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Had Jessamine known that her world was going to be tossed upside down by nightfall when she rode into town on Whisper... the steel eyed outlaw would have laughed until her lungs exploded from sheer mirth. After everything that she had been through, the Scarlet Lady thought that nothing could shock her. Quite the foolish statement for someone often as closed-minded as those she accused. Never did it occur to Jessamine that someone else could carry as much suffering that she did, let alone be able to sympathize with her.
And yet, here she was. Stuck in a cave with a storm beginning to rage outside and her only company was a deputy who was growing more pale by the minute. There was a tremour running through his lanky frame, one that she knew very well. It was the spine stiffening, flesh chilling touch of absolute horror. For all of her ignorance the outlaw was beginning to realize that the man before her had not just seen something terrible... he had survived it. Just like her. She was so focused on the fear that filled his features, Jess did not realize that Johnny was attempting to hand the beans back to her. Once she noticed the offering she was quick to snatch it. If he didn't want them then she wasn't going to turn down extra food. Having enough of anyting was hard to come by as an outlaw, even if you amassed wealth you had to be careful how and who you spend it with...
"Yeh, I'll take that." Jess took another bite of the beans, but she found that her own appetite was souring the longer she looked at the deputy. What was his deal? And why couldn't she shake her own feeling of dread? Fear was infectious and with pasts like theirs it was only natural that it plagued their waking moments as well as their sleeping. It was just terrible luck that Johnny happened to be triggered by storms. "What's wrong with a little lightning? Mother nature terrify 'ya that much?" She hoped that a little goading would push the deputy back into a proper personality, the stiff-upper lip said. She could deal with that. But this shaking, pale man... Jessamine was floundering. He wasn't scared of her, he was scared of something else. And that unknown factor put her on edge.
If someone had told Johnny he'd be holed up with a wounded lady outlaw during a summer storm waiting for dawn so he could take her to jail, he would have thought they were insane. He had no idea what had turned Jess against the world, he hoped no one ever suffered the horrors he had, even though he saw proof of it constantly. The world was not a safe or kind place. It bred hard people whose only recourse was turning off their feelings so they could survive. Johnny had lost that toughness cowering under the bush as the Lakota butchered his company. He couldn't pretend it didn't hurt anymore, so he did what he could to alleviate other people suffering. Probably would have been a better thing for a doctor than a lawman, but his family never had the money for school, let alone medical school. Between his bad knee and limited skill set, there were very few jobs he was suited for. With his broken mind, it could be argued he wasn't much good for his current profession, but Johnny did what he could to keep his madness down. It worked, most of them.
The wind was blowing fiercely. It sounded far too much like the screams of his fellow soldiers, like the war cries of the Lakota. Johnny resisted the urge to cover his ears. Not that it would help. Nothing could stop the screams in his head once they started. Another clap of thunder made him visibly jump. Like a cannon shot. He closed his eyes and shook his head as if trying to clear it. His hands were shaking powerful hard and he clasped them together to try and still them.
Johnny shook his head at her question. "Nah," he said. "Just brings back bad memories." He was going to have to sit on his damn hands to stop them shaking if the wind didn't stop howling like a pack of wolves. He looked away from her, out into the dark stormy night. It was just a storm. They were nowhere near Lakota territory, the Indians in Kansas were nowhere near Augusta. He needed to remember where he was. When he was. He needed to take some more of his medicine...
No- he couldn't medicate himself into unconsciousness. He had a prisoner and even though she was injured, she was too dangerous to trust not to murder him in his sleep and take off with everything. He just had to keep his head and distract himself from the storm. At least until she fell asleep. He poked at the fire with the tongs, knowing deep down the chill he felt had nothing to do with the weather. Looking at the fire didn't help none either. He'd stared into the bonfire as the Lakota danced around it, whooping and swinging around the scalps of the fallen soldiers for hours. He closed his eyes again, trying to find something else to focus on.
