sideways: [ergo proxy] pino bowing in rabbit pjs (►no one else I would rather)
[personal profile] sideways
Title: Another Round
Rating: G
Series: The Riders Series (Danny Fisher, Carlo Goss)
Wordcount: 2370
Warnings: Post-series, so spoilers
Summary: Years down the track, Danny gets a chance to keep an old promise.
Remarks: This goes out to the four people who commented on my last Finisterre fic, which is honestly four more than I was expecting. I really like writing for Finisterre-verse, so it's nice to think it's filling in a niche for someone. (Maybe I should try myself an actual Yuletide this year, I certainly have enough small fandoms I know I can write for.)

You’ve knocked back at least one more drink than is wise before you find the courage to make your way to the table. Nerves bolstered, or perhaps just numbed. At least your legs don’t wobble.

The two men seated there don’t look up until you’re nearly standing over them, but there’s little reason they would – you’re no familiar face. Just one more greenhorn junior lurking nervously in the shadows, pretending like you belong. The town riders know you, of course, but you chose these men because you’ve not seen them around camp before. You chose them for their sun-creased jackets and the way there was no map spread on the table as they argued in low voices, tracing invisible pathways on the table with their fingers, memory alone shaping the terrain.

Men who’ve gone the long distances, seen the unmarked trails. Borderers.

Their argument’s long since passed into a comfortable lounging, light talk between themselves and some with other riders, and your judicious eavesdropping has earned you a name – Fisher – that you think belongs to the one on the left, the shorter and lankier of the two. He’s the first to pay you any mind, pausing over the last of his bottle to lift an eyebrow, and his companion follows the silent signal like it’s a whisper in the Wild. You hold steady under their gazes, fold your arms across your chest, and try to will the sweating stay under your collar.

“Buy you a drink?” you say.

No real ambient here, as far as the tavern is from the dens; boss doesn’t think drink and horses mix, and she’s probably right. Means there’s nothing to carry your apprehension to them, but also nothing to tell you what they’re thinking in turn, and their faces aren’t saying a whole lot as they look you up and down.

“What’s the occasion?” Fisher says.

“No occasion,” you say. “Just looking to have a talk.”

The other man – lighter in hair, broader around the shoulders – sits back in his seat a little, dismissive in a way that sends panic jolting through you. “We’re not taking on hires right now.”

“Not after being hired. Only-”

“Talk.”

“Yeah,” you say. “Yeah.”

They exchange a look. It’s easy to see their long association; spend enough time on the road, enough time with the horses tangling your thoughts together, and a man’s mind stops being such a mystery even in the private moments. Partners, maybe.

“Alright,” Fisher says. There’s a shrewdness in his eyes that makes you think you’re not masking your nervousness half as well as you’d like, but no tease in his voice when he says, “I’ll take a beer since you’re offering. Carlo?”

“None for me,” the other says, without rancour. “I’ve had my share for the night.” The glass at his elbow doesn’t look tall enough to be any kind of concern, but you know better than to question a rider’s judgement of their own limits. Besides, your wallet’s not so deep that it’s in your interests to go insisting.

The giddiness of success chases you all the way back to the bar and through laying out your bills for two drinks. A subtle glance back over your shoulder shows Fisher shrugging at something his companion – Carlo – has said. Hopefully not fending off protests about having some new kid butting into their evening. The bartender meets you with a knowing look as you turn back around, so you grab the drinks she slides you and hurry away before anyone else can cast judgement down for having the gall to go cosying up to seniors.

Fisher takes his with a nod and a thanks, and doesn’t ask you what the devil you’re thinking when you tentatively set yours down in front of a spare seat. Just siphons some of the froth off the top of the glass, makes an appreciative sound, and says, “What’s your name?”

“Lou. Lou Bresil, on-” Instinctively you try to say her name as you know it, as <wind washing across wide grassy plains, rippling colour as the stalks bend in waves>, but without a horse around you have to settle for the lame verbalisation of, “Ripple.” You’re sure it sends most minds to water.

“Dan Fisher. And my partner, Carlo Goss.”

“Goss?” you say, surprised, hand on the back of your chair. “Huh. You have aught to do with Tarmin?”

