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Evie

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“Tessa Evangeline Locke, when and where did you find the time to go to the saloon?”
“Erm...do you want the first time or the last time?”
“What? How many times have you gone?!”

There was a reason I never told my father where I was going or what I was doing should I find the opportunity to do something other than lay in wait for a suitor. I’d get in trouble, and there I was... In deep, deep trouble. I didn’t know how he found out -- in fact, I was unsure if I wanted to even know how he did. It was bound to happen sooner or later. I was just expecting it to be later. Much later. I knew it was a big deal to him, especially since I had to travel for forty-five minutes to get to the nearest town that had the saloon I frequented. It was the only saloon that was closest to us. We lived only in a small trading town -- no need for a saloon when one could get alcohol for cheap from someone who made it. But someone would say something to my father if they caught me buying booze right in our own town.

It was more unlikely for me to be recognized in that town I went to just for the saloon. Perhaps it was one of my father’s friends or clients who had seen me there. They could have been stopping in for a drink themselves before continuing on wherever it was they were going. For all I knew, it could have been the man who had just left a meeting with my father. My father had so many friends and clients that I couldn’t keep track of all their faces, so if I saw one of them at the saloon it would have flown over my head.

“It’s been a couple of months,” I admitted sheepishly, averting my green eyes to the floor.
“A couple-- Why? How?”
“The ‘why’ is... Well, it’s because it gets tiresome waiting for the next suitor or the next dress fitting.”
“I thought you loved dress fittings.”
“That’s besides the point, Father. What I love is the needle point. What I would love is some freedom.”
“But...the young men who come see you...”
“Why do I need to marry rich when I already have the money?”

Honestly. My father was old money; my great-great-great grandfather got lucky and made quite a bit of money after coming to America from England. From there it just continued to grow, and it was still growing with my father. I wasn’t the first girl to be born in the family, but I was the first girl to not have any brother’s -- at least none that I knew of. My mother ran off with someone else when I was still a little girl. For the longest time, I didn’t understand -- but I eventually could understand why; my father could be rather...overbearing, to say the least. She either didn’t take me because she didn’t really want me or because she thought I’d have a better life with my father.

“Because when I’m gone, you’ll need someone to care for you,” my father replied. “Your mother was like this, too; she would rather be out in the woods playing pretend.”
“You didn’t answer the ‘money’ bit, Daddy,” I said quietly.
“Well, would you like to live poor?”

I kept quiet, just waiting for the last bit to come out. He was eventually going to mention it; I knew he was. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to get married; it was just at the back of my mind. I barely even had a life outside of needle point, dress fittings, afternoon tea with other ladies in the town... I didn’t even realize there were other towns besides ours until I was ten. My father had gifted me a map for my birthday; amidst my confusion, there was wonder. I could tell he was now regretting gifting me anything that could be paired with adventure. I took after my mother even more, it seemed; right from my auburn hair all the way to the freckles that crawled across my face. It wasn’t like adventure wasn’t in my blood, either; my mother had been a poor travelling girl when she met my father.

“The men are boring, Father,” I told him. “I’ve asked all of them if I could accompany them on horse rides and they merely scoffed at the idea.”
“You need to settle down soon,” he sighed. “You are twenty-four, for heaven’s sake.”
“I have been a dutiful daughter. I go to church, I put up with the suitors, and the seamstress pricking me; I sit here reading and doing needle point all day. Forgive me for wanting something a bit more exciting in life.”
“You can help the maids cook and clean. Perhaps that should have been the case since I began searching for you; not all these men will have maids.”
“These...men...want a wife that will be dutiful. They want me to sit there and do what I do now, with the addition of bearing children. Heaven forbid I wish to ride a horse. Cooking and cleaning is not exciting, either.”

As overbearing as he was, my father was not a bad father. He was just concerned for my safety, which I understood. He was always going to be my parent and I was always going to be his little girl, but surely there was a time when he was going to be able to understand that I wanted more than a life of domesticity. One of the ladies whom I had tea with had gone and somehow convinced her parents to allow her to travel on her own. We hadn’t seen her in months, but according to letters she was in fine health and was making no plans to return in the near future.

“Do you think the outlaw life is exciting, Tessie?” my father asked.
“Oh.”

That was what I had been waiting for, but upon hearing him actually say it made me feel bad. The way he said it sounded quite wrong and judgmental. Well, that wasn’t fair. I didn’t want to give him an answer right away without allowing him to explain how he even knew what was going on, but just by that one word I had mumbled he had confirmation that I’d been seen with someone...not up to his standards.

“Tessie.”
“Are you disappointed in me?” I wondered.
“Well, yes, but I love you so I will listen when you tell me when and why.”
“Erm...I guess the lady he was courting left him and he found his way to the saloon. It was just coincidentally the same evening I happened to be there. My first night there, too, a few months ago.”
“I’m assuming that you know this...” He cleared his throat, “older gentleman’s name?”
“Yes.”
“Why do you ‘guess’ the lady he was courting left him?”
“It’s not guessing; she did leave him. I only keep going back so I can see him.”

My father held his hand up; he looked like he was about to have a fit. “Older gentleman” was one way to put it. Dutch was most certainly older and he could act like a gentleman if he wanted to, but from the stories he told it was evident that he wasn’t typically a gentleman or a gentle man. The stories he told weren’t just stories, either; they were real, alright.

“P-Please, tell me you have not...” my father stammered.
“I have not what?” I murmured.
“Do I need to take you to church?”

It took me a good, long moment to realize what he was referring to. The guilty expression on my face was all my father needed as an answer. It hadn’t been planned -- at least not by me. One thing led to another and before I knew it we were in one of the rooms above the saloon and didn’t come out until morning, though I managed to sneak back in before church. It wasn’t the most recent meeting, but it also wasn’t one of the older meetings. It was still quite new and I was still trying to wrap my head around what completely happened. I didn’t know in the beginning if it was from the constant travelling back and forth, but I was beginning to take ill. I was beginning to understand what it could be, but I was unsure of myself. My father just didn’t know I was becoming ill just yet.

“Daddy, I...I’d rather not go to church and...” I struggled to speak.
“We don’t have to tell anyone why you’re there,” he replied.
“If they ask...”
“Yes, that is a problem. Sinning to cover up another sin is unforgivable.”

I was going to cry. Surely he wouldn’t force me to church at this point? I would take a hit with a belt rather than have to admit to the priest that I had lay with someone before marriage. In a small town like ours, that kind of news would spread quickly and my father’s reputation would be ruined. We would have to pack up and start anew elsewhere.

“Hit me, if that would make it better,” I sniffled. “But please don’t make me sit there and talk to Father O’Malley.”

I didn’t want to say that Father O’Malley was a cruel person, but he was old and could be rather harsh. If I had to talk to him, he would most certainly convince me that I was to be condemned to hell, possibly try to convince my father to commit me to a convent. I was sneaking off on my own, drinking, and lying about where I was going, and then I had been with someone that my father didn’t approve of -- all of that would have to come out in my confession to Father O’Malley. Doing something to myself was one thing, but bringing disgrace to my family, my father, was a whole other thing.

“I could never hit you, Tessie,” my father said, taken aback. “If you’re that afraid, then...I suppose you can stay here. But we will still need to go to church this Sunday, as usual.”
I nodded. “I understand.”
He sighed, looking at his pocket watch. “I have a meeting that will be running late. Do I need to send word that I need to cancel?”
“You don’t.”
“Before I leave, when was the last time you were there?”
“Um...six nights ago, if I remember rightly.”

It was only once a week that I went to the saloon, on the same day. I probably would have gone more often if it wasn’t so risky; and now it was too risky to even step out onto the porch. My father meant well, but I was certain now he was going to have someone keep tabs on me whenever he wasn’t around. I looked out my window, watching my father’s coach disappear around the corner. There was a lot of guilt and disappointment inside of me; not because of the things I did, but because he was upset with me; because I had been found out.

“Miss Tessa?” one of the maids, Beth, asked as she knocked on my door. “Your dinner is ready; roast, just like how you like it.”

The mere mention of roast made my stomach feel sour. I quickly ran to the restroom to be sick, much to the confusion of the maid. The smell of cooked food was wafting upstairs in the direction of the rest room; my being sick didn’t cease for quite a while. I’d been ill in the morning, but had managed to eat breakfast; lunch was skipped since I was feeling ill then; tea went just as it usually did, but now it appeared I was going to have to skip dinner as well.

“Miss Tessa, are you all right?” Beth inquired. “You’ve been awfully sick these last few weeks...”
“I’ll be okay,” I choked out.
“Would you like me to send for the doctor?”
“No! No, don’t do that.”

The last thing I needed was for a doctor to come pay me a visit and then have a meeting with my father when the sun came up the next day. The biggest problem, other than what was inside of me, was to figure out how to speak to Dutch about it. The next biggest problem was how to tell my father about it.

“How about a light soup, then?” Beth asked.
“No, thank you.”
♞♞♞

My father had said he would be at a meeting until very late, but he didn’t get home until the sun came up. That was incredibly strange; he would never allow meetings to go that long, no matter how important the client was. Even though he had been out all night, he merely took a bath and went back out to deal with other matters about town. It meant he was going to be out cold when night came back around and I would be able to leave for the saloon as usual. That is, if he didn’t have someone watching the house looking out for me.

“Miss Tessa, your father has sent for you,” Beth mentioned, walking over to my armoire.
“Did he say why?” I wondered.
She picked out a dress and motioned to the privacy screen. “Just for a late afternoon walk, ma’am. You’re to meet him at the general store. You have been wearing that dress for a good few days, now. Perhaps we should change you?”

I did bathe, but I had just been putting the same dress back on every time. It laced up in the front rather than the back and so I didn’t need the help to put it on. Now, though, the dress she had chosen I did need help with. I stepped behind the privacy screen to remove the one I was wearing. There was an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach, and it was found out why when Beth tried to lace up the back once the newer dress was on me. Ordinarily, she would have been able to pull it so tightly that it felt like the string might snap. But this time around, the string only felt taut.

“Oh, Miss Tessa, I’m sorry, please don’t think ill of me, but I think you may have put on some weight,” Beth agonized as she finished tying the dress up.
“I have, haven’t I?”
“Forgive my questioning, ma’am, but does this have anything to do with your being ill?”

The shoulders were tight, as was the waist. One wrong move and the seam would tear, I was sure of it. I turned to look at her. If I told her, then there was a chance that she would tell my father. She wasn’t a fool, exactly; maybe she could figure it out on her own. Without answering her, I picked up the parasol my father bought for me and left to go join him. Hopefully he wouldn’t notice that I had gained some weight; he hadn’t noticed the day before because he was so upset with me. As I rounded the corner to meet with my father, Father O’Malley and I nearly bumped into each other. He was the last person I wanted to see until I could understand what I should do with my situation.

“Good day, Father O’Malley,” I said.
“Good afternoon, Miss Locke,” he replied, eyeing me closely. “Keeping out of trouble, I hope?”
“Always.”
“We will see you and your father at church as usual?”
“Yes, sir. I can’t keep Daddy waiting.”

I finished my walk to the general store. By the time I arrived, I was feeling ill again. This time I wasn’t sure if it was from the hot sun or from what was inside of me. I couldn’t even fathom saying the word, much less think it. Upon seeing me, my father frowned.

“Are you unwell?” he asked, concerned. “Should we instead return home?”
“It’s nothing that I can’t handle,” I assured him. “It may just be you who should return. You’ve not slept.”
“All is well, Tessie.”

We continued on to walk around the town. It wasn’t unusual for us to walk around together; it was just not often we got to do it. Sometimes my father went away on trips to other cities or towns, and he had once travelled to London. He hadn’t done many long trips in recent years, due to the fact he was looking for a man to marry me. The only thing that reminded me that he had ever sailed across to England was the parasol; he had purchased it from a finery shop before coming home. Most things he brought back for me from trips he took were fine jewellery.

“Daddy?” I mumbled.
“What is it? Is something the matter?”
“I lied to Father O’Malley.”

He sighed. Did he think perhaps it would have been better to just let the situation be rather than confront me about it? My father must have realized I would not have told him what was going on, at least not on my own. If I kept it to myself, then there may have been a point when someone from my father’s client list found me and dragged me back home to force me to tell the truth. I would rather be confronted and spared that particular shame. It was shameful enough that I had disappointed him.

“Well, just pray at church,” he told me. “Pray best you can and I am sure that the Lord will forgive you.”
“It’s not the Lord I am afraid of,” I admitted. “Just from this...I can’t be condemned to hell, can I?”
“In my eyes? No. But I can’t tell you how the Lord sees you, darling.”

We wandered by a house, where the kitchen window was open. Whomever was inside was cooking, and it made my stomach, once again, sour. I covered my mouth and scurried to the nearest bush or ditch I could find to be sick. Hopefully my father would contribute it to the sun and not connect it with what happened. He didn’t seem to suspect anything when I wandered back over to him.

“Tessie, your sleeve,” he despaired.

I looked at the shoulder he was looking at and realized the seam had come apart. Just holding my hair back had been enough to tear it? Just what I had been afraid of. I looked at him, scrunching my eyebrows together. That really was concerning. He grabbed my hand and took me home, immediately ordering Beth to make me a bath and another maid to fix the dress.

“Mister Cornelius, Miss Tessa has been ill for quite a while,” Beth mentioned.
“Beg pardon?” my father asked, turning to look at me.
“I’m alright,” I replied, pretending to be confused.
“Now, Beth, there will be no slander here.”
It looked like Beth was about to argue, but instead she nodded. “Yes, sir. Come, Miss Tessa. Will you need any help today?”
“No,” I quickly said.

I left my dress out for the other maid to fix and allowed myself to sit in the bath for a long time. I’d lied to Father O’Malley, I’d lied to my own father, and I had made Beth look horrible. There was no reason to be confused, but I was confused. I wasn’t going to lament and wonder how it happened -- I knew how it happened and I knew why it happened.

“Tessie?” my father asked from the other side of the door.
“Yes?” I called back.
“Are you sure you’re alright? You’ve been in there an awfully long time.”
“I’m thinking things over. I’ll...I’ll be done soon.”
“Will you be joining me for dinner?”

I had to get out of sitting at the table with him. I didn’t know what Beth and the other maids were making for dinner, but I couldn’t risk my father seeing that I was ill just by being near food. Not everything made me sick; there was just no reason for me to try and hold back being sick. My father would definitely connect the circumstances together.

“Actually, I bumped into Joanna on my way to see you,” I stammered. “She would like me to accompany her elsewhere for dinner.”
“Ah.” I heard him sigh. “Alright, then. I will be in my study if you need anything.”

I waited until I heard his study door close before getting out of the bath. I wandered back to my bedroom and went through my armoire to find another dress I could lace up myself. The clock on my wall indicated it was two hours too early to leave; the sun wouldn’t be setting for another hour and a half, yet. I sat at my window and picked up the needlepoint I had been working on. Hopefully by the time it was time to leave, it would be finished.

But then it did dawn on me. Perhaps it wasn’t a bright idea to stick around and kill time. I put on my riding boots, held the needlepoint to my side, picked up my money pouch, and headed out. I called up to my father that I was leaving before closing the front door. The stables weren’t too far from the house and I soon found myself stroking my horse’s mane.

“Good evening, Miss Tess,” the stable owner said. “Taking Maple out for a ride?”
“Yes. I’m not sure when I will be returning her, though.”
“Stable’s always open.”

I placed my money pouch and needlepoint into the saddlebag before climbing up and going on my way. At least now that I was leaving earlier than usual, I didn’t have to tell Maple to run. My father brought her back for me from a trip to Kentucky. She was a gorgeous Rocky Mountain; it wasn’t a surprise to me that she had almost been stolen on several different occasions. It was always when I was away from her; there had been a few times the stable owner told me that someone had tried to take Maple as their own. According to him, a few punches here and there got the point across that no one could just have her.

Now, when I got to the town and set up to hitch Maple up, the man who owned the stable for the town sidled on up to me. I’d stopped going to the stables to leave her there since he kept wanting to buy her off of me and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. If he wanted a Rocky Mountain so badly, he could go to Kentucky on his own.

“Evenin’, Miss Locke,” he said, rocking back and forth on his feet.
“Good evening,” I replied, hitching Maple up.
“Have you reconsidered sellin’ her to me?”
“No. No, I have not. Look, I understand. She’s beautiful, but she’s mine. My daddy bought her for me. Besides, how would I get home without a horse?”
“I could offer you another horse!”
I blinked at him. “No, thank you.”

I took my money pouch and needlepoint out of the saddlebag and wandered over to the saloon. As I usually did, I sat at the bar. Without even asking what I wanted, the man behind the counter poured me my usual -- just a glass of whiskey. I never drank enough to finish the whole glass, but it was all I ever got. The place was just getting busy and I decided to immerse myself in needlepoint. It was going to get loud, so I wanted to get as much done as I could before I had to talk to the barkeep until Dutch arrived.

It didn’t take long for the place to become loud with people having a good time and the saloon girls doing what they did best. When the barkeep wasn’t busy, we spoke; when he needed to serve, I waited for him to come back. There were bouts when we could talk for a long time and there were bouts when we could only talk for a short time. It was during one of the long bouts that I caught a glimpse of the clock and realized that Dutch was late. He came on time every other time we would meet. If it was someone else, I probably wouldn’t have been so worried. It was a good thirty minutes before I was able to sigh with relief when he came through the doors.

“I thought you weren’t going to show up,” I admitted sheepishly when he walked over to me.
“There was someone I needed to talk to,” he replied. “That your horse hitched up outside?”
“Yes... Why, is she okay?”
“Well, she is now.”
“Did someone just try to steal her again?”
Tried. You’ve had a look about you since I walked in and I know it’s got nothing to do with me being late.”
I chuckled nervously. “It’s, um...”
“Should I go first, then?”

He drank the last of my whiskey; thinking back on it now, I probably should have drank the whole thing. They didn’t call it liquid courage for nothing and I was lacking on it. I didn’t realize just how scared I was about the whole situation until Dutch started talking to me. But he had to say something, too; maybe what he needed to say would lessen the lack of courage I had.

“Go ahead.” I grasped onto my needlepoint. “I’m listening.”
“So something funny happened last night,” he began. “This guy... His body language and clothes gave him away as someone quite wealthy.”

Oh, no. No, I knew where this was going.

“Came up to me, all friendly,” Dutch continued. “Just like two people who are old friends do. He was full of himself, really; almost like he thought I should know who the hell he is.”

He stopped talking. There was a small silence between us before I realized what he was inadvertently asking for.

“Cornelius Locke?” I choked out.
“Exactly.” He pat my shoulder gently. “I was gonna rob him...”

I went rigid.

“...but then he pulled out a money clip, so I didn’t have to,” he finished.
“A money clip?”

Dutch took out the aforementioned money clip. It certainly was my father’s; it had his name engraved on it and even the family crest. There must have been a couple hundred dollars in that clip. I wasn’t sure what he wanted me to do with that information. It was a moment before he returned it to his pocket; he already knew I wasn’t going to ask for it back, anyway.

“Someone told him about us,” I whispered. “He...um...knows a lot...”
“Of course he does.”
“Did he say anything else?”
“The money is a bribe, Evie.”
“Ah. Oh. That’s... Well... Um... Well...”

My father wasn’t one for throwing money around unless he really needed to; and of course he felt like he needed to throw money away to bribe someone.

“Apologies, but what is it for?” I wondered.
“He said to keep away from you,” Dutch explained. “He doesn’t sound like he’s from ’round here.”
“Daddy spent half of his life in England, and so he adopted the accent.”
“Now, I’ve got something else that needs saying, but whatever you need to say, just say it.”
“I’ve...er...been getting sick and my dresses are getting...tighter...”
“Alright, then.”
“Dutch, I’m preg--”
“I already said 'alright'. I know what you are, Evie.”

He kept calling me Evie because I’d told him I hated being called Tessa, Tess, or even Tessie. It made me feel like anyone who said it was calling for a cow or a horse. It was a pretty name, but just not to my liking. Anyone who had taken to calling me Evie was taking it from Evangeline. If I went by Evie, too, it may have been harder to keep track of me. My last name would be recognizable no matter what, though; nothing much I could do there.

“I came to ask you something, so maybe your answer will be easier,” Dutch continued. “You can come back with me or you can stay with your father.”
It took me a moment to realize what he had said. “That’s not...exactly asking.”
“It makes sense now given your current situation what your answer should be. It’s unusual for me to keep leaving where we’re set up, so Hosea was getting suspicious.”
He’d talked about that man before, so I had a slight idea of who he was. “Does he know?”
“He’s the one who told me to ask you. Not a bad idea, if you think about it.”
“Dutch--”
“Don’t gotta be tonight, but it should be tomorrow night. We can stay and you can go home in the morning.”

Chapter Text

I arrived home in the morning just before my father would be getting up to get ready for church. That gave me just enough time to clean myself up, get dressed, and be downstairs waiting for him. I also arrived home before the maids could come to my room and see if I was decent. With any luck, I would be able to stomach the food that was being made for breakfast. Other than being pregnant, I was rather nervous; it was going to be the last day I saw my father, either for the last time or for a very long time. If I told him I was leaving, he would do anything he could to keep me from doing so; if I didn’t tell him, he would look for me, certainly. There was no easy way to say “goodbye” to him. Also, even though I was leaving, I had to act as if it was just any other regular Sunday.

“Are you well to eat this morning, Miss Tessa?” Beth wondered.
“Maybe,” I replied, sitting at the dining room table. “I’m unsure right now.”
“Would you like to begin with tea?”
“I think that would be best... Father is late.”
“Mister Cornelius left early this morning. He said he should be back around this time.”

I felt even more nervous; what if he had seen me ride into town? It was unlike him to leave earlier on Sunday; he never left the house to go anywhere else other than church first thing. What if he had seen me? Would he have gone to Father O’Malley on his own? As I was thinking of the possibilities of what he was up to, he strolled into the dining room with a young man behind him. It took me a moment to stand to greet them both.

“Good morning,” I choked out, recovering from the agonizing.
“Did you sleep well?” my father asked.
“Yes. Um... Hello...”
“Oh, yes.” He stepped aside so I could see the young man better. “This is Declan O’Malley.”
“Nice to meet you. Wait, erm...O’Malley?”
“The priest at your church is my grandfather,” the young man replied.

I looked at my father and then at Beth; she looked just as cautious as I felt. Of course I knew why he was here. After telling my father that those rich men were boring, he must have gone and asked Father O’Malley what he should do. I didn’t even know he had a grandson; I just knew that his children were all grown up and lived elsewhere now that they were grown. If I wasn’t interested in rich men who scoffed at the idea of an adventurous woman and my father didn’t approve of an outlaw, then who else would I be interested in? From my understanding, Father O’Malley’s two children grew to become a pastor and a nurse. Unless Declan was the nurse’s son and took her maiden name, I knew he was the pastor’s son.

“I see,” I murmured, and then cleared my throat gently. “Will you be joining us for breakfast?”
“Your father insisted rather strongly,” Declan admitted. “I am also to accompany you to church.”

I sat back down with a quiet sigh. A pastor’s grandson and a pastor’s son. My father must have been very desperate to marry me off to someone, anyone, who wasn’t like Dutch. But he knew just how far I was; did he think marrying into a family like Father O’Malley’s would save me from damnation? I shuddered at the thought.

“May I ask what you do?” I rested my hands in my lap and looked at Declan.
“Beg your pardon?” he replied.
“Daddy is an accountant. Your grandfather is the pastor.”
“I am training to become a pastor, myself.”

I didn’t know what was worse -- a pastor’s wife or a rich man’s wife. At least if I married rich I would be referred to by name in conversation, whereas if I married a pastor I would only ever be called “the pastor’s wife”. I didn’t even know Pastor O’Malley’s wife’s name until she passed away. Ordinarily, pastor’s lived rather small and thought small. They weren’t quite like nuns, wherein they would rid themselves of earthly possessions and deny themselves of things like marriage and physical temptations. Pastor’s just didn’t have many things to their name, was all. Marrying Declan would mean I would have to leave many of the things my father bought for me behind.

“Oh...” I gasped quietly.
“Is something the matter?” Declan asked.

I smiled and shook my head, though something was wrong -- I never asked Dutch what I could bring or if I was able to bring anything. Most of the items by father bought for me were jewellery, so that wasn’t too difficult to take with me, right? The hardest thing to take may have been Maple. But there was no way I could leave Maple behind. I knew there was a possibility I could make off with more things with Dutch than if I married a pastor’s son.

“Cornelius mentioned that you are in the market for a husband,” Declan mentioned.
“I am?” I wondered. “Oh. Yes, erm... Yes.”
“As it so happens, my parents wish for me to marry as well. They sent me here to observe my grandfather, so imagine my surprise when I was told the prettiest girl had not married yet.”
I knew he was talking about me, but I didn’t want him to be talking about me. “Oh, did Joanna leave for a trip? Maybe that’s why she asked me for dinner last night.”

My father put his face in his hands in shock and Declan just looked at me like I was a complete and utter moron. Joanna was set to be married in the fall, but I just wanted to seem too oblivious to be a pastor’s wife. Of course, that would backfire on me eventually once my father mentioned how smart I was. Well, he couldn’t quite do that now, could he?

“I’m so very sorry,” he agonized, looking at Declan. “She usually is very brilliant; it’s just she recently had her heart broken.”
“Oh, I see.” Declan waited for Beth to finish pouring tea for him. “Sorry to hear that.”
“What?” I looked at my father.

We looked at each other for a moment. My father wasn’t one to lie. I followed him into the parlour, leaving Declan at the dining room table, where he explained himself.

“Why are you suddenly lying?” I whispered.
“I am not,” he whispered back, sounding confused.
“Daddy, I saw Dutch last night, and he told me what you did and showed me what you gave him.”
He was quiet for a minute or two. “He was meant to send you a letter, and to stay away from you.”

My father shook his head and headed back into the dining room. I joined him after a moment of trying to not have a fit. I could see that Declan was confused about what had just happened, but neither my father nor myself addressed it.

“You’re the pretty one I am talking about, Tessa,” Declan said.
“Please call me Evie.” I took a sip of my tea.
“Well, maybe if we get married, a husband can call his wife whatever he pleases. I will still call you Tessa, because that is your name.”
“Maybe I just won’t come or reply to you when you call me that, then.”
“Darling, please, be kind,” my father begged.
“Your father says you are tempted by adventure,” Declan continued. “That would have to stop, of course.”
“Absolutely not,” I quickly retorted before looking at my father. “Daddy, this is the same as the other suitors I met. Expecting me to stay home and be nothing but a child bearer, it seems. You taught me how to ride a horse, how to shoot a crossbow and a gun; taught me to read and imagine; and for what? To forget everything just to sit at a window or in the front aisle at church?” I stood with a sharp sigh. “Such a waste of time.”

I stormed out of the dining room; it was barely a few seconds before I heard my father apologizing to Declan and running to come stop me from walking up the stairs. He was calling for desperate measures, but it wasn’t desperate times. Well, not for me, at least. We had the conversation of him losing me many times -- he’d lost my mother to adventure, and he didn’t want to lose me to it, either. My thoughts were ordinarily that he should have thought of it before teaching me the things he had. I never expressed those thoughts, of course. He grabbed my wrist before I could go to my bedroom.

“Tessie, darling, those stories that man tells you will only lead to trouble,” he said, his eyes pleading with me. “Those adventures you want to be part of will surely get you killed. Please. Please, let him and those stories go.”
“No,” I choked out. “Not when we have gone as far as we have. I cannot do that.”
“Tess--”
“I don’t believe I am asking for too much from a future husband, Father. Why is it unnatural for a lady to wish not to be cooped inside a house? You could not stop Mama from leaving and chasing her dream, so why would you try to do it with me?”
“Tessie...”
“You never should have bothered to teach me all those wonderful things if you were just planning on taking them from me.”

I ripped myself out of my father’s grip and ran upstairs. What I had said to him about my mother was cruel, but true in a sense. I could tell people and myself how little I remembered of the day she ran away with someone else to seek the adventure she wished for. But that would be a lie, itself. I remembered it clearly.

It was a warm summer’s day, in the afternoon. She and I were walking alone through the town while my father was in a meeting at our home. Her auburn hair was pulled back into a braid and her blue eyes almost shone from the sunlight. She was happy, as was I. Her voice was soft while she spoke to me about the adventures she had before me and the ones she dreamed of after me. She’d grown up for a while in a town that was surrounded by adventure -- and it had made her want to join in. For a while, a few years or so, she did manage to join in.

But she met my father and they fell in love. Somehow, he convinced her to marry him rather than continue on the adventures she had always wanted. It didn’t take long for me to show up. Eventually, though... Eventually...she yearned to return to that life. I remember seeing it in her eyes while we walked those streets, as she spoke, as she laughed, as she told me she would always love me no matter what happened. There was a sadness that I never completely understood, not until I grew up at least.

We returned to our home, where she opened the door for me to enter, but she wouldn’t come in after me. I stood there, confused, while she looked up at the house. A man arrived and asked if she was ready to go -- he held her gently, which only made my confusion worsen. He let her go so she could come to me; she crouched in front of me, her blue eyes filling with tears. She took the necklace, a locket, she always wore and put it around my neck, mentioning that no matter where she was she would always be with me. It was time for a new adventure in her life, she said, handing me a piece of parchment.

She kissed my forehead, hugged me, and then went on her way. My father found me standing in the doorway; I was still so confused, but scared, too, because my mother had just left me alone. The parchment my mother had given me was meant for him. Upon reading it, he discovered that he had known the man she ran off with. He’d been sweet on my mother from before my parents met each other. Because I was so young, for the longest time I didn’t fully comprehend why she didn’t come home. It wasn’t until after my father taught me those things that I realized why she had left.

I sat in my bedroom until I heard the front door shut. Looking out the window, I saw that Declan and my father were walking toward the church. I was still going to go, but not with them. I waited a few minutes before heading out on my own. At the church, I sat in the very back as the service began. I paid very little attention to Father O’Malley talking; I only knew it was time to stand or pray by everyone else doing it. Most of the people in the church I grew up with or grew up knowing. If I did marry Declan, and I wasn’t going to, my life was going to consist of birthing children, needlepoint, cooking, cleaning, and sitting at the front during church. Why would I want to live that kind of life? With my being pregnant, as it stood, there was no helping sitting around and doing needlepoint. But perhaps, until I got too big to do anything, I could do as I pleased.

It was halfway through Father O’Malley’s sermon did my father realize I was in church. He slowly got up from where he was sitting with Declan and wandered over to me. I moved over so he could sit, but neither of us said anything. He just held my hand. Even if I was upset with him, he was my father and he wasn’t a bad man, and I certainly was going to miss him. I squeezed his hand gently.

“Tessie, I’m sorry,” he whispered.
“Don’t be,” I whispered back.
“It is not about the argument.”

I looked at him, worried. What was he going to tell me this time? There was a pitiful feeling in my stomach. He himself looked sad and worried.

“At Father O’Malley’s insistence, I’m giving you away to Declan,” he said, so quiet that I almost didn’t hear what he said.

I was going to vomit, but this time it wasn’t going to be because I was with child. Of course I was angry, but my father was stressed with work -- clients, meetings, travelling -- and now with my “infatuation” with adventure getting out of control. I would take any of the suitors over Father O’Malley’s grandson if it weren’t for Dutch.

“Please excuse me,” I choked out. “I believe I am going to be sick and I would rather not do it here.”
“Do you need me to come with you?”
“No, I do not.”

I did the cross on my chest before exiting the church and wandering around to find something to vomit into. Eventually I found an empty water barrel and leaned against it. The heat of the church and now the sun was starting to take its toll. I was nervous, scared, angry, hot, and pregnant, and I still wasn’t vomiting how I wanted to. I just wanted to rid myself of the feeling of needing to.

“Well, don’t you look pretty, Evie.”

I went rigid and looked behind me.

“This town ain’t too bad,” Dutch mentioned. “There’s nothing here to do, though.”
“Why are you here?” I droned. “You’re going to be seen by somebody, and that somebody might know who you are. Best case, they just tell Daddy that I’m talking to someone.”
“Easy; I’m just scoping. No harm done. You don’t look well.”
“I’ve been committed to the pastor’s grandson.”
“Oh, have you now?”

Dutch grabbed me from behind, causing me to squeal. Even if the people at church now wouldn’t be out for another while, there were still maids and other servants who would be able to merely glance out a window and see us talking to each other.

“You’re not taking back your answer, are you?” Dutch asked.
“No,” I sighed. “No, I am not.”
“Good.”

He was just leaning forward when I had to shove him away so I could finally be sick in the barrel. If I didn’t eat something soon, it wasn’t going to end well. Skipping out on so many meals wasn’t good and it most certainly wasn’t making me feel good.

“Sorry,” I huffed.
“That’s life, right there,” Dutch told me.
“I beg your pardon?”
“You’ve got life growing inside of you.”
“Well, that’s...true, I suppose.”
“What time does the supposedly great Cornelius Locke leave?”
“Usually eight PM.”
“That house over there is yours?”
“Mm...”
“Place is the only thing in this town worth stealing from.”
“Dutch, I don’t want to dictate what you do and don’t do in regards to robbing, but please don’t rob my house.”
♞♞♞

“You’ve not said a word since we came home,” my father noted.

I was upset with him; what could I say to him that would make him understand? There was no particular reason to act irrationally since I knew I wasn’t going to be with Declan, but my father himself didn’t know that. Did I want to say something to him? Of course I did. I needed to tell him “goodbye” somehow, without actually saying it. I’d wanted to just spend the day with him, just the two of us after church, but he had invited Declan out riding with us. According to him, he only ever rode about in a horse drawn carriage, not a horse himself. If a lady could get up onto a horse with no issues, then he could, too.

No, he had so much trouble getting up onto the horse my father picked out for him. I couldn’t help myself giggling at this grown man struggling to just get his foot into the stirrup. I really began laughing when he finally got up on the horse and immediately fell off, his foot then getting stuck in the stirrup. I was shushed several times by my father while he helped Declan get properly situated, but it didn’t work. The pastor knew how to ride a horse and he spoke about how he had taught his children to ride horses, too; so had Declan just not been taught or was it something else? None of us spoke of it while we went riding.

What we did speak of is when he got thrown from his horse. In his defence, it wasn’t his fault. His horse had gotten spooked by a group of men who had rode much too close for her liking. My father’s horse also became spooked, but knew well enough not to throw him. Maple was scared, too, of course, but she only shook her head while I tried to calm her down. I really couldn’t stop laughing. It was rude of me to do so, but he had been rude to me. Yes, he could have gotten hurt, but his pride was hurt more than his back.

“Next time lean forward and try to relax her,” I said as he was helped back onto the horse.
“Maybe it shouldn’t have thrown me,” he retorted.
“Maybe you just need to learn how to treat a lady right. A horse is as good as its rider. Though, I think in this situation it might not be the case and the horse just so happens to be better than its rider.”

I was almost certain that Declan would be spending the night in the guest room, but as luck would have it, no, he would be returning to his grandfather’s house. I looked at my father, setting the needlepoint down into my lap with a sigh.

“What is there to say?” I asked. “You cannot take care of me when I am ill, so you wish to give me away to someone I don’t even know?”
“I do not wish it, Tessie.” He sounded upset. “But, as I said yesterday, someone needs to care for you when I am gone.”
“It doesn’t have to be Declan O’Malley. What he wants me to be is not taking care of me. And don’t be so dramatic, Daddy, you’re still so young.”

That was the truth. My mother and father were both seventeen when I came along. I was sure he had many years left, but he was making it sound like he was going to die the next day. He was just trying to scare me into an unwanted marriage so he had some sort of piece of mind about who I was with. The pastor’s grandson was better than an outlaw, right?

“Don’t you want to go to Ireland?” my father wondered.
“I will not travel to another country with someone I do not like,” I quickly snapped. “Speaking of marriage plans when we are not married...”
“Declan just wants to see his homeland. Why not go with his wife?”
“Because I am not his wife and if he wants to see Ireland so badly, then maybe he should just go himself. He would see his homeland by himself, anyway; I would only just be cooped up in the townhouse.”

My father owned a townhouse in Dublin that I was sure he would let us use. He hadn’t been there in years, but he still had it and had people working there to keep it clean and in working order. I had gone once with him as a little girl on a business trip with him, just after my mother had left. It was an incredibly important meeting and he couldn’t just cancel it. I wasn’t impressed then and I most certainly would not be impressed again.

“You are also very ill, it seems,” my father said. “You did not eat today, barely anything yesterday... And now you are getting sick? I believe I owe Beth an apology. The stress of travelling to that...that town must take its toll on you.”
“Or perhaps it is stress,” I offered, returning to my needlepoint. You began introducing suitors to me multiple times in one day and now with this talk of marrying Declan?”
“I... Yes, perhaps it does have something to do with that...”

The sickness during church was due to stress; everything else was because I was pregnant. Either my father truly had not connected everything together or he did know and was just waiting for me to tell him. If I told him now, though, he really would take me to Father O’Malley and make me confess to my sins. And it was going to be after Father O’Malley caught up with me after church to speak with me; he called me a genuine Child of God -- not only did I keep out of trouble, but I regularly attended church, obeyed my father, and now I was going to supposedly marry his grandson. That statement would be retracted quickly.

“You did not eat breakfast and you only had a bite of lunch,” my father murmured. “Would you at least join me for dinner?”
“Yes,” I sighed.
“Perhaps you should also rest early tonight.”
“Maybe.”

Dinner was almost impossible to get through. The only thing that distracted me from the feeling of being sick was my father’s company. He was trying to do the best he could with me, but to no avail. I often wondered why he never remarried. I thought perhaps he had loved my mother too much to do so, or he didn’t think that I would take kindly to another woman; but now I realized he never remarried because he was so busy with work and trying to deal with me. We did have maids when I was a child, just not as many as we did now. He needed to employ more for when his workload became too heavy.

“I apologize for everything, Tessie,” he said quietly. “But you must know I am thinking of your well-being.”
“I know you are thinking of it,” I agreed.
“Hopefully once you are married, you will forget those ideas that you wish to pursue.”

Unlikely.

“That does not make me agree anymore than before,” I stated. “If anything, it makes me agree even less.”
“Tessa--”
“I know you worry and I know you want me to be taken care of. But I would like to be happy and free.”
“There is no talking to you about this, is there? I realize that there is adventure in your blood, darling; I do. Perhaps I did wrong by you and stoked the fire by teaching you the things I did and perhaps...perhaps it is my fault you are this way.”
“Forcing me into a marriage to someone I don’t know or like where I would only be in the house and at the front of the church would make me unhappy. The last thing I want is to hurt you, but...what is the point of having a well-educated daughter if she is only going to be made into a wife for a man who scoffs at the idea that she can even read?”
“Most high class women are educated, darling.”
“Most don’t know how to shoot a gun or a crossbow. I enjoy the privileges that I have been dealt and I appreciate them, but there are some I do not enjoy -- like you choosing a husband for me. I am perfectly capable of doing so on my own.”
“Tessa, need I remind you why you are in the position you are in with Declan? If it weren’t for him, I would still be sending suitors your way and not handing you off to--”
“I would sooner sleep with another woman before marrying Father O’Malley’s grandson.”

My father nearly choked on what he was eating. After calming himself down, he looked at me, his eyes wide. One hand rested on his chest over his heart, and the other rested in his lap. I was now wishing that my father’s horse would have thrown him when he had gotten spooked.

“Tessa Evangeline Locke, what has gotten into you?” he demanded.
“You know what’s gotten into me, Father -- it’s the other thing you want to get into me,” I muttered.
“Tessa!”
“It is not difficult to understand, is it?”
“You are not a parent. When you are one, you will understand.”

I remained quiet and looked down at my lap. My mother clearly left me behind because she must have thought “that life” wasn’t one for a child. But what loving and doting mother did that? She loved adventure and freedom more than she loved me. That was something I could understand. Would my answer have been “no” if I wasn’t pregnant? I sighed and picked at the food in front of me.

“Daddy, I’m--” I began, but stopped. “Never mind...”

I almost had just told him I was with child; that would only make our conversation worse. It may have even killed him. It was better to just keep it to myself. He finally calmed down and returned to his food. If he was waiting for me to apologize, I was not going to. I refused to, considering I had meant what I said. Word would get around that Miss Tessa Evangeline Locke slept with a woman and then Father O’Malley wouldn’t even want me in the family and he would be sure to tell me I was forever condemned to hell. My father’s reputation would also be ruined.

“What is it?” my father asked.
“I am sorry for disappointing you, but I just cannot--”
“That’s enough.” He let out a loud sigh. “Enough.”
“Father, I love you, but--”
“I said enough, Tessa. You will marry Declan and you will do so quietly. I will not have you...running about the wilderness with people who do not understand the concept of hygiene.”
“Just that? Hygiene?”
“No, Tessa, that is not just it. They are outlaws for a reason.”
“Dutch could have robbed you, but he didn’t.”
“That does not help the case. As I said earlier, those stories of his will get you killed.”

I excused myself to go to my bedroom. This was not how I wanted to say “goodbye”. But it was my fault it was going that way -- I wanted to make it seem like it was just another normal day. If I dared tell him I was leaving, there was definitely going to be more issues. I’d be committed to an asylum, possibly, and they’d be told not to let me go no matter what I said because there was absolutely no sense in my brain. And the child... That would be taken away and I’d never see it again, or at all. I could possibly see my father again, but not Dutch. My father was so disapproving at this point that he would rather see me locked up than seek adventure.

I didn’t let him come in when he came to say “goodbye” to me; he was off to a meeting. When he left, I peaked out the corner of my curtains and watched his coach disappear. The maids would be settling in for the evening soon as well. I wandered downstairs to sit on the front porch and wait. Dutch couldn’t come calling like anyone else could and I knew that the maids in the house sometimes went to the town I went to to purchase my father’s ink, so there was a chance that they would know who he was.

It was thirty minutes after my father left that Dutch showed up. He was looking around the corner of the house. I shook my head and wandered over to the banister when he looked away.

“What are you doing?” I asked, leaning against the banister.
“Making sure it’s you and not someone else,” he replied.
“Are you coming inside?”

He came around to the front so I could lead him into the house. There were things just in the front hall that were worth stealing. The maids would notice right away if anything was missing. We were just about to head up the stairs when Beth came out of the kitchen. Luckily, she was looking down at a pad of paper that had her daily chores written on it. She must have heard me come back inside.

“Miss Tessa, I’m about to finish up for the night,” she said, looking up at me. “Do you need anything before I do?”
I stood against the closed parlour doors, shaking my head. “No, no, I will be fine. Thank you, Beth.”
“Alright; goodnight, Miss Tessa.”

I held my breath as she went back into the kitchen. Her looking down at the pad of paper had given me just enough time to hide Dutch in the parlour. I turned around and opened the doors just as he was putting something in his waistcoat’s pocket.

“Anything else?” I asked.

He picked up one of my father’s bourbon bottles and then followed me back out into the front hall. I took him up to my bedroom, where he immediately looked at my travelling trunk.

“That can’t come,” he said, gesturing to it.
“Oh,” I mumbled.
“What made you think it could?”
“I don’t...know...really.”
“Do you have a smaller one?”

The small travelling trunk I did have was meant for short trips only to other towns. I took it out from underneath my bed and set it on top of the bigger trunk. Dutch shrugged.

“You don’t need much,” he said as I opened my armoire.
“It’s not as if I will be able to fit into most of these much longer.” I grabbed the dresses that tied up in the front and folded them into the trunk along with underthings. “You can go through my jewellery over there.”

I had enough jewellery that my father had to get a special case made for all of it. There were separate compartments for the rings, necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. The jewellery I usually wore consisted of one ring on each of my ring fingers and one on my left index finger, my mother’s locket, and sapphire earrings. I rarely switched out the jewellery I wore.

“When you said you had a lot, I was expecting a lot,” he admitted, opening the case.
I looked at him. “Is that not a lot?”
“Not even sure if there’s a word for how much is here. Come here.”

I wandered over, picking up a smaller jewellery case as I did so. It was big enough that a decent amount of jewellery could fit in it, but small enough that it would be able to fit inside the travelling trunk. I didn’t want to intrude into a camp of nineteen people and not contribute anything for them especially since I had all these things I didn’t use or couldn’t use anymore. I also didn’t want to show up with nothing of monetary value -- I was leaving the money behind, after all.

“Not those,” I quickly said when Dutch pulled out diamond earrings. “They were my mother’s.”
“Anything else that belonged to her?” he asked, not sounding as annoyed as I expected him to be.
“Just the necklace I’m wearing. Anything else in there is fine...”

He looked through the jewellery I had, purposely picking out the things with the best value. Much of it I didn’t like in the first place. It didn’t take long for Dutch to finish filling up the jewellery case. There was still so much left in the compartments. I placed it in the trunk and placed my needlepoint in the sleeve of it. Dutch was looking around when I went over to my window and opened the seat up. It was where I kept my crossbow and arrows. I kept it close at hand because it was made special just for when my father taught me how to use it. Attached to it was a strap so I could carry it on my back.

“This is okay to bring, right?” I wondered.
“Should be,” Dutch replied. “You know how to use it?”
“Very funny. I can bring Maple?”
“Your horse? Sure. Now do you have a winter jacket? It’s awful cold where we’re set up.”
“I do not.”
“It’s almost a day’s trip. You’ll just have to find someplace to get one.”
“I’ve never had a reason until now to need one and there’s nowhere in this town to buy winter clothes since it doesn’t get cold enough.”

I shut the trunk and picked it up. It was light enough that Maple would be okay to carry it even when I was on her back. The only person who was going to know I was leaving was the stable owner and he would be the first person my father would go see once he realized I wasn’t around anymore. I never left town without Maple, ever. I led him back downstairs to the porch, where he took the trunk from me.

“I could put it on Maple,” I mentioned quietly.
“I have it,” he assured me. “Don’t worry. Just go get your horse and meet me outside the town.”

Chapter Text

“Good afternoon, ma’am.”

I looked at the old man standing behind the counter of the pawn shop when he called out to me. I stuck out like a sore thumb by how I was dressed. There was snow on the ground outside so deep that even Maple had trouble trampling through it; she had never seen snow in her life and neither have I. We both just needed to get our bearings and then we would be fine. I was even carrying the small jewellery case to pawn off some of the jewellery. Dutch couldn’t do it himself, not just because he was known around the parts we were travelling through but because the case was full of jewellery that no one would believe were his.

“Good afternoon,” I huffed, walking to the counter.
“It’s freezing out,” he stated, matter-of-factly. “You need to put some proper clothes on or you’ll catch your death!”
“Oh, I’m not from around here.”

I’d taken the liberty of faking an English accent like my father’s. It would at least throw shopkeepers off. I’d had to run it by Dutch, just to make sure it was believable.

“From across the sea, eh?” the old man asked. “I see, I see.”
“I did not realize just how much I would be seeing of the country and, well...you see how I am,” I pouted. “Could I sell you some jewellery so I have enough spare money to buy proper clothing, sir?”
“Let’s take a look.”

I set the case on the counter gently, allowing him to open it himself. His eyes went wide. He had truly thought “some” meant “some”. The man inspected the jewellery closely to truly understand how much it was worth. It seemed he was so shocked that he couldn’t really believe his eyes. Looking at the other jewellery he had in the display case, I could see he never had seen anything of true value before.

“You want to get rid of all of it?” he wondered.
“No, not all of it,” I replied. “Perhaps just enough to get a couple hundred dollars.”
“I can do that for you.”

The man had to open a safe to get enough money out. I would have sold all of it had Dutch told me not to. I tucked the jewellery case underneath my arm as the old man placed bills on the counter in front of me to count the amount. In my head, I counted with him. My father taught me once that a pawn broker would sometimes try to count quicker than usual to try and trick someone of the amount they were really getting. But, no, he didn’t; he was an honest old man, it seemed, excited to get his hands on some fine jewellery. If I didn’t know any better, he was going to drop dead from pure excitement. Once he was finished, I thanked him and went on my way.

Dutch was hiding around the side of the building with the horses. Maple really wasn’t taking too kindly to the snow, but she would adapt; her breed was meant to do so. I stroked her mane while Dutch counted how much the old man had given to me. He was impressed, to say the least.

“Think he suspected anything?” he asked, handing some money back to me.
“I don’t think so,” I mumbled.
“Go buy yourself something pretty; just be quick.”

I made my way across the street to the clothes shop. It barely took me any time to find what I needed and what I liked. The lady who ran the shop came out of the back and shrieked when she saw me. I jumped, looking at her like she was a madwoman.

“Young lady, you will catch your death in this weather!” she scolded.
“That’s why I’m here, ma’am,” I told her. “Erm, I will need help getting those boots up there, if you don’t mind.”

She quickly stormed over to the shelves I was standing near and stepped up onto the step stool. The bell to the front door rang; I impulsively looked to see who had come in and froze. It was a woman who had come in, but she wasn’t looking in my direction. I recognized her with no problem. The only problem was that if she saw me, there was going to be hell to pay. The lady who owned the shop stepped down and handed me the boots.

“Shall I help you over at the counter?” she inquired.
“No, ma’am; I’d like to continue looking for a bit, if that’s alright,” I said nervously.

She went and helped the woman who had come in. She was being nit picky about a custom coat she had bought. The shopkeeper was trying to get her out of the store, but to no avail -- the woman wasn’t taking “no” for an answer. Meanwhile, I was pretending to look at different scarves, but was really keeping an eye on the woman. It was ten minutes before she was finally convinced to leave. I let out a sigh of relief and trudged my way up to the counter.

“You bundle up before you leave this place, young lady,” the shopkeeper scolded.
“Oh, but I--” I stammered.
“No, no, I will not have someone leave this shop into the cold. I will wrap the shoes you are wearing while you put everything on.”

I did as I was told and was finally able to leave. I trudged through the snow back to Dutch, who did now look slightly upset. I’d taken too long for his liking, and honestly mine.

“Another minute and I was gonna come in myself,” he admitted. “The hell took so damn long?”
“There was a lady in there who goes to my church.” I strapped my wrapped shoes onto Maple and turned to him. “What was I supposed to do, Dutch? Let her see me? If that happened, she’d ride back to town after seeing me and when Daddy realizes I’m actually gone, she’ll tell him where she saw me last. I had to think on my toes and hiding behind a shelf of scarves was all I could do.”
“Alright, alright; good on you, then. We need to go now, for good.”

I climbed atop Maple and patted her side. She followed The Count when they began riding out. Even if the woman who had come in had initially seen the back of my head if I had already been paying at the counter, there was a chance she would have just recognized me from that. Then of course she would have seen me for good while I put on my new coat and boots. Maple kept pace with Dutch once we got outside the town.

“It’ll be the last time you can afford luxury like that for a very long time,” he mentioned.
“At least I got something pretty,” I replied.
“That you did.”

The ride to the camp took much longer than I expected thanks to the snow. Maple got so tuckered out a few times she couldn’t even gallop. Once she began running again, though, she managed to cover a lot of ground. Her not being able to handle the snow just yet was what I got for only travelling to hot places, even during the winter. Maybe I should have taken her to snow-ridden places through the years that I had her. There wasn’t much I could do about it at this point, but she’d be okay. Hopefully.

Maple stopped just outside the camp, shaking her head. Even when I tried to coax her to keep going, she wouldn’t. I pat the side of her neck with a sigh. This was a horse that didn’t get scared easily and something was scaring her. She’d been fine with rattlesnakes, loud sounds, gunshots... The first time Dutch had come around, she had only been cautious. I was thinking maybe she realized there were more people like him inside and she thought that I was in danger, as well as herself. At least she didn’t try to throw me off and take off in the other direction.

“Get off the horse,” Dutch demanded, getting off of his.
“Beg your pardon?”
“Get off.”

I jumped down into the snow and he immediately smacked Maple, which sent her running in the direction of the camp. Someone, somewhere, shouted about her -- asking where the hell she came from and whose horse it was. I only hoped she wasn’t going to wreak havoc once she realized she’d been forced to go inside. Dutch got back up onto The Count and helped me onto the back of it behind him. Some way into the trees a voice sounded out.

“Some wild beast just came runnin’ in here! Ya best be careful!”
“Always with the jokes, Sean,” Dutch sighed. “Come in.”
“Who’s this?”
“Just come in.”

Inside the camp, Maple was pulling up onto her hind legs and trying to kick anyone who even tried to get close to her. I whistled and she quickly galloped over to where Dutch stopped. She had been blocked from going any further and had felt threatened. It wasn’t like it wasn’t called for; the men who had stopped her looked menacing enough. They were confused, too.

“Finally!” a woman exclaimed. “A new face around here that doesn’t belong to a man.”

I got off the back of The Count and grabbed Maple’s reins. She was going to have to relax sooner or later -- it was going to have to be sooner; taking the carrot I held out for her, she calmed down slightly. I pat the side of her neck while Dutch gathered everyone inside the camp.

“Sprightly thing, ain’t it?” Sean asked. “She yours?”
“Yes. Maple didn’t scare you or anything, did she?”
“Nothin’ I couldn’t handle; gave me a right surprise, is all.”
“Okay, everyone, listen up,” Dutch announced. “This is Evie; she’s one of us now and you treat her as such. She’s not from ’round here, either, so...try to make her feel welcome. And she’s with child, so I don’t want any funny business. If one of you ladies could help her get situated, that’d be a help. Evie, you can hitch Maple over there.”

He grabbed my travelling trunk from The Count’s back and walked off. I gripped Maple’s reins, leading her over to the hitching post. She was used to being in a stable; the most time she had been at a hitching post for was less than ten hours. Hopefully she would be able to adapt to being outside all the time on top of the snow.

“What’s your horses name?”

I looked behind me and down. There was a little boy standing there; he wasn’t scared of her, was he? A horse running into the middle of any place with many people would startle them.

“Her name is Maple,” I replied gently. “What’s yours?”
“I’m Jack.”
“Did you want to come pet her? She won’t hurt you; I promise.”

He wandered over and I picked him up so Maple could at least know what was coming. Jack gently stroked her mane. She was calm for him. I was surprised, really; she had never been around children. I only got her when I was fourteen and there weren’t many children in my town to begin with. Then, I only took her out for riding and never rode her through the town. The only time I had ever been around children was in church.

“Where’s your mother?” I asked as I was putting him back down.
“She’s talking to Uncle Dutch.”
“‘Uncle’?”
“Jack!” a lady was calling. “Jack, where are you?”
“Over here, Mama!” Jack called back, patting Maple’s side.

His mother bolted over to where we were. She looked surprised to just see Jack with Maple behaving calmly. Maple obviously hadn’t had a good introduction to everyone; I couldn’t blame anyone if they wanted to stay away from her, especially a mother and a child.

“Oh,” she huffed. “Hello.”
“Good afternoon,” I said.
“Does Maple like snacks?” Jack wondered.
“Don’t bother her; she needs to get settled,” his mother interjected.
“He’s not being a bother,” I assured her. “Here, Jack.”

I grabbed an apple out of Maple’s saddle bag and handed it over. He took it and reached up so Maple could take it, and then wandered over to his mother.

“Your name is Evie?” she asked. “I’m Abigail.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m sorry for Maple.”
“Don’t worry about it. How far are you? Not that long, it looks like.”
“One month at the least; two at the most.”

Jack walked off to go do something else rather than listen to two ladies talk to each other. Two men then rode in on horses; one of them hitched his horse and went elsewhere immediately and the other one was looking at me curiously from the beginning.

“What’s this?” he asked.
“Evie,” Abigail replied, sounding not too happy all of a sudden. “Dutch brought her in just a few minutes ago.”
“Uh-huh.”
“Be nice to her; she’s pregnant.”
“How much did it cost for Dutch to do that?”
Abigail sighed, exasperated. “Micah, you’re kiddin’ me.”

I looked from Abigail to Micah a few times. What was he asking, exactly? Was he asking the cost to go see me every week or something else? I was quite confused.

“How much do you cost?” Micah asked, looking at me.
“I beg your pardon?” I replied.
“Fancy lady, huh? But are you really a lady?”
“Just ignore him, Evie; come with me,” Abigail groaned.
“It’s a simple question!” Micah complained. “How much did a night cost with you for Dutch to get you pregnant?”

It felt like all the air got knocked out of my body. Did I come across that way? I’d been told from the very beginning there would be all types of people I didn’t regularly come across when I lived with my father.

“I-I’m sorry,” I stammered. “Are you insinuating that I am a prostitute?”
“What else would you be? Oh, are you a pick pocket? That’s not as fun as--”
“I am neither of those things, sir.”
Micah pointed at me and looked at Abigail. “Fancy thing, ain’t she? Well, then, what are--”

Before he could finish speaking, Maple kicked him to the ground with a whinny. For a moment I was shocked it had even happened. She’d never kicked anyone before. Abigail just looked at him while he was groaning on the ground about my “stupid horse”. She grabbed my wrist and dragged me away.

“Do I look like one?” I asked.
“Look like what?” she replied. “A prostitute?”
“Yes.”
She stopped in front of a tent. “If you look like anything, you look rich.”

I gave her a sheepish smile and then looked down at the ground.

“Miss O’Shea came from that kinda life,” Abigail told me. “She didn’t look it, though, at least not while she was with us. She didn’t work like the rest of us, either.”

Micah was hollering about something from the other side of the camp about how if I was rich, why hadn’t I brought anything for the camp? He’d come in after Dutch took my travelling trunk, so I was quite annoyed with him to make such an assumption.

“Is it okay that I’m here?” I whispered.
“What? Why are you whispering?” Abigail sounded confused. “If Dutch wants you here, it’s fine. Others might not be fine, but it’s best if you just ignore ’em. Hello, Miss Grimshaw.”

I turned to see an older woman walking toward us. She stopped in front of us with a sigh and rubbed her gloved hands together.

“Abigail, go find something to do,” she said. “I’ll help Evie.”
“I brought things for the camp,” I told her, panicked.
“Calm down; I know you did. Dutch already told me.” She shook her head. “What can you do?”
“How do you mean?”
“Can you wash dishes? Darn a sock? Wash clothes? Chop vegetables?”

After each question, I shook my head. She looked so disappointed.

“Then what can you do?” she snapped.
“I can hunt and shoot a gun,” I replied slowly. “Dutch has my crossbow.”
“We usually save the hunting for the boys.”
“Miss, uh, um... I’m sorry...”
“Heaven’s sake, get it together! It’s Grimshaw.”
“Miss Grimshaw, I came so I didn’t have to be forced to be a wife. I know that, Dutch knows that, and I suppose my father will learn that, too.”
“You can’t be out hunting when you get huge.”
“I am not huge yet. Now, I would happily do all those other things when that time comes, but that time is not now, is it?”
“Well...I suppose not. Alright, fine. Just...get yourself comfortable first. Make yourself familiar with the camp; you’ll be sharing Dutch’s tent.”

She swatted the air as if to tell me “never mind”, turned, and walked away. I was confused as to what she meant by familiarize myself with the camp. From where I was standing, I could see the campfire, other tents, the area where meat was prepared, and where the horses were hitched. Unless she meant formally introduce myself to everyone else, I didn’t think that was really going to happen. If there was anything my father did for me the most, it was introduce me to people. I wandered over to the tent that I had seen Dutch walk into with my trunk.

“You sure this is a good idea?” a man was asking him, which made me stop alongside the tent.
“What’s got you so worried, Arthur?” another man wondered.
“She ain’t one of us. She don’t understand this life. Coming into camp is just another mouth to feed and we’re already low on food.”
“Go buy some meat, then,” Dutch replied.
“With what?”

I wandered around the corner just as he was handing one of the men some of the money I got from selling my jewellery.

“She didn’t come empty-handed,” Dutch mentioned.
“No,” the man replied. “Still don’t understand this, though.”

He stormed off toward the hitching posts.

“Oh, don’t mind him,” the other man sighed. “Arthur will come around eventually.”
“Is it too late to mention that Maple kicked Micah?” I inquired. “He... He seems fine...”
“Don’t worry about it,” Dutch said. “Are you okay?”
I looked at the other man. “Do I look like a prostitute to you?”
“No,” the man replied.
“I’m sorry; I forgot my manners. I’m Evie.”
“Hosea.”
“Oh, you’re Hosea.”
“I don’t know why Dutch thought he could keep you a secret for so long. If he’s taking off for a day at a time just to see you then you must be something else.”
“I promise I’m not a prostitute.”
“Okay, that’s enough,” Dutch interjected. “You don’t look like one and you never did.”

Chapter Text

“Mister Matthews, may I ask you a question?”
“Didn’t you just ask one?”
“No... Oh, no, I suppose I did.”
“Hosea is fine; ask your question.”
“I didn’t want to ask Dutch, but was Miss O’Shea fancy?”

There was no way a rich woman couldn’t look rich at some point. Even if I were to dress in clothes the common people wore, there were certainly going to be people who could tell I was from a life of luxury. I didn’t know if Dutch was the right person to ask, considering I was the aftermath of Miss O’Shea leaving him. If she hadn’t left, I wouldn’t have been where I was, and I would have still been meeting with suitors. I’d only been in the camp for a day, maybe a bit more, and I already was receiving quite a few dirty looks from some of the people. I’d been expecting it, but it was different from thinking of it and then experiencing it. Just when I was thinking of it, I had caught Hosea just as he was passing Dutch’s tent.

“Was she fancy?” Hosea asked himself. “Well, yes and no. She didn’t do any work and she dressed in clothes as nice as yours.”
“Really?” I sighed, setting my needlepoint down on my lap. “Abigail told me otherwise.”
“Some of her clothes weren’t as nice, of course, but I suspect she got them after she came here.”

Pearson, the cook, was complaining about there not being a good amount of meat for the stew he was making. It was then that Arthur took off on his horse. He just left to go hunting? And there I was thinking I needed to wait for permission or for someone to ask me to go. But then when I did get up, putting my needlepoint back into my travelling trunk, Hosea stopped me.

“Is something wrong?” I mumbled.
“You don’t know the area yet,” he replied. “You should take someone with you if you’re going.”
“You’re...probably right...”
“Charles!”
The man who had ridden back in with Micah just after I arrived looked over at us from his bow. “Yeah?”
“Take Evie out hunting. Help her get to know the area.”

Charles didn’t argue; he just went over to his horse and waited for me. I climbed on top of Maple and slipped my crossbow over my head before following Charles out of the camp. It was evident early on that there was no way we were going to go very fast. He didn’t say a word to me about anything until how slow we were going got to him.

“We’d go a lot faster if you didn’t ride side saddle.” He pulled on the reins of his horse to let Maple catch up. “It’ll be easier for you to stay on if we need to hightail it.”
“My daddy taught me how to ride like a lady,” I replied quietly.
“Yeah, well, you can’t really afford to ride like a lady anymore. Just swing your other leg over the other side of the saddle and deal with it.”

I did as I was told and adjusted myself slightly. It certainly felt...strange, but once we got moving again it definitely felt a whole lot more secure. Charles didn’t say another thing about anything; we just rode in silence for a while until we reached a clearing with a few bucks and does.

“Didn’t Dutch give Arthur money for meat?” I muttered to myself.
“There are twenty some odd people in the camp,” Charles said, looking at me. “It goes quick. Is there no shortage of food where you’re from?”
“In Arkansas?” I thought for a moment. “Not that I know of. Not in my city, at least.”
“Word around camp is that you’re rich. Why would a rich lady want to be out in the cold with a bunch of outlaws? Or hunting, for that matter.”
“I come from a wealthy family; that is true. My mama left when I was young and my daddy never remarried. She left to return to the life she had before me. Whatever this is...it’s in my blood.”
“Still. Leaving all that money behind. You must have had your life set up for you.”
I bit my lip with a sigh. “That is true, too. I don’t know if Dutch would had decided on his own eventually or not, but I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Mister Matthews saying something about me. I don’t know exactly what he said, but it was enough to persuade Dutch to bring me here.”
“You could have said ‘no’.”

