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Growing Pains...

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God it’s good to have Sean back. I know how much he pisses everyone off, but that guy has been my partner in crime since before I can remember. My life lacked a lotta fun before he found himself with us. He’s like my weird, Irish, little brother…. who’s older than me. And hooks up with my favourite aunt/sister/best girl-friend. Yeah, this family is one screwed up party.

“Whatta you writin’ there?” John asks before almost collapsing on me, “You know there’s a party goin’ on right?”. I look around and in fact only see Uncle, the Reverend and Susan still up, chatting around a table scattered with bottle.

“Yes, I’m well aware” I say rolling my eyes. I close my journal before he can catch a glimpse. He’s always trying to.

“You’ve spent way too much time with Arthur” he slurs before taking another swig of whiskey and handing the bottle to me. I take a glug like it’s water. Hell, been drinking the stuff since I was young enough to only have water.

“I like the writin’ thing. Gives me a way to complain about ya without getting in trouble from Hosea”.

John takes the bottle and clutches his chest like he’s been shot, “Cruel, just cruel. I came all the way here from that tree to check on ya” he laughs and points to a tree only a few steps away, “….you were on ma stop before Abiga..”, I can’t help but interrupt him.

“No, John! You’re drunk. You’ll do more damage than good. You haven’t fought in days. Why ruin that!?”. I know I sound shrill but my God, he’s exhausting sometimes!

“Cauz. I’m horn…….nevermind.” he quickly takes another glug of his drink and avoids eye contact until I’m pretty much staring him down, face to face. Idiot boy. I can’t believe that after Jack I’m the youngest.

He finally meets my eyes, “Alright! God damn, I’ll goda bed! Jeesus. From now on ya Emmy Morgan not….ya know…..whatever” he says while slumping down, clearly fed up of being scolded like a child. I hate having to be his brain sometimes. But if I didn’t think for him, he’d of never come home. It was one of my best days riding back into camp after getting him from the station. It was hard but he’s my brother. Blood or not.

I kiss his cheek and hug him around his shoulders.

“Go to bed John,” I mumble into his shoulder “it’ll all look better in the mornin’”. I pull back and he nods before getting up on shaky, drunken legs.

“Yeah, yeah. Night little sister. Just. Please do me a favor?”. I tilt my head to signal him to continue, “Don’t just write about ya life like Arthur. Live it. Ya young.”. He pats my head clumsily and I smile. I quite like drunk John. More often than not he talks more sense than sober John.

I watch him stumble towards his own tent. I can just about see him collapse onto his cot and after a few moments, when I’m sure he won’t stumble back out of it into Abigail’s, waking her and Jack, I turn back to the fire and my journal.

Lord this gang. This family. I’d be lost without them but sometimes feel smothered by them. Dutch hasn’t let me leave the camp once since we got here. Too worried about Pinkertons and O’Driscoll’s. I should be grateful that he wants to act as my pa when mine was so shite, but he isn’t my pa. And I’m not the child I once was. Hosea sees it, John sees it, Arthur….well, Arthur begrudgingly sees it but he sees it nonetheless. Maybe if I get Arthur on side?

I slam my journal with an incredibly audible huff, “Why do I have to get anyone on side. I’m 18 God dammit, nearly 19! Abigail had Jack at my age”. A voice cuts through my quiet and has me jumping out of my skin.

“I wouldn’t model yourself on Miss Roberts if I were you,” Micah comes into view in front of me. Taking a seat on the other side of the fire, “A bit of a ‘loose’ cannon if you follow my meanin’”.

He’s not got his coat on and he’s wearing that red shirt he loves so much. Sleeves rolled up. Why the heck do I keep looking at his arms? His hat’s sat as always on top of his blonde mop of hair.

“Micah” I greet. Somewhat curtly, not that I was meaning to. Still catching my breath from his shock arrival. “I didn’t hear you.”.

He laughs deeply at that and opens his arms in a wide gesture, “It’s a skill sweetheart”. I hate it when he calls me that. I don’t like what it does to me. And it ruins the sweetness of it that Arthur has when he calls me it. But I know asking him to stop will only encourage him more so I keep quiet.

“So”, I whistle out the word, “how much of that did you hear?”. I take a chance and look up at him, only to regret it. He’s sporting that shit-eating grin of his.

“Well, I heard you play mother to scar face aaaand then mutter to ya self about not bein’ a child….bit childish though aint it? Talkin’ to ya self I mean”, Micah huffs a laugh at his own joke and takes a hearty swig of the bottle he’s holding. He holds it out to me and stupidly, I accept.

“Teasing other people about their private thoughts Mr Bell. Also a bit ‘childish’ aint it?”, I finish the bottle and put it down by the log I’m leaning against. I watch him as he pretends to ponder.

“Maybe.” Is the only answer he gives. Well this was well and truly pointless.

We look at each other for a few moments. I hate that smug look on his face! So why can’t I look away?

Thankfully he breaks the silence before it gets too awkward.

“Dutch been keepin’ ya on a short leash?” he asks while throwing twigs into the flames. I’m almost stunned at how normally he asks the question. No mirth or venom. I catch myself smiling, hopefully just before he notices. I clear my throat.

“Um, yeah. He has. He’s worried. But I used to do quite a lot outta camp before, well, ya know”, he nods along with my words “It’s kinda suffocating here sometimes”. I feel guilt wash over me at admitting my plight to another person. Some people would give their right leg to be coddled like this. To be kept safe in camp away from the evils that stalk us. Micah breaks me out of my own thoughts.

“Don’t do that” he says. I look up at him but he’s still staring at the fire. When I don’t reply, only look quizzically at him he continues. “Don’t feel bad for wantin’ more. For wantin’ to do somethin’ other than sew and scrub shit off people’s shoes. Guilt. It’s pointless. A useless emotion. Used by weaker people to keep the better ones down.”.

“You don’t actually believe that right? Guilt. It….the feeling means you’re human….that you care about other people.”, he looks at me then. Dead in the eyes. Unblinking.

“Well then sweetheart. I guess I’m not human”.

What can I possibly say to that?

I clear my throat again and take a moment to ruminate on what he’s just said. I break the eye contact but I can tell he’s still looking at me.

“That’s not true Mr Bell. You’re human. I’ve seen you bleed like the rest of ‘em. Patched you up a bit too if you remember.”. I think briefly of a time before Blackwater, when he came back to camp after a run in with the O’Driscolls’. He’d been slashed on the side by a knife. Nothing too bad but my word did it bleed. I gave him the stiches myself. Been doing that for a long time now. Everyone thought it best to get another person in the know of how to do the basic stuff.

He’d come back into camp clutching his side and shoved everyone away. Saying he could do it himself. Grabbed the needle and thread before dropping the flaps of his tent and getting to work. Everyone let him. I mean, wouldn’t you? In the months he’d been running with us he hadn’t been kind to pretty much anyone. I’d kept my distance. Arthur asked me to and, well he’s my big brother so. But when I walked past Micah’s tent, and I heard him whimper like a dying rabbit. I couldn’t just head to bed.

“Mr Bell?” I called gently, “Mr Bell?”.

I received a strained “what!?” in return. I’ve never really been one to scare easily. Maybe this was my own little version of playing with fire. But I just walked right into his tent. No asking, no preamble. Just, walked right in.

He was sat on his cot, shirtless. He was using his black shirt to try and stem the bleeding and despite the dark colour, I could see it become drenched in crimson. He looked at me, breathless and pale.

“What the hell do ya think ya doin’?!” he said. He wasn’t shouting. Probably felt too weak for that. His mouth hung open and he was almost panting. Sweat beading on his forehead and chest.

Despite my very best efforts, my eyes were drawn to his chest. It looked, firm? Firm and rippled with patches of light hair. Scars were scattered on his chest and stomach but his arms were basically intact. I was pulled from my thoughts by his gruff voice. “Girl!?” he spat as sternly as his condition would muster.

I gathered myself quickly and rushed to his side, kneeling on the floor.

“I’m gonna help you Mr Bell whether you want me to or not so for this once, just hush. I won’t tell anyone that you let me help you and once you’re sewn up I’m gone.”. As I hurried my words out, I took the needle and thread from beside him on the cot. I figured if I did it quickly enough he’d be too slow in this state to refuse. I threaded the needle easily and gently pushed on his chest to move him back a bit. He was warm and clammy under my palms but it wasn’t lost on me that this was my first time touching the chest of a man who wasn’t what I considered ‘family’.

Micah had grunted but stayed quiet. I could feel him watching me.  

I took the shirt away from his side and with as much cold detachment as I could muster, poured alcohol onto the wound from the bottle he’d readied on the floor. He held is breath and despite him trying to be as silent as possible, he groaned in pain. I tried to ignore that horrible noise as I started sewing up his wound. He muffled his groans by biting his lips and punching the cot next to him. I glanced up at his face and his eyes were screwed shut. My God, he looked….vulnerable.

When I was done I fished around the floor for something that looked almost clean to press to his side. I knelt there as his breathing returned to normal and I chanced my luck by letting my eyes wander a bit more from the wound. I took in his stomach, his face, his hands. But in particular, his arms. They looked solid. And at that moment I felt myself blush.

I pushed myself up to standing and looked anywhere but his face. I nodded at nothing in particular and basically ran out of the tent.

That night I came on my fingers to the thought of biting Micah Bell’s strong biceps as he hovered above me. Couldn’t look him in the eye since then. Well until Colter. Had much bigger fish to fry then.

I was brought back to the present when I felt a weight lean against my arm. In my distraction, Micah had moved to sit next to me. Shoulder to shoulder.

“Oooh I remember” he drawled, facing forward, “remember you scurrying away quick as lightening as well” he mused further. He smelled of whiskey and cigarettes. Nothing new for the people around here. But he smelt of something else. Something spicy. Woody? Is that a thing people can smell like?

“I uh, remember you not wanting help. So thought I’d spare you the embarrassment of small talk.” I replied not looking when he turned his face towards me. Leaning in close to my ear.

“Hmm well ain’t that kind”, he whispered and I’m so very proud of the fact that I could keep the shiver I felt from showing. What on earth was happening here.

I turned to face him. “Well I’m a kind person”, I smiled. He pulled back and looked at me like I was a puzzle. Like my face was covered in a maze he couldn’t find a way out from. And while he looked at me, clearly trying to work out his next move. I made mine.

“Well, goodnight Mr Bell,” I proceeded to get up from my spot on the floor. “Thank you for the drink and your lessons on empathy. Even though I will ignore it.” I nodded and before he could respond, I walked to my tent with my head held high. I undid the flaps without looking his way and once I was alone, I threw myself onto my cot.

What the fuck was that?

That night I came on my fingers to the thought of being Micah Bell breathing against my neck.

What the hell am I doing…

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The next day brought with it the usual tasks after a party. Cleaning up the bottles, cigarette butts and Uncle off of whatever surface he collapsed on for the night. The one good thing about mornings after a party is that Susan is too tired or simply doesn’t care enough to bark orders at everyone. The girls especially. So, everything gets to run that little bit slower.

I love mornings like this.

I watch as Karen and Sean return quietly from the woods. Leaves, dirt and twigs stuck to their hair and clothes. Karen signals for me to stay quiet as she tiptoes past the tents on her way to the lake but Sean just collapses under the lean-to next to Javier. Hosea is up talking to John, who’s on guard duty this morning and from the way Abigail simply ignores him I assume he behaved himself after being sent to bed. Thank goodness. Last thing we need today is yelling. Not sure anyone’s head can take it.

After I finish washing the bottles, I make my way to Arthur’s tent. I didn’t get to see much of him last night after Sean was brought back and I’d like to catch up. On the way to the tent I see Micah, Bill and Kieran around the scout fire. Micah purposefully tries to trip Kieran up on his way to the horses.

