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Crumbling Is Not an Instant's Act

Chapter Text

“Alright, back to the camp! We’ll get what we need, clear out!”

Arthur looked around wearily at the abandoned (and now bloody) mining facility, stuffing his gun back in his holster and stepping over the corpse of a newly dead O’Driscoll. He bent down to search the man’s pockets and found some bullets, a golden belt buckle and what appeared to be a genuine platinum pocket watch. Arthur would’ve thought it strange for such a lowlife to have such nice things, if it weren’t for the fact that said lowlife definitely stole it from some poor bastard just like Arthur was stealing it from him right now.

He went on and searched every last body around him, collecting little valuables that might come in handy later. He could hear Dutch, Bill and Micah arguing about something or other while Javier and Lenny quietly went about their business, searching the rundown sheds for anything relevant: plans, bonds, gold… Anything that would help them once they could make it out of the cold, snowy hellscape that was the Grizzlies.

“You found anythin’ useful yet?” Called Dutch from further into the facility, having shushed whatever argument had been going on.

“Not really!” Arthur shouted back, only barely managing to avoid stepping into the entrails of another dead O’Driscoll. Jesus, they were everywhere. “Anythin’ specific you want me to find?”

“Explosives, detonators, whatever’ll help us to rob that train. Hurry up now! Try that shed to the left!”

Arthur mumbled a gruff ‘yeah, yeah’ while Dutch barked orders to the rest of the boys. Dutch was probably just as cold and tired as Arthur. He made his way over to the shed with leaden legs ploughing through the snow. It felt like it had been forever since he last felt his toes. He pushed open the creaky door to the shed, stepped inside, and immediately found himself at the end of a rifle barrel with a rather young looking man at the start of it. Arthur raised his empty hands.

“Easy now.”

The man – young, blonde, smooth-faced but blood-splattered and with a finger entirely too close to the trigger for Arthur’s comfort – seemed to start for a moment. He spoke, voice seemingly much younger still than his appearance.

“You’re not one of Colm’s boys.” Was the man’s confused assessment. “At least, I don’t think I know you.”

“Don’t think I know you either.” Arthur replied, still looking down the barrel. “Why, were you planning on shootin’ your own?”

“They’re not ‘my own’,” the man said snidely, briefly nodding his head to the right, where Arthur saw a couple men with gunshot wounds lying around, “but I was. Soon as I heard it start I just-… Well I figured I had nothing to lose.” He held his aim. “Who are you, why are you here?”

Arthur huffed an incredulous laugh. “I could ask you the same thing.”

“I asked first.”

Fair enough, Arthur thought, wondering if the man in front of him only held such bravado because he had a rifle in his hand. “The name’s Arthur. We came to see what y’all was plannin’ to do with that train you was gonna rob.”

“You mean you want to rob it yourselves.”

Arthur didn’t bother to grace that with a response.

“So you’re no friends of Colm, then?” The man asked after a moment of tense silence.

“We’re not exactly on speaking terms, no.”

The man carefully lowered the rifle, still regarding Arthur steadily. “They found me and my friend a couple months back, gave us a choice to either ride or die. Not much of a choice, really. He ran as soon as the fight began, though. Coward.”

Arthur lowered his hands as well, itching to reach for his revolver. “So you killed all them poor bastards?” He said, gesturing to the corpses.

“Yeah.”

“’Cause you had ‘nothin’’ to lose’?” Arthur found all of this hard to believe.

“Sure. I was looking for an opportunity to shoot them, anyway. Either you were going to kill me, or they would have killed me, eventually. Kieran’s already been shot at for sport.”

“Kieran?”

“My friend.”

“Right.”

The man fidgeted with the hem of his shirt for a moment, gun held tightly in his other hand. “Look. I don’t care about what happened to Kieran, or the others. I just want out of here. If that means joining you instead, well, I guess… An enemy of Colm O’Driscoll is a friend of mine, I suppose.”

“And how do I know you’re not just gonna shoot me in the back as soon as I turn?” Arthur asked, barely registering Dutch’s voice asking him to hurry up already.

“You don’t, but I’ll trade you. My life for these.” He took a step back towards what looked to have been used as a writing desk of some sort. In reality it was mostly crates stacked on each other with a plank across. On top of it lay a roll of paper, which the man handed over. “Here. That’s all the insurance you’ll have, I’m afraid.”

Arthur took the paper and unrolled it, reading quickly before rerolling it. He took a moment to really consider what was before him: a young man wearing clothes only barely suited to the weather, blood smeared all over, eyes equal parts haunted and determined. ‘Nothing to lose’, huh.

Arthur sighed, feeling like he would come to regret this eventually. “Alright. Fine. What’s your name, boy?”

“Elijah van Oss.”

“Well, Elijah. I guess it’s your lucky day.” Arthur jerked his head back, indicating Elijah to follow, and stepped outside. “Dutch!”

Finally! What took you so long?” Dutch said, turning away from Bill and Lenny who were loading explosives onto their horses.

“Got the plans, and, eh…” He gestured vaguely behind him, where Elijah hesitantly followed. “Well, turns out this feller was shootin’ O’Driscolls for us, so I reckon he can come with for now.”

Micah was the first to cock his revolver and take aim. “The hell you mean he was shootin’ for us? Looks like an O’Driscoll to me.”

 “Give it a damn rest, Micah.” Arthur said, taking a step to the left so he was walking in front of Elijah and holding out the plans for Dutch to take. “He gave me this and killed a bunch of Colm’s boys, you can check the shed if you like.”

Dutch said nothing, but took the plans and read them for himself. “This is about the train they was gonna rob… A mister ‘Leviticus Cornwall.’ Well, well…” He lowered the plans and looked at Elijah. “You know who that is, boy?”

“Not sure. I heard some of the boys say he’s got money in oil and railroads. That’s about all I know.” He nervously shot glances to Bill, Javier, Micah and Lenny, who all had their hands on their guns and were looking at him with varying degrees of hostility.

Dutch frowned. “And how did you get here? Where you from?”

“Haarlem.”

“Harlem, all the way up North?”

“No, sir. Haarlem, the Netherlands. I came to this country ten years ago.”

Dutch stuffed the plans in his satchel. “Y’know, my father was Dutch… Why’d you come here?”

“I was… Looking for a different life.” He left unspoken that he found Colm O’Driscoll instead.

Dutch laughed. “Well, I’m sure you found it. Alright, saddle up boys! Let’s get outta here.”

“You can’t be serious!” Micah snarled. “You wanna bring an O’Driscoll back to camp?”

“Arthur says he killed them O’Driscolls in the shed. He got us the plans, too. He might be useful. We’ll keep an eye, Micah.”

“Yeah, we will.” Micah leered at Elijah before turning and getting on his horse.

Arthur sighed and went to get on his horse before remembering. “You got a horse?”

“I used to, she’s over there.” Elijah pointed the barrel of his rifle to a dusty gray mare lying dead in the snow a few feet away. “Think she got caught in the crossfire.”

“Alright, well. You can ride with me.”

“Thanks.”

Elijah slung his rifle over his shoulder and got on the back of Arthur’s horse, holding on as they went back up the steep slope leading back to camp.

They didn’t speak. Dutch said how proud he was of his boys, how they were outlaws for life, until he quieted for a moment. “Hey, wasn’t he at the camp with Colm?”

Elijah raised his head up from behind Arthur’s left shoulder and squinted. “Oh, there he is.”

“There who is?”

“Kieran.”

Arthur spurred on his horse. “Leave him to me.”

“Bring him back to camp!” Dutch said, veering off to the right with the rest of the gang. “He might be useful.”

Elijah scoffed. “I doubt it.”

Chapter Text

Arthur had expected regret to set in later than it did. He felt the regret as soon as they got back to camp and Dutch got berated by damn near everyone for bringing in another pair of strays. O’Driscoll strays, no less. He knew they had a point, of course. Still, he trusted Dutch like he trusted no one else, and Dutch thought they might come in handy.

They’d kept Kieran tied up in the barn, since he was a lot less forthcoming with information than Elijah had been. He’d been made to run behind Arthur’s horse, stumbling and pleading for his life the entire way to the camp. Elijah had kept his mouth shut, not particularly eager to take Arthur up on his threats against Kieran. Only when Kieran whined how he thought they had been friends did he turn to face Kieran.

“We were, until you ran with your tail between your legs.”

With Kieran tied up in the barn and Dutch fielding criticism on all sides, Arthur felt the need to take some of that heat off him. Just as Pearson loudly complained that they already had too many damn mouths to feed – which Micah immediately affirmed with ‘that’s what I said days ago!’ – and no food to feed them with, Arthur stepped in.

“So let ‘em make themselves useful! One of ‘em at least can kill O’Driscolls, so he can shoot deer, too.” He turned to Charles. “That Kieran boy is prone to runnin’, so he’ll stay and I’ll make sure he stays. Take Elijah with you for the hunt. He tries to run, you shoot him.”

Dutch gripped his shoulder tightly, proudly. “I knew I could count on you to stand by me, son. Charles?”

Charles sighed but went to get his bow all the same. “Fine, but he’s not coming on Taima.”

Arthur shrugged. “He can take the horse we took from them O’Driscolls a couple days back.”

“Ain’t that yours?”

“He ain’t Boadicea, so…”

Charles just nodded and went to retrieve Elijah from the barn. Arthur turned back to Dutch and the rest of the gang. “If he can bring in food, it won’t matter if we got a couple extra ‘mouths to feed’. He already proved useful with them plans for the train and he barely said two words to Kieran since we got here. It’ll be fine, don’t seem like a traitor to me.”

“Exactly!” Dutch exclaimed, clapping his hands together and showing more enthusiasm than everyone else in the room combined. “Best case scenario, we got ourselves a new gunman and an informant, worst case, we got two dead bodies. Nothin’ we can’t handle, alright?” He was met with a couple of dissenting grumbles on one end and a couple of mollified sighs on the other. “All right?” He repeated. This time, more people seemed to agree that if nothing else, this would not be their ultimate demise. “Good. Hosea and I are gonna see what we’re gonna do ‘bout that train. The rest of you stay warm, rest easy and take care of John and Mrs. Adler. Just sit tight until the food’s served.” With that, he left and went back to his own cabin, Arthur and Hosea following close behind.

“I’ll be in the barn, then.” Said Arthur, heading left as they went right. He lit a cigarette and opened the heavy doors to the barn, stepping inside. Kieran raised his head.

“They’ll come looking for me, you know!” He shouted, full of defiance and courage Arthur was sure he would lose within the next 24 hours.

“Will they now?” Arthur said, leaning back against the door and taking another drag and knowing full well that nobody gave a shit about Kieran. “You that important to ‘em?”

Kieran hesitated for one split-second too long. “Sure am!”

Arthur gleefully remembered Colm slapping the shit out of Kieran earlier that day. “Really? Important O’Driscolls get slapped around by Colm? That his way of showin’ affection to you boys? Make you feel real special?”

Arthur delighted in Kieran’s momentary speechlessness. When the boy spoke, he sounded remarkably small. “How d’you know ‘bout that?”

Arthur dropped his cigarette and stomped on it, grinding his heel on the ground. “That don’t matter.” He got real close to Kieran’s face. “You been lyin’ to me, son? First you abandon yer friend to a bunch’a outlaws and then you lie to me?”

Kieran shrunk back against the log post he’d been tied to. He looked about ready to shit himself. “P-Please sir… I ain’t know nothin’, I’d only been runnin’ with them a couple months, they didn’t tell me nothin’…”

“Then how come yer friend knows so much more than you do? Two of you were around at the same time, weren’t you?”

“I-.. I…”

Arthur thought that for such a yellow-bellied coward he was remarkably unforthcoming with information. He didn’t seem to have any real loyalty to the O’Driscolls, but he didn’t want to sell them out, either. What was the point?

Kieran continued to plead. “Please, sir. I’m sure you’re a good man--”

“Oh, now that’s where you’re wrong, son.” Arthur said, straightening back up and looking down menacingly at a terrified Kieran. “We’re bad men. We ain’t O’Driscolls but we’re bad men all the same, and you ain’t goin’ nowhere ‘till you talk.”

“Then what?”

So he does have something to say, Arthur thought. “Oh, I don’t know.” Arthur mused. “We’ll have to see about that.”

Kieran stopped replying. Arthur decided he’d had enough fun and just went to sit down on a nearby bale of hay. If he was gonna have to babysit the bastard, he might as well get 15 minutes of shut-eye in.

But he was tired, and the barn was a hell of a lot warmer than the outside, and among the familiar smell of horses, hay and the sour tang of manure, he slept for longer than intended. By the time he woke up, he could smell the smoke of cooking fire and the much desired scent of seared venison. Kieran was dozing off, tied uncomfortably with his arms behind his back and his legs sagged underneath him. Arthur made sure to slam the barn door behind him when he left.

Just next door, Pearson was roasting the deer over the hearth while Charles was warming his hands and Elijah was busying himself with one of the cooking pots they’d taken with them from Blackwater.

“How’d it go?” Arthur asked, stepping in to warm his hands by the fire as well.

Charles greeted Arthur and then chuckled. “He’s got terrible aim.” He said, side-eyeing Elijah next to him, who had the grace to at least look a little embarrassed. “But he’s decent at skinning and cooking, so, I’m sure we’ll find other uses for him that isn’t hunting.”

Arthur was confused. “Didn’t you kill half a dozen O’Driscolls with that rifle of yours?”

“Yeah, well…” Elijah firmly kept his eyes on the pot he was stirring, refusing to look as mortified as he felt. “Deer tend to move. It’s a lot easier when they just sort of… Walk into your gun like they did in the shed.”

“Walk into your-…You tellin’ me you was campin’ out in that shed waitin’ for them to come in before you shot ‘em?”

“Got the job done, didn’t it?”

Arthur supposed that it did, but it still felt like a cowardly way to fight. “And what’re you doin’ over there?” He gestured to the pot.

“Venison stew, it’s… Well, it’ll be warm and keep us going, and it’ll be enough for everyone.”

“We ain’t feedin’ yer friend.”

“As I said, it’ll be enough for everyone.” Elijah briefly looked up from the stew he was stirring to look at Arthur and then went back to the stew. “I heard what Dutch said, before.”

“Yeah?” Arthur trusted Dutch, but he didn’t necessarily trust either Kieran or Elijah. Not just yet. “And how do you feel about that?”

Elijah shrugged. “I’m cooking food, I was free to go hunting, I’m not tied to a post and I’m not standing in horse shit. Reckon I feel just fine about the arrangement.” He reached over for a spoon, dipped it into the pot and held it out to Arthur. “You wanna taste?”

What kind of…? “I’m sure it’s fine.” Arthur said. What did taste even matter at this point?

“Suit yourself.” Elijah said, before taking a sip and deciding that it would do. “It’s about done. Mr. Pearson?”

“Hm?”

“Where can I find bowls?”

“Oh, they’re…” He looked around and found that he didn’t have any nearby, since there hadn’t been any food to serve before today. “They’re in the wagon. Mr. Morgan, if you could…”

Arthur stepped out into the snow, followed close behind by Elijah. “I can get ‘em myself, y’know.”

“I don’t doubt it.”

“Then why are you followin’ me?”

Arthur grabbed two stacks of bowls and begrudgingly handed one over to Elijah, only half expecting an answer.

“Because I wanted to thank you.”

Arthur regarded him for a brief moment. “For what?”

“Not shooting me. Allowing me a chance to prove myself.”

“Yeah, well. You got Dutch to thank for that. Just make sure you don’t give us no reason to shoot you, neither.” With that, Arthur turned and walked back to the barn. He heard rather than saw the breathless chuckle behind him.

Chapter Text

Arthur followed close behind Dutch as he doled out orders to the gang, telling Bill to ride ahead and set the charge on the railway tracks to blow them up later. He looked around for the others and saw that Lenny had already gotten on his horse. Bill was riding ahead while Micah and Javier were sauntering out of one of the sheds. He saw Abigail stomping out of John’s shed with Jack in tow, taking him by the hand into the shed where the other women were just now.

His mental lineup complete, he realised he had three new additions to the gang to remember: Kieran, who had spent a solid day throwing up bile at the scent of the salted offal before finally giving in to his hunger and eating it, or rather, being spoon-fed by Elijah. Pearson had mocked the latter relentlessly for trying to give Arthur a taste of stew like he was a toddler in his mother’s kitchen, so he had been made to feed Kieran his ‘dinner’. He had, of course, also been made to clean up after him. Arthur briefly wondered if they were too hard on him since he’d actually been pretty helpful, but he wasn’t tied and had a lot of freedom compared to Kieran, so maybe not. Dutch didn’t let him in on gang business and kept him out of the sheds and far away from Mrs. Adler, who definitely considered him an O’Driscoll. Arthur had decided that until Dutch was sure of Elijah’s usefulness to the gang, he’d consider him only barely above the bottom rung of the gang where Kieran resided. As for poor Mrs. Adler… She still spent most of the day mourning her husband and the life she had lost, unable to come to terms with what her life had become.

He vaguely registered Kieran’s distant moaning in the barn – his stomach probably hurt – and saw Pearson and Elijah readying provisions for later. Dutch had said that after the robbery they’d be moving on. If nothing else, Arthur was glad to be moving again, even if it did mean moving East instead of West.

On cue, as if Hosea had heard his silent reverie, came the protest.

“Why are we doing this?” Hosea asked as Dutch and Arthur readied their horses. “Weather’s breaking, we could leave. I-I thought we was lying low.”

Dutch didn’t have time for this. “What do you want from me, Hosea?”

“I just don’t want any more folks to die, Dutch.”

“We’re livin’, Hosea, we’re livin’. Look at me! We’re livin’, even you! But we need money. Everything we have’s in Blackwater. You fancy headin’ back there?”

Arthur didn’t want to get in the middle of this particular argument, but he felt that one. Not on his life would he be heading back to Blackwater anytime soon, if ever. They’d lost too many people there and left too much behind. They could make new money, as far as he was concerned, and leave the stash behind. Not that he’d ever say that to Dutch, though.

“No.” Said Hosea, duly chastised. “Listen Dutch, I ain’t tryin’ to undermine you, I just… I just wanna stick to the plan which was to lie low, then head back out West. Now… Suddenly, we’re about to rob a train.”

“What choice have we got?” Asked Dutch, his arm resting on his horse, ready to get on whenever this discussion ended.

“Leviticus Cornwall is no joke, Dutch, he’s-”

“Who is Leviticus Cornwall?” Arthur interjected, having had about enough of not knowing.

“He’s a big railway magnate, sugar dealer, oil man…”

“Well, how good for him!” Dutch mocked. “Sounds like he has more than enough to share.”

“Dutch!” Hosea tried, one last time, but Dutch was having none of it. He walked away shouting at the other men to get ready. Arthur only nodded at Hosea, trying to inject equal parts apology and faith in his look. It would be fine. Dutch had never failed them before. As they rode out, Arthur caught a brief glimpse of Elijah standing just outside of the barn, drying a pot and with a single eyebrow raised in silent question.

The robbery went almost entirely according to plan, even if Bill did botch the explosives and they’d had to scramble to make it to the train in time to jump on top of it. Javier got himself bruised badly when he fell off the train, but he was fine otherwise. Lenny and Arthur made short work of the guards on the train and before he knew it, Arthur was standing in Cornwall’s private cart with a stack of bonds in his hands. He stepped outside.

“What’d you find?” Dutch asked, approaching quickly and holding out his hand for the bonds Arthur was already handing over.

“These, bonds. They worth anything?”

“Oh, sure! Bearer bonds. Think we can probably sell these pretty easily. Well done. Now…” Dutch looked around and gestured at the train and the remaining guards. “Would you get rid of all’a this?”

“The train?”

“Yeah, get it out of here.”

“And what about them?” Arthur asked, looking at the few remaining, terrified guards.

“What do you think?”

“… I dunno.”

Dutch laughed. “It’s up to you. Kill ‘em, leave ‘em here, take ‘em with you on the train… Just make sure they don’t send no folk after us.”

“O-kay.”

“See you back at camp! The rest of you, let’s ride!”

When they’d left, Arthur quickly ushered the guards into the train. He didn’t feel the need to kill them.

“Any bright ideas, I’ll kill all three of you. So, behave.”

Once there were in, he went to the front and put the train back into motion. Once it got rolling, he jumped out and went back to his horse, watching the train go by and gathering speed. He turned away and mounted up.

You filthy bastard!

Arthur had been shot before - plenty of times, actually - so he knew that sometimes the gunshot registered after the bullet had hit you. This was one of those times. The bullet caught him square in the shoulder, where it stuck and rapidly started hurting like a bitch. He barely managed to hold onto his saddle as not to fall off the horse.

Ah! Jesus! You god-damn… Cowardly…” He turned his horse to pursue, but the train had gotten up to speed and was roaring across the tracks and away from him. He could just see one of the guards waving his revolver from the cart they’d blown open. Pursuing, across muddy, slippery tracks and with no good way to get next to the train, much less shoot the fucker, was useless.

They got his right shoulder, too. Aiming would prove problematic, especially now that the bastard had retreated back into the cart. “Ssshit…”

He decided that the best he could do was rush back to camp and get his shoulder seen to. By the time he got there, his shoulder was throbbing badly and though he’d be damned to admit it, he was getting a little woozy.

“Arthur, what took you so long?” Dutch said, happy expression falling off his face as he saw Arthur struggling to get off his horse. “What happened, son?”

“Ah, they got me.” Arthur held onto his shoulder, but he couldn’t quite reach where the bullet had hit. “I think it’s still stuck in there.”

“Shit, we need to-” Dutch tried to look for anyone that could help, but everything had been packed and everyone was ready to leave. They’d just been waiting for Arthur to arrive. Hosea came down from his wagon to look.

“That doesn’t look good. We’re pretty low on supplies, too.” Hosea said, looking every bit as worried as Dutch. The commotion had caused others to come and see what was wrong as well.

Arthur didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. “Just gimme a damn bottle of whiskey and I’ll be fine! Just need to get the damn bullet out…”

Hosea sighed. “Dutch, go ahead with the others. We’ll stay behind and take care of Arthur and follow as soon as we can.”

“We ain’t splittin’ up, Hosea. Either we all stay, or we all go. I ain’t leaving the two of you on this godforsaken mountain.”

“I can help.”

Dutch and Hosea turned to find Elijah standing behind them. He was holding a satchel that Arthur vaguely remembered from that first day. “If Hosea can drive the wagon, I can take care of Arthur in the back.”

“Really? And what does a milkmouth like you, who can’t shoot a gun to save his life, know about bullet wounds?” Said Dutch, agitated at the sheer audacity of him.

Elijah pressed on. “I can take out the bullet, clean the wound and stitch it closed. It won’t be pretty, but I don’t think Arthur goes in for that sort of thing, anyway.”

That startled a laugh out of Hosea, at least. “Well…” He looked to Dutch, who still looked like he wasn’t even close to considering it. “It’d mean we don’t have to stay behind, Dutch. Kid’s done good so far, and it’s not like he can get far without a horse.”

Dutch, knowing they had to leave soon and not wanting to delay, was forced to make a decision. “Fine… Fine, but you give your rifle to me.” He said, staring Elijah down and mentally daring him to make a wrong move. Elijah handed his rifle over without argument. “And if Arthur’s shootin’ is any worse after this, I’m comin’ for ya.”

Elijah just nodded and got in the back of Hosea’s wagon while Hosea tied Arthur’s horse to the front. Arthur sat in the back of the wagon, chagrined. He took his coat off and rolled his shirt off of his wounded shoulder. He heard Elijah shift behind him, heard him rifle through his satchel and put something down on the wagon boards. He looked down to see a cloth towel with surgical tools being unrolled.

“Where the hell did you get all that?”

“My father was a doctor, I took some supplies when… I left. Hold still. Maybe bite on your gloves, or something.” With that, Elijah took a pair of surgical tongs and drenched them in some sort of fluid before getting to work.

“What was th- Ow!

“Don’t speak.”

Arthur did bite his glove, if only because he could feel his molars cracking under the pressure of gritting his teeth. It burned and hurt like hell, and after what seemed like an eternity, he heard the dull clunk of the bullet hitting the wooden board. A bottle of whiskey appeared before him.

“Here. Think you’ve earned it.”

Arthur threw the bullet as far as he could with his left arm, cursing it to hell, and took a swig of the bottle afterwards. At least the burn from the whiskey was a minute distraction from the hellish pain in his shoulder.

“This will sting.” Came Elijah’s voice from behind him – too calm, too detached – and before Arthur could ask what was gonna sting, he felt a cold splash of fluid near the wound before the entire area lit up like fiery electricity.

“Jesus!”

“Wrong prophet.” Elijah remarked drily.

Hosea laughed again, an incongruous sound compared to the pain Arthur was feeling.

“How’re you holding up?” Elijah asked, briefly squeezing his good shoulder before reaching for something else and putting the bottle of liquid hellfire down.

“Oh just! Fine and dandy!” Arthur snarled between gritted teeth. “You about done back there?”

“Just need to close the wound. Try not to move.”

“We’re in a goddamn wagon.”

“Like I said, it won’t be pretty, but if you move as little as possible I can at least make sure your skin isn’t too tight when you move your arms.” Elijah paused. “Trust me.”

“Why in the hell would I…” Arthur trailed off, realising that Elijah had given him very little reason not to trust him. If anything, he’d been helpful from the moment they first met. That didn’t mean he was ready to come along to bank robberies, but camp chores like cooking, readying the camp and taking care of the wounded… Well. “Just do it.”

Elijah got to work, stitching as quickly and as efficiently as a rickety, hobbling cart would allow. It did look ugly and imprecise, but the wound was closed.

“You’re done.” He said, eventually, rolling the tools back into the towel and stuffing the compact little package back into this satchel. “Just take it easy for a week or so, you’ll be fine. Not your first time, I’m sure.”

Arthur mumbled a gruff ‘thanks’ and pulled his shirt back up, loosely draping his coat over his shoulder. “So, what.” He began, turning to sit against the side of the cart. “You a doctor, too?”

“No.” Elijah said, without elaborating. He sat across from Arthur, back against a barrel and feet against the wagon’s sideboard, just next to Arthur’s left hip.

“Then what are you, exactly? How’d you get around for ten years?”

Elijah shrugged, picking at a seam on his trousers. “I just know what’s necessary to survive. I had… Some money, from when I left.”

“Uhuh, and I’m sure that lasted you ten years.”

Elijah huffed a laugh. “I still haven’t spent it all.”

“So where’s the rest of it?”

“Dunno, it’s been a while since I saw it.” Elijah cleared his throat. “And what about you?”

“What about me?”

“Why are you with the gang?”

“Dutch and Hosea picked me up when I was a kid. Raised me, taught me to read, taught me everything I know.” He didn’t say he loved Dutch like a father, but he felt it.

“Why’d you stay?”

Arthur bristled. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing, it’s just a question.”

“We can’t all be runnin’ away from home, y’know.”

“This is home, then?” Elijah asked after a moment, treading carefully.

“As it’ll ever be.”

Chapter Text

Horseshoe Overlook, if nothing else, was a grand improvement from Colter. It was further East than they had been in years, but it wasn’t cold and it had plenty of resources for them to survive for a while yet. Hosea wanted them to keep their noses clean and lie low, while Strauss had already gone off to see if he could set up some ‘business relations’. Dutch had commented that he preferred to rob banks to usury, which Arthur quietly agreed to. Strauss was a good accountant and an even more impressive swindler. Arthur wasn’t sure how he felt about the man’s choice of practice.

Right now, Dutch was preaching to the gang how they were safe now but very poor, and everybody needed to get to work. Hosea interjected that people needed to stay out of trouble. The gang was to pretend they were itinerant workers, laid off when their factory to the north had been shut down.

“No more passengers.” He said to Uncle and Reverend Swanson, who shot back ‘You’re one to talk!’. Arthur shot a glance to Kieran who’d already been tied to a tree in the far back, and Elijah who was keeping a little distance from the group but clearly listening attentively. Mrs. Adler stood near Mary-Beth who had an arm around her like she was still protecting her from the O’Driscolls.

The message was loud and clear: everyone had to earn their keep and the camp came first. Arthur hadn’t lived any other way in a very long time. Miss Grimshaw showed him to his tent, where his shaving kit, chest of clothes, table, little knick-knacks and cot had already been laid out. Arthur hadn’t even realised exactly how much of his stuff from Blackwater had been saved. ‘Most of it’, Miss Grimshaw had said.

It felt odd that he’d get to keep so much while the gang as a whole had damn near lost it all.

He sat on his cot and lit a cigarette, taking an incredibly satisfying drag, even as the throb in his shoulder persisted. He had to give Elijah some credit, though: it didn’t pull badly at all. He spared a brief moment to wonder where he’d be sleeping, and then figured he’d probably been given a bedroll to sleep near Kieran somewhere.

Kieran. Arthur wondered when he’d start coming in useful. He hoped it’d be any day now, because at this rate they might as well just have killed him and been done with it. No point in keeping him around like this.

“How’s that shoulder, Arthur?”

Arthur looked to the right to see Charles approaching. “Oh, y’know, it’ll be alright.”

Charles lit his own cigarette and sat next to Arthur on the cot. For a little while, they just smoked in silence.

It was Charles who broke the silence, eventually. “We got a real chance here, Arthur.”

“To do what?”

“Better. Better than we did in Blackwater, anyway.”

Arthur wanted to argue that that wasn’t very hard to do, but he didn’t really know what Charles was getting at. “Well, I’m sure Dutch ain’t eager to make the same mistake twice, so…”

“It ain’t just Dutch.” Charles said, eyes cool. “It’s all of us. We ain’t gotta become… Law-abiding citizens… But we could be better.”

“You only been with us for six months, you just saw us at our worst is all.” Arthur crushed his burnt up cigarette under his boot. “Look, we’re bad men, but we got a code. We don’t kill for no reason, we don’t harm innocent folk. We’re a bunch’a outlaws but we do want somethin’ for this world.”

“What’s that?”

“For it to be free ‘n equal. No dumb, rich bastards layin’ down the law for others, no poor folk crawlin’ in the dirt. That’s what we believed in when we started ‘n it’s what we believe in now.” Arthur held those convictions near and dear to his heart. It was what Dutch believed in, and he believed in Dutch. “It’s somethin’ worth fightin’ for.”

“I can agree with that.” Charles said before getting up, seemingly satisfied with the conclusion to what Arthur considered a really odd conversation. “I’ll see you around.”

Arthur waved him off, turning it over in his head. It’d been a rough couple of months since Blackwater and Charles hadn’t been with them for so long. Of course he felt… The way he felt, Arthur supposed.

“Hey.”

Arthur looked up to see Elijah standing near his cot. He sighed. “What do you want?”

Elijah put down a small bottle and a cloth on Arthur’s table. “It’s for your shoulder. If you can reach, use a bit of that on the cloth to clean the wound every day or so.”

“I got hit way worse than this and it was fine without all your… Fussin’.” Arthur grumbled.

“I’m sure.” Elijah said with the same patient tone of voice one might use on a particularly stubborn toddler. “Still, it’s here if you want it.” He turned to leave.

Arthur didn’t reply. Then, he remembered. “Hey,” he started, halting Elijah for a moment, “where you sleepin’?”

“Wherever I put my head down, I imagine.”

Arthur was really starting to hate that detached, boring, aloof persona of his. “Do you at least have a blanket?”

Elijah smiled incredulously. “We’re out of the blizzard and now you ask me if I have a blanket?”

“Y’know what? Forget it.” Arthur said, annoyed, before removing his coat. It was too hot for the damn thing anyway. By the time he looked up again, Elijah had gone.

That night, they celebrated their new-found freedom. They played music, drank too much, sang too much. Charles had brought in fresh meat for their dinner. With bellies full of food and beer and heads full of joy, they finally felt happy for the first time in months. Dutch seemed so much lighter. Even Hosea almost looked carefree for a couple of hours. Nobody really seemed to notice that Lenny and Micah still hadn’t come back from scouting ahead.

When the sun was slowly starting to crawl up on the horizon, everyone stumbled to their beds, some alone, some with others. Arthur was glad to have found his tent at all. He sat heavily on the cot, pulling at his shirt and wincing when it grazed along the sutures. He lay on his side, briefly sobered by the pain, and fell asleep with the image of the small bottle on his table in his mind.

Chapter Text

The weeks following the arrival at Horseshoe Overlook were the calmest Arthur had known in a long time. If it hadn’t been for the fact that they were camping out in the wild it almost could’ve been described as domestic. Most of the gang pulled their weight when it came to running the camp: Charles and Arthur hunted together for food that Pearson prepared. Miss Grimshaw kept all the girls in check and made sure everyone was clothed and as decent looking as they needed to. Dutch and Hosea were looking into how to sell the bonds they’d acquired from Leviticus Cornwall. Reverend Swanson and Abigail looked after John, sometimes arguing the entire time. Little Jack spent most of his time being taught how to read. Arthur thought the poor kid seemed pretty bored. Bill and Javier went into Valentine looking for ‘company’, often paid, while Uncle spent most of his time drinking. Miss O’Shea kept Dutch’s bed warm, Arthur supposed, while Karen, Mary-Beth and Tilly slowly started to get antsy, ready to get out on the town and get to work. Real work.

Strauss, of course, was off most days running his ‘business.’ Lenny and Micah still hadn’t returned. Arthur only barely managed to not admit to himself that he wouldn’t mind if Micah stayed gone, but he did miss Lenny.

Mrs. Adler – Sadie – spent most days on the edges of the camp, staring into the distance. She didn’t contribute to the camp and nobody pressured her to, yet. Arthur was sure that Miss Grimshaw would eventually tell her to get off her ass and do something, but even she knew to spare some sympathy for the newly widowed. Kieran, in the meantime, had given up on begging the gang to feed him and had instead turned his attention back on his former-friend-turned-prison guard, Elijah. Elijah who, Arthur knew, quietly carried out chores around the camp, who cooked if Pearson let him, and who tasked himself with cleaning up after Kieran if only so he didn’t have to sleep in the revolting scent of another man’s waste.

Arthur could hear him begging and pleading again just now.

“Please, Eli, please. We was always good friends, weren’t we? I-I’m sorry, I’m real sorry I left, I just thought-”

“Ooh, there’s a first.” That was Elijah, sounding bored as ever. Arthur wondered if he was born bored, sometimes. If maybe he came out the womb completely silent with a dull look on his face.

“Please,” Kieran continued, “I’m so hungry, I ain’t eaten in days. You made ‘em your stew again, didn’t you? Your mom’s stew? I bet your nice mom wouldn’t approve of you treatin’ me like thi-”

He never got to finish that sentence. Arthur didn’t need to wonder if that had something to do with the clear sound of a perfectly aimed slap to the face. Guess he really does have an easier time with stationary targets, he thought.

Then, Arthur heard that fearful tremor in Kieran’s breathing, the same he’d heard when he was tying the sorry bastard to his horse.

“You ever talk about my mother again,” Arthur heard Elijah say in the lowest, angriest tone he’d heard him use so far, “and I will skin you alive and feed you to the wolves myself, Dutch and his plans for you be damned.”

Arthur sighed and put down his brush. “Can’t have that, can we, boy…” He mumbled to his horse, which merely sniffed in response. Arthur stepped over to the tree that Kieran had been tied to in order to interfere, but it seemed it was no longer necessary. Kieran was slumped against the tree, his left cheek burning red, and Elijah had moved away to sit near the ledge of the cliff.

“Y’know, I did tell you to shut that mouth of yours when we first picked you up, boy.” Arthur said. “You might wanna take that advice, or…” He bent down to look Kieran in the face. “You could talk about yer gang and this’ll all be over soon.”

Kieran, in reply, simply started weeping.

Arthur figured that Kieran wasn’t hungry enough just yet. He’d been fed just two days before, after all. Arthur saw Sadie approaching Kieran with a bowl full of food and decided he’d try his luck again a couple of days from now. He walked away from Kieran just as Sadie started taunting him with the food. It was cruel, but necessary: they needed Kieran to talk, and while Sadie sure as hell wasn’t doing it for the gang, it did work. Arthur sauntered over to the ledge.

“You an’ Kieran seem to be gettin’ along well these days.” He said, standing near Elijah, who had sat down in the grass with one leg pulled up.

“Fuck off, Arthur.”

“Well now, that ain’t no way to talk to a friend.”

Elijah snorted derisively. “’Friend…’”

Arthur feigned shock. “Oh, what? We ain’t friends now? He got you real riled up, didn’t he?”

No response.

Arthur sat down next to him, lighting a cigarette. “Were you young?”

“What?”

“When she died.”

“My mother’s not dead, Arthur.”

That certainly threw Arthur for a loop, but he decided not to pursue that particular line of inquiry for now. “Oh.” He took a drag and blew the smoke out of his lungs slowly. “I got another question for ya.”

Elijah kept quiet. Whether he did because he didn’t want to entertain this conversation whatsoever or because he was waiting for the question to be posed, Arthur wasn’t sure.

“Kieran ain’t talkin’ and you ain’t never said where them O’Driscolls is holed up now. Why?”

“’Cause I don’t know.” Was Elijah’s measured response. Arthur just waited for him to elaborate. When no elaboration was forthcoming, he tried again.

“Why?” He took a drag, pretending to be much more nonchalant than he was. They needed information, badly.

“’Cause Kieran was a stableboy who could hear the boys talking when they were going somewhere, and I was a cook who saw about five people every day and ate alone.”

“How’d you and Kieran get so close, then?”

“We slept in the stable together. Colm and his boys didn’t go out much at night – too cold – so I never really saw ‘em all that much.”

Arthur tried to remember the facility where they’d found Colm’s men. “I ain’t remember much of a stable.”

“It wasn’t much of one.”

“So you slept outside, is what you mean.”

“Pretty much.”

“How’d you survive the blizzard?”

No response. Arthur frowned, and then it dawned. How’d you and Kieran get so close, then?

“Ain’t no shame in sharin’ a little heat.” He said, thinking it was funny that he’d feel embarrassed about that. Arthur chuckled and looked to his left, but what he saw wasn’t shame or embarrassment. Arthur couldn’t parse whether it was abject terror, fury, or a mix of both. Elijah had a reddish flush to his cheeks and his jaw worked furiously, teeth clenching and unclenching, the muscle moving almost rhythmically.

“I don’t-” Elijah’s voice stuck in his throat. He was sitting almost unnaturally still, Arthur noted, like he was forcing his entire body to contain what he was feeling. As if, if he moved just one muscle, he would blow apart. “I don’t- feel shame. I don’t have the luxury of shame.”

“What’s that mean?”

“None of your business. What do you want, Arthur?” Elijah looked at him, the earlier rage gone and replaced by annoyed detachment. Arthur knew he wasn’t gonna get anything else out of this conversation. He decided he needed to try a different approach. He finished his cigarette and threw it off the ledge before getting up.

“Y’know, I reckon we’re all gettin’ a lil’ tired of sittin’ on our asses ‘round here. I’m gonna head into town.”

Elijah looked at him quizzically: what did any of that have to do with him?

Arthur continued. “Maybe when I get back, you ‘n me can find some work to do.”

“Plenty to do around camp.” Elijah remarked.

“Yeah no, I kn- I mean. Real work.” Arthur said, just a little annoyed. “I’ll find us somethin’ to do.”

“You think Dutch’ll let me?”

“I’ll talk to ‘em. You just make sure you don’t kill Kieran in the meantime.”

Arthur waited for a response to that. When he didn’t get one, he turned to leave.

He was two steps away when he heard Elijah sigh ‘Fine.’

Chapter Text

Maybe Arthur should’ve expected that they wouldn’t lay low for very long in Valentine. He figured they’d get into trouble sooner or later, he’d just thought it’d be a little bit later. Of course, Javier and Charles were just hanging out at the bar with a couple of ladies, but Bill…

Well, Bill would do as only Bill could, of course. Bill walked into the saloon and within five seconds of walking in, Arthur and the others found themselves in the midst of a full-fledged bar brawl. Arthur briefly found himself wishing that Bill had kissed that guy instead of punching him, but he couldn’t dwell on it too long. Javier was getting beaten to a pulp by a hulking beast of a man. It was probably time he interfered.

“Hey, tough guy!” Arthur shouted, before punching him in the back of the head. The man turned on him, and before Arthur could land a second blow, he was hauled up and thrown over the table like he weighed no more than a sack of feathers. Arthur only barely had the presence of mind to think uh oh before the man was on him again.

“You want some too, huh?!”

And with that, Arthur was thrown right through the window. He landed on the deck, glass crunching below the weight of his torso rolling over, right off the deck and into the mud. His full weight landed on his right side, and he felt the wound on his shoulder – which had been closing nicely – tear open. He cursed under his breath and forced his arms underneath himself to get up. He had mud all over his face and in his eyes, his shoulder was throbbing badly, and the brute was already coming for him.

“Come on, pretty boy…” He taunted as Arthur raised himself up.

That pissed Arthur off more than everything that had occurred up until this moment. “’Pretty boy’?! You’re kidding me, right? Pretty boy?”

People were gathering around them, most of them cheering his opponent. Tommy, apparently. Bill was cheering for Arthur, at least. That was nice. Arthur was getting thrown all over the street, though he got a couple of punches in here and there.

“Put that ape down, come on!” Bill shouts. Arthur wished he had time to shout back that Bill could do it his damn self if he was gonna start fights like this for no reason. Javier, to his credit, seemed more concerned.

“You alright there, Arthur?”

“Yeah, I got this son of a bitch.” Arthur said, while trying to break out of a chokehold.

Eventually, he did break out, when he felt Tommy’s ribs crack against his elbow as he rammed it back for the sixth time in a row and he bent over trying to catch his breath. That was Arthur’s chance to tip the scales in his favour, and Arthur went in with blow after blow until Tommy fell to the ground. Arthur got on top of him and kept beating and beating, until an elderly man appeared right in front of his face.

“Stop! Stop, please!”

Arthur held his punch back, staring at the man in utter confusion. What did he think he was doing, getting in the middle of a fight like this?

“I beg you, please. Stop.” The man said again, backing off a little bit but still keeping his hands up, as if he was ready to block Arthur’s next hit if he had to. As if he could, Arthur thought.

“Come, sir,” the man pressed, “You won the fight already, surely that’s enough?”

Arthur let go of Tommy. “What business is it of yours?” He growled, turning on the man instead.

“No business. No business, sir, but please…”

Arthur so badly wanted to punch him, but the man coughed pathetically and suddenly Charles’ words from a couple of weeks ago echoed in his head.

We could be better.

Having caught his breath, the man tried again. “Please, I beg you.”

Frustrated, Arthur just pushed past him and away from Tommy and the crowd. Damned Charles got into my head. His shoulder was killing him, he didn’t need his conscious weighing in as well.

“Making new friends again I see, Arthur!”

Arthur looked up to see Dutch and Josiah Trelawny approaching. Dutch gestured to Trelawny.

“Look who we found sniffin’ about.”

Arthur laughed through the pain, clutching his shoulder. “Josiah Trelawny!”

“The very same.” Dutch said.

Arthur sat on a nearby bench. “I thought you’d gone to New York?”

Trelawny spread his arms wide, turning to the town. “And miss all this glamour? You must be joking.”

Once he’d sat down Arthur noticed that his jaw was hurting pretty badly too. And was that one of his molars that felt a little loose? Shit. “How are ya?” He asked Trelawny, prodding at his jaw with his fingers. Ow.

“Well, quite well indeed.” Trelawny replied. He leaned his hip against the banister, looking the very man of leisure. “I went to Blackwater looking for you gentlemen. You’re not very popular there, it seems.”

Charles, Bill and Javier walked up to them. Charles was the only one who didn’t look like he’d just been run over by a train. The bar patrons had done a number on both Bill and Javier’s faces. Trelawny greeted them, too, but Dutch was moving on.

“You’re right, we ain’t too popular in Blackwater.”

“We left a lot of money there.” Arthur pointed out.

“And young Sean, it seems.” Trelawny said, bending down conspiratorially.

“You found Sean?” Arthur and Dutch said in stereo.

“Yes, I have. He’s being held by some bounty hunters.” Trelawny went on to explain that he knew for sure Sean was in Blackwater right now, but that there was talk of them moving soon.

Arthur kept nursing his sore, possibly broken jaw. “Well, if we step foot in Blackwater—Oww…” He got up, wanting desperately to get anything to soothe the pain. A big bottle of something or other, preferably. “We’ll be dead for sure.”

Dutch nodded. “There’ll be Pinkertons all over the place, but… If he’s alive, we gotta try.”

