Chapter 11.3 - If You’re Dead I’m Gonna Kill You
Clandestine sighed in relief when she saw Elliot still, calm, and standing at the edge of a creek. Fortunately, he hadn't run too far off. It had only taken a few minutes to find him. With a small smile she hopped off Billy and led Billy forward with eager steps. As they drew closer to the bank, the ground grew softer, and Clandestine stepped into the mud with a squelch. Elliot looked up.
In his mouth, he was holding Matt's hat. Clandestine's eyes widened.
She approached him cautiously, reaching out towards the hat. Elliot pulled it away and flicked his tail.
"It's okay, Elliot," she said softly. "I'm not going to hurt you." Elliot turned his face away and chewed on the hat, almost dropping it in the process. The horse looked out into the water, across the bank. A breeze picked up and rustled the leaves in the trees overhead, and Clandestine felt a chill run down her spine. The sky was clear, but the slow gurgling of water and the dozens of leaves that fluttered down in the wind's wake unsettled her. She took a deep breath, and set a hand gently on Elliot's neck. Elliot lowered his head, and Clandestine looked out over the water to the bank across the way.
Where the water and the land met, she could see a long trench in the mud as if something was continuously dragged through it. The moment realization hit her, her stomach dropped, and Elliot dropped the hat from his mouth.
The poster said he was wanted alive, right? Her heart began to race, and she reached for the poster in her pocket. She unfolded it and searched it desperately for confirmation of what she already knew: yes, he was wanted alive. But he'd been dragged through the mud? That... that wasn't a very nice way to go about bounty hunting at all.
She folded the poster back up and put it in her pocket. After giving Elliot a little pat, she bent down and picked up Matt's hat.
Tiberius's hat. She'd almost forgotten he wasn't the cowboy friend she'd made back in the saloon.
With a sigh, she looked over to Elliot and then back at Billy. "Well, it looks like we're going to be doing some swimming."
Tiberius woke with a kick to his gut. He inhaled painfully with a wheeze, and as he leaned forward to recover, found he could not do so: he was tied firmly to a tree. In his lap, his hands were still bound together by cuffs - cuffs that left the skin around his wrists stinging and raw. His neck was stiff and ached from having his head hang limply as he was dragged around, and the consequences of being dragged left him filthy. He didn't have to look himself over to know he was caked in mud, dirt, and grass. He could feel it. He could smell it.
His captor towered over him with his shadow, and Tiberius didn't lift his head to face him. Instead, he looked at the forest around them. The sky was dark, and the moon was almost full. He could see it peeking through the trees above. A few feet behind Alexander there was a fire crackling, a sleeping bag laid out on the ground, and above the fire, a small pot of something cooking. His gut urged him not to take a whiff, but he caught the smell anyway. Soup. He could smell the carrots. The chicken. His stomach twisted and turned with hunger.
Another kick. Tiberius winced and cringed, flicking a glare up at Alexander in annoyance.
"Can't have you too comfortable," Alexander said flatly. "You fell asleep on me while I was talking to you back there. Couldn't wake you up for a while."
Tiberius stared down at the ground. Experience told him to stay silent but weariness kept him still. He was tired of entertaining bounty hunters.
Alexander took a few steps back, and looked Tiberius up and down. Whether he was making sure Tiberius was secure or whether he was admiring his handiwork didn't matter. It was still degrading. Alexander stood staring at him for a minute before he turned to sit by the fire.
"I used to live here in this forest," he said as he sat down, as if continuing an already-going conversation. Tiberius closed his eyes, internally giving Alexander an eye roll. Tiberius did not want to carry on a conversation with a man who intended to hand him over to the law. Nonetheless, Alexander persisted.
"My parents had a cabin out here where my father hunted game. Sometimes I would go out with him to set traps..."
So Tiberius checked out, only to pick up again on Alexander's last sentence - "but then my father died on a hunting trip gone wrong" - before Alexander realized, again, that Tiberius wasn't listening. Alexander shook his head in disapproval.
"You make a habit of being this rude?" Alexander asked.
Tiberius scoffed. "I'm not interested in hearing your life story."
Alexander raised his brows and shrugged. "If I bore you so, then maybe you should tell me yours."
Tiberius looked up at Alexander, meeting his eyes with a dead-eyed stare. "Ha. Ha."
Alexander's face slowly took on a dark expression. The teasing mirth in his eyes shifted to a chilling intent as he stared back. Alexander reached into his jacket. Tiberius broke eye contact to follow his hand. He saw the glint of metal under Alexander's fingers ducked his head. He could hear the knife whizz past his ear as it thunked into the tree. He took in a shuddering deep breath. He looked up to cast an accusing glance at Alexander for almost potentially killing him, but instead only looked up in time to see another knife hurtling towards him. He didn't have time to even flinch.
The knife lodged itself in his shoulder, and he bit back a cry with little success. His own voice taunted him as it echoed through the forest and he looked wildly up at Alexander, who was stalking towards him.
"What in the hell was that for?" he hissed, clenching his fists and curling his toes in his boots to bite back the pain.
"You were thinking of escaping, so I just thought I'd kindly discourage it," Alexander spoke smoothly before squatting down in front of him.
Tiberius's upper lip curled and he set his jaw to keep from showing any more signs of pain. He slowly and painfully turned to look at his shoulder, fighting to keep his muscles from flinching or spasming. He knew in an hour, it would hurt much more than it did now. After the shock wore off, it would only get worse.
Alexander leaned in uncomfortably close, reached for the knife, and rested his hand on the handle. Tiberius stared with dreaded anticipation.
"Carter's damn pissed that you've been running free for so long," Alexander whispered harshly into Tiberius's face. Tiberius's eyes widened slightly at the mention of the name, but he kept his face still. He could feel Alexander's breath on his face. "He finally hired me to take you in, since apparently no one else is capable," the bounty hunter taunted, before twisting the dagger just a fraction. Tiberius's face tensed.
"Got anything you want me to tell Carter before I gag you?" Alexander asked.
Tiberius turned his face to the man before him, with his mouth set into a deep frown.
"I'll tell him myself," he said through grit teeth.
Alexander shrugged, then grabbed Tiberius's head roughly, holding it back against the tree as he shoved a rolled up sock in his mouth. He wasted no time in securing it by tying a bandana around Tiberius's head to hold the gag in place.
"Fine, suit yourself," Alexander replied. "Carter's paying me a lot of money, so I don't need to hear you complain or play any of your mind games either. Not that they'd work on me. Fortunately I know your history better than you think."
He grabbed the handle of the knife again and yanked it out with a straight tug. Tiberius let out a muffled cry.
"I'll clean you up in a bit," Alexander said with a chilling smile. The bounty hunter ruffled Tiberius's hair, and he was too weary to pull his head from his grasp. "I can't have you dying from infection. As much of a pain it is to admit, you're still useful..." Alexander stared at him a moment before patting him on the cheek. Tiberius finally pulled his face away, struggling to swallow a lump in his throat with his mouth agape and full of sock.
"But you made sure of that, didn't you?"