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Price to be Paid

Chapter Text

“See that one? Easy. Go nick his watch.”

You laughed and smiled over your shoulder at Abigail as you walked over towards the cart that had stopped from one of the nearby farms selling apples in the middle of town, red and bursting to be eaten. A man who was picking out which ones looked best out of the pile didn’t seem flustered by your sudden appearance which was good. It made the next part easier.

“Oof! Excuse me sir, I didn’t see you there. Are you okay? Oh, let me help wipe that off your shirt.”

Coffee bled a dark brown down the man’s white shirt as he hastily moved to grab something to stop the spread, and you were ready with your handkerchief. While he snatched it out of your hands, you removed his pocket watch without him knowing, the pressure of your hands on his torso masking the motion. The cold coffee had been sitting on the edge of the cart as if someone had forgotten it in their haste to leave for the center of town. He huffed and hawed and made a bigger fuss than you could have hoped for, but the nearby prying eyes only saw a silly girl who managed to spill coffee onto the boy buying apples.

You smiled one last time at him and batted your eyes then flounced down the street and around the alley to meet Abigail. She laughed and grabbed your shoulder while you showed her the watch; no engraving or photo slipped inside which made you relax at the fact it wasn’t overly sentimental.

“Now see, this here is exactly what you can pawn off. A good 8 dollars for this, plus whatever else you can grab adds up fast. Then maybe...a way out?” her eyes were kind as her mouth twisted into a koi smile.

You smiled back at Abigail. The past few months while she and her gang were in town you had grown close. She hadn’t divulged too much about the people she ran with and that you could understand. The world was dangerous and full of opportunities and you couldn’t judge her for the choices she had made to keep her and those she cared about safe. You had never really left the town you were raised in and your family was your ‘gang’, but their secrets would never haunt others that you choose to surround yourself with. You knew she had a man, maybe not a husband but someone she loved. And a son that she loved more than anything in the world. Although she’s never told you outright about him, you’ve seen her buy (or steal) little trinkets and toys that no grown man would want. That’s when Abigail taught you the same tricks. How to divert the attention of shop owners so your hands could dart into your pockets with stolen food, or how to nab items to pawn to build up your own funds when you bump into folks and cause a scene. You had been eyeing the mountains outside of town a lot more lately, and thinking how great of an escape you could make.

“Where would I even pawn these? Do I walk in with everything at once?” you asked her. She contemplated for a moment.

“You don’t want to walk in with arm loads of stolen things, but a few here and there should be okay...maybe clerks will let you trade them for goods! Like for food or clothes and such. There’s a good pawn shop in Rhodes, but that’s a long ways from here in Blackwater.”

Your hometown, or at least the place you had been raised in, was hot, dry, and desert like most of the year. The people were kind and you liked being situated by the river. On particularly hot nights you would sneak out and sit by the slow and lazy moving water, imagining it was carrying you someplace new and far away, where no one would know you and you could start over. But you knew that idea was just that and there was no escaping. Small fantasies were all you had. Some nights you yearned for your life that began in Boston, but Blackwater was the only home you had ever known.

Abigail brought you back to the present with her hand on your arm. “Y/N, I might have to leave soon. I don’t want to but there are things I can’t change that are set in motion by the people I’m with. You’re...well I guess my friend and I wanted to let you know.” You laughed at her hesitation to call you a friend. Knowing her it isn’t an insult. If anything, she means it as a way to say she doesn’t get close to many people and has somehow chosen you.

“Abigail I appreciate you telling me, but I’ll see you again! I am not worried.” Sometimes your blind optimism got the better of you. Damn those novels that you got lost in. Few things brought you pleasure like the chapters of a book.

The two of you clasped hands and parted for the day as the sun set behind you. Slowly but surely you were building a collection of items that had been lifted off the residents of Blackwater and were going towards your future pawn trips. As much as you loved the town and its dusty, dirty humbleness there was a darkness that lived there.

You neared your house and felt your heart drop to your stomach as the parlor light flickered on meaning your mother was not home, but your father was. Dad had a mean drinking problem, and as the man in charge of some government organization had power which mixed terribly with his vanity. He wanted everyone to know that he and he alone was in charge.

Climbing up the steps quietly you hoped to sneak by. That damn fourth step gave you away, and you silently swore as your father barked for you to come back down.

“Y/N! Get down here. How dare you walk by and not say hello to your father?” You mumble an apology and kissed him on the cheek, the smugness in him as strong as the whiskey on his breath. As you turned to head to the kitchen for dinner he grabbed your elbow hard enough to make you wince. “Were you in town today,” he asked, but it was more of a statement than a question. He must have seen you, or heard about Abigail somehow.

“Y-yes father, I spent the day in town. At the market, there was a wagon from a nearby farm…” you drifted off and tried to walk to the other room. Your father stood abruptly, but was distracted by your mother opening the kitchen door. She was a force of pure good and the only thing that could tame your father’s wild ways. Her face beamed and invited you both for dinner.

“How was town today, Y/N? The apples look delicious.” You mother winked at you and motioned to the three red apples sitting on the counter waiting to be baked into a pie for dessert. While in town you didn’t even notice her so she must have moved quietly. The roast chicken and potatoes were delicious and you couldn't eat fast enough. After dinner, your father went out to the back porch to smoke while your mother sat and played cards with you.

“Mother, why don’t we just leave?” you whispered. This was a conversation you had had many times in the past. “If we packed and left at midnight he couldn’t track us. We could go to the mountains, move west or even north again! A new city with no one following us and we could make a new life. Work in an art gallery or a farm or...just some place nice and safe. Where no one could hurt us.” The darting of your eyes was not missed by your mother who had never known about your father and how his rage manifested late at night. He always did have a knack for hitting you in places that no one else would ever see.

Her hand was soft as it wrapped around your own. You knew this fantasy would never happen but you always hoped someday she would finally agree.

“My dear, we musn't run away from those things that we fear. Fear only increases when we turn our backs to escape rather than face it head on.”

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The next day in town you met up with Abigail again. You knew the time was coming for her to leave from the way she clung to you a little tighter and laughed more forced and often. It made you sad to think that this bright light in your life lately would just be gone due to...whatever it was that would drag her away. Loyalty and family all meant something to you of course. But it was still upsetting to think that this exciting time would soon be over.

“The last thing I’ll teach you as a thief is this. In order to pull off a good heist, you have to believe. With everything you have. A poor orphan left to die on the side of the road? Believe. Someone who just got robbed and needs a ride to town? Believe. Someone who isn’t being abused by a man somewhere in town? Believe.”

She stared you down hard during this last line. You flinched and moved to cover the bruise that had been exposed when you rolled your sleeves up from the heat. A soft expression met you when you looked up to her blue eyes.

“I...It’s nothing I promise.”

“And that, hon, is exactly what I was talking about. You have to believe. Make it out of this town, safe. Please. If not for me, maybe just for you.” You watery eyes meet hers and you realized that it’s obvious to everyone but you that leaving may just be your last hope to being happy. The only issue you have is leaving your mother behind with the monster that hides behind the eyes of your father. His rage wasn’t always there. Mother said as a child you lived happily in Boston just the three of you. It was supposed to be four, and that’s where the trouble began. When your brother was lost a few days after his birth your father couldn't stand it. The whiskey was his crutch, and it soon became more of a constant burden. Every day it seemed he stumbled in from work already drowning in the vile stuff. Even the thought of its scent brought you gagging now. Your mother says that’s the reason you had to leave the northern city and move to the nowhere town of Blackwater and start all over again. That drink and the havoc it caused.

While you had the time the two of you decided to celebrate. Sitting in the saloon you clinked your drinks and cheersed to seeing each other soon someday. Abigail loved hometown whiskey and your poison of choice was gin. Many drinks later and the two of you stumbled out to the main road, needing fresh air after leading the whole bar in a great rendition of a popular song. You swayed in the heat that met you outside of the doors. A huge commotion down by the water caused half the town out to come bursting out to the roads behind you. Galloping horses, screaming, and gunshots were all you could make out. Damn those drinks and whatever was in them! You couldn't see more than four feet in front of you, and everything beyond that was a big old blur.

“Y/N! We need to move. Now!” Abigail somehow sobered up and was in charge of the whole situation. “Get behind that building and pretend you don’t know me-” but her words were cut short by a man grabbing her arm and yanking her down the road.

“Abigail!! Hey! Let her go!” You chased, well, more like stumbled after, the pair and beat his arm with your fists. He released Abigail and grabbed your hands, shoving them down by your sides and forcing you to stare into his eyes.

“Now what in the hell are you doing?” You stare dumbstruck into his face thinking that you might have landed yourself right into one of your novels. Beautiful blue eyes searched your drunken face and you couldn’t even speak. His eyebrows pulled together and crows feet showed around the edges of his eyes, years of the open sun and road changing the landscape of his face. Stringing coherent thoughts together was a struggle when Abigail shoved the man.

“Arthur! Let her go she’s my...she’s my friend.”

Arthur raised his eyebrows, “Abigail I have to get you back to John-”

Three men raced around the street corner on horseback and shouted in your direction. “Those three! Stop them! They’re linked with them gangs from the riverboat!”

You swung around to face Arthur and Abigail. “What have you done. Your gang! What did you do!”

Arthur swore and grabbed you by your waist. “Abigail, get on that grey horse there. The bay is mine.” She nodded and took off down the road. You cursed and swung as hard as you could but it was no use, this man had you captive as he put you on the horse and followed Abigail. The lawmen were not too far behind and you heard the bullets they fired whisk by you and hit the buildings down the street. From the back of a horse you watched the faces of people you knew zip by faster and faster, and with them the memory of who you were confined to be quickly slipped away. What a strange turn of events in the past few months. Abigail had taught you how to pickpocket and thief your way hopefully to a new life, but instead of taking that route here one was riding you off on a horse. It scared you, but you couldn't look back.

A sharp and terrible pain grabbed you suddenly as a bullet met your left side below your ribs. Screaming, you almost fell off the horse but managed to clutch onto Arthur’s shirt with weak fingers. He turned around at the noise and seemed upset as his face filled with worry when looking at the blood spilling onto your shirt. The pain proved too much and the last thing you remember was landing on a hill of grass with dust swirling all around as the sound of pounding hooves ringing your ears from all directions.

Chapter Text

The dry grass poked through your dress and somehow kept you alert. Breath in and poke your left leg, breath out and lose the pain in your right arm. Once again to poke your neck, and the exhale sent joy to your upper spine. The yellow spines of grass alternated between pain and relief and that was all you could focus on. The gun shot in your ribs was the most pain you had ever felt and everything was exploding around you. Arthur had dropped you off the horse to save himself, or so you thought, and tears rolled down your cheeks at the thought of dying like a common criminal on the side of the road.

“Father would be...so...angry,” you wheezed to yourself as your hands shakily applied pressure to your wound. There was so much blood, and you couldn’t tell if it was the gin or the blood loss that was causing your vision to swirl violently. Closing your eyes didn’t help but it did squeeze out more tears you were trying to hold back.

“Hey there! No, don’t close them eyes, ya gotta stay awake.”

You don’t know the voice, but it helped center the spinning. Hands suddenly applied pressure to the gunshot and you tried to make out the face. Arthur, he had come back for you.

“Get up, girl. I’m sorry but we have to be moving.” He picked you up and set you down on the horse again but in front of him this time so he could wrap his arms around you and keep you upright. The bouncing set you off in pain again but you tried to stifle it down. The men chasing behind you were not that far off and you could only imagine how things would end if you were caught.

Twenty minutes later you met up with a group of wagons. This must have been the gang Abigail lived and traveled with. Everyone was frantic as they rushed to gather their items and toss them in the backs with the women and children. The commotion was too much to focus on and details were lost as you tried so hard just to stay awake.

Arthur gently handed you off to one of the wagons. He must have explained something about you but all the voices mixing were muddied and unclear. Once when you were 7, a snake bit your calf and you recall the burst of pain that had accompanied that. The bullet that hit you was along the same lines.

“Doctor! She’s over here. Should be quick then you can go back to Jenny.”

Hands ripped your dress open with a muttered apology and began to work on stitching you up. After wiping the blood away you realized it wasn’t so bad after all. That damn gin made such a mess of it all. A few minutes later and you are good to go, the bullet had made a clean exit and should be healed in two weeks or so. Sleep and rest were the only things he ordered before dashing out of the now moving cart to catch up with others who were hurt.

You coughed as the bumpy road caused your head to spin again. Now that you were at least patched up, there was nothing to keep you from closing your eyes like you so desperately wanted to. No one to protest if you drifted off for a bit to maybe sleep off some of the gin.

A few hours later a particularly large jump in the wagon caused you to awake. The effects of the alcohol had worn off but the pain from your gunshot sure hadn’t. Clutching your side you look out the back of the wagon to find an entirely new environment. Snow was falling delicately all around and you stuck hand out as you had never seen it before, the cold flakes hitting your hands made you smile.

The further up the mountains you traveled the colder the air around you became. Snow was now thick and packed down which slowed the rate the wagons could move, and a terrible wind picked it up and threw it every which way, making it hard to see. The caravan stopped, and a deep, rich voice called out, ‘Alright ladies and gentlemen! This town, Colter, is to be our home until this here storm blows over.” You recognized Dutch’s caramel timbre from previous stops as he swept his arms and motioned to the abandoned mining town you had arrived at. “You have never let me down before, we just need to have a little faith. Mr. Pearson! Ms. Grimshaw! Let’s get this place looking like a camp!”

Ms. Grimshaw barked for the girls to start lighting fires and clearing out the mess the previous owners had so kindly left behind. You didn't know anyone very well and were nervous moving about. The past three days hadn’t been easy. You knew Abigail had dragged you into this movement but she was very distracted by her missing man John. He had set out ahead of the caravan to scout but had not returned in a few days and it sounds like he had been injured on his way out of Blackwater too.

Walking towards the barn Dutch spoke again. “And who would you be, Miss…?”

Before now the only folks who had seen your face were Abigail, Arthur for a few moments, and whoever stitched up your side. You gaped at him for a few moments then responded, “Y/N...Y/N Moore. I got swept up back in Blackwater.” He stared you down until Abigail joined your side and told Dutch you could be trusted.

“For now, help us out. I don’t like taking on a mouth to feed that I do not know, but we have few choices and I’m hoping there is something you can do to contribute.” You nodded and rushed out of the freezing cold into the building.

Abigail stamped the snow off her boots and pulls you over to the side of the cabin. “Y/N I am so sorry this happened. It was all so fast, and what with John missing I forgot you in the other wagon. How’s that side of yours? It healing okay?” You smiled and nodded.

“Abigail I will live. Don’t worry about me! The past few days my side has gotten much better, and I don’t care for what I left back in Blackwater. I may have never seen snow before but this is a bit much.”

Abigail laughed and you were glad. She hadn’t smiled the past day and you liked making her laugh. Or anyone. It was one of your greatest joys to see others around you open up in such a manner.

Inside was truly a disaster. A few broken windows had let the snow in which piled up, and broken cans and bottles littered the floor. Ms. Grimshaw shoved a broom in your hand and you began to clean. The methodical rhythm of the back and forth calmed your nerves and gave you a chance to gently stretch your wound. There was no way that you would complain about that pain however, for it would lead to other questions that you were not ready to face.

After the floor was clean most everyone moved into the main cabin. A fire was lit and the warmth spread through arms and into your core. The chores were not done however so you headed outside to help out. Mr. Pearson was setting up in a small cabin for the stew and began to cook.

“Who the hell are you?” Mr. Pearson stopped stirring and stared you down. You stumbled over the lie you managed to create earlier.

“Y/N Moore. And you’re the cook? Pearson?” He grunted back in reply. “What are you making? I would love to help away from…”

“Ms. Grimshaw? Haha, alright see what you can find around the buildings to add to soup. Don’t wander too far, I’m sure Dutch has an eye on ya.”

Hopefully there was something nearby that you could contribute. The frozen landscape offered little to you as far as meat, but maybe some herbs could be found to mix in.

A few minutes later you returned with ginseng, basil, and oregano that was hiding in a storage cabinet in another cabin. Much of the town around you was long deserted and abandoned. A small building that looked like a church had completely fallen apart and caved in.

Mr. Pearson was grateful for what you could find. “Hopefully after Arthur gets back I can have him and Charles head out hunting. We need some sort of meat if we want to survive.” He motioned to the man standing guard by the main outside fire as Charles, and you left to introduce yourself.

Charles was a very straight forward man. His dark skin hinted at a different heritage from everyone at camp but you didn't dare ask him outright. A thick brow was hardset and scanning the front of the makeshift camp for any movement from friends or foes approaching.

“Mr. Smith, what exactly happened in Blackwater that made this whole gang here run up into the mountains? It’s a small city with nothing exciting happening my whole life until last week.”

“I’m not quite sure what I can tell you. We had a...job...that went south. Lots of folks shot. A full blown detective agency came out and bullets rained everywhere. We lost a few people, but so did they, poor bastards. I don’t know what came of it but we sure as hell had to run because of it.”

Standing by the fire gave you an excuse to escape Ms. Grimshaw and her hawk like eyes for a moment. Any other time watching the snowfall would have been incredible, but you knew you should go help. After a few more exchanges with Charles you headed back into the camp to see what you could aid with.

Ms. Grimshaw was ready with needle and cloth in hand to have you stitch away, and you sat by the other girls to get started. Abigail was in another building with her boy, Jack, which meant you didn't know anyone around you. Slowly, they all introduced themselves as Tilly Jackson, Mary-Beth Gaskill, Karen Jones, and Molly O’Shea. The latter was not present for very long, as she was the affection of Dutch and acted above such things. The others, however, were perfectly nice and you appreciated finally getting to know someone besides Abigail in the gang. Mary-Beth was sweet as pie and shared a love of novels. You hoped that if things went well, she could be a great friend.

While they warmed themselves in the glow of the fire and sewed the broken cloth, you asked to learn about the gang so you can have a better understanding of how things work. Mary-Beth explained it all.

Dutch Van der Linde was the one and only leader, who could charm the pants off a horse. His charisma and charm had saved the gang time and time again and helped gather quiet the crew around him. Hosea and Arthur had been with him for a long time, almost 20 years and their loyalty had never faltered to the father like figure. Arthur was younger of course, but Mary-Beth joked that Dutch and Hosea were fathers to everyone in the camp. Hosea seemed to be softer. Not that he could be any less ruthless but his approach wasn’t always shoot first think second. Books and schemes were his forte. Dutch was a dreamer. The others hadn’t always been around and some drifted in and out. Most had been running together the past few years, but like Charles and Lenny they had joined more recently. It was an impressive crew. Bonds were tested in an escape like they one they had pulled off from Blackwater but it proved that Dutch was the man to follow after all.

The next day they brought back another woman. She howled and cried most of the day as her husband had just been murdered in front of her, poor dear. Arthur, Micah (who you have only heard about), and Dutch found her in a nearby farm. It seemed to be another good place to camp but had gone up in flames. A rival gang called the O'Driscolls were cursed and blamed for the disaster.

You had no idea that the mountains stretched for miles and miles in what seemed all directions. It was still a dream to you from when you planned your lone escape. All of that seemed foolish now that you saw what was actually out here, there was no way you could have survived all by yourself.

Mrs. Adler didn’t say much. You tried to console her with some hot tea one day, but she stared into it until the heat vapors no longer rose from the liquid and her tears began again. What you would not give to be able to better help that woman.

Arthur also brought John back. He was in pretty bad shape they say, which left Abigail free to spend more time with you as she needed to escape the pain of his wounds.

“Are you happy with John, Abigail?” You asked her during the second week stuck in Colter. From their brief interactions it didn’t actually seem like the two could stand each other. She tried to answer, opening and closing her mouth a few times before finally responding.

“He’s the man I love. For better or worse...well, we ain’t actually married yet, but I can’t give up on him. Jack is his son, and we need him.” You nodded, thinking that it would be hard to be destined to love someone who didn’t see the same world as you.

“You have a boy back in Blackwater, Y/N?”

“I did a few years ago. Sweetest man I ever met. His head was up in the clouds dreaming of being a writer. He used to send me poems and songs he would write that made my heart melt. But one night, he was shot in a robbery across town and he did not survive. His father ran the bank and they went to check out the commotion themselves. It made me angry for a long, long time.” The bittersweet memory of Henry didn’t bring tears to your eyes anymore. You had been sweethearts for a year or two and always loved to listen to him talk. He had soft green eyes and dark brown hair that you could still remember the way it would curl in the heat. Now, the memory was a soft place to land and no longer full of sadness. Not that a girl in her late twenties could boast an unbroken heart in this life anyhow.

“Sad business. Maybe someone soon will catch your eye and you can escape this gang before it gets a hold of ya.”

Abigail’s voice had suddenly turned bitter, and her hands moved quickly over the cloth. “Do you not want to be here in the gang Abigail?”

She jerked a string up straight, suddenly thinking she had said too much. The other girls around you watched as she answered. “This is my family. Well, extended family. And for that I am forever grateful.”

The girls all explained how they fell in with the Van der Linde gang and how it seemed to have saved their lives. Most of the folks here loved Dutch for one reason or another. Not romantically, but true, pure love that made them follow him.

The front door burst open and a man you did not recognize waltzed in.

“Would ya look at that! Two pretty new women join us for this hike in the snow. Maybe I can show them a good time and they can warm my bed in this frozen hell.” From the way he leered and snarled, this must be Micah. It seemed odd Dutch would pick up such a greasy character, but maybe there was more than what showed on the surface. Arthur walked in behind him and gave him a good shove.

“Stew’s ready, if anyone besides Micah wants to get it.”

The group rushed out the door happy for real food. Lately Pearson had been scraping the barrel with soup and leaves.

You moved to clean the scraps of cloth up around you but Arthur held up a hand. “Miss Moore, please come with me. Dutch wants a word before you grab some food.” You nodded stoically and followed him, Abigail wasn’t there to defend you now.

The cabin Dutch, Arthur, and Hosea shared was significantly larger and in better shape than what you had been sleeping in. Although the wood floor was just as hard here you could see beds poking from around half shut doors. Molly closed the door to her room when you walked in.

Dutch sat with his feet up to warm by the fire. “So! Miss Moore, is it? How has outlaw life been treating you thus far?” He came off genuine, and motioned for you to sit while the two of you talked. It would have been much more friendly if Arthur wasn’t standing guard by the door and Hosea not sharpening a knife in the corner. You swallowed hard and spoke.

“Nothing like what I read about, sir. It seems much harder than what I’m accustomed too, but I promise I’ll do anything you need. I’m good with pick pocketing and thieving, Abigail taught me in Blackwater. Just...please don’t send me back. If you want me to leave I will but I can’t go back to that town.”

Hosea studied you from the corner where he set down his knife. What once was threatening you could now see was being used to open a can of peaches, and the thought made your mouth water.

“Were there bad people in Blackwater out for you, Miss Moore?”

“Not exactly...no. I was raised there. Lived my whole life in the green house up the hill with the white fence around the porch. I spent every day waking up to stare out the window to the water and wanting...more. Reading about life don’t make it happen in front of you. Sometimes breaking the chain is the only chance ya got.”

All three men were quiet while you spoke. You know it didn’t make much sense to them that some country girl wanted to have an adventure, but to you it wasn’t silly. The burning in your heart was only fueled by the unknown, and you wanted to experience everything.

“So..you ain't a spy, then?”

You stared back at Dutch blankly. A spy…?

“What would I be reporting on, sir? How much colder snow is than I thought?”

Arthur chuckled slightly. “Dutch, we ain’t got nothing to worry about with this one here. That O’Driscoll boy is another story but I think this poor girl just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like I said, I found her with Abigail downtown.”

Dutch nodded and decided you could stay. You would have to pull your weight of course, but that didn’t seem to be a problem. There was so much to do once you left this mountainous hellscape that you were sure something could be arranged.

The two leaders let you go, and Arthur walked you back across the snow to get some stew. You remembered how you first thought of him when you came bursting out of the saloon and laughed.

“What’s so funny, Miss Moore?”

“I was just thinking back to how I met you. I must have looked a drunken fool thinking I could beat you off of Abigail to save her.” He laughed slightly, and put a hand on your back to duck into the meal hut together.

“Nah, I seen plenty of drunk women in this line of work. Some more memorable than most. Now most don’t try and hit me but I can’t say you’re the first.”

You tried to squelch the butterflies in your stomach as he handed you a bowl and looked up from under his hat, but you knew it would be of no use. The snow made his eyes so bright, and his cheeks were pink from the heat of the stew.

“I do wonder why you were running from Blackwater though. It’s a nice enough town once you get past the dust.”

You stared into your stew and hoped to avoid the question. “I...Not everyone...It’s complicated,” you stuttered and shoved a heaping pile of food into your mouth. The taste was somewhere between grass and dirt roasted chicken, which made you gag. Arthur laughed hard and yelled out at the cook.

“Looky here, Pearson! Someone else who is disgusted by this food. She may have just joined us but I believe we can make an outlaw of her yet.”

Chapter Text

Three more weeks. That’s how long you were all stuck in God damn Colter. Tensions ran high as blowhards like Micah started to feel too cooped up, and you had to verbally beat him away more than once. Someone was always with you to help but you dreaded the day he managed to find you on your own.

Finally, finally, the storm broke and Dutch decided to make a break for it. Last week a group attacked a rival gang for dynamite supplies to rob a train which ended up being a success. They managed to grab some bonds that Hosea promised he could sell quick and get the gang money, something that was desperately needed to buy supplies once off the mountain.

“Alright, Ms. Grimshaw. Get this place packed up and ready to go! We are finally leaving this mountain!” Dutch cried out one morning. Whooping rang out as people scrambled to gather their few belongings. It wasn’t long before the 5 wagons were packed and ready to go. The 4 covered wagons were filled with people who were injured or healing, so you got stuck in the semi open wagon with Hosea and Arthur. The snow wasn’t falling by this time so it wasn’t too cold. You listened to them talk comfortably with one another and forget you were in the back. Every once in awhile Hosea would ask you a question. His eyes were kind as they turned to give you their full attention.

Once the wagons passed the snow line, the green valley was in full view below. You had never seen anything like it, Blackwater in the fall couldn’t even come close to this beauty.

Trees towered above you and reached upwards towards the blue sky, their leaves contrasting against the dark mountains with sprigs of the brightest green. Rivers and lakes could be seen below, and everything was so different from the dead grass you were used to seeing during June back home. Crossing one such stream proved too much for the wagon Arthur was driving, for as soon as it made it over the back left wheel fell off.

“Ah, shit!” Arthur jumped down as the whole wagon veered back. You tried to grab everything you could from falling but a few bags and canisters still managed to land in the mud.

“Everything alright back there?” someone called from ahead.

“I broke the God damned wheel.” Arthur’s tone was serious but you couldn't help but laugh. He glanced up, surprised to see you still in the back. “You hang in there okay, Miss Moore?”

You nodded and motioned to the bags you were restraining from joining those that had fallen out of the back. “You boys need help with that?” Charles had ran up to offer Hosea a hand at lifting the wagon while Arthur rolled the wheel back into place. Arthur waved his hand at you to stay and the whole wagon lifted suddenly. In no time everything was set in place and ready to go.

Charles swung himself up to the back to sit with you on one of the crates. Hosea and him started talking about the Native Americans in these parts, the Heartlands, and how they were so mistreated by the government. Your grandfather on your mother’s side had been Native American, but he moved off the reservation when your mother was born and resided in Boston. You had only known him as an infant but your mother was very fond of him. Charles explained his sad story of how he ended up on his own, and it only occurred to you then that you and your family had been so lucky.

Talk soon turned to where you were headed to make camp. Hosea had been there before and thought it would be suitable. “There’s a livestock town not far from here, called Valentine. Cowboys, outlaws, working girls. Our kind of place.”

Arthur chimed in, “O’Driscolls?”

“Probably them too.”

“Pinktertons?”

At the mention of the large detective agency your father was a part of, you gripped the side of the wagon too hard. A splinter caught your hand and you shook the pain out, but not before you noticed Charles watching you intently. You had flinched massively when Arthur mentioned their name.

“Let’s hope not,” Hosea answered. It had never occurred to you that that was who the Van der Linde gang was on the run from. You knew the agency was based in Chicago but had a large force down south and must have been called in to see about catching the gang. The man in charge of the Blackwater division was a mean old thing that waltzed around and scared the town to bits. Someone your father, of course, admired greatly.

The wagons eventually moved through a small forest and came out to a clearing. Hosea called it Horseshoe Overlook. A morning fog hung over the new campsite and gave a glow to the tents that were already set up. You hoped down and walked out to where Abigail was setting up their new home. John had to be carried in, his leg still bandaged and aching. The scars on his face looked better from the weeks of healing in Colter, but Abigail hadn’t let up on him for one moment. Little Jack was running and chasing a butterfly through the grounds, happy and free. Not everyone had the same enthusiasm for the new place. Javier, one of those most loyal to Dutch, was sour at being on the run again. He grumbled in Spanish while hoisting his tent over the standing poles. Ms. Grimshaw pulled you to a few standing barrels and asked you to fill them with water from the stream.

“The one way down at the bottom of the hill?” you stared incredulously. She looked as though she was about to swing at you so you darted under her pointing arm with two buckets and began the trek.

All around you were new sights. Bushes, and animals, and trees softly swaying in the breeze. You wished you could draw to try and capture some of the newfound beauty, but art had never come easy. Your hands had been made for great things but holding a pencil was not one of them.

By the time you had all three water barrels brimming to the top you were hot, sweaty, and the camp was almost entirely set up. Ms. Grimshaw had orders from Dutch to set up a temporary site for you just past Arthur’s wagon and next to a tree. You figured this was so you couldn't run without either passing Arthur, or jumping headfirst off of the cliff. Neither, surprisingly, seemed like viable options.

Dutch was talking with Arthur and Hosea when he started walking back towards the center of camp. “Now, everyone put down your tools for a moment. Come on gather round, quickly now. I know that things have been tough but we are safe now, and we are far too poor. So it is time for everyone to get to work. It is time for everyone to earn their keep!”

The gang moved off back to whatever they had planned after the speech when Dutch motioned to you. He and Hosea were in his tent with Molly O’Shea. “Now, Ms. Moore, what can I expect from you?”

Three sets of eyes watched you think of something to say. Clearly he had set this up so that Abigail couldn't sweep in and save you. You tried to come up with some ways to make money. You had no clothes besides those on your back, no discernible skills besides pick pocketing and singing, and a whole camp of people to prove yourself to.

“Well, I - I can sing real well, and pickpocket the best of them. I’m a fast learner and decent with a bow, I learned to hunt from up high. I promise that I can pull my weight and hold my own here, I just need to be given a chance.”

You must have sounded desperate because Molly spoke up. “Moore? That’s an Irish last name. She’s good to stay with me.”

Hosea and Dutch were very surprised by her contribution but agreed that you could stay on a trial period. You left with renewed confidence, and set off to see about a horse. If you could head into town and sell the few items you had in your pockets you could pick up a decent bow. Bows meant hunting, and there was your contributions all in place.

A group was planning on heading into Valentine to check it out and you were pleased to see Mary-Beth was among them. Abigail decided to stay with John and Jack but you promised to grab some herbs for her while you were out. The wagon kicked into motion and rolled up the hill to meet the town of Valentine.

Overall, it was not a great place. Blackwater was larger, and at least had some paved roads. The mud on the main road got stuck everywhere and somehow it always seemed wet. The people were friendly enough and bought your cover story about why the gang was in the area.

The bell in the general store dinged quietly when you pushed the door open. A man was hunched over the catalog and in deep conversation with the owner so you decided to browse before making any purchases. All the same goods as your general store back home greeted you, but there was no happy memory associated with being in that place. Finally the shopkeeper called you over and you handed him the list of what you needed. Canned fruits and vegetables that could last, dried meats for the hunters when they headed out of camp, treats and food for the horses, herbs for Abigail, and some drinks for sitting around the campfire.

“Of course. I can gather these for you. Is that your wagon out front? I’ll load them onto it for you while you shop around town.”

You smiled and thanked the man. The bell above the door dinged again and Mary-Beth walked in to greet you. “Oh, Y/N, let’s get you set up with some new clothes. Those old things haven’t lasted well through our travels and I would love to see you in something blue. I would say green, but that's Molly’s color and she’s hotter than a fire poker when someone else wears it.”

“Did I tell you she’s the reason I get to stay? When Dutch and Hosea asked what I could contribute I couldn’t think of one darn thing, but because my surname sounds vaguely Irish she laid down the law that I must stay.”

Mary-Beth looked at you with wide eyes. “Most days she won’t even share the same air as these folks. You must have really done something to her, YN!”

She held a stunning blue cloth up against your torso. “This. I am adding this to our pile before he notices so we can make you a new dress. Or shirt, it would look keen tucked into your pants now.” Mary-Beth snagged some lace for herself and rushed out the front door, smiling at the attendant as she passed him on her way out.

Discussing your contribution reminded you that you needed to see the gunsmith before the wagon left for the day. Walking back to camp through the mud sounded like a nightmare.

Arthur was in the gun shop trying out a new long range rifle. He was holding it up in the air while the attendant repositioned his shoulders. “Now sir, you should know that this one has quiet the kick. Be careful and don’t hold on too tight or your shoulder will go right out.” Arthur nodded and placed the gun down on the counter. You browsed the bows on the opposite wall and picked a sturdy one out. It was tall, almost to your shoulder height, but you knew the power it held in its limbs. Testing it out proved you right, and you asked the shop keep how much it was.

Your jaw dropped at the total and you quickly put it back, embarrassed you had even touched it. Arthur chuckled lightly before reaching over you and plucked it back out of the case.

“Mr. Morgan, please, you know I can’t afford that.”

He looked back over at you and said, “Way I see it this is for the camp. You know how to hunt, we need meat, camp only gets fed if meat comes in. Therefore, you ain’t paying for this one.”

A flush of embarrassment covered your face and neck and you muttered a thank you to Arthur before rushing out the door. Everything has been checked off your list and you headed back to the wagon, but before you reach it you heard a sucking sound and your left boot flew off your foot. Hopping over to a post by the saloon you desperately searched for your boot. The mud smelled, and you scrunched up your nose while you tried to yank and pull but to no luck.

Tilly Jackson was your hero this time. She laughed so hard watching you stumble about she almost didn't make it to the middle of the street from falling over sideways. You watched from your seat in front of the saloon, one foot with a boot and one with only a sock. After a few moments of digging and pulling she succeeded. You whooped with her and quickly laced up your boot.

“I can’t believe this smell! Tilly what awful things does Valentine do to have this affliction sit over the town?”

“Well, Y/N, this here town doesn't have the luxury of being situated by a lake like Blackwater. I reckon the breeze came in and swept away everything that didn’t want to stick around.”

As you contemplated that and watched the wagon being loaded up to head back to camp, the sadness that sat in your heart shocked you. After over a month on the road you began to miss Blackwater and the comfort of being home. It was a strange thing knowing that you were happier now. Your mother and father and friends were all back in that city, going day to day about their normal lives. You wondered if they missed you. But this was your decision and you knew it was for the best.

You chuckle back at Tilly. “Well, I guess that breeze decided to take me too then.”

Chapter Text

Camp over the next few days was exhausting. Between getting everything set up to stay in one place for awhile and getting to know the people you were living with you were tired every night and almost asleep before you hit your bedroll. To say it was uncomfortable was an understatement. The small tent provided you enough room to change your clothes while hunched over, but that was about it. You were extremely grateful to those who gave it to you of course, but sometimes you got caught staring longingly at Arthur's raised mattress and daydreaming about how one night off the ground would feel.

You finally got to test out your new bow one day when the hunting party was relatively small. Arthur, Charles, and Javier accompanied you. Charles watched appreciatively as you took down a few rabbits with your new bow.

"If you move your hand around you'll be able to shoot farther. Instead of all of your fingers pulling from under the arrow, try one over and two under." You gave it a go and the arrow flew much higher than it had been previously. But it landed in a completely different spot than you had been aiming.

"I'll try that! Thank you, Mr. Smith."

"Charles." He smiled warmly at you and clapped your shoulder then headed over to Javier who was not having luck fishing. He seemed to be swearing at them more than catching them, and his cursing in Spanish increased with each cast.

Arthur watched you from across the field. You wondered if he trusted you or not. The two of you had barely interacted in the past week but you still feel bonded to him for saving your life back in Blackwater. You rode over next to him and looked out at the small group of deer feeding on the grass by the lake.

"Easy enough prey if you move quick." He pointed over to the bunch. You had never actually hunted deer before, just smaller game you could get with your bow. Living in town didn't give you a need to hunt purely for meat. His eyes barely moved from watching the herd ahead of him.

You were sitting upon a borrowed horse again, still not able to afford your own. A beautiful grey and white mare had come into the stables in Valentine recently and you had your eye on it.

One of the deer picked up it's head quickly as if it caught your scent on the wind. Raising your bow and using the new technique Charles taught you, you easily took one down. The pair of you rode over and the rest of the herd dashed away and pulled it up to your horse's back.

"Mr. Morgan, would you teach me how to skin this? I want to earn enough to buy a horse in town."

He raised his eyebrows at you. "You sure you want to get blood on your clothes, Miss Moore?"

Your temper flared up. "I'm out here hunting, ain't I? If I was worried about my clothes I would be content sewing and cleaning and cooking with the others. Just because I'm from town don't mean I can't learn other ways. Now, do you start with this end or the other one?" You pointed to the head, thinking it was wrong but determined to prove yourself. Arthur showed you the best way to skin it, and what furs to look for. You thanked him and added it to the growing pile on the back of your horse, stretching your arms and back muscles that were sore from your new bow.

"The next time I'm headed to town I'll take ya with me. We can get that horse you've been staring at when you think no one's looking." A smile creeps on your face.

"Thank you, Mr. Morgan."

"Call me Arthur."

 

After you return from the hunting trip, some of the gang decided to go into town. Tilly, Mary-Beth, Karen, Uncle, and Arthur all hop in the wagon and roll out. You decided to stay behind and take a well deserved nap after skinning some rabbits. Robbing and stealing would have to wait until another day when you could be more alert.

Abigail joined you at the table nearest the horses so skin. “Sounds like you got real good with that bow, YN.” You beamed back, so happy you had something good to contribute.

“Abigail it feels so good. And powerful. I can see helping out with the hunting regularly. Seems like I can fit in here.”

Dutch agreed as he sauntered over. “Nice work, Ms. Moore! Now that is what I call helping out thy neighbor. A few more trips like that and we’ll never go hungry again!”

Abigail beamed as the two of you finished cleaning the pelts. “I know it would be good to have you around. I’m so happy, YN, it always comes together. Now go lie down, I can see from your eyes how tired you must be.”

Moments later you curled up on your bed roll, the lazy midday heat helping you drift off to sleep. You dreamt of a stag running through a field and chasing after it, but always being a few steps behind. Dark grass grabbed at your legs and made you feel lethargic and slow. You knew you had to catch it no matter what. You pumped your arms to run as fast as you could, but no matter where it darted next be a stream bed or field of flowers you were always behind.

Shouting in the camp woke you up. The wagon had returned with the additions of Charles, Javier, and Bill. The men were caked with mud and obviously drunk, laughing uncontrollably while recreating what must have been a fight that broke out in town.

Javier wheezed, “And then! And then, he winds back with Arthur in his hands and launches him out the window! Glass was everywhere, nearly cut my ass open trying to follow,” he began howling and couldn’t even finish a sentence. Of course he tried to roll out the window rather than take the front door. “Then! That grande beast looked at Arthur, and called him...called him...pretty boy!” Arthur was grabbing onto the wagon trying to stand up with Charles leaning on him. Javier and Bill finally sat on the ground unable to support themselves standing anymore. The women were laughing as well, but much less loud and brashly. Hosea glanced over the rim of his book to see what happened but quickly went back to his novel once the scene concluded.

A new face rode into camp as the story was ending on a tall while horse. Sharply dressed and a northern accent caught your attention as most of the gang was obviously from further down south.

“Gentlemen! Quiet the street brawl in deed. And our own Arthur Morgan struck fear into the hearts of the gentlemen and caused the women to quiver no doubt! But I come with important news. Dutch, I found where they’re keeping Sean.”

Dutch and Hosea moved quickly over to the man. “Sean! Where is he, Trelawney?”

“Ahh, the problem. He’s in Blackwater with some bounty hunters.”

The gang looked around and waited for Dutch’s call. “If there’s a chance he’s alive, we ride.”

Charles was the first to volunteer to scout ahead first and left immediately. Some of the others needed to sleep off the effects of Valentine and the day’s events. You traded with Pearson the pelts you had kept for cash and left to find Arthur. Finally you had enough to pay him back for the bow he bought you, no matter how he disguised the purchase.

He was standing over a barrel of water dunking his face. You watched him for a moment, then slowly approached. At first you thought he was getting out tough hiding dirt from behind his ears. Then the smell hit you. Valentine’s stench had been amplified with alcohol and rain making Arthur a putrid mess. You tried to subtly cover your nose as you approached.

“Arthur? Arthur, do you have a moment?”

He stopped, sopping wet, to look over at you. “I can come back later if you’d like.”

“Now is fine!” He plopped down on a seat and shook his head with the remaining water causing droplets to spray everywhere. He motioned for you to take a seat but you politely declined.

“I wanted to give you this,” you say as you held out a coin purse full of the $9.50 you owed.

He looked inside and immediately opened his mouth to protest. “Please, Arthur it’s the least I can give you. You’ve saved my life, taught me how to skin an animal, and not hated me for moving in with the gang. Honestly I owe y’all a lot more than I could gather up the past few weeks here.” Nodding he pocketed the purse and with it your debt was paid back. He smiled at you but quickly grabbed his jaw wincing, he must have been hit pretty hard in town. You cleared the seat off and removed his hand to get a better look at the damage. A cut that ran below his mouth and a bruise, but nothing major.

“It’s nothing, that fella just packed a mean punch is all.” No one was around to see you fuss over him, and he didn’t tell you to stop. You pulled a clean rag and some cleaning ointment from your medical bag and gently cleansed the area. Arthur flinched when your left hand met his face to hold it steady but he allowed you to help him with the cuts on his face.

How this bear of a man could have so many sides you hadn’t figured out yet. Outlaw. Sweetheart. Mean. Angry. Soft. But something in his blue green eyes was intriguing enough to make your heart catch in your chest when you stared into them too long. Arthur watched you while you concentrated on rinsing the mud off his chin and you felt the heat rise to your cheeks.

“Is there something on my face too, Mr. Morgan?”

“I told ya to call me Arthur. And no, I just never saw brown eyes shine like that in the sunset before.”

You froze, then remembered to breathe again. “All cleaned up. Hopefully that helps you sleep.” Arthur cleared his throat and thanked you with a tip of his hat and a small smile, then moved back to his tent to rest for the evening. Maybe he didn’t mean the comment in the way you took it. You gazed over the campsite to focus on something else, and it was stunning in the light of the setting sun.

Hosea was spooning stew into a metal bowl for himself when you joined him. “Mind if I sit with you for dinner?”

“Not at all! I’ve been meaning to talk with you. Let’s sit and watch the valley.” It was your favorite view from the site and he must have seen you there with the scenery stuck in your eyes a hundred times already. The two of you used the makeshift table near the edge of Herr Strauss’ tent.

“YN, you’re a reader, is that right?” You nodded excitedly. Finally someone to talk about books with! Not that you would have judged them but some of the folks in camp couldn't read.

Hosea smiled and the two of you discussed which genres you preferred. He loved a good mystery novel, and your weakness was adventure stories. Tales of the way life used to be was so romantic. Pirates plundering for lost treasure, or maybe the knights of the round table. Every new experience was something you yearned for.

“Too bad real life can’t be like that. Even our way of adventure is dying out,” he looked so sad, you put your hand on his arm.

“How long have you been running with Dutch?”

Thinking back, he replied “I reckon nearly 25 years at this point. We found young Arthur maybe 5 years after that, and folks traveled with us here and there. Always dreamed of owning a big old ranch out west somewhere though. That was our goal.” It all sounded so idealistic. Dutch, the loud and confident ranch owner. His second in command Arthur who maybe worked the stables, and Hosea who would be in charge of the hands. Or something like that.

“What’s Arthur’s story, Hosea?” He gave you a funny look, but you didn’t really see it because you couldn't meet his eyes fully.

“Arthur Morgan. Helped raise him since he was a boy. He’s an outlaw alright, wanted in more than 6 states by now. Heart of gold though, something in him always tells what’s right and what isn’t. He follows his instincts even if it gets in a scrap of trouble,” he paused but then continued on. “He’s got a sweetheart, Mary. Ain’t seen her in years now but I bet he still holds a flame for her. She...they...it never worked out.” You nod and finish off your stew. “YN, you’re a pretty girl. I’m sure there’s a hundred men who would love to be with you.”

Laughing you try and correct him. “Hosea don’t worry, I’m not sweet on Arthur. I just spend more time with him silent than I do talking and I wanted to know him a bit better. Please don’t tell him I asked anything.” Hosea nodded and you offered to clear his plates for him so he could light a cigarette and watch the last yawns of the day leave the earth in front of you.

Clean plates set to dry and an aching shoulder from your archery practice drove you to head to sleep early. Passing Arthur’s open tent, you heard him softly snoring as he lay flat on his back. The small table next to him had his journal thrown lazily and two photographs standing upright, but without the sun it was too dark to see who they were of. You’d bet your next meal one is of that Mary, and the jealousy that coursed through you surprised you more than you would have liked to admit. He’s handsome. Of that there’s no doubt. But you’ve seen him flirt a bit in camp with Mary-Beth, and knowing he has someone he’s been pining over made you more dejected than usual. Not that you’ve had any indication he thought of you other than just a person in camp but you had hoped. Another part of the adventure of living life as an outlaw.

After you washed your face with some cold water, you lay down exhausted. The gentle sounds of the camp carry you back to sleep. A small symphony of snores, tree branches, and bodies wrestling around had become your norm. It was comforting to know that even all the way out in Valentine, you were never alone.

***********************************************************************************************************

The next day was the rescue of Sean. You wouldn’t be riding with the main group of course, but you had offered to be with the wagon halfway between Blackwater and camp to help if anyone needed anything with Tilly and Mary-Beth. Because her boys were now both mobile and moving around camp Abigail tended to stay with them instead of riding on missions.

You stretched and moved to get dressed for riding out. The job you had been assigned was to distract anyone coming up the roads, so you picked out an outfit that would seem more upscale than your usual jeans, boots, and long sleeved button up. A short sleeve white top tucked into a full red skirt and was cinched together with a belt you had bought in town. The buckle had a beautiful engraving of flowers on it that reminded you of your mother somehow.

Tilly whistled as you left your tent. “My, YN! You look pretty as a picture. Want help getting that hair pulled back?”

“Sure Tilly! I ain’t even got my own mirror to look at.” She grabbed your hand and pulled you over to where the other girls were sitting and eating breakfast. Mr. Pearson left another plate of food for you and you ate the eggs and bacon quickly, surprised at how hungry you were. Anytime you got nervous your stomach seemed to give you away.

Karen hummed to herself as she ran her hands through your hair in an attempt to brush out the knots. Then she carefully pulled half of it back and pinned it all up with a flower. “There, like a real society lady now.” Mary-Beth looked up from her journal and laughed. Maybe the flower was too much, you moved to cover it with your hand but the girls protested. For the time it would stay then.

Dutch sauntered over. “Alright ladies, here’s the plan. Charles is already out in Blackwater scouting the area, as is Trelawney. Arthur and Javier are heading out soon to begin the rescue mission. Your job is to stay about halfway back and grab Sean when they drop him off and hide him from any prying eyes that are looking for a bounty.”

The girls nod and begin to memorize the map Dutch put on the table.

As soon as the wagon is loaded with folks you all ride out. Javier and Arthur sprint ahead. Everyone was on edge and nervous about rescuing Sean as he was part of the heart of the gang.

“You sure it’s alright for three young women to sit alone in a wagon in the middle of nowhere?” you ask Tilly and Mary-Beth once the three of you are all set up hiding in some trees.

Both of them turn to look at you. “Well, we got our guns in case anything goes wrong, don’t we?”

“I’ve...never actually shot one.” They both stared incredulously.

Mary-Beth found three old cans on the ground and set them up along some rocks as targets. “Alright. So focus with one eye on the target. No! Don’t close the other one. There. Hold it straight out in front of you, steady, and pull the trigger!” You yelped as the gun gave you a bit of kickback. The bullet missed but just barely.

The girls laughed at your attempt. “How you expect to run with a gang if you can’t shoot!”

“I’m trying! I just need practice is all.” The next few hours you alternate between target practice, watching the road, and talking with the other girls. It was terribly boring being lookout on an empty road in the middle of nowhere. The thought of how close you were to Blackwater again made you nervous, hopefully no one from town who could recognize you would pass by. The wrath of your father was a horrible thing to contemplate.

“Quiet, someone’s coming.” Tilly’s voice was sharp as she loaded up her shotgun.

Javier came thundering up the road with someone sitting behind him on his white and gray spotted horse.

“Ah, Miss Tilly Jackson! What a sight for sore eyes you are,” the Irishman drawled. Sean was young and had a full head of red hair. He looked, well, awful after having escaped the hangman’s noose.

“Sean!” Mary-Beth leaped onto him and they both hugged each other happily. You smiled at the reunion.

“And, er, who might this be?” You moved forward to shake his hand. “I’m YN. YN Moore.”

“Another Irish then! Good luck to them bastards back at camp. They can’t stop us now!”

Javier climbed back on his horse and told you all to stay safe, then rode off to meet up with Arthur and Charles. Sean climbed in the back of the wagon, and Mary-Beth joined him. You and Tilly clicked at the horses to start moving and the wagon was off.

“That was easier than I thought.”

“Sometimes these things go real south. The way back should be easy but stay alert just in case.” Tilly’s eyes scanned the road, but the first hour was calm.

You and Sean chatted while he sat in the back of the wagon and you learned more about him. Born in Ireland originally, he came over with his family who was now gone. His father had been an infamous outlaw too.

“What part of the Emerald Isle do you come from, Ms. Moore?”

Your geographical knowledge of Ireland was weak, but you remembered seeing a map at one point. “Galway, west coast. My grandparents left to find a better life.”

“Galway! You know my horse is named Ennis for the county just south of that. Beautiful place. Always did love the smell of the sea there. Fine people come out of Galway.”

Perhaps some distant relative of yours was Irish and you weren’t lying to the gang, but you still felt guilty that it wasn’t the truth. Of course, it was better than them knowing your real relatives.

Ahead on the road there seemed to be an accident. A coach was overturned, the horses shot dead and belongings scattered everywhere along the side of the road. Tilly slowed the wagon down and handed you an extra pistol. “Here. I have a feeling you’re gonna need this.”

Your heart pounded in your ears. No one was around, but the eerie silence didn’t settle well with anyone in the wagon. Tilly tried to rush the horses forward but a man called out from behind a tree.

“Alright, miss. Step on out of that wagon and hand it over now. There’s many more of us than the two of you could take.” He aimed a gun straight at the two of you, and more men walked out to join him. No one moved. The man clicked back the hammer slowly, waiting for your reaction. Behind you Sean and Mary-Beth moved silently into position, and you and Tilly climbed down to stand on the road.

“Alright, mister. All yours. Just put that gun down.” Four men started moving on the wagon, and that’s when Sean and Mary-Beth popped up and started shooting. You fumbled with the pistol in your pocket but one of the men jumped and pinned you to the ground before you could take aim.

You screamed as he tried to get your hands above your head, and you attempted to push and kick him off. He just laughed at you. His knee started to move up your left leg slowly, and real fear started pumping through your veins. The others were busy taking down the remaining two men to help you, so you were on your own.

“I’m gonna take you with us, I think. Tie you up in the back and have my way with you. What a pretty face. You’ll regret ever driving through here…” He went on to describe the terrible things he would do once you were alone.

Although less than half his group remained, he still seemed to think he could take you. Your right arm finally got free from his grip and slapped his face as hard as you could. His recoil was all the movement you needed and without thinking fired the pistol straight into his belly.

Blood spattered everywhere as he fell backwards. You scrambled away as fast as you could and wiped your face, watching the life drain out of the monster on the ground.

“Hey, hey there. You okay Miss Moore?” Sean moved to help you stand but you flinched away. You had never held a gun before a few hours ago, and now you were a murdered. Sure it was in self defense, but panic still spread across your chest hot and white.

The others watched as you finally stood up. You must have looked a frightful sight as Tilly suggested you stop at the lake before heading back to camp.

After the experience with the ambush, the ride back was uneventful. You sat in the back of the wagon with your knees tucked under your chin and didn’t speak the whole way. The thought of that man’s breath on your face and the horrible intentions haunted you, but you know you did the right thing. If he had escaped, some other poor girl could have been attacked too. Or worse from what was planned in his mind.

The stop at the lake was quick as everyone was eager to get back to camp. Your white shirt had no hopes of going back to its original color so you didn’t bother with trying to clean it. The cool water cleared your head and you began to feel better after washing your arms and face. Tilly came up next to you.

“Just checkin’ in. I figured that’s the first man you’ve ever killed.” You liked how to the point she was. It never took long to figure out what she was thinking .

“It was,” you said taking a big breath in. “But I keep telling myself he was bad. The things he said...no one should be able to act like that. What I did wasn’t good, but it sure was right.”

Tilly nodded and patted your shoulder. Eventually, you would come to peace with it.

Back at camp the gang whooped when your wagon rolled in. The others had arrived sooner than you and were eager to get Sean set back up. Dutch clapped him on the back, joy spreading around him like sun rays.

“Let’s have some fun tonight. Let’s enjoy ourselves! A party, just a little one. Mr. Maguire is back! All of you get cleaned up and once the sun sets, we can finally let loose!”

Chapter Text

The long day had taken its toll on you, but you were excited to relax and have a party with the gang. Abigail helped you find a new shirt and took your blood covered one so you didn’t have to think about it. She was a blessing through all of this, even if she was preoccupied with John and Jack most of the time.

Although you had just washed in the lake on the way back to camp, your skin itched with the thoughts of what you had done. One of the wash barrels was close to your tent and you spent a few minutes washing and rewashing your hands and arms, desperate to rid yourself of whatever was making your skin crawl.

“Washing like that don’t help much. I’m afraid those stains on your skin can’t just go away.” Arthur grabbed your arm, red from the pressure of the cloth you were dragging over and over. You sighed and released it, watching it slip under the surface of the water.

“He was an awful man. I know I couldn't have just walked away without him killing me, but how do you justify taking away a life?”

Arthur nodded and continued to move you away from the barrel. “None of us are especially good here, but we try. Don’t kill nobody who don’t deserve it. Sounds to me like he got what he deserved. Was that your first -” but he stopped talking as Jack ran up.

“Uncle Arthur! Mama said Hosea needs help moving something into camp. Big boxes!” He stretched his arms up to show the two of you just how big the boxes were. You laughed, and Arthur turned before taking Jack’s outstretched hand.

“You’ll be okay then?”

“Yes, Arthur. Thank you.” You watched the two of them walked off and Jack broke into a run. Hosea was moving boxes of liquor for the party and the kid was right, they were big. Whiskey, beer, and various other liquors were being spread over the camp so no one had to walk very far for a drink.

Dutch shouted appreciatively in the distance and ordered where everything should go. Ms. Grimshaw had a tent all set up for Sean with his things, and he emerged a new man after changing out of his old clothes.

Someone handed him a beer, and he walked over towards the ledge to face the small crowd.

“Oh, no speeches, please!” Karen shouted at Sean. He didn’t seem to mind the friendly banter and continued anyways.

“Uncle Sean is back! And don’t you worry, Ms. Grimshaw, I’ll keep them girls in line. If I have to whip em, I will!” He stopped to take a big pull from his bottle while the women in camp shouted back.

“I’d like to see you try!” “Will you drop already?” “Put him down! Somebody needs to.”

