|Family Ways Part Six - Honeymoon
Rating: Mature Adult for themes,
Note: I was enabled. This however, is not for everyone. Heed Warnings, please.
The characters and situations portrayed here are not mine, they belong to the WB. This is a fan authored work and no profit is being made. Please do not link to this story without appropriate warnings. Please do not archive this story without my permission.
His Daddy used to tell them about his great great granddaddy coming to this land and breaking it. Clearing the trees, plowing the earth. Making the first house here out of logs he cut, first by himself and later adding on with the help of his sons's hands. Had another name then, something Neal couldn't hardly remember and never could pronounce. That old log house, what was left of it, was still standing, still used for storing winter grains and keeping the still out of sight.
Other folks knew his great great granddaddy not by his name but because he'd put his farm at the bend of the river. Folks of the Bend, later just the Benders. The river had been dammed someplace further upstream, slowing it to a creek, then later to just the stream that flowed through the lower pasture.
Been his great great granddaddy who had first hunted not just game, but people. Thieves his Daddy said. Come after the livestock, after the crops, after the land…white, injun, blacks…all of 'em one time or t'other. Great great grandaddy's first wife had been the woman of one of them, folks after his food. Would have killed him and taken it all.
That woman had given him four sons and two daughters before she died. Men weren't hard to kill but they sure were harder to hunt than just about anything. Was a rare deer or elk that turned back on you, even bear, wolves, once they knew they were prey, they'd be running to get free.
Men though; men were trickier. He could remember his first hunt, with his daddy, after a feller who damn near got away. Been tricky-clever that one, went to ground, covered his tracks. Waited. Doubled back.
That one had managed to kill his uncle Dan before his Daddy had finally brought him down with a crossbow bolt through the knee and another through the neck.
Weren't too many folks any more looking to take what they had. Now and again, maybe. Better to stop a thief than turn him over to the law, especially a law that looked to protect criminals more'n it did people protecting what was their own.
He moved quiet through the house, listening to the boys snoring. Checking up on Missy for a long minute where she was curled up on his bed, in his quilts. Hard to tear his eyes away, she looked so much like her mother.
He did though. Making sure the lamps were out. One of these days, he and the boys would run some lines up here, get electricity to the second floor, patch those holes at the back of the house where the water was coming in the room that had been nursery to all his children.
House need more work done to it than he could find ways to make happen. Couldn't trade with none of them big building supply places nor any of the smaller hardware stores. Nobody would take smoked meat or venison for goods and supplies any more. They all wanted cash.
He'd grown up thinking everything he'd ever need, everything his children would ever need he could get by his own hands. He could fix an engine of pretty much any kind once upon a time. Made up for what he couldn't grow or raise on his own.
Wasn't so easy anymore. The boys had taken to scavenging; scrap metal, them boxes that held clothes for the poor. Missy could sew a button or fix a tear in a shirt but Lida had died before she'd taught her anything but the simplest of stitching.
Last couple of fellers before Missy's beau had had cash enough on them to see them through the winter, but pretty much everyone carried them plastic cards now and those weren't even good for lighting fires.
He hadn't had a bull for going on five years now. Cows were getting old with no new calves coming. Like to be the last litter of piglets Dada had even if he had a boar to mate her with.
Weren’t no other farms left that he could work a deal with, like it used to be. Town was creeping outward. Had lights out on the state road now.
He knew the boys sometimes went into town, got their money from drunks, or breaking into closed up stores, but they weren't smart those two. They'd get caught if they didn't find some other way.
It had stopped raining but it was still dripping, low mist rolling over the ground.
Might be…might be -- Jarrod said Missy's beau -- this Samuel -- was real well spoken. Clothes were worn, but had them fancy labels. His boots had been new. Newer than Jarrod's. Fit him just fine.
He checked the cabinet, pulled a gun and loaded it. He didn't think the boy would try anything, but he hadn't lived this long hunting men by being stupid. He got his slicker and eased out of the house, carrying a lit lantern.
The barn was dark and quiet and dry. He'd laid most of the timbers here himself, with his daddy and brothers and uncles.
All gone. He didn't even know where to, most of them.