Arthur knew that, of course. They’d never leave one of their own behind. “Yeah, of course…”

Dutch was immediately getting started. He sent Charles out to look into it – carefully – and tasked Trelawny with taking Javier. “And Arthur?”

“What?”

“Go get yourself cleaned up. Join them when you get word from Charles.”

Arthur was acutely aware of the thick layer of mud and grime on his face. He cleaned his face in a nearby water barrel while Bill and Dutch argued about… Bill, probably. He shook the water off his hands and felt pain lance through his right shoulder. “Son of a bitch!” He walked back to his horse, pulling himself up with a sore left arm only. He’d have to wait for Charles to find something, anyway. He figured he’d just as well get his shoulder looked at, as well as his jaw. Before he’d leave, though, he needed to speak to Dutch.

“Dutch!”

“What is it?”

“I was thinkin’,” He began, drying his hands on his – disgusting – coat and immediately giving up. “I wanna take Elijah away from camp for a bit. Think he’s goin’ a little insane doin’ just chores and not goin’ anywhere else.”

“He’s got to pay his dues first, Arthur.”

“I know, I know, but… He ain’t that useful if he can’t shoot a gun and I think we oughta get him away from Kieran if we wanna get either one of ‘em to talk.”

 Dutch seemed more interested now. “Well, if you’re sure… What’d you have in mind?”

“I’unno, nothin’ too serious. Maybe he ‘n I can pick up a bounty together or somethin’.”

“I got a better idea,” Dutch said, gesturing to Trelawny that he’d be one minute. “Strauss has set up a couple lines of business. Take him with you when you go to collect those debts. It’ll be a good test.”

“Sounds good.” Arthur let Dutch get back to Trelawny. Bill was sent away with the others by now. Arthur spurred on his horse and set back on his journey to camp.

Back at camp he found that most of the gang was out. Abigail, John and Jack were there, though not all together, of course. That was rarely the case. Kieran was still weeping and still tied to a tree, so no worries there. Strauss was sat near the edge of the camp with his ledger while Elijah was at Pearson’s cooking station, busying himself with a cup of something.

Arthur walked on over. “Hey, you busy?”

“Not for long. Just making this for Kieran, after that we can go do… Whatever it is you found for us to do.”

Arthur walked up to the table to see what he was doing. It looked like he was crushing herbs with a pestle ever so gently into a cup of steaming water. “…Tea? Why?”

“Something like that. I just want him to stop crying.” He looked up from his cup for a second to look at Arthur, then did a quick double-take. “You look like shit.”

“Thank you kindly.”

“What happened?”

“Eh, just a bit of roughhousin’.”

Elijah gave Arthur a good once-over, then went back to crushing the herbs into the ‘tea.’ “Your shoulder?”

Arthur felt he had a choice to lie and say he was fine, or he could swallow his pride and ask for help. If it’d hurt a fraction less he might have chosen the former.

“Could you take a look at it when yer done?”

“And here I thought you recovered from worse without my ‘fussing’.”

He really wished he’d chosen the former. Elijah laughed at his strained, stubborn expression.

“I won’t make you say ‘please.’ I’ll get this to Kieran first.”

Arthur watched him go. He couldn’t credit what he saw, really. Elijah standing before Kieran until he lifted his head, cradling his jaw, putting the cup to his lips and letting him drink. He couldn’t hear what was being said. It felt awkward, too intimate to witness. Arthur almost felt like he wasn’t meant to see it happening. The moment he saw Elijah put his hand to Kieran’s cheek, he turned and walked away to his tent.

It wasn’t until a couple of minutes later that Elijah found him sitting on his cot, satchel in hand. “Scoot over.”

Arthur shuffled a bit to the left on the bed and let Elijah sit next to him. He was grateful to have his back turned to him, not knowing how to look him in the eye right now. Still, he couldn’t really leave it alone.

“What about Kieran?”

“He’s sleeping.”

“Already? Must’ve been strong stuff you gave him.”

“Nah. I just put a crate under his ass. Fell asleep as soon as he sat.”

To be fair, Kieran hadn’t slept in a couple of days, Arthur realised. “Why’re you bein’ nice to him all of a sudden? Thought you hated him for runnin’.”

“I did.”

“So?”

“It’s still not really in my nature to be cruel.”

Arthur chuckled. It was a low, hollow sound. “Then yer gonna have a hard time in this gang.”

“Maybe so. Are you gonna take your shirt off, or am I supposed to stitch it to your skin?”

Arthur rolled his shirt off his shoulder, uncuffed the wrist and slid it off his arm entirely, exposing his shoulder. He heard a small, sharp intake of breath.

“What did you say happened?” Elijah asked.

Arthur sighed. “Bill got us into a barfight.”

“As you do.”

Arthur wanted to tell him to stop being a smartass and just look at it, but he felt Elijah’s fingers touching around the wound, testing the skin.

“It’s not too bad.” Elijah said, reaching for the bottle and cloth on Arthur’s nightstand, wetting the cloth before gently dabbing it around the wound. It stung much less than it did at the beginning. “You kept it pretty clean, so it healed nicely. I won’t need to stitch you up again. Turn around.”

“Why?”

“’Cause your jaw didn’t look too good, either.”

Arthur felt at it with his fingertips. The tender, bruised skin had swollen considerably since he left Valentine. He turned and faced Elijah, suddenly finding himself face-to-face and in close proximity. God, but he did look young. “How old are you?”

Elijah gave him a quizzical look. “Thirty, why?”

What? “Don’t look a damn day over twenty-one.”

“I’m electing to consider that a compliment.”

“Sure, if you want.”

Without further comment, Elijah felt at Arthur’s jaw, felt where it was bruised and further to the back, near his ear. Arthur wasn’t sure where to look.

They spoke at the same time.

“So, you and Kieran…”

“It’s not broken…”

Elijah looked at him sharply. “Why the sudden interest in ‘me and Kieran?’”

“Just… You seemed real angry at him earlier, is all.”

Elijah didn’t answer, though he kept poking and prodding at Arthur’s jaw with seemingly very little direction.

“Just don’t get punched again and you’ll be fine.”

“Thanks.”

Arthur pulled his shirt back on, keeping half an eye on Elijah who was looking away from him and towards the camp, seemingly far away until Molly walked by and he followed her with his eyes.

“I heard Dutch reading Shakespeare to her the other day.”

Arthur huffed a laugh. “Yeah, he does that sometimes.”

“Sonnet 18.”

“The what?”

“The one that goes ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day’.”

“Ah.”

Elijah regarded him carefully and Arthur returned his gaze. He could practically see the cogs whirring in Elijah’s head, weighing his choices of what to say next.

When Elijah spoke, it was quiet enough that only Arthur could hear.

“Shakespeare wrote that about a man.”

Arthur hadn’t known that, but he understood why he was being told. It was an admission, it was a confidence.

“Must’ve been one hell of a man.” He replied, keeping his voice even. He watched as apprehension faded from Elijah’s eyes, replaced by cool relief.

“I hadn’t realised Dutch was that much of a romantic.” He stated drily.

Arthur felt like they had finished a long, unspoken conversation in about three sentences, but he was glad to drop it for now. “What, you sayin’ you would never read poetry to yer lover?”

Elijah snorted, idly wiped his hands on his pants. “Certainly not any lover, no.”

“Eh, me neither.” Arthur looked across the camp. “Right. I’ll go find us some work. You got a horse yet?”

“No, but I think I saw Hosea bring one in a couple days ago.”

Arthur remembered that horse; enormous thing.

“Alright then, go ask him if we can borrow it. I’ll go talk to Strauss.”

Elijah got up and went to find Hosea while Arthur went in search of Strauss, passing by a snoring Kieran on the way.

Chapter Text

Hosea, Arthur knew, hadn’t liked what the gang had become in recent years. He had never wanted the gang to be a gaggle of brutal, opportunistic killers. Arthur still felt they weren’t just yet but he knew that Hosea didn’t consider them much more than that anymore. Arthur had to concede that they had strayed far from their origins, when they would still gladly give away the money they stole to those even less fortunate than themselves. The life they led now was a far cry from what it used to be in that sense.

He also knew that deep down, Hosea still believed in their philosophy: A ‘savage utopia’, a lawless land where anyone could do whatever they want with equal opportunity, liberty and justice for all. Arthur believed in that and was sure that Dutch still did, too. He was less sure of some of the members of the gang, particularly Micah, who at best had the monetary concerns of the gang at heart, and at worst thought of absolutely nothing but himself. As for the rest, well… If they didn’t stick around for the gang’s beliefs, they stuck around for the gang itself. Jack was always running around calling everyone ‘uncle’ and ‘auntie’. He supposed they were a family, in a way. Certainly felt like all the family he’d ever known. He loved Dutch like a father and Hosea wasn’t far behind. In fact, there were times where he thought he loved Hosea more for all his wits and level-headedness.

Arthur wasn’t sure why he was thinking about it so much. Maybe it was what Charles had said to him before. Maybe it was the old man stopping him from beating Tommy to a jammy pulp. Maybe it was that he was taking out the newest member of the gang to collect a debt from some unfortunate that Strauss had swindled, and he still wasn’t too sure how he felt about Strauss’ line of work. Maybe it was watching Hosea helping Elijah put the saddle on the massive horse he’d brought in, knowing Hosea had taken a liking to him because he was quiet, reserved and relatively polite. Relatively being a key word, of course.

Arthur walked on over. “You ‘bout ready?”

Elijah was just tightening the straps. “Just about.” He took a step back, frowning. “We might have to trade horses for a bit.”

“What, why?” Arthur didn’t see the problem, until Elijah stood right next to the horse and the top of his head didn’t even reach halfway the damn saddle. Arthur found himself stupidly wondering whether he’d been this short when they first met. “Right… You’ve ridden… Uhh…”

“Still haven’t named him, have you, Arthur?” Hosea asked as he led over Arthur’s horse – the one they stole from the O’Driscolls – and handed the reins over to Elijah, who first looked to Arthur, who just nodded and let him take the reins.

“No, just… Wasn’t sure if we was gonna keep ‘em.”

“You should have a look in the Valentine stables, then. Get yourself a proper horse. As for this one…” Hosea pat the massive Shire horse’s neck. “Don’t let this big bastard get the better of you. He’s gentle if you are.”

“And ain’t I always gentle?” Arthur muttered, getting onto the horse. It took a fair bit more effort than with the other horse. He also felt like he was very far removed from the ground. Elijah mounted his own horse, waiting for Arthur’s instructions.

“Right, we’ll be back in a bit.”

Hosea waved them off, and they rode together at a leisurely pace, trotting through what Arthur really did consider a nice bit of the country.

“So,” Elijah asked after a couple of minutes of companionable silence, “What are we doing?”

“Collectin’ a debt for Strauss.”

“What kinda debt is that?”

“Mister Strauss sets up a loan with someone who needs money, and when they don’t pay it back, we go and make ‘em.” With interest, he didn’t add.

Elijah seemed genuinely confused. “I thought you-… We needed money.”

“We do.”

“Then why are we handing out loans at all?”

“So we can make it back at a profit.” Arthur felt dirty saying it. He remembered what he’d said to Strauss, earlier. And here I was believing Dutch’s bluster about us helping folk.

Damn it.

Elijah was quiet for a moment. “So that’s what Dutch meant, about preferring to rob banks to usury.”

“Yup.”

Another minute of quiet before Elijah spoke again. “I heard you and Charles talking the other day.”

“Ooh, you been eavesdroppin’, huh?”

“Hardly.” Pause. “You said the gang doesn’t harm innocent folk.”

“It’s legal work.” Arthur said, parroting Strauss word for word and not believing it for a minute. “Debtors belong in prison-”

“Believe in prison now, do you?”

“Look, you wanna come along or not?” Arthur bit back. “’Cause I can do this by myself.”

Elijah raised his hands in surrender, dropping the matter. The rest of the ride to their first debtor was tense. When they neared the ranch, Elijah spoke again.

“So, what’s the plan?”

“We go in. We tell him to give us the money. If he doesn’t give us the money, we beat ‘em until he does.”

Elijah just nodded. They got off their horses and approached the little farm. One man was outside tending to the small patch of crops.

“Mister Downes?” Arthur shouted.

“Yep, that’s me!” The man replied, looking up from his labour to look at Arthur. A flash of recognition crossed the man’s face, and Arthur certainly hadn’t forgotten about him. “Y-you…”

“You owe me money.” Arthur said menacingly, opening the gate to the patch and cornering the man. Elijah followed quietly behind. Mr. Downes tried to hit Arthur with his rake, but he blocked it with ease and punched Downes to the ground.

Downes tried to crawl back, desperately trying to put some distance between himself and Arthur, who was looming large and dangerous. Arthur hadn’t forgiven the man for interrupting his fight with Tommy earlier.

“Please, sir,” Downes pleaded. “I have a family, please…”

“I don’t care about your family.” Arthur growled, kicking Downes in the chin and knocking him further backwards, where Downes hit his head against the fence. He was coughing fiercely. Arthur hauled him up by his suspenders, struggling to keep him upright as Downes was gasping for breath.

He felt a hand on his good shoulder. “Arthur.” Elijah said. “He’s not well.”

“The hell does that matter? He loaned money from Herr Strauss, he took the money, and now Herr Strauss wants it back. You ain’t gotta be well to understand that.”

“I don’t have the money-” Downes tried to say but he doubled over, sagging like a heavy sack of potatoes. Arthur lost his grip and let him fall. He could see Downes coughing blood all over the soil he’d been tilling. He stepped back and turned on Elijah, ready to tear into him for not letting him do his job.

“Arthur…” Elijah tried again, looking around the farm. Arthur followed his gaze and saw a woman and a child approach. “Could I handle this one?”

What? “Why? What’re you gonna do?”

“Different approach, is all. I don’t have all your tall, dark and scary but I have… Well, a soft touch, I guess. Let me try.”

Arthur wanted to argue, but the woman was rushing to her husband’s side and interrupting their conversation.

“Thomas!” She knelt down and tried to lift him. “Thomas…” She turned to Arthur and Elijah. “My husband isn’t well, if we could just have more time…”

Elijah looked at Arthur, and Arthur looked from the woman, to Thomas and back to Elijah. It’ll be a good test, Dutch had said.

“Fine, you do it.”

Elijah nodded, all earnest determination. “Wait by the horses.” He said, and went to help Mrs. Downes to pick up her husband. She protested, at first.

“I can help.” Elijah said, without elaborating, and helped Thomas back into the house.

Arthur watched it from afar, angrily smoking a cigarette. Good test, he thought. So far, all he’d proven to be was an enormous pain in the ass. If he’d been by himself he could’ve beaten the money out of Downes for sure.

Charles’ words kept ringing in his head, too. We could be better. Arthur shook his head against the thought, stomping on the cigarette and crushing it into the dirt. Why better? Why’d they have to pretend to be better than they were? If people took out a loan with no way to pay it back, that was on them. They had to know it’d be collected on at some point, surely?

Elijah came back ten or so minutes later, flashing a money clip in his hands.

“Well now.” Arthur said, surprised and impressed in equal measures. “How’d you get that?”

Elijah shrugged and handed Arthur the money to return to Strauss. “I just explained to them, real clearly, that if they didn’t pay us back they soon wouldn’t have anything left to take out loans for in the first place.”

There it was again, that detached, aloof tone that Arthur had come to despise. “So where’d they get this money?”

“It’s what they saved to pay for Mr. Downes’ medicine. Don’t think it’d help the poor bastard much, though. Besides that, they’re destitute.” He got on his horse.  “How’d I do?”

“Well, you got the money, I’ll give you that.” Arthur put the money in his satchel and got on his horse. “Maybe a ‘soft touch’ ain’t so bad.”

They rode back to camp, taking their time to enjoy the bright orange sunset. It’d been a hot day. There was an odd peace between them, though Arthur couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off. Maybe it was all the heavy moralising he’d been doing lately. Arthur wanted a distraction.

“Hey.”

“What?’

“Let’s bring back some food for dinner. You can shoot.”

Elijah laughed nervously at that. “Arthur—”

“I’ll teach ya, no worries. Yer no use if you can’t aim. Here,” He took his rifle and handed it to Elijah. The bow he’d borrowed from Charles was with the latter until he had time to make a second one. “We’ll head down to the water, let the horses drink ‘n cool down while we shoot.”

They tied their horses to a tree nearest to the river and got low in the grass. There were plenty of deer near the bank. Elijah looked awkward holding the rifle, like he was unsure and self-conscious. Arthur would have been lying if he’d said he didn’t think it was nice to see him taken down a couple of notches.

“Alright, now…” He adjusted Elijah’s grip on the rifle. “Aim along the barrel and the sights… Hold like so… You gotta hold it back when you shoot, hold it steady…” He was adjusting here and there, lifting and tilting his arms until Elijah had a decent hold on the rifle. “Now, when yer ready… Shoot when the head is up. We don’t wanna hurt ‘em more than we gotta.”

Elijah looked at him for one brief, intense moment, eyes accusatory, before turning his head back to the deer. Arthur chose to ignore that. It seemed like an eternity before Elijah took the shot, but it did hit. There was a childlike joy on his face, like he couldn’t believe he’d hit his target.

“Good shot.” Arthur said, getting up from where he’d been knelt down in the grass. “We can skin it back at camp.” He walked over to collect the deer. It was a clean shot and had killed on impact, making as little of a mess as possible. He was glad of that, too. If he’d missed it’d have taken them a while to find a bunch of new deer that weren’t spooked. He carried the carcass back and tied it to the back of the Shire. “You ready?”

“Sure.” Elijah gave him back his rifle and mounted up. They resumed their ride back to camp in silence for a little bit.

“Arthur?”

“Hm?”

“Back in the mountains…”

“Yeah?”

“Why didn’t you kill me, after I gave you those plans for the train robbery?”

Arthur supposed that question was a long time coming. Others in the gang had asked him the same thing, so it was only fair that Elijah himself started wondering eventually.

“Well, you were… You reminded me of Jenny.”

Elijah seemed to freeze up at that. “… How do you mean?”

“Just that we found her abandoned by the side o’ the road, all alone and with not a damn soul in the world who cared about her. You were just lookin’ for a way to make it outta there alive, just like she was.”

And Jenny got killed in Blackwater, Arthur thought sadly, and still ain’t nobody in the world that cares.

“But you found me with Colm’s boys.” Elijah sounded sceptical but looked significantly more relaxed. “Why not kill me and make sure you’re safe?”

“Yer not the first unlikely passenger we took on.” Arthur replied. “Hosea and Dutch met each other and immediately robbed one another, Dutch found Javier when he was tryin’ to steal the same chickens Dutch was… Sean tried to rob and kill Dutch… So, all in all, you weren’t half bad.”

“And Dutch let all of them stay with the gang?”

“Sure did.”

“So what you did for me was what Dutch did for everyone else?”

Arthur hadn’t looked at it like that yet. “S’pose it was.”

“Well, then.” Elijah brought his horse just a bit closer and extended his hand. “Thank you, Arthur Morgan. Sincerely.”

Arthur smiled and shook his hand, a firm, trusting handshake. He felt like he could envelop Elijah’s entire hand with ease, and when he let go one simple word came to mind: delicate.

 “My pleasure. Just don’t get in my way next time we go to get money.”

“How ‘bout you let me handle those?” Elijah offered, turning into the road that led up to Horseshoe Overlook. “I can handle the sorry bastards, I’m sure you got more than enough else to do.”

“We’ll see. Not sure if Dutch’ll even let you go by yourself.”

“Hm.”

They rode into camp and took the deer off the Shire. They’d barely finished carrying it to Pearson’s table when Charles came running over.

“Arthur!”

“Back so soon?”

“Yeah, we found ‘em. We gotta go.” He was already running back to Taima.

Arthur heaved a heavy sigh. “No rest for the wicked…”

Elijah just took a knife and started skinning the deer. “Good luck to you, and mind your shoulder.”

“Goin’ back to Blackwater, I think that’s the least of my worries.”

And with that, he and Charles took off, riding into the night to save their friend.

Chapter Text

Blackwater was swarming with Pinkertons and bounty hunters. The entire area was in total lockdown and even through his binoculars Arthur could see the wanted posters for Dutch and Hosea. Sean was still nowhere to be found. Javier, Charles and Arthur were on a ledge off the edge of Blackwater while Trelawny was off trying to find out where Sean was. Arthur was feeling antsy: there was way too much law about for him to feel comfortable being this close to a town like Blackwater. There was a lot of money sitting around in that town somewhere, but there was zero chance of them getting that back anytime soon.

“Why haven’t they hanged Sean, I wonder?” Arthur muttered quietly, handing the binoculars back to Charles.

“I think he’s bait.” Charles said. “Or maybe they want to trial him publicly.”

Finally, Trelawny returned. “Gentlemen.” He knelt down by the rest of them near the ledge. “Sean is being moved up the Upper Montana, then to a federal prison out west.”

Arthur cursed and Charles buried his face in his hands, sighing deeply.

“We can’t be rescuing people from some federal prison.” Arthur said, already frustrated at the prospect. “We either rescue him now or… Cut ‘em loose.”

“We’re not cuttin’ anyone loose.” Charles argued.

“’Course not.” Arthur concurred.

Trelawny further explained that bounty hunter Ike Skelding’s boys were moving him to a camp nearby where they’d hold him until they could hand him over to the government. That at least meant they had a chance to intercept them and get Sean back before they had to have a big run-in with the law. Again.

“I guess we need to stop them before they get to camp. Charles,” Arthur turned on his side and pointed backwards across the valley. “Why don’t you head up on the north side and then we’ll head up on the other side of the valley and meet you. That way we have them either direction.”

Charles immediately got up, took Taima and rode around to the north side of the valley. Josiah, Javier and Arthur took their horses and stuck to the edge of the cliffs that loomed over the river, tailing the boat that was hopefully carrying Sean. Trelawny had pointed out that the government seemed very angry. Arthur had replied that they’d rescue Sean and get lost good and proper, though he knew that’d be a while yet. Dutch wasn’t in a hurry to leave.

They followed the boat until it reached the riverbank, Trelawny talking all the way. Javier even commented that he hadn’t stopped talking since they’d left Valentine. Arthur could only imagine what that must’ve been like. He had to admit, though, that Trelawny had always provided them with good info. The robberies Trelawney set up for them were always bigger, better and more successful than most of their own endeavours. The Blackwater ferry job was a prime example of a job that really could’ve used Trelawny’s insight, but there was no point in dwelling on that now.

“Look, they’ve stopped!”

Trelawny halted his horse near the ledge and took out his own binoculars. “Let’s see what we’re dealing with here.”

Arthur and Javier followed suit. Four bounty hunters and their captive were on the bank now. The captive’s head was covered and Arthur couldn’t tell who he was. He had roughly the same build as Sean, but so did loads of other men.

Of course, when the bag was removed and that distinctive flash of red hair showed, Arthur knew it was Sean right away.

“Looks like Sean to me.” Javier said. “Ooh, they’re giving him a decent kicking.”

“Can only imagine the shit he’s been giving them…” Arthur replied.

Trelawny shifted his focus. “They’re taking him up the canyon. There’s Charles, on the other side.” He waved back at Charles, then put his binoculars away. “I’ve got an idea, follow me. We’re gonna deal with those two below.”

They went down to the bank and got off their horses. Arthur and Javier got low and waited for Trelawny to create a distraction so that they could, in Trelawny’s words, then ‘do the dirty’ on them. Watching Trelawny pretend his wife was ill and he was having a fit over it would have been hilarious if they weren’t there to save Sean from certain imprisonment. Javier and Arthur snuck through the water, wading carefully and trying to not make too much noise, before jumping up quickly and taking down the guards. Arthur slit the throat on his target while Javier choked the man and wrestled him down to the ground.

Trelawny dusted himself off. “A pleasure as always, gentlemen. I think you have it from here.”

That they did. There were two more bounty hunters up the path towards the canyon and a couple of guards posted on the cliffs. They had no way of taking out the two on the ground without those up top shooting them.

“I’ll get those up top, just be ready to take out those two down here.” Arthur whispered, drawing and aiming his repeater. “Ready?”

“Always.” Javier replied, his revolver aimed and steady.

Arthur took his shot and all hell broke loose. At least a dozen bastards appeared, all of them guns blazing. Arthur hadn’t felt this many bullets blazing past his head since Blackwater, or at least Ewing Basin back in the mountains. The gun in his hands felt hot and heavy, firing off shot after shot while Javier yelled at him to push up and move forward. Two more guards had appeared at the top of the cliff, he shot one and was about to shoot the second one when Charles appeared out of nowhere and took him down.

“There’s Charles!” Arthur shouted.

“Good, let’s get up there!”

They ran into two more men, but those lost on the quick draw between them and Arthur. They were dead and rolling down the steep incline before they’d even raised their guns to shoot. Javier and Charles were already pushing through to the actual camp where Arthur saw Sean being held, hanging upside down from a tree, strung by his feet. There were too many people to count that were shooting at them.

“Goddamn army of these bastards, how much is Sean’s bounty?” Arthur shouted in between shooting.

He could hear Charles laugh over the gunfire. “Maybe we should turn him in ourselves.”

Arthur took another two down, pretending to consider it. “Still time…”

Though it was three versus half an army, they had much better positioning. It didn’t take long before the few bounty hunters that were left decided Sean wasn’t worth paying with their lives for and ran off. Arthur shot the rope at Sean’s feet and let him fall. He, Javier and Charles walked up to him. Arthur cut his feet loose and extended a hand to help him up. Even if Sean was an annoying Irish bastard, he was one of theirs.

Sean seemed to think just as much of Arthur as Arthur did of him, though.

“Y’know, you’re a lot less ugly from that other angle, Arthur.” He let himself be pulled up by Arthur, slowly adjusting to having blood flowing downwards rather than upwards again. “Oof… Do I get a hug, Arthur?”

Little shit.

Sean went on, as he always did. “A warm embrace for a lost brother, now found?”

Arthur had to laugh, clasping Sean’s shoulder in what he hoped still seemed brotherly. “You know… Nothing means more to me than this gang. The bond we share is the most real thing to me. I would kill for it, I would happily die for it, but in spite of all that I would have easily left you here to rot if Charles hadn’t stopped me.”

Sean wheezed a laugh. “I don’t believe a word of that, Arthur!”

“Get him outta here!”

Arthur shoved Sean towards Javier and his horse.

“Yer a great man, Arthur Morgan! The kind a young whippersnapper can really admire.”

“Oh, shut up. Right, we should split up. Javier, will you escort Mr. Macguire back to camp? Charles, best you ride separately.” He looked around the camp, trying to see if there was anything worth having he could bring by himself. “Be careful, there’s patrols everywhere.”

Javier waited for Sean to get on his horse. “What about you?”

“I’m gonna see what’s worth takin’ here, I’ll meet you back there as soon as I can.”

Javier nodded and got on his horse, ready to start the long ride home, this time with someone else who could not stop talking. Sean was already prattling off about all the stories he had for them. Javier almost wished Trelawny was still here.

Arthur, for his part, was glad to be riding alone. He whistled for his horse and got to searching the premises. Most of what he found was bullets and worn down guns, a couple of watches here and there, but nothing special. He was walking back to his horse when he heard a horde of hooves approaching.

Looked like he wasn’t gonna be riding alone, after all.

He jumped on his horse and spurred him on fiercely. “C’mon, boy!” His horse whinnied and bolted forward, narrowly avoiding the spray of bullets the law was firing his way. The law might have known how to give chase, but Arthur knew the country. He knew exactly which turns to take where to avoid them. It sure as shit helped he was alone, too, while they were with at least six of them. He could manoeuvre much faster and was never at risk of running over a comrade.

The horse’s hooves pounded into the dirt and over grass, water splashed up violently and spattered his boots as he rode further and further away from Blackwater. He could barely hear them yelling now. Arthur was exhausted. He hadn’t slept in at least a day and a half. He was so, so tired, but here, riding his horse hard and feeling the wind sweep past his face and having to hold on to his hat to keep it from flying off, Arthur felt alive.

When he got close to Horseshoe Overlook, he could hear that Sean’s return celebration was well underway. He hitched his horse and gave him a good pat and some oatcakes.

“You did good, boy.” He murmured affectionately. Maybe he would keep this horse, after all.

He walked into the camp, feeling the exhaustion in his bones. Bill handed him a beer immediately.

“The hero returns!”

There were some scattered cheers and greetings from the group, some raised bottles, and Dutch firmly clasping his shoulder and welcoming him back to the camp. Sean – drunk and belligerent, his natural state of being – was preaching about how the camp was gonna get back on its feet now that he was back. There was plenty of food and drink to go around for once. Arthur gratefully chugged his beer and sat on a log near the fire.

Charles was lying down underneath the canvas tent, simply basking in the warmth of the fire and letting the excitement of the day settle. He opened an eye to look at Arthur.

“You get back alright?”

“Ran into some law on the way back, but they didn’t chase me past the river. Should be fine, it’s not like my bounty could get any higher over there.”

Charles seemed content with the answer he got and closed his eyes again. He looked every bit the lazy cat he must’ve felt like. In the distance, Arthur could hear Javier playing his guitar and singing. John and Bill were at the table, already well on their way to being drunk. Molly had just asked Dutch to put some music on. Within a few minutes, the sound of jaunty, cheerful music filled the air, barely above the drunken bar songs those around the campfire were singing.

Arthur looked around and saw nothing but happy, relieved faces. Even Miss Grimshaw looked joyful and relaxed, which was rarely ever the case, and Dutch was finally smiling again. Sean had recovered very, very quickly from the entire ordeal and was laughing with Karen sitting cosily in his lap. Pearson was nearly asleep next to him. Mary-Beth and Tilly, he knew, were near their tent, dancing like chorus girls. Abigail was putting Jack to sleep in spite of all the noise and Sadie had removed herself from the group, sitting as far away from the camp as possible without leaving it behind entirely, wrapped in her shawl.

Arthur noted he was sorely missing Hosea from his lineup, but figured it could wait for now. He hadn’t seen Elijah just yet, either. Kieran, of course, hadn’t moved from his spot and therefore Arthur didn’t need to think about that for very long. There were better things to occupy his mind with. He sang with his friends and drank a couple more beers before deciding he’d rather be drinking whiskey right about now. He got up and went in search of a crate of whiskey, knowing they usually kept one near Hosea's, Bill's and Lenny’s tent. As he walked he realised he felt a little lightheaded, his legs felt a little less stable than they had when he arrived, and he seemed unable to focus. The drink had gone to his head a fair bit faster than it usually would, but then he supposed he hadn’t slept in a while. He fetched a bottle of whiskey and heard Hosea laugh in the distance along with a softer, younger voice. Arthur followed the sound, away from the campfire near the ledge and towards the one near the horses. There, he found Hosea and Elijah sitting at a table, laughing together. There were a handful of seemingly empty bottles on the table, and Hosea looked fairly done in as far as Arthur could tell. Elijah had his back turned to him and was working on something in his lap.

“There you are!” Arthur shouted, prompting Hosea to look up and Elijah to look back.

“Arthur.” Elijah said, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. In the faint firelight, Arthur could see the flush glow of alcohol high on his cheeks. His eyes were sparkling with joy, like he’d just laughed tears at something.

Hosea waved Arthur over, motioning for him to sit down as well. “I was just telling young Elijah over here ‘bout our first bank robbery.”

“Oh boy…” Arthur sat down next to Hosea, across from Elijah. “That what’s so funny?”

“Yes.” Elijah damn near giggled. “Hosea said the three of you were like a ‘curious couple with an unruly child.’ That’s funny.”

Arthur huffed a laugh and took a sip of whiskey. “What’re you workin’ on over there?” He said, using his bottle to indicate the… Thing in Elijah’s lap. Fabric? A blanket?

“Oh,” Elijah said, putting it on the table and spreading it out. “Hosea and I went into the Valentine stables earlier today to sell that Shire and get me an actual horse.” He turned the blanket towards Arthur, showing off a neat little section of embroidery that was about half-finished, spelling VINC.

“What’s that mean?”

“It’s not finished. It’ll say ‘Vincent’ when it’s done.”

“You named the horse Vincent.”

“And you haven’t named your horse.”

“Fair enough.” Arthur took another drink from the bottle, feeling pleasantly buzzed again. “Why Vincent?”

Elijah took a drink from his own bottle, taking the horse’s blanket back and carefully tracing his fingers along the lettering. For a moment, he looked terribly sad.

“After I got rejected from university ten or so years ago I was walking through the city and… There was this little gallery…”

For the first time since meeting Elijah Arthur felt a crystal clear awareness just how different their lives had been up to this point. In his mind, he tried to compare Elijah’s failed university application to the fact that he himself had never had a day of certified education in his life and was taught to read as a teenager. He hadn’t known the life of school buildings, cobblestone streets and galleries. It was so far removed from his experience that Arthur could barely fathom having such a life to begin with.

Arthur suddenly realised that he didn’t know Elijah at all. Not that he’d been very forthcoming with information, of course, but it felt odd to not know anything about a man he’d quite quickly come to see as, at least, a comrade, if not a friend.

Elijah continued. “It had a lithograph of a very sad man, signed ‘Vincent.’ I don’t know who Vincent is or what kind of art he makes, but I remember that lithograph clear as day.”

Hosea and Arthur were both silent, unsure of what to say. Elijah squirmed a little bit.

“It feels like it was a lifetime ago. My life is so different now.”

Arthur couldn’t tell if he was sad or happy about that fact. He primarily seemed nostalgic.

Hosea laughed and got up. “I’d say so. I’ll get us another drink.”

It was quiet at the table while Hosea was gone, and Arthur didn’t want a night of celebration to be hindered by things that didn’t matter anymore. “So which one is your new horse?”

Elijah got up and rolled up the blanket, neatly trapping the needle and its thread inside. He walked past Arthur to the horses behind him. Arthur followed.

Next to Boaz was Vincent, a dappled black thoroughbred. Arthur whistled quietly so as not to spook the horse, gently patting its flank.

“That’s a fine horse… Must’ve cost a pretty penny.” He side-eyed Elijah, who just smiled at him and gave none of the answers he was hoping to get. Arthur looked down at the blanket Elijah was still holding in his hands and couldn’t resist ribbing him a little bit. He nodded down at it, touching the blanket with a single finger and tapping it. “Didn’t know you could do that.”

“I’m sure you’ll find there’s more you don’t know I can do.”

Maybe it was the drink, or the exhaustion, or the events of the day, but Arthur realised that in spite of not having known the man for very long and not knowing all that much about him, Arthur did like him, in a complicated way. He was always asking questions Arthur didn’t want to answer and fussing over things that didn’t need fussing over, but he was sincere and honest. Arthur could appreciate that in a person, even if that person refused to give you a straight answer every goddamn time.

“Oy, you there!”

Arthur groaned inwardly. Sean stumbled over, evidently off his ass, pointing an unstable finger at Elijah. “Who’re you? What’re you… What’re YOU-… Doin’ in my camp?” He tried to lean on Ennis, his horse, but Ennis didn’t feel like it and walked away. Sean landed face-first in the mud, scrambling to get up. “Answer me!”

Arthur saw Elijah visibly biting his lip to keep from laughing. Elijah, rather than answering, handed Sean his own bottle of whiskey and pointed in the direction of John’s tent.

“Karen’s in there, waiting for you.”

“Oh! Yer alright then. She loves me, y’know? I’m gonna…  I’ll go.” He took a swig and set off to find his true love. Arthur frowned.

“Karen ain’t in there, is she?”

“No, but I doubt he’d know the difference between Karen, John Marston, and John Marston’s mattress right now. He’ll be fine.”

They shared a look and two beats of silence before laughing together.

Yeah, Arthur liked him, alright.

Chapter Text

Arthur woke feeling like a bear with a sore head. He was glad to find he at least hadn’t vomited near or on his cot and sat up slowly. His head swam and he had to close his eyes against the early sunlight. Vague, distorted memories from last night sluggishly came to mind: he (barely) remembered playing cards with Hosea and Elijah. He remembered that Molly and Dutch were dancing and himself too eventually standing up and dancing around the campfire with someone, though he couldn’t for the life of him remember who. He figured it was probably Mary-Beth. He thought he also remembered Karen and Sean having sex in John’s tent at some point, well after Sean had gone to the tent initially. He also thought that he and Dutch had had a heartfelt conversation until the first rays of sunlight started appearing and they made their way to their beds. There were considerable gaps in his memory, though, so he couldn’t be sure of what exactly had transpired.

He rubbed a hand over his face and tried to let the dizziness settle. It’d been worth it, though. They hadn’t been able to let loose like that in quite a while and it had been good to let all that tension and fear go.

Arthur blinked against the cold light of day and got up in search of coffee. He found Pearson and Miss Grimshaw at the campfire, both looking like death.

“Mornin’ to ya.” He said, sitting on the log and hoping coffee would simply materialise in his hands. Miss Grimshaw and Pearson already had their tin cups and were warming their hands on them, so surely there had to be more of the stuff somewhere?

“Here.”

Arthur’s prayers had been answered, it seemed. A steaming hot cup of coffee had materialised in front of him, attached to a pale, freckled arm. He followed it all the way up to its owner, a tired looking blonde fellow that he had proudly trounced at poker last night.

“Thank you.” Arthur said, feeling the gratitude bloom in his chest when he took the cup and Elijah sat next to him on the log. “You been up long?”

“I haven’t slept, actually.” Elijah grimaced and his eyes looked strained. Arthur could virtually see the headache pounding behind his eyes. “Been waiting to get sober so I can get to that, so I made breakfast in the meantime.”

“That’s real kind of ya.” Pearson said, looking like he was very glad he didn’t have to be up on his feet to prepare any sort of food just yet. “I appreciate that, Elijah.”

“Don’t mention it.”

Arthur was relishing the first few sips of piping hot coffee and slowly starting to feel like a human being again. “Why you waitin’ to get sober to sleep?”

“’Cause I can’t sleep when I’m drunk.”

“Why not?”

“… I get dizzy.” Elijah muttered sheepishly, idly rubbing his left thumb over his right palm.

“Ha. Lightweight.” Arthur commented, earning himself a vicious stare, though Elijah couldn’t fully suppress his smile either. Arthur just grinned into his coffee.

“I think Kieran’s about ready to talk.” Elijah said after a little while, looking equal parts tired and regretful. “Or, well, I think he won’t last much longer regardless.”

“You think he has anythin’ to say?” Arthur asked, finishing the cup and wishing he had more. Elijah held up his hand for the cup in silent question. Arthur handed it to him and both of them got up to walk to Pearson’s station for a refill.

“I think so.” Elijah refilled Arthur’s cup and handed it back him. “I don’t know what, but he did mention that there’s something he can’t say. Kieran may be a coward but he’s loyal at heart.”

There was that sadness again. Arthur really did wonder what had transpired between the two, though he could guess.

“Alright, that’ll be my job for the day, then. You oughta get some sleep.” Arthur paused, frowning. “Really, Elijah, where do you sleep?”

Elijah shrugged. “Usually near the campfire by the horses, the ground's warm and dry there.”

“You got a bedroll?”

“No. Miss Grimshaw hasn’t offered me one, either, and I don't wanna ask. If Dutch’ll let me go into town again I can just go and get one.”

“Hm.” Arthur hummed and chugged his second cup of coffee down and went to look in the pot for breakfast. Smells good. He took a bowl and while chowing down spoke with a full mouth. “Y’c’n t’k m’ b’d f’r n’w.”

“Come again?”

He swallowed. “I said, you can sleep in my bed for now. You’re in no state to go to Valentine right now.”

“I’m fine, Arthur. I’ve been tired before.” Elijah’s response was a little agitated and that, frankly, tickled Arthur a little bit.

“Take the damn bed, Elijah. It’ll do ya good.”

Arthur thought he looked like he was going to argue, but he relented. “That’s what they all say, but fine. I’ll go.” He squeezed Arthur’s arm as he walked past. “Thanks, though.”

“Yer welcome.” He pat Elijah’s hand, then finished his breakfast. By the time he went to check on Kieran five minutes later he could see – and hear – Elijah sound asleep on his cot, curled up on his side. He’d taken his boots off and all, which Arthur thought was endearing, in a way.

Dutch, who had just emerged from his own tent, looking very much like he and Molly’d had a good night together, stretched and looked around the camp, pausing when his gaze met with Arthur’s tent.

“Mornin’ Dutch!” Arthur shouted, waving briefly.

“Arthur.” Dutch greeted back, walking over, trying to seem casual and failing at it. “I didn’t realise the two of you were so… Close.”

“I’m just lettin’ him take a nap, Dutch.”

“I’m sure he needs it.” Dutch had that shit-eating grin on his face when he felt one of his ‘sons’ had gotten up to something. “Don’t go gettin’ your heart broken, now.”

Arthur laughed and Dutch laughed with him. “Nothin’ like that, I promise.”

“I know, I know.” Dutch patted him on the shoulder. “I didn’t think so. He didn’t seem like your usual type.”

“What type would that be?”

“Dependent, spineless, only shows up when they need you-”

“Hey now, if this is still about Mary-”

“-looks down on your way of life, breaks off the engagement, disliked by all of your family-”

“Dutch…”

“What?” Dutch feigned innocence, but Arthur knew he and the rest of the gang had never liked Mary. She was too ‘uppity’ for their tastes and Arthur could see their point, but he had truly loved her all the same.

“Mary wasn’t a bad person, Dutch. She just wasn’t the right person for me. She’s married now, it’s in the past.”

Dutch nodded, sighing through his nose. “She gave you the ring back, didn’t she?”

“Yeah, it’s in my stuff somewhere. If it made it out of Blackwater, at least, I haven’t checked.”

“Well, I reckon you’ll have no need of it anytime soon, anyway.”

Arthur supposed that was true. “Anyhow… I was gonna see if Kieran felt like talking today.”

“Ooh, I’ll go get Bill.”

Before Arthur could ask why Bill had to get involved, Dutch had already gone. Arthur went over to Kieran, who looked tired, gaunt and sickly. He wept without so much as looking up to face Arthur.

“Speak! Don’t cry boy, speak! About yer gang!”

Kieran cried, gasped for breath and whined. “I ca-a-an’t…”

“Boy…”

Dutch came back, Bill in tow. “Whoaaa! Hold your horses, there! It seems the cat has got our friend here’s uhh… Tongue. I was thinking mister Williamson could have a word.”

“You ready to talk, boy?” Bill said, approaching slowly and menacingly.

“I told you mister, I told all you’s… I don’t know nothin’, they-they ain’t no friends of mine! I just been ridden with them for a while-”

“Horseshit!” Bill interrupted. “You see, we heard that part, so how about you tell us the truth!” He turned to Dutch. “Dutch, what do you want me to do?”

“Hurt him! So the next time he opens his mouth it’s to tell us what is goin’ on!” Dutch looked at the weeping, terrified Kieran and sighed. “Oh, who am I kiddin’. One of O’Driscoll’s boys couldn’t open his mouth but he’d tell a lie. Screw it. Let’s just have some fun…” He turned to Bill. “Geld him.”

“Ooh yeah!” Bill was practically skipping away to grab his tongs. Arthur inwardly wondered if this was really necessary. He also thought that if he’d been able to talk to Kieran alone and maybe apply… A soft touch… Jesus, what had become of him?

Kieran was looking more horrified by the second. “Wh-where’s he going?”

“Oh, don’t worry! They’re only balls, boy!” Dutch said and pulled Kieran’s pants down. “Just gonna cause you trouble! Y’know, in Imperial Rome, eunuchs was among the happiest and most loyal of courtiers.”

“No, no, no, no, no, nononono—You’re kiddin’ me right?!” Kieran screamed.

“Oh, of course!” Dutch mocked him.

“You sick bastards! Eli! Eli! Help me!”

Bill was laughing and snapping his tongs. Arthur got real close to Kieran’s face, eyes boring into him.

“You got a lotta nerve askin’ for his help, boy.” He growled. “Make yer choice, now.”

Kieran swallowed hard, eyes shifting from Arthur to the tongs, to Dutch and back to Arthur. “A-Alright, alright, I do… I do know where O’Driscoll’s holed up, and yer right. He don’t like you anymore ‘n you like him. He’s at Six Point Cabin!”

Bill dropped his tongs and moaned with disappointment.

Kieran continued. “I’ll take you there, serious. I don’t like him, I mean- I like him even less than I like you, no offence.”

“Oh, none taken.” Dutch said, motioning for Arthur to cut Kieran loose.

“Okay then, pardner.” Arthur said as he finally, after several long, long weeks, cut Kieran loose. “Why don’t you take a few of us up there right now?” He started pushing Kieran towards his horse. “I got this, Dutch. Should be fun!”

