“…and as every spy knows, common enemies are how allies always begin.”
August 21, 1863
They’d slowed their desperate escape the moment they’d breached the line of buildings, leaving the smoke, screams, and cannon fire behind them. Rufus Carlin could still hear the crack of the six-shooters he’d seen fixed to the hips of the raiding party, but the immediacy was diminishing as they took to the dirt road that lead out of town.
Really, it was less a road, more of a set of wagon ruts with an embankment on either side—the north side leading to a wooded area, the south to a river loud enough Rufus realized he could hear it over the melee they left behind. The Kansas River, Lucy Preston had told them as they’d trekked toward the small hamlet of Lawrence, KS, just the evening before.
Rufus stumbled, groaning audibly as the pain in his head spiked. The road seemed to double, the edges blurring just enough it was difficult to stay the course.
“Easy, Rufus.” The voice was low—strained, but steady. “One foot in front of the other.”
“Easy for you to say,” Rufus gasped, adjusting his grip on Lucy’s arm, where it was slung across his shoulder. “You’re not seeing double and trying to keep your stomach from climbing up your throat.”
Master Sergeant Wyatt Logan had the audacity to chuckle at that, causing Rufus to huff audibly, making his frustration known.
“You’re not helping,” Lucy chided, her ire directed away from Rufus and toward the brown-haired man currently keeping both of them upright.
“It’s a concussion,” Wyatt informed them, moving them forward, away from the smoke and carnage, and toward the lifeboat. Or, at least Rufus hoped that was where they were headed because at this stage he felt as if they were moving in circles. “I’ve had a few myself. They’re not fun, but you’ll get through it.”
Lucy limped along quickly between them, her petite frame practically suspended as each man grasped one of her arms, helping her keep weight off her ankle. Rufus wished they’d been able to catch one of the horses that had bolted from the demolished town. Something to give Lucy a chance to rest. Give him a chance to rest.
Give them a chance to survive. God, but his head hurt.
“Oh, shit,” Rufus gasped as heat suddenly flashed through him, turning his skin clammy and sending him stumbling forward, tugging on Lucy’s arm. “Guys, I’m not gonna….”
“Okay, it’s okay,” Lucy tried, whimpering as she caught her balance on her bad ankle.
Before Rufus could gracefully release her, Wyatt was easing Lucy to the ground and supporting Rufus to the side of the road where the black man went clumsily to his knees, tipping forward as he lost whatever he’d thought to eat over the course of the last year. And then some.
Shaking, sweating, vision swimming, it took Rufus a moment to realize that Wyatt hadn’t left his side—and had, in fact, braced him to keep him from tumbling down the embankment at the side of the dirt road. One of the soldier’s hands was at Rufus’ back, the other bracing his shoulder, and a low stream of words were hitting Rufus’ ears.
“…what you get for being such a bad ass and saving the day.”
Rufus eased back on his heels, catching sight of the bloodied, bruised knuckles of the man supporting him, remembering how Wyatt had seemed to suddenly appear in the stairwell of the Eldridge Hotel, descending like some kind of avenging angel on the raider who’d shoved Lucy down the stairs and had Rufus pinned against the wall.
“You sure you weren’t the one hit your head?” Rufus rasped, dragging the sleeve of his loose, white shirt—now speckled with dirt, ash, and the blood of strangers—across his foul-tasting mouth. “Pretty sure you saved our asses.”
“Nah,” Wyatt shook his head and grinned slightly, the light of it hitting his blue eyes, “you had it all under control.” He frowned suddenly, studying Rufus.
“I didn’t know a black man could look so grey.”
“Very funny,” Rufus muttered, looking over Wyatt’s shoulder to where Lucy sat in a pile of torn, dirty skirts, her leg bent at an impossible angle so that her swollen ankle could rest in her lap. That woman must do Yoga every day, Rufus thought. “You okay? How’s the ankle?”
The brunette woman looked up at him, her dark eyes tired and red-rimmed. He couldn’t blame her; after what they’d just witnessed, they could all use a good cry. She rubbed the heel of her hand against her forehead. Wyatt twisted away from Rufus, looked over at their third teammate.
“It’s not broken,” she replied. “But it hurts like hell.”
“Bad sprain,” Wyatt declared. “Had a few of those, too.”
“They must beat the hell outta you Delta Force guys,” Rufus muttered, rocking slowly to his knees and considering standing.
“Oh, that wasn’t in the military,” Wyatt grinned again. The man seems to actually be enjoying this, Rufus thought. Wyatt was focused, dangerous, and completely capable—the epitome of a soldier—but Rufus had never really seen him enjoy what he did. He simply did it. “That was all from playing soccer in high school.”
Rufus took the hand that Wyatt offered and managed to get to his feet. The road wavered before him again; Wyatt’s hand stayed at his shoulder until he was no longer swaying.
“Glad I was a band geek, then,” Rufus managed, blinking as the ache stabbing through his left eyebrow decided to punctuate his sentence. That bastard just had to use the end of his rifle…couldn’t have started with a left hook or something easier to dodge.
He saw that Wyatt was standing in front of Lucy, who was looking up at the man with such a forlorn expression Rufus wanted to wrap her up in a blanket and let her sleep for a week. She’d been pretty tough herself, getting them out of their room—applying skills Wyatt had taught her about picking locks—and to the stairwell just as the cannon blasts hit the outer wall of the hotel.
“Get on my back,” Wyatt said suddenly.
“I’m sorry?” Lucy blinked up at him, large brown eyes slightly shell-shocked at the command
“Rufus can barely carry himself,” Wyatt tipped his head toward Rufus. “Get on my back. We keep weight off that ankle and I keep an eye on him.”
Lucy sighed, then gathered her cumbersome skirts into one hand to free up her legs, getting to her knees. She glanced up at Wyatt. “Well, bend down.”
It was Wyatt’s turn to be surprised. “Do what now?”
“I’m not going to climb you like a tree; you’re three feet taller than me,” Lucy grumbled, uncharacteristically cross. “Bend down so I can get on.”
Wyatt nodded once, then crouched low, balancing on the balls of his feet as Lucy maneuvered herself onto his back, keeping her right foot from bearing any of her weight. Rufus watched as Wyatt stretched to his full height, arms hooked beneath Lucy’s knees as she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and clasped her hands over his sternum, her face near his ear.
“Set?” Wyatt asked.
“Fine,” Lucy replied, sounding more embarrassed than in pain.
The sound of cannon fire hitting a building to the south of their position caused all three to flinch and Rufus reached for the two of them instinctively.
“We need to get off this road. Get to the life boat,” he urged. There had been too many angry Southerners back in Lawrence for his liking.
Wyatt moved forward, jerking his chin at Rufus as an indication the other man should lead the way. Rufus swallowed a groan, knowing the other two would zero in on it, and positioned himself just in front of Wyatt, trying desperately to walk in a straight line as he did so.
“You know…you’re not the first person I’ve given a piggy back ride to,” Wyatt commented quietly, clearly feeling the tension emanating from Lucy’s body. “Had a pal take a bullet in the leg in Fallujah. We were four klicks out from our transport.”
Rufus glanced back at his two teammates and saw that Lucy was watching Wyatt’s profile, the blue-eyed man’s gaze on the middle distance.
“It was just the two of us,” Wyatt continued, catching up with Rufus’ stuttering gate so that he hugged the edge of the dirt road, Rufus to his right. “I couldn’t get him on my shoulders liked we’d been trained to do—“
“What, like, fireman’s carry?” Lucy interrupted.
Wyatt nodded. “I’d messed up my arm during the Op. Only way we were both getting out of there is if he hitched a ride.”
“And you made it.” Rufus felt like he needed that bit of confirmation at this point; he had lost all sense of distance regarding their ride. “You got him out of there.”
“I got him out of there,” Wyatt replied, glancing askance at Rufus. “And I’ll get you out of here, too.”
“We shouldn’t even be here,” Lucy muttered, a sigh leaking around her words. “We never saw Flynn. Almost got ourselves killed by William Quantrill. For what?”
“Doing the job,” Wyatt replied, his tone sounding rote as though the answer had been drilled into him.
“The job sucks,” Rufus muttered, the flat of his fingers against aching temple. He’d felt pain before, sure. But never pain mixed with the inability to focus multiplied by never-ending nausea. “Concussions suck.”
“You’re doing great, man,” Wyatt encouraged. “You just keep planting one foot in front of the other. That’s your job.”
“Until we get to the lifeboat. Then I have to fly the damn thing.”
“Well…one job at a time,” Wyatt soothed. He shifted Lucy’s weight so she rested higher on his back. “Maybe after we get back, I teach you some defense moves, you teach me the right switches to flip on the lifeboat.”
Rufus tilted his head at that. “Does that mean we both have to brush up on our historical facts?”
Wyatt tossed him a loose grin. “Nah.”
“Thanks a lot,” Lucy replied, but Rufus heard the good-natured humor in her reply.
Another blast—this one disturbingly close—sounded from the destroyed town to their south.
“All those people,” Lucy’s voice hitched. “Sometimes I hate the necessity of history.”
Rufus looked over in surprise, but her dark eyes were on the road ahead of them. “You? You love history.”
“Sure, when I’m sitting in my mother’s living room, or in a classroom, safely reading from a book and applying logic to all the outcomes and reasons certain things had to happen so that we could learn whatever lesson needed to be learned and not repeat that shit ever again,” Lucy lamented, her grip on Wyatt tightening until her fists were clenched just beneath his throat. “Not standing in the middle of the largest civilian massacre of the Civil War knowing that it doesn’t make a difference because we still have hate and division and bigotry and violence a hundred and fifty years later.”
“Lucy—“ Wyatt started but Rufus interrupted him, turning until he faced them, forcing Wyatt to stop.
“You’re wrong,” Rufus declared. “We did learn something from all of this.”
Tears swam in Lucy’s eyes and the anguish there stabbed something in Rufus’ heart. He glanced at Wyatt and saw the same questions on the taller man’s face. Ignoring the persistent chisel at work on his brain, Rufus squared his shoulders and blinked back at both of them through blood-crusted lashes.
“I’m here with you two because we learned that we’re all just people. At the heart of all this…this violence…it’s just people. And most of us realize that. Most of us know that looking at someone’s skin color and making a decision about them as a person is just…,” he lifted a shoulder, the side of his mouth tucking back in a tremulous smile, “stupid. You two…you’re like family to me. I know I’ve only known you for a few weeks, but…after all we’ve survived—“
“Me too,” Lucy interrupted. “And since I don’t have much family left…that means something.”
Rufus saw Lucy mirror his movement as they looked at Wyatt. Rufus nearly flinched away from the conflict at war in Wyatt’s expression. The logical side in him understood: Wyatt survived all the battles he’d fought because of trust in his team, and both Rufus and Lucy had severely bruised that trust not long ago. But it was more than that, Rufus suspected. It was the absence of the men he’d fought alongside. It was the death of his wife, Jessica. It was the world stripping away everything that Wyatt Logan used for balance and asking him to move forward anyway.
“You’re right,” Wyatt finally replied. “We’re all just people. And people screw up. And they come through.” The grin Rufus realized he’d been watching for tugged at the corner of Wyatt’s mouth once more. “So…yeah. I need you guys, too.”
Rufus knew he wouldn’t forget the look of forgiveness and acceptance that found a home in Wyatt’s eyes in that moment.
