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Ace Kicker

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Ace Kicker

"So you see," the man said, spreading his arms wide, palms facing down. "We require your…particular expertise."

Across the table, Rex pulled at his bandanna to scratch at his chin; he hadn't shaved in a few days, and what little had grown in was starting to itch. "You're right—a shipment of that size would certainly attract the kind of attention you're not looking for. So you want me to travel with you and protect it?"

The man straightened. "Not exactly. It's Valentine's reputation we'll be trusting to keep the others away, not yours. Although the thought of equating trust with a thief does put a sour taste in my mouth."

The gibe dented his pride, and while Rex certainly wanted to put the man in his place he knew Mai wouldn't appreciate it once she heard what he had done. The man's suit looked expensive, and when he flipped open a pocket-watch to check the time, Rex sighed. Pure gold, from the shine of it. He supposed he couldn't loot their clients any more than he could intimidate them. That was a true shame, although he supposed the deal only included the trip from Goldfield to Chandler, and that they'd made no conditions regarding their safety or that of their cargo once they reached their destination. Perhaps he could convince Mai to steal it then. He'd always wanted a watch like that, too. He reluctantly tore his eyes away from it to return to the businessman, and nodded.

"We'll take it. When would you like to leave?"

"Three days. We'll leave at sunrise—I'll expect the two of you to bring your own provisions for the trip. I won't be joining you, either—it'll be another representative of my company. A Mr. Johnson. He'll meet you at the entrance to town, beneath the gates. Don't be late."

"Wouldn't dream of it." Rex stood first; the lunchroom of the Golden Eagle had been all but empty at this hour, and as he crossed the room, planning to leave out the back door, he passed a waitress carrying a plate with a steak on it. As she set it down, the businessman gestured towards the seat Rex had just vacated.

As he walked out the door, heading down one of the side streets towards the town center, he wondered where he might find Mai. If she wasn't sleeping off a hangover, he'd find her in one of the saloons, thoughtlessly wasting away what little money they had to their names. He checked the seediest one first, and as luck would have it, spotted a familiar mass of curled blond hair in the crowd. He could recognize her anywhere, from as much as that to as little as her scent. None of the posters could do Mai Valentine justice.

He found her at the poker table, and as he approached he saw the man to her left folding, sliding the cards face-down across the table.

"How about you, sugar?" Mai turned to the next. "Are you going to raise? Or are you going to go the way of this smart fellow?" She cocked her chin in the direction of the other player.

He folded too, and when Mai showed her cards the entire table groaned.

"You bluffed with an inferior hand. Nice steal." Rex settled a hand on her shoulder, but she shrugged it off.

"You here to join me? Hey, you, deal him in next round," she said, snapping her fingers at the dealer.

"—No, I'm not. Mai." He pulled up a chair from an adjoining table and sat down, leaning closer. "It's three in the afternoon."

She glanced upwards, tapping her nails against the wooden trim of the table, before suddenly sitting up, snapping her fingers again. "You met with—that guy—"

"Mr. Crump, yes," Rex said, making a face.

"I can see he didn't have you arrested." The dealer paused at her, but Mai waved her hand, and he passed her to deal in the rest of the table. "I was worried at first that it was a trick. Still, I'm glad I didn't go."

Rex watched her yawn, inelegantly, into the back of her hand. "I agreed to help. Should we talk about this somewhere a little more private?"

"Probably." Mai got to her feet, gathering the coins she'd won into a handkerchief. "Thanks for doing business with me, boys."

The first time she stumbled, Rex had his hand under her arm, steadying her. "Don't you rent a room at the Rose and Crown? Want me to help you back there?"

"I don't like it there. It's too noisy. You've got a room here, right? Upstairs? Just let me rest for a bit."

For a bit might as well have meant for the rest of the day to Mai, but he had never been very good at saying no to her before, so he helped her up the stairs with only the barest of complaints.

"Good God, what have you been drinking? Your breath smells almost as bad as the rest of you. And stop pulling on my hair."