He could hear Dutch and Bill laughing about ‘geld him!’ as he pushed Kieran forward. “Let’s hope you ain’t tryin’ to trick us. John, Bill! Come over here, got a social call that needs makin’.”

He got on his horse and let Kieran climb on behind him. “Where we headed?”

“Up into the hills behind Valentine. I’ll show you.”

“A’right. Let’s go.”

The road to Six Point Cabin was smooth. Kieran recognised where he was in The Heartlands almost as soon as they left Horseshoe Overlook and could easily direct them there. Arthur and John were sniping back and forth, primarily Arthur sniping at John who let it all slide off him like water off a duck’s back. Arthur was glad he was getting better, he really was, but he still hadn’t forgiven him for leaving Abigail, Jack and the gang behind the way he had.

Kieran, on his end, made the mistake of saying that the Van der Linde gang wasn’t all that different from the O’Driscolls.

“What’d you just say?” John asked and riding next to Arthur, about ready to kick him off Arthur’s horse if need be. “We ain’t nothin’ like them! You been tied to a tree, what do you know?”

“Well… You live rough, you live hard… You’re outlawed like them, you’re fightin’ the law and nature like them… You’re just out to survive-”

“And that’s where yer wrong, O’Driscoll.” John interrupted him, full of righteous anger on behalf of Dutch and his gang. “We’re out to live free, and Colm’s a sneak thief and a killer. Dutch is more like a teacher.”

Arthur was silent. He hadn’t forgotten that Dutch had killed that girl in Blackwater and that he had personally given the go-ahead for Strauss’ loan sharking business, which was basically thieving. He would never doubt Dutch’s judgment, but he also felt like Dutch had changed a bit since when the gang first began. They all had.

“From where I been, you look the same, is all… Though I guess you treated my friend nicer than they did. Didn’t try to take his balls like you did with me, though I guess he don’t ha-.”

“Yeah, well, you weren’t as helpful.” Arthur grumbled, spurring on his horse to get to the cabin faster. “We’re almost on ‘em, boys! If Colm’s really here, we can end years of fightin’ right here, right now.”

“Amen to that.” John said.

“Hear, hear!” Bill chimed in.

Kieran had been true to his word. When they’d carefully, quietly made it up the hill past the clearing they could see the cabin just sitting there in between the trees, swarming with O’Driscolls. Kieran was in the front.

“Colm’s probably passed out in his cabin, booze blind…”

Arthur tried to scope out how many guards there were. “These fellers armed?”

“Armed, drunk, wary of strangers.” Kieran confirmed.

Bill tapped Arthur’s leg. “Someone’s comin’.”

Three O’Driscolls were sauntering through the trees, arguing about who was gonna tell ‘him’ that they had nothing for the pot. They stopped and waited for one of them to take a piss. John was holding Kieran at gunpoint, covering his mouth. Just in case.

Arthur gestured for Bill to take the pisser while he moved up on ahead. Bill made quick work of him, slitting his throat in silence and putting him to the ground as quietly as he could.

He gestured to Arthur, a silent question. What about those other two?

Arthur took his knife out and let it speak for itself, moving on up. Bill followed and in perfect tandem, they took out the other two guards just as quietly and efficiently.

“What do we do now?” John hissed.

“We go ‘n get ‘em.”

From there on out, it was just as bad of a shootout as the one near Blackwater had been. This time Arthur was just a little more invested in killing these bastards specifically. Bill’s throwing knives came in handy a couple of times when one of the Irish bastards got too close. John held himself well in spite of not being completely right yet, and Bill had felled most of the O’Driscolls on the right side for him.

“They’re turnin’ tail!”

“Leave ‘em!” Arthur shouted, reloading his rifle. “Colm’s still here. Check the cabin.”

“You go ahead ‘n do that.” Bill was busy bending over and robbing every corpse around him. “I’m just gettin’ that Irish gold.”

Arthur walked up to the cabin carefully, gun at the ready. When he pushed the door open, it was instead swung back, hitting him square in the face. He fell backwards and was greeted, for the second time in too short of a period, with the bad end of a rifle barrel. This one, though, was a real O’Driscoll, laughing at Arthur and finger reaching for the trigger.

Then, a shot, and the O’Driscoll fell down. Arthur sagged with relief, lying spread eagle on the deck outside the cabin. Kieran walked up, revolver in hand.

“You alright?”

“Sure. Thank you.” Arthur said drily. He could hardly believe he owed his life to fucking Kieran. He got up and went into the cabin, ready to kill Colm.

He wasn’t there.

Arthur stomped outside. “Come here!”

Kieran didn’t understand. “W-what?”

“You set us up!” He aimed his sawed-off shotgun directly at Kieran’s face.

“N-no I didn’t! I sw-swear I s-s-… Look! If I was settin’ you up, I wouldn’t have saved your life.”

Bill laughed and gently pushed Arthur’s gun down with a touch of his index finger. “It’s a good point, Arthur.”

“Fine. Get out of here.” Arthur was angry. They could’ve ended it once and for all and the bastard had slipped through their fingers again. He didn’t want to look at Kieran, not now, not ever again.

“What?”

“I’m lettin’ you run away, I said, get out of here! Scram!”

He grabbed Kieran by his collar and threw him back. Kieran whirled on him, pointing angrily.

“That’s as good as killing me!” He panted, hard. This was the most fight Arthur had ever seen in him. “Out there… Without you… Colm’s gonna lose his mind about this.”

Arthur scoffed. “So?”

“So I’m one o’ you now! You already got my friend, what’s one more?!”

Arthur closed his eyes and passed a hand over his face. He’d only slept a few hours after not having slept at all for well over a day, but he’d been fine until now. He felt so tired.

“Give me a break... Alright then. But I’m warning you.”

“O-oh, I know.” Kieran said, relieved all the same.

“Let’s get back to camp!”

“You got the cash, then?”

Arthur turned back on Kieran. “What cash?”

“There’s usually some cash in the chimney.” Kieran was already running into the cabin.

“I’LL check it. The rest o’ you get back to camp, I’ll meet you there. Tell Dutch Kieran ain’t worth killin’ just yet.”

“Right you are.” Bill said just before they left for camp. Inside the cabin, Arthur found a really nice new shotgun and the promised cash. That, at least, soothed the sting of the entire unnecessary endeavour. If nothing else he had something to contribute to the camp now. He whistled for his horse – he really needed to name him – and got the hell out of there. He didn’t feel like having another chase right now. Too much had happened in the span of two days. Arthur needed to sleep.

Back at camp he found that Mary-Beth was already busy sorting out clothes for Kieran. Arthur went over to the box and put in both the cash he’d found and the pitiful debtor’s money he still hadn’t turned in. He thought about catching Dutch up to speed, but he was sure Bill could do that. Without giving it much more thought, Arthur drifted to his tent and found that his cot was still occupied.

He stood over Elijah’s sleeping form for a little while. It was the middle of the afternoon and he was still sleeping soundly. Arthur supposed they hadn’t been gone that long either, maybe two or three hours altogether. He didn’t want to wake him up, but he needed to sleep, too.

Well.

“Hey, wake up.”

Elijah shot awake, bloodshot eyes staring up blearily. “Oh, Arthur. You’re… Back?”

“Yeah. Kieran’s with us now. It’s fine, now scoot.” He didn’t feel like explaining anything. He didn’t feel like making a fuss. He wanted to lie the hell down.

“What?”

“I said scoot.”

Elijah shuffled as far back on the cot as he could, too tired and too confused to argue, by the looks of it. Arthur saw his boots standing next to his cot and decided to pull his own off, too. He laid down on his side, back towards Elijah, and yawned so wide his jaw cracked.

“Arthur?” He could hear the confusion, but he didn’t care.

“Go to sleep.”

After a moment’s hesitation, Arthur felt the cot shake and felt Elijah shuffle and settle behind him. There was something intensely comforting about someone else’s ass touching his own while trying to sleep again, Arthur had to admit.

He fell asleep with a smile on his face.

Chapter Text

The days after the raid on Six Point Cabin were quiet. Kieran was considerably less whiny now that he had a bed to sleep on and his arms could finally rest. Mary-Beth had gotten him some clothes to wear that weren’t covered in human and equine waste alike. All in all he was settling in okay, though the gang was still wary of him and he was wary of them. Arthur had already told him once that as long as he didn’t cross the gang, he’d be fine.

They’d sent Lenny and Micah out to scout out west of the country weeks ago now. Arthur still didn’t miss Micah very much but he was starting to worry about Lenny. The boy was young and bright-eyed and Arthur liked him. Dutch was starting to get worried too, though he seemed more worried about Micah, and had sent John out to look for them. He’d been gone for a day now and in spite of Arthur’s annoyance with him for leaving the gang before, he trusted John to come back either with news or with Lenny and Micah in tow.

Right now, Arthur was riding across the plains with Charles after an afternoon of hunting for bison. They’d been tough to kill and even tougher to skin and prepare for the road back to camp, but it’d been worth it. The skins could be made into clothes, blankets and even tent covers. They’d had a good haul.

“I’ve heard of a legendary white bison up north, near Colter.” Charles said, tilting his face up to the sun. It was a wonderful day.

“What’s so legendary ‘bout it?” Arthur asked. Aside from the bison being white he couldn’t think of what was so special.

“Apparently it’s huge and its skin and fur is rare. Its horns must be enormous, too. They’re used to make talismans. I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on those.”

“So why not go ‘n get ‘em?”

“I’m not sure if it’s even real. It’s a long ride through the snow. Plus, someone’s gotta bring the food in. Your boy’s aim is getting better but he’s not a hunter yet.”

My bo- Oh. “Maybe he oughta be the one to get the bison, then.”

“You might wanna go with him. Poor bastard doesn’t even have a tent yet.”

Arthur sighed. “Well, it ain’t like we’re too busy ‘round here. We ain’t tryin’ to rob the bank in Valentine just yet, Hosea still hasn’t gotten rid of those bonds and Lenny ‘n Micah still ain’t back from their trip out west. Elijah took care of Strauss’ debtors for us so Dutch doesn’t mind lettin’ him go out anymore...” Arthur tried to go through his mental checklist of chores and things that needed taking care of and decided that he did have the time to go, if Dutch could spare him.

Charles steered his horse into camp. “Well, if you’re really considering it, I’ll make you a couple good arrows.”

Arthur nodded and got off his horse, taking the massive pelt to Pearson’s station and looking around for Dutch, finding him in his tent listening to music with Molly.

“Hey, Dutch.”

“Arthur, how’d the hunt go?” Dutch closed his book and got up, walking out of the tent with Arthur.

“Good, we got enough meat for the next two weeks.”

“Good to hear! Great job, both of you.”

“I was wonderin’ if you could spare me ‘n Elijah for a couple days. Charles was talkin’ ‘bout some… ‘Legendary’ bison up north… Real big son of a bitch, apparently. Thought we could go ‘n check it out.”

Dutch shrugged. “No urgent business ‘round here that needs your attendance, just mind that you don’t run into Colm or Pinkertons and you’re free to go wherever you want, son. John should be back in a couple days, so try not to be gone too long.”

“I’ll keep it in mind. Thanks, Dutch.”

“Make sure you don’t end up like Hosea, runnin’ away from a thousand pound bear ‘cause he got a little bit too close.”

Arthur laughed at that and so did Dutch. Hosea had come back from that particular outing with a couple bruises to himself and his ego. He’d spent days on his horse only to come back with empty hands. At least a bison didn’t have claws, Arthur supposed. He went to tell Charles that they would need those arrows after all and went to find Elijah.

Tilly saw him looking around camp and stopped in the middle of cleaning her gun. “Arthur? You lookin’ for somethin’?”

“Uh, yeah. Jus’ lookin’ for Elijah. Might take ‘em out huntin’ up north.”

“He went out for a bit. Think he said he’d be back soon.”

Oh. Well. “Thanks Tilly.”

Arthur went and sat on his cot. He lit a cigarette and figured he might as well write in his journal to pass the time. After a while he was so engrossed in recording the events of the last couple of days that he didn’t notice Elijah calling his name until he flicked his hat off his head.

“Hey!”

“Easy now, Lord Byron. Tilly said you were looking for me?”

Arthur put his hat back on. “Yeah, you doin’ anythin’ for the next couple days?”

“Don’t think so. Strauss doesn’t have anything to do for me right now and you brought in enough food for a month, so. You’ve deprived me of my livelihood.” He frowned. “Why?”

“Thought we might go out huntin’ for bison.”

“Didn’t you just get back from hunting for bison? You’re not going senile already, are you?”

“No, smartass, we’re goin’ huntin’ for a special bison. We can probably sell the pelts for good money and Charles said he wanted the horns. Meat’s always good, ‘course.”

“And you wanna bring me?”

“Sure, why not?”

“Not sure how useful I’ll be, is all.”

“Huntin’ is more than shootin’.”

“Alright, well. I did just get myself a bedroll and everything, so that’ll come in handy. Don’t think the big canvas tent’ll come in handy, though.”

“Nah, we’ll share mine. We’ll be bringin’ back so much we shouldn’t be takin’ too much on the way.”

“Where is this bison?”

“Back near Colter.”

Elijah sucked in a breath through his teeth. “Cold.”

“Sure is.” Arthur got up and remembered that when he’d found Elijah, he was wearing clothes that were barely suited to the weather. “Think I have a spare coat ‘round here if you wanna borrow that.”

He seemed to relax a bit at that. “Thanks, Arthur. I’ll go grab us some food and drink then. When do we leave?”

“Soon as Charles has some arrows ready for us.” Arthur said and went to look for him while Elijah started packing. He must’ve been writing and doodling in his journal for quite a while, because Charles had a handful of arrows ready for him.

“You shouldn’t need more than this.” Charles said, handing them over to him. “Make it clean.”

“Thank you for this, Charles. Really.”

“Don’t mention it. Have fun up there.”

About twenty minutes later they were on their horses and riding north, coats rolled up and tied to their horses until they got to the colder parts of the country. They rode in companionable silence and Arthur didn’t mind. It was nice to have someone you could rely on by your side without having to prattle off incessantly, like Sean or Trelawny. There was an ease to riding with Elijah that was similar to riding with Charles or John, he realised.

Elijah was the one to break his silent reverie, though. “You sure Dutch can spare you? Won’t John be back with Lenny ‘n Micah soon?”

“Nah. We ain’t in a hurry to up and leave. If Micah comes back with John he’ll spend a couple days talkin’ to Dutch about some grand new plan of his until Dutch gives in and lets him do whatever he wants.” And then we have to flee again, and innocent people will die, he thought but didn’t say.

“Don’t like Micah very much, do you?” Elijah queried.

“He’s selfish, argumentative, doesn’t keep his head and he’s reckless. He’s cost us lives. No, I don’t like him.”

“Not just yours, I’m sure.” Elijah was quiet for a bit. “Why does Dutch like him so much, then?”

Arthur wasn’t sure of that either, and discussing it at all felt disloyal. Still… “Dutch wants nothin’ else for us but to get outta sight of the law forever and to settle down. He wants to see us all right before he dies.” Arthur sighed, deeply. “He trusted Micah because Micah seemed like he had the answer to our problem. One big, final heist that was gonna set us up for life. Just didn’t turn out that way.”

They were quiet for a time again, both of them milling over the conversation. Elijah was, again, the first to speak.

“Does anyone else like Micah, besides Dutch?”

Arthur didn’t want to speak for his friends but at the same time he knew the answer. “Not really. He’s rude to all the girls and everyone who ain’t white. That counts out most people in the gang. The others don’t care much for him either.”

“Why is he in the gang at all?”

Arthur turned his head to look at Elijah. “Loyalty. We are loyal to our own. Everyone we bring along deserves to stay. Take a look at you ‘n Kieran.”

“Loyalty?” Elijah sounded so incredulous that it pissed Arthur off a little bit. He felt like something that was foundational to him was being brought into question. “You’re loyal to Micah well enough but what is loyalty to a selfish man?”

That, Arthur supposed, was a fair question. “Idunno. Dutch trusts him, so we do, too.”

“Horseshit.” Elijah almost outright laughed at him. “You don’t trust Micah as far as you can throw him.”

“Are you tryin’ to start a mutiny, boy?” Arthur felt a smile pull at his lips, but he also felt apprehensive.

“I like the gang, Arthur. Hosea told me you been with them for twenty years, they’re your family.” He paused and sighed. “They love you and you love them. If pointing out that Micah loves no one but himself and no one loves Micah starts a mutiny, you ought to start wondering what loyalty really means to you.”

Arthur really didn’t want to have this conversation. He wasn’t about to be schooled by someone who hadn’t even been with the gang for all of two months. “You been readin’ them university books again, I reckon.”

“I’m just saying. Don’t let your loyalty override your common sense.”

After that, they spoke of Micah no more.

Chapter Text

Arthur had been enjoying the warm spring weather of The Heartlands so much that he’d gone ahead and forgotten just exactly how cold The Grizzlies could get. Even with his gloves on he was shivering so bad he could barely read the map that Hosea had given him. He’d barely remembered he had the map in the first place, but given that Charles’ directions stopped at ‘near Colter’, he was glad that he had. According to the map, the bison was rumoured to be somewhere around Lake Isabella, which was still a fair bit south of Colter. Arthur had hoped it’d be nearer to Colter, because if nothing else they could’ve made use of the sheds and beds rather than having to sleep on the frozen ground.

They’d just finished setting up camp near the lake after a day and a half of riding. It was barely more than a campfire, a tent, a pot of food and some utensils, but it got the job done. They’d tried to find a patch that wasn’t completely covered in snow and had found refuge underneath a massive rock ledge that kept most of the snow out. That ledge was located on top of a massive cliff that overlooked all of Lake Isabella. They had a good overview and were as safe from the elements as they were going to be under the circumstances.

They had a small pot of food cooking over the fire that Elijah was stirring in periodically. They hadn’t spoken much since their conversation about Micah. Arthur, for his part, because he had a lot of thinking to do that he didn’t necessarily wanted to be doing. Elijah, Arthur suspected, hadn’t spoken because he didn’t want Arthur to get angry. The silence between them wasn’t tense but it did feel loaded. The night sky was clear and full of stars, only occasionally tainted by the fogging of their breaths.

Maybe Arthur had to be the one to start the conversation, just this once.

“You were right, y’know.”

“I usually am.” Elijah smiled at Arthur’s audible groan. “What about, though?”

“The gang. That they’re my family.” Arthur stared into the flames as he had done thousands of times before in his life. “I do love them. Ain’t nothin’ in the world that matters more to me than them.”

Elijah remained quiet and just looked at him patiently.

Arthur continued. “Dutch and Hosea raised me. I wouldn’t doubt them for even a second, but…”

When elaboration was not forthcoming, Elijah prodded gently. “But?”

“But… I dunno. We all changed over time. We ain’t the gang we used to be. Things change. I just… Suppose I ain’t too sure ‘bout what we’re changin’ into, is all.” Arthur almost felt like he was in confession.

“What did you used to be?”

“We used to help people. We robbed a bank and gave away all the money to people who needed it. We took from rich folk who had plenty and made sure others could live a little, too. We didn’t used to just… Shoot people to get our way.”

Elijah served two bowls of food and they ate in silence for a little bit, until Elijah put his bowl down.

“My father was a horrible man.” He began, and it was evidently painful for him to talk about. “He beat us and he lied about anything and everything. On top of all of that he… He would… Well, let’s just say he liked little girls a bit more than he should have.”

Arthur felt anger rise in his chest. “Sick son of a bitch.”

“Yes. The point is that, for the longest time, my brother and I tried to make him… Better. To no avail, of course, but we tried. We thought that if we tried hard enough, he could be redeemed and we could be a family.”

Arthur wasn’t sure where he was going with this, but he waited for him to continue all the same. The conversation felt so fragile between them that he feared it would crumble if he so much as breathed too loudly.

“What I’m trying to say, very poorly, is… Dutch, contrary to my father, still has people like you that love him and that believe in him. Dutch still has a family that he loves in return. Love… To me, at least, means that you try to make each other better. My brother and I failed because my father did not want to be better, because he didn’t care about us. Dutch cares about you.” He looked up from his food, directly at Arthur, eyes filled with anguish. “And you have a role to play. As long as he cares about you and the gang, you can try to help him make it right. If you let Micah come between you all, though… That’s when things could fall apart.”

Arthur fought against the protest he felt creeping up on him and tried to digest what’d been said. What it came down to was that loyalty didn’t have to mean following someone blindly, it meant wanting the best for them and helping them achieve that, he realised. “What if I can’t change things?”

“That’s for you to decide. We decided to cut our father loose and never spoke to him again.”

Arthur couldn’t stomach the idea of cutting Dutch loose. The idea alone was terrifying to him.

“Arthur.”

“What? Sorry, I was miles away.”

“I know.” Elijah’s face was so kind, so understanding. “It won’t come to that.”

“How’re you so sure?”

Elijah shrugged. “Just am.”

Arthur huffed a quiet laugh and Elijah took out a bottle of brandy he’d taken from one of Strauss’ debtors. They drank together for a time until Arthur’s curiosity got the better of him.

“So, you said before that your mother’s not dead.”

“She isn’t, no. She misses me dearly, though.”

“Ever thought of goin’ back?”

“I can’t go back.”

Arthur was surprised at the fervour in those words. “Why? ‘Cause of your father?”

Elijah snorted derisively. “No, he is dead, thank God. Not to mention, they got a divorce well before then.”

“Divorce?”

“My mother falsely claimed adultery and a family friend corroborated her story.”

“Right… Well, if it ain’t for him, what’s keepin’ ya? If you could go to university… Sounds like an easier life than this.”

“I didn’t go to university, if you recall.”

Arthur didn’t point out he was dodging the question, just handed over the bottle of brandy again and waited for him to talk. It took well over five minutes of prolonged silence.

“I can’t… I was…If I go back, they’ll lock me up.”

“Hmm, never did like jail all that much myself.”

“Not jail.” Elijah pulled his legs closer to himself, like he was warding himself off from the world. “They were looking to put me into an asylum.”

“What? Why?”

Elijah didn’t answer. Arthur wanted to pry but he didn’t. In the firelight he could see Elijah’s eyes shining, tears brimming and threatening to fall.

“Well, whatever the case,” He said instead, “You’re welcome to stay with us for as long as you need.” He reached over and squeezed Elijah’s shoulder. Elijah, to his surprise, turned his head and briefly touched his cheek to Arthur’s hand. A tear slipped down and rolled onto Arthur’s thumb.

“Thank you, Arthur.”

After that, they finished the bottle of brandy between them and went to sleep. The tent had retained a decent amount of warmth from the fire. They were pretty cosy in the tent, Arthur on his back on his bedroll and Elijah on his side on his own, mere inches separating them. The quiet sounds of the wind rustling through distant trees lulled Arthur to sleep. He only woke, several hours later, when he heard the canvas rustle when Elijah stepped back into the tent, bringing a whole lot of cold air with him. He was shivering in his coat, trying to take his snowy boots off as quietly as possible.

“Where’ve you been?” Arthur asked, slurring a little sleepily.

“I had to piss.”

“Through all that snow for a piss? Could’ve just gone outside the tent.” Fussy bastard.

Elijah lay back down, huddled in his coat and shuddering. The fire had gone out some time ago and Arthur could feel the damp cold from that coat on his own skin. He sighed and rolled over on his side, pressing himself against Elijah’s back and laying one arm over his body. Elijah froze, then relaxed, his body sagging against Arthur’s. The shudders started to recede.

“’No shame in sharing a little heat’, huh?”

“Exactly. Now go to sleep.” Arthur grumbled.

“You’re a much better blanket than Kieran was, I’ll say that much. God, you’re a furnace.”

Can’t help being a smartass, can you? “I wish you’d say less.”

Arthur felt the gentle shocks of quiet laughter against his chest. “Good night, Arthur.”

“’Night, Elijah.”

When Arthur woke with the first rays of sunlight shining through the tent, he found that Elijah had turned slightly in his sleep, lying halfway on his back. Though he couldn’t devise why, he spent a minute just looking at him. The wispy, ashy blonde hair sticking up at all ends, the now-tanned skin dusted with freckles all over. Long, curly eyelashes on those ever-dark and tired eyes. Dusky, rosy lips and a small, straight nose that tilted up ever so slightly near the end. He had a strong, broad jawline and cheekbones high and sharp on his face. 'Not his usual type', Dutch had said. Arthur thought for a moment that Elijah looked nothing like Mary, with her thick brown hair, soft, tan face and compassionate dark brown eyes; the very picture of a stubborn southern belle. She used to dress so fancy, too. He’d only ever seen Elijah in one set of clothes, now that he really thought about it, and he wasn’t sure what colour eyes he had either.

“Arthur?”

Arthur snapped out of it and refocused his gaze. Elijah was staring up at him, amused. Arthur was somewhat unsurprised to find he had blue eyes, sparkling with mirth.

“Good morning.” Arthur, frankly, didn’t know what else to say.

“Morning.” Elijah said softly, like he was afraid to break the moment. “Breakfast?”

“Starving.”

Just like that, they were up and at them. Arthur broke down the camp while Elijah prepared some food. Arthur went to – as he’d suggested the night prior – to take a piss outside, shivering in the bitter cold. They’d better find that damn bison up here.

After breakfast, they set out to find him. The snow was pristine and smooth, so it was easy to see any and all tracks. Arthur looked among the myriad of hoofmarks hoping to find ones that were large enough to match a bison’s. They’d left their horses tied to a tree near where they’d camped together with all the stuff they’d needed to camp and were now on foot with a rifle, a bow and a quiver of Charles’ arrows.

Arthur knelt down near a big pile of dung. “Bison shit… Seems fresh. He oughta be close.” He tried to see the prints in the snow.

“Over here.” Elijah said, pointing to a set of big hoof prints leading away from the dung.

They followed the trail leading to a big tree that only had a light dusting of snow on it and a lot of fallen snow on the ground around it. Arthur touched the tree, feeling the bark.

“There’s fur on here… Must’ve had a bad itch.”

They kept low to the ground, following the tracks as quietly as they could until, in the distance, they saw the magnificent beast. It was pale as snow and huge, just as Charles had described him.

“Alright,” Arthur whispered, holding out the bow. “You wanna take the shot?”

“I really don’t think I have the arm strength for that, Arthur.” Elijah whispered back.

“Really?! What’ve you been doin’ the past ten years?” Arthur hissed.

“Mostly a lot of writing, cooking and needlework. Take the damn shot, will you?” Elijah hissed back, pushing the bow back into Arthur’s hands and readying his own rifle, just in case.

Arthur took one of Charles’ arrows and took aim. The bison’s head was massive but he was aiming for the eye, hoping to make that clean kill he knew Charles was hoping he’d make. He didn’t want to damage the horns or dirty the fur.

When the bison lifted its head and Arthur had a clear profile, he took the shot. The arrow whizzed clean through the air, as silent as Arthur had ever heard it, and hit its mark clean. The bison wavered then fell onto its side. Arthur got up from where he’d been crouching and released the breath he’d been holding. Elijah whistled low.

“Impressive.”

“I am.” Arthur joked as they walked towards the bison. He put the bow away and readied his knife. This was gonna take a while.

Elijah snorted. “Don’t I know it.”

Together, they got to work on skinning the bison and dividing the meat so that Elijah could pack it up into a large square of cloth he’d brought. Arthur tied the horns to the meat pack and rolled up the skin to bring it back and sell it later.

It was a heavy slog back through the snow to get to the horses, but they made it eventually. It was a bit of a hassle to get everything onto their horses along with their camping gear. They had a long ride ahead of them, but it was still pretty early in the day. If they could make it to Valentine by nightfall they could probably just keep riding until they made it back to camp.

Arthur sure as shit wasn’t gonna miss the endless swaths of snow they were riding through. It was pretty enough, but it was cold and inconvenient and he preferred the warmer bits of the country.

“You named your horse yet?” Elijah said suddenly.

“Nope. Can’t seem to think of a good name.” And Arthur hadn’t been able to. His last horse had been named Boadicea, but this one wasn’t a girl and he just couldn’t find something that fit.

“Can always name him Kieran, as thanks for saving your life.” Elijah said with a straight face that belied nothing.

“It’ll be a cold day in hell when I ride a ‘Kieran’.”

“Well, that’s what I said. Look how that ended.”

They exchanged looks and Elijah burst out laughing. Arthur just looked at him, incredulous but fond.

“So that’s what happened there, huh.”

“You’ve known for a while, though, haven’t you.”

“I suspected for a while. That ain’t the same as knowin’.”

“And you don’t have a problem?”

“’Course not. We’re outlaws. We don’t abide by no laws, man-made or God given. ‘sides, I ain’t no hypocrite.”

Arthur momentarily rejoiced in the fact that he could still surprise Elijah in some ways. He’d seemed so unflappable before.

“Well, well, well, mister Morgan.”

They rode in silence for a little bit, smiling to themselves.

“You could name him Mordred.”

“Mordred?” Arthur thought that name sounded familiar.

“He’s considered to be King Arthur’s son in the legends, usually.”

“Well, he’s been a good horse, not sure if I’d call him my son, but… Mordred. Alright.”

“Then I’d like to thank you and Mordred for letting me tag along on the hunt. It was nice.”

“Yer welcome. Thank you for cookin’ and keepin’ me company.”

“Anytime, Arthur.”

Through the glittering snow Arthur, Mordred, Vincent and Elijah made their way home, stronger companions than they were before.

Chapter Text

It’d been late when they finally made it back to Valentine, too late to sell the pelt to the butcher, so they’d decided to just take it to camp instead and make it into more blankets and clothes for the gang. Back at camp almost everybody was asleep already, so they unloaded their horses as quietly as possible. Arthur put the bear pelts away for Pearson while Elijah salted the meat and put it in the big pot that dinner would be prepared in tomorrow. Vincent got sugar cubes for his efforts, Mordred got oat cakes.

Elijah gathered his stuff and walked to the back of Arthur’s wagon. “I wanted to set up here, if that’s alright with you.”

“Sure, need a hand?”

Together they had the tent set up in about half an hour. It was nowhere near as big as John’s or Dutch’s, but it was cosy and comfortable. Elijah yawned and sat down on his bedroll, taking off his boots. “Dunno about you, but I’m gonna sleep. Been a long day.”

“Ain’t it just. ‘Night, Eli.” He walked to his own wagon. There was a beat of silence before he heard a quiet ‘Goodnight, Arthur’ from the tent. He kicked his boots off and sat down on the cot, stretching his back and feeling it crack in all the right places. He loosened and unbuttoned his vest before taking both that and his belt off and laying it on the table. He laid down on the cot, yawning massively and closing his eyes. It’d been a long day, but a good day. Couple of good days, actually, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been that relaxed and relatively… Carefree.

He slept until the early morning, waking when just about everybody else in the camp did. He spent the morning doing chores around the camp, feeling like he had to make up for the days he wasn’t there. He moved bales of hay and sacks of grain around, topped up the washing bins, shovelled horse shit and chopped wood. It was good to be away for a bit, but he was always glad to be back and at it again. He saw Elijah working with the pelts he’d brought back from his and Charles’ hunt, cutting and measuring.

“What’re you up to?”

“I’m taking some of the pelt to make some new clothes for myself. Just a vest, really, I’ll go into town for some shirts some other time.”

Arthur looked at the dirty, worn, flimsy shirt he was currently wearing and realised he had only ever seen him in that shirt, those trousers and those boots. “Ain’t it easier to just… Buy the vest, too?”

“Most clothes don’t fit me right, I usually make my own.” He held a large piece of the leather against his chest. “That’ll do.” He smiled at Arthur and went back to his tent with the leather in hand. Arthur wondered why that was. Sure, he had a relatively delicate frame and not a whole lot of muscle development as far as Arthur could tell, but why not just take a smaller size? Sometimes the things Elijah said mystified him.

Arthur spent the rest of the day helping out around camp and lazing about. He played dominoes against Abigail – she won – and had a chat with Mary Beth about how things had been going.

“You seem chipper lately.” She said, smiling a little knowingly.

“I am. Feels like we’re finally on the right track ‘n Dutch finally seems happy. Who knows, we might be headin’ back out west soon.”

“Maybe so. It’s nice to see you happy, Arthur.”

Arthur almost felt a little shy. Mary Beth had a very discerning eye. “Well… You ‘n Kieran seem to be getting along nicely.”

Mary Beth laughed. “He is. He’s a gentle feller. I’ve been thinkin’ I might teach him how to read.”

“That’d be good.”

“And what about you?”

“What about me?”

“You and the blonde boy?”

“Well, we’re… Friends, is all. Gettin’ to know each other, all that.”

Mary Beth hummed and went back to her book, smirking ever so slightly. “Well, it was nice talking to you, Arthur.”

“Sure was.” Arthur said, getting up and looking to find Dutch. It’d been a while since he checked in on business.

Dutch was reading while Molly was working on some embroidery of some sort. “Arthur!”

“Dutch, miss O’Shea.”

Dutch got up and walked outside with Arthur. “It feels like we’re finally gettin’ back on our feet.”

Arthur was happy Dutch felt the same as he did. “You found a buyer for them bonds we stole yet?”

“Not yet, but Hosea’s workin’ on it.”

“When we headin’ west?”

“Soon…? I don’t know.” Dutch sighed, a lot of the bravado he had moments ago gone.

Arthur wanted so badly to take that uncertainty away, to make it right for all of them. He hated seeing Dutch like this. Arthur wanted to encourage him and ensure him that of course he would figure it out, he always figured it out, but then he realised that he was doing exactly what Elijah had accused him of: allowing his loyalty to overrule his common sense. They were hunted by the law and there was no telling if they were going to make it west, let alone find land to purchase. If they were going to have any chance at all, they had to work together rather than blindly following just one man.

Arthur wanted to say that maybe they should just say to hell with it and head west even if they didn’t have any money. Money could be made anywhere, after all. Before he could say as much, however, Lenny rode back into camp at alarming speed.

“They got Micah!” He shouted, almost falling off his horse and running up to Dutch. “Dutch, Arthur!”

Dutch walked towards him. “What’s goin’ on?”

“They got Micah! He-he’s been arrested for murder. He was in Strawberry a-and—”

“It’s okay son, breathe.” Dutch interrupted him, trying to calm the poor boy down. Lenny doubled over, sagging with tension and trying to breathe.

“They nearly lynched me. They… They got Micah in the sherrif’s in Strawberry and there’s… There’s talk of hangin’ him.”

“Here’s hopin’.” Arthur said flippantly.

“Arthur!” Dutch admonished him.

“What? The fool brought this on himself! You know my feelings about him, Dutch.”

Other people had gathered around them, including Molly and Elijah. Elijah, Arthur noted, was now wearing a neat fitted leather vest, and he was looking at Arthur with what he thought was… Pride?

Dutch was still arguing, he realised a little late. “You think I can’t see past his bluster to the heart inside? He is a fine man.”

Arthur almost couldn’t believe what he was hearing. How could a man who set aside his comrades as lesser than for being darker than him be a fine man? How could someone who thought of the women as nothing but vessels for Micah juniors be a fine man? Had Dutch not been paying attention at all for the last couple of months? He felt anger bubbling beneath the surface.

“No!” He said, waving Dutch away. “I ain’t saving that fool.”

“I can’t go!” Dutch countered, pointing towards the general direction of Strawberry. “My face will be all over West Elizabeth. I am asking.”

When Arthur still didn’t respond to his liking, Dutch added: “He would do it for you.”

No the absolute hell he would not, Arthur thought. “I don’t think he would,” he said instead. “But… Fine, alright.”

“Arthur…”

Arthur didn’t want to hear it. Right now, he could hardly stand to look at Dutch. “You okay, Lenny?” He turned away from Dutch and towards the boy, who was sitting on a nearby chair, getting his bearings.

“Yeah… ‘Course I’m okay.” He answered shakily.

“You don’t seem okay.”

“You take that kid into town, Valentine, not Strawberry.” Dutch said, turning back to his tent. “Get him drunk. And Arthur? No crazy business.”

“I’ve given that up!” Arthur said, throwing his arms up.

“And you get Micah out of that jail.”

Arthur inwardly thought he’d see about that. For now, he was gonna help Lenny take his mind off things and maybe then he’d see about heading to Strawberry. He felt someone pat his shoulder.

“I’ll come with.” Elijah said, already heading towards Vincent.

The three of them set off for Valentine. On the way there, Lenny talked about how Micah had a crazy side to him, about how he’d been half drunk by the time they got to Strawberry and it only got worse from there. He said that in spite of asking Micah what they were doing, he never got a straight answer. Arthur realised more and more that Micah was just out on his own for his own gain and had almost dragged Lenny down with him. Lenny continued that Micah had run into some people, one of whom he knew, got even drunker, and shot the bastard. Arthur sighed.

“Yeah, I know how that goes.”

“The law was on us fast, too. They was ready to string me up there and then but I got away… Somehow.” Lenny still sounded shaken by it all.

“Yer safe now. We’ll take care of it. We’ll have a couple, relax, don’t think about Micah.”

Elijah was quiet the entire ride to town. Arthur didn’t need to wonder why, but they’d talk about it later. For now, they hitched their horses near the saloon and got inside. Arthur saw Tommy eating dinner and was, to his surprise, not thrown out of the saloon that same minute. Tommy seemed slower than he was before, like he struggled to understand what the spoon on his plate was for.

He chose to worry about that later as well. The three of them leaned on the bar and ordered drinks. Arthur had to charm the bartender a bit, throwing in some extra coin so that he’d stop worrying about another brawl. Arthur was in no mood to fight tonight, not yet anyway.

“So, just one or two, right, Arthur?” Lenny said when their drinks were served.

“‘Course, just a drink, no big drama.”

“It’ll be alright, Lenny.” Elijah said, raising his bottle in toast. “To a fine evening.”

Arthur raised his bottle too. “I’ll drink to that.”

Lenny heaved a sigh, seemingly relieved, and clunked their bottles together. They took their first drink, and then their second, and the evening went downhill from there. Rapidly.

They drank out on the porch, they drank at the bar, and they drank on the stairs. Drink flowed like water and they drank like fish. At one point when they were all pretty sloshed, they lost Elijah for about fifteen minutes. When he finally returned, Arthur swung an arm around his shoulders and offered him the rest of his beer.

“’n where’ve you been?” He slurred, leaning heavily on his friend. Lenny was just laughing at them, enjoying his drink and their company.

“I was taking a damn piss, Arthur.”

“Wh- You... Did you trek back all the way to The Grizzlies for that? You were gone fer ages!”

Elijah laughed and drank his beer. They were on the first floor, leaning against the bannister, cheering on the pianist and laughing together. Somehow, more drinks kept appearing. Arthur wasn’t sure how much later it was when he suddenly realised Lenny had disappeared.

“Hey, Lenny!” Arthur shouted loudly. That earned him a gentle smack against the back of his head from Elijah.

“He’s… Right there.” Elijah, evidently, was also having some trouble using his words.

By this point they’d moved downstairs again and Lenny was upstairs, balancing a shot glass on his head. They made it up the stairs, stumbling slightly.

“Hellooo Arthur, Eliiijah.” Lenny said, strictly focused on the glass on top of his forehead.

“What’re you doin’, kid?” Arthur asked, leaning on the banister next to him. The whole world was spinning pleasantly.

“You know what… I don’t know.”

The shot glass shattered on the floor below, and the three of them damn near pissed themselves laughing. Three more bottles of beer appeared and they cheered again before gulping it down. Arthur and Lenny were leaning on their arms looking towards the bar, while Elijah was leaning his back against the bannister with one elbow leisurely resting on top of the wood.

“Hey, why ain’t you ever married?” Lenny asked suddenly, profoundly interested in Arthur’s love life all of a sudden. Arthur suddenly felt two pair of intrigued eyes on him. He was quiet for a moment, until the ruckus in his head made room for the truth.

“No one would have me.” He said sadly. He turned to his right, where Elijah was looking at him with pity, amusement and curiosity in equal measures. In his mind, all he saw was that serene, sleeping face of his on that cold morning near Lake Isabella, and he had to ask.

“Would you have me, if you could? Elijah?”

For one split-second Elijah looked surprised, which was very quickly replaced with fond amusement. Arthur could virtually see him struggling with arranging the words in his head before he spoke. “In another time, in another life, I would take you like a shot, Arthur.”

Lenny, next to them, laughed so hard he had to sit down in a nearby chair to keep from falling, but Arthur and Elijah merely stared at each other in silence. Arthur wasn’t sure why that statement made his heart clench so violently. He saw nothing but earnestness on Elijah’s face and wished he could just detect some humour, a joke, something that would break the tension of the moment, but he found none. Oh, you fool. Don’t do this to yourself.

Fortunately, as had become their routine, it was Elijah who spoke first.

“Think it’s about time I head back to camp. You boys have a good evening.”

“Wha- Wait!” Arthur reached out and took his hand. He felt Elijah squeeze it, briefly, before he let go again.

“I'll see you in the morning.” With that, he was gone. Arthur was left behind thoroughly confused. Lenny was still laughing, and before he knew it they were just drinking again.

The rest of the evening was a blur. He was barely present enough to realise that Lenny had gotten in a fight and that that fight had ended as quickly as it’d started. So Arthur wasn’t sure what’d happened when he suddenly found himself outside holding one of the patrons over a trough of water. He let the man go, who stumbled away from him and towards the sherrif’s. He vaguely registered that probably meant trouble later, but that didn’t matter. He felt light as a feather and so did Lenny, apparently. The two of them had stumbled around the bar, laughing and talking nonsense until they had eventually stumbled outside where they’d fallen face-first into the mud. When Arthur had somehow managed to raise himself upright, Lenny was looking a little green around the gills. Arthur laughed at him while Lenny emptied the contents of his stomach in the streets.

He stopped laughing, though, when he heard a man behind him say: “That’s them, those are the men!”

Arthur looked behind him to find several lawmen running towards him and Lenny and booked it, screaming that they’d never get him alive. He jumped a fence and another lawman appeared right before him.

“Stop right there, you drunken fool!”

Arthur veered to the right, somehow managing to keep his footing in the Valentine mud. “Neveeeeeerrrr!!!”

“I said stop!”

Arthur hopped another fence and ran as hard as he could. “I’m an Americaaan!”

He must’ve run until he couldn’t run anymore. When he regained any semblance of consciousness, he found himself on the back of a horse in what he thought was some area south of the camp.

“Ohh, you moron, Morgan…” He moaned, trying to fight against the ardent protest his stomach was making. Why was he lying on his stomach anyway?

“Mornin’, Arthur.”

Arthur raised his head just enough to barely be able to make out Elijah’s silhouette. He looked down and recognised Vincent’s dappled black hide. The world was still spinning, though no longer pleasantly. He needed to get off this horse immediately.

“Oh Christ, Arthur.”

Arthur couldn’t remember the last time he’d thrown up this bad, nor the last time someone had gently rubbed his back while he did. When he was done he wiped his mouth and looked down and at Elijah’s concerned face.

“I’m alright, I’m alright… Where’s Mordred?”

“In Valentine, I’m guessing. I’ll go get him when I’ve delivered you back at camp. Come on, now.”

Arthur wanted to argue that he could do that himself, but he was in no state to even bother. Elijah got back on his horse and Arthur got on with him, letting his forehead rest against Elijah’s shoulder.

"How'd you find me?" He asked after a while.

"I like to ride here in the mornings. You were hard to miss."

"I see... Well, thanks for picking me up."

“Lenny’s back at camp, too. He said he can’t remember what happened, so you boys must’ve had one hell of a night.” Elijah spoke quietly, he noted. Probably out of consideration for his state of being.

“Sure did…” Arthur mumbled, eyes closed and wishing the world would stop existing until his hangover was gone. Memories from last night were rushing back: slow Tommy, bribing the barkeeper, lots and lots of drink, Elijah disappearing, Lenny disappearing, more drinks, and…

“Last night… Did you really mean that?”

The silence that followed told Arthur all he had to know. In the time they’d known each other, Arthur had come to know Elijah as an honest, genuine man. He also knew that if Elijah couldn’t afford to be honest, he’d rather remain silent.

Chapter Text

Arthur woke up feeling significantly more human than he had before being put to bed by Elijah. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but the sun was high in the sky and it was warm underneath the canvas of his cot.

