by Mirna Cicioni

This is a sequel to Threshhold by Mirna

You're starin' into the campfire. Then your eyes stray to the bottle beside you, assessin' how much's left in it. 'Bout an inch, I guess.

I won't fight you for it. All I need is a couple drinks each night, to keep the chill out, warm my guts, and relax a little.

We've been ridin' for three days. Tascosa's another three, four days away. This bottle and the other two packed in your saddlebags should last us until we get there.

You light the last cheeroot of the day and take a long, heavy drag on it. It's what you do every night before you hit the bedroll. It takes you an awful long time to get your head down. You smoke, then you put the bottle away, check the horses, bank the fire, disappear in the brush for a few minutes, make sure your Winchester and handgun are within easy reach, and run a hand through your hair a couple times, lookin' down at me. Like you was half hopin' I'd drifted off to sleep.

And then you lie down, and just look at me until I reach for you. You let me pull you against me, and as my lips touch yours you sigh deeply. Like a door is half-openin', whether you like it or not, and you're makin' sure it don't swing open all the way.

And you give me what I want, your body movin' against mine, fiercely and fast, your face pressed into the curve of my neck, your breath quick and hot against my skin, a few groans escapin' as I touch you. One short cry when you burst, my name. And I follow you, spurtin' long and hard and sweet between your fingers, and I don't say a word because there's too many of them floatin' through my mind.

It's been like this every time we've been together. Since that first night in Four Corners, when I told you I was goin' on to Tascosa, and wasn't goin' to blame you if you preferred to stay. And you grinned, and made some crack about men in a hurry to get themselves hung, and I went up to your room a while later, and it happened, short and easy, with no need for words.

At first light, we open our eyes, look at each other, say "Mornin'", and we get up, make coffee, eat a quick breakfast, mount up, and get goin'. Neither of us is the talkative type at the best of times. We exchange a few sentences every now and then, about the trail ahead, or about what we'd best do once we hit Tascosa.

We haven't got that straightened out yet. We agree that the first thing is to find Eli Joe. But I want to be right there with you when we start askin' around, and you think that's a damn fool notion, and want to ride in first, alone.

The nights, neither of us mentions them. I don't mind, considerin' where we're headed. And you don't seem to want much beyond helpin' me. And I ain't sure of what I want.

There's been moments, this journey, when I've been lookin' into the campfire and thinkin' that maybe, when it's all over - if we both come out of this alive, that is - I could just stay on in Tascosa, or maybe ride on alone.

There's a lot of things about me I ain't told you or anyone else. My door's been almost full closed for so long that I kinda forget it's there. Maybe it's safer this way. The less a man talks, the less he's got to regret afterwards.

But tonight it's different.

You look away from the bottle, shrug, and turn towards me.

"Vin," you say, and I return your look, and just wait.

"Miracles happen only once in a man's lifetime." Your voice is low, flat. I nod once, and keep listenin'. I guess I know where you're headin'.

"Sarah and Adam were my miracle. And ..." You don't finish. You don't have to, and you know it. "And now, I'm... It's like a man who ..." You stop. Not for long. You've obviously worked it all out in your mind before now. "... who went deaf in a mine blast, or got a bullet in his spine and can't walk any more. If he's got any sense, he learns to live with it and make the best of what he's got left." You stop, draw on your cheeroot, and meet my eyes levelly.

Your turn to wait.

I know how wrong you are, but I don't contradict you. No point. I've known how much you can hate yourself almost since the day I met you. Your words are just givin' it a shape.

I'd better say nothin'. No talkin', no regrets afterwards.

But some of the words that have been floatin' through my mind begin to take shape too, and start comin' right out before I know it. Maybe I've been workin' things out too, without realizin' it.

"I ain't asked for anythin' you wasn't prepared to give," I say, quietly. "Like I said when I first told you about this bounty. A friend collects, I get the last laugh. A friend." I feel my door openin', all by itself. So easy and natural that it scares me half out of my wits. "What I got is for the takin'. Freely. No debts. No strings."

Silence. You stare at me for a long time. Then you growl softly, "Never met anyone so dead set on looking for trouble."

And then you smile. Not a smirk, and not that lopsided, sarcastic grin of yours. A genuine smile, that warms my guts better 'n a whole bottle. And you sigh, and it sounds like your door's blowin' open a tad more.

"What I got is too damn little, Vin. But what there is, it's yours. For the taking."

You stub your cheeroot out on a rock, and put the bottle aside, and don't get up to see to the fire or the horses. You lie down, and wait for me to stretch out beside you, and slowly wrap your arms around me.

I raise my face to yours. Stubble, and warmth, and lips openin' to take mine.

When we get to Tascosa, I'll be right there beside you. Makin' sure you don't look for more trouble 'n you can handle. So we can both ride back to Four Corners when it's over.

And I don't need no words to say it, either.


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