Stud XIV

"I hear that some of you are spreading viscous lies about my fiancée," Cynthia says sternly to the assembled hands. She's pissed. I'm standing just behind her leaning against the mess hall wall watching her work and being very glad I'm not the one she's mad at. This is the woman who makes grown millionaires cry and give up their money. I can be pretty scary and intimidating, but Cynthia can make you piss your pants and want to father her children all at the same time. The room is filled with cowboys who are looking more like frightened schoolboys at the moment. Well, most of them. It's the others I'm keeping my eye on without looking like I am. There's a group of ten men who are giving my beloved and me some very evil looks. "Syd is a lawyer, but she's not trying to take the ranch from anyone. She came with me to give me moral support when I found out my grandmother was dying and to make sure no one kept me from being at her bedside. She's the one who discovered that Jasper has been stealing my inheritance since my grandfather died. The only thing she's done is protect family interests. That's not why Jasper was asked to leave, however." She pauses and sighs. "Listen, I wouldn't ordinarily share this information, but considering the rumors that someone has been spreading, I think I have to. Jasper has been abusing my sister for the entire marriage, which he forced her into to get his hands on our ranch. With Daddy dead and Grandpa sick, he knew it wouldn't be very long until he had sole control of all the day to day operations. You know the Houstons' have always been pissed that Great-grandfather bought that tract of land right under old Silas Houston. Jasper just finally figured out how to get it back with interest. Syd threw him out when he hit my sister right in front of us. Do you really want to support a man who would beat a pregnant woman, let alone his own wife carrying his own child?"

"What a man does in his own house with his wife is no one else's business," the biggest of the ten shouts. He doesn't quite make me look small, but close.

"I agree, as long as he's not abusing her -- or their children. I never wanted to interfere either, figuring it was her life. If she wanted to marry a jackass, it was her affair. But that stopped when I saw him hitting her," Cynthia replies calmly. "But it really doesn't matter what you think. If you don't want to work for the Harveys', then we're prepared to pay you a week's severance pay for every month you've worked for the ranch plus whatever wages you have coming to you and give you a glowing letter of reference if you go quietly."

It's a more than fair deal for this area and I hope the malcontents take it and keep away from the ranch. Or give me an excuse to beat 'em up and call the sheriff. That would work too. Of course, Cynthia and the other hands would probably get there first, damn it. I can see the ten are thinking about it. I can almost see the smoke coming out of their ears from the strain of the unusual activity.

Of course, they have to be stupid. Criminally stupid, at that. The big guy pulls a .38 out of his waistband and points it at Cynthia. Well now this is unexpected. Not exactly a cowboy kind of gun I think idly as I rush forward to push Cynthia out of the way and yell "Gun!" These next few seconds are gonna hurt like hell if I survive. All hell breaks loose. The good guys either dive under tables or dive at the bad guys. I'm too slow getting out of the way and I'm shot in the shoulder. I barely notice in my rage. Getting shot isn't exactly a new thing for me and a few more times don't scare me at all. Two more men are pulling guns, I notice out of the corner of my eye as I tackle the son of a bitch who shot me. He gets in another shot that grazes my head but I don't care. I punch him in the throat with one hand as I scramble to grab the gun with my other. He drops the gun to clutch his throat, trying to breathe. I pick it up and shoot both of other men, unfortunately not before they've fired off a few shots of their own. I don't bother to look. I'm a good shot and they won't be getting back up. Neither is the big guy if he doesn't get medical attention quickly.

After that, it only takes a few minutes to subdue the other seven men. They don't put up much of a fuss after watching the others fall. No one else is shot. That's odd. Must've been lousy shots. I don't really pay much attention to them. I tie the big guy's hands with his own bootlaces and belt his legs so he can't get away if he wanted to. Then I turn my attention to Cynthia. "Are you okay, baby?" I ask anxiously as I look her over for blood. "Did I hurt you when I pushed you down?"

"I'm fine, Syd, but you need to get to the hospital. Now. Someone call the sheriff and get the copter out here yesterday. Anyone know first aid?"