Just like he’d never forget the unmistakable crack of gunfire that sounded from the tree line just over his left shoulder.
Or the thunk as a bullet slammed into Wyatt with enough force to send the soldier—and his passenger—tumbling off the road and down the embankment before the smile had a chance to slip from Wyatt’s face.
Rufus dropped to the ground, covering the back of his head, and waited for another shot, but it never came. Shaking, gasping for air from the surge of adrenalin that now coursed through him, Rufus crawled to the edge of the embankment, peering over to see his friends sprawled at the bottom of the shallow hill, unmoving.
12 hours earlier
“Didn’t we already fight this war?” Wyatt sighed tiredly, jumping down from the round, metal opening of the lifeboat, water splashing up around his knee-high boots.
His stomach was still settling from the pull-his-belly-button-through-his-nose sensation of traveling through time, and his eyes were burning from exhaustion. He hadn’t been able to sleep more than four hours a night since their last mission, and it was starting to drag on him. He could see that his teammates weren’t faring much better in the rest department.
“That was the end of it,” Lucy commented, tugging her skirts free of the doorway and jumping down. “This is the beginning.”
“Good of Connor to send us coordinates that just so happened to be in the middle of a swamp,” Rufus muttered, following Lucy from the machine.
“Technically, I think it’s a wheat field,” Lucy replied, holding her skirts out of the standing water and looking around. “There was a surplus of rain that—er, um, this—summer.”
“Well, we just got this boat patched up,” Rufus stated, running a hand across the hull. “I’m not excited about it sinking in the middle of a Kansas wheat field.”
Wyatt waited until they were done with the usual grumbling about where they landed the lifeboat—which he always felt was pointless because where else were they going to land, downtown? That wouldn’t screw history all to hell or anything—and then tugged the cap the wardrobe department had provided him over his short brown hair. Apparently, it was too early in the war in this region of America to wear an actual Union uniform. He was dressed as a rancher, Lucy his 1860’s-era wife, and Rufus, well…there weren’t many option for Rufus in this moment of history.
He ducked his chin and met Lucy’s eyes.
“What?” She blinked at him.
He wished she wouldn’t do that; he always felt the need to put himself between her and the bad guys when she looked at him like that.
“We've already dealt with the Civil War,” he reasserted. “So, why is Flynn here, now?”
She sighed expressively and began to slog her way through the soggy wheat field toward what Wyatt assumed was a road.
“I think it’s safe to say none of us have a clue why Flynn does anything—except that it has something to do with Rittenhouse.”
Rufus shrugged and nodded toward Lucy, following her away from the lifeboat. “Lady’s got a point.”
“Fine,” Wyatt snapped, stretching his steps out so that he beat them both to the road, turned and faced them as they stepped onto dry land. “What’s going on in Kansas right now that has anything to do with Rittenhouse?”
Lucy shook her skirts free, and peered down at her lace-up, period-appropriate boots. “Y’know, if I have to wear all these layers each time we travel back prior to 1970, I think I should at least be allowed to wear comfortable shoes.” She glanced at both men. “You get to wear pants; it’s only fair.”
Before Wyatt could reply Rufus huffed a sarcastic laugh. “You really want to talk fair about any point in history prior to 1970?”
Smoothing her skirts, Lucy lifted her chin. “Point taken.” She glanced first north then south along the dirt, rutted road. “Lawrence is this way.”
“You feel a tremor in the Force or something?” Rufus teased. Wyatt couldn’t help the smirk that twisted at his lips.
“Connor said he’d land us north of town. And in about, oh…a hundred years…ish, this road will be Interstate 70,” Lucy informed them, walking resolutely onward, evidently trusting her team to follow.
Wyatt caught up in a few strides. “Tell us about Quantrill.”
Lucy glanced up at him and he felt that same twist in his gut, that sense of necessary protection. He looked away, searching the clusters of trees, the shallow dip on the sides of the road, the warren where a small creek rippled through the clean stillness of the late evening. While it may be true the war wouldn’t reach this area until tomorrow, there was no guarantee danger wasn’t lurking in the tree line, waiting for the opportune moment to strike.
“On August 21, 1863—tomorrow—William Clarke Quantrill will lead a group of Confederate guerillas on a raid of this town because of its support of abolition,” Lucy said, glancing quickly toward Rufus as she spoke. “The town boasted a free-state militia—this was before becoming part of the Union army, obviously—and they had a bit of a reputation for destroying farms and plantations in Missouri.”
“Let me guess,” Wyatt spoke up. “Missouri was pro-slavery.”
“Yes,” Lucy nodded.
“So, the militia…they’re the good guys,” Rufus chimed in.
“See, that’s the thing,” Lucy tipped her head to the side, turning her hand out in that way she had when she wanted to concede a point but history wouldn’t allow it. Wyatt noticed she did this more and more with each trip. “It’s easy for us to say that, looking back on this war. But when all of this was new—the feelings of States rights and tradition colliding with the concept of equality and free men—what the Jayhawkers did—“
“The basketball team?” Wyatt interrupted.
Lucy shot him a wry look, one eyebrow arched, “The militia. The team got their name from the militia. And besides…the team’s called the Jayhawks. Not Jayhawkers.”
“Ah, right. Sure.”
“Didn’t peg you as a basketball fan, Lucy,” Rufus teased.
Lucy lifted a shoulder. “I’m not. Amy is. When Mom got really sick, we watched the NCAA—“
She stopped abruptly and pulled in a shaking breath. Wyatt and Rufus stayed quiet as she visibly worked to shove her memories back behind the wall she’d erected upon learning her sister no longer existed. Wyatt was intimately familiar with that wall; he’d been fortifying his own since he lost Jessica.
“Anyway,” Lucy went on, her voice steady once more, “what they did to the landowners in Missouri was, at the time, viewed as just as bad—or worse—by the Confederacy as how the Union viewed slavery.”
“So…slavery was only evil from a certain point of view,” Rufus grumbled. “How very Obi-Wan Kenobi of you.”
Lucy stopped dead in her tracks, compelling the other two to do the same. “I’m telling you about Quantrill and the outlook of the people in the town we’re about to walk into, Rufus.” Her voice was crisp, her words selected carefully as if she were plucking them from a box full of thorns. Wyatt could suddenly very easily picture her standing in a university lecture hall. “This has no bearing on me; you know my view of this time in history.”
Rufus dropped his head, pressing his lips flat. “I’m sorry.”
Letting the impending argument die, Lucy walked on. “Tomorrow morning at five, about four hundred of Quantrill’s men will ride into town. They first gain control of the Eldridge Hotel by cannon fire since it was the highest point in Lawrence at the time. Then they use the hotel as their base and…basically fan out and ride through the town, seeking out every able-bodied person they can. They set fire to the buildings, kill most of the men in the town, loot the banks…it’s a massacre. Not a battle.”
“Can’t imagine how Flynn could make that any worse,” Wyatt commented, eyes darting to a thicket of trees, watching for the reflection of a rifle barrel in the fading sunlight.
“Is there someone that maybe escaped?” Rufus guessed.
Lucy shook her head slowly, but Wyatt saw that her eyes were darting quickly in thought. “Well, wait. There was a U.S. Senator. Uh…Jim Lane. Apparently, Quantrill’s men had a list and he was at the top of it. He cut through a cornfield and got away.”
“What’s so great about him?” Wyatt asked, compelling the other two to slow as he decreased his pace, hearing the sounds of wagon wheels and voices calling to each other—they were close to town.
“He recruited the 1st Regiment Kansas Volunteer Infantry,” Lucy said, stopping Rufus with a hand on his arm. “They were the first African-American troops to fight in the war—a year before the 54th.”
Wyatt shot his gaze toward Rufus, watching as the dark-skinned man processed this information.
“You think Flynn wants to make sure this Lane guy doesn’t escape the massacre?” Rufus asked.
Lucy tipped her hands up. “I have no idea, but…I mean, everything else he’s done has been to stop or destroy a moment in history that helps to make America the Nation it is today—why not stop the formation of the first African-American infantry?”
“Not sure what that has to do with Rittenhouse,” Wyatt commented with a shrug and a tug on the brim of his hat, “but it’s as good a reason as any.”
“Okay, so…it’s about six o’clock,” Lucy said, resting her hands on her hips. “That gives us less than twelve hours to find Lane and get him out of Lawrence before Quantrill hits town.”
“And we’re all going to just agree that we’re not here to stop this massacre?” Wyatt said, needing to at least throw the possibility out there.
“We can’t,” Lucy shook her head. “Wyatt, this event shapes—“
Wyatt held up a hand to stop her. “I get it,” he broke in. “Space-time continuum and all that.”
“Okay, people,” Rufus said as they reached a two-lane bridge that stretched over a frothing, mud-heavy river. “Game faces.”
It had been Lucy’s idea to check into the Eldridge Hotel. As neither Rufus nor Wyatt had an alternate plan, they agreed, once more playing the husband and wife team, this time with Rufus as their hired man. Securing a room on the third floor, they looked out on Massachusetts Street to form their plan.
“We could just go to the man’s house, tell him he’s in danger, and haul his ass out of town,” Wyatt suggested. “Done and done.”
“And how do we explain knowing about a secret raid on the town?” Lucy challenged.
Wyatt narrowed his eyes. He didn’t like it, this cloak and dagger approach. He didn’t like not being able to see the angles, the edges, the possible outcomes. His job was to protect his team—and kill Garcia Flynn, but that had somehow fallen to the background since Lucy and Rufus had stood up to Agent Christopher on his behalf. Even discovering they’d both kept secrets from him hadn’t shifted his loyalty.
“What do you suggest?”
Lucy studied both of them for a moment, then looked back down onto the street where the evening lamps were being lit as the sun slanted further toward the horizon.
“Businesses will be closing soon. Rufus and I will go to the restaurant here at the hotel and ask around. Wyatt, you head down to that saloon, there—see it?”
“Yeah, I see it,” he muttered.
“We meet back here in…what, an hour?”
“Make it two,” Wyatt checked the clip of his weapon, tucking it into his back waistband once more.
Lucy nodded, then darted her gaze between the two of them. “Good luck.”
Moving through the evening streets of the small, mid-western town without his team felt a bit surreal, Wyatt had to admit. There was a part of him that had to keep up a silent mantra that this was all happening. He wasn’t dreaming. It wasn’t a movie set. It was real, and he was there, and he could impact things with the slightest encounter. He could practically hear Lucy whispering warnings in his ear.
He walked into the saloon Lucy had pointed out from their room in the Eldridge and removed his hat, glancing first at the dark corners to his right and left, then at the hands of the men who sat nearest him. No one looked up at his entrance; the town wasn’t small enough that a new face was cause for alarm, it appeared.
Feeling completely out of place and not a little ridiculous, he slid onto the closest stool at the bar and waited until the bartender turned toward him.
“Uh…whatever you have on tap is fine,” Wyatt ordered, suddenly blanking on every old west movie he’d ever seen. Whiskey, dammit, he chided himself. When in doubt, order whiskey.
The bartender gave him a sidelong look, then pulled a frothy, golden beverage into a pint and slid it down to the Wyatt.
“That’ll be five cents,” the bartender told him.
Digging into his pockets for some of the money Connor Mason had provided them, he slapped a paper bill on the counter and peered closely at the bartender.
“You know where I can find Senator Lane?”
The bartender lifted an eyebrow. “Dinnertime on a Thursday? He’ll be at Quinton’s.”