After wiping his mouth, he continued, “And don’t you worry Mr. Pearson you drunk old shit bag, it’ll be nothing but the finest game in the pot, now that Dead Eye Macguire is here! I love you bastards, have fun. Have loads of fun!”

Sean stumbled forward and into the group, the party in full swing. Someone at the campfire started singing and playing guitar, and you walked over to find Javier plucking away. You didn’t know the one he was playing, but it was an upbeat tune that many people joined him for. After listening to the words for a moment, you realized just how lewd the words were.

“In Louisville I met a maid, mark well what I do say,
And she was mistress of her trade, it was diddle-diddle-diddle all day!
I put my hand upon her toe, mark well what I do say,
She says ‘young man you’re rather low’, for a diddle-diddle-diddle all day!
I put my finger on her knee, mark well what I do say,
She says, ‘young man you’re rather free’, for a diddle-diddle-diddle all day!”

The songs continued on, and as the drink flowed freely people slurred and got louder. It was a lot of fun, and you knocked back the last sip of your gin before heading to grab another bottle.

Dutch called out to you, “Miss Moore! You said you could sing, why don’t you lead the next one.”

Your heart jumped to your throat. Javier motioned you over and asked which songs you knew.

“Umm...how about The Mountain Shine? No, alright then. The Boy Livin’ Down Under? From This Valley? Perfect!”

Javier scooted over on the log so you could sit with him. The guitar started up hard and fast, and you came in with the first verse.

“Oh the desert dreams of a river,
That will run down to the sea.
Like my heart longs for an ocean,
To will wash down over me.
Oh, won’t you take me from this valley,
To that mountain high above?
Oh I will pray, pray, pray, until I see your smiling face,
Oh I will pray, pray, pray, to the one I love.”

Javier picked up the second verse with a rich voice that fit well with yours.

“Oh the outcast dreams of acceptance,
Just to find pure love’s embrace.
Like an orphan longs for its mother,
May you hold me in your grace.
Oh won’t you take me from this valley,
To that mountain high above?
Oh I will pray, pray, pray, till I see your smiling face,
I will pray, pray, pray, to the one I love!”

People around the fire were whistling and dancing along, some even joining in to sing. The song always reminded you of home and the dance hall downtown that opened its doors after the fishing boats returned from the last big sail of the year. The big skirts twirled and swished about in the most marvelous way.

“Oh, the caged bird dreams of a strong wind,
That will flow ‘neath her wings.
Like a voice longs for a melody.
Oh, Jesus carry me.
Won’t you take me from this valley
To that mountain high above?
I will pray, pray, pray,
Until I see your smiling face.
I will pray, pray, pray,
To the one I love!”

The song concluded after you and Javier timed the last verse together, trying to harmonize and failing but laughing along anyways.

“Thank you, Javier and YN! What an excellent tune to get folks on their feet and dancing.”

You stood up and walked over to the group around the alcohol. Whiskey still made your stomach turn and you couldn't stand the stuff, so you rummaged around for the gin bottle you had eyed earlier. The nerves from performing for a real crowd were still shaking out and you knocked over a bottle while trying to read the label.

“Dammit,” you muttered under your breath. Karen stumbled over looking as happy as a clam. Rumor was her and Sean were lovers not too long ago so she must be excited to have him back safe at camp.

“YN! Hand me that one, will ya?” she motioned in the general direction of the bottles so you handed her the half empty one and hoped she didn’t notice. She did not, and put it high in the air to dance around with. Sean called her back to the table and she sat in his lap, ignorant to everyone else around them.

John walked into camp and clapped Sean on the back. The two laughed and exchanged a few words, then Arthur joined John to walk over for drinks.

“Ms. Moore! I don’t believe we’ve actually met. Abigail said the two of you met back in Blackwater and she talks enough that I feel like you and I are old friends. How are you holding up in camp?” John was younger than you thought, and it made you question how old Abigail was too. His dark hair was long and shaggy. The cuts on his face seemed to be healing although he would always have a wicked scar from his encounter with the wolves.

“Abigail is wonderful! Nice to see you up, Mr. Marston. I’ve been doing just fine. I think,” He had a kind smile and met your gaze when you shook hands. You grabbed two bottles and gave one to him and the other to Arthur.

“Hard to make friends when you keep getting hurt, Marston! Although probably best to keep that ugly face in the tent so you don’t go scaring people.” Arthur laughed heartily at his own joke, then took a pull from the full bottle. He must have taken Sean very seriously when he said to have fun from the looks of his flushed face. “You should see this one hunt, makes it look easy to use a bow.”

“A bow? Do you hunt much with Charles?”

“Just occasionally. But he’s much better than I’ll ever be.”

The three of you drank and chatted for a few moments, but were interrupted by Mary-Beth coming to grab Arthur’s hand.

“Arthur! Come dance with me. Dutch is playing that awful record player but I love the song.” He obliged and followed her over, leaving John and you alone.

John chuckled while watching the crowd. “That girl is the sweetest, silliest one here. Tilly and Karen can be nasty if they need to, but Mary-Beth don’t have it in her. Wants to be a writer some day.”

Mary-Beth was smiling up at Arthur as they spun around. “They with each other then?”

“Who, Arthur and Mary-Beth? God no! She’s a little sister to him, like that with everyone here.” You told the voice inside your head to be quiet but the gin made it impossible to listen.

“He, uh, sweet on anyone else then?”

John gave you a puzzled look for a few moments, then something clicked. “Nah, not anyone here. Don’t think he’s had them ideas for a long time.” He looked around the camp as the song ended. “Abigail! Get over here, woman. I’m gonna dance with you.” Abigail pretended she didn’t care but the small smile and blush told you she was thrilled. Mary-Beth had left to go back to the fire, and John called out, “Arthur why don’t you dance with that nice girl? She’s hiding back by the drinks.”

Arthur looked your way and motioned for you to come. You sheepishly walked over, insistent that he didn’t have to keep dancing if he didn’t want to. He ignored your protests and held up his left hand, waiting for your own.

You stepped forward and placed your right palm in his and your left hand on his shoulder. He stood a good head above you, even in your heeled boots.

“Miss Moore, I can’t dance with you if you stand that far back now. Promise I won’t bite.”

After you stepped closer he put his hand around your waist and the two of you began to twirl around. Nearby Dutch and Molly had joined the group, and you swore this was one of the first times you had seen her smile and laugh.

“If you insist I call you Arthur instead of Mr. Morgan, then you know I’ll say the same. Call me YN.”

He chuckled and agreed, moving you over by Abigail and John. The two of them were laughing as John tried to keep up with Abigail’s feet but kept stepping on her toes. He started to make a game of it and chased her feet around with his.

“John! Oh you silly man. Stop it now! Well, don’t the two of you make quite a sight,” she looked over at you and Arthur.

You shook your head, “He’s just being nice and putting up with me while I try to dance a bit better than John.’

Jack ran over and wanted to dance with his parents. He startled you all and you tripped forward, but Arthur caught you. “Thank you, Mr. Morgan.”

“How many times I gotta tell you, call me Arthur.” Without thinking he tucked the hair that had fallen free back behind your ear, lingering with his fingers in your hair. A flush spread across his cheeks as he dropped his hand to your shoulder and played off the intimate moment.

“You okay there, Mr. Morgan?” you asked.

He sighed playfully, “I guess that won’t change even if I ask a hundred times.”

The song eventually ended, and the two of you broke apart. Arthur tipped his hat in thanks and headed back over to the group at the campfire and poking fun at Karen and Sean who thought they were flirting secretly.

“Now that is something I ain’t seen in a long time, Arthur Morgan, flustered and blushin’,” John said quietly as Abigail left to find Jack.

“Mr. Marston, it was nothing I promise. Just a harmless old dance.”

A burst of laughter ripped from him. “I’ve heard that before! And two weeks later, she’s telling me I’m gonna be a father!”

 

Much later in the night everyone gathered around the campfire swapping gunslinger stories. Dutch’s strange opera music still floats on the warm night air around you, but him and Molly haven’t been seen in a few hours and some other members of the camp had begun to drift off to bed. Whether that was face down in the dirt or their actual bedrolls depended on who you asked.

“I swear, it was the biggest bear I’d ever seen!” Sean elaborately told how he escaped some manner of beast, and it’s changed from killer wolves to bears and back again a few times in the same sentence.

“Must have been, yay high. Chasin' me down the road. My heart nearly burst from my chest! But ol’ Dead Eye Maguire never runs from fear! So I hopped off my horse and tried to shoot him up. O’ course he was right behind me so it bowled me over. Tumblin’ down, over and over, until I finally landed on my feet like a cat, and pumped him full of shells from my trusty shotgun!” Sean jumped on to the table to demonstrate how he landed and swayed around until Pearson grabbed him by the collar.

“Not a word of that is true and you know it!” No one seemed to care as they were all laughing away at Sean.

“Darlin, you ever held a shotgun before?” He questioned Karen who had kept up with Sean in terms of drinks through the evening. He leaned over her shoulder and prepared to teach her how it was done.

The look she gave him was pure murder. “‘Course I handled a shotgun before! You think I don’t know how to shoot it? Shit, I’ve jerked enough dumb men around I reckon I can cock it one handed.”

Beer somehow shot out of both your nose and mouth simultaneously as the entire group erupted with laughter. Karen stood up and demonstrated how this could be done and it got funnier each time she pretended to shoot. Finally Sean tackled her to the ground and they recreated the bear/wolf fight with Sean as the attacker. They both stumbled around so hard no one could move more than a few feet.

You tipped your bottle up and drained the last few drops and took that as your sign to turn in for the night. The group was still rolling with laughter but you knew you would regret the gin in the morning if you stayed up much later. You waved and smiled to the group as you left to find your tent. The cot was just as uncomfortable as you remembered. After debating with yourself, you drunkenly decided to camp out on the ground near the overlook and a tree. It wasn’t comfortable, but the fresh air felt good on your skin. Slowly sleep overtook you, and you somehow dreamed peacefully of dancing bears that sounded like Dutch telling you to point your feet when you ran through a field.

Chapter Text

Waking up was a chore. Your head was pounding from the almost all night party, and you groaned while you pulled your blanket over your head. Who thought it was a good idea to sleep outside? Damn the sun and its infernal brightness.

Little Jack was splashing around in the water barrel near your tent which woke you up. He was holding a little wooden boat and pretending it was crashing through the make believe waves.

After you debated with yourself, you decided to move back to your tent. You dragged the bedroll past Jack who just stared, and slowly threw the soft padding into your tent. Someone outside laughed but you couldn’t care less who it was. All you could think about was sleeping off this damn hangover.

A few hours later you felt vaulgey better and decided to grab some coffee. The sun was halfway through the sky, but it wasn’t like anyone else had noticed the day was creeping by; only half of the camp was conscious. Hosea was eating lunch at the main table.

You grabbed a cup of coffee and sat at the old campfire. No one had bothered to light it yet and you stared at the ashes.

“Jesus, YN. You look like hell.”

Charles stood above you. Looking up was painful and you couldn’t bend your neck for too long. You grunted and motioned to the spot next to you, causing Charles to laugh softly at you. The splitting pain in your head was now just a constant throb that you could try and ignore while the two of you talked.

“I was hoping I could hunt today, but everyone here looks like shit. No offense, but you included.”

“I feel like hell, so none taken.” The thought of being on a moving horse made your stomach turn, so you drank your coffee in peace. “I’m happy hunting with my bow, but I can’t go today. Could you wait until tomorrow?” Charles contemplated, and finally agreed to wait until the next day to ride out. You wanted to get some supplies from Valentines anyways.

A little while later, John emerged from his shared tent with Abigail and sauntered over.

“YN! How are you today?” You groaned again as the loud voice rattled around you brain making it hard to think. “I’m heading into town to look at some livestock, y'all need anything?”

“Actually, I’ll join you John. I need some supplies for hunting." You stood and stretched, then dumped the remaining coffee into the old fire.

The two of you walked over to the horses, and he jumped onto his brown bay and you hesitated. “John, mind if I ride with ya? I’m looking to buy my own horse in town today.” He held his arm out without hesitation and pulled you up.

The ride in was short and bumpy, and you tried not to vomit all over John. The hangover pain was almost gone by the time you were dropped you off on the main road which was a blessing, and you waved as John rode back to the outskirts to look at the livestock scam he had started cooking.

When you walked into the general store, a familiar ding met your ears. The shopkeeper smiled and waved you over. “Come, see this new coffee brand we have!” You browsed the wares and picked out what you needed. A few cans of food, some oil to clean your bow, little objects. Nothing that you couldn’t carry back in case the horse was gone.

While in the shop you treated yourself to a bag of candy as well, thinking you deserved some sweets for that wicked hangover.

After you popped a piece in your mouth you walked into the stables. “Hey, mister! Is that gray mare still available?” The man waved you in and motioned to the stall she was in. You rushed over and she was just as stunning as you had remembered.

Standing tall, the mare bent her nose and nibbled your fingers for a treat. Her coat was soft and shiny under your fingers as you stroked her neck. At full height she was 16.2 hands with her head high above your own. Her grey body gave way to a white tail and mane, and small socks around her hooves.

“For a pretty young thing like you? I can do a price of $9.50.”

Despite the inappropriate look, it was a good price so you paid him and left. She rode beautifully and you were so excited to finally have a horse of your own. “Heyaw!” You kicked her sides and she started galloping out of town and you headed north.

The landscape changed more mountainous under her light feet. You debated what to call her. Names from your novels ran through your head, some better than others. Greek Gods? Other gunslingers? You finally settled on Eclipse. Something about the mysterious phenomenon called you. She galloped on and on, never faltering as you tried to test her limits. Finally you stopped to rest near a beautiful stream bed and let Eclipse get a drink. You brushed her and hoisted your skirt up to your knees to wade into the cool water for a few moments and ease your mind.

Over the past few months your life had changed so much. Leaving Blackwater, living with a gang, killing someone, it was all a lot to process. You were smart, resourceful, and brave. Three things your always admired about yourself. Seeing the change and growth you've already made, there was no way you could ever look back at the life you left far behind.

It was late that night when you got back into camp. Your new horse Eclipse made you so happy, and she whinnied appreciatively you finally took her saddle off for the night. She joined the other horses to graze easily.

Heading back towards your tent you ran into Jack again. He eyed the candy you had bought so you shared a few pieces with him happily. He giggled and shyly looked at you. “What are you hiding, Jack?”

“Momma and Pop said you were dancing with Uncle Arthur.”

“We did dance, but don’t worry it didn’t mean anything.”

He smiled. “My Pa and Ma met when they danced. Are you going to marry Uncle Arthur?”

You gagged on the candy you had just popped into your mouth, and were completely mortified when Arthur himself walked over to the two of you sitting near the overlook.

“Jack! Are you bothering that nice lady?”

“No, Uncle Arthur. Just eating candy.” He smiled at you coyly, and ran off when Arthur started chasing him. Arthur came back to plop down next to you in front of the log.

“Candy?” you offered. He reached in and pulled out a piece. “I’m a sucker for candy, can’t ever say no.”

“Really?” he looked at you, “I never took you for having a sweet tooth.”

You laughed and pulled the bag back to yourself. “I went into town today with John. Got that mare I’ve had my eye on.”

Arthur looked back at the group of animals and you pointed out Eclipse. He nodded approvingly. "I know you said you'd go, but no one was up for much of anything this morning. Nearly showed John my whole breakfast again after that bumpy ride into town."

"'S no bother. Glad you got it worked out. I, uh, didn't get up for a long while this morning. Damn whiskey nearly killed me. Although ridin’ anywhere with Marston will usually end with the same result."

You wrinkled your nose at the mention of the drink. "Whiskey always makes me sick. Can't stand it at all."

He chuckled softly, "Can't be a real outlaw until you have at least one awful whiskey night, YN."

"Maybe sometime. Takes awhile to get over a smell like that though…"

Unknowingly your hand fluttered to your ribs, a phantom ache from where your father liked to land his drunk fists. It had been months since his last episode and all the bruises had long since faded. But the memory still lingered and you thought it always would.

Arthur turned to face you, then suggested you move somewhere away from the main camp. You settled on your favorite stop to look out to the valley as the moon climbed up the sky, and sat down on a log.

“YN...why you still here?” he said it cautiously, like you would bolt at any moment. It struck you wrong and you stood to leave feeling this was going badly, but he put his hands up and continued. “Not like, here here, but...you coulda gone back to Blackwater after your side healed from the bullet. What’s kept you from that?”

Finally understanding, you sat back down and put your head in the palm of your hand to think.

“I...I’m not sure. I guess I could have gone off on my own, not that I woulda lasted long,” you laughed shortly, “but I love this...family you have here. Sometimes I feel like a voyeur, wishing to be more than just halfway accepted.” The next part felt hard to admit, but you rushed forward anyways.

“My home was nothing like this. In fact it was the opposite. All I ever wanted was to be on the other side of that little window at home, looking in and dreaming what could be instead of lying awake in the dark in fear of it. I would give anything to unknown what that version of family felt like. To keep walking and let that moment of life just pass me by.” Arthur watched you with an inscrutable expression.

“I like to see the good in folks, Mr. Morgan. I try real hard to believe that people are born good, and hold that in their heart. Not that I’m naive about life, sure. I know I'm living with a group of outlaws. Micah laughed when I said something similar, but ain’t it important to believe in something? To truly believe?”

“Miss Moore, you almost sound like Dutch. 'Course we ain't all good, but I think you are gonna get along here just fine if you keep believin’ like that,” his face was hard to read, but Arthur had a flush in his cheeks that you knew wasn’t from a drink.

The two of you moved closer, your confession hanging heavy in the air about the goodness in men’s hearts.

Arthur dipped his head and you angled your chin up to his, all the while feeling your heart beat like it was about to come right out of your chest. His hand moved to cover yours, and in that heated moment Pearson chose to beat a metal dish with his wooden spoon.

“Food’s ready! Come grab it while it’s hot!”

“Jesus!” The word burst from your lips. Pearson had popped the bubble of you and Arthur, and the moment was gone. Your eyes held the gaze you had been sharing, and a small half smile formed on your lips. Arthur squeezed your hand in his then rose without a word and walked off.

It took a few minutes to compose yourself but not long after you followed, hungry for the stew cooking away. Abigail was near and she called you to join her at a table.

“How did John’s livestock scam go today? He was kind enough to bring me into town but I never heard how it ended.”

She stirred the soup around before answering. “I’m not too sure. He won’t talk to me about such goings. I’m not honestly sure if I want to know.”

“I’m sure it’s for some silly reason like keeping you safe, Abigail. He’s a good man.”

Abigail sighed heavily, watching Jack run in the background of the camp. “For all our sakes, YN, I hope you’re right.”

Much later in your tent you finished one of the books you had found in town. A silly little novel, but in the glow of the lamplight the romantic ending made you feel safe and warm. As you lay down you ran your fingers over the cover that was illustrated with a rose.

“YN? You still up?” The voice was no more than a raised whisper coming from outside the flap. You sat up and warily moved towards the entrance.

“Arthur? That you?” Pulling back the tent flap slowly revealed the tall man crouching to meet you. “What can I do for you?”

“I just...uh...didn’t want you to think I was tryin’ to take advantage of anything earlier.” Sheepishly he pulled on his coat, glancing around to make sure no one saw you two meeting this late. He may not have to fight for his moral standing in this camp but you sure did.

Slowly, you responded, watching his face the whole time. “Nothing truly happened, Arthur. Just talkin’. Caught up in the, uh, moment was all.”

“‘Spose that’s so. You going hunting with Charles tomorrow then?” You nodded back at him. “I want to see how Eclipse runs out on the big fields. And I wanna shoot that bow again.”

“Well, you be careful then, you hear? Don’t want to be going on any big rescue missions.”

Smiling back, you felt your chest swell a bit at the kind words. “I’ll try then, not to be kidnapped or taken off. I’m sure Charles will be a fine hunting partner. Plus I can fight real good if I need too, mean left hook no one sees coming.”

Arthur chuckled. “Alright. Night then, YN. See you in a few days.” He tipped his hat and jaunted back towards the center of camp, leaving you to drop the flap and head to your bedroll.

“Mr. Arthur Morgan...huh…” You traced the rose on the novel again, this time picturing that it was a handsome face. Giggling, you sat up and blew out the sole flame of the lantern, plunging the tent into darkness to get some rest.

 

The next morning Charles was waiting for you by the horses. You had dressed in pants for one of the first times in your life and loved it. The flexibility alone was enticing enough to make you want to throw your dresses and skirts off the overlook. You chose dark jeans, a blue shirt, and brown boots and satchel. The red bandanna you picked up yesterday was tied around your neck to protect from dirt or lawmen's eyes, depending on the situation.

While walking over you finished tucking in your shirt and attaching everything in its correct place, watching Charles pat Eclipse and feed her a treat. He didn't say much in the early hour except a wave while you loaded up your horse.

“Ready?” You nodded, and the two of you kicked off.

The plan was to hunt for three days. It meant a lot of riding and shooting and you couldn’t wait to build up the muscles in your shoulders, giving you better control over your shot. Focusing on the rocky path took a lot of focus, so the first few hours of your ride were quiet. Every hour the horses would get a chance to rest and eat and you walked to stretch your legs.

Heading up north was all new territory for you. Charles seemed comfortable enough, and was happy to discuss the local fauna.

“This one here? Red Cedar tree, can grow to be massive and every part of it is usable. The needles can make tea to help many sicknesses, and Native Americans use the trunks to make canoes as the wood never rots.”

You rubbed the needles in between your fingers, wondering how the tea tasted. Charles went on to talk about other traditions of his people and how they made use of everything around them.

Finally you arrived where Charles wanted to camp. The ground was dry and free of rocks were you set up your tent, far from the view of anyone passing through.

Night passed quickly and you rose early to begin hunting. Stalking a group of deer, you brought down two after a long chase. Eclipse ran swiftly over the hills and Charles commented on how well she was doing, listening well to your commands. His own horse Tamia was a bit smaller, but just as quick.

A lone stag caught your attention and you veered left to focus and take aim. The bow was getting heavy in your outstretched arm and your anchor point of the corner of your mouth was a bit wobbly, but he soon joined the other deer you were bringing back to camp. Finally satisfied you both worked your way through the woods back to your site.

Sitting around the fire that night, Charles taught you how to smoke meat and make it last. It was much better to store it versus try to eat it all right away in this life of constantly running and moving around.

The next day was much of the same. Hunt, rest, smoke meat, hunt some more. Nothing truly exciting happened until the third morning as you packed up camp.

“There’s lots of strange gangs around this country. I’m not sure gang is the right word, but I’m not sure what to call them. Down south is the Lemoyne Raiders, east is the Murphys, then of course the O’Driscolls and…well us I guess. Van der Linde gang.” Charles was pouring over a map of the area, and drew large circles where he warned of other groups. “I think there’s more but not as large as us.”

“Lotta folks to look out for, then. I’ve never heard of most of them to be honest, but you missed the Skinner Brothers out near Blackwater,” you took his pencil and drew a circle around the area they used to terrorize. “Took a lot of good folks. Burned farms. Finally some group came in and cleared them out but it was bad a few years back.”

“Heard of them, but never knew where they started. Huh,” he observed the circles you had drawn, then continued on. “This is where we’ll stop for supplies on the way back and to sell pelts. Long ride from the Grizzlies country down to Valentine.”

Agreeing on where to stop was easy, but getting there was another problem. A bridge was out along the way which added a good hour to your journey. Both of you were cranky and tired by the time you rolled into Valentine, quickly selling the pelts and leftover meat that was of no use to the gang.

“Alright Charles, I’m ready to head home,” you paused and looked over. “How fast you think Tamia can run? Faster than Eclipse?”

His eyebrows raised. “You challenging me to a race, YN?” “Damn straight,” you replied confidently, and dug your heels into Eclipse causing her to sprint off.

Pealing laughter followed the two of you as the town gave way to the green muddy fields, and eventually the wooded ahead of Horseshoe Overlook. Nothing felt better than the rushing wind in your hair and the sun warming your face. You debated throwing your arms out wide but didn’t want to look silly.

Both horses were magnificent, and you admitted defeat when Tamia pulled ahead at the last moment.

Eclipse huffed as you swung yourself down and nudged your arm playfully. She was ready to relax and eat with the other horses, so you took your hunting spoils and patted her affectionately.

Walking over with the deer you met Pearson who was ecstatic. “Look at this folks, a real feast ready soon!” He eagerly took the meat from you and Charles and shooed you away so he could begin to prepare for it.

“Well done, YN. I would hunt with you again anytime,” Charles clapped your shoulder and walked off towards his tent.

All you wanted to do was bathe and sleep so you started towards the river.

“YN! Need some company?” Mary-Beth came running up besides you, not so secretly hiding from Ms. Grimshaw.

“Sure, let’s get you out of here before she notices,” and the pair of you took off running down to the river.

Tilly and Karen were doing the wash when you arrive, and they all greeted you cheerily upon returning from the hunt.

“How did you two get on then? Hunt anything more excitin’ than deer?” Karen play snarled and lunged at you, making the group laugh.

“Charles is as stiff as a board around women Karen and you know it,” Tilly countered.

“Oh, I’m not -” Mary-Beth cut you off before you could finish.

“Charles! No, I saw YN getting cozy with Arthur the other night when they thought no one was lookin’.” You playfully hit Mary-Beth’s arm in response and the whole group was set off.

“First ya’ll dancing, then hiding on the lookout, whatchu really come to our gang for anyways!” Karen laughed while she said it, but you did fear they all thought of you as just a hopeless romantic.

“There is more than just goin’ after men in this life, and I intend to explore those avenues first. Just so happy to be free. And sides ain’t he got a girl?” you replied while washing your arms.

The other moaned. “Ugh. Mary Linton. She beckons, and he calls. Been years since he last saw her but still thinks of her I’m sure. It’s hard finding someone in this life that agrees with it, that’s why she’s been gone all this time. Her daddy threw a fit at who Arthur was,” Tilly informed you.

“I heard he went and rescued Micah from some town east called Strawberry,” you tried to change the subject.

Karen roller her eyes. “Damn fools shot up the whole town and can probably never go back.”

“I know Strawberry. Small and backwards place. Used to think I couldn't go when I was young on account of me being allergic to the fruit.” the girls laughed at your answer, and you slowly felt cleaner.

Eventually the chores were done so you left the river with the group. They carried the baskets up on their hips and you watched the colors dance in the wind. It was a sight to see the clothes hung in trees to dry out for camp.

Arthur came into camp that night in a blaze, not able to focus on anything. Something about a letter and going into Valentine, but no one could tell. Hosea had a knowing smile but refused to spill information to any gossips in camp, and Arthur left in a hurry once again.

Laying on your side in your bedroll, you tried to finish the next chapter in your book but you eyes kept sliding shut and your head bobbed around. Finally you admitted defeat and stood up to stretch and blow the lantern out, but someone was muttering around your tent.

“H-hello?” you whispered cautiously, not sure who was out there. A loud bang and a stream of curses alerted you that it was Arthur back from his night ride. Muttering around, you caught wind of a word that made your silly jealous heart run cold.

“Mary.”

Chapter Text

Mary Linton.

At least, you guessed that’s who he was so upset about.

Arthur had been gone for hours chasing that woman who held his heart all these years later. He continued to bang around a bit longer, then finally went to sleep and left the camp quiet.

The next morning you and Mary-Beth ate breakfast together by the campfire. “YN...what do you think of that O’Driscoll fella we picked up in Colter?”

Her eyes drifted over to the poor man tied up to the bare tree stump. While he seemed a bit unimpressive to you, Mary-Beth had been making not so secret eyes and sneaking him food all week. Part of you disagreed but it did make him whine less, so it seemed beneficial to all in the end.

Sean was currently standing in front of Kieran taunting him about something or other. They were a contrasting pair to observe. Kieran dark and angular while Sean was light and rounded. A small half smile found its way to Mary-Beth’s face.

“You sweet on him?” She blushed and looked back to you.

“You don’t really think he’s with them, do you?”

“No, Mary-Beth I sure hope not. Once Dutch lets him off that tree I’m sure he’ll be fine, wish they wouldn’t torment him so. Needs to give them information or something. Earn his keep. I think Sean approves of him!” Hosea walked by and smacked Sean on the back of the head lightly for being a pest, and he dramatically fell over and rolled away.

“Mornin, ladies!” Sean’s accent was pleasant if very different from everyone around you.

“Sean, what do you think of that Kieran?” You asked on Mary-Beth’s behalf.

He contemplated for only a moment before answering. “Seems a decent fella. Could maybe use a bath but all around not a bad one. Hopefully he cracks soon ol’ Dutch don’t like to be proved wrong for long. Should I tell him to come calling, YN? Fancy a ride with the new stallion is it?”

“No! Jesus, Sean, please no,” Sean had started imitating riding a horse as a play on his words and fake galloped away. Mary-Beth couldn’t stop laughing, and the two of you enjoyed your morning and the ends of your meal together.

Later in the morning you were helping Grimshaw bring in the laundry from the line. The eternal blue sky had given way to dark storm clouds heavy with rain so you hurriedly pulled the drying pieces down. Abigail stood next to you and the two of you chatted about the past few days, catching up in what felt like the first time in ages.

“I have heard all kinds of crazy lately. You huntin’ with Charles, damn Mary’s in Valentine calling on Arthur, poor Lenny was nearly lynched some days ago. Makes you miss the old days of just wonderin’ who was shooting behind you.”

You lifted a particularly heavy blanket up off the line, and Abigail watched you.

“You know how to read, YN?”

“Sure. Love reading, not very good at writing though. Words don’t come to me the same way when they’re my own. I feel the same way about music. ”

Abigail sighed and looked a bit downtrodden. “I...I never learned. I kinda hoped, well it’s selfish. But that I wasn’t alone.”

You watched her drop the last few pieces into her basket while a particularly loud clap of thunder hit. Both of you jumped and she grabbed her basket to leave. “Abigail, I may not be a good teacher but I’d love to have you learn! We can form a little book club.” She nodded and smiled, but the storm must have frightened her as she took off quickly.

“So! YN, you’re still with us then. Little bird tells me you’re fittin’ right in.”

Ugh. Micah. He continued to talk and moved closer. “Shooting, and hunting,” suddenly he was right up against you, “and riding long, hard days. Is that right?”

You shoved a blue shirt into his chest and pushed him off, moving to the next piece and wishing he would leave. “At least pretend to help.”

“Why won’t you let me show you the best this gang has to offer?” Micah posed with one foot up on a tree stump, seeming to believe this would work on you.

“Mr. Bell, I haven’t given you permission to call me that so from now on I will be Miss Moore to you. As far as the best this camp has to offer? I seen better prospects looking at the pigs in Valentine. Leave me the hell alone.”

Rage colored his face as his hands shot out to your neck. Instantly you dropped the clothing you were holding and clawed at him to release you. He was not impressed with your spirit, and leaned in closer.

“You better watch that mouth of yours, girly, if you know what’s good for you. Think you’ll turn me down?” He spit on the ground to the side of you. “You’ll never see freedom again.”

Micah let go of your neck and walked back towards his tent, yelling so everyone could hear, “I don’t intend to lose to these idiots.”

 

Over the next week, camp was a bustling scene. John’s livestock con became a full blown plan to rob a farmer of his sheep, and the possibility of passing them off as his own to sell grew with each addition Dutch and Hosea suggested. Some train robbery was being planned too and it seemed Dutch was stretched rather thin. The camp desperately needed money and Herr Strauss had lent more than he should have. You agreed to go along with whatever you could help with in order to stay in their good graces.

That O’Driscoll boy Kieran had a plan of his own, too. From his days running with them he knew of a place not far from Horseshoe Overlook called Six Points Cabin. Colm O’Driscoll himself was said to be hiding out there as a safehouse with some of his gang. Arthur, John, Bill, and Kieran were set up to ride when you begged Dutch to let you go with them. It seemed an easy enough plan. Head in, see if the boss was there or not, then take his plans and go. He agreed, and gave you a few more guns to bring along with you. You loaded up the shotgun and rifle, adding them to your pistol hiding on your horses saddlebags.

Some of the group was weary of you going. Truthfully you didn’t have much practice with a gun, and even less shooting at real people. Sure, Lenny had helped work on your aim but you were nowhere near perfect.

Kieran seemed genuine enough but you hadn’t had the chance to talk with him much. Riding Eclipse, he commented that she was a beauty. He was stuck on the back of John’s horse and it was clear he envied those riding solo. He surprised you with easy conversation until the turning point for Six Point Cabin.

“Swing a left! Up here now. And everyone off your horses, the sound will echo for miles around,” he warned. You grabbed your shotgun and crouched down to mask your footprints. The other men continued to give Kieran a hard time about being an O'Driscoll, but as the only other outsider on this mission you didn't say a word. Truly you understood how hard it could be to fit in. Only rolled your eyes and smiled when he needed support. Damn bastards. Kept joking about gelding him, and you pitied when he winced away in fear.

Three O’Driscoll guards snuck up on you. One started taking a piss and you blanched at the disgustingness of it. John grabbed Kieran to make sure he didn’t squeel but he was as silent as could be. Arthur decided to deal with that man alone, choking him out silently from behind. After the man was set down on the ground silently Arthur motioned for the rest to join him, with John and Bill threw knives taking out the two remaining guards.

“Miss Moore, you’re in charge of keeping young Kieran here out of trouble. Stay back on the hill until we clear the camp out below.” Arthur didn’t look at you while he barked orders but moved on quickly so you didn’t have time to protest. Kieran gave you a sympathetic glance once they had left.

“Oh, shut up. I’ll stay behind but it’s not ‘cause I want to.” You didn’t have a choice and both of you knew it. But you huffed anyways.

Bill stepped on a branch, causing the men from below to look up and notice they were about to be taken over. “Men in the camp! We got men in the camp!” There was nothing you could do but twiddle your thumbs with Kieran while you watched the boys take out the remaining gang members. After the gunfire cleared, the pair of you moved down the hill to help the others loot the bodies. A few pocket watches and some wedding rings that had seen better days were tucked away in your satchel while Kieran started towards Arthur.

“See there! I ain’t lying. Like I said, he’s worse than Dutch so please, let me stay with y'all I’m a dead man otherw -”

Kieran was cut off by the front door of the cabin bursting open and man with a shotgun running straight towards Arthur. Your heart jumped out of your chest and you tried to yell but Kieran shot the man first.

“You alright?”

“Sure, thank you.”

You watched as Kieran extended Arthur a hand up; such an overly bland exchange for folks who had just saved the others lives.

“Men…” you shook your head and walked off, not believing that these fools were the ones you depended on at this moment.

Colm ended up not being at the camp, but it was a good blow to his gang. Arthur was mad as he rode off ahead of your group but you had a good amount of wares taken from the cabin and weren’t about to complain. Kieran even showed you how Colm liked to hide a stash of money in chimneys which was a huge win.

Dutch was more aligned with Arthur however when you got back to camp.

“So...Colm was not there.” He rubbed his beard and debated with Bill and Hosea what to do about Kieran. You decided to speak up.

“Dutch, he was telling the truth. Colm was there, just not when we arrived. I...think Kieran should get a second chance.”

Dutch stared back at you incredulously. You had never spoken your mind so freely like this, and never in front of other members of the gang as a crowd.

“Really. The campfire singer thinks we should keep an enemy within our walls. Is there no end to this madness?”

You flushed so hard you felt your ears turn red. How dare he reduce you to nothing more than an entertainer for the gang? Like some common whore. Instant regret flashed across his face and he moved to put his hand on your shoulder and apologize, but an old memory in your gut screamed you should move and you flinched hard as his hand neared you. He froze and drew it back slowly.

“If that’s my role, then say it. I’ve been out hunting and fighting the past few weeks with no complaints from you. Kieran had good information, but we kept him tied up so long he didn’t know anything had changed,” you spat at the older man.

“It’s true, Dutch. I could have asked him sooner,” now Arthur was involved and you couldn’t bear to stay. You grabbed a cup of water for Kieran and stalked off, steam rolling down your shoulders from how Dutch treated you.

He was going to hit you, you knew it. Your heart was pounding so hard you hands were shaking with every beat. Even the view of the valley didn’t calm your nerves, so you went to brush down Eclipse and steady yourself. It had been nearly three months now since you felt that familiar fear. One you had hoped stayed behind in Blackwater.

“YN, you hiding over here?” Arthur called out as he neared the horse station.

Rubbing tears from your eyes, you called back, “And what do you want?”

“Dutch is real sorry. He didn’t mean to sound like that.” Making you the fool in front of everyone? Of course he sent Arthur to make amends on his behalf. His son. Errand boy.

“It’s fine. Don’t matter anyways, I know what I am. Just rattled from all of it,” Your hands were shaking so hard you dropped the brush, and Arthur bent to pick it up.

“He would never hit you, you know,” he offered quietly, the brush loose in his hand.

“Part of me knows that. Micah was...but that was earlier and Dutch...well, look at me now,” and you held out your own hand to show the reaction. He grabbed it and held tight, looking you dead in the eye.

“Whatever happened in your past is gone. Ain’t no one going to hurt you here, that I can promise.”

Slowly as he rubbed circles into the back of your hand, you calmed down. Thinking a bit more rationally you understood Dutch had not been moving to hit you. Instinct had taken over, and you took a deep breath and decided to change the subject.

“So. Is Kieran staying?” Arthur nodded. “Long as he behaves himself, yes.”

You sighed and leaned back against Eclipse for support. “Good. He’s a good kid. Mary-Beth keeps asking me my opinion on him, and she ain’t subtle.”

Arthur laughed softly and dropped your hand. “Look...YN I’m sorry the past while has been a rough go of it. Not usually like this, and Dutch says he has a plan...must be hard for a high society woman to be livin’ like this.”

“Society woman? Arthur, you know I was raised in Blackwater. Ain’t no more than a Valentine with a few paved roads. Stop treating my like I’m breakable and just treat me like a person.” He nodded, and stood with you silently.

“Speaking of society women...how did things go with Mary? I heard you come back late last night.” Your curiosity had gotten the better of you and it was a topic with no attention on yourself.

He looked startled but answered anyways. “She, uh, her brother...needed help. I rode out and found him with some weird folks. Brought him back into town. Wasn’t anything special.” While his speech was completely relaxed, his whole body had tensed up. He rubbed the back of his neck again, a nervous habit you noticed he did frequently.

“That’s sweet of you. She seems…interesting?” The lack of effort you put into finding a better description was obvious but you couldn’t care less. She was of no importance to you.

That got a full laugh from him. “Interesting. One way of putting it, that’s for sure. Glad you’re okay, but if you’ll excuse me, YN, I need to head into town and steal an oil wagon of all things.”

“By all means, Mr. Morgan. Don’t let me stand in your way.” He grumbled something about ‘Mr. Morgan’ and ‘every time’ but you didn’t quite catch it. He galloped away on his bay horse, leaving you with your thoughts and Eclipse, bothering you for a treat.

 

The train robbery was a success. Sean, Arthur, John, and Charles stopped the train on its tracks to grab valuables from passengers heading to Saint Dennis on their way to some cruise. It was quick and easy with a big win for the gang. No one was hurt, and no one was recognized.

Dutch was elated. “One more big score, boys, and we will be on our way! Just think about that fat paycheck taking us home to a new land! To freedom!”

John was not happy that Sean somehow wiggled his way into his plan and tried to avoid him when he talked to Arthur about the next idea. He had heard wind of a herd of sheep being moved into Valentine from Emerald Ranch in two days time and thought it could be a big score.

“Abigail, just listen - ”

“No, John! This has to stop. Why can’t you ever listen to me and do what’s best for the boy? Why ain’t you happy?” Abigail cried at John. The two had been fighting nonstop since he returned from the train job and he was beginning to really get irritated.

Sitting near the horse area, Jack decided to teach you how to braid flowers together. “See, YN? One over, then under, then over, then it’s pretty!” He laughed and clapped as you finished up your first one and set the chain around his neck.

“Now you’re all pretty, Jack. A real prince!” He beamed, and looked up as Arthur approached. “Uncle Arthur! Look, I’m pretty!”

Arthur laughed out loud and smiled down at the toddler. “Now, ain’t that a sight to see! Little Jackie Marston, all dolled up.” Jack bent down to get Arthur a chain, and the two of you smiled at one another. You loved looking after Jack. It was easy and simple.

“Say, Jack. You wanna come fishing with me?”

The little boy scrunched up his nose. “Fishing?

“Sure! It’s about time you started to earn your keep,” Jack stood and agreed. “You do have a fishing pole, don’t ya?” And Jack ran off to his mother’s tent to find his rod.

“That’s sweet, taking the boy out. I know Abigail appreciates it,” thinking on how hard she worked you knew she loved being free for even an hour.

Arthur rubbed his jaw. “Mostly do it cause I know his father won’t. Stupid fool. Kids gotta learn to do something more than run from his troubles.”

Jack came bounding back, pole in hand. “Let’s go, Uncle Arthur!” The two set off on Arthur’s black stallion and you continued to scrape around for the root Pearson had mentioned. Successful, you headed back to drop it off at his table. Not many people were up at this hour so you decided to watch Arthur and Jack downstream.

They rode not too far away, and Jack pulled out his rod. An old wooden thing that Hosea had made him months ago, but did the job for a four year old learning how to fish. You saw Arthur teach him how to bait the line, cast into the stream, and reel it in once you felt a bite. Once or twice Jack almost hooked Arthur, and he definitely hooked the ground behind him, but he finally caught a fish. It was a sweet sight watching the two relax and forget about outlaw life for awhile.

Two horses rode up and stopped not far from the pair as you watched. They dismounted and approached Arthur and Jack, and Arthur went completely defensive. Jack was pushed behind his legs while the three men talked, and the glint of metal shined when one of the strangers raised his gun and slung it over his shoulders. Their clothes were new, and from what you could barely make out finley pressed. One moved forward to shake Arthur’s hand, but was dropped when he didn’t reciprocate. He then removed his hat, and a balding head with black strands shone and a familiar panic began to settle at the back of your neck, cool and quick spreading. Arthur suddenly threw his fishing pole on the ground and the second man quickly pointed his barrel at his chest causing Jack to move stumble back from Arthur. They exchanged a few more words, then mounted their horses and left upriver, away from the camp.

The pair couldn't have been at the river for more than an hour, but the stallion came pounding into camp harder and faster than ever before. Jack was swung down and met in Abigail’s arms. He handed her a necklace made of red flowers and braided in the way he had taught you earlier, beaming and talking about the one fish he managed to catch.

Jack ran off with his pole, and Abigail finally looked back at Arthur. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing...just met some folk. I’d better go speak with Dutch.” She smiled and thanked him again, and you watched Arthur disappear into Dutch’s open tent. You were sitting at the main table stitching Lenny’s shit back up but you could hear their whole conversation.

“We got a real problem, Dutch. I just met some guys out near the river. Employees of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, who know about the train, and they know we’re here.”

Dutch stood up quickly, “Were you followed back her?”

“No. They know we’re near here, and they want you Dutch. They offered me my freedom in exchange they did.” Dutch was walking out around camp now, listening to Arthur speak behind him.

“Pinkertons, you said? Did you catch their names?”

“I did. A feller named, Ross and...Milton. Agent Ross, and Agent Milton.”

Head swirling, you dropped the needle from your hands. Milton? He followed you out here? You couldn’t believe of all the dumb, stupid things you’ve done, this had to take the cake. He must have known somehow that this is where you would end up.

Idiot. Stupid, stupid girl. All trying to chase an elusive idea you still hadn’t fully created yet.

Lenny came over to grab his shirt and made a comment that you couldn't hear, so you smiled and waved as he walked off. A rushing sound filled hour ears and made everything impossible and caused you to run far from the edge of camp. Finally alone, you let out the tension that had been building up inside of you.

“Dammit. God dammit!” You swung and hit a tree, ignoring the pain that flashed through your knuckles. No one was safe if they knew your secret, and these folks meant something to you. They had taken you in when you needed it, and you’ve worked your ass off to prove your worth to them. You wouldn't let that worthless, horrible, sack of shit steal it all away from you now. “Stupid! Piece! Of! Shit!” The pain in your knuckles was too strong to ignore now so you screamed as hard as you could, confident no one was nearby.

“YN, are you okay? Jesus, let me see that hand.” Charles approached slowly after watching you punch a tree.

“What are you doing out here? Following me?” He tilted his head at you.

“No I was on patrol guarding the perimeter. What happened back there?”

“Dutch was nearly found out. Some detectives found Arthur and Jack down by the river, and they’re looking for us.” A few deep breaths did nothing to calm your nerves, but you proceeded anyways. “Charles...if I tell you something, do you promise not to hate me?” The fear had subsided this far from camp but the anxiety still radiated through your veins. Everything in you screamed not to let this secret pass your lips.

“No. But I can promise to listen.” This seemed to be the best offer, so you took a few more deep breaths to steady yourself.

“That man...Agent Milton from the Pinkertons. The one who’s after Dutch? I...He’s my…” Finally you opened your eyes as you needed to see Charles’ reaction. “My last name ain’t Moore, Charles. It’s Milton. The detective who’s after the gang isn’t just another Pinkerton, he’s my father. And it seems that he is now here to bring this gang in or kill every last one of us.” Tears that had been building up finally spilled down your cheeks.

The air hung heavy as your truth was finally free. Surely, he would hate you. Everyone would hate you. They would turn you in and run away as fast as they could. Charles. Pearson. John. Little Jack. Abigail. Dutch. Arthur.

Charles didn’t immediately speak but instead came forward slowly to examine your hand.

“That’s...quite the cut you’ve given yourself there. Let me take a look.” Your eyes continued to water as the pain set in, but you extended your arm out for help.

“Charles, that man is awful. I planned to escape everyday. I never thought…”

He nodded and listened to you speak, running an ointment over the open wound that somehow burned and felt cool at the same time.

“I understand. We are not our parents. If we were, I would be a miserable drunk pining for a life I never really had. Still, I think it’s best we keep this quiet. I can’t see many minding but it could cause a real issue. Dutch is easily set off these days.”

As he finished bandaging your knuckles you nodded and smiled up at him. “Thank you, Charles. You’ve given me a lot the past few weeks.”

He chuckled and turned the two of you back towards camp. “As long as you can still use that bow hand, I don’t mind much about the other stuff. You’re a good person, YN. And everyone here can see that. Just, don’t say anything about this yet. You head back first into camp and I’ll follow in soon. Make sure no Pinkertons trail you on the way.” You laughed nervously and started the walk back. It was almost dark and you didn't realize just how far you had run.

The hike back was quiet and the only sound that accompanied you were bugs, singing a criss cross harmony that overlapped and swelled the longer you focused on it. You had the realization that you were alone for the first time in months. Sure, Charles would be along behind you shortly but no one was keeping tabs on your every move.

Maybe this is what happiness felt like.

It wasn’t the front porch light still on after dinner at your friends. It wasn’t the open bottle left sitting on the dining table, making Momma clean it up and wipe the spilling edges. It wasn’t the way your door creaked open at night. And it sure as hell wasn’t the feeling of balled fists meeting your ribs, or back, or anything that would be kicked or scratched and no one else could see.

Damn that man and his awful, awful ways.

Back at camp people were on edge. No one noticed you slip into the crowd to get dinner. Talking wasn’t a priority so you sat alone, terrified that pox marked face would creep in from the shadows. It didn’t, however, so after a fitful few hours you fell asleep, unknowingly it was your last night at Horseshoe Overlook.

Chapter Text

The next day was the livestock con that John had been planning for weeks. He and Arthur rode off into the hills to steal the flock and bring it back into town to sell as their own.

Dutch watched his boys ride off while he smoked a cigar, and Hosea walked up to join him. “What a time we’ve had, eh Dutch?” Dutch clasped Hosea on the shoulder, hanging on and reminiscing on their past adventures. “What a wild ride we have been through.”

“Hopefully, my friend, our running days will soon be over. Just one more big one with good money and we are free. Then we can get our people to a safe home, like they deserve.”

Lenny called you over to Pearson’s workstation. “YN! Teach me how to skin this rabbit, I know Arthur taught you so you oughta be good.”

You laughed and rolled your sleeves up, “Thanks, Lenny. Alright. Let’s get to work. You want to know the first thing Arthur asked me when I wanted to learn how to do this?”

“What’s that?”

Acting grumpy with hunched shoulders you replied, “You sure you wanna get blood all over your dress?” Lenny bust up laughing while you impersonated the rugged man. “Damn fool didn’t see I was holding a knife five feet from him but still had the nerve to say it! Right after I shot a deer clean through the heart, too."

Lenny laughed again while you began to teach him the Arthur Morgan way of skinning a rabbit. Every once in awhile he would ask you a question by impersonating Arthur and the two of you fell apart on the wooden table. He was a bright kid, and really nineteen was a kid, with a good heart and an infectious laugh.

Jack came up just as the two of you were finishing and asked to pet your horse. Lenny ruffled the kids hair and left you to babysit, heading over to his tent to organize a few things. Jack grabbed your hand and dragged you to your mare.

“She’s pretty, YN! And tall. Not as tall as Uncle Arthur’s horsie, though. I wish I could have one, too.” His mind was everywhere, bouncing from place to place with no time to take a breath in between. Poor kid, four years old and stuck living the outlaw life. No wonder Abigail was so hellbent on getting out before something happened.

He bent down and grabbed a flower to pick, his sights on dainty yellow petals with a white center when Eclipse moved too close. You swung down and grabbed Jack before she could get spooked, and you saw Dutch and Strauss walking up.

They were deep in conversation and almost didn’t notice you.

“Now, Herr Strauss, we are to meet Arthur and John at the saloon after. There’s talk of some big man in town and I intent to get on his good side before we show him a reason to be on his bad, so maybe you just stay quiet then?”

“But Dutch, I still have three loans that need to be collected! That money -”

Dutch interrupted him, yelling in his face, “That money is the only thing keeping us alive! Now why in the hell have you not gone to collect it?”

Her Strauss replied meekly, “I asked Arthur but he never had the time.”

Dutch ran his hand down his face and noticed you there. “YN, it’s time to learn another skill, my dear. When Arthur gets back from town, go with him to collect those debts so generously given by Herr Strauss. The two of you should get on just fine.”

You nodded and moved Jack closer to your hip, afraid the loud voices would frighten the child. Herr Strauss handed you three loan sheets which you tucked away in your satchel for later. Jack simply continued to play with the colorful flower in his hands until he held it out to the approaching Abigail as a present for simply being there.

The tent you called home had built up a small collection of outfits, guns, and various other objects during your months at Horseshoe Creek. It was small but cozy. You even had a proper blanket now made from the skin of a cougar you hunted not too long ago.

After you flopped down to the small bedroll, you grabbed the book you had been devouring most recently after swapping with Hosea. He had gotten you invested in a crime series and had given you the latest last night after finishing it himself, of course, and was bursting to discuss it so you promised to be quick. The sunlight was still filtering in warmly and you left the flaps of the tent open for fresh air to accompany you on your journey to another life. Precious few things brought you the pleasure like reading did.

Later in the day, Hosea himself stuck his head in your tent. “How are you getting on, YN? Hiding from Grimshaw so you can get through more of that book?”

You jumped as the voice ripped you from the pages, but quickly laughed at how eager Hosea was for you to read. “I’m trying! Doesn’t help I can hear her scream every few minutes. But this book, Hosea...it’s so -”

The end of that sentence was never finished as Grimshaw had finally found you. “I should have known you would have something to do with this, Hosea! YN! Get that lazy Blackwater ass out here to help with the laundry."

Hosea looked sheepish at having given you away but you smiled and promised to read again later, then followed Grimshaw while she continued to chew you out.

Sadie Adler was finally cleaned up and dressed with the other girls who were doing the laundry in the middle of camp. Buckets of sudsy water sloshed around as item after item were dunked, scrubbed, and passed to the next. You joined in after Mary-Beth and before Sadie.

“Nice to see you out and about, Mrs. Adler! Feelin’ better?” She smiled back and her eyes were clear for the first time since you’d met her.

“A bit, miss. Working to see what livin’ is about now. You fine people took me in, time to do my share. Although I ain’t choppin’ no vegetables no more with that man, about ready to chop him up too.”

The girls chattered as the laundry eventually finished up, and everything was hung up to dry. You grabbed the last few pieces to hang on the line when a hand snaked out to grab yours.

“You got anything special in there to show me, YN?"

Micah had found you again and hid behind the colorful array so no one could see him.

“Jesus, Micah. You got nothin’ better to do than stalk me doin’ laundry? Leave me alone, I ain’t got nothing to entertain with you.”

He smirked and moved closer, “Oh girly, I got some entertaining you could do. Just give me a few hours.” His hand rubbed the back of yours, mocking the memory you had of Arthur comforting you and you shook him off violently. Irritation and rage began to pump from your heart and spread across your chest.

“I don’t want anymore time with you than necessary, thank you.” He didn’t seem to mind the constant rejection, and in fact it seemed to make him pursue you more.

“‘Thank you?’ Always so kind,” he sneered at you. “YN. One of these days you’re gonna have to learn how to be a real outlaw and toughen up.”

“Only a damn fool mistakes kindness for weakness, Mr. Bell. Strength don’t come from the lack of love or compassion in a heart,” you snapped back.

He was unimpressed with your outburst. You were just hoping he had lost interest when he said, “You book folk are so boring. Always full of words. I prefer action. You know where to find me once you wisen up. And girl, I sure hope you do.” The clothing on the drying line parted as Micah smacked them out of his path. You rolled your eyes and picked up the empty basket to bring back to Grimshaw and prove your chores were done.

That afternoon was when true chaos began. The sound of horses thundering into camp made everyone stand to attention as Dutch, Arthur, John, and Strauss rode in looking extremely shaken from Valentine. All of them were disheveled and covered in dirt. Abigail rushed over as John jumped from his horse and said something to her. She nodded and left for their shared tent to begin throwing things in their tent. Dutch grabbed Hosea and moved to his tent, retelling everyone what happened.

“Our time in Valentine has come to an untimely end! Leviticus Cornwall and his band of thugs met us outside the saloon and things did not end well for them. It’s time for us to pack up and leave this area, what with Pinkerton’s breathing down our necks and Cornwall comin’ to find us. Ms. Grimshaw, Mr. Pearson, if you please! Get this place packed up while we look for a new spot.” Everyone began to move, you rushed to your tent and began throwing everything into the few bags you had bought and rolled the bedding up to make it easier to carry.

Hosea sat with Dutch as Arthur approached, and was none too happy about the current situation. “So, we keep heading east. Is that the plan?”

“For now.”

“And when do we stop? When we reach Paris?” Hosea exclaimed sarcastically.

“Oh that’d be nice, and join the Commune? We stop when we find someplace sensible, shake them that’s following us and lie low.” Dutch countered. It felt like an age old argument, with Hosea thinking legit scams were the way to go, and Dutch wanting one last big score to blow the others out of the water.

Hosea put his face into his hands, “And this is lying low? We’ve turned into a bunch of killers, I mean it.”

Dutch sat up straighter. “Sometimes, survival means having only one choice. We have to take it, or lose everything we’ve worked towards.”

Hosea threw his hands up, fed up with not feeling safe in his own home and stormed out of Dutch’s tend. Arthur moved closer to the older man to get a better look at the map he was studying.

“Micah told me of a place we can lie low. Dewberry Creek, he said. Maybe you and Charles can go take a look, clear off anyone you find before the whole lot of us move in.” Dutch pointed at the spot and Arthur nodded.

“Looks like I’ve turned into the Goddamned errand boy,” while walking away.

Dutch stood as tall as you’ve seen him, chest puffed with pride. “You have turned into my son, you worry because I worry. We are just the same!” Before Arthur got too far, Dutch yelled again, “Arthur! And when you return you and Miss Moore have some debts to collect on behalf of Herr Strauss. We’ll see how things are when you’re back from scouting.”