"I do. I've been shot before, no big deal. Just get me some towels or gauze and I'll be fine for a while. Though I will need a doctor for my shoulder. Good thing it's my right. It's a bitch to write with my right hand." I take a mental inventory of what's wrong. Damn. I'm gonna need physical therapy again. One of the other bastards got the same shoulder before I killed him. I don't point out I've been shot three times rather than two, though. It doesn't make much difference. Except to pretend that I'm fine. If it weren't for my buddies, adrenaline and shock, I'd be passed out.

I have no memory of anything until I wake up in a hospital bed feeling like -- well, like I've been shot and cut open and sewn shut again. I guess I must've passed out after all. I've definitely gotten soft. I'm alone and I wonder if something happened to Cynthia. No. If the living seven bad guys had gotten loose, I'd be dead and not in the hospital. She's probably off taking care of things on the ranch. It's a private room and I'm hooked up to a bunch of medical stuff. Yep. Catheter. I hate those things. I'm gonna be out of commission for a week after that sucker comes out. At least. I hate to imagine how much all this is gonna set me back. Since I work for myself and hardly ever get sick, I don't have insurance. There goes my nest egg. I won't be able to work for a while either. Crap. At least Cynthia is safe. I hope. God only knows what happened after I passed out. I need to get back to the ranch, pronto. I'd never forgive myself if something happened to her… I was supposed to be her hero.

"You're awake! Thank god… I was so afraid…" Cynthia enters the room smiling and crying, Styrofoam cup in hand.

"How long?" I try to say. My throat feels like day 367 of a yearlong drought. I don't see the handy little pink pitcher that's standard hospital issue.

"Don't try to talk… I'll go get a nurse," Cynthia instructs heading out the door.

Great. *Now* she thinks to remind me not to talk. I hate sore throats. I'd rather be shot than get one and here I am, lucky me, with both. Fortunately, it doesn't take long to get a nurse in. She does a bunch of medical stuff after helping me take a drink of some lovely lukewarm water.

I think she must've given me something for the pain because I think I fell back asleep. At least the next time I'm aware, it's night and another nurse is checking my vitals and Cynthia is sleeping in a sleeper chair beside my bed. I don't stay awake very long once I see she's fine.

I drift in and out for I don't know how long. It's weird -- a gunshot has never affected me like this before. I wonder if I'm being given something I'm allergic too. But I always fall asleep before I find out what I'm on.

I finally wake up not feeling fuzzy, though my shoulder and throat hurt pretty badly. There's a pitcher of water on a tray table, but it's on my right side. I don't dare try to get it. Knowing my luck, Cynthia would come in and yell at me. No, I'm going to have to call a nurse. But the call button is on my right too. Hello? Holes in my right shoulder? All the medical degrees in this place and nobody thinks "Hmm… she can't use her right arm. Let's put things on her left side"? The only thing on my left is the chair I vaguely remember Cynthia sleeping in. Where is my little troublemaker, anyway? In books, people's partners are always glued to their bedsides. This time I see there's a row of vases on the wide windowsill filled with flowers. All I can see is blue sky through the window. Cynthia probably has work to do. Or maybe she's off for coffee again. There really isn't anything to do; the TV isn't even on. I have an IV in my right wrist attached to a clear bag; must be glucose. A hospital gown covers my shoulders, but I see an edge of gauze on my right one. I still have the catheter. I'm not attached to any other medical equipment, so I guess I'm not in danger of dying. If it weren't for the catheter and the lecture I'd get from Cynthia, I'd get out of bed and look for a nurse myself. There's nothing wrong with my legs. I wonder if there's enough slack in the catheter cord to sit up? Then I could reach the damn call button. Ripping the damn thing out would ruin my sex life. Okay, I only have a one player one at the moment, but Cynthia could seduce me any day now. Well, not now, but maybe when my shoulder is healed. It could happen. I've gotten shot for her, surely that's worth pity sex if nothing else. That thought cheers me up considerably.

"You're awake. Why do you always do that the few times I leave the room?" Cynthia asks coming into the room.

I point to my throat and then the table.

