Two men sat on the boardwalk in front of the sheriff's office. It was still early; not even the cook at the cafe had gotten up to begin the daily preparations required to feed the never-ending flow of hungry customers that passed through the town day in and day out. Cool mountain air nipped at each man's nose, one pale and slightly bent, the other straight and wide with a more yellow hue, affecting each the same despite the aesthetic differences. The frosty vapor crept into the warm cavities, partially dragged in by force, only to shoot back out in white wisps. The town remained cool and dark, waiting for the sun.
"Mm." The owner of the slightly crooked nose savored the warm cup in his hands and then took a drink. "Nothing like good, hot coffee on a cold morning, huh, Chon?" He pressed his hands around the tin mug and then took another sip. He didn't mind the slight burn on his tongue either.
The smell of strong coffee would've woken the occupants of the jail cells, had there been any. But the jail was empty. The two men outside were the only ones that could taste the brown liquid and it was bitter, too strong for an empty stomach.
"Mm..." The other man's growl was not in agreement. He didn't think so at all, in fact, he thought the brown drink could use some sugar, several cups actually. If only he had a cup of his favorite tea... A dreamy smile formed on his lips. He imagined the slightly sweet hint of orange that would flow over the sides of his tongue with every swallow. He wished he'd brought some with him. There were no Chinese orange trees here in this land of similar yet different landforms. He took another sip and frowned. Gag! He tossed the remainder of the cup into the street.
"What'd you do that for?" The man next to him whined.
"Are you trying to poison me?"
"What! Chon, what are you talking about?"
"Uh!" The China man shook his head. "You cannot make coffee."
"No, you just don't like it. You haven't gotten used to it yet, but it'll grow on you. Coffee is a staple of western meals." The cowboy boasted.
"I try coffee in the saloon. It don't taste like this."
"Chon? Are you saying what I think you're saying?" The man known as Roy O'Bannon was looking at the China man, sounding hurt.
"Yes." Wang grew annoyed as he watched the other man's expression. "I just said what I said."
O'Bannon's expression grew even more offended, his blue eyes widening until they would seemingly pop out of their sockets. "I can't believe this! I go to all the trouble to make coffee every morning, every morning I get up and heat up the water, pour the beans in, wash your cup for you even! You didn't know that, did you? But I actually wash your cup everyday because a coffee cup should be clean. It's a bear to clean off after it's dried on for several days or hours. I've ridden with some men who never washed any of their dishes. Disgusting! And this is the thanks I get?"
"I wasn't thanking you."
"That sludge is not fit even for horses. You should be ashamed!" Wang stared straight ahead, trying to keep a straight face.
"God, you are one cruel man, Chon. It's not even daylight yet and already you're on the offensive. I'm not a bad guy anymore remember? I'm one of the good guys now."
"I know. I keep trying though. Hope maybe I will like it one morning."
O'Bannon's blond head turned ever so slightly, just enough to look at his companion out of the corner of his eyes.
Chon Wang was grinning.
The China man's laugh was contagious and their mirth floated into the empty street.
O'Bannon slouched lower in his wooden chair, stretching out his long legs and crossing his boots at the ankles. He was wearing his brown leather chaps over his brown pants with his signature dark blue shirt. Resting his black hat lower over his eyes, he snuggled into his matching black coat, trying to escape the morning chill. To Chon, it looked like his friend was about to go to sleep.
"No black?" Wang asked.
"Why don't you wear your black?"
"Too overdone. How many bad guys do you see wearing black? Hm? And I could ask you the same question. Why do you keep wearing white? I mean you look great in it, don't get me wrong, but it gets so dirty. How many times have you had that thing laundered? Fifty? A hundred?"
"I like it." Chon defended.
"Ohh... I get it. You got a deal goin' on with your compadres over that their new laundry place."
"No. Why do you always assume I play dirty with you? I am not like that." Chon's chest swelled a little with pride. He was always honest with himself and others. "In story, I am the white knight."
Roy smiled. He pictured Chon trying to fight in one of those metal suits. Clunk, clang! Clunk, clang! "Alright, fine... Play doe eyes with ol' Roy."
Chon frowned. "What is doe eyes?"
"The innocent routine."
"Does that work well for escaping from jail?"
"Does anything over here?"
"Oh, yeah, I have a whole diary of escape plans."
"It's true. No self-respecting outlaw goes around without an escape plan."
The dirty brown buildings grew darker as they were bathed in red light. Jeremiah, the livery owner's dog, padded down the street, glanced at the two lawmen and then kept going.
O'Bannon squinted to the east, watching the sun climb up over the jagged mountains. The blood-colored rays burned down the gray slopes into the valley, waking the town from its slumber. He was tempted to ride up those slopes, just so he could be at the top when the full force of the sun would light the surrounding peaks like a candle flame. It was a harsh country, but a magnificent one. Near death had shown him that. He decided he would go exploring again. Maybe Chon would want to go too. A bird flew across the gray peaks and it reminded O'Bannon of the ships he had seen off the coasts of California a long time ago. "Looks like we're in for some trouble."
"What do you mean?"
"Red skies in the morning, sailor's warning. Red skies at night, sailor's delight."
"What does that have to do with us? We are not sailors."
"It's just a saying, Chon. But-"
"One day I will learn these sayings." Chon muttered.
"Well, of course you will. And you'll teach me some of yours, right?"
"You couldn't pronounce them."
"Come on. I might surprise you, Chon."
"I'll think about it." But Chon was doubtful Roy would ever be able to learn to speak his language with any kind of fluency, not that Roy wasn't smart enough, but to truly learn, he would have to hear it all the time and that situation didn't exist in the West.
O'Bannon nodded in satisfaction. "But it's true. You watch, we're going to be in for it today. Being a lawman is nothing like being an outlaw. It's so routine. No excitement, no adventure. Same ol' same ol'. We get up, patrol the streets, go to bed. Get up, patrol the streets, go to bed. And what about the pay? And before you say it, yes, I know money's not everything, but it's a lot to me. Besides, how am I going to regal the ladies with tales of adventure if we never go on any?"
The China man's face was set in a wide grin. He was tempted to start laughing if he hadn't known how sincere his friend was being.
"And if there's one more fight in the saloon, I swear I'm going to shoot someone. What was that last one about?"
"Exactly what I'm talking about! Every yahoo's got a grudge the size of Texas and it's over pesos!"
"Mm. Now you know how Sheriff Stinky felt."
"Whatever. I think he never took a bath anyway."
O'Bannon's nose wrinkled as he remembered the smell the former sheriff had omitted the time he'd arrested Roy and Chon for starting a fight in the saloon. "I don't wanna know."
"I saw a red sky when I was sailing over from China."
"You did?" The blond perked up.
"Yeah and I have lot of trouble... especially from you, pawtner."
The red sky grew fierier as the sun rose higher over the cluster of buildings.
"Why doesn't the princess come into town more often?" O'Bannon wondered. "I thought you two had something?"
"You know... The Princess?"
"You there, Chon?"
"I was thinking about something else."
"What?" O'Bannon wondered if it was him.
"Chon..." The blond whined. "I hate it when you get all silent on me. Come on, speak up!" O'Bannon waited until he couldn't stand it which was about all of two seconds. "Well, anyway, I thought you and the princess were going to have a fairy tale ending."
"Hm." Chon shrugged. Wang's expression didn't change as he said, "Some people here do not like the Chinese."
"Chon, what does that have to do with you two? If you love each other then that's all that matters."
"Easy for you to say."
O'Bannon sighed. "Well, the west can be an intolerant place, Chon. I hate to say it, but remember that. Big country, small minds."
"Very, very small." Roy added, holding his two fingers half an inch apart.
"Smaller than one grain of rice."
"Oooo..." Roy chuckled. "You're on a roll today."
Wang shook his head. "I am not on a roll. I would crush it."
Roy laughed. "Seriously, Chon. What about her?"
"Hm." Chon grinned.
"Come on, Chon, I'm not going to tell her."
The China man waggled his eyebrows and shook his finger at his friend.
"Let's just say I look at someone else besides her."
"Who is she? Have I seen her?"
"I no tell you."
"Chon?! Ah!" O'Bannon flopped his arms down on his legs in a sign of defeat. He pouted at his friend's childish mirth. It was his best one too. It always worked on the ladies. Didn't seem to work on Chon though. Wang wouldn't give in. Instead, he laughed.
"I tell you about all my ladies."
"Uh-uh!" Chon sing-songed.
Pouting, Roy hugged himself again and closed his eyes. "Well, she's lucky, whoever she is."
Chon slowly stopped laughing, even though he was still amused by his friend's pout and the fact that Roy couldn't stand to be left out of anything. For a moment, he thought Roy's comments might be something more than curiosity, something that might lead Roy to the path he was already traveling, but he dismissed the idea quickly. The lack there-of saddened him. Western men didn't touch each other. Roy's behavior was proof of that. Strange... A very strange and lonesome custom indeed... So did they not know the sweetness of a caress? He hoped not.
"It's colder now." Chon noted, pulling his own hide coat around himself a little tighter.
"Yep, we'll be getting more and more snow now that we're into January."
"I like the snow. It's snows in China."
"It'd be interesting to visit there sometime. Just to see it. Oh, I forgot... You can't go back there, can you?"
"No. But it's okay. I like it here with you."
The two smiled, basking in the warmth of the moment. Roy had pale skin for a western man, but at the moment his cheeks were pink. Chon couldn't tell if he was blushing or if it was simply the light. If it was a blush, well... He liked it on his friend very much.
Gazing back into the view down the street, Roy's blue eyes narrowed as they caught sight of a lone rider coming in from the east. The darkness hid him for a moment, keeping him a silhouette against the red background. O'Bannon's eyes followed him as he rode closer, his horse stepping at a slow gate as if it had traveled many miles. There was something familiar about the set of the man's shoulders. Roy sat up and studied the man. He wore his hat pulled low over his face and a long, dark brown duster hid his attire. "Shit." O'Bannon stood up and leaned against a support beam casually, his right hand resting near the butt of his gun.
The tone of Roy's voice told Chon immediately that something was wrong. "Roy?"
The tall gunman didn't answer.
"Roy, what is it?" The China man sat up a little straighter and watched the rider come down the street and stop in front of them. He remained seated, but ready to come to his friend's aid.
"Been awhile." The man said.
He had the clearest green eyes Chon had ever seen.
A smile played around the stranger's thin lips as he stared at O'Bannon. "What's wrong, Nevada? Ain't got nothin' to say to me?"
"No? That's not very friendly of you."
"Why don't you try farther south? It's hotter there. You'll fit right in."
The stranger's smile lit up his eyes in the morning light. "Cold as those snow-capped mountains," he replied mildly, "and just as magnificent." He held Roy's gaze for a moment and then rode on down the street to the livery stable.
Wang stood. "Roy, what's wrong? Who is that?"
O'Bannon finally moved and turned to face him. Chon didn't like the mixture of anger and distress in his friend's blue eyes. It didn't belong there.
"Trouble, Chon, trouble."
