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21 February 2011 @ 11:55 pm
fic: my love is a rider, wild horses he breaks (mccoy/chapel, 5/5)  
 Blood on the Saddle, Part 5/5

my love is a rider, wild horses he breaks

by halfpenny

At first, Christine won’t believe Jimmy when he tells her about McCoy. It doesn’t seem possible. She just had McCoy clasped safe inside her body two nights before. McCoy may not be a drawing room gentleman, far from it, but he’s a good man. Good men don’t dress their lovers in the early dawn and disappear. Good men don’t look at you like they’re lost and your kiss is the only barrier between them and darkness, and then leave. He can’t be gone.

And yet he is.

What eats at Christine is that she didn’t know. Not for days. She’s never felt this close to another soul and she didn’t know that McCoy was gone until Jimmy cautiously approached her before Sunday service. He inquired if Christine knew when McCoy was coming back from the Missouri Territory. The ground beneath Christine lurched and she watched Jimmy’s face break with a too-wide smile when he realized she knew just as much as him. The hymns scrape along Christine’s nerves and the stares of the congregation don’t do anything to set her at ease.

Everyone knows. Everyone. The half-dollar whores in the public houses are more discreet than to leave a man’s bed with God and every soul in South Pass watching. She sits straight-spined as the minister huffs his way through a sermon on perversion, on penance, the pervasive lure of sin. By the final amen, Christine has sweated through her best muslin dress, the tang-sharp wetness prickling at her neck, along her arms. The weight of their gazes is heavier than she imagined it would be, without McCoy there to bear it with her. She bumps into Montgomery Scott himself on the way to her horse. He tips his hat, a garish plaid monstrosity, and while there’s no derision in his face, there’s pity, and that’s worse.

Christine doesn’t blame them, the closed ranks of the townspeople. In the weeks that come, the slights, the leers, the called greetings that go unanswered do not bother her. She has betrayed them too, in her fashion. She has broken faith with them, ignored the delicate peace between the respectable and a woman alone. When Janice Rand drops her eyes when asking Christine to tally the week’s accounts, it doesn’t cut Christine up inside. She simply won’t let it. Christine keeps her head up, chin level, posture flawless as a debutante.
She tends the sick house alone now. Any pretext of aiding a doctor has vanished along with her reputation.

The first day on her own, she enters McCoy’s office. It is a ramshackle mess, papers and letters overflowing, a makeshift desk half-buried under books. None of her father’s books are here. Christine tries not to think about that. She considers searching for signs of his departure, a scribbled note, a telegram wired from St. Louis, but it’s too much for her. It smells like saddle-soap and Tichenor's antiseptic solution and stale sweat. And suddenly Christine is back in his bed, tracing the letters of his name across his chest again and again. She seizes a book at random and leaves.

The patients look at her differently at first. It’s to be expected, and Christine is unsurprised. What is surprising is how quickly the rancor falls from their faces when she works. She cools fevers and stitches flesh. She measures out dark glassfuls of opium for the worst among them. She works, and works well, and the patients let her be. The second week McCoy is gone, a child whose leg she’s set calls her Doctor Christine, and she has to leave the room. She covers her mouth in the hallway, hot tears sliding down her face, the sound of tethered horses and the scent of illness and McCoy’s absence like a hole at her side, and Christine thinks this may be the most perfect moment of her life. The loss and the malice and sharp, unholy pride of it all swamp her like a flash flood. She’s been disgraced and abandoned, and she’s earned this, this life, wild and unashamed, and as her heart sings out doctor doctor doctor, she thinks every heartbreak was worth it.

Life as a fallen woman is not what she imagined. The world is no different. She is no different, although perhaps there is more of her now, more to her. She is more Christine than before she led McCoy, like a lamb to the knife, up the stairs to his bed. The town soon tires of her ignominy and while she will never be the sweet doctor’s daughter again, new scandals take precedence when Jimmy does something unspeakable with a parson’s sister in Atlantic City.

A month goes by. Christine hadn’t realized how much work McCoy had put into the cabin until he’s no longer there to do it. There’s not much left to fix by now. The stove smokes beautifully, the windows are sealed against the wind, her bed is heavy with quilts and goose down pillows. Christine occupies herself with the sick house and Rand’s General as much as she can instead of finishing the front porch. She may be her own woman now, but that doesn’t mean she wants McCoy to stay gone. She thinks of him when she’s making her rounds between patient beds, when she hitches her horse outside her house. She thinks of all the places he could be. California, the Yukon Territory, even Independence or distant Chicago. Dead. Married. Hurt and aching and missing her. Christine dreams every one of these and others she can’t quite grasp come morning, visions of Georgian battlefields and fantastical flying machines lingering around her head.

