A Lesson Learned

By corijea

 

 

 

Slash

Rated Adult

Warning: discipline story

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Kid Curry the facts of life were simple. You took care of your own, because no one else was gonna do it for you. And when you had a chance, you made life a little better and safer for those folks who couldn't take care of themselves. But the number one truth of his life was this:

 

Heyes belonged to Kid – although Heyes often disagreed if the Kid ever put it up to him; Heyes believed he was his own man. Curry didn't bother arguing the point—he knew better. Heyes was the leader, the one who made most of the choices, but still, Heyes was his.

 

He'd been Kid's since Kid Curry had grown enough to prove that, despite his youthful appearance, he was every bit a man where it counted.

 

Heyes had been looking after Jed since both of them had lost their families during the war. It had been wearisome for Curry that Heyes only saw him as someone that needed looking after. Although nearly fully grown in height by the age of sixteen and already becoming known for his talent with a gun, his older friend still treated him like a child. Curry had wanted more – much more – from Heyes. He'd known Heyes felt the same; he'd seen the guilty desire on Heyes' face. The problem was, when Curry had finally gathered up the courage to confess his own desires, the eighteen-year-old had refused to take him seriously.

 

Jed Curry hadn't given up. He'd thought up several good logical arguments on why they should take up with each other – logic being something Heyes spouted off on at the time. He'd had it all planned out, exactly how he was going to explain it all to Hannibal.

 

His bull-headed partner soon had all logic and reason flying completely out of his head. Curry lost his temper when Heyes refused to even attempt to listen.

 

Frustrated, the Kid had finally taken matters into his own hands and had shown Heyes which of the two needed the protection most by wrestling him to the floor and refusing to let him up till Heyes cried 'uncle'. By then neither of them were in any condition to continue the conversation.

 

Heyes had been too quiet for days afterwards and had kept giving Curry sidelong glances of bewilderment, as if wondering when the young boy he'd taken care of for so long had grown up.

 

While Curry had regretted losing his temper, he had taken comfort in at last convincing Heyes he wasn't a helpless child anymore.

 

From then on Jed had made a concentrated effort to seduce his friend. Kid smiled, remembering. It hadn't been a difficult task once Heyes started taking him seriously. Even if initially reluctant, Heyes didn't take much to catch fire. Curry loved how responsive his partner was in bed.

 

He'd had a bit more trouble coaxing Han into letting Kid take him. Despite the lack of experience that first time, both of them had enjoyed it enough to try it again. Curry knew that Heyes enjoyed yielding control temporarily – even if his pride would never let him admit it. Though it wasn't all one-sided—when Heyes was in the right mood, Kid had no problem letting the other man take him, too. Anything, as long as it was with Heyes, was good – the past years they had spent together hadn't changed that any.

 

Kid shivered slightly as he picked up his glass of whiskey from the bar. Best of all, though, was Heyes, head tossed back and body arching, demanding and wild beneath him. He shifted, uncomfortable and aroused, and tried to control himself. Now was not the time to get distracted.

 

The Kid knew Heyes belonged to him, and despite any verbal protests stating otherwise, Heyes knew he belonged to him. Hell, even Wheat and the boys in the Devil's Hole gang knew Heyes belonged to him. Curry set his empty shot glass on the bar a bit harder than he'd intended, thinking about the fella playing poker with Heyes in the other room. If he didn't back off soon, he was going to find out the hard way that Heyes was Kid's. Because Kid wasn't about to let anyone harm what was his.

 

Bryant was showing all the signs of being a sore loser, and if it weren't for Heyes' constant nagging that Kid's hovering over the poker table was too much of a distraction, he'd never have left Heyes alone in there with him. But Heyes' irritated scowl and emphatic tilt of his head towards the door had the Kid reluctantly leaving the gambling den for the saloon. He'd settled his own irritation with a drink.

 

Kid decided he'd been at the bar long enough; it was time to check in on his partner again.

 

 

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Heyes tried to keep his friendly smile from slipping but it wasn't easy.

 

Bryant had been prodding him since they both sat down at the same poker table. Every action and word from Heyes had been taken as provocation. If he hadn't had so much money at stake, Heyes would have simply got up and walked away.