"What does he want? Who is he? Why did he call you-"
"Not now, Chon, I need some breakfast." O'Bannon moved past Wang, but the China man grabbed his arm.
"Chon? Take your hand off me."
Chon let go. "I go with you."
O'Bannon turned his back on him and walked quickly to the cafe, glancing back at the livery. The cook would have started breakfast by now. Wang looked back too, but the stranger was nowhere to be seen.
Wang stayed with his friend during breakfast and afterwards as they walked around town. O'Bannon seemed extra nervous, scanning the alleys as if he expected someone to try and get the drop on him.
"What's wrong? Why you so nervous?"
"Stop, Chon, stop. Stop pestering me, okay?" O'Bannon growled.
"Pawtners stick together. I need to know what's bothering you. You say that guy is bad. I will help you fight him."
"Stop, okay? Stop it! You don't understand."
"How can I understand? You won't say anything."
Roy sighed. "Chon, something might happen today and I'm telling you now, don't interfere."
"What? Something bad? I won't let anything bad happen to you."
Roy stopped as he lost his train of thought. In fact, he lost everything, all the anxiety and annoyance that had been building inside him disappeared. He didn't know what to feel except almost... loved by the protection he saw in Chon's eyes. "I know," he managed quietly, "that's why I need you to- Oh, never mind." Roy smiled, feeling like a fool as he felt himself blushing. He looked to see if Chon was staring at him like he had two heads or something bizarre like that, but Chon was just looking at him smiling a little in return. Roy struggled to think of something to say, but instead he wanted to kiss Chon. What a ruckus that would cause...
Chon blinked. He could have sworn the sunlight shown on Roy's blond hair a little brighter, just for a moment. Maybe it was a trick the rolling clouds created. Maybe he was imagining it. He just knew that there was something his mother would have considered... mystical about it. So many different kinds of people thrown together by accident and by choice, all by fate in this new land, but none like the man before him. Karma. Wang froze as O'Bannon gently tapped two fingers against his forehead.
The Chinese man's mouth fell open, making him look even more confused. Why did Roy do that? He felt the tingle between his legs that he'd felt the first time and again now as the warm fingers pressed feather light against his skin. "Why do you do that?"
O'Bannon smiled secretively and turned away.
Chon let him go, too taken with the man's quiet smile to attempt to drag any more information out of him. He touched the spot where Roy's fingers had been and then slowly rubbed his fingers together.
O'Bannon went into the saloon. Wang wondered if the stranger was in there too. That man upset Roy and Chon wanted to know why. He didn't like strangers who bothered his friend. His attention strayed to a wagon rolling in carrying the princess and one of her guards. Wang smiled and hurried over to greet them. "Good morning, Princess."
"Morning, Chon." She smiled.
"What brings you here so early?"
"We came to get some supplies. The mine is overflowing with silver." She accepted Wang's help in getting down. "Where's Roy?"
"He's in the saloon."
The couple headed for the general store.
"Have you had any trouble lately?" Chon inquired.
"No, not since last week."
"I worry about you, Princess."
She smiled. "I know. The work is hard, but my three bodyguards look out for potential trouble when they are not cooking." She grinned. "You must come and eat with us."
"So... What have you been doing?"
"Keeping order mostly. Silver makes men crazy."
"What about Roy? Does it make him crazy?" Princess Pei Pei smiled.
"No. Only gold."
Her laughter sounded like the tinkling of dainty bells.
Chon smiled and then looked at her seriously. "You must promise to be careful."
"I will. And the same for you. What you do is dangerous. This country is different from our home."
"I know... But I promise you."
Princess Pei Pei laughed. "That which you have promised..."
"I know, but I can't leave Roy alone."
"You are a good friend, Chon, and a good soldier."
"Thank you, Princess."
Roy's heart pumped a little faster as he entered the saloon and looked around. His nightmare was there, in the flesh, after tormenting him for years, he was finally real and even more menacing.
"What'll it be, Slim?" Samuel Cook, the new bartender from Idaho, directed the question at him. He had a pleasant disposition, but he was no one to mess with.
"Comin' up." Cook poured the shot and sat it down in front of O'Bannon. "Somebody fixin' to set off some dynamite?"
Roy glanced up at him sharply. Cook was too observant sometimes, but the bartender made no apology for it. He called it staying alive. He was rather heavyset and he had eyes round and jolly, by nature's design, and at the moment they were deceptively mild, perfectly misleading for the hawk hiding behind them.
"Alright, you just watch out for yourself, son. Remember I got my shotgun right here." Samuel waved his hand under the bar.
The blond glanced down the bar and saw that his bad dream was having a whiskey as well. Cook's eyes didn't follow his own. O'Bannon took his drink and sat down at a table, his back to the wall. He sipped the burning liquid slowly, hoping it would help his nerves. It didn't take long for his nemesis to approach him.
"Mind if I sit?"
"It's a free country."
"That it is." The man who called himself Devin South finished off his drink and let his eyes drift over the other man. "That a real badge?"
"Yes, it is." He returned a little sarcastically. Roy couldn't take his eyes away from the man he thought he would never see again. Devin had shaved and he was still as handsome as ever. It had been a little more than two years since they had ridden together and during that time his former friend had changed very little.
"Never figured you'd trade in your reputation for a badge. Imagine all the money you're missing out on."
"Times change and I've changed with them."
Devin smiled. "Not you, Nevada. I heard about your gang. Heard how you dumped them for some hombre named the Shanghai Kid. Where is he anyway?"
"I don't know." O'Bannon lied.
"I'd sure like to see him."
"I've heard he's quite a magician with his hands."
"I've heard that too."
"What is he to you?"
"Nothing. Just a friend."
"I somehow kinda doubt that."
South stared at him hard.
Feeling the other man's eyes trying to undress him, Roy looked over at Sam, who was talking to a man at the bar. He wished he were over there now.
"How bout one for old times sake?"
Roy looked at the empty shot in front of him and wished it were full. He wished Chon were with him now. The thought of being with Devin again made him feel cold inside. "No..." He said softly. "It hurt too much."
"You never mentioned it then."
Roy glared. "You're a liar."
"And so are you. You've got something planned."
"Nice name you made for yourself by the way. Roy O'Bannon. That's a good one, Nathaniel."
"Don't call me that."
"Sorry. Forgot how touchy you were about that."
Roy knew he wasn't. "Care for a game of cards?"
"No, it's a little early for me. It's not like the old days."
Roy lowered his eyes as he remembered those long nights. They seemed a lifetime ago.
"Kinda surprised they made you sheriff," South continued, "but then I heard you saved some rich China whore and didn't take one centavo of that gold that was supposedly put up for her. Have you gone insane?"
"She's not a whore."
South's smile was ugly. "Of course not. But don't tell me you didn't think about poking her just once, but then you always liked to get poked better than do the poking yourself."
O'Bannon's eyes flashed.
"It's been too long, Nevada, but I didn't forget how easy you were on a man's eyes."
Roy smiled coldly. "Wish I could say the same for you."
The man's green eyes darkened for a moment, hinting at his vanity. "We're both in the same business, Nevada. Why don't you give me a chance to give you a fair shake?"
"Alright, Devin, say what you have to say."
South smiled. "First, another drink. Scenery around here makes me thirsty." With another smile, he left and brought a bottle from the bar. He filled O'Bannon's empty glass and then his own. His green eyes pierced Roy over the rim of the shot glass. "Hm... Not bad. Seems your bartender is partial to you. Anything I should know about?"
"Hm... Alright... This is rich country, Nevada, and I've come here to make myself and you a little richer. I'm talking about a bankroll, a big one."
"You haven't changed..." South smiled. He pitched his voice even lower. "This one and what more perfect inside man than you."
"You think I'd rob this bank? Me, a law officer?"
"Yes. I've heard it's loaded. With all the silver going in and out..."
South frowned. "You really have gone soft in the head. Who the hell was that Indian sitting next to you this morning? Don't tell me that's one of your deputies."
"None of your damn business. And he's not an Indian. He's Chinese."
"Damn, Nevada, you've turned into such a tight ass. Why don't you join me? I can get you loosened up again." The suggestion was plain.
"Come on, Nathaniel, you do it so good. You're such a good little fuck."
The saloon fell silent as Roy shot to his feet, knocking his chair against the wall.
South smiled. "Ooo, gettin' a little excited there, aren't ya, Roy?"
"Shut up and draw." O'Bannon said, loud enough for every one to hear.
South stood slowly, keeping his hands away from his guns. "What's wrong, Sheriff, someone put a bottle up your ass?"
A few men snickered.
Roy's face flushed scarlet, but he didn't move. "Either draw or shut up, South."
South's eyes twinkled right before he went for his gun. Roy drew first, but his shot only grazed Devin's side, causing the other man's bullet to plow harmlessly into the wall. He was surprised he'd even managed to hit the other man. His shooting still wasn't good.
The wounded man staggered back and then fell to the floor. "Shit. I didn't think..." His green eyes clouded over with surprise and then rage. He tried to lift his gun, but O'Bannon kicked it away. "Fuck your ass, O'Bannon! Damn you straight to hell!" He dove for his gun, which now lay several feet away from him.
Roy aimed for his head, but his hand shook causing him to miss and the second bullet went into the floor right next to South's face. South cried out and jerked away as splinters of wood went into his cheek.
Some one laughed and O'Bannon's shaky confidence faltered. Was that man laughing at him? His shooting sucked. Where the hell was that miracle when he needed it again?
Every one in the saloon jumped as Chon Wang busted through the saloon doors, ready to fight. Roy's confidence grew just a little as he watched Chon make his way over to him.
"Get out of here, South, and don't come back. If you do, I'll kill you."
Devin South stared up at him with a look in his eyes that made Roy shiver. "I'll be seeing you, Nevada." He whispered. "You can count in it."
Roy holstered his gun and glanced at the crowd. He felt ill and shaky. He breathed a sigh of relief as Chon stood by him, offering a pillar of support despite being slightly shorter.
Slowly, the men went back to playing cards and drinking. No one ran to get the doctor for the stranger.
"Roy, are you alright? You are very pale." Chon whispered, taking his arm.
Roy swallowed and jerked away. He feared some of the men had overheard Devin and if they had, Chon's hold would only confirm their suspicions. Suddenly, the idea of exploring the mountains sounded really good. "Not now, Chon. I gotta go."
"Go? Go where?"
"I just have to go away for awhile."
Wang followed O'Bannon outside and back to the jail. Why was Roy so upset?
"Chon!" Princess Pei Pei called out, worried about what had happened in the saloon.
Wang ignored her. When they were inside the livery, Chon grabbed his friend's arm. "Where are you going? Why are you running away?"
"I'm not running away. I just have to clear my head, that's all." O'Bannon saddled his horse quickly, trying unsuccessfully to jerk his arm out of the other man's grip.
Chon tightened his hold as Roy tried to slide out of it and yanked his friend around to face him. "Something's wrong! Now tell me!"
"Chon, you're hurting me!" The blond whined.
Wang let go instantly, angry with himself for causing the dreadful look of pain in Roy's blue eyes. His strength was a curse sometimes. A curse he had inherited from his father. "Sorry."
