Genre: Western, Drama, Romance
Warning: AKame pairing; vulgarisms, violence
Summary: Once upon a time in the west... During the wild period of the United States formation, two young men became close friends and lovers, before they had to go separate ways... After a furious search, Jin managed to find his younger brother Leo, who is now a leader of the feared gang - ´Black Riders´. And after Kazuya helped the remaining Indians of Blackfeet Tribe move into the reservation, he was able to track them down and so the two met again... But will they overcome the new obstacles and old enemies? And does their affectionate relationship even have any chance in those cruel times?
Thank you: To seiko22 for always supporting me; To atago4 for awesome beta-reading; And to Kamenashi Kazuya and Akanishi Jin for being who they are...
AN: So... Sooner than expected, huh? ^^´
I suppose this chapter might be considered a preliminary Christmas gift to all my dear readers!
This is a difficult part of the story and it will definitely take me some time to finish the next one, so this is probably the final chapter of 2016...
I´ll definitely try to increase the numbers of them yet, but... no promises, ok? ^^v
I´m really grateful for every opinion or advice and always happy to know my readers.
Your comments are my best reward and kick me off to try harder and keep writing.
Thank you for them, no matter how long or short they will be.
Chapter one // Chapter two // Chapter three // Chapter four // Chapter five // Chapter six // Chapter seven // Chapter eight // Chapter nine // Chapter ten // Chapter eleven // Chapter twelve // Chapter thirteen // Chapter fourteen // Chapter fifteen // Chapter sixteen // Chapter seventeen // Chapter eighteen // Chapter nineteen // Chapter twenty // Chapter twenty one // Chapter twenty two // Chapter twenty three // Chapter twenty four // Chapter twenty five // Chapter twenty six // Chapter twenty seven // Chapter twenty eight // Chapter twenty nine // Chapter thirty // Chapter thirty one // Chapter thirty two // Chapter thirty three // Chapter thirty four // Chapter thirty five // Chapter thirty six //
It took Jane over a mile to catch up with the others, and another one before Leo was finally willing to take a break from their fast ride northeast. The brunette dismounted her stallion and patted its neck gratefully, before looking around a small glade covered with a few thin trees. For his rest, the Riders´ leader chose a wide stone on the bank of a small stream, in which they could water their horses. From that spot, the young Akanishi observed the wide plains, which came into view on their right, as soon as they had left the last buildings of Fort Collins behind.
Jane checked the position of the sun and estimated that there were approximately two hours of daylight left. If those three hadn´t left the city yet, they had no chance of catching up to them before the dark would fall. She took a few gulps of water from her flask, while watching her lover worriedly. She had to come up with the best way to approach Leo and calm him down, not to push him even further behind that upset wall he built up around himself.
Ryo, Jack and Nick were very quiet, and kept sending pleading glances towards her. Of course, they relied on her now, as none of them wanted to confront furious Leo. Even Cullen seemed to be quite concerned. No wonder they were confused about Leo´s behavior, since their leader didn´t explain his reasons for leaving Jin, Kame and Koki in Fort Collins.
Jane made a couple of determined steps, stood next to sitting Leo and focused on his stiff face: “Have you cooled down yet?” she asked, while crossing her hands on her chest.
Leo looked up and gave her one annoyed glance, before turning back to the plains´ view, without any reply. But he didn´t send her away as before, when they were still in the saddles, which Jane considered a good sign.
“Stop acting like an angry kid,” she reproached him strictly. “This is beneath you, Leo.”
“You don´t know why I behave like this, so stop lecturing me!” her lover snapped rather irritated.
“Actually… I do,” Jane objected calmly.
One by one, the others approached them slowly, listening curiously.
“What do you mean by that, Jane?” Leo asked with his eyes dangerously narrowed.
She took a deep breath. It would be contra-productive to keep that secret hidden from the others even now; it was about time for all of them to know.
“I know that Jin and Kame are a couple,” she stated firmly.
Leo stared at her without a move. Ryo´s eyes widened, Jack´s jaw dropped, Nick seemed baffled and Cullen raised his eyebrows.
“I saw them together once,” the brunette continued, ignoring the other Riders and focusing only on the younger Akanishi. “But they hadn´t noticed me, and I didn´t tell them.”
Leo stood up slowly: “Why didn´t you say something?” he asked suddenly quietly.
“It´s their privacy; it was not for me to expose them,” she explained carefully. “Even though I thought that they should reveal it to us…”
“Wait, wait,” Ryo cut in. “Are you serious? Our Handsome and Jin are… dating?”