His room was the last door off a long hallway, and he shut the door behind them while Mai sprawled on his bed, tucking her hands beneath her chin. "So, tell me about the job."

With nowhere else to sit, Rex leaned against the wall. "It looks solid enough, and we need the money. We just have to accompany their party and make sure no one else gets to them or what they're carrying."

"What's the cargo?" she asked.

"He implied it was illegal. I didn't ask any further."

She yawned again, and shifted to dangle her feet off the edge of the bed. "So—hiring bandits to protect against bandits. What's next? Are pigs flying? I am in your bed, I suppose anything's possible."

"Don't remind me." Rex shifted again, sliding down to sit on the floor. It was dusty, but empty—he didn't own enough to clutter the place. "We leave in three days."

"Hey, Rex?"

He glanced up. "What?"

"Wake me up at eight, would you?"

"Sure." If she was even half as tired as she sounded and a quarter as tired as she looked, she needed far more sleep than that. He didn't wake her.

Mai was discontented and surly as they rode out that morning, loaded down with enough supplies for the two-day trip and ammunition for the outlaws they'd been assured would be after their patron. Johnson met them beneath the tall posts that marked the town's entrance, as decided; he was a tall, thin man with glasses, and looked every bit a businessman, ungainly next to the large stagecoach, where another man was finishing loading and securing boxes inside.

"You'll be riding alongside our wagon and making sure no one else attacks us and steals the goods and money we're carrying," Johnson said, and through the open door Rex could see a series of stacked trunks and boxes; the boxes were too large for stacked bills, but the trunks looked about the size. "In return, you can have one trunk for your efforts."

"Each?" Rex asked.


"Worth a shot."

"This is Mr. Howard. He's my personal security and my driver, although in an emergency situation he will defer to you." Johnson straightened his jacket; already, spots of sweat were visible on his skin, sticking his shirt collar to his neck.

"If you're ready?" It was Mai who took the lead, and before long the group was making good time across the prairie, following the thin, wilderness roads. Rex followed, keeping an eye out for animals and other travelers, but their path was surprisingly empty of each. Their only stops were quick breaks for water or to rest the horses, but when the sun dropped below the horizon they pulled over to make camp, and Rex finally got a chance to talk to Mai again.

"Hey, you're not still mad at me for getting you all caught up on your beauty sleep, right?"

She scowled. "Like I need it."

"Stop repaying my kindness with contempt, Mai. That stopped being cute a long time—" He quieted when the one named Howard approached them, nodding to each in turn. It didn't escape Rex's attention that he stared at Mai much longer.

"So you're the notorious Mai Valentine, huh? The posters don't do you justice."

A muscle in Rex's jaw twitched, but Mai winked at him and answered, "It's flattering they think I'm worth so much."

"Worth every penny," he agreed, before turning to Rex. "And who are you?"

"Nobody, apparently."

"I just wanted to let you know that you can include me in the watch—"

"That won't be necessary." Mai cut him off smoothly, somehow managing to steer him in the other direction back towards his horse and the stagecoach, where Johnson was setting up his own tent. "We'll take care of it."

She returned, setting up her own bedroll next to Rex's. "I don't trust him," she whispered, her hair falling over her eyes as she leaned forward. "Either of them. You shouldn't either."

"Don't worry—"

"And I'll take the first watch. Time to return the favor."

"Wake me, later," he mumbled into the arm serving as his pillow, already knowing she wouldn't.

The following day passed by in a blur; Howard had insisted on letting the stagecoach lead even with Mai's disapproval—she knew that the coach, with more horses, could travel faster than her and Rex could on their own, and their pace was more brisk as a result. When they stopped that evening, Mai once again insisted on taking the watch on her own.

She sat up against a tree, waiting until she was sure the others were asleep before lightly poking Rex in the shoulder. "You awake?"

He was in a second. "What is it?"

"I…It's nothing. I don't want to bother you. Go back to sleep."