He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, taking in the familiar scents of the camp: campfire, grass, horses, hay, the sour tang of manure and the mysterious scent of Pearson’s cooking. It was grounding. He thought back to the ride to camp, how they hadn’t spoken after Arthur’s question. He still had so many more to ask: what did you mean by that? Why? Why not in this life, why not at this time? On top of those, he had plenty of questions for himself as well. Like did he even want to be with someone right now? Couples in the gang rarely survived for long. Hosea and Bessie were the best example, but Bessie had still passed away. Abigail and John were always at each other’s throats, and Dutch barely even looked at Molly anymore, much to her chagrin… If it didn’t work out, would it lead to problems in the gang? And there was always the chance of one of them getting shot and the other being left behind to grieve, like with Jenny and Lenny…

Arthur sighed and opened his eyes, staring at the canvas over his head. He wasn’t sure whether he had to answer his own questions first or pose his questions to Elijah first. Maybe it didn’t even matter. Maybe he didn’t even have to address it at all. He could just leave it be and let it fizzle out. Part of him didn’t think he deserved it in the first place, part of him thought he wasn’t meant for it, and one small part of him thought he was being a coward, afraid to fail again. He liked Elijah, he really did. He was funny, earnest and unwaveringly kind. Pretty easy on the eyes, too. Arthur had no idea what the hell he was doing in their gang, or, well… The gang as it was now. He probably would’ve thrived in it some twenty years ago.

That thought abruptly led him down the mental path of what the gang had become and what its original purpose had been. To redeem themselves for the sinful lives they had led, until that stopped mattering and all that mattered was surviving. Arthur resentfully thought that if survival was the only thing that mattered, he might as well have taken a job at the government. That would’ve been a fair bit easier.

Maybe he had to redeem the gang before he could redeem himself, let alone Dutch. One thing was for sure: saving Micah was going to do that plan no favours whatsoever. He was willing to choose that as his hill to die on and sat up to go tell Dutch as much. As soon as he sat up he saw a blonde head of hair poking out from behind the chest at the foot of his cot.

“How long you been there?” He asked, and Elijah turned his head.

“Not too long. I got back from picking up Mordred about two hours ago and then I helped Pearson make lunch.” He got up and stretched, yawning. “And Jack wanted to know what Europe was like, so I spent some time with him, too.”

Arthur smiled fondly. Jack was a good kid. “Hope Mordred didn’t give you any trouble…”

“Well, aside from having to stand on a crate to get onto him, he was fine.” To his credit he only looked slightly mortified. “He’s a gentle horse. Anyway, Dutch told me that we need to head out as soon as you’re awake. I’ve already packed everything for the trip.”

Arthur was confused for a moment. “What, you comin’ along to get Micah outta jail?”

Elijah shrugged. “I think he thinks I can keep you from doing something stupid.”

“And can you?”

“If I could, I would have no intention of doing so.” One corner of his mouth quirked into a smile, and Arthur laughed.

“Well, alright then. Gimme a minute to freshen up, I’ll be right there.”

Arthur took a couple of minutes to wash his face and trim his beard down. It kept catching in the collar of his shirt and it was annoying him. He kept it short but didn’t shave it off entirely. When he was ready, he walked up to Dutch.

“We’re headin’ out to Strawberry.” He said, pausing, considering whether he should say what he wanted to say. “I still don’t think it’s the right thing to do, Dutch.”

Dutch got up from his bed and clapped Arthur’s shoulder, looking out at the camp together with Arthur. “He’s family too, son. We may not always get along with family, but that don’t mean we gotta let ‘em die in some backwater jail in Strawberry.”

Arthur looked at Dutch. “Family don’t treat each other like dirt.” He felt stubborn, insubordinate, like he was that angry teenager they found twenty years ago. Why did standing up to Dutch make him feel like such a child? “Family don’t endanger each other neither.”

Dutch got in his face the way he always did when he felt Arthur doubted him. “Arthur, have I ever steered you wrong?”

Blackwater. Heading east. “Well… There’s a first time for everythin’, Dutch.” He felt his heart hammering in his throat and he felt ridiculous for it. He saw Dutch’s face change like a clear sky going dark with clouds and thunder. Before Dutch could ream into him, Elijah appeared at his side.

“Let’s go, Arthur. The longer we wait the bigger the chance we’re too late.”

“Thank God someone’s talkin’ sense.” Dutch said with venom in his voice. He looked damn near murderous. Arthur was glad of the opportunity to leave. He just followed Elijah to the horses without another word to Dutch. They got on and rode away from Horseshoe Overlook, the long road to Strawberry ahead of them.

Arthur felt Elijah’s eyes on him the entire first half an hour they were riding.

“I’m sure you’ve got opinions on all this.” He said gruffly, cringing internally at his wording. It wasn’t Elijah’s fault that Dutch couldn’t handle criticism of any kind.

“I do, but those can wait. I didn’t really hear what you said to Dutch but he looked very angry with you.”

“Ain’t nothin’ in the world that Dutch likes less than us questionin’ him, and I did.”

“Good for you. He made you do something you questioned and you told him. You’re a grown man, Arthur, you’re allowed to criticise.”

“I ain’t used to it. Not with Dutch, anyway.”

“First time for everything.”

Arthur almost laughed at that, but it felt hollow. He wanted things to be like they used to: heading west with the gang, looking for land to purchase and headed towards a future free of law and modern civilization. Not him questioning Dutch at every turn because Dutch no longer seemed to have the gang’s best interests at heart. Arthur wasn’t even sure if that was fair. He probably did, in a way…

“Arthur?”

“What? Sorry.”

Elijah gave him that same fond, sad smile he’d given Arthur in the bar when Arthur had asked him if he would have him.

“I asked if we’re really going to break Micah out of jail.”

“I guess so. Dutch asked me to, so I’ll do it.”

“About those opinions I had-”

“Here we go.”

“Why do you do things you don’t believe in?”

“Because it’s my damn job, Elijah. It ain’t my job to ‘believe in ‘em’ it’s my job to do ‘em.”

Arthur regretted his outburst as soon as he finished speaking but he said nothing of it. Elijah didn’t look impressed; he mostly looked like he pitied Arthur. Arthur hated that look.

When Elijah spoke next it was equal parts steel determination and compassion.

“You have a choice, Arthur.”

“And what would that be?”

“Your job could be, as you say, to listen to Dutch’s every command, or it could be to keep the gang safe, healthy and with a future to work towards. Those two are not the same, no matter how much Dutch thinks it is.”

“And you know what’s good for the gang, that it?”

“No, but I think you do.”

Arthur stopped Mordred, Elijah stopped Vincent. They stared each other down in the middle of the road. Clear skies made way for grey clouds, darkening the landscape and muting the colours of spring.

“What the hell do you want from me, Elijah?”

“The same I want for everyone else: to think for yourself.”

“‘Cause that worked out so well for you, did it?”

Arthur knew it was a low blow and he knew it’d hit when Elijah’s face slipped into that expressionless mask he’d seen so often during the first couple of weeks of knowing each other. In that moment, Arthur truly hated himself.

“If you were to shoot and kill me right now, Arthur Morgan, I would die knowing I had done everything within my power to live my life on my own terms while harming as few people as possible in the process. You try and tell me you could do the same.”

Arthur didn’t know what to say. “Listen, I-I’m sorr-”

“I’m not interested in your God damn apologies, Arthur. When we get to Strawberry and Micah begs you for his life, knowing he got people killed, knowing everyone but Dutch hates him, knowing he makes everyone’s lives in the gang worse while contributing nothing, what will you tell him?”

Arthur tried to picture it. He tried to run different scenarios through his head but they all ended the same: with Micah’s brains splattered over the prison wall. Why am I doin’ this? Why bother?

“I ain’t got nothin’ to say to that fool.” Arthur said eventually, looking into the middle distance and seeing nothing but Dutch’s angry, disappointed face. “But if nothin’ else, I gotta go there to tell him as much.”

Elijah regarded him coldly, eyes darting all over Arthur’s face until he seemingly reached a conclusion. “Shakespeare wrote: This above all things: to thine own self be true.”

“Thought you didn’t do poetry.”

“Not for just anyone, no. And it’s theatre, not poetry.”

Arthur huffed a small, relieved laugh. “So… You comin’ with?”

“Yes, and you’re buying me a drink when we get there. Micah’s sorry ass can wait.” Elijah spurred Vincent on and continued riding down the road. Arthur heaved a heavy sigh and patted Mordred.

“C’mon, boy.”

They spent the next couple of hours mostly in silence. As the afternoon dragged on the sky continued to get darker until they felt the first drops of rainfall. Arthur estimated they were about two hours away from Strawberry at this pace.

“You think we’ll be on time?” He wondered out loud.

“Honestly? No.” Elijah said simply. “If they wanted to lynch Lenny on the spot, I see no reason they’d wait to hang Micah.”

“Why do you hate Micah so much?”

“Never said I hated him.”

“Oh, come on. It don’t take you sayin’ it to see that.”

Elijah sniffed and sighed. “Fair enough.” He was quiet for a little bit before he spoke. “He’d come into the barn at night in Colter to piss on Kieran’s boots.”

“What? Jesus.”

“He would say to me that you’d all ‘get to me eventually’ and that ‘you knew what to do with pretty boys like me.’ He mostly left me alone besides that, he really just came in to torture Kieran.”

Arthur could hear the underlying tone of hatred, but he didn’t quite understand. “Now I know you ‘n Kieran was together, but… You hated him, or at least you did in Colter.”

“Of course I did. He’d promised to protect me and he ran at the first opportunity to do so. I thought we’d stand together when the time came, but it was just me and a rifle I had never held before in my life.”

“You’d never killed before?”

“No.”

That actually did surprise Arthur. “So what do you need protectin’ from?”

Elijah didn’t answer. Arthur felt that every single time Elijah didn’t answer a question he asked, it was just one more piece of a puzzle he couldn’t see.

“Like I said before,” Elijah said eventually, “Kieran is a coward. He’s not a bad man but he’s a coward. That doesn’t mean I want him to suffer.”

That, Arthur could understand. “No. I never wanted Mary to suffer neither.”

“Mary?”

“We was gonna get married, a long time ago. Her father hated me and she couldn’t handle the life I led. Wouldn’t call her a coward, but I wish she’d been honest from the start instead of wastin’ my time. She’s married now, though. He treats her right, ‘s far as I can tell.”

“Good. There are too many men in the world who treat their wives like shit.”

Arthur thought of Molly and Abigail and couldn’t agree more.

The closer they got to Strawberry, the tenser Arthur felt and the harder it started to rain. By the time they could spot the lamplights in the distance, they were soaked to the bone and Arthur’s stomach had twisted into knots.

“Arthur.”

“Yeah?”

“If he’s still alive, let me shoot him.”

“What?!”

“If I shoot him, I can ride away and you’ll never see me again. You can tell Dutch the truth. The gang will be safe and you won’t be to blame for Micah’s death.”

Arthur realised that this was Elijah trying to take the fall for him, and he wanted that even less than to bring Micah back to Horseshoe Overlook. The thought alone made his heart hurt.

“If he’s still alive, we leave him there, get a drink and a room for the night. I ain’t savin’ that fool and I ain’t sacrificin’ you neither. That’s the last thing I want.”

“What do you want?”

Arthur decided to take his chances. “I wanna know what you meant last night.”

Elijah’s eyes were large and frightful, but there was a faint tinge of… Hope? Arthur, at this point, felt he had very little to lose. He would hedge his bets on that hope.

“But let’s see about Micah first.”

They rode into Valentine and hitched their horses at the welcome centre, right next to jail.

“Ah, shit.” Arthur said.

“What?”

“I just remembered this is a dry town.”

Elijah snorted. “Don’t worry.” He patted his satchel and winked at Arthur. Arthur would rather jump in front of a train than admit that made his stomach flip a little bit. What’re you doin’ to me, boy?

“Perfect. Let’s get this over with.”

They walked up to the jail, keeping low. It was late and the rain certainly helped in making sure nobody was outside to see them skulking about. Arthur tried to see through the barred window at the front but couldn’t really see anything.

“I’ll go around left.” He whispered to Elijah.

“Alright, I’ll go inside and talk to the sheriff.”

“Sounds good. Your face ain’t all over the place yet.”

They split, and Arthur went to look through the window on the left side of the building. He saw one man, but that certainly wasn’t Micah. He couldn’t see anyone else. Maybe there was a holding cell he couldn’t see? He got up and decided to wait just outside for Elijah.

When he walked up the slope, however, he could see Elijah wasn’t inside talking to the sheriff at all. Rather he was about thirty feet further away standing in front of the gallows in the pouring rain, looking up at Micah dangling from the ropes.

Chapter Text

“Well, shit. How am I gonna tell Dutch?”

They’d been standing in front of the gallows for a solid minute now. Rain was pouring down Arthur’s soaked hat in a steady stream of water; Elijah’s hair was stuck to his forehead. Their clothes stuck to their bodies and Arthur was sure that anything and everything in their satchels was completely saturated. He was glad he’d decided earlier to just get a room rather than sleeping out in the wilderness. There was no way their tent or bedrolls were usable right now.

He stared at Micah’s still, hanging form. He looked nothing like the blustering fool he’d been forced to run with for the past six months. Well, Arthur supposed he mostly looked dead.

“That’s easy.” Elijah said softly while still staring at Micah. Arthur could barely hear what he was saying. “You’re going to tell him the truth. We were too late, nothing we could’ve done. He ordered you to take Lenny for a drink, he ordered me to let you sleep it off afterwards. If he wanted Micah back alive he could’ve sent someone else, but it had to be you. He probably thought it’d strengthen your bond with him.”

They stood in silence for a moment longer. “You think he was scared?” Arthur asked, finally.

“Yeah, I do. It was probably the only thing in his life he couldn’t shoot himself out of, must’ve been scary for him to not have his guns.”

Arthur did remember Micah’s particular predilection for those guns. He idly wondered if he could bring them back to camp, then realised he’d just be turning them into martyr’s artefacts. The last thing he wanted was to turn the likes of Micah into a martyr.

Elijah turned to him. “What do we do now?”

“We get inside, we get dry, we drink, we sleep and we head back tomorrow mornin’. Ain’t nothin’ else for us to do in this town.”

“I’ll pick up a copy of the paper tomorrow morning.”

“What for?”

“Proof. Blackwater’s been in the papers for weeks, so with any luck someone recognised him and it’ll be in the paper that they hanged one of Dutch’s boys with a time and a date.”

In case Dutch doesn’t believe us, Arthur realised sadly. He didn’t like that it was even a possibility, but had to admit to it being good thinking to have the proof, just in case. “Alright. Well. Let’s get inside, nothin’ much to see here.”

They slogged through the mud and into the welcome centre where they’d be spending the night. The proprietor didn’t seem to be too happy about them dragging all the mud inside and dripping all over his floors and carpet, but Arthur and Elijah took their boots off and pulled out a little extra cash to make up for it.

The interior was nice, Arthur had to admit. Everything was made with the local pine trees worked by the Strawberry woodworking shop. It was tasteful and smelled of wood wax and resin, nothing at all like the last hotel in Blackwater he’d slept in. He’d never get used to stone and iron, but he could get used to this. He turned on the main light in their room, illuminating a small, cosy bedroom with a big double bed and red and dark wood accents. There was a coal heater as well as two radiators near the window. He turned those on, too. At least they’d have a way to dry their clothes before the morning. He opened the door to the balcony and set his boots outside, taking Elijah’s as well and putting those outside, too. He left the door ajar for some fresh air and he put his hat down on the dresser near the door and began unbuttoning his vest. Elijah had closed the door to the bedroom, his hand still on the handle, staring at Arthur without moving so much as a muscle.

Just like that, the whole world shrunk down to their bedroom and the rain splashing onto the balcony outside. The events of the day – the events of the past month, really – had left Arthur feeling bereft, confused, uncertain and lonely. It was odd to realise that one of the few constants in his life these past weeks had been Elijah. He was by his side so often that Arthur had started missing him when he wasn’t. He’d grown attached to those sharp eyes and sharper tongue, those freckles and that ever-tousled head of blonde hair.

Oh, I’ve got it bad, Arthur thought, and he didn’t care anymore about what he did and did not deserve in life. He wanted.

“I dunno ‘bout you,” he said, voice low and smouldering, maintaining eye contact as he popped button after button on his vest, “but I’m gonna get out of these , and I think you oughta do the same.”

Elijah’s hand on the handle tightened. Arthur saw his own desire reflected in Elijah’s eyes, but there was fear there, too. “I- Maybe I should… Get a separate room.”

“You turnin’ shy on me now, boy?” Arthur asked, only half joking. He let his vest slide off his shoulders, tossing it over the radiator on the other side of the bed. He started on the buttons of his white dress shirt and took one step towards Elijah, who had a faint blush high on his cheeks. In the dim light Arthur could just make out how dark his eyes looked. Arthur was sure he hadn’t gotten it wrong, was sure that he hadn’t misread the signs.

“Not… Shy, exactly. I-…”

Arthur took his suspenders off his shoulders and let his shirt slip down his arms. He saw Elijah close his eyes for a moment, heard his shaky exhale. He still hadn’t released his vice grip on the door handle. Arthur turned away for a moment to put his shirt over the radiator as well. He looked over his shoulder as he unhooked his belt and holsters, putting those down on the chest at the foot end of the bed.

“If you wanna have dry clothes tomorrow, you gotta take ‘em off.” Arthur said, loosening the button on his trousers. He made no move to take them off further.

“I know that, but…”

Arthur pitied him. “You can turn the light off, I’ll turn my back. Ain’t no problem.” He turned his back, leaving the left radiator for Elijah to put his clothes on. He took his own trousers off and put those over the radiator. He left his underpants on for now. He supposed he could be forgiven for leaving his draws on, even if they were damp.

With a flick of the switch, the room fell to darkness. Moonlight filtered through the sheers at the window. Behind him, Arthur heard Elijah quickly – hurriedly – divesting himself of his clothes. He heard him breathing rapidly. Then he heard the sounds of the curtain being pulled.

“Weren’t dark enough for you?” He teased, but got no reply. In the darkness of the room he turned around. He couldn’t see anything at all, but he knew Elijah hadn’t moved from his spot near the radiator. Arthur took one step forward, standing just in front of the window. The smallest slit of moonlight shone through, illuminating part of his arm and face.

At this point, he wanted answers more than anything. “How ‘bout you tell me… Why you won’t have me at this time, in this life.” His voice was barely above a whisper.

He heard Elijah’s sharp intake of breath. “It’s not for a lack of wanting to.” He said. Arthur thought he sounded so small.

“Then what is it?”

He heard Elijah take a step closer to him as well, followed by a feeble: “May I touch you?”

“Thought you’d never ask.” Arthur replied drily. Cold, clammy fingertips touched his abdomen, testing the waters before Elijah’s hand settled on his stomach and moved up to his chest, trailing through the hair. Every nerve under Arthur’s skin felt electrified. It’d certainly been a while. The hand, just the one, moved up to his neck, down along his shoulder, down his arm. Fingertips tickled along his left wrist until the back of Elijah’s hand rested against Arthur’s, fingers prodding gently until Arthur spread his own, slotting their fingers together ever so slightly.

“I’d rather hold your hand, if it’s all the same to you.” Arthur was whispering now. Everything felt so fragile, so tender. He felt relieved when he heard Elijah laugh, a soft surprised sound. For a brief moment Elijah’s hand disappeared only to make its way into the palm of Arthur’s hand moments later, twining their fingers together.

“Alright?” Arthur asked.

“Yeah.”

Arthur’s eyes adjusted to the dark. He still couldn’t see much of anything, but he saw the vague outline of Elijah’s face and body.

“May I…?” He raised his right hand to Elijah’s face, hovering, barely touching his skin. Where he felt calm, steady in his pursuit to get closer, he heard and felt Elijah’s trembling, irregular breath, puffing faintly against his wrist. He felt rather than saw Elijah take the smallest step closer, felt his stiff nod. Arthur pressed his palm against his cheek, gently rubbing his thumb over his cheekbone. His face was so soft. Arthur only now realised he’d never seen him with any sort of facial hair.

“How come I ain’t never seen you shave, boy?”

“Arthur… Don’t.”

Arthur let his hand move until he was cupping the back of his head, fingers tangled in thin, soft strands of hair. He bent his head and pressed a single kiss to that soft cheek. He felt Elijah turn his head slightly, their noses touching.

“Why won’t you let me see you?” Arthur asked so very softly.

In between trembling breaths, Elijah’s answer confounded him. “Nobody… Nobody sees me.”

Arthur hadn’t moved at all, but Elijah had. He kissed forcefully, like he couldn’t allow himself to enjoy it, and when Arthur pulled in closer he pulled away, breathing hard.

“We can’t, we can’t—”

Arthur could feel the pure, abject terror rolling off of him in waves. “What’re you so afraid of?”

“Everything.” It came out as a hushed whisper, almost drowned out by the pouring rain outside. Arthur had no idea what he meant, but it hurt to see him in such distress.

When he next spoke, it was in clearer, measured tones, like he was forcefully reciting something from memory.

“Crumbling… is not an instant’s act.”

Arthur didn’t understand, but he kept turning it over in his head until he thought he did.

“Poetry?”

“Yes, but not by me. I tried not to fall for you, I really did.” Elijah rambled like he was spewing out months of pent up tension all at once. “I tried to push it down until I thought I was going to choke on it. I am not ashamed of my feelings. I cannot afford to feel shame for them, but… You let me help you, and then you helped me. You cared about all the small, insignificant stupid bullshit that bothered me. You helped me to find a purpose in the gang. You gave me an opportunity to live, fearlessly and on my own terms.”

Elijah had to catch his breath, swallowing hard before continuing.

“You laughed with me and you danced with me and you let me get away with not answering any of your annoying questions for so, so long. You let me sleep in your bed and you kept me warm when nothing else could. You let me question you at every turn and you listened, too, even if you didn’t like it, and… I crumbled.”

Arthur was reeling from the confession and his mind centred on the single most insignificant detail of all of it.

“We danced?”

Elijah laughed, and it almost would’ve sounded relieved if it hadn’t sounded so broken. “After Sean…”

Oh. “That was you?”

“Yeah, that was me.”

“Hell of a night.”

“Sure was.”

They were quiet for a moment, Elijah’s breathing rhythmic and loud in the small, otherwise silent room. The worst of the rain had passed, reduced to a low pitter-patter out on the balcony rather than the violent torrent they’d found themselves in earlier.

Arthur knew he had to take the lead. “For what it’s worth, you are the most… Infuriating, kind, honest and confusing man I’ve ever met, and I ain’t never met no one like you.”

Elijah chuckled. Arthur took that as a good sign to continue.

“But watchin’ you become part of the family, takin’ care of the others in the gang while still holdin’ yer own… Watchin’ you learn how to shoot – don’t get me wrong, you’ve got a long way to go – and hunt even though you ain’t ever killed before them O’Driscolls you shot… I gotta be honest, I ain’t got no idea why yer in the gang. Dutch don’t do well with people like you, people who question everythin’ around them. But… We do need it, and aside from needin’ you, I also just… Like you.”

“Arthur… I can’t-”

“Micah was a dumbass but he was right ‘bout one thing. You are a pretty boy.”

For a moment, Elijah’s breathing was all he heard again. Then, as quiet as the rain: “I’m only hardly a boy, Arthur.”

Arthur felt Elijah’s hand encircling his wrist, guiding it from where he’d been cupping Elijah’s head down to the centre of his chest. He wasn’t really holding Arthur’s wrist anymore and Arthur moved his hand to the right, letting fingers trail over soft, smooth skin. He moved his fingertips over his chest and found that the texture of skin changed: smoother, silky almost, until he felt a more textured edge. His mind immediately supplied him with the answer: a scar.

Elijah gently pushed his hand to the left, to his other pectoral, where Arthur felt the same type of scar. He knew there was a reason as to why Elijah was letting him find out this way. Arthur was sure it had something to do with his fear, but he wasn’t sure what.

That was, until Elijah pushed his hand downwards, past his navel where Arthur felt only a couple of scattered hairs, below his soft belly, between his legs. Arthur’s fingers were resting just against the underside of his belly. A little more pressure from Elijah’s hand moved his fingers further downwards, and it became clear that, contrary to Arthur, he had foregone underwear. All Arthur felt was coarse pubic hair. Of his own accord, he moved his hand further down and touched, gently exploring, every touch punctuated by Elijah’s sharp, short breaths.

Everything fell into place. Why he looked and sounded so young, why he’d never seen him shave, why they’d wanted to put him in an asylum, why he was always gone for ages when he had to piss, why he was so much smaller than the other men in the gang, why clothes never fit him right and why he’d needed Kieran to protect him, because Kieran knew.

In another time, in another life.

Nobody sees me.

With abject horror, Arthur remembered one more thing Elijah had said.

“Your father—”

Don’t.”

Arthur pulled his hand back. Neither of them moved for what seemed like an eternity. When Arthur’s ears at last registered more than just the pulsing of his own blood, he could hear the sound of barely contained sobbing. He felt the spatter of a single tear landing on his foot.

Arthur couldn’t fathom it, what Elijah’s life must’ve been like. The secret he’d had to carry with him, the things he must’ve gone through, the pain and suffering of a life half lived. He knew how ‘civilisation’ and the church thought about men who loved other men, let alone men who, Arthur supposed, had had a rather different start to life than other men. That had been the cross Elijah had been forced to bear.

Arthur knew what he wanted beyond a shadow of doubt. This changed nothing.

“You’re right, and so was I.” He said, bringing his hands up to cup Elijah’s face, brushing hot tears away with his thumbs. “You’re not a boy, you’re a man, and I ain’t never met anyone like you.”

The kiss was an onslaught but Arthur took it in stride. He lifted Elijah up with ease, turned and lay him down on the bed, covering him with his body like he could protect him from all the hurt in the world. All of him was soft and the kiss was everything but, and as much as Arthur wanted to continue, he broke the kiss. When Elijah desperately chased his mouth with his own, Arthur kissed him once more, gently, pushing Elijah’s head down towards the mattress. He was gasping for breath, tears flowing freely from his eyes and onto Arthur’s fingers.

“Easy now… Breathe…”

“I can’t- You-”

“We got time, Eli.” Arthur pressed a kiss against his temple. “We ain’t gotta get this over with in one night.”

“God, you…” Shaky hands found their way to Arthur’s waist, his back, and eventually his shoulder blades. “I’ve wanted…”

“Well, that makes two of us.” Arthur raised himself on his forearms, kissing him once more. “I wish I could see you.”

“The curtains…”

Arthur got up and opened the curtains wide, leaving the sheers where they were. Now that the rain had stopped completely and the clouds had cleared, the moon illuminated the room in a wash of pale light.

“Look at you…”

On the bed, on his back, lay Elijah. Short, strong legs and wide hips lead up to a small waist and a broad ribcage with two dusky, jagged scars and two dark nipples. Freckled arms with nimble hands, twitching in a desperate attempt not to cover himself, Arthur recognised. The most hair the man had was on his lower legs, between his legs, and underneath his armpits. Arthur looked down at his belly and found the small trail of hair there he’d felt earlier. He couldn’t resist and bent down to kiss it. That, unfortunately, earned him a knee in his ribs for his efforts. He laughed.

“Oof, he-hey!”

“Tickles!” Elijah hissed, embarrassed.

Arthur hummed, considering. “Tickles, huh?” He kissed just above the first and felt Elijah straining not to move. Another kiss, and another, and another, until he was squirming and Arthur felt his heartbeat underneath his lips. He rested there, breathing him in. He smelled like horses, rain and sweat. Arthur wanted to drown in it.

Elijah ran his fingers through Arthur’s hair, scratching gently, and Arthur almost purred with pleasure. It had really been a while. “Oh, my Lord…”

“If you’re already praising Him, wait until you see what I can really do to you.”

If Arthur hadn’t been so tired he would’ve gladly taken him up on that. As it was, he barely felt a twitch in his draws. He needed sleep and so did Elijah.

He raised himself up and pulled the covers back, extending a hand. “C’mere.”

They crawled under the blankets together. Arthur found he was eager to keep Elijah close to him and drew him in. Elijah gladly complied, slipping a leg between his and winding an arm around his waist, laying his head on his chest. Arthur idly rubbed his back and kissed the top of his head. He wanted to promise so many things but couldn’t stomach the idea of any of those promises turning out untrue.

“Arthur?”

“Yeah?”

“Thank you.”

“What for?”

“Asking the right questions.”

Arthur wasn’t entirely sure what he meant, but it didn’t matter.

“Thank you for answerin’.”

He barely felt the kiss against his clavicle before falling asleep.

Chapter Text

Arthur woke to the sounds of a village coming to life and sun shining through the open curtains. He also found that he was alone in the bed he’d gone to sleep sharing with Elijah, intimately twined together.

He was still processing all the new information he’d been given the night before. He barely knew what to say or what questions to ask, but it would seem that he’d said the right thing when he’d had to. For now, that was enough. He sat up and stretched leisurely, feeling well rested for the first time in a while. Sleeping in a bed was nice, especially if he got to share it with someone he cared about. He looked around and found the room empty. Elijah’s clothes were no longer on the radiator. Arthur tried not to jump to conclusions, but still felt disappointed that he hadn’t gotten to wake up with him.

Arthur sighed and laid back down, focusing on the sounds in the building. He heard some footsteps on the stairs, outside the room and in the next room, and another set coming up behind those. They stopped for a brief moment just outside the bedroom door, and after a couple of seconds the door opened and a fully dressed Elijah stepped in. He carried a cloth bag full of… Something and had a newspaper under his arm. He closed the door and put the paper down on the chest and the bag near the radiator. Arthur watched him quietly as he took off his boots, his vest, and started on the buttons of his shirt.

“Good mornin’.” Arthur said softly. He wanted to say that he’d missed him this morning, but wasn’t sure if he should. Elijah jumped slightly, turning around with his shirt hanging half open. Standing in the window as he was, the morning light casting a glow around him, Arthur thought he almost looked angelic.

Yer an old fool, Arthur Morgan.

“Good morning, Arthur.” Elijah replied, his hands still lingering around the next button. He looked so unsure of himself, a fraction of that fear and uncertainty of last night had crept back into his eyes, his voice. Arthur knew, then, that it was the right thing to say.

“Missed you this mornin’.”

Relief washed over Elijah’s features and he seemed to sag a little. He kicked his boots off and sat on the side of the bed, taking Arthur’s hand.

“I wasn’t sure how you’d feel when you woke up, so I just went out for some new clothes and that paper.”

“What d’you mean? And is Micah in the paper?”

“Yeah, though he barely made it to page six. And just that it’s happened to me before that in the… Unforgiving light of day... People feel differently about me than they did during the night.”

Arthur felt equal parts pity and righteous anger for him. He also thought how Micah would’ve hated to be relegated to the sixth page of a paper, but he didn’t want to talk about Micah right now. “No need to worry ‘bout that.” He said, pulling him closer, raising one hand to cup his head and slipping his other hand into the open shirt. “I feel just the same.”

Elijah gasped against his lips when Arthur’s hand touched his waist. Where he’d been all hard edges last night he now melted against Arthur. They kissed for long, languid seconds. Arthur wanted him desperately, pulling his hand out of the shirt and making quick work of the last few buttons. He slipped the shirt off, letting it fall to the floor.

“Now let me get a good look at you…” Arthur’s voice was gruff with arousal. He knew they wouldn’t have another opportunity to have time like this anytime soon. Plus, he had the benefit of daylight for once.

Elijah sat back and Arthur raised himself up, covers falling down to his hips. He saw Elijah’s eyes darting all over him and he couldn’t help but to tease him a bit.

“Like what you see?”

“Yes, very much.” He reached out and touched Arthur’s arm, feeling the muscle there. His eyes were half-lidded and he had a rosy colour on his cheeks. Arthur thought he looked endearing, so lost in thought that he almost didn’t hear Elijah exhale: “You’re so strong.”

Arthur wanted to look at him properly more than anything, unhindered by the dark of night. He pulled the covers back and pulled Elijah over and next to him, rolling him over. That small display of strength was evidently much to Elijah’s liking, who was breathing fast and grabbing at Arthur’s shoulders.

“Arthur-”

“Patience, sweetheart.” Arthur muttered against the skin of his neck, pressing a kiss there and revelling in how he felt him arch ever so slightly underneath him. “I’ll take care of you.”

He felt nails briefly bite into his shoulders and he raised himself up, taking in the man underneath him.

“Look’it you… God almighty.” He let his eyes rake over the hot, trembling body underneath him. Elijah blushed fiercely from his chest up to his hairline, the flush accentuating the freckles on his shoulders and face. His lips – soft, full, pink and parted – were tinged red from where he must’ve been biting them. His chest heaved with each quiet, short breath. Arthur could see the scars much more clearly now. They were jagged and pink, with one line running up to each nipple. He wanted to ask if it’d hurt before he mentally kicked himself: of course it had hurt.

He felt Elijah’s slender fingers trailing past his neck, along his jawline to his chin, tracing the scar there. Arthur felt like he’d been caught staring, but there was no shame between them. When Elijah cupped his face, Arthur leaned into it, kissing the palm.

“I never did tell you what I meant.” Elijah said, eyes transfixed on Arthur’s face.

“No, but I think I get it.”

“As it stands…” He said, and Arthur watched his troubled expression as it morphed into excitement and he felt Elijah’s leg come up between his, brushing against his straining erection. Arthur gritted his teeth to keep from making any noise. “I think I’d like to have you all the same.”

That was really all the permission Arthur needed. He leaned down and pressed the gentlest ghost of a kiss against Elijah’s lips.

“Then allow me.” He whispered, moving down the bed and settling between Elijah’s legs. He kissed a trail down his chest and abdomen. He felt Elijah trying not to squirm, and when he got to the navel he used both hands to keep his legs pinned to the bed. He pressed a dozen small kisses around there, holding Elijah down as he squirmed and pulled at the bed sheets. When Arthur pressed one, firm kiss right over the zipper on his trousers, his hips shocked up to meet him. He heard Elijah curse through his teeth.

Fuck, Arthur!”

“I intend to.”

There was a firm knock on their door. “Bath’s ready for you!”

Arthur looked up, confused. Elijah was biting his hand to keep from laughing. When he’d collected himself enough, he shouted an affirmative and sat up, hair sticking up at all ends.

“I asked them to run a bath when I came back… Suppose we can both make use of that.”

“We oughta be careful, though.” Arthur said, briefly sobered. “Don’t fancy gettin’ hanged next to Micah for havin’ my way with ya.”

“Then we’ll just have to be real quiet, won’t we?”

Fortunately for them, the tub was huge and accommodated both of them with ease. The fragrant soaps and hot water instantly relaxed their sore muscles but did little to tame their mutual desire. Arthur was holding Elijah against his chest, gently washing him with the cloth and kissing him along his hairline. When he was clean, Elijah turned in the bath, sitting on his knees in between Arthur’s legs.

“I gotta be honest wit’ you, it’s been a while since I been spread like this.”

Elijah snorted and covered his mouth to keep from laughing out loud. Arthur chuckled and sat forward, pulling him in for a kiss and catching that laugh while it lasted. He’d looked happy. Arthur wanted him to always look that happy.

Arthur let him wash his hair and body, let gentle fingers scratch through his beard, allowed himself to be taken care of like he hadn’t let anyone do in years. Passion and desire simmered just below the surface and Arthur tried his hardest not to think about going back to camp just yet. They would go and they would bring Dutch the news, but he wanted to have this memory for himself: just the two of them, just this morning.

Elijah got out of the bath first and Arthur made damn good use of the opportunity to get a full view of his backside. Those hips carried a sizeable ass and Arthur wondered how he’d never noticed that before. Then again, if clothes didn’t fit him right his silhouette probably looked a fair bit different clothed.

This time, he really did get caught staring. Elijah had turned around mid-towelling, looking at him with a raised eyebrow, amused. “Something you need?”

Arthur got out of the bath and into Elijah’s space, anticipation sparking between them. “Oh, yes.”

Elijah handed him a towel. “Hurry up then.”

They towelled down quickly and Elijah checked if the hallway was empty. When it was safe, they quickly shot through the hallway to their room next door, closing and locking the door behind them. Once in the room it was like they’d lost their momentum for a bit, struggling to find the words or the way forward.

Plus, well. Arthur had to admit that now that the incredibly horny fog he’d found himself in had cleared a bit, he was a lot less sure of himself. He well and truly had never done this with a man like Elijah before, and he wasn’t sure if things were different.

“Arthur.”

He blinked and found himself out of his thoughts and back inside the bedroom. Elijah was lying in the centre of the bed, looking at him with a bemused look on his face. “You okay?”

“Yeah, yeah… Just…” Arthur went and sat on the bed, laying one of his hands on Elijah’s right thigh. “Is it… How does it…”

Elijah bit his lip, chortling. “I thought you might have questions.”

Arthur felt some relief at the easy humour with which he handled Arthur’s fumbling. He lay down next to him, head propped up on one hand, the other resting on Elijah’s belly.

“You ain’t gotta tell me your life’s story right now, but… Well, some of it might come in handy.”

“Ask, Arthur. I won’t shoot you for asking.”

“Well, for one… You got no balls, I see that much.”

Arthur was almost positive Elijah was laughing at him, but he pressed on. “No dick neither, so… Can I assume it’s the same as… Y’know.”

“Yes, Arthur. It’s the same.”

That certainly helped clear things up. He trailed his fingers up to Elijah's chest, leaving a trail of goosebumps in its wake. “And this… Does it hurt?”

“No, but that’s a little different. I don’t really feel all that much in these anymore.” He said, indicating his nipples. “Doesn’t hurt, though, you can touch them.”

“Alright. And…” Arthur swallowed. In his mind he could still see the face of his little boy so clearly: poor little Isaac. He knew for sure he didn’t want to father another child, and, well, if it worked the same… “What are the chances of you being with child, after this?”

Elijah’s hand covered his, eyes soft and compassionate. He didn’t know – couldn’t know – what’d happened to Arthur's son, but he clearly understood Arthur’s general concern. “None. I had all that taken out as well.”

“Jesus.”

“Yes. I’m very glad I lived through it, not everyone’s that lucky.”

Arthur hadn’t even considered that yet. “Weren’t you scared?”

“Sure I was, but no fear compares to living a life as something that I’m not. I was willing to die for that.”

Arthur didn’t know what to say. All his loyalty in life had been to Dutch and the gang, not to his own life. He finally understood why it mattered so much to Elijah that he had his own ideas, his own voice.

“Yer one hell of a man, Elijah.” He said softly, because he didn’t know what else to say.

Elijah put a hand to his face and stroked his beard. “So are you.”

Arthur didn’t know about that and didn’t want to think about it, either. He moved forward and kissed Elijah, pulling him in by his waist and holding him flush against him. Arthur stroked his back in long, gentle sweeps, feeling him shiver, feeling goose bumps underneath his fingers. Clearly it’d been a while for him as well. Arthur let his hand travel down, grabbing a handful of Elijah’s ass and squeezing, feeling him arch into him. He got a good, firm ass squeeze in return for that.

“Damn it, Arthur.” Elijah cursed, pulling at his waist, trying to manoeuvre him. “Will you just- Fuck’s sake-”

“The mouth on you.” Arthur said, licking Elijah’s bottom lip, looking to taste. Elijah, though, had other ideas. With more strength than Arthur would’ve credited him with he pushed Arthur onto his back, crawling over him and kissing him fiercely, biting gently at his bottom lip. Arthur bit back, softly, licking to soothe. He felt Elijah’s own tongue slide against his, hesitantly, like he wasn’t sure what to do. After a moment, he pulled back.

“How about my mouth on you.” Elijah said, slowly moving down Arthur’s body, kissing all the way down, nose dragging through the coarse hair on Arthur’s chest and stomach.

“I ain’t got no obj- Jesus.”

Elijah had taken him into his mouth entirely, wet heat encompassing his cock in an instant. Arthur only barely resisted the urge to buck his hips up, opting instead to fist one hand in the sheets and using his other hand to gently stroke Elijah’s cheeks as he worked his cock in slow, languid strokes, taking his time. One of those gentle, practised hands gently rolled his balls, cupping them, handling them carefully. Arthur knew he had to keep quiet, but it’d been a while and it felt, it felt…

“Boy, you gotta- If you want me to-”

Elijah let him go, but not before paying such careful attention to the head of his cock that Arthur could’ve wept with pleasure. Each manoeuvre of that clever tongue sent shocks up his spine.

“Glad you’re enjoying yourself.”

“Smug bastard.” Arthur growled, hauling him back up and kissing him deeply, tasting himself. He wanted to make it good for Elijah, he wanted it to feel just as good as it had for him, but it seemed a far sight more complicated. Dicks were relatively straightforward, and there was preciously little straightforward about Elijah’s entire existence.

Elijah, though, either sensed his hesitation or was a goddamned genius. He took Arthur’s hand and just put it on his cunt. “Like this.” He whispered against Arthur’s mouth, carefully placing and moving his fingers around between the folds. Arthur’s cock twitched hard; he was soaking wet, his fingers coated in his slick.

He rubbed gentle, steady circles around his clit, all the while listening to how he breathed, how he responded to his touch. Elijah gasped against his lips, almost whining through ragged breaths. His hips shocked and twitched into Arthur’s fingers, virtually begging for more. He tilted his head back, exposing the long, pale column of his neck for Arthur’s benefit.

“Please…” He breathed, spreading his legs slightly, allowing Arthur’s hand more space. Arthur took the hint and slipped two fingers into his slick cunt, curling them. Elijah bit his lip, body going rigid with pleasure.  Arthur kissed his neck and listened to him pant, slowly pumping his fingers. He bit down gently on the junction between his neck and shoulder.

Fuck! Get- Get over-” Elijah pushed Arthur’s hand away and manhandled him on top. Or rather, he tried to, but Arthur was laughing too hard.

“Alright, alright, settle down. Told you I’d take care o’ ya, didn’t I?”

“Well fuckin’ get to it then!”

He was still laughing when he settled between Elijah’s legs, cock gently nudging at his entrance. “Will you shut up?”

“Have you ever known me t- God, fiiinally.”

Arthur pushed in, Elijah’s slick arousal allowing him to enter with ease. Arthur was ambivalent about his faith in God, but in that moment he really did think he heard fucking angel choirs singing. They shared a breathless, joyful kiss. Elijah ran his fingers through Arthur’s hair, wiping the wet strands away from his eyes. Arthur’s heart clenched in his chest at the tenderness of it. He was buried inside to the hilt and wished, foolishly, that they could remain like that forever.

“Beautiful man.” Elijah whispered with awe.

Arthur huffed a laugh as he buried his face in Elijah’s neck and rocked his hips slowly, thrusting gently. “Naw, I’m an ugly old bastard.”

“I have been told I have a horrible taste in men.” Elijah commented.

They laughed together between kisses. “Yer a fool.”

“Takes one to know one.”

“Smartass.”

“Dumbass.”

Arthur thrust hard, biting back on a groan and watching Elijah do the same. “That shuts you up, don’t it?”

Elijah took his face in his hands and kissed him sweetly. “Keep going, please?”

Arthur complied, gladly. Elijah slipped a hand between their bodies, rubbing at his clit as Arthur thrust into him. He made so many choked down, bit back noises that Arthur was sure he would’ve moaned something fierce if there weren't any risk of being discovered. He wished he could hear it but instead took pleasure in the gasps, the quiet whines, the way he thrashed underneath him. Arthur kept his thrusts measured and rhythmic until he felt Elijah tighten around him. Arthur raised his head to look at him: he had his eyes closed, head thrown back, gasp after soft gasp escaping until with all the violence of a wave crashing into the shore, he arched his back and came with a long, high-pitched whine, barely restrained. Arthur felt him clamp down like a vice grip and faltered in his rhythm, having teetered on the edge for the past couple minutes.

“God, God…” He thrust harder, faster, felt Elijah bringing his legs up and clasping them around Arthur’s waist. Arthur grasped his hips with both hands and pulled him against him hard as he thrust. Elijah gasped delightedly, interspersed with sweet, breathless nothings. In that moment Arthur thought he was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. He wanted to draw it out longer, but it’d been too long and he couldn’t.

“I’m- I’m gonna-”

“God, yes.”

Arthur pulled him against his cock once, twice, and came hard on the third thrust, pulsing inside. He bit down on Elijah’s shoulder, muffled groaning only barely concealed by it. After a couple moments, he registered Elijah carding his fingers through his hair and gently stroking his shoulders. He felt soft kisses being pressed his cheek, his ear, his shoulder. He laid Elijah back down on the bed and let himself rest on his forearms. He raised his head to look at Elijah, whose eyes were shining with unshed tears, a broad smile on his face.

“Are you cryin’?”

“Yeah, sorry.”