"It's okay." Roy reassured, smiling a little. He rubbed his arm and flexed it. "See? Good as new. I'll be okay, alright? I'm just going to think awhile."
"Will you be at your old hideout?"
"Maybe. I can't promise. But I'll see you later, okay?"
"Okay." The prospect of being without his friend put Chon in despair.
Roy rode away and even though the sun was still shining brightly outside, Chon felt like someone had taken his own personal sunshine away.
O'Bannon let his horse run as he pleased for a while. It was nice just to ride and feel the wind in his face and leave his troublesome thoughts behind. He had enough food and water to stay out the rest of the day if he wanted to.
His horse slowed down as they rode higher and higher into the surrounding countryside. The air was cool and brisk and scraped his skin with a pleasant tingle. The peaks of the Sierra Nevada were already covered in snow and glinting under the sun. Roy had no particular place in mind so he let his horse pick the way.
He wondered if Chon was following him. In a way, he wished he were. His friend was a pretty good tracker, but not as good as O'Bannon himself. Roy smiled. Chon was trying so hard to fit in. The thought saddened him a little. He loved Chon's innocence. It was sort of unique. He had never ridden with a man like him that was certain. Roy thought of their conversation that morning. He pictured himself sitting with Chon just talking and watching the sunrise, every day until they were old and white. And the China man's hair would still be long. He loved his doe eyes and that long hair. Chon wasn't even going to grow his cue back. He had said he was going to keep it as it was. Roy liked that, liked to watch Chon brush it in the mornings. He remembered the first time Chon had asked him to trim his hair.
"Chon? You don't want to grow your cue back out?"
"But I thought your hair was sacred to you."
"Not in the way it used to be. I am in the west now. Will you trim it?"
"I don't know, Chon. The barber could do a better job."
"I do not want him to touch my hair."
Roy remembered brushing the long, dark mane for the first time. He did it slowly, trying to sense any potential knots in advance so he could untangle them gently so they wouldn't hurt, the way his mother had brushed his own hair. Her hair had been long and gold...
"Roy, stop brushing. I am going to sleep."
"Oh... Sorry, Chon."
"It's okay. Just cut off a little."
Roy trimmed as little as possible, stepping back every once in a while to check for evenness. But the line wasn't perfectly smooth, like the mountains. His cutting was like his shooting. It sucked.
O'Bannon continued riding until he came to a ridge overlooking a deep valley. He picketed his horse in the grass and sat down to rest underneath a large pine, half dead from repeated lightening strikes. The water in his canteen tasted luke-warm, but the shade was nice. A faint wind groaned across the ridge, asking why he had come.
"To get away from my past. To be Roy O'Bannon. That's who I am now."
What about Devin? The wind whispered.
"I don't know. I don't know why he had to come back. I don't know why I became a lawman either, but there you have it."
He hated the fact that he had ever associated with Devin. Winging it definitely had its negatives. But had he stopped winging it by becoming a lawman? Maybe Devin had a point.
The cool wind sent a tiny shiver up O'Bannon's spine.
"Being a sheriff will help me now, won't it?"
His horse whinnied softly.
"Hey... I wasn't talking to you." Roy smiled. "Eat your grass."
He thought back to the scene in the saloon. Devin had provoked him deliberately and he'd almost fallen for it. The only thing that saved him was time. South hadn't expected him to draw and that element of surprise had given Roy the advantage he'd needed. Devin had tried to make him look incompetent as a sheriff, but his plan had backfired.
South didn't really give a damn about him despite what he said. Devin was cruel and heartless, had always been, Roy was just too naive in the beginning to see it. It had all been so fun. Devin was charismatic and adventurous with big plans. By all indications the perfect match. Roy remembered getting drunk and rolling in bed with his partner, christening their loot with sex. It had all gone right in the beginning... He cursed himself for standing by and letting South murder those men and women during a stagecoach robbery. The bleeding corpses were fresh in his mind as if the incident had happened yesterday.
He'd gotten out after that. He couldn't be part of a gang that murdered innocent people. Roy had sworn he would never let the man use him again. No chance of that now. He'd made the vain bastard mad and it was only a matter of time before Devin would try to kill him.
"Well, you're in for it now, Roy."
He didn't want to drag Chon into this, but he knew Chon would get involved. He always did and Roy was glad his friend was there. Despite what he had told Chon earlier, the thought of facing Devin alone frightened him. Devin was not a forgiving man or an honest one. He murdered people and enjoyed it.
"I'm not the man you think I am, Devin. Not anymore... Maybe."
The wind moaned again and Roy felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck. He wondered if South had trailed him, but he hadn't sensed anything while he was riding. Maybe it was Chon. Maybe it was just his imagination.
He thought about the bankroll Devin had mentioned. It was tempting and if Devin hadn't wanted any extra favors... Nope, Roy shook his head; he was never riding with that mean bastard again. He rode with Chon now. He felt bad for keeping his friend in the dark, but this was something he couldn't explain. Chon was a warrior with a pure heart and as hard as he tried, there were some things that he just didn't seem to understand no matter how many times Roy tried to tell him.
O'Bannon stood and brushed the dirt from his pants. He would ride some more; make sure no one was following him.
Chon Wang slipped into the saloon quietly. It was evening now and Roy still hadn't come back. Chon was worried about him. He hadn't seen hide or hair of the mysterious gunman since he'd been taken to Doc Rayburn's office earlier that morning. Rayburn had no idea where the man had gone either.
Sam caught his eyes and Chon made his way over to the bar.
"Can I get anything for you?"
"Yeah, a beer please."
"Where's Roy? The whole saloon's been buzzing about what happened this morning."
"He's around." Wang said, careful in case any of the men nearby were listening. "Who was that man?"
"Goes by Devin South although I don't think that's his real handle. They say he used to be a cattle rustler although there's no hard evidence. He's killed some people too, women and kids."
Wang frowned. He wondered how Roy was involved with the man. He couldn't believe Roy had ever been involved in the killing part. O'Bannon was too gentle to ever do something like kill women or kids.
"You two watch your backs. I think South might try to gun down O'Bannon again. I think he's that kind of man. Not some punk looking for a reputation, but a stone cold killer and Roy made him look bad today. He won't forget that."
Chon drank his beer quietly, listening to the hum of conversation around him. He wondered where Roy was.
"Hey, Injun! Where the hell is the sheriff?" A man brayed.
The China man turned to face the loud mouth and the saloon grew silent.
"I'm not an Indian."
"I don't care what the hell you are! Where's that chicken shit sheriff? I gotta bone to pick with him."
Chon stared at the drunken man in disgust. "Why?"
"Why are you going to pick a bone?"
"Shut up all of you! I'm gonna kick O'Bannon's ass! I can take him easy! He shoots like a little girl!"
Wang didn't know who the man was, but he was going to teach him some manners. No one talked about Roy like that. He walked slowly towards the loud drunk and the occupants quickly got out of his way.
"What the hell's the matter with you, Injun? You deaf?"
"I hear you fine. Now shut up."
"You can't make me!"
"Oh yeah, sheethead?"
Behind the bar, Sam had taken out his sawed-off shotgun. He smiled at Wang's pronunciation and lifted the gun over the bar. "The rest of you stay out of this."
No one moved except for the two men, one advancing, the other slowly backing away.
"You don't scare me, red ass!"
"Then you are stupid. You are the one who is scared."
"You're the one who's stupid, you- Umph!" The man tripped over a strategically placed boot belonging to a cowboy sitting near him and sat down hard.
Chon smiled and the rest of the men joined in, laughing and hooting.
"Don't laugh at me! I'll show you!" The man climbed to his feet, planning to hit Wang, but he walked right into Chon's fist. He staggered back and cried out as a mug of beer splashed into his face. "Mmph! You- Mmph!" The man went down like a log as Chon whacked him in the forehead with the bottom of the beer mug.
"Way to go, Carl, you really showed him!" Someone hollered sarcastically.
The men started laughing and Chon found himself hustled over to the bar for another drink. He smiled and enjoyed the friendly, boisterous men.
"I've been waiting for someone to do that. Carl's mouth was always bigger than his head."
"Yeah, did you see that? Better than a boxing match!" Another man said.
Sam smiled as the men took turns thumping Wang on the back. The China man was really starting to fit in. His fighting skills made him popular with the locals.
"Hey, take a look at this! Carl's got a third eye!"
Chon went over to see what the comment was about. When he looked, the senseless drunk had a large red ring the size of the beer mug imprinted on the middle of his forehead. Chon laughed. He hoped it wasn't permanent.
Wang left before he could get too drunk and patrolled the streets before going back to the jail. The sun was setting, bringing a golden calm over the town before the darkness. Princess Pei Pei was long gone and Chon had barely had time to talk with her that morning. He thought the princess might still have a crush on him, but for some reason it didn't excite him as much as it used to. She didn't have shades of sunlit hair and eyes the color of water...
Chon took a few moments to admire the beauty of the sunset and then went inside the jail. He sat down at the large wooden desk in front of the rifle rack and opened the top drawer. Roy kept a deck of cards in there and Chon needed something to pass the time. He liked the funny looking people on the cards. After shuffling them for a few minutes, he put his hat on the floor and began throwing cards into it one at a time. It seemed to be some strange kind of game Roy played with his hat, although the point of it escaped Chon.
Eventually, Wang grew tired of the game and read his tattered copy of Sleeping Beauty again. He liked this story better than the one about the frog. It was more exciting. He imagined himself fighting the terrifying dragon alone, barely missing the incredibly hot bursts of flame aimed at him, until he reached the top of a snow-covered mountain where with a strategically placed kick he would snap the dragon's neck and send the beast crashing down to the ground far below. That was the fun part. Then, he would climb the most treacherous part of the mountain remaining to get to the dragon's secret lair and there he would find his Roy asleep in the snow, beautiful, cold, and golden. And he would kiss him until his lips were red as blood, until his cheeks blushed like pink sunlight, until-
The soft thump of boot heals on the wooden boardwalk outside disturbed Chon's thoughts. It was O'Bannon.
"Hey, Chon. Anything happen while I was out?"
"Just another fight in the saloon."
"Again? Mm..." The blond flopped down into the chair on the other side of the desk and propped his feet up. His features were soft in the warm glow of the candlelights. He favored his friend with a soft smile as he saw the book lying on the desk. "Reading again?"
"Yes. Where did you go?"
"Exploring... I found a cave with a stream that runs through it. It would be a perfect hideout. I'll show it to you tomorrow."
Tilting his head, the blond frowned as he saw that the brown eyes were closed to him. Chon's mouth was set in a hard line. "Chon, what's wrong?"
His frown deepened. The oddly cold look he saw in Chon's eyes confused him. "Chon, any time you start to look that way I know something's bothering you. Now what is it?"
Chon was silent for a few moments. Then he looked his friend straight in the eyes and said, "I've just been worrying about you all day, that's all."
Roy sighed. He felt guiltier than ever before about shoving his friend aside and riding away. A minute passed and Roy couldn't stand the silence any longer. "Any sign of that guy?"