Turns out you don’t need the ambient to sense a change in the atmosphere. Fisher presses lips together, flicks his eyes sideways at his partner. Goss…Goss is a large man, you realise suddenly. Looks it next to Fisher a little, but looks it all the more when he goes still like that and fixes you with a hard stare, his wide, callused hands folded on the tabletop.

“Why do you ask?” he says, deep-voiced and quiet.

“I don’t mean anything by it,” you say hastily, fumbling, trying to work out how you’ve stepped so wrong. Tarmin’s a big settlement, respectable; maybe has more than its fair share of spook-tales attached with the Fall and all, but not the kind of place a rider could be expected to hackle about. “I just, I did an escort ride that way a month back – with others of course, I don’t ride by myself yet, not that you get a lot of solitary jobs heading up the mountains-” Lord save you, you’re babbling to borderers. “There was a town rider, a junior, went by Goss. Randy Goss and, uh, a mare, Ridge or summin’…”

“Rise,” Goss says. “Randy and Rise. My brother.”

He smiles a little as he says it, a small turn of the lips that blows all the gathering tension out of the room and nearly drops you where you stand out of sheer relief. Just like that, danger’s passed. You don’t waste time in staggering into your seat before you give them another reason to change their minds over your company.

“Rise,” you say, “yeah, that’s the one, Rise. Your brother?”

“Since birth,” Fisher quips. Goss ignores him with the ease of long practice.

“How’s he doing?” he says instead. “He looking well?”

“Uh, yeah,” you say, and curse yourself for the lost opportunity. The ride up the mountain had been a blur of keeping Ripple from sticking her nose where something might bite it off and keeping your own head quiet and clear of the seniors and their oft-thin patience; by the time the convoy reached Tarmin you’d been plumb exhausted and not inclined to seek company or long conversation. You remember Randy Goss – smooth-talking confident, on the cusp of making senior – but you doubt he’d say the same of you. “Looked good, I guess? Pretty busy. Camp boss seemed to keep him running.”

Fisher snorts into his drink and Goss twitches a smile again. There’s a story there, you realise, wistfully envious. Townsfolk talk like the borderer life is a lonesome thing, always being on the move; no roots, no community. Watching the easy familiarity here, the half dozen riders they seem to know in this bar alone, you don’t think lonely is a feeling that hangs on them overmuch.

“I’ll never be so glad as when he didn’t take up with that colt,” Goss muses.

“At least you’d know it had good lineage,” Fisher points out, and Goss shakes his head, like there aren’t enough saving graces on the planet.

“Colts are bad?” you say doubtfully.

“Older horse or mare?” Fisher asks of you, and when you nod to the latter he says, “Colts are wandersome. Not to say mares can’t be too, but male horses just tend to be a bit more…”

“Stupid about it,” Goss says blandly.

“Thanks, Carlo.”

“Your own words, Danny.”

“Mares can be stupid enough,” you mutter into your glass, memory full of Ripple’s free-spirited curiosity and all its wrought, and flush a little at their chuckles.

“Well,” Goss says. “Young is still young.”

It could be a jab, but it doesn’t feel like it, not when you look at the fondness playing about his face. More likely still thinking on his brother. Not uncommon to get family out among the riders, of course, though you wonder at what sets one on the roads and keeps another close to town. Goss the younger had seemed to know the place well, and it had been a strange town to navigate even in just the rider camp, newer architecture jostled up alongside structures from before the Fall-

For a second Tarmin seems to flicker in front of your eyes, and maybe something else too, something not your own, and you hunch in your seat, thinking <tall grass, long grass, straw-dry and whispering> in sheer nervous reflex – but the horse, if it is one, is passing at a distance and neither of the seniors show sign of hearing you. Doesn’t mean they didn’t, but they’re at least being polite about it.

Something prompts Goss to half-turn in any case, hooking an arm over the back of his chair as he glances towards where the clock is nailed to the tavern wall. “Might move on,” he says as he turns around again, more to Fisher than you. “I want to look in on spook before turning in,” and before you have a chance to parse that sentence he’s giving you a tip of the head. “Pleasure meeting you. And thanks for the news.”