“Don’t gotta apologise, but…”

A single sob escaped Elijah, or was that a laugh? Arthur couldn’t tell. Elijah wiped at his eyes and breathed deeply.

“Take it as a compliment, it means it was good.”

“I’ll take yer word for it.” Arthur kissed him, wondering if he could taste that joy. If I ain’t careful, I’ll love you by nightfall if you’ll let me, Arthur thought. He dismissed it as a pompous, stupid thought. He rolled off and Elijah immediately crossed his legs.

“Can you hand me my shirt?” Elijah asked.

“Sure.” Arthur tossed the worn white shirt in Elijah’s direction, frowning when he used it to clean between his legs. Elijah just regarded him like he was an idiot.

“You think I want your seed all over my saddle, Mister Morgan?”

Arthur raised his eyebrows. “There really ain’t nothin’ yer ashamed of, is there?”

Elijah shrugged. “I didn’t make it this far in my life by being ashamed and not knowing how to ask for what I want.” He tossed the shirt onto the chest and got up, looking at himself in the mirror. “Look at that.”

“What?”

“You left quite the mark there.”

Arthur got up to see and saw two little, blotchy red rows of where he’d bitten down when he came.

“Sorry ‘bout that.” He mumbled, kissing it gently. “We oughta get dressed… Can’t stay away from Dutch forever.”

“I know. It’ll be okay, Arthur.”

Arthur briefly rested his forehead against the back of Elijah’s head and hoped to God he was right. He turned away to get dressed and heard Elijah do the same. Within ten minutes they were dressed and back outside the hotel following some odd stares from the proprietor that they chose to ignore. Elijah looked up the hill.

“They took Micah down.” He said, almost sounding pitiful but not quite.

“Good, he always was a terrible sight.”

They packed up their horses, got on, and left Strawberry behind. They rode in comfortable silence for a while. Arthur had by now realised that usually meant Elijah was thinking about something until he was ready to speak up about it, this time proved no different.

“What’ll we do, back at camp?”

“What d’you mean?”

“I mean, do we pretend we’re not-… That we didn’t… You know.”

Arthur knew that Elijah wasn’t shy about it, he just didn’t want to assume. He was allowing Arthur a way out, even now. “I’unno. Folk at camp don’t mind couples, ‘s long as we ain’t doin’ hanky-panky by the campfire.”

In the corner of his eye he saw Elijah suppressing a smile and knew it’d been the right thing to say.

“Arthur?”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t tell them. About me, I mean.”

Arthur almost took offence at the insinuation that he would, but he understood. “‘Course not. That’s for you, me ‘n Kieran to know, it ain’t anyone else’s business.”

Arthur’s curiosity did gnaw at him. They had a long road ahead, so he figured now would be a good time to talk about it. “I got more questions, if you don’t mind.”

“Ask away.”

“To my understandin’,  yer a man in a… In the wrong body.”

“Yes.”

“How’d you… Know?”

Elijah sighed. A long, tired sound. “Hard to say. There was just this feeling that nothing about who I’d been made to be made sense to me. I didn’t care for all that it meant. I was never a subservient, quiet little 'girl'. I wanted… More than that. I wanted other things.”

“How’d that go?”

“My mother, well. I’m sure you’ve gathered she’s not an average lady.”

Arthur remembered what he’d said about his mother having falsely claimed adultery so she could get a divorce. “She sounded like a headstrong lady. It’s clear where you got it from.”

Elijah huffed a laugh. “Yes. She knew all along, I think. She let me read as much as I wanted to, she let me ride a horse like a man, she didn’t bother to make me into a proper little housemaid. Sure, she taught me needlework and how to clean, but those are just… Skills.”

Arthur supposed that they were, now that he thought about it.

“Anyway,” Elijah continued. “I bound my chest to hide my God given body from others, trained to lower my voice and wore men’s clothing. It didn’t matter, in the end.”

“Why?”

“Because at university they asked for identification and all I had was my birth certificate which clearly stated I was… A woman by a different name than I’d told them I was. So they alerted authorities, who told my mother I had to be brought in for questioning and possibly be put into an asylum for… Sexual perversion.”

Arthur sighed. “Deviancy, unnatural acts, sexual perversion… Anythin’ they don’t understand or approve of gets a name.”

“Quite. I wasn’t home at the time, so my mother packed my bags and the moment I arrived home she put me on the first boat here. She’d rather never see me again than see me put into an asylum where they’d destroy my mind.” The way Elijah talked about it Arthur almost thought it didn’t bother him at all: devoid of feeling or comment, simply stating the facts. Arthur also realised that was probably on purpose. Elijah continued his story.

“When I came here, I had to survive. My father had passed not long before I left so I had a sizeable inheritance. I took odd jobs here and there as a seamstress while reading every medical journal I could get my hands on, hoping I’d find people that were… Like me.”

“Did you find ‘em?”

“There was one article, and one man. The article was what led me to search for men that were… Like me. Knowing they existed meant I had to find them at any cost. I was still in New York at the time and there were so many different people that I thought surely one of them had to be like me.”

He was quiet for a bit. “I found the article in an old journal from 1883. It was about a man named ‘Joseph Lobdell’ who, according to the text, ‘considered himself a man in all that the name implies’. The doctor didn’t agree but… I knew. I knew for sure this man was like me.”

Arthur tried to picture feeling that alone in the world and couldn’t. Elijah continued.

“I found- Well. He found me, actually. He saw I was all… Hunched over, heard my voice, saw my face, and he took me out for a drink. His name was Tobias and he knew as soon as he saw me that I’d suffered in the same way he had. He told me of a surgeon who’d had her title stripped away because she wanted to help people like us: doctor Lamers.”

“A woman surgeon?” Arthur was beginning to wonder how much of the world he hadn’t seen and experienced in comparison to Elijah.

“Yeah, I know. Being a surgeon had already been a battle for her and male doctors didn't trust her one bit, but for her to seek justice for people like me… It wasn’t hard for them to cast her out.” Elijah sighed and stared at the overcast sky. “Very few people knew that she still ran a surgery from her own house. She’d helped Tobias and she helped me. She saved my life.”

“Then what happened?”

“Recovery; I spent weeks lying in bed, but Tobias and doctor Lamers were there to help. I couldn’t really move but I could write, and… Tobias is a very talented artist. He taught me forgery. I now have a birth certificate that’s true to me, at least in this country.”

Arthur was taking it all in. “Hell of a story.”

“Hell of a life.”

Arthur looked at Elijah, who was staring blankly ahead as they rode. He was sure there were still huge chunks of the story that he was missing, but how could you condense thirty years of suffering into ten minutes of conversation? Maybe he’d still be told all of it one day, maybe he wouldn’t. Arthur didn’t really care, either.

“Thank you for tellin’ me.” Arthur said, eventually.

“You’re welcome.” There was a beat of silence. “You’re a good friend to me.”

Arthur whistled low. “We just friends again, are we?” He teased.

“Never ‘just’, but you’re a good lover also.”

“Only ‘good?’”

Elijah brought his horse closer and leaned in as if to kiss him. Arthur bent down to meet him halfway. Just as their lips touched Elijah snatched his hat off his head and threw it into the forest, then spurred on his horse and raced away.

Arthur’s heart sang. Bastard.

Chapter Text

“Who goes there?”

“It’s Arthur!”

Arthur rode up to John who was keeping watch, Elijah close behind. Arthur dismounted.

“Welcome back, Morgan.” John said, looking around him for something. “Where’s Micah?”

Arthur supposed he was glad he got to tell John before he had to tell Dutch. “In hell, I’m guessin’. We were too late.”

“Well, he had it comin’. Sure Dutch won’t agree with me, but.” John shrugged. “The gang was just fine without Micah for years, Dutch’ll come around.”

“How’s he been?” Arthur asked.

“Convinced you’re bringin’ Micah back, mostly. You hear him talkin’ you’d think you never failed him before.” John smirked, but it was an unfounded jab. He and Arthur both knew they’d done everything in their power to keep Dutch happy, always.

“Shut up, Marston.” Arthur sighed and led his horse past John. “Guess I’ll go bring him the good news.” He walked up the hill and into Horseshoe Overlook, Elijah trailing close behind, still riding Vincent until he hitched his horse, too.

“Take this.” Elijah said, digging around in his satchel and retrieving the newspaper, already turned to page six. The small title simply read ‘Van der Linde Boy Hanged’ with a small description of the events that preceded it underneath: he was drunk and belligerent, he shot someone, he got jailed, and he was hanged. End of story. Arthur thought it was fitting that someone with such a big mouth got such an underwhelming legacy.

“Thanks, I’ll go ‘n… You know.”

“I’ll take care of Mordred. I know where you keep his cakes.” Elijah smiled, seemingly pitying him and the ordeal he was about to face. Arthur took his hand and quickly kissed it before heading off to Dutch’s tent, paper in hand.

“Arthur, my son!” Dutch got up from where he’d been reading at his cot and walked towards Arthur, arms wide and ready to embrace him “How’d it go? Where’s Micah?” Dutch was looking over Arthur’s shoulder, trying to spot his long-lost gang member.

“We weren’t in time, Dutch.” He held the paper up for Dutch to take. “He was hanged in the morning. We never would’ve made it. I’m real sorry.”

Dutch took the paper with a disbelieving look on his face, eyes rapidly scanning the paper. “…We failed him.”

“He failed himself, Dutch.” Arthur countered. “He shot a feller after drinkin’ too much. It was his own goddamn fault.”

Dutch slapped the paper against Arthur’s chest, eyes red hot with anger. “We failed him! We let one of our own die alone at the hands of the law! We failed him.”

Those who were still awake had gathered around them, minus John and Elijah, who, Arthur saw when he looked back, were talking over at the horses.

Dutch looked at each of them, his friends and family, holding up the newspaper.

“We lost another of our own. Micah was hanged yesterday morning in Strawberry. We weren’t in time to save him.”

There were a couple of hushed murmurs in the group, but overall nobody seemed either too surprised or too torn up about it. Dutch didn’t seem to notice and continued.

“From now on I want everybody to be extra careful. Don’t head out alone. Don’t do no crazy things in Valentine. We gotta be careful. Hosea and I are workin’ on getting’ us outta here and back out west. Trust us.” He paused. “But tonight, we mourn for Micah. I know y’all didn’t think much of him, but I saw him for what he was… A fine man. I’ll hear no different from any o’ you. He was family, one of ours. Another one, gone.”

Dutch looked around at his gang, his family, seemingly at a loss for further words. Arthur wasn’t sure what was going on in his head, but he’d rarely seen Dutch get quiet in the middle of a speech like that before. Dutch went back into his tent without another word and pulled the canvas down, closing it off to the rest of the gang except Molly, who was inside anyway. The gang dispersed and within minutes, things were seemingly back to normal. Arthur hadn’t expected differently, if he was being honest, though he remembered what Lenny had said once back in Colter:

When you fall, there’ll be a party.

In spirit of that Arthur figured he might as well try to make the best of the rest of the evening. For one, he was starving and Pearson still had stew left, so he got himself a bowl. After a moment’s pause he got a second bowl and, with a bottle of whiskey in the crook of his elbow, made his way over to Elijah’s tent. There he found Elijah lying on the grass outside of his tent, arms crossed behind his head, eyes closed. Arthur sat down next to him, holding out the bowl of food.

“Got you some stew.”

Elijah opened one eye, saw the stew and sat up, taking it gratefully. “Thanks, Arthur.”

“You’re welcome. What were you and ol’ Johnny Marston talkin’ about earlier?”

“I’m sworn to secrecy, I’m afraid.” Elijah took a bite of the stew and frowned. “I’m gone for two goddamn days and we’re right back to this shit.” He grumbled mostly to himself.

“The hell’s that supposed to mean? We got secrets in this camp now?”

Elijah just looked at him and said nothing.

Arthur had to concede the point. “I mean… Aside from that.”

Elijah smiled into his stew and continued eating without answering. Arthur decided to let it rest for a bit and eat before his stew got cold. After eating, they sat and shared the whiskey between them. It’d been a long, long day. After they were about halfway through the bottle, Arthur felt exhaustion settle over him like a heavy blanket. He’d ask about Marston some other day.

“Think I’m gonna turn in.” He said, getting up to go back to his own tent. “Night, you.”

“Goodnight, Arthur.”

Arthur sat on his cot and sighed deeply. Dutch had taken it well all things considered, but something felt off to Arthur. It felt like the calm before the storm. He took his holsters and belt off as well as his vest, kicked his boots off and lay down on his cot, yawning. He closed his eyes and hoped to fall asleep quickly.

Two hours later, he still hadn’t fallen asleep. His mind was running haywire with what’d happened to Micah, how Dutch didn’t want to listen to his concerns, how the gang was so far removed from heading west that Arthur was seriously starting to doubt it’d ever happen. He couldn’t shake the tension in his body and after another half an hour he decided to get up. He paced back and forth in front of his tent while smoking a cigarette, debating whether maybe he wanted to go out and take a ride, or have a drink, or...

“Arthur.”

He stopped pacing and turned around, only barely seeing Elijah’s head popping out from his own tent, eyes half closed and hair a mess. “You okay?” He asked, sounding half asleep.

“Yeah, yeah, sorry for wakin’ you, I just… Can’t sleep.”

“Alright, hang on.” Elijah crawled out of his tent in nothing but his shirt and his trousers, the shirt hanging half open and nearly sliding off one shoulder. He still had his eyes mostly closed as he put on his boots, stumbling a little. “Let’s go for a walk, then.”

Arthur looked at the man standing in front of him: barely conscious, barely dressed and entirely unaware of how badly Arthur wanted to kiss him in that moment.

“I got a better idea.” He whispered, catching his face in both hands and kissing him deeply. He felt Elijah sigh through his nose, hands coming up to hold onto Arthur’s wrists. Arthur walked forward, pushing Elijah back. Then he wrapped one strong arm around his waist, lowering the both of them into the tent. After a bit of awkward shuffling and shifting, they were on the bedroll, Arthur on top, spreading the already open shirt further and pressing wet kisses all over his chest. He couldn’t see much, but the moon was full and bright and shining in through the gap in the canvas.

Elijah chuckled, low and sleepy, lying on the bedroll with his arms spread to the sides. Arthur thought he looked like a lazy, sated prince and wished he had his journal handy to draw him. He came up to kiss his face, catching his lips in between kisses on cheeks, forehead and nose. Arthur could’ve distracted himself this way all night.

“Arthur, Arthur-” Elijah was almost giggling, sluggishly bringing his arms up to hold Arthur’s face in his hands. “The spirit is willing, trust me, but the flesh has been on a horse for a whole day and is still sore from this morning. You’re more than welcome to stay, though.”

Arthur rolled onto his side next to him and sighed softly, right hand idly stroking Elijah’s soft exposed belly. “Sorry.”

“’s Alright.”

“I’m just worried.”

Elijah shuffled closer until his side was flush against Arthur’s front, yawning massively. “About Dutch?”

“Yeah, and whether we’ll ever make it west. He keeps sayin’ we need to make more money, but the way we make money’ll see us fleein’ further east before too long ‘cause folk around here don’t want us around no more.” He heaved a frustrated sigh. “I’unno. Dutch keeps sayin’ he’s got a plan but it don’t feel that way. We ain’t even gotten rid of them bonds yet.”

“Mm. I’ll have a talk with Hosea about that tomorrow. See if I can help.”

“How would you help? No offence.” Arthur gave his side a little squeeze. He felt Elijah smile against his neck.

“Maybe Mister Leviticus Cornwall will write a very nice letter about how he’s relinquishing those bonds.”

“Mister Levit-” Arthur had no idea what he was talking about, until he remembered their conversation from earlier that day. Tobias is a very talented artist. He taught me forgery. “Shit, you think that could work?”

“Worth a shot, especially if we can get his handwriting from somewhere. Even if I can’t help with that, I spent a couple years forging all sorts. I’m sure there’s something I can do.”

“I hope so. I’m worried ‘bout Dutch, ‘specially now that Micah’s dead. Lord knows I didn’t care ‘bout the bastard but Dutch did.”

Elijah covered Arthur’s hand with his, brought it up to his lips and kissed it. “It’ll be okay. We’ll keep an eye. See how he is.”

Arthur nodded and continued rubbing his thumb back and forth across Elijah’s belly, listening to how his breathing slowed as he started to fall asleep again. There was one more thing that bothered him that he had to get off his chest.

“What were you and John talkin’ ‘bout?”

He felt Elijah’s body shake with quiet laughter. “He was just looking out for you, that’s all.”

“Lookin’ out for me? How?”

Elijah heaved a mighty sigh. “You’re not gonna drop this until I tell you, are you?”

“I’m sorry, John just ain’t been up in my business for so long that it annoys me.”

Another laugh. “Him talking to me is your business now, is it?”

Arthur felt duly chastised, but didn’t back down. “It is if he’s talkin’ ‘bout me.”

“Stubborn fool.” Elijah sat up and pushed Arthur onto his back, slotting against his side and using Arthur’s shoulder for a pillow. “If you must know, he wanted to know if there was something going on between us.”

“See now that damn well is my business. What’d you tell him?” Arthur kissed the top of his head, stray hairs tickling his nose.

“That you fucked me like a poor man spending his last money on a two dollar whore.” Elijah answered mid-yawn.

Arthur burst out laughing. “I’m sure that went over well.”

“Made him laugh, actually. Said he appreciated my honesty.”

“Anyway, how’s that lookin’ out for me?”

“He’s just making sure that I, a dashing young man from a foreign country, don’t go around hurting his big brother.” Another yawn. “He threatened me, actually.”

That, on the other hand, didn’t amuse Arthur. “Seems a little uncalled for.”

“You’d do the same for others in the gang. Besides, he’s not the first.”

“Of course I wo- What do you mean he ain’t the first?”

“That morning you went away with Kieran and let me sleep in your bed.” Arthur could hear his voice slowing down, becoming softer. He sounded so tired, but Arthur wanted desperately to hear this. “Dutch woke me up. Gave me the whole ‘tough daddy’ act.”

Elijah raised himself up a bit, mimicking Dutch’s body language as much as he could from where he was still half lying down, gesturing with one hand. He even tried the accent. “‘I raised Arthur  as my son, he’s precious to me. Don’t think you can go ‘round playin’ him, Mister van Oss, ‘cause I’ll be right there to kick yer ass. Don’t hurt my boy, you hear?’ Real scary stuff.” He lay back down, nestling his head on Arthur’s chest. “I thought it was cute.”

Arthur knew Dutch cared about him, loved him as a son even, but he hadn’t thought that he’d go so far as to protect Arthur’s heart. Part of Arthur thought it was silly, part of him was touched, part of him hoped he could finally repay the favour. “Well… He ain’t have to do all that…”

“They’re just looking out for you, Arthur.”

“I can look after my damn self.”

“Even your heart?”

“Ain’t I been doin’ alright?” He said, looking down. He couldn’t really see much, but he thought he saw the ghost of a smile on that sleepy face below him.

“I don’t think I should be the one to answer that.” Before Arthur could speak again, Elijah laid a finger on his lips. “Can we please sleep?”

“Fine, alright.” He kissed the top of Elijah’s head again and settled down. In a matter of minutes he heard soft snoring from his chest, and even that gentle rhythm was enough to help lull Arthur to sleep as well.

Arthur knew he’d woken late when he could hear Miss Grimshaw cursing out the girls to the backdrop of horses being fed, Pearson cooking and Sean harassing Molly. He’d slept well, he realised, even with the heavy weight of Elijah’s head on his chest, still there now. Still snoring, at that.

“Wake up, lazybones.” He grumbled affectionately, gently rolling Elijah onto his back and hovering over him. He waited until his eyes opened, blearily trying to focus on Arthur’s face.

“I’on’t wanna get up yet.” He protested, weakly pushing at Arthur and giving up almost immediately.

“Sure I can’t persuade you?” Arthur ran his hand along the inside of Elijah’s thigh, feeling incredibly gratified when he let his legs fall open. Elijah sighed with mock frustration.

“You always like this in the morning?”

“I am with you.”

“Bet you say that to all the nice boys.” Elijah grinned at him and Arthur kissed the smile right off his face. “There’re a lot of people outside, Arthur.”

“That’ll finally teach you to be quiet, then.” Arthur said, unbuttoning Elijah’s trousers and helping him wriggle out of them a little bit. Arthur hoped everyone had the goddamn sense to not look into the tent. Just to be sure, he pulled their blanket over their legs. Elijah shoved his trousers past his ankles and swung a naked leg over Arthur’s clothed hip, lying face to face with him on his right side.

Arthur lay on his left side, his left arm curled around Elijah’s shoulders, holding him close while they kissed. Small, soft little kisses until Elijah eventually nipped at his lip and Arthur bit back, soothing with his tongue and using the opportunity to slip his tongue inside. With how sleepy Elijah still was and how much Arthur wanted to see him come again, it was easy for Arthur to take the lead. He caught tiny, cut-off moans in his mouth, hushing softly when he squeezed his ass with his right hand.

“You be quiet now.” He whispered, moving down the slightest bit so he could kiss and bite at Elijah’s neck and shoulder. “You be real quiet and I’ll make it real good, promise.”

He felt Elijah cradling his head with his left hand, gently guiding him where to kiss, where to bite, where to lick. Arthur knew damn well what he wanted to lick, but the tent was too small and he didn’t want to risk walking outside with a beard full of slick. That’d have to wait until they were out with just the two of them sometime. He kissed the junction of neck and shoulder and felt Elijah’s hips jerk, heard a hastily whispered ‘right there.’ Arthur kept pressing kisses there, his scruff scratching the tender skin while his right hand stroked Elijah’s flank, his thigh, his ass, everything but where Arthur knew he was wanted the most. He felt blunt nails scratching at his shirt, heard gasps and soft pants desperately muffled against his shoulder.

“Yer doin’ so good, boy.” He whispered, trailing his middle finger over Elijah’s thigh, down his front until he’d reached the coarse, wet pubic hair just outside of his slit. “You want this, don’t you?”

Elijah’s hips moved rhythmically against his finger, trying to get more contact without making a sound. Arthur knew he had him wound tight with anticipation, that he had him entirely under his spell.

“What're we gonna do with you, hm?” He pushed his finger past the slit and through slick folds until he found the hard, sensitive little nubbin, practically pulsing and begging for his finger. With index and middle finger, he gently rubbed slow, slow circles. “Lyin’ here all wet ‘n ready for me, beggin’ for it.”

“Arthur-”

“Shh. I know. I got you.”

On one hand, Arthur wanted to fuck him. On the other, he wanted him to come from just his fingers. He also didn’t want to make a lot of noise and risk getting discovered or, worse, exposing Elijah to the gang. For now, he decided he could wait. When he felt Elijah’s hips start to tremble and heard him pant quickly, he slipped two fingers into his dripping cunt and used his thumb to continue rubbing at his swollen clit. Arthur wasn’t sure but he thought Elijah was biting on his shirt to keep quiet.

“Feels perfect.” Arthur purred into his ear, feeling the first pulses of the muscle around his fingers. “If we weren’t at camp right now I’d fuck you into next week. I’d make you sing, boy.”

Slowly but surely, he tightened around Arthur’s fingers. He was trembling uncontrollably now, still biting Arthur’s shirt, breath coming in hot and heavy bursts. Arthur curled his fingers inside of him - he’d seemed to like that - and lightened the pressure of his thumb a bit. Soft, tiny whines were escaping Elijah now and Arthur was glad the shirt was there to catch the worst of it.

“Can’t wait to have a taste of you, bet you taste sweet as honey. Come for me, darlin’. Let me have it.” Arthur whispered before he bit down softly on his earlobe, pumping his fingers rapidly. “Come for me!”

He felt fingertips digging into his shoulderblades so hard he was sure they’d leave a couple bruises. He held Elijah’s head close against him as he gasped his way through his orgasm, cunt pulsing around Arthur’s fingers, coating them with slick all the way down to his knuckles. Arthur only stopped when it became too much, when the pulsing had ceased and Elijah was starting to spasm at every one of his touches. He pulled his fingers out and took a taste.

“Sweeter still.”

Elijah shoved his hand away. “Liar.” He panted. “Idiot.”

Arthur chuckled and wiped his fingers on the bedroll. “That a way to talk to the gentleman who just took care of you?”

Elijah had rolled on his back, spread eagle as far as the tent would allow, breathing hard. “Gentlemen… Don’t do it like that.” He caught his breath for a moment. “I assure you.”

Arthur wiped the single tear that escaped from Elijah's eyes with his pinky finger. “Then what am I?”

Elijah turned his head to the side to look at Arthur, shiny eyes flitting all over his face. “Who knows…? You might be a good man yet, Arthur.”

“I doubt it’ll come to that.” Arthur said, leaning over and kissing him. “Now I reckon I gotta find Dutch, and I reckon you oughta help Pearson with the cookin’.”

“Give me strength.” Elijah sighed and pulled up his pants. “Good luck with Dutch.”

They crawled out of the tent relatively unnoticed, going their separate ways in the camp. Elijah made a beeline for Pearson’s wagon while Arthur went over to Dutch’s tent. He found him sitting on his cot, book in his hands even though it was closed, staring at the floor.

“Mornin’, Dutch.”

Dutch briefly looked up at Arthur; he looked more exhausted than Arthur had seen him in ages, even after Blackwater. “Mornin’, son.”

“You okay?”

“Yeah. Yeah…” Dutch put his book aside and got up, standing next to Arthur. “Arthur, you’ve been doubtin’ me a lot lately.”

“Dutch-”

“No, hang on. Let me finish. You been doubtin’ me a lot, Hosea’s been doubtin’ me a lot, and now Micah’s dead… Tell me son, did I get it all wrong?”

He seemed so lost to Arthur that he didn’t know what to say. Arthur’d seen Dutch in all sorts of states: happy, angry, tired, overwhelmed, underwhelmed, on one particularly awkward occasion when Molly’d just joined them he’d even seen him exceptionally horny, but never filled with self-doubt.  This was a first and Arthur had to be honest or it would all be for naught.

“Well, I… I been worried ‘bout the way things’ve been goin’, Dutch. Just seems like we’re diggin’ ourselves in deeper instead of livin’ free and headin’ west. The whole O’Driscoll thing, wantin’ to get Micah outta jail when he’s just goin’ around killin’ folk… Feels like we lost our way.” He decided not to mention that Micah was part of the reason why Hosea and he had been doubting Dutch in the first place.

Dutch was quiet for a moment. “Maybe Hosea was right. Maybe we should’ve just gone west.”

“We still can.” Arthur offered.

“Not without them bonds sold we can’t.” Dutch went back into his tent and sat back onto the cot. “I gotta come up with a plan, Arthur, but…”

But every time you come up with a plan, someone dies, Arthur supplied in his head. “Maybe we gotta figure it out with the four of us, like old times. You, me, Hosea and John.”

Dutch raised his head. “You finally ready to forgive John?”

Arthur shrugged. “If it means gettin’ the gang back on our feet…”

Dutch grabbed his book and turned it over in his hands. “We got the damn O’Driscolls and the Pinkertons on our back, ‘n them bonds’re real hot, too.”

“I doubt Leviticus Cornwall likes us very much.” Arthur commented drily.

“Me too, son… Me too… Lately I been doubtin’ whether anyone still likes us very much.”

It was such an honest confession that Arthur had no idea what to say in return. Arthur’d felt it himself, of course: the world didn’t want or need outlaws anymore. The world was changing.

Arthur tried to be encouraging. “They don’t want folk like us no more, but that don’t mean we just gotta give up and become bankers.”

Dutch pulled a disgusted face. “I will die before I take a job like that, Arthur.”

Arthur laughed. “I know.”

“But maybe you’re right.” Dutch said quietly as he stared at the book in his hands. “I been ignorin’ my team… My two sons and my best friend… Maybe it’s time.”

Arthur felt like most of that hadn’t been meant for his ears. Like they were quiet thoughts that Dutch was just speaking into existence.  “Well, I’m… Glad you wanna give it a shot.”

Dutch looked at him, eyes filled with sadness. “I just want people to stop dyin’.”

“We’re all on the same page on that score, Dutch. No worries.” Arthur didn’t point out that Hosea had said that weeks ago and that Dutch had thrown that caution to the wind. He supposed that, now that Dutch had seen the results of ignoring his council, he must’ve seen the light.

“I gotta think about this, Arthur. I’ll let you know when Hosea and I are ready.”

Arthur took that as his cue to leave.

"Oh, and son?"

"Yeah, Dutch?"

"Maybe change your shirt. Your boy damn near bit through it."

Arthur pulled at his shirt to see the fabric near the shoulder and- yes, he very nearly had. Arthur waved Dutch goodbye and foregoing the suggestion to change his shirt, went to look for John, only to be almost immediately accosted by a very jumpy looking Kieran.

“Mister Arthur Morgan, sir.”

“Kieran?”

“I’d like a word, if that’s alright with you.”

Arthur thought he looked about ready to shit himself. “What is it, kid?”

“Well, I-I-… You… I came by Eli’s tent earlier and I-… Well- I heard-…”

Arthur stepped right into his personal space, looming large and dangerous. “You heard what, boy?”

Kieran took several steps back. “N-Nothing untoward, I’m sure!”

“Untoward?” Arthur kept walking forwards and Kieran kept walking backwards, until he eventually had his back against a tree. Arthur would’ve thought it poetic justice if it’d been ‘his former tree’, but he’d take the regular tree as his playing ground for now. “What exactly did you hear?”

Kieran turned such a fierce shade of red so quickly that Arthur was actually impressed. Kieran shrunk back against the tree even further, like he was hoping it would swallow him up and take him away from this conversation he’d started.

“J-Just… Y’know… What couples do.”

“Ooh, you was peepin’ on us, is that it? Kieran?” Arthur put a hand above Kieran’s head on the tree, leaning in. “Don’t got much patience for peepin’ Toms, I tell ya.”

“No peepin’! No peepin’, no sir. I left as soon as I saw-”

“You saw?”

“Heard! I left as soon as I heard what was goin’ on.” Kieran squealed. “B-but… That ain’t.. I just wanted to say-”

“Spit it out, kid!”

“Don’t hurt him!” Kieran half-shouted, cowering under Arthur’s gaze. “Just, please be good to him. I’m sure you know his life was hell. I weren’t a good one, either. He is- was… A good friend to me and I weren’t to him.”

Arthur thought that in spite of being the single gentlest buffoon he’d ever met, Kieran did have a decent set of balls on him to come to Arthur to tell him this. He hauled Kieran up by his collar, setting him upright and dusting off the lapels on his jacket. Arthur had the entire gang to look after him, Elijah only had Kieran. Arthur figured he might as well be courteous for all it was worth.

“Alright.”

“W-What?”

“I said ‘alright’, O’Driscoll. You have my word.”

Kieran was thoroughly confused but seemed relieved all the same. “O-Okay, good! Thanks, Mr. Morgan.”

“Now get the hell outta my sight.”

Kieran scurried away so quickly that Arthur wondered how he’d managed to stay with the O’Driscolls as long as he had. Maybe he only stayed because he thought he had someone to protect.

Arthur went over to Pearson’s wagon where Elijah was preparing vegetables for the stew at the table. Arthur leaned on the table on both of his hands, waiting until he had his attention.

“Yeees, Arthur?”

“I just had the strangest conversation with young Kieran Duffy.”

Elijah stopped chopping and raised an eyebrow at him. “Do tell.” He continued chopping.

“Well, once he was done tryin’ not to shit himself, he told me to be good to ya.”

Elijah snorted. “Were we that obvious last night?”

“We were that obvious this mornin’, sweetheart.”

The knife came down hard on the table and Elijah stared at Arthur, mouth agape.

Arthur just smiled, thoroughly amused. “He heard and saw us.”

“Anyone else?”

“Not as far as I know.”

Elijah breathed deeply and shook his head. “Well, alright then.”

“Now, if you got a moment…”

“I’m a bit busy, Arthur.”

“I wanna kiss you. Very much.”

Elijah looked up from his mangled carrot to regard Arthur incredulously. “Talking to Kieran put you in the mood? I’m sure we can arrange something for that.”

With every one of those snarky, smartass comments, Arthur loved him more. “I’ll be dead and beneath the ground before I share you with Kieran Duffy, mister.”

“Don’t think it’ll come to that. He’s sweet on Mary-Beth.”

“Eli.”

Elijah looked up. Arthur just smiled at him.

“Arthur.”

“Kiss me.”

Elijah put the knife away and laid his hands on the table, parallel to Arthur’s. He leaned halfway across the table with a broad smile on his face, closing his eyes and waiting.

I ain’t never done nothin’ in this world to deserve you, Arthur thought. He brought one hand up to cup his cheek, bent down and kissed him, just once. He lingered, opening his eyes to see what Elijah looked like when they kissed.

Not a damn thing. He closed his eyes again to the sounds of Javier and John hooting and hollering while Pearson and Grimshaw tried to get both of them to stop.

Chapter Text

John and his god damned plans.

A week ago, he’d gone to John to talk to him about his talk with Dutch. John had seemed glad to hear that Dutch finally appeared to have a clear head for once and was willing to listen to his family again. He’d also offered to bring Arthur in on the train job that Mary-Beth had found a couple weeks prior. All they had to do was steal an oil wagon and park it on the tracks, rob the train, and get the hell out. It seemed simple enough, though it wasn’t exactly ‘keeping their noses clean’ like Hosea wanted.

Well, that job ended with a bag full of loot and about two dozen dead lawmen. Arthur had no idea how they’d been found out given that the train had been in the middle of nowhere when it stopped. Maybe they were patrolling trains more carefully after the job in Colter, Arthur couldn’t be sure. All the passengers – all innocent folk who didn’t have to die, just like John had said before they went in – had survived with only a small measure of drink necessary in the aftermath. They were rich, though, and they’d made off with a decent amount of money. As all the lawmen were dead and the passengers had never seen their faces, they were without bounty too, as far as Arthur could tell.

This job, however, was going to end up with them moving away from Horseshoe Overlook. If it’d been up to Arthur, they would’ve moved away three days ago after he was approached by agents Milton and Ross while out fishing with Jack.

Abigail had begged him to take Jack out because the poor kid was bored out of his skull, so Arthur had taken him fishing. They’d been having a good time together, fishing, talking, Jack even made a necklace out of flowers for his mother, but then…

Listen. This is my offer, Mr. Morgan. Bring in Van Der Linde, and you have my word you won’t swing.

The words had rung in his ears every day ever since. The Pinkertons didn’t know exactly where they were but it wouldn’t take long for them to find out. Dutch hadn’t wanted them to move yet. He and Hosea were close to making a deal on the bonds and Hosea had said that Elijah had a lead and had gone out to Annesburg to investigate Cornwall. Dutch didn’t want to relocate without the whole gang present, either.

I know he means a lot to ya, son. We won’t go nowhere without him here.

It had touched Arthur, but he still would’ve preferred to move sooner. He was sure he could’ve found Elijah later, somehow. Annesburg was a long, long ride but the roads were straightforward. It would’ve been fine. At least Dutch had sent Charles scouting further east for a new camp already. Arthur did worry about Elijah going off on his own, especially after Dutch had told all of them to not go out on their own. Apparently, he was the exception.

I’m the only one without a bounty on my head, Arthur. I think it’s best I ride alone.

No chance of them being able to wait for him now, either. After the train job John thought they still didn’t have enough money. Arthur wasn’t too eager to get even more lawmen after them, but John’s plan of taking the sheep was mostly fine. They didn’t hurt anybody and got the sheep to the auction just fine like regular old cowboys. They got swindled into giving away an eighteen percent share of their profits to the auctioneer just so they wouldn’t get ratted on, but even that wasn’t the problem.

No, the problem was when John told him Dutch was waiting for them at the saloon and Arthur wondered why Dutch was outside of the camp at all, knowing full well there were Pinkertons around. The problem was that they found Dutch and Strauss in heated debate, which ended with Dutch nearly upending the damn table and telling Strauss they had no need for people like him in his gang. The problem was that John took Strauss outside to cool off while Arthur tried to talk to Dutch about it when Leviticus fucking Cornwall turned up out of nowhere. The problem was that they had John and Strauss, and that if Arthur and Dutch hadn’t started shooting first, they would’ve been shot instead.

That was the problem, and right now they had the added problem of fighting off Cornwall’s guards and the Valentine law while trying to make sure Strauss didn’t die right there in the streets. He wasn’t hit badly, but he would be if they left him there. John and Dutch had put him in a wagon that they were pushing and using as cover while Arthur shot everyone in their path. He wasn’t sure how many he’d shot: twenty, thirty? Even more?

By the time the town had finally cleared out a bit and Strauss could be put on John’s horse, Arthur was clean out of bullets. John rode out ahead with Strauss while Dutch took the long way home with Arthur, riding hard and fast to get the law off their tails. When they were safe, they rode back to camp. They were a good distance north of it, riding back slow.

“What was that about, with Strauss?” Arthur asked almost immediately.

“It ain’t right, Arthur. It ain’t God damn right. I got no idea what the hell I was thinkin’ when I let him go ‘bout his loan sharkin’ business. I told him he could go ahead ‘n set up a different business, or he could get the hell outta my camp.” Dutch was outwardly seething so badly that Arthur wondered if this had maybe been a long time coming. Arthur himself certainly felt it was dirty work and had eventually even felt quite grateful that Elijah had taken it off his hands, though how he could stomach it, Arthur had no idea.

“That’s a hell of a thing to do, Dutch, but… Can’t say I disagree. Weren’t our style  of work.”

“No the hell it was not.” Dutch spat venomously. “I want him gone before we move. I’m a no good robbin’ and killin’ bastard but I always said we wasn’t gonna hurt no decent people and we did. I did. I let him go ‘bout his business. I let him ruin lives, Arthur.”

“And it ends now.” Arthur said, fighting against the blooming sense of pride in his chest. Had they finally turned a corner?

“Yes, it does.”

They rode through the plains north of Horseshoe Overlook together, keeping an eye out for any lawmen and seeing none. When they’d made it to the valley of Twin Stack Pass they saw another rider about a hundred feet in front of them. The rider had their head down, riding slow, slumped in their saddle. Arthur wondered who was that drunk on their horse that early in the day, aside from Uncle, maybe. As they rode closer, Arthur thought there was something familiar about the horse.

“Hang on a second…”

“What, son?”

Arthur squinted but couldn’t tell who the rider was. They were wearing a black hat and a black coat, but that horse… Something on the blanket underneath its saddle glinted in the sun and Arthur finally pieced it together.

Vincent.

“Looks like someone’s finally back from Annesburg.” Arthur said, relief thrumming in his chest. He spurred on his horse and so did Dutch, catching up to Elijah quickly and slowing their horses down to ride alongside him. He forgot all about the rider’s posture knowing it was Elijah, who was probably just tired.

“There he is.” He said once they were on either side, trotting along at Vincent’s speed. Arthur felt awkward having Dutch there: he’d been worried and missing him all week, truth be told. He wanted to welcome his man back with a kiss already.

Dutch gave Arthur a look and shook his head, snickering. “Don’t hold back on my account now, I done seen a lot worse than the two of you makin’ out like teenagers behind the church.”

But Elijah didn’t respond and Arthur took a moment to actually look at him: he didn’t look drunk, just… Shattered. He had deep, dark circles around his eyes. He looked a good deal paler than usual. His hands were only barely holding the reins where they were resting limply around the horn on his saddle. He had his head down, a thousand yard stare in his eyes. The coat he was wearing was much too big in the shoulders, dwarfing him and making him look smaller than he already was. Dutch shot a concerned look at Arthur, before gently reaching out a hand and laying it on Elijah’s shoulder.

“You alright there, son?”

Elijah jumped so badly in his saddle that Vincent neighed and bucked a bit.

“Shh, boy, easy now…” Elijah hushed, gently patting his neck and ruffling his mane.

Arthur thought he sounded hoarse, the usual relaxed tenor timbre of his voice gone and replaced by something much softer, much more…

Arthur perished the thought before he could finish it. Elijah finally seemed to notice he and Dutch were there.

“Sorry, didn’t see you. I was miles away.” He tried to smile, but it faltered at the edges. Arthur felt concern wrap around his heart like creeping vines.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Don’t seem fine…”

“Really, Arthur.” The look in his eyes was hard and uncompromising, void of much of anything besides the evident need for Arthur to be quiet. “It’s fine.”

Arthur and Dutch exchanged a look. Dutch shook his head.

“Found anythin’ in Annesburg?” Arthur asked instead.

“I think so. Too early to tell, but I think I can pull some strings.”

Dutch huffed a laugh. “Well you’d best get to pullin’ then ‘cause we just ran into Mister Cornwall himself.”

“You what?”

Dutch and Arthur updated him on everything that’d happened in Valentine, including wanting Strauss out of the gang and needing to move on to the next camp. Dutch said he hoped that Charles had found something suitable and that John had put everybody to work on packing up, or they’d for sure get caught within a day or two.

Elijah took a moment to process things. “So… Strauss is out, for good?”

“Yep.” Dutch said, popping the ‘p’. “We’re not lettin’ him get away with hurtin’ no innocent folk no more. If he don’t wanna do any other work, that’s his business, but not in my gang. No longer.”

Elijah’s eyebrows had nearly reached his hairline. “Well.” A pause. A chuckle. “That’ll sure as shit save me a lot of money.”

“I don’t follow.” Dutch said, frowning.

“I paid every single one of those debts out of pocket. None of them paid Strauss back a sorry red cent.”

Arthur felt his jaw drop, saw Dutch do the same.

Different approach, is all. I don’t have all your tall, dark and scary but I have… Well, a soft touch, I guess.

“So that’s what you meant by ‘a soft touch’, huh.” Arthur couldn’t help but feel a little betrayed.

Dutch laughed out loud. “Well! Fuck me sideways.”

Arthur didn’t share his amusement. “Where’d you get the money?”

“From getting paid.” Elijah replied drily.

“Don’t be a smartass. That money could’ve gone to the gang if you just had it lyin’ around.”

“Oh, right. I forget that according to your insane philosophy the only ‘correct way’ to help people is by robbing a bank first, then giving them the money. My god damn mistake.” Elijah’s eyes were alight with righteous fury. Arthur didn’t think he’d ever seen him that angry before. “You ain’t got shit to say about my god damn money, Arthur Morgan, especially not in relation to Strauss’ disgusting usury.”

Actually, Arthur had seen him this angry before. Right after Kieran had tried to invoke Elijah’s mother so that he’d get fed. He remembered the echo of that slap like it was yesterday. Arthur wanted to retort, but Dutch beat him to it.

“Now, now, you two, there’s no need to bite each other’s heads off. I know you put money in the box every week outside of those debts, so that ain’t fair, Arthur.” He patted Elijah’s shoulder twice. “Strauss will be gone soon. We ain’t doin’ that no more.”

Elijah was still looking at Arthur, rage coursing through his veins. “He died, y’know.”

“Who did?”

“Thomas Downes. The man you beat the shit out of that first time we went out for Strauss.”

That mollified Arthur’s own anger a little bit. “Didn’t mean for the feller to die…”

“You lot never mean for shit to happen, but it always does, doesn’t it?” Elijah closed his eyes and gritted his teeth, curtailing his anger. “I’ll see you at camp.” He spurred on his horse and sped away, leaving Arthur and Dutch behind completely speechless.

“What the hell got up his ass?” Arthur asked, pissed off at the berating he’d just gotten.

“Feel like you oughta know the answer to that one, son.”

“Very funny. This don’t piss you off?”

Dutch shook his head, sighing. “Nah, somethin’ ain’t right. Boy’s just lashin’ out. Give it a rest for now and ask ‘em later.”

“Can’t believe I got you givin’ me relationship advice.” Arthur grumbled.

They rode back to Horseshoe Overlook, finding it most of the way packed already. Charles had found them a place: Clemens Point, near the town of Rhodes. It was well concealed and along a lake, which meant good fishing and a much better water supply. Nobody had  ever liked carrying buckets of water up the hill very much.

John sauntered over to Dutch.

“He’s gone. I gave him that nag Hosea brought in the other week to sell. Figured it’s the least we can do for his services, even being what they were.”

“Good, that seems fine.” Dutch got off The Count and hitched him. “I gotta go find Hosea.”

Arthur hitched Mordred, lingering around the post, unsure of what to do. He knew he should leave it alone for a bit, but it didn’t sit well with him. What had happened in Annesburg? Why was he so angry? He walked through the camp for a bit and saw that Elijah was taking down his tent in a very destructive, murderous sort of way.

Arthur had never known what was good for him and this was no exception.

“Can I help?”

