to talk to on this little suicide run that wasn’t Miss Emma and little Teddy. He would be damned if he went groveling back to Goodnight for attention anytime soon if he ended up needing it, after all.

If Sam Chisolm were a more conniving man, Joshua might suspect that he had set this all up somehow. Bring a bounty in on this and promise not to turn him in, only to ‘forget’ to mention the second bounty hunter in the group, who might or might not turn him in instead, maybe even spotting Chisolm part of the money as a finder’s fee of sorts. Hell, part of him was half sure that this had been part of Chisolm’s endgame, bringing a wanted man along, but then, he freely admitted to being a bit more paranoid than the average person should be. It had kept him alive on his own for years. On a more annoying note, he was nearly one hundred percent certain that Chisolm had sent him after Goodnight for the sole purpose of seeing what would happen, and that pissed him off at the older man all over again.

“I’ll call that bet, Chisolm,” he called over at Chisolm’s back, watching and smiling with some measure of vindictive glee as the older man stiffened and then whipped around to stare at him in unadulterated shock. He addressed the rest of what he had to say at Vasquez, though he did make sure he kept the other three men in his line of sight, even as he pitched his voice to just him and Vasquez: “We survive this shit, and I won’t go after that bounty either, my hand to God.” He tucked the bottle of liquor under his arm and stuck a hand out as friendly as a man could be, while visibly carrying three guns… and hiding another on his person… and had a Winchester rifle stuck in a holster on their saddle right behind them… and a knife on them. “Joshua Faraday. Pleased to meet you.”

Chapter Text

Billy Rocks was not a man one could accuse of being oblivious, and the tension between the Robicheaux brothers was damn near a physical presence.

From the moment that Goody had recognized Joshua the previous day, any semblance of normalcy and sanity had fled his lover. The man’s face had gone ghostly white, then he'd been out of his chair and grabbing the younger man almost before Billy had time to process the situation. Then they'd proceeded to argue — loudly — in French before throwing punches.

That lovely moment left Goody with a split lip and Joshua with both a split lip and a blackened eye.

Then Goody had been extremely uncommunicative, only making sounds of agreement or disagreement to let Billy know the man was even halfway paying attention the entire time they were packing to leave for Junction City. He had even asked if his lover wanted him to punch out Eddy and received an mm-hmm in response. And Goody liked Eddy.

So, in an attempt to show the younger brother some silent support, Billy had placed himself between Joshua and Teddy with Goody on the far side from his brother. That had been a disaster. The longer they’d ridden, the more Joshua had clung to his bottle of whiskey and hunched up like a scalded cat. They covered a hell of a lot of ground before Billy finally decided fuck it and called for them to stop just after sundown. Teddy had passed out almost immediately, Joshua had taken forever to fall asleep, and Goodnight was still physically but yet not mentally present.

By the time morning arrived, Billy was one hundred percent done with both of the Robicheaux brothers and simply took his usual spot next to Goody with Teddy to his right and Joshua on the outside. He was honestly wondering what kind of man Sam Chisolm was to inspire Goody to go along with this crazy-ass plan to save a town from Bart Bogue, and when he laid eyes on the man for the first time…

Well, he wasn’t impressed.

Chisolm greeted Goody kindly enough and had a polite nod for Billy, but then he’d spoken to Joshua in a totally different voice. From what he could gather from where he was tending to his and Goody’s horses, Chisolm had convinced the Mexican man to join their merry band of morons by saying that he was going to ignore the bounty. To Billy, that sounded like a silent but I can’t guarantee the other bounty hunter and/or the retired bounty hunter won’t want the money, and his assessment of Sam Chisolm’s character further nose dived.

He bit back a vicious grin, though, when Joshua loudly proclaimed that he’d match Chisolm’s deal but had to roll his eyes when the man switched over to what had to have been his mother’s name to make his introductions for Vasquez.

Idiots, the pair of them, he thought meanly before moving over to allow Goody to join him at the fire. He was hungry after all the riding, and he knew they’d be headed off again soon. Plus, he figured his lover might need to be closer to him for the moment; when Joshua had used the name Faraday rather than Robicheaux, the older man’s expression had abruptly closed off. Chances were pretty high that Goody was lost in his own head and self-recriminations again, and Billy honestly wasn’t in the mood for that at the moment.

Once all this was over, if they survived, Billy was going to lock the pair of them in a goddamn room without their guns and just let them fight it out. It was likely the only way they’d move beyond their original fight over him, and maybe it would let them both finally make peace with the fact that just because they were different didn’t mean they couldn’t still love one another.

Until then, however, Billy was going to do whatever it took to keep these two idiots alive long enough to get to that point.

 


 

Mother of God…

Whatever Vasquez had been expecting when Chisolm informed him that his associate would be returning soon enough with two other men, he hadn’t expected anything like what he had gotten. Instead of three men returning, it had been four, so clearly this Joshua had managed to find one more man for this bit of insanity than Chisolm had anticipated. That had been a good thing, part of him had thought; it meant a better chance of him surviving this and maybe even slipping away quickly and quietly when everything was done. After all, just because Chisolm had promised not to hunt his bounty any longer did not mean that Chisolm intended to keep that promise. Some lawmen thought that promises made to outlaws did not count the same, after all.

All the same, he had to be cautious, keeping his horse between himself and the newcomers, right hand hovering just over his gun. He shot just as well with either hand and generally favored left-handed, but there would be no easy shooting left handed around a horse, not when this one was so new to him that he hadn’t quite established how it reacted to a flurry of bullets, if matters came to that. He imagined Chisolm’s horse to be well used to gunfire, but then there was also the woman's ride to consider.

A quick look at the four men immediately showed four people who could not be more opposite if they tried. It was hard to deny that the Oriental drew the eye first, sitting on that horse with approximately all the knives in the West attached to his waist, dressed up in a fancy suit of pin-striped clothes. The older man riding immediately next to him was just as finely dressed, if not more so, with the grey frock coat and suit. The other two weren’t nearly so finely dressed, and he was willing to bet the youngest one was wearing the only coat he owned. That one was little more than a baby, and he had to wonder all over again about a town that sent a woman and a boy out on their own to acquire hired guns.

With those three, he couldn’t be blamed for not paying too much attention to the fourth man. He tended to slide towards the background of notice, but now that he was looking, it was hard to stop. The man was definitely trying to keep too many people from paying too much attention to him: brown trousers, brown vest, brown gambler’s style hat, white shirt that was nearly dusty and sweaty enough to be brown as well. His face was scruffy enough to have not seen a razor in weeks, and he had a pinched look around the eyes. It was hard to make a guess as to his age: certainly younger than the fancy pair but older than the boy in the long trail coat, maybe younger than Vasquez himself but also maybe the same age. It would be a hard thing to pin down without directly inquiring.

What was actually the thing that stood out the most about him was that he was wearing at least three guns and a knife. There was also a rifle stuck in a holster on his saddle. What in the world did one man need with that many guns… and the knife at his side as well? There was well armed, and then there was this man. How well he could use any of them when he was actively draining a travel bottle of some kind of liquor was another question altogether.

And the older white man was riding a bit ahead of the rest of the group, loudly greeting Chisolm by name, all huge smiles and a glinting gold tooth as he dismounted his horse. That wasn’t of any concern. He had met people like that before: more flash than substance. It was Chisolm’s response to the greeting that had him on edge and rethinking that quick assessment: “Goodnight Robicheaux!”

Because Vasquez wasn’t an idiot. He had heard of the Robicheaux brothers, bounty hunters the pair of them, though the elder did seem to have quit the game several years ago. If Chisolm had dragged him out of retirement for this, then that meant something. What that might be, he did not know.

Then because Goodnight Robicheaux was moving over too near him in order to talk to Mrs. Emma, followed soon enough by the boy, he circled his horse to try to hear a little more of what the other man was saying to Chisolm, as the Oriental took the tack off the two older men’s horses and settled down by the fire. The remaining man had all but fallen from his horse and was now actively leaning against it to stay upright. It said some good things about the man that the horse was shifting every so often to help with this endeavor. This was a man, then, that this horse had picked just as much as he had no doubt chosen the horse. That spoke well of him.

They seemed to be arguing about Goodnight Robicheaux and the Oriental that had come with him, about how Chisolm hadn’t been expecting the second one to come with. The other man didn’t seem entirely too pleased with anyone’s presence but especially not the Oriental’s, and Vasquez wasn’t too sure what to read into that. Sullen hangover? Something happened on the way here? Didn’t like Orientals? Something older and uglier? There was no way to tell, another mystery.

And then the man was asking how Chisolm did and got a gesture towards Vasquez in return. The unnamed man turned towards him, clearly studying him closely and carefully, muttering something under his breath that Vasquez couldn’t quite make out, before his eyes went wide. “You brought the bounty along with?” Great, just great, someone else who recognized his face from that terrible likeness. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Chisolm, what the hell were you thinking?”

“That we might need something a little… outside the law on this, taking down a man like Bogue.” Made sense. He certainly hadn’t thought Chisolm brought him along for conversation.

“What the hell did you promise him? That he’d have two bounty hunters off his back for helping?”

Well, shit. Two bounty hunters could mean Chisolm and Goodnight Robicheaux or, more likely, Chisolm and the man who was staring at Chisolm in nothing less than undisguised shock, like he was wondering what had broken in the man’s brain. Frankly, Vasquez was wondering the same thing. A man with a price on his head and two bounty hunters… This would not end well.

“No, not at all, Mister Robicheaux… Joshua, if I may…”

Mother of God…

That settled it: he was going to die in this. Because while those stories about the Robicheaux brothers did frequently talk about how Goodnight had quit doing that job, they had lot more to say about the younger brother, Joshua Robicheaux, who had stayed on it and with a vengeance too: about what a mean bastard he was; about how few of his bounties were ever turned in alive; how he preferred to go after dangerous, high-paying bounties… or supposedly sometimes bounties that had teamed up together; about what kind of pain he liked to inflict on people who hurt women or children; about how the quickest way to end up dead around him was to have your hand on your gun…

Shit…

Well, if he put his hands behind his back, the two bounty hunters in front of him might think he was reaching for another piece. He wasn’t exactly going to stick his hands in the air in surrender and he wasn’t going to drop his gun belt, but he could cross his arms over his chest so that they would be nowhere near his weapons. Because he was going to do everything in his power to not get shot.

Chisolm was still speaking, though, as if he hadn’t noticed the effect his words had had, though admittedly Vasquez doubted that to be the case. “I only promised I would forget all about his bounty, seeing as I’m the one that managed to find him in the first place. I certainly would never want to speak out of turn on your behalf, after all.”

Fantastic. That sounded like he was suddenly right in the middle of some kind of feud between these two particular bounty hunters, like they were trying to one-up each other at his expense. This would not end well, at least not for him.

Or maybe that wasn’t true. There were a lot of complicated things going on here, not in the least of which being the multitude of expressions hidden on the other man’s face but flying through his eyes almost too fast to place as he stared at Chisolm’s back, as the other man walked over to the other newest additions to their group. If one wasn’t watching the man’s eyes, you would miss everything happening he was thinking because his face showed nothing. It might as well have been made of stone for all it revealed.

At least until he clearly made his decision about the matter. “I’ll call that bet, Chisolm,” he called over, grinning like a coyote when Chisolm whipped back around to face them, face clearly lit with unhidden confusion and shock. But when he spoke again, the words were quieter, clearly meant to be kept between the two of them. “We survive this shit, and I won’t go after that bounty either, my hand to God.” He balanced his liquor bottle under his arm and stuck out a hand in what was clearly meant to be a friendly gesture. “Joshua Faraday. Pleased to meet you.”

It was little more than a reflex to answer the gesture, letting Faraday—if that was his name now, who was Vasquez to judge on something like that—shake his hand a couple of times hard. Maybe the new name was meant to be reassuring or to tweak at Chisolm or something else entirely. Either way, it was a kindness that didn’t have to be given but had been nonetheless.

But then, he had heard of Joshua Faraday before as well. Until now, he had always assumed the two reputations to belong to two separate men who happened to share a first name, but clearly he had been mistaken. Still, Joshua Faraday… a gambler with the Devil’s own luck, both good and bad; a man who hardly ever cheated at cards but almost always managed to walk away at the end of every day with more money in his pockets than he had had upon arrival; a drunkard who could imbibe half a saloon’s quantity of liquor in a night and still manage to ride out at the end of it all; a man who always seemed to be running from something.

Now he had to wonder if what Joshua Faraday was running from was in fact Joshua Robicheaux. A blind idiot could tell there was bad blood there, what with how Goodnight Robicheaux was hardly paying any mind to him, instead focussing on the beans being passed around as a quick trail lunch. Joshua—best to go with that, to avoid any potential confusion—seemed to be skipping on the meal, though whether it was because of the company or something else was something yet to be seen.

No, he had his own suspicions about that too, he noted, watching Joshua make some long, frequent pulls from that bottle and watched the older two men he had arrived with out of the corner of his eye; apparently, Joshua preferred a liquid lunch to actual food. That would be something to keep an eye on during all of this, as if they didn’t have enough to worry about as it was.

It was worth noting that for how much the man drank and didn’t eat—a bad combination, no matter how you looked at it—it seemed to have little effect on his reflexes. Leaning against the large tree they had set up the temporary camp in the shade off, Joshua’s eyes darted over to watch each person as they moved even slightly… at least until they locked tight, if in a side-eyeing sort of way, on Goodnight Robicheaux as he stood and made some excuses about a call of nature. It might have even been true, but it looked like Joshua didn’t believe it, not given how he watched Goodnight like a hawk as he stepped mostly out of sight.

There was a lot more going on here than what he had originally been told. It was going to be in his best interest to try to figure it all out, before it all blew up in his face.

In the meanwhile, every story about every version of Joshua said that his word was a bond: if he gave it, he would stick by it until the end or until someone double-crossed him. He had Joshua’s word that he wasn’t about to turn on him for the five-hundred dollar bounty on his head, and he felt pretty confident that it was going to be binding. It wasn’t like he was going to double-cross Joshua; it wasn’t the kind of man he was.

He could probably trust in that bond a lot more than he could trust an angry widow, a boy, a man carrying more knives than seemed strictly healthy, a so-called retired bounty hunter, and yet another bounty hunter, the one gathering this little motley crew. It would be best, at least for now, he thought, to stay close to the person who seemed least likely to put a bullet to him.

This was not going to end well.

 


 

Goodnight tried to keep his focus on eating whatever the hell it was that was being passed around for lunch, probably beans or porridge or something, he couldn’t really taste it to be honest. His mind was still wrapping itself around his brother’s words to the outlaw Gabriel Vasquez only a few moments before:

Joshua Faraday.

It had been many long years since his little brother had used his mama’s name, having adopted the Robicheaux name when Maman adopted him in all the important ways. There had been one or two times, during their years as a bounty hunting team, that they’d both used assumed names to try and get closer to some of their more dangerous bounties, but never had he known Joshua to use the name he’d arrived in St. Martinville with.

And now?

Now it had just tripped lightly off of his tongue as if he introduced himself to everyone that way.

And maybe he did. The rumors about Joshua Robicheaux said he was a mean bastard, turning in a great deal more men dead than alive, going after only the most dangerous and high-paying targets, but still he’d had a small measure of hope.

Rumor also said Joshua Robicheaux was especially vicious with men who’d harmed women or children.

Goodnight had taken that to mean that maybe, just maybe, his brother hadn’t grown up to be the son of a whore who’d sired them both after all.

Still, it hurt like hell, hearing his baby brother, his T-Jo, all but denouncing his family name. It may have been just to put Vasquez at ease, but Goodnight doubted that.

Looked like he was right about reconciliation; Joshua didn’t want it, and no matter how much Goodnight might wish for it, then he would just learn to live without it.

He shook himself out of his troubled thoughts and pushed himself to his feet. “If y’all would excuse me,” he said, smooth Louisiana charm coming through as all but Billy and Joshua glanced his way, “we are shortly to be setting off on a very long journey, and nature calls.”

It was only a half-truth, yes, but a good enough reason to slip away for some privacy. Even Billy’s silent companionship was stifling at the moment, and he really just wanted to take a few minutes to write in his journal.

Goodnight slipped towards the other end of the copse they were still settled in at, and when he rounded the last tree, he sat abruptly. He leaned back against the trunk and squeezed his eyes shut, refusing to let them water any. It would only be a weakness he didn’t need at the moment, letting the man he’d called brother for most of his life see him mourn for any of what they no longer had, but it was difficult.

Finally positive that the moment had passed, Goodnight opened his eyes and slipped his journal out of his breast pocket. The fountain pen he generally used for writing was tucked safely inside, marking his previous place, and he opened the journal to a new page. Taking a quick glance back to the campfire — no one had followed him, although Billy was looking his way and Joshua was as well but with that dark expression on his face still — he removed the pen’s cap and began to write.

Mon cher frère T-Jo…

Chapter Text

Writing in his journal, even as brief a lament as it had been, was apparently just what he’d needed in order to start functioning a bit better.

From his spot in the group just behind Chisolm, with Billy a half-step behind and Joshua five steps ahead, Goodnight huffed an amused breath. “What a band we are,” he mused aloud, still feeling a little mean but not viciously so. “Me a grey, Chisolm a blue. Billy a mysterious man of the Orient.” Here Billy shot him a look that he chose to ignore, even as he pondered something a bit more… polite to say next. “A half-Irish Creole, a Texican. A female and her gentleman caller. Oh, this is not going to end well.”

Ahead of him, he noticed Joshua turn about in the saddle as if to read his expression, but Goodnight had his face schooled into the same affable southern gentleman facade he’d been wearing since they rode out that morning. He wasn’t going to change it unless the situation called for it, and right now it was suiting him just fine.

“I’m Mexican, cabrón,” Vasquez insisted, pausing to spit on the ground as their horses trotted along. “No such thing as a Texican.”

“Well, go tell that to my granddaddy,” Goodnight retorted. “He died at the Alamo.” Up ahead, he could see Joshua’s shoulders slump a little, as he’d been born long after Grand-père Robicheaux had died in battle; even Goodnight was born afterward, and he’d wondered a time or two if maybe the man would have tempered Monsieur Robicheaux any had he lived.

“New Orleans Greys,” he continued, recalling the words from his bastard father, “long barons, bayonets, blood and teeth, mauled to death by a hoard of teeming brown devils.”

“My grandfather was one of those devils,” Vasquez replied. “Toluca battalion. Hey, maybe my grandfather killed your grandfather, huh?”

Goodnight looked over, and from the corner of his eye, he caught sight of Joshua’s shoulders shaking with repressed laughter. Glad to have offered some amusement, T-Jo, he thought dryly even as he said, “What a charming thought.” To Billy, he added, “I sense we are bonding.”

“Goody,” his lover hissed quietly in warning, and the man just smiled back blithely. He could pretend to be cheerful all he wanted, but the Korean could see right through him and he damn well knew it. When they finally stopped for the night, he was going to be in for a tongue-lashing, but he didn’t rightly care.

It was about another hour to their destination, another supply station heading up into the mountains, where Chisolm finally revealed that they were looking to get Jack Horne to join their team.

Goodnight actually stared at his old acquaintance askance and could all but sense Billy’s displeasure at his back. Is Chisolm trying to find every sad sack of a bastard he can for this mission? he thought uncharitably, including himself in that number because he was nothing but honest about how broken he was.

He didn’t help much with the asking around, especially as it was proving to be useless, although when they asked the two brothers hanging around by the boarding house they were told that the younger was in possession of Horne’s rifle.

“We are talking about Jack Horne?” Goodnight asked incredulously from where he was leaning on the porch rail. “I mean, the Jack Horne, the legend Jack Horne?”

The brother not holding the rifle snorted. “Legend, my ass. He may have killed three hundred Crow, but he ain’t never met the Pigeon Brothers before.”

“And you say that’s Jack Horne’s rifle,” Joshua clarified from where he was sitting on the stairs. Goodnight had honestly been surprised when his brother had all but flung himself down in the spot, but he had quickly decided that the younger didn’t trust him any more and was doing his best to keep a covert eye on him. It would be touching if it wasn't equally insulting.

The younger brother flipped the rifle over to show the initials JH carved into the stock. “It was Jack Horne’s rifle,” he said proudly. “There’s an army base, offering a thousand dollars for proof of death,” here his words jumped a bit, as his older brother shoved him for talking too much. “We figure the rifle ought’a do.”

“You don't have the body?” Chisolm asked, picking up on what was unsaid. Goodnight could hear Billy huff in annoyance behind him and mentally agreed that this line of questioning wasn’t going to lead anywhere, not really.

“Well, no,” the elder Pigeon Brother replied. “Len here bashed him over the head from behind with a rock. Knocked him off a cliff, too.”

Chisolm didn’t look impressed. “So you snuck up behind him,” he stated.

“Yes!” the elder brother replied. “What exactly are you imply—”

He was cut off by the hatchet that appeared seemingly out of nowhere to make its home in his chest, and he fell to the ground dead.

Goodnight caught the others turning from the corner of his eye as he shifted to see where the damned thing had come from, and blinked at the gigantic bear of a man storming his way down the trail. There was a little blood on his left temple, and the beginnings of an impressive bruise to go with it.

“Here he comes,” he mused just under his breath, and as Jack Horne stalked over to Len Pigeon, added, “and there he goes.” Billy snorted softly in amusement, likely the only one to have heard Goodnight’s commentary.

He watched idly as the younger Pigeon Brother scrambled backward, accidentally shooting the rifle in the air as he fell over in his attempt to escape. Ol’ Jack Horne snatched his weapon back from the sad son of a bitch and bashed him in the face with the stock before lifting one large foot on Len Pigeon’s skull.

Everyone was silent for a moment, seeming to be shocked by what they’d just witnessed. Goodnight felt his lips twitching into an amused smirk, and schooled his voice before he said the thought that was going through his mind: “Pigeon Brothers weren’t famous for very long.”

On the stairs in front of him, Joshua made a sound like a laugh had been punched out of him. Goodnight blinked but smiled slightly as Vasquez chuckled beside him. Apparently he could still be funny when he wasn’t trying.

 


 

Watching the back of Jack Horne disappearing up the mountain, all Joshua could think to say was, “I believe that bear was wearing people’s clothes.” A couple of steps away from him, Vasquez chuckled loudly. The last day riding together had proven that the outlaw had one hell of a sense of humor, one that meshed well with his own. Joshua had even managed to set it off a few times now already.

What was interesting to him, though, was that Goodnight had just made a sound very much like the one he had made himself only a couple of minutes ago: like the laugh he let out had snuck up on him and surprised him on the way out, like it might have even hurt a little coming out, hard and unused in its realness. For him, it had been in response to Goodnight’s commentary as to the short-lived fame of the Pigeon brothers, because yeah, it had been funny.

But Goodnight laughing thanks to him… Well, that left him more than a bit torn: a vicious part of him was happy that it sounded like Goody wasn’t, a different vicious part of him want to beat Rocks for his brother not being a happy man, a third altogether wanted to rail at his brother for the audacity of laughing at what hadn’t really been that funny an observation…

And a part of him he hadn’t thought about in years, a part of him he had thought long buried in the years of the war and since, was just tickled pink to have made Goodnight laugh. It had always been a special pleasure of his as a child, and apparently even eight years apart hadn’t been enough to dim it. It made him feel like a kid all over again, and he damn sure didn’t like that idea, not with all the associated memories it threatened to bring up.

Or maybe it was all in his head thanks to that comment Goodnight had made on the trail up here. He had assessed the group this far in a deadpan drawl. Granted, it was more a summary than anything too in depth, but still… He had called Chisolm a blue, himself a grey, Rocks a mysterious man of the Orient—and he had had to drink long and hard from his little travel bottle to keep from snorting, rolling his eyes, or scoffing—before reaching his assessment of Joshua.

He had thought that he’d been all prepared for whatever Goodnight might say. He had even half been expecting something very much like what had been said during that fight that drove them apart: a drunk green Paddy. And while he couldn’t truthfully deny the drunk part, especially not right now, the other two had stung when they had been said eight years ago. They still stung in his nightmares these days.

Instead, Goodnight’s assessment of him had been as ‘a half-Irish Creole’, before swiftly moving on to call Vasquez a ‘Texican’, while Miss Emma and little Teddy Q were ‘a female and her gentleman caller’. But he hadn’t heard most of that. He had barely even heard Vasquez arguing about there not being such a thing as a ‘Texican’… or the discussion of the Alamo.

After all, he had instead been turned around in his saddle, far enough around that if he had been riding any horse other than ol’ Wild Jack, he probably would have fallen off, given the sheer amount of alcohol in his body by then; Vasquez had had something to say on that, forcing one of Miss Emma’s trail biscuits off on him and stealing the whiskey until he had eaten at least that much, but that had been in the earliest hours of the day, several long hours before Goodnight decided to share that particular bit of insight.

He had missed all of the resulting conversation about Texicans and the Alamo and anything else, because he had been turned around staring at his brother like he had never seen him before in his life. It’s not like he don’t know I don’t have a drop of Creole in me, he had thought to himself in sheer, utter confusion, sitting back down hard enough in his saddle that Jack huffed hard at him in displeasure; if they weren’t moving, he probably would have gotten a good hard nip wherever Jack could reach him for that maneuver. What I have in me is every drop of bad Cajun that fucking Monsieur Robicheaux had to spare. I don’t think Maman Arthémie was able to give me a single damn drop of Creole over the few years I—we—had her. Why the hell would Goody—Goodnight, damn it—call me half Creole then? It don’t make sense. What the hell is Goodnight running at?

While he was stewing on that, he in turn missed a lot of what Chisolm had to say on the matter of losing Jack Horne, catching up only as the others started stepping down off the porch. Rocks always already on the grass as well, rounding up his and Goodnight’s horses, and Vasquez had just stepped by him to do quickly check over that grey of his. Chisolm had already remounted that big black chestnut of his and had walked it a few steps beyond everyone else, clearly using the extra height to watch where Horne was heading.

“Damn, Chisolm couldn’t have picked a more sorry bunch of sacks of shit if he tried,” he muttered aloud, eyeballing the assembled group and trying to judge their survival chances based on what he was seeing so far. It wasn’t looking too good.

“He has exceeded beyond his wildest expectations,” a familiar voice drawled behind him. He found himself smirking in response. The reaction was completely involuntary.

When his mind caught up with the rest of him, dragging him to a split second halt halfway onto Jack, he could have cursed aloud if he had been able to summon up the energy or anger. Apparently, he thought to himself as he finished settling himself in the saddle, being this close to his brother meant that he was going to keep slipping into thinking they were friends again. Given how stiff Goodnight looked climbing back on that horse of his, it didn’t look like friendship was in the cards.

Fine. Fine, he could live with that. There was no denying the blood between them—neither how they were related nor the sheer amount of bad blood that had built up over the years—but he only had the one brother. He would just have to do his best to get them both out of this mess alive… and Rocks too, he supposed, since the other man was gaining some begrudged respect from him and since he was apparently the most important thing in Goodnight Robicheaux’s life.

And then he was going to light out back to Missouri and stay there. Hell, he might even offer Vasquez the chance to come along with him. He liked the other man’s company and sardonic wit that meshed so well with his own… and those trousers that had to be designed to tempt a man to sin. And what the hell? He had bought off one bounty already. He might not be able to do that for one the size of Vasquez’s any time soon, especially not where killing a Ranger was concerned, but he could probably figure out another way out of that particular mess.

 


 

Joshua was going to have to find a way to deal with spending so much ‘quality’ time around his brother, especially when his brother obviously wanted nothing to do with him. No, instead, it seemed like all Goodnight wanted to do was stick close to Rocks and Chisolm, even now that they were bedding down for the night.

Traveling today had been… interesting. Leaving Junction City for the weigh station, then leaving it and Horne behind, it had then been a trip through a graveyard, one of the Comanche persuasion, and he couldn’t say he liked it over much. He didn’t mind graveyards all that much as a rule; generally speaking, you would be hard pressed to find a quieter place than one, especially if you needed to lay low. There was something about these Indian ones though: maybe the fact that the bodies were above ground, exposed to the elements, right there ready to be picked clean. He had had nightmares of ending up that way himself, forgotten and unmourned and left for the birds to devour.

He still was probably going to end up that way. Who the hell was going to miss someone like him? He didn’t have any friends. Hell, the closest he had to a friend right now was Gabriel Vasquez, followed by Miss Jane back in Missouri, neither of which were likely to miss him all that much once he was gone. He had a brother, but there was too much bad blood between them now. He knew that they were never going to be close again, and sometimes he wondered if he had dreamed up the closeness they had once shared. Hell, maybe he had gone mad, gotten too overheated during one too many rides through the desert, and dreamt up even being related to Goodnight Robicheaux.

Little Teddy Q’s whiskey of choice was of a considerably better quality than Joshua’s usual, and it might have been hitting him a bit harder than usual. Of course, thinking back, he wasn’t sure how much he had actually eaten since they had left Junction City… or before that. Vasquez had made him eat at least once during the day. If he had had more than that, he couldn’t recall.