He couldn't, not for a long time after that. He stayed still, making every attempt to sleep, but his concentration always seemed to swing towards Mai, focusing on every sigh, every off-key song she hummed under her breath. At one point she got up and walked off, and he listened to every footfall until he couldn't hear them any longer. He wanted to wait until she returned, but before he knew it the sky wasn't nearly so dark and Mai was shaking him awake to take the watch so she could catch a few hours of sleep.

"Something's strange," Mai whispered to him as they rode on; they were far enough behind the stagecoach that there was no danger of being overheard, but he recognized the caution and unease in her voice masked by the volume. "Have you noticed?"

"Noticed what?"

"Of course. Howard isn't driving today—Johnson is. Don't look! Or at least don't be obvious about it." She sighed, and continued as Rex confirmed her words. "I also looked at what's in the boxes. Last night," she added, as if sensing his unspoken questions. "Whiskey and weapons, among other things. Military models—Kaiba Corporation manufacturing. That must be Johnson's employer. Which makes me wonder why the transport is this secretive…they must be selling to the Indians."

"How is that our problem?" Rex asked.

"Two reasons—one, I figured out why Howard wanted to lead. They've taken us off the main road—I've traveled these paths before, and we're headed right towards a mountain pass. There's a deep cut in it for coaches to travel, but it's pretty steep. I'm not sure why he'd take us on this path, but I don't like it."

"And the second one?"

"I'm not sure, but—" She stopped as the carriage came to a halt, and they watched as Howard jumped down from the coach.

Rex steered his horse forward. "I'm going to go check it out," he told her.

As he got closer, he saw that they had already reached the pass Mai had spoken of, and Howard was adjusting the traces to disconnect one pair of horses.

"As you can see, it's going to be a tight fit to get the coach through—you and Mai should go on ahead of us. I'm gonna disconnect the leaders here—things are more precise with just the two. Johnson can take them on his own."

Rex nodded, waving Mai forward as he approached the pass. When Mai reached them, Rex related the instructions, and she grumbled. "This is almost too steep for a coach. I hope he knows what he's doing. I'll go first—try to follow the path I set."

Rex was glad that his horse seemed to know what to do better than he did, and he followed the abrupt path until he and Mai had reached the bottom of the pass. He looked around, then back towards the stagecoach, then at Mai.

"Why aren't they following us?" he asked, and had no sooner got the question out of his mouth when Mai shouted back, "Take cover!"

The sound of a shotgun blast echoed through the cavern, and Rex's horse started; he lunged for the reins, grabbing them and trying to maneuver the horse out of the way, and slipping out of the saddle to get better footing and control on the ground. Mai already had a revolver in one hand and was firing back.

"Where's cover?" he yelled. Out in the open, there were few rocks to use as shelter that weren't integrated into the surface of the pass, and with the others at the high ground, they gained the advantage. "Why are they firing at us?"

"Shoot first, we'll figure that out later!" When she went to reload, Rex grabbed his own gun, a Schofield revolver. He could see Howard over the top of the outcropping, and fired. He looked to aim again, but Howard had disappeared.

"Did you get him?"

"Don't know!" Rex shouted. Another gun blast drew their attention, but it was Mai's horse that went down, shrieking. Rex spun, catching sight of Johnson over the top of the cliff, and fired. He knew for sure he'd made a hit that time, when he saw the way the man crumpled.

"Mai!" He knew she would berate him for it later, something like, why take your eyes off the attackers and make an already bad situation worse for yourself, but he had to make sure she hadn't been hurt. She had been on the horse when it went down, and he could tell by the glassy stare in its eyes that it was already dead. Mai had rolled out of the way and escaped injury, but accepted Rex's hand when he offered it to pull her to her feet.

"Johnson's dead," he said.

"Won't know for sure unless we check."

They both recognized how silent it had gotten, and knew that Howard was likely waiting for them to investigate, or—as they hoped—dead or dying from a bullet wound.

"Should we?" he asked.

"I'll stay with the horse. You go." Before he could dissent, she continued, "I can cover you. You're the better shot, anyway."

He would appreciate the compliment later; he nodded and fixed his eyes on the ridge. "Four shots left."