“What the hell was I thinkin’” I mutter to myself as I see Kieran regain his footing. I wasn’t paying any attention to where I was going until I collide with the solid wall that is my brother.

“Woah watch where ya goin’ there miss. I got precious cargo here.” Arthur puts down the box of left-over whiskey and signals for me to follow him into his tent where he’s packing his satchel. “You have fun last night? Must be happy to have the Irish toddler back.” he laughs.

I sit down next to him on the cot but twist myself to face him.

“Yeah it’s nice havin’ him back. For a while there I thought he was, ya know, just gone.” I glance over to where I know Sean is sleeping and see Javier waking up. He must have drunk a lot; the poor guy looks like he has no idea where he is. “But I was worried about you being so close to Blackwater.”

“Nothin’s happenin’ to me little miss.” Arthur winks at me. I watch as he picks up his rifle to clean.

“You goin’ back out?” I ask trying to not sound as disappointed as I am. Of course, Arthur picks up on it though.

“Yeah Pearson won’t stop harpin’ on at me for more meat. I swear the guy pockets most of it.” He says shaking his head. I know he doesn’t really believe that. Despite all of their back and forth, I know they actually get on really well. Pearson’s been with us a long, long time.

My silence draws Arthur’s attention. “I’m sorry I haven’t been in camp more. I know it gets boring for ya.” I just nod and he continues, “How’s about when I’m back we go out shootin’. Work on that aim a bit more?”. Arthur chuckles as I smack him on the arm as hard as I can. I swear it hurts me more than him though!

“My aim is fine!” I say probably a little too loudly. Arthur finishes off cleaning the rifle and stands with his stuff. “It is fine” he says “as long as the bad guy stands absolutely still.” Again, he laughs. What is it with men and laughing at their own jokes!?

He hands me his rifle and picks up the satchel off of the floor.

“Walk me?” he asks and I get up, accepting the gun. We say a few ‘hellos’ on the way to Arthur’s horse and once we get there, he loads him up. After everything’s checked he turns to pull me in for a hug.

As always, I tell him “Be safe”. And as always, he replies “The safest”.

While watching him ride out of camp I look back over at the scout fire. I can see Kieran working on his saddle as usual. We need to try and get him involved more. But everyone else has dispersed.

I slowly make my way back into camp, kicking leaves and twigs like a bored child and think about what I’m possibly going to do for the day. I know Lenny got a tip about a homestead, maybe he needs a distraction or someone light on their feet? Or I know Hosea was talking about going fishing. I hate finishing but at least it’s a change of scenery.

A loud “FUCK” pulls me from my thoughts and I look over to the main campfire. Micah lies on the floor clutching his nose as blood drips through his fingers. Bill and Sean are holding Javier back as the girls giggle under their lean-to. It doesn’t take a genius to work out what just happened but as I see Micah scramble to his feet and spit in Javier’s direction, I find myself walking over to them anyway.

I catch Micah’s eyes for a split second before he casts them to the ground and storms off into the trees.

“Fookin’ hell I misst you crazy fooks” Sean laughs as he lets Javier go, seeing as he’s calmed down considerably. I walk over and pick up what I can assume is Micah’s chair and a letter underneath it.

“You okay Javier?” I ask while sitting down, fiddling with the piece of paper.

He finishes taking a big swig of coffee and breathes deeply, “Fine joven senorita. Just fine. Apologies that you had to see that”.

“It’s fine, I didn’t really see anything anyway. What happened?” I ask him but before he can reply, Sean jumps in. 

“Wot happened!? We was all havin’ a right dandy mornin’, Javi here handed out sum letters he pickt up yesterday right, and Micah goes batshit!” he shouts.

“Man’s Loco” Javier adds and finishes his coffee.

Sean takes a swig of whiskey and pats Javier on the back, “Loco indeed my friend! Now, where were we? You was tellin’ me about those lasses back home!”. And as quickly as the noise started, it finished.

Javier and Sean wander slowly away from the camp and I take a moment to look at the letter in my hands. “Dear Micah” it says and I slowly close it back up. I’d hate it if someone went through my journal so I’m not about to read his personal letters.

Micah is so infuriating. A punch in the face is the least he deserves and when he gets one, he has the gall to look sad! Not even angry. What does loud mouthed Micah Bell have to be sad about. Ridiculous. 

“What to do..” I whisper to myself and glance around the camp. People are either still in bed, cleaning up or look extremely worse for wear.

No one would notice if I disappeared for a few minutes, right?

Chapter Text

After a couple of seconds, I decide to risk a small disappearing act. I won’t technically be leaving camp and I’m pretty sure Dutch is arguing with Molly so that gives me at least 15 minutes.

I walk in the direction Micah took into the trees and follow the minor path of destruction. Broken twigs, scattered leaves and the odd drop of blood. When Charles joined us all those months ago, he gave me some tips on animal tracking. Finding a wounded Micah seems like nothing compared to that.

I walk out of the trees onto a small strip of dirty beach. There’s a tent and some scattered belongings around a small, dead campfire. I don’t have to look far to see Micah. He’s kneeling down near the water splashing his face. Even from this distance I can see that Javier got him real good. His red shirt is hanging open and his pale trousers are soaked with water and splashes of blood.

I figure that startling a man like Micah isn’t the best thing for anyone so I make sure he hears me approach. I wear a shorter skirt than the other girls, having it come down to my knees, but I’ve fashioned the bottom of a union suit into cut off trousers for underneath. To protect my ‘modesty’ as the men put it. This means I’m able to move a lot quieter than those heavy skirts allow and have more freedom to move about than trousers give. Susan thinks what I wear is, to quote, “something a street urchin would wear”.

While moving towards Micah I make sure to step onto some twigs with my boots to create a loud crutch. His head suddenly snaps in my direction and I can see his eye is already starting to swell.

“Mr Bell”, I greet. I really didn’t have any plan after tracking him down so I just wait. He turns away and shakes his head. I’m not sure if it’s because he’s annoyed or to rid his moustache of excess water. That thought makes me giggle to myself at the worst possible time.

“Somethin’ funny girl?” he snaps while getting to his feet and striding over to me. I wipe the smile from my face and try to keep my eyes from his chest.

“No, Mr Bell. Nothing funny about any of this.” I say while gesturing to his injured face. His nose has stopped bleeding but he’s done a terrible job of cleaning the blood away. He storms past me to his makeshift camp and sits down, taking a swig of something from a bottle. No idea what it is but it isn’t whiskey I can tell that much.

“So why you followin’ me? I don’t need no stitches.” he snorts.

“I know. I came to give you this, you left it back at camp.” I walk over to where he’s sitting and hand him his letter. He spits onto the ground next to him and snatches it from me.

“You make a habit outta readin’ people’s private things?” he snarls but winces as he tugs too much on the drying blood dotted about his face. I sigh and sit down next to him. “No, Mr Bell, I didn’t read it. I did however see your name and thought you’d like it back. Now ain’t that nice of me?” I say while pouring some alcohol onto a rag poking out from his tent. His only response is a cautious “hmm” while watching my actions with confusion.

I scoot closer to Micah but before I place the rag on his face I stop and look him dead in the eyes, “What was that?” I ask expectantly.

Micah averts his eyes from mine and clears his throat. “That was nice of ya” he says.

“Not quite the response I was hopin’ for but it’ll do.” I reply while gently running the rag over his face, cleaning up the blood I can get to without pushing too hard. “Now,” I continue “what happened with Javier?”.

Micah tries to wrench his face away from the rag but I grip onto the other side of his face with my free hand. Up close I can see how blue his eyes are. A real pale blue, like a frozen lake. Not a bad colour. “Well?” I ask without stopping my cleaning.

“Nothin’ happened.” he snapped and succeeded in pulling himself out of my grip. I see him scrunch the letter in his hand and I pretty much put two and two together.

“Now, Mr Bell,” I say with my sternest voice. Something I’ve learnt from Susan. But before I can carry on Micah interrupts me. “Mr Bell, Mr Bell. The names Micah girl. You know it, use it.” he mumbles at me. I can’t help but smile.

“Alright, Micah, I think it’s safe to say that I’m not afraid of you.” I continue and notice the way his eyes jump to mine when I say ‘afraid’. “Please let me clean your face because Lord knows no one else will help you. Aaand before you start, I know, I know. You don’t neeeed anyone to help you but I’m already here so.” I gesture towards his face with the rag and he begrudgingly moves back to his previous position.

I know whatever is in that letter set him off this morning but I also know men like Micah Bell. If he doesn’t want to talk about it, he won’t. I’ve listened to him night after night talking a lot but rarely ever saying much.

“How long you been with Dutch?” he asks all of a sudden and I take the rag to wet it some more as I think. “Umm, somethin’ like 11/12 years. Came in with my ma and pa.” I tell him. I know full well that I can’t get him to open up if I don’t but I’m certainly not going to pour my heart out to him straight away.

I return to gently scrubbing his face and holding my other hand against his cheek. For a moment he closes his eyes and leans into my touch. Why can’t I stop doing this? The quiet only lasts for a moment before I can’t find any other blood to clean. Micah must sense my hesitation because he opens up his eyes and pulls away.

“What happened, they die?” he blurts out and I can’t help but laugh at his bluntness.

“He did. She just, left” I shrug and toss the rag away. “So, you wanna tell me what bothered you enough to jump on Javier?”. I cross my legs and lean towards him. Hosea always said body language was key to gaining someone’s trust, so I tried to look as settled as possible, to let Micah know that I was in for the long haul. I could wait all day.

“Look, the greas..” he starts, but I finish.

“No.” That language does not fly with me.

Micah looks considerably taken aback and I can see by his smirk that he wants to push me. So, he tries. “Whaaat the word ‘greaser’ bothers you?” he laughs.

I know what he’s doing. Deflect, deflect, deflect. I won’t bite. When I don’t respond he just curses under his breath and changes the topic back to the letter.

“Letters from my brother, Amos.” He starts while fishing a cigarette out of his pocket. He lights a match on his boot and tosses it once its done its job.

“Fuckin’ boy lives by the sea. What kinda man wants to live by the sea!?” he says sternly.

I don’t say anything but I know his eyes follow me as I slowly look out to the vast stretch of water in front of us. “Yeah, who would want that?” I reply, smiling at him. He mumbles that it’s not the same and carries on.

“He’s pathetic. A ‘family man’ now he says. Pathetic.” he says before he takes a long inhale of his cigarette. “Don’t know why I even bothered.” he finishes with a puff of smoke.

“Bothered doing what?” I ask and Micah tosses the letter to me which I start to read. “Oh, you wrote to him first?” I watch Micah nod before I carry on reading. When I finish, I fold the letter back up and hand it to him. He doesn’t take it, keeping his eyes downcast, so I put it down next to him.

“He doesn’t want me around his girls.” He says quietly after a moment. He flicks his finished cigarette out onto the dirt and turns to put his hat on, pulling the brim down so his face is almost shielded from me. “I, I ain’t good. But. I ain’t that…..I ain’t that.” His voice is soft. Sad even.

If I’m completely honest with myself I don’t know how I feel about what he’s just said. I mean I know a bit about his dad. Was a right son of a bitch. “Evil” Dutch would say. But I’ve never actually had to consider if any of the men I run with would hurt children.  Do I believe that the man next to me, the man I patched up, would have hurt me all those years ago had he been given the chance?

My gut, and his unhappiness at this very moment, tells me no.

“I don’t think you would” I say shifting closer to him “I mean you’re a grumpy asshole but I’ve never worried about you around Jack….well, maybe because of your language and the knife tricks but that goes for everyone around here.” I finish, trying to lighten the mood. It doesn’t work.

Micah nobs but doesn’t look up.

