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Joe visits his girl just before Glenrowan, to say goodbye.

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 The heat from the day lingers on in the dark and the smell of the eucalypts is strong as he rides through the bush. The sounds of the night are all around him, comforting in their familiarity. The faint light from the stars guides his way. She will be there, waiting, and time will stand still long enough for them to find each other again. One more time. What happens after, he doesn’t know. He doesn’t want to think about it. All the carefully laid plans pored over for endless months, finally culminating in the one act, to set things in motion, to decide everything, once and for all. It is a road he chose long ago, when the end wasn’t in sight yet. And had it been, would it really have made any difference? There are things that are bigger than you, things that you see through to the end, no matter how bitter. He shakes his head. No point in regrets, not now. 

He has been thinking about Aaron a lot lately. About those long ago days when they were boys and used to play together, in the evenings after all the chores were done, down by the creek. Daring each other to stay under water till their lungs were bursting. Trying to catch the possums in the trees when darkness descended. Dreaming of adventures they would go on together, the whole world open to them. And then grown up; courting each other’s sisters, borrowing horses, getting in trouble with the law, ending up in gaol together. When did it all start going wrong? He can see now that there was a shift in the friendship when he started spending more time with Ned, too subtle for him to really notice at the time but more evident now, in hindsight. He knows Aaron has great admiration for Ned – why hadn’t he joined them then? They had asked him often enough, yet he always came up with a reason why he could not. If he had done something about it then, insisted, talked things through, could the friendship have been saved? Could he have been spared this mission he now found himself on? 

The Lloyds had been at Ned for ages to do something about Aaron. They had never trusted him, not so much for what he did or didn’t do, but for who he was and where he came from. A copper’s son and not even a Catholic – that had been enough to condemn him in their eyes. Had it not been for his assurances, things would have come to a head much earlier. In the end he had been worn down by the long months of waiting and hiding, the loneliness and growing despair over the silence between them. And here he was now, committed to killing his best friend, a man who had been as close as a brother to him. He would burn in hell but somehow he was past caring. It was obvious their friendship didn’t mean anything to Aaron anymore, so why should he care either? Unlike the four of them, Aaron had a comfortable life now, a new wife and a child on the way, he had heard. The money from the reward would be very welcome to him indeed. That at least he could understand on some level, the temptation of the money. It was the other things that had hardened his heart to this cold stone that was inside his chest now. The way Aaron had treated his family, the way he had taken their friendship and ground it into dust under his boots, taunting him. “I’ll shoot him and I’ll fuck him before his body gets cold.” He had tried to imagine what Aaron had been thinking, saying those words to his mother, knowing that they would be reported to him directly. Tried to picture his face, sneering, contemptuous, as he threw the friendship in his face. It still stung. A copper’s son then, after all.  

The road comes out of the trees and the town looms in front of him now, the houses in darkness. He lets his horse pick her way over the familiar path, around the outskirts, hugging the darker shadows. He has a sudden desire for a drink but even the most disreputable places have bolted their doors by now. 

There’s a lit lantern on her window. She’s still waiting for him, after so many nights when he didn’t come. When he only dreamed of holding her in his arms, his body aching for her softness. Or those other, darker nights, when it felt like his skin was turned inside out and he sought solace in the opium instead. But she still waits because she knows, and understands. 

He tethers his horse and creeps silently to her window and looks inside. She’s sitting on the bed, still fully dressed but undoing her hair, her eyes closed as her fingers work through the long tresses hanging down to her waist, golden where the light hits them. He watches her, mesmerised, unable to move even though every part of him is desperate for her. And then she opens her eyes and looks straight at him. The joy that suddenly fills her as she jumps up and rushes to the window to open it and let him in squeezes his heart.  

His arms gather her to him, holding on tight, and as his lips find hers he shuts out all thought. She is soft against him and he has a burning need to bury himself in her, to let her help him forget about everything else. Her skin is luminous in the soft yellow light as he lovingly undresses her, worshipping her with his mouth, forcing himself to slow down. Her hands glide over the sharpened angles of his body, soothing and calming and making him burn at the same time. Once he’s inside her, the fire takes hold and they abandon themselves to it, desperate to be as close as they can and still it’s nowhere near enough. He doesn’t realise he’s crying until she’s kissing the tears off his face. 

She is asleep when he leaves. For a long time after he has put on his clothes and pulled on his boots he sits on the bed, filling his eyes with her. Gently he picks up a strand of her hair and brings it to his lips, briefly closing his eyes and inhaling her scent. Then he gets up and walks silently to the window, takes a deep breath and climbs out without a backward glance. 

It is still dark and there is no one about as he unties his horse and swings up onto her back. The tiniest pressure from his thighs guides her back into the shadows and he squares his shoulders as he whispers a soundless goodbye. 

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