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//least he could do

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They drank so much and he looked so lonely- he couldn't have stopped himself if he tried.

Flushed dark, even in the glow of the fire, Red couldn't ignore the pain in his new-old friend's eyes. Though he were only within a breath next to him, he was a million miles away and more. John really loved them and the gunslinger would have had to be blind not to see it- the whiskey loosened his tongue and he told the told the man from Brimstone all about his wife and his kid and his ranch and why he wasn't there and what he wanted to do and all of the things he wished he could have done, instead of going back to shooting some poor bastards so that some other bastards wouldn't have to. Government work at gunpoint. A free man shackled into doing a job that nobody, including himself, wanted to do.

Marston sighed into his bottle and looked around to Harlow. He'd never seen such a downtrodden son of a bitch in his life.

The hours whittled away as the sunlight waned, passed with stories of exploits, criminals, days gone by and home. Neither would have called themselves talkative men, but the company was good and the bottles near bottomless, punctuated with cigarettes and trail rations. They laughed like they'd known each other all their lives as one, true mirrored souls.

The pain was gone, if only for a while.

When he looked again, John was smiling so slightly it was barely there. And he was so handsome through fogged eyes, each line on his face told a story and spoke of experience, a tough life and enough grit to last ten men ten more years. The last scraps of freshness he'd known before were gone, the fogged eye he'd trained so much sharper than it had been. It was incredible what ten, fifteen years could do for a man. He was strong and capable, yet chained down and it hurt him, yet he bore it with such a firm, quiet stoicism that it made Red's chest tighten.

Life wasn't fair. He didn't deserve it.

Alcohol fuelled adoration, made a quashed thing swell until it was too much to bear.

Carefully, Red rose his un-gloved hand and ghosted fingertips over the gouges on John's face. The rancher's breath hitched in his throat and must have stayed there, as he couldn't feel it on his wrist, and he threw one of the oddest looks at Harlow- he didn't know what to do, the moment so foreign that he couldn't think of anything to say. Such a strange man he'd crossed paths with, some kind of... The drink was dulling his head and the broad, rough touch moved so gently, almost caressing, that it just pulled the younger man in, to bring their lips together in such an awkward, clumsy kiss that John couldn't bear to push Red from him. He broke them apart and there were hands everywhere, their lips crashing with such a lack of finesse that they were practically biting at each other in a fit of hazy, available lust and he only half-heard Red murmuring something about it's fine, don't worry and I'll take care of you and you'll have them back, friend, I promise and this doesn't mean anything, so please, don't worry, friend.

He was so convincing that John let him suck at his neck, grope his chest through his shirt and at the bulge in his trousers that shouldn't have been there.




But in the morning, he was a sick faggot with a broken nose and a filthy conscience. The fire dead, the bottles smashed, dirt in his eyes and blood on his bandanna, all down his front and all up his arms. His hands burnt when he moved them, pushing slivers of glass deeper as he tried to sit up. He coughed and there was blood. He spat and there was blood. He blinked and there was blood. 

You're a damn fool, Harlow. A damn, needy fool.

The black eye would go down. His nose would be set back in place. The wounds would heal and he would be fine. John would be fine.

He didn't blame him.


He'd show up, years beaten onto his face, at Beecher's Hope and be received by a young man with a scowl on his brow and anguish carved deep into his father's eyes, ringed with black.

Just one of his gang buddies, the lad muttered.

Harlow didn't correct him.


"Did he show you?"

"Show me what?"

"How he could shoot the gun from a man's hand and the hat from his head?"

"... No. He..." Jack looked away, scowling at the veranda. "He was going to, though,"

A moment hung between them, as Harlow took the cigarette from his lip.

"Let me."

"Why should I?"

For the first time in years, a smile sloped over Harlow's face.

"I'm Red Harlow, boy. Get your gun."

"Y-Yes, sir."


It was the least he could do for him.