That was…oddly easy, Wyatt thought, drawing his hand back with the money still trapped beneath. The bartender caught the edge of the bill and pulled it away, stuffing it into his shirt pocket before turning to take care of another customer.
“Why you asking ‘bout Lane?” called a voice to Wyatt’s left.
Wyatt glanced over, unable to pinpoint where the question had come from. When no one looked up, he sighed and looked back down at his drink. He was too tired to play games. He just wanted to stop whatever Flynn had up his sleeve and get his team back home safely. He didn’t even really care about killing Flynn this time. Something the man had said in 1972 while he’d had Wyatt handcuffed to a chair was still slipping around the edges of Wyatt’s brain, trying to find traction.
Something about the loss of his family, and about Rittenhouse being the culprit. If Wyatt had a name of the person or persons responsible for Jessica’s death, he wasn’t so sure he wouldn’t turn time itself inside out to end them just as Flynn was doing.
Someone other than you, the voice that lurked in the corners of his mind reminded him. Someone more responsible than you.
Shaking his head, he took a gulp of the beer and suppressed a shudder at the bitter taste of aged hops that hit the back of his throat.
“Hey, pal. I’m talking to you,” came the voice again.
This time when Wyatt looked over, he saw a man with a thick, white mustache and hat pulled low over his forehead angling a glance his way. The man sat with three others at a green felt table, cards held loosely in their hands. The man tipped his chin so that Wyatt could see his face.
“What business you got with Lane?”
Wyatt purposely turned to the side, hooking an elbow on the edge of the bar and regarded the other man—who, he now realized, was a dead-ringer for Sam Elliott.
“Just need to talk to the man,” Wyatt replied, tensing as the man stood up and dropped his cards on the table. As the man approached the bar, Wyatt tried desperately to think of something other than quotes from Roadhouse.
“What about?” The Sam Elliott look-alike leaned his forearms on the bar and looked sideways at Wyatt.
“Well, unless you’re Senator Lane, that’s not really any of your business.”
Wyatt nodded once, and took another drink of his beer. Worse than IPA, he thought, forcing himself to swallow.
“Well, I ain’t Senator Lane,” Sam Elliott informed Wyatt.
“Yeah, no shit,” Wyatt muttered under his breath.
“But I do pay attention to who talks to the man, and what they talk about,” Sam Elliott continued. “So, you’d be doing me a favor if you just talked to me, and I can tell you if Lane will bother with you.”
Pressing his lips flat to avoid smiling at the man’s audacity, Wyatt grabbed his hat and looked the man in the eye.
“Sorry, pal,” he retorted. “I’m not big on doing favors for strangers.” He turned on his heel, glancing at the table Sam Elliott had just vacated and nodded at the other three men. “Gentlemen.”
It wasn’t until he’d walked out of the saloon that he realized he had no idea where Quinton’s was. His best bet was to head back to the hotel, find Lucy and Rufus, tell them what he’d found out and take them with him to this Quinton’s place. He didn’t much like them being separated for long at any rate.
He was so focused on finding his way back to the Eldridge via the darkened, unfamiliar streets, he didn’t sense the men approaching him from behind until they were nearly on top of him. Moving on instinct alone, Wyatt pulled his pistol from its stash at his waist and turned quickly, pointing the barrel at Sam Elliott and quickly realizing that two of the three men at the table were flanking him.
“No need for that,” Sam Elliott placated, lifting his hands. “Just looking out for my friend, you see.”
“I don’t want to hurt the man,” Wyatt defended. “I just need to talk to him.”
“What’s with the fancy pistol?” asked the man next to Sam Elliott. “Ain’t never seen nothing like that.”
Wyatt didn’t shift his stance, trying to see through the shadows that seemed to collect on the wooden sidewalk if the third man had joined the party.
“Son, you’re going to have to come with me,” Sam Elliott ordered, resting his hands on his hips and revealing a two-gun rig of his own.
“Sheriff’s,” Sam Elliott informed him.
“For what?” Wyatt held his pistol steady, sweat gathering at his hairline and trickling down the back of his neck. August in Kansas was nothing short of sweltering. Especially when being cornered on a dark street in a town he didn’t know.
“Threatening a government official,” Sam Elliott replied.
Exasperated, Wyatt tipped up the barrel of his pistol. “I told you, I don’t want to hurt him.”
“Not him, son,” Sam Elliott clarified, pulling the lapel of his jacket to the side and revealing a badge. “Me. You just pointed the business end of a…whatever the hell kinda gun that is at the town deputy.”
Well, shit. “Look, mister, I don’t want any tr—“
Pain lanced through the back of his head. As he went to his knees, Wyatt finally realized where the third man had gone. Groggily, he tried to raise his hands in surrender, unaware that he still gripped his pistol tightly in his right hand. Sam Elliott brought his fist across Wyatt’s check bone in a Roadhouse-worthy punch and Wyatt tumbled into the waiting arms of darkness.
Odd dreams chased him. Abraham Lincoln argued with Lucy about the Watergate tapes while Rufus showed Davy Crockett how to fly the lifeboat. Time spun around him in a sickening kaleidoscope; he tried to close his eyes only to realize they were already closed. He screamed in frustration, the sound swallowed by the twisting, spinning colors, showing him what he already knew: he was never getting out of this.
A dull, repetitive clanking sound dug a hook into his consciousness and tugged Wyatt reluctantly toward awareness. His head pounded. Without opening his eyes, he reached for the back of his head and felt a tender, raised knot and the crinkle of blood dried on his hair from a small cut.
“Son of a bitch,” he muttered softly, still not quite ready to open his eyes.
Whoever was clanking really needed to stop right the hell now or else he was going to—
“Rise and shine, pal,” said a confusingly familiar voice.
Wyatt squinted one eye open. The sight that met his vision had the other eye mirroring the action and he pushed himself upright much too quickly. His head pounded in punishment for the swift action, but he ignored it, looking around at the bars surrounding him, the cot he had been slumped on, and Sam Elliott peering at him from the other side of the bars.
Only, not Sam Elliott…no, it was the damned sheriff’s deputy.
“How long have I been here?” he asked, his voice disturbingly raspy, which gave him a very bad feeling that it had been longer than his team curfew.
“Couple hours,” the deputy informed him. “Didn’t think Jake hit you that hard.”
Wyatt, rubbed the back of his head again. The blood had trickled down the back of his neck and soaked through a small patch of his collar. “Hit me hard enough.”
He blinked, clearing his vision, and looked around him once more. There appeared to be four cells lining one side of the room; Wyatt occupied one and another held a man who was sprawled on the canvas bunk due to what was very clearly the result of too much whiskey. The deputy and another of the men who had been at the poker table in the saloon stood in the open room, the deputy nearest Wyatt’s cell.
“What are you charging me with?” Wyatt demanded.
“Well, see, that’s interesting,” the deputy drawled, leaning back against the wall and regarding Wyatt from beneath his heavy eyebrows. “You haven’t actually done anything ‘sides point that pistol at me, and that’s only enough to keep you here for a few hours at the most.”
Wyatt stood up and crossed to the cell door, wrapping his fingers around the bars and pinned the sheriff with his gaze. “Then let me out.”
“That’s the interesting part,” the deputy replied. “You are the second person in the last day to ask about Senator Lane…and as it turns out there are two more people asking around town about him.”
Wyatt felt a block of ice form in his stomach. “Where are they?”
“Friends of yours, huh? Doesn’t surprise me. Sheriff’s got them locked up in a room at the Eldridge ‘til we can get this figured out.”
The fact that he was separated from Lucy and Rufus—that he couldn’t shield them, protect them, get them out of this mess—made his pulse race, his body tensing as though bracing for a hit.
“What’s the big deal about Lane? Aren’t people supposed to be able to talk to their Senators?” Wyatt challenged.
“Sure, sure,” the deputy nodded, reaching into his back pocket and pulling a folded piece of paper free. “But not when there’s a list of names—the Senator’s being the first one—of people who are supposedly…what was it, Jake?”
“Marked for death,” the other man in the room supplied.
Wyatt glared at Jake, rubbing at the back of his head once more. Jake guiltily darted his eyes to the side, then moved away to stare out through the window.
“That’s right. Marked for death. Leastways that’s what the first fella who came here asking about the man said this list was for.”
Narrowing his eyes, Wyatt looked at the paper in the deputy’s hand. Lucy had said Quantrill had a list of names of people they specifically wanted dead during the raid. Had one of his men…?
“What did this first fellow look like? The one who asked about Lane before me?” Wyatt asked.
The deputy shrugged. “Taller than you, dark hair, not from around these parts. I’d say he was a Mexican, but he dressed like some fancy-pants gentleman.”
Wyatt blinked in surprise. Flynn? He had the list? Why would he have tried to warn the Senator if he was trying to aid Quantrill? Wyatt leaned his forehead against the cool, metal bars. Maybe they were looking at this all wrong. Maybe Flynn wasn’t trying to help Quantrill. Maybe he was trying to stop him.
Still, according to Lucy, either way would fall into the category labeled Very Bad Thing.
“Look…uh, sir,” Wyatt lifted his head and looked back at the deputy. “That list…it’s from a…a general…or something…this really bad guy named Quantrill—“
The deputy surged away from the wall. “You, too, huh?”
“Your friends at the hotel were rambling something about getting Senator Lane out of town because this Quantrill character was going to massacre the town,” the deputy informed him.
Wyatt felt instantly relieved; if Lucy brought up Quantrill already than he hadn’t just completely rewritten history in a desperate bid to be released from his cell.
“Okay, so…you’ve got the list,” Wyatt gestured to the paper in the deputy’s hand. “Start evacuating the town. Or at least get the people on the list out.”
“Son, this town has been threatened before. Back in ’56 they tried to burn us out and we turned ‘em back. We aren’t gonna run from some Reb. We won before, we’ll win again.”
“Not this time,” Wyatt shook his head. “There are too many and they don’t care—they will kill every man they can find.”
The deputy smiled at him, then turned away toward the desk at the far end of the room.
“Hey!” Wyatt shouted, gripping the bars and pressing his face against them to keep the man in his sights. “Listen to me; I know what I’m talking about. I’ve seen this before. They will walk through the streets, through homes, through businesses, and they will shoot until every man they find is dead. They won’t care if women and children are present. They won’t take prisoners. They will simply kill until you are decimated and there is nothing left but blood and bodies and disease.”
The deputy exchanged a look with Jake, then turned back to face Wyatt, some of the arrogance gone from his expression in response to Wyatt’s impassioned plea.
“You don’t look old enough to have fought in the Indian Wars, son,” the deputy commented. “But you sure talk like you’ve been there.”
“I have,” Wyatt asserted, subdued. “Please, just…take a few men and head to the highest point in town. Give the perimeter a look. At least do that.”
The deputy worked his jaw in thought, then nodded once. “Jake, keep an eye on him. I’ll be back.”
As the deputy left Wyatt exchanged a look with Jake, who still looked guilty as hell for cracking Wyatt across the head. “You got any water, Jake?”
Saying nothing, Jake brought Wyatt a canteen of warm, metallic-tasting water.
“Thanks,” Wyatt handed the canteen back. “Now, how about turning me loose?”
“Can’t do that until Bridges gets back.”
Figuring Bridges was either the deputy or the sheriff, Wyatt turned from the cell door and rubbed a hand through his short hair. He studied the canvas bunk he’d woken up on and saw that it was actually held together with several pieces of wire. Glancing back at the cell door, Wyatt knew in an instant he could get free…assuming Jake wasn’t watching him like a hawk.
