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Out of the Dark

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He feels like dreaming and falling while lying still on the ground. For a moment, Arthur thinks he can still feel the ice cold of the mountain stone leeching into his skin, the burn of his lungs, ready to cough up more blood, mingled with the throb of his injuries and how his body refuses to take one more breath.

Arthur thinks death should be peace and quiet, maybe seeing loved faces again, those he couldn't save, those who died before him, those he misses dearly. Sister Calderon helped him lose his apprehension and he thinks that he should feel ready for it. He's known death was coming for a while now after all.

Instead of peace though, something different than the illness burns in his lungs and squeezes his heart to the point of aching. Regret. Not only for the life he led, but for all the things he couldn't change, for not knowing if this sacrifice is going to be enough. Did he die too early and John couldn't run fast enough? Micah got away, Dutch is alive and well and he doesn't trust either of them. Not with those left he cares about. Not with anything, really.

Arthur doesn't want to die. There is too much he wants to change, too many he wanted and failed to save, people left alive he doesn't know will be okay after this.

So with death already pulling him down, painless and as unstoppably steady as the turning of the world, his consciousness barely on the verge of this pain filled life, his sight catches the tinniest glimpse of the sun about to throw beautiful, golden rays across the mountain top. Arthur does not want to die. He wants to live, not for himself, but for the others.

Something brushes his cheek, so achingly familiar in a way only his own heartbeat and the sensation of his horse's gentle nose on his palm are. It feels like he knows what or who stands behind him and that it's here to guide him somewhere else, far away from here. The touch feels soft and warm, like the gentle morning sun he knows is about to spill across the mountain. He longs to see it, longs to see it as much as he wants to see everyone else, a chocking, burning longing that seems to spread through him, filling everything he is until it feels like it's going to be the only reason his heart might start beating again.

Another chance, he finds himself thinking, begging, really, and he doesn't know who he asks. He never believed in a conventional god, not truly. Maybe he's begging himself, maybe whatever deity is out there after all, maybe time itself or maybe the gentle caress at his cheek, which feels like it has come to collect him. Let me save them, then come for me. Just let me save them.

The touch at his cheek seems to pause and Arthur can't look at the stag he knows stands there, frozen as he is in this moment of time, his eyes on the dark mountainside, trying to hold on just that extra second to see the sun one more time.

One chance, the spirit seems to whisper, satin soft and as light as the air. Arthur can hear sadness and hope in that soundless voice, he can hear tomorrow and yesterday, gentle winds and warm days, sprawling grass lands and lush forests. Make the most of it.

The touch slowly pulls away and Arthur suddenly feels like he's pulled along with it, his body tilting backwards and briefly, he catches a glimpse of the stag, meets a gaze that's both old as time and new, bright in a way all innocent things are. A gaze that's both thoughtful and quietly hopeful, like it's taken a wager on Arthur or maybe, like it knows something he doesn't and waits for what will happen next.

Then it feels like he tilts further back, a mix of a falling where the mountain should have been, his eyes closing of their own volition and the whole world changing its axis into something new. Somewhere behind him, he knows the sun is rising, golden and strong, over a bloodied mountaintop.

~*~

Arthur awakens with a rasping gasp, so deep and strong it hurts, scrapes through his throat and aches in his lungs. For a moment, his limbs feel heavy and too uncoordinated and he fights to sit upright and maybe, it feels like he fights his body, his consciousness, out of something else as well.

That dark mountainside is branded into his mind, his hand coming up to clutch at his chest, as he sucks unhindered breaths into his lungs, feels the way they expand without pain, feels the way his heartbeat is steady, feels the strength in his own body, which had left him in larger and larger spades over the last days and weeks of his life.

Staring ahead, unseeing for a moment, he vividly remembers everything else, a last echo of the stag's gaze, a whisper of its soundless voice caught in the back of his mind. One chance. He has one chance.

"Arthur?"

His gaze snaps up and he stares at Hosea, who has stopped beside his wagon, looking slightly concerned with that calming, half hidden gentleness he always had for him, no matter what Arthur ended up doing, no matter what their life led to, no matter who he became. Hosea has always been there for him, no matter for what. Always the one to keep them safe when Dutch didn't. Arthur sees it now, maybe clearly for the first time in his life. Hosea, unwaveringly loyal and so kind and caring, always watching out for all of them, no matter their deeds.

With a sudden, desperate realization, Arthur thinks that he'd do anything to keep him alive. To see him happy and content, out of this life of running and stealing and murdering in order to survive. To see Hosea settled and with a happy, joyful gleam always present in his eyes instead of a worried gaze that sweeps over the camp regularly like he has to ensure they're all still here and at least relatively fine.

"Are you alright, my boy? You look like you're seeing a ghost," Hosea asks, half jokes, keeping his voice quiet and a part of Arthur notices that it's early in the morning, only a few other people awake at this time, most of them still asleep. After a second, Hosea offers his own coffee, eyes kind and understanding in a way that has Arthur's chest tighten.

He accepts the coffee and realizes his hands are shaking. Briefly, he wants nothing more than to get up and hug Hosea, to feel that he's real. That he's really alive again, that Arthur is experiencing reality as well, that he truly has him back, that he really has this second chance. A strange dream like fog seems to settle in the back of his mind, offering up memories of his death, of coughing up blood, of watching people fall and never getting up again, of Dutch's gaze in the end - he shies away from it.

A second chance, he thinks and feels like laughing, though not out of humor and he grips the tin mug a bit tighter than necessary, trying to breathe through the emotions churning up his inside. Would you look at that.

"I'm alright." He ends up rasping out after taking a deep breath. Hosea gives him a look that lets Arthur know he knows it's a load of horseshit, but Hosea has the kindness not to mention it. He always had that understanding for them, when to ask again and when to drop it.

Instead of prying, Hosea shifts his weight to stand comfortably, like he knows Arthur doesn't want him to go and Arthur, for a brief moment, feels his throat tighten with something that could be the beginning of tears he had never allowed himself to spill. He takes a quick sip of the coffee, ignoring how it scalds his tongue and drags his gaze away from Hosea - alive and well, no gunshot, and dear god, he'll never forget the sight of him falling to the ground, face twisted up in pain - to look at the camp.

They're still in Horseshoe Overlook. Still at a stage where he can salvage -

A sudden thought jolts him, hard enough that he jumps to his feet, startling Hosea, who still manages to grab his arm and stop Arthur from stumbling either back to his cot or falling face first to the ground. Half the coffee sloshes out of the mug and Arthur feels it burn his fingers as he's kept from going down. His heart is suddenly racing and something like panic slices through his limbs.

"Strauss." He gets out, Hosea's holding on to him, steady and strong, while he looks him over, concern now clearly visible on his features. Confusion mingles into it, before he blinks.

"Oh, yes, Dutch wanted you to speak to him." Hosea says, and after a look, gently pats his arm before slowly letting go. Arthur doesn't miss how he stands a step closer now though, as if he's worried Arthur might trip over his own feet or something. Granted, right now, he does not feel steady, but at hearing Hosea's words his racing heart slows back down, his knees briefly weakening.

He hasn't messed that up yet, hasn't messed himself up yet. Arthur sags a bit in relief and now Hosea looks really, truly concerned, gently taking the mug from him and reaching out with the other hand to inspect Arthur's burned fingers. Arthur just takes a deep breath and focuses on Hosea's gentle hum, allows his hand to be turned this and that way, before Hosea deems it not that bad.

"Are you sure you're alright?" He asks, voice pitched low and Arthur is about to answer when he sees Kieran from the corner of his eye. The kid is walking free, already up and taking care of the horses.

Arthur feels slightly dizzy for a second, as he remembers Kieran in the end, beheaded and tortured - so undeserving of it, damn it, Kieran had saved his life. Arthur remembers his own, unkind comment before the kid disappeared, about how it had been Kieran's fault that little Jack had been kidnapped. All in all, he had been unkind to Kieran most of the time and shit, that was uncalled for, now that he thinks back on it. Kieran had been nothing but kind and helpful - jumpy and nervous too, sure, but that was no surprise.

"Arthur?" Hosea draws his attention back to him and Arthur finds himself reaching out, gently patting his shoulder, maybe gripping it for a moment, trying to ground his racing thoughts into something more manageable. But Hosea is once again kind enough not to say anything.

"I'm, uh, alright. Just remembered something." A whole lot of something. Hosea accepts it with a slightly skeptical nod and Arthur is sure the man's going to keep a bit of an eye on him during the day. Something about that thought feels strangely soothing.

Arthur wants to ask what happened in the last days, ever since they arrived here, since he doesn't know at what point in time he woke up, but he doesn't want to look like a complete lunatic. Hosea steps away after another moment and Arthur gives him a small, parting wave, waiting just a moment longer, before he near dives for his journal.

Flipping quickly through the pages, the sketches he made what feels like years ago, he realizes that everything went like he remembered it until now. Blackwater, the mountains, arriving here, six point cabin, Lenny returning with the news of Micah in jail, hearing Sean is alive, everything.

Micah...Arthur looks up, tucking his journal away again and his gaze falls to Dutch's tent. The man is already awake, smoking a cigar and looking as put together and regal as always. This time though, Arthur thinks he sees something different. Maybe the lack of an untouchable shine, that Dutch had always seemed to carry in the past. Instead, he sees a calculating gaze, not unkind, not yet, but he looks at Dutch and realizes he's searching for something. Searching for the man he followed for over twenty years. Tries to find to see the man who once stole from the rich and kept only what he needed, giving everything else away to those who had less than him, those who had nothing.

He tries to see the man who sat with him for hours, teaching him reading and writing, along with Hosea. Arthur tries to see the man who took in strays and lost ones, the hungry and desperate, the abandoned and hurting. The man they all followed because he showed them a path forged by freedom and how to make something good out of bloodshed.

Arthur wonders where that man went, because all he can see right now, is the man who's going to look at him like he recognizes him in the most abstract of ways. A man who's going to stare down at him on a mountaintop, with a slight frown like he's unsure what to believe, while holding maybe a distant, sad sympathy for Arthur's fate. Someone who will, even then, turn his back on him and leave him there in the dark, on the cold hard ground. Leave him to die alone, breaths stopping and body falling still.

Son, brother, all those things Dutch called him, all the things he asked him to do, asked him to be and nothing of it held any weight in the end. Twenty years. Twenty years of loyalty, twenty years Dutch either didn't see in the end or that didn't matter to him. Most of his life, Arthur devoted to him, to his ideals, to every word and order. For a moment, it feels like those twenty years, all those things that meant everything to him, rise up to choke him. His mind reels and he feels nauseous.

Arthur doesn't know what to make of the mess that is grief, guilt and painful betrayal that makes up his chest when he looks at Dutch, his friend, his mentor, his guide, who turned his back on him and so many others. All it took was for Micah to come along and Arthur was no longer needed unless it suited Dutch. For a long, dizzying second, Arthur feels just as cold and abandoned as he did on that mountaintop, the taste of betrayal just as strong on his tongue as the taste of his blood.

Arthur stares at Dutch, trying to breathe past his racing heart and tight chest and realizes he no longer sees the man who took him in. The man who meant everything to him. And, thinking back, he can now see the moments, the instances, where Dutch slowly, bit by bit, became someone else. Not entirely yet, Arthur is pretty certain that the accident with that trolley plays quite the part in it, but at the same time, Dutch has become too calculating with everything. All of them, not just the world out there, but the camp as well.

He scrubs a hand over his face as he tears his gaze away from Dutch and briefly catches a glimpse of Molly sitting behind the man. Molly. Oh Molly, who died for nothing, who died because she had a broken heart and lied to give a bit of that pain back to a man who should have loved her in return. Arthur remembers their arguments and how she just wanted Dutch to love her like she loved him, to hold her and stay true to her. He remembers catching Dutch flirting with Mary-Beth and his stomach churns anew.

Arthur swallows, his mouth suddenly dry and he starts to feel too nauseous, ears ringing slightly and he nearly sways on his feet. He drags his thoughts away from Dutch and all those deaths, all that damn tragedy and instead takes a deep breath. A second chance. He has one chance and he has the quiet but unshakably certain feeling that he won't get another one. Just this one.

"I don't need more." He mumbles to himself. All he needs is the chance he already got. He's going to fix this, come high or low. First of all...he looks towards Strauss, brows furrowing and thinking heavily. Then he squares his shoulders and marches towards the man, steps large and focused.

"Herr Strauss." Arthur greets the man, probably a bit harsher than he intends to by the way he jumps, but Arthur feels no regret or guilt. He's never liked the man and looking at someone who would ruin so many lives...not this time. And he might know what to do. "You wanted to talk to me?"

Strauss fumbles with his books of debts for a moment and Arthur resists the urge to grab it and throw it into the fire. He has a feeling that he has to play this carefully, especially since he still doesn't know what to do about some of the messes that are going to come their way. All that he knows for sure is that he's going to try as hard as never before.

Arthur barely waits for the man to finish with giving him the names of the debtors, before he turns on his heels and marches away, leaving Strauss mid-sentence - the man was about to talk about how suited Arthur is to the job and just alone hearing the start of it makes his stomach turn and something bitter spreads across his tongue. He doesn't want to be that man, not anymore, not ever again.

Arthur knows who he's going to head for first and shit, he has to be careful most of all. Arthur won't step close to Mr. Downes, as much as it might smart the man but he won't risk getting sick again. Not this time around, not when he doesn't know what the future brings when he starts to change the course of things. When he might need all his strength. Hell, who knows if Arthur is going to survive this second chance at all, after all, he never pleaded for his own life to be saved. But regardless of that, he's going to fight tooth and nail for everyone.

No one stops Arthur on his way to the horses, though he slows down for a moment to watch Jack play with a stick, still unconcerned and unafraid, just a young boy, his mother keeping an eye on him from where she's drinking coffee. Hopefully, Marston gets his head out of his ass sooner this time around. He has a great family and Arthur's going to do his damnest to ensure Jack won't be so scared this time around. That he won't have a reason to be.

Arthur steps to the horses then and exhales heavily when his horse, Storm, greets him quietly, softly nosing at his arm - his horse, his wonderful horse, shot down and he remembers John trying to get him going but Arthur hadn't wanted her to die alone, couldn't let her lie there gasping for air while he ran, he couldn't.

She looks at him, steady and as though she knows something different is going on this time around. Arthur feels his throat going tight and he has to blink, taking a deep breath. He presses a hand against her strong neck and for a moment, he allows himself to remember. Remembers her running as fast as she could during races she won for him, remembers her carrying him through everything, storms and madness, blood and fights. Carrying him until the moment she was forcefully put down and even then she would have gotten up again if she could have.

"Let's go girl." Arthur says, voice raspier than he wants it to be, stopping himself before he slides too far down the memory line. Getting up into the saddle feels like the most natural thing and like he breathes easier. As if a part of him slips properly back into place. As though the world around him feels more real than before.

He rides away from camp, throwing a halfhearted wave Bill's way. Bill...oh, what a damn mess. Arthur remembers the man - along with Javier, who he had always liked - pulling away from them in Beaver Hollow, no longer willing to really listen or talk to him. A part of him feels unsettled and hurt by it and yet, he can't quite blame them either. Javier has always been too loyal to Dutch and he hadn't heard or known everything that was going on. The same goes for Bill, even if it sometimes feels like the man might have seen it coming and yet chose Dutch anyways. Still...Arthur can't help but be watchful now and he knows he won't, can't, put much trust in either Bill or Javier. Not easily at least. Not when he might end up working against Dutch once more.

He's mulling over things all the way to the Downes, still knowing the paths of the Heartlands from his memories, from having been here what feels like a long time ago. He remembers Mrs. Downes in Annesburg. Her grief, the life she led, her pain and how he wished she would just accept his money. To save herself from being dragged down by the misery his hands had spread. Arthur hadn't wanted her forgiveness nor had he wanted to ease her pain with money. He merely wanted her and her son to live and live better, so she could remember her husband and hate him along with it, if she wished to.

Arthur rubs a hand over his face and then slows down as the farm house comes into view. The small field, barely enough for Mr. Downes to take care of or keep his family fed causes an uncomfortable tug at his heart. Hell, how had he not seen that before? Maybe he had and yet, he hadn't been able to do anything but what was asked for him. Blind in his loyalty to Dutch and doing as the man asked. Like an ever faithful dog.

Belatedly, Arthur looks through his bag, checking how much money he has with him. Enough, he hopes and exhales quietly when he realizes that he really does have enough to easily cover the debt himself. He won't take a penny from the family this time around and he won't antagonize Strauss. Not yet anyways.

Arthur sees Mr. Downes briefly look up from his field as he approaches and then quickly look back down, as if that would help him. Arthur thinks that man is a better person than he could ever hope to be. Better in all regards, with how much he tried to make the world a nicer place, even if he could do only a little. It's a small comfort, thinking that he won't kill him this time around. Arthur scoffs softly, sardonically, under his breath. Small comfort. Look at him, happy about deciding not to hurt someone. It should be the obviously right choice and here Arthur is, acting like he's found out some great truth of the world.

Letting the thought slide from his mind, he dismounts and heads straight for the house. From the corner of his eye, he can see Mr. Downes jolting upright, face paling and dropping his pitchfork, but by then Arthur is already knocking.

"Mister -" He hears the farmer call and the door swings open. Mrs. Downes looks better this time around, of course she does. Maybe a bit thin and worried and her face goes gaunt and tense at seeing him, her chin lifting, but there is light in her eyes instead of pain and grief.

"Mrs. Downes. " Arthur politely tips his hat and tries to ignore his suddenly racing heart. Wetting his lips, he shifts in place for a moment, aware of her staring him down like vermin - and damn, she ain't so wrong about that. "I'm here to tell you your debt has been purged."

She stands still for a moment and then frowns, her gaze sharpening and immediately turning suspicious. Her husband, who has stopped a few steps beside the house as well, stares at Arthur with surprise, mouth slightly open.

"Purged?" Mrs. Downes asks and then crosses her arms, her gaze just as cutting as Arthur remembers it and he resists the urge to duck a bit. He still feels guilty and ashamed for what he did, once, in another lifetime. Second chances, he thinks and wonders if maybe, he himself might deserve one too.

"Yes, purged." He takes a step back and to the side as Mr. Downes comes up the steps. Arthur feels only marginally bad at avoiding the man's space like that, but he vividly remembers how ill he got and...just no. If he dies this time around, it better be quick through a bullet, even if he might not deserve that mercy. No more weeks of wheezing himself awake at night, of spitting out blood and losing weight and strength no matter what he does. Of feeling himself dying slowly, more and more with every day. Not this time around, not if he can help it.

"How? Debts don't just disappear like that." Mrs. Downes says and puts a hand on her husband's arm when the man looks like he's about to speak up in Arthur's defense. Or maybe he's just happy to let the debt go unquestioned.

Arthur fumbles for words for a moment and then waves a hand, feeling unexpectedly awkward and out of his comfort zone. "Someone has volunteered to pay it for you."

Hopefully, Strauss won't care as long as the money ends up being paid back, no matter by whom. Arthur could always say he found a kindhearted person who wanted to take on the debt or something. Dubious, but, he thinks, more believable than Arthur paying it himself. Huh, he really was a right bastard the last time around.

"Pay it for us?" Mrs. Downes echoes, sounding even more suspicious than before, but this time her husband gently touches her arm and Arthur can see her calming down and softening. She really loves him and he catches the glance they share.

"People can be kind." Mr. Downes tells his wife softly and then smiles at Arthur. "Thank you." His gaze is too knowing for Arthur's comfort. "Tell that person, we are very grateful. That is a kind thing to do."

"Yeah, sure." Arthur takes a step back, tipping his hat and letting his hands fall to his belt - only one gun so far and really, Micah can keep that second holster and choke on it, Arthur would be all too willing to help shove it down his throat. Hell, Micah...that's a problem he has avoided thinking about so far. "Good day."

"Take care, sir." Mr. Downes calls after him. "And thank you!"

Arthur waves him off over his shoulder and then gets back in the saddle. His horse is already turning around at the barest nudge of his heel and then trots off with large strides, definitely sensing that he wants to get away as quickly as possible. As glad as Arthur is to not be the reason for the misery of the Downes family, he's also relieved to get away. Hopefully, he won't see them again. And hopefully, this time, Mr. Downes won't die. Or at least live longer without Arthur being there to...well, beat him to an early grave.

He swallows at the memory and takes a deep breath, savoring the scent of the grass and dust, the way Storm moves under him, strong and swift like always, unerring in her steadfast loyalty and sure steps. Looking up, he stares at the blue sky and feels the sun on his face. All things he thought lost forever not so long ago.

Storm rumbles quietly at him and he glances down to realize she has slowed down and tilted her head to look at him. Arthur leans forward and gently touches the side of her neck. To feel her alive and chase away the memory of that dark, terrible night, of her going down with that horrible sound and him getting thrown out of the saddle. That night is going to haunt him for the rest of his life, he's sure.

"I won't let you die." He vows quietly, though he thinks he should know better than to make a promise like that. "This time, I'll fight for you too."

Just like she had fought for him. She snorts and looks ahead again. Arthur finds himself smiling and straightens back up, giving her a small nudge to get her into a comfortable canter. He still doesn't know what to do about Micah, about Dutch, the Pinkertons, about all the things that await them. He still has all those memories misting in the back of his head, Kieran's death, Sean on the floor, face covered in his own blood, of Hosea shot in the chest and Lenny falling on the roof, of being a second too late to save him. Of Molly and Miss Grimshaw dead, unable to save anyone and even with John he doesn't know if he made it back to his family. If his family made it too.

He still has all his mistakes and faults in the back of his head, real in a way he can near taste it all on his tongue, can feel it in his body like the echo of something he won't dare to forget. There is still so much to figure out, but for now, Arthur allows himself to revel, just for a brief moment, in the first thing he did right. One of those that really matter.

~*~

It's late in the evening, nearly night with how dark it's getting, when Arthur returns, bringing some game with him. It's a bit strange, really, to see all those places from his memories again, to find them just as he remembers them. To ride past Valentine and save a father and his sons from an attack so they can finish building their home.

To stop at a ledge and stare at the country spreading ahead of him, with the Grizzlies at his back, the setting sun casting a brilliant golden glow over it all, and for the briefest of moments, making him feel free of all his faults. It's a breathtaking view, always will be.

Now, he's back, after spending the day riding through the area, going to people he remembers and catching a few other people along the way, picking up requests for collecting cigarette cards and bones - dinosaur or whatever, he's still on the fence about those ones and maybe, this time around, he might actually find all of them, if he can afford the extra time to be away.

Pearson is all too happy about the food Arthur brings back and Strauss looks just a tad nervous when Arthur tells him the debt is paid and settled, his voice going gruff and hard. The man accepts it with a quick, bobbing nod, scribbling down something in his book. He doesn't even question it and for a second, Arthur feels strange that the man doesn't even ask. Or maybe that he doesn't have to use one of the carefully crafted excuses. Well, he might always need one later.

Then again, Strauss hadn't ever asked before either, only told him to put the money into the moneybox of the camp. It makes Arthur feel a bit darker, thinking that of course Strauss never had reason to doubt him. How often had he gone to collect the debt after all? How often had he returned with busted knuckles or left crying or desperate people behind?

He shies from the thought, stomach once again churning. Those are people he can't help anymore, no matter how much he loathes having done those things in the first place. Arthur puts money in the box, frowning down at it a moment longer. This is wrong. Debt is wrong and he wishes he could ask Dutch to stop with it. But the man wouldn't listen or would question why Arthur is against it now.

Then he looks up and takes in all the people he can see. Sean is still gone, for now, but his heart eases at seeing Karen laugh about something with Tilly. Lenny sits by the fire with Hosea, who is telling one of his stories. Arthur hears Uncle start playing his music, hears Karen clap and start to sing. He hasn't heard that in so long. Beaver Hollow was a nightmare in so many ways. Arthur exhales in a rush and just listens for a moment. Listens to the camp being alive, of people being mostly alright if not even a bit jovial. Then he straightens back up.

Stepping around Dutch's tent, he stares at the closed flaps in thought and realizes that avoiding the illness from Mr. Downes has been the easy part. Laughably easy even, compared to how he wants everything else to change. Arthur knows that an illness won't be needed to kill him in the end, if everything takes the same course as the last time, if he fails to do what he wants to do.

He hears soft, muffled giggles from inside the tent, from Molly and a low, rumbling laugh from Dutch and Arthur walks away with large steps, something in his chest feeling cold, churning and unsettled. Can he save Dutch? Should he even attempt it? Or would it have always ended in them crashing and burning and Micah had only caused them to fall far sooner? Are they just a doomed lot? No, they can be saved. Arthur doubts the stag would have allowed him this chance if it all just repeated itself one way or another.

Rubbing a hand over his face, Arthur's gaze falls over to the side of the camp and with a small start he notices a figure curled up against a large stone. Kieran, he realizes and his steps falter for a second. Wait, where does Kieran sleep anyways? He doesn't know. Arthur feels his mouth dry at the realization, at noticing that he never even took a moment to care if the kid would even have a bedroll, if he would be safe in some of the downpours they experienced. Hell, it was a miracle Kieran wasn't the one who got deathly ill.

"Shit." He murmurs under his breath and hesitates a moment, before turning and heading to one of the wagons. A bit of quiet rummaging later, he finds what he's looking for. A spare bedroll, smelling a bit musty and it needs to be shaken out properly, but it's still in good working condition. It certainly should keep Kieran warm in the cold nights of the Heartlands.

With the bedroll under one arm, Arthur turns back to where Kieran has tucked himself against the fringes of the camp. Arthur refuses to think too much about how bad he is at being nice or reassuring and instead focuses on how he treated the kid in the past and that he doesn't want to repeat it this time around.

Kieran certainly hears him coming, considering how his head snaps up and he scrambles to his feet. Arthur can't help the small, inward wince when he sees how Kieran's shoulders round and his hands come up slightly, like he thinks he has to prepare himself for something and yet knows that he couldn't fight back even if something happened. Aw, shit.

"Here." Arthur throws him the bedroll, watching as Kieran fumbles for a second and manages to catch it properly in the end. His eyes are wide as he stares over and Arthur can't resist shifting slightly on his feet. He really is bad at this. "It gets cold at night."

"Th-Thank you." Kieran quickly says, clutching the bedroll close like it might be taken from him again in a moment. Briefly, Arthur wonders who would be so shitty and then remembers Colm. Alright, the man would do stuff like that, give a person something only to take it away from them again. If there is one bastard ready to commit a cruelty, it's sure as shit Colm.

Colm...he's another problem that has to go if Kieran is ever going to be safe. Though, maybe, if they just wait it out, he would get caught by the law again and if they ensured his boys wouldn't free him, Colm would die too. Arthur rubs a hand over his chin, feeling and hearing the rasp of his beard. Shit, there is so much to consider and keep in mind, he might have to write it all down to get an idea of what to do.

"Don't mention it." Arthur tries to wave Kieran off and takes a step back. "Good night."

"G-Good night!" Kieran calls after him, sounding achingly hopeful and Arthur lifts a hand in a wave as he walks away, exhaling and feeling his shoulders relax a bit. Alright, okay, he might not fuck things up with Kieran this time around. Hopefully.

"Arthur!" Karen calls when he walks past the fire and he pauses to look at her. A happier her, eyes a bit brighter, not yet carrying the unacknowledged grief that appeared after Sean's death. She's happier, now that they know Sean is still alive. Damn, right, he has to go get the kid soon. "Come sit with us."

Lenny looks up with an inviting smile and Hosea, sitting relaxed with his feet stretched towards the fire, pats the log beside him. The man also subtly gives him a bit of a once-over, most likely checking if he's doing better than this morning. Arthur joins them, tipping his hat to hide the way his lips dare to twitch into a small smile. He can't not sit with them. Not after seeing Hosea and Lenny die, not after watching Karen drink like she tried to kill herself and not after she disappeared, no one knowing where she went. With Uncle going god knows where, along with Pearson and Mary-Beth. Not when he's come back to try his best to save them all. When that's all he really wants.

Arthur rubs a hand over his face and near startles at Hosea placing a hand between his shoulder blades. It's steady and reassuring and before he knows it, he ends up leaning a bit into the touch. Hosea then shifts to give his shoulder a pat, moving on before anyone can comment on it and make Arthur uncomfortable. Though then again, Uncle is playing quite enthusiastically and Karen and Lenny started up a song, so they didn't notice it anyways.

It hurts, in a way, to realize how much he missed and nearly forgot just how much Hosea used to help, always knowing him so well too. How much it hurt, after Guarma, to want to turn to the man for advice only to know that he was no longer there. Arthur isn't one to seek comfort, has been too hardened by all the things he had to do and had to be, but that illness...that knocked some of that hardness loose, or maybe softened him back up to acknowledge the existence of his heart again. Now, for the first time in, in years really, he feels like maybe, if they all make it out of this alive, he can allow a bit of softness back in his life.

For now, he just sits and joins in the songs, listens to Hosea tell stories and Uncle regarding them with wild tales that Arthur doesn't quite believe.

Arthur only realizes that he's starting to fall asleep where he sits when he leans sideways, jolting upright after bumping against Hosea. The man gives him a kind smile, the corners of his eyes crinkling and he gently pats his knee.

"Go to sleep." Hosea says and then makes a small shooing motion. "We need you fresh and ready tomorrow."

Considering that no one would let him live it down if he'd fall asleep and face-plant to the ground or something of the sort, Arthur gets up, briefly patting Hosea's shoulder in parting. On his way to his wagon, he casts a checking glance around. He can partly see Kieran, in his bedroll now, he can see Tilly and Mary-Beth already lying down, Pearson and Strauss asleep as well. Dutch's tent is dark, but who knows what that may mean, not that Arthur wants to know.

Miss Grimshaw and Reverent Swanson are sitting at the table together, though it looks like she's getting ready to urge him to get some sleep. Bill and John are most likely on lookout tonight. Arthur briefly takes two extra steps to the side to peek over to the tent where Abigail, Jack and Sadie sleep. The flaps are down and he hopes they have a good night's rest. Sadie...oh no one will know how to handle her when she fully unfurls her bloodlust, her pain driven fury and takes up arms.

A part of him hurts for the pain she carries and yet, Arthur looks forward to having her with them. She's so strong, one of the fiercest people he knows and yet, she always kept some kindness about herself as well. A clearness in her gaze that so many others lacked. She too, is so much of a better person than him and he remembers how she kept the gang together after that disaster in Saint Denis. Sadie, one of the few who had his back and made him feel like he might be worthy of the trust she put in him.

Stepping back, seeing how everyone seems to be alright and accounted for, Arthur sits down on his cot and stares at his hands for a moment. Rough, callused. They look large and looking at his scarred knuckles, the gun calluses, he thinks in a way, his hands might look a bit mean as well. Rubbing a hand over his eyes, he decides to call it a day. If he's already starting to think like that, it's high time he gets some rest. There is enough he has to worry about without also wallowing in strange, wayward thoughts.

Lying down, he can't help but keep his back to the wagon, facing the rest of the camp while lying on his side. He's tired and yet, now that he's going to sleep, a part of him remembers the sensation of falling out of life and waking up just this morning. Of lying there in this frozen moment on the mountaintop, with the spirit ready to take him along.

Arthur closes his eyes and instead forces himself to think about being out on horseback. He thinks back on some of his best memories before Blackwater, on some of the good memories made here in his past life. He thinks about brushing out his horse's mane and watching the snow smelt to make space for spring, to feel the sun on his face and the joy of a beautiful sunset. He thinks of standing on a cliff and looking out over seemingly endless lands, feeling as free as the soaring eagles and wild herds.

He falls asleep, remembering better times and listening to Uncle play, Karen sounding a bit hoarse as she sings louder and Lenny laughing, joining in with her.

~*~

Getting Sean back is a nightmare and a half, despite Arthur mostly remembering how it goes. He nearly gets brained in the head by a bounty hunter sneaking up on him, shooting the man in the last second. Then he sees the other bounty hunters and for a second, how one of them, realizing they're losing, is turning around, aiming right for Sean. Arthur's heart lurches because no, no, when Charles takes the guy out with a single shot and Arthur barely takes the time to wait until the rest of the guys are down as well, before he takes large strides towards Sean.

And maybe he's gripping Sean a bit too tightly when he finally gets him down from the tree and cuts the ropes around his ankles. Sean certainly doesn't seem to mind, if anything, he blabbers right on. Arthur once again realizes how much he missed the damn kid. His annoying little brother, so stupidly brave and cocksure, always grinning like the devil himself couldn't touch a hair on his head. Always talking their ears off and so eager to both prove himself and be his own man.

"Take him back." He tells Javier, or Charles, he isn't too sure, mind still half hazy with seeing that bounty hunter turn towards Sean, the man rather shooting the kid than letting them succeed by taking him back. Arthur can taste something foul in his mouth and his heart is racing in his chest, as he forces himself to let go of Sean after helping him up.

"You okay?" Charles steps up to him, voice lowered while Javier helps Sean hoist himself up onto Boaz. Arthur takes a deep breath and gives him a curt nod, looking up at him.

Charles, hair still as he remembers it, not changed to the style he adapted after Saint Denis - if Arthur never sees that city again, he'd be a happy, well, happier, man - brown eyes looking at him without judgment. If anything Charles looks ready to guard him and give him a moment to catch himself. Broad shoulders angled in a way that would make it near impossible for Sean or Javier to get a proper look at Arthur.

It feels like once again, Arthur realizes what a damn gift Charles Smith is. To him, to all of them. He remembers Charles, back when everything went to hell and his illness ate him up from the inside. Remembers him being a pillar of strength, one of the few people he could always count on, for anything. Charles, who believed that he still had a good heart, who called him out on it and had his back till the very end.

"Yeah, don't worry. I'll take a look around." He briefly pats Charles' arm and the man seems entirely okay with it, making Arthur relax a bit. He nods and takes a step back, ready to leave. For a second, Arthur wonders if he should ask him to stay, for no other reason than having Charles around makes him feel better and also to maybe build up their friendship again. On the other hand, they'll have plenty of opportunities for that later, if he remembers correctly.

So Arthur says nothing and with a curt nod to Javier turns to the bodies. Jaiver who he can't quite look at right now, the memory of all that happened in Beaver Hollow still too strong and fresh and too much in the forefront of his mind. How he stuck with Dutch over him and John, while Dutch believed Micah. Micah, who managed to play them all so, so well.

Looting the dead has honestly never bothered him all that much. Sure, he feels bad for some of the dead he encounters when he's out and about, for some poor folks who got dealt a cruel hand in fate. But bounty hunters? Members of a gang? He has no qualms patting down their pockets and taking things he can sell elsewhere.

Besides, Arthur realizes he's maybe going to need the money more than ever before. All the money he can get his hands on. If he wants to get everyone at camp out of future catastrophes alive, he's going to need it. And maybe, to get them a new beginning somewhere else afterwards. He's still very unsure if Tahiti is a real option, he'd rather stay in this country and head out to the far, wild west, but if need be, he'd take everyone he can and put them on a boat to get somewhere safe.

Storm walks after him, unbothered by the dead as well and when he sees her head snap up from the corner of his eye, ears pricked and trained in the direction she stares at, he swiftly gets back up in the saddle. His horse is incredibly good at hearing people approach and that particular talent has saved him a couple of times already. Besides, he'd be a fool to ignore her like that.

Arthur manages to get away from the camp unnoticed by the skin of his teeth, exhaling with relief when he's a good distance away, pockets a bit heavier than before. He leaves the reins slack, letting Storm carry him down the road, as he mulls over the money problem. Because if he wants this whole thing to get a better ending, he needs to plan for the future as well. A future they might now have. For a place for them to go to. Wandering around like people who long since lost their way, robbing and stealing, that's only keeping them on the path to being killed.

Hell, he might go down the straight and narrow road and still end up dead. But by changing their ways, at least with leaving a life of blood behind at one point, they're reducing the number of folks out for their necks. Besides, there are plenty of jobs they can take that still allow them to fight. Bounty hunting, hired guards or mercenaries. As long as they keep the jobs government approved, they would be okay on that front.

Though, truth be told, Arthur right now has no hell of a clue how to go about it or how to even break that idea to the people at camp at one point in the future. Dutch wouldn't be onboard, or at least not the way Arthur wants to do it. Molly, Javier, Miss Grimshaw and Bill would say no just alone on their loyalty to Dutch. Karen, Uncle and Sean are a toss-up at this point, he can't tell who they'd go with. Pearson might stay too.

Charles might go with him, John too if he can convince him and Abigail and Jack would follow. Mary-Beth might come with them as well, if Arthur can offer it to her right and ensures she knows that she won't betray anyone by choosing a different life. Tilly, oh smart and brave Tilly, he can't quite tell about her either, but she's the loyal type too and might be more loyal to Dutch than to him, no matter how well they get along. But maybe, he could convince her too, if given enough time?

Lenny, well, Lenny might come along if Arthur finds the right words and the right deal - which, if he's honest with himself, he might not. He's a lot of things but eloquent or charismatic like Dutch is not one of them. Maybe in his journal, but it's always easier to put his thoughts into words when he's writing than when he's talking. Sadie might come with him, at this point in time she might not really care much either way, but since Abigail mostly looks after her, she might come along by association. And Hosea...shit, Hosea might actually stay with Dutch, as much as that thought hurts. Hosea stayed through it all so far, stayed loyal and on Dutch's side, no matter the bloodshed, no matter what. He might even feel responsible for his oldest friend.

Tipping his head forward, Arthur rubs a hand over his eyes and wonders if they have to split up at all. If he can convince Dutch...yeah, if he can reach Dutch somehow, if they can leave Micah behind at one point, before it's too late, then they won't have to break up. They won't have to question their loyalty, won't have to choose sides. If. If he manages that and honestly, remembering how everything went before, it feels like an impossible task. Like wrangling a mountain to its knees and asking it to bow down.

Still, just in case, Arthur is going to save up money. He feels a bit bad at the thought of not putting as much into the camp's box, but he'll hunt more to ensure they stay fed and hell, maybe Uncle's going to contribute a bit more aside from singing in the evenings and lumbering around, giving partly useless advice to anyone around when he feels like saying something. Lumbago, his ass.

On the subject of money...Arthur remembers some hidden gold and a few other spots, abandoned places, that have a bit of valuable stuff stashed away. He'll go out for it soon, for now, he knows that a party is going to be held in honor of Sean making it back to them in one piece and he doesn't want to miss it. It's possible one of the best memories he has of their time since Blackwater. Everyone is there and everyone is happy. For that one night, people were laughing, drinking, singing and dancing.

And for just one night, he wants that back again, wants to set his worries aside to be picked up with the next sunrise. For just one night, Arthur wants to be around the people he so achingly missed and see them happy and as whole as they are at this point in time.

~*~

The party has already started up when Arthur returns, bringing some extra food along. Pearson is all too happy to get to work right away and since Abigail looks his way, Arthur holds up a pack of candy and then tilts his head questioningly towards Jack. She looks surprised, a bit more surprised than he thought she would be, before she smiles and nods.

"Jack." He calls out to the boy who looks up, already appearing a bit sleepy with the darkening sky. Arthur steps towards him and offers the sweets. "Candy, if you want it."

"Thank you, uncle Arthur!" The boy brightens up so much, Arthur wonders why he never brought him anything before, aside from that book. It's not like candy is hard to come by and he silently vows to get him more - as long as Abigail lets him, he won't cross her - and to look for more books for him as well. There were a few around, if he remembers correctly.

"You're welcome." Arthur lightly pats his shoulder and the boy gives him such a bright and innocent grin, that he can't help but smile back. Then Jack hurries off, already prying the pack of sweets open, half holding them up to show them to his mother. And knowing the boy, offering to share them with her.

"Didn't know you had a soft spot for the kid." Pearson comments and Arthur ignores it. Everyone likes Jack. Well, Micah might not, but then again, Arthur doubts that Micah likes any of them. He might like Dutch, but that's about it.

Picking up a bottle of beer along the way, Arthur starts to wander through camp. He stops a few times to sing with people, checks up on others and is all too willing to dance with Mary-Beth until her cheeks are flushed and she's happy, smiling and thanking him for the dance. It makes Arthur feel lighter in return and it's all too easy to hum and smile as he walks towards the others by the fire, Karen sitting in Sean's lap. Charles gestures for him to take a seat beside him, Javier playing his guitar with a smile on his face, when Arthur pauses as he remembers someone.

Gesturing for Charles to wait a moment, he glances around until he sees Kieran, who seems to have taken a bottle as well and carefully sticks to the fringes of the camp with near painful caution.

"Kieran." Arthur calls as he walks towards the kid and hell, if anyone asks why he talks to the former O'Driscoll, he can pretend to have drank more than he thought. "Come here."

He waves and ignores the way Kieran jumps and looks around nervously as he follows him back to the fire. Arthur also ignores how Kieran near flinches as he puts a hand on his shoulder and gets him to sit down with gentle pressure, before sitting beside him and Charles. Hosea, who is on Kieran's other side - and yeah, Arthur did that on purpose - merely nods at the kid and then joins the singing again.

The others don't seem to care much, Sean most likely doesn't yet know who Kieran is and Karen looks both too drunk and too happy to pay attention to anything else than swaying slightly in Sean's secure grip around her waist. Uncle gives Arthur a look, both eyebrows raised and Arthur ignores him too. Charles' questioning glance though, he gives a small shrug and the man accepts it in the next moment, greeting Kieran, who quickly stutters out an answer.

Arthur leans back a bit then, listening to people sing and he smiles against the rim of his bottle after taking a sip, when he hears Kieran slowly starting a tentative conversation with Hosea and exchanging a few words with Charles as well. Both men are most likely aware of what Arthur tries to do with bringing Kieran over and while Arthur can tell they're a bit puzzled about it, Hosea trusts him and Charles seems to be on the way to, so they accept Kieran easily enough.

Bit by bit, Kieran loses some of his jumpiness and Arthur even sees him smile once, hears him sing quietly under his breath, joining in the next song carefully, doing his best to be unobtrusive, elbows tucked close and knees pulled to his chest.

"You're in a good mood." Charles says beside him and Arthur glances at him, the man giving him a small smile, illuminated by the crackling flames. Something about Charles seems softer and happier as well tonight, like he's relaxing along with all of them. "That's good, you deserve it."

Arthur barely bites back a scoff at that. They're all in too high spirits and he himself doesn't want to dull his mood back down by thinking about what or what not he's deserving off. So he merely shrugs. Karen and Sean are sneaking off, he notices, giggling and laughing, hands entwined and Arthur knows exactly where they're going to end up.

Arthur stays where he is, enjoying the company and the warmth of the fire. Kieran excuses himself a minute later though and while Arthur can't tell if he's really tired or worried he might overstay his welcome, he just nods at the kid. He tries to not look as much like a sour bastard, but he's not entirely sure he succeeds.

"It's nice, what you do for him." Hosea comments as soon as Kieran has quietly meandered away. He stretches a bit, rolling his shoulders afterwards. "You think he's really no longer an O'Driscoll?"

"Can it be that easy?" Charles asks, leaning a bit closer as he joins the conversation.

"Kid saved my life, that counts for something, and honestly, look at him." Arthur waves a vague hand in the direction of Kieran's bedroll. "He's the kind of guy Colm throws to the wolves first and doesn't give a rat's ass about. I believe him, when he says he's been with Colm for only a couple of months. And he helped us back with the cabin, he might even be helpful about getting Colm in the future."

Hosea hums softly and Charles looks contemplative. Arthur can't help but think that Kieran probably wouldn't have survived long in Colm's gang. Fellas there either turn as nasty as him or they die pretty quickly. He honestly can't see Kieran turning into a bastard like Colm, guy has too kind and soft a heart, if he remembers correctly. Good with horses, though.

"Alright." Hosea gets up and briefly dusts off his pants, before giving them a smile. "That's enough for me. I'll leave the partying to you young ones. Good night."

"Night." Arthur calls after him and then shifts, noticing that his butt is turning pretty numb. The party is dying down bit by bit around them too. He can hear the music from Dutch's tent and, well, he still doesn't know what to do about the man or what to think, can't really bring himself to look at him either. The memories are sharp and fresh in the back of his mind and a part of him still feels so deeply betrayed.

"I'll head off too." Arthur tells Charles and the man gets up along with him.

"Me too." He says and they step away from the fire together. They wish each other a good night and as Arthur lies down, Sean and Karen join the party again, singing once more and cuddled together. He falls asleep with a small smile, music both form the campfire and Dutch's tent filling the air. He can hear laughter and people walking about, before he drifts off.

~*~

Arthur stares at the gold he managed to find, the one bar in Limpany, the three bars up in that weird cave with the even stranger statues and the two bars from that crashed train - a nightmare to get into, but he managed it after nearly slipping and getting close to breaking his neck. There is also some cash and a gold nugget along with some jewelry and watches he found in a couple of cabins along the way. It's a great haul. A really great haul. Dutch would be happy beyond words if Arthur would present him with his find. Only, that he won't.

Rubbing a hand over his face, Arthur feels a dull headache in the back of his head, beating a near lazy drumming rhythm and slowly tightening the muscles in his neck until it's tense and hard.

Just thinking about how to get the gang out of all of this safely is a nightmare. Arthur still has no hell of a clue how to reach Dutch, no matter how much he thinks about it. Hosea is already unsuccessful and Hosea's opinion holds the greatest weight out of all of them. If anyone could convince Dutch, it's his oldest friend, and he's been unable to do so more and more often lately. Blackwater alone is a great example of Dutch rather listening to Micah than Hosea.

Arthur allows himself a moment to wonder why that is. Why Micah is held in such high regard. Sure the man saved Dutch's life, apparently, but others have too. Hell, Arthur has done so countless times before, so what is it about Micah that is so damn special?

Arthur remembers the last weeks and days up in Beaver Hollow, Micah always hanging around Dutch and talking to him, as though he was some kind of royal spymaster and held all the secrets to his court. For some reason, Arthur can't help but think of that one strange story he once read years ago with the help of Hosea - right, The Emperor's New Clothes. Had Micah taken Dutch in so much, Dutch would rather believe every word he said than trust John and Arthur?

Micah had them all blinded, if he's honest, and even Arthur hadn't suspected him for a while. But now, looking back, it's clear as day. How the Pinkertons kept finding them, always when Micah was around camp. If he left the guy in Strawberry...no, who knew if he wouldn't be freed after all and return anyways and then Arthur would only get in trouble with Dutch. And really, if he's never going to hear that disappointed and at times exasperated, later on even slightly angry tone of voice ever again, he'll be only too happy.

Hell, at this point, Arthur is going to start hating the words 'plan' and 'faith' if he's going to hear them in higher frequency from Dutch again. Still, as much as Arthur doesn't know what to do yet or how to feel about Dutch and some of the things that happened - doesn't quite know what to think about Javier and Bill too, especially the former and the friendship, the trust, he thought they had had before everything came crashing down - he can't help but take a page out of Dutch's book. He needs a plan.

More than one, preferably, but one would be a start.

Looking back down at the gold, money and valuables, Arthur pulls out some cloth and wraps the treasure up securely, the bars even individually so they won't make any noise when clacking against each other. He'll need to hide it. But where? There are a few spots he can think of and it should still be reachable if he needs to get to it. The camp itself could be safe-ish. People leave his stuff alone, but that's mostly because aside from his journal, Arthur doesn't have anything to hide. Hell, after Blackwater, he has so few personal things left, it's all on display anyways.

Packing everything away, he rises and whistles for his horse. She comes storming his way a moment later, neighing and then snorting in his face when she reaches him. Arthur finds himself chuckling softly, petting her nose and feeding her a carrot for her patience and carrying him to all of these abstruse places.

"I'll figure it out." He tells her quietly and she gives him a look. Arthur can't really tell if she believes him or thinks he's going to need a lot of help, before she rubs her head on his arm. "Yeah, I know. C'mon girl. Let's go."

On the way along the mountains, Arthur can't ignore the weight of his treasure, nor the uneasiness that has slithered into his mind. He doesn't know what to do to make Dutch see reason and in all truth, he doesn't know if he even owes it to the man. After everything that happened since Hosea died...Arthur still remembers getting tackled down in that factory and seeing Dutch's boots through the steam, the man turning around and leaving him for dead. Arthur would have been dead if it hadn't been for Eagle Flies.

Those guys in the reservation deserve help too. They have been good to him, the natives up in Wapiti and Arthur remembers the troubles they're facing. Remembers the chief's kindness and his grief.

"Since when do I try to save everyone?" He murmurs to himself, brows pulled together, before he sighs heavily. He already knows that he's going to try at least. They saved him too, it's only fair he returns the favor. Maybe, the can save the chief's son too. Maybe, this time around, things can take a bit of a better turn for these people, even if it just means that fewer of them end up dead.

Arthur already knows he's no sort of hero. Even this, helping these people, doesn't make him one. He's merely repaying a debt, giving back something he couldn't the last time around. This is a second chance and maybe, maybe he can give enough, can do enough, to earn his redemption by the end of it.

Arthur ends up hiding the treasure under the floorboards of an old, abandoned house in the woods that looks fit to caving in during a stronger storm. It's hidden as well as anything can be in these times though.

As he returns to the road, he catches sight of the sign 'Strawberry' a bit further down the path, and it feels like it's near pointing him to where to go next.

Micah. His chest tightens and something both fury hot and deathly cold seems to churn in his chest and stomach, his grip briefly tightening on the reins. After a moment of hesitation that feels like it hangs precariously in place, like a held breath, he squares his shoulders and gently turns his mare towards the sign. Alright then.

Chapter Text

Micah is just where he was the last time around and looks equally as pitiful, staring up at Arthur with eyes that are honestly the most pleading he has ever seen the man look, bruised and locked up as he is. He looks miserable too, in his damp cell, callused fingers curled around the bars.

Arthur can barely look at him, wrangling down the horrible thing that's risen in his chest ever since he caught sight of Micah. It feels like his chest is filled with that hot and cold fury, making him wish to punch or kick the man in the face. To stay in Strawberry until they hang him and watch it all the while. Watch how their destruction breathes his last breath.

If only it were that easy.

The weather is just as shit as the last time, rain making his clothes cling to him and Arthur hears the soft squelch of forming mud under his shoes as he eyes the construction that's going to help him get Micah out. Micah waits, still close to the bars and looking just a bit anxious and nervous. Good. He shouldn't think they're friends, especially since Arthur would sooner strangle him with his own hands than let him touch anyone at camp.

Exhaling heavily, he forces himself to concentrate on the task ahead and not on the dark, seething thing that is so close to pain and hatred, linked with all that betrayal from Dutch's side, that has taken up residence somewhere in his chest ever since arriving. He ignores it and focuses on the fact that Micah could still be useful. If he wants to try and save Dutch too, he's going to need the man. Needs to uncover him as the rat and show his true colors to Dutch. Maybe then, the man might be willing to listen to reason again.

Even if Arthur can't help but not believe in it, a part of him..hopes, in a way. Maybe it's the boy in him, that Dutch picked up all those years ago, maybe it's the love and loyalty he held for him for so long and that now feel so bitter and cold and betrayed in his chest. Maybe, a part of him wants to believe that Dutch does care for him after all and if given the chance, the man is going to choose him, instead of a mad man they picked up only a couple of months ago in Blackwater.

Grabbing the hook, he takes a deep breath and turns back to Micah, keeping his face as calm as possible. Micah still seems to notice something in his gaze though, since the guy hasn't been yapping as much as the last time, choosing rather to stay quiet and watch him. Almost carefully too, like for the first time, he really thinks that he might have to watch out for Arthur.

It's satisfying, just a tiny bit, but satisfying nonetheless to see that caution in Micah.

"Step back." He near growls at the man. Micah quickly raises his hands and steps away from the window, never looking away from Arthur.

"Whatever you say, brother."

Arthur has to viciously bite down on the urge to let go of a bark of ugly laughter. Brothers, right. Clenching his teeth, he secures the hook and motions for Micah to stay put, who gives him a sharp nod, maybe really listening to Arthur for the first time since they met. It's also most likely going to be the last time. As soon as he's out, the guy will be back to doing his own thing. Not that Arthur intends to allow him to let it get as bad as the last time around.

The wall of the prison breaks just like he remembers it would, only this time, just as Micah is hurrying through, Arthur jumps over to him and, seeing the man's eyes widen in brief surprise, tackles him, wrapping arms around him and dragging him to Storm, who stands only a few steps away.

"Let go of me Morgan, are you insane?" Micah half hisses, half shouts, surprised and stumbling, struggling to free himself. "Let me go!"

"We're going." Arthur grunts out, straining as he manages to drag Micah back to Storm. She stands still, tense, as Arthur reaches her side, still doing his best to wrangle Micah along. They have so little time, already people are running around and shouting and he sees the sheriff's door slam open.

"They have my guns! Do you think I'll just walk out of here? Let go, you mad dog!" Micah sounds really angry now, throwing his weight in the hold and Arthur, entirely at the end of his rope, blindly reaches back, grabbing one of the rifles at his saddle and slams the butt against Micah's temple.

It's strange, for some reason, to watch the man go limp, head lolling forward and his weight nearly dragging Arthur down. A part of him realizes it's because he can't remember seeing Micah unconscious before, but mostly, he hurries to haul the guy on Storm's back and clamber into the saddle as well.

She's running before he even has both his feet in the stirrups and Arthur ducks low, cursing as bullets whistle past. Thankfully, the sheriff's office is right at the edge of Strawberry and Storm tears up the path, races past the rising, rocky cliffs to both sides, while Arthur resists the urge to shoot back at the pursuing law men. Gripping the reins, he keeps one hand reached back to ensure Micah doesn't fall to a too early death or something and urges his mare to turn into the woods.

His heart is racing, his ears ringing from the shoots and shouting, he can hear his horse panting but she's not stopping. Running just like he remembered she would, stretched long and the woods a near blur around them, as she carries him to safety with dogged determination.

They nearly crash down a ravine and almost collide with at least five trees, Storm jumping out of the way in the last second and Arthur almost getting unseated, before he no longer hears anyone following them. Slowing her down, he realizes he's breathing just as hard as she does and his hands shake. He lets go of the back of Micah's shirt and resists the urge to shove the man off his horse. Instead, he tries to calm his breathing and heart, feeling slightly dizzy, as he leads Storm to an abandoned cabin he vaguely remembers being in the area.

His takes a deep breath when he dismounts and reaches for Micah, who is stirring like he's going to wake up again. Arthur hauls the guy off his horse, who gives her whole body a shake like she can't stand Micah either. Arthur more or less drops the man to the ground.

"The hell." Micah slurs and then sits up with a start. Groaning, he holds his bruising temple and glares as he staggers to his feet. "What the fuck is wrong with you Morgan?"

"Could ask you the same. We got out of there okay, didn't we?" Arthur says, feeling not the least bit sorry about the way Micah's face is scrunched up in pain. Hopefully, he gave the guy a concussion. "What the hell was that about anyways, where you going to attack the whole damn town?"

Micah scoffs and Arthur resists the urge to knock him out once again. And then leave him somewhere to the wolves. There are a few packs in those mountains, he remembers them quite well and one or two that know how to hunt people. Stripped of his weapons, Micah wouldn't last, ending up as a nice dinner for some animal.

"So what?" Micah lightly touches his temple, before checking his fingers for any blood, looking only marginally mollified when he sees none. Then he steps closer and Arthur doesn't miss the way he's turned this body to something quietly but dangerously menacing. Micah's voice drops to something low and dark. "You think I was just going to go quietly? Oh no, I have business with these people and I will get back what they took from me."

"I don't care." Arthur steps closer as well, his own voice taking a sharp, warning edge and sees the subtle shift in Micah's stance, as the man adjusts his body, ready for a possible brawl. Arthur takes a calming breath and leans back, seeing the mocking flash in Micah's eyes. Always needling him, always sniffing out any kind of weakness like bloodhound. "I'm going back to Dutch. You coming?"

"No." Micah looks at him, gaze darker than before and then grins. It's mean and Arthur hates the sight of it. "Still have business to take care of."

"Leave the town alone." Now they're back in each other's spaces and Micah gives him another one of those mean grins. Arthur, distantly, becomes aware of the man smelling of the damp cell he was held in.

"Or what, Morgan? What do you care anyways?" He tilts his head, eyes too searching for Arthur's liking. Micah, he realizes, has always been so much smarter than he gave him credit for. "You know what, I think you're really getting soft. Everyone tells me about this mean, big, bad Arthur Morgan, but all I see is a small tree throwing big shadows."

Just like before, that metaphor doesn't make a lick of sense to Arthur. But he also knows Micah and the man won't give up. Hating what he's going to have to offer, he forces himself to stop looming into Micah's space.

"What do you need? I'll get it for you." He grinds out and sees the brief flash of surprise on Micah's face. Then Micah's mean grin changes to a smile Arthur doesn't like either. It makes him near sick seeing it.

"Why, Morgan, I didn't know you cared." Micah eyes him for a long moment and Arthur isn't sure if the man's madness might win out, his wish to bring down bloodshed on the town - not that Arthur would help him, the guy can go and get shot at on his own, thank you very much - before he gives a curt nod. "Alright, cowpoke, I'll give you a chance."

On the other hand, punching him sounds like a great alternative too.

~*~

Arthur reluctantly leaves his horse with Micah, as he sneaks into town when it gets dark enough. He spots Baylock easily enough and Micah will have to content that Arthur is going to ride him out of here, considering he wants his steed back as well. Baylock certainly seems to recognize him and Arthur manages to untie the horse from its spot near the sheriff's office unnoticed and take it down to the house where, apparently, some man has Micah's pistols.

Baylock is a bit of a strange horse, Arthur decides. He's never seen a horse so quiet and lithe on its hooves, there is barely a sound as he walks and the horse seems to near melt into the darkness and shadows, following Arthur like some thief in arms. They fit together, Arthur decides. Micah and his horse. At least Baylock is steady and reliable, quiet and unafraid. Arthur gives the horse a gentle pat when they reach the house. Hell, it isn't its fault that Micah is his owner. Baylock gives him a glance, but otherwise seems quite disinterested in him. If anything, he catches the horse looking around a bit, like he's waiting for Micah to appear.

Then comes the hard part. Arthur crouches low, under a window of the house, tucked away in the shadows so no one out on the streets notices him. He waits until he can hear everyone go to bed - while Micah has not so kindly asked him to put some bullets into the heads of the house owners, Arthur's not going to do that.

Sneaking around to the back entrance and taking Baylock with him to wait by the door - and thank god the house has a backdoor - he pulls out the lock pick he got from Seamus. Damn, that feels like so long ago, stealing that coach with Hosea and robbing Seamus' cousin. Arthur keeps his breathing quiet and ignores his by now aching knees and thighs from all that crouching. He strains his ears for anyone approaching, while he carefully works on the door. The lock clicks open a moment later. Thankfully, those guys don't own a dog, the last thing Arthur wants is to get mauled for getting a pair of damn guns back.

The floorboards creak under Arthur's steps, as though merrily announcing his presence to the whole house itself. He winces and quickly sneaks further into the house. He steps past the closed doors of the house owners until he reaches the living room with the kitchen. A trunk catches his eye and he opens it, clenching his teeth at the near suffering, loud squeak from the hinges. He catches sight of Micah's weapons though and grabs his stuff up, not bothering to close the trunk, it makes too much damn nose.

Just as he turns around though, he hears shuffling steps from behind one of the closed doors. Cursing, he gives up his crouch and sprints down the hall, passing the door just as it opens.

"Thief!" A man yells and only the tingle of warning down his back is what saves Arthur from being shot clear in the back of his head. Cursing, he ducks and runs, throwing himself out of the house and going for Baylock, who has perked up considerably, one hoof stomping.

Arthur clambers up the saddle and bites back a noise as a bullet whizzes past his shoulder, narrowly missing him and the horse. Baylock doesn't even wait for him to finish swinging his leg over his back, before he takes off. Gripping the saddle horn, Arthur ends up awkwardly hanging to the side of the mad horse, doing his best not to fall or to let Micah's shit fall.

Baylock angrily throws his head when Arthur tries to touch the reins and get in the saddle properly. For some reason, the horse seems to know exactly where he's going, even without being guided, because it races through the night dark forest outside of Strawberry as if it's lit daylight.

Micah's laughter is the first thing Arthur hears just as Baylock tears out of the last couple of trees, neighing as he spots his owner and unerringly running for him. Arthur drops to the ground the second Baylock stands and he tries to ignore the way Micah is close to bending over, wheezing.

"A real rider, Morgan." He laughs, Baylock bumping his nose against his arm and almost nudging his white hat off. Honestly, the way Micah reaches up to the horse looks close to affectionate. Baylock, Arthur realizes, is the only one Micah might truly care about, aside from his own hide. The horse certainly is more than loyal enough.

"He's as mad as you." Arthur growls roughly and shoves the guns and weapon belts at Micah. "Your things."

"Well done, cowpoke." Micah drawls, still grinning like seeing Arthur cling to the side of his horse made his damn day, hell, his month. It possibly had. At least he no longer looks sour about Arthur knocking him out. "Look at that, you might be useful for something after all."

Resisting the urge to exhale in angry exasperation, Arthur turns around and motions for Storm, who kept a distrustful distance to Micah. She quickly jogs over and lets him get on her back without complaint. It's certainly going to be the last time Arthur's going to attempt riding Baylock.

"Cowpoke!" Micah calls out and Arthur grudgingly turns to him. Somehow, seeing the holster thrown his way is still surprising. He manages to catch it and stares at Micah, who gives him a far too satisfied grin. Baylock stays still, relaxed and obedient, as Micah gets into the saddle. Arthur knows he's reading too much into it, but it honestly almost looks like the horse is giving him the same look Micah does. Pair of madmen, the two of them.

"As thanks, for breaking me out." Micah says and gives him another one of those damn grins.

"You're coming back?" Arthur asks, mostly because he needs to hear that Micah is indeed going to stay away a while longer. He doesn't know if he could take having the man back so soon, especially when Arthur has yet to try to talk to Dutch.

"Nah." Micah answers, just like Arthur had hoped and he pretty much ignores anything else the man says. He knows how this is going to go, with Micah inviting him to drop by soon and then Micah is off, Baylock carrying him off with long, fast strides. Arthur exhales heavily, sagging a bit and rubbing a hand over his face.

Storm snorts and he thinks it could sound disgusted, as she looks after the disappearing horse and rider. Arthur pets her neck and gives her a treat. Just in case, he rides further away from Strawberry, before settling down for a bit of sleep. While he knows he saved a number of innocents today, he doesn't feel better. If anything, unease churns strongly in his chest, worming through his lungs and squeezing his heart. He forces himself to eat, the food near tasteless on his tongue. All the time, a voice in the back of his head wonders if he did the right thing, breaking Micah out.

Sleep doesn't come easy to him that night and he feels wrung out and a bit sore the next day. Storm doesn't seem to mind that they ride on at the break of dawn and Arthur is so lost in thought, he almost overhears a familiar voice. Perking up the moment he recognizes who it belongs to, he quickly turns his mare into the forest.

Albert Mason is just where he met him the first time and Arthur can't help the smile that appears at the sight of the man. Like the last time, he ends up startling him, though, granted, he might have not done anything avoid it either. Albert jumps and he's just like Arthur remembers him. A man with a bright spirit and great dreams. Possibly greater than Dutch's, certainly nobler and something about seeing him so unashamedly himself and hopeful to accomplish something, something good, makes Arthur relax a bit, makes him feel better after all that mess the day before. He likes Albert, even if the man doesn't know him yet and stupidly, Arthur actually forgets about the bag for a moment.

Just like in the past, he ends up chasing after a coyote, though the animal drops the bag without trouble once again and he can bring it back. Albert is just as happy and relieved to get it back, thanking him. Arthur finds its easy to smile at the man and he hopes to find him again soon.

"Take care." Arthur calls as he rides away, feeling lighter and knowing it won't be the last time he'll see the man.

His mood grows somber again shortly after, as he remembers that Albert didn't see him once his illness got really bad. He's thankful for it, in a way. Arthur had hated people seeing him like that. Pressing a hand to his chest, feeling his heart beating steady and his lungs drawing clear, painless breaths, he reminds himself that he won't be sick this time around.

Riding down the road, he tries to remember what comes next, what's going to await him now. He can't really recall the exact order of things, everything is a jumble of flashes and memories. He remembers taking Jack fishing and the Pinkertons appearing. He remembers robbing that train with the others, but he needs a moment to figure out if it happens before or after Jack. And then there is Cornwall. If they can avoid robbing that train...maybe Cornwall won't be as furious and come seeking them out. If Arthur can even stop that from happening. Which he doubts, robbing that train is pretty important to the others.

What a god damn mess. Arthur feels another headache building and for a brief moment, he wonders if he can even do this. Can really fix this. Then he remembers Beaver Hollow. He remembers every death, every sacrifice, every loss and painful disaster they walked away from, their camp growing smaller and smaller. It doesn't matter if he thinks he can do it or not. He has to, because he'll be damned before he lets any of them die again without at least fighting, without trying his hardest.

Straightening, he clicks his tongue, his mare trotting and at another click, cantering along the road. On his way, he remembers the other two debtors from Strauss. Well, he might as well take care of that too.

The polish man seems all to happy to accept he no longer has any debt. As much as Arthur can make himself understood, that is. Either way, he shakes Arthur's hand quite enthusiastically and even shoves a pack of crackers into his hand, before escorting him to the door.

"Well, that's certainly nicer than last time." Arthur mumbles, as he opens the crackers. Storm immediately turns her nose to him, her eyes giving him an imploring look. He huffs, smiling slightly. "I'm really going soft."

Arthur shares the crackers with her, as they walk away from the place. That is another thing taken care of then. Lilly Millet is the only one left now. Arthur really has to think about what to do in regards to Strauss. Technically, the man doesn't do anything wrong. He brings money to camp, legally too, on top of that, he takes care of the medicine quite thoroughly and dutifully. He never gives them any trouble and is rather faithful. Truth be told, Arthur doesn't know if he can get rid of him, but maybe, he can convince Dutch to stop letting him do his work.

But how? He would have to offer a better means to earn money in return and quite frankly, all Arthur knows is robbing and stealing and he's already doing all that without it being enough for Dutch. Looks like for now, he has to content with Strauss. Even burning his ledger, which he has thought about, wouldn't change anything in the long run. It would only start up discontent in the camp and if someone found out it was Arthur, he'd have Dutch on his tail again, angry and so damn disappointed.

Well, looks like he's going to stick to what he's done until now. Pay the debts himself. Which means more work for him, to earn money, but honestly, if those folks get a chance to live, use the money to start up a proper life or get out of trouble, it would be worth it.

The ride to Emerald Ranch is rather long and gives him a chance to relax a bit and think. There is so much to take care of, so much to worry about. But maybe, he can ask Hosea for a bit of advice? No matter how loyal he is, he's also keeping their secrets, never telling anyone what they confided in him. If Arthur were to talk to him about Dutch, Hosea would listen and give him the best advice he could, without so much a peep in Dutch's direction.

Dear lord, looking back, he sees how bad things got once Hosea was gone, how much Hosea reined Dutch in and was a voice of reason when Dutch was about to do something particularly dangerous. Not that it had helped much in the very end, once they were in Shady Belle, but until then, Hosea certainly tried to keep them all alive, to bring them back to a place they could make it out of.

Arthur reaches Emerald Ranch just as night falls and he finds Lilly in the same spot as last time. While he wants to avoid the fist fight, it doesn't really go that way. Cooper is near itching for it and Arthur ends up ducking under a fist, Lilly quickly backing up with a startled gasp.

"Come on." Arthur says, blocking a punch, his arm stinging and possibly going to bruise later. "Listen to her."

"Cooper, will you stop it!" Lilly yells, though Arthur can tell it's a lost cause. He knows men who want a fight and Cooper is one of them. It's bloody and ugly and the guy gets a good two punches in, before Arthur knocks him out.

"Just take my money, he has it." Lilly says, backing up with wide eyes and outstretched hands like she's worried he might come for her too. It makes Arthur feel like something crumbles in his chest, his mouth tasting like ash and he quickly grabs the money, before approaching her, slowly enough and with one hand lifted to show he means no harm.

"Here." He says quietly, as gently as he knows to and Lilly, confused and still wide-eyed, slowly reaches up to take the money he holds out.

"What?" Her voice sounds a bit faint and Arthur takes a careful step back, to avoid standing too close. She looks shaken. "Aren't you here for it?"

"As I was going to say, your debt is purged. Let's just say Herr Strauss received a reason to see it already paid." Arthur tries to explain, feeling supremely awkward once more. He wants to be nice, he does, well nicer than before at least, but he's also...not good at it, he thinks. He looks back at the unconscious man on the ground. "And, Miss, if I may give you an advice?"

She gives him a careful nod, money clutched close, but her eyes are losing their fear and her breathing calms back down.

"Leave him. If he's someone who drags you down, you don't deserve that. Save yourself, before you end up in debt again." Considering everything, Arthur now knows quite a bit about people dragging others down.

Lilly looks back at Cooper and she inhales shakily. In the next moment, he sees her square her shoulders, something in her eyes hardening as she lifts her chin and gives him a nod. He breathes a near silent exhale and steps back.

"Thank you!" She blurts out and he pauses in surprise. "Just, thank you. That's possibly the nicest thing anyone has done for me in, well, in quite a while."

Arthur opens his mouth to rebuke her, only to pause and slightly ducks his head. "Take care, Miss."

"You too, and thank you." She quickly hurries away then and Arthur does the same, before folks get nervous about Cooper.

It's dark and he's barely managed to hunt down two rabbits, when he returns to camp. Javier greets him from where he guards the entrance and Arthur throws him a greeting wave, tongue strangely stuck to the roof of his mouth at the sight of the man.

Bringing the rabbits to Pearson, Arthur takes stock of the camp. Everyone is around and accounted for. He hears some giggling by the trees and a glance in that direction shows him Karen and Sean, swaying and sharing a bottle. The kid certainly seems to have managed to charm her tonight. He wonders if those two will ever really get their act together and make it official, or if it's going to be their strange song and dance for a while longer. Either way, he just wants them to be happy.

Look at him, turning into an old, sentimental fool.

Kieran is asleep as well, curled up against a stone, but at least he has a bedroll now. Arthur thinks he has to come up with a way to get the kid more included. Then again, trust can't be forced, but maybe, he can present Kieran with situations to prove himself and to earn that trust more than the last time around.

Stepping to his wagon, he almost trips over his own feet when he sees a familiar letter lying on the table. His chest gives an uncomfortable squeeze and for a moment, the memory is back. Of receiving Mary's final letter, her ring inside of it. Of feeling his heart breaking, adding pain in along with his aching lungs. And yet, thinking that this was for the best, seeing as he was dying.

"Oh, Mary." His voice is whisper soft and equally as quiet, his fingertips brushing the letter. It feels like a strange sort of clarity, looking at the two of them now. He still loves her, in a way, but at the same time, he knows they're not meant to be, not truly. Even if he manages to leave this life behind with the others, he's no city man, wouldn't join her in one. He belongs in the countryside and on horseback, feeling his hard work shape his body and map his hands.

He picks the letter up, not needing to read it. He remembers it so well. Remembers all her letters, remembers seeing her again, the way his breath caught in his chest for that first, split second after she opened the door. He knows she will be just as beautiful as he remembers her, that she still carries that grace and kindness that had drawn him to her in the first place all those years ago. Folding the letter up slowly, he closes his eyes, feeling his heart quietly break again in a different way this time, a near soft sort of grief wrapping around it. They're not meant to be and this time, he'll really let her go.

Some things, he realizes, aren't to be saved. Or maybe not for him to save. She deserves the chance to leave him behind and be truly happy with someone else. Someone who's going to sweep her off her feet and take her traveling, someone who isn't scarred inside and out, who doesn't have to work hard to find scraps of kindness and weave them together in hopes of making something better out of himself. She deserves the man he wishes he could have been for her.

"What fools we was." Arthur whispers, carefully stashing the letter away, taking care not to crease it in any way, sadness weighting on his shoulders. "What fools indeed."

~*~

Seeing Mary again isn't as breathtaking as the last time, since he's already prepared for it and still remembers her. But the sadness grows, seeing her lovely face, her soft hair and remembering those graceful hands in his own. He remembers sketching her countless of times, all those drawings lost to Blackwater. He remembers the sound of her giggles the way her face would light up so wonderfully with her smile. The way she made him feel just a bit worthier, made him feel like he could be salvaged and worthy of being loved.

"Mary." He says and she looks at him like she remembers everything as well. The good and the bad and he sees the same lingering love in her eyes that seems to have tied their hearts together for so long. The kind of love that novelists might have written about, either as star-crossed lovers or as folks overcoming the impossible to be together.

Arthur isn't that kind of man and he knows it. He'd never drag her down into a tragedy and he won't change for her either. Not when he has so many people to save, not when he thinks that moving on is for the best for both of them. And she's not that kind of woman either. The one who throws away her life for the chance of love, the one who rides down cliffs with him and braves the beating sun and harsh weathers to maybe find a new life together.

"Arthur." Oh and how he missed her voice. His chest tightens and he sees the way she catches on that something is up. Always so smart and perceptive. Arthur is quick to ask her about the letter, before she can inquire why he's looking even sadder than usual.

"Of course I'll help." He says just as she's about to try and find words to convince him to help Jamie. The kid isn't at fault for the whole mess that is his family. Arthur holds up a hand to say his piece. "I do it for him, that's all. Your father can rot for all I care."

She doesn't look surprised at his words, but quite relieved at hearing he's going to help her. "Thank you, Arthur. Oh, thank you."

"Sure." He steps away and then pauses, unable to resist to look back, seeing her grip the railing of the porch, face anxious and hopeful. Any kind of words he might have had die on his tongue and he turns back around without saying anything, silently getting up into the saddle. Somehow, as he rides away, it feels like he's starting to leave her behind for good too. Despite knowing it's the right thing, it doesn't feel good either.

The weird cult Jamie ended up with is just as strange as the last time and the damn chase just as long. Really, even knowing what Jamie is going to do doesn't help Arthur in catching the kid in time. He's damn fast and rides like the devil. Even Storm, fast as she is, struggles to keep up with him and his long-legged horse, which runs like it carries the wind itself under its hooves.

Arthur, heart racing in a way that's starting to feel honestly unhealthy, barely manages to keep Jamie from killing himself and just, Jesus. That poor kid. He holds him in a tight grip when Jamie hugs him, patting his back, his racing heart slowly calming back down.

"It's going to be fine." Arthur murmurs as Jamie pulls back, wiping a hand over his eyes. He looks so young. And really, Arthur knows their father is a real piece of work, but pushing his kid to this? It makes him want to punch the man in the face. "Let's get you back to your sister."

Jamie is just as lost as before, but this time, Arthur focuses more on wheedling out a bit more information about their situation instead of getting questioned by him about getting back together with Mary. He tries to help and give Jamie a few pointers too, on what he might want to do with his life.

"Father is...I don't know what's happening." Jamie admits just as Valentine comes into view. "It just gets worse and worse." His voice drops to something quiet. "He's horribly mean, even more than before and I know Mary is worried a lot. She tries to hide it from me, but I've seen some of the letters father gets and I overheard some of their arguments. It's nothing good."

Arthur stews in this for a moment, in his memories and remains quiet. Jamie falls silent as well, his grip on Arthur's sides tightening. They reach the station shortly afterwards and Arthur tries his hardest to ignore the way his chest goes tight all over again and he's near reluctant to get off his horse. Still, he has to do this.

Mary is overjoyed to see Jamie again, hugging him and then urging Jamie to get on the train. She turns to thank Arthur as he takes her out to the train, so relieved it eases his troubled heart a bit.

"Mary." Arthur holds her back just before she can say anything else, her feet already on the steps of the train. His tongue feels stuck to the roof of his mouth and he has to close his eyes for a brief second before looking at her. "Can I get the ring back?"

The look on her face makes him feel a dozen times worse than he already does. He can see the way she flinches back just a bit, the hurt and heartbreak in her gaze.

"I, why, I mean." She fumbles with her hands for a moment, smoothing them over her skirts and Arthur resists the urge to try and soothe her. "O-Of course. I...Arthur..."

"It's for the best." He tells her, as quietly and gently as he can and forces himself to hold her gaze. He's serious about this, though he's certain he looks just as sad and pained as she does. "We both know I ain't going to change. You deserve better than that. Forget about me, become happy with someone right. Love again Mary, really love."

He grips her hand when she reaches out to him. "Only search me out again if you really are in trouble, in serious trouble. My life is bad Mary, and it ain't going to get better for a while. And even then, I'll stay out here, in the country." He gives her hand a gentle squeeze, feeling her fingers shake and his heart aches. "Please, Mary. We have to let each other go."

Her eyes are wet and she blinks, pulling her hand back to carefully dab the tears away. With a jerky nod, she pulls out the engagement ring he had given her so long ago. She had kept it, during all those years and even while being married to someone else. Has it with her now too and the realization chokes him up just a bit. A part of Arthur feels like a horrible person for doing this, as he takes the ring from her. It feels like he's taking a chance too, an impossible chance, but a chance nonetheless.

"Mary, just, promise me one thing?" He asks though he knows he has no right to. She gives him a tentative nod, one hand pressed against her chest.

"Don't let your father push you around. You're far stronger than him and what he tells you. Protect yourself and the kid, take what you can and get going. Build your own life." He tries to ensure she knows how serious he is and from the way she looks at him, she can see it. After a second, she gives him a near jerky nod and Arthur believes her. She's strong, she'll be alright. And Jamie now too.

"Move on, Mary." He tells her, stepping back as the train whistles and starts to pull out of the station. Mary stands frozen in place as she gets carried away and then he can see her duck her head and turn around. He remains where he is, ring clutched in his fist, staring after the train until it's entirely gone. His throat feels tight and his chest aches. It's the right decision, he knows it. That doesn't make it any easier, though.

"It will heal, Mister." Someone says behind him and he startles, looking back in surprise to see Mickey leaning against the railing. The man, not quite right in the head but certainly someone who had always been nice to him, smiles like he might understand. "You both will heal, Mister."

"Yeah." Arthur's voice sounds croaked and he clears his throat, taking a deep, slightly hitching breath. Slipping the ring carefully in his bag, he hesitates before turning to Mickey. "I'm Arthur Morgan."

The man's face lights up and he looks all too happy to talk a bit with him, gesturing with his one arm. Arthur listens halfheartedly, his thoughts straying back to what he did time and again. In the end, he leaves with some money pressed into Mickey's hand. His ride back home is quiet.

"Is everything alright?" Charles asks him, when he finds Arthur sitting at the side of camp, legs thrown over the edge of the cliffs, dangling down. For a moment, Arthur is about to wave him off, before he gestures for him to take a seat.

"I broke things off with Mary. For good." Arthur says quietly as soon as Charles settles down beside him, managing to make him feel a bit better with his presence, as if Arthur could lean on him for a bit and not be called weak for it.

"The lady you were sweet on?" Charles asks, voice gentling and Arthur feels himself quirk a humorless smile.

"Should have done it a long time ago." He murmurs. "We weren't going to be right for each other."

"But you loved her." Charles says, studying his face and keeping his voice quiet as well.

"That I did." Arthur thinks about the ring in his bag and tilts his head back to stare up at the darkening sky and slowly appearing stars. "I always hoped we would still have a chance, you know. Wanted to run away with her too, once upon a time."

He remembers being in Saint Denis with her, remembers the hope of running off with her after saving everyone. Remembers thinking that maybe, this time around, they could make it work. Remembers her final letter and his illness and the strange clarity it brought for so many things. The strange way it seemed to kill him and at the same time, unearth parts of his heart he thought long lost. Long buried and gone.

Charles doesn't say anything, but his face shifts to something understanding. He grips Arthur's shoulder with a steadying hand and has the kindness not to say anything when Arthur feels his shoulders ease under the touch. Even after Charles lets his hand fall away, he remains where he is.