"So now you want to talk about him."
Roy sighed. "I'm sorry, Chon, okay? God..."
"You are not sorry." The China man stood up and marched back to one of the cells.
"Chon... Chon, where are you going?"
"I'm going to sleep." Wang felt O'Bannon at his side. When he looked up, the blue eyes were pleading; the blond head bare and shining like a lantern, but Chon was tired of waiting. "Good night." Wang rolled up into his blankets and faced the wall.
O'Bannon sighed loudly and sat down in the space beside the China man's curled up legs. He placed a hand on Wang's hip. "Chon..."
Chon struggled not to become aroused, but Roy's long fingers were so close to his cock, burning right through the heavy material of his pants.
"You aren't going to go to bed mad at me, are you, Chon? Come on..." He waited. "Chon? I said I was sorry. I'll explain it to you tomorrow, okay?"
The China man stopped pretending to sleep and turned over, pinning Roy's hand to his chest in case he tried to leave. "A man wanted to fight you in the saloon... Earlier this evening."
"He insulted you, called you names-"
O'Bannon's blue eyes opened wide with fear. "Names? What kind of names?"
"No, I don't know! What?"
Chon paused. He didn't like to say those things, but... "Chicken. He say you shoot like a girl."
Roy relaxed. "Oh... Is that all? Whew... I thought it was something bad.."
"I do not understand."
The gunman grew tense again. "Chon, you didn't-"
"I beat the crap out of him." Wang smiled.
"Yes. No one can talk that way about you in my presence, pawtner."
The blond ducked his head.
When Roy looked at him, Chon thought he would cry. But instead, the blond reached over and touched his forehead.
His voice was so soft; it was nearly a whisper. "You say the most beautiful things sometimes."
"It's true. I fight for you with a warrior's heart. Most honorable thing among Imperial guard." Chon held the blue eyes in his own gently, quietly watching the watery blues flicker in the light.
"Chon..." O'Bannon tried to continue, but words failed him. He bowed his head again and swallowed. His conscience screamed his unworthiness.
The gentle voice drew O'Bannon's gaze. Roy felt weak as he sank into the soft brown eyes beneath him. He felt himself take his hand away from Chon's face and he shivered as his fingers seemed to slide between Chon's own sexually, his softer pale fingers melding between Chon's rougher, darker ones. He leaned over, hoping that his instincts were right, drawn to Chon in a way he couldn't explain. Wang's other hand stopped pinning his hand down and reached around Roy's back and pulled him close. Roy flinched as his mouth pressed against Chon's. His friend's lips seemed thicker, softer than his own. He trembled as they pressed and plucked at his own, taking his breath away.
"Stop, stop..." He begged as Chon's lips slowly undid him, leaving his body aching for more. "Slow down..." Roy shivered violently as one of the strong, callused hands crept into his hair while the other squeezed his fingers tightly. "Mm... Chon... Chon, stop!" Roy jerked away harder than he meant to, shaking from head to toe.
Roy felt guilty as he saw the hurt in Chon's brown eyes, but it was too fast and the rush of sensations from the nearness of Chon's body overwhelmed him. He panted as the ugly memories from his past whispered over his body, robbing him of the pleasure of Chon's kisses that still hummed on his lips. "I don't-"
"What is it, Roy?" Chon wrapped his arms around Roy's waist, trying to steady him. "Did I do something wrong?"
"No, no. It's not that."
Trembling, Roy clenched his hands on his knees until his knuckles were white. Chon hugged him and listened to Roy's heart pound inside his chest. "It's okay, Roy, it's okay. You can tell me."
Roy swallowed hard, fighting hard not to spill all his pain onto Chon, whose embrace was stopping him from screaming.
Roy shivered as the soft voice gently tried to break the dam inside him. "I don't know what's wrong with me, Chon. I'm usually not like this." He lied.
"I know. You do not have to lie to me, Roy; I can feel that something is hurt inside you. You must let it go. You must tell me."
"Wha?" Roy tensed. How did this man seem to know him so well? His vulnerability to Chon shocked and overwhelmed him. "How? What..."
"I feel it in your body."
Roy gasped as Chon's lips burned his ear. Panic welled up inside him, fighting with the uncontrollable shakes. Chon's embrace tightened. "Chon, this isn't something that can be explained easily. If the wrong people found out..."
"I will never tell."
O'Bannon stood up abruptly, breaking the embrace. The urge to ride was strong. He could run away where no one would ever find him again. Only...
Wang got to his feet and grabbed O'Bannon as he tried to leave.
"Chon, let go!"
"I won't let you go off alone again! Sam say that man will try to kill you!"
Roy seemed to deflate in his grip and Chon gently led him over to the other bunk and made him sit. "Go to sleep." He said and put O'Bannon's long legs up on the bed.
"I can't. There might-"
"Sh..." Chon pushed his friend back down. "I won't let anything happen to you, pawtner."
"You really mean that?"
"Yes. Now sleep."
"But what about you?"
"I will stay."
"Good because I wouldn't...you know... um want..."
Roy stopped fumbling, feeling foolish again. He lowered his eyes for a moment, but when he looked up all he could see was the sincerity in the other man's gaze. Chon didn't judge him or poke fun at him like another person might have done. It was one of the things he treasured in his friend and relied on. Chon's features seemed to glow in the yellow light of the candle, his eyes gently smiling. Roy leaned up for a moment and kissed him on the mouth.
Roy lost sight of him as Chon's fingertips brushed his eyelids closed.
The gunman refused to open his eyes again, lest he see the doe eyes, which he felt on his body, caressing him to sleep. After a few moments he felt Chon's warm hand sliding through his hair. He relaxed and drifted to sleep, listening to Chon murmur in a language he couldn't understand.
Nothing happened the next day and neither man saw Devin South or the drunk from the saloon. They left in the afternoon with the bartender's promise that he would keep an eye on things.
"Why are we leaving?" Wang asked. "Why can't we talk in the jail?"
"Too many ears. Out there no one can hear us." O'Bannon eyed the ridge he had camped on the previous day and decided against it. He wanted to go where there was water, maybe Lake Tahoe. But the Carson River was good enough and not as long a ride.
Wang didn't ask any more questions, but when they passed through a valley of white his curiosity made him speak. "What is this? It isn't snow."
"Very observant, my friend, it's alkali. It seems to form here, I don't know how or why exactly. But it kills everything. Nothing grows here.."
"Any alkali flats in China?"
"No, I don't think so."
They made camp several miles upstream, giving their horses time to drink and rest. O'Bannon sat down close to the edge of the crystal water and Wang joined him. "You like to fish, Chon?"
"Yes. When I was a child, I fished with my father and we caught all sorts of fish. They taste great with rice. That's mostly what we ate. Western food very different."
"Do you like it?"
"Was your dad a member of the Imperial Guard too?"
"Where is he now?"
"He was killed in the war a long time ago."
"He died with honor, but I miss him very much. I wish he could have seen this land."
"It is beautiful. Sometimes I think I could stay here for the rest of my life, but..."
O'Bannon shrugged. "I don't know, that's my problem, Chon, I just don't know... I hate being a lawman. You don't have time to fool around and go fishing and do other fun stuff you get to do whenever you want when you're an outlaw."
"Exactly! I've got to show you that cave!" Roy started to get up, but Chon pulled him back down. "What? Chon, what are you doing?"
"The cave will still be there. Right now, I'd rather stay here."
"Okay." Roy said a little glumly.
Chon smiled at the pout that crossed Roy's face. "When it is fishing time, I will catch some and make up the dishes for you that my mother made for me."
"I could do with some new things to eat." The blond mused and brightened. "Chon, some of the best catfish around is right in this area and before you ask, no-"
"You think you can read my every thought?"
"No..." O'Bannon squirmed. "Just... Sometimes..."
Chon smiled, the wind lifting his hair a few inches off his shoulders. "Tell me about that man."
Roy wanted to lie, but it would only make the situation more dangerous for them both. He sighed. "Might as well start from the beginning... My parents named me Nathaniel Ames."
"I thought you said it was Wyatt Erp."
"Naw... He's pretty famous so I thought what the heck."
"You lied to me!"
"Chon, what are you getting so upset about? I just made it up."
"Chon, it's Nathaniel, okay? I promise."
"You are trying to confuse me."
"No! Chon? Chon... Let's start over, okay? Yes, my name really is Nathaniel and you know why I don't use it? Because it sucks, okay? I hate it. There."
"Why?" O'Bannon made a face. "Because..."
"I like it."
The blond examined his friend closely, making sure he hadn't gone crazy. When Chon just continued to look at him, Roy shrugged and continued.
"Didn't have any brothers or sisters. Just little ol' me. And after my parents died of the fever, I decided to drift for a while. I was almost seventeen. I didn't know what I wanted to do; I just knew I didn't want to do what my dad did. He was a farmer and that was too mundane of a life for me. So I did odd jobs at first. Worked in a shop. Then I worked cattle for a few of the big outfits. The cattle drives were hellacious. But they gave me plenty of time to think about what I really wanted to do. I'd been thinking about a new name for myself, trying different ones out, before I finally came up with the name I have now."
"Why would you want to change your name? Surely your father's name is worthy."
"Oh, it is. I just didn't like it. What kind of outlaw name is Nathaniel Ames?"
"Wouldn't your father be angry with you for changing your name?"
"I don't know. Chon, are you bored?"
Roy hoped he was.
"No, go on."
O'Bannon sighed silently. So much for that little diversion.
"That man you saw yesterday morning is Devin South. I met him in a saloon after a cattle drive. I was there to blow my meager pay and here was this guy who was like this totally awesome gambler and I loved to gamble and before I knew it, I'd won twice what I had. He told me about a gang he was getting together and I thought 'What could be more perfect?'"
"What kind of a gang was it?"
"Kind of like my old one. There were a few young guys and a couple of hard cases. Devin wanted to hold up stagecoaches and travelers. It was all right, but at the time I thought it was the most exciting thing ever, riding after the coaches and wearing a bandana over my face. We were mysterious and dangerous, feared by the law, loved by the ladies. We even had these black outfits we wore. It was fun... After a big holdup, Devin and I would hit the tables until we were broke or up to our hats in money and women."
"You sound like you enjoyed it. What happened?"
O'Bannon studied his friend before continuing. "Well... It was all fine and dandy until Devin and some of the boys decided to murder people. We were having a particularly hard time robbing this fat couple, and the guys were getting really impatient and before I knew it the whole stagecoach had been shot to bits. It was bad."
Chon stared into the blue eyes intently, seeing the pain surface. "You didn't do anything to stop them?"
"No! How could I? I was one man against all them!"
"What did you do after that?"
"I left the gang. Devin wasn't too happy about it."
"So he was your friend?"
"I wouldn't say friend..."
"Is that why he hates you? Because you left?"
"No, not exactly. It's complicated." O'Bannon lay down on his back and propped his hat over his face.