“My old man woulda chucked that kid in the lake. Sink or swim kinda lesson.” He mumbles and looks up at me as I laugh quietly to myself. I catch him looking at me and stop smiling. “Sorry. Just I think that’s why John is afraid of the water. Arthur told me Dutch did the same sorta thing.” I explain.

“Dutch ain’t like my old man. Scar..…Marston would be dead if he ran with old Micah Bell II” he scoffs.

“Wait? You’re Micah Bell III?” I just can’t help giggling around this man “You Bell’s are some kinda outlaw royal dynasty” I say while bumping my shoulder against his. He chuckles. Actually chuckles. No mockery at all.

It’s so nice to hear him laugh.

“Ooh yeah. Why do you think I live so proper like?” he says, finally making eye contact as he gestures to our surroundings. We both take a moment to soak up the break in tension.

In this moment, sitting here face to face with Micah Bell, I feel kind of, brave. Brave enough to keep running my mouth anyway. “If it means anythin’, I meant what I said. I don’t believe you’d hurt those girls…..but you can’t blame him for wantin’ somethin’ of a better life for ‘em. What we do ain’t exactly safe.”

Micah looks thoughtful for a second before leaning in close. His breath is warm against my face and I really hope I’m not blushing as much as I think I am. “No, not safe at all….but it sure is fun ain’t it” he whispers while breaking out into a wide toothy grin.

He’s actually handsome when he isn’t scowling.

Before I can say anything, Dutch’s voice cuts through our comfortable silence. “EMMYYY!?” he shouts.

I throw myself backwards onto the ground out of frustration, “God DAMMIT. I ain’t a fucking child!!!” I growl.

“You betta get goin’ there sweetheart. Don’t want ya daddy bringing the hammer down” Micah laughs. I smile at him and pull myself, begrudgingly, to my feet. I take myself back a few steps towards the trees before I turn around. Micah is still watching me. Why’s he watching me?

“Look. You ain’t gotta apologise to Javier. I know sorry isn’t in your vocabulary” I laugh and luckily so does he “but I dunno. Offer him a drink later. I’ve seen you both after a couple bottles of whiskey. The besta friends”.

Micah nods. “Okay. Okay I’ll do that.”

I smile and carry on walking towards Dutch’s hollering with the stupidest smile on my face.

I really need to talk to Sean.

Chapter Text

I make my way through the trees and spot Sean sat lazily at the campfire. He sees me instantly and gives me a signal to stay where I am. I crouch down as he stands up and dramatically stretches to look around for Dutch. He makes eye contact with me and beckons me over. I put my head down and walk briskly to Sean. We give each other a small, quick low-five and I continue my walk to the horses. I grab hay from a bale and start feeding some to my horse, Jett. She’s a beautiful, white roan Nokota that Arthur helped me break when I was 13. That was my favourite birthday.

I start to brush her as Dutch comes to stand in front of me.

“Emmeline” he greets with clear annoyance in his voice. He stands with his hands on his hips and I glance to the campfire to see that Sean is watching. I glare at him and all he does is laugh.

“I was callin’ you” Dutch comments. I just continue to brush Jett while I speak and try to keep my voice light. “Oh, was you? Sorry” I reply.

“Yes. Yes, I was. Where were you?” I look at Dutch then and shrug, “Oh, around. Dozed off a bit after cleanin’”. All he does is hum and nod.

“Emmeline. I know you’re bored…” Dutch begins but I’m so tired of hearing his excuses!

“I’m not just bored Dutch. I’m useless here. You need to let me get back to what I do best.” I plead. I know to others it probably sounds like I’m whining. Like Molly does all the time. But Dutch knows me. He knows I’m not one to complain unless I feel it necessary. “I know we’re still in…dangerous terrain…but we need money to get outta it. You know I can help.”

Dutch looks to the ground and nods.

“Little miss, you’re the closest thing to a daughter I will ever have. I will protect you till the day I die. And if that means keeping you in camp while you curse ma name? Then that, miss, is what I will do.” He finishes his little speech with a kiss on my forehead. God I want to scream at him so badly but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Instead I clutch Jett’s brush tightly and when Dutch turns to walk away I throw it to the group with a thump.

I place my forehead against Jett’s but pull back when I see Bill and Lenny approach with Micah in tow. “Miss Grace” Bill greets as he and Lenny start to saddle their horses. As Micah gets closer, I can see that he’s changed into a black shirt and a waistcoat. I smile but he remains emotionless and even bumps my shoulder slightly as he passes. “Hey watch it!” Lenny shouts as he mounts his horse and gives me an apologetic smile.

“Thanks Lenny” I say trying to keep the hurt I’m feeling out of my voice, “You going to the homestead?” I ask and as Lenny starts to detail the plan, I chance a look behind him at Micah who’s saddling Baylock. Once he’s done, he gives him a treat from his saddlebag and places his forehead against his for a moment. Just like I do with Jett. The act is so, gentle.

I zone back in for the end of Lenny’s explanation and wish him luck. Telling him and Bill to be careful.

“Always am!” he replies happily and I watch them trot out of camp, followed closely by Micah who doesn’t even look back. I shake my head and will the tears I feel to just go away.

“Don’t be so stupid” I mumble to myself and close my eyes. I tilt my head up to the sky and do as Bessie taught me. I take a deep breath and start to count to 10. I make it to 7 before an overly excitable Irishman claps me on the shoulder and shakes.

“And how’t it go with Dutch ‘little miss’?” Sean laughs. I give a humourless scoff and just whisper “perfect” while I look at the ground. I can’t bring myself to explain how frustrated and upset I now am.

 Sean seems to consider me and the camp for a few short moments before holding out his hand.

“Walk wid me?” he asks and after a moment I smack my hand into his. He tugs me through the camp towards the water and then along the shoreline. So that if anyone really wanted to, they could see where I am but still giving us privacy.

We walk for a good 5 minutes or so, talking about nothing in particular, until we reach a dry area far enough away from nosey ears. Sean plonks himself down on the ground and gets out his pipe. I sit next to him and lean back on my hands, enjoying the sun and quiet. For a few seconds.

“So. Super-secret circle. Talk.” he mumbles while fiddling with the pipe. I’ve been telling him for years that a circle definitely needs more than 2 people. I love how much he cares though and like Arthur, I won’t get away with pretending I’m fine.

“Okay. But super-secret. Swear on your da.” I say sternly. He holds up his hand, clutching the pipe to his heart. “I swear on me da and any other MacGuire folk out there.” he says.

We’ve been doing this forever. Finding a quiet place and swearing our oaths. It’d always be his da and for me, whichever brother I liked more at the time. It changed daily. I don’t even remember how it all started, just that since I met Sean, I felt like I had a real friend. He never judged me. Not that he really has a leg to stand on if he tried! But he’s never tried.

I’ve told Sean my deepest, darkest secrets and he’s told me his. Like when I was pouring medicine from different bottles into the fire one night as a child, just to see what would happen, and I caused a mini forest fire….not my finest moment. No one but Sean knows it was me and no matter how drunk that boy gets, he’s never told anyone.

“I don’t really know where to start,” I say “I feel like I want to scream at Dutch. He…”

“Nah nah, not Dutch” Sean interrupts and I quickly snap my gaze to his. He can’t mean? “I saw the way you lookt just then by da horses. Positively….forlorn” he teases, “that ain’t about old Dutch.”

I take a moment to breathe. I can feel my face heating up and I actually think I might be sick. When Sean sees my obvious distress, he softens and squeezes my knee reassuringly. “You can tell me Em.” He says quietly.

I nod. Of course I can tell him. He’s Sean. This is our circle. Or whatever a group of two is. A pair? Yeah, a pair. A secret pair. That sounds dumb.

“Em?” Sean’s voice breaks me from my inner monologue.

“Okay” I say quietly and close my eyes. Maybe this would be easier if I wasn’t looking at him. “I think I might…like someone.” After a couple seconds of silence, I open my eyes. Sean looks…relieved? He begins to chuckle.

“Is dat it? Jesus Christ Em, I thought you were pregnant or summit” he laughs. I find myself feeling quite alarmed at his admission. “What? Why!?” I ask while glancing down at my stomach and feeling it, “Do I look pregnant?!” Surely I can’t look pregnant, we hardly ate in Colter and since then its hardly been a banquet every night!

Sean’s laugher subsides and he shakes his head. “No no, course not. But I’ve never seen you look so…so upset and…and confused?” he explains with some difficulty. It’s almost as if his thoughts are as jumbled as mine are. “You like someone though dats good. Right? Oooh is it our young Lenny? He’s a fine chap.”

I smile at his excitement. “No, unfortunately it’s not Lenny. It’d be nice if it were actually. You’re right, he’s lovely.” I admit.

“It um, it ain’t Bill?” Sean asks tentatively. I can already see where his mind is going. He must have been watching me when they were getting ready to ride out. “No” I laugh “It’s not Bill Williamson”.

Sean dramatically performs the sign of the cross. Wrongly I should mention. And thanks God. I brace myself for the next question. If he thought it was Lenny and then we’ve ruled out Bill, I know where he’ll go next…

“Okay” he regains his composure, “So, Javier?”

For a moment all I can do is blink at him. Javier? Where did Javier come from?

“Um…no. Not Javier.” I say slowly. Almost like I’m confused by my own words.

“Why not? He’s a sexy man!” Sean shouts and I burst out laughing. I also feel the need to look around as knowing our luck Javier would be standing nearby and he’d be very confused. But also, probably very flattered. That man likes to know he’s fanciable.

“Yes, yes he is. Shush!” I giggle and Sean takes a big puff of his pipe. He blows out the smoke and pokes the top of it while scrunching his forehead like he’s in deep thought.

“Okay, so not Lenny or sexy Javier. Or Bill, phew by the way….hold up, I will fookin’ end him if it’s that O’Driscoll sod!” he shouts equally as loud. “Hey!” I shout back “1 he is NOT an O’Driscoll and 2 NO it’s not him”. I smack Sean on the arm for being so mean about Kieran, poor guy.

“Well then I am fookin’ stumped.” he mumbles, throwing his arms in the air theatrically while holding his pipe in his mouth. He then seems to have a moment of clarity and I feel myself wanting to vomit again. He takes the pipe out of his mouth slowly and quietens down. “It” he clears his throat “It isn’t…me?” and this time it’s my turn to laugh.

“Alright!” he says mock defensively and I will myself to calm down. “No” I say through the deep breaths, “It’s not you Sean. I love you but….no” I finish with a kiss on his cheek. He smiles “Well thank goodness for dat. We’d make a great baby though if we were dat way inclined!” he states and we both laugh.

“Can you imagine? My brains, your hair! The kid would be unstoppable!” I wheeze and we take a moment to calm ourselves down.

Sean coughs and empties his pipe.

“Alright I’m done with the guessing game. Em, who do you like? But just know if you say Arthur or John, yes you are sick and yes I will dump you in the middle of nowhere to be eaten alive by wolves.” He smirks and at his statement I want to vomit but for a very different reason.

“Ew Sean, why?” I cringe before taking a deep breath.

“It’s um, it’s….Micah.” I whisper and look out at the water. I can’t imagine Sean’s face right now and I don’t want to look. His silence says everything.

“Right. Okay.” He says slowly and all of a sudden, he gets up and throws me over his shoulder.

“What the fuck Sean!!!” I shout as loudly as my position allows. He starts to walk further down the shoreline, away from camp.

“Well you’re clearly beyond hope so I’m gonna find some wolves.” Sean replies and I can only groan and hit him on the back. “Oh put me down you prick!” and with that he plonks me unceremoniously onto my feet. My hair is everywhere and I take a moment to pull my skirt down. Once I’ve gathered myself and the bloods rushed back to my brain, I see he’s laughing and I punch him in the arm as hard as I can.

“Ow! Violent little ting aren’t ya? Dat why Micah likes ya?” he laughs and I feel like I’ve been hit in the gut. All the wind has been completely knocked from my lungs and my eyes go blurry with tears.