And that was going to be his excuse for this kind of maudlin behavior. He had to have replaced at least half the fluids in his body with alcohol of varying qualities and quantities by this point, and it was affecting him a bit. Just a tad.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise that he was one of two still awake. Miss Emma and little Teddy Q had bedded down next to each other like a pair of puppies, sound asleep and seemingly without a care in the world, and Goodnight was a few steps away from them. Chisolm wasn’t too far off from Goodnight, and damn, if those two hadn’t been thick as thieves earlier. He hadn’t realized Goodnight was so close to the other man. Vasquez had tucked himself into a crevice and long since fallen asleep, and personally speaking, Joshua was envying him a bit. It had to be nice to be able to trust people enough to sleep well with them around without resorting to a bottle first.

Rocks? Rocks was still awake, though, and watching him like a damn hawk. Maybe he could even see why. Where he had stopped, he was standing right next to his brother. Given the events of the last couple of days, it might happen that Rocks thought there was cause for concern. Situations were reversed, he wasn't too sure he wouldn't be having concerns himself.

Well, that was just stupid so far as he cared. If he hadn't shot Goodnight for calling him a drunk green Paddy and if he hadn't shot Goodnight for punching him, he wasn't going to shoot Goodnight while he was sleeping. Especially not while they had been having a fairly good day.

And the ten year old in the back of his mind still thought that shit was funny. At least the twenty-nine year old he was now was able to keep from laughing aloud at it these days.

He had dropped his saddle down at the bottom of the horseshoe section of canyon that made up their campsite, and that was where he continued on to. There was enough of Teddy Q’s fine whiskey in his system to put him right to sleep only seconds after his head hit the saddle, using it as a pillow and covering his eyes with his hat.

And he was just going to hope that he was so drunk that he didn't dream tonight.

 


 

Billy decided to set up watch when the group stopped for the night, despite his misgivings at leaving Goody to settle in near the fire alone. He’d noted Joshua taking the other high post, but apparently that was only so he could better torment young Teddy Q.

Yes, the boy needed to learn — and very quickly — that it was just as bad to be hyper-focused as it was to be caught unawares, but he felt Goody’s brother could have been a little less confrontational with it. Still, it wasn’t his place to comment; his concern was how Goody was handling everything, and the answer to that was not very well.

The few times he apparently forgot that he was pissed off at his brother — which seemed to coincide with Joshua forgetting as well — his Goody was much happier than he’d been in a very long time. When he remembered, however… That was when he went quiet, distant, and threw up that goddamn Goodnight Robicheaux, Southern Gentleman mask that Billy so despised.

In all honesty? He’d much rather Goody drink himself into a drunken slumber than pull that damned poker face of his.

The sound of coyotes in the distance drew his attention momentarily, and when he glanced back into the center of camp, he saw that Goody had joined Chisolm. Their voices didn’t carry much, but he could hear his lover asking their erstwhile leader about young Missus Cullen. It almost seemed as if Goody was displeased at the widow’s age, but he didn’t appear to be talking about her at all. He did note that Chisolm’s expression closed off, and Billy reiterated his distrust of the man to himself.

As the hour grew later and the fire died down, the rest of their party began to settle down to sleep. Billy noticed Joshua slink down from his watch spot and move to the opposite of the fire from Goody, pausing briefly before continuing towards where he’d dropped his saddle.

The Korean frowned to himself. For a moment, it had almost seemed like the younger Robicheaux brother actually contemplated bedding down close to the elder before changing his mind.

He wondered to himself if the letter in his saddlebag, the one that had been awaiting them at the post the morning that they had left Volcano Springs, might have been a second missive from Joshua Robicheaux — and no, he didn’t give a shit what the younger was calling himself; Goody had always called him brother so as far as he cared then that’s what Billy’d think of him as — and decided that, once they were in Rose Creek, he would give it to Goody.

Billy took another long look around the area surrounding them, spotting nothing approaching in the desert, and settled back against a boulder to sleep.

He wasn’t sure how long he’d actually slept, but Billy came abruptly awake at the sound of a gun cocking. He sat upright in time to catch sight of Chisolm rising, gun in hand, and heard Goody ask if anyone else smelled what he did. Billy caught a whiff of blood right about the time Joshua answered Teddy’s question, and he glanced around to spot Jack Horne appear from the way they’d come.

“He’s been tracking us,” Goody mused even as Horne indicated the problem approaching with no words, only hand signals. Billy pulled his favorite blade and tucked it against his right side as he rose to his feet, eyes turning to the left as a young-looking Comanche warrior rode out of the morning mist.

He wasn’t the only one on immediate guard; Vasquez had one of his weapons drawn as he kept tucked behind the rock wall, Goody had his rifle trained on the man (and Billy knew damned well that he kept at least one round chambered at all times despite his misgivings about using it in close range), Emma Cullen was likewise aiming her rifle even as she crouched next to Teddy, and Joshua’s Colt was locked on the Indian.

“Tell me I am hallucinating,” his lover said sotto voice, likely not realizing he’d spoken aloud.

“You’re hallucinating,” Joshua replied instantly. “And so am I.”

Billy heard Goody say something about there likely being more, and it was a good assessment. However, he was more focused on the threat he could see and dearly hoped that his lover would take on the task of any others that might be approaching from the cliffs above.

Then goddamn Chisolm was speaking Comanche, with the Indian responding in like manner. Then Chisolm was speaking English again with the Comanche still replying in his native tongue. Obviously the newcomer at least understood English, but Billy wasn’t about to let down his guard again. This man had already approached with them being none the wiser; until proved otherwise, he would see this situation as potentially deadly and kill to protect those most important to him.

And right now, that number was limited to Goody and Joshua: Goody because of obvious reasons and Joshua because Goody still loved the little shit.

For a tense several minutes, he watched and listened as Chisolm and the newcomer talked. Then the other was giving what seemed to be his name in what might have been English — Red Harvest — and offering Chisolm some of the deer he’d been carrying’s liver. Even when Chisolm returned to the fire and said that this Red Harvest was with them, Billy kept his blade out and ready.

He didn’t trust Chisolm at all. He wasn’t entirely willing to believe his word on the Indian until the man himself proved himself as no threat.

Chapter Text

If there was a part of this plan of Chisolm’s that he didn’t like, it was the whole damn thing, Joshua had decided to himself.

It wasn’t that he didn’t trust that Rocks and Chisolm would be able to successfully draw all the town’s attention to themselves, leaving it easy enough for the rest of them to slip into position. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust the pair of them to stay alive long enough to assist the rest of them in clearing out the town of Blackstone agents.

No, it was the needless splitting of their numbers. Seven was a small enough number as it was, and little Teddy Q and Miss Emma had confirmed that there were at least twenty-something Blackstone agents in town, barring any others having been sent in or some having left while the pair had been gone retrieving them. Yes, they had the element of surprise on their side, but this seemed like pointlessly risking losing part of their group way too early in the game. This wasn’t even a battle Bogue himself would be at. No, this was just housekeeping that Chisolm was making more dangerous than it should be.

But he was going to follow the plan for now. If it came down to deviating from it later, he wouldn’t hesitate to do just that, though he might let at least Vasquez in on it. He had come to some conclusions early this morning as to V’s feelings regarding the warrant officer: the short version was that he didn’t trust him as far as he could throw him. He didn’t think that Vas would be too unwilling to go off script for the right reason. Survival? That was definitely the right reason, he figured.

He had taken up position on the long porch surrounding the saloon, and Vasquez was across the street, walking up the alley between the hardware store and the mining office. Between the two of them, they would be able to keep anyone from getting too far down the street. The positions also gave them room enough to duck and weave in and out of buildings and alleyways, while still keeping them in the thick of things.

He knew Horne was stationed in an alleyway not far from where Chisolm and Rocks would be stopping, ready to do some damage on some seriously wicked men. And he knew the Comanche that Chisolm picked up this morning was on the roof of the sheriff’s office, ready to take down the Blackstones’ sharpshooter and maybe participate in a bit of that himself. That part wasn’t such a bad idea. Certainly no one would be expecting it. He certainly hadn’t been.

Tell me I’m hallucinating, whispered though his head again, still in his brother’s voice, coming back to him from early this morning.

You’re hallucinating, came once more in his own voice. And so am I.

And speaking of his brother… That was another part of the plan that he did not like: the fact that Goodnight was more or less holding the end of the street nearest the livery stable. Even the most rookie commander in the War had known that that wasn’t how you used your acknowledged sharpshooter. You didn’t put him down in the thick of things. It just wasn’t the way things were supposed to be done. And of the two rifles he had seen on Goodnight carrying in his saddle holsters, the one he had had on him when they left on foot the rest of the way into town had been the Mississippi Rifle… the damn muzzle loader. If Goodnight had to take a shot, it was going to take way too long for him to reload: probably around three minutes, if he hadn’t gotten a lot faster since the last days of the war.

And then that was also saying nothing of the fact that he couldn’t remember seeing his brother fire any gun since he had last been ordered to. Yeah, he had that pretty Colt Peacemaker on his hip, the twin to his own Ethel, but he had never seen the revolver come out of its holster except for cleaning. He didn’t even remember ever seeing Goodnight test fire it a single time. If Ethel wasn’t such a damn good gun, he would wonder if her twin was defective.

He was in position, and his energy was up because, damn, this was going to be fucking fun. Even if he gave credit where he wasn’t sure it was due, the odds were better than three to one. He had taken on odds like that and come out on top, but the thrill was always there. This could be the time when they got the better of him, or it could be the time he obliterated everyone who stood against him. This could be the time when he came out on top, or it could be the time he was gunned down where he stood.

It was chancing his hand, which always got his blood going, whether it was cards or violence.

 


 

It was almost too easy to slip into Rose Creek unseen.

He’d honestly be more comfortable had he gone in with Billy, but Chisolm’s half-assed plan seemed to be to alienate the people they were hoping to aid as well as rile up the Blackstones, and as such he’d decided that it would be the two most offensive-looking people would enter by the main road into town — although why he had Billy on foot was beyond Goodnight’s reasoning.

Instead of going in next to his cher, Goodnight headed in by the back road, accompanied by his little brother and the Mexican, both of whom were in a right mood, clearly spoiling for a fight, as well as crazy ol’ Jack Horne. The man was eating jerky as they walked, for God’s sake. That was hardly the definition of stealth, but there you had it.

Rather than stick close for longer than needed, Goodnight had slipped away to take his position nearest the livery. He listened to Chisolm bullshit the Blackstones and snorted to himself, checking his Mississippi to ensure that he still had a round chambered. He wasn’t overly concerned with taking more than one shot; Joshua had always been a deft hand with his Peacemaker, even though Ethel (as he’d named it long ago) seemed to be retired from what he’d seen thus far, and he trusted the men he knew, as well as his new acquaintances, to keep anyone from even coming close to where the sniper would be keeping watch.

“I can’t say the same for my compadres behind you,” Chisolm was saying, and Goodnight took that as his cue to walk out from the alleyway, rifle resting on his shoulder as he stared down the Blackstone men. Not far off, he could spot Joshua leaning against the door of the hotel and Vasquez directly across the street on the saloon’s porch. Horne was coming out of another alley, and Goodnight was pleased to see Billy tensed and ready even as Chisolm pretended at calm. There was no sign of Red Harvest, and hopefully that meant the Comanche was already in position atop the bank.

And his assessment proved to be true, when one of the Blackstones whistled a signal and Chisolm responded with a call in Comanche. Red Harvest tossed the body of the sniper from the roof and let fly another arrow into a heavyset man standing behind the apparent leader of the group of cowards. One moment was silent glaring between the head Blackstone and Chisolm, the next bullets were flying.

Goodnight stepped back from the alley, shifting his rifle into ready position and moving to keep a steady eye on all the men in play. His brother and Vasquez were cutting through them easily, at one point standing back to back as they kept the bastards from getting anywhere near his own position, and Billy was making short work of them with only his knives. He could hear Horne preaching the gospel to each man he tackled — no, really, Goodnight was positive that the bear of a man had just tackled one man off of a horse — and their Comanche friend was letting arrow after arrow loose. Chisolm was systematically taking down the ones who were trying to get towards the main way into or out of town, and the Cajun remained at his post, wary of any stragglers.

Finally, the shooting stopped, and he took a moment to assess the casualties. At least twenty men lay dead, but not a single member of their band. He was certain that a bullet or two had zipped by him, but the Blackstone men had had shit aim. Goodnight could have had more fun waiting in a cornfield at two in the morning during the winter in the pursuit of taking out a Yankee supply line. And he had, at that.

The sound of a horse drew his attention, and Goodnight stepped backward just in time for the lead Blackstone man to go tearing past hellbent for leather. The Cajun turned and took aim with his Mississippi, the same rifle that had served him well during his stint as a sharpshooter in the army. Two hundred yards out. Two-fifty. Three hundred.

“Go on. Take the shot,” came Joshua’s harsh voice behind him, and Goodnight ignored the words.

Four hundred yards.

“Take that shot.”

Four-fifty.

“Take the goddamn shot.”

Five hundred yards, and although he knew damned well he could lead it on for longer, Goodnight gently squeezed the trigger.

The Blackstone jerked forward in his saddle but remained upright. Even from this distance, he knew that he at least got a through and through on the bastard’s shoulder. Rather than reload, Goodnight lowered the rifle and turned to face his brother with a pleasant, passive expression.

It was one his brother probably hated as much as his Hero and Legend poker face.

“You missed,” Joshua accused, eyes hard and angry.

“I sent Bogue a message,” Goodnight replied, tossing his Mississippi to Billy as the other man approached. It was tempting to slam his shoulder into his younger brother’s as he passed him, but he restrained himself and simply headed towards the hardware store to rest on the porch.

He paused for a moment when he noticed Chisolm crouch down, and he scowled darkly when he realized that the ‘good’ sheriff of Rose Creek — bought out by Bogue himself, and about as useful as tits on a bull — had survived the gunfight. Goodnight scoffed in annoyance as his old acquaintance gave the man his marching orders and sent off a second (and probably less effective) message to ol’ Bart Bogue.

Truthfully, his message was likely clearer: This town ain’t yours, come fight if you want it. Chisolm’s was spurred solely by his own desire for revenge, and he was starting to wonder if this was the day he’d been waiting for since the other man pulled a group of Billy Yanks off of him in Lawrence, Kansas, a little over ten years ago.

“You okay?” his Billy asked, startling him out of his thoughts; the other man had been checking over the rifle and was now moving to hand it back. The Korean paused, and at Goodnight’s questioning sound fixed his eyes firmly on the other’s wrist. Goodnight followed his gaze and blinked to see blood dripping from his sleeve onto his hand.

Huh. Looked like one of those Blackstone agents got off a lucky shot after all.

Rather than worry too much on it — hell, he still didn’t feel any pain, maybe it was someone else’s blood — the Cajun sat down hard in one of the few chairs on the porch of the hardware store and pulled out a handkerchief. As he heard Miss Emma and Teddy come riding into town and calling out to their fellow townsfolk, Goodnight set about cleaning himself up. The blood on his hand was made quick work of, and he unbuttoned his sleeve and pushed it up just enough to confirm that, huh, he seemed to have been hit in the forearm.

He would get Billy to fully attend to it later. For now, however, Goodnight folded the handkerchief carefully and pressed it to the wound. He rolled his sleeve down over the makeshift bandage, buttoning the cuff and shaking his jacket sleeve back into place as well. From the corner of his eye, he caught his cher scowling worriedly at him even as he lit two opium cigarettes at once, and Goodnight turned just enough to offer a reassuring half-smile.

Then he settled back to listen to Emma Cullen berate half her friends and neighbors for being too cowardly to ride off for aid as she had. The woman was a stone cold beast, and he was almost sad that she reminded him so much of Colette in her take-no-prisoners approach to all things that were worthy of her attentions. In all honesty, it made him miss his little sister more than he had in the years since he’d received Joshua’s letter telling him of her passing from the fever. If only she could see what had become of her brothers; chances were good she’d smack their heads together and yell at them both before trying to mother them half to death.

Goodnight sincerely hoped that the number of residents wasn’t going to shrink to zero come morning. He would honestly be more shocked if no one fled for safety; hell, during the war he’d given some thought to fleeing and only stayed because his commission kept him and his brother in food and clothing for months before they’d turned to bounty hunting. Even now, he was pondering if he had some sort of death wish that had led him to this foolhardy battle or if he’d really been trying to see if reconciliation was possible.

Once the street was clear, he pushed himself to his feet. “Well,” he said aloud, “I don’t know ‘bout anyone else, but I could use a drink.” Without waiting to see if anyone was planning to join him, he turned on his heel and walked his way right over to the saloon.

Even without a barkeep, it wouldn’t take long to find some good bourbon and drink away his worries for the moment.

Chapter Text

Teasing Vasquez over the numbers they had each killed was easy. In fact, over the past few days, it had been a bit of engrained habit… which was damn good because Joshua wasn’t exactly the most involved in the ongoing conversation right now. At least, he wasn’t up to date with the one going on around him. No, his mind was back at the end of the street.

In his mind, he was back to back with Vas as they picked off Blackstones as they appeared on the street. He was putting bullets in any of the bastards who came too close to his brother. He was thinking all over again that his brother didn’t need to be involved in any of this mess.

More than that, he still didn’t think that Goodnight should have been stationed on the street. If you had a sharpshooter, especially one might be doing said shooting with a muzzleloader rifle, said sharpshooter should be in a place to do exactly that. Said sharpshooter should not be part of the show of force, such as it was, when you numbered only seven.

In his mind, he was standing over his brother, all but ordering him to take the damned shot. He was feeling the anger rip through him, hard and visceral, when Goodnight made the shot at last… and deliberately only wounded the Blackstone bastard. He was staring back at that horrible blankly pleasant look Goodnight often wore when he was cooly dealing with strangers, people he thought weren’t worth his time. He had hated that expression when they had been running together, and he hated it even more now, seeing it turned on him.

He flipped the tin star abandoned by Bogue’s purchased sheriff over and over again in his hands. The movement was something he could do without putting any damn thought into it, especially given how similar it was to playing with his own deck of cards. It left him too free to think about the blood covering his brother’s hand and dripping into the hard-packed dirt of the street… and the cold look Goodnight had been wearing as they’d settled on the porch of the hardware store… and the way he had been wiping blood off his arm as Miss Emma sent the good townsfolk off to examine their souls.

As the street cleared, Goodnight pushed himself to his feet. “Well, I don’t know ‘bout anyone else,” he declared, “but I could use a drink.”

Without waiting for an answer of any sort, he stalked right behind the post Joshua was leaning on next to Chisolm. Goodnight even suited his words to action by heading immediately into the saloon, Rocks trailing every step he took. Because of course Rocks was. Of course.

God damn but did a drink sound really good right now, he thought direly, shoving that star into his vest pocket. Goodnight wasn’t going to be too happy about him following along behind him like a puppy, like he hadn’t done in years, but he didn’t really want to give much of a damn about that at the moment.

In the meanwhile, though…

He whistled, one long and crisp long note, and only a few seconds later, he could hear the familiar sound of pounding hoofbeats. It look less than a minute for Jack to come tearing into town… because that horse only went at anything less than a full gallop if Joshua was on his back to slow him down. What actually was surprising was that he’d brought along a friend: that flea-bitten grey he’d heard Vasquez call ‘Diablo’. Whether that was the horse’s name or a comment on his personality, Joshua didn’t know. Wasn’t sure he wanted to know either.

And as always, Jack slowed down to a stop with only inches to spare before he would have barreled Joshua over. “You little shit,” he declared affectionately, scratching the horse beneath his forelock and around his bridle. “You do realize you ain't actually a dog, right?” If Jack did realize it, the over-affectionate nuzzle that nearly knocked Joshua over did little to dispel the notion. “And I see you're making friends. Diablo, right?”

Si, güero.”

He didn't exactly jump out of his skin at the sudden sound of Vasquez’s voice… but it wasn't far from it either. Once he was fairly certain his voice might be something close to level, he shot back, “And has anyone ever told you anything about sneaking up on a heavily armed person, Vas?”

The Mexican shrugged nonchalantly. “Nothing I listen to.”

And yeah, he had to snicker a bit at that. “Yeah, that sounds about right.”

Vasquez leaned against the hitching posts closest to his own horse and crossed his arms over his chest. “I might be wrong, güero, but I think this might be the first time everyone else is drinking and you're not.”

And there was a point there, one he wasn't even going to try to deny. “Probably so,” he agreed, moving around to take the saddlebags off Jack’s back. They would probably be safe enough there, but he made a policy of not trusting townsfolk if he could help it… or too many other people for that matter. Strange, though, that he couldn't think of any reason not to do this in front of a known outlaw. “Reckon some of the folks in there drinking don't particularly want my company.”

“This matters?”

He couldn't help the laugh that was damn near startled out of him. “Not really, no. I've got things need dealing with before drinking though,” he answered with more cheer than he honestly usually felt these days. “Not to say I don't trust our new colleagues with my money, but…”

For a long, long moment, Vasquez didn’t say a word, just stood there with one eyebrow raised in a silent question. And really, the question itself was obvious. There was no actual need to ask why he was trusting Vasquez when he wasn’t trusting any of the others. And it was a question he had asked himself just a couple of moments ago.

“Oh, shut up,” he retorted with another laugh, and this one he ended up sharing. And that was fine.

 


 

Personally speaking, Joshua was thinking he had called it: no one looked particularly pleased when he and Vasquez came downstairs at the hotel and joined the others around a large round table for the most uncomfortable dinner Joshua could remember attending in years. Hell, he couldn't remember one half this awkward since before the War, before he left Louisiana in fact.

Of the ladies dishing out the food, he recognized Miss Emma. There was another girl, around the same age but apparently jumpier than their employer and a lot nervier, more apt to stare at the seven of them and run the minute she was caught at it; he thought he had heard Miss Emma calling her ‘Claire’ or ‘Clara’ or something of the like. Teddy was leaning against the bar, somewhere over near the kitchen, but at least his attention seemed to be limited to his own meal and not the seven men in front of him.

“Like being in one of them damn zoos,” Joshua grumbled.

He had claimed one of the bedrooms at the end of the leftmost hallway upstairs, and that was mostly thanks to the fact it was the one with a floorboard willing to come loose under his stomping, making for a good place to hide the money he'd had in his saddlebags. Vasquez had gotten a great deal of amusement out of that before taking the time to settle in the room next door. That left one room left in that section of the hotel, with one entire hallway of rooms on the right hand side remaining still to be picked from.

When they'd come downstairs, there had been two seats left at the table, between Rocks and Chisolm, and before he’d even had a chance to get annoyed, Vasquez had slid easily into the seat next to Rocks, leaving him exactly one place left if he wanted to join them… and oddly enough, he did. Maybe it was petty to want to be further from Goodnight and Rocks, but right now, he was hungry and he would take what he could get.

“Fame is a sarcophagus.”

Sometimes he wondered if Goodnight even thought about what he was saying before he actually said it. If that was the case, he’d honestly be surprised. All the same, though, that was damn maudlin, even for Goodnight, as their sister Colette would have said, and it was just automatic at this point in his life for him to chime back in with, “Do you get those out of a book, or do you make them up as you go along?”

Goodnight made this odd twitch, one that he honestly couldn't remember ever seeing his brother do before and that he tried to cover by stuffing more food in his mouth. “I'll try to use one syllable words from now on,” he shot back. Despite the tone—very obviously biting and curt—the words themselves could be…

No, Joshua was going to just going to assume that was meant teasingly, because apparently his mouth was going off on its own without consulting his brain… and apparently, it didn’t much care for his brother acting all grumpy and morbid. After all, completely without any input from his actual mind, he was already answering, “What's a syllable?”

Goodnight made a sound that was reminiscent of a very grumpy child being told he had to sit still: something between a huff, a sigh, and a squawk. If anyone had asked him before tonight if such a noise was possible in a grown adult man, he probably would have denied it. Trust his brother to prove him wrong. And trust his brother to start turning that unattractive shade of puce he’d done once upon a time that had meant he was ridiculously embarrassed. If that was still the case, he couldn’t imagine what it was the older man could be self-conscious about.

But then Red Harvest was making some comment in his own language, shoving his plate of food away, and the back and forth between Jack Horne and Sam Chisolm distracted the conversation away, at least long enough for the color to leave Goodnight’s face. If there was going to be this kind of reaction every time the two of them spoke, the six days until Bogue came back to kill them all were going to be a real hoot.

Chapter Text

“Fire!”

The line of men fired on command, but if they were trying to hit the targets then they failed spectacularly. Goodnight was certain that the only thing in danger had been the grass.

“Jesus wept,” Joshua muttered from the wagon, and the elder Robicheaux barely kept from tensing up at the unwelcome commentary. Yes, he knew these men were piss poor shots, but his brother didn’t need to say it to their faces… yet.

“How many times do I gotta tell you to keep that leg under you?” he asked rhetorically as he walked down the line. “You, level up that arm. Schoolteacher, get that hat off your head. Keep your eye on the target and not the clouds. Our enemy isn’t a bird. Teddy,” and here he paused for a moment to fix the young man with a stern look even though he wasn’t looking. “I expect better outta you. The recoil is not to be shunned; it is to be absorbed.”

Honestly, it wasn’t a difficult concept. Shit, he and the rest of the Tigers had managed to teach Joshua to shoot in less time with less thorough instructions. If a twelve year old could manage this, how pathetic were these poor bastards?

“I ain’t shunning nothing, sir,” Teddy groused, and Goodnight just stopped.

He took a moment to draw in a steadying breath before asking, “Are you back-talking me, son? Do you believe you know better—”

For the second time since they arrived at the makeshift firing range, the man next to Teddy fired off his rifle at nothing but the sky above. It was enough to jar him out of the verbal lashing he’d been about to lay on the young widow Cullen’s associate, and he instead focused on the other poor son of a bitch.

“That’s the second time for you,” Goodnight said. “You’re done for today.”

“I’m sorry, sir, I just—”

“No! You’re done. Go make me some eggs.” He watched the man rise to his feet, no awareness of the rifle in his hand, and asked mockingly, “You gonna point that thing at me?”

The abashed man scurried off, and Goodnight turned his attention back to the line. “You don’t need to be afraid of the shot. Just squeeze the trigger: don’t pull it. It’s a gentle motion, so gentle you near ‘bout surprise yourself when you fire the weapon. Focus, steady your hand, and fire when ready.”

There was a resounding silence from the line, and Goodnight snapped out, “Fire!”

And… nothing. More grass cut down in the prime of its life from a hail of misfired bullets.

“I am in awe,” he said, absolutely no emotion in his voice, “that this many men could miss that many targets. Twice.” He shook his head and looked up to the sky. “I’m looking at a line of dead men. Do any of y’all even give a good goddamn that Bogue is coming in less than a week now and has plans to kill each and every one of you without batting an eye? Do you just not care ‘bout the land you bled for, that you sacrificed the comforts of all you knew before to make your own place? Do you just hate your wives, your children? You sad sons of bitches.”

“Why don’t you inspire them?”

This drew his gaze from the sky, and he shot a glare at Joshua even as he wondered when the hell his brother had moved so close. “We need the lead,” he drawled, and it was true. If these sorry sacks of shit couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn from the inside, then he and the rest of this group were gonna need all the ammunition they could keep their hands on.

“I’m sorry,” Joshua hissed, “but all I’m hearing is I don’t care enough to teach these people.”

Goodnight’s eyes narrowed. “You challenging me now, mon frère?”

The younger brother glared back. “I don’t know. You think you can out-shoot me?” With that, he shoved one of the rifles he was holding at the elder, and Goodnight noted absently that at some point his Winchester 1873 carbine had made it from his saddle holster to his brother’s hands.

Taking just a moment to check that his newest rifle was in ready condition, Goodnight turned from Joshua and took aim at the far left target. He focused his ire on the poor sandbag and let fire six shots, all in rapid succession, ejecting each spent cartridge without pausing. He could almost swear he heard an echo to every shot… or not an echo, but six shots fired in near unison with his own.

When he lowered the carbine, Goodnight was pleased to note that the head had fallen off the target he’d chosen. The target immediately to the right of his, however, had been destroyed in what would have been the chest as a result of Joshua’s own shots.

He turned to shoot a glare at his brother, but instead he was caught up short by just how… pleased Joshua looked. If he hadn’t had the conversation prior to their little competition, Goodnight would almost think that his little brother had been playing.

Rather than speak to anyone, the Cajun turned on his heel, shouldering his Winchester and stalking back towards the hotel. Right now, all he really wanted to do was forget that death was coming for every damned fool left in Rose Creek… and that the number included his T-Jo. Even if Joshua didn’t want to admit it anymore.

 


 

Well, that couldn't have gone worse if Joshua had been deliberately trying to antagonize Goodnight. He had opened his mouth and promptly inserted his entire leg, never mind just his foot. Instead of the attempt at a friendly challenge he had intended, every single word that came out of his mouth was exactly what he had been trying not to say: all but daring his brother into a fight, one that he didn’t particularly want to win.