Jane nodded: “For quite a while already, I think.”
The deaf silence followed. Then Cullen reached into his pocket for a pack of cigarettes: “That explains a lot,” he noted shortly.
Ryo tried to suppress it at first, but then he chuckled aloud anyway: “Wow, that´s some news! That´s why they´re always so clingy!”
Jack and Nick were somewhat lost at words, but it was better than if they had some indignant comments. Jane appreciated those reactions a lot. If the others could take it calmly, it would help to persuade Leo as well.
“I guess they were just afraid to tell us,” Jane continued.
Ryo slapped his forehead: “Ah, they thought we would judge them, right?”
“Well,” Nick cleared his throat. “It´s not… any usual behavior, so… no wonder.”
“Don´t be so old fashioned, man,” Ryo nudged into Nick´s shoulder, still giggling. “I can´t believe they managed to keep it secret from us for so long!”
“You ´re having quite a lot of fun about this,” Jack, who seemed to be the most sheepish about the revelation, murmured.
“And what else?” the black-haired one shrugged. “I´m not up to be their judge. You are?”
The youngest Rider had no response to that. Jane almost smiled as well, but then she looked back at Leo and unfortunately, the Riders´ leader didn´t seem to be even close to amused or persuaded…
“They lied to us,” Leo stated harshly.
Everybody fell silent again and looked at frowning Leo. And that statement made Jane realize something…
“It seems we got to the point…” she stepped even closer to her lover, not a bit frightened by his dark look. “Tell me, Leo – are you upset because your brother has an affair with another man or because he didn´t tell you about it?”
Though Leo was still scowling, something changed in his eyes, and Jane knew that at least partially she hit the point.
“Leo… I know you hate lies, but wasn´t it understandable in this case?” she asked softly.
“That´s right,” Ryo dared to join her. “I mean – they didn´t betray us or anything like that… Right, Cullen?” the black-haired one turned to the second-in-command, looking for some back-up.
“Don´t drag me into this,” the older Rider snorted with a cigarette between his lips.
“Oh, come on… I´m eager to hear your opinion!” Ryo urged.
Cullen rolled his eyes: “Look, as comes to me, they can do whatever they want, unless it won´t mess up with our plans. Satisfied?”
“Fully,” the younger Rider grinned.
Their leader noted Cullen´s words as well, but he kept silent, and suddenly seemed to be almost sad.
“Leo…” Jane tried again, but she was interrupted.
“It´s not only about that they lied, Jane,” Leo spoke in a strange tone. “They also seem to be quite serious about it, at least Jin does. Can you imagine what that might mean?”
The brunette opened her mouth to say something, but nothing came out of them, as she sank into her lover´s eyes. Ryo, Jack and Nick were quite confused again, only Cullen seemed to be aware of what was hidden behind that silent exchange of looks.
Jane gulped down, but that sudden lump in her throat didn´t want to go away. Leo´s statement made her remember something; something what she kept suppressing all the time so hard, that she managed not to think about it at all. But now it was all back – painful memories, desperate tears, that feeling of being hollow… Her determination to talk Leo into reconciliation with his older brother wavered.
“You know what I mean, right?” Leo asked, with the pain hidden in his voice.
“I know,” Jane reacted quietly. “I know… But it´s not a reason for you to reject your own brother.”
Leo sighed and turned to the vast plains again, while Jane lowered her head.
“Well… I suppose we´re missing something,” Ryo reflected carefully. “But still… It´s not so surprising news at all. Kame is quite awesome, so it´s no wonder that Jin fell for him,” the young Rider grinned, trying to lighten the atmosphere up. “Am I right, guys?”
Jack chuckled, finally overcoming the first shock and Nick wisely decided to ignore the question.
“Don´t ask me such stupid things, kiddo,” Cullen snorted. “The young these days, seriously… You´ll bring me to my grave.”
Ryo made a face, while Jack pretended to be offended. Jane made two steps, approaching silent Leo, and touched his arm.
“Don´t push him away, Leo. Not for this…” she pleaded quietly. “They don´t deserve your condemnation and you know that.”
Leo stood still for a while, before he caught Jane´s hand and turned to them again.
“Ryo… Can you make it back to Fort Collins this evening?” he asked seriously.
The black-haired one repaid his look for a while, before he nodded with a wide smile: “I had a feeling that we forgot someone over there… I´m going right away.”
