the sacredness of shared meals
chapter 2 | chapter 1 | masterlist (tpb)
pairing: Boba Fett x Fem!Reader
warnings: No (Y/N) - slow-burn and some one-sided pining, mild descriptions of injuries and burns, patch gets bullied + some spoilers for the mandalorian season 2
a/n: repost !
It’s early the next morning, the land outside your homestead bathed in a pale blue dawn that is starting to slowly morph into rich shades of orange and pink as the twin suns creep their way higher into the sky. You had stayed up most of the night monitoring him, had passed the time by finishing the mends his clothing had needed and by replacing the items that could not be salvaged with whatever had been left by your uncle. Chests of his belongings had long since been tucked away by you when you first moved in, serving no discernible purpose other than the occasional square chunks cut from the fabric you ‘borrowed’ from some of his shirts to be used as a rag to oil Patch’s wheels. Otherwise, you forget they even exist until the next time you need them.
Fortunately, he had been stable and you got everything done within the first few hours, but you quickly realized early on that it didn’t necessarily guarantee a peaceful evening. Nightmares hadn’t been something you were anticipating. Prepared for a medical emergency, somewhat, a little bit, but not for the way he battled enemies you couldn’t see. It was painful to watch, to see him suffer and know that only waking him would make it harder for him to find sleep again. You had done your best to give the small comforts you could, feeling strange and unsure in every movement, but also like you couldn’t leave him like this - calling out into a darkened room, fighting against the bedsheets - doing what your mother had done when you were a small child, stroking his forehead, careful not to touch the bandages or accidentally disturb them, murmuring quietly that it would be alright.
Acts of kindness too tender to happen in the daylight.
It seems he doesn’t remember.
You turn away from the cooker at the sound of his voice, having begun preparing breakfast under the impression that he was still asleep. “What?”
“I need to get back to it.” He makes to get up, finds that he can’t. You set down your spoon and walk over to the side of the bed, gently urging him to lay back down.
“I didn’t see any ship.” I could barely see you, you want to add, discovering now that he’s stubborn and isn’t easily dissuaded once he has his mind set on something. Hopefully you can manage to get him to harness all that willpower into staying alive.
“You wouldn’t have. It’s…” Boba stops, furrows his eyebrows as if slowly realizing he doesn’t remember where it had been or what was done with it.
You wait for him to continue worriedly, glancing back at your now burning eggs. “Hey, we don’t have to worry about that right now, okay? We can focus on finding your ship once you start to feel better.”
Not your greatest pep talk, but not ruining your food is a slightly bigger concern than finding this theoretical ship in a desert bigger than you can fathom. You don’t necessarily blame him for having his focus set on getting out of here, this is the last place you wanted to end up, too, however you had anticipated his priorities to be on more immediate, detrimental things like the fact that he probably hasn’t eaten a substantial meal since falling into the sarlacc pit nor has he had much to drink aside from the broth you had given him last night. If your positions were swapped, you’d be starving.
Boba lays on his back, closes his eyes. You nearly go to touch his face again, like you had done a few hours ago, your hand hovering in the air somewhere between stillness and movement when he speaks.
“Your eggs are burning.”
Getting up, you hurry back to the nanowave and take the pan off the cooking burner, grabbing a spatula with the other and using it to poke the sizzling, charred food around, hoping it’ll be at least somewhat salvageable. Some of it might be, but the majority of it isn’t. Your mood dips drastically.
“I know. Kriff - eggs are hard to come by, too.” You exhale, setting both items down onto the counter - exhausted and now frustratingly disappointed as well as hungry.
Boba opens his eyes and watches. Follows the movement of your hand as it goes to your forehead, then scrubs down the side of your face. Guilt tugs at his diaphragm somewhere below his stomach like someone had tied a rock to it and placed it in his belly, muted and ignored, but existing and there nonetheless. It’s enough for now that he can tell himself you made the decision to bring him inside, and that the things that have followed aren’t necessarily his fault.
Picking away at the darker pieces, you speak again, attempting to keep a neutral tone in your voice. “There’s enough here for you. I can stir you some portion bread if you’d like. I’m not sure what kind of appetite you have right now if you have one at all, but you need to eat something.”
Setting the pan back down, you go to grab a dish for him and begin to prepare his plate. “How are you feeling?”
A little better, you hope. He’s gained some of his color back, but you also know that he isn’t entirely out of the woods yet. It’ll take months for him to properly heal, and even then he’ll be dealing with the side effects for the rest of his life. If he manages to get through the next couple of weeks, maybe you can figure out a way to get him in the hands of someone who’s actually trained, someone who can actually help him, perhaps with someone who knows him.
Pausing, you turn to face him, gently asking. “What?”
“Those eggs should be for you. Not for me.”
You almost laugh. His concern softening your mood. “The nobility is appreciated, but I’m not the one two seconds away from dying if I blink too hard. The eggs are for you, Boba. I’ll have something else. It’s okay.”
