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21 January 2011 @ 05:48 pm
fic: loves the red liquor which serves a man so (mccoy/chapel, 3/5)  
 Blood on The Saddle, Part 3.

loves the red liquor which serves a man so

By halfpenny_press

McCoy does come by the next day with a saddlebag full of tools. He spends the morning hammering panels over the cracks in the roof while Christine sweeps out the cabin and dusts every object in sight. He climbs down at noon and tears into a salt-cured ham sandwich while Christine sets a potato stew on to simmer over the hearth.

He comes the day after to oil the shutter hinges and patch the corral fence. Christine stuffs oilcloth into the gaps in the walls to stop the drafts. That night, they share the potato stew with bitter winter apples and hot coffee. The day after that, it’s patching the floorboards together. That evening, McCoy brings a sheaf of papers and writes letters after they eat. Christine mends her quilts and watches him, his steady hand filling each page with even scrawl. He writes and she sews, and they sit together until the fire is down to embers.

Christine takes to visiting the poxhouse more and more. McCoy never comments, only puts her to work among the sick and the injured, and Christine wonders if this is what joy feels like, a suffusion of calm and purpose. From the moment she wakes under a soft fall of blankets, the flame of medicine burns bright in her mind, a calling she never dared speak aloud. And now beside McCoy, amid blood and bandage and pestilence, the name Christine Chapel, physician, no longer sounds so far-fetched.

Weeks pass, then months, and apart from Jimmy’s regular albeit entertaining visits after Sunday services, Christine’s world has narrowed down to the doctor and herself. She dreads her time in town as much as she used to dread her time out of it. She rides to the general store weekly to buy supplies. Every week she tucks another of her father’s leather-bound medical tomes into a saddlebag. It’s a knife in her chest every time as she slides the book across the scarred counter to Mrs. Rand. Janice, a soft touch in her old ages, pays too much for it, and Christine leaves with food for another week. She’s down to the last five books, worn and crumbling with overuse, when the careful balance she’s struck with the town crashes down around her.

People talk. Maybe it’s human nature. Maybe it’s the tempting target of a woman alone. In the end, it doesn’t matter why and honestly, Christine doesn’t blame them. There’s precious little to do in South Pass on the best of days, and good gossip, well, not even a new gold vein can compare to pulling bits of rumor and speculation from the dusty earth. The talk is harmless stuff, more “poor thing” than anything else, men shaking their heads and the handful of proper ladies sighing over her misfortune. Christine ignores it. In a way, she’s flattered. No one has found her worthy of gossip since Roger Korby died for the Cause and left her not-quite a widow. As long as she has the poxhouse and the ramshackle cabin to fix, Christine doesn’t mind.

She starts out for town later than usual, taking her time about saddling the horse, choosing the next piece of her father to sell off to strangers. On the long ride in, she imagines a young medical student in the next county handling Joseph Swan’s A Demonstration of the Nerves of the Human Body, gentle and knowing. She imagines it in a library back east, surrounded by university men. She squints against the high sun and kicks the nag into a lope. The black rise of the town grows and grows until she’s outside Rand’s General. Janice smiles and Christine smiles, and they both talk about the new Enterprise railroad line Jimmy’s so enamored of describing. Janice mentions another special order for books of a medical nature, and Christine produces Swan’s Demonstration, like a card trick they both know the knack of.

It’s a delicate operation, this dance of theirs, and Christine tells herself it’s a business transaction, nothing more. But her gut twists when Janice wraps up loin-cuts of meat in brown paper, because it’s charity, it’s pity, and Christine needs it to stay alive out here. Janice tells Christine that Mr. Rand will be out with the rest of her order the following day, and Christine is ashamed and grateful when the figures Janice notes down err on the side of generosity. She takes herself outside before the flush in her face becomes too apparent.