At least he could hope that no one had been able to hear what had been said. Oh, they could probably read a thousand things into the way the pair of them had been sizing each other up… or into the way his brother had all but snatched his rifle out of Joshua's hands… or how much they had both been concentrating on their shots… or into the stiff way Goodnight had stalked off afterwards… But more than likely, they hadn't heard anything, so that was a small victory.

But the look Sam Chisolm was giving him as he in turn watching his brother stalk away… He got the distinct feeling that Chisolm was filling in the blanks, connecting all the dots between what he had seen and what he hadn’t heard, and the man was coming up with an answer that Joshua didn’t want to know anything about. He couldn’t say he much liked the considering look in Chisolm’s eyes or the way he glanced between Goodnight and Joshua like he was sizing the pair of them up. There wasn’t a lot he could do about it, not right now, but he was going to keep all of it in mind.

“Go home and polish your rifles,” Joshua heard himself calling to the rifle line, completely without thought. “Maybe the glint’ll scare them off.”

He turned and strode away, tossing the borrowed gun back into the wagon he had pulled it from in the first place. He made a point of not even looking in Chisolm’s direction as he walked away, just like he made a point of not reacting to someone on the line asking if they weren’t going to be shooting anymore. If he tried hard enough, none of those things were important.

And he wasn’t going to be glancing around town to see if he could tell where his brother had gone when he’d left. It was a moot point: wherever Goodnight was, Rocks was there too. Goodnight wouldn’t be too keen to see him, and he wasn’t too keen on seeing Rocks. All in all, it was a point not worth belaboring. It wasn’t like he could say the things he wanted to say anyway.

Ever since that fight all those years ago, the one that had driven the Robicheaux brothers apart, he had tried to make a point of thinking before he started running his mouth. It didn’t always work. He was getting better about it, no doubt about that, but right now, it just wasn’t working. There was something about being right next to his brother that erased his ability to think before he spoke right out of his repertoire. He didn’t much care for it.

As it was, he was walking a thin line each and every moment he was in Rose Creek. Moment to moment, especially when anywhere near his brother, he didn’t know if he was going to react like Joshua Faraday or Joshua Robicheaux. The gambler or the bounty hunter…

Neither would put up with some of the shit going on around here, but where Faraday wanted to swear and stomp his feet in annoyance, Robicheaux wanted to either put his fist in people’s faces for the annoyance or put a couple of bullets into any asshole that annoyed him. Faraday wanted to scream his frustration to the heavens; Robicheaux still harbored some thoughts about sewing little Teddy Q’s mouth shut.

A couple of days ago, back in Volcano Springs, Goodnight had made a crack about him looking like their shared bastard of a father but Joshua acting like him. Those words had stayed with him these last few days, haunting him in his darkest moments. They had kept him awake last night, and he suspected that the only reason he had been able to get any damn sleep the night before that was Teddy Q’s quality whiskey in that box canyon. That was long gone now, of course, and so was sleep, at least for now.

Maybe Goodnight was right. When they had been younger, that had often been the case, often to Joshua’s chagrin: he himself was apt to run off at the mouth, and Goodnight was usually right. Not always, thank God, or he suspected his brother would have been insufferable to live with, but often enough. He still wasn’t sure he wanted to admit that Goodnight had probably been right about Billy Rocks too—Joshua, this is not a man to arrest; this is a man to befriend—but everything that he could remember of had happened thus far since they left Volcano Springs seemed to back up Goodnight’s assessment from eight years ago.

No, Goodnight was probably right. Joshua did have too much of Monsieur Robicheaux in him… and he had deliberately worked to bring as much of it to the surface as possible, all in order to do a job better. He had modeled his Joshua Robicheaux, Bounty Hunter, persona on their father, after all. He had cut some of the worst parts out—and he would gladly and cheerfully put a bullet in his own head before he let himself hurt a woman or a child—but that had been the extent of it.

When he and Goodnight had parted ways eight years ago, people had still considered him fairly young. Even though he had, at that point, lived through more in his twenty-one years than most people did in a full lifetime, both criminals and other bounty hunters had taken one look at him and seen only his age. He had needed a way to make them take him seriously, one that didn’t require him to use his brother’s name all the time, and being the meanest motherfucker in the game had been a good way to do just that.

He had half been making plans to head to Missouri if he accidentally happened to survive this week, maybe even bringing Vasquez along if the Mexican was amenable to the idea. Maybe if he did that, he could leave Joshua Robicheaux behind in the west. He liked Joshua Faraday much, much more.

Too damn bad he couldn’t seem to hold onto that part of himself too well these days.

 


 

Billy was already more than a little frustrated with how much the good men of Rose Creek seemed to not give a shit about defending their homes, and thus he was hiding out in his and Goody’s room with a bottle of Busthead that he’d gotten hold of before Joshua could spot it in the bar downstairs and a single glass that he’d drained twice over now. He had been expecting to have another hour or so before his lover returned from his own try at training the menfolk, and was a bit startled when the door was all but slammed open to allow Goody to stalk into the room.

He blinked to see the Winchester carbine in the other man’s hands, knowing better than most that Goody tended to keep it in the saddle holster when not actually using it, much like he did with the Mississippi. A quick glance to his right showed said second holster sitting empty, and he wondered how he had missed that earlier.

Rather than dwell on that thought, Billy turned his attention to where Goody was wiping down his rifle and cleared his throat. Once his lover glanced his way, he asked, “Rough session?”

Goody actually snorted. “We’d best hope that Bogue somehow figures out how to fly or decides to burrow his way into Rose Creek; that’s the only way any of these sons of bitches are gonna hit anything.”

“That bad?” Billy winced a bit at the harsh bark of laughter that received. It wasn’t often that Goody fell into and remained in a mean mood, but the past couple of days since arriving in town it seemed as if that were where he planned to stay. “Are any of them redeemable?”

The older man paused thoughtfully, head tilted to the side as he rested his rifle on his knee for a moment. “Well, one of ‘em is getting good at making me eggs.”

The Korean actually laughed at that, and he was pleased to see Goody relax at the sound. His Goody was especially vindictive towards people he expected better things out of, which was likely why he and Joshua were all but at each other’s throats whenever they crossed paths in town.

And that reminded him…

Billy stood up, setting down his glass and moving over to where he’d dropped his saddle bags when they claimed this particular room as theirs. He could sense Goody’s curious gaze, and he hoped that this wasn’t going to blow up in his face. He opened up the pocket and looked inside, only to frown darkly.

The letter was gone.

He knew where he had placed it, taking care to tuck it carefully between a small book of poems written in his native tongue — it had been a gift from his eomma and he’d never traveled anywhere without it — and the original copy of his bounty writ that Goody had given him the first night they’d made love rather than merely fuck. But while both the book and writ were tucked away safely in the soft linen cloth he kept them loosely wrapped in same as always, the letter was nowhere to be seen.

Either he had dreamed receiving it, or someone had rifled through his things.

“Billy?” Goody had stood from his seat and moved a few steps closer, concern in his lovely blue eyes. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” he replied simply, closing the pocket and setting the bags back on the chair. “Just misplaced something. I’m sure it’ll turn up.”

And if it turned up with whom he suspected? Even Goody’s friendship with the man might not save Chisolm from being stabbed in the face.

Chapter Text

It was late in the afternoon when he and Billy rejoined the rest of the world, meeting Chisolm and the others just outside town to discuss their options and chances. Goodnight noticed that once again Joshua was riding beside Vasquez, and he wondered absently to himself if his baby brother was a mite smitten.

He wasn't dumb enough to just ask him that, but he could think it all he wanted.

“It’s a box of death,” he offered when Chisolm asked for opinions. “Even better for us if we can teach some of these men to hit the broad side of a barn at twenty paces.”

Off to the opposite side of Vasquez, he could hear Joshua snort. It was highly likely that his brother held a similar opinion as his own.

“We could do with a few surprises,” Billy offered. Goodnight wondered if he was thinking the same as him: that the miners could prove a useful addition to their ranks, provided they first dealt with Bogue’s men within the camp.

“Any thoughts on that?” Chisolm asked. “We need more than a few surprises.”

“I once knew a man,” Joshua began, “who fell out of a five story building.” And Goodnight nearly choked on a laugh. Yeah, or so he'd said. Corporal Reilly was a card, fond of telling winders, and that building was never the same height twice. “Every window he passed, people could hear him call out, so far, so good. He's dead now though.” Then he abruptly shifted to, “Hey, Chisolm, have I made good on my horse yet?”

Now that was a story Goodnight wanted to hear, if only so he knew how many times to shoot the damned Yank. The man’s reply of ‘so far, so good’ did little to improve his mood, and he was more than willing to take the sniper point when they arrived on the hills overlooking the mine.

If every Blackstone he gunned down was a certain warrant officer to his eyes, that was his own business. Although Joshua seemed a bit stunned that he took them down so easily; apparently only the rumors that he had retired were the ones to make the rounds. That was good news for him and Billy; no one would expect Goodnight Robicheaux, war hero and retired bounty hunter, to happily shoot a man in the head for attempting to collect on his lover’s bounty.

Once all the Blackstones were dead, he stood and moved to return the Winchester to the saddle holster. He paused when Joshua turned to him, seeming to want to say something to him, only to shake his head and move to hop back on Wild Jack.

Wonder what’s going through his head right about now, Goodnight mused, climbing onto Adelaide and patting the mare’s neck before falling into what was becoming his customary spot in line behind his brother. Chisolm led their group across the narrow river into the mining camp, and Goodnight noted that all the men were wary of the newcomers. It wasn’t surprising in the least that more than one eyeballed the rifles in Chisolm’s, Joshua’s, and his own saddle holsters; at least a few men amongst the group seemed to recognize the Mississippi for what it was and gave him a slight respectful nod when he passed them.

After all, being a sharpshooter in the War wasn’t in any way glamorous. Goodnight was certain he was only one of a handful that had made it through to the bitter end on either side.

Chisolm spoke to the miners once they’d all come out from the mine itself or wherever else they’d been working when the shooting started, telling them that they were all free to go or free to join in their fight. From the way he spoke, it was clear that he was more than just hoping that they would throw in with the seven of them and Rose Creek. Joshua pulled out his flask, something that Goodnight had noticed him doing a hell of a lot of since they’d crossed paths once again, but this time instead of drinking, he tossed it to one of the younger miners standing nearby.

A peace offering, he supposed.

It took no time at all for them to find what they were looking for: the stockpile of dynamite was sitting in a shed not too close to the water but not too close to anything that might ignite it either.

His Billy, God love him, was the master of the understatement. “This should help,” he noted, tone completely even and deadpan.

Joshua’s eyes lit up, and Goodnight knew that meant mischief. Surely eight years could not change the delight his baby brother had in causing a ruckus as a means of distraction.

“I’ve always wanted to blow something up,” his brother said with a wicked sort of glee; he just managed to keep from laughing at how pleased the idea made the younger.

Well now, they had their distraction. Now they just had to get everyone back to town and set about the work what needed done. After all, they had six days now, and every goddamn minute counted.

 


 

As far as Joshua was concerned, today was shaping up to be a pain in the ass. There had been the piss-poor attempt at a rifle line with Goodnight. Hell, before that, he had tried to get the bastards set up before his brother could arrive, only to discover that most of them didn’t know their lefts from their rights. Some of them had even thought hoes and straight razors were appropriate substitutes for rifles.

Rifle training had been a wash. From what he had heard over lunch, knife training had been much the same, with people flat-out walking away from it. At least with the rifle line, he had spotted a few men who might be able to be improved in less than a week and single them out for additional training. Little Teddy Q sprang to mind, mouthy little shit that he was, as did the schoolteacher, Josiah. There were a few others, ones that he would know their faces from the lineup but had no idea as to their names.

His brother and Rocks had been nowhere to be seen during the meal. From what he had managed to overhear from Horne talking to Chisolm, the two had been upstairs in their room, and Joshua wasn’t touching that with a ten foot pole. Nope, instead he had just sat in his chair between Vasquez, who was eating everything like it was going to be taken away from him, and Red Harvest, who was barely touching his food, and tried not to brood.

After all, the brooding wasn’t doing him any damn good, and really, it just made him more irritable, more likely to want to just shoot someone in the face and call it a day, and more likely to be put off his own food. He had had to live a bit lean after… well, after spending a huge portion of his savings buying out a bounty… And he never wanted to have another day of having to wonder where his next meal was coming from.

Obviously, Vasquez had had too many days like that as it was. No one ate like this man did who hadn't gone hungry at some point in his life, maybe even more than once. He ate everything he could get his hands on—and soaked up every interaction with each person like it was just as life-giving.

Either way, he had ended up sliding a biscuit or two from his own plate onto Vasquez’s without a word. If anyone else had noticed, nothing was said, and he was happy with it that way. Even Vasquez had been strangely silent on the matter, though Joshua was less certain how he felt about that.

But all of that had been some hours ago. Since then, they had made some preliminary plans. They had even staged a takeover of Bogue’s mining camp and made off with most of the miners and all of the dynamite… and he could freely admit to being incredibly excited about that.

He hadn't been exaggerating, after all: he had always wanted to blow something up.

That in mind, Chisolm had given him the task of plotting out where the explosives would end up going in order to get the most use out of them. In turn, he had recruited Vasquez to go over the map of the valley that Rose Creek sat in that Miss Emma and little Teddy Q had given Chisolm and Chisolm had in turn given him. He knew Chisolm and Old Jack Horne were planning some ditches along the main road into Rose Creek, so they would need explosives for that area. Those spots hadn't been decided yet, though, so the pair of them were looking at other locations.

“What do you think?” he prompted. “Maybe the shed?”

Vasquez nodded, making a mark with a fountain pen. Joshua wasn’t sure where he’d turned that up, and he wasn’t asking, not right now. “Maybe… here too?” He tapped the end of the pen against the map next to the windmill, between it and the corral.

Joshua pulled the map over to look closer. “Looks good.” It wouldn’t be hard to funnel at least part of Bogue’s army through that path and to the shed. No, it wouldn’t be difficult at all, and it would probably even be in line with some of what Chisolm had in mind. “We can plan for more of this once we know where the trenches are going to be. No sense doing any of this twice if we don’t have to, yeah?”

He glanced up to meet Vasquez’s eyes, so much closer than he thought he had seen them before. For a long moment, all he could think about was something that had happened earlier in the day, back at the mining camp.

That damn noose had been dangling, moving in the faint breeze coming up from the east. Vasquez had shuddered, staring up at the damn thing as they’d rode past, and he’d slowed Jack to draw even with the Mexican. Some part of him had wanted to reach across both their horses and hold the man tight, but then had not been the time. He didn't know when the time would be, but it hadn't been right then.

“Never liked those things,” he had instead offered in a quiet voice.

There had been a hundred thousand things Vasquez could have said, not in the least of which being a reminder that Joshua was in the wrong damn profession if he wanted to avoid being around nooses. Thankfully, he avoided the easier ones and instead mildly commented, “I don't believe they are things you will have to worry about too much, güero.”

The laugh that had slipped out of him was broken and harsh… but still quiet enough that the others shouldn't hear it. “On the contrary.”

Vasquez had scoffed, giving him that skeptical raised eyebrow yet again. “And why would that be? They don't hang many bounty hunters, you know.”

Even now, hours later, he still didn't know what had possessed him to say what he had been thinking. “Oh, it happens. Difference between Chisholm and me is he has the law on his side. I know a former bounty hunter out of Texas who has a bounty like yours on his head now. Ain’t what I meant, though.”

“What did you mean?” Vasquez had asked, voice both quiet and deep… and very distracting, which he was not getting into, thank you.

There hadn’t exactly been a lot of time. At the front of the group, Chisolm had been pulling Horse up to a stop, Goodnight and Rocks just behind him. They wouldn’t be able to talk for much longer, not with any degree of privacy. He had nodded towards Goodnight and spoke quickly. “My brother ain’t the only one in our family with certain… preferences, if you follow me, the kind that tend to get the ‘good folk’ of towns all riled up and set for a Sunday lynching. Hell, I've seen men hanged for the mere suggestion of… some of the things I just said. Heard of a pair of fellas getting burned alive over towards Texas for getting caught in the act. So, yeah, Vas, I get not liking the sight of a noose.”

But that was then, and this was now. Nothing had been said about the conversation while they had been at the mining camp, probably mostly because the rest of the group and a whole lot of strangers were right there, and nothing had been said about it since they had been back in Rose Creek. It was coming, though; he could feel it, crackling in the back of his head and never really quite turning him loose.

He had done everything he could. He'd made it as plain as he dared that he was open to… Well, that he was open. He was… fairly certain he had made it obvious he was interested in Vasquez… and he could only say ‘fairly’, because while he had fucked his fair share of men, he couldn't say he had ever had something like these… feelings before.

He couldn't say he liked them much.

With a sigh, he folded up the map. There really wasn't that much else they could do until he knew more about Chisolm’s plan with the trenches, and it was his understanding that the entire group was going to walk the town and area in an hour or so to get some ideas on where to place their shooters—provided they could get any of these men into fighting shape—and any of those other surprises Rocks had been talking about.

Now, he just needed to get this part over with. Either he’d totally screwed up trying to say he was interested, which he wouldn’t doubt, knowing himself, or Vasquez didn’t exactly return the sentiment. Either way, that left him with something—something else—to deal with.

“Look, Vasquez,” he began, eyes locked on the table top and the folded map, talking as quickly as he could to get this whole thing over with but still quietly in case he had somehow missed someone close enough to hear him, “what I said earlier, in the camp… I’m sorry. I won’t bring it up again, but I would appreciate it if you don’t go mentioning it to anyone either. I wasn’t kidding about seeing folks lynched for that sort of thing…”

There was a muttered curse next to him, then Vasquez was pressed up against his side. “Do not apologize,” he interrupted quietly, and when had he moved to speak right into his ear, “for being you. You are a man who carries so much responsibility. I cannot even imagine that. I would not tell your secrets; I would have to tell my own first.”

Okay, what? Joshua turned his head to try and meet the other man’s eyes, only to find himself somewhat distracted.

Apparently kissing was a thing he and Vasquez were going to be doing now.

Chapter Text

Goodnight had been giving him strange looks most of the afternoon, and frankly… Well, Joshua wasn’t too sure he knew what to think about the matter. He had a sneaking suspicion that, even earlier today, he probably would have been pretty pissed off.

Right now? Right now he had no damn idea what to think… or feel… or much of anything.

He hadn’t really had much to contribute to the plotting out of their defenses. Hell, it was probably the quietest he had been since signing up for this suicide mission.

And all of this just drove home the point that had been circulating through his head for hours. Well, a few of the thoughts that had been circulating through his head. First and foremost was that Vas had apparently managed to kiss him stupid, and he was fine with that… for the most part.

Oh, he was good with the kissing. He was really good with the kissing. Nobody who kissed like that should ever be allowed to be shy about it. But then again, he was pretty damn sure he didn't want Vas kissing anyone but him and he certainly wasn’t entertaining any notions of kissing anyone else himself, so that was all a bit of a moot point.

Nope, it was the kissing him stupid that gave him pause. Like Vas himself, he stayed alive by keeping his wits about him.

But that also brought him around to that second point that he couldn't seem to shake: right now, he really fucking missed his big brother. Right now, he could really use some damn advice, and of course, right now he couldn't talk to Goody, exactly when he needed to the most. Goodnight. Whatever.

Honestly, right now, he didn't care about the name. He didn't care about the fight eight years ago. He didn't care about what happened in Carson City just under two years ago or about what the news of it had prompted him to do only earlier this year. He didn’t care about the fight they’d had in Volcano Springs or all the bad blood they’d built back up between then and now.

No, he didn't give a good god damn about any of that. He just wanted his brother back.

It hadn’t been a stretch to say that he had fucked his fair share of men. While he was different from his brother in that he also found certain ladies attractive, he had known most of his life that he generally preferred the company of men. There was something indescribable but attractive about someone taller than him, a hard body, a cock in his mouth, someone who could hold him down and fuck him, someone he could fuck in turn.

But that had all it had ever been through the years: fucking. If he had ever fucked the same man twice, it had been completely by drunken accident.

Feelings, though? Feelings were a whole new thing. He wasn’t sure what to do with feelings.

He could probably muddle through this on his own—and mess everything up like he always did and likely ruin any chance he had ever had with Vasquez. For that matter, they'd probably all end up shot dead in a couple of days’ time.

Maybe when all of this was over, he could give another try at making peace with his brother after all. He still wanted it to be Goodnight making the effort and coming to him, but beggars couldn't be choosers, after all.

And he strongly suspected that, were he not standing standing where he was, some of this probably wouldn't be occurring to him. Even before it was a charred ruin, Emmanuel’s Church hadn't been the kind of church he'd grown up in. It wasn't the St. Martin of Tours Cathedral back in St. Martinville… or even a Catholic Church for that matter. He'd been to Mass exactly once since he and Goody had parted ways, and that hadn’t been an experience he wanted to repeat.

Now…

“At least we won’t have to go too far to pray for forgiveness,” he commented idly. Passing the time, really, was all that it was, for all that he was still looking the place over, checking to see if the building was even half as structurally sound as they needed it to be. Despite the very obvious damage, it looked like it might well be. If they shored it up with sandbags, it might well be a good place to launch the main defense of the town; everyone entering the town would like have to go right by the church.

Somehow, even the steeple seemed relatively intact. Goodnight was still up there, checking sight lines maybe, but Rocks had wandered off. He could see the man outside the far windows.

“There you go. But there’s no forgiveness for men like you, güero,” Vasquez shot back, and damn it, he couldn't help the answering smile, even as Vas snickered.

“Don't call me güero,” he returned and tried hard to sound annoyed. He got the feeling he was failing miserably. “What's ‘güero’ mean anyway? Handsome? Debonair?”

It was only half-teasing. His Spanish was passable a lot of days. He could definitely get by on it. If nothing else, he could make himself understood and get the gist of what was being said to him in return. But there were a lot of words he didn't know… or words in English that had several of varying meanings in Spanish… or words in Spanish that sounded way too similar but meant very different things, like ‘chivato’ and ‘chingado’, a difference that had nearly gotten him shot at least once.

“Yeah, something like that.” A grin and a wink accompanied the words. Okay, yeah, this was fun, he thought to himself, returning the wink. Fighting not to smile was one of the hardest things he'd ever done.

But then Sam Chisolm had to ruin it by pointedly clearing his throat, following that immediately up with an equally sharp “Gentlemen… Now is not the time for this.”

The scowl Vasquez shot the older man was impressively dark. He imagined he looked no more pleased than the Mexican did—and he was probably doing a worse job of hiding that fact.

Granted, he felt a bit like he had been caught doing something he shouldn't have when Goodnight finally dropped the last few feet out of the steeple. The rope Rocks had strung up apparently hadn't been quite long enough to ease all the way down, thus necessitating the drop, but it was that same undefinable look Goodnight had been giving him most of the afternoon that made him feel almost guilty.

No, now that he thought about it, maybe it wasn't the best idea to wait until this was over to try to patch things up with Goodnight. There was no guarantee that they would live through it, after all; he was the one that kept thinking of the whole thing as a suicide run, as a point of fact.

He didn't want to die without at least trying—really trying—to make peace with his brother. He didn't want to chance Goodnight dying without knowing how sorry Joshua was for everything: the fight, the words he'd said, the punches he'd thrown both eight years ago and only a few days past, Carson City, all the letters he had sent over the years… everything.

That conversation couldn't be tonight, though; there just wasn't going to be enough time. Tomorrow morning, he and Vasquez were going to start putting out explosives, and he couldn't put that off, not in good conscience. Maybe tomorrow afternoon, everything permitting.

He would find a way. He would make time if he had to. The trick would be getting Goodnight willing to stay in the same room as him long enough for him to say what he needed to.

And he'd have to be careful about it, because cornering Goodnight could end up leading to a confrontation with Rocks that he would really rather avoid. That he had managed not to get into one so far was enough of a surprise. No sense pushing his luck. He didn't want to test his hungover quickdraw reflexes against Rocks’ knives. He had a pretty good feeling which would win… and it probably wouldn't be him.

Put another way, if it came down to him and Rocks, he would be having Vas put money down on Rocks.

He tore his eyes away from his brother, giving the wooden floorboards a hard glare for a long moment or two rather than let his brother think it was directed at him, before he finally spoke again. “Compared to the rest of the place, this might be our best spot to try to hold the town. The main road in comes right past here, there are enough windows that we can board up and use as defense, and it's not far from here to any other strategic place in town.”

Vas shrugged. “Good a place as any for a last stand.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw Goodnight twitch, the movement just so slight that he couldn't be sure if it had been real or Joshua's imagination.

Rather than comment on that, though, and risk starting more shit than he wanted to deal with right now, he took a step closer to Vasquez, one that would take him close enough to brush his hand against the other man’s. “We’ll make it as defensible as possible first. No need to go calling it a last stand yet, Vas.” It was as close to comforting as he had come in years, maybe since before the War, but at least it seemed to have worked, if the small wry grin he received was anything to go by.

Goodnight, on the other hand, turned on his heel and stalked back out of the church without ever having said a word to him. And wasn't that becoming about typical these days?

No, he would have to be careful in doing this, but he was going to be having a long conversation with his brother… and it would be before Bart Bogue come back to this town. It would happen if he had to steal Vasquez’s rope, tie Goodnight to a damn chair, and lock Rocks in a separate room.

Instead he settled for glaring at Chisolm until the man left him and Vas alone in the church. From here, he couldn’t tell if Chisolm was following Goodnight or not. As long, calloused fingers wrapped around his own, he was particularly certain he cared. He did have to make a token attempt at grousing with, “I’m really starting to hate that man.”

“I think, tomorrow, we can tie some of that dynamite to his horse’s tail.”

The words startled a laugh out of him, loud and amused, like he couldn’t remember being in forever. And yeah, Joshua liked that part about being with Vas too.

 


 

If he was honest with himself—and let's face it, he hadn't been that since this whole show of Chisolm’s kicked off—he would admit that his little brother’s silence was somewhat troubling.

It had started sometime after they got back from the mining camp in the early afternoon. Up until then, Joshua had almost been frightfully gleeful over the prospect of rigging explosives. He had all but dragged Vasquez off to begin plotting out where to begin before the group as a whole set out to see what should be set up where.

Then…

Then when it was time to set off, his contrary brother was silent and almost shy, which was a word never associated with Joshua Robicheaux in his entire life. And trying to see if Vasquez had any insight was a joke, given that he was also playing at bashful, shooting coy little glances at Joshua as the group planned on the move.

And for the life of him, Goodnight was only coming up with one poorly timed conclusion: these two idiots had chosen now, in the middle of planning a war where they might not make it out, to go and fall in love with one another.

Sure, they had to have been fucking since just outside Junction City; the sexual tension was so thick you could practically taste it. He and Billy had actually rolled their eyes on the first night in town upon realizing the boys had separate rooms; they weren't fooling anyone. But Goody knew better than anyone how hard it was to go from fucking to love, even if he'd taken longer than his brother to get to that point.

Frankly, he and Billy had started fucking right after their first major fight about Joshua. And it had been a few months before Goodnight realized he’d fallen hard for the other man. The only saving grace there was that Billy was smarter than him and already come to that conclusion; it made things both easier and more terrifying. Even now, years into their relationship, he found himself looking to his lover to take the lead on certain things… although sometimes he didn’t exactly listen.

Such as, not staying in Carson City nearly two years ago once they’d been jumped was his own decision. Billy had wanted to stick around another week, had even been ready to either rent the room for longer or move to a camp site just outside the town where they could watch everyone’s comings and goings, but Goody had been adamant about leaving.

Now, he wondered if maybe things would be different now, had he just listened to the smarter of the pair of them.

But that was a thought for another time. Right now, he was checking the floor to the steeple to make sure that the damned thing wouldn’t collapse out from under him during the battle that was to come. It really was the best spot in town for a sniper’s nest: there were clear lines of sight from all sides, looking over the town itself, all possible means of entering or leaving, and the fields directly behind where Bogue’s men might just be coming in from. He should be able to provide cover for any and all potential problems, and even though he knew that he’d have nightmares just thinking about it, he also knew it was the perfect spot to make a final stand if it came down to that.

Goodnight did his best to not be too pessimistic, but he knew himself too well. He had no real plans of surviving this ordeal; he just wanted to make sure that his loved ones made it through. Somewhere along the way, that number had moved to include Vasquez solely because Joshua was so damned smitten. With a little bit of skill and luck, he should be able to make it so that his boys walked away.

From the church below, he could hear his brother and the outlaw flirting again, for the love of all things holy. It was actually sort of sweet, but the timing was shitty as hell. And then he heard Chisolm scolding the pair of them and all but rolled his eyes to the heavens. Seriously, waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the damned Yank to just up and admit that he was finally cashing in that favor Goodnight owed him—and honestly, when a man said I owe you one to the person who’d just kept him from being beaten to death, the proper response was you don’t owe me anything or let me buy you a drink, not ten years of sitting on the damned thing!—before he snapped was trying as all hell.