 

It was always the same since he'd first learned enough about poker and human nature to win consistently. Some cowboy, rancher, or drifter who couldn't handle losing at poker always had to make trouble. Usually it was a few pointed remarks that Heyes had no problem ignoring or using humor to turn the joke around and ease the tension. The trouble was, this man seemed to have no sense of humor.

 

"You tryin' to make a fool of me, mister?"

 

Heyes sighed and gave up. Nothing was going to prevent Bryant from causing trouble.

 

"No, you seem to be doing a fine job of that yourself. You don't need any help from me." Bryant had left himself wide open for that response.

 

Bryant's chair fell over backwards as he lunged to his feet. "I ain't takin' any more from you. You get up and get ready to draw that gun."

 

Heyes made a last-ditch effort to calm things down. He leaned back in his chair, hands flat on the table. "Look, take it easy. I just came in here for a friendly game of poker."

 

"It’s too late for that," Bryant braced both feet shoulder length apart. "Get up and face me!" His hand hovered above his gun butt.

 

Heyes stared up at him calmly. In the corner of his eye he could see Wheat and a few of the boys watching carefully to see how he would react. It had only been a few weeks since he'd taken over from Big Jim Santana and Wheat had been giving him trouble all the way. Wheat would be giving Heyes a lot more trouble if it weren't for Kid backing him up. Only Curry wasn't here and Heyes needed to prove he could stand on his own two feet or he might as well give up on remaining leader of the Devil's Hole gang.

 

Heyes stood slowly, hand close to his gun. "All right, Bryant. I'm standing."

 

To Heyes, it seemed like the world had slowed to a crawl as both men reached for their guns. Heyes felt cold steel under his fingers, but before he could clear leather Bryant's holster and gun went flying across the saloon floor.

 

Heyes stomach lurched and he felt sick. Turning his head towards the door he saw the Kid, gun smoking in his hand, standing facing him. Curry was furious.

 

"I don't like folks drawing on my partner, Bryant." His voice was soft, but iron hard, and rang out clearly in the deathly quiet room." Count yourself lucky you're alive and get out of here."

 

Bryant was still staring open-mouthed at his empty gun belt. He looked shakily up at the blond man and grabbing his money, backed away from the table. Sidling around Kid Curry, who turned to keep facing him, Bryant fled the saloon.

 

Uncomfortably familiar with the expression on the Kid's face and the havoc that often accompanied it, Wheat and the boys took off right behind Bryant. Heyes was left standing alone to face his partner. He, too, was familiar with that expression and he didn't waste any time gathering up his money and politely excusing himself from the poker table. No one was sorry to see him go.

 

"Kid," he said, joining his fuming partner. "Did you have to go and do that? I had everything under control." Anger filtered through his tone. "How's it gonna look to Wheat and the boys if they think I can't—" He never got to finish his sentence.

 

Heyes abruptly found himself flat on the floor staring blurry-eyed up at the ceiling. The ache in his jaw and Curry's clenched fists provided a clear explanation.

 

Curry hadn't meant to hit Heyes. It had happened before he'd realized what he was doing, all that pent up fear and anger breaking loose before he could stop himself.

 

The Kid reached down and hauled Heyes to his feet. Heyes had not quite gotten his balance before Curry was manhandling him from the gambling hall and down the street towards their hotel.

 

"Wait a minute! Just hold on a sec." Heyes attempted to pull free only to have Kid tug on him twice as hard, sending him stumbling almost to his knees. After that, Heyes tried to keep up. Kid was obviously unnerved. It was best to humor him until he'd calmed down some. Color flushed Heyes' cheekbones as he noticed people staring.

 

"Kid, will you slow down," he said, hissing the words between his teeth. "Pardon us, ma'am," he added as Curry startled a young lady leaving the general store, nearly knocking into her. Curry never hesitated as he kept tugging Heyes down the sidewalk.

 

The show of bad manners by a normally chivalrous Curry had Heyes feeling concerned about his partner's current state of mind. He was beginning to recollect a few threats Kid had yelled after the last time Heyes had been caught out in a gunfight – it was making him more than a little uneasy.

 

By the time they reached the stairwell up to their room, very tired of being pushed around, Heyes was more angry than worried. "Let go a' me." He dug his boot heels into the floor and pulled back, momentarily wrenching free.

 

"Look, Kid. Let's go down to the saloon. I'll buy you a drink and we can talk about this."