“Okay, well…how about some food? You got that here?”
“No food here, sorry,” Jake replied.
“Well, from the saloon then? Please, just a little something. It’s been a long time since I’ve had anything to eat.” Which wasn’t exactly a lie. When the call had come in that they’d tracked Flynn’s ship to 1863, he’d been trying to shake off his latest nightmare and he was never hungry after those. “Where am I gonna go, huh?”
Jake studied him a bit longer, then sighed, relenting. “I think Miss Sawyer’s kitchen is probably still open this late.”
“What time is it?” Wyatt asked.
“Half past eleven,” Jake informed him, causing Wyatt to close his eyes and turn slightly away. They had just over five hours.
“Think my friends at the Eldridge are okay?”
Jake frowned; clearly the thought hadn’t occurred to him. “I’m sure the Sheriff is watching out for them.”
“Not if he thinks they’re gonna hurt the Senator,” Wyatt pointed out. “Think maybe you could check in on them for me when you get the food?”
“Please?” Wyatt made a show of rubbing the back of his head. “I would really appreciate it.”
“Yeah, fine. I’ll check on them.”
It took Jake longer than Wyatt’s nerves wanted to leave the building, but the moment he did, Wyatt was tipping his bunk over and unwinding one of the thin metal catches holding the canvass to the frame. While he worked, the drunk in the next cell came to life.
“Whass goin’ on?”
“Nothing. Just a dream. Go back to sleep.” Wyatt snapped. The drunk blinked blearily at him for a bit, then obeyed. Wyatt had to wonder if the man would survive the massacre or if he’d just handed him a death sentence.
His heart-rate spiking as time stretched out, minutes extending until he was sweating, his hands shaking as it took longer than he’d anticipated to get the wire free from the canvas. Finally releasing enough wire to work with, he immediately moved over to the cell door and snaked a hand through the bars. Bending the wire, he was able to insert it into the lock, closing his eyes as he pictured the tumblers. It was easier than handcuffs that was for sure. When the door swung open with a squeak, Wyatt glanced back at the drunk anxiously, but the other man hadn’t stirred.
Moving to the desk, he searched the surface and the drawers until he found his pistol. Checking the clip, he breathed a sigh of relief that they’d not been able to eject the bullets, and tucked the weapon into his waist band. Leaving that behind would certainly change history a bit, he imagined.
Checking the dark street through the window to see if anyone lurked close by, he slipped outside to the wooden sidewalk. In that moment, he realized he had absolutely no idea where he was—or which direction he had to head to reach the Eldridge. Exhaling a nervous breath, he scanned the moonlit buildings, trying to read the storefront signs, hoping for some kind of indication of direction, when he heard the unmistakable sound of gunfire.
Lots of it.
“Oh, shit,” Wyatt breathed.
Quantrill had moved up the timing of his attack. Either because of Flynn or because Wyatt had sent the deputy out to investigate, the raid was on and he was lost in downtown Lawrence, separated from his team.
For a moment, panic took over.
And he was no longer seeing the darkened dirt streets of an 1863 mid-west town or hearing the crack of six-shooters. He was seeing brick and mortar crumbling around him. He was hearing the pop-pop-pop of automatic gunfire. He was breathing in the dust and dirt from a country thousands of miles away, cut-off from his team, pinned down and helpless.
The voice jerked Wyatt back to the present, his breath hammering unexpectedly in his ears, his heart slamming against his ribcage. It was Jake, hurrying toward him with a basket in his hands.
“Hey! How’d you get outta there?”
“Jake,” Wyatt caught the man by his flailing arm. “Listen to me right now. You get inside, you lock the door, and you load every gun you got stashed away in there. Understand?”
The first blast of cannon fire hit Lawrence and lit up the night sky, causing both men to crouch instinctively.
“Quantrill’s raiders are attacking Lawrence,” Wyatt hollered in the other man’s ear. “You need to protect yourself, do you understand?”
Jake nodded rapidly, terror plain on his face. “Y-yes. Yes, I understand.”
“Which way is the Eldridge?”
Another blast shook the ground beneath their feet and Jake twisted around to point over his shoulder. “They just hit it!”
Wyatt looked toward the flame-lit sky and felt his mouth go dry. He swore if he lost Lucy and Rufus, this was over. He was over. He was not going to lose another team. Not one more person he cared about.
He released Jake and took off running, ignoring the man’s questions shouted at his back. A sea of people dressed in all manner of clothing—from late-night social events, to nightgowns—surged toward him, away from the blasts. He saw men take up arms and break out windows, gearing up to fight back. More men rode down the darkened streets bearing torches, the thunder of horses’ hooves adding to the cacophony of gunfire and cannon blasts.
As he fought through the melee, firing back at the men on horseback carrying torches—that position being his only means to identify the good from the bad—whenever a bullet struck too close to home, Wyatt began to lose his sense of direction once more. He had no idea how long he’d been separated from Lucy and Rufus and could only imagine what they were dealing with at the moment.
“They’re burning the town!” Someone shouted as the roof of a building to his right caught flame. He would have pitched in to the water brigade he saw quickly forming, but the light from the fire pointed out the sign for the Eldridge, and he had people to find.
Taking off at a sprint, Wyatt fought through the crowd to the door of the Eldridge—and then things got interesting. Without the benefit of uniforms, he had no idea if he was being stopped by a panicked Lawrence resident or a vengeful Raider. None of it mattered, really. Whoever they were, they were keeping him from his team.
So, Wyatt fought.
He landed punches and took hits. He felt his knuckles crack against someone’s skull and felt his ribs give with the impact of a rifle barrel. He made his way to the staircase and started up to where he remembered their room being, dodging people along the way. He reached the second floor in time to hear Lucy scream and it turned his blood to ice.
Coming around the corner, he looked to the top of the next staircase and saw a large man with a rifle pointed at his friends, both looking slightly worse for the wear. Rufus’ shirt was torn and splattered with blood—it was not immediately clear if the blood belonged to him or not—and Lucy’s hair was disheveled in a manner that ignited Wyatt’s rage.
“Wyatt!” Lucy screamed when she caught sight of him.
The man with the rifle darted a look over his shoulder and Rufus took advantage of the distraction, grabbing the barrel of the rifle and pushing it upwards as Lucy darted around their attacker toward Wyatt.
Before Wyatt could do anything to help, the rifleman reached out and viciously shoved Lucy, causing her to lose her balance and tumble head-over-heels down the stairs. Wyatt lunged for her, catching her before she hit the bottom and pulling her against him for a moment to reassure himself that she was okay, she was alive, he hadn’t been too late this time.
Not this time.
“Help Rufus,” Lucy gasped.
Wyatt set her on the stairs, meeting her eyes once, quickly, then headed up the stairs toward where Rufus was grappling with the rifleman. He saw his teammate take a hard hit to the head by the butt of the rifle. As he reached the landing, the rifleman had Rufus pinned, dazed and bleeding, against the wall by the throat and was choking the life out of him.
Grabbing the rifleman by the collar, Wyatt ripped the attacker away with a roar and threw him bodily to the ground, laying into the man with both fists until the rifleman’s face was a bloody mess and he wasn’t moving. Gasping for breath, his hands dripping blood both his own and the rifleman’s, Wyatt straightened and looked over at Rufus.
“You okay?” he rasped.
Rufus blinked blood out of his eyes, regarding him with a wary expression. “Are you?”
“I am now,” Wyatt confessed with a tremulous smile. “From now on, I say splitting up is a bad idea.”
Rufus pushed shakily away from the wall and reached for Wyatt’s arm. “It never worked for Mulder and Scully,” he commented.
On a breathless chuckle, Wyatt took Rufus’ arm and slid it over his shoulder, helping him to the stairs. They paused next to Lucy, who was holding her right ankle.
“I twisted it or something,” she confessed, her voice tight with pain. “It hurts to stand.”
“Okay, we’ll help you,” Wyatt told her. “Let’s get the hell outta here.”
“Wait, what about Flynn?” Rufus broke in, pressing the heel of his hand against his wounded temple.
“I think Flynn was here and gone,” Wyatt said, informing them about the list that the deputy had shown him. “I think we might’ve read this one wrong.”
The blast of cannon fire shook the building and sent dust and brick debris raining down on them.
“It’s too late now,” Lucy coughed. “Quantrill’s early. The raid has started and nothing we do is going to change that.”
“Anyone locate Lane?” Wyatt asked, looking at the two of them.
Rufus nodded. “Sheriff Bridges told us he was taking the Senator out of town after Lucy convinced him about Quantrill.”
“Well,” Wyatt grinned at them. “At least we got one thing right.”
Shouting, screaming, and the sound of multiple guns being fired reached their ears from the main lobby below.
“There a back door to this place?” Lucy wondered, gripping Wyatt’s shoulder and pulling herself to her feet.
“Try the servant’s entrance,” Rufus suggested.
Wyatt shifted so that Lucy had an arm across each of their shoulders and they made their way to the back stairs and the servant’s quarters, as Rufus suggested. They exited into a nightmare: bodies strewn across the dirt street, people running, guns blasting, buildings burning. Lucy had been right; it was a massacre, not a battle.
The August sun rose early in Kansas, and as Wyatt lead his team through an ally and toward the back of the town, away from the concentration of violence, dawn began to stretch its arms across a bruised horizon. The sun lit up the carnage and exposed their escape at the same time. Pulling his pistol free, Wyatt urged his wounded teammates to move faster, pulling them behind a building for protection, ducking around and firing back at a man on horseback, hitting him and knocking him from the saddle.
“Sometimes I’m a little afraid I’m killing my best friend’s great-grandfather, y’know?”
“Your best friend from Missouri?” Rufus asked, gasping as he and Lucy fought to keep up with Wyatt.
“I think you’re safe,” Lucy reassured him.
They stayed silent as they made their way from the backside of the buildings, heading north once more, the sun heating the land around them. As they prepared to cross the bridge once more, Wyatt shot a look over his shoulder at the town they left behind.
“Looks like the ground is bleeding,” he said, his voice choked from smoke and emotion.
“Feels like the world is bleeding,” Rufus agreed.
They moved across the bridge, Wyatt hoping that was the last they’d see of blood and pain for this mission.
For a moment, Lucy couldn’t breathe, the fall having knocked the air from her lungs and Wyatt’s weight preventing her from dragging much-needed oxygen back in. Panic grabbed her and she began to flail, shoving at Wyatt’s motionless body until her upper half was free. Choking on air, she coughed and gasped until the world came into focus once more, her shaking hands still gripping Wyatt’s loose shirt.
Through tear-blurred vision, she saw Rufus’ dark head peeking over the edge of the road down the shallow embankment.
“Get off the road!” she rasped, dragging in more air. “Rufus! Get off the road!”
The man disappeared for a second, then she saw him rolling toward her, stopping short of crashing into their bodies.
“Help…,” she gasped, reaching for him. “Help Wyatt.”
Rufus clambered to his knees and grabbed Wyatt’s too-still form, pulling him forward and freeing the rest of Lucy’s body. The moment she was no longer pinned, Lucy sat up, coughing and dragging in air. Tears burned her eyes and she had to wipe them away before she could see clearly.
“Is he…?” she looked over at where Rufus sat with Wyatt’s head and shoulders in his lap.