Arthur and Charles left shortly after that, not expecting to be gone more than a few hours. While they were out riding free, Ms. Grimshaw saw that every single one of the girls was sweating away, cleaning and packing and washing and sorting. All these damn men and not a single one could pack the knives away correctly.

Abigail and John were struggling to get everything done with Jack running around, so you offered after your tent was packed to take care of him. The fighting didn’t stop, but at least the kid was out of the way and not there to see it.

Jack took your hand and wanted to go see the river one last time. You wondered if he really understood why you were moving so constantly, and the past few months you had two camps. To a four year old that’s a lot of life changes.

He found a blue flower and tried to braid it into your hair, making you both giggle. It matched the shirt that Mary-Beth finally got around to make for you. A light blue that played with your dark features beautifully, and she even made some lace designs to fancy it up. You loved that shirt and were ecstatic when she gave it to you a week ago.

“I want a flower too, YN,” Jack whined when you sat down for a moment.

“Of course, Jack, what color you reckon?” He contemplated it, then decided on yellow. The two of you set off to wander the small field for a yellow flower.

“Here! Help me put it in my hair.” Jack loved flowers in hair and his own was no exception. This fascination with flowers was interesting to you, but when you asked he only shrugged and said something about Abigail loving them too.

A few hours later, Charles came riding down the slope. “YN! Arthur is waiting for you back at camp, or what’s left of it. Want me to give you two a ride up?”

Jack shook his head, so the two of you walked next to Tamia while Charles chatted about the new campsite he had found.

“The site Micah told us about already had people there, a dried up old creek bed. Would have been fine, but it’s hard to settle so many folks on uneven ground. Poor German lady and her two kids were there, hiding out under a wagon. While we went out riding to find her missing husband we found this perfect spot by a lake. Huge, even field hidden by trees. I can see us hiding there a long while.”

He looked calm about the whole ordeal and happy about the new site.

“What happened to him?” You asked suddenly.

“Who? Oh, the husband. Arthur took him back to his wife and we met up as we were coming back near Valentine. The family is alright,” he smiled down at you, the worry leaving your face.

“Just like to know they were safe is all!” You said a bit too defensively, but laughed at yourself.

Arthur was leaning against the last wagon as it was being packed up. Charles waved to you and carried Jack up to meet Abigail and John leading the wagon, then left to lead the caravan off to the new campsite.

“Guess it’s just you and me then, huh?” He took the last puff of a cigarette, then threw it out into the grass.

“Guess so, Mr. Morgan.”

“How many damn times you gonna keep calling me that?” he growled.

“Sorry. Arthur,” he waved his hand, signalling his indifference.

“Now, Her Strauss gave us three people to collect from, are we gonna be able to do that all in one afternoon?”

“Hope so. All locals, just need to get them talking quickly. Need be we can camp and head to the new site tomorrow.”

“With what? Most of my supplies just left,” you motioned to your things now rolling away in the last caravan and out of sight. The few supplies attached to Eclipse were nothing compared to what had just left you.

Arthur swore and moved to get on his horse, “Then we best get this done fast. It’s already late and the first one’s an hour ride.”

Eclipse kept up with Zeus, Arthur’s dark bay stallion, well during the journey. She was a little headstrong and sometimes didn’t respond to you right away, causing Arthur to take the lead in case she decided to jump off a bridge or something like that.

Talking was infrequent. Arthur turned out to be more of a focused and quiet rider. You found out he also liked to read, though not like Hosea. He shared many qualities with the older man but was still inexplicably drawn more to Dutch. They were both hot headed with a sense of leadership, and Hosea was more about playing things safe. Arthur had a healthy dose of each and the influence was easy to see in just about everything he did.

The first stop was a man named Chick Matthews. As you rode up, one of the hands told you Chick was out around the barn tending to his horse. The moment he spotted the two of you riding up he jumped on and galloped away, which was a shocking sight.

“Arthur! I’ll head up over the ridge to his right, I think I see a bridge up ahead. You go right after him and let’s see who can get there first. Heya!” Without waiting for him to respond you kicked Eclipse into a full gallop after the little man. She ran fast and strong, but Chick had a good head start and it took a bit of corralling to catch up. In the distance you could hear him taunting Arthur for being too slow and old, and you can only imagine the rage boiling on his face. They came up to a train that you had bypassed by going up above when Arthur managed to lasso that fool straight to the ground.

Once knocked down he coughed and sputtered like an idiot.

“Look, look, I got the money...but it’s hidden. Untie me and I’ll tell you where it’s at.”

You rode up just as Arthur finished hog tying the man, throwing a punch or two for making you both chase him so far. This may be your fist debt collecting but you wouldn’t let him abuse the man. As he pulled back to hit him again you grabbed his arm.

“Arthur! Let the man talk, for heaven’s sake. He’s got the money.” Arthur looked at your concerned face incredulously.

“Miss Moore, this country round here is full of idiots. Look at this one here,” he kicked his boot against Chicks lightly. “Now see, he doesn’t think we know about what’s in his pockets so why don’t you empty them out for me?”

Pick pocketing was better than beating, so you leaned down to see what he was hiding. An old carrot, a cigarette card, and a map leading you right to the money were all you found.

The map was incredibly simple. One bridge and a tree were all that were on it, and you looked down at Chick. “I may now want to hit you sir, for this is surely the dumbest map I have ever seen. Where the hell does it even start?”

He smiled a gap toothed grin up at you. “See Miss! That’s the best part. No one knows it but me.” At that Arthur delivered another kick to his stomach, hard and fast.

“Tell me where the damn money is!”

“Fine! Okay, Jesus. Head north and turn left at the Old Creek Bridge, it’s the tree closest there.”

Arthur nodded and moved towards Zeus. “YN, you take that sack of shit back to the ranch and I’ll meet you once I have collected Mr. Matthews’ debt. You try any funny business with her, and you’ll wish all I’d done was break some ribs of yours,” and took off.

Chick starred up at Eclipse. “Gee, Miss, I ain’t never ridden behind on a horse before. And never with a woman!” You rolled your eyes and loaded him up behind you.

True to his word Chick Matthews put up no fuss heading back. He pointed out some of his favorite land features and asked you to walk into town more than once. You politely declined, but you knew he didn’t mean any harm. Arthur finally rode up with a bag, showing you the cash then tucking it safely away in his satchel. The two of you were off to victim number two, Mr. Wrobel.

The Polish man lived at a farm called Painted Sky, and didn’t speak a lick of English. You tried to be soft and comforting but that didn’t seem to go anywhere, so Arthur lumbered in and demanded the return of cash. Wrobel seemed to have nothing, but sadly motioned around his home and let the two of you take enough possessions to equal the amount of the debt. It broke your heart to watch his face, and leaving you could see it troubled Arthur too.

“Why do you do jobs like this if they don’t feel right?” You asked quietly as the two of you mounted your horses for the third and final destination.

Arthur scratched the back of his neck, thinking. “I honestly prefer when they try to run or put up a fight. Don’t feel so bad robbin’ folks who make a point to take advantage of the loan. But those like him? Who need it? Makes me think I’m only out here to grease the wheel so it keeps turning. Folks need money, we lend it, then take it back with interest.”

Finally arriving past dark at Emerald Ridge, the third debtor gave Arthur no hesitation in his approach of getting the money back. Lilly Millet’s boyfriend jumped up and attacked him with a swift uppercut to his jaw and the man drew no pity from you after you heard the way he was berating Lilly.

Lilly grabbed your arm while the two men brawled and made a fuss of it all. Truth be told, it was quite the sight. Both me tall and muscular in build it was an evenly matched fight. After a few quick hits the other man went down, and Arthur stood huffing above him. You definitely understood why he liked the ones who fought him, he looked damn fine doing it.

“Alright, alright! That’s enough. He has everything I gave him, please, just take what he has and go,” Lilly called out to Arthur. To you, she whispered, “You’re a lucky girl to be running with a man like that. Makes mine look like an old rag.” You both looked down to where her man lay unconscious, in the mud. She rolled her eyes and made her way over to get him cleaned up.

Chuckling, you walked over to Arthur. “What’s so funny now?” he asked while stuffing the last of the cash in his satchel.

“Lilly had more on her mind that just debts, I think,” you looked at him suggestively but were met with a blank stare. “Oh, come on Arthur don’t be dense. I think she likes you!” After a beat it clicked and he looked away embarrassed. “Want me to ask if she’s free Friday?” you moved slowly backwards but he grabbed your upper arm lightly.

“No! Come on, woman. We best be moving. Probably have to camp halfway back now.” He started Zeus into a slow walk as you jumped up to Eclipse.

“Besides, she ain’t my type anyways. I like brunettes,” and with that he took off galloping, leaving you to watch and race after him.

Chapter Text

You and Arthur decided to camp after all, him having found an extra bedroll from somewhere you didn’t want to ask much about. It was too dark to see by the time you left the last debtor and neither of you could find the new campsite without a map.

“Here looks good, I think.” A few rocks had to be moved but it was off the main path and out of sight of anyone thinking to rob the two of you.

The glow from the campfire warmed the small clearing, and you offered to cook with what you could find nearby. While you roasted a rabbit over the fire, Arthur scribbled away in his journal and the two of you sat in a comfortable silence, a concentrated look settling on his face.

“How old are you, Miss Moore?” The question caught you off guard as Arthur broke the silence. He hadn’t looked up from whatever writing he was doing in his journal. A flush started to spread up your face.

“Isn’t that a bit...oh, I don’t care. I’m twenty nine.” You poked the fire and didn’t know what to expect from the man. He nodded and rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

“Why do you ask? How old are you?” Arthur chuckled slightly.

“Just wondering in relation to Marston how old you are. You don’t look old if that’s what you think I’m impyin’. I’m thirty five this year.”

You had no idea he was older than you by a few years but it didn’t matter much. In terms of life experience you were sure he outnumbered you a hundred times over.

“You married? A widower?”

“Jesus Arthur, no. I didn't run away from anything like that. Had a boy a long time ago but he - he was shot in a robbery attack at a bank and didn’t make it. Henry. Never really thought about romance after that, just seemed so...far away I guess. Other girls got married to continue their lives and for me, that would have been the end of it. Couldn’t think straight for a few years after it happened.”

He nodded appreciatively at the response and continued on his own. “Glad we didn’t swipe two widows in the same week, Dutch don’t like splittin’ up families much. Poor Mrs. Adler had a lot of ugly coming at her all at once. And that don’t count that Micah was the one who found her in the cellar.”

Not wanting to discuss the abusive, nasty drunk you let his words hang in the air. From between the trees you could see the moon climbing up through clouds and starlight, and the whole universe shone down above you. Constellations swirled and sparkled, winking back and forth across the night sky to answer a call that began millennia ago.

Figuring a complete change in subjects would be best, you broke the silence that wrapped around you too tightly. “Arthur...you could have left me on the ground and just escaped with Abigail back in Blackwater much easier. I would have been fine. Why did you come back for me?”

Arthur didn’t seem to have an answer yet, so instead he reached into his bag and pulled out a bottle of rum. After a long swig, he passed it to you.

“I don’t really know. I didn’t think...well you’d just been shot! Course I wasn’t gonna leave you bleedin’ on the ground. Couldn’t look back without knowing I did that.”

Rubbing your hands together and reaching toward the heat of the flames, you responded, “Should have just left me on the dust. Woulda been much faster for you and Abigail to escape without some shot up, dead weight hanging onto you for dear life.”

He laughed and tried to play it off. “I’ve known Abigail a long time, and she would have beat me dead if I left someone she finally approved of to die. Her seal don’t come out too often now that she’s got Jack.”

The bottle of rum was in your hands again and you took another pull. By now your head was beginning to swim slightly and a happy hum had settled over your body.

“How much does Herr Strauss lend out to those folks anyways?” Arthur was thumbing through the papers you had collected this morning.

“Nothing conspicuous, and only from those who are desperate enough to take it. Looks like we got...thirty five here altogether? Ain’t too bad for…” Arthur trailed off as he turned one of the papers over. “Aw, hell. We got one more stop to make tomorrow before camp. Damn fool lent to four folks, not three. Last one here’s a Mr. Downes...name’s familiar. Think I met him in Valentine.”

You passed the bottle back to Arthur and he took a large pull. Empty, he threw it towards the tree line and sighed. "If you wouldn't mind, YN, would you grab the other bottle I've got in my saddle?"

You sauntered over to where the horses were tied up for the evening and rustled around in the saddle bags. Rope, gun, papers...there it was. A full bottle of rum. You yanked it out and looked back towards the campfire where things had suddenly taken a turn. Arthur was standing with his hands up in the air, and two men were pointing guns at him and speaking in slurred tones.

"Now listen here, mister, this is how it's gon go. You were stupid enough to camp alone in our territory, and now you gotta pay the Lemoyne Raiders whatya owe them."

It was a gang you vaguely remembered by name, the Lemoyne Raiders. Crouched down by Zeus you slowly withdrew a shotgun and a pistol from the weapons holster on his side. These damn fools, two bed rolls were out lying by the fire, did their eyes not work?

You crept quietly back to camp and watched the two begin to rummage around, then waved and made sure Arthur saw you. He signaled for you to get away while the two raided his meager supplies, but you ignored him. The shotgun felt better in your hands so you tossed the pistol through the air and Arthur caught it silently. His face checked the safety and he glanced back at you bewildered. You had just tossed him a loaded gun which could have gone off at any moment, and you didn't even check the safety. The pistol was quietly shoved into the back of his pants while the two men emerged from his tent.

"Mister, you got nothing here. Just some cans of food. Where's the money?"

"What money?" Arthur grunted as one of them scanned the ground.

"You folks always got money, runnin' around and robbin' folks." The silent one finally spoke up. "Hey, uh Jim, there's two beds here."

You stood up and cocked the shotgun while the two idiots spun around to face you.

"Don't. Move." You instructed coldly, staring down the barrel at the two. They reluctantly put their hands up, muttering about having to submit to a woman.

"Here's how this is gonna go, fellas. You two are gonna leave. Forget you saw us. We’re just a pair passing through who won’t kill you if you don’t see us. Got it?”

They hesitated, but a quick movement to grab his gun had Arthur slamming the butt of the pistol into the taller one’s head. The other was now unguarded and he lunged towards you to try and wrestle the shotgun from your hands but you swung it around and smacked him so hard he hit the ground instantly, a large bump already forming from the impact.

With the two limp bodies, you and Arthur walked to the stream a good ways away from your camp. He chucked the empty bottle of rum between the pair to make it look like they simply passed out drinking.

“Stupid fools. You looked mighty frightening with that shotgun, I will say. Wonder how they didn’t hightail it out then.” You laughed knowing he was trying to lighten the mood. “Our camp is a good ways away, hopefully they get turned around and don’t find us again. It’s late,” as if to emphasize your point a yawn overtook you. The two of you headed back and walked the quarter of an hour mostly in silence.

A warm tingle from the rum still worked it way through you as you rolled your coat up into a pillow for your bedroll. Arthur began to protest that you should take his tent and he would sleep out in the open but you lay down before the words could pass his lips.

“I’m fine out here, it’s a warm night! Don’t worry. G’night, Arthur,” you mumbled as your eyes fell closed.

The soft glow from the dwindling flames danced on your face, and you looked so peaceful and beautiful falling asleep. Arthur shook off his heavier coat as a breeze passed through, thinking you were more in need of a blanket than he was. He gently bend over and draped the coat across your shoulders and hips, then climbed into his tent to write away in his journal some more.

Sun breaking through the clouds woke you up to a beautiful day. Apparently those two men hadn’t found you again as the only sound around you was the leaves above you brustiling against one another and the horses munching on some grass.

Arthur didn’t seem to be up yet. His smell of horses, tobacco leaves, and mint was overwhelmingly close though, and as you started to sit up you noticed his jacket draped across your shoulders. He must have put it over you when you fell asleep and for just a moment you pulled it tight around you and inhaled the scent. It was the perfect mix of outlaw and something else you couldn’t quite put your finger on it.

The campfire was long gone out but you wanted coffee. After you threw some smaller logs into the pit and began a flame, you brewed the grounds into boiling water and took a sip to fully wake yourself up.

“‘Sere enough of that for me?” a gruff voice mumbled from Arthur’s tent. You smiled as you poured him a cup. Too bad there was no sugar to add.

He came out groggy and rubbing his eyes, the sun a bright contrast to the darkness of his tent. Gratefully he accepted the cup from you and took a long sip. The silence was comfortable between you two as the morning crept on.

Eventually it was time to pack up and head off to the last of the debtors. Arthur rolled up the bedrolls while you stamped out the last of the fire. Once you were ready to go, you handed Arthur back his coat.

“Thank you, Arthur...that was sweet.” It was still warm out and the coat was heavy, so he attached it to Zeus with his bedroll.

“Was nothin, YN. I didn’t need it and you looked chilly was all.” His tone was relaxed while he brushed his horse.

“Well, even if it was nothing, thank you.” You swung up on Eclipse and gave her a good pat, saying good morning and making sure everything was all in place. After the check was complete, you headed out behind Arthur and Zeus at a steady pace, the forest giving way to more open fields and rolling hills.

The countryside was so vastly different here compared to Blackwater this time of year. Summer was always hot in the southwestern town, but it seemed so dusty to you compared to the green grass growing elsewhere. Even as the world changed from summer to autumn, you remembered swirling dust in everything. Your clothes, your books, the walls of the stores downtown. Sure, winter got cold and spring was full of nasty storms that brought rain for days, but you didn’t know what to expect from this side of the country with its rolling green hills and mountains the climbed towards the heavens.

Getting to the Downes house took a few hours. It was a cute little home with a vegetable patch off to the side with plenty of growth. The pair of you stayed back to observe for a few moments and see the best approach.

“See anyone else nearby?” Arthur asked and handed you the binoculars.

“Nope. Just the lone one in his garden. How do you want to do this?”

Arthur contemplated, then decided it was best to go alone. The two of you coming in with guns was overwhelming but alone he could subdue him in case anything happened. Looking back through the binoculars you noticed something concerning.

“Arthur, that man is sick. Very sick, he’s coughing up a lung over there.” He swore and observed the man.

“Course Strauss lends to the worst off folks around here...well, should make it easy.”

Stepping down from Zeus he checked the barrel of his shotgun for bullets. “Just...be careful, then,” you called softly after him as he walked off towards the house. He smiled back at you and raised his hand to acknowledge what you said then took off towards the small home.

Watching from your spot in the trees, Arthur approached the man who immediately raised his farming tool up in self defense. Arthur ducked as Mr. Downes swung the rake at him but it was easily blocked and pulled from his hands. He shoved the farmer back towards the wooden fence, and grabbed his collar to pull him in close and threaten him. The house caught your attention suddenly as smoke began to rise from the chimney. You clicked your tongue and both horses started walking towards the house, shotgun held tight in your left hand. Neither man noticed you approach.

As you got closer you could hear Arthur and the man talking. “You borrowed money from my business partner, Herr Strauss. You owe him. You took the money. He wants it back, what’s not to understand?”

Mr. Downes was very, very sick, you could see that now. He nearly coughed right in Arthur’s face, and before you could approach him to help the front door or the cabin swung open, and who you assumed was the wife and his son ran towards you.

“Thomas! My husband isn’t well. If we could just have more…” but she never finished as Arthur shoved Downes away from him and stalked back to you and the horses, and cut her off.

“Like I said, we ain’t anybody’s idea of charity. Get us the money!”

He approached with tension clear across his shoulders and barked, “Why didn’t you stay in the woods like we said, YN?”

Your throat was a bit dry as you tried to answer. “The cabin...I saw smoke and was gonna tell you.” He ignored you for the most part lost in his own mind, then took the reins for Zeus and climbed up quickly. His spurs clicked as the horse took off, and you struggled to catch up. Something had set Arthur off and he was in a foul mood.

The next hour was silent, and after awhile you couldn't take it anymore.

“Arthur, why didn’t you collect the debt from the Downes family?” He pulled Zeus’ reins and came to an abrupt stop, looking at you with an angry brow.

“They didn’t have the money, that’s why. Strauss lent to the wrong damn people.”

You were by a small stream so you decided to get down and fill up your water flask. Arthur angrily splashed cool water on his face to try and calm down, muttering while he crouched close to the moving water.

Cautiously you pressed him for answers. “Why do they make you run these awful errands? I have only known you these past few months but that’s not the you I’ve seen every other day.”

Not looking back he replied, “Because I’m big, and I can get the angriest when they need me too. Ain’t a good thing I’m doin’, but somebody’s got to. We need money. And just so you know, that is me, darlin’.”

He stood up to his full height and you realized just how terrifying he could be to a stranger. Broad shoulders filled out his shirt well, and you could see muscles hiding beneath from years of hard work. When he needed to his eyes could get mighty dark and send shivers of fear through a person. If you were someone who took on a loan, seeing him ride up and demand it back would work pretty well.

At camp he was different though. Relaxed and protective of those he loved and had ridden with for years. But out here he was a stranger; a mirror of society that could change its reflection at any moment. He was whoever he needed to be to make sure the job got done.

“You must really hate threatening folk who don’t need it if it makes you act like this. Beatin’ up someone who just needed money, they’re weak and you’re told to kick them when they’re down. It can’t be good for the soul to struggle with what you want and what has to be done.”

Arthur just stared. His mind seemed to be racing and he couldn't think of anything to say. He simply searched your face in hopes of finding an answer neither of you had.

You walked back over to Eclipse. The new horse had been perfect for you since she was purchased in Valentine. Sleek, fast, but still study enough to carry the equipment it took to camp around the countryside with guns and such. It was calming to brush her out and to care for her.

Finally Arthur joined you with the horses. His eyes wouldn’t meet yours, so you silently swung up and got situated in your saddle.

“You’re right,” he spoke quietly, and you had to watch him to make sure you heard the rest. “Ain’t easy. We used to have a creed, and only took from those who could stand to lose it. But now?” he laughed darkly as he continued on. “I’d follow Dutch anywhere, but he’s a bit off since that stint in Blackwater.”

“Watching those who are family change ain’t easy. Sometimes makes you change, too. You can’t be unbreakable for your whole life or you’d never get a chance to grow.” Arthur kept staring at you even after you had turned away, thinking that there was something familiar in this feeling, but he couldn’t place what it was.

Eclipse responded quickly to you clicking your tongue and walked forward. Zeus kept pace while Arthur was lost in thought.

“Do you know what happened in Blackwater?” thinking of your hometown brought to mind that no one really explained the story. It was always referenced to but never addressed.

Arthur sighed heavily. “I don’t rightly know all the details...I wasn’t actually there on the ferry. Dutch got the impression that the banks were sending money on that boat instead of by train so they couldn’t get robbed. It was supposed to be the last heist we pulled so we could finally get out and be done.”

This was something that had plagued him for awhile. “Me and Hosea were off running our real estate gig, something that was real and would have worked. But Micah put it in Dutch’s head that this ferry was the big one. Anyways, it ended in a big shootout with the Blackwater Police and some Pinkertons and us, plenty dead by the end of it. We had that money but had to hide it incase we was found out. Leavin’ town is when I ran into you and Abigail, John had been shot so I had to get her safe.”

Imagining your hometown going through that was rough. You didn’t think your father was on the ferry but you genuinely had no idea. Of course, you knew he wasn’t dead, but it sounds like many others fell in his place.

“Jesus Arthur...I had no idea it was so bad.”

He watched you from the corner of his eye, interested to see how you reacted. He didn’t know about your father yet and that would have just made things worse.

“What about the money? Are you going back for it?” you wondered out loud.

He laughed once. “Not right now we ain’t! Every other window has a wanted poster up of Dutch and Hosea, would be a death sentence to head back anytime soon.”

“It’s been nearly 5 months, surely it would be safe soon?”

“YN, folks seem to have a much better memory for those who do wrong against them than right. I have a feeling we won’t be welcome there for a long, long time.”

Along the train tracks were signs pointing out a nearby town of Rhodes. The old paint was chipping off the wood, and you could see it was riddled with bullet holes.

“Damn. Those Lemoyne Raiders don’t mess around, we’ll have to be careful riding through here.” Arthur followed the trail heading off to the right and towards the trees.

“Tell me about this new camp. Does it have the same view as Horseshoe Overlook?” You wanted to move on to a different topic as the last one had left an odd taste in your mouth.

“It’s, uh, big spot on the lake. Nice little island you can row out to, good fishing I’m sure. You’ll like it, spent so much time by the water at the last place this’ll be much closer. Won’t have to worry about anyone sneaking up on us there.” He smiled back at you over his shoulder and continued riding ahead.

Arthur Morgan noticed more than you gave him credit for. Most men you had met were lazy or only had one thing on their mind, but he was observant and quick.

“Does the lake help with this awful heat?” It may have been mid September, but the turning of the season did nothing to beat away the humidity that settled in the further south you traveled.

Sweat slowly trickled down your back as you fanned yourself with your hat, the large brim providing a breeze that was much needed.

“Lakes got a good breeze, don’t worry.”

An easy silence fell over the two of you, and for once you didn’t feel like you had to worry. After months of being around these people you were comfortable and safe, knowing when words didn’t have to be spoken.

You stopped once more before arriving at camp for a quick chance to rest the horses in some shade and stretch out your legs. Riding all day was hard on a body.

Arthur handed you his canteen and you took a drink happily. Somehow the water was still cold from that stream and it tasted wonderful on your dry throat. You thanked him and he tucked it away on his horse, but before he finished he froze.

“YN,” he said very seriously. “Don’t move.”

It all happened very fast, but Arthur reached out and grabbed your arm to pull you behind him, then fired his pistol at the ground. You made a small noise and the horses spooked, but you couldn’t quite see what had caused the commotion. His arm was still holding you back and you clutched his sleeve tightly.

“Just a rattler, but it was coming up to you and Eclipse there. Figured we shouldn’t risk it.”

The dead snake lay on the ground and it was big.

“I...thank you, Arthur. Glad you got it in one shot.”

You finally let go of his arm and he scoffed. “What, you doubtin’ me as a sharp shooter?”

Flatly you replied back, “No, it just woulda taken me three or four rounds to even get close.”

“Maybe that’s something we can work on then. Can’t put you in danger ‘cause you don’t know how to aim.”

“I can aim just fine! Snakes are just...little is all.”

Chuckling softly he replied, “Three rounds for one snake! C’mere. I still got a can we can use for practice.”

He walked over to a log and set up the empty corn can on top. “Now, grab your pistol. No not that one. Yeah, that’s good. Okay. See the little notch on top there?”

Looking down the barrel you could see a raised piece of metal with a dip in the middle. “That supposed to be there?” He didn’t answer so you took it as a yes and raised the gun up to eye level, watching him move away from the can and back towards you.

“If you keep your eyes open, it tends to help your aim. Now, shoot one and let’s see what’s going on.”

The shot was close, but you missed the can and hit the log instead.

Arthur rocked back on his heels and contemplated. “How’s that left arm? Holdin’ strong?” You nodded but he came up behind you anyways. “Here. Don’t lock it like that, makes it hurt more after.” He placed his hand just above your elbow and bent it slightly. “There, now relax your shoulders,” his other hand rested gently on your right shoulder, pushing it down into place and loosening up the tension.

“Seems right. And...shoot.”

The can flew wildly, and you whooped at your victory. “Right off the stump, did you see that!” You spun around to face Arthur who was much closer than you thought and threw your arms around his neck. He made a rumbling sound in his chest as you knocked him back a step, but you felt his arms wrap around you tightly for a brief moment before you let him go.

“Sorry, Arthur, it’s just so exciting! I’ve never been good at this before. Shooting, and riding, they didn’t really fit into my life before. It’s all so new!” A bit embarrassed at your reaction, you dipped your head and moved to tuck a piece of hair that had fallen out of your ponytail in the excitement.

Arthur, however, seemed to take no mind at it all. In fact his face broke into a rare full smile, lines forming around his blue eyes as he put his hands to rest on his belt. He acted much more relaxed and at ease while teaching you to shoot.

“Alright. Well, next time I go out robbin’ I’ll bring you along and we can really put Dead Eye Moore to the test, how’s that?”

The horses were rested enough so the two of you set off to finally find Clemens Point. You were eager to find the new camp and get settled as the past few days had brought a lot of change, and you were ready to begin a new chapter of your life with the Van der Linde gang.

Chapter Text

It had taken you and Arthur longer than you had hoped to arrive at camp, but you had to admit everything he said was true. The location was easily defendable on the lake, and the water was blue and sparkling in the evening sun. It was beautiful.

“Ah, Mr. Morgan! Ms. Moore! How did you two get on with those loans?” Dutch wandered over as you hitched your horse in the new area. Eclipse nibbled at the grass and made content noises as you took her heavy saddle off in the heat.

“Well enough, I suppose. Last one didn’t have the money but we got everything else. Here, for the camp,” Arthur handed the older man the cash. “Damn, Dutch. This humidity is awful.”

He laughed but agreed, and motioned you over to Grimshaw. In a softer tone Dutch asked Arthur how things went with you.

“Fine. She’s good on a horse and held her own. Soft spirit, but nearly took a man’s head of by swinging a gun at him. I’d say we start taking her out more and givin’ her responsibilities. She can hunt and fight just fine.” Dutch was happy to hear this and clapped Arthur’s shoulder.

“Mr. Morgan! Your tent, per usual, is near the ammunition and over on the right there. Next to Herr Strauss. Don’t make that face, I know how you feel about the man but space is limited. Miss Moore, you’re by that tree and the lake. We moved your stuff over but don’t know how you like it, so that bit is up to you.”

You smiled back at Grimshaw, “Thank you, I appreciate it. I’ll go get all set up then.”

The three nodded and began a new conversation without you, so with your saddle in hand you walked to your new tent.

Lenny, Mary-Beth, and Abigail all called out hellos from across the camp at your return and you filled with happiness inside.

Grimshaw was right about your tent. Situated maybe twenty feet from the water, a cool breeze filtered through the open flaps and felt heavenly. Your few possessions were on your bed and you took your time decorating your new home to your liking before you had to get dinner.

Watching the water reminded you of the times your mother would take you down to Flat Iron Lake as a child. She taught you to swim and would take you for ice cream as a treat after an afternoon in the glowing sun.

She had been crossing your mind more and more lately and you didn’t know why. Cassandra Milton. The only woman to love that bastard father of yours.

The small heart shaped locket she had given you was in the pile on your bed and it opened to her photo. Smiling, you clasped the chain around your neck and tucked it behind your clean white shirt before leaving the tent. It always made you feel close to her when you squeezed it tightly in your hand.

Boxes were scattered around the uncompleted camp acting as chairs and you couldn’t complain as you took a seat and watched the sun finally slip down below the waterline for the day.

The stew Pearson made had some of what you had helped Charles hunt and to you it tasted divine. Of course, it wasn’t canned corn or poorly shot rabbit, so anything at this point was better than what you had eaten recently. Or maybe it was just your recent burst of happiness that flavored the meal to your liking.

Charles joined you after finishing up with Pearson to get his cooking area established.

“How did you and Arthur get on, YN?” He looked tired and ready to relax as he passed you a bottle of beer, and you clinked yours with his lightly.

“Good, feeling better about being here. More established. I really do want to help out, need to go hunting again anytime soon?”

Charles laughed and took a long drink. “No. Too soon from last time, but I’ll let you know. We don’t want to over hunt and have the animals go to waste. Have you seen the town nearby? Rhodes? I’m not familiar with it.”

You hadn’t. Most of your life was spent in Blackwater with few trips outside, although you had heard of many of the cities out east.

“No. Saw the sign on the way in. We ran into some Laymone Raiders last night though, hope they ain’t too common around here.” Out of habit you scanned the wooded area, but nothing was lurking. All your demons were tucked away quietly for the time being.

“Should be perfectly safe here, like I thought. Good land, clean water right there. I have no worries about this place. Feels good to not worry about folks here for a little while.”

You sighed heavily, tearing the label off your beer bottle. “Well Charles, I guess worryin’ is the price you have to pay when you have folks around that you care for.”

He raised his bottle again to yours, and you watched the lake move peacefully back and forth in a calming rhythm that would soon help you fall asleep at night.

 

Not a week into being at Clemens Point and Sadie Adler broke.

You were helping Abigail feed the chickens, carrying the bags back and forth to spread the food around their area. The morning had been soft so far with a fog rolling in from the lake. Warm rays of the sun were ready to burn it away as it had every morning previously, the heat already creeping across your shoulders and down your back.

“Say whatever you damn well please but I tell you, if I don’t get outta here soon, I’m gonna kill somebody.”

Abigail froze and you watched Arthur approach the widow as she pointed a sharp knife in Pearson’s direction. You can’t imagine the past five months have been easy on Sadie Adler, but she had hardly started living her life again. Coming to some meals, dressing, and putting in minimal help was all she was good for at Horseshoe Overlook. Of course, none of you blamed her. After the trip to Clemen’s Point her view seemed to change to be more future oriented and finally emerging out of her shell.

Pearson slammed the pot he was holding down on his wooden table and turned to face Mrs. Adler. “If you don’t stop hissing at me, I’m gonna kill you!” He was brandishing a knife sharpener to counter her weapon but it was doing little good.

“You come near me, sailor...and I will slice you up!”

“You put that knife down or you’re going to be missing a hand, lady.”

Arthur stood back a ways letting the two get things out of their system, but finally stepped in as the two got closer and closer. “What is wrong with you two?”

Sadie slammed the tip of the knife into the table with enough force to make it stand on its own, and replied, “I ain’t chopping vegetables for a living.” She stood with her hands on her hips and her shoulders moved with each breath she took.

“Oh, I’m sorry, madam,” Arthur sauntered over. “Are there not sufficient feathers in your pillow?”

Abigail clucked beside you at Arthur. She obviously sided with Sadie and watched the two go back and forth.

“Look, I ain’t lazy Mr. Morgan. I’ll work but not this. My husband and I, we shared the work. All of it. I was out in the fields, I can hunt, carry a knife or use a gun. But I tell you,” you and Abigail scooted closer to eavesdrop as Sadie’s voice lowered. The two of you didn’t even look like you were trying to do chores at this point. “You keep me here, I’ll skin this fat old coot and serve him for dinner!”

“Watch your damn mouth, you crazy goddamn fishwife!”

With a scream, Sadie threw herself at Pearson. Arthur was standing between the two but she struggled to get away and lay her hands on the camp cook. Pearson walked backwards with his hands up but had no fear of her catching him. Arthur threw Sadie back and put his hands between them.

“Enough! Both of you. Well, come with me then. You wanna head out there? Run with the men? So be it. But we do more than just hunting we’re hunted. And them things hunting us they got guns of their own.”

Sadie replied with a simple but resounding remark. “I ain’t afraid of dying.”

Her eyes showed this was absolutely true. Just because she was happy to be living didn’t mean a change in that plan would upset her by any means.

“Mrs. Martson! Ms. Moore! You two look...well, you look guilty of something. What in the hell are you doing with that chicken feed? It’s everywhere!”

You and Abigail had wandered over to the commotion and not even checked the feed in many minutes. The chickens were well outside their area, but well fed if nothing else on their new path through camp.

“Sorry, Arthur. We wanted to see what all the yelling was about,” Abigail spoke up. “You going into town? I need a few things, can you all grab it for me?”

“You don’t wanna come?”

She shrugged back. “Nah, I’ve got too much around here to do. But YN will go! She won’t say it but she’s antsier than anything to get out of camp for awhile.” She lightly shoved you in Arthur’s direction and took off back towards her tent with the two empty feed bags. When no one else was looking she winked over her shoulder at you.

Arthur checked with Pearson if he needed anything from town but all he had was a letter to be sent and a short grocery list. Both were tucked away into Arthur’s satchel and he directed you two over to the wagon to head out of camp, giving a hand up as the jump was too high in your long skirts. As Sadie was the reason you were leaving camp you let her sit in the front with Arthur, and you took the back with your knees tucked up under your chin. The autumn breeze was heavenly and you closed your eyes as the wagon rolled out.

Sadie and Arthur threw witty quips back and forth, testing the limits of their new bond. She was a smart woman who, now that she actually spoke, was someone you could learn a lot from. The few years Sadie had on you showed instantly. Swearing and shooting were not unfamiliar to her from her old life.

“Dear Aunt Cathy.”

The words pulled you out of your head and back to the preset. You had been admiring some clouds on the horizon, but turned and put your arms over the wood separating you and your companions at Sadies voice.

“That what I think it is?” you asked. Arthur looked in your direction and rolled his eyes, knowing he had lost. “Leave that poor fool alone then.”

“No,” you giggled. “Continue on, Mrs. Adler.”

Sadie cleared her throat and made a face that resembled Pearson. “I haven’t heard from you in some time, so I prayed to the Lord above that your health has not deteriorated further…blah, blah, blah, that’s boring. Oh! Listen to this. Since we last corresponded I have traveled widely, making no small name for myself. Before you ask, I am still yet to take a wife but I can assure you it’s not for the lack of suitors!”

The three of you laughed so hard Arthur careened the wagon off the path and narrowly avoided hitting a rock. Wiping tears from her eyes, Sadie flipped the letter over.

“What’s this? Return to Tacitus Kilgore.” Arthur went on to explain how Dutch wanted all of the gang’s mail to be sent to one fake name so they would never lose anything even if they traveled from town to town.

Thinking back on your home of Blackwater, you remembered dust. It was stuck between every brick in the road and then some. Rhodes was an entirely new level.

Before the wagon was even parked the dust permeated you. It was in your hair and on your skin and you hadn’t even moved yet. The beating sun only made it worse, and the lack of rain was obvious from the low levels of water in the buckets situated around town. Arthur parked near the entrance of the town and in the shade of the general store.

“So, what’s the plan, I shoot the shopkeeper while you -”

“No!” Arthur lunged at Sadie and swatted the gun out of her hands. It swung wildly for a moment and you dove down below the sight level in the back of the wagon. “You insane?”

“I thought we was outlaws!”

“Outlaws, not idiots. We rob fools that rob other people. These people, they’re just tryin’ get by.”

Sadie marched off to the grocer clearly disappointed she wasn’t going to be shooting anyone on their adventure. Arthur held his arms up and helped you down, his strong hands grabbing your waist and setting you gently on the ground.

“Jesus, that woman is something else.” he chuckled and guided you to the main street and off to the post office.

A train was arriving full of visitors who ogled the small town through their clean glass windows. All they saw was a main road with shops, trees, and lots and lots of dust. You could have complained about that damn dust all day long, but you had to keep your mouth shut otherwise half of it would end up in your stomach.

Arthur held the peeling green door to the station open for you to pass first. He wanted to go up to the teller alone so you wouldn't be seen, so you mosied around and admired the paintings on the walls. Most were ammature and just of green landscapes, but one of the ocean caught your attention and your fingers traced the crashing waves on the small canvas. Seeing the ocean in person had always been a dream of yours. The lake was wonderful, sure, but to see the ocean? In person? You had always imagined how the blue water would stretch as far as you could see, and even further in every direction.

As soon as the letter was posted, Arthur walked over to join you. “You ready?” You nodded and followed him back outside, admiring the small garden of grass that surrounded a bell with a plaque laid down. You wondered what it commemorated but didn’t have time to stop, so you mentally added it to the list of things you wanted to see again.

No one was by the wagon so you continued down through the street. A butchers shop, a gunsmith, a saloon, and a few various other shops and buildings made up the whole area.

“Makes you feel like civilization ain’t out here yet. Blackwater was hell, but at least they knew how to pave a road.” The disdain in your voice was obvious and Arthur turned mockingly towards you.

“Why, Ms. Moore! You are a true city slicker. Talking about civilization and roads, makes it sound like you was born in an ivory tower with servants and butlers.”

A laugh burst from your chest at his sarcasm. “An ivory tower! That’s what you think of me. All I wish for was a little but less dust…” as you spoke you shook out your green skirt and a wave of that wretched stuff came off.

“Oh. I thought that was blue.” You didn’t answer him but stared daggers instead, making sure he got the message.

“Nah, I know you ain’t some uppity princess. Just takes awhile to learn how to fit in anywhere like we do, I guess. It’s been, what, five? Six months now? You’re doing just fine, Ms. Moore. I’ve been running with these fools for nearly twenty years, so I figure I can teach you a few things. Just takes time is all.” He smiled down at you, and your heart warmed in your chest.

He may be an outlaw, but something about Arthur Morgan had captured your attention over the past few months. There were rough edges to him, but that wasn’t it. More often than not his blue eyes were crinkling into some sort of a smile,whether sarcastic or serious, and he had a deep, rumbling laugh that was infectious to those in camp. You had seen him turn on a dime into someone ruthless and wild and be completely different if he needed to, but it was never aimed at anyone he cared about. And he was always writing in that journal of his which you would have given just about anything to peek into. The writer had attracted the reader, how poetic.

Someone was barking orders by the wagon and Arthur was suddenly on edge. The two of you neared, and saw Sadie berating the poor delivery boy as he loaded the crates into the back.

“Jesus, kid! My grandma has more strength than you! Lift up them crates.”

A new woman stood before you. Now in a bright yellow top, dark brown pants, suspenders, and a leather gun belt topped with a wide brim hat, Sadie had come into her own. The few minutes you left her alone had allowed her to blossom. And she looked damn fine.

Arthur whistled and walked around as Sadie showed off her new threads. “Damn, Sadie! Who woulda thought.”

“Here, YN. I grabbed you a few things as well.” She handed you a package and you stowed it on the wagon. The heat was enough now that you twisted your long hair up into a bun and used your hand to fan yourself.

“Any chance there’s a new hat in there, Mrs. Adler? I’m dying in this heat.”

Sadie nodded and motioned back towards the wagon. Arthur was impatiently already seated in the front and you climbed in the back again, eagerly ripping into your present.

The first item was blue, your blue. The shade that you wore all the time and loved, and it turned out to be a beautiful long skirt. Luckily the material was light so you could wear it often in the heat. Next Sadie had gotten you a few practical shirts, a bandanna, and at the bottom was your hat. It was more fashion oriented than hers with a rounded dome versus her flat one, but you could have cared less. It was a blessed relief to not have the sun on your face and Sadie flashed a full smile as you put it on and modeled for her.

Mrs. Adler drove the wagon home. It wasn’t as rushed as when Arthur drove for she constantly got distracted by things on the side of the road. She pointed out interesting people and funny buildings to you while Arthur lounged in his seat with his feet up.

They chatted easily, and it was the first time Mrs. Adler had really opened up. She actually joked about what happened in Colter with the O’Driscolls, and Arthur apologized and offered to find her a new harmonica to replace one she had lost years ago. It was clear you both had the same idea of what you wanted in this gang; to be equal. There was certainly differences between you and how you approached it, but it didn’t mean that people should take either of you any less seriously.

As the wagon rolled on, you laid your head on crossed arms and watched the scenery go by. Wild flowers were sprinkled across the fields clouds dotted the bright blue sky. It couldn’t have been a more beautiful country day if it tried.

A man rode up right next to you and hollered, startling all three of you. “Hey there! What are you folks up to?” He eyed the groceries in the back of the wagon, and gave you a one over that made your insides curl. Arthur sat at attention and you were suddenly aware that your guns were all back at camp.

Sadie called back, “Just heading home. Day in town leaves folks real tired.” She casually moved her inside hand to her hip where her new holster sat.

“You’re in Lemoyne Raider country. You need to pay a toll to pass through here.” The horses kept pace with the wagon and your heart started to beat faster.

Arthur called back lazily, ‘’No. I don’t think so. We ain’t pulling over for nobody.”

Sadie reached across to address the main Lemoyne Raider with the business end of her gun. “Hey! How’s about this?” And fired right into his belly.

Arthur reached back and shoved you down as he fired his pistol at the other rider, narrowly missing him as he leaned forward and galloped his horse. The wagon plowed forward across railroad tracks and Sadie grabbed the reins again, yelling at the horses to keep moving as fast as they could.

More riders approached from all sides. “Give me a gun!” Panic laced your voice, and Arthur began to protest but Sadie had no hesitation as she tossed you her rifle. The wagon was gaining speed again and rocking more but you steadied yourself against the boxes and took aim.

“There must be at least four back here!”

After one round, you knew where to aim. The gun felt heavy in your hands but it was a fight or flight response, and damn did you want to fight. Three riders fell as you shot them down, trying not to think too much about it, and you missed as the fourth finally raised his shotgun at you. His shot landed close, but struck the wall of the wagon.

You laughed maniacally and Sadie whooped in encouragement. Arthur had eliminated the riders ahead and swung himself into the back of the wagon to assist you.

“Where’d they all go?” He whipped around confused after hearing you yell.

“Only a few left. Got the other ones with Sadie’s rifle.” He looked over at you impressed, pride showing on his features. Then aimed and the last two riders were dead before they even hit the ground.

After a good few minutes of riding on, Sadie felt safe enough to pull the wagon over to the side of the road.

You put your hands on your knees to catch your breath while Sadie checked the supplies to see if anything had fallen off.

“Told you I could shoot a gun, Arthur.” He stood above you, eyes scanning the horizon to make sure you weren’t followed.

He chuckled lightly. “I don’t remember asking you to prove it, Ms. Moore. You alright there?”

“‘Course. Just the heat and all that excitement. This new hat is wonderful Sadie!” She waved back as you hollered over to her at the wagon.

“You’ve, uh, you’ve got something…” you reached up to Arthur’s face as you noticed the dirt on his cheek, gently wiping it away with the pad of your thumb. He didn’t flinch at the contact this time and it almost seemed like he leaned into your touch. You smiled up at him and let your hand fall back.

“You two ready or what?” Sadie was already at the reins, ready to leave. You pulled yourself up to the back of the wagon as Arthur climbed to the bench and directed the way back to Clemens Point.

“That’s a lot of mess to make near camp. Hope it don’t bring anyone sniffing around.” Arthur shifted in his seat, and the lake finally came into view.

You could see Charles on guard duty and decided to keep him company, so the pair let you jump off and you waved as they rode the rest of the way into camp.

“Don’t go ribbing Pearson about that letter, Sadie.”

“How dare you? I wouldn't dream of it. ‘I have traveled widely making no small name of myself…’” Arthur and Sadie rolled out of view as you approached Charles.

A wide smile and a handful of candies met you. You took the one happily, throwing the mint flavored snack into your mouth.

“Rhodes is just as awful as we feared, Charles. No hope of salvation anywhere!” He stared at your dramatics while you fanned yourself with the new hat from Sadie.

“How is Mrs. Adler?” He asked kindly.

“Better. I think. She seems to be moving in a new direction that’s good for her. Nearly killed us all, but saved our skins as well. I think she’s a complicated woman.”

Charles laughed at this. “Aren’t you all? Complicated, that is?”

You leaned back against a tree and answered, “Only in you don’t speak the language, Charles. Only if you don’t bother to try.”

Chapter Text

Micah had been gone from camp for the past two weeks but you hardly noticed. In fact, you felt safer with him out. When he rode back in you made a point not to greet him, preferring the company of others to hide you from view.

September had slowly turned to October and brought colder nights, but did nothing about the heat during the days.

“Sadie, that’s not how this is played.”

The widow stared down at the dominoes confused, “I thought we was playing to 21.”

You rolled your eyes heavily at her. “That’s poker. I think. Maybe blackjack?”

“Watch it, YN, those eyes roll any further back and they’ll get stuck in your head.” Sadie had a quick raspy laugh to match her personality. She stood up, done with the game neither of you knew how to play. “I’m off for food, want anything?” You shook your head and planned to go read alone in your tent as your chores were all done for once.

A cool breeze caused the tent flaps to lazily wave back and forth while you sat down to get comfortable. Hosea had long since taken his crime series back, and you were in the middle of a new romance novel that you kept hidden under your pillow. It starred a heroine you admired, and a dashing hero for whom she pined. The families had been feuding for generations, naturally, and the two lovers were caught in the middle trying to mend the rift caused by time all while having secret meet ups that always ended romantically. You couldn't help the attachment you felt towards the book.

“Whatcha got there, YN?” Jesus, Micah was quiet. He snuck up to your tent and stood as an unwanted voyeur.

Quickly dropping your book into your pile, you grabbed Pride and Prejudice instead.

“Jane Austen. Although I am certain you’ve never read it.”

He snorted and snatched the book out of your hands, walking out towards the center of camp.

“Hey! Give that back!” He ignored your demands but the noise drew the attention of others in the area. Lenny and Arthur were close by, and Charles sat with Abigail at a table eating.

Opening to a random page Micah began to read out loud. “Mr. Bingley was good looking and gentlemanlike; he had a pleasant countenance, and easy, unaffected manners. His sisters were fine women, with an air of decided fashion. His brother-in law, Mr. Hurst, merely looked the gentleman; but his friend Mr. Darcy - how do you stand this horse shit?”

“I said give it back!” you tried to reach around Micah’s outstretched hand but his reflexes were quicker from years on the run. His elbow connected with your ribs, hard, and sent you flying to the ground.

Arthur, Lenny, and Charles were all standing at once. Abigail had run off to find John, but you figured there was only so much damage he could do at camp.

“You heard the lady, Micah. Give it back.” Lenny came over to help you stand, holding your arm and keeping you steady. Micah made no notion of hearing him even though the warning was low and frightening.

Instead he ripped a page and looked back at you, mockingly replying, “Oops.”

Your brow pulled together and you tried to reach the book before he did anymore damage, but Arthur moved first. He swung his fist and collided it with Micah’s temple. Micah howled in anger and took a few steps back, dropping the novel into a pile of mud. A hand grabbed your shirt to drag you back and Charles placed himself in front of you and next to Arthur, ready to fight if it came to it. Micah had a wide stance and a feral look in his eyes; even outnumbered he was prepared to brawl.

Clearly there was more built up rage between the three of them than what could manifest over your stolen book.

Micah lunged and swung wildly at Charles and Arthur, landing fists where he could and stumbling back to avoid taking damage. Charles was precise in his movement and mainly acted out of self defense. Arthur demanded the attention, baiting Micah with calls and jeers to draw the most impact to himself. He was simultaneously the hunter and the prey, making sure Charles never got hit while defending himself as well.

Time felt like it stretched on forever, but it was only moments later when Dutch’s voice rang out across the area.

“Boys! What in the hell is this?” He moved as a force with Hosea and Abigail in his wake.

Micah and Charles stopped instantly, dropping their hands and standing at attention. Arthur was a bit roudier and took the opportunity to take one last swing at Micah, smirking as the blonde careened backwards and almost fell over.

“Oops,” Arthur mocked.

“Boys! This is a family. Ms. Bell, get the hell out of camp for today. Mr. Smith, go with Hosea to calm down. See if Pearson needs any help,” he turned to the remaining man with disappointment written on his features. “Mr. Morgan. Arthur. My son, what has gotten into you? What happened here?”

Arthur nursed his bruising jaw with a cold bottle Hosea handed him before leaving with Charles. “Micah knocked Ms. Moore down over a book, Dutch. Wasn’t gonna let him get away with it in camp with our people.”

Dutch absentmindedly picked up your book out of the mud and brushed it off. “You okay, Ms. Moore? He lay a hand on you?”

You nodded slowly and decided to tell your secret. “It’s not the first time he’s done something like that, Dutch. Back at Horseshoe Overlook he...grabbed my neck when I rejected him. Tried to scare me.”

There wasn’t much of a reaction from Dutch, but Arthur muttered under his breath about wishing he hit him harder.

“Tried. I like your spirit, Ms. Moore. I am sorry he hurt you, but you are safe here. These are good people who sometimes get a little off course. I will personally watch Micah, and Mr. Morgan here is now going to be watching over you. Not that you are helpless,” he chuckled when you began to protest, “but Micah is a large man, and there are others who don’t have the same mind as us. Please know you can come to me anytime.”

You thanked him and watched as his mind spun and ticked away. The two must know each other well for Micah had been with the gang a good while longer than you, and for every one of his faults Dutch was there to defend.

Guilt flooded your chest as Arthur stretched out his arms and winced with pain. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Morgan. I didn’t mean for anyone to get involved -”

“You’re sorry?” Arthur looked over at you incredulously. “Why’re you sorry? He’s the one who was throwing around women, ain’t you’re fault you got caught up in this mess. Long time Dutch has known how I feel about him.”

Tears sprang to your eyes as you saw the real damage that had been caused. Micah, Arthur, Charles, and Dutch were now involved. “I, I’m just real sorry, Mr. Morgan.” It came out as a whisper as you backed away from the scene, Arthur watched you silently with an odd expression on your face. Panic began to creep up your back and you turned and fled.

Green leaves from the trees blurred together as you ran through the woods. You weren’t entirely sure why you ran but the movement of your muscles felt good and strong. Maybe being alone was the best way for you to process what happened.

Eventually you reached a part of the lake you hadn’t seen before. It was a small alcove where you could see fish jumping in the distance and had plenty of trees providing shade in the afternoon. Today was a rare day that the heat had actually dropped and allowed you to breathe normally.

You plopped down by a tree and faced the water. Why had you run? That panic blossomed so quick and strong and was like nothing you had ever felt before. Maybe it was having people actually defend you against an attacker for once rather than ignore all of the signs glaring in their faces. Micah was different, you couldn’t find any redeeming qualities in the man. Compared to Arthur and Charles he was a snake in the grass.

The cool breeze rustled the leaves at your feet and you pulled the tie out of your hair to shake it loose. Curls whipped around your face and you finally relaxed. It’s too bad that book got ruined, this would be a perfect spot to read.

After an hour you decided to go back. Turns out you hadn’t gone as far as you thought you did but a gentle reprieve made you feel that much better.

Soft guitar music drifted in from the campfire where Javier sat playing.

"YN! You up for a little duet?" His fingers moved magically over the strings and enticed you, but the day had made you weary and tired.

"Not right now, Javier. But let's find another song soon." He didn't reply but smiled up at you as you took a seat on a nearby stump and kept playing.

For a while it was just the two of you at the fire, watching the flames and adding logs when they dwindled down.

Charles soon returned to camp and sat down across from you.

"How are you Charles?" He grunted and bit into his dinner, not really meeting your eyes. He must be angry after what happened earlier, peace and balance were strong values to him.

After his meal was done, he set the plate down and looked over to you

"YN. Come with me," he walked over to hold out his hand and help you up, then set off for the water.

Back behind your tent was a dock. It didn't stretch too far out over the water but it had enough space for a boat to be tied up alongside it. Charles sat down at the end and motioned for you to join him. Your shoes just dangled above the water as you swung your feet back and forth.

"I was afraid." It came out more blunt than you had intended, but Charles sat back and let you unravel the fears that had coiled up in your chest.

"I saw my father in that moment, he was not a kind man. Years of knowing what that look meant sent me right back and after you left with Hosea I ran. Mostly just to leave the mess behind, which I know is silly, but I couldn't stand the thought of you or Arthur actually getting hurt on my behalf. Micah is a bully, ain't the first I've known but the most...uncaring? If that's the right word. There's no limit or boundary for him. Nothing goes too far. You both are the opposite."

Taking a deep breath you continued on. "I guess I'm trying to say I'm grateful, although I have an awful way of getting there. You all have been the best to me after I just showed up one day with little money or knowledge to contribute, but a few words of kindness have gone incredibly far and I want you to know I see it. I've learned so much this past half year as an outlaw. Forced me to, you know? Had to grow up."

A couple more beats passed. You stared at your tangled fingers and concluded quietly, "So I am sorry. For that mess with Micah. But mostly...thank you."

Charles just continued to stare at the water, watching the ripples move and affect others.

"YN, you're one of us now. No need to worry about that happening again, Micah is an ass and deserves whatever comes from this. And as for you? Look at all you've done! I can't believe it was that long ago Arthur came riding up with a shot, bleeding woman and just ordered Dutch to take you along. Now you hunt for us, steal with us, collect debts. It's going to be fine."

Charles let that sink in and watched you smile in response before continuing on. "Arthur talks often of how you've helped him, and today he was worried about you. He is a tough man to crack, but he thinks...very highly of you, you should know."

Something in his eye was playful and reflected with the orange sunset.