Resuming breakfast, you continue. “I’ll need to change your bandages after you finish eating. It isn’t going to feel good, but if I don’t you’ll be more likely to get an infection, and with your skin the way it is that won’t be difficult.”
Medical supplies aren’t easy to acquire, much harder to get than eggs, but fortunately for you they don’t go that fast. The worst thing you’ve done to yourself in a long time is accidentally nick your fingers trying to fix a piece of equipment, and that only required some light bacta and a band aid, so you’ve got more than enough to work with - not plenty, not even a lot, but all he needs for right now. Eventually, you’ll need to get more, which means venturing into the nearest town. Mos Eisley isn’t your favorite place, harbors a few bad memories you’d like to keep tucked away from your forethought, so up until this point, you’d take the trip once every two weeks or so to Mos Pelgo, trade with the locals there, but now with Boba in your care, you don’t want to risk leaving him for longer than you have to - tacking two or three more hours onto an already long trip wouldn’t be wise and taking him with you isn’t an option.
“You seem…” Boba swallows, forced to speak slowly and with caution. “More knowledgeable about medicine than a simple moisture farmer would be.”
“Yeah, I guess I would. I wasn’t always here…ya know, farming or whatever. This is - was - my uncle’s farm. I inherited it after he died. What very little I know about healing came from my mother on Alderaan.” You carry his plate over to him and set it down on the table next to your bed. “Do you think you’re strong enough to hold this by yourself?”
In your left hand is a fork and you gesture with it towards the plate. He looks as if he wants to ask you about it, but simply looks at the utensils instead. The answer is probably no. You ask anyway, just to make him feel slightly less dependent on you, less ‘invasive’ as he put it. He might try, will most likely try, and you’ll let it happen to help him save face even though you already know that you’ll end up feeding him anyway.
Instead of answering outright, he takes a hold of the fork and focuses on keeping it in his hand. You make notice of the way it shakes, but say nothing. You know he’s more aware of it than you could be.
The bounty hunter has it about three quarters of the way to the plate and you watch, trying not to hold your breath, when he drops it as suddenly as if it had grown thorns and got hot. The fork tings when it hits the floor, bounces slightly then rattles for half a second, finding its way underneath the nightstand. You stand to get it, sparing him by keeping your focus on the fork and not witnessing the look on his face. “That’s alright. I can get you a new one.”
There’s the noise of the plate landing as gently as he can get it on the table. “Don’t bother. I’m not hungry.”
“You need to eat something.” Fork in hand, you stand up. His food is considerably less neat looking, and usually that wouldn’t bother you, but a lot of credits had gotten you those eggs and he needs the protein. Going to the sink, you grab him another.
“I’m Not. Hungry.”
“If you don’t, you won’t get better. At least have some bread.” Pouring water into the small container, you mix it together quickly, just trying to get it done fast enough to make him eat it before he protests. The dough rises, splits and then releases some steam. You carry it over to him, sit down again, then place it in his lap, over the blankets.
At least this way he can feed himself, not a lot of finesse involved with ripping off bread and bringing it to his mouth. He might fight you anyway, just to be stubborn, just to be an asshole, but he doesn’t - tentatively pinching a bit of bread between his fingers, then eating it. You close your eyes for a second, smile a little in exhaustion and relief. “Thank you. Maker, you could be on fire and refuse water to put it out.”
Taking a hold of the dish again, you head over to the table, grab yourself a fork on the way, and sit down. You both eat silently for a couple of minutes. You hadn’t realized how much energy you’ve burned through since last night until having to give up your breakfast, so now you nearly shovel through them, every so often glancing in Boba’s direction to make sure he hasn’t choked. Patch rolls in, chirps in greeting, then almost like he’s surprised the man he had spotted is still alive.
“There are a few things I still need to do today that’s going to take up a lot of my time after we’re done eating. Do you think you’ll be okay by yourself?” You won’t attempt to change his bandages until later. Small victories and all that.
Boba swallows, looks at you. “I’ll be fine.”
“Okay,” you bring your things back to the kitchen. “I’ll be in periodically to check on you. Try to get some more sleep.” I know you need it.
Before leaving, you take his dishes and make sure that he’s comfortable, trying to hide your worry from him. He had been so fragile, still is and now in another way, too. It makes you almost want to leave the vaporator for another time, fearful that he’ll have another nightmare and you’re not going to be there to soothe him through it. You doubt that you’d get away with it again, yet the impulse is still there, still makes you feel contrite and responsible and like you’re leaving him to suffer. You’ll just have to work through it, same as he does. Some time spent alone will give you the opportunity to figure out your next move as well, and some quiet to think about why the hell you’re risking your sanity and quite possibly your safety for a man you don’t even know. Why there had been and still is this exigency to do it.
Like it’s out of your hands. Like you’re acting on behalf of the universe.
Still so personal, still so frightened for him.