“He’s breathing,” Rufus reported. “He’s still breathing.”
Crawling forward on her knees—movements slowed and hampered by her skirts, Lucy knelt next to them, trembling hands ghosting over Wyatt’s chest in search of the wound. Almost immediately, she could see a dark stain on the leather vest just beneath the man’s right collar bone. Quickly unbuttoning his vest, she pulled the material aside and gasped. Blood covered most of the right side of Wyatt’s shirt, spreading lower to his breeches.
“His b-back,” Lucy tried, looking up at Rufus with wild eyes. “Is…is there blood on his back?”
Rufus shifted the man in his lap and felt along Wyatt’s back, then looked back at her, shaking his head. “Nothing.”
Lucy felt panic stealing her breath. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”
“You think I’m supposed to know?” Rufus’ voice cracked.
Lucy sat back on her heels and pressed the back of her hand to her mouth. “Dammit, Wyatt.” She wanted to close her eyes. So much blood. There was so much blood. Her gut trembled at the sight.
“We gotta do something,” Rufus murmured, his eyes scanning Wyatt’s face before returning to Lucy’s. “We gotta do something!”
“Okay…okay, basic first aid, right? Start with basic first aid.” Lucy swallowed hard, keeping her stomach where it was supposed to be. “We need to stop the bleeding.”
She flipped up her outer skirt, exposing her petticoats, and began to rip the hemlines in to thick strips as bandages. She didn’t realize she’d started to cry until she saw tears drip onto the material.
“Why isn’t he waking up?” she sniffed. “He needs to tell us what to do.”
“Breathe. Lucy!” Rufus barked, drawing her attention. “Breathe. Just get the bandage on him.”
Rufus shifted so that Wyatt lay flat on the ground and not in his lap, then pulled the leather vest from the pliant man’s shoulders, parting the blood-soaked shirt to reveal an ugly, ragged hole in Wyatt’s chest.
“Oh God, Rufus,” Lucy breathed, balling up several of the petticoat bandages and taking a deep breath before pressing down on the wound as hard as she could.
Wyatt gasped in reaction to the pain, his body bucking slightly, but not enough to toss Lucy aside. Rufus tapped the other man’s cheek.
“Wyatt…hey, buddy. C’mon, wake up for us.”
Wyatt shuddered once, but didn’t stir again after that. Rufus pressed his fingers against the soldier’s throat and his shoulders sagged.
“Strong pulse—fast, but…strong.”
“Well, he’s a strong man,” Lucy sniffed, trying in vain to stop the tears. “We have to get him back to the lifeboat. We don’t have anything here to help him, Rufus.”
Rufus rubbed his forehead and Lucy could see the lines of pain around the man’s eyes. “I lost track of how far we are from Lawrence—not far enough if someone was out there shooting at us.”
“Could’ve been one of the town’s people,” Lucy suggested. “Don’t think Quantrill’s men would be out this far.”
“We landed the lifeboat about a mile outside of town, yeah?”
“I think so.”
Rufus studied her. “How far do you think we walked so far?”
Lucy swallowed hard. “Maybe a quarter mile.”
“Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of,” Rufus rubbed at the back of his neck, glancing down at Wyatt. “You need to change the bandage. He’s bleeding through that one.”
“Dammit!” Lucy tossed the bloody scraps away and balled up more, pressing down hard. “You should do this…you’re stronger than me.”
Rufus leaned forward and replaced Lucy’s hands with his own while Lucy returned to tearing up her petticoat for more bandages.
“Maybe one of us could sneak back to town. Get some help. Or…or maybe just some supplies,” Lucy rambled, her mind desperately seeking a solution. She reached out to grasp Rufus’ wrist. “You could patch him up—you did it before!”
“That was way different,” Rufus protested, shifting so that he could keep pressure on the wound. “First of all, it was basically a flesh wound compared to this, and the man was conscious and talking me through it the whole time.”
Lucy closed her eyes, pulling her bottom lip against her teeth, thinking. “We’re never going to get help from Lawrence,” she lamented. “Over half their town is dead. He’ll just get triaged and bleed to death before they get to him.”
“We have to get back to the lifeboat,” Rufus cemented.
“Can you carry him?” Lucy looked at him, beseechingly.
“I can sure as hell try. Get more bandages on this,” he told her, determined.
They removed the second set of blood-soaked bandages, folded up more and pressed down on the wound again. Wyatt moaned slightly and both his teammates looked at him with hope, but he didn’t open his eyes. Lucy took the remaining strips of torn petticoat and with Rufus’ help, wrapped them around Wyatt’s chest and shoulder, anchoring the bandages in place.
Together, they eased the unconscious man into a seated position and Lucy balanced him while Rufus bent and put one of his shoulders into Wyatt’s mid-section. On a three-count, Rufus tried to stand, pulling Wyatt up with him, but was bowed by the extra weight and his concussion. Before Lucy knew it, she was rolling one wounded man off of the other, and bracing Rufus as he dry-heaved into the underbrush.
“’m sorry,” Rufus gasped as he sat back on his heels, pressing the back of his hand against his mouth, eyes closed tight. “’m sorry, Lucy, I can’t.”
“It’s okay,” Lucy told him, rubbing a circle of comfort on his back. “It’s okay.” Rufus started to slump sideways and Lucy panicked. “Hey, don’t…don’t do that.”
“’m tired, Luce…just want to close my eyes for a little—“
“No!” The idea of both men passing out on her and being unable to help either of them sent Lucy’s nerves over the edge. “Rufus Carlin you open your eyes right now. Right now. Do you hear me?”
Rufus blinked in reaction to her sharp tone, drawing his head back in surprise. “Yeah, Lucy. Pretty sure everyone in Lawrence heard you.”
“You stay awake. Stay. Awake.” Lucy realized she was gripping the front of his shirt and forced her hands to open, releasing him slowly. “Wyatt’s life depends on us, and I need you, okay? So, stay awake.”
Rufus nodded, rubbing his head with the flat of fingers and swallowing hard. “I’m not going anywhere, Lucy. I promise.”
She turned to Wyatt and shifted him so that he wasn’t laying on his wounded shoulder, checking his bandage to make sure it stayed in place. Growing up, Lucy had always been the one with the answers. What were she and Amy going to play? How were they going to split up the chores? Who was going to be the one to tell Dad about the dent in the bumper?
When their mom was diagnosed with cancer, she still had the answers, even though she didn’t like the questions. Who took Mom to chemotherapy? Who talked with the doctors? When would they bring in hospice?
Looking at impossible situations and applying logic was simply something she did. So why couldn’t she insert logic into this scenario? There was really only one clear answer. Why couldn’t she bring herself to say it?
“We’re not leaving him,” Rufus spoke up, making her jump.
“I can follow the breadcrumbs, too,” Rufus told her. “I went to MIT, y’know. I’m more than just a pretty face.”
“I wasn’t going to suggest—“
“The only logical thing is to get back to the lifeboat, jump home, get help, and jump back at a time after we would have already been here so we don’t run into ourselves.” Rufus articulated her thoughts. “But that would mean we’d leave him alone for an hour or more and who knows what could happen to him in that time?”
“I know,” Lucy agreed, her voice trembling. “I don’t want to leave him. I just…what are we going to do?”
They both jerked in surprise, looking down at Wyatt. The man’s eyes were barely open, but Lucy recognized the tense look of concentration on Wyatt’s face that he often got when things went awry on these missions.
“Wyatt?” she leaned over him, laying her hands on his cheeks and bringing his eyes front so that she could see them. The normally bright blue was cloudy and dull with pain, but she could see he was aware. “It’s good to see you,” she sniffed, the tears back again.
“Leave,” he said again. “O-only thing…that m-makes sense.”
“We’re not leaving you,” Lucy shook her head. “You wouldn’t leave us.”
Lucy could feel him start to shake beneath her hands.
“No. It’s no different,” Rufus resisted. “We are a team. We need each other. And we’re getting you out of here.”
“Lucy,” Wyatt tried, but the pain of his wound flared and he cried out, arching weakly away from her. Lucy kept her hands on his face for a moment longer, until she realized he’d passed out once more.
Sitting back, she looked at Rufus. “One of us goes into town, steals a horse, and brings it back. And we get him to the lifeboat.”
For several heartbeats, they stared at each other, both weighing the logical option of who could risk going back: a woman with a badly sprained ankle, or a concussed black man. Neither of them were held in high regard of either the residents or raiding party. But one was certainly more likely to be killed if caught by Quantrill’s gang.
“I’ll go,” Lucy stated just as Rufus was opening his mouth. “It makes more sense.”
She pushed to her feet, gasping in pain as she attempted to put weight on her ankle. Casting about on the ground, she found a larger branch that she could use as a walking stick and limped toward it. Thus armed, she turned to Rufus.
“Stay awake,” she ordered. “You sleep, you both die. Got it?”
Rufus nodded. “You be careful.”
Lucy took a breath, looking up the embankment toward the road. “I must be out of my mind.”
She made it as far as the road, she gave herself that much credit. But one thing they’d both forgotten in their efforts to find help for Wyatt was that someone had been in the woods on the other side of the road. Someone with a weapon. The moment she showed herself, they did as well.
And there were plenty of them.
“Oh Lord,” Lucy breathed, raising her hands in surrender as several men in rough clothing, wearing ill-fitting hats and bandanas around their throats stepped up on the other side of the road, approaching her. “Um…good morning,” she greeted. “I don’t suppose any of you…you gentlemen…would mind helping me find a…m-my horse? Seems it ran off in the, uh, ruckus, and I—“
“Save it,” growled one of the men. “We seen you with the Yankee and his darkie.”
Lucy swallowed. “Wh-why do you think he’s a…a Yankee?”
“We know our own kind, ma’am,” spoke up another man. “And…we were warned about you.”
This made the hairs on the back of Lucy’s neck stand at attention. “You were warned about us?”
“Enough,” snapped a third, spitting a stream of tobacco on the ground, and glaring at the other two. “We’re supposed to bring ‘em back to Frank, not talk ‘em to death.”
Lucy’s quick mind caught on that and began to spin like a top. “Well, if Frank doesn’t want us dead, you’d better do something quick because one of you shot my friend.”
“Told ya I hit ‘im,” the first man grinned, showing off a disgustingly-yellowed set of teeth.
“Where is he?” asked the third man.
“Down the embankment,” Lucy directed.
As three of the men approached the side of the road, Lucy turned to join them. She was shocked to see Rufus holding Wyatt’s pistol pointed toward the road, the wounded soldier shadowed behind him. She caught her friend’s eye and shook her head imperceptibly. Closing his eyes in defeat, Rufus lowered the weapon and waited as the three men descended the shallow hill.
Lucy watched as two men picked up Wyatt, one at his head, another at his feet, and the third grabbed Rufus’ arm and hauled him upright, pulling the pistol away from him.
“Be careful with them!” Lucy called, unable to help herself.
The third man who’d spat the tobacco—and whom Lucy quickly assessed was the leader of this small band of men—whistled and someone new brought a horse bearing a lead rope only, no saddle or bridle. The man grabbed Lucy at the waist and practically tossed her onto the horse’s back, causing her to shift quickly to find her balance and untangle her skirts. As the men carrying Wyatt reached the road, the leader tipped his head toward Lucy’s horse and the men lifted Wyatt in front of Lucy, the wounded man immediately slumping forward.