"Very highly, huh?" You knocked your shoulder with your friends and giggled, hoping the meaning behind what he was saying was true. It was no secret to yourself anymore that you enjoyed spending time with Arthur, although you had made an awful fool of yourself today.

After a while longer you decided to head back to camp. The dust had settled and you finally felt normal again.

"YN! Come sit darlin', you look tired." Abigail called you over to dine with John and Jack and you accepted graciously. The three were patching up whatever rifts had separated them and finally Abigail was smiling again.

John patted the seat next to him and you joined the disjointed family.

"You alright from earlier, YN? By the time Abby found me everyone was gone."

You smiled up at John, "I'll be just fine. Micah thought he could have his way but turns out, he ain't anything special."

Both Marstons chuckled. "Ain't that the truth."

"So how long you two been together? Jack is, what, four?"

John shifted uncomfortably and scratched his neck in a similar manner to Arthur. The thought made your heart pang in an odd way you didn't know how to process.

Abigail covered smoothly. "I've been with these fools near 5 years now. John and I...well, probably just before Jack came along. Life's a bit different without a baby, but we try to make it work now."

Oblivious to the tension Jack pulled out his toy and ran it along the wooden table, making crashing noises. The fake explosions got louder and louder until he ran out of table space, then with an approving nod from his mother took off to find new playmates. John muttered something about tending the horses and left shortly after.

"Abigail I'm sorry if I -"

She shook her head at you. "Don't you dare apologize. You didn't know." Sighing heavily and staring at her hands, her voice dropped to make sure only you could hear.

"When I first got here, I wasn't, I mean, I was entertainment. For the men."

Her eyes connected with yours until understanding clicked into place.

"John sometimes don't want to confess Jack is his, but I know. In my heart. A little while after he was born...John left." Her voice broke

"Took off from camp for about a year, leaving me and baby Jack to fend for ourselves. I didn't know nothing about raising a baby but folks here were real great with him. Arthur especially stepped up to help. Him and John were like brothers, and none of us really got over what he did."

You were about to speak but she rushed on. "John's a good man! I know it. Just a little lost. I wish he would be more interested in us as a family, we ain't going away. But he always puts himself first, and then this gang then us. Wish it was another way around."

Your dearest friend here was in pain, so you slowly pushed a beer bottle across the table. Abigail has never drank in front of you before and it was a sight watching her tip her head back and pull from the bottle. She made a face once she was done that caused you to giggle.

"Looking forward things should be good. For all of us." Her small hand reached out and squeezed yours before she left to join John.

He saw her approach and slipped his hand into hers, and she rested her head gently on his shoulder.

The scene made you blissful, and you rested your head in your hands to watch them.

A loud thunk of a metal bowl hitting wood next to you brought you back to the present as Hosea joined you at the table. “How ya doing, YN?” You smiled back and motioned to the Marstons, and Hosea smiled as well.

“Good to see them together. John’s always been...tough about that.”

It sounded like it was hard for everyone to admit what happened with John. Hosea and Dutch had raised him from a young age so it can’t have been easy to see your son bolt and avoid his responsibilities. Like Abigail said, he was a good man, just a bit lost.

Hosea tsked and continued on. “Pitty about your book today, YN. The whole situation of course, but losing a Jane Austen can’t have been easy. I’ve been...known to read her novels now and then.”

Hosea looked secretive as he spoke. It was always easy conversation between the two of you. “Micah...is well, Micah...but Austen? A true Goddess among men.”

“I agree. Which is your favorite then, Mr. Matthews?”

Scratching his chin, he thought. “Oh, I’ve always had a soft spot for Emma. Couldn't tell you why. She reminds me of my wife, Bessie, she fancied herself a bit of a matchmaker. Wasn’t worth a damn but she loved it.”

His eyes misted slightly bringing up Bessie. You knew he had been wed at one point and that she had passed away, but not her name. It was still a bruise that he pressed occasionally as a reminder of the pain, apparently.

“I’ve always been drawn to Marianne Dashwood. Of course Lizzie Bennet is a classic, but there’s just something about that Dashwood spirit. I simply adore her. She’s brave, and wild, kind and so romantic. Tries to make the best of her situation in life. When I was younger I hoped to be like her.”

Hosea chuckled. “She is outspoken. Headstrong! Prone to outbursts and has no filter.”

“Yes, I suppose she is. Maybe that’s why I love her.” You felt a sparkle around the evening as Hosea excused himself and went to find Dutch.

Javier had struck up again around the campfire and this time you joined him.

“Miss Moore! What shall we sing now?”

You debated between a few classics but settled on a sweet duet that would be uplifting and simple. Javier taught you the words because you had only ever played it on piano before, but it was fun and left hands clapping and toes tapping around the warmth of the fire.

“Taking over this town, they should worry
But these problems aside I think I taught you well
That we won't run, and we won't run, and we won't run

And in the winter night sky ships are sailing
Looking down on these bright blue city lights
And they won't wait, and they won't wait, and they won't wait
We're here to stay, we're here to stay, we're here to stay

Howling ghost they reappear,
In mountains that are stacked with fear,
But you're a king and I'm a lion-heart,
A lion-heart.

His crown lid up the way as we moved slowly,
Pass the wondering eyes of the ones that were left behind,
Though far away, though far away, though far away,
We're still the same, we're still the same, we're still the same.

Howling ghost they reappear,
In mountains that are stacked with fear,
But you're a king and I'm a lion-heart.

And in the sea that's painted black,
Creatures lurk below the deck,
But you're a king and I'm a lion-heart.
And as the world comes to an end,
I'll be here to hold your hand,
'Cause you're my king and I'm your lion-heart!”
The song ended with a little flourish of the guitar, and Javier sang the last note much longer than intended. You laughed and watched his hands move over the strings nimbly and with many years of practice. Leaning back, you observed the warm scene in front of you. Most of the gang was gathered one way or another around the fire mesmerized by Javier’s quick moving hands. Dutch smiling and smoking a cigar, Sean leaned on Karen for support and comfort, and even the Marstons lingered at the edges enjoying the evening. Mary-Beth passed Tilly a drink, and all was finally right in the world.
Arthur eventually returned from somewhere unknown, but you saw him lean against a tent and watch near John the scene of you and Javier as you sang through the night.

“She’s some woman, huh Arthur?”

He grunted in reply, but his eyes didn’t leave you the whole time. “A bit soft, if you ask me.”

“Oh, Arthur hush. She’s good and you know it. That’s why you keep avoiding her.” Abigail pointed out. John agreed causing Arthur to blush. Sure, you were wonderful, hell everyone could see that. And after six months it had become clear how well you fit in with the rag tag group.

John watched him process, then handed the older man a drink. “Here. To calm your nerves.”

He mumbled into the bottle. “Ain’t gonna do anything now, Marston,” but took a long pull anyways. Abigail laughed behind her hand, and Arthur waved the couple away so he could think.

Arthur knew it was true. His heart was a heavily guarded one, and he didn’t think he deserved someone like you; creative, with a good heart, but still able to defend herself and work hard if the occasion called for. You were funny, and bright, and made him laugh at things you never thought he would see. And so, so beautiful. The light from you spread and bounced off of everything you touched. It was unlike anyone he had encountered in a long time.

The next morning, Arthur asked you to accompany him into Rhodes to drop off some mail for the gang. You agreed, excited to be getting out of camp and to have time to apologize about the previous day’s mess.

Eclipse gave a happy nicker when you greeted her with an apple. You lifted your saddle up and over her back and double checked the girth as she liked to puff up and cause everything to slip sideways once you began to ride. All set, you hopped up and waited for Arthur to be ready.

He was fiddling with the letters in his hands, and took longer than usual to set Zeus down the trail. Lenny waved the pair of you out of camp, and you breathed a sigh of relief as the tents faded out of view.

“Mr. Morgan, you alright there?”

Arthur looked over at you, a small flush of embarrassment creeping up his neck. Before he got a chance to say anything, Sean came bursting out of the brush on Ennis.

“Mornin’ to you both, English and Galway! Ah, my two old mates. Where are you headed this lovely morning?”

“Into town Sean, want to join?” He agreed happily and chatted with you during the short ride in while Arthur hung back.

“Heard you got into a fight with Micah yesterday, YN. Love all the trouble you’ve been causing at camp! A shame I wasn’t there to witness it though, woulda loved to sock him right in the old kisser.”

You rolled your eyes at Sean while he imitated punching Micah with dramatic reactions. “Yes, I decided it was long overdue someone finally told him off.” He chuckled and you contiued. “No, but Arthur and Charles made sure things didn’t get out of hand. Or, should I say, that Micah couldn't hurt anyone else.”

Sean clicked his tongue. “Pitty I wasn’t there to defend you myself, I’m quite the brawler with a few licks of drink in me.” Arthur finally joined the two of you.

“What are you doing hiding in the bushes, Sean? Some unlucky lady fall for that accent again?”

“Nah, Morgan. I was looking for someplace to hide this map, but now that I think about it I might just give it to yous two. I don’t fancy running around the countryside for one measly treasure but I know you love that shite.”

Sean handed you a ripped old map. It was intricate and detailed, and while Arthur and Sean conversed you tried to decipher it.

There were three locations listed, one you had never heard of before. It seemed to indicate that at each place was part of a key, and once you assembled all of them you could unlock whatever the map was hiding. It sounded like fun, and you tucked it away to look over later once you left Rhodes.

Once in town Arthur wanted to swing by the general store. Sean had something to pick up at the post office so he took the mail with him, leaving the two of you alone once again. With Eclipse and Zeus tied up outside, you walked through the mud from the recent rains towards the main building in town.

Arthur held the door open for you and the clerk sweeping the floor waved and welcomed you in. The sweet red apples called your name, and Arthur was working something out with the cashier so you wandered by yourself and selected a few good pieces. Lately you hadn’t had a chance to pickpocket or steal much so your funds were low, but the fruits looked too good to pass by. You purchased two apples and left to sit outside and admire the changing of the leaves.

The bell softly rang as Arthur pushed the door open and looked to find you. He sat down on the bench and rubbed his face, exhaustion pouring off from whatever kept him out of camp last night.

You offered him an apple and he took it gratefully.

“Truth be told, I’m not too keen about heading back to camp right away.” He was staring off into the distance while he spoke.

“Let’s follow that map Sean gave us. Worse case scenario we spend the day riding around, best case we’re a little richer. You up for solving a puzzle?” You raised your eyebrows suggestively and handed the map to Arthur, who looked it over and began to chuckle.

“Ms. Moore, you are full of surprises. C’mon, let’s head out I think I know where that first place is pointing to.” He stood and offered you a hand up, and the two of you set off, mystery ahead.

Chapter Text

Arthur was right, the first location was just south of Flatneck Station a short ways.

The conversation was easy on the ride up and turned to the old days and how things used to be. How John joined years after Arthur did, which of the girls had the stickiest fingers and which one tried to rob Hosea but ended up staying for years.

Once Arthur had the free reign to be himself, he opened up to you about his past a bit more than on previous trips. You had heard stories of robberies gone wrong or saloon visits that took three days, but those had been in the company of others. The two of you hadn’t gone out alone since the day you collected debts and it was nice to just enjoy the day with ease.

He had even brought up Mary for a moment, before shutting down and clamming up for a good five minutes.

You approached the rock described in the map. It must have been two stories tall, with ledges all over making it easy to climb. Luckily it didn’t come to that, the map detailed a small opening that had to be explored in depth to find the first of three keys.

“I can squeeze in there, though it’ll be tight. Just hold a few things for me.” You handed Arthur your heavy coat and gun belt, which left you in a thin shirt and long skirt. The opening was dark which you didn’t like, but you shimmied into the cave after jumping to catch the ledge and pull yourself up with shaking arms.

Thankfully the cave opened into a larger area that let you breathe again. You called back that you were okay, and continued in. Intricate drawings covered the walls, images that spanned back hundreds of years. Retellings of bison hunts covered the wall to your left while the right was different patterns of the local flora, smudged and elusive after all this time. You ran your hand over a particularly pretty drawing, and imagined being the one to put it there originally.

A lock box sat on a rock at the back of the cave and you approached it, ready to find the first piece.

You pulled out your kit that would help you open it and began ticking away. Finally, you got in and grabbed the round metal piece resting on a red cloth. Alone it made no sense but maybe the other clues would add up to something worthwhile. You rolled it over in your hand, the weight substantial for such a small thing. Cogs and wheels covered the base, so you thought this must be the biggest piece and the base that others would attach to. Hopefully you and Arthur would be able to find all three pieces, your curiosity was incredibly peaked.

“Coming back! I got it.” While you wiggled back out, Arthur breathed a sigh of relief. You swung your legs over the small ledge and jumped down, handing the piece to Arthur while you brushed dust off your skirt.

“Look at this, I can’t figure out how this will all go together. Can you hold it this way?” He held still while you twisted the sides left and right, trying to imagine how it would look.

Arthur couldn’t take his eyes from your face while you worked, concentration pulling your eyebrows together and your mouth making a little pucker that caused his stomach to flip.

“Let’s get going, I want to see how this plays out.” You quickly moved to Eclipse while Arthur looked over the map, trying to find the second location.

“Here! Right next to Bard’s Crossing and the river. Ain’t too far from here.”

The ride was quick, but when you arrived you weren’t the only ones. A small group of ten people were temporarily camped out where you needed to head next and didn’t look too friendly. They had built a makeshift shelter and a guard patrolling the area.

“Should we just ask to get by…?” You asked innocently. Maybe they would understand.

Arthur stared with amusement on his face. “No, darlin’, I do not think we should just waltz on in there. Look, there’s a ridge up that way, maybe the map was saying we should go up there? We can sneak up there once it’s dark and see if the second piece is hiding in that cave, but I hate to ask you to go up that high if you don’t want.”

“I’m fine with heights, don’t worry. I know it’s silly but this treasure map is the most exciting thing I’ve done as an outlaw.”

You watched Arthur cover his smile with his hand and try not to laugh. “We gotta get you on a robbery, or something if this is the most exciting thing. Don’t count for much outlaw work.”

He suggested walking a ways away so the group couldn’t see the light from your fire while you waited for the sun to set. Nothing needed to be unpacked except fire starters and you sat on the ground against a tree, relaxing for a little while before you had to start climbing and finding a real life treasure.

“You gonna fall asleep on me?” Arthur asked while he made a cup of coffee.

“Just resting my eyes is all,” you mumbled quietly in reply. Your head bobbed against the wood and you tried to focus on staying awake.

Arthur sighed and reluctantly patted his lap. You stared confused, and he blushed slightly while saying, "Don't put your head against that tree, you'll wake up with a crick in your neck. You can...put your head on my knee, if you want. At least it's softer."

The blue folds of your skirt bunched up as you scooted to sit next to him, and you smoothed them out before laying down and resting your head on his knee. While a bit awkward, he was right. He was much softer than any tree would be.

As you drifted off to sleep, Arthur made sure your breathing slowed to an even pace before moving. Your hair was long and wavy and loose, and shining in the midday sun. His hands brushed a flyaway piece off your cheek, curiosity finally getting the better of him. For months he had watched it bounce around or be tied up on top of your head and longed to run his fingers through to see if it matched the softness of your heart, and he was not disappointed. He moved a few more bits before finding a gentle rhythm of running his whole hand down your head over and over while you slept.

Truth be told he was buzzing inside with conflict and sheer happiness.

While his left hand blissfully ran through your hair, his right pulled out his journal and he started to sketch, the scene before him too compelling not to immortalize it. Drawings of you littered the pages of his journal. Sometimes it was nothing more than your eyes or your profile, but Arthur loved taking reminders of you with him like a secret he dared not breathe about.

Little moments he never had to share with anyone but himself.

A half hour after sunset, Arthur shook you gently.

“YN? You ready to get going?” You awoke from a dreamless sleep and rubbed your eyes, the chirping of evening birds bringing you back to the present.

“Hope you weren’t too uncomfortable, Arthur. I apparently needed that.”

He patted your shoulder and agreed he was fine, then headed back to the horses.

With the light from the sun all but gone you had to rely on his sense of direction to find the small camp again. The folk staying in the area had left. It hadn’t been a great place to defend and the two wagons full of people had dropped plenty of evidence behind of their stay. Rusty cans and indents in the dirt showed they had headed south, then followed the road until the trail was no longer visible. It was strange to stand in someone’s old home and reminded you of Horseshoe Overlook. You wondered what it looked like in the autumn, and if someone else had taken up residence in the place you once slept and called home. It left you feeling a little bit hollow and melancholy.

Standing at the bottom of the cliff, Arthur called you over.

“YN! Think you can jump that high?” He craned his head back to see up.

“Arthur that ledge is higher than you, so no, I do not think so. Might be able to jump down to it though, the top ain’t too far around if I hike up.”

You both agreed that you would walk and jump down in search of piece number two of the wild chase Sean had sent you on. It took nearly ten minutes to hike and you were out of breath by the time you arrived, but tried to hide it from Arthur who was still standing down below.

“This about right?” It was sure hard to see with the little light left, so you lit your lantern and leaned over the edge. Standing above the cave entrance, you sat down and moved as close as you dared to the edge. Your toes were a good foot above the ledge, and Arthur nodded.

There was a terrifying moment as you fell through the air before landing, but you stood up and turned to face the darkness with your lantern held up high.

This was different than the last cave. Filled with twists and turns, the sounds from the forest were quickly replaced with drips of water, and a strange fluttering that echoed and caused panic to strike through your bones. But you keep pressing on. Hopefully this cave was smaller than it felt. Eventually you reached a flat wall with three holes. One had a painted red X across the edges so you ignored that. One had a blue circle around it, and the other was untouched. You cursed out loud as you remembered Arthur had the map tucked neatly into his journal and you had no easy way to reach him, so any hints or clues lay back in the small clearing. You debated for a moment which option to choose, and finally settled on the painted blue circle. A sigh of relief passed your lips as you pulled out a lock box. The cold metal was at least familiar and you popped the lid with no trouble, grabbing the second piece from inside.

You turned to leave after placing the box back into the hole, but something made you turn back and face the third, untouched spot. Curiosity got the better of you and you hesitantly stuck your fingers in inch by inch to see what lay inside.

At first, there was nothing. Then, something spindly and wiry stroked the back of your hand, and you yanked it back to make sure whatever it was hadn’t stayed on. Panic pumped through your heart and you screamed, running back towards the entrance and away from whatever hell demons resided in that wall.

Arthur bolted up from his spot on the ground when he heard your voice rip from the cave, and was on his way towards it when you came bolting out and nearly toppled over the edge. You were shaking your right hand over and over, with your eyes wild and desperate to find an escape. The drop wasn’t too far, but more than you should have managed by sitting down and pushing yourself forward.

“What in the hell was that? Are you alright?” Your eyes were huge as you stared, still visibly shaken by whatever happened in the cave.

“I got it...but there was something else in there, too.”

“What was it, YN?” His voice cut the night air hard and deep, afraid someone had met you inside and intended to cause harm.

Checking to make sure the back of your hand was clean, you took a deep breath and tried to calm yourself. Your voice came out in a shaky breath and you shuttered at the memory.

“Spiders.”

You had never seen Arthur laugh harder.

At first he was bewildered, but that only lasted a few seconds before what you said really clicked into place and shocked him into a fit. He was doubled over, grabbing his knees for support. You watched him wipe tears from his eyes thinking bandits or the like were responsible for your terror. But no, just little bitty spiders.

“That funny to you, Mr. Morgan?” Your arms were crossed and you looked down with fake resentment.

“Oh, we’re back to that now are we,” he chuckled again, still not able to stand up straight. Laughter still rippled its way out as he repeated the scene in his mind.

“They were horrifying! Stop laughing. Ugh they crawled up my hands, they must have been everywhere. I nearly dropped the piece on the way out, and I could have died! Arthur, I said stop laughing.” You shoved him, unable to contain your own hysterics now too. The two of you enjoyed the moment, realizing that nothing was truly the matter. Eventually the laughter died away and you pulled out the second piece, motioning to Arthur to hand you the first.

A loud click rang out when the pieces finally went together. “Only one more!” The excitement overtook you and you danced a little with the key in front of you. Arthur laughed once more, then snapped open the map to have a look.

“Celebrating might have to wait until tomorrow, last place is a bit of a ride. Heartland Oil Fields, least half a day away and it’s already night.”

“Fine, fine. Where should we camp tonight then?”

Arthur rubbed his chin in contemplation. “Let’s get closer to the train tracks, then we can follow them up North and over to get to them oil fields.”

You agreed and mounted up on Eclipse. Zeus followed as you took the lead out of the area and headed back to the trail.
People were friendly here. Not that you passed many this late at night, but they all smiled, tipped their heads, and said hello while riding by. A rumor about the O’Driscolls being in the area wasn’t proving itself true that night as no trouble came across you on the road.

“Let’s head up here, turn left YN.” Another small clearing greeted you as a makeshift camp.

There was no fire set up this time as it was late, and Arthur was exhausted. He unrolled his sleeping mat and started snoring before you were even adjusted sitting on the ground. The short hour you had gotten earlier made you feel great, and sleep was the last thing on your mind.

The connected key pieces sat together in front of you, but you wanted to know more. The map was tucked away in Arthur’s journal, and you knew he would hate you for snooping but you only wanted the additional page.

“Arthur?”

His lack of response was all you needed to tip toe over to Zeus and rifle through his saddle bags to grab to book.

“Gottcha,” the journal fell open to the page holding the map, but something else caught your attention.

“Is that...?” The angle from which the art was drawn showed a face turned away, and long wavy hair like yours. Just like how you were laying in Arthur’s lap this afternoon.

“Oh my god...” you breathed while flipping back a few pages. Images of you were everywhere. Arthur could somehow capture your eyes, how happiness spread across your face, and even moments of intense concentration with his pencil drawings. And you loved it.

So everything Charles had said was true. Arthur did harbor feelings for you, and you finally had the proof that validated your own heart too. Holding the journal to your chest, you walked back to your spot on the ground next to your lantern, and slowly flipped through page after page. Reading his innermost thoughts was too invasive, so you only looked at the drawings to get to know this man better. He was so much more than the person you thought you knew, and all of it was contained on the pages before you.

A particular drawing caught your eye, and you ran a light finger down the cheek. Well, your cheek. Somehow you didn’t know the woman in these pictures, so much had changed with you over the past few months.

Arthur muttered something softly, and you panicked and sat on the journal to hide it out of sight. He was just sleep talking, and you let out a sigh of relief. Time to put what didn’t belong to you back, and go about like nothing happened.

As you fell asleep a warm ball of hope and happiness settled on your chest.

The next morning you arrived at the oil fields earlier than you had expected. Arthur wanted to get back to camp soon so he woke you just as the sun crossed the horizon. You had slept little the night before, thoughts of the man beside you keeping you awake.

“Want me to head inside this time? You look real tired, YN.” You nodded and stood above the ladder that descended into darkness. The pair of you had been contemplating where this damn map was leading and the only logical place left was the drop down. After your spider experience yesterday you were secretly relieved not to be leaving the sunlight anytime soon.

Leaning against the wooden legs of the oil rig, you watched the wind ripple across the plains ahead of you. Bursts of dry plants stuck out of the dirt, and small animals scattered around in packs. Every once in awhile a chill bit the exposed skin of your forearms and neck, making you shiver and pull on your sleeves. What was taking him so long.

“Arthur? You alright down there?” A thud and a string of curses was your reply. After checking that the horses were tied up well, you began down the ladder to join him.

“I got this, don’t need you coming to save me.” His voice was gruff and he hastily dropped his hand from the top of his head. From the short height of the cave it looked like he had stood up too fast when you called out and smacked the back of his head. The grumpy look on his face didn’t last long though as you neared to him.

“Is it down here? Been long enough I could have solved it and left for camp by now.”

Arthur took a deep breath and his shoulders bobbed. “I can’t find the damn box. Should be somewhere over to the left, but I looked and ain’t nothing there.”

You held the map closer to the lamp and chuckled when you realized he was holding it wrong. “Arthur. Turn it this way, so we should be looking right.” You pointed and he headed that way silently, the frustration etched into his face. He held the lamp up over your head, but there was little space for the two of you to fit.

“I’ll go, just keep that light up.” His arm held steady, and you found the box. The top didn’t open as easy this time, so you handed it back for Arthur to try. He studied it for a moment while you took the lantern and allowed him to try.

“Ain’t so hard, just gotta-” the top flew up and spooked you both. The final piece was inside, and he handed it to you for safekeeping until you could get back to the surface.

“Please, YN, get up that ladder so I can leave this blasted hole in the ground.” You giggled and started climbing upwards into the open air, and breathed a sigh of relief. You’ve always had a weird fear of small, dark spaces.

“Arthur...this one doesn’t fit. Look here, the other two clicked in so easy but I can’t find how to connect them all. Are we missing one other part?” You took the map out and compared the sections to what the whole should look like. “Something must have broken off…Damn.”

A round green orb was missing. In fact, it was the most important piece, the one you would look through while standing in the oil field to find the treasure stash. It had special markings on it that was supposed to reveal the spot after all three pieces crossed in front of it, connecting to create a web like structure in your hands.

“Maybe we can use something else?” You started looking around to see if anything was dropped, but no luck.

“This drawing makes it look like a marble.” Arthur pulled his satchel around and produced just what you were looking for. A green marble.

“Forgot I was playing with Jack last week and he hid these in my bag. Think this’ll work?” He placed the small shape into the socket, and it clicked into place. Excitement filled your chest as you held it up and looked through the finally assembled key.

“Oh, this is stunning! Whoever put this together must have been incredibly intelligent, look at how it plays off the rays of the sun and how the clouds are...should we wait until there’s a certain coverage?”

Arthur grunted in reply and took the object out of your hands. “Darlin’, we do any more waiting and I am gonna starve to death. Let’s find whatever treasure Sean had built up in his mind and head back to camp. I ain’t really in the mood for hunting.”

You took it back to locate the place you would be hiking up to. The hill was too steep for the horses so you two would be climbing up on foot, hopefully not taking long to locate something you had no clue was even still there. The green marble shone in the sunlight, and the circles of metal lined up when you stared at the peak of the rock. “Arthur! Up there, that’s where we gotta look. It matches the crazy designs on the back of the map.”

Once turned over, swirls and circles covered the back of the paper around a cut of rocks shaped like a face. The nose was broken, and in the crack was the red line indicating the location of the treasure.
It took nearly half an hour to climb up that damn rock. At first it seemed easy and you entered the task full of false confidence and expectations. But those were built on a weak foundation and fell apart as soon as you got more than a story off the ground. You were open and exposed, climbing the side of a mountain with a man who was clearly more comfortable with this kind of thing than you were, and he watched you sweat and curse every time your foot misstepped and you imagined yourself careening down to your death.

“I, I don’t know how much higher I can go, Mr. Morgan,” you panted up at him. He looked down surprised.

“You alright down there, Ms. Moore?”

The rocks around you were suddenly slippery and your palms felt like the surface was too smooth to get a good grip on. “You continue on up, I am not going anywhere but down from here.” Arthur offered you a hand up but you swatted it away quickly, afraid to have your hands away from the stone for more time than necessary.

“Please, just hurry.”

He chuckled and climbed up the last bit. “Sure is a pretty view up here, YN!” Arthur rested his hands on his hips and drank in the view before him. You silently cursed whoever made that map and buried treasure up in the middle of a cliff. Albeit, they did pick a good place if they didn’t want anyone finding it.

“Shame. I found the box, I’ll bring it down to open though,” Arthur made quick work of climbing down to you and found you pale faced and pressed hard against the wall.

“I don’t think I can move. It’s terrifying.”

The next step down was luckily a ledge, and Arthur jumped down. “Here, if you need to jump I’ll catch you.” His hands were held up towards you and judging by the size of his arms he would have no problems if you actually jumped.

“Jesus Christ.” Your boot scooted closer to the edge. Right before you moved to him you saw how high you truly were, and felt a bit dizzy. Your legs gave out and you fell right into Arthur’s open arms.

He caught you easily, of course, and once you regained your balance you had no desire to release his jacket from your grip. “I don’t know if I can do this.”

He chuckled lightly. “C’mon, girl. You telling me a little cliff is going to do you in? You can do this, just focus for a moment. Look at me, focus.” Gently, he placed a hand on either side of your face and locked his eyes with yours. You concentrated on his chest rising and falling, breathing along in time to settle your nerves.

Once you felt better, you had no desire to pull back from how close you were standing with Arthur. His breath fell gently on your cheeks, and his eyes were such a pretty shade of blue when contrasted against the sky behind him. You smiled up at the outlaw, and his eyes crinkled around the edges in a gently response.

“You okay there?” It came out as a whisper, Arthur still not breaking your gaze.

You nodded, but still clutched him tight in case you had to look back down at the journey ahead. Arthur’s mouth was parted just slightly and was incredibly inviting, but you knew if you kissed him you definitely would never make it down this cliff. Finally you pulled back and began the descent to your waiting horses.

The last jump to the ground was short, and when you landed your skirt poofed around you. Arthur landed next to you and placed his hand on your back leading you towards Eclipse and Zeus who lifted their heads as you walked up.

“I’ve never been so happy to be back on the ground, thank you Arthur.”

He tipped his head, and reached into his bag. “Let’s find out what we won, eh?”

This time the box was easy. Wasn’t even locked, and after all you went through to get it you were thoroughly relieved. Just a plain, rusted lock box that opened easily.

“Woah…”

Three gold bars stared up at you from inside. Arthur’s eyebrows shot up higher than you’ve ever seen. “That is a lot of money. At least 500 each.” An awkward beat passed as you mentally debated what to do with the bars. Keep them? Split it?

“Here. You take one, I’ll take one, then the gang gets the third. I almost care that Sean gets one but he did nothing except try to lose this map instead of chase anything. I would be careful about cashing that in, YN, maybe hide it at camp for awhile.”

You gingerly lifted your gold bar out of the box. It was beautiful, but what it meant for you was even more so. If there was ever a time that you needed to run, you were set for a good while without having to do much. You stood up on your tip toes and laid a kiss on Arthur’s cheek while muttering a quiet thank you. A blush ran up his face and he mounted Zeus with a smile on his face.

“Now, please. Can we get back to camp?”

The pair of you arrived in the late afternoon to the sleepy homestead. Kieran was on guard duty and waved you both in while holding a shotgun. You could see Hosea leaning in and discussing something with Charles and Karen that looked serious, but they didn’t see as you walked towards the stew.

You scooped a bowl for Arthur first as he complained the whole ride back about how hungry he was, and he gratefully took it and found seating near the fire. The heat from the midday had worn off and you grabbed a shawl from your tent, wrapping it loosely around your shoulders. It was an old one of Abigail’s that she had given you as a gift.

“YN! Glad you’re back, I’ve got a plan I want you in on.”

Hosea called to you from the table and you walked over to the trio. Charles had a paper in front of him and Karen was keenly looking at the drawings.

‘How would you like to head out on a mission with us?” Karen smiled up and patted the seat next to her for you to sit.

“There’s going to be something called a Governor’s Ball in Rhodes this month at the town hall. Dancing, drinking, schmoozing with the highest of society that this shit hole has to offer. Should be an easy haul and an excuse to get all dressed up.” Hosea’s eyes were lit up while he talked, the full plan laying out easily in his mind.

“I heard about it from a stable boy in town jealous his employer is going, but he isn’t. Anyways, I’ll need you as a distraction point woman and for pick pocketing those lame bastards dry. I still need to run it by Dutch but would you be interested?”

“Of course!” You were ecstatic at being included in a real mission with the gang. It wasn’t a train robbery but hell, being able to produce some kind of contribution would be a win. “Those are some things I’d be good at. Used to go to hall dances all the time back home.”

Hosea nodded at you approvingly. “Good. Should be easy. Won’t need more than those of us here, too many and we attract a lot of attention. Charles will be manning the wagon, and we can pose as a little family of three, not that you and Karen bear much resemblance, but I’m sure these backwards farm folk won’t ask too many questions. I can spin a sob story on the spot that will make them leave us be.”

He chuckled, and Charles even managed a small smile at the thought of Hosea making those bastards sad.

“We’ll iron out the details soon. Just wanted to make sure it was something you were up for.”

An excitement hummed through your body at the thought of wearing a nice dress and heading to a dance, and getting to rob some fools on the way. It’s too bad it was a full week away.

“You sure you want to take these folk with you, Hosea?” Arthur had crossed the camp and was standing behind Hosea’s chair, his eyebrows pulled together in confusion. “Must be a few of us more suited for that.”

All four of you exchanged a look, then turned to Arthur. “What do you mean? We got some fine people-”

Arthur laughed and cut him off. “Oh, I know you’re fine folk. That ain’t the problem. Just don’t know if you all can be trusted to pull this off. Have to see what Dutch approves, won’t we?”

Charles scoffed and stood to leave. He and Arthur had always been close so this was an awkward conversation and a low blow. “Don’t know what’s in you today, Morgan. Leave it alone.”

Hosea rolled his plans up slowly, thinking his next move through. The man was calculating, but never cold in his actions towards Arthur who he considered a son.

“Would you like to be included, Arthur?” Hosea’s tone was condescending as if he were speaking to Jack, not a fully grown man.

“No, that ain’t -”

“Should I have run this by you before uttering a word to anyone else?”

Hosea stood tall, and what he lacked in height he made up for in his presence. He may not have been the most loved by Dutch, but he was his most trusted. And in this camp that held a lot of weight to it. Arthur shirked back and rubbed his neck.

“Hosea, I just meant the women.” You sucked in a breath as if you had been hit. He didn’t trust the two of you for a simple robbery mission?

“What in the hell does that mean, Mr. Morgan?” Karen was standing now, too. Her eyes were full of anger and she glared hard at Arthur, unafraid of him in the slightest. He wouldn’t meet her eyes, and suddenly it clicked.

“Karen, it isn’t you he’s worried about.” Your voice was quiet, but everyone turned to look as you finished. “It’s me. He’s afraid I’ll find a way to mess this up.”

You stood and placed your hands on the table. “Mr. Morgan, can I talk to you? In private?”

For the past two days, Arthur had been the only person you had been around. Maybe he got fed up with you and never said a word. Maybe he really didn’t trust you after all of these months. Or maybe he just didn’t think you could pull off a robbery. Either way the dice fell it made you boil with anger that he said something in front of the others who clearly thought you were up to the job.

Arthur followed you back behind one of the wagons. As soon as you were both out of sight of the others, he was met with the full force of anger that was harbored inside of you.

“What in the hell, Arthur, was that.”

The speech that passed your lips was pointed and cold. You were mad, and you wanted answers.

He at least had the audacity to look embarrassed while he spoke. “I don’t know, YN, I just don’t want anything bad to go down. I’ve seen what happens when folks are inexperienced.”

“You don’t know that I’ll mess it up, Arthur! It could be great, I thought you woulda trusted me by now. I go hunting, I pickpocket folks, hell, Sean and I even had that side of the road scheme for a few weeks!” You were exacerbated as you blew air through your lips and ran a hand through your hair. “Why are you really so hard on this plan?”

A few moments passed as he thought. Finally he replied, “Because.”

You snorted. “Because! That ain’t no answer. Look at me, Arthur.” You moved closer to him to see his reaction, and his eyes locked onto yours as you continued. “I may not be the greatest outlaw, but I’m good. I’m gonna ask you once more now, why are you so set on me not going?”

“Jesus, YN. Because -”

In one movement, Arthur pressed you back against the wagon, his lips meeting your for the first time. Utter shock ran through you, but was quickly replaced with elation that started warm in your belly. His hands were in your hair and on your waist while you pulled him in closer by his shirt, and he eagerly responded.

The world swirled around you, but Arthur was the anchor in a storm you didn’t see coming.

His mouth moved against yours gently. It was a feeling you could live in forever, but Arthur eventually pulled back slowly. His face was still close, and you could see his dilated pupils and flush ridden cheeks.

“Hope I didn’t, uh, overstep anything there.” Arthur’s voice was thick and low.

“No, Arthur. Think I’ve been hoping you’d do that for awhile.”

He chuckled and twirled a lock of your hair around his finger. “Me too. And I wasn’t worried about you messing anything up, YN. I was worried you might get hurt if something goes wrong.”

“It ain’t even a high stakes mission, you fool. No trouble around.” You laughed and slapped his chest lightly, your high still buzzing through you. “I didn’t know you truly cared, Mr. Morgan.”

“‘Course I care, I’m just not too good at showing it.”

Before reluctantly separating, Arthur kissed you gently twice more as if he couldn't get enough of what had been up until now had been simply a fantasy. As far as camp went there was little privacy and you were worried someone would come around the corner and see what was going on.

Arthur left first. But before he got too far, he turned back and called one last thing to you.

“You may not find any trouble on that run with Hosea, but dammit, woman, there’ll be trouble for sure if you call me Mr. Morgan again.”

Chapter Text

After Arthur walked away from you and the wagon, you stayed glued to the spot where everything had changed.

Arthur Morgan had just kissed you. And boy, did he kiss you good.

Your mind reeled from the shift your friendship had taken. Off in the distance you could hear him and Hosea talking, the low bass and the higher tenor tones resonating to your location. A laugh burst out, and you hoped all was well and forgotten The two had a long history, it certainly wasn’t the first time the younger man had acted out.

Abigail rounded the wagon and found you smiling at no one and lost in your head.

“YN, you okay? What’s going on?”

“Jesus! Abigail, you scared me. Nothing, just looking out at the water.” You held your hand over your heart at the fright and wondered how you must have looked.

Your friend just laughed softly and joined you leaning against the wagon, a cup of coffee steaming in her hands that she sipped quietly. It was nice to enjoy her company after all this time, for she truly was the reason you were there at all.

“How are things? Jack liking his new books?”

He was, in fact he had already gone through one and was hinting at Hosea everyday that he needed a new one.

John had gone and done something foolish again that caused Abigail pain, and you wondered what everyone saw in him that gave him such high regards in camp. He was similar to Arthur in the sense he was raised by Dutch and Hosea, but his mistakes defined him and physically reflected with the new scars he sported from a wolf encounter back in Colter.

“Good evening, everyone! How is camp on this here fine, fine night?” Dutch’s voice rang out as he entered the scene, returning from wherever his grand plan took him today. His white horse, The Count, was tied up next to Old Boy and John waved Abigail over. She squeezed your arm and left, and you watched Arthur approach Dutch with something in his hands. The towel moved, and a glimmer of gold caught your eye. Dutch enthusiastically clapped Arthur’s shoulder and swung his gaze around camp, looking for someone.

“This, folks, is a win for today! See what faith in old Dutch can do? Our newest member, YN, has brought back a gold bar for the camp funds! That is some fine work you did with that treasure map!” Dutch promised to raise a glass in your honor later that night and you blushed at the attention.

Arthur walked over to you, giving your hand a subtle squeeze. “I told Dutch it was all you today with them gold bars, and that the biggest one was going to camp.” His voice was a whisper, but you could feel his breath against your cheek as he leaned in.

“You did not have to do that, Arthur. But thank you.”

He smiled and sat down, radiating an energy you couldn't quite nail down. Fingers tapped the wood table in a happy rhythm that matched his leg bouncing just out of sight. You longed to cover his hand with your own but the whole gang was sitting nearby and you still weren’t sure how things stood in a public setting.

It sure would be interested to see how this played out.

As you lay awake in your tent that night, you tried to sort out your feelings from the facts. After years of abuse you had escaped the tight grip of your father and found a new life. Fact. The same man who stole you from that fate also stole your heart. Feeling. You had learned to hunt, be around new folks, defend yourself, and even fight a little. Another fact. Your father, a bad man with a badge and a drinking problem, was probably out there looking for you while also searching for the Van der Linde gang. Again, fact. Arthur Morgan was one of the most complex men you had ever met, and yet still strived to do good in a world that demanded something different from him. Probably feeling, but you put it in the fact column due to your personal bias.

Sleep came easy after your mind was sorted, and the warm ball of energy never left your chest as you floated from dream to dream.

A sweet surprise was waiting for you on your pillow once you opened your eyes. It was a small white flower with no scent, but stunning petals and a beautiful yellow center that matched a top you had recently made with Tilly.

You emerged from your tent tenderly holding the bud in the palm of your hand and see Arthur leaning against the ammo wagon smoking a cigarette. As he noticed you approach he dropped the tail end of his smoke to the dirt and smothered the ends with his boot. A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth but never made it all the way across his mouth.

“Morning.” You stood next to him and admired the view out across the lake. Never an early riser, you enjoyed seeing what life looked like on the other side of your time frame.

“What’s that there?”

You giggled and held out the flower. “I’m sure you wouldn’t know, Arthur.”

He reached behind him and produced a small glass jar just big enough to hold your new treasure. “Here, I won’t be needing this anymore and I think this should just about fit. There. Fresh as, well, a daisy.”

A quick laugh escaped him as he handed you back the jar. He shook his head at his own joke and you rolled your eyes, but snuck in a quick kiss on his cheek before darting back to your tent with the glass.

Grimshaw found you before too long and dragged you off to do chores. She often made a move as if she would hit you for your ignorance, but was smart enough to spot the signs that you had grown up with a parent who had hit you for fun and not just discipline. It only happened once. You had flinched away from her so hard and nearly cowered against the wall she froze, making a mental note to never lay a hand on you again. Damn the man who tried to hurt her girls. In her mind she was the luckiest mother alive and would fight tooth and nail for those she loved at camp.

The usual suspects of Mary Beth and Tilly stood on either side of you while you cleaned the dishes for the week. Most of it was leftover bowls from the stew, but Sean had made some nasty meal that no one could figure out and took a lot longer to scrape from the plates.

“Wish I knew how to hunt.” Mary Beth dragged a cloth left and right across a plate to no avail as she spoke. “It would be nice to be able to provide something. I like robbing and helping find spots, but would be so great to be able to feel powerful. Holding a big gun, some rifle or the like.”

It was surprising to hear this from someone so soft, but it oddly made sense. “That’s why I like it. I can let you practice with my bow if you’d like sometime, Mary Beth. Takes a lot of work, though.”

She laughed, “No, that’s alright. I just like to wish about things. I’m so much more into books and writing, that’s my dream. To be a writer. Sit in a tall, covered chair in a clean office and write until I can’t think of any more words to say.”

You nodded along. “Well the offer still stands, but I do see you more of a writer than a hunter,” you laughed. “You’d be good, do you have any writing I could read? Been through most of my books already. I need something new.

“Oh! Maybe, it’ll need some harsh editing. Tilly’s real good and goes through my stuff before anyone else ever sees it. She’s a blessing.”

Tilly rolled her eyes at the compliment., “Your stuff don’t need much editing, Mary Beth. Maybe a few words added here and there but really, YN, she’s good.”

Tilly agreed to let you read the works only after she had finished editing and you were delighted. It was refreshing to not just discuss the latest job gone right or wrong and feel like you were just three women, living a normal and settled life.

Once the dishes were washed you left them to dry in the sun. Grimshaw allowed this task to be passed on to mother nature at least, and you followed Tilly back to a table to join Javier. For once he wasn’t plucking a guitar, but instead laying out dominoes in await of Tilly’s arrival.

“Ah, there she is! Ready to play, Ms. Jackson?”

Tilly nodded and took the seat opposite Javier, leaving you to take one of the backless boxes. The two of them were quick and played differently than Hosea did. Tilly let no emotion cross her face which was calculating and quick. Javier was trying hard to mimic her.

John walked over to stand and watch the game unfold.

“What’s that star on your chest, John? Does that say deputy?”

John moved to cover his chest with his arm but you lightly slapped his hand away so you could read it better. “It does say deputy! Now why in the hell are you wearing that? Dutch finally go off the deep end and get you working for the law?”

A small nod had the three of you balking up at the younger man. “Wait a minute, are you serious?” Javier asked incredulously.

“We went and helped the local law up in Rhodes. We blew up a moonshine operation for one of those feuding families and made it back with these damn stars. Dutch and Arthur both have them, too, but it means we can’t cause no trouble in town. Have to be on my best behavior. “

Tilly laughed but covered her mouth. “I’m sure that’s difficult for you all, Mr. Marston.”

John joined in the laughter and moved to get some stew. Javier spoke softly in Spanish and shook his head.

“Do you ever miss your home, Javier?” You knew he had fled Mexico at some point in his life but none of the details.

“Eh. My home is here now, with Dutch. Some days I do miss it more than others. It’s been awhile since I left Mexico, although I do miss the food. Handmade. A little spicy. Not this shit that’s been force fed down my throat for the past few months straight.”

Tilly threw a domino in his direction as Pearson was walking by, but Javier showed no fear at the larger man. He puffed out his chest making Tilly laugh again.

You rolled your eyes and decided to head off. “Anyone need to head to town?” They both shook their heads and you set off to find someone with a more adventurous mindset for the day. You were starting to get antsy with the same routine of waking up, doing chores, sitting by the fire, then going back to sleep. All that day Arthur had been doing something for Uncle so you still had unresolved feelings about your kiss the night before.

Lenny ended up being your knight in shining armor.

“YN! You ever learn how to fish?” The younger man called across the camp and waved you over.

“Sure I did! Won a few competitions back in Blackwater, too. You know that big salmon hanging up in the general store?” He nodded, eyes wide and watching you. “I’m the one who caught it!”

A beat passed before you realized he thought you were serious. “Oh, Lenny no. I was joking. Sure I know how to cast a line but making a fish appear on the other end is a skill I only semi possess.”

He laughed and clapped your shoulder, handing you his spare rod. “Hosea wants something other than beef stew tonight. I mean don’t we all. Let’s go see if we can catch us some fish, hmm?”

The small boat pushed off from the dock easy enough and floated out towards the middle of the lake. Camp got smaller and smaller, and you could feel yourself breathe easier knowing the air wasn’t so restricted around you.

Lenny hummed a tune you didn’t recognize after sitting in the boat awhile. Both of you were relaxing as you cast the line out onto the surface of the water, watching it slowly sink down.

“When did you learn how to fish, Mr. Summers?”

The younger man thought for a moment. “Hosea actually taught me not too long ago. I thought I was fine but he called me shit. Made me cast over one hundred times that day so I never forgot. I was about ready to toss him in the river but I will say, I have not forgotten how to do it.”

His smile was infectious. Lenny talked on about his fishing lessons and how Hosea used to get upset when Lenny talked down about himself.

“Hosea is funny that way. I’ve seen him more than once go off on Bill, rightly so, or Sean. He tends to stay true to his small group. You know, Arthur and Dutch and John. They’ve been through more shit than I care to ever see in my life.”

You nodded along to his story. Those men had a bond no one could chip away at, not even time itself.

After awhile, the pile of fish was large enough that Lenny wanted to head back. You had caught fewer than Lenny but still enough to feel productive, and knew Pearson and Hosea would be proud.

You reeled the string in but it wasn’t moving fast enough for your liking. The last few feet were taking too long so you leaned over to yank it in, tipping the boat slightly in your direction.

“Careful, YN. Don’t want you having to swim back to camp now.”

“Oh, I’m fine, just watch the -” The limit of your reach had been found as the boat finally tipped too far, launching you out over the wooden edge and headfirst into the water. The cold was a shock and water filled your ears and nose. You pumped your arms and floated to the surface, met by peals of laughter from Lenny in the boat.

“I told you! I told you, girl, you fell right in!”

“Really!” The situation was hilarious, you couldn't deny. But Lenny made no attempt at helping you up, mostly from laughing too hard. You glanced back towards camp and a few faces were watching you from a not too distant shore.

You swam the rest of the way back just to spite Lenny wrong. It felt good to stretch and move in the water, even if it did end up being much further than it looked. Your clothes would take all night to dry but you didn’t care. You took the opportunity to lightly scrub at your face as well, being fully submerged in water for the first time in weeks.

Lenny eventually met your soggy mess on shore and you punched him in the shoulder. Taking all the fish, you left him laughing away at the sorry sight you made.

Pearson stared as you slammed the fish down on the table in front of him. “Dinner!” You barked, “Is ready to be cooked. Do you need anything else, Mr. Pearson? Or can I please go get changed?”

The man blushed a bit but shooed you off. Grateful to be in your own space again, your wet clothes were disposed of quickly. Damn Lenny. Damn fish. Damn boat. What a day.

You emerged refreshed and feeling much better to find Arthur had returned for the day. He was speaking with Abigail but caught your eye over her shoulder, a wink meeting your grin as you approached. Abigail was deep in conversation so you let the two old friends finish up before watching Arthur approach you.

Neither of you had spoken since the night before, and the memory of that encounter made your cheeks flood with heat.

“YN, how was your day?”

“Wet,” you sighed. Arthur was silent for a moment until you met his gaze. “Lenny and I went fishing. I, well I fell in the lake. Soaked to the bone. Had to swim all the way back just to prove a point.”

He laughed and tucked a strand of hair behind your ear. “I’ll say it again, YN. You’re something else.”

You motioned over to a quiet corner of the camp. “Let’s go chat, Arthur. About last night.”

A dark cloud passed over his face. His thoughts turned to rejection and you leaving, having another person let him down and break his heart. He thought after months or building something solid that he could have a real chance and not just another heartbreak to add to his growing collection. Arthur was a man who wasn’t afraid of pain, but-

His internal monologue quieted down when your hand slipped into his and led him to sit on the dock. A sweet smile was soft on your lips; like a ray of sunshine breaking through the darkness he had so quickly spiraled down.

“Arthur…” you hesitated. It was awkward to bring it up out of the blue, so you chickened out and changed the subject. “What were you up to today in town?”

He looked slightly caught off guard but answered anyways. “Dutch had some plan to uh, look into these families. Went to scout them out. Ain’t nothing special.” Arthur scratched the back of his neck, his hat tipping forward slightly as he kept his eyes on you.

“That’s...well, actually that sounds boring. You sat and watched people all day?”

Arthur’s eyes crinkled as he smiled at your response. “When you put it like that yes, it is mighty boring. I’m ‘spossed to do it all week and report to Dutch.”

“Every day?”

“Every day.”

You shook your head. “And I here thought chores around here were bad. Weren’t you warning me about the dangers of outlaw life? Robbing and killing and kidnapping? I spent my day washing dishes, Arthur Morgan. Washing dishes.”

He laughed more openly at you now, shoulders shaking lightly. “Why don’t you come with me, then? It’ll be more entertaining than sitting by myself for half the day wishing I could hang myself from the nearest tree.”

Finally the tension between you two had been broken and you decided to take your chance, heart fluttering ever so slightly.

“I would like that. I would like to spend more time with you, Arthur. You’re, ah, I mean I like, aw hell help me out here.” A bright red flush covered your cheeks and you no longer looked him in the eyes, instead using your hands to hide your face and the words you were trying to convey.

You wanted to be with Arthur. If only you could convey that coherently. One kiss had you flustered like a little school child.

It wasn’t a surprising realization that you had come to. It didn’t tumble over you in one single moment or sneak up like a thief in the night. It took time and developed like a blossom, small at first but constantly growing the more attention it received.

Tentatively you tilted your head to look at the silent man next to you. In all your conversations you had noticed Arthur never drew conclusions quickly and often wanted a moment to think. You granted him that as you admired the small stubble that had started to appear over the past few days.

After a few moments he responded. “I don’t think you want to be with someone like me, YN. I...I am not a good man. Done bad things and don’t live a life someone like you deserves. I can’t say I don’t want to, but...I’ve been down that road before and see how people change and what the price is for being around.”

Instinctively you reached out to grab his hand and wind your fingers through his. No one could see you as you sat on the dock, which suited you just fine.

“Arthur, I’ve known bad men. I was brought into this world by one. I can’t have been the first to tell you that you ain’t a bad man, look at who raised you and who is around you now. You think Dutch or Hosea are bad? Think their badness passed on to you like some disease? That’s not how life works, Arthur. I wouldn’t be here with you now if that’s the only choice we had.” You paused for a moment, then rushed headfirst into the reason you wanted to talk in the first place. “And although it is hard for me to say, apparently, I do want to be with you, Arthur Morgan. I think you’re much more than the version of yourself that you’ve locked up inside that head of yours.”

He squeezed your hand and smiled out at the horizon. “Guess you made your mind up, then.”

“Guess I did. Do you…want...?”

“Yes, I do,” he confessed, surprised at how fast the reply came out of his mouth. “Darlin’, I want that more than anything.”

Arthur tipped your chin up as his lips pressed softly against yours. Your free hand grabbed his shoulder and bunched the worn leather as he deepened things and shifted one hand to the small of your back. A fish jumping nearby brought you back and you pulled back gently, looking up into those blue green eyes that now belonged to your man.

“I hate to ask this, but folks around camp tend to gossip. Do you mind if we keep this to ourselves just for now? Not to hide it!” Arthur reacted to the look on your face. “Just...I don’t want to rush anything and they tend to do that.”

“I understand, Arthur. I won’t tell anyone.” His mind at rest he helped you up from your seats on the dock and you walked hand in hand back to camp, until Kieran rounded a corner and you dropped hands, hoping he didn’t notice a thing.

That night at camp Dutch wanted to break open one of the moonshine bottles he and John had procured from their attempts at being lawmen. The plan was to try and sell the rest back to those they had stolen from, but everyone figured they wouldn't miss one jug. The clear liquid smelled so strongly that only one glass made it halfway around the circle before needing to be refilled. And that was nothing to say of how potent the alcohol was.

Down in the southern United States, liquor was made different. Sure you were Blackwater, born and raised, but this really took the cake. If you could muscle through the smell you would be knocked flat on your back in about three sips.

Karen managed to finish half a glass by herself while Mary Beth and Tilly just watched, helping her once it turned and she began to throw up not too long after. Javier and Sean danced around the fire speaking a strange mix of Spanish and Irish that somehow they both understood. Bill grumbled and fell asleep sitting up. Charles opted out, heading off with Lenny for guard duty. Dutch and Hosea each had a small sip but soon went to bed. Ms. Grimshaw was watching Jack while Abigail and John sat and enjoyed the festivities, having a small sip each.

Sean was soon impersonating John’s drunk stumble and had the group in stitches. He had stumbled around himself enough to know how it went, but after one particularly large wipe out passed out and had to be carried off to bed by Arthur.

“YN!” Abigail called you over to sit with her and watch. You had a few sips and had to watch your feet as you plopped down across from her.

“How ya doing, girl?”

She raised her eyebrows in amusement at you. “Forgot you don’t hold your drink too well. Too many evenings in Blackwater I ended up half carrying you back home.”

“I am fine! Just nice to be out in the cool air. It hot out to you?” You struggled to stay atop your seat as you giggled at her. “Want to hear a secret? Can’t tell no one, though.”

Abigail’s interest was peaked. “What you hiding there, YN?”

You leaned in close to her face and whispered, “Me and Arthur, it happened. I kissed him, and we spoke today about being together. It’s happening, Abigail.”

“You did not! YN!” A girlish squeal burst from her and you tried to quiet her down but with no luck.

“Abigail! We want to move slow so we ain’t telling anyone, keep your voice down. You can’t even tell John yet.”

A voice at the table started you, causing you to nearly fall over. “Gonna be hard to not tell me when I’ve been here the whole time, YN. Damn, that moonshine really did a number on you.”

A flush filled your cheeks and you froze. “But I won’t say anything, except to Abigail who owes me. Pay up, woman, that was in my time frame.”

Your jaw drops as you realize they had a bet going.

“You two!” They laughed as you stood to go. “Think it’s time for me to head to bed.”

Arthur intercepted you while you were on your way to your tent. “Jeez, YN, Marston said you had a few nips of that moonshine and to make sure you were okay.”

You grabbed his arm to stabilize yourself, and admire the muscles that were formed just beneath his jacket. He chuckled when he saw what you were doing and, after checking the two of you were alone, pulled you closer to him.

“It’s a chilly night, Arthur. Hope you’re okay in that big tent all alone.”

He laughed again but kissed you on the forehead, murmuring something while his lips were pressed against your skin you couldn’t understand. He smelled like mint and tobacco leaves again, and the scent lingered as you crawled into your cot to fall asleep, worn from the day.