“They might be on their way already, so be careful not to miss them,” Jane warned. “Koki and Kame wanted to persuade Jin to come after us.”
“And don´t rush too much, this road is quite bad,” Leo added. “We´ll wait here for you; it´s all right if you get back tomorrow in the morning.”
“As you command, Chief!” the black-haired one imitated a saluting gesture and rushed back to his horse with a cheerful whistling on his lips. Also Jack and Nick seemed to be relieved and Cullen just nodded, when Leo looked at him.
“I´m going to get us some wood for the night…” the older Rider decided. “It will be damn cold out here…”
With Jack and Nick going to take care of the horses, the couple remained alone. Leo turned to Jane, and without a word, he hugged her, hiding his face into her hair, while she soothed his back slowly. When he pulled away, Leo´s expression was much calmer. He took Jane´s hand again and dragged her behind him gently. The brunette didn´t protest, when he led her away for a private walk along the stream.
Jin hated to admit it, but he knew that the blonde Rider was right. It was damn true that it was stupid of them to separate after the first disagreement. The revelation was simply too sudden for Leo. Maybe, just maybe, if he had talked to his brother in advance, suggesting something about him and Kame, it would not have ended up in such an awful argument…
Despite this realization, it took Jin quite some time before he overcame that wave of anger at his stupid, stupid little brother. Leo didn´t understand a thing about him and Kame and he didn´t even try! He just condemned them right away, not caring about their reasons.
Both of them went through a lot, before Jin himself could accept his affection for the younger one, and Leo had no right to judge them. Moreover, those things he said about Kame… It was as if Leo forgot everything what they did for him and for the Riders; his brother could have taken at least that into consideration, before he started to throw insults at them…
As Jin didn´t want to vent his bad mood on the younger one, he decided to remain at the river bank, until he was sure that he could control himself. And the truth was that if not for Tanaka´s intervention, he would have spent there much longer time.
When the sun was drawing near the reddening west, Jin was walking back towards the saloon, with his head lowered and forehead full of wrinkles. He didn´t expect that Leo would have left just like this. Koki was more than right in that too – they should stick together now of all times. And they should have talked about all of it with clearer heads…
He just got to the back yard, when he noticed some fast steps, which made him raise his head.
“Oh, no… You again?” Jin sighed, when he recognized the blonde Rider heading towards him.
“Kame is not with you?” Koki asked, ignoring the annoyed greeting.
Jin frowned: “No… You told me he´s waiting in the saloon…”
“Yeah, he was, before,” the Rider scratched his head confusedly. “But he´s not there anymore. At first, I thought he just went to relieve himself or that he went after you, but…”
“For how long has he been gone?” Jin asked with a bad hunch.
“Half an hour or so? I don´t know, the barmaid says she didn´t notice him either, but the taproom is packed now, so that´s no wonder.”
“Did you check the stables?” that was the only place Jin could think of as Kame´s refugee. He probably needed some peace and quiet as well…
The blonde one shook his head: “No, not yet.”
“Fine, I´ll do it, you try the barn.”
Jin set off towards the building in a much faster pace than before, holding on the possibility that Kame might be there. But his hope faded even before he entered the spacious place, because already from the outside he could hear the nervous neighing.
The view of the stalls being empty except for Kuro, Ukushi and a couple of other animals made his heart sink. The white mare was stomping in her stable, shaking her head and kept neighing in short intervals, while Kuro was standing there, watching her seriously.
When Koki peeked inside the stalls just a moment later, he found the older Akanishi standing at the wooden partition and slowly soothing the white mare.
“Not here either?” he huffed. “The barn is empty as well, except for one very rude kid.”
Jin stepped away from Ukushi, which still seemed very nervous, walked along the stables and stopped next to the blonde Rider. He looked outside with a tense expression, not saying anything.
“Do you think he just went for a walk or something?” Koki suggested carefully.
“No,” Jin reacted quietly. “Kame would not disappear like this, without telling anything, the less under these circumstances.”
“Right… He´s more responsible than that,” the blonde one admitted. “But in that case…”
“Something happened to him,” the other one finished in a strained voice.
“We cannot be sure about that,” Koki tried to be more positive.
“I know it,” Jin reacted in such a firm voice, that it persuaded Koki right away. “Ukushi senses it too. Not to mention that Kame would have taken her with him if…” Jin stopped talking and he half-covered his face with an open palm. “I let him out of my sight even though I promised that… Damn it…”
So suddenly, that Koki flinched, Akanishi moved and with a furious intensity he kicked into some empty bucket. The metal ended up making an awful noise on its way across the yard.
