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Following the tracks

Chapter Text

 

 

Don't you know that we're outlaws?
Giving the finger to death itself
We got no one to hide from
We got no one to toast our health
Rules were meant to be pushed and pulled
We were meant to be sparks of light
Running now with the raging bulls
Baby we can be magic tonight

***

John was never a morning person in the times he felt safe. He liked to sleep till late morning, until it was becoming impossible to sleep any longer because of all the noises that filled camp every day when the whole gang was waking up. He never wakes up last – usually Uncle and Swanson are the last one to get up but that’s because they always drink till they pass out – but he definitely isn’t first to rise when the morning coffee isn’t ready yet. Which is only made after the first person to get up makes it.

For the last few weeks, John slept so much because of the healing wounds, he constantly felt well rested and was on his feet earlier and earlier with each passing day.

The sun wasn’t even up yet, it was still dark and only dying bonfires were giving some light when John step out from his tent and stretched. It was kind of nice to wake up so early, feel the raw air of the late night in his lungs and occasionally hear loud snoring coming from Uncle, or howling of coyotes instead of typical commotion heard during day. This particular part of the day and waking up before everyone else wasn’t that bad after all.

He could get back to sleep. Nobody was expecting him to be awake at this hour but he was tired of just laying around. For weeks he was bound to the bed, he had enough of it. At first it wasn’t even that pleasant. His whole body was in pain and if not, he felt so cold he almost bit his tongue off a few times. Not to mention he reeked of blood, sweat and medications he was given to stop the infection. Later, when only stitches on his face bothered him sometimes, he was a little happy to be in bed, using the forced rest to make everyone care and do everything for him because he’s injured and shouldn’t move too much.

The whole gang had had enough after first day. Even Arthur angrily threw a can of beans at him when John asked him for food. He almost ended with another scar but on the left cheek this time.

With time, lying in bed became tiresome. Being depended on other started to be annoying, especially on Abigail’s part. She was so overprotective she ordered him to not leave the bed even when he was able to walk again. In the end, she let him wander around the camp a little but that’s it. No making errands for Dutch, no robbing or even just exploring the new territory.

John couldn’t stand it any longer. Sometimes, when he was sitting on the edge of a cliff and looking at all those unknown landscapes in the distance, his heart was being pulled towards them, to the saddle and the plains in front of him. To those woods, hills, anywhere but there.

It’s been years since he stayed in the camp for so long. It happened often when he was young and too inexperienced to go robbing with Dutch, Hosea and Arthur, so he stayed with the woman, bored out of his mind. The only fun around the camp back then was chasing the chickens, climbing trees, learning how to ride a horse or shooting lessons.

He was too old to chase chickens, same with climbing trees. He could ride and shoot, damn well at that, so no learning anything new. Besides, under Abigail’s watchful eyes he wouldn’t even be able to leave the camp to shoot somewhere for practice. He wasn’t ready according to her. He was beginning to worry he’ll never be ready.

With a sigh, John searched his pockets and took out a match and the pack of cigarettes before lightning one. Everyone was still asleep, even Pearson and Susan who usually woke up first to take care of the camp and start making coffee, so the strong scent of it can get everyone else out of bed. It looked like it was his time to do it. Maybe for the best. The first brew is always the most delicious.

“Look who woke up early.”

John almost jumped out of his boots when he heard that voice behind him and not long after, Arthur came out of darkness.

“Jesus, Arthur,” John whispered and laid a hand over his fast beating heart. “You scared me.”

Arthur chuckled quietly and came closer, taking John’s cigarette right from his mouth and not giving it back after taking a drag of it. John huffed and took another one for himself.

“What are you doing up so early?” Arthur asked. There was no tiredness in his voice, he was probably awake for some time now.

“I’m sick of sleeping and laying down” John answered and yawned despite not feeling sleepy, at the last moment catching the cigarette before it could fall to the ground.

“And I thought you liked being lazy.”

“Even being lazy can become boring. Why are you not asleep? Too early even for you.”

Arthur had weird pattern of waking up. One day he could be on his feet before anyone else, and the other he could still be asleep at noon, even when day before he went to bed early. But usually he woke up before John and they welcomed each other while drinking coffee.

“Have some things to do, I want to deal with them as fast as possible,” he explained, smoking slowly despite apparently being in a rush. John didn’t point this out to Arthur since he could spend some time with him that way. 

Up in the mountains, Arthur often sat beside his bed when John was struggling with fever. After arriving in Horseshoe, the pleasant company ended. Arthur always had something else to do for Dutch. Almost every day he ride off somewhere and John could only look with jealousy.

“So what are you doing?” John asked curiously. “Robbery?”

„No, first I’m going to pick up a debt for Strauss,” Arthur answered, slightly mumbling because of a cigarette in his mouth. “And then, maybe hunting. Hosea gave me the map of some rare animal.”

“A debt?” For now, he ignored the hunting. “I thought you picked up all of them already.”

“There is another one, Downes. Live somewhere near, on the ranch. I’ll pay him a visit on my way to the north. There is a white bison in the mountains, I want to catch it.”

Hunting sounded far more interesting than picking up debts from some poor bastard fooled by Strauss with easy money. He would like to see with his own eyes the bison as white a snow. So far he had only seen regular ones. If this animal even exist. If not, that trip still would be better than sitting on his ass for another few days.

“How about we skip the debt for now and go hunting first?” John suggested, excitedly. He really liked the idea of a hunt and he hoped he won’t be rejected.

Arthur looked at him thoughtfully, focusing on the wounds on his cheek and nose. John’s face was red because of them and the stitches were itching like crazy but that was a good sign, it meant they were healing properly. Soon Swanson will get rid of them and the wounds will scar.

“You sure you’re ready for such a long journey?” Arthur asked with worry. .

“This boredom is killing me,” John complained. “If I stay here any longer, I swear I’ll eat my tent and then throw myself of the cliff.”

He wasn’t kidding, he was desperate. This place was getting on his nerves, he was tired of boring camp life, listening to the same voices over and over. He needed a change of place, even as drastic as coming back up in the mountains that almost killed him not so long ago. Anything would be better that sitting on his ass.

“Now that’s something I would like to see,” Arthur laughed and took another drag of his cigarette before slowly blowing out the smoke. “All right. You can go with me.”

John almost hugged him right there but doing it in the middle of the camp would be risky, even when the gang was asleep. He wasn’t that brave.

“Finally” he exclaimed happily and holding the cigarette with his teeth, he turned back toward his tent. “I’ll get ready.”

“I’ll ask if Dutch is okay with this, then.”

“I’m sure he is.”

John was sure just for a moment. Dutch wasn’t as overprotective as Abigail but still he was very clear on the subject of John returning to work. He didn’t want him to rush the healing and make anything worse in the process.

But John was ready, he could feel it in his bones. The strength returned to him, he was dying to get out of here and what’s most important, he needed to get back in shape if he’s supposed to help the gang again. What’s better way to do it that than hunting? At least no one will shoot back at him.

Some of the gang members were starting to wake up when John was packing some warm clothes, guns and ammunition. He could hear Pearson, pots clanging and water being poured. Coffee. Too bad he doesn’t have time for it. If Abigail see him leaving, she will whine for half a day till Arthur ride off without him.

Susan was awake as well, she was humming behind his back. When he looked there, he could see her silhouette against the soft light coming from the rising sun. She was doing her hair and putting makeup before everybody get up.

Ms. Adler was on her feet, too, adding wood to the fire. On any other day, Arthur would be only waking up right now while John would still sleep for another hour or so. Not today. Today Arthur was up since God knows when and he just woke up Dutch.

“I hope you have a good reason to wake me up this early, Arthur.” Dutch was only sticking out his head from the tent.

John stopped packing for a moment and listened.

“I just wanted to tell you me and Marston are leaving. We won’t be back for a few days,” Arthur explained.. “We’re going hunting.”

“Are you sure he’s not too weak for that?”

He wanted to laugh at that. He know better than anyone what he’s capable of and how much he can push himself. The gang should stop treating him like some fragile, delicate maiden whose the biggest task in life was lifting a teacup to her lips.

“He need to move his ass out of the camp eventually or he’ll start looking like Pearson,” Arthur warned. “Let the boy catch some fresh air, we let him lazy around long enough. He’s fine.”

„If you say so. I trust your judgment, Arthur.” Yes! Permission granted, he can go back to packing. “Just keep an eye on him.”

“I always do.”

John was standing with his back to Arthur but even without looking, he could sense the other man’s eyes ogling his body. John felt hot for a moment despite the air still being cold after the night.

He quickly finished packing and went toward the horses with all of his stuff. Arthur was already waiting for him there and when he saw John, he smirked.

“You’re redder on the face than usual, Marston,” he noticed amused.

“Shut up,” John snapped back and started getting his things on a horse, starting with a saddle.

From time to time, he looked toward where Abigail was sleeping but luckily she didn’t wake up yet. Just like the others. It was still early but it was only a matter of time before the whole camp get up to caught John in an act.

“Ready?” Arthur asked, watching him this whole time.

“Ready,” John said, climbing on his horse. He missed the saddle, it was good to sit in it again. At this moment, it was more comfortable than the comfiest bed from some royal palace. “Now quick, before Abigail wakes up.”

“She’ll unleash hell here when she finds out you’re gone,” Arthur joked, making his horse into going into gallop practically from the start. John followed him shortly and soon they passed Bill keeping a watch and wishing them good ride.

They slowed down a little when they reached the main road. Slowly, the night was turning into day, nature began to wake up back to life and the air smelled of spring. John took a deep breath, finally enjoying some other scents than that of alcohol and smoke from the fire.

“Freedom, at last.” Arthur snorted. “Don’t laugh, you would lose your mind, too.”

“I wouldn’t let someone boss me around so much,” Arthur pointed out, leading them in the direction only know to him. John knew nothing about this place, so he had to rely on his lover in terms of choosing the right road.

“I know how Susan treats you every time you’re hurt,” John bit back. “You’re not so tough. And Abigail can be pain in the ass.”

“Not like Susan,” Arthur insisted but didn’t mock John any longer.

They rode in silence, with John watching the landscapes in awe. Until now he could only watch them from afar. On their left, there was a big plain, just asking to gallop through it. Maybe another time, he’s not going to let such an opportunity to pass.

John looked at the sky becoming brighter and brighter, watching the songbird flying over his head, singing and waking up every other animal that was around. There was no better time to travel, he could ride like this for eternity and forget about any civilization. He couldn’t believe he had all of this right under his nose this whole time. Thank god he woke up and gpt up so early today instead of just laying in bed like usual. If not, he would’ve missed Arthur and lost the opportunity for a hunting trip with him.

It barely started but he wished for it to never end. He wanted to see even more, other places and the animals that lives there. John wanted to experience life at its fullest again after it slowed down for a few weeks. He could finally do what he loved so much, spend a few days without listening to Uncle’s drunken wisdom, Swanson’s wailing, Micah’s annoying voice or pretentious quotes from Dutch’s books. But what he appreciated the most, was absence of Abigail and her constant worry. Arthur would never fuss over him so much, and John was sure he won’t start now. He will finally stop feeling like a helpless maiden and start like a man.

They traveled near the railroad, soon leaving it behind and instead getting closer to the water. John could hear screeching of the seagulls sitting on the nearby rocks. Despite seeing them many times before, he still watched them while passing by. Finally some other birds than sparrows and owls. And water! No matter how much he was scared of it, he liked to look at it. From afar, of course.

Some other traveler passed by them after a while. They both greeted him before once again they were alone on the trail. Snorts of their horses and the clatter of their hooves was like a music to John. He spend half of his life in the saddle, it was like a second home but after a long break, he needed to get used to it again. When they stop to set up a camp for the night, his thighs will surely be in pain, hands will be in scratches from holding the reins and his whole body will be covered in horse’s scent, but that was what he missed during his recovery. Even the slight pain.

It didn’t take long to get used to a saddle again. You can’t forget how to ride a horse, especially after so many years and when you have a familiar mount under yourself. He was glad that up in the mountains he was riding a horse he flew Blackwater on instead of Old Boy. Otherwise he would has to get used to another horse like Arthur, who for a few weeks now was riding on some wild mare he found in the Grizzlies.  

The mare was beautiful. Strong, born for a long travels and undoubtedly fast. What was surprising was how calm she was, tough he could see a wild glint in her eyes. The mare was surely born in the wild and Arthur was probably the first man who ever rode her and yet she acted like he raised her since she was a filly. Arthur was always good with horses.

„How’s the new horse doing?” John asked to start some conversation. He had so many thing he wanted to talk about it should be enough for a whole ride in both way.

“She’s spectacular.” John smiled after hearing admiration in Arthur’s voice. “I’ve never have such a fast horse. When she gallops, you feel like flying.”

“Sounds amazing.” He has to ride such a fine horse one day. “You miss Boadicea?”

“I’ll always miss her,” Arthur admitted and patted the mare’s neck. “But Snowstorm is special in her own way. Aren’t you, girl?”

Arthur was always acting tough and angry but in some situation, he could be very soft. Like when he took care of animals, especially his horse. Sometimes John liked to just sit and watch as his lover brushed or feed his horse. The only other time when he could watch Arthur being this gentle or sweet was when they were together, alone.

“It’s a great horse.” John looked at his stallion. It’s been a few years since he got Old Boy, loyal as a dog and hardened by many gun fight and robberies. He wasn’t scared of bullets flying over his head and he could trample the enemy to death if needed. “You have to let me ride her one day.”

“So you can ride her to death? Over my dead body,” Arthur refused immediately but John knew that with the right amount of charm he can convince his lover to share his horse. Maybe even soon. They’ll be in the wild alone, after all.

“I’ll ride her one day,” John sweared.

“Watch out, Old Boy may become jealous and throw you off,” Arthur joked. “I’m surprised he even remember you. Your ass wasn’t in the saddle for a long time.”

“I visited him whenever I could.” Just like Arthur before, John patted his horse on the neck. “Right, boy? You would never throw me off. Maybe you’re not as beautiful and fast as Snowstorm but beauty isn’t everything. Remember, woman have to look good, man are for thinking.”

“Someone screwed up prioritizing those features in you then.”

“You call me beautiful?” he asked dumbfounded. He will never get used to that. Usually no one called him beautiful and there’ll be even bigger reason not to now. 

“Sure,” his lover confirmed. “I mean, you hair always looks like someone used them to clean the floor, your face is all scratched now and you kind of look like lobster with this red skin, but sure, you’re beautiful to someone.”

“Someone like you?”

To his satisfaction, Arthur blushed and looked away, only peeking at John with the corner of his eye.

“Shut up.” Arthur speed up a little. John laughed and caught up quickly.

“Who is looking like a lobster now?” he asked teasingly when Arthur was trying to run away again. Before he was too far ahead, John noticed a smile on his face.

They continued their travel, talking about Arthur’s previous trips around here. He knew the way after he traveled there to get Micah out of prison. Arthur said he also met some photographer in the are who – according to Arthur – was very likeable but very clumsy. John wanted to meet him.

The road led up now, with the river to their left. The sun reflected on the surfaces, causing the water to look like a river of gold, completely ignored by a prospector standing heels deep in the water, looking like he’s trying to find a fortune in the mud while all the gold flows around him.

At the other side of the river there was a forest. John was surrounded by trees in their camp but those seemed different somehow, better and prettier. He couldn’t stop looking.

„Stop staring like you’re looking at the world for the first time,” Arthur told him after a while of just admiring the nature.

“I kind of am,” John admitted, still looking around with fascination. “God, this place is beautiful.”

“Wait till you see the mountains when there is now storm or you don’t fight for your life.”

John couldn’t wait. With a smile, he looked at Arthur and their eyes immediately met. John missed the nature, but he missed Arthur even more. They’ve seen each other almost every day but rarely had time to talk more than just for w few minutes. Now they have days to enjoy themselves. 

Arthur must have been thinking the same thing because he smiled and all of sudden, the whole word didn’t matter anymore for John. It was always like that whenever his lover gave him that one special smile just for him. He was glad to be sitting on a horse, because this smile made him weak in the knees.

He was affecting Arthur like that, too. Many times before he left his lover out of breath or with lack of words just with his looks. John was proud of those moments, not many people could say they achieved that. Probably only two – him and… another person he didn’t want to think about right now. He was in a good mood, no reason to ruin it.

They were lucky not to get into any trouble during the ride, which sometimes happened. Two riders usually scare away any common bandits but not small gangs or better organized groups. This was o’driscolls territory but none of those bastard showed up so Arthur and John safely arrived at the Riggs Station to rest their horses a little.

The sun was up high already, making everything pleasantly warm. John and Arthur sat on a bench in front of the tracks, sharing dried meat that Arthur took out of his satchel and started cutting with his knife, while their horses were grazing nearby. Besides them, at the station was only a postman.

“How long will it take us to get up the mountains?” John asked, watching two squirrels fighting over some food.

“We should arrive in Strawberry around evening,” Arthur answered, picking up the waterskin he previously took from his saddle. He took a sip and then shared the water with John. “Before we go up we should sleep. I don’t want to climb at night, too slippery. Horses might break their legs.”

John nodded and looked to his right where he could see some smoke getting closer towards them. Train.

“Then what?” he kept asking. “Do we have some shelter in the mountains or do we have to sleep on the snow?”

He was ready for that but wasn’t happy about it. After the last time spend in the mountains, he would rather sleep somewhere warm, he’d had enough of lying in the cold. Sometimes he could still feel like all of his fingers might fall off at any moment. He was surprised when it didn’t happened back then.

“We could get back to Colter but the last time I was in Grizzlies I stayed at the small hut hidden in the trees. It’s very clean, I think it belongs to some trapper. There is even a fireplace.”

“You convinced me with that fireplace,” John admitted with a smile.

“There was a fireplace in Colter, too,” Arthur reminded him.

John didn’t remember that at all. He barely remembered anything, for most days he was unconscious or in a state right between sleep and consciousness, muttering to himself because of the fever or just moaning from pain of his face. John was sure he was going to die then, one moment he felt cold, the other it was too hot and medicine seemed no to work. He got better right before gang moved, but not enough to look that much around the place he was staying in. He was still tired and often just slept. If he did woke up, he was to focused on watching Arthur who was sitting by the bed and drawing in his journal.

There were three things he remembered the most out of this stay in the mountains – horrible cold, wolves howling and Arthur carrying him to the horses after saving him with Javier.

“I don’t want to get back there,” he admitted and took a sip of water.

Arthur nodded with understanding. John was glad for that, he didn’t want to explain he’s a little scared of the place that almost become his grave, just like it became for Davey and Jenny.

The dried meat was quickly finished so they were just sitting now and gaining energy before the rest of the trip. John was rubbing his tights, feeling the ache in them after the ride. It wasn’t that bad but it wasn’t easy to ignore either. He started to suspect he won’t be able to move very much when they stop near Strawberry. Good thing he doesn’t travel alone.

“Need a hand?”

Shocked, John turned to Arthur who wasn’t even looking him in the eyes, choosing instead to stare at his legs.

“Maybe later,” he murmured, feeling his face heat up.

Suddenly, Arthur moved closer, so close their hips were touching. John looked around anxiously, even though they didn’t look that suspicious sitting so close to each other. He was being paranoid, but he would rather be cautious than later fight for his life.

When he was sure no one was getting closer to them, be that from the road or the station, John focused on Arthur whose eyes were full of hunger. John was so kept by them he didn’t even noticed a hand that sneakily appeared on his tight.

John held his breath, the heat in his abdomen felt almost like a punch.

“Arthur?”

“Mmm?” Arthur muttered back, squeezing John’s tight before he started to move his palm up and down, loosening the aching muscles.

Without any control, John spread his legs wider, giving his lover more space. Arthur changed his position, almost facing John, not even for a moment taking the hand of his tight or breaking the eye contact. John just stared back into almost black eyes of the older man, not being able to stop as well.

He was breathing faster with each passing seconds, feeling relaxed despite being in the open like that. The pain in his tights disappeared as if it was never there in the first place. Arthur became more bold, sliding his hand higher with every move until he slightly brushed John’s groin with his fingers. John froze for a moment and shivered, parting his lips and slowly releasing breath he wasn’t even aware he was holding.

Arthur abandoned looking into John’s eyes to look at his mouth instead. John did the same and they both leaned towards each other at the same time. The fingers on John’s tight squeezed harder, while Arthur’s other hand, who knows when, found its way to John’s hair and gripped him there, not letting him escape in case he wanted to.

He didn’t.

With lips parted and faces so close they were basically breathing the same air, John and Arthur could already taste each other on their tongues. Only a little bit more, just a couple of inches…

The train whistled so close to them they nearly gone deaf for a moment. Immediately, they pulled back from the almost kiss but other than their heads, they didn’t move a muscle and were still sitting close. They looked at each other with disappointment before bursting out laughing.

“How could you not hear a god damn train?” John asked, still chuckling.

“How could YOU not hear it?” Arthur responded and snorted, not being able to stop himself. “We’ll make up for it later in the evening, John.”

“If animals won’t bother us,” he noticed with amusement in his voice. “Do you remember that bear that sneaked up on us in Montana?”

“How could I forget? You ran off and left me with this monster.”

“I panicked, all right?” John explained himself, even though Arthur didn’t point that out with spite, more like with nostalgia. “I couldn’t find my gun.”

“Fortunately I found mine or you would have to spend the whole night on top of the tree and freeze off your balls,” Arthur laughed. “You didn’t even put on stupid pants.”

“You neither!” John pointed out. He was terrified back then, now he only laughed about the whole situation. “You looked good shooting the bear naked. You saved me.”

“I saved myself,” Arthur reminded him with fake annoyance. “You weren’t my top priority then.”

“Keep saying yourself that,” John responded playfully.

Arthur squinted his eyes and looked at John dangerously but he couldn’t keep this mean face for long and laughed again, shaking his head.

“Good times.” Arthur put his hand on the back of the bench behind John and brushed his arm.

“Not for me, I had splinters everywhere.” He still felt them just thinking about them.

“I wasn’t complaining. Had a nice view while taking them out.” Arthur smirked.

“No doubt,” John responded with a smile and looked towards the train that just stopped. “I should’ve just hide behind you.”

“You were never the smartest of the bunch.”

John huffed and hit Arthur in the ribs with his elbow. The older man winded but before he could fight back, people started getting off the train, forcing them to act appropriate.

Only three people left the train, some wealthy couple and a man who looked like their guard. John and Arthur tipped their hats as a greeting and watched as fourth person, probably a servant, started taking out the luggage and putting it one by one on the platform under the watchful eye of train guard.

The couple had a lot of bags and looked really rich. It was surprising they came this far. People of this status usually goes to bigger city than humble Strawberry.

“Isn’t it beautiful here?” the husband asked. He sounded British. “Real, wild nature of America!”

“It’s very… filthy,” the woman complained after looking around, before her eyes stopped at Arthur and John. She wrinkled her nose in disgust, which became even bigger when they spat at the same time to disgust her even more. She quickly stepped closer to her husband. “When will the stagecoach be here? I want to finally rest in a clean room.”

“In a half an hour, ma’am,” the guard answered, standing like a loyal dog near the luggage. The bags seemed endless and started looking interesting.

Rich people are funny. Even their luggage has to look wealthy so everybody can know how much money they have. And what is best to steal.

“Half an hour in this wilderness?” the woman squeaked frightened. “What if the wolves attacks? Or a bear?”

“We’re on the train station, my dear, there is no bears here.” Her husband tried to calm her down. Unlike his wife, he was fascinated with the area and didn’t know where to look first. Even the two of them seemed to be interesting to the British man. “Wonderful place. Wild nature, animals and the local criminal element.”

Arthur and John snorted. Show a cowboy to town people and they’ll take him for an outlaw. If they weren’t exactly that, they would’ve feel insulted by the man’s words.

“One of them has something wrong with his face,” the wife pointed out in a whisper but not discrete enough. “Look at him.”

“The life in the wilderness is a dangerous one,” the husband explained. “Poor fellow. It must be hard living with that face.”

“Ignore them,” Arthur whispered to him.

“Can I shoot them instead?” John asked with hope. This pretentious couple was starting to annoy him.

“No.” Was the Arthur’s answer before he nudged John with the knee. “Hey. Do you see those two bags?”

John looked closer at the luggage. Between some chest and suitcases there were two simple bags that looked quite heavy, if the trouble that servant had with them was any indication. It was unlikely there was any money in those bags but they might be worth a shot.

“You want to steal them?” Arthur nodded. “All right. Just say the word.”

“Wait till the train move.”

They finally put some distance between each other to get ready for a robbery. John was excited, he missed them. This one may be simple but stealing is stealing. The energy was buzzing in him, he could barely stay still, waiting for a signal to move.

When the servant took out the last chest, the train guard gave the driver a sign to go. The train started heavily, slowly gaining speed. When the last car – the one with the luggage – started passing the platform, Arthur suddenly jumped of his sit. John did the same half a second later and they both ran towards the luggage.