A few days later you headed off with Arthur to observe the Greys and the Braithwaites. Dutch wanted to wait after the first time just to avoid suspicion and not ruin the perfect picture he painted of the gang while working with the law in town.

Arthur was right. It was boring.

You counted the wagons that rolled by, you counted how many people greeted you, Arthur even began to describe the birds he had seen. It was a long few hours in the morning.

Around lunch is when things got exciting.

Uncle road up to your hiding spot, hollering about for Arthur. Eclipse had just munched down an apple he had given her as a treat, rubbing her nose and speaking to her in hushed, soft tones. Arthur had a particular way with horses, and they trusted him. Zeus let no one else even get close unless Arthur was nearby.

“Arthur! Oh Arthur, you hidin’ up in these hills? I got a job and I need your help!”

Arthur grumbled and threw the apple core to the ground and wiped his hands on his jeans. “What you telling about, old man?”

“Howdy, YN. Am I interrupting something here?”

You shook your head as Arthur’s hackles went up, and laughed to cut the tension. “You have something for me too, Uncle? Or do I just have to head back to camp now that you’ve showed up and taken my source of entertainment away?”

Uncle’s eyebrows shot up, but answered honestly. “Nah, Miss Moore, it’s a real job. I would ask you along, but we never rode together, no offense. I need Arthur to help me rob a stagecoach.” He stood proudly with his hands on his suspenders, chest puffed out.

“Robbing coaches? What you need me for? Take Lenny.”

“No!” Uncle started following Arthur as he began picking up your makeshift day camp. “I ain’t taking the kid out. Lenny’s great, but come on, Arthur! You know me, it’s a good tip! I swear.”

Arthur rolled his shoulders as he responded. “Only good thing about this is I get a chance to leave you with the law. What’s this wagon carrying, anyways?”

Now that he had his attention, Uncle knew how to reel him in. “It’s a stagecoach coming into town that is completely unguarded for a stretch carrying payroll or something. Lots of cash, it’ll be easy with you, me, Charles, and Bill. Three strapping men can do it no problem.”

“So why you going then?”

“Arthur!” You threw an apple at him lightly, and he ducked while laughing. Uncle watched the scene with a faint smile on his face that once Arthur caught sight of brought him to a halt.

“Uncle, sounds like a good tip to me. You sure I can’t tag along? Learn how it’s done?”

Arthur and Uncle both shook their heads. “Nah, YN. You head back to camp, ain’t too far. I’ll ride out with this lunk now and see you in a few hours. Shouldn’t be gone more than that.”

Uncle excitedly mounted his horse and started off, leaving Arthur to give you a hurried kiss and head off quickly after him. You sighed and cleaned up the camp, attaching everything in a rucksack to the back of Eclipse. She bumped your hand with her nose as you gave her an oatcake and mounted up. Out of curiosity you sampled the small cake, but spit it out. How in the hell was that a good snack for a horse? It tasted like bland oatmeal.

Arriving back at camp alone raised some eyebrows, but most everyone knew Arthur was off riding with Charles, Uncle, and Bill.

“Hey, Mary Beth! How were things today?”

The brunette groaned and rolled her eyes. “How do I hate Ms. Grimshaw? Let me count thee ways.”

You giggled, “So that bad, huh?” She looped her arm through yours and walked you over to the main fire where people had gathered.

“We washed clothes all, day, long. My fingers are bare down to the bone, and look at these fingernails!” She fake fawned into your lap and held her hands out dramatically. “How was your day out with Arthur?”

“Fine, we mostly just...stared at the people going by. It was not as exciting as I thought it would be. I think I counted seven carriages that went by, most just farm supplies or food. I started with the leaves but Arthur was about ready to turn to murder.”

You chatted by the fire for a few hours, relaxing with folks and comparing books with Mary Beth. She finally released her grip on some pages she had written and you set them tenderly on you bedside for later. Tilly promised they were incredible and you couldn’t wait to gush with them about it.

John came into camp and sat down at the fire as well. “YN. You know what’s taking those boys so long?”

The time had slipped away so easily, you hadn’t even noticed that it had been hours beyond when Uncle promised to bring them home.

“Who were they robbing, John? Should we be worried?”

He scratched his chin, thinking. “Uncle mentioned Leviticus Cornwall.”

Behind him, Dutch approached and swore. “Cornwall? Dammit, Uncle. John, would you ride out and see if they need any assistance? We need to keep our appearance up as good, law abiding citizens and it’s hard to do that if we keep robbing the same damn man!”

An idea struck you and you followed John through the dark over to the horses. “John. John! Wait up.”

He turned to look at you over his shoulder. “Want me to tell something to Arthur, YN?”

“Nothing I can’t tell him myself,” you swung up onto Eclipse and clicked your tongue before he could rightly react. “I’m coming with you. Now, let’s go find our boys!” And the two of you took off before anyone noticed John took an extra rider.

Chapter Text

Sadie decided to ride along, too.

She had been heading back from guard duty when you and John blew by and hollered until you stopped and picked her up. When she heard it was a secret rescue mission you two were off to, her eyes lit up, and she motioned for you to help her swing on to the back of your saddle.

John nearly lost it at having to ride with two women. He was used to only men who were steel strong at his side, and although he would never admit being slightly afraid of Sadie, you were softer and less experienced so he could take out his frustration on you. John felt out in the open and exposed riding with you two and he made it known.

Sadie heckled John right back after a few minutes. “This horse is carrying two and still riding faster than you, Martson! Wish I had time to grab Bob and show you how a real outlaw rides.”

Bob, Sadie’s horse, had been left at camp. You never knew why she named him something so simple but at least it wasn’t a name to be forgotten anytime soon.

While the two of you rode on she held on to your waist with one arm, the other brandishing her pistol up in the air and ready for the first sign of danger. Her hair wiped around her face as she called out directions of where she had seen the others disappear to. Sadie was someone you truly admired for her strength and courage in the face of danger.

“John! Take a left up here, I saw them head over the hills and off towards this way.”

The man led his horse after her directions, and you rode on for nearly an hour. The sun had long since crossed the horizon and you hoped Eclipse would be able to see the bumps and dips the land formed in utter darkness.

“Hush now, I see lanterns ahead,” Sadie hopped down from Eclipse once the two horses had come to a stop and walked over to John. “I’ll stay here with Marston, Moore, see if you can coax those fine men into lettin’ us pass. I have a feeling they’ll like you more.”

“Me?” you turned and watched the two smirk over at you. “Why just me?”

John sighed and at least had the dignity to look a bit bashful as he answered. “If we could bat our eyelashes and wiggle them hips to make men listen like you do, we would head over there.” Your face blushed furiously as you spurred Eclipse over to where the men were positioned, the soft laughter of John and Sadie following you.

“Evening gentlemen! May I pass on through here, or is something wicked coming?” A heavy Southern drawl somehow found its way out of your mouth, unknown to the strangers blocking the road that it wasn't normal.

“Why is a pretty thing like you out alone this late?”

“Just heading home, sir. I live up on the farm past that lake and ride this way every night.”

“Unfortunately ma’am, we can’t let you up that way. Heard there was outlaws in these parts, ready to take advantage of whatever fine things come their way.”

“What if one of you fine, strapping boys was to accompany me?” You ducked your head and batted your lashes, watching them fall under your spell. Flirting had never been your strongest point but these two targets were especially easy.

In the distance, John and Sadie creeped up the hill guiding his horse. The guards never noticed and eventually let you pass under the ruse that you would be returning to their post soon with some sort of gift. You blew them each a kiss as you rode by and made to meet with the others, careful to not look back in case they decided to follow you over the hill and into the heat of the action.

You nodded at John when you joined up. Something made you want to impress him, like being Arthur’s younger brother meant he had to like you too. “They’ll be good, we should have nearly an hour. I told them I lived a good ways off.”

Sadie chuckled from the back of Old Boy. “I’m sure they were more than good, YN. But let’s go, I see a farm off in the distance there and some lanterns flickering about.”

The three of you raced off, and you felt your heart beat faster in your chest. Hopefully no one would hear it if they stood too close, but the danger hiding ahead had you gripping the reigns tighter and tighter. Not even three days after you and Arthur finally admitted your feelings to one another and here you were riding straight into danger to make sure he was okay. You really, really hoped he would be alright.

The negative thoughts and what if’s running through your brain pushed your spurs into Eclipse and she picked up the pace.

Sadie guided the three of you off the path and into a patch of woods. She pulled out her binoculars to try and see but it was too dark. “Damn, can’t see a thing. John, you think we should wait or advance? Could be our boys holed up in that stable.”

John contemplated his options. “I don’t see their horses anywhere nearby, hard to know who we’re helping if they’re far enough away. Maybe I can ride up and see.”

“Look! There’s someone joining them.”

You moved forward to wave as four men approached the building tentatively, holding their light high above their heads in search of something. Sadie pulled her binoculars out and held your arm down suddenly.

“They ain’t our boys, YN. I think that’s them Cornwalls the guards we ran into were talking about. John, why don’t you and I come in from the back and surprise those fellers. YN…” She turned back to you and paused for a moment. “You can hold the horses and be ready to help us get out of here. Ain’t sure how this is gonna go.”

You felt a resentment at the image you had built for yourself and that you couldn't do anything more in this moment except hold horse reins. You floundered, but eventually agreed, watching John and Sadie creep off towards the wooden structures. Their guns glinted in the moonlight and you wished more than anything to be with them.

“C’mon, girl, let’s go sit and wait.” Eclipse moved slowly in the dark, her ears drawn back and eyes wide. She sensed the static electricity in the air as you walked her and John’s horse quietly to the other side of the trees.

The moon was high in the sky, wispy clouds crossing its light every so often. Your arms were covered in goosebumps as you and John left so fast you didn’t remember to grab a coat, a thought you now regretted. As the year moved on the night temperatures dropped lower and lower, forcing heavier layers to be worn at all times.

“S’just the boys, go help them,” you muttered to yourself after a few minutes. Why were they all making a big deal? Wasn’t it supposed to be a simple stage coach robbery?

Through your binoculars you witnessed why your original thought had been so wrong.

Shouting and rounds of gunfire made you jump and snapped your attention back to the barn, which was now partially engulfed in flames. As the bullets flew through the air you could see the small bursts of light each time the gunpowder ignited. Your heart pounded as you desperately searched for some sign of life of those you knew.

Shadows danced as figures moved out of cover to shoot and back again, but your position on the wooded hill offered no hope at distinguishing faces. Trying to see this far away was hopeless, but you knew you couldn’t leave your position and risk the horses running off.

You sure hoped those figures moving towards you were friendly.

Four bodies slipped into the night as the barn continued to burn. It was nearly all engulfed in flames which lit up the area a bit and you breathed a sigh of relief as you saw Charles, Bill, Uncle, and finally Arthur move into the tree line. John and Sadie were nowhere in sight.

“Charles! Arthur!” You whispered loudly. The men were a decent ways away and didn’t hear you, but you were cautious that being any louder would signal the Cornwall men to your location.

Moving Eclipse forward slowly, you tried to catch the group as they began to run through the trees. The fact that John and Sadie were missing was nagging at the back of your mind.

“Alright fellers. We better split up so we don’t have too much trouble, now.”

You heard Arthur grunt. “Trouble you caused, Uncle! You better hope Cornwall doesn’t follow us out of here. Now, we tied the horses up around here somewhere, Uncle you ride back with Charles, Bill and I will head different ways. Don’t lead anyone back to camp!”

Arthur stood and watched the others ride off, pulling himself up onto Zeus. He didn’t hear you approach right away but the two horses nickered and he drew his gun up out of habit without seeing who it was.

“YN? That you?”

You held your hands up mockingly, “It’s me, cowboy. Put that thing down.”

“What in the hell are you doing out here? Dutch send you?” He closed the small space between you and swept you into his arms. You could hear how fast his heart was beating as you rested your head on his chest.

“No, rode out with John and Sadie. Wanted to make sure you were alright, does robbing a carriage normally take this long?

“No,” Arthur chuckled while scanning the woods around you, “it doesn’t. Where are Mrs. Adler and Marston? Don’t see ‘em with you.”

You shook your head. “I thought they were with you. We stopped up on that hill and they went down to help. I haven’t seen them for half an hour at least. I got stuck babysitting the horses.”

Arthur rubbed his jaw and continued to look around. The area was silent, even the sounds of the others riding away had faded and left you alone. The burning from the barn was silent at this time of the night.

“Let’s head back, see if we can find them.”

Riding back out of the woods proved of little use as John and Sadie were still missing. Arthur didn’t have to say it out loud for you to know what that look on his face meant. It had been too long since they snuck off and far too quiet.

A scream pierced the air that you recognized as Sadie’s. Both of you spurred off in that direction as two shots rang out as well.

“Take that you shit eating scum!”

At the edge of the woods you saw why they had been delayed. John held a smoking gun out as a Cornwall man had Sadie held up by the neck. She fought and wiggled about but couldn't escape his grip. From the looks of things John had just taken out another who was approaching through the trees but never made it close.

“Just leave me with the girl, scar face, and walk off like nothing happened. Mr. Cornwall will let you all live for once!”

‘Not a chance!” John’s ragged voice replied. “Get back before I shoot you too.”

The guard chuckled darkly at this, pulling a knife out to point at Sadie’s neck. You looked over at Arthur, unsure of your next move but found him dismounting and motioning for you to stay put. You nodded, happy to not approach the men.

Sadie moved again and yelled as the knife cut into the chest. It was pure rage that poured out of her and not an ounce of fear. You found yourself again admiring her tenacity while staring death in the face.

She must have caught sight of Arthur coming up as she started laughing, and spit on the ground.

"You fool just about to meet your maker! You ready?" She swung her head back and slammed into the nose of her attacker just as Arthur jumped on his back. All three went sprawling, and Sadie frantically lunged after the knife that had fallen in the grass.

John watched, gun aimed at the guard, knowing that if he fired he could hit either of his gang instead of the damn Cornwall man.

Your hands were numb from how hard you gripped the reigns and how useless you felt sitting up on the hill. You wanted to cry out but couldn't risk distracting someone you cared about.

Finally Sadie found the knife and swung around, meeting the neck of the taller man. He gasped and spluttered, hands clawing at the metal weapon but was gone in moments. She wiped her face with blood covered hands in an attempt to clean herself, but it had the wrong effect. She ended up looking downright terrifying.

As soon as the movement stopped you charged in, angry and scared about what could have gone wrong.

"Arthur!!"

Your voice was laced with worry and fear, and he turned at the sound of your approach. It took everything you had not to throw your arms around him, but Sadie and John watched you run down the hill.

"Thank god you're all alright. I didn't know how to find you without causing a scene and didn't want to draw attention. Guess I didn't need to…"

John rubbed his face with his hand, dragging it slowly to release tension. "This is a god damned mess. Let's get out of here before someone comes looking."

Sadie wiped the knife off, and with John's help climbed up onto Old Boy to lead the way. Arthur trailed behind you.

Most of the ride back was silent, your head spinning from what you witnessed as you rode away. Another life taken, just like that. All that blood and fighting Sadie seemed to revel in seemed so foreign to you, like a language you didn’t quite understand.

"YN, can we speak? In private?"

Arthur’s voice pulled you from your thoughts. The small group had arrived back at camp already. Everything was silent except for the murmured greeting from whoever was on guard duty and the quiet movement of the lake.

After giving Eclipse a treat you followed Athur into his tent. Ms. Grimshaw had bulked up the exterior with walls now that winter was getting closer. They served as an excellent block from peeping eyes around camp.

As soon as the flap closed Arthur pulled you in to him. His lips covered yours with a hunger you haven’t experienced in a long time and it scared you how fast you felt the same. Your hands reached up and pushed his broad brimmed hat, earning a chuckle as it hit the ground. You could feel the low rumble from his chest as you were pressed up against him with one hand running through your hair and the other keeping you in place on your lower back. It was overwhelming and wonderful all at once.

Arthur gained confidence from the small noises escaping you and moved to kiss and suck on your neck. His stubble tickled slightly as it brushed along. You moaned as he hit a particularly sensitive spot, causing Arthur to groan back, hot breath against your neck.

His hands slid under your thighs and you felt him lift up, then lean back onto his cot. By now your heart was thundering in your chest and the blood pumping through your veins was hot and fast. Apparently the thrill of battle got Arthur going.

Hovering above you, Arthur paused for a moment. The space between you was small, and taken up by a shared breath as your chests rose and fell in time. Arthur’s gaze was locked with your own as if he was measuring how far he could push things.

“Should we stop…”

“No it’s...not yet.”

“We don’t have to, you know…”

Feeling bold you grabbed his tie and pulled him to you again, lips crashing into one another. You could have stayed like this forever, fighting for dominance but happy to lose if it meant Arthur would kiss your neck just like that again.

After awhile you pushed on his chest, needing a moment to think. He winked at you and moved to sit on the end of his bed, adjusting his pants in the process.

“Sorry to just jump you like that.” Arthur rubbed the back of his neck and you laughed softly, pushing him playfully with your boot.

“Don’t ever apologize for feeling like that, Arthur Morgan. It’s just...we’re…” you fumbled to find the right words, but Arthur reached over and squeezed your hand, knowing what to say.

“New. I know. You just looked so damn good with that wind in your hair I couldn’t help myself.”

He stood and stretched, the small strip of skin between his shirt and belt showing which made your face flush all over again.

“Guess I should get on to bed, it’s late enough and we got that ball coming up with Hosea soon so he’s making us get up and practice dance steps.”

Something in Arthur’s face made you stop. “Or I could...stay?”

He looked hopeful, smiling as you sat back down on his bed. “It’s awful cold out there and I’d hate for you to freeze. Maybe you should just sleep in my cot. You know, share body heat and all that.”

“Alright Mr. Morgan, I’ll share your bed. But no funny business, just good old fashioned sleeping for warmth. Like folks do.”

“Mr. Morgan!” You squealed as Arthur pressed you down on the bed again, hands held above your head and legs trapped below his. “Woman, that’s a dangerous game you play.”

“Well, I’m sure we can figure out some sort of punishment between you and I, Mr. Morgan.”

By the time you fell asleep you were sure the entire camp knew you two were together from the sounds that echoed across the small grass clearing.

Chapter Text

Your eyes fluttered as you awoke, the unfamiliar surroundings blinked into focus. A side table holding a satchel, some photos, and a flower in a glass jar were blurry in your sights. Arthur’s journal, haphazardly thrown, took up most of your vision and you remembered where you were and what happened the night before.

“You awake there finally?”

Arthur snaked a hand around your waist as you snuggled back into his warmth. Both of you were still fully clothed but you could tell Arthur had more on his mind than how far things went from the night before. To be honest, it didn’t go much past kissing as things were still fresh between you, but quickly you felt yourself falling for this cowboy with a secret heart of gold.

“Morning, Arthur. Sorry if I took up all the bed.”

He leaned over and kissed your temple, “Ain’t nothing to apologize for. I probably kicked you in my sleep or something.”

You laughed and rolled over to your back, looking up at the handsome man above you. “I hate to admit how long it’s been since I shared a bed with another person...but that was nice. Kept me warm and don’t think I’ve slept that well in a long time.”

“Well, I wouldn’t be too opposed to it happening again sometime. Preferably sooner rather than later.”

Laughing you pushed yourself up, ready to sneak back to your tent and get ready for the day. “Oh, not too opposed that’s good to know.” You stretched the muscles in your back, a happy warmth still lingering after you left the sheets. Standing exposed you fully to the chill of the morning and you wrapped your arms around yourself, wishing you could spend all morning in bed with Arthur, but knew you both had responsibilities and things to do.

“Meet for breakfast in ten minutes?” Arthur agreed, and you quietly walked towards the flaps of his tent. It was still early, surely no one would be walking around.

You pulled the tent open to meet a very surprised looking Javier. His face broke into a smile as his eyes darted back and forth from you to the partially exposed bed with Arthur in it. It was clear what he was thinking and he opened his mouth to comment but you rushed forward and placed your hand over his lips.

“You didn’t see anything.” He held his hands up in fake innocence, but the laughter he was trying to contain slipped out between your fingers, his whole body shaking.

“Ah, to be young and in love. I won’t reveal your secrets, but you should hurry most everyone is waking up now.”

As if to prove him right, you heard Dutch and Molly stirring in the tent next to Arthur’s. You quickly darted back to your own tent as Javier chuckled and continued on with whatever he was doing. With the ties finally knotted, you threw yourself onto your bed and breathed a sigh of relief. Javier wasn’t a braggart, he wouldn’t talk. But you and Arthur had wanted to keep things under wraps and enjoy the secret bubble you were living in a little bit longer.

The camp quickly came to life and the sounds filled the air around you. You dressed in a long skirt, a long sleeved shirt, jacket, and high socks and boots to fight off the chill of the early mornings by the water. It was still your favorite place to be, but damn if it wasn’t chilly before the sun burned the fog away.

Hosea waved a greeting as you passed him at a table and you smiled back. Javier was shuffling cards for the two of them to play and cast you a wink, but you chuckled and rolled your eyes as you continued on to meet Pearson for some food.

Who knew rolling around a bed and kissing like young teenagers would use so much energy?

John and Abigail were bickering about something as you approached the main campfire so you steered yourself over to where Charles was sitting and placed your bowl of cooked oats and berries on the table. Pearson had done some bartering in town to get a special order and first thought about baking the gang some pies, but settled on making a week of breakfasts that varied from the usual eggs or biscuits.

Charles grunted as a greeting when you joined him. He didn’t drink that often so you assumed he wasn’t hung over but he was especially quite this morning.

“How’s it going, Charles?”

Bloodshot eyes met yours. “I was stuck on guard duty all last night. Never got relieved.”

“Who was supposed to head out? That’s not right you had to stay so long.”

Rubbing his face Charles replied, “Arthur. He’s never been late before, better have a damn good excuse for leaving me out there last night.” Guilt flooded your face and you couldn't look up to meet your friend’s eyes. Of course, you knew the reason why Arthur was distracted and forgot about his turn on guard duty.

You could feel Charles’ eyes heavy upon you as you stirred your breakfast. “That’s too bad, maybe he, uh...was busy,” you mumbled quietly. He didn’t reply to you, but greeted someone who sat down next to you with a thump.

“Arthur.”

The man in question scooped up oats and took a bite, smiling at Charles and knocking your knee under the table. Arthur was radiating with happiness in a way you haven’t seen in awhile, completely oblivious to the situation brewing before him. Charles looked between the two of you, and something clicked. He chuckled but didn’t berate Arthur in the way you thought he would, instead continuing to eat his breakfast and rub the exhaustion harboring behind his eyes.

Eventually Charles excused himself and went to sleep, leaving you and Arthur alone again. It felt like no one else was around. The morning was heating up and you chatted easily to pass the time. It wasn’t long before Ms. Grimshaw found you and dragged you off to do chores, but you felt invigorated and happy to scrub shirts and dishes for the first time in, well, forever. Arthur chopped firewood not too far away, and you could admire the way he moved from this distance. The muscles in his arms and back showed through his shirt as he swung the axe over and over.

You and Arthur orbited around each other, sneaking off for private moments but jumping apart as soon as someone drew near. It was exhilarating to carry this secret around and your heart felt like it was going to burst.It was easy; you fell into a nice routine that continued on like that for another few weeks.

 

The dance Hosea planned on attending was quickly approaching and he had been running over and solidifying his plans with you, Karen, and Charles. Mostly how you and Karen were ‘related’ and what your backstory was. It was easy to slip into character and you enjoyed being in on a plan.

“One, two, three, one two spin,” Hosea instructed as you practiced moving around the grass with Kieran. He had been wandering by and was just tall enough that you could dance with him, even if his face was flushed the entire time. Karen danced about with Sean who took the opportunity to whisper dirty words in her ears and watch her blush and giggle.

Kieran was sweet but seeing the other couple made you wish Arthur could be spinning you around instead. Of course, everyone in Rhodes would recognize him because he was deputized so tagging along would ruin the whole story Hosea had concocted.

“Spin once more, good, and stop!”

Holding Kieran’s hand up in the air, you faced Sean and Karen who were mirroring you. That was the first time you had nailed the whole dance and Karen grabbed your hands and twirled you around in victory. Hosea chuckled to himself as he shuffled Dutch’s records to find the best one to practice with next.

“I’ll go attend the horses if ya’ll don’t need me.” Hosea waved Kieran off in a friendly matter, and he bowed his head at the rest of you. Sean lit a cigarette and relaxed for a moment.

“What do you think we’ll get the most of, YN? Watches? Earrings? Pearls? I always fancied myself lookin’ real good in a set of pearls,” Karen asked you.

Before you could answer Sean chimed in. “Ah, you’d do better in emeralds or sapphires, love. Something with a bit of color to bring out that sparkle in your eye.”

Karen turned to him, one hand on her hip, the other feigning innocence batting a pretend fan to cool herself off. “Why, Mr. McGuire, I’d almost think you’re flirting with me! What do we do with men who flirt but don’t back it up, YN?”

You snorted and crossed your arms over your chest. “Make him show us what he’s playing with, see if it’s any fun.” Karen laughed and bumped her shoulder into yours, eyes never leaving Sean’s face.

“I knew I liked you, YN. See, Sean? You just gotta show me what you’re playing with.”

Sean sauntered over to where you two stood and placed one foot on a box, elevating himself ever so slightly. “Miss Jones and here I thought you liked me! Once we were young and shared puppy love, Miss Moore. But now she berates me! Everyday, I wait for her to call me an arse or set my soul on fire, all depending on her mood. Fire, Miss Moore! She’s a tough one, our Karen Jones, and I’ll chase her until the day I die. But if you won’t have me, maybe Miss Moore will take pity upon old Sean and give this dog some love.”

Laughing again you replied, “Oh Sean, as much as I would love to leave Arthur for you, I just don’t see that happening anytime soon.”

Two sets of eyes fell upon you as you realized what you had just confessed. Sean and Karen both had their mouths hanging open, your own trying to form words but no sound coming out. Karen finally squealed but you shushed her as embarrassment flushed your chest and face.

“Oh god, oh my god I wasn’t supposed to say anything. Please, whatever you do, don’t tell anyone!”

The two shared a sly look, then Karen spoke. “Why, YN, whatever are you talking about. Just a casual conversation between three friends.”

You knew it would get out eventually, but being the source of the rumor you were trying to hide didn’t look too good. You and Arthur would have to talk that night.

Hosea finally found an album and got it started. “Alright, break it up! Back to your starting positions. This one is new and may take some practice. It’s got some spins in it so remember to focus on only one spot. Yes, Karen, I’m looking at you.”

That night as Arthur rode in from town you tried to be one of the first he spoke with. Zeus was getting extra attention as he and Kieran discussed what kind of care was working out best for him, which was fine and all, but it didn’t stop how fast your leg was bouncing as you watched them intently.

“Jesus, YN, you’re gonna bounce this table into next week! Watch my beer or it’ll spill.”

“Sorry, Bill. Just nervous.” He muttered something that you didn’t hear, for Arthur had started walking your way and you jumped up to meet him.

"Arthur! Can we talk?" His face broke into a smile at the sight of you but fell slightly from your own expression. You could feel the tension pulling your eyebrows together and was sure you looked frightful.

Arthur took your elbow and steered you to his tent after making sure no one watched you leave. “What’s going on, darlin’? Everything okay?”

Your heart leapt in your chest at the pet name, hoping he would understand what had happened earlier. Deciding it would be best to get it out of the way you dove in headfirst.

“So...I know we discussed keeping this thing between us secret, and I would never want to break your trust. But, I think one or two people may have found out one way or another. Not on purpose but, I’m rambling now, ain’t I? What I’m trying to say is, it’s my fault and, ugh…” you put buried your face in your hands and avoided Arthur’s eyes until you could think of a better excuse.

Instead of anger, you heard a laugh and felt warm hands wrap around your wrists gently. “What’re you talking about, YN?”

“I accidentally told someone! About us!” You wailed, thinking you had failed in the one task that mattered to you. Throwing your arms up you stood, facing Arthur head on.

Again, Arthur laughed and rubbed his own face with his hands. “I, uh, have a confession to make myself then.” He scratched the back of his neck as he usually did when nerves overtook him and laughed again. “I went out hunting with Hosea, and told him. Made him swear not to breathe a word, but still.”

You stared, nerves starting to melt away as you realized how silly you had behaved. What had seemed like the biggest deal in the world suddenly was just a small hindrance that could be explained easily, and it seemed you weren’t the only one with something to tell. It made you smile at how similar you were to the man in front of you; overthinking and critical, taking someone’s word as a blood promise, and a secret romantic who was bursting to tell everyone about what you two shared.

“You tell anyone but Hosea?”

“No,” Arthur didn’t hesitate to answer. “Well, yes. Maybe Mary Beth, too. Who did you tell?”

“Javier saw me coming out of your tent one morning. Then, Charles later when he saw us at breakfast. Oh, Sean and Karen today which is why I wanted to talk in the first place.” Thinking, there wasn’t anyone else who came to mind.

You snapped your fingers and spoke at the same time as Arthur.

“The Marstons!”

John and Abigail had found out twice then, but it seemed they learned first from your drunken exposure. Wondering when Arthur blabbed, you asked what had happened.

“Well, I was getting on to John again about how he treats little Jack, and he started asking about my future and what I wanted to do about all of this,” he waved his hand gesturing at the camp. “I got annoyed and may have mentioned that I would rather be somewhere else with someone else and he asked if it was you. I never was any good at keeping secrets from John, he’s known me far too long. So that one only half counts because he guessed before I could say anything.” Arthur moved and took your hands in his once again before continuing. “YN, I mean it. You...I ain’t felt this way in a long time. Don’t mean to overwhelm you cause it’s only been a few weeks, but I don’t want to lose you. This gang is my family, and they will always have my back. But you? You have my heart.”

You stood on your toes to kiss Arthur, your heart swelling at his words. The way he crafted speeches was an art, a masterpiece made just for you. You only hoped you could convey half of the emotion he did and somehow show him you cared that deeply, too.

His arms wrapped around your waist as he greedily deepened the kiss with his tongue, pushing past the barrier of your lips. Your hand gripped the front of his shirt, feeling the muscle underneath and contributing to the fire building in your belly. Arthur groaned into your mouth as you pulled the top buttons of his shirt open to expose his chest, your own heaving as you drew in breath. He moved toward the bed but you stopped him with a laugh, realizing how quickly you two got carried away.

“Woah, cowboy. I think it’s dinnertime, we should go out.”

Pulling you close again, his words sent shivers down your body, “I’m hungry for something, YN.”

A few minutes later you joined the gang for dinner, sitting with Arthur and Sean at an otherwise empty table. You and Sean conversed about the dancing lessons earlier that day.

“Should have seen it, Morgan! Dancing around like a regular old fiend. YN needed a better partner though, poor Kieran nearly had a heart attack any time she touched him.”

Arthur chuckled through his bites of dinner. “I’m sure, Sean. How did you and Karen fare?”

“Ah, you know. Miss Jones is pricklier than a cactus and has the same amount of love. Nothing like, ah, you and,” Sean rhythmically raised his eyebrows as you chucked your last bite of bread at him. He ducked and laughed, leaning in close. “Is it still a secret, you two?”

Sighing and ready to answer, Arthur spoke before you had a chance to say anything. “No. Just wanted to enjoy it before you lot went gabbing.”

Standing on his seat Sean called out to Karen, who happened to be on the complete opposite site from of camp and across every other person you knew. “Oy! Karen! Did you hear about Arthur and YN finally getting together then?”

Your face had never been redder.

The news seemed to strike everyone differently; the girls beamed at you and laughed at Sean, Dutch gave Hosea a very surprised look and nearly dropped his bowl of soup. Javier and John looked bored, and the rest simply sent their happiness through a few words or a smile. Truth be told nearly everyone in camp knew before Sean exposed your secret.

“Sean, remind me to beat you later when the women ain’t looking.” Sean ducked as Arthur playfully lunged at him and left to go find a drink. You sighed and relaxed your head on Arthur’s shoulder, content that you could finally do simple things like this around the others. He squeezed your knee under the table and you two relaxed.

 

“Alright folks! We are heading out. Dutch, we need anything from town while we’re gone?”

Dutch stood the small group of you, Hosea, Karen, and Charles as you prepared to go to Rhodes as the day of the country ball had finally arrived. “No! Enjoy tonight, drink, dance, and rob to your heart's content!” Karen let out a whoop and you all climbed into the wagon, finally ready to roll out.

All day you had been slightly nervous to leave. It was all anyone had talked about and you didn’t want to let them down. Mary Beth had pinned your hair up with beads and it sat precariously on top of your head. The old blue cloth the two of you had found way back in Valentine was cut into a stunning dress, perfectly your color. White lace trim was sewn around the cuffs on the sleeves, with a black and gold colored belt and black boots. You felt beautiful for the first time since arriving at camp. More often than not you were slightly dirty and wearing clothes that hadn’t been washed in a while, but tonight you were sparkly and clean and ready to perform.

Karen was dashing in a full red dress with white trim. Her boots were higher than your own and she had polished them so she could see her own reflection in the shiny surface. A pink flush was on her cheeks, and you couldn’t tell if it was from the excitement of being included or the little bit of makeup Molly had unwillingly parted with.

Charles gave you both a hand up into the carriage and stood proud in a black suit. It fitted him well, but he seemed uncomfortable to be out of his normal clothes with the weight of his guns on his hips. He smiled back at you as you stepped in and took a seat. Hosea joined you shortly, and waved out the window as the crack of the whip signaled your departure.

For a moment you thought you saw Arthur standing in camp, but you remembered Dutch had sent him and John off to finish some tasks for the Braithwates. Or was it the Greys? You couldn't keep the two rival families straight as they both had issues far beyond what you considered normal. Not that you had much ground to stand on.

Rolling along the dirt road made your nerves increase with each bounce or dip. Hosea leafed through some papers he had brought along and Karen hummed a tune, tapping her hand on her knee.

“Ladies. One more time, run through your new identities with me.”

Karen groaned but went first. “I am Gemma Glen, traveling with my father and sister on our way to Saint Denis. Our family is in the oil business, but being a woman I am not interested in such things and focus on men and beauty...things.” You laughed at her monotone delivery but Hosea gave her a glare. Shuffling his papers once more he turned to you.

“Alright, YN. And you?”

You cleared your throat. “My name is Caroline, and I, like my sister, am not interested in the dealings at your oil mill. I like to read and write and forgo the wild parts of society. Our mother died years ago in a sad and tragic way.”

“Saying you think my work is boring is the easiest way to avoid questions. I’ll handle that, your job is to keep folks busy while your hands are in their pockets. I have bags hiding here, and Charles can be the go between so just find a good place to hide things and he will pick them up and bring everything back. In about a week I’ll pawn it off and give you your share.” You both nodded and a light out the window caught your attention.

“Look...Netherfield Park is let at last.”

“Huh?”

“It’s from a book, Karen. Jane Austen.”

“Oh right, forgot you actually like to read.”

Hosea smiled at the reference and took in the sight. Rhodes must not have many dances for they held nothing back. The barn was a ways off the main street, the path way illuminated by hanging lanterns all the way up. Carriages lined the road waiting to drop off their passengers, and from the looks of it there must have been almost 200 people. Large bows adorned the front of the wooden building and string music floated out across the driveway, rising and falling with the melody of conversation mixed in. Maybe you were in a Jane Austen novel, for Rhodes felt like a far away place, an illusion of a time gone by.

As Charles pulled the carriage up two attendants approached and helped you down. They were dressed a bit more casual, and you saw the other drivers standing and talking off to the side wearing less formal attire than Charles had on. Hosea stood and offered one arm to Karen and the other to yourself as he escorted you in. Over your shoulder you waved goodbye to your friend who nodded back.

Rhodes was behind in its progressiveness and was still steeped in racism and other nasty things. You sometimes overheard Charles or Javier or Lenny discuss what things were whispered as they walked past and your stomach would drop. You understood why Charles didn’t want to come into the hall, but it felt entirely wrong.

“Welcome to Governors Ball, sir and madams. May I take your coats? Refreshments are over to the left across from the band, and before you proceed please take a mask matching the color of your attire.”

A table full of handmade masks of every shade laid before you. Some were designed to cover the whole face and required to be tied twice, while others ranged to flimsy black cloth with holes simply cut out. The sea of people before you all adorned the accessory and no one could be recognized.

Karen shook off her coat and grabbed a red mask that tied back behind her head, handing you a blue and white painted one with golden strings. It was simple but the details of leaves painted on the edges made you wonder how long this took to make. Hosea chuckled under his breath. “This...could not go any better. Truly. It’s like they’re asking us to rob them, how can we miss out on an opportunity like this?” Picking up a deep emerald green mask and tying it behind his head, he motioned for you to head out onto the floor. “Let the games begin, ladies.”

You walked out into the crowd and admired the decorations covering the interior of the old barn. Like outside, large bows were attached to the walls and lanterns hung in formations around the ceiling.

A voice from your left startled you. “And how are you on this fine evening, miss?” A tall, dark haired man extended his hand and you smiled and accepted as you moved to the dance floor. A large space had been cleared for people to move around, and you saw Karen and Hosea take place not too far away.

The stranger cleared his throat. “What is your name?”

“Caroline. Pleased to meet you.”

From under the mask you saw his eyebrows pull together for a moment before he responded. “Do you not recognize me, dear girl?”

“Josiah!” Truth be told you never spent much time with the man, but his accent was somewhat familiar. “How would I know you wearing that mask?”

He laughed and stepped forward as the dance began. “True. You and I never really spoke, did we? Last I saw you was at Horseshoe Overlook, but I got swept up working with Arthur again and he speaks of you often. Only good things, of that I can assure you.”

You blushed and twirled around him, matching time with the women in line with you. It was one of the pieces you had practiced with Hosea and you were thankful for his relentless lessons, even if they seemed silly at the time.

“Is he here tonight, Caroline?” Trelawney emphasized.

“No. He was deputized and would be too easily recognized if he came. Why are you in town?”

As Trelawney made a square around you he replied, “Invited by a woman I met in Saint Denis, no less. She and I have an on again, off again relationship but she needed an escort coming all the way out here and I had heard rumblings that a certain gang had taken up a local residence so I decided to try my luck. Seemed to play out in my favor.”

You held your right hand up and out as he came to a stop next to you, signalling the end of the number. Politely clapping you took his hand and moved over to where Hosea and Karen were standing, watching a man in a suit get progressively more drunk.

“Look who I found!”

Hosea greeted Trelawney warmly, and Karen nodded at him with a smile. He gave the same story about how he ended up here and questioned why you all had decided to ‘slum with the local dogs’ in town.

“You see these folk? Jeweled up and ready to be robbed? Soon they’ll be drunker than Reverend Swanson on a Sunday and that’s when we move in and make a pretty penny,” Karen leaned in and whispered. Nodding you glanced around the room to see who should be your first target.

A woman wearing a bracelet made of pearls dunked her cup into the punch bowl for a third time and swayed near your position. You took a slight step back.

“Oh! I’m so sorry, let me help you.” She had tripped over your foot and into Trelawney, who caught her drink before it spilled on him, too. Your hand moved over her wrist to lift the jewelry and carefully pocket it before anyone noticed. The woman straightened herself up, thanked you, and moved on.

“See? Easy as pie.” You looked up innocently at Trelawney and he chuckled.

“I see why Arthur likes you so. Charming, funny, and light fingered? Truly the perfect woman.”

Karen put up a bit of a protest at being left out, but it was all in good fun. The night continued on as you two made your way around the room, strategically planning what to take and where to hide it for Charles. He had picked a spot by the window with a flower basket and would scowl at anyone who got close, scaring them off.

The lanterns burned through the night, the candles slowing melting into wax puddles or reedy formations. Your feet ached as you moved through dance after dance. Most with Josiah, but you took up a few with Hosea who danced with more ease that you thought he could. The rest were reserved for unsuspecting strangers who left the floor a little lighter than they arrived, leaving you with quiet the haul towards the end of night.

Dances in Blackwater were nothing like this. There were no decorations in the main assembly hall downtown and the light always seemed harsher, nothing like the soft glow surrounding everything the candle light touched here. The people in Rhodes were rougher, sure, but even they had cleaned up and acted their best, if a little drunk, for the one night.

An announcement was made that only a few dances remained. You stood from your chair and moved to the floor as a hand caught your elbow.

“Miss? May I have this dance?”

Standing behind you was a tall, well dressed man in a black suit and a blue mask. It brought out the color of his eyes as he looked up and down the way your dress hugged your body.

“You shouldn’t be here!” you hissed, moving closer to his chest.

“I know,” Arthur chuckled and placed a hand on your lower back, pushing you out to the floor, “but I couldn't miss a chance to dance with my girl. Dutch said you’d already left by the time I got back. Rode like hell to find this place.”

“Well, if you get caught I am leaving you in the dust, Mr. Killgore.”

Arthur laughed and stood at the ready, apparently knowing of what this dance was. Everything had fallen perfectly into place that evening; the stars seemed to sparkle above and light the night, your handsome man surprised you, and you got to dance which was secretly one of your favorite things to do. Nothing could steal the memories of that evening away from you.

That dance was a slow one and you were grateful. Arthur had a look in his eye that you wanted to admire and you knew if he moved too quickly you couldn’t memorize it. It was a yearning that you hadn’t felt affect you that strongly in years, since the last time you were with Henry. As he spun you around him, Arthur’s hand was warm against the small of your back and he whispered in your ear, “I didn’t know that color looked so good on you. Should buy it more often.”

You laughed lightly. “Why, thank you. Although Karen is the one who really shines tonight, you should have seen Hosea go after some man who was getting too handsy. Like a switch flipped, he was downright horrifying.”

Arthur swept you around again, “Darlin’, can’t you just take the compliment? You look wonderful.” A blush crept up your cheeks at his words but you smiled and thanked him. The next part of the dance took you to someone else’s partner so you couldn’t respond.

Even though he was two people away you couldn't take your eyes off of him. The woman he was currently partnered with reacted about the same, and even though jealousy began to course through your veins you didn’t blame her.

The music ended and you began to move back to Arthur, but the short blonde hadn’t left yet. She was drunk and trying her best to convince him he needed to go home with her, much to his horror.

“Sir, I swear it’s broken and I need help! What is a small little thing like me going to do without a big man to fix my bed?”

Arthur looked like a trapped animal that its prey was playing with. His eyes were wide beneath his mask as he searched the crowd for your rescue. You gave it a few more moments then walked over to save him out of pity.

“Excuse me, miss, but I must steal him away. We’re leaving soon.”

She huffed and put her hands on her hips. “Well I don’t see a ring on your finger! What claim you got anyways?”

Arthur grabbed your hand and politely tipped his head. “She got plenty. Have a good night, madam.”

Stifling laughter you started to move to Hosea and Karen and Josiah but Arthur pulled your hand. “For the sake of being a deputy it’s best I’m not seen with them. I’ve had my fill of dancing, so why don’t you meet me outside and I’ll take you home?”

“I’m hungry, does the saloon still have a kitchen open this late?”

Arthur laughed and kissed your forehead. “I’ll head that way and see what I can find. Don’t take too long, many fools in here have been eyeing you in that dress all night.” You watched him walk out the door and sighed.

While Trelawny had plans at the hotel in town with his mysterious woman who was nowhere to be found, Karen and Hosea were ready to leave. “Oh good! Caroline, we’re heading out, the bags are full and I’d like to leave before someone notices missing items.”

“Actually I’m going to meet Arthur at the saloon. Thanks for the evening, father. See you back at camp.” Hosea tipped his hat and you walked out of the barn doors, removing your mask and setting it back with the others.

“That’s her. The girl who danced with the deputy.”

Somewhere behind you a low voice whispered to another but the crowd was too large to tell who said it. You glanced around briefly but shrugged, hoping it was nothing more than idle gossip. No one had confronted you about pick pocketing or Arthur so you tried to shake off the strange feeling lingering around your shoulders as you neared the saloon.

“YN! Over here.”

Arthur’s warm greeting made you forget any off putting emotions that lingered and you smiled back, feeling your whole body glow in the warmth of everything that was purely him. He had ordered you a drink and a meal, pulling back the chair for you and resting his hand on your knee while you talked and laughed and drank the night away. Again the two of you were in your own little bubble, unaware of everyone and everything nearby, simply enjoying the stolen moment in a town that had other plans brewing.

Chapter Text

As it turned out, Josiah had lied about why he came to Rhodes in search of the gang. Technically he did escort a woman out from Saint Denis but that was because they shared a stagecoach and got to talking along the way. She was a woman of the world and didn’t have an escort, so Josiah cozied up and got her talking about her life.

There was something brewing that he had gathered whispers about but he wanted to sit on it a bit longer and see what formed into reality.

Things in town had been starting to heat up, even though it was the cold crisp beginnings of December. The rival families continued to ask more and more of the Van der Linde gang, and Dutch was spread out thin. You could tell things had been stressful for him as he snapped more than once at unsuspecting folk, mostly Molly, as they walked through the camp on their ways to do this and that. Playing both sides took its toll on the self proclaimed leader.

Hosea had tried to lessen the load by aiding the Braithwaites, his plan to sell back their moonshine that Dutch had helped steal. It was meant to make up some cash that the train bonds had failed to do even though they brought in a good amount. Nothing seemed to be enough for Dutch these days as his greed grew with the pressure from Rhodes.

“Arthur! Meet me up on the hillside when you’re ready, we need to leave soon and head over to the manor.’’

You watched Arthur nod at Hosea, but as soon as the older man turned his back Arthur rubbed his eyes and sat down next to you at the campfire. The stitching in your hands paused and you saw the stress work its way up his body. Lately people had been asking Arthur to do every little thing they needed, and he never said no. It was one of the traits you admired most; his unrelenting selflessness that he couldn’t seem to see.

“I’m tired, YN.” You reached out and squeezed his hand for only a moment, knowing Arthur wasn’t too fond of flaunting your relationship around the group.

“How late were you up with Sean last night?” Even you could hear the worry laced in your voice as you gently asked.

Arthur just shrugged. “He needed help. I was there. Per usual.” He muttered something and stood to meet Hosea. “I’ll be back. Maybe you can work some of that magic with your hands,” he leaned in and grabbed your side before whispering, “but uh, just you and me, alone.”

You giggled and kissed him before watching him pull his hat down over his blushing cheeks, walking out to Zeus so he could meet Hosea.

“Look at that! Walking around like a little school girl. Maybe we should get him a skirt, too.”

Dutch had made a big deal about keeping the peace with Micah, and you were still in his debt for letting you join the gang so you bit your tongue instead of verbally slapping the blonde man like you wanted to.

The same circumstance did not apply to Sadie, however.

“Shut your mouth, maggot feed.” Not looking up from sharpening her knife, the threat carried plenty of weight and managed to drive Micah away from the small group gathered.

“Thanks, Sadie. Don’t seem to have the energy today.”

She held her knife up to the light so she could admire her work. “Just call ‘em like I see ‘em. You up for a little hunting? Been meaning to drag Charles out soon.”

You nodded and agreed to meet around noon. The chores would be done by then and you were itching to feel the pull in your muscles as you drew up the bow. Mary Beth walked by and you called her over.

“You want to head out with Charles and Sadie? I can finally teach you how to use my bow.” At first she looked surprised that anyone would even ask, but you finally convinced her to come out to see if she liked it. Not many women around camp did much besides cleaning and fixing, but you were never one to sit and wait for adventure to come knocking.

You changed into your pants and loose top with a light coat to leave for the day and saw Sadie dressed the same. Mary Beth had thrown a large coat over her skirt, and you knew she felt awkward from the glances she threw around camp like she didn’t want people to know what she was up to. Killing did not come easy to the woman, so you figured she could stick with shooting bottles or small rocks or something that tended not to move.

Eclipse was happy to see you and nickered as the group approached. Charles suggested taking the wagon as it was a large group and Mary Beth looked relieved. You decided to ride Eclipse alongside them and scope out the land.

Lenny waved as you passed by hollering, “Shouldn't be gone too long! Few hours to grab some deer and rabbit.”

The ride out to open land was peaceful, and seeing how the snow fell across the valleys and hills was breathtaking. Growing up in Blackwater you had no idea what lay beyond its reach, and your heart had a sadness for a life you might have known if not for your father and his desperation for power and order.

Mary Beth spotted some men approaching so Charles veered the wagon off into the woods to wait them out. Three horses went by with watchful Lemoyne Raiders, guns propped up and ready to take out anyone in their way. Seeing them gave you shivers and you hoped you didn’t have to deal with them again.

“They’re a nasty bunch, followed Lenny and I around town. They don’t much like colored folks walking about free, think we should go back to how it was before the war.”

Mary Beth looked at Charles with surprise written on her soft features. “That’s awful! You mean like slavery and all that?”

A dark cloud passed over Charles before he responded. It was a sensitive subject and you had forgotten how little Mary Beth had left camp since arriving at Clemens Point. “We’ll pass some old Civil War battlefields up here, Mary Beth. You can see how they preserve what they think is right even though it’s been thirty years gone.”

It was silent for a bit after that. You rode a ways behind and thought about how hard it must be for those in your group who’s only difference was the tone of their skin. Thoughts turned to your hometown as you continued on, only brought back to reality by Sadie hopping off the wagon, gun in hand.

Mary Beth watched the larger guns Sadie held warily and moved over to stand by you and Charles. He was stretching out his bow and preparing to take one of the wagon horses up into the hills a ways, looking for larger game that could feed the group.

“Alright. How about Mary Beth and I guard the wagon and you two go find some food?”

Sadie tipped her hat and moved off through the grass.

“She’ll scare of every animal in a two mile radius. I’ll head up over there, should be back in an hour or two. I don’t think Eclipse is strong enough to pull the wagon by herself so just wait for me.” You nodded and watched your friend ride off, disappearing into the woods.

“Never been out here by myself. Well, I mean without a man around.”

Mary Beth stood with her hands clutching each other, eyes darting around. You chuckled. “It’s fine, I’m a good shot. Much better now Arthur’s been giving me lessons. Here,” you handed her the wooden bow and positioned yourself behind her. “Put your left arm out straight and just look for a minute. See that little knot I made in the string?” You waited for her nod then continued on. “That’s your sight, like a on a pistol. You want to feel like you’re looking straight through the string, like it ain’t even there.”

The wood wobbled slightly in her hand, causing her to giggle. You smiled. “Now, this is the tricky part. We won’t put a target up right away, I want you to get the feeling of it first. Grab the string, no, here, and pull it back to your anchor. I use the corner of my mouth, and let it rest until you feel steady. Takes a lot of strength, doesn’t it!”

Her hand held at her mouth and you could see how much exertion she was putting into trying. Mary Beth may be soft and kind, but she was determined and sure not a quitter. You admired those qualities in a person.

“Look, YN! I’m doing it!”

Her arms began to shake and you quickly helped her lower the bow without letting go of the string and she let out a whoop. “Next let’s try with a real arrow!”

“Fine afternoon, ladies. What are y'all up to here?”

A low voice called from the road over to you and Mary Beth. You looked at her but she didn’t seem to recognize him, caution slowly creeping in your veins.

“Mary Beth get behind me, I’ve got a gun,” she moved and you yelled back at the man. “What do you want sir?”

He was seated upon a horse, wearing a blue shirt and green pants covered in dirt, like he had taken a bad fall. His hat flopped off his head and he tumbled down after it. You reached back behind you and grabbed the gun tucked into your waistband just in case things went south. Alone with Mary Beth out in the field you suddenly felt very exposed compared to the joy that only moment you experienced.

But no. It was just you two, and this strange man falling off his horse.

“Name’s Stanley. You folks need any help?”

Confused you looked back at Mary Beth. “Help?”

“Yeah! Looks like you’re, well, looking for something. Maybe I can help you two ladies out."

Mary Beth clutched your free arm with an iron grip as Stanley walked closer. You aimed your gun up and spoke crystal clear, "Don't take another step there."

Hands in the air the man stopped moving and suddenly whistled a single piercing note. Two other riders emerged from the woods with guns drawn pointed straight at you and Mary Beth, causing your heart to pick up at an uneven pace.

“Hands up, ladies. This ain’t need to be anything more than a simple robbery. Not here to get anyone hurt.”

Your arm started to lose feeling as Mary Beth clung on for support. “What are we gonna do, YN?”

Shaking your head you couldn't look back at her, the three men closing in quickly. You wracked your brain but no ideas came to you as how best to stop this robbery from happening. Sadie and Charles were too far away for any yelling to be heard, and Mary Beth didn’t seem to be able to buck up and fight so you knew this was all falling on you.

You straightened your shoulders and took a deep breath.

“If you leave now, there won’t be a problem, gentlemen. It may be just us two out here but we’re with a whole group coming back in no time.”

The leader scoffed, but the other looked at each other behind his back. “Ma’am, no offense, but you ain’t very scary and we’ve been watching you for an hour. Know you’re all alone and no one is coming. Now hand over what you got and we’ll be on our way.”

Stanley moved over to the wagon and began rummaging through what little supplies your group had brought while the leader came up and grabbed the pistol out of your hand. “I’ll be taking this, too.”

The third of the group came up and corralled you and Mary Beth off to the side, shotgun pointed at your chest.

Both of you stood with your hands in the air, and you glanced around to find anyway to get out of this situation. It was three against two; well, one if you counted Mary Beth as a bystander, and you weren’t the most experienced at fighting. But you had to do something, letting these bastards get away with robbing you would leave everything thinking you wouldn't head out ever again.

A plan slowly formed in your mind and you decided to act upon it. The man guarding you stood lazily with one hip cocked, not even watching you and instead focused on his other two companions and what they had found.

“Hey, mister. Come on over here.”

His eyes swung back and to gaze at the way you had positioned your body to stand seductively, trying to catch his attention. The shotgun was lose in his hands he cautiously walked over.

“You’re a big boy, ain’t you. Not like those other two. How about you and me leave and have a little fun by ourselves?”

“What you talking about, woman?”

You battered your eyelashes and twirled a piece of hair, walking closer and testing how far he would let this go.

"Oh come now, you know what I mean. Big strong man, finds two lovely ladies out here. I'm sure we could convince you to leave us if we give you something besides our supplies. We know what men like you want."

A dirty smirk crossed his face, and your insides twisted as he sauntered over. "Oh, I'm sure we could figure something out. What you thinking about then?"

You licked your lips and eyed him up and down as he stood before you with hands resting on his gun belt. The shotgun had been completely forgotten, resting on the ground against one of his legs. It was now or never and you took your chance. Your hand reached out to his shoulder and playfully grabbed the fabric there, making sure your grip was nice and tight.

"Well mister, I'd start by ripping that shirt off and grabbing your chest, like this."

With the man off his guard you took two handfuls of his shirt and swung your head forward as hard as you could and crashed into his, a sick popping noise signalling his broken nose.

He stumbled back a few steps as he cradled his bloody face. "You bitch! You'll pay for that." Your own head was ringing and you didn't see him approach to throw a punch. "That'll teach you to mouth off again."

Mary Beth had started screaming and threw off your plan, which admittedly had already gone off the rails, so you lunged for the shotgun anyways. The man saw what you were going for and jumped on your back.

"Oh no you don't!"

Your mouth was cut and bleeding from the impact of his punch, coloring the grass in front of you as you breathed heavily. You twisted below his weight and moved so he sat on your stomach, your upper arm pinned down by one of his hands and a fist full of your hair in another.

"Now we'll see what that mouth can do."

The smirk on his face turned from disgust to rage as you spit directly on him, blood everywhere. Your hand had been searching the grass for the cold metal of the shotgun and it finally found it. You swung the gun upwards and crashed into his skull, sending him falling to the ground.

Mary Beth ran over to offer you a hand up but one of the other men grabbed her, causing her to scream and claw at the air in your direction.

You stood up breathing heavy. This was so not how this day was supposed to go.