The river passed the two men by almost silently. An icy breeze blew through the China man, making him shiver. It was too quiet now that they weren't talking. He watched the blond locks flutter against the tall blades of grass. Chon put his hand on Roy's thigh and waited. The blond smiled and took his hat off. He crossed his arms behind his head and smirked, daring the China man to do something.
"Don't take your hand off me."
Chon grinned. "I would like to kiss you again."
"So would I." Roy waited.
As he leaned over, Chon's hand ran over Roy's thigh, across his groin, pressing lightly, and then came to rest on his stomach. Roy's eyes closed and he sighed as they kissed softly. He looked at Chon through drugged eyes as arousal grew inside him.
"Why does he call you Nevada?"
"I don't know."
"I think you do. You just won't tell me."
"It's not that big a deal." Roy lied.
"It is to me."
O'Bannon sighed. If he told Chon, Chon might suspect what he and Devin had been, but as he looked into Chon's eyes, he knew he had to tell the truth. He hoped Chon wouldn't think less of him. Roy rolled, moving closer to the other man, and propped up on his elbow. His bangs fell into his face, making him look even younger than he really was.
"It's because I remind him of this state."
Wang's dark eyebrows drew closer together in thought and then climbed as he realized what Roy meant. His lips twitched as he watched his friend squirm under his gaze.
O'Bannon lay back down and propped his hat over his head again. He grew even more nervous as Chon remained silent.
"Maybe he need glasses."
"What?!" Roy sat up fast as his friend started to laugh.
Chon crawled away, but Roy got to him and pushed him to the ground. They wrestled for a few minutes while Chon continued to laugh at the comical mixture of surprise and outrage frozen on O'Bannon's face. Chon mashed Roy's face to his groin and then pulled the sputtering blond close. He kissed Roy hard, giggling hysterically.
"You, you- AHHH!" Roy screamed as Chon flipped them over and pressed his face into the blond's groin, taking in his scent briefly. Roy bucked and moaned. He sat up fast and curled around the China man like an octopus.
They kissed and their lips grew red and swollen with pleasure as their kisses became almost frantic. They fell and crushed the grass, moving together in a lover's dance. Roy writhed as Chon's lips tickled his neck with wet skin and sharp teeth. Abandoning Roy's neck, Chon gasped and ground his mouth against Roy's as the blond's cock pushed against his own, hard and demanding.
Chon's grin was almost evil as Roy began screaming and bucking beneath him. Confident that he could maintain the upper hand for a while, he continued to tickle his friend.
Laughing, Chon watched Roy thrash like a wild horse, beautiful and unrestrained with blond locks flying this way and that, smiling and gasping despite his protests. He hated to ever stop he was enjoying it so much.
Wang relented and pinned his friend's wrists to the ground and grinned down at him as they both panted. He let go and O'Bannon's hands immediately came to rest around his waist.
"What was that you said about never playing underhanded with me?"
Chon's eyes narrowed with merriment. "I learn by example."
"You did not!"
They both laughed.
"Comfortable?" Roy huffed. It was difficult to laugh with a Chinese man sitting on his stomach. He smiled as Chon brushed a few bangs out of his eyes.
"Yes, very." Chon smiled and made no move to get off Roy's stomach. "That man?"
Chon nodded. "He is right about you."
Roy's mouth moved for a few seconds, before he said, "Chon... You don't have to say that just to-"
It was quiet while the two men rolled around in the grass, kissing and hugging.
Back up in the trees, a man watched them and took careful aim with his rifle. He squeezed the trigger.
O'Bannon cried out as the slug from the Winchester tore through his shoulder. Instinctively, he rolled over onto the ground, away from Wang.
"Roy!" Chon scrambled to cover his friend with his own body and he felt another bullet whiz past his face. "Roy? Roy, you are hurt!" Chon cried in dismay as O'Bannon's dark blue shirt turned even darker around the shoulder. He touched the wound and Roy screamed. "I'm sorry, Roy! I'm sorry!" Chon feared he had caused the tears that were now forming in Roy's blue eyes.
"Aw... It's okay... Shit... Shit, it's burning... No!" He cried and pulled Chon down on top of him again as the China man moved to get up. "It's South. He'll kill you!"
"We cannot stay here."
"He must be using a rifle. See anything?"
Wang peaked up at the slope behind him. "No. The trees are too dense."
O'Bannon panicked as Wang slipped his arms underneath him. "Chon, no! What are you- Awwh!" Roy screamed in pain as his wounded shoulder pressed down against the hard ground as Chon rolled them over and over until they splashed into the river.
Bullets rushed around them and then into the bank the two men were now hidden behind. The water was ice cold and both men were soaked.
O'Bannon drew his gun with his left hand and winced. His right shoulder felt like it was on fire. "Did I mention he was a bushwhacker?"
"No, you didn't." Wang answered as he peered over the edge of the riverbank and ducked as another bullet immediately flew by his head.
"He would probably shoot his own mother in the back."
"I will go track him down. You wait here."
"No! That's suicide! Chon, he can see every move we make. We have to wait it out."
"Are you crazy?! We will freeze and you have been shot."
"It's okay. It's just a scratch."
"It's not a scratch, Roy. You are bleeding bad."
O'Bannon latched onto Wang's arm, fearing he might try to run off. "Chon, just humor me, okay? I've ridden through here many times. I know this country and it's better if we wait. Otherwise, we'll both be dead."
"Fine. But I don't like it. That man does not fight honorably."
"No, he doesn't."
They waited three hours, occasionally exchanging fire during the first one. Under Roy's directions, Chon had tied his bandana around his bleeding shoulder. The gunman suffered quietly as he waited for South to give up. He was cold and tired. His lower body felt almost numb while his shoulder burned like someone had stuck a branding iron to it. Once he woke with a start, not realizing he'd fallen asleep, but Chon assured him his eyes had only been closed for a second.
"We can go now." He said after listening for a while. "He's gone."
"As sure as I can be. It's possible he ran out of bullets, but more than likely he got tired of waiting. Devin's a crafty planner, but once he starts something, he doesn't like to wait."
"Can you make it back to town? Doc Rayburn will be there."
"No... It's too far. I can make it to my place. I think... Let's go."
"Okay, pawtner." Wang stood up and looked around. When no shots were forthcoming, he bent down and helped O'Bannon to his feet. The taller man leaned on him heavily, gasping and wincing as they slowly made their way out of the river and towards the horses.
"Chon, I don't think I can get on my horse without some help. God, I hate getting shot. Think you could manage a helping hand?"
O'Bannon got his foot in the stirrup, but when he reached for the saddle with his bad arm, he screamed and almost passed out, but somehow he made it up into the saddle thanks to Wang and afterwards, he slumped over the saddle horn, partially leaning on his friend who was still trying to hold onto him.
"Chon... Don't worry about this... I'll be okay..."
"No! You are hurt!"
Roy was trembling, resting his face in his horse's mane. He felt his wound start to bleed again. "Just... Let's go home before I bleed all over my horse. Okay? We'll play follow the leader. You lead the way." He managed to look at his friend and tried to smile, but all he could manage was a grimace.
"You sure you can ride?"
"Yes." He lied.
"Okay." Chon touched his cheek. "Don't worry, pawtner. I will get you home in no time."
Wang mounted up and took the reins of O'Bannon's horse. As he started for home, he kept his eyes and ears pealed.
"We should probably circle around... Make sure the bastard doesn't follow us home, but-" Roy groaned instead. "Chon, Chon?"
"You know how to take care of bullet wounds, don't you? In case I pass out. You have to... To make sure it's out and pour whiskey in it so it won't get infected. Can you do that?"
"Yes. We will be home soon and I take care of you."
Roy bobbed up and down gently in the saddle as the horses walked their way back to his cabin. He fought the lulling motion as best he could, trying to hold on for his friend, but he was so tired and when his horse reached the yard, Roy slid out of his saddle unconscious.
"Roy!" Chon leapt down and ran to his friend. O'Bannon looked impossibly paler and his shirt was dark with blood down to his hand. Red blood tentacles stretched out grotesquely over O'Bannon's hand and between his fingers.
Chon picked him up and carried his friend inside. He laid the blond gently on the bed and then took care of the horses. When he returned, O'Bannon hadn't moved. Wang put some water on to boil and took the gunman's wet clothes off. Chon stripped off his own soggy attire and then hung their clothes up to dry. When the water was ready, he washed the pale skin clean and then the wound. Up close, the angry red patch looked worse than he imagined.
Roy struggled and moaned as Chon pressed on the wound with his fingers.
The blond stilled and quieted.
Wang sat back and rested his bloody hands on his knees. The bullet was still in there. Chon swallowed. He hoped his friend didn't wake up because this was going to hurt.
He heated up Roy's bowie knife in the fire and poured alcohol over it. As quickly as he could, he started to remove the bullet, careful not to damage any of the underlying muscle and tissue. O'Bannon flinched and moaned, causing Wang to shake as he almost cut too deep. "Sh." He soothed.
Reapplying himself diligently, Chon worked carefully until he got the slug out. The wound bled freely and Chon had to hold his friend down as the pain from the bullet caused him to scream a horrible scream. Chon held him tightly as he thrashed for a few moments and then went limp. Chon lay him down gently and his hand shook as he touched Roy's hair. "I'm sorry." He whispered, kissing Roy's pale forehead. "I would never have done that if I'd known. And now I must hurt you again. Forgive me."
Wang doused the wound in alcohol again, disturbing his friend, and then wrapped it up with some strips of cloth while trying not to fight with Roy. He gathered his friend to his chest and rocked him, making soothing, shushing noises. Roy screamed and then whimpered for a while before passing out again, although Chon suspected he had never really been awake.
"You are my sunshine... My only sunshine..." Chon sang. "You make me happy... When skies are gray... All I want is... To be together... Please don't take my sunshine away..." He hummed the quaint little song again, not trusting his cracking vocal cords. He'd first heard the simple tune in town. A little boy had been singing it and Chon had thought it was the most innocent, beautiful song he had ever heard. He ran his fingers through the golden hair. "It's okay, Roy, I won't hurt you again."
Wang put the injured man back down and covered him up. He combed some of the blond locks back over his friend's forehead, pausing to feel Roy's breath against the palm of his hand. He hoped he would never have to do something like that again.
Realizing he was still naked, the China man wrapped up in one of the two remaining quilts. The rest he had put over Roy. He curled up on the one next to the fire. After a thought, he got up and put both of Roy's guns next to him. The assassin might still be after them and he was taking no chances. A coyote yipped several mournful cries into the night. Chon slept, but it wasn't pleasant or light.
Roy slept for twenty-four hours. When he woke, he couldn't remember what had happened or what day it was. He panicked until he realized he was in his own bed in his own cabin. But how had he arrived here? He remembered being cold and wet, but now he was dry and warm and...naked?!
Think, Roy, think.
Slowly, the memories returned. Devin... Telling Chon about his past... Kissing Chon... Then pain and freezing cold water...
Something was boiling over the fire and it smelled like stew. O'Bannon turned to get a better look and gasped as the small movement aggravated his wound. The covers pressed him back down onto the bed and Roy felt too weak to try and pull them off.
