In the aftermath of that tumultuous first night, it was only fitting that the man Tender had found be named Storm. After he was sworn to Cain, Tender took Storm aside so he could dress the bleeding Mark on his arm. They settled in the corner of the stable, murmuring in hushed tones.
Cain went back to the Nightmares, who all seemed to be staring at him with apprehension.
He huffed out a gruff laugh. “Me too, girls.” Hopefully he hadn’t made a choice he would regret.
They all managed to catch a few hours of sleep. The storm let up in the early morning, before the sun had risen. Cain had the Nightmares hitched back to the Wagon the moment the rain eased, so they might flee this town before the body of Storm’s strangled wife was found. Storm didn’t have any possessions he wanted to bring with him except for “one old thing.” While Tender helped Cain hitch the horses, Storm slipped out to retrieve it. He was back in short order, hanging the lantern he had taken back on its hook.
When Tender saw what exactly Storm had retrieved from his home —a beat up, well loved guitar— Cain had to shake his head. His companions were already getting on like a house on fire, if Tender’s starry eyes were anything to go by.
"Was I really that boring of a companion?” Cain would ask later, when he got a private word with Tender.
“What do you mean?”
“Back when we rode alone.” A beat. “The way you looked at Storm when he came back with that guitar— you’d’ve thought he brought back the moon.”
Tender had no reply. When Cain glanced in his direction, he looked uncomfortable, as if Cain had pointed out something he wasn’t supposed to notice.
“You have no taste in music,” Tender eventually retorted, scowling at him, and it was like that moment of disturbance had never happened.
Cain knew better.
The Nightmares made good time despite the muddy roads, and Cain drove them west. He was rather sick of coastal storms, and he knew the girls were too. It was still dark, and the moon was covered up by clouds, but Cain had decent night vision in his undead state and the Nightmares could see even better. Frankly, Cain trusted his horses well enough that if he wanted he could just start them off in the right direction and take a nap. He didn’t— but it was a nice thought.
Between the creaking of the wheels and the muddy slaps of the horses’ hooves, he couldn’t hear what was going on inside the Wagon. Cain imagined Storm and Tender were probably already strumming their guitars and swapping stories.
Little did Cain know, it was the very opposite. Tender was silent as he watched Storm from across the Wagon. At the moment, it was very much like a stagecoach in design, though now that there were two people and and two guitars, things were more cramped. Storm didn’t seem to mind, though. The interior and the exterior of the Black Wagon were, unsurprisingly, painted black, but Tender had come to regard it as a comforting darkness. The window built into the door helped, too.
Storm was staring out the window into the dark, idly twisting the gold band on his ring finger. His hair had dried out by now, and was a mass of wild curls framing his face. Tender didn’t quite know what to say. Honestly, he didn’t think he would get this far. But now he had this strange individual with him, and would for the foreseeable future. Was he going to regret it?
Storm’s right hand drifted to pick at the bandages wrapped around his Mark. Then his eyes fell on Tender’s arm, on his own Mark.
“Everyone has one?” He murmured, almost too quiet for Tender to hear. He wouldn’t have noticed his speech if he wasn’t staring at him.
“Every murderer, yes. You’ll be able to see them now.” Storm nodded, looking back out the window. Whatever he was searching for, it didn’t look like he was finding it.
“Who did you kill?” Storm asked.
Tender pursed his lips. It wasn’t a proud moment of his. “More than one.”
“Did you love any of them?” His voice was soft, almost tremulous but not quite.
Tender studied Storm’s features. “No. They were all more stranger than friend.”
“So was she.” He was fiddling with his wedding ring again. After a long moment of silence, he looked down at it. A deep frown crept onto his face.
Outside, the sky was starting to grow lighter. The few hours of sleep Tender had gotten —or lack thereof— was weighing on him.
“We should try to sleep,” Tender said suddenly, not wanting to see that troubled expression on Storm’s face any longer.
“I suppose we should,” Storm whispered. Tender drew the tiny curtain over the window in the door, plunging them back into darkness. He could hear Storm shifting minutely. Tender stretched his legs out, foot inadvertently bumping Storm’s for a moment before he drew back. He almost apologized, then bit his tongue.
A soft sigh in the darkness. Tender wondered if the events of the murder were replaying in Storm’s mind endlessly, as Tender’s own did in the beginning.
“Sleep well, Tender.” His voice was as gentle as an exhaled breath. Tender didn’t dare reply and disturb the lingering echoes of that with his own, far more jarring voice. He just let it hang in the air, and repeat in his mind.
Sleep well, Tender.
Tender woke next to the Black Wagon’s door flying open. He gave a start as Storm bolted out into the sunshine, leaving the door swinging in his wake. Blinking hard against the light, he took stock of their situation.
The Wagon had halted, and the weather had cleared up. He could hear Cain crooning to the Nightmares. If he was being sweet on them, that meant he was also on the ground petting them, so they had clearly stopped for a break.
Tender got out of the Wagon and stepped onto the ground. The sun indicated it was late afternoon. They were among gently sloping hills, the dirt road stretching out of sight in front of and behind him. There was no other sign of human activity. Cain was indeed loving on the Nightmares, whispering to Innana as he unhitched her. When he noticed Tender, he cleared his throat.
“We’re stopping a bit early. We’ve put enough ground between us and the town.” He gestured behind himself. “Tell Storm he has chores. He can’t just frolic all day.” Tender looked past Cain.
Storm was already atop the nearest hill, face tilted up to the sky. The wind was blowing through his curly hair and making his coat flare out. Tender’s lip twitched.
“Don’t you start frolicking too,” Cain griped. Tender nodded and started off up the hill. Storm didn’t seem to see him yet. He spread his arms wide, letting the wind rush over him. The burden he had seemed to be carrying on his shoulders had momentarily been forgotten. He reminded Tender of some sort of bird, ready to take flight.
“Did you sleep at all?” Tender asked as he crested the hill. Storm turned, regarding him for a moment before nodding. Tender came to stand next to him, and they stared out at their surroundings together. The hills were green, lush with vegetation, bright under the sunlight. There was a herd of deer grazing to the north.
When Tender looked back at Storm, he had taken the wedding band off his finger. He held it between his fingers, staring at it. The weight was back on his shoulders, and once again Tender had no idea what to say. Storm seemed to be on the precipice of some thought. Tender held his breath.
“No more,” Storm whispered to himself. Then, with a rush of movement he threw the ring with all his might through the air. It caught the sun for a moment before winking out of sight. Storm stared after it with a similar kind of mania and shock like he had when he killed his wife. Tender half expected another scream. This time, though, the burden weighing him down seemed to evaporate rather than explode out of him.
The afternoon was bright and sunny, but it suddenly seemed all the more brilliant when Storm grinned.
“I am a free man, Tender!” Storm cried to him. This was the first time he had spoken in louder than a murmur, and Tender was struck by how musical his voice was. He suddenly got the feeling that he would never grow tired of hearing it.
“Free at last,” Tender agreed, and smiled.