She’s unhitching the horse when McCoy walks by. She’s mostly hidden by the nag, and he doesn’t see her, just strides into Rand’s with a purpose. Christine frowns at the stirrup girth, tugs it tight again. She hasn’t given much thought to where McCoy lives. He seemed to exist only on the prairie, a patient at the fore, a hammer in his hand. But seeing him here makes her think of him in her father’s old rooms. She thinks of him writing his eternal letters at the battered desk under the window. She imagine him taking consults in the straight-back chairs. She conjures him stretched out on her old bed, head tipped back, the long line of his throat working as he breathes. Christine wipes at the prickle of sweat on her forehead, then follows him inside.

“Mrs. Rand,” she says, “I’ve just remembered--” Christine stops. Janice and McCoy stand frozen in place, a package held between them like a guilty secret made tangible. Christine’s eyes keep flicking to the cloth-wrapped square. She recognizes the shape, knows the heft and smell of it by heart. McCoy clears his throat and Christine looks away, angry at him, at her father, at her whole blessed life.

“Miss Chapel.” His voice is always a surprise, always rougher than she remembers. She wonders briefly, idiotically, who Miss Chapel is, the formality obscuring any recognition. “If I could persuade you to accompany me, I’ve found a few items I believe belonged to Dr. Chapel.” He offers his arm, a gentleman in this sad, shabby store. Christine accepts, a lady.

They walk down the little street, the closest to a boulevard for five hundred miles. In another life, Christine thinks as miners and Jimmy’s deputies holler hellos, he might have called for her on a fine Sunday morning. They would have strolled the broad avenues of Savannah, or even New Orleans. Her mother or his would have trailed behind, humming softly to remind them of her presence. In another life, the eyes on them from half-opened windows would have been approving neighbors instead of prospectors and whores. But they don’t live in another life, they live here, and McCoy climbs the steps to the doctor’s rooms in front of Christine, mindful of the splintery railing.

The room seems smaller to Christine after life in her cabin, the wide plains offering the horizon endlessly. She wonders that she never felt suffocated living with her father. She certainly feels that way now. McCoy is a large man, big shoulders and heavy limbs, and Christine feels every inch of air between them. The door remains respectably open behind them, voices from the town hall drifting up. He drops her father’s book in a corner. A stack of similar volumes rest close by. Christine resolutely does not think about what that means. She tugs at her sleeves and waits. McCoy says nothing, simply stares until she can’t stand it. “Do you have something for me, Doctor?” It’s the voice she reserves when asking after patients. McCoy snaps back, shaking his head like a wet dog. He moves to a canvas bag nestled on a chair and begins to dig through it.

A glint from the desk catches Christine’s eye. A portrait framed in polished wood, a fractured pane of glass over the image. It’s a young woman, barely out of childhood. Her wide eyes are serious. Her heavy dark hair falls over one shoulder in wide waves. She isn’t smiling, but Christine has a feeling that when the girl wants to, she is lovely. Christine is still reeling from the family resemblance when she sees the stack of papers. Perfect penmanship, neat, practiced lettering signing Joanna McCoy, love from Joanna, over and over. Christine skims her fingers over the words, tracing the name. Postmarked with care and affection from St. Louis. Christine is a fool.

McCoy is staring at her when she pulls herself away, a slim book tucked under one arm. He’s frowning a little as Christine gestures at the portrait. “She’s beautiful,” she manages and something in her tone must speak volumes because McCoy arches one eyebrow and smiles.

“My daughter, Joanna,” he says and if Christine didn’t feel foolish before, she does now. Children do not appear from the ether, after all. She lived on the frontier long enough to know that.

“And her mother?”

McCoy’s smile drops away. “Gone,” he says and Christine nods, a bevy of platitudes at the ready. McCoy rubs at the back of his neck, a sure sign he’s tiring. Weeks in the makeshift hospital have accustomed Christine to the small language of his body. “After the secession, she went north to her brother’s people. Philadelphia, I think. Maybe Boston.” McCoy comes to the desk, shuffles the papers there. “Didn’t say a word about it, not even to Joanna. Poor girl cried all the way to the school in St. Louis.” Christine cannot imagine McCoy married to a woman so heartless. Christine cannot imagine McCoy married at all. He sighs. “Last I heard, Jocelyn was married again. Someone told her I died in the siege on Atlanta. Didn’t think to correct them.”

