A month into travelling together, Goodnight wakes up before Billy.
It takes Goodnight a moment to figure out what feels so wrong, sitting up and shaking his head. The sun hasn't risen yet, but the sky is lightening. The fire's died, as fires are wont to do.
And then he remembers he's been travelling with someone, and that that someone is a paranoid sumbitch who always goes to sleep after Goodnight and wakes up before Goodnight. Sometimes Goodnight falls asleep and also wakes up to Billy Rocks sitting on the other end of the fire, polishing his knives and staring at Goodnight. Never exactly reassuring, but then again, Goodnight sleeps with new conviction that a bear will not kill him in his sleep. At least not without Billy waking up first. And Billy would probably kill the bear and not let it eat Goodnight. Maybe.
Goodnight staggers to his feet and sees Billy still in his own bedroll. He snorts to himself. "You know," he says, voice hoarse even to his own ear, "any other man, I'd be offended it took him a whole goddamned month to learn I wasn't gonna kill him in his sleep. You, though, Mr. Rocks, I'm relieved to find I managed to get the message across at all."
"Billy, if you died in your sleep, would you hold it against me if I claimed your bounty?"
Still nothing. Goodnight very slowly steps towards Billy. The first time he'd gotten up in the middle of the night, Billy had nearly pinned him to a tree with one of his throwing knives before either of them knew what had happened.
"I don't think I could bring myself to do that, come to think of it," Goodnight continues. "I know we ain't been travellin' together long, but what kinda man would I be, not buryin' a friend? Every man deserves an honest grave, don't you think?"
Finally, Billy's body shifts, but it's just him drawing his blanket closer around his shoulders. Closer, now, Goodnight can see the man's hair is matted. Sweat shines on his forehead, and his eyes are screwed shut.
Goodnight crouches and very, very cautiously touches Billy's shoulder. The other man doesn't react at all. He's shaking under the blanket he's got such a death grip on. Goodnight draws back Billy's bangs to rest the back of his hand against Billy's forehead and whistles at the heat he finds.
"Billy," he says, "don't tell me you've been feelin' sick since we forded that river yesterday."
To his credit, Billy doesn't tell him that; Billy doesn't do anything besides shiver.
Goodnight throws his blanket over Billy's prone form as he considers what to do. They're only a day's ride out from the next down, though he doesn't know if there'll be a doctor there -- hell, he doesn't know if there'll be an inn willing to rent to the pair of them. If there's one thing Goodnight's learned in the past month, it's that more innkeepers than he'd previously realized are willing to turn down good money just to keep their clientele all white. Billy never looks surprised.
It's worth riding into town if there's a doctor; if not, better for Billy to rest instead of pushing himself. Goodnight opts to rekindle their campfire and chew hardtack while waiting. The sun rises. Goodnight whistles to himself for awhile, which usually gets Billy threatening to kill him pretty quickly, and half-expects pure annoyance to rouse the man. No luck. Once the day grows warmer and the fog starts to lift, Billy finally pushes himself up to sit.
"You, my friend, look absolutely terrible," Goodnight says.
Billy doesn't react.
Goodnight sighs. "Well, looks like we maybe oughta be gettin' you to a doctor. You think you can ride?"
He almost thinks his companion won't respond, but then, tugging the blanket closer, Billy says, accent thicker than Goodnight's used to, "I can ride."
Goodnight wants to amble over and help Billy stand and make sure he doesn't end up keeling over. He wants to put his hand at Billy's elbow and steady him. Goodnight, he thinks to himself, you have gotten yourself into more trouble than you reckoned for here. Billy manages to stand and, weaving on his feet, makes it to the fire, both blankets still wrapped around his shoulders. He refuses to look at Goodnight and will not eat or drink. They leave soon after that, and they ride slow.
Rust Chapel ends up bigger than expected, which is a relief; Billy had perked up around noon but then gone quiet, and half the time Goodnight glanced back at him he'd find Billy glossy-eyed, face empty. He'd been terrified the man was about to pitch off his horse and brain himself on the rocks.