"You should get some sleep," he said to Jess, hoping she'd fall asleep so he could drug himself into unconsciousness. He didn't want to go crazy on her. He wouldn't blame her if she shot him if he did. "You want some more medicine? Another sip shouldn't hurt you none." He really needed her to go to sleep so he could put himself out before he lost his fragile grip on himself. Which was slipping with every shriek of the wind.
Minutes ticked by, the silence bubbling and swelling between them as Jessamine continued to look for any sort of sign that there was something off with the deputy. Alright. It was completely obvious that something was wrong, but the outlaw wasn't able to put two and two together yet. Johnny Buckner looked like a spooked horse, about ready to buck its rider and take off into the night. He was tremblin' and there was a distinct hitch in his voice when he finally broke the empty air around them with his own words. Lightning split the sky and Jess felt like she was going to be swallowed by the whites of the eyes reflected at her in that brief flash. The whirlwind of emotions in those depths were illuminated far greater in that moment than in the light of the fire. Fear. He was afraid of something and whether it was real or a monster of the mind, it still set Jessamine on edge...
"You should get some sleep. You want some more medicine? Another sip shouldn't hurt you none."
Oh I bet it would, St. Deputy... Jessamine kept the thought that rolled through her mind like a tumbleweed to herself. Her sharp blue eyes watched the firelight dance off the edges of the medicine bottle. He wanted her to sleep, probably so he could deal with whatever was making him so jumpy. If he was as insane or wicked as she feared, his unease was infectious, she needed to stay conscious. But to refuse would tip him off that something was wrong. Jessamine still did not know that Johnny's turmoil came from his own dark past, with him as the victim. Her own twisted mind was already imagining terrible scenarios: if he was not as kindly as she had accused him of being was he just biding his time to try and get his nerve up and have his way with her? Would he rape her or shoot her once she was unconscious?
Jessamine reached out and plucked the bottle from his hand, murmuring a quiet,
Wiping the back of her hand against the laudanum smears upon her lips, for she was not even chancing one drop sneaking its way to her tongue, Jessamine continued to watch Johnny. Were she feeling up to it, she would have shaken him and demanded that he calm down, didn't he know that his fear was seeping into her every pore? That she felt like she too was going mad with apprehension in this damned cave?! She instead settled for laying back upon the bed roll, trying to fix the deputy in place with a glare.
Once he gave his word for the thousandth time, Jessamine made her body adjust to a more relaxed pose. She closed her eyes, forcing her lashes to flutter a few times, as though the medicine was taking effect. With a gentle sigh she began to mimic the slow even breaths of sleep. Let him take the bait... Let him be fooled...
He couldn't blame her for being worried about his nerves. Johnny had already pointed out if he wanted to kill or hurt her, he'd already had plenty of opportunities. He'd met people like her before though. Ones who'd been betrayed so many times, they couldn't bring themselves to trust others. A lot of former slaves in the military were like that. When they'd found out he was from Georgia and his family had owned a slave, they looked at him differently. Like he was about to take a lash to them. It was sad and unfair. But life often was. He'd tried not to take it personally, but it had bothered him. Even though he knew damn well people suffered for others' sins all the time and he wasn't anybody special.
Johnny realized dimly he was scaring her. But explaining to Jess what was wrong with him, even if she believed him, would just end with him doping himself up to stay level. And she'd probably still kill him in his sleep. Probably would be a mercy, if he was being honest. He'd gotten worse rather than better over the years, needing more medicine to stay level and keep the worst of the physical pain at bay. He took the bottle back with a small nod, hesitating for a few seconds because he really just wanted to take a couple swigs that would put him out for the night. But he couldn't. Reluctantly, he tucked it back into the breast pocket of his jacket and leaned back against his saddle. Looking at the fire wasn't helping. Looking at Jess would just make her more worried. So he picked a bare spot on the cave wall and tried to concentrate on it.