I never had this many blankets, did I? Where did Chon get all these? And where is Chon?
Roy fumbled for the half empty bottle of whiskey on the side table. He managed a few drinks before he started pouring it all over himself. "Shit... Chon, where are you?" He put the glass bottle back on the table. "Chon?" He felt weak and cold as he thought of Chon being alone somewhere, possibly in danger. "Chon?"
Wang came in, bringing more wood for the fire. He smiled when he saw O'Bannon. "Roy! You are awake!" He dropped the logs in a neat pile and hurried over to the bed so he could sit next to his friend.
"Yeah, I've been calling for you. Where were you?"
"I'm sorry. I couldn't hear you outside."
"It's okay. What's it like out there?"
"Snow. Very cold."
"Mm. Perfect weather for a snow fight."
Chon laid his hand on Roy's arm, gripping it lightly, watching O'Bannon's eyes look down at his hand then back up. "I was so worried about you. I tried to stay with you all the time, but I had to do a few things."
"It's okay. I was worried about me too. How long have I been unconscious?"
"One day?!" Roy panicked and tried to sit up.
"Sh." Chon pushed him back down gently. "It's okay. Nothing has happened."
"You haven't seen South?"
"No. I haven't seen anyone."
O'Bannon closed his eyes. "Good. Hopefully, that means he doesn't know where we are." He snuggled under the covers as shivers crept over his body. "I can't understand why I feel so cold. I feel like I'm buried under a mountain of covers."
Chon's hand came to rest on his forehead. "You still feel warm."
"Still?" The blue eyes opened.
"I've been trying to bring your fever down. Nothing work so far."
"I hope I'm not coming down with something."
"Eat some stew. That will make you feel better."
Roy sighed. "Okay. Guess that means I gotta get up. Give me a hand?"
"No need. I will bring it to you."
"Ah... Room service..." Roy closed his eyes and listened to Chon work around the cabin. It was a comforting sound and before he knew it he'd gone to sleep again. He woke as he felt Chon lift him up. "Is it time to eat already?"
"Yes." Wang guided the spoon into Roy's mouth and watched him grimace as he swallowed.
"Ug... Chon, what'd you do? Go out and kill a raccoon? This is horrible. It needs more salt. It's-"
Chon didn't give his friend time to finish. He spooned the rest of the stew into Roy's mouth one sip at a time until the bowl was empty. Roy's blond head slumped against his chest. Chon cleaned the small amount of stew off his mouth after placing the spoon back in the bowl on the table. He rocked his friend for a few minutes, saying nothing, listening to the logs pop and crackle in the fire.
Roy shifted and snuggled his head into Chon's touch. Chon was much warmer than the blankets. He wished to feel his naked body pressed against Chon's own. To feel Chon's heartbeat throb inside his body as it did in his ear. He could feel the heat of Chon's skin radiate through his shirt and into his own skin, turning his paleness pink.
Chon smiled faintly as he noted the hand that was clinging to his shirt. He murmured in Chinese.
"What?" Roy's eyes opened.
Roy shook as a cold shiver went through his body. His head was starting to ache and he felt almost too weak to move again. Just the thought of letting go of Chon's shirt was too tiring. His eyes closed, pushed down by invisible weights as his body relaxed almost completely in the China man's arms. He felt himself dissolving into the solid stillness that was Chon.
"Your shoulder is healing well. I have kept the wound cleaned and bandaged."
"Thanks, Chon." He whispered.
"Sleep, Roy. I will watch out for you."
Roy focused on the soft touch and drifted to sleep in Chon's arms, too warm and exhausted to say anything else.
O'Bannon slept through another day. His shoulder continued to heal, but he couldn't escape the chills that seemed to wrack his body on the hour. He clung to Chon in his sleep, sometimes whimpering as he tried to take Chon's heat inside himself. It was during those times, he'd hear Chon's voice singing and he'd follow it until it took him down into a warm darkness where he stayed until the cold crept back in and stole him away.
"I dreamed about you last night, Chon." Roy said as he watched Wang put some more logs into the fireplace.
"Yes. I dreamed I went with you to China. You were going to show me the Forbidden City, but we never got there." Roy frowned. "I kept seeing you and then all I could feel was the rocking of the ship. You had that blue outfit on, the one I first saw you in. I really like that one."
Chon came and sat next to him. "You were very sick last night, Roy. I held you all night."
"Wow. You did?" Roy was surprised at the depth of Chon's sensitivity and amazed by his endurance. "Didn't your arms get tired?"
"No. I could tell it helped. I rocked you as much as I could. Sometimes, you cried out like you were hurt. I knew your shoulder was still hurting you. I put a cold cloth on your forehead, but I didn't know what else to do. Maybe I should bring the doctor."
"No! You might run into South! Just stay with me. Okay?"
"Roy, Roy, it's okay." Chon soothed, frowning at how agitated his friend was becoming.
"It's not okay, Chon! Okay? That guy is dangerous! D- A- N-"
"Sh! Shhh... I know... I know. I won't go for the doctor."
"Okay, okay... Uhm... Come on, get in. Let's snuggle. Huh?"
"Okay." Chon's sigh was doubtful. He still thought it would be better for Doc Rayburn to see Roy. He wasn't getting better.
"Come here. Hurry." Roy lifted the covers.
"Okay! Hold your horses."
Chon got in, careful to give Roy plenty of room. He knew how touchy O'Bannon could be. Therefore, he was surprised when the blond stuck to him like a leach, barely giving him time to get settled.
"Mm... Much better..." The gunman murmured. "Mm..." He purred, snuggling his trembling frame into Chon's deliciously heated body.
Chon frowned and held him tighter, trying to hold him still. He didn't like how much Roy was shaking. Chon massaged his scalp, hoping it would soothe the shakes.
"How does your shoulder feel?"
"Better... Much better... Much, much better..." He sighed as Chon rubbed his back.
Chon smiled as the blond nearly started purring.
"Mm... That feels great, Chon. You ought to open up a massage parlor."
"Hm... Maybe I will... Do it on the side... They have lots of massage places in China."
"You could do it full time. You have great hands..." Roy relaxed as his shakes disappeared as Chon pulled him in tighter, tighter into that singular strength and warmth that only Chon seemed to possess.
"Chon? You don't want to be a lawman the rest of your life, do you?"
"I don't know. It's like being an Imperial guard. I haven't thought about it much since coming here."
Chon's fingers glided through Roy's hair, drugging him, dulling his thoughts, hypnotizing his body to sleep.
The next morning Wang left O'Bannon in bed very reluctantly. His fever had gone up and down all night and to make matters worse; Roy seemed to have developed an infection in his chest. His breathing sounded thick and unnatural. Roy's forehead felt cooler now, but the fever was still there and that worried Chon. He tucked the blond in as snugly as he could and then bundled up to go outside. He needed to see about the horses. The air had a sharp bite and Chon did his business in the outhouse quickly. The barn was somewhat warmer and Chon smiled as the two animals greeted him.
"Hello, horsies. I have to come to feed you and brush you down. Won't that be nice?" He forked fresh hay for the horses and stroked both their noses. He got the brush and began to brush his horse first. He flinched as he heard Roy scream.
"Chon! Chon, where are you?"
Chon ran out of the barn expecting to see South with a gun or something worse. But it was only Roy standing outside in only his pants and a shirt.
"Chon!" He breathed in relief.
"What are you doing? Get back inside!"
Roy sank to the ground as a harsh coughing fit took his breath away. He tried getting a deep breath of fresh air and the cold vapor strangled him again. He felt Chon's arms around his back, pulling him in. Roy clung to the lapels of Wang's heavy coat and coughed until he thought he would choke. The cold air burned his lungs with each breath, sapping what little warmth was left in his body. The smell of the hide slowly dampened the sting, making it possible for Roy to breathe somewhat comfortably. Everything seemed sharp and bright outside the dark, warm cabin.
"You must come inside now!" Chon moved to stand, but Roy pulled him back down.
"No..." He wheezed. "Chon, where were you going? I thought you said you weren't going to leave me?"
"I am staying here. I just needed to feed the horses."
"Yes. I will always keep my word to you." Chon frowned as Roy's arms trembled, pulling tighter on his coat. "Now come inside."
"No. I need to stay out for a while. If I don't, I'll get cabin fever and that is not a pretty sight."
The Chinese man's brown eyes absorbed the light and to Roy the whites were bright as snow. "You are always a pretty sight." He said, cupping Roy's cheek in the palm of his hand.
Roy smiled and closed his eyes, pressing his face into Chon's warm palm. "You're not getting out of it that easily. Just one ride." He opened his eyes. "Just one? Come on, Chon. It's beautiful out here and I've always wanted to go riding with you. Just like mountain men."
Chon decided not to ask who mountain men where. He hated to disappoint his friend on a day like this, but hidden dangers were waiting to spring on them like bear traps. Chon stroked his cheek, turning the short yellow stubble up and down. He didn't know if Roy's trembling was more from the fever or his touch, but it bothered him. It bothered him that he couldn't make it stop. "You don't know how sick you are. Last night, you didn't stop shaking no matter how tight I hold you."
Roy hugged his neck. He knew only too well.
"Riding is not safe. South may still be out there, waiting to kill you."
"I know. I don't know what I'm saying. I'm just tired of being inside, you know?"
"Don't worry. I take care of you."
Roy hugged him a little tighter and let his hands play in Chon's long hair. He moved with the China man as Chon stood up. Chon's grip was so strong Roy felt as if he could float in it and never use his legs again. He pulled back to look in Chon's eyes and felt weak as the liquid brown depths drew in him. Roy leaned close and at the last second, he closed his eyes. Chon's lips were like the kiss of a fire butterfly, intense and delicate. He shivered violently and coughed as an icy wind speared him in the back.
Fussing in Chinese, Chon hustled him inside and back to bed. Roy stripped his clothes off like a whirlwind as he thought about Chon's fiery heat against his own skin. Chon sat down to pull off his boots and fussed as Roy grabbed him around the waist and peaked over Chon's left hip with his chin. Roy laughed as Chon said a few things in Chinese and batted at his head. Perhaps he had just heard some Chinese cuss words. Roy giggled and fell back on the bed. He screamed as Chon was suddenly on him, naked and tickling him. Chon was laughing; his smile lighting up his face in a way Roy thought was gorgeous. Roy started coughing and suddenly Chon wasn't laughing anymore. Roy felt dizzy and sick as Chon lifted him up too quickly and rocked him like a baby.
"Stop, Chon, stop! I'm going to be sick!" He gasped.
Wang stopped moving instantly and the blond clung to his neck until he was silent. He feared that his illness had ruined the moment and by all indications it had. Chon felt like a statue made out of rock. Roy nudged him gently with a kiss on his shoulder. "I'm okay now." He kissed up the curved plain of Chon's shoulder, up the thick neck to line his jaw with kisses. "Really."
The rock-like arms around him turned to liquid and Roy felt himself flow in them up to Chon's lips. "Ah..." He sighed inadvertently as Chon's fingers kneaded the back of his neck.
"You are sick and I will not hurt you." The China man murmured and then kissed the blond.