Arthur is grateful for it, more than he can put into words and bit by bit, he can feel the vice around his heart easing a little. It hurts and feeling a sense of beginning freedom of their doomed love hurts as well. But...Arthur can start to see what Mickey meant. He will heal. Mary will heal. They'll move on and maybe, one day they can look back on each other fondly. He wishes her the best, he truly does. Wishes her to be happy more than anything else.

"You'll be okay." Charles murmurs, warm and near gentle. His voice is certain too, like he knows it will be so and Arthur takes a deep breath, feels it shudder in his chest for a moment and it leaves him feeling better, freer.

"Yeah." This time, his voice doesn't croak and he looks up at the stars. "Thank you."

~*~

"Arthur, can I have a moment?"

Arthur startles slightly at Javier appearing behind him, narrowly avoiding to slosh coffee over his fingers. Turning around, he sees the man standing here, looking a bit tense, brows furrowed. With a blink, Arthur realizes that Javier even looks a bit worried.

"Uh, sure." Arthur says, his gaze sliding away from the man again and he takes a sip of coffee, letting it scald his tongue to chase memories away, to cover that strange mix of bitter, pained betrayal and uncertainty he feels towards the man now. He waves Javier with him as they take a step to the side and get some relative privacy. "What can I help you with?"

Javier shifts in place for a moment and then looks directly at him. "Is everything alright? With us, I mean?"

Arthur pauses from where he's about to take another sip of coffee and lowers his mug. Javier holds his gaze, eyes searching just a bit and brows slightly furrowed, like he doesn't understand Arthur's behavior since they returned from saving Sean. Arthur thinks he should have known that Javier would pick up on it. The guy is far from stupid after all and far more sensible to moods than a lot of other folks.

"Yeah, we are." His voice sounds just a bit strange to his ears, but maybe that is because Arthur tries really hard not to think about those last weeks up in Beaver Hollow. When Javier turned curt with him and started mistrusting him, turning his back on him more and more with every day, with every doubt that Arthur began to develop towards Dutch. It makes Arthur wonder if there really ever was any true trust between them. And that thought hurts, because he liked, still likes, Javier and he thought they understood each other pretty well. He isn't so sure now and that thought itches painfully in the back of his head. He isn't sure about a lot of things now.

Arthur slightly shakes his head. "Sorry, I'm just thinking a lot. Blackwater, the mountains, everything else, it's a damn mess."

Javier relaxes a bit and nods, chin lifted a bit higher than before. "I understand. Let me know if I can help with anything."

The offer sounds so damn earnest, so sincere. Like Javier truly means it, as though he's willing to roll up his sleeves and get to work on anything as long as it means things go easier for them. Maybe are a bit easier on Arthur. Arthur believes him too, even if he doesn't know if Javier would still be willing to help should Arthur work on getting the gang away from Dutch. In all honesty, with his memories, he thinks Javier would rather try to convince him to stay than try to help.

"I will, thanks." Arthur murmurs and lifts his coffee, trying to wrangle his thoughts back into something useful, confusion and unease and something else crawling through his lungs. Can he salvage things with Javier this time around? He has no hell of a damn clue, he really doesn't. He wants to try though, even if he doesn't know how in the slightest.

Javier nods, looking calmer than before and leaves after a moment of hesitation, like he's making sure Arthur really has nothing else to say. Arthur reminds himself to stop avoiding his gaze if he doesn't want to worry Javier again. With a sigh, he rubs a hand over his face and realizes that he's doing that a lot recently. At this rate, he's going to draw a lot of mocking comments sooner or later. Sean is already teasing him enough, calling him a sour brooder.

"Arthur?" Charles's voice makes him look up and over to the man. Charles seems to notice that something is up, but he doesn't comment on it and instead nods to the horses. "Would you like to go on a hunt?"

"Yes." He doesn't even have to think about it. Knocking back the rest of his coffee, the drink cooled enough that it doesn't hurt his tongue, Arthur sees a pleasantly surprised and slightly amused, brief smile on Charles's face.

They head out a few minutes later and it's only after finding the first couple of dead bison, that Arthur realizes what's going on. Charles is angry, angry in a way he so rarely gets and Arthur doesn't try to hold him back. It's still a little startling, seeing Charles kill one of the poachers without hesitation. Arthur decides to let the other man go, just alone on the account that he might not lie about having a family.

"Why didn't you kill him?" Charles ask as they head for the horses and he still sounds angry, maybe even hurt, like he can't understand that absolutely needless cruelty towards the animals. Honestly, Arthur can't either.

"He might have family." Arthur keeps his voice steady and hopefully calming. "And maybe, he's going to return home and rethink his ways. Maybe he'll raise his kids to be better."

Charles falls silent for a moment and Arthur can sense his fury gentling. Glancing over, he sees a heavy frown on Charles's face.

"That's a lot of maybes." The man murmurs and Arthur can't help but sigh softly.

"Yeah." He agrees and after a second of hesitation, reaches over and gives his shoulder a squeeze. Their eyes meet. "But a maybe worth taking, don't you think?"

Charles doesn't answer, but Arthur can see the last of the fury leaving his gaze. The sadness remains though, the bitterness for all those killed animals. That, Arthur understands and he lightly pats his back.

They ride on in silence and by the time the camp comes back into view, Charles tense shoulders have eased back up and he looks more under control. Not really over it, but calmer. Taima seems to sense his mood too, since Arthur catches the way she touches her nose to his arm after they dismount and Charles slightly turns until his mare's nose is brushing against his chest, her eyes half closing.

Storm noses at his own shoulder, a bit impatient though, since she's most likely hungry. Arthur pets her and digs out some treats and leaves to fetch hay for both mares.

"Thanks." Charles says softly and helps him spread it between both of their horses.

Arthur doesn't say anything else and after a brief second of hesitation, claps him on the shoulder, adding a small squeeze. With a near silent exhale, he can feel Charles relax a bit under his touch and something about it makes Arthur feel better as well. Glad that he can give a bit back to Charles, even if it's something as simple as a reassuring, understanding pat.

"Let's go get dinner." Arthur says and Charles follows him back towards Person's wagon. On the way, Jack springs up and calls for them. Arthur stops and is surprised when the boy presses a small bundle of what looks like herbs in his hands. His mother most likely helped him pick it, or someone else in camp.

"As thanks, uncle Arthur." Jack says earnestly, smiling brightly. "For the candy."

Arthur carefully accepts the herbs and finds himself smiling at the kid, reaching out to ruffle his hair. Seriously, Marston is so damn lucky. For a brief moment, Arthur thinks about Isaac, but the bubbling up pain is strong enough that he quickly shies away again from the memory.

"Thank you, Jack."

The boy seems happy with that and quickly shuffles off again, most likely looking for his mother. Arthur catches John staring over, brows slightly furrowed and Arthur kind-of wants to walk over and shake him a bit. To make John see what a damn gift he has in that kind, sweet boy, how damn lucky he is that Abigail is still willing to give him a chance and a spot in her life, that she's still willing to extend her love and heart to him. Arthur knows of enough women who would rather boot John a mile away from them after everything than allow him to ever come back.

Tucking the herbs away, he heads towards the pot, Charles still at his side. John needs to come to the realization on his own, even if Arthur feels tempted to tell him about Isaac and not to miss out a day of Jack's life if he can help it. But even thinking about his own son is painful enough and Arthur feels his throat clog up just alone at the idea of talking about him.

"You alright?" Charles asks softly as they get their food, attentive as he is, once again steady and kind eyes on him. Arthur tries to quirk a bit of a smile, but knows he falls short.

"Just remembering things." He murmurs and is thankful when Charles doesn't pry. They all know about pain that should be left alone and Charles knows him better by now too, to realize that this is something Arthur doesn't want to talk about.

They eat together at the table, Uncle briefly stopping by to regard them with something or another, but he walks off again with some comment about them both being too damn sour. Charles and Arthur share a short smile, a spark of humor between them at having ushered off Uncle.

"I'll head off now, I have guard duty." Charles says, once his spoon scrapes across the plate.

"I'll take that back." Arthur offers, seeing the brief surprise appearing on Charles's face before the man hands him his empty plate. Arthur takes the plates back to Pearson's wagon, giving the man a brief nod in passing.

His gaze then falls to Dutch's tent, seeing him close the flaps and Molly carefully arranging her hair and skirts. Arthur catches a last glimpse of her happy smile, then the flaps have closed completely. He fails to hold back a sigh. Right, there is too much to worry about. Pulling out a cigarette, Arthur can't help but feel just a bit glad and a tad relieved that he can smoke again. After that whole illness really started out, just smelling smoke had made his lungs squeeze and a sharp cough crawl up his throat.

He smokes, staring around the camp with a thoughtful frown. Things are peaceful, well aside from Sean apparently pissing off Karen over there, considering he's quickly stepping back, lifting both hands to avoid angering her to the point where she ends up slapping him. Those kids, really.

~*~

"John." Arthur bites back a small grin - and doesn't entirely succeed - at watching the man jump a bit and turn around in surprise. The surprise mounts further and even dips towards slight suspicion when he sees the coffee Arthur holds out to him.

And honestly, Arthur knows that at this point in time, he was still not okay with John, was still angry, still didn't really trust him all that much. But he remembers everything that took place until the end. Remembers John manning up in regards to his family, remembers John growing to become one of the people he could trust so fully and entirely. Remembers that last night, John's desperation and the pain at realizing he'll leave Arthur behind for good.

"Thanks." John rasps softly as he accepts the mug and gives it a careful, experimental sip. Arthur only hums and settles to stand beside him with his own mug.

"I have a job, I think." John starts out and Arthur feels himself freeze for a moment. Right. That damned train. Shit. He catches the near careful side-eye John gives him, like he's already waiting for a rebuke. All Arthur can focus on though, in that moment, are the still healing scars, angry and red and he thinks how lucky John is to be alive.

Arthur realizes John started talking again, about needing that oil wagon, about a plan that's honestly really, very smart. If only the law wouldn't catch them, robbing that train would be helpful. Arthur rubs a hand over his chin and distantly becomes aware of the fact that he should shave soon or go to a barber and get his beard trimmed properly.

"That's a good plan." He says and decides not to pick up the mockery he knows John expects. Now he looks that mix of surprised and suspicious again. A small frown appears on John's face, like he tries to figure him out and Arthur resists the urge to reach out and pat his shoulder. Or do something as childish as grab the brim of the hat he wears today and pull it down over his eyes. Something lighthearted and dumb, something fun that he hasn't done in...hell who knows who long.

"Okay. Good." John says a moment later and slightly clears his throat. "So, you're in?"

"Sure." As if he's going to let them do that alone. Arthur honestly fears that if he's not present, one of them gets carried back dead to him or gets captured by the law. Damn, he has to think about a solution to them getting found by the train, though. "I'll let you know when I have the wagon."

"Good, great." Now John even sounds hopeful, cautiously so, but hopeful nonetheless, like he tentatively wants to be a bit optimistic that things are going to be okay between them again. That they can be brothers once more.

Arthur gives him a nod, mind once again swirling with memories and thoughts and he steps back, draining the last of his coffee. Brothers, of course they will be. If anything, Arthur is going to make damn sure John and his family make it out of this mess alive again. Even if he ends up failing at everything else, this, this he'll do or die trying.

Speaking of people he sees as brothers, even if he doesn't ever say so. His eyes find Sean, who stands beside Karen, looking far too awake for someone who tends to go to sleep far too late most nights. Arthur decides not to disturb them. Sean is one of the few people Karen really tolerates around herself in the morning and they look too comfortable and at ease with each other. Arthur doesn't want to intrude.

At this though, his thoughts slip towards Micah, who waits somewhere out there to rob that damn coach. Arthur resists the urge to pull a face like he bit down on something rotten and instead glances over at Dutch. Right, he should talk to him.

His feet feel strangely heavy and his shoulders tense despite him trying to stay relaxed, as he walks towards the man.

"Dutch." The name makes his tongue stick to the roof of his mouth and Arthur can't help the way he slightly holds his breath as Dutch turns around, an easy smile on his face.

He does look merrier than before, gaze brighter and yet...Arthur tries to find something in those eyes, tries to find the warmth that once had been directed his way. The pride and fondness. The genuine care and happiness at seeing him around. He doesn't find it. When had that stopped? How had Arthur missed Dutch growing disregarding towards him? Not callus, not yet, Dutch still cares, Arthur knows that, but he's no fool. He now sees what has changed. Sees what ended with Dutch leaving him in that factory, to be killed if it hadn't been for Eagle Flies.

"Arthur?" Dutch asks and now there is some real concern in his expression as he lowers his cigar and voice a bit, taking a tiny step closer and Arthur suddenly has to wrangle down the urge to take a step back.

Words rise and wither in his throat as he looks at Dutch and realizes that he has no idea, not one bit of a clue, how to reach the man. How to talk to him, what to say, what to attempt. There is bitter helplessness mingling into the churning of emotions in his chest and Arthur hates it, has always hated being unable to do something.

"Just, uh, John has a plan." Is what he ends up saying before Dutch thinks that something bad happened or anything of the sort. "Thought you might want to know we're going to work on that."

"Oh, sure, he mentioned something like it." Dutch says, still eyeing Arthur but easing up a moment later, the concern slowly smoothing from his face as he reaches out to pat his shoulder. Arthur holds carefully still, trying to breathe. He realizes he doesn't want Dutch touching him no more and something about that lurches nauseatingly in him.

Arthur excuses himself, mind dizzy with his thoughts and heart tight and heavy. Is this how things are now? He can't forget. He simply can't. Arthur remembers John telling him that Dutch abandoned him as well, back in the bank and he rubs a hand over his mouth, trying to force his emotions back under control. Hosea, he needs Hosea, if he wants to try and save Dutch. Because if there is one thing Arthur avoids trying to be, it's an fatuous fool. And Dutch...Dutch wouldn't listen to him.

Something about that thought is both surprising and not. Arthur thinks that a part of him, deep down, had hoped to still matter enough to have enough sway that he could steer Dutch away from the road he's on.

"Arthur?" He snaps out of his hazy thoughts and looks at Mary-Beth, who gives him a carefully concerned look. She looks a bit happier these days, eyes and steps lighter. "Are you quite alright?"

"I will be." He says after a heavy pause and swallows, hoping that it's true. "Don't worry yourself about me. How are you doing?"

She seems a bit surprised and then smiles. "I'm good, thank you. It's great to have Sean back and everyone is in better spirits."

Arthur can't help but feel lighter at talking to her. At seeing her eyes brighten and her smile widen. This is what he came back for, he reminds himself. To save her and the others from the chaos and destruction headed their way. Arthur remembers, vaguely, that he found a pen for her somewhere and he mentally marks it down as something he will bring her again, even if she doesn't ask him to.

"That's good to hear." Arthur answers, voice going a bit softer for her, a bit kinder. She's always been kind to him. Always been a soft brightness in their camp. Mary-Beth's smile seems to gentle to something fond.

"Well, don't let me disturb you." She says, just the tinniest bit cheeky as she throws his line back at him and Arthur can't help the huff of amusement that escapes him. Her smile widens to a grin, showing her teeth for a moment, before she returns to her chores.

Arthur takes a deep breath and notices that he feels calmer again. More centered, Dutch once again shoved to the back of his mind. So, it looks like he has to steal a damn oil wagon. And later on try to keep them from being found by the law when they rob the train.

"At least it doesn't get boring." Arthur mumbles to himself with a small shake and a deep breath. "Alright then, let's get this done."

~*~

Getting the wagon is easy enough, considering Arthur merely has to wait until it reaches a town and is left unattended for a moment. It's rather simple, clambering up and driving away with the wagon, even nodding at some passing riders. Storm follows him and she doesn't seem to mind that Arthur isn't in too much of a hurry.

Delivering the wagon to the agreed place goes without a hitch and after setting the horses free, Arthur finds himself standing there and watching the beautiful sunset. After everything he went through, after thinking he'd never see another one, Arthur can't help but savor it. He pushes his hat back a bit and when Storm nudges his arm, he curves it so she can rest her chin in the crook of his elbow, gently letting her head sink a bit into his hold.

"Look at that." Arthur murmurs and she snorts softly, letting him stare at the beautiful view like he's never seen something like it. In a way, it really does feel like he never has. It's such a new appreciation, even all the other close-call scrapes never quite made him stop this way, made him realize just what a miracle, what a gift it is that he of all people stands there. Because now Arthur knows the breath of death, knows it's pull, knows what it means to know, without a doubt, that his life is over.

And yet, here he is, with another chance.

They stand there together like this, Storm even dozing off and Arthur holding her head, even as it grows quite heavy, until the sun has slipped away and the coolness of the night breathes down their necks.

"Alright girl." Arthur says softly and Storm lifts her head again. He can't help but snort at seeing her yawn in the next moment. She always makes the most ridiculous of faces. Then he remembers that he still has to go get Micah and the most suffering of sighs escapes him before he can stop himself.

"I'd rather just shoot him." He tells his horse, who gives him a look that seems to agree. Or maybe she just wants some food. Arthur digs out an apple for her and as soon as she's done with eating, swings up into the saddle. "Let's go and get this bastard."

Well, maybe, if Arthur is very, incredibly, amazingly lucky, someone gets a shot in at Micah and the problem is taken from his hands without him having to figure out how to maneuver this whole mess.

Storm carries him off as he turns away from the oil wagon and soon enough, she gallops down the road and Arthur allows his thoughts to grow quieter and calmer. He needs to keep as cool a head as possible if they all want to stand a chance at surviving those shitshows coming their way.

~*~

Robbing the coach goes as well as the last time, which is to say, it's a damn disaster. It honestly feels like everything Micah is involved with is bound to end in bloodshed and madness. Arthur's ears ring slightly even after it is finally over and he goes for the money. Micah, to his disappointment, is still alive and even unhurt. There is a proud, cocksure grin on his face as he accepts the money Arthur hands him - and yeah, alright, this time, he gives Micah a bit less, just enough to get away with it.

"You might not be so bad after all." Micah tells him and Arthur, for a brief, cruel second, thinks about drowning him in the river. Micah points at him, money flapping slightly in his grip. "If you work on that scowl, you might even be decent company."

Then he chuckles lowly, like he's made a great joke. "Just kidding. Well then, I better head on back home. I bet Dutch already misses me."

"You don't know the half of it." Arthur mumbles under his breath, quiet enough that Micah doesn't catch it, hat tipped in a way that the brim hides his face. He waves impatiently at Micah, unable to look at the man a second longer without rousing the same dark, hot and cold fury in his chest. Damn rat.

Arthur doesn't linger either. Instead, he gets on Storm and makes sure he's getting the hell out of dodge before someone sees him around all those bodies and the coach. Damn Micah. The man is definitely entirely too fond of shooting folks.

By the time Arthur is back in camp as well, he feels exhausted and has a headache pounding behind his temples. He ignores the way Micah struts around camp, though his head snaps up briefly when the man meanders too close to where Kieran is picking up a few sacks of food and Mary-Beth is fixing up some ripped clothes. But Micah only spares them a look, steps slowing, before he walks past.

Arthur settles back down a bit again and tries his hardest not to glower or look like the grumpiest bastard this side of the mountains.

"I take it didn't go so well?" Hosea speaks up beside him and Arthur glances up long enough to meet his gaze. There is something very understanding in the elderly man's eyes and Arthur remembers that Hosea once admitted to not liking Micah, to his face even.

"I don't trust him." Arthur says quietly, ensuring that no one can overhear him. Hosea shifts closer with a hum, face growing more serious as he looks over to where Dutch and Micah talk.

"In all honesty, I don't either." Hosea looks back at Arthur, something incredibly old in his eyes in this moment, the kind of gaze that speaks of someone having seen more than his fair share of bloodshed. A certain, bone deep exhaustion for that kind of senseless violence. "We might be smart for it, to not be drawn in by him."

"What's there to be drawn to." Arthur scoffs and Hosea cracks a smile again, the somber seriousness leaving his gaze. Still, it's a reminder to Arthur that he will do what he can to see Hosea alive at the end of this. Alive and happy somewhere, so he can kick up his feet and rest easy, knowing they'll all be okay, no matter for how long fate grants to keep him on this earth.

Arthur shies from the thought of him dying, the memories of the last time too fresh. He might not ever be ready for it either way, he thinks. Even if Hosea lives for twenty more years, hell for forty, Arthur wouldn't be ready for it. Would always end up missing him with that aching, lingering pain. Hosea is family.

"Are you sure you're alright?" Hosea asks quietly in the next moment, back to watching Arthur with slightly worry and the gentle, warm fondness Arthur has tried so hard to find in Dutch before. He swallows.

"There is a lot to think about." He says softly and Hosea tilts his head in a silent invitation to talk. Always offering without pushing or pressuring. What a rare gift. "Hosea..."

Arthur finds the words sticking strangely to his throat and he realizes that, oddly enough, somehow he feels afraid to ask. Afraid to ask if Hosea would come with him should Arthur ever decide to leave with as many other people as he can. Partly he knows it's not yet the time to ask, the question would appear out of nowhere, but mostly, Arthur is honestly scared. Scared that Hosea, too, will not choose him.

"Nevermind." He says and doesn't have to look at Hosea to know that the man is well aware that something is up. A gentle hand rests on his shoulder, grounding and reassuring.

"Of course. Well, if anything comes up, you know where to find me." There is something achingly understanding in Hosea's voice and Arthur exhales softly at the small squeeze to his shoulder, before Hosea steps back.

He looks back up to see Dutch laughing at something Micah said, before Micah gets waved off and the man saunters up to the table, sitting down opposite of Bill.

Arthur rubs a hand over his face, his quiet words muffled further by his palm. "What a goddamn mess everything is."

Chapter Text

Arthur near jolts in surprise when Abigail approaches him and he quietly curses himself for being so lost to his mind. He's thinking so much these days, honestly, he might actually end up breaking something in his brain if he keeps going like this.

"Could you, I mean." Abigail seems so unsure for a moment and Arthur consciously tries to gentle his features a bit and drop the frown. He cares for her, cares for the boy, remembers her breaking down in tears at the thought of John dead. Remembers the startled grief in her eyes when she realizes that she won't ever see him again, after he lifts her onto the horse behind Sadie. He remembers the way she handed him the key, gripping onto it, onto him, just a bit longer, like she tried with all her might to keep him alive just an extra minute. As if with this small act, she could end up saving his life somehow or change its course.

She's so brave and so strong. John is one of the luckiest men alive and Arthur finds himself reaching out, gently putting a brief, steadying hand on her shoulder, her hands calming a bit from their nervous gesturing, before he lets the touch drop away again.

"Would you take the boy fishing?" She asks and Arthur nods before she has to come up with words to try and cajole him into it. He tries, he actively tries to be better this time around and he won't make her beg for a bit of kindness, for someone to be there for the kid too, even if it's just for an hour or two. Besides, Arthur starts to like the thought of being a proper uncle this time around. He doesn't ever want to replace John as the father, but that doesn't mean he can't be a bit helpful from time to time.

"Sure, Abigail." He tells her and sees her shoulders sag with relief, a true smile blooming on her face. "I'll take the kid fishing. Now?"

"Oh, yes, if you want to." She gestures to where Jack is playing at the edge of the camp and Arthur gives her an understanding nod. "Thank you."

"Don't mention it." Arthur says and heads over to Jack. It's only on the way there and catching a glimpse of Micah, that he realizes what this is going to mean. Damn it. The Pinkertons. At least they shouldn't hurt either of them. Still...

He's frowning again by the time he reaches Jack and has to pause a moment to take a deep breath. It wouldn't do to be grumpy to the boy or make him worry. This is supposed to be fun for Jack. Well, as fun as possible with who is going to accost them.

"Jack." He calls out and the boy looks up. Sometimes, Arthur wonders if Jack might be lonely and bored, single child that he is among a group of adults where most, frankly, don't really have their life together. Not that Arthur does either, so he isn't one to talk. "Let's go fishing, what do you say?"

The boy is just as light as Arthur remembers, when he pulls him up into the saddle, Storm standing carefully still like she's very aware of the small passenger. On the way away from camp, Arthur promises Jack to go looking for a book, the boy's face brightening up in a grin as he tilts his head back to look up at Arthur.

Arthur even urges Storm into a faster gallop at Jack's request, hearing the boy's laughter. It twinges something in his chest, a memory of Isaac popping up unintentionally. The boy loved riding and Arthur loved teaching him. Loved lifting him up in the saddle and smiling at the way his face would light up at praise or at getting something right. Isaac had been such a good kid.

His chest tightens and he has to take a careful breath. Ever since waking up, he's thought more about Isaac than before and the thought fills him with guilt. Something about dying himself seems to have knocked something loose. A part of Arthur wonders if their crosses even still stand and who is caring for the graves. He hasn't been back in years. If given the chance, he has to visit them at least one more, one last time. He owes it to Eliza and Isaac. They deserve better than to be less than ghosts, for him to avoid thinking about them as if that's going to make the pain disappear.

Arthur honestly contemplates to not pick the same spot along the river as last time, but he feels that it's important to know that the Pinkertons are there. It's important to know their enemies, especially now that Micah is back in camp and it makes sense for the detectives to show up.

The only thing Arthur skips, in all honesty, is fishing. Jack didn't seem all that interested or invested in it the last time around. Instead, Arthur dutifully helps him pick flowers for a necklace for his mother. It's something he wouldn't have done before, but he finds he doesn't care now. Something about dying, about watching so many folks die before him, about getting betrayed and seeing his whole life fall apart, it really makes it so silly, to be bothered about helping a kid do something nice.

"How heartwarming." A voice drawls behind him and Arthur straightens from where he's crouched beside Jack, letting the kid show him how he makes the necklace - which Arthur has no idea how to make, if he's honest, so he's actually really learning something, not just humming along to encourage Jack.

He steps in front of the kid, ignoring the way Milton smiles at him, all slick cold, that small smile sharp as a knife. Arthur still remembers Abigail shooting him, remembers almost losing to the man, how he would get Sadie as well. He has no idea how things are going to go this time around, but Milton is certainly a problem he has to find a solution for as well. What a damn mess, no matter where he looks, a new obstacle appears.

The two detectives are just as unkind and more or less subtly menacing as the last time. Arthur can't help but keep shifting slightly to ensure he really has Jack behind him, a paranoid voice in the back of his head worrying that by changing even the tiniest thing, he might change what happens too, that they might end up hurting the kid.

He only allows his shoulders to relax again after the detectives are gone from his sight. Looking back at Jack, the kid looks up at him with worried eyes, unsure if he should be scared but definitely unsettled too.

"It's alright, I'll fix it." He promises quietly and crouches back down beside Jack. "Come on, let's finish this. It's going to make your mother very happy."

"Yes, uncle Arthur." Jack looks a bit reassured and Arthur keeps an eye on their surroundings as the kid finishes up the necklace and then stands up, carefully holding it to ensure it doesn't get squished.

"Let's go back." Arthur lifts him back into the saddle and keeps the pace slow enough that he can see if anyone might follow them. Jack is calling out for his mother as soon as they step into camp and Abigail's face lights up at receiving the necklace.

After telling her everything went well, Arthur takes a quiet, deep breath and turns to Dutch. Alright then, time to warn the man about the Pinkertons. That's going to be fun. Squaring his shoulders, he lets the serious, tense expression he held back until now cross over onto his face.

~*~

Arthur still is of the opinion that they shouldn't rob the train. On the other hand, there is no shortage of people willing to take his place and he has no strong enough argument to keep them from going for it. John especially would feel smarted and like Arthur just doesn't want him to succeed with something or get a plan right or anything of the sort. So Arthur rather accompanies them and hopes to everything that is willing to listen, that nothing goes wrong.

Like last time, Sean is by the oil wagon and Arthur already knows there is no convincing the kid to leave. Sean is hell-bent on coming along, so Arthur won't even bother with trying.

"You're getting better." He says instead, nodding to where Sean practices his quick-draw on a couple of bottles.

Sean pauses and then straightens. "Alright, let's have at it."

Arthur pauses as well from where he's about to lean against the wagon and looks at Sean in confusion, frowning. The kid gestures at him, something incredulous and a bit confused and damn it, even slightly guarded in his gaze.

"What is it with you?" Sean asks. "You being all nice an' praising. You hit your head?"

Arthur can't help but frown more now, feeling his shoulders tense a bit, uncertainty slithering along his muscles. He...was he really that bad before? Damn it.

"You are getting better. At least you're hitting closer to the target now. You'd still end up shooting your allies before your enemies, but you're getting better." He points out, voice going a little rougher despite himself, waving his hands in a bit of exasperation, trying to ignore the uncomfortable feeling nesting in his chest. "You want me to lie about that or what?"

"That's more like it." Sean says, gesturing right back at him. "All sour, the good ol' Arthur I remember. What's up with you?"

Arthur drags a hand over his face and feeling the brief urge to just make a frustrated noise. Then again, he's usually more dignified than that and he ends up sighing heavily, briefly staring skywards.

"Look." He tries and Sean falls quiet, eyes smart and attentive on him. Anyone saying Sean is dumb is a damn dumbass themselves and would end up robbed blind by the end of the conversation. It's no wonder the kid noticed that something is different. "I just..."

Words are damn hard and he sees a small frown briefly tug at Sean's brow, before the kid settles back on his heels, looking like he might start to catch on to what is going on with Arthur. For a split second, Arthur can't help but remember him on the ground in Rhodes, the splatter of blood, that too quick, too sudden, too unexpected bang of the rifle and watching Sean crumble, there one moment and gone the next. Just like that. It's almost scary, looking back at it.

"I've had some time to think." Arthur says and it's true too. He's had so, so much time to think, even before getting this second chance. When he was ill, sometimes all he did was think, during the nights he slept too little, the hours he spent on horseback, struggling to accept his fate and succumbing to the realization that he can't stop it in the end. All those hours spent thinking about how to salvage what he can and how to save John and his family and anyone else left by that point.

"You always was a brooder." Sean says, voice flipping to something lighthearted and near careless, a wave of his hand implying that he's ready to drop the subject.

The thing is, Arthur isn't dumb either and he knows Sean has understood quite a bit of what went unsaid. He certainly also doesn't miss the brief glance Sean throws him from under the brim of his own hat. Arthur pushes upright from his position and sees the way Sean tilts towards him, adjusting his stance. He remembers the conversation they had the last time in this place, of Sean telling him he had no time for him no more. The kid isn't so wrong about that.

"Want me to teach you?" Arthur gestures at the bottles and doesn't comment at the bullet holes he can see in the wood and stone, all the missed shots. Sean's eyebrows rise and he looks surprised, before quickly taking a step sideways.

"For real?" He grins as Arthur takes up his place at his side, letting his hand fall to the gun in his holster. "Alright, but let me tell you, I catch up fast."

Arthur can't help but chuckle under his breath. "Sure you do kid."

"Oh, I will. Be prepared to be left in the dust, old man." But Sean's grinning, eyes sparking like a wildfire and Arthur settles down for a lesson.

By the time John and Charles arrive, Arthur has to admit that Sean does learn reasonably fast. His accuracy has improved in the last couple of hours, before they settled down to rest and Arthur feels a bit better at knowing he mostly hits the bottles now. Not perfectly and the shots aren't necessarily good ones, but they largely hit the target. Anything that helps Sean be better at keeping himself safe and alive is good in his books.

They head out then, Sean blabbering on and Arthur can't help his smirk, chin tucked down to hide the expression a bit, at the exasperation all around that Sean pulls out of them. Arthur, while he can admit that it does get a bit much, is equally as glad to have all of them with him. Alive and well.

"Alright, we should be quick about this one." Arthur tells them as the tracks come into view. "You heard about the Pinkertons, right? We should be prepared for the law being alerted to us being here."

Charles nods, serious, while John frowns in thought. Sean just rolls his eyes and gives his shoulder a small shove-pat, an expression of exasperation mingled with a strangely reassuring end. Really, this kid.

"Loosen up, will ya? No wonder you lot get nothing done." Sean says as he hops down from the wagon. "They're not gonna catch us."

Well, hopefully not. Arthur climbs up the wagon while everyone else slips away to stay out of sight. Hiding his face, Arthur can't help but feel nervous and just a bit uneasy. Not because of the robbery, he's done too many to be unsettled by it, but his worry lies with the law he knows is going to arrive too quickly. He'll try to get everyone to move away as reasonably soon as possible. If needed, he's going to drag Sean by his damn ear.

Things go like he remembers it. The engineer gets knocked out and Arthur hurries over to accompany John inside. All the while, he keeps sneaking fast, brief glances out the windows of the train and he notices that John starts to do the same at one point, growing uneasy.

"Something wrong?" John rasps as they are about to move to the next wagon.

"Let's hurry." Arthur murmurs back. "I think I saw some lanterns in the distance."

"The law?" John asks, alarmed and peers over his shoulder to the dark outside, as they step into the next wagon.

"Possibly. Let's take this one wagon and then leave before they get here." Arthur urges and John gives him a curt, understanding nod.

They wrap the robbery up fast from then on. It's possible the most efficient they've ever been and Sean thankfully listens when both John and Arthur tell him and Charles to get a move on. Their horses are waiting for them and carry them away swiftly into the night. Arthur can't help but exhale once they're far enough from the train. Looking back, he can now see the dozens of lights swarming the train and John whistles lowly at his side.

"Damn, that would've been ugly." He glances at Arthur. "Good that you noticed them."

"Was lucky, that's all."Arthur mumbles and can't help his dark frown. "Pinkertons being here makes me nervous."

John blinks at the admission, though he doesn't say anything about it, merely frowns as well. Charles, who rides ahead with Sean, slows down and waits until they catch up.

"We were lucky to leave when we did." Charles says, subtle relief lacing his words. "We can't exactly afford a shootout."

"No, we can't." Arthur murmurs. "Let's go before they start searching the area."

"Was that a setup? The law turned up real fast." John asks and where Arthur brushed the idea off before, he now thinks of Micah, thinks of the Pinkertons and something bitter and ashen seems to spread over his tongue.

"I don't know." He answers, because the truth is, he doesn't. It could be that this was just a coincidence, that Micah didn't have anything to do with this, but he can't afford letting his guard down. He looks at John, Sean and Charles, who are all watching him attentively, though Sean hides his watchful gaze behind a cocky, lopsided grin. "But just in case, let's be more careful from now on."

The thing with the train went better this time around, thankfully and the money is reasonable, decent. And yet, Arthur feels something like mist-cold dread ghosting along his neck and making his shoulders tense slightly. His mouth feels dry as he takes one last look at the robbed train, before it disappears from sight as they ride over a hill. Arthur can't shake the feeling that something bad heads their way, that he's not changed anything even with sidestepping the law finding them by the train. Damn it, he just hopes they can avoid that shootout in Valentine, though he already has a feeling that won't happen.

What a damn disaster everything is.

~*~

Valentine is a bloody tragedy. Arthur sees it coming from a mile away and yet, doesn't dare to try and change it. They'll all make it out alive, after all. He doesn't dare to ask John or hell, even Strauss, to keep themselves hidden, to watch out. He's too worried of changing this song and dance and having one of them delivered dead to his feet. To watch John fall, bloody and dead and bringing the news to Abigail. He isn't sure if he could take it. Watching John fall from the train, shot in the shoulder, had been bad enough already.

A part of him is also slowly but surely unearthing anger towards Dutch. Not the kind of anger that makes him get in the man's face, not that Arthur would either way, not now anyways, but the kind that makes him want to knock the man out and order the camp to pack up to get to safety. To shoot Micah point blank between the eyes and finally leave these lands behind. To shake Dutch until he sees reason again.

It's the kind of anger that seems to make his heart ache and burn. It's filled with so much bitter pain that Arthur just wants to walk up to Dutch and ask him why. Ask him why he's not good enough, why it has to be Micah, why he has to bring them all to their doom. Why he will abandon him, stop believing that Arthur is worth saving, worthy of his care and consideration. Why he just won't listen. A part of Arthur even starts to doubt if Dutch ever really cared for him, ever really loved him, though he knows that thought is unkind. There was a time, years ago, when Dutch would ruffle his hair and praise him, help him shape his skills and laugh freely, soothing people as he handed out whatever goods they stole.

Dutch was truly good, once upon a time. And like with all things, that part of the story seems to have come to an end. And it brought all the rest of them to a painful, bloody end before as well, but this time, Arthur is determined to ensure it has a better ending for the others at least. Dutch can crash and burn, a part of him decides. If it comes that far, Arthur won't stick around to see it, won't just stand by and watch as the flames consume everything around them as well. He'll go and he'll take who he can.

Arthur clearly remembers the overheard conversation between Dutch and Strauss upon entering the saloon, how Dutch said he was too old to change. Arthur thinks that's a load of horseshit, because if a stubborn bastard like himself can figure out what the right thing to do is, Dutch could do it a hundred times over and do it better. The simple truth is that Dutch doesn't want to change. Doesn't want to stop doing what he does and seeing himself the way he does. And something about that realization is both entirely unsurprising and hard to swallow.

When they finally leave Valentine behind and escape, Arthur notices how heavy he's breathing, his hands almost shaking. All the dead and for what? They're only going to keep being chased and now that Arthur knows how this will go, he can see that they never stood a chance of escaping the way Dutch envisioned it. They made too many enemies, spilled too much blood, followed Dutch for too long. Loyalty, once what held them together then turned into their poison.

Arthur can't help but feel like things are slipping through his fingers a bit, as if he's trying to catch and hold on to fine sand. He feels nerves lacing through his shoulders and making him tense up. He's scared, he can admit that much to himself. Scared that he's going to fail this, that he's going to fail everyone he tries to save. He also knows that he can't afford hesitation. When it comes down to it, he'll have to do what it takes. Or watch other people die all over again, if he isn't already in the ground long before them.

Arthur just wishes it would be a little bit easier. Then again, if it were indeed easy, things wouldn't have taken a bad turn in the first place.

He's angry and tense when he returns to camp. It's that anger that makes him speak up just as Dutch is about to order him to go check out a new spot for the camp.

"We have to stop, Dutch." Arthur hisses roughly, stepping close so he can keep his voice down. He can see the way something in Dutch's eyes shutters, his face smoothing over so for a moment, it's impossible to tell what he thinks. It's the same expression Hosea got for his worries and his anger just a moment ago. "You have to see that. We're only going to make this worse. This is going to kill us."

"Arthur, calm down." Dutch puts a hand on his shoulder and for a frozen second, Arthur realizes he can no longer tell if the soothing, reassuring quality of his voice is honest or just another act to keep him on Dutch's side. "It will be alright. We leave here and bring some distance between us. All it takes, is one big thing and we'll be long gone before these Pinkertons or the law or whoever else catch up to us. But I need you with me, I need you strong."

Arthur grits his teeth strong enough to hear them grind. His voice, when he speaks sounds rough. "Dutch, listen to me."

"I hear you, son. But, have faith in me. I have a plan, it will all work out, you'll see. Just have a little faith." Dutch gives his shoulder a squeeze and Arthur feels like he's choking on the ugly bark of laughter that gets stuck in his throat. "Now, go and take a look at this spot Micah mentioned. Take Charles with you. The rest of you, get packing!"

For a second, Arthur feels rooted to the spot, feels the same betrayal creep up his back that had clutched him so tightly back when Dutch walked away in that factory, the same bitter, burning betrayal that was with him in his last moments before he died. For a second, he stares at Dutch, not hearing anything that goes on around and it feels like something in his mind clears. It's not a good sensation. It feels cold and sharp, like shattering glass. He's lost Dutch a long time ago. It wasn't Micah who caused it, but instead who made him see it. Made him see that Dutch is so far beyond Arthur's reach, any kind of efforts on Arthur's part would be wasted. There is a yawning rift between them and for the first time, Arthur really sees it, really notices it.

And now Dutch sends him to a spot Micah picked. Just like Micah, most likely, got Cornwall on their tail in that saloon in Valentine. The ugly, seething thing in his chest rears its head and makes him wish he could take Micah along to that spot and shoot him somewhere, leave him behind and blame it all on an attack. He should. Should have done it far sooner too. Should have left him in Strawberry or done him in during that coach robbery. Suddenly, it feels like an ice-cold mistake to leave Micah alive.

With effort, Arthur drags his thoughts away from the rat and away from Dutch, his shoulders feeling tense enough to snap when he turns around. At least Hosea is as angry as Arthur feels and something about it gives him a strange kernel of hope, that Hosea could end up choosing him over Dutch in the end.

"Hosea." Arthur quickly steps after him once he leaves Dutch, who turns back to finish packing up. The elderly man pauses and Arthur can see him wrangle his anger away, to have as clear a mind as possible for Arthur. Arthur lowers his voice and subtly gestures towards Dutch. "Can do you something about him?"

Something in Arthur's chest falls and then hardens at the way Hosea briefly looks aside and closes his eyes for a second. He thinks he sees a flash of grief on Hosea's face, for a man they both knew and loved, a man lost over the years. Something final, as if Hosea already knows which way Dutch is heading and that he thinks has to see it through to the end as well. Arthur wonders how he never saw it all before. Wonders how, before, loyalty clouded his mind to moments like these.

"I'll do what I can, my boy." Hosea answers quietly, gently and yet too kind to lie. "Now go, we need to get out of here."

Storm senses his agitation when they leave, Charles and Taima at their sides. She's running with more force than before, almost angry in the way her hooves dig into the ground, like she's joining him in his anger. It's only when Charles pulls up beside him and asks him to slow down, that Arthur reins in the mess of emotions in his chest, the jumble of thoughts in his head.

"It went that bad?" Charles asks, a slight caution in his voice, like he doesn't know if it's okay to broach the topic. Arthur inhales harshly and forces himself to exhale roughly, to calm the hell back down.

"Cornwall found us. It was a bloodbath." He answers, voice harder than he wants it to be. At least Strauss is going to be out of commission for a bit, that's most likely the only good thing coming out of this. Staring ahead, with a start, he suddenly remembers the german family they're going to encounter.

He entirely forgot about them. Hazily, as though through a fever dream, a few glimpses of blurred memories pop up. He thinks they helped him, once, back when the illness was getting incredibly bad. How did he forget them? He doesn't know, but it's good to direct his restless energy at something else. At doing something good this time around. At being better himself.

"Let's go." He says to Charles, calmer now and the man seems to ease a bit as well, as if Arthur's tension had caused him to be more alert.

He's quieter from then on, follows Charles when they reach the place and find someone dead. The woman with the two kids is hidden away under a wagon like last time, but compared to before, Arthur tries to be soothing. He still doesn't understand a lick of what they say, but he tries. Tries to be more patient, tries to not be some ugly bastard that crashed into them like the second monster of the night, right after the animals that took the kid's father.

Charles helps. Charles has always been nicer, looked kinder and his voice is gentle and encouraging, while Arthur just hopes he has his sour expression a bit more under control.

They find the father of the family like last time and Arthur takes him back just like before. He still urges the family to leave, especially before more trouble finds them and ends up frozen as the man gently, carefully, places a gold bar in his hand.

"I..." He doesn't know what to say, just like last time. "Thank you."

The german smiles at him, looking less spooked this time around and isn't so overly cautious when patting Arthur's shoulder. Arthur still doesn't understand a word of what they say, but he waves them off, sees the relief on the kids' faces as they wave back and how the wife swipes a hand over her eyes, her husband pulling her into a one armed hug.

Exhaling, Arthur stares down at the gold bar. If his memory is right, the gang's going to be safe in Clemens Point for a while. He can afford going to collect some more money to hide away in that rotting cabin. Like this gold bar. And the bits of loot he got from the guys they shot tonight.

"At least something comes from this disaster." Arthur murmurs and stashes the bar away, before whistling for Storm to come over. He feeds her a treat, also in apology for his bad mood from before. She seems to have long forgotten it though and rubs her nose on his arm, snorting a bit of snot against his cheek. Arthur pushes her head away with a grimace and wipes his face clean. Then he looks at her and feels himself sobering, remembering everything from before and until now too. Her loyalty, her strength.

"Thank you." He murmurs and her ears perk. "Don't know why you chose a bastard like me, but, thank you."

Storm merely noses at his bag, lipping along it like she can coax the treats in there out of it. Arthur huffs in gentle amusement and just feeds her another carrot. She crunches, content and happy, standing close to him like she's right where she wants to be.

He's so damn lucky.

~*~

Arthur helps build up the camp and sees a few pleasantly surprised faces at it. Sean throws a joking comment his way and Arthur needles him into helping pitch the tents as well. It takes a while, but then everything is set up, campfires burning, tents steady and the horses fed, with Pearson already preparing food.

Arthur doesn't miss how Kieran ends up sticking close to his wagon and he pauses when he sees the horse that the kid is taking care of, brushing it out thoroughly, the horse looking so relaxed and at ease, it might fall asleep where it stands.

"That horse." He says and watches Kieran jump. The horse loses some of his relaxation, lifting his head to look over at Arthur. "Where did you get it?"

"B-Branwen?" Kieran's hand falls to his horse's shoulder and Arthur doesn't miss how the horse shifts just a tad towards the kid. "He's mine. He, he found me, after..."

"Ah, I see." Arthur takes a step closer, stretching out his hand. Branwen carefully takes a whiff and then settles back down, his attention returning to Kieran. "You got a loyal one here."

Kieran seems to cautiously relax a bit, a tentative smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. When he looks at his horse though, there is something steady and calm appearing in him, the nerves fading away.

"He's been with me for a while now. He, uh, was stuck at camp when I fled, up in the mountains, when you caught me. I don't know how he ended up finding you guys or following you down the mountains. I just...one day he was there." Kieran gently scratches Branwen's nose and Arthur hears the soft, quiet little whicker of the horse.

The sight makes him feel a bit lighter, a bit better. Arthur pats Kieran's shoulder, positively surprised when the kid doesn't flinch this time around, before he walks off. Pulling out a cigarette, Arthur lights it and looks around thoughtfully, head tipped down a bit to hide his sweeping gaze over the camp. People look a bit harried and tense, but not too worried.

Arthur though, Arthur knows that now they're here, things are going to get blown to all hell sooner or later. Sean. He won't let Sean die and then he somehow has to get everyone together and going before that bank job in Saint Denis. Exhaling smoke, he feels another headache coming and decides to head out again for today. To loot some more places he remembers, to find as much valuables and cash as he can. As much as he can scratch together. With a wry, humorless huff, he finishes his cigarette. Look at him, already sounding like Dutch. He doesn't like it one bit.

"Arthur, are you leaving already again?" Mary-Beth sounds surprised, when he walks past her towards the horses.

"Sure. There's a lot to do." He answers and she pauses and nods. "Want me to bring anything back?"

"Oh, oh no, I'm fine, thank you." She is quick to wave him off and Arthur remembers that pen he forgot again until now.

"Hey, you still write, right?" He asks and sees a shy but happy smile appear on her face as he mentions her hobby. "Want me to look for a pen for you?"

Now she's surprised. "You would? Oh, but you don't have to, it's just some silly writing, really."

"Nah, it's fine I don't mind." He's quick to reassure her, giving her shoulder a brief, gentle pat. She nods, her smile widening.

"Thank you, Arthur."

"Anything else?" He asks, because if he's already out he might as well look for other things too. "Any of the others need anything?"

She pauses at his question and something about her smile gets gentle, her eyes warming. "You've become...really kind, Arthur. It's good, I think. Let me ask the others, alright?"

"Sure." Arthur nods and inhales deeply when she quickly walks away. Kind, huh? He wonders, briefly, what she thought of him before. Before Beaver Hollow, his illness and before she turned scared and tense. He's glad she left, back when everything fell apart and he dearly hopes she would have been okay.

"You riding out?" Javier asks as he walks over, rifle at ease and looking as put together as always. Arthur still doesn't really know how to feel about Javier, doesn't yet know what to do in regards to the man. But...he'd like to try and drag him to safety too, before he follows Dutch to a crashing, burning end. He wants to see Javier safe or at least with someone far more deserving of his kindness and loyalty than Dutch.

"Yeah, I'm heading out for a bit, getting a feeling for the area." Arthur explains. "You need anything? I could try to look for it."

Javier appears surprised for a moment and then thoughtful. "Some plants, maybe, if it's no trouble. To poison my blades."

"Consider it done." Arthur hesitates for the barest of seconds, before he reaches out and briefly grips Javier's shoulder. The man flashes him a smile in thanks and then walks on to keep watch. Mary-Beth returns a minute later and tells him no one else seems to want anything for now, busy as they are with settling down in this new spot.

"You headin' out?" Sean wanders over just as she leaves again and Arthur is about to brush him off, when, unbidden, he remembers again. Remembers the spray of blood and Sean crumbling. That one second that took his life, that one moment of Arthur not paying enough attention. That one second of them all being too cocky, too confident.

"Want to come along? It's going to be boring as all hell, though, just warning you." He ends up saying, even if it means that he can't search for loot as much. Or that he'll have to be sneakier about collecting things. Sean's mouth stands open for a second, from where he was about to speak again and then he grins.

"Sure, of course I do! Why do you think you gotta ask?"

"Then hurry up, I'm not waiting for you." Arthur shoos him off and watches as Sean takes large steps to go get Ennis.

Kid's grinning up a storm when they ride out of camp and Arthur can't help but shake his head a bit, hiding his own, fond smile by tipping his hat. They do end up riding across the country in pretty much nonsense patterns, because Arthur doesn't remember the exact locations of some things and he goes for the cigarette cards as well whenever he remembers one being somewhere - hey, it promises money, easy money even, in comparison to other things he did.

"This really is boring." Sean says as he watches him root through a cabinet and then turns to look around. "Where do you even find these places? All rotten and abandoned."

Arthur straightens with a small grunt, letting a small sack of jewelry slide into his bag while Sean has his back turned.

"It's always important to look around." He says and Sean looks back at him.

"Bullshit." He nearly laughs and then shakes his head. "Sure, but keep yer secrets, I'll find 'em out sooner or later anyways."

Arthur just hums and tries once again to shake the picture of Sean crumbled to the ground, that hole in his head, that's haunted him ever since they left camp together.

"Alright, what's it?" Sean asks, stopping just as they step out of the old cabin. At Arthur's questioning look, he gestures at him. "You're staring at me, all sad, what's it?"

For a moment, it feels like the air itself gets stuck in Arthur's throat. For a moment, he wants to grab Sean and tell him to take Karen if she wants to go with him, take whatever he can and get the hell away. Get away before...Arthur tips his head down and hides the way he takes a deeper breath.

"'s just a bad day, is all." Is what he ends up saying and then holds up a hand when he can already hear Sean inhale, ready to protest. "Leave it, Sean. I don't wanna talk about it."

"Fine, have it your way." Sean relents, though he doesn't sound happy about it. There is a moment of silence, before he swings himself up in the saddle. "So, that's your thing now, doing nice things for folks?"

Sean motions to where Arthur has a pen and book tucked away in his bag. It's not the same pen he got Mary-Beth the last time, but just as good, just as well made, one of them steel ones, like the one he had gotten from Jimmy what feels like ages ago. He also found some plants for Javier.

Arthur just throws up his hands a bit in exasperation. "I can't do that or what?"

"I'm not saying that." Sean leans on the saddle horn, watching him, head slightly tilted and gaze too damn smart for his own good. "Just saying, you never was so nice before."

"People change." Arthur mumbles as he gets on Storm's back, patting her neck. Sean just sighs, or, more like groans, his head tilted back.

"Alright, alright, be all broody and sour. You heading back now?"

"Well." Arthur slants a glance his way. "I remember seeing signs of a camp a little while ago. You know, from them Lemoyne fellas. The raiders."

Sean's face lights up at once and he laughs, slapping Arthur on the arm. "Why didn't you say right away? And here I thought this was a waste o' me time. Lead the way!"

~*~

They return with Sean all to happy to regale everyone with the tale of them shooting up a small camp, picking up two bottles as he goes and handing one to Karen, while Arthur goes to bring Javier the plants, who gives him a smile in return. And something about that thankful smile makes Arthur feel like he wants to be hopeful that this time around, things are going to be okay between them. Even if he doesn't know for sure, he still can't help but hope, fool that he is. Hope that he might just garner enough trust that Javier at least considers that Arthur could be right about Dutch.

Mary-Beth is happy about her pen, her face lighting up in a way that made the whole trip worth it. Jack smiles wide and with joy at receiving his book and Abigail gives Arthur a thankful smile as well.

"It's, you've been real nice to him." She says quietly as Jack hurries to look for Hosea, hoping to ask him to help him read it. "Thank you, really."

"You raised him well." Arthur says quietly and sees her straighten a bit with pride, her face glowing. He knows it's not always easy on her, but she's doing the best she can, while still running with their lot.

Arthur steps back and goes to get some late dinner. He eats by himself, nodding to Miss Grimshaw - oh, miss Grimshaw. So loyal, so very loyal, and shot for that very same loyalty too. The only one left in camp during that last day who believed him when he told her that Micah was a rat. He remembers it, standing there, dying and thin and growing ever weaker, John at his side, clutching a shot shoulder and Grimshaw on the other, shotgun in hand. There and gone the next moment. Just as violently ripped from life as Sean.

The worst thing is, that even this time around, Arthur doesn't know if he can save her. She'd stay with Dutch, he's certain of it. Even if he would drag her off with him, she'd end up clobbering him over the head, or hell, knifing him even, before returning to Dutch. Not that he'd ever drag her along against her will, wouldn't do that to any of them.

"Mister Morgan." She stops and gives him a small, stern frown. "Get yourself together, there is absolutely no reason to look this sad." He ducks his head a bit on reflex and hears her tut. "Go on and mingle with the others. We are all alright and we will make it out here just fine. We were in worse scrapes before."

"Sure, Miss Grimshaw." He forces himself to say and steps away from her. They're not going to make it through this mess, he knows and Arthur is very certain, if he doesn't get folks away from here in time, they'll end up dying again. If he doesn't get it right, this whole second chance will be for nothing.

Still, Arthur takes her advice and goes to join the others by the fire, Lenny greeting him with a smile and offering the space on the log beside him. Arthur digs out a pack of sweets as he takes a seat and offers them - he found it by the camp Sean and he attacked, along with two bars of chocolate.

"Thanks." Lenny takes some with a grin and Arthur shakes two pieces of candy out on his hand as well, before passing the pack on. It's almost strange, seeing these grown folk light up with genuine delight and surprise at being offered some simple sweets.

"You're getting soft, Morgan." Bill remarks roughly as he passes by and notices what Arthur has done. From the corner of his eye, Arthur catches Karen bristling, as she takes the last of the candy, Sean straightening in response to both her and Bill as well. Lenny just sighs quietly. Charles throws the man a look and the way he crunches on his candy is close to disapproving. It makes Arthur bite back an unexpected smile.

"Yeah, sure." Arthur just waves him off. It's not his fault Bill is so angry and tense all the time and they just...can't seem to get along. This time around, a part of Arthur doesn't even want to try, remembering everything that went down, especially in Beaver Hollow.

"Ignore him." Tilly speaks up from where she joins him by the fire, Bill leaving with a grumbling huff. She smiles in thanks as Karen and Lenny hand her some of their candy. At this point, Arthur might get sweets for more folks than just Jack. Maybe. Most likely. It feels foolish not to, when it's such a simple thing.

Sean slaps his knee and draws everyone's attention, before starting on a story, seamlessly transitioning the moment to something far merrier. Arthur listens with maybe half an ear. He's honestly just taking a moment to sit there and breathe, tries to relax a bit and to keep the worries from starting right back up.

Because, the truth is, no matter his slowly growing treasure, he still hasn't solved anything. Still hasn't managed to do anything to save them from the path they're on. Charles, who sits on the ground beside him, shifts subtly until his toes lightly bump against Arthur's foot.

"Everything alright?" Charles asks in a whisper when Arthur looks over. "You look troubled."

"Just worried, is all." Arthur tries to reassure him. "It's going to be fine."

Dear god does he hope it will be.

~*~

Talking with Dutch is...difficult, but Arthur is too aware of having to play this careful than to risk anything, even something like talking back. So he follows, quiet and chest tight with churning emotions, when Dutch proposes a fishing trip. At least Hosea comes along too.

Like last time, they find Trelawney, caught by law men and like last time, Arthur ends up chasing after a train, with the deputy telling him not to be so damn slow. Something about it, about the whole way Arthur expected this, knows how it goes, causes him to slip up in the end.

He fights the last of the guys, Anders the leader, if he remembers correctly and feels the slice of the blade against his side, hot and biting, a grunt of pain escaping him as the man gets a strike in. It's such a strange mistake to make, to think too lightly of a stranger he already took down once before. Arthur thinks he should have known better. He manages to slam Anders against the side of the wagon, grabbing his head and giving that a rough slam as well, breathing harshly as the guy crumbles to the ground, unconscious.

Hissing, he looks down at his side, sees the way the fabric of his shirt and vest grow damp with blood. He braces himself as the train stops and presses a hand against the wound. It doesn't feel too bad, the angle of the slice was also all wrong to have gotten him in a bad way, but it hurts. Arthur takes a moment to inspect the wound, hitching up his vest and pulling the rip of the shirt further apart. A shallow enough cut. If he gets it treated in camp, it should be fine.

"Alright then, come on you bastard." He murmurs as he reaches for the unconscious criminal and hauls him up with a grunt, his wound flaring up.

On the ride to Rhodes, Arthur bites back the urge to rub a hand over his face as they pass Caliga Hall. Right, of course. The Braithwaites, the Grays, he forgot none of it. All that trouble they're going to get into, for a treasure that doesn't exist. There is only one sapphire bracelet - one that Arthur didn't even accept as payment in the end, Penelope and Beau had better use for it than a dying man. One bracelet and so much more trouble that it would tear them apart further and kill so many of them in their search for nonexistent Yankee gold.

Rhodes is a familiar sight when they reach it. Familiar in a dusty, sun warm and blood spilled kind of way. Both terrible and yet just a town he went to often enough, always ignoring that place where Sean ended up lying dead. Now too, Arthur doesn't glance that way.

Seeing Trelawney again is strangely reassuring. The man is smart and pretty much the only one Arthur isn't worried about at this point. He has a good head on his shoulder and the sensibilities to know when to get away from something. Arthur remembers, Trelawney leaving in Beaver Hollow and feeling relief at seeing the man go. At knowing that he'd be fine, knowing that if anyone found a way to get out of any kind of trouble, it was Trelawney.

"Arthur, are you alright?" Hosea asks, one hand already moving his arm to the side and the other going to inspect his side. "You're injured."

Dutch straightens with a frown and before Arthur knows it, they take a detour to the local doctor to get him patched up. Well, at least he doesn't have to worry about the injury now. It's also shallow enough, like he thought and can go without stitches, thankfully, as long as he doesn't strain it further.

On the continued ride to go fishing, Arthur has to resist the urge to stick close to Hosea and avoid Dutch. Instead, he rides beside Dutch and listens to them talk, only speaking up when it feels like he should. His thoughts are a mess of memories and half forming plans, as he tries to figure out how to handle the upcoming events. He doesn't know if he should ask Hosea to stop antagonizing the two families owning the area, but then again, Dutch wants to play them and there is little to be done once Dutch wants something. Especially when he gets wind of that rumored gold.

"So, Arthur." Dutch speaks up once they're in the boat and out on the lake. "What is troubling you so much lately?" His dark eyes are attentive on Arthur in this moment, not missing a thing.

"Last few months was tense." Arthur grunts out, focusing on rowing. Now that his lungs are free from the beginnings of coughs, he puts all his strength into it. Channels all his tension and the tangle that are his memories about what happened into rowing with fast strokes. "Things are a mess."

He can feel the way Dutch looks at him, can imagine the way his eyes flicker just the tiniest bit, as he thinks, trying to come up with the right words. To calm, to cajole, to keep him going steady on his side. He also catches the almost inaudible sighing exhale of the man.

"That is behind us now, Arthur. As long as you have faith and I have you and Hosea by my side, nothing can get to us." Dutch says, voice strong and confident and once upon a time, that would have made Arthur feel better. It would have made him feel like he didn't have to worry about things as much anymore and that their problems would end up fixed. Now, now all he hears is the voice of someone who leads them to their end, unwilling to open his eyes to the new world, the reality of who they became. Someone who just can't stop making enemies. And maybe, someone who just has to prove that he's the smartest one out of all of them. The one who wins.

"Enough of that dark talk." Hosea pats Arthur's shoulder. "We're here. Let's enjoy this day and bring some decent catch back."

It's a bit easier from then on, listening to their stories and concentrating on his fishing. Arthur even feels kind of up to joining the singing on the way back. Still, it feels bitter, in a way. To have this moment that made Arthur feel so close to them before, this echo of the family they once were. It hurts, to be with them and know how little this moment would mean to Dutch in the end.

Hosea gives his shoulder a squeeze as they get out of the boat and it somehow feels reassuring, understanding. Supportive. Arthur gives him the tiniest of nods and sees a subtle line of tension leaving Hosea's shoulders. Dutch is turning back around to them, talking and Arthur holds his gaze as steadily as he can, trying to keep his face from showing anything.

As they walk away from shore, he hears Sadie's angry voice. As much as he hates the pain this fight of hers is born out of, hates what brought her this grief that she turns to wild anger, there is a small sense of relief. Knowing she'll run with them soon. Knowing that she's going to be one of the people he can truly count on. It's going to be safer, having her around, Arthur thinks.

Turning to Pearson's wagon, he already sees her, angry and so, so strong. She's going to take them all by surprise. Hell, even now, Arthur is plenty certain that Sadie is going to keep surprising him, that she'll be a force to be reckoned with. It would be scary, really, if he wouldn't remember how it feels to have that force standing at his side, covering his back.

For now though, he'll try to keep her from possibly attacking Pearson.

Chapter Text

"Arthur." He pauses when he hears Hosea's voice and walks over at the man's wave. It's dark in camp, a long, dusty day finding its end - though it was a good day too in a way, considering Arthur got to see Albert again. Hosea sits by a table, alone at the moment and most of the camp is already settling down. The flaps of Dutch's tent are closed, but Arthur can already tell that things between their leader and Molly are starting to crack apart.

"Take a seat, my dear boy." Hosea offers kindly and leans forward, as soon as Arthur sits down. His expression is open and gently attentive. "Now, what troubles you? And don't give me that look. I noticed, how much you run around. When was the last time you got some real rest?"

Arthur opens his mouth, only to pause. Hosea is right, he's sleeping little and when he spends some time in camp, he checks up on everyone else, before riding out again sooner or later. Nevermind that his dreams aren't a pleasant place to be these days.

"Back in Horseshoe, I think." He grudgingly admits. Ever since arriving, Arthur can admit that he's too worried, his mind too unsettled to sleep much. It always feels like he isn't doing enough, like time is slipping through his fingers faster and faster, while he scrambles around, trying to keep everyone fed, trying to collect money and valuables, trying to figure out what to do. Trying to be there more for people this time around, since he remembers how fast it can be over.

Hosea turns concerned. "What is it?"

Arthur wets his lips and feels himself cave a bit. "Dutch." He admits and it's only because he knows he can trust Hosea. Knows that Hosea would never betray his confidence. "He's worrying me."

"Me too." Hosea murmurs, because he's always honest to him. It is a kindness in itself, to know that when he speaks with Hosea, he doesn't have to worry about big words, grand gestures and empty promises. Just the plain old truth and it eases some of the ache in his heart. "But that's not all, is it?"

Hosea knows him too well. Arthur looks aside and searches for words, tries to find a way to put everything into something that makes some sort of sense to people other than him.

"It's not safe for us, down here." Arthur ends up saying and looks back at Hosea, who doesn't immediately brush his concerns off. Instead, the man listens, eyes solemn and he takes Arthur's worries seriously. "I know that, Hosea. And I feel like..."

"You should go?" Hosea's voice is quiet, gentle in a way that tells Arthur the man thinks it would be the right choice too. And like he would hurt seeing him go and yet would never even attempt to stop him, to ask him to stay when that is not what Arthur wants. The realization makes Arthur's throat feel tight all of a sudden and he breathes past it as well as he can. "Yeah, I agree."

"I'm not just leaving." Arthur answers quickly, urgently and leans forward as well now. "I won't just...I'm tryin' to..."

His gaze flicks past Hosea before he can stop himself, to the campfire where some of the others have gathered, where Sean and Karen, drunk and giggling, are sneaking off to the surrounding woods. Or more like, stumble off to the surrounding woods. Where John looks after Abigail's retreating form like he wants her back and doesn't know how to go about it yet. Kieran has tentatively joined the others by the fire too and Arthur sees that he's more accepted this time around, partly because Arthur keeps inviting him to gatherings whenever he can get away with it. Hosea inhales and Arthur looks at him again, sees the realization in his gaze. The surprise and then, something softening.

"You are a good man, Arthur." Hosea's voice is even quieter now. His smile though, carries sadness, like he thinks Arthur would leave with some of the others and leave him behind. Relief is there too, as though he's glad about what Arthur plans. "I was worried for a while, how hardened you became, but...I'm proud, of who you're turning into now."

Arthur stares at him, mouth slightly open and feels entirely speechless. His throat tightens once again and Hosea, seeing his reaction, chuckles softly, patting his arm.

"Come on now, my dear boy. Don't look like that. Of course I am proud of you." He leans back a bit, wistful now. "Feels just like yesterday that we found you."

Arthur remembers. Remembers meeting Dutch and Hosea. Remembers getting a family again, remembers them teaching him, helping him become someone better. And for a while, for a few years, he felt like he did something worthwhile. The stealing to give the poor, that made him feel like he wasn't all rotten. And then things slowly changed and he ended up changing with them, doing what he thought he had to, following Dutch's orders because he trusted him to know what was right. Trusted that, between them, Dutch had to be the better person. And maybe, all those years ago, that had been the truth. Not anymore, though. And while Arthur doesn't think he's all that much of a good man either, he also knows that following Dutch turns to a great tragedy and it's the wrong thing to do.

"Arthur." Hosea pulls him out of his memories, once again looking serious. "If you need anything, if there is anything I can help you with, let me know."

"Of course. Thank you, Hosea." The man nods and Arthur swallows, his mouth dry. He wants to offer the man to come with him, but something stays his tongue. Not yet, a voice in the back of his mind whispers. Not yet.

Hosea gives him a smile and then stands up with a small clap of his hands against the wood of the table. "Alright then. If that is all, I shall retire for tonight. Sleep well, Arthur. Try to get some proper rest."

He leaves with a last pat to Arthur's shoulder and Arthur rubs a hand over his face once he's gone, closing his eyes. He has a vaguely decent amount of treasure now, but he doesn't know if it's enough. Doesn't know if it's ever going to be. Maybe, he thinks to himself. Maybe it just has to be enough money to help them get out of here and buy land elsewhere. It doesn't have to be anything grand, just enough for them to make a living out of it.

It's not going to be easy, Arthur knows next to nothing about ranching, but he knows horses and he knows he has the strength and persistence to learn, to figure this out. He may be far from the smartest man, but if it's physical work, he can learn it.

"Arthur." Charles approaches him and Arthur opens his eyes as a warm hand lands on his shoulder. Leaning back, he sees Charles look down at him. "Want to join us by the fire?"

"Sure." He answers. Would always say yes now, unless he really has to be somewhere else. It's because he watched it all fall apart before, he knows it. Because he watched so many of them die and disappear that he's no longer taking these moments for granted.

Charles gives him a small smile and steps back, his hand sliding away. "Come on then. You deserve some rest and you've been looking after everyone enough these days. Take it easy for one night."

Is he that obvious? Possibly. It might explain the way he caught Dutch looking over at him once or twice in the last days too. But he heard no complaints so far, so the man is probably not too bothered.

"That star is still too strange." Charles remarks, nodding at his chest and Arthur sighs, once again remembering the deputy star on his vest. A deputy, look at him. Playing at the law while ending up shooting so many folks.

"Don't start." He grumbles. At least the star keeps him a bit more out of trouble, pulling the deputy card on folks and he explained the one or another dead Lemoyne Raider camp away with it as well. Charles just chuckles softly and leads him over to the fire.

Mary-Beth and Tilly greet him kindly, telling him to sit down. Kieran, who sits on the ground beside Mary-Bath gives him a small, tentative smile. Javier nods at him from where he plays the guitar and Reverent Swanson collapses on a bedroll, his rising snores audible over the music. Swanson. Arthur doesn't know if the man will get his act together without the tragedy, but if he's honest, he'd rather have one drunk fool than watch all those deaths happen again.

Arthur chooses to sit on the ground beside Charles, getting comfortable and stretching out his legs as well as he can without his feet ending up too close to the flames. John joins them by the fire too, he notices, greeting the man.

John looks better now. The scars have healed rather well, no longer red as they slowly turn pale and silvery. Arthur tips his head forward a bit and closes his eyes. He's only aware of dozing off at one point, when he starts to sway. A hand grips his shoulder, Charles, he can tell and gently lowers him sideways. Before he knows it, he ends up against the log on his other side and Tilly, who sits there, adjusts his hat with deft, gentle hands so it doesn't get knocked to the ground.

"He's working so hard." She murmurs, most likely to avoid waking him.

"That he does." Javier agrees and it seems as though he plays a softer, a bit quieter tune to avoid disturbing his rest. A part of Arthur thinks, almost asleep again, that he should talk with Javier more often. "Makes me worry sometimes."

"Something got into him." John's raspy voice is audible from the other side of the fire. "Ever since those mountains."

There is some agreeing and thoughtful humming, before they move on from the topic. Arthur finds himself dozing off again, only waking when Charles gives his shoulder a shake, the night air at his back feeling cold in contrast to his fire warmed front.

"Come on, get some proper sleep over by your wagon." The man says and helps him to his feet. Which is to say, Charles hauls him upright and Arthur blearily pats his arm in thanks, hearing a low, quiet chuckle.

The second he lies down on his cot, he's back asleep. Looks like he's getting a full night's rest again for once.

~*~

Of course, Uncle gets wind of the coach, approaching him for the job just after Charles and Arthur save Trelawney from the bounty hunters. Or more like, Charles saving Arthur's hide as well along with Trelawney's. Of course, there is no discouraging Uncle from telling them to rob it. And once again, they end up stealing from Cornwall. It's a hole they just keep digging deeper and deeper, as if they just can't resist creating their own graves.

Arthur, as they hide out in the shabby barn, feels like once again things happen the way he remembers them and once again he can't stop it. Didn't know how to stop the whole damn robbery, especially once Bill got wind of it and Uncle dragged Charles into it too. And while Arthur is pretty sure that out of all of them, Charles is near unbeatable in a fight, he doesn't want to leave him alone in facing this either. But maybe, he can keep them from being discovered this time around. Back as they settled down to wait in the barn, Arthur has removed the bucket that Bill bumped into last time. Hopefully, that's enough of a precaution.

Now, it's dark out and he's crouched behind the same hiding spot as the last time, feeling nervous and tense as the two men draw near. Light fills the barn and Arthur hopes that everyone stays calm and no one moves. The thought runs on repeat in his head, ending up as a dark plea to whatever power greater than himself deigns to listen.

"Place looks empty to me." The guy inside the barn says and, truthfully, he is not thorough in his check. Just stepped in, lifted his lantern and after a second or two of nothing happening, seems to think that's it.

"I don't think they're here. Don't see any horses." The guy outside calls back and the man in the barn turns around. Arthur holds his breath and faintly, he hears the small shuffle, the tense, nervous movement of Bill that had knocked that bucket over the last time. This time, there is nothing and he exhales as the two men leave again, talking amongst themselves and their voices growing further and further away. Once they're far enough, he briefly closes his eyes.

"That was close." Charles murmurs and Arthur takes a slow, deep breath to calm his racing heart. Somehow, it feels like before all this is over, he might be in danger of getting a heart attack. "Everyone alright?"

"Sure." Bill grumbles and Uncle makes an agreeing noise. Arthur just waves in a vaguely reassuring manner and straightens back up. There is a small sheen of sweat clinging to his neck and dampening his back and he remains where he is, rolling his shoulders to shake some of the built up tension, until they're all sure the coast is clear.

"Well." Uncle says as they climb out the back of the barn to avoid being seen by the house owner up the hill. "That went well."

"Oh shut up." Bill growls as they walk away from the farm. Arthur doesn't know how far their horses went, but either way, it's better to be safe than sorry and keep it quiet.

"We have to stop robbing Cornwall." Arthur murmurs, though he ends up talking mostly to Charles, who has fallen in step beside him. The man glances at him and gives a small, agreeing hum, his brows slightly furrowed.

"Think he'll be back on our trail again?" Charles asks quietly, taking a step closer. Arthur notices the way Bill glances back at them, face tense and frowning, before he looks away once more, his rifle gripped tight.

"He's gonna know the coach was robbed, but not by who, if we're lucky. We avoided that shootout, but...let's not count on him not figuring it out." Arthur wants all of them to be real damn careful. Especially with Cornwall hiring the Pinkertons. Those guys are going to connect the dots sooner or later, if Micah hasn't already told them where they are now.

Uncle tries to complain about walking once or twice, only to be shut up again and Arthur honestly doesn't feel like listening to the man either. By the time they're a good ways down the road, they hear neighing and slow to a cautious stop. Their horses canter over a hill then and trot over, loyal smart lot that they are. Storm noses at Arthur's arm like she's checking that he's fine. He pets her neck and swings up into the saddle, before giving everyone their fair share of the money.

Uncle looks quite happy with it, Bill appears grudgingly satisfied and Charles just nods, as they make their way back to camp unseen, moving Taima so they ride side by side as far as the roads allow it. Charles gets dinner along with him too and Arthur invites Kieran to the table as well, noticing the kid looking a bit nervous and lost with a plate of food in his hands. Arthur notices the small smile Charles gives him and the man greets Kieran, who perks up at the welcome.

It's late and Arthur remembers Molly talking to him before Uncle interrupted. He wonders if he could pull her out of this mess too. Then again, most likely not. She really does love Dutch, truly does. Gave up everything for him. Arthur can admit that Molly isn't too fond of him either and while he'll try to talk to her and see if he can get her to come along, it's most likely going to be a fool's errand.

~*~

Over the next days, Arthur goes and robs the damn bank in Valentine - but it is...it's good money. Real good and they make it out okay, even if he's tenser than before and sees Karen frown at him a few times. Lenny catches on as well and is more alert, once asking Arthur if they should leave early, though they pull through with it in the end. And yes, he's lying about the amount of the safes, not to get out of paying Karen, Lenny and Bill their due, but to keep Dutch from taking those extra thousand dollars Arthur has sidelined along with his share. It's all for the money he hides away in that rotting cabin. Still, Dutch is very happy about their robbery and Arthur thinks it's also going to buy him a bit more breathing room and goodwill. For a while, at least. A couple of days.

He meets Beau and Penelope again, accompanies the women on their rally and keeps Beau from being beaten by his cousins, though he tells the kid to go and grab Penelope to run as soon as possible. Arthur hopes to be gone before the bank robbery in Saint Denis, which means these guys have to escape their families without his help this time. He has a reasonably good feeling though. Despite Beau being plenty strange, both have reasonably level heads on their shoulders and if they listen to him, they should get going before things with their families turn real bad.

He ends up stealing horses with Javier and John once more and burns fields with Sean, all the while doing his best to look after everyone and encourage them to keep an eye out, keep themselves safe. Things are...better between him and the others, even if he gets a bit of exasperation for worries he can't explain without sounding like a lunatic. But it's nice, nonetheless, to be greeted with smiles, to be entrusted with some secrets and stories they haven't shared with him before. It's nice, to see them look happy when he approaches. To feel them pat his back and a few times, people come to him, asking for advice and his opinion. Arthur can admit that he's trying to encourage the thought of leaving, as subtly and reassuringly as he knows to.

Arthur also avoids getting captured by Colm, simply because he knows how the meeting goes and he really, really doesn't need to get shot and captured or beaten. That would take him out of commission for weeks and he can't afford that. He knocks out the man who came to knock him out and then signals to Dutch and Micah to get the hell out of dodge. The meeting ends as quickly as it began, but at least no one gets shot at. Colm looks angry, but he also doesn't order an attack on them and even from a distance, Arthur can see the way Dutch grits his teeth and reins his seething hatred in to pull back.

Something about it gives Arthur an uncomfortable feeling. Colm might have a back-up plan for a situation like this. The uncomfortable feeling deepens especially when Colm lifts his head and stares over at Arthur for a long moment. Either way, he's glad he can avoid the shooting, the injury, the beating, the everything. Going through it once has been bad enough and he still sometimes dreams of it, when he doesn't dream of any of the others dying, that is. Besides, he needs time. All the time he can get to hopefully figure out how to keep certain things from happening.

With the disaster with Colm averted, Arthur, as he hoped, finds some extra time on his hands. A couple of extra weeks. He meets up with the writer up in Valentine - the town is reasonably safe to carefully visit again, as long as he keeps his head down - and goes looking for the gunslingers in question. If he remembers right, the cut he gets from the publishing is a nice enough amount. Arthur goes to look for loot too, spends days trudging through rain and forests and swamps to search for hidden stashes and other things, bringing his found loot to the treasure hidden in the cabin. It's growing quite a bit and the sight of it gives him hope.

Arthur, after he returns, rides out with Lenny, and it really is so good to see the kid alive. Arthur really thought that Lenny would be one of those that would survive any kind of trouble. Lenny is fast, loyal without being too loyal and he has a good head on his shoulders. He, too, ended up falling in all those horrible messes, in the wake of Dutch's growing madness.

"So, Arthur." Lenny says as they leave from Shady Belle with a bunch of weapons and some explosives. "Is everything alright?"

The question sounds offhanded enough, but Arthur caught snippets of a conversation between Lenny and Hosea before, knows that Lenny worries about the path they're taking. He glances at the kid and mulls over his words for a second.

"Things don't look well." He says and sees the way Lenny grows solemn. "It would be smart to...keep an eye out. To keep your options open."

"I see." Lenny knows what he means and he also realizes that Arthur is thinking about leaving. "That bad, huh?"

Arthur holds back a sigh, he's doing far too much of that anyways recently. "Lenny, you have a good head on your shoulders. You know how to survive, you're smart, you learn fast. You're a good kid and you have a good heart." He clicks his tongue to keep the horses going steady. "All I'm saying is, be loyal to what matters."

He feels the weight of Lenny's gaze, can practically hear things click into place for the kid. Always so swift on his feet, always so quick to understand.

"And what about you?" Lenny asks. "Why are you still here?"

The admission is hard to get out, but Arthur is tired of pretending not to care, is more often than not haunted by his memories. Remembers just how fast Lenny falls, that one shot in the head. Remembers how things end, how suddenly people are ripped away, gone from his life, leaving him with all these thoughts and regrets.

"Because of you guys." He says, giving another click of his tongue to the horses, accompanied with a small switch of the reins to speed them up. "Because I want to see you make it through this."

Silence falls between them then, but after they reach camp and get down from the coach, Lenny grips his shoulder and Arthur sees the expression on his face. Sees the silent promise that Lenny has his back, should he need it.

"Anytime you feel it's important we should go." Lenny murmurs, voice so low Arthur has to pay close attention to hear him. "Let me know."

Smart, brave kid, trusting him to know how to do the right thing. To keep them safe. It's surprising in a way, receiving that trust so openly. Him, too, Arthur will keep alive with all he has. There will not be another roof fight or another grave carrying the name Lenny Summers.

~*~

Arthur ends up riding with Sean to rob the gang that robbed a train before and then later again accompanies Sean on a job, this time along with Mary-Beth. It's a coach robbery that honestly goes kind of wrong but ends up without any of them injured or dead in the end.

"You got to be more careful Sean." Arthur near growls at Sean by the time the last shot has fallen and he has that memory in his mind again, the sight of Sean crumbling, the blood, there and gone in just a second, just a breath, just one moment of believing himself to be untouchable.

"Woah, calm down Arthur." Sean lifts his hands and then pauses in his slightly angry and exasperated retort. He seems to notice something, before he frowns and then gives Arthur a winning grin, slapping his arm. "Don't worry, you ol' brooder. We're all fine, this went well. Now come on, let's get the money."