Every clap of thunder and shriek of the wind echoed through his mind, dredging up old horrible memories. He covered his ears, even though it was futile. Once the screams in his head started, nothing stopped them except drowning them in opium and booze until he passed out. He looked like a crazy man, rocking back and forth with his hands over his ears, his eyes closed tight as he fought his inner demons with all of his will.
But in the end, like every other time, they won. A flash of lightning struck a tree with a loud crack and Johnny jumped, losing himself in the horror show his mind put on for him. His knee throbbed and he sprawled out next to the fire, sobbing and glassy-eyed, not seeing anything in this world anymore. He was seeing the bonfire, the Sioux shrieking as the waved around the limbs and scalps of his compatriots. He could feel the branches scratching at his face, but he didn't dare move. Barely hazard a breath, because they'd find him and cut him up, too. The shrieks and drums thundered in his ears and he was frozen in a fear. Just like all those years ago.
She did not have to wait long, in the darkness behind her eyelids, Jessamine over heard the beginning of the frightening show. Johnny thought that he was keeping himself quiet, but nothing could be further than the truth. In that tiny cave she heard each and every whimper and gasp as he fought to keep the demons at bay. The sounds seemed monstrously loud to her ears in spite of the crackling fire and the storm outside. It seemed that all she could hear was the noises that Johnny Buckner was making. They echoed in her head, rolling around with all of her fright filled predictions from before. Mad... he is mad... Jessamine decided then and there.
Another bolt of fear rocketed down her spine. But, unlike the shaken lawman beside her, Jessamine kept her lips pressed tightly together. She was coiled like a spring. Waiting for him to snap and pounce... Her fingers reached out slowly from the bed roll, reaching and searching until her fingers found a rock. It had a sharp edge on one side. If he came for her, she would fight until her last breath, injury or no! The young outlaw held her breath, listening hard as the whimpering and fidgeting of the man beside her grew louder and more frequent. And then... they stopped. Almost completely.
Though it was difficult to do so, Jessamine forced herself to peek out with one eye. The firelight burned bright against her and she grit her teeth, trying to look past that first blossom of white upon opening her eye. A mysterious, frightening sight met her. Instead of looming over her, the deputy was slumped by the fire. She could see part of his face and the emptiness and fear in his expression made her bolt up into a sitting position. Her waist sang with pain but the Scarlet Lady paid it no mind, she only had eyes for the deputy. Johnny was catatonic, eyes staring and seeing something that was there and yet not. He was lost in his own mind and the way he seemed to be holding his breath was terrifyingly familiar to Jessamine.
For a moment, the cave swam before her eyes as well, transforming into that tiny room in Rose Hill. She was a child in her bed, the sheets were moth eaten and thin as paper; doing nothing to keep the chill from her fragile flesh. But all she could focus on was the light coming from beyond the keyhole. Maybe if she held her breath and made herself small enough she would disappear... he wouldn't come to her that night. But the light beyond was always eclipsed along with the sound of a key in the lock...
The flash of lightning and boom of thunder shook Jessamine from the dark corners of her own mind. With a small grunt, she pushed herself to her feet. The pain was harder to ignore now, but she would not get a chance like this again... It was flee into the rain now or sit through the darkness with this mad man and face the gallows come the morrow. Jessamine knew which option she would take. She stumbled out into the night, abandoning Johnny to his demons. He would have to face them on his own, she had no compassion to give for she still did not understand that his suffering could match hers.
"Whisper!" Jessamine called out into the night air, her eyes searching frantically with every flash of lightning for her beloved mare. There! Whisper was tethered to a near by tree along with the deputy's horse. Jessamine made her way to her only friend and climbed upon her back. She did not care that the mare was missing her saddle and supplies, there was no time to search for them. In spite of the storm and her wounds, she was leaving. "Hiya!" With a click of her heels, they shot off into the night. If she rode hard enough and fast enough, perhaps she could leave behind the haunting image of Johnny's face in the firelight. Perhaps she could even outrun her own demons.
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