It’s in that moment I realise, I like someone for the very first time.

And they don’t like me back.

Chapter Text

Sean held me as I cried and hiccuped my way through a jumbled explanation of why Micah doesn’t like me. Couldn’t like me. And Lord, why I couldn’t like him! He’s Micah! I told him that the only thing I can do is forget about the whole thing.

“Wat we need ta do is get you laid” he whispered to me as we walked back to camp. For the rest of the day I hung out with my best friend and tried to forget my silly little crush. We drank and sang. And now I’m lying on my cot, staring up at the ceiling of my tent, wondering why the heck I spent all day drinking and singing. Thankfully the headache has gone and now I just feel sluggish.

I throw myself off my cot and put on my boots. I’ve never been an early riser but lunchtime is a bit ridiculous. Susan’s been shouting outside for hours and I’m pretty sure I heard her slap Mary-Beth. Susan’s only slapped me once, a long time ago. I can’t even remember why but when I ran off, John came to find me. He talked me down from my hiding tree and walked me back to the camp on his shoulders. I saw Bessie take Susan inside, we had a nice little shack back then, and since then she’s never laid a finger on me. Bessie was taken far too soon.

I leave my tent and see the girls sitting by the water eating their lunch. Damn I feel guilty for sleeping in so long. I’ll make it up to them. Before Sean was brought back, I was up till the early hours doing chores, since I wasn’t allowed to help find him and had to keep myself busy. So, I’m sure they don’t mind too much. I just hate looking like a slacker.

I decide to see if Arthur’s back but when I turn to his tent, I can see that he’s either not been back or he’s already up and gone again. I don’t hear Sean so I can only assume he’s off somewhere as well.

I sigh “Well hi and bye then. I guess.”

A voice hits my ears from behind me and as I turn, I realise how close I am to Micah. Damn he really is sneaky. And smells like soap. Does Micah actually wash?

“Aww what’s wrong sweetheart? No one to play with?” he laughs. But his laughter fades off as I simply stand and look at him in silence. Dutch always told me that to get someone to quieten down, you should whisper and they’ll follow suit. So, I figure if I want someone to shut up, I should try saying nothing. I do however grace him with my sweetest smile.

After a moment he stops laughing and clears his throat. “You uh, you lookin’ for Morgan?”. I nod and he scoffs, “He’s gone off wiiiiith the young kid. Lenny. Plus Dutch and Hosea. Summit about fishin’ or...well I weren’t really listenin’”

I can’t help it. I throw my head back and growl. I’m not even allowed to go fishing!?

“Ooh don’t worry miss, you know what they say. When the cats away, them mice can play” he says starting to wander off, but stops and looks completely perplexed when I breakout into a wide, toothy grin.

“Thank you, Micah. That was surprisingly helpful.” I say before dashing back to my tent and grabbing my satchel and revolver, before running over to saddle Jett.

“Woah woah there, whatta you doing?” Micah asks while following me. I carry on saddling Jett while I fill him in quickly, “Well, like you said, when the cats away.”

I look at Micah the moment it seems to dawn on him what I mean, “So you thinking ol’ Bill’s gonna let you just ride on outta here eh?” he asks while walking over to Baylock.

I mount Jett and trot her over to him, “To be honest Micah, Bill couldn’t catch me on my worst day. Let alone when I’ve been stuck in camp for weeks on end”. I think the fact that I’ll actually be leaving camp has made me giddy, because before I can even question whether it’s a good idea or not, I wink at Micah and ride off.

I winked. At Micah.

The reality of that doesn’t dawn on me until I’m speeding passed Bill. I can hear him shout something but I don’t stop to find out what. I’m just gone! Galloping and galloping, feeling the wind on my face. It’s been far too long.

I don’t know how long I ride for but I slow when I feel Jett begin to falter. Poor girl needs to get her stamina back up. Maybe I’ll ask someone to ride her when I can’t. It’s not her fault I’m in prison.

As I slow, I hear steps come up quickly behind me. I’d taken quite a few twists and turns on my way to wherever here is so I doubt anyone would be so close unless they were in fact, following me. I wait until I hear the horse behind me slow before I whip myself around and point my gun at the face of my stalker.

“MICAH!” I shout “What the fuck do you think you’re doin’!? I could’ve shot you!”.

Micah gives that awful chuckle and sidles up next to me before speaking, “Awh now why would you wanna do that!” he smirks and I can only take a deep, calming breath before speaking again. Something he definitely notices.

“Why are you here Micah?” I sigh. I can’t believe he followed me, “I don’t need protectin’”.

“Oh I didn’t think ya did. But me ridin’ out here after ya is the only thing keepin’ Mr Williamson from tattling to the boss man once ya back” Micah explains.

“Goddamn Bill. Always the brownnoser” I growl and at that, Micah does smirk. I glance over to him. He’s leaning forward on Baylock with his arms resting on the saddle horn. I can’t help laugh with him. “I know Bill means well..” I continue but Micah interrupts me.

“Ah Bill’s a drunk idiot most’a the time” he says and straightens up “You’re allowed to not like everyone all the time ya know”. I take a second before responding.

“But if I thought like that Micah, we’d never get along.” I say mockingly. I hope my smile makes it clear that I’m joking and by his reply, I think it does the job.

“Get along do we?” he says before leaning over and whispering to me “Well ain’t that nice”.

How does he keep doing this to me?

“So, what’s the plan.” He asks, changing the subject.

“To be honest I don’t know. Just wanted some fresh air.” I shrug.

“Ooh well, looks like you got that” he gestures towards me and lets out a loud, Micah laugh. It takes me a moment but I move my hands to my hair and realise that it’s an absolute mess. Why didn’t I plait it before I came out!? How mortifying.

I run my fingers through the matted strands for a few seconds before deciding to just put it up with the piece of string I wear around my wrist. Those fancy bands snap too easily and Arthur said he didn’t have the time to fish around “ladies cupboards for them” when robbin’.

Micah’s laughter dies down and he sits back up properly on Baylock.

“There’s a little town not far from here, come on’” he kicks Baylock forward and I do the same with Jett. “Where’re we goin’?” I shout to him over the sound of galloping hooves.

“I’ll treat the lady to a drink” is all he shouts back and I slow Jett momentarily before getting her to catch up.

“Oh” I say, only to myself, and can’t help the smile that breaches my face.

Chapter Text

From a young age Hosea could see that washing and sewing wasn’t going to be my lot in life. I admire Susan for her ability to keep any camp going despite our circumstances and I do help out here and there but no, Hosea decided early on that my talents would lie elsewhere.

When I was 7 he took a considerable amount of money out of the camp funds to purchase me a fountain pen. Only the rich folk had them so without a lavish plan he wasn’t going to be stealing one. “Now I see all those little writings you’ve been doing. You got good penmanship,” he told me. “This, this right here will be your gun. I’ll teach you to write properly and then you’ll help me with a few things”.

I felt so useful! After that I’d spend 5 or 6 hours a day reading and writing with Hosea. He’d have me copy people’s handwriting from Dutch’s cursive to John’s chicken scratch and that’s how I found my place. So along with the general thieving, when something needs forging, like a letter or a bond, they come to me.

Since Blackwater there hasn’t been much of that but Hosea has made sure that I kept on top of my craft so to speak. In Colter I had to use Arthurs pencil and journal since we didn’t have any ink. I’d work from the back of the book as to not see any of his private stuff and he trusts me not to go sneaking through it. We lost pretty much everything in Blackwater but my pen, my pen I kept with me the whole time.

Although despite Hosea’s wish, Arthur decided that an actual gun should be my gun, you know, just in case. He gave me my revolver when I turned 10 and took me out shooting whenever he could. If he couldn’t then John took over although Arthur wasn’t always thrilled about that. He used to say that if I spent too much time practicing with John, I’d probably come away with a few bad habits. I think that was more about their bickering than anything though.

I lost that gun when we fled but was given a new one a few weeks ago. Something that I’m extremely happy about right now as I sit waiting for Micah to return with our drinks. He rode us to a dingey little saloon in the corner of nowhere and told me to grab a table. As I walked through the busy bar, men’s heads turned my way. I have to say, their leers aren’t flattering in the slightest.

“1 beer and a whiskey shot for the lady” Micah says as he puts them down in front of me and I thank him. He sits down across from me and takes a long swig of his bottle. Rum I think.

“Won’t lie Mr Bell, I’ve been to some iffy places but this one probably comes out on top.” I laugh and start on my beer.

“Ah it ain’t so bad” Micah chuckles while looking around “and why we at ‘Mr Bell’ again?”.

I shrug and give him a coy smile “I dunno….kinda like it. Has a nice, authoritative ring to it. Don’tcha think, Mr Bell?” I ask while I lean on the table with my elbow and put my chin in my hand. I have no idea what’s got into me but I kinda like it. So does Micah apparently.

“Oh really now” he smirks “well…” but before he can continue, our eye contact is broken by the appearance of a young woman in his lap. I’m no stranger to working girls, I’m an outlaw for goodness sake, but I’ve never had one try to seduce the man I have a stupid crush on. Urgh, ‘crush’, how old am I!? I like him. I think. This would be the perfect opportunity to find out if there wasn’t a very, very, sexy woman in the way.

“Hey sweetie” she drawls while winding her arms around Micah’s neck “Ain’t seen you in here before.”

My stomach drops when Micah hums and puts his hand on her waist, “We’re just passin’ through” he says smiling that sickening grin men do when they’re feeling flattered. For a moment I consider slumping back into my chair and just downing my beer. Run out to Jett and be home before dinner.

But before I can actually make good on my despair, Micah carries on speaking. I down my shot, and his, while I continue to listen.

“And I’m just having a drink with the lady here so,” he says, patting her waist “be a pal and hop off.” I can’t help the smile that graces my face and when the woman turns to look at me, I take a sip of my beer to try and hide it. I do however frown when she scoffs and glances around at the clientele in the bar. To my disgust, a few men are still looking my way.

“Oh darlin’ there’re plenty of men here that would suit this little doll better. They like the inexperience. Why don’t we..” but before she can finish her sentence Micah tightens his grip on her waist, somewhat painfully if her face tells me anything, and brings her close.

“Well, darlin’,” he mocks “let whoever they are know, that if I even so much as see them looking at her, they’ll die cockless.” he finishes with a growl. Micah roughly shoves the woman off his lap and she almost collapses onto the floor before finding her feet. She just spares me once last glance, fixes her dress and saunters off to her next mark. I watch as Micah takes one of his pistols from his gun belt and slams it down hard onto the table, causing the few leering men to turn back to their drinks.

“Take your gun out” he barks and it almost makes me jump “you show people you won’t be got and they don’t even try it.” He nods towards my satchel and I take out my revolver placing it on the table. He laughs, “Oh sweetheart, we need to work on your poker face.” And I can’t help but laugh along with him.

“Apologies, I don’t have as much experience in intimidating drunken men as you clearly do” I smirk. Micah hums and takes another drink from his bottle.

“You know, you um, could’ve. If you wanted to. Free country. Well, you know what I mean” I say and despite my best efforts it comes out a bit shaky. Micah just watches me for a moment with that look on his face again. The one that makes me feel like I’m speaking a foreign language. Before I can ask why he looks so confused by what I’ve just said, he’s changed the subject.

“So how’d you know you won’t be in trouble with the boss-man once we get back?” and it takes me a second to catch up with the change in topic.

“Oh, well, when Dutch and Hosea go fishin’ they’re gone till dark. Sometimes Hosea likes to stay out even when it’s dark so I figure if I’m back before evening I’m safe.” I explain. Micah nods and finishes his drink. I down the rest of mine and ask if he wants another.