“Yeah. Yeah, you too.” You drag your thoughts away from wondering why a rider is looking for a spook in time to say, “Hell, gives me something to say to Goss- uh, Randy, if I see him again.”

It gets you another small smile – easy button to press, that one – but then as he stands, Fisher reaches out, smacks the back of his hand lightly against Goss’ arm. “Carlo, if you’re heading to the dens, mind checking-”

Yeah, Danny,” is the response, all exasperated affection like it’s an unnecessary asking and Fisher should know it, and finally it twigs that it’s not some wildling creature they’re talking about, or at least no wilder than the horses ever are. “You stay out too long and Cloud might come looking himself, though.”

“Hah,” Fisher says, hand still resting on Goss’ arm, and when Goss moves he drops a hand briefly against the back of Fisher’s neck; a close gesture, warmly meant. You bury your nose in your drink, not wanting to look like you’re gawking.

Then he’s swinging his fringed jacket off the chair and around his shoulders – bigger man still, standing – tilting his head in acknowledgement as the bartender hails him goodnight, and leaving you sitting one-on-one with a borderer.

“He named his horse Spook?” you say into the silence, the moment you’re sure he’s out of hearing, and then want to bite your tongue in half for how incredulous you sound. You’d been aiming for casually curious. “I, uh, I just mean-”

“I named him.” Fisher meets your startled look with a raised eyebrow, mercifully not wearing too cantankerous an expression along with it. “Spook’s a good horse, under Carlo. Always going to be a little shifty, but that’s just his nature.”

“Sure,” you say weakly. “Makes sense.” It doesn’t, truth be told, but it’s not like the man named the horse Goblin Cat and sure as hell not like it’s your business.

He holds your gaze a moment longer, then glances down at his glass and lets you blink again. “How long you been riding?”

“Uh, ‘bout eight months? Eight months, nearly.”

“And you’ve done a ride to Tarmin?”

He sounds almost interested, and you hate to sink that, but- “Got a cousin,” you mumble. “On the trucks. And it’s not like it’s so far from here.”

“Still,” Fisher says. “Some tricky trails around the mountains.”

He says it real knowing, with all the long experience of the senior. The kind of experience you ache for, though you know enough to know it’s hard-won. Fisher’s not so old, more creases on his coat than around his eyes, but you can see the crooked bent of one finger that’s not healed right, the way one ear runs flat along the top like it lost skin it never quite grew back.

“It was a pretty hard ride,” you acknowledge. Not supposed to contradict seniors, and even stupider to do it when he’s just about complimenting you. “And it was…well, anyway. Uh. So, Fisher-”

He waves a hand. “Dan’s fine.”

You’ve definitely had too much to drink, because you say, “Not Danny?”

He gives you an amused look – you hope. “Dan.”

“Okay. Dan.” You draw a deep breath, and find to your desperate frustration you’re not sure how to say it, how to ask the cussed questions that pulled you over here to begin with. How to tell someone: I want your life. I want to know the secrets you had to figure out for yourself, the shortcuts you created, the traps you fell into and how you climbed out of them again. “Aw, hell’s bells, I’m just…”

“Breathe, Bresil. We got time.” He tilts his head then as if acknowledging some unspoken point, adds wryly, “Cloud bidding.”

You laugh – giggle nearly, nervous and a little drunk – at the notion of a nighthorse come to fetch his rider from the tavern like a cross spouse resenting a cold bed. It’s not so unlikely, you know, but you feel the tight set of your shoulders loosening all the same for the release, and Fisher smiles, almost approving.

“Tarmin’s a good start, you know," he says, all easy-like. "However you got into it. Good experience to have under your belt.”

He already knows, you realise then. He damn well already knows exactly what kind of talk you’re looking for, and has from the start. “Yeah?” you say, hope blooming in your chest, bright enough to finally put a smile on your face, feeble a showing as it is. Lean your elbows on the table, glass cupped between. “I mean, it was hard, but…but it was good. For both of us.”

“Horses know what they like,” Dan Fisher agrees, and settles back comfortably in his own seat. “So. What kind of gear do you have?”
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