"Arthur." Mary-Beth gently touches his arm as Sean heads for the coach and she gives him a calming, encouraging smile. "It's alright. It's sweet of you to worry about us and...and you've been real good to us, to all of us, but trust us too. We know what we're doing."

He exhales forcefully and nods. "Okay. Alright, Mary-Beth. Sorry."

She pats his arm with a smile. "It's alright. Come on, we shouldn't stay for too long."

Arthur still loots the bodies - hey, he's going to need every penny to save this lot and offer them a way out, a future if he can - and then hurries off with Sean and Mary-Beth once they have the money from the coach as well.

"Nice haul." He says as they stop far enough away, ready to split the money. "Good job, Sean, Mary-Beth."

Mary-Beth smiles with pride. Sean grins, straightening a bit from where he sits, chest almost visibly swelling. "Of course, told ya. Didn't even need yer sour self for it."

Arthur just waves him off and rides back on his own, to calm his thoughts and shove his memories back into the corner of his mind they habitat. Tries to focus on what goes well this time around, tries to focus on what to do to avoid a repeat of the tragedy that took place before.

Things continue to go reasonably well, things go as predicted - well, discounting the one time Arthur nearly gets mauled by a cougar or that other time he almost gets shot in the leg by some madman in the Bayou - right up until they're sent to Rhodes again. To talk to the sheriff.

This is it. This is where Sean died the last time.

"Kieran." Arthur calls just as he gets ready to leave. The guy looks up in surprise but he's no longer as nervous around Arthur, coming to his side without hesitation, walking straighter than before. Arthur drops his voice to a whisper. "Hey, do me a favor?"

"Of course." Kieran speaks quietly as well and frowns slightly, growing a tad worried and more nervous at seeing Arthur's dark, serious face. "What is it?"

"Just...keep an eye on folks, okay? And on little Jack, will ya? Ask Charles to do the same, I have a bad feeling about all of this." The truth is, he knows what happens next, knows that Jack getting kidnapped is going to end with them meeting Bronte and that whole mess that follows. Kieran nods and Arthur knows that the kid is going to do just as asked. It could also be a great opportunity to prove himself to everyone at camp further. Most of all though, Arthur just wants them to be safe.

Now though, now Arthur has to go and god damn it, he will not let Sean die. He tears away from camp, urging Storm to run as fast as she can. By the time he reaches Rhodes, Arthur's mouth feels as dry as the roads outside of town and his heart beats fast, his hands tingling with the urge to wrap around a gun. There is a nervous, scared energy buzzing under his skin. He has to get this right. He has to. He doesn't think he could forgive himself if he fails.

Sean, Micah and Bill are just where he knows they will be and for the first time, it's easy enough to ignore Micah and his ribbing. Instead, Arthur looks over the roofs and alleys, tries to see the ambush before it happens as they start walking. He thinks he sees someone ducking out of view, but he isn't sure, could have been a shadow too. He doesn't even hear what any of the others are saying but then he catches the way Sean pulls abreast, steps away from them and his heart lurches, just as he lunges forward, grabbing Sean's arm to drag him back.

A shot cracks through the air and suddenly, hot, red blood sprays over his face. Sean falls back against him, limp like a ragdoll, his weight nearly taking him down. The world fuzzes around Arthur, he feels like he's choking on airless lungs, his heart skipping mangled beats.

"Morgan, fuck, move it!" Bill yells and shoves at him and Arthur stumbles, still gripping Sean tight, seeing red, a cheek covered in red, dripping red. Bill shoves him behind cover and turns to yell at him, only to pause. Arthur doesn't know what he sees, but with a curse, Bill grabs his neck shoves his head down. Distantly, Arthur hears something whistle past, right above him.

"Get yourself together!" Bill gives his shoulder a rough shake. "Arthur!"

It feels like the hardest thing he's ever done, letting go of Sean and slinging the rifle from his shoulder. Everything is dull and hazy, but he catches sight of folks, starts shooting, feeling numb and shaky and hot and cold all over. He doesn't know if he's breathing right, it feels like there is not enough air and finally, the shooting stops.

His gaze falls back to Sean, to the hole in his left eye and red, so much red. His stomach and heart lurch and for a moment, the nausea turns so strong, Arthur thinks he's going to vomit. Then he sees Sean's chest rise and fall. So slowly, painfully slowly. But he's breathing.

"He's alive." His whisper sounds rough in his ears, like broken glass scraping across stone. His hands fall to Sean again, frantic. "He's alive!"

"Shit, for real?" Bill hurries over and Arthur already hauls Sean up, feeling his hands shake and his grip tightens all the more for it.

"I have to get him to a doctor." Arthur whistles, sharp and loud, his breathing going too fast. Micah ambles over and Arthur is glad for Storm arriving. He's absolutely certain, one wrong word and he would have point blank shot Micah right then and there, consequences be damned.

Bill helps him get Sean on Storm's back and then Arthur sits behind him, tearing away from Rhodes, gripping Sean close with one hand.

"Come on, come on." He whispers under his breath and it feels like Storm has never run so fast. Saint Denis. Saint Denis is closest when it comes to doctors. There is blood, so much blood, is Sean even still breathing?

By the time Storm races down the cobbled streets of Saint Denis, Arthur's arm around Sean feels damp with his blood. The doctor hurries out of his office at Arthur's arrival and once inside, Sean gets wrangled out of his grip and into a treatment room. Some assistant shoves Arthur out of the room, despite his protests, telling him he'll just be in the way and closing the door in his face.

"Sir." The secretary is there in the next moment, voice and hands gentle and Arthur shakes her off, but in the end allows her to lead him to sit down in a chair. She presses a glass of something in his hand, whiskey, from the smell of it. His hands shake so bad he nearly spills it.

"You came to the best doctor in Saint Denis." She tries to calm him, giving him a reassuring smile. "If anyone can save your friend's life, it will be him."

"Shoulda been me." Arthur rasps out. He can feel the blood on his face, that strange sensation of it drying on his skin. "Should've kept him safe."

~*~

When the doctor steps out of the treatment room, Arthur jumps to his feet. The man looks haggard and tired, pale faced and there are drops of blood on his clothes. At the tight smile he gives him, Arthur almost falls back in the chair, his knees suddenly weak.

"He will make it. But...his eye." The man makes an apologetic gesture. Arthur almost tells him that he doesn't care. Doesn't care if Sean has lost that eye, as long as he's alive. As long as Arthur can bring him back to camp and help him heal up. One eyed or two eyed, at least he's still here.

"Thank you, doctor." His voice sounds odd to his ears. "How much..."

"Now, take a seat, you're as pale as a ghost." The doctor guides him right back to the chair and then waves at his secretary. "Get him something to clean his face. Do you have money on you, sir?"

"Yeah, sure." His hands don't shake as much anymore, so he can pull out a wad of the cash he has with him. The doctor seems satisfied and takes some of it. A reasonable amount, Arthur thinks, but his head still feels half hazy and slowly, he can feel an intense headache coming up.

"Your friend is very lucky. He'd be dead, if the shot had been at a different angle or a bit more to the right."

A breath shivers out of Arthur as he nods. He accepts the damp cloth the secretary hands him a moment later and scrubs it over his face. The sight of the way the cloth pinkens with Sean's blood makes his stomach roll again.

"Come on." The doctor pats his shoulder. "You can sit with him until he wakes up."

Arthur is on his feet in the next moment and led to the room where they treated Sean. The kid's face is cleaned up and half of it covered in white bandages. He looks as pale as a specter, his ginger hair almost stark in contrast. There is dried blood all over his clothes, but he's breathing. He's breathing.

Arthur sits down on the stool the doctor pulls up to the bed and as the door closes behind the man, Arthur presses a hand to his face, taking a deep breath.

He doesn't know how long he sits there, refusing to move, turning down the offer from the secretary to go and get him something to eat. He doesn't think he could keep anything down.

It's dark, easily something past midnight, with Arthur nodding off for a minute here and there only to jerk awake again, when Sean stirs.

"What..." He sounds as horrible as he looks and Arthur tries to calm him.

"It's alright. You got shot, you're in Saint Denis." He tells him, though he can tell that Sean isn't all there, face scrunched tense in pain. Arthur gets up to fetch the assistant who stayed overnight and the man brings some laudanum, getting Sean back to sleep.

"If he's still alive by tomorrow evening and the wound doesn't get infected, he's going to be right as rain." The assistant tells him and Arthur just gives him a curt nod.

He dozes off an hour or so later, despite himself and jerks awake when the doctor comes into the room to check on Sean and the wound.

"Looks good, so far." He says with a hum. "He's a strong fella, he should pull through. Tomorrow you can take him with you." He turns to Arthur after cleaning his hands. "It's going to cost, keeping him here until then."

"Take what you need." Arthur brusquely brushes him off, pulling money out of his bag and shoving it at the man. "Just, make sure he makes it."

Sean groans in this moment, moving slightly as he wakes up. The doctor feeds him some laudanum again, to send him back to sleep. The man then turns and eyes Arthur.

"Alright, let's make a deal, you go and let my secretary get you some food, you eat it and I put a proper chair in here. Try to get some sleep in it, I won't ask you to leave, but if you keep going like this, you'll pay for both of you lying in here."

"Alright." Arthur relents after a moment of gripping his knees tightly.

The food he gets is tasteless in his mouth, though he's certain that's because of him, not because of what he's presented with. There is a nice chair by Sean's bed when he returns and after staring at Sean taking breath after slow breath, Arthur falls asleep again, exhausted and drained and tense.

He jerks awake a few times during the day and keeps feeling wrung and tired, even with the bit of sleep he gets.

"He'll be okay." The doctor says, satisfied, the next day. "The wound looks good. Do you have a doctor where you live?"

"Something like it." Arthur murmurs. He trusts that Miss Grimshaw and Swanson are going to keep Sean on the path of healing, especially now that it looks like he's going to be okay.

"Alright, I'll get a coach for you then, to bring him home. Let him rest until he's fully healed, alright? Change the bandages regularly and immediately seek out a colleague or come back here if anything seems wrong." The doctor starts to pack up bandages, medicine and laudanum for Arthur to take along. "Here, that should be enough until he's healed up. Just...that eye is gone, son. And he might not take well to it."

Oh no, Sean wouldn't. Arthur grips the box the doctor hands him tightly. He's alive. That is what matters. Arthur might have failed in keeping him safe and unharmed, almost failed Sean entirely, but at least the kid is still alive.

To him, in that moment, that's worth everything.

~*~

Arthur keeps the drive back to camp as gentle as possible, with Sean lying in the back, asleep due to the laudanum. A commotion starts up when he arrives. Karen rushes to the wagon, gripping the sides and he sees the way she briefly sags at seeing Sean alive.

"He's going to be okay." Arthur says, raising his voice, as Hosea hurries towards him. Charles and Mary-Beth, along with Tilly, on his heels. Miss Grimshaw is already at the cart, looking over Sean.

"His eye..." Karen says, tearing her gaze away from Sean long enough to look at him. Arthur just shakes his head, knowing he doesn't have to say more.

"Keep him on the wagon." Hosea says, waving for Charles and Javier to leave Sean where he is. Now that Arthur takes a second, it looks like everyone's packing up. "They have little Jack."

For a moment, Arthur just blinks and then his heart lurches. "What -"

"Kieran noticed and tried to fight them off, he's alive, but they broke his arm and gave him quite the bad concussion. They were gone so fast, we couldn't stop it. Dutch and us, we went to the Braithwaites last night to confront them. And Milton found us, but he's gone, for now. John and Dutch are in Saint Denis, you should join them as quickly as possible." Hosea says, resting a hand on Arthur's upper arm that feels grounding in all that chaos. "We're going to pack up here and head to Shady Belle, you can find us there when you return."

Arthur sucks a deep breath into his lungs and rubs a hand over his face, trying to keep from feeling dizzy all over once more, as he nods.

"Yeah, I will, I just..." He looks back at Sean and then glances around, until he spots Kieran by one of the tents that's getting taken down, lying on a bedroll and looking asleep. But still there, still alive. What a god damn mess. The last time Jack got kidnapped, at least no one else got hurt. "I'll go."

Storm at least seems to be better rested than him, as he takes her back to Saint Denis. He remembers how the search for Bronte goes as he heads for the saloon. This time though, he doesn't let Dutch sneak up on him for that little trick with the gun. Arthur thinks, especially with how tense he still is from the ordeal with Sean, he would react very badly to it.

"Sean?" Dutch asks as soon as Arthur meets his gaze. "Is he..."

"He'll make it. Lost an eye." Arthur answers and realizes that he's still wearing blood soaked clothes. At least his shirt and vest are dark enough that it's not immediately obvious. Not at first glance either way. "He's back at camp. Hosea told me about you going for the Braithwaites?"

"Mad woman." Dutch says and gestures for him to go into the saloon with him. "We burned her house down after finding out that she gave Jack to a fella named Angelo Bronte. John isn't taking it so well, but he's keeping his cool for now."

Arthur exhales and straightens, feels how he shoves his emotions back to finally regain his focus. Alright, one thing after another. For now, he'll help John get Jack back. Then, there is still a bit of time left to figure things out. Still, time is ticking and Arthur feels it settle like the cold breath of a ghost along the back of his neck, whispering at him to hurry up.

Chapter Text

"John." Arthur grips his shoulder and John, for a moment, looks like he's going to shake the touch, before he takes a deep breath. "It's going to be alright. We'll get Jack back."

John gives a jerky nod and Arthur gives his shoulder a clap before stepping back and getting on the horse. Arthur doesn't try to offer anything else, knows that John is anxious, most likely blames himself for the kid going missing.

The fight in the graveyard goes as well as the last time - as far as some of that can be called well - not that Arthur doubts it. John is a good shot and carries the anger of a man fully realizing just how much the boy means to him. The anger of someone feeling the creeping regret and fear that he might have realized it too late, that he might never get the chance to make up for his foolishness until now. That all that's going to be left are memories that turn smokier and smokier until only blurred sensations and images remain. Arthur knows that, knows it too well, some days he can't even remember which color Isaac's eyes were or what Eliza's laugh sounded like.

When they get Jack back after the graveyard, Arthur can't help but shift closer to father and son. John certainly seems to notice the way Arthur has angled himself to partly cover them, and Arthur in return sees some of the angry, worried tension in John easing as he holds his son close.

His movement was subtle enough that it's largely missed too. Bronte's eyes merely gleam like he finds it amusing that Arthur stands between him and John and Dutch is too busy keeping an eye on the mob boss to pay attention to Arthur covering John's back as they leave. John, in return, keeps close enough to Arthur, in case anything happens. As if John wouldn't even think about leaving him behind should this suddenly go south. It makes Arthur breathe easier somehow, makes something in him feel calmer.

Abigail is overjoyed to have Jack with her again and Arthur breathes easier at having everyone at camp once again. And while granted, they're far from truly safe, at least for tonight, they're going to be okay.

"Thanks." John rasps, stepping up to him and staring after where Abigail takes Jack with her. There is a bit of a troubled look in his eyes, as though he wants to join them but doesn't know if he's really welcome. Arthur gives his shoulder a squeeze.

"'Course. Now, go be with your family."

Arthur takes a moment longer to watch over everyone, as John leaves, the relief that's palpable in the air. He makes a slow round too, checks in with everyone and has a few short, quiet conversations. He warns Tilly to be careful, so she doesn't get caught by members of her old gang. Her face hardens and there is some tension along her back, but she lifts her chin, eyes determined and nods.

Hosea looks relieved to have Jack back and yet also tense, Lenny has a serious spark in his eyes despite his smiles and Mary-Beth looks tired, exhausted and just happy to know they're all okay for now. Arthur circles back to the front of the house, when he notices Charles walking up to him.

"It went well?" Charles asks and Arthur exhales.

"Mostly." He murmurs. "But the thing with the Pinkertons...they're goin' to find us again."

"What are you boys mumbling about?" Tilly approaches them, turning concerned when she sees their faces. "What is it?"

"The Pinkertons." Arthur says and sees understanding flash on her face. "This isn't good, Tilly. We have to get away from here."

"I know, I think so too." She glances over at Dutch. "Soon, Dutch says. Once we have the money for it."

They'll never have enough. Arthur bites the retort back. Tilly doesn't deserve a bitter answer like that, especially since she isn't the one at fault. If anything, Tilly has been nothing but good and wonderful. So brave too. He remembers how she protected Jack back in Beaver Hollow and fled with him. Kept him safe. He remembers her staying until the bitter end, through it all. Maybe, to look after them, he thinks, maybe because she still believed that it would turn out okay. Tilly is strong, she might have felt like she had to try and keep them safe too, in any way she could. Nevermind that she's incredibly loyal. Incredibly kind.

"Thank you, for all your hard work, Tilly." He says and she blinks in surprise, before smiling.

"You're welcome Arthur. And you too, the way you're looking after us, it's been a great help. I'm glad to have you around." Her smile widens a bit. "Now go and party, both of you. There is enough time for seriousness later. Tonight, we got Jack back and we're all together again."

"Yeah, you're right." Charles agrees and she steps away again, moving to sit by the table, where Miss Grimshaw and Uncle have started up a song. After a glance at him, Charles's hand briefly touches his arm and he walks off as well, mingling with the others.

Arthur sees Dutch by the fire, starts to hear his speech about damn Tahiti and turns around to walk away. He just can't hear it. Not again, not when it feels like Dutch, in the end, didn't even want to take them to Tahiti. Arthur still doesn't even know where the hell Tahiti is and a part of him wonders if it might have been an idea Micah had given Dutch. It wouldn't surprise him if that was the case.

It doesn't take him long to find Sean and Kieran once he's looking for them. They're both inside the plantation house, Kieran lying on a bedroll and looking rather banged up, half his face covered in dark bruises and his arm in a sling.

"Sorry." He says, sounding as rough as he looks when he notices Arthur stepping into the room they're in. Arthur steps to his side and drops down to a knee, giving him a careful once over. There is something hazy in Kieran's eyes and Arthur is pretty sure he got a nice dose of laudanum to help his concussion. "I tried to, I really did..."

"I know." Arthur murmurs as calmingly as he can, carefully patting his uninjured shoulder as he tries to reassure him. "You did real well kid, don't worry. Now rest and heal up, alright? We got Jack back."

At least, like this, there really is no chance for the O'Driscolls to end up taking Kieran. Not for a while and knowing Miss Grimshaw, she's going to make sure the kid rests and heals properly. It helps no one after all, if Kieran stumbles around with a concussion and ends up breaking another bone or worse. Kieran's eyes fall closed, some of the tension easing from his face and Arthur straightens to turn towards Sean.

Sean's on a cot on the other side of the room, still looking incredibly pale, shadows starting to appear under his eye, but he's awake this time, face scrunched up in pain. It's the first time Arthur has seen him without at least the hint of a smile or a cocky expression on his face. Without that spark in his eye. If anything, Sean looks grave and troubled, along with pained.

"Arthur." He rasps, his accent even stronger now.

"Yeah, I'm here." Arthur stops at his side and crouches down, his mouth turning dry. "I'm sorry. I was too slow."

Sean huffs, but it lacks humor and sounds so weak, like he's really careful not to jostle any part of himself. Seeing Sean so still feels wrong. But at least he's alive, Arthur reminds himself and now mingled memories pop up. Of Sean falling with a hole in his head, of Sean falling against him and all that dripping blood as Arthur thinks he's lost him once again. Something about that memory makes him feel cold.

"You kiddin'? I'd be dead if it wasn't for you grabbin' me." Sean stares up at the ceiling, a brief, bitter expression twisting up his face. Arthur catches badly hidden fear too. "I'm useless now. One eyed outlaw. Can't shoot for shit like this."

"You'll learn again." Arthur's voice sounds stronger now, sure enough that Sean cautiously moves his head enough to be able to look at him. Arthur holds his searching gaze. "You will heal and you will learn to shoot again. Remember all those stories Hosea read to you, trying to get you to learn reading? The one with the one eyed pirate?"

Sean closes his eye for a moment, looking pained in a different way. "That's a children's tale, Arthur."

"Doesn't have to be." He answers, resisting the urge to frown and grab Sean's shoulders. He knows Sean can do it. Kid has the dogged determination to get anything done, has the same tenacity as a dog with a bone. "You'll get it figured out, Sean, I know that much. You ain't useless."

Sean exhales heavily enough that Arthur notices some subtle tension seeping out of him. The kid stares up at the ceiling once more and then carefully turns to look at him again, face showing a rare, solemn and worried expression. Something surprisingly young and just scared enough that he notices it.

"Think Dutch will keep me around? Even with all this trouble?" Without him being useful for a long while, Sean asks without actually voicing it.

"If he doesn't, I will." Arthur answers without a second of hesitation. Though he's certain that Dutch wouldn't kick Sean out, he's not throwing Uncle or Swanson out either and both aren't exactly very useful, aside from depleting their alcohol. He catches the way Sean's eye widens briefly and how he exhales like he's secretly relieved at hearing that no matter what, he still has Arthur on his side.

Then a small frown follows, before Sean's jaw hardens. He lifts a hand and Arthur grips it, giving it a squeeze. Sean's fingers feel unnaturally cold and they grip him back with surprising force. But he looks more awake now, gaze sparking with something that lets Arthur know he can count on the kid. Something that makes him breathe easier. To see life again in Sean instead of just bitter pain and dark worry.

"You'll be alright." He says and then let's go again. "Just rest up. The sooner you're healed up, the sooner you can be on your feet again. And start missing bottles while shooting."

"A barrel o' laughs like always, aren't ya, Arthur." A bit of the familiar near sarcastic tone is back in Sean's voice and it makes Arthur breathe a little easier. Sean turns more serious the next moment, swallowing. "Just, you know, if anything comes up, I mean I ain't much use now but you can count on me, ya know that, right?"

"Course." Arthur hold his gaze. "I know that kid. Now, rest up."

He steps back out of the room, only to pause as Karen brushes past him, heading straight for Sean, a plate with some plain, soft bread on it in her hand. Arthur grabs for the door to close it behind her, when he catches part of their conversation.

"You sure you want to be here?" Sean asks, one hand sluggishly waving in the vague direction of a window, as she sets the plate down on his belly. "With the party out there."

"Oh shut up." Karen answers, already sitting down beside his cot. In the next moment, she reaches up and grips Sean's waving hand. From the way both their knuckles turn briefly white, they're both gripping each other tightly. "I ain't going nowhere, you foolish idiot. I thought..." She stops and he catches the way she takes a slightly ragged breath. "I thought you was dead."

"No, still right here." Sean's voice is a bit softer now and Arthur hears Karen take another deep breath. "You ain't getting rid of me that easy."

Arthur quietly closes the door to give them their privacy. The sound of steps cause him to look up and he's surprised to see John walking in. He's carrying Jack, the boy's head resting on his shoulder and from the looks of it, the kid's asleep. He must be exhausted after a day like that and the ride back, along with the party. Abigail follows after them, face a mixture of lingering relief and exhaustion after the whole ordeal. Her eyes on John carrying Jack carry a new sort of softness and Arthur catches a glimpse of something achingly hopeful. Of the love she still holds for John.

Arthur nods at them and follows them up the creaking stairs to his own room. He needs to get some rest as well, he knows, with as little real sleep as he got watching over Sean and after the day they all had in Saint Denis.

"Arthur." John's voice holds him back after the man has brought Jack to their shared room and he steps back out a moment later. Letting his hand drop from the handle of his door, Arthur turns back around. "You have a second?"

"Sure."

At John's gesture, he opens the door to his room and steps inside, John following him. John's closing the door behind them and then turns around, frowning slightly.

"What's going on Arthur?" He asks, voice low and urgent. "Because I ain't stupid. I noticed you changin' ever since those mountains. You got all..." He makes a gesture and then looks close to grim in his seriousness. "And things, they don't look good. I have my family to look after, as much as Abigail is willing to let me after everything and...something is going on, I can tell."

Arthur inhales and exhales slowly, scratching through his beard for a moment, before giving a curt nod. He can tell John, he knows he can.

"There's no Yankee gold out here." He says. "All that happens is that Dutch is gettin' us into more an' more trouble. Because the Pinkertons? They ain't gonna stop. They're after us and they found us twice already. Always when we shoulda been safe. They're goin' to find us again and then what? We already received two warnings, there won't be a third."

And there won't be, he knows it. He remembers Hosea falling, remembers the shooting at the bank, remembers Lenny on that roof. Remembers things he wish had gone different. Remembers Dutch betraying him and John, John scrambling to try and keep his family safe and alive, Arthur trying to help them get out and away. He knows he'll never forget any of it. None of the deaths, none of the pain, none of the things that led to that horrible end it took. He won't forget lying on that mountain top, lungs failing, body falling still and trying to catch that one last, desperate glimpse of the sun, heart full of regret and yearning.

"Have you told Dutch?" John asks with a frown. "I mean, we just need more money and then we're out of here, right?"

But even as he says it, Arthur can hear that John doesn't really believe that line no more either. Can hear his worry that this time, truly, Dutch won't get them through this. And he's right. He would be right to grab his family and leave, like he had all those years ago only this time, he shouldn't come back. To run and not look back. Arthur swallows, the memory of that dark night on the mountain appearing again. How John had looked at him, would have stayed if Arthur had asked him, almost had if he hadn't sent him on his way. Arthur remembers the pain in his own chest at sending him off like that, as briefly as he had allowed himself to feel it before pushing it back down in favor of buying John as much time as possible.

"You think he'd listen?" Arthur asks, a small grimace pulling at his face and he tips his head to hide it. "I tried talkin' to him, John. And think of all the other times before where we had enough money. Think about Dutch rejecting farms and land, always sayin' that it wasn't safe enough or the law was on us or it was a trap. After every job we do, there is just another one and another one and we just keep making enemies. You think he'd listen now, if I told him to stop?"

He can see the answer in John's face. Can see that he, too, knows that Dutch wouldn't listen. And Arthur knows John is well aware of how their situation turns steadily grimmer. As much as Arthur used to joke about John being dumb, he really isn't. There is no way John didn't catch on that things are really bad. Too bad in fact.

"Then what..." John's voice trails off and something shifts in his expression, a new sharpness appearing in his eyes, understanding brightening his features. "That's why Hosea keeps telling us to go to you if we have any trouble."

"What?" Arthur pauses, surprised and taken aback. "He does that?"

"Yeah." John rubs a hand over his face, eyes sweeping as he thinks. Then he looks up, eyes sharp. "What are you planning?"

"I've been savin' up money. It's not going to be easy, I know that, but it should be enough to get us and whoever comes along out of here. And most likely enough to buy land elsewhere. This world doesn't want folks like us no more, John. We have to get out of here before it's too late."

Arthur can see John think, can see the way his gaze briefly flicks over to where Abigail and Jack are past the door, across the hall. He can see the moment John makes a decision and squares his shoulders. When their eyes meet, he feels like he has John fully with him again, like back when they stood together against Dutch, back when John called him brother. His throat tightens briefly and he takes a moment to rub over his chin, tipping his hat so he can chase the sensation away again.

"How much?" John takes a step closer. "I mean, I have a bit of savings too. Maybe two hundred or something. Abigail should have a bit too, she always tries to have some money in case Jack needs something."

"A couple thousand." Arthur admits. "Maybe nine thousand or so, especially after that bank job in Valentine. A big part of it is jewelry and watches, some gold bars too I found hidden in places."

John's eyes widen briefly, his mouth hanging open for a second, before understanding spreads over his face once more. "That's why you were running around so much, gone for days. Since when? When did you start?"

"Back in the Heartlands." Arthur murmurs. "After all this mess started."

John exhales heavily and rocks back on his feet, nodding. "Okay, okay. Who would come with us?"

"Well, Abigail and Jack, obviously. Sadie and Kieran too, I think, if we ask them. Sean might and Karen as well. Lenny, possibly. Charles, I hope. I think we can convince him to come along. We should try taking Cain too, for Jack." He wets his lips and makes a bit of a helpless gesture. "Mary-Beth and Tilly I hope, but I'm not sure. I'll try to convince Hosea too."

John nods. "Okay, yeah." He rubs a hand over his mouth, still frowning slightly. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

Arthur blows out a breath and feels his shoulders sag a bit. He's almost surprised to feel his worry lessen and his tension lighten, now that he knows John and his family are onboard with the plan. Now that he has John at his side once more.

"I'll let you know. Just, keep an eye out, if you can and your bags packed, something quick to grab and easy to travel with. Don't tell anyone else either, not yet. Especially Micah. Stay away from Micah in general, if you can."

Oh god Micah...Arthur still doesn't know what to do about him, not at all. The situation is so tangled up in all this mess, for now, he's honestly just focused on trying to see how many people he can get out of it before everything gets blown to all hell. And Micah...that particular problem honestly needs to wait.

"Micah? Sure, I don't like the guy anyways." John says with a small snort, but his eyes are serious. He pauses and something complicated crosses over his face.

"What is it?" Arthur asks, because he can see the held back words from a mile away.

"I just wish Dutch would..." John rakes a hand through his hair, the same helplessness Arthur felt once before visible in the gesture. The same hidden hurt.

"I know. Believe me, I know." Briefly, Arthur feels his thoughts darken with memories. "But if we stay, he'll drag us down whatever road he's on. John, you know I've been with them for twenty years. I've been loyal, I've been and done everything Dutch asked of me."

He sees the small grimace on John's face, as the man remembers some of the things that happened and Arthur feels like doing the same. Once again, bitter betrayal rises in his throat and he has to swallow it down, has to swallow down his memories of Dutch treating him like it was Arthur who was the problem, who was the one in the wrong.

"I don't say or do this lightly, you know that." Arthur continues. "But I will not die for Dutch's impossible dreams. I will not die for him to make a statement about a better America. And I will do what I can so neither of you die for him either."

John doesn't look surprised at this admission and something about that makes Arthur feel better. Makes him feel like he's done a better job this time around, of making people feel safe with him and that they can trust him. That he has their back.

"You can count on me." John says, chin lifted a bit and he reaches out to grip Arthur's shoulder, before taking a step back. Then he pauses. "And I think you can count Charles in. You guys was thick as thieves the last weeks, he'd come if you ask him to."

"We was?" Now that John says it, yeah, he isn't wrong. Arthur has been eating more often than not with Charles, chooses to sit beside him by the fires if possible, has talked with him a lot more too. Charles probably one of the folks Arthur feels closest to by now. Partly, he knows it's because he trusts Charles, knows that he can count on the man to have his back, has all those memories of him, and partly it's because they really do get along very well. Arthur enjoys his company. John's words give him hope. Hope that John is right.

"Night, Arthur." John says with a brief, wry smile, something thoughtful to his eyes, like he thinks he realized something Arthur hasn't caught up on yet.

The door falls closed quietly behind him and Arthur hears his muffled steps on the floorboards. Listens until he can tell that John is back in the room he shares with Abigail and Jack. Then he exhales heavily and closes his eyes, shoulders sagging and a great exhaustion catching up with him.

"It's going to be okay." He murmurs and hopes that he's right. Hopes that the sensation of time running through his fingers is not as bad as it feels to him. Though with John on his side now, he feels a bit better. Feels little less like he's going to slip and fall with the wrong step.

They have a chance to make it out of here. A small one and a chance they're going to have to work hard for, but a chance nonetheless.

~*~

Wearing a suit makes him feel like he looks just as stupid as the last time. Besides, not wearing his hat is downright strange, adding to his discomfort. At least they're on the way back from the party and he can pluck on the clothes without getting reprimanded for it. This is the last thing, Arthur thinks to himself. This is the last thing he can allow to happen like in the past, before he has to gather people and leave. That and Rains Fall, he'll meet the chief after this and help him where he can. But they have to be gone before that trolley accident and most certainly before Angelo Bronte gets drowned by Dutch. Arthur has to get people away before that.

It's...strange, really, to take the reins like that. Arthur has never been much of a leader, has always been content to follow Dutch and Hosea. He knows he isn't going to be all that good at it, knows that no matter how much people like him this time around, no matter how hard he tried to ensure they know they can trust him and that he has their best interest at heart, he's still not going to be good with words. But by god will he try his hardest to help them all get to a better, safer life. To ensure they'll survive.

"Arthur." Dutch's near disapproving voice draws him out of his thoughts and he glances at the man, who looks gleeful, joyful even, after attending the mayor's party and the opportunities found there. All Arthur knows is that it's going to end in bloodshed and so much going wrong. "Will it hurt you to drop that pensive look for once? Come on, this was a fun night."

"Sure, Dutch." Arthur says and notices that his voice falls flat. Dutch seems to notice as well. Arthur sees the tiny shift in his expression, the subtle sharpening of his eyes that's usually not a good sign. And usually, it's not directed at people he calls family.

"Arthur, I noticed that you've been...doubting me, recently." Dutch says, idly rubbing his thumb a little over the cigar between his fingers. His voice falls to something that could be gentle. All Arthur hears is a man who tries to pull him back into his ranks. A man who starts to think Arthur might be the one causing trouble soon. "Is there something going on, that I should know?"

Hosea and Bill have fallen quiet and Arthur can see the way Bill scowls at him, the expression partly hidden by his beard. Hosea on the other hand, appears like he's getting ready to step in and defuse the situation.

"I don't like this Dutch." Arthur says, because he wants to avoid lying unless he has to.

"You don't like anything." Dutch says, sounding that mixed of annoyed, disappointed and the beginnings of angrily exasperated, as he throws his hands up a little. "You have to stop doubting Arthur. Have a little faith."

"Faith isn't gonna keep us from dyin'." Arthur feels the retort slip out before he can stop it and he holds Dutch's gaze as the man looks back at him. "That thing with Sean? That was dumb luck, nothing else. Two warnings from the Pinkertons? There won't be a third. We are deep in this Dutch."

"And we'll get out of it." Dutch's evidently changed tracks, voice returning to that gentling, calming tone. He puts a hand on his shoulder and Arthur has to resist the urge to shake it off. For some reason, it feels too heavy and makes his skin itch. "Have faith, Arthur. Have faith, in me. I got a plan."

Yeah, like so many other plans, all busted, because Dutch couldn't be bothered to leave behind the one guy responsible for the Pinkertons finding them. Micah. Though, looking at Dutch, Arthur thinks that even without Micah it would all have come to an end. Micah is just the noose come early, while Dutch is their grave. Not this time though, if he can help it.

Arthur thinks about the treasure hidden in that rotting cabin. Thinks about the all those thousand dollars tucked away. He gives Dutch a nod, puts enough strength into the gesture that Dutch is appeased, the intensity fading from his face. As Dutch faces back forward, once more returning to a cheerier mood, Arthur meets Hosea's gaze. Sees understanding there and a hidden sadness as the man gives him a nearly imperceptible nod. Almost like Hosea knows that Arthur's going to leave soon.

Not without you, Arthur thinks and there is a bite of desperation in it. He'd sooner stay himself and send everyone willing away with his collected money than leave Hosea behind. To leave him to die because Dutch couldn't be bothered to accept the change of the world, to accept when he had to really stop instead of just making more and more enemies.

Arthur knows they're going to have to change their ways, once they're out of here. Accepts it with an ease that comes from knowing death, knowing grief and heartbreak deep and strong enough that he can still taste it even now when he thinks of it. An ease that's born from the way only death can sometimes make things clear. Besides, doing honest work ain't so bad. Especially if it means he doesn't lose anyone again.

~*~

"Sadie, do you have a moment?" Arthur asks the next morning, early enough that only very few other people are awake. She looks up in surprise and then nods. When he gestures for her to take a step aside with him so they can talk in private, her face shifts to serious.

"What is it?" She asks and then tilts her head slightly, sharp gaze catching on. "Are you going to tell me what has you running around so much? I'm not stupid Arthur, I know something is going on. You're planning something, ain't you?"

"It's..." He searches for the right words for a moment, before deciding for direct honesty. "I plan on leaving, with some of the others. Abigail, Jack and John are going to come. I wanted to ask if you would come with us too."

He sees her blink, looking taken aback for a second and then she frowns. "I thought you was loyal to Dutch."

"I'm loyal to what matters." Arthur answers without hesitation, then takes a deep breath, keeping his voice quiet. "You can't tell me you don't see it. As you said, you ain't stupid. You see where Dutch is takin' us. I've seen what that path does to people and I will do what I can to keep folks from dyin'. This is no longer the life for us. We got to go."

She licks her lips, looking aside and over the camp, clearly thinking. Arthur watches the way her fingers tighten on her rifle and then sees her come to a decision. It's in the way her shoulders straighten, her stance firms and she turns to him, meeting his gaze straight on, her eyes sparking with that blazing force that he remembers so well. Fury and compassion, loyalty that isn't blind but given to those she thinks deserving of it. That she once again extends it to him is a damn gift. Arthur already knows that he'll do his best to do right by her. To do right by everyone.

"I'll come with you." She says and then snorts, though it's entirely without humor. "Damn, I wanted to see Colm dead, but who knows, I might still get the chance to kill him myself later on." Something about her settles just a bit, softens almost. "And, I get it, I want to see them safe too. "

"I know." He feels relief at having her with him, his shoulders relaxing a tad. No matter what happens to him, with Sadie on their side, they definitely are going to be okay. "Thank you, Sadie."

"Anyone else who comes along?" She asks, taking a step closer now and he can see her already planning. Sees the strong, smart woman who would survive anything thrown her way, who took the place of a leader, back when everyone thought they had died after that botched robbery. Sadie had kept the camp together with Charles and she had done it incredibly well. She has greatness in her, he thinks and hopes she'll find purpose again past her grief fueled fury. Finds true happiness again someday.

"Not sure yet." Arthur says. "But, be prepared. We might have to leave suddenly."

"Got it. Don't have much in means of possessions anyways." She says and then takes a deeper breath, her frown deepening a bit. "Does Dutch know?"

"No." Arthur doesn't even want to imagine Dutch's reaction - though he can, can imagine the anger. And while Dutch might let them go anyways, he also might not do so without protesting vehemently, could see them leaving as betrayal. Either way, Arthur doesn't want to risk anything. "And I want to keep it that way."

"Got it." She takes a step back, face serious. "Take care, Arthur. Watch out for yourself."

He nods and they split ways, Sadie going to get coffee and then stand guard, while Arthur heads for Storm. He'll go and look for Rains Fall and see what he can do to really help him this time around. To be better than some kind of blood sucking mercenary who can't be bothered to look past his own shadow without the motivation of money. Rains Fall had been nothing but kind to him, despite Arthur's callousness and this time, Arthur is going to find a way to return that.

"You're heading out?" Charles asks, coming up to where Arthur is preparing to leave, to ride once again to Saint Denis. Damn it, he sees more of the city than he wants to.

"Yeah, to Saint Denis and to meet with the Indian chief, Rains Fall." Arthur answers, tilting his head to the side as Storm looks over his shoulder, so she doesn't accidentally nudge his hat off. There is a small twitch of a smile on Charles's face as he lifts a hand to scratch her nose. Arthur pauses and then decides to just ask. "Want to come along?"

He's done this all alone the last time, but maybe it's going to help to have Charles there, who is so, so much better at being a good person. Nevermind that Charles is going to talk with the guys up in Wapiti either way and maybe, they can help avoid that tragedy with Eagle Flies and all that other, ugly mess with the army.

"Sure, I'd like to." Charles gifts him a smile and Arthur finds himself giving a small smile in return, motioning for the man to get going.

Soon enough, they ride away, side by side, waving at Javier in parting, who guards the front gate. Javier looks tired but alert enough and Arthur is certain he's more than ready for someone to relieve him so he can get breakfast and catch up on sleep. Javier. Arthur already knows that the guy won't come with him, loyal to Dutch as he is and Arthur hasn't managed to talk with him as often as he'd liked with how busy he was, still is. He feels regret for it. There is a part of him that can't help but keep remembering both how it all ended, how Javier turned on him and all the times Javier helped, cared and was genuinely good company. He doesn't know what to do and that thought makes him frustrated often enough.

"So." Charles starts when they're on the road and quite a bit away from Shady Belle. "What is going on? Don't give me that look, I noticed. You're planning something, what is it?"

Arthur briefly tightens his grip on the reins, swallows and takes a deep breath. "I'm going to leave." He says and catches the surprise on Charles's face. "And I've been meanin' to ask you, if you want to come with me. Well, with me an' John, Jack an' Abigail. Sadie too and whoever else wants to come along."

There is a long moment of heavy silence. "Yeah, I'll go with you." Arthur feels close to sagging with relief, his heart and shoulders feeling lighter at once. "Just tell me why? And why now?"

"We won't get out of this mess." Arthur answers and feels some of his grimness return. "The Pinkertons, Cornwall, the mess with the Grays and Braithwaites, the law, it's only going to get worse from here. And sure, we've been in worse scrapes before, but this? This ain't a scrape no more and Dutch won't listen. So I'll leave and take everyone I can with me."

"You've been suspecting that since we came here, didn't you?" Charles's voice is thoughtful, like he starts to connect the dots. "Do you have a plan?"

"I have money saved up. Quite a bit of it." Arthur admits, though there is one thing he hasn't yet figured out. "All that's left is finding out how to get past the Pinkertons patrolling the mountains and go west. Blackwater is still far too dangerous to try and get away by headin' south."

"Trelawney might be able to help." Charles offers and Arthur blinks, pausing. Damn, why didn't he think of that sooner? Of course, Trelawney would help him, even if he had to pay the man, but if someone could find a way to get them out of here, it would be him. "Aside from that, we can always think about taking the mountains again."

Arthur remembers some paths up in those mountains, dangerous and only possible if they are on horseback, with no wagons or anything of the sort. They might have to leave a large part of their things behind when they're going to move, especially if they have to travel light and fast. But it's a way out of here and he would have the money so they could buy things again once they reach a safe place. Though, damn, he honestly doesn't know if Sean could take that kind of journey. Arthur might end up killing him himself trying to climb over the mountains. Feeling grim, he takes a deep breath. Either way, Arthur resolves to talk with Trelawney. The man should keep quiet about it, hell he might even come with them for a bit.

"I will ask him." Arthur says and then exhales slow and long, letting his shoulders relax a bit. "Thank you."

"What for?" Charles asks, glancing over at him.

"For having my back, for trustin' me." Arthur looks back at him. "For comin' with us."

There is a small smile appearing on Charles's face and he reaches over to give Arthur's shoulder a reassuring squeeze, his hand resting there a moment and Arthur feels more tension sap out of him at the warm touch. "Of course."

~*~

Rains Fall is as Arthur remembers him, a man who carries a quiet sort of regality, who carries a strength Arthur can't help but admire. Though he's tired too, ready to do what he can for his people but no longer willing to shed blood, too worn by all the years he spent fighting. His son on the other hand is not willing to just let all those slights and crimes against his people go. Rightfully so, and yet, Arthur knows what it's going to lead to.

This time, he offers to help them without asking for money or brushing them off. He remembers Eagle Flies saving his life, remembers Rains Fall's kindness, how the man listened to him as he talked about Isaac and Eliza, collected herbs for him. Arthur remembers his regret at being unable to save Eagle Flies, remembers the chief's grief.

"Do you think this will help them?" Charles asks as they ride north to meet with Eagle Flies and get the documents back. "This sounds really serious."

Arthur thinks that taking the documents would have helped in the past too, if not for Colonel Favours. A thought comes to mind then and it almost wants to make him let out a bitter sort of laugh. Money. Everything revolves around money. "How bribable do you think the army is?"

Charles looks surprised by the change of topic and then thoughtful. "As much as any other institution I guess. There are always people willing to take money and look the other way."

Maybe Arthur can't make the problems of the natives go away. But maybe, he can grease some palms to get Favours transferred so Captain Monroe has less trouble with keeping the army in line around here. He certainly would do a better job and would ensure the treaty would be kept. It could be what's needed to keep Eagle Flies alive.

"That is your thinking face." Charles points out. "What is it?"

"Just planning for something." Arthur answers. Looks like he'll have to talk to Trelawney about two things now. If anyone knows about who to start with when it comes to bribing the army, it should be Trelawney. "I'll tell you when I know if it's going to work."

Charles hums in agreement and they speed up their horses, galloping down familiar roads.

Thankfully, stealing the papers goes as well as can be expected. Which is to say, there is an explosion again and a gunfight and Arthur wonders why so many things in his life just have to end in bullet filled madness. It's very helpful to have Charles around, an extra set of guns he can trust and they make it out of the factory far faster than the last time Arthur was there.

"Thank you." Eagle Flies says as he accepts the documents Arthur offers him. "I hope these help."

"Take care." Arthur tips his hat and the chief's son rides off. Charles, who keeps a bit of an eye on their surroundings in case any pursuers or O'Driscolls or other outlaws show up, glances over at him.

"Ready to ride back?" He asks and Arthur nods.

"Yeah, I need to speak with Trelawney. And, Charles, let's keep this quiet for now. I don't want Dutch to find out that we're leaving."

"Of course." Charles looks at him for a moment. "This isn't easy on you, is it? From what I heard, you were with him for twenty years."

Arthur can't help but tilt his head forward and hide the way he closes his eyes for a moment. Once again, he remembers, remembers the way betrayal ate through his insides, entwined with disbelief and then pain. How Dutch walked away in that factory, how Dutch betrayed John too. How it all ended so, so horribly.

"I wasn't the one who started this." He says quietly. "And the world has changed. We either get our act together or die stuck in the past."

"That's pretty grim, but, I think I understand. We raised quite the amount of hell." Charles briefly touches his elbow, steady and grounding and it helps Arthur shake the memories loose again. "Come on, let's ride back."

~*~

"Trelawney, do you have a moment?" Arthur calls to the man who is standing at the side of the camp with a mug of coffee and a small, thoughtful frown on his face. It's early morning once again and Trelawney turns in surprise.

"Of course, dear boy, what is it?"

"The Indians have some trouble with the army." Arthur says, stopping at his side. "I was wonderin' if there are some...individuals willing of receiving a certain encouragement to help transfer away a man that makes things less than easy and help a local Captain to take charge." He rubs his fingers together to emphasize what he means with encouragement.

"Ah, I see." Trelawney falls quiet for a moment and then his face brightens. "Oh yes, I think I may know of someone like that. We'd have to ride up to Strawberry though to meet this gentleman."

"I have time." Arthur answers, though, truth be told, he isn't sure about that no more. Time is certainly running out and it's making him antsy in a way he isn't used to. Tense and nervous and restless. John has caught on, sticking a bit closer to him than before when they meet in camp, watching more over his family. Charles as well seems to know, hanging around him more often whenever they're in camp together. Lenny too, from the way the kid keeps meandering over, like he wants Arthur to know if anything is up, all he has to do is ask. That he still has his back.

Sean too gives him looks like he's very well aware of what's going on and Arthur knows he won't have to have a conversation about leaving with the kid. Sean's look is enough to go by. Just like the way he gripped his arm briefly yesterday and told him to let him know if 'options are open'. It gives Arthur the feeling like he and Lenny might have talked too.

Nevermind Hosea, whose eyes grow ever more understanding and, as well hidden as it is, sad. Arthur still has to tell him to come along, in all that mess, he hasn't yet found the time to speak with him. Especially with how Hosea keeps Dutch distracted - yeah, he noticed that too, even if they end up arguing a few times because of it.

Sadie just gives him a clear nod, eyes as determined as always when given with a task and he knows she's ready to see them all get to safety.

"Well then, I suppose I as well have time." Trelawney says with a brief smile and takes a last sip of his coffee, before putting the mug away. "Alright then, follow me."

On the way out, Arthur nods at Charles at the entrance who nods back, understanding brightening in his eyes. Swallowing, his mouth dry, Arthur really hopes he ends up doing the right thing with this. His eyes briefly catch sight of Micah back in camp, staring after him with an expression he doesn't like. Not that he likes anything about Micah, but that look makes something cold slither down his spine. Damn. Right. Micah. He still hasn't thought as much about that particular problem, busy as he is figuring out a way around Dutch and how to save folks and generally to try and do what's right.

Though, as bitter as the thought is, as long as Micah doesn't force his hand, at this point in time, he's going to have to leave him alive. If he kills him, Dutch would be far too furious and how should Arthur explain that Micah is a rat with no evidence at all? And, as dark as the thought makes him feel, revenge is a fool's business. He can't afford it with so many folks to keep safe and help to get away from here. It's bitter, but it feels necessary to leave Micah be.

Still, he can't deny that there is a part of him that itches for Micah's blood. To finish what they started in another life. Who maybe hopes that Micah tries to start something so Arthur has a good, justified reason for blowing out his brains. On the other hand, Micah is, sadly, far from stupid. If he antagonizes him, Micah would be just careful enough that Arthur can't do anything.

"I have to say, it is quite unexpected that you wish to aid the natives." Trelawney remarks as they ride at a steady, swift pace. "Though I've heard you have been helping around a lot lately. People in camp speak rather fondly of you these days." Trelawney gives him a small smile. "It is good to see you doing better."

"Folks deserve it." Arthur answers, voice tipping towards a mumble. He doesn't think he's really worthy of the praise. He's not doing it for recognition or anything either. He's merely doing what he can to right previous wrongs and tries to keep everyone alive. "Just paying back some debts, is all."

"Of course." Trelawney's voice sounds a bit too light, like he doesn't believe it but won't contradict Arthur either. "Well then my dear boy, let's ride."

The whole way to Strawberry, Arthur mulls over how to ask Trelawney if he has an idea how to help them get away from the east and back to the west. Far enough that he can finally breathe again at the sight of land that seems to stretch endlessly. At feeling like he's reached a place he can call home.

Trelawney leads him to a man living at the side of Strawberry when they arrive. A rather high ranking army man, ready for retiring but still with plenty of influence. More than that, the man is sympathetic to the situation of the Indians and agrees to do what he can, accepting the money Arthur hands him, saying he'll know which people to talk to.

"You're good men." He tells them as he steps back. "With the next army train, you can expect a change. Your Captain Monroe and the chief can rest easy."

Arthur doesn't know how long that's going to take and he doesn't know if they're still going to be here then, but he's going to take his word for it. He also trusts Trelawney, the man knows people and has yet to lead him to someone who doesn't hold their end of the bargain. Something like a thief's honor, maybe, a sort of honor amongst the bribable. Which sounds very strange in and of itself.

"Trelawney." He holds the man back just as they walk away from the house. "There is one more thing."

"What is it?" Trelawney looks at him and there is a subtle understanding blooming on his face. "Is it about what is worrying you so much?"

Arthur isn't very surprised that Trelawney caught on - damn at this point it looks like almost everyone knows something is up with him - and he nods, rubbing a hand over his mouth. "Is there a way out of here? A train we can take? Or a boat or anything?"

Trelawney blinks, tilting his head in slight confusion. "I thought Dutch wanted to get more money before leaving for Tahiti?"

Arthur takes a careful breath and just looks at Trelawney. Watches the realization dawn on him and the way the man leans back for a moment, settling on his heels, before frowning and taking a step closer.

"Are you certain about this, Arthur?" He asks, voice low and eyes searching.

"More than anything else." Arthur's answer is close to rasping, steady and serious. "And tell me you don't see it Trelawney. What we're heading to. You're too smart for that for both of us."

"I see. I can say I understand." His brows furrow in thought, before slightly lifting his chin, a sudden business like look in his eyes. "How many people are we talking?"

Arthur exhales, lifting his hands a bit and spreading them slightly. "Not sure, ten, maybe, or eight? I don't know how many of them come with me."

Trelawney rocks on his feet for a moment, gaze sliding sideways as he thinks. "Yes, I think there might be a way. It will cost you, though and it will be very short notice. A train. I know the engineer and the captain of the guards. Both discouraged men who are willing to let brave, changing folks drive with them and keep them from the eye of the law."

Arthur exhales in a strong gust, resisting the urge to sag a bit. "Thank you, Trelawney. Really."

A gloved hand touches his shoulder and Arthur looks up. Trelawney looks kind and understanding now, giving him a smile that's both wistful and just a touch proud.

"Of course, Arthur. I might not be around all the time, but I care for you. The train will pass through in two days, if we're not counting today. Gather everyone at Wallace Station and pack light, if you can." His grip tightens slightly as his face turns serious. The most serious Arthur has seen him in a long while. "Don't miss it, my friends won't come through here again in a long while. This is your chance, Arthur. Don't miss the train."

"I won't." Arthur vows and feels almost dizzy with his relief, even if it means they'll have to get going almost immediately. Especially with Sean and Kieran, those two can't travel fast. "How much will it cost?"

"For all of you? It's going to be over a thousand. A thousand and seven hundred, I reckon" He holds up a hand as he starts to see the grimace on Arthur's face. "I know, I know. But they'll take you west. I assume that's where you want to go?" At Arthur's nod he gives his shoulder a reassuring clasp. "It's a worthy price, for your safety, the transport of the horses I know you don't want to leave behind and the long road ahead."

Put like this, yeah, he's right, the price is justified. He's going to cash in some of his treasure for that, or maybe use the extra thousand he sidelined from Dutch from the bank robbery in Valentine. Along with some of the money he collected over time.

"Is there anything else, you need?" Trelawney asks.

"No. But, just so you know, you can come too." If Trelawney doesn't feel safe, if he wants to leave, Arthur will take him along as well. Even if he thinks that out of all of them, Trelawney is the one who knows how to survive any kind of madness. Or how to leave in time, as he did before in Beaver Hollow.

Something softens in Trelawney's expression. "I thank you, my dear boy. I'll think about it." He takes a step towards the post office. "Now, if you'll excuse me? I shall go and send a letter to inform my friends."

"It will reach them in time?"

"It certainly will. Money does rule at least part of the world, no matter how much some people don't wish to accept it. I will find a rider who takes my letter to them before the train leaves Blackwater, so they'll know to pick you up. Are you going to head back first?"

"Nah." Arthur waves him on. "I'll wait. Knowing you, you won't take long."

Trelawney tips his head with a smile and then leaves with swift steps. Arthur slowly walks towards where they have hitched up the horses, when he sees an old man he's encountered a couple of times before - what does he call himself, Cassidy or something. Arthur digs a few coins from his pocket and lets them clink audibly into the tin mug he holds out, standing at the side of the road. Cassidy tilts his head in his direction, eyes milky white.

"Do not underestimate danger when you feel safest." The man says, making Arthur pause from where he's about to move on. "You will find yourself having to make a choice."

"Err, sure." Arthur says and then decides to shrug it off. Cassidy has a tendency to talk about things that can sound rather generic. Besides, he already is worried enough with everything that awaits them if they don't manage to get away in time. There is no way for Arthur not to feel the bite of danger at his heels.

"You carry a strange air, sir." Cassidy continues and this time, Arthur freezes, before he turns back to the man. Cassidy has his head tilted sideways. "A strange duality." There is a moment of silence before the man makes an ushering motion. "Now, move on, I can't see more at the moment."

Arthur can't help but give him a weird look, while a cold, unsettled feeling ghosts around his shoulder and touches down his back. Alright. That was...shaking his head, he steps away, though his thoughts stay stuck on what Cassidy said. Looking up in hopes to distract himself, he sees a man, looking a bit harried but satisfied, who steps out of the house beside him.

"Thank you, you won't regret this. This land will flourish!" He says with a smile. He waves at the man - from the looks of it, the mayor of the town or someone else who's wealthier - as he walks backwards. Of course, his heel catches on a stone and Arthur manages to catch his arm before he ends up ungracefully on his back, fancy suit full of mud, the man barely managing to keep his grip on his thick leather bag.

"You alright there?" He asks as he pulls the man back upright.

"Oh, yes, thank you sir." The man exhales and pats down his front. "Kind of you, I would be the laughing stock of town if I had fallen. It's hard enough as it is, buying land from folk who don't like no outsiders."

"I wouldn't know." Arthur mumbles.

"Well, of course. I'm Tommy Albrecht." The man stretches out his hand and Arthur shakes it after a second.

"Arthur Morgan."

"Pleased to meet you, Mister Morgan. You aren't the owner of land and willing to sell it, perhaps?" Tommy looks vaguely hopeful, but not overly so, like he already knows the answer.

"Afraid not."

"Ah, a shame. I own quite a bit of land up in the west and I hoped to expand my business down here in the east. You don't, by chance, have any friends who...?" He trails off questioningly, head tilted

"No, but, you own land in the west?" Arthur has straightened slightly, even if he's quite skeptical at the same time. What would be the odds?

"Oh yes, are you looking to buy some?" Tommy certainly is an opportunist.

"Maybe." Arthur admits. "Looking to move west with some - with some folks."

"It's all taken care of now." Trelawney returns in this moment and then pauses, his face brightening with pleasant surprise and recognition. "Tommy, how very unexpected to see you. What brings you down here?"

"Looking to buy land from folk who don't want me here." Tommy answers, grinning wide and both men shake hands almost enthusiastically. "I didn't know you were here. Did you hear about that breakout of that outlaw a couple weeks back? Dreadful business, I just arrived here in Strawberry when the law started shooting and they ran. But it is so good to see you, you look well."

Oh. Weeks ago, that was when he broke Micah out. With a small start, Arthur realizes that Tommy most likely would have ended dead, if Micah had ended up shooting the town like the last time. Something about that thought settles strangely in his gut. Maybe it's seeing someone alive who would have been dead otherwise and knowing it.

"As do you." Trelawney seems to pause then and casts a quick side-glance to Arthur, something questioning in his eyes. Arthur catches on a moment later. His mouth suddenly turns dry and his heart skips an anxious beat. But...Trelawney is pretty much recommending this guy if he's already turning that questioning look at him and this, this might be a chance. He might actually be able to tell the others they have a place to go to. He could give them a home. This might finally be some luck coming their way, as hard to believe as it is. Arthur gives a cautious nod, suddenly feeling nervous. Trelawney turns back to Tommy. "Are you by chance still selling ranches and land in the far west?"

"Of course I do. But it's a bit of a slow business, most people want to live in a city nowadays and fewer are looking to move into the open country. Which is a shame, really, but I do earn my keep." Tommy definitely has caught on to what is going on. "Are you gentlemen looking to buy? It would be at a bit of a discount even, Trelawney, considering everything that happened you know where."

"Oh yes, I certainly remember. That is very kind of you, Tommy." Trelawney nods and then puts a hand on Arthur's shoulder to bring him back into the conversation. "My friend here is looking to move. There is some bad business with his father's side of the family, a bit of a feud with the locals you see and he wants to get his family elsewhere, so they no longer get involved."

Tommy nods like he entirely understands. "Yes, of course, of course, that is very sensible. I currently have some ranches for sale in different areas, most of them with water rights, some with a nice amount of woods and you have permission to build what you need if it's not already provided."

Tommy already opens his bag and pulls a ledger out. Flipping it open, there are some black and white pictures, with names, descriptions and numbers underneath. Good pictures too, obviously made by someone who knew what they were doing.

"Here, have a look. I actually only brought this along to show folks around here that I mean serious business, I never expected to find someone who wants to move away from here and so far west too." Tommy holds the ledger out. "People don't usually wish to buy without seeing the land first."

Arthur takes the ledger, wets his lips and slowly looks over the pictures. His heart has picked up a strangely anxious beat, a fast, clear drum against his ribs. He reads the descriptions of the land, the size, the buildings of the ranches. Two of the ranches are actually too small for them, the third he doesn't like the look of the land. Too rocky. But the fourth he pauses on. He looks at the three pictures, one of thick, decent sized forest that's part of the whole property, the other is of large grasslands with a nice, small river running through, water rights included in the price and the last picture is of the main farm house and a smaller house beside it, the shot made during what looks like a brilliant sunset.

"It looks rather good." Trelawney says quietly, taking a look as well when he notices Arthur stopping. His voice is reassuring and steady. "But, of course, don't feel pushed into a decision."

"How much?" Arthur asks and, pointing at the pictures, his voice going a bit rough. It has a decent amount of land, the surrounding area looks good, he can build what he needs on it, there are no regulations as long as he doesn't block off any of the two roads leading through parts of the property. And Arthur knows not to be stupid, not to be impulsive, but something about this feels just so damn right. A home. They need one when they leave these lands. He might actually have a home for everyone who comes with him.

Tommy takes a step closer, looking at the chosen land. "Oh, that one? Great choice, beautiful view, close enough to surrounding towns for good business too and nicely fertile land. The ranch house has four rooms, the living room not included, the other is a small, two room house. It's six hundred ninety five, paid upfront and with the discount, of course. And an additional fifteen dollars for fees."

They're going to have to build more housing on it of course, a barn, a stable, and Arthur has some very vague prices ghosting in his head from lists he saw in passing and conversations between ranchers he overheard. They could afford it. It's going to deplete his savings, especially once they buy some animals and furniture too, but...they'd have a home. A real home.

Trelawney takes a step closer. "If you are really sure about this, I can vouch for Tommy. He sells decent land, is true to his word and you get what you see, what is promised."

"How soon can you sell it?" Arthur asks, still feeling nervous about it and at the same time, like he makes the right decision. It rings somewhere in his gut and reaches all the way to his heart and the back of his head, the sensation that he should definitely do this.

Tommy looks immensely pleased at his answer. "Well, today, if you really are in a hurry. Though I would have to head to the room I rented and get the proper paperwork filled out before you can sign it."

"I'll go and get the money." Arthur says, handing him back the ledger, before he glances at Trelawney. "If you wait here?"

He'll go to the rotten cabin and get some of the money. He can pay this right now and he can tell the others that they have a home, a destination, when they come with him. No more running aimlessly, no more roving around the land. They'll settle down, they can build their own homes and get horses and cattle. It's scary, almost, suddenly having a future like that.

"Of course." Trelawney puts a reassuring hand on his shoulder, like he knows how big this is for Arthur. For an intense moment, Arthur is deeply glad to have him here. He's never done anything like this. Has never owned land. It sets his heart racing with nerves, this sudden, large future that looms ahead. He's really glad he doesn't have to do this alone. "Go, Tommy and I shall take care of everything until you're back."

Chapter Text

The contract that marks Arthur as the owner of the ranch feels weirdly heavy in his bag, for something that is only a page of paper. He's quiet the whole ride back, nervous and for the first time since waking up after dying, really excited too. Trelawney respects his silence, though something about his calmness helps Arthur too, especially with the voice of doubt that clouds the back of his mind, questioning if he hasn't acted too hastily in purchasing the ranch. But it really is in a good part of the west, has great land and already some buildings. It's going to be their home. Their second chance at life. A better life, if he has any say in it.

His mood takes a dive to grim when they return in the evening and he sees Lenny looking bruised and roughed up by the front gate. He seems tense, nervous even as he seeks out Arthur's gaze.

"What happened?" Arthur asks, jumping from Storm who sticks close to him, sensing his own tension, head lifted to see her surroundings better.

"It's Dutch." Lenny says quietly. "He went with us to rob that trolley in Saint Denis. It was a bust, Arthur and now he's real angry. Wants to go and kill Bronte for playing us. It's." Lenny wets his lips, shifting in place, voice turning even quieter. "It's not looking good at all. If I'm honest, this looks real bad."

Arthur remembers, remembers vividly even. The shooting, the law men, that trolley accident. And he remembers what followed, what came after that. He takes a deep breath, cursing that he was gone for too long. That Dutch hasn't waited for his return. Though, in all truth, Arthur can't tell if he would have gone on the job with him in the end.

"Who else went with you?" He asks.

"Bill." Lenny nods over to where Bill brushes off Miss Grimshaw, a large bruise on his face and walks off with an angry gesture. Lenny takes a step closer. "You were right, Arthur. Things aren't good and they're only getting worse."

With a small start of surprise, he realizes that Lenny looks at him for a hint to what to do next. The kid trusts him to do right by him, trusts his opinion enough to leave if Arthur says it's for the best. The realization makes Arthur's throat tighten briefly and he takes a deep, careful breath.

"Pack a bag." He says quietly, sees Lenny still, how the kid holds his breath and then exhales, face hardening slightly with determination. "Something light, easy to grab. Only what you need and can't leave behind. There is a train in two days, take your horse and ride to Wallace Station."

"It might be safe to leave by yourself or in small groups and meet on the road, rather than departing all at once." Trelawney suggests quietly from behind Arthur.

"You can join Abigail an' Jack." Arthur adds. It's possible that John might try to stay back to ensure Arthur makes it too, but he hopes he'll leave with his family. Most of all, it's going to be safer for them if they're together in small groups, if possible. "You ride out together and watch over each other. Sadie will most likely come along with you too."

Lenny's grip on his rifle tightens and he gives a short, curt nod, swallowing. "Alright, I'll talk to them once I'm relieved."

Arthur clasps his shoulder and then turns to face camp. Unease awakens in him and rises up to tighten his lungs. He remembers what comes next. Remembers the attack on Bronte and later the bank robbery that goes so horribly, horribly wrong. The robbery that ended up killing Hosea and Lenny. Not this time, not as long as Arthur can convince them to leave.

Charles falls into step beside him on the way to the plantation house and all it needs is a shared glance for Charles to give him the tiniest of nods, just an incline of his head, really.

"Tonight?" He asks, voice so quiet Arthur barely hears him.

"Tonight. Pack up, light if possible and take Taima, head up to Wallace Station." Arthur murmurs back, hiding it by tipping his head so his face is hard to see. Charles clasps his shoulder in wordless understanding and then leaves, steps calm and looking entirely at ease to anyone glancing his way.

"Where's Dutch?" Arthur asks after leaving Storm at the side of the camp and when Pearson passes him by on his way inside. The man grimaces slightly.

"Upstairs in his room. Hosea and Miss Grimshaw told him to rest at least one night after that accident with the trolley. He was very angry, Mister Morgan. I haven't seen him so furious in a really long while."

"I see." Arthur takes a step and then pauses, turning around. "Mister Pearson. If you feel worried or -"

"Oh, nothing of the sort." Pearson lifts a reassuring hand. "I know that things look rough, Mister Morgan, but I hope it will be alright. Dutch will find a way, I'm sure."

Arthur swallows and for a second, feels very much tempted to just tell Pearson to come with him. The problem is, he doesn't trust Pearson to stay quiet. The same way Arthur wouldn't trust Uncle or Swanson to keep their mouths shut. Besides, he remembers Pearson and Uncle knowing when to leave, back in Beaver Hollow, before it got too late. He thinks they would do so again this time around. With a nod, he walks on. There are so many other people he has to think about too. And most of all, he still has to save Hosea.

Arthur is about to reach the house when the doors open and Micah saunters out, one hand relaxed at his belt. Something flits over his features as he sees Arthur and a smile appears that spreads to a slow grin, all slick smooth confidence. The sight of it makes something ugly rise in Arthur's chest.

"Well, hello there cowpoke, finally back, huh?" Micah stops at the end of the steps and a part of Arthur hates that, right now, he has to look up slightly at the man. He only notices his hand has dropped to rest beside his gun, when he sees Micah's free hand doing the same. Arthur resists the urge to square his shoulders and bend his knees slightly, as though he's ready for a brawl. "Always running around so much, makes a guy wonder what you're up to."

Micah takes the steps down slowly, every step accompanied by the sound of his spurs. He gestures slightly at him. "I know that look, cowpoke." His voice has dropped to something low. He tilts his head. "Thinking about running, aren't you? Like a rat thinking the ship is going to sink."

"I was takin' care of a job." Arthur answers, frowning and feeling tension crawl up his spine.

"Oh, of course you was." Micah steps past him, though they don't leave each other out of their sight yet. Then Micah's smile turns to something far too casual, his voice no longer quiet. "Dutch wants to talk to you when he's up again. He ain't vey pleased though."

Arthur bites back the retort that he, honestly, doesn't care about pleasing Dutch. "Sure. I'll talk to him."

Micah tips his head slightly forward with a brief, low laugh, his face obscured aside from his grin. "Of course you will. Well, I best be going, just watch your back when you head out again. You never know what's out there."

Something strange and unsettled ghosts up in Arthur at those words, like mist filling his body and while he thinks it could be that Micah is just talking big, he's not nearly dumb enough to just disregard it. It suddenly feels like he has to hurry up.

Once inside, he steps into the room where Kieran and Sean are. Karen sits on a chair beside Sean's cot, frowning as she sews. Both Kieran and Sean are awake as well. Kieran already looks a bit better and Sean has some color back in his face, carefully propped up on two pillows and what looks like a rolled up coat. They all look up when he enters and he can see how they collectively straighten. Damn, his expression must be giving him away.

"What is it?" Sean asks, sitting up straighter and earning a sharp look from Karen. She must be keeping him as still as possible. Much to his chagrin, Arthur is sure. He takes a quick look over his shoulder but sees no one around in the entrance room and hallway. Only Swanson, already passed out, the last of the sunlight barely illuminating the room. Closing the door behind him, he quietly walks over and doesn't miss how they're watching him, growing worried now.

"Are we leavin'?" Sean asks and Arthur isn't surprised. He hasn't exactly hidden his intentions from Sean and the kid is smart enough to catch on. From the way Karen's jaw tightens, he has talked about something like it with her. Not about Arthur's plans, most likely, he knows Sean can keep mum like nothing else, despite his tendency to talk incessantly, but he definitely talked with her about leaving.

"Kieran." Arthur waves him closer and sees the way Kieran gets up carefully, wincing a bit as he joins them. Sean and Karen give Arthur a probing look, but accept it after he gives them a small nod. Kieran sits down on the end of the cot as Sean moves his legs out of the way and Arthur pulls a chair close.

"Kieran, I plan on leaving with some folks." Arthur says quietly and sees the kid still a bit, looking worried, like he might think that he would be left behind. "Do you want to come with us?" He faces Karen and Sean. "You too?"

"Course." Karen sounds just as determined as she looks, though she keeps her voice low. Sean just gives him a nod, careful with his injury.

"I want to go with you too." Kieran adds, looking relieved and Arthur finds himself exhaling with silently at their answers.

"Head up to Wallace Station. A train is goin' to arrive in two days." Arthur keeps his voice quiet and intense. "Leave tonight and stick together. Karen, I'll trust you to keep them safe. You can meet up with Abigail, Jack and Lenny on the road, just don't leave together. Trelawney has arranged for us to get out of here safely."

They're going to have to travel more slowly with Sean and Kieran, but once they're away from Shady Belle and stick together, they should be as safe as possible.

"But where do we go?" Karen asks, leaning forward and knuckles white from where she's tightly clutching the socks she's fixing up. Kieran looks not as anxious as Arthur thought. If anything, the kid has a determined look on his healing face. He's probably less concerned about leaving than the others are, seeing as how he's not been with them for as long and most people in camp still don't talk to him much.

"I bought a ranch, out west." Arthur answers and sees their eyes widen. "We have a home to go to."

"How..." Karen sucks in a quiet, surprised breath, mouth hanging open for a second. "Arthur Morgan, did you save up money to get us out of here? How?"

"I'll tell you later." Arthur promises and takes a deeper breath. "Pack light, leave behind what you can and make sure you take the horses. No wagons, understand? I wish it wouldn't have to be now when you two are still healing, but..."

"No, I get it." Sean sits up straighter, earning another sharp look from Karen. "I'm feeling all better anyways. Don't understand why you lot keep me in bed, I'm as fit as a fiddle and even less of use stuck here."

"Get some rest at the station." Arthur tells him firmly and glances at Kieran. "You can make it too?"

"Of course, sir." Kieran's voice is quiet but steady. "Don't have anything to pack either, as long as I can take Branwen, I'm good to go."

Arthur takes a deep breath and exhales slowly. "Alright. Good. Get ready when the others have gone to sleep, alright? And avoid the guards. Don't be seen, especially if folks leave after you too."

They nod and before he can go, Karen reaches out and grips his hand. "I don't know what happened, ever since those mountains." She says, quiet but fierce. "But I like who you became, Arthur. Thank you, for looking out for us. For, for getting us a home."

For not leaving them behind when he could have. As if he would. He gives her hand a squeeze back, feels her calluses and her strong grip.

"Always." He answers, voice close to a whispered rasp. Then he stands up. "Get some rest if you can. And...if you think you can, go and ask Tilly and Mary-Beth to come along as well."

"I will." Karen nods. Sean lifts his chin like Arthur tasked him with an important battle plan and Kieran looks determined as well, though there is also a bit of anxiousness seeping into his expression now. Arthur gives both their shoulders a squeeze as he stands and feels Sean relax a bit, hears Kieran exhale, before he leaves the room.

Upstairs, he gives John's door a quiet knock and it opens a moment later. Abigail stands before him and her face tells him everything he needs to know. She knows everything and they're ready to leave.

"When?" John rasps quietly, coming up behind her and Arthur sees the way Abigail leans a bit back towards him, catches the way he angles his shoulders to cover her.

"Wallace Station, a train in two days. You should leave tonight and head up there, the road is long." Arthur keeps his voice so quiet, even if someone stood five steps away, they would have trouble hearing him. Nevermind Dutch who is in his room, hopefully asleep. "No wagons, just the horses. Take Cain if you can, but don't make a commotion, understand? Slip away through the river, by the back of the house when the guard isn't there making rounds. Lenny will go with you too. You can meet up with Karen, Sean and Kieran on the way."

"Got it." John then pauses, frowns. "What about you?"

"I'll be there." Arthur promises and lifts a hand. "I'll talk to some of the others, see if I can get them to leave too, but only after you're away. Here." He pulls the thousand seven hundred they're going to need out of his bag and gives it to Abigail. "Pay a Mister Bjorn and a Mister Wallace if they arrive before me, understand?"

Abigail swallows and nods, tucking the money away safely. Arthur trusts that she'll get it done if he's held back and he looks up at John. "Keep them safe on the way. I'll talk with Sadie too, she's most likely going to go with you and help you keep an eye out."

"Alright." John is tense and takes a deep breath. "We'll leave once everyone is asleep, a bit after midnight."

Arthur nods and takes a step back. After a moment of hesitation, Abigail quietly closes the door again. Arthur can't help but breathe easier, knowing they'll go. There are two more people now. Heading back down, he finds Sadie outside, at the side of the plantation house, smoking a cigarette. She looks up as he rounds the corner and straightens. Her gaze turns sharp and searching. Arthur gives her a small nod and sees her face harden, her chin lifting. Sees her get ready, watches as she shifts to stand firm.

"Ride out tonight." He murmurs, barely loud enough for her to hear as he stops at her side. "Go with John and his family. They're leaving after midnight. Get Lenny so he can come with you. Take the horses and only the most of what you need, travel light. Go up to Wallace Station, there will be a train in two days. You can meet with Karen, Sean and Kieran on the way."

She gives him a curt nod, though he doesn't miss the way she eyes him. "You're coming too, right?"

"I won't stay here." Arthur says and she gives him a look.

Then she sighs roughly. "I'll look after them. If you promise me to do everything you can to catch up to us." She gives him a serious, sharp look. "No heroics, Arthur. You'll leave this place with us."

That's an easy enough promise, Arthur hopes. He nods. Sadie reaches out and gives his bicep a strong squeeze. Arthur returns the gesture and then steps back. There is still one more person. One more so very important person. Despite his best efforts, he can't keep worry and the first tingling of fear from creeping up his spine, making him flex his fingers.

Going back inside, Arthur does his best to keep his pace steady and calm to look inconspicuous. But most people are already settling down from what he can see. Miss Grimshaw sits at the table with Pearson and Bill, Micah sauntering over to join them. Lenny is still up as a guard and Arthur can see Javier getting ready for another night of guarding the camp. Bill should join him tonight too. Normally, John would take guard duty as well tonight, but that's not going to happen.

Once inside, Arthur seeks out Hosea's room, nicely tucked away as it is. He knocks and hears muffled, light steps, before the door swings open. Hosea looks tired and worn, but he brightens up a bit at seeing Arthur. Until he registers that something is going on and he turns serious and grim once more. Stepping back, he silently invites Arthur in.

"Are you leaving tonight?" Hosea asks when he closes the door gently, barely making any noise, even in a house as old and worn down as this one. Arthur thinks he can hear something like an undertone of pain in his voice. He's also not surprised that Hosea knows, with how the man seems to have been waiting for it.

"Yeah. I told the others to get ready. Trelawney got us a train, up in Wallace Station."Arthur says and sees Hosea exhale, relaxing a bit. "I bought land." He blurts out and Hosea pauses, looking at him in surprise. "We have somewhere to go, up in the far west. A ranch with good land."

"Oh." At once, Hosea's shoulders relax and Arthur feels startled at how old and tired he suddenly looks, relief openly visible on his face. "You're going to be alright."

"Come with us." Arthur takes a step forward. "Don't stay here."

Hosea presses his lips together like the next words pain him. "You know I can't."

Arthur thinks he knows what Hosea means. That the man feels responsible for Dutch. They stuck together for so long, through so much, Hosea feels like he has to stay until the very end, no matter how bitter it would turn out to be and to try to look after everyone else left by that point. But Arthur remembers his death, remembers losing him. Remembers just how damn senseless it is, to give up their lives for Dutch's pointless dreams about an America that is essentially lawless. To give up their lives for a man who just digs their graves deeper, unwilling to see when he has to stop.

"You told me to let you know if you can do something for me. To let you know if I need anything." Arthur says, quiet and intense as he resists the urge to reach out and grab Hosea's shoulders. His voice takes a rough, pained tone before he can stop himself, tinged in the fear he feels crawling up his back at the thought of losing Hosea again, even though he tries to push it back down. "I need you to come with us. I need you to come with me, please, Hosea."

Hosea seems to still, somehow looking surprised while Arthur thinks that he really shouldn't be. Surprised and so very torn.

"Please." His voice is a whisper and it almost cracks. The next words feel like they scrape his throat raw, dragging up emotions and memories, edged in desperation at the thought of Hosea staying and dying again. "Please choose us."

Hosea inhales sharply and Arthur feels his knees grow weak as the man's shoulders slump and then straighten back up, slowly squaring. Hosea lifts his chin and after a long, searching look, nods. His eyes are filling with grief, but there is a set to his jaw that lets Arthur know he's convinced him. Has managed to reach him.

"Thank you." Arthur exhales the words more than he says them and he feels dizzy for a moment. It's only then that he realizes how fast his heart is beating. His knees feel shaky and Hosea's hands land on his arms, steadying and calming.

"Arthur..." There is a whole lot of meaning attached to his name, like Hosea realizes how much he means to him. How scared Arthur was - and is, still is, they're not even at the station yet, still down here in all that madness, no one is safe yet - to lose him.

"Go with Kieran, Sean and Karen." Arthur says, because they're going to need Hosea. "Pack what you need and what you can't leave behind, take your horse too. No wagons, no noise. Avoid the guards."

At this, Hosea looks troubled and pained once more, frowning. "It doesn't feel right. Sneaking away like thieves in the night. I should tell Dutch to his face that I go, I owe him that much."

"I know." Arthur swallows, his mouth dry. "I know, Hosea. But it's for the best to go quietly. It's safer. Or can you tell me that they would just let all of us go without an ugly fight coming up?"

Hosea open his mouth and Arthur sees the moment he hesitates, unsure. Sees the bitter pain that flits over the man's face. And Arthur really does understand. In a way, he wants to walk up to Dutch too and tell them they're leaving. Wants to tell him all about Micah, but he knows how that went the last time and he's certain Dutch wouldn't believe him either this time around. Nevermind how Micah, if he gets wind of them talking to Dutch about leaving, could try and turn this around to make Arthur the traitor. The one to leave when things get rough. Besides, Arthur thinks that Micah might already suspect him of planning to leave.

Arthur also can admit that he no longer can tell if Dutch would just let them go amicably. It might be unkind to think so, but his mind is clouded with memories from Beaver Hollow, asking Dutch to let the women and Jack go. To let them get away from the madness and Dutch essentially refusing him without outright saying no. Arthur knows his judgment regarding Dutch has been somewhat questionable ever since waking up with a second chance, but he can't risk it. Doesn't want to risk the others for a goodbye, even if Dutch might still somewhat deserve it at this point.