It’s a day shy of two months without McCoy when an early morning knock at the door startles Christine. She sets aside her coffee and pulls a shawl around her. It’s nearly midsummer, but the morning air remains unforgiving. She hefts the shotgun from its place beside the fire. She doesn’t have to check to know it’s loaded. She takes a deep breath and cracks the door. A pair of wide, serious eyes peer up at her. “Excuse me, but are you Miss Christine Chapel?” Christine opens the door.

The girl’s hair is braided back sloppily, as if done without the aid of a mirror. Her dress is dusty and rumpled, and far too fine for the Wyoming Territory. Her posture speaks of finishing school, and the stripe of red across her cheekbones says too much sun too quickly. There’s a palomino pony cropping up grass behind her, its sides sweated out. “Well, are you?” the girl says and Christine frowns. The girl flushes. “I mean, if you are, Daddy said to say the telegraph wires have been down for weeks and to have a little faith.” The girl tips her head to one side, considers Christine. “Although I don’t see why you’d need faith, we’re a whole week early.”

Christine stares at this little stranger on her doorstep, who considers her, unsmiling. “Daddy said he thought it would take nearly two months, in the letter he left you.” Christine thinks about wind storms and the godforsaken United States postal service and all the different ways to lose a letter. The girl stares right back at Christine and finally, the memory of a tintype slots into place.

“You’ll be Joanna McCoy, I suppose.” The girl nods and Christine wants to sag to the floor, to sob, to hunt down and murder that high-handed son of a bitch. There’s only a hint of steel in her voice when she speaks next. “Where’s your daddy, Joanna?”

Joanna’s eyes go wide at her tone and good, Christine could never abide a dull child. The girl points over her shoulder and it’s only then that Christine notices the wagon. The morning sun throws the wagon’s outline into stark relief against the pale sky. It’s a only a mile off, maybe less, and Christine can see the faint outline of furniture and canvas bags of goods, and at the head, a dark figure. He’s hunched down, concentrated on the mismatched team pulling away, the wheel churning up sod with every jounce. For a stricken moment, Christine wonders if he’s only come to retrieve his hat, but McCoy looks up and meets her eyes, and the moment passes. Christine turns back to Joanna to hide the wild grin in her eyes. “Let’s get that pony corralled.” Joanna hangs back and lets Christine lead the palomino over to where the nag is nosing at the fence, anxious about this unknown animal.

Joanna’s got almost nothing of Georgia in her voice. “Miss Stevens from the Academy said it wasn’t fitting for a young lady to ride all the way through the territories, but Daddy didn’t care.” Christine nods and concentrates on keeping her hands calm. “He doesn’t like trains very much. Says they’re too much machine and not enough travel, but I think they make him nervous.” She stands even straighter. “They don’t bother me at all. I’ve even been on one, once. From Birmingham to St. Louis. Before the Academy.” Joanna falters and eyes Christine’s horse with healthy suspicion. The animal shifts, sharing the sentiment.

Joanna holds out a steady flat palm to the horse, which it snuffles and finds acceptable. “What’s her name?” she asks. Christine is too distracted by the sound of the wagon drawing nearer to hear the question the first time. When Joanna asks again, Christine shrugs. “Don’t you know?” The girl’s suspicion seems aimed at Christine now.

“I guess I never bothered to give her one.”

Joanna considers this, then nods firmly. “You should name her. The things you keep ought to have names.” From the mouths of babes, thinks Christine and closes the gate behind them. The pony starts watering while the horse watches, and Christine feels McCoy come up behind her. Her heart is beating too fast for comfort and her throat feels tight. He stinks of dust and sweat and canvas, but Christine leans back into him all the same. He takes her weight, pushing back, the two of them balanced against each other. Joanna watches them carefully, then looks back to the horses, satisfied.

“Gonna have to name that animal,” McCoy says in her ear. He sounds exhausted, voice thick and cracked. Christine shivers and he exhales, some of the tension leaving his body.