“It was Grenet,” Jin spitted out that cursed name with an absolute certainty.
Koki´s jaw dropped at that: “How the hell can you…?”
“Only that son of a bitch is a perfect explanation!” the older Akanishi raised his voice, pacing in front of the entrance. “Somebody had to notice us when we arrived and reported it to him, exactly as Kame feared.”
“When you put it like this, I´m afraid that you´re right…” Koki sighed, already worried as well.
“I´m damn sure about it,” Jin snapped and stopped at the spot, burying his wide and dangerous eyes into the blonde one. “Can you find a way to that quarry you two talked about?”
Koki nodded slowly: “I´m quite sure I can. And we can ask for some directions as well. It´s pretty well-known place around here…”
“Fine, you don´t have to come with me then,” Akanishi reacted and rushed around him back to the stalls, to prepare Kuro for another travel. “It will be better for you if you join Leo as well…”
But Jin made only three steps before the blonde Rider grabbed his arm and turned him back rather angrily: “You sit on your ears or what? Did I say anything like that? I´m going with you, of course!!”
Jin repaid the other´s determined look for a while, before his grim expression eased up a little: “Thanks…”
Koki grinned, though it was rather forced: “I will make you thank me a thousand times after we get Kame back.”
His head tingled, the back of his neck was painfully stiff and his shoulders felt unnatural. For a short moment, Kame was not sure what could be the reason of his state, but only until he smelled the pungent odor of cheap cigarettes and stale beer. Then he quickly realized that his wrists were tied together behind his back and that his neck hurt because he was sitting with his head lowered limply.
He forced himself to remain motionless and focused on his surroundings. Thanks to the awful, stuffy smell he assumed that he was in some closed room and even not being for an occasional creak of some chair or rustle of newspapers, he would know that he was not alone. He also recognized some muted noises from the outside – something heavy being loaded, the creak of wheels, snorting of horses and voices saying good nights. All of those indicated an end of some shift. There was only one place Kame could think of as his current location – Laporte Quarry.
He half-opened his eyes, still trying to avoid an attention of anyone who might be guarding him. He was seated in a solid chair, his arms twisted backwards. A yellow light of kerosene was filling up the room, so he assumed it was already dark. He was unconscious for long time…
He gritted his teeth in useless anger at himself – he let himself be fooled by precisely aimed lies and ended up in a pretty pile of shit. That was more than clear to him right away.
Suddenly, he heard somebody getting up and walking. Right after that a hand grabbed his hair and his head was twisted up roughly - he was looking at the harsh face of that man, who was waiting at the bar before. Kame was sure that the blow, which sent him into the black unconsciousness, was this gunman´s job; it came from the side he had been walking. Now, he could also faintly remember his name – he was Marty.
Seeing Kame´s open eyes, the gunman smirked, let his hair go and looked at someone behind his back: “Fetch Grenet, our princess woke up.”
There was no reply, but someone´s easy steps headed outside. It was not long before the door got opened again. By that time, Marty took a stance at the wall leaving the chair behind the messy desk free for his boss.
While listening to the steps of heavy boots with spurs coming closer, Kame was concentrating on his own breathing. Looking back at the encounter at the Mexican bar, he was shocked by how easily that man´s presence shook him off balance. If there was any chance for him to escape, he couldn´t let it happen again…
Feeling victorious, Math crossed the plank flooring and sat behind Cameron´s desk with a satisfied smirk playing on his lips. After months of useless search and annoying waiting, he had one of those brats in his hands and he was quite sure that the other one would follow soon. Moreover, it was very convenient that Cameron hadn´t come back yet; he didn´t have to share his deserved fun with anyone.
He lit up a cigarette, leant into the chair, threw his legs up on the desk and only after that he decided to pay attention to his captive. Kamenashi repaid his look unwaveringly. That was a little unpleasant surprise; Math expected that the former bartender would be more freaked out by now.
“You took your time, baby boy,” he noted and took a long inhale of smoke into his lungs. “I was almost worried that we´d have to give you a cold shower.”
Kamenashi didn´t reply. Math observed his face carefully. The boy´s hair was a bit longer and quite disheveled. With the lips pressed together firmly, his expression was rougher than Math remembered, but he was still just as awfully pretty as before, with those hazelnut eyes and pale skin.