Hosea takes a deep breath. It's admirable, in a way, in a very aching way, how Hosea is willing to do this for them. To sneak away in the night instead of confronting his oldest friend. Arthur knows it pains him to do it like this. How it makes him feel like a traitor. And yet, Hosea is willing to go down that path for them. To see them safe and happy in the end.

"I understand. I, thank you, my boy." He gives Arthur's arm a gentle pat then pulls back. He clears his throat and Arthur doesn't comment on the roughness of his voice. "So, help me pack and tell me about this land you bought."

~*~

Midnight comes and Arthur is ready, his own things packed up. Not that he has much to take along. He's taken his photos and the photo Albert gave him some time back, during the days he rode around collecting money and met the man again a few times. He takes the horseshoe he has left from Boadicea, along with the handful of his possessions, a change of clothes, some extra ammunition and his journal. The rest isn't really hard to leave behind, considering he doesn't really owe much else, though he does eye the collection of ammunition for a brief second.

Dutch's room is all quiet and dark as he sneaks out and ensures the back entrance is easy to get through, rounding the house to the spot by the river where they can cross over to the other side unseen and ride away. He sees to John and his family approaching moment later, Cain at their side. He finds himself exhaling with relief, shoulders sagging a bit again. The dog is silent, like he knows exactly what is at stakes. Lenny and Sadie are coming their way too, bringing the horses along.

"Two days." John rasps after lifting Abigail on Old Boy, his son standing at his side and Sadie nods, just as serious, her eyes intense. "If you aren't there in time, we will come get you."

Arthur knows they will and he doesn't plan to stay. Once everyone gets away safely, he'll leave too. Lenny grips his shoulder silently and seriously. They get in the saddle, Arthur picking up Jack and lifting him to John's secure hold. Sadie and Lenny take their collective bags on their horses, before they ride into the river. Jack is sleepy but very quiet, sitting in front of his father and with Abigail holding on to John from behind. She looks back and gives Arthur a pointed look, as if daring him to not be there in two days.

Sadie and Lenny flank John, as they ride through the river. Slow and as careful as possible to avoid making too much noise. Cain swims with them, reaching the other side first. Arthur exhales in relief when they make it to the other side without any trouble, the dark of the night swallowing them a minute later as they trot away.

Charles reaches his side in this moment, quiet as a shadow and just as solemn. They share a look and Arthur inhales when Charles grips his shoulder, allowing himself to lean a bit into the touch. Charles also had the foresight to bring Storm along with Taima, both horses standing behind him, alert and as quiet as the night itself. Arthur exhales and it's just a bit shaky. He feels the grip on his shoulder tightening reassuringly and lets it ground him a bit, calm his racing heart.

There is a shuffle and a quiet curse, before Karen rounds the corner from the back, holding on to Sean who looks rather unhappy about needing help. Kieran is on his other side and it looks like the kid is moving a bit stiffly, but is otherwise steady enough on his feet. All of them have a bag in their free hand. To his surprise, he sees Mary-Beth with them, who is keeping an eye on Kieran until she notices Arthur.

"Tilly said no." Karen murmurs. "But she won't rat us out either. She isn't happy with us for leaving, but she's not stopping us. Even wished us good luck just before we got out of the house, told us to watch each other's backs."

Arthur nods, chest tightening. He tells himself that Tilly will be alright. She's smart, quick on her feet and strong. She survived the last time, she'll survive this time too. And maybe, sine she knows where they'll head, she might end up heading their way too, if she ends up leaving the gang. He hopes she does. Hopes she knows she always has a place with them.

"Wait here." Karen hisses at both of Kieran and Sean and then sneaks away with Mary-Beth. They're both as stealthy as jungle cats and Arthur watches them disappear to get the horses. Sean meanwhile looks supremely unhappy at being unable to do something.

A quick glance around shows that Bill is still up front by the entrance gate, never so much as looking back. John of course isn't there to guard the back and Javier is currently on the other side of the plantation house, making a slow round. A glance to the two injured, he sees that Sean's paler again, but also determined and Kieran stands straight and quiet at his side.

Just as Arthur starts to get even more nervous at how long they take, Karen and Mary-Beth reappear, with Hosea following them. Arthur lets go of a breath he wasn't aware he was holding at the sight of them. At the sight of Hosea with his luggage on Silver Dollar's back.

"Had to wait a moment longer so Javier wouldn't notice the horses going missing." Karen murmurs and helps Sean up into the saddle. Hosea once again looks pained about disappearing like this, as he lends a hand. He doesn't say anything thought, just looks back at the plantation house like he's leaving part of his heart there too, an ache so deep, for something so old and long lasting, despite all the troubles of the last years, Arthur honestly doesn't think he can fathom how it feels, even with all he's been through. Arthur hates that it hurts Hosea and at the same time he isn't sorry for bringing him along. Will never be sorry if it means he'll stay alive.

They turn to help Kieran next, only to see that Branwen has laid down and waits patiently until Kieran has carefully moved to sit on his back before standing up again. The kid really has a way with horses. Hosea gets on Silver Dollar next and Arthur and Charles quickly help them to secure their bags, before they motion for them to go through the river as well.

"Two days." Karen hisses at them, or rather, especially at Arthur. "If you aren't there by then we're coming for you. Look after him Charles, idiot might get himself killed otherwise."

"Understood." Charles murmurs, while Arthur tips his head to hide his small smile. Mary-Beth reaches out to grip his shoulder, giving him a look that lets him know he better be there, before they ride off. They're a bigger group and the splashing of the horses is louder this time.

Arthur holds his breath and only exhales when they make it to the other side without anyone noticing or a crocodile appearing or anything of the sort. Soon, they're gone from sight as well, swallowed by the night. His nerves feel frayed, but at least now he knows that everyone who comes with him has departed.

"We should go too." Charles murmurs and after a pat to Taima's neck, gets up in the saddle, his bag already secured on her back. Arthur quickly gets his possessions on Storm as well, who stands very still and alert, definitely sensing that something important goes on.

The sound of crunching steps makes Arthur freeze, one foot already in the stirrups. Javier turns around the corner the next second and the man spots them a moment later. Arthur can vaguely see the expression of surprise on his face, before he walks over to them.

"Is everything alright?" He asks, rifle at ease in his hands. "Or are you two..."

He trails off, looking at the telling bags on Taima and Storm's backs. Arthur feels his chest tighten at seeing the realization, the hurt and betrayal, the absolute confusion appearing on Javier's face. At the way the man takes a step back from them as if they slapped him across the face.

"You're leaving." He says, like he doesn't understand why. Can't fathom how they can do it. "Now, when Dutch needs us most?"

Arthur takes a careful, deeper breath and takes the foot out of the stirrup. "Javier, it's dangerous to stay. Too dangerous. I won't die for Dutch's goals no more. I won't stay and listen to those plans of his that ain't goin' to work. He's no longer the man he was and I will not follow him into death. And neither should you. This world doesn't want folk like us no more, it's time to move on." He swallows, remembering something he said to Sadie in Beaver Hollow, back before he died. "Before we're nothin' but ghosts."

Javier's face has hardened more with every word and Arthur hates that he ends up hurting the man. Hates that he feels betrayed, that, in a way and from Javier's point of view, Arthur is the betrayer. That Arthur, in his eyes, turns on them in their hour of need. Arthur knows the taste of those emotions far too well. He wishes he could avoid doing this to others. He hates that he does it to Javier, but he can't stay. None of them can stay, not with the road they're on.

"Come with us." Arthur offers and Javier near recoils, anger now bleeding into his expression. Hurt and bitter anger. Arthur knows those emotions too.

"And betray Dutch?" He almost hisses, brown eyes sparking like a dark wildfire. Arthur hopes, really hopes, that Javier will keep that goodness and in a way, that loyalty too, through everything that will happen. Hopes that it's going to survive everything that comes their way. "Never."

Javier shakes his head and closes his eyes, his expression shuttering towards something so guarded, Arthur barely can read his face anymore. His voice is flat when he speaks, his grip on the rifle white knuckled. "Go. Get out of here."

"Watch out for Micah." Arthur says, mouth dry and voice a bit strange in his ears. "He isn't trustworthy."

But Javier looks like he's already no longer willing to listen to anything he has to say. The man turns around and Arthur swallows, clenches his teeth at the way Javier's shoulders are now so incredibly tense, are hitched in a way that portrays the betrayal, the pain he feels at them leaving. Taking a deep breath, Arthur swings up into the saddle.

"Would you change anything?" Charles ask after they cross the river and leave Shady Belle behind.

Arthur thinks back on when he died, thinks about the second chance he got and that he's now turning into something, remembers everything until now. Every decision, good and bad, everything that led to this moment in time, with no new graves.

"No." His voice is a bit rougher than he wants it to be. He just wishes he could have done it without hurting Javier. "No, I wouldn't."

~*~

Arthur goes to get the treasure with Charles accompanying him. It's a few hours after daylight when they reach the cabin and Arthur hopes the others are going to arrive at the station soon, safe and unbothered by any of the gangs he's encountered before. The way up should be safe enough, hopefully. Charles whistles lowly when Arthur crouches down and opens the floorboards, lifting out the gold, money and valuables. Charles looks impressed and then vaguely concerned.

"That explains why you slept so little." He murmurs as he looks over Arthur's shoulder, one hand lightly resting on it. "What do you think, will it be enough?"

"I hope so." Arthur murmurs.

The hand on his shoulder gives a gentle squeeze. "You're not alone in this, Arthur. You haven't been before either. Rely on us a bit more." Charles gives him a small, lopsided smile when he looks up at him. "We'll carry our weight, don't worry."

"I'm not worried about that." Arthur knows they'll do what it takes, always have. It's just...he's worried for so long now and even now it shadows his every step, he can't just simply stop. Especially when they're still not out of here. When he hopes that it's enough to hide on the train. If this goes wrong and everyone gets shot because they followed him, trusted that this was a good way out, he'd never forgive himself.

"Let's go." Charles says as he helps him gather everything up. "We still have a long road to cover to Wallace Station."

"I'd like to try an' cash some of that stuff in before then." Arthur admits. At least enough that they can buy things on the way to the west and when they arrive. "If you want, you can ride ahead."

"Oh no, I'm not leaving you now." Charles gives him a look that lets him know he thinks it's a bad idea. "Besides, I'm pretty sure Karen would rip my head off if I did."

Arthur can't help his small, amused huff. "Okay then. Let's head for Emerald Ranch, it's the closest."

Secretly, Arthur is glad Charles is with him. Briefly, he remembers leaving him in Wapiti and a part of him knew he'd never see him again. The moment where he felt like holding onto the man for just a second longer. To push back his fate for that little split moment of time. And maybe also because Charles made him feel a little less alone. A little less lost and less like he was drowning in his approaching, unavoidable death.

Most of all though, Charles's company is steadying and calming, then and now, and he's kind enough to distract Arthur with a few questions about where and how he scraped the money together or how his talk with Trelawney in regards to Rains Fall went.

They reach Emerald Ranch in the late afternoon. Seamus is surprised but willing to cash in a couple of watches and some jewelry as well as a gold bar. The rest Arthur is most likely going to cash in over in the west. But for now, this looks like it's going to be enough money, for arriving and starting to set everything up in their new home, at least. Arthur already knows that his savings are going to get pretty thin in building up the ranch, replacing what they left behind and getting everything they need.

Charles is calm and supportive by his side the whole time, even making him smile once or twice and Arthur finds he feels warmer for it, in a way. Finds that he's not as guarded and careful, knowing he has Charles to watch his back.

"I feel bad." Charles says once they're partway to Wallace Station and with the sun dipping towards the evening. Arthur looks away from the beginning sunset, the colors that start to streak across the sky and glances over at him. "For leaving some of the others behind. Javier and I got along well. Tilly and me too. They're good people."

"I know." Arthur swallows, his mouth dry once more. He agrees with Charles. Tilly is kind and sweet and Javier is good and kind as well, not yet caught in a situation where he ends up turning on folks he called friends before. And maybe, this time around he never will. Maybe with them leaving, things are never going take that turn. Arthur hopes it, even if a part of him knows better. If anything good comes from them leaving, he hopes it's that. "I wish it could be different."

And he does. Even with no more loyalty being left for Dutch and his love for the man laced with pain, bitterness and betrayal to the point where it feels like that's all he feels towards him, Arthur wishes it would have gone different. Wishes Dutch would have gotten them a home instead, got them to settle down. Wishes it hadn't have to come to this.

"Thank you." Charles speaks up, surprising him. His gaze is solemn when Arthur looks over. "For taking all of us along, me included. You could have just grabbed the money and taken off, you know."

"No." The word slips out before Arthur can even think about it, not that he wants to take it back. "No, you're...no."

Charles understands, understands him in a way that feels almost effortless at times. Always has, somehow. He reaches over to grip Arthur's shoulder, Taima and Storm so well in-step right now that the movement doesn't jostle either of them.

"Still, this means a lot to me. And not only me." Charles's voice takes a lighter edge, something softly teasing to shake the somber mood. "I always knew you had a heart in you."

"A moth eaten one." Arthur answers with a crooked, small grin. He does feel lighter at the banter, a little less tense and worried.

Charles just shakes his head with a smile and they soon canter down the road, deciding to ride through the night. They can rest on the train, after all. Hopefully. Arthur is pretty certain he won't be able to sleep until they're past the mountains and away from all that danger. Besides, he's used to riding around a lot and it's not the only night Storm and he forewent sleep in order to go somewhere or get something done.

Dawn breaks by the time Wallace Station comes into view, a sunrise beautiful enough to make him feel better somehow, to breathe easier at the spill of light across the land. Arthur exhales quietly when he sees everyone already there. The clerk of the post office certainly looks a bit ruffled, but not as though he's too worried about all these strangers. The horses mill about, making the station look rather crowded. Sean and Kieran sit propped against the wall of the convenience store outside, but they both stir when Arthur and Charles arrive.

"About time." Sadie greets them and Arthur can hear the subtle relief in her voice, catches the way the others seem to breathe easier as well. Hosea still looks a bit more serious than usual, something heavy in his gaze but he greets them, glad to see them fine and healthy.

"How did it go?" Arthur asks, getting off Storm and taking down the bag she carried for him.

"No troubles for us, took some extra detours to make sure we wasn't followed by anyone. Kieran and Sean didn't take to riding so well, so we took things a bit slower for them." John answers. "Jack is asleep over there with Abigail. How did it go for you?"

"Went to get the rest of the money." Arthur answers. "We should have enough to build up our ranch and get started."

Hosea pauses and gives him a searching look. "How much did you manage to gather, Arthur?"

"Couple thousand." He answers. "Enough to get us settled and everything we need. A bit extra to tide us over until we start earning money."

Hosea exhales, low and then gives Arthur a look that is clearly proud, some of the heaviness in his gaze lifting. "You're...that's very well done, Arthur."

Arthur dips his hat, a small smile appearing on his face. "Thank you, Hosea."

Karen steps up to them and she's wearing her fancier clothes now. She must have changed on the way here or after arriving. "Do you know when the train is going to come?"

"Soon." Arthur answers, lifting his head to look down the tracks. "Trelawney told me it should be here early afternoon."

"Okay then." Hosea straightens and draws everyone's gazes. Arthur's as well and he only realizes that he's ready to go do what Hosea says when the man already starts to give them all something to do. "Go and buy some supplies from that store. Not too much, but some extra medicine and a bit of food for the trip."

Arthur nods and steps away, relieved to have Hosea and his expertise with them. Arthur probably would have just told everyone to settle down and try not to worry. Or maybe Sadie would have taken the reins again, which would be fine with him. On the way to the store, he briefly stops by Abigail, who sits on the ground, an asleep Jack beside her, his head resting in her lap.

"Good to see you." She says and he grips the hand she reaches up to him. There is relief on her face to see him well and with them.

"You too." Arthur murmurs. "Anything you two need?"

"For the train to arrive." She tries to joke and then gives him a reassuring look. "We have everything. John and I have a little bit of saved up money, not much but enough to get a few things. Don't worry about us."

With a nod, Arthur steps back and checks in on Sean and Kieran next. Kieran is a bit hazy, his concussion definitely not making things easy. Sean is pale, nearly gray and his movements lack their usual vibrancy. He doesn't even seem to have the strength to keep his eye open for long. Arthur hates to ask this of them when they're not well and keeps his face as calm as possible. Sean would hate seeing him being sorry, he'd most likely see it as pity too. The last thing Arthur feels is pity. No, he's still just so very relieved to see Sean alive, there is no pity at all. Just something fiercely glad in his chest.

"Anything you two need?" He asks them.

Sean waves him off with a sluggish flap of his hand, while Kieran hesitates and Arthur gives him a look to make him speak up.

"Maybe something for the horses." Kieran murmurs. "I don't know if any of us packed something for them."

"Sure kid." Arthur nods and steps back. As he heads for the door of the store, he hears Karen approach behind him, telling both boys to take their laudanum. Her voice is stern in a way he hasn't heard it from her before, but still steady enough to let him know she used it before. She must have experience, most likely wrangling Sean and getting him to take his medicine ever since Arthur brought him back from getting patched up in Saint Denis.

The man behind the counter looks a bit nervous about seeing all of them outside, but he helps Arthur gather everything together and pack it away in two sacks.

"I mean, not to pry sir, but what brings you here?" He asks, trying to sound casual and missing by a mile.

"Some trouble with the family. Money and disagreements." Arthur answers, digging out the money and handing it to the man. "We're leaving before we get dragged further into it."

At this, the man's face turns more sympathetic, as if he knows all about family troubles. "Very sensible. Good luck to you folks then."

"Thank you." Arthur mumbles, tips his hat and grabs both bags, taking them outside. He brings them to Hosea and while the elderly man distributes the goods to be carried by different people, Arthur goes to feed the horses, John joining him.

"So." John says, as they're surrounding by calm, chewing animals. "We're really leaving. I almost can't believe it."

"I hope you don't have second thoughts." Arthur says, though it's mostly in jest. He already knows that John won't go back.

"No." John huffs and then rubs his hands together to brush of some dirt and dust clinging to them from the long ride. "Just...ready to get out of here."

Arthur knows what he means and hears what he doesn't say. He's just as anxious as John to get going and reaches out to give the man's shoulder a pat. It feels strange for him too, to leave the camp behind like this. He's known nothing else for twenty years and...despite everything, despite Beaver Hollow, all those deaths and watching everything fall apart, it still feels like he's leaving a part of him behind back at Shady Belle.

They stand side by side then, quiet and waiting for the horses to finish eating. It feels strangely calming, near peaceful even, despite Arthur keeping an ear out for the train. He realizes he hasn't done this with John in...forever. Even back when he was dying and they grew close once more, they didn't have this. Just a moment of sharing comfortable silence. It's nice, nicer than he expected and Arthur has kind of missed doing things like this.

Time passes quickly and yet far too slowly as they wait. Then they hear the train approaching and Arthur notices how they all collectively look up. John goes to rouse Jack, everyone starts to pick up their bags. Karen helps Sean up, while Mary-Beth has a hand under Kieran's elbow to keep him steady. The horses are quickly sorted as well and Abigail approaches him to hand him back the train money.

"Mister Arthur Morgan?" An accented voice calls out once the train stops and the engineer steps outside. Arthur quickly heads to the blond man, who is tall and his grip is strong, almost stronger than Arthur's own. "I'm Bjorn, our mutual friend told me you have some family trouble you wish to get out of?"

"Yes, that's us." Arthur pulls out the money and Bjorn counts it, before motioning for a dark haired, burly man, handing him part of the cash.

"This is Wallace, he'll show you where you can stay during the ride. Keep to your wagon until we're out of here and keep quiet. He'll let you know when we're in the clear. And let him know if there are any trouble. Put your horses in the last wagon, it's big enough and has some straw in it. We'll feed them whenever he have a big stop."

"Alright." Arthur steps back and Wallace falls in beside him, quiet and eyes sharply appraising them all.

The horses are loaded quickly enough and Arthur hopes they'll be okay with the long ride. Storm certainly hasn't spend time on a train yet, but he's reasonably certain they're going to be okay.

The wagon Wallace leads them to afterwards is surprisingly nice, certainly not first class but it's still going to make the long ride bearable. The benches are padded and the curtains in front of the windows are drawn. Wallace tells them to leave them alone to ensure no one sees them until they're past the mountains.

"If there should be any trouble, go through the door back there." Wallace points to the door at the end of the wagon. "You'll find a lot of large boxes in the next wagon over. The first half of them are empty for now and big enough for you to squeeze into. Again, just in case of emergencies. Patrols and the law should give us no trouble. If you need anything, I'll be in the wagon over here."

With that, he steps away, closing the door behind him. The light in the wagon is rather dim, but it's most likely going to be good for Sean and Kieran. Both men are certainly already pushed to lie down on two of the benches by Karen and Mary-Beth. Hosea checks on them and everyone fills in to take a seat. John picks a window seat, with Jack between him and Abigail. Cain flops down between two empty benches and seems content to start snoozing off.

"Let's sit." Charles appears at Arthur's shoulder, who nods. They sit down behind Sadie, who's already settling down as well, crunching on an apple.

Just after everyone is as comfortable as possible, the train whistles and starts to move. Pensive silence hangs over the wagon, only broken by a quiet murmur, until the train picks up speed and Arthur can feel people exhale around him. They're moving. Not yet gone, but moving. He shares a glance with Charles, who gives him a calming look and a small smile.

~*~

It's dark when they reach the mountains and Arthur can feel it when the train starts to go up the hills, can hear it as they go through a tunnel shortly afterwards. It's a bit colder inside the wagon now, but nothing like it would be outside. Most are asleep by now and he's making a quiet round as he checks over everyone. Sean and Kieran are out like lights, mostly because of the laudanum coupled with the strenuous ride. Both have jackets covering them to ward off the slight cold inside. They're looking a bit better again now that they're resting and Arthur feels a little less worried. Hosea leans against the curtains of his window, eyes closed and breaths slow but Arthur can tell that his sleep is light. One wrong or too loud noise and he'll be awake and on his feet.

John has Jack half in his lap, with Abigail leaning against him, her arm resting over Jack and keeping the boy from tilting towards slipping down the bench. All three are asleep with John's hat sitting so crooked on his head, it nearly falls off. Charles sleeps too, when Arthur glances over, his chin resting on his chest and his arms crossed. Karen is half awake and he sees her begin to nod off from her spot behind Sean. She seems to have taken up guarding him. For now at least, while they're still stuck here. Almost losing him must have shaken her.

Arthur is just glad that they didn't lose Sean this time, even if he still feels some guilt at not being fast enough, not smart enough, to keep the kid completely safe. But he's alive and that's what really counts in the end.

Mary-Beth is asleep, along with Lenny, both of them having talked about a book until a few minutes ago, before they fell quiet as well. Sadie is still awake and she gives Arthur a small nod when she sees him walk between the benches. She most likely also understands his restlessness. All Arthur wants is to leave the mountains behind and finally be done with everything.

With a faint, muffled creak and distant hiss, the train begins to slow down. Sadie sits up straight and Arthur stills, their eyes meeting.

"Should we already be at another station?" Sadie asks, voice low and he can already see the suspicion growing on her face, grimness settling along her mouth and her eyes sparking with something dark and stormy.

"No. We're not even over the mountain." Arthur gives Charles's shoulder a small shake, taps Hosea and goes to nudge at John's hat. "Wake up, there might be trouble."

Sadie is on her feet too, accompanying him towards the front door of the wagon so they can peer out.

"What is it?" John keeps his voice quiet and then holds still as Abigail stirs. She doesn't wake yet, even if John's hand rises like he's getting ready to shake her awake too. Hosea slowly stands, eyes attentive. Charles is on his feet as well, taking a peek between the curtains.

"Don't know yet." Arthur murmurs back. That is when the first shot falls and with a hissed curse, he grabs his revolver, pulling it from the holster. "Guard the wagon."

He steps outside, Sadie right at his side, both of them greeted by the fierce, biting cold outside. He hears some protests but knows it's the best idea for now. They have injured and a kid to protect after all. Sadie and he should hopefully be enough for the job of warding off whatever degenerates attack the train.

"O'Driscolls." Sadie near snarls, voice going so rough with bloodlust it still sends a chill down his spine. Arthur gives her a look, but she's not charging in, not yet. He can see how she holds herself back, teeth clenched and eyes filled with a fire that's going to burn everything in her path to the ground once unleashed.

"This way." He murmurs and she follows him as they slip off the wagons and along the back side of the train. There is some yelling and more shooting and they hurry along until they get close enough. "You take the right, I take the left?"

She gives him a nod and lunges forward. Arthur hurries to follow her as they come to the aid of the train guards. There are some dead already and the air fogs with their breaths, the cold creeping through his clothes, but Arthur notices it only distantly now. Ducking and shooting, he's startled to see Colm of all people present. This is a big attack. Bigger than expected.

Arthur ducks down beside Wallace after another round of shooting. Sadie is covering for them as she joins some of his men, her fury audible even over the sound of her gun.

"Cover for me?" Wallace asks, hands reaching out to a rifle. Arthur nods and then starts shooting again, while Wallace takes the time for more precise shots.

Arthur isn't quite sure what happens next, only knows that someone throws some dynamite and suddenly the air is filled with snow, the smell of black powder, dust and screams, his hearing going dull and funny. Wallace beside him curses colorfully and moves the next moment. Arthur's sight is blurred with snow and smoke from the explosion. He keeps shooting at the vague figures of riders he sees, hears people fall and hears Sadie too. Hears her shouts and anger. Someone yells and he gets up to find better cover than the side of the train.

In the next moment, Arthur feels someone tackle him, slamming him to the ground hard enough that it steals his breath and hands wrap around his throat. Kicking out and fighting, Arthur manages to get a punch in, wrenching the O'Driscoll away from him, only to have a second guy show up, kicking him in the side. Arthur grabs his leg at the second kick, yanking and the man falls over him and into the first guy, the three of them turning into a tangle of limbs. Arthur manages to grapple for his gun again and shots the first guy straight in the face. With a rasping gasp for air, he barely gets to slam his hand down on the second O'Driscoll's arm, the knife heading for his vulnerable side skidding into the snow. Arthur quickly fires again and scrambles to his feet, shoving the dead off his legs.

Colm rides out of the churned snow and smoke of the explosives like some dark specter. His gaze lands on Arthur and recognition flares bright in his eyes, followed by something mean and darkly gleeful. Arthur throws himself sideways to avoid being trampled and hears a gunshot a split second before searing pain spreads through his shoulder. Landing in the snow and churned earth, he wheezes, hand coming up to press on the wound. His vision whitens out briefly, air escaping his lungs, before he scrambles back to his feet to keep moving, feeling dizzy with burning pain. More yells fill the air around them and then he hears it. Hears the train start moving again.

Colm barely pays attention to it, his eyes fixed on Arthur, as he yells for his men to get him. The meanest of grins spreads across his face. It's filled with dark hatred and something that reminds him of pain and blood, reminds him of Kieran beheaded and tortured. Turning to keep the O'Driscolls as much in his view as possible, he shoots and keeps Colm from running him over with his horse. One of the shots finds the animal and it goes down with a horrible sound, throwing off its rider. Arthur feels himself flinch inward, though the aim of his uninjured arm and shoulder remains steady.

Colm rolls back to his feet and Arthur feels someone slam into his side, tackling him to the ground and making him choke on the flair of pain in his shoulder.

"Arthur Morgan, what a surprise." Colm says, though he's out of breath and roughed up from the fight and the fall. More roughed up than usual and he stares down at Arthur, who tries to fight his goon off. "Dutch's ever faithful follower."

His grin stretches over his face, slow and with a beginning edge of victory. It's the ugliest thing Arthur has ever seen, right after Micah's entire face and he fights off the goon with a strong jerk, unsheathing his blade and slamming in the guy's neck with one fluid, fast motion. Colm lifts his gun, mouth opening and Arthur feels his heart skip a painful beat at the bang he hears.

Colm crumbles into the snow like a puppet with cut strings, blood spraying and he catches a glimpse of the hole in the side of his head. Arthur takes only a second to stare at him, before instincts take over and he whirls around. Sadie is suddenly back at his side, snarling and so, so angry as she rams a knife into a guy that dares to get so close. They move nearly in tandem then, raising guns and ducking to avoid being hit in return. Arthur only notices how rough he's breathing when the last of the O'Driscolls fall and near deafening silence rings out, the mountain and forest around them eerily quiet after that madness. There is still something slightly dizzy at the edges of his consciousness, caused by his bleeding wound.

He turns to Sadie, sees her standing over Colm O'Driscoll. Her clothes are covered in blood and she's breathing faster too. She looks like wrath, he finds himself thinking. Like wrath in human form, her eyes blazing with an anger so strong, a hurt and grief so deep he couldn't hope to find words for it.

"That's for Jake." She says, voice rougher than ever before. The step she takes back from the corpse is almost a stumble, before she straightens and looks at Arthur. He can see the dark, bloody satisfaction in her gaze, the way her vengeance and fury, burning so hot before slowly begins to turn into something cooler, something sharper and calmer. Still as dangerous, but only for those who dare cross her. "Now I can leave without regrets."

"Good." Arthur grunts and moves to grip his shoulder. Her expression changes, the darkness making space for concern and a heavy frown. Cursing, she quickly steps to his side, sees the red seeping between his fingers. They both simultaneously end up staring down the tracks, the train no longer in sight.

"Well shit." Sadie rasps and Arthur entirely agrees. He tips his head and breathes through the pain in his shoulder, tries to ignore the hot slickness of his blood. The same shoulder. Colm actually managed to get him in the same shoulder as his men before. That piece of shit.

"Let me see. "Sadie says, turning back to him. "And then we're going to move, because we're going to get caught by the law otherwise. And knowing our luck, the law is already on its way."

She gets him to sit down beside the tracks and helps him peel back his clothes. After a moment of inspecting the wound, she puts a steadying hand on his shoulder.

"Count to three."

"What, why?" Arthur asks, unease blooming in him and at the look she gives him, relents. "One, two -"

He breaks off into a rough shout as she digs into his shoulder and a moment later, drops the bullet into the snow. It honestly feels like she punched him in the chest, the way his lungs refuse to draw breath. His shoulder burns with a pain fierce enough that his eyes water. Sadie holds on to his shoulder until his vision clears and she eyes the bleeding.

"Do you have anything for this?" She asks.

"Don't know, but I don't think so." Arthur murmurs, gesturing for the bag he ever faithfully carries with him. She digs through it and makes a small noise that let's him know she finds some of his treasure, money, extra ammunition a few treats for his horse and little else. There is a bottle of medicine in there, but that's not going to help heal a bullet wound.

They both briefly look over at the dead O'Driscolls, before they simultaneously grimace. There is no way Arthur is going to dress his wound with something they wear. With his luck, he'll only end up deadly sick once again. Sadie obviously thinks the same and she frowns heavily as she helps him back up.

"We have to move." She says and it's not a question if he can walk or not. He has to. Arthur clenches his teeth and gives her a nod, feeling a shiver spread over his back as cold wind starts to blow down the tracks.

"Here." Sadie goes and gets two coats from dead O'Driscolls. The coat she hands him is warm enough, but smells musty and like the owner didn't get a bath in a good week. But it will do and it is preferably to freezing. Marginally, at least. They both look down the tracks again and Sadie gives his uninjured shoulder a slightly grim pat. "Let's go."

Chapter Text

Arthur can barely feel his feet or his hands anymore. His ears hurt in the cold, though nearly not as much as his shoulder. There is something wet slowly but steadily trickling down his arm from the wound as he keeps step with Sadie. There are splatters of blood dried on her face. Her nose and the tips of her ears are red due to the cold, even with her tugging her hat down as far as it goes. They have to get out of the cold before they get frostbite.

"Think we'll catch up?" Arthur asks as they follow the tracks. His breathing is strained and he's honestly really worried about the blood loss too. The dizzy feeling that hangs around the edges of his senses seems to slowly spread, his vision blurs with every other blink and he catches himself swaying every third or fourth step.

Sadie is about to answer, when she suddenly perks up, lightly smacking his uninjured shoulder. "Wait here!"

Arthur stops and looks as she rushes away from the tracks and the woods to one side, with the rising mountain on the other. It doesn't take him long to see what has her going. A horse. Most likely one from the O'Driscolls. The animal looks lost and nervous and it takes Sadie a bit to calm it enough that she can grab the reins and lead it over. A horse. Alright. They really might make it now.

"Come on." Sadie lends him a hand in getting him on the back of the horse and Arthur scoots back so she can sit in the saddle. It's very strange for a moment, to be the one to hold on to someone's sides instead of having someone hold on to his. Sadie even huffs at his slightly hesitant touch and pushes his hands to a better position, making sure he has a secure enough grip, before she urges the horse on.

The train shouldn't travel too fast up here in the mountains, Arthur thinks, but he isn't too sure. He hopes the O'Driscolls keep their horses reasonably fed, this one will have to run for a while. Cold wind bites more harshly at his face now and Arthur really regrets not having a scarf or anything with him. Some laudanum doesn't sound bad either right now, even if it would dull his senses further, at least it would also dull the pain.

His shoulder is jostled enough that soon, he feels a fine sheet of sweat along his back and neck, his breathing has gone even rougher with hurt and his hands on Sadie's hips tighten their grip. She doesn't say anything though, not until Arthur realizes that the world around him starts to get kind of hazy, not even blinking clears his sight anymore. He feels fully dizzy now and like he's swaying. The moving horse is making him feel like the world is tilting on its axis.

"Hold on, Arthur." Sadie tells him over the rushing wind, urging the horse to keep going as fast as it can, hooves thundering along the planks of the tracks. It sounds like there is worry in her voice. "We'll catch up with them soon."

He thinks he answers, but it sounds like a mumble to his ears, words slurring together. This is bad, he's aware of it. At the same time, he feels more and more exhausted, hurt and cold. Then again, he had been in worse shape back in his other life when he escaped from Colm, he can hold on through this.

His eyes fall closed against his will and he struggles to open them again, barely avoiding to knock his head against Sadie's as he sways forward.

"I can see the train!" Sadie shouts what feels like too long and too short minutes later, giving his leg a small slap, only strong enough for him to feel it through his cold-numbed skin. Arthur lifts his head and notices, sluggishly, that he's started to lean against her back, his chin pressed against her shoulder. "Looks like they stopped."

Arthur answers, but his tongue feels heavy and his words ends up muffled by the too large coat she wears.

"Just hold on." Sadie tells him again, voice firm and strong and she urges the horse to go just that little bit faster. The train does stand still and Arthur can see someone standing at the side, waving and calling.

Sadie stops the horse by their wagon, giving the animal a pat. She gets his numb fingers to let go of her, before swinging her leg over the neck of the horse and sliding down. Arthur notices Charles and John appearing, Charles reaching up to help him down. Or rather, at this point, Arthur falls into his arms and John is quickly there to help carry him, grabbing under his knees. The pain of the movement makes him black out for a second.

"They shot his shoulder." Sadie says. "I think it's bad. He lost quite a bit of blood."

"Bring him in." That's Hosea, sounding tense but otherwise calm. "Arthur, how are you doing?"

"Jus' fine Hosea." Arthur answers, though it sounds like he's slurring. Blinking, everything around him stays blurry, even Charles's face directly above him. He grits his teeth as he's brought into the wagon and put on one of the benches. His butt barely fits and one arm dangles down as the top of his head nudges the wall, but at least it kind of works.

"How did you get the train to stop?" Sadie asks, already rummaging through their bought medical supplies to hand Hosea what he needs.

"We went to Bjorn to ask him to wait and Karen punched Wallace in the face when he tried to stop us." Hosea answers and Arthur feels a sluggish grin on his face, coughing out a small huff of a laugh. "We managed to convince them to stop. Bjorn certainly wasn't too happy with Wallace leaving you two behind and agreed to wait for an hour. You arrived just in time, he would have left in the next few minutes."

Karen appears beside him then, worried and frowning. The knuckles on one of her hands look red and slightly busted. "Arthur Morgan, you just had to get into trouble, didn't you?"

He thinks he answers, before Hosea is with him again, getting him to swallow some laudanum. The world around him hazes further. He's only aware of someone pushing aside his clothes to look at his shoulder, when he already slips under, head feeling thick and body heavy and aching.

~*~

Arthur, when he wakes again, feels bleary and his shoulder stings and hurts distantly, in a way that lets him know the medicine is still in effect. He's still lying on a bench with his upper body, legs feeling a bit awkward as they're bent, feet resting on the rumbling ground. A small groan escapes him as he tries to shift a bit, mouth dry as the desert and eyelids heavy. He's half convinced he's going to fall back asleep right then and there.

"Arthur?" It's Hosea, sounding quiet and relieved. The man steps to him, one of his hands falling to his arm, light and careful. "How are you doing?"

"Fine." The fact that his voice sounds like grinding stones isn't exactly helping his case.

"Wait here, I'll get you something to drink." Hosea leaves his side and Arthur tilts his head enough to see the window above, curtains drawn back and the sky outside dark, heavy with clouds. There is a mix of snow and rain against the windows.

"We're past the Pinkerton patrols. It's safe to have the curtains open." Hosea says as he reappears and finds Arthur looking at the window. "Here."

With a grunt and a flare of pain, Arthur gets propped up a bit and takes a sip of the tea Hosea offers. It's cold and tastes like it might have been made an hour or so ago, but he takes it. He's certainly had worse and it's made of herbs, which is going to be helpful.

"Now, how are you really?" Hosea asks and Arthur just exhales, carefully sinking back down on the bench and the folded up jacket someone had put there. It's not exactly the most comfortable, if he's honest. At the same time, he can't exactly lie on the ground between the benches. People would have to jump over him to get past. Hosea hums quietly and Arthur feels him check on the injury, his shirt and vest cut to make easy access possible. He'll have to replace that.

"Well, your wound is healing well at least." Briefly, Arthur feels Hosea rest a hand on his forehead and it makes him exhale, relaxing a bit, his eyes sliding shut for a moment. "Try to rest, Arthur. Charles, would you mind looking after him?"

"No, not at all." Charles sits behind him and leans forward, arms propped against the backrest of Arthur's bench. He gives him a once-over and there is something relieved on his face. "You gave us quite the scare."

"Sorry." Arthur murmurs and hears a rustle, before Hosea gently spreads a coat over him. Arthur is glad for it, he still feels a bit cold and the inside of the wagon isn't all that warm either. Hosea gives his stomach a small pat and then steps away, hopefully to get some rest as well.

"How's everyone?" Arthur asks and Charles glances around briefly.

"As well as can be. Sean and Kieran are sleeping, Karen has taken to guarding with Lenny, but Sadie and John are going to relieve them soon."

There is a sudden, quiet rustle and the pat of small feet, before Jack looks around the benches and his face brightens up at seeing Arthur awake.

"Uncle Arthur." He pads over, fitting himself between Arthur and the next bench, small hands lightly tugging at the edges of the coat by his ribs. "Are you doing better?"

"Sure kid." He murmurs, lifting one sluggish hand to gently pat Jack's head. The kid gives him a relieved smile and they look up at hearing approaching steps. John leans over the benches a moment later, the small frown on his face smoothing away at seeing Arthur awake. He too, looks briefly relieved.

"Finally." He says, leaning one hand against the backrest. "How're you doin'?"

"Fine." Arthur answers and John makes an 'mhm' sound that lets him know he doesn't buy it, but is secretly too relieved to see him awake to call him out on it.

"Where're we?" Arthur asks and John briefly looks thoughtful. From the corner of his eye, Arthur sees Charles settling his chin on his crossed arms.

"Almost off the mountains." John answers. "Pinkertons showed up when you were still out, but they didn't search the train. Apparently, Wallace knew the guy leading the patrol and they believed him when he said no one wanted is on the train." John grins briefly. "Should've seen him, eye all black and blue."

Arthur huffs softly, mouth tipping up into a sluggish smile. His eyes fall closed again and he finds it harder to open them once more, his vision blurrier as he blinks them open.

"C'mon Jack." John says quietly. "Let's let Arthur rest."

"G'night Uncle Arthur." Jack pats his coat and stretches out a hand. John takes it and leads the kid back to sit down beside Abigail.

"Need anything?" Charles asks quietly and Arthur shakes his head. He still feels weak and tired, the pain dulled enough that he's certain he should be able to sleep for a bit again.

"Wake me in a bit?" Arthur requests. He needs some more laudanum later on and some food too, if he doesn't want to get overly nauseous. Or at least have something to drink.

"Course." Charles promises him with a reassuring nod and Arthur closes his eyes. "Sleep well, Arthur."

He mumbles something back, but isn't sure if it's coherent in any way. Arthur falls back asleep to a warm, large hand giving the coat a small, careful tug, making sure it covers his shoulders completely.

~*~

"I never knew that riding the train for so long could be so...boring." Karen's slightly frustrated voice makes Arthur open his eyes. They've been on the train for days now, though Hosea promises them they should arrive in another couple of days. At least Arthur can sleep most of the time away, considering he has to heal up. The same goes for Sean, though Kieran seems to have largely recovered from his concussion and is walking around a bit again, his arm still in a sling.

And while Arthur gets to sleep a lot due to laudanum and his body demanding its rest, he feels sick of the train as well. Of the almost too small bench that he lies on and his butt feeling numb most of the time, of staring at the same damn ceiling the whole time. He misses riding. He misses his cot, damn, at this point, he just simply misses being outside. He misses sitting for longer stretches of time than just the view minutes here and there whenever they change the bandages.

"The horses okay?" Arthur asks, raising his voice just enough that the nearest person can hear him. Abigail leans past the backrest of her bench and gives him a calming look and only a slightly harried smile. It's not easy on her either. Jack is bored too and all of them have never travelled like this, with little to do for days, pretty much just sitting around. At least Hosea delights in getting them to play card games or to practice reading with them. A lot of stories get told as well, which sometimes leaves Arthur with catching half of what is said and then feeling confused about some of the stuff he remembers once he surfaces from his laudanum induced sleep.

"Yeah, don't worry." Abigail calms him and Arthur hears a snuffle and giggle, as Cain and Jack get up to something again. Most likely crawling under the benches, that seems to be a hobby they both enjoy ever since the past hour or so.

Abigail sighs and relaxes a bit when John takes a few steps to check on their son. She gives him a small smile and John returns it, along with a small nod that lets her know Jack and the dog are fine. Most likely collecting some dust and dirt, but happily crawling around tiny spaces.

"We should stop by a station soon." Abigail adds, turning back to Arthur. He hums and relaxes a bit. Getting out to stretch their legs and pick up some things at the stores while the train drops off and picks up new cargo should lift spirits all around. At least for a few hours again. Not that Arthur is going to join them. While his shoulder heals really well, he has strict orders to strain himself as little as possible.

"Is there somethin' you want?" John asks, stepping beside her and Arthur tips his head to look at him. A shave, he could do with a shave - and don't get him started on baths, he'd really love to have one.

"Nah, 'm good." He waves a hand, feeling sore all over. And while a part of him could go back to sleep, another part of him itches to move at least a little. But walking around, especially while the train is moving, only results in someone pushing him to lie back down and he can't sit up for too long either, as much as he'd like it to be different.

"How's everyone?" He asks next and Abigail gives him a fond and yet a bit exasperated look.

"You worry 'bout yourself, alright? We're all here and doing well. Sean is healing and Kieran only has his arm to worry 'bout now." She looks over at something. "Do you need anything? A drink, some food?"

"Later, maybe." Arthur murmurs. He barley has any appetite with how much he sleeps and how much laudanum keeps the pain at bay. Though Hosea should soon give him less of the stuff, if he keeps healing like this.

"Oh, Arthur." Hosea shows up as if he's known that Arthur has thought of him. Abigail leans back again and John wanders on to see if their son has found something else but dust bunnies. "Do you have a moment?"

"Sure." Arthur can't help the small amount of teasing sarcasm in his voice. "Schedule is full, but I can squeeze ya in."

Hosea just gives him a lopsided smile and to his surprise, gently prods him to sit up. He turns a bit more serious as well once Arthur has carefully settled to sit as comfortably as possible. Arthur in return feels himself shift to a more attentive posture.

"I know you're still healing, but I'd like to go over the money and what we're going to need when we arrive." Hosea says, voice lowered a bit and he pulls some paper and a pen out. "It would be for the best to go over it all and plan as much as we can in advance."

"Oh, uh, sure." Arthur honestly doesn't know much about what exactly they need, aside from a few buildings. "We need a barn and stable, for starters. Fences for pastures. More housin'." He rubs one hand slightly over his knee and his voice turns a bit quieter. "If possible, I'd like for everyone to be comfortable, just...they deserve a proper home."

Hosea settles a gentle hand on his uninjured shoulder, the touch understanding and supportive. "I know, my boy, I know. Now, let's go over our finances first and see how much is possible."

Arthur and he count the value of the treasure and add money Arthur has, before they start to calculate the costs and expenses. It helps a lot when Sadie chips in with what she remembers from building her home with Jake, even if she breaks off once or twice and clearly tries to steer away from talking about her dead husband as much as possible. Lenny and Charles have some knowledge about costs too and Kieran, to Arthur's quiet surprise, knows a bit as well.

"My parents taught me a bit of farmin', besides fishin' and horses." He murmurs when he notices Arthur looking at him. Arthur is also glad to see him more confident now, a little less nervous and worried, less prone to ducking away. It's good to see the kid sit straight and to watch him speak up, to carve out his place among them. "I didn't forget much."

It really helps a lot and soon enough, the whole gang seems to chip in on things they think might be needed, even Sean wanders over and pitches in with some ideas of his own or just listens quietly, a frown on his face as he stares on Hosea's writing, unable to read any of it. Maybe, when they arrive and still have some recovering to do, Arthur could try to teach him a bit. At least some words and numbers, to help Sean feel a bit more confident in really giving it a try.

Sadie and Hosea certainly are efficient, going over everything they need and then splitting the treasure and money between them, dividing what each of them are going to purchase and take care of once they reach the west. Arthur is rather surprised when a part of the treasure ends up back with him.

"You're not needin' all of it?" He asks and notices how he started to slouch against the window, shoulder throbbing and exhaustion weighting down his limbs. Hosea gives him a once over and gets up, gesturing for him to lie back down.

"Don't worry." He says, as he helps Arthur a bit to avoid straining his shoulder. "Sadie and I should have what we need and it would be good for you to keep some backup. Just in case something goes wrong. I hope that doesn't happen but you never know." He pats his knee as he steps back. "You saved up more than enough Arthur, don't worry. Rest up, you helped us a lot already. Do you want anything for the pain?"

Arthur waves him off and only becomes aware of already having closed his eyes, when he hears steps moving on again. There are muffled voices as folks around him discuss a few ideas further and a small groan from Sean as he settles back down as well.

And Arthur...Arthur finally, really feels like they made it. They not only actually got away, they're now on the way to their new home. The thought still makes him nervous, in a way, as strange as it may sound. He never thought that the very real future of becoming a rancher could ever be daunting, but somehow, it is.

Well, it still doesn't guarantee everything will be alright, just because he bought that ranch. They might still in trouble anyways, different trouble, or Ross and Milton might end up tracking them down again somehow. He doubts it, but is cautious enough not to rely on the Pinkertons not finding them. They'll have to be careful for a while after arriving.

Arthur nods off, drifting between asleep and awake, a bobbing mixture of him overhearing conversations around and small snippets of something that could have been traces of dreams. Hosea wakes him up fully a while later again, so he can eat and drink something.

"How're you doin'?" Arthur asks before Hosea can, because honestly, he just keeps hearing the question over and over every time someone rouses him. He can understand why Sean starts to grumble or gets a bit short tempered when people check on him. Behind Hosea, he sees Kieran crouching down to pet Cain with one hand, the dog careful not to jostle his broken arm as he wriggles as close as he can for some scratches.

"I'm fine, Arthur." Hosea gives him a knowing look and a small smile. Briefly, a regretful and aching look flits over his face, but it smoothes away again, the light in his eyes remaining. Arthur hopes arriving in their new home is going to do Hosea good. Gives him the chance to settle down, hopefully relax and joke and tell stories around the table, tease them about their antics and laugh as they try to learn farming. "Don't you worry about me, just focus on getting better."

Arthur makes an agreeing sound and once Hosea moves on, closes his eyes. He's almost drifting back to sleep, when he hears rustling and opens his eyes to see Charles covering him again with the coat. The man notices him being awake and gives him a small smile, resting a large, warm hand briefly on his chest. It feels grounding and calming, making Arthur relax with a low, long exhale.

"Rest." Charles says quietly and Arthur notices that it's quieter now in the wagon. Most of them must be settling down to sleep. Arthur closes his eyes again, relaxing further as he falls back into slumber, Charles once more sitting behind him. Something about that knowledge is very calming, soothing really.

~*~

"Finally." Karen groans as they all file out of the train. Sean can walk mostly on his own and she only has to help him avoid bumping into things. His changed depth perception is something he has to adapt to, but if there is anything Arthur knows, the kid will do it. He's too stubborn to give up.

Arthur can also only agree with Karen. There is profound relief coursing through him at finally standing outside, feeling the warmth of the sun and the brush of the wind. To smell the smoke of the train and the scents of the town they reached. He feels sore all over from the damned benches and he still feels sluggish from healing and medicine, but at least his shoulder doesn't hurt as bad and he can be on his feet again. At least they're finally moving and are no longer cooped up.

Charles and Kieran, whose arm should be healed up completely in another couple of days, head to the wagon with the horses, John following them, to let them out. Abigail carries a sleeping Jack and looks as harried and relieved as all of them to finally have arrived.

Hosea and Sadie meanwhile, go to buy two wagons and supplies to get them started and keep them fed, Lenny leaving with them to help with anything they might need. The town they arrived at is about the size of Valentine, if a bit calmer looking and maybe a good three houses bigger. Folks walking by greet them and glance over them curiously. Arthur tips his hat back at them and doesn't know if it's the fact that he's as relieved as the others to finally have arrived, but the very country around themselves feels different. Greener and freer. Fresher.

Arthur knows that the west he remembers didn't stay untouched by civilization, but at this point he honestly doesn't care as much as he used to. He just wants everyone safe and happy. As much as possible, at least. He just wants all of them to have a home to return to, to laugh and tell stories.

The sound of hooves and neighing makes him look over. The horses appear just as relieved to get off the train, jumping down and giving their bodies large shakes. Storm looks up and spotting him, waves past John, who focuses on keeping the horses together. She walks over, somehow looking as harried and sore as they all feel. She snorts in his face and then sniffs at his injured shoulder, before grumbling at him in greeting. Arthur feels something along his shoulders and in his chest uncoil as he reaches up to scratch her neck.

"Look at that, my girl." He murmurs quietly, one hand resting against her large cheek, as he looks at the town, her head shifting a tiny bit to look over as well. "We really made it."

Everyone moves to get to their horses as well and to make space for others leaving the train. Arthur and the others lead their horses aside to a patch of grass they can graze on a bit. The relief of the horses to be off the train is nearly palpable.

Arthur steps to Charles's side, who is running his hands over Taima, who relaxes and settles under his touch, heaving a large sigh. "Everythin' alright?"

"Oh, yes." Charles looks up to give him a calming look. "She's just a bit tense after all that time on the train. Getting out and moving will do her good." He eyes him a moment, his hands still rubbing firmly and steadily along his horse's neck. "How're you doing?"

"Better." Arthur is nowhere near foolish enough to give his shoulder a roll, it's still healing after all. "I should be alright with riding to the ranch."

Charles's gaze slides to his injured shoulder and then gives him a quiet nod. They stand side by side then, Charles giving Taima's neck a pat and letting her return to grazing. It settles some of Arthur's strange nerves. Most of all though, he's also really relieved they're here now.

"Almost can't believe we made it." He murmurs and Charles agrees with a quiet hum, reaching out to give his back a gentle pat, clearly careful not to jostle his shoulder.

"We're here now." Charles says, just as quietly, giving him a small smile and Arthur finds himself returning it. Charles's touch slips away again and they look over the surrounding horses and people, most of them looking after their horses. Kieran seems to give Branwen a similar, though one armed rub as Charles had given Taima and Sean is leaning a bit against Ennis, who merely snorts at him softly and takes his weight without complaint.

It doesn't take long for Hosea and the others to return. Sadie drives one of the wagons, hers piled with what looks like food and some pots and pans. Hosea's wagon is filled with everything else they need, bedrolls, toiletries from the looks of it, some tents and the like. Arthur once again is reminded of his very out of control beard. He'll get a trim or shave in as soon as possible.

"Alright you lot." Hosea says with a grin. "If you're ready?"

While it makes Arthur grumble a bit, he's thankful for Charles helping him up into the saddle. His wound is good enough by now that he can ride, but pain does flare up when he puts weight on his injured shoulder. Sean lets Lenny give him a hand, while they once again don't have to help Kieran. Branwen sinks to the ground without a second of hesitation, waiting patiently for Kieran to sit, before standing up with care. Really, that kid and his horse. Arthur can see how Branwen followed him through all that snow and down the mountains to find him again.

"Which way, Arthur?" Hosea asks and Arthur rides up to him, while the others fall behind the wagons to ensure they don't block the road. This is familiar for them and it gives Arthur a better feeling too, somehow. This is something he knows, something he can do easily, especially considering all the unknown now lying before him and everyone else.

"We take the road north out of town." He says, gesturing in the direction they're going to take. Tommy thankfully gave him good instructions about how to reach the ranch. "We're goin' to follow it til we reach a split in the road an' take the left one. There should be a sign tellin' us when to get off the road an' head to the ranch, Tommy said there was a path once, but it's most likely overgrown now."

Hosea gives him a nod and at his signal, they start moving. Arthur falls back to ride beside Charles, with Sadie ahead of them. His shoulder twinges stronger at being on horseback, but it's not too bad. Certainly not as bad as the time he escaped from Colm. Or the burn of his lungs during his last ride, to confront Dutch and Micah, with his illness eating him up from inside. Nevermind that last fight on the mountain and watching Dutch turn away from him. A bit of painful needling and aching from a healing bullet wound is paling in comparison.

Hosea keeps the speed moderate, so it's not too strenuous of a ride. A glance back shows that Sean is a little bit paler than before, but mostly, he seems to do well enough. He's speaking with Kieran, while Karen and Mary-Beth are talking about something with Lenny. Hosea's and Sadie's horses trot after them.

Storm certainly is happy to finally move again and while Arthur can sense that she'd love to stretch and run, properly shake off all those days cooped up on the train, she's also holding back. Though by the time they have left the town behind and reach the fork in the road, his mare has relaxed fully and settled into the rhythm.

"Doing well?" Charles asks and Arthur can't help but sigh just a bit. He's heard that question so often now. A glance to the side shows a small, lopsided grin appearing on Charles's face. Arthur can't help but huff and smile a bit himself, slightly shaking his head.

"'m fine. You?"

"Glad to be off the train." Charles says and Arthur wholeheartedly agrees. "What do you think we're going to start with at the ranch?"

Arthur thinks over the plan Hosea made with him and Sadie, with the help from some of the others a few days back. They have two houses already at least, so they have roofs over their heads, nevermind that he's sure they all wouldn't mind sleeping in tents until everything is taken care of. But the place might be big enough, for them all to squeeze in until everything is built. Though he hopes that it won't take too long until they all have real rooms to call their own. Places to do things like keep books that aren't in danger of getting wet during the next strong storm. To collect knickknacks and strew socks and stockings about and whatnot. Just, places of their own.

"It would make sense to build the barn and stable first, I think." He says. "Then some extra housing. Maybe some small houses and a cabin or two, but the order is up to Hosea and Sadie, they know better than I how long that takes." He pauses and glances at Charles, before he decides to just ask what he's been thinking about for the past two days. "Would you mind roomin' with me?"

Especially since Hosea almost merrily let him know that if Arthur doesn't want a room in the main house, he at least deserves a place of his own, after everything he did for them already.

Charles blinks, looking surprised and then smiles. "Not at all."

Arthur feels a part of him relaxing and finds that it's easy to smile back.

They reach the sign pointing them to the ranch soon enough after that and Arthur feels himself straightening a bit. All around him, conversations fall quiet as they start to approach their new home. Their new life, in a way. The main house comes into view first, it's nice, made out of proper stone and despite no one having lived here in a while, looks to be in good shape, the same goes for the small house they see next, also made of stone. That's some nicely sturdy buildings.

They all slow to a stop in front of the main house, looking at it and over the large grassland around, at the forest that begins to stretch a few paces behind the houses, rising along with the slow, gentle rise of the hills. Somehow, seeing it makes it all so very real in this moment. Despite everything, they're here.

Arthur takes a careful breath. They made it. They really made it. They're alive. He feels almost dizzy for a moment and blinks when Charles reaches out to put a hand on his shoulder. His gaze seems to say he understands and Arthur tips his head to hide his face and get himself back under control. He gives Charles a small nod and the warm touch at his shoulder fades, the man dismounting. Arthur following him in a more careful slide.

"Alright then." Hosea's voice rings out and he claps his hands. "Let's unpack. We're home!"

Activity breaks out, Arthur, as well as Sean, get ushered to sit on the porch and rest, being told in no uncertain terms that they're not allowed to help. Grudgingly, they listen. Arthur and Sean share a look and they both see how much they hate this. Hate sitting around, unable to do anything, while everyone else gets to work. They're not that kind of men. Arthur feels the almost restless itch under his skin to get up and grab sacks of food, to help carry boxes of things. Kieran meanwhile manages to stick to the horses and look after them as they graze on all the grass around them, though Arthur doesn't miss the look Hosea throws the kid, clearly gauging if he doesn't overdo it with his healing arm. Mary-Beth too keeps throwing Kieran glances between lifting and carrying things as well.

"This is a load o' horseshit." Sean complains and his tone of voice lets Arthur know that he's upset about all of this but doesn't want to show it. Upset about having lost an eye, needing all that rest and needing help. Arthur gets it, he really does. He also doesn't know what to do, at least while they both still have to heal.

"Hey." Arthur gives his shoulder a small nudge, hoping to at least distract Sean a bit. "Let's go see the inside."

They get to their feet and step into the house, while everyone else is still busy unloading and organizing. Cain though, slips after them, excited to explore, nose already going to the ground to sniff out everything. The inside is empty, there are two rooms right away to the left of the entrance area, along with a third, longer but slimmer room, which turns out to be a bathroom, already equipped with a tub and some other necessities. Sean and Arthur share a surprised glance. That's unexpected.

Walking past the two - empty - bedrooms they reach the living room. And to their surprise, see a built-in kitchen. Well, if everything in here works, at least that is taken care of. At the end of the living room are the rest of the two separate rooms, with a small corridor leading to the backdoor. The bathroom is a surprise, but a very pleasant one. Arthur wonders why Tommy hadn't mentioned it, but disregards the thought in the next moment. He surely won't complain.

"Looks nice." Sean comments, as he looks around. "Who do ya recon will live here?"

"John an' his family, Hosea too, I'm sure. An' one of the others." Or rather, that is how Hosea and he decided it after discussing it. They also have an attic from the looks of it, which they can use either for storing things or making another room out of it.

Sean hums in agreement. "The smaller house?"

"You an' Karen, if you two want to live together." Arthur offers. Or rather, he definitely wants Sean, especially while he's still healing, under a proper roof. "An' whoever you want to room with."

Sean eyes him like he knows exactly why Arthur has decided things like this, but he doesn't protest. Most likely because it's a moot point. Everyone's going to get a proper room for themselves, a real place to stay. And under all the grimness of his injury, his struggles and his frustration, Arthur can see some excitement too. Something lighter as he thinks about the new home.

"Well." Sean dusts his hands off, glancing around and tilting his head a bit more to make up for his lack of vision. "I hope Karen says yes then."

She most likely will. Maybe with a bit of blustering, but the way things have been between her and Sean since he got shot, Arthur feels rather certain she's going to agree. Which doesn't mean they're not going to argue or Sean isn't going to slip up or they're not going to have to figure some things out. But at least, this time around, they have the chance to do all these things. To argue and make up, to make this thing between them work and built something from it.

"I'd thought you wouldn't look so sad now that we're here." Sean looks at him, a small frown visible under his bandages. "You've been lookin' sad more than usual these past weeks. All worried and tense."

Ever since waking up with his second chance. Arthur sighs and is about to wave him off, when he shrugs instead. "Been a tense few weeks."

Sean watches him a moment longer and then clasps his shoulder, giving it a small squeeze. His fingers no longer feel cold. "Come on, let's look at the rest o' the place."

They head out the backdoor and get to look through the small, two room house- which also has a kitchen, a small one, but one nonetheless, along with a small bathroom. Arthur is going to send Timmy a thank you card or something. Sean, considering he's now definitely thinking about moving in here with Karen, takes more time to explore. He's also, unashamedly picking the larger bedroom. Arthur is about to step outside and leave him to rummaging through the small kitchen, when Karen enters, clearly looking for them.

"Karen." Sean waves her closer, a sorely missed grin appearing on his face and Arthur slips outside to give them their privacy. He doesn't get far though, before John intercepts him and gets him to sit down on an already unloaded wagon. Things are neatly stacked and piled to the side, while everyone's already started carrying things into the main house.

"So." Hosea joins him, handing him some bread and crumbly cheese. "I'm going to head back into town with Sadie to cash in the valuables you gave us and see about getting started on building what we need. We're also going to sell one of the wagons again, one should be enough."

Arthur pauses in surprise. They already want to leave? "You sure you don't want to rest up?" Arthur asks and Hosea huffs with a smile, patting his shoulder.

"Don't worry about me, dear boy. Besides, I got more than enough rest on that train. Going out and getting to work will do me good. The sooner we start with everything, the better."

He is right about that. Arthur takes a bite with a tip of his hat.

"We might not get everything done at once, but depending on prices we might be able to hire some helping hands." Hosea says and while Arthur can't help the flare of reluctant suspicion that always follows letting outsiders into camp, he knows Hosea is right. They're going to need help, especially with Sean, Kieran and he down for the count. Besides, this is a new life, it wouldn't be strange at all to hire locals for help.

"We'll see about getting all the tools we need too, to start farming." Hosea muses. "We're keeping two of the shires, they'll help with it."

"A chicken coop would be good too." Mary-Beth pitches in as she stops by the wagon. "We definitely know how to care for them and they're not very expensive. They could provide us both with some food and something to sell."

"True." Hosea nods and Arthur wonders how long it would take to build a proper chicken coop, not one of those small wooden things he got for the camp a long while back. "At least we've arrived at a time where we can still get some decent harvest in. Alright then." Hosea raises his voice so everyone can hear him. "I'll head out, you all take care of everything else."

"Sure." Charles promises with a nod, hauling up a large box, Mary-Beth straightens and Arthur does his best to look like he's intending to get some more rest. Hosea isn't fooled, of course not, and pats Arthur's shoulder again with a small grin and a shake of head, before looking at Charles, who gives him a nod, a silent promise to keep an eye on the injured. Arthur tips his hat to hide the smile that sneaks on his face and shoves some crumbly cheese into his mouth.

Hosea leaves with Sadie as soon as the second wagon is unloaded, rumbling away with it. Kieran, by then, has finished seeing to the horses, the two new ones as well, the heavy, strong shires. They're being accepted by the herd rather well, with only a bit of posturing and attempted biting. Arthur, as he watches Kieran petting one of the shires, Branwen standing just a step behind him and grazing, thinks that he hasn't seen him look so at ease and at home before. Well, not that things have been easy for the kid, even this time around, when Arthur has actually done his best to be nice to him. So seeing him look so relaxed and with a small smile on his face, the last traces of the deep bruises fading, it's good. Seeing Kieran happy is a good thing.

Arthur remains sitting on the wagon a while longer, watching as Lenny and John finish hauling crates inside, Mary-Beth already sorting through the bought things so everyone has a bedroll and helps Abigail carry things inside. Karen seems all too happy about bringing their things into their new place as well. From the looks of it, Mary-Beth is taking the other room in their small house. Jack looks delighted about their new home, running in and around the house with Cain, both of them exploring and occasionally Jack carries a few light things proudly as well.

Sean wanders over to join Arthur a moment later, looking miffed again, most likely about having been told to leave things a lone and rest up.

"I'm never gettin' shot ever again." Sean murmurs, sounding almost sullen, a frown visible on his face. "Just alone because o' this."

Arthur can't help but sigh in agreement. At the same time, he once again feels relief at having Sean here. That he's alive. Frustrated and bored is better than dead. Worrying about his use -though he shouldn't - is better than being dead.

"You'll miss it once I start takin' you to shootin' again." Arthur says and Sean lights up a bit again at that, his shoulders easing.

"You still mean that?" He asks and Arthur eyes him a moment, before giving his shoulder a squeeze.

"Sure. An' this time, you're learnin' the quick-draw right." He says and Sean huffs, but he's smiling again. Arthur settles back, feeling better himself and hands Sean some of the bread and cheese he's been left with.

"So, us bein' farmers is a thing now." Sean sounds a little bit incredulous and amused at that, like he can't really believe it. The things is, Arthur honestly feels the same, but he also thinks they can do it. Can learn what needs to be learned and do what needs to be done. "But, I like it here. A real home, huh? It's what Dutch always was talkin' 'bout."

Arthur can't help but swallow at the mention of Dutch and feels a sharp twinge in his chest. He isn't quite sure why, maybe because of all the memories, maybe because of everyone left in Shady Belle, maybe because Sean is right. This is what Dutch always talked about. Buying land, becoming ranchers. Settling down and living free lives. In the next moment, Sean gives his uninjured arm a light smack with the back of his hand.

"Don't be such a bloody brooder." He says, clearly trying to be more jovial. Arthur can't help but feel lighter at Sean trying to cheer him up in his own way. "Come on, let's see if we can get away with liftin' some things."

They do not, in fact, get away with it lifting so much as a sack of beans. In the end, they shuffle over to Kieran and get to brush down some of the horses at least. Storm clearly is more than happy to catch up on missed scratches and nosing at his uninjured arm. Arthur has missed her too during the train ride, even with Charles always reassuring him that she was okay whenever he went to check on the horses at longer stops. Now, she has her chin in the crook of his elbow, her cheek lightly pressed against his uninjured shoulder.

Looking up, he sees Sean grin as Ennis steals the hat from his head and throws his head up and down a bit, before Sean can wrangle the hat back with a snort. Kieran is now leaning against Branwen, who looks like the calmest horse in the world, leg at rest and eyes half closed. The shires are at ease too, grazing and looking rather large among most of their smaller and slimmer horses.

Charles joins them a little while later and Arthur can see that everyone is finished now, dusk settling over them. Everything is put away and he can see folks moving around in the houses, windows lit by lanterns, smoke curling from the chimney of the main house. Sean perks up at that and heads to the smaller house, most likely to try and at least do something, or talk with Karen and Mary-Beth, both of them most likely already unpacking whatever possessions they took along.

"Things are going to get real busy for a long while." Charles murmurs as he stops beside Arthur. Taima walks over to them almost lazily, exhaling softly at Charles petting her neck and scratching behind her ears. She even tilts her head to give him better access. "Hosea is most likely bringing some hired workers back too, otherwise it's going to take us months to set everything up."

"Yeah, I think so too." And if money would turn out to be a problem, Arthur still has some of his treasure. "How long do you think that's goin' to take?"

Charles hums thoughtfully, scratching under Taima's jaw now and she almost ends up putting her chin on his shoulder. "Depends on the size of the crew and how much work they're going to have."

Arthur tries not to worry again, he's done far too much of that in the past weeks, has spent most of his time worrying, whenever he wasn't checking up on someone or collecting more valuables and money. Still, he can't help but think about everything that still needs to be done, about how they're going to make this work, how to earn their keep from here on. In all honesty, after all these weeks of thinking about everything, it feels like it's impossible to stop worrying now. Charles hand, coming to rest on his uninjured shoulder, breaks him out of his thoughts and he feels some of his beginning tension seep away and disperse under the warm touch. When Storm sniffs at Charles's hand, he even feels a smile tugging at his lips.

Charles's touch drops away a moment or two later and they stand together amongst the horses, their own horses returning to grazing. It's easy, really, to share this comfortable silence. To stand close enough that their shoulders brush with every shift and to feel...not at home yet, but Arthur thinks in a couple of weeks, once everything is built and set up...yeah. This really could feel like home. Home in a way campfire brewed coffee is, the smell of horses and hay and to wake up with canvas stretching over him, the light of the rising sun falling over him with greeting warmth. They have something good here and they will turn it into something great.

They both look up when they notice Hosea returning, who clearly was definitely successful, since there are three large wagons returning now, laden with already cut wood and from the looks of it, shingles. Charles and Arthur exchange a look before they head over, arriving just as Hosea finishes instructing the men who arrived with him where to put everything. John and Lenny are helping too, carrying tools to the side.

"I found something interesting." Hosea says as they arrive, motioning to the wood planks. "Pre-cut houses and barns and whatnot. They're surprisingly good to afford and easy to set up, form the looks of it." He gives a satisfied grin. "With the money that saves us, we can afford the help to build it up as quickly as possible."

"Pre-cut?" Arthur feels surprised and then frowns. "That's going to be solid?"

Hosea nods. "I checked, don't worry. Met a farmer on the way to town who allowed us to take a look at his stable. It's real, sturdy wood. Nothing made of stone, obviously, but I think it's going to be just right for us. This here is going to be our barn and chicken coop."

Charles hums, already moving to help unload the wagons. Arthur eyes everything for a moment and can't help but glance back at Hosea.

"No one's buildin' real houses no more." His grumble is good natured though and Hosea just laughs, clapping a hand on his uninjured shoulder. It makes Arthur smile, almost grin himself, a knot in his chest loosening and relaxing.

"Come on, Arthur." Hosea says, still grinning and with a lighter, brighter shine in his eyes. "Head on in and see if food is going to be done soon. Tomorrow the crew is going to arrive and help us set everything up. We can also expect the rest of the houses we need to be delivered over the next days. The stable too."

"I see you was busy." Arthur says, moving to tip his head up a bit and overlook the wagons and all that wood. "The money was no problem? With hiring the crew too?"

Something along Hosea's features gentles. "Of course, don't you worry. Now, go on in and let us take care of this. Get some rest too, I bet you've been up and about the whole time."

~*~

Arthur wakes with a small start, hearing the noise of hammering and people calling to each other with louder yells. Sitting up with a small groan, his shoulder giving a twinge, he reaches up with his other hand to rub over his eyes, before looking around. He's sleeping in the living room of the main house and a glance around shows him Kieran's bedroll is already empty, just like Lenny's and Charles's. Abigail is puttering around in the kitchen and making coffee.

"Oh, you're awake." She greets him with a smile when he gets up. "Did the workers wake you?"

"They're already here?" And it seems to be rather early too. Arthur realizes his question is a moot one in the next moment and walks over to a window to look outside. The workers already started on the chicken coop and, truth be told, it looks like they might actually get it done today too. Arthur sees Hosea talking with what looks like the boss of the group, considering they're bent over building plans and gesture around.

"Good mornin' Uncle Arthur." Jack calls as he comes in through the backdoor with a grin, Cain following with a happy wag of his tail. "Did you see the coop they're building? It's so big!"

His enthusiasm certainly is infectious and Abigail smiles at her son, something soft and relieved on her face. As if she is happy to see Jack happy, relieved to finally be safe. Just alone seeing that is worth everything all over again. Arthur quietly steps back as Jack rushes up to his mother, eyes bright and small hands gesturing as he describes everything going on outside to her. Abigail smiles and gently ruffles his hair, setting aside her mug of coffee to focus on him.

Arthur steps back and heads outside himself to take a bit of a look at everything. He spots Kieran over by the horses, who all remain close by even without any kind of fence. They're used to it and the shires stick with the heard easily enough, even if they haven't been part of their previous lifestyle. A glance over at the coop shows John and Charles lifting wooden planks in place and then picking up nails to hammer them in place. One of the workers is giving John a few pointers, but seems satisfied with how it looks, while Lenny helps another worker haul more planks closer.

"Mornin' Arthur." Sean's voice makes him look over as the kid heads towards him, eye slightly narrowed as he eyes the railing around the front porch, as if daring it to bump against his arm. "These suckers wakin' you too?"

His voice is joking, but Arthur knows that Sean would rather be over there with them than hang back, still having to take things easy. His bandage looks freshly changed and it reminds Arthur that he still has to do the same. Or ask someone to either do it or give him a hand. Maybe he can get someone to bring him some water from the well too, so he can get nice wipe down.

"Slept well?" Arthur asks and this time, Sean's smile gets a happier spark. Arthur can imagine very well why that is and he honestly does not need details. "You had breakfast yet?"

"Oh, nah, just woke up and Karen went to help Mary-Beth with somethin' or another so I went out."

Arthur tilts his head back at the house and Sean follows him inside, arm not bumping against the railing of the porch. He's getting a lot better with adjusting to his new depth perception. At this rate, he's going to be ready for shooting lessons even before he finishes healing. Not that Arthur would do that before he's fully fine again.

Inside, Abigail and Jack have left again and Sean and Arthur find some bread and a bit of dry meat, chewing it as they watch the workers outside. A part of Arthur is a bit worried about how John seems to hit his thump then and again when smacking in nails. He's also rather certain, if he were healthy, he wouldn't fare all that better. After all, Arthur rarely used the hammer before, aside from fixing up a few things to last them until they could replace them and that definitely isn't the same as building something. Especially something that's supposed to last.

After breakfast, Sean wanders off again, most likely to see if he might not be useful somewhere. Arthur, meanwhile, takes the time to update his journal. He hasn't done that as much in the last weeks, too busy and too worried, only writing down a few notes here and there when he found himself unable to sleep. It's rather meager, compared to what he remembers sketching and writing before.

Now though, now he takes the time to write down what happened, from their escape to the fight in the mountains and arriving here. He sketches what he remembers of the train and adds what he remembers of the local town, before concluding everything with a drawing of the ranch. Glancing out the window, he adds a quick sketch of the workers building the chicken coop.

Looking at all the hustling and bustling outside, he's rather certain that the racket is not going to die down anytime soon.

~*~

Things get almost overwhelmingly busy from then on and Arthur, more than once, is relieved that Hosea and Sadie handle the workers and where everything goes. Sadie, most of all, knows how to built a farm and while he can see the grief and pain on her face appearing at times, she's rolling up her sleeves and setting to work with the same dogged, rough determination she had when thinking about gunning down O'Driscolls. Not as rage filled though.

Still, seeing her hurt makes something in Arthur's chest feel tighter. He doesn't know how to help her, if there is anything that can help and he remembers his own grief towards Eliza and Isaac, remembers the crushing pain from back when he lost so many others to the path Dutch took them down on.

In the end, he has no words for her grief, thinks he never will, but he still tries to help in other ways. Hands her coffee from time to time, just sits beside her in silence as they watch the sun rise or sink and lets her stare off into the distance, her face sometimes grim, sometimes just exhausted. Once or twice though, she looks not as rough, not as hurt. A few times, she even looks a little lighter, even hides a small smile when watching the others settle down after a long day of hard work.

"Thanks." She murmurs one late evening, the sun setting, a clear sky above them with a few stars already appearing. The air smells of all the pre-cut wood that's around, mingling with the scent of the woods the wind carries from their back towards them.

Arthur doesn't know what to say, merely hums and tips his head to look at the appearing stars, the last colors of the sunset spreading across the sky. It's a beautiful sight and sitting here with Sadie is such a small thing to do for her, but if it helps, he's glad for it. Sadie gets up a moment later and gives his almost fully healed shoulder a gentle pat.

"Good night, Arthur." She says and her voice sounds a little softer, a little fonder, if he's not mistaken.

"Night, sleep well." He says and hears the squeak and hiss as she lights the lanterns at the porch, before she heads inside to the room Hosea and Abigail offered her. They're all soon going to have rooms of their own too. The pre-cut wood is already partly delivered and the barn is standing. Once the stable is finished, the houses are next.

The sound of chopping wood draws Arthur's attention over to Charles. The man is, even now, getting things done. Arthur finds himself watching him, the brace of his leg as he pulls the axe out of the stump, the stretch of his back and side as he bends down to pick up a new log to split apart. The rise and shift along his back as he lifts the axe.

Arthur is only really aware of his eyes following every motion, when his hands suddenly itch for his pen and journal. To bring this scene down on paper, Charles in the last light of the day, stars spreading over him in what promises to be a brilliant amount. He wants to draw this, he realizes, breath slightly catching in his chest. Wants to try to do this moment justice.

Another though suddenly pops up in his mind, of Charles's hands, disentangling Taima's mane, of his touch on Arthur's shoulder, the slight press of his fingers and how the warmth of his palm always seemed to seep through his clothes nowadays. He thinks of the way Charles would sometimes run his fingertips over things, tracing their shape or testing their texture. The expert way he handles his bow or sharpens knifes. The powerful flow of his body with every chop of the axe.

His thoughts slide to Charles's smiles, the warm expression in his eyes that few get to really see. The way he would tip his head towards someone when they talk, how his more mischievous smile would lift one corner of his mouth a bit more than the other. How seeing that smile was a gift on its own, considering how rare it could be. His hands itch to draw it too. To try and capture that expression, to try and draw the way Charles looks when he laughs.

Aw damn, Arthur finds himself thinking, faintly almost. It's not as if the realization suddenly slams into him. It's something quieter, gentler, befitting of the calm, caring steadiness that Charles has. It feels more like opening his eyes and realizing that this has been here the whole time already, waiting patiently for him to notice it. For these feelings to grow until they're right at home in his chest.

Charles splits another log of wood and Arthur exhales in a rush, reaching up a hand to rub over his mouth. This is...he can't even say it's unexpected. It doesn't even truly surprise him in a way, if he's honest. This is Charles after all.

Charles finishes chopping the wood in this moment, setting down the axe and turning around to him. Arthur can see his smile that appears on his face in the light of the light lanterns, a canopy of stars already stretching above them.

"Hey Arthur." Charles says as he walks up to him, steps quiet on the ground. Arthur sees the way Charles catches onto something and slightly tilts his head. "You doing alright?"

"Yeah, uh, sure." He clears his throat, his previously softly quiet mind snapping back into action. "I was jus' enjoin' the night." His gaze lands over at the already finished but still empty chicken coop, a thought pretty much falling into his head. "I think I'm goin' out tomorrow an' get us some chickens."

Charles nods. "Sounds good. Want me to come along?"

"Sure." Arthur nods. It doesn't matter that he doesn't know what to do about his feelings, that he feels just as awkward and fumbling as he did with Mary, there is no way having Charles around could ever be anything but good. "Let's head out after sunrise?"

"Fine by me." Charles motions at his shoulder. "How is your injury?"

"As good as healed." Arthur reassures him. He gives his shoulder a small roll in demonstration. There is barely a twinge, only a bit of tightness from the rest of it healing, but he's gotten his mobility back, even if he can't tax his shoulder yet. There is a slightly lopsided smile appearing on Charles's face, almost even showing a hint of his teeth and Arthur feels himself trip up a little internally at seeing it. This too, he wants to sketch.

"That's good." Charles moves to sit down beside him and looks over the ranch. The ground is pretty churned up around the buildings, from all the people walking around. The barn really is sturdy, like Hosea promised, the chicken coop looks fine to Arthur too. Pre-cut houses don't seem so bad, all in all.

"We're really makin' somethin' of this place." Arthur murmurs.

"Three more weeks and the houses should stand too, I think. Maybe four." Charles casts a thoughtful glance to the area that is already marked for their future homes. Two more small houses will be built and then they all have their own rooms. "With the hired help it goes rather fast."

Thankfully. They'll all have something to call their own then. Arthur almost can't wait for it. The thought makes him feel lighter, makes him feel like all these previous weeks, everything until now, was worth it. Somehow, against all odds, he managed to actually do something good with this second chance he got. He actually can give something to people this time around, instead of just taking. Charles shifting draws his attention and there is something softer on his face, the line of his shoulders relaxed.

"It's good to see you looking happier." Charles says, voice quiet. "You were worrying a lot before."