Goodnight rubbed wearily at his eyes and looked out over the town again. There were a ton of excellent sight lines up here, and it was the perfect spot to give advanced warning when Bogue’s army arrived as well as keep an eye on the other shooters’ locations throughout the town. He still wasn’t sure about putting a man on the livery’s roof, but if anyone could keep their balance up there, it would be a valid spot as well.

He spotted Billy doing a walk along the road, checking for any additional sites to set up traps or surprises, and smiled slightly. There was so much to do, so little damned time to do it in, and he was not getting nearly enough sleep to deal with everything. Hopefully, he wasn’t keeping his Billy up as well.

Goodnight could still hear his brother and the other men talking in the church below, although he couldn’t hear exactly what they were discussing; he’d let his mind wander enough to be completely lost as to the conversation, but the tone was not a pleased one by any means. Rather than stay hiding up in the steeple and hope they would all forget he was up there, the man made his way down carefully; he kept a hand on the rope that Billy had strung up to make for an easier time climbing up and down, but took the stairs as far as he was able. When he ran out of solid wood, Goodnight swung himself onto the rope and slid down.

Given that the rope was a little bit shorter than was fully helpful, Goody let go of the rope and dropped the remaining few feet to the floor. He didn’t mean to land practically in front of his brother—mostly because he hadn’t realized the younger man was that close—but he made an effort not to flinch back either. And yep, Joshua still had that love-struck look on his face; it still left him puzzled to see it for how new a look on the younger man it was, and he probably had an odd expression of his own as he continued to muse on how bad this timing really was.

Then his brother dropped his gaze to the floorboard, glaring as if it was offending him in some way. That was another issue that would have to be addressed, because it was all but killing him to not talk to his brother the way he wanted to. Every bit of body language said clearly that Joshua both did and did not want to spend any time around him, but Goodnight was getting fed up with ignoring what he himself wanted.

He wanted to try to reconcile, and his little brother was just going to have to learn to live with that. It would have to be sometime soon, before Bogue arrived, but they would be having a talk. Today was already far too busy to slip in another fight with his only living relative, so it would need to be sometime in the next couple of days. Tomorrow itself was going to be busy, what with everyone working to get started given the little time allowed for the town to be ready, but they would have to stop to eat sometime. Maybe he could catch Joshua off-guard around breakfast time the day after… if he could drag the boy away from Vasquez for five goddamn minutes.

Billy could probably help with that, actually. Given that he was slowly but surely getting fed up with Goody’s own maudlin reactions to Joshua’s hot and cold manner, his lover would leap at the opportunity to get them talking to one another without punches getting thrown.

“Compared to the rest of this place,” his brother said after trying to set the floor ablaze with his glare, “this might be our best spot to try to hold the town. The main road in comes right past here, there are enough windows that we can board up and use as defense, and it's not far from here to any other strategic place in town.”

It was a solid strategy, sound and well thought-out. Goodnight had honestly been thinking along similar lines himself, adding in that he could probably hit every target coming his way from the safety of the steeple. They would need to board it up some, of course, and get some sandbags up there as well as in the sanctuary itself. But still, a very strategic location, and one he would have gladly taken advantage of during the war had such a spot been available.

Then Vasquez spoke up to offer his opinion, and it was one the Cajun had been trying to avoid thinking of in connection with his baby brother: “Good a place as any for a last stand.”

He couldn’t quite control the twitch at that, but he hoped he’d disguised it enough for the others to avoid comment. It was possible that his brother had at least noticed although he didn’t say anything; instead, he moved a little closer to the outlaw, just close enough to “accidentally” brush against the other man’s hand with his own. It was a subtle show of comfort, one that was sharply familiar from their shared childhood. There were far too many times when his T-Jo had been the one in need to comfort, thanks to their bastard father, and there were more than a few times wherein Goodnight had needed that care which his younger brother had willingly given.

It was a bit much, however, to deal with in the moment. He turned on his heel and headed out the door, intending to track down Billy and see about dragging him away for a moment or two to just try and get his head back on straight. Behind him, he could hear Joshua’s voice as he reassured Vasquez:

“We’ll make it as defensible as possible first. No need to go calling it a last stand yet, Vas.”

He shook his head, a small smile crossing his lips. Trust his brother to try and comfort a man by saying they would do their best to not die. Granted, his Billy had done similar more than a few times in the past; more than once, he had offered to stay awake and ‘fight that damned owl’ just to get him to relax enough to go back to sleep after a nightmare.

“Goody?”

Oh, wonderful. Just what he didn’t need: Sam Chisolm following him and using his nickname without permission.

There were only two people who, at any given point in his life, he had let use that nickname. The first was, of course, Joshua. His little brother had given him the nickname only a few days after he’d called him T-Jo aloud for the first time, and up until their fight eight years ago, he had been the only person in the world to call him that.

The other was, unsurprisingly, Billy. That had not come about nearly as easily; in fact, the first time his lover had called him that was a little over seven years ago, months after their fight over whether he should try contacting Joshua and when they likewise started fucking. It was right around the time he’d realized that he was falling in love with the man, and the shortened version of his name had slipped from Billy while they were ‘discussing’ the outcome of a quick draw competition wherein the Korean had nearly been shot.

Goodnight and Billy both had frozen the second the nickname was out, although Billy was quick to apologize. Goody himself had blinked a few times, debating on whether he was pissed off that someone other than his brother had shortened his name in that way—after all, Maman and Monsieur Robicheaux had always called him by his given name, while Colette had called him G’night—or pleased that someone he was beginning to care about deeply was comfortable enough to even unconsciously shorten his name to something more affectionate.

He had decided on being pleased and had pulled his lover into bed to show him just how okay he was with the new change in their life together.

Shaking off the more pleasant memories, Goodnight turned to give Chisolm an expectant look. The other man frowned at him, but his face was still closed off and difficult to read.

Rather than react to the bland look Goodnight was giving him, Chisolm simply asked, “You okay? Given how things are between the pair of you, after all.”

Goodnight nodded, hoping that the Yank would get to the point soon.

“All right.” The other man paused a moment before adding, “If you need some time or anything, a mediator—”

Nope, that was all the conversation he felt like having with Chisolm at the moment.

“It’ll be fine, Sam,” Goodnight cut him off. “We’re both grown men; we can deal with our issues. Now, if you’ll excuse me?” He tipped his hat and turned to set off down the street again, spotting Billy coming out of the alley by the general store. Goodnight started walking quickly, catching up to his lover in short order and huffing out a sigh.

Billy gave him a look out of the corner of his eye. “Too much friendliness?” he asked wryly, causing Goody to chuckle. His cher really, really did not care for Sam Chisolm. The only way he could be more apparent about it was if he took to stabbing a knife into the table at the start of every meal.

“You could say that,” he replied. “Done scouting out where to dig?” At Billy’s nod, he smiled warmly. “Good. I was thinking that a bath and some good bourbon would be nice right about now. Care to join me in one or both of those?”

The Korean grinned back at him. “I’ll see about turning up some hot water if you get us a bottle and some glasses.”

“Deal.” They sealed the bargain with a quick kiss—right in the middle of the street. He honestly didn’t care what these people thought of it: they were just paying them to save their sorry hides and would likely not lynch the people who were all that stood between them and the death of their town. Then Goodnight started towards the boarding house.

A break would be very nice right now, and they could get back to planning afterward.

 


 

Sam Chisolm wouldn't call himself a bad man, although he would say he was one with a questionable moral code.

Right now, however, he was giving real thought to strangling a pair of idiot brothers who were feuding over God only knows what.

The whole time they'd been together, the Robicheaux boys had been vexing him. It had started back in Amador City when he'd crossed paths with young Joshua for the first time in a couple months, just as mean as any other time they'd met since whatever fight had split the once-inseparable brothers up. Still, when Miss Emma and Teddy Q had approached him, brought him the chance at Bogue, the first man he thought of to join them was Joshua.

And while he'd been leery of doing so, Sam had opted to send the younger brother to fetch the elder. He wanted Vasquez’s insight on things, a more criminal mind to catch things his own need to attempt upholding the law would cause him to miss, and he didn't entirely trust Joshua to not scare the man further into the mountains.

He had regretted that decision when the damned boys rode into their base camp outside Junction City both looking like they'd been in a fight, while Teddy and Goodnight’s… friend were unscathed.

And on the topic of said friend, Billy Rocks was obvious in his dislike of Sam. True, he didn't always make the best impression on folks, but the hostility he sensed from the Oriental man was unprecedented. As soon as he figured out exactly what he'd done in a past life to draw this man’s ire, he was planning to apologize profusely.

When he’d told Joshua his deal with Vasquez, that he wasn’t planning to collect on the bounty, he'd meant it as a peace offering: if Joshua intended to get the bounty, he wouldn't stand in the way. So of course the little shit has been contrary and offered the outlaw the exact same deal. Never had Sam known the younger Robicheaux to give up a potential pay day, but he'd done just that.

But for whatever goddamn reason, that had served to set Goodnight into a silent sulk, ending with the elder brother stalking off and taking a ten minute break to do whatever before returning with a pleasant mask on and a stark refusal to say anything of substance.

Then, after they'd rounded up the last of their group in Old Jack Horne and Red Harvest, they'd arrived in Rose Creek, and those two idiots just. Kept. Frustrating him at every turn. First was the opening skirmish, wherein Joshua goaded Goodnight until he took a shot at the retreating Blackstone, then they had a quickly hissed argument about that.

Every meal was an adventure in a bad way, with Sam just waiting for the impending explosion. Any time the brothers somehow forgot that they were pissed at one another, they seemed to be just the same as they'd been back when he first met them almost ten years ago. They'd both make cracks about something, share a moment of amusement… and then snap right back to being surly or sulky.

That was about the only thing he and Billy Rocks seemed to agree on; he had more than once seen the man shooting annoyed looks at both of the boys and probably wishing to lock them in a goddamn room until they worked their shit out.

So it was an act of desperation that lead to Sam slipping into the room Goodnight was sharing with the other man—and he wasn't one to judge how a man lived his life; it had been the reason he’d even met Goodnight, keeping a group of former Blues from beating the man to death for the crime of looking at one of them a moment too long, and he had never breathed a work of it to anyone—and rifling through their saddle bags, hoping to find something that could be used to make the brothers reconcile. He'd come up with an unopened letter addressed to his friend and a journal filled with entries written in French.

Honestly, he must've gone slightly mad, given that he actually took the items and tucked them away in his own saddle bags before heading to join the rest of the group for breakfast before the first day of attempting to get the townsfolk into fighting form.

And those damned boys got into it. Again. Right in front of most of the men in Rose Creek.

Thankfully things seemed somewhat back on an even keel when it came time to raid the mining camp. Granted, Goodnight had shot down the Blackstones with a vengeance that was nothing short of unnerving, but it had been good to have the enemy dealt with in such short order. And a quick late afternoon walk of the town had kept the brothers from sniping at one another… although once again in the church they'd slipped back to that not communicating with one another bullshit. Hell, Joshua had taken a moment to glare at the ground and Goodnight stalked out not five minutes later.

God damn those brats. If he ever met whoever screwed the two of them up so badly, he was gonna put a bullet in ’em; sadly, he felt that he was too late for that, if the person behind that had been a parent.

Which brought them to yet another awkward dinner. Two nights in town, and Sam was ready to strangle the pair of them. Joshua and Vasquez were seated next to each other as was the new normal, making cow eyes at one another and falling in love at the worse possible time; Goodnight was seated practically across from them giving them a look that spoke of confusion and support even though they still weren't talking to one another. Jack had apparently given up on the lot of them, focusing on his meal and talking politely with the widowed Leni, while Red was determinedly not touching a thing on his plate.

Frankly, Sam was at the end of his rope. Come morning, when the lovebirds were out setting explosives, he was going to raid the younger Robicheaux boy’s room and see if there was anything there to use as a catalyst to make these idiots talk. If he made himself into the bad guy in the process… well, so be it. It would hardly be the first time he put his self-preservation instincts aside for his friends.

Chapter Text

Honestly, Joshua wasn’t entirely certain of how they’d made it up the stairs and into his room. The moment that dinner had ended and everyone split off to see to their own evening plans—Old Jack back out to the field where he’d been sleeping, Red in the direction of the roof, Sam outside to walk the town or whatever it was he’d been doing at night, Goodnight and Billy over to the saloon as they had every night so far—he’d started towards the boarding house with Vas right behind him.

At some point before they hit the staircase that would lead them up, the ones that were at the back of the building and therefore out of sight from the majority of the town, the outlaw had backed him up against the wall and proceeded to give him another one of those toe-curling, mind-numbing kisses that had sent him stupid just hours ago. And it was all he could do to return it, give as good as he was getting and somehow keep them moving.

He knew what he wanted to do. He really, really wanted to throw the vaquero down onto his bed, strip him bare, and go for a ride. There was a huge problem with that plan, however: given that it had been so long since he’d had the opportunity at sex with a willing male partner, he was in rather short supply of any slick. And he wasn’t about to just hope that spit would be enough.

Joshua loved sex, but he wasn’t a big fan of pain. And even if his plans had been to pin Vas down and fuck him senseless, he wasn’t going to subject a partner he had every hope of staying with for a while to that sort of discomfort either.

Which left him in a bit of a bind. He really wanted a good hard fuck, but that was off the table. He supposed he could sneak into his brother’s room and borrow whatever he had for lubrication—because he wasn’t naive enough to think that his brother had been celibate in the two days they’d been in Rose Creek—but that could push back any efforts to talk to Goodnight if he saw it as stealing.

“I can hear you thinking too hard, guerito,” Vas murmured against his lips, dragging him across the room and dropping himself back onto the bed; Joshua let himself be pulled along with him. “Relax, querido. We can still have a little fun.”

“I ain’t using spit for slick, vacher,” he replied even as he began to idly undo the buttons on the other man’s shirt.

Vas grinned wickedly, and oh but that look could melt a fool’s heart. “That wasn’t what I had in mind.”

Before Joshua could even think to begin asking what he meant by that, the Mexican had flipped them on the narrow bed so that the redhead was on his back. Still giving him that same grin, Vas leaned down to give him another one of those soul-searing kisses as he began to undo the fastenings to the younger man’s pants. Joshua shifted beneath him, hands resting on the vaquero’s shoulders and letting him set the pace and tone of their liaison.

He moaned low into the kiss when Vas’s fingers brushed against his cock, then again as the man took a firmer hold and stroked the length of it almost too carefully. Joshua broke away to shoot the other man a look. “It ain’t made of glass,” he panted. “You can get a better grip on it.”

The outlaw chuckled, dropped a short kiss to his lips. “That still wasn’t exactly what I had in mind,” he purred, and then…

Joshua could only gasp, unable for a moment to catch his breath as the other man’s mouth closed around his tip; he bit his lip nearly hard enough to bleed when Vas teased at it with his tongue for a moment before sinking down. Oh, fuck, but it had been too long since someone had sucked him off. It had been a lot longer since he’d gotten oral from someone who obviously knew what they were doing, too: perfect rhythm, just enough change in suction to take him right to the edge before easing him back down, tongue hitting just often enough to keep him guessing as to when it would come again, and oh, a little scrape of teeth on the upstroke just rarely enough to make his breath catch and another strangled curse to escape.

Vas’s hands on his hips didn’t feel much like they were holding him down; it felt more like they were keeping him from falling away, giving him something to prove that he was awake and not dreaming, and he tried to remember that he was definitely returning the favor as soon as he could think and breathe again. A low, muffled chuckle made him bite back a cry; he could feel the vibration through his entire lower body.

It could be seen as rude, but Joshua couldn’t help but wind the fingers of both hands in Vas’s hair, gasping in air as the man slid down again and fuck, somehow took every bit of his cock in. “Fuck, Vas,” he groaned, head falling back against the pillow as his lover nipped lightly. “Merde, so good at this, baby.”

The outlaw hummed, nearly blowing his damned mind it felt so wonderful, and slid back up slowly. He pulled off with another light scrape of teeth, one hand catching and idly stroking Joshua’s cock as he gave the man a look that wasn’t easily placed. “Didn’t I say we could have fun, guerito?”

“I’m never doubting you again,” Joshua managed to force out, slowly catching his breath. “God damn, Vas, where’d you learn that?”

“Practice makes perfect, Josué,” the man purred, pushing himself up to kiss his lover breathless once more. Then, without so much as a by your leave, Vas sucked him down whole one more time.

The redhead nearly screamed as this time. His vaquero gave him no time to get used to any manner of rhythm. It was all suction and tongue and a bit of teeth and those fingers drumming on his stomach and just too much too fast. Joshua didn’t even have time to voice a warning before he was coming, although Vas didn’t seem to mind. If anything, he was almost eager to swallow every drop that his lover gave him, only pulling back again when Joshua felt far too sensitive to ever get it up again.

He let out a whine as Vas leaned back, hands reaching up to pull the other man down against him; the outlaw allowed him to do so with no complaint, chuckling a bit as Joshua kissed him softly. At the moment, he felt like he was floating in the clouds, and he definitely liked that feeling.

“I think you enjoyed that, querido,” Vas murmured, his fingers combing through sweat-soaked red hair. “You are beautiful when you let go, Josué.”

“Mmm,” Joshua agreed, letting his outlaw do as he wished for a moment before rolling just enough so they were both on their sides. The bed was almost too small for the both of them to lie this way, but despite how much bulk Joshua had Vas was all trim muscle; it was a close fit but they could still both lie there comfortably.

“Just one thing, Vas,” he said softly, one arm wrapping around the Mexican’s waist. He pressed another slow kiss to his lover’s mouth, grinning into it when Vas groaned at the brush against his own still-hard cock.

“You don’t have to,” Vas gasped out, eyes squeezing shut when Joshua pressed the heel of his hand to his arousal.

“Oh, but I want to, bien-aimé,” Joshua murmured, pressing more kisses to his lover’s mouth as he quickly worked open the fastenings to Vas’s pants then took him in hand. He swallowed down moans and gasps, enjoying the feel of his lover’s rigid flesh; he hoped to enjoy it more thoroughly very soon, hoped to feel it inside him before war came to this sleepy little town once more.

It didn’t take long till Vas was spilling over his hand, and Joshua absently wondered if they should have finished undressing before they started this; as it was, he hoped that his vest would cover up the stains his shirt was almost certain to have on it now. He didn’t regret a second of this, however, and he pulled back from kissing only to lick the seed from his hand.

Vas growled at that, pulling his hand away and tugging him into another of those breathtaking kiss. Joshua chuckled and surrendered happily, winding his arms around the other man to draw him closer. Gradually the kisses went from claiming to worshipful to lazy as the events of the day finally caught up to them, and Joshua pulled back reluctantly to peel his way out of his clothing. Vas followed his example, tossing his own clothes in the general direction of the wardrobe before moving back over to the bed, remaining outside of it only long enough to pull down the covers.

Both men crawled back in, shifting around restlessly until they were lying on their sides and facing one another again. Joshua leaned in at the same time as Vas, meeting in another series of soft slow kisses. The redhead hummed softly, wrapping his arms around his outlaw and pulling him as close as possible even as his eyes slipped shut.

Before he drifted off into slumber, he felt Vas rest one hand over his heart and heard a soft buenas noches, cariño. He fell asleep with a smile, holding the man in his arms a little bit tighter, and dreamed of a world where they got through this fight to spend the rest of their lives together.

Chapter Text

Well, as far as Joshua was concerned, yesterday didn't go too badly. Yeah, the firing line was a mess, trying to be friendly with Goody had turned into a nightmare, the scene at the church was embarrassing, and dinner had been a trial.

But the liberation of the mining camp had gone well enough, and everything with him and Vas had been… Yeah, that had been good. All of that had been good. It more than balanced the crap out, so that it came out pretty much evenly.

He was building a list in his head of things he needed to do today once he was finished here. Spend a few hours setting explosives with Vas. Lunch. Check if the general store here had something that could be used for slick, for tonight. Try his damnedest to talk to his brother, try to convince him that the pair of them needed to clear the air between them before Bogue descended on this town.

After that, he had two tentative plans, depending on how things went with Goodnight. If everything went good, he figured it would be most of the rest of the day for them to try to work things out. If everything went south, then to hell with it: he'd go help the townsfolk dig some damn ditches. Some backbreaking labor should be good for taking his mind off things.

Goodnight hadn't been up yet when he set out on this particular fool’s mission, but that hadn't surprised him: his brother had never been a morning person. He doubted that had changed. Rocks had struck him as the opposite—early to rise and all—but maybe he was staying close to Goody. Vas had grumbled and rolled back over, pulling the sheet up over his head, when Joshua had gotten up and gotten dressed early this morning. That had been one of the most adorable things he'd seen in his life.

There had been too many years of light sleeping and an almost paranoid level of awareness of what was going on around him for him to be able to stay in bed, even with Vas, with the steady crack of a rifle going off not too far away.

One hand on Maria in his side holster, he had followed the sound to the pond… and why wasn't he surprised to see Miss Emma Cullen out here? That she was a better shot with that rifle of hers than half the men in this town was no shock either. Hell, there were times he had been certain that their sister Colette was a better shot than him or Goodnight.

Miss Emma sometimes reminded him of Colette, for all that she had been dead since the end of summer ’61. He thought it was the no nonsense attitude and take no prisoners attitude she projected hard at the world. She certainly looked nothing like Colette nor sounded like her. She was a lot younger than Colette would be if she was alive now. She was shorter, with hair even redder than his own, instead of Colette’s dirty blonde shade. But the temperament? That was vintage Colette Robicheaux.

And maybe that was why he opened the conversation in that same teasing way he would have done with his sister: “Pretty.” And when she gave him the exact same look that Colette would have, the one that loudly declared he wasn't as funny as he thought he was, he corrected himself. “I mean ‘good’. Your shooting’s good. Do it again. Sight the lowest part of the ’v’, cheek resting against the—”

She interrupted the same instructions that Goodnight had given him once upon a time, way back in the War, and turned another, brand new annoyed look on him. “I had a father, thank you.”

“I didn't.” Because he hadn’t. There wasn’t a world in which he would have considered Monsieur Robicheaux a decent father… or a father at all. And that in mind, he pulled the unnamed gun from its quickdraw holster and fired off all six shots that it held in rapid succession, each and every one of them plugging into the same spot of the branch. “God,” and at the last second, he censored himself, remembering that Miss Emma was a lady and should be treated as such, “dang it, I'm good.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see her glance between him and their target, squinting as the rising sun moved above the horizon and towards blinding. There was a brief debate in her eyes before she finally asked, “Why are you doing this, Mister Faraday? I mean, why are you here? Fighting somebody else’s fight?”

There were a lot of answers he could give to that. He could have said that it had seemed like a good way to go out in a blaze of glory, one that might redeem him posthumously of all the bad things he'd done in his life. After all, he had only agreed once Sam Chisolm said the job was impossible. He could say that it was completely an altruistic move, that he had been moved by the town’s plight, but he got the feeling she would call him on that shit right away. If she was anything like Colette, she would in a heartbeat.

In the end, he went with a version of the truth, even if it was one that wasn't very flattering to himself. “I needed my horse back, and this was the price.”

But that was also too far from the truth for his own taste. It wasn't a lie, not per se, but it felt too close to it for his own tastes. But the truth was a bit more Joshua Robicheaux than Joshua Faraday. That was something he was trying to avoid. It wasn't easy, but if he could just avoid the slide a little longer, maybe he could get through the conversation he wanted and needed to have with Goodnight.

But he still needed to say it, to tell Miss Emma the rest of the truth.

“Six pounds of pressure, that's all it takes to kill a man.” He pulled Maria and fired one more shot, plugging one more hole in the same spot of the branch. “And they say the nightmares never go away.”

“Those nightmares?” She paused to lick her lips, a gesture that looked more nervous than he could imagine a woman as tough as Miss Emma feeling. “They keep you up often, Mister Faraday?”

And that was way too personal. It was too personal for him for any time for the day, let alone just as the sun was coming up and well before he got a single drop of coffee in himself—and even worse when he had only had a glass or two of whiskey since they had been in town. It had been a good idea: he was starting to feel a lot less… confrontational as the hangover started to fade further and further away.

But that was on a normal basis. Personal stuff like this was a whole different matter. He didn't hold himself responsible when things got this personal.

“You might want to wear some pants if you're fixin’ to fight.”

Well, that certainly came out a lot more civilized than he was anticipating, if containing a bit more of the Louisiana drawl he usually didn’t let out. He would have to remember to pat himself on the back later, once he had gotten into a better place in his own head.

Still, he wasn't going to be the one to tell the lady that she couldn't fight, that she couldn't defend her own town. As far as he was concerned, Miss Emma had just as much right to this fight as he did… and probably more. There was enough Colette in her for him to want to stay in her good books, after all.

Well, that and her more than fair hand with a rifle. Maybe he should have Chisolm put Miss Emma and the other ladies in charge of the shooting when Bogue came back.

Actually, that wasn't a half bad idea. He'd have to remember to bring it up the next time he saw the man.

 


 

Joshua had been in a better mood after coming in from his conversation with Miss Emma and finding Vasquez at the table shoveling food in his mouth as quickly as he could. There hadn’t been a second plate on the table, probably because the Mexican had no way of knowing when he would be back. There had, however, been two cups of hot black coffee, steam still lazing curling off of them both, and obviously only one of them had been touched. It was a nice thought.

And there was the fact that Miss Claire-or-Clara had brought out a plate piled high with eggs and only slightly charred bacon, along with a couple of biscuits, within a few moments of him dropping down in the chair closest to Vas. He had offered a grin and thanks before tucking in himself. The one he had gotten from her in response had been a bit shy, but the one Vas had turned his way was a lot amused and maybe a bit salacious, waggling his head side to side. It certainly hadn’t stopped him from putting eggs in his face, and as gross as that was, it was also almost cute.

“Oh shut up,” he had shot back, throwing one of his biscuits at the vaquero and laughing. It wasn’t like he hadn’t been going to give it to him eventually, after all. Damn near every meal since they had come to Rose Creek had involved him passing some kind of food to Vas.

“Don't waste your food, boys,” Jack Horne had admonished, dropping into the seat next to Joshua. For a man his size, Horne moved remarkably quietly, but there had been no mistaking the squeak of the front doors opening nor the sound of his boots crossing the floor.

“Ain't no food gonna get wasted around here,” Joshua had returned easily enough, still grinning large, “not with him around.” He had chased his words with a wink at Vasquez, which made just made the man smirk.

Every so often in the last few days, it had struck him as odd that every interaction with Chisolm rubbed him wrong but that he enjoyed spending time with Jack Horne. He wasn't sure he could put into words the difference. Chisolm made every impression of wanting him to fall in line with his plans, which anyone who had known Joshua at any point in his life knew was a laughable proposition at best, and then there was the man’s whole past with Joshua’s brother and whatever led from that. Horne was a new face, albeit one he had read about a lot when he was younger, and he wasn't making any specific demands on Joshua other than that he behave himself like he had the sense to get out of the rain.

Chisolm was complicated. Horne was easy. Chisolm was aloof but affable. Horne was approachable and cheerful.

Plus there was the not inconsiderable fact that Horne shared a name with Joshua’s horse, which engendered a lot of goodwill as far as he was concerned. That horse had been his only real friend for too long, after all.

That was probably why it was easier to get on with Horne than it was with Chisolm, even though in a lot of ways they were both fatherly type figures.

“What are you boys up to today?” Case in point: Horne could make the question friendly without it feeling like there was judgment attached to it.

“Setting up explosives,” Vasquez had answered cheerfully while he used Joshua’s biscuit to chase the last bit of eggs around his plate.

“Getting things ready to blow up,” he had continued the explanation, “since y’all’ve picked where the trenches are gonna be. Got a few other places in mind too.” Horne had looked vaguely interested and in more than the plate being set in front of him, so he had continued, “The shed out past the livery looks good for one. Maybe between the windmill and the corral for another. Cut off two of the main ways they’ll be heading into town, see if we can funnel them where we want them in the meantime.”

“If you two can set it without blowing up the windmill, then that sounds good.”

So that was what they were doing: trying to set the explosives where the only structures that might be destroyed were easily replaceable ones. The windmill wasn’t. The shed was. The corral was something that would prefer not to lose but would sacrifice if it proved necessary to holding the town.

Either way, he was going to make sure their group’s horses were safely away from the corral whenever the attack took place. Especially Jack. He wasn’t risking his horse getting blown up.

Vas was setting charges along the shed’s so called windows—in practicality, nothing more than almost square holes with roughly hewn shutters—while Joshua focussed on the liquor bottle he was planning on using as ignition for this particular explosion.

“Not very smart,” Vas remarked, “smoking?”

And he hadn’t even thought about the fact he was doing just that. He’d noted that Vasquez had abandoned those cigar he was usually chomping on… but only because he’d spent entirely too much time staring at the other man’s mouth with a mind towards last night.

He frowned, weighed the odds, and flicked his cigarette as Vas, bouncing it off his sleeve before it hit the dirt at his feet. It got him a dirty look as the Mexican stomped it out… and one that was both annoyed and amused in turns when he offered a wink in return.

