Main character: Ike
The night was quiet. Almost a little too quiet. Really, when you're used to five other people moving around in the night, snoring *even if Buck denied it*finally having a room all to yourself could be downright spooky. The crackling fire seemed all too close to his ears and every whisper of the wind outside seemed to shriek through the darkness. Ike had already checked the windows and doors twice and still he couldn't escape the feeling that it wasn't going to be the last time.
At first, he'd been happy to stand in at the outlying station. It was an opportunity to be his own man for a bit. Take a responsibility for the horses and have some time to himself without all the noise… without everyone constantly wondering what he was doing. It was a good idea… until he realized exactly 'how' quiet it would be. Eager for something to do to keep his mind occupied, Ike pondered checking the windows and doors again.
A sharp rap at the door had Ike on his feet his rifle in his hand. How convenient would it have been to shout out and ask who it was, but that wasn't going to happen… not in this lifetime.
Another rap became a thud against the door and just before Ike could peer out the window a voice from the outside shook the door in its frame. "Larry? Come on, Larry! Open up!"
Ike crooked his finger around the edge of the ratty old curtain and peeked through the ripple glass of the window. A man filled the night outside and when he moved, Ike saw the glint of a silver star on his chest, illuminated by the moon. A law man.
The door reverberated under his fist. "Lawrence! My knees are gonna freeze like this out here!"
Ike weighed the rifle in his hands and tried to get his mind to evaluate the situation this late in the evening. With a careful eye on the hulk of a man outside, Ike reached out and slipped open the lock.
The door pushed open under the man's weight and Ike backed up a few steps, his hands holding the rifle at the ready.
Large hands encased in worn leather gloves knocked chucks of snow from his coat and hat. "It's about damn time, Larry… did you fall asleep or-" The man looked around the room and settled his gaze on Ike. "Who the hell are you?"
Sigh. Ike looked back at the older man and gave him the only answer he could, a stare.
"I said… who the hell are you?" The larger man stepped back and looked down the hallway to the left. "Where's Larry?"
Ike shifted the rifle and set it against his shoulder using his free hand to sign. *sick brother*
The man looked at him for a long moment and tucked his chin while he puzzled out the strange scene. "You got somethin' against polite conversation?" He tossed his gloves onto the table and shrugged out of his jacket, the silver star glinting in the lamp light. "I guess I'll just have me a sit and wait for Larry to get back."
There wasn't much to think about for Ike. The man seemed pretty familiar with the layout of the cabin, his manner easy… brash even. If he was going to shoot him or rob the station, he would have tried to do it by now. Moving back toward the bed, Ike set the rifle down, taking an extra long moment before his fingers left the barrel. He picked up his slate and a piece of chalk that happened to fall out of his pack when he'd taken out an extra shirt. He rapidly marked up the surface and turned the slate around so that the man could read.
At first he squinted and then fished out a pair of spectacles that looked like he'd taken them from a woman half his size.
The law man squinted at the three letters as though he didn't see the contrast with the slate.
A stomp on the hard wood floor was enough to get the man's attention fixed back on the man holding the slate. Ike pointed at his chest then he pointed at the slate. *IKE*
"So you're Ike?"
Ike nodded slowly and held out his hand to his 'guest.'
Kicking off one of his boots, the older man gave him a questioning glance. "Oh me?" He chuckled as the second boot hit the floor. "I'm an old pal of Larry's… Alex Berg. You can call me Al, I guess… less writin' for ya."
Ike swiped off the chalk and wrote again. Turning the slate around he pointed to the word. "Coffee."
"You got some?"
Shrugging, Ike headed over to the stove. He'd set the pot for the morning before he had gotten into bed. It only took a moment to stoke the fire under the coffee pot.
"Where did you say Larry was?"
Ike dutifully grabbed his slate and answered that and a few more questions while they waited for the water to boil. While Ike tossed the grounds in he peered out the window and noted the shift of the moon's position in the sky. Time and his sleeping hours were passing quickly by.
"So there we were, pinned down waiting for someone to come and save us from the injuns." The older man was caught up in his story and didn't notice the way Ike cringed at his words. "After about a day and a half with the sun beatin' down on our bare backs I looked at Larry and said…" The man nudged Ike where he sat next to the table. "You payin' attention, son… this here is a great story."
Ike nodded his eyes still half-closed. Sleep, he'd only just realized, wasn't going to happen. Not tonight.
"Larry and I've been through hell and purgatory a few times in our lives, but somehow we've always come out on top. You got someone who's got your back?"
Swiping his hand over the slate Ike scrawled four simple letters. "BUCK"
Marshal Berg bobbed his head a bit. "Not the strangest name I've heard before. " He took a long sip of his coffee. "He good in a fight?"
Ike didn't even bother with the slate, he pantomimed shooting an arrow.
"Hmm… not bad." Settling back into his seat the lawman lifted his cup back up to his lips and paused. Winds howled outside the windows, rattling the glass so hard that both men looked up expecting it to break or at least crack a bit. The wind was followed by a howl from a coyote. The call was close, mournful. The older man laughed a bit. A low chuckle that didn't sound at all like he found the call funny. "So you got the short straw at your home station?"
Shaking his head 'No' Ike stifled a yawn with the back of his hand.
He reached for his slate but Alex stifled the movement with a gesture. "Let me see if I can guess. You just nod or shake. Got it?"
"You actually wanted to come out to this little hole in the hills?"
The Marshal shook his own head. "Fool kid."
*yes* Ike gave the older man a bright smile when his face registered shock.
"No accountin' for humor."
*or taste* Ike sipped the coffee slowly and felt it slide into his stomach, heavy and cold. The Marshal drank it down like fine wine.
"You good with horses, son? Cause this relay station is gonna be hoppin' come morning."
"Plenty of supplies out in the barn." He downed the rest of the coffee and clanged the cup down on top of the table. "Larry keeps things nice and tidy. I expect you'll do the same. Otherwise they wouldn't send you out here." Stretching out his legs under the table the Marshal opened his mouth wide in a yawn and smoothed his hands over his face.
"I guess its best I turn in before I'm useless come morning." He didn't even see the question in Ike's eyes. "Don't you think you aught'a get a few winks yourself boy?" Placing his hands on the table top, the older man needed the extra leverage to get back up on his feet. He seemed to hold his breath deep in his lungs and then sighed it out as he bent his back into an arch to get out the kinks.
He moved over to the bed pressed over against the wall closer to the stove and dropped everything down onto the floor that would impede his ability to collapse onto the worn mattress. He nearly fell onto the bed, the legs groaning at the sudden descent as he reached out a hand to Ike. "Son… do me a favor and hand me the blanket over there."
Ike froze for a moment. That was 'his' blanket… the blanket he was going to use for warmth. There was only a moment's pause before Ike grabbed the blanket off and took it over to the marshal.
It was truly a long way back to his own bed knowing that he wasn't going to have the quilt to cover his own body. Thankfully he'd brought his woolen unders and that would be of some help during the night.
Lowering himself onto the bed he pulled the pillow up and under his head, feeling the satisfying smoosh of the feathers inside the casing. Plans and instructions filled his mind and he quickly wished for them to cease so he could get some rest. Apparently he wasn't the only one.
The muffled sound of the man's voice spoke volumes and told him that he was buried in the warmth of the quilt. "Son, anyone ever tell you you talk too much?"
Ike started, breath freezing in his lungs at the silly statement.
A creak and a swish of the quilt in the corner drew his attention as the marshal settled in.
"Seriously, boy… a man could use some peace and quiet. So keep the noise down I'm tryin' to get some rest."