The woman screamed when they rushed right past her and got to her stuff, taking one of the bags each – much lighter than they thought - before going after the train. Hearing the steps coming from behind them, Arthur jumped on the train first and pushed off it the guard that was standing in the last car. John jumped over the man and entered the train as well, catching the railing with one hand to not fall.

The train’s guard, the couple’s guard and the husband himself were trying to catch them but Arthur planned everything perfectly. The train was too fast now to catch it on foot but those people still tried, running meaninglessly on the tracks. It was kind of sad to watch.

John and Arthur whistled for their horses. Both animals quickly ran after the train, trotting alongside it.

“Welcome to America!” Arthur shouted to the man. “I hope you’ll remember this trip!”

“Thanks for the bags!” John added. “We’ll take good care of them!”

Smiling from ear to ear, they saluted to everyone, happy with how well the robbery went. Their faces dropped when both guards took out their guns.

“Shit,” Arthur cursed and laughing went inside the car with John right behind him. They were cackling like two fools who just cheated in a poker game, not like two outlaws trying not to get hit by bullets flying over their heads.

They could still hear shooting but none of the bullets reached the targets. Still laughing, they stopped at the junction between two cars. They couldn’t stay there any longer, trains never has just one guard. They whistled one more time to get their horses closer. Snowstorm ran up first, Arthur jumped on her quickly and turned towards the trees, getting as far away from the tracks as he could. John hopped on Old Boy and went after his lover, placing his loot in front of himself.

Arthur’s mere looked like a ghost galloping through the woods but it made her easier to follow. They rode through the forest until they were sure they’re safe and can check what they got.

They stopped near a small creek and get off their horses, immediately digging into bags but only pulling out some clothes.

“Is this some kind of joke?” John was holding a dress. Made from a expensive silk but still just a dress. “Who keeps clothes in a bag? I mean, what rich person does that?”

“Don’t ask me.” Arthur threw another clothes on the ground.

“What a waste of time,” John sighed angrily. It’s not that they needed money this bad but it’s always better to have more than less.

“At least it was fun,” Arthur noticed. He placed the bag on the ground and hold one of the dresses to his body. “How do I look?”

“Astonishing.” John smiled and tried the dress as well. “What about me?”

“Pretties maiden in the whole village.”

They chuckled and started searching the bags once again, still hoping to find something more than bunch of useless rags. John got lucky first.

“Aha!” he shouted with pride and took out the brooch that was pinned to one of the dresses. “Look what I’ve got.”

“Very nice.” Arthur took a closer look. “Looks like diamonds and some others gems. Sapphires maybe?”

“Must be worth a lot.” John tossed the brooch in the air, checking its weight. It was quite heavy, gems and gold must be real. “I think I’ll give it to Abigail. Maybe then she won’t whine when we return to the camp.”

“Good idea.”

John was tossing another clothes on the ground until in of the vest he found another forgotten accessory – a gold watch, engraved on the back and front with some fancy patterns. It looked nice on the inside too, the hands were pinned with a small diamond.

“It’s not that bad after all.” John tossed the watch to Arthur. “We should get back and steal more stuff. Those people are filthy rich.”

“I bet the husband has some big money on him, maybe some rings, too.” Arthur shook his head. “Should have scared them to give us everything.”

“Like I said, we can go back.” The couple should still be there. They weren’t alone but two armed man is no threat to outlaws. John could use some action and shooting.

“Nah, let’s leave them,” Arthur decided and gave back the watch to John. “They don’t need another reason to remember their trip to America.”

“Especially that woman,” John chuckled. “She almost fainted because of my face and then later, when we ran past her.”

“Meeting outlaws for the first time can be scary,” Arthur joked and continued his search.

John didn’t found anything else in his bag but he never lost hope until the last piece of clothes was on the ground.

“Hey, Marston.” John looked up and turned towards the older man, but he only saw a small, no bigger than a chess piece figurine of a howling wolf. “Are you scared?”

“Asshole.” John pushed away Arthur hand while he smiled playfully. “What it’s made of?”

“Ivory, I think. Maybe even elephant’s tusk,” Arthur answered while inspecting the wolf. “May be worth something. And I also found this.”

Arthur gave John a strange looking rock sliced in half. From the outside it looked normal but on the inside it was filled with something looking like crystals. 

“What’s that?” he wondered. He had never seen anything like this before. 

“I don’t know but I like it.” Arthur quickly took the rock back, as if John was going to steal it any moment.

Those were the last thing they found so they tossed everything useless under the tree and left toward Strawberry to get there before night. They circled around a little before they found the road again but when it happened, they quickly made up for the lost time.

“Who do you think was this couple?” John asked after some time and took out again the pocket watch he found. “They got really expensive stuff, even those dresses and yet they kept all of it in bags like some rugs.”

“Wasn’t queen Victoria, that’s for sure.” The horses were walking slowly side by side, carrying them towards destination without a rush. “But if that’s how Europe looks like, maybe instead of buying some land here we should cross the ocean.”

“I heard British food is terrible.”

He remembered that from a book about travels. Hosea used it when he was teaching John how to read.

“We could go anywhere,” Arthur suggested. “France, Spain, Germany.”

“And play some rich folks?”

“Not you, you would pass as servant.” Arthur glanced at him and grinned.

“Funny. You would make a perfect clown.”

Arthur snorted and hurried his horse. The mere slowed down again a moment later, trotting slightly before Old Boy. Smiling, John caught up to his lover and tossed him the watch.

“Why are you giving me this?”

Arthur looked at him puzzled.

“It’s a gift,” John explained. “You said you left your old one in Blackwater.”

“I can always steal a new one, you should sell this.” Arthur was probably right. Some fences would give a hundred dollars for this watch but John didn’t care how valuable it was but how much Arthur would enjoy such a fine pocket watch.

“We can sell it when we’re out of money” John said jokingly and refused to take the watch back. Arthur, clearly flustered, stared at the watch for a while before hiding it in his pocket. John smiled, pleased and feeling even greater satisfaction than when he found the watch in the first place.

“Thanks,” Arthur said after a few seconds. “But don’t expect the same from me. I’ll sell my loot.”

“That’s okay,” John assured him. “This strange stone probably isn’t worth much anyway and the wolf is just stupid.”

“You’re just scared of it,” Arthur teased again. 

“Shut up.” This time John was the one who speed up. He grinned when he heard Arthur immediately going after him. Soon enough, the were once again riding alongside, beaming at each other all the time.

This hunting was the best idea they could ever come up with.

Just like they planned, they arrived in Strawberry on the evening. They didn’t plan to stay here for the night since sleeping together would be slightly difficult. The plan was to set up the tent near town and spend the night without anyone bothering them. Strawberry was just a quick stop.

“Are you sure it’s a good idea to come here?” John asked worried when they were getting closer to the town. “The last time you’ve been there, you and Micah shoot your way out of here.”

Both of them nearly got killed that day. John wanted to strangle Micah with his bare hands when he and Arthur finally came back to camp. Because of this idiot’s stupid revolvers, John almost lost Arthur in a gun fight that could’ve been avoided, at least the second part.

“Don’t worry.” Despite his calming words, Arthur wasn’t relaxed at all. “They don’t even know who I was, my face was covered and I busted into sheriff’s office and shoot everyone before they could recognize me and put me on the poster. Staring at my face was everyone’s last concern of when the gun fight started.”

That didn’t calm John who, nervous as much as his lover, rode into Strawberry. Some of the walls still had holes left by bullets but the blood was long gone. The town was slowly coming back to life. According to Arthur’s words, Micah shoot a lot of people, mostly law man and gunslingers. Other people and tourists hid inside when it all started. Before the whole town was slaughtered, Arthur and Micah escaped, chased for a while before they lost the tail in the woods.

It turned out they worried for nothing. Nobody recognized Arthur, no one even looked at them wrong. Despite recent shoot-out, people were friendly and welcomed them whenever they passed someone. A regular day in America. One day you take part in the gun fight, the next you welcome strangers into your town and don’t even suspect them of anything.

“They looking for Micah,” John noticed when riding in front of the post office. On the wall there was a wanted poster with a familiar face and a worthy reward. There was no similar poster with Arthur’s face, the associate was mentioned but not by name or a description. “Maybe we should bring Micah here without telling Dutch anything and take the reward? Dead or alive, we don’t even have to try that hard.”

Arthur chuckled with his nice, raspy voice.

“That’s not a bad idea,” he admitted and stopped his mere in front of the hotel. John did the same and they dismounted their horses, tying up their rains near the drinker. Both animals started drinking right away. “Go to the hotel and buy a bath. I want to wash before we’ll be left without hot water in the mountains. I didn’t have a bath in a week.”

“And what are you going to do?” John asked when Arthur went completely different way.

“I need to buy something in the store,” the older man answered without turning back. “I’ll join you in a moment.”

John nodded to himself and went inside the resort. He was greeted by a man who immediately started offering him a room with the most comfortable bed he ever slept on. John refused politely and asked for a bath instead. The man called two girls and told them to prepare the water and a tub in the room upstairs. John had to wait a little so to make the time pass faster, he looked around to see if there is anything valuable to steal. 

He was sure Arthur will join him during the wait but after ten minutes the girls walked down with empty buckets and informed him the bath is ready and Arthur still wasn’t there. John looked through the window one last time but the older man was nowhere to be seen so he decided not to wait for his lover any longer and started climbing the stairs, thanking both girls for their effort.

The room with a bath smelled of herbal oils, was filled with steam and covered by orange light casted by the lamps hanged on the walls. The tub was nearly full of water, John couldn’t even see the surface that was covered by bubbles. He rarely washed in places like that, preferring the river or a lake and bar of soap and even then he washed only when Susan made him to. Arthur on the other hand, loved baths as much as getting himself dirty so he could have an excuse to spend some time in a warm and scented water. The older man always smelled nice after that but John liked his lover’s natural scent better. 

John closed the door after himself and cautiously took few step closer to the water. He didn’t like it, that’s why it was so hard to make him wash. To him, water meant fear and reminded him of an accident when he almost drown. Even a shallow creek was making him nervous but he always acted like it didn’t bother him at all while in front of the gang, even though everyone in it knew he can’t swim. When everyone was drunk, they even liked to make fun of him because of that. 

He remembered one time when he was too drunk to protect himself when few of the guys decided it would be fun to toss him into the lake, at the shore of which the gang stopped a few months back. Arthur wasn’t in the camp that day, otherwise he wouldn’t have allowed their friends to dump John into the water, even if drunk and barely conscious himself. Thankfully, Lenny didn’t drink that much and stopped the ‘fun’ before it ended with tragedy.

John knew he won’t drown in a tub. Someone would has to try to kill him or he would has to fall asleep, which he was too nervous to do. Still, he hesitated and just stood there, playing with the button of his shirt he should be taking off right now. He would rather skip the bath and go straight into the woods but it’s very unlikely Arthur will just give up.

With a sigh, John started taking off his clothes, doing it as slow as he could. He slipped of his coat and hanged it on one of the chairs in the room. He put his holster and a hat there too before unclipping the suspenders like it was something complicated and required a lot of attention. After all of that, the skin of his chest was still hardly even exposed when the door behind him opened and Arthur entered, looking at John suspiciously.

“What are you doing here?” John hissed. Arthur’s presence could be strange to someone if noticed.

“I bought what I need and came to help” he explained himself, taking off his hat and putting it on the hanger near the door before he started getting rid of the rest of his clothes as it was his turn to take the bath. John watched him shocked. “I know how scared of water you are.”

“I’m not scared,” John denied right away despite Arthur being the only person who, with his own eyes, saw how close to death John was when as a kid he nearly drowned. This few minutes scared him for life. “I just don’t like it.”

“Like I said, you’re scared.” John wasn’t even in the mood to argue, too focused on the naked chest Arthur was revealing. “Besides, we can save some money this way.”

“It’s just a couple of cents” he muttered under his nose, watching his lover slipping off his pants.

“But you have to wait for a warm water.” Not long after he said that, Arthur stood in front of him naked. John’s mouth became dry and he felt the sudden need to get rid of his clothes as well. “This way we save both time and water.”

John jumped startled when there was a knock on the door.

“You need any help?” One of the woman that prepared a bath asked with a seductive voice.

Arthur looked at the door and then with a smirk at John, who hopped the woman won’t enter without permission.

“No, thank you,” John answered and cleared his throat when he realized his voice was more hoarse than normal. “Maybe another time.”

“As you wish.” The woman sounded disappointed. “It’s more fun when it’s two people.”

John listened to the steps at the other side of the door. When he was sure the woman left, he released his breath. They weren’t caught. He had no idea how he would’ve explained why another man is standing here with him naked.

“What are you waiting for, Marston.” Arthur pointed at the tub with his head. “It’s more fun with two people.”

He didn’t need to be told twice. He got back to taking off his clothes to join Arthur as fast as he could. The older man was already in the tub and sighed in pleasure when the hot water surrounded him. It was nice seeing him this relaxed, it rarely happened, Arthur was always worried with something but right now, he was just enjoying the peace. 

John was a little worried if they’re going to fit together, the tub wasn’t that big and they weren’t small men. He hoped it won’t turn out they’ll have to bath separately after all.

He tossed his clothes in a random direction and took a step closer to the tub, not getting in yet. Arthur opened one of his eyes and stared at him impatient.

“I don’t know how are we going to fit,” John explained himself, taking brush and some other supplies from the edges of the tub. He put all of it on the small table and then heard some movement in the water. When he turned around, Arthur had one leg out of the water and hooked on the edge of the tub, which created more space. It wasn’t much, there was no way they’ll be comfortable like that but it didn’t bother John that much with the perspective of sitting between his lover’s legs.

He put his foot in the tub, careful to not step on Arthur who closed his eyes again and titled his head back, practically ready to fall asleep. The older man muttered something under his breath when John was trying to sit, which wasn’t easy. The tub was narrow and uncomfortable for two people, water spilled when both of them were finally sited. They should’ve take two separate baths instead of trying to squeeze together while they should be trying to relax. But John couldn’t give up the idea, even with all of those inconveniences.

It wasn’t that bad. When he finally found a nice position and leaned on Arthur’s chest, legs bend on the edge of the tub in front of him, it was easier to ignore any discomfort and become comfortable. John wasn’t even bothered by the water anymore since he was in a presence of someone who would never let him drown. He started to feel calm and relaxed.

“This is nice,” John moaned in pleasure and rested his head on Arthur’s shoulder.

“Very,” Arthur agreed and wrapped his arms around John’s waist, stroking his belly. John purred.

The limited space suddenly stopped being a problem and turned into a familiar content feeling of being in an embrace of another person. He missed it, it was a long time ago since the last time he experienced it. The water was hot but not too hot and helped ease the muscle pain he got after a long ride. Taking a bath was a good idea. He would wash himself every day if every bath looked like this one.

“Can we stay here forever and forget about everything else?” John asked hopefully. Arthur was touching him higher now, cupping water with his palms and pouring it over John’s chest to wash off the filth and sweat of recent weeks.  

“You want to run again, John?”

This question was asked in joking tone, but John had a feeling the older man was till a little bit scared.

“Just thinking out loud,” he assured his lover, submitting with pleasure to Arthur’s soft touch on his body, washing it clean inch by inch. Taking a bath was more pleasant when done with someone. “I’m not leaving the gang. Not without you.”

Arthur only grunted in response before he took John’s hand in his and lifted it over his head to wash his armpit and side. John couldn’t help himself and laughed without control while trying to get away from tickling touch that thankfully ended rather quickly.

With a sigh he bent his arm slightly down and gently grasped Arthur’s hair, tilting his head so he could kiss his cheek and then neck that was exposed to him right now. John could still smell older man’s natural scent. As always Arthur smelled of horses, forest and gunpowder, but most of all, John could smell his sweat. Normally, other people sweat was disgusting to him, but not Arthur’s. He took a deep breath of that musky smell, to not smell the scent of oils added to the water.

He must have tickled Arthur with his nose or when he breathed out because the older man chuckled suddenly.

“Water is not that bad after all, is it?” Arthur asked, still washing John for him. Surprisingly, his touch wasn’t arousing, even though they didn’t sleep with each other for a while and only few hours earlier something almost happened at the train station. John only felt relaxed and had no desire to experience something more intense.

“It isn’t,” he admitted, brushing Arthur’s neck with his nose before the older man shoved him away and lowered his head to return the touch. “I don’t like taking a bath but I needed one.”

“Definitely.” Arthur made John lean forward. “You stank so much I could smell you before riding into the camp.”

“Pff,” John snorted offended only to moan just a few seconds later when Arthur started cleaning and massaging his back. “I love you.”

“Love you, too, John,” Arthur responded right away. John felt warmth filling in his whole body and the water running down his back had nothing to do with it.

The worst part of the bath was always washing the hair, because that always mean getting your head under water which ends with it getting into the nose, eyes and mouth. John was nervous when Arthur told him to stay in the position he was in. A moment later he felt fingers in his hairs.

It was nice, he moaned again, moving his head from time to time so Arthur could scratch in the best places.

“We’ll cut this whole nest one day,” Arthur promised, untwining every tangle he found during brushing John’s hair with his fingers. “To the skin. You’ll get rid of lice.”

„Don’t you dare,” John warned and the smiled, when his lover chuckled, amused.

Arthur tugged at the hair harshly, but quickly returned to being gentle, to the point where John became sleepy and forgot what’s going to happen next.

“I’ll rinse your hair now, ” Arthur informed him, tilting his head back.

“Okay.” John closed his eyes. He trusted the older man.

He could hear when Arthur filled his palms with water that soon after was purred over John’s head. Usually he would be stiff in a situation like that, even when he bathed alone and knew what he’s doing. With Arthur he felt no fear. It was probably the calmest and most enjoyable bath in his life. For the first time ever, water didn’t scare him, bringing pleasure instead.

While Arthur was rinsing his hair, John washed the rest of his body, parts that Arthur couldn’t reach in the limited space they were in. They switched places after that which required a lot of wriggling and finding comfortable positions, but when they were finally seated, John returned the favor and helped Arthur wash as well. As much as he hated washing himself, helping his lover with it was pleasant. Who would’ve thought?

Arthur was purring most of the time, only stopping to laugh when it was John’s turn to tickle him on the sides. Then the purr returned, the most intense when John washed his short hair that didn’t need untangling like his. Sometimes he wished Arthur had longer hair he could hold or watch as the strands move through his fingers.

The bath ended eventually, water cooled down but was still warm enough to not move from it. John held Arthur tightly, resting his head on older man’s shoulder and listening to him humming some song. John’s favorite smell was gone now, but somehow, Arthur still smelled good – like herbs and flowers. They both had the same scent now which was weirdly exciting.

When Arthur tried to get up, John tightened his hold on his waist and didn’t let him move. He wanted to stay here longer, even if staying in the same position was starting to become painful and water wasn’t getting warmer. But they were so deprived of this kind of intimacy for far too long those last weeks, that John didn’t want it to end now, not even for a short while so they can leave the town and set up a tent in the woods. It was too long of a break.

Arthur didn’t give up and tapped John’s forearm. Disappointed, which he announced with the groan, John finally let his lover get up, watching him leave the tub and already missing holding him in his arms. Now he had more space for himself, but ironically it wasn’t more comfortable now.

“As much as I would like to sit here longer, we need to set up the camp before the dark,” Arthur said, drying himself with one of the towels left by the girls. “I don’t want to do it blindly.”

John understood but that didn’t mean he was happy about it. He joined Arthur shortly and when they were both dressed, they left the room, checking first if no one from the hotel stuff is near, so they can leave safely. When it was clear, they sneaked down without bringing any attention to themselves.

Sun was setting lover with every minute but they still had some time to smoke a cigarette before going into the woods. Arthur shared his match with John and when both of them were smoking, they leaned against the railing in front of them and watched people slowly getting back to their houses.

“What did you buy in the store?” John asked. From his place he could see the building clearly. The owner was inside, sweeping the floor and getting ready to close the businesses for the night.

“Some food for the road.” Arthur nodded towards the saddlebags. “We may not have time to hunt something when we get to the cabin. Besides, I would rather not sleep with a fresh meat in the forest that is full of bears and wolves.”

“No wolves for me, thank you.”

Arthur smirked and just to annoy John, he howled, imitating wolves. John shoved him away which quickly ended with him being shoved back. He almost stepped on a cat that sat near him and run away with a screech in the last moment, right from under John’s boots.

They both laughed like children and got back to standing near each other, smoking slowly while the stagecoach stopped in front of the hotel. A man with a gun stepped outside and after him… Oh no. John and Arthur froze in place when they recognized the couple they robbed few hours earlier.

They covered their eyes with hats, John was tempted to use bandana and cover the face as well, but then he would be too suspicious. They could only hope the couple won’t recognize them.

“See, darling?” they heard husband’s voice. His wife still wasn’t impressed with this country she was dragged into. “It wasn’t so bad, nobody robbed us again and now we’re safe. There is a sheriff’s office right beside the hotel!”

„I won’t feel safe here even with the whole royal army,” the woman complained. John and Arthur tried no to look at the couple so they had no idea what the husband and his wife were doing. They didn’t finish smoking yet, but they’ve decided it’s not worth the risk. After tossing the rest of the cigarettes, they slowly moved towards their horses. “Francis, it’s them! Thieves! They robbed us, get them!”

They cursed under their breaths when woman started screaming like hell and alarmed everyone, including sheriff who jumped out of his chair in front of the office and grabbed the shotgun. 

Not bothering with the stairs, they jumped over the railing and got to their horses, untying the reins in a hurry. Snowstorm and Old Boy must have sensed their distress because they didn’t need any convincing to start galloping. Horses ran across the bridge over the river, almost stomping to dead few people before squeezing between the oncoming wagon and the building on the right. Sheriff was shouting something, that damn woman was still screaming, almost as she was being murdered and raped. John breathed a sigh of the relief when they left the commotion behind them and they couldn’t hear any more screams.

“See, Marston?” Arthur said after a while. They were riding calmly now, not scared of the chase. Which sheriff would want to look for bandits during night, especially because of the nonsense screamed by some stranger woman? “First day away from camp and so many adventures.”

“We could get back to the camp now and I would be satisfied,” John admitted and along with Arthur guided his horse between the trees. Setting up a tent near road wouldn’t be a good idea.

“Then you would miss the best attractions.”

“True,” he agreed. The main event was still in store. He couldn’t wait till he fall asleep with Arthur.

They found a clear space in the woods before it got darker. It was a perfect place for a small camp for two. They let their horses roam free after taking from saddles things necessary for the night. The mare and the stallion started eating right away. He and Arthur should eat something, too. This short snack during the ride was nothing to them, especially considering tomorrow they’ll climb in the cold weather. They need energy. 

“I’ll set up the tent,” John suggested since he took the bedroll and the tent from saddles. Usually every gunman had his own tent in case of the lone travel but why take two when they’ll be using just one? If the bedrolls were slightly bigger, they would take just one, too.

“I’ll collect some wood for the fire, then,” Arthur decided and started walking towards the trees, on the way there patting his mare on the neck. “It rained a little recently, I hope something will catch on fire.”

Similar problem awaited them in the mountains, but since they planned to stay in some cabin, maybe there will be something to throw into the fireplace.

Waiting for his lover, John set up the tent with no problem and prepared the place for the fire. It was very dark already, too dark to see anything between the trees, John could only rely on hearing and even that was hard. Either horses were making noises while walking and eating or wild animals, including owls. One of them sat on the branch right above John’s head.

He was considering tossing a rock at the it when Arthur returned with a bunch of sticks he threw right next to John.

“At least you weren’t useless while I was gone,” he praised John while gathering woods in a pile.

“You’re welcome,” John responded sarcastically. He watched as Arthur quickly and without any problem started the fire. Once the bark peeled from trees lit up, they didn’t have to wait much longer till thin, old branches were consumed by flames. In just a few seconds they got a perfect bonfire to warm themselves since it was cold already this close to the mountains and their warm clothes were still on the horses. 

Once his hands became warm enough, Arthur started preparing dinner. It wasn’t anything fancy but they rarely complained about the lack of proper food. They knew hunger too well after living on the streets as children. What they had now was like a feast comparing to what they’ve eaten all those years ago. 

“I still can’t believe you know how to cook,” John admitted. In a tin bowl, Arthur was warming beans from two cans. He even added some dried meat he cut right into the bowl. It probably won’t be good to eat, too hard to even bite but it’ll add some taste.

“I wouldn’t call this cooking,” Arthur admitted humbly. He put his knife back into a sheat and took the bowl off the fire. The beans weren’t fully cooked yet, but they didn’t want to lure predators to their camp.

With the food ready, Arthur sat down beside John, holding the bowl between them and they started eating. John was right, the meat was uneatable but the beans soaked with its taste. It tasted like meal prepared in the saloons.

„It’s better than Pearson’s stew,” John complimented honestly, stuffing his mouth with beans as a proof.

“Ha! Just don’t tell anyone or Dutch will keep me in the camp forever,” Arthur joked. “Unless Pearson won’t gut me first and add to his stew.”

“Maybe then it would finally taste good.”

They finished their dinner in peace and drank some whisky before they retreated to the tent, remembering to close it to prevent some curious traveler inspecting the source of light in the middle of the wood, from seeing something they shouldn’t.