"You aren't hurting me, Chon."
"That day in the barn I hurt you."
The self-accusation was painfully clear in his voice.
"But you didn't mean to. It was an accident." Roy coughed and then sighed. "It's okay. You were just worried." He smiled and pressed his nose to Chon's.
"Thank you, Roy."
Roy squirmed as their lips melted together. Chon's heat ran down through him and straight to his groin. He gripped Chon's back harder, feeling the muscles ripple beneath his fingertips. Chon's hands made his body quiver as each fingertip streaked his crawling skin with liquid heat.
"Chon... Chonnn!" He giggled and squirmed as the soft touches inadvertently tickled.
"Hm..." Chon's embrace tightened, but he didn't stop. He kissed and stroked Roy as the blond began to moan and strain against him.
Roy was lightheaded and aroused and when he touched Chon between his legs, the China man moaned and shivered and Roy felt the shudder rattle his chest. Whimpering for more of Chon's hands, Roy shifted and wrapped his legs around Chon, pushing at him as he felt himself grow terrifyingly weaker and weaker as he melted in the heat that seemed to be cooking him inside and out.
"Chon..." He whispered, touching and skimming the valleys and curves of muscled body wrapped around him. "Chon..."
Roy whimpered as his body tingled from his groin down to his toes as Chon's fingers glided up his inner thighs and stroked him. He clung to the China man tighter, pushing into the gentle caresses that never stopped. "Chon... Chonnn! H... How you make me feel... I- You've got this incredible body."
Chon stopped to run his fingers over Roy's cheek and down his neck, feeling the pulse as elevated as his own. "Roy... Many times I have dreamed of you... Golden, pale as you are now, only a dream in China, but here you are real."
"Chon." Roy kissed the man who made him feel so complete...so...loved..
Chon's hands cupped his rear with their warmth and pulled him up higher.. Roy shivered as an oily finger slipped into him. He panted as Chon opened him up with soft heat that spread through to his groin like a puddle of melting ice under a hot sun. "Chon..." He whispered, pushing down for more.
"Roy..." Chon shivered as Roy began to masturbate him, forcing him to hold the blond tighter. He gasped and shuddered as he tried to control his strength and Roy moaned as his fingers vibrated inside him. "Yes... Now..."
As Roy felt himself sinking down to the bed, he remembered the time he had sunk underneath a lake of water one summer, silent, the water carrying him down deeper and deeper. He landed gently in the strength of Chon's arms, so softly he almost didn't feel it. And when he felt Chon inside him it was different. With Devin, it was always too fast, too cruel. But he could feel Chon's strength reach inside him and take him and let him open to the gentle rivers of heat that made him disappear and float as he had done that summer day in the lake.
He moved with Chon as they swam together, sliding in the river flowing through them and between them. Chon's hair tickled his skin, giving rise to goose bumps of delight.
Chon was striking just now with his hair down, his expression soft with ecstasy.
Roy pulled Chon close and melded his lips to Chon's for a small eternity of breath and lushness. The blond arched and trembled as the tingling his lower body rushed up to his eyes and shut them tight. He tore his mouth away and clung to his lover as Chon rocked him up and down and sucked his neck where his pulse beat wildly. Screaming, Roy pushed harder as Chon pushed in and their combined force rushed through him, sweeping him away.. He panted, as Chon climaxed and poured into him like waves cresting and falling, cresting and falling.
"Royyyy... ~~~, ~`~~~~~~..."
Chon slumped against him, trembling as he tried not to put his full weight on Roy's chest. Roy was stunning, his hair radiant and tangled across his face. The blond blinked and smiled, his blue eyes murky and soft with affection. Chon grinned and kissed him. This was better than his fairytale. Defeating an army wouldn't make him feel as happy as this. He began to withdraw tenderly.
The gentle whisper made him pause. Roy's small mouth kissed him and whispered in his ear, the vibrations making Chon tremble and loss the meaning of the words themselves. He stayed still, holding his friend, feeling himself inside him and all that drew them together.
Roy whimpered as he lost Chon; lost his heat, his weight, his touch, his hair, his smell. He felt naked. He saw dismay on Chon's face and he was back in Chon's arms again, warm, where he belonged and needed to be. He felt Chon's hair slide down his back as Chon's lips came to rest against his ear.
"What is wrong, dawling?"
Chon rocked him, fearing he had made Roy cry. He waited for the hot tears to burn his shoulder, but he felt nothing. Instead he felt a smile and Chon grew angry as he realized his friend was laughing, not crying.
"What? What is so funny?"
Roy's laughter triggered a series of violent coughs that left him trembling and gasping. His chest hurt, but he could not stop laughing. He clung to the China man; thankful he didn't let go despite how mad he sounded. When Roy was finally able to lift his head away from Chon's shoulder, there were tears in his eyes.
"Why are you laughing at me?" Chon was annoyed and hurt.
Roy kissed him quickly in apology. "Chon," he giggled. "Chon... Out here-" he laughed again before getting control of himself. "Out here we only use that word on the ladies, okay?"
The look of disappointment on Chon's face was priceless. "I can't call you dawling?"
Roy laughed again. His friend sounded so funny and the sad part was he was trying so hard. "No," he smiled.
"Hm... Then I call you -~--~."
"What does that mean? That's not something bad, is it?"
Chon smiled. "It means golden sunlight. You are my sunshine."
"Yes. Just like the song say."
"Chon, that's beautiful." Roy kissed him.
"~--~, my sunshine..." Chon murmured as he took Roy's love and gave it back to him softly. "~~~..." He smoothed the golden hair down, pressing kisses to the blond's flushed skin.
Chon lay down and Roy settled close, holding Chon as Chon held him. His eyes closed as Chon's incredible heat lulled him to sleep and the soft Chinese words dissipated to a distant echo. Chon's fingers swam through his hair like small rivers.
Hours later it was dark outside and Roy felt like he was dying. He lifted the spoon of stew from the bowl and watched his trembling hand splatter the stew on his legs. "Shit."
"Let me." Chon cleaned it off his legs and then fed him.
Roy's teeth crunched painfully around the spoon. He tried to swallow the liquid nourishment, but it burned his throat. "Stop, Chon! I can't." He gasped, coughing up the stew.
Chon put the spoon aside and rubbed Roy's chest until he stopped coughing. He shifted O'Bannon up higher against his chest so he could breathe better. "If we were in China, I could make up a special tea that would cure you."
"Sounds good. What's in it?"
"Herbs that have been used for thousands of years to heal the sick and wounded." Chon stroked the hair off Roy's fevered brow. "I must get a doctor. I cannot watch you suffer anymore."
Roy held Chon as he tried not to shake, but his body ached all over, alternating between freezing and burning up. "Chon? Will you sing that song to me again?"
"Do you like it?"
"Yes. I can't think of what the words are, but just hearing you sing makes me feel better."
"Then I will sing until I can't sing anymore so you will get well."
"I am serious. You need medicine. Whiskey only does so much good."
"I know. I'm afraid I'll die like my parents."
"No! I won't let you."
Roy snuggled into Chon's strength and felt Chon's arms tighten until he almost couldn't breathe.
"It was terrible, Chon, watching them die that way."
Roy shook as deep coughs rattled his chest. He sighed roughly when it was over and began to tremble. "Sorry."
"Why? There is no reason to be." Chon murmured, stroking his hair.
"I hate that all this has happened. I thought that part of my life was over. I thought I'd never see Devin again."
"I won't let you face him alone."
On that promise, Roy fell asleep. His fever climbed and shook him like a rag doll.
Terrified, Chon rushed him outside and under the glow of a single lantern; he buried his friend in the snow with his bare hands. He held Roy's head to the warmth of his groin as his limbs flopped and jerked.
"Don't go, sunshine," he begged, nearly in tears.
Roy's body thrashed uncontrollably and horrible choking sounds gurgled out of his throat.
"Roy!" Hot tears burned down Chon's cheeks as their world started to come unraveled.
His fairytale came back to haunt him. He thought of the dragon and South's bloody, angry face appeared.
The life seemed to go out of O'Bannon's body as it stopped moving.
"Roy!" Chon gathered him up close and pressed his mouth to Roy's own, searching for the breath of life. "Roy!"
"Chon?" The blond's pale lips barely moved and his eyes fluttered.
"Yes, Roy, I am here!" He kissed him. "I am here, sunshine!"
"Chon..." O'Bannon's eyes began to close again.
"No!" Chon rocked him, willing him to stay awake. Roy went limp in his arms, frightening Chon even more. "Roy!" He carried Roy's wet body inside like a child and dried him off and bundled him up. He held Roy close, close enough to feel him breathe, reassuring him that his love was still there. "You'll see, sunshine. Everything will be okay." His mind was made up. He was taking Roy back to town at first light, danger or no danger. "Hold on, sunshine," he whispered.
Wang spent the dark hours of the morning rigging up a litter that would carry his friend over the uneven territory without injuring him further. He tied the heaviest quilts to some spare poles from the corral. When the gray dawn arrived, Chon saddled his horse and attached the poles securely to his saddle. He had a meager breakfast of jerky and biscuits with some coffee that he ate with no real pleasure.
Roy moaned softly as Chon dressed him warmly for the ride into town. A trembling hand reached up weakly and snagged a fistful of Chon's long hair. "Chon..." The blue eyes cracked open, trying to see what was happening. "What... What's going on? Are we going somewhere?"
Chon gently disengaged Roy's hand from his hair and squeezed it. "I'm taking you to the doctor, Roy."
"No! Chon, we'll be sitting ducks."
"I have no choice." He lifted O'Bannon into his arms and carried him and placed him in the litter, noting how Roy had snuggled up to him despite his protests. "I'm glad you are not trying to fight me."
"How can I?"
Chon covered him with as many quilts as he could and tucked them around his body. "You could try, but I can carry you easily, even kicking and screaming." He smiled.
Roy's face flushed as Chon's dark eyes gleamed with the implication.
The chilly morning air tried to invade the cocoon of quilts, causing O'Bannon to curl up and lose his reply in a harsh cough. As he shook, he felt a hand on his head and Chon's soothing voice murmuring in Chinese. He looked at Chon wearily afterwards. "Chon, give me my guns so I can look out from the rear.
"You are in no condition to be using them."
"Just give them to me."
Wang sighed. "Fine."
O'Bannon checked to make sure each weapon was loaded and then tucked them under his quilt next to his chest. "Be careful," Roy warned. "Listen for anything that sounds suspicious. Go slow."
Chon sighed in exasperation. "How can I go fast? I am carrying you!"
"Okay, okay..." Roy wheezed. "Sorry."
"I am not a total greenhorn!"
"Then stop telling me what to do! I will take care of you! You rest!"
Roy began coughing again.
"Bossy, ~`--`, ~~``!" Chon fussed and Roy was sure he was being cussed at. He noticed that Chon didn't move away until his fit had passed.
He smiled at the scowl on Chon's face. "I love you too."
"Ah!" Chon waved him away and mounted up.