The day is hot. Over night, much of the sand had settled, making it easier to walk and for Patch to follow. You keep an eye out for anything you might need to notice, a ship for one thing, possibly his other belongings as well, but when you get to the spot you had found him in, there’s nothing there at all aside from the slight indentation he had made in the ground that hasn’t been smoothed away just yet by the morning wind. You stare at it, remembering suddenly about how terrifying it had been finding him like that, attempting to carry him back to your house without hurting him any more than he already had been, desperately praying to anyone that would listen to keep him alive and not dead by the time you reached your front door.
The air in your nose begins to sting.
You blink a few times and look away sharply.
Patch rounds your side and stands in front of you, squinting a few times - making his photoreceptors big and small until it finally gets you to laugh. “I’m okay. Thanks, buddy.”
You pat his head, get over to the vaporator and check its diagnostics on the holopad in your left hand before getting to work on fixing the refrigerating unit. You tell how much time has passed by the position of the suns - how high up they are in the sky, how long of a shadow the things they are hitting is casting - and after close to two hours of working, you’re finally finished and assembling the cooler back on, sweaty and covered in grime, glad to be done.
“If you’re overheating, go back inside, Patch.”
The droid beeps, does a few circles around you and the spire in frustrated annoyance.
“He’s not scary. The man could barely eat his breakfast by himself. I’m sure he isn’t going to do anything to you, even if he wanted to, and not that he does.”
Occupied by a task you’ve done a thousand times over, it was startlingly easy to let your mind wander to the bounty hunter currently in your bed. Most of what you were doing needed little thought, and with nothing more pressing to fill the void, your attention slipped to him. So far you only know three things about him: his name, what had happened to him, and that he possibly has a ship somewhere out here no doubt being pecked apart and scavenged by Jawas. Aside from that, he’s a mystery. You don’t know his last name, how or why he had managed to get near enough to a sarlacc pit to fall in and be eaten by one, where he comes from, what he does for a living, nothing substantial at all. Nothing concrete. Nothing that would make taking him in a better and well-thought out decision. And that should really, really scare you, but it doesn’t. You aren’t afraid of him at all.
“Quit. You’re distracting me. Get in the shade before you melt.” The sonic screwdriver in your hand waivers slightly, your annoying little robot making you lose focus. “I mean it, Patch. Go inside or get out of the suns before I take your wheels.”
The droid zips past you, kicking up sand onto your boots, whistling.
“Dude, are you kidding me right now? I understand this last sleep cycle has been kinda stressful for all of us, but can you please take your anxiety out somewhere else? And like - not fill my socks with sand while you’re doing it?”
Patch makes a few more noises, stops going in circles, back to protesting.
“I promise you, right now, that if he doesn’t, I will.” You point the tool at him, and would nearly be finished by now and inside with him if he’d just listen. “I don’t want to hear another word-”
The distant noise of a motor stops you from finishing your sentence. The both of you freeze and stare at each other, but as the sound gets louder and closer, he wheels as fast as he can to get behind you.
Maker, not something else.
The vehicle is initially just a speck of almost nothing wavering in the horizon. You can barely see it, squinting and searching for it, hoping that your farm isn’t its destination. You don’t have visitors aside from the ones that collapse on your property which has happened exactly one (1) time yesterday and occasionally, sometimes, when you go against your better judgement (often, it seems), that Marshall from that sleepy, dusty town you visit comes over for drinks, complains about a krayt dragon, keeps you company, and then maybe if he’s lucky, he gets to kiss you, too.
But he wouldn’t be hauling the way whoever this is towards your house, wouldn’t have chosen to show up unannounced. Your thing with him, if it can even be called that, is not serious enough to warrant such a rushed, aggressive visit, and happens infrequent enough that sometimes you forget he even exists. It’s easy to make your own world out here. Easy, then, to become paranoid of strangers.
“Patch, get in the house.”
He quietly drones. He doesn’t want to leave you.
“My love, as much as I’d like to argue with you on this one, I’m really going to need you to listen just this once. I’ll take care of it and come get you when I’m done, okay?”
Patch nudges your hand with his head, you look down at him and smile the best you can. “Go.”
You look back to the speeder as he turns and goes rushing towards the homestead. You need to think about how to play this. There’s no way to figure out what they want until they’re here and saying it, so you might as well make an attempt at staying cool, going through a few scenarios as you pick up your equipment and start putting things away. They could be here for Boba. Your immediate feeling is that they are since this has never happened before, but you hope that you’re wrong. What that would involve instead, you don’t know.
The craft stops about fifteen feet from you. Two men you don’t recognize get out. Each armed.
“Are you her?” The driver. He walks towards you, the second man following.
You bring your hand to your forehead to shield your vision and to get a better look at them, your other palm sweating around the screwdriver you hold out of sight. “I don’t know what that means.”
“That’s her.” The other verifies.
“Your uncle used to own this farm, yeah?”
“He did.” You confirm. “Why?”
“I’m the one who took care of it in his absence. This is his son, your cousin. We’re here to reclaim the property.”