John put their bedrolls so close to one another it was practically one bedding. When they laid down, they were right next to each other. Unfortunately, it was too cold to undress or do anything more.

“How’s your tights?” Arthur whispered, putting his hand on John’s hip. John moved closer to him, looking into his eyes. He could see the faint glow of the fire outside reflected in the pupils.

“Still have skin on them,” he answered with a whisper too, even though there was no need to be quiet, but there was something intimate in their quiet tones. He liked it.

“Good. That means it’s fine to lay between them.”

They smiled and snuggled closer together, their foreheads touching, arms wrapped around each other to keep as much warm as possible. Only the tent and Arthur’s coat draped over them protected them from the cold outside. It was too small to cover their bodies completely, so they had to be close. Not that they needed any excuse for that.

“Your favorite place,” John purred in replay before ungracefully connecting their lips together.

Their noses bumped together at first, but they quickly corrected their mistake and started kissing and touching each other through the clothes. Everything became hot in a flash, John could feel his skin buzzing wherever Arthur touched him. His touch had nothing innocent this time, not like in the bath. They were more desperate and thirsty for each other, to the point they could barely control themselves. However, they were very aware they can’t do anything more. Not yet. After the tiring, day long ride, sooner than later the cold will return to them.

They slowed down, lazily brushing their lips together rather than kissing each other, sated for now. After all, they weren’t that thirsty. Those few weeks in the camp weren’t spent completely separately. From time to time, they managed to sneak out behind some trees and kiss for a minute or two. Arthur was always wary not to keep this for too long, not wanting to pull the stitches on John’s face.

He must had remembered they’re still there because he pulled away first, ignoring John’s protests and gently touching the stitched wounds on his cheek. John quickly pressed his face to the touch to show his lover he doesn’t feel pain anymore and there is no need to be careful. It didn’t work.

“It doesn’t hurt,” John assured the older man. “Just itch.”

“They’re healing,” Arthur said, pleased, still caressing the wound which helped with the itching sensation. Knowing he won’t be kissed again, John sighed and wrapped his arms around Arthur’s waist, moving so close he no longer had an idea where his body ended and Arthur’s started.

John felt the fingers in his hair, as always. As much as Arthur complained about them, he liked to play with them. If they were clean, like right now. John liked it, too. It was easier to fall asleep like that. Maybe that was it, to make him doze off faster.

He didn’t care, he just closed his eyes and enjoyed the touch, burying his face in Arthur’s neck. Scent of the oils from the bath lessened already, John could once again smell his natural scent. Good, sleeping will be a lot nicer this way. John missed this lately, stealing Arthur’s shirt before one of the woman could wash it was not enough, it couldn’t replace having Arthur in his bed.

It was nice to share it together again, feel the warmth of other person. He didn’t need anything else from that, just Arthur being close, to fall asleep together and later wake up together as well. There wasn’t many opportunities to do that. The biggest flaw of traveling with a big group and being responsible for most of things. In times like that, John wished they could still share a tent like in his childhood. Or live somewhere permanently. If Dutch’s plan work out, it’ll be possible. They’ll settle as the whole group and he and Arthur could have a small house just for themselves. Maybe they could tell the others about their secret relationship.

“You think this white bison is even real?” John asked with a sleepy voice. He wasn’t asleep yet but he was sure it’s a matter of time. Maybe he’ll even drift off while talking.

“The bear was real,” Arthur murmured back, tired as much as John. Too bad they couldn’t just lay together a little bit longer and enjoy the closeness, but there will be another chance to make up for the lost time. “I thought he was going to rip me to shreds.”

“That would be bad.” John couldn’t think of a better respond.

“Mmm.”

Arthur had fallen asleep, because he didn’t say anything else and he always loses the ability to talk right before losing conscious, and murmurs were always the last thing John heard in moments like this. Having no other choice, John had fallen asleep as well, after weeks finally finding himself in the best place in the world.

Chapter Text

The night passed without any surprises or unexpected visits, be that from other people or animals. John woke up alone, covered with both of their coats but he was still cold. Chilly air wasn’t a problem at night when there was another body to help him keep the warmth.

He neatly folded Arthur’s coat and put on his own before he left the tent, wiping sleep from his eyes.

“Mornin’,” said Arthur, drinking his coffee and cooking some meat over the fire. “I caught us a rabbit.”

„I can see that,” he answered and sat down opposite to his lover. Arthur already had a warmer coat on him and even gloves. “Can I have some coffee?”

“Depends.” John had no idea what he was expecting from him but when the corner of Arthur’s mouth went up slightly, John realized the older man was just teasing him. Like always. With a sigh, he reached for his things and got a mug, filling it with coffee. 

It was the first time in days when he woke up sleepy despite having enough rest. Was it one day of traveling that made him so much more tired or was it how little he slept? He looked up at the sky, it was only dawn. He checked his watch next. 5AM. When he woke up yesterday he wasn’t so drowsy. Probably Arthur’s fault. John was becoming lazy just because of them sleeping together.

Apparently it wasn’t a two-way thing because Arthur looked energetic, ready to go and just overly well rested. Sleeping together wasn’t bad for him either, just in different way.

„It should be good already,” he said about the meat, while John tried to not fall asleep. It will take more time before the coffee starts working on him. Arthur checked the rabbit’s meat and hummed pleased at it. He reached his hand towards John who gave him his knife without any word. Arthur stuck the blade in of the two pieces and handed it back to John. “Eat. You look like a slight wind could knock you over.”   

“So nice of you to care,” John said back and put down his half-drunk coffee so he could tear the meat with his hand. The food was hot but after blowing on it a little, he could grasp it with his fingers that soon became covered in grease mixed with herbs. “There is more seasoning here than in Pearson’s stew.”

“I want food to have a taste,” Arthur explained, eating his own portion. “I don’t know what’s the point of Pearson’s stew.”

“To toughen our stomachs?” he suggested, happy with how he made Arthur snort.

“Probably,” he agreed and smiled at John over the fire.

John looked around their small camp. Horses wandered off between the trees but not too far, grazing peacefully before the rest of the trip. There won’t be that much food in the mountains. Then again, Snowstorm lived there somehow, so it couldn’t be that bad.

Arthur finished eating first and got up right away.

“I’ll pack,” he informed and started with taking the grate to let it cool down a little.

“Can I see that map of the legendary animals?” John asked, licking his finger clean to not get grease on Arthur’s satchel that was thrown at him.

“It should be somewhere inside.”

Somewhere. Perfect word to describe the mess Arthur had inside. John was sure all this stuff was important but it was so hard to get through it and find what he was looking for. There were a lot of papers inside, some sticking out from his journal, others just tossed without care inside the satchel.   

John found photos of some gunslingers with informations on the back where to look for them. He found a map but it was leading to a treasure apparently, then some business cards from different people. Finally he found the map of animals. It was at the bottom, under the pack of cigarettes and folded into such a small cube he was surprised with it’s real size when he unfolded it on his knees. He could only use one hand, he was still holding his knife in the other, taking small bites of meat from time to time.

Their bison was apparently living somewhere around lake Isabella. John tried to remember the area but when he was there last time, the storm that was raging at that moment didn’t really let him observe his surroundings. Then he was lost and almost died. Even if he passed the lake, he didn’t see it, so all will be new to him.

Mountains looked really beautiful from their camp in Horseshoe. From the whole gang, the two of them were probably the only ones who wanted to come back there.

The map didn’t has many details, it was just for orientation but something caught his eyes when he was looking at it. He was completely clueless about the whole area, he relied on Arthur to know which road to take and John knew his lover always takes the shortest one. But not always apparently.

“Why did we go around?” he asked, turning toward the older man.

Arthur was in the middle of folding the tent but stopped and looked with a frown at John.

“What?” he said after a moment. 

“We could’ve gone this way,” John explained, focusing again on the map and tracking the road with his finger. Surely Arthur knew what he was talking about. “It’s a shorter road, we could’ve been in Strawberry shortly after noon and started climbing yesterday.”

That was strange. Arthur knew how to read a map, mistakes like that are something that just don’t happen to him. John looked at his lover, waiting for an explanation. Maybe there were bandits on the other roads? Or dangerous animals? 

Arthur wasn’t even looking at him, he returned to folding the tent, avoiding John’s eyes. John stared at him suspiciously and finally caught Arthur watching him back, but the older man quickly turned his head again, murmuring something.

“What?” Arthur was acting strange, he almost looked abashed.

“I said,” he began and cleared his throat when his voice trembled a little. “I said the trip will take longer this way.”

That was the end of explanations, Arthur turned back, acting like they didn’t talk about anything. John couldn’t do the same, too happy with this confession. And too amused with his lover’s embarrassment.

With a smile on his face and tingling in his belly, John got up from the fire and quietly walked over to Arthur who was packing the tent on the horse.

“If you wanted to spend more time with me you could’ve just asked,” he said teasingly but with affection.

As always when he was embarrassed, Arthur just muttered something under his breath and continued packing, pretending nothing happened. John smiled widely and gripped Arthur’s arm, turning him around and shoving him at a nearby tree. Arthur groaned from the impact and the fire returned to his eyes. His face was slightly flushed, making him look not as wild as the eyes made him.

John kissed him like that, without any hesitation, letting himself be drawn closer to Arthur who circled his arms around John’s waist and squeezed them together, which, along with kissing, took their breaths away. They pulled apart panting. The blush on Arthur’s cheeks deepened but his shyness disappeared, taken over by lust. John felt his knees going weaker when the older man looked at him with almost black eyes and his hand landed on John’s ass. It was getting harder to contain themselves, they haven’t been intimate with each other for too long. 

“If we’re ever going back to California,” gasped John, trying to think about something else than his aroused state, “you will buy boat tickets to swim around the entire globe. We’ll spend more time together this way. Did I get that right?”

Arthur snorted and let him go, moving away from the tree.

“Shut up and help me pack.”

“Yes, boss,” he answered and got to work.

They kept staring at each other through all this, but even with a distraction like this, they packed quickly and were ready to go. The weather was nice, without a single cloud in the sky, it looked like the beginning of a very sunny day.

John had to change into something warmer before they could go. He struggled for a while with pulling out the coat since he packed it in a hurry at the very bottom, but Arthur didn’t rush him, too occupied with the conversation with his horse and giving her treats.

An idea appeared in John’s head suddenly.

“Hey, Arthur,” he said, buttoning his coat and putting on gloves while he got closer to the older man. “Can I ride Snowstorm?”

“No.”

That was quick but expected. Few other gang members already asked that question. Arthur was pretty nice to him with his refusal anyway. Depending on the person who asked, he either threatened them with a beating or just laughed at them. John felt pretty special, even if he heard a “no” as well.  

“Please.” He chose to play sweet. It never worked when he was a child but after they got together, Arthur became very vulnerable to John’s pleading. It always came in handy in situations like this. “You talked about what an amazing horse she is, I want to experience it.”

“You don’t believe my words, doubting Thomas?” Arthur asked playfully, turning in his direction. He didn’t look like he could change his mind but John knew how to be stubborn.

“I believe you, I just want to feel it too.” He stood next to his lover. Snowstorm moved with agitation. The mountains were drawing her to them. “It’s not like I’m going to hurt her.”

This had to be Arthur’s biggest fear. This mare wasn’t with him long but he already loved her like the previous one. If something would happen to her, Arthur would be devastated, but John was planning on being careful. He always was. If he wasn’t shooting at the rider and accidently hitting the animal as well, no horse ever died or got hurt because of him, and he was riding horses since he was thirteen when Arthur bought him his first horse with the money from a robbery.

“I don’t know.”

At least he started considering it. Lost in his thoughts, he rubbed at his stubble and looked at John, then at Snowstorm and then at John again.

“I know how to ride.” John was probably a little desperate but he really wanted to ride Snowstorm. He wasn’t a big horse lover like Arthur but you just can’t ignore such a fine horse like that. “You’ll be right by me. Unless you’re scared she’ll like me more than you.”

“The day when any horse will like you better than me will be the day I shoot myself,” Arthur said dramatically. He patted his mare’s neck and stepped aside. “All right. But if she panics even a little, you go down. By yourself or with her help.”

„Of course,” he promised thrilled and got closer to the Arabian.

He wanted to climb onto the saddle right away, he couldn’t wait any longer, but Arthur stopped him, gripping his arm.

“Don’t nudge her with your spurs too hard,” he started listening to the rules. “Same with the reins, don’t tug too harshly. Don’t yell at her either, she doesn’t scare easily but she doesn’t like it. You ride only the main road because if you break her leg, I swear I’ll break your neck.”

“Jesus.” John was honestly surprised with the harsh tone. Arthur really loved that horse already, maybe he should be jealous.

“You understand, Marston?”

“Sure. I’ll care for her like for my own horse.”

“I’m sorry, was that supposed to comfort me?”

John rolled his eyes.

„Stop panicking, you’re acting worse than a mother hen,” he pointed out and focused on the mare. “You’ll be fine, right missy?”

He stroked her neck and thankfully, Snowstorm didn’t bite his fingers off. Glad with that fact, he looked at Arthur again, waiting for his final permission. He wasn’t entirely convinced, he was still worried but he gave John a chance anyway.

With a sigh, Arthur came closer to his horse, standing right in front of her. Looking her into eyes, he patted her snout softly.

“He’s an idiot but try not to hurt him,” he whispered to her, but John was close enough to hear. “He means a lot to me.”

John’s heart felt warm after those words. No matter how many times he heard them, they always caused the same reaction in him. 

Arthur finally allowed him to climb on Snowstorm’s saddle for the first time. She seemed so fragile he felt like he could crush her at any moment. John underestimated her strength because she had no problem jumping in place, trying to throw him off.

Surprised, he gripped the saddle horn with one hand and reins with the other, trying to calm the mare down.

“Wow, wow, easy there, girl.” Arthur reacted immediately, calming Snowstorm within seconds. Ears perked towards her rider, she snorted angrily but stopped kicking. John quickly relaxed to prevent the mare from sensing his fear and trying to buck him off again, but Arthur had everything under control already. “Good girl. Sometimes I don’t like him either but he’s not that bad when you get to know him better.”  

 “Seriously?”

Arthur ignored him.

„So be nice and show him what a wonderful horse you are, okay?”

Arthur’s calming voice soothed the mare, she stopped fighting John, even letting him pat her neck again and moving when he nudged her gently. She was only walking but John still felt like riding on the clouds.

“I’ve never seen a horse walk so gently,” he admitted amazed. “And so strong at the same time. I don’t know how you stayed on her back the first time.”

If it wasn’t for a saddle, John would’ve fallen down the moment Snowstorm started bucking and jumping, while Arthur stayed on her bare back long enough to break her before she could throw him off.  

“I’m just that good,” Arthur said and mounted Old Boy. John was a little bitter when his stallion didn’t do anything to throw off the other rider like Snowstorm tried, but what else could except from a horse that had known Arthur for years now? Snowstorm had seen John maybe three times and from afar at that. The only comforting thing was that Old Boy would buck off any real stranger. And probably kick them too.

“What a humble man you are.”

John directed the mare toward the road. He was tempted to hurry her, make her gallop but the roads around here didn’t look like a good place to race on a horse. But he was amazed even with the slow trotting. Snowstorm was made to travel on her back. Arthur was probably going crazy riding on an old stallion.

The older man was reminding him constantly to be careful. John listened to him only with one ear, more focused on a ride he never experienced before. The longer he rode the her, the better he understood Snowstorm and how to guide her, that sometimes it was better to let her take the lead since mountains were her home and she knew where to place her hooves. He was safer with her than she was with him, that’s for sure.

Pleased with how well this turned out, he looked back at his lover and his heart almost stopped because of the pride in Arthur’s eyes and something else, something like admiration. He resisted letting John ride Snowstorm so much and now he looked at them like the two most precious and important things in his life were just combined. 

John didn’t have to look in the mirror to know he blushed just from that look. He wanted to turn away but instead of that, he looked smiling Arthur straight in the eyes and smiled back.

They looked at each other like that for a while, allowing their horses to lead them. They broke out of that trance together, not being able to hold it any longer. At the same time, the road became less curvy. John took that opportunity and nudged Snowstorm to a gallop, leaving Old Boy in the dust.

He couldn’t help himself, on a horse like that you just need to race as fast as you can. Arthur was right, it felt like flying.

Not wanting to make Snowstorm hate him, he made her slow down after a while and let her rest. Arthur catched up to them then, smiling from ear to ear. John realized after a few seconds that the older man was just returning the same smile John had on his own face. 

“Amazing, isn’t she?” Arthur asked, looking fondly at the mare.

“The best.” John looked around at another unknown area. He barely remembered what was on the map. “Are we taking the longer path again?”

They were going west. John was sure he’d seen another, shorter road heading to the north.

“I don’t know, you’re leading,” Arthur answered smugly. No doubt he saw John’s red face.

“Maybe I subconsciously took the longer road,” he admitted reluctantly. Arthur let out a chuckle. “You’re one to laugh. You did the same on purpose yesterday. At least I don’t hide it.”

Arthur fully laughed then.

“That’s true, you didn’t even notice. You smitten fool.”

John couldn’t even be angry for the teasing, because Arthur was speaking the truth and not even for the purpose of insulting him.

“I’m not going to deny it.” Now his lover won’t have satisfaction from embarrassing him.

Arthur only smiled. He was doing it often during the whole trip, as if he couldn’t stop himself. John understood him, he couldn’t stop it either, which was probably bad for his stitches but he was more ready to tear them from his face then to stop showing how happy he is with all of this. 

Going around took them longer. First they passed Lake Owanjila and after that the climbing started. Slowly they were seeing less grass and more rocks, and then more snow, while the temperature dropped down despite the sun shining above their heads. They made their way into the mountains and it was beautiful.

Peaks, until now seen by him only from afar or behind the curtain of the falling snow, now towered over him, glimmering in the rays of the sun. Eagles and other birds of prey circled around the ridges and snow crunched under the horses’ hooves, reaching almost to their knees.

They had to slow down. In a snow like this, Snowstorm and Old Boy could easily get tired. The slower pace allowed the riders to gawk at the views. And there was a lot to admire. Not so long ago John was stuck on one of those mountains and looked down into abyss, wondering which death would be better – ripped to shreds by wolves or falling from the rock shelf. Now he rode near the similar gap amazed by the distance to the bottom.

Arthur, though was there recently, looked as astonished as John. There was no other reaction to that beauty. Even the sting from the cold wasn’t enough to spoil their trip.

To protect the wounds from the cold, John covered them with a scarf. He pulled it up to the cheeks and breathed deeply, enjoying the crisp mountain air. The Grizzlies looked very different when there was no storm, he had no idea there were so many animals here. Rabbits were running out of their burrows in the snow while crows  watched them from the top of the trees. They even saw two wapitis. No wolves so far and no bison either but even without the bison, they surely won’t come back to camp empty handed.

“Let’s stay here and never come back,” John suggested, not being able to handle so many pretty views.

“You’re suddenly a mountain man?” Arthur asked jokingly. “So you like it here then.”

“I love this place.” He wasn’t even embarrassed about it. He could live here. It would be hard, this high in the mountains where the snow never melts he wouldn’t be able to grow anything, maybe only have some animals but living in the wild didn’t sound so bad.

At least that’s how it looked to him right now, when he didn’t yet lose any fingers due to the cold weather and wolves.

The snow was slowing them down immensely, it was way past noon when they managed to reach the small cabin hidden between the woods. From outside it looked like it could only accommodate one person but John and Arthur never had a problem with little to no privacy, so small space didn’t bother them.

There was a place for horses too, a small stall with three walls while the trees provided protection from the cold from behind. Even during a storm their horses will be safe and warm.

John and Arthur left them there before hiding in the cabin themselves. There were no windows so they left the door open to let some light in.

John wasn’t wrong, the cabin was only slightly bigger than their tent, but still cozy. It was warm already and with fire it could only get better.

“It’s nice in here,” John admitted and knelt before the fireplace.

“I think someone was here after I left the last time,” Arthur noticed, crouching right beside him. “Those branches weren’t there before. Someone must have brought them here.”

John looked to the right where some wood was gathered on the floor. Apart from that, the cabin didn’t look like someone was there recently, so they didn’t have to worry about other residents. It wouldn’t matter anyway, they would just scare anyone or kill them.

Arthur started making the fire while John looked around their temporary home. There were no books, ammunitions, guns or other supplies. He didn’t even see blankets but someone left a small cauldron and even arranged a stump so it could be used as a table.

Of course there was no bed, the whole cabin was empty overall but it was enough for people that stopped by here.

“You can only lock it from the inside,” John noticed when he stopped by the door. He closed it with the small lock the moment he heard crackling of the flames.

“Whoever built this cabin, they clearly had travelers and hunters in mind.” Arthur took off his gloves to warm his hands by the fire. The warmer it got in the cabin, the more red on the face he was becoming, not even his beard could cover that. John looked at the blush on his lover’s face.

“You think they serve dinners in this hotel?” he wondered, getting rid of some of the clothes. Getting a small cabin like that warm didn’t take long, within a few minutes it became noticeable hot inside. John felt a sudden desire to just lay down and fall asleep, not even bothering with the bedrolls they took inside.

“Sure.” Arthur turned around his head to look at him. “You just have to get out with a bow.”

He had no intentions of getting outside, not when it was so warm and homey inside.

After undressing even more, John laid down their bedrolls on the floor to have a place to sleep already. Close to the fire but not too close. He and Arthur had other methods to get each other warm.

“I’m really glad we have a warm and dry place.” He couldn’t imagine sleeping outside. They would find a way to not sleep directly on the snow but even the best tent wouldn’t protect them from the wind and John remembered how awful it was the last time. “We don’t have to put ten layers of clothes on ourselves.”

Arthur was halfly undressed just like John. When he got up, John noticed his lover’s hat stayed on the floor and his coat was unbuttoned, same as the vest and first few buttons of the shirt. John’s mouth went dry immediately and he only saw a glimpse of the naked skin. 

“We should eat something.” Arthur was thinking aloud but John didn’t listen to him, more focused on him taking off his coat and showing the arms hidden under the tight fitting shirt.  

Food was a wise choice right now. As always, they only ate some scraps during travel and John was still more skinny than usual after many days of drinking mostly water. He should eat to get his strength back, but eating was the least thing he wanted to do right now.

He didn’t want to wait any longer. They held back in Strawberry, not only to not bring trouble on themselves but also to satisfy their need for other kinds of intimacy. They held back in the tent near town, because they were too tired and it was too cold. There won’t be a third time.

Weeks. That’s how long he waited to have Arthur only to himself again and he already wasted two chances. Now was a perfect opportunity, they were in a complete wilderness, in a safe and warm place and most importantly, they weren’t tired, only hungry for each other. Arthur didn’t say a thing, but John had known him long enough to read his moods like an open book.

The older man was restless, impatient and John was sure as hell it had nothing to do with being hungry or wanting to hunt. That’s why he felt encouraged to come closer and embrace Arthur from behind. He played with some of the buttons of his shirt, waiting for permission to uncover more of his chest.

“Think we can postpone dinner?” John asked with hope. Thanks to the lack of coat, he could kiss Arthur’s neck and watch as the small hair growing there began to stir up.

Arthur turned in his embrace and returned it with his own, intertwining his fingers on the small of John’s back and slowly moving his hands lower until he slipped them inside the younger man’s pants. John whimpered impatiently, embarrassed slightly of his reaction. 

“I’m sure it can be done,” Arthur assured him, forcing him to step back. Not allowing their body to separate, John walked blindly until he collided with a wall and the older man’s hands found their place in the front of the pants, on a buckle of a belt that soon fell to the floor and was kicked along with the gun toward the other wall. “I missed you.”

“I missed you too,” John sighed when Arthur started kissing his neck, tearing off the bandana that, for the next few days, will cover the evidence of their lust. Whoever came up with them, John wanted to thank them in gold, because without this small piece of cloth, Arthur would hold back himself instead of sucking and biting the skin that was so willingly given to him.

“I can see that,” Arthur muttered indistinctly and thrusted his hips forward. John moaned when he felt the hard bulge in his lover’s pants. He had his own for a while now. “And feel that.”

“I won’t wait any longer, Arthur,” he said with a shaking voice. “Yesterday I just wanted you close, it didn’t matter how, but now…”

“You want something more,” Arthur interrupted him, unclipping his suspenders before he took care of the pants as well. John decided to help him and started unbuttoning his own shirt. “I get that. I’ll give you what you want.” 

“Please,” he whispered in a desperate voice.

“If you give me what I want.” Arthur looked him deep in the eyes.

“Anything,” John promised without hesitation.

The corners of Arthur’s mouth went up slightly. No more than a second later, John was pinned to the wall and kissed. It hurt for a moment but he quickly forgot about the pain and with the passion he had under control until now, returned the kiss that lost any rhythm very fast. Their tongues met and went back and forth from mouth to mouth, rubbing one against another like they wanted to be tangled together. Their lips, wet from the spit, moved rapidly and with desperation.