"I've got three."

"Hopefully we won't need any." He began to climb, trying to keep his footing as soft as he could, wincing every time a rain of pebbles tumbled against the rocks. A few minutes and he had reached the top, glancing first to where he had last seen Howard. The man had disappeared.

That wasn't good, he knew. Next was to check on Johnson's body, which was still draped over the rocks. He was most definitely dead, and was still clutching a sawed-off, double-barreled shotgun in one hand.

Also not good—that meant that wherever Howard was, he was armed. Otherwise he would have taken the gun before hiding himself somewhere. That also probably meant that he was using Johnson's body as a trap, and as he turned back his eyes landed level with the barrel of another shotgun, pointed straight at him.

He resisted the urge to shout for Mai, but on instinct his hand moved to lift his revolver.

"Don't even think about it," he hissed. Howard had the gun raised to his shoulder, but Rex could see how he was shaking—the earlier shot had definitely been a hit.

"Johnson was never going to pay us, was he?" Rex spat onto the ground, and instantly regretted it; his mouth felt far too dry, now. "I'm not sorry I killed him, then. Just a shame you don't get to share the same fate."

"We had planned to collect the bounties on your heads—give us a nice profit on top of what we'd already get from that." He gestured with a tilt of his head towards the stagecoach. "You're worth the same dead as alive. The lady, too, though that really is a shame. If she was smart, she'd be running. Leave you here. You're barely worth the effort it'll take to haul you in."

"Oh? And I suppose you're worth something?" Howard had just delivered the biggest insult yet, and sure, Rex may be staring at his killer, but he didn't have to take the offense. "What'd you think, a dime?"

"My bounty isn't nearly as big as Valentine's, but it will be once I kill her. Oh, that got a reaction, did it?"

Rex hoped his silence—and the lack of any gunfire—had alerted Mai to the actuality that Howard was alive and kicking. He wondered, briefly, if she would save him, and clung to the thought. Or if not, at least she could avenge him. Yeah, that he knew with certainty she would do.

"I told you not to think about it," Howard continued; Rex's fingers had tightened again around the revolver, almost on instinct. "If you think there's a thing you can do to save your life, you're wrong. Now drop it."

"Worth a shot," he said, and complied, setting it down instead of tossing it. As he did so, he got the opportunity to look underneath the stagecoach, and his heart sank when he couldn't see any signs of someone hiding behind it. Looked like Mai wasn't coming for him.

Howard adjusted the gun against his shoulder. "Let's see what else is worth a shot—"

The blast seemed louder up-close, but when he realized it wasn't him who had been shot, Rex dived for his gun, grabbing it and aiming to watch Howard slide to the ground, a growing circle of red spreading over his chest. From the side, Mai came into view, and slid her revolver back into its holster.


"Thank you would suffice." Mai's smile looked thinner than normal, but when she moved to stand over Howard's body Rex was just glad that he wasn't the one bleeding onto the dirt.

"Thank you, then," Rex said. "So looks like he was a bandit, too."

Mai shrugged. "Must not have been too memorable, I've never heard of him."

Suddenly remembering, Rex snapped his head back up to stare at her. "You left my horse! What if it ran off?"

She gestured towards the stagecoach. "There's four right here. I would suggest that we drive it in, but the man who hired us will probably be waiting for it. Instead, let's bury the boxes here, and come back for it later."

"I suggest that we go after him. Crump. I don't believe this was just some idea the two of them cooked up." He gestured with one thumb towards the two bodies.

"I suggest we go after the root of the problem," Mai said. "I learned a lot from him, you know. Howard let slip that their boss is traveling by train to personally accompany a money transfer next week. He was supposed to serve as their security—and if who they hire to replace him is the same, this should be easy."

"So we're robbing a train?"

"Exactly," Mai said.