Goodnight rents a room and has to manhandle Billy up the stairs. By the time he helps Billy lie down in bed, the man's gone wretchedly pale, and his hair sticks to his forehead with sweat. "This is what you get for not tellin' me you felt sick," Goodnight says, but he doesn't feel the bluster he intended.
"Goody," Billy says. His eyes are unfocused.
"At your service," he says softly.
Billy's eyes go closed, and even though Goodnight knows it's just Billy sinking into much-needed sleep, his heart still stops for a moment. "Don't die on me, Rocks," he says.
He makes quick work of finding the town doctor, who scolds Billy for not getting help sooner, despite the fact the man's unconscious. Billy should be fine, the doctor says, with lots of rest and water, and Goodnight pays him for his time and a bottle of laudanum. "Give him a warm bath tomorrow if he's not better by then," the doctor says as he's leaving.
"He's lucky to have you. Lots of men dead out there from pulling stunts like that."
"Well," Goodnight says, "long as he pulls outta this alright, I'll be plenty happy." The doctor leaves. Goodnight turns from the door to glance at Billy, who's still passed out. "Please do not make me give you a bath myself," he says mournfully, as if Billy could hear him. "That's wildly improper."
For the first time in a month, Goodnight feels staggeringly alone. He wanders down to the saloon for a few drinks but feels nervous leaving Billy alone, so he eats dinner and hurries back.
Billy's half sat up against the headboard, eyes a little clearer. Goodnight notes the bottle of laudanum resting closer on the little table by the bed than it was before and grins. "Mr. Rocks," he says. "You're alive."
"Funny. I feel mostly dead."
Goodnight laughs and sits himself down on the foot of Billy's bed, taking his hat off. "You gave me a scare, but the doctor says you'll be just fine long as you take it easy." Goodnight isn't sure what to expect from Billy in response, but it's not a searching stare, Billy looking all serious. He clears his throat and stands again, hat in his hands. "Anyways," Goodnight says, "glad to see you with yo' eyes open lookin' like you're alive behind 'em. Felt like I was ridin' with a dead man into town. You hungry?"
"No," Billy says.
"You should eat--"
"Goody," Billy says. Then, reluctantly, "Thank you."
Goodnight's throat closes up a little bit. "Well," he says. He's not sure what else to say.
When he glances back over at Billy, though, the man's pulled his deck of cards out from the inside of his waistcoat. He thumbs through them, both eyebrows raised at Goodnight.
"Why," Goodnight says, "I don't suppose you're askin' me if I'd like to play a hand with you, are you?"
It comes out more flirtatious than he'd intended, but luckily Billy just rolls his eyes. "If you talk too much, I will stop playing," he says plainly.
Goodnight pulls his jacket off and leaves it on his bed and rolls up his shirtsleeves before draping himself over the foot of Billy's bed, watching Billy shuffle the deck a little awkwardly. Normally it's Goodnight badering Billy into playing, and Billy's only humored him a handful of times, so he enjoys watching Billy cut the deck and deal.
When Billy looks up from the deck, he meets Goodnight's eyes directly and doesn't look away. Goodnight feels like he's just been caught with a card up his sleeve, but whatever Billy sees there, searching Goodnight's face, he seems to like it. He laughs to himself, shakes his head. Goodnight has to lean in to take his hand of cards from Billy. Their fingertips brush, and Goodnight's face goes hot as if he were the one sweating out a fever.
"Who plays first?" Billy asks.
Who plays first indeed, Goodnight thinks helplessly, unable to look away from Billy, who looks, even in sickness, absolutely radiant. He wants to smooth down Billy's hair.
Billy grins at him slow. "I play first," he says.
"Whatever you please," Goodnight says, head spinning, and the look Billy gives him makes him feel like he's shown his hand before even having a chance to look at it himself.
But that's not so bad. Goodnight suspects that losing to Billy Rocks will feel a lot like winning.