John put his palm on his lover’s check and seized it hard with his nails to prevent him from moving away from the kiss. In return, Arthur grasped the back of his head, protecting it from hitting the wall, crushing their mouths together when he pulled John even more forward, as close as he could, to the point where they couldn’t take a breath.

It was pure chaos, there was nothing calm about this kiss, no composure just lust that spread like a fire in their blood. It could hardly be even called a kiss, they acted like they wanted to devour each other, suck the life from themselves and anything else they were willing to give.

John moaned into his lover’s mouth when Arthur tugged his pants down to half of his thighs. Soon this piece of clothing was lying on the floor and was shortly joined by the shirt. Desperate to feel naked skin under his finger, John hurriedly grabbed Arthur’s vest and started pulling at it until Arthur reacted and helped with getting rid of the vest and then the shirt.

Before they could take care of the pants, Arthur tugged John forward. John, still with pants around his ankles and with boots, lost his balance. Somehow they didn’t fall or even broke the kiss, still as passionate as at the beginning.

Arthur lead them to their bedrolls and carefully lowered them both to the floor. He didn’t even finish sitting when John forced him to lay down and settled on his hips, caressing his naked chest, strong muscles and every scar that covered the older man’s body.

They were still kissing despite being out of breath. John felt like drowning and his head was spinning. Small gasp of air he managed to take from time to time was not enough. Without any other choice, they had to stop and when they did, they both took deep breaths and started panting.

John could feel his lover’s chest rising and falling down violently. He held his hands on it to not collapse from the lack of breath on the body under himself. 

Arthur suddenly pushed him away but not enough to completely throw him off. John sat on his heels and a moment later lifted his hips a little bit when the older man started taking off his own pants, first tossing aside the belt with holsters. John helped him, pulling off Arthur’s boots and then his own before tugging at the pants. The moment the clothes landed somewhere on the floor, Arthur and John were once again laying on one another, kissing and moaning when their naked bodies connected.

The kiss was slower this time, more focused on relishing each other and the closeness they refused each other for so long it actually hurt. When they were finally allowed to touch without any barrier between them, they both purred like pleased cats.

Despite rough few weeks, Arthur didn’t lose any of his physique. John touched every familiar place he could reach, shivering whenever he touched his lover’s hard muscles that tensed under his hands only to relax a moment later. Soft hair on Arthur’s chest tickled his palm when he moved it lower and lower till he reached his stomach – less muscular than the chest, but under the thin layer of soft fat he could still feel strong muscles that made Arthur the killing machine he was. 

John didn’t protest when Arthur hooked a leg over his hip and changed their position, practically tossing John on the floor. He groaned when his back connected with the bedroll but this harsh treatment only turned him on even more. With eyes wide open, he looked at his lover who brushed John’s hair from his face and returned the eye contact. They both had blush on their faces, not only because of the fire that was warming them up and illuminating their sweaty bodies in a soft glow.

They stared at each other, not saying anything, just admiring each other. John couldn’t restrain himself from touching for long, not when he had someone so beautiful above himself. He reached his hands toward Arthur who immediately covered John with his body and kissed him.

John wrapped his arms and legs around him, moaning loudly along with Arthur when their cocks pressed together. They started rutting into each other right away, wanting to feel again the jolt of pleasure that ran through their bodies. 

They didn’t hold back at all, within many miles there was no living soul, they could be as loud as they wanted and they took advantage of that, silencing their moans only with their mouth that were still connected.

John broke the kiss first. He turned Arthur’s face and kissed his cheek, nipped at his ear and then moved to the throat, leaving hickeys and bite marks just like the older man left them on him.

Arthur was panting and groaning above him. His arms trembled, John could feel it under his hand he placed on Arthur’s biceps while John’s second hand was brushing and scratching the nape of his neck.

“Do you have anything slick?” John asked between kisses.

“I wasn’t expecting you to join me, I didn’t prepare,” Arthur responded with a gravelly voice. He exposed more of his throat to John so he could still kiss it while Arthur kept their groins rutting together. “I only have some animal’s fat.”

They were in worse situations in the past. One time they only used spit, too desperate to wait.

“Good enough.” John sucked hard on one particular spot on his lover’s neck. Arthur hissed and then moaned, thrusting his hips down while John, moaning as well, licked the new mark he just left before continuing somewhere else.  

“You have to let go of me if you want me to go get it,” Arthur reminded him.

John blinked and took his lips away from his lover’s skin to look at him confused. After a few seconds, he realized he was still holding Arthur.

Annoyed, he put his legs on the floor first and then unwrapped the arms from around him. 

“Just be quick.”

He turned toward the fire to warm himself up. Without another body he was feeling colder than he should in such a small cabin.

Arthur got up and went to his satchel he left near the door. John ogled him from his place, wetting his lips when the older man bent over to take what they needed. When he got it, he turned towards John and smiled, proudly showing the small jar of white fat he left opened near the fire.

“It’ll melt a little,” he explained and laid down next to John. “Where were we?”

“I gave you a pearl necklace,” John answered and touched one of the hickeys that covered Arthur’s neck. 

“Mmm.” Arthur took John in his arms, pulling him close. “Now it’s my time to play.”

Arthur smirked with satisfaction when John shivered in his arms and then again when he was kissed. He responded to the kiss eagerly, feeling his lover’s hands on his face. Arthur cupped his cheek, stroking it with his thumb before going lower.

John hooked his leg over Arthur’s hip and clung to his body. He moved his hand under the older man’s arm and reached his head, running fingers through his very short hair. Arthur purred in response, for a moment forgetting what he was doing. When he remembered, his hand traveled lower, enjoying how smoothly John’s waist changed into hips. John felt it higher again, on his chest. He moved back a little to give his lover more access.

His breath got stuck in his throat when Arthur was touching him gently. His hand, calloused from years of riding and shooting, caressed John’s torso and then stomach. John got a little anxious when his lover touched his visible ribs but Arthur seemed not to pay any attention to them and just continued running his hand over John’s body in endearment, making sure to not miss any place.

John shivered under his lover’s touch, moaning and gasping whenever Arthur brushed over a particular sensitive spot and teased it till he got John squirming impatiently. But Arthur wasn’t in a hurry, just like John before. They had all the time in the world, instead of rushing everything, he wanted to drive his beloved crazy.

John didn’t know if he should hate him for it or be thankful for all those moans the older man was pulling out of him. Arthur silenced them with kisses while also adding his own. His sounds of pleasure were like music to John’s ears, the one he could never get tired of. To hear him like this longer, he gently brushed his fingers over Arthur’s spine.  

He felt Arthur’s moan with his whole body when the older man’s chest, pressed firmly to John’s, rumbled with the sound. John smiled to the kiss and soon enough, he moaned again himself when Arthur’s hands found their way to his ass and started fondling it. 

He brought their bodies closer again and broke the kiss, panting and moaning into his lover’s open mouth.

“Arthur,” he gasped out of breath.

Arthur purred in return, sensing John’s impatience. He kissed the corner of the younger man’s mouth before leaning backward to take the jar with the fat.

John quickly pulled him back to himself and laid down in previous position. Breathless, he put his head on his lover’s arm, brushing the hair from his wet and sticky forehead. He heard Arthur putting the jar behind him and the sound of it moving on the floor when he blindly dipped his fingers inside to take some of the fat.

John never liked that moment. He remembered how it hurt the first time when they both didn’t exactly know what they were doing. They learned a lot since that time and he rarely felt any pain but he was still nervous.     

“Relax, Johnny.”

He took a deep breath and obeyed. His body slowly lost it’s tension, thanks to Arthur who got back to kneading his ass again, sending a new rush of heat through John’s body. When he was ready, John threw his leg over Arthur’s hip, giving him a clear sign.

Arthur kissed his head fondly before putting one finger between John’s ass cheeks and sinking it into him. The first moment was always strange, no matter how many times they’ve done it. John dug his fingers into his lover’s back and shut his eyes tight, staying as relaxed as he could while the finger was easily going deeper. Without something to ease the way, it would be a lot harder and painful, instead he only felt a slight discomfort he knew will pass soon.

“Damn it, Marston, didn’t you hear what I told you?” Arthur spoke suddenly.

“Yeah,” he groaned in reply. “It’s been a while, give me a minute.”

He took couple of more breaths, trying to get loose but it was harder to do than say when he could feel every move of his lover’s finger – pushing and going deeper, making John feel full only a little bit and yet it felt at the same time like he couldn’t get anything bigger inside right now.

With each passing second, the unpleasant feeling was turning into well known pleasure. John moaned loudly and pressed back into his finger, getting it inside completely. 

“Shit,” he gasped when Arthur started moving it rhythmically. “Arthur… Oh Arthur.”

“John,” Arthur whispered back, shyly rubbing John’s entrance with another finger without pushing it in.

John sighed deeply, loving the full feeling, how Arthur’s finger stroked him from the inside. Whenever he put it up to the knuckle, the sudden spark of pleasure was taking control over John’s body, causing his fingers to clench on nothing and making him lose his breath.

“All right?” Arthur asked, still teasing him with a second finger. John thrusted back again, rubbing himself against it.

„Give me another,” he begged and moaned a moment later when pleasure and pain mixed together, making him shiver. Not waiting for Arthur’s reaction, he impaled himself on both fingers, taking them as deep as he could and squeezing on them to feel them better. “God…”

“God boy,” Arthur praised him, kissing his head again. “You’re doing great.”

He had no idea what’s in those words but he loved to hear them, especially said in that voice, this tone. His body shuddered and another moan was ripped from his throat. He didn’t stop moaning after that, because Arthur started pumping his fingers in and out, slow at first, then faster. He lost all of his patience.

John didn’t stay passive, meeting Arthur’s movement with his own and feeling ready for more with each thrust. Without losing the rhythm they created, but with a little problems, John raised his head and found his lover’s mouth, kissing him soundly. Arthur growled and added a third finger.

Tossing his head back and breaking the kiss in the process, John groaned loudly, almost screaming while rutting harder against Arthur’s hand behind him and his cock in front of himself.

Arthur took the opportunity and started kissing his throat again, growling and grunting whenever John thrusted against him, not being able to decide what he wanted more – feel the fingers deeper or his lover’s hard member. John moved his hips as fast as he could to feel both without almost any break. 

“Arthur,” he moaned older man’s name before he shouted in surprise when Arthur, without any warning, pulled out his fingers and pinned him to the floor, hanging above him.

John hissed when he felt teeth sinking into the skin on his throat but the pain was quickly drowned in pleasure when Arthur joined their hips. They both moaned at that and grabbed each other. John kept his head tilted to allow his lover to kiss him. He tried moving his hips but Arthur was practically draped over him and John could only rut helplessly against him – hard and desperate, not bothering with patience anymore. 

His senses were focused only on Arthur so despite his own loud panting, John heard when the older man cursed under his breath and blindly reached for the jar with fat. Leaving John with fresh bite marks on his neck, Arthur lifted himself on one hand and looked at him with admiration in his eyes. John groaned and arched his body when he felt and saw that look on his lover’s face. 

This time it was Arthur who moaned. John brushed the hair out of his eyes and watched as the older man coated his member with animal fat. His mouth instantly went dry at the sight and he shifted impatiently.

Arthur moved back a little and placed himself between John’s spread legs, placing them on his hips on both sides and bringing him closer.

“Ready?”

He always asked, just in case, to not hurt John who always loved that about him, even when this question was unnecessary. He would always tell Arthur if something was wrong or he simply changed his mind. And he definitely wouldn’t just lay there calmly and helpless like right now, with hands under his head and watching Arthur eagerly, showing him his submission and how ready he is. John hurried him by hooking his legs on the older man’s small back, showing him he can keep going. John was ready and needy.

Arthur, propped up on his hands, looked John in the eyes and slowly entered him. John couldn’t hold his gaze for long, the feeling of being filled by the man he loved so much was too intense. He shut his eyes and tossed his head back, while Arthur curled his hand around John’s.

For a moment, they both stopped moving, needing a short break to get themselves back together. It’s been so long, they had no time to go all the way in those last weeks. Now they had as much time as they wanted.     

John straightened his head and breathing heavily he stared at his lover who bowed his head with gritted teeth, surely to not give in to the moment and start too fast.

“Shit, John,” Arthur moaned and looked at him. He wasn’t even fully in and was already losing control. John knew what he was feeling. He felt that too.

„Arthur,” he breathed, bringing his lover closer with his leg, welcoming him further inside which brought a loud moan from both of them.  

They draw closer to each other at the same time, knowing what they need the most – another kiss. Supporting himself on a forearm to have the other hand free, Arthur gently cupped John’s stitched cheek, tenderly stroking it with his thumb. John groaned and squeezed Arthur’s other palm before he took his own from the older man’s grasp and wrapped both his arms and legs around him when Arthur moved deeper inside him until he was fully in.

This was always the most intense moment for both of them, the one when they were joining completely and becoming one body, one soul if that even existed. Their favorite part. In no other way they could get more intimate than like this when they could only feel each other – their scents, their bodies linked together, their heavy breaths, hearts thudding inside their chests, lips connected in a tender kiss and worshiping hands moving across their bodies with a gentle touch, so uncommon among people like them. At this moment, the world was brought down to only two of them.   

John wished they could stay like this forever. Without worry or troubles, just them.

After a while that seemed like it would never end, Arthur started moving inside him. They continued their kiss for a few more seconds but John had to stop eventually, not being able to kiss his lover and moan because of his thrusts at the same time.

Holding Arthur tighter, John pulled him towards himself so his lover covered him with his body entirely. He hid his face in the curve of the older man’s neck, all sorts of sounds of pleasure coming out of his throat. Arthur wasn’t controlling himself either, grunting and moaning even louder every time he went faster, before he found the perfect rhythm that made John’s body shift with every snap of Arthur’s hips. If he wasn’t grasping his lover’s arms right now, John would’ve slid on the floor with the bedroll.

Arthur was tense, determined to bring him as much pleasure as he could. John caressed his back and arms, feeling how hard the muscles are working, how they stretch with every move. It made fire in his abdomen raging even more than it was already doing.   

Arthur was like a bear – big wall of muscles that attack with his whole body. Just the thought about how strong his lover is, how he tosses his enemies like they weigh nothing, turned on John more than anything else. He loved when Arthur was a little rough with him, like right now, when he held him like a vice, not letting him move at all and John could only lay there and take it, already knowing he’ll still feel every thrust tomorrow.

They both knew they wouldn't last long. The break from the sex was too drawn-out, it showed in their desperation to reach climax and Arthur’s irregular but still strong thrusts.

They were loud, didn’t even try to be quiet and without shame made all sorts of noises right into each other’s ears – moans, groans, pants, whimpers, saying each other’s names. John even screamed at one point when Arthur hit that one sensitive spot inside him that always made John see white. When Arthur found it, he did everything to hit it every time and tore another screams from John, not letting him catch a break even for a moment. All those sounds were most likely heard outside of the cabin, but there was no other human in many miles to hear them and even if there was someone, John and Arthur were behind closed doors. They were safe.

John wasn’t able to hold such a pace for long. Neither could Arthur, shivering as much as John when they got close but not close enough. They held each other so hard it hurt but they barely even noticed, to absorbed with reaching their climax that slowly creeped over them, more intense with every passing second until it suddenly hit John like a bullet. The ecstasy was everywhere in his body dand so strong it made him light-headed. 

Arthur seized his tense body, preventing him from getting away. John returned the grip, wanting nothing more but to merge with his lover and stay like this forever as he came, shouting the older man’s name, still perfectly aware of Arthur’s cock moving inside.

Arthur speeded up, thrusting even harder into John who was slowly coming back from his bliss that was being slowly replaced with returning discomfort. But John didn’t protest, the heavenly feeling was still too strong and was increasing with Arthur’s every move, who was panting John’s name over and over, and louder and louder. When his body went still and his voice cracked while shouting the younger man’s name, John knew Arthur came. He felt it too, only a second later when he was being filled with seed.

Satisfied, John sighed shakily. Tired but happy, he dropped his limbs when his body went completely slack. Arthur was still hovering over him, shaking and panting from exhaustion. Soon enough, he felt how tired he was as well. He moved to his left and John mumbled with complaint when he couldn’t feel his lover inside any longer, but he was too tired to keep him there.

He looked at Arthur as he laid down on his back, staring at the ceiling. Their chest moved up and down rapidly and if they tried listening to their hearts, they would hear them still racing. Arthur moved his eyes to him after a while and smiled. John’s calming heart started beating faster once again and speed up even more when Arthur grasped his palm, placing their joined hands between their heads so he could graze John’s injured cheek with his fingers.

John returned the smile and closed his eyes, turning to his side and getting closer so their legs got tangled. Arthur’s hand, heavy in his grasp, was reminding him of his lover’s presence, of what they did just a moment ago and filling his heart with warmth. All because of this small gesture.

They were laying like that together, enjoying the remains of their pleasure and how close they were without the need to hide it. Outside of their little cabin, nothing else existed, not even the hunt that brought them here.

John had no idea how long they rested, everything seems to last longer when you’re happy, he didn’t even pay attention to time. Ten minutes could’ve passed from the moment they started shedding their clothes and he wouldn’t even know it. To him, it felt much longer, like they already spent a few hours here, bringing pleasure to each other.

“Can you believe we’re together only three years?” he asked suddenly, looking at Arthur who had his eyes closed. “Sometimes I feel like much more passed. Like fourteen.”

“Because that’s how long we have known each other,” John heard in return. “We were pretty much inseparable, always close. We were brothers.”

John shifted closer, as close as their joined hands let him.

“So we’re committing the sin of incest?”

Arthur chuckled and looked at John.

“Don’t start again.” John smiled and his smile only widened when Arthur pressed a quick kiss to his lips before moving away and sitting up. “We should hunt something to eat.”

“Why did you buy so many cans if we’re going hunting?” John asked. He stretched and closed his eyes, settling comfortably on the bedroll. Maybe Arthur will drop the idea of hunting if he sees how tired John is.

Arthur took his hand from John’s hold, who watched him with one eye, keeping the second one shut. It was quickly joined by the first one when his lover brushed fingers through his hair. John almost pushed his head to the touch like a cat and purred like one too. The purr turned into a disappointed whine when Arthur stood up, apparently rested already. 

“In case we can’t hunt anything,” Arthur explained himself. John still wasn’t fond of the idea of getting up. “You would starve here without me. Get up.”

“Can’t we stay here longer?” When Arthur passed by him to get to his clothes, John tried to catch and stop him but his fingers only grazed Arthur’s calf. Frustrated, he turned to the other side to keep his still naked lover in sight. “It’s nice by the fireplace. Warm.”

He wanted to stay here and just be lazy. Something that got on his nerves in the camp, here, with Arthur, was very much welcome.

“You’re acting like a goddamn cat,” Arthur noticed teasingly. “It’ll be dark soon, I ain’t going to wander here at night.”

“If you stay here with me, you won’t have to,” John tempted him. He had no idea how Arthur could refuse him when John was lying before him naked.

“Get up, John,” he hurried him. He already found his pants and was putting them on, covering the best sight. Thankfully, the second best was still bare. John openly stared at the older man’s chest, still gleaming with sweat. He wanted nothing more right now than to rest his head on it, brush the light, soft hair growing there, feel the strong abs and just fall asleep, listening to a beating heart right under his ear.

He had to wait for it a little bit more, because he had no doubt he would get what he wanted. Arthur himself will make sure of that.

“Can’t you go alone?” he tried one more time. They didn’t have to go together, back on that snow, one person was enough. Arthur will hunt something and John will stay here, keep the fire going, take a nap, then they could eat together and fall asleep just like he wanted to.

“I’m not your bloody maid, Marston.” John smiled at Arthur when he came closer but instead of joining him, his lover kicked him lightly in the ribs. He wasn’t going to lie, it hurt a little. “Get your ass up or I’ll throw you out without clothes.”

“Fine, I’m up.” He gave up and sat cross-legged, grimacing from the pain and the seed that started dripping from him. “Would you?”

“Would I what?” Arthur collected the rest of his clothes and was putting on a shirt. The belt with guns was already on his hips.

“Throw me out?”

John joined him, gathering his clothes tossed around the whole cabin.

“No,” he answered without hesitation and smiled smugly. “Some of your parts may freeze and fall off and I rather like those parts.”

“As always, you have your priorities straight,” he remarked sarcastically, pulling his pants up his slightly sticky legs. 

“As always.”

They put on their boots and coats and left the cabin to get their horses they didn’t even unsaddled yet. Snowstorm and Old Boy knickered happily when they saw them and without any convincing left their little shelter as if they didn’t have enough of travels yet.

After preparing their weapons – Arthur took his bow, John his rifle – they mounted their horses and rode towards more open areas and the river where they should have better chance to catch something. When they were still inside the cabin, it started snowing, but not too much to affect their vision so they weren’t worried yet.

After sitting in a warm cabin, the outside world seemed colder than before. John needed a moment to get used to the chilling air, discovering with satisfaction that Arthur was shivering as well, draping the coat tighter around himself.

“I told you to stay inside,” he teased him. Arthur looked at him from under his hat, almost pulled over his eyes.

“And tomorrow you would have to eat shavings from the walls,” Arthur replied harshly. John rolled his eyes hearing this tone. “Shut up and ride, I ain’t eating only canned beans when there is plenty of game around.”

John looked around confused. He couldn’t see anything beside some crows.

“You drunk?” he asked seriously. Arthur pointed with his head at the snow in front of them. John looked at it closer and under the thin layer of fresh snow he caught the sight of small prints. Tracks, probably left by a deer. He was a terrible hunter, he would've never seen them alone or he would’ve done it too late. And Arthur was following them from the beginning. “You spend too much time with Charles.”

“This man is a wonder, he can find the prey even without tracks to follow,” Arthur praised their friend.

Charles was mysterious but John liked him. He knew how to shoot, was a great hunter and scout. If they would’ve to ever tell someone from the gang about their relationship, they would choose Charles. If he didn’t know already. Sometimes John didn’t even notice when he was watched by him. He wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out that Charles caught them in the act already.

They reached the river after a few minutes and headed up the stream. Arthur was leading, focused on the tracks that were disappearing slowly under the fresh snow. John decided not to distract him and rode after him without a word, looking for an easier kill but all of the animals they saw before seemed to hide. Maybe animals heard their moans and screams?

“We’ll go on foot from there,” Arthur decided and stopped his horse.

John did the same and joined his lover on the ground. They left their horses not tied to anything so they could run to them if needed. Both used the stop to drink from the river where the water was calmer.

With his gaze aimed at the ground, Arthur walked with confidence, muttering something about being close already. John didn’t think it was true, they rode for a while and they didn’t see a single deer that should be perfectly visible here with their brown fur.

The snow was reaching to their knees, John could already feel wetness inside his boots and wanted nothing more than to be on his horse, ride back to the cabin and get warm. Instead they had to hunt, even though they had perfectly good canned food they could eat like any normal person. He started suspecting Arthur just wanted to practice tracking and then show off in front of Charles. And John had to suffer because of it.    

With a sigh, he tossed the rifle on his arm and followed Arthur. Still no animals on the horizon, even birds disappeared. This place wasn’t as perfect to live as he thought. He liked the peace and how far from civilization they were, the sights were spectacular too, but if it was so hard to find something to eat, he would rather live in the city.

Arthur was way ahead of him, focused only on the tracks and nothing else. John looked at the sky, checking the position of the sun hidden behind clouds. It was still early, they had time to catch something. If he could only convince Arthur to return to the cabin faster.

His gaze landed on the snow and then moved to Arthur, still tracking. Smirking, he took some of the snow in his hands and formed a ball he then aimed and tossed at the older man. He hit him right in the back of the head, knocking the hat in the process.

Arthur went stiff and slowly turned around. John was grinning at him until he saw the dangerous glint in his lover’s eyes who reached for his hat, watching John the whole time.

“Come ‘ere,” Arthur ordered. John took a step back. “Come ‘ere, boy.”

“I would rather not.” He took another step.

“Come ‘ere!” Arthur growled loudly.

John ran, just before Arthur rushed toward him, getting through the snow like a charging bear. It was hard to run in these conditions but John had a head start and most of all, he was faster than Arthur, always was, but when he looked back, his lover was practically breathing at his neck. He must have really pissed him off.

It was almost scary, running from the inevitable, but fun nonetheless. It wasn’t the first time, he remembered all this times from many years ago when as a child he forced Arthur to chase him only because he was bored and none of the older gang members gave him any attention. He always went to Arthur then, to steal his hat or journal or to pour water on him, anything to provoke him to have fun with John.

In the past, the best place to hide from him were trees. He was small and agile, Arthur couldn’t climb after him but now they were both adult men and climbing on any tree, especially with Arthur right on his heels, was impossible.

“You’re going to regret this, boy!” John panicked when he heard him really close behind.

He took the risk and looked back again, almost shouting in surprise when his lover, with fury in his eyes, reached toward John, trying to grab the rifle on his back. John ducked and avoided being caught but only just. He tried to run faster but there was too much snow and it was too fresh, he wasn’t able to lift his legs high enough or put his feet on the stable ground. He slipped a couple of times but Arthur slipped as well and John still didn’t fall into his grasp. 