I shook my head and took my crossbow off my back. That wasn’t a statement I was going to rebut until I needed to do what was needed. I’d meant it when I said I could hunt and I’d meant it when I said I would do chores around the camp once I got too pregnant looking to actually ride out and hunt. I set up a shot, and sent an arrow flying directly at a buck’s neck. The sound it let out alerted the other bucks and does, sending them running. That was bound to happen and couldn’t be avoided.

“What have you hunted before?” Charles asked as we rode over to it.
“Mostly foxes, wild turkeys, and hares,” I replied as I jumped down. “Could you help me, please?”

He hopped down from his horse and grabbed the buck’s antlers. I didn’t have a chance to reach down and help him myself; he picked the whole animal up and tied it to Maple. It sounded like he had a little bit of issue getting it up and onto her; I didn’t realize just how heavy it probably was.

“Good work,” he praised. “Now, why did you say ‘yes’? To coming here, I mean.”
“There are some different reasons.” I pat Maple’s side. “I’ve always disliked being cooped up inside and I’ve always wanted some sort of adventure. Then, my daddy found out about Dutch and I and promised me to my pastor’s grandson. I’m also with child, so I was going to end up running away myself eventually.”
“You met this pastor’s grandson?”
“Of course I did. He told me what he expected of me and I refuse to live that way.”
“Oh.”
I gestured to the field, where more does and bucks had gathered. “Will you be getting anything?”
“Sure.”

It didn’t take long for Charles to take down a buck of his own and tie it to the back of his horse. From where we were, he made a comment that Arthur was heading back to camp. I looked in the direction we had come from and sure enough, there was Arthur with what looked like a bird tied to his horse. The animals Charles and I had come across must have gathered after he had passed by.

“I don’t think he knows how to track,” Charles admitted. “Or even hunt properly. You know, he came into camp last week with something that looked like a rabbit.”
“Oh, dear,” I mumbled.
“Come on; let’s head back.”

We got back up onto our horses and headed back in the direction of the camp. I’d not asked him anything about his lineage; I thought it rude to ask. Clearly he was of a... What was the correct way to put it? I never knew how to ask people what they were. I’d never been taught how to ask those kinds of questions; I had heard my father’s clients refer to Beth and the other maids as...

“Is it okay if I ask what your, erm...ethnicity is?” I asked.
“It’s easy, isn’t it?” he replied.
“I can see that you’re...uh...African American, but...”
“My father was; my mother was Indian.”
“Charles, I am very sorry if I--”
“It’s fine. Really. I get that rich folks aren’t used to treating people like me equally.”
“Curiosity got the best of me.”
“What are you, then? Let’s make it even.”
“My mama and daddy are both white Americans, but my daddy’s side came from England and he was raised in England for a while. As for my mama... I don’t know much about her. She had an accent that’s different from mine and it wasn’t from England, either. I think she might have been...Welsh? Scottish? Definitely not Irish.”
“And you’re rich. How important?”
“As soon as my daddy realizes I’m missing -- if he hasn’t yet -- he’ll be trying to find me. He’s an accountant for a lot of important people in states as far as Nevada, so...I’d say...pretty important.”

Charles stopped in front of the camp entrance right in front of Maple, just so the horses were in a T shape. The last thing I really wanted to do was make anyone angry; it hadn’t been right or polite to ask him what I had, had it? He didn’t look angry, but he could feel angry. Maple huffed when Charles didn’t move right away.

“Look, there’s no hard feelings, alright?” he told me. “I’m newer here, too, just like you. But I still don’t know how anyone else might react to being asked their background. So just...don’t.”
“Okay.” I bit the inside of my cheek for a few seconds. “Charles, I really am sorry.”
“Seriously, don’t worry about it. We’re fine. You okay to go in? I’ll help you take the buck to Pearson.”

We headed into the camp quickly; if we took too long the meat on the bucks wouldn’t be good anymore. By the look of things, Pearson didn’t seem too pleased with the rabbit Arthur had brought. He turned just in time to see us hitch up our horses, and wandered over.

“Nice buck, Charles,” he mused as Charles pulled the buck off of Maple.
He gave Pearson a dirty look and stopped pulling. “It isn’t on my horse. That one is.”
“The princess here didn’t shoot it, did she?”
“Of course she did. Do you think that crossbow is for decoration?”
“Never know with those rich types.”
“‘Rich types’?” I asked, looking up at Charles.
“Don’t let him get to you,” he muttered. “You can go; I’ve got this.”
“So she can shoot an animal but not carry it?” Pearson snorted. “Of course she’s got the--”

He stopped talking when Charles gave him an even dirtier look and I looked back at him. I knew why he had stopped and I knew what he was going to stay. Of course I had the black man doing my work for me. Is that really how he saw me? Is that how any of the others saw me? Charles looked down at me and then back at him.

“She’s got the what?” he asked, visibly and understandably upset. “Say it.”
“Never mind,” Pearson sighed.
“Good.” Charles motioned to the buck, still laying on top of Maple. “You can handle this, then. I said go, Evie.”
***

“Eat this,” Dutch insisted, holding a bowl of stew out to me.
Just the smell of it... “I don’t think I can.”
“It’s not because it’s the buck you killed this morning, is it?”
“No. If I eat it, I might...end up wasting it, if you know what I am saying.”
“When was the last time you ate?”

Not since before I left to join Dutch. I was hungry, definitely, but there was no way I could allow myself to eat and then vomit later on. That would be such a waste; someone else could make good use of it. I’d eat something when I knew I wouldn’t be sick. I understood that the people in the camp took care of each other as best they could, but I wasn’t one of them and some of them were making it clear to me that perhaps I never would be one of them. Even if I wanted to show my worth, there was someone there to put that worth onto someone else like what happened with Charles. After Pearson, I had tried to speak with Abigail, but she just pretended I wasn’t even there. It wasn’t like she couldn’t hear me; I was standing right in front of her trying to speak with her and she refused to even look me in the face.

“Two days,” I mumbled, ashamed. “Maybe three?”
“Then you need to eat,” Dutch pressed.
“Please give it to someone else; I don’t know, someone who was able to get it yesterday but not today.”

I’d picked up on the eating habits quickly based on the night before. It wasn’t hard to figure out what was going on; they...we...couldn’t afford to feed every single person every day. I knew I was going to have to eat eventually, lest I starve to death.

“Charles told me about what happened this morning with Pearson,” Dutch mentioned.
“It has nothing to do with Pearson,” I said quickly. “I have nothing against him or his cooking; I’m really just worried that I’m going to waste something that someone else can have.”
“Alright, then. Javier! When was the last time you ate?”

Dutch walked off and his place was filled by Abigail. She looked nervous for some reason. Did she think I would be mad at her for ignoring me? I was more along the lines of crying upset rather than screaming upset. I inhaled sharply, doing my best to quell the sick feeling in my stomach, as I looked at her.

“I’m sorry...for ignorin’ you today,” she told me. “I know it has to be scary since you’re with child and...we’re mostly treatin’ you like you’re the criminal here.”
“I can understand,” I replied. “There is no way I can completely ever know what it is like to have grown up poor, or never knowing when I was going to eat next. I did not have to pretend to be something just to earn some money. I made a heavy decision when I agreed to come with Dutch and...and...”
Abigail frowned. “‘And’?”

I ran out the back of the tent and into the forest. It didn’t take Abigail long to join me. I began vomiting and she held my hair back. The cold air from winter helped enough with the natural sick feeling, but as soon as the stew was involved there was no avoiding it.

“If it helps, Pearson’s cookin’ ain’t very good,” Abigail said. “You’re not missin’ out on much.”
“Oh, I am so sorry,” I moaned, standing up.
“Well, it ain’t that bad.”
“No, not that. I am sorry for coming here.”
“Well, by the sound of things, Hosea asked for you to be here.”

I sighed and we made our way back to the tent. Abigail looked confused when I went into my travelling trunk and pulled out a toothbrush and toothpaste. I saw the way she was staring at me like I was insane and looked at what was in my hands.

“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Brushing my teeth...?” I replied. “Is that not something you do?”
“Most folks don’t. You really are rich.”

Even amidst her confusion, I did what I felt was needed and returned my things to my travelling trunk. Abigail and I were about the same age, but she seemed like she was much older. Maybe it was because of Jack; maybe it was because of the life she’d lived for so long. She sat with me at the front of the tent while I continued my needlepoint.

“Why would someone like you think about talkin’ to Dutch?” she inquired.
“Dutch just so happened to be there when two other men were bothering me,” I sighed. “I suppose I looked uncomfortable, so he decided to pretend to be with me. It did not take long for the truth to come out as to why he was able to pull it off so well.”
“So you just talked to him because you were a...what is it...‘damsel in distress’?”
“You could say that. He told me stories. It is nice to put names to faces, now. I said it to Charles and I will say it to anyone else who feels the need to ask me why I am here -- if it were not for Hosea asking me here, then I would have gone on my own eventually.”
“Why do you say that? You could have a real house for your baby.”
“My daddy doesn’t even know I am with child. The best thing that would possibly happen is that I marry the pastor’s grandson whom I was promised to and never see the baby; the worst thing is I would be committed to an asylum and I never see the baby and anyone else ever again. He worries about me, but when he found out about Dutch I suppose he...panicked. I pleaded with him and yet...”
“You think he’s realized you’re gone yet?”
“He probably has.”

I wasn’t going to mention to her that I knew she had lied to me about Miss O’Shea; it wasn’t worth the effort to get an apology. Besides, there was a reason she had done it and it wasn’t my place to ask why. She must have been polite to me to begin with because we were in front of Jack. Why she was talking to me now and treating me well was something I wasn’t going to ask about, either.

“I said you were scared,” she mentioned. “But are you scared?”
“That is...quite a good question,” I mumbled. “Truth be told, I do not know. Perhaps I am, but if that is the case I was even more scared when my daddy told me he had promised me to Declan. Oh, that is the pastor’s grandson.”
“You went to church?”
I nodded. “Mm-hm. Every Sunday, ever since I could remember. I suppose it is no use now, is it?”

I would have to completely go out of my way, possibly sneak off, to find a church where I would be fine going to. But the problem at hand was that word spread in the church like wildfire; there would be news of someone in one state and it would quickly make its way to the other, just by the sheer need to gossip. That would be one way that my father could find me quickly. Other than that, what was the point in going to church now? I had lied to my father, lied to Beth and Father O’Malley, participated in premarital...activities, and was going to have a child born out of wedlock, and now I was hiding in the middle of the woods in the freezing cold with people my father would take ill over. There was no reason for me to continue going to church. I was no longer a “child of God”, as Father O’Malley called me.

“Why would you?” Abigail asked. “You’re already here.”
“Church was the one place where I was welcomed with open arms and open hearts.” I sighed and folded one leg over the other, nearly done with the needlepoint. “Walk into any church looking like me and it will be a guarantee that I would not be turned away or ignored.”
“Not like here?”
“That Irish man. Sean? He hasn’t acknowledged me, either. He was fine speaking with me yesterday before it came out I was rich.”
“Don’t mind Sean,” Dutch said, coming in from the back of the tent. “That boy doesn’t like rich folk.”
“Well...” I was aggressively stabbing the needlepoint, “it is not as if I asked to be born with a silver spoon in my mouth.”
“You should slow down,” Abigail suggested.
“If I thought myself better than anyone here, I would not have agreed to come.”
“I know that,” Dutch assured me. “The others might not.”
“I know, now,” Abigail chimed in.
“In any case, I am sorry that I chose to leave luxury behind just so I would not be caught in a marriage I did not approve of and that I would prefer to be with the man who was even remotely kind enough to listen to me.” I got up and put the needlepoint back in my travelling trunk, and slammed the lid shut. “And I am not a princess.”

Chapter Text

“Abigail, come here for a moment, would you?” I asked with a small wave.

I turned to my travelling trunk and pulled out one of the dresses I no longer fit in. Sure, I could wait until I had the baby to wear it again, but it was really just taking up space and wasn’t going to any good use. Abigail looked to be about my size and I thought the best way to get it off my hands was to give it to her. She walked over to Dutch’s tent with Jack trailing behind her.

“This doesn’t quite fit me anymore,” I told her, holding the dress out to her. “So I was just wondering if you would wear it.”
“You’re just...givin’ it to me?” she said, taking it. “What’s the catch?”
“No catch. It isn’t really any use to me just sitting here and I just thought...maybe...you would like it. It isn’t too, erm, fancy if you’re worried about it.”
“Well...” She held the dress to her chest with a sigh, “thank you. Oh, I just remembered. Before he left this mornin’, Dutch wanted me to make sure you ate somethin’. You’ve been here for a few days now, right? He said it’ll be a week tomorrow. How are you still standin’?”
“If I eat anything, it may end up going to waste. I don’t have much of an appetite to begin with.”

Abigail and Charles -- and obviously Dutch and Hosea -- were the only people in the camp to even talk to me. Jack talked to me, too, but he was a child. The only time Pearson spoke to me was to call me “princess” and still refused to believe that I had shot that buck; and I didn’t even want to acknowledge the things that Micah said to me. I knew that I needed to leave the immediate area of the tent to try and get anyone else to talk to me, but whenever I stepped out one of those two men said something to me to make me feel bad about myself. I had tried to say “hello” to Sean, but he pretended like I wasn’t even there.

“Offer him somethin’,” Abigail suggested.
“What?”
“Not like that.”
“I could give him something that would make him money, but I want him to talk to me not because I gave him such. I am not my daddy. Sean and everybody else has their r-reasons not to like me or...t-talk to me.”
“Oh, honey, no, don’t cry.”

I waved her off and decided to go out with Maple before I burst into uncontrollable tears in an area full of people who I didn’t want to give a reason to hate me even more. I grabbed my crossbow just in case and headed out in a hurry. On my way, I passed by Hosea and Dutch but was in such a hurry to leave that I didn’t even bother to stop and tell them where I was going. I didn’t quite care where I ended up; just as long as I could do my crying in peace. It wasn’t long until I came to a hill; I contemplated going into town to sit inside the church. At least I would be completely welcome there, and it wasn’t Sunday so there wasn’t a big enough group of people for word to get back to my father about where I had been seen last. In the end, I shook my head and turned Maple around, instead opting for a clearing where not even animals were gathered.

I hopped off and sat against a boulder. If I had stayed with my father, I would have been crying about something different. Knowing how afraid he was, Declan and I would have been married within a few days. I could have been married. Then again, I could have also been stuck in an asylum. Never had I been so conflicted about choices. I thought I had made the easy decision, but I was having second thoughts. It wasn’t as though I wanted to leave, exactly; if I returned to my father after making “a show” of my running away, he would surely drop dead at the sight of me. Declan would surely back out of marrying me on account that I was such a prima donna. Going back to my father would also come along with the whole town knowing what I had done. Was it better to have a whole town think I was a harlot or a small group of people hate me because they believed I was just some snobby rich woman?

Who was I kidding? I probably was snobby without actually realizing it. Until Charles, I only rode side saddle; then I didn’t want to eat the stew, which was from being pregnant and not “class”; of course there was the teeth brushing; and I couldn’t forget the way I spoke. Would it have been easier to ask Dutch if we could have just lied from my upbringing from the start? Apparently he did “preach” truth, but from my understanding he and Hosea were leading quite the scam. Was there any point to lie, though? Wouldn’t the truth come out eventually? Dutch wanted everyone to treat me the same way they treated everyone else, but it was clearly hard to do so when I didn’t understand even the tiniest bit of their lifestyle.

“You okay?”

I jumped at hearing Charles voice. I hadn’t heard him approach at all and Maple hadn’t alerted me to his presence. At least she was comfortable. I looked at him and then immediately away, wiping my tears away. What grown woman ran off just so she could cry in the middle of a field? What any grown person did that? People needed to be alone sometimes, yes, but to actually run away and cry? How much more pathetic could I get?

“Dutch asked me to come find you,” Charles admitted. “He doesn’t really know what the hell is going on; he’s back at camp trying to figure it out, though.”
“I am pregnant in what feels like a pit of copperheads who wish to kill me,” I choked out as he crouched next to me. “The other ladies that aren’t Abigail won’t look at me and if they do, their eyes are like daggers. Only four out of twenty-something people will talk to me, five if you include Jack. Two of the others only wish to speak to me when it is convenient to poke fun at my upbringing or to make comments about my assets.”
“You’ve tried talking to everyone else?”
“Sean and some of the other ladies. He was the first one to speak to me when I first arrived. I realize I have only been here for less than a week, but...”
“You’re trying.”
“Am I? If I gave Sean or anyone else my jewellery to sell for money, then they would speak to me.”
“That’s no way to make friends. The way I see it, they see that your skin is thin, and they’re waiting for you to crack under pressure and return to wherever the hell you came from. They don’t think you can actually live out here and be okay with it.”

I sighed and rested my head against the boulder. He was right. How long before I would hate living in the freezing cold? How long before I got tired of being woken up by some drunken idiot’s blathering in the middle of the night? How long before I missed maids waiting on me? How long before I stopped trying so hard to fit in? I was bound to run back to my father eventually, at least in their heads. They were questioning just how strong my loyalty was. Most rich people’s loyalty was so incredibly thin that it was essentially invisible.

“I’ve only been here for a month,” Charles continued. “But from what I know about Dutch, he wouldn’t have let you come if he didn’t see something in you.”
“Mister Matthews--” I began.
“He didn’t have to listen to Hosea.”
“No... No, I suppose not...” I inhaled sharply, trying to gain some composure.
“Don’t let Pearson and Micah get to you. That’s a start.”
“I am sorry for making you come out to find me.”
“Don’t mention it. You okay now?”

I nodded, and he got up. He searched around in his saddle bag before returning to my side. Charles was holding an apple out to me. I looked at him, not exactly impressed.

“Dutch won’t let me bring you back unless you eat something,” he admitted.
“How would he know I even ate it?”
“He has my word that you’re going to eat it one way or another. You’ll starve to death before you can have that baby.”

I sighed as he handed me the apple. There was no use fighting against it, was there? Charles was right. There was no hesitation when I sunk my teeth into the apple, but I wasn’t happy about it. I didn’t feel sick, so perhaps that was a good sign of what I could eat safely without feeling the need to vomit. He seemed satisfied enough that I’d eaten the apple as quickly as I did and mentioned that we could head back to camp whenever I was ready.

“Can you help me up, please?” I asked.
“Sure.”

Charles grabbed my outstretched hand and pulled me to my feet. Soon I probably wasn’t even going to be able to get on top of Maple if I was already unable to stand on my own. Granted, I had been sitting on the ground. Before getting back on Maple, I ran my hands along my clothes to get rid of any excess snow.

“You sure you’re ready to head back?” Charles inquired.
“Yes.”

On the way back, though, I asked for him to stop again when I caught a glimpse of a doe in a clearing. I grabbed my crossbow and hopped back off Maple. The doe hadn’t noticed I was coming, and so I was able to shoot her cleanly in the neck. If I was returning to camp, it wasn’t going to be empty-handed. Charles helped me put her on Maple’s back and we rode off back in the direction of the camp. But it wasn’t long until this time he stopped. Maple and I stopped alongside him. I was confused for only a moment, until I realized there were people off in the distance. Charles looked cautious. If we continued on that way, we would run into them. It seemed like he was listening closely. I could hear voices coming from their direction, myself, but he must have heard better than me.

“We can’t go that way,” he told me. “Follow me.”
“Why can’t we?” I mumbled when we began moving again.
“Dutch ever tell you about the O’Driscolls?”
“Not much.”
“Well, just...stay away from ’em. You can usually tell it’s them by their accents.”
“Which is...?”
“Irish. We can cut through the trees over here.”

Maple trotted behind Charles as we went through the forest. It took a while to get through since we had to be quiet and therefore couldn’t get our horses to run. Soon enough, though, we arrived back in camp. As Charles was taking the doe off of Maple, Dutch quickly walked over. I was getting myself ready to get yelled at or scolded, but that wasn’t the case.

“Are you okay?” he asked.
“I just needed to be alone,” I replied.
“Charles?”
“She ate the apple, at least,” Charles said.
“Good.” Dutch pat my shoulder. “Eat another one. Hosea and I need to go back out, so just calm down.”
“There were O’Driscolls out on the trail.”
“Were you two okay?”
“Fine. We took the long way around.”

I sighed and followed Charles over to where Pearson chopped up the meat for the stew. His cleaver just came down on a rabbit’s head when we approached. No wonder he was always covered in blood; could this man be any less graceful?

“Hey,” Charles said. “Evie brought this back.”
“Oh, so the princess came back after all,” Pearson jabbed.
“Do you at least talk to the women you pay for nicely?” I snapped. “Just so they can tolerate you for those less than mediocre five seconds?”

Both Charles and Pearson stood there in absolute silence for a moment. It wasn’t lost on me that the only women Pearson could possibly afford were prostitutes, because, really, who would want to marry or be in a relationship with someone as rude and crude as him? I turned on my heel and returned to Dutch’s tent.
***

“Evie, take this,” Dutch said, handing me my small jewellery case. “Ride out with Sean.”

I sighed, wandering over to where Maple was hitched. Sean was nice enough to wait for me at least, but he still hadn’t said a word to me since the day I arrived. It had now almost been two weeks since I came in. He must have known where we were going, though he didn’t make any mention of it to me since that would require him to speak to me. One way or another, I was going to make him talk to me.

“Where are we going?” I asked as we rode out.

Silence. I rolled my eyes; what was Dutch thinking, sending me out with someone that refused to acknowledge my presence? The other ladies had at least stopped giving me eye-daggers. They must have thought I wouldn’t even last the first week there, much less make it to the second week. I was not such a shrinking violet that I would become so stressed by the amount of people ignoring me. Even Pearson stopped giving me a hard time when I had come in one day with two hares and a doe.

“Okay, if you are not going to even look at me, I will have to return back to camp and tell Dutch to send someone else,” I almost shouted.
“I don’t think so,” Sean snapped back. “What, are ya tryin’ to get me into trouble?”
“You are the one who would be getting in trouble by yourself. Whatever did I do to you, Sean?”
“Ya come waltzin’ into camp actin’ like you’re one of us when you’re really just some snobby rich lady.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You heard me.”

I kicked Maple’s side to make her speed up, but then stopped in front of Sean. He didn’t look angry; he only sounded angry. At the most he just looked annoyed.

“Contrary to popular belief, Sean, I am not my daddy’s money,” I told him. “Like I told Abigail and Dutch, I did not asked to be born with a silver spoon in my mouth.”
“Don’t make a difference,” he replied.
“Sean, I asked to be born into a rich family as much as you asked to be Irish. Tell me, right now, what you want me to do.”
“What?”
“What do you want me to do? Do you want me to go back to Arkansas? Because I will not.”
“I don’t want ya to do anythin’ like that.”
“You do not know me, Sean. You spoke to me that one time and that was it.”
“Miss O’Shea--”
“I know how Miss O’Shea acted and I am telling you that I am not Miss O’Shea! Did she go hunting?”
“No.”
“Then there’s a start. The least you could do is give me a chance to prove myself.”

Sean went around Maple and continued on down the trail to wherever it was we were meant to go to. I stayed quiet and followed him. We had both gotten somewhere but at the same time nowhere with our little “chat”, if that was what I could call it. It was another while before Sean even decided to speak.

“We’re going into town so you can pawn off some of that jewellery of yours,” he told me. “Givin’ us money to help is a start, I guess.”
“I never would have allowed myself to come empty-handed,” I said.
“Don’t get rid of all of it. Dutch said just enough to get a few hundred.”

We arrived at the nearest town and mounted up our horses. Sean was going to stay outside to keep watch while I went inside and pawned off some of the jewellery. The whole time I was in there I kept looking back at the gunsmith. Even when I received enough money from the jewellery out of the small case, I removed my earrings and my rings to get money for those, too. After that was done, Sean stayed waiting while I went into the gunsmith. At least he didn’t ask what I was doing.

I was only in the gunsmith’s for a moment or two before I heard gunshots outside. I could hear Maple panicking and Sean shouting at me that it was time to go. Of course, by the time I got back outside, it was too late to hop on our horses and leave. He had taken cover just so he wouldn’t get hit. I didn’t have time to be confused; from the shouting the other people were doing, I could only assume that, by their accents, they were the people Charles had warned me about.

From how well Sean was hidden, they were essentially shooting at nothing. Surely they realized he wasn’t alone? Their faces when I shot one of them suggested otherwise. It was quiet for long enough for Sean to peek out from behind the wall he was using as cover and motion for me to find my own. I had no idea why they looked as shocked as they did, but the moment that the shock was over they began shooting again. At least I was lucky enough that my father had taught me how to use a gun -- several, really. It felt natural, really.

There weren’t too many of them to begin with; Sean was fine with his shots given how low his visibility was. He’d gone and got himself stuck behind a wall that most likely didn’t give him enough of a visual range to see what he was shooting at. I poked my head out as often as I could to try and shoot what I could, too. At the most, I was probably just injuring them. I had to get over the slight feeling of being afraid and just do what I had to. I didn’t have time to contemplate what I wanted to do; I just had to get right into it.

I got up and started shooting at anyone who wasn’t Sean. Amidst their shouting, I could tell that they were still so confused. About what, exactly? I had no idea, but it was to mine and Sean’s benefit.

“Behind ya!” Sean shouted.

I didn’t have time to turn. I was pulled backward and into a choke hold, with the barrel of a gun pressed against my head. Without thinking about it, I brought my own gun up quickly and shot the man who had snuck up on me. He fell to the ground; I grimaced when I looked at him. I’d shot him from under his chin. That was gruesome, to say the least. Sean had managed to take out the remaining men that had been in the street, but when I looked at where he was hiding, he was being held in a choke hold of his own.

I took off across the street; the man who had Sean on the ground was pointing a gun between his eyes. I screamed just to get his attention on me rather than Sean. He looked up in shock, but didn’t have time to react before I tackled him backward. A gunshot deployed, but the second was mine. I’d shot him right through the throat. Now that it was quiet, I realized I was shaking from how scared I had been. It had been bound to happen sooner or later, but it really wasn’t something that was to be expected.

“Fuckin’ hell -- Jesus Christ,” Sean panted. “Ya saved me life.”
“Are you okay?” I breathed.
“I’m fine, but ya do realize you’ve been shot? Your shoulder.”

I looked down and sure enough, he was right. The shot that had been deployed before mine must have hit me. Why hadn’t I felt it? Was I in such a panicked state that I didn’t even realize I had been shot? In any case, I helped Sean to his feet.

“Fuckin’ O’Driscolls,” he muttered, looking around. “Burn in hell, why don’t ya?”
“Did they seem confused to you?”
“They sure as hell did. Never seen that before. You’ve got blood all over ya.”

I looked in the window that was behind me. There was blood on my uninjured shoulder, my neck, and part of my face from killing the man who had tried to kill me from behind. I let out a nervous laugh.

“Let’s head back; get that shoulder of yours looked at,” Sean suggested.

I nodded in agreement and headed over to where our horses were. Upon trying to get on top of Maple, a burning pain shot through my shoulder and my arm. There was the pain I should have felt when I’d been shot. It had been so sudden I stopped trying to hop on top.

“If ya can’t even get on, you won’t be able to ride back on your own,” Sean sighed.
“I can do it,” I insisted.

Of course, when I tried again, the pain was even worse; it was so bad I ended up falling onto my back.

“No, ya can’t,” Sean retorted.

He got off his horse and helped me to my feet. Rather than helping me onto Maple, he helped me onto the back of his horse and then got back on.

“Make sure your horse follows,” he mentioned. “And hold on tight.”

Maple ran behind Sean’s horse; she had gotten so used to running in the snow, otherwise I figured she would lag behind quite a bit. It didn’t take long once we were in camp for anyone to realize that I had been shot and was covered in blood. Sean and I weren’t even off his horse.

“What the hell happened?” Dutch demanded as Sean got down.
“Buncha fuckin’ O’Driscolls,” Sean replied, helping me off his horse. “Evie got shot, but she saved me life.”
“Where did all the blood come from?”
“An O’Driscoll she killed. She did good, Dutch.”
“Here,” I mumbled, handing Dutch the money and the jewellery case.
“This is the last thing you should be thinking of right now,” he scolded. “Miss Grimshaw, come help!”

Chapter Text

“Did anyone see you when you went into town?” Dutch asked. “Other than the gunsmith and the pawn shop owner.”
“That was, what, a week ago?” I replied, looking up from my needlepoint. “Why are you asking now?”
“Hosea was in town earlier and heard that someone was looking for you.”

I didn’t recognize the gunsmith or pawn shop owner as anyone I knew. Had an O’Driscoll managed to get away and go back to wherever he came from? I thought that they were confused because they thought Sean had been alone. Maybe they had been confused for some other reason. In any case, I shook my head at Dutch.

“I will stay here,” I offered. “At least until whoever is asking for me goes away.”
“That doesn’t need to happen,” he said. “If you stay away from the town, it should be fine.”
“Okay.”
“How’s that shoulder?”
“It does not hurt anymore; I told you yesterday. I will eventually have to go back into town, though. My clothes are getting too tight for my liking.”

Before Dutch could answer, Arthur came by the tent. He was asking something about mining -- I didn’t understand a word of it. Most of the things they spoke about I didn’t understand. I figured that was best. It was probably just a bunch of things that would get me into trouble. All I knew was that there was a long scam going on.

“Hello, Arthur,” I piped up when they were finished.
He turned to me and grumbled, “Hey...”

He wandered off, allowing me to return to my needlepoint, but returned not even a moment later. Dutch left to go walk around the camp, just to give us some privacy. Arthur hadn’t been in the camp when Sean had brought me back. He hadn’t seen the blood on my body and he hadn’t seen the hole in my shoulder while Miss Grimshaw tried to fix me up. The only thing he saw of the aftermath was the bullet hole in the shoulder of my coat and the patchwork Abigail did on the shoulder of the dress I had been wearing. The only thing he really knew about it was Sean talking about it around the campfire that night when he returned.

“You really helped Sean fight O’Driscolls?” Arthur asked.
“I did.”
“How the hell did you manage that?”
“My daddy taught me how to shoot. I have lost count how many times I have had to explain that. If you are asking where I got the gun, I sold my earrings and my rings that I wore all the time to get the extra money for it and the bullets.”
“So Sean treats you like crap and you save his life?”
“Should I have left him to die? He had his reasons to treat me that way. I am just glad he is talking to me now instead of ignoring me.” I sighed and looked up at him. “I am sorry for coming here. Believe me, there was no intention to try and be able to completely understand this life right away.”
“Well,” He lit a cigarette, “you will sooner or later. If you’re already being shot at, that’s a start.”

Arthur left again, this time for good. It had been dark for quite a while already, but I was only just feeling the urge to wander around the camp. It wasn’t usual for me to do so; most of the time when I was in camp, I was with Abigail at her tent or I was at Dutch’s tent. I’d never sat around the campfire and the only other place I regularly went to was where Pearson butchered the meat. I hadn’t been outside the camp for nearly a week since Miss Grimshaw had given me what-for. Wanting to go out after being shot in the shoulder, at least for a woman in her mind, was something that she wouldn’t allow me to do. I couldn’t even get around it by asking Dutch if I could leave. No meant no and I had to rest up before even climbing back on top of Maple to leave.

I set my needlepoint back in my travelling trunk and went to wander around the camp. I avoided actually going through the camp itself, staying near the tree line. It wasn’t until I tried to scurry passed a tent to return to Dutch’s that I had to stop and hide behind the corner of it. The campfire was right there, and even though there was only one person there, I didn’t want to invisibly feel their eyes on me. I listened quietly. He was playing a guitar, from the sound of it.

“You can come listen. Or we can talk.”

I peeked around the corner nervously. What was his name? Javier? He jerked his head slightly as a way to tell me that I could sit if I wanted to. It took me a moment to actually saunter over and sit down. He continued to lightly strum the guitar strings while he spoke.

“Javier,” he mentioned.
“Evie,” I replied quietly.
“How’s the shoulder?”
“It is fine. Erm...”
“It isn’t awkward unless you make it awkward.”
I blinked at him. “Beg your pardon?”
“You’re rich, so I’m guessing you’ve never actually met a Mexican before.”
“I-I-I--”
“Don’t stress about it. Where are you from?”
“Arkansas.”

Javier nodded and stopped strumming, and instead let out a sigh and rested his hands on top of his guitar.

“Hot place,” he said. “You know, Mexico is pretty hot, too. We’re both not built for the cold.”
“It definitely takes some getting used to,” I agreed.
“It’s not too bad right now. Could be a lot worse. You don’t have to hide out in Dutch’s tent all the time. We’re not going to eat you alive.”
“Are you talking to me because I helped Sean or because you really want to talk to me? Forgive my skepticism.”
“If you would have come out of that tent when you got here, I would have talked to you. Thanks for giving up your stew, by the way.”

He was only now just thanking me for telling Dutch to give the stew to someone else? I nodded at him and bit the inside of my cheek. Javier seemed nice enough. I’d never really noticed him around the camp since he was usually outside doing whatever it was that he did. The ones who were usually in the camp were the women, Jack, Pearson, and sometimes Dutch, Hosea, and Arthur.

“I also would have come to the tent to talk to you, but you looked scared when you first got here,” Javier mentioned. “I’m sure it didn’t help with everyone else ignoring you. The last thing you needed was somebody you didn’t know coming into your tent. You needed your space.”
“You do not care if I am rich?” I asked.
“We’re all here for different reasons. How long are you now?”
“Miss Grimshaw and Abigail suspect it’s almost three months. Javier, when I first got here...”
“No, I didn’t think you were a prostitute. Why don’t you tell me why you’re here instead of just being pregnant?”
***

“You need to start staying back at camp,” Charles said.
“I got up onto Maple just fine,” I replied.

We were back out hunting, looking for a spot other than the usual clearing we went to. The animals never seemed to learn to stay away from there still, but we figured we could get something a bit better than a doe or a buck. For once, Pearson came to me and asked me to go hunting. Well, it wasn’t exactly asking -- it was more of a demand. At least he was coming around to the fact that I could hunt.

“It’s not because of your horse,” Charles told me. “There are O’Driscolls around and--”
“Charles,” I interrupted.

We had been looking at each other, but there were horses approaching from behind him. I saw them first and had to warn him about them. Charles looked in the direction I was looking and stopped his horse, and grabbed hold of Maple’s reins to stop her from moving. He must have figured it was more dangerous to just take off running rather than just stay where we were and defuse the situation, whatever the situation was. It was obvious who these people were.

“Well, if it ain’t Van der Linde’s newest members,” the man in front said. “Shouldn’t you be tucked away inside the camp, little girl?”
“She can probably hunt better than any of you can,” Charles shot back before I could say anything.
“Probably.” The man shrugged. “But word is...you and that annoying red-haired brat shot up a bunch of us. Colm ain’t too happy about that.”
“They shot at us first,” I retorted. “It was not my fault they hesitated.”
“Yeah, we heard about that. Lucky for us, not you, that one of us got away.”

Charles and I glanced at each other. Whoever had run off must have done so while both Sean and I were in cover. When I thought back on it, I heard a man shouting that he was heading back to where they were set up. I thought that there was a possibility that could have happened, but it had been so quiet for two weeks that I came to the conclusion nothing had happened. Then again, those two weeks were spent inside the camp doing nothing but needlepoint and Dutch trying to get me to eat.

She almost got killed because of you,” the man said to me.
“Who did?” Charles asked.
“There really is no mistaking it. No way she could have been in two places at once. See, while you were shootin’ up our boys, she was back at camp skinning a deer.” He sighed, shaking his head. “I can’t believe this shit... Bonnie! It’s definitely her!”

Charles looked confused -- that is, until a woman came to the front of the group. There really was no mistaking the situation. I was the spitting image of this woman, just younger. She had the same hair as me, same freckles, same eyes... This woman must have spent her time mostly in her camp or elsewhere; if anyone in our camp had seen her out and about, they would have told Dutch, especially after I turned up. I felt like I was going to vomit, and not from being pregnant and not from having eaten.

“Mama?” I mumbled.
“Tessa, what are you doing out here?” she asked.
“Evie, we need to go,” Charles said.
“Easy there, friend,” the man said, pulling out his pistol and pointing it at Charles.
“I would ask you to put that away,” I snapped.

Charles and I were stuck. If he went back to camp to get help, I could easily be taken. Even with my gun, there was no safe way out of this situation. Bonnie, my mother, was making no moves to even let me go. When I thought of reuniting with her, it wasn’t at all like this. No guns. No murderous intent. No gang members of hers around. I never expected to reunite with her when I was in a gang, either. She didn’t...feel like my mother or sound like my mother. If anything, she was the shell of my mother with someone else living inside of her. I knew she wasn’t the same doting mother I had come to love when I was a child.

“So,” she said, leaning forward on her horse, “are you gonna answer my question?”
Don’t,” Charles demanded.
“I cannot tell you,” I huffed.
“You were never a fat child, Tessa,” Bonnie mentioned. “Call it mother’s intuition or whatever, but that’s not your natural fat. So did I leave just so you would turn into a prostitute or what?”
“For the hundredth time, I am not a prostitute!”
“What kind of mother leaves her child behind?” Charles asked.
Bonnie looked at him, frowning. “You’re not the father, are you?”
“So what if I am? Evie is grown up; she can make her own choices. Not like you were there to help influence them.”
“Watch your mouth, you ni--”
Mama!” I shouted.

I couldn’t believe the things that were coming out of Bonnie’s mouth. She wasn’t the same person and her words only confirmed it. I didn’t know if I wanted to cry or scream at her, or both. It had been twenty years since we saw each other. Was this really how she had always been? Had her caring nature just been a façade? The woman who I had loved and adored had been a figment of imagination -- she wasn’t real to begin with. It must have been so painful and frustrating for her to pretend to be someone she was not. My father must have thought he could change her. They had fallen in love, of course. But love could only do so much.

“How’s Cornelius?” Bonnie wondered.
“Panicking, I suppose,” I replied. “I’ve not seen him for a while.”
“Well, you shouldn’t be out here. Everyone knows not to shoot you now,” She pulled on the reins of her horse, “but if you ever wanna run with a real crowd come find me.”

She and the men she had come with took off. It took them turning around the corner for me to stop shaking. I had believed that something worse would have happened. Charles let Maple’s reins go with a sigh. My mother was running with the enemy. I thought that she would be long gone, further away from Arkansas than this. Perhaps she had been -- Javier had told me there seemed to be O’Driscolls everywhere. Wherever the gang went, there were O’Driscolls. I had to wonder if Bonnie had willingly come down so close to Arkansas or if she had to be coerced.

“We should head back to camp,” Charles suggested. “Someone else can go hunting. We need to tell Dutch what just happened.”
“Mm...” I mumbled.
“You okay?”

I shook my head. Even if I still thought we should go hunting, Charles was right. Dutch needed to know what was going on; it wasn’t something we could keep a secret from him. The truth would come out eventually and it was better to just tell him now as opposed to being confronted about it at a later time. Charles and I rode back to camp, but just before going in I stopped, which made him stop.

“What is it?” he asked.
“Dutch knows my real name,” I told him. “Now so do you.”
“I won’t tell anyone.”

We continued on into the camp. Pearson wasn’t too happy about how we returned with nothing, but he looked at me and mentioned that it looked like I was going to vomit.

“There a thing called horse sick?” he wondered.
“What?” Dutch said when he came over to us. “What happened?”
“We ran into some O’Driscolls,” Charles told him. “And...well...”
“Mama is with them,” I said quietly.
“Shit,” Dutch muttered.
“I think I’m...ready to learn how to darn now.”

Dutch walked with me back to his tent. Everything felt so surreal, almost like my whole life had changed. Well, it technically had. Maybe I was holding onto the mother I remembered, but didn’t quite know. Bonnie had shattered that image. Who did I take after completely then? I looked like Bonnie, but I spoke like my... I spoke like Cornelius. Maybe he had been even more strict about not allowing me to join Dutch because he thought, or knew, that someway, somehow, I would run into Bonnie and my image of her would be broken. I thought back on mine and Bonnie’s “confrontation” and her voice had been dripping with malice. No one around was inherently a good person, but the worst voice had to be that Micah’s was usually dripping with sarcasm.

“Just breathe,” Dutch told me when I grasped onto the locket around my neck.

I pulled the locket and broke the clasp around my neck. There was no reason for me to keep it anymore. The words inside and the photo didn’t mean anything anymore. It was just trickery, and it wasn’t the type of trickery I wanted. It felt like my heart was broken. How horrible was it, to have my heart broken by my own mother? She had initially sounded concerned about me, asking why I was out on the trail. But it was all a lie.

“Take this,” I sniffled, handing Dutch the locket. “Do what you want with it -- sell it, destroy it, throw it in a lake come spring. I don’t care.”
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“Yes. Yes, I am sure.”
He opened the locket. “What about this, then?”

I looked up at him and saw that he had taken the photo out. I grabbed it from him and stormed over to where the campfire was. Without a second thought, I tossed it into the fire. It didn’t matter. As far as anyone was concerned, I’d thrown out just a scrap of paper. What was the point in keeping something that was a prop in a story of lies? I returned to the tent and sat on the edge of the cot.

“She thought I was a prostitute, too,” I mentioned.
“Stop thinking about it,” Dutch said. “And stop thinking about her.”
“Dutch...it’s been twenty years since she left me. Twenty years of a memory of someone who was not real.”
“You aren’t thinking about joining her, are you?”
“No! Is my loyalty that questionable?”
Dutch sat on the cot next to me. “You did tell me that you wanted to find her.”
“The mother I wanted to find does not exist, Dutch. Even if she did exist, why would I run off to them? I have this baby to think about, don’t I? I would not go to them even if it meant it would keep me from dying.”
“I trust your loyalty.”
“Good. Now can I go ask Miss Grimshaw to teach me how to darn?”

Chapter Text

“Excuse me, Dutch?” I mumbled, grabbing Dutch’s arm as he passed by the tent.
“Something the matter?” he asked.
“No, no. It is just...we have not sat and spoken about the baby.”
“You wanna talk about it? Thought you were keeping it.”
“I intend to. Please, can we sit? If you’re not busy...”

Luckily, Dutch led me over to the cot and sat with me. At this point, I was only about four and a half months long. There wasn’t a rush to actually talk about it, but we only ever seemed to talk about what was going on inside the camp. He’d been outside the camp with Hosea a lot and so there wasn’t a lot of time to actually sit anymore. With Abigail, Sean, Charles, and Javier actually talking to me regularly I didn’t get lonely. Well, Sean didn’t speak to me as regularly as the others did and once he started talking he didn’t stop. Not like I minded it, but it was almost difficult for me to get a single word in.

“What’s on your mind about it?” Dutch said.
“It is not something that can be controlled, but what is it that you want?” I wondered.
“I’m hoping for a son, but if it comes out a girl there’s not much we can do about it.”
“In any case, Dutch, we should...maybe...start thinking about names? I have always liked Alice for a girl.”
“Good one. I’ve never thought about it. Rich folks usually name their kids after their grandparents, don’t they?”
“When I was younger, I would think about naming a boy after Daddy, but...”
“There’s no way in hell I’m letting my kid walk around with a name as ridiculous as ‘Cornelius’.” He let out what sounded like an annoyed sigh. “Jesse.”
“Jesse is nice. Dutch, I know that you have a lot of...work to be done, but are you happy about it? Or excited?”
“Of course I am. It’s been four years since we had a baby around here. Quite a lot of attention we’ll be taking away from Jack.”
“Should... Should I apologize to him?”
“Evie, I’m joking. He’s excited, too.”

Dutch pat my shoulder and then left the tent to let me return to darning socks. I didn’t know how much more darning I could handle. Or dishes. Or cleaning clothes. I hated cleaning clothes the most. Half the time I didn’t know what the stains even came from, but I did my best to keep them as far from my nose as possible. I made the mistake of loosening my elbows once and almost had to vomit because of how bad the smell was. The sickness from eating or even smelling stew had lessened, too, so I looked forward to not really vomiting anymore. But some of the clothes were just so bad. The worst part about staying in camp all the time was the conversations I inevitably would hear.

“Why the hell would Dutch bring a woman that’s not fuckable?” Micah asked.
“What?” Charles replied.
“You know what I’m talkin’ about.”
“No. No, I don’t.”
“You can’t fuck a lady who’s got a baby in her. I mean, you could, but you’d gotta be a real freak.”
“Shut up.”
“Whoa, there, are you one of those freaks?”
“You’re hopeless.”
“Naw, what’s hopeless is that there’s a lady that looks like Evie and she ain’t even available!”

The way Micah spoke about things was very...odd, to say the least. I tried to get used to hearing the things that came out of his mouth, but just when I thought he could no longer surprise me when he said stuff like that. No matter who told him to stop talking like that -- me, Dutch, Hosea, Charles, even Arthur -- he still spoke like that. I learned that he had no respect for anybody. There was loyalty to Dutch, maybe respect, but not much else. It wasn’t to say that no one else made comments along those lines, but Micah’s was really the worst. Sean regularly drank and a lot of the time if he caught me out of the tent he would drone on and on about how I was pretty. There was a big difference between Sean’s drunken droning and Micah’s disgusting words.

“Age clearly ain’t a problem for her,” Micah muttered.
“Keeping your mouth shut is a problem for you,” Charles retorted.
“Miss Grimshaw?” I called, wandering out of the tent. “Miss Grimshaw!”
“What is it?” Susan replied. “Everything alright with the baby?”
“Yes, ma’am. I was just wondering if it would be okay to take Maple out for a short ride? She looks like she is becoming a bit, well...irritable.”

I was using Maple as an excuse just so I could get out of the camp for a few moments to myself. Susan looked at the pile of darned socks I was holding in my arms and shrugged.

“We can send someone else with her, can’t we?” she asked.
“W-Well...you can try...” I stammered. “No one else has ridden her before... I would hate to see anyone get thrown, Miss Grimshaw.”
“Alright, fine.” She took the pile from me. “But only thirty minutes.”
“See you soon.”

I sauntered over to Maple and climbed on top of her. I’d managed to take her out once before with the help of Dutch, but he’d taken off already this time. The conversation I had overheard just made me want to leave and if I had to argue with Susan to leave I would have. Maybe there was some special privileges I held that I didn’t know of just because I was pregnant and with Dutch, but for the most part she treated me the same as she treated Karen or Mary Beth. Though, there wasn’t any screaming or slaps.

I took Maple over to the clearing I had taken her to the last time. It was small and quiet and far enough from camp that I had some peace and quiet. But it was close enough that I could get back to camp if I needed to head back quickly. In truth, Maple wasn’t irritable at all from being in camp. She liked being around the other horses and it seemed she got comfortable with Jack playing near her. What did make her irritable in camp was Micah and Bill -- one enjoyed antagonizing her and the other was just loud and angry sometimes too close to her. She had been close to kicking Micah again, but he managed to jump out of the way. A horse’s kick could kill someone. I was happy she wasn’t killing anyone, of course. Though, sometimes I wished she had kicked some sense into my father.

I’d thought about sending a letter to my father, to at least let him know that I was okay. I knew I was allowed to send letters if I wanted to, but I was reminded that it would give my father an idea of the general area I was in. It was next to impossible to actually send a letter in that case and I wasn’t going to bring that onto myself. My father would surely panic and leave home immediately to come find me. The slight panic I had felt when it was found out people in town were asking for me was unnecessary. It was discovered they had been searching for Bonnie. She was a heavily wanted woman, apparently. Once that was out of the way, I was able to go back into town if I wanted to. I had done so once with Hosea and even though people asked me who I was, it became clear that I was younger and, therefore, not Bonnie. If I was going to head into town, though, I would have to bring someone else with me just in case the townsfolk didn’t believe me when I said I wasn’t my mother.

I hadn’t seen Bonnie since the day Charles and I came across her and the O’Driscoll men on the trail. She was excitable from the rumours I heard of her, able to sneak into houses without making a sound, kill people before they even noticed she was there, hunt like she was a cougar herself, and escape the law quicker than they could pull a gun on her. She sounded horrifying, but like something out of the tales of old gunslingers. If she weren’t my mother and hadn’t abandoned me, I probably would have looked up to her for different reasons than I had growing up. Dutch and everyone else had heard of her, but had never seen her, meaning that she was able to keep herself hidden if she wanted to. But now they knew that not only was she lethal, but she ran with Colm O’Driscoll and looked like me -- just a bit older looking.

“Okay, girl, let’s head back,” I murmured, patting Maple’s side.

Something was bothering her, though. I looked at the ground carefully -- there was nothing she could have stepped on, right? Perhaps a rock had gotten lodged onto her hoof again. I hopped off her back to check all of them. Like I had thought, nothing was there. The bears were hibernating, so there was no chance for them to be spooking her. Either way, I looked at the treeline. There was nothing that I could see. Instead of getting back onto Maple, I grabbed her reins and began leading her back to camp on foot.

That’s when I felt a pinch in my neck, followed by an immediate sensation that I had to vomit. I let Maple go and quickly pulled what was stuck on my neck off. It looked like a dart of some sort. I felt exhausted beyond measure, and then my vision began to blur. I knew I was in danger and had to leave, but I had absolutely no strength to try and climb back up onto Maple. As I was reaching for my gun, whoever had shot me became impatient, and chose to sneak up behind me and hit me on the head.

It all seemed like a few seconds between absolute darkness and then waking up. I groggily looked around at where I was. It looked like a rundown cabin: the windows were boarded up -- only a small bit of sunlight was coming through the cracks -- and the fireplace looked unusable, and the only furniture inside the place was the chair I was tied to, a kitchen table, and a side table. My head hurt, thus reminding me that someone had hit me when I didn’t go down immediately from being tranquilized. I tried getting out of the rope, but it was no use. I was tied so tight that if I moved the rope would cut into my skin through my clothes. I flinched when the door opened and the sun came through.

“Well, well, look who’s awake,” the man standing in the doorway said. “You really are a spitting image of Bonnie.”
“If my father hired you--” I began.
“No. From how Bonnie speaks about dear old Daddy, he wouldn’t trust someone like me to handle bringing his kid back to him.”
“You know Mama?”
“She works for me.”
I shook my head, still slightly groggy. “What do you want...erm...Colm?”
“The word goin’ around is that you’re running with Dutch van der Linde, and it’s not just ’cause you’re on the run.”

I stayed quiet. Bonnie and the men she had been with must have told him I was with child. Whatever else they told him, I didn’t know. Colm’s men could have been around in town and I wouldn’t have even known, and they could have overheard any conversations I had. No, I wasn’t on the run from the law; I was on the run from Declan and Cornelius, and perhaps even Father O’Malley.

“S-So?” I stuttered.
“Dutch has always had a...soft spot, I guess, for the ladies,” Colm explained. “There was Annabel and then -- what was her name? -- Molly, and now there’s you. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention the prostitutes.”

I hadn’t been told about Annabel. If something bad happened, then I could understand. The only thing I really expected from Dutch was to just be there for the baby. I didn’t expect him to tell me anything he didn’t want to tell me. Telling me things he didn’t want to tell me didn’t mean he was lying, exactly. But if he lied to me, then that had to have a good reason, too, right?

“That does not mean anything,” I said.
“One of them lives in the camp,” Colm continued. “Or was it two? I can never remember.”

He remembered; clearly he did. He was just trying to toy with my emotions. I would have been lying if I had said it wasn’t working. I was scared and now I was...jealous. But I couldn’t afford to be jealous. I had to get out of this situation and go back. The other’s who still doubted me, even a little, would think I had fled back to Cornelius, or perhaps willingly gone to Colm just so I could be with Bonnie.

“Where is Mama?” I asked.
“She’s gone off to see dear old Daddy,” he admitted.
“No. No.”
“I don’t think she’s gone to kill him. Even when you’re out here, you’re still Daddy’s princess, ain’t you?”
“I am not a princess!”
“Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe you’re just a rich girl who wants to play pretend for a while.” Colm rolled his eyes. “Like I said, Dutch likes the ladies. Never expected him to get one pregnant.”
“If it is Dutch you have problems with, then why take me?”
“Maybe I just wanna play around with his new toy.”

I held my breath. What did he mean “toy”?

“Wait.” Colm chuckled. “You ain’t actually thinkin’ he loves you, do you? Sure, he loves the ladies, and he loves ’em young like you. You think he’s over Annabel?”
“Daddy still isn’t over Mama,” I shot back. “If Dutch is not over Annabel, then it may be for a good reason.”
“Stop talkin’ all high and mighty. If he don’t love you, why should you love him back? If you even love him back.”
“If--If he didn’t at least like me, he would not have asked me here.”
“He probably just wants the kid. Well, why don’t I give him what he wants?”

Back in Camp/3rd Person POV

Charles led Maple into the camp to hitch her up. Susan was asking anyone if they had seen Evie, Abigail appeared to be worried, and Dutch was suspicious. It had been nearly five hours since anyone in camp had seen or heard from her. No one knew where she was.

“I knew it,” Micah said loudly. “I knew the second shit got annoying for her she’d run off back to her daddy.”
“I found her horse, abandoned,” Charles announced. “Evie would never leave her behind. There was blood on the snow and her gun was almost buried; looked like maybe she was attacked.”
“Who’d wanna attack her, huh?” Sean asked. “Lonely lady out there on her own.”
“Who the hell do you think?” Dutch snapped.
“Colm’s got Evie?” Arthur nearly shouted.
“Somebody find her, for Christ’s sake!” Susan demanded.
“I’m tellin’ you, right now, she ain’t around!” Micah insisted.
“Shut your mouth!” Arthur snapped. “If Colm’s really got her, she’s in serious trouble!”
“She’s one of us now,” Abigail said. “Right, Dutch?”
“Right,” Dutch replied. “Charles, Sean, go see if you can find her! Now!”

Hosea rode back into camp, quicker than usual. Tied to his saddle behind him was a sack.

“Found this in the middle of the trail as I was coming up,” he said, walking over with it. “Not sure what it is but it’s got your name on it, Dutch.”
“I’ve got a faint idea what it is,” Dutch admitted.
“Jesus Christ!” Sean exclaimed once the sack was opened.
“We need to find Evie,” Charles said angrily. “Now, Sean!”
“Yeah, just, uh... I’m gonna be sick...”
“Be sick later, you fool!”

Back at the Cabin/Evie POV
Three days later

Three days later and I was still a sobbing mess. Why had things turned out this way? I should have just stayed in camp and dealt with Micah’s ranting. Listening to that was much better and easier to deal with. I’d been burned and poked in the cabin and that wasn’t even the worst of it. During the first night, I had men come in to tell me to stop my wailing because people were trying to sleep. This only made me scream as loud as I could. I was angry. I was scared. I didn’t care that Colm’s men were trying to sleep. They had to gag me to shut me up. Now, Colm came in with Bonnie trailing behind him.

“I’ll take it off if you stop your screamin’,” he said.

I glared at him before averting my gaze to Bonnie.

“I’ll do it,” she offered. “We need to have a little mother-daughter talk.”
“Whatever, but I’m stayin’ right here.”

Bonnie stood in front of me, dragging a stool behind her that had come from outside. She removed my gag and sat down while Colm stood just by the door. I kept my mouth shut; there was no point in screaming again, at least not yet.

“Ain’t your tears dried up yet?” Bonnie asked.
“No,” I sobbed.
“Get over it. You wanted a taste of this life and you got it.”
“No, I did not!”
“Watch your mouth.”
“I wanted to be free and I wanted adventure. What Colm did to me is not what I wanted!”
She slapped me across my face. “I said, watch your mouth.”

Bonnie really was the complete opposite of what I thought she was when I was a child. What was wrong with me? I wanted what she really was to be a complete lie. I wanted the fake mother I looked up to back. She didn’t care that I was angry and scared; she didn’t care that I was in pain.

“Cornelius is mighty disappointed in you,” Bonnie admitted.
“If you hurt Daddy, I swear--” I started.
“Watch it. I just dropped by the house to see him and have a little chat. He’s fine. I didn’t hurt him. I loved him but I didn’t love that life.”
“You didn’t love me, either.”
“I tried, but I couldn’t. You represented what I hated most, and I know you hate it, too. Where’s the locket, Tessa?”
“I do not know. I gave it away to someone so they could do what they liked with it. Why would I keep something from someone who did not love me?”

Bonnie quickly stood, knocking the stool over, as she smacked me harder. She ended up drawing blood. I thought crying or making any sounds would make her hit me again, and so I cowered away best I could.

“You’re ungrateful, aren’t you?” she shouted. “I left you so you could live a good life! You just threw it away! For what? For ‘freedom’? Don’t be stupid. I know about Father O’Malley’s grandson.”
I spat blood at her. “I...refuse to live that kind of life. I had a baby to think about! And you...you took it away from me! You and those men couldn’t keep your pathetic mouths shut, could you?! Only monsters would do what you did! Dutch and Hosea and Micah and all of them might be bad men and women, but they’re better than whatever you people are! You’re trash and you always will be!”
“You want trash?” She turned and began walking out. “I’ll show you trash. Men have needs, Tessa. And there’s plenty of men here.”

Somewhere in the Wilderness/Third Person POV

“It’s been three days,” Sean muttered, holding his hands out above the fire.
“She has to be out here somewhere,” Charles replied as he looked at the treeline.
“I ain’t never seen nothin’ like that before. Never wanna see it again. Do ya think she’s alright?”
“If you were gonna vomit, how do you think she felt?”
“Stupid question; sorry.” Sean sighed. “We were all so mean to her.”
“Not all of us.”
“It prob’ly felt like all of us. All because she’s a rich lady. Should’ve treated her better.”
“All of you that treated her badly don’t understand what she was gonna go through if she didn't show up here. It ain’t like she came empty-handed, either. It shouldn’t have taken her saving your life for you to talk to her, y’know.”

Charles turned to the campfire and folded his arms across his chest. The sun was already down and they both had been getting up early to search for Evie. Even if Sean complained about the cold and wondered if she really ran off or not, he wanted to find her just as much as Charles did. Dutch, Susan, and Hosea wouldn’t accept them returning to camp without Evie, dead or alive.

“Fuck,” Sean muttered. “This is fuckin’ shit. Who do ya think told that Irish bastard that she was with child, eh?”
“That mother of hers.”
“That fuckin’ O’Driscoll bitch.”
"You're Irish, too."
"Shut the hell up! I ain't like him!"

Back at the Cabin/Evie POV
Eight days later

I wanted to be numb to the pain. I wanted to stop crying. I wanted to stop screaming. I wanted to hit and throw things. I’d take a thousand boring lifetimes if it meant I could escape the one I was already living. I would take eternity in the deepest pits of hell just to forget what was happening. I could scream and wail all I wanted and they didn’t care. The only time they didn’t have to hear me was at night when they gagged me to be quiet, otherwise I would keep everyone up all night or just annoy everyone. I wasn’t allowed much sleep, either; probably only a couple hours a night and I was always awakened rudely.

“It’s a lucky day for you,” Colm announced, walking into the cabin and removing my gag.

I screamed as loud as I could at him; so loud and so intense that my throat felt like it was going to be ripped out if I continued to do it. My heart felt like it had been ripped out of my chest already; why not let my throat join it in misery?

“Shut up, princess,” Colm sneered.
“I...am not...a princess...” I panted, my voice hoarse.
He pat my cheek with a sigh. “Anyway, you’re lucky ’cause me and the men are heading out to the new place Bonnie found for us. It’ll take a while for everyone to be out of here, so...I don’t know what’ll happen once I’m gone.”
“Y...You’re not...letting me go?”
“Sorta. Someone will find you here sooner or later. It might be sooner. It might be later.” He shrugged and turned around. “If they find you sooner, remember to give my regards to Dutch. Scream, if you think it’ll help.”

I struggled against the chair and my restraints. Everyone who always tied me back up did such tight and intricate knots that it was impossible to struggle even the slightest bit. I started sobbing once more. I didn’t want to die, especially not in the middle of nowhere. There was no way for me to escape on my own; even my feed were bound together.

It wasn’t long after Colm left the cabin that I heard horses riding out from wherever we were. A man I didn’t recognized wandered over to the cabin and looked around before stepping in and shutting the door.

“Don’t you touch me,” I breathed in a hostile tone. “Don’t you dare lay a finger on me--”
“N-No, of course not,” he replied. “I-I-I wouldn’t dream of it.”
“I haven’t seen your face before...”
“I’m kinda new and I take care of the horses.”
“If you’re not here to do what everyone else does, what do you want?”

The man had been carrying a canteen and held it out to me. What did he expect for me to do? Take it? I looked at the canteen and then back at him.

“I’m just...offerin’ you some water,” he assured me.
“You don’t need my permission to come stand by me. Just don’t touch me.”
“Ok-Okay.”

He opened the canteen and carefully held it up to my lips. It burned from all the screaming and crying I had done, but it was so relieving at the same time. When I stopped drinking, he waited a moment before screwing the lid back on.

“What would they do...if you untied me?” I asked, swallowing hard.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “I-I’ve only been here a couple weeks. They might kill me, I reckon. But...”
“Don’t do it, then.”
“I didn’t want no part of this, ma’am.”
“Evie.”
“Beg your pardon?”
“My name...is Evie.”
“I thought it was Te--”
“Don’t. Don’t say it. Please. Don’t untie me. There is no reason for you to get killed because of me.”
“But--”

Just then, someone shouted for him.

“Kieran! Get your ass out here! We’re leavin’! Now!” they shouted.
“Go,” I told him when he looked at me. “Please go.”

He hesitated to leave, but once he was outside the man who had shouted at him checked to make sure I was still tied up everywhere. Then he left, shutting the door behind him, and I was left alone, in the cold, in the middle of nowhere, in an abandoned cabin. For once in the eleven days since I’d been there, it was quiet. It just made me even more scared. I held my breath and listened for anything that made a sound -- a bird flapping its wings, a tree branch breaking, hooves on the ground... Anything. I jumped when I heard a snap. Something had stepped on what sounded like a stick.

It wasn’t a few seconds later that the door slowly opened back up. I held my breath, thinking that perhaps it was an O’Driscoll who had circled back. But no. I gasped with relief when I saw it was just Sean and Charles; both of them looked exhausted and angry. When they saw me, though, the anger changed to relief, and I began sobbing again.

“Sean, help me cut the rope,” Charles demanded.

The ropes were quickly disposed of. Before I could do anything, Sean went outside and looked around. He whistled for the horses while I held onto Charles.

“Th-The...” I struggled to speak. “The baby...”
“We know,” he replied quietly. “You’re safe now.”
“Sorry we took so long,” Sean said, still keeping a look out at the door. “Those fuckin’ O’Driscoll bastards covered up their tracks real fuckin’ good. Fuckin’ arseholes. Every last one of ’em.”
“Th-There was one--” I began. “Never mind...”
“Let’s get you home,” Charles said, pulling away.
“Maple...”
“She’s waitin’ for ya at camp,” Sean told me.

Sean got up on his horse and helped me get on behind him. He waited for Charles to mount up, and we headed back in the direction of camp. I hadn’t realized just how far I had been taken. It was late afternoon just when we were approaching the clearing I had been taken from.

“H-How did you two find me?” I sniffled.
“Heard ya screamin’,” Sean admitted. “Quite far, too. Good lungs ya got there, Evie.”
“I’m...I’m sorry that I got taken.”
“Don’t say that,” Charles scolded. “Weren’t you attacked from behind?”
“Well, yes, but--”
“Then don’t blame yourself. Everything that did happen at the cabin that we know about and what happened that we don’t know about, it ain’t your fault.”

I held onto Sean tighter as we approached camp. Javier was keeping watch and started shouting that we were coming in. Susan and Abigail were the first two to approach me once I climbed off the back of Sean’s horse.