Chandler was a big enough city to merit a stop along the Southern Pacific railroad, and Mai knew a hotel and saloon owner that let them hole up in an unused room in exchange for some of the money they'd taken off the stagecoach to finance their new operation. Train tickets and disguises were the least of it, but the proprietor had gladly obtained anything they wanted with the proper compensation, and Mai sent them through the city in search of everything from perfumes to a new holster for a stocking gun. Rex, for his part, asked for nothing more than what he needed, and spent most of their time inside their room while Mai played cards in the saloon, losing and winning back what money they had. They didn't go outside often, and never to the more respectable parts of town, on the chance that a lawman would spot them from their—remarkably accurate in Mai's case—wanted posters, which as Mai's contact could attest to, had tripled in quantity and nearly so in bounty since news of Johnson's death reached the city.

Mai woke up one morning to see Rex leaning over a basin of water, using Mai's vanity mirror to shave. He had already finished with the right side of his face and was working on his jaw with the straight razor, tilting his head back and drawing the skin tight with his left hand. He caught her eyes in the mirror, but didn't speak until he had finished with that side of his face.

"Are you just going to stare?"

She blushed but held his gaze. "I could help you with that, you know."

He made a noise halfway between a snort and a cough. "I think I can handle it. If you'd like to help, how about telling me your plan for stopping the train?"

"It's easy enough, I'll tell you on the way." She said it almost flippantly. "Perhaps instead of guns you'd have better luck using one of those against anyone who threatens you."

"Hey, I could kill a man with this thing," he said, waving the razor in the air before flicking the foam lining its edge into the basin.

"Just because you can doesn't mean you have, honey," Mai called back.

"I don't even need this as long as I have you to save me." He turned to the left side of his face, positioning himself in such a way that he blocked her reflection in the mirror. He pulled the skin taut and continued to shave, immersing himself in the task so he wouldn't have to talk to her until he was done.

"—will, of course," she said.

"What?" He flicked away more foam, deciding to hold back on shaving his chin and neck until she was finished—it wouldn't do to cut himself, not in front of her.

"Were you paying attention?" She sighed, smiling another one of her thin smiles as she leaned her face against one arm, mimicking the way he dragged the straight razor over his skin with her fingers on her own. "I said I will. Whatever trouble you land yourself in, you can count on me to help you out of it."

"Is that a promise?" He tilted his body again, letting her reflection come into view.

"I don't make promises," she said, and he moved to start on his chin. "It's a guarantee."

The next day found them both standing on the platform, waiting for the train. Mai, on her part, looked absolutely stunning in a dress much nicer than anything he'd seen her wear before, her hair freshly curled, an oversize bag clutched in her fingers. Rex's clothes, in contrast, were plain, easy to move around in, and in muted enough colors so as not to stand out. She reached for his hand, and brushed his fingers with hers.

"Best of luck," she said.

"Thanks. I've got the hard part."

"And I've got the fun part!"

"Don't remind me," he muttered.

She had described it to him the prior evening, hunched over a table in their room while she drew a graph of that style of train—where the cargo would be, where the requisite levers and controls were in the train engine, and which compartments they and their targets would be stationed in.

"Seto Kaiba will assuredly be in a private compartment. It'll be in one of the first-class ones, and I'll get a ticket for another. They'll be contiguous, so crossing to the other will be simple enough."

"And where will I be?" he asked.

"Near the front. It's louder, so your ticket will be relatively cheap." She smirked at him, and he batted her arm with an elbow.

"What next? There's a dozen stops between Chandler and his destination, and we'll need to stop the train—"

"That's why we'll do it when the train is already stopped."

He stared at her, agape. "We're going to rob a train while it's in the station?"

"No, of course not. That would be idiotic." She brushed a stray lock of hair over her shoulder, and tapped the hastily drawn diagram. "We're going to rob it while it's in a switchback."

He continued staring. "That's genius."

"I've already set it up with my contact here—they'll meet us there with a very familiar stagecoach, and you and she will move over as much as you can. At that point I'll have Seto Kaiba at gunpoint, and he'll have enough clout to keep the train stopped at my order, and to keep anyone from interfering with you."

"And how will you manage that?" he had asked.

"I'll think of something."

