He preferred the silence, the solitary quiet of deep snow where not a sound could be heard for miles. The green colors were beautiful, but with them came the sounds of birds, rustling leaves and scurries of varying animals along the trail. Cory Lambert went to the ridge and settled down with his rifle and scanned the field below.
The wolf had gone after sheep and once Cory caught the prints it hadn’t taken long to find the animal nosing at a leftover carcass. It turned up it’s nose and began making its way south.
“Only got a taste for warm blood, don’t you,” Cory whispered.
There was no hesitation in taking the shot. The animal collapsed, and Cory got to his feet. He put another round in the chamber before heading to the wolf’s body. No sense in getting himself caught unaware. Cory wouldn’t be surprised if some animal decided to investigate. The animals were sometimes too smart for their own good.
Cory kneeled and tied a rope around the wolf’s neck and began the long trek back to his four-wheeler. He felt the vibration of the radio in his pouch. Cory shifted the rifle and unzipped his pouch then took out the radio.
“You’ll be at your truck in about two hours,” the voice said.
There was something familiar about the strange voice and Cory stopped. He gazed across the countryside taking in every potential movement. Nothing.
“And you know that.”
“Gaging when you went after the wolf on your ATV and how far you likely hiked, yeah.”
“Who the hell is this?”
“I can meet you at your pickup.”
“Fuck off. I see anyone near it and I’ll take their goddamn head off.” Cory shut off the radio. “Fucking asshole.”
He checked his sidearm to be certain and put the rifle forward just in case. He’d seen too much damn death at the hands of stupidity to take any chances.
When Cory got to the vehicle, there was no one near it. He loaded the ATV and threw the carcass in the back. Once he was at the wheel, his cell went off. Cory checked the time. It was too early for Wilma to complain about him being late to pick up Casey.
Cory thumbed the phone and opened up the text app. Staring at him was himself only it wasn’t him. This was taken at the local Roadway Inn. He recognized the interior.
One simple message: We have to meet.
“Okay, fine,” Cory said to himself. He texted directions and then called Wilma. He’d have to pick up Casey tomorrow morning. It wasn’t a conversation he was looking forward to.
Clint had never seen anything like it. The drums and chants had a raw feel to it and he resisted the urge to bounce up and down with the beat. Surrounding him and Natasha were Native Americans some in costume of feathers and beads and others wearing everyday clothes. It was surreal and all he wanted to do was explore.
He flexed his fingers wishing for a bow. This was the kind of thing he dreamed of as a kid only him being on the winning team as an Indian. Native American, Clint mentally corrected.
“We stand out too much,” Natasha commented. She gave Clint a side-look. “You look like a tourist.”
“This is fucking great, Nat. Phil and I should…”
“Calm down. There’s no future vacation here if this goes badly.”
“Yeah.” Clint settled down and his eye caught a dirty beige cowboy hat. “He’s here.”
“At you’re nine. He’s being careful.”
“Being someplace where you’re likely to be taken as Cory Lambert,” Natasha muttered. “This was idiotic.”
“We agreed to go on his terms, Nat.” Clint felt his cell vibrate and took it out. “There’s a teepee a few hundred feet away on the north end. He’s waiting for us there.”
“Of course,” Natasha said nearly rolling her eyes.
Clint and Natasha left the crowd and music and made their way. Once he saw the markings as described, Clint glanced at Natasha, before opening the flap and going inside.
Cory Lambert stood before him stiff and unmoving, the cowboy hat sitting low. His thumbs in his jeans and Clint didn’t miss the cannon in the holster.
“You went native?” Clint remarked.
“This some kind of joke you,” Cory fired back. “’Cause it sure as hell ain’t one to me when you got on my fucking radio.”
“No, man.” Clint raised his hands. “Just want to talk. That’s it.”
After a deep breath, Cory said, “I’m guessing twin since I’m adopted. Who’s that?”
“Natasha,” she answered. “A friend.”
“So you saw, we met and you know how to reach me.” Cory started for the door. “Have a nice life.”
“Cory,” Clint said. “This is…shit man, this is fucking complicated and you don’t…”
“I don’t know the half of it, right?”
“Well, more like 5/6th.”
“Jesus, Clint.” Natasha thumped the back of his head.
“Owe, Nat.” Clint shrugged his shoulders. “Sorry, snark is usually my first line of defense.”
“How long is this going to take?” Cory asked.
“A while and a few drinks,” Clint told him. “I’m not sure if there’s enough alcohol to cover it.”
“Follow me to my place,” Cory said. “Find your own liquor. I don’t drink.”
When he was out the door, Clint glanced at Natasha. “Went better than I thought it would.”
“I’d say so. You’re lucky he didn’t shoot you.”
It took over thirty minutes to get to Cory’s house.
Once inside, Clint’s eyes went directly to the bullet assembly machine. He had all the makings to fill in his own shells and about any other ammunition he’d care to have.