 

He took three steps down the stairs only to be caught up in an unyielding embrace. He found himself half carried, half dragged to their room. He fought it but got nowhere except where Curry wanted him to go.

 

The hotel room door crashed open and Kid Curry threw his armful of wriggling partner through the doorway. Hannibal Heyes staggered across the room to slam into the wall. He leaned against it for support. Rubbing his bruised and aching jaw, he stared, incredulous, at his partner.

 

"Kid, what's the matter with you?"

 

"You're what's the matter with me, Heyes." Curry's voice was velvet-covered steel. "What the hell did you think you were doing facin' off with that man?"

 

Heyes straightened. "I didn't set out to draw against him. I'm not crazy."

 

"It sure looked that way from where I was standing." Kid was livid. He shut and locked the door behind him, facing Heyes with an icy, hard stare, his blue eyes dark as stormy skies.

 

"Wheat and the boys were watching. How would it look if I just backed down? Besides," Heyes licked dry lips, backing a step away from his partner, "he was gonna shoot me whether I drew against him or not, Kid."

 

"I have faith in your brains, Heyes. You shoulda been able to think of something besides standing up against him." Curry untied his gun holster and unfastened his gun belt, letting it slide through his fingers to hit the floor with a thud. Heyes' eyes widened in alarm; Kid had to be pretty upset to treat the weapon that way.

 

"Kid—" he began.

 

Curry unbuckled his belt and began to slide it from his pants.

 

Heyes mouth dropped open. "You gotta be kiddin' me."

 

Curry didn't look like he was kidding anyone. "I told you what I'd do if I ever caught you in another gunfight." His voice was calm and even, belying the cold fire sparking his gaze. "You're fast and you shoot straight, Heyes, but you're just not fast enough."

 

Heyes swallowed, nervous, his hand dropping to rest on his gun butt as he thought furiously.

 

"You pull that gun on me," Kid intoned silkily as his belt slid free, "I'm gonna beat you over the head with it before using this belt."

 

"You got no right to do this, Kid." None of Heyes' growing panic could be heard in his voice. "I'm a grown man. I can make my own decisions about what I do or don't do. You try it and I'll clobber you."

 

"You can try, but we both know how it's gonna end. Best not to make things worse for yourself. I get too riled, might just hit a bit harder than I mean to." Kid crossed his arms over his chest, belt hanging from his right hand. "Now drop that gun belt and your pants, Heyes, and get face down on the bed."

 

"Drop my what?" Heyes couldn't believe his ears. "What am I, six years old? Forget it. I'm not droppin' anything 'cause you're not doing this!"

 

"You don't do it, I'll do it for you."

 

Heyes tried again. "This is ridiculous. You got no call doin' this." His voice rose. "Just because we're… just because I let you..." His voice faltered. "You know… in bed. That don't give you the right to do this."

 

Curry faced him, unyielding, still determined to keep his partner safe, even at the expense of Heyes' dignity. This was the only thing that had ever caused Hannibal Heyes to think twice and better about what he was intending to do when they were children. If it worked for Heyes' parents…

 

"Your job is the thinking and planning, Heyes. It's my job to take care of the security end. If it has to do with your safety and mine, it is my call and my right. I aim to do whatever I have to do to get it through your stubborn hide that the only one doing the shootin' is gonna be me!" Curry was nearly shouting by the time he finished talking.

 

The Kid's heart had nearly stopped in his chest when he'd walked into the saloon to see Heyes facing off against Bryant. He'd barely had time to shoot Bryant's holster from the man's hip. Curry wasn't sure what had made Heyes more nervous, facing Bryant or turning to see Kid standing just inside the saloon doors. Curry had never made it a secret how much he hated the idea of Heyes getting involved in gunfights.

 

While Heyes wasn't one to go looking for trouble, Curry thought he didn't make enough of an effort to avoid trouble when it came looking for him. Heyes was smart and if he wanted to avoid getting in a gunfight, he was perfectly capable of thinking and talking his way out of it.

 

The problem was, Heyes wasn't exactly a slouch with a gun and knew it. He could take on near anybody and have a good likelihood of walking away. But, he wasn't in Kid's class, and there were at least a dozen gunmen out there that could take Heyes. The Kid didn't plan on chancing Heyes' safety by letting him face off against any of them – the very idea made him sick with fear. He had to get any thought of gunplay well out of Heyes' head.