"Alright miss, we're leaving now. You ain't got any supplies we want and you damn near killed my man. Problem is, Lemoyne Raiders never leave empty handed so we're taking this one with us. Pretty young thing'll be fun." He squeezed Mary Beth into his body and she wriggled to try and get away. “Oh, no you ain’t,” was all the warning you two had before he pressed a knife against her neck to hold her in place.

You picked up the shotgun and aimed it at the leader. "You obviously never heard of the Van der Linde girls before. Ain't going anywhere with her."

A chuckle from your right brought your attention to Stanley. He aimed a revolver right at you, and you knew you were outnumbered. You refused to accept what was happening and stared hard at Mary Beth. The sweet woman had fear etched on her features but she was smart; you prayed this wasn't the first time she had been caught up like this before and had something up her sleeve.

Ever so slightly she nodded, and you saw her hand ball into a fist. Your hands shook under the shotgun as it weighed down with the decision you were about to make.

Time seemed to stand still as you turned your gun at Stanley and pulled the trigger. He went down quickly in a rain of blood and cloth.

The leader put up a bit of a struggle but Mary Beth made quick work of burying her hidden knife into his neck. Staring at her you both breathed heavily and surveyed the once again peaceful clearing.

"I hate men. Like that." The voice from your friend was harsh and cold, years of experience bursting to the surface.

"We're okay, Mary Beth. Let's get this cleaned up before anyone comes by." You tried to put your hand on her shoulder for comfort but she shook it off, walking to Stanley and searching his pockets before thinking about where to hide the bodies.

The two of you decided on the section of woods Charles hadn't gone into. You took the leader of the little group while Mary Beth dragged Stanley to the designated spot. After you put them to rest by a tree she made crosses out of nearby branches and closed her eyes to silently pray.

You scoffed at her actions. "They were ready to rape and rob us, and you're praying for them?"

She stood suddenly, still not meeting your eyes. "Even the worst of the folk in this world deserve a bit of respect as they pass on. Maybe they'll change and be...better. Dutch taught me that. If there is another life it should start with kindness, and maybe praying for them now will do that."

You nodded and understood her a little bit better. "I'm sorry Mary Beth, I dragged you into all of this."

"Not your fault. YN! Please don't think I'm upset with you. You must've thought I was...It wasn’t you. It’s…” She huffed and ran her hands through her messy hair. “Can I tell you a secret? One you promise to take to the grave?”

You nodded, and she continued. “I was almost married once. Met a good man, found a place that could be home. But…” she glanced away from you before speaking again. “A few weeks before I realized something. I’m...I don’t like men, YN.” Her voice was very quiet and you moved closer to hear. “I think I’m attracted to women. The same way most gals like men.”

It was silent in the woods save for the soft chirping of some nearby birds. Tall, leafy trees stood guard as Mary Beth opened her heart and confessed something that had clearly been weighing on her. You didn’t know if it was the thrill of combat or the fear of almost dying that let her speak so freely, but you knew that it didn’t change a damn thing about how you viewed her.

Her body was rigid as you pulled her into a hug, but quickly she relaxed and her let arms snake around your middle. You rested your chin on her shoulder and spoke, “Thank you for trusting me, Mary Beth. I would never let anything happen to you if I could stop it. I’m so sorry about those men.”

She shook her head at you again. “Like I said it wasn’t you. Can’t believe you stood up to them like that! Something about how they all just assumed they could have us made me angry and I never want to feel like that again. Let’s go get that lip cleaned up.”

The two of you walked back to the field arm in arm. Mary Beth started to organize the wagon when you realized something, stopping her in her tracks.

“Where’s that big fella I hit with the shotgun? His body ain’t here.”

You scanned the field but found no trace of where he went and dread filled your body, heavy and cold. “I told him who we ran with,” you whispered. Mary Beth looked over, knowing the implications of what had been spoken.

“Here’s hoping you hit him real hard, then.” Knowing there was nothing more that could be done besides wishing his memories were lost, you cleaned up the area and sat to wait for Sadie and Charles.

Mrs. Adler found her way back first. Surprisingly, she had two small deer carcasses with her that she proudly threw into the wagon. Mary Beth thought it was best to fill in everyone on what happened after Charles had returned, but Sadie threw you more than one questioning glance on account of your busted lip and bloody shirt.

Charles was livid when he heard the story.

“He got away? After you told him who you ran with?” His big hands moved from his hips to his hair to his gun holster as his nerves made him uneasy. You tried to apologize but he didn’t hear it, thinking only of the safety of the gang above everything else. “Hunting was a mistake. We should head back and warn the others there might be trouble.”

Sadie tried to calm him down but she didn’t have the most gently approach. In her eyes, you two had done exactly as she would have and that was good enough for her. So what one dumb man got away, the other two had been dealt with and the survivor knew you were not to be messed with.

You felt terrible of course. Charles viewed what happened as you putting Mary Beth into harm’s way and making a mess of a situation even worse. He felt the tension at camp and knew things in Rhodes were coming to a breaking point, and having the Lemoyne Raiders coming after you too only added to your worries. It didn’t stop your heart from sinking as he spoke, knowing you upset the people closest to you.

Mary Beth looked over her shoulder with big, round eyes nearly brimming with tears as she sat in the wagon next to Charles. Riding Eclipse was a welcome escape to the anger radiating out of your friend as he clicked the horses forward.

“I’m, uh, going to head into town. I need to get cleaned up before heading back into camp.” Charles waved at you, but Sadie and Mary Beth looked worried. They didn’t get a chance to protest as you dug your heels into your horse and ran away as fast as you could.

The tears finally broke through your wall once the others were long gone and out of sight. Charles was right; you had put Mary Beth into harm’s way and could have gotten her killed. You were no gunslinger or an outlaw. From his glare it was obvious you were still just playing pretend at a life that didn’t fit you quite right.

You stopped Eclipse as the road was blurry and pulled over to calm yourself down. Climbing down your shoulders started to shake and you sat in the grass with your head tucked into your knees. Eclipse lipped your shoulder affectionately as you cried everything out.

A little while passed and you felt better. Maybe being a bit dramatic was the best cure. You wiped your face and felt ready to pull yourself back up, whatever it took.

Your first stop in Rhodes was the general store. The current state of your attire was a fright and the store owner confirmed this as he jumped when you entered. A new shirt and skirt later had you feeling much better, and you bundled your old clothes into a ball to store on the back of Eclipse. He had given you a discount after thinking you were attacked and robbed and you didn’t have the energy to correct him so the outfit felt like a special treat.

Still not ready to face camp you headed into the saloon. The boisterous music and chorus of voices somehow made you feel a part of something even if the room was filled with strangers. A hot meal and a few drinks later and you found yourself singing along with the piano at a small table in the back of the room.

Your cheeks were flushed from the alcohol and the heat of the crowd in the room. A stranger sat down next to you and you eyed him warily, but he didn’t seem to be as drunk as anyone else in the bar.

“Sorry, ma’am I just need to rest for a moment.” You nodded at him and took another sip of the drink in front of you. He was darker than Charles, but not as tall and with a thinner frame, similar to Sean. His white shirt was stained the color of the red dust from Rhodes and his face looked aged beyond his years. You placed him somewhere between yours and Arthur’s age.

“My name is Cornelius Staten and I just arrived at Rhodes today. Doesn’t seem to be the most welcoming town,” he glanced around that the other patrons who were not paying you any mind, “but I’ve never traveled this far south before.”

You stuck your hand out. “Caroline Glen, pleasure to meet you. Please, stay as long as you like, I know it’s not easy to face this town alone.”

Cornelius had an easy smile and the two of you chatted for awhile as he stayed in the bar. He rented a hotel room and was staying the night in Rhodes but wanted food and a feel of the land before turning in for the night. Something about his business had brought him here.

“So, what brings a beautiful face to a town like this?” You swatted away his compliment, making him laugh.

“I’m visiting with my father and sister. They didn’t want to leave the room tonight so I am sadly alone.” Using your fake persona was much easier than facing what you had been through earlier, so you kept up the story Hosea had crafted for you. “He’s an oil man, or something, and was checking out a site here. Not sure how it turned out.”

Cornelius handed you another shot and you took them together, shaking your head as the bitter flavor splashed across your tongue.

“Where are you from, Mr. Staten?”

“Out east, little town north of Backwater. Used to be involved with the law there, but out here that ain’t too likely for a man such as myself. Met the sheriff here, odd fella,” he leaned in close, whispering, “this whole town is full of odd folks. Present company excluded.”

Conversing with him was easy and held no obligations. The hours slipped away as you watched the crowd through a haze of drink, getting to know this newcomer in town.

“Well, Ms. Glen, it has truly been a pleasure. Thank you for indulging this man in some civilized conversation, and here’s hoping to see you around soon.” You smiled as Cornelius stood to retire for the evening, waving as he weaved through the crowded saloon and out the front doors.

You were about ready to head back to camp, tail between your legs, when a familiar voice rumbled behind you and a hand squeezed your lower back.

“Charles said I would find you here, wanted to make sure you were okay darlin’.”

Arthur brought with him his scent of tobacco leaves and mint and leather, a welcome memory as you swayed in a room full of strangers. The events of the day bubbled to the surface and you found yourself ready to burst into tears again at the thought of retelling everything. He noticed something was off and moved you to a table out of the way, sitting and holding your hands with a worried look on his face.

“Did he tell you how everything went wrong? How I fucked it up and got people hurt?”

His thumb circled the back of your hand as you refused to meet his gaze. “No, he did not. What he did say though was that you handled everything when he left, and that Sadie ripped him apart for how he reacted.” He chuckled at the memory softly, drawing you back to look into his eyes. “Mary Beth was rightly livid with him and waited to lay into it until they was back at camp. He feels terrible, YN, you know he’s your friend and a good man.”

You took a deep sigh and squeezed Arthur’s hands. One of the things you appreciated about him most was that he brought you back to reality, but was never harsh about it. Even if you acted like a damn fool he saw through it and what you needed.

“Thank you, Arthur. For riding out and finding me, for telling me, for listening even when I’m being silly. You’re the best thing I could have asked for.” You leaned across the small table to kissed his cheek, causing him to blush. “Don’t know why you like me.”

He raised his eyebrows at you. “YN, I can’t rightly explain what you do to me. I may not be too good with words,” Arthur scooted his chair closer to you to make sure no one would overhear his sentimentality, “but I do know how to tell you this. I have known you for nearly a year, and in that time you have fully taken over my thoughts. That day I found you in Blackwater, drunk, wild, and angry, I felt time stand still. You were so determined to do the right thing, and that is something that has not changed in you. And this life can change many things about a person. But you? You are kind, courageous, and you learned how to survive and help others, and you never stop looking to find the beauty in things that others would pass right by. I am constantly in awe of you, and hope that you don’t tire of me anytime soon.”

You could feel a tear roll down your cheek as Arthur spoke but knew it had nothing to do with what happened earlier that day. The unexpected speech had you floored and you were overcome with emotions. He had never said anything like that to your knowledge and you sat there smiling in one of the happiest moments of your life.

“Can we head back to camp, please? All these people make me nervous.”

You couldn’t stop smiling, but after wiping your face and taking Arthur’s outstretched hand you followed him outside. The air was refreshing and cool against your skin, a welcome reprieve to the flush occupying your face the past few hours.

Arthur pulled your arm as you neared the horses and held you tight. You giggled like a schoolgirl, still riding high from his words and leaned into the kiss he pressed against your lips. His hand weaved through your hair in gently motions, pushing you as close as you could get.

“I am sleeping with you tonight, Mr. Morgan.” Feeling bold from the gin drunk you exuded, he slapped your backside and jumped on Zeus clearly eager to return to camp.

The cool wind blew your hair around as Eclipse ran over the fields out of town and back to the lakeside. Things once again felt right and you were calm.

Charles jumped to attention as you approached, recognizing your horse. “YN! Please, can we talk?” Arthur muttered something but headed straight to his tent with a promise you would meet him soon. Charles looked sheepish but spoke anyways.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t think today and spoke before I knew what happened.”

You threw your arms around his neck and held tight, glad your friend wasn’t angry with you. As he chuckled your whole body reverberated and he patted your back lightly.

“I was scared, Charles. I tried to do my best. Those men -”

“That man will be tracked down and silenced, don’t worry. Mary Beth is fine, and you got away with a split lip.” He held your chin and turned it side to side, examining the damage. “Get some rest. Dutch has plans for us tomorrow.”

You smiled back at your friend and felt the weight of the day lift from your shoulders. Hopefully he was right and things would turn out okay.

The only thing on your mind currently was the man waiting for you in his tent.

Cautiously you opened the flap and found Arthur scribbling away in his journal. He paused to look up at who entered, then bent his head down to finish his sentence while you walked in. The decor in his tent had changed some since you met him. More pictures of people and nature surrounded his bed, and a map of the places he found interesting was hung up against the wood of the ammunition wagon. A bottle of gin sat open with two glasses, and you poured a small amount into each.

A devilish grin met you as you handed Arthur his glass. He had finished his writing and turned his full attention to you.

“What are you writing about in there?”

He shook his head and took a sip. “A tale for another day, darlin’. Tonight is all about you.”

“Me?” You feigned innocence to the dark look in his eye. “What do you want to do with me?” Arthur chuckled darkly and moved over to sit next to you on the bed, taking the empty glass out of your hand and placing it back on the table.

“With those eyes looking at me like that? And that mouth just begging to be kissed?” He ran his tongue over his lips, drawing you in close, “Sweetheart, there ain’t a whole lot I don’t want to do.”

 

A few mornings later, Dutch approached you and Arthur eating breakfast. Trelawney had finally sent word about the reason he came to Rhodes but didn’t think it was safe to type out and wanted to meet. Dutch wanted you, Charles, and Arthur to ride out and meet him to see what the vagabond needed.

Charles grunted in acceptance as the two of you told him what the plan was and you were off.

“You know anything about what this character wants?” Charles had never been the biggest fan of Josiah and wasn’t too pleased about being dragged along.

“Something about bounty hunters in the area coming after us. Dutch wants to know who they are or where they’re coming from.”

The two chatted about the hilarity of Arthur being deputized and how camp morale was at an altime high while you hung back and observed the scenery around you. At the mention of Pinkertons, Charles’ eyes darted to yours but you shook your head and he continued on as if nothing had happened. The realization that you would need to tell Dutch or Arthur about your father lingered like a dark cloud on a sunny day that you continued to ignore.

At last some buildings came into sight, and Arthur signaled for the three of you to pull off and tie the horses up. It was a small trio of caravans that Trelawney was apparently renting from, living just outside the outskirts of Rhodes.

A small dog came up and started barking. You crouched down and clicked your tongue to get its attention. He approached slowly, and you gained its trust while Arthur and Charles went inside to investigate.

“Someone got here first,” Charles said sighing. He waved you inside and you looked at the mess of things thrown in every way and knew that orderly Josiah would never leave his home, no matter how temporary, in this state. Coffee had been spilled across the small table, and blood spattered the floor causing your stomach to drop.

Charles went outside to investigate a sound and discovered some tracks he believed to be the man’s. You brought Eclipse around and climbed up to follow the others, the trail leading out and away from Josiah’s rented caravan. The two men bantered about Josiah and his ways, and how they were unsure if they even wanted to find him. Your brief time with him had been positive and their jokes struck you the wrong way.

“I know if I went missing you two would come after me in a heartbeat. Don’t see how it’s any different for Josiah Trelawney.”

Both Arthur and Charles were silent for a bit after that.

Two men by the roadside were smoking meat over a fire and were immediately defensive when Arthur approached. Charles hopped off of Tamia and picked up a cane. “Our friend carries one like this, think you boys can tell us where he went?” The two swung at Arthur and Charles but stood no chance in a fight, going down immediately.

Panting and scratching, the one Arthur had fought was pinned against a tree by both men. He struggled but quickly realized it was useless.

“I’m just a bounty hunter! I don’t know anything!”

It was the wrong answer as it was met by a swing from Arthur’s fist. You looked away from the violence, letting Charles and him settle whatever issues came up. After a few hits the bounty hunter cracked, revealing that Trelawney had been taken to a cabin near Braithwaite Manor.

Arthur threw the man to the ground, leaving him in pain but alive. You led the way out of the trees but Charles took over as you left the small clearing, picking up the pace and pushing the horses to move faster. A sense of urgency had met your small group and you could see it in the way Arthur’s shoulders were set and the angry line on Charles’ face.

You got lost in your mind again as the men lead you to the Manor, thinking about what had happened that night at the ball. Josiah had been sparkling; a perfect gentleman, kind to Hosea and Karen, and truth be told an impecible dancer. Maybe it was just his way of spinning yarn to tailor to you. You hoped it wasn’t, for that version of the man you actually enjoyed. From everything Charles and Arthur talked about he wasn’t who you had envisioned.

The cabin Charles had lead you to was closer than you thought. It was small and covered in green moss that grew like mold, contrasting with the grey painted wood underneath. As you were getting down from Eclipse the front door burst open and two men carrying Trelawney walked down the path unknowingly towards you.

“Josiah!” You cried out. Arthur swore, but he and Charles had their guns lifted and aimed as the three men in front of you looked up. Trelawney was bound at his hands and feet, his face covered in blood and dirt. From the few feet separating you it was obvious he had at least one black eye and a split lip.

The two escorting him dropped the man and ran off. “Ah, YN What an angel to find a sinner like me. Help me with these ropes.”

You cut the binds with Arthur’s knife as he and Charles took off after the two bounty hunters into the corn fields. Trelawney rubbed his wrists appreciatively.

“What happened, Josiah?” You asked him softly as you took his face with one hand to look over the various cuts and bruises.

“You know, you are the only one to call me that. Most just say ‘Trelawney’.” He moved over to the steps of the cabin and hung his head for a moment. “But I guess of anyone here, you would know the weight a last name can carry.”

The silence stretched on as you understood what he was implying. It felt like cold ice had been poured over you as the thought of your father took over your mind. Josiah reached out a hand and stood tall, stretching his legs for the first time since the ropes were removed. A chair sat on the porch and he asked you to move him to it to wait.

“Why would you say something like that, Trelawney.”

Josiah looked up at you startled. “No! Dear girl, please understand I meant no harm in what I said. Only that familial relations are not chosen willingly, and some people have more reason than others to escape and be free. I love that you call me by my given name, few in the Van der Linde circles think of me at all, and even fewer think of me highly. I promise, my lips are sealed in relation to your family.”

You nodded and sat down next to him. “Sorry. Thought he had come down here or something crazy. How did you find out?”

Josiah’s answer was cut off by Arthur and Charles approaching. “Took you boys long enough! I assume those degenerates have been dealt with?”

Charles nodded. “Who exactly are we dealing with?”

“Bounty hunters, sent by Cole Stoudemire. I didn’t tell them anything,” he spoke quickly as Arthur opened his mouth. “Just that I was here looking from Oregon looking for work. They didn’t believe me, of course. Seems you stirred up quite a hornet’s nest back in Blackwater.” His eyes cut over to you, but he continued on. “Might be best if I stayed with you lot for awhile. Can’t go back to that caravan now.”

You helped Josiah onto the back of Eclipse and he grabbed the saddle tightly. “C’mon. Charles, YN, take Trelawney back to camp and explain to Dutch what is going on. I’ve got to meet John about some horses and should be back before too long.” Arthur gave your arm a quick squeeze, then climbed up onto Zeus and rode off. The tension building in his body was obvious and you worried about how much Dutch asked of him. You made a note to ask him about it later.

“Alright, lady and gentleman! Lead the way. Please take care that I don’t fall of this horse though, I feel a bit woozy.”

You looked over at Charles who just rolled his eyes. “That’ll be your duty, YN.”

Carefully the three of you made your way back to camp, the ride made longer by Josiah’s constant rambling. The dark cloud looming above you from before seemed to be growing each time your father was mentioned, and you could only hope that the shelter you had built would be enough to weather that storm.

Chapter Text

Early mornings when the fog sat over the lake were your favorite. The way that grey and purple and blue yawned and stretched its way across the sky with the sun struck you silent with beauty. Staring you wished you weren't the only early riser who habitually watched the water and felt yourself coming to life at the same rate as the sky.

The past few mornings you had awoken particularly early with Josiah's words ringing in your ears.

But I guess of anyone here, you would know the weight a last name can carry.

You had picked up on Arthur's mindless habit of scratching the back of your neck while you got lost in thought. He approached and found you like that, chuckling at the sight. You gratefully accepted the steaming cup of coffee and wrapped your hands around it for warmth.

A soft kiss to your cheek was his greeting. "Morning. Thanks, Arthur. It's chilly out this morning."

"Don't like being in the cold too much, not after Coulter," he grunted back. "Spose this time of the year comes with that though."

"A new century, think of that." The end of 1899 was nearing and with it brought not only a new year, but an entirely new era. Towns were growing into cities and the outlaw way of life was on the decline. To a group like this that usually faced challenges with a mean eye, it was terrifying and threatened their entire way of life. More than once you had discussed with Arthur the weight he carried for this group and what would happen if for some reason they all had to disperse. It was a topic he did not like talking about and usually ended with him having to walk away.

But sitting on the dock in the morning light, he smiled without a care as he sipped his coffee and took in the view.

Something was holding you back from telling Arthur about who your father was. You feared more than anything the rejection from your found family and the foundation you had built in this new life that you stumbled into. Especially with how well things had been with Arthur particularly, losing him would tear you apart.

You drained the last of your coffee as the fog burned off the lake. “Ready to start the day, beautiful?” Arthur offered you his hand and you stood, walking back towards camp together.

There was a job at the Braithwaite manor that Arthur was heading out to meet John and Javier and you decided to tag along. At first he was hesitant, they were posing as horse buyers and you didn’t have any experience but his selfish want to be around you won out and you rode out into the sun.

The land surrounding the Gray house was filled with rows and rows of tobacco that had dried up for the season. It spread out or miles in all directions like a moat surrounding the main fortress, the green a stark contrast to the yellow dust and dead grass that filled in the spaces around it. When you rode up Javier was shuffling back and forth, rubbing his hands on his arms and swearing softly in Spanish. He nodded up to you and Arthur, motioning for only you to follow him. Arthur walked up to John.

“You know the plan, YN?” You shook your head, trying not to laugh at how dramatic Javier was about the cold. He leaned in close and you could smell the cigarettes on his breath, “We’re going to steal their horses. Word around says they could go for nearly five thousand!”

You swore under your breath. “That’s a lot of money, Javier. You think Dutch can get us out of here with all that?”

Javier glanced over your head back to John and Arthur. “If not that, we’ll be close. Finally sit on the beach and sip beers. Come on, that’s the signal. You and I are following while the boys take the lead.”

The two men walked out of the stables and mounted their horses. You and Javier lingered, but made sure to track where they went. The plan was to wait until the horses were out and lose, then run like hell. Typically Arthur had more concrete plans but John was so proud of this one that no one dared get in his way.

Javier's horse was a bit smaller than Eclipse and he watched her run appreciatively. "You still liking that mare? We could find you a sleeker one out in the wild, might be better for hunting."

You reached down and patted Eclipse' neck. "Nah, this one's been sweet and loyal, can't turn my back on her now."

Javier nodded. "I'm the same with Boaz. Could start fresh, but I'm sentimental."

You and Javier had never spent too much time outside of singing at the campfire together, but you could feel there was a real fire burning within him. Any task he put his mind to was completed at the highest level, as if a fear of failure drove him to push and push.

He clicked Boaz into a pasture and both of you silently watched John and Arthur navigate the deal. You approached as potential buyers and Arthur's logic was that folks carrying as much cash as the stable hand bragged about would need extra security, but something felt off about the situation and left a nervous pit in your stomach.

Your shotgun twitched in your hands, catching Javier's eyes. He saw the way your attention never left Arthur. Worry creased your brows together and forced your mouth into a frown.

"You...really care about him, don't you?" Looking at Javier he had a puzzled expression watching you fret about Arthur.

"I do. I really do. He changed my life Javier. You all have, I've never had a family like this." He chuckled softly, his breath showing in the cool crisp air. "You ever wonder what it would be like to leave? Go off on your own?"

As if the words stung, Javier blanched backwards. "And leave Dutch? The man who gave me my life back? Never."

You raised your hands defensively. Clearly you had touched some hidden nerves. "Relax, I'm just trying to pass time. I would never take you as a quitter, Javier. I admire that." He eyed you silently and you laughed. "You think I could ever do something like that?"

After a moment he cracked a smile. "No. You're much to kind. Can't imagine you trying to pull something like that."

A sound from the stables drew your attention. Horses, a lot of them, were running towards you. Angry voices and gunshots rang out moving closer by the second. Javier swore under his breath and you scrambled to get Eclipse moving fast enough to keep ahead of whoever was coming your way. Boaz pushed ahead and the two led the way.

Arthur and Zeus thundered around the corner and waved a signal to you. John followed leading four horses behind him by ropes, presumably stolen from the Braithwaites. They were wide eyed and foaming at the mouth from the commotion, startled by the sudden change in environment and the violence pursuing from behind.

"YN! Keep up, we gotta get going!" Arthur had caught up and was desperate to escape with the horses. Knowing how much they were worth made every second count, and you pushed Eclipse to match pace with the faster steads.

"Arthur!" John barked from the rear, "we better split up. How you wanna do this?"

The older man took no time in deciding. "You and Javier head straight to the buyers, we don't want to waste any more time on this. YN and I will watch, just signal if you need us. We better hurry and lose those folks following."

You nodded and veered right after Arthur. John and Javier went left and you heard the shouting die down, hoping they lost motivation after the trail went cold. The pair of you rode up into a grassy hill, the air cooling down as the trees grew higher around you. Arthur wanted to make sure John and Javier were able to call you if they needed, but you were out of harm's way. The ride didn’t last very long and within five minutes you came to a stop.

Eclipse grunted thankfully as you hopped down and let her drink from a small stream. She wasn’t used to the hard riding this group often found itself doing, but she was catching up. Cupping some cold water you splashed it on your face, relishing the contrast from the heat of running away.

"That was close. Too close." Arthur paced back and forth after jumping down from Zeus to join you. "We'll have to find them soon, but we can catch our breath for a moment. How are you holding up?"

You stood and stretched out your legs, walking up next to him. A surprised huff escaped his lips as you pressed a quick kiss to his cheek. "Good. I like riding around like a real outlaw."

Arthur laughed softly at you. "You are a real outlaw, darlin'. We just robbed and cheated our way into money, hopefully a lot of it. Ain't pretend anymore."

You rolled your eyes. "I know that, Arthur. Just meant it's fun riding out with you."

He took you by surprise and grabbed your hands in his. The skin was calloused and rough from years of holding reigns and moving heavy objects, but had a tenderness to the movement. Slowly he rubbed circles with his thumb, a pattern you associated with Arthur needing a calming moment in the ever present storm of chaos.

“What’s your plan in all this?” His eyes cast down at your joined hands while he spoke. You opened your mouth to answer but he continued on. “What’s our plan? Do you...Dutch wants us to go someplace tropical, think he said Tahiti, but…I don’t know. That’s always been his dream and I’ve never had a reason to go against it.”

“I used to just dream of escaping Blackwater in any way I could. My father...well, you know. He was terrible. All I wanted was to be out and happy, but one thing I did dream about was owning a music shop, like in the books. Sell instruments, teach children to sing, that kind of thing. I could be the owner and live above it. We used to have one at home but it didn’t last long. My mother would walk me down and encourage me singing and playing piano. I don’t know,” You shuffled your feet around, feeling silly but Arthur held your hands tightly and refused to let go. “I sound foolish. These dreams will never go anywhere. I ain’t a city girl.”

“Dreams ain’t silly, love.” You looked up to finally meet his eyes and felt the blue into your own. “Sometimes they’re all we got. Dutch and Josea have their plans, John and Abigail got raising Jack and making a family, and me?”

Arthur looked off but you finished the thought for him softly. “Arthur, you’ve got me.”

He pulled you in and wrapped his hands around your waist, kissing you deep and with meaning. You moved your own lips against his in a way that answered his call, telling him that everything would be alright and together you could face whatever comes your way. The growl in his throat let you know he understood and agreed.

The writer and the reader. Poetically it was meant to be.

After a moment Arthur pulled back, chuckling slightly at your soft whine at his absence. Resting his forehead against yours he sighed. “Guess we should go see how Marston made out.”

“Always gotta check on someone else. Let’s go then!”

The ride down the hill was short. Arthur was quiet, his mind simultaneous stuck on what was happening in the future with the gang and how John did with the horses. You watched his face run through a range of emotions from anger to sadness to worry.

He kicked Zeus up in speed and took off ahead, leaving you to try and catch up.

When the two of you arrived Javier was yelling in Spanish, and from the looks of things it wasn’t a happy tone.

“I know, Escuella! Leave me alone.” John waved off the shorter man as he advanced, tensions high.

“What the hell is going on?” Arthur stayed on Zeus, taking advantage of the difference in height.

“We got robbed! That’s what.” John stomped around with his hands on his hips. “Arthur! Those horses...these fools didn’t pay us more than seven hundred for them. You said it was gonna be five thousand!”

“Seven hundred! Each?” You asked John. Javier opened his mouth to respond but Arthur swung down and shoved John backwards faster than either of you noticed. He stumbled a few steps before regaining his balance. The men glared, neither willing to drop their defense first.

“What the hell is wrong with you Marston! You took that little for those horses? They was good and healthy!” By the end Arthur was shouting, Arthur only thinking of what Dutch would do. How he would react to the huge setback.

“That’s all they had on ‘em! What were we gonna do? Can't take cash that ain't there, Morgan."

Javier patted Eclipse absentmindedly while you watched the two brothers go back and forth. “Well. It’s not nothing, but it ain’t what we was promised. Let’s head back to camp and see what Hosea has cooking, I know he was trying to meet up with that Braithwaite woman.” Arthur ran his hands through his hair, stress laden across his brow. “Go on, Marston! You better explain how this was all your fault.”

Arthur watched as John and Javier rode off, throwing his hat to the ground.

“Arthur! It’ll be okay. Dutch will understand it wasn't their fault we got bad information."

He looked up at the sky while he spoke. “I hope, YN. You have a better heart for these things. Just don't want to think about if he don't."

As it turned out, Hosea was much more understanding than Dutch. Something had been changing Dutch lately in ever so subtle ways. He was brash and not his charismatic self. It took less to upset him, which is why when he threw his whiskey it wasn’t too surprising. The glass smashed on impact, staining the side of Pearson’s wagon and drawing the attention of everyone around.

Hosea grabbed his arm and glared, eyes full of fire. Dutch seemed resistant somehow which was threatening. Never before had Hosea failed to extinguish the burning presence that was Dutch.

“I’m sorry, Dutch. Just wasn’t what we planned.”

Arthur had taken the fall per usual. John hung in the background, and Javier had scurried off for guard duty to leave the shortcoming to the other two men. You stood back and watched as the glow of the fire bathed everyone standing around. Abigail had approached and linked her arm through yours as the men stood off and battled.

“Wasn’t as you planned. Arthur, do you have no faith in me whatsoever? Have you completely lost your way? This was a good, solid plan and somehow it all went wrong.”

It was subtle, but you could have sworn Dutch’s eyes cut to you for half a second.

“Why are you questioning me? The sale didn’t turn out as promised but there ain’t no need to be throwing a fit or whiskey glasses. Look at what we made and let’s turn back out to get more money.”

“Money!” Dutch threw his arms up and walked around the fire, taking count of who was watching keenly. “Seems to be the root of all of our problems. What are we going to do without money, Arthur? You going to let John tell his son he can’t feed him no more? Or have Sean rob every single stagecoach that passes through? What are you going to tell that pretty woman of yours when her stomach rumbles in the middle of the night?”

“I can fend for myself, Dutch.” You stepped forwards and placed an arm on Arthurs. You could feel the tension below his shirt and wished more than anything you could whisk him away, but you also knew this was a battle he would have to fight for himself.

Dutch chuckled behind a hand, watching you intently. “Yes, you have always been quite resilient. It’s why you blend in so well, Miss Moore. But we need more than those willing to fight!” Dutch had hit a rhythm, and Arthur knew better than to interrupt Dutch midstride. “We need those willing to go beyond the extra mile and ensure we are safe! Provided for! That our women and children will never go hungry again!”

Molly approached Dutch, whispering sweet words into his ears and calming him down. He shook his shoulders and stormed off ahead of her, but his ever faithful beauty followed behind and closed the curtains of their tent to block the rest of the world out. As soon as Dutch’s form disappeared a collective sigh was released, and folks went back to what they were doing. Arthur, however, stood staring at the spot where Dutch had questioned his loyalty. It was a particularly low blow; Arthur valued his loyalty to others above almost anything else.

“C’mon, Arthur. Let’s go to bed.” He followed you silently as you walked towards his tent. Not a word was spoken as you attempted to get ready for the chilly night ahead. Finally you approached Arthur, his mind somewhere else, and put your hands gently on the sides of his face.

“Hey, cowboy. Come back to me.” He blinked and seemed to focus on your eyes.

“Sorry, darlin’. Just…”

“I know.” He closed his eyes and grabbed your hands tightly, hoping you wouldn’t let go. Desperation and confusion seeped out of him, and all you wanted to do was bring him back and ground him once again.

“Arthur…” your hands slowly moved south on his body, admiring the way his shirt clung to his chest and stomach. Hard muscles met your fingertips, moving with his breath under your touch. Finally your hands found his belt buckle, but before you could start to remove it his own hands grabbed your own.

“You sure about this?” In reply you simply brushed his hands away, slowly pulling the belt from his pants and dropping it to the ground behind you.

The buttons of his shirt popped open easily, and he made quick work of your top as it joined the various articles of clothing on the ground of the tent. You could feel your heart accelerate with every piece that hit through ground, and you were immensely grateful to whoever decided that Arthur required a tent that was more than a bed against the side of a wagon.

Standing in only your skirt and bra Arthur took in the sight. Something about his gaze lifted your self confidence to a place of pride, and you glowed in the light of it.

Your chest was heaving and your eyes were full of lust as he grabbed your skirt and pulled you flush with his bare chest, hands roaming over every inch of skin they could. You drew your nails down Arthur’s chest, relishing the slight hiss that escaped his lips. Both of you were pink in the face as he walked backwards towards his cot.

You pushed Arthur down with a chuckle, admiring the way he glistened in the candle light. His erratic breathing matched your own in the battle of anticipation and you quickly sat upon his hips. He groaned and bucked slightly at the pressure, clearly wanting more.

“Mr. Morgan, I think we need to remove these layers between us.” His eyes were heavy with lust as he moved you to the side of the bed. He unzipped his jeans and took off his boots as you did the same with your shoes and skirt. Once done he rolled you back onto his hips, your undergarments remaining between you.

Arthur reached behind you to undo the clasps of your bra. The cloth was flung to the floor in the same moment his hands were upon you, massaging and grabbing desperately. You knew he had wanted this from the many mornings he excused himself when you slept in the same bed, but knowing and experiencing were two completely different emotions. It had been a few years since you bedded a man but the excitement was coming back at a lightning pace.

He leaned up to nip and suck the tender area behind your ear on your neck. Shivers rippled down your sides and Arthur made sure his hands ran tenderly across the skin. He was taking his time, drawing out each movement until it was seared into his memory.

You felt your head fall backwards on its own accord as Arthur’s hands continued to roam around your upright body. His chest bore the red marks of your nails running up and down but he didn’t seem to mind.

“Please, touch me…” You finished your sentence with a gasp as Arthur found his way to your core. One finger slowly inserted inside of you, pushing your underwear to the side and making quick work of the wetness that you had built up. Over and over he drew his finger along your sensitive insides, relishing the way you gasped and moaned his name.

"Oh, you like that spot there?" You nodded at his low, throaty tone. He moved his thumb in small circles around your entrance, bringing you closer and closer to the edge.

Finally it was too much. You felt yourself nearing the tipping point but wanted to draw it out. “Arthur, not yet. Let me, let me touch you.” He pulled his fingers up to his mouth, closing his eyes as he tasted you slowly. You watched with wide eyes as a flush worked its way up your skin.

His hips begged for attention and Arthur was fully erect from playing with you for so long. You moved downwards along his legs, watching his reaction carefully. The moment your mouth closed around his member his head rolled back, one hand grabbing the bedding for support while the other pushed your head down for encouragement. You tried to take it all on the first try, but found that he was just a bit too large. The back of your throat met the tip and Arthur’s breath hitched in approval.

You bobbed your head up and down as Arthur moaned, hands gripping tighter and tighter the longer you went on. His wide, long shaft moved easily once you coated it with your mouth and you settled into a rhythm. Using your hand helped, and his hips began to buckle the longer you went on sucking and moving with him. After not too long he was gasping for release. Knowing you had not too long ago wanted the same you stopped, watching his face flash through a range of emotions.

As he blinked back into consciousness you climbed up on top of him. He stared at you. “YN...please.”

It was all the encouragement you needed. Both of you were salivating at the thought of getting to the breaking point together, so taking him fully into yourself at once was not hard to do. You paused once your hips connected, looking down into his clouded eyes. He grabbed your skin and you felt his fingers digging into you flesh, imprinting that he was yours and you were his in a spot so intimate no one would dare question.

You rocked your hips back and forth. Arthur moved his own and your head rolled back, waves of hair falling over your shoulders and down your back. It moved in time with your body like a curtain, swaying seductively.

The bliss running through your veins was a high no drink could compare to.

His name passed your lips in a moan, and it was too much. Without a word Arthur flipped you over to your back and began to pound back and forth inside of you, searching to find that spot that made you gasp his name.

With your ankles crossed on his back it felt like paradise. Arthur had his face tucked into your neck and you could hear his breath coming in quick and erratic. You threw your own head back as he slammed into your hips over and over, desperate to feel that rush take over your body. He would have more claw marks in the morning if he kept fucking you like he was.

Arthur shifted positions. You stayed on your back, but he sat back on his legs, holding your hips firmly in place and thrusting hard and fast. Sweat and heat gathered on his brow as he continued, and the more he met that sweet spot inside of you a heat built strong and steady in your belly.

One of his hands moved to your core again and you gasped at the contact. His thrusting became faster and you could tell he was nearing completion as his hips moved in and out of time.

“Honey, I’m real -”

“Me too.”

Your lips met his as the pressure grew inside of you, causing you to pant in time with his breath. Arthur let a long moan escape as he finally orgasmed, his hot seed spilling onto your stomach. You writhed and bucked your hips as yours ripped through at the same time leaving black stars blinking behind your eyelids.

The rush left you panting and disoriented. For a moment, Arthur was nothing more than a hot body hovering above you, a rover simply trying to find its way home.

He moved first. Grabbing the cloth from his shave kit he wiped you clean, muttering a soft apology for making a mess. You reached for his hand, holding it steady in your own.

“Arthur, no. That was...I’m so glad we finally did that. Just be sure to get everything off me.” You giggled as he tickled your sides with his clean hand.

Once you were both ready for bed you snuggled up to his side, holding onto every morsel of heat you could gather. “You’re like a little fire. You put off enough heat to warm this whole place.”

Arthur smiled sleepily down at you and rubbed your shoulder. “You saying you want to share me then, woman?”

“No sir,” You kissed him earnestly, lingering feelings from before awakening. “I am keeping you all to myself.”

The next morning Abigail met you with a smirk. “You two get on well enough last night then?”

Slowly, you sipped your coffee and replied. “Why?”

“I’m not saying the whole camp could hear you, but…” You planted your face into your hands as your best friend bent over with laughter. “I was walking by with Jack and, um, heard y'all. No one else has a clue don't worry. Glad you got to him. Arthur is a good man, YN, and he deserves someone true.” You groaned as she turned more serious and took your hand in her own. “You’re a good person, too. Both of you deserve to find happiness, and you’re lucky. Could have been he already had a child on the way and you get to spend eight months convincing him it’s his.”

 

Hosea fretted for the next week over his approaching meeting with Mrs. Braithwaite. She was the clan leader, and he and Sean were to head in on a business call to see what assistance they could be. But with Dutch breathing down his neck the pressure was on to perform as if it were a Broadway act instead of some backroads meeting between two con artists and their clans.

For once Arthur was not invited along. Usually he was tasked with doing one thing or another for Dutch's plans, but Hosea had wriggled him and Sean into an invitation that did not include a plus one.

As the pair rode out of camp for the initial scouting, Arthur met you and Charles at the scouts fire. He had been looser lately, more likely to smile and laugh at those in the gang. Charles smirked as you beamed up at Arthur.

"Morning, you two. What you smiling about, Charles?"

The man held his hands up in defense, but was met with an unexpected smile. Arthur handed you a bowl of breakfast and took a seat next to you.

"Want to head out hunting? The three of us make a real good team."

Charles nodded in response. The camp was low on meat and could do with a good haul. “Let’s head out soon. Don’t need to travel far, just grab some deer and elk.”

You grabbed your supplies and met the men by the horses. You weren’t gone long, and managed to get a good haul that Pearson praised for the next day or two. Susan had asked for some herbs that you managed to find while you were out, and she snuck them into the stew as a treat for everyone.

Standing at the butcher table examining the rabbits you shot, Micah walked up. Your shoulders tensed, but he simply stood and admired the kills.

"Still using that bow Charles got you then?"

You nodded, and he whistled slowly. "Nice work, pulling good weight here." Micah glanced around for something, then leaned in close. "Might have a job to take you on soon. If you're interested, that is."

"Micah, I'm not sure -"

He held his hands up. "I know I've been...rough in the past. But Dutch has showed me how to turn over a new leaf, and I intend to."

Maybe he was trying. He hadn't said anything terrible lately, so you decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. "Alright. You let me know what it is, I'll think about it." He smiled at you with eyes that spoke another message, but walked away. It was the first positive interaction you had with him in nearly seven months.

Arthur of course was vehemently against it. You told him over dinner and he laughed, not knowing you were serious.

"C'mon, YN. That man is a snake. And you know it! I ain't letting you within five miles of him alone."

"Maybe he's really trying! He said Dutch had a talk with him, straightened him up. Someone had to show him compassion and kindness."

Arthur shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "Sure, but why's it gotta be you?"

Your response died on your tongue as Sean came running into camp.

"Arthur! Oh where is that brute. Any of you seen English?" Arthur stood and watched Sean scramble around for a moment, then called him over.

"What you want, kid?"

Relief spread across Sean's face at the sight of the older man. He was carrying two rifles and looked like had ran halfway across town to find him, sweat pressing his red hair down to his forehead.

"C'mon, Hosea needs us. Something for that Braithwaite woman, I've got a wagon full of moonshine and he sent me to get ya. We sat for so long in that parlor!" Sean ran an arm across his forehead. "Sipped tea like a bunch of English twats we did. She's a prickly old thing, sharp as a whip and more prickly than a bramble. Kept pace with Hosea."

Arthur put a hand on his shoulder to quite the rambling. "Sean. What are you going on about? Braithwaite woman wants us to do something? What?"

Sean met Arthur's gaze with a smirk. His eyes sparkled with glee as he explained the plan Hosea had managed to cook up.

"How would you feel about a healthy competition, English? Think you can stand up to this Donegal man in a race against time and wits?"

Tired of the dramatics Arthur sighed. "What the hell are you on about, Sean?"

"Them Gray's grow tobacco, Arthur. We're taking that moonshine ya stole and dousing the fields. You and me? We're gonna burn their stock to the ground."

Chapter Text

Sean stared at Arthur as he processed the plan to burn the tobacco fields.

“I don’t...you really think we should be burning their fields? That’s a lot of dust to be kicking up in such a small town. Them Gray’s will surely be onto us by now. Stealing horses, burning fields…” Arthur ran his hand through his hair and muttered.

Sean laughed. “Ah, English. You worry too much. C’mon! Would it make you feel better if we asked Micah to come along too?”

At the same time you and Arthur both yelled, “No!”

Sean laughed again and put a hand on Arthur’s shoulder, steering him over to the wagon. “Just a quick trip I promise. Ride in, spill some moonshine, torch the place and run like hell!” You watched the two walk off towards the wagon and slowly followed behind. Once Arthur was seated you grabbed his hand and drew his attention away from the chatty Irishman.

“Please be safe. I don’t like the sound of this…” Arthur chuckled and squeezed your hand.

“Ain’t nothing new. If Hosea put this plan together than it should be solid, and Dutch knows how we gotta play this game out. The two families going at each other is the perfect cover for us to slip in and find this gold stash, wherever the hell it is.” He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck in his signature style, “But we’ll be back. Let’s get this thing going, Sean.”

Arthur leaned down to kiss you quickly, assuring you everything would be alright. Helplessly you watched the two drive off into the dark, discussing how the plan would go down.

The sound of approaching footsteps made you turn around. “Dutch, you know about this plan to go burn those tobacco fields down?”

Dutch held a lit cigar between his fingers, his other hand resting on his belt. “Burning tobacco? No, but that sounds like Hosea. He put them up to this?” You nodded and he chuckled. “That man is a master at playing his cards right. Bet he came up with it looking that old Braithwaite woman dead in the face.”

You knew Dutch’s temper so you spoke hesitantly, but wanted to sound firm in what was running through your mind. “Dutch...we’re burning at a lot of ends here. Playing cards is well and all but it makes me nervous every time I leave camp that someone’s going to be there, waiting to jump me for information or something else. The boys down here are mean, and they play by their own rules. Just...want to be safe is all.”

He nodded along with your concerns while puffing smoke from his fat cigar. “You sure do worry a lot, you and Arthur have that in common. You care! These people around you hold your heart and you want them to guard it for you, keep it safe." He took a long draw from the cigar, watching the smoke rise and spiral above him. “And that I shall, Miss Moore. Why don’t you have a drink and settle in for the night? I’m sure Pearson has a bottle of gin lying around, I know you like that better than the other drink.”

You blushed a bit and looked around for a way to express your concern. “Dutch I...I don’t need a drink to feel better. Actually, there’s something I need to talk to you about -”

“Dutch!” Lenny came sprinting up out of breath. “We need you over here. Abigail said something went wrong with Jack and getting that wagon set up -”

Dutch shoved past Lenny and took off, muttering about ‘that woman’ and throwing the last of his cigar on the ground. Lenny watched him storm off while standing next to you.

“Huh. Figured you needed an escape from Dutch. When he gets that cigar going you know it’s gonna be a long night.”

You laughed and thankfully squeezed his shoulder. Lenny had a million dollar smile that lit up a room and he graced you with one before gesturing over to the campfire. You sat down next to him and rubbed your eyes; the past few days were catching up with you. Lenny made a noise and knocked your hand with something and you grabbed it subconsciously. It was a cup full of something, as you brought it up to your lips the fumes coming off made you cough.

“Jesus, Lenny! What is this?”

Lenny threw his head back, laughing. “Some concoction made up with that leftover moonshine. Arthur told me about it, should have known it wouldn't be drinkable to anyone but him!”

Cautiously you tried a sip, but it was so strong you choked and handed the cup back to Lenny. He couldn’t stop laughing and offered to get you some water and you nodded, eyes watering. Abigail saw the fuss and made her way over.

“Having a fun night, YN?”

You wiped your eyes and smiled. “Oh yes, Arthur left Lenny some drink recipe and I tried it first. That man might not drink often but he sure does pack it down when he does.”

Abigail chuckled at a memory from the younger days of the gang. “He treating you well? So strange to see Arthur with someone from camp after all those years of chasing Mary. Long time, years ago,” she assured you quickly and continued on. “But seeing how he lights up when you walk by? His sneaky smiles just for you? Makes me happy for you two. Jealous, but happy.”

“He’s wonderful, Abigail. I told you about Henry, right? Never thought I would be with a man after that, losing him nearly destroyed me. But Arthur?” You stared off into the night dreamily. “I think he and I are something special, too.”

“Think he’ll propose anytime soon?” Abigail’s eyes were alight with excitement and she watched you intently.

“We ain’t talked about it yet. I’m not sure after what happened with Mary what he’s wanting…”

Abigail slapped your arm. “Mary ain’t a thing no more! She’s long gone and moved on, and he was a different person back then. Don’t let the thoughts of her hold you two back from being happy. You been together for enough time for it to cross your mind, and you been together in...other ways.” Her eyebrows danced and you flashed back to the first time Arthur made love to you, and how Abigail had confessed to walking by and hearing what was happening, rushing little Jack off so he wouldn’t say a word. “All I’m saying is in a world like this, you gotta grab happiness and love where you can. There’s no promise you’ll get the same chance tomorrow.”

Lenny returned with water for you and Abigail. After thanking him you listened to them chat away while you stared into the fire. Would it be possible Arthur would want to marry you? What would that mean for living at camp? Would you be safe and out of your father’s reaches? The questions swirled in your mind while you watched the flames dance, bright and out of control.

A yell from Charles on guard duty snapped your attention back.

“Hey! Hey anybody! Where’s the doc? Sean got hurt and we need somebody to look at him.” A brief pause of silence was followed by rushing and yelling across camp.

“Dutch? Anybody seen Dutch? Go wake him up, then, tell him it’s important.”

“Quick, Abigail get that medical bag off Her Strauss’ wagon. No, the other one. With the green handles.”

“Mrs. Grimshaw hurry! Clear that table off so we can lay him down.”

“Somebody start boiling some water. YN grab that kettle!”

Arthur was half carrying, half dragging a moaning Sean down from Zeus and over to camp. From the looks of it there was a lot of blood, but from this distance no one could tell if it was from either of them or those who had died by their hands and had the unfortunate luck to be standing too close.

Karen shoved a gaping Mary Beth out of the way and helped Arthur lift up Sean. He laid down on the wooden table usually used for playing dominoes and grabbed at his right side, the cloth there bloody and ragged. Karen pushed the prying hands away and took complete control.

“Alright! If you are here to gape or stare, get the hell out. If you are here to help you better have something to contribute. And make it good, we gotta move fast.”

Arthur stepped back from the table, searching for you in the crowd. Once he spotted you he moved like a force of nature until he could put his arms around you and hold you tight, making sure you were real and there in front of him.

“What happened back there? Are you alright?” You searched all over him but didn’t see any injuries. Taking this as your sign you threw your arms around his neck and held tight, breathing in the scent of smoke and cold night air. After a long moment you let go, but Arthur still felt uneasy. It was written all over his face but you were sure the others couldn't tell, so you moved with him to your tent so he could sit and center himself again.

He drew a shaky breath before speaking. “It all started out just fine. No one saw us dump the shine, even the guards, and we threw the bottles to light everything up. On the way back we saw some abandoned cabins up near the edge of the farm and thought there was no harm in looting them. I told him to let me go through the door first,” Arthur hung his head, his arms resting on his knees. “But of course he rushed in. Thought he heard something so we wanted to check it out.”

You sat next to him gingerly, not sure what emotion to expect next. Reaching out to grab his hand you noticed he was shaking slightly, and he intertwined his fingers with your own in a fierce grip. “Then...someone yelled from the back room, and Sean said something snarky back. Next thing I know they’re blasting away at each other. Walls got shot up, Sean went down and it was all I could do to grab him and run. Wasn’t too bad but he didn’t talk the whole way back. Don’t know what I’ll do if that kid…”

You moved to kneel in front of him and grabbed both his hands “Hey, don’t talk like that. Sean’s a tough one, he will be fine. It’s not your fault that happened.”

Arthur let out a heavy sigh but didn’t move. One hand moved to rub his eyes, the other stayed firmly locked in yours.

“Arthur? Honey, how are you doing?” Finally his eyes opened, and you could see he was fighting back tears. Clearly he was closer with Sean than you gathered, and the sight broke your heart. You moved into his lap and wrapped your arms around him, determined not to leave until he made the first move. He leaned backwards so you were lying together on the bed. His hat fell to the floor and you were both fully dressed but Arthur needed to just be with you for awhile, so you laid and held him with no other intentions except to help.

After awhile, the sounds from the gang died down and people had trickled off to bed. You were running your hand through Arthur’s hair as he told you stories of running with Sean and others in the gang. It seemed like whatever happened with the younger man shook Arthur to his core. You had never seen him so vulnerable or open before; the first image that came to mind with his name was him standing tall with a smoking gun in his hand and a dark look in his eyes. A small voice in the back of your mind whispered it was because of you that he opened up like this, but you silenced it so you could keep him to yourself.

Arthur took a deep breath and moved to the edge of the bed. “Let’s go, sweetheart. I need to see how he’s doin’.”

You nodded and walked out hand in hand with him, watching the mask he wore around camp fall back into place as soon as the tent flaps closed behind you.

Sean had been moved from the table. Most of the camp was empty and you pulled your coat tighter around you in the night chill. John’s tent opened, and Dutch called over to Arthur.

“There you are! Where have you two been hiding?”

Arthur ignored Dutch’s tone and spoke, “How’s Sean? Where he at?”

Dutch motioned to the tent behind him. “We shuffled some people around and got him situated in John and Abigail’s tent. You can go in.”

You nodded to Dutch and moved with Arthur to enter. Karen was sitting next to Sean, wiping his brow with a wet cloth and making sure he was comfortable. Grimshaw stood in the background moving supplies and taking care of some bloody rags that needed to be cleaned. She smiled as she passed both of you, exhaustion written on her features.

Sean looked up at Arthur and reached his hand out. “There he is; the man who saved my life! C’mere, you, let me see if I’ve changed in all these trying hours.”

You chuckled and watched the stress leave Arthur’s shoulders. “I wouldn't touch you to save my own life, Maguire. How are you feeling?”

“Eh, nothing a little down time won’t fix.” Sean moved to show the wound but Karen slapped his hand away. “Aye, woman! Let me show of my battle wound, will you? I’m tough now.” She shook her head but kept tending to the man.

“He’ll be fine, bullet went clean through so nothing to worry about unless it turns red. Right now he just needs clean clothes and food. Missed all his insides, nothing bleeding from there. Arthur?” She turned to face the older man. “Thank you. I...you got him back safe and he’ll be okay. Just wanted to say something.” Karen stood and walked out of the tent for more soup and Sean chuckled as she disappeared.

“Guess the shock of me almost dying changed something. Said she won’t leave my side or go round with other fellas. It’s not like her to stay in one place or settle down, have to see how this goes.” Sean ran his hand through his hair in a very Arthur like fashion and you could see how tired he must be. After Karen returned you tugged Arthur out of the tent to let Sean rest, finally making your way to bed.

You changed into your sleep clothes and climbed into the bed behind Arthur, a soft groan escaping him as he flopped back onto the pillows. After watching him for a moment you climbed up and straddled his thighs. His hands moved quickly up your own and you leaned down to kiss him, hoping to wash away and lingering doubts he had about Sean and other things outside of his control.

 

A few days later Bill heard from Sheriff Gray that there was a security job the gang was needed in Rhodes for. Hosea was a bit suspicious as it hadn’t even been a week since the Grey’s had their tobacco fields burned to the ground by ‘someone’, and he was sure they would be suspicious of the large group who had just moved into town.

“Dutch, I don’t think we should go into town like this. Clearly it’s a set up.”

“Clearly!” Dutch waved his arms at Hosea. “I am not a stupid man, Hosea. This is clearly a set up. But I still think we should go meet the Sheriff and see what they think happened. If they don’t know it was us we can still go on with our rouse and find that damn buried gold!”

Charles spoke up sitting not too far away. “I don’t think the gold is real.”

Dutch and Hosea froze and turned to Charles, waiting for more of an explanation. He didn’t look up from whittling his arrow so Dutch barked for him to talk.

“Heard some of the town folks, the colored ones, talking. Asked about where they thought this gold would be and they laughed saying no one’s seen it in years and that’s probably all it is now; talk. These two damn families both say the other has it and no one can find it.”

Hosea rubbed his chin. “Fool’s gold.”

Arthur chuckled next to you, up until now remaining silent in the conversation. Lately people had been asking so much from him he came to bed every night and promptly fell asleep, exhaustion taking over him. Whether is was Dutch needing him to act as Deputy or someone around camp needing one thing or another retrieved, Arthur was always their man.