 


 

He wasn’t certain what he’d been expecting when Chisolm had walked into the room where the four of them — himself, his Billy, Joshua, and Vasquez — were eating in uncomfortable silence, but it hadn’t been this.

Goodnight had noted that pretty much the minute they had arrived in Rose Creek that the four of them almost seemed to be sitting to eat at the same time, and he wasn’t stupid enough to think the seating arrangements were completely random. It was no coincidence that every meal they had together had himself seated with Billy to his immediate left, Vasquez next to Billy, and Joshua next to Vasquez. When the others were present, Horne was generally on Goodnight’s other side, with Chisolm next to him and Red Harvest between Joshua and Chisolm. If it somehow managed to be only the four of them, like this particular midday meal, then Vasquez and Joshua switched seats because they weren’t squeezed into a small corner and could spread out a bit.

It was obvious that Billy and Vasquez were trying to minimize conflict between the brothers, and it was as sweet as it was annoying.

So, they were all just eating, with Goodnight considering just how useless it would be to try taking a few of the men who’d shown a little bit of promise yesterday out to the range for a quick session as well as musing over how damned cute it was how his brother and Vasquez tried to pretend they weren’t practically in one another’s space at all hours of the day right now, when Chisolm walked in the door. He could have ignored the man had he not walked right up to the table and dropped a stack of what appeared to be letters and books into the middle of it.

What made him see red, however, was not the abrupt interruption of the meal.

No, it was the fact that his goddamn journal was right on top of the pile of letters written in a familiar hand.

He lunged forward with a snarl, hands hitting the pile at the same time as Joshua’s, and he looked up through his rage to see it reflected in his brother’s green eyes.

We are in agreement here, he mused in spite of his anger. I would gladly shoot that son of a bitch right now.

A small part of his awareness caught onto the fact that both Billy and Vasquez had pulled their revolvers and were aiming them straight at Chisolm. The man himself had his hands up in a placating gesture, an easy didn’t mean no harm smile on his face that Goodnight just knew was utter bullshit.

“Now, I do apologize,” Chisolm said, and it even sounded like bullshit, “and I admit I probably shouldn’t have gone through your personal belongings—”

“Damn right you shouldn’t have,” Billy interrupted, voice cold with rage, and Goodnight realized that one of the letters in the pile was addressed to himself; that was quite likely what his cher had ‘misplaced’ less than a day earlier, and his rage ratcheted up a few more notches.

Chisolm continued as if nothing had been said: “But to be quite honest, you two need to sit down and come to some kind of an accord if we’re going to survive this.”

Goodnight turned his head slowly, blue eyes narrowed on the man who pretended at being his friend when they both knew that there was another reason for their… acquaintance. “And you decided,” he said, doing his damnedest to keep his mask from slipping away, “that the best thing to do would be to go through all our belongings and do this?”

When the other man just stared back, Goodnight let out a bark of bitter laughter. “Fuck you, Chisolm,” he said, pushing himself away from the table without touching anything in the pile. “Do whatever you want with all this,” he said to the room at large, and he thought he caught a flicker of shock on Joshua’s face before he turned to face their erstwhile leader. “You… You do not get to regulate my relationships with anyone. I am here to do my part, and if you interfere again, I ain’t gonna stop Billy.”

With that, he turned to the stairs and stalked up them, uncaring that he was stomping the entire way. He heard Billy excuse himself quickly and knew that very shortly he would have some welcome company. For a brief moment, Goodnight hoped the man had grabbed the journal before letting the cold sink over him again.

Well, if he didn’t… let Joshua read it. He could come to his own conclusions.

Goodnight opened the door and paused long enough for Billy to slip in behind him, then shoved it shut without truly slamming it. He then walked over to the bed and sank down on it, his head dropping into his hands as he let out a shaking breath.

“Goody.” Billy’s voice was soft, gently soothing, and he looked up to see his cher holding out the letter he’d noted downstairs. “This came the day we left Volcano Springs. I wanted to give it to you yesterday, but obviously it wasn’t where I left it.”

“Who’s it from?” Goodnight asked, already knowing the answer—recognizing the handwriting—even as he took it and toyed with the seal.

And his Billy confirmed the truth: “Joshua. I… I think you should read it,” he added, leaning in to give him a soft kiss before standing to cross the room. He poured himself a glass of whiskey, and Goodnight looked to the letter in hand.

He took a deep breath and broke the seal. Might as well see what his brother had written before they’d crossed paths again.

Chapter Text

For a long moment, Joshua actually couldn’t see straight with how furious he was. It was all he could do to keep from drawing Maria and shooting Chisolm right in the god damn face, because this shit right here? This was not how you got people to settle differences. This was how you forced people to kill you and then possibly each other.

At the moment, he was in fucking awe of his brother because he was none too sure he could push the choking anger aside in order to give vent to what he was feeling. Honestly, if he could summon up words, he might tell Vasquez to go ahead and shoot the man who was fucking everything up… or maybe he’d just go tell Chisolm to go fuck himself. That sounded awfully appealing. Either option could work nicely, really.

Goodnight, though… Goodnight was managing to not only talk—because of course Goodnight was able to talk… Goodnight was always able to talk—but actually upbraid Chisolm for his handling of the situation. In a way, it was actually a bit glorious to watch, if he could summon himself out of his state of shock enough to enjoy it.

“And you decided,” Goodnight was growling, “that the best thing to do would be to go through our belongings and do this?

Joshua thought for about the hundredth time that Sam Chisolm must have ice water in his veins. Somehow he was managing to remain still and calm in the face of Goodnight’s wrath, a talent Joshua had never perfected, had never even come close to perfecting.

And the longer Chisolm stared, the more tense Joshua was starting to feel, which seemed to be translating over to Vasquez; he could just about hear the other man grinding his teeth next to him. The Mexican’s gun was still trained at Chisolm, but the hammer was not yet thrown back. It wouldn’t take Vasquez more than a split second to do that, he knew. The man had quick hands, after all. He knew that for a fact too now.

God damn it, those were the letters from his saddlebags just sitting right there for the world to see, though thankfully Chisolm hadn’t gone so far as to remove them from their envelopes. The last letter he had written to Goodnight was mixed in with all of that, as well as a thin leather-bound notebook of some kind. It looked an awful lot like the journal Goodnight had carried during the War and when they were still working together, but that couldn’t be possible; surely he would have filled it up and replaced it by now.

The audacity of all this was what was getting to him. That, and the fact he was really damn glad he had hidden away his money in his room the minute he had one picked out here in Rose Creek, tucked safely away under a loose floorboard where only he and Vasquez knew about it. He had actually felt all right leaving his saddlebags out in his room while they were all out working their various tasks to prepare Rose Creek for war, thinking they were safe tossed across the back of a chair. At that point, all that had been in them were a change of clothes, should he be willing to wear a shirt even dirtier than the one he had on now, some treats for Jack, his spare ammo, and the letters.

Hell, he and Vasquez had spent most of the morning setting explosives all over the valley floor. It had been fun, a lot more so than trying to get the firing line set up yesterday with Goodnight, so he had been nice and relaxed when he sat down to eat his lunch. By some weird twist of fate, nearly every time he sat down to eat a meal in this little town, he ended up with the same three other people at his table: Vasquez, of course, because they had been working together and the man never missed a chance to eat, seated to his left; Rocks to his right; and Goodnight across from him.

Damn, for that matter, he had still been riding high on the happiness—the sheer joy—of setting explosives with Vas this morning. He’d had still been a bit pleased with how yesterday’s shooting demonstration had gone, him and Goodnight plugging away on targets like the old days: Goodnight emptying an entire rifle into the target’s head, while Joshua worked on emptying another into center mass. It had felt so damn good that even Goodnight’s stomping away immediately afterwards hadn’t been able to dim it much, not enough that it had been faded completely, thanks to the promise of violence the explosives gave…. and what had happened, what had been settled, last night between him and Vasquez.

Granted, there had been that odd encounter with Miss Emma from very early this morning that he had still been stewing over. Moreover, there had been the not inconsiderable fact that he had been working up the gumption to ask his brother if they could talk somewhere a bit more private and hope that Goodnight didn’t think he meant to kill him once he had him alone…

But then Chisolm had come in, stalking right up to their table and dropping a bomb in the middle of the table, in the form of their personal belongings: the letters from Rocks, the ones that he knew damn well had been in his saddlebags; the last letter he had written to Goodnight before all this began, the one he had intended to be his last letter ever; and what had to be Goodnight’s journal. He had scrambled forward to grab the letters, his hands hitting the stack at the same time that Goodnight got his on that journal. Vasquez and Rocks had both managed to draw their guns, training them on the person who had started all of this: Chisolm. His eyes had met Goodnight’s across the table, and they had been glittering with cold anger… and then Goodnight had torn into Chisolm with both barrels… and Joshua was just watching him go.

Goodnight let out a laugh that sounded as bitter as winter as he pushed himself to his feet and away from the table. “Fuck you, Chisolm,” he all but growled, before turning his attention to the rest of the room. “Do whatever you want with all of this.”

No, Goodnight could not mean that. He couldn’t. The Goodnight he had known would have cared more about his privacy than this. He would have snatched the journal up and tucked it away inside his jacket, at the very least, if he didn’t punch somebody for touching it in the first place. This sounded way too much like a Goodnight who had given up, and… No. Just, no.

But Goodnight wasn’t looking at him. No, his eyes were fixed on Chisolm, and there was hate there like Joshua hadn’t seen in years. “You… You do not get to regulate my relationships with anyone. I am here to do my part, and if you interfere again,” his voice went dark, and Joshua fought the urge to shiver at the sound of it, “I ain’t gonna stop Billy.” He turned and stomped up the stairs towards where their rooms were located, leaving everything behind.

It didn’t take Rocks more than a moment to follow, though he at least remembered to grab the last letter Joshua had written to Goodnight before he headed up after the man, leaving Joshua alone with Vasquez and Chisolm. Vasquez could probably continue to hold that gun on Chisolm the rest of the afternoon, never mind the oddness of basically sticking up their supposed leader. There wasn’t a lot of point to it at this point, though.

So he put a hand on Vasquez’s knee, as a signal that the gun wasn’t needed right now. Hopefully… No, good, he got what it meant, as he holstered the gun again as quickly as he had drawn it in the first place. That, at least, was a relief: the weird thing he and Vasquez had fallen into almost from the beginning was still working. That hadn’t been set on its head like everything else here today.

“Surely,” Chisolm began, “you can see the point of all of this, Mister Faraday. If we’re all fighting amongst ourselves, this entire thing is doomed to fail before Bogue can bring a single man in here.”

“I can see what you think you’re doing, Chisolm. It’s not a bad idea,” he replied, speaking carefully against the lump in his throat, against the way that hot thread of anger that usually ran like a river inside him was icing over, against the way he wanted to pull Maria out and shoot the man in the face. He couldn’t, though, not if the good people of Rose Creek were going to stand half a chance, but the temptation was still there, still lurking. “But this was not the way to do it. Don’t touch any of our belongings ever again, or Bogue’s army will be the least of your problems.”

In the back of his mind, he could acknowledge the fact that he probably sounded a lot like his brother right now. When they had been a lot younger and a lot closer, he had always thought the way their tempers ran was funny, given how they were complete opposites of one another. Joshua always ran hot, ready to scream and rail at the world… but if he ever went quiet and cold in his anger, then it was time to run. Goodnight had been the opposite: always cool and collected in anger, a front ready to show the world that he was the civilized brother… until he was pushed beyond his limits and exploded. Chisolm had pushed them both to that point with this stunt of his.

“All the same, Mister Faraday…”

“All the same, Mister Chisolm,” he returned, speaking over the other man, “I’m going to put a bullet in your brain if you say another god damn word to me. Now, if you’ll pardon me, I have something to return to my brother.”

It seemed a damn shame to leave his lunch on the table, but his appetite was gone and his stomach had turned sour at the thought of food. Right now, he was craving whiskey like a fish craved water, but this wasn’t the time to imbibe, even if Vasquez was willing to let him. He needed a clear head to do this. As calmly as he could, he stood up and gathered all the papers left on the table: the book and the letters. And he did it all with his back to Chisolm, trusting the Mexican at his side to make sure he didn’t get shot in the back. Granted, Vasquez was also helping him gather the letters from where they had scattered across the table while he was keeping a weather eye on the rest of the room, but that was all right; he could hear Chisolm leaving, the batwing doors creaking just slightly as they swung with his exit.

“I’ll take these upstairs to your room,” Vasquez said quietly, gesturing to the letters. For once, there was not a hint of amusement in his voice, something he hadn’t heard often. “You give that to your brother?”

He nodded, already gripping the little book hard enough that he was surprised the leather hadn’t started creaking yet. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, bracing himself for the inevitable rejection he was undoubtably going to get from Goody. Goodnight. Whatever. It was coming, and he was going to have to be ready for it.

And to think, he had been planning on trying to convince his brother into sitting down and talking with him once they'd both had a decent meal on their bellies. It had even been going to be today. He'd have probably been trying to convince Goodnight to give him the time of day right about now, if Chisolm hadn't forced his hand like this.

Now it was all just damage repair and waiting for the fallout.

A light touch, no more than a finger running along his jawline, dragged his eyes back open and his mind away from their darker than normal turn.

Ándale, güerito,” Vasquez added when he still didn’t move, half a smirk starting to build on his face, and Joshua took a second to smack him lightly in the arm for it. “It’ll be all right, yes?”

“Oh, I doubt it,” Joshua returned quietly… but somehow the words still gave him the push he needed to start moving after his brother. He lived to be contrary, after all.

The trip up the stairs had never been this long or this slow-going before. It seemed to take a decade to make it to the landing between floors and another to make it up to the second floor. He could hear Vasquez right behind him, though the other man turned relatively quickly to the left, to head to the row of rooms that nominally belonged to the two of them and Red Harvest. Granted, Red tended to make himself scarce where he could, given how most of these townspeople felt about having a Comanche in their presence. Joshua was actually pretty damn sure he was sleeping on the hotel roof or in one of the fields like Horne most nights. The weather was good enough for it, so why not? And Vas had spent last night in Joshua’s room, so…

And he was stalling still. He needed to get this bit of hurt over with, so that he could go back to make this entire valley ready to explode. That would improve his temperament greatly.

For as long as the stairs had seemed to take, the hallway to the right was almost impossibly short. It felt like it had taken two heartbeats for him to find himself in front of the door to the room he knew Goodnight was sharing with Rocks. Time to screw his courage up to the sticking place, he decided, and made himself knock on the door.

And of course—of course!—it was Rocks who answered the door, blinking in obvious surprise. “Joshua?”

Just his damn luck…

No, he was not going to start shit right now. He still might be holding a grudge about Rocks and his place in his brother’s life, but he wasn’t going to start anything. He needed to return his brother’s property to him, so that he wouldn’t catch too much hell from Vas.

And he needed to make sure that he was wrong, that Goodnight hadn’t just given up. Because… Well, he wasn’t thinking too hard on the ‘because’. He didn’t want to think too hard on the ‘because’. So he took a deep breath and calmed himself, trying to erase every ounce of annoyance from his face, and he tried again.

“Y’all left this,” he finally replied, holding the journal out. “I figured… Well, there’s no need in anyone but Goodnight reading it if it’s his, right?”

Rocks actually looked vaguely annoyed, before he turned for a moment, clearly trying to get the attention of the other man in the room. So, clearly, that olive branch was not accepted.

Goodnight was sitting on the edge of the bed reading a letter. He was pretty sure he recognized his own sloppy handwriting. Yeah, that was the last letter he had written, the one he intended to be his last letter altogether. He couldn’t quite decipher the look on Goodnight’s face: his brother had always had the ability to hide what he was feeling exceptionally well, usually because he was feeling and showing a hundred emotions at the same time. Well, or at least, that was how it had been years ago. Now, though…

Whatever Rocks saw there that Joshua couldn’t, he turned back to face him and nodded. “Maybe you should come in,” he offered.

And no, he shouldn’t do that. If there was anywhere in this god damn town where he was damn sure not welcome, it was the inside of this particular room. Coming in, that was the way to a whole mess of additional hurt feelings all around… and possibly more punches, which he would really rather avoid. But he wanted to put this in Goodnight’s hand himself. There was a whole tangle of reasons why, and too many of them boiled down to that old childish part of him, the one he had thought long since dead and buried, that wanted his brother to see him, to be proud of him for doing the right thing for once.

But then, Rocks did know Goodnight better than he did now, maybe better than he ever would again.

“Please,” Rocks continued when he didn’t move. “He’s reading one of your letters. It’s only the second one we’ve received.”

His hand tightened on the journal again, dropping it once again to his side as the leather creaked quietly. “It’s… But it’s… I’ve…” He floundered, trying to think of what he was trying to say. “I’ve written fifteen if I’ve written one. I heard about Carson City, but…” He shook his head, more to clear it than anything else, and finished in a quiet voice that was more to himself than an answer, as he stared down at the small book he still held. “This was supposed to be my last letter.”

“So it says.”

Rocks jumped at the sound of Goodnight’s voice. He wasn’t so proud as to not admit that he didn’t startle a bit, that he didn’t feel a bit of terror deep in his chest at the familiar voice as well. Honestly, he wasn’t sure he had it in him to react too much right now, not when he was so busy bracing for what would be coming sooner or later. It was—would be—coming. Goodnight would be leaving him again, of course, once this with Bogue was all over. Of course he would, given how fractured they were right now… But…

He glanced up, looking tiredly through slitted eyes, giving his brother a more thorough look over. He really wished that he could tell what it was Goodnight was thinking, was feeling, right now. He might as well be blind for how much he was able to figure out just looking at the man, though. It just wasn’t working.

He should go. He should get out of here before he got thrown out. Or have the door slammed in his face. That was always a possibility too, right? He really didn’t know Goodnight Robicheaux any longer. When he had been his brother, Goodnight never would have done that, but now? Now, at best, they might as well have been strangers. At worst, they could end up being enemies after this… and that was the very last thing he wanted. He wouldn’t be able to live with that again; he couldn’t live with knowing Goody—Goodnight—hated him. Not again. No, not again.

But Goodnight was still speaking, turning his attention back down to the papers in his hands. “You’d best come in, T… Joshua. Family matters don’t need the ears of everyone in town listening in.”

Last time Goodnight had called him by that old nickname, he had punched him. This time, when Goodnight was so obviously stopping himself from using it, it made him feel like something had ripped apart inside of himself, right when he wished he could feel as numb as Goodnight sounded to his ears. He wished he could be as unaffected as Goodnight sounded, and that was very, very unfair. Why couldn’t he be above it all right now too?

No, he just needed to do this: give Goodnight the journal, no matter what he had to go through to do it, and then he could go back to rigging the entire damn valley to explode. He just needed steady hands for that. They might not be that right now, but maybe they would be again by the time he and Vasquez got back to work. Explosives weren’t too likely to hurt as much; they would just kill you and have it over with.

All the plans he had been laying for trying to make peace with his brother had flown out the window when Chisolm dropped that bomb on the table. All his carefully laid out words, gone. All his careful planning to make sure he didn’t say something stupid and ruin this before it could even get started, gone.

God damn Chisolm.

“Would you like me to go?” Rocks asked. By some wonder, it looked like Joshua was being included in that question. Maybe. No, he was pretty sure that that actually was the case. Rocks actually was asking him whether or not he wanted the other man to leave.

Goodnight might not appreciate the audience, but if this went as badly as Joshua was starting to fear it would, then his brother might need Rocks here. Hell, maybe Rocks could put Joshua out of his misery and be done with it all.

He shook his head. “You can stay. It’s your room too.” Both of them had told him to come in now, so… He took a shuffling step or two forward, pushing the door closed behind himself, forcing himself to let go of the doorknob.

God, he couldn’t remember what he had written in that letter anyway. He didn’t think that there was anything in there that would have Goodnight so rapt. He remembered writing something about how he was going to stop after this last one. He remembered something about recovering from a beating he had taken from a particularly nasty bounty who hadn’t traveled quite as small a group as he had been told. He remembered something about being broke and hungry for the last few months since he had paid more than twice the bounty originally offered to get the price taken off Rocks’ head. There might have been something about Brazil in it; he had been reading about that not that long before writing. He seemed to recall talking about how he was going after July Bully and Powder Dan Harrison—and Vasquez—to make up for said earlier bounty he had missed out on. That was about all he remembered, though. It had been several weeks ago that he had written it, and he had been rather impressively drunk through a large part of it. Remembering that much at this point was probably an achievement.

“Goodnight,” he started to say before cutting himself off again. It wasn’t going to do any good.

“You still got any aches left over from that last bounty a’ yours?” Goodnight asked, not looking from the letter. But there was something coming through in his brother’s voice, and he wasn’t too sure what to make of it. It almost sounded like concern, but that didn’t tally too well with everything else, so he wasn’t going to remark on it. Best to keep playing this hand as close to his chest as he could stand to for when it eventually and inevitably went south on him.

For a second, he was almost tempted to ask if Goodnight meant Powder Dan and July Bully, since those had been the last bounties he had been tracking down, but no, he had to be talking about the one in the letter, Eli Joe and his little passel of friends. He had been told Eli Joe traveled with no more than two other men. When it had come time to try to bring him in, there had been no less than five with him.

He shook his head slowly before answering, “It’s been a few months.” Then a tad defensively, because he felt like he might need something else: “I wasn’t expecting there to be six of them.”

Goodnight made a soft humming sound that could have been anything: disapproval for losing against those odds seemed likely. He doubted it was concern.  After all, he was still kicking himself a bit for losing the fight, no matter the odds. When they had been the Robicheaux brothers hunting bounties together, they hadn’t lost to those kinds of odds. “Too bad he slipped you. At least you cleaned up on a few of his… friends, it sounded.”

He wasn’t too sure what to make of that. It had been too long since he had had any kind of a conversation that didn’t involve yelling and fists for him to be able to read Goodnight like he used to be able to. Hell, part of him was considering asking Rocks what the hell he was missing here, to see if maybe—just maybe—he was wrong and Goodnight’s distraction was a good thing. Right now, he felt sort of like the gooseberry in the middle, standing awkwardly between the two of them, feeling all out of sorts, and still holding that damn journal.

But before he could even begin to follow through with that half-formed idea, his brother spoke again, and at least this time he could make out some of what the older man was clearly feeling: confusion was clear at least in his brother’s blue eyes as he set the letter down on the nightstand and stared right at him. “How long ago, exactly, did you pay off Billy’s bounty?”

That one, at least, he could answer readily. “January second, this year. They were still cleaning up from New Years.”

For several long, long minutes, Goodnight looked completely stunned. For that matter, Joshua felt completely stunned, at least in part by the fact he was seeing way too much on his brother’s face… too much, especially, compared to the face it looked so much like. At some point in this conversation—or maybe even in these last few days—he had started looking at Goodnight, seeing that too familiar face, and expecting Monsieur Robicheaux’s reaction, may the bastard burn in hell. Maybe, just maybe, if he kept his eyes on Goodnight’s, those blue eyes that looked stunned and perhaps a bit devastated, he might be able to remember who he was talking to and who wasn’t here.

“Did’ja mean it?” Goodnight asked abruptly. And that was a little harder to answer. He couldn’t say for certain whether nor not he did or did not mean something when he didn’t know what exactly he was being asked about. Thankfully, though, Goodnight clarified, “Before Carson City. Your letter said you’d planned to head that way before winter hit and that you regretted the way we… well. You know well as I do how we parted ways.” And God, yes, he remembered that well enough, but Goodnight wasn’t done speaking, this time much more quietly. “Damned bullheaded temper was about the only thing the bastard gave us, wish I could give it back.”

He opened his mouth to ask how often Goodnight had known him to say things he didn’t mean, but he stopped, remembered himself nearly ten years ago, remembered how often he had put his foot in his mouth over the last few days, and changed his mind. “I try not say things I don’t mean if I can help it these days. Don’t always work, but I try. I was… upset that I missed you two in Carson City. Hell, I was furious for weeks. I got back there after turning in a bounty and found out I’d missed you by a week.” He shook his head, really wishing he had his hat, so that he could have something to do with his hands; it didn’t seem right to roughly fiddle with his brother’s journal the same way he would his own belongings. And shit, would that sound like he was blaming the two of them for not staying? He was making some progress here, maybe, so he continued in a hurry, “I heard about how everyone came out of the woodworks looking for Rocks’ bounty. Make sense to leave. I probably would have to. Hell, you guys probably stayed longer than I would… or have, since God knows I’ve been run out of a few towns over the years. That don’t matter,” he shook his head again, because really,  Joshua, really. This was not the time. “Anyway, I mean it that I’m sorry I missed you then. I meant it that I hate how we parted ways.”

“So do I,” Goodnight sighed. “I don’t even know where to start over, honestly. I hate all this… bullshit between us, and you know I can talk circles ‘round the world but can never say the important things—” He cut himself off, approximately a million things flying through his eyes before they locked on Joshua’s, and he sat up straighter. “But maybe you should read that, just a few entries: December 26, 1876; November 15, 1877; July 12, 1879.”

That was… That last date was just a few days ago. If he was doing his math correctly, that would have been either the day they left Volcano Springs or while they were outside Junction City the next day. Given how hard, fast, and far into a bottle he had immediately climbed, he couldn’t say for certain. He wasn’t even completely sure how many days it had actually been since Volcano Springs. Five? Six? Vas had somehow talked him into starting to ration the whiskey since they had been here, so he knew they had been in town for two or three days at this point. He thought that he had been picking up a Mexican outlaw for a friend and… whatever else they were now… not a damn mother hen. But that was beside the point.

“Are you sure?” he asked instead. “I mean, it’s yours, Goodnight.”

“Positive” came the immediate answer. Goodnight even nodded sharply before glancing over at the other man in the room, over at where Rocks was standing silently out of the way of all of this. “If you’d prefer, you can take it to your own room and read there.” There was a couple seconds’ pause before he finished, “I’d prefer if you were comfortable here to read, just in case you wanted to ask anything.”

God, how he wanted to be able to stay. He wanted it. But there was just no way he could do that. “I… can’t, Goodnight. Not to say I don’t want to, but I can’t.” He swallowed hard, trying to wet an impossibly dry throat. “I need some time—just a bit—to think over all this. And this,” he gestured at the journal still in his white-knuckled grip, tapping the cover lightly with the other hand. “And if I stay, none of that’s gonna happen.” Because they would just stand there—or in Goodnight’s case, sit there—and try to awkwardly rehash the same points. “So I’m sorry, but I can’t.”

“I understand,” his brother stated, his voice even. “It’s been too many years to think on things. Just…” He broke off for a moment, gesturing towards the book. “Just go on and keep that till you have a chance to read. Then, when you’re ready…”

There wasn’t any need for Goody to say anything else. When they had been working together, that had always been the way it had been. Joshua had never been able to work his way through an issue quickly or with an audience, so he would find a place to retreat for a bit and work his way through whatever the problem was. That especially was true if it involved reading, something that had never come particularly easily to him. Eventually, whenever whatever it was had been settled in his mind, he would eventually seek his brother out and try to talk it through. It hadn’t always worked out… but it was better than the alternative: yelling and screaming at each other and eight-plus years of not speaking.

“Of course,” he agreed quickly. He ran through some quick mental calculations of how much good time was left to get work done during the day, how much he and Vasquez needed to get accomplished today, and if he cared what Chisolm might have to say or do tonight. He was leaning towards a stern and strong ‘no’ on the last consideration. “After dinner, then? Should give me a long enough to read those three.” He snickered quietly. “If my damn Mexican mother hen lays off for a bit, anyway.”

Goody looked like he was trying his best not to start laughing right then and there. It was almost a shame he decided to limit it to just a grin. “The same mother hen what made sure you ate on the way here?” And that was a bit more than he actually remembered from the trip between Volcano Springs and here. Mostly he remembered a couple of conversations here and there—mostly with Vasquez but a few accidental ones with his brother—coyotes howling, picking on little Teddy Q at every given opportunity, and Chisolm eating raw deer liver… because that was both hilarious and hard to forget. Thankfully Goody seemed to find the confusion on his face reason enough to continue. “I seem to remember someone all but tossing Miss Emma’s ricochet biscuits at you at least once a day.”

And oh yeah, those he did sort of remember, at least for thinking he was going to break a tooth on each and every last one of them… and still choking them down because it simply would not do to insult a lady by spitting out her food unless it was actively trying to kill you and because Vas had been watching him like a damn hawk.

And then Goody sighed again, face smoothing out into something softer. “You take your time now, mon frère. Sadly, I ain’t going anywhere until Chisolm’s vendetta is carried out. Damn Yank thinks I owe him a favor, and I reckon this is how he’s cashing it in.”

Can I kill him?