“Dear Lord, are you alright?” Susan asked, pulling me into a tight hug.
“We were worried sick!” Abigail said.
“Miss Grimshaw...” I said quietly, causing her to push me away slightly so she could look at me, “I think I would...prefer to stay in camp for a long time...”
“I think we would all prefer that, too.”
“Those goddamn O’Driscolls,” Arthur muttered.
“Hosea and Dutch are gonna be back soon,” Javier mentioned, having ran into the camp after us.
“I ain’t ever lettin’ you leave my sight,” Karen promised.
“Me, either,” Tilly agreed.
“I do not think that is--” I began.
“Don’t say ‘no’ to that,” Mary Beth said. “You’re part of the family, and we gotta protect each other. Right?”

Anyone who was near us agreed with her. They really thought I was part of their family now? I should have been angry that being kidnapped was what it took for almost everyone to accept me, but I couldn’t be. I had caused everyone so much worry and panic that it resulted in whatever this was. I wanted to cry again, but for once in eight days I was finally all cried out. Instead, the other girls and I hugged.

“Dutch!” Abigail shouted as Hosea and Dutch came into camp. “Evie is back!”
“Oh, Jesus.”

Dutch barely hitched The Count up before rushing over and hugging me. I hugged him back, tightly. If Charles and Sean knew what had happened with the baby, then Dutch knew, too. So badly I wanted to apologize, but he would just refuse it. I was just relieved to be back in camp where I was safe.

Chapter Text

Micah came over to Dutch’s tent and groaned when he realized the front and back flaps were still closed. It had been a week since I had been back. It was Susan who suggested keeping the flaps shut during the day. I barely ever left the tent. The exhaustion from not sleeping very well at the cabin caught up with me and the sadness that I felt from the baby was too much. It felt like a chore just to sit up.

“Get the hell away from the tent!” Susan shouted at Micah.
“What is she doin’, anyway?” he snapped back.
“It don’t matter!”
“What, the princess needs to be alone?”

I got up from the cot and looked through my travelling trunk. It was strange looking at the dresses I could fit back into. Still, I folded it beneath my arm along with underthings and walked out the back of the tent to avoid Micah. I wandered over to the campfire where Charles was sitting.

“Afternoon, Evie,” he said.
“Hi...” I mumbled. “Um...will you come into town with me?”
“Sure. Let’s go.”
“You are not going to ask why?”
He stood up with a sigh. “Does it matter? Miss Grimshaw, I’m taking Evie into town.”

Charles went and mounted his horse, waiting for me to place my things into the saddlebag and get on top of Maple. No one asked what happened at the cabin. I didn’t know if they were waiting for me to “get better” or if they thought it was better to just leave it alone. From what they knew, I had gone through something terrible. There were other things I went through that they didn’t know about and I wasn’t ready, or willing, to open up to anybody. I wasn’t even willing to let Dutch touch me. He’d tried once but I had ended up smacking his hand away. It wasn’t a normal response from me. I didn’t know if he understood or not why I did such a thing, but he didn’t try again.

“Are you okay?” Charles asked.
“I beg your pardon?”
“I said, are you okay? Not even Dutch knows what happened to you.”
“Charles, I...really do not know.”
“If you wanna tell me ever, I ain’t gonna tell him. Or anyone else, for that matter.”

I didn’t answer him. Eventually I was going to have to tell someone what had happened. I just didn’t know who I was going to want to tell. I trusted Charles, though I didn’t know if it was the right thing to talk to him about. I thought maybe perhaps Susan or Abigail would understand better, but every time I looked at Abigail I couldn’t help but feel jealousy swell up inside me. She had Jack with John and she was with John, but still. Colm had said many things to mess with my head, and much of it had really gotten to me.

Charles and I hitched our horses up, and then walked into the hotel. I just needed to bathe. That was it. Or at least that was what I told myself. From the look on Charles’ face, I could tell that when I asked him to come into town with me he hadn’t expected for him to just stand outside the door and keep watch. But I also knew that if I hadn’t asked anyone to come with me, Susan would have said “no”. Charles was the closest person near me that I could ask without having to walk by Micah. I was sure he had better things to do than stand by the door.

I was in the bath for such a long time that at one point Charles had to knock on the door to make sure I was still okay. Once he had confirmation that I was fine, it went back to being quiet. It wasn’t loud in camp, exactly, but I constantly heard people talking and whispering to each other. For nearly two weeks, even at night, I had only been surrounded by loud sounds and loud voices. I needed quiet, at least just for a little while. I only decided to get out when the water began to get too cold for comfort.

“Sorry,” I said quietly. “For making you wait so long, I mean.”
“Don’t be,” Charles replied. “Are you ready to head back?”

I wasn’t ready to head back. I still felt the need to bathe. There was the feeling inside of me that something still didn’t feel right. Nothing felt right and I didn’t know why. Taking baths when I still lived at home always made me feel better, even if it was only slight. But the feeling I had didn’t alleviate at all. I wanted to go back to camp, but I wasn’t ready to; not in the slightest.

“I need another one,” I admitted.
“Another bath?” Charles sighed. “Evie, you just had one.”
“I know, but... I still feel...”

I stopped talking. Charles wanted to leave, too, even if he didn’t say anything about it. Was there any use arguing staying for just a few more hours?

“You still feel what?” Charles asked.
“Nothing...”
“Ev--”
“Let’s just go, okay?”

Charles didn’t argue with me, but he didn’t completely leave it alone. He kept looking at me while we rode back to camp and kept asking if I was sure I was okay to return. I remained silent with him; what was I supposed to say, exactly? If I couldn’t talk to Dutch, how was I supposed to talk to anyone else? Upon arriving back at camp, I didn’t immediately hitch Maple back up. I didn’t even got off of her.

“Dutch!” Charles called.

Dutch came out of the tent when Charles approached it. It looked like they were talking. I still didn’t dismount, though. Micah must have figured I was getting ready to leave camp by myself and grabbed onto Maple’s reins.

“Gotta get off before you do somethin’ stupid,” he said.
“Leave me alone, Micah,” I snapped, grabbing the reins from him. “Touch Maple again and I will ensure she kicks you again.”
He chuckled. “Oh, boy, don’t you have a smart mouth on you? You don’t wanna make Dutch angry, do ya? So you gotta get off sooner or later.”
“As long as you are here, it will be later.”
“I was thinkin’ you were gonna say that.”

Without any warning, Micah grabbed me and threw me over his shoulder. I was immediately kicking and screaming and hitting him to put me down. He had waited until Charles and Dutch went into the tent to possibly speak further.

“Micah Bell, what the hell do you think you’re doing?!” Susan shouted at him.
“She’s just gonna take a quick dip in the lake, Miss Grimshaw; nothin’ to worry about,” Micah replied.
“Micah, you put me down right now!” I shouted.
“No can do, princess.”

I kicked and screamed harder and hit him harder, but to no avail. Sean tried to get Micah to let me go, too, but got shoved away. Lenny, one of the only people in the camp I had never spoken to, tried to grab me, and Micah only turned and warned him to stay away. Dutch and Charles finally came out of the tent. Micah kept saying that everything was fine, that I just needed to cool down -- “The princess needs to cool off” -- but nobody was able to get close enough to get him to put me down. Not only was the lake nearby freezing cold with icy shards on the surface, but Dutch knew that I had never learned how to swim.

“Micah, you put her down this goddamn instant,” he demanded.
“Whatever you say, boss,” Micah replied, dropping me onto the ground.

Charles helped me up from the ground almost immediately. I quickly spun around on Micah and punched him in the face. Micah didn’t have time to mock me or be sarcastic with me, because I immediately began screaming at him. I gave him a nosebleed and I had felt a bone crack beneath my fist upon impact.

“You don’t ever touch me! Do you hear me?! Ever! I am not a princess! You don’t look at me, you don’t talk to me, and you sure as hell do not ever touch my horse! You’re lucky you only have a broken nose, you goddamn son of a whore!”

I stormed into Dutch’s tent and kicked over my travelling trunk. It was only quiet outside for a moment before Susan spoke up.

“If you ever lay another finger on that girl, you’re gonna have to worry about more than a broken nose,” she threatened. “Is anyone gonna check up on her or shall I?”

Dutch then came into the tent. It looked like I was about to get scolded, but that wasn’t the case. We weren’t supposed to be violent towards each other in camp. Threatening to punch someone or hit them was one thing, but actually doing it was a no-go, so I understood that he looked angry because I had punched Micah in the face. I clearly wasn’t myself, or at least I wasn’t the same as before I got kidnapped. I didn’t swear and I had fallen back into being isolated.

“That was an exception,” Dutch told me.

I shrugged and wiped the tears from my face. If he was expecting me to apologize for punching a cretin in the face, I wasn’t going to. As far as I was concerned, he had deserved it, and more. It was an impulsive choice to do what I had done. I shouldn’t have done it but how else was I supposed to get my point across that he wasn’t allowed to touch me or call me princess?

“Are you okay?” Dutch asked.
“Yes, Dutch,” I said sarcastically. “I’m perfect. I love being kidnapped and tortured and belittled.”
“Calm down.”
“No, you calm down.”

Dutch raised his hand and placed it on my shoulder. I had thought he was going to hit me and had flinched. It took a moment for me to realize that he wasn’t going to hit me and I burst out crying. I let him hug me, but it didn’t feel right to me. I didn’t know if it was because I wasn’t feeling like myself or if it was because of something else completely.
***

I wandered out of the tent later on in the evening. I didn’t know what I was doing outside the tent, but I had awoken from a nightmare. Dutch had fallen asleep already and I didn’t want to wake him to try and talk to him. I’d talked to him a bit about what happened at the cabin, but I hadn’t told him everything. There were some things I just couldn’t bring myself to tell him yet.

Javier was sitting by the campfire, smoking. I hadn’t come back out of the tent until now since I hadn’t known how to face anyone else. But I walked over to him nervously. According to Dutch, the only one who had a problem with my screaming and hitting was Micah. He’d told me that to try and get me back out of the tent to begin with, but it hadn’t worked.

“Evening, Evie,” Javier said when I approached him. “You can sit with me.”
I sighed as I sat next to him. “I apologize for that...display of mine.”
“You don’t have to.” He looked at me. “It was about time someone did it. And whatever happened at the -- what was it? -- cabin, it wasn’t good.”
“Do you know what happened?”
“I was at my tent when Hosea came in with that sack. I didn’t see nothing, but we all heard Dutch and Hosea talking about it later on. Sean and Charles saw, though. O’Driscolls are messed up.” He took a puff of his cigarette, shaking his head. “That shit is too much.”
“Javier, can I...um...have some?”
“You smoke?”
“I do not, but...”

Javier handed me his cigarette with no more questions asked. He stayed quiet while I took a few puffs.

“You and Dutch talk things through?” he asked when I handed it back to him.
“Some things,” I replied. “Micah thought I ran back to Daddy, did he?”
“Pearson, too.”
“What about you?”
“I thought you needed to be alone. Have some time to yourself. You found out that Bonnie is an O’Driscoll. I know you wouldn’t abandon Dutch. But when that sack came, I knew shit was serious.”
“There are bad people, and then there are...them.”
“At least you’re back.”

Javier leaned forward and looked passed me. I followed his gaze. Sean was stumbling around with a whiskey bottle in his hand. It looked like he was going to fall at any time, really.

“Sean really saw it,” Javier told me. “He’s been like this every night since you came back.”
“I cannot blame him,” I admitted, standing. “I will be right back.”
“Okay.”

I walked over to where Sean was trying to stand up straight. He was going to be able to find his way back to his tent eventually, but I just figured I would give him a little help. Sean was sober during the day for the most part, but if he was getting drunk every night since he brought me home...

“Sean, are you okay?” I asked.
“Evie! Fuckin’ hell, ya scared me,” he said.
“I have been standing right in front of you.”
“Have ya, now? Oh, yeah, ’cause I was just thinkin’, ‘There’s a pretty lady there.’ I just didn’t say nothin’.”
“Let me help you to your tent before you hurt yourself.”
“Ain’t ya with Dutch?”
“I am not helping you like that, Sean. I am...sorry you feel the need to do this to yourself.”
“Those god--hic--damn O’Driscoll fucks. That fuckin’ -- hic -- O’Driscoll cunt.”
“You do not know the half of it.”

We made it over to Sean’s tent, where he just toppled over and immediately passed out. I made sure he was actually sleeping by listening quietly. He snored slightly, and I turned around to return to Javier’s side.

“That was nice of you to do,” Javier said.
“As much as people tell me not to blame myself for getting kidnapped, I cannot help but think it is my fault,” I replied. “I feel responsible for making Sean and Charles spend almost two weeks trying to track me down and now that Sean is drinking more the feeling is worse.”
“It’s really not. Do you want me to stay with you?”
“No. No, it is okay.”

Javier left to settle in for the night, leaving me at the campfire by myself. Some others were still awake, finishing up anything that needed to be done before sleeping. It was quite late; I’d chosen the wrong time to come out. Just when I stood to return to Dutch’s tent, Charles came over to me.

“Are you up for a short ride?” he asked.
“Why?” I muttered.
“It should help you get to sleep.”

I gestured toward the horses so he knew that I was saying “yes”. As long as we weren’t going far from camp, I didn’t mind. He mounted his horse, I mounted mine, and we headed out. Charles let John know when we passed him. I was sure Charles needed the sleep, too, but I could sense that there was an ulterior motive for getting me out of camp. We went to the hill that overlooked Blackwater.

“What is it, Charles?” I asked. “I know you said it would help me, but what are we really doing out here?”
“Dutch asked me to talk to you,” he admitted. “He knows you didn’t tell him everything that happened.”
“Of course he does, but why does he think I will tell you?”
“He knows you trust me.”
“Alright, but I trust Sean, Javier, Miss Grimshaw, and Abigail, too.”
“Sean has a big mouth and you don’t know Javier as well as us. I don’t know about Miss Grimshaw, but you haven’t looked at Abigail all week.”
“That is... Well...”
“After what happened with Micah today, there ain’t no reason to believe you’re okay. Not in the slightest. Listen. If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine. If you do, that’s fine, too. I won’t tell Dutch if you don’t want me to.”

I thought hard for a good couple of moments. Of course I wasn’t okay. I never swore and I never smoked, and I wasn’t a violent person unless I had to be. I didn’t have to punch Micah in the face, or scream at him, or swear at him. I wasn’t sorry for punching Micah, but I was sorry for the display that I had shown. If I had just let Charles hold my arm, nothing would have happened. If I had just gotten off Maple in the first place nothing would have happened. I’d shown Dutch the burns and scars I had on my body; to say he had been angry would have been an understatement. I told him about Bonnie hitting me and not being allowed to sleep for more than a few hours at a time during the night.

“You saw that there was a table, right?” I choked out.
“I did,” Charles replied.
“No matter how much I struggled, those ropes never gave way.”
“I’m...not sure what you’re trying to say.”
“Dutch...knew without my having to tell him what Bonnie and Colm let those men do to me.”
“Oh.”
“What I did not tell him was that Bonnie intended to force me to...” I let out a shaky sigh. “She was trying to make me their whore.”
“Evie, hey...”
“What?”
“Is that why you wanted another bath?”
“I feel...I feel...dirty. I scrubbed myself until my skin turned red, but I still felt dirty. It is like I can still feel their hands on me, like I can still hear them calling me ‘princess’. I screamed and I cried as much as I could, but why would they listen to me?”
“Colm and his boys are known for stealing, raping, and killing whatever and whoever they want. I tracked you the best I could. I was worried we were gonna find a dead body.”
“Bonnie said not to kill me. They could do whatever they wanted to me except kill me. You know, there was one day when she seemed to be really angry about something. I never found out what it was about, but she decided to take that anger out on me. Untied me and everything so she could throw me around like a ragdoll and kick and hit me as much as she wanted. What I really cannot tell Dutch is that while she was kicking me while I was down, she asked me if I love him.”
“What happened? What did you say?”
“I...could not answer her, and I still cannot answer her.”

Chapter Text

 “Good morning, Sean,” I mumbled as I trudged out of Dutch’s tent.
 “Weirdest thing; I woke up in me tent this mornin’,” Sean mentioned.
I rubbed my eyes. “As opposed to where?”
 “I dunno. The ground. Who knows?”
 “Sean, are you okay?”
 “Of course.”

Sean took one look at me but just as quickly looked away. He was able to look at me when he was drunk, no problem, but now? It seemed like it was nearly impossible. Everyone had seen things most people could never fathom, but the contents of the sack were probably one of the worst things anyone had ever seen in history. If it was bothering Dutch and Hosea, too, there was no indication. They’d been around much longer than Sean, obviously.

 “No, you’re not,” I muttered.
 “Hey, who the hell are ya to say I am or what I’m not?”
 “It is not who I am; it is what I am, and what I am is concerned and sorry.”
 “You ain’t the one who sent that sack.”

I stared at him; Sean did have a big mouth and I’d unintentionally tricked him into telling me what the problem was. He turned to me and forced himself to look me in the eye. No one was okay after what had happened with Colm and Bonnie. Charles and I had returned to find Karen checking every nook and cranny for me, almost like I was hiding, which led to her and Susan scolding me in the middle of camp in the late hours of the night. It hadn’t mattered I was with Charles; it was difficult for me to go anywhere without even telling one of the other ladies where I was going to be. The only reason I hadn’t gotten scolded for going into town with Charles was because he had taken it upon himself to tell Susan where we were going to be. When Karen had promised that she wasn’t going to let me out of her sight, she’d meant it.

 “Well, no,” I said. “No, I am not. But drinking more than usual will not make it go away.”
 “It does,” Sean replied. “For a while, at least. O’Driscoll fucks. Anyone ask if you’re okay?”
 “Most people have already asked or keep asking.”
 “If it means anythin’, good job punchin’ that oily bastard.”
 “‘Oily ba...’ What?”
 “Micah.”

 Sean started to walk away, but then stopped when a horse I didn’t recognize rode into camp. By the sound of things, everyone pretty much knew who the man was on top of the horse. Dutch and Hosea weren’t around, though I doubted anyone would allow a strange person inside. Javier was keeping watch out front and so I assumed if this man was a complete stranger, he either would have told him to turn around or come in with him.

 “Trelawny,” Charles greeted.
 “Hello, dear boy,” the man replied. “Is Dutch or Hosea around?”
 “They ain’t gonna be back for a while,” Susan said. “What can we do you for?”
 “I assume that young lady is still here with you?”
 “Evie-- For Christ’s sake, where did she get off to, now?”
 “Aw, is the princess shy?” Micah snorted.
 “She ain’t a princess,” Abigail shot back. “Evie?”

 I had escaped back into Dutch’s tent. I didn’t want to meet anyone else. I was just starting to get comfortable again after speaking with Charles the night before. But Abigail stopped outside with a sigh and looked in. She had to coax me out by telling me that Trelawny wouldn’t harm me in the slightest. I was more likely to be chased by a bear than be harmed by him. The only people he played like a fiddle were outside of the camp...whatever that meant.

 By the time Abigail got me back to where Trelawny was waiting, mostly everyone was back to doing what they had been doing before. Charles was still standing near him, though. Abigail stood with us, too. I didn’t know why I felt the need to do it, but I held my hand out.

 “Well, well, you are as polite as Dutch says,” Trelawny quipped, shaking it.
 “I apologize for hiding,” I said. “Things have not been good. Why am I out here?”
 “Evangeline, was it?”
 “Evie is okay.”
 “Is your father Cornelius Locke?”
 “Evie, your face,” Charles said, sounding a bit startled.
 “What about my face?” I choked out.
 “It’s white as a ghost.”
 “Shall I take that as a ‘yes’?” Trelawny asked.
 “Yes...” I mumbled, and then cleared my throat. “Cornelius is my father.”
 “Well, then, good thing I came here. It appears that your father has come to find you. I thought it would be nice to come and warn you.”

 Bonnie must have told my father where I was, or at least the general area. It must have taken him so long to actually show up to the area because of all the appointments and meetings he had to postpone. I couldn’t imagine how difficult it was to drive a stagecoach in the snow, if he took a stagecoach at all. What was the possibility that he would be out on the trail near camp? Would he stay in one of the towns nearby and ask about me? I was going to be stuck in camp if I didn’t figure out where Cornelius was staying. The worst that could happen was if I ran into him, and I wouldn’t even be alone. Unless he got the law involved. I wanted to see my father; I really did, but not like this.

 “Thank you, Mister Trelawny,” I mumbled.
 “Please, you can call me Josiah,” Trelawny replied. “Now, then, please excuse me.”

He wandered further into the camp, leaving Charles, Abigail and I by the horses. Of course Bonnie would have told Cornelius where I was. It was only a matter of time before he came looking for me, anyway. He probably hadn’t thought that I was in a cold place. I was always so picky with the weather as a little girl that perhaps he figured I didn’t want to experience snow or early darkness.

 “What do we do?” I asked.
 “We gotta tell Dutch,” Abigail replied.
 “He and Hosea just left, though,” Charles said. “We can go find him, but I doubt he’ll like being interrupted.”
 “Hey!” Pearson shouted from his butcher table. “Charles! Evie! Go out and hunt somethin’!”
 “Come on. Let’s go do what the man says.”

I went and grabbed my crossbow from Dutch’s tent. I knew my father; he wouldn’t venture out into an area he didn’t know without settling into a spot in town first. He most likely wasn’t anywhere near being out on the trail yet and that would at least give Charles, Abigail, or myself enough time to tell Dutch that Cornelius was in the area. What really bothered me about him being around wasn’t the fact he would try and convince me to go home to Arkansas.

 “What’s on your mind?” Charles asked.
 “Do you think Mama told the O’Driscolls not to hurt Daddy?” I replied.
 “Hard to say. This is the same woman who let them do whatever they wanted to you, but still said they couldn’t kill you. If there’s any real heart beating in that chest of hers, maybe your father is safe out here.”
 “My father is not a bad man, Charles. He is just...overbearing. He would rather see me in a loveless marriage than be out here.”
 “After meeting your mother, I can see why. But still, that ain’t a reason to force you into something you don’t want.”

 I let out a shaky sigh. As I had thought before after meeting Bonnie, Cornelius probably tried so hard to keep me at home because he didn’t want me to discover what kind of person she really was. Would I have listened to him if he told me from the beginning what she was like? Or would I have run away regardless? Perhaps Bonnie had some love left over for Cornelius and she spared him the details of the O’Driscolls holding me at that cabin.

 “If anyone comes for you, Evie,” Charles said, stopping near the clearing, “no one’s gonna let you go. You’re in the family now.”
 “I know, Charles.”
 “Do you?”
 “Well, I... No, no, I do not know.”
 “I won’t tell Dutch. Let’s get what we need and head back.”

 Charles shot a buck and had it on the back of his horse before I could even decide which doe I wanted to go for. I was so anxious about everything -- Sean’s drinking, the question Bonnie had asked that I couldn’t answer, and now Cornelius. There was no point in worrying over the last situation, but as for Sean I didn’t want him to drown himself and as for the question... I was still so unsure. I allowed Dutch to touch me again after talking things through and through my tears I had told him I loved him, but I wasn’t even sure if the feeling was truly there. I knew I felt safe, but love felt as if it was just out of reach.

 “If you can’t focus, it’s okay,” Charles assured me, grabbing my arm. “The one I caught should be enough, at least for two days.”

 I got out of his grasp and immediately shot a doe. It wasn’t my cleanest kill, but I didn’t want to return to camp empty-handed when Pearson asked for both of us to get something. Charles helped me get the doe up onto the back of Maple and we headed back to camp. We both stopped just short of the clearing to enter the camp and looked at each other. No one was watching for anyone coming. I had a faint idea of why it was so. We slowly approached the clearing. Charles continued on inside, but I stopped just behind a horse that wasn’t hitched.

 It was Cornelius’ horse. Charles and I had been gone not even an hour. I didn’t know whether to turn around and run from my father or hitch Maple up and go inside. Neither was a good option, but I realized that The Count was mounted, at least, meaning Dutch was back. I followed after Charles and hitched Maple up. Javier was standing slightly off to the side of Cornelius. It was too quiet. No one was making any movements to look at Charles and I, lest Cornelius realize that I was in camp after all.

 “All I am asking is for you to return my daughter to me,” Cornelius said.
 “It ain’t like I’m holding her hostage,” Dutch replied. “I asked and she came willingly.”
 “That may be so, Mister van der Linde, but--”
 “There ain’t no ‘buts’ about it,” Susan interrupted.

Cornelius sighed, shaking his head, which led to him noticing that I was essentially cowering behind Maple. I moved lower behind my horse and heard the crunch of snow, meaning he took a step toward me. Or at least he tried to.

 “I’m assuming you know she met that Bonnie,” Dutch said.
 “I... No, Bonnie only told me she saw her from afar,” Cornelius admitted, sounding confused.
 “Of course. Evie, come here.”

I really didn’t want to move from where I was, but Cornelius wouldn’t leave until I showed myself and Dutch would just keep insisting that I stand next to him. I didn’t know what he was trying to do, but I had to trust him. Soon my father would become increasingly desperate to try and force me to go back.

 “What is waiting for her in Arkansas?” Charles asked when I finally wandered over to Dutch.
 “Excuse me?” Cornelius replied.

As much as I knew my father was a good man, he had problems with those who weren’t of the same skin tone as us. Beth and the other maids were black and he only ever talked to them when it was absolutely necessary. Apologies to them were usually said as if he were struggling to get the words out. He didn’t beat them, at least not physically. I liked Beth, and so I hoped nothing bad happened to her after I left.

 “Oh, we know about the pastor’s grandson,” Dutch told him.
 “Why is he here?” I asked.
 “Sneaky son of a bitch tried to follow me and Hosea in. He must have seen us outside town.”

Cornelius so clearly lacked the ability to be sneaky when it didn’t involve money. He was so desperate to get me back that he willingly followed outlaws into the camp?

 “Your father is a fool,” Charles said.
 “I never said he wasn’t,” I replied.
 “Tessa, listen--” Cornelius began.
 “You do not call me that!”

He stepped back, a look of surprise coming over his face. Javier pushed him back forward. Cornelius wanted to be in the camp, then he was going to stay in the camp until it was evident he was going to leave and never come back. If no one scared him into never telling anyone where we were hidden, then I would. I felt bad for him just thinking about it, but I refused to lay down and take it.

 “If I had known you were truly going to run away, then we could have spoken about all this,” he said.
 “I tried, but you would not listen to me,” I retorted. “There is no speaking to you when you have made up your mind.”
 “I was trying to keep you safe.”
 “From who? Mama? There is no need to anymore. I know what she is like and you...you let me believe in something that was not real!”

 He stayed quiet. He was wrong and he knew it. There was no reason for him to not know it. Bonnie was a horrible person. How he managed to have a grasp on her for as long as he did was beyond me. How had they fallen in love? How had Bonnie fallen in love with someone as boring and simple as Cornelius? According to my father, he had not yet come into his inheritance at the time they met. Bonnie hadn’t been in it for the money; she took nothing with her when she left me. Cornelius appeared to have an epiphany.

 “How is it that you know what she is like?” he inquired. “What... What did she do?”
 “What didn’t she do?” Charles asked in a hostile tone.
 “You had best watch your mouth with me.”
 “Charles and anyone here can speak to you however the hell they want to!” I shouted.

Cornelius was taken aback. The last thing he expected was for me to take up swearing. Someone didn’t go through what I did without some kind of changes in their behaviour. I was trying to put off telling him what happened, but it was going to come out any moment now.

 “What happened to you, Tessa?” Cornelius demanded. “You never raised your voice or used profanity before. These people are a bad influence on you and I implore you to listen to me and come home!”
 “You want to know what happened?” I snapped. “Mama happened! The O’Driscolls happened!”
 “What...? She is still with them?”

What did he mean by “still”? She couldn’t have been running for them for a long time, could she? I thought back to the day she left me and the man whom she had left with clearly had not been Colm, even if I shaved twenty years off. I shook my head to rid myself of the memory, clenching my jaw.

 “Want me to tell him or do you want to?” Dutch asked.
 “Tell me what?” Cornelius said. “It does not matter -- Tessa, you know blood is thicker than water; you should be coming home with me, not staying with these...ahem...people.”
 “I share blood with Mama,” I hissed, “and you wish to stand there and tell me what I should and should not be doing? You know what? No. Bonnie is the reason I am so angry. The O’Driscolls are why I am so angry. And now you are why I am so angry! Blood does not mean anything! It is not some...some binding contract! Do you know what blood has gotten me?! It has gotten me kidnapped, and beaten, and nearly forced into something I did not want!”
 “Tessa--”
 “Don’t you dare interrupt me! Bonnie wanted to make me out to be their whore! She told Colm O’Driscoll about me and I was gutted because of her! She beat me until I couldn’t even stand!” Susan held my arm to keep me from stepping forward. “You didn’t listen to me and you went against my wishes with Declan and Father O’Malley and acted like it was best for me! You tried to bribe Dutch despite the fact I was happy! So don’t you dare stand there and tell me that blood is more important because it doesn’t mean a fucking thing!”

 It looked like Cornelius was going to topple over and perish right there. He was white in the face at all the information I had just shouted at him. There was a moment when he continuously tried to open his mouth to say something, but he just seemed to look confused. White as a ghost, but so very confused. Not even his clients had ever screamed at him like I had, even under the most dire circumstances.

 “What...do you mean when you said you were...‘gutted’?” he asked slowly.
 “I left Arkansas pregnant,” I breathed, shaking from how angry I was.
 “You...” He looked at Dutch. “You did this to her.”
 “I did no such thing,” Dutch replied.
 “If it were not for you, she would not be here!”
 “What was I supposed to do, Father?” I sniffled. “Allow myself to be thrown into an asylum? Allow you to send the baby off to an orphanage and be caught in a marriage with Declan?”

 Cornelius shook his head with a sigh and reached into his jacket. He was only pulling out a money clip, but Sean and Javier pointed their guns at him. It was only a precaution, but it still looked like they made my father even more nervous. All the blood had drained from his face and what was returning quickly drained again when they didn’t lower the guns.

 “Six thousand dollars,” he said, his voice shaking. “Hand Tessa over and it’s yours.”

I held my breath and stepped back into Susan and Abigail. It wasn’t the same situation as when Cornelius met with Dutch and tried to bribe him into staying away from me. There were more people and there was more money. Some of them I didn’t know too well yet; Lenny I didn’t know at all since we had never spoken to each other, Uncle was usually sleeping, and Reverend Swanson was always either on morphine or incredibly drunk. Not to mention that Javier and I had only ever spoken a small handful of times. I still didn’t know if the ladies felt like I belonged with them, even if they said I did.

 “Put it away, Mister Locke,” Dutch demanded.
Of all the people Cornelius could look at, he looked at Sean. “What about you?”
 “Go jump in the lake and freeze, ya English fucker,” Sean snapped.
 “Really? Not one of you is willing to let Tessa go?”
 “I’m not forcing her to stay here,” Dutch reminded him. “If she wanted to leave, she would.”
 “She is not like you. She comes from class -- higher society than any of you could ever hope to achieve in your pathetic lives. Yes, I would rather have her be married to someone she does not love than see her out here. You will get her killed. Tessa!”

 I wasn’t worth the back and forth, but no one was going to let me go. Micah, surprisingly, had kept his mouth shut the whole time. If anyone was going to take the money and shove me toward my father, it would have been him. That would just make a fallout with even Dutch inevitable, though. In a way, I was thankful to Micah for keeping his stupid mouth shut.

 “Daddy, even if I did go back, why would anyone want me?” I asked. “Would you just hope no one finds out I was a runaway and that those things didn’t happen?”
 “She don’t wanna go,” Javier told him, “and we ain’t letting her go.”
 “It’s best for you to turn around and go home,” Dutch said, stepping toward Cornelius. “And don’t even think about telling anyone where we are. If you do, we’ll track you down and make sure you pay. It ain’t just your daughter I’m looking out for. It’s everyone.”
 “You--”
 “Choose your next words very. carefully. sir.” Dutch took the money clip from Cornelius. “I’ll be taking this as your word you won’t be the next one to put Evie in danger.”

 Cornelius looked even more scared just from Dutch’s tone of voice. He knew that he was serious about finding him if anyone came to the camp because of him. I had been worried someone was going to kill my father -- I would never want it to go that far. My father looked at me before running out of the camp in a panic.

 “Javier, go and make sure he goes to town and stays there,” Dutch instructed. “Everyone, get back to work, but someone stay with Evie; I’ve got something that needs doing.”
 Charles turned to me with a sigh. “You okay?”
 “No,” I sniffled.
 “Come sit with me by the fire. Relax.”
***

 I didn’t come out of Dutch’s tent until the next afternoon. The whole camp knew my actual name and I didn’t want to hear anyone talking about it. Well, Evie was part of my actual name, of course, but it wasn’t my given name. Still, when I stepped outside the tent, Karen immediately ran over to me. I almost backed up into the tent.

 “Are you alright?” she asked. “I told you, we ain’t lettin’ you go.”
 “No,” I sighed. “No, I am not alright, Karen.”
 “I suppose not. May I ask you a question?”
 “Is it about my name?”
 “Well...yes... Okay, look, the girls and me are confused.”

I instructed her to follow me over to where the girls were darning and doing laundry. They at least deserved an explanation if they were doing their best to be nice to me. Did I lie to them? Maybe they thought so, but then that meant Dutch also lied to them. He knew my given name and respected the fact I wanted to be called by my middle name.

 “Your first name is Tessa?” Mary Beth asked. “It don’t suit you.”
 “What I’m tryin’ to figure out is if you lied to everyone or not,” Tilly admitted.
 “If you think I did, you need to bring it up with Dutch,” I replied. “He knew.”
 “Where does Evangeline come from? I heard Trelawny call you that yesterday.”
 “It’s my middle name, but it is a mouthful so I just prefer Evie.”

Dutch was talking to Javier as he was mounting his horse. Javier was waiting for some reason as Dutch wandered over to where I was. I turned to him with a small sigh.

 “You remember the way to your father’s house?” he asked.
Now I was the one who was confused. “Yes...?”
 “Go with Javier. He’ll explain on the way.”
 “Dutch, it is almost a full day of travelling both ways.”
 “I know that; just go. And take Sean with you!”

He had taken it upon himself to get my crossbow and gun from the tent, and even strapped my travelling trunk to Maple. We were going to be going in the direction of Arkansas, which hopefully meant was the complete opposite that Colm, his boys, and Bonnie went. I mounted Maple and off Javier, Sean, and I went. With any luck, Maple would be able to adapt right back to flat, earthy ground and we would be able to be faster.

 “Your father is still in town,” Javier explained. “Dutch thinks it’s a good time to go to your house and take what you had to leave behind.”
 “Of my jewellery, you mean,” I said.
 “Yeah.”
 “So we’re gonna be ridin’ into the middle of a town where Evie is wanted?” Sean asked. “What a bright fuckin’ idea.”
 “We’re going into the town at night, Sean.”
 “Alright, fine.”

Knowing Cornelius, he definitely would have asked anyone to keep an eye out for me if I returned. Someone was going to be watching the house, at least during the day. I didn’t know how we were going to walk right through the front door unnoticed; the lock was loud and the floor right near the door creaked beneath any kind of weight. And it wasn’t as if we would be able to get into my bedroom window; it was at the front of the house and someone would surely see at least someone scaling the outside. Cornelius’ bedroom was at the back, so perhaps we could get in that way. Sean and Javier could have gone by themselves if it wasn’t so far.

 By the time we got just outside of my town, the sun was just about going down. Maple remembered the direction of the stables and started to try and go in that direction. I had to get off of her to keep her from going anywhere. The three of us found a more secluded spot where it would be difficult for anyone to see us going in or out of the town.

 “It don’t look like a city,” Sean muttered. “Is that your house over there?”
 “The big one?” I asked. “Yes. It is the biggest.”
 “Get some rest,” Javier said. “We’re gonna get in and get out quickly, and we ain’t gonna stop until we can get back in the snow. It’ll also throw any lawmakers off our tails.”
 “Um...Jav...Javier? The only law here is two men.”

Sean and Javier looked at me like I was mad. There was next to no crime in my town at all. It was considered quaint and the only one house that had anything of value was my house. But people didn’t tend to come by because they figured with a house like mine there was round the clock surveillance. My house had almost gotten robbed once and it was the house that made him get caught. He’d picked the front door lock, ran across creaky floorboards, and made the mistake of walking into the kitchen; there was a small bell hanging above the door leading into the kitchen.

 “Convenient,” Javier mumbled. “Either way, we’re gonna have to leave quickly. So get some rest.”

It felt so strange being so close to my house. It almost didn’t seem real, for some reason. Did I get so used to being outside and living in a tent? I wasn’t even gone for that long. I rested up as best I could, but when Javier was trying to wake me up I didn’t want to get up. Still, I forced myself up and realized he was having an even harder time waking Sean.

 “Sean,” I groggily said. “Hey.”

He didn’t even make a sound. If it weren’t for the fact I could see his chest rising and lowering with his breathing, I would have thought he was dead. I went over to him and tried to shake him awake. All that warranted was a sleepy mumble.

 “Wake up,” I muttered, lightly slapping his cheek.

Javier finally kicked Sean in the leg, which finally woke him up. The kick didn’t look hard, but it sounded hard.

 “Get up, both of you,” Javier demanded, grabbing the travelling trunk from Maple. “Let’s go.”

The two of them followed me into the town. It was as quiet as I remembered it being at night, with the slight noise of horses in the stable. I led them around the back of my house and stopped just below Cornelius’ bedroom window. The trellis still looked as if it was in decent shape to be climbed. It was just a matter of who was going to climb up.

 “You wanna do it Evie?” Javier asked.
 “Why, so you can look up her dress, ya dog?” Sean teased.
 “Shut up. She knows the house.”
 “Yeah, right. I’ll go.” He grabbed a file from his pocket. “How are you two gettin’ in?”
 “You will have to be quiet,” I told him. “Let us in through the parlour; it is down the stairs and to the right side. If the doors are closed, they will be double doors.”

 Sean climbed up the trellis and I watched him shove the file beneath the frame. It took a good moment for him to get it opened, but once he did he went right into Cornelius’ bedroom. I led Javier over to the parlour window to wait for Sean to get downstairs.

 “I wanted to ask you something,” Javier admitted.
 “Yes?” I replied, peaking into the window.
 “So there’s Kansas...but then there’s Arkansas. Why isn’t Arkansas--”
 “I asked Daddy that same question when I was younger and he did not know, so I do not know. It is just one of those things.”
 “What the hell is taking Sean so long?”

I stared intently at the double doors leading into the parlour; they were locked. I could see that they were jiggling however, and it wasn’t but a moment until Sean managed to pick the lock open. He looked a bit spooked, really, but immediately closed them back up after entering the parlour.

 “Fuckin’ maid almost caught me,” he whispered when he opened the window.
Javier looked at me. “You have maids?”

 I shrugged in response and hopped up onto the windowsill. Sean helped me through before turning to Javier and taking the travelling trunk and allowing him to climb through the window. The two of them looked around the parlour for a moment. Had they never been inside a nice house before? Granted, it was one of the nicest houses around, but I was sure they had to at least robbed one or two great houses in their lives. While they looked around, I pressed my ear to one of the double doors. Whoever had almost caught Sean was gone, but to make sure I opened the doors a crack and peeked out.

 “Come on,” I whispered.

The two of them followed closely behind me out of the parlour and up the stairs to my bedroom. It was just the way I had left it. My larger travelling trunk was still sitting in the middle of the floor and my jewellery case still had its small drawers slightly pulled out. The trunk Sean was carrying would be almost completely filled after the case was emptied.

 “Are these real diamonds?” Sean asked.

I looked at what he was holding; they were Bonnie’s earrings that I hadn’t let Dutch initially take. At that time I had felt panicked that he would pocket them anyway if I had not taken them from him. But now all I wanted to do was get rid of them.

 “Yes,” I replied.
 “You sure you wanna get rid of those?” Javier inquired, looking away from the door.
 “They should have a good price on them and besides, they’re Bonnie’s.”

Sean dropped them into the travelling trunk and continued to go through all the jewellery. Javier was keeping watch, just in case a maid decided to come upstairs and we had to be quiet. It wasn’t hot in Blackwater just yet, but I hadn’t grabbed my parasol when leaving with Dutch in the first place. I was going to need it eventually. I tucked it beneath my arm with a quiet sigh.

 “We should leave soon,” I suggested. “Someone is bound to notice my light is on and come investigate.”
 “Almost got everything,” Sean assured me.
 “Shut up!” Javier hissed.

He took a step away from the door, shutting it quietly. I listened quietly. There was someone coming up the stairs. I gestured to the light switch and Javier at least dimmed it. I didn’t want to get caught and I didn’t want Sean or Javier to get caught, either. If it came down to it, though, I would make myself known if it meant helping them leave.

 “Mister Cornelius, have you returned home?” Beth called. “What did Miss Tessa say? Will she be returning? Sir?”

 Sean hadn’t closed the window in my father’s room, I remembered. I hoped he had at least known to shut the door. Beth knew someone was in the house, probably from the light footsteps from my walking over to my parasol. It was a good few moments of silence, until...

 “Miss Tessa?” she murmured.

Javier hid in my armoire and Sean hid beneath my bed. From what I could see of Javier peeking out of the armoire, he was telling me to talk to her to make her go away. I turned the light back on higher and opened the door. When Beth saw me, it looked like she was going to faint.

 “Oh, Miss Tessa!” she exclaimed. “You’re alright!”
 “Of course,” I replied.
 “Wh-What are you doing here? Mister Cornelius has been so worried!”
 “I am not staying, Beth. I just needed to come get some things and I will be leaving again.”
 “Your father said if you came home to not let you go. I’m sorry, but I have to listen to him.”
 “I am sorry, too.”

I quickly grabbed my gun and hit her over the head with it. She fell to the floor with a thud; hopefully no one else heard the impact.

 “Okay, you need to hurry, Sean,” I huffed.

Sean quickly got back to putting jewellery in the travelling trunk and Javier dragged Beth into the bedroom so he could close the door again. With any luck, the other maids were already asleep or so preoccupied with something else that they wouldn’t realize Beth wasn’t back. I didn’t want anyone to come looking for her until we were gone.

 “That’s everything,” Sean said. “Let’s go.”

Chapter Text

At Camp/3rd Person POV

 “Has anyone seen Evie?” Mary Beth asked.
 “Dutch’s tent?” Javier suggested.
 “That’s the first place I checked. Evie!”

She walked around the camp, looking in other tents and a little bit into the forest, but she couldn’t find Evie at all. Her eyes were full of worry. What if Miss Grimshaw got mad at her? It wasn’t her responsibility to watch that girl, but she and the ladies had meant it when they promised they wouldn’t let her out of their sights.

 “Charles, have you seen Evie?” Karen asked. “Mary Beth ain’t seen her in a while.”
 “Have you checked to see if her horse is still here?” Charles replied.

Karen walked over to where the horses were hitched. Two horses were missing -- Boadicea and Maple. Everyone knew Arthur was out working, but no one knew what Evie was doing outside of camp. Arthur had left on his own early in the morning and she had only woken up long after he had left. This meant that she had gone outside the camp on her own for the first time in a while. Even if she needed to be alone, if she told anyone what she was doing she would have been followed, at least.

 “Her horse is gone!” Karen shouted.
 “Whose horse is gone?” Dutch asked.
 “Evie’s!”
 “She must have snuck out when everyone wasn’t looking,” Charles said.
 “Who was on lookout?”
 “Bill, I think.”

Dutch and Karen went out to where Bill was meant to keep watch; he was still there, gun at the ready if need be.

 “What’re you doin’ out here?” he asked.
 “Did you see Evie leave?” Karen said.
 “Now that you mention it, yeah, I did. Thought it was weird she didn’t have anyone with her.”
 “She ain’t supposed to leave camp alone,” Dutch scolded.
 “What’s wrong with you?” Karen muttered, walking back into the camp.
 “How long ago?”
 “I dunno. A couple hours?”

Dutch went back into camp. He and Hosea were supposed to go see how things were, but maybe he was going to have to go looking for her himself.

 “I’ll go,” Charles offered, already mounting his horse. “I’ll check the spots I know she likes going.”

He quickly left the camp, first going to the clearing where he and Evie usually caught food for everyone. The next spot was the clearing that had the rock big enough to hide behind. Then it was the hill that overlooked Blackwater. For a moment, Charles contemplated going to see Cornelius, but there was already so much hostility there that it might not work out. It didn’t take a lot of back and forth, though, for Charles to pull it together and head to the town Evie’s father was staying in. Maybe Evie had gone to see him, just to talk things through. She’d been upset after returning from Arkansas.

 “How can I help you, sir?” the clerk at the front desk of the hotel asked.
 “Is Cornelius Locke staying here?” Charles replied.
 “Is something the matter?”
 “That a ‘yes’?”
The clerk sighed. “Room one.”

 Charles went and knocked on room one’s door. It was only a few seconds before Cornelius opened up. Charles had expected for him to just slam the door shut in his face, but that isn’t what happened.

 “What do you want?” Cornelius inquired.
 “Have you seen Evie?”
 “No, I have not, and even if I did see her, I would not tell you.”
 “She isn’t supposed to leave camp on her own.”
 “No? Then do you want to tell me how she got into my house and took all her jewellery I ever bought her? My maid sent a telegram.”
 “That doesn’t matter.” Charles sighed. “I knew this was a waste of time. Do you know if she drinks?”
 “I would hope that she does. I cannot imagine she would be sober if she let the likes of Dutch van der Linde into her sheets.”
 “That’s your kid you’re talking about.”

Charles turned around and left the hotel. At first, he checked the saloon in this town, before leaving and heading for Blackwater. Sure enough, Maple was hitched outside the saloon there. He pat her side as he wandered into the building. Evie was at the bar, so drunk she didn’t realize that there were two different men trying to come onto her. She didn’t even realize Charles had come in, either. He quickly went over to her when the men began leading her toward the back.

Evie POV

 “Evie!”

The two men who said they were going to lead me elsewhere and I turned around to look at who had called my name. Charles looked exhausted. What was that about?

 “What?” I asked.
 “Let her go before I punch you two in the throat,” he muttered.

Both the men backed off. Not everyone wanted to try and fight off a big angry guy inside of a saloon. I grabbed onto the bar for support. It seemed I was drunker than I realized. Those two guys had told me they were going to take me to get a room so I could rest. I made it known to Charles.

 “Pretty sure they had other ideas on their mind,” he replied.
 “What are you doing here?” I mumbled into the new glass of whiskey.
He took it from me and set it down. “I’m bringing you home. You know you’re not allowed to leave alone.”
 “Am I ever gonna be allowed to leave alone?”
 “Not if you’re gonna do this. You could have had a drink in camp.”
 “But here I can have as much as I want.”
Charles looked at the bartender. “Switch her to water.” He shook his head with a sigh. “Why did you leave?”
 “I dunno.”

I rested my head down on the bar, feeling like I was going to vomit. That was a lie; I knew why I left. I knew I could trust Charles, but that was the problem. Charles willingly listened to me when I was sad, angry, scared, and whatever else. How much was too much?

 “Who sent you?” I groaned, lifting my head.
 “Dutch. Sort of.”
 “Why?”
 “He’s worried, same as Karen and Mary Beth.”
 “Sure.”

I burst out crying. What a disappointment I was -- to Cornelius, to Father O’Malley, to everyone. I left alone to get drunk because there was no way I could get drunk in camp. Susan would have my head. It wasn’t the best idea I had ever had, but it wasn’t something that would get me killed. Maple would have gotten me back to camp just fine.

 “What?” Charles asked.
 “No one loves me,” I sobbed.
 “Dutch does.”
 “If he does, why isn’t he here trying to bring me home? Because he has to work? He can work any time.”

 I looked at the door of the saloon as Sean and Javier came in. They stopped by Charles and I.

 “See, when I go drinkin’ these days, it ain’t right,” Sean said. “But when she does--”
 “Shut up,” Javier muttered.
 “What are you two doing here?” Charles asked.
 “Dutch wanted us to check the saloons for her.”
 “See?” I sobbed. “See?”
 “She hit her maid over the head,” Sean mentioned. “Don’t think it sat right with her.”
 “It sits with me just fine, Sean. What doesn’t sit right with me is why you three are here and not--”
 “That’s enough,” Charles sighed. “One of you tie her horse to yours; I’ll take her home.”

Charles had to drag me outside and force me to sit on top of his horse. He had to make sure I was actually holding onto him, and tight enough that I wouldn’t actually fall off the back. At least it wasn’t a long ride back to camp. Karen ran over to try and help me down, but I ended up smacking her hands away. I knew all she wanted to do was help me, but I wasn’t having it. Charles shook his head at her before helping me over to Dutch’s tent, who was inside after all.

 “She’s very out of it,” Charles told him.
 “I’m in it just fine!” I shouted.
 “Keep your voice down,” Dutch scolded, waving Charles off.
 “No, you keep your voice down!”
 “I ain’t the one screaming.”
 “You wanna tell me why the hell you sent three others to find me instead of looking for me yourself?! It took, what, four hours for anyone to find me! Someone else isn’t in camp and everyone realizes it right away! No, I know why you didn’t come looking for me yourself!”
 “Tell me, then.”
 “You don’t love me; you never did and you never will! I’m just a convenience! No wonder Miss O’Shea left you!”
 “She’s losin’ her fucking mind,” I heard Micah snort.
 “Shut up before I punch you again! You know what? I’m sorry! I’m sorry that I’m not Annabel! I’m--”
 “Okay, that’s enough,” Hosea demanded, grabbing me from Dutch’s tent.
 “Don’t you think that I don’t know about Abigail or Susan or Karen, either! You can say I’m part of the family now all you goddamn want, but it only changed to that after Colm! ‘She should have kept her legs closed and her petticoat down!’ Because it only takes one person to make a kid these days, does it?! Dutch van der Linde could never do anything wrong!”

 The whole time Hosea was dragging me away from Dutch’s tent to take me elsewhere to calm me down, he had tried to cover my mouth so I couldn’t keep screaming. I kept swatting his hand away at the last second.

 “She don’t mean it,” he tried to assure everyone as he shoved me into one of the other tents.
 “Like hell I don’t!”
 “Look, just...calm down.”
***

 I ended up passing out in Sean’s tent, with no memory whatsoever of what had happened earlier on in the day. Something bad must have happened because Karen and Abigail, for once in a long while, weren’t fretting over me. And why else would I have been in Sean’s tent? I wandered over to Dutch’s tent, looking around nervously. Dutch seemed content enough.

 “Are you calmed down yet?” he asked, not looking up from his book.
 “‘Calmed down’?” I mumbled. “What happened?”
 “What’s the last thing you remember?”
 “Leaving camp to go find Arthur and--”
He looked up, appearing to be slightly confused. “To find Arthur?”
 “Yes. I heard he went hunting, so I--”
 “How did you go from wanting to find Arthur to the saloon in Blackwater?”

I thought hard for a few seconds. I was starting to remember that I had found Arthur and when I asked if I could help him, he just immediately said no and...

 “No one wants me around,” I mumbled.
 “He said that?” Dutch asked. “To you?”

I nodded. Thinking back on it, perhaps it wasn’t what Arthur had meant. But with everything that had happened, from the O’Driscolls to Bonnie to Cornelius showing up, my mind felt like it was melting.

 “Charles, Sean, and Javier found you in the Blackwater saloon,” Dutch explained. “You came back and started screaming.”
 “Please tell me it was nonsense,” I pleaded. “Please?”
 “It wasn’t. I talked to everyone when you passed out, but Abigail and Karen are sour. You can try apologizing, but it ain’t gonna work the way you want it to.”
 “I said some things I wasn’t supposed to, didn’t I?”
 “Colm told you about Annabel, didn’t he?”
 “Yes...”
 “Don’t mention her again. Go work on something.”

I went over to where Susan was; without a word, she handed me a washing bin and board and pointed at a pile of laundry that needed to be done. At least washing would get my mind off of being upset, at least for a little while. It couldn’t have been the first time someone drunkenly screamed a lot in the camp, right? Someone had to have, at some point, screamed worse things. Hurtful things. At least now I knew what would happen if I overdid it with drinking. My head was hurting.

 “Ain’t so tough, now, are ya?” Micah said, walking by me.
 “I never said I was, Micah,” I replied.

He kicked the back of my boots to make me look at him. I was so annoyed that I had done what I did, so what was looking at him going to do? It was not as if I was able to hit him again, and he knew that, too.

 “What do you want?” I asked with a sigh.
 “Nothin’,” he said, his voice dripping with lies. “When are ya gonna drink again? You’re fun when you’re drunk.”
 “Okay, Micah.”
 “What? Just ‘okay’?”
 “Leave her alone, Mister Bell,” Susan scolded. “She’s gone through enough and you ain’t helpin’.”
 “Oh, I’m sorry that the princess messed up.”

Micah left and I went back to washing.

 “I’m sorry, Miss Grimshaw,” I mumbled as I worked. “I don’t know everything I said, but if I said anything to--”
 “Ain’t anythin’ I can’t handle,” Susan said. “We’re fine. You wanna make it up to Abigail and Karen, you’re gonna have to give ‘em more than an apology.”
 “I understand. Um...”

I stopped working for a moment to think. Once or twice I had found Karen sipping back whiskey, and I saw her regularly smoking cigarettes. I didn’t really know what Abigail liked; I’d given her one of my dresses once and she seemed thankful. I wasn’t able to get rid of any of my other dresses, though, and the ones I had bought for when I was pregnant were too big for either of us.

 “You got any ideas?” Susan asked.
 “I do.”
 “Well, good. Now get back to work.”

It was going to have to wait until the next day since it was getting a bit late for shops to still be open. I quickly finished up the washing and hung everything up. Arthur wandered over as I was doing so. I frowned at the sight of him.

 “Have you come to tell me no one wants me around again?” I asked bitterly.
 “Look, that ain’t what I meant,” he explained. “Just that--”
 “Then what did you mean? You specifically said that no one wants me around.” I hung up one of Abigail’s dresses. “If you meant you didn’t want me to be around, you should have said so.”
 “I ain’t good with words.”
 “Not good with women, either, it seems.”
 “I came over here to say that I’m sorry, so can I just do it and we can get it over with?”
 “Are you sorry, Arthur?” I poked my head out around the dress to look at him. “Really?”
 “I am.”
 “Then fine. Now please leave me alone. You are making my headache worse.”
Arthur muttered to himself as he walked away. “Stubborn...”

 It was impulsive of me to go and try and hunt with him. I was just so tired of being stuck in the camp that I thought it would be fine if I went and found him and stayed with him. I should have gone right back to camp when he said “no”, but hearing that no one wanted me around was too much. I hated hitting Beth over the head; she had always been so good to me, but I didn’t want Sean or Javier to get caught, too. Every time I closed my eyes, I could hear Bonnie screaming at me or I could feel an O’Driscolls hands on me. Every time I got changed I was reminded that I was gutted. Those thoughts had just flooded to me all at once when Arthur told me no one wanted me around and I couldn’t handle it.

 “You okay?” Javier asked, holding a tin cup out to me.
 “I will be,” I sighed. “What is that?”
 “Coffee. It’ll help with your headache.”
 “Oh... Thank you, Javier.” I took the cup from him. “And for helping find me. I didn’t...say anything, did I?”
 “Not to me or Sean. We got back to camp and heard about all the screaming you did. Then Sean found you in his tent.”
 “I don’t even know how I got there.”
 “Hosea put you there.”
 “I said some...pretty terrible things, from the sound of it.”
 “Nobody goes and gets drunk the way you did for no reason.”

He walked away and I finished putting up the laundry. Once she noticed I was done the laundry, Susan handed me a pile of socks that needed darning. I didn’t know if she had lied to me when she said we were okay or if she was just trying to keep me busy, but either way I went and sat on a tree stump and got to work on the socks. It was going to be so dark out by the time I even finished just a handful of the things, but if she wanted me to get them done then I would get them done.

 “You’re tryin’ too hard,” Dutch mentioned.
 “Too hard at what?” I asked quietly.
 “If Miss Grimshaw didn’t like you, she would have yelled at you, too.”

I sighed and set down the sock I was holding in my lap. If I didn’t try hard as I always did, then that would seem as if I was slacking.

 “I’m sorry, Dutch.” I picked the sock back up and continued. “Whatever else I said, I’m sorry.”
 “Oh, I’ve had worse,” he admitted. “You should have heard the shit Miss O’Shea was screamin’ when she left.”
 “I’m still sorry.”
 “Are you ready to tell me what else happened with Colm?”
 “Not around here.”
 “What’s the problem now?”
 “I just don’t want Micah hearing the stuff I need to tell you, Dutch. Is that too much to ask?”
***

 After getting dragged from the Blackwater saloon, Dutch only took me back to talk. I was strictly water at this point on the account that I still had a headache from how much I drank earlier in the day. The things I told Charles I told to Dutch, but I still left out the bit about not being able to answer Bonnie’s question. I still didn’t know if I loved him. Had I fallen for his stories or had I fallen for him? I was so confused. Micah calling me princess only ever reminded me of being tied to the table in the cabin. He was no help, but he was such a cretin that he didn’t care. I would rather Micah take to calling me Tessa. If he wouldn’t call me Evie or Evangeline, then I would cope with Tessa.

 “I really am sorry,” I said.
 “For what this time?” Dutch replied, taking a puff of his cigar.
 “The...baby...”
 “There was nothing you could do and there sure as hell ain’t anything you can do about it now.”
 “Dutch.”
 “One day, we’ll be able to get Colm for everything he’s done. Right now, we don’t even know where he’s at. If one of us is gonna outlive the other, it’s gonna be me. I know it don’t help when I tell you there’s nothing you can do, but it’s the truth. I don’t want you running off thinking you can do something as dumb as getting revenge. You run into a camp of as many people as he’s got, and with Bonnie there, you’re bound to get killed.”

 He was right. There was no point in trying to kill Colm, at least not yet and definitely not on my own. If anyone understood my lust for killing him it had to be Dutch. I let him know that I was still sorry about the baby, even if he told me it wasn’t my fault. Whether it was my fault or not didn’t matter.

 “Dutch, why isn’t Sean allowed to drink anymore?” I mumbled. "But other's are...?"
 “We’ve got a job coming up and I can’t have everyone drunk,” he admitted. “Everyone can drink after the job is done. The same goes for you, too.”

Chapter Text

 “Abigail?” I said. “Abigail.”
 “What do you want now?” Abigail replied. “You here to make fun of me?”
 “No. I’m here to apologize. I asked Miss Grimshaw if I can take you into town to get something. I know a simple ‘I’m sorry’ won’t cut it.”

 She thought for a moment, and then she nodded. Sean was already on top of Ennis waiting for us. Abigail got on the back of Maple and off we went to town. I didn’t know what she was expecting, but when we stopped in front of a finery I could tell by the look on her face that that wasn’t it. She mentioned she had never even stepped foot inside of one when we went inside.

 “I should be gettin’ ready for the job but instead here I am takin’ two girls shoppin’,” Sean groaned. “Ain’t that just great...”
 “What are we here for?” Abigail wondered.
 “Anything you want,” I replied, giving Sean a side-eye. “If you want a custom item, we can do that, too.”
 “Does Dutch know?”
 “He knows, and he knows I’m not taking anything away from the camp. I still have plenty of money left over from when I sold my earrings and rings.”

 Abigail picked up a scarf from a shelf and showed it to me. For a moment I didn’t know what she wanted me to do with it; I took it from her and she didn’t move. She was being modest, I realized. I sighed and walked around with her to see if she liked anything else. It took a while for her to realize that we weren’t leaving until she was completely satisfied. By the time Abigail was finished picking everything out that she wanted, my arms were full up of a new dress, a scarf, and new boots. Not quite what I was expecting her to get -- I expected more -- but she seemed happy enough with what she chose. As we walked back to the front where the counter was, I looked at a shelf that held an assortment of hats.

 “What the hell do ya think you’re doin’?” Sean asked.

I had taken the hat he was wearing already off his head and set the one I had picked up on top of his head instead.

 “Much better,” I said, handing the old one back to him.

The lady standing at the counter packed up Abigail’s things and we left the finery. Sean placed the package on Ennis’ back, and then the two of them followed me to the post office where Karen’s apology was waiting. I had asked Susan if she knew what Karen’s dress size was and she had managed to find out for me, and so I had ordered a new dress for her, too, along with quality whiskey and cigarettes.

 “You could make it on your own,” Sean mentioned as we walked back to the horses.
 “Sean, I would run out of money sooner or later,” I replied.
 “Thank you, Evie,” Abigail said. “You didn’t have to--”
 “Miss Grimshaw and Dutch told me that ‘I’m sorry’ wouldn’t cut it with you or Karen. I can’t remember what it is I said, but I know it was bad.”
 “The way you were screamin’ when me and Charles were lookin’ for ya was the loudest I’d heard anyone scream,” Sean admitted. “I’m surprised ya didn’t go and drink sooner.”

 Abigail looked at me and I quickly looked away. She looked angry about something all of a sudden.

 “Sean, would you mind standin’ outside the saloon while me and Evie talk?” she asked.
 “Oh, that is dirty,” Sean sighed. “Teasin’ me like that. So close to whiskey. I can’t wait till this job is done.”

 I thought that perhaps she was still mad at me -- I really wouldn’t blame her. But it wasn’t me she was angry with, not even Sean. We sat at the front of the saloon at the window so Sean could at least keep an eye on us. Turned out she was angry with Dutch and how he was dealing with my aftermath. She couldn’t remember the last time she caught us just sitting together while I did needlepoint and he read. The thing Abigail didn’t completely understand, either, was how he didn’t try and look for me himself. He’d let Charles volunteer to look for me, and then sent out Sean and Javier when he felt Charles was taking too long. Dutch hadn’t even gone to see how things were with whatever he was working on. Everyone had been fine with my screaming at him until I got to screaming about Abigail, Susan, and Karen.

 “I know about the sack,” she murmured. “Everyone does.”
 “What did you end up doing with it?” I asked.
 “We found a patch of ground that weren’t too frozen over. Buried it. Reverend Swanson said some words.”
 “Thank you, Abigail.”
 “And everyone knows what Colm O’Driscoll lets his boys do but we weren’t thinkin’ all of ’em did it.”

I wanted to tell her that not all of them did things to me. I couldn’t remember the man’s name, now, and I was so upset about it. Just in the short moment he had spoken to me, I could tell he was a good person. I sighed and leaned forward on the table.

 “Do you love him?” Abigail questioned.
I looked at her. “Beg your pardon?”
 “Dutch. Do you love him? I want you to think real hard about everythin’ that’s happened.”
 “Abigail, I don’t think I can--”

She grasped my hands in hers to keep me from moving. It looked like she was serious in her questioning.

 “I love John,” she said. “Even if he does stupid things or says things he don’t mean, I still love him. And I know that if I went missin’, like how you did, he wouldn’t stop ‘til he found me. He ain’t gonna send other people to look for me -- he’d ask ’em to help and to come with him.”
 “Where would I go, Abigail?” I sniffled. “Dutch is always talking about loyalty.”
 “Loyalty ain’t just about lovin’ someone. You’re better with words than I am. Explain to him. He’s still got your loyalty; you just don’t wanna be with him no more.”

 I gave myself a moment to calm down before we left the saloon. If I was really going to go through with what Abigail suggested I do, I needed to get my own tent. I was quick about that, at least.

 “Thanks,” Sean said suddenly on the way back to camp. “For the hat, I mean.”
 “You’re welcome.”

Back in camp, I quickly found Karen while she was washing dishes. It looked like she was going to abandon the dishes at the sight of me, that is until I held one of my hands in front of me.

 “I’m sorry!” I exclaimed. “I’m...sorry...”
 “I’m sure you are,” she snapped. “If you think--”

She looked at me, possibly realizing I was carrying a package. When she didn’t say anything further, I handed the package to her. Karen eyed me suspiciously as she sat down on a tree stump and opened it up. She looked at the dress and then up at me.