“How’s this going to play out then, Dutch? We walk into town, guns loaded? They’ll see us from a mile off and either pick us off or call off the operation. Think it’s best if you don’t go in case things go south.”

“Now, Arthur, that ain’t right.” Dutch moved slowly, thinking out loud. “If you boys are going to risk your lives out there I will be standing right beside you like always.”

“No, Dutch, Arthur’s right. We can’t risk having you there if it’s a shoot out.” Hosea put his hand on the older man’s shoulder affectionately.

“Well, if you boys insist then I’ll stay here. But know I will be riding with you in spirit and kicking up dust and raising hell.” As Dutch walked away, you could have sworn a small smirk crossed his face just before he puffed his cigar to life, drawing a long breath and watching the smoke curl above him.

The plan was for Arthur, Micah, and Bill to ride into town together to see what ‘security job’ the Gray’s wanted to hire them for. Most likely things were going to end poorly and no one was to leave camp until the trio returned. Dutch and Grimshaw were on tight lockdown mode to keep everyone safe. Hosea had sent Sadie out for one last trip but it was quick and she would check the perimeter before returning back, bringing along anyone she saw with her.

Sean threw a fit when Grimshaw told him he wasn’t well enough to walk, let alone ride a horse out for a job. The screaming match escalated until Sean was cursing in Irish. Lately he wanted to make sure he was pulling his weight and this could have been a big opportunity not that anyone blamed him for being shot. According to Grimshaw he was healing nicely but would take more time before he could be back on his feet.

Arthur was gearing up for a fight and loading his guns up onto Zeus when you found him. Once again Dutch asked him for a favor and had him running around all morning the day they were going into Rhodes.

“Arthur! Don’t like saying goodbye to you like this every time you ride out. You sure I can’t come along as extra backup?”

“YN, I know,” Arthur pulled you into a hug, wrapping his arms around your waist and letting his head fall into the crook of your neck. “Sometimes these things just gotta happen. I hate leaving you, I do, but Dutch needs us and I have to go.”

Not that he could see you but you rolled your eyes at his response. “Dutch ain’t even riding with you, that should tell you what he thinks is gonna happen. I’m...well I’m scared Arthur. I don’t even want to think -”

“It’s gonna be fine, don’t think like that. We’ll be back before you know it.”

You sighed deeply, something you had been doing a lot more frequently since you joined this gang. “Promise? Promise me you’ll return and I won’t have to mourn losing another person in my life?” Arhur pulled back and looked into your eyes. “Dutch said it’s most certainly a set up. What if you get shot, what if it goes bad and someone gets hurt? I can’t bear the thought of waking up every morning to a world without you in it.”

Something had been in the back of your mind since your conversation with Abigail and you had realized just how much Arthur had come to mean to you. It sure felt like love the way your heart pounded at the mention of him walking into danger.

“I ain’t leaving you, girl. Not now, not ever.” Your eyes widened at his confession and you wondered if he meant what he was saying. “This is just...one of them things I have to take care of. Now, I may not like Micah but he’s good with a gun, and Bill is strong so I wouldn’t ride if I didn’t think we wouldn't make it.” He chuckled softly, “I’m certainly different than before, used to not care if I lived or died but you got my head all mixed up.” He kissed you softly on the cheek. Bill and Micah were approaching so you told him one more time to be safe, then watched the three of them mount up and ride out through the trees and out of sight.

It took you a few minutes before you could turn around and walk back to camp. You blamed the flowers for your watery eyes and rubbed them until you felt better, shoving your worry and fear aside.

You narrowly got out of washing dishes by telling Grimshaw that you had some ammunition to put away in Arthur’s wagon, but she watched you with a mean eye. Once the tent flaps closed you let out a breath, looking around the messy tent. Arthur was definitely the neater of the two of you. You were sure some days he looked around and regretting offering to share his bed. Even though you technically still had your own tent you spent most nights with him and were in no rush to go back to how it was.

After putting some clothes back into your trunk and organizing a small stack of books you came across Arthur’s journal. He rarely left it behind but it wasn’t essential to the mission today and would just be extra weight. You sat down on the bed to look at some of the drawings, feeling a bit invasive at reading his thoughts without his permission. Most of the art was of places he came across, or flowers and wildlife he wanted to remember. One note was to find out a species of deer he found particularly tasty. Another was after an encounter with a dying man who ate poisonous flowers. You smiled as you flipped through page after page admiring his artistic skills.

After a drawing of an ivy covered building you flipped the page and froze, met with dozens of drawing of yourself. Most were doing mundane things such as pushing hair behind your ear or smiling at someone in camp, but there were others that made you thankful Arthur kept this journal with him at all times. One didn’t have your face very detailed but was of your body, stretched out on your bed with no clothes and clearly inviting the viewer to come closer. Another was a view that only he would know and was more intimate than you cared to see. The last one you found was your naked back facing away from him, pulling your long wavy hair up into a messy bun as you sat on the edge of the bed. Your ears burned bright red but the care and detail he put into each one took them from obscene to artistic in a beautiful way.

Looking at the rest of the pages seemed dull after your discovery, so you placed the journal back on the table and left to see if you were needed elsewhere. There wasn’t much movement as people simmered in anticipation. You found Charles by the fire and sat down to enjoy his silent company.

Dutch, you noted, was nowhere to be found.

An hour passed and you were dreadfully bored. Most of the women had begun to pack up non essentials incase things in town went really bad, but for the most part it was quiet and you watched the waves move across the shore. You had all but forgotten Sadie wasn’t there until she came riding up.

“YN! Where’s she at, I need her. Now.” You stood and found Sadie marching over to the campfire. She approached and grabbed your arm, dragging you back to your tent. “Get dressed, something you can ride in. Pants, jacket, guns. We gotta go I’ll explain on the way but don’t let Dutch see you.”

You didn’t have a chance to protest as she shoved you into your tent, but changed quickly and tried to ignore the shaking in your hands. Something must have gone wrong. Sadie was smart and wouldn't act like this unless something bad happened.

She nodded at you as you left your tent and walked over to her horse. You mounted Eclipse and took off, trying to keep up. After a moment you matched her speed and she spoke.

“Heard about the boys going into town and needed someone’s help. Sean ain’t no good with that bullet hole in his side and I don’t know Charles very well. I trust you, for some reason.” She looked over and smiled.

“Sadie, it’s Bill, Micah, and Arthur out there. What are we gonna do that they can’t?” Bob whinnied as she spurred him on faster.

“I heard from someone, well alright I tortured them into talking, that Sheriff Gray ordered a sniper to be delivered today. And I ran into about half the Gray boys as I was coming back to find you. Our boys don’t know about that gun so we’re gonna go in and take it out. They won’t even know it was us.”

Your heart accelerated at the thought of a sniper being in town. They were well aware it was probably a set up, but no one thought they would be more than the small rifles the Gray’s always rode with. “Sadie they left an hour ago, you sure it hasn’t already happened?”

“Nah. The Sheriff wanted to spend some time at the saloon and it just opened so we should just about make it. We’ll head on into the west side of town, see if we can get above that sniper to take him out. Having time don’t mean we should slow down though, so let’s pick up the speed.”

Eclipse kept up as the two of you raced over the green hills into town, moving through the dust and back up to the hills. Outside of the town buildings there wasn’t anything tall enough to give you an advantage so Sadie circled back and hopped off of Bob to observe the scene before you.

“How about the saloon?” You pointed to the two story building just a ways down the road. “It’s probably our best bet if we’re aiming to take down the one. Gives a good advantage if those Gray boys come riding by, too.”

Sadie contemplated and agreed. The town was empty, surely no coincidence to the upcoming meeting arranged by the Sheriff, which made it easy to leave your horses a good distance away and make your way over to the saloon. You noticed the doors were covered up for protection as you climbed the lattice up the side walls and onto the roof.

“YN!” Sadie hissed as she climbed up to the roof behind you. “Get down!” You crouched and followed her to the edge of the roof and surveyed the scene unfolding before you.

“See? There they go loading that gun up. Man, I wonder what the firepower is.” You watched Sadie to see if she would catch herself admiring the gun meant to end the lives of those you cared about, but she just stared.

“Look. End of the road out north. Must be the extra Gray boys they brought in for this. I see...Jesus, Sadie, they’ve got nearly fifteen men out there. That’s a lot more than Arthur planned for.”

In a surprise gesture Sadie reached out and squeezed your hand. “He’ll be fine, we can get those boys out of this. That’s why I wanted to ride with you, YN. You care enough to fight for what you want.” She paused to look out across the road again, then turned with her rifle raised. “Here’s the plan. That bastard climbing up the back ain’t shooting first, he’s probably waiting for some signal from the Sheriff. Bet he wants to give some dumb speech. Men. Anyways, we have to watch out for the sniper taking aim, basically when he looks down his scope. That’s when we shoot, then run like hell.”

It was a loose plan, but one thing you had learned all these months was that Van der Linde plans tended to reveal themselves in the moment, so it was easier to go with the flow of things.

“Alright. You want me to keep look out?” Sadie nodded and glanced back at the road. Arthur and Micah had just ridden up to the saloon where Bill was waiting. You wondered what the two of them were off doing before now, but shook off the thought.

The town was eerily silent. No one was walking around, no dogs barked, and no horses were tied up outside any stores. Three sets of boots clinked down the street, eyes sharp and hands hovered over their guns.

Micah leaned over to Arthur to say something, but was cut off by the doors to the jail bursting open.

Bill hollered up to the men emerging to the street. “What’s this about, Gray? You want us for this job or what?”

The men laughed. “Oh, we want y'all for something, but it ain’t this job. You boys been causing a lot of problems for the good people of Rhodes, and it’s about to come to an end. And a nasty one at that."

"Now!!" Sadie took aim at the sniper and pulled the trigger. Even from the long distance you could see she hit her target as the blood splattered across the rooftop of the jail.

Arthur and Bill looked up for the source of the gunshot, but Micah grabbed them and ran for cover. All three started shooting at the incoming Grays.

"We gotta help them, Sadie!" You grabbed her arm and pointed at the men outside of town who had started riding in.

"Well, no shit. Start firing then!"

You raised your rifle up and aimed at a few on horseback, shooting them down. There was yelling and flying bullets everywhere; clearly the Grays were not messing around.

Sadie moved to get better sights on the sheriff. She took out a few Grays and hollered for your attention. "Think they nabbed Bill, Micah and Arthur are holed up in the gun shop. Go down and help them!"

"Sadie I can't let Arthur know I followed him here, he would be livid. You go down, I'll shoot from up here."

She was about to protest but instead nodded. Slowly she crossed the roof and disappeared from sight climbing down to the street.

You could hear shouting nearby but couldn't tell if it was friendly or not. Looking through the small aim of your rifle it was more Grays and you covered Sadie as she crossed the backstreets through town. She waved before entering the gun shop to help Arthur and Micah.

For a moment it was silent. The street was empty of living enemies, and both teams were regrouping in opposing buildings. You took a calming breath and continued to watch the northern road for anyone daring to come to Rhodes that day.

Micah emerged first. He slunk out into the dust, followed closely by Arthur and Sadie. Guns drawn and aimed at the station, he yelled something you couldn't quite make out. It apparently got the reaction they were hoping for as three men burst open the door holding Bill.

"Stop right there, fellas. You ain't going nowhere 's long as we have your friend here."

Arthur Morgan was a name synonymous with gunslinger. Many times you had seen him quick draw at men stupid enough to cross his path in a display that would shock the gods. He always won, and it was always a quick death for those opposing him.

This day was no different.

The two men holding Bill seemed to fall simultaneously. From the distance it looked like Arthur shot from his hip while Sadie and Micah made quick work of Sheriff Gray. Bill tried not to move and shook himself before climbing down the steps yelling about something.

Micah peered around at the massacre and commented to Sadie. She pointed up to your position and you flung yourself to the ground, hoping no one saw you. After a moment you peeked over the ledge and the four of them had turned away. Arthur was rubbing his eyes, and Micah and Bill mounted their horses to leave. Sadie said one last thing then started walking back to you. Arthur left last, a sad look on his face as he rode out of town.

"YN! C'mon down, ain't no one in this town but you and me." Sadie managed to find a chair on the second story and motioned for you to sit next to her. She sighed, the view in front of you the only peaceful place in Rhodes.

"What a mess. But damn if it wasn't fun!" You remembered the first time you came to Rhodes with Sadie and how she had seemed to transform into a different person.

"What's the plan now? They all headed back to camp?"

The blonde shook her head. "Nah, Arthur warned us that would be a bad idea. Bill and Micah are making camp somewhere for the next two days and Arthur is meeting Lenny down in the bayou to help secure some guns. Something about robbing folks who have them now and selling them."

You sighed and put your head in your hands. "So nothing new. Told that damn man to come back to me, and here he is running off again. I get it though," you raised your hands up as Sadie was prepared to defend him. "Need to keep camp safe. How are we gonna do that if we head straight back? Dutch will surely notice we've been gone."

"Nah, he and Hosea will be going at it. Or him and Molly. We can sneak in the back, I'll say I needed you for...lady things. They won't ask a damn word at that."

You giggled back. "Alright, let's get going."

Eclipse was waiting for you and was clear of any injuries. Bob ran off so you and Sadie had to track him down, but in no time were headed back to Clemens Point. Conversation was slow and minimal during the ride. Mostly the two of you were making sure no one followed you back to the one safe haven the gang had left.

You changed back into your dress from earlier in your tent and slipped out back to camp. It seemed no one noticed you were missing, and you sat down for lunch relieved. Kieran was alone so you joined him. He cast you a shy smile and asked how you felt about the gang and the situation in Rhodes.

"Oh, Kieran. We’ve made a goddamn mess we've made of things."

Chapter Text

A movement from inside the tent awoke you with a start and you were halfway to your shotgun before a familiar voice cut through the dark.

“YN, it’s me. Lenny and I just rode in. I was trying to be quiet, didn’t mean to wake you.”

“Arthur,” you breathed a sigh of relief and found your way into his arms. He was only part way done getting changed and chuckled at the sudden presence of you. Despite his shirt hanging open and his belt sticking out you refused to let go, simply taking in the moment and knowing it wasn’t for granted.

“Will you find the lantern? I can’t see a damn thing and want to get changed. Bit harder in the dark.”

After inhaling one last deep breath of Arthur you turned and fumbled your hands across the table, looking for matches to light the lantern with. Once the flame ignited a warm glow splashed across the tent. He smiled down at you like he could finally relax after hours of hard work.

“Much better. Now, why don’t you help me get these off and into my warm things? It’s been a long few days and I need to rest.”

You laughed softly at Arthur’s half attempt of an excuse. He shrugged his heavy leather coat off and you noticed water droplets beginning to darken the shoulders.

“Rain?”

“Nah, first snowfall of the season.” Arthur grumbled but you darted outside to see the miracle for itself. Snow was one of the rare phenomenons that never hit Blackwater; if it got cold enough the little flakes always seemed to disappear before building up on the ground into anything substantial. You had read about it and had seen it in the mountains in Colter, but that was violent and threatening. Now it was soft and gentle, a billowing silence settling down across the land outside.

“Woah. This is...it’s beautiful out here.”

Arthur pulled on his heavy sleep shirt and came up behind you, resting his chin on your head and admiring the way camp looked in the early hours of the snow. “I’ve never really liked the stuff, usually makes moving around a pain. But you’re right. There is a certain...beauty to it.”

You shivered at the chill and closed the tent, turning in Arthur’s arms to face him. “You cold? I think I know something that will heat you right up there.” A few kisses to your neck had you undone and Arthur carried you to the bed in an act of renewed vigor.

 

Days after the Rhodes massacre camp was still on lock down. Those from town who were involved had all either died or fled Lamoyne county. Everyone from the gang had escaped and returned back safely but Dutch was caught by more than one person muttering and walking around about a plan to get out of all of this. He wanted a big score, the one that would set them free and allow them to finally be rid of the shackles of modern society. A certain paranoia set in from everyone being confined to a small space for so long and it finally snapped one afternoon as Micah crossed paths with Javier.

The crashing of metal brought your attention from where you sat patching up some shirts with Sean. He was doing better and could walk out to the fire, but anything beyond that pushed his limits. After he managed to talk the ear off of everyone at camp it was your turn to listen to his stories for awhile and the two of you worked in the cold.

“Hey! You put that back where it belongs, little man.”

Sean clicked his tongue. “Ah, sounds like Micah’s finally had enough of being cooped up around this lot. Wonder if Dutch’ll do anything or let them just fight it out.”

From your spot at the fire you couldn't see much of what was happening but could hear it all.

“What did you call me, you stupid oaf?”

Micah huffed. “I said, put that ladle back where it belongs, little man!”

“You bumped into me, you put it back. I ain’t touching shit that’s been around you.”

Arthur started to make his war around the folk who had gathered up, gently nudging his way closer in case anything went too far. You noticed John was right behind him, eagerly looking around to get a read on the situation.

“You will do what I say, grea-”

Micah never even got the chance to finish the slur as Javier’s fist rocketed out and met his jaw fast and hard. At first glance Javier didn’t appear to be a threat. He stood tall and proud but the muscle he packed under his layers of clothing was hidden, a tactic he had developed and used to his advantage against thugs like Micah. It rarely came to such drastic measures, but in this case Javier saw this less of a need and more of a want.

John made a move to stop the men, but Arthur held his shirt for a moment. He leaned down and whispered something in his ear, causing John to shrug the grip off and stand still. Micah tried three times to swing at Javier, but his attacks were rough and unplanned. Javier had a neat fighting style. Quick. Nimble. Years of practice culminated into the facade he put out to always have the advantage.

It didn’t take long for everyone to see how this would end.

Javier dodged nearly every hit, with only a few landing unexpectedly. Micah was sweaty from chasing the other man around and red in the face with the exertion he was putting out. Karen and a few others hollered and cheered the pair on; Abigail and Susan watched disapprovingly. Jack was ushered away as soon as Micah’s split lip started to bleed.

“Fighting? In my camp, again Micah?”

Dutch’s deep tenor voice rang out and everything froze. Neither man took his eyes off the other but they stopped moving and dropped their arms.

“I am sick and tired of this infighting when we should be focusing on fighting off ever pushing tide of society! Look around you, these people are your family; we are a team and we can’t be split apart by these petty arguments. Javier!” Dutch walked over and the younger man looked frightened for a moment before an arm wrapped around his shoulder and he was pulled in close. “Dear Javier. Remember how we met? Both attempting to steal chickens from a farmer who was none the wiser! We both wanted something, had a common goal and look how far we’ve come.” Dutch spread his arms out wide as if to embrace Micah. “Micah. Micah Bell, the man who saved my life after knowing me for only a few short hours. All in a bar, no less! Over gold, it’s always gold, isn’t it son.” Micah chuckled and stood with his hands on his hips.

Somehow the tension had slithered away to the dark corners once again and the gang felt an easy peace sit in its place. Dutch had that effect and was often mentioned with his tongue of gold.

“So, you see boys? There’s no need to be fighting here. This is where we should be coming together. ‘Tis the season, right?”

Micah gave a hearty laugh and clapped Javier on the back before walking away. From your spot by the fire you saw him continue to smile as if Dutch’s words really did have an effect on him. Javier was a bit more wooden in his actions, but left the area to cool off as well.

“Never thought I’d see a day where Micah Bell stood down from a fight! Even if he was aiming to lose.”

“Me either Sean, me either.”

Arthur motioned to you and you walked up to find Karen talking animatedly.

“It’s a good tip, Arthur! C’mon, you’ve never been one to turn down a bank job before.”

You walked up to the pair. “Bank job? Rhodes doesn’t even have a bank to hit I thought.”

Karen turned to you excitedly. “That’s right! You never robbed one before! See, Arthur this all lines up. We can teach YN here how to rob a bank and we’ll make off with the spoils! Bill confirmed what I heard in town this morning but we gotta move fast. I’m afraid with the way we left Valentine they’ll be more cautions moving money, even months later.”

Arthur rubbed his chin as he thought, watching Karen detail the plan out. From what you could gather, Karen and Bill had been planning to rob the big bank in Valentine ever since they were camped there, but the plan was put on hold after the shootout with Cornwall’s men went down. Now, they figured enough heat had died down that going back would be smooth sailing for experienced robbers like them.

“I can either start with the drunken harlot or the lost dame, gentlemen’s choice.”

“I don’t know about gentlemen, but it’s a good plan Karen. Except...YN’s not experienced. It ain’t easy to teach that kind of stuff on the fly. It’s not that I don’t have faith in you, YN,” Arthur quickly back tracked as you started to look a bit upset, “I’m just worried is all. Can I talk to you over here for a moment?”

Arthur took your elbow and led you off while Karen watched, arms crossed. “Don’t put up a fight about this, YN. I don’t know how things would go.”

“Oh, quit telling me what I can and can’t do, Arthur! I had enough of that with my father and know my worth to express my limits. Haven’t I shown you I’m a quick learner? A fast thinker? And you know I’m a good shot because you taught me yourself so saying anything else would be doubting you.”

“Please, darlin’, I don’t know -”

You had heard enough. Arthur was plenty supportive if you were doing anything but dangerous jobs lately, even if he threw himself into one after another without a thought of what it did to you.

“You think I want to live life like this? Wondering if the next time I kiss you will be the last? It terrifies me! But I don’t want to hold back who you are; someone who helps others and puts yourself as a last thought because sometimes it’s easier to ignore your own issues than to solve everyone else’s. But Arthur,” you looked up, pleading with him to understand, “I need to be who I am. I want to be a leader and someone who bears the brunt of the force that I know I can so others don’t have to. I’m here to help, let me take some of the load so that you can rest. Please, just let me...be me.”

For a moment you saw him weighing the options in his mind. You were in no rush for an answer but felt you had to speak your mind. He was always open and honest with you and you made an effort to pay him back in kind. Arthur Morgan was a smart man who knew to take a person at their word, and you had finally gotten through.

As he opened his mouth to reply however, Dutch approached and interrupted.

“Actually, YN, I’ll be needing you for a job so whatever Arthur is planning will have to wait.”

Your eyebrows crinkled as you watched Arthur’s face filled with relief. “Alright, Dutch. Whatever you say.”

“I was going along to Valentine for a bank robbery. Can it wait until I’m back?” You stood with your shoulders pulled back, back straight. You would be taken seriously with the same sense any man in this camp would.

Dutch looked at the two of you as if waiting for Arthur to speak up. When he didn’t, Dutch replied, “I am afraid it cannot. There’s something Micah’s been cooking up and I believe he spoke to you about it earlier?”

You closed your eyes and nodded, recalling the conversation where you promised to help him on a task he had been working on.

“Dutch, I ain’t letting her ride out with Micah.”

A burst of anger, red hot and wicked fast, ripped through your chest. Maybe it was the fact that everyone was cooped up in camp for so long but too many people had been telling what you could and couldn't do.

“I’m not here for you to order around, Arthur Morgan! I am in charge of myself, stop treating me like a child and give me enough respect to make my own decisions. Dutch, I will ride with Micah and do whatever plan he has and Arthur has no weight in the matter. I’m tired of being yanked around on a chain; I’m a damn free woman if I ever saw one.”

Both men were silent as you stalked off, bitterness storming in your eyes. It felt like you were back with your father again. Damn men and their need to control.

You found Micah sitting on a log stump. “Micah!” You barked and startled him. “I’ll go change into my riding clothes then come back and we can head out. If I’m stuck in this camp for another Goddamned hour I’ll go crazy I swear.” He chuckled low in his throat and nodded, watching you walk off.

Arthur entered the tent while you were mid changing and you turned away from him.

“Please, YN, let me -”

“Don’t. I don’t want to hear whatever excuse you have.”

He nodded and looked at the ground, and for a moment your heart sank. Maybe you were being too harsh and should forgive him, but the small flame of resentment burned bright enough in your chest that you continued to dress in your riding pants and long sleeve shirt. You had never been one for hats and simply tied your hair out of your face. The mirror confirmed you were ready to go and you started to walk out of the tent but Arthur held out his hands to stop you.

“I ain’t a begging man, but please, YN, sit for just a moment.”

Your momentum from earlier had slowed and you nodded, sitting next to him on the bed. Arthur fiddled with his hands nervously and took a deep breath before he spoke.

“I...I am not the kind of man who deserves a woman like you. You’re kind and gentle, but also filled with fire and passion and a great number of other things I could spend hours trying to discover only to reveal a new layer of you I hadn’t expected to find. The fact that I picked you up that day in Blackwater must have been fate and if there’s any kind of God out there they had a hand in orchestrating that moment because it led me to you, and you have been the best thing to happen to me in a long time. I, I used to feel like I was drowning in all this mess and you came along with a soul as bright as the sun and saved me. Changed me. No one else would listen to me speak this way,” you waited with baited breath as Arthur looked deep into your eyes. “Don’t know why you look at me the way you do, but there isn’t anything I wouldn't do to make sure I see that smile at the end of the day. This is my long way of saying that sweetheart, the thought of losing you is worse than anything that could happen to me, and I reckon that can mean only one thing.”

You searched for the answer but gave up quickly, yearning to hear the words fall from his lips. “What does it mean, Arthur?”

He chuckled low and grabbed both of your hands in his, speaking simply.

“I love you.”

You reached up and kissed him with more depth than you ever had before. The pounding of your heart was audible, you were sure of it, and you grabbed Arthur as an anchor once again. His hands roamed your back and you ran your fingers through his hair, pressing the back of his head even closer to yours so any gaps keeping you apart would be sealed.

Your love for him grew in the small things, like little flowers springing up in between bricks on a walkway. It bloomed in the way Arthur always blew on your coffee before handing you the still steaming cup in gentle hands. The way he would smile at you across the campfire when you were full of songs and drink and love. How late at night when the rain woke you up, he somehow knew the exact song to mumble you back to sleep, no matter the cost to him.

It hit you in little spurts you tried to ignore due to fears from the past, but that version of you had been long gone you realized. She was afraid to love and get messy. She knew what heartache looked like and swore to never see that face in the mirror again. Yet she somehow saw that love could heal, and left those doubts behind her because sometimes the benefits outweighed the price to be paid.

You opened your eyes, feeling like a new woman.

"Arthur Morgan, I love you too."

He smiled at you so hard lines formed around his eyes. “I was so afraid of what you would say, thought you’d have left me by now if I’m being honest.”

You laughed, slapping his arm lightly and wiping tears from your eyes. They had sprung into place surprisingly at Arthur’s confession and your heart was bursting with joy. “I have no plans of leaving you anytime soon. Don’t know why you keep doubting me.”

“It’s not you!” Arthur looked alarmed at your words. “It’s just, anytime I find love somewhere it seems to be taken from me. I’ve got a long history of losing folks that if you knew about maybe you wouldn't stay. I think that’s why I’ve been fighting to keep you at camp. Just afraid is all. I swear I’m not trying to keep you from being yourself.”

“Thank you Arthur, it means a lot to hear that. I guess I’m afraid too. But hey,” you squeezed his hand gently, “we’ll figure it out together.”

The two of you took your time getting ready for your respective missions, now that Arthur agreed the decision was truly up to you. You weren’t too keen on riding out with Micah but you had given him your word and wanted to keep that promise. The bank job in Valentine wouldn't take more than three days so the trio was planning on leaving that night and camp out to ride into town at first light.

Karen was giddy and packed a dress that was incredibly beautiful. She held it up in the light to show you and Tilly, and you both gasped at the deep red fabric with white lace borders.

“This is it, ladies. My favorite robbin’ dress. Figured since I haven’t been out in awhile I’ll make the most of it, plus Sean likes me in red and he’ll be stuck here thinking about it the next few days.”

Tilly laughed and held the cloth in her hands. “He may have been going on about you sticking with him, but when are you going to make an honest man outta him, Karen?”

“Oh, I don’t, we haven’t talked, look what you did to me Tilly Jackson!” Karen blushed and sputtered while quickly folding her dress up. Her cheeks were flushed and she hurried off to put her things in the wagon and Tilly scooted closer once she left.

“I bet they’re already engaged and didn’t want to let us know. How exciting! A wedding here at camp, I bet she’s nervous and that’s why she freaked out.” Tilly hummed and linked arms with you, watching the bustling camp. Everyone’s spirits seemed to be lifted even if they weren’t in the groups leaving. Some activity at camp was better than sitting idle and waiting for an impending attack.

“Maybe there will be two weddings? Anything sittin’ on that left hand of yours, YN?” You laughed with her and held out your hand.

“Nope. Nothing there.” She looked dejected, but tried to hide it once she noticed your face.

“Let’s go see what Javier is up to, he’s probably poking the belly of the beast.”

She leaned in close and you whispered dramatically together, “Micah.” Before bursting into giggles and leaving before you caught too many odd looks.

Javier was leaned up against the back side of Pearson’s wagon observing with keen eyes the bustling scene before him. He tipped his head at you and smiled gently at Tilly. “Good morning, ladies. YN, Arthur’s trying to get your attention.”

You left Tilly with Javier and joined Arthur by the wagon as he loaded the last box.

“Awful lot of supplies for a three day bank robbery.”

Arthur sighed and rolled his shoulders back. You could see the tension mounting at the point where his neck and back connected but couldn’t do anything out in the open to help. “Dutch wants us to stop and grab some supplies on the way back from town. We’re hitching our horses to pull the wagon so we can make it quick out of Valentine, all going well, of course.”

You wrapped your arms around Arthur’s neck and took a deep breath. His jacket had become a second home to you with its scent of mint, tobacco leaves, and Zeus. You knew Arthur smoked when you weren’t around and you almost didn’t mind the habit now. He leaned his face into your hair, holding you gently like you would blow away at any moment.

“You come back safe now, you hear? I expect to see you here in three days time come hell or high water.”

Arthur chuckled, not moving as he spoke. “After I’m back, how about you and I take a little trip north, just the two of us? Think we deserve it for being so quiet with all these folks around. There’s a cabin I know of on a lake, you would like it. No one around for miles.” The tone of his voice sent shivers through your belly, it was low enough it almost sounded like a growl.

“I think that sounds real nice, Mr. Morgan. I’ll hold you to it.”

Bill hollered from the front of the wagon that they were ready to go and Karen was mounted on Old Belle. “Well, guess that’s my sign. I... I love you.” Arthur blushed slightly and kissed you hard and fast.

You squeezed his arm as he walked towards the wagon and you called loudly enough for him to hear, “I love you too! Got a good feeling about all of this.” He cast you one last smile before flicking the reins, then followed Bill out of Horseshoe Overlook and on to Valentine.

Dutch stood behind you, waiting until the wagon had rolled out of sight. “Seems you two part ways here often. I am sorry to see that, YN, it breaks my heart to watch lovers leave each other."

A small heat moved to your cheeks but you know Dutch meant the words kindly. Standing next to him you could feel a renewed power surge around him like having folks running this way and that gave him life. Or at least a purpose again.

"Hate watching him leave all the time, but he does what he will. As will I, like I said earlier." You turned to him as you continued. "What's this plan Micah wants me in on? We leaving now or what?"

The older man scratched his chin as he looked at you. "Actually, it's a trip for tomorrow. Something got delayed along the way and you will be riding with us in the afternoon. Pearson has come tale he has to enlighten us with, but I'm sure we'll have to decipher the lies from the truth. Come, let's listen and learn what we can."

Ducth sighed and clapped you on the shoulder. Pearson was talking with Micah while he chopped vegetables and you were reminded just how handy he was with a blade. He made quick work of the carrots and soon had small pieces instead of the long stalks.

Micah annoyed Pearson enough to have the blade turned on him and he put his hands in the air at your arrival. Then uttered a phrase put an uneasy feeling in your belly, something like doubt mixed with a dash of fear and a sprinkle of anxiety.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called…”

Pearson slammed the knife into the wooden table and glared. “I’m not sure what good that phrase does any of us here.”

“Whatever.” Micah waved him off. “While you lot have been running around Rhodes, digging us even deeper into shit, Old Mr. Pearson here has found a way to lighten the load a little bit for us all.”

“Enough, gentlemen. Get to the point.”

Pearson looked excited as he spoke. “It’s peace, Dutch. The O’Driscolls, I mean, I think there’s a way."

“What on earth are you talking about?” Dutch asked, exacerbated.

Micah grabbed Pearson from over the table and dragged him out front, encouraging him to explain the plan he had been dangling in front of Dutch and Micah.

“I met a couple of O’Driscoll boys on the road into town last week, and things were about to get ugly. Somehow it didn’t and we got to talking and they suggested a parlay to end things, like gentlemen.”

“Gentlemen?” Dutch walked forward, forcing Pearson back against the table. “Colm O’Driscoll? Have you lost your minds? This was your big plan, and one that roped in poor Miss Moore? Micah, you heard this yet?”

Micah spit on the ground before speaking. “You’re always telling us, Dutch; do what has to be done, but don’t fight wars ain’t worth fighting.”

Hosea was sitting nearby and overheard everything while he read the paper. He slapped the papers shut and stood to join in. “They want to parlay?” You all watched him for a beat as he let the silence grow. “It’s a trap!”

Your stomach clenched tighter as you began to wonder just what you had gotten yourself into. The four men around you had much more knowledge about what was going down than you did and your brief memory of the O’Driscolls was that a blood feud had been waging with Dutch and Colm for years over deaths caused by both sides.

“We really want to go riding into that? A trap?” You spoke at Hosea who opened his mouth to respond but Micah interjected him.

“Well of course it’s probably a trap, but what do we got to lose by finding out?”

You snorted. “We get shot.”

Pearson pointed over to you, “Well at least you won’t, YN. You’ll be our eye in the sky.” He waved his arms around again excitedly. “Here’s what I see. If it is a trap, we’ll need someone who can get away quick and warn the others. We also need someone up there with a gun who can shoot the lot of them and help us all escape. YN, you’ll be up on a hilltop with some binoculars as lookout, and Micah will be with you as the sniper to pick anyone off who dares cross us. It’s a win win situation!”

You looked over at Hosea who locked eyes with you. Everything about this plan felt wrong but Dutch was showing signs of being swayed.

“Yes...that way if it is a trap, I can shoot the lot of them. If on the off chance it isn’t, everyone will be safe. C’mon, Dutch, it’s a chance we gotta take.”

Dutch lit his cigar and puffed it to life. “I don’t see the point in any of this.” He walked through the small crowd and sat at the table next to Hosea. “I killed Colm’s brother long time ago. Then he killed a woman I loved dear.” Dutch looked off to the lake, lost in a memory.

“As you say, it’s a long time ago, Dutch.” Micah leaned on the table, pleading Dutch to go with his plan.

When someone you love is ripped from your life, the hole they leave never quite heals. Sure, the edges become softer and it hurts less to remember, but it’s a brutal scar to bear.

“Pearson, when you say those boys wanted to meet?”

“Tomorrow, noon just out past Twin Stack Pass.”

Dutch nodded, itching to move. “Alright, it’s settled then. YN, you’ll be the lookout with Micah. Pearson, you and me will ride out, but I meet with Colm alone. No one else is going!”

You stood rooted to the spot as Dutch and Micah walked off, sharing ideas and ways things could play out.

“It’s hard to be a main player, but feel like your lines are all spoken and done.”

Hosea sat at the table still. He watched the other men plan, and you sat down. On his face his expression was a mix of pity and jealousy.

“Once upon a time that was me next to Dutch for every plan. We did everything together, hell, we even raised two boys together!” He sighed and looked back down at his newspaper. “Guess the time for that has passed. Oh well, maybe I’ll teach Abigail to read now that Jack is learning himself.” You smiled softly at him. “Please don’t pity me, Miss Moore. I’ve lived a long and full life, things just play out differently when you’re no longer in charge I guess. Someday I’ll learn to slow down and be careful, but not today.”

 

The ride the next morning was rough. A heavy rain had broken through the snow and the ways out of Rhodes were a mess. Carriages had slid off the road and folks were traipsing through the mud but you knew you couldn't stop to help, even if you wanted to. The four of you were on a strict mission and if you didn’t make it in time the deal would be called off.

It was a quiet ride. You didn’t eat breakfast for the churning in your stomach even though Pearson offered to cook you something special. He was in a good mood on account of being brought along for once and would have made eggs Benedict if you had asked. Hosea watched you leave while holding his morning coffee, and you gave him a quick hug before leaving with Eclipse.

No one spoke until you got through Rhodes, and even then it was just Micah stopping for a bathroom break. Nerves ran through the group and Dutch could tell. He tried to console you all by saying it was the best option to try and make peace after that mess with the Grays and the Braithwates but it didn’t sit right or help.

You knew Arthur would have the perfect thing to say. To bad he didn’t even know where you were headed.

“Pearson, we’re not that far from Valentine, are we?”

After the hours of silence your voice startled the cook. “I’m not too familiar with the land out here, but I think if you head northwest for half a day...that way would put you straight into town.”

You nodded. “Hear Dutch and Micah? Going on about caring too much?”

“Yeah I heard it alright. Too bad it’s horse shit.” The two of you laughed, covering your mouth with your hands to hide from the other two men. Luckily they were too wrapped up in their conversation about the rights and wrongs of battle to notice anything.

“Oh lord here we go again. He used to preach like this when we got new folks joining us, don’t think he did it for you though. Which is a good thing, mark my word.”

Dutch was going on about the ideals of ‘this great nation’ and how the gang represented the true American dream. Having something to fight for, something to believe in, and a dream were just about the only classifications he listed but Micah watched him enraptured like he just couldn't get enough.

After another hour Micah stopped the group. “Alright, this is where we split. YN and I will peel off up here, and Dutch you and Pearson are going to ride down the valley a ways. Down on the flat streak, just there.” He pointed to an area clear of bushes and Dutch nodded.

“Gentlemen, and gentlewoman, however this thing shakes out let’s meet back here at the fork in the road.”

Pearson tipped his hat and rode down, Dutch gave you a tight lipped smiled and following.

“C’mon, cowgirl, let’s find this observation spot.”

Eclipse trotted up the rocky dry terrain after Baylock for nearly a quarter of an hour. You watched Dutch and Peason become miniature in your vision and wondered how long it would take the whole thing to go down, not seeing a single O’Driscoll around.

A tree provided shade for the horses and you tied them up around the trunk. You found an extra treat for Eclipse as she had done so well on the ride over and petted her nose, loving the way she pushed on your belly for more attention. Not long after you dismounted Micah called you over, so you patted her one more time then joined him.

“Here’s where we will watch from. You got those binoculars out?” You nodded and pulled them from your bag. “Good. Now, this gun has a strong kick back and a little lady like you would get blown back so why don’t we put a few feet of space between us?”

“Micah, I probably would have done that anyways. I’ll stay by the rock.” The ground was hard and you wiped dirt from your shirt but to no avail.

Next to you Micah peered down through the scope and you sat in silence, scanning the canyon around you for any movement. “There they go, must have seen something we didn’t. You got any movement from your side?”

“Nothing. Just Dutch and Pearson...oh wait I see something.”

Micah reacted to your words by tightening his grip on the long gun. Three horses came down the grassy hill into the plain towards the meeting spot where the other two rested.

Colm dismounted, you could see from his long hair and manner of swagger that he was the undisputed leader. His security stayed mounted on their horses, hands hovering above their pistols.

“Wonder what they’re saying down there…” Micah had a thirst to his voice as he whispered over to you.

‘If I could read lips, Bell, I would tell you. All I see is a few men standing around looking like fools.”

You scooted closer to the edge, sending a few rocks over and into the valley. “They’re walking closer, maybe this is -”

The sound of boots running across rocks behind you made you swing around just in time to see Micah get clobbered in the back of the head with the end of a gun. He grunted, then went motionless.

You scrambled for you pistol as two men approached but the closer one kicked it out of your hand, one round firing up into the air. It went off close to your head and a loud ringing permeated your thoughts.

“This was supposed to be silent!”

One man grabbed the front of your shirt as you screamed but it was short lived as a gloved hand covered your mouth. Your heart jumped to your throat as you tried to think of something, anything, to do to get out of this.

“Is this the girl you saw? At the dance?”

A horrible flashback to the ball in Rhodes came to mind, and the memory of a short phrase that at the time meant nothing.

“That’s her. The girl who danced with the deputy.”

You struggled in the man’s grip but it was no use. The way he had your shirt pulled choked you and it was getting hard to breathe.

“Yeah, that’s her. Let’s go.”

Looking around in desperation you tried to plead with your eyes. “Please,” you gasped, clawing at the hands holding you up, “you don't have to do this.”

A dark chuckle from the other man was all you got in response.

There was no chance to fight as a hard object crashed into the side of your head; then everything went black.

Chapter Text

Everything.

Hurt.

Your vision was blurry as you started to come to, not quite ready to open your eyes. The throbbing from your left temple jumped across your skull and down your spine to be met with a similar pain in your wrists. You tried to touch the tender spot on your head but found you couldn't move; both hands were bound by a crude length of rope behind you. Your ankles as well were separately tied to the legs of the makeshift chair you were stuck in. A splinter of panic worked its way up your belly as you wiggled and tried to loosen the restraints but to no avail.

A groan escaped your lips as you moved lethargically.

“Hey, she’s up. Grab that sack.”

Something was shoved over your head roughly, the hands not caring if you were in pain or not, and everything was thrown back into darkness. From their position behind you your hands started to sweat.

“Well, little lady. Look what we’ve got ourselves here.” The voice was male, that you could tell. There was maybe a slight accent but it didn’t sound authentic like he was trying to hide his true sound.

“You ain’t going nowhere so you can stop struggling, I made sure those were nice and tight myself. Now,” the sound of a chair scraping across the floor was short, and ended with a thump as if someone sat down. “I’m gonna tell you how this’ll be going. See, what we have here is a problem. And a mighty big one at that. You, of course, were not supposed to be at that meeting. We had...other things arranged. But now new information has come to light which changes the way we’re lookin’ here.”

The man took a few moments to think before speaking again.

"I'm gonna take that bag off. We'll be needing to confirm a few things and getting a good look at you should clear it right up."

With a rough tug the fabric was no longer covering your head and a rush of cool air met your skin. You blinked until the light from the candles in the room were no longer overwhelming for your eyes. There were four people with you, three men and a woman. In front of you on a chair was a tall, lanky man with dark eyes and hair. His grin was filled with malice and no kindness lurked behind his eyes.

The woman in the corner spoke up in a clear, low voice. “That’s her, Mulligan. Recognize the eyes and the hair from the description.”

You shook your head in confusion and an attempt to clear the fog. “Description, what description? Who...who are you?"

"We're the folks you don't want to end up with, dearie. But that's all the questions you get for now. What we want to know is where is Van der Linde?"

The ringing in your head had subsided enough to let you think coherently again.

"Dutch…?"

The man chuckled. "Don't play coy with me, girl. We know you've been on the run with them for the last eight months."

Deep rooted down in your belly, fear started to climb up your veins. Your hands started the sweat and you realized this was not a situation moving in your favor. "I...have heard the name around town, yes. But as a wanted outlaw on the bounty boards, that's all."

Your response was met with another dark laugh, and then the man was standing abruptly in front of you.

"You think we don't know about all of it?" He was in your face, screaming. "We know everything. About Blackwater! The shootout in Valentine with Cornwall’s men! There’s eyes and ears everywhere, girl, you can’t hide from us, and Dutch will get what’s coming!”

The backhanded blow that slapped across your face was such a shock tears formed in your eyes, and you gasped out loud.

"Don't think I won't beat the answer out of you. I may not know where Van der Linde is hiding now, but I'll have it out of you by the end of the night."

He stood above you, sneering down his nose as he breathed heavily from the excitement. Anger merged with fear inside of you and you spat, saliva mixed with blood. It landed on his clothes and he looked ready to hit you again.

“You’re going to have to do better than that. Like I said, don’t know where Van der Linde is hiding. I’m no use to you, let me go!”

Mulligan glanced around to the others in the room, mentally debating what to do next. You glared up at him and was sure he could hear your heart pounding in your chest as it beat out a steady rhythm of panic. Never before had you been this mad, not when your father drank too much whiskey, not when you had to hide from the Pinkerton's escaping Horseshoe Overlook, but now; sitting there helpless as a child while tied down and being beaten for information you refused to yield.

Another chuckle came from Mulligan as he slowly lowered himself to your eye level, hands gripped to the armrests on either side of you. “Let you go? That’s not how this game works. No, this is one of my favorites.” The others in the room shifted when they saw Mulligan slowly draw out his hunting knife, the woman stifling a smirk behind her hand. “See I picked this place for a reason. No one around for miles; my companions here made sure we weren’t followed so no one knows you're here. So the next part where I make you talk? Ain't no one coming to rescue you, Princess."

Your mouth ripped open with a scream as the blade pierced the skin just below your collarbone.

 

December, 1899

We're really in it now.

The robbery in Valentine was orchestrated by Karen perfectly, she knew which act to pull to distract them while we busted in and robbed them blind. It was a huge hit, even though I shouldn’t be showing my face in that town for a long while. We ran and decided to take a few days to head back to camp, make sure we weren’t followed. I wanted nothing more than to ride straight back and hold YN in my arms, but I knew this plan would keep her safe. Ain’t much I wouldn’t do for that woman now.

When I rode in everything went quiet. Hosea hollered for Dutch to come out quickly, and I thought I must have been followed from the look on his face. He hopped up on the Count and took me out to the old battlefields before breaking his silence.

“Son, I...something went wrong.”

The look on his face had my heart beating and my grip on the reins tighter than my whole ride back.

“What’re you talking about, Dutch? Went wrong with what?”

He was nervous, that much was obvious. Dutch was not an easily shaken man and I had seen him through more than most in this life. Reading the many faces of Dutch Van der Linde had become a past time as I grew up under his wing.

“Now I want you to listen to the whole story before you go blundering about. I went to meet Colm O’Driscoll, something about a parlay that Pearson had arranged with some of his boys in town. We were aiming for peace after all of these years, can you imagine? Well,” he huffed and pulled out his cigar, “you can guess how well that went. I tried to propose a truce, I did. But old Colm came out swinging, insulting us and our way of life. Not that the bastard has much ground on us. He and his gang of thugs terrorize most of this area and nearly half the east.”

I was tired after a few nights on the hard ground and was out of patience. “Dutch, where is this going? I want to go see YN and eat something besides rabbit.”

“That’s the problem, Arthur. That’s where things went bad.” Dutch took a long puff of his cigar before continuing. “YN went with us. She and Micah were perched on the hill as lookouts, it was supposed to be safe.”

As Dutch took another pull I was too impatient and interrupted him.

“Dutch is she okay? Why’d you take me away from camp if she’s hurt, you know I want to see her.”

Dutch waved his hand. “She’s not...well, guess I can’t really say that. I’m sorry, son, I don’t know if she’s hurt or not. By the time Pearson and I got up to her and Micah...she was gone.”

I stood there like a fish out of water gaping about. Must have looked a fool.

“What do you mean, gone?”

“That’s just it son. We don’t know what happened. Micah was knocked out so fast we don’t know if she hit him and ran to escape, or if someone attacked them both, or if she’s even alive. From the bottom of the canyon Pearson and I couldn't see a damn thing and poor Micah -”

“You’re telling me she’s gone? For how long? How in the hell am I supposed to stay here when the woman I love is out there doing god knows what?”

Dutch raised his arms again, looking rather annoyed. “Now Arthur, stay calm and we’ll figure -”

I have to admit I didn’t mean to raise my voice so much with Dutch, but it felt like I was being hit in the stomach and kicked in the head at the same time. I knew there was a reason to all of this but I was being attacked from all angles.

“Stay calm! That’s bullshit, I’m leaving right now to go find her.”

I had turned Zeus back to camp but Dutch called out. “Arthur, wait. I know you feel strongly about this, but what if the girl ran off to get that price on our heads? She knows where camp is and you and I are both wanted men.”

I froze. “Don’t you ever accuse her of ratting us out, Dutch. I swear…” I was seeing red. I should have kept my mouth shut, I owe more than half my life to Dutch and looked up to him. “I will burn this country down until I find her, and I pity the man who tries to hurt a hair on her head. Now are you standing in my way or not?”

He let me pass and said one more thing as a farewell.

“If you are to ride out, take Micah with you. I know you are not his biggest fan but he can tell you where we were last and help...search for her.”

A nod was all he got as I headed back to camp to find Charles, and reluctantly Micah. Could of swore I heard him mutter something as I left, but my mind was so focused on getting to YN I paid it no mind.

 

The first night was rough. The two men who hadn't spoken pretty much left you alone while Mulligan was clearly in charge. There were a few hours he left and the woman forced you to stay awake, waiting until just the right moment to throw water at you or shake your chair to jolt you back into consciousness after drifting off. She didn't speak much but you never left her sight.

Once the sun came up you were exhausted. It was brutally hard to keep your eyes open, but at least it took away the edge of the ever present panic that had settled in your chest since you first opened your eyes.

"Morning, beautiful! How's that cut looking today?"

Mulligan swung the door open and a cold breeze rushed in. He walked over to you and poked a finger hard into his mark from yesterday, causing you to cry out in pain.

"Oh. That's going to scar." From what you could see he cut a thin line parallel to your collar bone about two inches long. "Shame. You really are pretty."

"Go to hell," you spat at him. He looked down disapprovingly.

“Feel like talking? I’ve still got some ways to make you sing, if you’d like.” As tempting as the offer was you shook your head. Mulligan clicked his tongue, crouching down to your level again.

“Well Princess, then it seems you and I have a very long day ahead of us.”

A sob worked its way up your throat at the thought of what he had planned, but you didn’t have time to react as his fist drove right into your belly. You gasped at the contact, drawing the first smile from Mulligan you ever saw.

“Feel like talking now? Just tell me where old Dutch and the gang is hiding, and I’ll let you pick which one of them to save.”

“Save from what?” you wheezed, working the air back into your lungs.

“Ah, that’s the million dollar question isn’t it. Can’t go scratching the surface now.”

“Look, you’ve got the wrong girl. I don’t run with a gang and I’m just lost and want to go home. Please, let me go. What do you want from me?”

The woman in the corner laughed. “Stop playing dumb. It’s not a good look on you.”

“Your accent…you’re O’Driscolls, aren’t you?” The way she pronounced dumb as if the u was two o’s gave her away, and it clicked into place. “You think I’m going to give up Dutch to some dirty O’Driscolls? I’ve been fighting and robbing you for eight months, please tell me you have more than empty threats to frighten me with.”

Mulligan seemed to know he had lost control of the situation and craved to have it back. “Oi, out of here, the lot of you.” The woman tossed her hand and barged out of the small wooden shack, quickly followed by the other two men. Alone, Mulligan spread his arms out wide. “Just you and me now. Let’s talk. I’m not asking for much; if you tell us where Dutch is hiding, you will be put into protection and...taken care of. If not?” The sun reflected off the blade Mulligan pulled out and twirled around. “I’m happy to carve you up until no one knows who you are anymore.”

Through your exhaustion panic started to settle in again, white and hot in your chest. You strained your arms a few times to see if you could move but with no luck. Mulligan was right, he had made sure you were unable to move.

Quietly you responded, “What is it you want to know?”

“I knew I would get you.” A wide grin spread across his face. “Tell me where ol’ Dutchy is.”

You looked down at your lap, debating how to play things out. A real tear rolled down your cheek as you looked back up. “They’re...well, last place I saw him was in town.”

“Which town?”

“Rhodes. The night of the Governors Ball. That’s where he told me I couldn't stay, that I wasn’t worth enough to him. I had caused enough trouble and it was time to go. His camp was already on the move and I snuck up on him at the meeting with Colm after trying to make it on my own. Things weren’t going well when I ran into Micah who suggested I tagged along. I was trying to get him on his own...but…”

Mulligan watched you with a careful eye while you weaved your tale. After a moment he stood and left abruptly, the cabin door not quite closed all the way. From what you could see a blanket of snow covered the ground and there were tall trees all around. Two guards passed the door and snuck a peek in.

Arguing voices grew nearer, both with strong Irish accents.

“Well, Princess, here’s the thing.” Mulligan strolled in alone and kicked the door shut behind him. Every step he took increased the pounding of your heart as he strolled closer. “Your story was shit. My men saw you not a week ago riding out with Arthur Morgan, so how about we stop with the lies, hmm?”

His face was so close to yours and you reacted instinctively. Slamming your head forward you collided with Mulligan, making him cry out and step back. His face turned red in anger and he lunged for you, swinging wildly. One fist connected with the right side of your jaw and you screamed, only to be cut off as Mulligan wrapped his hands around your neck and squeezed.

“You bitch! That’s gonna cost you, it will.”

He seemed gleeful as he choked the air from your throat and watched you panic. The last thing you saw was the green of his eyes before everything went black.

 

Two days ago, I left camp with Charles and Micah heading for the meeting place Dutch had talked about. The ride over was beautiful with new snow but I couldn’t stop to think of anything except getting to YN. Everything reminds me of her and I’m worried. I know she’s a strong thing and can handle herself but none of us have seen or heard from her.

Dutch and Micah think she split and ran. John thinks she’s dead. I refuse to give the thought any of my time until I know for certain. Last time...well, this ain’t like last time, but I drove myself crazy with worry before I found out the truth.

I woke up, not able to move or breathe and tried to remember if I was screaming or not, but Charles hasn’t said anything. He’s a good friend and might let it pass, but Micah wouldn't and he has yet to bring it up.

I swear if I find out he had anything to do with this…

Up on the hill we found the spot. Micah pointed to where she last lay and I swear there was blood on the rocks. Nothing to follow though, even for an expert tracker like Charles. The best plan was to split up and meet back in a few days, but I’m not so sure.

I’m scouting for the third day in a row of no sleep. Charles keeps watching me like he thinks I’m going to fall off my horse at any moment.

My worst fear is finding her and realizing she did try to leave. Waited until I was off on a mission and took off without a word. Well, actually I’m more afraid she’s dead. I can’t get my head to think straight.

What do I do if she actually did want to leave her life with us? The gang? Her friends?

Me?

 

You stirred as a new sound hit your ears inside the small cabin. A man with long, grey hair sat in Mulligan’s usual chair sharpening a knife. You swallowed hard trying to calm your nerves.

“It seems my second in command has some things to learn about women, Miss…?”

“Moore.”

The man chuckled. “Moore. Alright then. Do you know why I enlist women as well as men into my gang?”

You shook your head. Colm O’Driscoll looked up from his weapon and stared dead into your eyes. “It’s because they bring order to the chaos. Men? They only know how to create, to make. But bending that which is already there, moving it so that it does what you want? A skill almost as precious as the creation of life itself.”

You blinked as he spoke, hoping to figure out what was truly going on here. The bruise on your jaw was forming for when you spoke the right side of your skull ached. “Mr. O’Driscoll, please let me go. I told the others you have the wrong girl, I don’t know what you want from me.”

Without missing a swipe of his blade he spoke. “Two things. One; the location of Dutch Van der Linde. And two? I need you to hold still.”

Colm stood and crossed behind you, grabbing your hair in his hands. “Get off of me, what are you doing!”

“Miss, we seem to be passing along the wrong information. You see, I may be running a gang of criminals and outlaws here, but I am also working with someone else unrelated. Or actually,” a dark laugh ripped through him, “in this case related. I know your last name ain’t Moore, it’s Milton. I am being paid to keep you safe until Daddy makes his way up from town.”

The news that your father was on his way right now made your heart pound harder than anything else that had happened.

“No, let me go! You don’t know what he’ll do.”

“Oh, Miss Milton I know exactly what he will do! Sadly you won’t be having a little family reunion anytime soon.” Colm started to cut your hair with his knife in a jagged line close to your shoulders. A rough hand gripped your shoulder tightly when you tried to move away. “Not yet, dear! The master isn’t finished.”

“How did you find out? Who told you he was my father? I’ve never said a word!” You strained and pulled on the rope at your wrists until the skin was raw but still had no additional movement.

“I’ve got my connections, don’t you worry. But I’ve come to the conclusion you’re much more useful to me alive and here instead of off with him. So when he comes, we’ll fight and he will die. Then you can tell us about the spots to hit for money and how to catch Van der Linde and his gang of idiots. I won’t let your father get the reward I’ve earned after all of these years.”