“Arthur, with God and everyone in this camp as my witness-”

“I know, I know. We won’t talk about it. Just want to help.” He held his hands up in surrender.

Elijah seemed to deflate a bit at that. “Okay, well... thank you.”

They worked together in silence for a little bit. When they were next to each other, folding and rolling up the canvas, Arthur mumbled: “Here you had me thinkin’ you was sweet on me.”

Whatever inner machinations Elijah had going on, they grinded to a halt and he looked at Arthur like he’d grown another head. Arthur saw his eyes were bloodshot and red-rimmed. He looked wrecked. Arthur wanted so badly to reach out and touch him, but he wasn’t sure if it’d be welcome.

“Kiss me, then.”

Arthur smiled at that, relief washing over him like the tide on a hot summer’s day. He bent down and caught those soft lips in a gentle kiss, leaning in just a little and feeling Elijah do the same.

“Can the two of you damn well get a move on? We ain’t got time for y’all to be sittin’ on the ground starin’ into each other’s eyes!” Miss Grimshaw shouted, practically breathing fire. Arthur and Elijah just smiled at each other like mischievous children and continued packing up the tent.

In another hour, the camp had been torn down completely and they set off on their journey towards Clemens Point. Arthur and Elijah rode side by side and Arthur found himself wishing he’d told Elijah to take the wagon instead: he was dead on his feet.

“You look like you ain’t slept in days.” Arthur said when he was sure the others couldn’t hear.

“Arthur…”

“Just, please. Tell me yer alright.”

Elijah breathed so deeply that Arthur wasn’t sure if it was a sigh or a yawn. “I don’t know that I am.”

Arthur wanted so badly to ask why not, but knew he shouldn’t. “I’m worried ‘bout you.” He confessed.

Elijah looked at the setting sun. “I can’t talk about it.” He said so quietly Arthur almost couldn’t hear him over the sounds of hooves in dirt and wagon wheels creaking. “I cried so much I thought I would just wash away with the tide.”

“Did someone… Hurt you?” Arthur asked tentatively, vowing to track whomever down and personally lead them past the gates of hell.

“No. Only me.”

That neither answered Arthur’s question in any tangible way nor ease his worries one jot. “Anythin’ I can do?”

“Don’t ask questions.” Elijah said with a sideways, half-hearted smile. “And if I do cry… Just make sure I don’t fall to pieces.”

“All Dutch’s horses and all Dutch’s men…” Arthur rhymed.

“Will not be able to put me back together again.” Elijah supplied ironically.

“Well, you wouldn’t be the first or the last. You just leave that to us.”

The road to Clemens Point was long and tiring for all of them, and when they made it to the campsite they found it was already occupied.

Arthur rode to the front, to Charles and Dutch. “I thought you said this place was nice ‘n empty?”

“It was, three days ago. Shit.” They got off their horses and went to investigate. There was a man lying on the ground, bound and gagged, screaming for help. Arthur went to cut him loose when Dutch called.

“Ooh, we got company. Everybody take cover!”

The wagons diverted into the woods where they could and those on horseback quickly went to hitch them to trees before grabbing their guns. The people who were shooting at them didn’t seem to be O’Driscolls which just made them regular lowlifes. Fortunately, with as many as they were, the gunfight ended quickly, even in the dark.

Dutch sighed dramatically. “And now we got all these god damn bodies to clear out of the camp. Miss Grimshaw, Mister Pearson?”

“Already on it, Dutch.” Pearson said.

“Arthur, go check on that feller.”

Arthur went over to him and actually cut him free this time, removing the gag. “There you go. You alright?”

The man stood up, hurriedly dusting off his clothes before grabbing Arthur’s hands in his. “Vielen Dank für Ihre Hilfe!”

“I’m-… Sorry?” Arthur said. “Shit, if only we still had Strauss.”

Dutch laughed at that. “Yeah, well. We’ll just have to make do.”

“He says he’s very grateful for your help.” Elijah said, walking up to them with Vincent led just behind him. He turned to the man. “Sind Sie alleine?”

“And now the wonder boy speaks German. Unbelievable. I’ll leave you to it.” Dutch said, patting Arthur on the back and getting back to setting up camp.

“N-nein, ich warst mit meine Familie…”

“Und wo sind sie jetzt?” Elijah asked, seemingly annoyed and / or impatient. It was hard to tell in another language.

The man stuttered and stumbled over his words. Elijah looked like he was struggling to follow until the man stopped speaking and Elijah could catch up in his translation.

“Dewberry Creek. Alright then.” Elijah said, mounting up.

“Also soll ich mitkommen?” The man asked.

“Ja, du sollst mitkommen… Du Affe…”  Elijah grumbled in return. Arthur still had no idea what was going on.

“Entschuldigung?” The man asked, confused.

“Gar nichts.”

Arthur halted Vincent. “You wanna tell me what just transpired or should I go ahead and assume yer gonna go ahead and get hitched to this guy?”

“I have poor taste in men, Arthur, but not that bad. He was taken from his family and they’re near Dewberry Creek. I’m just gonna bring him there and come back.” He turned Vincent around.

“Alright, well… I’ll go ahead and set up yer tent, then.” Arthur let them ride off and got started on the tent. By the time he was finally done and his own tent had been set up by the girls, Elijah had just come back into camp. He somehow looked even more done in than before.

“Yer palace is ready.” He said by way of greeting.

“He never stopped talking.” Elijah said, dragging his feet towards his tent like he could barely keep himself upright anymore. “Germans.”

“Didn’t know you spoke German.” Arthur crawled down into the tent with him. Sure, he had his own, but he liked sleeping next to Elijah and the bedroll was bigger than his cot.

“Barely.” He lay on his back, spreading out his limbs, limp with exhaustion. Arthur pulled his boots off for him. “Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it. You speak any other languages?” Arthur also took his vest off, lifting Elijah by his waist to slip it off his shoulders.

“Fluently? No, but I can curse in a few.”

Arthur laughed at that. He was almost done undoing Elijah of every bit of unnecessary clothing. Only the satchel was left.

“What’ve you got in here? Damn thing weighs a ton.”

“He gave me some gold for helping him.” Elijah yawned. “I was gonna put it in the box when it’s set up.”

Arthur felt bad for the jab he made earlier today. “That’s kind of you.”

“Hmm.” Elijah turned his back to Arthur. When Arthur didn’t immediately follow to lie against him, he took Arthur’s hand and yanked him over. Arthur chuckled and lay close against him, pulling him tight against his front.

“You go to sleep now, boy.” Arthur whispered, his left hand running though the soft strands of hair, letting wispy locks fall through his fingers. “Been a long week for all of us.”

But Elijah was already gone, snoring quietly. Arthur listened to him breathe in, and out, and in, and out, and in…

He woke several hours later, though he couldn’t tell why at first. Then, he felt Elijah’s body spasm against his, a choked noise escaping him. He was curled in on himself, body rigid and tense.

“C’mere, boy… Turn over.” Arthur whispered, pulling at Elijah’s arm. With very little guidance, Elijah turned over, burrowing his face into Arthur’s chest. He didn’t wail, he didn’t scream, all Arthur heard were nigh-soundless sobs and gasps, occasionally interspersed with a feeble cry so pained that it reminded Arthur of the cries of a fatally wounded animal. Arthur held him tight, just until the tide passed, just to keep him from washing away.

Chapter Text

Arthur was always astonished at just how differently the world around him sounded whenever they moved camp. Blackwater had been a bustling city. Colter had been dead silent except for the wind blowing through the cracks in the sheds. Horseshoe Overlook had been mostly birds and the distant calls of foxes. Clemens Point had a lot of frogs, birds and bugs. It also had the sounds of a tormented man fervently praying in a language Arthur didn’t understand.

When he opened his eyes he found that it was still mostly dark out, with barely any early morning light coming into the tent. He could mostly make out Elijah sitting next to him, legs folded underneath him, hands clasped tightly in prayer, the bottom end of a rosary dangling a couple inches below. Arthur turned onto his back, signalling he was awake without intruding on the prayer. Arthur heard what he thought was a hasty end to the prayer and what he could make out to be an ‘Amen’ before Elijah made the sign of the cross. He put the rosary back into his satchel and lay down on his back next to Arthur, staring blankly at the top of the tent.

Arthur could make out tear tracks on his face, old and new, but Elijah’s breathing was calmer than it had been.

“Never took you for a religious type.”

“It’s complicated.”

“Usually is.” Arthur didn’t want to pry, but he couldn’t not ask either. “Thought you said you didn’t speak anymore languages, or was that just German?”

Elijah huffed a laugh. “No, it wasn’t.”

Arthur could tell he was struggling with whether to elaborate or not, but he did, eventually.

“It was Dutch. I prefer to pray in my own language.”

Arthur had almost completely forgotten he wasn’t from America, if he was being completely honest. Sure, he spoke vaguely unaccented English, but he was starting to adopt the way the gang spoke and Arthur had just… Forgotten.

“I can barely speak English.” He muttered.

Elijah was quiet for a while. “Arthur…”

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry, about yesterday. I was just… It had nothing to do with you.”

“You seemed real angry with me.”

“I was angry, just not at you.”

“Then what were you so angry about?”

“I was- I am… I am angry with myself.”

“Why?”

“I can’t… Say it. Not yet.” Elijah drew a shaky breath.

“That why you were prayin’, for yourself?” Arthur asked quietly, afraid of treading too far.

“No.” Elijah paused. “God abandoned me long ago, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get to call on Him for others.”

That took Arthur by surprise, though maybe it shouldn’t have. It didn’t take a genius to understand why he’d felt abandoned. “You think so?”

“I know so.”

“Why?”

“Because when I begged to know why I was born in this body as a child I had nuns beat me so bad I knew God didn’t want me to ask the question. When boys pulled me off my horse as I rode around town, I knew I was not meant to bask in communion.” He almost spat the last word. Arthur felt him radiating cold, hard hatred.

“When my f-…” He closed his eyes and breathed, like he had to push through it. “When my father did what he did I knew what God had ‘blessed’ me with was nothing but a way for me to suffer.”

Arthur wanted to touch him, to embrace him, to hold him and chase away the ghosts of a horrific past, but didn’t dare to move a muscle. Not now.

“It was my mother who saved me from the asylum, it was my brother who saved me from our father, it was Tobias and Doctor Lamers who saved me while I was bleeding out on that operating table. It-… It was you that saved me from a cold, lonely death in The Grizzlies. It was never God. God and I don’t see eye to eye on my existence.”

“I ain’t much in the way of divine intervention.” Arthur joked.

It was quiet in the tent for a long while. “I-…” Elijah tried. “Arthur…”

“Go on.”

“You’ll think I’m an idiot.”

“Well, yer in good company.”

Arthur saw him rubbing his right thumb in his left palm. A nervous tic he got whenever he didn’t know how to say something, Arthur had noticed.

“The only time I ever felt… Anything divine, any presence of God or mercy or what have you, during my whole life… Was with you that one night in Strawberry.”

What was he supposed to say to that? To a more religious man it would probably have meant so much more. Arthur wasn’t sure if he was over- or underwhelmed. He could so easily turn it into a joke, but that felt like cheapening the very real, very raw feelings he’d just been exposed to.

Arthur raised himself up and leaned over him, bringing a hand up to stroke his thumb over his cheek. Elijah stared at him with an embarrassed look in his eyes.

“God ‘n I don’t see eye to eye neither. I ain’t even sure if he exists. If you felt whatever it is you felt that night, all I was doin’ was tellin’ the truth.” He bent down and kissed him, barely a touch of lips. He felt Elijah whisper against his lips.

“And the truth will set you free.”

Morning light was beginning to shine through the tent, one small strip of light just barely illuminating Elijah’s face. As they stared at each other, Arthur took in every small detail, filing it away in his memory: the small ring of yellow just around his pupils before it drowned in blue, the freckles on his nose, the mole on his left cheek, the small birthmark on his chin. He’d wanted to draw him in his journal, but it hadn’t felt right until just now.

Elijah said something he couldn’t understand.

“Come again?”

“Ik heb je lief, Arthur.”

His name sounded foreign to his ears. The ‘th’ sounded too sharp and the ‘u’ too far forward in the mouth. He figured it was probably Dutch, he just wished he knew what it meant.

“What’s that mean?”

“I can’t translate it, not exactly.”

Arthur bristled. “Try anyway.”

Elijah’s sad, withdrawn expression turned to gentle affection right before him. “It’s somewhere between… That you are very precious to me, and…”

“And?”

“And that I love you.”

Arthur was sure he was smiling, but he couldn’t really feel his face. How long had it been since someone had told him that? How much longer still since he had returned the sentiment? Eliza, he supposed. He had loved her, in his way.

Not this way, though. He hadn’t wanted to promise Eliza anything he couldn’t keep, hadn’t fucked her because he loved her this way, hadn’t taken care of her and their son because he loved them this way. He had loved them, because doing right by them was love.

This was something else entirely. Doing the right thing here primarily meant being honest.

So he was.

“I think I loved you from the moment you put yer damn boots on, half-asleep in the middle of the night, to take me on a walk ‘cause I couldn’t sleep.” He confessed as quietly as he could, because not another damn soul in the world needed to hear it.

Elijah surged up to kiss him and Arthur moved with him, rolling over onto his back to pull Elijah on top of him, sitting upright and holding him in his lap. It was nice, to have Elijah’s face above him like this, tilting his head back into the cradle of the man’s hands to be kissed slowly, opening his mouth to that curious tongue. He let him have his way, sliding his tongue leisurely against his, until he eventually broke the kiss to press soft kisses down his neck and onto his clavicle. Arthur opened a couple buttons on his shirt, sliding it aside and without really knowing why, pressed his ear against his chest.

His heart beat fast and hard, slowing as Arthur rubbed his back while he himself was held to Elijah’s chest, hands cradling his head and fingers scratching his scalp gently.

“What’s it sound like in there?” Elijah asked softly.

“Hard to say. I ain’t no doctor.”

“Try anyway.”

Arthur wondered how the two most stubborn sons of bitches, born on two different continents and from wildly different backgrounds, had ever found themselves so intimately entwined in a tent in a place neither of them knew.

“Sounds like… It might’ve broken recently.” Arthur said, pressing a kiss against his chest and looking up to see Elijah staring down at him with a forlorn look on his face. “But… Sounds like it might also mend, eventually. Ain’t no rush.”

That earned him a small smile and a kiss on his forehead. “I got another Dutch saying for you.”

“What’s that?”

“Translated, it means: the morning has gold in its mouth.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It just doesn’t work as well when it doesn’t rhyme.” Elijah lamented, getting off of Arthur and digging into his satchel, retrieving the gold bar from the night before. “Let’s go get this to Dutch.”

Chapter Text

“What do you mean we can’t rob Leviticus Cornwall no more?”

Dutch was pacing back and forth inside of his tent like a caged animal. Elijah stood leaning against the centre pole, arms crossed across his chest, defiant. Hosea had only just joined their meeting and he was already trying to referee between the two.

Arthur mostly just felt very tired. He’d spent the morning helping out with the bits and pieces of the camp that hadn’t been set up after their arrival yet while Elijah worked on the Cornwall problem. Elijah had called the meeting and Arthur should’ve known it would not go well the moment he saw that stubborn expression on his face. Not that Dutch was any better, of course.

“I don’t know how to explain this to you,” Elijah began, and Arthur wished the ground would open up beneath him and swallow him whole. “But generally speaking, if you don’t bother someone they won’t try to have you hanged.”

“I think what Elijah means to s-” Hosea tried.

“I know damn well what he’s ‘tryin’ to say’, Hosea.” Dutch’s nostrils flared angrily. “My question is: why the hell should I bother listenin’ to this brat that can’t even shoot a gun?”

“In my defence, I have very poor eyesight.” Elijah replied drily.

Arthur frowned. “You do?”

Elijah shrugged and made a noncommittal sound. “Colm’s boys broke my spectacles about a week before you arrived. I don’t do distance very well but I can see close by just fine, so it almost never comes up.”

Hosea, Dutch and Arthur just stared at him and each other, befuddled by the odd turn the conversation had taken. Arthur felt like, even now, he had barely grasped the fundamentals of Elijah’s existence.

“Anyway,” Elijah said after an awkward moment of silence. “I have a plan that doesn’t involve shooting or getting shot, so my ability to shoot doesn’t matter.”

“And what is this ‘plan’ of yours?” Dutch asked, voice dripping with sarcasm.

“It’s best if I keep that to myself for now.”

Dutch scoffed and gestured towards Elijah while speaking with Hosea. “You can’t be serious, Hosea.”

“Boy’s got a brain, Dutch. Been a while since we used one of those instead of shootin’ first and askin’ questions later.”

Dutch’s arm dropped limply to his side. He stared at Hosea, mouth agape. “Oh, I see how it is.”

“That’d be a first.” Elijah said under his breath. Arthur shot him a stern look.

Dutch turned to him again, eyes murderous. “What did you say?”

“I said: that’d be a first.” Elijah repeated, slowly, enunciating carefully and emphasising the final ‘t’.

Dutch almost reached for his revolver but Hosea grabbed his arm. “Now Dutch, surely you can take a bit of ribbin’ from the youth.” He laughed, a tad nervously. “Although, Elijah, to be fair, it might be good if you tell us somethin’. Don’t like bein’ completely in the dark myself, either.”

Elijah softened at that. “The only reason I don’t want you knowing yet is because if it goes wrong, I don’t want anyone but me to take the fall for it. You always said Cornwall is no joke. He’s got the Pinkertons on his side and all we have is us, and that’s not been going too well lately.”

Dutch shook Hosea off, eyes flitting between Elijah’s impatient expression, Arthur’s worried face and Hosea’s eyes practically begging him to keep his cool. He sighed and waved a hand, tired of arguing the inevitable.

“Fine, but only ‘cause I trust Hosea and Arthur and they, God knows why, trust you.”

“All I want is that Cornwall gets off your back, Dutch.” Elijah said, uncrossing his arms and taking a step towards him. “Because if he does, that means he’s off the gang’s back. You leave Cornwall alone, and I’ll make sure he leaves you alone.” He held out his hand. “You have my word.”

Dutch stared at the outstretched hand, then at Arthur. Arthur nodded, once.

Dutch shook his hand. “You got some balls on you, boy. I’ll give you that much.”

Elijah snorted. “Some would disagree. I’ll get to work.”

With that, the meeting was adjourned. Arthur followed out behind Elijah while Hosea remained with Dutch.

“Funny.” Arthur said, sitting down at the table with Elijah. There were papers spread out all over held down by various paperweights: a satchel, cups, a rock.

“I thought so.” Elijah grinned, picking up what looked like a very expensive fountain pen and whatever paper was nearest in front of him. He signed the paper with a flourish.

“You really got poor eyesight?” Arthur asked, glancing at the paper. Fancy handwriting, ‘course he does.

“Yes.”

“You never mentioned.”

“Probably because you’re usually close by.” Elijah smiled so sweetly at him that Arthur felt his heart squeeze in his chest.

“Don’t it bother you, though?” He asked.

“A bit, it’s not convenient while riding and my eyes get tired quickly. We’re so close to Saint Denis now that I might go and get a new pair.” He blew on the paper and folded it gently before sealing it into an envelope and laying it on a stack of other envelopes. Arthur did think he looked tired, but that was probably more likely due to the fact that he’d slept all of three hours last night, by Arthur’s count.

“I can post those for you, if you like.” He said. “Think I gotta head into town, anyway. We’re a bit low on supplies”

“Would you? Oh, bless.” Elijah sagged with relief. “There’s one more…”

He reached into the satchel on the table and pulled out a smaller, thicker envelope and handed it directly to Arthur.

Arthur took it carefully, noting how the handwriting was far less elegant. The address was located in the Netherlands, to someone named Niels van Oss. Arthur looked at Elijah and saw his expression grow melancholic like clouds covering the afternoon sun.

“It’s for my brother.” Elijah said with his hands curled into fists in his lap. “Please make sure it gets to the post office safely and… Don’t read it.”

“What do you take me for?” Arthur protested, tucking the letter away with the rest of the stack. In the distance, he heard Sadie and Mr. Pearson arguing. He bent down and pressed a quick kiss to Elijah’s lips, then another to his forehead. “I gotta go.”

“I think I’ll lie down for a bit.” Elijah got up, squeezed his hand quickly and went to his tent. Arthur watched him go, sighing. It was hard to understand the mood swings without any context as to what was causing them, but he took it in stride.

Pearson and Sadie were getting into an actual fight by now. Arthur stalked over, feeling ever the enforcer. “What is wrong with you two?”

Sadie stabbed her knife into the table. “I ain’t choppin’ vegetables for a living!”

“Oh, I’m sorry madam. Was there insufficient feathers in your pillow?” Arthur mocked.

“Look, I ain’t lazy, mister Morgan. I’ll work, but not this!” Sadie stormed off, furious.

“Well, ain’t cooking work?”

Arthur sighed. He supposed he wasn’t being entirely fair, either. During the early days of Horseshoe Overlook, he’d taken Elijah out for Strauss because he was getting bored doing camp chores, too. He supposed Sadie still lasted a fair deal longer, and she’d been traumatised to boot. Her husband and she and shared the work, all of it. She knew how to shoot, she knew how to hunt. She could run the camp if she had to, and they'd relegated her to chopping. Maybe it wasn't fair at all.

After some more back and forth between Sadie and Pearson – with Sadie very nearly jumping and killing Pearson – he took her into town with Pearson’s shopping list and a letter he needed posted. Arthur was beginning to feel like the goddamn mailman.

They were on the wagon for all of five minutes.

“Where’s that letter?” Sadie asked.

“You readin’ his mail now?”

“Oh, robbing and killing’s okay. But letter reading! That’s where we draw the line.”

Arthur had been called out way too much in recent months, he felt. He sighed, reached into his pocket and handed the letter over, double checking to make sure he wasn’t accidentally handing over any of Elijah’s.

“Let’s see here…” Sadie said, clearing her throat and imitating Pearson’s voice. “Dear aunt Cathy,-”

“You are somethin’ else.” Arthur steered the wagon out of the swamp and onto the road.

“I haven’t heard from you in sometime, so I pray to the Lord above that your health has not deteriorated further. Blah blah blah, it’s boring… Oh! Wait a sec, listen to this: since we last corresponded, I have travelled widely, making no small name for myself. Before you ask, I am still yet to take a wife, but it’s not for a lack of suitors.”

Arthur and Sadie laughed out loud.

“He ever even talked to a woman he ain’t paid for before?” Sadie folded the letter back up and saw the sender. “’Return to Tacitus Kilgore’?”

“Dutch’s idea. We got an alias in every town that we get mail in.” That reminded him to check Elijah’s letters. He took one and the return simply said: ‘Return to Elias de Groot.’

Clever man, Arthur thought fondly.

They rode into Rhodes. It was more of a town than Valentine had been, that was for sure. He parked the wagon next to the store. Sadie pulled out her revolver.

“So what’s the plan? I shoot the shopkeeper while y-”

“No! Are you insane?”

“Well, I thought we was outlaws!”

“Outlaws! Not idiots…” He sighed. “We rob fools that rob other people. These people, they’re just tryin’ to get by!” He got out of the wagon, finally feeling like he believed what he was saying for the first time in a long while. “You head on in there, get us some food to eat. I’m gonna go check the mail, nothin’ excitin’.”

“No guns?” Sadie was nearly pouting.

“Not this time. There’ll be time for killin’ soon enough.” With that, he walked over to the train station. The clerk seemed somewhat surprised by the sheer amount of letters Arthur was looking to post, but it went smoothly.

“This one’s international… It’s important.” Arthur said, handing the last letter over. “You make sure that makes it across.”

“I’ll do my level best, sir!”

“You do that. Take care now.” Arthur went back to the wagon, glad to be out of the musty station. Back near the store he found that not only had Sadie bought and put on an entirely new outfit - yellow shirt, leather suspenders, dark trousers - in the ten minutes he was gone, she was also talking mad shit to the store clerk.

“I’m tryin’!” The clerk protested.

“Try harder!”

Arthur could hardly believe his own eyes. He got onto the wagon and waited for Sadie to be finished trash talking the poor clerk. At least she had the grace to tip him.

“Why don’t you drive?” Arthur said, looking forward to sitting back for a bit.

“Sure!”

They were riding out of town when Arthur’s big mouth got the better of him.

“Some new clothes you got there?”

“Don’t start. I can wear whatever I damn well want.” Sadie snapped.

“Oh, I know. You sure look the part now. Won’t be long before you’re smokin’ cigars and playin’ the harmonica.”

“I’ll have you know I used to love playing the harmonica before… Well, my house and everything I owned got burned to the ground.”

Arthur hoped Micah’s personal hell was a version where he was forever trapped in the house he himself had set aflame. “I’m real sorry.” He paused. “I’ll keep my eye out for another one. A harmonica, I mean. God knows we can’t find a house to save our lives.”

“I don’t want no pity. Just treat me equal.”

“As long as you don’t kill the camp cook.”

Alongside their wagon, two men on horseback rode up. “Hey there!”

Arthur was immediately on edge. “Hello.”

“What’re… What’re you folks up to?”

He tapped Sadie’s leg, hoping to signal that she too had to keep her hand on her weapon. “Just headin’ home."

“This is Lemoyne Raider’s country. You need to pay a toll to pass through here.”

Arthur reached for his revolver. “No, I don’t think so.”

“You don’t think so? How ‘bout you pull over right now?”

Sadie was, evidently, sick and tired of it. “How ‘bout this?” She said, reaching behind Arthur with her revolver and shooting the man clean through the head.

“Ah, shit! Ride!”

Raiders came from every direction. Sadie was driving the wagon like a madwoman and all Arthur hoped was that they didn’t lose every single potato along the way. It was hard as hell to aim well like this, too, but he still managed to kill three of those sons of bitches.

When they were surrounded on all sides, Sadie stopped the wagon and got out her own gun, killing two men in quick succession. Arthur felt guilty for being impressed: she had said she could use a gun, earlier.

He was distracted a moment too long, a bullet whizzing just past him; or rather, just not. He had a deep gash on his left arm, blood spilling through and staining his white shirt red. He gritted his teeth to get through the pain and raised his gun to shoot back but the man fell to the ground before he’d shot: Sadie got to him first.

“You alright?” Sadie asked, reloading her gun.

“I’m fine. Just a couple stitches’ll see me right. You see any more?”

“No, I think we’re good. Good shootin’, Arthur.”

They got back onto the wagon and Sadie drove them back to camp.

“Lotta mess to make near camp.” Arthur observed. “Hope nobody comes sniffin’ around.”

“You gonna tell Dutch?” Sadie questioned sardonically.

“Probably not. And don’t go ribbin’ mister Pearson about that letter.”

“I would never! ‘I have travelled widely, making no small name for myself.’”

Arthur laughed. “I won’t be givin’ you my mail to post anytime soon, that’s for sure.”

“I just want a look in that journal of yours. The mind boggles…”

“Not a chance.”

“Bet it’s filled with portraits of that boy. Little notes in the margins, like ‘his eyes is blue as cornflowers and his skin is like fresh cow’s milk…’” Sadie was laughing to herself.

Arthur was not about to admit that she wasn’t that far removed from the truth, minus the portrait part. “You got a problem?”

“Naw, nothin’ like that. Just think it’s funny that the big bad Arthur Morgan went soft for a lil’ stable hand of a man like that.”

He supposed they did make quite the pair. “Yeah, well…”

“It is nice to see some happy people about for once, though.” She said, softer than before. She looked at Arthur as she parked the wagon in the camp. “You enjoy this, while it lasts.”

Arthur knew she only said that because she had lost it all and was aware, more than anyone, that any day could very well be the last day of a happy life. “I will. Thank you.”

Pearson came over to their wagon. “So, you didn’t get yourself killed, then, Miss Adler!”

“Not quite.”

They got off the wagon while Sadie and Mister Pearson fired verbal shots at each other. Sadie, eventually, turned to Arthur.

“Thank you, Mister Morgan.”

“Don’t mention it. I would ride with you again, Mrs Adler, if you will ride with me.”

They smiled at each other in mutual understanding, and went their separate ways. Sadie went about cooking with Pearson, Arthur went to find Elijah and found him still sleeping in his tent.

He crawled in and sat next to him, already taking his vest and shirt off and putting them down next to him on the ground. Elijah woke, slowly, blinking against the light.

“Arthur? Oh, sh-” He scrambled upright, squinting and trying to focus on Arthur’s arm. Now that Arthur knew about his eyesight, he only noticed just how strained his eyes were all of the time, even when he was looking at things from a close range. “What happened?”

“Ran into some gang a ways away from camp. Think you can patch me up?”

“Always.”

He rifled through his satchel, reproducing the same cloth with tools Arthur had seen him use dozens of times: after Colter and when his own sutures from that time had to be removed, when John’s wounds needed cleaning, when poor Jack had taken a bad fall and torn his knee open… He’d seen Elijah’s healing hands at work so many times and never really realised that the gang, for all their joking, really trusted him to take care of them, too.

“Hold still now.”

Elijah carefully cleaned the wound, and that burn never really did get easier.

“It didn’t get you too badly… Still, I’ll put a couple stitches, just to be sure.” He measured and cut the thread, threaded it through the needle and got to work. Within minutes, it was a done deal. Elijah tore a strip of fabric from an old shirt and wound it around Arthur’s arm, snug but not too tight.

Arthur thought he recognised that shirt.

“Please tell me that ain’t the shirt from Strawberry.”

“It’s been washed, you moron.”

“Still…”

Elijah tied the knot on the bandage a little more aggressively than he had to, and Arthur laughed through the pain. “You got a terrible bedside manner.”

“And yet you never complain about my ‘bedside manners.’”

“Oh, no. Only a fool would do that.” He reached over and pulled his face close, catching him in a kiss. He’d shaved earlier in the day, right down to stubble, and it felt a bit odd to have Elijah touching his face. Odd, but not unpleasant, and he was clearly not the only one who was enjoying it.

“You’re a wounded man.” Elijah whispered against his mouth. “You shouldn’t be getting all riled up like this.”

“I’m always wounded one way or the other.” Arthur retorted. “I’d never get to have you if that were a problem.”

Elijah snorted. “Yeah, well… In the old camp, my tent wasn’t this close to Dutch’s.”

That was true, actually, Arthur realised. Shit. “Well, I know you know how to be quiet.”

“Do you?”

“You wanna find out?” It’d been a while. They’d been so busy and neither of them had really felt like it, but Arthur hadn’t had any form of release in a long time now.

“Not… Not today, Arthur. I’m sorry.” Elijah almost seemed ashamed, like he’d done or said something wrong.

“You ain’t never gotta apologise for that, sweetheart.” Arthur kissed him, softly, with absolutely zero sense of urgency. “Gives me somethin’ to look forward to.”

Elijah tried to smile for him, but it looked… Sad, shameful. “I’m still a little tired.”

“Go back to sleep. I’ll be here.” Arthur let him lay back down, gently stroking his cheek and hair until, after a few minutes, he fell asleep. You must’ve been real tired.

Arthur got his journal and pencil out, still sitting next to him in the tent. He looked so peaceful when he slept, so unlike the tortured soul he currently seemed to be when he was awake. He was lying on his back, late afternoon light filtering through the tent, his face turned away from Arthur.

Arthur sketched a profile first, wanting to get that little nose and its slight tilt upwards onto paper. Then, those plush lips. The curly lashes, the ever messy head of hair… All of it. Arthur drew a couple tiny portraits to pass the time and to have eternalised him in his journal, just like all the other people that mattered to him. He had sketches of Hosea, Dutch, Charles, the others… Except Micah. Micah had never once deserved a portrait in his journal.

He had to stop drawing eventually when it got too dark to see. When it did, through all the frogs croaking and all the bugs singing, he heard Elijah snoring peacefully.

Chapter Text

On nights like this one, it was almost like old times. Dutch was blaring music through his phonograph, lying on his cot with Molly half asleep on his chest. He was reading a book to the familiar sounds of his music and his family talking around the campfire. Even Sadie had joined in now, and Mary-Beth had pulled Kieran into their circle. Their family had suffered losses, Arthur knew, but it had gained just as much as it had lost.

He’d left Elijah to sleep when Pearson called for dinner. He’d looked peaceful and Arthur hadn’t wanted to disturb him and make him feel whatever it was that he’d been feeling lately. Maybe tomorrow they could head out to Saint Denis with just the two of them, get that new pair of spectacles, have a drink, and maybe finally see what that town was all about. Arthur hadn’t been to a big city since Blackwater, so he honestly wasn’t all that eager to go. Maybe having the benefit of company would make it more bearable.

Arthur did wonder what Elijah would think of a city like Saint Denis. If he’d almost gone to university he was probably a good deal more used to civilisation than the gang was, with maybe the exception of Molly. He also wondered what his life had been like outside of all the tragedy that had befallen him. Hell, even Arthur had a few happy memories from his childhood. Very few, but he did.

The phonograph changed songs and whiskey changed hands at the campfire. Arthur was pleasantly buzzed and so was most everybody else. Javier was playing quietly on his guitar, not wanting to drown out the other music. Arthur had heard this one a million times and could still not remember the feller’s name. It was something with a ‘P’ and the name of the opera always reminded him of bohemians, but he couldn’t quite remember. Dutch had probably told him a hundred times already.

“Good evening to you, dear boy!” Hosea called, looking behind Arthur and raising his bottle of beer. Arthur turned around and saw Elijah standing behind him, staring wide-eyed in the direction of Dutch’s tent.

“Sleep well?” Arthur asked, reaching out a hand to take Elijah’s, who didn’t respond. “Eli?”

“I thought… I heard music.” Elijah said. Arthur thought he looked distraught. A moment later he appeared to snap out of it and took his hand, standing nearer to the campfire and the gang.

“You okay?” Arthur asked quietly, looking up at him. He was still staring at Dutch’s tent. When he didn’t answer, Arthur tried differently. “You know this song?”

“It’s, uh… Puccini.” Elijah answered absentmindedly. “From La Bohème.”

“Right, that’s the one.” Arthur squeezed his hand, and Elijah finally focused his gaze on him. He looked haunted. “You hungry? Think there’s still some left.”

“I’m… Yeah. I’m starving, actually.”

It was like he’d only just noticed. Pearson got up. “I’ll fetch you a bowl. You sit down.”

“No, Mr. Pearson, I can-” Elijah protested.

“No, no! You did me a big favour the other day. Least I can do is feed you… And get another whiskey.” Pearson got up and waddled over to the pot, clearly already quite drunk.

Arthur pulled on Elijah’s hand. “Sit with us.”

“I’m not that great company right now, Arthur.”

Hosea moved a bit to the right on the log and patted the spot between him and Arthur. “Nonsense! You were born and raised on a different continent. I’ll bet you have stories in you unlike anythin’ we ever heard. Come, sit.”

Elijah glanced at Dutch’s tent, sighed and sat down between them. Pearson handed him a hot bowl of stew and a bottle of beer.

“Thank you, Mr. Pearson.” He said, setting the bottle down on the ground next to the log and taking a bite of the stew. Arthur saw his nostrils flare in a way that he’d come to recognise as suppressing a laugh.

Yeah. That experiment with fish weren’t so successful, Arthur thought.

Sean was the first to speak. “So what is your story, boy? Kieran over here’s been tellin’ us all about how his parents died of cholera and his failed career in the army, and how all he loves is horses.”

“H-hey-” Kieran objected.

Elijah smiled a little, stirring through the stew and looking for edible bits. “Kieran does love his horses.”

“And what do you love?” Sean asked, immediately followed by a dismissive gesture in Arthur’s direction. "Other than, y’know, himself over there.”

“I love… Art, music, reading… I love horses, too. I used to love sitting by the canal and watching boats go by or going to church to hear the choir sing.” He stared into the fire, his elbows resting on his knees, bowl held between both hands. “I used to love walking through the city streets and hearing the carriages ride by… Smell freshly baked bread before dawn, going to the markets…”

Sean laughed. “Way too much civilisation. My God, you really are a city lad.”

“Suppose I was.” He looked back down at his bowl and took another bite. “Not anymore, though.”

“What was it like?” Mary-Beth asked, her head on Kieran’s shoulder. “Growin’ up like that?”

“I don’t think I’m the best person to ask, but…” Elijah sighed. “To me, it always felt like I knew exactly where I had to go without any idea or way to get there. It’s complicated in ways that this life isn’t, but this has its own challenges.”

Hosea chuckled. “Challenges… Yes, I suppose you could call it that. Y’know, Dutch’s father came from Rotterdam. You ever been?”

Elijah laughed softly. “Yes. It smells like shit and it’s very loud.”

“Kind of like all cities.” Arthur commented.

“It’s been a decade since I last saw it. Could be completely different now… Probably is.”

“Civilisation never rests.” Hosea admitted with a pained sigh. “Why’d you leave?”

Arthur froze and felt Elijah do the same. He put his hand on his thigh and squeezed. I’m right here.

Elijah poked at a particularly rubbery bit of fish. “Because I was being hunted, just like you, only these people didn’t want to hang me so much as put me in a straitjacket.”

“Why?” Miss Grimshaw asked, taking a drag from her cigarette.

“They felt I had ideas belonging to a different station.” Elijah said, pushing the mysterious bit of fish too hard: it slipped out from underneath the spoon and was launched right into the campfire. “Well.”

“How’d you escape?” Mary-Beth asked, clearly enraptured. Arthur had always known her to have a romantic soul with a heart for dramatic stories.

Elijah fell silent. Dutch’s music continued playing in the background but Javier had put his guitar away a little while ago now. Elijah had his head down, the bowl held too tightly in his hands. His bangs covered most of his face but Arthur could see a tear rolling down and hanging off the sharp tip of his nose.

When he spoke, his voice wavered. “My mother, she-” His breath hitched in his throat. The tear dropped into the bowl, mixing in with the disgusting concoction that Pearson called his fish stew. “She set me on my journey here. She packed all my bags, purchased me my fare across the ocean, stuffed me into a carriage to Rotterdam and wished me good luck… That’s how I escaped.” He sniffled and wiped at his eyes.

“You alright, Eli?” Kieran asked, looking like he was about ready to get up. Arthur shot him one look and he backed down.

“Yeah, sorry, it’s just…”

“Homesick?” Sean offered. “Understandable. I myself still weep proud tears when I think of Donegal. My da used to say-.”

“Please, God, no-” Charles groaned.

Not the da.” John grumbled.

“Not this…” Arthur sighed.

“Will you all shut up?” Hosea barked. “What were you gonna say?”

Arthur heard Elijah take several sharp, short breaths, like he couldn’t get the air to say it into his lungs. “I’m not homesick. I don’t have a home to return to.” He sniffed again and spoke more quietly this time. “It’s just that…”

He raised his head, firelight glinting off the hot tears streaming freely down his cheeks. “She died. She died months ago and I didn’t know until last week.”

At last, Arthur identified the emotion that he’d seen warring on Elijah’s face for days among the myriad kinds of grief: guilt.

“My dear boy, I am so sorry.” Hosea said, laying a hand on his shoulder. “I know you loved her very much.”

“Yeah.” Elijah’s voice sounded choked, strained. “And she loved me.”

He found out in Annesburg, Arthur realised with a heavy heart. Shit.

“I’m sorry.” Elijah said, setting the bowl down in front of him and hastily getting up. “Thank you for the food, Mr. Pearson.” He stepped over the log and walked away from the gang, covering his mouth.

“Poor thing.” Tilly sighed.

“Must be hard.” Mary-Beth said. “At least I never knew much about my momma.”

Arthur picked up Elijah’s beer bottle and got up. “I’m gonna…” He pointed in the direction Elijah had gone and went. Hosea nodded at him and went back to the campfire conversation about parents or lack thereof.

Arthur found Elijah near the water, holding on to a low-hanging tree, heaving.

“At least the fish’ll be grateful.” Arthur mumbled, cringing internally as soon as he’d said it. He held up the beer bottle for him to wash his mouth with. When no more seemed to come up, Elijah took it and cleaned out the sour taste of bile and fish stew to the best of his ability.

“I told you I wasn’t good goddamn company.”

“I know, I know. No one’ll hold it against you, though… We all know what it’s like to have loved ‘n lost.”

Elijah didn’t answer, leaning heavily against the tree, legs trembling underneath him.

Arthur stood in front of him, ready to support when necessary. “When was the last time you ate? Outside of… Y’know.”

“I dunno… I haven’t eaten since I found out, I think.”

“Christ…” Arthur lifted his chin up. His eyes looked sunken in, bloodshot, tears tracking down his cheek and snot down his upper lip. “Yer a right mess.”

“Thank you for your support.”

Arthur recognised the barb for what it was, but there was so little fight to it that all he felt was pity. “Why’d you get up?”

“The music…”

“What about the music?”

“My mother hated opera.” He almost smiled, eyes closed in reminiscence. “But there were… Certain arias and such that she liked… She loved that one.”

Arthur still wasn’t sure why he’d gotten up. “But why…”

“I think I was dreaming.” Elijah said softly. He seemed so far away… “I thought I heard my mother’s gramophone, but it was just Dutch’s. She played music at all hours…”

“I’m gonna take you back to yer tent, now.” Arthur said quietly. “And then we’re gonna get you somethin’ to eat that isn’t Pearson’s latest attempt at… Recreating sewage… And then yer gonna tell me all about her.”

“Why?”

“‘Cause I think you need to talk about her and what happened, and I wanna hear it.” Without further ado, Arthur lifted him up and got to carrying him back to camp.

“… Why?”

“What d’you mean, ‘why’?”

“Why do you wanna hear it?”

“For someone who almost went to university, yer a right dumbass sometimes.”Arthur said, laying him down on his bedroll in the tent. “Now, what’ll it be?”

“Do we have any bread and cheese?” Elijah asked sheepishly.

“Sure do. I’ll be right here. Don’t go anywhere.” He lit the lantern that was standing just inside the tent so that they’d have some light and went in search of bread and cheese. Dutch came up to him.

“I heard. Hell of a thing.” He pat Arthur on the shoulder. “You take care of him now.”

“Already on it.” Arthur was doubting whether to break the roll or bring the entire thing of bread. He settled on the whole thing and went to look for cheese. “Thought you thought he was annoyin’.”

“Oh I do and no mistake.” Dutch said casually. “But he works ‘n he makes you happy. Ain’t much more I can ask for, other than for him to keep his big mouth shut.”

“Yeah, well…” Arthur laughed. “I’m sure the feelin’ is entirely mutual.”

Dutch scoffed. “I won’t even dignify that with a response.”

Arthur found the cheese at last. “Night, Dutch.”

“Night, Arthur.”

When he got back to the tent, Elijah was sitting with an opened letter in his lap and a stack of letters next to him. Arthur handed him the bread and cheese on a plate.

“Here you go.”

“Thanks.”

“What’re these?” Arthur sat down next to him on the bedroll, carefully avoiding the papers.

Elijah swallowed a sizeable mouthful of bread and cheese. “Annesburg was the last place I sent a letter home from before the O’Driscolls caught me ‘n Kieran. So, when I went there for Cornwall…”

“… You found these instead.” Arthur finished. “How long…?”

“Seven months. She died three months ago.”

Arthur figured he only wasn’t crying because he was either dehydrated or simply out of tears to cry. “I’m real sorry this happened, Elijah.”

“So am I.” He still sniffled a bit. “She missed me so much… She ‘n my brother always sent letters together and then it was just… My brother.”

“What happened?”

“She got sick just before the O’Driscolls found me. At first they thought they could treat it, but… It turned out to be acute leukemia. There was nothing they could do.”

“What’s that?”

“A disease of the blood, according to my brother. Either way…” He sighed shakily. “The letters… They kept asking me to come home… They promised to take every precaution to keep me safe but to just… Please come home, so that my mother could see me one last time.”

His face contorted, his expression filled with pain and wracked with guilt. Arthur took and held the hand that wasn’t holding onto a breadroll like it was a lifeline.

“I missed her final moments, her wake, her funeral… I probably won’t ever see her grave. I’m a horrible son, Arthur.”

“Ain’t like you could help it…” He tried, but it fell on deaf ears.

“She did everything within her power to help me and I never repaid her for what she did… Her last words to me before she stuck me in that carriage were ‘good luck, and be happy’… That was all that mattered to her. That I was happy.”

“Sounds to me like you tried to do what she told you.” Arthur said, squeezing his hand. “I’m sure she knew you loved her.”

“How can you be sure?”

“‘Cause it’s plain as day.”

They sat in silence for a while, Elijah reluctantly chewing on his food.

“What was she like?” Arthur asked, eventually.