He watched her board the train, sauntering up and accepting a conductor's help with a simpering smile. Gritting his teeth, Rex turned and headed towards his own compartment, which was already filling with men and women traveling West. His hands felt idle, and he shoved them in his pockets, absently wishing he had a pocket-watch to check the time.

Four stops later, and they were approaching their first switchback, climbing a hill too difficult and steep for a standard ascent. Mai had told him they would strike on the second—the first was just so they could get a feel for how the train would stop and re-start, and how much time they would have to act. This was also her cue to get ready to move.

He had obtained a window seat, and lifted it to peer outside as the train approached the zig zag, sliding onto the track and coming to a full stop. He counted the seconds, watching as one of the operators jumped out to reverse the switch manually, allowing the train to continue on, traveling up a different track. Mai was right when she kept calling it easy—in theory, it was, and practically simple to a fault.

The train chugged on, merrily, and Rex imagined Mai standing from her plush, velvet seat, adjusting her skirt and draping the bag over one arm. He imagined her bumping into someone and excusing herself, laughing, something high pitched and charming. She would convince everyone, and then she would pull a gun on them, let them stare down the barrel of her derringer the same way he'd stared at death, much too often and far too recently.

He was growing restless again, and occupied himself by tapping the fingers of each hand against his thumbs, over and over, counting down the time as the train chugged on. He thought of a yellow-painted stagecoach, emptied of its prior bounty and waiting to be filled with another.

He watched as the train approached the second switchback, and calmly stood from his seat.

Mai strolled past the conductor in her compartment with an excuse of getting some fresh air on the platform; as she'd walked through the aisle, she'd surreptitiously tipped a stack of luggage over, and took the opportunity to slip past him as he moved to restore it.

The gossip in the first-class compartment had been tremendous, most of it coming from the staff, and she had learned as much as they had to share about their celebrity passenger and his cargo—gold bricks hidden beneath feed sacks, disguised as the meanest of cargo—from the number of guards stationed with him to the book he was reading and how he took his tea. She ignored the latter, but the first was a nice bit of information, and the number was surprisingly low—only two, although she assumed more would be guarding the cargo itself, or stationed throughout the train in the case of a situation like the one they were about to perform.

On the platform, she moved to the compartment door, opening it and slipping inside. Moving into the inner aisle, she pressed herself against the door, stumbling with a cry. She could see the three men inside the glass-enclosed space look up, and one in a dark suit stood and came out, crouching before her and offering an arm.

"Excuse me, miss, but are you alright? I'll have to escort you out—no passengers are allowed in this cabin, I do apologize." His voice was deep, and his concern felt genuine, so Mai played it to her limits.

"I just tripped—I was so worried, I thought I was going to fall off the train! I fell against the door, but now that I'm inside I feel so much better. I don't want to go back out until the train stops again! And thank you, you're so kind to help me." She latched onto his arm, clinging as she tested his strength.

"And why is no one else allowed? You're a passenger too, aren't you?" Mai continued, laughing to herself. "May I meet your friends?"

"Miss, we are not passengers, we are guards—"

Really, this wouldn't have been any more difficult had it been Howard in this man's position, even after they'd met and shot at one another. "Is he an executive with the railroad? Really, I have nothing but complimentary things to say—a few grievances about the state of the first-class lounge in Chandler, and of course about the flimsiness of the floors and railings in the outside platforms, but it's the servicemen who truly deserve compliments. Don't they?" She glanced up at him, leaning to the side to pretend to test the ankle she'd fallen on.

"I'm afraid I cannot—"

"Just a few words," she said, twisting around to put herself between him and the cabin door, where it was short work to reach for the handle and swing it open, walking inside.

"Hello, sir!" she said, addressing the man she knew to be the other guard. "You're an executive with Southern Pacific, aren't you? I'd like just a moment of your time, if that's alright." She smiled and leaned forward, slipping her bag to the crook of her elbow to free both hands.