Lucy grappled with him, wrapping her arms around his middle to keep him upright. Wyatt was tall and lean, but basically all muscle. Lucy barely reached his shoulder on a good day and the dead-weight in her arms pulled her forward awkwardly. The effort it took to keep herself balanced on the horse and hold onto Wyatt so that he didn’t slide off was already wearing her out.
“You,” the leader said to Rufus, handing him the lead rope, “take this.”
Rufus tipped his head in a silent nod, and Lucy could see by the set of his shoulders he was barely keeping himself from snapping back a sarcastic reply.
“We ain’t gonna tie ‘em up?” asked one of the men.
Lucy caught her breath; there’s no way she’d be able to keep hold of Wyatt with her hands tied.
“Where’re they gonna go?” challenged the leader. “This one’s half-dead already, she’s lame, and the darkie’ll get shot he steps two feet out there alone.”
Apparently accepting this logic, the others mounted up and they were left with their hands free. Four more horses joined hers and several more men were on foot. They began to move north and for a wild moment Lucy flirted with the idea of the three of them breaking off from this party as they passed near where the lifeboat was hidden and escaping. Looking down at the top of Rufus’ head, however, and feeling Wyatt slump in her arms, she knew they’d be dead before they hit the soggy wheat field.
“So…um,” she spoke up, hating the tremor she heard in her voice, but pushing forward none-the-less, “who’s this Frank? And why’s he so interested in us?”
“Better to not ask questions, ma’am,” said one of the men who’d carried Wyatt up the hill. “’sides, ya’ll will find out soon ‘nough, once we get to camp.”
Lucy glanced down at Rufus and saw him looking back up at her with trepidation. He wasn’t so much leading the horse as leaning against it while holding the rope. The majority of their captors moved ahead of them leaving two to ride drag. They were far enough back, however, that Lucy couldn’t hear what they were saying.
As the party moved slightly west, she felt Wyatt tense, rousing enough to realize he was moving, but clearly disoriented. His instinct to fight was telegraphed through the muscles along his shoulders and back, pressing into her as he started to push away from the arms encircling her.
“Wyatt,” she said, her mouth close to his ear with his head slumped as it was. “It’s me. It’s Lucy.”
He sounded so weak; her heart clenched painfully in her chest at the sound. Wyatt was the strong one, the leader, the one who made sure they all came home. Having him taken out like this turned her world sideways.
“You were shot. We were captured. That’s about all I know,” she said quickly, tightening her hold on him as he pushed himself straighter.
“Right here, man,” Rufus replied, and Lucy felt her friend’s hand brush her leg as he reached for Wyatt. “Don’t struggle, okay? You really can’t afford to bleed much more.”
“Where…where’re we going?” Wyatt’s head slumped slightly to the side with the motion of the horse, his hands moving from the animal’s neck to clasp across Lucy’s hands where she held him tight against her.
“I’m not sure, but since we’re all walking, it can’t be far,” Lucy told him, sending a silent thank you to whatever deity watched over time travelers that they hadn’t been forced to ride hard. It would have killed Wyatt for sure. “Just hang on, okay? We’ll get you help soon.”
Wyatt was quiet for a moment, but Lucy could tell he hadn’t passed out again since he was able to keep himself mostly upright.
“Shoulda left me, Lucy,” he said softly.
“You wouldn’t have left us,” Lucy argued. “There’s no point in talking about it anymore.”
She realized suddenly that she could smell wood smoke and hear voices of men and the sounds of animals—a dog barking, horses stomping. They must be nearing the camp. The captors on horseback rode ahead while those on foot flanked the three time travelers until the camp came into view.
Calling it a camp, however, was a bit of a stretch. It appeared to be a small homestead that was either donated to the cause, or taken by force. Aside from the small cabin, Lucy could see a barn, two outbuildings, and a corral currently filled with half a dozen horses. Men had pitched a few tents around the cabin, and every one of them, it seemed, was watching their arrival.
“Take them to the shed with the other one,” shouted the man she’d deemed the leader of the rabble who’d captured them. “I’ll find Frank.”
“The other one?” Rufus and Lucy wondered aloud in unison.
“Has to be whoever warned them about us,” Lucy said softly, drawing a startled look from Rufus. Wyatt simply blinked slowly, doing his best to stay upright and conscious.
Their horse was led to the larger of the two outbuildings. One of the men opened the door and shoved Rufus roughly inside, the black man stumbling and landing hard on his knees. They turned and reached for Lucy.
“Wait!” she called, surprising them. “Take him first, please,” she nodded toward Wyatt. “He’ll fall off if I’m not holding onto him.”
With a shrug that said they didn’t much care either way, two men reached up and pulled Wyatt from the horse, supporting him as his knees gave out the moment he hit the ground. His helpless cry of pain sent a spear of empathy through Lucy’s heart and she slid off the horse on her own, keeping weight off her bad leg by holding onto the horse’s shoulder.
Rufus scrambled to his feet and caught Wyatt as the men tossed the wounded man through the doorway of the shed. Lucy limped inside without aid, grabbing Wyatt’s free arm and helping Rufus ease their friend to the boards that covered the floor. The men started to back out and close the door and Lucy called out once more.
“Wait, please!” she reached out a hand as the men paused. “Please, my friend needs a doctor.”
“Then he prolly shoulda stayed in Lawrence with the rest of them Jayhawkers,” growled one.
“He’s not a Jayhawker,” Lucy protested. “We’re just homesteaders—wrong place, way wrong time. And he needs help, please.”
One man looked out toward the camp, then back at Lucy. “Ain’t got no doctor, but I can get you some supplies. You can fix him yourself.”
“Um,” Lucy shot a frantic look to Rufus, who shrugged as though to say it’s better than nothing. “Yes, okay. Water, needle, thread, a knife….”
“Whiskey,” Rufus whispered.
“And some whiskey.”
“’ll see what we can do,” the man replied and closed the door, leaving them in semi-darkness.
For a moment, no one moved. Lucy caught her breath, blinking in the gloom, realizing that light came from behind her, not just through the cracks in the boards that constructed the shed. Wyatt’s low groan was like a starter pistol; she turned and limped to his side.
He was still conscious, but barely. Rufus had once more pulled the other man’s head and shoulders into his lap, but seemed at a loss as to what to do next. Rubbing shaking hands on her skirts, Lucy searched for the source of light and located a lit lantern hanging from a hook above their heads.
“Rufus,” she lifted her chin toward the light. “Can you reach that?”
Rufus squinted up at the light. “Yeah, I think—holy shit!”
Lucy jumped in surprise at his exclamation and Wyatt blinked his eyes wide, jerking then gasping as the pain of the movement shook through him. Following Rufus’ startled gaze, Lucy flinched at the sight of another person in the shed with them, gagged and tied to a support pole. The words of their captor flitted through Lucy’s head—take them to the shed with the other one.
Rufus eased Wyatt to the floor, then stood to grab the lantern from the hook on the ceiling, lowering it to reveal the face of their co-captive.
“Flynn?” Lucy yelped.
Garcia Flynn stared back at them, his dark eyes ever defiant. Blood dried along the side of his face from a cut above his eyebrow and his clothes were torn and disheveled, but he seemed otherwise intact. Lucy blinked up at Rufus, then over at Wyatt to see their shocked expressions mirroring her own.
“Yeah, considering the day we’ve had,” Rufus muttered, “this seems about right.”
Flynn shifted impatiently against his bonds, triggering Lucy to move. She crawled around Wyatt to Flynn’s side and pulled the gag from his mouth.
“How the hell—“
“Never mind that now,” Flynn rasped, his cracked lips revealing how long he’d been without water. “Untie me so we can get out of here.”
“No….” Wyatt forced out, turning to his side with effort so that he faced Lucy and Flynn. “Lucy, don’t.”
“We’re not getting out of here,” Lucy snapped at the man who had been the bane of their collective existence since they learned of of time travel. “Men are all over the place out there, watching the shed. And Wyatt can’t make the journey.”
“My people are waiting for my call,” Flynn continued. “I can get you out of here.”
“Your call?” Rufus replied, incredulous. “You do realize what century this is, right? Or has all that time travel scrambled your brain?”
Flynn spared him a derisive look. “We have short-wave radios—look, it doesn’t matter. I can contact them if you get me loose before Quantrill’s men come back.”
“These are Quantrill’s men?” Lucy exclaimed.
“They are part of his resistance, not part of the raid.” Flynn sighed, dropping his head back against the pole. “They brought me here when I….”
“Tried to warn Lane about the raid?” Rufus guessed.
Flynn didn’t reply, but his expression told Lucy the answer. Narrowing her eyes, she crossed her arms over her chest and leaned forward.
“Quantrill’s part of Rittenhouse, isn’t he?”
Flynn closed his eyes. “Yes.”
“Lucy….” Wyatt’s quiet voice called.
But Lucy was on the scent; she was focused entirely on Flynn. “And you thought, what? You’d end his military career before it started by stopping the raid? Or were you planning on just killing him outright?”
“Whatever it took,” Flynn confessed.
“Lucy.” This time Rufus’ voice entreated her.
“Well, bang-up job,” Lucy muttered. “Not only did you fail to stop the raid, you moved up his time-table—“
“Lucy!” Rufus called once more, this time setting the lantern on the floor and pulling the light from Flynn.
Alarmed, Lucy turned to see Rufus bending over a very pale Wyatt, pulling the sodden shirt away from his hastily bandaged wound. Wyatt’s eyes were closed and he was breathing roughly.
“We have to do something for him, now!” Rufus exclaimed. He looked up at Lucy. “He’s not going to make it much longer.”
“Untie me, Lucy,” Flynn called.
Lucy bent over Wyatt, taking his face in her hands once more. His cheeks were cool and clammy. She remembered from her care of her mother: shock was as big a killer as the wound itself sometimes.
“He’s going into shock,” she said, looking around. “Grab that…that box thing,” she pointed behind Rufus. “Put his feet up on it. We need to get him warm.”
There was nothing in the shed aside from the lantern and the four people. Neither Rufus nor Flynn wore a coat. Thinking quickly, Lucy stood, balancing against the wall on her good leg, and shucked the layers of petticoats from beneath her skirt. She caught Rufus’ raised eyebrows but ignored them, spreading the petticoats over Wyatt’s torso.
“We have to stop the bleeding if we’re going to get him out of here,” she said. “Where is that guy with the supplies?”
“Untie me,” Flynn repeated.
“Oh, would you shut up? I’m not letting you go free while Wyatt bleeds to death!” Lucy shouted.
“I can help him,” Flynn shouted back.
Lucy froze, her hand on Wyatt’s sternum, feeling the pounding of his heart, then looked slowly over at Flynn.
“What did you say?”
“I have military training,” he reminded her. “I can help him.”
Lucy looked at Rufus, who shook his head slowly. “He’s lying.”
“He’s not lying about the military training,” Lucy said. “Agent Christopher told us that much.”
Before Rufus could say anything else, the door opened and a burlap bag was tossed inside, the door pulled shut once more directly afterwards. Exchanging a look, Lucy and Rufus both crawled toward the bag, Lucy reaching it first.
“Canteen, flask, pocket knife, terrifyingly large needle—what the hell do they even use this for?—and thread.” She looked up at Rufus. “Everything we asked for.”
“Okay, now we just gotta…, um,” Rufus swallowed, looking over at Wyatt. “Get the bullet out and stitch him up. Without killing him.”