John laughed at the absurdity of this whole thing. They were supposed to be hunting but instead they chased each other like fools, like children without any care in the world. He liked it. This freedom he never felt before.

To have a better chance, he ran toward the trees where there was less snow and where he could hide behind something. Before he could at least get close, he felt a hard hit from the back and fell down, being pressed to the snow.

“Got ya’!”

John tried to break free, he succeeded in turning on his back to not have his head forced into the snow, but Arthur was ready for his escape and he smacked his face with a hand full of snow. John screamed from the cold, trying to protect himself with his hands while his lover was rubbing snow into his face.

“Arthur, stop!” he begged, desperately kicking and wiggling under the older man’s weight. “It’s cold!”

“It’s snow, Marston!” Arthur sounded too happy and satisfied with this. “You should’ve thought about this before you threw it at me!”

“You’ll pull my stitches!”

That will help, Arthur was too paranoid, he will stop!

“They’ll stop itching if their cold!” Arthur responded and continued his assault. John coughed out the snow that got into his mouth.

Arthur held his wrist to prevent him from tossing too much, while with other hand he scooped more snow and threw it behind his collar. John shrieked like a little girl, for a moment drowning out Arthur’s laugh. The snow melted instantly on the warm skin and cold water started to run down his back and chest.

His breath got stuck in his throat and John tensed, but regardless of his brief passiveness, he was able to pick up some snow and not even trying to be gentle, he tossed it at Arthur’s face who screamed in shock which gave John enough time to crawl from under him and start running again.   

Arthur chased after him immediately, panting like an angry bull. They both reached the trees and slaloming around the trunks, they tried to hit each other with snowballs. They lost their hats during the fight but they didn’t care in the slightest, too focused on getting each other hit.

It’s been a long time since they had so much fun without any care. Some robberies can be fun but they could still die at any moment. Here, nothing could harm them. It felt good and they didn’t try to hide the joy this brought them.

They got back in the open eventually. John was running again, all wet and with a frozen nose but happy. With a smile, he looked back at Arthur chasing him. His lover was smiling as well, even when he still tried to act angry and murderous because of the first snowball.

They’ll have to stop at some point, but that meant finding a winner and John didn’t want to be the one who lose. He started thinking about some plan when he heard familiar whiz and a moment later, something flew in front of his eyes. In a second, his arms were pinned to his sides and the resistance he met when he still tried to run caused him to fall on his back, almost like he just bounced off the wall. He landed on his rifle and hissed with pain, looking at the rope that lead from him right into Arthur’s hands.

“Got ya’ again,” Arthur said with satisfaction and approached quickly.

John started to struggle, trying to escape from the lasso wrapped around him but before he could do that, Arthur got to him and sat on his hips, smiling smugly.

“Fine,” John sighed and stopped fighting. “You won, I give up.”

Losing wasn’t so bad, not in this position.

Arthur chuckled and patted him on the cheek before leaning in and brushing his cold nose over John’s equally cold face then kissing him gently. John felt warm immediately, despite their lips still being icy and their teeth chattering, even during the kiss.

They pulled back slightly, their visible breaths mixed together and eyes locked on each other. John smiled and Arthur smiled back right away while getting up and losing the rope to let John stand as well.

His clothes were all wet from laying in the snow but it was worth it. He could still feel the thrill of the chase and he couldn’t stop smiling. Cheerful, he wrapped his arm around Arthur and they walked together to find the place where they lost their hats. 

“I don’t remember when was the last time we played like children,” John admitted, shaking off the snow from the hat before putting it on. “Couple of years, I think.”

“Too bad you don’t play like that with your son.”

Arthur’s words were so sudden and surprising it made John stop in his tracks and look at the older man. He had no idea where his change in mood came from. Just a moment ago they were having fun and now Arthur was speaking to him in a harsh tone, just like when he was angry at him for whatever reason. Just like during the week after John’s return to the gang, making him feel guilty over running away even more than he already was.

“He’s not even mine,” he answered after a while, feeling his anger boiling inside him. He hated talking about Jack, everyone was always saying the same thing. Take care of your son, John. It’s your kid, John. The difference between Arthur and the rest was that other gang members were always careful while talking about this subject, knowing he can lash out at them at any moment. Arthur was never afraid to do that, wasn’t walking on eggshells around John whenever Jack was brought up. Arthur and Abigail were the only ones that weren’t reluctant to say to his face what they think about his behavior. It didn’t matter he never listened to them like with the others. “Everyone in the gang slept with her. Even you. He may be yours.”

Arthur huffed and shook his head, waiting for John to catch up with him.

“He has your eyes,” he said assuredly. “I would recognize those eyes anywhere, trust me.”

“Even if he’s mine, so what?” John started walking again, subconsciously putting his feet on the ground harder than necessary to let go of some steam without causing a fight. He has no desire for tossing around in the snow again, this time with a high chance of getting his nose broken by Arthur. “I never wanted to be a father and I still don’t want to. Can we not talk about it, please? We’re supposed to have fun here.”

They’d come here to forget about the gang and what was happening there right now. Just the two of them, nothing more. He didn’t understand why Arthur wanted to ruin it.

“You’re always running from responsibilities, John.” Arthur was leading them back to their horses. “You can deny all you want but I know you didn’t run away for a year just because I didn’t want to fuck you four years ago.”

Official version was that he ran because he didn’t want to take responsibility for his son. It was partly true, but what broke him in the end was Arthur’s rejection of his feelings. John couldn’t stand being around him after he gave the older man his heart only to be ignored because Arthur was too scared to admit they love each other more than brothers or friends. John couldn’t be just that anymore.

So he did the only thing that came to his head at that moment. That night, he packed and ran, breathing a sigh of relief when he was far enough to not worry about search party. He left behind two great problems in his life – a son that wasn’t even his and Arthur who broke his heart.

His friends thought he ran only because of Jack and it made a good cover. If it was purely because of the boy, he would’ve run a long time ago, not when the kid was almost one year old. Arthur knew the main reason but he also found out that Jack wasn’t just a cover. Not that it was that hard to deduce but John hoped that their fight from that time will distract the older man from everything else.

“Abigail wanted me to help raise Jack,” John explained calmly when he noticed Arthur wasn’t trying to start a fight. “I had no interest in that, you rejected and hurt me. Abigail didn’t understand I had bigger things to do then, like providing for the gang. I had my responsibilities. I still have.”

He wouldn’t be a good father anyway. His place was in the saddle, on the road. He was good with robbing people and killing them, not holding a small child whose needs he didn’t even understand. Some random stranger would be better suited to take care of Jack than emotionally broken John. He still thought the same.

Jack was four now and John still couldn’t get that kid. He had no idea why the boy looked at him or spoke strangely. Maybe if John had a normal childhood, he would be able to understand Jack better, but he didn’t. He didn’t remember how to be a child, he never took care of one and Abigail just expected him to be a father just like that and become a family with her.

He explained a long time ago it won’t happen, that he loves Arthur, not her. Not like that. Her attempts at seducing him and reasoning with him eventually stopped but not pestering him about becoming a father. Abigail was really stubborn. That’s why he was so happy to finally leave the camp and not have to listen to her complaints.

“Jack is your responsibility too.” Arthur was still trying to convince him. John always respected his opinions, even if he didn’t share them, but he really didn’t care for this one. “You made a child so take care of it, none of this is the boy’s fault.”

“Every man slept with Abigail, but only I ended up with a kid.”

Sometimes he believed Jack was his. And it angered him. When Abigail joined the gang, she ended up in everyone’s bed to make sure no one would throw her out and to know them better. Mac Callander was the first one that fucked her, basically the same day she joined, but John was aware from the start that Abigail only had her eyes on him. He was kind of happy about it. He was already in love with Arthur and Abigail seemed like a good distraction from that.

He was sure only Hosea never slept with that girl. From the very beginning he treated her like a daughter but it still left at least nine men she slept with at least once at some point. John wasn’t even the last one but apparently he was the father and he had trouble believing in that.

“You need to face it one day, John.” Arthur’s tone was gentle. He wasn’t angry anymore, just sad. “You can’t run away from it forever. You’ll regret not doing anything sooner before something bad will happen.”

Of course. Now it made sense. Isaac was the same age as Jack right now. No wonder Arthur was so emotional about this, sometimes even more than Abigail. John just kept tossing away something that was so cruelly taken from Arthur who couldn’t just watch John do that when he could do something about it.

John was really sorry for his loss. They rarely talked about this but he remembered well how devastated Arthur was when he returned to the gang one day. Only the four of them – John, Arthur, Dutch and Hosea knew about this tragedy, of how much Eliza and Isaac meant to Arthur and how broken he was after their death over stupid ten dollars. 

John was picking the pieces of Arthur’s heart for a long time after this and he would give anything to bring back what the older man lost forever. He understood why Arthur cared so much about John not giving up a chance at fatherhood so freely. His lover would be more than happy to care for Jack like for his own son, John was sure Abigail would have nothing against it, but instead of offering her that, Arthur wanted to convince John to change his mind. To help him see what joy being a father brings.

No matter how much he loved Arthur, he wasn’t ready. He didn’t want Jack and he doubted he ever will. John wished he could make him happy like that, to accept having a family that Arthur wanted to have as well but lost once. He would do that without hesitation, he just couldn’t.

“I can give Abigail the money, protect her and Jack, teach the boy how to shoot and ride but I won’t be his father because he’s not my son,” he kept insisting. He won’t change his mind, no matter what.

“You’re an idiot, Marston,” Arthur told him, but without any malice. “Jack is yours, only you were stupid enough to not take out your dick fast enough.”

John snorted and joined his lover’s side. He could feel the tension getting weaker.

“Let’s not talk about this, okay?,” he asked softly. He wanted to get back to being excited about this trip. “We’re alone, let’s not ruin it by talking about the gang.”

“I’ll let it slide this one time,” Arthur decided and stopped suddenly, outstretching his hand to stop him too. John wanted to ask what’s going on, but Arthur was quicker. “Be quiet.”

John squinted his eyes, not saying a word and looking in the same direction as Arthur. He noticed it then, slightly ahead of them, by the river, there was a single doe. She didn’t feel threatened by two horses looking for food under the snow nearby.

“Our dinner,” John said in a hushed tone and crouched with Arthur, who got his bow and arrow ready.

“It must be the stupidest deer in the world. We scared off every animal in miles but not this one.”

“Good for us.”

The doe wasn’t alarmed by anything. Her ears moved in every direction but she didn’t hear them talking or the crunching of the snow and when she raised her head, she didn’t even notice them or just didn’t take them for danger. From afar they didn’t look like predators, more like rocks covered by snow. The wind was on their side as well, blowing in their direction.

When the doe stopped searching for danger and got back to drinking, Arthur pulled back the arrow and aimed. John didn’t move a muscle, he didn’t want to ruin the hunt. He only watched in amazement how the older man aimed the arrow and when he was sure it would hit the target, he released it.

The doe didn’t even register what happened. The arrow plunged into her neck, right when the spine meets the skull and that was enough to cause her legs to collapse under her when she fell lifeless on the ground.

“Got ya’,” Arthur exclaimed proudly and got up to get to his prey.

John rushed after him and soon they were standing by the dead doe who was partially in the water. They whistled for their horses and quickly took the doe out to not lose her with the current and to start skinning her. They had to be fast, the smell of fresh blood could draw predators to them, and wolves weren't even the worst that could come. It was getting darker too, they lost a lot of time playing in the snow. If they didn’t stumble on that doe, they would’ve to get back to the cabin right after returning to the horses.

Arthur skinned the doe, being careful to not cut the skin in the wrong place. When the meat was in the open, John stepped in, cutting it piece by piece. The doe was skinny but had enough meat on her to feed them for a while in case something would force them to stay in the mountains longer than they planned.

After a couple of minutes, they were both covered in blood, especially John, who practically stuck his hands in the dead doe. His coat was soaked to elbows but he washed it in the river and rubbed snow onto it, which was falling harder from the sky with every passing minute, to the point where the thin layer of it stopped melting on the still hot carcass.

“We got everything, let’s go,” Arthur decided when the pelt was clean and meat neatly packed in some rags and placed on Old Boy’s saddle.

Both he and Snowstorm became skittish during skinning but loyally stood next to their riders, waiting for them to finish.  

After leaving the rest of the body for other animals, Arthur and John jumped into the saddles. At the same moment, they heard distance howling, one at first, then another. Wolves smelled the blood or saw the birds circling above their heads. No matter the reason, the whole pack was likely coming their way. 

They didn’t have to coax their horses to hurry, they did it themselves, wanting to be as far away from wolves as they could. It was really dark already when they got back to the cabin. Smoke was still coming out of the chimney which meant they still had fire.

They lead horses to the back and unsaddled them to let them rest. Both got sugar cubes as the reward and were patted and praised many times by their riders for the hard work. In a warm and safe place, horses fell asleep standing close to each other to share warmth, while John and Arthur got inside their own shelter, closing the door after themselves and starting shaking off the snow that got stuck to them not only during rolling around in it, but also because of the snowstorm outside. It wasn’t as bad as when they were here with the gang but it wasn’t safe to travel either, especially after dark.

“Warm, at last.” John put his saddle near the door, same as Arthur, who hanged the doe pelt to dry.

“Could’ve been here sooner if it wasn’t for your inner child waking up,” Arthur complained, striping from his wet clothes. John did the same and they both ended just with pants. The rest of the clothes were left to dry near the fireplace. Arthur tossed some wood to the fire.

 “You were having fun too, don’t blame the whole thing on me.” John sat close to the fireplace to warm his hands. When he could feel blood in them again, he rubbed his face to warm it as well. It wasn’t a good idea, not with the stitches that immediately started to burn. “Do you have any salve?”

“You didn’t take any?” Arthur wasn’t even surprised.

“I forgot.” He could feel the faint blush on his face. “I left it in my tent.”

Arthur stood up from the stomp in the corner where he sat with a cauldron to prepare them dinner. He got to his saddle and from one of the saddlebags he fished out a small jar with a yellow salve he tossed to John.

“Why it doesn’t surprise me that you didn’t take any medicine with you when you need one?”

“Shush,” John told him with a smile that Arthur returned. Smiling wasn’t the best idea when the wounds on his cheeks practically burned, especially when the dried skin stretched. John quickly opened the jar and scooped the salve on his warm fingers. “Ugh, why does it stink so much?”

“It’s supposed to work, not smell good. It’s not perfumes, Marston.”

“Wouldn’t hurt to give it a nice scent. I’m going to put it near my nose,” he kept complaining but still rubbed the salve onto the wounds. He felt relief instantly, the salve was still a little bit cold but not as much as snow, which eased the burn and itch. It felt so good he didn’t want to stop rubbing the wounds. 

He really overdo them today. Arthur didn’t help either, trying to feed him the snow. Thankfully Abigail wasn’t there or she would’ve whined for the next hour about how irresponsible he is.

“Should I leave you alone?” John stopped with his hand still at his cheek. Arthur was watching him with an amused look on his face. “You look like you’re having a really good time.”

If he wasn’t blushing already, John would have blushed right now.  

“It’s a nice feeling.” He took his hand away from his face. “Stop picking on me, Morgan.”

Arthur chuckled but didn’t say anything else, instead he returned to making dinner. A short time later, the cauldron was put above the fire and the whole cabin was filled with aromas of cooked meat and canned vegetables. They basically added everything they had, along with various herbs Arthur had with him. They sat in front of the fire together and watched their dinner cook slowly. This would be the fullest meal John had in a while. He didn’t even regret going out anymore, venison smelled wonderfully, he could almost feel his mouth dripping and he couldn’t wait to eat.

They had to wait some time before the stew started boiling. Arthur scooped some of it on the spoon and put it to John’s face so he could taste it. The stew was hot and burned his tongue but he was too hungry to be bothered by it. When the burning sensation passed, he finally felt every flavor and the meat practically melted in his mouth.

“Jesus, it’s incredible,” he complimented which caused Arthur to smile sheepishly and look away. “You really are a better cook than Pearson.”

“Nah,” Arthur disagreed immediately, taking the cauldron off the fire. “Pearson knows how to cook but he doesn’t always have enough ingredients.”

“When we bring him the bison meat, we’ll eat like kings for a week.” John followed his lover to the stomp.

“Out of nowhere, everyone will want to fill their bowls a few times. There’ll be a revolution and the gang will perish.”

“I can see that already.” John chuckled, watching Arthur putting the stew on their only tin bowl they took with them. “Bill would be the first to dive into the cauldron.”

“Bill? Pearson wouldn’t even let any of us come close.” Arthur gave him one of the two spoons and they both sat near the stomp, with the bowl of stew between them. “He would slaughter all of us if we get too close. It’s better not to give him the bison meat at all.”

“You’re right, we can survive eating squirrels.”

“And when squirrels are gone, we’ll start eating each other,” Arthur joked. “We should eat Pearson first.”

“Then Bill. Thank God Sean is gone, he’s too stringy to eat.”

“And he would talk too much before we would eat him. I prefer when my food is quiet.”

“We talk about who we would eat first when maybe it us who would be eaten,” John suggested.

“You’re too thin, especially now.” Arthur said it with displeasure in his voice. “Maybe in a few weeks, when you gain back some muscles.”

“They would eat you for sure.” John shamelessly stared at Arthur’s chest. “Literally and figuratively.”

“I know at least one person who would do it figuratively.” Arthur noticed his staring and grinned.

“If only it was just one person,” he said, returning the grin.

Only someone blind wouldn’t notice how woman in the camp eyed Arthur. Even Abigail had done that and she was in love with John. The girls favorite time was when Arthur helped around the camp and they could see his strong muscles working under only the thin shirt. The other man didn’t have reason to complain either, John himself heard woman giggling and gossiping so many times behind his back when he was chopping wood he lost the count. Arthur working in the camp however, was such a rare sight that no woman wanted to miss it if they could watch.

And only watch.

Sometimes, John watched Arthur along with girls, only more discreetly. While woman could openly flirt and admire Arthur, who always played along to entertain them, John hid behind the wagon or a tree, feeling amazing with the fact that while Mary-Beth, Tilly or Karen could only look at that muscular body they loved so much, he could touch and kiss it. Watch it naked. Only him.    

Many times he wanted to brag about Arthur being his only to see the jealousy in the girl’s eyes. If he could, he would tell the whole world they’re in love. Instead they had to hide in fear of being killed or chased out of society. No wonder Arthur was so scared to start anything. It would be easier for them to live with women but their lives were already hard and dangerous, one more obstacle didn’t change much. That’s why making a final decision that brought them here wasn’t a tough choice. 

They talked during dinner about hunting. Arthur wanted to start at dawn to have more time to search for the bison. John didn’t think that finding the only bison in the area, big as a mountain and leaving the obvious sign in the snow would be very hard, but he let the older man plan their whole day before they moved onto other topics, like saving Sean, if they should be worried about Cornwall and what Dutch is planning.

After they finished dinner, they moved closer to the fireplace, their bellies full. Arthur sat leaning against the wall and with John settled between his legs, they were passing a bottle of whisky between them. Not hungry anymore and tired after traveling, they got sleepy pretty quickly. Alcohol didn’t help either but John was fighting with the sleep and stubbornly kept his eyes open, holding Arthur’s hand and stroking it with his thumb. They should go to sleep if they wanted to rest before the hunt and get up early, it was a perfect moment to lay down. The problem was that it would mean losing the precious alone time they had. Sleeping together was nice but it wasn’t the same as sitting and talking.

Arthur must have had sensed his inner fight because he started placing gentle kisses on his neck. He also put the bottle of whisky away and took his hand from John’s hold to fold them on his stomach, only to undone his pants a few seconds later.

“What you thinking about?” he asked quietly, sliding his hands inside the pants. John raised his hips to help his lover with taking the pants off.

“Exactly about that,” he replied and reached behind himself, to drag Arthur into a kiss. He sighed loudly when the older man’s hand found his soft member.

“I got you, Johnny.” Arthur slipped from under him to move between his spread legs. Captivated, John watched his lover taking off his pants completely. “I got you.”

“I know,” he whispered. Nothing changed over the years.

He let himself be moved on the bedroll so he laid on it. Propped on his elbows to still see Arthur, he watched as his lover parted his thighs and started placing kisses on them. John bit his bottom lip to hold back the moan that threatened to escape when he felt Arthur’s stubble rubbing against his thin and sensitive skin of the inner thighs.  

“Relax and don’t think,” Arthur told him. His lips were so close to John’s skin, kissing all the places he scratched with his beard a moment ago, that John barely heard him. Arthur’s hands were gripping him so hard they left marks on his skin when Arthur slid them lower.

Already breathing faster, John laid down comfortably, looking at the ceiling and feeling Arthur moving higher with his kisses. When his lover’s lips found their place on John’s cock, John moaned loudly and tightly grasped the bedroll with his fingers.

This was far better than sleeping and when they eventually both came, they fell asleep in each other’s arms instantly – John with his head on Arthur’s chest, listening to the beating of his heart.

Chapter Text

Arthur and John woke up early in the morning, right at dawn. They quickly ate something small, get dressed and got outside to saddle their horses. After whole night rest, both mounts were ready for a long ride.

They followed the river again, moving towards Lake Isabella where people apparently saw the white bison.

“I haven’t seen him when I caught Snowstorm,” said Arthur, when John asked him why he didn’t shoot the animal then. “I looked for him but it was snowing. I barely noticed her.”

The weather was perfect now, it got better since yesterday. They sky was clear, without any clouds, the wind was gentle and the sun was shining warmly, causing the snow to sparkle beautify which, unfortunately, blinded both man a little. It wasn’t also that cold like yesterday and many animals went out to find something to eat. This time John and Arthur weren’t interested in hunting deer.

They passed the doe they hunted the day before. All what was left of her was bones and some meat that a single crow tried to eat, but it flew away when horses scared him. Despite the falling snow yesterday, it was possible to see some wolf prints on the ground but even for not very experienced John they didn’t look fresh. Not to mention they were leading into other direction the two outlaws were going so they weren’t bothered by it. 

It took them two hours to get to the lake. In some places the river was shallow enough for horses to move through water, which was easier than walking on a fresh snow. Their trusty mounts didn’t look like they were struggling though. Snowstorm looked eager even. She must had recognized the area, because Arthur had to calm her down few times when she started bucking and neighing, which somehow spread to Old Boy. John never saw him so excited before.

When they reached the lake, they dismounted their horses and took the high caliber guns from the saddles. Even Arthur left the bow in exchange of a rifle with the scope and a pack of ammunition. With good enough precision, one or two shots should deal with the bison so they didn’t really need that much ammo but you never know.

“Let’s walk around the lake,” Arthur decided and not waiting for John, he started walking. John smiled seeing his lover’s impatience. He really wanted to caught this bison.

“It’s a big lake,” John reminded while following after him.

“You need to be somewhere else?”

John smiled again when Arthur looked back at him. “Not really.”

Step after step, very slowly and with a lot of looking around for tracks, they walked along the lake shore. Most of the water was covered by ice, but there was few spots where water didn’t freeze. Arthur, because he was a better hunter out of two of them, was leading. He checked every footprint they came upon but none of them belonged to a bison so they ignored them.  

Despite not talking to each other and the lack of action, John wasn’t bored like yesterday. He was surprised how thrilled he was with this, he even wanted to find something first, to prove himself and to make Arthur proud.

The quiet was nice too. No civilization in sight, just animals, trees and lots of snow. Walking around such wilderness was calming. John felt like he was relaxing during lying around even though he was moving through deep snow which wasn’t that easy. 

Both men walked around for an hour not saying a word to each other. Arthur was very patient and even after that long without any progress he still was as excited as at the beginning. Every now and then he stopped to look at the map from Hosea or observe the area to find their legendary game. 

John followed him like a shadow which caused his chance to be an active member of the hunt to drop. He could still see something first, but it was doubting he could be faster than Arthur. If he wanted to help, they needed to split up. Not only they could cover more ground that way, but also John will feel like he is needed here. So far, he felt useless when Arthur was doing everything himself.

“Let’s split up,” he suggested when Arthur stopped by one of the trees to look at it’s bark.

“The last time you were alone in the mountains you almost died,” his lover reminded him teasingly. 

“It was snowing, there was a storm. Usually I don’t get lost.”

John saw enough world to be able to find safety even in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Besides, he found the gang after leaving them for a year and he didn’t even know where to look for them. If he and Arthur get separated, he can find a way back to their little cabin or even Arthur himself.

“If you say so.” Arthur got back to watching the tree, so John didn’t waste any time and walked away his way. “Be careful not to startle the bison.”

As if he was incapable of noticing the big animal soon enough to not scare it. Slightly irritated by this warning, he separated from Arthur as much as he could. He could still see him, but there was enough distance between them that John could see any mark before the older man.

With a rifle in one hand and binoculars in the other, John started looking. Snow was a blessing while looking for paw or hoof prints, but it caused eyes to get tired easily. It would be easier if the bison was any other color than white, but you can’t have everything. Who would give big money for a regular bison that decided to live in the mountains instead on plains? It would still be unique but not as much as a white one.