Christine pulls his arms around her waist, tucking her cold hands into his chapped ones. She can feel where the reins have rubbed his first two fingers raw. He’ll need paraffin ointment to keep from getting blood blisters. She can feel his pulse at her back, high and steady, like a distant drum. “Yes,” she says and McCoy drops his chin onto her shoulder. “I guess I will.” Behind them, the sun is well up and throws long shadows behind the cabin, the corral, the three bodies lingering in the warming air. They stretch out across the yellow-green grasses so far, Christine thinks, that it looks like forever.


Big thanks to anneedelalune  for beta'ing.

It's been a long road getting this thing done. Thanks for sticking with it, and with me. 

Tobinfringedweller on February 22nd, 2011 08:34 am (UTC)
I was just thinking of this last night! What a wonderful present to wake up to! Absolutely beautiful, and I hope Christine punches him right in the face for not telling her where he went before she kisses him silly.

Thank you!
Penelope: McCoyhalfpenny_press on February 22nd, 2011 08:37 am (UTC)
Wow! Fast!!

Oh McCoy will get his later, I'm sure. Christine will give him hell :)
seren_ccd: Doom: My McCoy/Chapelseren_ccd on February 22nd, 2011 10:19 am (UTC)
I have to admit, I'm agreeing with Fringedweller and a big ol' smack before kissing him senseless. :D

This has been fantastic! The prose, the emotions, all of it. Seriously, it's just amazing and I'm going to have to read it all over again. :D
miera_cmiera_c on February 22nd, 2011 02:41 pm (UTC)
Thirding the desire for her to rip him up one side and down another. Then ravaging him, of course, but he's got a serious ass whuppin coming for doing that to her! :)

I'm so glad you finished this. It was my first run in with a WIP in this fandom and I had forgotten the frustration of not having the end of the story right away.
tiny lobsters are tearing this nation apartarctowardthesun on February 22nd, 2011 06:04 pm (UTC)
AMAZING~! Best way to cure a cold.
Taniajanus_74 on February 23rd, 2011 02:00 am (UTC)
Fantastic read, thank you for sharing with us.
Miss Moss: northangeranneedelalune on February 23rd, 2011 03:35 pm (UTC)
Hurrah! I think you know how much I love this series. Thanks for letting me be your beta (and does that make you the Alpha?) and congrats on making it to the finish line!
Bether: 03hellokatzchen on February 23rd, 2011 07:58 pm (UTC)
Oh, yay! :D I love that it both was and wasn't what I was expecting! And so well-written.

Also, Doctor Christine. :D :D :D That made me smile so hard! I just adore how she didn't let McCoy's leaving and the tarnishing of her reputation bowl her over. No matter what time period, she's a BAMF.

So yes. Brilliantly done. :D I'm so happy you finished it! And if you ever decide to revisit these characters in any form, I'll be there. Count on it!
96 tears: whoninety6tears on February 23rd, 2011 11:57 pm (UTC)
Beautiful. I loved how the ending was as much about Christine as it was about her and McCoy.
Thank you for this fic!
ljc: star trek (mccoy/chapel)taraljc on February 25th, 2011 02:38 am (UTC)
This is just perfect. I love how few words it takes, but what perfect actions, for them to become a family.
clickyraptorclickyraptor on February 27th, 2011 04:38 am (UTC)
I love this story, ending, everything. (Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman was my hero when I was a kid so this story is just...awesome.)

I'm so glad you're back. <3
anranr on February 27th, 2011 10:05 am (UTC)
Great story! I really enjoyed reading this. :)
secretsolitairesecretsolitaire on March 7th, 2011 04:07 am (UTC)
OMG, this is gorgeous! I love, love that moment when a patient calls Christine "doctor." Your Christine is just fabulous, so strong and resilient. The scene where she and McCoy finally come together was beautifully written too.
Lissaludzu_alus on March 12th, 2011 10:00 am (UTC)
I really enjoyed the Wild West setting for this.
dynamite with a laser beamoberstein on April 18th, 2011 09:39 am (UTC)
This was a beautifully written story. Thank you for writing it.
he is terrible, face-wise: ros: austenleanstein on August 10th, 2011 07:51 pm (UTC)
Wow! What a great read! This was amazing!
shadowclubshadowclub on October 7th, 2011 03:39 am (UTC)
I really really enjoyed this! I think Christine wanting to be treated like a real woman in your story and not coddled and treated as though she was an inferior being is definitely I could understand. Not to mention McCoy as a southern doctor in this time period just seemed hot. Well done!