They can’t just do that! “You can’t just do that!”
“We can and we are. You see, it says in his will, which I’m sure you already know, that in the lack of a subsequent heir, you shall inherit the property along with the home and all the moisture farming equipment residing on it, however…”
This can’t be happening. Just one break. That’s all you ask.
The man, he’s yet to give you his name, pulls out a copy of the will and holds it out for you to take. You look into his face, then down at the document before grabbing it slowly.
“You’ll notice that in the fine print a few paragraphs down he has listed ‘your name here shall inherit this property yadda yadda yadda all the assets including blah blah blah unless’ - now pay attention, this is important - ‘a more suitable inheritor arrives to take her place’ that’s your cousin over there, ‘in which case, the land and all its assets should be rescinded from the previous owner’ that’s you, ‘and given to the more suitable inheritor’ again, that’s him.”
You stare down at the paper in shock, haven’t even found the lines he had been reading yet, your hand shaking. You look up at them, confused and infuriated.
“This is my house. I’ve lived here since he died. No one else had interest in this farm until just now, and I’ve never even met you. You can’t do this. If this is some weird trick for something else, just do it so we can get this over with.”
“As much as we’d like to, we can’t. Your cousin-”
“I’m sure he can speak for himself.”
“Your cousin got himself in a bit of a bind. He had been living with your uncle on Cantonica and remained there after the passing of his father having inherited gambling winnings that should have left him more than comfortable for the rest of his life, however he seems to have inherited your shared relative’s affinity for laying the odds and has come out nothing short of broke. As the overseer and executioner of the will, he had come to me for help and since it is my job to see that it is enacted to the fullest extent of his late father’s wishes, I collected him and came here.”
“I…you cannot be serious. I make barely enough to keep myself alive. It’s hard work. The vaporators require constant repairs. Not to mention, you don’t look like you’ve lived on this planet a day in your life. Do you even know what this is?” You flash the sonic screwdriver, gaze shifting between both their faces.
“You kick me out and I have nowhere else to go.”
“As unfortunate for you as that is, I must remind you this is all the desire of your uncle.” That slimy, good for nothing, nerf-herder piece of bantha fodder if he weren’t dead you’d kriffing kill him twice. “Perhaps you could return to your home planet Alderaan. Oh, that’s right. Such a shame.”
You try very hard not to let the sting of his reminder show up on your face. “Are you serious? That’s it. I have to leave?”
“I suggest you start gathering your things. You have whatever daylight is left and til the suns’ set tomorrow to be gone and off the farm. We expect everything to remain functional or as it is now.”
You want to clutch at your hair and scream, to freak out, to ball up the paper in your hand and throw it at their blaster-brained faces, but all you do is stand there and silently fume, watching as they return to the skiff.
Once they’re gone and out of sight, you yell - shout into the sky and kick the brown, coarseweave bag holding your tools as hard as you can. The satchel tumbles, some of the items inside go flying out and land somewhere and it’s all you can do to try not to cry. This couldn’t have happened at any other time, it had to happen now - right at the exact moment you have someone else to worry about, when you need your home more than ever. You could almost laugh at how hysterical it all is if you weren’t so heartbreakingly distraught.
Sniffling and grinding your teeth, you pick everything up, slow and steady in an effort to collect yourself before you step back into the house, all the while trying to come up with something to do, a way out or a place you go could go.
Cobb’s door is always open, has said so himself. Visit us again soon. You’re always welcome in Mos Pelgo.
The problem is that explaining this to him would be difficult, not to mention the impermanence of your living situation if you ever chose to lay down roots. The krayt dragon for one thing rearranges the landscape like it had been hired by the planet’s maker to consistently keep things fresh, which isn’t exactly conducive with the stability Boba needs to heal properly. But you also can’t just show up at Marshall’s door with a half-dying man and a droid who likes to talk and expect him to be comfortable with letting you all inside. You don’t like the idea of being a burden, and would rather spend the rest of your life surviving by the skin of your teeth than feel like you owed something to somebody that you’d never be able to pay back in return.
Which leaves you with two options:
Fight. Stay here and wait for them to return in a day and a half.
Or go someplace entirely different trusting you don’t kill Boba on your venture to nowhere.
Returning to the house, you’re considerably less shaken but not any less angry or scared, keeping your head down and staying quiet as you hang your bag back up and unravel your protective scarves from around your head and neck.
Patch whirrs into the room, greets you with a soft and questioning chirp.
“Not now. Please. We’ll talk about it later.”
He pushes his head up against your hand. His sweet undertaking at comforting you is painfully bittersweet, makes your eyes fill with tears and you sniffle again, then lean down to his height and smile. “No matter what happens, you know I’ll keep you safe, right?” Your droid beeps. “Of course you do, you’re a good boy, Patch.”
“Alright, I’ve got to go check on our patient. Hopefully he’s in a better mood than he was this morning.”