Roy smiled and shivered. As the horse started forward, the sky seemed to yawn down at him as if it were a giant mouth. It made him feel small and suddenly frightened. He was sure South was somewhere nearby. It was possible the outlaw and his men had already robbed the vault in which case South would be long gone. But what if he hadn't?
Chon rode slowly and made sure to ride around anything the quilts could snag on. He hated traveling this way. Roy was so vulnerable. He listened intently to the wind and the strange sounds of the native animals, listened for men's voices or hooves clomping. His gun felt heavy and he would use it if he had to, but he was more comfortable relying on the skills his training had taught him. He looked and listened, but he could see nothing and hear nothing suspicious.
"Alright, hold it!"
Chon froze, as the voice seemed to come out of nowhere.
"No sudden moves or you're dead!"
He didn't recognize the man's voice. Chon looked see where the voice was coming from and five men materialized out of the brush they were riding by. He immediately recognized South. The man's face was still scratched up from the splinters. The other four men spread around him and O'Bannon in a circle.
"Hello, Nathaniel. Didn't expect to see you this way."
"Hey, boss! Look! It's the Shanghai Kid!"
South's head jerked towards the Chinese man in surprise. He didn't believe it at first; the man didn't look very menacing at all, contrary to his wanted poster. He smiled menacingly as the pieces fell together in his mind. "Well, well... It's a pleasure to meet you. I've heard so much about you."
Wang didn't reply.
Roy tensed, holding his gun beneath the quilts as inconspicuously as possible. "What do you want, Devin?"
"To talk among other things. Get up. You're riding with me. Spoon, tie the Kid to his saddle. And make sure it's tight." He looked at O'Bannon. "Come on, Nathaniel, and no tricks or I'll kill the Kid."
Roy sighed. No chance of escape now. He choked as a cough hung in his throat, shaking him and the litter.
"Get up, Nathaniel! Stop fucking around!" South cocked his gun and aimed it at Wang.
"Alright! God... Can't you see how sick I am?" Roy stood, leaving his weapons beneath the blankets.
"Yeah, you're looking a little paler than usual."
Roy felt dizzy as he walked to South's horse. He glanced at Chon, catching his eye. Wang looked a little nervous, but determined and that was encouraging. Roy winced as he swung up into the saddle. His shoulder was still sore and the sudden change in elevation made his head hurt. He coughed and slumped back against Devin. The short walk had nearly exhausted him. They were moving now, going to some abandoned shack no doubt. Roy's skin crawled with fever and disgust as Devin kissed him on the cheek.
"I'll make you feel better." He whispered and licked O'Bannon's ear.
Roy flinched and tried to move away, but South's grip was too strong. He hoped for another miracle.
Wang looked outraged.
Devin regarded the two men silently for a few moments. Once they had arrived at his hideout, he'd had the Kid tied securely to a chair, but O'Bannon he let sit. The gunman was in no condition to try anything. His men, he let stay outside. He started to the Chinese man quizzically. "What do you see in him, Nathaniel?"
Roy couldn't hide his astonishment, but he quickly covered it. "Nothing." He felt Chon's hurt expression, but he had to try and protect him.
"Don't try the innocent routine, Ames. I saw you down by the river that day."
"So that was you. I thought it was."
"Yes, it was me. You didn't think I'd just forget about you. I never have. That's why I'm here now. Come with me and get rich."
"I'm not going to help you rob the bank."
"Oh, I think you will." South smiled and pressed his gun to Chon's head.
"If you don't, I'll kill him right now. How would you like it done? Through the head? Through the heart? Maybe I should shoot him in the balls first."
"No! Stop! I'll do it! Alright? I'll do it!"
Chon relaxed as the barrel of the gun moved away from his temple. He glared at the gunman. "You won't get away with this."
"I think I will. I've got the sheriff helping me." South jerked O'Bannon to his feet. "Come on, Nathaniel. You and me got a little catching up to do."
Chon gasped in outrage at the other man's roughness. "Don't hurt him!"
"Oh, I won't. That's the farthest thing from my mind."
"No!" Chon struggled to escape, but the bindings around his wrists and ankles were too tight.
"Chon, don't." Roy moved towards him, but Devin jerked him back.
Chon screamed as South slapped O'Bannon and then jerked him close, twisting his arm behind his back.
Roy trembled as Devin cocked his gun and pressed the barrel under his chin.
South's cold eyes bore down on Wang. "You're going to get your boyfriend killed if you keep on."
"Chon, do what he says." Roy begged in a hoarse voice.
Chon stopped struggling. He couldn't take his eyes away from his friend. Roy was too pale, he cheeks bright with an unnatural flush. He feared an ill-timed coughing fit would trigger South's gun or worse that his fever was rising again.
Devin smiled. "Pretty upsetting when another man gets to fuck what's yours, isn't it?"
Roy averted his eyes, but only for a second. He met the tortured brown eyes as best he could. "It's okay, Chon, it's nothing."
Chon shook his head. "No!"
Devin laughed and dragged O'Bannon to the next room.
The old familiar buildings looked almost new to Roy it seemed so long since he'd been in town. His head ached, making concentration difficult. He didn't know what he was going to do, but he was going back for Chon as soon as the opportunity presented itself. There were no guarantees that South was going to let either one of them live after he got the money.
As their party of three rode down the street, Roy made eye contact with as many people as he could, trying to warn them. He thought about Sam and hoped the bartender stayed in the saloon today.
All too soon, he was forced to casually stop in front of the bank. Roy dismounted as slowly as possible, trying to delay the inevitable, while racking his brain for a plan. He removed his hat politely for a lady exiting the bank. "Ma'am."
"Sheriff." She smiled.
The three men moved inside. Mr. Blains was just making his weekly deposit.. Jonathan, one of the clerks, noticed O'Bannon and smiled. "Hey, sheriff. What brings you here?"
South pulled his gun. "Money of course. Let's have it."
"What? Sheriff, what's going on?"
"Just go along with it, Jonathan. Don't get killed over it. It's not worth it." Roy wheezed as he felt a coughing fit building inside his chest.
"What's going on?" The manager, Cane Ferguson, stepped out from the back room and halted as he saw Roy and the two strangers.
"Just a robbery, mister, and you're going to help us out. If you don't open that safe, I'm going to kill everyone in here starting with that snot-nose kid behind the counter."
O'Bannon spread his arms. "No guns, Cane. They ambushed me on the trail."
"Enough talk!" South snarled. "Now get moving before I kill you!"
Ferguson held up his hands and went back to the safe. The man had been robbed before so he knew to move quickly. Spoon, the outlaw with the curved back who had recognized Chon, packed the bills into bags. When he finished, he moved back to the door.
"Now everyone just stay nice and quiet and you won't get shot. O'Bannon will live longer too."
The three men exited calmly. Roy was thinking furiously. Once they left town, there would be almost no chance to escape unarmed. He glanced down the street.
Roy dove between the horses as Samuel Cook's shotgun boomed and hit the post near their heads. The animals pranced nervously and Roy just managed to roll out of the way before getting stepped on. "Take cover! Take cover, everyone!" Roy yelled.
"Someone's robbing the bank!" A man yelled.
Women and children screamed and ran to take shelter.
Spoon made a run for the alley, still trying to handle the moneybags. A blast from Cook's double-barreled cannon cut him in half.
Roy crawled behind the water trough in front of the next store down and curled up as the vicious coughing fit that had been building inside him finally surfaced.
"Roy! Are you okay?" Cook yelled.
"Somebody get the bastard that went back inside the bank!"
Cook ran to O'Bannon's position. "Roy! Are you alright, son?"
The blond rolled over, pale and miserable. "I'm sick, Sam. Chon and I were coming to see the Doc when South ambushed us. Chon is being held prisoner. If we don't bring the money back, South's men will kill him."
"Shit. Mrs. Dorsey thought something was up when she saw you with those two strangers after you were out of town for so long. When she described them, I knew for sure one of them was South."
Bullets shattered the windows out of the bank; then there was a loud crack. Men waited all over the street, for the next barrage of gunfire to start.
"Hold your fire! Hold your fire!" Ferguson yelled. "Don't shoot!"
Quiet settled in the street and slowly Ferguson came out, carrying his sawed-off shotgun. "It's alright, boys! I cut the bastard in half when he came back in!"
Cook helped O'Bannon to his feet as the rest of the townsfolk came out from hiding.
"I gotta go, Sam. I gotta get Chon out of there."
"You're in no condition to be riding, son. You can barely stand. I'll get a posse together and you show us the way. We'll find him."
"No! If they see us coming, they might kill him. I have to go alone."
Cook sighed. "Suite yourself, Roy, but take this." He loaded his deadly gun and handed it to O'Bannon.
"Thanks, Sam. I need to make you my back up deputy so you can get paid for this."
"Don't need no pay. You just bring Chon back alive."
Roy nodded and mounted up with Sam's help. He rode hard, hoping he wasn't too late to save his friend. His head pounded with a rising fever and his eyes drooped, but he trudged on doggedly. As he entered the valley that would take him through to the pass, he saw a man on horseback coming towards him riding hard as well. His hair blew out behind him like a vision out of a dream.
"Chon?" Roy breathed before he passed out.
Chon sat quietly in the grass, stroking the blond head in his lap. He was waiting for his sunshine to wake up. He was waiting for the chance to get his hands on the man who had raped his partner and forced him to listen to it.
"Roy..." Chon breathed a sigh of relief; thankful that O'Bannon's fall hadn't caused any permanent damage.
"Chon..." Roy blinked and looked up at him. "Is that really you?" He reached and touched Chon's face, feeling its solidness despite his blurry vision.
"Chon, you're alright... Are you?"
"Yes, sunshine, I escaped. Those men were sorry guards."
Chon waited until Roy stopped coughing. He stroked his cheek and smiled. "It doesn't matter. All that matters is that you are alright."
"I am except for this cough." Roy looked his friend, seeing him clearly now. "When I was riding... For a second, I thought you were a dream. I think I was half gone."
"You scared me when you fell."
Chon smiled. "Yes, but you are fine."
"Oh, good." Roy sighed. "I can't take much more. South's dead. Cane Ferguson killed him while he was trying to escape after he robbed the bank."
Chon's eyes hardened. "As I rode, I think I can't wait to get my hands on him. Why didn't you tell me he hurt you that way?"
"I didn't think you'd want to hear it. In the beginning, he was gentle. It wasn't until later and that was when I left because he killed those people." Roy frowned at the look on Chon's face. "It's okay, Chon."
"It is not okay. I wanted to scream when I heard him hurt you."
Roy's face fell. "You could here that?"
Roy closed his eyes, feeling dirty and ashamed again.
Chon stroked his hair. "It's alright, Roy. Now I know what the hurt inside you was and I will help you let it go if I can."
Roy looked at him. "You already have."
"Yes. That night I was with you, it all went away. It felt incredible being with you. You loved me."
Chon looked awed and tears blurred his eyes.
Roy sat up and leaned in against his partner's chest for a kiss. He murmured happily as Chon hugged him tight. "Chon?"
"Yes, my sunshine?"
"You're a pretty amazing guy."