He hooked the lantern on a post close to the cage, saw the boy blink at him, light catching his eyes, on his skin, curled up in the corner, shaking. Was cold in here and they hadn't given him his clothes back. Idiots. Didn't leave stock out in the cold and people didn't even have the protection of fur or hair.
He looked around and found the boy's clothes -- most of them, what Lee hadn't taken. He wadded up the jeans and t-shirt. Shoved them through the bars.
The boy reached for them, wary and cautious but not afraid. Kind of sullen quiet but he watched Neal, even while he pulled his jeans on. Moved pretty stiff, from cold, from the bruises he could see on his skin. Fresh ones. Lee's doing.
Neal watched him as he pulled the shirt on, the dark shirt and the steady lamplight showing up the bruises on his throat, scrapes on his wrists. Dressed again, he sat back down, back to the cage, staring at Neal. Nothing showed on his face, but his jaw was set, eyes hard. Neal knew disgust and hate on a man's face when he saw it.
"You got anybody pay to get you back, boy?" he asked.
He pulled out the flask and found the cup from the boy's breakfast, splashed it half full and carefully pushed the cup through the gaps in the bars. The boy didn't move until Neal was sitting back on a hay bale, well out of reach.
He sniffed at it first, took a cautious sip. Neal could tell it burned but the boy held it, let it settle. "Anybody looking to get you back?"
The boy eyed him, sipped again. "There's no money. What I had, you've already taken," he said.
Neal took a mouthful, held it in his mouth until it burned, swallowed slow, taking in a deep breath. Was only a thought, maybe not a bad one, if they could figure out someone who had some money. Somebody who had folks that would pay to get them back. Maybe some kids -- easier to handle. Parents went crazy about their kids, although he didn't know what they was thinking. Letting 'em run around, giving 'em no chores to do but to go to school. Dressing like they did. Girls especially. Girls younger than Missy.
"Why are you doing this?"
He'd about half-forgot the boy was there. He looked at him. The boy was still sitting there, knees up, cup held between his hands. He was an odd one. Should have been mad or scared or something. Mostly he looked patient. Waiting. Have to watch him. Tricky-clever, this one, he'd bet.
"It's our way, boy. I'm sure your people got your ways. This'n's ours. You'll get your chance."
"No…no," he said, low and soft. "She's your daughter."
Neal stared at him and the boy stared back. He was mad, Neal realized. Quiet mad. "She took a shine to you."
A bitter smile twisted the boy's lips and he shoved a hand through his hair. Too-long hair. "She's a child. God, your own daughter…Your son take a shine to me too?" he spat out
Something in the way he said it, like he'd done wrong by Missy, by Lee, made something dark twist up inside Neal. He was up before he knew it. Heard the boy's cup drop and spatter as he pulled the bolt back on the rifle, shoving the muzzle through the bars. The boy tensed up, but he didn't move. Weren't no place to go. "You judging me, boy? Me and mine? You think you got the right to judge me with your fancy words and your fancy clothes an' your better'n me attitude? You think it was easy watching my girl give herself to the likes of you? Just 'cause you spoke nice to her? Give up what a woman can only offer once to a man and know you'd never do right by her?"
"You brought me here. Your sons," he said low and even. "I didn't ask for this or for her. And if I was going to do right by her, I sure as hell wouldn't leave her with you."
Neal's finger tightened on the trigger, wanting to spatter the boy's brains all over the cage. The boy didn't move, didn't shift his gaze.
Just a squeeze. That's all it would take.
He pulled the gun back slowly. "I hope you run good, boy. Run hard. You got guts I'll give you that much."
He picked up the lamp and left him in darkness.
House was empty. Looked abandoned and gray. The mud below him sucked at his feet.
His land. His ways. Standing on the ground his great great granddaddy had claimed. His kin were buried on this land. His Lida. His momma and Daddy.
Man needed a reason to keep living. Needed something to keep him feeling alive. He glanced back at the barn.
That boy was smart. Not easily rattled. Not stupid.
Maybe this time, he'd make the boys sit the hunt out. Maybe this time, he'd let Missy join him -- make sure she hadn't had her head turned by his pretty words and his soft skin.
Not family. If Missy was caught with child, the child would be one of them. But this boy…
This boy was just meat. And Neal was feeling hungry.