Standing up, you go to the refresher first to wash your hands and make yourself slightly more presentable. Not that you particularly care what he thinks of your appearance given the way he looks right now, but you had just spent the better part of the afternoon outside being pelted by dirt when the wind blew and covering yourself in grease and the other half of it trying not to commit homicide. You also don’t want for him to catch on to the way that things are going seriously and hastily wrong. You’ll have to tell him eventually, and knowing the little that you do about him, he’s going to no doubt figure it out anyway, but you’d rather try to make it sometime after redressing his wounds.
Your eyes are red and slightly puffy. You can blame that on being outside. Your trembling hands, too. It’s going to be fine.
Everything will be fine.
He’s awake, if he had ever gone to sleep, when you walk back into the room. In your hands you carry the medpac you returned to the fresher the night before, filled with a few more things from your medicine cabinet, some extra gauze and antiseptic. Nothing fancy like synthflesh or irrigation bulbs, those had long been lost or non-existent, but enough to have gotten the job done when you found him, and enough still to do it again now. You’re worried another trip to Mos Eisley will have to wait.
“Is it alright if I change your bandages now?”
Boba sits up, groans quietly under his breath. He’s in a lot of pain, trying to hide it from you even though he shouldn’t. “Go ahead.”
Approaching the bed, you set the health pack down, then open it and take the things you’ll need out - bacta, the bandages themselves, your mother’s salve, and a pair of small scissors. You’re more nervous than you had been before despite how much riskier it had been treating him. At least when you were doing your best to fix him, he was half-out of his mind already. You didn’t need to worry about hurting him too much because you knew he wasn’t going to end up remembering it except now he will. Now he’s going to be wide awake and aware of everything you’re doing. Aware of your ineptitude.
“I’m not sure how this is going to feel, but I’m sure it isn’t going to feel great, so if it starts to be too painful or you need a break, let me know and I’ll stop.”
“I can handle it, kid.” He replies, gruff and nearly annoyed, wanting to get this over with already. When you look away, down at your things and fiddle with undoing the bacta patches his disposition softens. “But thank you.”
You look up into his face. He looks back.
“Okay, so I’ll um…I’ll get started, then.”
Daylight doesn’t make it any easier. You thought that it would, being able to properly see and all, yet all it does is make you more apprehensive. The bacta and salve had worked miracles, but he’s far from being completely healed, and with each bandage you slowly and carefully unravel from around his arms and neck and face and with each wince he barely keeps to himself the out of depth, Maker what the hell am I doing feeling in the pit of your stomach increases and intensifies. You frequently travel back to the conversation you had outside, too, which doesn’t make anything better, forced to imagine having to do this by fire’s light, shivering and constantly brushing away sand.
“What happened out there?” Boba speaks up after twenty minutes, his tone surprising in its tenderness.
“Your droid-” He inhales sharply and closes his eyes when a bit doesn’t come away as easily as the others have been. You apologize weakly. “Came in as if something had. His aggravating little chirps woke me up.”
You don’t take your focus off his arm, your face burning. “It’s nothing you should have to worry about. I’ll figure it out.”
You cut off the bandage, press it gently to his skin so that it sticks to the bacta underneath. Almost finished. You’ll be able to leave this conversation soon.
“I’m stuck here bedridden and at your mercy. This concerns me. Now isn’t the time to spare my feelings out of niceties.”
He’s right. He has just as much a right to know what’s going on as you do. Out of the three of you affected by this, he’s the one most at risk. He deserves to know, and be able to make a decision for himself based on that information, even if that makes leaving when he shouldn’t.
“When I had inherited this farm, I was under the impression that I was the only one it was given to since no one else came to claim it. You can imagine that not many of my family members are eager to be on this planet, but apparently I was wrong.” You swallow back the venom in your words, try to keep your voice soft as you clean up. “My cousin and the man who ran this farm for my uncle before he died showed up while I was outside working and told me I have until tomorrow to leave. There was some specification I hadn’t read in his will that makes any ‘more suitable inheritor’ the rightful owner of this property should they reveal themselves. And today-”
You laugh at the absurdity of it, standing up.
“Today someone did, so…”
“I was going to tell you about this, I swear, but I wanted to - kriff - I wanted to make sure I had a plan first. Someplace we could go or maybe a way we could end up staying, but then you asked and I couldn’t just keep this from you and now I’m panicking even more because I rescued you and kept you here when I should have been smart and taken you somewhere else to someone far more capable than me because now you’re stuck here and about to be homeless right along with me and-”
“These men are returning tomorrow?”
You pause. Make an effort to understand. “Yes, at suns’ set.”
Boba nods slowly, pulls back the blanket and you’re about to protest when he swings his feet over the side of the bed and calmly, deliberately stands up.
“What are you saying we do?”
“We get ready for them.”
20 notes · View notes
I’ve been a little stuck on some of my other projects so I decided to flesh out another thing about my RDR OC that’s been sitting in my head for some time.