“I’ll get out of my gear,” Cory said hanging his hat on the nearby hook. “There’s water and…well, water if you’re thirsty.”
When he left Clint went to the mantel loaded with photos. He picked up one with Cory and his children. His heart ached at the loss of Emily. Clint never knew her, but he still felt sorrow and he didn’t know why. He glanced over at Natasha who was reading a framed poem.
Neither had a chance to say a word to one another when Cory came back. He wore a simple t-shirt and jeans.
Clint watched him at the coffee maker before speaking.
“There’re things you gotta know about this.”
“They’re dead, right?”
“What?” Clint asked.
“Our parents. Dead.”
“Yeah, I mean, Momma is…I don’t know…” Shit, Clint was losing it. He had no idea how to even get the words out. Fortunately, Natasha had her head on straight. She was already setting up the laptop.
“Clint’s normally the one who has little difficulty in expressing himself, Mr. Lambert.”
“Shit, call me Cory.”
Natasha nodded. “Cory, in this instance the news he has to share with you was earth shaking for him. I can assist, but this is Clint’s to tell.”
“Fine,” Cory said. He went to the small sofa and sat, then looked up at Clint. “Sit down.”
Clint finally moved and got next to Cory. It felt all strange and shit. He didn’t want to do this.
“I’ll probably be doing this more than once,” Clint mumbled. He leaned in towards the laptop and brought up a photo. She was pretty.
“That’s her,” Clint said. “Momma…I mean Edith Barton. Uncle Carmine called her Eddie on account she hated her name.”
“She raised you,” Cory said.
“It’s a fucking history of shit,” Clint bit out. “She tried her best. Did what she could.”
“It was bad, then.”
“Yeah,” Clint sighed. “I had an older brother who protected me as much as he could. When they were killed, he and I got shuttled off to some foster homes. The last one wasn’t good and we took off. A circus took us in until it folded. Barney got himself caught up in a drug running operation. He had a heart attack in prison and died.” Clint went on. “Momma, I mean our mother, she and the old man went to this clinic.”
Clint thought Cory took the entire story rather well.
“Holy fuck me a running,” Cory whispered. He leaned forward. “Six of us. You said six of us, right?”
“Yeah, now five. Kenneth Kitson was killed in Iraq.”
“And the asshole you thought was your old man isn’t.”
“He’s not any of ours as far as I can tell. We’d have his body exhumed, but it’s been too long to get any kind of testing done to be sure. Plus, Alice was pretty clear about it. The donor was someone different…special, she said.”
“You haven’t talked to the others.”
“No. The records said you were born first and you were the easiest approach, at least we thought so.”
“Cory,” Natasha said. “You were told you were adopted?”
“Mom and Dad made sure I always knew. This place, the res, family and history are as a part of it as is blood. Mom was Arapaho and Dad taught English at the high school. They told me everything they knew in case I ever wanted to find my biological parents.”
“Did you try?” Clint asked.
“A long time ago.” Cory shook his head when he remembered. “I got as far as the adoption agency and the trail ended.”
“Thatcher,” Natasha supplied.
“No, it was a state agency. They’d sealed the records.”
Clint looked over at her. “Makes sense if they’re trying to hide. As long ago as it was, no one had reason to look deeper.”
“We were sold.” Cory wiped his face. “Like fucking livestock.”
“The old man was a real bastard,” Clint told him. “If he did anything with the money we never saw it. Lived in a broken-down shack outside of town and he drank. Blamed everyone for his failures and took him and Momma into a tree at 65 miles an hour.”
“I’m sorry, Clint.”
“That’s old history. Trying to make some good history out of it all if I can.”
“Like a reunion.”
“I suppose,” Clint nodded. “I made a promise and I’m hoping you’ll help me with it.”
“Not much I can do. I don’t have contacts like you and your people. I mean, Tony fucking Stark,” Cory laughed. “You’re a damn Avenger.”
“There’s one more thing I’m hoping you’ll agree to.”
“If I can get more than a couple of us together, I’d like to get some genetic testing done. Chances are slim, but there’s a shot we might able to find the donor and find out his role in all this.”
“You think he orchestrated it all.”
“I don’t know. They called him “The Survivor”. Our doctor thinks he might able to use our DNA to narrow the search for him.”
“Well, the next few days are out. I’m taking Casey to Bozeman tomorrow.”
“Sure.” Clint and Natasha got to their feet.
Cory stood and glanced down at the laptop. “Can you send me this stuff?”
“It’s yours,” Natasha said. “It’s been modified so you’ll be able to reach Clint anytime and any new information we find will be forwarded to you.”
“You’ll know everything I know.”
“Okay,” Cory agreed.
The instinct to hug was replaced with an awkward handshake and when they left, Cory sat down and looked through the photos.
All his life he’d felt alone despite his connection to his children and the people at the Res. Clint was a good man and a fucking Avenger. Cory chuckled at the idea. This was good, he thought. Real good.