“Why not. We’re on an adventure after all” he says while lighting a cigarette. I get up and walk with my money to the bar. I turn around while waiting for the bartender and see that Micah has shifted to sit more next to my chair than opposite. It’s so nice not to be coddled. I didn’t have to fight to get my own drink and despite the fact that he’s obviously moved to keep an eye on me, it feels more comforting than suffocating.

I get our drinks, I buy us a couple each, and take them back to the table with absolutely no interactions from the men around me. Won’t lie, it was a confidence boost. They all know it’s not worth their life to bother me.

“So” I start when sitting down “I think we should play a game.”

“What kinda game?” Micah asks warily “Roulette?” he says holding up his gun. I roll my eyes, “No, has to be something difficult for you. I know you’d jump at the chance for an adrenaline rush.”

“You know me so well” he laughs and I shake my head.

“Actually Micah, I don’t. But I’d like to.” I reply and really hope he catches onto my attempt at flirting, but all he does is clear his throat and gives me that ingenuine huff of a laugh he does sometimes.

“Ain’t no woman wanna know Micah Bell” he scoffs and takes a long swig of his drink.

 “Well” I say cheerfully “this woman does. So, lets play. Ask me anything.”

“That the game? Questions?” he asks and I just smile. “Yep. And if for some reason, we don’t want to answer a question, we have to do a dare.” I explain and with that Micah laughs and holds his hand out to me.

“Alright, game it is. But only the truth.” He whispers and I agree, “Only the truth.”

Micah takes all of 2 seconds to decide his first question for me and as I thought, he’s trying to shock me. I figured out very quickly when he joined the gang that he’s always trying to size people up. What their weak spots are, what makes them retreat. I don’t know why he does it but the only way to find out is to remain unshocked. Well, try to.

“You a virgin?” he asks and I’m not surprised considering our little chat with sexy, working girl not long ago. “No” I say simply. I did promise the truth and he smiles like he’s surprised by my honesty.

“My turn. How many women have you slept with?” I ask figuring I’d stay on topic a bit. I’ve only had 2 beers so I can’t be drunk but that giddiness is back making me feel like I am. Micah pretends to think looong about his answer. “Oh hurry up” I laugh and throw a stray peanut from the table at him.

“I’m just making sure I tell the whole truth and nothin’ but the truth” he says holding his hand up, “Uh I’d say somethin’ liiiiike. I dunno. A lot. 100 odd maybe”. I have no idea if that’s his attempt to shock me again but I just nod and have more of my drink. “Your go” I say after.

“Hmm okaaay” he squints at me like he’s picking a question from somewhere on my face “You happy?” he suddenly asks and my attempt to remain composed is long gone. I was mid sip of my drink and I inhale causing me to cough. Micah laughs and leans forward patting my back a bit too roughly. “There ya go” he laughs when I stop.

“Jesus Micah, in a million years I’d never think you’d ask somethin’ like that” I wheeze out while wiping my mouth. Micah laughs and gestures for me to answer. Why has he asked me that? We went from 100 sexual partners to ‘are you happy’ in the space of a few seconds. Well done Micah, you’ve shocked me.

“Umm, Iiiii, wow,” I laugh humourlessly while looking at my beer bottle “that’s. That’s a question.” Is all I can think of to say in the moment. Micah, again, surprises me by staying quiet. I didn’t know he was capable of not making a comment. I clear my throat and meet his eyes awkwardly. “No” is all I can muster. I shake my head as if I can clear it that way and decide to just get us back on track. Well, on my track. I take a long glug of beer and ask my next question.

“Did Bill really threaten to tell Dutch if you didn’t follow me?” I ask and Micah chuckles.

“You’re quick ain’t ya?” he laughs and the compliment, at least I think it’s a compliment, makes me smile. “No, he didn’t”. I open my mouth to ask why he followed me then but Micah cuts me off.

“Ah ah, my turn.” He reminds me and jumps right in with his next question. “Who do you hate the most in the gang?”. I groan and put my head on the table which I instantly regret. It’s gross. “Come on sweetheart. Gotta be honest now!” he chortles.

“How did I not see this coming!?” I groan but have to laugh along with him. He’s persistent in his need to know that everyone is just as dysfunctional as he his. “Okay, I’ll be honest….at the moment I really don’t like Dutch.” I answer.

Micah opens his mouth to say something but I cut him off, causing him to chuckle louder. “Oh! And Strauss. He’s always kinda creeped me out. And jeez can Pearson wash once in a while. All the other men manage to. Well maybe not Uncle but he’s, ya know, Uncle.” I blurt out and Micah shoves my arm.

“Wow once we get ya started it allll comes out” Micah laughs and honestly, it’s infectious. I clap my hand over my mouth and stifle a snort. Seriously, 3 and a bit drinks in and I’m fine complaining about them all. There’s just something about Micah that makes me feel safe to admit out loud what I only record in my journal. But I really need to be careful. I scold myself internally at my loose mouth.

“Okay,” I shake my head “you can’t tell anyone.” I say and make direct eye contact. He smirks but doesn’t respond. “Please?” I ask more seriously. Micah just gives me one nod. Which I feel is his code for, I promise. We’ll see I suppose. I guess I can always pretend like he’s lying. Stop thinking about it!

“Right, my turn.” I say while starting on my last bottle. I don’t know if it’s because we’re out in the middle of nowhere with no one we know around, but I’m feeling emboldened by the feeling of freedom. I clear my throat and lean into Micah.

“Do you see me as that woman does? Just a young….‘doll’?” I ask quietly and I realise as soon as the words leave my mouth that I’m scared of his answer. Why did I ask that!? God, how stupid can I be. Of course he does. Everyone does.

Micah takes a deep breath and seems to inhale the remains of his last drink before taking mine and having a swig. He clears his throat and leans in close enough that I can feel his breath on my lips. He smells of the smokes he’s had since being here and whiskey. God I want to touch the scar on his chin, I need to know how he got that. Maybe run my tongue over it while sitting in his lap.

I realise I’m staring at his lips when he begins to speak and I’m sure he’s noticed.

He smirks and just utters one word.

“No.”

Chapter Text

“My turn” Micah whispers.

It took me a second to remember the game we were playing. Being this close to him brought out a lot of feelings I didn’t know I could have. Did I always find his mustache sexy? I wonder what it’d feel like if we kissed….

“That is unless you’re too distracted?” he laughed. I clear my throat and lean back into my seat. I need to take back control. This is my game, not his. I won’t be beat. “Course not” I smile.

Micah moves his elbow to the back of the chair as he leans back, almost looking like he’s appraising me and the situation. “Alright then. How many people you been with?” he asks without blinking. I take a drink to calm myself before answering. “Define ‘been with’?”

Micah chuckles, “Alright, how many people you fucked?”

“Wow, right back into it ain’t we?” I try to laugh off the sick feeling in my stomach but I’m pretty sure he can sense how uneasy I suddenly feel. “Hey, this was your game sweetheart” Micah laughs.

“But….” He says somewhat softer, “You ain’t gotta answer”.

I swallow down the bile in my throat.

“I think I’ll plead the…..whatever, on that one. I’ll pass.” I raise my bottle to Micah and down the rest of my beer, shoving the now empty bottle aside. I’m not ready to have that conversation with anyone.

“So, what’s the dare?” I ask trying very quickly to change the subject. Micah sees it. If anything, no one can deny that Micah is perceptive.

Micah scoffs and shakes his head, “Nah, ain’t gotta do nothin’ sweetheart”. He almost sounds hurt, like I’m assuming he’d ask for something….indecent.

I take the last whiskey shot and wag my finger at him as I recover, “Nuh uh, thems the rules. Dare me.” I wink. God my head feels fuzzy. Why does Micah look so uncomfortable? I need to pull this back, lighten the mood, or he’ll just get defensive and shut down on me.

“I caaan do an Irish jig on the table? Or, oh I know! I can touch my nose with my left hand, while holding my leg with my right and try to do a shot with just my mouth?” I laugh while semi acting it out.

Micah looks at me with amusement again and give me his signature throaty chuckle.

“Alright” he starts and looks around the crowded saloon, “That fella up there by the bar. See ‘im? I dare you to take that fancy lookin’ pocket watch of his.”

I follow Micah’s eyeline to the bar where an overweight, middle-aged man stands. Well, sways on the spot. He’s wearing a fancy suit but it looks really dirty. Probably a casualty of one too many nights gambling away his fortune.

I watch as he grabs a waitresses behind while she bends to pick up a broken bottle. She goes to slap him but he grabs her arm first, twisting it painfully. I put my hand on my gun but turn my attention back to Micah after the bartender comes to her aid.

“Alright. Go wait by the horses. We need to be heading back anyway” I smile.

“Well m’lady,” Micah says before standing, buttons up his jacket and holsters his gun “holler if ya need me.” He winks and makes his way towards the door, giving me one last glance. I shoo him off with a confident smile.

Soon as the door closes fully, I put my gun away and make my way towards the bar. My head still feels fuzzy but not so much that I’m tripping over myself. I do, however, purposely trip over myself. Only to be caught by my mark.

“Oh! I’m so sorry!” I say putting on my best southern belle voice “I’m so clumsy sometimes!”. I can literally see the cogs turning in his head right before my very eyes.

“Oh no bother miss” he murmurs and I’m desperately trying not to gag on his stale smoke breath “can I buy the lady a drink?”. He pulls me closer by the waist and I return the gesture. “Oh that’d be awful nice of you.” I smile.

As he lets go to order my drink, I keep one hand at his waist and slip his silver watch from his vest pocket. I let it slide into my sleeve and use my other arm to knock over his beer bottle, sending liquid everywhere. As he jumps back I dislodge myself completely from his embrace.

“Oh! So clumsy! I’ll get a rag and be right back for that drink” I wink, not so subtly. He smirks and turns back to the bar. I shimmy past everyone towards the door and slip out. I instantly spot Micah who’s already on Baylock and holding Jett’s reins.

With a pep in my step I waltz quickly over to him and mount Jett.

“Well?” Micah enquires.

I answer by letting the watch slide down my arm into my hand. It may be the drink talking, but I have to say the move has never looked so cool! I toss the watch to Micah who catches it.

“Very niiiice.” he drawls and his praise makes me tingle. Everywhere. But before I can say anything the saloon doors burst open and the working girl from before runs out with a few men, all holding their guns.

“There!!!” she screams and points at me.

“You bitch!” the middle-aged man shouts and readies his gun.

I look at Micah while kicking Jett into action, “Oops!!!” I shout to him as we gallop off to the ringing of bullets.

We ride for around 30 minutes before Micah slows.

“Wooooah! Now THAT was fun.” He shouts, laughing. I pull up opposite him so we’re almost side by side, “Feeling better now? Not so….suffocated?” he says smirking.

I can’t believe how free I feel, I’ve missed this rush! I’m laughing like a child but my breath catches when I look at Micah. He looks so happy. He looks….exactly how I’m feeling.

“Yes” is all I can manage while smiling so hard my face hurts.

“What ya looking at there sweetheart?” Micah asks after a few seconds, while leaning forward on Baylock. I find myself completely speechless. I’m not sure Micah has ever looked so genuinely joyful. I nudge Jett closer to Baylock and reach out to touch Micah’s chest.

“Sweetheart?” Micah whispers while still smirking. I ignore him and focus on his mouth. Gently I pull him closer to me and he obliges without struggle. I learn forward and touch my lips to his. Before I even have a chance to think, I use my other hand to grasp his face and pull him closer to me. Almost, but not quite, knocking his hat off.

I slowly move my lips against his surprisingly soft ones and open my mouth to invade his with my tongue. He tastes like whiskey and the spicy tobacco he smokes.

It’s, amazing.

His mustache is odd against my lip, I’ve never kissed anyone with one before but it’s not unpleasant. I could get used to it. Micah responds by moving his tongue against mine and I can’t help but moan quietly.