“Long time no see, huh?” Math smirked. “Missed me?”
It seemed that the youngster decided to act impregnable, as not even this time he got any response. So be it, everybody could be tamed when the right string was played…
“You were quite busy meanwhile, weren´t you?” he continued, tapping his heel over the newspapers at the table shortly. “Ganging up with the Black Riders… Jeez, it´s not suited to you, baby boy. I wonder what your mother would say about that.”
Finally, he noticed the first change in Kamenashi´s expression, as his look darkened at the mention of his poor dead mother.
“I guess you found out that thefts are more profitable than serving beers, huh?” Math assumed mockingly. When there was no response again, he was already starting to be annoyed, but he didn´t let it show and even widened his grin. “You used to be much more sociable… Are you so scared you can´t even talk?”
Kamenashi stared at him for a while, before he finally spoke in a hoarse voice: “I´ve got nothing to tell you, Grenet.”
There was almost palpable disgust and resistance in the youngster´s voice, which Math didn´t like much. This boy should be much more polite…
“On the contrary, Kamenashi,” he informed his captive haughtily. “There´s so many things you can tell me. And you will…” he added threateningly.
And again, he received just that defiant look as a reaction. Math let his legs slip down and got up. Still smoking, he walked around the desk slowly and sat at the edge of it, right in front of the pretty boy. Kamenashi was watching him as he moved; Math could feel that sharp stare all the time. Good, he definitely had that little bastard´s attention. Kamenashi was certainly not so calm, as he tried to appear.
“It seems you guys managed to snatch quite a catch from Tabor… What do you want to do with all that money?” Math asked curiously. “Or rather – where is that cash right now?”
Kamenashi stared at him rather incredulously now, which made Math smirk again.
“What? Did you think I grabbed you just for your pretty ass?” he laughed shortly. “Well, it´s definitely part of it, but… I wouldn´t mind some additional bonus at all. So, who has the money? That brat, who leads you all?” Math doused the cigarette over the edge of the table, waiting if the boy had anything to say about that. Absolutely nothing came out of those thin lips, though.
Math raised one of his legs and placed it on Kamenashi´s thigh, leaning over it, so that the boot pressed against the muscle painfully.
“Look, you know me, baby boy, right? We can do this either the easy way or the more difficult one. And I guess you already know how that harder one looks like, don´t you?” he pressed even harder, pinching the muscle of the youngster´s inner thigh between the chair and his heel. “You saw what a splendid job I did on that Akanishi bastard, right?”
“Go to Hell…” Kamenashi hissed through his teeth.
That was some reaction finally; the hatred in brown eyes gave them a strange glamour, which made Math Grenet smiled in satisfaction: “But of course, if would be such a shame to deface you right at the beginning. I have other ways to make you talk…”
To Math´s surprise, a scornful smirk appeared on that handsome face: “Sure, I can imagine…” Kamenashi snorted. “And you´ll have your minions holding me down during it. Once a coward, always a coward, Grenet, right?”
Kame knew that it was not a good idea to provoke that man, but he couldn´t help it. He was not afraid of him. Yes, he knew what Grenet was capable of, but his hatred towards that creature who murdered his mother was much greater than his fear of what the gunman might have done to him. Not to mention that Grenet had nothing to blackmail him with this time - there was no Mother, no Lena, no Jin… Kame had no single reason to play in his fucked up game, so he wouldn´t.
Grenet stiffened after his last statement, piercing him with sharp look for a while. Kame could see clearly in the man´s grey eyes that his attitude angered him. The pressure against his aching thigh disappeared, as Grenet pulled his boot back down to the ground and straightened up.
Kame saw that hand coming, but he couldn´t get out of its way. Grenet slapped him twice, hard, from each side. Kame´s cheeks were burning and he also felt the tin taste of blood in his mouth. He took a deep breath. Grenet was trying to humiliate him, just like before…
A hard hand grabbed his neck and forced his head back up. Kame had to suppress an urge to vomit, when Grenet´s face got so close to his, and he was flooded with his breath stinking as an awful pit.
“You insolent brat! You mean to tell that I´m not enough to deal with you?” Grenet barked.
Kame just stared at him, saying nothing at all, but his silence was a sufficient answer. Grenet let him go so roughly, that he felt the man´s nails scratching his neck.
“Danny, untie him!” Grenet spat an order. “Don´t stand there like an idiot and do it!”