It was probably a bad sign for him that something like that was the first thought that went through his mind. He tried not to kill anyone that didn’t need killing, for a given and sometimes quite liberal value of needing to be killed, but with all of this…

“Chisolm’s not winning himself any points in my book either. He bought my damn horse out from under me. I can afford to buy Jack back, yeah, if he doesn’t hit the price up too much higher, but there’s a lot else here I can’t do much about right now.” He didn’t even try to bite back the growl rising in his throat or hide the way his eyes were narrowing. Damn it, he had been fighting the slide from the moment they got in Rose Creek—fighting to stay Joshua Faraday as much as he possibly could, if an ornery as hell and still hungover version of Joshua Faraday—but all this was pissing him to the point it was becoming impossible to stop. “Because there’s Vasquez’s bounty to consider as well.”

“I can kill him if you want?” Faraday might have jumped out of his skin at the sudden sound of Billy Rocks’ voice. Perhaps that was a small advantage of letting that slide happen, of letting himself become just a little bit of that mean bastard living under his skin, because the younger Robicheaux brother just managed to cut a dark look over for the interruption and then start taking the time to consider it.

Oh, he had no doubt whatsoever that Rocks could kill Chisolm. The difference in their skill levels made that abundantly clear. Chisolm was decent enough, for a lawman, but Rocks was well beyond that. But could he do it in a way that wouldn’t tie back to any of them? Because the last thing he wanted was for Rocks to end up with another bounty on his head for Joshua to have to raise the money to pay off.

But if he could manage it…

“No, mon cher,” Goodnight answered before he could, though, “but I do appreciate the offer. I suppose we’ll just—hell, I don’t know—play this by ear and see if the damned fool doesn’t manage to kill all of us on his suicide mission. I don’t intend to die out here. Got too much to live for, I reckon.”

He cleared his throat, standing up a bit straighter and looking his brother in the eye. “I’m gonna go read those three: December 26, 1876; November 15, 1877; and July 12, 1879. I’ll see you tonight Goodnight.” He got his hand on the doorknob, turning it but not opening the door, not yet, but also not even looking at his brother or Rocks. “For whatever it’s worth, I’m sorry. I handled a lot of this badly, eight years ago and now, and there was a lot of stuff I was wrong about.” Including Rocks, but he wasn’t sure he could say that just yet.

There was a faint shuffling sound behind him, but he couldn’t tell exactly what it was: maybe Goodnight standing up, maybe Rocks moving around, or maybe it was something outside the open window. It was definitely his brother who spoke, though. “I’m sorry, too, mon frère, for my part in all a’ that. We’ll talk more tonight, okay? Be careful, Joshua. Y’all are still rigging the valley, ain’tcha? Don’t blow anything up too soon. But if you accidentally rig Chisolm’s bed to explode…”

“Don’t tempt me,” he shot right back with a snicker that he was pretty sure he heard Goody sharing as well. And it was a little funny that the threat of violence against their so called leader was the thing that put his mind squarely back into the Faraday mindset. Well, he had always been a bit odd, even if he did have to say so himself. “I’ve already have to talk Vas out of tying dynamite to Horse’s tail twice. Ain’t the horse’s fault his owner’s an ass, I told him, but he’s still up for the idea.”

“I knew I liked that Texican,” Goody mused, and that pleased sound in his voice was nice to hear.

“I feel I should remind you there’s still no such thing as a Texican, before Vas manages to overhear it from the other side of the place and come over to say something himself,” he snickered as he said. If Vasquez hadn’t gone ahead and found something else to start working on instead of waiting for him, that was. He did seem to have an aversion to staying idle, which was something he rather liked and admired about the man. But he didn’t need to be thinking about that right now. Right now… “I’ll see you tonight, Goodnight.”

Chapter Text

The knock on the door was completely unexpected, especially with all that had just happened downstairs not ten minutes ago.

Billy glanced over at Goody, who had finally convinced himself to start reading Joshua’s letter, and who wasn’t paying any attention to whomever may be at the door. Rather than disturb his lover, he stood from where he was polishing his knives (and dreaming about applying them quite liberally to Chisolm, whom Goody apparently didn’t like all that much after all) and walked over to pull the door open…

And blink in surprise. “Joshua?”

The man in question spent about half a second looking completely put out and pissed off, and that could have had to do with anything from Chisolm’s bullshit downstairs to his presence in the room to the fact that it was a hot and sunny day. Billy wasn’t going to ask, since it wasn’t his place—that was at Goody’s side, being his cover and his safe harbor—but he disliked the animosity he could sense.

Then Joshua’s face cleared to an almost pleasant expression, and there was the Robicheaux mask. It was just as annoying on the younger as it was on the older.

“Y’all left this,” he finally said, holding out Goody’s journal, which he didn’t take; he was certain his lover had left it for a reason that made sense in his head. “I figured… Well, there’s no need in anyone but Goodnight reading it if it’s his, right?”

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

He honestly wanted to grab hold of the taller man and shake him a good one. But he took a breath rather than reach out to smack the boy (and yes, Joshua was a good eight years younger than him, which made him a boy still so far as he was concerned) and turned to try and casually catch Goody’s attention.

But Goody was still reading the letter and looked a bit distressed. God damn it.

This was going to be annoying. He turned back to Joshua and gave a small nod. “Maybe you should come in,” he said evenly. When it looked like the other was going to hesitate, he added, “Please. He’s reading one of your letters. It’s only the second we’ve received.”

There, maybe that was enough of an olive branch.

Joshua blinked, expression falling out of the mask—and, oh hell, Billy knew that expression. That was complete devastation, and he’d seen it far too many times on Goody’s face. It had been especially bad after Carson City, when all his lover had done was stare into the fire or off in the distance with that same look… until he got mad all over again.

“It’s… But it’s… I’ve…” The younger man floundered, obviously trying to find his words and not really succeeding. “I’ve written fifteen if I’ve written one.”

what?!

Billy had to have heard that wrong. Granted, they had spent far too many years having to cut and run practically every four or five months, with Volcano Springs being one of their longest stopover points in ages. It had been about eight months since they’d been forced to run, so it wasn’t impossible that Billy had missed every letter but the one his Goody was reading right now and the one that had lead them to Carson City.

“I heard about Carson City, but…” Joshua continued, voice trailing off. And chances were strong that they really had just missed one another. Billy had wanted to try and stay a full two months before they were set on in the middle of the night by a mob who wanted his bounty. Goody’d been forced to kill more than a couple of the group, and so he had been the one to insist they leave immediately.

Now, Billy was wishing he’d argued harder.

Joshua shook his head and finished in a quiet voice that sounded more like he was talking to himself than speaking to Billy, staring down at Goody’s journal. “This was supposed to be my last letter.”

“So it says.”

Billy was not too proud to admit that he’d startled a bit at the voice behind him, turning his head sharply and noting that Joshua likewise looked up. Goody was still seated on the bed, letter in hand, but he had turned his face up a bit to look towards the door.

And yes, that same damn look of devastation was right there. More than he’d ever noticed before, it was crystal clear that these two men were brothers; from expressions to temperament to their innate utter ability to piss Billy off without even trying, Joshua and Goody were brothers through and through.

After a moment, Goody turned his eyes back to the letter, fingers straightening the creases he’d put into it at some point in the past ten or so minutes. “You’d best come in, T… Joshua. Family matters don’t need the ears of everyone in town listening in.”

“Would you like me to go?” Billy asked, not only addressing Goody but Joshua as well. He would stay if needed, but he would just as easily leave and stand guard at the end of the hallway.

“You can stay,” Joshua replied, shaking his head. He honestly seemed surprised to have been addressed, but it was a good thing he’d answered as Goody was still toying with the edges of the letter. “It’s your room, too.”

Then finally the boy came into the room, even if it took him forever to let go of the doorknob once he’d pushed it closed behind him. Everything about him screamed of discomfort, but he was also determined to do… something. Probably thought that he and Goody were about to fight again.

The silence was uncomfortably long, and Billy was starting to wonder if he was going to have to be the one to talk first before Joshua spoke again. It was just a simple, “Goodnight,” but it was something.

And apparently it was all that Goody needed to start talking himself.

“You still got any aches left over from that last bounty a’ yours?”

And Billy was lost. He was certain that Goody would show him the letter later, just as when they’d received the one that took them to Carson City, but for the moment, he had no goddamn clue what was going on.

Joshua apparently understood, even if he looked a bit lost at the moment. He slowly shook his head, “It’s been a few months. I wasn’t expecting there to be six of them.”

“Hmm,” Goody replied, fingers relaxing slightly. “Too bad that he slipped you. At least you cleaned up on a few of his… friends, it sounded.”

He paused for a moment, looking over something else, and that expression of concern and confusion slid over his features. Billy wondered what, exactly, was in the damned letter that kept his Goody so focused and distressed all in one.

Finally, he set the letter on the nightstand, leaned forward to rest his chin on his clasped hands, and asked point blank: “How long ago, exactly, did you pay off Billy’s bounty?”

What the actual fuck?

‘Gobsmacked’ was one of those twenty dollar words his lover was so fond of that probably, accurately described what Billy was feeling right now.

 


 

“How long ago, exactly, did you pay off Billy’s bounty?”

“January second, of this year,” Joshua replied. “They were still cleaning up from New Years.”

For the life of him, Goodnight wasn’t even sure what to be thinking or feeling at the moment. When Billy’d handed him the letter, he’d almost expected a brief missive similar to the one that took them to Carson City a couple years back: talk about some recent bounties, concern over the weather since it had been closing in on winter at that time, regrets that they hadn’t talked in so long, and mention of where he planned to be soon. It had ended with disaster and several bodies that needed thrown into the ground, but at least it was a basis for what to expect.

But what he’d gotten was a long missive over several pages, written somewhat messily as if his T-Jo had been very deep in a bottle when he’d started writing, that began with the words I honestly don’t know how your Billy can keep just—sending letters out into the void the way he does, but I’ve gotten one every three or four months for years now. I almost feel like I ain’t trying, sending only one each year now, but I can’t keep it up. This is going to be the last one, and I hope that it finds you well.

It then went on to talk about a bounty he’d been tracking who was traveling with a few more friends than anticipated, but thankfully one of the ones who didn’t slip him was a horse thief who’d killed a rancher so it wasn’t a total bust. There was mention that he’d been sleeping rough and not quite eating well, what with having paid a hell of a lot more than what was originally asked to… to fucking buy out Billy’s bounty — and something in there about kneecapping some greedy son of a bitch, which nearly drew a laugh. He did talk about how it was gonna be a pain in the ass with the worst days of summer ahead, and that it seemed like every reprobate in the west decided to hit open desert just to piss him off.

Then it dissolved into lamenting over how much of both their childhoods had been lost thanks to the damned War and how things could have been different if they were both older or both younger, and how much he’d been drinking to even get this far in writing the letter.

He’d ended it with So stay safe out there, my brother. I hope you have a good life—and if I find out your Billy ain’t treating you right, I may have to track him down and do something about it. Love you. T-Jo.

It had been written a few weeks before all… this had started up, and now Goodnight wasn’t entirely sure what to do or think.

“Did’ja mean it?” he asked abruptly. When both Joshua and Billy just stared at him, Billy looking completely dumbfounded, he clarified, “Before Carson City. Your letter said you’d planned to head that way before winter hit and that you regretted the way we… well. You know well as I do how we parted ways.” He added almost too quiet to carry, “Damned bullheaded temper was about the only thing the bastard gave us, wish I could give it back.”

He couldn’t quite interpret the expression that crossed his brother’s face for a moment; it looked like that old Joshua Robicheaux stubbornness was about to come out, but then he paused as if thinking before he actually spoke. “I try not say things I don’t mean if I can help it these days. Don’t always work, but I try,” he started, and wasn’t that a miracle of its own making? At twenty-one, the boy’d thought he knew everything and would blurt it out in a moment. That was part of what had made their fight so horrific in hindsight.

Joshua continued, “I was… upset that I missed you two in Carson City. Hell, I was furious for weeks. I got back there after turning in a bounty and found out I’d missed you by a week.” He shook his head, looking for all the world like he wished he had something to toy with aside from Goodnight’s journal. And shit, he was still holding it and it didn’t look like he’d even considered opening it. That made him feel warm inside, like there was still something that could be salvaged in their world. The younger seemed to rush to add, “I heard about how everyone came out of the woodworks looking for Rocks’ bounty. Make sense to leave. I probably would have to. Hell, you guys probably stayed longer than I would… or have, since God knows I’ve been run out of a few towns over the years. That don’t matter.”

Like hell it don’t matter, Goodnight thought, angry at the thought of his T-Jo having to ever cut and run.

“Anyway, I mean it that I’m sorry I missed you then,” his brother said, finally seeming to be winding down. “I meant it that I hate how we parted ways.”

Goodnight took a breath, rubbing wearily at his eyes. They’d lost so much time thanks to both of them being stubborn sons of bitches who couldn’t put things behind them. That was pure Monsieur Robicheaux, and this was one of those times he wished he’d killed that old bastard faster.

“So do I,” he sighed. “I don’t even know where to start over, honestly. I hate all this… bullshit between us, and you know I can talk circles ‘round just about the entire world but can’t never say the important things.”

And he cut himself off. Because he had said the important things. He’d said them dozens of times over the past few years, in letters addressed to his dear little brother. Letters he’d never sent.

Letters that were in his journal.

He sat up a bit straighter, lifting his eyes to try and lock with Joshua’s. When it seemed like he had the younger man’s attention, he said very carefully and clearly, “But maybe you should read that, just a few entries. December 26, 1876; November 15, 1877; July 12, 1879.”

The last was the one he’d written when they’d met up with Chisolm and his part of the ‘recruits’ for this insanity, but all three were the times he’d felt the most need to try and make amends… even without Joshua being present. Hopefully they would say what he couldn’t force past his lips.

“Are you sure?” Joshua asked, seemingly stunned. “I mean, it’s yours, Goodnight.”

“Positive,” he immediately answered, nodding sharply, with a glance over at Billy for confirmation. “If you’d prefer, you can take it to your own room and read there.” There was a couple seconds’ pause before he finished, “I’d prefer if you were comfortable here to read, just in case you wanted to ask anything.”

Joshua looked conflicted. He could almost read the war going on in his brother’s head, and honestly he wasn’t too surprised when the younger man answered.

“I… can’t, Goodnight. Not to say I don’t want to, but I can’t.” He paused for a moment, swallowed hard, then continued, “I need some time — just a bit — to think over all this. And this,” he gestured at the journal he was still holding tightly. “And if I stay, none of that’s gonna happen. So I’m sorry, but I can’t.”

It hurt a bit, but he understood. Hell, that was part of the why of writing letters in the journal to begin with, to work through the hurt feelings and get out what he couldn’t say aloud. To work out what he wanted to say without the fear of being rejected outright. And, since he did understand in his own way, he wasn’t going to reject his brother.

“I understand,” he said evenly, giving Joshua a slight nod. “It’s been too many years to think on things. Just…” he gestured toward the journal, “just go on and keep that till you have a chance to read. Then, when you’re ready…”

He didn’t make any order, leaving the come talk to me then unspoken. He hoped it would be soon, at least before Bogue’s army descended upon them, but he wasn’t about to rush this, not when it had taken far too long to get here. Goodnight would take what his brother was willing to give and offer up all that he had of himself in return. It was only fair.

“Of course,” Joshua agreed quickly. “After dinner, then? Should give me a long enough to read those three.” He paused only to snicker to himself and add, “If my damn Mexican mother hen lays off for a bit, anyway.”

Goodnight only just managed to bite back a laugh, limiting himself to a grin. “The same mother hen what made sure you ate on the way here? I seem to remember someone all but tossing Miss Emma’s ricochet biscuits at you at least once a day.” He sighed then, letting his smile smooth out to a softer expression. “You take your time now, mon frère. Sadly, I ain’t going anywhere until Chisolm’s vendetta is carried out.” He sighed and bitterly added, “Damn Yank thinks I owe him a favor, and I reckon this is how he’s cashing it in.”

“Chisolm’s not winning himself any points in my book either. He bought my damn horse out from under me.”

That… that could not be allowed to stand. Wild Jack was Joshua’s horse, bought and paid for by him back when his war mare had finally gone lame and given up the ghost. That damn hell beast only really liked one person, but he and Goodnight had made a sort of peace with one another. Granted, said peace involved copious bribery on Goodnight’s part, but Wild Jack at least tolerated him to groom him… or had, back before their parting of the ways.

And Joshua was still speaking: “I can afford to buy Jack back, yeah, if he doesn’t hit the price up too much higher, but there’s a lot else here I can’t do much about right now.” And that was a growl his brother let out when he added, “Because there’s Vasquez’s bounty to consider as well.”

Ah, yes. The Mexican was becoming a bit of a fixture in his brother’s life, and for the life of him, Goodnight couldn’t think of any reason that this was a bad thing. Vasquez had taken care of Joshua during the trip to Rose Creek where he himself could not, at least not without another major fight and likely more punches thrown in the process. But that bounty was a daunting issue, and he was already trying to think of a solution. Hell, if he had to, Goodnight might just go out and kill some other Mexican what deserved it and pass that poor son of a bitch off as Vasquez in order to get rid of the bounty altogether.

“I can kill him if you want?” Billy offered from the corner, and Goodnight damn near jumped out of his skin. Dear Lord, but his cher could blend into the background far too easily, and it was probably a bad thing that he was giving some serious thought to taking him up on the offer.

“No, mon cher,” he finally forced himself to answer, “but I do appreciate the offer. I suppose we’ll just—hell, I don’t know—play this by ear and see if the damned fool doesn’t manage to kill all of us on his suicide mission. I don’t intend to die out here. Got too much to live for, I reckon.”

T-Jo cleared his throat, standing up a bit straighter and looking Goodnight in the eye. “I’m gonna go read those three: December 26, 1876; November 15, 1877; and July 12, 1879. I’ll see you tonight, Goodnight.” He got his hand on the doorknob, turning it but not opening the door yet not looking back into the room either. “For whatever it’s worth, I’m sorry. I handled a lot of this badly, eight years ago and now, and there was a lot of stuff I was wrong about.”

Goodnight stood up, brushing his pants off as he looked towards his brother. “I’m sorry, too, mon frère, for my part in all a’ that. We’ll talk more tonight, okay?” He paused for a moment before adding, “Be careful, Joshua. Y’all are still rigging the valley, ain’tcha? Don’t blow anything up too soon. But if you accidentally rig Chisolm’s bed to explode…”

“Don’t tempt me,” T-Jo shot right back with a snicker, and the sound made Goodnight laugh softly as well. “I’ve already have to talk Vas out of tying dynamite to Horse’s tail twice. Ain’t the horse’s fault his owner’s an ass, I told him, but he’s still up for the idea.”

“I knew I liked that Texican,” Goodnight mused. His Billy actually let out an annoyed huff and rolled his eyes so hard it had to have hurt, but he didn’t let it bother him; this was the best conversation he’d had with his baby brother since they met back up, and he was going to enjoy it while it lasted.

“I feel I should remind you there’s still no such thing as a Texican, before Vas manages to overhear it from the other side of the place and come over to say something himself,” T-Jo snickered again. He let his amusement fade out and sighed slightly before offering a quiet, “I’ll see you tonight, Goodnight.”

Goodnight smiled again, giving his brother’s back a nod. “Until tonight, Joshua. Be careful out there.”

Chapter Text

It was the fact that the sunlight was dying that eventually tore Joshua away from the journal. Even sticking to those three entries and those three entries alone, that was still a few hours spent reading, rereading, and trying to puzzle out what exactly he thought and what he felt about what he was reading.

And there was the not inconsiderable fact that, in eight years, he had forgotten a lot about Goodnight’s—Goody’s—handwriting and rather… unique abbreviations.

The first two journal entries were relatively short. The first was a little over a page front and back, and it had been Christmas five years after they parted ways. The first time he'd read it, he had thought it was going to break him. It had been all about a Christmas a long, long time ago, when he'd been  delivered to the Robicheaux household by their shared bastard of a father. It had been all about the version of Billy Rocks that Goodnight knew… who honestly sounded like someone Joshua could call friend, if he was going to be honest with himself.

It was all about regret and abandonment and self-recriminations.

The second entry was shorter than the first: barely the front of one page. The first time he had read it, he had actually felt the color leave his face, the second he realized it had been written after Carson City about eighteen months ago. He should have realized the date when Goody said earlier, but at the time, he had been too… too… too something to place it. Hell, if he was doing his own mental math correctly, he had ridden back into town about three days after the date on this entry. He had known that he hadn’t missed them by much, but this just proved it.

All he could think was that he should have come directly back to Carson City from chasing that particular bounty. He knew himself well enough to know that there was no way he wouldn't have taken the bounty, not with the crimes the bastard had committed against both ladies and children. But he could have come back sooner, not babied that hole in his shoulder quite so much and left when he'd originally intended.

After all, if he had left when he'd planned and not when that hack of a surgeon had told him to leave, even going as slow as Jack would tolerate, Goody and Rocks would have still been in Carson City and waiting on him.

This whole feud could have ended eighteen god damn months ago… and it would have been the way he'd wanted too: Goodnight having come to him. And he'd missed it, all because the live-in girlfriend of a man—a man who happened to enjoy torturing other ladies, as well as children, for fun—didn't believe her man could or would do anything like that… and decided to shoot at the bounty hunter coming to bring him in. Luckily, she had been a lousy shot.

Also luckily, apparently shooting her man in the head did a lot to derail her trying to put a second bullet in Joshua… but not until after she'd managed one good hit. He'd made the mistake of taking it to what passed for a town doctor, who had made him stay in his surgery for over a week. He’d been lucky enough to avoid infection and he had had to ride slowly to avoid causing himself too much pain, turning a four day trip into one of just over another week, but it had still cost him time that he was now finding he hadn’t really had to spare.

As much as those two hurt to read, he could easily tell exactly why Goody had had him read them. Part of him still thought all of this was a bit too personal a glimpse into his brother’s thoughts, but Goody had given it to him. Besides, each and every one of these entries read like a letter, and each and every one of them was addressed  to him in some way or another. And when he'd known his brother, Goodnight had been the one who would say everything he was thinking when he was writing notes, whether it was letters like these or short missives when the pair of them briefly parted ways while working together.

The third and final letter-journal was just about as long as the first. His initial guess had been correct: Goody had written it outside Junction City. Of them all, this one was the most difficult to read and deal with. Clearly, Goodnight hadn't been at his best when he was writing, and his handwriting showed it: even compared to the other two letters, this was sharp enough to cut, both the writing and the words.

Goodnight’s best weapon had always been his words. This was no exception.

He hadn't put that much thought into introducing himself to Vas as Joshua Faraday, instead of Robicheaux. Clearly, Goodnight had had some serious thoughts on the matter. Something about it had obviously bothered him, that much was obvious from the letter.

Somewhere in the back of his drunken mind, he had been thinking that he wanted to prove to their newly added outlaw that he wasn't coming into this as a bounty hunter, that he was serious about not turning in Vasquez for his bounty. But until right now, he hadn't given any thought to how it might have looked or sounded to his brother, standing not more than a few dozen feet away from him.

The look on his brother’s face that day was a little hazy, mostly thanks to the sheer amount of whiskey he had managed to imbibe between Volcano Springs and Junction City, but he seemed to recall that same practiced blank expression that Goodnight had turned on him after he’d shot that fleeing Blackstone: cool, reserved, like Joshua wasn’t worth his time. So when Goodnight had excused himself, he’d made himself comfortable leaning against a tree and continued with what had amounted to a liquid lunch while he had stewed in the annoyance he had been feeling with Sam Chisolm, Billy Rocks, and Goodnight Robicheaux.

The second he had finished reading that third letter for the first time, he had wanted to storm right back over to Goody’s room to see for his own self all over again that his brother was all right. Keeping himself in his seat had been a matter of reminding himself over and over again that Goodnight was all right, that Goodnight had said he had a lot to live for now, that he hadn't done something that was a Joshua-level of stupid, no matter what that third letter said.

And, yeah, he could admit that, for everything he was still… displeased with Rocks about, there was no way in hell that the man would ever let Goody do something as drastic as that. No matter what else he thought or felt about Rocks, he knew that much was true.

If he had to sum up that whole mess of a thing outside Junction City, it would be to say that he hadn’t been thinking enough and Goodnight—Goody—had been thinking too much. It hadn’t added up to good things, especially when it was combined with eight years of hurt feelings and built-up resentment. Something like that was never going to be a good combination.

He had to have been stewing on these letters for hours now. It was actually a wonder that no one had wandered up to check on him just yet. There was the not inconsiderable fact that Vas had known he had come upstairs to talk to his brother and was apparently giving him his privacy for it. There was the fact that Goodnight and Rocks both knew exactly where he was… and the fact that Goodnight knew that reading was a thing that had never come easily to him or happened quickly when he tried doing it, no matter how many tutors had been thrown his way when he was younger. There was the fact that he might have threatened to shoot Sam Chisolm if the man spoke another word to him any time soon… and he didn’t suspected Old Jack Horne or Red Harvest were terribly invested in what was going on with the rest of them.

He might have suspected one of the townsfolk to come check up on him when he hadn’t made a reappearance after lunch, but maybe it wasn’t a surprise either. So many people knew what was going on; maybe one of them had passed the word on not to disturb him for a bit yet.

Lighting the lamp that sat on his desk, he winced. Quite a bit yet, he supposed, listening to the noises starting to build outside the window. There had been a pretty constant stream of hammering and banging and other such construction noises throughout the day, when he thought about it, but as it grew darker outside, the noise was turning more towards talking, raucous laughter, and maybe even the faintest of musical sounds coming from the saloon, someone playing that old piano remarkably off-tune, which only seemed to lead to more of the laughing.

To borrow a remarkably apt phrase, it looked like it was time for him to face the music… and keep apologizing to his brother until it seemed to make a difference, until even he felt like it was enough.

…Even though he was pretty sure that was going to be a quite a lot, more than the few remaining days until Bogue arrived would allow for.

But it would be a good place to start, if nothing else. He would have to take that. It was the best he was going to get—and a lot more than he probably deserved.

…And if that wasn’t the story of his life, he didn’t know what was.

 


 

This was probably one of the hardest things he had done in his life. That was counting trying to stand up to the man who had sired him, stealing away in the middle of the night to join the War with his brother, leaving his brother, and coming up here a few hours ago… and getting ready for what amount to assisted suicide by trying to take on an entire army with just seven men, a passel of farmers who didn’t know which end of the rifle could kill them, and a spitfire redhead who could at least shoot.

No, gathering up his gumption to go a few feet and see his brother again was a lot tougher than any of those other things. It shouldn't have been. After all, he had already had one confrontation with his brother today. Another shouldn't be that much harder... should it? He just had to open the door, walk those few feet, and get this over with.

After all, it was just that he had been tasked with reading his brother’s most personal thoughts in lieu of said brother being able to say those same thoughts aloud. Goodnight did have a point, he supposed, about his own ability to talk for hours without saying anything of substance. They probably could have used this method when they were younger, now that he thought about it. It might have made things easier.

But really, he was just putting things off. He needed to go have this conversation and then… Well, he didn't rightly know the rest of that, but the discussion he needed to have was only the first step.

Well, he wasn’t getting anything done sitting here fretting about it. There was nothing else for it.

Decision made and journal once again in hand, he headed out his door and over to the hallway over from his own, the momentum of that initial decision enough to carry him all the way to knocking on Goodnight and Rocks’ door for the second time that evening. Now it just had to carry him through not sticking his whole leg in his mouth if he could help it.

There were a few shuffling sounds behind the door, because apparently the good people of Rose Creek never really invested in some thick enough doors to keep sounds muffled, and then it opened at last. Goodnight was the one who answered, thank God, because he wasn't entirely certain he could have dealt with Rocks again in so short a span of time. Not in the least of which being because the man had been there during the initial confrontation, even if he had offered to leave.

"Joshua," he said, not sounding entirely surprised and maybe a bit relieved to see him. "I wasn't sure if you'd be back this evening or if you'd wait till morning."

“Ain’t a lot of today left and tomorrow’s just gonna be crazy at this point,” he returned… and then resisted the urge to thump his own self on the head. Talking out loud was just as uncomfortable now as it had been a couple of hours ago, and he still wasn’t any good at it. “Besides, I said I’d be back tonight. I read what you asked me to. I—Goodnight…” He broke off to sigh, raking a hand through his hair hard, and then finally try again. “Can I come in?” Because he didn’t want to make the presumption he was still welcome here, no matter what was implied earlier.

His brother’s expression did something that once upon a time he might have thought of as softening into fondness, but he wasn’t entirely certain that was still the intent behind it. It must still be positive, however, given that Goodnight nodded and moved aside to allow him to enter the room. Once through the door, he spotted Rocks gathering up his knives from where they’d been much earlier in the day—had he not even bothered moving them before now? What had the pair of them been up to over here for the past few hours? And he didn’t want to know that, did he?—before the man gave him a nod that he returned.

“Joshua,” he said evenly before turning a look to Goodnight that, before right now, would have probably pissed the younger man off. Now, it just looked to him like what it likely had been all along: fondness, support, comfort, love. “Do you want me to bring something back for you both to eat later?”

“Thank you, mon cher,” Goodnight replied, and his voice was fond, “but no. I don’t think I’m up much for eating right now.”