As I pull back and let go of him, I realise that he kept his hands to himself the whole time. Why was that? Was this just an odd flirting thing we have going on? Did I totally just fuck this up? Is there even a ‘this’!?

I look at Micah and he brings his fist to his mouth and coughs, smirking behind it. He winks which instantly puts me at ease. I laugh, “Umm, we should make our way back.”

Micah adjusts his hat and gestures in front of him, “After you Miss.” I smile and cover my face while still laughing. I don’t say anything but kick Jett into another gallop hearing Micah and Baylock following behind.

We arrive back at camp before dark so I’m not worried at all about being caught. I hitch Jett, hop off and walk over to Micah who dismounts Baylock before turning to me while swinging the watch.

“Your spoils miss” he smirks handing to me.

“Nah you keep it. Who knows when I’ll be able to get to a fence.” I shrug and he pockets the watch.

“I’d say I’ll get you the money but, ya know” he replies. I laugh, “Yeaah, I know. You’re an ass.”. Micah chuckles and walks towards the scout campfire. I watch him walk off for a few seconds, reliving the kiss in my mind. What was happening?!

As I turn away, I smack straight into John.

“Jeez John! Scared the crap outta me!” I laugh clutching my chest. He says nothing, just watches me. “Joooohn?” I say slowly while waving my hand in front of his face. He smacks it away.

“What the fuck do you think ur doin’?” he hisses and I can’t help but roll my eyes. I start to walk further into camp. “I know. I wasn’t allowed outta camp. But seriously John, I…”.

“Fuck leaving camp. Why were you with Micah!?” John interrupts.

I stop in my tracks and turn to face him. “Look here John Marston” I say poking his chest “I’m not a child. I will spend time with whoever I please and I think you need to remember how much crap I’ve kept to myself about you and your year long adventure”. John’s face turns into a sort of hurt surprise and I soften. He hasn’t done anything but worry about me.

“Look. He just wanted to make sure I was okay. I kind of galloped past Bill without explanation earlier. Just, please, don’t tell anyone. And can you make sure Bill doesn’t either?” I lift up my pinky finger and hold it out to him. For a moment he looks conflicted but eventually grasps my pinky with his. I smile and go to pull away but he holds me in place.

“Just, be careful okay. You’re….we…..I…..” he stammers and I take pity on him, kissing him on the cheek, “I love you too”. John smiles and nods nonchalantly as we disband.

For the first time in a very long time, I find myself really smiling.

I spot Sean napping by the campfire and decide very quickly to scare him awake, but before I can get very far, Dutch and other others gallop loudly back into camp.

Dutch basically jumps off of The Count and ignores the shouts of his name from Hosea. Arthur dismounts just as quickly and steadies Hosea as he tries, and fails, to follow Dutch.

Dutch stomps past me into his tent and closes the flaps before I can even register what’s happening. Suddenly Molly comes flying out of the white canvas onto the ground.

“What the fook Dutch!!” she screams and I rush over to help her up.

Arthur deposits a coughing Hosea at the camp table and walks over to us where Molly is dusting off her clothes.

“Arthur?” I whisper as he gets closer.

Arthur puts his hand on my shoulder and squeezes a bit too hard. “Do me a favour and go sit with everyone else okay?” he instructs without even looking at me.

Before I can reply, Arthur is walking off into his tent with his head hung low. He unties the strings and I watch stunned as the flaps fall. Before the last one drops into place, Arthur catches my gaze.

If anyone was to ask me what he was saying wordlessly, I’d without question reply:

“Please Emmy, let it go”.

Chapter Text

I spend another moment just looking at Arthur’s tent, willing myself to move. What happened to make Dutch so mad? Why was Hosea so upset?

Hosea.

I look around and spot Hosea sat at the camp tables with Susan. She’s helping him mash some herbs together, for his cough no doubt. As I move towards the table, I catch eyes with Sean who must have woken up in the commotion. He lifts up his hands in a way to question me but all I can do is shrug.

“What was that about?” I ask Hosea as I sit across from him. He doesn’t look up, just continues to mash.

“Bad business ‘all. Nothing to worry about.” He replies. I reach across the table and hold his hand. Why can’t he look at me? “Hosea” I say gently.

He finally looks up and holds my hand in his.

“You know, Bessie and me, we tried. For a long time, we tried to….ya know…..” he stammers. I know what he’s saying. Bessie told me a long time ago when I asked why they didn’t have any children. One or both of them couldn’t. And despite how much it hurt, they stayed strong. Together.

“I know” I nod and offer a reassuring smile. One he tries to return but fails.

“You. You’re. We care for you.” He says quietly and I look to Susan who appears just as confused.

“Well, of course we do. What’s gotten into you all?” Susan asks sternly. She’s never been one to beat around the bush. I look back again at Hosea and I swear his eyes are glassy.

“Hosea” I whisper. But before I can say anything else, Dutch storms from his tent and walks over to us. He completely ignores Molly’s cries and she storms off herself.

“My friend. Ride with me.” he asks Hosea but it really is more of an order.

“Dutch, he’s” Susan starts but Dutch cuts her off with a hand in the face. I’ve seen Dutch argue with Susan many, many times. But I’ve never seen him act so rudely. She mutters something like “well I never” under her breath and pushes herself away from the table towards the girls. They’ll probably bare the brunt of Dutch’s insult.

“Dutch, what the hell is going on?” I say firmly, retracting my hand when Hosea stands. Neither man looks at me. “I’ll ask you to mind yourself little girl” he says sternly. Little girl!?

I’m speechless.

Hosea watches Dutch move towards the horses and takes my hand again, kissing it. He offers me a small smile and follows. As they’re mounting, Sean crouches down next to me and whispers.

“So, young Lenny said they stopped for a drink in Valentine b’fore heading back. Dutch caught sight of a man and all hell broke loose. Arthur ordered him to wait by the horses while he pulled the other two from this chap. Lenny said Hosea ‘nd Dutch were arguing all the way back but he couldn’t make out what it was about” Sean tells me before adding “Wanna find out?”.

Still watching them silently prepare to leave camp again, I nod. Sean pats me on the back and tells me to meet him round the back of camp in 30 seconds. I was going to follow them alone but it’s nice to have Sean watching my back. I know he’s only doing it for fun but still.

I count down the seconds and watch Hosea and Dutch trot slowly out of camp, talking side by side. With how Hosea is doing, they won’t be full on galloping anywhere so I don’t have to make a show of myself and run after Sean. Better to take my time and not draw attention.

As I’m walking to meet Sean, I glance over to see Micah with the other men all quietly talking. Probably about what’s happening. He sees me watching and I avert my eyes. I carry onto my destination but it’s no good, he’s intrigued.

I make it to Sean who has the horses ready to go but I hear Micah behind me.

“Hey. Whatta you think you’re doin’?” he asks while approaching.

As I mount Jett, me and Sean look at each other. Sean’s taking way too much pleasure in the drama but stops smirking when he sees my face. I answer Micah once I’m settled in the saddle.

“Dutch is in a foul mood, Hosea is talking to me like one of us is dying, Arthur won’t tell me what’s happened and Lenny can’t. So, I’ll find out myself.” I say simply, so sure he’ll understand.

“Alright” he scoffs “and you think you’ll be able to work out whatever’s going on with Dutch. You and the Irish idiot.” he smirks and it’s like a punch to the gut. This is my family too. Why couldn’t I help? I used to! “Why don’t you come down from there and leave it to us” he finishes while holding out his hand to me. How can one man go from being so empowering to so belittling in under 15 minutes.

“Fuck you Micah” is all I can muster and he looks completely taken aback. Without spending another second on how stupid I feel, I kick Jett into action with Sean following closely behind. I can hear Micah shouting from behind me but I don’t care to know what he’s saying.

We ride silently for around 5 minutes with Dutch and Hosea in our sights way ahead. After a while Sean starts to ride next to me, obviously feeling that he’d given me enough space.

“So, you’re havin’ one hellavah day.” he laughs and I smile. I find it hard to not smile with Sean, he’s so genuine in his care for others, “Care to catch me up on your little escapades?”.

“Maybe later” I reply, thinking back to the kiss. It was lovely. So gentle. But then he was so condescending! Maybe he does only see me as a child. Someone to play with but disregard once the going gets tough. “I’d rather focus on what’s upset Hosea so much”.

Sean nods and leads us around a small path, keeping us out of sight.

“Dutch was pretty angry too” he states.

“That’s not what worries me to be honest” I reply, “Dutch is Dutch. Anything sets him off at the moment…..but Arthur and Hosea. That bothers me. Arthur’s never kept anything from me. And Hosea? Man looks fit to collapse. Something’s upset him.”

I look around and realise that I have no idea where we are, “Sean this isn’t the way to Valentine.”

“No, it ain’t. I noticed that too.” Sean says, eyeing me cautiously.

We ride for a further 15/20 minutes before seeing the two men slow. We circle around to higher ground and watch as they pull up outside an old, dilapidated cottage. From where we are, we can see perfectly with a pair of binoculars and luckily, I always carry some in my saddle bag. We dismount our horses and army crawl to the end of the small hill we’ve occupied. The suns on its way down for the night but there is enough light left thankfully.

“Alright, hand’m over. Twas my idea, I get first look” Sean says wagging his hand at me and I roll my eyes. Such a child. I slap the binoculars into his hand and wait as he gathers his bearings. “Okaaay. Well. They’re waitin’. Hosea looks mad. Dutch looks……Dutchy”.

“Any idea what they’re waiting for?” I ask.

“Nope just waiting. Still waiting……oh! No, just waiting” he laughs.

“For fuck sake Sean” I groan, but he cuts off my whining.

“Okay, we have life. Someone’s approaching. An old gent, about Dutch’s age. Maybe younger.” Sean hands me the binoculars and I take them quickly.

I look through the view finder and seem my two surrogate dads with their arms crossed, waiting for this man to dismount his horse.

“Anything?” Sean asks and I shake my head but before he can say anything back, I hold up my hand to silence him.

As all 3 men head into the shack, the mystery man turns around to check the outside before going in properly. With his face turned to me I can see him as clear as day. He’s middle aged with brown hair. A patchy, unkempt beard and a rosy patch birthmark on his face.

As he heads inside and closes the door, I drop the binoculars. I can hear Sean asking me questions but none of it registers. All I hear is static. White noise.

A blinding pain enters my head and I swear for a moment I lose sight in both my eyes. All I can see is that horribly patchy, dirty face. I scrabble to get up and lunge myself towards Jett to stabilise myself but don’t quite make it.

I fall face first into the grass and before I can make any attempt at moving, I vomit.

As I’m vomiting up the painful, burning liquid from my stomach I can only just register Sean rubbing my back. He’s shushing me and at the same time asking me what’s wrong.

What’s happened? Do I know him? Am I ill? What should he do?

After heaving into the grass for what feels like forever, I sit back up. My eyes are streaming and my nose is running. I have vomit on my clothes and actually feel like I might faint.

I force myself to look at Sean and instantly throw my arms around his neck and hold on tight. He responds straight away, resuming rubbing my back. “Emmy…..tell me what’s happening love” he whispers.

My throat burns but I swallow and let out three quiet, shaky words:

 

“That’s my pa”.

Chapter Text

I only come around when we’re riding back to camp. I’m sat in front of Sean as he cradles me against his chest. My heads pounding. My eyes are sore. When did I pass out?

“Sean” I croak. The suns gone down completely and darkness surrounds us.

“Hey lovely” Sean whispers “not long now”.

Sean gives me a comforting squeeze and I reach out to hold his hand, the one clutching the reins. We’re riding pretty fast and I realise that we’re on Ennis.

“Jett?” I ask and Sean doesn’t hesitate in his reply.