Christine is surprised. “You fought for the Cause?”

McCoy picks up his daughter’s portrait, snaps it shut. “I fought alongside a lot of good boys who died for nothing.” He looks at her like he expects her to protest, like he wants her to, but the war took everything from Christine, and even years later, keeps on taking. “You lose somebody?” he asks. And her at the edge of the world, what reason is there to lie?

“My mother.” McCoy startles a bit, but Christine goes on. “She died of fever, brought in by soldiers quartering with us. She was--” Christine swallows. “Father never recovered. That’s why we came here.” She laughs a little. “And then Roger, of course.” She looks at McCoy and clarifies. “My fiancé.”

“You were engaged.” It’s not a question.

Christine means only to nod, but to her shock begins speaking again. “Roger wanted to marry me, but only after the glorious victory of the Confederacy. He used to talk about how it wouldn’t be right to marry until we were truly free.” Christine settles into a chair, uninvited. “I used to believe that, but I don’t think any of us can ever be free. Not even here.”

Above her, McCoy chuckles and Christine clenches her teeth, fury and embarrassment clawing at her. McCoy drops to a crouch and reaches for her hand. “No, I mean--” He cleared his throat. “I never thought it made much sense for a woman like you not to have a beau.”

“I don’t,” Christine says. “Have a beau, I mean.” McCoy pats her hand and nods, a smile twisting at his mouth. Christine stands. “Anyway, it seems such a strange word in a place like this.” She brushes her fingers over the window ledge. “Better suited for lace curtains and drawing rooms. Besides, there’s no one to speak for me. Or make proper introductions.”

“Jim would speak for you,” McCoy says.

Christine searches his face for any sign of mocking. He seems quite serious, but then again, he usually does. “I don’t--” She starts to laugh. “I don’t want Jimmy to speak for me. I don’t want anyone to speak for me.” Christine wipes her dusty palm on her skirts. “There’s nothing to say.”

McCoy straightens, severity sketched in the set of his jaw. He lifts his hat from the hook behind the door. “There’s plenty to say.” He spins the brim in his hands. Christine has seem those hands holding a man’s chest together. “Frankly, I think Jimmy, as you say, would have some strong opinions about you being alone in my room.” Christine steps toward him, without thought, without purpose. McCoy puts one hand on the door and holds it for her, ready to offer his best wishes, and Christine takes him utterly by surprise when she kisses him.

It’s a terrible kiss. The angle is awkward, her mouth more on his chin than his lips. He keeps ahold of the door in one hand and his hat in the other, and Christine is just starting to feel like this is a worse mistake than she anticipated when the hat drops, the door slams shut, and he’s kissing her back.

It’s like the moment a horse begins to gallop, all legs leaving the ground only to plunge back in a thunder of motion. A feeling like flying, or falling. Christine has kissed before, she’s not an innocent, and believes she knows what to expect. But there’s nothing expected about this, the hot rush of his palms down her back, the harsh pull of his breathing mixed with hers. He tugs at her, closer, closer, until her hands are clenched at his shoulders, smoothing at his nape. She knows the name of every bone in the human body, but feels like unless she touches each of McCoy’s she will never understand anything. He breathes in, shocked, when Christine touches at the knobs of his spine. He twists away from her, puts his teeth, too sharp and sudden, into her lip. She gasps and he steps away, wrenches the door open.

“Chapel,” he says, low and firm. “Christine,” he says, and she closes her eyes against her name. “I--”

“I’ll be finished patching the northeast windows tomorrow. Can you lend a hand on the rest?” Christine cannot let him tell her this was a mistake, that this was wrong, because it’s the only right thing she’s done in far too long.

McCoy stares at her like she’s someone else, a stranger speaking with Christine’s voice. But recognition soon floods his face and he nods, grave as any doctor should be. “It’ll have to wait until after we fix that front door. Can’t have it banging closed at any time.” Christine nods and sweeps out into the hall. “Chapel,” McCoy calls and Christine’s stomach drops. He tosses something at her and by the time she’s caught it, he’s closed his door.

She rides back home slowly, the nag loping long and easy through the high grass, the doctor’s wide-brimmed hat pulled down against the setting sun.


