When her mother returned without her father, Griffin and Dave, Ann swore. It was not a big swear just a comment. She knew what the absence meant. They had gone hunting. Consanguine gave her a little nod as she lead the brahmin past them. Ann fell into step with her mother leaving Will to do as he liked.
What he liked was to walk with them glaring at rocks like he expected them to whelp Deathclaws. Neither of the women remarked on it. Only idiots mocked caution.
"You're marching, son." Consanguine spoke to the baked dry air, her eyes on the road. "Walk with your hips, not your knees. Get to my age and you'll thank me for it."
Caius stopped then self-consciously began to mimic the matron. He felt unmanly and the stride was not natural to him but after a while he could feel how the leagues might pass more easily. The women did not mock him though they seemed to find something humorous.
The road took another bend and split in the way it did at intersections. The legionary tried to imagine so much traffic that a route would need to be divided to accommodate it. He could not. There were not so many people in the world.
"Wolfhorn Ranch." Ann did not point. Pointing was a gesture that was clear for quite a distance and obvious under binoculars. Someone watching them would know exactly where they were going. So she just rolled her head in the vague direction of the homestead. "We know Ulysses so we can amble up without him or Pen shooting us."
"Pen?" Caius did not know whether the reference was to one of their bookish names, a surname or if he had misheard. The wind was picking up. It chittered over the sand bringing the scent of dung and smoke.
"Ulysses's wife. She doesn't talk much. Never said her name. So we call her Penelope." Ann explained then paused expectantly.
"After the faithful woman who undid her own weaving." The legionary had heard the legend from a vexillarius who had emphasised more Ulysses slaughtering his wife's suitors. Bloodshed had carried the audience better than textiles.
"Yep." The trader's girl grinned at her mother, who rolled her eyes. Neither of them could see the other's expression behind bandanna and sunglasses but they knew. Consanguine gave her daughter a nod then headed up the rise towards the ranch.
Caius had noticed the by-play. Had Mater Dunn objected to him meeting this Ulysses? He could not tell and that irritated him. The Dissolute had so many strange ways. How the Frumentarii could wade through the cess successfully he did not know. Then Ann did a very odd thing.
She reached out and took his hand, curling her fingers in his. The hold was only momentary before a squeeze then release. She clicked her tongue to the brahmin, leading it from the road to follow her mother.
"Ann." Caius called quietly after her, thinking himself callow for doing so but unwilling to let her leave without saying something. She turned with a hand raised to catch her broad hat as the brim fluttered.
"We'll talk after you do your thing." She thought she should shrug like it was no burden but suddenly this pack was a little heavier than she wanted it to be.
Ann was grateful, really she was, when Will just stared at her then left. She trailed him to the ranch house, rusty and bleached drab like every other place in the Mojave. The bunker had been cool grey with black metal and gold in places where the lights gilded the pale walls. She missed it.
Penelope made them pottage while the men went for a walk. Consanguine offered some of their beans and peppers for the pot, slicing the latter when their hostess's hand shook. Ann did not comment on the segregation just like she did not comment on how much thinner the rancher's wife had got since their last visit. They did not need to be told.
The three woman had finished their meal by the time the legionaries returned. Ann had an urge to make a joke about serving a salad course but the expression on Ulysses's weathered face stalled her.
A whole lot of nothing was said. Penelope fetched her husband and the boy a bowl then sat quietly. Consanguine stared out the window recalling a quote from James Joyce; 'history is a nightmare from which I am trying to wake'. The trader made an excuse about watering the brahmin and went outside.
"I would like to talk now." Caius spoke to Ann formally. He had told the Frumentarius everything. Confessed everything too, and had been granted permission of sorts. She went with him to the lookout where they could have some privacy.
"I know you're leaving." Ann spoke more to the tin roof than to Will but this time she did manage a shrug. His reply was a burning kiss, pushing her back against the sandbags as he tried to claim her with his mouth.
"It is my duty." Caius spoke when he had to break the kiss to breathe. Her pavement coloured eyes met his with a look as flat as their namesake. He was shaking with need and the aftermath of giving his report. "I must leave before nightfall."
"Then why are you still wearing pants?" She shrugged off her long coat and pulled off her shirt. Will stared at her bared breasts as though he did not know what to do with them. Ann gave him a clue by circling her fingertips around her nipples.
Yep, that did it. He was in his skin and nothing else lickety-split. She was not far behind him. They went down onto the floor out of sight to explore with hands and lips. He was hurried, uncertain. She was not.
Ann pushed Will onto his back, swinging a leg over his hip but not mounting up. She wanted him. She would have him. Not a lot more need be said, except for one significant thing.
"What's your name, really?" Rubbing her heat against his was an unorthodox interrogation technique. Not exactly fair either seeing how hard he was. But she wanted to know.
"Caius." The legionary groaned, his fingers digging into her hips. He wanted to throw her to the ground and take her, show her a woman's place. Where she should be. But he could not bear not to see her grin when she slid down onto him. He did not want her to be his slave.
"Pleased to meet you, Caius." Ann wriggled to get comfortable then wriggled some more 'cause he felt damn good. He grabbed her braid, pulling her breasts into range of his mouth. After that, there was no more talking.