 

It was time Heyes found out that the Kid had been dead serious when he'd told Heyes what he'd do if he ever caught him in another gunfight.

 

"You heard me, Heyes. Drop those pants and get belly down on that bed or I'll put you there myself and tie you down." His expression left no doubt that he meant what he said.

 

Heyes head tilted back as he glared, narrow eyed and defiant, jaw stubborn. "Kid, you're not doing this."

 

Curry tossed the belt onto the bed and moved forward.

 

 

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It was a good fifteen minutes before Curry managed to secure his half-naked partner face down to the bed. He'd added a gag for good measure; no sense having Heyes' yelling attract unwanted attention. He collapsed on the mattress next to his partner, trying to catch his breath. Looking up, he made sure that Heyes' furious struggles weren't going to break the headboard.

 

"Heyes, you keep pulling on those ropes that way, you're just gonna tear your wrists up. How you gonna explain that to the boys?"

 

If looks could kill, Curry would have been incinerated on the spot. The Kid was glad he'd tied Heyes' feet together, too; His partner looked ready to kick his head in. Curry merely sighed and caressed the firm, soft skin of Heyes' butt. He ran his hand up Heyes' spine and under his shirt. Heyes' back muscles were rigid as he fought the restraints.

 

"Relax. You got a couple minutes. I need to rest up first." He thought about how close he could have been to losing Heyes, about how he could still lose Heyes if he didn't get through to him. "I want to make sure I don't get too tired to finish this."

 

The compassionate, tender look in his eyes as he met Heyes' incensed glare belied Curry's intentions. "I don't want you to ever forget what I'm about to do to you, Heyes, or why I'm doing it."

 

Heyes' angry glare deepened. He obstinately faced the wall, leaving Kid staring at the back of his head.

 

"There's something else I need you to remember, too." Curry's expression became grave and sincere. "Han." Kid stroked his fingers into thick dark hair, grabbing tight, tugging his head back around and forcing Heyes to look him in the eyes. "I ever catch you facing off with another man, I won't be taking you back to our room first. I don't care if it's in the saloon, hotel, or even in the middle of the street. I'll take you down where you stand and use my belt in public."

 

Heyes' brown eyes were wide and shocked. Fear took some of the fire from his gaze. He believed Curry was capable of doing exactly what he said.

 

Curry sighed and stood up beside the bed. He picked up the belt, running it through his fingers. He looked at Heyes. Kid could see the shiver run through him. His partner was scared.

 

"I won't say this will hurt me as much as it'll hurt you," Kid spoke quietly. "I plan on it hurting you a whole lot more."

 

He gazed at Heyes with sympathetic resolve. "I won't be enjoying this any more than you will, though. I hate seeing you hurt, Heyes."

 

Kid swallowed hard, trying to get rid of the lump in his throat. He was more nervous than he wanted Heyes to know. "Only thing worse would be seeing you dead. That thought is the only reason I got the strength to do this to you."

 

Heyes shook his head in angry disbelief, yelling muffled threats as Curry raised his arm.

 

The belt hit him across the butt and the sudden pain stole Heyes' breath. Damn, that hurt! Kid didn't mean to hit me that hard, did he? The next few blows had him twisting desperately. Several blows after that had tears dampening his eyes. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't get away from the belt. His ass felt like it was on fire.

 

Kid showed no signs of stopping and Heyes felt a choking sob rise up in his throat. He didn't know how much more he could take. He couldn't believe Kid was actually hurting him.

 

It took all the fortitude Kid had to keep from dropping the belt and holding Heyes close and apologizing over and over for hurting him. It was too soon; he could feel it. Heyes hadn't reached that point of surrender and if he quit now it would all be for nothing.

 

Burning up with pain and shock, Heyes came to the horrified realization that Kid wasn't going to stop until he knew he'd made his point clear.

 

It seemed to take forever before Curry felt the give in Heyes. A whining cry was torn from Heyes' hoarse throat, muffled unintelligibly by the gag. His former defiant anger was replaced with pleading noises as he begged Curry to stop. His face was streaked with tears.

 

It nearly broke Curry's heart. He wondered vaguely how Heyes' parents had ever had the strength to do this more than once. He felt sick.