Soon Kame felt a touch of small, cold fingers, fighting with the firm knot. Not that his situation would improve in any way with that – even if he could fight Grenet off, there were those two inside and definitely more of his men outside. It was useless, even if he would win… But on the other hand, he was not willing to let himself be beaten up for nothing.
When the rope finally fell down, both his hands happened to be under a strong sensation of pins and needles.
“Get up, baby boy!” Grenet challenged him. “Show me what you´ve got!”
Kame remained sitting and started to massage his wrists, with his eyes firmly fixed on the figure of the man in front of him. Grenet´s hands clenched into fists. Kame slipped from the chair to the right side in the last second, avoiding a hard hit aimed at his chin. Bouncing by one hand from the floor, he straightened up, just to step sideways again, as Grenet attacked again. Danny McFly, who released his ties, quickly retreated to the corner to make room for them.
Grenet spat on the floor and threw his hat away: “You can be agile as a monkey, but you can´t run forever.”
Kame kept silent, getting into the concentrated mode, which allowed him to adapt to the gunman´s movements. He didn´t duck to the side from the next punch, as Grenet already expected that, he bowed instead and turned around his attacker, under his arms.
Grenet turned with a dangerous shine in his eyes. He didn´t go for another attack then, he just walked forward, right towards Kame, forcing him to take one step back after another, until the younger one hit the table. Grenet expected it, Kame didn´t. He tried to go left, but the gunman managed to keep the pace with him this time and grabbed his arm pulling him back.
Grenet aimed another hit at his stomach. Kame tried to slip away, but those fingers held him firmly. He prepared himself for the blow, but either way it was so strong that it knocked his breath out. Kame bent under the painful pressure, but before Grenet could repeat his attack, he gathered his strength and with both hands shoved the man away. Grenet staggered heavily, stopping only at the wall.
“You fight like a girl!” the gunman snapped and went after Kame again.
Kame managed to avoid that easily. Too easily, as he realized right after that. It was just a trick. In the next moment, the chair, on which he was sitting before, broke against his shoulder, neck and head. Kame fell down to his knees with very loud ringing in his head.
“You need a lesson,” Grenet hissed, as he grabbed his hair painfully. “How to fight like a man!”
Instinctively, Kame raised his hands to protect his head; Grenet kicked him instead, right under the ribs. It was as if in the next second he would throw his stomach up. Kame just wanted to curl into a ball and search for his breath, but the strong grip in his hair prevented him from it. Instead, he was dragged up to his feet. Grenet shoved with him against the nearest wall, Kame´s back clashing with the firm surface.
“Not so cheeky now, huh?” Grenet growled, clutching Kame´s neck again.
With hazy eyes, Kame checked their surroundings, searching for anything useful. But there was only that McFly boy, staring at the scene from the corner and Marty, watching them with an amused smirk. Grenet´s face covered Kame´s view then and he felt the man´s hand groping in his crotch.
“You think you can fight me back without consequences?” the fuming gunman hissed. “You should have never got in my way, baby boy.”
Kame clenched his teeth, when Grenet´s hand gripped him down there.
“Not only that I will make you talk, you will scream…”
No, there was a strong voice in Kame´s head. Not this anymore.
Since Grenet let his hands free, it was easier, that he had thought. He supported himself over the man´s shoulders and with all strength he had, he kicked up his right knee. Grenet yelled almost like a woman, released his grip and fell to the ground with both palms covering his crotch.
“You meant an unfair fight?” Kame breathed out heavily. “I can do that too.”
“Get him,” Grenet wheezed, with his face red like a tomato.
Marty was already on the move, so he pushed Kame against the wall again right after, while McFly summoned another gunman from the hall inside and then helped Grenet to get on his feet again.
“Tie that… little brat… to the stake…” Grenet had a hard time to find his breath to speak. “For the whole… night.”
“Sure thing, boss! Move it!”
Ryo felt lost. None of those, whom they had left behind, was in the bar anymore, neither their horses in the stables. They might have missed each other on the way, but there were not so many opportunities to get to the north, so he really doubted that. In the end, he went to ask the staff behind the bar, hoping that they would remember his friends.
“No…” the Mexican barmaid shook her head, dousing Ryo´s hopes. “No three men as you tell. Only two.”
“Two?” Ryo was even more confused now. “And they looked like I described, Madame?”
“Yes, yes, one with crazy yellow hair and another was quite handsome with dark eyes. Very dark yes, almost like a devil…” the woman murmured for herself.