"Oh, poor baby, you couldn't even get a drink. Let me move the table over you so you can reach it." She turns the table and raises my bed so I can reach the half filled cup of water she thoughtfully pours for me.

I empty it and feel slightly better. "How long?"

"Two weeks."

"Two weeks?!" Fuck, I've completely recovered from worse in a week.

"The doctors thought at first that it was just shock and trauma, but finally a doctor thought to run tests. They were giving you too much pain medicine; you apparently have a low tolerance. They've been playing with different types and dosages. So you're fine, just been drugged."

"I should've told you that, but it never occurred to me. Don't let them give me anything else, if I fall back asleep. I have a history of chemical dependency; I haven't had so much as an aspirin in years. I have a high pain threshold, I'll be fine." I try to pour myself another cup of water; Cynthia brushes my hand away and does it for me.

"You're going to have to write down your medical history for me someday, Syd, so I can tell doctors something other than you're a great kisser and have a mean left hook. You don't have any medical records anywhere anyone could find."

"That's because none exist. In previous incarnations it was too dangerous to go to a hospital or doctor and Syd has never needed a doctor," I say quietly and shrug. Motherfuck, that hurts.

"Honey, are you sure you can't take anything for the pain?" Cynthia asks worriedly.

"I'm fine. Well, I'm not fine, but I can handle it, at least right now," I reassure her taking her hand in my good hand.

"You'll tell someone if you can't, right?"

"I promise. If someone can move the damn call button to my left side. I can't reach it."

"That might help a bit, huh?"

"Just a little. So how bad is the damage?"

"Pretty bad, but you've healed faster and better than they thought at first, so the doctors think you'll probably regain most, if not all, of your range of motion in time if you work hard in physical therapy. You were shot twice close together. You'll have some nice scars. A bullet grazed you on your temple; a fraction of an inch further to the left and you'd be dead. As it is, you'll probably scar and you have a new haircut."

"Damn, there go my dreams of being a lingerie model."

"Like I'd let you show off your underwear anyway," Cynthia snorts. "That view is now reserved for me and vital medical staff only."

"Don't I get any say in the matter?" I ask. I know the answer and I'm okay with that. I don't really want anyone but her to see my underwear anymore anyway.

"Of course you do. If you don't want to be with me anymore, show off your underwear," she replies calmly.

"That's what I thought. It's only fair since I want to restrict your exhibitionism too." I like being right.

"Fair is fair. Do you want me to get a nurse?"

"Nope, I'm fine. Where are we? How are things going on the ranch? Do I have cops after me?"

"We're in Sidney. Clint and a few of the most trusted men are keeping an eye on things, but nothing else has gone wrong. The sheriff took the troublemakers in for questioning. The big guy you hit in the throat died in the air; he came in the helicopter with us. The two guys you shot were DOA. After getting statements from everyone, he said it was a clear-cut case of self-defense, so no charges will be brought. The bad news is that there isn't much to charge the other seven with other than assault because so far no one can prove there was a conspiracy to commit murder or anything else for that matter. The good news is they're in jail for a while so there's time to find out if they know more than they're saying."

"You think it's a conspiracy and not just a few good ol' boys who don't like women, especially dykes?"

"If it happened anywhere else, yes I would, but Jasper hired those men personally without asking Clint for his opinion or doing any background checks or checking references or anything. Everyone else he hired went through that process. He might have been an asshole, but other than those ten, he was very careful about who he hired. That leads me to believe he already knew those men and trusted them. I think they're his dad's men. Old Man Houston hates my family with a passion. I think those men were there to keep an eye on Jasper and report back to him if Jasper failed to obey orders. Old Man Houston is a mean son of a bitch; he makes Jasper look like a fucking boy scout. He's obsessed, more than most Houstons', past or present, with getting our land. He's also a narrow minded bastard who hates me for "humiliating" Jasper years ago by turning him down and letting it get out as to why. No more me, no more humiliation. Of course, it's all conjuncture; I can't prove a thing. I wish I had thought of it sooner; we could've been on guard and maybe you wouldn't have been shot."