Notes: set in October 1898
TW: canon-typical violence, period-typical racism, probably incorrect translations Spanish phrases, very little editing
Companion to this
Winter is on its way. She feels it, icy tendrils creeping into the October air as it whips around her, through the brush and the trees. It’s worse here, up in the westernmost part of the Grizzlies, where the many rocky cliffs provide little to no buffer against the high winds. No snow has fallen yet, too early in the season. But even when it does, it’ll continue to weigh heavy on bare branches long after the lowlands have begun to bloom again.
She’ll return to lower altitude soon, ride out the worst of the winter somewhere warmer, like New Austin, maybe. Visit some friends, maybe. Take a break, definitely. But first, she has to finish the business that brought her up here in the first place.
“There you are.”
Behind her, a horse snorts, impatient. She knows what’s coming, been through this enough times. The horse doesn’t enjoy the extra weight placed on her rump during the ride back to the sheriff’s, but she does appreciate the extra sugar cubes and apples she gets afterwards. And the nice, fresh stable she gets bedded down in that night while her rider gets a room at the closest hotel. It’s only ever one night before they’re back in the wilderness. Sometimes staying just outside town, but for that one night, they live in as much luxury as the area allows.
“Easy, Moonbay,” she whispers, standing up from the frozen tracks in the dirt. “Let’s go get him.”
She mounts the dapple black Thoroughbred and combs her fingers soothingly through her white mane. Her legs squeeze Moonbay’s sides three times, urging her into an easy canter. The mare’s got long strides, meaning it isn’t long before they come up on the rider’s target: a nasty piece of work she’s been tracking for three days. He’s only worth fifty dollars, one of the cheaper bounties she’s been after in the last seven years, but once she read that he killed a mother and two children while robbing their small homestead, she’d set off immediately.
He’s riding with three other men, but she’s not worried. She’s faced far worse odds before and come out with only a few new scars. She just hopes she doesn’t kill the bastard by accident. Giving them shit while listening to them squirm and curse her out on the long ride back is the best part.
She pulls Moonbay to a stop and pats her neck before dismounting, not bothering with hitching her before crouching and continuing forward. Moonbay’s a brave horse, and even when the gunfight startles her, she doesn’t wander too far off, always returning shortly after the firing stops, with or without being whistled for.
The men have stopped at the roadside, one of them standing amongst the trees to take a piss. She’ll deal with that one first. Removing the bow from its place over her shoulder a few moments later when she’s creeped close enough, she nocks the arrow and makes her slow, silent approach. He’s whistling some tune, completely oblivious to her presence.
One, two, three deep breaths, she peeks around the side of the tree acting as her cover, and draws back the string. A fourth breath leaves her lungs, and the arrow flies. The string flicks against the few strands of her black hair that have come loose from the braid, and she blows them out of her face at the same time the body thunks against the leaf-covered ground.
“Jim? You smack your head again? Dumb bastard.”
They’ll discover her soon enough, so she throws the bow back over her shoulder and reaches for her two LeMat revolvers. Her thumbs run over the AT engraved in the grips of both of them as she waits, still concealed by the trunk.
“Jim? The hell—” He stops once he sees the body, arrow embedded in the temple. “What the hell—Carl, Clyde, we got a problem!”
The echo of her revolver immediately follows the man’s exclamation. He, too, falls to the ground to never get back up. She stands quickly and rushes towards the shouts from the other two men at the road. Emerging from the treeline, she spots both of them. Both of their guns are raised, but they’re facing the wrong direction. Clyde, the actual bounty, is atop his horse. If he doesn’t fire at her after she kills his lackey, he’ll surely take off. So she aims one gun at the horse’s feet—not to hit it, just to spook it into hopefully bucking Clyde off—and the other at the lackey’s head. She pulls each trigger at the same time. The lackey’s death is instant, but the horse doesn’t spook quite as much as she thought it would. The other three horses, however, do, bolting off in different directions while voicing their sudden fear.
She’s quick with her guns, but not quick enough. Once her shots are fired, Clyde turns in his saddle and fires off a shot of his own. She can’t raise her guns to threaten him before a bullet whizzes into and then out of her left arm. The gun in her hand clatters to the ground.
Retaliation is swift on her end, as she lets out a swear of “¡Chingado!” while firing off a shot at his shoulder. Anger and pain tear through her, along with the thought, If I kill him, I kill him. She’ll have to visit a doctor now, so a quiet ride back might not be so disappointing at all.
It doesn’t kill him, but it does knock him back off his horse, who then takes off with a scream.
Oh, ahora quieres cooperar.
The gun she’s still holding is holstered before being replaced with the lasso attached to her hip as she strides purposefully to where he’s landed in the dirt. Her left arm screams and throbs with the pain, and she faintly registers the blood rolling down and off of her hand, but she has work to do. The man rolls around, pulling his knees up under him to attempt to stand up, looking frantically for his own dropped gun. His heels are just digging into the ground and he’s almost stood back up when her lasso tightens around his torso. A hard yank, and he’s stumbling towards her before landing on his back again.