“So, there was no brown-haired youngster?”
The barmaid shook her head and prepared another tankard of beer.
That is not good, Ryo thought.
“And you said they asked you about something?”
“Yes, yes, they wanted to know the shortest way to that quarry for something, in the west,” the woman waved in that direction impatiently.
Oh, hell… Quarry? Something was telling Ryo, that it wasn´t only bad, that something went really, really wrong.
“Anything else you remember?” he urged on the woman. “Do you know why they wanted to know?”
The woman shrugged: “I´m not a gossip, young man. I didn’t listen.”
“Please, I´m really worried for them. Can´t you remember anything else?”
The barmaid sighed: “Well, now when you mentioned it… It seemed they were looking for that third one.”
Not good, not good, not good… Ryo had to take a deep breath to at least finish the conversation: “Thank you, Madame, you helped me a lot.”
Ryo rushed outside the taproom and jumped right back into the saddle of his waiting stallion. He hoped to spend the night at the saloon, warm and comfortable, but since it seemed that Jin and Koki set off to the place, where Math Grenet was supposed to reside, they had to have a damn good reason for it.
He could follow the two and help them out, but he didn´t have to think about it long to figure that letting Leo and the others know was the wise choice. Grenet definitely had his gunmen around, and it was better to clash with them in bigger numbers. Though, Ryo really hoped it wouldn´t come to that… So, no matter that both he and his horse were already quite tired, he set off into the dark almost at full gallop.
Even in the deep cold night, the narrow valley, in which the sandstone quarry Laporte was located, was emitting the soft light, as tens of kerosene lanterns were making the yellow stone glow. Despite that there was almost no move down in the valley; it was long after the last shift. But it would be foolish to think that nothing extraordinary was going on there.
All over the edge of slopes above the quarry, guarding men were pacing their perimeters with rifles in hands, more guards could be seen near the only proper entrance to the valley, huddled over the box which probably served them as a card table and more men were definitely hidden behind the lights in the windows of two biggest buildings in the area.
Jin paid attention to each and one of them as he observed the quarry from one of the highest spots above the valley, counting them. He was aware that one of the guards would pass his hiding spot soon, but there was the blonde one for that, to warn him in advance. So, he didn´t let himself to be disturbed from the small view in the telescope, as he kept moving it over the buildings, carts and stones. His hands literally froze, when he finally noticed what he was searching for. He put the telescope aside for a while, to make sure about the direction, before he placed it up again.
A short, very quiet whistle, reminding some night bird was heard from the dark and Jin quickly retreated from the edge of the cliff, sneaking into the bushes.
“Hey! That was my foot!” the slurred figure with yellow hair hissed at him, as he took his place there.
“Shut up,” the other gunslinger silenced him, as he already saw the distant figure of a guard approaching.
They both waited motionless, until the yawing man disappeared on the other side of his usual walk and then quickly moved even further back, so they could talk. They reached the small ravine between the rocks, where three horses were waiting for them, two of them obviously very impatient. Koki pulled out a small travel light and held it above their heads, while Jin was drawing at the piece of paper, marking out buildings and guards, with the blonde one completing him with everything he remembered from before.
“Kame´s tied up to a stake next to the biggest building,” Jin talked in a strained voice, as if he had to try really hard not to start yelling.
“Yeah, the manager´s office is there, and some private bar downstairs,” Koki noted.
“And who cares about that?!” Akanishi snapped suddenly, piercing the blonde one with his eyes.
Koki repaid that fierce look for a while. Nobody, who would see that expression, would want to mess up with Akanishi at that moment, himself included. It was understandable, but still it made Koki kind of nervous to see the other one so… emotional.
“Well, that´s probably where Grenet is, right?” he guessed carefully.
Jin stared at him for a moment, before nodded: “Yeah, we might assume that. Also I´ve noticed one more captive next to Kame, maybe an Indian; it was hard to say in that gloom.”
“You said they´re tied to stakes?” Koki asked frowning.
“Yes, with their hands up…” Jin confirmed darkly.
“That bastard is still using the same methods,” the blonde one murmured disgusted.
That caught Jin´s attention: “What do you mean?”
“Ahem, nothing much, it´s just uncomfortable…” Koki reacted right away, trying not to disturb Akanishi even more.
“Koki…” the dark threat was almost visible, as Jin growled.
The blonde Rider sighed: “They make you stand only on your tips, while the rope is pulling you up. At first it´s just annoying, later… you know,” he didn´t dare to say the whole truth, which scarred him forever.