 “This looks too nice,” she admitted, and then paused before smiling. “I love it; thank you. Kinda heavy for a dress, though.”
 “There’s something else underneath for you,” I said. “I thought that maybe if you didn’t like the dress, then you would like those, at least.”

 Karen moved the dress out of the way. At first it seemed like she thought that the whiskey and cigarettes were just the kind that maybe the camp would have, but once she really got to look at them she looked excited. They were the brands Cornelius only ever drank and smoked, so I knew they were the best money could really buy.

 “Thank you,” Karen said, gathering everything up to take to her tent.
 “You’re welcome.”

Just as I was walking over to Dutch’s tent, Javier stopped me.

 “They’ve been arguing for an hour,” he told me. “You better leave it alone, whatever it is.”

 There must have just been a pause in their argument, because I could suddenly hear Arthur and Dutch going back and forth about the job that they were planning. I still didn’t know anything about it; why would he tell me? Whatever it was, it couldn’t be good if Arthur, by the sound of it, didn’t want to do it. I then heard Hosea say he wasn’t doing it, either, and this was just followed by Micah complaining about all the work he did to get the information for it.

 “You overheard some people talkin’ about it,” Arthur said. “That ain’t a lot of work. It’s barely work.”
 “What’s the job, Javier?” I asked.
 “Some boat coming in a few days,” Javier replied. “Supposed to be carrying a lot of cash. Arthur and Hosea don’t wanna do it, though.”
 “If it’s carrying a lot of money, then wouldn’t there be a lot of security?”
 “Of course. Nothing we can’t handle, though.”

I let out an exasperated sigh. Micah had brought that information to Dutch. I didn’t like him in the first place, that much was obvious to everyone else, but I didn’t trust him, either. If Hosea and Arthur didn’t want to do a job, then it must have meant they didn’t like how it was feeling.

 “Listen, you all can do the job,” Hosea suggested, “then Arthur and I will finish up here and join you in a few days’ time. No need to get all riled up.”
 “Fine,” Dutch replied. “We’ll still head for California.”

Javier let me go when Hosea, Arthur, and Micah left Dutch’s tent. It wasn’t a good time to tell Dutch I couldn’t be with him anymore. When I stepped into the tent, I could see he was stressed out.

 “What?” he asked. “There’s a look about you.”
 “It’s... It’s nothing, Dutch,” I lied. “Javier and I just overheard all the arguing.”
 “Dammit!” Abigail shouted before dragging me out of the tent. “You tell him or I will!”
 “It’s not a good time.”
 “It ain’t ever gonna be a good time, Evie!”
Dutch stepped out of his tent. “What ain’t gonna be a good time?”
 “Abigail, don’t,” I pleaded quietly.

Abigail clenched her jaw for a moment and balled her hands into fists. After a few seconds, she swallowed her anger and turned to Dutch.

 “We was just talkin’ about that job,” she said. “And how bad it would be if one of you boys got hurt.”
 “Don’t worry about that,” he replied. “We know what we’re doing. No need to cry about it, Evie.”

Abigail led me away from the tent to where she had left a pile of socks that needed to be darned. She didn’t look happy; not at all. Maybe I could tell Dutch when he had calmed down a bit from the arguing. I didn’t know if that would just make him mad again or not, though.

 “I’m sorry, but you gotta tell him,” Abigail whispered.
 “I will,” I mumbled. “It would have happened already, but I didn’t want to make him angrier after that argument.”
 “Some things can’t be helped.”
 “Reverend Swanson!”

I caught him just as he was walking by. The Reverend turned to me; I could tell that he was neither drunk nor on morphine. I got up from where I was sitting and wandered up to him.

 “Abigail told me about what you did when the sack was buried,” I said. “I just wanted to say thank you.”
 “It was the least I could do,” he replied. “Is something troubling you? You look upset.”
 “Well...yes... I don’t want to trouble anyone else with what’s going on in my mind.”
 “I know things are bad with Dutch right now, but maybe you should talk things through with him.”
I thought for a few seconds. “Reverend, do you...think he loves me?”
 “It’s hard for me to say. That isn’t my area of expertise, I’m afraid.”
 “Okay. Um... Okay. Thank you. I’m sorry to disturb you.”

I returned to Abigail with a quiet sigh. Abigail told me what I suspected and the Reverend hadn’t been able to answer me. I couldn’t just go and ask just anyone what they thought. Charles was just returning to camp from hunting; I knew I could ask him, at least. Again, I left Abigail and wandered over to where Charles was hitching up his horse.

 “Hey, Evie,” he said as he took the doe off the back of his horse.
I placed my hand on his chest to keep him from walking. “I...need to ask you something and I need you to be honest with your answer.”
 “What is it?”
 “Do you...” I sighed. “Do you think Dutch loves me?”
 “You want my honest answer, right?”
 “Please.”

I followed him over to Pearson’s butcher table. After dropping the doe on the table, he turned to me. If anyone could be honest with me the most, it was Charles. At least, I hoped he knew he could be honest with me as much as I knew I could be honest with him.

 “I don’t think he does,” he admitted. “But I could be wrong.”
 “Thank you, Charles.”
 “Evie--”
 “I’m not upset. Really, I’m not. I got the answer I was looking for. I just...need a second opinion now. Or a third...” I muttered the last bit.
 “Two ain’t enough?”
 “I just want to be extra sure before I make a decision.”

I walked off to find Sean sitting in his tent. I didn’t know about him, but something told me if I bothered asking Javier he would say something to Dutch or someone else before I could talk to Dutch myself. Sean looked at me as I sat down next to him.

 “If I ask you something, will you be honest with me?” I looked at him. “Please?”
 “An honest answer is gonna cost ya,” he replied.
 “Never mind.”
 “Hey, hey, hey!” He grabbed my hand when I began to stand up. “I was only jokin’ with ya. You want honest, I’ll give ya honest.”
 “Does it seem like Dutch loves me?”
He snorted. “No. I mean, he might love ya somehow, but I think he loves your money more. When me and Charles were lookin’ for ya, I thought he should be out there lookin’ for ya, not us.”
 “Sean...”
 “That don’t mean we didn’t wanna find ya or nothin’. We both really wanted to find ya, but I’m sure you would’ve wanted to see Dutch open that door instead of us.”
 “I’m so thankful to you and Charles for finding me, Sean. Do you think in that moment I was concerned with whichever one of you found me? I probably would have been happy even if it was Micah who found me.”
 “Eh-h-h-h...”
 “Okay, maybe not. But still, Sean. Thank you.”

I got up and walked back over to Dutch’s tent. I contemplated closing the flaps again, as he had opened them back up when I had gone to darn socks with Abigail. Closing the flaps wouldn’t give us much privacy, anyway, especially if things got heated. I didn’t want to have to scream or cry, but if I had to I would. Maybe I should have taken a swig of whiskey from the Reverend’s bottle, wherever he kept it, to take some of the edge off.

 “Dutch, I need to talk to you,” I huffed.
 “What is it this time?” he replied. “You haven’t been drinkin’ again.”
 “No, no, I haven’t.”
 “So then what do you want?”
 “There’s no easy way for me to say it, so...I can’t be with you anymore.”

Dutch looked at me, unimpressed. What, he didn’t believe me? Did he think I was feeble and wouldn’t go through with my words?

 “Why are you looking at me like that?” I asked. “I’m serious.”
 “I’m sure you are,” he said, closing his book and standing.
 “I’d prefer if you stayed over there.”
 “And I’d prefer if I could have some loyalty around here. God dammit, first they don’t wanna do the job and now you think it’s funny to do this?”
 “There’s nothing funny about it, Dutch.”
 “Where are you gonna go, then? You wouldn’t last out there on your own. Or are you plannin’ on hunting down the O’Driscolls to join them?”
 I raised my voice as loud as I could without yelling. “Dutch van der Linde, I don’t need to be with you like that to be loyal. Don’t you dare think for a moment I would go run to them.”

 He really didn’t look anything but angry now. I knew I should have waited, but the longer I waited how harder would it have been? Abigail would have probably constantly hounded me about it until I had to do it through tears. Dutch grabbed my travelling trunk, still full of the jewellery Sean had filled it with, and held it out to me.

 “It’s not about that, Dutch,” I told him. “It’s not about the money or the jewellery.”
 “Then what is it about?” he retorted. “You’ve been actin’ strange since you got back from--”
 “I hit Beth! Okay? She was always so nice to me! Those O’Driscolls I killed in town with Sean were different! They’re horrible people! And then the things with Colm and Bonnie and the rest of the O’Driscolls, and then finally Arthur telling me what he did -- how many people can say they’ve made it from Colm alive and then how many more can say they’re okay?! I am not okay, Dutch, and you don’t even care! I thought maybe it would all just go away, but it won’t! I wish they would have just killed me! But even if I’m not okay and I could have chosen to run away for good, I didn’t. I’m loyal to you, Dutch, and don’t you even think that I’m not!”

 I groaned, grabbed my crossbow, and turned on my heel. Nobody bothered to stop me when I got up on Maple and rode out of the camp. Well, everyone knew I was leaving, at least. I went to the clearing Charles and I usually went to. I sat there, leaning forward on Maple for a while. The anger had left me, that much I knew, though I was still a bit agitated. There was never any issue in my mind helping with funds. Someone needed to pay for ammunition, thread, new cots if needed, even just simple items that people wanted, like...hair pomade. When I decided I was ready to go back, I shot a buck through the neck. Without Charles there to help me, I had to get it up on Maple by myself.

 “Come...on...” I gasped, pulling it by its antlers.

With how deep the snow was, it definitely wasn’t helping. The other thing that didn’t help was that Sean managed to find me, but didn’t make himself known until I was falling on the ground repeatedly.

 “Need a hand?” he asked.
I looked at him, panting. “No!” I continued to pull on the antlers. “No, I’ve...got it...!”
 “If you say so.”

He leaned forward on Ennis, like he was just waiting for me to ask him for help. I didn’t know what I was trying to prove to myself or anyone else by attempting to get a buck up onto the back of Maple and return to camp on my own. I’d just struggle again trying to get the thing to Pearson’s butcher table. I finally gave up when I fell to the ground again.

 “Sean,” I sniffled, “what’s wrong with me?”
Sean hopped off Ennis and wandered over. “Ain’t nothin’ wrong with ya, Evie.”
 “There has to be something wrong.”
 “You went through some bad shit.” He grabbed the antlers and started dragging it toward Maple. “That don’t mean there’s somethin’ wrong with ya. Things could be a lot worse, but they’re the worst right now. I ain’t gonna pretend I know what you’re feelin’, but...ya don’t smile much these days.” He lifted the buck up onto Maple’s back and tied it up. “Me and Arthur put up that tent of yours you bought.”
 “You didn’t have to.”
 “You also don’t talk posh no more. Better than any of us, though.”

I climbed on top of Maple with a quiet sigh and waited for him to mount Ennis.

 “I’m still loyal, Sean,” I mumbled.
 “I know,” he replied. “Why would ya be out here feedin’ us and not runnin’ off, eh? Dutch just thinks you’re angry about somethin, just a heads up.”
 “Wonderful.”

When we got back to camp, Sean dragged the buck over to Pearson’s butcher table while I went over to Dutch’s tent to gather my clothes and my needlepoint.

 “You done?” Dutch asked.
 “Am I done what?” I replied.
 “Actin’ like a fool.”
 “I’m done arguing with you and yelling at you.”
 “You need to start ignoring your impulsive tenancies.”
 “‘Impulsive tenancies’. Okay.” I picked up my things with a sigh. “If you need me, I’ll be over there.”

As I made my way over to my tent, Micah walked up to me and blocked the flaps. I exhaled sharply.

 “What do you want this time?” I hissed.
 “So the princess is finally free, huh?” he teased. “No more damsel in distress?”
 “What’s that supposed to mean?”
 “You gonna start lettin’ in a bunch of fellers into your sheets?”
My skin immediately became hot despite it being freezing cold. “Micah Bell, I would sooner shoot my own eye out with my crossbow than let you into my sheets!”

 I shoved him out of the way and disappeared inside my tent. Just thinking about Micah at all made my skin crawl and now thinking that he somehow wanted into my sheets made me feel dirtier than I already did. I thought that maybe he was joking, but how much of a cretin did someone have to be to make a joke like that to someone who went through the things I had?

 “Micah, what the hell?” Abigail shouted. “Get lost! Go!” She came into my tent with a huff. “Are you alright?”
 “I think I’m going to be sick.”
 “You won’t be sick. Just try to relax, okay?”

Chapter Text

 “Hey... Hey...” Sean mumbled as he staggered over to me.
 “Are you drunk again?” I asked. “You’re not supposed to drink.”
 “Who are you, me mum? Anyway, one more drink ‘til we pull a nice robbery off ain’t gonna kill no one!”
 “It’s...just money, right? No rich people or...innocent people?”
 “Innocent? No.” He wrapped his arm around my shoulder. “Rich people? Uh...I dunno... I can’t remember the job...”
 “I see why Dutch didn’t want you drinking.”

I didn’t know when the job was, but we were already starting to pack up the camp to head to California. I’d never been to California, but I knew it was warm, and warmth was going to be nice after being out in the snow for so long. Granted, I hadn’t even been in the snow for that long, but for someone who came fresh out of a hot state, it was too much. Then at least I would be able to wear my nice dresses without having to cover them up with my winter clothes. I couldn’t wait to see Karen and Abigail in their new dresses, either.

 “You’re rich,” Sean stated, matter-of-factly.
 “Well, technically Daddy’s the one who’s rich...” I replied. “But...I guess...technically...”
 “You ever been robbed before? Nasty business, it is.”
 “No, Sean, I have never been robbed.”

Cornelius had been robbed quite a few times, but he never travelled with much money in the first place. He always carried valuable things with him just in case anything bad happened. He’d never been hurt, luckily, but with how much he travelled for work I was surprised he hadn’t ended up with a gunshot in his shoulder, at least. I still knew that he was in town and luckily enough Bonnie probably told the O’Driscolls to leave him alone. So he was going to be spared that nasty bit of the state we were in.

 “If I wasn’t here, would you?” I wondered.
 “What?” Sean said. “No.” He unwrapped his arm from around my shoulder. “If I’d seen a pretty lady like you out on the trail, of course not.”
 “Alright. That’s...good to know...I suppose...”
 “Your dad, though...” He let out a chuckle. “If I’d met him on the road, that smug fucker would be gettin’ robbed right away. How does an ugly lizard like him make a pretty girl like you, eh?”

 Sean had never seen Bonnie, had he? If he had, he would have had his answer. Then again, he was drunk and probably wouldn’t remember anyway. I doubted he was even going to remember the conversation we were having. I had just been minding my own business when I’d seen him staggering over to my tent. The only reason I was paying attention to how he was walking was because I didn’t want him to fall over. It looked like he was and I was ready to catch his arm if I had to.

 I noticed something particular about Sean, really. He was unfiltered when he was sober, but he seemed to be even more unfiltered when he was drunk. It wasn’t like I was the only girl in the camp he looked at, of course. He looked at Karen a lot when he was drinking, too. I preferred him sober -- he at least remembered our conversations. As I had noted before, he only ever called me pretty when he had been drinking. That was probably one of the only good things about him being drunk; no one ever called me pretty. Not even Dutch. To Dutch I was just “charming”, which I guessed was a compliment in and of itself. I would take being called pretty over charming any day, though.

 “Away with you!” Karen huffed, waving Sean away as she walked over to me. “Us ladies are busy.”
 “And what a fine pair of ladies you are,” he slurred.
 “Shut up and go!”

Sean sighed and staggered off to his tent. I still watched him as he walked, though. He probably had more drinks in a week -- or even a night -- than I had in my whole life, even when I went and got drunk. Karen tugged on my arm so I would pay attention to her.

 “He calls you pretty,” she mentioned, “and he only ever wants me when he’s like that.”
 “Karen--” I began.
 “Well, anyway, Miss Grimshaw said to get some rest. We’ll be packing up a lot of the big things tomorrow.”

 Just as I was going to go back into my tent, Dutch walked over. The night before, I hadn’t even bothered sleeping in my tent. I didn’t bother sleeping at all. I just sat at the campfire all night darning socks. I had been exhausted all day, but I wasn’t going to admit to Dutch or anyone, really, that I couldn’t sleep. I’d gotten so used to sleeping with someone next to me that laying in a cot alone felt strange.

 “You done avoiding me yet?” Dutch inquired.
 “I was about to continue,” I retorted.
 “Too tired to argue?”
 “I don’t want to in the first place.”
 “Well, Hosea was worried about you; clearly you didn’t sleep last night and knowing you I know you probably won’t sleep again.”
 “That’s comforting, Dutch.” My voice was dripping with sarcasm. “Hosea was worried about me.”
 “Well, forgive me, but with how you’ve been acting you wouldn’t believe I’m worried about you, too.”
 “You know why I wouldn’t believe you. I meant what I said.”

I could see that he was trying to get a decent conversation out of me, but it wasn’t going to happen. Not how he wanted it, at least. I didn’t feel angry with him anymore, but there had to be a line drawn somewhere for what I could and couldn’t believe. It was coming from someone who could pretend to be whoever he wanted to be. He could make himself sound convincing. Though, why go through all the trouble just to keep someone like me? Why go through any trouble, actually? Just as I was thinking of opening my mouth, Abigail wandered over.

 “Sorry, Dutch, but I need to talk to Evie,” she said.
 “It can’t wait?” Dutch replied.
 “’Fraid not.”

Dutch walked off back to his tent and I turned to Abigail. She didn’t need to talk to me; she just wanted to get him away from me. I should have thanked her, but I didn’t. How many people did she know that would go back to someone they told they didn’t want to be with anymore?

 “Go to sleep,” she told me.
 “I make no promises,” I muttered, disappearing into my tent.

I laid in my cot for what felt like hours, just contemplating what I should do. Dutch was right there, but I didn’t want to be fickle. I was only missing someone next to me as I slept. That was it. I sighed and got up, and left my tent. Charles was just being relieved from guard duty and was heading over to his tent. I looked around camp nervously as I wandered over to him.

 “Hey, Evie,” he said. “You okay?”
 “This might sound strange, but, erm...could you...sleep in my tent tonight?”
***

 “Hey, princess.” Micah strolled over to me. “Saw Charles comin’ out of your tent this morning.”
 “Why are you so observant about what’s going on in my tent?” I snapped, shoving my bowl away.
 “Oh, was it not good, then?”
 “What are you talking about?”
Micah leaned on the table. “You lettin’ the redskin into your sheets now?”

 I didn’t care if he was taller and bigger than me; he was becoming too much for me. I grabbed his ear, hard, and stood up, dragged him over to a water barrel and shoved his head into it. Susan looked at us and then looked away before returning to the sock she was darning.

 “Evie, what the hell do you think you’re doing?” Dutch asked, pulling me away from Micah.
 “What did it look like?” I replied.

It wasn’t even that long that Micah had his head dunked; only a few seconds. If he was going to get out of it himself, he easily could have. At least my nails had dug into his ear hard enough that I drew blood. I waved Dutch off and stormed to my tent. It didn’t take long for him to come in to talk to me. Even when I wanted to be alone, of course he felt it was fine to try and lecture me.

 “Don’t you go telling me that it’s an exception, Dutch,” I grumbled, folding my arms across my chest. “I see the things that the other men and women can get away with; pointing guns at each other when tensions are high or punching each other.”
 “Fine,” he muttered. “But all that was because he made a comment about Charles?”
 “Why does he care about what goes on in my tent? It’s mine; not yours, not his, not Charles’, mine.”

Dutch then wore a confused expression on his face. I had outed myself, having assumed Micah had told him what he had seen. It wasn’t like I had anything to hide, though. Charles and I hadn’t done anything but sleep in the same cot, and he was already gone by the time I woke up.

 “Not you, too,” I groaned.
 “You moved on quickly,” Dutch scoffed.
 “Hey!” I poked my index finger into his chest. “We did nothing; not that that’s any of your business, Dutch. I needed someone next to me so I could fall asleep. I could have run back to you, but I am neither fickle nor feeble. Ask Charles if you don’t believe me. Now don’t you have a robbery to plan? Because I have laundry to do.”

 I left my tent and walked over to where Karen was darning a sock. Just as I was sitting on the small box to start the laundry, Sean started to come over himself. I didn’t know how he was awake. From the way I heard him flop down onto his bed roll the night before, it seemed like he’d be out until noon, at least. He was wincing slightly, though. If he came out of that much drinking without a headache, that would have been shocking, to say the least.

 “We’re working,” Karen sighed.
 “What? Too busy for me?” Sean teased.
 “I’m always too busy for you.”
 “One of you’s gotta love me.”
 “Is caring enough?” I asked.
 “What?”
 “What?”
 “Well, if you’re carin’ about me, you’re halfway there to lovin’ me, don’tcha think?”
My lips twitched; I was trying so hard not to smile. “Maybe.”
Karen reached over and slapped my shoulder. “Don’t you be encouraging this boy!”
 “It’s gonna be more than a ‘maybe’ someday!” Sean said as he walked away.

Susan was walking around the camp, making sure things were being packed where they needed to be. She was going to be upset that Karen and I were darning and doing laundry, respectfully, rather than helping put things away. At least she was slowly walking and yelling and not running and screaming. She probably couldn’t wait to get out of the snow, either.

 “That boy just gets on my nerves,” Karen huffed. “If you want ’im, you can have ’im.”
 “You’re speaking about him like the men speak about us,” I replied.
 “Well, it’s only fair, ain’t it?”
 “Men aren’t pieces of meat. Have you ever looked at a slice of prime rib cut and thought to yourself, ‘My, my, isn’t that just a handsome piece of meat’?”
 Karen set the sock down in her lap. “Yes, Evie, I have. Mostly ’cause we don’t get it much. Well, not those words, but close.”
 “Oh. I’m...I’m sorry...”
 “Don’t be. Oh, no, here comes trouble.”

Susan had finally made it around the camp and was now storming over to us. I was ready receive an earful; at least it wouldn’t be another one of Dutch’s rants. Things were stressful around the camp; the air was tense and there was a lot riding on the job going well, and the snow was making people slower in packing everything up. I didn’t know how fast the wagons would be able to get pulled out, but I was hoping fast. The quicker we got out of the snow and into California, the better.

 “What do you two think you’re doin’?” Susan snapped. “There’s packin’ to do!”
 “Abigail asked me to finish up the socks she didn’t get to do so she could go help pack,” Karen quickly replied.
 “Alright, then, what’s your excuse?”
 “Um... Um... I assumed you can’t pack dirty laundry...?” I mumbled quietly.
 “Oh, Christ, just forget the laundry and the darning! Help pack up!”

She walked off again, leaving Karen and I to look at each other for a moment. After that moment was done, we got up and went to help with whatever we could. I poured out the water from the laundry basin and shoved it into a wagon. At least there were men to help with all the heavy lifting, but the camp still had much to be packed. There was no possible way everything could be packed up; we’d need a few more days, at least. Tents  were going to stay up until the night before the day we were going to have to leave.

 “Hey, Evie,” Charles said as he walked by me.
 “Hi,” I sighed, shoving a woven basket into a wagon.

He continued to walk away before turning around and walking back over. I was busy, so whatever he needed to say to me should have been important. Susan wouldn’t like it if I wasn’t working and I didn’t want to get an earful. I was shoving a chair into the wagon when he had come back to me, so at least if she looked over and saw us talking she wouldn’t be mad about it.

 “Are you okay?” Charles asked.
 “I could be better,” I admitted. “Thank you for last night.”
 “No problem... Did you sleep okay?”
 “I did. I just could be better because Micah is...” I finished putting the chair in with a sigh. “Well, he’s Micah. Too busy paying attention to my life than his and being an all around...erm...cretin.”

 I picked up another chair, this time a folding one, and put it in the wagon. It was the last chair to go in and that was that. I was done, at least, and so were the other ladies. It was just slightly after noon, now. I was a broken record -- I just wanted to leave and be in the warmth and be rid of the snow. Patience was needed, surely, and it wasn’t like anyone could just make the boat the men were robbing come any faster. Thinking about the job, though, and how Arthur and Hosea didn’t like it got me wondering.

 “Charles, do you trust this job?” I asked.
 “There’s a risk in everything, Evie,” he replied. “Ain’t a life of an outlaw if there’s no danger sometimes.”
 “I know, I know...”
 “We should be okay. Don’t worry. In a few days, we should be heading to California.”

I swallowed hard as he pat my shoulder. It was the first time since joining Dutch that a big job was being pulled off. Going back to Arkansas for the rest of my jewellery was a tiny job in comparison. There would surely be security. If that much money was being transported, there had to be.

 “I’ll see you later, Charles,” I said. “I need to speak with Dutch.”

I made my way over to Dutch’s tent, where Micah was just walking out of.

 “Princess,” he muttered.
 “Cretin,” I shot back. “Dutch, can we talk?”
 “What?”
 “The boat job you’re doing. Just...how much do you know about it?”

Dutch looked away from his book and at me. Just from the look on his face I could tell that he didn’t like that I had asked that question. I couldn’t have been the first person to ask him that question. Maybe the first woman to ask it, but not the first person.

 “Why?” he asked.
 “I’m just worried, that’s all.”
 “There’s no reason to be worried. Micah told me what we should be expecting. All should go according to plan.”
 “Micah?” I was almost able to roll my eyes back into my skull. “Micah told you about this job?”
 “Evie. You’re worryin’ too much.”
 “It’s not a crime to worry, Dutch. I still...care enough about you to worry if you’re gonna be okay or not.”
 “Does that mean you care about me, too?” Micah asked in a mocking tone.
 “Micah, I would care more about a sack of vermin than I would ever care about you. If anyone shoots you in the head on that boat, they would be doing the whole world a favour.”
 “Careful what you say, princess, you might be cryin’ over me tomorrow night if it happens.”
 “Yes. Crying with joy.”

I closed Dutch’s tent flaps, but that didn’t stop Micah from telling me that he’d still be able to hear us talking and vice versa. Folding my arms, I looked at Dutch. There was no love between us, but I at least cared about him. I didn’t resent him or anything like that, but I definitely didn’t love him. That much was clear to me now. I’d forgotten how he said he loved me one night in the saloon where we met up each week when I was still living with Cornelius. But that was one time and one time only.

 “I’m sorry for everything I said, Dutch,” I sighed. “But it really doesn’t mean I don’t care.”
 “The caring isn’t a problem,” he said. “I can say it’s too much all I want, but I know you ain’t gonna stop just ’cause we had some arguments.”
 “I’ll be loyal as humanly possible. Please don’t doubt that.”
He was quiet for a few seconds. “You know I meant it, don’t you? When I told you I loved you.”
 “Back then, maybe. It’s been nearly eight months since we first met, Dutch, and...you only said it the once.”
 “I’m not one to express with words, in case you haven’t noticed.”

I heard Susan calling for me, so I ended up leaving in a huff. She didn’t want anything herself; Abigail had just gone to her because she couldn’t find me. The work I needed to do was done for the day and so I just went to go sit in my tent. I sat on my cot and worked on my needlepoint. Every now and again, I could hear either Karen or Abigail asking where I was, and I would have to shout at them that I was still fine and still in my tent. They should have just left it alone.

 “Evie, get outta there!” Abigail said.
 “What?” I snapped, opening one of the flaps of my tent.
 “You’ve been in there all afternoon; you alright? I know you’re worried ’bout the job, but...”
 “But nothing. You know, when Dutch and I first met, he only ever really spoke about Arthur and Hosea. But now it’s just...‘Micah said this, Micah said that, Micah, Micah, Micah.’ He did speak about everyone else in stories and what went on that day he came to see me.”
 “I don’t know what it is about Mister Bell, but he’s a real piece of work. Why don’t you come eat with me and Jack?”

 I shrugged and followed her over to where Pearson had prepared the stew. As usual, it really wasn’t that good. Hopefully in California I’d be able to head into a town and actually eat a decent meal again, at least once. Even the scraps Colm and Bonnie gave to me were better than the stews Pearson always managed to cook up. But, as the saying went, beggars can’t be choosers, and I chose to be there, and I was assuming everyone wanted to be there, too.

 “You’ve got nothing to worry about, Evie,” Dutch said as he walked by us. “We get in, we get out, and we’ll be on our way to California in one or two days after that.”
 “Okay,” I mumbled.
 “Don’t you have any faith in me?”
 “It’s Micah I don’t have faith in, Dutch.”
 “I’m full,” Jack complained. “Can I go feed Maple a snack?”

Abigail and I agreed to let him go, and we were left at the fire alone. Since the tables were already packed into the wagons, we were meant to sit at the campfire on the fallen logs or on the tree trunks around the camp. At least there was some sort of warmth, but the sun was already down and it was still cold.

 “You used to go to church, right?” Abigail wondered.
 “I did,” I said. “Every Sunday.”
 “That mean you believe in God?”

Not a lot of people enjoyed being asked that question. Some of the people at my church would have taken that as a non-believer trying to pick a fight with them. Others would shrug it off and merely say “yes”. Cornelius would go on a tangent about why God was so important. Before going with Dutch, my answer may have been as simple as “yes”. But at this point... I sighed and bit my lip for a few seconds.

 “If you would have asked me five and a half months ago, I would have said yes,” I admitted. “My faith used to be quite big. Even if I sinned, I still believed, because God is supposed to forgive His children. After what happened at that cabin, how could I continue to believe? So...my answer is ‘no’. No, I don’t.”
 “But you have faith in Dutch?” Abigail said.
 “Dutch wasn’t the one I was screaming for to help me when I was being gutted, Abigail.”

All the colour drained from Abigail’s face. Even after I had been gutted, I still tried to pray for God to help and save me from what was happening. It didn’t help. None of it did. I was mercilessly mocked for actually believing that some invisible thing would come to my aid. It didn’t take long for me to stop, and for a while I thought that perhaps it was because I stopped praying and asking for help that the torture just continued. Nineteen years I believed in something that didn’t exist. I was made out to be a fool, hadn’t I? Father O’Malley always told us that if we didn’t have faith in God, we didn’t have anything.

 “Excuse me,” I muttered as I stood up.

Charles was on guard duty, so I couldn’t ask him to come with me. Javier was already asleep in his tent. The only other one I trusted enough to come with me who wasn’t Dutch was Sean. I wandered over to him while he brushed Ennis.

 “Evenin’ to ya, Evie,” he said. “Alright?”
 “I need you to come do something with me,” I told him. “It won’t take long, hopefully.”
 “What is it?”
 “Come with me to see my father.”

He looked at me like I had sprouted another head. No one wanted to be stuck in a room, or anywhere, with Cornelius. Especially not after he tried to sneak into the camp and proceeded to try and bribe everyone. I didn’t want to see my father, but I had to. Just a courtesy.

 “Are ya goin’ crazy there, Evie?” Sean asked. “What the hell makes ya believe I wanna go see that smug English bastard?”
 “Sean...” I pleaded, “please do this for me?”
 “Is it important?”
 “If it wasn’t I wouldn’t be asking.”
 “Alright, fine. But if he starts talkin’ out his arse, I’m gonna punch ’im.”
 “Thank you. For coming with me, I mean. Not for threatening to punch him. Uh, well...maybe that, too.”

Sean and I rode out to where Charles was keeping guard. Hopefully we’d be able to get back before he was back in the camp; I didn’t want to take too long, both for Sean’s sanity and mine. We stopped next to Charles; I’d heard him mention that to track me down, he had gone to see my father first.

 “Hey,” he said. “Everything okay?”
 “You know where my father is, don’t you?” I asked.
He sighed. “Is this about the job tomorrow?”
 “Yes, Charles, it is.”
 “Your dad ain’t as innocent as he makes himself out to be, y’know,” Sean mentioned.
I looked at him, annoyed. “He’s still my daddy and not as bad as Bonnie is. If it was Bonnie, I wouldn’t be asking where she was.”
 “The last I heard of him, he was heading to Blackwater,” Charles admitted. “I noticed his baggage was packed when he opened the door, too. Go.”
 “Thank you.”

Sean and I headed to Blackwater, and the whole way there he was just trying to get me to reconsider tell him anything. It wasn’t like I was going to tell Cornelius about the job. I’d been able to lie to him enough living at home that I knew I would be able to convince him of something else. If things did go bad on that boat, I didn’t want him to be around for it. If there was going to be chaos should it follow off the boat, I didn’t want him to get caught up in it. I barely wanted Dutch and the others getting caught up in it much less my own father. There was great anxiety building up inside of me just entering Blackwater, and when we approached the hotel I felt as if I was going to vomit. I didn’t want us to leave on bad terms again.

 “We can still go back,” Sean said when I grabbed his hand. “Not like I wanna be here, anyway.”
I ignored him. “Excuse me, sir?”
 The man behind the desk turned and looked at me. “Evening. What can I do for you?”
 “Is, er, Cornelius Locke staying here?”
 “Everything okay, ma’am?”
 “Delivering my parents’ payment to him. Slippery, fellow, let me tell you.”
 “Of course. Room three.”

I dragged Sean away. When we turned the corner to find Cornelius’ room, I looked up at him for the first time. He looked... I didn’t know how to explain how he looked, but he didn’t look...normal.

 “What the hell was that?” he asked quietly.
 “What was what?” I replied.
 “That. Your voice. It’s English.”
 “Sean, I am a woman from London coming to tour this beautiful country.”
 “Stop that voice.”

I smirked at him and continued on down the hallway to room three. My knock was recognizable by almost everyone who grew accustomed to it. It wasn’t but a few seconds after I knocked that Cornelius opened the door.

 “Tessa!” he crooned, pulling me into a tight hug. “My darling Tessa.”
 “Daddy, I need to talk to you,” I said, my voice slightly muffled by his chest.
 “Of course, come in. Uh...” He looked at Sean. “You, too, I suppose.”
 “Real charmer, aren’t ya?” Sean said sarcastically. “Ya had no choice to let me in or not.”
 “Do you have a gun with you?”
 “Ya best not try anythin’ and then ya won’t have to find out the hard way, English.”

Cornelius sat on the edge of the bed while I sat in the chair in the corner. Sean stood in the other corner; he did not look happy that he was there. Nothing was stopping him from going back to camp and leaving me alone. Well, maybe a punch to his face that would possibly be inevitable was stopping him from leaving.

 “We can’t stay long,” I said. “Daddy, I need you to return to Arkansas immediately.”
My father remained quiet for a moment. “How immediately?”
 “Before the morning.”
 “It’s because I came into the camp, isn’t it?”
 “Different reason, I promise. There are bad people about, and--”
 “Bad people? Worse than...him?” He pointed at Sean.
 “He’s a good person in comparison.”

There was a long moment of silence. A very long moment. Cornelius wasn’t pleased. All bad people, no matter if they just stole from people or murdered people for fun, were bad people to him. Bad people to him didn’t mean those who had sex before marriage or cussed or any of those smaller things. Those kinds of things didn’t hurt others. Bonnie was the very thing he hated, but somehow he still loved her; I knew that much.

 “Bad people like your mother?” Cornelius asked.
 “Yes,” I said.
 “She didn’t...really allow those things to happen to you, did she?”
 “Father, I don’t want to talk about that. I came to ask you to return home. They catch wind that you’re here and that you’re rich, they will harm you.”
 “Tessa, you know I’m only here because you are.”
 “Oh, so she gets the stubborn from you,” Sean mentioned. “Great. Why can’t ya just listen to her and go?”
 “Daddy, really. I need you to go,” I begged.
 “I’m not returning to Arkansas without you," Cornelius replied. "I said it before, darling, and I will say it again -- you’re nothing like those people.”

I looked at him and then at Sean. There was no reasoning with Cornelius. I knew he would put up a fight. Once he made up his mind, it was essentially impossible to even consider changing his mind. But I was his daughter and I was one of the things that made him change his mind or not. I remembered that, when I was a child, if I was too sick to attend church, then he wouldn’t attend church -- even though he was so devout. If I couldn’t eat something someone offered, then he wouldn’t eat, either. Small things or big things, I was always the one thing that changed his mind. Now, if I wasn’t going to be in Arkansas, he wasn’t going to be in Arkansas.

 “You were a pageant queen, Tessie,” Cornelius reminded me. “Even if you have lied, run away, and...participated in other sinful activities, people will still love you. Declan said he would wait, even.”
 “It would be better for you to return to Arkansas and allow everyone to believe that I’m dead,” I told him. “You so clearly remember what happened to me. No one would want me now.”
 “Darling, you are still a good pers--”
 “I killed some people. You do not need to know all the details, but I did it because I had to.”

My father’s expression changed quickly from caring to horrified. Whether he believed me or not, it had happened. Of course, it was in self-defence and Sean would have gotten hurt, or worse, if I hadn’t done anything. I could see in his eyes that he was contemplating what to do next. There was no way he could ever think that I, his precious daughter, could ever harm another human being that badly. No matter how it was spun, it was still murder. Those O’Driscolls were still people, but they were horrible people working for an even more horrible man.

 “You can still be saved,” Cornelius breathed.
 “Oh, Jesus,” Sean groaned.
 “He didn’t help when I needed Him to,” I said quietly. “Eleven days, Father, in the middle of nowhere, in a cabin. I prayed as often as I could, as hard as I could, and for what? Nothing. God didn’t send Sean and Charles to help me; Dutch did. God wasn’t there when I was being gutted and He wasn’t there when they put their hands on me, and He wasn’t there when Bonnie was beating me.”
 “Tessa...” Cornelius covered his mouth in shock. “Tessa, I’m...”
 “Please, go home. And if you will not return home, at least just leave Blackwater. I already lost my baby to bad people; I don’t want to lose you, too.”

 Sean folded his arms across his chest, almost like he was daring Cornelius to do something stupid or say something stupid. I knew the look on my father’s face, though. He was shaken and I had managed to get him to just consider. At this point, I didn’t care if he went home to Arkansas; I didn’t care if he went to Alabama; I didn’t even care if he just said “goodbye” to America and decided to go to Canada or Mexico or hop on a boat and return to Europe.

 “Alright,” Cornelius sighed, standing. “I will leave Blackwater.”
 “Will you be returning home?” I asked.
 “No. I do have some clients down this way, so I will go to Strawberry and stay there for a while.”
 “Okay, good. Thank you.” I stood up and hugged him tightly. “Leave tonight. Please? Right after we leave.”
 “Of course. You have my word.”

He gave me a squeeze before letting me go. I grabbed Sean’s arm and led him down the hallway of the hotel. That took longer than I wanted it to, but it had to be done. I just wanted to return to camp and I was sure Sean wanted to as well. We found our horses and mounted up.

 “Alright?” he asked when we were outside the town.
 “I’m...something...I suppose,” I replied.
 “You that worried about the job?”
 “Yes, Sean. As I have stated before. If something happens and a gunfight with lawmen happens, I am not going to let Daddy get shot by anyone.”
 “Dutch says it’ll be fine.”
 “I don’t care what Dutch says about the job; I care about what Micah says. I know I haven’t been with all of you for very long, but I’ve known Dutch longer than Micah’s been with you. I’ve come to learn that when Dutch says it’s going to be okay, it’s really going to be okay. But you throw someone like Micah into the mix... Obviously all of you know Dutch even better than me and you all trust him for a good reason, but...but...”
 “I don’t trust a fuckin’ thing that greasy arsehole says, Evie; don’t think that I do. I’m followin’ Dutch, not him. We’re all followin’ Dutch.”
 “I’m sorry, Sean.”
 “You’re not the first to worry.”

I left it at that and we rode back to camp in silence. It hurt that I had to tell my father just how much I asked for help from a God that never showed up. I hated the look on his face. When I had yelled at him in camp, I had meant it when I said that blood meant nothing. I still meant it. I was related to a monster who I didn’t want to be related to. But on the other hand, I wanted to be related to my father. In the end, he understood why I needed to be with who I was with. He was a kind man, though very stubborn and judgmental. But he wasn’t bad. Even when I had screamed at him and lied to him and ran away, he still loved me.

 “Okay?” Charles asked as Sean and I rode into camp.
 “He’s leaving,” I replied.

I hitched Maple up and pat her side. She was going to be glad to be out of the snow soon, possibly even more than me. The snow agitated her to no end. I was going to have to have her shoes either checked or changed when I could. I jumped down off of her and gave her an apple. As I turned around to head to my tent, I realized I was going to need someone to stay with me. One more night only and then hopefully I could sleep alone. Charles was on guard duty and Sean was just brushing Ennis.

 “Sean, when you’re done will you spend the night in my tent?” I asked.
 “You finally realize you love me, then?” he teased.
 “What? I... Sean, I just...need you to sleep next to me...”
 “Sure. But one of these days...”

I headed to my tent and put my needlepoint away. Sean quickly finished brushing Ennis; he was outside my tent before I could even reach for my lantern to switch it off. Either he was a little too eager or he was just as tired as I was and wanted to sleep.

 “That father of yours a real pain in the arse,” he noted as he sat on the edge of the cot.
 “He can be,” I mumbled. “Thank you for coming with me.”
 “It’s nothin’.”
 “I’m nothing if not appreciative.” I quickly kissed his cheek. “Goodnight, Sean.”
He chuckled. “’Night.”
***

 In the morning, I woke up to Dutch asking if anyone had seen Sean. I rubbed my eyes and realized that Sean was still passed out next to me. It didn’t occur to me right away that he was asking for Sean because it was the day the job was going to be done. I ended up trying to go back to sleep, but it got to the point that Dutch had to start shouting. That’s when I really woke up and realized what he was so panicked about.

 “Oh...” I mumbled, shaking Sean. “Wake up... Dutch is looking for you...”
 “What...?” He lifted his head. “Somethin’ wrong?”
 “The job... Dutch is looking for you...”
 “Shit.”

Sean quickly got up and left my tent. Well, there was no use in trying to get back to sleep myself. I trudged out of my tent to find coffee. I didn’t drink it to wake up, ever, but my awakening had been so rude that I needed something to help me get through the morning. The sun was just starting to come up, too. From the look and sound of things, Dutch was going over everything again before they did the job. It was still early morning and from what I understood, it wasn’t until about the afternoon. It couldn’t hurt to be so prepared their ears would bleed, I supposed. I knew they were going to have to leave late morning to be able to get into whatever positions were needed for raiding a boat.

 “You gonna worry about me when I’m gone?” Micah asked once they were finished.
 “Yes, I’ll worry,” I replied. “Worried if you’ll continue to disgrace us all with your existence.”
 “You love me.”
 “I would sooner return to Arkansas and marry Declan than ever love you, you disgusting cretin.”
 “Who the hell is Declan? A normal cretin?”
 “None of your business. Don’t you have a knife to sharpen so hopefully you can trip and stab yourself through the throat? Leave me alone, Micah.”
 “Ooh, touchy. Scared your lovers ain’t gonna return?”

I looked at him, still half asleep. Most of the things that came out of Micah’s mouth I had an immediate retort for. In this situation, I had no idea what he was even talking about because I was so tired. What did he mean “lovers”? What was he talking about? Did someone say something and a rumour just decided to be spread about camp?

 “Huh?” I blurted out.
 “Charles, Sean, and Javier,” Micah replied. “Your lovers. You know, the redskin, the Irish, and the greaser.”

 The coffee didn’t wake me up but his comment certainly had. I didn’t care about the “lovers” bit, but the names. The names.

 “What?!” I shouted.
 “Aw, was it meant to be a secret?” he fake pouted.

Even if the coffee wasn’t even slightly warm anymore, I threw the remaining contents of the tin cup at Micah.

 “Watch your mouth!” I barked, punching him in the face.

Micah wasn’t helping my feelings on the job; he was just making me worse. I was just worried before, but now I was angry at him. He wanted me to be riled up so I wouldn’t relax while they were all gone. If I had the energy to do more than punch him, I would have. But I couldn’t because, other than no energy, Susan ran over and pulled me away from Micah.

 “Just what the hell do you think you’re doing, girl?” she snapped. “A big job today and you think it’s wise to do this kind of shit?!”
 “He started it,” I muttered.
 “I don’t give a rat’s ass who started it; I’m finishin’ it! Mister Bell, go and be somewhere that ain’t here and get cleaned up.”
 “Whatever you say, Miss Grimshaw,” Micah said, walking away.
 “You, just go make sure everyone’s horses are fine.”

 I didn’t bother arguing. I didn’t know what Susan wanted me to do, exactly, but I stood by the horses that would be going out to the job for a few minutes each. I’d look for their brushes in the saddlebags, brush them for a few minutes, and then continue on to the next horse. There wasn’t much to do with them, really. Someone had already put hay bales and water out for them to eat and drink. If she sent me to care for the horses just to calm me down some, it was working slightly. I was still on edge about the job and upset about the names, but I was feeling a bit better. It got to the point that I was even brushing horses that weren’t going out because I was so distracted by them.

 “You should go do some of the other chores,” Dutch mentioned.
 “Beg your pardon?” I asked.
 “We’re headin’ out here in a minute and you need to distract yourself from the worrying you’re doing.”
 “I guess you’re right. Just...at least try to be careful, okay?”

Dutch pat my shoulder before wandering over to The Count. I didn’t know what chores could be done that would last me long enough until everyone got back. Nobody even knew how long they would be gone for but they knew it would be at least quite a few hours. I could probably get through all the socks that needed darning and if they still weren’t back get to the dishes, or vice versa.

 “We’ll be okay,” Charles assured me, having led his horse to me. “We’re gonna come back to you.”
 “Could you leave Micah there?” I asked quietly.
 “If only.”
 “Charles, could I-- Well, um... Can I... I don’t know how to ask you...”

Charles pulled me in a one-armed hug. At least he knew what I was asking for even though I hadn’t managed to get it out of my mouth. I squeezed him tightly just before he had to pull away and mount his horse. I quickly scurried over to where Javier was mounting up.

 “Be safe, okay?” I said.
 “Always,” he replied. “I ain’t one of the ones you gotta worry about, amiga. When we get back, maybe me and you can have a drink together, huh?”
 “Sure, Javier.”

Sean was already mounted by the time I got to him. It looked like he was thinking long and hard about something but then I showed up and he got distracted by me.

 “I’ll be fine,” he said before I could say anything.
 “If you say so, Sean,” I sighed.
 “I do. I do say so. Take this.” He took the hat I bought him off and handed it to me. “Don’t wanna go losin’ it if something bad happens.”
 “Sean Macguire, don’t say things like that to me! Or I’ll... Or I’ll...” I let out a huff.
 “I know you’ll love me eventually, I do. Already halfway there, remember?”
 “Don’t I get a ‘goodbye’?” Micah pretend pouted.
 “Goodbye,” I said flatly. “I hope you get eaten by a shark or something or whatever is in the water.”
 “Oh, fuck off, Micah, why don’t ya?” Sean snapped.
 “I’ll see you when you get back.”
 “’Course.”

I walked off toward the other side of camp where darned socks were waiting. The other ladies were already working on them; Abigail looked as nervous as I felt. She had John going out, after all. As much as she argued with him, I knew she loved him.

 “They’ll all be fine,” Tilly said reassuringly. “They usually are.”

With all us ladies, including Susan, darning the socks, it was done rather quickly. I didn’t know what the other ladies were going to do, but as soon as I dropped the last sock I had I immediately ran for the basin for the dishes. Pearson still had to cook for another one or two days, and so most of his things weren’t packed up just yet. As long as there were people to feed, there was just going to be more and more dishes. Reverend Swanson walked by me a few times before coming to sit next to me. I was guessing it was one of his “good days”, when he fought against the urge to have a shot of morphine or a bottle or two of whiskey.

 “What’s on your mind?” he asked.
 “A lot,” I admitted.
 “Sean said you saw your father.”
 “Briefly. I told him to leave. That’s all. Nothing else.”
 “Evangeline...those boys will be okay.”
 “I won’t know that for sure until they come back. None of us do. I’m worried. I’m allowed to be worried, aren’t I?”
 “Of course you’re allowed. But maybe you’re confusing ‘worried’ with ‘scared’?”

He had a point. And it was a good point. I wasn’t worried that something bad would happen; I was scared that something would happen. I was scared that no one would come back, scared that no one would know if we should leave or not. Being worried shouldn’t have made me feel like I was going to vomit up my stomach, that was for certain. If it was only worry, I wouldn’t have been constantly, constantly, trying to tell whomever that I was worried. Perhaps I was too scared to admit that I was, well, too scared. Plan or no, thinking that Dutch couldn’t come back was scary.

 “I am,” I murmured. “It’s scary, Reverend.”
 “It is,” Swanson replied. “There’s no way to get around it. Ignoring it won’t help, because it’ll still be there when the chore is done.”
 “You’re right. Things could go perfectly or things could go very wrong; I know that. And I know that Dutch has been doing this kind of thing for, well...probably longer than I’ve even been alive...”
 “Sometimes, all you need to do is wait.”

Reverend Swanson got up and went to talk to the other girls. I continued to do the dishes, but not as hastily. No one was badgering anyone about anything. Karen clearly hadn’t wanted anyone to know she was worried, but I had noticed her hands shaking when darning her sock pile. Abigail was obvious. I wasn’t too sure about Mary Beth or Tilly, though, and Susan had mentioned once before that she was used to these kinds of things long ago. She was probably an expert at hiding worry by this point in her life.

 It was nearing late afternoon when Arthur came bounding into the camp, but he didn’t look happy. He didn’t even get off the horse he was riding. Abigail and I exchanged glances. Arthur was supposed to be off with Hosea; why was he even back at the camp? Nothing had happened to Hosea, had it?

 “You all got five minutes to pack what you can and then we gotta leave,” he said loudly.
 “Mister Morgan,” Susan said, storming over to him, “what is going on? Why in the hell are you--”
 “We gotta meet up with Dutch and we only got five minutes, so just get packin’!”

 Abigail, Karen, and I began tearing down tents and packing them up as fast as we could. Pearson got his wagon and most of his things packed away quickly. Abigail got Jack into one of the empty wagons when the five minutes was up. I wanted to make sure that nothing important was left behind, but Arthur was yelling at me that we needed to go. I quickly grabbed my parasol and mounted Maple. There was a reason that Arthur had come in yelling; meeting up with Dutch, it was rather obvious that some of the boys were shaken up. Hosea was there, at least. Though, looking around...

 “Wh... Where’s Sean?” I asked. “And--And Mac?”

Charles took over the wagon I was riding next to. He wasn’t going to answer me. No one was going to answer me, not unless I persisted. Not unless anyone else persisted.

 “Good question,” Arthur said. “Where are they?”
 “We can talk about it later,” Dutch replied.

His voice was shaking, most likely from whatever had happened that was making us leave sooner and quicker than expected. I looked at Charles.

 “Let’s just focus on getting the hell away from Blackwater,” he said before I could ask again.

I knew I had a reason to be scared.

Chapter Text

 I’d been expecting California perhaps a bit too much. We were stuck somewhere in the mountains, surrounded by cold wind and snow. It was May, for goodness’ sake, why did it have to be so snowy and cold? I’d always heard the mountains were full of it; I didn’t think it would be that bad. Turned out it was that bad. We had to stay put and wait for some of the snow to melt, and who knew when that would be? There were cabins and they weren’t too bad, at least. They were still freezing on the inside, but they kept us all safe from the cold wind. We were only there for a day and I already felt the need to complain. There were other things to complain about, though, especially for Abigail.

 “They better bring him back in one piece,” she shivered.
 “He’ll be fine, don’t worry,” Hosea told her.
 “If he was fine, he would’ve come back on his own.”
 “Mama, I’m hungry,” Jack groaned.
 “Evie, would you stop your pacing?” Hosea asked.

 I shook my head. The pacing was keeping my mind off the cold and the fact my fingers felt like they were going to fall off. Even expensive finery gloves weren’t doing a good job in the mountains. They weren’t meant for the extreme cold. At least my boots and coat were doing their jobs. The creaking of the floorboards must have been driving Hosea and the others crazy, but at least I wasn’t crying. Three whole days I spent crying and I was worn out by the time we found the mining town. One girl from the camp I had only ever spoken a handful of times to didn’t make it too far into the mountains and Davey died right when we got to the town. No one had answered mine and Arthur’s question as to where Sean and Mac were. Well, Arthur was out looking for John with Javier, so perhaps that would shed some light.

 “You should go speak to Dutch,” Hosea suggested. “See how he’s doing.”
 “Dutch is alive and well in that cabin over there someone thought it was humorous to stick me with him in,” I muttered. “I saw him this morning. I don’t need to know how he’s doing.”
 “Being angry at him over Sean won’t help matters.”
 “I’m more angry with Micah, and Micah is probably over there somewhere being the lurking cretin he is, Mister Matthews. Should have kept his mouth shut about that job that we were supposedly not supposed to worry about.”
 Karen sighed. “It’s better if you just leave it alone, Hosea. She ain’t gonna be civil if she goes out there and sees Micah.”
 “Well...” Hosea mumbled.
 “He burned this poor lady’s house down, in case you forgot,” I snapped quietly.
 “That was an accident.”

I rolled my eyes and looked over at Sadie. She was practically unresponsive. I couldn’t say I blamed her, though. Her husband was dead and Micah had burned her house down. I didn’t know how he managed to do that, but he had. She hadn’t showed up in nothing but a nightgown and a blanket wrapped around her. My current complaints next to hers were nothing in comparison.

 “Stop the pacing,” Hosea pleaded.
I stepped toward him. “If I don’t pace, my mind will go right back to thinking how cold everyone is and how Sean is missing or hurt or...or...or something! ‘No need to worry, Evie, it’ll be fine.’ Plenty of need to worry now, isn’t there?”

 I left the cabin and slammed the door shut. Maple wasn’t handling this cold very well, either. I wandered over to her to at least see if she needed anything. Well, I knew she needed a stable or someplace warm for her to stay. She’d adapted just fine in Blackwater, but now I wasn’t so sure she would. Hopefully we would move on before she needed to adapt. Just when I was about to head back to the cabin, I could hear Micah’s voice coming from the cabin he shared with some of the other men. I would have been lying if I said I didn’t at least care if Dutch was feeling okay or not.

 “Oh, fine,” I muttered to myself.

I quickly walked over to the cabin Dutch was in. He looked up from the book he had found when I closed the door.

 “Thought you were gonna spend some time with Hosea and the other ladies,” he muttered.
 “I just came to see if you’re okay,” I replied sourly. “But if you don’t want me here, then I’ll just go back.”
 “Just have a seat. We need to talk about some things.”
 “I’d rather stand.”
 “Well, it’s the first time in four days you’ve showed any interest in how I am.”
 “I don’t know what happened on that boat and no one will tell anyone anything. The only thing anyone knows about it is Davey got shot and now he’s dead, and Sean and Mac are missing. Don’t confuse my silence with not caring, because I do. Do I get to hear what happened out of the horse’s mouth or do I need to ask someone like Charles or Javier?”
 “All you need to know is that we got the money and it’s in a safe place.”
 “No, that is not all I need to know, Dutch. Hosea wanted me to come see if you were okay for my peace of mind for a reason.”

 Dutch shook his head, shutting the book. Either he was going to tell me or he wasn’t. Did he think I would go and use the information he could tell me to tell the law? I was still loyal, otherwise I probably would have hightailed it out of Blackwater on my own. I wouldn’t have returned to Arkansas; just wandered around by myself.

 “I’m still here, Dutch,” I reminded him.
 “Everything was goin’ fine, Evie,” he said. “Ain’t sure how it happened, but there was suddenly so much goddamn chaos and I couldn’t think straight. Mac and Sean probably got caught up in all of it. Didn’t take long for any of us to realize they weren’t with us. So I don’t know what happened to ’em, but they’re probably okay.”
 “I guess some people on the other side died, then?”
Dutch sighed. “Evie, I... There was... In all that chaos, when I couldn’t think--”
 “You killed an innocent person, didn’t you?” I gave him a few seconds to reply. “Didn’t you?”
 “I did.”

He preached not to kill innocent people. It was one of the things that made him so different from the O’Driscolls. Whatever had led to the chaos, like he said he couldn’t think. Perhaps there wasn’t any time to think. Among all that, everyone had lost sight of one another, at least that was what I was guessing. But otherwise how would have Sean and Mac been missing from everyone else?

 “That’s...” I mumbled. “Well, are you okay?”
 “I’ll be fine. What about you?”
 “California is colder than I expected.”
 “That ain’t what I meant.”

I knew that it wasn’t what he had meant. Obviously I was cold; everyone was cold. Everyone was hungry. Everyone was confused. There was worry. No one could run into a town and get food for the camp because there was no town to go to. We were stuck on the mountain until the thaw or until we starved or until we froze.

 “I’m concerned, to put it simply,” I admitted. “Is Sadie going to be okay?”
 “You don’t know what happened to her, do you?” Dutch asked.
 “Aside from Micah burning her house down and her husband being dead, I don’t.”
 “O’Driscolls killed her husband.”

My heart felt like it was going to leap up into my throat. Or was I going to be sick? This is where Colm and Bonnie took off to? No wonder we hadn’t heard from them in a while. But to think we’d ended up going the same way they did... I didn’t feel so well all of a sudden.

 “We’re going to be okay,” Dutch tried to assure me. “They ain’t gonna hurt either of you here.”
 “They didn’t...” I mumbled. “I mean, do you think they...”
 “Those animals had her trapped in the cellar for a couple days. They coulda done anything to her. You and her are the only two here who’ve survived them.”
 “I wish I hadn’t.”
 “Now don’t say that.”
 “Can we change the subject? Like how badly I’d like to shove Micah off this mountain?”

I’d managed to avoid Micah like he had the plague, but that was going to come to an end sooner or later. He luckily spent time either in his own cabin or in the cabin Dutch and I shared. There was going to be a time when I came into the cabin to sleep and he would be there. That was a day I was going to try and sleep in the cabin with the other ladies. Room or no, Karen and Mary Beth already told me I could squeeze in with them if I needed to.

 “When are you gonna let up on him?” Dutch sighed, walking over to me.
 “Depends if he continues to be a cretin or not,” I replied. “He doesn’t help things.”
 “What things?”
 “Do you think I enjoy being called princess? Before the cabin, it was just an annoyance, but now every time he opens his mouth to greet me I’m just reminded of everything that happened. I know what he wants to do to me; don’t think that I don’t. When I want it from someone, I’ll ask for it.”

 Micah made my skin crawl and my blood boil. I didn’t know who was worse; him or Declan. Micah didn’t care about anyone other than himself; that much I could realize. He could say over and over that he was worried about the people in the camp, but it was just impossible to believe. Always antagonizing everybody and using those...names when talking about Charles and Javier. They were allowed to take their anger about it out on him but when I did it in regards to being manhandled by him or called princess, I was just another crazy lady. When Cornelius called me Tessa in front of the whole camp, I expected Micah to start calling me such since he knew I didn’t like my first given name. No, he knew “princess” irked me so much more and just wouldn’t stop.

 “Do you think things between you and I would have been fine if it happened been for Colm?” I wondered.
 “Maybe,” Dutch replied. “We’ll never know now. Unless you--”
 “No. It is not happening. You know my problems with us. I’m still allowed to care and I’m still loyal to you -- don’t question that -- but I’m not going to allow myself to be weak like that.”
 “You think loving someone is weakness?”
 “No, Dutch, I don’t. You don’t love me. Don’t try to convince me that you do. I’m just a convenience and you just want me to be that.”
 He sighed. “Evie, I cared about you. I still care about you.”
 “You didn’t care enough.”

I was still caught up on the fact it was Sean and Charles who found me in the cabin. Still caught up on the fact it was Charles, Javier, and Sean to come find me when I’d left the camp to join Arthur, only to find me drunk in a saloon. I was fine living that kind of life but I was not fine living it with someone who didn’t love me or care enough about me.

 “Well,” Dutch said, in a matter-of-fact tone, “what about you?”
 “What about me?”
 “Did you love me?”
 “I don’t know.”
 “Ah.”

I could tell what he was hinting at. It was fine for me to not love him, but it wasn’t fine for him not to love me. That was what he must have been assuming I was thinking, at least. Why should I be with someone I didn’t know if I loved or not? Maybe if I loved him, I wouldn’t have yelled at him as much as I did. Well, Abigail and John loved each other, even if they argued quite a bit. Well, maybe if I loved him I wouldn’t have asked people if they thought Dutch loved me.

 “Why don’t you know?” he inquired.
 “I’m still trying to figure out if I fell in love with you or if I fell in love with your stories,” I replied. “Colm and Bonnie put many things inside my head that I wish I could unhear, too, Dutch. I’m never going to be able to replace anybody you might want me to or...I’m never going to be able to be touched again without panicking.”

 The last time I had let him touch me was only the once after coming back from the cabin. Panic had set in rather quick, even if I knew it was just him and no one else. It took him a good few moments to calm me down; I was as determined as he was to finish. But I still felt like I needed to scratch my skin until I bled. Sleeping in a bed with someone was different than actually sleeping with them. There wasn’t even much skin contact when it was in a tent in the middle of winter.

 “I appreciate that you helped me through what happened that night,” I mumbled. “But...I really just can’t help feel like it was only so you could finish without feeling guilty.”
 “Hm.” Dutch didn’t look or sound pleased. “I care about everyone here, but I care about you the most.”
 “You were my first everything. I’m always going to care about you, Dutch, but this... I just can’t do this, alright? Please, let’s just leave it alone.”

 I went to leave the cabin, but Micah opened the door before I could even leave. Just my luck. The last person I wanted to see.

 “Hey, princess,” he mocked. “Bed comfy enough for ya?”
 “Leave me alone, Micah,” I muttered, shoving past him.

I headed back in the direction of the cabin where I had left Hosea and the other ladies, only to be caught up to by Charles. I hadn’t spoken to him since we left Blackwater, but he had tried to get me to stop crying while we were travelling up the mountain. Granted, I hadn’t been the only crier and I hadn’t been the one wailing like a child, but he had been patient enough to try and talk me out of my sobbing.

 “You okay?” he asked.
 “Is anyone?” I replied.
 “I’m asking you. Specifically.”
 “No, I am not okay, Charles. I’ve no idea where we are, Sean and Mac are missing, and there’s a bunch of O’Driscolls around apparently.”
 “Come with me to my cabin. I’ll help you warm up, at least.”
 “Lenny and Bill won’t mind?”
 “If they do, they can leave.”
***

 “Don’t tell me to be careful,” Javier said.
 “I didn’t even say anything yet,” I mumbled. “What am I not telling you to be careful for?”
 “Me and Dutch and some of the other boys are gonna see where those O’Driscolls are set up.”
 “If you don’t want me to tell you to be careful, then I won’t. I was just gonna say ‘hi’.”
 “Oh. Well, hey, then.”

Going into a camp full of O’Driscolls was bound to turn out really good or really bad. I trusted Dutch enough to be better about it than the boat. I’d just wanted to talk to Javier since we hadn’t said but a few words to each other since arriving at the mining town. He’d been in the cabin with the ladies before I showed up and he was gone to go find John also before I showed up. Now I hadn’t been expecting to find out he was going out to find O’Driscolls when I just wanted to say hi to him and ask how he was doing.

 “I’ll talk to you when you get back then,” I sighed.
 “You can talk to me now,” Javier replied. “I ain’t gonna bite you, unless you want me to.”
 “Um... Huh?”
 “It was a joke, amiga; relax. What did you want?”
 “Just wanted to see how you were doing...”
 “Besides being cold and almost starving to death? I’m fine.”
 “Next time ask me for my--”
 “Ay, Evie, I’m fine. I’m not starving to death.”
 “You have a very weird way of making jokes, Javier.”
 “I’m trying to get you to relax.”