The first guard had come to his senses and returned, settling a hand lightly on her left arm. "Miss, I insist—"

His fallacy was in underestimating her strength, as she ripped her arm from his grasp, her footing solid and ready as the train came to a sudden stop in the second switchback. The first guard pitched backward and the second, who had risen from his seat to grab her, lurched forward, and Mai plunged a hand into her bag and withdrew the gun, cocking the hammer and pressing it against Seto Kaiba's forehead, who stared back at her with stunned eyes.

"Hands in the air, gentlemen," she said. "Wouldn't want anyone to get hurt."

She gave her instructions in short, simple sentences, but pitched her voice in a low purr, enjoying the way that their expressions changed from shock to disbelief to settle firmly on anger.

"The man on my left will instruct the operators to stop the train until I tell them otherwise. I'd do this quickly, if I were you. The man on my right will go to the cargo hold, where there will be another gentleman waiting to help you unload some of the precious gold you're transporting. Should you refuse, or at any time defy these orders, I will paint the back of this cabin with your blood, Seto Kaiba." She grinned down at him, where he fidgeted in his seat.

She'd seen the behavior enough in Rex to identify it. "I am aware you've got a gun in the bag at your feet," she told him, reveling again in the way his eyes widened in surprise. "Reach for it and you'll lose that hand."

"She's bluffing," the first guard spat.

"I'd hurry if I were you. Not much time left."

"For God's sake, go!" Seto said through clenched teeth. For the first time, she got a taste of his true anger, coloring his voice; he couldn't keep it out of his eyes if he tried. "Miss. Do I have your word if we comply to your demands my life will be spared?"

"Certainly," she said, and the first guard raced for the door. For the first time, the second guard spoke.

"If you have an accomplice, what is to stop us from using him or her as a hostage in the same way you are using our boss?"

"Excellent question. Any help I have obtained is simply a hired hand—and you wouldn't value yours high enough to part with all this gold, would you, Seto?" She lingered over his name, pressing the metal more firmly against his forehead. It was probably warming from extended contact with his skin, and it would be good to remind him that it was still there. "So why should I?"

"Just go." At Seto's orders, the two men left, although their pace wasn't as quick as she would have liked.

"How very accommodating of you, Seto—"

"You will call me Mr. Kaiba, if you please." He continued to stare at her with thinly veiled derision, and she reached her free hand forward to brush his hair out of his eyes, tucking what she could behind his ear and letting what sprung back curl around the barrel of the gun.

"Not very accommodating." She pursed her lips. "And neither am I. Seto."

The train had yet to move, and she knew with certainty that somewhere Rex was doing his job, unloading gold. "Would you like to know my name?" she continued.

"You're a bandit. An outlaw. Those are the only names I need for you."

"How cold," she said, clucking her tongue in disapproval. "I'll tell you anyway. I want you to know—it's Mai Valentine. Heard of me? I'm sure you've seen the posters, they were everywhere in Chandler."

"You killed Johnson, didn't you? Miss Valentine."

She didn't comment on his change of mind, but nodded. "I killed him, honest truth." It had been Rex who pulled the trigger, but she didn't think he'd mind her taking the credit.

"Honest?" he scoffed. "You're a bandit, after all. What sort of honestly could a bandit possess?"

"Would you like an answer?" She thought of some of the honest things she'd said, and some of the honest things she hadn't yet. The latter far outweighed the former, but both began and ended with I will save you, of course, spoken to Rex's back as he shaved in a rented room above a disreputable saloon. She wished she'd said more, but she had wanted to say it to his face.

"There is no answer," he said.

"Hmm, you just don't want to find out, do you?" She leaned closer, and shifted the gun to his temple so it wouldn't block her view. "If you won't talk to me, I guess we'll have to find another way of passing the time?"

He gave a noncommittal grunt, but looked away, and she took that as a kind of success. "Not interested? What a pity."

"You said…some of the gold, earlier." He spoke with hesitation, as if concerned that even bringing it up would cause her to change her mind. "Not all. So you're not planning to take all of it?"

"No, we'll leave you with some. It's enough for you to know that we could have taken it all, if we wanted to. In fact, I'll even add on a parting gift. Did you know that certain members of your council are selling weaponry outside of the law? Sold to both sides during the wars, I'm sure. Johnson and Crump are among them, but I'm sure there are others."