The sun came to them with help and hid behind the clouds that appeared in the sky. It didn’t look like it was going to snow again.

John was squinting his eyes this whole time, now he finally opened them wider and climbed on a rock to see better. Now the binoculars worked much better, he used it to examine the other shore, looking for something, anything that didn’t look like a part of an environment or for something that moved. 

He watched everything closely, not wanting to miss anything when he finally noticed something on the ground. To be sure it’s not a rock, he controlled his excitement just yet and zoomed to get a better look. The more he watched, the more he was sure he found excrement. A very big pile of it, not something a deer would left.

“Arthur!” he shouted quickly and turned towards the place he’d seen his lover last. “Arthur!”

“Jesus Christ, do you actually want to hunt this bison?” John could barely hear Arthur since the older man didn’t shout like him.

“I think I found something,” he said proudly.

“Then check it.” John was a little disappointed it was all Arthur got to say. It was like Arthur didn’t even believe he found anything worth mentioning. “You know how to follow tracks. And be quiet, I bet they could hear you even in Horseshoe.”

John huffed and jumped of the rock before moving toward his discovery. If Arthur didn’t want to help him, then it’s his loss. John will find and catch the bison alone. He would rather have Arthur with him, but apparently the older man didn’t even believed John found something. Or he believed in him so much he was sure he can handle it alone. John had a feeling it was the first option.

It was a short walk to the place where he noticed bison’s shit, all he had to do was to go along the shore of the lake. He was determined to find the animal before Arthur. He was very close already when he heard the loud crack under his feet. John stopped abruptly, afraid to move even a muscle.

His heart started beating rapidly. Panicked, he looked around, realizing that he wasn’t walking on the solid ground this whole time. He wasn’t even moving toward the other shore but to some small island in the middle of the lake, the one he remembered seeing on the map.

Fresh snow covered the shore line, preventing at the first glance to see where the water starts. John looked behind himself, at his foot marks which, at one point, weren’t as deep as before. Now he noticed where the ice started. He took it for the solid ground and now he was stuck in the middle of the lake with a freezing water under his feet.

“Arthur!” His whole body tensed when the ice creaked again. John could swear the surface of it moved when he shifted just a little. “Arthur!”

John hated how much fear was in his voice but he had no control over it. He was in a really bad situation right now, without Arthur somewhere near, he would have had panicked already, not knowing what to do. 

Arthur finally appeared on the shore. John slowly turned towards him, keeping his feet on the ice this whole time.

“I told you to be…”, Arthur started but didn’t finish. From his spot, he stared confused at John. “Why are you standing like that?”

John didn’t even know what to say to him, especially because Arthur had no problem noticing when the lake starts and stopped walking right before the ice that John thought was land.  

“Arthur,” he whimpered pathetically.

Arthur must had noticed the fear in John eyes or he just sensed the panicked tone, because his gaze moved toward the ice under John and his shallow foot marks that uncovered the ice hidden under snow.

“Shit.” Arthur put the rifle on his arm. “Please tell me you didn’t…”

“Arthur, the ice is breaking.” He heard another crack, quiet one but in his ears it was like a gunshot near his face. 

Whatever Arthur was saying while looking around nervously to find something to help, John didn’t hear it, but he was sure it wasn’t anything nice.

“How the hell you didn’t notice you walked right into the middle of the lake?” Arthur asked. He sounded angry, but John could also hear fear in his voice.

Arthur was rightfully scared, because if John fall under the water, there was a very slim chance he will get out of this alive. Even if he get out, he’ll probably die from the cold. Arthur will be at risk of freezing and drowning as well, they could both die.

“Arthur I can’t swim,” John reminded him, more because of the panic than to really warn his lover, who knew about this better than anyone.

“I know, give me a minute.” Arthur voice was shaking, he was still looking for a way out of this situation. “God damn it! Middle of the spring and this moron is walking on ice. I should leave you here!”

“Don’t even joke about it!” John begged him.

He was never so still like in this moment. And so tense. One wrong move and he will fall under the ice.

Arthur was right, it was stupid of him walk without care around the lake, especially after it snowed the other day, but after he saw some ice uncovered, he wasn’t expecting other parts of it to be under snow. Even so, he should’ve been more careful and notice when he stopped walking in snow reaching to his knees. You don’t have to have surviving skills to know it’s a bad sign, but he was so excited with his find he didn’t notice the danger that was right in front of him.

It was a few tense moments before Arthur spoke up. “Okay, I think I got a plan.” The older man reached for his lasso he had at his side. “Tie it around yourself.”

Arthur threw the lasso to John, hitting him with it on the first try. John quickly did what the older man told him to do and after tying it around his waist, he grabbed the rope with his hands.

“Now what?”

“Lay down.”

“Are you mad?!”

If he lays down, the ice will break for sure!

“Charles told me once it’s the best way out of this situation,” Arthur explained him. “The pressure you put on ice is not focused in one place like during standing.”

It still didn’t sound safe but he trusted Charles and most of all, he trusted Arthur. If it doesn’t work, at least he won’t be lost under the surface, Arthur should be able to drag him out of water.

Carefully to not disturb the already broken ice, John first crouched and then gently got on his knees. The ice was cracking so John’s body was shaking and his instincts were telling him to stay still and stop moving. He fought it and slowly put hands on the ice. So far so good.

He took a look at Arthur who nodded at John to encourage him. Only then the younger outlaw let himself slip forward a little to lay down on his stomach. The cold was soaking into his clothes and to his skin but it wasn’t the biggest problem right now.

“Okay, now slowly crawl towards the shore,” Arthur told him and gently tugged the rope. Only because of it John wasn’t panicking yet. If it wasn’t for the lasso, he would had been less willing to try this new survival method.  

Those few minutes were one of the most stressful in his entire life. At any moment the ice could break while John was slowly crawling towards the solid ground and Arthur who tugged the rope when John went still whenever he heard another crack. Few times he was dead sure he’s going to fall into the water but nothing like that happened and he reached the shore where there was more snow than on the frozen lake.

Solid ground.

John immediately jumped back on his feet and took few steps away from the water. Suffocating slightly and with moving backwards, he didn’t notice Arthur with who he collided. The older man grabbed him tightly and hugged him, but providing comfort for both of them didn’t stop him from scolding John for his stupidity.

“You moron,” he murmured right by John’s ear. “You’re a moron, John Marston, you know that? A goddamn moron.”

“I know.” He wasn’t even going to argue. “I know.”

He was so close to death again. Not only he almost died few weeks ago, it was in the same mountains too. It wasn’t the place for him, that’s for sure.

When they both calmed down and Arthur slapped John’s “dumb, empty head, Marston!”, they continued their hunt, together again. They doubted the hunt will be success. John’s yelling probably scared the bison away.

“We could check what I found.”

“Don’t you have enough near death experience for one day?” Arthur asked, clearly unwilling to go on any ice. John didn’t blame him, he himself even wanted to get as far away from the lake as possible.

“The bison got there somehow,” he noticed. “The shit was fresh, it’s not covered with snow. Somewhere must be an ice thick enough for us to pass it.”

Arthur thought about it for a moment, looking at the place John was just minutes ago and almost died from fear or drowning, whichever would got to him first.

“Fine, let’s walk around the lake and see if there is a safe way.”

They did just that. They walked along the shore, Arthur closer to make sure John won’t get on ice again, but the younger man was more careful this time. He wouldn’t be that stupid again, but he was grateful for his lover’s concern.

They walked for a while before they found the ice thick enough. Arthur checked by hitting it hard with the stock of his rifle few times. When the ice barely showed any scratch on its surface, they cautiously stepped on it and got to the little island.

Going towards the excrements was unnecessary because when they reached the shore, they noticed fresh hooves prints in the snow.

“Let’s hope the bison didn’t get too far from your screaming,” Arthur said when he examined the tracks and stood up.

“Sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it, I’m just glad you’re okay.” Arthur wasn't even angry for what happened. “Screw the bison.”

John smiled at that. Touched by his lover’s words, he joined the older man‘s tracking. They had to walk on the ice again, John was tense when he put his feet on it, he would rather not do that at all but if it held the full grown buffalo, then it should hold two grown man as well.

For a while they were sure the bison run away so far they will never get to him but the distance between tracks showed the animal wasn’t running or didn’t get between the trees to hide, which gave them hope for catching it today.

The tracks were visible all the time, they also started noticing munched twigs or bushes and at one point, even a uncovered part of the ground that looked like the bison laid down there and tossed around. Some white fur they found there only confirmed this.   

“Look at that.” Arthur’s voice was full of amazement. John was smiling ever since they found new tracks. “The bison is real. I mean, it’s obvious, we saw the hooves prints, but they can’t tell you the color of it’s fur.”

“He’s white, all right.” John held his rifle more firmly. “And it’s close. It has to be.”

Arthur looked at the sky. The sun was hidden behind the clouds but it was still possible to see where it is. Right above their heads. They were hunting this bison since morning but they didn’t feel like that much time passed. The hunt was thrilling, John never followed one animal for so long, usually it was easy to find some deer wherever the gang was currently staying. This was new, if he was being honest, he didn’t want the hunt to end.

“Let’s move,” Arthur ordered, tossing the fur away. “Now be quiet and watch for the wind.”

He nodded and they followed the tracks, moving away from the lake for at least a mile. Even if they lose the tracks, John still will be satisfied. He enjoyed this trip, finally he moved more than in the camp, rode a horse again and hands got used to holding a gun. If he could only shoot now too, smell the familiar scent of the gunpowder that reminded him of home. 

They noticed the bison at the same time. It was standing about fifty steps from them. They only noticed it because of the woods behind it where it was looking for food. The moment their eyes caught the sight of the animal, John and Arthur got still and crouched to watch the buffalo with awe.

It was beautiful, white as the snow around it. They never saw a bison like that and they stumbled upon a bunch of herds. Most of them were brown, some black but never white. It looked almost like a ghost.

“Amazing,” Arthur whispered, correcting his hold on the gun. “We’ll get a lot of money for the pelt. And horns.”

“And the meat will feed the camp for a week or two.” He could already see the amount of it they’ll take with them. 

The bison was huge, two hundred pounds at least. With how they rationed the food in the camp, the meat should last two weeks, some of it the could dry or they could pickle it to prevent it from rotting in the warmer climate.

They found a real treasure.

“I kind of don’t want to shoot it,” he admitted after a while of admiring the animal. Beside the white coat, the bison wasn’t different than other of his kind, but it was the white color that made him unique. Killing an animal like that seemed like a bigger crime than robbing a bank.

“Me neither, but it would be a shame to not hunt it,” Arthur noticed and sighed. “You wanna do the honors?”

“You just don’t want to do it yourself,” John teased him. Arthur had a soft spot for animals. He killed them, obviously, but never for fun. Killing this bison didn’t seem necessary but it was a challenge, that’s why the older man was hesitant.

Arthur shrugged, not even hiding the fact he doesn’t want to shoot.

“You found the first track, it’s your pray,” he explained and put the rifle on his back. “Come one. You can later tell everyone in the camp how you killed the legendary bison.”

“I was going to do that anyway,” he said and laid down on the snow to have a better position. “You sure you don’t want to do this?”

Arthur joined him with the binoculars in the lying position. John could only watch the bison through the scope. He aimed at the head already, all he needed was to wait for the perfect chance to shoot. 

“I have the whole map of those animals,” Arthur responded in whispers to not alarm the animal.

John grinned. “Killing a beaver won’t be as impressive,” he noticed, not taking his eyes from the bison. He was afraid that if he does that, the animal will disappear in the snow.

“But killing a wolf will. Besides, I already killed the biggest son of a bitch on this map.”

Such a shame John was too weak to go with Arthur then and hunt the massive bear. It must’ve been fun.

“Lucky you.”

John focused more on aiming, which wasn’t easy with Arthur lying so close their arms were touching.

“Don’t rush it,” he got advice from his lover. “This isn’t a gun fight, you’re in no hurry. Aim well, take a deep breath, calm your heart and shoot.”

Shifting to be more comfortable, John did what Arthur told him to. He was aiming at the bison for a while now but now he focused on aiming at the place when one shoot should deal with the animal.

He put the finger on the trigger, waited a second or two and took a deep breath, making himself and the gun still. Bison’s head was bowed, it wasn’t moving, so just when John was sure it won’t change, he shoot once, hitting the animal right in the eye.

The bison groaned loudly before falling down in the snow. Arthur let out a triumphant laugh and patted shocked John on the back. He did it. He really did it!

“Good job, Marston,” Arthur praised him and got up, dusting himself of the snow. “Come on, we need to take care of it.”

Still in dazed state, John followed the older man, not believing how easy it all ended. Following the bison was harder, it made shooting it almost disappointing. Just a little, but disappointing. The good thing was it wasn’t for fun.

Arthur didn’t start skinning the animal right away, instead, he walked around it, watching it with fascination, even touching the white fur once.

“You want a picture?” he asked suddenly. John stared at him surprised.

“A picture?” he repeated. Why would someone need a picture of a dead bison?

“With your pray,” Arthur explained, and not waiting for an answer, he took a camera out of his satchel. John didn’t even notice when the older outlaw took it from the saddlebags. “Stand beside it, I’ll make one.”

John still didn’t know why do this, but after a little consideration he decided it’s not such a bad idea. It will be a better trophy than hanging the animal’s head on the wall, which he couldn’t do anyway. A photo will be a nice memento of this hunt and whenever he’ll look at it, he will remember this few wonderful days spend with Arthur.

“I don’t really know what to do,” he admitted confused.

No one ever took a picture of him after hunting an animal, usually he hunted alone and few group photos of the gang they had weren’t really a good reference either.

“Just try not to look stupid,” Arthur told him, took a few steps back and pointed a camera at him.

John looked at the dead bison and moved a little closer to it. He tried to remember any pictures of hunters he might have seen in his life but there weren’t that many of them. A camera wasn’t very common among folks, it was too expensive and it needed right conditions to take a good photo. Only recently there was a new way to take photos with easy and portable cameras but still, hunters preferred to take the trophy home to prove they caught something.

Not having any other options, John trusted his guts. Holding a rifle with one hand, he pointed the gun slightly at the sky, the other hand he put on his hip and then he moved even closer to the bison and placed his foot on its big shoulder. Arthur smiled at him pleased, John couldn’t help himself and returned that smile. Only a moment later, a photo was taken.

“And done.” Arthur started putting his camera away.

“You don’t want your own?” John asked him, putting the gun on his back.

“Nah, you shoot it.”

“You tracked it.”

“After you found the first trail.”

“But without you, I would’ve been dead right now and the trail would mean nothing.” John grinned with satisfaction when Arthur clearly lost. “Come one. We will put you one the picture so people in hundred years can still watch you.”

“It’s kind of scary when you put it that way,” Arthur admitted but handed John the camera before taking his place by the bison.

John got the spot where Arthur was previously, turning the camera in his hands with no clue how to use it.

“How do I take a photo?” he asked confused.

“You press the button on the top,” Arthur explained him and shook his head in disbelief. For someone who often teased John for his supposed lack of brain, he was always surprised whenever John really was acting stupid. As if Arthur didn’t really considered him stupid at all. “Why are you smiling like that?”

“No reason.” John turned the camera the right way. “Pose or something.”

As always when it comes to situations like this, Arthur complained a little before he crouched near the bison, gripping one of his horns and keeping his gun resting on the shoulder. John didn’t even try to make him smile, Arthur’s relaxed expression was enough to make the picture perfect. Pleased with his lover, he pressed the button not even knowing if the photo was taken but Arthur stood up so it must’ve worked.

“We’ve got souvenirs, now we need to skin this big bastard.”

“You looked great,” John said to him, giving him back his camera. “Is there a photographer in Valentine?”

“No, maybe in bigger town there is one.” Arthur put the camera back in the satchel and took his knife. John was disappointed he had to wait for photos so long but they’ll get them eventually. Maybe Arthur will agree to switch so they can have photos of each other. “Help me skin this beast.”

With knives in hands, they got to work. The more meat they uncovered, the more mist was starting to rise from the body.

“Jesus, this thing is huge,” John commented while having problem with lifting the bison’s hind leg to cut between them. “And warm.”

“I once heard in the saloon that one fella cut open a bison, gutted it and hid inside to not freeze during cold night in the desert.”

“Seriously?” It sounded ridiculous. “It can’t be possible. He lied.”

“Probably, the man was really drunk when he told me this. I stole the money from his pockets and he didn’t even noticed.” Arthur grunted when he had some trouble with the skin at the head. “But it’s a nice story to tell while sitting around the campfire.”

“We could use it ourselves,” John suggested. “It would be more investing than the actual hunt.”

“Heh, true. It was harder with the bear, it charged at me. There was no time for careful aiming.”

They finished the skinning without more talking, Arthur only hummed some melody or whistled it to kill the silence. Taking off the skin alone took them half an hour, they lost some time cutting the horns too, but when they got everything, they wrapped the horns in the skin and tied it with Arthur’s lasso.

“I’ll bring the horses,” he said to John, putting their trophy to the side for now. “You start cutting the meat.”

“I should be done before you get back.”

He got to work right away, there was a lot meat to cut and even more blood. When he finish, he will look like the fella who crawled inside the dead bison.

“Just don’t get eaten.”

John smiled at Arthur and patted his revolver before the older man went back the same way they come here. More or less. Before he disappeared from John’s sight, he noticed Arthur making some shortcuts. They dismounted too early, otherwise the horses would have come to them on their own.

Waiting for Arthur to come back, piece by piece he cut the meat from the bison. It was perfect for meals, big, not scrawny like from the doe. He put every chunk on the snow until it formed a big pile, and he only took meat from one side.

It required a lot of effort to turn the body and take care of the other side all while listening closely for any sound that may be caused by predators. Wolves they heard yesterday were probably full after they left them some meat from the doe because they didn’t show up even an hour after killing the bison.  

Arthur showed up instead, riding Snowstorm and leading Old Boy with them. He helped John take some more meat they wrapped tightly in rags to prevent the smell from escaping. Though any animals nearby probably sensed the blood already, there was a lot of it around the dead body. 

There was still a lot of meat left on the bison, more than they could take, even with the help of the horses. They had no other choice but leave it. Three big bags was all they could take, but it was enough, the same amount of meat they would get from killing four sheep or one cow. If only there was third person with them, they could take more, but what they got should still last for a while.

One of the bags were hanged on Snowstorm’s saddle, while the pretty heavy pelt was thrown on her rump. The mare snorted because of the added weight but didn’t protest. Old Boy was bigger and stronger, two other bags of meat were hardly any weight for him but he still got John to carry as well and he wasn’t exactly light.

“Let’s get back on foot,” John suggested when Arthur was about to mount up after John cleaned a bit in the river.

“What?”

“The horses can carry all the meat and us but if will go on our own, they could carry even more.”

“I know what you mean, but how do you imagine us going back to camp?” Arthur asked. “You want to go all this way on foot? It will take a week.”

That he didn’t think through. He felts stupid now, especially because Arthur already knew it was a bad plan, that’s why he didn’t suggest it in the first place.

“Right.” Embarrassed, he climbed on his horse who showed his displeasure over added weight.

“Don’t worry, John, everyone say something stupid from time to time,” Arthur comforted him, which was nice. “Of course it happens more often to you but it’s not your fault you were born stupid.”

And there goes being nice. But John couldn’t be angry at his lover when he was saying it in joking way. 

Slowly, to not get the horses tired, they headed back to the cabin. It took them awhile but it was nice to ride side by side and talk about nothing in particular. The weather worsen again but not that much to slow them down, so after about two hours they were back and took care of everything that needed to be done before they could rest.

Arthur took it upon himself to take the saddles off the horses and feed them while John went into the woods to collect some branches, they were almost out this morning. It was hard to find something that wasn’t wet but he break off some bark and gathered some twigs with needles that wasn’t covered with snow.

With a stock like that he returned to the cabin, passing the horses on his way back. Arthur gave them some food they took with them on the trip and some bark and needles. It wasn’t much but tomorrow, when they starts going down, they will reach the grasslands and their horses will be able to feed properly. Until then they’ll be fine with what they got.

Horses didn’t even noticed him when he passed them, too focused on eating. Near them, hidden under snow, branches and ash to cover the scent, were the meat. The cold will prevent it from rotting and tomorrow they’ll rub it with salt so it will last till they reach the camp.

With his hands full, John entered through the ajar door into the cabin where Arthur was waiting by the fire. There was still some glow coming from it. Carefully they added the bark and needles, some of it was slightly damp but the ones that were dry, with a little help from matches, quickly caught the fire and the cabin was warm again.

“We’re not going out of here till tomorrow,” John decided, taking off his coat and boots, all what was wet the most. His pants were a little wet as well from all this lying down and crawling but they were thin enough to let them dry on their own.

“No arguing with you there.” Arthur was without shoes and coat as well. He was sitting by the fireplace and put his feet near the fire to keep them warm. He was eating an apple, slicing it with already clean knife.

John joined him and took one slice from him.

“It was nice,” he admitted after some silence interrupted only by the fire crackling. Their trip wasn’t finished yet but he felt the need to say how much he loved it already. “Thank you for taking me.”

If it wasn’t for Arthur, he would’ve been sitting in the camp right now, bored out of his mind and not knowing what to do with himself, feeling more useless than Uncle who at least could leave the camp. The only thing John could do was walk around it hoping some squirrel will show up and come close enough for him to kill it and add something to the camp savings.

Bringing all this meat will be amazing, maybe it will show Dutch he’s ready for usual work. He wanted to rob with others.

“My pleasure.” Arthur gave him another slice of the apple. “I had fun too.”

The smiled at each other and rested by the fire, not thinking about coming back yet. They feet rubbed against one another sometimes, getting warmer after many hours outside. It was a good day. They spend it together, they caught the bison they came here for. John would gladly forget about the little accident on the lake, but even that was already a fond memory. He couldn’t just forget something that involved Arthur’s concern, and he showed a lot of it today. The hug was nice too, even if filled with a bit of fear.

“Your shot was really good, John,” Arthur flattered him after some time. John gazed at him, pleased with himself and ready for more compliments. “I thought you would need at least two shots.”

“Me too.” Thankfully, he aimed well. Shooting anywhere else on the head would probably be pointless, the bullet would had a hard time penetrating the thick skull, but the eye? There was no resistance. “See? I’m not useless.”

“I never said you were,” Arthur noticed slightly confused. He tossed the knife to the other side of the room and core of the apple he threw into the fire.

“I know,” John assured him, placing his hand on older outlaw’s tight. “Since I was so great, shouldn’t I get a prize? You know, to motivate me during future hunts.”

“You planning another hunt already?” Arthur leaned back, supporting himself on his hands. 

“Maybe.”

Seeing how open and inviting Arthur is, John moved his hand up and then slightly right, where he stopped it on older man’s crotch. He could feel his lover going stiff for a few moments.

Arthur smiled at him. “Come ‘re,” he said.

He didn’t have to say it twice. John straddled him and kissed him soundly, making him lay down. Arthur grasped at his waist and tugged the shirt out of John’s pants.

It didn’t take them long to scare every nearby animals again.

When they were done, John was lying naked on his stomach, right in front of the fire and covered only from waist down with a blanket, enjoying the warmth coming from the flames, even though he didn’t yet cooled down after his and Arthur’s activities. Arthur himself, only in his pants, was sitting against the opposite wall. He was smoking and drawing or writing in his journal.

John watched him from behind the curtain of his hair he was too lazy to put behind his ear, even when they tickled his nose. He was too comfortable to move. He sighed content, which brought Arthur’s attention to him. The older man’s cigarette moved slightly when he smiled before getting back to his work.

“What you drawing there?” John asked with his hoarse voice.

“You,” Arthur answered without hesitation. His voice was more gravelly than usual.

“Oh.” Despite his previous laziness, John reached behind himself and slipped the blanket off his waist to make his lover’s work easier. “You should have told me, I wouldn’t have used the blanket at all.”

“I have a good memory, Marston, especially for something I watch often,” Arthur admitted with pride. John snorted. “But I’ll keep that in mind.”

Not wanting to disturb him, John was silent for some time and just laid still like a good muse and model he was.

“You’ll have to hide it so none can notice.” He was always slightly nervous whenever Arthur was drawing him in his journal. It was risky, but he couldn’t just stop him from doing something Arthur loved so much. “My naked portrait may be a little bit too suspicious.”

The amount of normal portraits was already suspicious and no explanation about being brothers would fool anyone. Hosea was close to Arthur as well but his portraits didn’t appear in Arthur’s journal as frequent as John’s. 

“No one ever looked inside my journal and I had it for years now,” Arthur assured him, very focused on his work.

“I remember you already had one when you took me in. It was… Christ, fourteen years ago.”

The journal in Arthur’s hands was as integral part of him as his hat or guns. Without it he almost seemed naked, even if he didn’t take it out all the time. 

“Hosea told me once that drawing and writing help you clear your head,” Arthur explained. “After breaking up with Mary it helped me a little.” John made a face after hearing that name. “Stop frowning.”

Arthur wasn’t even looking at him and he still knew how John will react. Sometimes their knowledge of each other was scary.