At least he was honest about it. I needed to relax, but I just couldn’t. How could anyone relax in freezing cold weather and not knowing when they’d be off the god-awful mountain? I didn’t even relax when I was sleeping, apparently. The same cabin I shared with Dutch I also shared with Arthur; I’d been woken up enough times by Arthur in the cabin because he thought I was already awake and just pretending. He thought as such because my face was in a scowl. I slept with a scowl on my face, evidently, because it was cold and I couldn’t get myself warm enough to actually relax.

 “So much for having that drink,” Javier said. “Whenever we get off the mountain, then we can.”
 “Okay,” I mumbled.
 “Go get warm so your pretty face don’t get stuck like that.”
I almost choked on my words. “Th-The last thing I’m worried about right now is if I look pretty or not.”

 I quickly turned around and walked to the cabin the ladies were gathered in. A fireplace could only do so much warming up and it wasn’t even doing a good job in the first place. It was starting to get better inside than outside, but it was still a long way to go.

 “Why do ya got that look on your face?” Mary Beth asked.
 “Didja see somethin’ you shouldn’t have?” Karen added in.
 “What? No,” I said defensively. “What are you talking about?”
 “You’re talkin’ weird, too,” Abigail mentioned.
 “No, I’m not.”
 “Someone called you pretty, didn’t they?” Karen teased.
 “Who was it this time?” Tilly asked.

They really must have been bored not being able to do anything but stand around a fire all day. I didn’t even know how they managed to stand still; I was restless and I managed to move around enough. How were they even able to tell what had happened without my saying a word to them? Was it really that obvious or were they just guessing and playing with me?

 “What?” I blurted out.
 “You got the same look on your face that you got when Sean calls you pretty,” Karen replied.

Abigail hit her in the shoulder.

 “Ow, what the hell was that for?” Karen snapped.
 “You think she wants to be reminded how worried she is?” Abigail retorted.
 “Aw, shit. I’m sorry, Evie.”
 “It’s...fine...” I mumbled. “It’s not like you meant it...”
 “Who called you pretty?” Mary Beth said. “Let’s talk about somethin’ better.”
 “Javier.”
 “If it’s comin’ from him, you know it’s a real compliment,” Abigail said, holding her hands out to the fire. “That man don’t really kid around when it comes to ladies.”

 There was the jealousy I was feeling again. She would know how he treated ladies. She would know how some of the other men treated ladies. Maybe that was why she was so adamant about talking me down from staying with Dutch -- because she knew what would happen if I stayed. I could use her...knowledge...to my benefit if I really wanted to.

 “Y’know he’s sweet on you, don’tcha?” Karen mentioned.
 “No, he’s not,” I protested.
 “Charles is, too.”
 “No, he’s not.”

My second protest came out quicker and louder than the first one. It made Mary Beth and Karen look at me in shock. Abigail and Tilly were looking at each other. I didn’t know what Abigail looked like, but from Tilly’s expression I could see she was wondering why I was in denial.

 “Sean is, too,” Karen mumbled.
 “Stop mentioning him!” Abigail snapped.
 “He’s not, either,” I huffed.
 “Whatever you say, sweetie,” Karen sighed. “They are, though. What’s it like to be pretty?”

Not this again. When I had first arrived at the camp in Blackwater, Karen hadn’t exactly been quiet about how jealous she was about how pretty I was. I knew I was pretty, but I didn’t walk around saying it. The suitors Cornelius had thrown at me knew how pretty I was, but if I wasn’t just going to sit there and look it then they didn’t want me. Hardly anyone wanted a lady who had looks and brains and had “ideas above her station”. Times were changing and more and more people were open to the idea, but so many people were still stuck in the past.

 “Don’t you start,” I said. “You’re pretty, too. And don’t say that I’m just saying it to be nice, because I’m not. All you ladies are pretty.”
 “There ain’t a lot of men lookin’ at my body...” Karen muttered.
 “Karen! Do you want me to show you the scars on my body? Shut up! And no one is looking at my body. The only one here who’s actually seen it is Dutch and he hasn’t even seen it in months. I intend to keep it that way.”
 “Evie, I’ve had people look at me and say, ‘Nice face ya got there, darlin’. Shame about that body of yours.’”
 “People? Or men?”
 “Well...just men, but...”
 “No. No ‘buts’, Karen. The only men who say that are only concerned about what’s skin deep or they are pigs. My friend Joanna is getting married next month and, you know, she looks a lot like you. The man she’s marrying is really nice and cares enough about her to look past her body. You can find someone like that one day, you know.”
 “You really think I can?”
 “Of course I do. Listen, Daddy introduced hundreds of suitors to me. They all only wanted me to sit there and look pretty. Being pretty isn’t the only thing that matters, okay? And besides...the only reason I’m pretty is because I’m a carbon copy of my mother. I’d rather not be.”
 “Ain’t it easier being pretty, though?” Abigail wondered.
 “Yes and no. Men are more inclined to say ‘hello’ on the street, but heaven forbid a pretty lady gets drunk or is lost. If I wasn’t pretty, then maybe the O’Driscolls would have been less inclined to...to...uh...to... Um, I...need to be alone.”

Chapter Text

 “Evie,” Dutch said, catching up to me, “Evie.”
 “What do you want?” I mumbled.
 “You ain’t still mad at me, are ya?”
 “You let an O’Driscoll into our camp.”
 “He’s harmless if he’s tied up. I need you to take him some food. We need him to talk, but he’s starvin’ over there.”
 “You do it.”
 “Evie--”

I swatted the air and took the bowl of stew from him. If the O’Driscoll was tied up, how was he going to eat? Was Dutch expecting me to feed him? I was angry enough as it was with Sean missing and being stuck on the mountain, and now the O’Driscoll just added to it. I grumbled to myself as I made my way over to the cabin he was being held in. The place was dark as a night without stars, and so I lit up an oil lamp. I nearly ended up dropping the bowl when I saw who it even was. I couldn’t remember his name, but I remembered his face well enough.

 “Oh, my goodness,” I sighed.
 “Hey, you got out,” he said, sounding relieved. “Thank God.”
 “I remember you, but...I’m really sorry...I don’t remember your name.”
 “It’s Kieran. I-I don’t wanna sound rude, but--”
 “The stew is for you, yes.”

I really should have untied him so he could have use of his hands, but if anyone else came and saw what I had done, both Kieran and I would have more problems on our hands. I understood why he was tied up and why he was being starved, but I really didn’t think it would get anyone answers. Whatever the answers that were wanted, there had to be an easier way to get them.

 “I’m really sorry,” I said as I dragged a chair in front of him. “They won’t kill me, but they really would have my head if I untied you.”
 “I understand,” he complained. “At least you’re lettin’ me eat; the men just eat in front of me.”
 “Dutch probably sent me in here thinking you were one of those ones and I would do the same.”

I felt like such a fool for forgetting Kieran’s name in the first place; at least I’d remember it now. Whenever was the last time he ate, I had no idea, but I let him eat in peace. Well, as peaceful as it could be when someone was feeding him. This boy was famished to all hell. They really were starving him. Well, they had to untie him at some point, didn’t they?

 “I’m sorry for what they did,” Kieran said when he was finished.
 “You had nothing to do with it,” I quickly shot back. “It was Bonnie’s idea.”
 “She’s a scary lady, Tes--”
 “Evie. And she’s very scary. She’s not the only one to blame, of course.”

I pulled the small canteen I carried around with me out of my coat pocket and opened it for him. He drank out of it until he could drink no more. Really, anyone could just check in on us through one of the windows and realize just how kindly I was treating him. That would get me yelled at by someone for sure.

 “Colm didn’t mention that you were from this gang,” he admitted. “Okay if I ask why?”
 “Do you not know what Colm did?” I asked quietly.
 “All I ever heard was the screamin’ and cryin’ and the other boys braggin’.”

I leaned back in the chair. Did I want to talk about it again? He’d been around when everything happened; I couldn’t believe he didn’t know what Colm had done. Maybe that was just something Colm had done for his own sick satisfaction, not for his sick bragging rights. If all Kieran heard was my screaming and crying and the other O’Driscoll’s bragging, then he didn’t know the half of it.

 “I’m here because I was pregnant,” I said slowly. “My daddy wanted me to marry someone and didn’t know I was, so...I ran away. And when Colm... Kieran, I...”
 “When you say you was pregnant...don’t that mean...?”
 “I’d be a little over seven months now if...if...”
 “I’m real sorry.”
 “At least it was over quicker than everything else.” I looked down at my lap with a quiet sigh. “Everything else is still stuck with me. The scars, the nightmares, and the panic... Why did you join them?”

 My tone was accusatory. He only took care of the horses, didn’t he? And he seemed like a nice guy, aside from joining up with Colm, so what was his deal? His answer was much simpler than mine. The gang he had been with previous had been killed by Colm and there wasn’t much of a choice. Either the remaining people who were alive could join or die. Kieran didn’t want to die, so he joined up.

 “I ain’t one of ’em, I swear,” he told me. “I’d just joined up with ’em before they caught you--”
 “You don’t need to explain yourself to me further,” I interrupted. “Don’t think that you have to. You didn’t hurt me.”
 “Yeah, but I didn’t help you, neither.”
I sniffled. “Kieran, your face is not the face I see right before I wake up in a cold sweat at night.”
 “Please don’t c--”

There was banging on the door -- impatient banging. I quickly got up and pulled the chair back to where I found it. Upon opening the door, I found Javier waiting outside. Dutch had sent him to check up on me. Apparently I had been taking too long.

 “Are you crying?” he asked. “Did that O’Driscoll make you cry?”
 “No,” I replied.
 “Don’t gotta lie if he threatened you, amiga.”

He moved past me to walk through the door, but I grabbed his arm to stop him.

 “W-We were just talking about what happened at the cabin,” I stammered. “He didn’t do anything.”
 “Evie--”
 “I mean it, Javier. He didn’t do anything then and he didn’t do anything now.”
 “He’s still an O’Driscoll.”
I tugged on his arm. “Just leave it. Please?”
 It took Javier a moment to answer. “Alright, fine. You go to your cabin. I’ll let Dutch know you’re okay.”

 Javier slammed the door shut and wandered back in the direction where Dutch was waiting. I returned to the cabin and went through my dresses. The one I was wearing was beginning to feel stiff from the cold. I quickly changed into a new one and began putting my coat back on when I heard the front door close. Assuming it was Dutch, I turned to assure him I was fine. But no, it was Micah.

 “Well, don’t you look ravishing,” he said.
 “Okay,” I muttered.
He wandered toward me. “Seein’ as how everybody else is busy, how’s about we get busy ourselves?”
 “Leave me alone, Micah. I’m really not--”
 “You’ll let a damn greaser into your sheets like a whore, but not me?”
 “Would it kill you to watch your mouth? Two types of men I can’t stand and the first one is the type of man my daddy wants me to marry and then there’s you. Really, Micah, please just leave me alone, before I feed you to the bears or whatever roams these parts.”

 Micah must have had enough of my backtalk. He bunched up my hair into his fist and pulled, just so I was slightly bent backward and looking up at him. I did my best to appear that I wasn’t afraid. It didn’t last, though, because the next moment I felt the cold, sharp tip of his knife pressing against the side of my neck.

 “You’re startin’ to look a bit chubby there, princess,” he mentioned. “Pretty soon you’re gonna have to worry about more than just a scar or two on your belly. The bears would appreciate something with more meat on her bones.”
 “Don’t--” I began, but he pressed the knife harder against my skin.
 “I’d think of your choice of words from now on if I were you. Don’t go thinkin’ you can tell someone about this, neither, or I’ll make sure that the shit those damn O’Driscolls did to you ain’t the worst thing to ever happen to ya.”

The front door opened again and Micah finally let me go, feigning he accidentally walked into the wrong room. Arthur shouted at him to get out, which thankfully he did. I was just buttoning up my coat as I wandered out to leave the cabin again.

 “Whoa, hey, you alright?” Arthur asked.
 “I’m fine,” I lied with a fake chuckle. “He just...walked in on me changing, that’s all.”
 “Bastard.”
 “Honest mistake.”
 “Ain’t nothin’ honest about him, Evie.”

 I quickly left the cabin, but where else was I meant to go to be alone? I couldn’t take Maple out into the wilderness -- we would get lost immediately and I wasn’t equipped to deal with wolves or bears or whatever else lived in the mountains. There was nowhere I could cry in peace, either, not unless Arthur left our cabin again, and I was pretty sure he was in there to take a nap. I found Pearson passed out next to the hot coals he used to cook with and took one of the bottles of liquor he managed to bring up the mountain. He’d remembered to grab the alcohol but not food -- what a responsible camp cook he was.

 Next I had to check if any of the cabins were empty. Luckily enough, Charles’ cabin was empty. I didn’t know where he or any of the other men who shared the cabin were, but it was nice and quiet and I could drink and cry in peace. Well, peace away from anything living, at least; my thoughts and memories didn’t give me a moment of peace at all. I didn’t know exactly what I was drinking, but it was strong, tasted disgusting, and got the job done. Pretty soon I was a sobbing mess in the corner of the cabin, hidden between a wall and one of the beds.

 I didn’t know how long I was by myself for, but it was dark out by the time someone came into the cabin. I was dreading Micah since he shared the cabin; thankfully it wasn’t Micah. It was Lenny, who looked pretty shocked to see me in his cabin, drunk and crying. He shouted something like he found me; they must have been looking for me again. They should have been taking care of Sadie, not looking for me.

 “Now ain’t really the time to be doin’ this, don’t ya think, princess?” Micah asked.

He’d come in with Charles, Javier, and Arthur. Once I realized he was in the cabin, I threw the now empty bottle at him. He ducked it, along with the other three.

 “What happened this time?” Javier asked.
 “Micah walked in on her changin’,” Arthur replied. “Well, apparently. I think there’s more to it than--”
 I’d taken one of my boots off and thrown it at Micah. “I’m not a whore!”
 “What did you do?” Charles looked at Micah. “No. Never mind. I don’t wanna know.”

I took off my other boot and threw that one, too.

 “For Chrissake, get the hell outta here before she breaks somethin’!” Arthur snapped, shoving Micah toward the door. “Charles, come with me and keep an eye on him.”
 “Sure, Arthur.”

Charles and Arthur left, following Micah out the front door. Javier sighed as he wandered over to me and sat on the floor next to me.

 “You wanna talk about it?” he asked.

I didn’t answer him; I just continued to sob. Micah’s knife hadn’t scared me and him telling me he’d be the one feeding me to the bears hadn’t scared me. It was what he had been insinuating what he would do to me. He hadn’t needed to put it into words; I knew what he wanted from me and he must have thought a threat and a knife would have made me agree. I’d rather die first than give him what he wanted. What also scared me was that he’d attacked my looks. It was vain of me to think I looked good, but I knew I looked good. I didn’t become a pageant queen by not being skinny and pretty. I could tell Karen and the other ladies that they were all pretty and act like I thought looks didn’t matter, but they mattered to my body.

 “Micah called me fat,” I sobbed.
 “You ain’t fat,” Javier assured me. “I can’t easily tell with this jacket on you, but I know you ain’t fat.”
 “You’re just saying that.”
 “No. You look good. We all got problems, Evie, but you bein’ fat ain’t one of ’em. On the way to the boat, Sean was sayin’ how you’re a queen or somethin’?”
 “I’m a pageant queen.”
 “Right. So you think you could’ve been one if you were fat?”

I shook my head immediately, but continued to sob at the mention of Sean. I hadn’t mentioned Sean for a few days, so Javier must have thought I was okay to hear about him. Well, I wasn’t. Not in the slightest. But he was just trying to make me feel better. Trying.

 “You know that guy you guys got tied up?” I asked.
 “The O’Driscoll? Yeah,” he replied.
 “He’s the only one who didn’t touch me.”
 “You told me already, but it still don’t change things.”
 “Maybe. Maybe not. I really wish they would have just killed me, Javier.”
 “Ay, don’t say that. Tsk. You’d be robbin’ the world of a real pretty lady.”
 “My face is pretty. My body is not.”
 “Don’t say that, either.”

Javier got up and retrieved my boots for me. After I struggled to get them on and tie up the laces, I reached up for him to help me to my feet.

 “Okay, amiga, let’s get you to bed,” he groaned as he pulled me up. “It’s a new day tomorrow, huh? It’ll be better.”
 “Will you stay with me tonight?” I droned. “Just...sleep next to me?”
 “Of course. Let’s go.”
***

 “My head hurts,” I muttered to myself.
 “Maybe stop getting drunk,” Dutch replied.

He’d only been walking by me and had heard me. I looked at him with a sigh as he kept on walking. I was standing in a very awkward spot outside, standing between two cabins to keep out of the wind and hide from the likes of Micah. The ladies had wanted me to join them in the cabin, but I’d refused just because I couldn’t look at Karen after what I had told her. If word had managed to get back to her, which most certainly it did, she’d have a bone or two to pick with me.

 “Dutch?” I called, peeking out from between the cabins.
 “What?” he asked, turning back around.
 “Please come here.”

Dutch came back over to where I was and I pulled him into the gap with me. He stood against one of the cabins with his hands in his pockets. His jacket was so much warmer than mine and so I ended up shoving my hands into his pockets.

 “What do you think you’re doin’’?” he asked.
 “What does it look like?” I replied.
 “So you gonna tell me what happened or not?”
 “Javi-Javier didn’t tell you?”
 “Charles and Arthur didn’t, either. The only thing that I know is that they found you crying on the floor. They didn’t tell me nothing because you always end up tellin’ me yourself sooner or later.”

 I rolled my eyes. Well, that was true. Either someone else let Dutch know right away what was going on with me or they let the anger simmer inside of me until it was too late and I exploded. At least this time it hadn’t been Dutch I had done the exploding at. I didn’t think I ever threw anything at Dutch, either. This had been the first time I’d been drunk enough not to control myself but sober enough to remember what had been happening around me and what I’d been saying.

 “Apparently I’m fat,” I mumbled.
 “Who said that?” Dutch asked, confusion in his voice.
 “The supposed man on the moon.” I shook my head. “It was Micah; who else?”
 “You ain’t anywhere near fat, Evie, and you know that.”
 “He got mad at me because I said I’d feed him to the bears if he didn’t leave me alone.”
 “I know he’s frustrated.”
 “He’s not frustrated, Dutch, he wants to climb into my sheets. I’ve let Sean, Javier, and Charles sleep next to me, but I’ve not... I’ve not let...” I let out a frustrated sigh. “I’m not a whore like Micah says I am.”
 “Well, whores tend to get paid.”

I gave him a light kick before moving closer to him. Being gutted and people in the camp knowing about it would have been obvious that a scar had been left behind. Micah didn’t know the half of it and Dutch had only seen a handful of them on my shoulders when I had shown him. “A scar or two” was a severe understatement. Whatever those O’Driscolls could do to me, they did to me. Most of the scars came from burning out cigarettes or cigars on my skin; only a few came from actual cuts from knives. The scar from Colm cutting me open wasn’t as prominent as I made it out to be; I’d been cauterized almost immediately after the fact. It was only so noticeable to me because it was on me and I’d been awake for it all. I wished I hadn’t been, but I didn’t know if getting knocked out and waking up to find out what happened would have been worse.

 “You’re the only one I’ve ever willingly slept with,” I said.
 “I know,” Dutch replied with a sigh. “I know.”
 “I’m sorry.”
 “What for?”
 “I don’t know. I’m just sorry, okay?”

Dutch took his hands out of his pockets and pulled me closer to him. I wasn’t too sure what he was doing, but I was warm so I wasn’t going to complain. He wasn’t the one I hated, either. But obviously if Abigail caught us how we were, she would get upset with me, for sure. We weren’t standing like that for long, because the next thing I knew I heard Micah shouting for Dutch.

 “You should go,” I muttered. “Thank you.”
 “Well, you ain’t fat,” he reminded me. “You ain’t gotta hold yourself back just because you got scars. I dunno what you need to hear, but it ain’t like I’m gonna get mad if you move on.”
 “You seemed upset when you thought I moved on quickly in Blackwater.”
 “That was before you told me you hadn’t slept with Charles. Anyway, get into the cabin with the other ladies before you get cold again.”

 Dutch left me standing between the cabins and wandered off to find Micah. I stayed put instead of joining the other ladies for a few moments. I didn’t want to have to face Karen in case someone said that I’d been crying because I’d been called fat. Maybe if Dutch was busy talking to Micah, I could spend some time trying to figure out what to do to pass the time. I came out from between the cabins and almost bumped right into Charles.

 “Sorry,” he said quietly. “You okay?”
 “I’m fine, I guess,” I mumbled. “Just bored. I lost my needlepoint somewhere between here and Blackwater.”
 “We’ll be off this mountain soon.”
 “At least you’re allowed to go out.”
 “No one wants any of you ladies getting lost.” He stayed quiet a few seconds. “Again.”
 “I’m sorry I chose your cabin to get lost in.”
 “What was that, anyway?”

Charles had obviously been there when I screamed about not being a whore and Arthur saying that I’d apparently been walked in on changing. Javier was nice enough not to talk about what I told him, but that meant if anyone else asked I could either lie or tell them about it. I’d already told Dutch, too; did I want to tell another person? Both of those two had done their best to convince me that Micah was wrong.

 “Am I really not fat?” I asked quietly.
Charles looked confused. “What? Is that what it was about?”
 “Well, yes, but Micah also...”

I could trust Charles enough not to tell anyone anything. But how was I even supposed to tell him? I was frustrated with myself. I should have just told him in the first place when I woke up instead of waiting for us to bump into each other. We hadn’t even spoken that much since we’d been stuck up on the mountain. Whole days would pass without so much as a glance at each other. I had spoken to the ladies much more than I had expected to.

 “He didn’t touch you, did he?” Charles asked.
 “Well, no-not like that,” I said. “He kind of threatened to if I don’t speak to him nicer.”
He sighed. “Evie...”
 “I’m okay.”
 “The way we found you last night, I find that hard to believe.”
 “I just can’t wait to be off this mountain so I can go back out and not have to see Micah all the time.”
 “We’re gonna be robbing a train soon; that’s when we can leave, I think.”
 “You won’t tell anyone, will you?”
 “Not if you don’t want me to. You should get inside, though, okay?”

Charles continued on his way over to where the horses were hitched and I finally made my way to the cabin where the other ladies were. The only reason why it was so quiet was because Susan hadn’t been barking orders as much as she did in the actual camp. There was nothing for us girls to do but stand around and freeze and gossip. John was elsewhere, recovering from a rather intense wolf attack. The men made it out to be that it was nothing, but he was definitely going to scar. The other men did whatever it was they wanted to if there was nothing that needed to be done.

 “Were you talkin’ to Charles again?” Karen teased.
 “What do you mean ‘again’?” I shivered. “It’s the first time in a while.”
 “You know what I mean. We already told you he’s sweet on you.”
 “And I already told you that he’s not.”
 “What about Sean and Javier?” Mary Beth wondered.
 “Still no.”
Abigail sighed and moved closer to the fireplace. “You ain’t still sweet on Dutch, are ya?”

 I wasn’t still sweet on Dutch, but she must have thought so. Maybe she had seen me with him and figured it was so. I’d just been cold and it wasn’t as if I could have just walked up to Charles and done what I did. There was a reason why she worried if I went back to him or not, but I didn’t want to. Being friendly and caring for someone I used to be with shouldn’t have seemed like a crime. She’d been so adamant about wanting me to leave him. It wasn’t hard seeing him around. What was hard was how, lately, he went about things. Before I knew it was Kieran whom Arthur had brought back, I avoided Dutch like he had the plague, too.

 “She’s sweet on Sean,” Mary Beth giggled.
Despite the cold, my face got hot. “I-I am not.”
 “Pretty sure you’re sweet on Sean, Javier, and Charles like they are on you.”
 “I am not and they are not.”
 “Okay, Evie,” Karen said sarcastically.
 “Could we please stop talking about Sean?”
 “But not Javier and Charles?”
 “Talking about Sean isn’t making the situation any better.”

We all kept our mouths shut when Dutch came in to speak with Susan. He and the other men were heading out to rob the train in a little while. It was another big job, not as big as the boat, and I was just hoping nobody would get hurt or go missing this time around.

 “What?” Dutch asked when he caught me giving him the side-eye.
 “You know what,” I muttered.
 “I ain’t a mind reader, Evangeline.”
 “Pulling out my full name isn’t going to make the thought go away. You do know what I’m thinking.”
 “This ain’t a big deal. Nothing’s gonna go wrong this time.”
 “Stop arguing!” Susan snapped at me. “Jesus Christ, just let him be.”
 “Just make sure no one gets shot this time,” I said.

Dutch let out what sounded like a frustrated sigh and left the cabin. I knew I was being a handful, but it was within reason. The last time a big job got done, two people went missing and two others died. If no one liked that I worried, then they could have just told me. It wouldn’t have stopped my worrying, but if enough people told me to stop then perhaps I would have ceased voicing what I felt was wrong.

 “What?” I snapped, looking back at the ladies.
 “Ain’t your name Tessa?” Karen asked.
 “You’re asking me now?”
 “Well...you said ‘full name’ when he called ya ‘Evangeline’, so...”
 “Tessa is my first given name and Evangeline is my second given name. No one gets to call me Tessa except for Daddy.”
 “I think it’s a pretty name,” Tilly admitted.
 “Bonnie chose it.”

That shut everyone about my name up. I’d not heard anything about Bonnie, so perhaps she had gone ahead elsewhere to scout for camps or the like. At least she was most likely not on the mountain and any O’Driscolls who had been around were dead or had run away like the pathetic swine they were. If Kieran said he wasn’t one of them, I believed him on the sole fact he never even laid his hands on me. He hadn’t even accidentally brushed against me when he helped me drink from his canteen.

 “Alright, well, we should get everything ready to go,” Susan said. “We’ll be leavin’ when they get back.”
 “Finally, getting off this damn mountain,” Karen muttered.
 “Where we goin’?” Tilly wondered.
 “Don’t know yet,” Susan replied, holding the door open. “Hosea or Dutch will figure it out.”

Chapter Text

 “Well, well,” Micah said, walking up to my tent, “don’t you look absolutely divine?”
 “Don’t you have something better to do than bother me?” I asked.

We’d found a place to settle, thankfully. It was warmer and there was no snow around, so I was happy with just that. But of course Micah had to come along and ruin it, all because for the first time I ever I wasn’t wearing a jacket and my hair wasn’t tucked into the collar. Here I was preparing to head into Valentine to take a real bath for the first time in weeks and I had to be interrupted. Least of my problems, of course.

 “Don’t you remember that talk we had?” Micah asked.

I waved him off to go find Dutch. Of all the things anyone forgot to pack, he forgot to pack my travelling trunk full of jewellery. So now we were in the middle of nowhere with no money, hardly any food, and next to no supplies. I knew I’d have to deal with actually being poor sooner or later, but I didn’t think it would be because someone forgot to pack something like a case full of jewellery. It was sitting somewhere in the old camp outside Blackwater. I would have gone back for it myself, but if anyone caught me near that place they would definitely be suspicious.

 “Think it’s safe for me to go out on my own?” I wondered, stopping just outside Dutch’s tent.

He looked at me, but didn’t say anything right away. Instead, he looked me up and down. It had been a long time since he had seen how closely my dresses hugged my body. I was probably reminding him just what my body looked like before I came with him from Arkansas. Maybe it was time to go out and find work and save up for a new dress or two. It’d be slightly more difficult than that since I’d have to share my wages with the camp, but I had to get somewhere eventually.

 “I asked you a question, Dutch,” I said, clearing my throat.
 “What was it?” Dutch replied. “Right. Yeah, you can go out.”

I went over to where Maple was hitched up. She didn’t feel as tense while I was petting her, so she was relaxed. The snow must have been so stressful for her. Well, we could go riding again and she wouldn’t have to be held back by the snow. As I was placing clean clothes into the saddlebag, I heard a whistle from behind me. I turned and saw Javier smoking.

 “Looking good there, Evie,” he told me. “Where you off to?”
 “Valentine,” I replied. “Forgive me, but I need a real bath.”
 “Do you need any help?”
 “Thank you, but no, thank you.”

My voice had come out in a mumble and my skin felt hot; and not because of the weather. I mounted Maple with a sigh and headed out. It was maybe halfway to Valentine that I had to stop. There were voices I definitely recognized from my time at Colm’s cabin and they weren’t good ones. I didn’t know whether to keep going on my way to town or if I should have just returned back to Horseshoe. I’d no idea where the voices were coming from; they weren’t loud, but they weren’t quiet, either. While I was contemplating, someone came up next to me.

 “Everything okay?”
I jumped. “Charles, you scared me.”
 “Sorry, Evie. I...didn’t realize it was you.”
 “O’Driscolls.”
 “Where?”
 “I don’t know, but I can hear them.” I leaned forward on Maple with a sigh.
 “Where were you going?”
 “Valentine. Take a bath and then see if I can find something to do to make money, or after I might just head over to Strawberry and see my father.”

 If I asked Cornelius for money, he would probably give me some or something to sell. That was taking the easy way out; it wasn’t fair, but if I couldn’t find something to do I might as well have done it. But then again, that would only prove to Micah and Arthur that I couldn’t handle their lifestyle. Some honest work would do me better in their eyes than taking the easy way out.

 “There ain’t much for a lady to do there,” Charles said. “There’s the saloon and then... Well, the saloon would be the best choice.”
 “Still doesn’t sound good,” I replied. “Why would the saloon be the best?”
 “You can see if anyone needs a servant or your other choice is to be a workin’ girl. There might be something better in Strawberry.”
 “Thanks, Charles. Were you gonna go hunting?”
 “Someone’s gotta feed the camp. Get yourself some better clothes and I’ll take you next time.”

There was much more to deal with when there was no snow around. Twigs were more likely to snap if I stepped on them and my dress would get caught, no doubt. I’d offered Sadie one of my other dresses now that we were off the mountain. It looked better on her than it did me; if I kept giving away my clothes I was going to have to get new ones regardless. Maybe I should have considered saving for something that wasn’t a dress. The idea of wearing pants, though? I didn’t like it. Well, maybe I could get pants and only wear them out hunting. At the thought, I sat up straight and pulled on Maple’s reins.

 “I can take you to Valentine if you want,” Charles offered.
 “No, it’s fine,” I said. “I’ll try to be careful.”
 “Alright, then. I’ll see you later.”

 Maple and I continued on our way to Valentine. It was just as bad as Hosea had said. I’d never smelled livestock before and it was... Well, it was something. Even seeing the ladies who lived in the town, I could tell that I stuck out like a sore thumb. No one would be wearing clothes as nice as mine if they weren’t considered important. Well, not unless Karen and Abigail wore the dresses I got them into town. Cornelius had told me about Strawberry before and it sounded just a bit better than Valentine. I should have just gone there instead. I ignored the whistles I received as I walked into the hotel.

 I still only had a little bit of money. I didn’t know what it was I was going to need to pay for in town. But if it was only a quarter to pay for a bath I figured I could just hand in the bills I had into the box at camp. After being on that mountain for so long without a normal bath, slipping into the tub felt wonderful. Being submerged wasn’t the same as boiling water over a fire and then hoping that no one would get burned, or someone being forced to dunk their head in a barrel of water if they were beginning to “ripen”. Obviously the men were allowed more room than the ladies.

 Afterwards, I put my hair up in a bun and headed back out to check on Maple. She was just standing there, kicking at the dirt. I just needed to figure out if I should have headed to Strawberry or just dealt with what was in Valentine. I had to think about it for a good moment. If anyone came looking for me, the place they would least expect me to work in was the saloon. Now, there were ladies who served drinks, those who coerced people -- usually men -- into buying the drinks, and then there were the ones who were there to sell their bodies. Well, if I did the last thing I didn’t need to be in a saloon. My point to myself was proven when some man from across the road yelled at me how much I charged. He even ended up mentioning how much of a good time it would be.

 “Ugh,” I muttered as I scurried across the way to the saloon.

 My idea didn’t go as easily as planned. The owner believed that I was from England, but he had initially thought I was wanting to be hired so I could coerce people into buying drinks. Even while I was just standing at the counter, it seemed to bring men closer and asking for drinks just so they could stand next to me. Working in the saloon as a serving girl was the most honest I could be. Coercing wasn’t as honest and selling my body was the most dishonest I could get, paired up with my fake accent and fake backstory. I figured I would end up unintentionally coercing people to buy drinks, anyway, just merely for my “assets”. Though, there was one girl there already who could easily beat me because of her “assets”. I was modest about mine and she...was not. Still, after pouting for several minutes because I, a “spoiled English girl”, wasn’t getting what I wanted, the owner cracked.

 “Did I just see ya in the saloon?” Arthur asked just as I was wandering out.
I jumped. “What is it with you boys and scaring me today?” I huffed. “Am I coming out of the saloon, Arthur?”
 “Answer the question.”
 “Yes, you saw me in there.”
 “Scammed your way into a job, didja?”

I shrugged and walked back across the way to where Maple was waiting. Arthur walked with me, mentioning how he didn’t actually think I’d stoop so low. Well, he figured it was low for my standards to be working in a saloon.

 “You expected me to run to Daddy, didn’t you?” I accused. “Arthur, after everything you still do not believe in me? Shame on you.”
 “But the saloon?” he sighed.
 “Charles told me how the saloon would be the best option.”
 “Alright, but a pretty girl like you ain’t gonna have an easy time of it.”
 “I am serving drinks, Arthur. Scammed my way into a job, yes, but at least it is honest. What are you up to?”
 “Just scopin’. About to head back to camp. You gonna come?”
 “Might as well.”

I decided to return to camp with Arthur because I didn’t think I could tell him why I was going to Strawberry. I’d be able to see if Cornelius was okay on another day; it wasn’t like he was going anywhere. It was a lovely coincidence that we ended up close to where he was. Well, it wasn’t necessarily close, but it was close enough. I doubted anyone really was going to need to head into Strawberry and would catch Cornelius there or see me.

Dutch was still where I had left him, in his tent. But just as Arthur and I were hitching up our horses, he wandered over.

 “How are you getting on?” he asked.
 “What the hell is Evie’s cover?” Arthur replied. “She started talkin’ all--all posh and English.”
 “Spoiled English girl visiting America to see the sights. She’s good, ain’t she?”
 “Sean hates it,” I said sheepishly. “Erm...Dutch, is there any word on--”
 “No.” Dutch took a puff from his cigar. “You were gone a while.”
 “I have to make money somehow. I’m a serving girl at the saloon in Valentine.”
 “You’ll be makin’ a lot of fellers happy. Even if you ain’t sellin’ your body, just lookin’ at ya will--”
 “Okay, Dutch.”

I heard him chuckle as I walked away to get helping with the chores. There were plenty of socks that needed to be darned, and so I sat next to Abigail to help her out. Karen wasn’t sitting too far away doing laundry; she had to do a double take to actually realize it was me and not someone else. Abigail had seen me earlier on and Karen had not.

 “That waist!” Karen cried.
 “Wearing a corset as tight as I did will do that,” I mumbled, looking down.
 “I had to take out that dress you gave me,” Abigail admitted. “I hope that’s alright.”
 “It’s yours now; don’t worry about it. I thought we were the same size.”

Even when I had bought her that dress from the finery as an apology, I hadn’t realized it was a bit bigger than the one I gave her. I didn’t know what she meant by “take out”, though, and she told me that she’d pulled the string out that cinched the waist. But looking at Karen, I could tell that she wasn’t happy again. She looked down and then back at me again.

 “I’m not that little, am I?” I asked.
 “Sorry to tell ya, dear, but you are,” Abigail replied. “That waist ain’t normal.”
 “All the pageant girls did it. I’m not even the smallest.”
 “Tilly is only a tiny bit bigger than you are.”

 Tilly was quite petite, but in a good way. But I was smaller than her? Really? I looked back down at where my dress hugged my waist. It was making Karen feel bad and it was making me feeling bad. Would I be able to make my waist grow or not? I sat there, pouting, as I darned socks until Pearson announced that the stew was ready.

 Now Kieran... Well, he was tied to a tree, and he looked absolutely miserable. I couldn’t blame him; being tied up wasn’t comfortable. I didn’t know when the last time he ate was, so instead of eating the stew myself I wandered over to him. Mary Beth was just sneaking him water when I showed up.

 “I ain’t doin’ anything!” she panicked.
 “I’m not doing anything, either,” I replied. “Are they still not feeding you, Kieran?”
 “They ain’t doin’ nothing,” Kieran complained. “I’d be dead if it weren’t for Mary Beth givin’ me water sometimes.”

 Mary Beth walked off and I was left to give Kieran food. Out in the open as we were, it was going to be more noticeable if Mary Beth and I were helping him out. No one could talk if they were dead, and starving him clearly wasn’t working.

 “Hey!” Micah snapped, walking past us. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, princess?”
 “What does it look like?” I muttered.
 “Helpin’ the enemy, that’s what. Or are ya trying to use your looks to get a confession outta him like a whore?”

 I slowly turned to look at him. If my hands were free, I’d slap him. But they weren’t free, so the next best thing was--

 “Fuck! Whore!” Micah shouted after I kicked him in his groin.

It looked like it took everything in him to not topple over in pain. If it weren’t for his hands being in the way, I would have kicked him again. And if it were my food and not Kieran’s, I would have thrown the hot contents at Micah’s face. I turned back to Kieran as Micah limped away from us.

 “A-Are you okay?” he asked.
 “I’ll be fine,” I said. “But I’m not the one tied up to a tree. I can try and talk to Dutch, but I don’t think I’d be able to persuade him. Er, I could, actually.”
 “How do you mean?”
 “I’m pretty, aren’t I?”
 “Do you mean... Don’t do that for me. Ain’t that...well...”
 “Dutch is... He’s Dutch. If I was still pregnant, then maybe things would be better between us, but now that I’m not...persuasion might be easy.”
 “I’m sorry that Colm did what he did, but don’t do that.”

Maybe I shouldn’t use my body to persuade anyone. It would make Kieran feel bad and I didn’t know how I would be with it after the fact. Besides, how would I know that Dutch would keep his word, or if Micah wouldn’t say something to Dutch that made him go back on a promise? I finished up with Kieran with a quiet sigh.

 “I’ll still try to talk to him, okay?” I said.
 “Talk to who about what?” Dutch asked, grabbing me by the waist. “You ain’t tryin’ to frustrate this poor boy, are ya?”
 “I’m just being nice.”
 “Well, I can see that. C’mon.”

I didn’t try to argue when he led me away from Kieran. It wasn’t like I was trying to be discreet about helping him like Mary Beth was, and my kicking Micah hadn’t exactly been quiet, either. I looked over at Micah’s tent and saw him sitting uncomfortably.

 “What do you want?” I mumbled when Dutch let me go.
 “We need him to talk,” he replied.
 “I said it before -- no one can talk if they’re dead.”
 “He needs to talk sooner or later, or he dies.”

I swatted at the air with an annoyed sigh.

 “That Kieran is also an O’Driscoll,” Dutch continued. “Now, I know he says he ain’t, but--”
 “He never put his hands on me,” I interrupted. “If he had I wouldn’t be helping him.”
 “What do ya mean he never put his hands on you?”
 “However many men Colm has, Kieran is the only one who didn’t...” I inhaled sharply. “He’s the only one who... Jeez, Dutch van der Linde, you know what I mean! Don’t be a jerk.”
 “I make no promises.”
 “What did you drag me away for, anyway? We were just talking.”
 “If starving him ain’t working, then I want you to frustrate him. You’re makin’ it harder on us.”

I stared at him. I’d be fine initially sleeping with Dutch if it meant getting Kieran away from being tied up, but using my body to try and get Kieran to talk was a whole other thing. I didn’t know whether to scream at Dutch or hit him. I really should have thought about what I was going to do, because the next moment my hand was hurting from actually slapping him. There was a few seconds of silence before I realized what I had actually done.

 “Oh,” I mumbled. “Oh, no.”
 “I’ve had worse,” Dutch mentioned.
 “I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t mean it. Well, I did, but I didn’t think-- Uh... I’m sorry.”
 “You really enjoy hitting people, don’t you?”
 “Only when I have to, but, uh... I should...go over there...”
 “What’s gotten into you?” Dutch grabbed my wrist to keep me from walking away.
 “What? What do you mean? I’ve been the same way since Black--”
 “You never said sorry about hittin’ Micah.”
 “I don’t care about Micah, Dutch. Can you please let me go?”

 Dutch shrugged and let my wrist go. I scurried over to my tent and shut the flaps immediately. I wasn’t scared because I hit him; I was scared because of how I felt after hitting him. He wanted me to do something that I never wanted to even think about doing. After the talk about not being a whore, I would have expected him to rethink what he wanted me to do. It wasn’t like I needed to work hard to frustrate someone, but to get Kieran to be so frustrated that he’d actually say something was I would have needed to work harder for.

 I rummaged through my dresses and pulled the strings that cinched the waist out of all of them. It didn’t matter if they were expensive dresses anymore; I wasn’t going to have them hug me so tightly if they were just going to warrant whatever it was that the men felt when they looked at me. It wouldn’t be much, but it would be something. I lastly pulled the string out of the dress I was wearing. Besides, having them so tight made Karen feel bad, too.

 “That ain’t doin’ much, princess,” Micah said when I came out of my tent.

He was already up and walking around again? I should have just stayed where I was.

 “Micah--” I began to snap.
 “Ooh, what are ya gonna do?” he mocked, grabbing me and pulling me closer to him. “Hit me? You’re lucky Dutch has a soft spot for ya.”

 I didn’t even have to say anything to get anyone’s attention that I wanted Micah to get away from me. Javier came up next to him and held his knife up to his throat.

 “Better let her go if you don’t wanna get a hole in your neck,” he threatened.
Micah let me go with a snicker. “Just havin’ some fun, Javier. Relax.”
 “Get lost.”

Javier waited until Micah was out of his sight before turning to me.

 “Thank you,” I mumbled.
 “You okay?” he asked. “People only yell at Dutch; they don’t hit him.”
 “I’m not a whore, Javier. And...Kieran is a nice guy, so the idea to use my body to make him so frustrated he’ll talk makes me sick. I know you need him to talk, but...”

 Karen stumbling over to us made me stop talking. I’d seen her get drunk before and she spoke a lot of nonsense. She grabbed onto my shoulders.

 “List-en,” she hiccuped, “you can’t keep denyin’ it, okay?”
 “Denying what, Karen?” I asked, concerned.
 “Them boys are sw-eet on you and you’re sweet on them, too! They might l-ove you, but you just gotta stop sayin’ ‘no’.”
 “Maybe you should go to sleep?”
 “And y-ou!”

She turned to Javier, poking him in the chest. Karen could barely keep her eyes open; how was she talking so much? I felt the need to grab her and drag her over to where her bedroll was, but maybe that would have just made her angry.

 “She a-in’t gonna be available for much longer i-f one of them other boys tells her how they’re feelin’!” she slurred. “Look at her! Ain’t she pretty with that t-iny waist of hers?”

 She’d gotten drunk because she realized just how skinny I was? Well, she’d also been crying about Jenny, Mac, and Davey earlier on, so maybe that also was the reason. Still, I felt responsible for what was going on with her.

 “She’s pretty,” Javier agreed, “but ain’t it time you went and gone to sleep?”
 “I’ll go to sl-eep when I damn well please,” Karen said.

She slunk away toward the campfire.

 “I should...not be here,” I huffed.
 “Why?” Javier asked. “Because I called you pretty?”
 “Yes-- I mean, no. I mean...I know I’m pretty...”
 “Good.”
 “But-- But it’s different when a man tells me I’m pretty, okay?”
 “Well, you’re makin’ a lot of men think you’re pretty, especially dressed like that.”
I felt my face get hot. “I pulled the string out...”
 “It don’t do much.”
 “All the more reason to not be here, but in my tent.”
 “You wanna hide because you’re pretty?”
 “Stop saying I’m pretty. And it’s because everyone is in a stressful situation, so...”
 “I’m good at relieving stress, Evie.”

I looked at him with a sigh. What did he even mean by that? It took a moment for me to figure out what he meant, but that just made my face feel even hotter. I even felt like I was going to be choking on absolutely nothing if he said anything else like that.

Chapter Text

 I wandered out of my tent with a yawn and headed over to where I could get coffee. The habit of drinking coffee in the morning to wake me up had taken hold. It wasn’t just for headaches anymore. But this morning I didn’t need it to make me pay attention or to make me wake up. Sadie was standing in front of Kieran. I didn’t initially hear what they had been talking about, but I could tell that she was taunting him with food. No one but Mary Beth and I were giving him food. The men ate in front of him, but what she decided to do made me quite angry -- she dumped the bowl of stew on the ground.

 “Sadie!” I exclaimed, storming over to her. “Just what do you think you’re doing?”
 “What’s it look like?” she sniffled.
 “What it looks like is that you’re taunting poor Kieran and wasting something that we can’t afford to waste.”
 “He’s an O’Driscoll; why are you defendin’ him?”
 “No, he’s not. And I--”
 “You don’t know what they did to me other than they killed my husband. You ain’t got a clue what it’s like.”

 Abigail had just been walking by us when Sadie had said what she said, and it caused her to stop and look at me and then at Sadie. Even Kieran, for the moment, stopped looking so forlorn. I stepped closer to Sadie.

 “What don’t I have a clue about, Sadie?” I asked. “What do you know about me? Do you know anything about me besides my name? I know what the O’Driscolls are capable of.”
 “Did Dutch--” she began.
 “I found out on my own what they can do. Colm O’Driscoll is a monster. The O’Driscolls are monsters. You wanna stand there and blame Kieran for something he wasn’t even there for?”
 “How d’ya know he wasn’t there, huh?”

I turned and shouted at Arthur to come over. He hesitantly did so, probably realizing that both Sadie and I were on the verge of an argument that someone would be able to hear from the trail.

 “Was Kieran at Sadie’s cabin?” I asked. “All of those O’Driscoll boys are dead, aren’t they?”
 “They are,” he replied slowly. “Hey, wait a goddamn--”
 “He had nothing to do with it.”
 “No. No, he didn’t, but-- Never mind; I ain’t gettin’ in the middle of this.”
 “That don’t prove that you know anything,” Sadie told me when Arthur walked away.
 “I don’t know what it’s like to be tied up for eleven days in the middle of nowhere in a run down cabin?” I asked, my voice condescending. “I don’t know what it’s like to be tied to a table and violated by so many men I lost count? What else don’t I know? Oh, that’s right; I don’t know what it’s like to be gutted and have my baby be taken away to be sent to its father? Tell me, Sadie! Tell me what I don’t know!”

 I ended up shouting the last bit loud enough that it caught Arthur’s attention again, and the attention of Susan and Karen. Abigail was still standing there as if she wasn’t sure what she should be doing. She’d been helping Sadie grieve. I wanted to help Sadie, too, but I couldn’t. The O’Driscolls were the one thing we had in common and I couldn’t bring myself to talk to her about it. I wasn’t married, either, so the conversations would be so few and far between if I tried to help her. I felt for her; I really did, but the assumptions she made angered me and she was wasting resources because she wanted to blame it on someone who wasn’t even there.

 “Sooner or later people are going to stop being sorry for you,” I told her. “So if you want someone to blame, blame Colm O’Driscoll, not someone who wasn’t even part of it.”
 “I didn’t know--” Sadie began.
 “That’s right; you didn’t know. Watch the stuff that comes out of your mouth or next time I’ll slap you so hard you’ll be crying about that instead.”
 “Okay, I think that’s enough,” Abigail said, chuckling awkwardly. “Er, Sadie, why don’t we go over there?”
 I huffed as the two of them walked away and turned to Kieran. “Are you okay? All things considering, I mean.”
 “You’re a scary lady, Evie,” he replied.
 “Only when I need to be. Ever since that time, I mean. It changes a person. I...need to go get ready to head into town... I’ll bring you something later, okay? Or I’ll ask Mary Beth.”

 I headed back in the direction of my tent, but I wasn’t going to even make it there before being stopped.

 “Miss Locke,” Strauss called, sauntering after me, “Miss Locke!”
I turned to look at him. “I told you to call me Evie and if you won’t call me that, at least call me Evangeline. What is it?”
 “Does your father ever loan money to people?”
 “I’m not asking my father to give us a loan.”
 “No, no, that is not the reason. Er, how does he deal with debtors?”
 “He doesn’t send someone to beat it out of them, if that’s what you’re asking.”

We were poor and Strauss was giving people loans. If we were so poor, how was that even possible? What was wrong with him? What was wrong with Dutch for even allowing that kind of thing? The money used to give loans could have gone toward the camp. I didn’t understand the point in giving out loans if we could barely afford to buy medicine and extra ammunition. The only reason I was putting so much money into the community box was because with each drink I ended up serving, the men gave me three extra dollars just for myself. That could have been used to buy the things we needed, but I was the only one making a significant amount of money. The ledger wasn’t kind to those who barely put anything in -- because they couldn’t put as much in as I did.

 “How long does he wait until he asks for it back?” Strauss wondered. “Does he charge interest?”
 “Mister Strauss,” I said with a scoff, “my daddy is an accountant. He doesn’t give loans to people he knows could never pay them back. He’s...a do-gooder and he gives money to people just for the sake of being a kind person. Loans are given to the people who can afford a loan. Money is given to the people who cannot afford a loan.”
 “That is no way to run a business.”
 “My daddy is the best accountant from Arkansas and all across America. You can’t tell me that’s no way to run a business when it’s been working for him for twenty-three years.”
 “Would he be interested in--”
 “I’m not asking him to handle camp funds. If you want to talk to him for some advice, I could probably ask if he would be okay with it. If you ask me, giving loans when we can’t afford bread is no way to run a business. I am in no mood to be trifled with today; now is that all, Mister Strauss?”
 “Well, I suppose so. Good day, Miss Locke.”

He walked away back to the rock he usually sat at. Something about him rubbed me the wrong way. He didn’t seem like a bad person in general, but when he was sending Arthur out to collect debts I could only imagine what was going on once Arthur reached them. One of these days, I was expecting him to show up covered in blood because he had to beat the debt out of someone. The people who asked for those loans were already desperate enough -- they didn’t need someone like Arthur breathing down their necks. It came with the lifestyle, I supposed, but we were only at Horseshoe Overlook for two weeks and he was already asking for the money back.

 “Mister Strauss!” I huffed, storming over to where he was now sitting. “Perhaps I should also mention that my father waits at least two months before expecting anything back. And, to answer your question from earlier, yes, he does charge interest, but only after so much time has passed.”
 “The way Mister Locke came into the camp in Blackwater, he seems much more hardened than you’re explaining him to be,” Strauss replied.
 “That was just Daddy trying to put on a brave face in front of a crowd of criminals. He doesn’t need to worry about money since his money makes money. Most of his clients are people who can afford to pay him handsomely even just for a short five minute telephone conversation. Have a nice day, Mister Strauss.”

 I walked back across camp to go into my tent, but stopped short of being able to. Dutch had grabbed my arm and was pulling me back to his own tent. I didn’t bother complaining; he needed to talk to me and the least I could do was let him talk. We spoke everyday, but they weren’t the nicest conversations on my part. Poor Kieran was still tied to the tree and I could see he was just getting even more miserable everyday. It was getting to the point where I even wanted him to talk. I didn’t know what it was that Dutch wanted him to talk about, but he was holding out. Amidst the complaining and the pain he must have felt, he was remaining strong.

 “What do you want this time, Dutch?” I asked. “Am I not putting enough money in the box for you? Am I causing a disturbance that you would otherwise turn a blind eye for if it were someone else? Or am I not in your field of view enough for you to ogle me?”
 “You’re doing fine,” Dutch told me. “It ain’t about that. Do you have problems with how we do things around here?”
 “They’re not problems, per se. Just...misunderstandings?”

I did have problems with how things were done, but I wasn’t going to incriminate myself like that. It was no secret that I didn’t like Kieran in the situation he was in, though I did understand why he was in it. And Micah, wherever he was, was a problem in and of itself that didn’t need to be mentioned -- almost everyone had a problem with him. And while I was thankful no one told Sadie my whole experience with the O’Driscolls, it would have been nice if someone at least mentioned I knew what she had gone through.

 “Oh, what is it that you’re ‘misunderstanding’?” Dutch asked, his voice condescending.
 “Right now, it’s the debts,” I stated, matter-of-factly. “We can’t afford medicine...but we can afford to give other people money.”
 “That’s how you see it. I guess someone who’s never been strapped for cash before wouldn’t understand.”
 “There’s no need to be a jerk about it, Dutch van der Linde. What’s gotten into you?”
 “Stop with the questions. I know what I’m doing. We know what we’re doing.”
 “Okay. If you say so. Oh. What time is it?”

I grabbed Dutch’s pocket watch, looked at it, and then shoved it back into his pocket. If we’d spoken any longer, I was going to be very late for my time at the saloon. I grabbed my money pouch from my tent before heading over to mount Maple. Dutch was just mounting the Count when I left camp, only to catch up with me just as I was heading out of the trees.

 “What?” I muttered, stroking Maple’s mane. “I’m in no mood for games, Dutch.”
 “I’m just comin’ along to see you work,” he replied.

 By that he meant he wanted to be able to look at me and I couldn’t say a word about it in front of the owner. He looked at me in camp whenever I wasn’t looking; I knew he was because Karen and Mary Beth had mentioned it enough times, and then there were times when I’d look over at him and he looked away quickly. Most times he didn’t even try to hide the fact he was looking at me. It wasn’t like he was the first man from camp to show up at the saloon just to be able to look at me freely, either.
♞♞♞

 I walked over to where Sadie was sitting and reading a book. She didn’t acknowledge my presence until I sat next to her with a sigh. There were no indications that she was going to get up and walk away, but I still felt the need to say what I needed to quickly -- just in case. Only, just as I was opening my mouth to speak, she spoke first.

 “Why’re you here?” she asked.
 “To apologize for what I said earlier,” I said, slightly confused.
 “No, I mean... Why are you here? You mentioned...well...”
 “I mentioned a baby.”
 “Yeah... That...”
 “I came because of it. I stayed because of what happened and what would happen if I returned to my hometown. Can I say what I need to say, please?”

 Sadie sighed and closed her book with a nod. I really hadn’t thought of what I was going to say, at least not in full. Threatening to hit her wasn’t the right thing to do and I honestly felt bad about it after I had managed to calm down a bit. I’d also embarrassed her in front of most of the camp; even if no one really said anything about my shouting, I knew that they heard it. I didn’t want to sound like it was a fake apology, just to make myself feel better. I wanted her to know that I was genuinely sorry.

 “I’m sorry for the threat and yelling at you in front of camp,” I said. “When I’m angry, I say things I don’t mean and sometimes I do things I don’t mean.”
 “It’s okay,” Sadie replied.
 “No. No, it’s not okay.”
 “Alright, it ain’t okay, but I forgive you.”
 “If you don’t mind me asking, what was your husband’s name? Tell me about him.”

I didn’t know how long Sadie and I sat together, with her just telling me how her and her husband met. Jake was one of, if not the only, the kindest men she had ever met. He had no trouble splitting the chores with her in and out of the house. Throughout her telling me about him, I kept apologizing. She really loved him and I had gone and told her people would stop caring about what happened to her. Not too many people, according to Dutch, survived Colm O’Driscoll -- and those that did either killed themselves later on, were driven mad, or were completely different after the fact. From what Sadie told me, she was a completely different person from before the O’Driscolls showed up to her house. If Dutch, Arthur, and Micah hadn’t shown up, she’d probably be dead.

 “It ain’t as bad as what happened to you,” Sadie mentioned.
 “Don’t do that,” I immediately said. “We both went through something horrific because of the O’Driscolls. I never meant for it to sound like what I went through was worse; not ever. As a camp, we’re in a very bad monetary and rations situation, and I can understand the value in not wasting anything.”
 “What about that O’Driscoll boy?”
 “Well, he’s not an O’Driscoll, for one. And for two, he’s the only one who didn’t touch me when I was stuck at that cabin. Even if it hadn’t been for Bonnie’s encouragement, those O’Driscolls would have done what they did regardless. She just...stoked the flame, but Kieran took no part in it. The only one who didn’t use me.”
 “I-I’m sorry, but...who’s Bonnie? I overheard some of those bastards mention her a few times, and...”
 “She’s my mother. Really not maternal at all. She even beat me when I was tied up in that cabin.”

There was a long moment of silence between us. I’d been betrayed by my mother, had my baby taken from me, and used like I was just some sort of object. Sadie had been attacked in her own home, had her husband taken from her, and also used like she was some sort of object. We’d both been through a lot because of Colm O’Driscoll; the difference was that she blamed Kieran and I didn’t. Kieran hadn’t been the one to gut me and he hadn’t been the one to murder Jake. Maybe it was easier for her to blame someone she could see all the time.

 “Do you still talk to its father?” Sadie wondered.
 “It’s a little hard not to when he lives in the same camp,” I mumbled quietly.
 “What? Who is it? I ain’t seen you actin’ sweet on nobody.”
 “It’s because we didn’t love each other the way I thought we did. It’s Dutch. Well, I... Dutch keeps trying to convince me he did love me -- or that he does love me and I keep trying to figure out if I loved him or if I loved his stories. I told him it was his stories, but sometimes I’m not too sure.”
 “The ladies keep sayin’ you’re sweet on Javier, Charles, and...Sean, I think his name is.”
 “I’m not!”
 “Your voice cracked.”
 “If you’ll please excuse me...I need to...be somewhere else...”

I scurried off to sit at the table to be by myself. It was too early to return to my tent; if I tried to hide inside it, I would only be dragged out by Susan or Abigail or somebody else because they couldn’t find me. Luckily Micah wasn’t around to bother me, either; something about going out and making money to put into the community box. After a while of just sitting there by myself, Dutch came over and sat on the edge of the table.

 “What do you want now?” I asked. “Didn’t look at me enough at the saloon?”
 “You doin’ alright?” he asked.
 “Is that a rhetorical question or do you want an actual answer?”
 “An actual answer would be nice.”
 “No, I’m not alright. We’re poor, in the middle of nowhere, O’Driscolls are around, and I’m bored. Even with all the extra money I get during my time at the saloon, I’m still not close enough to being able to get clothes suitable for hunting. If I have to darn one more sock, Dutch, I’m going to scream.”
 “Beats being on that mountain, Evie.” He took a puff of his cigar and sighed. “I know your father is in Strawberry; go see him.”
 “I can’t travel that far by myself and he wouldn’t let Charles or Javier inside. He barely wanted to let Sean inside when we went to go see him. I think it’s best to go see him only when I absolutely have to.”
 “Well,” Dutch stood up, “there’s only one other thing I can think of to cure that boredom of yours.”
 “No. I don’t care how frustrated you are.”

Dutch rolled his eyes and walked away. When was he going to let up? I had come so far, so why did he think I was going to slip up and go back to him like that, even if it was for just one night? I’d only ever been with him and he certainly had his ways of making me feel good. I did miss feeling good, but it had been such a long time by now that it didn’t matter if I missed it or not. I groaned and set my head down on the table.

 “Everything okay?” Charles asked as he wandered past.
I quickly looked up. “No.”
 “Are you, uh, feeling okay at least?”
 “No, I’m not.”
 “It’s...all that extra attention at the saloon, right?”
 “It’s like there’s no shortage of people like Micah. But why am I complaining? You warned me about the saloon and I didn’t listen. I think I’ll just...go to bed early and see if I can start early tomorrow.”
 “Okay. Er, well, if you need help sleeping, I’ll be there.”
 “I think it’s best if I’m alone tonight, Charles, but thank you.”

 The night was a complete blur; I wasn’t even sure if I slept. One moment I could hear owls hooting and the next I could hear birds waking up for the day. I should have just stayed in the tent for longer, but boredom was everywhere and sleep was evading me. Leaving my tent, I realized the only ones awake were Susan and Pearson, getting ready for the day ahead. I let Susan know I was heading to the saloon early and went on my way. Never did I ever think that a saloon would have people in it so early in the morning. Granted, it was only a small handful of people. The owner wasn’t going to give me more time, but instead said I could work as early as I wanted and could leave earlier.

 In the early afternoon, Javier came into the saloon. Instead of sitting where he usually did, he stood at the bar. I was picking drinks up for a table when he grabbed my arm. I wasn’t in the mood to deal with anything, but I knew he would, at least, give me a break from the comments of the other patrons.

 “You okay, amiga?” he asked.
 “I wish people would stop asking me that,” I sighed. “What is it that you want, Javier? I will get it for you. Just do not ask me for a kiss; I have heard enough of that today.”
 “A smile would be a good start. You’re pretty, but there’s somethin’ in your smile that is tan dulce.”
 “You...” I huffed. “You know I do not speak Spanish.”
 “I know.”
 “You are not here just because I am working, are you?”
 “No, I’m meeting Charles and Bill here in a bit.”
 “Let me know if you need anything, okay?” I picked up the tray of drinks with a sigh. “I am off in thirty minutes, though, so if you do not need anything, I will see you later.”

 Even in the early afternoon, there were a lot of people in the saloon. Didn’t any of these people have jobs or families or even cattle to pay attention to? Where did they all come from? Most of them were polite enough to just look at me; others, not so much. Getting looked at was one thing, but getting manhandled was something else completely. I’d complained about it once, once, and the owner wasn’t pleased about it. I knew what I’d been getting myself into, so there was no use complaining. I didn’t want to be there at night when the place was full.

 At the end, I collected what I was owed. I decided to just be done with it and head over to the general store to get clothes suitable for hunting. More and more women were beginning to wear pants, but the grand majority still wore dresses. Wearing pants wasn’t all that popular for ladies in general. During the time it took me to look at clothes, count the money, and pay for what I needed, a brawl started at the saloon. I should have just gone and worked at the smaller saloon -- if I’d not asked to work earlier, I’d be walking into a mess that I’d have to clean up. I wandered up to Maple and listened. From the sound of what was going on, it was Bill who had started everything. It didn’t take long for him to get drunk, did it? I realized it was time to go when Arthur was thrown through the front window.

 On my way out of town, Dutch and Trelawny, really the last man I expected to come around, were just heading in.

 “Bill started a fight at the saloon,” I mentioned, causing them to stop.
 “Of course he did,” Dutch sighed. “Javier and Charles there?”
 “I imagine so. Arthur, too. Good afternoon, Josiah.”
 “Good to see you, Evangeline,” Trelawny replied. “Dutch tells me you’re working at the saloon?”
 “I only serve drinks. It’s honest work.”
 “Yes, of course.”
 “Well, I’d better get back to-- Wait, how did you know where we are? Never mind; I don’t think I want to know. Dutch, I’ll see you back at camp. See you...whenever, Josiah.”
 “Good day.”

 I rode back to camp. After hitching Maple up, I put my things in my tent and headed over to the community box. Whatever was leftover from my days work and all the extra money I had gotten and saved up, I placed it in. It wasn’t as much as usual, but at least I’d be able to go hunting again. At least that would keep me from darning anymore socks or pounding clothes with rocks to help get mystery stains out.

 “I dunno what I like lookin’ at more,” Micah said, walking past me, “your front or your back.”
 “Can you please leave me alone for one day?” I asked, looking at him.
 “Definitely the front.”
 “Don’t you have something better to do, like go terrorize a village?”
 “What are ya gonna do, kick me?”

Lenny was just walking past -- just minding his own business, honestly -- and so I ended up grabbing his knife from where he kept it. He looked confused, as if he had no idea what he had walked into, and I really couldn’t blame him. It had been sudden, that was for sure. I held the tip of the knife against Micah’s groin.

 “I will chop it off and ask Pearson to cook it and I will shove it down your throat myself,” I threatened.
 “There’s somethin’ about you when you get angry that just gets me so hot, princess,” he said, though from the tone in his voice I couldn’t tell if he was being serious or sarcastic.
 I handed Lenny his knife back. “Hey, Evie, why don’t you come with me?” he asked.
 “Ain’t she a little old for you, kid? She does favour darkies, though, so--”
 “Shut up. C’mon.”

