Summary: It happened kind of quick, that Sundance was Butch's right hand man.
Fandom: Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. Written for Calile in the Yuletide 2004 Challenge. Many, many thanks go to Snowflake for patiently betaing this, and to Dira and Estrella for multiple reassurances that it did not suck.
"...when George's pa bought the ranch, this Mike Cassidy was working on it, so he just stayed on ...George wasn't named Cassidy in them days. He took that name later on, because of liking Mike so well. His rightful name is Parker, George LeRoy Parker, but he don't never use it no more."
Thing was, Mike Cassidy was everything George wanted to be, and everything George's pa wasn't. George's pa did everything by the letter of the law and he didn't seem to care if it was unfair or not, he just did it, toed the line. Which was fine, it wasn't bad, only it was just so limiting, and even at fourteen George felt like maybe the whole entire world wouldn't be wide-open enough for him. He wanted to go everywhere, see everything, try it all out, see how it fit. He wanted to live.
George's pa was happy on his ranch. And sure, Mike worked there, 'cause it was what he was doing right now. Not 'cause he had to or thought he should, just 'cause he wanted to. And Mike was a likable guy - George took to him right away, and worried sometimes that he was being annoying, following Mike around. But Mike assured him he would tell him if he got to be a bother, and anyway, Mike liked having someone who wanted to hear his stories.
Stories about the world, about all the places he'd traveled, down to Mexico, up to Canada, seeing things, meeting people, living, you know, really living, and maybe - Mike slanted a look at George and studied him for a second before saying, "...and maybe doing a little rustling here and there."
And George felt a shiver roll down his spine, because rustling - well, that was what you did to ranchers. Ranchers like his dad. Now, he knew Mike was working there on the up and up - that Mike was choosing to work for his dad, and that Mike's word was law. Mike'd taught George that - that if you didn't stick to your word, why, you were nothing at all. No one to respect, barely worth noticing, lower than low. You gave your word, and you kept it. So even though George knew that Mike meant before - that Mike meant that it was something he used to do - and maybe might do again, if he became so inclined - still, that shiver went down George's spine because he thought maybe - maybe that'd be something he'd like to try, too. Someday.
See, George LeRoy Parker wanted to try lots of things - wanted to try everything, wanted to live, and not on this here ranch. He wanted to roam the world like Mike had done, wanted to see what there was to be seen and do everything there was to be done. He wanted to be a man of his word, and he wanted to tell stories like Mike did, and he wanted Mike to see him as a man to be respected - not 'cause he had to, but because he wanted to.
Yeah. George wanted that. He thought he liked Mike better than anyone he'd ever met before and at the age of fifteen, when his itchy feet finally got the best of him and he packed up and slipped away in the middle of the night - time to head out into the world and see what he could see - he took with him a blanket, and some money he'd been able to save, and a canteen, and Mike's name. He was George Cassidy then.
The "Butch" came later and that was a whole other story.
"Sometimes they all sat on the warm ground outside, under the tall pine, and watched the stars come out, one by one, and the moon come up, and Cassidy would sing, when his turn came, in a true light voice."
Butch slouched back further on his elbows and pushed his hat back on his head, so he could see the stars more clear. It was a perfect night, warm and quiet, and around him on the soft grass, the boys - Elza Lay and The Tall Texan and the rest of them - were singing their tuneful songs - "Goodbye Old Paint" and "Billy Venero" and whatever else came to mind. There in the peaceful darkness, surrounded by stars and moonlight, Butch thought he had maybe never been happier. This was the life, this was the life. He was born to live it and he was living it. Had a reputation, even, which he thought was pretty funny, actually, since it was a bigger reputation than he probably deserved.
Not that he didn't appreciate all them folk having faith in him, but being in two places at once and figuring out how to carry that much money with him, well, it woulda been mighty tough, even for someone as smart as Butch himself. Still, people believed what they wanted to believe, and he wasn't one to turn his nose up at anyone who wanted to make him out to be some sorta hero.
He smiled up at the stars, and when the boys' singing started to drift off, he picked it up, singing softly there in the moonlight, the sounds of the horses whickering behind him a counterpoint to the song.
"Goodbye, Old Paint, I'm a-leavin' Cheyanne Goodbye, Old Paint, I'm off to Montan My foot in the stirrup, the reins in my hand, Good morning, young lady, my horse, he won't stand."
He lay back then and watched the stars, listening to Elza strumming softly on his banjo, and fell asleep, happy, there on the ground in the dark.