 

The belt seemed to weigh Curry's arm down like fifty pounds of rock. He let his arm fall to his side and the belt fall limply from his fingers. He crawled onto the bed, leaning over Heyes to untie his wrists. Heyes was trembling violently, choking as he cried, face pressed into the pillow.

 

"Shhhh," Curry's fingers shook as he removed the soggy bandana from Heyes mouth. "Easy, now. It's all over, Han. It's over."

 

Curry studied Heyes carefully as he pulled the sobbing man into his arms and soothed him gently. He knew his partner and knew he'd gotten his point across. In the future, any time there was gunplay, Heyes would stay well out of the way.

 

Heyes curled into him, fingers clutching his shirt, forehead pressed against his shoulder. Tears and snot dampened Curry's shirtfront. Heyes fought for breath with hitching sobs.

 

"You bastard," he choked out.

 

"I know," Kid whispered softly, running his hands over Heyes' back, massaging tense and aching muscles. "I'm not sorry." He rested his chin on Heyes' sweat dampened hair and rocked the man slowly back and forth. "I'm not sorry."

 

 

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It was hours after Heyes had cried himself into an uneasy sleep before Kid managed to fall asleep, too. He woke to Heyes fumbling attempts to remove Curry's clothes. Curry nudged him away and quickly undressed without leaving the bed or Heyes' side.

 

Heyes was already naked. His eyes glittered in the moonlight as he leaned over Kid. He stared at him a long while. Curry stared back, calmly, waiting for whatever Heyes planned on doing to get back at him. He could see the moment the urge for retribution faded from those eyes. Heyes had never been able to hurt him purposely.

 

"I think I could hate you for that, Kid."

 

"No, you couldn't." Curry cradled Heyes' face in his hands.

 

"No," Heyes agreed resignedly. "I couldn't." There was a hint of tears shimmering in his dark eyes. "That doesn't mean I'm ever gonna forget what you done."

 

"I don't care," Kid said, "long as you keep loving me. And the whole point was you not forgetting."

 

"So," Heyes asked bitterly, "this how you plan on ending all our arguments?"

 

"No!" Curry pulled Heyes to his chest and rolled over, pinning Heyes beneath him. "I don't."

 

Heyes winced as his butt hit the mattress and he squirmed. Curry let Heyes turn on his side, but kept him close and secure.

 

"I'm gonna be stubborn about this, though, Heyes. I won't have you in any gunfights." Curry's voice softened. "You're mine and I can't lose you. It would kill me."

 

"Kid," Heyes' eyes were desperate, the sheen of tears more noticeable, "you gotta give me room to breathe."

 

"I'm sorry." Kid was truly sorry for the emotional distress his possessiveness caused his partner, but he couldn't stop. To be truthful, he didn't really want to, not if it kept Heyes safe and his. "I'll give you as much lead rope as I can, but don't ask me to let you go, Heyes, and don't ask me to stand back when you're in danger. I can't do that. I won't do that."

 

"Damn it." Heyes was frustrated. His voice was rough. "You're making me crazy, Kid. I can't belong to someone the way you want."

 

"Aw, Heyes," Kid whispered, resting his forehead against Heyes'. "You already do."

 

Heyes squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head. "No. No. We're partners; equals." He shuddered beneath Curry, feeling constricted. "I… I belong to me."

 

"Shhhh, easy. It's all right." Kid nuzzled Heyes temple, kissing the tears from his face. "I belong to you, too." He pulled Heyes tight against him. "We are equal partners." Curry hesitated. "It's just there's some things I ain't gonna let you do."

 

"That's not equal partners, Jed." Heyes tried to push him away, angry and suffocating. Curry didn't budge. Heyes glowered at him. "Even if I could, you wouldn't catch me givin' you a whipping every time you did something I didn't agree with. That's not partnership, that’s ownership. In case you haven't been paying attention, slavery is against the law."

 

"So's robbing trains and banks." Curry gave up his attempt at humor at the irate glare he received in response. "Look, Heyes, I don't want to own you."

 

Heyes stared at him.

 

"All right," Curry said, amending his statement, "I'm trying not to want to own you." He tried another tactic. "It works both ways. Don't I almost always listen to you? Follow your orders?"

 

Heyes wasn't falling for it. "That's your choice, Kid. I’m not forcing you to do it." He pressed one more time against the Kid's shoulders in a futile effort to push him away. "You're not giving me a choice and I don't like that."