You watched the curtain of hair fall to the ground around you with a sob. Not that you felt overly vain about your hair, but the fact that someone took away your choice in the matter left you feeling empty and raw. Colm grabbed your head and held it in place as he methodically sliced the strands away.

“There. That should keep the rat off your scent long enough to escape. No more ‘hair down her back’ description for him.” Colm’s voice was gravelly and low in your ear, sending shivers down your spine. “Now, Princess, you’re all mine and you’ll do as I say.”

Knowing you would regret it you wiggled again. “Like hell I will!” And you turned with your mouth open to bite the hand on your shoulder. Colm slammed the butt end of the knife into your skull, a disgusted look on his face. He watched you begin to bawl again, then walked out of the room, leaving you alone with your thoughts and a broken identity sprawled around you on the floor.

 

I am starting to lose hope. Charles had a trail we followed for half a day only to find some bounty hunters who let us go. They hadn’t seen anyone in a few days but gave us some cooked dear to take with us, and we started again. Micah won’t stop talking about the gang, and what it means to him and his big, dumb heart that breaks at the thought of YN out there alone and scared. I nearly broke something of his but thought of what she would do.

Kindness first is what she preached in her everyday actions. Even if her words were a little saucy, she moved with the grace of someone who learned how to heal her own broken heart. I admired many of her qualities but that was one I had to learn from.

I miss her voice. And that look she would give me across the campfire. Even more the look she had as she pulled me into our tent, closing the world out for awhile. I miss her hand in mine, walking through town. How she focused when aiming a gun. The way she held Jack and made him laugh.

If I go on like this I’ll drive myself mad.

 

The thought that your father had paid the O’Driscoll's to find you wouldn't leave your brain. It didn’t make any sense. While not a brilliant man, your father was smart and must have known this would all turn south.

Moving your shoulders was painful as the bruises covering your body began to color. Looking from your limited view you had two on your legs from being dragged when they first captured you, three on your stomach from Mulligan punching you, a black eye from the butt end of the gun, finger marks all over your neck, a welt on your hairline from Colm’s knife, and the brutal cut Mulligan had given you along your left collarbone.

Considering how things turned out, the bruises were the least of your worries. Being away this long surely would cause your father to never let you out again, taking back full control over what he deemed his.

You sat alone in silence for what felt like hours. In your mind, thoughts turned to Arthur and the panic he must have gone through coming back to camp and finding you kidnapped. You imagined Dutch’s elaborate retelling of being whisked away by the big, bad O’Driscoll's and the speech he would have given to inspire others to help. Maybe Charles and John rode with Arthur, horses pounding across the hills to try and catch your trail. You had never told anyone you loved them since Henry passed away, and your heart clenched at the thought of not hearing Arthur say it to you again.

Things had progressed and grown so much between you two it was hard to believe. Thinking back to when you first interacted to when he left camp just days before, it was like looking at two different people. The way you moved around each other like a true team. He held your secrets close to his chest when you whispered them across the tent late at night. You loved him and all of his scars, even the ones you knew he was too afraid to look at.

Never before had you prayed as religion seemed to be for those who searched helplessly, but you bowed your head and begged whoever may be out there to listen and send help, for you were out of ideas to protect the ones you loved.

Your shoulders shook as you fought back another round of tears. You were tired of crying to sitting uselessly, but there was nothing more to do. A scream of frustration ripped its way up your throat and you thrashed about, wobbling the chair legs back and forth on the wooden floor. You screamed until Mulligan came bursting in the door to see what the fuss was about. He smirked and cocked his fist back, knocking you so hard the world once again went black.

 

This time we’re really onto something. I heard in town of a hideout up north that might be the O’Driscoll's. There’s no time to lose, if we catch them unsuspecting they may have her alive. If she’s with them.

If, if, if. Can’t a man catch a break and get a straight answer for once?

 

This time when you awoke it was because of movement; someone had tied you to the back of a horse face down. Your hands were finally unbound but now your arms were linked to the saddle, and every movement was agony against your bruised rib cage. The slow pace it took helped, but you were so disoriented you had no clue where you were going. It must be midday from the shadows, and the sun offered a little warmth against your back.

“Don’t even think about screaming, Princess. We got this area nice and cleared out.” Mulligan’s voice came from your right. He must have been the one you were riding with, and you tried to struggle free. “No use there. My handiwork as usual.”

You groaned and tried to breath in time with the horse’s steps. “Where are you taking me now?”

“Another location I ain’t gonna tell you. Kind of defeats the purpose of a safe house, I’d say.”

A stream ran next to the trail and you watched a fish swim by. The rushing of water helped pass the time and let you forget that each bounce was pure agony against you soft belly.

“I’m gonna be sick…” you tried to alert Mulligan but he waved an uncaring hand. You vomited down on the rocky path and tears sprang to your eyes. You couldn't even wipe your face and felt humiliated and dirty.

Finally arriving at the destination, Mulligan pulled you down and threw you over his shoulder. For being such a slender man he had hidden muscles he clearly put to use. You approached a cabin with two guards outside standing on the porch. One waved Mulligan over and after a few moments pointed him down to the right. He walked around the side of the small house and threw open cellar doors, proceeding in with you still on his shoulder.

Once inside you were thrown to the floor unceremoniously, and a gun was pointed straight at you. “Don’t try any funny business.” You nodded, noticing how the situation had clearly escalated.

Mulligan grabbed your wrists and bound them together again, dragging you up and hanging them off of a chain of some kind. You tugged down and met a strong resistance; even though the house was old and crumbling, the O’Driscoll's used that front as a means to scare of unwanted others.

“Don’t move, we can all hear the chain rattle throughout the cabin. You make a sound and I’ll come down and shoot you, no hesitation. Those Pinkerton bastards are closing in and Colm wants to keep you safe for some reason. I think you’re useless and dead weight.” Mulligan spit in your direction, clearly done with taking guard duty.

He stomped up the steps and you let out a sigh of relief with the closing of the wooden cellar doors. It was the first chance you had to rest in...however many days you had been there, and even though you wanted to be on high alert you closed your eyes to chase what little sleep would come your way.

 

We finally found something.

A little shack outside of the ninth circle of Hell, frozen over and empty. There are signs of a small group of people being here recently, and Charles says he can follow that wherever they went. Must have been in a hurry. Broken bottles everywhere, half eaten food left around. I bust in the door to the building and scared a man so out of his mind he ran into the woods screaming without ever turning back. Poor bastard.

Micah started getting real fidgety when we said we would stay the night and then continue on. It was pitch black out and Charles was about ready to kill him. Hopefully tomorrow is full of good news, I’ll be ready to raise hell.

 

Heavy footsteps down the stairs woke you up, and you felt better than you had in days. Your body was achy and stiff, but you had energy again.

“Well, they’re on their way alright. Be ready to squeal for me.”

“What are you talking about?” You hung, confused.

Colm laughed, dark and cruel, before pulling his pistol out. “Want to know my plan, Princess?” You nodded slowly, not sure where he was going. “Turns out Dutch ain’t comin’ like I thought. The Pinkerton’s sure are though, so we’re ready for a big fight. You’re the bait. Once they hear you screaming and hollering down here we can pin them down, and take off.”

“Why would I be down here screaming? Ain’t hollering for my father if that’s what you’re hoping.”

Watching your reactions, Colm raised his pistol and leveled it at your thigh. “No, girl, you’ll be screaming from the bullet in your leg.” And pulled the trigger.

Colm was right about one thing. You would scream.

The pain from the bullet lodged in your thigh was more than anything you had so far endured. The last time you were shot it was a clean small blow, but this? This felt like someone was sticking a hot iron in your leg and wouldn’t stop. Pure agony burned its way through your skin and sunk deep into your bones. You twisted and turned on the chain to try and do something, anything, to make it stop but couldn't get yourself free from the tight restraints.

Colm watched for a moment, then whistled and left you alone. Both of the cellar doors were wide open so anyone nearby would hear the painful screams erupting from below. Once again tears poured down your cheeks and you hobbled to keep the pain off your left leg.

Sobs ripped from your chest as you cried out for help, knowing you were falling right into the O’Driscoll trap but unable to do anything about it. You yanked and pulled relentlessly at the rope on your wrists until the skin was raw and nearly bleeding but you were desperate to escape. Nothing was working, you had no control, and you had never been more angry or scared in your life.

Voices called from above and you screamed as hard as you could. You could feel your throat going hoarse but no one came. Gunshots rang out, horses rode by. The world could be boiling over and still in this moment you could only care about being free once again.

Eventually the world started to fade away, and you fought against the blackness. You couldn't count the number of times over the past few days you had been lost to that dark sea and resented it more than you could tell. With just enough energy for a few more cries for help, you panted and fell to your knees.

No one was coming. You were helpless. Alone. A Princess who couldn't even save herself.

But then, as if by magic, something incredible happened. Your arms suddenly swung down by your sides and you collapsed forwards into the dirt. It took all you had not to succumb to the darkness again, but you pushed yourself up and made it to your knees. Looking up, you saw the ropes had broken free. A fresh wave of emotion hit you, and you grabbed the nearby wooden pole for assistance. Your vision was becoming wavier and wavier but you were determined to make it out of this hell hole alive. Slowly, you stood, putting no weight on your left leg, and hobbled to the stairs to climb out.

Using your elbows and knees you fought eight torturous steps until you breached the night air. Outside you collided with utter chaos; men and women running around screaming and shooting. The cabin behind you was engulfed in flames and the air was filled with smoke. You coughed and continued crawling to a stack of boxes.

Once out of sight you stopped to catch your breath. Looking around, the Pinkerton's had shown up to more of a welcome party than they had anticipated.

Through the haze and smoke you spotted a horse. You lowered yourself to the ground again and after coughing, crawled over towards your ride out. You could feel more bruises spring to life along your arms as you pushed against sharps rocks on your move. People rushed by but no one seemed to pay attention as you escaped. Maybe Colm was right. Altering your appearance worked just a little too well.

The horse was tied at the front of the cabin to a railing. Poor thing was bucking and screaming in all the madness and the growing flames. You stood and swayed a bit, but whispered sweet words until it calmed and let you approach. For one moment freedom was in your grasp and you held the saddle to pull yourself up, but rough hands grabbed what little remains of clothing you had left and threw you to the ground.

"You Pinkerton bitch! It was an ambush, they came out of nowhere and lit the cabin on fire!"

To show how angry he was, Mulligan delivered a swift kick to your abdomen on the last word. You moaned at the new pain, and he grinned.

"Oh, this is going to be fun. You think you can get away with this? With killing O'Driscolls? You'll be dead before the dawn."

Mulligan pulled you back up to stand in front of him and you noticed something. Abigail had always taught you to pick pocket the front and make it look like a mistake, the back pockets were too much of a stretch to pull off. As Mulligan roughed you up you grabbed the large knife hanging from his belt and tucked it into the folds of your skirt.

"You think I had something to do with this? Colm set up the meeting, I've been stuck in the cellar tied to a chain!"

He laughed. "Lies, women are always good at concocting their own reality. You think Daddy Dearest is coming to save you now? Word is he didn't think you were worth it, left you to be handled by his men."

Something felt...off.

"He would want this more than anything, that doesn't add up." Glancing around at the men and women leading the assault, you took your own turn to laugh.

"Those aren't Pinkerton's!! Pinkerton's wear suits, these people are in fucking rags."

Mulligan took his eyes off you for a moment to follow you line of sight and something clicked into place.

"Fucking Skinners…"

It was all the distraction you needed.

Screaming with all of the anger you had bottled up over the past few days, you tried to rush him with the knife. As the blade drew nearer his attention whipped around and he blocked the weapon just in time. Mulligan shoved you to the ground and straddled your middle.

“You think I’ll be killed by Arthur Morgan’s whore! Some backwoods, lowdown nobody! I’m an O’Driscoll, and nothing can take me down!”

His hands fell to your throat and started to push. The knife in your pocket was just out of reach and you scrambled to find something on the ground nearby. A good size rock sat by your right hip, and you picked it up to swing at Mulligan’s head. When the stone collided with his skull he cried out and fell off of you. You sat up and took your chance, jumping on him to mimic the way he had pinned you down.

“Ain’t so powerful now, are you Mulligan?” You were running out of time, he would quickly over power you so you pulled the knife out of your pocket. “And for the record, I’m not a damn thing like what you think I am.”

He bucked his hips and almost threw you, so without any hesitation you drove the knife down into his chest with a scream. Mulligan struggled for a moment, then went still.

You sat staring down at the life you had taken away. The gruesome reality struck you and you leaned to your side, vomiting onto the rocks. Wiping your mouth you looked around to find the horse still waiting for you, so with a struggle you rose and hobbled over.

Eyeing the saddle warily you worried about being able to pull yourself up. With your leg still bleeding it was quite the task, and no matter how hard you tried it proved to be too much. Frustrated and upset you slapped the leather of the saddle, making sure to miss the horse. You leaned against it and rested your head on your hands.

“What am I going to do?”

 

I had never seen anything like it.

Charles led the way as we approached the cabin. He brought us to a stop at the smell of smoke and I swear I felt my heart beat right out of my chest. Huge plumes came from a burning cabin in the middle of a clearing. Men and women ran around, screaming, with bullets flying through the air.

Micah wanted to wait but I had no way of knowing if she was in the building or not so I rushed in. Everyone was shooting at us, and we returned the kindness.

"Arthur! Over there!" Charles pointed to the front of the house where a struggle was taking place. I turned just in time to see the one on top plunge a knife into the other's chest.

"What in the hell is going on here…"

Micah somehow got caught up in a brawl that went into the burning cabin. Charles and I took cover by some boxes.

"This is the O'Driscolls alright. Can't tell who came at them though."

I grunted, recognizing the shabby tatters they wore. "Skinners. Nasty sons of bitches, usually this far north."

"She's getting away!" One of the O'Driscolls yelled from...somewhere. It was hard to see in all the commotion.

Following his line of sight, I finally found her. She was pressed up against the side of a horse trying to climb on but with no luck. Her left leg sat at a bad angle, and rage bubbled up inside of me at the thought of what they did to her. Charles waved to go, and I ran.

"YN!"

 

Standing against the horse you heard someone call your name. The fear of it being an O'Driscolls coming to drag you back down under the earth beat every other emotion and you spun around ready to fight off whoever had come to take you away.

“No! Get your hands off of me you filthy, no good -”

The man grabbed you in an embrace so crushing the air left your lungs. One hand moved to cradle the back of your head and the other moved to your hip to help hold you up. He leaned back and you finally got a look at his face.

“Arthur!” you breathed moments before he pressed his lips to yours. You felt hot tears on your cheeks and couldn't tell if they belonged to you or him. “Arthur, oh Arthur…”

“Oi! Lovebirds! We kinda have a fight to win here.”

Micah emerged from the cabin stuffing something into his pockets and pulled out his twin guns. He quickly shot down two approaching men and ran down the steps, eager to find more targets. Leading the way, he pointed to Charles and ran off.

“Darlin’, I don’t know what to -”

“I know,” you interrupted. “I, Colm shot me in the leg so I can’t walk.”

He glanced down at your pants and saw the blood stains, anger clouding his face. “I swear if I ever get my hands on that filthy degenerate he’ll wish he was never born.”

“Get in line.” You winced as Arthur wrapped a hand around your waist for support, half carrying you out of camp while keeping his gun raised. “I don’t even know where we are. The last few days...We need to get out of here. Now. He was talking about Pinkerton’s riding up soon and I don’t think I can do another fight.”

He nodded. “What happened? How did they get you?”

“When Dutch and Colm met, it was a ruse. They thought taking one of us would draw out Dutch and the gang, and Colm wanted to turn them over to the Pinkerton’s for cash. He thought they’d leave him alone if he did something like that. It all backfired and they never showed up I guess. Don’t know who this lot is but they lit the place on fire and took out most of the group.”

Arthur swung you around and fired a few rounds at an approaching woman and she went down quickly.

Charles and Micah came running up towards you, Micah beaming like a child with candy. Arthur grunted. “What’s got you so happy?”

Charles ushered you farther ahead, never stopping. “Micah threw a whole box of dynamite into the cabin, it’s about to blow. We have to get out, now.”

“Jesus!” You yelled as Arthur picked you up and ran, the pain in your leg growing stronger with each bounce. “I know it hurts, sweetheart, we’re almost to the horses.” You winced and tried to hide how much the movement affected you, knowing Arthur was just trying to help.

He eased you up onto Zeus and climbed behind you. Charles took the lead and ushered Tamia out at a fast pace. Micah brought up the rear. His guns were still out and hot, aimed at anything in the forest around you that moved.

“There she goes!” It felt like the whole world shook at the cabin exploded as wood and tree bits flew across the clearing at all angles. The horses whinnied at the disturbance and galloped down the path to escape the blast.

You gripped onto Zeus’s saddle and tried to block the pain from your mind. “Arthur…”

“I know, honey,” he leaned close behind you and whispered in your ear, “I ain’t never letting you go.”

Chapter Text

Tensions on the ride away from the O'Driscoll camp were high. Micah wouldn’t stop talking about how angry the whole thing made him, Charles was on high alert for anyone who followed the small group, and Arthur held you so tight on the horse in front of him it seemed he was afraid you weren’t real and could disappear at any moment. 

From the way your leg and just about everything else throbbed you felt like you just might, and clutched his jacket closer around you. 

It still felt...unreal. You had been kidnapped and brutally tortured for days by men and women who were in contact with your father trying to sell you out. A dark pair of eyes seemed to flash every time you closed your own and sent you into a panic at the thought. 

Colm O’Driscoll. 

“You okay, sweetheart? You keep shivering.”

Your throat was still bruised and raw from the screaming and the times hands had closed tight around it, so you nodded silently. Arthur slowed Zeus to a walk and shook his coat off to place gently around your shoulders. Not much remained of your tattered clothes and the air was still cool and crisp with the chill of winter. 

Your thigh was still open and exposed which caught Arthur’s eye. He whistled for Charles to circle back and help pull you down off the horse. You winced and moaned at the movement, but knew that it was better to dress your leg than let the wound sit. 

“Your face we can deal with later...Arthur, you got any alcohol on you?” Charles carefully peeled back the layer of cloth that still clung to you, ripping it in a circle and discarding it. With your leg fully exposed you felt woozy, blood coated most of your thigh and calf. 

Arthur grabbed your arm after handing Charles a bottle of liquid. “This is gonna hurt, darlin;, grab my hand and don’t kick Charles.” A searing hot pain erupted as Charles poured the drink over your thigh, pushing down your leg to keep you in place. You clenched your teeth shut, afraid to scream out, and felt tears roll down your face. Cool water soon followed and Charles bound your leg with cloth, clearing away the blood and muck of the past few days. Slowly you released Arthur who shook his hand out, trying to get feeling back to his fingers. 

“Thank you, Charles.” You croaked. He waved his hand but reached down to help you up from the grass you had been unceremoniously dropped into. Standing between Charles and Arthur, you took a deep breath and decided not to pitty yourself. 

“Are we gonna stand around all day, or will I ever see my shitty tent again?” You looked up at Micah, an annoyed expression on his features. For all his talk of change, nothing stood out as different to you. 

Arthur climbed up on Zeus first, then pulled you to sit in front of him again. “How long to camp?” 

He scratched his chin. “We don’t have to stop. I’m...well, I’d like to get you back and see how you’re, I mean I know you ain’t doing well. Ah,” he was stuttering and nervous, something that struck you as odd. “We can be back by nightfall if we push hard enough.” 

“Finally! Let’s head back to see ol’ Dutchy.” Micah led the group and took off at a fast pace, trying to beat the sun on the ride back to camp. 

A few hours later after everyone was certain you weren’t being followed, the horses wound down the familiar bend into Horseshoe Overlook. The trees looked greener, the birds sang sweeter, and the soft glow of the sunset was more beautiful than you had ever seen it. Looking out everything seemed somehow brand new. 

Maybe that meant you had changed more than you thought over the past...however many days. 

A sound from camp met your ears and you leaned back into Arthur. Your heart started to pound at the thought of being around everyone, the questions, the poking, the love you suddenly felt unworthy of receiving. 

“Arthur, I don’t know if I want to -”

“There they are, and she’s there, YN is back!” 

The sudden commotion drowned out your fears and Arthur only looked ahead to steer Zeus into his usual spot. He jumped down first and must have missed the look on your face as you held back tears again. This time you didn’t know why you were scared and anxious, but it was all too much. 

Pearson shoved John out of the way and stood in front of you, panting. “YN! I’m so glad you’re alive, we had no idea it was a set up, I’m so sorry -”

“Oh boy, aren’t we glad to have you lot back. Don’t go running off without me again, you hear? Could have used these fists and guns, I bettcha.” 

“My dear YN! So glad you’ve returned. Seems you had quite the scuffle with those O’Driscolls, hopefully they look worse than you do, but you’re a tough girl I’m sure you kicked in plenty of their teeth.”

“Ms. Tilly! Ms. Mary Beth! Get that water heating right now, poor girl needs to be cleaned up. I’m sure we can do something about that hair…”

The sounds. The hands, grabbing. You felt like you were standing in the middle of a whirlpool and everything around you was moving too fast to grab a lifeline to safety. A branch rushed by, but Charles continued to move away with Tamia to meet Kieran and go over grooming. Arthur had shuffled over to your tent to grab you fresh clothes, which you were grateful for but wished he had stayed by your side. Mrs. Grimshaw was poking and prodding the scraps on your body and yelled for the girls to put more water on. 

You wrapped your arms around yourself in an attempt to still the chaos. 

Abigail, your beacon of light, finally pushed her way through. “Can’t you see the poor girl’s been through enough? Beat it, all of you, she’ll listen to your squabble later.” She took you by the shoulders and steered you over to Arthur’s tent, pushing the blue curtains aside and letting  them fall. 

You sat and looked up at her gratefully. As you opened your mouth to thank her, she squatted down and held your hands. “Don’t speak, honey. I know those bruises on your neck ain’t just on the surface, I’m sure your throat hurts like hell. I see the cuts here on your face, a nice black eye you got, too, anything else?” You slowly pointed to your thigh which was covered by wrapping. Abigail’s eyebrows came together, staring at what she couldn't see. You held up your hand in the shape of a gun, pointing it at the spot. Tears formed in her eyes and she couldn't stop herself from throwing her arms around you in a hug, holding on tightly. 

“I’m sorry, I’m so so sorry they did this to you. Those bastards. What do they mean beating up someone from Dutch’s gang and expecting to get away with it? And my best friend no less?” She gave you another squeeze then leaned back. “I swear to god if you ever find them, don’t hold back. Life is full of moments we wished we had the guts to act upon. Ain’t no promise we get to do it twice.” 

You nodded at her, feeling better. Arthur pushed the curtain aside and walked in. “Sweetheart, I figured you’d want a - oh, hey Abigail.” 

She stood and brushed out her skirts. “I’ll be going. Just wanted to make sure YN could escape the wolves. I’m sure you two want some time. Arthur, I know John wanted something from you, but I’ll tell him to come by tomorrow.” Arthur tipped his hat as she left, a smile thrown in your direction. 

Arthur held a wash bin of steaming water that looked heavenly. You were covered with grime and blood and wanted nothing more than to at least feel like you had control over your appearance. He rang a cloth out and moved to sit by you, moving cautiously and carefully. 

“I ain’t gonna break, Mr. Morgan. Promise.” Your voice was scratchy and foreign, but you wanted to use what little you had with Arthur. 

He chuckled. “See you still got your sense of humor then. Let’s see what else is hiding behind all of that mess.” 

The cloth was rough as it ran over your skin. Your bruises and cuts were revealed with the water which slowly dripped its way down; down your face and shirt to took away some of the pain you were clinging on to. You watched the dish water slowly turn from clear to brown in the time you sat with Arthur. 

"Can you talk about what happened? No one else saw you on the ridge I guess." 

You had been dreading this. It was not something you wanted to relive by any means, but knew it was important to craft the right tale to not expose who your father was. 

Nodding, you spoke. "On the hill, they took out Micah. Knocked me out quick too, but only grabbed me. Thought I could be a good reason for Dutch to bring the gang out of hiding, something about getting his revenge. Anyways, they tortured me to try and get the location of camp. They wanted to set the Pinkertons on him so Colm could clear his name and finally get away free." Arthur reached out and held your hand when your voice cracked saying that awful man's name. "I never broke. They threatened to kill me, but I didn't betray Dutch. Or anyone here. Not once." 

The events of the past few days had caught up with you and you stifled a yawn with your hand. "Of course you didn’t, but that seems enough for one day. Why don't you get some rest and I'll wake you for dinner?" 

You nodded, laying back on the soft bed. After being on the ground it felt like heaven, and wrapped in warm blankets and the smell of Arthur you closed your eyes to drift off to sleep. 




The nightmare took over you suddenly. 

The first thing you noticed was fire, and lots of it. Smoke filled your lungs and you coughed, fighting back tears at the bitter sting clawing at your throat. There was no one around yet screams rang out and seemed to come from everywhere periodically. 

“Hello? Is anyone there?” 

It seemed you were in a forest. You took a few cautious steps forward towards the burning tree line, sensing something just out of your reach. The air was quickly getting harder to see through the smoke and flames engulfing your vision. You looked around and noticed you were barefoot; in fact you were naked with nothing to protect you. Trying to cover yourself, you called out again. 

A deep rumbling called back. “YN...they are coming.”

The words sent a chill down your spine and you froze, heart pounding faster in your chest. 

“Don’t try and hide. They are coming.”

You spun around, looking for the source of the sound. “Who’s out there? What do you want? Who’s coming?” 

A pulsating chant started to come from the forest. Voices grew and spoke over one another in an off tempo beat saying something you couldn't quite understand but sounded like the word ‘run’. It got louder and louder until you had to cover your ears to block the sound, screaming at them to stop. 

All of the sudden it did, and everything was deathly still. 

“You cannot hide. They are here.” 

An explosion rocked the ground and threw you off balance, the sky flashing into a brilliant white and gold. The trees and forest illuminated and you could see shapes moving, almost floating, trying to escape. More screams mixed with your own and you couldn't take it anymore. 

“Stop! Please, just let me die. I can’t…”

One more voice roared above the others and you cowered down, hiding your head in your hands. 

“Milton. You cannot escape your past.” 




You bolted upright in Arthur’s bed, panting and covered in sweat. The feeling of your heart beat spread out to your fingers and you could see your hands shaking in the pale light of the lantern. It didn’t look like you had been screaming in real life for no one was running into the tent, and you sighed trying to calm yourself down. 

What a wild nightmare. 

As you swung your legs over the side of the bed you winced, briefly forgetting you had been shot only a few days before. A dull ache was your only reminder as the wound itself was well hidden away behind layers of bandage, courtesy of Charles. 

Voices approached the entrance of the tent and you could make out Arthur and John. Sometimes you forgot the two were adoptive brothers from the way they bickered, but Dutch and Hosea raised them well and at the end of they day they put family first. 

“She holding up in there alright? I think Abbi’s got some gin tucked away if she needs any.”

Arthur chuckled slightly. “Thanks, John. I’ll come hollering if she wants it.” There was a pause before he continued on. “What do you think? Of her, I mean.” 

“At first I didn’t like her. Another mouth to feed, and we didn’t think she had anything to contribute besides a pretty face. But now,” John shuffled his feet, “I couldn’t have been more wrong. She’s helped rob, steal, and hunt to keep us all alive. She makes Abigail happy and somehow turned you from a grumpy old coot back into a real person.” He grew quiet and you had to strain to hear him. “It’s nice, Arthur, seein’ you like this again. I know that whole Mary thing really got you down, and Eliza, well, that was hell of course. Nothing fills a hole like that. All I’m saying is that if you found someone who puts up with your ugly face and makes you happy, you shouldn't let her go.” 

It was the nicest thing you had heard John say and found yourself smiling like a fool sitting on the bed. Arthur grunted and said something back that you couldn't hear, so you scooted yourself back against the pillows and closed your eyes, faking sleep. A few moments later he pushed the tent flaps open and a rush of cool air met your skin. 

“Hey there, how are you feeling? I brought some food for you. Pearson feels right guilty about all of this and gave you the best cuts and I found some potatoes I know you like.” 

You smiled up at him, hoping he knew how much this all meant. “My personal doctor.” The warmth from the plate spread into your hands and you motioned for Arthur to sit next to you. He moved slowly and cautiously as if he didn’t want to tip you over. 

“Like I said, Arthur, I ain’t gonna break. You’re not even sitting next to my bad leg you can relax.” 

He watched you eat the first few bites with an odd look on his face. “What, did I spill already?” Shaking his head, he chuckled and reached out to stroke your cheek with his thumb. You leaned into his hand and he scooted closer. 

“Just...doesn’t feel real, you know? You were gone right after we...well, you know. Thought maybe I had scared you off. Found a chance to run and you took it. I know it’s crazy,” he silenced your protest with a look. “I’m just used to folks not wanting to stick around is all. Usually they start to see the ugly or it gets hard being at camp and they leave. I don’t know what I’d do if you left. Go hide out in a cabin with Hosea or something.” 

“Arthur Morgan. You stop that right now,” you set your empty plate on the nightstand and took his other hand in your own. “I will not hear anymore degrading talk about the man I love, especially if it comes from you. I may not be as fearless as Sadie or as strong as Charles, but I sure as hell ain’t leaving you or anyone here just because it gets tough. Not much of my life has been easy, but being with you? That’s the easiest choice I ever got to make.” 

He beamed down at you and pulled you closer in his embrace. A chaste kiss was pressed into your forehead and you squeezed his arm in return. 

“I know you’re hurt so I’ll sleep on the floor tonight. Can you hand me a blanket?” You reached behind and grabbed his favorite blue one, leaving you with the green checkered blanket of your own. “You ain’t leaving this tent, I’m moving your things in first light tomorrow. We can pack up your canvas and save it if we need it later.” 

You stared at him. “You want to share a tent with me? Like, permanently?”

As he lay down, Arthur chuckled again. He rolled his jacket into a pillow shape and sighed. “‘Course I mean permanent. Like you said, easy decision.” 

Falling back asleep was easy. Arthur’s soft snores carried you off, and you were free of fire and flames for now. 




After a few days in bed you went stir crazy. Charles fashioned you a walking stick of sorts that allowed you to hobble about the camp and get out in the fresh air, something you desperately craved after being kept in a damp basement. 

Lenny was trying his best to be helpful and kept escorting you around in a loop, pointing things out you might have missed. 

“See YN, that’s where Sean pissed his pants last week. I think Hosea was telling a story about John and Arthur growing up and it really got him. Caught his pants on fire or something.” 

You had never spent too much time with Lenny, but he really was a sweet boy with a heart of gold. He wasn’t half bad looking, either. 

“How come none of the girls caught your eye around here, Lenny? Tilly is as pretty as a picture.”

He chuckled and rubbed his hands together. “Nah, I ain’t like that. There was...well, before you got here we had a girl running with us, Jenny, who I always liked. Never had the guts to tell her though, then she didn’t make the run out of Blackwater. Thought I would focus my time on other things.” 

“Lenny and...Jenny? But that rhymes.” 

A strange look passed over his face, then he burst out laughing. “You know, I never thought of that before! It does. Your right, maybe I knew it wouldn’t last and didn’t want to get myself more hurt. There’ll be time for all of that later. Big family, spot of land, just have to get the adventure out of me first.” 

You smiled up at him and he walked you over to the stew pot. It smelled good and enticing, so you asked Lenny to let you lean in and smell the cooking food. The steam rose off the surface and gave scents of rosemary, salt, and some fresh meat that was brought down by Charles. 

“Aye, anything good for supper tonight or is it just the usual shite?” 

The voice behind you startled you so bad you jumped and knocked the stack of metal bowls over. Lenny reached out to grab your arm but you swatted him away, eyes full of panic and breathing heavy. For a moment your vision went very small and all you could hear was the accent of your kidnappers speaking far away. 

“YN...I’m so sorry I didn’t mean to startle you. I’ll, I’ll go get Arthur, don’t worry.”

You panted and sat slowly on the ground, heart still racing in your chest. “Take deep breaths, that’s it. What happened, are you okay?” 

Eyes were staring from all around the camp and you felt silly but couldn't stem the panic. “Sean’s accent...I thought, I thought he was an O’Driscoll. I didn’t think about it, he couldn't have known...” 

Lenny crouched down to your level and helped you stand, wiping tears off of your face. He threw an arm around your shoulders and led you over towards your tent as Arthur hurried to meet you. 

“What’d you do, boy.” The way Arthur spoke it wasn’t a question, but a demand. Lenny immediately stood taller and held you up until you collapsed into Arthur’s arms, safe at last.

“I’m fine, Arthur, it’s my fault.” You mumbled into his jacket. He nodded to Lenny who waved goodbye. “Sean came up and when he spoke I...I was back there, listening to them talk and plan and...I panicked. Poor kid, don’t want him to think I don’t like him.” You looked around suddenly but Sean was nowhere to be found. 

Arthur held the tent open for you to enter. You hesitated, your new freedom calling but you were exhausted. The midday sun warmed your back as you settled on going inside. 

“Think I’ll lie down for a bit...rest up, you know?” 

Sad eyes watched as you crawled into bed, ready to hide away and shut out the world. Maybe you weren’t ready to go out yet, staying inside was easier anyhow. Arthur nodded, saying something about being back later but you didn’t listen. Feeling the world close in on you was enough. 




You didn’t emerge again for three days. Your legs were sore and so was the side you had continued to sleep on, but you ignored it. It wasn’t worth it to stand and leave the tent if something was going to throw you into a panic again. 

Arthur had gone out hunting for the day with Charles. He was more concerned now, but promised to be back soon to take care of you. Lately he had given in to anything you wanted as he hoped it would make you heal better. 

The tent opened with a blinding light and a loud voice called to you. 

“YN! Time to get up and face the world. How about a nice game of dominoes or sitting by the lake? I have some new books you could enjoy if you’d like.” Hosea wore a mask of excitement. You peered at him with one eye around the blankets and groaned in response. He chuckled and made his way over to you. 

“Time to stop all of this pouting. Sunshine and fresh air are good for the soul, I say!”

After a few minutes you gave into his pestering, shooing him so you could dress and grumpily stumbling out with your cane to walk around in the sun. “I’ll take the air and sunshine, but any chance you could make the folks disappear? 

Hosea laughed at your weak attempt of humor and gestured for you to join him at his usual spot. You chatted and played game after game, beating Hosea in what you knew to be a fake out; he let you win to try and lift your spirits. You would be lying if you said it didn’t work, even a little bit. 

“It is good to see that smile, Miss Moore. I’ve missed it around camp.” Hosea drummed on the wooden table, staring at you. “Now, not to sound insensitive, but your hair…”

“Oh! I had all but forgotten about that. How is it?” He grimaced and looked away, pulling a laugh from you. “That bad? You have a pair of scissors I could borrow?”

His hand slapped down hard. “I can do you one better. Wait right here," and walked off around the corner.

You looked down at your hands, wondering how long this fake happiness would hold. It was so, so hard imagining what would have happened if you had broken and spilled the location the gang was using as a hideout. The people you had grown to love subjected to the horrors you went through? You would never let that happen. If you could bear the weight, you would take it. 

Lost in your thoughts you almost missed the sweet humming as it approached. You didn't look up to see who was coming, but recognized the tune. 

"Well I took a stroll on the old long walk, on a day-ai day-ai ai."

Soft fingers ran up your scalp and pulled the hair gently this way and that, looking for the best angle. 

"I met a little girl and we stopped to talk, of a fine soft day-ai ai."

The sound of scissors snipping brought back bad memories, but she was working to help. Tears still rolled down your cheeks, but they were silent instead of raw with fear. 

"And I ask you friend, what's a fella to do? When her hair was black and her eyes were blue."

Watching the wisps of hair float from your shoulders down to the grass felt almost ceremonial. The loss of a moment met with a new beginning. 

"Miss O'Shea, you don't have to." 

She shushed you and continued to hum while clipping odd ends off your locks. What used to hit halfway down your back now fell just above your collarbone. It was lighter and moved easier, not needing a braid or tie to keep it back. 

"Think you're the only girl to be captured in the name of Dutch Van der Linde? Don't worry lass, you're in good company. Wish I had someone other than Susan to clean me up then, least I can do is repay the favor." She looked at your face to clip the last few pieces and brushed away your tears. "No use crying over cut hair. Give it a few months and it'll be prettier than ever. Just you watch." 

"You were kidnapped too? How did you…" At a loss for words you looked up, hoping she could fill in the rest.

She watched you carefully for a moment. "How did I move on? Well, Dutch nearly ripped the man's throat out so that helped. But back then it was different, we left and never talked about it again." Molly sighed and sat next to you on the bench, looking uncomfortable. She wasn't exactly maternal but was trying her best to hell you. "Had the same dream for months. Three men, pinning me down in a river, and I couldn't breathe. Used to wake up screaming every time. I didn't go near water for months." 

Looking off towards camp, Molly's eyes found Dutch walking about, talking with Mary Beth. The two seemed to be in deep discussion. 

"He used to really love me. It helps, having someone to talk with and love on. Suppose Arthur is like that for you. Use him for strength, Miss Moore. No shame in sharing that among folks." 

You nodded. You had always wondered why Molly had vouched for you back in Colter outside of sharing a heritage. She was very proud and wore her Irishness like a badge of honor. Maybe one day she would understand why you had to hide behind yours instead. 

"Thank you, Miss O'Shea. For everything." 

"Call me Molly, dear." 

"Then thank you, Molly." 

The redhead nodded and walked back towards her tent, humming another little tune as she went. You never realized the strength with which she held parts of this camp together. She had been around for longer than most and probably knew the folks better than they knew themselves. 




"I was thinking we could go into town, get you a bath and a real meal for the night?" 

Arthur sat across from you in the grass, scribbling away in his journal while you read. You looked up surprised at his request. 

"Didn't Dutch ask you and Micah to go off somewhere?" 

Waving his hand he looked annoyed. "That can wait. I'd like to get you clean, feeling better. There a doctor in town if you need it too. Check that leg out." 

"I can almost walk again. That stick Charles gave me is a blessing and a curse, my leg feels fine but my underarm is black and blue." 

"Doesn't help you challenges Sean to a foot race, you know." 

You groaned at the memory. "I felt bad about the whole thing with the stew pot! I still feel bad! It's not his fault what happened, just bad luck." You scratched the bandage on your thigh that had been getting itchier lately with healing. "A bath does sound nice. Alright, let's head into Rhodes." 

Arthur smiled and stood, stretching his arms up above his head. His shirt separated from his belt for just a moment and you felt your face heat up at the thought of undressing him. Sleeping separately on the bed and floor hadn't offered much in the way of intimacy and a shot up leg lessened the chances even more. It had been weeks since the two of you had been together, and you could tell he had been thinking about that too. 

“We’ll have to be careful, might be some folks who remember my last visit.” 

“Oh, is that the one where you shot up the town?” Arthur had the decency to look a bit embarrassed, but you laughed and squeezed his hand. “Let’s go. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

Rhodes was bundled up for the winter with a gentle layer of snow on the buildings; wagons and carriages leaving their tracks down the streets to show that even a change in weather couldn't stop the bustle of the small town. Folks still walked about to the post office, looking for packages or train tickets. The doors of the saloon were open and music poured out, filling the street. 

Arthur approached the front desk clerk of the hotel with caution, afraid something would go wrong. “I’d like a bath and a room, please.” 

“Of course sir. One bed or two?” 

“Just the one.” 

The clerk took his payment and jangled in the back for the room key. He handed it over with a smile and pointed down the hall to where the bathing room was. Arthur tipped his hat and walked behind you up the stairs. Once you passed the top step he swept you up and carried you down the hall, bridal style. 

“Arthur!” 

You laughed as he easily walked down the hall towards your room. After you fished the key from his pocket, the door swung open to reveal a quaint interior. The bed had a soft pink blanket with a white throw covering the foot. Matching lace decorations were on the nightstand and dresser, which both had lamps to keep the room illuminated. 

The bed moved with you as Arthur set you gently on top of the sheets. You fluffed the pillow and prepared to lay down but he had other plans. 

“Not yet, let’s get you a bath first. Then you can rest in a real bed.” You sighed begrudgingly but let him help you back down the stairs and into the bathing room. 

“Last time I was in one of these was Blackwater, I’ve been bathing in rivers ever since I met you. It’ll be nice to use real soap and actual warm water.” After stripping and lowering yourself down into the water you groaned in happiness at the contact. Your left leg was elevated out of the water, but everywhere else was pure heaven. 

Arthur handed you the soap while he took the stool behind your head. “Who cut your hair? Looks all even back here after…”

“Molly. Hosea came by one day to cheer me up and I was feeling lost. She didn’t say a word, just came up and tried to help.”

“Huh.” Arthur started to foam soap between his hands to wash your hair. “She ain’t one to do that normally, wonder what you did to her.” Warm water rushed over your head and Arthur began to massage your scalp, drawing a noise out of you that you had little control over. He chuckled and continued to repeat it, obviously liking your reaction. 

You sank a little lower into the water and felt the stress melt right off of you. Arthur was right, this was exactly what you needed. 

After you skin turned red from being rubbed and the water was no longer warm, you pulled yourself up and towelled off. For all the times you had been with Arthur, he still turned away to give you privacy as you dressed in fresh clothes. You shook your head and laughed, a gentleman who blasts the bejesus out of people for a living, who would have thought. 

Back in the room the bed was too enticing not to enjoy. You flopped down, sighing at the softness of the pillows and beckoned Arthur to join you. He set his hat on the dresser and laid down facing you, eyes roaming your face with eagerness and curiosity. 

“What are you looking for, cowboy? See anything you like?”

Arthur chuckled and rubbed your cheek with his thumb. “Just admiring the woman I love. How’s that leg of yours?” 

“Not bad now. Be awhile before I’m walking again, but I can stand it.” You pulled your leg up to stretch the muscle and felt a twang of pain before lowering it back down. The pain was normal these days, but at least it meant you were healing. 

A wandering hand roamed to your stomach and rested innocently. Although his fingers moved gently over the fabric there, Arthur’s eyes told a different story. The look he gave you made your stomach flop and your heartbeat a little faster. 

You reached out and undid the tie holding up Arthur’s pants. His eyebrows raised, but he didn’t make a move as you slowly reached inside to find what was making the fabric so tight. A light gasp escaped his open lips when you made contact and began to stroke, feeling the blood rush downwards as it grew harder and harder in your grasp. 

His eyes closed as you continued to pump him in your hands, but his mouth was open in a small "oh". There were voices outside in the hall as folks walked around so he tried to keep quiet, much to your disappointment. 

"Darlin', they'll hear if I-" 

"Shh," you quieted him with a grin and moved up so you could kiss him while you worked. You finally got the effect you desired as a moan spilled into your mouth. 

As Arthur neared his tipping point, his hips began to rock in time with your hand. You moved your head down to take the place of your hand and Arthur nearly lost it. The feeling of a mouth moving up and down on his cock was too much, and with one hand in your hair and the other gripping the bed sheets he came with a moan loud enough to alert those in the hallway just what you were up to. 

After swallowing all of his spilled seed you grinned up at him. "Wicked woman you are," he panted, coming back into his body. 

"Sounds like a little payback is in order." 

He grinned down at you and waited while you moved back up the bed. It wasn’t exactly romantic, but blowing off some steam was more than overdue. 

“Can you help me with your jeans? I don’t want to hurt you.” You giggled as you shimmied out of your clothing and were exposed. From your previous activities you were already wet; the thought of Arthur inside of you only contributed more. 

Arthur laid you down and kissed you, deep and needy. His tongue swirled around yours and he bit your bottom lip hard enough to draw out a soft yelp. As he moved south he paid particular attention to that sweet spot below your ear, making you shiver and grab with desperate hands any part of him you could find. 

“Mmm. Missed seeing these, darlin’.” His hands massaged your breasts and your head fell back. The anticipation was killing you and you were getting wetter by the second. 

His tongue flicked out across your nipple to make it stand, and he chuckled at the arch of your back. “Arthur...please...I need you inside of me.” 

“As you wish,” his voice hummed against your chest. You gasped as one finger slowly curved inside of you, moving back and forth, begging you to meet it at the place where desperation mixed with pleasure. 

When the second finger joined it you were plenty ready. “Jesus, all this just for me?” You watched with heavy eyes as he withdrew his hand and brought his fingers to his lips, cleaning the mess you left on them. 

Your thighs were weak and began to shake at the sight alone. 

Arthur scooted back to the end of the bed and grabbed a hold of your hips. His head dipped down to meet your core and your head fell back against the pillows as his tongue pushed in and out of you. 

“Arthur! Shit, that spot right there, don’t stop.” He lapped up your wetness and continued to draw you closer to the edge. Your hands ran through his hair, pulling at particularly strong sensations while your body rocked against his mouth. Any friction would help you get there, and from the way you were panting it was obvious you were close. 

Two fingers plunged inside and began to move together, curling to that sweet spot. The feeling of his hands and his mouth all over you threw you over the edge, and you cried out as you rode your orgasm with Arthur still pumping his hand with you. 

“That’s it, that’s my girl.” He licked his fingers again and you watched enthralled. 

“Well, I’m definitely more relaxed now.” Arthur laughed and moved to hold you on the bed. You rested with your head on his chest and he ran his fingers through your hair.  

“You ever think...nah, forget it.” 

“What’s that? C’mon, you can talk to me.” You looked up at the handsome man next to you, wondering how you got so lucky. His blue eyes were filled with years of a hard lived life, yet he started at you like someone seeing things for the very first time. Sun beaten cheeks smiled and made your heart melt. He was perfect. 

“Do you ever think about leaving the gang?” 

Arthur shifted uncomfortably and you could tell you hit a sore spot. “It’s...complicated I guess. My whole life has been lived this way, what’s to say I know any better by leaving? And what would all of those people do? Would they survive? They’re my family.” He paused and looked down at you. “But then I think about what could be, what we could be and I...well, it seems a bit more possible, that’s for sure.” 

“You ever want kids?” You crinkled your nose and smiled. 

His answer was swift and harsh, surprising you. “No. Ain’t nothing I could pass to a child they would want.” You watched him for a moment, letting him process. “There’s something I never told you. Long time ago, when I was foolish and dumb, I met a woman. She got pregnant, and I used to visit her from time to time to check in on her and the boy. One day…” the past showed on his features as he struggled to talk about it. “One day I went and two graves were outside. Damn robbers broke in and shot them over ten measly dollars” 

It was not your place to offer advice on how to move on, only comfort, so you pulled Arthur into a hug and didn’t say a word, letting him process the past in a way that would one day make it okay for him. 

“I love you, YN. Ain’t nothing I wouldn't do for you, hope you know that.” 

The promise was soft spoken and beautiful and you cherished it dearly. “I love you too, Arthur. I hope you know I’m with you until the end now. Nothing will ever take me away.” 

He pulled back and smiled wide at your confession. “Good. I’d just come tearing after you if something tried.” 




Your arrival back at camp was met with a commotion. Abigail and Dutch were walking around camp, yelling back and forth to one another as she searched around for something. 

“Calm down, everybody just relax. We are doing all we can!” 

You and Arthur shared a look as he helped you dismount from Eclipse, and walked over to meet with Dutch. 

Once he noticed your approach, Dutch broke off and came to meet you. “Arthur! YN! Have you seen that boy, Jack?” 

Arthur sat back on his hip, looking around. “No…” 

“Where’s my goddamn son! Where is he? Where’s my son!” Abigail burst out, hands balled into fists and walking fast. She sounded desperate, and scared. You put a hand on her arm to calm her but she shook it off and stared at Dutch. “They took him, didn’t they, they took my son!” 

“Who took him?” Arthur looked back and forth between the two in front of him. 

Hosea joined the group as well. “We think the Braithwaite woman took him. That Kieran saw a couple of fellers...sound like Braithwaite boys.”

Abigail finally noticed you were there and clung to your shoulder, each of you supporting the other. “Where’s my son? If anything…Where is my son, Dutch Van der Linde?” She sounded strong, and angry. Her grip on you was one of mixed emotions and she looked Dutch dead in the eyes. It crossed your mind then that Abigail was not a woman to be messed with.  

Dutch grabbed a hold of her shoulder. “We will find him, we will bring him back to you, and we will kill any fool that had the temerity to touch one hair on that boy’s head. Abigail, you have my word.” 

She nodded curtly, ignoring John who had walked up to the group as well. Dutch led the men over towards the horses, and most everyone was gearing up for a fight. Arthur got swept up in the movement but circled back around for you. 

“Darlin’, I know I keep leaving, but -”

“Go.” You spoke from a place of support and hoped he understood. “You get that boy back safe, and you give those bastards hell.” He grinned at you, and with a kiss was off. 

Once they were out of sight Abigail collapsed into a nearby chair. Her energy was drained, all spent on worrying about her poor child. “I don’t know what I’ll do…” You sat next to her, taking her hand and holding it strong. 

“I know, Abigail. They’ll get him back. Don’t worry.” 

“You know?” Her voice went up an octave. “How would you know? You don’t have any children, no one who loves you completely and wholly without any reserve. Greatest thing I ever did was have that boy and I…” 

You dropped her hand at her words. She may have been hurting, but there was no need to go that far. “Abigail...let’s just focus on what we know. Dutch, Arthur, John, all of those men are riding out to save your son. He will be alright, don’t worry.” 

“Oh, I’m sorry YN,” her eyes began to water and her lip shook. “I’m just so afraid. I don’t know what I’ll do if I lose him.” 

You nodded and looked out towards the entrance of camp, praying they would return soon with good news. 



The thundering sound of horses drew everyone’s attention, and you heard Abigail yell. The two of you had talked for a few hours before the sun set and she needed to be alone. You had watched her, sitting and staring out over the water, with an odd feeling in your chest. 

“Where is he? Where’s my son!” Abigail’s voice broke as she desperately searched the returning group. “John! John, do you have him, is he okay-”

“He wasn’t there, Abigail. I’m sorry!” John’s voice rang out and you saw Mary Beth and Susan cover their mouths in a gasp. 

“What do you mean, not there?” 

Dutch jumped in front of John to answer. “He was passed to a man in Saint Denis by the name of Angelo Bronte. Those damn Braithwaites think they can get away with this, but they won’t!” 

Looking around frantically Abigail screamed, “Then why are you still here if you know where he is? I want my son back, Dutch Van der Linde you promised!” 

“I know, Abigail I know. And we will! We just need to make a plan.” 

“Oh, you and your damn plans I been hearing about for years! I want my son back!” John caught Abigail just as she collapsed and burst into tears. The men coming back walked by with sad looks on their faces but avoided seeing the scene. 

Arthur found you seated and pulled you into a hug. “How did it go? What happened?” 

“Ah, it was a mess.” he shook his head. “Braithwaite woman passed him to another man in Saint Denis. Dutch was so mad we burned her house down after her sons attacked us. Lot of them, but we all made it out.” 

“Jesus, Arthur. This is bad…” 

He covered your hand with his own. “I know, sweetheart. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.” 




The first thing you heard in the morning was Dutch’s gramophone. An old opera blared out with a soprano telling a tragic tale. Or something. It was loud enough to wake everyone in camp and start the day. 

You walked out on your cane with Arthur to find Dutch, Hosea, and John gathered talking about Jack. John had his head hung low, shame radiating for a fault that wasn’t his. 

“...looking at this logically, that boy is fine. They took him to scare us. Nobody takes a boy to harm him!” 

Hosea looked over at the younger man. “He’s right, John.” 

“What do you two think then?” Gesturing to you and Arthur the whole table turned to hear your response. 

Arthur looked at you. “I think...I think he’ll be okay. Like you said, Dutch. Who takes a boy to harm him? He’s only four! It must be some kind of power play, holding the youngest member hostage.” Your own recent experience flashed in your memory and you shuddered at the thought of little Jack being harmed. 

“The boy’ll be fine, but of course Marston is scared rotten.” Arthur continued. “I mean, we killed all those people, we stirred up all that trouble...for nothing.” He reached down and grabbed your hand, squeezing once for support.

“No, not for nothing.” Dutch had that look in his eye like he wanted to change the world. “For living. Now we get that boy back, and we go. Trust me.”

Lenny called out to Dutch, but before you could look up Charles grabbed the back of your shirt and carried you off. 

“Keep quiet. You have to hide.” 

"Ouch! My leg!" 

"You have to move. Now!" 

Your feet half floated, half walked over to Arthur’s tent where Charles shoved you inside. He had a sense of urgency around him that you had never seen before, making your heartbeat a little faster. Eyes darting all around camp he never really looked at you.

“Charles what is it? What’s wrong?” 

“Shh! I think...YN I think your father just walked into camp.” 

You stuttered backwards, nearly falling over a trunk and into the table. “My father?” You hissed. Now your palms were sweating and you could hear the blood pounding in your ears. Charles nodded and let the tent flap fall closed, leaving you alone with your panic and fear. 

“Not a problem approaching...visitors! A solution, if you will. Good day, fine people.” 

“Shit, shit, shit,” you whispered to yourself. That was your father, he was here, in camp, with the people you trusted most. And there was nothing you could do. 

“Agent Milton, Pinkerton Detective Agency.” The pride came through his voice as he introduced himself and his associates. “Ah, Mr. Morgan! Nice to see you again.” 

There was some talk you couldn't hear over the rush in your ears, but when you could focus again your father was speaking again. “I don’t know if you’re aware but this...this is a civilized land now. We didn’t kill all them savages only to allow the likes of you to act like human dignity and basic decency was outmoded or not yet invented.” You could hear him walking around as he spoke, really getting into the part. “This thing? It’s done.” 

Dutch spoke up for the first time. “This place? Ain’t no such thing as civilized. It’s man so in love with greed he has forgotten himself and found only his appetites.” 

“And as a consequence that lets you take what you please? Kill whom please and hang the rest of us? Who made you the messiah to these lost souls you’ve led so horrible astray?” His tone was mocking; to make a fool out of Dutch was to ruin this thing he had going. 

Dutch bit back with his response. “I’m nothing but a seeker, Mr. Milton.” 

“You ain’t much of anything more than a killer, Mr. Van der Linde.” The accusation sat heavy in the air until your father spoke again. “But I came to make a deal! It’s time. You come with me, and I give the rest of you three days to run off, disappear, and live like human beings someplace else.”

“You came for me? Risked life and limb in this den of low-lives and murderers so that they might live and love? Ain’t that fine.” A chuckle ran across the group. 

“I don’t want to kill all these folks, Dutch. Just you.”

“Well, in that case it’d be my honor to join you. Excuse me, friends. I have an appointment to keep with…” At Dutch’s words, you could hear gun after gun being drawn and cocked, ready to shoot if a fight were to happen. 

“I think your new friends should leave now, Dutch.” Susan Grimshaw spat at your father. 

“You’re making a big mistake, all of you!” 

Dutch laughed. “Yeah, dreadful. We have got something. Something to live and die for. How awful for us, Mr. Milton. Stop following us. We’ll be gone soon.” 

“I’m afraid I can’t.” You surely were the only one to pick up on the vein of jealousy that laced your father's words. He had never had people follow him like Dutch did, and he saw just what a life like this meant. “When I return it’ll be with fifty men. All of you will die. Run away from this place, you fools. Run!” 

There was a commotion as Agent Milton was escorted from the camp, barking orders to his agents and yelling warnings back to Dutch. You sat on the floor of your tent, too terrified to move. Anything you touched fell apart, maybe the price of your freedom had been too high and now these folks were stuck paying it too. 

He had to know you were close. After the mess with the O’Driscolls, you were sure it was personal. Catching Dutch would be a big score professionally but getting you back would secure your father’s footing in the world and make him feel back on top in his sick, twisted way. 

You felt your hands ball into fists at your sides as your mind raced. It wouldn't be easy, but you knew what you had to do. 

You had to bring your father down. And this time, make sure he stayed that way.