"Dusty and sweat-stained riders began to come into Brown's Hole from everywhere, to join the Wild Bunch under Butch Cassidy ... They begged him to take them on and tell them what to do, fearing the anguish of having to do their own figuring worse than deadly poison, as many a better and wiser man has feared before them, feared since and will fear."
The Sundance Kid showed up long after the others did. Butch and his reputation - world-class cattle rustler, train-robber, all-around good guy - drew a lot of outlaws looking to be led into greatness. Butch was amused by this as always - he was just having fun, here. Good thing was, it usually worked out that the ones who were in it for his kind of fun - easy money and good times and not hurting anyone, not really - they stuck around. The others tended to leave, and likely the loyalty Butch got from his boys had something to do with it. Those rough, mean-just-for-the-sake-of-it fellows weren't made to feel real welcome, and hell, there were easier gangs they could seek out to join, gangs with maybe not so many rules as the Hole in the Wall boys.
But the Kid hadn't followed the crowd the way you might think. He came wandering up to Brown's Hole a few months later, and the funny thing was, it was hard to tell at first if he was one of the rough ones or not. Funny, 'cause he was real young, but when it came to outlaws, that didn't make much difference - you could be real young and real mean just the same.
He introduced himself in a low voice, and his gaze was steady, and the only name he gave was The Sundance Kid, which wasn't maybe as odd as you might think, what with Butch, and The Tall Texan, and the rest of them folk making up the gang. He didn't say much else - didn't say much at all, ever, really - but Butch kinda liked him from the very first time he laid eyes on him. He seemed interesting, this Sundance Kid, and Butch was all about interesting people. So he suggested that Sundance might like to stay and get to know the outfit, and Sundance allowed as to how that might be agreeable to him, and that was pretty much it - Sundance was one of them.
It happened kind of quick, that Sundance was Butch's right hand man. Butch was a good guy, easy to get along with, but not quick to trust someone. He didn't know why it was, quite, that he trusted the Kid so quick. Maybe it was 'cause Sundance was quiet, and when he did say something, it was important, or funny, in his dry, sarcastic way, or both, and Butch liked that. Maybe it was because Sundance had Butch's back from day one, and while he never came right out and said it, the Kid trusted Butch too. Or at least cared enough to follow him even when he wasn't sure about his plans, which pretty much amounted to the same thing.
See, it was interesting, how Sundance seemed to know Butch. Seemed to know what he was thinking, mostly, though a lot of the time he didn't agree with it, and tended to shake his head when Butch got one of his really good ideas, about a particular train they could rob or a bank they could walk into and walk out of easy as pie. Sundance would see that light in Butch's eye and he'd seem to know they were in for something - trouble, more likely than not, but aw, hell, it was pretty much always fun, too, and Butch knew that's why he'd look away as he shook his head - so Butch wouldn't see his slow smile.
Sundance was in this to live, too. He wanted to see the same things Butch did, or near enough as to make no difference. He wasn't in it for the kill or the money - it was the living that did it for Sundance, same as Butch, and maybe that's why it felt like Sundance knew him. Felt like they knew each other. Like this was meant to be, same as Butch meeting Mike Cassidy was meant to be. It was a comfortable feeling, like proof that Butch had been doing something right, heading down this path that led him here to having Sundance as his right hand man, the guy he could trust best. Even if he couldn't always read what was going on there behind Sundance's funny blue eyes. Sundance could read him, and did, and that was more'n enough.
Yeah, it was pretty funny. Sundance saw everything, it felt like. He spent a lot of time watching silently, when a lot of guys - Butch had to include himself in this - tended to run off at the mouth, telling stories about all the interesting stuff they'd seen and done already, and all the stuff they hoped to see and do someday down the line. Sundance just watched, but Butch could tell when he was listening. He didn't always listen - he heard a lot, but if he didn't care about something, Butch could tell - something about the way he he held himself, the way he chewed slowly on the toothpick in his mouth. His eyes - they were tough to read, even for Butch, but Butch could tell when Sundance cared. Or, well, when he didn't care, more like - when he didn't care, there was no life to his eyes, like he was looking but not really watching. And while there was no arguing he was the always same old Sundance, what Butch liked best was when he could get Sundance's eyes to sparkle. It happened seldom enough, but it was always worth trying for.