 Lenny expected me to follow him. Just when I thought about following him, though, I stopped. I kicked Micah harder in the groin than I had the first time, and then when he keeled over I kneed him in the face. He was lucky I didn’t have any of my shoes I left in Arkansas. I had one pair that had such a pointed front that I’d probably end up drawing blood. That was an embarrassing doctor’s visit if he ended up going.

 “How’re you gettin’ on?” Lenny asked when I caught up with him. “You’re really angry lately.”
 “I’m bored,” I replied, “I’ve never been poor before, and my body and clothes aren’t helping anything, and Sean still isn’t here.”
 “You’re sweet on--”
 “No, I’m not.” I exhaled sharply. “I’d like to change the subject.”
 “What kinda books do you like to read?”
 “I read a lot of Shakespeare before I came with Dutch. When I was little, I read a lot of those Penny Dreadful books. What book are you always over there reading?”
 “Nothin’ too excitin’, really.”
 “Evie!” Mary Beth called.
 “Excuse me, Lenny,” I mumbled.

I wandered over to where Mary Beth was standing. She didn’t look panicked or worried about anything, so whatever it was wasn’t bad.

 “Has Kieran eaten today?” she asked.
 “I’ve been at the saloon,” I said, matter-of-factly. “If you’re asking me, I’m assuming you haven’t given him food.”
 “No.”
 “Well, am I gonna do it, then, or are you? Why can’t you just ask Miss Grimshaw? She always seems to see things we don’t.”
 “She ain’t gonna tell us if he did or not.” Mary Beth let out a loud sigh. “I’ll get him food.”
 “Miss Locke!” someone shouted from the other side of camp. “Get over here and get to work!”
 “I already did work!” I shouted back.

It took me a few seconds to realize that it was Susan who had actually done the shouting. After, I scurried over to where there was a pile of socks that needed to be darned. She didn’t look pleased at all that I’d screamed at her; I wasn’t pleased with myself. I learned that if she told someone to do something, they had better do it or they’d get yelled at until they were on the verge of tears. Luckily it never had come to that point with me and I wasn’t about to let it happen.

 “Yeah, that’s what I damn well thought,” Susan snapped.
 “I’m sorry, Miss Grimshaw,” I mumbled. “I really didn’t mean it.”
 “Get your act together.”
 “Those boys have been gone for a while, now,” Karen said.
 “Ain’t that a good thing?” Tilly asked. “Dutch goin’ out is weird, though. He barely goes out anymore.”
 “How’s the saloon?” Abigail wondered.
 “The last I saw the inside of it, it was clean,” I replied. “The last I saw of the outside, well...Arthur got tossed out a window and now it’s broken. Just glad I won’t have to be there to clean it up.”
 “I meant workin’ there.”
 “The attention isn’t nice. I get enough here. The money is fine, I guess.”
 “Did you bump into Javier and Charles?” Karen teased.
 “Javier, yes. Why did you say it like that?”
 “Oh, Evie, you know why,” Tilly giggled.
 “How many times do I have to tell you that they’re not-- That I’m not-- Why do you keep insisting?”
 “You’re in denial, dear,” Abigail told me. “Sooner or later you’re gonna have to come ’round.”

I didn’t say anything else; I just continued to darn the socks that I wanted to toss into the campfire. After a while, I did begin to realize just how strange it was that the men were still gone. Well, Bill had come in at some point and started drinking. Brawling was hard work, evidently. I was beginning to assume the worst for Javier and Charles -- what was taking them so long? And Arthur I could understand needing to rest immediately after being tossed out a window. The second I saw Dutch ride back into camp, I ran up to him.

 “Good to see you didn’t burn the camp down,” he said as he got off the Count.
 “Very funny, Dutch,” I huffed. “Are they okay?”
 “They’re fine, Evie -- who do you think you’re talkin’ about?”
 “Well...I mean...the other ladies and I noticed they’ve been gone for a while...”
 “Charles and Javier are looking into something.”
 “Someone is always looking into--”
 “Trelawny located Sean. That’s why he was here.”

I felt speechless, honestly. Dutch had said it as if he was worried. Well, of course he was worried; it would be wrong not to be worried. The only one who made it known that they were worried was me and occasionally Karen when she was drunk. If Sean was still in Blackwater, though, how were Charles and Javier going to get him?

 “You couldn’t tell me when I was on my way out of Valentine?” I breathed.
 “I didn’t know, either, until Trelawny and me found Charles, Javier, Bill, and Arthur at the saloon,” he admitted, beginning to walk toward his tent. “Arthur’s gone to join them finding him.”
 “Will they bring him back?”

I scurried after him.

 “If they can, they will,” Dutch replied. “He’s being held by bounty hunters. I don’t know how many, so don’t ask. I want him back with us just as much as you do.”
 “Well...at least Josiah was doing something about Sean...” I muttered.
 “For a girl who says she ain’t sweet on him, you sure as hell act like you are.”
My face became hot. “Excuse me for being scared and concerned that Sean could have been dead all this time.”
 “You ain’t worrying over Mac.”
 “Well, that’s... That is, er...”
 “You got all these boys sweet on you and you’re sweet on most of ’em, too.”
 “They’re not and I’m not! I-If you’ll excuse me, I...need to go over there...”

Chapter Text

 “For Christ’s sake, would you stop pacing around?” Dutch shouted.
 “No,” I snapped back.
 “Pacing ain’t gonna make the time go any faster!”
 “You yelling at me isn’t going to make me stop, either, so I guess we’re both out of luck!”

It had been a good couple of hours since Dutch told me that Charles, Javier, and Arthur were going to see if they could bring Sean back. However many bounty hunters were around, I was sure that they would be okay. It was the waiting that bothered me. The three of them could be perfectly fine, but what about Sean? Just because he was being held by bounty hunters didn’t mean he was going to be okay.

 “Abigail paced when John was missing and you didn’t say anything about it,” I muttered.
 “What?” Dutch asked.
 “Do you hear things you only want to hear or did you actually not hear me?”
 “I heard you just fine.”
 “You two argue like an old married couple; give it a rest,” Hosea said as he wandered by us. “Evie, just sit down and relax. Ain’t nothin’ we can do but wait.”
 “Fine,” I grumbled.

I stormed over to a table and sat down with a huff. Karen joined me, bringing along a couple socks for us to darn together. She probably just wanted all the shouting and pacing to stop, too; I was sure everyone did. I was almost sure Bill left to hunt because he was fed up with the constant walking by his tent while he was trying to nurse the bruises he got in the fight he started. Micah and Lenny... I don’t even know where they could have run off to. It wasn’t like I wanted to annoy everyone; it’s just what I did when I was worried. The only other thing I could have done was cry and that probably would have just been worse.

 “You doin’ okay?” Karen wondered. “You seem awful worried.”
 “Isn’t everyone worried?” I replied.
 “I ain’t. I hope they hang that bastard before he can be rescued.”
 “Karen...you’re worried. And as much as you say you don’t like him, I know you like him.”
 “Why is it that when we tell you that these men are sweet on you and you’re sweet on them, you say ‘no’ and we gotta accept it? But when I say I don’t like Sean, you try to convince me otherwise?”
 “Because they aren’t and...I’m not...”
 “Please. I saw tears in your eyes when Dutch told you they went for Sean. And don’t even think we don’t know about you cryin’ on that mountain. Just ’cause we were in a storm for three days don’t mean we didn’t see Charles tryin’ to get you to stop.”
 “I-I was crying from the cold...”
 “Yeah, sure. You ain’t cryin’ or pacin’ over Mac bein’ missing.”
 “It’s hard to miss someone I’ve never really spent a lot of time with.”
 “So if Dutch went missin’, you’d be like this, too?”
 “I don’t... Um... Maybe...?”

 Karen gave me a side eye that told me she didn’t believe me at all. I didn’t cry over Jenny or Davey dying, either; I felt bad about them dying, but I was more worried about John when he went missing for Abigail and Jack’s sake. John and I barely spoke, too, but we at least managed to say hello to each other whenever we saw one another. It was difficult to mourn people who I never spoke to or who never spoke to me. As for Dutch, if anything ever happened to him... Well, the gang was his. Things would fall apart if anything ever happened, like if he went missing or if he died, or...whatever else could happen. Just because we almost always argued it didn’t mean I ever stopped caring about him. I just didn’t love him and it wasn’t fair to him or me if I pretended. And even if he still tried to convince me he loved me, I knew it wasn’t the case.

 “If any of you ladies went missing, I’d be worrying like this, too,” I said.
 “Well, that’s awful kind,” Karen replied. “You’re stuck with us. But y’know, speakin’ of being sweet on people...what’s goin’ on with you and that O’Driscoll boy?”
 “He’s not an O’Driscoll.”
 “Okay, fine, but what’s goin’ on?”
 “I’ve told enough people why I’m being nice to him. Ask someone else. I’m tired of explaining myself about it.”
 
 I was tired of many things already, but explaining myself over and over about something was getting tiring. I really could have just gone hunting and passed the time doing that, but I probably wouldn’t even be able to concentrate. There was no way I could catch anything if I kept constantly asking if Sean was back at camp or not, and if I should just go back and wait. The pacing was doing no one any good, the yelling was exhausting, and I wanted to scream because of all the socks that always seemed to need darning. I could swear I darned the exact sock I was darning several times already just from being at Horseshoe. Maybe it wouldn’t have been bad to just head back to the saloon and help with the clean up -- that way my mind could be on getting the place suitable again and not worrying over whether or not Charles, Javier, and Arthur got killed or captured trying to get Sean back.

 “You just went back to worryin’,” Karen mentioned.
 “No, I didn’t,” I lied.
 “Yes, you did. You got a look on your face when you’re worried.”
 “How do you know?”
 “We all got to know it back in Blackwater, with your worryin’ with the boat job. You keep worryin’ like this and you’re gonna get sick.”

 I set the sock down. I had a “worried” face? Where had that come from? Cornelius didn’t have a worried face; he had a worried tone in his voice. It was probably just another thing I got from Bonnie, but when was she ever worried? Well, at least I didn’t sound like her. I didn’t sound like either of my parents. I didn’t have Cornelius’ very English accent, aside from when I copied it, and I didn’t have Bonnie’s light Scottish accent. It was strange really; if we had ever been a family and I didn’t look like a carbon copy of Bonnie herself, people might have thought I was adopted.

 “Everybody’s got their problems,” Karen mentioned. “Reverend, he drinks all the time and sticks morphine in his arms. I drink all the time, too. Abigail and John always argue. Er, what I’m tryin’ to say is, we ain’t tellin’ you that you shouldn’t worry. We’re just tellin’ you that, well, doin’ it so much ain’t good for you.”
 “Lots of things aren’t good for me,” I sighed.
 “Hey, Evie, get over here!” Pearson called over.
 “Before I do, what do you want?”
 “Come chop these vegetables.”

I looked at Karen and then at Pearson.

 “I beg your pardon?” I asked.
 “I said, chop these vegetables for the stew,” he repeated.
 “Does it look like I know how to chop vegetables?”
 “It ain’t that hard!”
 “If it’s not hard to chop vegetables, why don’t you do it?”
 “A pretty lady like you’s gotta know how to chop vegetables if you ever wanna get a husband!”

I didn’t know if should be insulted or complimented. On one hand, it was flattering to think that I was wife material. On the other hand, it was alarming to realize just how little Pearson came. He really thought I wasn’t going to stick around. I wasn’t wife material, at least not to someone in the upper class. But really, how many of the gang was actually married?

 “No, thank you, Pearson,” I said.
 “He prob’ly just wants an excuse to stare at you,” Karen muttered. “Watchin’ you chop vegetables would give him that excuse.”
 “If he wants a lady to stare at, maybe he should go pay one to stand there and look pretty. It’s not a compliment from someone like you!” I added with a shout.
 “Other than bein’ worried...and bored...you doin’ okay?”
 “No, Karen.”
 “I know you don’t sleep very much. Hey, we never said it, but me and the other ladies are sorry it took so long to be nice to you.”
 “Do you think if it hadn’t happened I would still not be accepted?”
 “I dunno, but...you’re stuck with us now, like I said.”

I picked up the sock and continued to darn it. I’d always known what it would have been like if I stayed in Arkansas, but I’d gotten close enough with the ladies that I couldn’t imagine what it would be like if I hadn’t been kidnapped. Well, I’d still be pregnant -- very pregnant. Maybe with the stresses of the kind of life as a person nearly on the run, it wouldn’t have been a wise decision to bring another child into it. I was having a hard time enough as it is -- what would have happened if I couldn’t handle a baby on top of everything else? And escaping through a blizzard and stuck on a mountain while heavily pregnant didn’t sound like a very fun, or even good, adventure. I wished I still was pregnant. I missed having something good to look forward to. Maybe Dutch and I would have still been on better terms, too.

 “You feelin’ ill?” Karen asked.
 “What?” I sniffled.
 “You’re huggin’ your belly.”

Indeed I was. I quickly placed my hands back on the table with a sigh.

 “It’s nothing,” I lied. “The sun is going down and it’s getting cold, is all. I’ll be right back.”
 “Alright,” Karen said, sounding skeptical.

 While it was getting a bit chilly out, I really wasn’t feeling well. I wasn’t going to be sick; it was just that I felt... Well, I didn’t know what I felt. It felt like I needed to cry, scream, and hurt myself all at once. After the fact, I always felt responsible for what happened, even if it wasn’t my fault. I wasn’t the one who gutted myself. I had to stop thinking about it, otherwise I was going to be sick and I really was going to do something I’d end up regretting. Shrugging my jacket on, I stepped back outside the tent to return to Karen.

 “You sure you’re alright?” she murmured.
 “I’m not sure of most things,” I replied.
 “We’re gonna have a party when Sean returns. Watch.” Karen let out a sigh. “There’ll be enough distractions for you there.”

 Before I could ask what she meant, Charles rode into the camp, only he was alone. Karen kept me from wandering over, probably thinking whatever I was going to talk to him about would send me into even more worry. There was no reason to continue worrying, though; because Javier came in a few moments later with Sean riding with him.

 “Christ,” Karen muttered. “He really is okay.”

I wanted to run up to him to make sure he was okay, but Sean needed to be with his family before I decided to crowd him. Well, I was part of the family, too, apparently, though I thought it would be better if he had some time with everyone else first. Karen didn’t leave her spot, either, but she looked up at me like I’d grown another head.

 “You spent this whole time cryin’ and worryin’ and you ain’t even gonna go over there?” she asked. “What, got butterflies or somethin’?”
 “It looks like he’s got enough coddling,” I said.

 Susan was checking to make sure he wasn’t badly hurt and Mary Beth was poking him to check if anything was broken or not. Then there were the people asking if he was okay. As much as almost everyone thought Sean was annoying, they cared about him and they had been worried, too. I didn’t need to go over there and ask if he was okay -- he’d probably be asked that enough times before I was able to get a moment alone with him. From where I was standing, he looked and sounded just fine.

 “You gonna go over there?” Javier asked, stopping at the table.
 “Why would I?” Karen replied. “Should’ve left him to hang.”
 “What about you, Evie?”
 “In-In a minute...” I said quietly.
 “You ain’t feeling shy all of a sudden, are you? It’s just Sean.”
 “She’s sweet on him, but she won’t say she is,” Karen told him.
 “Karen!” I gasped, my face becoming hot.
 “That so?” Javier sighed.
 “You gonna tell him or am I?” Karen wondered.
 “You stop that, Karen Jones,” I huffed.

 Everyone left Sean alone; they’d given him a coat -- the one I could only assume he wore when the weather wasn’t freezing cold -- and went to open more whiskey boxes than were already opened and to finish preparing stew. Even when no one was around him now, I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to see him. All that time spent lamenting and worrying about Sean, I couldn’t find the courage to wander over. It took Karen standing and shoving me in the direction of him to actually make me begin walking over, quickly. He wasn’t facing my direction and I couldn’t bring myself to open my mouth to say anything. I ended up pulling on his arm.

 “Hey there, Evie,” he said when he turned around. “What a sight you are.”
 “Um...” I mumbled.
 “Cat got your tongue, huh?”
 “I...er... Wel-Welcome back...”
 “Why d’ya look so sad? Didn’t ya miss me?”
 “Well...I...”

Before I could say anything that sounded like a proper sentence, Susan called Sean over to help her with something. I felt like an outright idiot. All that time spent just thinking of Sean and I couldn’t say anything proper to him? I ran over to my tent to retrieve his hat; at least I’d managed to save that when leaving Blackwater. He was helping Susan get his bedroll out of one of the wagons and was just carrying it to his tent when I ran up to him.

 “Here,” I squeaked, holding the hat out to him.
 “I was wonderin’ about that,” he told me, taking it and putting it on. “Thanks.”
 “I’m sorry.”
 “What for? Not sayin’ anythin’ over there? It’s the MacGuire charm, ain’t it? Cat don’t got your tongue; I do.”
 “Sean--”
 “Evie, come over here,” Dutch said.

I huffed and walked over to where Dutch was standing, at the front of his tent. What was it now? Was he going to scold me for all the annoyance I had caused and not done anything about it? Was he going to yell at me for something I didn’t know I did? I never knew with him. I was trying to find the words to talk to Sean and he wasn’t even letting me have that.

 “You can get rid of that forlorn look on your face,” Dutch sighed, patting my shoulder. “This ain’t a time for yelling at each other.”
 “What is it, then?” I replied quietly.
 “We’re gonna have a party, Evie. Sometimes people need to be reminded to settle down and with all the worryin’ you did, you need to just have fun, even if it’s for one night. So have a drink or...ten...however many it takes for you to calm down, and have a good time.”
 “Okay. Thank you, Dutch.”
♞♞♞

 “You’ve been n-ursing that same bottle of wh-skey for thirty m-inutes,” Karen hiccuped.
 “I don’t always drink fast,” I admitted. “And I used to never drink much, anyway.”
 “Wha-t’s that mean?”
 “Dutch used to finish my whiskey.”
 “Well...ain’t nob-ody gonna finish you-r whiskey here. So ya best get drinkin’!”

Karen giggled and leaned against me as she took another swig from her bottle. Which one was she on? In comparison to, well, everybody, I was a very slow drinker. I didn’t want to drink too much too fast and lose control of myself. There was a cliff nearby and if I blacked out hard enough, I probably would think I could fly and the best case was that I only hurt myself and broke a couple bones. Dutch told me to have fun, not to be an idiot.

 “Don’t you w-orry about a t-hing,” Karen continued. “I ain’t tellin’ nobody about who you’re sweet on. The l-adies already kno-w; I d-on’t think the m-en do.”
 “You should lay off the whiskey for a few minutes,” I sighed.
 “Or-r-r-r-r you could d-rink faster. C’mon -- it’s a p-arty! W-hat b-ottle are ya on?!”
 “Two.”
 “You should b-e on f-our or more by now! Let your h-air down! Dr-ink! Be happy!”

 She got up and walked away, downing the last of the bottle she was currently holding. There was no waiting, either; she immediately went and grabbed a new bottle. It was a party, but she regularly drank, too; it was just an excuse to drink even more. She was stumbling around enough as it was and she was just going to add to it. I finished the last of the bottle I had and waited. I really didn’t want to drink continuously, but would it make a difference if I waited ten minutes or not to have another one? I’d not said a word or made a sound around Sean since Dutch needed to speak with me. If I was going to have an excuse to drink more, it was that I needed confidence.

 “Everything alright?” Dutch asked as I walked past his tent.
 “Sean’s back,” I replied. “Everything might not be alright, but him being back is turning things around, I suppose.”
 “That ain’t what I mean. You look upset about somethin’.”
 “I’m fixing it.”
 “I told you -- have a good time. What is he doin’?”

 I turned around so see Sean standing on one of the boxes usually sitting around the campfire. It was a speech, for sure. Most of the things he said I didn’t know if he was serious about or not. Then again, he, too, was already so drunk that when he walked around it wasn’t straight up or...well, straight. There was going to be a lot of stumbling around from a lot of people eventually.

 “You heard the boy, too,” Dutch said when Sean stumbled off the box. “Have a good time. Drink faster; it’s gonna help.”
 “Help with what?” I asked.
 “Having fun.”

I walked around the camp drinking from the new bottle I’d picked up. The more I drank, I realized it was easier to. I’d realized that a while ago. Bad taste was eventually switched out for good taste because I didn’t even notice it was bad anymore. Now while I was thinking about how much more I could handle, I found Charles just at the entrance to the camp. He wasn’t standing watch; no one was.

 “You’re not gonna join?” I mumbled.
 “Parties ain’t really my thing,” he admitted. “You should go back, though. Enjoy yourself.”
 “I’m sorry; I should have asked before -- do you want to be alone?”
 “It’s...been a long day, Evie.”
 “I’ll take that as a ‘yes’. Okay, Charles. I guess I’ll see you later, then.”

I wandered over to the table that Karen was sitting at. She seemed rather giddy from how much she’d already drank and I didn’t think she had any intention of stopping soon. How was she able to put some much whiskey away? How was Sean able to put so much whiskey away? Was it because he was Irish? I wondered how I was managing to put a second bottle away, myself. I called myself crazy, but I was already planning on going back for a third. Cornelius was able to put a lot of alcohol away before he even became slightly tipsy. And Bonnie... Well, I didn’t know. She was Scottish, so I could only assume she was able to put a lot away and not get tipsy at all.

 “Evie?” Dutch said as I walked by his tent again.
 “Mm-hm?”
 “Would you dance with me?”

That wasn’t a question I had been prepared to hear, at least not from him. Could he even dance? I was surprised the subject of dancing had never come up in any of our conversations, especially the ones we’d had in the saloon we used to meet up at. Well, it was a proper occasion to dance, at least, and Dutch seemed tipsy. With any luck, maybe he wouldn’t remember that I was going to say yes.

 “Of course,” I murmured, setting my whiskey down. “Put those years of dance lessons to good use.”

 Cornelius spent so much money getting me a private dance teacher all the way from France. I never danced unless we went to a fancy party being held by the mayor or in the next town over. I’d never exactly gotten the hang of it, but I was passable. Most people thought it was quite simple -- I couldn’t count the times that my foot had gotten stepped on and I couldn’t count the times I’d stepped on someone else’s foot. But like me, Dutch was passable. Well, he was actually quite good. Above my skill, at least. It was nice to be doing something with him that wasn’t arguing or screaming at each other. I didn’t like it when we were at each other’s throats; it happened so often that others probably thought I did enjoy it. Really, I couldn’t stand it and it only ever made me feel worse, and I could see that it made Dutch upset, too.

 “You finally enjoyin’ yourself?” he inquired.
 “I’m getting there,” I replied. “I realize I’ve been...insufferable...the last couple of weeks.”
 “Bein’ sweet on people does things like that.”
 “But I’m not--”
 “Oh, no, there’s no use lyin’ to me, Evie. Don’t think I ain’t seen how you look at Charles and Javier, and how you look at Sean. I know.”
It took a moment for me to say anything. “You’re not mad, are you?”
 “I said you could move on. I thought you might need my blessin’.”
 “You know I’m always going to have a soft spot for you, Dutch.”
 “Of course you are. If things turned out differently, then maybe we wouldn’t always be at each other’s throats. If you ever wanna come back, you can.”

 The music on the gramophone ended and Dutch let me go. I squeezed his hand before picking up my whiskey and walking away. I quickly downed the bottle and grabbed another one. This one I decided to nurse for a little while at the campfire. Javier was playing his guitar opposite of me. Did I really look at him a certain way? Did I really look at any of them a certain way? Maybe it wasn’t obvious to me, because I clearly couldn’t see my own face. But wouldn’t I have been able to feel my expression change if I looked at anyone a different way? Just sitting there, contemplating, I managed to get through half the bottle in not even ten minutes.

 “You look so-o-o-o serious,” Karen teased.
 “I’m just thinking,” I replied.
 “Ooh, smart girl is thinkin’.”
 “I think I’m just...gonna go over there...”

“Over there” was my tent. I finished up the bottle quickly and stood in front of the flaps, wondering if I should just call it a night or not. Dutch knew about Charles, Javier, and Sean -- did that mean everyone knew? Did they themselves know? That was too much comprehension  for a drunk brain. I wasn’t so drunk that I didn’t know what was happening. I was aware of what was happening and I was aware of Sean hopefully walking past me.

 “Hey, d’ya love me yet?” he asked.

He was not walking past me. He had been walking toward me for a reason. And now he was teasing me like he did before the boat job.

 “I wonder that myself,” I admitted.
 “You were worried ’bout me, weren’t ya?” Sean continued. “Had that sad look on you’re face when I left.”
 “Obviously I was worried. And then this all happened.” I poked him in his chest. “I had cause to be worried.”
 “You sure did. One hundred bounty hunters, I’m tellin’ ya. But I’m back and you’re lookin’ as pretty as ever.”
 I sniffled. “Sean, I was so worried.”
 “Hey, now, don’t go cryin’. I’m fine.” He grabbed the front of my jacket and pulled me closer to him. “They thought a hundred could stop me? Pffft. Nothin’ to worry about.”
 “That’s not nothing. How did you even get caught?”
 “Got a right bonk on the head. Couldn’t catch me otherwise.”

Sean let out a chuckle, but that only made me start crying more than just a sniffle.

 “Wha-- Hey, you ain’t supposed to be cryin’,” he said. “You’re s’posed to be happy. Like I told Javier, the joy’s back in your lives.”
 “You... You’re...” I stammered. “I was scared, you know.”
 “I know.”
 “You should...go back to your party...”
 “And what? Miss out on you?”
 “You do realize you only call me pretty when you’re drunk?”
 “Do I?”

He didn’t notice he only ever called me that when he’d been drinking. Of course he didn’t notice. Why would he? The alcohol probably gave him some extra courage to say what he really thought about women. Otherwise if he was sober he would continue talking and never shut up.

 “My face is pretty,” I sniffled. “My body may be small, but it’s not the same as it used to be.”
 “So?” Sean snorted. “You’re still very pretty.”

Sean was serious, wasn’t he? There were no signals that he was going to stop calling me pretty. Would he stop if I agreed? Would he stop if I shoved him away? I didn’t want to do, either; I didn’t want to come across as so vain in front of him and I didn’t want him to go away, either. But I only knew one of them would stop him from calling me pretty. I rubbed at my eyes with a shaky sigh.

 “So...did ya miss me?” he asked.
 “Of course I did!” I quickly replied.
 “Really? Were ya beside yourself and cryin’?”
 “Yes, stupid, I was.”

I shoved him slightly with a sniffle. What did he expect me to say? “No”? I was crying in front of him because I’d been scared and worried about him. Did he think I just spent a whole month not thinking about him and now that he was back all my feelings returned?

 “Wait, really?” he asked, sounding shocked.
 “Yes, really!” I sobbed. “Stop asking me ‘really’.”
 “I was just...expectin’ sarcasm...”
 “There’s nothing to be sarcastic about, Sean. Come in.”

He came with me into my tent and kissed me. It had been on my mind for a good amount of time; I just never had the confidence to ask for it. Sean was able to get the hint, no problem. He held me close and he held me tight. Maybe doing it in camp wasn’t the greatest decision, but it wasn’t as if we could ride into Valentine -- people in the camp would know then what was going on. Well, if no one could find Sean and I then they would know, too, but riding out would be even more obvious.

 He wasn’t impatient, but I could tell he really wanted to get to it. I laid down on my cot and pulled him down on top of me. Upon pushing my petticoat up and finding his bearings, I yelped.

 “What?” he panted. “Everythin’ okay?”
 “It’s-It’s been a while since...” I breathed, “since I did this...”
He let out a small laugh. “Me and you both.”

Chapter Text

 What a bad idea to drink so much. My head felt like it was being split in two. Mostly everyone else looked like they weren’t having a good morning, either, but some had bounced back like they hadn’t drank at all. I vaguely remembered what happened the night before. I remembered Karen and Dutch telling me to have more fun, and I just about remembered dancing with Dutch, too. I’d woken up with Sean in my cot and I was in pain, so I could only assume that we had had sex at some point. It wasn’t that that was making me have regrets; never. It was that I couldn’t remember much of anything happen.

 “Morning, Evie,” Javier said as he walked by. “You had fun last night.”
 “I guess I did,” I groaned. “Why is the sun so bright?”
 “You ain’t going to work like this, are you?”
 “Work?” I perked up slightly. “Do I work today?”
 “You been working everyday since you started at the saloon.”
I groaned again and covered my face. “How could I be so irresponsible?”
 “We still haven’t had a drink together.”
 “Javier, I’m sorry.”

I rested my head down on the table. My head was going to split in two; at least that’s how it felt. How was I going to be able to work if I felt this bad? I wanted to damn Karen and Dutch for encouraging my drinking, but at the same time I knew no one was to blame but myself. Maybe it was the day to finally go see my father in Strawberry. Perhaps I could ask him for some money to cover what I would have made at the saloon. No. No, I couldn’t do that. That wouldn’t be right.

 “Here,” Javier sighed, making me look up. “Drink this.”

He had set his tin cup with coffee on the table. I grabbed it and took little sips of it. Well, at least it was something.

 “It ain’t much,” he mentioned. “Should help you feel a bit better, though.”
 “Thank you,” I grumbled. “What are you up to today?”
 “Dunno yet. Pearson said he needs more meat, so I might go hunting. Might hold up a stage.”
 “A stage...? You mean a stagecoach?”
 “Yeah. If you’re not working today, what are you gonna do?”
 “Probably go see Daddy. Dutch thinks I should go see him and I miss him, anyway.”
 “Need someone to go with you?”

Javier was willing to come with me to see Cornelius, but my father had been uncomfortable with Sean there. He hadn’t said it, but he had been so rigid while he sat and he hesitated to allow him into the room in the first place. I didn’t want to think how he would react if I showed up to his hotel door with Javier in tow. My father was a kind man, but he was so old-fashioned with his thinking of others with a different skin colour.

 “My father wouldn’t let you inside,” I replied.
 “It’s ’cause I’m Mexican,” Javier said, matter-of-factly.
 “Yes... And I don’t want something bad happening to you if... I mean, I’m not saying that you can’t handle yourself.”
 “I know, I know.” He sighed and pat my shoulder. “We’ll have that drink whenever you get back, okay, amiga?”

 I felt bad that I was now going to have to ask Sean to come with me again. He didn’t like my father and my father didn’t like him, but I couldn’t bring someone like Javier or Charles with me because things would just not turn out very well. I knew my father; even if he’d never hit our maids, he had certainly berated them. All I could hope for is that he would change his mind before it was too late. I finished up the coffee Javier had given me and went to find Sean.

 “Good mornin’,” he said when I found him brushing Ennis.
 “Morning,” I mumbled. “Will you come to Strawberry with me?”
 “Ain’t that where your dad is? I didn’t think I’d have to go see him ever again.”
 “I can’t bring most of you. Maybe I would bring Dutch if, you know, he wasn’t totally wanted in West Elizabeth. Can’t take Hosea for the same reason and Arthur is out collecting debts. Reverend is still drunk from last night. I’m not even sure if he stopped drinking, really.”
 Sean placed the brush in the saddlebag. “So...you want me, the one who wanted to punch ’im the first time ’round and hates the English and hates the rich, to come with ya, all the way to Strawberry?”
 “Just say ‘no’, Sean, and I might try my luck with someone else to come with me.”
 “Jesus, I’ll come with ya.” He grabbed the front of my jacket and pulled me to him. “Been back for not even a day and you’re on me already.”

 Sean kissed the side of my head and let me go so I could go and mount Maple. Strawberry was quite far; hopefully we could make it without any interruptions from O’Driscolls or anyone else. They knew not to kill me, but Sean was fair game for them. The one thing I was nervous about was if we were going to run into Bonnie at some point. That was something I really wanted to avoid. I knew there was more to worry about than the O’Driscolls, of course, but if I saw them as opposed to just hearing them, I didn’t know what I would do. We were almost to Strawberry and the whole time Sean and I hadn’t said a word to each other.

 “Before anything happens, Sean, do you...remember what happened last night?” I wondered.
 “Oh, boy, don’t I,” he replied with a chuckle.
 “Did we... Well, did we have...”
 “You let me into your sheets, and it ain’t ’cause you wanted someone to keep ya company.”
 “How do you remember it? You were drunk way before I was.”
 “I just do.”
 “Was it...good...?”
 “Of course it was good. What the hell kinda question is that? You enjoyed it, I enjoyed it.”

I left it at that. I didn’t need to know anymore. It confirmed my suspicions, that was for sure. Now it was just a matter of keeping it a secret from my father. If he knew I’d let more than just Dutch into my sheets, he would surely have a heart attack.

 “So...didja really miss me?” Sean asked. “Said you were cryin’ and beside yourself while I was gone.”
 “I did and I was,” I said quietly. “Why are you asking me again, then?”
 “Folks speak out of their arse a lot when they been drinkin’.”
 “Sean, I’m just more emotional when I’ve been drinking and I say things that I don’t have the courage to say while sober. For what it’s worth, I cried a lot and I worried a lot after Blackwater.”
 “You ain’t worried now?”
 “I’m...less worried because you’re back. Hey, wait, did you say anything you didn’t mean, then?”
 “No.”
 “I don’t remember what you said.”
 “It’s gonna stay that way, Evie.”

He’d said it in a teasing manner; eventually I would find out what he said. We both stopped talking when we entered Strawberry. It looked like a quaint little town, that was for sure. Definitely a place where Cornelius could relax and take the edge off if need be. If he was going to be anywhere, he was going to be in the welcome centre. It was nice in there, too. The hotel owner was kind enough to tell us where my father was -- he immediately assumed I was his daughter from my fake accent. Sean let out an annoyed sigh as we walked up the stairs.

 “Oh, stop it,” I told him. “You could have said ‘no’.”
 “Yeah, and then you would’ve said somethin’ to make me come anyway,” he retorted.
 “Alright, Sean.”

I knocked on the door to my father’s room; it wasn’t even a couple of seconds before he opened the door.

 “Tessa, what are you doing here?” he asked, pulling me into a hug.
 “I was... Well, we were in the area and I thought I would come see you,” I replied.
 “Come in.”

 Cornelius still didn’t look comfortable allowing Sean into the room, but he knew he had to. Unlike last time, wherein Sean stood in the corner, he was able to sit next to me. He didn’t want to be there; he was only there because I was and he wasn’t about to stand outside the door like an idiot. Most of the bounty hunters Sean had been held by were dead, but some had gotten away and yet they had forgotten to put out the bounty they had on him. They were probably all still recovering from being bushwhacked by Charles, Javier, and Arthur.

 “I will not try to convince you to come home with me,” Cornelius admitted, “but I did return to Blackwater a few days ago to see one of my clients and, well...”
 “Bounty posters of Dutch,” I muttered. “I know.”
 “I heard about what happened. Thank you for telling me to leave when you did, but what happened to you?”
 “Me? I wasn’t on that boat; I was back at camp.”

Cornelius looked at Sean. He looked like he was hesitant to ask anything. Sean was being quiet for a reason, but if he was asked something it could only go one of two ways -- he answered properly or he answered with sarcasm.

 “What do ya want, English?” Sean asked, hostile.
 “Were you on the boat?” Cornelius wondered.
 “No, I was back at camp doin’ chores with the ladies.” He shook his head. “Of course I was on that job. Shit got bad fast and they had to leave earlier than planned.”
 “They did but you didn’t.”
 “Father,” I said, clearing my throat, “don’t worry about it. I know it’s been a month since I last saw you, but everything is fine, now.”
 “Fucker...” Sean muttered.
 “Where did you end up if you had to leave Blackwater?” Cornelius asked.
 “I can’t tell you and you know I can’t,” I immediately said. “What I can tell you is that I found a...decent...job at the saloon and I’m fine.”

 The job was neither decent nor was I fine, but I couldn’t let Cornelius worry anymore than he already did.

 “A job at the saloon?” Cornelius said. “Tessa...”
 “You’re workin’ at a saloon?” Sean asked.
 “How did you not know?”
 “I been gone for a couple weeks, ya smug bastard.”
 “Would you both please calm down?” I snapped. “It’s not a big deal.”
 “You’re not...poor, are you?” Cornelius asked.
 “What’s wrong with that?” Sean retorted.

Sean was looking for any kind of excuse to be able to at least punch my father in the face. I exhaled sharply and smacked him on the shoulder.

 “Yes, Daddy, we are,” I sighed. “It’s okay, though. We’re making it work.”
 “So you do need money?” my father replied.
 “Actually--” Sean began, but I nudged him in his ribs.
 “I’m not here for money,” I admitted. “I wanted to see you, not ask you for money.”
 “But we do need it. Ain’t all our money and your jewellery back in--”
 “Sean!”

By this time, Cornelius was already rummaging through his baggage. I knew what he was doing and I immediately stood and walked over to him.

 “Daddy, stop,” I pleaded. “It’s okay.”
 “It’s not okay, darling,” he replied, taking out a bill fold and shoving it into my hands.
 “I didn’t come to ask for this.” I handed it back to him. “We’re somehow making it work.”
 “Tessa,” He stuck the bill fold in my jacket pocket, “when you were born I made a promise to you and to myself that you would never have to face that. Our family has not been poor in over one hundred years.”
 “But--”
 “No buts. Even if you have chosen this life, you are still my daughter and I still love you.”

The hotel owner came and knocked on the door, mentioning that a telegram had arrived for Cornelius. Sean and I decided to leave just then to let him deal with whatever the message was. I felt around in my pocket when we made it to the horses and took out the bill fold. There was easily a couple hundred dollars -- I really hadn’t wanted it. What was I even supposed to do with it? I hadn’t worked for it and if I put some into the community box, Dutch would want to know where it came from since it would be more than I usually put in. He’d see right through a lie if I told him I’d earned more at work than usual. It probably was no secret that I didn’t go to work.

 “I don’t believe you,” I snapped at Sean, putting the money in the saddlebag. “Using my father like that.”
 “He was more than willin’ to give it to ya,” he replied. “Nobody died or got hurt to get it.”
 “Sean, that is my father.”
 “It ain’t a big deal, Evie.”
 “It is a big deal.”
 “Why? Ya got money without havin’ to be stared at by a buncha old fellers at the saloon and he don’t gotta worry that his kid ain’t broke for a couple a’ days.”

 I folded my arms across my chest and glared at him. It was easy for him to see it that way, but not for me. Cornelius wasn’t going to accept it back no matter what I did, so there was no use fighting it. There was regret inside of me, though. The jewellery I had sold had been mine and the jewellery left in Blackwater had been mine, but the money he’d handed me wasn’t mine. I didn’t earn it. Sean grabbed my jacket, but instead of pulling me to him, he stepped closer to me.

 “C’mon, don’t be poutin’ at me, now,” he said. “It’s unbecomin’, it is.”
 “Why is it unbecoming for someone to be upset?” I asked. “I don’t deserve the money.”
 “Well, you ain’t just somebody, now, are ya? Bein’ angry don’t suit a pretty lady like you.”
My skin felt hot. “You’re just saying I’m pretty so I’ll stop being angry. Let me tell you...it’s-it’s not going to work.”
 “You can act shy all ya want, Evie, but I know ya like it comin’ from me. You love me and I know it.”
 “Well, I must if I worried so much and let you into my sheets.”
 “But ya can’t say it.”
 “It took you this long to call me pretty sober, Sean; forgive me if I can’t say I love someone. I’ve never... I’ve never...um...”
 “Yeah, I know all about what went on on top of that mountain. Confusin’ stuff. You love more than just me.”
 “I’m not a wh--”
 “I know that, too.”
 “Sean, I’m not expecting you to understand. I’m-I’m not okay. Everything that happened from leaving Arkansas and now, I don’t know how to look at it and figure out what I want to happen. Physically, I may be okay, but...”
 “Those O’Driscoll bastards got into your head, didn’t they? Of course they did.”
I sniffled. “Sean, I’m sorry...”
 “Y’know, if I do see any of ’em, I’ll kill ’em for ya. Well, I’d kill ’em anyway, but ya know what I mean. We’ve all been through some shit, so if it takes ya some time to come ’round, then it’s okay. Just...one of ’em ain’t Micah?”
 I let out a strained laugh and slapped his shoulder. “Never.”
♞♞♞

 “If he’s that understandin’, he probably loves you,” Abigail murmured. “He’s right, though; we’ve all seen things we shouldn’t have and...well, my life is one big ‘shouldn’t have’. Some of us ain’t as used to it as others.”
 “Being sweet on someone and loving someone are two different things,” I replied. “First all of you were telling me he’s sweet on me and now he loves me? Make up your mind, Abigail.”
 “You’ll have to make up your own mind first, dear. And, y’know, not to be mean or anythin’, but you gotta stop cryin’ over everything.”
 “Do you want me to bottle up my emotions? That’s...not going to turn out well for anyone here. I need to go see if Kieran needs food.”
 “Oh, that O’Driscoll boy? Yeah, he ain’t here. John, Bill, and Arthur took him somewhere.”

I quickly got up from where I was sitting and rushed over to Dutch’s tent. Before I could even say anything, he held his hand up to keep me from speaking. I didn’t come to argue; I just wanted an answer.

 “That Kieran boy is fine,” he told me. “He’s showin’ them where Colm is held up.”
 “You got him to talk?” I asked. “Dutch, what did you do?”
 “We threatened to geld him and he sang like a canary.”
 “You what?”
 “Calm down; I wasn’t gonna let it happen. Even if Bill really wanted to do it.”
 “Of course he really wanted to do it.”
Dutch sighed. “Is that everything?”

 I dug the front of one of my boots into the dirt and the grass. I’d not told him about Cornelius giving me money; I still didn’t know what I was supposed to do with it and there was no way to know that Dutch wouldn’t take it all and put it into the safe spot away from camp or put all of it in the community box. But I did have to tell him, didn’t I? Otherwise if I used all the money for new dresses, he would be suspicious and the last thing anyone wanted was to have a suspicious Dutch on their tail.

 “No,” I mumbled.
 “What?” he asked. “There another problem?”
 “Well, no, not exactly. I don’t know? I went and saw Daddy and he gave me some money I’m not too sure what to do with.”
Dutch shut his book and stood up. “You could’ve just kept your mouth shut and kept it for yourself.”
 “That would be an argument waiting to happen.”
 “Just do what you normally do and put some of it in the box. Don’t matter if you worked for it or not. He know we’re around here?”
 “All he knows is we’re not in Blackwater anymore.”
 “Good. Let’s keep it that way.”

That was the end of that conversation, it seemed. I dug around in my jacket pocket and pulled out the bill fold and wandered over to the community box. I put in enough that would more than satisfy whomever looked in the ledger. Just as I was closing the lid, Javier came over.

 “Feelin’ generous, Evie?” he said.
 “My father was,” I replied, turning to him. “He doesn’t want me to be poor.”
 “Don’t talk about your father.”

Javier had one of his arms wrapped around my waist with his hand resting on my hip. It wasn’t even that late in the day; middle of the afternoon, perhaps, and he had already been drinking. Why was I not surprised? It wasn’t unusual for some of the men to drink during the day; I’d just never seen Javier partake in it. Well, he’d been in the saloon during the day before that big bar fight Bill started. No way anyone could be sober and do that much damage.

 “Are you okay?” I wondered.
 “Oh, yeah, I’m fine,” Javier admitted. “It’s just that you’re so...damn...pretty.”
 “Jav--”
 “Sometimes I stop and think about just how pretty you are. You know?”
 “I don’t know.”

I looked toward the front of the camp; John was returning and Kieran was riding on his horse behind him. He was allowed to come back? That must have meant things went... Well, they could have gone bad, but there was no look of worry among either of them. Bill rode in after them and immediately went to go get a whiskey.

 “Excuse me, Javier,” I said, pulling away.
 “Of course, linda,” Javier sighed, sounding a bit annoyed.

I scurried off toward where Kieran was getting an earful from John. If it wasn’t John doing it, it was going to be Dutch, and if it wasn’t going to be Dutch it was going to be Arthur. Speaking of Dutch, he was listening to John give Kieran said earful. John was just finishing up when I got there. In my excitement, I nearly went in for a hug but I had to stop. Kieran had just opened his arms for me, too, when I stopped. I wrinkled my nose.

 “Oh, erm...” I coughed. “John, you couldn’t take him through Valentine for a bath first?”
 “At least you didn’t have to ride with ’im,” John retorted.
 “Guess I’ll do it. Grab a horse, would you, Kieran?”
 “I was tied to a tree for weeks,” Kieran complained, taking the reins of a horse. “What did ya think was gonna happen?”
 “Surprised no one could smell ’im from across the camp...” John muttered as he walked away.

I mounted Maple and waited for Kieran. It was better that I dealt with him than Susan walking by him and forcing him to dunk his head into the water barrel. At least in Valentine he’d be able to relax for a few moments by himself.

 “You don’t gotta do this, y’know,” he said as we left camp.
 “Do what?” I wondered.
 “This. I could go on my own.”
 “Kieran, please, it might be a while before anyone trusts you to leave camp on your own.”
 “I... Oh.”
 “Not to say I don’t trust you. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have gave you food or worried over how you were tied to a tree, and I really wouldn’t be taking you to Valentine. I just don’t want anyone to get on your back more than they already will be.”
 “Evie, I been wonderin’... Why do you and Dutch yell at each other so much?”
 “It’s because he can be a jerk and I’ve a lot of issues with how he handles things.”
 “But...you don’t yell at anyone else...”
 “Oh, you’re really going to make me say it, aren’t you? Please don’t.”
 “I’ll-I’ll stop askin’ questions.”
 “Has anyone mentioned to you what my cover is?”
 “Somethin’ about bein’ from England...?”
 “Okay, good enough.”

 We were both silent on the rest of the way to Valentine. Kieran was nervous about something and I just wanted quiet. No one had been overly happy after he, John, and Bill had returned, which just led me to believe that Colm hadn’t been where Kieran had said. From what I understood, Colm was slippery, and had probably been wherever it was they went to at some point in time. Still, no doubt there were plenty of O’Driscolls around. I’d noticed Kieran had returned with a holster that he hadn’t left with, and no one in camp would have given him one. He must have picked it off someone dead -- hopefully that someone was a dead O’Driscoll. Perhaps the reason Kieran looked so nervous was because not all of them were dead. Colm had so many men that could still be around. After hitching our horses up in Valentine, I turned to Kieran and held out some money to him.

 “You take this,” I told him. “Go to the hotel and take a bath. I’ll be in the saloon over there.”
 “Thanks, Evie,” he said, and off he went.

I walked into the saloon, where the bartender seemed to sigh with relief.

 “I am not here to work today,” I admitted.
 “Well, no, I expected not,” he replied. “With all the bad people around these parts, I thought you’d been snatched up when you didn’t come in.”
 “No. I was going to return to England and I was packing my baggage when I received a note from my father telling me to enjoy the rest of America. So I suppose I will stay here for a big longer. What happened after I left yesterday? I saw a fellow get tossed out.”
 “Tommy threw him out the window over there.”
 “Oh, my.”
 “Tommy lost.”

I paused and stared at the bartender. Arthur had beat up that giant of a man? That was...something else. Other than that and Bill starting the fight, I didn’t know anything else. Maybe I didn’t need to know and I surely was beginning to wish I didn’t know anything at all.

Chapter Text

 “I will have to quit if anymore fights start because of any of the other men,” I said, standing with Dutch at his tent.
 “Why is that?” he replied. “Your boss getting suspicious about you?”
 “Not that I know of, but the truth is bound to come out sooner or later.”
 “What just happened ain’t a fight. What happened when Bill was there was a fight.”
 “We just repaired the window Arthur was thrown through and it wasn’t but ten minutes later Javier tossed someone through it, too!”

 Dutch sighed, and I could tell he was stifling a chuckle. Javier hadn’t even had a drink yet when it happened, either; he just did it. Granted, it was over someone coming onto me, hard, when I was trying to continue on and work. All he tried to do was defuse the fact the man was getting angry with me, got punched, and decided it was enough justification to throw him out the window. The man hadn’t even hit Javier that hard; he didn’t even flinch or step back. As if I didn’t need anything worse to happen to me, Charles was walking quickly from the hitching posts.

 “Anyway, it ain’t gonna do you any good if you just quit,” Dutch told me. “Unless you wanna run back to your daddy and get all your money to contribute from him.”
 “This is one of the reasons why I didn’t want him to give me money,” I snapped. “Because you’d say something like that.”
 “Evie, I need to tell you something,” Charles said, stopping in front of us.
 “How fast you were walking, I would say so,” Dutch mentioned.
 “What’s the problem, Charles?” I mumbled.

There was no good way to say it; it was just one way and that way was bad, no matter how it was looked at.

 “The O’Driscolls have your father,” Charles admitted.
 “What?!” I shouted.
 “I was out hunting and-- Evie!”

I took off toward Maple, only Charles managed to stop me before I could even mount her.

 “If you go there yourself, they’ll kill you,” he said.
 “And if I don’t go at all, they will kill my father, Charles,” I retorted, shrugging him off and climbing on top of my horse.
 “You get him and what are you gonna do?” Dutch wondered, having wandered over. “You can’t take him back to Strawberry.”

 Charles was mounting Taima -- he wasn’t going to let me go alone. Besides, he probably figured I would need his tracking. I probably wasn’t in the right mindset to track by myself.

 “You keep saying you love me, Dutch,” I sighed. “If you want me to believe you so badly, the least you could do is let me bring Daddy back.”
 “Excuse me?” Dutch spoke as if he couldn’t believe his ears.
 “You heard me. You may not like my father -- in fact, nobody may like my father -- but nobody other than yourself likes Micah and you sent Arthur to go get that son of a bitch out of jail. I don’t have time to argue with you over this. That’s my father they have; they took my baby from me and they aren’t going to take him away from me, too.”
 “You best believe your father and me are gonna have a chat when you bring him back, then.”

I shook my head at him with an annoyed sigh and took off out of the camp. Charles followed closely behind me at first and then rode next to me. He directed where he originally saw them. It wasn’t at all that far away from camp. Sure enough, there were hoof marks in the dirt. According to Charles, he knew it had been Cornelius from what he was shouting. He’d been shouting about Bonnie and myself; then there was also the English accent. Charles remembered my father’s condescending voice even after months of not seeing him.

 “I thought they weren’t supposed to touch him,” Charles said as he looked at the ground.
 “Something must have happened between Bonnie and Colm,” I replied.
 “You okay?”
 “Charles--”
 “I mean goin’ back into a place full of O’Driscolls. What you’re doing is going back into the lions’ den.”
 “I’d go into an actual lions’ den to save my father, Charles.”

I was nervous about the O’Driscolls. There was no way around it. My heart felt like it was going to burst through my chest. Maybe nervous wasn’t the correct word for it; I was horrified. These were the people who made it difficult to be under anybody sober and the reason why it was nearly impossible to get a good night’s rest. If Sean and I hadn’t been drunk during that party of his, I probably wouldn’t have been able to get through it. Dutch had calmed me when I came back from the cabin just so he could finish -- well, that was what it felt like. Sometimes even being touched a certain way scared me.

 “You can’t go running in there,” Charles mentioned. “Either they’ll kill you first or leave your father’s body behind for you to discover.”
 “As bad as his old-fashioned views on the world are, he’s a good man,” I complained.
 “The O’Driscolls kill anything and anyone. Don’t matter if they’re a good person or not. Look at Sadie or...think about the way you used to be before them. You’re good people because they’re bad people who wanted to hurt you.”
 “That’s insightful, Charles.”
 “But...I need to ask...is your father really a good man or is he a good father?”
 “I’ve never seen or heard him hurt anybody.”
 “Right. You’ve never seen. If you wanna believe he’s still a good man, then I ain’t gonna stop you, Evie. The tracks go into the trees here. Let me go ahead on my own, just in case.”
 “Charles--”
 “I’ll come right back, I promise.”

I looked around nervously as Charles disappeared into the trees. He hadn’t come with me so he could save my father; he came with me so I could save my father. He was there for me so I wouldn’t be alone. I didn’t think anyone else in that camp besides myself cared if Cornelius died or not; he’d come into our Blackwater camp and tried to get away with it by trying to buy someone to force me back with him. But I stood by what I said to Dutch -- no one liked Micah except for himself and he wanted Arthur to bust him out of jail. No one but myself liked Cornelius and he was my father, so I had every right to get him out safely. I sighed with relief as Charles reappeared from the trees.

 “There’s an area we can hide our horses,” he said. “Looks like there’s maybe twenty, twenty-five O’Driscolls around. Not too many, considering.”

 I followed Charles back into the trees; we found the area to leave Maple and Taima. I pulled a branch of one of the trees down to get a better look at what was going on. There were a few cabins around. Cornelius was in one of them, but which one? Charles pulled me back when two of the O’Driscolls were walking by.

 “So what are we keepin’ that guy around for?” one of them asked. “Why ain’t he dead yet?”
 “Colm wants to lure Bonnie out of hiding,” the other replied. “She might snitch. Said we could do what we wanted to him, though. Long as we don’t kill him.”

 So something had happened between those two. Maybe it was just a big argument or a big misunderstanding, but it didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was they had Cornelius and Charles and I were going to get him out. The two of us stayed quiet while the two O’Driscolls continued on passed us. Once they were gone, Charles handed me a dynamite.

 “Throw that and it should get rid of them enough,” he said.
I sighed. “You wouldn’t throw a dynamite if it was just you.”
 “Do you want me to go in there myself and distract them so you can focus on finding your father?”
 “No. I want them to know I’m here.”

Charles shook his head at me.

 “What?” I asked.
 “Are you sure?” he inquired. “You might think it’s a good idea now, but--”
 “Charles, you have to trust me. Please?”
 “I trust you, Evie, but I’m just a little concerned.”
I exhaled sharply. “And when you’re concerned, it’s for a good reason. Alright, fine. Do you have a match?”

 He handed me a match and, after striking it on the bottom of my boot, I set the fuse and threw the dynamite as hard as I could. It landed near a small group of O’Driscolls, just smoking and minding their own business.

 “Dynamite!” one of them shouted.

 I cowered slightly when it exploded and then took off toward their camp. There weren’t many, just like Charles said, but there was enough. Some of the men I recognized from being tied up at the cabin, some others I didn’t. Colm went through men like the camp went through whiskey and cigarettes. Though I was being shot at mercilessly as I ran through camp, I didn’t stop for cover. Risky, yes, but I was angry and I wasn’t going to cower at the people who changed me. Had it been for the better than I’d changed? Of course not; not with how the changing came. All I knew was that they may have taken a good mind away from me and my baby, but they weren’t going to take my father and they definitely weren’t going to leave the land of the living peacefully.

 Running through the camp, I was horrified; of course I was. I was surrounded by so many people who hurt me and, I supposed by proxy, Sadie. Shooting them made me only feel a smidgen bit better. The one who had hurt me the most wasn’t around and I hoped someday that he’d be dealt with. But for now, the animals in the bodies of men would suffice.

 “Evie, find cover!” Charles shouted at me.

I ducked behind a boulder. He was giving me a moment to myself so he could handle some on his own. I didn’t take a very long moment; I only checked myself over to see if I had been hit and just didn’t realize. Once the assurance was there that I was fine, I peeked over the top of the boulder. There weren’t many left at this point, and some others were running away like the true cowards they were. I screamed in frustration and anger and shot at the others that were left. All that was left was the man who was cowering away in one of the cabins; the one I’d seen choose to try and save himself when I’d thrown the dynamite.

 “Come on, we need to find your father,” Charles said when he ran up to me.
 “One more thing,” I panted. “Do you have anymore dynamite?”

Charles gave me another dynamite and another match. I told him to wait outside the cabin. Upon approaching it,  I found that it was locked. There was no way he was going to hide from me. I kicked the door open, holding my gun out in front of me just in case he tried to be cute. Instead, the man was standing on the other side of the cabin, shotgun aimed in my direction. I’d thought O’Driscolls were meant to be fearless -- they certainly strutted around the place and spoke like they were. I shot his hands, causing him to drop the shotgun in pain. When he attempted to run for the door to the side of the cabin, I screamed again, ran at him, and knocked him to the floor.

 “Hey, buddy,” I hissed, digging my nails into his neck. “Did you miss me?”
 “Sure,” he croaked. “You were everyone’s favourite.”

He tried to reach for the gun on his holster, but I shot him right in the back of his hand. Just for the sake of doing it, I shot the back of his other hand, too. Now he was far too much in pain to even consider grabbing for his gun.

 “You were the worst,” I snapped at him. “I wasn’t fine with anything any of you did, but the things you did to my body I wish I could do to you. Now...if you don’t want anything else done above some useless hands, you better tell me where my daddy is.”

 He stayed quiet; he was trying to hold out, wasn’t he? Waiting for any of the O’Driscolls to come back and hopefully actually get rid of me? Bonnie was no longer with them so there was no obligation to her not to hurt me anymore. I screamed louder this time and went back to digging my nails into his throat. I was crying out of frustration by that point. The scars on my body that weren’t from Colm gutting me had been made by him. He’d put out his cigarettes and cigars on my skin, and put out candles wherever he figured would hurt most. The thinner scars were from his knife, and partly why it hurt so much to have sex was because there was a wound he had made on me that never quite healed correctly.

 “You won’t get nothin’ outta me,” he spat at me.

I shot him in his groin with no hesitation. He howled in pain, but I didn’t let him go. It wasn’t like he was going to need it anymore.

 “You better tell me right now!” I shouted.
 “He’s-He’s in the third cabin,” he sobbed. “He’s only beat up a bit. Ain’t dead. Please...let me go.”
 “‘Please, let me go’.” My voice came out in a mocking tone as I grabbed the rope that was attached to his belt. “I asked that over and over and what did that get me?”
 “I d- I don’t wanna die.”

I scoffed and got up, before turning him over onto his stomach. Using the rope, I hogtied him so tightly that he began complaining that the rope was digging into his skin. I kicked him so he was again on his back.

 “Y-You ain’t a bad person, lady,” he sniffled. “You’re gonna regret this later.”
I kicked him in his side. “You don’t tell me what I am and what I’m not! You animals made me a bad person. You, Colm, Bonnie, and all you goddamn O’Driscolls.”
 “Yeah? And-And how’s Kieran? I know he ain’t just wanderin’ the wild--”
 “He’s not like you! He’s not like any of you! He wanted to untie me and to help me and he was the only one out of any of you! And you know what?” I knelt down and took his gun from his holster. “I told him ‘no’ because I didn’t want you animals to kill him.”
 “Please, I don’t wanna die.”
I began dragging him toward the dynamite box in the corner. “Yeah, well, I do.”

I grabbed the dynamite out of my bag, shaking, and opened up the box. What I was about to do would probably be overkill, but that didn’t matter. He deserved to be scared and to die in a horrible way. I shot him in his leg just so I could get him to scream. Once he was screaming, I shoved the dynamite as deep as I could into his throat. It must have dawned on him what I was doing, because he began trying to shake his head.

 “It’s your turn to have something that you don’t want shoved down your throat,” I hissed, lighting the match on the back of my boot. “Unfortunately for you, it won’t be backing out.”

 I lit the fuses -- the one in his mouth and a few in the box -- and ran out of the cabin, grabbing Charles’ hand and pulling him down behind the boulder. The dynamite exploded, causing the cabin and the man to explode with it. Charles and I stood and looked at where the cabin was now nothing but timber slightly on fire. The man was scattered -- well, what was left of him. I exhaled sharply and wiped my eyes with the sleeve of my shirt.

 “You okay?” Charles asked.
 “Bastard,” I muttered with a sniffle. “He deserved that and much more.”
 “C’mon. Let’s go get your father.”

I found the cabin Cornelius was in; he was tied to a chair. Indeed, he was quite beaten up. Nothing too serious, thankfully, but the punches he received were already bruising and his suit didn’t look as nice as it should have.

 “Daddy!” I gasped, running to him.
 “Tessa?” he panted as I untied him. “Oh, darling, you shouldn’t be here.”
 “It’s safe for now. Charles and I got rid of as many as we could.”
 “All those gunshots were you? And whose blood is on you?”
 “It doesn’t matter. Come on, I’m taking you back to our camp.”
 “Tessa--”
 “Now is not the time to argue, Father!”

I helped Cornelius out of the cabin; it went without saying that being hogtied, carried on the back of a horse, and then being beat up left him feeling quite sore. Charles and I whistled for our horses. While we were waiting for them, Cornelius looked at Charles.

 “Before you say anything, I really couldn’t have done this without Charles,” I said. “I was going to, but...I didn’t.”
 “Thank you, sir.”
 “I’m only here because of Evie,” Charles admitted. “Try anything to put her in danger and you’ll have to deal with me.”
 “If I may ask, are you a Negro or a redskin?”

Charles looked at him, really not impressed, and then looked at me. I really couldn’t believe my own ears that my father had asked such a question.

 “Daddy, you can’t just ask people that!” I complained. “What does it matter? He’s American. Can we get you back to camp without you asking anymore ignorant questions? Save them for Dutch because he wants to talk to you.”
 “Oh, lovely,” Cornelius croaked.
 “You sure we can’t just take him back to Strawberry?” Charles inquired.
 “Charles,” I scolded.
 “Alright, fine.”

Maple and Taima galloped over to where we were. Cornelius pat Maple’s side as I climbed on top of her and waited for him. Once he was up behind me, I waited for Charles to mount Taima and we took off back to camp.
♞♞♞

 “Hola,” Javier said as he sat across from me.
 “Hey,” I mumbled.
 “Why the long face?”
 “My father and Dutch have been talking for a really long time; that’s all.”

Javier had been holding two bottles of whiskey. With a sigh, he produced two glasses from his satchel and placed them on the table. He switched spots so he was sitting closer to me and proceeded to pour the whiskey into each glass.

 “You and me still gotta have that drink I keep promisin’ you,” he mentioned. “So now seems like a good time to do it.”
 “I don’t see why not,” I replied.

I had no idea what Cornelius and Dutch could have been talking about for so long. I didn’t know if my father was asking questions about everything that happened to me or if Dutch had to keep laying out the rules over and over. Maybe Dutch was intimidating my father into staying just so he wouldn’t go and accidentally let it slip about where our camp was. Arthur had already had a run in with some Pinkertons while taking Jack out fishing. Whatever was going on in that tent, I was sure there was a lot of back and forth going on.

 “You okay, amiga?” Javier asked.
 “Not really,” I admitted, taking a sip of whiskey.
 “Your father’s okay, so that’s somethin’. But...” He took a long drink of his whiskey, “dunno how it’s gonna turn out for you and Sean with him around.”
 “Me and Sean?”
 “He ain’t gonna let anything happen.”

Javier had a point. Cornelius already had his problems with Sean and vice versa, but he didn’t know Sean and I were... Well, we weren’t necessarily together. We slept in the same cot sometimes and kissed and hugged, but Sean knew that I wasn’t in the right place to completely understand my feelings. Maybe we were together, but we weren’t...“together”, meaning we weren’t like Abigail and John or how Dutch and I used to be. Should Cornelius find out Sean and I had had sex he may just have had a crisis. Heaven forbid word got to him that not only were we sweet on each other, but apparently Charles and Javier were sweet on me, too, and I on them. It was definitely going to get around to him sooner or later and I was dreading that day. Then there was the case with Kieran. It would take a lot of talking to Cornelius about what the deal was with Kieran.

 “I’m a grown woman,” I said quietly. “So...I should get to choose who I do and don’t have a relationship with, right?”
 “Right,” Javier agreed, pouring me another glass of whiskey. “Of course. You’re a grown woman. Pretty. Sweet.”

 From the point of beginning to drink our second glasses of whiskey to the empty bottle, Cornelius and Dutch still hadn’t been done talking. Javier and I were still at the table; I didn’t even quite know what we were talking about, but we kept laughing at things that weren’t even particularly funny. It felt like I needed to just go lay down for a while and the only thing keeping me from doing so was Javier’s company. We’d not spent much time with each other since ending up at Horseshoe. It was nice.