Arthur can't quite help the exhale that escapes him, bordering on a sigh. His shoulders sag and he tips his head back to look up at the sky, the countless stars that now stretch above them, bright little dots in the darkness of the night. A warm hand lands on his shoulder and he leans into the touch slightly before he realizes it.

"We're alright now." Charles murmurs and it sounds like reassurance and even a little bit like a promise. The thing is, Arthur starts to believe that too. They're alright and so much might be new now, there might be a lot they still have to learn, but they're here. They can learn all those things. There are no new graves and for the first time in weeks, Arthur feels his fears lighten a bit. The guilt is still here and the regret about everything that happened before, but it feels almost soothed. Gentled a bit into something that doesn't feel quite as crushing, not quite as haunting.

"Yeah." He agrees quietly. "I think you're right 'bout that."

~*~

The two shires are truly gentle giants, both of them easily coming with him and holding perfectly still as he puts the harness on them, their noses almost unbelievably soft. They even seem happy about getting to pull the wagon, they're certainly content to stand and wait until they're ready to go. Arthur takes the time to give both of them some pets and scratches. Storm, who wanders over when he checks the wagon and waits for Charles, sniffs at his bag.

"Oh, ya want treats, is that it?" Arthur asks her, feeling a small grin on his face as he ruffles her mane and she snorts at his chest. Smiling quietly, he digs out a little something for her and she crunches happily, still standing close to him and not looking like she's planning to leave. "You got to stay here girl. I'm headin' out wit'out ya."

"Ready?" Charles's voice draws his attention away from Storm and Arthur looks over at him. Sees the small smile he gives them and something along Arthur's shoulders loosens a little and his chest warms, feeling lighter. It's all too easy to smile back at Charles and feel the way it causes the corners of his eyes to crinkle a bit. Arthur can't really remember the last time he smiled like that and he can't help but tip his hat a bit forward.

He gives Storm's neck a clear pat to send her off. She steps back and slowly returns to the rest of the herd. Arthur follows Charles up to the coach box and while his shoulder twinges a bit, he's rather satisfied when that's all. He'll soon be able to really help out around the ranch again, to start hitting his thumbs instead of nails and just generally lifting things about again. To be useful, instead of just brooding around.

At least he gets to help Jack a bit with his reading and math. Arthur also got Sean to sit down with him and try to learn some numbers and the alphabet, though he suspects his success is partly because Sean got bored out of his skull. Kid is still healing up too, considering his injury was far more severe than Arthur's, but he should be fine again soon too.

Taking the reins, Arthur clicks his tongue and the horses start pulling. The path from the ranch to the road is far easier to see, if only because all the coming and going of the workers muddied it up, trampling down the grass and weeds. Arthur wonders if they should work on this too, make a proper path or something. Maybe put down some stones? Aw hell, he doesn't know, but one of the others might.

"Do you know who sells chickens around here?" Arthur asks when the road comes into view. "Or should we head into town?"

There is a short, thoughtful hum. "No, I think I know where to go. One of the workers mentioned a farmer selling some of his hatched and grown chickens, we can go there first. Let's head left on the road."

Arthur leads the horses down the right side and quiet falls between them, only accompanied by the rumble of the wagon, the steps of the horses and the noises of the harness. Somehow, he is both surprised and not at how easy the silence is, how comfortable it feels. Even with Charles being so close, it doesn't feel distracting or anything of the sort. It just is what it probably always was. Steady, calming and warm in that quiet way Charles has about him. It's comfortable. Being around Charles is comfortable and easy.

It makes Arthur relax and lean back a bit, as he looks around. He hasn't left the ranch since they arrived and it's good to see the surrounding area and the woods they're now heading into. He really has to grab Storm and get a good ride in at some point. Let her stretch her legs and get to know the land. For Arthur to get to know the area as well, to know landmarks and discover what is around them. It's getting really nicely warm too, with summer approaching them.

They pass by a larger lake on the way and Arthur reminds himself to let Hosea and Kieran know about it. Maybe they'd like to go and fish a bit or see if they can find any other places to catch something. The small river on their property should have some fish too, but they most likely wouldn't be very big.

"We should go huntin' soon." Arthur says. "Once everythin' is set up, bring some extra food in."

"I've been heading out a bit between work, bringing back some rabbits." Charles says and Arthur throws him a look from under the brim of his hat. Charles already works so hard and it really shouldn't surprise him to hear that he does even more. Charles, obviously noticing his look, merely huffs softly and pats his shoulder. "Oh no, you don't get to give me that look. Not with how much you worked before we got here." Something in his expression shifts a bit and he quirks a small smile. Charles is looking happier too, Arthur notes. Is more prone to smiling and less to quiet, solemn thinking ever since they arrived. It must be good for him too, to be here and to have less reasons to worry. "But if you want, we can go hunting together again."

"Sounds good." Arthur nods, giving the reins a small switch to keep the horses going at a steady trot. "We haven't done that in a while."

Charles gives him an agreeing hum and, as they approach a fork in the road, tells him to head down the right one. Soon enough, another farm comes into view. The farmer is a bit suspicious at first, until he hears that they're his new neighbors. He greets them then, face brightening up and asks them a couple of questions. Arthur answers, while he tries not to give too much away or appear too rough.

The farmer, Frank, has quite a lot of gossip on the surrounding area, most of it from his wife Sallie. Arthur honestly doesn't know what he's supposed to do with half the information he gets, while Frank lets them catch the agreed number of chickens. The farmer simply leans against the fence, while Charles and Arthur do their best to pick up the chickens. He honestly never knew that chickens could run so fast and he gets smacked in the face with a wing once or twice. All the while, Frank tells them everything he knows.

"But I'm sure you already heard about the gang in the hills." Frank says, just as they finally get the last chicken and put it in one of the larger boxes provided by Frank, careful not to let the other chickens already inside escape. They have fifteen chickens now, young and healthy too, from the looks of it. The farmer already bends down to pick one of the boxes up, when Arthur's mind catches on.

"What gang?" He asks, Charles frowning at his side. "We heard of no gang."

"Well, they haven't been around for long." Frank says, already turning to carry the box away. Arthur and Charles quickly pick the last two to follow him. "Sheriff rode around last week to warn everyone to be careful about heading too far into the hills. I mean, not that I have a reason to go, but we're supposed to let travelers know too. I heard they already robbed some fellas and burned down a small homestead a mile or two north from here."

Arthur feels something cool spread along his shoulders, a heavy frown settling on his brow. Frank has reached the wagon and sets the box down with some care, sliding it back without jostling the chickens and making space for the last two boxes.

"But not to worry. Sheriff said they should move on or he was going to catch them." Frank dusts his hands off and Arthur hands him the agreed money once he set his box down. His mind is already settling into something slightly grim and he barely reacts when Frank gives his shoulder a small, jovial pat.

"Do come by again soon, neighbors. We'd love to hear some stories from your travels. And let us know if you need anything, my wife knows most folks around here, she can always set you up with someone."

"Sure." Arthur's voice is closer to a grumble, but Frank doesn't seem to notice or care. Just waves them off and heads back to his home, a small spring in his steps. Arthur rubs a hand over his mouth. A damn gang. Of course.

"Nothing we can't handle." Charles's quite voice is calming. He gives his shoulder a steadying, gentle squeeze. "Come on Arthur, let's get the chickens back home."

Arthur nods and gets on the wagon again, though this time Charles takes the reins. It leaves Arthur with some more time to think, brooding over the information. How big would the gang in the forest be? While Charles is right, they know how to handle fights, if it's a big gang, they could get into trouble. Though, if they do end up in a shootout, the Sheriff at least shouldn't give them any trouble for it. After all, as far as he knows, folks don't get into trouble for taking out outlaws. A brief, light knock of a knee against his jolts him out of his thoughts and he glances at Charles, who looks back at him.

"If you want, we can head into town when all the buildings stand and talk to the Sheriff. See if we can find anything out."

That doesn't sound like a bad idea. Arthur gives him a nod and settles back a bit. Once the buildings are finished, they can go. Until then, even if a gang is nearby, they wouldn't attack. Too many folks around with all the workers helping out. Exhaling, Arthur focuses back on what to do next. And who knows, maybe they're lucky for once and trouble will pass them by.

~*~

The building of things wraps up in three weeks and Arthur, his shoulder finally fully healed, helps out as well. Sean too, is doing a lot better and while he keeps bandages over his eye, he's taking to helping out where he can, though he's still not allowed to do too much. Though, even with how busy it is, it doesn't mean that Arthur doesn't wrangle the kid down for a bit of letter and number practicing. It helps a lot to have Hosea join them, the man has a lot more experience in teaching sullen kids how to read than Arthur. Lenny too, is patient and encouraging whenever he helps Sean with something.

As much as Sean seems to partly hate it and Arthur doesn't miss the tense hitch of his shoulders when he attempts to learn, he thinks it's going to be good for the kid. He also gets the sneaking suspicion that Sean might be embarrassed about being unable to read and teaching him, while it makes him uncomfortable in the first place, should help that in the long run. Besides, no one can attempt to swindle him about prices in the future. Not that they would succeed, Sean can sniff out bullshit from a mile away, but it would give the kid some more skills and advantages.

Kieran at least seems fully healthy again as well, carrying things and working near tirelessly along with everyone else. The workers Hosea hired are pretty nice too. They certainly don't mind sharing all the local gossip with them, who gets along with whom, which families have some kind of arguments going on and where to get the things they need. They even point Arthur to a homestead where the owner recently deceased and his nephew from the city is now looking to sell furniture and things at a cheaper price, since he wants to return to the city as quickly as possible.

"Old man had no friends or children when he died, as far as I know." George, one of the workers, tells Arthur, as they work on finishing the roof of the last building. "Died all alone in his bed. We wouldn't have known either if his neighbors wouldn't check up on him from time to time. They informed his nephew and the kid is really impatient to get everything wrapped up. Is going to sell the land cheap too, to that Tommy Albrecht I think, the same fella who owned your ranch before."

"Yeah I know 'im." Arthur says as the reaches for the next shingle. "Decent guy."

"I thought so too, the two times I met him." George nods and then tilts his head towards the woods starting behind their homes. "You heard about the gang in the hills too, right? Some folks said they've seen the outlaws ridin' around and they've been to town too once already, apparently. We're kind of hoping the sheriff either gets them or they move on." George must misinterpret the expression on Arthur's face, since he briefly holds up his hands. "Though, you fellas look like you can take care of yourselves. Just, be careful, is what I'm sayin'."

"Sure." Arthur tips his head to hide the downward twist of his mouth and the way a frown settles on his brow. Damn it. Hopefully, that gang really is just going to move on to places with more loot or opportunities. Though, truth be told, he doesn't quite believe it. Most outlaws prefer the countryside, especially because of all the hiding possibilities and setting up camp without being found fast. There are few things out here after all, only small towns and reaching the next city would take at least two hours by train.

They finish with the last of the shingles and then Arthur and George sit back, looking at the finished roof of the last house. George has a proud grin on his face and briefly clasps Arthur's shoulder.

"Well done, friend. Your homes are standing. May I just say, you really made something of this place. The last months, we honestly wasn't sure if anyone would buy it and move out here." He gets up and walks to the edge of the roof. "So, welcome, to our humble corner of the country. If there is anything you folks need, don't hesitate to let us know."

Arthur nods and follows him down from the roof. His shot shoulder doesn't so much as twinge at his rougher landing and aside from an ugly scar, everything seems to have healed very well and without trouble. Arthur has been real lucky in that regard.

George leaves to inform everyone they're done and Arthur hears Hosea talk to the supervisor, who starts to wrap things up and says their goodbyes. Arthur, meanwhile, stands in front of the house and looks over them. Looks at the built barn, at the stable that's already housing horses, the built pastures for other animals. He looks over their homes, all sturdy and done, clean glass windows only showing a few fingerprints. They did it. They all have a place to stay. They really have a home now.

Exhaling, something both light and tight appears in his chest. Almost like a part of him can't quite believe it. Mostly though, Arthur suddenly feels so very humbled, so very surprised that he really managed to turn this second chance into something so good.

"It really looks great." Mary-Beth says with a quiet smile, as she comes to stand beside him. "You really made something out of this, Arthur."

"Didn't do anythin'." He murmurs. "Only had the money. Didn't even help build most a this."

It's true too. Hosea has been the one organizing everything, Sadie teaching and helping them, George and the other workers mostly built things around here and everyone else certainly has done a whole lot more than him. Mary-Beth gives him a slightly exasperated and yet very fond look, before she turns more serious, wetting her lips.

"I..." She breaks off and Arthur turns towards her, attentive and waiting. "I'm glad, I left with you." She swallows and her voice gets quieter. "Even if it felt like I was betraying everyone else."

Arthur understands how she feels. While he doesn't regret leaving, doesn't regret changing things, a part of him still feels like this time around, he was the one who betrayed Dutch first. And maybe, in a way, that isn't entirely wrong. Most of all though, Arthur refuses being sorry or feeling bad for saving folks. For doing what he could to look after everyone. He'll never be sorry for that. Will never be sorry to see them alive and walking, arguing and laughing, instead of seeing their corpses and later finding their graves. Still, it doesn't mean he wishes he couldn't have taken the others along too. Javier and Tilly and Molly and even Bill, to a degree.

He gently settles a hand on her shoulder and Mary-Beth exhales, giving him a small smile, the solemn seriousness fading a bit from her eyes again.

"I'm glad you came with us." He says and it seems to be the right thing, considering her smile becomes as bit more solid and her shoulders relax. As his touch drops away, she gives his lower arm a gentle pat.

"Thank you, Arthur."

They look up at the calls of the workers and Arthur throws them a salute, getting waves in return, as they leave again. They're probably going to see them around town again and Arthur thinks one or two might drop by on their own as well, considering Lenny and Sean befriended some of them. He also suspects that a fella has started to really take an interest in Mary-Beth.

Soon enough, the guys and their wagons are gone and Arthur finds himself standing among his, well, his family, as they all look over the finished ranch, the for now empty pastures, the for now mostly empty buildings. There is a long moment of quiet between them and Arthur thinks that it feels proud. They all should be proud, he thinks. This is their work, their strength and sweat helped build this.

Then Karen claps her hands. "This calls for a celebration! Come on everyone, let's break out the booze!"

Arthur finds himself grinning, Mary-Beth smiling and some whoops from Sean and Lenny joining in. Hosea grins as well, waving them into the main house and calling for John and Charles to get the alcohol down from the attic.

Arthur follows after them, Sadie joining him. He's glad to see her look a little less hurt and grieving, though her smile has a bit of a wry twist. Suddenly, Arthur wonders if she's even happy out here, with them. He'll ask her later, or rather, tomorrow maybe, after the celebration. Sadie looks up and seems to notice something in him, since she gives him a look and a small, lighthearted smack against his arm. There is something brighter in her eyes now, her smile a bit more mischievous. A little more alive and less quiet humor mixed with soul deep hurt.

"Lighten up." She tells him. "You really made it. Come on now, Arthur. Let's not worry about anythin' for a night." She reaches the door before him and holds it open with a smile that makes him huff in amusement. "Shall we?"

In the living room, now empty of bedrolls, John and Karen are distributing drinks, while Lenny and Kieran get the last boxes down from the attic. Soon after, Arthur is clinking bottles and Hosea starts up a song. Karen laughs and joins right in, everyone raising their voices to well worn, well known lyrics. Charles breaks out his harmonica as well a couple of bottles in and plays along with their singing.

Arthur sits among them, happy and accepting new drinks whenever he finds his empty. People begin stumbling over the lyrics then and again, but there is a lot of giggling and laughing the more drinks flow. Arthur ends up laughing about a joke he honestly can't remember anymore. Near giggling, he calls to Lenny, who seems to find the forgotten joke just as hilarious, since Arthur can hear him breaking out into laughter, stumbling over to pat him on the shoulder and then sitting down beside Kieran.

It's fun. It's genuinely fun, Sadie even takes over the harmonica for a bit as Karen and Abigail prod the others into dancing. Arthur starts out taking Mary-Beth's hand, dipping her without bumping in any of the others. He ends up dancing with Charles afterwards, though by then, they're stumbling more than anything else, laughing and hooking elbows to somehow keep the momentum going.

Beside them, John and Abigail are dancing as well, a wide, happy smile on Abigail's face, while Jack jumps around too, Cain turning circles between everyone and licking the boy's face whenever he passes by. At one point, Abigail sweeps Jack up and John laughs, plopping his hat on Jack's head, causing the thing to immediately slip down to the boy's nose, all three of them swaying along to the music, Jack grinning widely, hands gripping the hat to lift it and look up at his parents.

Arthur isn't quite sure what happens afterwards, but between one moment and the next, he's lying on the ground, waving a bottle, his head cushioned on Charles's stomach, who seems just as unwilling to get on his feet again. To the side, he sees Kieran and Mary-Beth dancing and they look a bit more sober, though Mary-Beth's cheeks are flushed and she keeps giggling and Kieran clearly tries hard not to trip over his own feet, or cause both of them to trip with their swaying.

Hosea is laughing and singing with Karen and Sean, who both look entirely worry free. Sadie leans against the wall with a smile, sipping on a bottle and Lenny is doing his best to play the harmonica beside her. Arthur honestly can't really tell if he's doing a good job, drunk as the kid is too, but it doesn't sound too bad. John has Abigail in his lap now and they're both joining the singing at the next song. Jack is sitting beside Hosea, with the dog sprawled across his lap and seems to try to sing along too. Hosea, grinning down at the kid, reaches out to ruffle his hair.

"This 's all good." Arthur slurs out and Charles moves a hand. At first, it kind of ends up in his face, smushing against his nose, before Charles finds his chest and gives it a few pats. His hand remains there and Arthur finds himself grinning, reaching up to pat his hand back. He's certain that Charles laughs, considering his chest rumbles under Arthur's head. A part of him, that feels at least halfway clear, thinks that this is how it's supposed to be. All of them happy and him right where he is.

The warmth of Charles's hand seems to seep through his clothes and into his chest, making him hum quietly, off-beat to the song that's sung, but in this moment, Arthur feels entirely and undeniably happy.

Things are kind of blurry around him and it feels like he might be missing out on things happening, but everyone around him is happy, so Arthur doesn't feel worried.

He's half aware of it when John and Abigail, stumbling but not too drunk, leave to tuck Jack in and don't return. Kieran has fallen asleep somewhere over by the oven. Karen and Sean are stumbling off with Mary-Beth following them and Hosea starts to prod everyone who seems remotely capable of it to their feet to go to sleep in their new homes. Lenny, swaying on his feet, drops a coat over Kieran and then seems to decide that sitting down and falling asleep beside him is a great idea.

"Come on Arthur." Hosea's foot nudges his own, drawing his blurred gaze over to the man. Arthur grins and tries to wave, but ends up spilling the rest of his beer over himself. Hosea, a nice flush on his cheeks, merely laughs and turns to Charles. "Both of you, head to your place and get some rest, alright?"

Charles rumbles something and Arthur ends up making a disagreeing nose as the man sits up and Arthur tries not to let his head slip from his chest and smack to the floor. It pretty much ends with him rolling sideways and his head coming to rest on wood anyways. Charles's hand prods at his shoulder. With a slurred mumble, Arthur struggles to his feet, swaying and gripping Charles, who holds onto him too.

They rise more or less leaned against each other and Arthur is pretty sure, only Hosea grabbing both of them when they stand is what stops them from swaying too much and dropping back down. Arthur pats Hosea's shoulder, who gives them indulgent grins and then sends them off with pats to their backs.

Arthur and Charles stumble out of the house and in the vague direction of theirs. He isn't quite sure when or how, but he thinks he starts talking about something. Arthur frowns when he realizes he talks about dying and breaks off.

Charles makes a questioning noise and Arthur tries to wave him off. "'s nothin'. Shouldn't talk 'bout this."

Charles just hums and they reach their small house. Arthur huffing in a mix of amusement and confusion as they need a moment to fumble the door open, before they stumble inside. It's a two room house, the one that got finished today and they both haven't bothered to bring their things into one of the rooms yet. Instead, their bedrolls are right beside the door and they both simultaneously agree to just go to sleep here. Arthur can't even be bothered to unroll the bedroll, just puts his head on it and grumbles when his hat ends up knocked somewhere.

Looking at Charles who lies beside him, he once again sees their utter lack of furniture. They don't even have a small kitchen or nothing.

"Gotta go buy that." Arthur slurs and there is a small groan from Charles. Arthur hears some rustling as Charles rolls to lie on his side and his hand comes up to pats his chest again.

"Sleep." Charles murmurs, giving his chest another pat. "Don' worry. 's all fine."

And maybe it's because he's drunk, maybe because this night has been one of the best Arthur can remember having in the last weeks, but he closes his eyes and listens. For this one night, he lets the worry about furniture slide to the back, doesn't worry about learning to be a proper rancher, doesn't worry about the gang in the woods. Doesn't think about how he's still worried about Tilly, Miss Grimshaw and Javier. About what might happen to them and if they and the others still back in the east are alright.

For just one night, he lets those thoughts go as Charles murmurs something else, face half buried in his rolled up bedroll, before quiet snores begin to fill the space of their new home, the smell of wood clear and fresh in the air. Arthur closes his eyes and just listens to the slightly muffled snores, mind quieting until he falls asleep again.

Chapter Text

Arthur wakes to a throbbing head and a sore back. While he's used to sleeping on the ground, it's usually not on bare wood. Maybe he should have bothered to spread out his bedroll. There is a foul taste in his mouth and his body feels heavy. He hears quiet steps and after blearily opening his eyes, sees Charles tying back his hair, already dressed for the day.

With a groan, Arthur sits up and makes a low noise in surprised appreciation when Charles steps over to hand him a mug with coffee. Charles looks a bit more tired, movements a tad slower than usual after their night of partying. Still, he looks lengths more awake than Arthur feels and is apparently ready to head out and work. However he's capable of that, it's quite enviable, really. Arthur sips on his coffee and then blinks, remembering something.

"Charles, you want t' head to that dead farmer's place with me? Nephew is sellin' furniture." He asks, squinting a bit as he slants a brief glance at the window to gauge the time. It looks early. Early enough that he might be one of the few unfortunate bastards already awake after that party last night.

Charles nods. "Of course. When do you want to leave?"

"Whenever you're ready." Arthur takes larger sips of his coffee, before getting to his feet with a small grunt. There is a loud crack along his spine, which even Charles has heard, considering the way the man eyes him. Arthur waves him off. "'m fine."

"Let's head out then. If you want, we can go now." Charles motions for Arthur to go ahead. Outside, they both take a short stop to wash out their mouths and Arthur finds himself standing there for a moment longer, looking at the ranch and the rising sun, pale morning light already spilling over the land. He looks over the barn, the stable, the horses out on the pasture, glances over the chicken coop with the chickens and eyes the first field they begun to plant. This is their home and a sudden feeling of deep relief and pride rises within him. They created this and they made it this far. Damn it, but they deserve every last bit of it.

Everything is still quiet, he sees Kieran already carrying bales of hay to feed the horses - how the kid is already up and working is entirely beyond Arthur. He catches sight of Lenny stepping outside and stretching, of Sadie smoking on the steps of her small cabin, looking half asleep - she said it would be best to give her room in the main house to little Jack, who'd grow up soon enough to want his own space. Besides, no one would ever think to deny or begrudge her her own space. Everyone else seems to be asleep or still inside. It's rather early too and while Arthur isn't surprised to know that he personally hasn't slept for long, even with how drunk he was, it is a bit surprising to see some of the others already up and about. Lenny, noticing him, waves and Arthur throws a lazy half salute back at him. Sadie merely, vaguely waves her cigarette in his direction and he can't help the way he has to smile at that.

A part of Arthur hopes the novelty never fades. The novelty, the relief and gratitude to see everyone alive and with him. To finally be here, where they're as safe as they can be and far away from that mess with the Pinkertons and Cornwall. He hopes he'll never take any of that for granted, hopes he will always wake up and step outside to take that deep, near refreshing breath at seeing folks alive and healthy. Happy and together, not torn apart and forced to escape in order to save their lives.

His thoughts slide to Tilly and Trelawney, Miss Grimshaw and Javier, to Pearson, Molly, Swanson and Uncle. He hopes they'll be alright. Hell, he even hopes it for Bill and maybe, a little bit for Strauss too, in a way. Hopes they're going to stay alright. Maybe, since Arthur and the others left, Dutch's going to be more careful. A part of Arthur doubts very much that Dutch is just going to stop, just because he has lost manpower, but he hopes he'll do things differently. Maybe, this time, Dutch will even truly manage to see his plans through and emerge victorious on the other side. Maybe he's going to one-up Milton and Ross and get that money he so very much desires.

A gentle clap on the shoulder draws him from his thoughts. Charles gives him a questioning look and Arthur merely gestures for them to go ahead, feeling the man's warm hand slide away. They walk over to the pasture side by side, greeting the others along the way. Lenny seems happy to take it a bit slower, to amble over to the stable to help out Kieran. Arthur's going to need to learn mucking stables, caring for fields, and all the other things that have to be done around here. At least, due to the workers, he now already knows how to build fences and partly how to build buildings. It's going to come in handy if anything ever breaks or needs to be repaired around here.

"We'll head out to get some things." Arthur tells Lenny and Kieran, while they harness the shires. "We should be back before or around noon."

"Take care." Lenny says with a nod, sounding just a bit rougher from last night, already picking up a hay bale. Kieran gives them a shy smile and a small wave in parting. Arthur returns it with a half salute, before getting on the wagon. Charles easily hoists himself up as well and with a click and switch of the reins, the horses start pulling.

It's nice, really, to be out this early for something so peaceful. The air still feels slightly night-cool and birds are singing, fluttering about. There is a soft rustle of the wind in the trees and the sun throwing light through the leaves to let dots dance across the ground. It feels different from the other times Arthur rode out in the past. It misses the undercurrent of missions and dangerous or mean jobs lying ahead. In all honesty, it feels really good, even if there is a part of him that never entirely relaxes, always wonders if he's doing enough, if the money really will be enough. But, yes, being out like this, with Charles at his side, it's nice. Very nice even.

"We'll probably still have to head into town." Charles speaks up, drawing Arthur from his thoughts. "We won't get nearly enough at that farm. Nevermind wallpaper and whatnot."

Arthur exhales. He honestly never knew that creating a home entailed so many things. "Yeah. Though I think the women already talked about doin' that. Abigail mentioned it before. We'll need things for our place too."

And that is still so very strange to say and think. Here Arthur is, talking about picking out drapes and wall paper and so many other things. In a way, it baffles him a bit, but mostly...mostly it's a damn gift. To be here, to do something so very mundane. To get the chance to think about what they need and if they're going to buy a painting or something to hang up so they have something on the walls. Their pictures are going to end up in their rooms, most likely, after all.

Charles, considering the look on his face, thinks something similar. His expression is slightly wistful, as though he's kind of always wanted all that and yet didn't think he'd come this far. Arthur gets it, in a way. Before this miracle of a second chance, he didn't think he'd come this far either, not truly. But they're here now and they do finally get to have this.

"That's going to take a while." Charles muses and Arthur can't help the short chuckle that escapes him. Oh yes, picking out everything they need will take quite a while. Well, unless the shop in town has such limited options they can decide within moment. Arthur doubts that though. When it comes to decorating homes, there are always a lot more choices and options than one would think.

Comfortable silence settles between them, only broken when they point something out to each other. Arthur remarks on some strangely growing trees or some of the birds of prey he sees circling above them once or twice. Charles in return remarks on the wildlife tracks he can spot or what he thinks about the woods and surrounding area. From his estimate, there should be enough game that they can hunt for the ranch then and again with no trouble.

The farm of the deceased old man comes into view just as they started to talk about some of their childhood memories, their conversation slowing to a stop. The nephew is already awake, looking a bit harried and impatient, as he sticks his head out the front door to see who arrives.

"We're here to ask if you're still sellin' furniture." Arthur says as he slows the wagon to a stop. The man already waves him to come before he even finishes speaking.

"Yes, yes, of course. Here, follow me, there is still quite a bit left." He turns on his heels and Arthur exchanges a look with Charles, before they follow him. The nephew certainly is right, he hasn't sold much yet. Which might be because, as far as Arthur knows, they're the only recent additions to the area and most folks aren't in immediate need for things.

Most of the furniture is in really good condition too, some are even painted, not that Arthur personally cares about that, but it is a nice touch. The nephew doesn't seem to care much about getting proper prices, he is, like George said, selling under value. Arthur couldn't care less about that if he's honest. Instead, he feels rather weirdly proud of himself when he even manages to wrangle the price down a little and they shake hands on it.

"Just load up the wagon and I'll send you whatever you can't fit." The nephew says, stepping back. "I'll see about getting the livestock sold in town too."

"Livestock?" Charles speaks up and for the first time, the nephew looks less like he wants to shoo them out of the place as soon as possible and more like they're saving his neck.

"Oh yes, are you possibly interested in them too? My uncle had four cows when he died, they're still here. I intend to sell all of them at the local livestock market. There should be another auction at the end of the week."

Charles glances at Arthur, who gives him a small nod, before he turns to the furniture. Charles leaves with the nephew to take a look at the animals. Arthur, meanwhile, starts to carry things outside. He doesn't load things yet, because he wants to have as much of the stuff in one place before he starts squishing as much as possible onto the wagon.

By the time Charles returns, looking vaguely satisfied, Arthur has carried out six chairs, a large table and three mattresses - the old man had two fully furnished guest bedrooms along with his own bedroom, though he rarely ever received any guests.

"They cows are a bit thin, but healthy otherwise." Charles says, heading back inside to help him carry the bedframes next. "I bought them, for what amounts to nothing. This guy really wants to leave as soon as possible. He doesn't give a damn about making a profit"

"His loss, our gain." Arthur says. "But we'll have to make a second trip for the cows."

Charles makes an agreeing hum. "Thought so too."

In the end, they manage to get most of the bought furniture on the wagon, but the nephew definitely has to send the largest pieces to them. Arthur honestly doesn't mind, the man offered and it should arrive within the day, considering how eager the man seems to get rid of everything concerning his uncle. All they have to get later is the cows.

On the way back, Arthur and Charles exchange a smile that turns into a grin and then chuckling that Arthur can't really explain. Maybe they're laughing because it's such a great morning, with such beautiful weather and things are fine. They truly are fine for once and something about that is so incredibly freeing.

Arthur feels Charles's hand landing on his shoulder, giving it a happy pat and small squeeze, his chest warming at the contact. The smiles seem to stay on their faces and for the first time in a long while, hell, years maybe, Arthur feels light and happy. Content. More than that, he feels a growing confidence that this time, things are really, finally, turning out great for them. They'll make something good out of this life and they've left all that tragedy, that pain and hurt behind them.

"Hey, Charles." Arthur's voice is a bit quieter than he means it to be and their knees press lightly together as Charles shifts to turn towards him. "Ya happy out here?"

"Yeah." There is something warm in Charles's voice and somehow, it feels like it might curl right around Arthur's heart, making him duck his head as he smiles. "Yeah, Arthur, I'm happy."

"Good. That's." He can't quite help but clear his throat."Good."

He looks up and Charles starts to grin and then they're both laughing and this time, Arthur really has no clue why, but he feels so damn happy, it doesn't matter.

"And you?" Charles asks when they quiet back down again and he lightly bumps their shoulders together with a lopsided smile. "Are you happy?"

"Yeah." The word is softer than Arthur intends it to be and it rings true. "Right now, I really am."

"Good. You deserve it."

The smile stays on Arthur's face all the way back to the ranch and whenever he glances at Charles, he sees a small, content smile on his face as well.

Back at the ranch, it seems like everyone else is awake now as well and folks lend a hand to empty the wagon as quickly as possible, surprised and delighted. It's decided to bring most of the furniture into the main house for now, to give a bed to Hosea and Jack and the third one ends up with Sadie - John and Abigail need a bigger one anyways.

Considering they're still in the habit of eating together and have only one fully stocked kitchen, the table ends up in the main house as well, even if it doesn't have enough chairs for all of them yet. But it's a start and their homes are only going to grow from there on.

"We should ride out too." Sadie says, giving their homes a scrutinizing look. "Get the drapes and wallpaper before we get the rest of the furniture."

"I'll head back with Charles to get the cattle we bought." Arthur says. "We'll take the horses, you can have the wagon, if you want."

"Need any help?" Sadie asks and Arthur rubs over his chin, thinking, before shaking his head.

"Nah, we should be able to handle them." He has herded animals before, a few brief times, but he thinks it should still be alright. Sadie gives him an understanding nod, while Hosea already organizes their trip into town.

"Will you two catch up to us when you're done?" He asks, just as Arthur and Charles return from fetching and saddling their horses. "We'll leave in a few minutes and John and Sean are going to stay to watch over the place. The rest of us are going to head into town and you could join us when you're done."

"Sure, sounds good to me." Arthur gives a nod after exchanging a look with Charles. Hosea pats his arm with a smile and briefly clasps Charles's shoulder when the man nods as well, before he returns to getting ready.

"Ready?" Charles asks and Arthur nods, swinging up into the saddle. Considering that few people are on the road, they ride side by side. After a few minutes of silence, they start throwing forth and back ideas of what they can get in town. They talk about what furniture they need, the bathtub they're going to get - the largest one possible, they're both no small men - and if they should just buy soap in bulks to have them stocked.

They also talk about how much they should stock their kitchen, considering they both are moderately decent at cooking at most - grilling and seasoning game while out on the road is one thing, cooking whole meals is quite another. They decide not to stock too much, especially since it looks like dinner will still be served at the main house.

The nephew looks more put together when they arrive this time and Arthur can't help but think that his clothes are too fine for trudging around on the countryside. Then again, it's not his business. They give him the money for the cows and the nephew tells them to just take them, as he returns to the farm house.

Like Charles said, the animals look a bit thin, probably because they weren't fed very well since their owner died. But they seem healthy otherwise and respond easily to being herded. It helps that Charles knows how to do this as well and together, they move the cattle from the farm without trouble, keeping a steady, calm pace.

"Hey." Charles gets his attention just as they reach a bend in the road, nodding to a clearing in the woods to their right. "I think we can head through here for a shortcut."

Arthur eyes the opening between the trees and then nods. "Sure, let's go."

He gives a small nudge to Storm and they turn the cows to the side. The clearing stretches ahead of them and after a little while, they reach another road, the path curving around a small hill just a few paces down. Charles seems to know where they are, since there is a brief look of quiet satisfaction on his face. The clearing really must have been a shortcut.

There is a comfortable quiet between them, only broken by quick words to keep the cattle together and moving. Arthur thinks that, if this is the rest of his life, herding cattle, spending hours on horseback, heading home at the end of the day and spending time with those he cares about...it would be a damn good life. He glances over at Charles from under the brim of his hat, sees the way Charles's shoulders look relaxed and something peaceful but attentive is on his face as he guides Taima. If Charles is at his side and is happy, Arthur thinks it would even be a real damn good life.

Charles looks up in this moment and gives him a smile. Arthur returns it without having to think about it, feeling one corner of his mouth tick up further than the other, almost making the smile into a grin and he ducks his head a bit.

Yeah, a really damn good life.

The next moment, Arthur notices that something is up. Storm lifts her head and snorts, ears going back, her back tensing slightly under the saddle and he notices the cows slowing down, attention caught by something. He exchanges a quick glance with Charles, who already has shifted to let one hand rest over his revolver. At Arthur's nod, Charles nudges Taima to go ahead, while Arthur keeps an eye on the cattle and their surroundings.

Charles disappears behind the bend of the road ahead of them and Arthur feels his shoulders shift and square, becoming ready for anything. It doesn't take more than a few moments before Charles returns, face now serious and grim and Arthur joins him at the bend of the road.

"Two dead." He says and helps Arthur keep the now nervous cattle together. "Maybe a few hours at most. It looks like a robbery."

"Shit." Arthur feels a frown falling over his face and he clenches his teeth slightly when they head around the bend and he can see it as well. There is a small wagon, one wheel broken and splintered and he can see a few bullet holes in its side, the horse who pulled it nowhere in sight. There are two dead, lying in front of it, just like Charles said. Two men, though one of them looks closer to a boy than a grown adult. Father and son, most likely and considering the similarities of their features. The earth is churned up a bit around them on the road, several hoof prints visible, along with the dull glint of some cartridges.

"We should tell the sheriff." Arthur says after staring at the two bodies for a long moment, their clothes smudged with dirt and blood. It looks like they were hit by more than one bullet each. This was messy. Or rather, messy on purpose. He can't see either of the dead with a gun nearby. They most likely had been unarmed in the first place. Whoever attacked them not only had easy targets, but also shot someone defenseless. Damn animals.

"Let's hurry back." Charles says and urges the cows to go faster. Arthur joins him a moment later, briefly wondering if those two are going to leave a grieving mother and wife behind or if maybe, they had lived alone before dying.

This also happened closer to their ranch than Arthur likes. Sure, there is still a ways to go until they reach their home, but really, that doesn't mean anything out here. The peaceful, light mood is gone, replaced by something tenser and grimmer. Their silence feels heavy now and Arthur wonders if those deaths were caused by the gang in the hills. Their attention certainly is sharper than before and occasionally, their hands fall closer to the guns at their belts.

Charles and he get the cattle back to the ranch without trouble and John, who greets them with a small grin, immediately turns serious at seeing their faces.

"Everythin' alright?" He asks, closing the gate of an empty pasture after the last cow went through, the animals almost immediately lowering their heads to start grazing.

"There are two dead farther up the road." Arthur says. "We'll tell the sheriff. You watch out around here. I don't think that anything's goin' to happen for now, but...be careful."

"Sure." John nods, face and body shifting to alert and attentive, hand falling to the revolver at his hip. "Don't worry, I'll keep watch."

Arthur nods and turns Storm around, Charles falling in beside him. With a last wave to John, they leave the ranch again, galloping down the road at a steady but brisk pace.

"Who do you think did that?" Charles asks just as the town comes into view. "The gang in the hills?"

"I don't know, but I think so. 'specially with what Frank told us." Arthur answers, throwing Charles a glance. "Do ya want t' come to the sheriff with me or head to Hosea an' the others?"

"I'll go with you." Charles answers.

They slow the horses when they reach the first buildings, throwing a few nods and greetings at the residents, as they figure out where the sheriff's office is. It's thankfully easy and quick to find and they hitch the horses up outside, before stepping on the front porch. The boards creak heavily, but the door is near silent as Arthur pushes it open.

He sees the sheriff right away, an elderly man with a serious, no-nonsense kind of face and sharp eyes. He sizes them up and already rises to his feet before the door closes behind them, tipping his head in a greeting without letting them out of his sight for a second.

"Gentlemen." He says, voice slightly rough and Arthur catches a brief glimpse of a thick silver scar at the side of his neck. "How can I help you?"

"We're the new residents." Arthur explains and sees understanding brighten on the sheriff's face, something about his guarded, closed off expression easing up a little. "At the ranch north west of town. We, uh, found two dead today, when we were out."

At this, the sheriff's face turns grim, shoulders shifting to tenser and his gaze sharpens. "Where?"

Charles gives him the exact location and the sheriff sends two of his deputies out with quick, curt words, before turning back to them. "Tell me everything you know."

"There ain't much to say." Arthur starts, slightly spreading his hands. He's a bit relieved that the sheriff doesn't suspect them of foul play with the dead, but then again, he doesn't know of any criminals which would head into the sheriff's station to announce a crime they committed while trying to blame it on someone else. "There was no one around when we arrived, but it looked like more than one rider was there during the attack. They were killed by gunshots."

"Sounds like the gang." The sheriff murmurs under his breath, briefly rubbing a hand over his mouth and Arthur sees a small, thin scar at the side of his hand. His eyes flick up to look at Arthur and Charles again, thoughtful and slightly calculating. He looks over the weapons they carry, their scars, their stances. Arthur isn't sure if he likes it and can't resist shifting just a little to firm his footing. "Say, you look like men who know the rougher side of life. Who know how to handle it."

Arthur just tilts his head, noncommittal. The sheriff gives him a tight-lipped, humorless smile, eyes still entirely serious. They don't take their gazes off each other for a second though and Arthur keeps his breathing calm and quiet, careful and cautious.

"There is a wanted poster for the leader of the gang. His name is William Jamison, he's been wanted for a while now, but no one could catch him so far. His gang tends to move from area to area and their hideouts haven't been found before. If you or anyone you know is interested in capturing this bastard, it would be a great help to us. There are only so many deputies I can send out and only so many patrols I can run myself. It also pays well."

Arthur exchanges a quick glance with Charles, who inclines his head the barest bit and Arthur turns back to the sheriff. "Sure, sounds good."

The sheriff nods and opens a drawer, before pulling out a wanted poster. "The poster up at the wall was taken by two bounty hunters three days ago." He explains and then grimaces slightly. "No one has seen them since. I warned the locals as well as I could. Be careful with those guys, I mean it when I say they're trouble." He then holds out his hand. "I'm Theodore Stanley."

"Arthur Morgan." Arthur shakes his hand and Stanley nods, before holding his hand out to Charles, who takes it.

"Charles Smith." He says, gaze attentive and voice calm.

Stanley gives him a nod too. "Nice to meet you. If I have any more questions, I should find you at your ranch, correct?"

"Yeah." Arthur agrees. "We'll let you know if we hear or see anything else. Good day, sheriff."

With that, they leave again, the sheriff once more returning to his tasks. Once outside, Charles and Arthur both take a look at the bounty poster. Jamison is wanted dead or alive, for multiple murders, rape and burning homesteads. He sounds like a right bastard and the bounty is five hundred dollars. Alright, he definitely should be dangerous.

"Do you want to look for him?" Charles asks and Arthur furrows his brows, then nods.

"Yeah, before he gets it into his head to attack us. Besides, the sooner those hills are safe again, the better." It certainly would be good to remove that kind of threat. They don't know where those guys are hiding yet, though they know the life of an outlaw all too well, sniffing out the gang should be manageable. "Want to do this together?"

"Of course." Charles answers without a second of hesitation, before he looks thoughtful. "But I think we should take at least one more person along. Preferably two, just to be on the safe side."

That certainly sounds like a good idea. "Let's go look for the others. We'll ask them about it when we have everythin' an' are back home." Then he gives a small, wry huff. "Can ya believe it, headin' to the sheriff now instead of runnin' from 'im."

There is a small tick of a smile on Charles's face and he gives Arthur's back a warm pat. "Things change. In this case, it's for the better."

Arthur nods, tilting his head down a bit. "You're right 'bout that."

How very right he is.

They find the others rather quickly, especially once they catch sight of the wagon. The thing is already half filled with stuff they need, along with some furniture and boxes. The shires certainly are at ease, looking like they're dozing off a bit, not the least bit concerned with what is going on around them.

Arthur and Charles join Hosea and the others as they are picking out furniture from the catalogue, already done with deciding on drapes and wallpaper.

"You go and take care of that." Hosea says with a smile, looking jovial and lighthearted. Jack especially looks very excited, standing on his tiptoes, his hands gripping the edge of the counter to look at the catalogue with Abigail.

It all makes Arthur feel lighter, light enough that he smiles back at Hosea and finds his thoughtful, worried frown from before smoothing a bit. Hosea, who still notices his mood, gives him a questioning look and Arthur answers with a small shake of his head. They'll talk later, about the trouble in the hills. For now, he wants them all to have this. To be excited about filling their new homes with life. To just...fulfill some dreams maybe, to have the fun and joy of picking out things for themselves.

"Come on then." Charles says, voice quiet and warm and Arthur follows him to where they can pick out drapes and wallpaper.

It's not as bad as he feared at first. The amount of choices and options are decent but not overwhelming and it helps that Charles and Arthur both end up liking and agreeing on similar colors for their living room. Even if it is a bit - maybe more than a bit - distracting to have Charles so close. Arthur looks through wallpaper options, with Charles's shoulder almost touching his as the man looks over things along with him, their voices quiet as they lift up choices they think might be a good idea. Arthur almost feels as though he can feel the outline of an arm against his side and he catches Charles's scent, mingled with the dust of the road and the smell of the horses, warming his chest and the back of his neck.

They end up picking a wallpaper in a gentle yellow color with some tiny white flowers with green accents dotted on it. It looks nice enough and also not overwhelming. Kind of sunny actually. And considering how much Arthur values the sun now, treasures the sight of beautiful sunrises and sunsets, of every day he gets to see, it is only fitting.

For his own room, he ends up picking some light blue colors and, since he does have some sense for what fits together, thank you very much, he picks drapes to match. The man selling everything merely compliments their choice and when they inform him of just adding it to the order of the others, tells them that everything would be sent up to the ranch.

"That's that taken care of." Charles says once they step back out of the shop and look towards the furniture store. They most likely will have to order things there too, like the others, considering that the store most certainly won't have enough in stock.

They head in together and get greeted by the others, who appear to be mostly done. Sadie waves them over with a small smile, while Karen and Lenny look ready to go. Abigail and Jack seem to contemplate some displayed paintings at the side of the room. There is unfamiliar, soft laughter and Arthur glances up, catching sight of Kieran and how joy lights up his face and Mary-Beth, standing at his side, is chuckling herself. Something about hearing Kieran laugh relaxes a part of Arthur and it feels like he finally managed to mostly do right by the kid. He exhales near silently and feels maybe a little bit more peaceful inside.

Sadie and Hosea help them look through the catalogue of the shop owner, speeding along the process of finding what they need. The owner looks so positively pleased and happy about them all being here and paying, he is more than helpful whenever they ask him something.

Arthur honestly isn't picky about things. He just wants a proper bed, a sturdy dresser and a smaller kitchen table with two or three chairs, possibly. A mirror for shaving and a nicely large bathtub. But he also wants to really make this their home, so he suggests a few more things he sees and likes and Charles has something to add as well, like a first aid cabinet and a couch for the living room, along with some cabinets for trinkets and maybe books they'd like to put there.

All in all, it goes pretty well and Arthur and Charles even find two nice carpets to take along right then, getting them loaded onto the wagon once they pay for it. While the others wrap things up and Hosea sees about paying for the furniture order, Arthur nods towards the general store when they step back outside.

"Let's pick up some more things we might need." He says. "Like clothes and towels and whatnot."

"Sure." Charles gives him a small, brief smile, one that softens up his face with warmth. Arthur finds that he really likes that smile and he wants to try and see it appear as often as possible.

"Hey, Karen." Arthur calls out to her, seeing as she's not particularly busy at the moment, waiting by the wagon along with Lenny and Mary-Beth. "We'll catch up to you guys later."

"Sure thing. Have fun." She gives them a lazy grin and a wink, but she looks satisfied too, shoulders at ease and there is a languid quality to the way she stands. Arthur honestly doesn't think he's seen her this relaxed without at least a couple of drinks in and half asleep before.

It eases his heart, seeing that this, too, is something that makes her happy. That building their new lives here is something she finds joy in. It's everything he wants for all of them. To have the chance to be happy without having to run all the time. He just wants them to be happy, that's all.

Lenny and Mary-Beth throw them parting waves as well and Arthur heads over to the store, Charles easily keeping pace. Since they don't have to leave with the others, they take the time to look through things. The store is a decent size and the clothing selection is quite nice too. Arthur starts out with some essentials, getting soap, buying shaving cream - his is running out - and picking up a bit of canned food and some cheese.

He's pretty practical about shirts, especially his work shirts, picking up a blue and white one, a new vest that kind of looks rather nice and a new pair of pants, considering his current one is turning a bit ragged. Actually, he should even have a few more clothes than just that considering his new dresser. He can afford it too, with the money he has left for himself.

Charles seems contemplative about two shirts and ends up picking both of them. They get some treats for the horses and when Arthur adds a couple sweets to the pile as well, he catches the small, near soft smile Charles gives him. It makes him duck his head a bit and he feels a smile of his own sneaking onto his face.

They both know the sweets aren't for Arthur after all. Well, not just.

~*~

"That does seem worrying." Hosea murmurs, frowning. They're sitting outside on the porch of the main house, having discussed the gang in the hills. "Do you plan to go after the gang leader? It sounds pretty dangerous."

"Yeah." Arthur rubs his fingertips over his chin, feels the rasp of his beard and a hint of the small scar there. "Charles an' me would go after him an' help make the area safe again." He tilts his head slightly to where the others are gathered inside the main house, muffled laughter and faint words floating out. They're in a great mood, singing and chatting animatedly. "Maybe ask if someone else wants to come along, if ya can spare someone."

"I'm going to ask them. Sadie might definitely join you." Hosea says, still frowning a bit. "Just...are you sure? Both of you? This isn't our life anymore, you don't have to do this if you don't want to."

"If it keeps everyone safe, I'll do it." Arthur answers, before waving a hand when he hears a mosquito getting too close. "I'll be careful. Well, as careful as I can."

"Me too." Charles leans forward a bit, looking just as serious as Arthur feels. "They kill folks and they did it closer to us than I'm comfortable with. We ignore them, they might as well try coming for us at some point. Especially when they think we have money, considering everything we've built here."

"Well, we don't really have all that much left now, but I guess it still would be enough to lure degenerates like them." Hosea admits with a small sigh.

Unbidden, Arthur suddenly remembers Eliza and Isaac. Killed for ten dollars, their lives snuffed out for something that seems to be so very, terribly little. He still remembers it clear as day, heading up to their home and the ice that seemed to spread through his veins, stealing his breath at the first glimpse of their graves. The grief and shock, the anger and guilt.

He won't see the same thing happen again to people he cares about. Never again, if he has any say in it. They survived the east, they made it out of there and Arthur will be damned before he lets this gang in the hills undo all the hard work they all put into their new lives. He will not bury a single one of them before their time.

"Alright." Hosea nods. "Do what you think is right. I'll talk to Sadie and let you know if we can spare someone else." He lightly claps his hands on his thighs and after an exhale, he pitches his voice to something that sounds less troubled than he probably feels. "Will you head back in with me or are you going to sleep?"

"I'll head to sleep." Arthur says and Charles makes an agreeing sound. They get to their feet together and Arthur gives Hosea's shoulder a small squeeze, feeling him relax slightly under his grip. Hosea gives him a small smile and for a moment, he looks tired and old. Worried too, but also trusting that they'll somehow be alright.

"Good night, both of you." Hosea says, giving Arthur's elbow a gentle, brief touch and he waves to Charles, who already stepped off the porch.

They say good night to Hosea and then head to their home together, soft quiet hanging between them. Their steps are accompanied by the noises of the night, an owl hooting from somewhere and he glances over at the stable and pastures. The horses are outside, most of them lying down. The cows are lying on the grass as well and Arthur sees Cain sniffing along the side of the stable, before lifting his head and trotting over to the main house.

The moon glows above them, a sea of stars stretching across the sky in so many constellations, Arthur is never sure if he learned even a handful of them. He only realizes he's stopped and just looks at the pastures and ranchland bathed in moonlight before him, when Charles steps to his side, close enough that their arms brush slightly.

"It's beautiful, isn't it." Charles murmurs and Arthur feels his shoulders relax a little at the rumble of his voice, head tilting slightly towards him.

"It is." Arthur agrees quietly. There are a dozen of things one could say about this view, but words feel too clumsy in his mouth. And even if he could find the right thing to say, Arthur doesn't know if he could ever truly convey the way this sight feels to him. To know that under other circumstances, he'd never have gotten to see this. The honor of still walking this rock, of feeling the gentle night air brush his nape, to get the chance to, hell, fall in love, it can't possibly be put into words.

A warm hand lands on his back, fingertips pressing slightly against his shirt and Arthur barely resists the urge to lean back into the touch.

"Come on." Charles lets the touch slide to the side to give his shoulder a small pat and Arthur feels a sudden rush as his fingertips seem to spread warmth along his skin. "Let's get some sleep."

Tongue feeling dry in his mouth, Arthur wordlessly follows Charles. Like last night, they don't yet bother heading into their own rooms. Maybe it's because everything is empty and feels kind of big, with all that space waiting to be filled. Maybe it's because they're both still used to closer quarters after all the time with the gang. And maybe, Arthur hopes, it's also because Charles likes having him around this much, to lie side by side and have a soft conversation before they fall quiet.

Arthur, his bedroll spread out tonight and hat resting somewhere beside him, stares up at the dark ceiling. His thoughts are quieter tonight, as he listens to Charles's breaths deepen and the slightly muffled, quiet snores starting up a few moments later. It still takes him a while longer to fall asleep, but the dreams waiting for him are gentle.

~*~

"Alright, everyone has everything?" Arthur asks as he checks his supplies on Storm one last time. He isn't taking too much in the first place, considering they're just head out for a bounty hunt and not a journey to the next state.

Charles, who is already on Taima, gives him a nod. Sadie swings up on Bob in the next moment, giving her horse's neck a pat.

"Course, Arthur." Lenny answers and mounts as well. Arthur gets into the saddle, giving a small wave to Hosea and Abigail, who are sending them off. Sean is in the stable, learning to muck them, though Arthur has seen the tense, frustrated expression on his face this morning. Kid hates that he can't come along and Arthur hopes his brain doesn't cook up nonsense ideas like being useless now. He'll have to help him learn shooting again soon, considering he's healthy enough for it once more.

"We should be back in a few days." Arthur calls to Hosea, who gives a nod. Abigail looks worried for them, but he can see the way she tries to give them a smile.

They ride out together, the sound of the hooves on the ground a well known rhythm to Arthur. They ride up to the area where some of the gang members has been riding and start searching from there. It hopefully shouldn't take them too long, since Charles is damn good with finding trails and tracks and Arthur himself isn't too shabby at it either. It's actually a skill he's reasonably proud of.

They start with riding down the most worn paths around the area the members have been seen, to see if they catch any hoof prints leading elsewhere. It's as good way to start, considering there are no hints to where the actual hideout could be.

It doesn't take long for Arthur to realize why it is hard to find the gang. The woods of the hills are thick and while there are well trodden paths, the hills seem to be filled with unexplored areas and miles of possible hiding spots. Anyone could possibly hide out here for months and never be found.

"At least there are no caves, if we'd had to search those too, that would take forever." Lenny says when they set up camp at night.

"That we know of." Sadie says with a small snort, before taking a drag of her cigarette. She's looking into the fire with a thoughtful look, as they all fall quiet. Charles is dividing up the rabbit he hunted, seasoned with some herbs Arthur found growing at the side of the road.

It's nice, not quite the sort of meal they would have at the ranch, but it's tasty, hot and a part of Arthur feels right at home out here, under the stars, with the smell of the campfire surrounding him and the horses chewing grass just a few steps away.

"I'll take the first shift. You guys catch some rest." Charles says and Sadie settles back, adjusting her hat, one hand resting close to her gun. Lenny lies down as well and Arthur does the same, his bedroll close to where Charles sits, rifle at ease.

As soon as he falls asleep, he finds himself in Beaver Hollow, rain pelting down and something loud splits the air. At first he thinks it's thunder, the sky dark, until he realizes it's gunshots. His body feels heavy, moving so sluggishly he barely sets one foot in front of the other, struggling for air as he tries to run, tries to save John and his family. Storm is there the next moment and they're racing through the dark forest and John is somewhere, but he lost sight of him and there are so many gun shots, someone screams. Storm goes down, his whole world turning as he slams on the ground, wheezing for air that won't fill his lungs. No matter how hard he tries, he just can't breathe -

Arthur snaps awake with a rough rasp, finally sucking in a deep lung full of air. He doesn't understand what woke him up, until he feels the hand on his shoulder gently tighten its grip. He reaches up without thinking, clamping callused fingers over warm, strong ones, maybe gripping a bit too tightly and he is vaguely aware of a tremble in his fingers. His skin feels clammy, even in the rather nice night they're having, with summer heading their way.

"Arthur?" Charles's voice is quiet and gentle, as though he tries not to spook him and hopes to calm him back down. For a moment, all Arthur can do is take another deep breath, feeling something like a phantom burn in his lungs, suddenly remembering how it felt when it hurt to breathe. He thinks he can taste blood on his tongue and swallows heavily. His heart is still racing, but at least his breathing steadies a bit again. Charles keeps his hand right where it is and Arthur can't really bring himself to let go yet.

"That seemed to be one hell of a dream." Charles murmurs and Arthur blinks, dragging himself from the place where he's half caught between memories. He tilts his head to see Charles beside him, one knee on the ground, the rifle set aside. He doesn't lean over him, which is a good thing, Arthur doesn't know how he would have reacted to a person right in front of him after waking up from that.

"Yeah." His voice sounds rough and maybe just a tad shaky. A quick, darting glance shows that Lenny and Sadie are still asleep, Lenny's mouth standing slightly open and Sadie's breathing is deep and even, the lines of lingering grief on her face smoothing over a bit in her sleep.

He notices Charles hesitating, before, very slowly and with near painful care, he shifts to sit down beside him, giving his shoulder another gentle squeeze. Arthur slackens his grip and exhales, something tight in his chest finally easing. He lets his hand fall away a moment later and rubs it over his face instead. When he sees the look Charles gives him, so damn understanding, Arthur just sinks into his bedroll, breathing finally evening out fully and his racing heart calming down again.

"Want to talk about it?" Charles asks quietly and he slowly pulls his hand away as well. Arthur misses it pretty much immediately and the spot feels like it's rapidly growing cold. Though now, Charles's knee is slightly brushing his elbow.

Arthur shakes his head, his tongue feeling like it's sticking to the roof of his mouth. He still feels a cold sheen of sweat on his chest, but he has no idea how he could put anything he dreamed about into words. Most nights are like this, with his mind is throwing memories at him.

"Alright." Charles sounds understanding and gives him a reassuring look. "Just know if there's anything, you can talk to me."

"I know." This time, he sounds a little less rough. And Arthur does know. It's one of the things he knows for sure, like the certainty of the sun rising in the morning and stars appearing at night. Like he knows Storm will carry him through anything. He can count on Charles.

Charles blinks, as though he realizes just how much Arthur knows it and believes in him, something like surprise flitting over his face, followed by an expression Arthur can't quite decipher, before it's gone too. Then Charles settles back a bit, still not shifting an inch away, but clearly returning to watching their surroundings. Arthur takes a slow, deep breath and runs a hand through his hair, pushing it back.

"Try to sleep a bit more." Charles murmurs. "You still get too little of it."

"You noticed that?" Arthur mumbles and there is a soft, slightly amused huff.

"You're often awake before I am and I've always been an early riser." Charles gives him a small, lopsided smile, before it softens to a more concerned look. "You deserve to rest, Arthur. Leave things to us for a bit. Let me carry some of the weight too."

Hearing that strangely helps, Arthur finds. It makes him sink a bit more into himself and he closes his eyes again. At first, Arthur isn't sure if he'll really manage to sleep again, but ends up dozing off to the sounds of the surrounding woods and with Charles still directly beside him.

He wakes briefly, when Sadie takes over watch. "Everything quiet so far?"

"Yeah." Charles answers and Arthur hears him move, the rustle of his bedroll spreading. Still close to him, maybe even a bit closer than he normally slept. "I noticed nothing out of the ordinary."

Quiet settles and Arthur drifts back down again.

~*~

"I think we should split up." Sadie suggests a day later, when they reach a split in the road, three paths leading separate ways. "We can cover more of the area that way."

Arthur agrees and yet he's hesitant to separate. Lenny leans forward in his saddle, most likely seeing that he's reluctant.

"We can agree to meet again in a day or so and head down the third path together." Lenny suggests and okay, they're right. Doing this would be faster and allows them to cover more ground.

"Alright. But if you find them, don't engage without us." Arthur says and Sadie gives him a friendly, stronger pat on the shoulder.

"Don't worry. And you too, you find these bastards, you come get us." She says, giving him a clear look. Arthur nods and she lifts her chin, before leading Bob down to the left. Lenny follows her with a reassuring smile towards Arthur and Charles.

"Let's go then." Arthur murmurs and they head down the right path. Hopefully, they'll find the gang soon. Arthur certainly understands why the sheriff is unable to send his deputies out too much. Just alone searching through the hills would take too long, especially if they want to take care of troublemakers in town and the surrounding area too.

Things are largely quiet between them. Both Arthur and Charles keep an ear out and one of them checks the ground while the other looks around, to see if they catch any hints of people passing through. Hoof prints in the soft earth, broken branches or maybe even a trodden path that could lead them to the gang's hideout.

"They shouldn't be too far in the hills." Charles murmurs when they set up camp that evening. "They would be too far from the homesteads and town otherwise and as far as I know, the forest stretches for miles before the next farm or town appears again."

"Yeah." Arthur looks up from feeding Storm. "We shouldn't light a fire tonight. Just in case."

Charles makes an agreeing noise and they settle down in the beginning darkness, sharing some cheese and bread as dinner. Soon enough, there is little light to see by, the forest a sea of formless black around them, with only a bit of light from the stars and moon shining down on them. Charles offers to take the first watch just like always.

At one point, Arthur hears Storm clop closer and her nose brushes his arm, before she takes a few more steps, shuffles around a bit and just as he's about to look up and check, she sinks to the ground. Carefully lifting one arm, his fingers brush her fur and he realizes she's lying almost right next to him. He can almost feel the comfort and gentle satisfaction that radiates off of her, especially once he starts to scratch her shoulder as much as he can with his short nails. Arthur hears some soft rustle of grass as Taima stays close too, maybe dozing while standing beside Charles.

Arthur listens to Charles softly murmuring something to his horse, a smile in his voice. Still, it's hard for him to fall asleep. Something about the lack of light and the heightened danger of them being on unknown hunting grounds, going after folks who might have the upper hand, sets him on edge.

"Can't sleep?" Charles asks, keeping his voice low, when Arthur tries to readjust his position once more. It's not that it's necessarily uncomfortable, he's slept in far worse places, but he just can't seem to settle down. Arthur merely makes a noise. A moment of silence spreads, before he hears Charles shift and tips his head to look over, even if he can't see much in the dark of the night.

"I've been thinking." Charles speaks up, a bit slowly, as if he's half thinking about not bringing it up after all. "About everything that happened and...are you alright, Arthur?"

There is no way Arthur doesn't hear the things Charles leaves unsaid. He thinks of the nightmares, some of which Charles noticed or outright witnessed. Yeah, he gets why Charles asks.

He thinks of all his sleepless nights from back with the gang and how even now, he doesn't really stop, it feels like there is still too much to do, too much that's still uncertain. He remembers the night of the party and rambling away about dying.

Then his thoughts slide to everything he didn't mess up this time around. He thinks about what he managed to do right, the people he managed to do right by, who he managed to save and who he avoided to hurt. Arthur doesn't know if he's much of a good person, but he tries. Tries to be better than who he once was. Tries to make people smile instead of cry. Just...tries as much and as hard as he can to really, truly, make something of this second chance.

"I think I will be." He sits up with a sigh. "Maybe." He stops, rubbing a hand over his face and Charles waits, patiently and quiet. It's a bit easier, out here in the woods, with so little light and with just the two of them. It's a bit easier somehow, to say some things that usually get stuck somewhere between his chest and his throat. "It's, I got these things stuck in my head. Sometimes. Of folks dying an' everythin' goin' to shit."

"Bad memories?" Charles asks, voice going warmer, almost softer in a way. While that type of voice makes him feel more exposed somehow, at the same time, he trusts Charles. Trusts him in a way he trusted so very, very few people in his life.

The sigh that escapes him has a strange hitch to hit. "I dream an' I remember things." Arthur interlaces his hands, giving his knuckles a bit of a squeeze. His voice drops to something rough and quiet. "I'm still worried, 'bout a lot a things. Feels like I can't really stop worryin', you know?"

A warm hand finds his shoulder, a steady, welcoming weight and Arthur sinks a bit into the touch before he knows it.

"If there is anything I can do to help, you can count on me." Charles promises quietly. "Always."

"I know." Arthur hesitates for a moment, swallowing and his mouth feeling dry, before he reaches up and gives Charles's hand a small squeeze. The man doesn't pull back, instead, it feels like he presses his palm a bit more against his shoulder and a breath caught in Arthur's chest escapes with a long exhale, taking some of the tension with it.

"Thanks." Arthur murmurs and even though Charles can probably barely see his face, he tips his head forward a bit in a reflex to make his expression harder to see. "For, you know, bein' here."

"Wouldn't want to be anywhere else." Charles answers and there is a small smile in his voice, something sure and warm. It makes Arthur feel lighter and he feels a small smile on his face as well. "Is there anything that helps your nightmares?"

"Well, findin' the bastards in the woods would be a good start." Arthur says, half joking and half serious. "But, they'll calm back down on their own, don't you worry."

Most likely. It would take a while, but Arthur has seen and experienced enough to know his nightmares won't stay forever. Oh, they'll come back time and again, memories are vindictive bastards, but there will be a time when they won't haunt his every step. Won't loom over his shoulder. There will be a day when he can look at Sean and Kieran, at Lenny and Hosea, and not get that lightning-fast flash, that memory of them being dead. There will be a day when he looks at them, at all of them, at the ranch and his first thought won't be how glad he is that there isn't a second Beaver Hollow. It's a goddamn marvel already, how things turned out this time, and one day, it won't be as haunted by his regret and guilt anymore.

He only notices his touch on Charles hand tightening a bit when Charles shifts a little. Arthur barely is aware of holding his breath, holding still and his heart picking up a beat, as Charles seems to hesitate for a moment, before, carefully, turning his hand. His fingertips brush the side of Arthur's hand, a warm, large, callused palm gently pressing against his, when they suddenly hear the sound of fast, approaching hooves. Light illuminates them, from lanterns hanging at saddles, as two horses rush through the undergrowth of the forest and over the road to where their camp is set up a bit away from the path. Arthur finds himself leaping to his feet, rifle clutched in one hand. Charles is right at his side, already braced for a fight, before they both realize it's Lenny and Sadie and they exhale with a rush.

Arthur steps forward, his heartbeat settling back to something a little less adrenaline driven, though his tension stays. "Everything alright?"

"We found a camp of theirs." Lenny says, a grin on his face. "Not the complete gang, from the looks of it, but it's a start."

Arthur grows serious, feeling something like the beginnings of grim satisfaction, mixed with a quiet sense of determination rising in his chest. To finishing this before that gang can hurt anyone he cares about. "Lead the way."

~*~

They decide to leave the horses when the shine of campfire starts to faintly glow between trees and through bushes. Their horses are still within earshot, should they need them, but proceeding without them is going to be quieter and saver for the animals.

Arthur already has a revolve in hand as he creeps towards the light. Sadie and Lenny have their rifles poised as they follow him in a crouch. Charles has his gun out as well, his steps barely louder than whispers on the leaf covered ground.

"We'll need at least one alive." Sadie murmurs and Arthur nods, as she sidles up to him. Charles is a step ahead and Lenny falls in at Arthur's other side a moment later.

"Let's spread out a bit." Arthur suggests quietly. "Keep out of view. When we're all in position, we attack once I fire the first shot."

"Got it." Lenny whispers back and there is barely so much as a rustle of leaves as he sneaks off. Sadie gives him a curt nod and is near silent on her feet as she moves to a better point of view.

Charles and Arthur move forward a bit more together, before splitting up as well. This close, Arthur can overhear the conversations of the gang members. There is rowdy laughter and he can hear rough grins in their voices as they tell of their latest conquest. Two boast of robbing a traveling merchant, laughing as they recount how they left him with nothing but a slit throat.

Arthur hunkers down behind a large tree and keeps his breaths steady as he starts to lift up his gun. A quick glance to both sides show him that the others are ready, having picked their own spots. Taking a breath and exhaling it, Arthur opens fire.

The first shot catches a guy in the side of his neck, his laughter dying off with a sound that gets lost in startled shouts. Flames flare brighter as someone accidentally kicks something into it when diving for cover and Arthur ducks back to avoid getting shot at as the gang opens fire in return. A sharp whistle and the splinter of wood, something tinkling off the brim of his hat tells Arthur that one shot got particularly close.

The second a moment of quiet rings out, he fires again. The noises ring in his ear, familiar and bright like the flames of the campfire, consuming his mind and silencing his thoughts. His heart beats a strong battle filled rhythm against his chest.

From the corner of his eye he sees two gang members running towards Charles, one falling and just as the other is about to tackle Charles, knife drawn, he crumbles to the ground as well. Arthur curses as he has to duck behind cover once more, bullets whizzing past and yells swelling around him, threats mixing into the bang of guns.

Pulling out his second revolver, Arthur moves to shoot again, standing his ground and ignoring the burn of something grazing his leg. Seeing the rest of the decimated gang members duck behind cover, Arthur throws a quick yell and rounds the tree. Sadie leaps over the log she crouched behind, Lenny and Charles following to take the last ones out.

"We need that one alive!" Lenny shouts with a quick nod towards the man that's been yelling commands, while mostly staying behind cover.

It's easy, to duck behind the others as they fire to give him cover and head for the man. There is shouting and yelling behind Arthur, something breaking with a great, splintering crack and he reaches the man, who is just a moment too slow to reload his rifle. He tackles the guy just as he raises his rifle, slamming them to the ground while wresting the weapon aside. There is a punch to his side, a kick against his leg, when Arthur raises a fist and punches him in the face, dazing the guy enough to finally subdue him.

The others are at his side a moment later, helping him tie the guy up, Lenny relieving him of his knife and revolver with swift hands. Arthur gives them all a quick once over, but they're all unharmed. Then he turns back to the captured gang member, clothes smeared with earth and his breathing ragged as he stares at them with burning, hate filled eyes.

"Now." Arthur says, slightly out of breath as he straightens. The quiet that rings out now, for a moment, seems almost as loud as the previous gunshots. A log breaks in the fire, sparks flying up and the man sneers up at him. "You're gonna tell us just where we can find your boss."

"Fuckers." The guy growls, blood trickling down his chin from a split lip. "I ain't tellin' ya nothin'."

"You see." Arthur smoothly drops into a crouch. He pitches his voice to something low and slightly rough, feels his shoulders square to loom over the guy. It's easy to dig out his menace and let it settle over him like a well known lover, to let darkness seep into his words and ice into his gaze. He hates being like this, but he'll be as ugly as he knows how to if it means no one touches those he cares about. "We can make this quick, or we can make this painful. Frankly, I don't care which an' we got all night. But if ya tell us where we can find your boss, we're not gonna have t' find out just how much it takes t' break ya."

He can see the guy wavering, sees his gaze quickly flicking to Lenny, Sadie and Charles behind him. Arthur knows exactly what he sees in their faces and he watches as the man realizes he has no chance to get away. Not from any of them. His gaze moves back to Arthur, but he still seems unwilling to give his boss up just like that.

"How 'bout this." Arthur says, gesturing, before the guy can open his mouth, and he smiles at the man, though it's mean and more a baring of teeth. "You talk an' we won't start by draggin' you half a mile behind our horses. Or maybe we're goin' to break your fingers first. Don't need them for talkin'. Let's see how much breakin' and beatin' it's goin' to take to make you talk. An' let me tell you somethin'." His voice ices over and he lets the smile drop away to make place for the dark thing that still lives somewhere in his chest, rising as easily as he breathes. "I'm real good at it."

Arthur sees him swallow, sees the give in his gaze and knows he has him.

"B-Boss is up on Witch's Ridge. By the three-forked tree, past the river." The man swallows. "Ya ain't standin' a chance against 'im. He's real bad an' he'll tear ya apart. Did the same t' the bounty hunters before ya, skinned them fuckers alive. One screamed till the bitter end, the other died halfway through."

For a second, Arthur's mind flickers to Beaver Hollow and the gang that had lived in those hills. Murfree, if he remembers correctly. They skinned and tortured people too. It won't be the first time he's around crazy bastards like that and it's high time folks like that are being put in the ground once and for all.

Arthur rises back to his feet, lifting his revolver and shoots the guy clean between the eyes. They can't let him go and they can't afford to have one of them riding back to town to have him imprisoned.

"Witch's Ridge is not too far." Charles says. "I met a hunter while I was out a week or two ago and he told me about it. I know how to get there."

Arthur gives him a nod and holsters his gun again. "Lead the way."

Chapter Text

Witch's Ridge comes into view as the sun begins to rise, slowly lightening the shadows of the night. Arthur can see hints of the gang's presence now too, the rising thin column of smoke from a campfire and a moderately visible trail leading from the road into the thick woods. They're still far enough that guards most likely shouldn't have seen them. It's also early enough that none of the gang members should ride out yet either.

"Let's go, if we're fast and quiet, we can attack with most of them still asleep." Arthur doubts that the gang is going to be up and about already - aside from the guards and maybe whoever early risers are in camp. Most should still be asleep.

"We should split, two of us going around the other side." Sadie adds in a quiet rasp. "Pick them off from two sides."

"Alright. Let's go." Arthur grabs his rifle from Storm's saddle. Together, they head into the woods, horses left behind, keeping low and their feet quiet with only the gentle rustle of leaves giving their presence away.

Once the camp comes into view, Sadie and Lenny break off to the side, while Arthur stays with Charles. They're still very careful, keeping an eye out for guards. Charles spots a man standing farther away, keeping watch and with a quick signal, leaves, swift and silent. Arthur watches as he sneaks up on the man and there is a quick movement, a slash of a knife. Charles keeps the man from just dropping like a heavy sack, grabbing him and lowering him slowly instead to avoid making noise. Arthur exhales slow and quiet when Charles is at his side again, giving him a curt, serious nod.

They carefully observe the camp for a moment longer. Eight people are awake and a bit farther to the side, so well hidden he only catches it because he knows they're there, he sees Sadie and Lenny moving amongst the bushes, getting ready to slip into some of the tents and take out those still asleep.

Arthur eyes the five awake and recognizes one of them as William Jamison. The first thing Arthur notices actually, is that the man is covered in scars, which is pretty easy to see considering he's currently walking around without a shirt. There are knife scars at his side and on his arms, two bullet scars, one in his shoulder and one on his hip at his back. His back and shoulders carry thick scars, like slashes, and for a brief moment, Arthur seriously wonders just where he got all of them. Jamison kind of looks like the survivor of three maulings, a bloody shoot-out and two vicious stabbings. Aside from that though and considering his face, he looks like one mean bastard, even the grin he gives his one of his men has something mocking and condescending to it.

Arthur waits until he sees Sadie and Lenny slip into the first two tents and then does the same with one of the few tents on their side. From the corner of his eye, he catches sight of Charles moving to another tent as well. Arthur lightly moves the slit of the canvas, rifle over his shoulder and knife in hand, just enough to see that the two men inside are definitely still asleep, one even muffling his snores into his flat pillow.

Pulling out one of the tent pegs so he can move the flap enough to slip inside, Arthur is careful to be slow and quietly. His heartbeat even seems quieter, not as rushing in his ears and his senses are sharpened, as he listens to the crunch of boots outside the tent and the breathing of the two men inside.

Arthur moves towards the quieter of the two. He knows how to kill quickly, though he very rarely gets opportunities or chances like this. Most of his fights were shootouts and brawls, or fending off someone who carried a knife. It's rarely something like this, slipping towards someone asleep like some kind of murderer in the night.

The guy dies quickly, his eyes flying open and Arthur already presses a hand over his mouth, muffling his noise to a quiet gurgle, half lifted hands flopping back down lifelessly. Quickly glancing over his shoulder, Arthur swivels on his feet just as the snores cut off. He kills the other guy a little sloppier, but he has to be quick before he wakes up - their kind always wakes up when their subconscious registers trouble. He muffles the guy's noises as well, though the man manages to scratch at his wrist for a moment, before he grows sluggish and then still and quiet, face graying as his chest lays still.

Exhaling, Arthur slides his knife free, blood slicking his fingers and clinging to the blade. He grabs a discarded sock from one of the men and wipes the red away as well and fast as he can. A few drops fall and trail on the ground and Arthur keeps a sharp ear out for any approaching steps, letting the sock fall and slipping out of the tent. He sees Lenny doing the same a bit further away, catches a small glimpse of red dampening the kid's cream colored sleeve. Lenny gives him a grim nod.

A sudden crash , followed by a loud shout in front of Arthur makes him jerk, shoving away his knife and slinging the rifle from his back in one quick motion. Shit, that went quicker than expected, but at least they got a few without having to fight.

His heartbeat picks up pace and he casts a quick glance around. There is a furious, rough yell that he would recognize anywhere, a tent getting ripped open as Sadie half tumbles, half rolls out, a body falling with her, her knife stuck in the man's chest. Her hat gets lost and for a brief second, Arthur catches a glimpse of her furious face, bared teeth and sparking eyes. Her shoulders square and her feet plant firmly on the ground as she rises to her feet, bringing up her revolver in the same breath, shooting as she throws herself behind a crate.

His cover is shit. Arthur runs and throws himself into a slide, coming to a stop behind a crate of his own, bullets whizzing past, splintering wood and tearing through the canvas of the tent beside him.

"Everyone alright?" Lenny yells over the chaos breaking out, of men shouting, others waking up. Arthur's thoughts briefly snap to Charles and that he can't see him, doesn't know where he is, before he has to focus.

Taking out two of the guys is almost comparatively easy, considering they seem to decide on Sadie as the bigger threat and turn their sides to him. Arthur's a quick and secure shot and he keeps his rifle in good condition. Two headshots and they crumble in a spray of blood, their guns clattering to the ground.

Jamison is gone, Arthur can't see him, right until he emerges from behind a wagon at the side, two revolvers drawn. Arthur has to duck down with a curse as the guy fires, his men quickly flanking him and fanning out beside him, firing as well. Jamison has long legs and an even longer stride. Arthur gets one shot in, in-between bullets fired at him, before the man already vaults over his crate and slams against him. Only the quick throwing up of his rifle keeps Arthur from being shot in the chest or the head, as he manages to push the man's hands aside enough that his guns turn askew, the last two bullets in his revolvers tearing through canvas and slamming into the ground.

Jamison drops them in the next moment and Arthur catches the manic glint in his eyes, pupils blown so wide they almost swallow the pale green color if his irises entirely.

"Gonna carve you up, pretty boy." Jamison snarls at him, eyes nearly black. "Make somethin' real nice outta you!"

His hand closes around Arthur's rifle as they wrestle, his other falls away and Arthur is just a second too slow to stop him from pulling a knife. The slash and burn of the weapon against his arm is sharp and blooms bright in his mind. With a fast, strong wrench that seems to involve his whole body, Arthur slams the rifle sideways, smacking Jamison against his temple and wresting the man off of him.

Jamison is quick to kick out and Arthur hears someone shooting, notices the wood of the crate beside him splintering. Jamison comes at him with the knife again and Arthur barely has enough room for another shot with his rifle, hitting the guy in the leg.

He doesn't seem to feel it, if anything, he now lunges for him. Arthur blocks the slash of the knife with the rifle, Jamison ducking under his shove in the next moment, sliding so low so fast, even as Arthur jumps back, he still feels the bite of the knife above his knee. Kicking out, he gets Jamison in the face, the guy falling backwards.

Breathing heavily, Arthur quickly falls back a step, almost getting tripped up by the tent behind him, as he aims the rifle dead on the man's head. It's gotten quiet now, no further shots falling from the others.

"Now, drop the knife." He grinds out, slightly out of breath. Jamison's low giggle turns into a dark chuckle as he slowly sits up again, blood dripping down his chin from a split lip and pouring from a nose that's clearly broken.

Something about him immediately sets Arthur on edge. Maybe it's the easy roll of his still bare shoulders, maybe the way he moves as if he doesn't have a bullet lodged in his leg, as he slowly gets to his feet. Grinning so mockingly Arthur wants to kick him again, Jamison lazily raises his hands and lets the hunting knife slip from his fingers, the weapon hitting the ground with a dull thud.

Sadie limps into view then, though it looks as if she walks steadier with every step. Her front is covered in blood and a few strands of hair have fallen out of her braid. There is some seething bloodlust left in her gaze, giving her a dark and dangerous look.

"Tie him up." Arthur says, keeping his rifle aimed unerringly on Jamison. He's not taking chances with this guy. "An' watch out. Rat has somethin' up his sleeve."