“Stubborn.” Elijah said. “Angry. She’d had a horrible life and all she wanted was for us to not follow in her footsteps.” He was silent for a little bit. “She was a classically trained pianist… I think that, if she’d had the opportunity, she would’ve loved to travel the world to play.”

“Can you play?”

“Yes, but not nearly as well. Don’t exactly have room for a piano in here, either.”

Arthur laughed. “No, s’pose not…” He was curious, though. “What’d she look like?”

Elijah reached into his satchel and retrieved a small notebook with a picture held between the pages. He took out the picture and showed it to Arthur. In the picture Arthur saw a middle aged woman who was the spitting image of the man before him.

“The apple really don’t fall far.” He said.

“My father’s favourite insult was that I was exactly like my mother.” Elijah said, a half smile curling at the corner of his lips. “I always took that as a compliment.”

“As you should.”

“How would you know? You’ve never… You’ll never meet her.”

Arthur took his face in his hands. “She raised you, didn’t she? Must’ve been one hell of a lady.”

Elijah laughed. A real, genuine, almost light-hearted laugh. “Am I that much of a pain to you?”

“You have no idea.” Arthur said, and kissed him until the bread lay forgotten on the ground.

The following morning, Arthur woke alone. Even the breadroll was mysteriously absent. He got up and went outside and found that the camp had already woken. Elijah was sat at the table, munching on what was hopefully a new bit of bread.

Arthur wanted to approach him, but stood at a distance and observed for a bit: Hosea sat with him, quietly chatting. Miss Grimshaw brought him a cup of coffee and lay a motherly hand on his shoulder. John tipped his hat as he walked by. Even Dutch stopped by the table to drop a quick ‘how are ya, son?’.

All would be well, Arthur realised. He had a family here, too.

Chapter Text

It sure had been an odd week.

Dutch, Hosea, John and Arthur had gone out to go fishing, just the four of them. The old guard, Dutch had called it. He’d wanted to just have a day out with them without having to worry about ways to earn money and getting Cornwall, the Pinkertons and the O’Driscolls off their back. They were all aware that these were matters that needed tending to, but they also needed to rest and reacquaint with each other.

It’d been a fine day for fishing. The sun was high in the sky and the ground was dry beneath their horses’ hooves. Dutch was in a good mood, Hosea seemed calmer than he’d been, and even John’s sour face was relaxed. Arthur, truth be told, had felt happy.

Of course, they ran into the law. More specifically, they ran into the local Sheriff, his deputy and a wagon full of prisoners, among which they found Trelawney. Trelawney had – as usual – gone ahead and gotten himself into trouble, as he was wont to do. Dutch had sweet talked himself into Sheriff Gray’s good graces within moments by pretending to be a good deal more Scottish than he was. While Dutch was distracting the sheriff a small gang called the Anderson boys escaped. Arthur and John had raced off with deputy MacGregor to catch them, acting all righteous and like they gave a shit about the law while Dutch tried to get Trelawney out of the Sheriff’s clutches. They’d had to jump off their horses and onto a moving train, but they got them in the end.

Back in Rhodes Trelawney was freed and the Sheriff invited them to come back sometime. Dutch and Hosea had been spending time with him and had found out there was a feud between two large families – The Grays and the Braithwaites – who both owned large former plantation houses. Arthur and John had been told the same by the deputy. Opportunities abound, they collectively realised, but Dutch told them not to think about that just yet. They’d keep their heads, go fishing, and talk about the plan later. The four of them, not just him, would come up with a plan together and lie as low as possible. Arthur felt proud. Fishing with them felt like old times, especially with Dutch and Hosea picking on John and Arthur like they still were their unruly children rather than fully grown men with lives of their own.

When they got back with their fish haul Arthur witnessed Elijah immediately grabbing the good brandy he usually reserved for Arthur and himself and handing it to Pearson. He spun a tale about how Pearson had been ‘working so hard’ and ‘deserved a rest and some good drink’ and that he’d take care of the cooking. Pearson had been grateful and the rest of the gang even more so.

Arthur’s heart still swelled now, a week later, when he thought about that night. With great curiosity he’d sat near the wagon as Elijah prepared three bowls: one full of fish pieces, one full of beaten egg, and one full of flour. When Arthur asked him what in the hell he was making he’d shyly told him of how fried fish was a common food in the Netherlands, and he’d missed it dearly. Apparently they usually used white fish, but any fish would do, really. Arthur had just listened attentively: it felt like he was finally getting to know him, all the ins and outs of his life. Maybe it was unfair, since Arthur himself hadn’t told him much about his past, but then he supposed there wasn’t that much to tell.

The gang slept with full, happy bellies that night. Arthur was glad to see Elijah look so much lighter. He still grieved, quietly in the dead of night, and Arthur woke to him praying more than once, but on the whole he seemed less burdened by it now that he no longer had to shoulder it all alone. Colour had, at last, returned to his face.

They hadn’t seen all that much of each other this week, actually. Arthur had been busy with Dutch, Hosea and John trying to come up with a plan to play both sides of the field between the Grays and the Braithwaites, while Elijah was out every single day going God knows where and doing God knows what to get them rid of Cornwall. They hadn’t even had the time to go to Saint Denis together, though Arthur knew he’d gone by himself a few times already. For one because he kept bringing back increasingly nice clothes that seemed tailored to size for once, and two, because he finally had a pair of spectacles.

They were round, a fair bit bigger than Strauss’ had been, with a nice, thin metal frame. They sat halfway down his nose just now as he worked at the table, forging something or other with Arthur sitting across from him, cleaning his gun. This was the first time all week they’d spent time in each other’s company outside of their tent, asleep, or sitting by the campfire during dinner.

Those glasses did something to Arthur. Something about them softened Elijah’s face, made him look… Well, Arthur didn’t really know. Maybe it was just that he looked differently, maybe it was how pushing the frames back up his nose brought extra attention to his hands, and maybe it was that he looked a little more delicate than he had before. Regardless, Arthur thought he looked good with them.

“You’re staring.” Elijah briefly looked up at him with a knowing smile on his face and then went back to his paper.

Arthur could deny it, but he didn’t really want to. He knew what he wanted. He’d wanted it for weeks now, but hadn’t exactly wanted to press the matter while Elijah was grieving, so he’d put it out of his mind. The last couple of days, though… Arthur had gotten his ass pinched more than once and had already been reprimanded twice by Miss Grimshaw for getting a bit too handsy at the campfire. Last night, after a long day of writing at the table, Elijah’s back had hurt and he’d asked for a backrub. He’d guided him exactly where to place his hands and to push and squeeze the muscle just right. Arthur had been worried about the man’s spine cracking underneath his hands like dry twigs underfoot, but he’d made so many obscene noises while Arthur worked that he figured it was probably fine. Afterwards, they’d lain side by side, Arthur tracing little patterns on Elijah’s bare back, making him shiver pleasantly until he’d eventually fallen asleep, goosebumps all over.

Presently, Arthur was enjoying the feeling of Elijah’s leg sliding along his where they lay stretched out underneath their shared table.

God damned if he wasn’t already half hard in his pants.

“So?” Arthur said instead of lying. “Ain’t my fault yer sittin’ there lookin’ all pretty.”

Elijah pushed his glasses up his nose and sat back a bit, assessing Arthur from across the table. His eyes were less strained these days, less tired looking and more focused, especially now. Arthur knew that look: he was game.

“Oh? Have I distracted you?”

“You been distractin’ me since we first met.” Arthur said, leaning forward and folding his hands on the table. “But it’s gotten worse lately.”

Elijah mirrored him, sitting forward as well. He rested his chin on his hand, pen dangling between elegant fingers. “What’d I do, Mister Morgan?”

His voice had returned, too. He was right back to that relaxed tenor, smooth and silky and doing all sorts to Arthur’s insides. He was playing him for a fiddle, but two could play that game.

“You been paradin’ around in all them new clothes that fit you real nice.” Arthur said, keeping his voice low. “Been sleepin’ with a lot less clothes, though… Needin’ me to take care of your back ‘n all that…”

Arthur, frankly, fucking loved that they slept mostly naked now. The gang had the sense to leave them the hell alone or just shout at them through the canvas rather than peer inside. That meant Arthur had all the freedom in the world to touch and be touched. Elijah often slept right on Arthur’s chest, head burrowed snugly or rubbing his cheek against Arthur’s chest hair. Arthur, for his part, loved the feeling of having all that soft skin right up against him when they spooned. Plus, he’d noticed that there were few parts on Elijah’s body as sensitive as the back of his neck and shoulders. Even just kissing there and tickling his scruff against it turned Elijah to pliable putty in his arms.

“It’s a lot hotter here than at the previous camp… Might have something to do with me having a very handsome tent companion these days…” Elijah smirked at him, the back of the pen between his teeth, tongue flicking just against the end of it. “And… There are many things about me that need your expert care.”

If it weren’t for the others I’d have bent you over the table by now, Arthur thought. “Like what?”

“I haven’t been fed properly in a bit,” Elijah said slowly, and Arthur had vivid recollections of the way he’d sucked his cock in Strawberry, “and I think there’s other parts of me that could use a rub.”

“Well, Mister van Oss.” Arthur got up and extended a hand. “Think we can arrange that.”

Elijah stared at the outstretched hand, then at Arthur, stood and calmly folded his papers, capping the pen. He was taking his sweet damn time clearing everything away and putting it in his tent. Arthur knew he was doing it on purpose he saw him bend over in front of the tent to rifle in his satchel. Arthur watched him walk back to him, hands on his belt buckle, deep blue vest on black pants and black boots with silver spurs. His white shirt finally fit his shoulders, accentuating how wide they naturally were rather than making him look smaller than he was. In the warm light of the setting sun, his hair almost looked golden. Elijah stood before him, regarding him with quiet amusement playing about his eyes.

“Where to?”

“There’s a clearing in the forest just across,” Arthur nodded his head east, where the land was raised above the lake. “Might be nice… Just the two of us.” He reached out his hand again and this time Elijah took it. Excitement and anticipation sparked between them.

Hosea watched them go. John stood next to him, shaking his head.

“Young love.” Hosea said to nobody in particular.

“Thought they was never gonna stop eye-fuckin’ each other at the table.” John sniffed. “It ain’t decent.”

Hosea laughed at that.

It was a short ride just around the bit of lake to the east of Clemens Point. Here the land was raised and one had a nice view of the lake, hidden between the tall trees and bushes that grew out of the soft ground.

Arthur hitched Mordred while Elijah led Vincent a bit further away to a grassier patch, hitching him there and taking the bedroll off his saddle. After a moment’s consideration, he took the saddle off, too. Arthur did the same for Mordred, making a whole show of taking off the bedroll, unrolling it, spreading it on the ground while Elijah just unrolled it and threw it down next to Arthur’s with very little consideration. When Arthur went to smooth his out too, he heard Elijah mutter ‘are you fucking kidding me’ underneath his breath. He got up and tried to suppress the smirk he felt growing on his face.

When they were lying in bed together or sitting at the campfire, Arthur never really noticed how significant their height difference was. Now, standing right in front of him, Arthur was made to realise once again that Elijah really was at least a full head shorter than he was. Shorter, not even half as muscular, though each to their strengths, of course: he had a brain twice the size of Arthur’s. Arthur liked that sharp wit about him just as he knew that Elijah enjoyed his strength and the size of him immensely.

In many different ways, Arthur thought, failing to keep that smirk hidden after all.

“What’s so funny?” Elijah asked, taking a step closer, almost standing right against Arthur. He had his arms crossed across his chest, glasses sitting just a little low on his nose until he pushed them up with one finger against the bridge. Sadie had called him a ‘stable hand of a man’ once. Arthur thought he looked a good deal more like a bank clerk. The type of man he absolutely would’ve thought to rob if he hadn’t been in the gang, which sure was a sobering thought.

“Nothin’.” Arthur teased, walking him backwards, step by step. “You been keepin’ a lotta secrets lately.”

“Have I?” Elijah had a mischievous glint in his eye.

“Speakin’ all sorts of languages, doin’ all that work to get Cornwall off our backs… Comin’ back with new clothes every other day… Comin’ back awful late, sometimes.”

“Hmm. Many places to go, many people to see… The tailor knows me by name, now.” He bumped his back into a tree, cornered by Arthur’s massive, looming form.

“Tailor, huh?” Arthur touched the crisp collar at his neck, making him tilt his head up a little bit. “That explains it.” He moved his finger up to his chin, tilting his face up to his own. “What people you been seein’?”

“All sorts. I’ve made a lot of progress.” There was that glint of mischief again. “There’s a young lady who’s been doing excellent work. She seems a bit smitten with me, if I’m being honest.”

Arthur saw the bait and rose to it anyway. “And I’m sure you told her you’re spoken for.”

“And risk losing a perfectly good informant?” Elijah feigned shock.

“Wouldn’t be that good of an informant if she knew what I did to you.” Arthur growled, gently grabbing his chin with one hand and one of his wrists with the other, pulling his hand right onto his rock hard cock. “What you do to me.”

Elijah gasped softly, feeling the shape of him through his pants, stroking up and down. “Dear me, I have been neglecting you, haven’t I?”

“I won’t hold it against you.” Arthur said earnestly, thumbing Elijah’s bottom lip. Even just getting palmed through the fabric of his trousers like this felt fantastic. Arthur remembered with shocking clarity one night several days ago when he’d needed release. They’d been sleeping for hours – or rather, Elijah had – while Arthur had been horny out of his mind. He’d turned over to take care of it himself, stroking quickly and quietly. He’d been close from the start, but nothing could had prepared him for the sensation of Elijah spooning up against him, his arm reaching around and his smaller hand replacing Arthur’s own. The angle was a little awkward but the sensation had been so overwhelming that Arthur had come within a dozen quick, surprisingly firm strokes. The mere memory made his cock throb.

“I was rather hoping you would, actually.” He squeezed Arthur’s thick cock, eliciting a soft moan and a fierce, hot look.

“Just the two of us here.” Arthur slid his hand behind his head, pulling him in closer. “Not a damn soul around to hear you.”

“Was wondering why we came here.” Elijah spoke softly, eyes transfixed on Arthur’s mouth, tongue darting out to wet his own.

“Ain’t no one’s business but ours, and I was plannin’ on takin’ my time.”

Elijah’s face broke out into a wide grin, eyes refocusing on Arthur’s. “You think you can?” He trailed a single finger up the length of Arthur’s shaft. “Ambitious.”

“Don’t you worry ‘bout me, boy.” Arthur let go of his wrist and took his face in both hands. “I’m gonna wreck you. That’s a promise. As many times as you need.”

For a moment Arthur thought he felt Elijah’s knees tremble. He sure looked dizzy at the prospect.

“As many times as I need for… What?” He asked, hands idly stroking up and down Arthur’s chest.

“To remember.”

“Remember what?”

“That you’re mine.” Arthur pulled him in and kissed him, hard. He bracketed his legs with his own and pressed him up against the tree with his body. He felt Elijah sigh, opening his mouth in the slightest, and Arthur slipped his tongue inside. Christ, how he’d missed this. With no one around to hear them he could finally make good on his promise.

I’d make you sing, boy.

But even now he heard those choked off little noises, gasps and sighs deliberately void of sound. Arthur wasn’t about to let a rare private evening be wasted by shame or the fear of being overheard. Still holding Elijah’s face in his hand, he drew back. He looked beautifully flushed, cheeks ruddy and lips swollen from where Arthur had kissed, bitten and given him a bit of stubble burn. Even without a full beard it was easy to roughen up that soft skin.

He bent down to kiss him once more, sweetly. “Don’t get shy on me now.” He leaned in, just next to his ear. “I wanna hear you.”

His voice rumbled low in his chest and he felt Elijah’s hands fisting his vest.

“It’s just… It’s a lot harder to control my voice, when I… Let go.”

“Control your-”

I bound my chest to hide my God given body from others, trained to lower my voice and wore men’s clothing.

Arthur felt like a true moron for not realising sooner. The way he spoke, the sound of his voice, how Arthur had always thought he’d sounded bored in the beginning: it was all a matter of control. If he let go of that control, he’d sound…

“I see.” Arthur drew back once more and saw the unhappy expression on his face. He sighed. “That’s what yer afraid of?”

“I don’t ever want you to think of me like a-… You know.”

“I do know, and I don’t. Never have.”

Elijah looked at him and Arthur saw a treacherous hint of disbelief. “I haven’t.”

“I know, it’s just hard to accept, but I do know.” Elijah admitted, putting a hand over Arthur’s on his face. “I will… Try.”

“Then I’ll make it easy.” Arthur felt a little cocky, sure, but he felt he’d earned it for dishevelling him so thoroughly without even taking his clothes off.

“That so.” Elijah said, hands sliding down over Arthur’s chest and stomach and to his belt. He made quick and efficient work of the buckle and got his trousers open in seconds. “And what about you?”

“Me?”

“Are you.. Mine?”

Arthur scoffed, though it was a little strained. “I been yours since you told me you would have me.”

That earned him a smile so sweet he almost forgot what they were doing. He was pulled back to reality by a warm hand slipping through the opening in his trousers, just the thin barrier of the union suit he’d been wearing between them. His cock jumped at the attention. Jesus.

“Ridiculous underwear.” Elijah muttered, trying to find his way through the myriad of buttons and eventually popping the bottom two. “There we go.”

Gingerly he took Arthur’s cock out of the folds of his clothes. Arthur could only stare down between them, his forearms resting on the tree behind Elijah’s head, forehead resting on against his. One pale, slender hand encircled his cock and stroked gently. His thumb played with the bit of foreskin at the top.

“That’s good…” He sighed, pressing a kiss against Elijah’s temple. “Real good…”

“Please. I haven’t even started.”

He dropped to his knees between Arthur’s legs and licked up a long stripe along the underside of his shaft without warning. Arthur shivered and tried to keep his hips still. The view from above was truly… Something else. He would remember this for many nights to come. When Elijah swallowed him down with a gratified moan, Arthur thought his knees might buckle. Thank God he had the tree for support.

“What’re you doin’ to me…” He breathed, resting one hand on the top of that fuzzy blonde head. That met with approval, which in turn sent tiny shocks of pleasure up his spine. One hand covered his own, shaping it into a fistful of hair.

“You-… You want me to..?”

He felt Elijah hum with approval. “Christ, boy.” He held Elijah’s head in place, slowly thrusting his hips, fucking his mouth while Elijah’s tongue danced along the underside, tracing veins and folds in the skin. The flat of his tongue rubbed against the head of his cock, a constant friction of pleasure. Arthur knew he couldn’t keep this up for very long, but he wanted to remember this, even as he felt his balls tighten.

“I gotta… C’mere.” He eased Elijah off, a trail of spit dangling between his cock and Elijah’s bottom lip as he stared up at Arthur with a dazed expression on his face. Arthur wondered if he could get that engraved on the inside of his eyelids. He let go of Elijah’s hair and offered his hand to help him up. Elijah took it and Arthur hauled him up to kiss him deeply.

“Good?” Elijah asked with a self-satisfied smirk.

“Brat.”

“And yet, you love me.”

“I ain’t sure what the hell I’m thinkin’ neither.”

They laughed, foreheads pressed together.

“But… You’re right.” He whispered as the golden light of twilight glinted off Elijah’s glasses, sitting a little crooked on his face. Arthur adjusted the frames slightly, soft eyes looking fiercely blue behind the glasses. “I do love you.”

Elijah ducked his head, almost shy. Arthur let him get away with it for now while he worked on the buttons of his waistcoat.

“Tailor, he says.” Arthur grumbled. “You tellin’ me you were measured and all that?”

“Yes? Of course I was.”

“Damn tailor’s been touchin’ you more than I have.”  He slipped the waistcoat off and got to the buttons on his shirt.

“If he has, now’s your time to fix that, ain’t it?” Elijah said, catching the shirt and waistcoat before they fell to the ground. He walked past Arthur to drop them over Vincent’s saddle, Arthur close behind. He wrapped strong arms around his waist, kissing right on the back of his shoulder where he knew Elijah loved to be touched the most.

“That’s cheating.” Elijah sighed, without bothering to do anything about it.

“We’re outlaws.” Arthur reminded him. “I can play as dirty as I damn well want.”

“I would love to see you try.” Came the retort, lightning fast as ever.

“Would you, now?”

Sure, Elijah was smart and quick-witted, but what he wasn’t by any means was an outlaw from the west. Arthur had his lasso out and his wrists tied together in front of him so quick he barely noticed what was going on until it was too late. He looked at Arthur with a look that was partly annoyed, partly incredulous and partly incredibly turned on.

“This is me playin’ dirty.” Arthur said, lifting the rope and forcing Elijah’s arms over his head, exposing his upper body to the late summer evening sunlight. “Okay?”

Elijah’s breath came in short, fast little puffs, but he nodded. “Yeah.”

Rope still in hand Arthur kissed him, being careful not to cause friction around the wrists. He walked both of them over to the bedrolls and stepped aside.

“Lie down for me, on your front.” Arthur said, voice thick with arousal. Elijah complied, Lying down on his front with his elbows underneath him for support. Arthur found a tent peg in his satchel and stomped that into the ground to tie the rope around, then walked back around him, kneeling over his legs.

“Lie down now, c’mon.”

Elijah did and Arthur shoved the tiny pillow underneath his head for support before stroking both hands along either of Elijah’s sides, stopping at his trousers.

“Can I take these off?”

“‘Course.”

He lifted his hips and Arthur unbuttoned them, taking them and his underwear off slowly. He’d moved down his legs and pulled the boots off too, tossing the pants and underwear over the nearby saddle.

“Look at you. Naked as the day you was born.” Arthur was still fully dressed, already working on taking his own vest and shirt off.

“Not the first time you’ve seen this.” Elijah commented, wiggling his ass for effect. Arthur gave it a resounding slap and got such a high-pitched squeal in return that he was taken aback.

That’s some voice control, he realised. He pulled his boots and trousers off, leaving them in the dirt along with his shirt and vest. He didn’t care; they weren’t new by any means. Just to piss Elijah off a little bit, he left the union suit on, unbuttoned from the waist up. He crawled over him, covering his body with his softened cock resting in the crevice of his ass.

“Nah, not the first time…” Arthur purred in his ear. “But it gets better every time.”

“Idiot.”

“You always say that when I got nice things to say ‘bout you.” Arthur pointed out, gently rocking his hips, feeling his cock harden again. Elijah responded in kind, lifting his ass to increase the pressure. Arthur groaned low, leaving a tiny trail of kisses over both shoulders.

“I say that when you test my patience.” Elijah said through gritted teeth, trying to lift his hips to get Arthur where he wanted him, but Arthur pushed him back down with his body.

“Do you trust me?” He whispered, pressing a small kiss to the shell of his ear.

A brief silence followed. “With my life.”

“And your body?” Arthur knew those two were intimately intertwined for him in ways that Arthur’s own were not. He felt Elijah huff a soft laugh.

“Of course.”

“Good.”

Arthur sat back on his knees, Elijah trapped underneath him, thighs pressed together. Arthur pushed two fingers between, finding his cunt on instinct alone.

“As usual.” Arthur pointed out. “Slick ‘n ready.”

He took his fingers back and slicked up his cock, lining up and slowly easing in. “God… Yer tight like this.”

Elijah was biting the pillow with small cut-off moans escaping, music to Arthur’s ears. He thrust slowly, taking his time, feeling the slick glide of Elijah’s cunt around him. He rested on his forearms, kissing what parts of his spine he could reach. Beneath him he could feel Elijah raising his hips as much as he could in time with Arthur’s thrusts. Clearly, he was enjoying himself.

There was something all-encompassing about being like this, intimately connected, and it still wasn’t enough in a lot of ways. Arthur wanted more, wanted to have him in ways he hadn’t yet.

 He pulled out. “Turn over.”

“How?”

Arthur only just remembered he had tied him up. He pulled out and helped manoeuvre him onto his back. With his arms over his head he looked more exposed and vulnerable than Arthur had seen him before. He leaned down beside him to kiss him, small pecks all over his lips that had Elijah grinning like an idiot.

“Now you let me know if you don’t like this, alright?”Arthur said, moving down his body and gently spreading his legs before settling between them. He spared another glance at Elijah’s face, but the latter wasn’t paying all that much attention. He had his head lying back against the pillow, the last rays of sunlight lighting up his face. Arthur took that as an ‘it’s fine’ and started kissing just underneath his belly. He’d already made a right mess of things: the pubic hair around the slit was soaked and so was everything else. Arthur spread the lips on his cunt with his fingers, giving an experimental lick with the broad of his tongue. Elijah’s hips rose to meet him, a soft moan escaping unbidden.

That's it, boy.

Arthur found the thick nubbin of his clit and circled his tongue around it. Elijah thrashed, no longer quiet, squirming and sighing in pleasure with very little restraints. Arthur pushed his arms underneath his legs, holding his hips down and pressed against the bedroll while he ate out his cunt like he hadn’t eaten in days.

“Fucking-” Elijah panted, pulling on the ropes and trying not to accidentally kick Arthur. “Please, please- God-”

“Please what?” Arthur said, pausing long enough to look up, mouth and chin covered in his juices.

“Y-Your fingers…” Elijah said, quietly.

Now that Arthur could oblige to. He pushed two fingers inside of him, gently fingering him while he sucked and licked his wet cunt and pulsing little clit. The way Elijah responded had Arthur grinding his cock down against the bedroll in some effort to ease the tension, even when every nerve in his body was screaming at him to just burrow his cock as far inside as it could go. He would, in due time.

“Arthur, Arthur, Arthur.” Elijah chanted, panting like he’d run a race.

Arthur knew damn well what that meant and had zero intention of stopping. With slow, steady, strong circles of his tongue around his clit and his fingers curling just against the most sensitive part inside Elijah, he felt him tighten around him. When he came, Arthur thought it was a thing of beauty.

His cunt pulsed around his fingers, contracting violently while his clit pulsed against his tongue. Arthur felt himself held in a vice grip of his thighs. But his voice? Oh, his voice.

Arthur would remember the chorus of moans and pleas to keep going until the day he died, he was sure. When he finally ceased thrashing, Arthur kept his fingers inside him, fingering gently.

“Arthur…”

“Yeah?”

“Untie me.” The request was quiet, exhausted. Arthur removed his fingers, wiped them clean on the bedroll before wiping his mouth and crawled up. He untied his wrists in a matter of seconds, never having intended for him to actually be restrained in the first place. His wrists looked the slightest bit irritated from where he’d been pulling on the ropes and Arthur kissed the marks, tracing his thumbs around them.

Elijah stared up at him, eyes wide and tearful. Arthur would probably never get used to that. He’d heard it as a joke often enough. Abigail had teased John relentlessly for crying during sex once, but he’d never thought it to be true. Now, though? Well.

“You okay, boy?” Arthur asked, bending down to kiss him on the lips.

No answer was forthcoming for a little bit, but Arthur didn’t worry. He simply lay down next to him, stroking his belly.

“You haven’t…”

“I can wait.” Arthur took his hand and kissed it. “Ain’t important.”

Elijah turned over on his side, wrapping a leg around Arthur’s hips. “Like this.”

“Sweetheart, it’s fine.”

“I’m asking, Arthur.”

Arthur didn’t understand. “You sure?”

Elijah blushed to his crown. “It… Feels good. After.”

“Does it now?” Arthur felt heat pool in his belly. He remembered very well what it was like to fuck him after he’d come already. With one hand on Elijah’s hip he pulled him closer until he could line up his cock and push in. He sighed with pleasure, thrusting slowly, relishing the moment.

“Good?” Elijah asked quietly, fingers drawing Arthur’s hair away from his eyes and tracing over the scars on his face.

Very good.”  Arthur replied, groaning when Elijah ducked his head to kiss his neck. He rarely received attention like that and when he felt fingers playing around his nipples, every nerve in his body lit on fire.

Christ!” He pulled Elijah closer to him yet, holding him tight against him. A daring tongue flicked against his nipple and Arthur felt such a rush of pleasure it left him a little dazed.

“You keep that up, boy, and it’ll be over.” He panted, nails gently digging into Elijah’s back. In return he felt Elijah’s mouth close around his right nipple, sucking gently. His cock throbbed inside of him and he knew he had mere moments. Elijah’s tongue flicked over the little nub and Arthur saw stars, growling through his orgasm and cum pulsing into Elijah’s cunt. Arthur barely had the wherewithal to not crush Elijah with his embrace.

When he came back down to Earth he was lying on his back with his chest and belly being stroked softly. Elijah was lying right next to him, head propped up on his hand. “You okay?”He asked, grinning.

Arthur stroked his face with the back of his hand. “Yeah, yeah… More than usual.”

“I don’t want to leave you when you’re all weak and vulnerable like this, but I have to piss something fierce.” Elijah said.

Arthur laughed and dropped his hand. “Go, go! Leave me, they all do eventually.”

That earned him a twisted left nipple. “Ow! Hey!”

“Moron tax.” Elijah said before getting up and wandering off to pee.

Arthur lay on the bedroll by himself for a moment, gathering his wits. They’d finally had a goddamn moment to themselves. He peeled his union suit off and got underneath the blanket, making room once Elijah got back. They lay twined together in silence for a while, but something had been eating at Arthur for days.

“Eli?”

“Yeah, Arthur?”

“I worry ‘bout you, all out on yer own in Saint Denis.” He confessed to the stars of the night sky.

“I’m not alone, love.” Elijah pressed a kiss to his chest, turning over on his side and pulling Arthur’s arm with him until he was the little spoon. “I will… Tell you.”

That surprised Arthur. “You will?”

“Yes, but not now. I’ll tell you tomorrow morning. You’re more dangerous when you’re worried than when you’re informed.” Elijah yawned, long and wide. “And maybe it’s easier for you to trust me when you know… But do not tell Dutch and Hosea. You knowing is dangerous enough.”

Arthur nodded. “I understand.”

Elijah laughed. “You don’t, but you will.” He took Arthur’s hand and kissed it. “Goodnight, my love.”

“Night, sweetheart.” Arthur mumbled against his neck, pressing a kiss against his damp hairline. With nothing but the stars as their witness, they fell asleep.

Chapter Text

There had been a time in his life just after Eliza and Isaac had been killed when Arthur truly believed he deserved nothing more in life than a quick death at the hands of whatever unfortunate he had robbed last. It would have been a fitting end, to die doing what he had done his entire life.

Over time, he realised that the gang – his family – were what made life worth living and that ensuring their future were his reasons to continue living. They had all lived the same manner of sinful, rotten lives and therefore, Arthur reasoned, they would ultimately share the same fate. He might as well live to make their shared time on Earth more bearable.

That had been his philosophy for very long and he had encountered nothing on his path that could have changed his mind, right up until Colter. Sometimes he felt like a trite fool for letting someone get under his skin as deeply as Elijah had, but fact of the matter was that he’d changed a significant part of Arthur’s outlook on life. For one, he felt the gang had been rapidly approaching total dissolution and had only barely been brought back from the brink. In fact, Arthur was sure that if Micah had survived, they would still have been headed in that direction.

Elijah poked and prodded at every doubt Arthur had and pulled them out from underneath the rug Arthur had so carefully swept them under, holding them up to the daylight and commanding him to see. As much as it had annoyed him at the time – and it still annoyed him sometimes – he was grateful that Elijah cared enough to ask in the first place. The man was stubborn as a mule and just as witty. Maybe it wasn’t surprising at all that Arthur had fallen for him the way he had. How could he not have? Love had never been a straightforward affair for him.

Arthur had all these thoughts and more as the bright early morning sunlight filtered through the trees, clear rays shining right onto the two of them. Arthur had been awake for some time while Elijah slept, blissfully unaware of Arthur’s inner thoughts. He lay on his back, one hand on his stomach and his other arm outstretched outside of the bedroll. The sun reflected very slightly off the silky scars on his chest and lit up the thousands of downy blonde hairs on his arms. His hair stood on end with the ends curling up in all directions and he snored like a hog. The slight rope burn around his wrists had faded overnight. Arthur was glad of that: he hadn’t wanted to hurt him in the slightest.

He scooted closer, slotting himself against Elijah’s side and pressing his nose against his neck, breathing him in and kissing him just behind his ear. He smelled and tasted of sweat, musky and earthy.

Elijah stirred awake, one hand coming up to stroke Arthur’s face. “Morning.”

“Mornin’.” Arthur purred, kissing a trail along his jaw until he could kiss that sleepy expression right off his face. “Sleep well?”

“Mm. Haven’t slept this well in ages.” He stretched, arching his back like a lazy cat in the sun before sitting up. “You up for a morning swim?”

“What? Water’ll be freezin’!”

“And you call me a prissy city boy.” Elijah scoffed, getting up. Arthur just enjoyed the view for a moment: he never got to see him fully nude in the bright light of day. “C’mon, Arthur.”

“Can you even swim?” Arthur half-joked; he wasn’t actually sure.

Elijah frowned at him. “What? ‘Course I can. You think you can grow up in my country without knowing how to swim?”

“Lotta water?”

“Sure. Kids learn how to swim in ponds and lakes when they’re young.” He shrugged. “But if it’s too cold for you…” He walked down the slope to the lake, fully nude.

“You know they can see you across the lake, right?”

That momentarily froze Elijah in his tracks, but only momentarily. “If they can spot my lack of a dick that far off, I don’t see why we have any problems with Pinkertons in the first place.”

Arthur laughed and conceded the point, getting up. By the time he got down Elijah was already floating on his back in the water, looking downright euphoric. Arthur touched his toe to the water and grimaced. It wasn’t too bad, but still pretty chilly this early in the morning.

Elijah swam back towards him, keeping a fair distance. “C’mon, it ain’t that bad.”

“I dunno…”

Before he could even make the choice a big splash of water came onto him. “Hey!”

He was fully being mocked, now. “Huuuu, my name is Arthur Morgan, I shoot people for a livin’ but I’m too delicate to come into cold water, huuu.” Elijah had his eyes crossed and his tongue out, making a right fool out of him.

“That’s it.” Arthur fought against the shivers and stepped into the water. “C’mere, you.”

Between a lot of splashing at each other, Arthur tried to catch up with him. Unfortunately it turned out that this was the one area where Elijah’s physical prowess outmatched his: he was a significantly stronger swimmer than Arthur was. He was used to a life on horseback, not in the water. Eventually though, Elijah either pitied him or was eager for attention, because he swam right back up to him and kissed his nose. He was beaming.

“What’re you so damn happy about?” Arthur grumbled.

“I haven’t swum in years.” Elijah breathed, wrapping his arms around his neck. “Being in the water… It feels natural to me. I missed it.”

“You really are a strange one.” Arthur mumbled against his cheek, kissing there. “Good to see you happy, though.”

He wrapped his arms around his waist while Elijah wrapped his legs around his. For a little while, Arthur simply carried him in the water, sun glinting off the surface like liquid gold. It was peaceful. In the distance he could hear the camp waking up, but right now all that mattered to him was the solid weight of the man he loved in his arms. Emotion swelled in his chest until it spilled out of his mouth easy as breathing.

“I really do love you.”

Elijah tightened his embrace. “And I, you.”

“Dunno what I did to deserve you.”

“Well, you lived a life of crime. I suppose that eventually adds up to someone like me.”

Arthur laughed softly. “You are a pain in my ass.”

“I would be, if I had the equipment.”

That made Arthur laugh harder. “Christ, you…”

His laugh was cut short with a kiss and Elijah gently bumping his nose into his cheek in what he’d come to understand as a gesture of affection.

They left the water shortly after, sitting on the bedroll to dry themselves in the sun.

“You wanna tell me ‘bout what yer doin’ in Saint Denis?”

“Ah. That.” Elijah said, biting the inside of his cheek and sighing. “Arthur, it’s not that I want to keep it from you.”

“But?”

But Cornwall’s guards know who you are and the reason I’ve been successful so far is because he has no idea who I am.”

Arthur supposed that was fair. “Ain’t no harm in tellin’ me, though.” He protested meekly.

“Can you give me your word you’ll stay out of it?” Elijah asked sternly.

“I… You got my word.” He sighed, eventually. If he knew, he could at least stop worrying for not knowing.

Over the next thirty minutes, Elijah detailed what his plan had been and where he was now. Hosea and he had pooled their research into Leviticus Cornwall and come to the conclusion that the man owned many, many businesses and was not to be trifled with. In Annesburg, Elijah had discovered that the working conditions in the mines were abominable, with a lot of the workers on a wage strike. He’d also discovered, on his ride there, an oil derrick in The Heartlands with its owner – Mister Varley – beaten to death near it, carrying a threatening letter from Cornwall Kerosene & Tar.

Furthermore Elijah had found that he’d been trying to chase some of the natives off their land at the Wapiti Reservation up north.

“That struck me as odd.” Elijah interrupted himself. “The federal government has for once been trying to avoid all conflict with them, so the fact that Cornwall is trying to drive them away for oil could only mean he’s going behind their backs.”

“You really been diggin’ into this guy, haven’t you?” Arthur’s head was spinning with the sheer amount of information he’d had to process. “But… Saint Denis?”

“Right, well. This is where it gets a bit complicated.”

“Only now?”

Elijah gathered a couple of loose rocks lying around the bedroll and placed them between himself and Arthur. “These are our main players. We have Cornwall,” he said, placing one rock to the left, “Saint Denis Mayor Lemieux,” he placed a second rock further to the right, “Hector Fellowes, who runs the Saint Denis Times and is very well connected to the Blackwater Ledger and the New Hanover Gazette,” he placed a third rock, “and last but certainly not least: the people.” He placed a fourth and last rock. “There’s others, of course, like the Pinkertons and other business associates of Cornwall’s, but those are less important.”

Arthur nodded. “Go on.”

“Cornwall is a wealthy man, which more or less means he’s a criminal by default. However, him having murder committed and threatening the Wapiti people to get to their land means he’s well above being a petty swindler.”

“Sure.”

“Now, if you shoot him, you get… You know what a hydra is?” Elijah asked.

“Ain’t that one of them beasts with all the heads?”

“Yes! Very good, okay, so: if you kill Cornwall, three others will just take his place. The man isn’t an individual pain in your ass; you have a hornet’s nest of problems condensed into one man.”

“So you're sayin' we gotta take down his organisation?”

“More or less. I don’t think we’ll be able to take him down, but I think I’ll be able to take the heat off of you at least. If somewhere along the lines I destroy his business: good.”

“How’re you gonna get him off our backs, then?” Arthur asked, still not seeing the picture clearly.

“I already have, mostly.” Elijah smiled at him. “All those letters you mailed for me were letters to newspapers with his letter to Varley attached and a picture of Varley’s corpse. Cornwall owns many businesses, but one thing he doesn't own or have stock in is the newspaper.”

“How’d you send three of those letters?”

Elijah just smiled at him.

He taught me forgery.

“You clever bastard.” Arthur was in awe. Dutch looked like a fumbling toddler with his ‘plans’ compared to this. “What else?”

“At this point, every major newspaper has printed stories about Cornwall’s endeavours at the Wapiti reservation, which split the public opinion pretty evenly. Some people care, some people don’t. People mostly care about their own families and God knows they don’t care about the Wapiti people.”

“Hosea did say they were sold a raw deal…”

“They were. Either way, the people-” he moved the rock closer to Cornwall’s, “are already rioting against him for better wages as well as safety regulations. Dozens of his miners lose their lives every week and he couldn’t care less, so all that took was a couple of well written sent-in letters from his ‘labourers’ to the paper. Those on top of the articles about Varley and the strikes in Annesburg are escalating into riots, people are starting to take notice of what’s going on at Wapiti after all and there’s growing discontent in Saint Denis, which brings me to our next two players.”

Elijah picked the remaining two rocks and moved them apart from Cornwall and the people.

“Lemieux and Fellowes despise each other, which works out well for me. Lemieux is corrupt, of course-”

“‘Course.”

“-And Fellowes is a tycoon, so he hasn’t got a clean nose either, but I don’t need dirt on him for my plan to work.”

“Which is?”

“This is where my lovely young lady comes in.” Elijah smirked at him.

“The one that’s sweet on you?” Arthur grumbled.

“The one that seems like she’s sweet on me. She has to seem that way; I can hardly bring you along to Lemieux’ garden party tonight.” He laughed at Arthur’s surprised expression. “She’s got herself a lovely girl tucked away somewhere, bless her.”

“… You lied to me.”

“I merely obscured the truth.”

“You lied to me.” Arthur couldn’t quite suppress his smile as he got on all fours and crawled over him, fingers tickling along Elijah’s side. “That warrants a spankin’, y’know.”

“As much as I would love that, you’re ruining my tactical oversight.” He said with eyes full of mirth as he looked down to the tiny rocks Arthur had scattered into disarray. Arthur backed down, fully intending to make good on that promise later.

“Anyway,” Elijah said with a barely suppressed giggle, “Renee is a newspaper secretary at the Saint Denis Times. She’s a respected employee and works hard. Fellowes trusts her and so do I. Fellowes, as I said, hates Lemieux, and Lemieux works together with Cornwall.”

Arthur began to see things falling into place. “Alright.”

“I know for a fact that Lemieux is going to sign several contracts signing away all rights to the Saint Denis railways to Cornwall this week. He’s got the documents prepared and Cornwall’s already signed them. The only thing I don’t have yet is Cornwall’s autograph.”

“Which you’ll get tonight.”

“Exactly, and with it I can sign the contracts that I myself wrote up that state that Cornwall’s current rights to the railways are void and that they are property of the city, instead. It would be a significant hit to his income as well as destabilise his organisation.”

Arthur felt his heart grow three sizes with pride. “What about Fellowes?”

“All I have to do is send Renee back to him with pictures of the signed contract so that Fellowes can publish it. The public right now does not want Cornwall to get that railway monopoly. So come morning, by which time Lemieux realises it’s too late, public opinion will be swayed so far in his favour that he can’t go back on his word.”

“What about Fellowes? Thought he hated the feller, why’d he wanna make him more popular?”

“He does, but what he wants is for Lemieux to cower and beg for that good opinion. I… In university, I would have studied art history.”

Arthur was taken aback by the odd turn of conversation. “Okay?”

“The Mayor owns a couple of paintings that are his very public pride and joy. They’re also fake. I know this, the Mayor knows this, and Fellowes knows it, too.” Elijah smirked. “There’s an art critic in Saint Denis, professor Shiftacre, who’s been intimidated into not revealing that they are. I paid him for his research proving as much and gave it to Fellowes through Renee. All Fellowes has to do is wave that in front of Lemieux and he’ll eat right out of Fellowes’ hand.”

Arthur sat back, speechless. “I thought I was a lyin’, cheatin’ bastard, but you… You are somethin’ else.”

Elijah grinned at him, tossing the rocks aside. “You don’t live a life like mine without knowing how to talk, Arthur. Plus, I already know how to do civilisation; you boys don’t. Either way, with his reputation ruined, his workers rioting and his major sources of income jeopardised, Cornwall oughta be too busy to worry about a couple of cowboys who robbed him once. If we leave him alone from here, I reckon you’ll be fine.”

“What about the Pinkertons?”

“Those we just need to escape, I reckon. Even if Cornwall stops funding them like you told me, I doubt they’ll forget Blackwater.”

Arthur nodded. “We just gotta get money…”

“You’ll find a way. Dutch seems to have a clearer head these days.” He got up and stretched. “We should probably head back to camp. I have a couple preparations that I need to make tonight and I gotta make sure Vincent looks the part, too.”

Arthur got up and pulled him in by his hips, catching him by surprise and kissing him soundly. “Just a couple more minutes… Can’t sneak off here every time you got me all riled up.”

“Don’t see why not. It’s not like Karen and Sean don’t fuck in John’s tent at any given opportunity. This seems a lot more decent to me.”

Arthur laughed and hugged him to his chest, kissing the top of his head. They stood there for a minute before their respective stomachs started growling and they really had to go back. They got dressed and saddled the horses back up, riding back together. Back at camp they were greeted with side-eyed glances and smirks from various members of the gang.

“Morning, you two.” Abigail said with a sly smile on her face. She was playing on the ground with Jack. “Had a fun night?”

“Sure did.” Elijah replied, heading for his tent to get his horse brush and a bucket of water. Abigail tutted at Arthur.

“You got the poor boy walkin’ bowlegged, Arthur. Have some manners.”

“I ain’t respondin’ to that.” Arthur laughed. Sean clapped him on the shoulder as he walked by. Arthur shook him off and went about his business.

That evening, after Vincent had been brushed, washed and his mane had been braided as well as his tail, Elijah had emerged from his tent in a full three piece suit and top hat, without his spectacles. Dutch whistled at the look of him.