“Oh, for the love of God,” Flynn growled. “Untie me. I can help him.”
“What makes you think we’ll just trust you, huh?” Rufus demanded. “We’ve been chasing you across time—Wyatt was specifically hired to kill you—and now because you claim you can help him you expect us to trust you?”
Flynn looked over, the lantern light throwing odd shadows on his tanned face and lighting his eyes with an almost unnatural glow so that Lucy felt like drawing back.
“I am going to get out of here, one way or another,” Flynn informed them, his voice low and dangerous. “Now, you can untie me and let me save your friend’s life,” he let his gaze rest on Wyatt for a moment before looking back at Lucy and Rufus, “or you can watch him bleed to death, leave his body in a shed in 1863 Kansas, and if you’re very lucky, escape Quantrill’s men without your protector to return home.”
A shaking hand wrapped around Lucy’s wrist. She looked down at Wyatt’s face, pain etched around his eyes, his lips pressed tight.
“Go,” he whispered. “Get out of here.”
“Stop it, man,” Rufus grabbed Wyatt’s other hand. “We’re family, remember? Family doesn’t leave.”
Lucy caught her breath as a tear leaked out of Wyatt’s eye and slipped down his temple to his hairline.
“I did,” he managed, his breath becoming ragged and uneven. “I left.”
“What? No you didn’t!” Lucy protested.
“Jessica,” Flynn said softly. “He’s talking about his wife.”
Lucy felt Wyatt’s shaking increase as he gripped her wrist tighter. “’s my f-fault…she died ‘cause of me….”
“No, Wyatt,” Lucy leaned forward, resting the palm of her hand on his cheek, reassured that the clamminess had decreased, but worried about the heat she now felt there. “That’s not true.”
Wyatt’s chin quivered and he arched his neck. “I was mad…and I left her…and she died. I’m not worth your lives,” he gasped slightly and Lucy could see him visibly tremble. “Go…just…g-get outta here.”
Jaw clenching against the pain, Wyatt pressed his eyes closed and bit back a groan.
“I’m untying him,” Rufus said suddenly.
Lucy looked up at him, surprised. He still held Wyatt’s hand, but the wounded man had pulled it close to his body. Rufus was gray with pain, but his eyes were clear and determined.
“If he can save Wyatt, we don’t have a choice.”
“He’ll get away,” Lucy predicted. “We’ll never get a chance like this again.”
“I know,” Rufus said. “I know and it doesn’t matter. Wyatt matters. You matter. Getting us the hell outta here matters.”
Lucy swallowed. “I’ll do it,” she said, gently pulling Wyatt’s hand from her arm and retrieving the pocket knife. Crawling over to Flynn, she flicked open the blade and began to saw at the thick ropes.
“Careful,” Flynn warned.
“You screw us over and me nicking your hands will be the least of your problems,” Lucy promised.
The minute he was freed, Flynn rubbed at his wrists and rolled to his knees, causing Lucy to draw back reflexively. True to his word, Flynn moved directly to Wyatt, shoving the petticoat blanket down to the man’s waist and pulling the ruined shirt open. Wyatt grit his teeth, growling low in his throat, but was clearly unable to pull away from Flynn.
“How’d you know about his wife?” Rufus asked, not budging from his post at Wyatt’s side.
“I read Lucy’s journal,” Flynn replied. “Bring that lantern closer.”
Rufus reached for the lantern as Lucy positioned herself at Wyatt’s head, her ankle throbbing, even though she’d kept her weight off of it.
“Alleged journal,” Lucy snapped. “And, wait…I wrote about Jessica?”
Flynn grabbed the pocket knife from her and began to cut Wyatt’s shirt away, exposing the wounded man’s blood-smeared chest. He next began to remove the soaked bandages.
“You wrote about Wyatt,” he clarified. “Jessica is part of what makes him who he is.” He glanced up at Lucy. “As my wife and daughter were to me.”
“N-not…not like you,” Wyatt ground out, tightening his grip on Rufus’ hand.
“Of course not,” Flynn replied. “I’ve turned my grief into purpose,” he dug through the burlap sack, “you’re allowing yours to destroy you.”
Rufus looked at Lucy and she felt the same sense of regret at their decision echo from the other man. She was about to tell Flynn to just leave, they’d handle Wyatt, when the older man spoke up again.
“Lucy, hold his head. Rufus, lift the glass on the lantern and sterilize this knife.”
The rapid-fire delivery of his orders grabbed Lucy’s attention.
“What is it?”
“His pulse is rapid, his breathing shallow, and there is way too much blood here. He’s going to go into hypovolemic shock if we don’t get this wound patched up quickly, but the bullet is still inside and if we close the wound without removing it, he’ll die from the infection that’s more than likely causing this fever.”
“Ray of f-freaking sunshine,” Wyatt growled.
“I’m not known for my bedside manner, no,” Flynn replied. “Lucy? Keep him steady.”
Lucy extended her right leg so that Wyatt’s weight wouldn’t fall on her sprained ankle and, with Flynn’s help, lifted the wounded man’s head and shoulders into her lap. Without thinking about it, she began to smooth Wyatt’s sweaty hair away from his face, trying not to focus on the fact that their enemy—the man who was the reason they were in 1863 to begin with—was about to perform surgery on her friend in the middle of a shed lit by a single lantern.
“This is crazy,” she muttered.
“You’re telling me,” Rufus, handing the flame-sterilized knife to Flynn and moving the lantern closer to Wyatt’s wounded shoulder. “Definitely out-ranks the patching him up in a hotel room before Lincoln is shot level of crazy.”
“Or the barely making it out of the Alamo before it’s overrun by Santa Ana level of crazy,” Lucy agreed.
“People, please,” Flynn chided them. “I’m going to need your help if we’re going to do this.” He handed Lucy the canteen. “Try to get him to drink some water.”
Wyatt choked slightly, but swallowed several mouthfuls greedily before Lucy pulled the canteen away. Flynn grabbed the flask, opened it, and sniffed. Tilting his head slightly in acceptance, he took a quick swig before leaning close to Wyatt’s wound.
“Listen,” he said, directing his words at Wyatt, but speaking to all three of them. “Our only chance is if the bullet is lodged in muscle or against bone…and is intact. If it’s buried deeper, or if it broke up, there won’t be much I can do but stitch you up and hope you make it back to the lifeboat.”
“I kn-know the drill,” Wyatt gasped. “N-not my first rodeo.”
“No, I expect not,” Flynn muttered. “This will hurt. A lot. Lucy? Talk to him. And you…,” he glanced at Rufus. “Don’t let go.”
Lucy’s mind went blank.
She watched Flynn ball up a strip of clean petticoat he’d torn loose from her make-shift blanket, and poise the opened flask over the ragged hole in Wyatt’s chest and could not think of a single thing to say that would distract the wounded man. Not one to stand on ceremony, Flynn began to pour the whiskey directly into the wound.
Wyatt’s scream shredded Lucy’s heart. He arched his back, pressing his head against her legs in a desperate bid to escape the pain. Rufus gripped his hand, clearly at a loss to do more. Lucy began to stroke his face, smoothing away his pain-flung tears as Flynn used the bandage to clean away the blood. Wyatt’s ragged breathing beat against her ears. She was helpless to ease his pain.
“Wyatt,” Flynn called, his voice like a whip cracking in the cloistered room. “Wyatt, listen to me. Focus on me.”
Amazingly, Lucy saw Wyatt’s blue eyes track to Flynn’s voice, blinking at the man he’d been assigned to kill as if he were suddenly a lifeline.
“The pain is nothing,” Flynn told him. “Push it to back of your mind. Focus only on breathing. Force your lungs to fill and allow the air to escape. That is all you think about: breathing.”
“That some of that military training you were talking about?” Rufus muttered.
“Shhh!” Lucy snapped. “It’s working.”
Wyatt stared at Flynn and pulled in a breath, letting it go slowly. Flynn nodded encouragingly at him.
“Good, that’s it. Keep doing that,” Flynn took a breath himself, then pressed on the wound, inserting the blade into the hole to search for the bullet.
Lucy looked away, as Wyatt groaned in pain.
“Tell me about your mission,” Flynn ordered.
“Which…one,” Wyatt managed through gritted teeth.
Lucy glanced at Flynn’s face, wondering what the hell he was after, but the man was completely focused on Wyatt’s wound. If she didn’t know better, she’d think he truly didn’t want the other man to die.
“Where were you while Rufus and I were trapped in the Eldridge?” Lucy asked, picking up on the thread of Flynn’s questioning.
“Jail,” Wyatt gasped, flinching back and away as Flynn dug for the ball. “Son of a bitch!”
“Breathe,” Flynn reminded him. “Focus only on that.”
“Jail?” Lucy continued to stroke the sweaty hair from Wyatt’s forehead.
“Deputy…looked like S-Sam Elliott—ahh!”
“Wyatt?” Lucy called as Wyatt seemed to freeze in her arms.
“Stay with me,” Flynn ordered. “I’ve almost got it.”
Wyatt’s breathing stuttered; he sounded as though he were strangling.
“Wyatt!” Lucy patted his cheek. “C’mon, breathe. Don’t do this, Wyatt.”
“Hey, man,” Rufus shook the wounded man’s hand in his grip. “We need you. Stay with us, Wyatt.”
“I got it!” Flynn flipped the lead ball from the wound, then pressed the cloth on the ragged hole once more. “Open your eyes, Wyatt. Hard part’s over.”
Wyatt’s hand had gone limp in Rufus’ grip, his head and shoulders heavy in Lucy’s lap. His eyes were closed and his mouth hung open, breath rasping shallowly.
“Stitch him up,” Lucy ordered, her tears dripping on Wyatt’s pale face. “Stitch him up and let’s get the hell out of here.”
Flynn nodded, not wasting any time. He closed the ragged hole using the needle and thread, then tore more scraps from Lucy’s petticoats, and crafted a thick bandage to protect the wound.
“He’ll need actual surgery to repair the damaged muscle and antibiotics—“
“Oh, he’s getting antibiotics,” Rufus broke in, nodding vigorously. “We’re getting his ass back to the twenty-first century and he’s getting all the medicine they’ve got.”
“What do we do about Quantrill’s men? And this Frank guy that they’re waiting for?”
Flynn held up the flask and lantern. “A distraction.”
“I’m starting to see why we can’t ever catch you, man,” Rufus muttered.
“You help Lucy,” Flynn ordered. “I’ll get Wyatt.”
Rufus stood, clearly ready to take any orders that would get them out of that shed and get Wyatt to the lifeboat.
“By the way…that Frank guy?” Flynn looked over his shoulder. “He’s not the one you need to worry about.” He poured the whiskey on some petticoat rags and stuff the dry end into the top of the lantern. “It’s his younger brother, Jesse, who’s the real nightmare.”
Rufus shot a look over at Lucy, matching her raised eyebrows. Before either of them could react, Flynn jerked the door open and threw the lantern bomb out toward the corral. The glass broke, the flames caught the alcohol-soaked rags, and the dried grass near the corral caught fire sending the horses into a panic.
All but one of the men collected around the shed raced toward the horses and the flames. The man who’d brought them supplies turned to face the opened doorway, a dark and dangerous look on his face. Faster than Lucy was able to process, the man pulled a gun and Flynn punched him square on the nose, sending him over like a felled tree. Rufus darted forward and grabbed the pistol from the unconscious man’s grip.
Lucy blinked in surprise; it was Wyatt’s gun.