 

"I am giving you choices, Heyes." Curry stared his partner in the eyes, getting a little irritated. "Maybe not the choices you'd like, but…" Curry sighed. He wasn't as good with words as Heyes.

 

"I love you, Han." He reached to brush the hair away from Heyes' eyes. "I've lost everything that ever meant anything to me, 'cept you."

 

"Don't," Heyes warned, hiding his face in the Kid's shoulder. His emotional control was precarious.

 

"Don't worry, not gonna talk about that, I know you lost everything too."

 

Curry petted the back of Heyes' head, sifting gently through Heyes' hair, loving the feel of the soft strands entangled in his fingers. Holding Han in his arms, that vulnerable lean form of flesh and bone, he wanted nothing more than to keep him safe. To hide Heyes away where nothing and no one could touch him.

 

Heyes wouldn't like that, would violently protest. Kid wasn't sure he'd care. He couldn't help the way he felt.

 

"I won't lose you. I can't lose you, Han. I'd rather die." There was an almost manic desperation on Curry's face. He rolled Heyes onto his back again. "I'll do anything I have to do to keep that from happening. Anything."

 

Curry was filled with an overwhelming urge to take the man beneath him, prove that Heyes was still alive… and his. With a deep groan, he stopped fighting it, leaning down.

 

Heyes tried to wriggle off his sore ass. His lips parted as he began a protest he never finished. His mouth and body were claimed with a thoroughness that drove him to the edge of madness.

 

He half fought, half yielded to Curry's desires, the combination of pain and pleasure sending him into a frenzy that ended in a cataclysmic explosion of need and fulfillment. The last thing he remembered was the Kid's gentle touch and voice soothing him to sleep.

 

 

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The late afternoon sun shone through the curtains and warmed the side of Heyes' face. He stirred, groaning as several parts of his body told him movement wasn't a good idea. He opened his eyes.

 

Curry sat fully dressed across the room. He leaned back in his chair, legs spread, and stopped cleaning his gun long enough to look Heyes over. "Thought you were gonna sleep all day."

 

"Might still. You wore me out." Heyes shifted in bed and grunted in pain. His butt hurt. "Feels like you flayed the skin off my hind end," he mumbled. He glared resentfully at Curry.

 

Kid reassembled his gun and, with a smooth spin that was pure reflex, replaced it in the holster. He stood up and stretched. "Don't worry, Heyes. It only feels that way."

 

He wandered over to sit on the edge of the bed. "It's why I had you bare skinned, so I could make sure I didn't do any damage. Only wanted to teach you a lesson. I think you learned it." He scraped his fingers lightly over Heyes' ass.

 

Heyes flinched and slapped his hand away, growling. Curry bit back a smile, grateful that Heyes' orneriness had returned. He didn't want to break his partner's spirit, just make him think twice about what he was doing.

 

"You thought about what I'm gonna do if we have to leave town in a hurry?" Heyes frowned up at Curry. "I certainly can't ride in this condition."

 

Curry stood up. "If you could ride with a bullet in you, this sure ain't gonna stop you. We have to leave in a hurry, you'll manage."

 

"I'm touched by your concern, Kid."

 

"You should be. They're gonna be setting up a hot bath for you in a half-hour or so. Soak in that awhile and you'll be feeling much better. Meanwhile," Curry gestured over to the table, "there's sandwiches and beer."

 

Heyes buried his head in the pillow. "Not hungry."

 

"Heyes, you missed dinner and breakfast."

 

Heyes' head popped up and he eyed Kid suspiciously. "I told you, I'm not hungry," he said, testing.

 

"Fine. You're a grown man, you oughta know if you need to eat or not." Kid knew what Heyes was doing. "If you ain't hungry, you ain't hungry." He sat in a chair and stared out the window at the street below.

 

Heyes stared at Curry. Curry looked back at him soberly.

 

"No, Heyes. I don't plan on solving all our disagreements that way."

 

Kid Curry got back on his feet, not liking the wariness in Heyes' eyes at the sudden movement. "I'm gonna give you some time to think. When you're done with your bath and if you feel up to it, I'll be in the saloon."

