[RO] That you must do unto the others as the others unto you
#1

OOC: Do you blame yourself? || WC: --

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These days, it was hard to tell the time, the date, the place, the season.

It was all a muddled and indistinct slur tripping off the tongue, sloshing and churning, never settling; he was only passably aware of changes as they were thrust upon him by outside forces in stark and rare moments of lucidity: Evelyn’s stern talking, carelessly thrown words or his daughters, unfamiliar and totally grown now. Santiago knew it was selfish and was painfully aware of his own mind.

He could not bring himself to care over these things, these harsh, glaring points of reality when he could so easily slip into the comfort of his own haze, tripping through the turmoil and bog of his memories and turn ever inward and away from the cruelty his vices played on others. Whilst everything bled together, it had felt familiar. Here he felt an ease, the illusion of control an utterly fragile, frail thing that he chased, just outside of his grasp. Alcohol greased these wheels, transported him to a time far away.

His scars didn’t feel so stretched or weary, anymore, melted away from his face; brothers both by blood and bond ever filtering through his warring thoughts. Luciana, too, a much better rider from what he remembered, astride Dutch’s broad back, drinking in the lessons he had lent to her. He watched her from atop this peak, surveying the backdrop of peculiar, innumerable scenes; plumes of smoke, flashes of desert heat, the comfort of the mill or the cold jostling wind that fatefully jammed their wagon.

Luciana laughed softly, and Dutch tossed his great head, hoof pawing at the ground. Santiago smiled to himself, feeling warm. Whole. Younger, even.

”She won’t be that way forever, y’know.”

The voice shook him from his momentary reminiscing, and Santiago’s face fell, if only a moment, as he turned to look on his old friend, taking a moment to light up a cigarette before tucking the flint back into the breast pocket of his waistcoat. Santiago laughed softly.

”I reckon not – but it’s nice to see her learning so well. I’ll admit, I was always worried – Luci never did quite pick up things as quick as her brother or sister.”

Calhoun grunted softly in affirmation, the whip curls of smoke slowly curling through his teeth, out of his nose. He took a moment to tighten his neckerchief, deep, deep red as it was, and Santiago’s eyes drew inexplicably to it, and the way it stretched, down, down, fading, blooming, as though it stained the man’s clothes, before he looked up and away.

”Y’always were a worrier.”

”Yeah?”

”It weren’t right, what happened to us – What happened to her.“ He nodded towards the silvery girl, the Hustler’s very own spitting image.

Santiago stilled then, the sound of his daughter and horse very far away. A dread prickled through his insides, spearing clear through the cavity of his body in sharp, bitter thorns. He opened his mouth to speak, before The Reverend’s own sparse voice cut in again.

”I know you didn’t mean for it. None of it.”

”That doesn’t absolve me of anything.” His answer felt resolute. The warmth faded from the air of the foothills of the Burnt Church Mountains, the moments slipping through his fingers as the cold of the stormfront rolled in – He put his worn touch to the stones of the Ojo del Diablo, dizzy suddenly with the rapid onset cold, and darkening clouds. Calhoun, shapeless and dancing in the corner of his vision, took another pull from his cigarette.

”You’re right.” When Santiago looked to him again, his shapeless mass failed to coalesce, make sense, fit what he’d expected to see of dandelion gold eyes and a coat like bleached summer grasses. ”You, of all folks, know how actions got consequences.”

Fingers lifted to pull the cigarette from the inky, ichorous black of his mouth, the exhale long and slow, before he ashed it, and the formless being, dressed in clothes mottled red,  turned to address him again.

Santiago’s ears flitted, the illusion shattered, hearing the creak of door hinges somewhere in the other room, and he was immediately transported to the creaking dark, his belongings strewn about him. He sat up in his stupor, fumbling for his sense and a weapon – anything to protect himself, anything to better his chances the moment O’Malley realized what he had done. The man was fickle, but just; Righteousness rang true in his blood, and he did so for the well-being of the Posse – Santiago’s gaggle had paid a terrible price to be picked up, whisked to salvation on horseback to travel the stretches of the west. Creeping from the back-room, he eyed the figure who had entered his home, only to turn up the dainty, wily Marisol, her shoulders heavy, hands on his table.

A fury boiled in him – and, defensive, he rushed the young posse member, pinning her to the wall as he barked out a question that felt muddled even on his own tongue – his home, this was his home, and a possessiveness gripped him then, a fear – In her bright orange eyes, he could see the fire they’d started to cover their mistakes, the burning of that homestead, and distantly he heard the screaming, howling grief of the wolves they’d trapped. He grit his ruined teeth, feeling too big for his mouth, and snarled down to her; For what reason would she encroach? Why now? Why this? Did he know? Marisol’s dark lips moved, and he struggled to hear what she’d said.

” We’ve got to move on-“ A danger, danger, foretold by her treacherous tongue, and so he pressed, again, harder this time:

”You told them about the farm, didn’t you-“ She did not answer, so he shouted it again, accusatory, now. ”Didn’t you!"

The big, bubbling wells of her tears had told her all he needed to know. They were coming, surely – O’Malley would have his head – all he’d wanted to do was keep them safe, keep them all safe, whatever the cost. A dawning horror opened up in the pit of his stomach, swallowing him from the inside out as he cursed to the young woman who’d thought to invade his home, at this hour of all times – to interrupt his life, his wife, his children--

His children.

The severity of Santiago’s expression faltered, the silver-black of Marisol’s face fading away to soft straw, silver, amber – frightened gold eyes looking up to him, and Marisol was no more. Disconcerted by his own actions, he hesitated, casting aside his weapon, and backing away with a stumble, his hands all over his face to cement himself to this reality, the sobriety scarcely touching his mind with the desperation of it all. Where was his wife? Where was Evelyn? Why was the house so cold, so quiet – what had he done to little Esperanza? A numbed apology got caught in his throat before he cleared it, uncertain as to if it were even something tangible, guttural, and real. As he turned his head to ask, more softly now, as to his family’s whereabouts, she had already gone, her pale shape stumbling and staggering towards the stretching dark as night had settled in.

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