At this Jamison grins near wickedly, lifting his hands slightly as if to display his current shirtless state and empty palms. The wanted poster says they can bring him in dead too and Arthur seriously contemplates it for a moment. Sadie is there a second later, tying Jamison up with fast, rough movements. She's probably pulling the rope too tight as well, or, at least Arthur really hopes she does.

"Lenny and Charles?" He asks her as she finishes and she presses her lips together for a moment.

"They're fine." She rasps out.

Arthur feels himself exhale with quiet relief. Sadie shoves Jamison forward, who now stares at her as if he's contemplating the best way of skinning her. Arthur feels tempted to shoot him in the other leg. Or maybe the head.

Lenny and Charles join them in the middle of the camp, dead gang members and overturned pots and tidbits littered about. Jamison gets shoved down and his feet tied up, before they whistle for their horses. As their horses find them and Sadie guards Jamison, Arthur quickly sweeps the camp, seeing Charles do the same while Lenny joins Sadie, rifle at ease.

They find nearly a hundred bucks and some valuables to sell later. Arthur bags it all - they might need it and the more money they have for the ranch, the better - when Charles approaches him.

"You're hurt." Charles motions at the cut on his arm and above his knee. "Need anything?"

"It's shallow." Arthur answers. He barely feels the burn of the injuries over his still alert senses and the way he keeps glancing back at Jamison. "But yeah, you have any bandages with you?"

"Sure." Charles gives him a nod. Arthur moves to lean against a crate, digging out some alcohol to pour over his wounds, while Charles pulls two bandages from his bag.

"Want me to help?" He asks and Arthur hesitates a second, before he nods. Charles passes on one bandage and picks up the alcohol once Arthur has cleaned out the cut on his leg as well as he can, hissing slightly at the sting, before he wraps the cut.

He then holds still as Charles gently grasps his arm, pushing back the sleeve far enough to expose the cut, blood already caking on the cut. It is shallow enough, Jamison thankfully never got a good enough angle for anything deep, or at least anything deep enough that required stitches.

Charles is quick while cleaning the cut. He takes a moment to inspect it, before wrapping the bandage around it. It's easy to tell how much experience Charles has with those things, the bandage not too tight or too lose. It makes Arthur exhale silently, his shoulders relaxing a bit and something in his chest easing.

"Alright, all done." Charles murmurs, carefully tugging Arthur's sleeve down again. His eyes flick up from the task and Arthur realizes how close they're standing. Charles's head is almost bumping against the brim or Arthur's hat.

"You done?" Sadie yells her question. "If not, I can kick this bastard around a little."

Arthur finds himself huffing, catching a brief quirk of Charles's mouth as well. The man stays close to him when they return to Sadie and Lenny, who definitely look ready to go.
Charles hauls Jamison up, who's staying quiet, while Lenny already mounts his horse. Sadie swings up into the saddle as well, while Charles deposits Jamison on Storm, who noses at Arthur with a quiet rumble.

"Alright, Jamison." Arthur says as he swings up into the saddle. "Let's get you to the sheriff."

"Sheriff Theodore Stanley." Jamison says the name like half a curse and half a challenge, rolling the name on his tongue as if he wishes to slowly gut him. Arthur can hear the grin in his voice too and wonders just how deranged the man is. "Old but persistent. Wrinkly skin is always harder to carve."

"Just punch him." Sadie growls. "He'll shut up eventually."

They ride out of camp, with Arthur being loosely flanked by Lenny and Charles, while Sadie rides ahead. They have quite a way ahead of them, but they all agree on just riding on until they reach town. They should be there by evening, most likely, if they ride fast enough.

Things become mostly quiet between them and Jamison too, doesn't say a word. It strikes Arthur as odd, folks usually try to bargain or threaten or cajole. Right up until halfway back and there is a sudden shift and movement behind him. With a snap of rope and a lurch Jamison snatches Arthur's right revolver from its holster and rolls off of Storm's rear, smacking to the ground and rolling to face them in a smooth motion, even if he can't get up entirely with his tied feet. Arthur is shouting before he quite realizes it, drawing his gun.

Jamison is shooting at them the next moment, bullets whizzing past and there is the sudden chaos and heavy slam of a horse going down, along with a cut off yell. They're shooting back at Jamison and it takes two bullets in the chest, before he finally goes down, revolver dropping from his hand. Breathing heavily, Arthur immediately jumps out of the saddle, Storm quickly rushing to the side of the road and out of the way. Jamison is still breathing when Arthur reaches him and he grits his teeth, as he takes back his gun and ties the guy up once more, flipping him on his front roughly.

"Got me good." Jamison wheezes out, but it looks like this time, he really won't fight back no more. A quick look around shows Arthur a small, curved blade, reminding him of a silver claw, lying on the ground. Jamison must have hidden it and he got it out to cut his ties once they relaxed their guard enough not to watch him too closely.

Whirling around, he sees Lenny, back and side covered with dirt, who tries to calm Maggie, as she fights to her feet. The kid worriedly checks her shoulder, blood darkening the mare's light fur.

"Shit, she alright?" Arthur asks, hurrying over, while Charles already joins Lenny to inspect the injury. For a moment, as Lenny looks at him, he looks distraught and young, before his face firms and he keeps a steadying hand on Maggie's neck.

"I don't know." He says, voice shaky and then gently hushes and comforts her as she stands there, tense, visibly upset and in pain. Lenny watches closely as Charles carefully inspects the wound and then holds onto Maggie's reins when Charles asks him to. He's fast when getting the bullet out, a new wave of blood running down Maggie's leg and she flinches and jerks, jumping away and dragging Lenny, before she holds still once more, breathing going fast.

"Easy girl, easy. That's it, you're doing so well." Lenny soothes her, petting her neck and eyeing her wound.

"As long as we can stop the bleeding, she won't need stitches. Horses can lose what looks like a lot of blood, but I'd like to avoid it as much as possible." Charles says, giving her a calming pat, while Maggie eyes him cautiously.

Arthur is more than alright with leaving Jamison face down in the dirt, most likely bleeding out, while they take care of Maggie. Sadie takes to guarding them after giving Lenny's shoulder a reassuring pat.

"She'll be alright." Arthur tells him quietly as Lenny presses down on the wound with a darkening cloth and Arthur keeps Maggie still, gently petting her, while Charles rummages through his saddlebags. "She's a tough one."

"Yeah." Lenny still sounds a little shaky, but also determined, as he keeps his gaze focused on the cloth he keeps pressed to Maggie's shoulder. Still, something about hearing it seems to help him a bit and he looks a little less tense, a little comforted perhaps. Arthur hopes so.

Still, the wait is tense and Sadie once wanders over to Jamison, asking if she should just shoot him in the head, confirming that he's still regretfully alive. Finally, Charles asks Lenny to carefully remove the cloth. They're all quiet as he looks at the wound and then gives Lenny a small nod, the kid's shoulders sagging at once. Arthur too exhales with relief and he sees some of the lines in Sadie's face easing.

"She should pull through." Charles gives Maggie's back a comforting pat. Her breathing thankfully has slowed down again. "Still, you have to take it easy. No riding and walk slow. When you're back home, put her in the stable, get her taken care of and let her rest."

"I'll stay with you, if you want." Sadie offers. "You guys can bring this sack o' shit back meanwhile."

"Thank you." Lenny says, though it's more spoken on an exhale and he looks exhausted for a moment, before he pulls himself together again. "I appreciate it."

Sadie gives him a nod and a small pat on the shoulder.

"Alright, I'll bring Jamison back." Arthur says and then glances at Charles. "Want to come with me?"

"Sure. Better be safe than sorry with these guys." Charles gives Maggie's shoulder one last look before stepping back from her. They walk over to Jamison who is, to Arthur's surprise and displeasure, still alive.

Hauling him upright and ignoring his wheezing sounds, Arthur throws him over Storm's back. He'll have to brush the blood out of her fur later, he decides as he pats down Jamison's pockets to ensure he doesn't have another knife hidden somewhere. Charles whistles for Taima, who had kept a careful distance. She's quick to join them, snorting softly at Charles's shoulder and he gives her neck a reassuring scratch, before getting into the saddle.

"Let's turn him in." Arthur says, the leather of the saddle creaking slightly as he sinks into it. "Let's hope he dies on the way."

While Arthur very much could just put a bullet into Jamison's head, at the same time, a part of him wants to see him swing. Wants the man to stand there, with the noose around his neck and know and feel that he'll die. The quickness of a bullet in the head might be too merciful, after everything. Even if Arthur probably has no right to judge another outlaw like that, at least he never did things as depraved and cruel as Jamison.

Charles and he are quiet on the ride and Arthur notices how Charles rides just half a pace slower, so he's beside Jamison, keeping an eye on the guy. Jamison is quiet though, not even wriggling. Probably bleeding out over Storm's rear and he might really be dead by the time they reach town. Arthur keeps the speed brisk, pushing his horse just a bit. He really wants to deliver Jamison and be rid of him. He also really wants to get back home and check up on everyone, see if Lenny and Sadie made it back by then too.

The sun is setting over the town when they reach it, dark shadows stretching and lengthening to melt into each other like long lost lovers and sliding over the ground, slithering up walls and turning the forests into murky twilight filled with blackish shapes.

Jamison is still alive when they reach the sheriff's office and Arthur thinks he understands how the guy is scarred up this much. He just seems to really refuse to die.

"We're here." Arthur grumbles as they stop and he slides off the saddle, Charles dismounting beside him. Arthur grabs Jamison and throws him over his shoulder, grimacing slightly at the sticky sensation of blood. While he's kind of used to it and it certainly isn't the first time he has blood seeping into his clothes, something about it being Jamison's is repulsive. "Let's get rid of this rat bastard."

Sheriff Stanley is still in when Charles steps in first and holds the door open for Arthur. The man looks surprised and then grimly satisfied at seeing Jamison.

"You got him." There is relief and something dark and steely in his voice. Arthur unwittingly feels his gaze drawn to the scar at the side of the man's neck. Stanley has his sleeves rolled up too, so Arthur can see another two scars on his lower left arm, looking like they originated from a knife. "Put him in the cell there."

Stanley makes a low noise once Arthur deposits the man as roughly as he knows on the prison bed, his eyes resting on the bleeding wounds. "Looks like he was trouble for you."

"You don't know half of it." Arthur cranes his head to give his shoulder a quick glance, feeling dismay at just how much of the blood managed to get on him. "The bounty hunters are dead, in case you wanted to look for them."

"I feared as much." They all know who to blame for those deaths. The sheriff's voice, when he speaks up again, sounds as cold as the iron of his prison bars and his gaze is unerringly pinned on Jamison. "He'll most likely survive those wounds, he's kind of famous for being hard to kill. It should please you to know the gallows await him, a day after the livestock market. That's sadly the earliest I can get him hanged, if I don't want to shoot him out back and throw him to the wolves."

"Well, if you do, we won't tell." Arthur says and while it sounds like he might be joking, he's sure Stanley knows he's entirely serious. Charles merely nods, shifting to stand a bit more firmly. Something about it makes a pinched tightness between Arthur's shoulders relax a little.

Stanley looks at them, solemn and honest. "Thank you, for catching him. Here, let me give you the money."

With that, he steps behind his desk and crouches to reach for one of the lower drawers, rummaging around. It takes a little before he straightens again, though considering Jamison's bounty, it wouldn't surprise Arthur if he kept the money locked away.

"You've done this town a real service. And all the folks living around here." The sheriff says as he hands Arthur the money.

"Our home too." Arthur murmurs the reminder and a brief, small smile flits over Stanley's face. The sheriff tilts his head in respectful understanding.

"Of course. It will be good to have you folks around. Don't hesitate to come by if there is anything we can help you with. Or if you want to pick up another bounty, should one come in. Though, to be honest, I rather hope that won't happen. At least not for a while."

"Sure." Arthur throws the man a short half salute. "Good night, sheriff."

They step out of the sheriff's office and simultaneously exhale, though Arthur thinks his is more audible. He tips his head up a bit, sighing. Charles beside him looks tired now, rubbing a hand over his face, before he straightens and reaches out. He gives Arthur's shoulder a warm squeeze, letting his hand rest there for a moment and Arthur consciously lets tension ease out of him, feeling tired as well now.

"Let's go home." Charles murmurs. "We should eat and then get some rest."

"Sure." Arthur reaches out to give his arm a gentle pat, carefully allowing his touch to linger. Charles gives him a glance, followed by a small smile, the gold of the sinking sun illuminating it and Arthur feels something in his chest ease, teasing a brief answering smile from him.

The ride home is a lot more relaxed and the silence isn't tense and carefully attentive, but comfortable and at ease. Their horses too seem to sense their moods, their gait calmer and looser. Arthur doesn't rush Storm and Charles seems to be in no real hurry now either. Still, when they reach the ranch, night spreading all around them and the sky filling with stars and constellations, Arthur breathes a sigh of relief. The lights of lit lanterns guide them and the stable is illuminated as well. Considering Arthur catches a glimpse of Bob with the other horses, Lenny is most likely with Maggie in the stable.

They're greeted by the others when they arrive, Hosea asks a few questions, while Kieran, voice and hands gentle but sure, takes the horses from them to take care of them. Arthur and Charles thank him, before Abigail and Karen bustle them into the main house so they can join dinner. They apparently wanted to wait for their return.

Arthur is positively surprised to step inside and see that everything is done now. The wallpaper is up, all the furniture stands. It looks like a real home now, there even are a few pictures and paintings on the wall. He even sees a larger photo of one of their gang days, even if looking at it gives him a pang.

A part of him secretly misses it a bit. He doesn't miss the danger and the deaths and how everything could have ended this time around if they had stayed. No, he misses what they once were. Years ago, when they really had been like a family. When he had two fathers and before he lost one to...Arthur isn't sure what exactly. Delusion? Madness? A mix of both? Something he doesn't really know or understand?

He's drawn out of his thoughts quickly enough again, Sadie joining the retelling of their hunt for Jamison, while Arthur splits the money, Hosea taking Lenny's share to bring it to him and murmuring to Arthur that Maggie is taken care of should be alright. Good, that's good. Lenny certainly loves his little mare and losing her would hurt him.

By the time Arthur and Charles head to their home, he's tired. Tired from the last tense days ,the hunt, the fighting, the too little rest he got. When they reach their home, they see boxes outside, along with their furniture, though it's protected against potential rain by canvas spread over it. Right, they hadn't been there to get everything done.

Stepping inside, they find the rolls of wallpaper on the ground beside the door. Arthur feels glad and a soft sort of warmth at knowing that everything is here now, but he's also in dire need of rest.

They once again spread their bedrolls on the ground, side by side again and maybe, just a bit closer to each other before. Arthur is pretty certain he doesn't imagine it, nor the look they cast each other when they do it. A small smile sneaks on his face when he looks back down.

"Night." Charles murmurs when they lie down and Arthur sets his hat aside. "Sleep well."

"You too." Arthur mumbles back, eyes already slipping closed. "Night."

~*~

A part of Arthur thinks that one day, he might get to sleep in again. His eyes blink open and he stares up at the still kind-of-dark ceiling. The light that falls in from the windows has the sort of pale quality that means the sun is just starting to rise and there are one or two stars left in the sky.

It is a bit surprising though to see Charles still asleep. The man is quite the early riser and often enough, Arthur would wake up to Charles already taking care of chores. Moving his head to glance at him, Arthur feels the sudden urge, the itch in his fingers to sketch Charles like this. Face relaxed and at ease, something deeply calm along his features, the peaceful rise and fall of his chest, head slightly tilted sideways so a cheek is pushed into the pillow a bit.

As Arthur sits up thought, doing his best to be quiet, Charles stirs as well. It must be years of running on his own that make him react to folks moving around him. His eyes blink open, clearing within a second or two and moving to look at him.

"Mornin'." Arthur murmurs and feels the sudden, inexplicable urge to reach out and touch. Pat Charles's chest, or his arm, let his hand rest close to the other man's.

"Morning." Charles answers and sits up as well. "Sleep well?"

"Yeah." Arthur's gaze falls to the wallpaper and he motions at it. "I guess we know what we should do today."

Charles makes a small, agreeing noise. His hand gives Arthur's lower arm a pat, before getting to his feet. Arthur catches the way he stretches, a long line of muscles tensing and then relaxing, Charles brushing his hair back a moment later, slightly tousled from sleep.

Arthur feels a small smile on his face and grabs his hat, tipping his head down to hide it, before he stands up as well. Plopping the hat on, he gives a stretch as well.

They're both quiet as they get a quick morning wash in. Once that is done and they have eaten a quick breakfast, they stand in front of the wallpaper. Arthur once again realizes that he's never done any of this. Even with Eliza, he honestly didn't help her with her home - aside from once fixing a part of her roof and a wobbly chair - so this is all new to him. He really hopes he doesn't mess this up.

"We should get it worked out." Charles says calmingly, as though he could tell that Arthur's secretly a bit worried. It wouldn't surprise Arthur if he knew. Charles then holds up a note with a lopsided, slightly wry and mostly amused smile. "Besides, Hosea left us some instructions."

Arthur can't help but chuckle and then claps his hands. "Alright, let's get this done."

They need most of the time until noon to get the living room done, mostly because they work slowly, almost rip the wallpaper a few times and they do have a little mishap here and there in the corners, but they manage to smooth it over well enough that it isn't too obvious. Well as long as no one looks too close. Or is an expert at putting wallpaper up.

"That's decent enough." Charles says when they're done, the room smelling somewhat of the glue they used. It should air out soon enough though, with the widows they open. And it really does look sunny now, especially with the sunlight, bright and strong, that shines through the windows. The wood is of a light color and with the fireplace topping it off nicely, it's...it's honestly the best thing to Arthur. Once they have the furniture in it will be downright cozy.

He's only aware of having started smiling when Charles gently nudges his arm with his elbow and gives him a smile in return. "Come on, let's finish the rest."

By the time they're done with Charles's room, Arthur thinks they have the hang of it. Putting up the wallpaper is a much smoother process now that they have a bit of practice and they're better with corners too. Charles has a small, proud smile on his face when they're done and give the room a once over. Arthur entirely understands, he'll probably be close to grinning once they're done with his room.

"Let's eat something and then finish the rest." Charles suggests and they step outside, just in time to get called to the main house by Kieran, who waves them over to get food.

"If you need any help, let me know." Kieran offers with a small, shy smile and Arthur thinks that he looks genuinely at ease. There is some hay stuck to his sleeve, dust and horse hairs over the worn-down coat he kept for stable work and yeah, the kid looks happy. Arthur gives his shoulder a small pat and Kieran's smile gets a bit wider.

"Thanks, we'll let ya know if we do." He tells him and Charles nods with an agreeing hum.

They head inside, everyone else also filing into the house to get food. Arthur checks in with Lenny, who looks tired but no longer as worried, even smiling a bit as he says that Maggie is going to be alright and that she's a fast healer.

There is a bunch of chatter around them, talk about going to the livestock market at the end of the week to get the rest of the animals they wish to buy and where to put up more fields once they are handling the current one well enough. It makes Arthur smile, head ducked down a bit as he eats. Folks are happy here, he thinks. Sure, there is some exasperation and some of them are a bit frustrated with not picking up new skills fast enough, but they're still at ease. There is good-natured teasing and some laughter. They're home.

After lunch, Charles and Arthur get the last two rooms done, rather well too. Well, for beginners at least and Arthur thinks they really did a good job. Decent enough at the very least. He's fine, even satisfied with how the wallpaper turned out, so everything is okay in his books.

Getting up the drapes is a faster job compared to the wallpaper, even if they have to light some lanterns, considering it's growing dark now.

They bring the furniture inside afterwards. Spreading out the lanterns to ensure they see well enough. They bring stuff into the bathroom first and set it all up. It's going to be great to take regular baths without having to seek out a town. After that, they bring their stuff into their rooms, helping each other push everything into place, before they fill the open living room and kitchen.

They don't have a lot of things, but they do briefly discuss just where to push the couch, settling on a compromise. They try a bit just figure out where to place the carpets and when they're satisfied, set the two paintings they picked up down against the wall to be put up tomorrow. It's still fun though. It's everything Arthur didn't think he'd ever have and everything he has now.

When they're done, they both sink down on the couch with twin sighs, staring at the unlit fire place for a moment. Arthur isn't sure who started, but then they're laughing and it's happy and relieved and carefree, the most carefree he has felt in a long, long while. Arthur feels himself relaxing entirely, sinking into the cushions, while Charles breaks out some celebratory beer. They clink bottles and Arthur is still smiling when he takes a generous swallow.

"This is..." Charles speaks up and pauses, before he looks at Arthur, still smiling as well. "This is real great, I never really thought we'd get to have all this."

"Me neither." Arthur lightly nudges Charles's knee with his. "But it is. It's ours. We're home."

At this, Charles's smile gets something warm, maybe with a touch of melancholy, but he looks content too. Happy in a deep reaching way. His voice, when he speaks, is soft. "Yeah. Home."

Arthur gets the urge to either break out his journal and sketch Charles like this or reach over to take his hand. He does neither, instead taking another sip from his beer. He stretches out his legs and let his head fall back against the backrest of the couch. His hat gets knocked off and falls to the ground with a small thud.

The ceiling above is illuminated by the light of the lanterns - he realizes they forgot that they have electrical lights and actually could have switched them on, well, they still have to get used to that. Arthur rests the bottle on his thigh and for this moment, he doesn't worry. He just feels content and warm and Charles is right at his side, the most comfortable of silences spreading between them.

This is where he'll grow old, Arthur decides. If nothing happens that gets him killed before that, this is it. He'll grow old on this ranch, with everyone there, maybe some other folks joining them along the line or even another kid or two if anyone wants one. And with Charles, if he wants to stay.

It would be damn great.

~*~

"What'cha doin'?" Arthur asks when he steps into the main house, setting down a bag of freshly bought apples and sees Kieran taking some slices of dried meat. The guy startles badly enough he almost drops it all, jerking upright and around. He calms down again at seeing Arthur, but stays nervous. Arthur feels himself frown a bit. "Everythin' alright?"

"I, uh, I mean." Kieran fumbles a bit and then ducks his head a little, shoulders hitching up a tad. "I, there has been this pregnant cat and I..."

He trails off and Arthur already knows what happened. Kieran hurries on to talk. "I've seen her around before and I know you're not supposed to leave strays food because it makes them stay, but she was too round and I was worried about her, so I left her food."

Kieran looks guilty, as if he expects to be scolded. Arthur consciously schools his face to look nonjudgmental, understanding even. And really, he gets it. Besides, he won't complain about feeding strays and inviting them to stay. Honestly, most of their ragtag group are strays, he himself once was one too. Besides, having cats around doesn't sound like a bad idea. It should keep the mice away from the bags of food at least.

"Alright, so she's on the ranch?" Arthur asks and Kieran pauses a bit, swallowing.

"Well, I, she might have snuck into my room. A-And got her kittens in my closet, on a couple of blankets." He gives Arthur a small, nervous smile. "She let me pet her."

Now Arthur is really surprised. "Kittens?" He has the sudden urge to ask if he can see them, but decides against it. The mother probably won't appreciate a stranger staring down at her and her babies. "Don't tell Jack yet, he would want to see them right away. What she look like?"

Kieran blinks, surprised and then his shoulders slowly relax more. "She's orange." He falls quiet and shifts a bit in place, the small shuffling making Arthur lift his eyebrows questioningly. "Could I, I mean, we could use a cat, for catching mice and everythin', and -"

"If she wants to stay, she can stay." Arthur calms his rambling, especially once the kid starts to sound a bit worried. "I don't mind. The little ones too I guess."

"Oh, okay." Kieran's shoulders relax fully at that and his smile looks a bit livelier, happy and a little lopsided. Arthur feels secretly glad that he managed to do something right with this. And really, who would say no to having a cat on the ranch? The place is definitely more than big enough. Besides, who knows if the stray is even going to stay, or her babies. "Thanks, Arthur. Oh, this meat is for her."

"Thought as much. Alright, let me know if you need anythin'." Arthur gives him a small pat on the shoulder in parting, stepping back to return to his work. Kittens, though! He's never seen one and he can't help but be really curious. He hopes Cain is good with cats, otherwise there might be some trouble.

"Thanks, Arthur." Kieran calls after him and Arthur merely waves over his shoulder as he steps back out of the house. There is a small smile on his face and Arthur can admit, to himself, that he's looking forward to seeing tiny cats walk around.

Getting used to the ranch life is a gradual process. Arthur is more than willing to get his hands dirty and he is used to hard work. And while he feels supremely awkward learning how to care for the fields, he's far better with the animals, which is where he mostly ends up. He looks after the cows, Sadie having taught him how to milk them properly and putting eggs into containers to be sold in town. The chickens have taken a liking to him too, shadowing his step when he's with them and making low noises that honestly sound pretty soothing.

Aside from that, he hauls water, carries things and helps whoever calls him over. It's nice. A bit calmer than he expected, though that's most likely the case because they're still lacking in animals for now and Sadie and Hosea already have more fields planned that will be cultivated soon. They're all going to have more than enough to do soon enough.

Arthur, with his tasks done for today, catches sight of Sean, who looks like he's finished too for now and calls out to him. The kid turns to him, hat back on his head and his gone eye still covered with bandages. Arthur wonders if the kid might get an eye patch at some point or if this is more comfortable for him.

"What's it?" Sean asks once Arthur has caught up to him. Arthur gives his shoulder a pat, motioning for him to come along.

"Your first lesson in doing a proper quick-draw." Arthur calls over his shoulder, glancing back just long enough to see the surprise on Sean's face, followed by a wide grin, though it doesn't manage to mask the relief he feels too. It makes Arthur feel bad that he didn't get to it sooner. Who knows what Sean had been thinking in the meantime, or if he thought Arthur might have forgotten about it all. He hadn't, he wouldn't. Sean is important to him, as much as he'll probably never say it. He wants the kid to be happy, more than anything.

"If you're ready for the competition, ol' man." Sean says with a mischievous grin, a short laugh following his words. A pep is back in his steps that has been missing these past days and weeks and Arthur is glad to see it back.

"If you can keep up." Arthur teases back with a grin, chuckling when Sean elbows him.

"I'll let ya know, you'll be eatin' those words." Sean's eye seems to have come alive with a spark and Arthur reaches out to give his shoulder a pat.

It's good to see him look lively again, to see that the brooding frown that crept on Sean's face whenever he was left alone is entirely smoothed away right now. Arthur knows that things won't be magically okay again, just because he'll start helping the kid learn to shoot again, but it's a start. The rest, Sean will figure out along the way.

And for now, for now they'll just have fun and he'll do his best to help Sean learn to be good with a gun again. Kid's going to manage to do it in no time at all too. If Arthur knows Sean at all, he knows how tenacious he is and that no matter the setbacks, the hurts or the doubts, Sean is going to push through it to get where he wants to go. His annoying little brother.

Arthur is damn proud of him.

~*~

Sleeping in his room is both a novelty and strange. On one side, just the fact that he has his own room, that he shares this small house with Charles, is something that partly baffles him and partly makes him happy. On the other side, it's strange because it's quieter than he expected. There are no noises like back at camp or even the kind of noises that accompanied the towns he stayed in before. Really, the most he hears at the moment, is his own breathing and the rustle of his sheets when he turns, the groan of the wood as the house settles or a small creak from his bedframe.

Arthur knows he's going to get used to it at one point. At some point, he'll sleep better instead of listening out for noises that could mean trouble. At some point, he won't have nightmares waking him as often and making him feel as if the silence around him is a living, breathing thing.

Tonight is definitely not such a night, not even closely. With a sigh, he gets up from bed, slightly curling his toes as his bare feet meet the cold ground. He might pick up a carpet or a rug the next time he's in town. Maybe a few other things too. His room is strangely...empty. Sure, he has his mother's photo on his bedside table, Boadicea's horse shoe is nailed atop the door, he has the pictures of Copper, of Hosea, Dutch and he in frames on his dresser, beside the framed photo Albert left him with. And that's kind of it. He doesn't really have much else and Arthur feels a bit clueless on what else to fill it with.

Sure, he could go and get paintings, but they already have them in the living room. Hell, even his dresser is half empty. Maybe he'll figure it out in time. And maybe, he can just go and buy things for the sake of having them because he likes it, instead of passing by trinkets and small art pieces or painted wooden horses, because he couldn't take them along before.

Mary's photo is probably the one thing he didn't put up. He still has it though, tucked in his journal, between the pages where he had written about breaking things off for good. He still cares for her and won't just throw her picture out. He wants to keep it and he knows at one point, he's going to look at it and just smile, a little wry maybe.

But, and the realization has been a quiet, surprised thing, he no longer loves her. Not the way he used to. All that's left is the memory of the love he once carried for her for so long and maybe it should feel a little strange to have it gone, after having loved her for so long. It isn't though. Partly because it is good to leave that behind him and partly because he's, well, he's very much on his way to falling in love with Charles, as much as he still doesn't know what to do about it. Though, maybe, this new love isn't as hopeless as he had feared before.

There is hope for it becoming something and while Arthur isn't exactly entirely sure, it feels like maybe, he could have a chance with Charles. If he didn't entirely misinterpret some of their touches that is. Some of the glances they shared. It always felt like maybe, possibly...

Slowly, the silence creeps back up on him and Arthur is almost glad for the gentle creak of floorboards as he quietly leaves his room, careful not to make too much noise. He doesn't want to wake Charles, it's enough that one of them has trouble sleeping.

The living room isn't really any better than his bedroom though. It's just as quiet, though the room is larger. The silence seems as thick as before, almost as if settling all around him like a heavy cloak, crawling through the air like mist.

Sighing, Arthur rubs a hand over his face. It isn't a good night, he can admit that much. His fingers feel cold, even with how warm the nights have become and his mind keeps pulling back to the sensation of the nightmare he had. He doesn't entirely remember what it was about, only recalls flashes of it. Of struggling to breathe, of being stuck and too slow, too sluggish to move as he watched others die. He thinks he dreamt of Colm too, of that night he was captured, everything covered in a haze of phantom pain and the slick slide of spilled blood.

Rubbing a hand over his shoulder with the bullet scar, Arthur feels the cold of his fingers even through his shirt. His glance falls to the mostly empty bookshelf and he decides to try and distract himself a bit with reading. It might help and even if it doesn't, at least he has something to fiddle with. Dropping his hand, he heads to where one lantern is on the mantle of the fire place. It squeaks a bit as he picks it up and it lights without trouble. Arthur sets the lantern down by the table beside the couch and then moves to open the closest window.

It's dark and quiet outside, but it isn't silent. He can now hear the soft noises of the night, the chirping of crickets, the soft rustle of the farther away trees as a breeze sweeps through them. Even the sound of a horse snorting, though it sounds faint.

Leaving the window open, he heads to the bookshelf they have. While it's mostly empty, they do have a few books, worn around the edges and Arthur has read all of them before. Most of them he found and picked up when he was searching for as much loot as possible back in the east.

Choosing one of them, he sits on the couch, swinging his feet up a moment later and stretching out a bit. It's a struggle at first to concentrate on the writing, but a few pages in, Arthur feels his mind easing a bit, no longer trying to slip back to the uneasy feeling of his dream, bringing up the snippets he remembers of it.

He only realizes that he's actually dozed off again, when a well known voice quietly speaks his name. Arthur grunts, confused and blearily opening his eyes as something is slipped from under his hand. Oh, the book, he realizes. Blinking he moves his head until he can look at Charles, who stands beside him, gently closing the book.

The man wears an old shirt to bed, along with some worn out, soft pants. The same as Arthur, really, they both didn't exactly invest in sleepwear so far. Who knows if they ever really will. One day maybe. A sideways glance shows that it's still entirely dark outside.

"Did I wake you?" Arthur asks, voice rough with the edges of sleep.

"No, don't worry." Charles says quietly, his voice low and warm. He looks a bit sleep ruffled, but also wide awake. "I had a bad dream. Did you fall asleep reading?"

"Had a bad dream too." Arthur murmurs, moving to rub a hand over his face. His fingers no longer feel cold. "And it's too damn quiet in here."

Charles makes an agreeing and understanding hum. He gives the open window a glance. "That's why you came here?"

"Didn't mean to fall asleep." Arthur sits up, feeling tired and worn. The couch isn't too bad for sleeping on though, he certainly slept in worse places, but he definitely doesn't feel more rested either. He looks at Charles, who now sits down beside him. "You alright?"

Charles makes a low, noncommittal hum. "Better." He glances at him. "You?"

"Better, too." His hands aren't cold anymore and his mind is no longer filled and half haunted with leftover bits from his nightmare.

They sit there together in silence for a long moment and with a soft sigh, Arthur lets his head sink against the backrest of the couch. He closes his eyes. Arthur doesn't want to get up again. Actually, falling asleep right here right now, sounds like a great idea. He shouldn't though, should try to get back to his bed.

"We'll get used to it." Charles breaks the quiet and Arthur opens his eyes to see Charles looking at him, warm and reassuringly.

"Yeah, we will." And they really will. Maybe Arthur is going to nap on the couch a few more times, but the quiet of the house won't bother either of them at one point. They'll get used to it like they got used to anything else in their lives, even if it might take a while.

"Thanks." Arthur murmurs. "For bein' here."

There is a slight, subtle shift in Charles's face at those words. Arthur catches it, the way his eyes seem to grow warmer and the corners of his mouth tick up a bit. The expression looks almost soft and it suddenly makes him feel warm.

"Of course." Charles's voice sounds a bit lower and they tilted towards each other a little right now. Arthur's fingers give a brief, tiny twitch towards Charles, his heart starting to pick up a faster, thrumming beat.

He isn't entirely sure if he does end up reaching out first, or if Charles did it, but their hands meet, a light brush of fingers, careful, pausing, lingering, before sliding over each other, clearly enough to ensure this is what they both want. Charles's skin is warm, his hand solid and callused, carrying some scars on his knuckles from fist fights. It's almost slow, the way their palms come to rest against each other, their fingers curling around the other's hand. Arthur only realizes he's slightly held his breath when he exhales softly.

He flicks his gaze up at Charles and finds him already looking at him. There is a near tentative smile slowly sneaking onto Charles's face and Arthur finds himself answering it. It's almost as if Arthur can feel the warmth of their hands seeping up his arm to wrap around his chest. Their shoulders bump slightly and then come to rest against each other.

They don't say anything for a long moment and it still feels like forming understanding between them. Something quiet and clear, as warm as their skin and as gentle as the hold of their hands. Arthur's thoughts are calm and he feels his heartbeat grow steady once more, his shoulders relax until he feels like he might just melt into the cushions. He gives Charles's hand a small squeeze and finds it answered, Charles's thumb now giving a gentle sweep over the back of his hand.

"So." Arthur murmurs, breaking the quiet between them. He briefly wets his lips, looking at Charles who looks back at him, the soft, warm shift back on his face.

"Yeah." Charles answers just as quietly, slowly running his thumb over Arthur's knuckles as if he wants to memorize the dips and map the scars that are there.

Arthur finds himself smiling again, dipping his head a bit to hide the way it morphs into a small, lopsided grin, warmth and elation, relief and happiness filling his heart. When he looks up, he sees Charles grin too, giving his hand another small squeeze, both their grins widening a bit as they look at each other.

~*~

Arthur gives the sheep a long look, then glances at Sadie, who gives them a critical look. She knows which ones to choose and Arthur honestly just accompanied her and the others for a nice time out in town. He certainly couldn't tell if one sheep was better than the other.

Mary-Beth had left for a stop in the bookshop with a slightly nervous but happy looking Kieran and a smiling Lenny, though Lenny seems to have stopped on a small table outside the store, rifling through a box on a small table that stood there. What kind of books could be in it, Arthur has no idea, maybe he'll wander over later to see for himself.

Hosea is a bit further ahead, looking at cows with Charles, they're conversing and gesturing. Karen and Sean are around as well, wandering across the market and looking for ways to entertain themselves. Arthur hopes they're not going to get into trouble - they both certainly know how to find it - or that they're going to do something stupid. Like Sean signing up for bull riding. If the kid dares to break his neck out of stupidity and wanting to make Karen laugh or proving himself whatever other reason, Arthur is going to find a way to reach into the afterlife and give him a shake strong enough he feels his teeth rattle post-death.

But really, he doesn't even want to think too much about that, not with everything that happened before. Sean is alive, really and truly and that is what counts.

"You're broodin'." Sadie says and Arthur realizes that she seems done with looking the sheep over. They wander over to the man selling them. Considering they arrived early, they still have good pickings from the animals. "Everythin' alright?"

"Sure." Arthur murmurs and then waits as she talks with the seller, haggling a bit about the price and then she pays, the man crossing out the numbers of the sold sheep, telling her to pick them up and take them home before the end of the day.

"Sadie." Arthur finds himself speaking up when they walk away from the man again and he slows his steps a bit, Sadie doing so as well with a questioning look. "I've wanted to ask, I mean, are ya happy here?"

She looks briefly surprised at the question and then thoughtful, before she gives a small, almost humorous huff and there is a brief upwards twitch to one corner of her mouth.

"I thought I wouldn't be." Her voice is a bit quieter when she talks, though no less smoky and slightly rough. "Thought everythin' would remind me of Jake. And sometimes it does, but...it's different too. I mean, I think I'll pick up bounty huntin' here and there, don't get me wrong, I mean, I ain't ever going back to who I was." The brief amusement that surfaced fades again and she glances at him, thoughtful and serious. "But I think I might, one day, maybe be happy again. So, you know, don't worry 'bout me. You've done too much of it these last weeks anyway."

He huffs softly, smiling a bit himself. "Yeah, yeah, alright."

Sadie is probably one of the strongest people he knows. He can still see the pain in her, the love she held and most likely still holds for Jake, the grief and guilt for his death. Sometimes, he sees her staring off in the distance and a part of him wonders if maybe, one day, she might decide to leave and never return. Just go somewhere else. He hopes she won't, hopes she'll stay.

Sadie gives his elbow a small nudge with hers and when he looks at her, there is a wry smile on her face. "Don't worry so much. I ain't goin' nowhere."

He exhales at that and can't help the way a slightly rueful smile tugging on his face. She's looked right through him it seems. Sadie picks up their normal pace again and Arthur follows her, joining Hosea and Charles. He can't quite resist giving Charles a sideways glance and a small smile, head slightly tipped and Charles slightly smiles back. They're comfortably standing beside each other, maybe a bit closer than before.

They head back to the seller together once more, Hosea telling the man about the cows, briefly haggling over the price and the man once again tells them to get their animals before the day is over, sounding almost absentminded as he crosses out the bought cows and stows away the money.

It's strangely satisfying for Arthur, seeing things bought for the ranch. To now have cattle and livestock too. It gives him the feeling that things are going well, that he's doing something right. Hosea looks satisfied too and Arthur is quietly, and possibly not so secretly relieved to see Hosea look better. The older man seems merrier too, a twinkle in his eyes and the lines of stress have slowly, bit by bit, faded over the last weeks, ever since they arrived at the ranch. He frowns less too and Arthur catches him smiling more often, humming and teaching Jack songs between helping him and Sean practice their reading. And while Hosea refuses to not help out at least a little, he's still taken to relaxing a bit more, enjoying hot cups of coffee and indulging in his reading more than before.

They all have slowly started to pick up things for themselves, Arthur noticed. Seeing folks return with packages or boxes, with bags obviously filled with a few more things, it makes something in his chest loosen and relax. They all deserve a lot and he feels strangely content whenever he sees them getting things they always wanted for themselves.

"Alright, business is done, feel free to look around a bit, we'll round the animals up and get going in an hour." Hosea tells them with a smile and adds a small, shooing motion. "Go on you lot, have fun."

Charles falls into step beside Arthur and their arms brush slightly. Arthur has to bite back the small smile that threatens to tug at his mouth and instead lifts his head a bit to glance around. The livestock market has brought a number of people to the town, strangers and surroundings farmers alike. He sees folks who have small karts with them, selling home-made products like jars full of honey, homemade marmalade and beer. There are little works of craft displayed, from knitted socks to woven scarves, some clothes for children, knitted oven mittens and doilies.

Charles and he end up picking up a few things, some honey, definitely some marmalade too and Arthur, because he can now, buy's a beautifully carved and painted wooden horse. When he suggests putting it up in the living room, Charles nods with a smile, looking more than alright with it.

With the horse wrapped and carefully tucked under one arm, they wander over to the book store. Lenny has gone inside now and Arthur and Charles stop by the small table outside and peer into the box, the writing advertising them as secondhand and cheaper too. The books look like older, well worn but also well cared for story books. According to the covers, they're mostly about adventures. Some with knights, some with cowboys, one or two seem to be about tales about something called the fae and other mystical creatures. Arthur picks up a book about fairytales, thinking that Jack might like it quite a bit. It even seems to have a picture or two in it, a rare thing.

The inside is a bit crowded, Mary-Beth looking all too happy and Kieran like he doesn't mind helping her choose what to buy. Lenny seems to consider between two books as well, a look of serious thoughtfulness on his face. It makes Arthur happy to see them like this.

Charles picks up a book as well and they pay for their things, letting the other three know to get ready to go in an hour, before stepping back out.

It's a honestly nice day, with a few white clouds lazily drifting across the sky. The air is nicely warm, with summer now slowly settling over the country. There is a happy and excited bustle all around, the murmur of people talking and pointing things out to each other. A number of shop owners have brought out more expensive things in hopes of selling them to the larger crowd. The gun smith even has a small show organized in the afternoon.

"Want to head somewhere?" Arthur asks Charles, who looks thoughtful for a moment and then shakes his head.

"No, not really. Though if you want, we can look at the horses for sale."

That does sound interesting and they wander over to the paddock with the horses. There are sturdy draft horses, the slimmer looking mustangs and long legged purebreds, among others. Arthur ends up really liking an appaloosa, spotted all over. It honestly looks like it's light brown fur is perpetually caught in a snowstorm. Arthur feels tempted looking at the price, but decides against it. He has Storm, he loves her dearly and he wouldn't know what to do with a second horse either way.

Charles is relaxed at his side, smiling and speaking gently at the horses that move towards him. Some wander on, some stay, looking calm and at ease as he pets their necks and cards his fingers through their mane.

"Well, if we fail with the cows and sheep, we can always try our hand with the horses." Arthur jokes and Charles actually looks thoughtful for a moment. Arthur's gaze wanders back to the snowstorm spotted appaloosa before him, warm brown eyes watching him. It looks like it might get along with Storm and the others.

The call of his name gets Arthur to look up in surprise. It takes him a second to recognize one of the deputies heading his way, a rider leading his horse at his side.

"Mister Morgan." The deputy says, though it sounds like half an introduction, as he motions the rider towards him. "This gentleman was looking for you."

"Arthur Morgan?" The rider asks, wearing what looks like a uniform, though Arthur can't place where he might have seen it, even if it looks vaguely familiar. "I have a telegram for you."

At this, Arthur blinks in surprise. "Oh, thank you."

He accepts the paper the man hands him, who then gives him a very quick tip of his head, before he's already leaving again, getting into the saddle and quickly and expertly weaving his way through the crowd. Feeling entirely confused, Arthur looks down at the telegram. What he reads, makes him freeze, his heart lurching painfully in his chest. Taking a deep, rasping breath , he holds the telegram out to Charles. His tongue feels like it sticks to the roof of his mouth, dry and thick. His hands are turning numb and he no longer hears the chatting people around them.

"Shit." Charles murmurs and face serious, voice slightly tense and even his voice sounds a bit muffled. Arthur shakes his head and gets himself back together. "We have to tell the others." Charles looks up at him, gaze grave and he seems to stand up taller, shoulders squared and footing firmer. A fighter's stance. "We have to go."

Arthur sucks in a deep breath and it almost seems to sting his lungs. "Yeah." His voice sounds strange as he already turns to where he saw Hosea a few minutes ago. "Let's go."

~*~

"We have to go, right now." Karen says, voice not brooking for any argument as soon as she has the telegram snatched out of Arthur's hand and read over it herself. They're all back at the ranch, crowded around the kitchen table of the main house.

Arthur knows the words by heart by now. It's just a little message, considering how damn expensive a telegram is, but it's still so very, very serious.

Arthur the Pinkertons have Javier and Grimshaw. Please we need your help. Tilly.

Of course, of course he'll help. There is no question that he won't. But looking at everyone else, crowed around the kitchen table, he feels the same lurch that got him a while ago. They want to go too. Of course they would. They all would want to go back to the place he got them out of. The thought makes his lungs feel tight and as if the air gets dragged out of them against his will.

"No." He says without thinking, memories half forming in his mind and he can't stop thinking that he can't let them go back. It might kill them. Before he can say anything else though, or explain himself, Karen rounds on him, eyes bright with emotions she turns into fury.

"How dare you say that!" She snarls at him, almost shoving his shoulder as she gestures with the telegram and she looks close to betrayed, hurt even at his word, so very angry and it makes his chest tight all over again in a different way. "How dare you -"

"I'm not sayin' we ain't goin'." Arthur quickly interrupts her, holding up his hands in hopes to calm her down. And she does, giving him a very sharp look. Everyone is quiet now and looking at him aswell. Suddenly, it's hard to put things into words.

"Just, we can't all go." Arthur tries instead and now holds up his hands in a different way when he hears people suck in air for protests. "We can't. We can't just abandon this place."

"Arthur's right." Hosea's calm voice cuts in too and Arthur catches the way some folks deflate a little, looking stubborn and mulish, but at least more willing to listen. It gives Arthur a moment to calm his mind and wrangle his thoughts.

"We can't all go." Hosea continues, looking grim himself. "Now, let's all calm down." He looks at Arthur. "Why do you think Tilly asked for our help?"

Arthur can think of only one reason why that is. "She might no longer be with Dutch." Or count on him. Arthur sees that Hosea realizes what he doesn't say, catches the way the corners of the older man's eyes tighten and his lips press together for a moment. The same grief Arthur saw back in Shady Belle flits over Hosea's face, before it's pushed away.

"Javier and Grimshaw too?" Charles asks, his calm voice helping Arthur feel not as much as if everything is suddenly, once again, slipping through his fingers. Just when he thought it was all finally over, all the threats dealt with, at least for now. Just when he thought they were all safe. "Don't you think Dutch would come save them?"

Hosea and Arthur glance at each other and Arthur is vaguely aware of the others looking at them too, the telegram long crumbled in Karen's white knuckled fist. For a long second, Arthur doesn't know. He isn't sure if Dutch would leave Javier or Grimshaw, who are both so very, very loyal to him. Unless something happened. Considering everything that happened back in Beaver Hollow, before he died, he thinks it's possible. What he has trouble imagining is what Javier or Grimshaw would possibly do to end up on Dutch's bad side. Or for him to decide to leave them behind, considering their loyalty. What could have possibly happened?

"Maybe something is stopping him." Arthur finds himself saying. He swallows, his mouth still feeling too dry. It feels like he's making a choice with agreeing to go, as if he's tipping some kind of scales. And yet, in a way, it's no real choice at all. As if he wouldn't go. "But Tilly wouldn't ask for our help without good reason."

"How did she know where we are?" Kieran asks, frowning and looking a mix of serious and worried as well.

"Trelawney might have told her." Hosea murmurs. "He knows Tilly well enough, she wouldn't have used that information against us. Maybe she considered joining us too, but something happened before she could."

"It's dangerous, going back." Arthur has to say it. He can't just stay entirely quiet on the topic. "The Pinkertons will be lookin' for us, for us or Dutch. An' when we're there, I don't know a safe way back out. Or if we'll arrive in time."

"I know, but we have to try. And we'll deal with leaving when we're there." Hosea says calmly, certainly. Arthur can't help but remember all the times he's heard something similar. It's not even a real plan, but they all know that and they're going to go anyways. He stays quiet, something rough suddenly stuck in his throat, which feels so dry, his voice might scrape it raw.

At the same time, Arthur knows he wouldn't stay behind either. This is Tilly, and it's about Javier and Miss Grimshaw. Sure, he might still feel a bit torn about Javier at times, but they deserve help and the chance to get away safely and Miss Grimshaw doesn't deserve the same end as before. Arthur doesn't know where Dutch is or why Tilly asks them for help, but it must be dire. None of them would want to stay behind after this call of help, he knows that.

"We can't go with a too big group." Hosea says and looks at them. "Abigail, you stay here with Jack." She gives him a nod, though she casts a small, worried glance at John at her side. John shifts a little closer to her and her shoulders relax a bit, the tension seeping a little out of her face. Arthur thinks that he took her hand where the others can't see.

"Mary-Beth, I think it would be best if you stayed here too." Hosea says it and Mary-Beth frowns a bit in worry but accepts it with a slow nod. "Sean you -"

"I won't stay." Sean protests right away, looking angry and hurt.

"You can't shoot well yet." Hosea's voice is firmer than Arthur has heard it in a long while. It carries the sort of steel that Hosea even before used so very rarely and Sean's mouth shuts with click. Arthur catches the way his eye widens briefly, sees the flash of emotions, hurt and betrayed and angry. Then he turns around and leaves, roughly throwing the front door open on his way out. Hosea sags a little bit, but remains with a straight back.

"John, it would be best if you stay too." Hosea lifts his hand when John is about to protest. "You need to look after your family and we need enough people to care for the ranch too. Besides, if we're a small enough group, we have a better chance of slipping through unnoticed." He turns to face Kieran and Lenny, who already know what's coming. Kieran doesn't bother to protest, while Lenny starts to frown heavily. "You two stay as well."

Hosea looks over the rest of them. "Sadie, Karen, Arthur, Charles, you come with me." Karen exhales with relief and then frowns, glancing to where Sean left. That must be really hard on the kid and Arthur itches to go after him, even if he knows that right now, nothing he says could help Sean feel better. Or rather, nothing he'd know to say. Though, Arthur thinks that even without having lost his eye, Hosea would have told him to stay.

At the same time, knowing that Sean will stay is making him breathe easier. Sean will stay here and he won't go back to the east, where Arthur has to fear that he'll see him crumble to the ground once more, more than his eye gone. He still doesn't want Hosea to go, wants all of them to stay safe, but he also knows he can't do this on his own. For a brief moment, anger rises in him. Anger at Dutch, for not doing anything, that this happens and endangers all of them once again.

"Pack everything you need and do it fast." Hosea wraps everything up, voice still firm. "We're taking the first train towards the east. Let's hope we'll arrive in time to save them."

Chapter Text

Arthur saddles his horse when he sees John stepping out of the main house and it's impossible to miss that he's ready to go with them. From how he's armed to the teeth all the way to his determined walk.

"That damn fool." Arthur can't help but murmur as John takes large, strong steps towards Hosea. Arthur can't hear what they're saying but Hosea's facial expression of 'No' slowly changes the longer John talks and gestures. When Hosea sighs, Arthur can tell that John got his will. At his nod, John quickly jogs off to get Old Boy and Arthur catches a glimpse of Hosea looking worn and old. The man rubs a hand over his face, before he draws upright and the look vanishes, instead replaced with the determination that has been there before.

"Arthur." He startles slightly and turns to look at Abigail, who stands beside Storm now. His mare gently nudges her arm and she reaches out to pet her neck. Right from the first glance, Arthur can tell that she doesn't agree with John leaving and from the tense set of her shoulders, they must have argued about it. John is bullheaded though, Arthur knows once he really wants something, there is very little to be done to stop him from going.

Abigail looks troubled and then takes a deep breath. "Please, bring the fool back to me."

Arthur feels his chest grow tight and his stomach lurches at the thought of losing John in the east. "I will." He promises, though he knows better, should know better. You don't make promises like these in their kind of world. "I'll drag 'im back kickin' an' screamin' if I have to."

Abigail exhales and lifts her chin, looking a little more reassured, her shoulders easing a bit. Then she looks straight at him. "You too. You come back. You all come back and you bring Tilly and Javier and Miss Grimshaw with you."

Arthur tips his head in silent acceptance of her request and his mouth dries, but he can't quite bring himself to give her this promise too. It feels like too much, somehow and he hates, honestly loathes, that he can't tell her they'll all come back, unharmed and without a single one of them missing. Arthur knows how quickly losing people happens, has seen it enough times, even before they ended up in the east in the first place. He knows, all it takes is being deserted by luck or simply meeting someone faster and stronger. Lives can be snuffed out at the bang of a gun, gone within a second and before the body hits the ground. He's seen it, remembers it in his dreams and sometimes in his waking moments too.

Promising to bring John back is one thing, but all of them? He knows he can't give her that. Not with what he remembers of the east. A part of him still thinks they shouldn't go at all, that choosing to go there isn't going to do them any good. He remembers all the deaths and all that pain, remembers that bloody mountaintop. Remembers his desperation and death stealing through his veins.

Abigail understands what he doesn't say and she looks upset for a second, before squaring her shoulders, her face not giving anything else away. She's always been strong like that.

"I will do what I can to bring everyone back." He says instead. Abigail gives him a clear nod. She steps back from Storm to head over to John, most likely once more telling him to be careful and to return to her.

"How is Sean?" Arthur asks when Karen steps to his side, both their horses now ready. She looks grim and determined. Her expression falters for a moment and then she lifts her chin.

"He'll be alright. And when we're back, he'll get so many shooting lessons his hands will fall off."

Her words wrangle an amused huff from him and he feels a little better for it. He still worries about the kid, but at the same time, he'd rather have Sean furious and angry for months than to ever bury him before his time again. Still, he catches Karen looking back at their home.

Soon, they're all on the horses and say goodbye to the others. Sean even shows up, face paler than before and he doesn't quite look at them, but he still appears and Karen's shoulders relax a little. Jack, from beside Abigail, looks up at them, worried but not scared. He most likely thinks it's going to be a rescue like all the others he saw them leaving for in the past. Arthur is glad for it, he doesn't want the kid to be scared. Kieran looks worried and Lenny determined with a small frown. Abigail still seems unhappy about John leaving, but she stands steady and strong, Mary-Beth at her side. With all of them, the ranch will be safe and in good hands.

"We will be back as soon as we can." Hosea says and they kick their horses forward, leaving the houses and pastures behind.

All the way to the town, Arthur can't help but think that this is wrong. Their time in the east was supposed to be over, done and dealt with. And yet, somehow, the east manages to drag them back. At least not all of them. They'll have to make it back out, maybe with Tilly, Javier and Grimshaw in tow, or just one of them while the other two go elsewhere, and then they're not going to go back to the east ever again.

When they buy tickets, they have to switch trains two times along the way, before they catch one that takes them straight to the east. Things are quiet between them as they settle down for the long ride, horses in one of the wagons. Arthur is glad for Charles at his side, warm and steady. Even back when the tuberculosis killed him, being with Charles gave him a feeling of things somehow being alright. That even if he himself was lost, it was safe to follow Charles. Loyalty might have cost him a lot before, but trusting Charles never felt wrong or like the man might ask of him to go with him blindly. Charles simply is himself and would sooner shoulder more than ask anyone to do more than what they can.

He feels better too, with Charles there. Fear still crawls up his back and his stomach is clenching in a strange, hollowing feeling, but Charles helps in staying calmer, feeling stronger. They're going to be alright, he tells himself. Everything will turn out alright.

When the lights dim at night, when the wagon is barely illuminated enough not to bump into or trip over things, the sides of their hands press against each other, bridging the bit of space between them on the padded bench. Charles's skin is warm and Arthur feels himself relaxing through it, exhaling slow and low.

He isn't the only one tense either. Sadie is clearly still awake, with Karen sleeping lightly beside her. Hosea seems to have trouble finding sleep too and John beside him has a restless leg, the knee bouncing as he stares ahead. Arthur wonders what they're all thinking. If Sadie feels like returning to all the memories of Jake's death and her grief, if Karen might be scared too, if she wonders how this is going to turn out. If John worries about not coming back to his family. If Hosea wonders what had happened to his closest and longest friend to bring them to this point in time.

Arthur wishes he would have an answer for that particular question and though he thinks he understands a lot more than before, sees things a lot clearer, even he can't tell where exactly they began to lose Dutch. If maybe, there would have been a time where they could have reeled him back in. Where they wouldn't have to lose him to what he is now. Where Arthur didn't have to carry the taste of betrayal and abandonment and pain on the back of his tongue whenever he thinks too much about the man, while a small part of him can't help but still want to save him too if given the chance.

Arthur remembers how it all ended before. The memories rise stronger than they have in weeks and Beaver Hollow passes in front of his eyes, alive and colorful in a way it hasn't after arriving in the west.

He remembers graves, wood marked with names of people he held so dear. Wood that would rot away within years and leave nothing behind to remember any of them by. Involuntarily, Arthur wonders if anyone would have thought of him after his death. If anyone would have risked coming back to bury him or if he would have rotted on that mountaintop, to be picked apart by nature and his bones slowly turning to dust until nothing was left of him.

He can't help but think that he would have liked being buried properly. To have at least one person caring enough to come back for him, to remember him and leave something, even if it was just a wooden cross, so he maybe could be remembered for a few more years. By whoever wished to remember him.

"It will be alright." Charles murmurs, voice almost lost in the noise of the train. He sounds calming and reassuring. "Sleep, Arthur. Nothing will happen in this moment."

For a brief moment, he reaches out to give Charles's hand a gentle squeeze, feels the touch returned, before they let go again, the sides of their hands still pressed against each other. Arthur slouches a bit down his seat, pushing his thoughts away with all his might and tries to quieten his worries. They will be alright. They have to be.

~*~

The journey feels unbearably long and at the same time, Arthur feels the urge, has a voice whispering in the back of his head, to turn around and go back home. Not that he would. Tilly asked for help and he won't abandon her. Even if things might be too late for Javier and Grimshaw - he hopes not, he really does, hopes they'll arrive in time - they can get her out of here.

The Pinkerton patrols are still in place and Arthur feels almost like laughing without humor when they don't control the train. Of course, why should they? They're looking for people leaving, not for those arriving. It feels like some great irony, to safely ride past them when nothing else in regards to the Pinkertons has been safe before in any way.

The Grizzlies are still so very known to Arthur. It feels like coming back to a place he wandered for a long time. And in a way, it's not so wrong. He wandered these lands in two lives and being back feels familiar, in a grief-stricken, bloody sort of way and also like the rise of the morning sun and the freeing, deeply grateful taste of an impossible second chance. The east feels like both the end and a beginning. He still has this second chance and maybe he can still save some more people and not lose anyone again along the way.

It's safe for them to arrive in Saint Denis, as safe as anywhere else. The people of the city shouldn't recognize them and with how many folks there are, they have an easier time blending in among all the other arrivals in their train.

Besides, the gang has been this far south when they left, it's a better a starting point to go looking for Tilly than all the others. Arthur is relieved to get off the train, feeling cooped up and joints tense after all those days of traveling. Storm, when he gets her, seems equally relieved. As soon as everyone has their horses, they gather around Hosea.

"We'll split up and look for Tilly." Hosea says. "Try to find out where Grimshaw and Javier are too if you can, we might find her close to where they are as well. We'll go in two groups. John and Karen, you're with me, we're going to search Saint Denis and the area around it. Sadie, Charles and Arthur, you go looking in the rest of Lemoyne. If you don't find anything in two days, we meet up here again and go elsewhere. If you find her, come back here with her and inform the others. Alright? If we find her, one of us gets you."

Arthur nods, along with everyone else. They split up fast afterwards. Hosea, John and Karen leave their horses tied beside the station to go asking around nearby, while Arthur, Charles and Sadie get in the saddle.

Saint Denis is familiar, maybe a bit too familiar. Arthur still remembers all the roads, the twists and turns, remembers where he helped a saloon owner get rid of rats and where he got diagnosed with tuberculosis. He remembers the job on the boat and the bank heist that cost them two of the people Arthur cares deeply for. At least Lenny isn't here, he tells himself. At least Kieran and Sean aren't here. Neither of them will die in the south again. It's a comfort to think about.

The roads are still as warm and dusty as the last time Arthur was here, even more so now with the heat of the summer sun, as the day slowly tips from the afternoon towards the beginnings of the evening.

"Should we go to Shady Belle?" Sadie asks, as they ride side by side. Arthur mulls over it for a moment. He suspects that Dutch and the others with him shouldn't be there anymore, but that would also mean the Pinkertons might know about the place. Shady Belle wouldn't be safe for Tilly to hide in and too big as well, should another gang come by to claim the place as their own.

"No." He decides. "Tilly most likely isn't there. Lets head for Rhodes first."

He hopes the others are still down here in the south, along with Tilly and Javier and Grimshaw. Hopes they're not somewhere around Annesburg or Valentine or Strawberry. Hopes there in the area so the chances for saving them are higher. He really wants them to be alive, so they can get away and decide what to do with their lives from then on. If they want to come with them to the west or start living elsewhere.

"What do you think about Dutch?" Charles asks as they head towards Rhodes. "You don't think that he'll save them?"

If it had been anyone else, Arthur would have said that Dutch would let them die. But Javier and Grimshaw? They're loyal. So incredibly loyal and they care for Dutch so much. The only way Arthur can see Dutch abandoning them is if something happened. Something to make him doubt them and Arthur wonders what could have happened. Then again, why would Tilly ask for their help if she still counted on Dutch?

"I don't know, but we have to be careful." He answers. "Even if Dutch is going to show up to save them, there's going to be a trap."

"The Pinkertons." Sadie says with understanding, her voice going a bit rougher on the name. Arthur gives her a nod. No matter what, Javier and Grimshaw being captured can only ever be a trap to try and catch Dutch. It can't be why Dutch won't help them though. Arthur thinks that, at least, Dutch would answer a challenge like that, would feel as if he had to prove that he was smarter than them, while saving two of his most loyal members at the same time.

He hopes they'll find Tilly soon. There are questions Arthur wants and needs answers to. Especially because he doesn't want any of them to run into something they can't get out of. They have to keep as low a profile as possible as well, if they want to have better chances of leaving the east again.

The roads are so familiar he could follow them half conscious. The smell is well known too, a scent he's lived with for weeks. The dusty roads call forth memories and a growing feeling of unease, as they head towards Rhodes.

The town, when they reach it, is entirely unchanged. The same buildings, the same people, the same prices. There is still a bit of a bustle going on, but considering that it's growing late in the day, Arthur also sees people getting ready to relax after a day of work.

"I'll head into the station and ask around." Sadie proposes and Arthur gives her a nod.

"If a guy called Alden is in, give him a bit of money and he should tell you everything you want." He says and she gives him an understanding glance, nudging Bob so he trots towards the train station.

"We should try the saloon, unless you'd like to go elsewhere?" Arthur suggests, turning a questioning look to Charles.

"A good a place as any to start. I think after the shootout the last time you was here, the sheriff station might not be the best place." Charles muses and Arthur swallows against a mix of memories and a bone-deep sigh that encompasses everything that went wrong down here.

The sun is slowly setting around them and if not for Arthur hating to be back in the east and the growing unease that seems to crawl deeper to settle along his bones, it would be a nice day. Warm and sunny with a beautiful sunset.

They hitch the horses up outside the saloon and head in, Charles quiet and attentive at his back. Arthur turns towards the bar, waving the barkeeper down when they reach it.

"Two whiskeys." He says, setting the coins on the counter. "Hey." The bartender pauses after setting down the two glasses, with a small side-glance at Charles that has a part of Arthur bristling. He knows that kind of look. Damn south. He might understand a little more what Lenny meant the last time they were down here. "We heard some rumors about gang members being caught."

The barkeeper gives him a careful once over and Arthur knows he sees what everyone else sees. A rough man, armed and with the kind of air that lets others know violence and hardness are no strangers to him. He hasn't spent nearly enough time away from that life to lose that air yet and Arthur, in all truth, doubts that he ever will.

"If you're lookin' for bounties, we have some on Lemoyne Raiders and a guy who's wanted for murder." He says, eyeing Arthur a moment longer.

Arthur frowns a bit, before he can say anything though, a short, broken off laugh makes him look to the side. He straightens in surprise when Molly almost falls against the bar as she stumbles closer, so drunk Arthur can smell the whiskey on her. She doesn't look good. Pale and her usually so well maintained clothes are dusty, the hem of her dress smeared with dried mud. Her hair is only halfheartedly done and there are shadows under her eyes.

"If yer'r lookin' for..." She breaks off, stumbling a bit as she sways a step to the side. Arthur gently grips her arm just as the bartender gives her an annoyed look.

"You again. Here to finally pay up? Don't think I forgot that you left yesterday without paying." He takes a step closer and Arthur is quick to lift a calming hand.

"How much?" He asks and the man gives him a frown, before telling him. Arthur is rather certain it's a dollar or two more than what Molly really owes, but he honestly doesn't much care. She slumps against his side, murmuring something he can't hope to understand. Especially with the alcohol slurring her accent so much he honestly thinks she's no longer speaking English. Or coherent English in any case.

"Take her." The barkeeper says after accepting the money. "She's too drunk to stay anyways."

Arthur resists the urge to shoot the man a look. It says a lot about him that he lets two strangers just take a woman along. Still, it's better to get this done without protest than having to make a scene or drawing too much attention.

Leaving the whiskey, Arthur gently grips Molly and helps her stay upright. Charles walks ahead of them to hold the door open as they cross the room. Molly trips on the stairs on the way down and Arthur barely manages to keep a grip on her.

"Alright Miss O'Shea, just a bit further." He tells her, only to realize that she's too far gone. By the time he strengthens his grip, her eyes have fallen closed and the most he gets out of her are nonsensical mumbles and small noises. He exchanges a look with Charles, who has a small, worried frown on his face.

Bending his knees, Arthur lifts Molly up, carefully slinging her over one shoulder. She smells of dust, the saloon and whiskey.

"I'll go get Sadie." Charles says once they are a bit away from Rhodes and stop by a tree right outside of the town. "You'll be alright alone?"

"Sure." Arthur sets Molly down and carefully leans her back against the tree. In the light of the sinking sun, her matted hair still looks fiery. Her freckles seem to stand out a bit, considering her almost sickly pallor and even with the slight tan the south left on her.

"Hey, Miss O'Shea." Arthur gently taps her cheek, kneeling at her side and wondering just how much she had. She seems almost entirely out of it now. "Molly."

She seems to stir a bit at her first name, but aside from a small noise, she can't seem capable of much more. It doesn't take long for Sadie and Charles to return and Sadie kneels at Molly's other side, frowning a bit as well.

"Molly. Hey, Molly." She taps her cheek too and then looks at Arthur and Charles. "What should we do with her?"

"We ain't leavin' her." Arthur says. It's not even something he has to decide on. Molly got dealt an incredibly shitty hand the last time around and it looks like something happened to drive her away from Dutch entirely this time too. The least he can do now is do his best to try to ensure she stays alive. "Let's see if we can wake her up."

They decide against staying in Rhodes and Sadie has Molly in front of her as they ride further away, keeping her in the saddle with an arm around her middle. Charles leads them to a good place to set up camp and Arthur heads out for a quick hunt, while Sadie tries to get Molly to sober up a bit.

By the time he returns with a pheasant, Molly sleeps on Sadie's bedroll, looking tousled and somehow also very exhausted.

"What do you think happened?" Sadie asks, while Charles prepares the food and Arthur sets out his own bedroll.

"I don't know." He answers honestly, glancing at Molly and the shadows under her eyes. "But I think Dutch either kicked her out or she left."

Personally, he can't help but think the former, unless Dutch once again ended up somewhere around Cuba. Back then, Molly herself only left after it looked as though they had died after that botched robbery and the subsequent storm at sea. In all honesty, Arthur would have thought the same in her shoes. But now? He doesn't know if Dutch even attempted to rob the bank in Saint Denis, so he doesn't know if Guarma ever happened. If it didn't, he can see Dutch throwing Molly out at one point. He did have less and less patience for her.

"We'll find out when she wakes up." Charles says and they fall quiet again, listening to the crackle of fire and the small hiss when a drop of fat from the meat of the pheasant falls into the flames.

Arthur offers to take the first watch after they eat, since he already knows that he won't be able to sleep and he lets Sadie have his bedroll. He sits beside Charles, rifle close and keeps an eye on everything around them. Still, even with the peaceful quiet of the night and with two people he trusts the most at his side, he can't relax. Restlessness spreads through his limbs and his heartbeat feels too fast and too nervous. The same unsettled feeling from before hasn't let go of him and instead seems to have burrowed into his very being.

It takes Arthur a moment to realize that he's scared. Scared of this place and everything that happened here in another life. He's scared of what returning to it will cost him. No more graves. He'll have to focus on that. No more graves, even if coming back is going to cost him his own life, he'll gladly give it as long as no one else joins him in death. As long as they all can go home, can go west again.

Molly sleeps like a log for hours, right up until Arthur would wake either Charles or Sadie to take over the watch. She groans and rolls to facing the fire, which has burned down to embers. But it's really warm down here in the south so they really don't need the heat. Arthur pauses and watches as she seems to wake up. It only takes him a moment to realize what will happen and the next he's on his feet and at her side.

Arthur helps Molly upright and a few stumbling steps, before she throws up. It's a bit awkward as he tries to somehow hold her hair back and help her stay mostly upright. Therefore, it takes him a moment to notice it when her heaving turns into shivers and then quiet sobs.

"A right laugh I am. I loved him, I really did." She chokes out and Arthur helps her a few more steps away from the vomit so she can sit in the grass. Molly still sounds like she's drunk, but not nearly as much as a few hours ago. She wipes an unsteady hand over her face and then seems to give up, her head falling to her drawn up knees.

Arthur has absolutely no idea what to do. A feeling of helplessness and something empathetic and slightly aching rises in him at seeing her cry. Carefully, he puts a hand on her shoulder and keeps it there when she seems to tilt towards the touch a bit. Behind him, he hears some rustling and turns to see both Sadie and Charles awake. They hang back though, for now, Sadie throwing some twigs into the fire and Charles pulling out some water, most likely for Molly to drink if she feels like it.

"What happened?" Arthur asks when she seems to be all out of tears. She wipes her hand over her face again, an entirely humorless laugh escaping her. It sounds so aching.

"Threw me out." Molly says and keeps her eyes fixed on her knees. There is shame on her face and she seems to curl in on herself. "Said he wanted a nagging woman like me no more and if I was so unhappy, I should go find someone else."

Something twists her face, heartbreak and anger and something that looks like self-blame. Then she glances up at Arthur, frowning and eyes bloodshot and he lets his hand drop away, almost feeling the way she tenses up now.

"Here to laugh at me?" She asks, hurt and angry and Arthur gets it. She doesn't know if any of them will understand her or not laugh at her. He didn't much talk to her, not last time or this time around. Molly didn't really have friends at camp either, none that he knows of at least.

"No." He says as she draws breath to say anything else and he sees her deflate a bit, the fight going out of her to leave something bitter and hurt behind. He tries to gentle his voice a bit. "No, Molly. This isn't your fault."

Her shoulders sag at that. Arthur believes it too. It's not her fault when things didn't work out, he overheard her trying to talk to Dutch before, who was never fond of sharing his troubles with others. Sometimes, things just don't work out, even with trying.

"Why are you here?" Molly asks as Arthur nudges her up to come sit by the fire again. She accepts a tin mug of water Charles hands her and seems grateful for Sadie sitting down on her other side. "You was gone."

"Tilly asked for help." Sadie explains. "Says the Pinkertons have Javier and Miss Grimshaw. Do you know anything about it?"

Molly frowns into her cup and then looks up. "They was still with Dutch when I left. But I met the Pinkertons a few days ago or somethin'. I remember them talkin' to me, 'bout Dutch and the rest of them. I never told them a thing." She bites on her lower lip and her frown deepens for a moment, before something flits over her face. "Van Horn. I remember them talking about hangin' up at Van Horn. But I could tell it was a going to be a trap. They wanted me to overhear it."

Sadie, Charles and Arthur exchange a look.

"Might be as good a place as any to go to next, if Hosea and the others don't find out anything more." Charles says. Arthur nods, before looking at Molly.

"Do you want to come with us?" He asks. Arthur doesn't want to leave her down here, alone and grieving and getting drunk all the time. Even if she keeps drinking, at least at home, they can ensure nothing bad happens to her. As much as possible at least.

Molly lifts her head, surprised and stares at Arthur for a moment. Then she huffs out a soft noise, something along her shoulders and back easing. "I got you all wrong, Arthur Morgan." She swallows and there is a brief flash of shame, before she nods, her voice quiet. "Yeah, I'll go with you."

"Alright. Try to get some more sleep, we'll leave early." Arthur gives her shoulder a small pat and then gets up. Charles briefly touches his arm as he sinks down on the bedroll beside him. They exchange a glance and Charles settles down beside Arthur's head, ready to keep watch.

Sadie exchanges some murmurs with Molly, getting her to lie down again as well. Arthur looks up at Charles, who gives him a small, warm smile. He has to resist the urge to reach out, instead giving him a small smile back. Arthur still feels nervous and unsettled, but no longer as unbearably restless as before. Something about watching Molly cry sapped some of that excess energy out of him as well. He should be able to catch a bit of sleep, even if he's still worried. Still scared, in a way.

"Sleep." Charles murmurs, briefly reaching out. It looks as though he nudges Arthur's hat a bit to the side, but Arthur feels the way his fingers card through his hair for a moment, making him relax a bit with a silent sigh. "We'll keep watch and if it is a trap, they won't kill Javier and Grimshaw too soon. We still have some time."

It helps to hear that. Still, once Arthur falls asleep, the dreams that greet him are anything but kind.

~*~

Molly is quiet on their ride back to Saint Denis. At first, Arthur is pretty sure it is due to her hangover, but afterwards she seems to withdraw, still looking kind of ill and a few times, when he glances at her, he sees a sheen of tears in her eyes. Tears she refuses to let fall and sometimes she look a mix of heartbroken and angry as well.

They all are rather quiet and they keep the pace swift. Van Horn isn't horribly far from Saint Denis - not like Strawberry or Valentine would be, for example, but Arthur still wants to hurry. The thought of being too late because they took their time on the road nags at the back of his mind and draws the muscles along his shoulders a little tighter.

Saint Denis looms into view soon, smoke and dust rising from the city to smudge over the sky like the colors on a failed photograph. It makes the sun look murkier somehow. The hooves of the horses are noisy on the cobbled streets and Arthur has to pay attention to the pedestrians, so he doesn't accidentally rides into anyone. Or runs them over.

Charles breaks away to go and get Hosea and the others, while Arthur and Sadie, who has Molly on the horse with her, head to the station. As the two women pick an unobtrusive place to wait, Arthur heads to a nearby store and gets some more food. He should try and get a newspaper soon too, at least to see if anything of note stands in there. Or if he can maybe find out if Dutch did anything since they left. Molly doesn't remember hearing anything about him, though then again, she looks as though she spent most of her days drinking.

When Hosea and the others return, they are surprised to see Molly. She lifts her chin, but Arthur can see the tense fists her hands curl into and the curve of her shoulders, caught between squaring and rounding, as though she is half ready to fold into herself and half ready to face a fight. Hosea speaks with her, voice gentle and kind and Karen seems to understand what's going on at the first glance too. She doesn't say anything and Arthur is glad for it. He isn't sure if she and Molly ever really got along, but Karen can be a lot kinder than most people give her credit for. Most times, at least.

"What did you find out?" John asks, just as Hosea steps closer to him as well. Arthur briefly motions at Molly.

"Miss O'Shea overheard the Pinkertons talking about keeping Javier and Miss Grimshaw up at Van Horn, but it's most definitely a trap."

"When isn't that the case." Hosea muses, thoughtful and serious. "Alright, John, Arthur, you ride ahead and see how much truth there is to it. We'll get some more supplies and follow you a little later. Meet us outside of Van Horn when you know more or you're sure Grimshaw and Javier are there."

John and Arthur give Hosea nods, before turning to their horses. Arthur can't help but glance back at the group, standing close together and talking, before they're weaving their way past pedestrians and head out of the city.

"You think they're really there?" John asks as they canter down the road at a steady pace. Arthur reaches up to adjust his hat a bit.

"Maybe. They should be, if Milton and Ross want it to be a trap." He's reasonably certain that's the case. Back at Beaver Hollow, with Abigail that had been the case, when she had been kidnapped and Arthur and Sadie had ridden to go save her. "If they are, we should most likely find Tilly there too."

"Yeah." John falls silent again for a little while, before looking over at Arthur. "Do you really think Dutch wouldn't come for them? Even if he knew of the trap, wouldn't he come get them?"

Arthur frowns and tips his head forward, rubbing a thumb along the reins. "I don't know. But something is going on."

It worries him though, he has to admit that. What if it's a trap so deadly that Dutch wouldn't find saving two people worth the risk? What if he knows and doesn't care to save them? Has something happened in all the weeks since they left, that would cause him to abandon Javier and Grimshaw? Tilly certainly doesn't seem to trust Dutch to save them. She isn't prone to panic, she's smart and keeps a cool head. Tilly wouldn't lightly ask for their help.

John frowns but doesn't say anything else. He still seems to mull over things and Arthur is doing pretty much the same. He also can't help but keep an eye out. It's partly his paranoia speaking and partly because he is right to be careful. The last thing they need is being spotted by a person who recognizes them and reports their presence to someone.

Above them, clouds gather and they're halfway to Van Horn, when John speaks up again.

"So." He says, in a tone of voice that makes Arthur glance at him reflexively. It's as if John tries to sound very casual but can't help curiosity from bleeding through. "You and Charles?"

It takes Arthur a second to realize just what exactly John means and he finds himself flexing his hand on the reins.

"Which is perfectly fine." John tacks on, almost hurriedly, voice taking a reassuring tone. "It's just, most of us have been wonderin'. I've been wonderin'."

"Since when?" Arthur can't help but ask, glancing at John again, who frowns a bit in thought.

"Uh, at Shady Belle I thought somethin' might be up, but only a bit. It really registered when we reached the west." He looks back at Arthur, earnest in a way they aren't often. "I'm happy for you. I mean, if it worked out." A beat of silence. "Did it?"

Arthur feels something along his shoulders relax a little, something in him calming and settling a bit at what John said. "Don't go blabbin' it out now, Marston."

John huffs out a brief laugh. "Wouldn't think of it." He nudges his horse a tad closer to reach out and clap Arthur on the shoulder. There is something impish entering his gaze when Arthur looks up. "Took you look enough, I thought you'd never find someone."

"Oh shut it." Arthur gives him a small shove and can't help but smile himself. John grins back and Arthur, unbidden, thinks that this guy, this impossible, stubborn, great guy, really is his brother. He wouldn't have it any other way.

They ride on for a moment longer in silence and then Arthur frowns. "Wait, most of you?"

John grins at him, entirely unapologetic. "I mean, we all guessed somethin' was up, but Hosea just told us to leave it alone. That it's none of our business." He gets more serious then. "But really, I won't say anythin' to the others if you don't want me to."

"Thanks." Arthur honestly never thought about telling anyone. To him, it's between him and Charles and that's where it would have stayed. Especially with how new and fresh everything is and feels and all the stuff that has gone unsaid for now but won't remain that way for too long. Still, it's, well, it's really nice to have John be so accepting about it.

They remain quiet for the rest of the ride, up until they get close to Van Horn.

"Let's keep our distance. That ledge there gives us a good view of the place." John suggests and Arthur nods. They get up on the ledge and pull out their binoculars once they have a good view of Van Horn without being easily seen in return.

The place, on first glance, looks just like Arthur remembers. Rundown, kind of dark and giving off the feeling as though this is where every person with empty pockets ends up in. The houses look kind of sooty and the same broken wagon is still on the side of the road at the entrance to Van Horn. Right up until Arthur sees something that doesn't really fit the place. Gallows that haven't been there before, half made of old and new wood and built just well enough to be passable. It takes Arthur a moment to recognize the person left swaying on the rope.

He sucks a sharp breath in, heart lurching with startled alarm, followed an ache that briefly steals his air and nausea roiling through him like a stormy sea. John beside him makes an aborted move, a strange mix of flinching back and tipping forward, as though to reach out.