“Bitch!” he spits.
She keeps the rope taut as she approaches. “Heard that one before.”
“Greaser cunt! Fuck you!”
Baring her teeth and sucking in a furious breath, she yanks the rope again. He grunts painfully and she halts her approach, his head in easy kicking distance. “Better watch your mouth, asshole, or you’ll be headin’ back to the sheriff’s as a corpse.”
A devious grin that she does not like spreads across his face then. “Only place I’m headin’ is out of here, after I finish with your corpse, that is.”
The rope instantly becomes slack and in a swift movement—swifter than she figured he’d be able to move after being shot in the shoulder and thrown off a horse—he stands up, charging at her with a knife drawn in his right hand. He’s smart enough to come at her left side, but she’s also smart enough to throw her right side forward. There’s not enough strength in her left arm to be able to fend off the knife, so she reaches for it with her right arm instead. Her left fist collides with his stomach, though it’s not much help, only forcing out a quiet grunt and leaving a bloody fist print on his jacket. Then she grabs his left wrist with her own; two weakened arms wrestling with each other. He sneers as they struggle, and it only makes her madder.
Anger in most situations actually helps her, gives her some clarity and more power behind her movements. In this one, however, it proves to be a detriment. Rather than use the rest of her body to throw him into the ground and wrench the knife away before grabbing her own, or her gun, she reaches for her knife with her bloody hand. It’s enough of an opening for Clyde to yank his arm back, away from their bodies. Her fist is still clenched around his wrist, so she’s pulled off balance. Wrapping his weakened left arm tightly around her neck and pulling his back flush against his chest is a task, as she’s not going down without a fight, and she’s stronger than she looks. She hasn’t let go of the wrist holding the knife, but while having the tables turned on her, he was able to position the knife less than a foot from her head. The rising pressure around her throat forces her to choose between the immediate danger of the knife or trying to loosen his arm with hers, still throbbing and leaking blood.
Her knife is sheathed on her right side, and the gun that belongs in her left holster is laying uselessly on the ground, far out of reach.
He opens his mouth to say something, no doubt some terrible snark or string of curses at her, but at the same time, they notice the wagon caravan come into view.
Thankfully, he seems just as surprised as her, so it’s not his backup. Plus, he swears, “Shit,” under his breath and in her ear as he continues to struggle with freeing his hand from her grip.
There are two riders in front of the first wagon, and neither of them look happy about the scene they’ve stumbled upon. The white man is in a brown leather coat barely hiding his burly frame with a worn black leather hat sitting atop his head, a few strands of dirty blonde hair peeking out from underneath. His dark bay Andalusian stamps its feet underneath him, smelling the blood, but doesn’t move otherwise as he dismounts swiftly, carefully. The other man to his left also dismounts his gray Appaloosa, who only snorts and throws her head, not moving either. He’s brawny as well, though his shoulders are broader, and he’s wearing a thick hooded black sweatshirt, no hat. She thinks he might be mixed race, black and Indian, maybe, long raven hair tied into a loose ponytail similar to how some of the Navajo men she’d met years ago wore theirs, but skin much darker than them. Closer to Josephine’s, she thinks a split second later, along with I need to write her when I get out of this.
Both men approach slowly as Clyde flashes the knife in his hand. He struggles to push the knife closer to her face, but she keeps it still, muscles whining with the strain.
“Easy, partner,” the one in the brown coat says calmly, accent something close to a southwestern if she had to guess, holding his hands out and away from his guns. There’s an underlying threat in his tone. “Let her go, and we’ll let you go.”
There’s very little in this world that she hates more than being a damsel in distress and being used as a bargaining chip or hostage. If he lets her go before she frees herself, there’s no way in hell she’s not shooting the bastard right in the face.
She bares her teeth again and spares a glance at the other man. He’s already watching her like a hawk with deep, perceptive brown eyes, and shakes his head subtly as if he knows what she’s about to do.
“And why should I trust you bastards?” Clyde asks with a sneer.
Slowly, so as to not alert Clyde, she shifts her weight onto her left leg. Then, once satisfied that she’s anchored enough, she makes her move. Throwing her right foot back quickly, she tucks it behind his ankle and kicks forward, throwing him off balance this time. Her left hand joins her right and she pulls his arm downward, her shoulder digging into his chest as she throws him to the ground, hard. The dirt beneath her boots shudders with the impact and she hears the breath leave his lungs. In a swift move, one she’s practiced many times for moments such as these, she reaches for her right holstered gun with her left, pulling the hammer back before it’s left the holster, then shoots him in the face, point blank, before he’s able to even begin trying to scramble to his feet.
A beat passes while she pants and slowly holsters her gun. “Fucking bastard,” she says between pants.
“Huh,” Brown Coat breathes. He grabs his gun belt, suddenly the picture of a relaxed cowboy. “Nice move.”
