Everyone wants to know, how's it going to end?

POSTED: Thu May 16, 2019 7:38 am

In the end, they sent the coyote off, his head in his lap.

Dolores did not go to see that blood-stained horse wander into the dark, quivering under the horrors it bore upon its back. She remained behind at the campsite, looking into the campfire that threw bright light across Red's neck as she leaned on him. His skin twitched and tail flicked at the flies that darted in toward the glow, and he turned his head sharply to bite at one before it bit him.

The Reverend. Dolores spat into the fire. It seemed that, just like in Zion, the coyotes had corrupted their deity and called themselves righteous.

The Son might have walked among thieves and whores, but Dolores doubted mother-killers were lined up before the gates of Heaven. She reflected on the hastily-dug grave, corpses lain upon corpses to save room, and on the way her brother Zacchi had trembled and sobbed and sworn oaths of such fury.

Had he fulfilled his promise here? Or had the vermin killed him and Silas too?

A twig snapped in the brush, and Red jostled her as he turned to stare at it, the points of his ears tall. Dolores stared until a rabbit lolloped across the grass, freezing when it spotted the wolf; she relaxed and rubbed Red's neck, then frowned as he pushed his head against her chest in search of reassurance.

He'd been rather jumpy since they killed the coyote.

Another hour passed before she heard the chatter of the others returning, Belladonna's husky voice bright. Stirring from a doze, curled up against the chestnut's flank, Dolores stood and stared into the darkness hopefully, then smiled as she spotted her friend. Donnie swung down off her horse and walked toward her, grinning crookedly.

"Did it go alright?"

"Fella's pointed right home," Donnie boasted, and reached out to wrap Dolores in a celebratory hug. It was a loose and quick embrace that settled into something more familiar, Dolores' arms wrapping around Donnie's hips and her head finding her friend's shoulder before Red nickered and shook his head at them.

"He's been awful restless," Dolores said.

"Hol' on, Red, I'll give yer girl back," Donnie quipped, and Dolores flushed. Donnie released her, but kept a hand on her elbow, staring earnestly at her. "Daddy has plans for us—our next step. Said we'll talk in the mornin'. Y' up for anything?"

"Yeah." Dolores lifted her chin, studying her friend. "For you, anythin'."

Donnie broke into a smile that she quickly dipped behind her hand. "Good," she said, then grabbed Dolores' hand and pulled her over to where Red lay. They sat down beside the horse, and Donnie settled her back against his shoulder as he lipped her hair in greeting. She beckoned Dolores closer, and with only a beat of hesitation, Dolores settled back too—loosely resting in her friend's arms.

It was a familiar warmth. Nights on the northern plains grew terribly cold, and another's heartbeat was a comforting sound when reality could mean ambush in the dark.

"I think we're nearly done with all this," Belladonna said after several minutes of silence—listening to the crackle of the embers and the breath of the horse. Her pale eyes traced the erratic path of a moth fluttering above their little fire, fond. "'ll finally feel at peace about Momma, y'know? 'n' Daddy—he'll finally get t' rest."

Dolores glanced up from where she was playing with Donnie's fingers, counting and folding the digits. "Think so?" She hadn't met Solomon James before his wife's death, before they'd already started hunting the rustlers who passed through and broken their home. He was a frightening man—albeit with qualities Dolores, raised to respect fire and brimstone preachers, found comfortingly familiar.

"What 'bout you? Think you'll rest proper?" Dolores teased.

Donnie gave her a look, which softened with thought, then grew uncertain. The moth danced little circles overhead, then came to land in Donnie's hair.

She was a tough woman, harsh and tomboyish, but when she dropped a little of this away, Dolores realized just how beautiful she was. Her hands grew still around the other woman's fingers, and she could feel herself holding her breath.

Red decided at that moment to stand up. Both girls sprawled down without his support; Dolores squealed and Donnie started spitting swears, though good-natured. The horse stared down at them quizzically then wandered off to sleep properly, standing up, leaving them to brush dry grass off their fur and chuckle.

"Dunno about restin', really," Belladonna said after a minute, brushing some debris from Dolores' hair and grinning. "Never was good at it."

"Evidently not."

"But we all could go back home, to my sisters, build up the ranch again."

"Oh, 'we all'?"

"Pops 'n' the horses, o' course. Maybe not Pippin, he c'n stay," she chuckled, and set both her hands on Dolores' shoulders, squeezing hard. Dolores had to laugh.

"And?"

"You 'n' me, kid," Donnie said confidently.

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