“I can’t. I don’t like her.”

He could even say he hated her, but he didn’t want to upset Arthur. They were having such a good time so far, he wouldn’t want Mary to ruin the mood.

Arthur sighed. “I know. But she and I? We’re done. She said it to me very clearly.”

“It’s not about that,” he clarified. “I’m not jealous…”

“Really?” Arthur interrupted him and grinned. John could feel himself blushing.

“Shut up,” he snapped. “I’m not jealous. I just… She didn’t deserve you, Arthur. She wanted to change you but she wasn’t willing to do the same for you.”

He wasn’t in love with Arthur when Mary was in the picture, but he still hated her then. Because of her, Arthur was leaving every few days and John didn’t have anyone to spend time with. He was really jealous back then and when the break up happened after two or three years, he was furious. Arthur was very serious about this relationship, but Mary decided she won’t marry an outlaw who rightly didn’t want to change for her.

Even back then John assumed that if you love someone, you love them for who they are, not for who you want them to be. Arthur would never be a man Mary wanted, someone from a higher society. It wasn’t his world. Being an outlaw wasn’t something he was doomed to do for the rest of his life either, but Arthur was happy with this life, why should he start different one that Mary was trying to force on him? John would never tell him to change for him and he would certainly not break up with him because of his unwillingness to change. Never.

Arthur was silent for a while after this, he even stopped drawing. John was considering going to him when the characteristic sound of the pencil scribbling on the paper filled the cabin again.

“Can we not talk about her?” Arthur asked, almost emotionless. It was always the sore subject for him.

“Sorry.”

“It’s fine.” Arthur wasn’t looking at him. Maybe so John couldn’t see his teary eyes. “I deserved it. I was a fool.”

Probably, but John wasn’t going to point that out and beat him when he was already down. Just like Arthur said, he and Mary were in the past for a long time now.

“Can I try?”

“What? Being a fool?” Whatever was in Arthur’s eyes before, now was replaced by amusement when he looked at John. “I’m afraid you’re prefect at this already.”

John rolled his eyes. “No, you moron, drawing.”

Arthur was surprised. “You never draw before?”

Surprisingly, no and not because he didn’t have opportunities, in Arthur’s journal for example. He never felt the need to do so, besides, he knew it wouldn’t be good since he never done it before or practiced as long as the older man. Now he wanted to try, mostly to change the subject and to make Arthur forget about Mary.

“No.” John slightly propped himself on his arms and brushed the hair of his face. “I wanna see what’s so interesting about it to make you spend so much time at this.”

“Alright.” Arthur looked amused, like he just saw a kid trying so hard to be an adult. John wanted to respond to this somehow, but he didn’t want to lose the chance to draw so he stayed quiet. Arthur moved, sat down near John and handed him the journal. “Just rip the page, I don’t want your doodles in my journal.”

“How can you tell it’ll be doodles?” he asked offended and opened the journal on the pages where the pencil was. And his recent portrait.

“I saw your writing.” Arthur sat against the wall again, stretching his legs right beside John’s head who rested the journal on them, looking through the pages. “You scribble.”

“Maybe I’m better at drawing.” He didn’t believe it himself. “Maybe I’m next da Vinci.”

Arthur snorted. “I’m surprised you even know who it is.”

“I read books, Arthur,” he reminded with irritation.

“And I was sure you only look at illustrations.”

John huffed and focused on looking at himself. Drawn by Arthur, he looked almost beautiful, so the opposite to the reality. He didn’t understand how the older man can draw him that, so unfaithful to the original, but he suspected he just looked like that in Arthur’s biased eyes.

As always, Arthur didn’t skip any details. Some of his drawing sometimes looked less detailed but when it came to John’s portraits, he always put everything in them, like he couldn’t stop himself. In the newest drawing he included scars, the only thing that made those masterpieces a little bit uglier and gave them some realism.

He took a look at previous page when Arthur put short summary of the hunt and that damn accident on the lake. Arthur called him a moron in the text, but even while writing he was able to put affection into this word.

John ran his fingers over the calligraphed writing he envied. He was tempted to look on the other pages, read about Arthur’s adventures from the last few weeks, but he could always do this later, unlike having another opportunity to draw.

He turned two pages and with the pencil in his hand, he hovered it above the clean sheet. He could feel Arthur watching him, probably enjoying John’s struggle. He really wanted to show the older outlaw he knew what he was doing, but the truth was, he had no idea how to even start.

What he wanted to draw wasn’t easy, he should’ve probably choose something easier, but he had no time to do that now. It was a possibility he would just end staring at the empty page for an hour, without drawing anything.

Arthur wasn’t saying anything. John wasn’t looking at him to not provoke the comment from him, but he could hear what his lover was doing. He heard him taking a drag of his cigarette and then letting out of the smoke. After a while, he started humming and even singing under his breath whenever he remembered the words of the song. John joined him without even thinking about it. Singing turned to be quiet helpful for concentration. 

He could finally start. He tried to copy Arthur, but there wasn’t many times when he could observe his hands during drawing, so he didn’t really know how to move his own hands, but drawing must’ve been the natural talent of all people because it was going smoothly for him.

It was fun. He couldn’t imagine himself sitting down and spending few hours at drawing like Arthur, but he was willing to do that again from time to time.

He was halfway down with his drawing when his support for the journal moved and the shadow was casted on the pages.

“Don’t peak.” John quickly closed the journal when Arthur tried to take a look. 

Arthur raised his hand in surrender and rested against the wall again, keeping his legs still.

“Okay, easy.” John returned to his drawing. “You’re awfully focused.”

“I want it to turn up like yours,” he explained, knowing already no amount of focusing will help him with that.

“Good luck with that,” Arthur commented sarcastically.

John only needed few more minutes to finish his work.

“Done,” he announced, but he wasn’t particularly proud with the finished drawing. 

“Already?” Surprised, Arthur lit up another cigarette.

During drawing, John didn’t look at his progress at any point. He probably should have had. He looked at his drawing now and he had to admit, it was bad. Very bad. Even showing it to Arthur would be embarrassing.

“I’ll try again,” he decided and quickly ripped the page, when Arthur tried to take a look again. “It didn’t end up like I wanted.’

“No, no, let me see.” Arthur stopped him before he could throw the page into the fire. “Let the professional gave you a review.”

“Some art critic you are,” John mocked him before looking uncertain at the ripped page. “You won’t laugh?”

“I’m not promising it.” Arthur gave him the cigarette, reaching with other hand for the page. “I was laughing at you for years, you’ll be fine.”

That was true. What could go wrong?

Still uncertain, he accepted the cigarette and gave the drawing to his lover.

“Here.”

A very impatient Arthur quickly straighten the page and held it at some distance from his eyes and looked at the drawing. The smile that was present on his face until now was replaced by confusion.

“That…” John took a drag of the cigarette and nervously let out the smoke through his nose, when Arthur stopped so suddenly. “I don’t even know what that is.”

Seriously? It was clear on the first look.

“It’s a bison,” he said. He wanted to honor the hunt somehow.

“I would’ve never guessed it, da Vinci,” Arthur admitted amused and put the drawing on the floor. “Good thing you didn’t try to draw me.”

“Just toss it into the fire, I will try again one day.” He gave the journal back and shifted to lay more comfortably, reaching his hand to touch Arthur’s leg.

“I’ll keep it,” the older man decided and put the drawing inside the journal. “Whenever I’m in a sour mood, I’ll look at it and start laughing till my stomach hurts.”

“Ha, ha,” he commented bitterly and tossed the cigarette into the fire before turning his head to not look at Arthur.

“It would be good to make enemies laugh too.”

“Give me a break.”

Arthur laughed. As much as John was angry right now, he couldn’t stop himself from smiling after hearing this laugh. He still wasn’t looking at the older man but he was listening to his moves. Arthur got up and not long after he was right at John’s side, wrapping his arms around John’s waist and trying to get to younger man’s neck. Or ear.

John was unimpressed and covered the sensitive spots by rising his shoulders.

“It was really good idea to go hunting,” Arthur admitted, not giving up yet. With his free hand he moved John’s hair from his neck and kissed him there, in one of the many love bites he left yesterday and today.

“Better than getting money from…” John finally gave up and with a smile he looked at his lover. “What was his name?”

“Downes,” Arthur breathed out and softly kissed John on the lips. “Thomas Downes.”

“Yeah, that one.” John turned completely to face Arthur.

“Much better,” he confirmed and with the help of John’s hair, he tilted his head backward. “And who knows, maybe thanks to this he had enough time to collect the money.”

John chuckled.

“What a good people we are,” he said, enjoying the touch of his lover’s lips on his throat. He could never get tired of this.

“For the first time in history, lust saved the debtor,” Arthur joked before turning John on his back. “Maybe we should make sure he has enough time. You want more?”

“Always,” John gasped, liking the idea already.

Who knows when another opportunity for being so close without worry of being caught will show up again? They were going to use the chance they got, enjoy each other in advance, even though it never worked before. Nothing wrong with trying again.

They didn’t get up with the sun this time. They woke up but instead of getting ready for the return to the camp, they ate breakfast, drink some whisky and sang. They had fun the whole morning.

Only after about two hours they left the cabin but they still didn’t ride right away and instead let their horses run for a while so they could had so fun in this place as well.

Snowstorm and Old Boy started happily chasing each other and toss around in the snow like two young foals, never getting too far away from their riders who watched them from the distance. They spend another hour doing nothing, they weren’t in a rush to get back to the world, to the normal life that did not allow them to be together. It was good for them here, but they couldn’t stay, even if John wanted that very much or at least draw out their stay here.

John could feel Arthur wanted that as well, but of course he didn’t suggested it. John didn’t blame him, he wasn’t brave enough too. They have to be loyal to the gang.

They finally started packing and getting supplies for the road before noon. They collected all of they things from the cabin and when they were ready, they called the horses to themselves, saddled them up and put all their belongings on them. After the fun in the snow, both horses still had a lot of energy to spare, so they didn’t even protest when they had to go through snow with a big cargo and their riders on their backs.  

The travel was slow, they wanted to extend their time with each other, but unlike the other way around, they have chosen shorter roads this time. They descended from the mountains about an hour later and the snow was slowly replaced by grass. Not long after, they met another person again and greeted the man when they passed him.

Both outlaws officially returned to civilization. John looked back with longing at the mountains, wanting nothing more than to return there and stay with Arthur in that little cabin that almost became a home in those two days.

The dusk approached them near the gang’s camp, few hours from Horseshoe. Instead of traveling during night and exhausting the horses, they set up a little camp near the road and slept through the last night wrapped around each other. John already missed this, he couldn’t wait till they will be able to leave somewhere together again.

Before returning home, they needed to make one last stop at Downes’ Ranch. They arrived there in the morning, after they changed from all the warm clothes and left the camp. It wasn’t a big homestead, but it was enough for a small family. That is, if it was profitable and since the owners took the loan, it definitely didn’t bring any money.  

John imagined how it would be to live on a ranch like that, but he had to leave the dreaming for other times, the debt was waiting for them.

There was a women in front of the house, she was packing something on a wagon. Beside her, on the stairs leading to a building, sat the young boy, probably a son. No sight of their debtor yet, but judging by the wife packing, the whole family was most likely planning to run away before someone can collect the debt. Well, too late for that now.  

The woman and the boy noticed them from a far but they didn’t pay John and Arthur any attention until the two man dismounted and walked closer.

“Hello, gentleman,” the woman welcomed them uncertain. “How can I help you?”

“Mrs. Downes?” Arthur asked. He knew more about the debt so John let him speak.

“Yes,” she confirmed. She didn’t say anything else, but her face shown she knew what they were here for.

“We came for the money your husband borrowed from our acquaintance,” Arthur explained. “Can you tell us where we can find him?”

Woman’s eyes became blank suddenly and her nervousness turned into anger and disgust.

“My husband’s body didn’t even cooled down yet and you already coming to take what little I’ve got left?” Mrs. Downes continued her packing just like she was doing before they arrived, but this time, she practically threw everything on the wagon.

Surprised, Arthur and John looked at each other.

John spoke up for the first time. “He’s dead?”

“Tuberculosis.” Mrs. Downes voice trembled.

“Sorry to hear that, but your husband made a deal.” Arthur casually put his hands on his belt. “He swore to return the debt soon after borrowing the money. Since he’s dead, the debt is now on you, Mrs. Downes.”

The woman’s hands were shaking to the point she couldn’t pack her belongings anymore. She rested against the wagon and took a deep breath before he turned towards John and Arthur.

“I understand. But maybe…”

“No ‘but’,” John interrupted her. “We’re not some charity, the deal is a deal. You better go for the money, Mrs. Downes, before the whole thing become unpleasant.”

They had no time for barging, or pity they didn’t even have for her. Maybe what they were doing wasn’t very honorable, but it was legal. No one put the gun to Downes head and told him to get into debt. Knowing about his sickness, he should have had thought before borrowing the money. Strauss played him like a fiddle but it wasn’t their business, they only came to collect what’s rightfully theirs.

Clearly shaken up, Mrs. Downes nodded and entered the house that probably wasn’t even hers anymore. Despite the recent lose and how much they scared her, she held her head high as it was going to help somehow. John huffed and looked at the woman’s son who continued her work for her, but still had time to stare at them.

“What are you looking at, boy?”

The boy jumped when John snapped at him, but beside that, he hadn’t shown any fear. Stupid kid.

“At two bandits who are stealing our last money.”

Not only stupid, but also with a desire to join his daddy.

“The deal is legal, kid,” Arthur told him calmly. “We didn’t break the law, you father knew what he was getting into.”

“He was desperate.”

Arthur sighed. “Aren’t we all.”

The boy was still looking at them, sometimes his eyes wandered towards their guns. No doubt he imagined himself taking one of the revolvers, shooting them and saving those last scraps of money he and his mother had. More plausible was the scenario where the kid shoots himself in the foot than scaring off two outlaws. His whole demeanor would be funny if it wasn’t pathetic.

John noticed that Arthur was amused by this too, and with a smile he watched the kid think about something stupid.

“You better stop looking at us like that, boy, or we’ll show you what kind of bandits we are and your momma would have to get the money for another coffin.” The kid looked at John with hatred in his eyes. “You want that?”

They were looking at each other, a couple of times the boy shifted his gaze towards Arthur who, just like John, threateningly kept his hand on the revolver. They weren’t going to shot the kid, they could deal with him without guns, but they wanted to scare him, teach him some respect for armed people. Someone else on their place, someone less nice, would’ve had already shot the kid.

It must’ve had gotten to his thick skull eventually because he turned around, but he definitely didn’t stop thinking about what he was thinking before.  

“You’re not as stupid as you look after all, boy.”

Not long after Arthur finished talking, Mrs. Downes came back from the house.

“Here’s the money,” she said and handed it to Arthur.

“Thank you, Mrs. Downes.” Arthur quickly counted the money before putting it in the satchel. “Now, wasn’t that easy?”

“Just leave us alone,” she begged. She didn’t even had to ask, John had enough of this place and strange feeling he was experiencing since they got here. He couldn’t name it, it wasn’t unpleasant, but it wasn’t nice either. Something eerie was hanging in the air here.

“No worries, we won’t disturb you no more, we’re expected somewhere else.” Arthur tipped his hat to the woman, so John did the same. The kid was staring again. “Good day.”

“We’ll be happy to borrow you money again if you need them,” John said during climbing into the saddle before he and Arthur left, finally going home.

They left the ranch far behind them before they started talking.

“We almost caught him alive,” John notice, leading his horse right beside Arthur’s mare. “You think he was still alive yesterday?”

“He would be alive for sure if I had gone to him first like I planned,” Arthur pointed out. “Well, it was better for us. Man usually fight back, especially to protect the family. Mrs. Downes was easier to convince to return the money.”

“Her boy was ready to show he’s the man of the house now.”

Arthur chuckled.

“He acted tough but the moment we touched the guns, he was a kid again. He’s far from being a man.”

John smiled and looked ahead, thinking about what Mrs. Downes told them.

“Tuberculosis is a nasty sickness,” he said. Arthur looked at him curiously. “I saw a fella with TB before. Thin, miserable. I don’t know how long he was sick, but few hours later I stumbled upon his dead body.”

“Yeah, I pity anyone who get this damn thing.” Arthur spited with disgust and scrubbed his stubble thinking. “Shit. Can you imagine that we could’ve had gotten this from him if he was still alive?”

“I would sooner blow my head off than die such a slow death,” John decided without hesitation. “Thank God we didn’t meet him, both of us or just you.”

Arthur nodded in agreement and nudged his horse with spurs to ride a little faster. They were close, they could see the smoke hovering above the place the gang camped. John already wanted to travel somewhere with Arthur, but it didn’t change the fact that it was good to be home again.

Galloping, they rode into the camp few minutes later, covering their necks with bandanas. Lenny was keeping guard and welcomed them and what they brought happily. The whole gang gathered to greet them, relieved they’re came back unharmed and, what most important, with supplies.

All their friends encircled them when they were hitching the horses to the posts. Not everyone was present, Mrs. Adler kept her distance and watched from afar, not getting closer even though she was curious what they brought.

Abigail wasn’t in the crowd either, just like Sadie, she was far away, piercing John with her gaze. He ignored her.

The rest of the gang wanted to know right away what happened during their travel, what they hunted, if they were okay and the woman wanted to know if they brought any gifts for them. John felt amazing with all of the attention focused on them. The last time he was welcomed like that was when he came back after a year. Now it was even better to be back, he didn’t return empty handed. He missed giving his share after this few weeks, it felt wonderful to do something for the whole gang again.

“Alright, move away, let the boys rest!” Dutch shouted while leaving his tent where he must had been speaking with Hosea who was walking beside him. “I’m sure they will tell you everything soon enough.”

Complaining, the gang spread out and left them alone. Only Dutch and Hosea stayed.

“Hello, Dutch,” Arthur greeted him. “Hosea.”

“Welcome back, boys,” Hosea answered with a smile. “How was the hunt?”

“The white buffalo, one of a kind.” John patted the pelt that was still on Snowstorm.

“The map didn’t lie,” added Arthur. “We brought a lot of meat too.”

“Pearson will be happy.”

“What about you, son?” Dutch asked John. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m great,” he answered truthfully and spread his arms before his father. “My strength got back and the hunt helped me get back in shape. I’m ready to help the gang again.”

“Wonderful!” Dutch exclaimed overjoyed and wrapped an arm around John. It’s been a long time since he was praised by him, John couldn’t do anything to earn the praise in the first place, but now everything will be back to how it should be. “I’m sure we could find you some work to do and if not, you will find it yourself.”

“Marston did good,” Arthur cut in. “He shoot the bison himself, find the trail. He stayed in bed for a while but he didn’t forget anything in that time.”

John was hoping he didn’t start blushing or that scars covered it. Thankfully, Arthur didn’t mention the almost drowning but John was sure it will come out eventually. It was too tempting not to.

“It’s good to see you back in shape again,” Dutch mentioned with pride. “When the two of you are healthy, everything is much easier. John? I’m glad you’re back on your feet.”

“Me too. It was good to be back in the saddle again. Be useful.”

“You’re always useful,” Dutch assured him, patting John on the arm. “Mr. Pearson! Please, help the boys with all this bags. They brought meat!”

Pearson came running to them like a hungry dog and gloated about all the meat he immediately started carrying to his wagon with the help from John and Arthur.

“You did a really good job, boys,” Hosea told them before leaving them alone like previously Dutch.

John and Arthur grinned at each other and after moving all of the meat, they went back to the horses to take off the saddles. They didn’t stop at that, they brushed the horses too, cleaned the hooves and lead both animals to the hay to feed them properly after the travel.

With saddles in hands – in Arthur’s case, first with the pelt – they went to their tents. John quickly left the saddle there and planned on joining his lover so they could both tell the others about their adventure. He saw Arthur standing by his table and with an envelope in his hands.

“Oh, Mr. Morgan.” Susan approached Arthur. “When you were away, we got this letter. From Mrs. Linton.”

John felt the dread filling his body.

Susan left after delivering the information, but first she said Arthur how she don’t like Mary. John wanted to hug her for that, but he couldn’t move from his place. He watched his lover reading the letter. Arthur showed no emotion, but John was irritated anyway by the sheer fact that Mary had the audacity to contact Arthur. Just thinking about her made John insides turn and twist uncomfortably.

When Arthur finished reading, he put the letter back on the table and rested his hand on it with a sigh.

“What does she wants?” John asked, slowly coming closer in case his presence wasn’t welcome. Not that it would stop him.  

“To meet.” Arthur turned around and sat at the edge of the table, but he didn’t look at John. Instead, he stared into the ground.

“Couldn’t she come here? The outlaw’s camp is too dangerous for her?” John kept asking. “Why does she even want to meet? To point out all of your sins and how you wasn’t good enough for her or her family?”

How can you even tell something like that to a man you supposedly love?

“She may need help,” Arthur pointed out, surely not believing it himself.

Unbelievable. When does he finally stop feeling responsible for the woman that rejected him? He didn’t own her anything, he wasn’t good enough for her, not the other way around, he didn’t have to redeem himself for ruining her life for three years, or whatever her family thought of their relationship at that time.

“Then she should ask her husband for help.” Was Arthur the only men in this world that could help? “Or her rich daddy. Why do you have to be the one to help? And after what she’s done?”

John’s voice was raised, which brought the attention of Molly who was walking nearby. Arthur get them away from the others, past the horses where they could be alone and talk freely.

“She wanted the best for me. It’s not her fault her life didn’t fit mine.” Arthur always had some excuses explaining her behavior. But when it was Arthur explaining himself to her, no excuses was enough.

“That’s horse shit and you know it,” John hissed angry. At Mary, not Arthur. “She didn’t love you, only the perfect version of you she dreamed of, and when she realized she can’t change you, she left you. You don’t do that when you love someone. You don’t have to change for anyone but yourself. Why you were the one who had to change anyway? Why not her? Why only you needed to sacrifice something to be with her, but not she? Loving an outlaw was too hard for her? She’s so perfect she couldn’t risk damaging the honor of her family by being with someone lesser?”

“She’s better than me, that’s for sure.”

“She’s not, but I’m sure she thinks of herself that way.”

John never met her personally, he never even seen her but from Arthur’s descriptions he could see the image of the society lady who thinks her mission is to save the world, or a lost soul, but then she flee when she notices the wolf she wanted to domesticate, teach tricks and commands, will be always drawn to the woods.

“Where are you going with this, John?,” Arthur asked tiredly. “Why are you sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong?”

“You’re sticking yours in my problems, then I will stick mine in yours. It’s called caring, maybe you heard this word before?” Arthur snorted. At least one of them was in the mood for joking. “I’m not doing it to hurt you. I don’t… I just don’t want her to hurt you again, that’s all,” he admitted and took his lovers palm in his, looking him straight into eyes. “Don’t go to her. Stay and let’s tell the others about the hunt. Mary won’t say anything new. She won’t apologize, she won’t feel guilty, it’ll be just like any other times. Stay.”

He was practically begging but he had no other choice. He will do anything to keep Arthur in the camp, by his side where he’ll be safe and won’t hear any hurtful words Mary was saying long ago for three years of their relationship.

Arthur sighed again and squeezed John’s hand. John felt hope.

“She won’t hurt me again,” Arthur promised determined, keeping the eye contact. “I don’t expect anything from here this time, I don’t love her. I stopped a long time ago and everything I want, I have right here.”

John listened him enchanted, hoping to not end with a broken heart in a second and that Arthur won’t leave to willingly lose all of his confidence after only few cruel word hidden behind fake concern. Mary will talk nonsense thinking she’s helping him. She won’t be the one worried sick when Arthur will start doubting himself again, his life, who he is. She won’t be the one cleaning the whole mess, because she wasn’t brave enough or willing to sacrifice herself for the man she loved.

John was.

He waited for another words from Arthur, but the older man was silent, once again staring at the ground. John shifted closer and laced their fingers together. Arthur raised his head and looked at him with hurt eyes. The sight made John’s heart bleed.

“You’re right,” he said finally. John had to contain the smile that almost showed on his face. It wasn’t the best time to enjoy his triumph. “She’s probably asking me for a meeting only to ask me a favor, open the old wounds and then she’ll leave again. I’ll stay.”

Now John could smile. Arthur did the same before he closed the remaining distance between them and tugged him behind the tree to kiss him softly. John wrapped his arms around him and deepened the kiss before Arthur thought about leaving. It was like being in the mountains again.

They couldn’t kiss for long, at any time someone might came by and see. They were both panting by the end. Arthur looked at John and gently touched his scarred cheek. With half closed eyes, John leaned into the touch that lasted too little for his taste, but they weren’t in the mountains anymore to touch each other freely. But they could still hold hands, that wouldn’t be suspicious for anyone.

“I knew it would eventually get to your thick skull that Mary isn’t someone you should have contact with,” John said to Arthur.

“You’re only saying that because you’re jealous,” Arthur noticed amused.

“So what if I am?” He was acting confident, but he could feel his face getting hotter. “Besides, I’m not the only one who thinks like that. Everyone is saying you the same thing, so it’s not all on my jealousy. Mary is not a girl for you. You don’t have to give yourself a hard time over this.”