“Don’t worry love she’s right behind us. That girl ain’t leaving ya” he says and it instantly makes me smile. Then all I can see is that birthmark. Those rotten teeth. I start to panic.

“Sean stop. Stop. I need to stop” I say as loud as I can. Sean instantly pulls on the reins telling Ennis to slow. As we do, I see Jett’s white coat whip past me to a halt. “Okay, okay. You’re okay” Sean mutters as I sit up straighter. I manoeuvre myself so that I’m side saddle and able to see Sean clearer.

“He lied” I mutter while looking at him, “Dutch lied”.

Sean nods “Looks that way” he says lowly.

I steady myself and jump off of Ennis with Sean following quickly behind. He holds me by the waist until I’m able to lower myself to sit on the ground.

“Dutch said he was dead” I say out into the night “He promised me he was dead”.

Sean sits next to me and rubs his face. We talk about everything me and Sean so he knows about my father. How cruel he was….how sick.

“Why the fook would Dutch lie about that?” Sean says quietly next to me and all I can do it look out into the darkness and shrug. We continue to sit in silence for a while as my mind races. Sean doesn’t touch me until I lean against him for support. He puts his arm around me to steady me and rubs my back as I relive that day in my mind.

I’m 6 and I’m sat at our camp table with Hosea, practicing my reading. I’m doing really well. Bessie tells him to wrap it up because it’s time for lunch and he makes a funny face at me like her cooking was going to be the death of him. Hosea always made me laugh, even when I felt I had no more joy in me. Such a sad thought for a child. Bessie had plaited my hair into two braids just how I liked it and told John that if he didn’t wash his hair soon, she’d give him some as well.

It was Bessie who I told first. The day before. About the nights my pa would come back to camp drunk, as my mother stayed out doing God knows what with God knows who. She would always tell me how I ruined her life. How she could’ve been so much more had she not got pregnant. I thought that’s how parents were. Until we started running with this gang.

Bessie told me not to worry. That she’d make sure I was safe.

That evening I remember Bessie and Susan packing my mother’s things while she was still out of camp. I remember the fire in Susan’s eyes as she stuffed clothes into a tiny bag. Hosea took them on his horse to whatever town she was at. I never saw her again.

Not that much of a loss really but I did shed a tear. A loss is a loss.

I was playing after lunch with John the next day. Hosea had made me some peg dolls and I was playing ‘bank robbery’ with John. It’d taken a while for him to warm to me but we got there. Dutch and Arthur came riding into camp and Hosea greeted them as they dismounted. They shared some words with Bessie and Susan before everyone came to sit with me. Arthur dragged John away as he complained about being kept out of the loop ‘as always’. They went for a walk with Arthur giving me a small smile.

Bessie sat stroking my back like Sean was doing now. Dutch took my hand and remember he looked so softly at me. He spoke so kindly.

“Emmy. Your pa….he wasn’t a good man. You know that. And we, we aren’t lawful but we aren’t him. And we don’t run with people like him. I don’t lie to my family so I won’t lie to you. You’ve had to grow beyond your years so I know you’re strong enough to know this. Your father is dead. I killed him.”

“He’s such a fucking liar” I finally say, scoffing, “We shoot fellas as need shooting eh?”.

“Whatta you gonna do?” Sean asks tentatively and I think back to that day again.

“If you want us to, we can take you somewhere. To an orphanage or find a nice family ourselves maybe. Or, you can stay with us. Be part of our family. Me, Bessie, Hosea and Susan. Uncle sometimes! We’ll look after you.” Dutch finishes. I look at the adults around me who have never been anything but kind. Bessie and Hosea were already better parents than I’d ever had and here I’d have brothers. Brothers.

“Arthur” I hiss while choking on a sob, “He was with Dutch. He knew”.

I hear Sean swear but all I can do is cry. I cry until I feel like I have nothing left.

Then, I get up.

When we get into camp, Dutch and Hosea are already back. I throw myself off of Jett and Sean, who’s been struggling to keep up with me the whole time, chases after me.

“Emmy just take a breath” he shouts but I ignore him, moving into the middle of camp. Most people have settled into their tents for the night and some aren’t even here. Off on jobs or out drinking.

John sits around the fire with Hosea, Arthur and Uncle. Micah is at the camp table alone and I completely ignore him as I go past. Sean tries to grab my hand but I wrench it away and approach the men I’ve known most my whole life.

As I speak, my voice doesn’t even sound like mine. It’s raw from screaming, from crying and instead of the quiet hiss I intended, a feral type of growl leaves my throat.

“DID YOU KNOW?” I snarl.

Arthur keeps his head hung low and Uncle splutters on his drink. Clearly they hadn’t caught him up. John gets up and moves slowly towards me with his hands up, like he’s approaching a spooked horse.

“Em, wha…” he starts but I can’t bare this uncertainty anymore.

“Did you know John?” I whine and basically collapse into his open arms once he reaches me, “Please tell me you didn’t know.”

I can’t see his face as mine’s buried in his chest, but Hosea answers my question for him.

“No dear. He didn’t know. And neither did I. Not before today at least.” he says while standing slowly and moving towards me. I trust Hosea more than anyone. Possibly more than Sean if that’s possible. So I nod and throw my arms around him as he shushes me.

As I pull back, I see Abigail approach from her spot with Jack, leaving him to sleep. She touches John’s arm and John throws up his hands in confusion. “What the hell is goin’ on?” he asks none too quietly.

Before I have the chance to say anything, I hear someone clear their throat behind Hosea.

Oh right, Arthur.

“Why don’t you ask Arthur” I growl, looking at him still sat at the fire with his head hung low. He won’t even look at me, “Go on. Tell them.”

When Arthur doesn’t move, the burning in my soul intensifies. I find myself storming over to him and smacking him the hardest I possibly can across his head, sending his hat flying.

“TELL THEM” I scream. How could he do this to me. Coward can’t even look at me.

Again, Hosea answers for those who clearly can’t, “Emmy’s pa is alive…..and Dutch, well, only Dutch and Arthur knew. Until we bumped into him in Valentine earlier today”. Through the whole explanation I watch Arthur. There’s no change in his expression. He simply sits there with his head hung low.

I can’t help myself, the rage inside me has never been so great. I raise my hand to strike him again but my wrist is caught by Dutch who must have snuck out of his tent during Hosea’s account of events.

“He was acting on my orders Emmy” he says quietly and I hiss back “Of course he was. Such a good little errand boy.” I snatch my hand away and see Micah is now with the group. Uncle is sat with his head in his hands shaking it from side to side in what I can only assume is disbelief. I then spot Abigail tug Johns sleeve and give him a questioning look. Of course, she never met my pa.

“I’ll explain later” John whispers back but I make them jump with my roar of dissatisfaction.

“Oh no John! Why don’t we tell her now? Why don’t we tell EVERYBODY” I scream as I notice the girls, Lenny and Susan edge into view from their sleeping places.

Dutch tries to calm me with a hand on my back but the thought of him touching me makes me want to vomit all over again. Sean reaches out a hand to steady me and I take it.

“Go on Dutch. Tell them. Tell them how you SWORE my father was dead. How you killed him to protect me. How you were going to keep me safe!! AND HOW YOU LIED.” I shout and Susan grabs her chest and gasps “Good God” as the girls rally to her side.

“You know Dutch” I start to cry “You know what he did to me. You know what he used to….why?” I finish with a squeak.

There is a moment of silence and all Dutch can do is shake his head. Sean puts his arm around me as Karen takes my hand now not in his.

“Money” comes the quiet answer from Arthur who stands and moves into the centre of the chaos, “Money”. He still won’t look me in the eyes. Good.

I feel my legs begin to buckle and John rushes to take Karen’s place at my side, keeping me standing with help from Sean. Fresh tears stream down my face and I take a deep breath. “He paid you off?” I ask quietly. Dutch just nods.

“Oh my God.” I sniff. I can’t believe this is happening. A few hours ago, I was so happy. I felt like things were getting back on track. “How could you?” Susan hisses towards Dutch and Arthur finally braves a look up at me. I can see how ashamed he is but I can’t find the ability to care.

“I think” Hosea says, “I think we need to sleep. And, in the morning, we will fix this.” He says to me. Almost as if no one else is around. “We WILL fix this” he repeats.

I shake my head and it looks like his heart breaks just a little more.

“The only way to fix this is to slaughter Wayne Gibbs where he stands” I seethe looking Dutch straight in the eyes.

The camp is silent for what feels like hours, but can only really be seconds. Then a voice from behind me startles us all.

“Ho, hold on. Your pa is Wayne Gibbs?” Micah asks and switches his gaze from me to Dutch in disbelief.

“Why?” is all I can find the strength to say, “Know him do ya?” I scoff. I think I’ve reached the point of delirious sadness. The whole situation is becoming more morbidly comical by the second. Hosea goes to stop Micah from continuing but I hold up my hand to him and move out of John and Sean’s arms to face him. “I want to know Micah. Please don’t lie to me as well” I whisper.

Micah looks conflicted for a moment and I can see him glance at Dutch.

“I will find out Micah.” I say sternly and he looks at the ground nodding. “I didn’t know he was ya pa by the way. Didn’t know that.” he begins and I nod, “Wayne…I ran with his group for a little while….”.

Micah pauses but I just know there’s more to it. So I simply ask, “And?”.

He clears his throat and rubs his eyes, hiding under the brim of his big hat.

When Dutch answers for him, I keep looking at Micah.

“Wayne Gibbs was Micah’s informant about the Blackwater job”

And with that, the camp erupts into a loud explosion of disbelief. I even hear Arthur shout something like “What the hell Dutch”. I guess Dutch doesn’t tell him everything after all.

I shake my head at Micah and lean in close, “I guess your brother was right to keep those kids from you” I hiss. I know it’ll hurt. I want it to hurt. I want everyone to hurt as much as I do right now. I see the flash of pain in his eyes for only a moment before he leans in just as close, gestures to me and whispers back, “Good job we didn’t fuck. I ain’t wanna be anywhere near this mess”.

For a moment I consider hitting him but I know that’s what he wants. He wants a rise out of me, just like I did from him. I wanted to give some pain and so did he in return. After a second I snort and turn away. It’s then I hear him muttering swear words and storm off into the woods.

Everyone’s yelling is interrupted by a very quiet little voice.

“Mama?” Jack asks while walking into our mess, rubbing his little eyes, “Mama what’s wrong?”.

Abigail glances at me and despite how wretched I feel, my eyes well and I give her the most apologetic look I can. She smiles and mouths “you’ll be okay” at me before gathering up Jack and hushing him on the way back to their tent.

“Now” Hosea begins quietly, “we have a lot to deal with tomorrow. But nothin’s changing tonight. So please, everyone, lets go to bed and sleep….if we can.”

Almost everyone nods and disperses from the group with tired glances at me and Dutch. John touches my shoulder and says quietly, “Wanna have a sleep over?” while giving me a small, sad smile. I nod and smile back. As we make our way over to his tent, I lock eyes with Arthur who looks fit to burst into tears. All I can do is look away and try not to cry anymore. I don’t see where he and Dutch go, or if they even go anywhere at all. Right now I couldn’t care less.

John grabs my cot from my tent and sets it up next to his. As I settle onto the inside one, I see Sean and Karen set up bedrolls just outside. “Just in case you need us” Sean whispers before settling down. I sniff back the returning tears and John lies next to me.

“What a fuckin’ mess” he whispers and I can’t help but laugh. “Well, at least you aren’t the biggest fuck up anymore” I whisper back and the two of us laugh quietly as I let the tears fall.

“Abby was right though Em. You will be okay” he says before letting me cuddle into his side like I did as a child. Both with him and Arthur. Arthur. I shake my head. As I gaze out of the tent, hearing everyone close to me begin to gently snore, I see the outline of someone make their way over to my tent.