It was a quiet, quiet night up at the Hole in the Wall - the company there ebbed and flowed, as guys heard tell of things to see, people needed, opportunities to be had. There wasn't nothing holding them to this gang. They got their regulars who always come back to roost here, and sometimes there'd be dozens of guys bunking in on any flat piece of ground that could be found. But sometimes it was like tonight, where it was dark and quiet and it was just him and Sundance playing cards, squinting in the flickering firelight. Elza was already asleep in one of the caves off to the side - pretty far away, but they could still hear his damn loud snoring. The Tall Texan had rode off earlier than day, looking for a lady friend down by the town, and they'd be lucky if he came back before sunrise, the way he rode off whistling so cheerful and reeking of aftershave.
That left pretty much just Butch and Sundance there by the fire. Which was okay, because they were comfortable together like a pair of old shoes, and didn't neither of them feel forced to make conversation as they played, though Butch, as always, did more than his fair share of the talking.
Sundance didn't seem to mind, just listened, leaning there on one elbow, Butch sprawled too, there on the blanket across from him as they played.
"You wouldn't have believed it, Kid, when we blew that train car, and sure, we blew the safe, but we also blew through the wall, there. I thought we'd blown someone up for sure, I did. Turned out to be a shipment of real ripe raspberries, that just exploded everywhere. They sure looked redder'n blood, all over everything after the blast went off. Scared the life out of me, till we figured it out."
Sundance, never one for much talking, didn't respond, but he was grinning a little there as he studied his cards. His eyes looked pretty bright in the firelight, and Butch was pleased that his story'd gone over well. Was a pretty funny story, he thought.
Sundance threw another coin on the pile between them and called, and Butch tossed his cards down with a groan. "Beat again. There ain't another card player out there like you, Sundance." Out of money anyway - and the Kid didn't play poker for fun - Butch rolled over onto his back and looked up contentedly at the familiar sky above the Hole in the Wall. He thought that he'd maybe never been happier. He turned his head a little and watched as Sundance sat up and started rolling himself a cigarette.
Sundance never looked up, never met his eyes, but when he was done rolling it, he handed it to Butch silently and started rolling himself another. Butch dug for his matches and lit it, leaning back again to smoke it, but keeping one eye on Sundance. "You got stories of your own, there, that you never tell."
Sundance shrugged one shoulder. "There's always stories."
Butch rolled up on one elbow. "Yeah, but you never tell 'em."
"You tell stories better. You make it real, when you tell."
"You was there, though, for your stories. You could make 'em real, just the same."
Sundance shook his head and smiled down at his cigarette. "Let's stick with you being the one who tells the stories, Butch."
Butch stayed there leaning on one elbow, watching Sundance's smile. It was different - not like his mean smile, or his dangerous one. This was the smile Butch was pretty sure he was the only one ever got to see, and he liked that, he thought. Sundance looked up, then, at Butch, looked up and held his gaze, and Butch thought to himself again that, yeah, there wasn't anything like it when Sundance let you see behind those eyes he could make so dead and shuttered real easy, letting down his guard.
Butch thought he was maybe the only one who got to see that, too.
The horses, slightly restless, were moving on their line, reins jingling quietly. Butch stayed quiet for a while, watching the moon rise over the mountain range. The fire sputtered a little, a branch snapping within. Butch took a long pull on his cigarette and said slowly, "Why do you trust me, Sundance? You don't trust no one else."
Sundance was still looking at Butch. He smiled a little. "I don't trust anyone but myself, Butch, not even you."
Butch nodded. "Then - why do you stick with me, huh? I mean, follow me, like. Come with me?"
Sundance held his gaze for a second before tipping his head back and looking up towards the stars. The skin of his throat reflected the glow of the fire, and Butch couldn't see his eyes anymore at all, really. He was sleepy, leaning there in the dark with only the dying fire and the stars and moon for light. The quiet held for a few moments, then Sundance slowly shrugged one shoulder. He took a final pull off his cigarette and tossed it into the fire, then twisted over onto his stomach, resting his head on his crossed arms. "I got no idea," he said, his voice filled with quiet amusement.
Butch grinned at him, not sure Sundance could even see him in the dim light. Tossing his burned-out cigarette away, he dug into his pocket for his own tobacco pouch and rolled himself a new one. He got it lit and lay back with one arm behind his head. "We should get to bed," he said. "It's gonna get cold out here before too long."
"In a minute," Sundance said quietly, his body only a dim shadow as the darkness crept closer, the fire flickering down. "In a minute."
Butch nodded, and smoked, and hummed softly to himself in the dark, though Sundance was listening, too.
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