Part 4 and 5 to come.
ljc: star trek (mccoy/chapel)taraljc on January 22nd, 2011 04:06 am (UTC)
Penelopehalfpenny_press on January 22nd, 2011 06:34 am (UTC)
Hee! It's such a relief to be writing again! Glad you're still interested!
ljc: star trek (pike will fuck your shit up)taraljc on January 22nd, 2011 06:43 am (UTC)
Are you kidding? I come back here all the time, to make sure you're still alive, girlie. I miss your writing liek whoa.
tiny lobsters are tearing this nation apart: bravo!arctowardthesun on January 22nd, 2011 04:48 am (UTC)
I almost abandoned making dinner* to reread these fics! <3


*i should mention that making dinner is how i pay my rent

Edited at 2011-01-22 06:02 am (UTC)
Penelopehalfpenny_press on January 22nd, 2011 06:35 am (UTC)
Aww! Thanks so much! I've been dying to finish this, so I'm happy someone's still reading!
tiny lobsters are tearing this nation apartarctowardthesun on January 23rd, 2011 04:46 am (UTC)
I had to go back and reread your other McCoy/Chapel fic. ♥
Freudian_slippedfreudianslipped on January 22nd, 2011 05:52 am (UTC)
Beautifully written as always, I too have been waiting to see more of this story. Thanks for posting it!
Penelopehalfpenny_press on January 22nd, 2011 06:35 am (UTC)
Thanks so much! It really means a lot to me to hear that :)
Tobinfringedweller on January 22nd, 2011 10:06 am (UTC)
Where have you been? I've been dying to read the rest of this! It's just so wonderfully written I can see everything so clearly!

Please, please, please write more. Of anything. You have a fan in me!

Penelope: Fanfic Therapyhalfpenny_press on January 23rd, 2011 01:28 am (UTC)
Oh you know, moved across two countries, started grad school, the usual :)! I had this huge writerly meltdown when my family found my fic, so this is my first foray back.

I'm so happy you enjoyed it! I ADORE your stuff, so that means a lot to me!
seren_ccd: Doom: My McCoy/Chapelseren_ccd on January 22nd, 2011 02:13 pm (UTC)
*bounces* This was lovely! Christine is amazing, strong and kind of vulnerable and so, so proud. Your prose is just awesome. Yay! So happy to see more of this! :D
Penelope: Fanfic Therapyhalfpenny_press on January 23rd, 2011 01:30 am (UTC)
*squee!* Thanks for reading!

My beta and I talked about how if Rough-and-Tumble was all about McCoy, Blood on the Saddle is definitely all about Christine. I think of them as odd little companion pieces.

Also? I'm stalking the living HELL out of your original fic!! Just FYI :)
seren_ccd: Karl Urban's smileseren_ccd on January 23rd, 2011 10:58 am (UTC)
I can definitely see the two fics bookending each other, most definitely! :D

And stalk away! Yay! It started as a lark and has taken over my brain.
Miss Moss: northangeranneedelalune on January 23rd, 2011 04:13 am (UTC)
Huzzah! Every part of this story gets better each time I read it.
Penelope: Doctor Who- Ninehalfpenny_press on January 23rd, 2011 10:47 am (UTC)
Hee! Thank you for beta'ing! More is on its way!
pictures of lilyohlily on January 23rd, 2011 08:41 pm (UTC)
Just as gorgeously written as ever, and I'm so glad you've started posting and writing again! I really missed this story.
Penelopehalfpenny_press on January 24th, 2011 05:03 am (UTC)
Eep! I'm glad you're still here! Part 4 is off for beta'ing and Part 5 should be done shortly! Thank you for sticking with me.
96 tears: cause_i_want_youninety6tears on January 24th, 2011 11:17 pm (UTC)
I'm so happy to see this updated! And I'm glad you're not overlooking the taboos of the time period but the UST might drive me crazy XD
Penelopehalfpenny_press on January 25th, 2011 03:36 am (UTC)
Yay! Glad you liked!

Also, ahahaha...hold that thought :)