“Well, that hasn’t changed a bit,” he commented under his breath. A little louder, he said, “Not for me either.” He paused for a brief second before adding, “Could you tell Vas I’ll be down later? Please?” And that was harder than it needed to be to get out, but it seemed appropriate.

After all, in a very weird way, Billy Rocks was the closest thing he had to a brother-in-law. If nothing else, he should be making an attempt at cordial, right? Before the ghosts of Maman Arthémie and Colette rose from their graves to kick the shit out of him? Because, really, it would be those two who would be the most ashamed of how he had turned out… Not to mention them being the ones he always worried the most about disappointing. Barring, of course, the man in front of him.

Since Rocks hadn’t answered yet, he put in one last bit: “If it’s not too much trouble.”

The man looked very much like he wanted to strangle the pair of them but somehow managed to keep from giving into the urge to commit violence. Instead, Rocks cleared his throat and replied with a steady, “I’ll let him know. If you change your mind, Goody…” and let it trail off, giving his brother the opportunity to have a little something brought up for later.

And he was unsurprised when Goodnight shook his head again. “I’ll think about it, but I’m pretty certain it’ll be morning before I can stomach much of anything. Thank you, Billy.”

Joshua had the idea that maybe Rocks would have punctuated his exit with a kiss had he not been present, but rather than give him a dirty look for being there, Rocks instead leaned in for a moment to press his forehead against Goodnight’s, whisper something to his brother, then exit the room. The door closed quietly behind him, leaving the pair of them alone for the first time in ages.

Goodnight sighed deeply and gestured to the chairs at the small table in the room. “Have a seat, Joshua.”

He nodded, taking a slow and deep breath, before sinking down into one of the offered chairs. It was probably a mark of how nervous he was that he didn’t immediately tilt it back on two legs just so he had something to do to occupy his mind, but instead, he sat down carefully, all four chair legs on the floor and sitting as close to straight as he ever got in any chair. It definitely wasn’t his normal slouch; he didn’t think he could pull that off right now.

Another slow and deep breath, and he set the journal down in the middle of the small table. “I read what you asked me to,” he said again.

Goodnight pulled out the opposite chair, sinking into it and leaning heavily on his arms. It was a position that would have made Maman Arthémie scold him fiercely… and one that he hadn’t often seen his brother take. It was something both a little defensive and defeated all in one, and he suddenly wondered how often Goodnight had been in that familiar dark place in his head where death seemed like an ideal way to escape.

“I’m sorry,” he said evenly, his voice loud in the silence of the room in spite of how quietly he’d spoken. “Those entries… Well, obviously, I wasn’t at my best when I wrote any of ‘em. Even so, they’re still a lot less fatalistic than others I’ve jotted down over the years.” Goodnight looked up from where he’d been focused on his hands, expression closed off but eyes showing far too much. “I know I don’t deserve any forgiveness—” he started to say, only to cut himself off with a sigh.

“We’ve both said and done some really stupid things over the years,” he managed to force out into the strained silence, speaking a lot faster than he probably should if he wanted to make himself understood. “I’ve always jumped the wrong conclusions about everything, especially where Rocks is concerned. I’ve always wanted to believe the worst about everybody… not in the least of which being myself. What I read in there ain’t any worse than anything I’ve thought over the past few years.”

He sighed, glancing around the room and really taking it in this time. The one bed was no surprise. Clearly Goodnight and Billy had chosen the room for it, given the fact it was definitely larger than the one in his own room. Goody’s rifle was leaning against the wall next to the window, while his Peacemaker—Ethel’s twin—sat on the other small table next to the bed. A couple of cleaning clothes sat next to the Peacemaker, though not ones he would favor for cleaning a gun; maybe they were Rocks’ for his knives. Rocks’ coat was tossed over the end of the bed. Goodnight wasn’t wearing his jacket, given how warm it was inside, and Joshua was willing to bet it was hung up in the armoire. Little signs here and there littered the room to indicate that this was most definitely a shared space.

Part of him was happy for his brother and what he’d found, but most of him was incredibly numb about the whole thing. Maybe… No, it definitely was not his business to say anything right now, not when they were on the verge of rebuilding a friendship and brotherhood.

“I’m sorry, Goodnight.” Goodnight. It had to be Goodnight now. Not because he was angry any longer, but because he hadn’t earned the right to call his brother by his nickname anymore, not after his abysmal showing in Volcano Springs and since then. “So much of this could have been avoided if I had just stopped and listened to what you were saying about Rocks. Or if I’d made it back to Carson City in time. Or if—”

“Hey, now,” Goodnight interrupted, reaching across the table and resting a hand over one of his own. “None of that, Joshua. We’re both to blame for how we parted ways, and we both feel the burden of that guilt. And you can’t go blaming yourself for Carson City,” he added firmly when Joshua was about to open his mouth to argue, about that at least that he could have controlled. “I was the one who decided we needed to go once we were jumped. Billy wanted to stay out the rest of the month; I wasn’t willing to risk it. If I’d’ve listened to him, we might’ve been here sooner.” He squeezed his hand gently before adding, “If anything, I’m surprised Maman ain’t appeared in spirit form to smack me a good one for so much that’s happened over the past few years. I’d deserve a haunting; hell, I’d probably welcome it.”

Instead, he shook his head hard because, damn it, no, that wasn’t right. It wasn’t right at all. “I got back in Carson City three days after that letter was dated, Goodnight. I knew I hadn’t missed you by much, but it was less than a week. And I could have been back sooner. I should have been back sooner. I’d intended to be back a whole two weeks sooner. That’s on me. That’s my fault, and I’m sorry for it. I spent years wanting you to come to me for this, and I was too late for it—and that’s on me.”

“Joshua.” His brother stood up from the chair and walked around the table, crouching down next to his own seat and reached out to take his hand again. It was a familiar situation, one from when they were many years younger, brought back into play whenever Goody—Goodnight—really wanted to get his attention. And damn it all, it still worked.

It was a familiar situation, one from when they were many years younger, brought into play whenever Goody—Goodnight—wanted to get his attention. And damn it all, it still worked. And then his brother went and proved that he was still an intuitive bastard where some things were concerned.

“Whatever it was that kept you from getting back sooner,” Goodnight said, his tone stating that he meant every word he was saying and that he wasn’t trying to start a fight, “I am positive that it was beyond your ability to control. I know you, little brother: you would walk off a broken leg if you thought you could get away with it. Hell, I’ve seen you try to pass off a broken leg as nothing, and Maman called you out on that pretty damned fast. So,” he concluded, shifting enough to lock eyes with him, “if you were tracking a bounty”—something must have shown on his face because his brother changed tracks pretty quickly—“or if there was someone keeping you from doing yourself further bodily harm in order to get back home sooner, I’m certain that you were arguing every second but listening to orders anyway. And that’s Maman’s legacy. Don’t do her a disservice by saying you are to blame for taking time to heal.”

He shook his head again and released a shaky breath, followed by another that wasn’t any closer to steady. This was a little like being flayed open, all the emotions that he only ever had a weak grasp on to begin with now suddenly all on display. “Over twenty years later, and you’re still always right. How the hell are you always right? Rocks… This…” He gestured unsteadily at the shoulder he’d been shot through eighteen months ago, the injury that had made him too late getting back to Carson City to meet his brother. “You’ve always been right about a lot of stuff, Goodnight. Especially that stuff about how much of the old bastard I’ve been carrying around with me and using. I drag him out every time I try to do a job, and it’s getting harder and harder to pack him back up again. That’s why I use ‘Faraday’: there’s none of him in Faraday. And—”

“Joshua,” his brother said firmly, causing him to snap his mouth shut and just blink at him for a moment. Damn it, his eyes were wet, and he knew that, if he wasn’t careful, he would start crying any moment. What made it nearly come in spite of his efforts was that Goodnight’s eyes were shining almost as much as he felt like his own were. “I want you to listen to me, little brother, and believe me, okay?” Goodnight paused for but a moment, clearly waiting for the nod he eventually managed. “It don’t matter one lick how much of that sorry son of a whore is in our blood. Maman did her best by the both of us, by all three of us kids, and you can be whoever you need to be, okay? Faraday or whatever name you prefer, it don’t stop you from being my family, you understand?”

He nodded jerkily, like a puppet with its strings freshly cut, but still whispered, “I’m not going to be able to pack him back up one of these days, Goodnight.” It was like Confession, even if it had been years since he’d last been in a proper church, much less a cathedral. “It feels like he’s standing right over my shoulder some days, just waiting for me to fuck up. No matter what Jack and I do, I can’t outride him. There’s just too much of him in me.”

“I know, Joshua, and I understand,” his brother replied, moving one hand only long enough to scrub at his own eyes. “All that anger he had, it’s a part of both of us. And sometimes, it can’t be pushed away, can it?” He paused, giving a wan smile at Joshua’s shaky nod. “But we can try to do the things he’d never do, to be better men than he ever was. And you are, little brother. You are one thousand times the man he was.”

“Reckon he’d have shot Chisolm in the face about five days ago,” Joshua allowed, “or carried out some of those… uncharitable thoughts I had regarding little Teddy Q.”

God, had he ever been as young as Teddy sometimes seemed? Had either of them?

He took a deep breath, releasing it slowly, turning his hand to grip his brother’s, squeezing it lightly. “He messed us both up but good, didn’t he?”

“He did,” Goodnight replied, voice sounding a bit tight. Hell, he looked about ready to start bawling all out; God knew Joshua was close to that his own self. “There were so many times, when we were still back there”—and it was telling that Goodnight didn’t say ‘home’, because it had never really been home, not after a certain point—“that all I wanted to do was just run. Just… get out and away and never look back. But I couldn’t. Not if it meant leaving all of you behind with him.”

“Wouldn’t have blamed you one bit for it. God knows I thought about it more than once back then. Maybe running back to Missouri as fast as my legs would let me. ‘Specially after… Well, I’m sure you remember as well as I do. I remember thinking, if he’d do that to you, what the hell was he gonna do to me? I even had a bag packed and everything a time or two.” And the only reason why he hadn’t taken off back then was that he had been more scared shitless of being on his own than he had been of Monsieur Robicheaux, as pitiful as that sounded now. “But it wasn’t all bad back then, right? ‘Least with me and you and Colette, right?”

Goodnight managed something of a watery smile. “Yeah,” he said, “there was some good to life back then. I wasn’t just waxing poetic when I wrote that you were the best Christmas present that sorry sack of shit ever gave us. Made a lot of the things he’d done seem worth it.” He shook his head and added, “Still… you think Maman would have sent us off if she thought we could get away safely and avoid the War completely? Not that I don’t appreciate my sterling reputation.” The last part was said with a slight thread of sarcasm.

Still seemed weird to him sometimes that it had been right around Christmas when he’d left Missouri for Louisiana, that he’d gotten there a couple of days after the holiday itself. Near as he could recall, he just remembered Miss Ethel handing him over at the train station to Monsieur Robicheaux with snow on the ground, the best clothes she could afford—which wasn’t to say much at all—on him, and a brief but heartfelt goodbye that the old son of a bitch had made them cut short. He remembered that she had tucked a few sweets that she’d known he liked in his jacket pockets, which had been a lot of why he had been so upset to lose it only a couple of hours later on the train. He’d arrived in Louisiana to somewhat warmer weather, a distinct lack of any snow to be seen, and eventually a new family.

“It’s possible,” he allowed. “Can’t imagine she’d be too happy with the three of us leaving without her, though, yeah?” He paused and frowned, thinking back over what his brother had just said and some of the things that had been in the letters. “And what the hell do you mean ‘back then’? Better be some good to life now as well. You damn well better not be getting all maudlin like in those letters again. Maybe Rocks’ll put up with that kind of shit, but I’m not gonna.”

The laugh that Goodnight let out sounded like it had been startled out of him, and it was a much more pleasant thing to get from his brother than those tears. They honestly hadn’t had much to laugh about while back under Monsieur Robicheaux’s roof, not while the man himself had been present, but they’d had some good times both—oddly enough—during the few downtimes in the War and while they’d been traveling together afterward. Happiness was a good look for his brother, Joshua had decided years ago. Hell, that was a big part of why he’d stood guard that particular Mardi Gras when they were still boys.

“I shall do my best not to be ‘all maudlin,’ as you put it, dear brother of mine,” the older drawled almost sarcastically, although the light of amusement was in his eyes. He sobered up a bit before asking, “So… can we just try being brothers again, T—Joshua? I’ve missed you far too long, and I want that back if it’s an option.”

“We never quit being brothers,” he felt compelled to point out. “We just quit liking each other for a while.” And when it looked like Goodnight was going to argue the semantics of what he was saying—because of course he was, because it was Goody—he continued, “I know what you mean, Goodnight. But I’m not opposed to trying to getting back to where we used to be. Bogue permitting.”

Because sadly, there was no forgetting what had prompted this little reunion.

“Bogue permitting,” Goodnight repeated, sounding a bit wistful and a bit annoyed. He huffed a laugh before remarking, “You know, in a way, we sort of owe that Yank Chisolm a thank you. Think about it, Joshua: would we even have managed to try and talk if we hadn’t come along on this little quest for vengeance?” It sounded as if there could be another meaning to those words, like maybe it wasn’t just Miss Emma seeking revenge here, but hopefully Goodnight would explain it another time.

“Maybe. Maybe not. But that don’t mean I’ve got to like him, though, what with him buying Jack out from under me.” It did mean that maybe, just maybe, he wouldn’t shoot Chisolm in the face when all this was over… and after a moment or two, he said as much, before continuing, “And that don’t mean I might not hire somebody else to do it for me when this is all over.” Because he held some strong opinions where his horse was concerned, and Sam Chisolm had hit up against every single one of them wrong.

Goodnight chuckled and shook his head. “We get through all this, mon frére”—and oh, good, they were back to speaking mostly English—“and I’ll see what I can do ‘bout clearing out that little debt. It’s the least I can do, seeing as I’m sure you won’t let me or Billy pay you back for dealing with his bounty.” His brother paused just long enough for quiet to settle in… and for it to be interrupted by Goodnight’s stomach growling. And honestly, he knew Rocks had to be feeding Goody, but—

“Apparently Billy’s gonna get his way tonight,” his brother remarked, sounding amused. “We never did finish lunch, did we?”

He chuckled to himself pushing himself to his feet and holding a hand down for his brother. “Can’t say as we did. Oughta make Vas happy. Rocks too.”

And first chance he got, he was going to have to make a point to have a discussion with Rocks about what he would prefer Joshua call him. He’d been using ‘Rocks’ for eight years now and mostly that was because he had been incredibly pissed off at the man, but if he was going to try to be a grown-ass man here and display some of the manners that had been drilled into him over the years and perhaps a smidgen of maturity, he needed to find out what the nearest thing he was ever going to have to a brother-in-law preferred to be addressed by.

“Long as it ain’t Miss Emma’s ricochet biscuits again,” he continued with a wink.

Chapter Text

It was honestly all he could do to not snap at the pair of them in response to their declining his offer. Not a one of them had actually finished lunch earlier in the day, him not in the least because he kind of wanted to stab or shoot Sam Chisolm in the face—which one, it didn’t matter—and Goody because he was in a bit of an emotional upheaval. But he had let it slide because he had hoped that maybe, possibly, he could get some dinner into his lover.

But no, goddamned Robicheauxs were more stubborn than he gave them credit for. Goody had politely told him that he wouldn’t be able to eat, and Josh had looked far too relieved that the option to decline was on the table.

At least Josh had been polite and cordial, requesting that his own paramour be told that he’d join him later. It was the please that kept him from wringing both their fool necks and leaving without arguing that the two of them were morons.

He had taken a second to remind Goody that he was there whenever he needed him before leaving. Now, he just had to get through dinner without killing their erstwhile leader. Which was going to be an exercise in self-control, because he really wanted to cause the man grievous bodily harm.

He was about halfway down the stairs when Vasquez started up them, looking hellbent and determined to haul someone back down with him. Billy was quick to grab his arm, turn him around, and drag him back down.

“What happened?” Vasquez asked, and there was a note of quiet worry in his voice. Josh apparently had quite the ardent protector in this man, and Billy was honestly glad of it… if only because it meant, should the two morons reconcile fully, he would have someone to help him wrangle the pair of them.

“They talked a little after that disaster that was lunch,” Billy explained softly as they hit the end of the stairs and headed out to the restaurant. “Goody had Josh read through his journal some, and I made Goody lie down for a while.” Vasquez’s snort of amusement made him smile slightly at the memory of all but wrestling his lover onto the bed and literally pinning him down. “Now they’re finishing up their conversation, but neither of them wants anything to eat.”

Vasquez’s expression darkened a bit. “I am going to bring him dinner,” he said evenly, “and I am going to sit on him until he does eat.”

“Good luck with that,” Billy muttered. When the outlaw looked over to shoot him a glare, he explained, “I’ve tried that for years. With Robicheauxs, it apparently only makes them more determined to avoid meals.”

Vasquez huffed an annoyed sigh. “Esos hermanos son imbéciles,” he remarked, and in spite of his limited knowledge of the language, Billy knew exactly what he meant from the tone alone.

“They are a couple of idiots,” he agreed. “I don’t care what Goody says: I’m going to get him some soup or something.”

It was at about this point that they got through the door to the restaurant, only to stop short when they realized that in the past few minutes they’d somehow forgotten the very important fact that Chisolm was likely going to be at dinner too. A fact they were abruptly reminded of by seeing the man sitting at a table different from the one they had been using up until now, a glass of whiskey in hand and his gaze focused on nothing at all.

Billy heard Vasquez make a sound of protest behind him as he started stalking forward, but he didn’t really care at the moment. Hell, everyone here should just be happy he had the self-control to not be reaching for his revolver or one of his knives.

“I should knock you on your ass right now,” he snapped as he arrived at Chisolm’s table, slamming his hands down on it and making the bottle in the center shake at the vibration.

“Honestly, Mister Rocks?” Chisolm replied absently before knocking back his glass. “I would let you if you really wanted.”

That drew him up short. Billy blinked, standing back up straight as Vasquez—who had at some point in the past ten seconds appeared next to him—asked the question on his own mind: “Then if you agree that you did something wrong, why did you do it in the first place?”

Chisolm took a moment to pour himself some more whiskey before settling back in his chair again and giving both of them a long look. “You’ve known Goodnight how long now?”

“Eight years,” Billy replied automatically, although he did bite back the and we’ve been fucking nearly as long that wanted to follow.

“Then you are more than aware how stubborn the boy can be.”

He glanced over at Vasquez, noting that he was frowning a bit as well. Yes, Chisolm was the oldest of their group aside from Jack Horne, but Billy hadn’t realized this man really noted the fact that everyone else was upwards of twenty years his juniors.

“He’s displaying that talent again by not coming to dinner,” Billy admitted somewhat grudgingly; at his side, Vasquez scowled and nodded, clearly signaling that he thought Josh was just as stubborn. Goddamn Robicheauxs really would be the death of him someday.

Chisolm huffed, the sound somewhere between a laugh and a sigh before he took a sip from his glass. “Sounds about right. I’ve known those boys since ‘68,” he said. “And while I won’t say exactly what the situation was when I met Goodnight, I’ll suffice it to say that he was in a life or death situation, and I was glad to be responsible for saving a life ‘stead of letting it get snuffed out.”

Billy froze. He could clearly remember Goody once mentioning that he’d nearly been beaten to death for his leanings in the few short years post-war, during the time he and Josh had been bounty hunters. His lover had stated that it was, in his own words, ‘Billy Yanks’ that had laid into him, and that he’d been aided by another one of their ilk who he felt would want a favor in return. Somehow, until right now, he didn’t realize that Goody had been talking about Sam Chisolm, not even with how oddly reluctant he had been to join in this endeavor.

“Even from that moment,” Chisolm—Sam continued, “I could tell that neither of them were very happy with me being around, no matter how many times we crossed paths in the next couple of years.” He snorted and finished off the glass before noting, “Hell, I think Joshua only got worse after they parted ways. No, I know he got worse. And to be truthful with you boys—”

“Like you haven’t been already, señor?” Vasquez muttered. Billy bit his tongue to keep from snickering at the aside, because this was a serious talk and he was learning things that Goody had never known, and he had no idea how to tell his lover that the man he thought was a false friend may be misguided but really did have the best of intentions despite poor execution.

Sam shot his companion a vaguely amused look. “To be truthful,” he repeated, “I’m fairly certain about the root of their problems. And if I am right, there ain’t anything I can do about it because the dead are already buried, and trying to find and shoot a corpse is a fool’s errand.”

Billy frowned as the leader of their group, someone he was now seeing in a light not colored by initial poor impressions, poured himself another drink and slammed it back. He knew a bit about Goody’s life, about the dark days of his childhood, and he knew that the bastard had died ages ago. Hell, Goody never confessed to it, but Billy was almost certain that the man had poisoned his father.

“Are you ever going to tell them?” Vasquez asked. “Explain that you wanted to help, even if it was a very poor way to do so?”

“Nope,” Sam remarked, pouring the last of the whiskey into his glass. “And I would thank you gentlemen to keep it to your own selves as well. If they have a common enemy then they might start getting along again—hell, they might join forces just to try pissing me off.”

He swallowed down the glass in one go, setting it on the table and pushing himself to his feet. “Now, if y’all would excuse me,” Sam said, giving a nod towards the window, “I’ll be making myself scarce until breakfast.”

Billy and Vasquez both followed his gaze, and the Korean man felt a smile tug at his lips. Through the window, he could see Goody and Josh stepping out of the boarding house, both of them looking a bit more content than when he’d left them earlier. The younger man said something, and his lover started laughing. It made him look much younger, closer to his actual age, and something that was still tight with worry in him loosened.

It looked like, maybe, the Robicheaux brothers would be okay.

“I’ll see you gentlemen in the morning,” Sam said softly, then made his way towards the door that led to the back and, most likely, a staff entry that would take him out that way. He hit the door right about the time that Billy heard heavy steps pound up the stairs, then Josh was shoving through the doors with Goody right behind him.

“Hey, look, I found our fellas,” Josh said brightly. The hard lines of stress and anger that were usually around his eyes had smoothed out a bit, and Billy had to admit that he looked better as well.

“Say it louder, Joshua,” Goody drawled, a thread of amusement in his voice. “I don’t think the entire town quite heard you.”

Vasquez chuckled, and Billy shook his head. Even as he moved to greet his lover, his thoughts were on the information he’d just learned. It was going to be difficult, keeping such heavy news from someone he shared the whole of his life with, but he was going to try.

Sam had spoken in confidence. He would be damned before he broke it.

 


 

“Oh,” Billy said absently as they crossed the street after dinner, returning to the boarding house and leaving his brother with his outlaw to have a few drinks before they likewise turned in for the evening. “I almost forgot. Josh asked me what he should call me.”

Goodnight blinked at his lover, a bit surprised. “When was that?” he asked curiously.

“When you got up to go get some more edible dinner rolls.”

The Cajun snickered. God love Miss Emma, but she was a horrible cook. Goodnight had the feeling that the dearly departed Matthew Cullen had been the one to handle meals in their household, or at least the baking. He had excused himself at one point to get some of the biscuits that Miss Leni had made, taking a moment to thank the lady and coo over her child before returning to the meal.

And he had actually gotten to exercise Big Brother Privileges again and dump two of them on Joshua’s plate. The half-annoyed, half-resigned look his brother had gifted him with was one he hadn’t realized he’d missed so much until it was shot his way.

“He asked me the same thing before we joined you,” Goodnight admitted, grinning at the frustrated look Billy gave him. “What did you tell him?”

His lover huffed an annoyed sigh. “I told him to use my name. What did you tell him?”

“To ask you, of course, mon cher.”

“Thank you for that,” came the dry response, causing him to laugh aloud. “I do so enjoy being put on the spot.”

Goodnight glanced around, taking a moment to see that they were indeed alone as they climbed the back stairway to the boarding house before turning to press a quick kiss to Billy’s mouth. “I’ll make it up to you, mon amant,” he promised, grinning as the other man’s eyes darkened with want.

He winked and turned to walk into their room, feeling Billy’s eyes on him as he left him behind for a moment. Then his lover was slipping inside right behind him, shoving the door shut and turning the key in the lock before stalking towards him. Goodnight let himself be backed up to the wall, tilting his head and smiling into the kiss when it came.

This was what he most loved about Billy: his ability to know just what he needed and when. Usually, but more so on days when his past felt as if it were biting at his heels, what he needed was his lover to control him, to press him down and make him take it however Billy wanted to give it. On rare occasions—which were coming more frequently but still were far too rare for Billy’s tastes, he was certain—he needed a gentler touch, needed for his lover to treat him like something precious and fragile and just handle him with care.

The one constant need he had was to feel the weight of another holding him safely in place, whether he was being fucked or Billy was holding him down to ride him instead. And even though this evening he wasn’t entirely sure what he craved where it came to their lovemaking, his Billy was certain to know without needing to ask. That was one of the many things he loved about the man, and he hoped that he’d have many more years to share with him.

When they broke apart, slowly and almost carefully, a thought crossed his mind and he spoke without giving it any time to flit away again: “We’re going to need to acquire provisions tomorrow.”

Billy pulled back to give him one of those looks that spoke volumes. “Goody,” he said almost sternly, “we just bought a new bottle when we got into town, and I know we still have at least half another bottle. Why—”

Goodnight grinned unrepentantly. “I gave the new one to Joshua.”

Ah, there was the wrinkle his beloved got in his brow whenever he was confused by something he had said. “Doesn’t he have his own?”

Honestly, he’d asked the same thing when his brother had stammered his way through the request. “No,” Goodnight drawled. “Apparently, the two of us have been very mistaken about him and our resident outlaw.”

“…No, I refuse to believe that. They’ve been fucking since Junction City. You can’t tell me otherwise.”

He chuckled. “Apparently, mon cher, the first night they… well—”

“You’re full of shit, Goody,” Billy tried to cut in.

“—was yesterday,” the Cajun finished, just grinning at his lover’s disbelieving expression. “I believe it because there’s no way my little brother would be that red if he’d been having relations this entire time and just needed to restock.”

Billy actually snorted. “Why is it ‘having relations’ when it’s Josh and Vasquez but ‘fucking’ when it’s us?” he asked in obvious amusement.

“Cuz that’s my little brother and I don’t wanna hear ‘fucking’ and his name in the same sentence,” Goodnight replied matter-of-factly with a grin of his own. “Now, why don’t you come back here and we can try… having relations of our own, hmm?”

The response wasn’t verbal, just a quirk of his dear one’s eyebrow and another of those long, slow kisses that he loved. Billy wasn’t idle, carefully maneuvering them towards the bed and working at the buttons on Goodnight’s waistcoat as they moved. He returned the favor, fingers plucking at Billy’s buttons and feeling a vague sense of victory when he got them undone and shoved at the waistcoat before his own were undone.

Billy pulled back and rolled his eyes lightly. “Everything is a competition with you, yeon-in,” he sighed, feigning at drama. Then he smirked and toppled Goodnight onto the bed before leaning down to give him another one of those kisses that nearly took his breath away with the intensity of it. It also served as a distraction, because when he finally turned his head to catch his breath, Goodnight realized that Billy’d been finishing up with undoing all the buttons on his shirt and was in the process of unfastening his pants.

“You’re a dirty cheat, Billy Rocks,” he accused, tone light with amusement at his devious lover. His response was a quick grin and a shrug, so he just laughed at how ridiculous the both of them were and lifted his hips to help Billy finish stripping him down even as he shrugged off his own shirt and waistcoat. Then he sat up abruptly and tugged his lover in by the lapels, kissing him intently. When they broke apart to catch their breath, Goodnight grinned at him.

“You, sir,” he noted, “are overdressed for the occasion. You should at least take off your pants and stay a while, mon amour.”

He got another devious grin in reply, followed by another slow kiss. “Perhaps in a minute, Goody.” Billy kissed him again, and again, carefully shifting the pair of them until he was lying on his back with his lover pressed against him. The contrast of cotton and wool against his bare skin left him shivering a bit, and Goodnight wondered distantly if Billy was going to remain dressed while fucking him.

The tremor that went through him didn’t go unnoticed by Billy. His response was a slow grin and another press of lips against his own, hands wrapping firmly around Goodnight’s wrists and moving his arms to rest above his head. If he uncurled his fingers just a bit…

“Headboard, Goody,” Billy said against his mouth, and he immediately complied with the quiet command. He wrapped his fingers around the bars of the headboard, keeping them a bit loose as he wasn’t certain of just how strong the wood was; it would be rude to break the bed, after all. Billy gave both his wrists another squeeze, a silent order of don’t move, before running his hands down Goodnight’s arms and up his neck, just barely touching his skin.

“Billy,” he pleaded, voice no more than a breath. He already knew he wasn’t going to last long, just like he knew that his lover wasn’t going to stop until he was ready to give Goodnight some rest… which could come quickly or take most of the evening. It depended almost entirely upon what Billy wanted him to take.

“Shh,” his lover murmured softly. “Be still and quiet for me, yeon-in. You can do that for me. I know you can.”