I squint really hard and can just make out the outline of Micah’s big hat and that he’s swaying, clearly drunk or on the way to it. He looks into my tent and upon seeing it empty hangs his head and knocks his hat off. I suddenly feel an awful pang of guilt for what I said to him and a horrible sick feeling about what he said back.

I cuddle back into John, because I definitely can’t deal with those feelings tonight.

As I start to drift off into an emotionally exhausted slumber, I hear Sean mutter something about his da in his sleep and an “oof!” where Karen has elbowed him to shut up. And despite my overwhelming heartache from tonight’s events, I can’t help but feel like Abby is right as well.

As long as I have these people, my people, I will be okay.

The rest I’ll deal with tomorrow.

Chapter Text

I wake up and John’s already gone. Probably on guard duty. I lie for a minute just staring up at the ceiling of the tent, damp with condensation. It’s muggy today and I already feel clammy and gross. What a wonderful day this will be.

I sit up and notice that the flaps of the tent have been closed and I hear hushed voices on the other side. Obviously, Sean. He isn’t subtle.

I slowly get up, not wanting to make a noise and stand next to the flaps. I’m struggling to hear anything so edge closer….and closer…..when all of a sudden the canvas is pulled back and I’m face to face with said Irishman.

“Fookin’ hell!!” Sean shouts as I scream and jump back, clutching my chest. Sean falls to the floor laughing in a very dramatic fashion, “You tryin’ ta kill me woman?!”.

“Me!? You’re the one lurking outside my tent!” I laugh while finding my footing, “Oh get up you idiot.”

I pull Sean up and he throws his arm around me as I survey the camp. It’s very light on the ground and I feel like that’s because of me.

“So, how’ya feelin’? Stupid question?” Sean asks.

I sigh and lean against his shoulder, “Yeah, stupid question….where is everyone?”

Sean leads me to the camp table and gently pushes me to sit down. He disappears for a moment and returns with some coffee before sitting next to me.

“By everyone I guess ya mean Dutch, Arthur and lovely Hosea?” he asks and I nod, “Well, I think they’re down by the water with John. He came out very…..very…..early this mornin’ and demanded to know, and I quote, ‘what the absolute fook’ is goin’ on.”

I only have energy to nod and take a gulp of lukewarm coffee. I rub my eyes and instantly regret it, they’re so sore.

“Emmeline” I hear and see Susan coming towards me from the beach area.

“Aaand I guess Grimshaw was also there” Sean adds quickly.

Susan approaches and sits elegantly down next to me. She’s calm but I can sense her fury.

“Emmeline my darling, how are you feeling?” she demands and even though her words are nice, she’s always struggled with tone. If I hadn’t known her most of my life, I’d be terrified! But I know she means well.

“Not. Great.” I say quietly and she scoffs.

“Of course not. Awful business, just awful. Believe me I’ve given Dutch an earful. Unacceptable. Knowing that pig’s still out there getting his muddy trotters all over the country. Disgusting…..” Susan trails off and I can just see something in her eyes. Something she isn’t saying.

“Susan. What is it?” I say through gritted teeth. She sighs and her voice softens as she takes my hand.

“I will fight to the death for you my girl. The death. And I am, truly, disgusted. But…”

“But!?” I interrupt.

“But. If this gang is going to survive….we need to stand united. I know you girl better than I know anyone and I can see it in your eyes. You want to run. But I won’t allow it.”

I take a breath and really look at her. I’ve never seen Susan cry. Not even when Bessie died. But now her eyes are glassy and she repeats firmly “I. Won’t. Allow. It.”

Susan squeezes my hand and continues. Quieter but just as strongly, “Focus on those who haven’t wronged you. Me, the girls, John….”

“Me!” Sean chimes in happily, making me laugh. Susan rolls her eyes, “Yes, yes, you Mr MacGuire! Believe me, no one can forget you!”

Sean winks at her and she gives him a small smile before hardening up once again.

“They’re by the water. Do you need me to come with you?” she asks.

“No. I’ll be okay. I have Hosea I suppose….” I start saying and jump when John appears behind me.

“And me. I’ve come ta get ya.”  he says while holding out his hand.

Susan squeezes my hand again and leaves the table. I can already hear her shouting at Tilly.

I take John’s hand and stand up, straightening myself out.

“If you need me lady, you know where I’ll be” Sean says.

“Yeah, asleep by the fire” John laughs while he pulls me away towards the beachy part of the campsite.

“Don’t leave me John, okay?” I find myself needing to say to him and he lets go of my hand to put his arm around my shoulders. “Never again Em. Never again.” He whispers.

As we approach the beach, I can see Hosea stood with Dutch and Arthur. Arthur. I feel my heart break a little bit more.

“Emmy. John” Hosea greets and I find myself shrinking into John despite my desperate attempt to appear stronger than I feel, “Should we go sit down?”

“I’m fine standing Hosea” I say crossing my arms. I feel like I need to separate myself from everyone but John. I know if pushed, Hosea will always be with Dutch. Well, what’s best for the gang, I guess. And Arthur. Well, Arthur made his choice a long time ago it seems. Speaking of Arthur, he’s stood with his hands on his hips looking at the ground. His hat shielding his eyes.

“Of course” Hosea smiles sweetly at me, “Now, for this….meeting….to work, everyone needs to say their piece but also, listen. Agreed?”

Everyone nods and Arthur chances a glance at me. I can see the pain he’s feeling. Arthur always held everything in his eyes. He looks exhausted.

“I think Dutch should go first” John chimes in and gets a furious glare from said man.

“Don’t look at him like that” I snap, “Speak.”

I see Dutch take a deep breath, steadying himself. I’ve never spoken to Dutch with such disrespect before and I can tell he hates it. He clears his throat and begins, daring to look me in the eye. He’s unbelievable.

“Emmy” he begins and I can’t help but scoff at him using my nickname. John squeezes my shoulder as a warning. I know he’s on my side but he also wants me to learn the truth, so I need to bite my tongue.

“Emmy” Dutch starts again, “When you came to us….I didn’t….we, didn’t know what kind of a man your pa was. And your mama. We didn’t know.”

“But then you learnt” I interrupt and he nods. Hosea pries my arm from my own hold and takes my hand in his and nods for Dutch to continue.

“Yes. We learnt. We learnt.” He sighs, “That day when we went out with Wayne. We intended to kill him. We had the gun at his head.”

“I had the gun at his head” Arthur croaks and I honestly can’t help the bitter laugh that leaves my mouth.

“He speaks. Hallelujah.” I bite. And Arthur looks like he wants to fall to his knees. I hate myself for wanting to comfort him.

“Yes. Arthur had a gun to his head. And I asked Wayne if he had any words we could give to his daughter…..” and again, I can’t hold myself back.

“The daughter he beat. And abused. The daughter he broke. Over and over again. That daughter?” I ask.

Hosea squeezes my hand and edges closer, sighing my name. “No Hosea, I want us all to be on the same page here. I want us to acknowledge, for once, out loud, what he did.” Tears begin to fall from my eyes but I refuse to recognise them. My body may be weeping but I will not indulge it.

I think I see tears in Dutch’s eyes as he continues, “Yes. Emmy. That daughter….” He nods, “I asked him for any last words and he offered me a lead instead. About a big job. One that would set us up for months. One that would help us take care of you….if we let him live.”

I let go of Hosea’s hand and push myself away from John, rubbing at my eyes.

“I can’t believe this is happening” I mutter and stop to look out at the water as Dutch goes on.

“Arthur wanted to shoot him but, I overruled him. After we let Wayne go, with threat of death if he was ever seen again, I promised Arthur that after the job was done he could track him down if he so chose to.”

I turn back just as Arthur begins to speak. He clears his throat and looks at me. His eyes are so red.

“And I did Emmy. I….I tried. I looked for months but came up short.” Arthur sniffs and looks back at the ground, “I’m sorry. I’m. I failed you twice. I’m sorry”.

“Damn Arthur” John sighs while shaking his head.

I know how under Dutch’s thumb Arthur is, we all do. But, I can’t focus on Arthur right now. One liar at a time.

“So, why didn’t anyone put a bullet in his head in Valentine. Tell me that” I ask, getting us back on track. Once I have everything, then I can start to make sense of it all.

“I was about to. I was. Had my gun in hand…..but…..Emmy we’re in a tight spot….” Dutch starts and I scream, “BECAUSE OF ANOTHER TIP. FROM HIM”.

“Yes. Yes I know. But we need money Emmy. Real money. And, well, Wayne asked to meet us one last time. He said he had a genuine lead he was gonna share with another gang as a peace offering but that he’d give it ta us.” And as he speaks, Dutch gets almost….excited?

“Hosea, what the hell?!” John shouts and Hosea reaches out to grip his shoulder, “Now son, you need to hear Dutch out. You all do. For better or worse we’re in this mess now. We need to get out of it. I am not happy about this. I….frankly I hate myself for it. But we have a responsibility to the rest of the camp. Now, this lead seems legit. I checked it over myself in that cabin.”

And there it is. My dear Hosea. What is it about Dutch that makes all the men ignore their better instincts? Now can I run Susan?

Dutch now addresses a horrified John and an equally horrified Arthur while sparing me the odd glance, “Now, he’s holding the last piece of the puzzle close to his chest until the day of. He wants to know we won’t off him…..” he turns to me “he knows he’s on borrowed time. But when we get that information…” Dutch continues but is cut off when Micah appears on the beach.

He walks towards us from camp, not really looking anyone in the eye. He’s absolutely caked in blood. His moustache is almost entirely red and his clothes (minus his hat which isn’t anywhere to be seen) are stained with bits of….something…..stuck to them.

“Sorry boss” he starts, “but that info won’t be coming anytime soon”.

When Micah reaches us, he doesn’t stop and heads straight for the water. He crouches down and begins to slosh water onto himself.

“Son?” Dutch enquires quietly but he doesn’t answer. He continues to wash his face until I step into the water.

“Micah” I say softly. I know we’ve fallen out but if he’s hurt, I want to know. At the sound of my voice, Micah stops scrubbing and takes a moment before standing to face me. He can obviously see the concern on my face because he gives me a very slight, reassuring smile.

“I’m alright sweetheart” he says very quietly.

“Micah” Dutch tries, this time a lot firmer, “What in God’s name did you do!?”

Everyone’s so quiet.

“Micah” I whisper, drawing his attention back.

“If I’d known….I’d of done it sooner” he says to me. Just to me. It’s like I’m the only one standing here and it’s…..I don’t know what it is. But it isn’t bad.

I can hear Dutch rearing up to shout or complain or whatever Dutch does when someone shits on his cereal and for the first time I couldn’t care less. When I speak, it quietens again.

“Did you make it hurt?” I ask, looking him right in the eye. I’ll know if he’s lying.

Micah smirks and approaches me slowly until we’re face to face.

“Oh, I made it hurt” he says softly to me. And as sick as it may be, I feel giddy. Kind of, excited.

I throw my arms around Micah’s neck and hold on for dear life. I whisper my thank you to him as he pats my back gently, obviously a bit uncomfortable with my form of appreciation. We can work on that.

As I pull back, I can hear everyone behind me start to argue and I just don’t want to be here anymore. I can hear Dutch try to explain his grand plan to John and Arthur who are going between arguing with him and each other. Hosea is trying to calm everyone down but it’s a losing game and if I’m not mistaken, I believe Susan, Uncle and maybe Bill having appeared to ask what’s happening and why Micah and I are covered in blood.

Screw this.

“Let’s get you cleaned up” I smile, taking Micah’s hand. He nods but loses his smirk before the rest of the group can see. Not that their paying any attention to us now. Too busy shouting.

Micah lets me lead him down the beach in the direction of his little, private campsite.

I can still hear everyone fighting but the sound of my own voice is drowning it out.

And my own voice is telling me, thank God for Micah Bell.