I ponder this. "It makes as much sense as anything. Eh, I didn't think anyone would shoot us; Jasper seemed more like the type to order a blanket party. I've been shot worse than this; this is nothing. At least I didn't lose any parts this time. Try having a vet remove your spleen with only rotgut moonshine for anesthesia. That's a kick," I grin and squeeze her hand. "I'm just glad you weren't hurt. I don't know what I would've done if I hadn't been fast enough." I'm pretty sure he would've died even slower than he did. I hadn't meant to kill him in the first place. Just keep him down. I wasn't expecting to pass out so soon and I didn't think of the fact that the nearest hospital was so far away. I feel bad about killing those men, but what else was I supposed to do? There were too many innocent people in danger and I was shot already. "Was anyone else hurt?" I remember thinking no one else was, but I'm not sure.

"No, just you. Thanks to you. You don't have a spleen?" I can tell she wants to ask more questions, but she doesn't.

"No spleen, only one kidney, no appendix, nothing I can't live without. There's a lot of people out there that don't like me very much. It's possible someday we might run into one or two of them. Probably not because I've changed my appearance and my identity several times since those days and I don't intend to go anywhere where I might run into those people. If you got shot protecting me from those people, would you want me to feel guilty about not taking extraordinary precautions I never ever dreamed we'd need?" I feel very proud of myself for thinking of that. I hope to nip the whole guilt thing in the bud. Or as close to that as I can.

She blinks, opens her mouth, closes it, starts to laugh. "You're getting so good at these sensitive chats. No, of course I wouldn't want you to feel guilty. Okay, honey, I'll try not to feel bad."

"Good, because I don't."

"Ah, I see our patient is awake," a woman in a white coat says cheerfully.


"How do you feel? Any…" and it just dissolves into a bunch of medical stuff.

"We're going to have to do something soon. I really need to get back to work, you need physical therapy which would be easier in the city, but I don't want to leave the ranch. I've finally gotten my family back and with all this stuff going on… What do you think we should do?" Cynthia asks, looking upset.

Oh boy. "It doesn't matter to me. I can't work 'til this damn thing heals. Which is very bad; I don't know how I'm going to pay for this hospital stay and months of physical therapy and everything if I can't work. So it doesn't matter to me; wherever you go, I go."

"I didn't tell you? Honey, work offers domestic partner insurance. You're covered. Okay, it took a little fudging on the forms, but it covers most of the cost. I charged the ranch for what it doesn't because my mom made me."

I blink. "You got me insurance? Your mom insisted on paying my hospital bills? Your homophobic mother?" Okay, I'm in the Twilight Zone.

"Well, I had to do something. I didn't know if you had any and I was afraid they wouldn't give you the best care if I didn't make it very clear we could pay. Besides, you *are* my domestic partner, aren't you? We aren't married yet and we do more or less live together. I spend more time at your place than mine. I was surprised Mom offered to pay the deductible and co-pays myself. We had a long heart to heart where she apologized for being such a bitch. She thinks the whole situation is her fault for not listening when I told her what an asshole Jasper was and caring more about what the neighbors thought than about the well being of her children. I can't really disagree, but it was nice to hear her admit she was wrong. She likes you a lot. She said you're exactly the kind of partner she always hoped her children would have."

I feel all warm and fuzzy. This is how I remember feeling when Mama was alive. I have a family again. "I have a family again," I say aloud, in wonder. I never thought I'd have another one.

"So do I because of you," Cynthia says quietly, squeezing my hand.

"We make a good team. You've given me everything I've always wanted -- love, family, a home, belonging. Things I never thought I could ever have after my family was killed and all the darkness that followed."

"It's only fair since you've given me all that too. I gave up ever hoping my family would come around. You managed to open the eyes of my mother -- a woman who never really liked me -- and I think she's starting to become a mom."

"Would you kiss me?" I ask shyly. She hasn't since before I got shot and I miss it.

She smiles and moves the tray table out of her way and she gets up and bends over and presses her lips carefully to mine. It's a different kind of kiss from ones we've shared before. I can't explain except to say it feels like home. I think I like hospitals after all.

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Copyright © 2006 by S. Berry. All Rights Reserved.

part 15

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