She looks at him, nodding silently, before turning to grab her discarded gun and lasso. She whistles loudly for Moonbay.
“Ma’am,” the other man says, taking a cautious step forward. Only when she looks at him, brows raised, does he continue, voice deep and baritone. Soothing, in a way. “Can we ask what that was about?”
At first she doesn’t answer, just regards them warily. They are dangerous, that much is apparent in the way they carry themselves, the way they dress, and the weapons they carry. But they don’t seem to present her much danger at the moment. The threat in Brown Coat’s voice was gone when he spoke. Nothing but worry, confusion, and intrigue show on either of their faces. So she relaxes. A little. “His head’s worth fifty bucks.”
Black Sweater chuckles lightly and Brown Coat opens his mouth to say something, but he’s cut off by two other voices as they come up beside the men. The first belongs to a much older white man with deep lines but bright perceptive eyes, the second to a white woman in a plain dress, blue eyed, her black hair pulled into a high and tight bun.
“Arthur, Charles, you two okay?”
Brown Coat turns to them and holds up a calming hand. “Everyone’s okay. ‘Sides the bounty she was after.”
The woman perks up once she lays eyes on the other. “Oh, hey, you been shot.” She sounds genuinely worried. About what exactly is unclear.
“Ma’am, you should go see a doctor about that,” the older man says gently.
“I will,” she replies with a one-shoulder shrug. “Gotta collect my money first.”
As if on cue, Moonbay appears in the treeline with a soft nicker. Once she sees the other people, she stops, ears flicking forward and nostrils flaring curiously.
Black Sweater takes another few steps forward, hands still raised harmlessly. “It won’t be easy to get him back by yourself.”
She can tell he means no offense, but it still pulls her lips into a slight frown. “No, but I’ll do it.” Then her mouth twists into something uncomfortable as a memory surfaces, but she quickly plunges it back under and pulls her face back into a neutral expression.
“You don’t have to do it alone.”
A strange offer, from people she doesn’t know. It must show on her face, because the woman speaks up again.
“We’ve got some space in our wagons, and we can get ya stable until you get to the doctor.” The woman motions back to the wagon caravan, and it’s then that she notices the other four wagons and riders, hanging back at a reasonable distance but watching with interest. “And Arthur can stow your bounty on his horse.”
Brown Coat looks at her sharply. There’s no malice in his voice or face, rather amusement and surprise. “Why you volunteerin’ me, Abigail?”
“Why not?” she shoots back with a teasing smile. “You got experience takin’ bounties in, don’t’cha?”
“That’s true, but—”
“Just stow her on my horse, Moonbay,” she interrupts the two. She doesn’t notice that her mount has stepped closer, so she startles when the mare nudges her good shoulder, expecting a treat or checking up on her. Or both. “Hey, bonita.” As she reaches up to stroke Moonbay’s nose, a sudden wave of exhaustion rolls over her. The fight hadn’t been long or particularly bloody, but it’s been a long three days and the numbness in her arm is starting to fade away post-battle. Meaning all the pain will start to register, and she has no medicine that’ll ease the pain nearly enough. And this bullet wound is bleeding more than usual.
“Okay,” Black Sweater—Charles, if she heard the name right—agrees, taking more steps forward until he’s at Clyde’s body. “Think she’ll be okay next to a wagon, or you want one of us to lead her?”
“I didn’t agree to go with you.”
Nobody seems convinced by her tone.
“You don’t wanna bleed out on the way there, do ya?” Arthur asks.
She frowns more at that, like a petulant child. They’re right. They know it, she knows it. And something tells her that these people won’t bring her any harm. That their offer of help is genuine. She can’t deny that getting her wound tended to while sitting comfortably in the back of a wagon doesn’t sound enticing.
“Come on,” Arthur waves her forward before making a move to go to one of the other wagons. “I’ll go speak to Dutch. Uh, what’s your name, anyhow, ma’am?”
For the first time in a long time, her real name worms its way to the tip of her tongue. She quickly bites it back. Why, why now? Not that the name would mean anything to them, but still. It’s a part of her past she keeps locked away for a reason. These strangers have no business knowing her business. So she takes a deep breath, watching them for a moment, before relaxing her shoulders and nodding.
“Well,” Abigail says, holding out her hands, “I’m Abigail Roberts. Come on, Alberta Taylor. Let’s get you taken care of.”
She nods again. “Just Al is fine.” Then she turns and announces over her shoulder, “Best one of you lead her. Moonbay, esta bien, hermosa. Buena niña.”
Moonbay throws her head up once, snorts, then lowers her head as Charles approaches. She still seems a bit wary, but doesn’t flinch under his gentle touch and soft words. Satisfied that she’ll behave, Al turns back to Abigail, who is leading her past the first wagon. She’s uncomfortable with the many sets of eyes now on her, but ignores that feeling and the pain.
Besides, after they get her to the doctor, she’ll likely never see these people again. So she can stomach this unease for the time being.
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