The subtle repetition was just one of the ways that his Billy guided him into the mindset he needed to be in to fully give over control, and despite himself, Goodnight simply bit back any protests and let the words soothe him. The feel of calloused skin and leather brushing over his throat, along his cheeks, back down his throat to cross over his chest, left him short of breath, and he tightened his grip on the headboard to keep from reaching out to touch as well. He had been given a command, and he would not disobey.

“Good,” Billy murmured, hands still gliding too lightly over his skin. Fingers brushed over his nipples, and although the sensation wasn’t overt, he still shivered under the touch. Then his lover’s hands were moving down his stomach, dipping further down to just barely bump against the base of his cock before gliding back up to his waist. Billy shifted to his knees, tightening his grip for just long enough to lift Goodnight’s lower body off the bed.

He bit his lip nearly hard enough to bleed, not wanting to make a sound until his Billy told him he could. Goodnight’s breathing quickened a bit when his lover settled him into his lap, realizing only at the feel of hot rigid flesh against his own that Billy had unbuttoned his trousers and really was going to remain clothed to fuck him. It wasn’t something they did often—generally when they weren’t in a safe enough place to ensure their privacy—and usually when they did, both of them were still mostly dressed. It was rare for him to be laid bare and his lover to remain covered, and Goodnight wouldn’t be lying if he said just the thought of the power imbalance was nearly enough to make him cum right then.

“Shh, yeon-in. You’re so good for me,” Billy said, one hand stroking along his hip and thigh even as he shifted slightly—and fuck, cotton and wool and hot skin brushed over his own dick for just a moment, and he had to bite back another whine—to pick up the bottle from the bedside table. “Keep your hands on the headboard, nae salang. You’re doing so well, but you’re so quiet. Let me hear you.”

Goodnight whined softly, head dropping back onto the pillow as his lover slipped one oil-slicked finger into his ass. It had been a couple of days since they’d actually fallen into bed and had the energy for love making, so there was a slight burn to go with the stretch when Billy slid a second finger in with the first.

“There, now,” his lover purred, adding a third finger and fucking them in hard and deep. “Almost ready for me, aleumdaum. Are you going to sing for me, Goody?”

“Billy,” he whimpered, holding onto the headboard almost tight enough to hurt, trying to shift his hips into Billy’s hard finger-fucking but unable to get any leverage due to the position his lover’d put them in.

Billy just chuckled in response, bending down to press a kiss to the side of his mouth. “Patience, aleumdaum, I don’t want you to feel anything more than pleasure tonight. Just a moment or two more, then I’ll give you want you need.”

He punctuated his words by adding a fourth finger, stretching him open further and dragging a breathless moan from Goodnight. His grip tightened more on the headboard, and he was almost positive that he could feel the wood creaking beneath his hands. He was completely at his Billy’s mercy—or lack thereof—and he needed to cum, needed his lover to fuck him into the mattress and leave him feeling it for days.

Billy chuckled softly, and he realized he must have said some of that out loud. He didn’t feel any shame or embarrassment, just that heady need to be used. A part of him, the part that still feared his father, wanted to be used and discarded, but that was a holdover from those long-ago days of meaningless sex in random towns that even his little brother didn’t know about. Goodnight knew that Billy would take him, control him, use him in his own way… but then he would put him back together again and bring him back to reality.

Goodnight groaned in protest when his lover slipped his fingers free, trying to shift his hips to follow. Billy moved over him, letting his weight press the Cajun into the bed briefly as he bit at his lips, followed by a sweep of his tongue before licking into his mouth.

“Headboard,” he reminded, his tone a command even as he adjusted their position and then—

Goodnight only just managed to bite back a scream as his lover fucked into him in one deep stroke, the sudden stretch nearly making him cum right then. He blinked his eyes back open, unaware of closing them, to find his Billy peering down at him with that unearthly calm he managed so well. There was a hint of approval in his gaze, filtered with an affection that Goodnight still sometimes felt he didn’t deserve.

“Good,” Billy murmured before shifting his hips and, oh, somehow pressing into him deeper. “So good, yeon-in. Keep still for me, aleumdaum. You can do that for me.”

He gripped the headboard tighter, head falling back as Billy began to fuck him hard, giving him exactly what he hadn’t known he needed until it was given. Short, high cries escaped him as his lover’s cock pressed relentlessly into him, striking every spot that left him seeing stars behind his eyelids and driving him beyond what he could stand.

Goodnight wailed as he hit his limit, spilling over his own stomach and onto Billy’s unbuttoned shirt. For a moment, he worried that his lover would punish him in some way for cumming without permission; then he was all but sobbing as Billy adjusted their position and fucked into him harder.

“That’s it, nae salang,” he crooned, leaning into Goodnight to drop a series of too soft kisses to his mouth, cheeks, eyelids. “Give me that surrender. I want it again, aleumdaum. Will you cum again for me, Goody?”

“No,” Goodnight gasped, shaking his head and trying to shift away from his lover’s relentless thrusting. “No, s’il te plaît, I can’t.”

“Yes, you can,” Billy ordered gently, his tone belying his relentless, almost punishing fucking. “And you will, nae aleumdaum. You can give me one more before I cum inside you. I know you can.”

The thing was, Goodnight knew he could cum again from this. He knew because they’d done something like this before, pushing him to his limits and beyond them. But he still didn’t think he could do it this time, shivering as his Billy changed up the pace and the angle, and no no it’s too much. He was too sensitive from his previous release, and all his lover was doing was pushing him too far; it was almost painful now, just a little bite to go along with the sensation of a hard cock fucking deep into him and cotton and wool moving against his skin to make him more sensitive—

This time he could only let out a quiet sob as he came, barely aware of whether he was actually spilling or if he was already wrung dry, his body clenching tight around the hard cock still fucking into him without showing a sign of stopping. Billy made a pleased sound and cupped his chin, guiding him into a soul-searing kiss as he continued to take him. It felt like hours before his lover finally pressed in deep one final time and fell still, and Goodnight groaned into the kiss as he realized that his lover was spilling deep inside him.

The kiss softened into something more tender, Billy’s hands sliding back up the Cajun’s body to catch his wrists once more. Goodnight let his lover guide his hands away from the headboard, tangling his fingers with the other man’s as he rolled them onto their sides. Once the kiss ended, he opened his eyes to meet Billy’s deep brown, smiling softly at the warmth and love he found there.

“I love you,” Goodnight said, knowing that he meant it with everything in his heart.

“And I love you, Goody,” Billy replied, shifting in to kiss him softly. Then he slipped off the bed to strip away his own clothing and grab a cloth from the wash basin in the corner. Goodnight huffed in mock annoyance but submitted to his lover’s ministrations, shivering at the chill of the water as Billy wiped away the evidence of their lovemaking before joining him in bed once more.

“Whatever happens,” the Cajun said softly as they settled against one another, ready to retire for the night, “whatever we face in the next few days, I want you to know… I don’t regret this. I don’t regret one second of us.”

Billy stared at him for a moment before shifting in to press a tender kiss to the corner of his mouth. “I know, yeon-in. I am glad you found me and that I found you. Even if we did take a while to get to here.”

They exchanged a few more kisses, letting the worries of the day slip away and the heaviness of sleep fall over them. Before he drifted off completely, Goodnight shifted to lay his head on Billy’s chest, letting his lover’s heartbeat lull him off to his rest.

Chapter Text

Saying yesterday was a wild ride was one hell of an understatement, maybe even one of Biblical proportions. He wasn't even sure what to compare it to, other than madness. It had just been so… everywhere… that Joshua was currently feeling like he had no idea which way was up and which was down right now.

He’d made up with his brother. That much he knew for certain. Eight god damn years, and they had finally made up.

He could be the first to admit that they weren’t back where they had been before everything that happened back then, yet, and he knew it would take a while to get there. They were a little closer to fine, though.

The trick of it was going to be handling all of that with the threat of Bogue looming ever closer. And while he knew Sam Chisolm had some ideas for what could be done, he didn't know that it was going to be enough.

After all, during their little planning session yesterday morning, when Miss Emma had demanded to know where she was in all of this, declared that she aimed to fight, Chisolm had put her in charge of keeping the ladies and children safe. Joshua had been fresh off a practical demonstration of just how good a shot Miss Emma was and had wanted to object.

The subject had been too quickly changed for him to barge in, though, and so he was keeping what he knew about the lady in reserve. It was going to be his secret failsafe, something to pull out if they needed it… and he didn’t doubt that they would end up needing it.

He had just gotten his family back, after all. He wasn’t going to risk losing all of them now.

He just had to come up with an idea, something that would solve their problem. He had the beginnings of something, but it just wasn’t quite there yet. Miss Emma’s shooting skills were part of it. The one lone stick of dynamite he had managed to stash away in his room was another part.

Either way, no one was going to like it. Not Goodnight—Goody—and damn sure not Vasquez. He suspected that Rocks was going to be unhappy with it as well, if only because Goody would be… and it was going to take him a little while to get used to calling the man ‘Billy’. He’d been thinking of him as ‘Rocks’ for eight years, after all; ‘Billy’ would take a bit.

No, no one was going to like this vicious little bastard of a plan cooking in the back of his head, but if it seemed viable, it might just save this town… and his little family.

 


 

After a night of rest and the knowledge that Chisolm was not going to purposefully antagonize them—which he presumed from the fact that the son of a bitch had left the restaurant the previous evening right as he and Joshua were arriving, although a part of him would still dearly love to shoot him in the kneecap—Goodnight awoke in the morning feeling more content with the world at the moment and ready to actually get some work done in Rose Creek.

He knew for a fact that his brother and Vasquez were still working on setting the entire valley to explode, and presumed correctly that they would keep working on that aspect of the defensive measures. And after the walk of the entire town from the main way in to the path leading to the mining camp a few days ago, Goodnight was almost certain about where they would need guns positioned for optimal coverage.

But that knowledge wasn’t worth a lick if they didn’t know just how long they would need to keep their enemy off-balance for, or where to position the wagons that would be used to keep Bogue’s men from slipping away before they could actually do much to stop them from destroying everything in their path.

Taking a look around, Goodnight weighed his options.

He could have Billy assist him with the timing, but the problem there was his beloved was more likely than not going to be coming back into town on foot; and while the man was quick on his feet, he wouldn’t be moving at anything close to the speed of a man on horseback.

He could probably ask his brother or Vasquez for help, and be granted it readily. The issue here was both one, he and Joshua were only barely started on the path back to a good relationship and two, his brother and the Mexican were still working on the explosive devices that were basically marking the perimeter of Rose Creek at this point.

He would be cold in his grave before he asked that damned Yankee for help.

So that technically left two choices of whom to approach. Red Harvest might be a way to go. The young man was a native to these lands, and he likely had an idea on how quickly any horses could travel over a distance.

But, sadly, the boy was off on a mission for Chisolm, which left old Jack Horne.

Oddly enough, Goodnight didn’t find the prospect of approaching Horne to be daunting. The man was… odd, yes, but that was probably a product of living away from civilization—or at least some form of society—for as many years as he had. And for as big of a man as he was, he didn’t come across as frightening or threatening so far as the Cajun was concerned.

In a way, honestly? Horne reminded him fondly of a favorite uncle he’d had growing up.

Dempsey Gaudet had not been an uncle in blood, but a dear friend to his maman. The man had been the one to teach Goodnight to use a rifle, and how to ride a horse, and had introduced him to the works of Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Wordsworth. He had also tried—more times that he could rightly remember—to unsuccessfully convince Maman to send the whole lot of them off to boarding school to get them away from Monsieur Robicheaux, and for that Goodnight would be eternally grateful despite the outcome.

It had honestly broken his heart when they had arrived back in St. Martinville after the war to find both that their home was gone and that Uncle Dempsey had passed from consumption about two months prior to the war ending. He would have liked to talk some with the man one last time, the closest thing he had to family left in the world aside from his brother.

But that was neither here nor there; it was in the past, and in the present, there was a need to protect this town and not die in the process.

“Mister Horne,” he called out as he saw the man upon exiting the restaurant; he and Billy’d eaten quickly with his brother and Vasquez, but the elder man in question hadn’t been by. Chances were good he’d seen to his own meal. “If possible, could I have a moment of your time?”

Horne gave him a grin and stopped to wait for him to come down the steps. “There’s a lot to be done, still, son, but I’m sure that’s what you wanted to talk with me about,” he said once Goodnight was on the street.

Honestly, anyone else calling him that would probably have gotten either decked in the jaw or snapped at that he had a name, thank you so very much. Goodnight had already decided that he trusted this man to be on the level, and so let it slide without commenting upon it.

Instead, he nodded. “Indeed I do. I think we may need to know how long it would take for someone on horseback to get from just outside town to right about here,” Goodnight replied, indicating the section that they’d initially marked out to herd Bogue’s men into. “We need time to get wagons moved into position and make sure we’ve got guns where they need to be.”

Horne was now nodding along as well. “I’ve got an idea for securing the livery,” the older man admitted, “but we will need to stall where we can to get all set up. You got something in mind for that?”

“Not really at the moment, no,” Goodnight admitted. “But I can probably work it through with more information.”

“You got a pocket watch with you, son?” the man asked, expression brightening up a bit when the Cajun’s response was to pull it from his waistcoat pocket. “We can do a few runs, see how long it takes me to get here then start factoring in means to slow folks down a mite.”

It didn’t take long for Horne to go fetch his blood bay from the small corral where their mounts had been staying while the livery was rebuilt for war, with Goodnight taking a moment as well to check on Adelaide and give her a few peppermints from his coat pocket. After that, the younger man headed back to the bottleneck while the elder started for the edge of town. He thought he spotted Billy from the corner of his eye doing another walk of the buildings, and he was sure that was Vasquez heading into the church again; he and Joshua must have finished with setting up the last of the dynamite, so he would try to meet up with his brother later. He knew they’d been planning to take care of the mine today, and Goodnight also knew his brother did not do well with dark enclosed spaces.

Hell, he didn’t do well with them, and that was all on Monsieur Robicheaux’s favorite non-physical form of punishment. Even now, he didn’t like to even think on when he’d been small enough that the whoreson could easily drag him to the coal shed and lock him in it for hours on end… so he tended to focus on the more physical punishments that had taken over his teenage years, no matter how deep the mental scars still ran.

Goodnight shook off the darker thoughts and watched for Horne to be ready. When he saw the older man turn his horse back towards the town, he glanced at his pocket watch and waited for the second hand to get back around to twelve. He waved a hand to indicate for Horne to start his run, keeping an eye on the clock face.

The second hand made it around three times before the older man was reining his mount in right next to him. “Three minutes,” Goodnight said aloud, looking up with a frown. “That’s not much time.”

“Maybe stage a few more men along those rooftops, fire into the crowd,” Horne offered.

“Hmm, that could help some,” he agreed. “Might need to shore up some of those widow’s walks and balconies, have more spots for rifles along the way in as well.”

“Don’t forget about the wagons,” the older man reminded. “If we have our Comanche friend watching from the roofs, he should be able to light a few of them on fire, further slow down our enemies and keep them from moving quickly. And I don’t doubt that you’ll be able to get off more than a few shots to slow them from the church as well.”

Goodnight made a sound of agreement even as he frowned thoughtfully. True, he was probably the best shot out of every man and woman present in this town who aimed to fight, but he wasn’t too certain how he’d be faring when the day arrived. He was going to do his best, not just because he’d made a long-ago promise to Chisolm and he paid his debts, but also because he was growing somewhat fond of the folks in Rose Creek. He didn’t know them well, but they had not looked on him with anything further than awe and gratitude; the children were in awe of every last one of the seven, it seemed, and they were ever observant. Hell, one of the littlest girls had given Billy a daisy just the other day and told him to ‘give it to your wife Mister Robicheaux for me’. Adorable, and it had the added value of making his lover’s ears go that fetching shade of red they did when he was embarrassed by something.

“Let’s run it again,” he suggested, already thinking of where each new trap and the riflemen would need to be. “Pause at each spot where we’ll be setting our traps, and we’ll see if that helps much.”

It would have to work. They didn’t have much more time left, and Goodnight could only hope that Bogue wouldn’t bring something more than an army with him to sway the tide in his favor. That was the very last thing they needed, and there was no time left to plan for heavy artillery.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t too difficult to track down his little brother; after a quick lunch with those folk who were around, including old Jack Horne once they finished up their trial runs and discussed what means of slowing down their enemy should be implemented, Goodnight had gone out to the corral where the horses were being kept while the livery was rebuilt for combat purposes. Partially he was headed over to check on Adelaide and Sunset, make sure his and Billy’s horses were staying out of trouble—he didn’t doubt it for his dearest’s gelding, but his own bay mare was… a treat. She had basically picked him out on her own, and he still sometimes wondered if twenty-five dollars was worth the crazy she could dole out—and partially because he could clearly remember how Joshua had doted on his own crazy-ass horse.

Just as he half-suspected, he found his brother leaning on the fence with Wild Jack’s forehead pressed to his own talking quietly to the beast. Rather than disturb the moment, because he still had not-so-fond memories of that wild thing throwing him the first time he’d attempted to ride him, Goodnight moved opposite and let out a soft call of, “Viens ici, ma chérie.” Addie’s ears flicked in his direction and the mare trotted over after a half-second’s hesitation. Sunset snorted delicately and followed along behind, the gelding absolutely the equine equal to his Billy.

Wherever I go, Billy goes, he had told young Teddy Q. He hadn’t added, and where Billy goes, I follow; their horses were almost identical in that way somehow, despite the fact that Sunset had been with Billy from the day they had met while Adelaide had “found” them sometime in January of ‘77.

Goodnight tended to the horses for a few moments, scratching at the star between his mare’s eyes and secreting a few pieces of horshound candy to each of them before turning his attention to where Joshua was still standing. That wild old stallion had wandered off to the other side of the corral where Vasquez’s flea-bitten grey was grazing, and his brother’s own attention had settled onto him.

“Everything go okay earlier, brother?” he asked, giving Adelaide one final pat and pushing himself away from the fence. It was honestly almost too easy to slip into conversational French now, even though not even a week ago he would never have thought he’d actually be getting on with his brother. No one else in this town spoke the language, which would make private conversations possible should they not want to find a more secluded place.

“Eh, so far, so good,” Joshua replied in kind, offering a quick grin. “Still can’t make myself go into that damned mine, though. Vas offered to do it himself, but…”

“I understand,” Goodnight nodded. “I wanted to check up on you, though, just in case you had managed to go in. We’re getting short on time, but if you need someone else to take over…?”

Frankly, Goodnight wasn’t so sure he wanted to brave the mine his own self. But if it kept his baby brother from having any sort of anxiety attack, well, he’d happily make that sacrifice. He was the older brother; it was still his job to keep his younger sibling safe from any dangers out there, even if Joshua was almost thirty years old.

But Joshua was shaking his head, a wry grin on his face. “Thanks, Goodnight,” he said, and it still stung just a little not to hear the old nickname, “but I’ll get it sorted out. Tomorrow, I swear, we’ll finish up with the dynamite.” The younger man paused for a moment before saying, “There’s something you should know, brother. We have at least one person in this town who knows their way around a rifle, could come in handy.”

Goodnight snorted, ignoring his brother's cackle. “I will believe that when I see it,” he remarked dryly. “Every man we've seen here would have better luck trying to shoot their own selves; they might actually manage to hit something besides grass and the birds flying overhead. And I'm not too sure they'd manage to hit themselves either.”

“Well, good thing I'm not talking about any of the men,” Joshua replied, his grin broadening as the elder brother looked at him expectantly. “Our very own Miss Emma shoots damn near as good as Colette always did.”

Goodnight blinked. “You don't say?” he asked, humming at his brother's enthusiastic nod. Where he had always been more inclined to trick shots as a youth, Letty had had the makings of a sharpshooter her own self. Hell, he wasn't ashamed to admit that more than once while they had been competing at Uncle Dempsey’s house that his little sister had outshot him with ease. Had women been allowed to fight—and had Monsieur Robicheaux been the sort to allow it—Goodnight had no doubts that she could well have been the one folks called the Angel of Death.

But that was speculation not worth pondering on. His dear Colette was many years lost, and they were in a situation that could well end with one or both of the remaining Robicheauxs joining her in death.

“I know for certain that she does not want to just stand to one side and let us do all of the work,” Goodnight noted after a moment more of thought. “And if she is as good a shot as our Letty was, then there is no real reason for her not to be in play as well. Have you mentioned this to anyone else yet?”

“Not a soul,” Joshua replied. “I thought of mentioning it to Vas, but I wasn’t positive that he would have as firm an opinion as we do on a woman’s ability to handle a gun.”

“If he has any sisters, I’d be willing to bet he would be in agreement.” He paused a moment before adding, “I think that Chisolm wanted to run through the final planning stages today, Mister Horne and I came up with some ideas on how to hold Bogue’s men back for a bit longer to buy us time once they hit the outskirts of town. That may be the time to mention Miss Emma’s skill set, get one more set of eyes involved on this.”

“Ugh,” his brother groused, rolling his eyes and his head back along with them. “I honestly would rather just shoot the son of a bitch and be done with it, you know?”

Oh, trust me, he thought, I know that feeling so very well. Out loud he remarked, “I’m opting to ignore him, honestly. If I do that, then chances of Billy stabbing or shooting him drop dramatically.”

Joshua cackled at that, and Goodnight felt a true smile flit over his lips. It was still too damned unbelievable that not only was he in the same place as his brother but that they were easily slipping back into their former relationship. It was obviously changed—people grew in a lot of ways over eight years, after all—but this was still his baby brother, and it still felt good when they were on the same page.

“At any rate,” he continued once his brother had gotten his laughter under control, “we know that Miss Emma’s handy with a rifle. And if Chisolm doesn’t want to do anything with that… well, we might be able to come up with something our own selves.” When Joshua turned a questioning look on him, he offered, “I don’t know about you, brother of mine, but I don’t trust that this is going to be anything close to easily dealt with.”

His younger brother heaved a sigh. “Yeah,” he agreed quietly. “This is not going to end well.”


 

An entire day spent wiring up the explosives they set yesterday, and they were just about ready to go. As near as he could figure, there was only really one thing left for him and Vasquez to do with the dynamite, and it was one he had been putting off for as long as he could: rigging the mine to blow, in the event that they were losing the town.

It was a last resort plan in a lot of ways. They didn’t want to lose the mine unless the town itself couldn’t be saved. The miners could be compensated for their assistance in the forthcoming fight from the mine’s contents. It could be a potential source of income for the town itself, in a sort of poetic justice sort of way.They could leverage or outright sell the mining rights for a fair price.

But more than that, he just plain did not want to go in the mine. In fact, it was probably what he wanted least to do. Hence was why he had successfully hemmed and hawed… and put it off yet another day. There weren’t many more days left to push it off to, however, and that wasn’t something he wanted to put too much thought into right now.

Right now, he wanted to enjoy his dinner in peace. Just him, Vas, Goody, and Rocks—no, and Billy.

Yeah, that was still going to take a bit of getting used to.

In the meantime, he could continue to be amused at Vas stuffing food into his face just as fast as he could get it on the fork. And if Goodnight and… Billy weren’t playing footsie under the table, he would eat his hat. (It would probably taste better than the biscuits on his plate right now. Really, they needed to quit giving that chore to Miss Emma. She was better served somewhere far, far away from a kitchen, like maybe a firing range.)

What was more concerning, perhaps, was that the seating arrangements had changed a bit. Oh, he was still sitting right next to Vasquez and… Billy was still sitting right next to Goody. That hadn’t changed. But no, Old Jack Horne and Sam Chisolm had settled down to have their dinner in relative quiet at another table, not the one the seven of them had gravitated towards since their arrival in Rose Creek. And yes, their number was one short, since Chisolm had sent Red Harvest scouting ahead to see what could be seen of Bogue’s supposed army.

But aside from that, their group was splintering. It was easy to see how and why, but…

A large part of him was actually pretty all right with this. Hell, a lot of him was fucking ecstatic about the idea of having less to do with Sam Chisolm and the nightmares that could have come from his attempt to force a reconciliation between him and his brother. He was counting it as a miracle he hadn’t had one yet from all this—again, yet anyway—but he figured they were coming, maybe even tonight or tomorrow night.

Probably tomorrow night: the mine would as likely as not be the last straw. There was just no more time to put it off to, not anymore. And there was no way he was letting Goody take all that on himself: his brother had just as much cause to hate dark enclosed spaces as he did: it had been a feature throughout both their childhoods as a favored punishment for infractions that didn't warrant a fist or the back of a hand.

Either way he needed to do this tonight. It was just too close to time for him to put this off any longer, not with everything else he had been putting off.

It took a second of bracing himself, just long enough for Vasquez to send him a curious look, before he pushed himself up to his feet and took those few long steps to cross the dining room to Sam Chisolm's table. Old Jack Horne watched him the entire way, eyes wary. He could concede that it might have been for the best; he didn't exactly have a great track record for getting along with folks, so he would honestly be surprised if no one watched him with suspicion.

"It's come to my attention," he began, perhaps a tad more forcefully than was strictly needed for the small space and how quiet it had suddenly become, "that we're running out of time here. We can't afford to be fractured like this, Mister Chisolm."

The man turned in his chair to eye him thoughtfully, and he fought the urge to fidget uncomfortably. He had never liked being sized up, never, not once in his life. It had never meant anything good for him. In fact, it had always meant trouble: either someone trying to beat him, someone trying to rob him, or someone trying to shoot him. Sometimes it had even meant all three at once.

He didn't see any of that dark anger in Chisolm's eyes, though. No, instead it was nothing but cool regard. It was absolutely the look of someone who was taking every inch of his measure. And more distressingly, he couldn't tell what where he stood in the man's book. He liked being unable to read a man even less than being sized up.

"You and I have had no end to disagreements, Mister Robicheaux. Not in the least of which being your name. I doubt that will stop any time soon." And that didn't sound good, even with the quiet chuckle the other man let out, even with the faint smile on Horne’s face, especially not when Chisolm was also climbing to his feet. He had all of a second to split second to brace himself, to worry, to feel a sense of absolute terror, because what if his shoddy attempt at forging a peace cost them more than they could afford to lose. But then Chisolm was putting a hand out to him. "I would be pleased to fight at your side in this, though."

It was with a sense of shock and surprise that he took and shook the other man's hand, but at least his voice was even when he replied, "Likewise, Chisolm."

He wasn't sure he had small talk in him, and he was frankly pretty glad that Chisolm released his hand soon enough and sat back down. He offered a small nod at Old Jack Horne, one that was vaguely returned, and turned on his heel to head back to the table he was sharing with his family.

He did not let himself collapse into his seat like he actually wanted to. Instead he made himself sit down slowly and fairly calmly... and then grab the full glass of bourbon from in front of Goodnight and down it all in one gulp. It was strange how much one particular kind of alcohol reminded him so much of Louisiana. He couldn't remember ever touching the stuff back then, but the smell of it was woven into his memories as much as the heat and the people and so many other things. Never as much as his family, never as much as Colette or Maman Arthémie or Goody, but still... It was part of what had once been home.

But more importantly, it's a liquor and it's in front of him. If he thought he could get his hands on Billy Rocks’ drink and not get stabbed, he might have a chaser, but that was a chance he wasn't big on taking.

“You okay, there, Joshua?” Goodnight asked, voice a bit too cautious; it wasn’t anywhere near how he’d sounded when they were younger and there was a chance Monsieur Robicheaux might be around to hear them, but it was somewhat familiar. That was his brother’s cautious but concerned voice, and he tried not to couple that with the way his brother had all but tossed some of Miss Leni’s biscuits at him the previous evening, but… but he did.

Comme ci, comme ça” was about the best he could come up with in answer. It might not have been much of one, but right now? Right now, it was doing pretty good. “It needed to be done, but…”

“Just what is it, exactly, that needed to be done?” his brother asked. That was… all right, he supposed. It didn’t make a lot of sense for them to already be back on the same page again, not like it was in the old days.

Vas slid his own drink in front of Joshua and carefully watched him take a measured sip before he spoke again. “Right now there might as well be a line drawn down the middle of any room all seven of us are in. We’re spending just as much time fighting with Chisolm as we are preparing for the fight against Bogue.” He took another slip and then slid Vasquez’s glass back over to him. “It’s not a truce or anything. It’s… a ceasefire, I suppose, more than anything else.”

Vas nodded approvingly. “Too many of Bogue’s men coming, not enough of us. We can't afford to be fighting amongst ourselves.”

“Exactly.” And that was good, that he and Vas were still on the same page. Especially since Goodnight looked positively apoplectic. “Don't mean I like the man or nothing.” It was purely a bit of Joshua Faraday showmanship that he offered up an exaggerated wink when he continued, “Why would I want to? I got me a much handsomer hombre.”

That broke the tension a bit, with Vas giving him some kind of hell, albeit all in Spanish, and Goodnight relaxing enough to covertly sneaking a sip of Rocks’—Billy's—drink and making the most exaggeratedly horrified face at the taste of whatever it was the other man was drinking, and Billy? Billy was watching him, a vaguely pleased look in his eyes.

Looked like at least one person here figured out exactly what he was doing… and he apparently approved.