It’s about the damn time for this woman to stop torturing his man even without trying to contact him.

“I’m not,” Arthur assured, and John knew he’s speaking the truth. He could see it in his eyes that were open and full of honesty. “I didn’t deserve her anyway.”

“More like she didn’t deserve you.”

She was stupid, didn’t appreciate who she found and let Arthur fall in love again. If someone should regret the end of this relationship, it should be her. Whatever she wanted to tell Arthur today, she couldn’t take him from John. Because he wasn’t stupid and too full of himself to reject someone like that.

Arthur smiled bashfully and blushed. “I don’t thinks that’s true, but it’s nice you think so.”

“Ready to tell the others an epic tale?” John asked, already dragging the other man back to the camp.

“Give me a moment, I have to take the saddle back to my tent,” Arthur asked and his hand slipped from John’s grasp, but he waited till the last moment for their fingers to part. “I’ll join you shortly.”

John nodded and with a smile returned to others. Some of them were already sitting by the fire and waited for the two man to hear about their hunt while the meat from it was already cooking. Tilly waved at John to invite him to join. He waved back, telling her he will join soon enough. He wanted to use the time before Arthur is finished to wash his face.

He stopped by the barrel full of water and leaned down, quickly and with tension splashing his face and washing the filth of the travel. The stitches weren’t itching as much as before their trip to the mountains, maybe the air there helped. They didn’t even start stinging when he wetted them. Soon the Reverend should be allowed to take the stitches. Finally.

“You had fun?”

John sighed deeply, getting ready to face Abigail who was behind him. He wiped his face from droplets of water and turned to her. She was still angry.

“What do you want, Abigail?” he asked her coldly. He wasn’t in the mood for argument, he was happy after his talk with Arthur and didn’t want to spoil it. “I’m tired.”

“I wonder why?”

“I’m fine,” John promised her, but she wasn’t convinced. “I survived two day in the mountains…”

“In the mountains?!” she repeated terrified.

“… I can ride, shoot. I caught the giant bison alone and the wounds don’t hurt anymore. I wasn’t getting tired quickly either, I can work like others.”

Abigail crossed her arms. “You could’ve died,” she pointed out.

“I was with Arthur, what could’ve gone wrong?.”

John decided not to mention that he almost drown. Or that people shot at them. He wanted to finish the conversation within minute or two, not an hour later.

“Should I make a list?” She didn’t wait for his answer. “Jack was worried about you. He didn’t know where you went.”

“Why didn’t you tell him then?” he asked. “Dutch knew where I was and with who, I’m sure he told you after you run to him to tell him I went missing.”

“It would be nice of you to say goodbye to your son before leaving,” she pointed out, hurt. “And to me.”

“The boy doesn’t need to know where his daddy is all the time. I don’t have to tell you everything either, You’re not my wife.” John was sure Abigail will slap him any moment now but she only turned around and walked away in a fast pace. He felt a little bad with how he just treated her, especially because of mentioning they’re not together, he shouldn’t have said that. Maybe telling her where he was going wasn’t such a bad idea. No matter how much he complained about her, for the last few weeks she was tending to his wounds. She was worried, even if just as a friend. She didn’t deserve leaving her without any information. “Abigail!”

Surprisingly, she stopped and looked back. He took advantage of that and approached her, taking out the brooch from his pocket. The same brooch he stole five days ago, during the first day of the trip. Holding it in his hand, John handed it to Abigail so she could see it better and decide if she even want the gift.

Abigail looked first at him, then ant the brooch. She liked it, John could see it, but she didn’t take it.

“You think I won’t be mad at you just because you give me a gift?” she asked suspicious.

“That’s wasn’t my intention when I stole it,” he said honestly. “I saw it and thought you would like it. It’s a gift. From a friend to a friend.”

It hurt her being called just a friend. It was three years already and she still loved him but she was also able to spend time around him. Mostly because of Jack but John admired her strength none the less. He couldn’t do the same and run away from Arthur when he had a chance.   

“You’re still a bastard, John Marston.” Her tone was sharp, but she took the brooch anyway. She was still angry but not enough to hate him. John doubted she will ever hate him, no matter how much he hurt her and Jack. Just like he wouldn’t be able to hate Arthur.

“Tell me something I don’t know,” he responded and turned around, surprised when he noticed Arthur sanding few steps behind. How long was he listening?

“She’ll get over it,” Arthur promised him and gave his arm a friendly pat.

“Even if not, I won’t cry because of it,” he said. Arthur sighed and shook his head.

“Mr. Morgan, Mr. Marston.” It was Pearson, they were standing near his wagon, he probably heard some of the John’s argument with Abigail, but it was unlikely that’s why he said anything. “You did really good with that meat. I already hang some of it to dry already. In front of this o’driscoll boy, to make him more hungry.”

John and Arthur looked at the boy at the same time. Tied to a tree, he was gazing hungrily at the meat, almost drooling.

“No problem, Pearson,” Arthur answered the gang cook. “It was a pleasure, believe us.”

“We had fun,” John confirmed.

“Something more than just fun came out from this trip.” Pearson continued praising them. “For your hard work, you’ll get two portions of stew today.”

“Two?” Arthur chuckled. “What Dutch and his rule about fair rationing the food has to say about this?”

Pearson wasn’t bothered.

“Dutch will be fine. You will taste it first too.”

“So you can poison us,” John said jokingly.

“Don’t tempt me, John,” Pearson warned him with a smile. John didn’t remember when was the last time he saw him this happy, it was contagious. “The stew should be ready soon, this meat is cooking wonderfully.”

“We can’t wait.” Wrapping an arm around John’s shoulders, Arthur lead them to the others sitting by the main fire. “Who wants to hear about the fight to the death between John Marston and two thousand pound bison?!”

John blushed after this announcement and the blush only deepened when most of the gang answered enthusiastically.

Dutch allowed everyone to stop working so Lenny could get back from keeping gourd and listen about the hunt. Soon enough the whole gang was gathered around the fire. Those who wasn’t’ fast enough to sit on logs, pelts or chairs, dragged crates and barrels to have something to sit on.

John and Arthur, as the honorary guest, had the best spot on the log. Lenny and Mary-Beth managed to take seats at their sides, the others sat comfortably in other places. Even Abigail showed up and was given the place on the pelts on the other side of the campfire. Reverend, drunk as always, joined as well. He moved from under the tree he passed out under today and passed out again, only this time in his place where he slept at nights.

From the whole gang the only ones missing were Javier and Charles who were on their way to Blackwater with Trelawny to see if they can save Sean.

“What are you waiting for?” Karen hurried them. “Spill!”

“I will play on the banjo during tense moment,” Uncle offered which caused everyone to groan. “What?”

“We’re supposed to listen to big adventure of Marston and Morgan, not your annoying music,” Micah noted before talking to John and Arthur. “So, gentleman? Let’s see how many lies is in your story.”

John and Arthur shared a look, promising themselves to lie as much as they could only to annoy Micah.

“Dinner!” Pearson shouted at the whole camp before they could start telling about the hunt.

This one time, Pearson brought the pot to them. Susan was following him with two bowls she handed John and Arthur.

“For our brave hunters,” she said. Micah rolled his eyes.

“Cheers,” joked John and with spoon fool of stew, he connected it with Arthur’s own spoon like bottles during making toast, before trying the food.

“Damn, that’s good,” Arthur said with full mouth before swallowing. “You sure you cooked this, Pearson?”

“The secret is the meat and only a little bit of my talent,” he bragged. “Have a taste y’all!”

As usual, the whole gang got to eating immediately. One by one, they took the bison stew and just like John and Arthur, they started praising the food.

“See?!” Dutch stood up from his place beside Molly who let go of his hands and stared at him like he was her whole world. Not only her, the whole gang did the same, John and Arthur included, despite listening to those speeches for years now. “This is how we eat when we have meat to put in the pot! Arthur and John made a dangerous and hard trip up to the mountains, the same one we escaped recently, to hunt us food for a few weeks! If all of us will be working this hard, no one, I say no one! Will be hungry in this gang ever again. Bill! Alcohol for everyone!”

“Yes, boss.” Williamson got up from the crate with beer he was sittin on. The bottles were passed from one person to another until everyone but the young Jack had one.

“Boys,” Dutch spoke directly to them. “I’m proud of you. If every trip is going to end like this, you can go to as many as you want.”

“Let’s hope so,” Arthur agreed and discreetly winked at John, who grinned back.

“To John and Arthur!”

“To John and Arthur!” everyone repeated and took a drink.

“Now start telling about the hunt,” Hosea told them, wiping the bear from his mouth. “I wonder how it went.”

“Well, it wasn’t easy,” John admitted, putting his beer between his feet. “We robbed the train on our way to the mountains.”

“I see you weren’t lazing around!”  Dutch said proudly. “Like always, my sons didn’t let the opportunity to slip! I doesn’t matter if they’re doing something completely different, when they see the chance to rob someone, they do it.”

John and Arthur were almost bursting with pride listening to this flattery. The times when as kids they fought for any praise from Dutch were long gone, but from time to time it felt good to be appreciated, especially in such open way. Not everyone liked it for sure, but if anyone wanted to be praised in front of everyone, all they had to do was hunt something good.

“We robbed some rich Brits.” Arthur took out the watch John gave him and passed it between gang members so they could look. “They have those pretty things, for example.”

“The brooch is from the same robbery?” Abigail asked, showing the loot as well.

“Aww, why you didn’t bring us something?” Tilly lamented, eyeing the brooch.

“Next time I’ll come back with a bag full of jewels just for you,” he promised her with a charming smile. Tilly giggled.

“Abigail, you have the best man in the word, even if he’s an idiot,” Karen noticed and laughed. “Such a nice gift, Abigail, you lucky girl.”

John lowered his head embarrassed. Abigail didn’t said a word, she let the others think everything is fine between them, that they’re even together when they never were.

“Marston will be a lucky man tonight too,” Micah joked. “Better not get too close to his tent tonight, ladies and gentleman.”

If only, John thought to himself, careful to not look at Arthur while everyone laughed. Everyone except Abigail, for her, this joke wasn’t funny, for obvious reasons, but others took her behavior as the results of one of the arguments between lovers.

“The mountains didn’t change since we last been there,” Arthur start telling their story, without problem slipping the dread into his words. Only Hosea saw right through him if his little smirk meant anything. Thankfully, Hosea didn’t ruin their fun. “The snowstorm was raging the whole time we’ve been there, our tent barely stood the wind was so hard.”

“How did you managed to track the bison in the weather like that?” Bill asked. “I bet you could see shit.”

“And the bison was blending with the environment too,” John continued, shifting his gaze to Arthur who nodded with approval. Hopefully they won’t negate each other at some point. “You could stand two inches in front of him and you wouldn’t even see it.”

“So how did you found him?” asked Strauss, but he wasn’t the only one curious. Everyone was excited to hear the rest of the story.

“It found us” Arthur explained mysteriously.

“He run towards us like a raging bull.” John put as much emotions in his voice as he could. It was easy to lie when it was fun. “Tall as us and really heavy. It tried to ram into us with it horns, huffing angrily and so loud that even wind couldn’t drown the sound.”

“You weren’t scared, Pa?” Jack asked concerned.

John stopped talking when the boy called him his father. He wasn’t used to this, Jack usually didn’t even speak to him, he preferred watching him from a safe distance, probably out of shyness and fear. John wasn’t surprised by the second one, he was rather rude and cold toward the kid, no wonder he was scary to him.

“Not really,” he answered hesitantly, not knowing how to talk with a child.

“We were both scared, Jack.” Arthur rushed in to save John. Jack immediately focused on him and John could breathe a sigh of relief. “The bison forced us to go right on the frozen lake, but it didn’t follow. We thought we were safe, but then the ice started breaking.”

Jack gasped, Molly as well which caused Dutch to smile fondly. John appreciated that Arthur changed the story of begin stuck on the frozen lake, because right now John wasn’t drunk enough to not to die from embarrassment if the older man decided to tell the truth.

“Then what?” Jack kept asking. Arthur smiled at him widely before continuing.

“Your daddy and I tied each other with a rope in case one of us fall under the ice. Then one of us would drag out the other.” There was something nice in watching Arthur telling the story to a child with such dedication. “We wanted to get back on land but the bison didn’t let us. And the ice was still cracking under our feet.”

“I’m surprised it didn’t break sooner,” Bill interrupted.

“Under your fat us it would certainly break,” John responded to him before he took the speaking at himself. He came out with everything on the spot but he hoped it’s sound plausible. “We couldn’t escape the bison the way we came, so we moved the other way, towards the small island. When the bison saw what we did, it started charging despite the ice.”

“And then it broke under him!” Jack finished for him.

“This bison was smart,” Arthur continued. “It knew when to go to not drown. He got to us without the problem.”

Jack was terrified. “Did it hit you?!”

“We dodged him in the last moment,” said John, speaking to others, not only to Jack. Everyone listened invested in the story, some of them believing it, the others not so much. “We jumped to the sides, the bison didn’t know who to attack.”

“And then the bison decided to get rid of the weakest human and attacked John.”

“Hey!”

“Sorry, Johnny, in the bison’s eyes you looked like a twig, not a worthy opponent.”

“Or maybe he saw me as the most dangerous?”

“Enough with the bickering, what happened next?” Lenny asked. He wasn’t one of the people believing them but it amused him so he didn’t point out they’re telling a bunch of lies.

“John quickly grabbed his rifle and aimed. The bison was running fast, even snow wasn’t slowing him down. John was basically dead already.” Jack looked at John with wide eyes when Arthur said that. Like he needed to see that John was really sitting there and wasn’t dead. “The bison was close, he almost rammed into John like a train…”

“When I shot him right into eye!” John finished, surprising himself how invested he was. Maybe he tried making up for disappointing reality. “He fall down and slid through the snow for a moment before stopping right in front of me.”

“I’m not buying it,” Karen decided. “But it’s a great story.”

“And true,” Arthur assured her. He said it with such a confidence that if John didn’t know the truth, he would believe him.

“If it wasn’t for all the meat and skin you brought, I would never believe you even hunted something,” Micah spoke up, digging with the spoon in the remain of his stew. “The bison from a story is too smart for a dumb animal.”

“Just because something is smarter than you, Micah, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist,” John told him.

“Oh very funny, Marston,” Micah spitted, angry with how other laughed.

“Real or not, what’s important is that the meat is real,” Pearson summed up.

“And the money we will get for the skin,” Susan added.

“We also have a debt.” Arthur took the money from the satchel and gave it to Strauss.

“Thank you, Herr Morgan. Did the debtor made any troubles?”

“None,” John answered. “He’s dead, his wife paid up.”

That words worried Strauss. “I hope his death won’t be linked with my business.”

“Well.” Just this one word from Hosea was enough to bring everyone’s attention to him. “That was definitely an interesting story, boys. One more time, to you.”

When the whole gang made another toast, once again showering John and Arthur with praises, the real party started. Uncle could finally start playing on his banjo that didn’t sound as good a Javier’s guitar but it was enough for their small celebration that was steadily getting bigger and louder.  

There was more beer with each passing minute, everyone was drinking as much as they could and soon enough, each gang member except two founders and Miss Grimshaw was drunk and it was only a middle of the day. Despite Uncle losing rhythm and mixing words in his songs, the girls started dancing and dragged some of the man to join them. Only Sadie Adler wasn’t in the mood for partying, it was a couple of weeks, but she was still grieving.

The Reverend regained consciousness only to drink more alcohol and sing for a while before he passed out again.

John and Arthur tried to spend the party separately, but eventually they always found the way back to each other to talk, joke, dance or sing. They were stupidly drunk just like the rest of them, but they managed to keep their hands to themselves despite how hard it was sometimes to stop themselves from touching or kissing when they were so happy. Arthur was even more tempting when smiling and John liked to imagine it worked both way.

To think that Arthur wanted to miss this party for meeting with someone who doesn’t appreciate him. For John, convincing the older man to stay was even a bigger success that shooting a bison with one shot.

The party ended in the middle of the night when those who lasted the longest finally passed out as well. Dutch, Molly and Hosea had fallen asleep a long time ago, allowing the others to still enjoy the fun till everyone couldn’t stand anymore. Soon enough, everyone except Arthur and John who around evening slowed down with the consumption of the alcohol, there was no other person in the camp who was conscious. Sadie was sleeping too, same with the o’driscoll boy, so nobody could caught John and Arthur at kissing behind one of the trees.

The only reason they were bold enough to kiss in the camp was because they were still a little drunk. After so many days with each other it was hard to get back to the normality where they couldn’t kiss whenever they liked.

“Too bad you can’t go with me to my tent,” John gasped out of breath when they stopped kissing.

“Too risky,” murmured Arthur before kissing him again, this time shortly. “We’re risking even now.”

“Don’t tell me it’s not exciting.” Arthur purred in response and uncovered John’s neck, full of red love bites, only to leave another one. John returned the favor a moment later.

“We should stop,” Arthur decided and moved away. John chased him with his hand, trying to bring him for a kiss for one last time.

Either he allowed this, or his reaction time wasn’t back to normal after drinking, the only thing that mattered was that Arthur let himself be caught by the shirt and dragged back to the kiss, so full of passion and desperation as if it was going to be their last kiss. It certainly seemed that way, they had no idea when they will be able to find perfect moment to get intimate again. Maybe tomorrow, maybe in couple of days. It was a roulette game they hated playing.

They let this last kiss consume them, they kissed slow, savoring the moment even if they could get caught any time. John couldn’t stop, he wanted more, but he knew it was impossible.

Arthur wasn’t keen to stop either despite what he said earlier about stopping. Now instead of going away, he pressed John to a tree and put his knee between younger man’s thighs, causing him to moan.

John was about to open his lover’s shirt – just a little bit, to feel the naked skin – when they suddenly heard Bill cursing.  

They jumped away from each other like their touch burned them, trying to look as little suspicious as possible. Finally they came to their senses and looked at each other terrified, not believing how much they risked everything.  

Thankfully, Bill didn’t notice them, he wasn’t even close to them. They could see his silhouette in the glow of the fire when they looked from behind the tree. After watching him for a few seconds, they realized Bill woke up only to piss and he was pissing right into the fire. They wouldn’t be surprised if he had accidently fall and started screaming, waking up the whole camp in the process.

Not wanting to risk anymore, John and Arthur finally parted their ways. Arthur went first and he was probably asleep when John returned to his tent as well only couple of minutes later, closing the flaps of his tent behind himself and sighing tiredly.

It was a long day, but he had fun, not only during the last hours of travel with Arthur, but also in the camp. He hoped there will be another opportunity to party soon enough. John always loved the gang the most in moment like this, when everyone had fun together like one big family they were.

Maybe when Sean will join them they could party again.

In the darkness, he got to the bed he missed a little during travel. He was going to lay on it finally when he noticed some pieces of papers lying on it, and something white on top of them. Surprised, he lit up the lamp standing on the table, sat on the edge of the bed and picked up the mysterious object that turned out to be an ivory wolf figurine Arthur found after robbing the train.

John smiled fondly and put the wolf on the table and then picked up the papers. All of them were empty, ripped from Arthur’s journal. When did he put them here? When he was returning the saddle to his tent or one of the times during party when he was saying he’s going to take a piss?

After checking all of the papers – around twenty of them – he discovered the last one is not empty at all and it's two sheets connected. Arthur put on it the perfect drawing of the bison.

When John draw it, the shape was sloppy, he basically only draw this and it was ugly. Characteristic, covered by thick fur hump was just a slightly curved line that made the back of the animal. The eye was just a circle with a dot inside and the whole bison might as well be blue, because the drawing didn’t show the real color at all.

With the drawing he was holding there was no such problem.

It was simply amazing, Arthur perfectly portrayed the bison, it’s strength and size. Despite the lack of color, the shades he put on the drawing were enough to notice the fur was white and realistic. He could almost feel how soft it is.

The bison looked alive, the horns had scratches on them, the muscles looked like the giant was going to run out of the drawing and the eye, hover small and less detailed, still had glint in it. Arthur even put a background and snow covering some of the spots on animals body.

John wanted to frame it and keep close to his bed to look at it every day. In moment like this, he wondered how more spectacular Arthur’s drawings would be if he could put colors to them.

Something told him to turn the drawing and he did good with doing so, because Arthur left him a message in his perfect writing.

That’s how you do it. Keep trying, maybe one day it will be possible to recognize what are you even drawing.

The message was signed, but even without that John would know who left it there. What touched him the most was the little heart drawn after Arthur’s name. He could see his lover blushing but also smiling during writing this and then leaving it in John’s tent.

John chuckled and hid the drawing in a safe place while the empty pages he put on the table, placing the wolf on them. He turned off the light, get rid of the holster belt, took off his boots and for a moment he placed his feet on the rug made from boars pelts that protected him from the cold ground. Another gift from Arthur.

He couldn’t stop smiling, so he laid down on the bed just like that and closed his eyes, already remembering the last few days. With the recent events that gang was involved in, those were the happiest days since a very long time. No one was chasing them, they weren’t sick or hurt, they didn’t get into any problems and the gang was doing fine.

He felt like during good old days.

After an eventful day, he slept like a baby, even without Arthur beside him. He didn’t sleep for long, he woke up just like usual, not to late, but not too early either. Most of the gang members already started the day and complained about headaches, especially Karen who had the morning guard to take after the whole night when no one was watching for intruders. The law drawn by the loud noises would had no problem with catching them if they had come here last night.  

John stretched at the entrance to his tent and yawned before he took his cup and with a smile went to get his coffee. He greeted Strauss and Pearson who were standing by the fire, but he didn’t pay them much attention, because he looked around, wanting to spot Arthur who, judging by the empty bed, was awake already.

He couldn’t find the older man anywhere so he checked the horses. No Snowstorm. John felt his chest tightening.  

Alerted, he left his friends, still hoping to find Arthur somewhere near, maybe the other man just wandered between woods with his mare.

Arthur leaving without a word wasn’t anything new, John was used to that, but after the letter from Mary he was afraid Arthur could go to only one place.

Desperate, he sought out Hosea who was sitting by one of the tables, sipping his coffee and reading a book.

“Where is Arthur?” he asked right away. He was too nervous to play subtle.

Arthur wouldn’t go to Mary. Right? He said it himself it was pointless, he wouldn’t change his mind.

Hosea looked up at him and smiled.

“Dutch send him to check on Javier and Charles,” he explained. John sighed with relief. Thankfully Hosea took it as a sign of irritation. “He wanted to take you, but we decided the less man the less attention they will bring. There are bounty hunters around Blackwater after all.”

Everything was alright. Arthur didn’t change his mind, he just went to rescue a gang member. And he wanted to take John with him. The ride to Blackwater would took all day, they would have to take a break and make a camp. No wonder Arthur wanted to go with him.

 “More gunman, the stronger the fire,” John noticed, not knowing exactly what he wanted to accomplish. Arthur must had ride off an hour or more earlier, John doubted he’ll be able to caught up to him, he would have to push Old Boy to his limits and he didn’t want to do it if not necessary.  

He really wanted to go with Arthur, but it wasn’t the end of the world. They will have another chance to leave the camp together.

“You’re probably right,” Hosea agreed with him. “But maybe you should rest a little longer. You’re back to shape but let’s not tempt the faith and don’t pressure yourself too much after you just got back from the five days trip, in the mountains at that.”

He didn’t feel tired, to be honest, he was full of energy and he had no plan on sitting in the camp today, but only because he didn’t want to worry Hosea, he nodded.  

“Thank you for telling me.” Hosea smiled again and returned to his book.

Calmer now, John went to the edge of the cliff they were staying on and sat down there, drinking coffee peacefully and without worry that Arthur did something stupid.

He enjoyed the peace till he could, thinking about going to Valentine to get to know the town. Maybe when Arthur returns tomorrow, John will have something organized, a scam or robbery for them to do together. And even if not, at least he will see something new. Lazy days are over, time to get back to work.

“John!” he heard behind him. John looked back and noticed Uncle going his way. The old man joined him, still reeking of alcohol after yesterday. John wasn’t complaining, mostly because he was most likely stinking as well. “John.”

“What is it?” he asked. He didn’t understand why Uncle even came to him.

“Since you’re back to being scary and dangerous outlaw, I was thinking that maybe you would be interested in a train robbery,” he explained, stupidly moving his eyebrows.

John stared at him suspiciously. Train robbery sounded promising, just the action he needed after such a long break. And he missed the last one due to his injuries, but most importantly, if he could convince Arthur to do this, they could spend some time together again, since they were robbed from that today.

“It’s better be good,” he warned Uncle and nodded to let him know he can share his plan.

“It’s a sure thing, I promise, John,” Uncle assured and, as always, talking more than needed, he told John about the train that in few days will travel not so far from them, full of rich passengers. Said by Uncle it sounded too good to be true, but the old man told him that one of the girls found out about this train. John started coming up with a plan.

Arthur will be interested for sure. 

***

Our friends they won't understand
They can't feel all the lust inside our eyes
We ought to make a stand
Holding out for a new sunrise