Akanishi´s eyes turned somehow distant: “Yeah, I know…”
Koki was confused by the honesty of that statement first, before he remembered that those two mentioned something about Jin being a captive on Karnaka´s farm. So, the older one had his own experiences with Grenet´s abilities…
They both looked at the makeshift map again, neither of them willing to continue in the topic.
“So, how do we do this?” Koki sighed. “If I remember correctly, the access to the main area is too narrow and too well guarded.”
“That´s right. We might be able to slip in somehow, but we never get away the same way,” Jin agreed.
“And there´s too many guards for my taste,” the blonde one continued, commenting the dark spots. “It´s like they´re expecting some guests.”
“That´s highly probable… I doubt that Grenet thinks I might appear here so soon, but there is that Indian.”
“You mean those issues with Sioux?” Koki followed the other´s hint.
“Yeah, maybe they are on alert because of them. But anyway, we must count on that Grenet is waiting for my arrival… He must have realized once I figure out that Kame´s disappearance is his job, I´ll come after him. He knows that we´re… friends.”
“Sheesh,” the blonde one breathed out. “For a second I thought you´d say he knows that you´re lovers.”
Jin looked at him in an almost scared way: “No, there´s no way that he could find out. He mustn´t know that… He´s focused on Kame enough as it is. No matter the issues with Karnaka, Grenet had always wanted to hurt him from the very beginning,” he finished in a dark, disgusted tone.
Koki frowned in confusion: “I´m not sure I follow you, Jin… What do you mean by that?”
Akanishi clenched the hand, which was not holding the paper, into fist and said nothing.
“Jin…?” the blonder Rider looked into his face more carefully, suddenly suspicious about the true origin of their troubles with Grenet. “Don´t tell me that…”
“We just have to get Kame out of there as soon as possible, ok?” Jin interrupted him.
Koki didn´t need any other explanation. He nodded seriously, kind of aghast, trying not to imagine what kind of sick stuff Grenet could do to their handsome cook.
Frowning Jin was focused on the paper in front of them again: “As you said, too many guards, so we need a distraction.”
“Yeah, but what can we use?” Koki wondered. “I doubt there will be another convenient stock of dynamite waiting for us.”
“You not happened to have some fireworks with you, right?” Akanishi asked somewhat lightly.
“What? No…” the blonde one shook his head, once again surprised by the flow of the other´s thoughts.
“I assumed that much. It wouldn´t work well here, anyway…” Jin murmured. “What about the rope?”
“Yes, I´ve got one, quite long,” Koki confirmed.
“Good… Me too. So, let´s say I let myself be caught.”
Koki´s eyes widened: “Stop talking nonsense, how would that help us?”
“I assume that only my presence is expected, so you might create quite a surprise after that…”
“But, but… Damn it, think it through, Jin! There´s only two of us for this! If you get caught…!”
But the other didn´t let himself to be disturbed, as it seemed that he figured something out: “All right, plan A. We´ll use the opposite side of the valley, the angle is the mildest over there. I´ll slip down on a rope. If necessary, I´ll free the horses from the fence, which will hopefully distract some of the guards. Otherwise, I´ll just get rid of those two, who are watching the prisoners. I´ll grab Kame, and you with Kuro will pull us up again, once I give you the signal.”
“Sounds too risky,” Koki reacted gloomily. “Somebody will notice you right on that wall and alarm the whole quarry!”
“That´s plan B for, which includes my previous idea,” Jin objected. “They catch us on the run and bring us inside to Grenet. That´s when you´ll step into the game.”
“Sure, I will invade there as a cavalry itself and shoot the way out for all three of us,” the blonde one assumed caustically. “What do you think I´ll be able to pull off alone?”
“You´ll ignite that building with us inside,” Jin said, as if he was talking about the weather. “They obviously have more than enough kerosene for that.”
“That will make them take us out as well, Grenet doesn´t want us dead right away,” Jin started explaining, with a strange shine in his eyes. “They will be busy with dousing the fire, so if you wait nearby, you can surprise our captors from behind and bring us the weapons too. Then we can use Kuro again, he will help all of us to climb up the slope, we can support ourselves on the wall easily.”
Koki stared at his companion, feeling chills on his back: “That´s crazy, Jin…”
Akanishi folded the map and looked in Koki´s eyes: “I´m not crazy, just desperate to save him,” he reacted quietly.