 “Hey, hey, you came back to the camp with blood on your clothes,” Javier mentioned, almost choking back laughter. “Where did that come from?”
 “Let’s just say I unmanned an O’Driscoll,” I snorted.

It took him a moment to process what I said and then he began laughing again, which in turn made me begin laughing once more, too. I was just about to finish the last bit of whiskey in my glass when Dutch and Cornelius emerged from the tent. Cornelius did not look happy.

 “Uh-oh,” I snickered as he wandered over.
 “You choose to live like this?” he asked. “Darling, I can’t imagine why.”

Javier and I looked at each other and we both began laughing uncontrollably.

 “Are you drunk?” Cornelius snapped.
 “Yes,” I struggled to say.
 “Whatever for?”
 “I’m just spending some time with Javier.” I stood up. “Anyway,” I clumsily put my hand on one of his shoulders, “what’s going on? You were in there for so long.”
 “Well...I’m permitted to stay as long as I wish as long as I contribute and do not cause problems for everyone.”
 “I guess that includes not asking people what they are.”

I turned to look at Javier, who had his head down on the table. For a second I thought he was sleeping, but he sat back up straight to finish his whiskey.

 “Daddy, that’s Javier,” I mentioned. “Javier, you know my father.”
 “You had some balls walkin’ into our camp in Blackwater,” he muttered.
 “Well, I--” Cornelius began.
 “Just do what Dutch said and not cause problems for anyone," I said. "What time is it?”
 “Eight-thirty,” Javier said.

I waved Cornelius off and sat back down with Javier. It was at this point that he thought it was a good idea to get up and get a third bottle of whiskey. I could tell my father was doing his best to keep an eye on me despite being on the other side of camp. One of the upsides for him to be allowed to stay in camp was just to make sure that I was doing okay. As long as he didn’t try to dictate what I did, then we could stay on good terms. It wasn’t even myself that I was worried about in terms of whose skin he would get under.

 “Evie, Evie, listen,” Javier said once the third bottle was finished.
 “Yes, what?” I mumbled.
He moved the chair he was sitting on closer to me. “You’re so pretty.”
 “I’m aware.”
Javier held my hands. “No, I...love you, okay, amiga?”
 “You do, do you?”
 “Well...yeah, of course I do.”
 “You realize I’m not gonna remember any of this in the morning, right?”
 “No?”
 “No.”

Javier kissed my cheek before returning the chair to its rightful place. He mentioned he was tired, kissed the top of my head, and proceeded to stumble his way over to his bedroll. It seemed that once he was out of the way, Micah wandered over.

 “Hey, princess, had a little bit too much to drink?” he asked.
 “Arthur really brought you back?” I muttered. “What’s wrong with him?”
 “What, you didn’t miss me?”
 “No, you gross son of a bitch, I didn’t -- I’d rather them hang you, but I guess even the vultures and crows wouldn’t wanna eat you.”
 “Okay, let’s go for a little walk.”

Micah pulled me up out of my chair and held me tightly as he walked me toward my tent. Even when I tried to pull out of his grip, he didn’t let up. We were almost to my tent went Charles stepped in front of us.

 “What do you think you’re doing?” he said.
 “I was just takin’ the princess back to her tent,” Micah replied, trying to sound innocent. “I was--”
 “Yeah, I know what you were thinkin’ of doing. Leave her alone; she ain’t gonna sleep with you sober or drunk. C’mon, Evie.”

 Micah unwillingly let me go and I stumbled toward Charles, who helped me into my tent.

 “Mm... What just happened...?” I mumbled.
 “Don’t worry about it,” he sighed, sitting me down on my cot. “Just get some rest, okay?”
 “Charles, I didn’t say ‘thank you’, did I?”
 “For what?”
 “Helping me go get Daddy. Thank you.”
 “You know I didn’t go for him.”
 “Still, Charles -- thank you.”
 “What did you do with that second stick of dynamite?”

He sat on the cot next to me when I didn’t answer him. I had to think about what I actually had done. The memory of it was still there, but how was I supposed to describe it? There was only one way to do it, wasn’t there?

 “I shoved it down the guy’s throat and lit the fuse,” I admitted.

For a few seconds, I laughed at the mere idea of doing it, but then I started crying. Those kinds of ideas would never have come naturally before the cabin. The fact I had thought of it and executed it wasn’t what scared me. Really, I wasn’t scared, but I was angry that I hadn’t done more to hurt that man. He’d hurt me so much more. Well, at least he died scared and I got Cornelius back.

 “I never wanna do that kind of thing again.”

Chapter Text

 “Hey, Evie,” Sean said as he walked up to me.
 “Good afternoon,” I replied with a sigh.
 “So you were a pageant queen? You gotta have a talent for that, don’t ya?”

I stopped pounding the shirt against the washboard and looked up at him. I’d seen Cornelius and Sean speaking earlier on in the day -- well, heard was more like it. My father was trying to understand what I saw in everyone to want to stay around and Sean was mocking him that maybe it was the fact no one was a stuck up Englishman. There was a lot of back and forth about me being a pageant queen and how I apparently still didn’t belong.

 “Yes,” I mumbled. “Pageant queens need a talent. The most common talent is singing and dancing.”
 “Do ya sing, then?”
 “Um, I can sing, just not in front of other people.” I stood up to look at him properly. “My talent is... Well... It’s silly.”
 “Don’t ya be tellin’ me that ya can put your legs behind your head.”
 “Ah, it’s not body contortion, Sean; I can juggle.”
 “You mean like a circus clown?”
 “Sure, why not.”

 It wasn’t to say that I was the only one in my pageants to know how to juggle. It just wasn’t as common as singing, dancing, or, like Sean suggested, body contortion. I’d only ever lost one pageant of the dozens I had been in and it was to a contortionist from out of state. Sure, I was jealous, but I had so many wins already and she had deserved her win. My juggling wasn’t normal, though; anyone, if they tried hard enough, could juggle some toy balls. Most of my winnings were won because I juggled with knives, full alcohol bottles, horseshoes -- things that weren’t regularly juggled with, I could juggle with. Was it dangerous? Well, it could be, but I didn’t juggle with lit dynamite or guns or anything of the sort. The most dangerous thing I did was the knives. I was only so lucky I didn’t ever cut myself.

 “Judges don’t like something they’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands, of times,” I explained. “Of course most of the girls who can afford to be in pageants know how to sing or dance. Most don’t know how to contort their body or know how to juggle.”
 “Who thought of that for your talent?” Sean asked.
 “I did. Daddy wanted me to sing or dance, but, like I said, I don’t sing in front of people and my dancing is mediocre at best. The first few times he didn’t want me to juggle because ladies do not juggle.”
 “Fancy lady like you don’t know how to dance?”
 “I know how; I just don’t do it well.”
 “Your father don’t know about us, does he?”
 “I don’t know. But I should really get back to work--”
 “Evie!” Dutch called. “Come here!”

Sean walked in the opposite direction that I did. What did Dutch want now? When I walked up to him, he wrapped his arm around my waist.

 “What do you think you’re doing, Dutch van der Linde?” I snapped.
 “Talkin’,” he replied. “If you’d just let me.”
 “You can talk to me without holding me.”
He ignored my statement. “I’m gonna head into town in the mornin’ to talk to Herr Strauss. Care to join me to make it overnight?”
 “I barely care for this position we’re in right now, Dutch, and if you want to talk, we can talk whenever you get back.”
 “Well, fine, then.”
I waited a moment before speaking again. “You’re doing this because of Daddy, aren’t you?”
 “Nothin’ would bring me more joy than gettin’ a rise out of him. He’s been here, what, a couple days and he’s already botherin’ most of us. At least he’s contributing.”

 I rolled my eyes and finally stepped away from him. Just as I was walking away, though, Micah wandered by and smacked me from behind.

 “Can I go one day without being touched by the likes of you?” I shouted. “Jesus, Micah!”
 “Careful there, princess, wouldn’t want your dear old daddy to faint from such frightful language,” he mocked.
 “Do me a favour and stick your pecker in a sheep!”

Cornelius looked confused as he wandered up to me; I was already back to doing the laundry. What was he going to do? Lecture me not to use words like that? I’d said many worse words to him when he had the audacity to walk into the Blackwater camp; surely he’d be able to forgive the word “Jesus”. I sighed as he sat on one of the bedrolls.

 “I missed you a church today,” he admitted.
 “Well, thirsty men don’t stop being thirsty just because it’s Sunday,” I replied. “Besides, I haven’t been to church since I left Arkansas. Don’t tell me I can still be forgiven.”
 “Would you consider going with me next week?”
 “No.”
 “Darling, it would be a change of--”
 “After what happened with Colm and Bonnie, I don’t believe in God anymore, okay? So there’s no use in wasting my time going somewhere like church. If I ever feel like confessing, I’ll wait until Reverend Swanson is having a sober day.”
 “Do you truly enjoy being here?”

It was better than being scrutinized by the whole town, and I was getting what I wanted -- adventure. Sometimes it may have been adventure I didn’t want, but the feeling of being able to not have to pretend to be someone most of the time felt so wonderful. It was changing me as a person, yes, but I didn’t want to think what I would still be like if I had decided to stay in Arkansas.

 “Is that why you’re staying here?” I asked. “To see if I change my mind and we can leave together?”
 “Well...yes, I suppose so,” he admitted.
 “I’m not changing my mind.”
 “Is it because of that Sean fellow?”
 “It isn’t just because of him. I have some good friends here and I still care about Dutch, despite everything that’s happened.”
 “Declan--”
 “Declan would become so hot at the sight of me doing house chores. Declan would hate that I can shoot a buck and feed everyone for a few days. Declan is part of the reason why I’m here.”
 “And no one here thinks it’s unladylike to run around with a gun, getting dirty...”

I exhaled sharply and stood up to hang the shirt I’d been washing. Just when I was about to answer Cornelius, Kieran wandered by and I reached my hand out to stop him.

 “Oh, Kieran, can I ask you something?” I said.
 “Sure, Evie,” he replied. “Somethin’ the matter?”
 “You care about when I come back covered in blood?”
 “As long as it ain’t yours, I don’t mind.”
 “Isn’t he an O’Driscoll?” Cornelius asked as Kieran walked away.
 “No,” I immediately snapped. “You know what, Daddy, when Dutch told you not to be a pain to anybody, that includes me. You’re being a pain.”
 “I’m sorry, Tess--”
 “For the last time, I go by Evangeline here or Evie.”
 “Ay!” Javier called over. “You wanna have a drink?”
 “Give me a minute!”

I finished hanging up some clothes and went to dump the water from the basin out. Upon returning to where I had left Cornelius, he was standing already with an upset expression on his face. He didn’t like how I was turning out -- well, I couldn’t be a lady forever after everything had happened.

 “You know, that Micah fellow told me you seem to--” he began.
 “Don’t listen to a thing Micah says,” I interrupted. “He’s a cretin and I don’t trust him. Dutch is the only one here who likes him and the last thing I want is for him to get into your head, too.”
 “Then who should I listen to, Te-- Evangeline?”
 “I don’t know. Arthur? Charles? Anyone but Micah. Actually, that includes Uncle. He has some...really strange ideas.”
 “You are about to have a drink in the middle of the afternoon with a...” Cornelius sighed and then continued speaking, “Mexican and Uncle is the one with strange ideas?”
 “Really? It was that hard not to call him anything but a Mexican? His name is Javier; learn it.”
 “Evang--”

I waved my father off and wandered over to where Javier was waiting. He hadn’t spoken to me in a few days and he hadn’t really looked at me, either. Had something happened the last time we had drank together? I couldn’t remember a thing after he asked me to drink at that time. All I knew was one moment, I was about to have a drink with him and the next moment I was waking up with Sean next to me. I didn’t know how I got from spending time with Javier to waking up with Sean, but it happened. I hadn’t any time to ask what happened, either, because I had to go into the saloon.

 “You’re talking to me again,” I stated, matter-of-fact, as I sat across from Javier. “Is...everything okay?”
 “Oh, yeah,” he replied with a couple nods. “Yeah.”
 “Are you sure?”
 “I just needed to let off some steam.”
 “You wanna tell me what happened when we drank together?”
 “You just don’t remember somethin’ I told you, Evie; don’t worry about it.”
 “Jav--”
 “It ain’t your fault. You told me you wouldn’t remember. I was just disappointed.”

I didn’t care that it was the middle of the afternoon and clearly Javier didn’t care, either. Drinking was a whole lot easier knowing that I’d upset him, though. I was hoping he would tell me what happened, what I didn’t remember, but he didn’t. We ended up laughing at how uptight my father was.

 “I used to be the same way,” I admitted.
 “You?” Javier asked. “No way.”
 “I’m still kinda uptight, aren’t I? Just...I’m not as bad now as I was back then.”
 “You were a real lady.”
 “I’m still a lady.”
 “You’re right; sorry, sorry. Hey, who’s Declan?”
 “Technically...he’s my fiancé. Daddy promised me to him before I came here. Hated the fact that a woman can hunt and ride a horse. Even said that he’d call me Tessa whether I liked it or not.”
 “You still think your father loves you after that?”
I leaned back slightly with a sigh. “Mm... Yes, but he was panicking. Any man of high society wouldn’t like to see his daughter pine after an outlaw.”

 Javier rolled his eyes and clumsily reached over to hold my hand. Not only did my father hate the fact I pined after Dutch, if he understood I was sleeping with Sean and had feelings for Javier and Charles, he would most certainly have a fit. Cornelius might have been fine with Kieran since he spent most of his time in camp taking care of the horses. My choices of men were better than Declan, that was for certain. Well, in my mind at least. Sooner or later, my father was going to have to realize just how much of a family the gang was.

 “Apparently Declan is waiting for me,” I scoffed, leaning on the table.
 “He’s gonna be waiting forever, ain’t he?” Javier said.
 “I think he only likes me because I’m pretty. Wait. You like me, don’t you?”
 “Si.”
 “Javier,” My voice came out in a whine, “I don’t speak Spanish.”
 “I said yes, amiga.”
 “Why do you like me?”
 “You shouldn’t be asking why someone likes you.”
 “Is that your way of saying that you only like me because I’m pretty?”

Javier got up to go get another bottle of whiskey -- we were on bottle three with that one -- possibly to take the edge off even more. What was it with these men being unable to tell me how they felt when they were sober? Well, Sean had said it sober one time, but no one else had admitted it sober, and then there was Charles who never seemed to drink at all, at least not in camp.

 “I like how nice you are, I guess,” he said after downing his glass. “You bein’ pretty is a perk.”
 “But if I wasn’t pretty, you probably wouldn’t like me,” I mentioned.
 “I dunno. I guess we’re never gonna find out.”

 It was a few more drinks until Javier passed out right at the table. After we were laughing so much at the most ridiculous things, I was surprised he had been able to do it so easily. I’d have thought he just died, right there, if it wasn’t for the rising and lowering of his shoulders. Well, then I was bored and I wasn’t going to get anymore whiskey on my own. Someone was bound to cut me off. It was getting late, anyway, and I figured I should have just gone to bed. Kieran was just walking past me to settle in for the night.

 “Evenin’, Evie,” he said. “Er, you okay?”
 “I’m great,” I replied, standing.
Kieran caught me when I stumbled. “I’ll get someone to help ya. Just...wait here.”
 “Mm... No. You come with me.”
 “I don’t... I don’t think I should...”
 “It’s fine, it’s fine. C’mon.”

I dragged him over to my tent and pulled him inside. He seemed nervous, but I was able to figure out why he was when he started mumbling about the other men in the camp.

 “Don’t even worry about it, Kieran,” I assured him. “It’s gonna be fine.”
♞♞♞

 “Mornin’, princess,” Micah said with a snort.
 “Why don’t I learn to not drink?” I complained.
 “Yeah, you really had a lot to drink last night. Quite a lot.”
I looked at him. “Why did you say it like that?”
 “Sean’s already found out, so ya better be careful.”
 “What? Found out what? What happened?”

I had only been up for not even five minutes and I already did something I wasn’t supposed to do. The only problem was that I didn’t know what I even did. Micah was being even more vague than usual and it was just worrying me. Was it as bad as he was making it out to be? It felt like my heart was going to stop in my chest and I was going to fall down and die. I’d not gotten so drunk that I... Certainly not with...?

 “Aw, c’mon, princess, no use cryin’ about it,” he mocked. “It’s already happened. Ain’t nothin’ you could do about it now.”
 “Hey, why’re you crying?” Charles asked. “What did Micah do this time?”
 “I don’t remember what happened last night,” I sniffled. “Charles, please tell me I didn’t...”
 “Didn’t what?”
 “I didn’t sleep with him, did I?”
 “You didn’t,” Charles reassured me.
 “That woulda been a treat,” Micah said. “Nah, you were too busy goin’ after an O’Driscoll’s dick instead.”
 “I did what?” I choked out.
 “You’ll let an O’Driscoll into your sheets, but not me? Shame on you, princess.”
 “Don’t you got somethin’ better to do?” Charles snapped.

I waited until Micah was gone to say anything else, but I didn’t exactly know what to say at all. Sean knew already what happened; did that mean everyone knew? Clearly Micah and Charles knew, too. So then did that mean Cornelius also knew? Oh, he was going to be so cross with me.

 “I need to talk to Sean,” I mumbled, beginning to walk away.
 “Ain’t no one is blaming you, you know,” Charles said, grabbing my arm. “People do stupid things when they’re drunk.”
 “And Kieran?”

I didn’t get an answer, meaning that there were people who blamed Kieran for what happened. I shrugged Charles off with a quiet apology and went to find Sean. At least I knew now why he hadn’t been with me when I woke up. I was almost always up before him, even when I had drank the night before. I could only assume he slept on his bedroll in his tent. I found him standing a few feet from the cliff edge, just taking in the morning view with a cigarette.

 “Sean, is now a good time?” I asked quietly.
 “Ya really fucked up, didn’t ya?” he said, looking at me and exhaling cigarette smoke. “That what you’re expectin’ me to say?”
 “I don’t know what I was planning on hearing, but I know I was planning on saying that I’m sorry.”
 “‘Sorry’?”
 “Yes. Because I am sorry. I don’t remember what happened and-and I certainly don’t remember...well...that...”
 “Ya know, Evie, I dunno what would be worse. You deciding to fuck an O’Driscoll or you bein’ so drunk you wanna fuck that turd.”
 “It happened, Sean, and I’m sorry. I just... I wanna fix this, okay?”

Sean took a long puff of his cigarette before tossing the butt onto the ground. He shook his head and turned to me completely.

 “It ain’t like I blame ya, Evie,” he admitted. “A drunk lady ain’t somethin’ a man should take advantage of.”
 “But Kieran doesn’t--” I began.
 “I seen you walkin’ around after bein’ drunk and heard ya talkin’. You’d fall off this here cliff it there weren’t no one around. So it’s on that O’Driscoll.”
 “Sean, why do I get away with doing something like that when if it was the other way around--”
 “Don’t ask me. I dunno. A drunk lady just ain’t somethin’ to mess around with. If you were sober, it’d be a different story. But you weren’t, so it ain’t a different story.”
 “If you weren’t mad at me, you would have come to bed last night.”
 “You have a lot of energy,” Dutch mentioned as he walked past.

My skin became hot and I shot him a side eye to keep his comments to himself. Why wasn’t he in Valentine yet? I scratched the back of my head as I looked back at Sean.

 “You do,” Sean said.
 “That doesn’t help,” I muttered. “I’m still sorry.”
 “Jesus, ya better not keep sayin’ it every time we see each other.”

He kissed me before leaving to grab his rifle so he could go on guard duty. I really did feel bad about what happened. If the situation were reversed, that if Kieran had been the drunk one, he would still be blamed for it. I had to talk to him about it, too. He was probably feeling just as guilty as I did. Kieran wasn’t easy for me to track down; he was hiding amongst the trees and the horses. Understandable, considering people would be giving him the same kind of side eye I gave Dutch when I wasn’t pleased with him at all.

 “Morning, Kieran,” I said.
He jumped and dropped the horse brush he was holding. “Ev-Evie! Sorry, you scared me... And-And I’m sorry ’bout last night...”
 “I don’t want you to be sorry. I’m sorry.”
 “But, Evie, I--”
 “Whether I was drunk or not, I know you wouldn’t do it without some sort of fight.”
 “I told them, I told all of them, that I didn’t wanna even take you back to your tent, but they ain’t believin’ me. I ain’t about sleepin’ with ladies when they’re out of it like that, ’specially you. I-I know the shit them O’Driscolls did to ya was bad, but I dunno what I can or can’t do. I...” He waited a few seconds. “I sound like a damn pussycat, don’t I? You’re lookin’ at me like I’m crazy or somethin’.”
 “You sound... I don’t know. You don’t sound like a pussycat, Kieran; that I do know. I didn’t hurt you or anything, did I?”
 “What? N-N-No, not at all. You came on a bit strong, is all, and I didn’t wanna hurt you or scare you, b-but...”

 He hadn’t wanted to sleep with me. That was...comforting, somehow, but he’d gone through with it because, as he continued on to explain, I had such a firm grip on his arm that if he pulled away he could possibly hurt me. That was the last thing he wanted to happen. But he didn’t know how to treat me once I got him into my cot. Kieran didn’t go into too much of the graphic details, but he confirmed I had so much energy that he was worried I was going to end up hurting myself.

 “Are you...” I stammered. “You’re not... I mean...”
 “I’m not what?” he replied.
 “When you say you didn’t want to sleep with me... I just...”
 “It ain’t like that, Evie; I just didn’t wanna get into trouble from Sean or nobody else and I didn’t wanna hurt you neither! I-I didn’t know what to do and I ended up doin’ what you wanted. I-I like you a lot and I...I didn’t...”
 “For the record, there’s nothing wrong with being a pussycat.”
 “Ain’t most ladies like men like Javier or Arthur?”
 “Ladies can like both. I’m sorry I put you in an impossible situation. All of you can say it’s not my fault, but I need you to at least let me take some of the responsibility. It’s not fair for all of that to fall on your shoulders.”
 “But--”
 “I’m serious, Kieran. It used to be that when I did something wrong, my father would blame something else. Nothing would ever be my fault. Coming here, it’s still like that sometimes, and...and... Well, it isn’t right. I’ll see you later.”

 I went to get some coffee, but Cornelius stopped me and dragged me to a more secluded area of the camp. He was going to give me an earful. In some ways, I was ready for it. In other ways, I wasn’t ready. I could tell that, just by the look on his face, he was disappointed in me, but not for the reasons I wanted him to be.

 “Drinking that much is irresponsible, Evangeline,” he scolded. “To just simply drink through the afternoon and waste the day away like that is very unbecoming.”
 “I’m regretting the drinking now,” I replied.
 “What happened with that Kieran is not your fault--”
 “Yes, it is.”
 “--but I should hope you learned your lesson about all that whiskey.”
 “I never learn. Daddy, I’m sorry to tell you, but I drink quite a bit. I’m upset enough this morning. I don’t need to be upset about anything else.”

 Cornelius let out a heavy sigh and left me alone. I kicked the dirt for a few moments, trying to calm myself down. Javier was just coming in from guard duty; he must have been there since before I woke up. He stormed over to me, clearly angry, but I didn’t even try to leave where I was.

 “So drinking is what it takes to get you to sleep with someone?” he snapped.
 “I’m sorry?” I mumbled.
 “You heard what I said.”
 “Good on you for actually being mad at me.”
 “I was sitting right there and you went and decided to fuck the O’Driscoll!”

He wasn’t mad at me that I’d actually slept with Kieran; he was mad because I got drunk enough to choose Kieran over him. I swallowed hard and folded my arms across my chest. No one was mad at me for the reasons I needed them to be mad at me.

 “Okay, Javier,” I sighed. “One, you were passed out from how much you drank. Two, I’d never have done it if I were sober.”
 “Ay, Dios mio, Evie, I’ve been tryin’ to get you to fuck me for months!” he shouted.
 “Don’t get mad at me because I can’t read your mind.”
 “I tell you I love you, and you don’t remember; I kiss you, and you don’t remember. Is there anything you do remember?”

His words made me choke on mine for a moment.

 “I... I remember that you’ve always been nice to me, but now you’re not,” I replied quietly. “Javier, I don’t owe you a single thing for being nice to me. That’s just...decency. It’s just decency and you shouldn’t get mad at me just because I can’t read your intentions!”
 “Evie--” he began as I headed toward my tent.
 “No, don’t you ‘Evie’ me! Sleep with you just because you’re nice to me... What kind of world do you think we live in, Javier? If you wanted me so bad, maybe you should have said something up on those mountains!”
 “Where are you goin’?”
By now, I had grabbed my crossbow from my tent. “I’m going hunting, otherwise I’m going to shoot someone and that someone might be you!”
 “No, you’re not,” Susan said, taking my crossbow from me. “You’ve got chores to do.”

I shouted in frustration and stormed over to where socks needed to be darned and laundry needed to be done. In my anger, I kicked over a bucket of water. It wasn’t even nine in the morning and it was already such a bad day.

 “You doin’ okay?” Abigail asked as I sat down.
 “I’m peachy,” I said sarcastically.
 “You really don’t remember anythin’ from last night?”
 “I really don’t, and now Daddy is disappointed in me, Kieran is nervous again, and Javier is mad at me. I never should have left my tent this morning. Now that I think about it,” I stood up and picked up a pile of socks that needed darning, “good day, Abigail.”

 I went and hid in my tent for the rest of the morning, just darning socks. There was no reason for me to be outside when I had done what I did. If Javier had been angry that I’d slept with someone other than Sean, then perhaps it would be fine. If Micah hadn’t teased me about it, then perhaps I wouldn’t feel horrible. If Cornelius hadn’t been disappointed, then... Well, I didn’t know. What was I supposed to do? I’d already apologized to who I needed to, but I still didn’t feel right. Maybe it was the fact most of the people in the camp still saw Kieran as an O’Driscoll, despite mine, Mary-Beth’s, and his own words that he wasn’t. For some reason, I felt the need to apologize to Dutch for it. Why did I feel that way? Kieran wasn’t an O’Driscoll, so it wasn’t as if I betrayed him. Still, it was something Dutch would most certainly hold onto should he ever want to use something against me when he was angry.

 “Evie?” Charles asked.
 “Come in,” I muttered.
 “You’ve been...hiding in here for a while now.”
 “It’s better in here than it is out there. For me, at least. You can sit if you want.”

 Charles took a seat next to me on my cot. If he was going to talk to me about what happened, I was going to kick him out. Okay, well, no, I wouldn’t, but it wouldn’t be a happy conversation. He didn’t like Kieran, either -- almost no one liked him -- and I knew, at least just from the girls, that he liked me himself. Charles wasn’t going to tell me outright that he liked me, not how Sean or Kieran did, and certainly not like Javier had.

 “I really like Sean, you know,” I explained. “But... I don’t know...”
 “Hey, if it had been Javier to be caught, things probably would’ve played out the same way as with Sean,” Charles told me.
 “You’re not...wrong, Charles, but it would have been the same way as if you got caught, too.”
 “I heard the way Javier yelled at you; you okay?”
 “If anyone wanted me, they had a month and then some to tell me.”
 “You were constantly worried about Sean, so maybe people thought you’d yell at ’em.”
 “I wasn’t purposely saving myself for his return, Charles. It just... It just happened. Things happen. And I can understand what it must be like watching someone you care about decide to pursue someone else, but the way Javier handled it... I’ve never seen him so angry. It’s not fair for him, or for you if you care enough to be upset about Sean and I, but life isn’t fair.”
 “If life was fair, we’d all be rich.”
I sighed and picked up another sock to be darned. “If life was fair, I wouldn’t have needed to run away from Arkansas.”

 We sat in silence for a while. If life was fair, no one would be in the position we were in. I had Sean and I loved him, even if I couldn’t say it out loud. The feelings I had for others, though, maybe had something to do with why I couldn’t say anything like that to his face. Actions spoke louder than words, but words were nice sometimes, too. All that screaming and crying about how I wasn’t a whore -- maybe that was me just trying to convince myself. I’d tried to take what Dutch said about it -- that whores tended to get paid -- and use it as some sort of rationale for it, but now... How far was I stretching the truth?

 “There’s nothing great about me, Charles,” I said quietly. “Dutch and I took away the money and the fancy clothes and the jewellery and the nice house. What’s left of me to like? I’m just...pretty; nothing else.”
 “You’re quite skilled with that crossbow of yours, and you can hold your own in a fight,” Charles replied. “That’s what’s to like. I didn’t really know Molly, but from what I know of her is that she didn’t lift a finger to help around camp. She was here because all she wanted was adventure.”
 “I want adventure.”
 “You help around here, Evie -- she wouldn’t even darn a sock. You do that and more. I know you know this. Micah ain’t helpin’ you and I can tell he’s getting inside your head.”
 “I don’t see any of the other ladies cry as much as I do. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen them cry.”
 “They’re used to this kinda life. You aren’t. So you cry a lot -- it ain’t the worst thing a person can do.”

Before I could open my mouth to speak again, Susan came and smacked on the side of my tent. She was yelling at me that I had to help her with something. Rolling my eyes, I got up and left the tent with Charles. Dutch was back from Valentine, and he had Strauss and John with him. Only Strauss looked like he was injured.

 “We’re packin’ up,” Susan told me. “C’mon, hurry up.”

We’d only been at Horseshoe Overlook for a month and a couple of days, and we were already moving again? Still, I began packing things up. I wasn’t going quickly enough, apparently, because Susan felt the need to scream at me to hurry up.

 “Don’t say anythin’,” Karen warned me. “Trust me. I know ya wanna, but trust me...you really don’t.”

While I was carrying a box across the camp, I stopped by Dutch’s tent, where he was looking at a map. He looked over when he noticed I was there.

 “Is everything okay?” I wondered.
 “That Leviticus Cornwall caught up with us in Valentine,” he said. “The whole town’s shot to hell.”
 “Oh, Dutch, that’s one of Daddy’s clients. What are you doing messing with Mister Cornwall?”
 “Well, I’m sorry, Evangeline, I didn’t realize I was supposed to tell you about the man we was robbin’ back on the mountain.”
 “You don’t have to be a jerk about it, Dutch van der Linde. I came to see if you were okay, but if you’re going to act this way, then forget about it.”

 I began to walk away when he got up and stopped me from walking.

 “I thought you were supposed to keep your head low, Dutch,” I sighed. “All of us, actually, and now Valentine is shot to hell when you go in the third time? Did you not think someone was going to recognize you and word would get back to him?”
 “You don’t gotta worry. We’re movin’ camps. We’ll be fine in a couple of hours.”
 “I don’t have to worry? Where have I heard that before?” I swallowed hard. “We’re only so lucky that Mister Strauss was injured, not killed.”
 “Yeah, well, we all made it out alive.”
 “I’m...glad you’re okay. And I’m sorry.”
 “What for?”
 “Kieran. He’s not an O’Driscoll, but you all seem to think he is and I felt I needed to apologize to you. The last thing I would want anyone thinking, especially you, is that I betrayed you for sleeping with the enemy.”

Chapter Text

 “What’s that?” Abigail asked.
 “What’s what?” I replied.
 “The thing you’re holdin’.”
 “You’ve never seen a parasol before?”

After what happened in Valentine, Dutch led us south. It was hotter, but not quite in a way like Arkansas was hot. The air felt wet, almost, and it was slightly harder to breathe. As long as we were away from Pinkertons and, now, Leviticus Cornwall we should have been okay. My parasol, however, didn’t help like it did in Arkansas. It wasn’t the sun that was the problem here, it was the air and the fact we were near swamp area. Everyone seemed to be cheering up, at least. Even my father was keeping quiet and not complaining about anything.

 “I don’t think so,” Abigail admitted.
 “Well, it’s not working here,” I said. “The most it’s doing is keeping the sun out of my eyes, so I suppose that’s something. It’s just not doing what it should be doing.”
 “You likin’ it here at least?”
 “Actually, I do. I’d like it even better if Micah wasn’t here. Do you and Jack like it?”
 “Yes; it’s a nice spot.”
 “You remembered your parasol, but not your jewellery, princess?” Micah asked as he wandered past.
 “I didn’t have possession of my jewellery and I was under the assumption that Dutch would have been wise enough to pack it first,” I snapped.
 “I’ll make sure to tell ’im you said that.”
 “What are you, a child? Telling on me like I smacked you with a stick on purpose.”

I rolled my eyes as Micah continued to walk away. I’d definitely smack him with a stick on purpose if given the chance. He’d get smacked with my parasol if it didn’t cost so much. As far as I could tell, Micah was the only issue thus far. Him, and a bunch of crazies still obsessing over the civil war. I’d not had a run in with them yet, but Arthur had and decided to tell me that I was their type of target. Well, everyone was their target, but I was more likely to get hit than if Sadie was out on her own. Lemoyne was possibly the only state that Cornelius didn’t have any clients, and so the only time he left the camp so far was to hunt.

 “I should head into Rhodes soon and see if I can find any work,” I sighed. “As much as I’d love to listen to Miss Grimshaw all day and darn socks or do laundry, I mean. Hm. I need to look at a map. Oh! Mister Matthews!”
 “What is it?” Hosea asked.
 “Would you happen to have a map?”
 “Not on me, at the moment. Ask Arthur; he should have one.”

Hosea kept on walking. No one really talked about it, but there was definitely something wrong with him. I’d found him in the bushes many times either trying to stop himself from coughing or just completely sounding like he was going to cough up his innards. It was worrisome, but when I brought it up to Dutch I was just told to ignore it. California would do Hosea much better than some swampy country.

 “Excuse me, Arthur?” I said, walking up to Arthur’s tent.
 “What is it?” he replied.
 “Do you have a map?”

He rummaged around in his satchel before handing me a folded up map of the United States. I looked at it for a moment to see where Clemens Point was situated. I found Rhodes easily, but if my memory from when I was a child served me correctly we weren’t too far from Saint Denis. If I couldn’t find anything in Rhodes, I could make the journey to Saint Denis if I needed to. That was just in case, though. I located the city on the map and sure enough, we were close. I handed the map back to Arthur and began walking back to my tent. Before I made it there, however, Javier stopped me.

 “Are you here to yell at me again?” I muttered.
 “No,” he retorted. “You haven’t talked to me in days.”
 “There’s a reason for that, Javier. What do you want?”
 “I was gonna ask if you wanna have a drink with me.”
 “I’m taking a break from drinking.”
 “Huh?”
 “Sorry, did I stutter?” I sighed with frustration. “I said I’m taking a break from drinking.
 “No, I heard you just fine. Why you doin’ that?”
 “This might come as a shock to you, Javier, but I don’t like not remembering what I do.”
 “Just one drink ain’t gonna kill you, Evie.”
 “Sure. It’ll be one drink, and then it’ll turn into another, and then another, and another. I need to head into town, so no, I’m not going to drink with you.”

 I waved him off and headed into my tent to get changed. I wanted to leave quickly now before Javier could talk to me again and before Susan had the chance to scold me into doing more “house chores”. After changing into one of my dresses, I headed out to go to Rhodes. The camp wasn’t too far from it, either. It would be quicker to get to work, but I was still debating whether or not I should choose Saint Denis in the first place. Staying in a city like that during working days would be nice so I didn’t have to make that trip everyday. Even so, the first place I wandered into was the saloon, which was one of the first things anyone would see entering the town. Most of the people inside, as was the case with most saloons, were men. I just wanted to find whoever ran the place so I could ask them for a job. Just because the place looked elegant it didn’t mean any of the men had class. It wasn’t long before I was receiving whistles. At least in Valentine, the men had the courtesy to try and introduce themselves first. Here, I was definitely out of my element and perhaps my cover was making everyone feel even more confident about how they were treating me already.

 Both to my chagrin and relief, they weren’t looking for anymore ladies. I ran out of that place like a bat flew out of hell. Was there somewhere else I could go in Rhodes or was that my only choice? As I was climbing on top of Maple, one of the men who worked there came running out of the saloon. He ran up to me as if he’d been hoping to catch me.

 “Everything all right, sir?” I asked.
 “Me and the other guy just talked,” he panted. “You can work here, if you still wanna. Shame to let a pretty girl like you go. You’d bring a lotta customers in.”
 “I would be good for business is what you are saying.”
♞♞♞

 “How’re ya gettin’ on?” Dutch asked, stopping by my tent later in the evening. “Heard ya went out to find another bit of honest work.”
 “Mm-hm. At the saloon in town.”

The flaps of my tent were open considering it was hot inside when they weren’t open. I was sitting on my cot darning a pile of socks when he had come over. He was another person I didn’t talk to upon arriving at our new camp. I was still upset with him over what he had gotten himself into in Valentine.

 “You done givin’ me the silent treatment?” he asked. “For good this time?”
 “One of us has to do some honest work to make up for the things that may go wrong, Dutch,” I replied. “So quit saying ‘honest work’ like you’re disgusted by it and then perhaps the silent treatment will be over with.”
 “Whatever it takes to make ya stop givin’ me that sour look all the time, fine.”
 “Thank you.”

Dutch sat on the cot next to me; he wanted to talk to me about something, didn’t he? I set the sock down in my lap and looked at him.

 “So what do you think?” he wondered.
 “Of what?” I said. “The new camp? It’s nice.”
 “No, I mean the Gray family. Me, Arthur, and Hosea met the sheriff today, and apparently they’re in a long-standin’ feud with some other family, the Braithwaites.”
 “Dutch, I work in the saloon. It’s owned by Mister Gray, but he’s not actually there. I don’t have a thing to say about the Grays because I don’t know anything about them.”
 “Well, they’re all around town. Some of ’em gotta stop into the saloon every now and again. Would ya just keep an ear out for us? Tell us anythin’ you might find useful.”

 I sighed and continued to darn the sock. So now I was doing some dirty work for Dutch? How did I not see this coming? I didn’t know what I was doing the dirty work for, but it obviously had to do something with money. If money wasn’t involved, then Dutch wouldn’t bother getting involved in whatever it was. Not only was I supposed to concentrate on serving drinks, deal with drunk patrons, whistling, and the touching, but I also now had to eavesdrop on conversations? I moved a strand of hair behind my ear and once again looked at him.

 “Who’s ‘us’?” I inquired.
 “That a ‘yes’?”
 “Yes, Dutch, now tell me who’s ‘us’? You and who else?”
 “Hosea, obviously. Arthur and Micah, too.”
 “I’m not telling Micah a single thing to do with this and you know that.”

I took the pile of darned socks to Susan. That was it. I was done for the day. With any luck, no one else would bother me that required me to do any work. Dutch was gone by the time I returned to my tent. Just as I was closing the flaps, Sean sauntered over. He had been on guard duty most of the time already that we’d barely had any time alone together. The only time we’d managed to have together was when he sat with the girls and I while we were working, and the only time we spent alone was at night when we slept together. But he joined me after I was asleep, so did that really count? I was almost dreading spending actual time alone together even though I wanted to do so.

 “Been a while, hasn’t it?” he asked.
 “Well, everyone’s been busy...” I mumbled. “Are you tired yet?”
 “Oh, no, this MacGuire boy has lots of energy left.”

 I had to face my fears sooner or later, and I honestly did miss just being alone with him. Hopefully enough time had passed since the cabin that I would be okay to not need whiskey to get through it. I didn’t know, but I still led Sean into my tent. We’d only ever had sex while drunk, not sober, and whatever happened I was going to remember and there was no hiding behind anything to forget it. It felt like he was almost impatient; like he’d been waiting all day just for this. What he wanted wasn’t going to completely come to fruition, though.

 Sean managed to get past pushing my petticoat up; everything seemed to be going fine for a moment. The pain was there, and it was searing, but I was able to get past that on my own and focus on the good feeling. Being in horrible pain the least of my problems and it wasn’t what I was afraid of. What I was afraid of was the seemingly inevitable feeling of panic. Sean didn’t need to tie me up or talk dirty to me in order for me to panic; it was just the fact I was under him. I’d barely began to cry when he stopped.

 “It ain’t that bad, is it?” he asked.
 “It’s not you, Sean,” I sniffled. “I-I can’t do it.”
 “No worries. I’ll stop.”
 “I’m sorry...”
 “This why you’re always drunk for it?”
 “Drinking is the only thing that makes me forget what those animals did to me, but I can’t drink anymore because I don’t remember anything at all.”

 Sean and I fixed ourselves up and, for a while, we sat on my cot in silence. What else was there to even say? I’d panicked and that was all there was to it. I didn’t expect Sean to understand and I didn’t expect anyone else to understand, either. At least he had immediately stopped, unlike when Dutch had talked me down not very well. Even when Dutch had done so, I still was panicking but allowing him to continue because he so badly wanted to finish.

 “Are you okay?” Sean wondered.
 “I’m sorry,” I said again.
 “Ya wanna be alone?”
 “No; no, I don’t.”
 “That shit... It ain’t your fault.”
 “I-I... You wanted this. You wanted me.”
 “Always, Evie, but Sean MacGuire can be a gentleman.”

I looked at him as I wiped my eyes. He was being serious, wasn’t he? Sean, a gentleman? Well, he’d never yelled at me for no reason; only ever raised his voice at me a few times when we first met and only being rude as he was initially because I was rich. I had to wonder if I never saved his life and he handled it on his own if he would have eventually warmed up to me over time or if he would have continued acting sour toward me. Any man could be a gentleman if they wanted to be, but not every man would see a girl crying with panic and stop what they wanted to do.

 “O’Driscoll fuckers,” he muttered.
I sniffled with a sigh. “Sean, you’re something else. N-Not in a bad way.”
 “We know how to treat a lady right. Most of us, anyway.”
 “Do you...want me to finish you off?”
 “Jesus, don’t worry about that.” He kissed me before grabbing my hand and holding it. “You gonna be okay?”
 “I should be fine in a while. You being gentle is...a bit...off-putting, Sean.”
 “Ain’t that the truth.” Sean snorted as he laughed. “I love you. Really.”
 “Me, too. Wait. No. I-I mean, I love you, too, not that I love me, too. Oh...”
 “Well, ya finally said it. Ain’t this night full of surprises.”

I leaned against him, but it wasn’t long before I heard Cornelius calling for me. It was getting late and most of us were getting ready to settle in for the night; what did he think he was doing? He must have known Sean was in my tent while both of us were still awake, and so wanted to prevent anything that would damn me further to hell. Sean wasn’t pleased, either, especially when I told him I had to see my father, lest he have a fit that would put him in the ground.

 “What do you want?” I asked as Sean and I wandered out of my tent.

Sean wandered over to one of the whiskey cases and proceeded to head to the campfire.

 “Sorry, did I interrupt you?” Cornelius said, clearly knowing full well what I suspected him of doing.
 “You could have,” I replied, annoyed.
He was quiet for a moment. “Is everything alright? Have you been crying?”
 “I... Sort of... Just a little...”
 “That boy didn’t put his hands on you, did he? I assumed you two were, er...”
 “No, Father; he didn’t. And we were getting to it, but I couldn’t do it. So you would have interrupted us.”

 My father definitely looked confused by my words. I’d been able to do it with Kieran, so why I hadn’t I been able to do it with Sean? I was missing the alcohol, but he wasn’t putting the pieces together in his head. Of course I wanted to freely be able to be intimate with someone and actually be able to remember it, but as far as I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I could have kept my feelings to myself just to satisfy Sean, but then what if he felt something was wrong?

 “Colm and Bonnie took everything from me,” I said. “I know I’ve told you before and I really mean it when I say everything.”
♞♞♞

 Sean hadn’t come back to my tent at all. I’d fallen asleep by myself and woke up by myself, and heard him still yammering about his own father while sitting at the campfire. He still sounded drunk, like he didn’t stop once he started. That meant he drank all night and stayed up doing nothing but consuming so much whiskey that I guessed he just forgot about me. I took my time getting dressed before going outside to get some coffee before I had to head into town. In order to get to the coffee, I had to wander past the campfire, where Sean stopped me. It wasn’t what I was expecting to hear, though.

 “Oh, look, the mighty princess joins the peasants, eh?” he said.
I turned to look at him. “What?”
 “Can’t do a fuckin’ thing without cryin’ or havin’ dear old daddy come save ya.”
 “Talk to me when you’re sober.”
 “Whatever you say...princess.”
 “Careful about what you’re callin’ her,” Micah mentioned. “She just might threaten to unman ya herself.”

 Sean hadn’t been mean to me for months, so what was his problem now? Obviously he’d spoken to whoever was unfortunate to listen to him talk and he’d obviously spent the whole night drinking. Maybe he really had gotten frustrated with me and now the whiskey was encouraging him to take it out on me. I waved him and Micah off. I’d known sooner or later Sean would get fed up with me having to drink just to sleep with him. It was just surprising because of how he was conveying his thoughts. I was standing on the beach when he came and grabbed me from behind.

 I went rigid and turned to him. “What do you want now?”
 “Ya didn’t say good mornin’,” he replied.
 “Why would I greet you nicely if you said something uncalled for?”
He stared at me for a moment. “What?”
 “It wasn’t five minutes ago you were complaining and calling me a princess.”
 “I drank a lot.”
 “Yes, I can tell. Did it bother you that we had to stop?”

It took Sean a good couple of moments to respond. I’d never seen him so blackout drunk he didn’t remember what had happened. I sipped on my coffee as I waited for an answer. Except when he did speak, it wasn’t what I was expecting to hear.

 “Hey, Evie, when did ya get here?” he said.
 “Alright, this time I’ll really talk to you when you’re sober,” I muttered, handing him my coffee.

 As I was walking over to the horses, Susan tried to stop me so I could start getting some house chores done. I wasn’t in the mood to argue with her about going later and staying in the camp for now, so I just took off toward town. If she was mad at me, she could bring it up with Dutch or Hosea or whoever else she felt the need to complain to. I was just focused on doing my work in the saloon, deal with the whistling, the grabbing, and the ogling, collect my pay, and begin contributing to the camp again. Maybe I could also go hunting, just to keep me from having to darn another sock for a while longer. Then I’d deal with Sean if, and only if, he was sober enough to talk to me.

 Just like Dutch asked me, I tried eavesdropping on anyone I thought was a Gray. Even though I didn’t quite exactly know what I was looking for, I listened anyway. By the time I was done my shift, I only learned they were apparently Scottish, had a lot of money, and the sheriff was a Gray. The extent of my knowledge was basic. I was sure Hosea and Dutch would have expected more and they probably knew all of it already, but I still was going to tell one of them, or Arthur. I’d spent my whole shift eavesdropping that by the time I had to leave it hadn’t felt like I’d done anything at all.

 Still, I left with my pay and headed back to camp. When I entered Clemens Point, I found Sean brushing Ennis. I wanted to just contribute and immediately leave again, but he stopped me.

 “Somethin’ happen this mornin’?” he asked.
 “Well, now you know how it feels not to remember anything,” I said quietly.
 “Some of the fellers said you might be unhappy.”
 “You greeted me this morning by mocking how I cry and how my father always interrupts us by saying I can’t do anything without him ‘saving’ me. So, yes, I’m unhappy, and if you have a problem with how last night went, you better tell me.”

 It seemed like Sean didn’t know what to say, which I could only take that as a sign that he did have a problem with the previous evening. I didn’t want to feel panicked with him, but I couldn’t stop myself. All those memories in the cabin flooded back to me. I had no idea if I’d ever be able to sleep with him sober, and he didn’t deserve to be with a woman who would never remember what happened when she was under him. At least when he drank -- most of the time -- he was able to recall the things that were said and done.

 “I love you,” he said.
 “You know I love you, too, Sean,” I murmured. “But...”
 “I don’t mind the crying, but I don’t think you’re a princess. Your dad pisses me off.”
 “If the cabin had never happened then things would be different, I’m sure. But it happened and now that my father understands what really happened, he’s concerned for me.”
 “Can’t ya just ask him to leave?”
 “I’ll ask him when the time feels right. I can’t make the time feel right. He’s only one of the problems in your mind, Sean, and I’ve got plenty more in my mind. You realize the O’Driscolls only ever called me ‘princess’?”
 “Fuck. Evie--”

He tried to grab my hand, but I immediately stepped away. Hearing “princess” come out of the O’Driscolls mouths had been sickening, constantly listening to Micah call me it was rage-inducing, but hearing Sean call me it was something else completely. He’d been drunk and, as Charles had told me, people did stupid things when they were drunk. I knew Sean hadn’t meant it, and yet it had hurt worse than the O’Driscolls and Micah calling me that name combined.

 “Now that I think about it, I think it’s better if we stop sleeping together,” I admitted with a shaky voice.
 “I didn’t mean to hurt--” he began.
 “You didn’t and that’s why it hurts more than it should.”
 “Evie!” Dutch shouted. “Come here!”

I wiped at my eyes as I rolled them. Of course he would interrupt, but I’d said what I needed to say. Sean wasn’t going to say anything more and so I made my way over to Dutch’s tent. Without so much of a glance at me, he spoke to me as he read his book. He only wanted to know what I’d found out while working and I told him. Obviously he wasn’t pleased with what I’d gathered, but what else was I supposed to do? I turned to walk away to the community box, but he grabbed my hand.

 “You been cryin’?” he wondered, closing his book and standing.
 “It’s what people with emotions do, Dutch,” I retorted.
 “You can hide behind that excuse all ya want, Evie, but I know better than that. What happened?”
 “Nothing that you need to be concerned with.”

Chapter Text

“You’re pathetic!” Susan shouted at me. “You’re a goddamn lady!”

I’d just been minding my own business when she came up to me. Not only was I scared she was yelling at me, I had no idea what it was about. Karen and Mary Beth were next to me and I’d felt one of them jump from being startled. I hadn’t done anything wrong as far as I knew. All I was able to do was sit there and listen to her, hoping that her screaming would give me an answer as to why she was acting that way. I couldn’t make anything out. I was still upset about what I’d done to Sean a few days ago and I’d gotten into an argument with my father earlier on in the day, so I didn’t exactly have much patience before she came up to me.

 “Please leave me alone, Miss Grimshaw,” I said.
 “Excuse you?” she snapped. “Do you know who you’re talkin’ to?!”
 “Don’t say it, don’t say it, don’t say it...” Mary Beth whispered.
I stood up with a huff. “I do know who I’m talking to and who I’m talking to is an old hag!”
She slapped me in response. “You watch your mouth!”
 “You--”
 “What are you gonna do? Cry? The only reason you get away with all that cryin’ is because you’re young and pretty!”
 “Well, I’m sorry that none of us ladies are as ugly as you are.”
Susan grasped the back of my hair tightly. “Cryin’ because you can’t fuck anybody while sober is gonna get old real fast! Pretty soon ain’t no one gonna--”

 I slapped her as hard as I could just to make her let me go. Why did it matter to her who was pretty and who wasn’t? Because no one looked at her the way they looked at me or any of the other ladies? How sad she really must have been to take the anger out on any of us. It clearly drove her crazy knowing that I knew I was pretty and even crazier knowing that I got ogled and touched just for existing. What had happened with Sean must have gotten back to her somehow. No doubt it was Micah who had blabbed about it after hearing it come from Sean’s drunken mouth.

 “You little-- Go be of some goddamn use instead of layin’ on your back and take up guard duty!” Susan shouted.
 “No,” I snapped back. “I’m not useless, you idiot hag! I darn these stupid socks, do the stupid laundry, I hunt, and I have an honest job so I can contribute to the funds, too!”
 “Call me a hag one more time.”
 “What are you gonna do, shoot me? Stab me? Hang me?” I shoved her backward. “Do it!” When she didn’t, I shoved her again. “Do it, Susan! I said kill me!”
 “You’re lucky Dutch still has a soft spot for you!”

She turned on her heel and quickly walked off.

 “Yeah, that’s right!” I called after her. “Run off while you still got a working hip to do it!”

I groaned and sat back down to continue darning. Mary Beth and Tilly sat there awkwardly, not knowing what to do or say. Honestly, I was so fed up with the constant belief that I was just some timid little flower that couldn’t fight back. If it came down to it, I would have wrestled with Susan on the ground until someone had to pry me off of her. Speaking of prying, Dutch wandered over. I thought that perhaps he was there to come onto Mary Beth again, but no.

 “What was with all the screamin’?” he demanded.
 “Ask Miss Grimshaw,” I replied.
 “I’m askin’ you.”
 “Miss Grimshaw came over here yellin’ a bunch of nonsense about Evie,” Mary Beth said. “Evie was just standin’ up for herself, that’s all.”
 “You really ain’t havin’ a good time, are ya?”
 “No, Dutch, I am not,” I sighed.  “The O’Driscolls should have killed me. I gave Miss Grimshaw the chance, but she walked off like the sour old lady she is whether she denies it or not. Are you going to yell at me next, too?”
 “No. Just...keep it down.”
 “She’s the one who goddamn started it. Soft spot for me or not, even if everything was fine you’d leave me for someone younger eventually. It doesn’t matter. Anyone you have a soft spot for gets an easier ride, even old women who take their aging anger out on younger ladies. I’ve seen that photo of her when she was younger and two of her couldn’t even make up just how pretty Karen or Tilly are.”
 “You done?”
 “No. If no one wants me here, tell me to leave and I’ll leave and you won’t see me ever again.”
 “Now you’re just overreacting, don’t ya think?”
 “Am I?”
 “Listen, you just need to calm down--”
 “I am calm!”

Dutch sighed and wandered over to my tent, and after retrieving my crossbow and putting it on Maple he came back over to me and pulled me to my feet. I didn’t bother arguing as he dragged me toward my horse.

 “Charles!” he shouted, putting me on top of Maple. “You take this girl hunting and don’t bring her back till she’s nice and calm!”
 “Oh, yes, just shove me off to someone else like you’ve always done,” I mocked. “How very manly of you, Dutch. I see becoming a deputy hasn’t changed anything. Maybe if I’m lucky those Raiders will--”
 “Shut up. You don’t wanna die and I know that.”
 “You don’t know about anything that I want.”

Dutch waved me off as Charles mounted Taima. I begrudgingly rode Maple away from camp, following Charles closely. It wasn’t until we made it far enough from camp that he spoke to me.

 “Are you okay?” he asked.
 “No,” I muttered.
 “Miss Grimshaw cares, you know.”
 “She’s got a twisted way of showing it... I think I’m fresh out of tears, so at least I won’t be crying over this.”
 “You had that talk with Sean the other day and then that big fight with your father, and now Miss Grimshaw.”
 “Oh, I’m...” I sighed and leaned forward to pat the side of Maple’s head, “I’m so tired, Charles.”
 “Do you...want to leave?”

Maybe I did want to leave. Maybe I wanted to be on my own. But I’d miss some people and if I just left I’d never see them again. Not to mention if I ever crossed paths with them again in the future, I didn’t know what would happen. However, as long as my father was in camp I couldn’t just leave. I would certainly not want to travel with just him -- granted, we’d be able to survive with little to no issues, but I knew he eventually would want to return to Arkansas.

 “If things continue to...” I let my voice trail off.
 “I’m not gonna tell Dutch or anyone,” Charles assured me.
 “If things continue to go the way they have been, I might not have any choice. What Dutch has gotten himself into this time... I-I...”
 “I know what you mean. All we can do is wait, Evie.”

If there was money at the end of whatever Dutch was planning, then I hoped things would turn out all right. But what exactly was the likelihood of that happening? We were supposed to be fine in Valentine, but then Dutch made all that mess in town. How long was it until people knew what was happening? Clearly the sheriff didn’t know that a whole load of criminals had taken up camp near his town. And now the other rich family was being played by Hosea. It really was a dangerous game.

 “This better be worth it, Charles,” I mumbled.
♞♞♞

 While I was sitting at the campfire to try and relax, Sean came and plopped himself down on the ground. I’d avoided talking to him because I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to say. I felt like I hadn’t said what I wanted to say; at least not completely. But what did I want to say? Him being around me didn’t help my thinking, and so I got up to go elsewhere.

 “Hey, Evie,” Javier said as I walked past him.
 “Good evening,” I replied quietly.

I kept walking until I was a little bit further along the beach. It didn’t take long for Javier to chase after me. Did he not realize I wanted to be alone? I didn’t need him coming on to me when I was trying to think, and I was still feeling sour about how he’d gotten mad at me. He’d asked me to drink with him and that was his way of wanting to apologize, perhaps, but I meant it when I said I didn’t want to drink anymore. One drink would turn into multiple drinks since I became uncontrollable.

 “You’ve been quiet,” Javier mentioned. “Not just with me, but with everyone.”
 “I didn’t stop to talk to you because I don’t want to talk,” I said, blunt.
 “I’m sorry for getting mad, but--”
 “It’s none of your business who I sleep with. What happened with Kieran wasn’t even supposed to happen. I still feel guilty that I did that to Sean, and it would be just the same as if it was you. The only difference would be no one would have put the blame on either of us.”

 Javier sighed, appearing to be slightly annoyed. Why did it matter to him who I slept with, anyway? He wasn’t my father, he wasn’t Sean, and he wasn’t anyone else who needed to be concerned with what I did. I felt bad, it wouldn’t happen again unless both Kieran and I agreed, and that was that. Many of the others in camp wanted to make it seem like I was looser than I really was. Clearly there was still some resentment for coming from a rich family. It just wasn’t exactly being shoved in my face like when I first arrived in Blackwater.

 “It’s my business,” Javier muttered.
 “I should slap you for thinking so,” I snapped. “Why would it be your business?”
 “It’s ’cause I love you, amiga.”
 “That’s hardly an excuse. Besides, you probably only love me because I’m pretty. You and I are both vain, Javier.”
 “So then why do you like me, too?”
 “Because you were nice to me when not many others were and because I thought that you were handsome.” I rolled my eyes. “And I suppose it’s because I like that you can sing and play the guitar. You can’t tell me you like me because I’m nice, since...since lately I’m not.”
 “Well, ain’t being pretty enough?”
 “Not to me, it’s not.”

Never mind the fact that I could read, or hunt, or fight for myself, all anyone ever truly saw me as was some pretty delicate flower. I supposed that maybe I had always been a bit outspoken, even before I left Arkansas, and living the way I was now just amplified it. Maybe the stresses were finally getting to me, paired with what happened at the cabin. I didn’t want to cry anymore just because I was upset or because I was angry -- that was still a weakness, wasn’t it?

 “You’d best give up on me,” I stated. “We’re never going to sleep together unless I’m drunk and we already know I’m not drinking anymore.”
 “Have you tried being on top?” Javier wondered.
I felt my face become hot as I looked at him. “I fail to see how that would help anything or solve the issue.”
 “You give Dutch a chance. You give Sean a chance. You even give that O’Driscoll a chance. Why not me?”
 “Javier, what happened with Kieran was barely a chance. Dutch was... Dutch was a chance at getting away from the life I hated. And Sean was opportunistic. If it had been you who had been being held by bounty hunters, you could have been in Sean’s position. But, no, you decided not to tell me anything and got mad at me because I can’t read minds.”
 “Well, I thought I was bein’ obvious.”
 “What Sean did to tell me he wanted me was obvious. Jeez, even the things Dutch did when I first met him that told me he wanted me was obvious. You? Not obvious. Yelling at me that you want me to have sex with you is the wrong kind of obvious.”
 “You want flowers? Would that be obvious enough?”
 “That could have been a start. Could you please just leave me alone for the time being? I really do need to think.”

 Javier wasn’t satisfied with the talk he initiated and stormed off. Maybe he could go get drunk himself and fall asleep at a table again or wallow in self pity. Well, no, he would never wallow in self pity. While he went to go get drunk or rant to someone and was able to have some sort of escape, I was left with my thoughts of self-loathing. I had been thinking lately about Bonnie. My thoughts wanted me to be more like her, in the sense that she was no bullshit and so tough that the O’Driscolls were scared to cross her. Maybe then I would have been able to get my point across better and I wouldn’t always be so tearful or quick to explode. Then there were the thoughts of how much of a horrible person I was for hurting Sean, even if he didn’t exactly show it. I didn’t know what was completely wrong with me. In some ways, it felt that maybe I was going crazy.

 “Evie?”
I sighed, frustrated. “Can’t anyone tell I’m trying to be alone-- Sean!”
Sean wandered over to me. “What do ya got to be worried about this time? Ya got that look.”
 “I don’t know what to say to you.”

There was a long silence. I loved him enough that I wanted him to find a lady who could actually sleep with him without the need to be drunk or feel pain. At the same time, though, I still wanted to be with him. Of course I did. I turned to look at him, swallowing hard.

 “You know I love you,” I said. “But there’s no possible way, at least not right now, that I could give you what you want while I’m sober.”
 “That don’t mean you gotta leave me,” Sean replied.
 “There will be a time and place that you’ll want what I can’t give you.”
 “I want you, Evie. Jesus. I can go a long while without fuckin’ a lady.”
 “You’re the epitome of grace, Sean MacGuire.”
 “Y’know, it was four years before me and you did it. I know you’re one sophisticated lady, Evangeline Locke; you’re gonna want somethin’ more outta me than--”

 I held my hand out to make him stop talking. I’d told people before and I’d continue to say it -- I would make a terrible wife. Even though I could do laundry and darn socks now, I still didn’t know how to cook. But above it all, what kind of wife would I be if I couldn’t give him, or whomever I ended up marrying, sex? If I couldn’t do that, then there would be no children, either.

 “Sean, I really can’t--” I began.

Rather than letting me finish, he grabbed me and kissed me. I instinctively kissed him back, even going as far as pressing myself up against him. It was an old habit I was clearly falling back into -- saying I didn’t want something and going right back to it. At least... At least Sean was more understanding than Dutch had ever been.

 “Where’s your dad to interrupt?” he asked as he pulled away.
 “Sean, I...” My voice came out in a huff. “I’m...”
 “I never said sorry, for...y’know...callin’ ya what I called ya. I’m sorry.”
 “You should be.”
 “Evie, do ya really want us to stop?”
 “I’m not sure what I want.”

I was tired of the arguing with my father I always seemed to get in, or the arguing Javier and I did, or the glaring I did at Dutch. I was tired of darning and doing laundry. It would have been better for me to just leave and be on my own. But that was irrational of me to think. I was so exhausted that I couldn’t think straight. Maybe if things could settle down and I could stop being so high strung, things would start to be okay again.

 “Somethin’ else wrong?” Sean asked. “How you’re actin’ today can’t just be ’cause--”
 “Daddy got a letter from Declan,” I interrupted. “You know, the man who is apparently my fiancé. My father has his letters sent into Saint Denis, so Declan doesn’t know we’re in Rhodes. Anyway, Daddy wants me to meet with Declan again to talk. He...really wants me to go home and get married, and that’s what the argument was about this morning. I guess it bothers me more than I thought.”
 “You gonna go meet him?”
 “I don’t know. This is a man who only likes me because I’m pretty and refuses to accept anything I want. He can’t ride a horse, either. Declan was born with a silver spoon in his mouth just like me, but he let it go to his head. Pair that with the fact he’s training to become a preacher... I tell him everything that’s happened and he’ll probably try to lynch me himself. If you think my father is bad...”

 Just the thought of being in the same room as Declan made me feel uneasy. Why had it taken him so long to ask my father for us to meet? I didn’t understand and I was quite scared. He was a handsome man, there was no denying it, but he was horrible. If I was going to eventually settle down, it was not going to be with someone like that.

 “We kill people and steal from ’em and you’re sayin’ he’s bad?” Sean asked with a snort. “Jesus.”
 “I’d be locked in the house all day doing nothing but chores or sitting in church,” I told him. “No reading, no hunting, no horseback riding. I’d be there to supply children and that’s all. I can understand where my father is coming from. He wants to take me away from a life of danger since it’s done all this to me, but I can’t be a prisoner for the rest of my life to someone like Declan. I’m not scared of him; I’m scared of what he wants.”