 

He paused in the doorway, not looking back. "I'm sorry, Heyes. I know you don't like this. It don't change my mind, though." His hand gripped the doorknob hard enough to hurt. "What I said last night stands. That's a solemn promise. You better get used to the idea, 'cause this is the way things are gonna be."

 

He closed the door quietly behind him.

 

 

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"Wheat." Heyes met up with the outlaw in front of the saloon. Kyle and a few of the other boys hung back to give them privacy.

 

"Heyes." Wheat stared him up and down. "Was beginning to think you'd disappeared on us."

 

"You won't get that lucky." Heyes said, grinning, hoping nothing of the evening before showed on his face or body. "I plan on being around a long time."

 

"The boys and I were going in for one last drink before headin' back to the Hole. You comin' with?"

 

"I'll join you for that drink. I'll even treat you and the boys, but Kid and I are staying on in town a while." There was no way Heyes was sittin' a horse, not for a few more days at least.

 

"Hey, mister."

 

Great, Heyes thought as he turned away from Wheat and came face to face with Bryant.

 

Bryant blocked the sidewalk, looking pointedly over Heyes' shoulder and all around them. "Don't see your partner anywhere." He turned his head and spat onto the street. "Think this is a good time and place to continue what we started before we was interrupted."

 

Heyes felt Wheat's eyes on him and knew some of the boys were watching too. Damn you, Kid.

 

"There's nothing to continue." He tried to move past him, but Bryant blocked his path.

 

"I say there is."

 

Heyes' hand twitched at his side. He remembered enough of their fight the evening before to know he could take Bryant and the urge to do so was great. The only problem was that his butt was painfully reminding him of Kid's likely response, and it made him sick to his stomach. Kid would do it. He knew it. Heyes wasn't about to be humiliated and treated liked a naughty six-year-old in public. Not over a fool like Bryant.

 

Impotent rage swirled in Heyes' gut. He didn't know who he wanted to flatten more—Bryant for being an ass, or Kid for taking the choice away from him.

 

Heyes stepped back. "If you're looking for a fight, you won't find it here." He stared the man straight in the eye. "I'm not drawin' on you."

 

Wheat spoke up. He'd watched the fight the night before too, and also knew he could take Bryant. "You that set on a fight, Bryant, I'd be happy to oblige you." He spat a wad of tobacco at Bryant's feet.

 

Heyes cringed inside. Now even Wheat was starting to think Heyes needed looking after. "This ain't your fight, Wheat. Stay out of it."

 

"Ain't lookin' to be your fight either, Heyes, if you ain't plannin' on drawing your gun." Wheat rolled his eyes. "You gonna just let him shoot you down in the street?"

 

"Heyes?" Bryant asked. He looked from Heyes to Wheat and back. "That means your partner is…"

 

"Kid Curry."

 

Heyes turned to find his partner standing at his back, blue eyes staring coldly at Bryant.

 

Curry spoke again. "Thought I'd made it clear last night; I don't like fellas drawing on my partner."

 

Heyes felt his life spiraling out of his control. His "stay out of this, Kid" was drowned out by Bryant's indignant "what are you, his mother?"

 

Heyes couldn't take it anymore. His emotional turmoil exploded in a hard blow to Bryant's chin.  It laid the big man flat out in the street and knocked him cold.

 

Heyes fought back a groan of pain. He might have cracked a few knuckles in his hand. Glaring dangerously at Wheat and Kid, he dared them to say anything.

 

"You two can stand out here and argue over who gets to fight my battles for me. I'm getting a drink." Heyes brushed roughly past both men. "You shut up," he said as his partner opened his mouth to speak.

 

Wheat watched contemplatively as Heyes strode angrily into the saloon. Kyle and Lobo joined him.

 

"Wheat," Kyle said, "maybe this ain't the best time to take Heyes up on that drink."

 

"Don't feel too thirsty myself, anyway," Lobo added.

 

"Yeah, boys," Wheat agreed as he looked down at Bryant's unresponsive body. "We best be headed back."

 

Kid Curry leaned against the wall outside the saloon and watched the Devil's Hole gang enter the livery stable. Tilting his head to look through the saloon window, a grin creased his face as he watched his sulking partner at the bar.

 

Heyes was going to be just fine.

 

He headed in to the saloon to join his partner and see if he could coax Heyes into revealing what their next job was going to be.

 

 

 

 

The End

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