“He’ll want this later,” Rufus said, shoving the weapon into his belt before reaching for Lucy.
“Go,” Flynn ordered, bending down and lifting Wyatt across his shoulders.
Rufus pulled Lucy close and began running as fast as her sprained ankle would allow, Flynn on their heels. They didn’t stop until they reached the cover of trees and Lucy went to her knees, gasping for breath. Flynn eased Wyatt down to the forest floor and crouched next to him, keeping him upright, Wyatt’s head lolling to rest on Flynn’s shoulder.
“Where’s your machine?” Flynn asked, panting for breath as he braced Wyatt.
“West of here,” Lucy answered vaguely. “Where’s yours?”
“North,” Flynn shot back. “I can radio for someone to come get me. Can you do the same?”
“Not cool, man,” Rufus muttered. “That’s a total Lando move.”
Lucy ignored the obvious question about where he’d stashed this mysterious short-wave radio of his and tried once more to get the job done. “You carry Wyatt to the lifeboat and come back with us. Let’s find Rittenhouse together.”
Flynn huffed a laugh. “Sweetheart, you work for Rittenhouse.”
“He looks bad, Lucy,” Rufus broke crouching down next to Wyatt. “We don’t have a choice.”
Lucy looked at Wyatt’s pale face, his bare chest smeared with blood and wrapped with strips of a petticoat. She remembered the look in his eyes when Agent Christopher had fired him for not being able to kill Flynn fast enough; how was he going to feel knowing they chose to let Flynn go in order to save his life?
As though reading her thoughts, Wyatt opened his eyes, the blue irises pinned to her.
“Wyatt?” She whispered, limping closer to him.
“’s the right call,” he whispered, his face lined with pain. “Let’s go.”
She nodded, then reached for Rufus to help her up. “It’s this way,” she said to Flynn.
Flynn shouldered Wyatt once more, but this time Lucy heard Wyatt cry out. As Rufus hauled her along, she fought to ignore the ache in her ankle, knowing Rufus was doing the same with his head. They were literally walking wounded and lucky to be alive. As the lifeboat came into view, Lucy found herself listening for sounds of the raiders following them, halting their escape, making all of this for nothing.
But none came.
Rufus opened the door, climbed in and pulled Lucy inside, and then they both turned to grab Wyatt from Flynn’s shoulders. Crouched in the doorway of the lifeboat, the wounded soldier in their arms, Lucy and Rufus paused, staring back at Garcia Flynn. The moment felt surreal, impossible.
“There’ll be a n-next time,” Wyatt said suddenly, startling them all. Lucy hadn’t realized he was conscious. “You’ll head b-back out, and we’ll be sent to f-find you.”
“And you’ll have to make a choice when you do,” Flynn told him, sweeping the three of them with a look, then leveling his gaze on Wyatt. “Just as I did.”
“Let’s hope it’s the right one,” Wyatt said softly, growing suddenly heavier in their arms.
Flynn offered them a half smile. “It will be,” he replied, then turned and ran back into the woods.
“C’mon,” Rufus grunted, tugging Wyatt the rest of the way through the door. “Let’s get our boy home.”
It took both of them to buckle Wyatt into his seat, the belt pressing against his bandages and looking odd against his bare skin. Lucy fumbled with her own belt, missing the aid Wyatt always gave her.
“You okay to do this?” Lucy called to Rufus, worried about the effect time travel would have on his concussion.
“Not like we’ve got much of a choice!” Rufus called back.
In moments, she felt the nauseating tug through her belly, sending her senses spinning, and then the rough jolt that told her they’d landed once more. Orienting herself, she looked across at Wyatt, seeing him slumped in his seat, the buckle the only thing holding him upright. She looked up in the pilot’s seat at Rufus and saw the man reach up to his head with a shaking hand. Unbuckling herself, she crawled to the door, hit the panel and leaned out into Connor Mason’s hanger calling to anyone who was poised to listen, “Help! We need help here!”
It was slightly disconcerting to learn that there wasn’t much that could be done for his concussion, Rufus thought. Tylenol and rest were the basics, the second one a bit of a joke as he was woken up every few hours for someone to check on his cognitive abilities.
Connor had a state-of-the-art medical facility on the premises, so he and Lucy were treated and released quickly, Lucy sporting a pair of crutches for at least a week. How they were going to be able to chase after Flynn the next time he decided to disrupt history with a fragile melon and a set of crutches, Rufus wasn’t sure.
But that was really the least of their problems.
Carrying two large coffees with him, Rufus bumped the security door with his hip and slipped into the room where Lucy sat, her foot propped up on pillows, watching Wyatt Logan sleep.
As he had been doing since they returned to the present, two days ago.
“You are officially my favorite person today,” Lucy smiled at him, accepting the coffee with a smile.
“That’s two days in a row,” Rufus commented. “Noah Whatshisname is going to get jealous.”
Lucy rolled her eyes.
“Any change?” Rufus asked, nodding toward the bed.
Wyatt had been officially moved off of the critical list that morning, removing the breathing tube and several of the wires and drains that had been necessary after they repaired the muscle damage. It seemed Flynn had done a decent job patching up the wound; infection had been minimal and caught early enough. The scariest thing had been the blood loss.
“He’s been muttering a bit,” Lucy told him. “Nothing I can really understand, except when he calls for Jess.”
Rufus sighed as he sat on the arm of Lucy’s chair. “If the Army ever found out how bad off he is about that….”
“You think that’s why he took this job? To keep them from finding out?” Lucy wondered.
Rufus rotated the coffee cup in his hand, thinking. “Maybe.”
“Why’d you take the job?” Lucy asked. “Not just with us, but…at all?”
“I’ve known Connor…hell, over half my life,” Rufus told her. “He coached me through MIT, helped me support my Mama and brother. When he started working on this time travel business…it was just the next logical step. A way to apply the science I knew to the science fiction I loved.”
“Go where no man has gone before?” Lucy smiled.
“Wrong science fiction,” Rufus chuckled. “But, yeah. Something like that.”
Wyatt shifted slightly in the bed, coming close to awareness, but didn’t open his eyes.
“I took this job originally to save Anthony,” Rufus confessed. “He was…,” he smiled slightly, then looked up at Wyatt, watching the man breathe. “I was going to say he was my friend. But…I think I’m starting to learn a new definition for that word.”
“Why’d you stay?” Lucy asked quietly.
“Partly because they blackmailed me,” Rufus said around a rueful grin. “But…mostly because of you guys.”
“I know what you mean,” Lucy murmured. “I stayed because I need to get Amy back, but…I climb into that damn metal eyeball every time because of you and Wyatt. I wouldn’t do it without you.”
“You two are breaking my heart,” Wyatt rasped into the quiet room.
Rufus stood up and approached the bed, watching as the soldier’s blue eyes finally made an appearance. “There he is,” he said with a smile. “’bout time you woke up.”
“How long?” Wyatt asked, swallowing painfully.
“Yeah, your throat’s probably gonna be sore for a while, man.” Rufus retrieved a cup of water with a straw and helped Wyatt drink. “Those breathing tubes are nasty business.”
“And to answer your question,” Lucy spoke up from her chair, causing Wyatt to turn his head and blink in her direction. “We got back two days ago.”
Rufus shrugged. “No word yet. Think maybe he’s giving us a break?”
“Should be taking advantage,” Wyatt winced, trying to sit up in the bed.
“Whoa, easy there,” Rufus reached for the bed controls. “Let your brother help you out.”
Lucy chuckled softly.
“My what?” Wyatt asked, leaning back against his pillows as Rufus tipped the bed slightly upright.
“Oh, did I not mention? We’re blood brothers, you and me. Literally.”
Wyatt frowned. “How’s that?”
“Well,” Rufus shifted a hip on the edge of the bed. “For starters, you bled all over me back in Kansas. I mean, all over me.”
“And me.” Lucy raised her hand.
“Then, when we get back into the magic of the twenty-first century, it turns out you have basically the rarest blood type there is: AB negative.”
“Yeah, it’s on my dog tags,” Wyatt said, his hand going to his neck almost instinctively, even though Rufus knew they were to leave their personal items like dog tags in their lockers before traveling.
“It also turns out that even with all the miracles of modern medicine this facility had to offer, there was a shortage on that particular blood type,” Rufus continued.
“Let me guess,” Wyatt offered a tired smile. “You’re a universal donor.”
“Got it in one,” Rufus smiled back.
“How long until I’m back in action?” Wyatt asked, glancing down at the thick bandage that covered half of his chest.
“A while,” Lucy spoke up. “Long enough they were talking about who might make a trustworthy temporary replacement.”
Wyatt frowned, not meeting either of their eyes. He nodded slowly. “I could give them a few names.”
“Yeah, well, we told them to stick it,” Rufus said, causing Wyatt to look up at him in surprise.
“We’re a team, Wyatt. That’s as good as family,” Rufus told him. “And you don’t break up family.”
“But what if Flynn—“
“If Flynn decides to go mess around with history before you’re on your feet, we’ll deal with it,” Lucy replied. “But we’re not getting someone else.”
Wyatt blinked, looking down again. He shook his head once, his lips pressing flat in a move both Rufus and Lucy recognized as the man holding himself back. Instinctively, they waited him out. When he looked up again, his blue eyes swam with tears, but his jaw was firm.
“I’m sorry,” he managed.
That was not what Rufus had been expecting.
“For what?” he asked, truly surprised.
“I didn’t give you—either of you—the benefit of the doubt when you told me…about your secrets,” he replied, clearly forcing himself to meet their eyes. “I acted like I’d never broken trust…like I’d never screwed up…when I’m the one who screwed up the worst.”
“Wyatt—“ Lucy started, her voice soft and forgiving.
“Stop,” Rufus broke in, the harder edge in his voice drawing Wyatt’s eyes and clearing up the tears. “You are not responsible for your wife’s death. Couples fight, man. You had no idea what was going to happen to her that night.”
“No.” Rufus was relentless, thinking about the regrets in his life, the ways he’d let his mother down, his brother…the ways he’d let himself down. But he’d always stood back up. And it was that same quality he recognized in Wyatt…what drew him to the other man. “We are going to let people down. We are going to screw up. It’s going to happen. What matters is that we turn it around. We get back up. And we try again.”
Wyatt simply nodded.
“We’re a team,” Rufus repeated. “And I trust you.”
“Me too,” Lucy asserted.
Wyatt looked down at his lap. “Thank you,” he whispered. Rubbing at his face, he cleared his throat and glanced out through the window. “Anyone tell Agent Christopher who saved my life?”
Rufus glanced at Lucy. “Not…exactly.”
Wyatt’s eyebrows bounced up, looking back at them. “What did you tell her?”
Lucy glanced away and Rufus rubbed at the back of his head. “We may have insinuated that the James brothers had a Union prisoner in the shed with us who knew something about first aid.”
Wyatt lifted his chin. “It’s the right call,” he said. “Until we figure out who Rittenhouse is…and who’s side Flynn’s really on.”
“Agreed.” Lucy nodded.
“Now, I’m just gonna say it. How many here think it’s pretty damn cool we got captured by—and escaped from—the James gang?” Rufus grinned.
Lucy laughed and Wyatt chuckled, holding his wounded arm and shaking his head.
“At least we didn’t mess history up too much,” he said, dropping his head back against the pillows.
“There’s still time,” Lucy offered him a wry grin.
Rufus just laughed.