 I decided then that perhaps it would be best to just go see him and try to get him off my back. But I was going to have to bring someone with me and I didn’t know who it should have been. I was used to bringing Sean with me to talk to people, but now I was just considering Charles. If I couldn’t make Declan leave me alone, Charles could. He always seemed to have my best interest in mind, so maybe he was the answer. I also considered Javier, but I was worried that, if Declan even laid his hands on me, his reaction would be to either shoot him or knife him in the throat.

 “What are ya thinkin’ about?” Sean wondered.
 “If I do go, who am I going to bring?” I replied.
 “Worried I’m gonna slit his throat?”
I stared at him for a moment. “Well, now I am.”
 “Even if you end up leavin’ me, I’ll help ya. Who are ya thinkin’ of bringin’?”
 “You, Javier, or Charles. If Dutch wasn’t busy with that scam of his, I’d consider him, too.”
♞♞♞

 “I’m sorry for asking you to come all the way down to Strawberry for this,” I mumbled.
 “Don’t worry about it,” Charles said. “Where’d you say to meet?”
 “Welcome Centre.”

As we approached the hotel, I saw that there was a carriage rather than a horse. That just proved that Declan was there before us and solidified that he most likely still hadn’t learned how to ride a horse. Charles and I hitched Taima and Maple up, but he stopped me just before I could walk toward the stairs to head inside.

 “Are you sure about this?” he asked.
 “We’re already here, so...” I sighed. “Was this a bad idea?”
 “Dunno, but somethin’ needs to be done about him, right?”
 “Let’s get this over with.”

Inside, the hotel owner told us which room Declan was in. What I was doing needed to be done, like Charles said, but I was so nervous about it. As we approached the door, there was nothing I wanted to do more than turn around and run back off to Lemoyne. Of course I couldn’t do that; it would have just been a waste of time otherwise.

 “Hey, even if he doesn’t let me in, I’ll be right out here,” Charles reassured me. “Somethin’ happens and I’ll be right there.”
 “Thank you. Alright.”

I took a deep breath before knocking on Declan’s door. It was a moment before he answered the door. He didn’t look happy in the slightest and I couldn’t assume as to why. There could have been many reasons, possibly most of them being attributed to me. I didn’t know what to say to him. The urge to slap him and get it out of the way was strong, but I’d not seen him in months and that would only make things worse.

 “Tessa,” he sighed, folding his arms across his chest.
 “H-Hello, Declan,” I replied quietly. “This is Charles.”
 “He’s not the one you left Arkansas for, is it?”
 “Does it matter? My father wants me to speak with you and he said you want to speak with me, too.”
 “You can come in, but this...” Declan looked at Charles, visibly cringing, “fellow...can stay out here.”
 “That okay with you, Evie?” Charles asked.

I looked up at him. Even though we’d already agreed he would stay outside in the situation Declan didn’t let him in, he was still asking me if it was fine? It wasn’t fine, but I trusted Charles when he told me he’d be there if I needed him. I would have preferred him to be in the room with me; however, should there be a third party listening to what Declan was saying, the things that needed to be said to get him off my back wouldn’t be said.

 “Sure...” I squeaked.

Declan rolled his eyes as he let me into the room. There was much silence as I sat in a chair and he in the other. He was looking at me like he was waiting for an explanation as to why I brought Charles, or someone “like” Charles, with me. Going out on my own around Lemoyne was fine, but travelling all the way back to Strawberry on my own? Not a chance. Besides, even when our camp had been closer to Strawberry, I had the nerve to bring Sean with me. I looked around nervously until I decided to speak first.

 “How’s... How’s your training?” I inquired.
 “It’s fine, though I had to put it on hold to come out here,” he admitted. “Hopefully this doesn’t cause too much setback.”
 “It shouldn’t be too horrible, but if you’re expecting me to apologize it won’t happen.”
 “I expected for you to say that. Well, Tessa, I assume you know why I wished to speak with you.”
I folded one of my legs over the other. “Nothing you can say will make me marry you or return to Arkansas. My father tried already.”
 “Why don’t you see reason? I know you’re living in a tent in the mud and that is no way for a lady, especially a lady of God, to live.”
 I let out a laugh. “‘A lady of God’? Hardly. The things I do now are the things that you would have forbidden me to do if we were to get married. I hunt, I read, I ride horseback. Granted, I learned how to launder and darn, but that was for other reasons.”

 Declan didn’t like what came out of my mouth. He looked rather angry, really. I didn’t know if it was because I laughed at him or because I told him what I was free to do. How could a lady be a supposed lady of God if she no longer believed? Well, it wasn’t like he knew what I did or didn’t believe in anymore just yet.

 “Listen, Declan,” I said, “I agreed to come speak with you just to quash the idea that we will ever be married. We won’t be. You would not want me anymore, anyway.”
 “So you lie to your father, you lie to your friends, you lie to my grandfather, give away your whole life, just to gallivant in the woods with a redskin?”
 “He’s not the only one I’m ‘gallivanting’ with. I had my reasons for leaving and one of them was to get away from marrying you. You only want to marry me because I’m attractive.”
 “Is it a problem to want a beautiful wife?”
 “Vanity is a sin, so only wanting me because I look good is quite sinful. I know I am pretty, too, so that’s also sinful on my part. You should be looking for a modest girl to marry. Not me.” I paused. “Especially not me.”

 He wasn’t going to let up. He went off on a tangent that it didn’t matter if I was beautiful; I was the one he wanted and he wasn’t going to settle for some other mediocre looking woman. It didn’t matter what he said to me, though -- that I could be saved, that Father O’Malley could re-baptize me, that he would ensure no ill thoughts were brought to me. I wasn’t going to return anywhere with him and I certainly wasn’t going to let him scare me or threaten me into agreeing. Declan really was threatening me with things Cornelius already tried on me, including funding the Pinkertons to force me back. They were already being funded by Cornwall to stop gangs like ours; they weren’t going to have time to track me down and drag me around. The threats from my father were empty and had been meant to scare me, but Declan would see those threats to fruition if given the chance.

 “That would put a big target on your back,” I admitted.
 “Don’t try to make me out that I would suddenly be the bad guy, Tessa,” he shot back.
 “If you get the Pinkerton’s involved more than they already are, that would be a dangerous game you would get yourself into. It could possibly get you killed. Now, I...I may not like you, Declan, but I don’t want you to get killed because of a bad decision on your part.”
 “How generous of you.”
 “This isn’t something you should get involved in. I’m not returning to Arkansas. I’m not marrying you. I’m not being forced back. That is that.”

 Declan could put all the blame on me for the situation all of us were in, but I wasn’t going to let him pull or push me into a loveless fate. I was getting ready to have to tell him everything that happened with Bonnie and the O’Driscolls. But it depended on how he approached the next thing he would try to address. He didn’t speak again, though, and I stood up.

 “If that’s all, I guess I’ll go,” I announced.
 “Just wait,” he immediately said.
 “You can’t scare me. I’ve been through much scarier than you. I don’t know how long it will last, but I’m still going through scarier things than whatever you could say or threaten.”
 “Tessa, you’re being a fool. Honestly. If your life was truly in danger, do you think they would come save you? They’re criminals. What possible morals could they have that would tie them to you?”
 I nodded and put my hands on my hips. “To start, I left Arkansas pregnant, alright? Not that it matters, but Charles isn’t the one I left with. The man who was the father -- he and I are no longer together. Wondering why I’m not big enough to just about give birth? I was taken by a rival gang, tied up, and gutted, months ago. My mother was in that gang and she beat me and allowed the men to do what they wished to me. Nearly two weeks I was missing. Nearly two weeks Charles and another man spent in the cold looking for me. They could have just left me to die, but they didn’t. When I had nightmares, and I still do, they slept next to me so I could feel safe. Daddy got taken a while ago, too, and Charles helped me get him back. Because of what happened to me, I can’t sleep with anyone while sober; I can’t rest easy; and I have scars all over my body. 
    So don’t you tell me about morals and how I’m being a fool when you don’t know the half of it. I don’t want to be married to you because you’re rude, insensitive, boring, and, quite honestly, I prefer if the man I’m going to marry can ride a horse. You shouldn’t want me anymore because I nearly had a child out of wedlock with a criminal, I’ve slept with multiple people, my body is damaged, and I can’t give you children.” I clapped my hands together with a smile. “Do I make myself clear?”

 Declan blinked at me, clearly unimpressed. I’d just poured so much information out to him that he probably never thought he would ever hear. Hopefully everything was enough to make him decide that I really wasn’t worth all the chasing and arguing. Whatever the result was going to be, I was sure my father wasn’t going to be overly pleased. As long as I got Declan off my back and to leave me alone, I didn’t care.

 “What you’ve made it clear to me is that you’re a filthy whore,” he snarled.
 “Whatever, Declan,” I huffed.
He grabbed my arm, tightly. “How about I have you committed instead? That way, you can’t have anything.”
 “Now you’re just being irrational.” I stepped closer to him despite the grip he had on me. “I really meant it when you said you can’t threaten me with anything.”

 He let me go and just as immediately slapped me sharply enough that my lower lip bled. It wasn’t the worst thing anyone could do to me, but it made me think of how powerless I had been during Bonnie’s hitting and kicking. I was furious. Why did Declan think he had the right to lay his hands on me like that? Did he think I wouldn’t have the nerve to hit him back? Did he think it would have brought me “back to my senses”? I brushed a finger against my blood lip as I stood up straight. Swallowing hard, I moved a strand of hair out of my face. It wasn’t a few more seconds that I punched him in the face. He really hadn’t been expecting for me to hit him back and it took him a long moment for him to recover. I would have walked out, but I wanted to get it across that I was serious about everything I said. 

 With one movement, though, he grabbed me and smacked my head on the edge of the armoire. For a few seconds, I saw double as Declan grabbed me again. He was going to try and beat me into submission, but that plan wasn’t going to work out. Either he really didn’t believe I’d be helped or he somehow simply forgot Charles was outside; it didn’t matter. The door was kicked open and Charles wasted no time in punching Declan hard enough that he let me go and stumbled backward slightly.

 “Lay another hand on her and it’ll be more than a punch next time,” Charles promised.
 “Fine!” Declan shouted. “You want this whore; you can have her. She--”

Charles punched him again, this time knocking him out. He sighed and turned to me. I wasn’t seeing double anymore, so at least that was fixed. But my head and lip were both hurting, and I couldn’t help but feel like I was going to vomit. I didn’t know why I wanted to vomit; maybe it was the hit on the head or maybe I had been nervous that Declan was going to try something else.

 “You okay?” Charles asked.
 “I’ll be fine,” I sniffled. “Thank you. I mean it; thank you.”
 “You can ride with me on the way back so you can rest.”
 “Ow...”
 “C’mon. Let’s get you cleaned up first.”

Chapter Text

THIS CHAPTER IS A FIX-IT. 

 

As I was walking through camp to occupy myself from the headache I had, Micah called out to me a few times. Considering he was with Pearson, Dutch, Arthur, and Hosea, I thought that perhaps I was in the clear from him coming on to me. I pressed my hand against the side of my head to hopefully ease the headache. Whatever he was going to say, I just hoped it didn’t make my head feel any worse than it currently was.

 “Tell ’im, princess,” Micah demanded, sounding like he was in a hurry.
 “What am I saying to who?” I replied.
 “Tell Dutch that this is a chance to end the feud with Colm O’Driscoll once and for all.”
I put my hand down at my side. “Excuse you?”
 “Pearson was out by Rhodes and he came across some of his boy’s,” Dutch explained. “They suggested a parlay.”
 “Trap.”
 “Just what I was thinkin’,” Hosea piped up.
 “Wait, there are O’Driscolls? Out here?”
 “Calm down, princess,” Micah mocked. “Ain’t like there’s much.”
 “Either way, it sounds like a trap.”
 “Listen to the lady, Dutch,” Arthur pleaded.

Dutch sighed and looked at me. I was concerned and I had a right to be -- it was Colm O’Driscoll, for goodness’ sake. How was it possible that after so many years and after so much pain that a parlay was supposed to fix everything? Why now? Why had it taken so long? Of course, Dutch shook his head at me and agreed to go meet with Colm.

 “What he did to you, what he did to me, you’re going to forgive him?” I asked. “Mister Matthews, he’s going to get someone hurt or worse. Do something -- please!”
 “There’s nothin’ I can do, Evie,” Hosea replied.
 “All this will get sorted,” Micah said.
 “You’re no help whatsoever,” I snapped. “Always encouraging Dutch to do ridiculous things and almost getting people killed.”
 “I’m willin’ to put everything behind me,” Dutch told me as he mounted the Count. “Why ain’t you lettin’ me?”

I couldn’t believe what he was saying to me. Wait; no, I could believe it. What I couldn’t believe was that I thought he’d understand why this was such a horrible idea, that he’d understand why under no circumstances whatsoever that I’d ever ask him forgive Colm O’Driscoll. I looked up at him with a sigh. There really was no crying I wanted to do. Maybe I really was all dried up. I felt that I should have started crying at what he wanted me to do, but I couldn’t. That didn’t stop me from feeling some sort of betrayal.

 “He killed our baby, Dutch.” I inhaled sharply and backed away. “You know what? Go ahead and ride directly into a trap. See if I care, because you certainly don’t.”
 “Faith, Evie.”

 I shook my head and waved him off. He could take that faith of his and try to convince himself that the things he was doing were right, but I couldn’t believe it myself. Why did he deserve for me to have faith in him? Why did he deserve anyone to have faith in him? I should have just packed my things, said goodbye to the camp, got on Maple and took Cornelius with me and left for good. But I didn’t, because I didn’t want to leave. Dutch wasn’t actively putting anyone in danger in this situation, at least none of those who were in camp. I was definitely concerned for Arthur, but I knew he could handle himself. Maybe Colm would do everyone a favour and start a shootout and rid the camp of the Micah problem.

 “I should have taken a shift today,” I muttered to myself as I walked along the beach.
 “Hola, Evie,” Javier called over.

I jumped and looked in the direction he had spoken from. Javier was amongst the trees, not too far from me, and I realized that we were both a good distance away from camp. What was he doing just wandering around in the forest, anyway? That was a strange place to spend his time.

 “Sorry, I didn’t see you,” I said.
 “Don’t worry about it,” he replied with a shrug. “Perfect timing, actually. You wanna come over here?”

I sauntered over to where he was, and that was when I realized he’d been picking flowers. Boez, his horse, had a bunch of flowers poking out from one of his saddlebags. Javier had taken me seriously when I’d said that flowers could have helped. But that was before, when Sean was missing, and I didn’t think he would pick the flowers. Buy them, sure, but not go out of his way to pick them himself. Perhaps he figured that I’d appreciate them more if he did it himself. Well, I did, and the gesture wasn’t lost on me.

 “I was just finishing up when I saw you walking around,” he admitted, taking the bunch out of the saddlebag. “Thought maybe it’d be best to wait till I got back to camp, but we’re alone out here.”
 “You know,” I sighed as he handed them to me, “it would have been nicer if you did it unprompted.”
 “If you don’t want ’em, give them back.”
 “No, I like them...”

He’d obviously been joking when he asked for them back. I appreciated what he did whether I had to tell him or not.

 “How’s your head, amiga?” he asked.
 “I’ve got a bit of a headache,” I mumbled. “It should be fine in a couple more days. Javier, I know what you want in exchange for these flowers.”
 “Hey, whoa. It don’t have to be now. If you don’t ever wanna do it, it ain’t like I’m gonna stop loving you.”
 I shook my head at him. “You love me? You really do?”
 “Wouldn’t keep chasin’ you if I didn’t.”

There was flaw with that logic. Plenty of women could be chased by a man and as soon as they got what they wanted from the woman, they could easily move on. What was to say that Javier wasn’t like that? I didn’t want to seem like a trophy for him. I knew Sean really loved me because I put him through enough and he still didn’t give up on me. He was giving me the space I needed and he was going to be there if and when I was ready to return to him. I did like Javier, too, and it wasn’t like that was a secret, either.

 “I don’t want to sleep with anyone else, Javier,” I admitted. “And it’s not because I don’t like you. Sean and I had a conversation when I got back from Strawberry and-and if I wasn’t okay sober with him, I don’t think I’ll be okay sober with you.”
 Javier nodded with a sigh and put his hands on his hips, and looked at the ground. “I know I got mad at you about what you did with Kieran. But all I’m askin’ for is a chance, here.” He stepped forward slightly and grabbed one of my hands. “If you wanna stop, we’ll stop.”
♞♞♞

 “You okay?” Javier asked as he fixed himself up.
I adjusted my petticoat with a shaky sigh. “I’m... I’m fine. Sorry, it’s-it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to do it sober...”
 “I know.”

The reason I couldn’t have sex sober wasn’t because I was, well, sober, but rather because the feeling of being under someone, feeling trapped, made me remember how helpless I felt at the cabin. Javier and I hadn’t returned to camp; I ended up with my back against a tree and holding onto him as tight as I could. Once I got past the pain, the only issue was keeping myself quiet. Except it was so uncomfortable that I had to feign being scared to get him to stop.

 “You don’t do this often in a forest, do you?” I wondered, picking the bunch of flowers up.
 “It ain’t the strangest thing I’ve done,” Javier admitted.
 “What’s stranger than doing this kind of thing in a forest...?”
He kissed the side of my head. “You don’t want to know. I’m gonna head back to camp; you coming?”

 Back in camp, I noticed that at least Dutch and, unfortunately, Micah were back. I had thought Arthur was going to come back with them. What had even happened with Colm? I wandered up to Dutch as he was reading.

 “Everything go alright?” I asked.
 “I guess,” he replied.
 “Where’s Arthur?”
 “Dunno. We were supposed to meet him after, but he never showed.”
 “That doesn’t sound good, Dutch.”
 “He should be fine.” Dutch stood from his chair and closed his book. “Where were you?”
 “Picking flowers with Javier.”

He didn’t need to know what I had just done in the forest. That wasn’t any of his business. Of course, Dutch was able to tell when I was lying and when I was telling the truth. I wasn’t worried about him knowing I was lying, but rather him trying to stir things up with Cornelius because of the lie. I ended up flinching when Dutch reached over to me.

 “Calm down; I ain’t gonna hit you,” he sighed as he pulled something out of my hair.
 “Don’t just suddenly raise your hand to me,” I retorted.
He tossed the piece of bark he got from my hair away. “Pickin’ flowers? Right. How many boys is that now?”
 “You make it sound like I’m starting a collection.”
 “Ain’t that what it is?”
 “You’re a jerk, Dutch van der Linde!”

I stormed off toward a secluded area to be alone again. I had no idea why he always said things that he knew would make me upset. Did he think being a jerk would make me go back to him? Did he remember Javier yelling at me about Kieran and now I’d gone and given him the time of day? It wasn’t because Javier had been a jerk to me; in fact, I made it obvious that I didn’t want Javier because he’d been rude for a good while. My headache was gone from before, but my stress was slowly coming back.

 “I’m done,” I whispered, folding my arms across my chest and walking back and forth. “I’m done, I’m done, I’m done...”
 “What are you done for?” Hosea asked.

He must have tried to find a secluded spot, too, as he usually did when I found him having coughing fits. Instead he found me talking nonsense to myself. I didn’t know what to tell him. Anything I said to him about the camp or Dutch would end up being relayed back to, well, Dutch. But if I didn’t say anything to him, he would still relay that he found me saying what I said. Either way, once relayed, Dutch would try to talk to me about what was going on.

 “Why can’t I do anything without someone else finding out about it?” I inquired. “If I so much as blink, somehow Dutch knows about it.”
 “You ain’t thinkin’ of leaving, are ya?” Hosea said.
 “What if I said ‘yes’?”
 “Are we talkin’ hypothetically?”
I nodded. “Yes, Hosea.”
 “Well,” He sat on a tree stump, “I’d tell ya to make sure that’s what you really want. Once you leave, you’d have to stay gone.”
 “That’s what I thought. Josiah can come and go as he pleases.”
 “Trelawny is different, Evie. This life ain’t for everybody. I don’t think most people would blame you if ya left.”

 Not everyone would blame me if I took Maple and ran away, but enough of them would. Spending so many months trying to convince everyone that I wasn’t weak would have been wasted if I just left. The thing that would have forced me to leave, too, was Dutch being a jerk. Anyone who didn’t like me would think that I could handle so many horrible things, but as soon as someone like him was rude to me I had to leave. It wasn’t even just him that would make me leave, of course. If horrible things kept piling up, I was sure most people would have the frame of mind to pack up and go elsewhere.

 “No, I knew what I was getting myself into,” I mumbled. “If I survived the O’Driscolls, I can survive whatever we’re doing here. Mister Matthews?”
 “Uh-huh?”
 “What are we doing here?”
 “Dutch thinks the Gray family and the Braithwaites are sitting on a bunch of money.”
 “What do you think, then?”
 “Could be something worth our time.”
 “It better not be another Valentine.”

As soon as I walked away, I heard Hosea go into a coughing fit. I rolled my eyes and headed for my tent, only Sean grabbed my hand to keep me from going inside.

 “You left just so you could go to Javier?” he asked.
I dropped the flowers on the ground. “I didn’t ‘just’, Sean.”
 “He’s sayin’ ya did it sober. Sober.”
 “For God’s sake.” I pulled him into my tent. “It was up against a tree, okay? Why are you mad at me? I thought we agreed it was okay for us to--”
 “We’re stayin’ apart ’cause you said you needed time. What you did with Escuela ain’t time.”
 “Truthfully, Sean, I just wanted to get him off my back. I thought that maybe I would end up panicking how I usually do, but it never set in. I had to fake it to make him stop. I like him, but...he wouldn’t stop asking. Not that it’s any of your business but I don’t want to try to do it with him again.”
 “Don’t stop just ’cause I’m mad at ya.”

His voice had come out sarcastic. I grabbed his arm when he turned to leave my tent. Once he turned back to me, I kissed him. I didn’t want him to be upset with me or feel like he hadn’t been enough. We’d tried to do it while I was sober, of course, but it so obviously hadn’t worked out. But as I discovered, because of Javier, it was because I was under Sean.

 “What I managed to get through wasn’t that good,” I admitted. “At least not for me.”
Sean snorted. “Don’t tell him that. You mad at me?”
 “I’m upset that you’re upset. It’s hard spending time apart when we’re always in the same place.”
 “Well...don’t ya go hatin’ me for feelin’ jealous.”
 “I could never. Now, then, I need coffee for the headache that’s coming back.”

Just as we were leaving my tent, Arthur returned to camp. Only, he didn’t look very good. He looked both horribly injured and quite ill. He ended up falling off his horse and collapsing on the ground. From the sound and look of things, Colm had somehow managed to kidnap him.
♞♞♞

 As I was rounding the corner to enter the front of the saloon from the back, I overheard a couple of the Grays speaking to each other. What I was hearing wasn’t nice. Well, I knew they weren’t nice people. But how stupid did they think I was to not understand what they were talking about? I didn’t know how, but somehow they found out what was going on. It was already a stressful day because of an argument I had with Sean before work, and this only increased it tenfold.

 “Make sure to grab that girl,” one of them said.
 “What girl?” the other replied.
 “The one who works here. What’s her name? The English one.”
 “Naw, there’s no way Evangeline is with ’em.”
 “We got a meeting set up with them boys soon. That redhead, some feller named Bill, and two others. Leigh says we can’t let ’em leave.” He sighed. “Where is that girl? I got a thirst.”

 I quietly went into the room that sat just before the door, and then quickly climbed out of the window. I was going to have to get Maple and rush back to camp. But there was enough people around still that I was needing to be cautious. As calmly as possible, I wandered over to where Maple was hitched. And then I did what I needed to and rode her out of Rhodes like a bat flew out of hell.

 In camp, I looked all over for Sean or maybe even Bill. Neither of them were around, and I noticed that even Micah and Arthur weren’t around. The only ones I were really concerned about were Sean and Arthur. Bill, as stupid as he could be, could handle himself, and Micah could get himself shot for all I cared.

 “Abigail, have you seen Sean?” I asked.
 “No,” she replied. “Everythin’ alright? Ya look worried.”

Rather than answering her, I waved her off and went over to Cornelius.

 “What’s the matter, darling?” he asked, placing a hand on my shoulder.
 “Have you seen Sean? I really need to find him.”
 “I’ve not seen him for a while.”

I saw Dutch coming back up from the beach. If anyone knew where Sean was, it would be him. I ran up to him, feeling hopeful that maybe he would tell me that he was just out hunting or gone to scope out another camp, or something that didn’t require him to be in town.

 “Please tell me you know where Sean is,” I begged.
 “He, Bill, and Micah are in town waitin’ for Arthur,” he told me. “Goin’ to some meeting with the Grays. Why?”
 “Shit. Shit!”
 “Evie--”
 “Dutch, if Sean dies I will never forgive you!”

 I ran back over to Maple and almost struggled to get back onto her. Without much prodding, she ran as fast as she could out of camp. She must have sensed that something was wrong. I didn’t want to push her so much that she became exhausted, but it was serious. Even when she probably couldn’t continue on, she still forced herself to run. Maple skidded to a halt as I pulled her reins back. Sure enough, Sean, Bill, Micah, and Arthur were already there. I looked around and it didn’t take me long to notice one of the Grays lining up a shot from one of the balconies.

 “Sean!” I shouted.

 Just as he was looking in my direction, he was shot in one of his shoulders. What was just a peaceful town a few moments ago turned into chaos. Grays were everywhere, and so it turned into a gunfight. Maple was reluctant to go in any further. Sean wasn’t able to do much except hide while the other three tried to fight the Grays off. If my horse wasn’t going to head in, then she was going to have to wait where she was while I went in myself. I jumped down from Maple and sprinted to where Sean was.

 “For fucks’ sake, what are ya doin’?” he snapped.
 “Evie, get him outta here!” Arthur shouted.
 “That,” I muttered, helping Sean to his feet.
 “You’re gonna get yourself killed,” he retorted.
 “Do you want to argue or do you want to go back to camp?”

I pushed him in the direction that Maple was waiting. He was losing a lot of blood quickly just from that one gunshot; so much so that he couldn’t get up onto my horse without help. I didn’t care if I was being shot at now; I just wanted to get him back to camp so he could get some help. A bullet barely grazed the side of my dress, but still managed to draw blood. Ignoring the stinging in my side, I made sure Sean was secure on Maple and climbed up in front of him.

 “Call Ennis,” I told him, gently kicking Maple’s side.
 “What?” he asked, sounding weak.
 “I said, call Ennis!”

I forced Maple to run just as quickly as when she ran out of camp. Luckily enough, all the Grays that needed to be worried about were either at Caliga Hall or in Rhodes. I couldn’t believe what was going on. First Arthur and Colm kidnapping him, and now Sean getting a nasty shoulder wound? The things the gang was getting itself into was becoming worse and worse, it seemed. Arthur had survived his wound that Colm’s men had given him but it took a good couple of weeks for him to get better. I was only hoping that Sean would be just as lucky. It was just before entering the camp that I could feel the blood from Sean’s wound seeping through my dress. The amount of blood that he was losing was concerning and I didn’t even reply to John when he asked who was entering. The first two people I saw I called out to.

 “Charles! Kieran! I need your help!” I panted, quickly hopping down from Maple.

Sean was barely conscious at this point that he couldn’t even complain not to let Kieran anywhere near him. Charles and Kieran helped him down from my horse and took him to my tent. I stayed out of the tent so Reverend Swanson and Susan could help him and keep an eye on him. Eventually Dutch went in to check on him, too.

 “How’d you know they were gonna get shot at?” Abigail wondered.
 “I overheard some of the Grays talking in the saloon,” I replied quietly.
She placed a hand on my clean shoulder. “He’ll be okay. I gotta go find Jack. Don’t worry.”

 I couldn’t not worry. If I had been just a few moments too late, Sean would be dead. He might still die, but he had a better chance of surviving in camp. There was no way that the Gray hadn’t had a head shot on him. I’d come and messed up that plan.

 “That boy is gonna be fine,” Dutch mentioned as he came out of my tent.

I couldn’t help but feel anger when I looked at him. He was the reason Sean had been shot in the first place. He was the reason Arthur had been kidnapped. He was the reason we were all running in the first place. I was so angry about everything that I ended up hitting him in his chest repeatedly. If I could have shot him without suffering any repercussions, I would have.

 “You done?” he asked, grabbing my wrists to keep me from hitting him again.
 “No,” I sobbed.
 “You just need to calm down. He’s gonna be fine.”
 “He wouldn’t have gotten shot if you hadn’t gotten involved in all of that business!”
 “Stop screamin’.”
 “Dutch, it was a matter of time before the Grays found out. When do you think those Braithwaites are going to find out?”

 He let me go with a sigh. Without answering me, he went back to his own tent. Maybe he realized just how furious I was and didn’t want to bother arguing. It wasn’t like I wanted to argue, either; but when was he going to start learning to let sleeping dogs lie? I didn’t know what was going to happen after Rhodes, but I couldn’t imagine it was going to be anything better.

 “You doin’ okay?” Susan asked as she came out of my tent.
 “Compared to Sean, I’m great,” I sniffled.
 “Well, just keep an eye on him.”
 “Let us know if he starts running a fever,” Reverend Swanson said as he wandered out.

 I nodded and went inside. Sean must have been given some morphine from the Reverend’s stash to make the pain more tolerable; he was passed out and sleeping soundly. They had managed to stop the bleeding, too, and had patched him up a bit. But I knew that just because he looked okay, we weren’t completely out of the woods just yet. I also knew that whenever he woke up, he was probably going to be upset at me because I’d run into the middle of everything. Either that, or he was going to demand whiskey. Probably the whiskey. I sat on the stool next to the cot with a quiet sigh and held his hand. It wasn’t too much longer until Cornelius came in.

 “You think he will be okay?” I wondered.
 “Hard to say,” he replied. “It looks like he lost quite a bit of blood, but try to remain hopeful. You should go get yourself cleaned up.”
 “I’m fine here.”

Cornelius sat on the other stool. I didn’t expect for him to stay with me or understand why I wanted to stay with Sean. He had bore witness to mine and Sean’s fight that morning.

 “Evangeline, you really love him, don’t you?” Cornelius inquired.
 “Of course I do,” I shot back immediately. “I don’t love just anybody. The other one... I don’t know if he loves me back. For Sean, I may have done something foolish and he may be mad at me for doing it, but I couldn’t just leave him there. Arthur wanted me to get him out of there, anyway.”
 “What did you do?”
 “Just what any crazy person would do. I ran into the middle of a gunfight. But, listen, even if it was foolish, I couldn’t live with myself if the last thing that happened between Sean and I was such a bad fight.”
 “You could have gotten hurt.”
 “Don’t you think I know that?” I sighed. “Daddy, I don’t think it’s safe for you to stay here any longer. If these kinds of things keep happening...”

 My father clearly didn’t like the idea that I was suggesting he leave. He’d become accustomed to living in a camp and hunting to earn his keep. I would have preferred him at this point to be far away from me as possible. He could go home to Arkansas and continue being an accountant, or he could continue travelling to see his clients in person more often. Maybe he could even just simply retire and move to California. Whatever he did, he would be safer on his own than with us.

 “Would that put your mind at ease?” he asked.
 “Yes,” I murmured. “Maybe someday soon I can join you back home, or wherever you decide to go.”

Cornelius thought for a moment and then stood up before hugging me tightly. I was going to miss him, truly, but he needed to leave before anything could happen to him. I both didn’t want him to go and I wanted him to stay. Him continuing on was best. I knew that. He must have known that, too.

 “I will write you as soon as I can,” he said, kissing the top of my head. “The letters will be sent to Saint Denis.”
 “I love you, Daddy,” I sniffled.
 “I know, darling. I love you, too. Take care of yourself, will you?”
 “You, too. Please.”

He then left. I knew that most would be relieved that he would be gone, but that was the least of my worries now. Sean was, obviously, still wounded and most likely wouldn’t be able to really do anything for at least a couple of days. It was quiet in the camp for almost thirty minutes, and then there was commotion. I immediately stormed outside to ask everyone to keep it down for Sean’s sake, but I didn’t get a word in. Abigail ran up to me, looking like she was going to cry -- and she hardly ever cried.

 “Have you seen Jack?” she gasped. “I-I can’t find him nowhere.”
 “No, I haven’t,” I admitted, realizing I hadn’t seen her son for a while.
 “Dammit!”

That’s what the commotion was about and asking everyone to keep quiet was immediately swept from my mind. Ordinarily, Jack was good about answering Abigail when she called for him, and he never wandered away from camp. The furthest I ever saw him go was the edge of the lake. So now Jack was most likely missing.

 “You seen Jack?” Charles asked as he walked by me.
 “N-No,” I stammered.
 “Well, don’t worry yourself over this. Worry about Sean.”

Now I had Sean to worry about and Jack. Charles telling me not to worry only made me worry more. Jack was in much trouble if he couldn’t be located. I could only imagine how horrified Abigail must have been feeling. Everyone was calling and looking for Jack and I was stuck having to stay with Sean -- that wasn’t a bad thing, but of course I wanted to help. I reluctantly went back into my tent, where Sean was already starting to wake up.

 “What the hell is goin’ on?” he groaned.
 “Are you talking about the noise or your shoulder?” I asked, my voice shaky.
 “Both.”
 “Um...you were shot and I brought you back to camp. The noise is... We can’t find Jack.”
 “What d’ya mean ya can’t find Jack?”
 “He’s missing, I think.”

Sean tried to sit up, mentioning that he should be looking for Jack, too, but he could barely get up at all. He laid back down on the pillow, out of breath, thanks to the morphine and his shoulder. I placed a hand on the shoulder that wasn’t hurt with a sigh.

 “You need to rest,” I told him.
 “Ain’t nothin’ has stopped me before and it ain’t gonna start now with my damn shoulder!” he snapped, attempting to sit up again.
 “Sean MacGuire, for the love of everything that is sacred, lay down and shut up!”

He looked up at me; I could tell he was still upset about the fight we had. But the angry expression he had on his face quickly faded when he did look at me. I had been doing my best not to actually cry, but it was getting harder not to. If I had to force him to stay laying down for his health, then I would.

 “What are ya cryin’ for?” he wondered.
 “Because you almost died and you could still die if you don’t rest and Jack is missing and I’m really worried about both of you,” I sobbed.
 “What were ya doin’ takin’ me away from all that?”
 “You weren’t supposed to leave Rhodes alive, Sean. I-I don’t even know if Arthur is okay.”

Sean stayed quiet for a good few moments. He must have realized that he should have been dead, not laying in my cot back at camp.

 “Ya look like you were in a fight of your own,” he mentioned.
 “You were bleeding out on me,” I told him. “Miss Grimshaw and Reverend Swanson helped you when I brought you back.”
 “You really didn’t get hit?”

I pressed my hand against the side of my dress where I’d been essentially scraped with a bullet. It was really nothing compared to Sean’s wound and the bleeding had stopped a while ago. The only thing that needed to be patched was my dress if I could get the blood out.

 “Thought ya hated me,” Sean admitted.
 “Of course I don’t hate you,” I snapped. “Just because we can’t be together doesn’t mean I don’t love you anymore, stupid.”
 “So ya still love me?”
 “Yes; why is that so hard to believe?”

He didn’t answer me. Instead, he grabbed my hand and squeezed it gently. There was silence only for a few seconds, before I heard Abigail screaming at Dutch about Jack. I went outside to see what was going on now, but what I was met with was most of the boys heading out on their horses. The Grays had planned to kill Arthur, Bill, Micah, and Sean, and so I could only assume that the Braithwaites had somehow managed to kidnap Jack. I headed back into the tent, only to find Sean trying to sit up again.

 “Lay down,” I demanded.
 “I should be helpin’ find Jack,” he snapped.
 “Even if I did let you leave this tent and go do that, you wouldn’t be of any use to anybody with that shoulder of yours. Now, god dammit, lay down or I’ll ask Miss Grimshaw to knock you out myself.”

 Sean groaned as he did what I asked of him. As much as people found him napping and taking breaks, I was surprised he wanted to be up and about. It was probably the morphine keeping him from feeling how much pain he really was in. If it somehow had worn off while he was trying to help get Jack back, the pain would most likely be even more unbearable.

 “Can I at least have whiskey?” he asked.
 “How are you going to drink it if you can’t even sit up?” I retorted.
 “I have me ways, darlin’.”
I let out a long sigh. “If I go grab you a bottle, you promise not to try and get up to run off?”
 “Sure.”

I begrudgingly left the tent -- again -- and went over to one of the boxes of whiskey bottles. Karen wandered up to me as I turned around.

 “You doin’ alright?” she asked.
 “I really wish people would stop asking me that,” I muttered.
 “Well, you had that big fight with Sean this mornin’, almost seen him die, too. What was that fight about?”
 “I... Okay, well... Last night, Javier and I...did it while I was sober...”
 “Weren’t that a few weeks ago? In the forest?”
I felt my face become hot with embarrassment. “W-We tried then, but I wasn’t comfortable so we didn’t finish. Last... Last night, we... I was on top and... The argument was because Sean thought I wasn’t comfortable enough with him to try and he thought I didn’t trust him enough to even try with him. I-I need to get this whiskey back to him...”

 I headed back to Sean and plopped myself down on the stool again. After I handed him the whiskey, he just held onto the bottle. It seemed like he really didn’t have his ways to drink laying down. He didn’t try to sit up again, however. He needed rest but I could tell he wasn’t going to go back to sleep so easily.

 “Do ya love him?” Sean suddenly asked.
 “Beg your pardon?” I blurted.
 “Escuela.”
 “Well, I like him, but I don’t love him.”
 “But he’s the one ya did it with sober.”

 I could see how Sean would think I loved and trusted Javier more than him. But the honest truth was that I only merely liked Javier. It wasn’t a secret I was at least sweet on him; but being sweet on someone and loving someone were two completely different things. I’d thought Sean was insistent on wanting me to love him before the Blackwater job, but Javier was even moreso insistent on getting into my sheets that it became almost impossible for me to say “no” or to ignore him. I didn’t know if he was trying to “cure” me or if he was merely jealous that I “chose” Sean over him. What I did with Kieran certainly fuelled fire within him.

 “It was fine,” I said sheepishly. “Not good. Just...fine.”
 “Does he know that?” Sean snorted.
 “He should. I didn’t get anywhere to being close. I don’t know -- maybe it was me and it had nothing to do with him.”
 “Only one way to find out.”
♞♞♞

 “Jack ain’t here,” Charles muttered as he sat next to me by the campfire. “Abigail’s probably gonna kill all of us if we don’t get him back.”
 “We’ll find him,” I said reassuringly. “One way or another.”
He nodded slightly with a sigh. “How’s Sean?”
 “Resting. He, er, woke up last night and exerted himself.”

Charles looked at me and then away. I could tell he was mad about Jack being taken -- everyone was mad about it. Very quietly, though, he mentioned that the head of the Braithwaite family said Jack was on a boat to Italy or still in Saint Denis. Someone was going to have to head into Saint Denis to look for him, then, but everyone was in the camp.

 “Where’s your father?” Charles wondered.
 “He left yesterday,” I replied. “I told him to.”
 “Probably for the best.”
 “You’ve been up all night, Charles. You should try and get some sleep.”
 “I’ll be fine, Evie.”

 I was about to insist he go and get some rest, even just for a while, when Lenny called out about some kind of problem. I looked in the direction his voice had come from and realized he was tailing behind two men who appeared to be important. Then it dawned on me that they were Pinkertons and, while Charles and everyone else headed over to see what was going on, I rushed back to my tent. I could only assume that they were there for Dutch, but I thought that perhaps Declan had gone through with his threat to tell them about me, too. Not only was I scared that they were there for Dutch and possibly myself, but I was scared that Sean would be taken, too, since he was technically “property of the government”.

 The timing seemed a bit opportunistic, though. My father was gone and now the Pinkertons were in the camp? I shook my head. No way my father would put me in danger like that as to give them the camp location. It could have been, and most likely was, because so many of the boys made such a racket around Lemoyne. Javier and John with the Braithwaite horses; Sean with the tobacco fields; he, Micah, and Bill with the gunfight in Rhodes; Dutch and Bill with being deputized. Charles, Uncle, and Bill had done something together, too. Arthur was, of course, partially to blame for all the noise, as well, considering he was with everyone. I really shouldn’t have been surprised that the Pinkertons caught up with us. It only seemed so natural after everything that happened.

 What I was surprised about was the fact that the two Pinkertons just left. I didn’t hear much of the conversation to begin with, but after a threat that everyone in the camp would die they willingly walked out of the camp. If they were going to come back, we were definitely moving again.

Chapter Text

 I slapped my neck with a grimace. How wonderful. We'd moved into a swamp and there were mosquitoes everywhere. What was next, an alligator wandering in? Dutch and Arthur had immediately left the new camp once everyone arrived. For once I was in no rush to go find work; I was too busy keeping an eye on Sean. He'd been given more morphine after we all got settled in and was passed out. At least I was able to work on some of the darning while I watched over him. I wasn't prepared for the moment he woke up and decided he was fine enough to get up and walk around, and maybe even help to get Jack back. He was nowhere near being better just yet; his wound was still only a couple days old. I didn't even want him to be in the swamp -- I couldn't imagine that the mosquitoes and the dirt and the rampant humidity were good for someone who needed to rest. But my cot and the tent were better than sleeping on the old furniture inside the old plantation house or on the floor inside. Just like the men who had gone out to deal with the Braithwaites, I hadn't slept the night before, either. I didn't know how I was going to sleep. Sean needed my cot to himself and I wasn't willing to exactly sleep on old furniture, either. Well, he'd complained I hadn't "come to bed" the night before. How was I supposed to without needing to hold onto him? Ordinarily he'd sleep on his side, but like this he needed to lay on his back.

 I left the tent to retrieve some more socks that needed to be darned. As was expected, Abigail was wandering around and so clearly worried sick. She couldn't concentrate on getting house chores done. I couldn't really blame her, either. That was her son that was taken. John was doing his best to stay out of her hair. If anything came up, Dutch would surely return to retrieve John. That little boy would hopefully be back in camp soon enough. There wasn't much else to do but wait and see what was going to happen. What if Jack was on a boat to Italy? How would we get him back then? I was hopeful enough that he was still in Saint Denis, and even moreso hopeful that he was safe.

 “How's Sean doin’?” Susan asked.
“Still sleeping,” I replied. “How am I supposed to know if he has a fever or if it's just this heat?”
“It shows you've never had a fever before.” She sighed. “He's gonna complain that he's cold, if ya don't notice he's shiverin’ first.”
“Are we ever going to stop moving? It doesn't bother me, really; it'd just be nice to settle down in one place after everything.”
“Someday. Maybe. Can't be sure. You gonna head into the city and find work?”
“Soon. I'd like to wait until Sean is a bit better.”
“The boy ain't gonna die while you're off whorin' yourself out,” Micah said loudly as he walked by.
“Mister Bell!” Susan snapped.

 I didn't have a comeback for him, but of course I so badly wanted to scream at him and hit him and call him every name under the sun that could describe just how disgusting I found him. If there was anything lower than vermin, it was him. I played it off that I was merely too tired to deal with him and went back to my tent. Eventually Sean was going to get annoyed that I was constantly watching over him or someone else was going to make me do something else. Inside, he was awake again and, just like the day before, he was trying his best to sit up on his own. This time, though, I didn't argue with him that he needed to stay laying down and helped him up. I took a seat on the stool and got to work on the socks.

 “Are you feeling okay?” I wondered.
“Can't stay lyin' down so much,” he replied, agitated.
“Give it a few more days, especially since you exerted yourself last night.”
“I what?”
I sighed. “You were very active last night.”
“If I can do that, I can walk around, at least.”
“No. If you’re that bored, you can read a book.”

I wanted him to get better quickly, but that wasn’t going to happen if he kept wanting to get up and roam around, even less so if he actually managed to stand up and walk around the camp. There was no way I could have known he’d hate resting so much. He probably wanted me to leave so he could do what he wanted just for a little bit.

 “God didn’t bless me with the talent to read,” Sean said, smug.
 “No one just knows how to read by themselves,” I retorted. “It has to be taught. You want me to teach you?”
 “Not really.”
I set the sock I was holding down with an annoyed sigh. “If God didn’t bless you with the ‘talent’ to read, then what did He supposedly bless you with?”
 “I’m funny, ain’t I?”
 “So He blessed you with humour.”
 “He must’ve blessed ya with them good looks.”

I shook my head at him, trying my best not to smile. If it had been almost anyone else, I would have shot back that Cornelius and Bonnie gave me good looks. But I digressed and kept my mouth shut on the subject. Sean knew well by now that I no longer believed in God because of what happened at the cabin, but I was going to let the sleeping dog lie. He didn’t like vanity -- even going as far as confronting Javier about his own vanity once -- but at least he was still being nice enough to me to compliment my appearance despite obviously being annoyed with my watching over him.

 “Any word on Jack?” he asked.
 “Not yet,” I murmured. “Er, are you hungry? Pearson made a pot of stew.”
 “I’m stuck in here, my shoulder is fucked, and you’re gonna let me eat that? Ain’t I suffered enough?”
 “Would you rather starve?”
 “Yeah, fine, I’ll eat.”

I left to go get him a bowl of stew. On my way back, I bumped into Kieran, who looked distracted by something. I’d found out he had seen some of the Braithwaite men just before Jack went missing -- maybe he was feeling guilty about not doing anything? Well, it wasn’t as if he knew what was going to happen.

 “Are you okay?” I said.
 “H-Huh?” he stammered. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
 “You’re more distracted than usual.”
 “It ain’t nothin’, Evie; I promise.”
 “I know you got scared about O’Driscolls being around at our last camp, but I think we’re safe here.”
He let out what sounded like a worried sigh. “I gotta go feed the horses.”

 Something was definitely on his mind. I couldn’t blame him, truly. Everyone had something on their mind at the moment -- some had Jack on their mind, some had money on their mind, house chores on their mind, or whatever else there was to worry about. I knew Tilly was worried about being so far south. We just kept getting pushed and pushed -- how soon until we would be forced into the ocean? As I watched Kieran retreat to where the horses were gathered, Hosea came up next to me.

 “We’re gonna be okay,” he reassured me. “Just have some trust in Dutch.”
 “Hosea--” I began, but he cut me off.
 “I know after what happened in Rhodes it’s difficult for you, but...he’ll have a plan.”
 “Sean is waiting. I’ll see you later.”

Back in the tent, I handed Sean the bowl of stew. He didn’t immediately begin eating, though; not that I could blame him. Pearson never seemed to use any spices or seasonings. Whatever went into the pot, that was all there was for flavour and somehow he managed to overcook the meat. It was better than nothing, but would it kill him to actually learn how to cook correctly? It probably would.

 “Ya think we’re kinda married?” Sean asked.
 “Um...I beg your pardon?” I replied.
 “We fight like an old married couple, you’re takin’ care of me when I ain’t well, and we’re worryin’ over each other--”
 “If you see it that way, I’m not going to stop you. You’re not going to actually ask me to marry you, though, are you?”
 “Why? Would it be so bad?”
 “I’d make a terrible wife. As long as we’re here, I wouldn’t have to cook for you, at least, but if something were to happen and we had to leave I couldn’t cook for you even if I wanted to.”
 “Marston and Abigail are married, just not in the eyes of God.”
 “Well, they have a son who may or may not be in trouble.”

I wasn’t ready for marriage, whether it be in the eyes of something I no longer believed in or not. With everything that happened, I wasn’t sure if I would ever be ready for it. I loved Sean, but I didn’t want to get married. Did that say something about me? Did that mean I didn’t love him enough? He was nice, most of the time, and he never dared to put his hands on me in a violent way. Of course, lately, we were at each other’s throats and he was rather annoyed with me. It seemed to me that I was trying to convince myself that Sean didn’t love me.

 “Would you...want to marry me?” I mumbled. “Actually?”
 “Sure,” he said. “You don’t wanna--”
 “I don’t know what I want.”
 “The ring matters, don’t it?”
 “It shouldn’t. The thing that matters is the person who’s asking. You eat your food; I need to...not be here.”

 I wandered out to where the horses were gathered. Kieran was gone by now and so I was by myself for a good while. I just leaned against Maple until Charles wandered up to me.

 “You doin’ okay?” he wondered.
 “I’m confused about some things,” I admitted. “Nothing to worry about.”
 “You thinking about your father?”
 “Not really. He should be fine. Charles, I was wondering if... N-Never mind.”
 “You sure?”
I sighed, frustrated. “No, I’m not sure.”
 “Evie--”
 “I’m sorry; I-I’m not being sensible these days.”
***

 Jack was found unharmed in Saint Denis. Dutch, John, and Arthur were able to bring him back. I didn’t know what it took for them to get him, but at least he was back where he was meant to be. Well, he wasn’t meant to be living amongst a bunch of criminals, but that was beside the point. Abigail cried for having her son back and the camp took it upon itself to have a party. Nothing was going to keep Sean from it, either, and I wasn’t in the right mind to stop him. I helped him to his feet and he went off to drink and be merry. I, however, stayed off to the side so as not to be in the way, along with Strauss, Kieran, and Charles. But even then, I stayed away from them, too.

 “You ain’t gonna join in?” Dutch asked.
 “No, not this time,” I said.
 “Why do ya sound depressed?”
 “I’m tired, Dutch.”
 “Well, I got a plan. We’re gonna go to Tahiti.”

I stared at him. Tahiti? Why Tahiti? I only knew what and where Tahiti was because of the globe Cornelius had in his study back home. They spoke French there, too, so how would anyone in our camp talk to anyone? I barely was passable in French. His plan was for us to go to Tahiti, but then what? I wasn’t going to question him since Hosea told me I needed to trust him. If Hosea trusted Dutch, then I had to as well. But getting to Tahiti required a boat, and so what if that boat got into an accident or if it began to sink? Neither John nor myself knew how to swim. Whatever Dutch’s full plan was, I hoped it was actually good.

 “Don’t waste your time talking to me,” I said. “Go enjoy the party. Good work getting Jack back.”

I really was tired. I hadn’t slept since Sean got hurt and I was getting sick of moving around so much. Sooner or later I was going to scream at someone again and there was no reason for it to come to that. But I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t relax. I didn’t know what was fully wrong with me, and then Sean had mentioned marriage and made my thoughts even worse. With a quiet sigh, I sat on the step that led to the patio of the house and leaned against the pillar.

 I stayed where I was for hours. I didn’t talk to anyone else and no one tried to talk to me, either. They probably realized I just wanted to be left alone. In the early hours of the morning, though, I saw Kieran heading for the horses. From what I understood, the horses didn’t have to be fed or anything just yet. I quickly wandered over to where he was.

 “Are you okay?” I asked.
 “I was just gonna go, er, pick some burdock root. For-For the horses, I mean,” he stammered.
 “Can I come?”

Kieran was definitely nervous about something. He didn’t look okay and I really thought he was acting a bit unusual.

 “No!” he exclaimed, but then he looked ashamed of himself. “I-I mean, I...”
 “Kieran,” I said, stepping closer to him, “what’s going on? You’re more nervous than usual.”
 “I dunno... Er, um, I don’t want you to get hurt or nothin’.”
 “Why would I get hurt if we’re looking for burdock root?”

Kieran relented and agreed for me to come. Even then, he still remained nervous. Maybe he was still scared that O’Driscolls were around. If that was the case, wasn’t it better than we leave together? If he left on his own and they somehow found him, no one would notice he was missing. And if they did notice he was missing, how long would it take until they did realize he wasn’t in camp? I didn’t believe his burdock root excuse, not for a moment. Why would he go out so early in the morning when everyone was sleeping? It was very suspect, but I could understand why he didn’t want to tell me what was really wrong. He didn’t feel like he belonged with us, just like how I still didn’t completely feel like I belonged with everyone.

 “There’s a good couple of patches up here,” he said, pointing in the direction he was referring to.
 “Sure,” I mumbled.

We hopped off our horses and began collecting the burdock root. Nothing was said between us, but I did notice that Kieran kept looking around. He was increasingly becoming more and more nervous. I knew what was wrong. But if I just came out and said it, he wouldn’t admit it. If the O’Driscolls were around, if Colm was around, they managed to get inside Kieran’s head. The possibility of them somehow telling him he really didn’t belong with us was there. I didn’t think he realized what he was getting himself into, and there I was with him with the very huge possibility that I’d come in contact with them myself.

 “Kieran,” I suddenly said.
 “Uh-huh?” he replied.
 “You know if something is wrong you can tell me, right? I wouldn’t tell Dutch or Hosea or Arthur unless it was really bad.”
 “Ain’t nothin’ is wrong, Evie.” He let out a nervous chuckle. “I-I’m fine.”
 “You’re not a bad person, Kieran; you realize that, don’t you?”
 “I’m gonna go to the patch over there.”

I sighed as he walked away from me. He disappeared behind some bushes and a few trees. Kieran didn’t believe me when I said the things I did. Everyone was aware that the O’Driscolls could be around, so there was no reason for me to tell Dutch that they were. But I would have to tell Dutch if Kieran knew that the O’Driscolls were planning something. I was scared for Kieran. They were so good at torturing people that they didn’t even need to have him captive. Just as I was about to call out to him, I heard him groan. The way it came out did not sound good. I peeked around a tree and realized Kieran had been knocked out by an O’Driscoll and was being hogtied. There were a few of the O’Driscolls -- four for one person? Was that just in case he hadn’t been alone?

Kieran had been worried about me coming because of what happened at the cabin and what if I had ended up getting hurt because of him. Even when he was being tortured somehow, he was still in the right mind to not want to get anyone else hurt. But I was even more scared for him now. I quickly hopped back up onto Maple and grabbed onto Branwen’s reins. People would start waking up soon in camp and so I raced back as quickly as I could. No one was keeping watch yet; I was able to get in quickly. Karen was just on her way to keep watch when she saw me.

 “Mornin’, Evie,” she said. “Ain’t that Kieran’s horse? You okay?”
 “Dutch!” I shouted, completely ignoring her and running into camp. “Dutch!”
Dutch came out of the house with Hosea trailing behind him. “What? Ain’t it a bit early to be--”
 “They have Kieran.”
 “Who has him?”
 “The O’Driscolls, Dutch; who else?”
 “You ain’t slept in a few days; are you sure?”
 “Yes, I’m sure! We were picking burdock root for the horses and he was being hogtied the last time I saw him. We have to go get him!”

 Dutch sighed, taking a long puff of his cigar. I didn’t know what he was thinking about -- it wasn’t time to be contemplating whether to go get someone or not. Did he think Kieran wasn’t worth it or something? It wasn’t as if he really went back to them on his own. He wasn’t stupid; he was just gentle.

 “Hosea?” I asked.
 “We should send someone to get the boy, Dutch,” Hosea said.
 “Were you followed?” Dutch asked.
 “No, I wasn’t followed,” I snapped. “Kieran--”
 “I’ll come,” Mary Beth announced.

The three of us looked over at her like she had lost her mind. She liked Kieran and he liked her, too, but there was no way she would be allowed to go, right? Dutch barely liked the idea of me going into that pit. I looked at Dutch again nervously.

 “Go get someone else,” he told me. “Mary Beth, you stay here.”
 “I want to go,” Mary Beth pressed as I walked away.
 “Whoever’s goin’ ain’t gonna let you go, either.”

I found Charles smoking near one of the buildings that was shut down. He didn’t like to be bothered in the mornings, but I was just doing what I was told and it was important.

 “Morning, Evie,” he said when he realized I was wandering up to him.
 “Good morning,” I huffed. “Kieran was taken by the O’Driscolls.”
 “You need me to track them? All you need to do is ask.” He pat my shoulder as he began walking. “Let’s go.”

 Where the horses were standing around, Mary Beth was already up on one of them despite Dutch telling her “no”. Charles wasn’t very impressed with her, either, and I was worried her presence would do more harm than good. I knew she merely wanted to go to make sure that Kieran would make it back to camp okay rather than wanting to sit or pace back and forth and not know if anyone was coming back.

 “Why does Evie get to go?” Mary Beth asked.
 “She knows where he was last and I know what she can do in a fight,” Charles replied. “I dunno about you, though.”
 “I’m coming.”
 “Fine. You can keep watch.”

 I led them both to where Kieran and I had been picking the burdock root. Charles hopped off Taima and inspected the ground for a moment. He got back onto his horse and we followed him closely. We were going slower so Charles could keep an eye on the horse tracks, so the O’Driscolls were incredibly far ahead of us, wherever they went back to, even though I had wasted no time running back to camp. The longer we took to get to them, the more likely Kieran was going to end up in a worse situation than I had been in.

 “That’s Colm’s horse,” I mumbled when we arrived to where they were set up.

Charles took out his binoculars to survey the camp. Just from what I could see, there were many O’Driscolls around. Far more than when we had gone to rescue Cornelius. It was worrisome and I was wondering just how badly I had messed up. I should have asked one more person to come with us who wasn’t Mary Beth. I looked at Charles as he lowered the binoculars.

 “There’s too many for just me and you, Evie,” he admitted. “If we’re gonna get that Kieran outta there, we’re gonna have to be quiet.”
 “You mean sneak in there?” I asked.
 “Yes. Mary Beth, you keep watch.”
 “How do you know where Kieran is?” Mary Beth wondered.
 “We don’t. Evie, leave your guns here. If we gotta kill anyone, we gotta do it silently.”

 I nodded and got down from Maple. I pat her side reassuringly as a promise that I would come back to her. The place was more risky than the place Cornelius had been taken to, and Colm was around. I followed Charles around the tree line, and we were able to sneak past a few of the guards. The camp didn’t have as many buildings as the last camp; it only had two. Still, I was so scared and so nervous. I only hoped that Kieran was okay. I knew he wasn’t going to be completely unharmed, but as long as he was alive... That was all I could hope for.

 We came to the first building, where I peeked through the window. There was a table of O’Driscolls playing poker, but that was all I could see from where I was. Charles snuck around to the other side to look through a different window. It wasn’t long until he came back and shook his head. So, in the best case, Kieran had to be in the other building. Just as we were about to sneak over to the next building, the door to the cabin we were by opened. Luckily enough, the back of the door faced us, but as a precaution Charles still pulled me into the bushes and shielded me with his body. I stayed under him for a few moments until he backed off to see if the coast was clear. I sat on the back of my knees, waiting.

 “Sorry,” Charles whispered.
 “For what?” I mumbled.
He looked at me. “That.”

 He was referring to my being under him? I hadn’t thought about it. It was just Charles -- he wasn’t going to hurt me. But it did take me a few seconds to realize why he was actually saying sorry to me. He understood that I panicked anytime I was under someone, but I was confused. I hadn’t panicked with him. Although, it was a different kind of situation and he wasn’t trying anything. Still, it was going to be something I had to think about.

 “Let’s go,” Charles said quietly.

I followed closely behind him until we came to the second cabin. Charles looked through the window and sighed.

 “Kieran ain’t lookin’ so good,” he admitted. “Looks pretty beat up.”
 “They’re--” I began.
 “Ssh.”

Charles ducked back down. I kept quiet as he had told me to do; he’d told me to be quiet because there were people talking. I recognized one of the voices as Colm. It didn’t take long for me to feel an anger building up inside of me. Not just because of what happened at the cabin those months ago, but for also taking Cornelius and Kieran, and hurting Arthur. Charles shook his head at me as if he knew what I was thinking. If I just went busting into the cabin, the whole camp would be alerted and it would be nearly impossible to get Kieran out safely. None of the voices that were talking were Kieran, though; they’d obviously beaten him up so much that he’d passed out again.

 “Charles, they’re going to kill him,” I breathed.
 “I know,” Charles whispered back. “There ain’t anything we can do right now. Just give it a minute.”

Colm and whomever he was with exited the cabin, and so we were able to hear them speaking more clearly.

 “We’re gonna give it a couple of days,” Colm said. “See if anyone comes lookin’ for him. We’ll get the location of their camp outta him and then...”

 He made a sound that people used to indicate they were going to behead someone. Charles held me back so I wouldn’t go charging at Colm and ruin everything. Once we were sure they were gone, we quietly went inside the cabin. Charles hadn’t been lying; Kieran looked horrible. He was bloody and bruised. I knew that gangs weren’t very forgiving to disloyalty, and he’d gone and willingly stayed with us. I had to make sure he was even still breathing despite Colm mentioning that they weren’t going to kill him just yet. Charles untied him and lifted him up onto his shoulder.

 Getting out of the camp was a bit easier than when we had been sneaking through it. We were able to leave the cabin and head into the forest to hide amongst the trees. Still, we had to be quiet so we wouldn’t alert anyone if anyone was around. We snuck past the guards at the front of the camp again and snuck around to where Mary Beth was waiting.

 “Kieran!” she gasped.
 “He’s gonna be fine,” Charles told her, putting Kieran on his stomach on Mary Beth’s horse. “We gotta go before they--”
 “Hey, Colm!” one of the O’Driscolls shouted. “Colm! Kieran’s gone!”
 “You get Kieran back to Shady Belle; me and Evie’ll be back later. Go!”

Mary Beth nodded and rode her horse away, while Charles and I went in the complete opposite direction from her. We rode until Charles was sure no one was following us. Hopefully Mary Beth made it back to Shady Belle without being followed, too. We were nearly inside Saint Denis’ city limits by the time we actually stopped riding.

 “You okay?” Charles asked.
 “I’m not the one who was beat up this time,” I replied.
 “Evie...”
 “I’ll be okay.” I swallowed hard. “While I’m here, I’m going to see if there’s anything at the post office. Will you come with me?”
 “Yes.”

 The post office wasn’t too far in Saint Denis and it wasn’t busy, either. It was my first time actually being inside a giant city, full of industrial buildings and businesses. It was rather daunting, but I liked how it looked. It seemed like a nice enough place. Charles stood with me while I collected mail for myself. There was already something for me from Cornelius and something for me from an unknown sender. Even though Dutch had told me to have things sent with a fake name that everyone in the camp used, I refused to do so. I did use Tessa Locke when I went to send things or receive things, though.

 Charles and I went to a quieter, less populated area so I could look at what was sent to me. Cornelius’ letter, that was more like a small parcel, felt heavy and it was thick. There was a letter inside on its own, that was full of apologies and how much he loved me and if I really wanted to be with someone like Sean or whomever I liked he wouldn’t try to stop me anymore. He was going to try and settle back down at home in Arkansas. My father wanted to make sure I was well provided for, hoping I could make good use of the thicker envelope he’d sent within the initial one. He even said to make sure I didn’t share it with the camp.

 I opened it and nearly dropped it. It was practically bursting with cash. I couldn’t tell just how much it was, but it was definitely a lot. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with it, though. Cornelius told me not to share it, but the rules were we had to contribute a portion of what we had. I looked at Charles nervously and tried handing it to him.

 “No,” he said. “You need to keep it. All of it.”
 “But--”
 “But nothing, Evie. Keep it hidden and don’t tell anyone. I ain’t gonna say anything to anybody. That money is for you and no one else.”
 “That’s... If I keep this a secret from Dutch--”
 “It ain’t about Dutch. It’s about you. You’re always sayin’ if things get too bad, you’ll leave. You ain’t gonna be able to do that without money. So hold onto this money, keep it safe, so if and when the time comes you gotta go, you won’t be helpless.”

 I nodded slowly and put the envelope into Maple’s saddlebag. Surely it couldn’t be too safe there, but for the time being it should have been okay. Where else was I going to store it, otherwise? The envelope from the unknown sender was from Bonnie. She willingly told me she was hiding from Colm, but in plain sight. The last she had heard about me was that I’d been heading south, so she figured Saint Denis was a good place to send her letter. I was unimpressed with her reaching out to me, but even moreso when I discovered she wanted my help. Bonnie didn’t mention anything about the cabin or what she and those men did to me; not even what Colm did to me. The help she wanted was to try and get Colm from looking for her and finding her. Charles burned the letter for me without my needing to ask him.

 “Should we head back to camp and see how everything is?” I asked.