"It's, how, they - they just left her there." John sounds as thrown as Arthur feels, shocked and angry, both of them almost frozen in place. For a long moment, Arthur can't look away from Miss Grimshaw, her hair half undone and strands fluttering in the breeze, her whole body limp, skin a strange, pasty white and her skirts torn at the hem, dirtier than she ever allowed them to get while she had been alive.

He can tell she's been there for more than just a few hours. She's been dead for a good few days already. His mouth bone-dry, he looks away and John beside him does the same, looking shocked and stricken.

"How dare they." John says, sounding as though he still can't really believe it. Arthur can't either. A hanged person gets taken off the noose once it's confirmed they're dead, a part of him thinks as though from far away. Arthur drags a deep breath into his lungs, forcing himself to focus and get some feeling back into his fingers.

"We'll have to get her down." John says, already reaching for the reins to turn Old Boy around. Arthur grips his arm without thinking.

"She's still there for a reason." The words feel wooden and wrong in his mouth and his mind reels, half caught up in the sight through the binoculars and his memory of Grimshaw dying before. Of being shot in the chest and falling. This...this wasn't how it was supposed to go. She shouldn't have died again, not for this, not for anything but old age.

For a moment, he thinks John is going to argue, is going to get angry or frustrated, before he deflates. They sit in silence on their horses and Arthur lets go of John's arm when John takes a deep, steadying breath and straightens up.

"Tilly, we'll have to see if we can find her. And Javier. Let's hope they haven't killed him too yet." John says and looks back towards Van Horn with a dark expression on his face. "And we'll get her down. They don't get to keep her up there to be picked apart by ravens. She deserves better than that, she -"

John shakes his head and Arthur understands. Grimshaw kept the camp together in a lot of ways, she kept them presentable, kept roofs over their heads as much as possible and sure, she could be incredibly hard sometimes, but Arthur always trusted her. Trusted that she'd do what she could to make sure everyone made it through. That the camp ran well.

"Yeah. We'll not leave her there." He promises quietly, taking another deep breath before he lifts his binoculars again. "Let's see if we can spot any Pinkertons or what they might have in store for us, too."

Arthur tries not to look over at Grimshaw again, his chest tight and heart beating too fast once more, the unease in him surfacing again. Keeping his breathing slow and steady, he surveys the place a second time.

"I can't see Tilly." John murmurs and then lightly smacks his shoulder. "There, over by the docks."

Arthur looks over and sees Milton glancing out a window, the one by the fence shop, before he steps back and disappears from view. Involuntarily, Arthur remembers another time that he was here, Milton waiting for him and Sadie with his men.

"Think Ross is here too?" John asks and Arthur frowns, looking around further.

"I don't know. Possibly." He heaves an angry sigh. "Shit, what if they have Tilly too now?"

"She would have tried to help Grimshaw." John says and something angry enters his voice. "And they left her hangin' to capture whoever else tried to come for her or Javier."

"I doubt Javier is still here, if I'm honest." Arthur looks over the rest of the buildings again. "Maybe never was. It would be a better trap too. Separate the two and make it harder to save them both at the same time."

"We'll have to find out if Tilly is here." John lowers his binoculars and Arthur does the same. "One of us sneaks down and tries to find someone to talk to?"

"Alright." Arthur stows the binoculars away. "I'll go." He holds up a hand to stop John's protests. "And you keep me covered."

"Fine." John frowns heavily now, sounding anything but happy. He still gets his rifle out and Arthur turns Storm to the side to ride through the trees and use their cover to get as close to Van Horn as possible without being visible right away.

If he's really careful, it could work. Milton and his men are probably keeping an eye on the main road, where Grimshaw is as well. And if they really have Tilly, she might be in the same place Abigail had been before. Especially with Milton having looked out the window of the fence shop. Arthur hopes Tilly is around and that she's well, even if she's captured.

He has to leave Storm behind as the houses come into view. The sun is still up, so Arthur isn't happy sneaking about like this, but he keeps low and an eye on the windows and alleys. He slowly slides his way down the hillslope behind Van Horn towards the tavern, where a man stands and smokes, eyeing him with a wryly lifted eyebrow. Knowing what he knows about Van Horn, Arthur is pretty sure the guy has seen way, way worse. And weirder too.

"Good day." He greets the man politely, who lifts his cigarette in a slightly sarcastic greeting gesture. "Could I ask you somethin'?"

"Depends." The man eyes him, gaze lingering a moment longer on his weapons.

"I'm looking for a friend and I wonder if you might have seen her come through. Wears a yellow dress, polite and probably kept a low profile."

"The darkie they captured?" The man asks and snips a bit of ash to the side. "Tried to save that old crow from being hung. I really wish they'd take her down, she's startin' to smell."

Arthur resists curling his hands to fists or to let a particularly dark and angry expression cross onto his face. He still needs a bit more information and he really should avoid causing trouble.

"You know where they took her?" He asks, trying for casual by resting his hands on his belt instead of doing something foolish, like letting one drop close to his revolver or shifting his stance to something more dangerous looking.

The guy eyes him and then lifts a shoulder. "My memory isn't that good." He gives him a humorless smile. "Could be encouraged though."

"How 'bout this." Arthur says as he keeps himself from taking a step closer and appear threatening or crowding. "I give you somethin' to prod your memory and a little extra somethin' to make it forget again."

The man's grin now takes a pleased turn. "Hand me the cash and I never saw you."

Arthur doesn't know how well that would work, especially if Milton offers money as well or anything, but knowing the guy, as long as Arthur and the others get away again, by tomorrow if possible, they should be good. Hopefully.

Arthur digs out some money and hands it to the man, who looks over it, appearing pleased and satisfied. "Have you heard anything about them having a Mexican too?"

The guy stashes the money away, frowning in thought and takes his cigarette out of his mouth.

"No, haven't heard about anyone like that. They have your lady friend over by the docks. Hidin' her away in the shop of the fence. They're hopin' you'll be stupid and storm in blind and down the main road." He leans back against the wall. "That's all I know. Oh, they have a bunch of men, all armed to the teeth." He gives Arthur a surprisingly serious look. "They're gonna blow you full a holes before you even get to decent cover."

"We'll see." Arthur murmurs and with a small wave, leaves again. He uses some scraggly bushes growing further at the side to climb out of the back of Van Horn. It doesn't take him long to reach Storm again and ride back to John, telling him everything.

"Let's meet up with Hosea and the others first." Arthur suggests. "Then we'll talk about a plan of attack."

They ride to an abandoned house a little bit away from Van Horn, that Arthur remembers well. Here, he and Bill once went to go stealing dynamite and Micah got on his nerves even more. Most of all, he remembers how much the illness had already eaten away at him.

The others arrive a few minutes after Arthur and John.

"Miss Grimshaw is dead." Arthur says when they're all standing together. Hosea briefly closes his eyes, taking a deeper breath. Charles frowns and Sadie tips her hat so her face isn't visible for a moment, before looking up again. Karen looks entirely unconcerned - which doesn't surprise Arthur, she mostly hated Grimshaw. Molly presses her lips together, arms wrapped around herself, but she doesn't really appear sad either.

"They have Tilly too now." Arthur continues. "They're holding her in Van Horn, but I haven't heard anything about Javier. I think they separated them and he's somewhere else." And hopefully still alive. "They have a lot of men, we're gonna have to be smart about this."

Hosea rubs a hand over his mouth, looking to the side and then glancing up at the sky, before straightening. Arthur knows the expression that appears on his face. He has a plan.

"We'll wait until nightfall. It's going to be quite foggy tonight and we're going to need all the cover we can get." Hosea's voice takes on something clear and strong and everyone around him straightens in response. "Arthur, you and Sadie ride to the shore. I saw a small fisher boat farther down the road, nothing more than a rowboat, but it will do. Take it and use it to get to the docks unnoticed. The rest of us are going around town and get into good positions to draw the fire." His face and voice turn grim. "It's going to be bloody. We'll prioritize Tilly and if we can, we'll take Grimshaw to bury her later."

"She's still at the gallows." John adds and there is a small shift on Hosea's face, something grieving and angry, before he nods.

"Alright, we best rest up." Hosea tells them, dispersing their round. Arthur though knows he and Sadie might have to leave now if they want to take the boat to Van Horn in time. "Arthur, be at the docks at midnight at the latest. That's when we'll strike. And afterwards, we'll meet close to the stables a bit further down."

Arthur gives him a nod of understanding. Yeah, it looks like they're going to leave now.

Sadie turns to Molly and Arthur. "We best get going now, the boat is quite a bit away. I'll ride with you, if that's okay." At his nod, she faces Molly. "You take Bob. If anything tonight goes wrong, you run with 'im."

Molly swallows and then straightens. Arthur hopes everything will go well and they won't have to split and run in all directions like a herd of panicked deer. This thing tonight has to go well. He already lost so much to the east before, he doesn't want to go through that again. Sadie takes her guns from the saddle and hands Bob's reins to Molly, who takes them with a half worried, half determined look. Then she takes a deep breath and squares her shoulders.

"Be safe." She tells them, fingers closing a bit tighter around the reins. Arthur gives her a nod and gets back on Storm. Sadie is behind him before he can even so much as hold out a hand to her. It makes a small smile tug at the corners of his mouth. Then he lifts his head and gives the others a parting nod, gaze locking with Charles a moment longer.

They all look a bit tense, though not too worried, not yet. Charles gives him a small tilt of his head in parting and Arthur turns Storm around.

"I know where the boat is." Sadie says."I'll tell you when to go off the road."

"Alright." With a nudge to her flanks they leave and Arthur gets Storm into a steady, swift gallop shortly afterwards. It's quiet between them, aside from Sadie giving him the occasional instruction until they reach the shore with the rowboat. No one else is around and the sun starts to set. Giving Storm a pat to get her to leave, Arthur pushes the boat back out onto the water with Sadie. They climb in and he grabs the oars, starting to row the moment Sadie sits down.

"What are you thinkin' about all this?" Sadie asks when they get away from shore, her hands resting on her legs as she looks around. A bit further up, Arthur can see Storm trotting along the shoreline, keeping an eye on them. Smart girl. Then again, after everything she went through with him, it shouldn't surprise him that she knows what to do. She'll probably find the others soon and one of them will keep her close.

"'bout what?" Arthur asks, though he can guess what Sadie means.

"About Tilly, Javier and Dutch. And now Grimshaw is dead." She shakes her head. "I can't believe it."

Arthur can't help but remember all the deaths before. Everyone he couldn't save, all the tragedy that took place while he stood by, not yet seeing the truth. A part of him thinks those memories will stay with him forever, though he hopes, one day, they might not be as haunting, not as aching and painful.

He sighs. "I don't know, Sadie. There is too much I don't know, but we'll save them. If they're still alive, we'll get them out. That much I do know."

"Yeah." She leans forward, her elbows on her knees and her keen, thoughtful eyes watch him. Then she frowns slightly. "I'm sorry about Grimshaw. Death waits for no one, not even for us."

"No." The world feels strangely thick and rough on his tongue, his mouth turning dry. "No it doesn't."

~*~

Like Hosea said, fog starts to roll in as the last sunlight disappears, the dark of the night spreading around them. The fog is thick, thick enough that without some lights weakly shining through from Van Horn, Arthur honestly wouldn't have found the place. For a while, it even felt as if he wasn't even still rowing in the right direction, with how everything around him disappeared in the thick gray-whiteness. Now though, he at least has some guidance.

He slows his rowing as they approach the place a bit before midnight. Partly to reduce the amount of noise he makes and partly because even with some guiding lights shining through the fog like some far-off specters, he still has trouble figuring out where the dock with the fence shop is.

In the end, they almost bump right into the dock it stands on and only Sadie quickly reaching out and pushing them sideways saves them from making a very noticeable noise. They stay still and quiet for a long moment, ducked low and Arthur can only vaguely see Sadie in this fog and with the lamps barely casting enough light to make shapes around them reasonably visible.

"Should we wait?" Sadie whispers and he hears the tell-tale, quiet noise of her pulling out her revolver in preparation. Arthur wets his lips and then nods towards the house on the docks.

"We'll get closer. Maybe we can get Tilly out before they start shootin'." Especially if Milton might stick close to her or level a gun at her head when the fighting begins. He ties the rowboat to a dock post more or less well enough and they climb out, feet quiet on the wooden planks.

Sadie stays a step behind him, close enough in case anything happens and no to lose sight of him, but with enough distance for sudden stops, to avoid running into him. Arthur keeps listening for noises and as they get closer, hears the quiet murmur of two guys talking. They seem farther to the left though, probably guards that abandoned their hideouts to have a better look in this fog. Arthur waves Sadie with him to the right side, towards the back of the fence shop. The lights are clearer here, shining through the windows. He crouches down by one. Sadie is beside him and glances around to ensure nothing can sneak up on them.

Arthur straightens a bit, just enough to take a peek inside. In the shop, only two lanterns are lit, enough to help people see by, but casting a lot of convenient shadows to hide in or to make attackers pause for a second to check if nothing is there. Glancing around, he exhales in relief when he spots Tilly, before he frowns and bites back a curse. She's tied up in a chair, much like Abigail had been all that time before and Milton is barely two steps from her, leaning against the counter and removing dirt from under his nails with the tip of his knife. Great.

"I see Tilly." Arthur whispers when he ducks back down. "Milton is with her."

"Shit." Sadie straightens a bit now too, to take a look herself and then ducks back down. "What do you wanna do?"

They only have a few minutes to decide since midnight is almost upon them. Arthur thinks it over and then draws his own gun.

"We go in a minute before midnight." He tells her quietly. "Get Milton away from Tilly. Hosea and the others should attack before Milton can get too much help and by then, his men hopefully can't afford leaving their posts."

"Alright." Sadie checks her gun over and then settles back to look out for any patrolling guards, while Arthur pulls out his watch. It's a bit hard to make out the time in this fog and darkness, but with a bit of squinting, he can see it okay enough. As the time nears, he tucks it away and Sadie at his side shifts to get ready. Arthur exchanges a look and nod with her, before creeping towards the backdoor.

His heart is picking up its beat too, thrumming against the inside of his ribs and there is a strange, cold tingle spreading over his skin and making him restless and worried. Scared, he's scared this is going to fail. He doesn't want to carry Tilly out there, dead and gone. Not her, not when she had survived before. He won't be her undoing now, after saving all the others. That's not the price he'll pay for changing things. Not her and not Javier. Not after already having failed Grimshaw.

As he reaches the backdoor, he takes a deep breath, Sadie getting in position on the other side. She holds two guns now and her gaze is hard and determined. She stands with the strength to bring anything in her path down to their knees and for a brief, sharp second, Arthur is dearly glad to have her there with him. To have her reliable, fierce strength at his side. Inhaling deep, he straightens up and turns to the door, sees her shift to come shoulder to shoulder with him at the same time as he raises his foot.

The door splinters open with a strong kick, slamming aside with a loud noise. Fog swirls around them as they storm inside, Milton having startled upright. He whirls towards them, gun lifted and then he dives sideways, just as Arthur and Sadie begin to shoot. Arthur doesn't stop, shooting first one revolver and then the other, while Sadie rushes past him, using the cover to stop beside Tilly, who tries to make warning noises through the cloth over her mouth.

"Behind you!" She screams when Sadie tugs it down and Arthur whirls around with a start. The two guards from before have run around the shop instead of going straight in and possible meeting enemy fire. Smart, sadly, he could have used dumb henchmen tonight.

Arthur ducks to make a smaller target while he shoots, the first guy falling and the other taking three bullets before he goes down. An enraged shout behind him makes him turn around again, to see Sadie throwing herself towards Milton. It's strange, to see her in a position Arthur had held before, bracing against Milton's arm to keep the gun away from herself, away from him and Tilly too. Still, Milton slowly begins to force her hand down and Arthur curses, hurrying to change position and to get a clear shot without accidentally hurting Sadie too. Distantly, he's aware of shooting starting outside and the yells of men.

"Arthur!" Sadie shouts just as he rounds Tilly, seeing her gripping Sadie's dropped knife with one hand and cutting herself free.

He raises his gun. "Duck!"

Sadie dives to the side, letting Milton stumble a step forward as her resistance is suddenly gone. Their eyes meet for a moment, Milton's wide in slightly startled surprise. Arthur shoots, the man managing to stop his stumble at just the right height and angle. Watching Milton crumble to the ground, a hole in his head, feels strange. Neither a victory nor a bad deed. Just desperation and relief.

"You came." Tilly says, disbelief and relief in her voice and he hears rope snapping, turning around to watch her rising to her feet, knife in her hand. She takes a step and Arthur meets her in a hug. He holds her tight for a moment, feels her grip him in return, the handle of the knife pressing again one of his shoulders. She's alive. She's alive.

"Thank you." Tilly says, voice rough and when she pulls back, Arthur sees a large bruise swelling up one side of her face. "Both of you."

She grips Sadie in a hug as well, who looks surprised but hugs her back, before gently but firmly pushing Tilly to the backdoor.

"As glad as I am to see you." Sadie says, voice gentler than before. "But we really need to get out of here."

"Right." Tilly draws up taller, handing Sadie the knife back and picking up Milton's revolver in return. She gives the man a disdainful, angry look. Then she pauses, halfway towards the door. "Miss Grimshaw, someone needs to take her down. I couldn't...I wasn't fast enough."

Her voice wavers slightly and Arthur puts a hand on her shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze as they move forward once more.

"Hosea and the others are here, they'll take her if they get the chance. We can't just walk out into that fight." He lightly gestures towards the direction of the loud, ringing noises. Tilly frowns and presses her lips together, before she nods.

They're quiet and keep low as they step past the two dead guards and outside. The fog is still as thick and they thankfully find the rowboat with little trouble. As predicted, all the guards are too busy shooting back at Hosea and the others to notice them. Arthur helps Tilly onto the boat, while Sadie already grabs the oars and he barely has the boat untied, before she already starts rowing.

"Should I..." He offers and trails off at the look she gives him.

"You rowed all the way here." She tells him firmly, though still keeping her voice low to avoid being noticed. "Let me do the rest."

"You alright Tilly?" Arthur turns to her next and she gives him a nod.

"Yes. They only roughed me up a little." Her hands briefly fist her yellow skirts, some dust and dried mud clinging to it. "He wanted to know where Dutch and you guys was. I didn't tell him anything."

"What happened?" Sadie asks, her voice a bit gentler again, a bit kinder. "With Dutch and for you guys to get captured? Do you know where Javier is?"

"They're holding him in Fort Wallace." Tilly answers, shoulders slumping a bit. "I heard that they wanted to hang Miss Grimshaw first, so I came to Van Horn. I tried to stop them and free her, but I failed." Her mouth twists and Arthur puts a careful, gentle hand on her shoulder.

"What happened?" He asks, his own voice dropping to a kinder, warmer tone. She rubs a hand over her eyes, careful with her bruised cheek. "How did they capture them in the first place?"

Now a frown pulls on her face. "After you guys was gone, Dutch got really angry. I've never seen him this angry before, about nothing. Not ever like this. And afterwards...it was like we was losing him real fast. We had too little manpower too, so he sent Micah to get some of his friends."

At this, her voice turns to something harder and tinged with disdain. Arthur remembers the two guys Micah brought with him before all too well. He might have brought them again this time too. And maybe more.

"It's, Dutch's started talking really strangely. I talked with Javier and he could see it too, even if he didn't agree with me at first." She looks down at her entwined hands. "Javier tried to help Dutch and all of us, but there was too much to do. Hunting, money, the jobs Dutch found, all the leads he said he had. Dutch went for the Grays again to get the Yankee gold from them." A humorless huff escapes her. It's a tired and worn noise and makes something in Arthur's chest twinge. "There was none."

"Did he try the bank job too? In Saint Denis?" Arthur can't help but ask.

"No. I told him it was insane to want to try and I think he didn't really trust Micah's friends then. Javier agreed with me, even if it was really hard for him. But going for that bank...we wouldn't have made it and Javier knew that. Dutch decided he'd go for the root of the problem: Cornwall." Tilly explains and Arthur inhales and holds his breath for a moment.

Cornwall. He remembers all too well. Remembers Dutch attacking and killing the man just minutes after the Pinkertons had been there. Arthur is far from a fan from Cornwall, but even he, sick and dying, had been able to tell that killing the man had no advantage nor did anything good. They only killed a hard, even somewhat cruel man and in return, they got into even more trouble with no win whatsoever. Though then again, Arthur suspects Dutch killed the guy out of revenge more than anything else.

"He killed him, but in the following fight, Javier got cut off and captured, while Dutch and Micah made it out. That same day, the Pinkertons had found us at Shady Belle and we barely managed to get away. They got Grimshaw then." She falls silent for a moment. "When I asked Dutch if he was going to get them back, Micah convinced him to wait."

"What?" Sadie pauses for a moment in her rowing, before picking it up again. "How?"

"He's been hanging around him a lot. Always whispering in his ear. The next day, Uncle and Pearson and Swanson were gone. I don't know where they went and they never said anything to me either. Trelawney hasn't come back ever since you guys left. So I asked Dutch again, what we should do about Grimshaw and Javier."

"Micah convinced him not to go. Not right away, at least." Arthur murmurs and she nods.

"I, it feels like there is something I'm missing. But it also didn't feel like it was hard for Micah either." Tilly swallows. "Dutch murmured something about Javier doubting him and Micah said that the Pinkertons won't kill them right away either. That they would wait for them to show up and walk into their trap. That they had time to prepare and get things done before going to save Javier and Grimshaw."

"And then you wrote us." Sadie guesses.

"Yes. Trelawney had left me a letter with a way to contact you should I wish to go and join you. So I sent a telegram. I didn't know where Javier and Grimshaw were then, so I couldn't tell you then. I only found out about Van Horn and Fort Wallace a few days later. And, well, you know how it went from there." She looks up at them. "Thank you, for coming."

"Of course. Always, Tilly." Arthur answers and Sadie gives her a clear, strong nod.

Tilly exhales and takes a deep breath, before looking at him. "You knew, didn't you. You knew about Dutch and that's why you left." She looks a bit pained. "But I hadn't seen it yet."

"It's not your fault. None of it is." Arthur can't help but sigh, rubbing a hand over his face. Behind them, the sound of gunshots fall quiet and he can't help but glance back, worry crawling up his back. Sadie pauses in her rowing, clearly listening out as well, before starting again. "You couldn't have known, Tilly. And you did everythin' you could, never doubt that."

Tilly gives him a small nod, though Arthur can tell that she doesn't entirely believe it. He understands it too. Even now, after turning things around for a lot of them, he still doubts. He still blames himself and feels guilt about everything that had happened before.

"We'll save Javier." Sadie says. "If he's still alive, we'll get him out of there."

"Fort Wallace is too well guarded." Tilly speaks up, sounding pained as she says it. "Getting in would be suicide. Nevermind getting out again."

Arthur thinks back on the time he and Charles went in to free Eagle Flies. Though then again, the Pinkertons hadn't been involved. Security is going to be really harsh and everyone will be on the lookout for them and the rest of the gang. Whoever is still left of the gang by that point at least.

"We'll find a way." He says, because they can't leave without trying at least. Then he frowns slightly. "Did Javier begin to doubt Dutch too?"

"I don't know. Not really, I think." Tilly spreads her hands a little. "I think he just disagreed with him because it was too dangerous and he didn't want to do something that would endanger us like that. Especially since Dutch wanted me to stage a diversion for the Saint Denis bank job. I'm good but...I don't know if I could have done that. I'm no Hosea, he always knew how to pull off the big things. Javier was looking out for me and for Dutch too, when he spoke up."

"Must've been hard on him." Arthur murmurs. He remembers Javier from before, from both lives. The man had, a very few times, spoken up against Dutch and always when things became too dangerous for others or when he was really worried or something too bad had happened, like when they escaped from Guarma. But Javier never stopped being loyal, even when looking out for others. He most likely still was. They're going to get him anyway. Who he is loyal to doesn't matter at this point, especially not when it looks as though Dutch might have abandoned him. Arthur doesn't want to leave Javier to die, thinks he could never truly live with himself if they turned and left.

They reach shore soon enough and climb out, leaving the rowboat behind. Tilly sticks close to them as they walk to the agreed meeting point. After a while, Arthur can see the lights of the stable glow through the fog. By then he's stumbled over roots and rocks and almost tripped into bushes a number of times. He barely sees anything in this weather and Sadie beside him curses then and again too as she trips. Tilly has taken to walking behind them in hopes of avoiding to stumble over things as much. She seems exhausted.

The sound of approaching hooves makes them pause and Arthur has his revolver out right away, Sadie and Tilly doing the same and flanking him. They exhale with relief when Hosea calls out to them, bringing the others with him.

"Tilly, my dear, it's so good to see you." Hosea says as they reach them. He slides out of the saddle and pulls her into a hug. Arthur catches a glimpse of Tilly going slightly teary-eyed and gripping Hosea back.

"I'm glad to see you." She answers, her voice holding steady and clear. Arthur looks over the riders then, exhaling with relief as he sees everyone accounted for and unharmed. Molly is with them too and Charles rides up to him, holding Storms reins.

"Thank you for looking after her." Arthur says as Charles dismounts. When Charles hands him the reins, he grips his hand and Arthur returns it, tilting a step closer to Charles. Something tight and tense along his shoulders unravels and suddenly he feels exhausted and sore. "You're alright?"

"Yeah." Charles's quiet, warm voice sounds comforting and Arthur notices the man's shoulders relaxing a bit as well. "We got Grimshaw too." He nods over to John's horse.

Arthur closes his eyes and Charles steps up beside him. Close enough that they can lean their shoulders together. Storm gently noses at the side of his face, almost nudging his hat off and Arthur reaches up with his free hand to gently cup her cheek. She settles with her impossibly soft nose pressed against his jaw, blowing warm breath against his neck. They're alright and they managed to save Tilly.

"Where is Javier?" Charles asks after a moment, just as everyone else is done with greeting and hugging Tilly. Karen has her hugged against her side, Molly beside them holding up a lantern as Karen eyes Tilly's bruise.

Charles lets go of his hand after a small, warm squeeze and they step closer to the group.

"Javier is in Fort Wallace." Arthur speaks up, raising his voice so everyone hears him. Around him, the others fall quiet. "And we'll get him out of there."

"Fort Wallace is incredibly hard to break into. I'd even say close to impossible." Hosea looks back at him a moment longer and Arthur can see that the man understands a lot of what goes unsaid. He'll try to explain about Dutch with Tilly's help later. And maybe, Dutch is going to show up and save Javier too, that possibility isn't entirely out of the window. Especially with how much Dutch hates being showed up by the Pinkertons. Or anyone, really. Hosea lifts his chin. "But we've always excelled at doing the impossible, haven't we."
Arthur only has to think about this miraculous second chance he got in order to agree. They'll do this. One way or another, they'll at least find a way to try.

At the same time though, the nervous tingle of his fear hasn't left him ever since he reached Van Horn with the boat. Whatever waits for them at Fort Wallace, it might actually be their hardest fight yet. Arthur just hopes they'll all make it out alive. They have to.

Chapter Text

"I'm sorry." Arthur whispers, voice going rough around the edges, as he kneels down by Grimshaw's grave, gently setting down a handful of plucked meadow flowers. The small flowers look like splashes of color on the heaped earth. Susan Grimshaw's name is clear on the wood of her grave and for a moment, Arthur can't quite swallow past the lump in his throat.

"I failed you." As he says it he can't help but imagine her, looking at him with her no-nonsense look. Reprimanding him and telling him to go up and dust off his knees. Not unkindly, but with the firmness and underlying hardness that's needed to make it through everything in their kind of lives. She had always been the kind to grit her teeth and power through everything no matter how ugly and tough. In the same sense, she would pull everyone back onto their feet with firm hands and even firmer, but guiding words and push at their packs so they would stand straight.

It still feels like he failed her. She died before and she died again this time around and he wonders why. It wasn't as though he had been a moment too slow to draw his own gun or that a job had gone south and she had died. No, he had been miles away when her life ended. Arthur wonders if he really could have done something or if it would have happened either way. If maybe, Grimshaw's end would have always been the same, one way or another. He wishes he could have found out, could have been there to at least try to save her.

Audible steps make him look over his shoulder and he sees Charles walking up to him, face serious and eyes understanding. He stops beside Arthur, looking down at Grimshaw's grave that he helped dig.

"We can't stay long." Charles murmurs, voice kind and Arthur knows he's right. They'll have to leave quickly if they want to save Javier before he ends up dead as well. "Don't blame yourself for her death, Arthur. It wasn't your decision that killed her."

"Still feels like it was." He answers quietly and rises with a sigh, taking a moment to brush small crumbs of dirt from his knees. "I'll miss her."

Charles gives him a low hum. "I didn't know her well, truth be told. But she kept the camp together from what I saw and she looked after everyone in her own way." He settles a warm hand on Arthur's shoulder. "You couldn't have known this would happen to her."

Maybe that's why the feeling of blame doesn't leave, Arthur thinks. Because he had seen her die before and in a way, he had known death most likely would wait for her again. The same way he fears it for Karen and Hosea and now for Charles and John too. The same way he can't help but wonder if returning to the east means something more than just helping Tilly and Javier. He doesn't like thinking about it. The east won't take anyone else from him though, not again. He'll fight tooth and nail to keep that from happening.

Charles gives his shoulder a warm squeeze and Arthur leans into the touch for a moment, before the hand slowly drops away.

"Come, we'll have to go." Charles tells him and his hand briefly brushes his arm as he takes a step away. Arthur throws a glance back at Grimshaw's grave and for a brief, terrible moment, wonders who else will remember her. If she had family somewhere else. Friends. Anyone who might wait for letters from her or look out the window hoping she's well. Anyone other than their ragtag group of degenerates. He wonders if anyone would visit her grave and leave better flowers than his small offering.

He turns around and as he walks, it feels as though the weight of Grimshaw's grave comes to rest on his shoulders, with its slightly rough, wooden cross and cold earth. Hosea gives him a knowing look and has the kindness not to say anything, when Charles and Arthur join them, their horses already waiting.

"It's a long way to Fort Wallace." Hosea says, everyone looking towards him. "We'll ride as fast and as much as we can. Let's go, everyone. We might not have much time."

~*~

"This scares you, doesn't it?" Sadie asks, voice quiet and a little less rough than usual as they wait for Hosea and Charles to return. Fort Wallace looms a good distance away and Arthur tries but he honestly can't quite remember the spot where Charles and he approached the Fort the last time. The memory is hazy with both time and the burn from his illness back then so he isn't much help. Arthur glances at Sadie from under the brim of his hat and sees her doing much the same, her head tipped a bit towards him.

Tilly and Molly aren't with them at the moment. They left them at a station a little while ago with some money and instructions on what to do if they take too long - or if they don't come back at all. He tries not to think too much about the latter option. Tilly and Molly weren't happy to be left and wait, but they both trusted Hosea when he came up with the plan. Arthur does too and no matter what happens to them, the two women should make it out alive.

"Yeah." He admits quietly and Sadie's hand clasps his shoulder. It's so easy to tell even without looking at her now, to feel her slimmer palm and longer fingers and the unmistakable strength in her grip. It's grounding, the way she squeezes his shoulder and it helps him take a deeper breath and straighten slightly.

"We'll be fine." She tells him, voice as sure as always. As steady and easy to believe as all the other times he rode with her to do something impossibly dangerous. "They won't take us down and we'll do our damnest to get Javier out."

Sadie's hand drops away again and Arthur looks up at the sky. It's blue currently but he can feel the wind shift and in the distance there is the slow gathering of clouds, growing thicker with every hour. A storm, most likely or at least the promise of heavy summer rain.

The wait for Charles and Hosea to return is probably the worst thing right now. Arthur can't help but feel antsy and grim mixed with nerves and restlessness. Maybe he should have gone with the two, but at the same time, he knows that he's nowhere near as smart as Hosea and Charles has always been better at finding alternate ways. Arthur would just trod behind them and try not to be in the way.

Exhaling, he forces his shoulders to relax a little bit. Being back in the east makes him far too paranoid.

Still, when he hears the sound of hooves and twigs breaking and he sees Hosea and Charles returning to their small, makeshift camp, he's relieved to have them back.

"So?" Karen asks as soon as the two men dismount and she steps forward, openly eager where Arthur holds himself back from asking the same right away.

"We might have found a way in," Charles says, one hand resting on Taima's neck. "There is a spot to sneak up on the fort if we take some canoes down the river. We plan to wait until the storm rolls in fully during the night and then Arthur, you and I will get into the fort. We'll see if we can break Javier out unnoticed."

"It's heavily guarded," Hosea continues. "Our job will be to provide a distraction when those two give us the signal and to guard their retreat." He levels a serious look at them and Arthur feels himself straighten involuntarily, sees the same reaction from the others around him. "I hope you all know we won't be able to pull this off without a fight. Charles and Arthur can get in and probably get to Javier unnoticed as well, but from there on, the chances are high it will turn into a fight."

Arthur honestly expects as much as well. With the presence of the Pinkertons at Fort Wallace, along with the army, a fight is as good as inevitable in his opinion. Still, they're going to try it. Too caring lot that they are, even if none of them would ever admit it out loud.

"Should we try looking for Dutch?" John asks and Arthur can hear just the smallest hint of hope in his raspy voice. He gets it. John can't understand how Dutch wouldn't be willing to break Javier out as well and why they don't try looking for him. A part of Arthur twinges at the thought and all the memories of when things were still good and alright, but he knows looking for Dutch is a fool's errand. If the man had a plan to get Javier out, they would have encountered him already. Or Bill or even Micah, who he would sent to be on the lookout.

Distantly, as Hosea explains that they don't have the time, Arthur wonders just how big Dutch's gang is at the moment. Molly said that Micah brought some friends and it looks like from their old gang only Bill and Strauss are still with Dutch. Micah doesn't count, the man has never really been part of the gang in Arthur's mind. Their old gang in any case.

He snaps out of his thoughts as Charles steps to his side, Taima contentedly following him and then lowering her head to start grazing on a patch of grass.

"Alright?" Charles asks quietly and Arthur exhales softly. He isn't quite alright, but once they manage to succeed with this suicidal, impossible plan of theirs, he thinks he will be. When they're all back in the west, when they're all back home, then he'll be alright.

Charles's gaze turns understanding and he gently shifts so their arms brush. It's calming and reassuring. If there is one person Arthur can pull this off with, it's definitely Charles. And with Hosea coming up with the plan, they might all manage to get away with it too.

The rest of the day, as they wait for the storm to roll in and night to fall, they discuss the plan in more detail and prepare everything they need. They even pile together whatever dynamite they have with them just in case. Hosea and Charles tell them about the guards they have seen and what distractions they can pull off to give them the chance to hightail it out of the place with Javier. It's not perfect, but then again, with the odds stacked against them it would never be. And there is no such thing as a perfect plan. If there is anything Arthur has learned, especially from before he died and after he came back, it's that a plan either works or goes belly-up.

He hopes this one works. He really does.

Once it's dark enough and the first drops start to fall, Charles and he ride out. Distantly, the first rumble of thunder can be heard and all that noise that's going to unleash soon will be a good distraction as well.

Getting to the fort feels similar to last time, only this time, Arthur can breathe without pinpricks of pain or the taste of coughed up blood on his tongue. His mind feels clearer too as they get out of the canoes and pick their way up to the fort. By the time they sneak along the outside wall, Arthur is drenched and the rain has turned into a heavy thrum.

"This is good for us." Charles whispers as they pause and wait for one of the guards to walk along atop the wall. "Their vision is limited in this weather."

Charles waves him along and Arthur follows him until they reach the same spot they used the last time when they broke out Eagle Flies. At least, Arthur thinks it's the same spot. He holds his breath as Charles throws the hook and secures it with a quick, practiced pull on the rope. They wait for a second and as no one seems to notice anything, Charles climbs up first.

Arthur follows him, his feet slipping on the wet wood and at some point, he's mostly hauling himself up with his arms as his boots keep just scrabbling along the wooden wall and barely finding any kind of purchase.

Then they're up and the fort looks just like Arthur remembers it. Only this time, he spots the familiar Pinkerton suits and hats among the army get-up. The rain seems to have driven most of them to take some kind of shelter and try to stay dry. Even the guards on the wall have their heads ducked and shoulders hitched as they peer out into the thick, fast falling rain.

Charles leads them the same way as the last time and they take down the guards just as quietly and swiftly. Arthur thinks that it should be strangely comforting, doing something he has done before in another life. Instead, as thunder flashes, something cold seems to ghost along his spine. He can't put his finger on it, but there is just something that makes his stomach clench slightly.
It raises his mental hackles and he keeps a hand close to his gun the whole time. Charles picks up on his unease and they stick a bit closer together. Their steps grow even quieter and they are wary and attentive. No one escapes their notice and they take down the guards as easily as the last time, back when they were here for Eagle Flies instead of Javier.

Their clothes cling to them, heavy and wet, by the time they sneak closer to the cells. People don't seem to have noticed the guards along the wall going quiet and still, though Arthur doesn't doubt that it won't take long before someone rings the alarm. As Charles slides closer to the iron door, Arthur squints a bit to try and see more in the heavy downpour and their dark surroundings. Even the light from the lanterns seem dim and contained.

The strange unease tugs at the back of his mind again and his mouth dries. Something still feels off. He can't say why or what, but strangely, getting here has been too...easy. Not that he doesn't want things to be easy for once, but he's far too old and far too worn and far too experienced to know that anything, ever, is just easy.

Charles waves him with him and they quickly slip into the cells. Arthur steps inside and by the time he nudges the door almost closed, leaving it a tad ajar, Charles has already knocked out the guard and takes the keys from his belt. The smell in here in the same as last time, rotting straw and blood, sweat and piss.

"He's here." Charles's voice has a darker, slightly tense tone to it and Arthur hurries to where he unlocks the door to the cell.

Arthur still remembers Eagle Flies clearly from before, beaten and bloody. Javier looks worse when the door swings open. What parts of his face aren't covered with drying blood are swelled shut. His posture is slumped and sagged in his chains, even though Arthur knows it must be painful not to remain upright. He doesn't think about how long Javier has already been here to be this hurt and this exhausted.

"Javier?" Arthur quietly steps closer, as Charles hangs back and keeps an eye on the outside.

Javier stirs, but he seems sluggish and barely there. Either exhaustion makes him so unresponsive or he has a concussion. Arthur is willing to bet on both, considering how beat up the man is. He tries to hold up some of Javier's weight as he unlocks the cuffs, but the man still makes a noise like a wounded animal, slumping heavily against him once he's released. His arms drop to dangle at his side and there is a hissing noise muffled against Arthur's shoulder followed by Javier heaving for air.

"Something is off." Charles suddenly speaks up, voice low and rumbling. He glances back at Arthur, his brows furrowed and something grim in his eyes. "We should go."

Arthur can't help but agree, the unease in his belly now flitting to fill his lungs like mist. For a brief, split second, Arthur can't help but think that maybe, coming here was a mistake. That he might have led Charles - and the others - to his doom and to a bloody and too early death. He swallows against the thought, grabbing one of Javier's arms and hoisting the man over his shoulders, ignoring the pained wheeze the move garners. Arthur is willing to bet that Javier has broken ribs as well among other injuries.

"Arthur?" Javier unexpectedly slurs, sounding disorientated and barely conscious. Arthur feels the way one hand feebly tugs at the back of his vest, as though it tries to find some purchase, before going limp again.

"Yeah," Arthur murmurs back even though he doubts the man really hears him. "Don't worry, we'll get ya outta here." He walks closer to Charles and lowers his voice further. "What do you mean, something is off?"

"It seems too...quiet." Charles slightly shakes his head. "I don't know how to explain it."

"I think I know what you mean." Arthur takes a deeper breath, pulls out his revolver with his free hand and ensures he has a good grip on Javier. Getting to Javier has always been the simpler parts of the plan. Getting out with the man, that's when things get really dangerous. "Let's go."

As soon as they step outside, all hell breaks loose. Arthur barely manages to throw himself and Javier behind a couple of stacked crates, Charles slamming into the hiding place beside them a second later, as bullets rain down on them, sharp and loud and splintering into wood.

Javier becomes a little more alert at the noise, one hand grabbing the back of Arthur's vest and Arthur can feel him shift a little where he's thrown over his shoulder.

"Dutch?" Javier slurs and sounds so hopeful, so strangely young, Arthur's chest clenches involuntarily for a moment. He's getting old and soft. But maybe, if they all make it out of here alive, maybe that doesn't have to be a bad thing.

"Afraid not." He answers, as Charles shoots back and Arthur tries to find an angle to do the same without exposing Javier to the fighting unnecessarily.

"Arthur?" Javier sounds a tad more lucid now and genuinely confused. "What are you doing here?"

"Gettin' you out." He answers, straightening and shooting back as quickly and precisely as he can before ducking back down. "Hopefully, at least."

"Go!" Charles shouts over the sound of the mayhem, gesturing for him to go as he rises to give them cover. Arthur doesn't hesitate for a second, getting up with a grunt and hurrying towards the next cover.

It's hard to run, the ground is slick and muddy and Javier's weight is slowing him down further. Arthur feels a sharp burn at his thigh and then he's semi-safe for a few more moments again behind another stack of crates, quickly glancing down to see that one of the bullets grazed him and left a rip in his pants. Any kind of blood that wells forth can't be seen with the heavy rain and his dark clothes. It's nothing too bad though.

Arthur can't help but breathe a sigh of relief when Charles reaches them a moment later, looking unharmed and steady, though his shoulders are tenser than before.

The next second, the wooden wall a bit further to their right splinters apart in a vicious explosion. Pieces of wood hurtle through the air and Arthur hears someone yell and curse. He's on his feet before the last pieces of that part of the wall settle in the mud and he's never been gladder in his life to see Sadie and John, both stepping through the created hole and shooting, yelling at them to get a damn move on. The others must have heard the commotion and gotten on with the escape plan.

Arthur doesn't shoot back as he runs, more focused on hauling his ass and Javier's out while Sadie, John and Charles cover the escape. He still hears how one or two bullets get way too close and barely zip past him, only avoiding to hit him or Javier by pure chance or some hefty dose of luck. Then he's outside the wall and Storm is there, wet and snorting, stomping her hooves and throwing her head. He's maybe a bit too rough with getting Javier on her back, but he honestly doesn't have the time to try and make it easier on the man's wounds.

Charles is on Taima, still shooting, by the time Arthur swings up on Storm behind Javier, John and Sadie flanking him on their own horses. Ahead of them, Karen and Hosea are on their horses, rifles cocked and shooting at anyone appearing atop the wall of the fort. It barely takes a nudge of his heels before Storm tears away from the fort, running as though the muddy, wet ground is the smoothest road.

"You have him?" Hosea yells over the sound of enraged army men following them into the stormy night. Ahead of them, thunder cracks across the sky. "He's alive?"

"Yeah!" Arthur yells back and then holds on, biting back curses as their horses pick their way through the rough landscape, nearly slipping a few times and barely avoiding trees and rocks that suddenly loom out of the dark. By the time he notices they are no longer followed and can't hear shooting and yelling or the sound of pursuing horses behind them, he's entirely out of breath.

Glancing back, he feels a touch irritated and unsettled that the strange, bad feeling still clings to him as much as his wet clothes do. They made it, they got away, so why does he still feel like they have to keep running?

At Hosea's call, they slow down the horses, whose flanks are heaving and Arthur suddenly feels drained, as he gives Storm's neck a grateful pat. She merely snorts, head hanging a tad lower than before and her ears drooped a bit to the side. She's exhausted as well, he can tell.

"Let's find shelter," Hosea says. "There is an abandoned cabin nearby. I'm sure it's going to fall apart soon, but it should give us some cover and a place to rest."

"We can't stay long," Arthur reminds him, head ducked a bit so the rain doesn't hit his face as much. He gives a brief glance at Javier in front of him, who seems to have passed out. "They'll be looking for us."

Hosea gently steers Silver Dollar closer to peer at Javier. Arthur catches the moment Hosea's face hardens and there is a small twitch along his cheek, before the expression smooths over into a frown.

Heavy silence hangs between them, before Hosea straightens. "Let's get out of the rain first and a look at Javier. We'll talk about what to do next."

Arthur ensures his grip on Javier remains steady. From the way the man seems slumped, Arthur is pretty sure that the only thing currently keeping Javier semi-upright is his arm around his midsection. He's definitely out cold. Arthur hopes the race away from the fort didn't rattle him too much or make his concussion or any broken bones worse. Being this hurt and having to flee is never fun. Just alone thinking back on what he had to endure to escape from Colm and the agonizing, long ride back to camp is enough testament of that. On the bright side, they actually got Javier out of there alive.

Arthur throws a quick glance back at the others, but they're hard to make out in the dark and the heavy rain, even with some lanterns lit now to make riding easier, but they don't seem hurt from what he can see.

The trek to the cabin feels like it takes longer than it should. By the time they arrive, Arthur feels cold despite it being a summer night. The rain has found its way into his boots and even his socks are drenched, hell his underwear is drenched. Storm is visibly relieved when they stop and Arthur gets out of the saddle, dragging Javier along with him as carefully as he can.

"Sorry, girl." He whispers to her and she gives his arm a brief nudge. Arthur gets Javier inside with John's help, setting the man down on a hastily spread out bedroll, before he heads back out again. Together with Charles he hitches up the horses under a couple of dense trees. It's not perfect, but it gives them some kind of cover.

As they work, Arthur gives Charles a once over as much as he can in the dark, relief curling through his chest when he sees that he made it through entirely unharmed. A few scratches, but no bullet wounds or anything otherwise serious.

The thunder has tapered off by now thankfully and it seems as though the worst of the storm is slowly blowing over. By morning there is either only going to be a drizzle or the bad weather is going to be over. The sun might even shine if they're particularly lucky.

After feeding the horses and ensuring they can rest at least somewhat well, Charles and Arthur turn back towards the cabin. Arthur feels a hand brush his arm, fingertips finding their way to his wrist. He turns his hand without thinking, letting a calloused palm slide against his and lacing their fingers together. Charles's hand feels bigger and settles against his with a gentle hold. His skin is warmer than Arthur's and for a moment, he thankfully leeches some of it away. He finds himself swaying closer, lightly bumping their shoulders together.

"You alright?" Charles asks quietly, voice a rumble beside him. Arthur leans a tad towards the voice without quite realizing and gives a nod.

"You?" He asks back, tipping his head so he can look at Charles from under his hat. Rain splashes more strongly against his neck with the movement, it's far from nice but also ignorable. Charles gives him a nod and a small, brief half smile.

"Let's join the others," Arthur murmurs and they pick their way to the cabin, their hands only separating once they reach the door.

Inside, Karen and John got a fire going, while Hosea is checking over Javier. Sadie is standing guard by one of the windows and gives them a brief nod in acknowledgement when they step inside. She's absolutely drenched, clothes dark and bunching in places. Small drips can be heard when drops fall from her to patter quietly on the slowly rotting floor boards.

It's far from the best place, but to Arthur's pleasant surprise, the roof doesn't leak and the draft from faulty walls and empty windows isn't too horrible.

"How is he?" Arthur asks as he steps up to Hosea and Charles wanders over to the fireplace. Hosea glances up and his face is tenser than usual.

"He'll make it." Hosea glances back down at the unconscious man.

The rain has washed away most of the dried and partly fresh blood on Javier and now it shows the cuts and swelling on his face and his torn shirt has been opened. His chest is a mess of wounds and near black bruises. Definitely some broken ribs and from the look of it, the army really messed up Javier's left hand. It looks horrible and Arthur briefly grits his teeth and feels a muscle in his jaw jump.

"How bad is it?" He drops his voice to a quieter note, tilting himself closer to Hosea in an attempt to keep the conversation between them.

"Concussion and broken ribs. The wounds aren't as deep as I feared and as long as we keep them clean he should heal well enough from them. What worries me is his hand. I'll try to splint it, but I'm no doctor. He has an older stab wound on his leg but it seems to have started healing over already. I'll treat that too in a moment." Hosea looks back up, his eyes a tad darker than before and far more serious. "They really did a number on him."

Unwittingly, Arthur thinks back to Guarma. They got Javier out thankfully quickly back then, but the torture and pain had still shaken him, Arthur remembers that clearly. This, what was done to him in Fort Wallace, is going to be worse.

Arthur wordlessly clasps Hosea's shoulder, giving it a small squeeze and watches the older man exhale, before he steps back. He can't help with Javier as much as he wishes he could and he leaves Hosea to it. Arthur wanders over to the fireplace and ends up helping the others pull together a decent enough and at least hot meal. Arthur is thankful for the chance to focus on something other than old memories and the circling question as to why Dutch has seemingly forsaken Javier. Something about that just doesn't sit right with him.

A bit later, after they've all eaten and sit close together by the fire to dry up, with Javier sleeping a few steps away under a thin blanket, Charles shifts and draws their attention.

"When we were at the fort, something didn't feel right." There is a frown pulling at Charles's brow and Arthur can't help but agree. He can't put his finger on it, but the uneasy feeling that crept up on him before rescuing Javier hasn't left. It's quieter now, hovering in the back of his mind, but he still feels it brush coolly against his neck and feels the way it tugs lightly at his stomach.

"What do you mean?" Hosea asks, leaning forward a bit from where he sits closest to the fire.

"It felt too easy." Charles makes a small gesture with his hands. "The army is working with the Pinkertons in this right? From what I saw when we observed the fort, a lot more people should have attacked us." His frown deepens slightly. "And the chase felt too short."

"For all them Pinkertons that was supposed to be there," Arthur quietly adds. "It really felt a little too...easy." He takes a slow, slightly deeper breath. "Let's be honest, we shouldn't have made it out of there like that with all those folks present."

Silence rings between them, heavy and thoughtful. Everyone frowns and then Karen leans forward.

"But we made it. You all made it." She says, voice fierce and just a touch ferocious, as though she would stop anyone who comes after them. As though she's ready to shoot anything that would dare to hound their steps. "And tomorrow, we'll pick up Tilly and Molly get the hell out of here."

Hosea gives her a small nod before turning to everyone else. "We'll keep watch tonight just to be sure. Arthur, Charles, would you mind starting? Sadie, John, you would be up next."

"Sure," Arthur answers while Charles gives an understanding and clear nod.

They settle down quickly enough afterwards. Their clothes are semi-dry but it's enough for a summer night. Neither Charles nor Arthur step outside, instead taking posts up by the broken, empty windows, rifles in their hands.

On the groaning floor, the others curl up in their sleeping bags and settle down for a few hours of sleep. Hosea rests closest to Javier, most likely in case the man wakes and needs anything. Arthur finds his gaze briefly landing on Javier's bandaged hand. Even wrapped and splinted as it is he can still tell it's bad. The chance that Javier walks away from this with a crippled hand is rather high. Maybe not even a proper doctor could fix it back up.

Arthur's thoughts wander to Javier playing the guitar by the fire. Looking genuinely happy as he shares pieces of his home with them, music and songs and some quiet stories. The soft, half hidden expression whenever he managed to make one of them smile after a rough day or when they were lost in dark thoughts. Javier has lifted the mood in camp countless times with his music and with giving the others a chance to just grab some liquor and start singing and forgetting their troubles for at least a little bit.

Arthur forces his mind back on focusing on the watch and tries to ignore the curling of regret in his chest. The rain thrums on the roof and the world outside is a mass of lightless, stormy black. Neither he nor Charles speak during their watch, but a glance shows Arthur that Charles's shoulders are still slightly tense and he stands alert and wary. It's obvious to him that the same unease that refuses to let go of him also still grips the other.

When Sadie and John take over the watch, Arthur spreads his bedroll beside Charles's. He gets a small, warm smile in return as they both settle down. It feels comforting to have Charles close and Arthur drops off into an uneasy sleep with the sight of Sadie and John guarding them and after shifting his hand so the back of it brushes against Charles's.

The next day brings a grey morning. The sky is still filled with clouds, heavier than Arthur expected and everything outside is wet and dripping. At least the rain has stopped for now. Javier regains consciousness long enough for Karen to get some food and water into him, before he's under again.

Arthur catches the way Hosea looks at Javier, at his wounds and the hand in a makeshift splint. He knows the older man would love to take Javier to a doctor, to try and give him the best chance that he'll regain full use of his hand, or at least most of it. Arthur wonders if they should risk it. If they should drop by a town and look for someone to help. Maybe they can, if there is a bit of time and no one is on their heels.

Breakfast is a quiet affair. Karen is visibly grumpy to be up at dawn, John frowns to himself and the rest are lost in thought. When they get ready to leave, Javier seems to fully wake up for the first time.

"What..." His voice trails off, rough and quiet, as though speaking any louder would tear at his throat. Arthur understands all too well. Healing is never a nice or pretty thing and they only got Javier out of that hellhole a handful of hours ago. At least he keeps the food down.

"Javier." Hosea's voice is gentle and lowered as he leans forward and captures Javier's confused gaze. "How is your head?"

"Hurts," He answers and frowns before stopping the motion as it pulls at one of the stitched up cuts on his temple. The swelling on his face has gone down a little bit, but not by much. He honestly looks horrible and, quite frankly, beat to shit. "Why are you here?"

Arthur doesn't quite know what to make of the undertone in Javier's voice. Something like quiet, fragile hurt and disbelief. He definitely thought they wouldn't come for him. That they wouldn't return from the west to try and save him. Arthur doesn't fault him for thinking that, from Javier's point of view they were betrayers. The ones to up and run when Dutch needed them most.

A part of Arthur wants to try and explain that if they had stayed, it would have been so much worse. He wants to talk about Sean dying in Rhodes, about Hosea falling in front of the bank, of Lenny dead on a roof. Of watching Karen disappearing into her bottles and then finally disappearing altogether never to be seen again. He wants to talk about Guarma and himself getting deathly ill, of Molly and Susan shot. All the deaths, betrayal and regret he carries with him and his singular determination to fight every step of the way to see as many of them come out alive this time around.

He has this one chance, only one and he'll be damned if he costs any of these people their lives again.

He wants to try and make Javier understand. The decision to leave was never against him, was never meant to imply that they couldn't be asked for help. That they wouldn't drag their asses back east in order to try and save his. Arthur also knows that Javier most likely wouldn't want to hear it from him. Not now, later maybe, when he's healed up and he decides if he wants to stay with them or go back to join Dutch again.

"Why wouldn't we be here?" Hosea asks, voice still gentle, though there is a note to it. Something pained and fond and exasperated all at once. He reaches out to give Javier's uninjured arm a soft pat. "Dear boy, of course we'd come for you."

"Someone's coming." Sadie's sharp voice suddenly cuts through the air, causing all of them to tense and snap to alert.

Their feet are quiet on the groaning floorboards as they quickly take up position. Hosea stays close to Javier, who tries to sit upright before giving up after a moment, injured hand cradled close and face taking on an ashen paleness.

"Hosea, Arthur." A far too familiar voice calls out, making Arthur still with a frown on his face. The bad feeling in the back of his mind crawls down his spine and steals a bit of air from his lungs. "I know you're here. You and some of the others that ran."

Dutch's voice carries an underlying tension. It's nothing nice, Arthur can tell that much, has spent far too much time around that man - twenty years, sacrificed so much for him right up until it cost him all he had left - not to recognize that tone of voice. It's a promise of underlying danger, of leashed anger disguised by an amenable offer to just talk things out. He sounds similar to when he confronted Cornwall. Arthur doesn't think for a second that Dutch would come here just to talk.

He exchanges a glance with Hosea, whose face has gone steely with a sort of sharp determination. Hosea straightens, shoulders squared and Arthur watches as in this moment, the oldness seems to fall away from the man, the exhaustion that had crept up into the wrinkles and silver of his hair. Instead, he sees the second leader of their gang, the one who raised Arthur alongside Dutch and always tried his hardest to ensure they would survive what the world threw at them.

A quick nod to Sadie and John makes them move closer to the door while Karen quietly slides over to take up a spot beside Javier, in case the man needs guarding. Charles remains by one of the windows, tilting his head just enough to peek outside. Arthur steps up beside Hosea, entirely unwilling to let the man walk out alone.

He doesn't trust Dutch, though he wonders if Dutch would really try to harm Hosea. They've been together for so long, surely that means something. Then again, he thought he meant something too, that his dedication, his loyalty and his unquestioning support meant something to Dutch. He's been proven wrong once before and he'll be damned before he lets Hosea walk into possible danger alone.

They step out of the cabin, Hosea first and as Arthur follows, he casts a quick, checking glance around. Their horses are definitely alert over by their trees. Storm stares over, obviously recognizing the signs of a possible fight and her ears are pricked, as though waiting for a command. He sees that she's even pulled her reins free, ready to run. Smart girl.

Seeing Dutch again feels strange for some reason. Arthur can't quite say why, but the thought drops away to angry and dark resentment the moment he sees Micah right beside Dutch and Bill a tad behind them. Micah sits on his black horse with a smug, condescending sort of look that just asks for someone to clock him in the face. Behind him are a few other riders, two of which Arthur vaguely recognizes. Joe and Cleet, if he remembers their names correctly. Aside from them, there are three other strangers and they all look as mean as Arthur expected.

"Well, isn't this a surprise." Dutch says and leans slightly on the saddle horn. The Count stands still under him, but Arthur knows that horse almost as well as its rider and the white mount is ready to go at the first given command. "The two of you, back in the east."

Dutch's eyes are hard, his brief smile is sharp and Arthur knows those eyes, knows that gaze. The man looking back at him, right now, is the same man who shot his enemies in the face without a second of hesitation. There is a sort of leashed anger, similar to the one Arthur remembers directed at Cornwall.

"Why are you here?" Hosea asks, voice calm and steady, but Arthur doesn't miss the way his hand, while looking relaxed, rests close to his revolver. Dutch doesn't miss it either, they've known each other for too long and Arthur watches as the man's eyes narrow slightly. "And why did no one come for Javier? For Miss Grimshaw or Miss Tilly?"

Dutch straightens slightly in his saddle, a small, throw-away gesture accompanying the subtle shift. "I wasn't about to foolishly walk into a trap. Miss Grimshaw's end is, unfortunate." His voice drops to something calmer, almost amenable, but it's deceptive. Dutch stays hard under it all and Arthur finds himself casting brief, quick glances at Micah as well. Who looks entirely too unconcerned and at ease with the tense situation.

It's a bit reassuring to know that John and Sadie are both right behind them, hidden from view and on either side of the door.

"And I had some worries about Javier, which don't seem to be as wrong as I previously hoped." Dutch continues and his words make something niggle in the back of Arthur's head. The bad feeling grows slightly, grasping at his faster heartbeat and almost teasing a restless twitch from his fingers.

"Javier has been nothing if not loyal." Arthur finds himself saying and he's slightly surprised that he's actually feeling offended on the other man's behalf. Javier has always done what Dutch asked, has always supported him and risked life and limb for everything.

And at the same time, Javier had tried to be there for others too. Arthur vaguely remembers Javier trying to talk with Karen back in his other life, to help her ease up on the drinking. Javier could always be counted on to save someone - Beaver Hollow notwithstanding, that whole thing was a huge mess. Arthur is honest enough to know a small part of him is still angry and hurt about Javier turning his back on him in his blind loyalty back then, but he's also man enough to set that aside. It happened in another life and this time things are different. In some ways at least.

Dutch's gaze snaps to him and Arthur wonders why he still experiences a brief, sharp stab of bitter and betrayed hurt at seeing how discarding and callous the man now regards him. He should be over it, but somehow he isn't. Not entirely. Still, Arthur stands his ground and stares back resolutely.

"Why did you leave Javier behind?" He asks and it's the one question that kept nagging at him the whole time they rode for Fort Wallace. "If we managed to get him out, surely you could have done the same."

There is a subtle shift in Dutch's gaze and Arthur can't decipher it before it's gone again. Instead of Dutch though, this time it's Micah who speaks up.

"Let's not play coy, cowpoke. We both know a trap when we see one." Micah gestures with one hand and the movement almost looks lazy if not for his sharp gaze and the way his free hand casually rests over his revolver. "And dear old Javier hasn't been the most faithful in the past weeks. We had to be sure he hadn't turned into a mole and if he wasn't well, we had to cut our losses."

The idea that Javier would rat them out is so ludicrous Arthur feels both taken aback and as though a sharp bark of disbelieving laughter gets caught in the back of his throat. On the other hand, he remembers Dutch thinking the same about John, who had always been loyal too, who had always believed in Dutch right until Dutch turned his back on him.

"He's the only one who it could have been." Dutch chimes in, his voice pitched to such a reasonable tone, as if he's merely laying out truths. "Remember how things went wrong so often?" There is a brief, split second of a dark twist on Dutch's face. "After you lot tucked tail and ran, we rather quickly figured out who the mole might be as misfortune and the Pinkertons kept finding us."

Arthur doesn't miss how Dutch doesn't even consider the possibility that Micah would be the rat. It's strange to him, just how sure Dutch is that Micah would never betray him or stab him in the back. Arthur still doesn't understand how Micah achieved that. How his loyalty somehow is so much better than Arthur's and John's had been. How Micah weaseled his way into Dutch's high regard and effectively became his right hand man in a handful of months.

"Javier would never do that." Hosea's voice has turned hard and reprimanding. "You know that, I know you do. That boy is loyal, more than anyone else."

"And how do you explain the Pinkertons finding us all the time?" Dutch asks back sharply. "It would have been a marvelous cover, getting captured by them when in truth he's just giving them information and playing the bait to draw us into our early deaths."

Arthur spares a brief thought to Javier in the cabin, bloody and beaten. The hope in his voice when he thought that Dutch had come for him. An icy sensation spreads through his chest and while Arthur doesn't wish more pain on Javier, he still hopes the man hears every word and sees the truth. There are a lot of people deserving of Javier's loyalty, but Dutch is no longer one of them.

"And look and behold who turned up in the eleventh hour." Dutch continues, voice strong and captivating as always. "What a coincidence that you would show up in his time of need."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Hosea asks, a subtle undertone of caution in his voice and Arthur finds his hand inching closer to his revolver. His fingertips brush the handle of his gun and he hears a faint groan of floorboards behind him as either Sadie or John shift their weight.

Dutch's eyes narrow. "It means I find it very curious how you all disappear, things start to really go to hell and once Javier has been captured, you're right back here in the east."

Arthur's gaze flicks to Micah, who looks silently smug. He already knows how Dutch arrived at the conclusion he did, no matter that it is an entirely wrong one. And nonsensical on top of that, none of them would have ever endangered the rest of the gang like that. They left yes, but they are no traitors, even if Dutch evidently doesn't agree. Anger starts to burn in his chest, chasing the cold away and he feels a dark frown settling over his face.

"You can't mean that." Hosea takes a step forward, half deviant and half horrified and there is something in his voice Arthur can't quite place. Heartbreak, maybe. A startled sort of quiet pain and a hint of feeling betrayed. Surprise that Dutch would ever think they'd work with their enemies.

"And what else, old friend, was I supposed to think?" Dutch asks, voice deceptively soft before it grows dark and angry. "Tell me, how long have you and Javier been in cohorts with the Pinkertons? Before or after you left?"

With a great crack of branches, and a rider breaks out between two trees. They all startle and tense, hands immediately gripping revolvers and drawing them as they face the newcomer. It takes Arthur one look to realize that it's an outlaw and by the way Micah and Dutch ease up again right away the guy runs with them.

"Pinkertons!" The man yells, his horse throwing its head up as he pulls it sharply to a stop. "They're here!"

Dutch's gaze snaps back to Arthur and Hosea, a furious sort of validation burning bright in his eyes. He seems to almost scream 'I knew it!' without saying anything. Arthur sees Dutch turning his gun towards them, as two more riders appear between the trees. This time though, they wear suits and bowl hats and Arthur moves without thinking.

He grabs Hosea and tackles him backwards, away from the growing danger and into the cover of the cabin. There is a startled noise beside his ear, but thankfully Hosea goes right with him. Bullets hit the wood a split second after they duck to the side, for now safe inside.

Outside, mayhem breaks out. Shouting and shooting and the thrum of arriving horses fill the air. Arthur takes a quick glance out the window and curses at the amount of Pinkerton agents currently pouring out between the trees. Dutch and his gang are on the retreat, there is no other way to describe the way they're turning and shooting while urging their horses to run. At the same time though, there are a few shots aimed at the cabin as well.

"We have to go." Hosea says, voice lowered over the din of battle. He gives a quick glance around. "Javier can't move that fast and they can't find him."

"We'll be a diversion." Sadie answers resolutely, ducking back down after firing a quick shot and taking out one of the Pinkertons. "Let them think we all fled."

"I'll stay with Javier." Karen offers, still crouched beside him and revolver in hand. Her eyes are dark and hard. "Go, I'll leave with Javier once they give chase. We should have a few moments to get away and even if some of them stay behind, I can handle them."

It's honestly the only choice they have. Arthur doesn't know how many Pinkertons there still are or if they'll bring the army into this too. Going now with Dutch and the others in view is their only chance if they don't want to remain sitting ducks and hoping to survive the shootout.

Gripping his revolver tightly, he exchanges a quick look with the others, sees the same grim resolution in their eyes. Hosea gives the signal and Arthur jumps to his feet. He's out of the door right away, shooting as he yells for the others to go, giving them as much cover as possible.

With a loud neigh, their horses race towards them and Arthur has never been gladder for it, has never been more relieved or thankful that their mounts are smart and unafraid. Bullets whiz past as he gets into the saddle and Arthur knows, with a bone deep certainty and in his painfully racing heart, that only luck keeps them all from being hit.

Giving Storm free reign, she tears away from the cabin and he shoots as they escape, ducking to avoid being hit in return. He remembers the woods in these parts somewhat well enough from two lives and for now, his only goal is to get them away from the cabin. To try and draw them away from the others. Away from Hosea who fell to them before, away from Charles and John and Sadie, who he doesn't want to lose. Away from Karen and Javier who need that chance to escape.

Arthur leaves it to Storm to avoid trees and rocks as he turns in the saddle and shoots back again. He lets her run and hopes to god that it will be enough. That they're all going to survive this.

He's quickly reloading his gun, fingers fast and practiced, mind racing, as all of a sudden, John breaks out between the trees. They barely avoid colliding, racing along side by side within a handful of seconds. It feels far too similar to the last time this happened. The sky is dark and grey overhead, the light between the rain heavy trees murky and Arthur's heart lurches with a heavy sense of foreboding.

"The others?" He yells before shooting, while John quickly takes the time to reload himself.

"Lost sight of them!" John yells back. "To the right, we have to shake them off!"

Reaching out with one hand, he pulls Storm to the right, following John's lead onto a small path. To both their startled surprise, they see Dutch and Micah, along with two other of their guys racing out onto the path, shooting at the agents that hound their heels.

"Left, left!" John yells, turning back into the forest. Arthur follows with a curse, ducking as more bullets whiz by. He feels a burn across his shoulder and hip, but not the agony of a bullet burrowing into flesh. Just a graze.

He urges Storm to go as fast as she can without risking to crash, John racing ahead of him. A glance over his shoulder shows a diminished number of pursuers. They either managed to shake off a few or some of them decided to go after Dutch instead of them. Raising his gun, Arthur shoots again, trusting Storm to follow Old Boy. Pinkerton agents fall, their horses bucking or taking off into the forest once their riders no longer keep them on track.

They manage to shake the last one just as they break out of the forest again. John's shout is the only warning Arthur has and they barely avoid tumbling down a cliff in the nick of time, their horses skidding to a stop right at the edge. Staring down for a second, Arthur feels sweat sliding down his neck and his breathing goes fast and harsh.

"You alright?" John asks, sounding equally winded as they back up their horses a few steps. Their horses are huffing and puffing and remain tense and unsettled.

"Yeah. You?" He asks and gestures for John to keep going.

"I'm alright. Do you think everyone else made it away too?" John casts an attentive glance around, gun still in hand and they quickly keep on cantering. Not as fast as before, but they definitely can't afford to stay where they are. They need to get away further until they're safe again - for a while at least and until they can regroup once more.

"I hope so." Arthur wrangles his worry down as much as possible. It won't help anyone if he's anxious if they're okay. He just has to trust they'll survive this.

John and he hurry on, intent of leaving the cliffy area and Arthur already thinks about where to go to meet back up with everyone, when to his surprise, Dutch and Micah ride out behind a steep hill that juts from the forest line. They appear unharmed, though they do seem a bit winded and their horses are out of breath.

"Dutch..." John's voice is cautious and Arthur catches a small undertone to it. As though John still has hope that Dutch will listen to them, will see they aren't against him and only left the gang to ensure their loved ones would be safe. In a way, a part of John is as much the same loyal and lost boy Dutch picked up years ago as Arthur had been. Only Arthur has already died for that and had watched so many others fall to their death before him. He won't let that part of him hold him back.

"Watch out." He whispers at John who has slowed Old Boy down. Arthur doesn't take his eyes off of Dutch or Micah for a second and his revolver is still gripped tight in one hand. He's aware of Storm tensing under him, her body shifting as though ready to race off at the first sign that he wants her to run, her eyes fixed on the two riders as well.

"What a surprise to see you unharmed." Dutch says with heavy sarcasm and straightens in his saddle, his eyes are dark and angry. Somehow, despite being out of breath, he manages to look composed and close to unruffled. "Pinkertons let you go, didn't they? Tell me, Arthur, what price did they offer you? What was it that you sold me and everyone else for?"

John beside him makes an angry and confused sound, offended and even somewhat hurt in Arthur's stead. Arthur himself just feels a climbing anger that spreads through his chest. A quiet whisper of alarm and danger tugs at the back of his mind and he tries to think of a way to get out of here, to get away without it turning bloody. He or John, one of them wouldn't get out alive if a fight between them broke out and Arthur knows with just one gun, he couldn't take out both Dutch and Micah fast enough to avoid one of them shooting back as well. Despite Micah's faults and as much as he wants to see the guy dead, Arthur knows he's good with a gun too. Whip fast and just as merciless.

"Do you have anything to say in your defense?" Dutch asks and Arthur thinks it would be a waste of air to argue. There is nothing he can say that Dutch wants to hear or would listen to. Still, he has to try and buy them some time.

"You've gone mad when you think I would sell any of you to the Pinkertons." He growls back, subtly nudging Storm a little to the side. Her tense body shifting slowly, until he's managed to get close to John and their legs bump. "I have nothing to do with them and neither does Javier. Maybe you should look for your rat elsewhere."

He nods at Micah as he speaks, who lightly tilts his head, a small gleam appearing his eyes but otherwise he looks triumphant and unbothered. A mean grin rests in the corners of his mouth as though he's about to win something. Arthur hates it and it makes him tense further.

"Micah has been more loyal, more true to me than any of you." Dutch sounds angry now and for a split second, Arthur sees the cold consideration, catches the way the hand with the gun twitches up a tad towards him. Dutch will shoot them sooner or later, he's certain of it. "You lot who betrayed and left me and brought the Pinkertons right into our midst!"

"We did no such thing!" John speaks up, anger clear in his voice, though he gets Arthur's hint and lets Old Boy take a few careful steps to the side as well. They have some smaller cliffs to their side - easy enough for a horse to jump down in stages - and massive boulders ahead, if they make it there they have better cover and a good chance to make it back into the woods. "We left because you wouldn't listen to us no more. Because it was too dangerous to stay. I have family Dutch! I couldn't stay and watch them die!"

"They're lying." Micah sounds so self-assured, so darkly certain that Arthur has to fight the urge to shoot him in the face then and there. Not yet, not when the chance of either John or he getting shot is still too high. "Don't listen to them, Dutch. They'll say anything you want to hear to save their hides. Just think about it." Micah tilts his head, voice drawling. "How easily they rescued Javier and how quickly the Pinkertons showed up just now."

In that second, Arthur understands. Understands the bad feeling and the constant, never ceasing nagging of something wrong and dangerous that lived in the pit of his stomach and tugged at the back of his mind ever since they broke into Fort Wallace. Javier's rescue was indeed easy because letting him go had been part of the trap. The Pinkertons put up a bit of a fight to make it believable enough while ensuring someone kept tracking them down to the cabin. And Micah, the rat, all he had to do was to lead Dutch to where they hid. Once that happened the Pinkertons had to wait just long enough for them all to meet before going in for the kill.

The Pinkertons would have gotten their hands on most of the Van der Linde gang this way. They certainly would have captured the most known members. Dutch and Hosea, Javier and Karen and John and Arthur. Sadie and Charles too would have died along with them. All their deaths would have been gloated over, a victory to justice and order and the Pinkertons would have celebrated the fall of Dutch and his gang. All the while Micah would go free.

Arthur is pretty sure half their escape from the cabin just now had been nothing but dumb luck and he's never been more relieved about the fact that so many plans tend to go different than expected. Still, they have to get away from here before either Dutch and Micah shoot them or the Pinkertons find them again. That danger hasn't passed yet.

Arthur knows he has to be quick about this. He forces his gaze away from Micah and Dutch and tilts his head enough that the brim briefly hides his eyes, as he casts a quick look at John. John who thankfully catches it and his eyes harden in unspoken confirmation.

When Arthur looks back up, Micah and Dutch have their guns trained on them.

"I think I heard everything I need to know." Dutch's voice is almost quiet and in direct contrast to his darkening eyes. Briefly, Arthur wonders if Dutch would have hesitated if he hadn't run away with the others before coming back.

The next second he digs his heels into Storm's side, his own gun is raised and he feels a brief moment of hesitation, unsure if he should aim at Dutch or Micah first.

A shot rips through the air just as Storm takes off and Arthur fires just a breath too slowly. A pained yell can be heard beside him and from the corner of his eye he watches as John falls from Old Boy, tumbling out of view and his horse skidding and stumbling before it runs for cover. A shout tears from Arthur's throat and Storm skids to a stop again, ears pinned back angrily. It takes Arthur a moment to realize, over the racing of his heart, that it was Micah who fired the shot and his own bullet had barely missed the madman.

"I knew it!" Dutch yells and Arthur realizes, as he refuses to leave without John, that somewhere along the way, he made a grave mistake.

More riders breaks out of the forest and Arthur has but a split second to see Ross of all people, followed by two more Pinkertons and realizes that the Pinkertons' appearance is what saved his hide from being shot as well, before he urges Storm out of the way.

"Get him!" Ross yells, gun already firing and Dutch and Micah curse, urging their horses to start running again.

Arthur in a quick moment, turns Storm around and she jumps down the side of the cliff without a moment of hesitation. The ledge there catches them and it's rough but they're alright. Above them, Arthur hears gunshots and hooves, horses thundering away and yells going with them.

Heart racing and gun lifted in case someone peers after him, he waits just long enough for them to go a bit further down the road, before he gets Storm to climb back up. She manages it with two jumps over smaller outcroppings and Arthur sees John the moment they're back up. Old Boy is nowhere to be seen and Arthur slides out of the saddle, not even waiting for Storm to stop.

John is wheezing for air, hands clutching at a spot of spreading red on the left side of his chest, close to his shoulder. It looks eerily like the wound he got back in Arthur's other life when he was shot off the train.

"No, no." Arthur falls to his knees, reaching out to press a hand over the wound as well, his lungs growing tight and his mind spinning. This wasn't how this was supposed to go. John was always supposed to live.

"Not that bad." John wheezes out but he doesn't convince either of them. "Barely grazed me. Go, get outta here."

"Not without you." Arthur doesn't know what to do. He has just a few basic medicine and gauze with him. Nothing as what John probably needs. "We'll take you to a doctor, you'll be just fine."

He shoves one hand under John's shoulders, ready to haul him up, when the sound of hooves make him jerk upright, gun raised once more. It's Micah, who has his own gun trained unerringly on him and looking entirely too unperturbed. Somehow, Arthur isn't even surprised to see he got away, considering he's working with the Pinkertons. The rat probably waited just long enough to make it look like he was forced to separate from Dutch before turning back around.

"This is the end for you, cowpoke." He says, a small grin pulling at his lips. "Though I have to admit, I'm surprised you figured it out."

"What, that you're a rat?" Arthur bites back, though in the back of his mind he feels himself growing tenser with worry. One hand is still pressed to John's injury and the blood is already welling over his fingers. He's no doctor and he doesn't know just how deep the bullet got but he knows if he doesn't get John to a professional in time, he won't make it. At least Storm has trotted away far enough to be out of the line of fire and she's staring over at him, ears pricked.

Arthur lets go of John's wound, ignoring his hisses for Arthur to get away. He has one chance to try something if either of them want to get out of this alive.

"Wasn't hard to figure out." Arthur continues, slowly rising to his feet. Micah lets him and Arthur knows the man is curious enough for this moment and just arrogant enough as well in his abilities to let him talk. "Once I realized the lies you was telling."

"Oh, cowpoke, didn't take much lying at all -" Micah breaks off as the sounds of an approaching rider reach their ears. They both glance to the side and Arthur feels something in him unwind at the sight of Charles racing towards them, gun raised. Snapping his gaze back to Micah, he gives off a sharp whistle and fires.

With a jerk, Micah ducks low and the bullet hitting an edge of his hat, as he looks back at him and Arthur ducks out of the way of the first return shot. Then Storm is already slamming into Baylock, shoulder-checking the stallion to the side. The black horse stumbles and for a moment, it almost looks as though he might even fall. Micah's aim is entirely thrown and by now Charles is close enough to shoot as well.

With a rough curse, Micah turns Baylock around and they race off, zigzagging to avoid getting hit. Arthur fires a few more times before quickly turning back to John. Charles brings Taima to a stop as soon as he reaches them, quickly sliding out of the saddle.

"John." Arthur says, still tense and Charles quickly falls to a knee, pressing a hand to John's wound and getting a rough, pained noise from the man. Charles looks after Micah.

"Can we afford to let him get away?" He asks and at seeing something in Arthur's face, gives a resolute nod. "Go, I'll take care of John."

Arthur hesitates the barest second, before he reaches out and gives Charles's shoulder a quick squeeze - alive, he made it away alive and Arthur hopes to god the rest did too. Storm stands right beside them so Arthur barely has to take two steps before he's up in the saddle again.

Arthur can still see Micah, can see the man turning around a massive boulder down the road and urges Storm after him. She tears after Baylock with single-minded focus, fast and determined and Arthur is barely aware of smearing John's blood across the reins as he grips them, his revolver in his other hand and braced to shoot. Micah can't get away, not after everything. Not again.

Storm is faster than Baylock or maybe more determined in this moment. They're catching up at a rapid pace and just as they're about to turn around the same boulder, Arthur finds his focus drawn away for just a breath. Calmly, a large stag steps out of the woods, looking over at him with brown eyes and a steady gaze.

His breath catches in his lungs and Arthur wrenches his gaze back forward, back to where they round the boulder. Micah waits around the curve, grinning and gun raised.

A strange sensation takes over for a second or two, as though something around him slows and Storm digs in her hooves as she skids to a stop to avoid collision with Baylock. Then he feels her tense before she rears up, ears pinned back in fury and kicking out. The bullet Micah fires catches her and Arthur feels as though he's losing his breath all over again, his heart skipping a beat.

He's thrown out of the saddle as she falls, smacking down on hard rocky ground and rolling with the momentum. His vision blurs and the revolver is knocked out of his grip as his head slams into the muddy dirt, a stone digging in too hard and unrelenting. Pain zips along his ribs and Arthur tries to get his bearings back together, tries to orientate himself and get his limbs to work again.

A foot lands solidly on his chest, spurs jingling and the pain flares up again. Broken rib, most likely. Arthur rasps for air, looking up at a grinning Micah, who lazily aims his gun at him. A drop hits his cheek and slowly gentle rain starts to patter down on them.

"Fell right for it." Micah sneers down at him, looking so self satisfied Arthur wants to reach up and knock him out. "Always knew you was dumb as bricks, cowpoke. A small tree casting a big shadow."

"That still," Arthur wheezes and he has his bearing now, fury and pain and grief scorching the inside of his chest, hand snapping out to grip Micah's foot. "doesn't make a lick of sense!"