"You can't prove that," he said.

"No, but you can. Now stand up." He blinked at the odd request, and she repeated it, curling the fingers of her free hand around his tie, and using it as leverage to pull him to his feet. "Anything else you want to say, now that you're talking to me again?"

"I'd like to know how you're planning on getting out of here," Seto said, and Mai noted the smug tone that threatened to creep into his words. "The second you pull that gun away, you'll have a dozen trained on you, and they won't hesitate to fire.

"You're exaggerating. It wouldn't be any more than four or five." She laughed at his expression, and tugged on his tie a little harder. He winced as the knot tightened, but got the message. "It's simple, really. I'm taking you with me."

At his expression, she continued. "The gold is being loaded into a stagecoach. We'll let you out within walking distance of the train, but out of range."

He was silent for a moment, and Mai considered tugging on his tie again. "You should work for me," he finally said, with a twinge of respect.

Her laugh now was genuine, and as spun him to walk in front of her, her gun still pressed to the side of his head, she whispered in his ear, "Depends. Would my salary be higher than my bounty?"

"Whatever it is, I can afford it." There was the smugness again, but she didn't punish him for it.

"I'll consider it," she said, knowing her answer would always be no. "Now, time to go."

Passengers watched from their windows as Mai led Seto Kaiba off the train, walking around it to the cargo hold, where the stagecoach was waiting. Her contact at the saloon would be driving, and the three of them would be inside the coach, their backs to a fortune in gold.

"After you," Mai said, gesturing towards the doors. The two guards stood by the cargo doors, about to call her on her promise, but she cut them off, repeating what she'd told Seto. "Assuming he can handle the walk, you'll have him back no worse for wear."

Seto climbed inside the coach, followed by Mai, who sat across from him, and Rex, who took the only other available seat beside him. Once the door was closed they were off, leaving the train behind.

"So," Seto began, "may I ask how you're going to spend my money?"

Mai was sure the thought had occurred to him that the money in question may have been obtained through illegal means, but it was Rex who answered the question first.

"I'm going to buy a pocket-watch," he said. "A really nice one."

"Good for you. And Miss Valentine?"

She shrugged. "Haven't thought about it."

"Perhaps you could invest." He realized just what he was saying too late, and hid his glare by turning away to stare out the window.

"Perhaps I will. I'll invest in a weapons company?"

He snapped his head back. "You wouldn't dare."

"Are we far enough away yet?" Rex asked, his voice falsely amiable. Mai glanced behind them, out the window.

"I suppose so," she said.

"Good." Rex reached across them to open the far door, and as the stagecoach began to slow he literally kicked Seto out of it, who rolled to a stop. "Thanks for doing business with us." He offered Seto a wave before moving to his seat and shutting the door.

Seto immediately got to his feet and began running after them. "Mai!" He screamed. "Mai Valentine! This isn't over! I'll—"

He grew smaller and smaller as they got farther away, until she could no longer see him at all. "A pocket-watch, really?"

"Yes, a pocket-watch. I'd like one," he said. "Do you know what else I'd like? Could you please explain…that?" And he gestured with his hands, to her and out the window, to the space they'd just vacated.

"What?" She stared at him for a moment until it registered.

"You're jealous?" She pointed one finger at Rex, drawing it up his chest until she reached his chin. "I only like Kaiba for his money. And you've got no money—so I must like you for something different, hmm?"

"I've got money now," he offered, and her grin widened. Behind her, if she concentrated hard enough, she could hear the gold shifting through the wooden boxes.

She agreed, and leaned in to kiss him. "You do."

It was much later when Rex suddenly sat forward, paling.

"I—I can't believe I forgot!"

Mai looked up from where she was curled up against the window. "Forgot what?"

"I never told any of them my name! None of them know who I am! I committed the greatest train robbery this country has ever seen…and you're going to get all of the credit!"

"Next time, then," she said, laughing.