With a strong jerk and a rough grunt, he pulls Micah off balance. For a second he has the gratifying view of Micah's eyes going wide and his arms instinctively rising to try and do something, before he falls into the mud beside him. Arthur doesn't waste a moment to go and grapple Micah, one hand wrapping around his wrist and keeping the gun away from them.

It takes a moment to realize as they wrestle in the mud, but he's stronger. Before, Micah got him because he was ill and even then, he had barely won that fight. Now, at full health and his heart racing, hearing the sound of gunshots echoing in his ears, Arthur is stronger than Micah. He sees it when the realization hits Micah, the way his eyes go wide and then something wild appears in them. It might be fear, by god Arthur hopes it's fear. Hopes it with an ugly sort of blood thirsting vengeance.

"You never was going to win in a fair fight." He spits at Micah, slowly but steadily pressing his hand and the gun in it into the mud. Baring his teeth, Arthur shifts to raise his free hand. The first punch is satisfying as nothing else, fury burning bright in his veins and a part of Arthur rattles with grief and fear at both Storm and John falling. He has to finish this and get to her. Has to -

The second punch makes something give under his knuckles, Micah's nose breaks and the rough startled shout of pain from the man makes him inhale with a dark and sharp sort of victory. The third punch barely finds its mark as Arthur finds one leg knocked from under him and Micah half tackles, half pushes him to the side. Startled, his grip weakens just the bit Micah needs to wrench his arm forward, pistol hovering and shaking, straining for at least a decent sort of aim. Micah fires and Arthur feels the pain surge in his side, snapping and biting along his ribs and his ears ring, all sound briefly buried under the pain and noise.

Micah gives him something like a triumphant grin, but it's still wild and a little too unsteady to be confident. Arthur bares his teeth, pulling his head back and slamming it against Micah's, hearing the man's pained howl and his body jerks.

Wrestling for the gun again, Arthur tries to rise out of the mud he's in, but lying on his side he can't utilize his strength well enough. Micah, in a quick twist, manages to loom over him, pressing down and blood and rain slicking down his face, falling in pinking drops. The look in Micah's eyes is still wild and fighting, but the fear recedes as he gives a rough bark of a laugh.

"Look at you." Micah grins down at him. "This is the end, cowpoke."

"No." Arthur wedges a knee up, keeping part of the man from bearing down on him too much. He glares up, through the rain and pain that burns through his side. "Not this time."

Arthur lets his grip slacken, just enough for Micah to unexpectedly lurch forward a bit. It allows him to slip his grip up and the cold metal of the gun meets his fingers. He jerks it back around, hears a loud, pained noise as he manages to twist it in Micah's fingers. His free hand holds Micah's other arm at bay, to keep him from strangling him or grabbing him in any other way.

Slowly, the barrel of the revolver shifts, both of them gritting their teeth, sweat and rain and mud soaking them. Arthur finally gets the revolver to face Micah's direction. He fumbles, for just a second, then finds the trigger. The sound of the shot feels caught between their bodies and Arthur sees and feels the way Micah lurches, watches as his eyes go wide and his face pales.

Arthur uses the moment to quickly twist Micah to the side in a similar move Micah had used on him. His legs feel unexpectedly sluggish as he gets them under him, still holding the revolver and half of Micah's hand in a death grip. Arthur manages another shot, though he can't tell if this one hit at all, his vision blurred by rain.

"Takin' you with me." Micah growls up at him, pained and gasping for air. "This much I can promise."

With that, his knee lands in Arthur's wounded side and Micah manages to rip his other hand free, bringing it up to the gun. It twists back around too fast and Arthur feels the rip of pain in his shoulder, smells the scent of gunpowder and his vision dances with dark spots. Faintly, he's aware of Micah giving a rough laugh and the man's grip slackening.

Arthur rips the revolver from him and pulls the trigger, watches as this shot definitely hits, though when he fires again, all he hears is the click of an empty gun. Micah is wheezing weakly, staring at him as Arthur finds his mind spinning. Slowly he's sinking back on his heels and lets the hand with the gun sink. Reaching up he presses this other hand against his right shoulder. It's a mirror shot to the one Colm gave him. Hand coming away wet with blood, he feels at the shot for his side, pain crawling farther and farther through his body.

"Told ya. 's the end, cowpoke." Micah rasps out and Arthur lifts the gun, slamming it across his temple and watches as Micah falls still. Watches as a moment later, his final breath leaves his body. Three shots, all three hit, he can see it now. Between one moment and the next, he finds himself lying in the mud again.

A muffled noise gets his attention and he tilts his head just enough to see where it came from. Storm, his brave, brave girl limps towards him. Her fur is matted with blood and he can see the spot on her left shoulder, close to the front of her chest where the bullet hit. Not fatal, not right away. Not if she gets treatment. Hopefully.

"Hey, girl." He rasps out as she reaches him, her nose carefully sniffing at his wounds. She looks so roughed up, it makes his chest squeeze.

Her nose nudges his shoulder and a second time, more strongly when he doesn't react. Arthur curls his hands and shifts his feet but finds he can't do much more. His body is turning numb and cold and even the bright burn of pain seems to dull. His gaze shifts further and he sees the stag again, standing a few paces away and looking over.

Storm gives his shoulder another bump and then she lifts her head and quickly limps off. Arthur feels a noise escaping him and tries to move again, but his body listens even less this time around. The stag still looks at him when Arthur glances back.

"This it?" He asks and notices that his voice slurs. The stag doesn't so much as move, until one of its ears flick and it glances at the side.

Arthur looks over and it takes him a moment to recognize the spotted horse coming towards him, to see the two riders, one barely keeping himself upright and Storm leading them despite her limp.

"Arthur!" It's Charles, jumping down as soon as he's close enough and Arthur never heard his voice like that. Something edged in fear and just raw enough to register on his sluggish mind. Warm hands hover over him for a moment, assessing his injuries and then their gazes meet.

From the corner of his eye, Arthur sees the stag stepping closer now. Slowly and almost carefully.

His tongue feels heavy. "Sorry."

"It's going to be fine." Charles briefly touches his cheek and Arthur can see the way he thinks about lifting him up without causing more pain. "It's going to be alright, Arthur. Just hold on."

His eyes fall shut just as the stag stops beside him and a warm hand slides under his shoulder while another grabs his arm. The pain and noise, the warmth and numbing cold all fade with a long, deep exhale and a gentle darkness pulls him under.

Chapter Text

Arthur is vaguely aware of waking briefly, of the a warm hand tightly gripping his and a stag standing by his side. The stag is the only thing he sees clearly, as it stands in what seem to be a room. The spirit looks at him with a gaze his barely functioning mind can't decipher.

He thinks he hears voices, but then the world around him blurs further and the heavy pain that just started to seep back into his consciousness drifts away like smoke on the wind. The stag though stays, fuzzy at the corners like a bad photograph. It's all Arthur can focus on, he couldn't even say what the room looks like or where he is. There is just the stag and the soft light that seems to spill through a window behind it.

Arthur's eyes fall closed and the only thing he becomes aware of then is just how heavy his chest is. Breathing feels hard and half of him wants to just let it go entirely and not struggle so much anymore. The other half of him clings to it and keeps on pushing for inhale after exhale no matter how hard it is.

He opens his eyes as he hears the soft sound of hooves and the stag moves now as the world around them shifts and comes a bit more into focus. He's no longer lying but standing in a meadow, gently surrounded by a forest not too far away and it feels familiar in the vaguest sense possible. Arthur thinks he might have been here before and at the same time he doesn't remember this place at all. He feels caught, his mind hovering between two places, one that's all too easy to slip towards and one he doesn't want to let go of. Mist wafts up from the tall grass that he thinks he can feel tickling his knees. Arthur is caught between stepping forward and stepping back and so he doesn't move at all. His chest still feels heavy, but he doesn't give up breathing.

The stag moves closer through the mist. The sun is shining somewhere above them, but Arthur couldn't tell if it's ahead of him or behind him.

"So this is it?" He asks the stag and isn't sure why that is the first question out of his mouth. His mind feels strangely quiet and still. The stag tilts its head and while the spirit is still blurred around the edges, Arthur can now tell there is something thoughtful in its gaze.

Something both old and young, clear like freshly fallen snow and also solemn like the settled ash of a burnt place. It's a gaze that knows and at the same time it feels as though the stag is well aware that there is still so much to learn.

Is it? The stag asks in a voice that is soft and light, its tune carrying the sensation of sprawling forests and gentle spring meadows. You haven't let go yet, Arthur Morgan.

He does and doesn't want to let go. Holding on is hard, but at the same time, there is something so very important waiting for him if he doesn't give up. Something worth it. Something he might deserve one day if he works hard enough. A part of him really doesn't want to let go.

Why are you holding on? The stag asks and it doesn't sound reprimanding or confused. The voice is steady like the summer breezes that rustle grass and whisper through trees. Haven't you done what you wanted to?

Arthur feels as though he knows what the spirit is talking about while not remembering a thing. His mind is quiet, despite the struggle of getting his lungs to keep breathing. Maybe he should just let go. Maybe he should just do what is easy and stop forcing air into himself. Slowly in the stillness of his mind, he begins to recall a few things. He's done what he could, that he knows. He's not free of regrets or heartbreak or failure, he can knows that too. At the same time though, there is the sensation of loved people at his back, saved due to a miraculous second chance.

He's done what he came back for. He knows that while barely recalling more than washed out glimpses and the distant whisper of warm touches and faint voices. The stag is right. He could let go now, he could leave and grasp for that peace waiting ahead of him, just out of reach. He had done everything he could after all.

The stag lightly takes a step forward and for a moment, it sounds like the rustle of a warm blanket being moved and the soft snuffle of a horse in the early morning. Something tugs at the back of Arthur's mind and with a strenuous inhale, he remembers to keep breathing. He stopped doing it for a second there, just for a tiny moment.

What do you want? The spirit asks and Arthur stares at it, unsure if it's for a long or a short amount of time. Nothing feels quite real while at the same time, everything around him is nothing but the truth.

What does he want? A part of him yearns for the peace that's just within reach, that tickles the tips of his fingers and whispers at the edges of his senses. All he has to do is take a step forward. The rest of him though, yearns for something he currently can't quite remember and can't quite put to name. Just feelings. A soft nose nudging his arm, a warm hand in his and something that sounds like laughter from different people.

Arthur knows he's tired and he's tiring more the longer he stands here, forcing stone-heavy lungs to keep going, caught between moving forward or stepping back.

The stag takes one last step forward and stands directly in front of him now, close enough that he should have felt its breath on his chin. Arthur is surprised to realize that the spirit is rather huge, they're eye to eye without either of them having to duck or raise their heads. The brown eyes of the spirit aren't callous or cruel, but the spirit wants something from him. Arthur has no clue what, his mind is still quiet.

What do you want, Arthur Morgan? The spirit repeats. Remember, you have one chance and it isn't over yet.

Something about that does ring a bell and brings some clarity to his memories. Arthur knows he got a second chance. A chance to save people.

A flicker tugs at the back of his mind. He remembers someone smiling at him, though he can't recall who exactly. He remembers betrayal and support, remembers worry and fear and relief and the beginning of happiness. Of a beautiful sunrise over a blurred, barely there ranch that feels too new to be as familiar as worn clothes but at the same time, already carries a sense of belonging.

Arthur feels like he might remember things a bit better now. A second chance that he didn't entirely mess up, a new love that carries the sensation of warm, gentle strength and quietly seems to grow deeper with each day.

He remembers the beginning of something important. And of a home.

What do you want? The spirit tilts its head and for a moment, he thinks the crown of horns give off the tinkling noise of silver wind chimes. Somehow, Arthur knows this is the last time the stag is going to ask. Choose before you no longer get the chance to.

He takes a deeper breath, fights against lungs that feel even heavier than before. The edges around him seem to blur even further and his limbs refuse to work when he tries to lift a hand. The peace ahead beckons more strongly now, a soft song that wishes to cradle his heart close.

There are words on the tip of his tongue. It's something he doesn't think he deserves but finds he wants nonetheless. So he speaks them.

"I want to live." The words are a rasp in his throat, rough and raw. They're something he hasn't dared to voice before and he remembers now, as his mind breaks the quiet stillness and noise fills it once more. He remembers the blood on his hands and the illness eating through him. A deserved and justified illness, he still thinks so in a way.

He got a second chance that allowed him to save so many people who died before their time and at the same time, a part of him never quite believed that he'd make it through as well. He wants to live, no matter how many other people might wish him dead. He doesn't want to die.

He wants to go back home and reach out to Charles. He wants to pull him into his arms and look for Storm and burry his face in her neck. He wants to see Hosea relax and grow old surrounded by their found family. He wants to see Sean again and make good on his promise to teach him shooting and wants to return John to Abigail like he said he would. He knew better than to give her the promise of all of them staying alive, she asked back then, but he had wanted say it nonetheless. He wants to stay alive and see Javier recover and convince him to come with them. He wants to see Molly laugh again and for Tilly to be safe and happy.

He has to hold on. He has to live and more than that, Arthur wants to live. He wants to go back to this ragtag family that they all managed to build together and that had already been torn apart once before. He wants to return to the ranch they put together with sweat and laughter and that he only just started to see as home.

For a split second, he gets the whispering sensation that the stag might have smiled.

You have chosen then. The spirit says softly. This time, the stag takes a step back and briefly, lightly dips its head. It feels like an acknowledgement from a regal being, from something both centuries old and dawn-young. Now, keep holding on.

Arthur feels a strange, dizzying sensation as he seems to fall backwards while remaining upright. The world tilts and blurs into nothing but streaks of quickly fading color. Darkness rises to embrace him and he sucks one more, struggling breath into his stone-heavy lungs.

~*~

Arthur regains his consciousness in blurred, senseless flashes. Sometimes his mind latches onto colors or sensations before he's under again. The whole time, he keeps fighting to breathe. Holding on to his every heartbeat and fighting the pull that still seems to wish to drag him back towards the quiet and peace.

Not yet, he thinks when he comes to for real and he doesn't quite know why that thought is in his mind, before he realizes how his head swims with medication. He's in deep, he can tell right away and his body feels almost far away from him. Breathing still feels harder, a bit like a labored wheeze and it reminds him of being deathly ill.

Opening his eyes, he blinks at the room around him. It's a treatment room, he would recognize the walls and shelves with medicine everywhere. His memories are a sluggish thing, but he recalls the escape from both Dutch and the Pinkertons and his fight with Micah. He survived it. Then he remembers John and Storm getting injured and tries to shift, only to stop again right away. Pain surfaces through the haze and he breathes through it, quiet and tense.

Right, the bullet wounds. It's almost a miracle that he's alive. A familiar, half hazy, half unreal memory of the stag swims in the back of his mind. Arthur doesn't quite recall it, but he thinks he might have seen the stag again. Maybe he had been granted an extension of his miracle, just enough to survive this. He doesn't know, but it's also not like he can ask.

Tilting his head just enough he realizes he's not alone in the room. Charles sits beside his bed, asleep and slumped a bit awkwardly into his chair. He looks exhausted. Behind him, Arthur can see the sun rise, pale morning light falling through the window. An exhale escapes him.

Would you look at that. He made it through the night.

"Charles." His voice sounds as horrible as it feels, scraping through his throat and burning slightly in his lungs. Charles takes a sharp, short inhale as he straightens, startled out of his doze and opens his eyes. Their gazes meet and with a sudden jerk he sits up and in the next moment, Arthur's hand is tightly clasped in his.

"You're awake." Charles murmurs and Arthur makes a low, agreeing sound and watches as Charles's shoulders slump with relief. He lifts their hands to press them against his chest. For a moment, he closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, before he leans forward and gently rests their foreheads together. Arthur, with a sudden, half hazy rush of warmth, fully realizes just how much he loves him. Just how much Charles means to him and there is something clogging up his chest for a second as he turns his head a bit into the touch, enjoying the close, tender warmth.

Charles lifts his head to look at him again and the smile he gives him is gentle and warm and steeped in relief. Arthur grips his hand back and swallows against his dry throat. He's about to say something just as the door opens. Arthur hears a gasp and then Tilly is at his side as well, a bright, relieved smile on her face, while Charles leans a bit to the side to give her space. He thinks he might see a brief glimmer of tears in her eyes too.

"Arthur, you're awake." She reaches out, hand hovering over his middle, before she pulls it back and quickly straightens to turn towards the door, calling out: "Arthur is awake!"

Steps can be heard and the next moment, Hosea is there, followed by Sadie and Molly. For a moment, Arthur can't quite follow what they say and when Charles gives his hand a gentle squeeze, he tries to return it, as much as his sluggish body allows, before they let go of each other.

"You gave us quite the scare." Hosea says and he sounds a mixture of worried and faux stern, but it doesn't hide the brief tremble in his voice. They all look so relieved, Arthur feels surprised for a moment. His chest grows a bit tighter at the realization that they all were worried, maybe even scared, that he might die.

"'m sorry." He answers and it sounds just a little bit slurred. He frowns up at Hosea. "How's John? Javier?"

His tongue isn't quite as cooperative as he'd like, but he'll make do. Arthur almost doesn't dare ask for Storm. He knows she caught a bullet, one meant for him and a part of him is scared to hear what happened to her. What if it was a bad wound? What if she bled out or had to be put down? What if she had to die while he wasn't even there for her?

"They're alright." Hosea gives him a small, slightly tight smile, but his shoulders ease a bit. "Both are healing just fine."

Arthur squints at them, his sight still a bit blurred around the edges. "Karen?"

Hosea presses his lips together for a moment, but it's not an expression of grief, to Arthur's immense relief. It's more a look of regret. "She got shot during the escape, but she's recovering as well."

"She's tough." Sadie speaks up and leans against the foot of his bed. She gives him a once over and there is quiet relief in her gaze as well, before she reaches out to briefly squeeze his blanket covered ankle. Her voice turns softer then. "Glad to see you awake, Arthur."

"Where are we?" He asks after giving her a small nod. The Pinkertons would still look for them, he doesn't doubt that and just alone seeking out a doctor is very risky. How long was he out? How long can they afford to stay?

"We're close to Annesburg." Hosea answers. "We got quite lucky to run into people you helped before and they were willing to help us in return now. We're safe."

Arthur frowns in surprise. Someone he helped? Who exactly? He can't really recall anyone from the top of his head and he isn't sure there were many people he helped either, even with trying his best to be better this time around.

"The german family, remember?" Charles chimes in and gives him a small smile when Arthur looks over. Charles still looks tired, not obviously, but there is a subtle exhaustion clinging to his shoulders and the corners of his eyes. "We helped them get the father back, back before we settled in Clemens Point a while back."

Arthur frowns again as he recalls who Charles talks about. "They already repaid that."

With quite a generous bar of gold too. He thought that was it, they were more than even.

Charles's smile grows a bit. "They didn't really think so. They were very helpful in getting us here and they know the doctor too, another german fellow. We're safe here, for now. No one is going to rat us out."

Someone clears their throat behind them and everyone turns around, letting Arthur catch a glimpse of the doctor in question, who stands in the doorway. He's a slim man with spectacles and a neat beard and he gives them all a calm smile.

"Please, give him some room and allow me to check up on him." His accent makes the words sound a bit stilted, as though he's paying attention to speak as clearly as possible. He steps forward as the others shuffle aside and after some hesitation, they filter out of the room, only Charles and Hosea staying behind. "How are you doing, Mister Morgan?"

"Alive." Arthur answers and the man gives him a brief, understanding smile. He's already checking him over, expression creasing in concentration. It's quiet, aside from the man asking a few questions and after he's done, he washes his hands and turns back to them.

"Your wounds are healing well, Mister Morgan. We almost lost you there a few times, so I'm glad to see you back with us." He says as he sets the towel aside.

Arthur doesn't know what to say to that so he just nods. "How much? For the treatment."

The doctor blinks in surprise, before he waves a hand. "Oh no, don't worry about it. This is a favor for my friends who you helped and besides, your friends here kindly covered the cost for the medicine and bandages, so all is fine."

"Huh." Arthur lets his head rest back against the lumpy pillow. The doctor is kind, kinder than Arthur expects most people to be. It is both strange and nice to meet someone like that. The man gives him another one of his calm smiles, before excusing himself.

Arthur takes a deep breath when he's left alone with Hosea and Charles. "Storm?" He asks and keeps his voice as steady as possible. At the reassuring look he gets from both of them, his breath escapes him in a long exhale and for a moment, he feels dizzy.

"She's healing up as well." Hosea answers and gives his arm a gentle pat. "She's just as tough as you, it seems. Ran all the way here with us with a bullet in her shoulder and ever since we got it out, she's been getting better." He hesitates for a second. "I don't know if she'll recover without getting a stiff leg, but she'll heal."

Arthur honestly doesn't care if he might never ride Storm again, as long as she's alright and alive. He closes his eyes for a moment, taking a breath as deep as he dares without upsetting his wounds - which honestly isn't deep at all. The relief swirling in his chest is almost overwhelming.

"How long was I out?" He asks next and as he opens his eyes again, he finds it a bit harder than before.

"A couple of days." Charles answers quietly. "A bit over a week, actually."

"Rest." Hosea says gently and with a slight firmness, most likely noticing Arthur's struggle to stay awake. He rests a hand lightly on his uninjured shoulder. "You need to get back your strength."

Arthur slips off into sleep before he can even think of an answer.

~*~

Arthur wakes to shuffling steps and someone sinking into the chair beside his bed with a muffled, wheezing groan. Opening his eyes, feeling bleary and not quite there due to the morphine, he blinks when he spots John.

John doesn't look all that great with scrapes healing on his tense face, but he's alive and apparently well enough to visit him. Even wearing a shirt doesn't hide the thick bandages on John's shoulder and John looks a little exhausted too, grimacing as he breathes.

"Alright?" Arthur asks and pauses when he notices just how raspy and cracking his voice still is. John looks at him and relief lets his face relax for a bit, before he gives Arthur a tense version of his usual smile.

"Of course, perfectly fine." He says and sways a bit in his seat, as though trying to figure out if he can lean forward or if he should rest against the arm of the chair. In the end, he does a bit of an awkward lean against the armrest, but it seems to be alright with his shoulder. Then he sighs. "God, Arthur, never do that again."

"Not plannin' to." He answers and he really means it. This hurts, even with the drugs and it's definitely no experience he's keen to repeat. Especially since he might not survive it the next time. "How are you really doin'?"

"I'll be alright." John waves him off slightly with the hand of his good arm and eyes him. "You look like shit."

"Thanks." Arthur finds himself drawling back and feels the small uptick of a brief smile on his face. John looks a little more at ease now. They sit in thoughtful silence for a long moment.

"What happened to Dutch?" Arthur asks. "I forgot to ask the others when they was here."

"I have no idea." John's expression turns serious and he furrows his brows in thought. "The last time we saw him was back when I got shot. The Pinkertons didn't get him though, so Ross is still lookin' for him. At least that's what we heard. And for us, but we're safe here for now."

"Hopefully we'll stay safe until we're a bit better." Arthur mumbles and closes his eyes. He's still too tired and sluggish to stay awake for long. "Go back to bed, John."

He hears a small huff from John that causes another smile to tug at his face. Arthur listens as John gets up and with the gait of the injured and tired shuffles heavily out of the room. Arthur feels too heavy and aching all over to even open his eyes once more.

The door swings open again a moment later and Arthur hears familiar steps entering. A warm hand covers his, calluses and small scars familiar to him and he makes a low noise. The fingers around his tighten gently in quiet reassurance.

"Sleep." Charles murmurs and Arthur feels himself drop off. "You deserve to rest."

~*~

Arthur finally doesn't drop back off within minutes after waking and he's no longer sleeping most of the day away when there is a brief knock and the door swings open. To his surprise, he sees Javier stepping in. His hand is professionally taken care of now and he limps, but otherwise he looks better than the last time Arthur saw him. The cut on his face is stitched closed and heals well and his bruises are looking lighter too.

He still looks a fright to anyone who isn't used to seeing injuries, and Arthur winces a bit in sympathy as Javier stiffly and slowly limps towards him. His face is tense and closed off, but Arthur can see the questions he tries to hide.

"Can I sit?" Javier asks and gestures at the chair that held a visitor for most of the time Arthur has been awake the past few days - majorly Charles and Hosea. He gestures for Javier to go ahead.

They're sitting in tense silence for a long moment. Arthur almost asks how Javier's doing, but they both know they're in pain and under drugs to keep it at bay. He can feel the unspoken thing hanging between them and Dutch not believing in them and betraying them in the end. Arthur wishes he could have spared Javier that, wishes there would have been a kinder way to show him everything. Then again, kindness isn't abundant in their lives, nor is gentleness, so it makes sense in a cold, hard way, that the revelation about Dutch is sharp and bitter and roughly painful.

"How is your hand?" He asks after another moment and Javier looks down at it.

"Better than I thought", he answers and Arthur feels relief at that. "The doctor is positive that it should heal well and if I'm careful, I should be able to use it almost as well as before."

That really is better than Arthur expected as well. And a boon should Javier continue to wish to play music. Arthur remembers in his other life how Javier stopped playing after Guarma and especially once they were in Beaver Hollow. He hopes Javier has a bit of an easier time this time around. At least he has their support and he has Hosea too. Hosea who's been a father figure to both of them, teaching them just as much as Dutch did. Javier might have lost Dutch, but this time, he still has Hosea.

And considering how things went down, Arthur would even say that Hosea has been there for everyone more than Dutch, especially once they reached the Heartlands. He certainly can't remember there being a lot of moments where Dutch took the time to talk with people individually and listen to their fears and help them find steady ground again after Blackwater. That has mostly been Hosea.

"That's real good." Arthur answers and with that, another bout of silence settles between them. Arthur opens his mouth, then closes it again. He doesn't quite know what to say and at the same time, he suspects that Javier came here for a reason.

"I don't..." Javier starts and then trails off. He presses his lips together and his brows furrow. There is something hurt and bitter and tired in that expression, as though he's weathered enough pain and he's exhausted by everything. Arthur thinks he gets it - at least most of it. Futilely, he once again wishes it could have been different. Or at least that Javier could have been spared some unnecessary pain along the way.

"You came back." Is what Javier says next and it's half a question and half a statement. "Tilly said she sent you a message."

Arthur, for a handful of seconds, doesn't even know how to put it all into words. That of course they'd come back for him and Tilly and Miss Grimshaw, however much they failed the latter. Of course Javier could still count on them. Arthur still isn't good with words though, with talking, and he wonders if he'll ever really master it. He takes a slightly deeper breath.

"'Course we'd come back." He says and the air between them feels tense and like something hangs there, charged with all the things unsaid and all the emotions living in their chests.

For Arthur, a lot of things are more emotions than clear words or thoughts, and his mind is filled with memories that don't belong in this life. There are Javier's own feelings of betrayal too - from all of them this time, from Arthur and Hosea first and now from Dutch as well.

"Wanna come to the west with us?" He asks without thinking and at the same time, he doesn't want to take it back. Arthur wants Javier to come with them, he wants all of them to go back home and leave everything else behind.

Arthur feels tired of it all. Tired of pain old and new, of the betrayal that has so thoroughly seeped into their lives. He wants the past and his memories to stay in the east, along with all the questions he doesn't really have any answers for and suspects he'll never get either. Questions resolving around Dutch and if he could have changed the course of things in some way if he had tried just a little bit harder.

He wants the friendship back he once had with Javier, wants to build back the trust they had - and he still has in Javier, if he's honest. Javier, who is loyal and kind and always ready and willing to help, no matter if it gets rough or not. Arthur wants Javier to know they never intended to betray him and everything that happened was because of all the shit that happened with Dutch. He wants to go back to the west, back home to find rest and the time to heal all the wounds the east left.

Javier looks at him, brows furrowed and face tense and serious and just unreadable enough that Arthur resists the urge to shift. He holds his gaze for a long moment and then Javier inhales.

"Was that why you left Dutch? Because he...changed?" He asks and the question holds everything that is still too raw to say directly. Arthur closes his eyes and feels the familiar, brief grief and hurt betrayal welling up, before it subsides again. A part of him wonders if that's always going to be there when he thinks of Dutch. If there will always be a part mourning and a part hurting.

"I realized what was happenin', back in the Heartlands." He says quietly. Arthur doesn't really say the truth, but he doubts he could anyway, so he tries to stay as close to it as he can. "At one point I couldn't stay no more and I looked for a way out. It would've killed a lot o' folks if we stayed." He's seen it happen and has lived through it.

Javier is silent, before a deep and heavy exhale escapes him and he lifts his good hand to gently rub over his face, mindful of his bruises and the healing cut. His shoulders slump a bit and he looks weary and tired, hurt layered so deep it seems to have seeped into his very bones. Arthur knows what Dutch meant to him - probably still means to him, such things don't just simply disappear, he knows that too - and how the man was a sort of father for him as well. Dutch meant everything to him. To a lot of them and to Arthur as well. Even if he doesn't understand everything Javier goes through, this he knows. Dutch saved them all at one point, taught them everything he knew and instilled them with his values. Dutch was always their leader, their north star and shaper of their world and lives.

They could have been good, Arthur thinks. If Dutch hadn't lost his way, they could have been good people, maybe not completely and Arthur thinks there will always be a part of him that will never be fully good, but they could have done good at the very least. They could have done better. Instead, in the end they turned into the very thing Dutch always told them not to be and they did the opposite of what Dutch preached for years. They turned into degenerates, real ones, ones that had stopped helping the helpless and unfortunate a long time ago and instead took from them.

"I'm sorry it came to this. I'm sorry this happened." He says and his voice holds a small rasping edge, because he means it. He hates that this happened and that Javier got caught up in Dutch's plans and got hurt and injured because of it once again. Javier looks at him and Arthur catches the moment Javier realizes he means it. Something along Javier's face relaxes just a bit and something like tentative understanding forms between them.

It suddenly aches, in a quiet way. Arthur knows they haven't talked as much as they should have and he knows the kind of hard bastard he's been before dying and his second chance. He knows he wasn't approachable, not really, not in the ways that mattered, but he hopes he's doing at least a little better now. Hopes he does right by everyone, Javier included, this time around.

"I know." Javier answers and the guarded way he holds himself eases somewhat. They'll be alright at some point, Arthur thinks, with a flare of relief. With distance to the east and time, they'll find ways to be alright again. Maybe, one day, they can even call each other brother again without all these messes clouding their minds. "Me, too."

The quiet that settles between them now is woven with the unspoken understanding that they both regret what happened and of the hurt that spread everywhere, not leaving anyone untouched. They probably will have to talk more, Arthur is sure that Javier is going to have more questions. There will most likely also be questions Arthur himself hasn't found answers to either.

"How are you?" Javier asks. "This was a really close call."

"Yeah." Arthur tries not to shift at the memory. He mostly does his best to hold still as he heals and the doctor told him the other day that he's definitely out of the woods now. Arthur should heal just fine if given enough time. "I'll be alright."

There is a ghost of a smile on Javier's face, though it lacks humor, but he seems to try anyway. "You always say that." The smile slowly slips away again and once again Arthur wonders why it had to come to this, to them both sitting here, injured and memories clouding their minds. But, he tells himself, at least this time things turned out so much better than before. Most of them are still alive and now they just have to get out of here.

"We'll be fine." He says. "Once we're back in the west."

Javier takes a slow, deep breath before he nods. "I'll come with you."

"Good." Arthur finds himself smiling and this time, when Javier returns it, it looks a bit more real, a little less wreathed in bitter loss.

"'m pretty sure we still have enough money to build you a cabin, if you don't want to room with anyone else. For Tilly and Molly too," Arthur says and Javier looks surprised, before he huffs softly. There is a small, real smile on his tired, bruised face and it stays a moment longer than before. Then there is a strange, brief wobble to his lower lip and he takes a deep breath, visibly shoving down whatever emotion was about to surface.

The look Javier gives him after a moment is solemn, but a little less exhausted and worn. In that second, Arthur finds himself suddenly glad for all the others being here too. Hosea especially is going to be a big help in making Dutch's betrayal and everything else at least a bit easier on Javier, on all of them, really.

"Tell me of the ranch." Javier asks and Arthur finds another, brief, smile on his face as he thinks about it.

He starts talking and at some point towards the end, as he tells Javier a bit of the nearby town and neighbors, he falls back asleep, still recovering and exhausted. When he wakes up, Javier is gone but Hosea drops by and his face looks a little less tense and when he smiles, Arthur knows they'll all be alright one way or another.

As long as they manage to get out of the east. He'll have to get back on his feet as soon as possible if he wants to help, because it will take at least half a miracle to get them all back home. Ross is definitely going to do his damnest to not let them slip by and Dutch is still out there, maybe even with Bill and whoever else survived being hunted down by the Pinkertons.

"Now, I know that face." Hosea says and gives him a stern look. "You focus on getting rest, dear boy." He pats his arm and his face gentles a bit. "Rest, Arthur, we'll take care of things."

~*~

"Are you certain you wish to depart already?" The doctor asks them with a small frown. He watches them all gather their things with a slightly disapproving look and Arthur knows he would let them stay a little longer if they wanted to.

He also knows that Hosea isn't happy about moving them all when most of them are still injured, but Tilly heard of Ross and his Pinkertons searching and asking around the area and they have to find a place to lay low. No one here is under the illusions that during the four weeks they have holed up with the good doctor that no one noticed their presence. Someone among the various neighbors knows about them and sooner or later the Pinkertons are going to come knocking if they don't leave in time. There is only so long the doctor can come up with reassurances or believable tales about his guests.

"Yes, thank you very much, you have done us all a great kindness." Hosea says with a smile, while Sadie picks up the last of the bags. Charles is at Arthur's side, a quiet offer to lean on him in case his injuries are too much trouble. Karen, her shoulder wrapped thickly and face a bit pale, has her chin lifted stubbornly and Arthur has never been gladder to see that streak in her. She's alive.

"Take care." The doctor tells them as they move towards the door. "And don't hesitate to come back for anything."

"We will, thank you." Hosea tips his head politely and then ushers them all outside. It's so early in the day the sunlight is a pale, ghostly thing.

Arthur feels the dull burn of his wounds, unhappy with all the movement, but he's healed up enough to risk leaving and searching for a place to hide. A glance to the side shows that Javier barely limps anymore and his bruises have faded to the pale green and yellow that tells them it won't be long before they're gone entirely again.

It's a short trip to the nearby farm where they managed to stable the horses and Arthur feels himself relax and exhale with relief at finally seeing Storm again. The second she spots him, she neighs softly in greeting.

It brings a smile to his face and the moment the door to her stall is open, she's right there, sniffing all over him and definitely finding his wounds and then snorting in his face. Arthur lifts his good arm and cradles her cheek, her soft nose gently pressing against the side of his face. His hat has been lost when Charles carried him back and Arthur misses it, but at the moment, it all doesn't matter a bit. She's alive, his impossible, amazing horse is alive.

"Hello, girl." He says softly and closes his eyes as he leans back against her nose. Glancing down, he can see her shoulder and the almost entirely healed wound. Storm evidently heals faster than him and he holds her a bit tighter. She just snorts at him again and he finds himself pulling back as a bit of snot hits his ear.

Storm follows him out of her stall and Arthur feels a sudden rush of relief at seeing her barely limping. She's going to be fine. She'll heal up just fine and for a second, he wants to just say thank you. To whom, he isn't sure, maybe to her and her fierce, stubborn streak, but he's never been gladder to see her walking with the smallest of limps instead of the heavy limp he expected.

"Arthur." Charles calls out and Arthur turns towards him. "Will you ride with me?"

Arthur nods and gives Storm's neck one last pat. Taima is already tacked up and Charles finishes securing the bits of luggage they have onto her back. Mostly it's just their clothes and some extra ammunition - they didn't arrive with much, considering they don't intend to stay. Storm isn't ready for riding yet and Arthur won't do anything to make her healing shoulder worse. She still manages to look somewhat disgruntled when Charles helps him onto Taima's back, while all she carries is her own saddle.

His wounds flare up at getting on Taima and for a moment, Arthur has to breathe through the pain. Charles gives his leg an understanding, reassuring squeeze, before swings up in the saddle before him. Storm doesn't even have to be told to follow them, she seems intend to stick as close as possible, walking forward steadily despite her small limp.

Arthur is pleasantly surprised to see that Boaz is with them too and Javier is on his back, patting his horse's neck. Javier's hand is healing really well and the doctor took off the splint yesterday, pleased that Javier can move his fingers well, a lot better than even he expected, though he told him to be careful a while longer and to keep bandages on for another week or two. John sits behind Sadie, while Karen rides with Molly, both of them still injured and not quite ready to ride on their own again.

They leave the stable quietly and Arthur doesn't see anyone out and about until they're a good distance away. The single rider that meets them along the path looks haggard and tired and just grunts something that sounds vaguely like words before he's gone again.

Hosea leads them to an empty cabin in the woods and for a moment, Arthur wonders if he should propose Beaver Hollow as a possible hideout before he discards the idea again. There are just too many bad memories connected to that place and if possible, they're not going to stay for too long anyways. Not long enough to need a hideout at least. They have to leave soon, if they don't want to be caught by the Pinkertons.

The cabin is a bit cramped and smells of wet wood, but it's enough for now. Sadie and Charles leave together to go scouting the area and looking for information in the small towns about the things currently going on. Javier talks quietly with Hosea in one corner and Arthur tries to find a comfortable way to lean back against the wall. It's quiet out here, aside from the groaning wood whenever someone shifts and the rustle of trees outside.

Arthur finds himself dozing off for a bit, one of his hands always resting close to his revolver. He might be in no fighting condition, but the thought of being unarmed doesn't sit right with him at all. Not now, not when they're down in the east and danger is still stalking their backs like a pack of viciously hungry wolves.

He wakes hours later, when he hears horses heading their way, his butt numb and his chest filled with dulled pain that, once he shifts a bit too much, turns into a bright bite. Breathing through it, Arthur settles back down and tilts his head towards the door, listening carefully.

"They're back." Tilly says once she steps up to the window and Arthur finds himself easing a bit again.

Sadie and Charles trudge back into their temporary hideout and they don't look much tenser than before, though they don't look like they bring good news either.

"Things have quieted down a bit, but there are wanted posters for most of us around the sheriff offices", Charles says. "There are patrols at the docks in Annesburg and when we asked a conductor, he said the military has been searching trains more often."

"However we leave, it's gonna be hard." Sadie tacks on, one hand coming to lightly rest close to the revolver on her hip. "I think that leavin' by boat might be the easier choice of the two, if we can find a captain that'll take us."

Hosea rubs a hand over his chin and they all wait quietly as he thinks. Arthur sneaks a quick glance to Charles, who glances back and gifts him a small, brief smile. Things with the Pinkertons are as bad as Arthur expected, though it's good to hear that things still have calmed down a bit. They have to leave as soon as possible, if they don't want to be found and the longer they stay, the likelier that possibility becomes.

"I think you're right." Hosea murmurs, his brows furrowed. "Sadie, Charles, was there a wanted poster for you too?"

"For me." Charles says with a small tilt of his head, while Sadie shakes hers.

"I don't even know if they know who I am", Sadie says as she leans against the wall. Arthur suspects she doesn't much care if the law knows about her or not, but it certainly comes in handy that she's not someone they're looking for. Not officially at least.

"Would you mind asking around?" Hosea turns to her and the small furrow stays between his brows. He looks more tired, ever since they arrived in the east. A little more pale and maybe a bit gaunt as well. Arthur doesn't like it and the sight causes his quiet worry to gnaw deeper into him, mingled with his memories of Hosea's death. It can happen so fast, he knows it.

"Course not." Sadie says and straightens a bit, her gaze sharp and serious. "I'll look for a captain we can bribe to get us out of here."

"Let's see how much money we have first." Hosea says and within moments, there is scraping and the groaning of wood as they all pile their money together.

It's a bit more than Arthur hoped but he can't help the quiet doubt that creeps up his spine. Is it going to be enough? He tries to wrack his brain for any additional treasure they can find somewhere, but realizes that he looted any place he could find before leaving the east. Arthur picked up everything, every little scrap of money and ever piece of gold and jewelry. The likelihood to still find stashes somewhere is low and he doesn't know if they have the time to ride around and search for treasure in abandoned places.

"We'll make it work. It's not that much, but it could be enough," Hosea says and while he doesn't sound as confident as Arthur would have liked, he's secretly glad that Hosea tells them how he sees it. Knowing where things are lacking has always helped Arthur the most in figuring out what to do.

Not that he's in much of a position to do much of anything at the moment and he knows that he'll be dragged off the horse by his ear if he attempted to help out in any way. Sadie nods in understanding and Hosea gives her half of the money.

"In case paying part of it upfront helps." He says and Arthur sees Sadie's expression grow firm and something about it eases him a bit. He trusts Sadie to get it done and he suspects that if necessary, she'll browbeat a captain into getting them onto a ship.

"Can any of us help in any way?" Molly speaks up, which surprises Arthur a bit. She's been mostly quiet and helped Tilly with caring for Karen. Hosea gives her a kind smile.

"I fear not, but thank you, Molly. The Pinkertons know the rest of us, we'd only make it harder for Sadie if we went with her."

"I'll be fine." Sadie drawls with a crooked smile. "I know how to look after myself, don't you worry."

Arthur knows she's right. He's rarely met a person as fierce as her and especially when it comes to looking after all of them, the people who took her in and helped her, she's going to fight tooth and nail. Sadie is as good and stubborn as the best of them - though Arthur can admit that he doesn't particularly like her going alone. He doesn't like it with any of them, always too worried that one of them might end up dead.

They settle down again and Tilly, with Molly and Hosea's help, gets a quick lunch together for all of them. Most of them have to eat one handed due to their injuries and Arthur, much like Javier, John and Karen, mostly just holds the can up to his mouth and tips his head back. It's easier than trying to eat with a fork or spoon and they don't have plates anyway.

By the time evening arrives and Sadie leaves again, Arthur has napped a bit, but is now too restless to settle down again. He already knows that he'll stay awake until she returns, just to be sure that she's going to be alright. Charles sits down at his side and Hosea settles down to get some sleep himself, while Tilly takes first watch.

"She'll be back." Charles murmurs, his shoulder gently pressed against Arthur's good one. Hidden between their legs, their hands find together and Arthur holds onto Charles's, their calluses and rough fingers pressed together, sharing warmth.

Arthur exhales in a quiet sigh and sinks a bit more against Charles, his warmth seeping through their shirts. It's nice and calming and Arthur finds himself, once more, deeply grateful for Charles. For everything he is and the steady, warm calm that he brings. Arthur gives Charles's hand a light squeeze and Charles gifts him a smile, before he closes his eyes.

Arthur stays awake and he listens as Charles's breathing evens out and warmth flares in his chest when Charles's head comes to slowly rest on his shoulder. Tilly, who glances over, looks briefly surprised and Arthur sees understanding brighten in her gaze. After a moment, she gives him a small smile and he finds a bit of his tension easing out of his shoulders.

"I'm happy for you, Arthur." Tilly whispers from her spot by the door, her eyes warm. Arthur can't help but smile back a bit and lightly duck his head, once more briefly ruing the absence of his hat.

Tilly turns back to watching their surroundings from her spot, the sky and woods growing ever darker as the last of the sunlight fades. They agreed not to light any lanterns or fires, it's warm enough that they don't need it and they don't want to draw any attention to themselves. When Arthur listens closely enough, he can faintly hear the soft snuffling and occasional gentle snort as the horses settle down as well. They're free to graze, but Arthur knows they won't wander far. Their horses know to stay close.

Time passes and he resists the urge to check on his watch and instead focuses on keeping his butt from becoming too numb without jostling Charles with his shifting to the point where he accidentally wakes him up. By the time Arthur feels his eyes grow heavy and itchy, the pain of his healing injuries having flared up uncomfortably, he hears a horse heading their way.

"It's Sadie." Tilly says after squinting into the dark suspiciously and warily for a long moment. Arthur exhales with relief.

He hears the muffled clop of hooves and the leathery groan and gentle creak of a saddle, before Sadie's steps can be heard on the slowly rotting small front porch. She steps inside, looking a bit tousled but also vaguely satisfied. The satisfied part especially lets Arthur relax a little for the first time since they decided to leave the doctor and she gives him a knowing look from under the brim of her hat.

"I think I found someone who might be willing to take us along." Sadie says and keeps her voice down to avoid waking any of the others. She takes off her hat to brush back her hair, before putting it back on. "It was a bit of a lively night, but I could chat up some folks."

"Everything went well?" Arthur asks and she gives him a nod and a small, lopsided smile.

"Yeah, I was careful not to give nothin' away and if we show up tomorrow, we can see if we can get out of here." She briefly tugs at the collar of her shirt and then walks over to the others. "I'm catching some shut eye, wake me if you need me for anything."

Sadie settles down on her bedroll, setting her hat aside but not bothering with her boots. Tilly glances at Charles and Arthur gives her an understanding nod, gently nudging the other. Charles wakes with the smallest of noises and Arthur can't help but feel a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth upon hearing it. It's unexpectedly endearing.

Charles lifts his head and is fully awake within a few moments, letting go of Arthur's hand with a last, gentle squeeze. He takes over the next shift, while Tilly goes to sleep with a yawn. Arthur himself closes his eyes as soon as Charles takes up post by the door and his side now feels cooler than before, with Charles standing a few steps away from him.

Arthur tries not to hope too much, while he falls asleep. Maybe, maybe they'll really get out of here tomorrow, maybe Sadie really found a captain willing to take them along. Still, despite his best efforts, hope stubbornly takes root in his chest and blooms gently along his lungs.

~*~

Sadie rides ahead of them after breakfast to talk to the captain, while everyone else packs up before getting their horses ready. Storm shadows Arthur's step the moment he walks up to the horses and he can't keep from petting her neck or brushing a careful hand along her shoulder, not touching the wound but checking on it. It's healing well and he's never been more relieved or happier to see her stubbornly limping at his side, even if the pain makes her a bit testier with the other horses.

The others look a bit rougher this morning, but not worse for wear. Karen grumbles a little about her wound, annoyed with the early morning and most likely hurting from the uncomfortable sleep. John keeps reaching up to his hurt shoulder, before thinking better of it and Javier does his best to care for Boaz one handed. Molly, Tilly and Charles help them once they have their own things quickly taken care of and Arthur once again rides behind Charles. Karen is with Molly and John rides with Tilly today, to avoid jostling their injuries as much as possible. Javier has healed enough to ride on his own. Their horses follow them easily, as they pick their way through the woods and towards Annesburg.

As the mining town comes into view, they take a moment to pause and give it a careful once over from their spot up on the hills. There are no immediately visible Pinkertons and after awkwardly pulling out his binoculars, Arthur spots Hosea and Sadie's horses hitched up and a moment later both of them talking with a man by the docks.

"They're talking to the captain, I think," Arthur says. "I don't see no Pinkertons."

"Let's go, but keep it down." Charles advises and gently nudges Taima forward.

There isn't exactly a covert way to enter Annesburg, though they try to stay as inconspicuous as a bunch of people can be, half of them injured and with their riderless horses trailing them. Still, it's early enough that most people don't do more than cast brief, curious looks their way, while they head to work. The last dredges of fine mist cling to the ground and the corners of the buildings, as they reach Silver Dollar and Bob, hitching up their horses beside the two.

They stay back for now though, close enough that Hosea notices and acknowledges them with a tiny nod, but not close enough to appear threatening or overly suspicious.
"How are your wounds?" Charles asks quietly as they stick to the corner of a building and keep a subtle eye on the pedestrians.

"It's alright." Arthur murmurs back. "Could be worse."

His injuries certainly aren't aching or hurting as much as they could right now and Arthur even has the impression that the bits of moving around has helped with some of the tension that had built up in his shoulders in the past few weeks of healing.

"Oh, are you, please excuse me. Mister!" Someone suddenly calls out and Arthur recognizes the voice - doesn't think he could ever truly forget the man who had, inadvertently, a rather big hand in his fate. Still, it doesn't do anything to quiet or lessen his surprise at seeing Mr. Downes come his way.

"Mr. Downes." Arthur says as the man inches past a slightly glaring, suspicious Karen with a quiet apology before hurrying towards Arthur. "You're..."

Alive, he wants to say, but doesn't know if he should. Arthur wonders if he should even know that Downes was sick - sick to the point of near death - but it's certainly quite surprising to see the man alive. A bit thinner though, he looks almost frail and his face is a bit gaunt and certainly pale, but he's alive. It bring a sudden, uncomfortably bitter sting to his chest, to realize that in his other life, he had indeed cost the man his life with his actions. It's a small comfort, to know this time around it's different at least.

"It's good to see you again." Mr. Downes says, slightly out of breath and with a kind smile, before his eyes fall to the sling Arthur's arm is in and most likely, his somewhat obvious state of being injured. "Are you alright, mister?"

Arthur ducks his head a bit. "'s alright, just an unfortunate run-in with a degenerate." He answers and Mr. Downes nods, a small frown appearing on his face.

"Is there any way I could possibly help?" The man asks, kind to a fault and briefly, Arthur can't help but marvel a bit at it. "You've done me such a kindness, allow me to repay it."

"Thomas!" Another familiar voice calls out and Mrs. Downes, along with their son, catches up to her husband. Arthur is surprised to see the packed bags they have with them.
"You're leaving?" He asks while giving Mrs. Downes a brief, polite tilt of his head. He still can't quite look her in the eye, the shame of his actions from another life still not fully gone and he doubts it will ever truly leave him.

"Oh, yes, well..." Mr. Downes rubs a somewhat ashamed hand along the back of his neck. "My wife is quite right that I'm no longer fit for farming work. I had tuberculosis, you see." He explains and Arthur feels a phantom pain and rasp in his lungs at the memory of the illness.

"And we're more than glad that you survived it." His wife says, kind but with an underlying sternness. "God knows it was nothing short of a miracle and I won't let that go to waste." She turns to face Arthur, her face not exactly gentling but her sternness lacks the hardness, the disdain he remembers from his old life. Somehow though, for some reason he still ends up feeling slightly chastened. "Good day, Mister..."

"Morgan, Arthur Morgan." Arthur introduces himself and catches the way she eyes his injured state.

"Are you leaving as well?" Mr. Downes asks and as he inches closer to take a bag from his wife, he quickly lets his hand sink back at the look she gives him. Arthur can't quite explain why, but seeing them alive like this, happy together, it lightens something in his chest despite the background noise of his memories.

"We're hoping to." Tilly speaks up, smiling briefly at the two when they face her. "Though catching a boat has been difficult recently."

Mrs. Downes eyes them again and Arthur feels himself still at the realization in her eyes. She recognizes them, most likely saw the wanted posters. Then her gaze turns considering and she slightly tilts her head.

"Thomas, didn't you help captain Davis's wife a while ago, when they had trouble with money?" She asks and Mr. Downes glances at her, confused for a second, before understanding brightens his gaze as well. They're smart folks, Arthur realizes. He hadn't really noticed before, with all that tragedy that happened left and right and befell them, too.

"He certainly wouldn't say anything if I asked him to take a few friends along." Mr. Downes looks back at Arthur. "He'd only ask you pay a bit for the ride."

Arthur glances at Charles, then the others. Tilly takes a step to the side after he gives her a slow, considering nod. "I'll go get Hosea and Sadie, unless they already have a deal."

Mr. Downes face brightens slightly at her words and Arthur gets a glimpse at his drive to help. At the happiness it brings him to do something for others. Can see how it, once at another time, cost him his life because he indebted himself to give money to others. Such a strange man. Kind to the point where it makes Arthur somewhat uncomfortable. If it is because it makes him feel lacking or because he wonders if someone really can be that selflessly good, he doesn't quite know.

The Downes family waits with them, with Archie yawning behind his hand and Mrs. Downes looking calm and steady, while her husband casts curious looks around and exchanges a few words with Javier, before Tilly returns. Hosea and Sadie are with her and Arthur catches a glance at Hosea's face and the brief, hidden budding of frustration, before it smoothes entirely away to leave his usual charm. The conversation with the other captain didn't go well, it seems.

"Mr. Downes, Mrs. Downes, it's nice to meet you." Hosea says, smile warm and kind and Arthur can see that he's not entirely faking it. He holds out his hand and the Downes family gives it a quick shake. "I was told you might be able to help us?"

"We certainly hope so." Mr. Downes says. "I have a friend, a captain, I helped out a while back. He'd most likely be willing to take you along. Not terribly far, mind you, but certainly..." He glances towards the sheriff's office. "Out of the area."

Arthur sees the exact second Hosea realizes that Mr. and Mrs. Downes know who they are. It's a subtle shift, a quiet, hidden sharpness in his gaze that most people would entirely overlook. Arthur himself wouldn't notice it if he didn't know Hosea as well as he does. There is a small, protective angle to his shoulders too and Arthur realizes that Hosea is just as desperate to see them to safety as Arthur is. Would most likely willingly sacrifice himself for it if he had to and Arthur can't help but inch a tad closer at the thought. Not on his watch.

"We're leaving ourselves." Mrs. Downes tacks on, gesturing to the obvious bags resting at their feet. "We probably won't see each other again after this. Unless you plan to head down to California."

"I can't say we do." Hosea says. "Who would this captain be?"

"Davis Townsend." Mr. Downes says. "He's from England and came here to America a good ten years ago or so. I met him when his wife got really sick and he had trouble getting the money to pay for her treatment." Mr. Downes smiles happily. "She's fine now."

Hosea glances at Arthur and he sees the unspoken question directed at him. For a moment, Arthur hesitates, before he gives a brief nod. He trusts that Downes speaks the truth. Both he and his wife strike him as honest people - his wife certainly never held back with her opinion about Arthur - and...this is a chance. A chance he doesn't know if they can afford to decline.

"Would you mind introducing us to your friend?" Hosea asks and briefly gestures towards the horses. "If possible, can we take them along too?"

Mr. Downes blinks in surprise and then smiles. "I'm sure we can figure something out. Please, follow me, I saw his ship just a bit further down."

At Hosea's quick nod, they grab their horses and follow the Downes family towards the docks. There are few pedestrians around, but the ones that are give them curious glances.
"Davis!" Mr. Downes calls out once they reach the docks, the wood groaning softly under their feet.

Davis is a rather tall, willowy man, with a thick, wiry beard and spectacles on his nose. He looks over at them and lifts a hand in a wave.

"Thomas, what can I do for you?" His voice is a bit rough, but the words are warm and they're close enough now that Arthur can see the corners of his eyes crinkling with a genuine smile. Davis casts them a curious look the next moment, right up until Arthur sees him recognizing them, then his gaze turns startled. "Thomas..."

"Davis, meet my friends." Mr. Downes says and his voice manages to be both friendly and a bit firmer than Arthur expected. "They could use a ride out of here. Just past those mountains, yes?" Mr. Downes looks at them just long enough to receive nods, before turning back to the captain. "They helped me when things weren't looking good, Davis. Please, help me pay that back."

Davis rubs a hand through his curly hair and glances at them briefly, visibly unsure before he exhales heavily and nods.

"Yeah, alright." He gives Mr. Downes a stern look. "But only because you helped Nelly. I wouldn't have known what to do had she...well, thank you, again." He reaches out his hand and Mr. Downes clasps it in his. "Alright, my friend, I'll help them."

"We will pay you of course, as much as we can." Hosea chips in, his voice gentled and kind, the very picture of an elderly gentleman who couldn't hurt a fly. Arthur can't help but be once again surprised and a bit awed at how easily Hosea can make himself appear a certain way without physically changing a thing about his looks.

"Of course." Davis still looks a bit apprehensive when facing them, but he squares up a moment later. Arthur realizes that he's a head taller than him. "There will be patrols before I leave the harbor, so it would be best to get you below deck." He glances at the horses and hesitates for a second. "...and them, I suppose?"

From his tone of voice, he hopes the answer is no, but Arthur wouldn't leave Storm behind. Not after everything. His face must say as much, because Davis sighs and drags his fingers through his beard, thinking.

"Yeah, alright, I can squeeze them in. It won't be comfortable, just so you know, but it should do until you can get off board again."

"Thank you." Hosea says and his voice is genuinely grateful. "That is very kind of you."

"Well, we all help each other out." Davis says with a glance at Mr. Downes. "That's the best we can do in the world we got." He takes a step aside and gestures at the ship behind him. It's a small one, just small enough for the harbor of Annesburg and more designed for the transport for goods, but Arthur thinks all of them and the horses should fit in alright. Not necessarily comfortably, like Davis said, but if it gets them out of here...

"Follow me then." Davis says and gives Mr. Downes a parting nod. "Thomas, don't forget to write me when you arrive and have a save journey."

"I wouldn't think of it." Mr. Downes smiles back and then turns that smile right on Arthur. "You take care, Mister Morgan. I will pray for a safe journey for you all."

It is...strangely touching and Arthur finds himself nodding at the man. "You take care too, Mr. Downes." He tilts his head. "Mrs. Downes."

He tugs Storm along then, who limps proudly at his side and from the corner of his eye, he can see Mrs. Downes quickly sidestepping her husband as he tries to take one of her bags again. He doesn't hear what she says, but he can imagine it well enough. She's probably scolding him and telling him to take it easy.

Their horses follow them aboard with only a small amount of wariness - Arthur doesn't think Storm has ever been on a ship, but she follows him while looking around attentively, her ears perked. Davis leads them below deck and to a place beside a few stacked crates, where they can leave the horses.

"As I said, not necessarily comfortable." Davis says as he eyes the bare ground. "But that's all I got."

"It will do, thank you." Hosea reassures the man. A ship isn't too different from a train when it comes to space for the horses and they should be alright. "How far will you take us?"

"Two days north." Davis says and vaguely gestures to where Arthur suspects north is. "Then we should be past the mountains and the patrols." He hesitates and his curiosity wins out. "What did you folks do to piss off the law?"

"We lived." Hosea says with a smile that's mostly proud but there is also something solemn underlying it. "And we lived free."

Davis holds Hosea's gaze for a long moment and then gives a nod, his shoulders easing a bit. "I can understand that. Come on, I can show you where to hide out while we leave."

He leads them to another part of the ship, pulling two big crates out of the way with Charles's help and gesturing them through. Behind the stacked crates is a bit of free space, enough for them to sit down without being uncomfortably squished together. Arthur casts a curious look at Davis who gives them a small shrug.

"After my wife's sickness, I started taking a few things along here and there, for extra money." He lifts a hand. "I smuggle, essentially. Always something like paintings or sculptures. The most valuable I had aboard was a small crate full of gold bars once, but never people." He gestures at the two crates they pulled out of the way. "The patrol won't find you here, if you keep quiet and your horses I can explain away. Just, go and remove their tack and take that with you and they won't ask too many questions. Let me know when you're ready and we can go."

Davis turns around after receiving understanding nods and gets back on deck. The horses aren't particularly thrilled about the a bit tight space, but they deal with it well enough that Arthur feels confident that they'll be alright. Storm holds still while he removes the saddle and bit and he gives her shoulder another checking glance.

They carry their things into the hidden space and Hosea lets Davis know they're ready to go. Afterwards, Davis helps Sadie and Charles push the crates back into their spots and tells them he'll come for them when it's safe to get out. It's dark, here behind the crates and Arthur can't quite help the way his heartbeat picks up and his hand falls to rest close to his holster.

They are, as much as he dislikes it, relying on a stranger to keep his word and while Arthur trusts Mr. Downes, he can't help but worry now. And what if the patrol is too thorough this time? He doesn't think their horses will give them away - horses don't tend to live overly long in their line of work and they're not used to recognize or find people - but it might still tip the Pinkertons off.

His thoughts cut short minutes later as muffled voices draw closer. He holds his breath for a second and feels Charles shift slightly beside him. There is so little light, he can barely make the others out, but he manages to catch the way Sadie's hand falls from adjusting her hat to her hip or the way Tilly straightens and Hosea leans forward. They hear a door opening and all of them grow still. Arthur isn't even sure if any of them are really breathing right now.

Steps can be heard, somewhat muffled past the crates. Three people, Arthur thinks, maybe four. He can't really see anything and doesn't dare shift closer to the crates to try and peer through the thin gaps between them. Any kind of noise could give them away.

"And the horses?" Someone asks, voice unfamiliar and Arthur has to strain his ears to hear him well enough.

"Some for a friend who moved to the coast a bit up north and some for his brother, he's a butcher." Davis sounds steady and calm. "He pays a good enough price to be worth the hassle."

The next words are a bit muffled and Arthur hears some quiet exhales and inhales around him and he finds himself doing the same. His injuries ache, a pain that starts to spread and flare and he realizes it's because he's as tense as a wire. Steps wander their way, slow and measured and if everyone was still before, they're positively frozen now. This time, Arthur is certain none of them are breathing.

"Hm, alright. If you see these people, inform a sheriff." The unfamiliar man speaks up again, closer now and loud enough for Arthur to overhear with less trouble. He thinks he hears the rustle of paper. "They're wanted for murder, theft and freeing a convicted man."

Arthur feels his fingertips brush the cold metal of his revolver. Davis answers something that is too soft to catch and Arthur notices Charles is just as tense at his side and they're all listening, waiting. Finally, the steps move away again and they wait until they hear them descend up the stairs, before collectively exhaling.

Arthur sags back and allows himself to sink against Charles, who slightly does the same. For a moment, they just sit in dizzying relief, breathing and letting the realization sink in that yes, it seems to have worked. Still, they're not celebrating yet.

The silence remains right up until they hear the boat coming to life and feel it moving. There is a relieved groan from someone, Karen curses softly and someone's head thunks against a crate. Arthur feels himself deflate and a moment later, his temple comes to rest against Charles's, who has leaned towards him. Their hands find each other in the dark and for a long second, Arthur just grounds himself in the touch and the realization that they made it.

The patrol never found them and now, finally, they're on their way back home. A quiet, breathless nose that could have been a weak laugh crawls out of his throat and he closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.

"Well done, everyone." Hosea speaks up, voice quiet in the silence and while Arthur can detect the smallest tremor of relief, his words are steady. Sadie huffs out a quiet, rasping laugh and Arthur can hear the soft, deep exhale from Javier. As Hosea continues, Arthur can hear a smile in his voice: "Looks like we made it."

~*~

"This is as far as I can take you." Davis tells they stop at the small harbor of the tiny town. There is barely enough space for Davis to dock his ship, but now they're far away enough from the mess beyond the mountains that they should be able to take the train for the rest of the way. With what money they have left after giving half of it to Davis, they should barely make it that far.

"Thank you, Mister Townsend." Hosea tells the man. "You've done us a great kindness."

Davis waves him off. "Just, don't come back for a while, if ever? The Pinkertons won't stop looking for you anytime soon and I honestly don't know if I could help you again."

"We don't plan to return." Hosea says firmly and briefly, Arthur thinks about those still in the west. About Dutch and Bill, Pearson and Uncle and Reverent Swanson. A part of him hopes they don't need help and another hopes they're alright. He finds he kind of even hopes that Dutch and Bill got away. The betrayal is still there, but Arthur finds that he doesn't like the thought of the Pinkertons winning either. And, in a way, Dutch might even distract them from Arthur and the others, since Arthur genuinely doubts that Dutch is going to stop what he's doing anytime soon.

"Good, good. Well, let's get your horses up, I bet they're more than happy to leave." Davis says and then mumbles under his breath: "Gotta clean all that shit."

Storm, just like the other horses, is indeed very happy to finally get off the ship. The moment she's on the planks, the wood sturdy beneath her, she gives her body a big shake and Arthur once again checks her wound. Still healing well.

"Have a safe journey!" Davis calls from the deck of his ship. "Wherever you go!"

"Home!" Hosea calls back and Arthur can see the smile that appears on his face as he says it. Just hearing it makes Arthur feel lighter too. Home, they're going home.

"Well, I hope you arrive swiftly and unbothered!" Davis calls back and then disappears, most likely to shovel horseshit off his ship.

Arthur takes a deep breath and while the air smells of water and the town, there is something fresh and freeing to it. They start walking as soon as everyone has their things and their horse. They horses are rather restless with being cooped up and they ease up the more they walk. The people in town give them curious looks and a few throw greetings their way as they find their way to the train stop of the town without difficulties. Hosea, who still has the rest of their collective money, heads to the clerk to buy tickets. While Arthur takes a moment to pet Storm's neck and scratch behind her ears with his good hand, he hears Hosea play up the charm to get the clerk to sell them at a bit of a cheaper price.

"Well, it didn't help much, but a bit." Hosea says as soon as he returns, handing each of them their tickets. "We'll have to ride the last bit to get home, but that's fine and you all should have healed up enough by then."

"We'll be fine." Arthur reassures Hosea and gives Storms neck a small pat. "We'll be able to travel without them Pinkertons showing up again along the way?"

"I think so, yes." Hosea gives a small nod towards the clerk, who is busy writing something into a book. "He didn't mention any patrols when I asked how things were recently around here." Hosea gently ushers them towards the benches. "Now, sit down and rest, your wounds will thank you for it."

Arthur leaves Storm standing at the side and sinks onto the bench with only a small grumble and is slightly surprised when Javier sits down beside him. Karen sighs, the sigh of one absolutely sick with healing, while John just plops down and closes his eyes. Arthur exchanges a glance with Javier, who looks a bit better, the bruises barely visible now and...things aren't as somewhat tense as Arthur expected. Javier might be coming a bit to terms with what happened, with the pain of Dutch's betrayal and that, despite essentially abandoning him at first, Arthur and the others still came back for him.

Glancing over to the horses, Arthur smiles slightly in thanks as Charles feeds Storm an apple along with Taima. Charles gives him a small smile back, the corners of his eyes crinkling warmly. His gaze briefly flickers to Javier, before he looks back at Arthur with a question in his eyes. Arthur isn't quite sure how well he conveys that things are looking a bit better, but he seems to do a decent enough job with the way Charles's face softens slightly.

The train doesn't take long to arrive and Arthur can feel the disgruntlement from Storm and the other horses as they're back in a confined space and won't get to really stretch their legs. While Arthur feels sorry for her, he's also glad about the fact that Storm's shoulder is going to get more rest.

The horses seem mollified at receiving hay though. There was no hay on the ship, so Arthur and the others kept the horses fed with the food they had on them, so their bags are pretty empty right now.

"We'll have to get some food on the next stop." Arthur murmurs as they board the train and Hosea gives him an understanding nod. "Do you still have a bit of money?"

"It's going to be the last." Hosea says. "After that, not a penny."

Hopefully, there won't be any trouble for the rest of the journey back home. Arthur sits down beside Charles and Hosea takes a seat beside John, while Sadie plops down with Javier, both of them talking quietly. Karen grumbles as Tilly shoos her to sit down and Molly follows them with a small, relieved smile on her lips. Arthur thinks it's the first time he's seen her really smile again since picking her up in Rhodes.

They're all battered and bruised, he realizes, in different ways maybe, but each of them are hurting in one place or another. And they're all here together and heading to a place where they can just be, without the fear of the Pinkertons and the law nipping their heels, without traveling towards a vague goal that, in the end, was just a really big question mark. They're going home and they can heal what wounds they carry.

The thought gives him a light, soft sort of hope, mingled with a strangely deep kind of peace. Briefly, he thinks back on Miss Grimshaw and hopes that, wherever she is, she's happy and maybe, happy for them too. In the end, she too only wanted for them all to stay alive. A part of him hopes she's proud of them for making it this far.

Arthur exhales as the whistle sounds and the train starts to move. Within moments they gain momentum and Arthur watches quietly as the east draws further and further away. Somehow, he feels a quiet but steady certainty welling up in him: He won't be coming back. None of them will.

This time, they're leaving for good and he couldn't be happier about it.

The train rumbles ahead and before he notices, Arthur's eyes fall closed.

~*~

Arthur wakes as they reach a stop again and realizes he has dozed off, leaning against Charles, who has his eyes closed as well. Arthur rubs his good hand over his face and sits up slightly as he casts a glance around. Aside from their group, there are two more people, who sit in the front of the wagon, a lady who reads a book and a man who is obviously asleep, considering the way he's slumped against the side of the wagon, temple resting against the window.

"I'll get some food." Hosea says as he gets up and Molly rises as well, offering her help, which Hosea accepts with a nod and a smile. "We'll be back in a minute."

Sadie waves them off and then leans back in her seat again, though she no longer has her hat tucked as low as before. Instead, she adjusts it just enough that she can glance out the windows in case of trouble. Karen is asleep, while Javier and John are looking out the window at the train station. They're all calm and relaxed, until John suddenly sits up.

"I don't believe it." He says, voice raspy and Arthur straightens as well, Sadie quickly lifting her chin. John's voice wasn't alarmed though and it takes Arthur a moment to see what he spotted.

Josiah Trelawny in the flesh and he's smiling widely while talking to Hosea, who is smiling back, both of them looking rather delighted.

"Would you look at that." Arthur murmurs and John glances over to him.

"Why do you think he's here?" John asks and while Arthur has a vague idea that it might be because of them, he isn't entirely sure. Trelawny has always been a bit impossible to read in that regard, coming and going as he pleases and Arthur could never tell when he might be back or why or even where he went.

He watches as Trelawny steps away from Hosea and enters their wagon with a jaunty little wave. "Let's ask him. Trelawny!" Arthur greets the man and sees the hidden relief briefly flash in Trelawny's eyes as he spots them. "What bring you here?"

"You all, of course." Trelawny says with his usual bit of flourish, setting a handbag down on an empty bench. He's keeping his voice down though, conscious of the two strangers sitting up front. The man is still asleep, but the woman peeks over her shoulder before looking back down at her book. "I heard what happened and was on my way back so see if I could help." Trelawny gives them a short, soft laugh. "If I hadn't seen Hosea and Miss Molly just now, I would have headed towards the mountains, none the wiser that you're already on your way back home."

Trelawny looks them all over and his face gentles a bit, as he takes a seat, sitting sideways so he can still look at all of them. "How are you?"

"Been better." John answers. "But we're alive."

"That certainly counts for something." Josiah agrees easily and gives them another smile. "Well, I hope you don't mind my company."

"You're comin' with us?" Arthur asks and Trelawny nods.

"I won't bother you for long, of course, but I'd love to see what you built. How is the ranch, is it everything Tommy promised you?"

"It is." Arthur answers and Trelawny looks pleased. "You're welcome to stay, if you want."

"I know." There is something warm to Trelawny's smile. Then he straightens and lightly claps his hands. "So, tell me, what happened? I only heard bits and pieces so far."

The mood takes a bit of a turn and Arthur sees a quiet realization in Trelawny's eyes and his face grows solemn.

"Or maybe, at a later time." He says, his voice a bit softer.

"Yeah." John answers quietly, a furrow between his brows. Javier has his lips pressed together and there is a frown on his face. He looks tired again.

Trelawny folds his hands in his lap. "Well, for what it's worth, I'm glad to see you all alive."

~*~

Arthur realizes that he only, truly, starts to feel at ease when they're days and miles upon miles away from the east. The landscape changes slowly around them and with every day, it looks more and more like the west that he remembers. Even if it's steadily going through change, there is just something about it that feels like it welcomes him.

It really settles in him then, the realization they made it to the cursed east and back. They lost Miss Grimshaw, but all the others? They're fine, they're alive and Arthur finally, really manages to sleep again without the haze of medicine helping him along.

His injuries keep on healing nicely and he's getting more mobility back. The lingering pain stays on the down low, so he can check up on his horse a few times on the journey. Storm's shoulder looks better every time he sees it and at this rate she'll be fine before him. Arthur couldn't be happier about it.

Trelawny stays with them all the while and Hosea catches him up on anything that happened. Once or twice, Arthur wakes up late at night and catches them both still awake and talking quietly, faces either grim or solemn. Arthur doesn't know what to say about any of the things that happened. Even with all the time he's had to come to terms with everything and Dutch, words still escape him. Then again, it's always easier for him to write things down than to say them.

His thoughts wander back to Dutch, in the quiet morning hours when he's awake before the others and only Charles is up as well, or during the too quiet meals when he eats something that brings back memories. Arthur wonders where Dutch hunkered down and if he keeps things on the down low, or if he still thinks that making a big noise is the best course before...before what? Arthur is pretty certain Dutch has absolutely no intentions to go to Tahiti or to leave in general.

It's also a bit of a moot point to think about it. Dutch is most likely still back in the east and Arthur has no intentions of returning. If life is for once truly good to them, they won't see each other again.

"Two more stops." Hosea speaks up one day during lunch. "Then we'll have to get off and ride the rest of the way."

Arthur feels his chest squeeze tighter for a moment. Two more stops and then they're just a few more miles away from home. They'll be back soon. It's as relieving as it is quietly exciting. Arthur is almost surprised, at how happy he is at the thought of the ranch. Before, home has, in an abstract way, always been something that moved, has always been more people than a place, but now it's both. Now home is the cabin he shares with Charles and everyone living around them. Home has been a hard earned thing, gritty and filled with blood and slowly blurring memories, but they have it now.

Arthur gets progressively, quietly, more restless the closer they come to their stop. Charles, who gives him an understanding look, seems subtly impatient as well. It would be hard to notice for anyone who didn't know him well, but Arthur catches the way his fingers keep seeking something to touch, be it his sleeve, his necklace or, on occasion, the back of Arthur's hand.

From the corner of his eye, he catches Sadie's knee jiggling as she stares out the window and John can't seem to resist tugging at his collar, shifting a little in his seat then and again. Karen has fallen quiet, which with her means she's attentively waiting for something as well and Tilly keeps rearranging her skirts, while Molly touches her braid again and again.

Then they finally arrive, they're all on their feet before the train even fully stops, bags already in hand. The few passengers that have been with them the last few stops give them parting nods, some of them wishing them a good day, as they step out onto the platform. It's a relief, to finally, properly walk and move again and Arthur feels the way he settles a bit more into his own skin.

Their horses neigh and snort as they're let out of the wagon, giving their bodies big shakes and then quickly walking away from the train, as though to make sure they're not getting stuffed back in. Storm walks without a limp now, though Arthur is certain he shouldn't overdo it with riding anytime soon. Still, the moment he gets on her back, he can feel her excitement, head thrown high and she barely holds still long enough for the others to get in the saddle as well, before she's already moving.

Arthur exhales and some tight knot in his chest unfurls at finally riding again, at being on this impossible, brave horse and relishing in the fact that they both survived. The east didn't take anyone else from him.

The roads are unfamiliar to all of them and they only have a few hours of daylight left, but they know in which direction to go. The air is filled with the scent of grass and flowers and the heat of the summer sun settles across his shoulders like a warm blanket. Storm calms down an hour or so into the ride and her somewhat choppy gait smooths out. She snorts and Arthur can feel her relax, her pent up energy spent to the point where she's at ease again.

"Sorry, my girl." Arthur murmurs and pats and scratches her neck. "We're done with that now. No more trains, alright?"

Storm snorts again and Arthur can't help but smile at her.

They're stopping before the sun begins to set and Hosea and Charles disappear for a bit to go hunt them a meal. It's nice and achingly familiar, to sit around the fire together and listen to the hum and buzz of insects while the stars start to appear over their heads. The mood is good too, since they're all relieved to be off the train. Trelawny regards them with one of his stories and Javier has recovered enough that he's smiling and even laughing a bit again. There is still pain in his eyes in lasting moments of silence, but Arthur knows he'll get back on his feet. And he isn't alone either this time.

Hosea and Karen start singing a song, most of their group joining in and Arthur finds himself singing along quietly as well, relief once more blooming bright in his chest at seeing them being happy in this moment.

This night, he sleeps without nightmares or strange dreams, warm and content and the scent of campfire smoke soaking into their clothes. The horses are close by, grazing or sleeping themselves, happy after half a day of steady riding and being on the road again.

They're back in the saddle the next morning after the break of dawn, even if most of them are still rather sleepy. Karen grumbles about it and the lack of coffee, but she too wouldn't want to wait any longer. They're all eager to get back, to the rest of their ragtag little family and the place they made for themselves in this corner of the world.

It still takes them most of the day, right up until another sunset greets them as they crest a hill and finally see their ranch come into view. Arthur inhales as he sees it, the sinking sun casting golden light over the fields and pastures and houses. A sudden surge of longing flares up in him and he can't help but nudge Storm to walk a bit faster, to get there sooner. John too, is riding ahead briskly, obviously eager to get back to Abigail and Jack. Karen seems impatient as well. All of them do.

"I must say, my dear boy." Trelawny speaks up quietly while leaning towards Arthur from his spot behind Hosea on Silver Dollar. "You really found a little haven, didn't you?"

"Everyone made it into that." Arthur answers quietly. "They put a lot of work into it."

Trelawny gives him a kind smile and a pat on his good shoulder, the other almost completely healed. A few more days and he should be right as rain again. "I can see that. It's a beautiful place."

It really is. Arthur sees the others notice their arrival the moment they ride through the gate - it's been prettied up, someone took the time to make a real sign with a name on top of the gate and nailing a horseshoe beside it.

"John!" Abigail's voice rings out first and then they're hurrying towards each other, John quickly jumping off Old Boy the moment he's close enough. Arthur can see Jack by the main house, quickly setting down a kitten before he runs over as well and they're all hugging each other as much as possible.

Karen swings out of the saddle too and she and Sean meet in the middle in a tight hug that must jar her shoulder, but she's only gripping him back.

"You're back." Mary-Beth hurries towards them as well, her face brightening at seeing them. "Tilly, Javier, it's so good to see you!" Mary-Beth pulls them both into hugs the moment they're off the horses and by then, everyone else has reached them too.

"Welcome back." Lenny says as he pulls Arthur into a hug. He hugs the kid back, who smiles brightly and after a pat to his shoulder, moves to hug Charles as well. Kieran greets them with relieved smiles and Arthur isn't the slightest bit surprised to see a kitten clinging to his shoulder and refusing to be set down, even as he gently tries to encourage the cat to move.

The kittens are big enough to walk around the ranch now it seems, though they're still sweet and cute. Arthur is absolutely certain no one is going to chase the cats off either, so they're most likely going to have a couple of them around the ranch. He wouldn't shoo them off either, not when looking at the little one nuzzling into Kieran's hand.

"You came back." Abigail reaches for Arthur then, dragging him into a tight hug and her laugh is slightly shivery and most certainly relieved. "You kept your promise."

Arthur hugs her back and when she lets go, she's still smiling widely. They're all so happy to see them, it warms Arthur's chest thoroughly. Abigail hurries to hug Sadie next and Arthur catches a few muffled words, caught between their shoulders and he looks up at a light touch to his hand.

"Let's get the horses settled." Charles says quietly, casting a kind glance to the others. "And let them finish their reunion. We can join them again in a bit."

They collect the horses and bring them towards the pasture. Hosea, who starts to slowly herd the others towards the main house, promising to tell them what happened, pauses for only a second to give them a thankful nod. John has Jack on his hip who smacks a kiss to his cheek and Abigail gives his shoulder a glance, as though she knows exactly that he got hurt and is trying to figure out how the wound might look beneath.

Charles and Arthur take off the saddles and bits and one after another, the horses trot out onto the pasture, greeting the others with snorts and neighs. Merely Storm and Taima stay close to Charles and he, as they start grazing. Looking back at the main house and watching their patchwork family slowly head inside, still chatting excitedly enough that he can hear their voices, Arthur's hand finds Charles's.

"We're finally home." He says quietly and he sees the warm, gentle smile Charles gifts him. Arthur feels himself smiling back, slightly swaying towards him. A moment later, their foreheads press together, warmth and breath shared and with the soft snuffling of horses to one side, the muffled voices of everyone to their other. The gesture is relief and gratefulness and finally relaxing fully, knowing that they're safe and where they're supposed to be.

The kiss is a light, soft thing, half shared breath and half just the desire to be close. To hold each other as they settle back into their home, their hearts easing and filling with quiet, warm happiness. It's one moment where no longer having his hat is useful, as Arthur tilts his head and feels the brush of Charles's nose against his, their breaths gently fanning over their cheeks.

They made it and they're finally home again. The rest of their lives is ready to begin.