“Look at Cinderella headin’ down to the ball tonight.” He said, laughing. “What the hell kinda work you been doin’ that warrants lookin’ like this?”

Arthur had cringed at the Cinderella comment, noting just how Elijah’s eye had twitched at that.

“Well,” Elijah said, “Work that warrants me drinking very expensive liquor without paying a damn penny. Have a good night, don’t wait up.”

Arthur left the campfire to walk him to his horse. “You do look… Fine.”

Elijah snorted. “This isn’t attractive to you, Arthur. No need to pretend it is. I’ll be back covered in mud and blood in no time, don’t you worry.” He stood on his tippy toes to kiss Arthur.

Arthur helped him on his horse and smiled. “How did you get invited to a party like that?”

“Fellowes got me an invite. He wants those pictures more than anything.”

“Alright, well… Be safe.”

“I’ll try.” With that, he was off.

Arthur couldn’t sleep worth shit that night, too worried about all the things that could go wrong and whether Elijah was safe or not. He’d been doodling in his journal when he heard Sean shouting outside. Arthur left Elijah’s tent to see what all the commotion was and found Sean dragging a giggling, very obviously drunk Elijah by his scruff towards Arthur. His hat was missing and his tie was hanging loosely underneath his collar.

“This one thought he could sleep with me tonight!” Sean shouted indignantly.

“What?” Arthur was confused above all else.

Elijah was swaying on his legs, mostly just standing because Sean was holding him up.

“Yeah but… But you…” He slurred, struggling to form a sentence. “Were in… Arthur’s bed.”

“He hasn’t used it in weeks! His bed my arse, that’s the camp’s bed now.” Sean pushed him towards Arthur, who caught him with both arms.

“Mmmmevening my love.” Elijah looked up at him, eyes twinkling with delight, blushing fiercely from all the alcohol in his system.

Arthur needed to deal with Sean first. “You stay the hell outta my damn bed, MacGuire.”

“What! It’s the only place a man can get some shut-eye ‘round here. Karen snores like a damn bear in heat.”

“Sean…”

“Alright, fine! Be that way!” Sean stomped away, mumbling something or other about ‘those damned pansies.’

Arthur sighed and looked down at Elijah, who was half asleep against his chest, standing straight up. “C’mon, let’s get you to bed.”

“Nnnooo, I’ll get… Dizzy.” He whined. Arthur noted he’d completely given up on lowering his voice and got him into the tent as quickly as possible before anyone else could hear. Thank God Sean was too stupid to give it any credence. Once inside, he helped Elijah out of his suit and kept his head in his lap so that he was lying a little upright to quell any dizziness.

“How’d it go?” Arthur asked while he carded his fingers through his hair.

“Fine.” Elijah yawned. “Swapped the papers before… The party really started. Real papers’re… In my satchel. Burn them in the mornin’… Cornwall… Called to tell him… To sign, so Lemieux signed them without even really.. Looking at them.” He yawned again, sleepy tears gathering in the corners of his eyes. “He thought I was there to… Negotiate peace between him and Fellowes. Took pictures of him... Posing with the contract. Renee delivered those right... After the party.”

“Can’t believe you did that while drunk.”

“Mm. Got drunk after… To celebrate…”

He was trailing off, so Arthur stopped asking questions and found that he snored significantly louder when drunk. Arthur bent over him to kiss his forehead.

“Thank you, boy… For wantin’ to save the lot of us… You might’a done it, too.”

Chapter Text

It seemed it took about three full days for Elijah’s massive hangover to fade completely. During that time Arthur had called him every variety of ‘lightweight’ he could come up with while lovingly forcing him to eat at least a breadroll every day. It was probably for the best that he didn’t go into Saint Denis, anyway. Lemieux knew who he was, and he probably wasn’t best pleased with what’d happened. Arthur personally hoped that Elijah wouldn’t return to the city for a while. He didn’t trust a visit like that to go well after the diplomatic nightmare Elijah had caused.

 

Of course, contrary to Arthur’s private wishes, Elijah had to go back to Saint Denis once more. On the morning of the fourth day after Lemieux’ garden party, they sat at the table having breakfast when Elijah told him.

 

“Just a few loose ends, nothing major.” He said over a bowl of hearty stew and bread. “I just want to make sure things are definitively over, make sure Lemieux isn’t doing anything drastic.” 

 

“Think that’s wise?” Arthur asked, equal parts sceptical and concerned. “Ain’t it better to lay low and let things take their course? Don’t seem like you need to do more…” 

 

“I think it will be fine. All I did was take pictures of Lemieux for Fellowes. He has no idea I’m behind everything else as well.”

 

“Maybe he don’t need to.” Arthur mumbled, idly stirring his stew. “Folk often take out their anger on the first convenient target.”

 

“I don’t think I’m much of a target compared to the big wigs that were at the party. I’m just the boy who took the picture.” He stood and bent over the table to kiss Arthur. “You worry too much.”

 

“I’m just nervous. You’re alone without so much as a knife on you. If anyone got to you…” Arthur didn’t finish his sentence. Eliza and Isaac had been unarmed, too, robbed and killed for all of ten dollars. Arthur couldn’t bear the thought of that happening again.

 

Elijah stared at him, confusion written all over his face, assessing. Arthur didn’t know what he thought he was seeing, but he softened.

 

“I’ll be as careful as I need to be. I need to go back at least once more after today. I’m working on a parting gift for Renee but it’s not finished yet.”

 

“Can’t I come with?”

 

“Obviously not.” Elijah laughed fondly. “Maybe in a couple of months when none of this matters anymore, but certainly not anytime soon. Now. Are you going to let me go?”

 

Arthur couldn’t have stopped him even if he’d tried to push the matter, he knew. “Yeah, yeah… Just be real careful, alright?” He reached out and took Elijah’s hand, not knowing how to say what he felt, that the thought of losing him was unbearable.

 

Elijah squeezed his hand in return. “I promise. I’ll be back tonight. Save me some food, okay?”

 

Mere moments later, Arthur watched him ride off. He couldn’t shake the awful feeling he had about this and fervently wished he’d given him a weapon, any weapon at all. Still, he had work to do of his own, so he tried to put it out of his head for the day.

 

Over the last couple of days, he, Dutch, John and Hosea had slowly been coming up with a plan. The Grays were over-eager righteous people pleasers who were very interested in pursuing a friendship with Dutch, specifically. Hosea had been going out and inquiring about the Braithwaites, finding that they were a fair sight hoity-toitier than their counterparts. It didn’t really matter much to the four of them: to them, both plantation houses were former slave-owning dens of depravity ripe for the picking.

 

So, they made a plan to visit Sheriff Gray. Dutch, Arthur and Bill would go while John and Hosea stayed behind to investigate the Braithwaites some more. Arthur did wonder whether they weren’t overestimating themselves again by taking on both houses and getting in the middle of their age-old feud rather than just robbing one of them blind, but he also felt confident in making good use of the situation. After all, if they were so busy being at each other’s throats all the time and all the gang was doing was making that worse, why would they focus on the gang rather than the other family?

 

Dutch had ridden ahead so that he could sweet talk Sheriff Gray without Bill and Arthur standing there like lemmings, not knowing what to say. Hosea hadn’t wanted to join them and Dutch had assured him that he didn’t have to if he didn’t feel up to it. Arthur too thought he’d been looking unwell since Colter, but the warmer weather had been doing him a world of good. 

 

About an hour after Dutch had left, Bill and Arthur rode out to Rhodes. There they found Dutch and a reasonably sauced Sheriff Gray. Dutch introduced them as ‘Mister W’ and ‘Arthur Callahan.’ After some banter back and forth with the inebriated Sheriff who then excused himself only to go and fall down on the deck outside, Dutch revealed what had actually happened: they had become temporarily deputised citizens of Rhodes.

 

They had finally made it to complete insanity, Arthur thought. They’d finally arrived. 

 

Sheriff Gray stumbled back in after Dutch had pinned the stars of the Law onto Bill and Arthur, telling them about the moonshine that was being brewed out in the woods, ruining Scarlett Meadows’ good county name. He wanted the three of them to root it out and if they did, they might even become full time deputies.

 

Arthur was once again stuck with the Deputy, Archibald. Archibald was the sort of small-town moron that even Arthur could give the runaround. Good, honest Archibald, who thought to remind them that he was the one in charge, something they all gleefully 'agreed' to. When Arthur asked about the moonshiners he freely volunteered the information that they were, in fact, Braithwaites. The Braithwaites had been an ‘old cotton family’ until ‘some changes in the labour laws’ occurred, according to Archibald, which Arthur mentally translated to ‘slave-owners who were forced to give up their slaves and lost most of their wealth as a result.’ Turned out they had turned to moonshining instead, their stills hidden all over Lemoyne. 

 

Catherine Braithwaite apparently also had a collection of thoroughbred horses that she maintained with money from the moonshining. Arthur filed that away for later inspection and started prodding about the gold that the families were supposedly fighting over: that, as far as Arthur could tell, was mostly just a rumour. The feud had gone on for so long and run so deep that neither family seemed to know what they had once begun fighting over in the first place.

 

About halfway to the moonshiners they found a wagon that’d been robbed with two corpses near it. Archibald found identification on one of them: Lemoyne state legislator Fredrick Mitchell. He immediately deduced that it must’ve been the Lemoyne Raiders. Arthur remembered those from when he’d gone into Rhodes with Sadie. They were a big gang and as dangerous as they were big, and all over the county at that. The Braithwaites, according to Archibald, were in business with them on this moonshining.

 

They rode deep into the swamp and eventually came upon a well-hidden distillery. Archibald was ecstatic; Arthur just wished he’d shut his trap before they got themselves caught and killed. Dutch, mercifully, told Archibald to let Arthur take the lead on taking out the moonshiners. Archibald wanted them alive, so the three of them sneaked up as quietly as they could and took out the shiners one by one, tying them up and putting them down near the wagon that carried a massive amount of moonshine. Arthur and Bill had waded right through the waters and were covered in muck from the waist down.

 

“What do we do now?” Dutch asked Archibald.

 

“We’d better destroy all this. Any of your boys can handle explosives?”

 

Dutch sent Arthur, much to Bill’s chagrin. They were never going to let him live it down that he’d messed up the Cornwall train job. Arthur set the dynamite, lit it and got the hell out of dodge. The explosion was glorious and, unfortunately, attracted a fair number of Lemoyne raiders. Fortunately, on the other hand, these did not need to be brought in alive. Arthur hid behind a nearby overgrown stone wall and got to work. Dutch and Archibald were shooting, too. Arthur hadn’t seen Bill in a little bit but he could hear him shouting in the distance, so he pushed forward until he could shoot the two bastards threatening to overpower Bill.

 

“You alright?”

 

“Yeah, shit. Let’s find Dutch and get out of here.”

 

“Fine by me.” Arthur said. The air smelled of a rank mixture between swamp and yet to be distilled moonshine. He reeked of it, too.  Back at the wagon they found that Archibald hadn’t destroyed the wagon full of moonshine. Instead, he offered it to Dutch and his men while keeping two jugs for himself. Arthur and Dutch exchanged a look: that was a nice and easy way to make money in the future somewhere. He was sure that Hosea could find them a way to get rid of that moonshine in a profitable way.

 

While Archibald was rounding up the raiders, Dutch spoke to Arthur.

 

“Finally… Finally we have alighted on a land so stupid, a backwater so backwards that even we are like geniuses.”

 

Arthur laughed at that. Dutch shouted for Bill to get the moonshine back to camp while Arthur rode with Dutch. The latter was ecstatic: they were deputised, hidden in plain sight and right in the middle of an age-old feud with a stash of gold hidden somewhere among it all. They’d finally struck gold, or they would in the very near future. Dutch, too, thought Hosea would be able to thrive here: this sort of game was right up his alley.

 

Arthur and Dutch raced each other home, hooves thundering in the dirt and horses whinnying at every sharply turned corner. In that moment, Arthur felt young again, riding with abandon with his mentor trailing not too far behind, unable to keep up. The Count had gotten on in years, too, just like his rider.

 

Back at camp, Bill had stashed the wagon between the trees close to their camp. Hosea was already sniffing around, undoubtedly thinking about where to sell it or otherwise turn it into a profit for the gang. When Dutch finally caught up, he clapped Arthur on the shoulders.

 

“I had fun with you today.” He said, earnestly. “You… I was gonna say you’re like a son to me, but you’re more than that.”

 

He went and joined Hosea, leaving Arthur behind equal parts confused and proud. Dinner had been served a little while ago, but he saw no sign of Elijah just yet. He tried not to immediately jump to conclusions and joined the rest at the campfire in sharing one jug of moonshine.

Hours later, when he’d finally drank enough, sung enough and talked enough, he crawled into what he now considered ‘their’ tent and went to sleep. Maybe Elijah had gone out to celebrate his success and would be back late. Such things happened.

 

When he woke, there was still no sign of him, and Arthur was beginning to allow himself to feel worried. This was the first time that he hadn’t returned for a full day. 

 

By the second full day of Elijah not returning to camp, Arthur went into Rhodes to see if maybe he’d sent a message of any kind. He hadn't.

 

By the third day, Arthur was ready to raze Saint Denis to the ground. Concern gnawed at him like a sickness and wound itself around his heart like creeping vines. The voice in the back of his head telling him that his worst nightmare had come true got louder by the hour. When nighttime rolled around, Arthur sought out John who was standing guard.

 

“John?”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Elijah ain’t been back from Saint Denis in three days. I reckon somethin’ happened.”

 

“So why ain’t you there yet?”

 

“I promised I’d stay out of the damn thing.” Arthur grumbled, pacing back and forth, rubbing at his brow. “Ain’t like him to stay gone that long, I would go, but… If I go and I mess up the plan…”

 

John was quiet for a moment, considering. Then, he took a step away from the camp, spotting something in the distance. “You might not need to. Who goes there?!”

 

Arthur turned around and saw a dark horse approaching with one person holding their hands up. He thought he saw a second rider but couldn’t quite tell in the dark. 

 

“We need help!” Came an unfamiliar voice. “I don’t think he’ll hold much longer!”

 

Arthur was instantly on alert. They came into the light of a distant campfire and he saw with dizzying clarity that it was Vincent carrying a young, well-dressed, fiercely modern looking lady and slumped over Vincent’s neck in front of her on the saddle, Elijah. Arthur saw his blonde hair sticking together in a patch on his bloodied scalp, saw his torn and bloodied, dirty clothes. His limp hand was stained with mud and blood, a sharp contrast to the ghostly pale skin underneath.

 

He only barely heard John shouting for Miss Grimshaw and Mister Pearson over the sound of blood rushing in his ears.

 

“What’ve they done to you?” Arthur asked as he was trying to get Elijah off the saddle. He tucked his hands underneath his armpits and lifted, only for Elijah to cry out in pain, gasping for breath. The air rasped through his lungs, bubbling and hissing like poison.

 

“Arthur?” He wheezed, and Arthur saw his eyes struggling to stay open, gaze unable to focus on Arthur’s face.

 

“What happened?!” Arthur got him off the saddle. His body was limp as a rag doll’s and cold as ice. Now that Arthur could see him in the light he saw dark bruising underneath the torn strips of his former pristine white shirt. “Who did this?”

 

The young lady spoke as she got off the horse, supporting Elijah’s waist. “I found him in an alley in Saint Denis. Probably Lemieux’ men out for revenge. He’s still breathing, we gotta get him to bed.”

 

Arthur lifted Elijah into his arms and hurried over to his cot, not paying attention to what was being said. 

 

“Arthur?” He wheezed again, the name catching in his throat on a devastating cough. Flecks of blood clung to his lips.

 

“Yeah, yeah, it’s me. You’re safe now, you’re with me.” He was rambling and teetering on the edge of total insanity. He laid him down on his cot and got his knife out, cutting the vest and shirt open. He felt Miss Grimshaw looking over his shoulder.

 

“Miss Grimshaw, get me all the towels and hot water we got. Mister Pearson, get us a couple bottles of medicine. ‘N you-”

 

He pointed at the young lady.

 

“Who the hell are you?”

 

“I’m Renee. We worked together. He’s my friend.” Her voice was stern and commanding. Arthur looked her over: stout, strong build, stubborn expression, dark eyes, and short, dark hair. 

 

“How’d you know where to take him?”

 

“He told me where to take him if anything happened weeks ago.”

 

He’d had a contingency plan in place all along. He’d known that something could go wrong and hadn’t told Arthur. God damn it.

 

“Alright, well. Thank you for bringin’ him home, we got it from here.”

 

“I’m not leaving, motherfucker.” Renee said, looking at him like he was the dumbest two year old she’d ever seen in her life. It startled a laugh out of Arthur.

 

“Jesus, lady…”

 

“It’s Renee.”

 

“Miss Grimshaw, find Miss Renee a place to sleep for the night, will ya?”

 

Miss Grimshaw nodded and gestured for her to follow. “Of course, Mister Morgan. Come with me.”

 

Arthur went back to Elijah, spreading the shirt open. His entire chest and rib cage area were purple and yellow with bruising. Arthur couldn’t tell for sure but suspected several broken ribs. He had two badly split lips, one split eyebrow and his nose looked a little crooked with a gash in the middle. Two black eyes and a head wound finished the picture. Arthur knew he would find equal bruising on his legs.

 

He pulled the shirt a bit further away and found a bullet stuck in his left shoulder. When his fingers brushed past the wound Elijah convulsed so badly on the bed that Arthur had to force him to lie back down. 

 

“Cold… Hurts…” He said through gritted, bloody teeth. He was shivering badly. 

 

“Get me every goddamn blanket in the camp!” Arthur barked at nobody in particular. 

 

Arthur had to act fast. “Bill, get me a hot iron.”

 

“Comin’ right up.” Bill replied, iron in hand and rushing to the campfire. Tilly appeared with armfuls of blankets. 

 

“Where do you want ‘em, Arthur?”

 

“On the chest.”

 

When one of their own got hit, the camp worked like a machine. Pearson followed up with three bottles of potent cures while Hosea had unearthed the little cloth of medical tools Elijah always used around the camp. Arthur took it and took out the small blade.

 

“This is gonna hurt, boy, but we gotta. John!”

 

“What do you need?” John was by his side in an instant.

 

“Hold him down. I gotta get that bullet out.”

 

John stood at the head of the cot and put his hands on Elijah’s upper arms to pin him to the bed. Dutch was behind him, holding his legs down. 

 

“Jesus, what a mess. Don’t look like it was his first time, neither.” John was looking at the scars on his chest, smeared with blood but sticking out sorely against the bruises.

 

“Yeah. He’s been through hell.” Arthur commented absentmindedly, positioning the scalpel.

 

“I had no idea.” John said quietly.

 

“He don’t like to talk about it much.” Arthur steeled himself. “Here we go.” 

 

With the first cut of the scalpel Elijah cried out in pain and almost raised himself off the bed completely.

 

“Damn it, Marston! Hold him down!”

 

“I’m tryin’!”

 

Arthur tried again, cutting around the bullet. Even with three strong men holding him down, Elijah fought against the pain, tears mingling with the blood at his temple. Arthur reached for the tweezers and tore the bullet out.

 

“Bill!”

 

“Right here.” Bill held out the cool end of the hot iron for Arthur to take. Arthur was so focused on his task of closing the wound that he barely heard himself say ‘forgive me’ before he cauterised the wound.

 

He would remember that howl of pain for years. It tore right through him.

 

Miss Grimshaw set down a bucket of steaming hot water and a stack of towels. Arthur cut the shirt off entirely with his knife. He was blue and purple all over.

 

“I’m gonna kill him.” Arthur growled even as he wet the first towel and set to cleaning the grime off him.

 

“N-no.” Elijah stammered, eyes swimming. “Don’t.”

“We ain't talkin' about this now.” Arthur said, ending that particular conversation right there. He took Elijah’s left hand to clean it and saw his nails had split and were bleeding as well. 

 

You fought back, Arthur realised numbly. His hand looked so small to him, so fragile. All of him looked fragile to Arthur. He cleaned his right hand and found the same split nails, the same destruction. 

 

Washing the tender bruising on his stomach and chest was less painful until he got to the wound on the shoulder, but Elijah had neither the strength nor the energy to fight it anymore. He lay on the cot, whimpering like a wounded animal while Arthur cared for him.

 

His face was maybe the worst of all. His upper lip had torn on the right side and his bottom on the left. Arthur knew for sure his nose was broken, but it looked like it had long since stopped bleeding. The gash on his nose bridge looked deep and painful. The right eyebrow had split right by the arch, red blooming over dark purple bruises around the eye. Arthur traced his fingers by the bloodied patch of hair and found a sizeable head wound. That one was probably the result of a hit with a broken bottle or something.

 

Arthur wetted a new cloth, the other stained dark red and brown with blood and dirt, and got to cleaning the face and his hair as tenderly but effectively as he could. There wasn’t a single part of him that didn’t hurt. He considered it a miracle that he still seemed to have all his teeth.

 

“Arthur…” Elijah rasped. “Let me sleep… Please...”

 

“Can’t, sweetheart. You gotta stay awake a bit longer.” Arthur was unwilling to even consider the possibility of him fading away in the night in his sleep. “You gotta stay with me.”

 

“I’m so tired, Arthur.” Elijah whimpered with a pained sniffle.

 

“I know. I gotta... You need some stitches.”

 

He bent down to grab the needle and thread he'd seen used dozens of times now. Arthur had stitched people up before. He was pretty decent at it, even, but having to stitch up the face of his beloved was a rather different affair. Abigail, who had woken up from all the commotion, appeared at his table. The small space was crowded with his friends trying to help.

 

"Let me do that, Arthur. You never were much of a seamstress." She held out her hand imperiously for the needle and thread. Arthur got up and let her get to work, trying not to hover over her shoulder as she carefully stitched Elijah's face back together. When she was done, dark stitches stuck out against his newly cleaned skin. 

 

"Thank you, Abigail." He said as he kissed the side of her head. "I'll take over again."

 

Arthur sat back down knew he had to clean his legs as well, but he couldn’t expose Elijah like that to John and Dutch. 

 

“Fellers, can you… Can you turn your back for this?”

 

Dutch looked at John and nodded. “Of course, Arthur. No one gets a look in.”

 

John gripped his shoulder and walked past him. The two of them stood guard and made sure no one came looking while he worked.

 

Arthur took Elijah’s boots off and set them on the ground. They were covered in mud and grime from the streets of Saint Denis. He took his knife and cut the pants off, top to bottom. As he’d expected, his legs were just as bruised, though his feet had clearly fared better than his hands. Arthur took the last towel and cleaned his legs thoroughly before tossing the clothes on a heap to burn later. He reached over to the chest and found stacks of sturdy cotton blankets and woollen blankets they’d acquired over the years. 

 

“Gonna get you nice and warm now.” Arthur assured him. “It’s gonna be alright.”

 

Layer after layer of blanket covered him until Arthur was sure he was as safely insulated as he could be. The night was blisteringly hot and still his body had felt cold as freshly fallen snow. Arthur sat by his side, holding his hand. All they had to do was make it through the night.

 

“Mister Morgan!”

 

Arthur looked back to see Kieran being blocked by Dutch and John.

 

“What is it, kid?” Arthur barked, annoyed.

 

“Just wanted to let you know that Vincent’s alright. They didn’t hurt him.”

 

Arthur couldn’t think of a more ridiculous thing to say right now, but he heard Elijah rasp a ‘thank God.’

 

“Thanks.” Arthur grit out.

 

It felt like years before the sun came up. All throughout the night Arthur had been up with him, wiping the cold sweat off his forehead and holding him down through coughing fits. He couldn’t remember if he felt anything. Arthur had gone completely numb the moment he saw him slumped over his horse like that. 

 

Lifeless. Still.

 

He tried to banish the image from his mind but couldn’t. He tried to focus on was keeping him awake, making sure his eyes didn’t stay closed for too long, trying to get him to focus on Arthur's face. It wasn’t until sunlight shone through the trees brightly that Arthur felt safe enough to let him sleep. The camp had been awake for a few hours now. They were in lockdown until they knew what had happened and whether or not, potentially, Pinkertons had gotten involved. Right now there was no telling of whether or not they were safe where they were, if they could even leave the camp at all.

 

Arthur never left his bedside, lying on the ground on a bedroll next to his cot. He counted the seconds between each raspy breath, aware of each second too long. He felt his pulse and cleaned his wounds several more times. Elijah slept right through it, but his breathing was constant. For now, that was all Arthur could hope for.

 

His chest was still tight for fear of losing him, but he tried not to pay attention to it. Instead, he focused singularly on the feeling of all-destructive rage boiling in his chest, vowing that if he ever found who did this, the last thing they ever saw would be their own insides scattered across the floor.

Chapter Text

Miss Renee stayed with them for three days, speaking to almost no one but Arthur. She reminded him of Sadie: headstrong, fiercely independent, and not afraid to say what was on her mind. Arthur had decided that he liked her, and not just because she saved Elijah’s life.

During those three days, Elijah faded in and out of consciousness. Making sure he got enough food and water was a challenge, given that he slept most of the time and was nauseous while he was awake. When the gang finally dared to think he would make it through, Renee went back home to her girl. Arthur offered to give her a ride to Rhodes, but she declined. 

“I’ll just walk to the station, it’s fine. You make sure he doesn’t set foot in Saint Denis for the next couple of weeks. If you need me, just send a letter or something.”

“Thank you for all your help.” Arthur said earnestly. “Be well.”

“You’re welcome, and you as well. Take good care of him.” She waved goodbye and went on her way to Rhodes.

Arthur found Javier sitting on his cot, reading from the bible. Elijah was awake, eyes still mostly swollen shut, though it had gone down a little bit. 

“What’re you doin’?” Arthur asked.

“He’s reading me my last rites.” Elijah commented drily. His voice still rasped and his breathing still wasn’t right.

“That ain’t funny.” Arthur said and Javier looked up from his bible, a little surprised. Elijah just sighed.

“Thanks, Javier.” He said, and Javier understood and got up to leave. Arthur let him pass and sat down on the cot next to Elijah, as he had every day since he got back.

“How’re you feelin’?” Arthur took his hand, gently stroking the back of it.

“Like I took a nap on the train tracks and woke up about three seconds too late.” Elijah replied sardonically. “Can’t imagine what I look like.”

“Like yer alive.” Arthur breathed, days of fear and heartache culminating in his mind. “That’s the only thing that matters.”

Elijah snorted with derision. “That’s a very polite way of putting it, thank you.”

“I mean it. I do.” Arthur said fervently. “I thought you was dead.”

Elijah rasped a quiet laugh and said something Arthur didn’t understand.

“What’d you say?”

“‘Onkruid vergaat niet’, it’s an expression… It means ‘weeds never die.’”

Even though Arthur knew that this front of sarcasm was just a coping mechanism, it was really starting to piss him off. 

“What happened to you?” He asked instead.

“The mayor sent me his kind regards. He likes to do that in the form of the Lemoyne Raiders.” Elijah said quietly. “Didn’t want any answers. Nothing he could do to undo his mistake. He just wanted to punish me for my impudence, I reckon.”

“Renee said she found you in an alley…”

“Right. Yeah, that’s where they dumped me after kicking me around some dirty apartment for a few days. How long was I gone?”

“Three days.”

“They found me about an hour after I got to Saint Denis.” He sighed. “Renee, thank God, found me within… An afternoon? I don’t know.”

That meant Renee had ridden Vincent straight here from Saint Denis, Arthur realised.

“Looks like we gotta pay a visit to the Mayor.” Arthur was ready to get up, but his hand was held tight by Elijah.

“You will do no such thing.” Elijah growled, suddenly angry. “Don’t you dare undo my hard work for some petty revenge. I’m alive. Wasn’t that all that mattered?”

Dutch had always said revenge was a fool’s errand. Arthur knew as much, knew it was pointless. Still, he knew that in the future he would shoot any Lemoyne Raider with great prejudice.

“It is. It is all that matters.” He conceded, bowing his head. “I’m just angry.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” Elijah said and Arthur whipped his head up. “I should’ve listened.”

“It weren’t your fault.”

“I was unarmed after causing a crisis in a big city. I should have been armed. You tried to warn me and I blew you off.” He winced, unable to even slightly move his head without jarring the wound on his shoulder.

“You fought back, though.” Arthur touched his thumb to the tip of a split nail. Elijah blew a sharp breath.

“I got someone’s eye.” He visibly cringed at the memory. “That was right before they shot me. If only I’d had a knife or… Anything, really.”

Arthur didn’t want to spend time arguing this. It had happened, there was nothing they could do. They just had to move on. Elijah was starting to look tired again, dropping off into another sleep while Arthur could only sit there, nursing his battered heart.

Hosea brought him coffee and sat on the chest at the foot of the bed. “How are you, dear boy?”

Arthur thanked him for the coffee. “Dunno. Angry. Relieved.” Worried. Tired. Lonely. 

“I know what you mean.” Hosea took a sip from his coffee and stared ahead, looking at the campfire. “I was drunk for a whole year when Bessie died. I imagine you don’t feel much better.”

“He ain’t dead.” Arthur retorted, his knee-jerk reaction being to immediately deny even the implication. “He’ll be fine in a couple weeks.”

Hosea looked at him with such pity that Arthur had to look away.

“No matter what happens, we’ll take care of him, Arthur. You remember that.”

“I know.”

They drank their coffee in silence. Hosea laid a hand on his shoulder before he left.

“You let me know if you need anything, you hear?”

“Will do, Hosea.”

A few hours later, Elijah woke again. Arthur had been doodling and writing in his journal.

“Thirsty.”

Arthur rushed to get him a cup of water, holding his head while he drank until he couldn’t keep his head up anymore. He stared at the top of the tent for a while.

“Could you give me a mirror?” Elijah asked with a casualness he didn’t feel.

“Boy, that don’t matt-”

“Just… Please, Arthur.” Elijah pleaded.

Arthur got up and got his shaving mirror, holding it up for Elijah to take. Elijah took it from him, bruised hands coming up to hold and tilt the mirror until he could see his face.

It was quiet for a minute. 

“Well.” Elijah breathed eventually, voice thick in his throat. “At least I’m still funny.”

Arthur didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. He took the mirror back and put it back on its stool. 

“You need to eat.” 

Elijah grimaced. “What I need is to piss.” He was leaning heavily on his right wrist as he tried to lift himself upright, groaning miserably from the strain on his ribs and left shoulder. Arthur quickly rummaged through the chest to find him a shirt and some pants. 

“At least put some damn clothes on.” Arthur grumbled, helping him into the white shirt. It was huge on him, fingertips barely poking out from the sleeves. 

The pants were another painful affair, but eventually he was as dressed as he was going to be.

“You need me to help?” Arthur asked once he had Elijah standing.

“Arthur, I… Please, at least let me take a piss by myself.” 

Arthur bristled. “You were damn near killed three days ago. You can forgive me for not wantin’ to let you outta my sight right now.”

“I know. I do. Still.” Elijah tried to push past him, but Arthur didn’t yield. “Christ… Fine. You can stand watch if it’ll make you feel better.”

Those were terms that Arthur could agree to. He walked some distance behind Elijah while he found himself a suitably covered spot that he could relieve himself at. Arthur waited for him to be done. Elijah walked back to him, slowly, looking up at him with bruised, sad eyes.

“Can I lay in the tent?” He asked quietly. “It’s quieter.”

“I… Sure.” Arthur walked him back to the tent and helped him to settle. He left the clothes on and gave him a couple extra blankets to support his head and shoulder, then went to get stew for the both of them. He saw Kieran hovering at a distance, skittering like he couldn’t decide whether to approach or give Arthur a wide berth.

“Kieran.” Arthur acknowledged him with a bowl in each hand. Kieran jumped but scurried closer anyway.

“Mister Morgan, sir.”

“What do you want.”

“H-How’s he holdin’ up?”

Arthur shrugged. “He’s hangin’ in there.”

“Alright, that’s good… I’m glad of that, at least.”

“So am I.” Arthur didn't want to waste more time on any conversation with Kieran and nodded his head in goodbye before walking back to their tent. He sat down next to Elijah on the bedroll, who was looking like he hated the prospect of having to eat.

“What’s it today?”

“Well, I don’t think it's an alligator.”

“Funny.” 

Arthur helped him sit upright. He breathed heavily against the strain on his ribs but took the bowl, sniffing it through ragged breaths. Gingerly, he took a first bite.

“... Could be worse.”

For the first time in days, Arthur smiled. They ate in silence and Arthur took their bowls away when they finished. After, he was incredibly relieved to find that he could lay against Elijah’s right side without causing too much discomfort for him. Their right hands lay entwined between them. 

“How’s the pain?” Arthur asked as he rubbed his thumb along Elijah’s. 

“Everything hurts.” Elijah responded, eyes closed and trying to steady his breathing from lying back down. “... Badly.”

“I got some medicine. It’ll make you feel funny but that’s better than hurtin’.”

Elijah just nodded and Arthur went in search of that bottle Pearson had handed him. A relic from Strauss’ old wagon. ‘Miracle cure’, apparently. Arthur thought they could probably use some of that. He found a spoon and measured out the necessary amount before feeding it to Elijah.

Within half an hour, he was all fuzzy around the edges. He kept falling in and out of sleep and seeking out Arthur’s heat. He kept one of Arthur’s hands trapped underneath his own on his belly as he slept just now. 

In the privacy of their tent, with Elijah asleep, Arthur confessed to the dark.

“I thought I’d lost you.” He whispered, his voice shaking. “Thought you’d gotten caught and we’d never see you again. Just like…” His breath hitched in his throat. When was the last time he’d spoken their names out loud? “Eliza… and Isaac.”

Tears formed in his eyes, but they did not spill yet. They hadn’t even known each other for all of six months, but this life was hard and it was fast. If Arthur loved, he did so with his entire being. There was a reason he hadn’t, unlike Dutch, had a slew of lovers. Arthur, according to him, was ‘picky’. 

“After Mary and her I never thought… I hadn’t dared to hope…”

Arthur didn’t know how to say it. How Elijah had wormed his way into his space, both physical and mentally, so thoroughly that Arthur struggled to imagine him gone. He’d done it before and he would do it again if he had to, but it would be the same as it’d been with Eliza: his life would forever be changed by their companionship. 

But Eliza had known who he was and what he did from the get go and hadn’t asked Arthur for more than he was able to give. She was happy for Arthur to do right by them by coming by every so often and staying with them. Elijah, though… He hadn’t asked for this life. He’d been forced into it and unable to escape, falling from one gang into the next with very little that Arthur would deem ‘a choice.’

Maybe he had been selfish. The man wasn’t meant for this life.

Elijah had woken again, glassy eyes barely focusing on him.

“You don’t have to live like this.” Arthur forced himself to say. Elijah just stared at him with a confused look on his face. “When you’re up and runnin’ again, you ain’t gotta stay.”

Elijah breathed deeply, wincing, breathing out and nodding. “I understand.”

“Do you?”

“Yes. You’re being stupid again.” Elijah sounded almost childlike in his petulance. “I’m staying.” 

Arthur felt two tears spill from his eyes. “Why?”

“I like it here.” It was but a whisper, eyes falling closed once more. 

Stubborn fool, Arthur thought with no small measure of fondness. He let him sleep for a little while, but minutes later Elijah drifted back into the land of the waking.

“Arthur?”

Arthur had dozed off himself for a little bit there. He rubbed at his eyes and sat up a bit to look at his face. Elijah’s eyes were barely open, the pale blue of his eyes ghostly between heavy, darkly bruised lids. He still looked a little hazy from the medicine.

“Yeah?” Arthur asked.

“Do you want me to leave?”

Even if it felt selfish, Arthur couldn’t lie. “No. Never.”

“Okay.” He seemed satisfied with that answer for now. “Good.”

“Good?”

“If it’s all the same to you, I’d prefer to stay.” Elijah mumbled with surprising clarity, though Arthur couldn’t really tell if he was talking in his sleep or not. He hadn’t seemed too lucid.

“I won’t stop you.”

Couldn’t stop you even if I wanted to, Arthur added mentally. Elijah slept for about thirty minutes after that before waking again.

“One year from now… I will.”

“Will what?”

Elijah had a devious grin on his face, eyes closed. “Have you.”

Arthur went along with it even if he had no idea what that meant. “Sure hope it won’t take you a year to recover…” He joked.

“No, moron.” Elijah tried not to move as he laughed, every tiny shock of laughter jarring his ribs. He tried to calm his breathing before he spoke. “A year from now I will go to Dutch and very nicely ask him for your hand.” He laughed all the way through the sentence. “And then after he’s told me no, I’ll ask Hosea.”

Arthur laughed in spite of himself. “Hey now, I ain’t no one’s fair maiden.”

“Aren’t you? Could’ve fooled me.”

He wanted to kiss that dazed smile off the fool’s face, but stopped himself when he saw the stitches Abigail had so lovingly placed. Elijah stared up at him and touched a finger to his lips.

“Go on, then.” He whispered.

Arthur bent down and fit his lips over the part of Elijah’s lower lip that hadn’t torn, then kissed the soft, plump upper lip where it wasn’t hurt. He had to stop himself from doing anything else, no matter how badly he wanted to embrace him.

Only then did he realise what he’d just been told.

“Hold on, you-”

Elijah was beaming, or rather, he was trying to, but his split lip prevented him from smiling as broadly as he no doubt wanted to.

“One year, then I’ll ask you to marry me.”

“What- Would they even let us?”

“The State doesn’t get a say in our relationship.” Elijah said stubbornly. “I’m sure Hosea or the Reverend would love to lead the ceremony.”

Arthur slowly realised he wasn’t kidding. “You’re outta your mind.”

“No doubt about it.” Elijah agreed. “I stand by my statement.”

“We might not even survive ‘till next year.” Arthur mumbled, a variety of emotions warring on the inside. 

“Another reason to keep trying, then.” 

He yawned softly, turning his head towards Arthur. He looked about ready to fall asleep again, so Arthur let him as he went over what had just happened in his head. It had started with Arthur telling him he could leave if he wanted, and ended with Elijah essentially proposing to him. 

Somewhere, somehow, that sounded exactly right.

Chapter Text

Hosea had indeed found a way to sell the moonshine at a profit: by selling it right back to the Braithwaites under the guise of having ‘found it’. He’d wanted to bring Arthur along, partly because he thought he was best suited as Hosea’s enforcer in case things got rough, partly because he needed Arthur to leave Elijah’s side even if it was just for a day. 

It wasn’t that it bothered Hosea that he spent every waking moment watching over the boy, it was that it was starting to bother the boy in question. Elijah had, during one of his lucid moments, confessed to Hosea while he was looking in that Arthur’s constant surveillance of him was beginning to drive him insane. It seemed neither one of them took to the other’s fussing very well. If Hosea was being completely honest, that tickled him to no extent: he’d raised an incredibly stubborn son, it seemed appropriate that he got himself an equally stubborn partner in life.

So, he’d pried Arthur away from Elijah’s side, not taking no for an answer. Arthur had begrudgingly joined him on the wagon to the Braithwaites. Hosea told him the plan: that two nice, abiding citizens were simply returning stolen goods and were hoping for a reward. Furthermore, it was high time they introduced themselves to the Braithwaites. They’d been in the region for a couple of weeks now and still hadn’t really made any moves beyond joining the Deputy on his distillery hunt.

Hosea was sure there was money in it for them somewhere, if they played their cards right. Arthur had no idea. Outside of their adventures with the Grays he hadn’t been too invested in their most recent line of employment as deputies or otherwise.

The Braithwaite manor was closer to being a castle than it was a house. Hosea laughed at it and called it a ‘modest little homestead.’ He lied his way in to talk to the lady of the house, Catherine Braithwaite, under the guise of a ‘business proposal.’

Catherine met them at the entrance. “What you want?”

“Found somethin’!” Hosea said as he climbed down the cart. “Out in the hills, thought maybe you was in the market for it.”

“I ain’t in the market for what’s already mine.” She hissed, emerging from the house with several armed young men in tow. Arthur’s fingers itched to reach for his revolver.

“Way we see it, it’s ours. What with us findin’ it and all, and I-I checked all over and for the life of me, I couldn’t find your name on it.” Hosea said, looking and acting the charming fool he wasn’t. Arthur was reminded that this man, for all his innocent exterior, was a world-class con artist. Catherine merely laughed at his insolence. Hosea asked how much she sold those bottles for.

“Dollar a bottle.” Catherine said.

“Give us fifty cents.” Hosea countered.

“It’s already ours!”

“Look on it as a reward for finding the property. Alternative is, we sell it someplace else.”

One of the younger men stepped forward with his rifle aimed at Hosea’s head. “Alternative is, you get shot.”

“Who wants to get shot over a bottle or two of liquor?” Hosea feigned innocence, holding his hands up. 

Catherine laughed and pulled the man’s gun down. “Pay the man.” She looked upon Hosea and Arthur with amusement written all over, but she was evidently taking them seriously. 

“Pleasure doing business with you.” Hosea said, counting the money. “And, listen, we didn’t take it. Least not without orders from-”

She whirled around. “Oh, I know exactly who gave you your orders. Old Sheriff Gray! And y’know what, I don’t want it! In fact, sir, now you can do me a favour. There’s an extra ten bucks if you do.”

She pointed an imperious finger towards Rhodes. “Drive the stuff into Rhodes, head over to the tavern run by Mister Gray and hand out the stuff for free .”

“Momma!” One of the men behind her gasped. 

“Hush now!” She snapped. “I believe they call that a ‘promotional expense.’”

Arthur and Hosea turned back to the cart. “As you wish, madam!” Hosea called over his shoulder. 

“You boys come back sometime and tell me how you made out. Maybe we’ll play a little cribbage.” She pushed her sons back into the house and closed the double doors behind her. 

On the way to the Rhodes Saloon they discussed Cornwall and how he’d been pumping cash into the Pinkertons to keep their focus on hunting down gangs like them. That hadn’t surprised Arthur much, though it mattered little now. The Pinkertons wouldn’t leave them alone until they either disappeared for good or until they forgot about Blackwater, which wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon. At least Cornwall was a fair sight too busy right now relocating his own less-than-legal practices further north. If nothing else that gave the gang some room to breathe, as long as they kept their distance from Cornwall’s stagecoaches, trains and operations.

“This could get ugly.” Hosea said as they got closer to Rhodes. “You and Dutch have that… Thing with Sheriff Gray, and now we’re insertin’ ourselves into his blood feud… We’ll need somethin’.” He was rummaging through a sack of stuff between his feet.

“I ain’t playin’ dress-up.” Arthur’s tone brooked no nonsense. “You know how I feel about that.”

Hosea was affronted. “You are no fun, you know that? If Elijah had been up to it, I would’ve taken him along. Boy could act circles around you. Always up for a fun disguise, too.”

“I don’t doubt it.” Arthur mumbled, remembering him leaving in his fancy suit with Vincent looking exactly as expensive as he must’ve been.

“But you, ah… you’re…” Hosea assessed him. “You’re a clown’s… Idiot… Brother.”

“Hosea, please…” Arthur was even less in the mood for this than he usually was. He’d slept like shit for the past month or so. Elijah was a ways from a full recovery yet and Arthur was continuously terrified of hurting him in his sleep. Of course, Elijah had suggested he sleep on his cot instead for the time being, but Arthur didn’t like the idea of leaving him out of his sight, even if it was only for the night. Plus, Arthur had been having nightmares that only faded if he could turn over and find Elijah right there, warm and asleep, by his side.

Hosea was still speaking. “I’m the clown, you’re the idiot. Look, just… Look sad and keep quiet, even you can do that, Arthur!” He was practically pleading with Arthur.

“Do I have to?” 

Hosea had already found him a different hat to wear, replacing the one Arthur was currently wearing. “Put this hat on, and smoke this pipe.” He jammed a pipe between Arthur’s lips. “Perfect. Bring your lip forward, just a bit… Squint… Oh, perfect.”

“What about you?” Arthur spoke awkwardly with the pipe hanging from between his teeth.

“Oh, shh. You can’t speak. You’re turned idiot.” Hosea’s accent changed to match the region they were in. “Quite broke poor mammy’s heart!”

Arthur groaned.

“There, there, Fenton, there, there. Don’t get mad now.”

They drove into Rhodes and got off the wagon. 

“Okay Fenton, stay calm now! For momma… She loved you so. If only you hadn’t… Strangled her in a rage.”

Arthur loved Hosea, but he became insufferable like this. Fortunately, Arthur ‘couldn’t speak.’ Hosea spoke to some men outside, introducing himself as Melvin and claiming they’d just rode in from up north. He gave them a dollar each and told them they were in ‘advertising.’ Arthur just stood there like an idiot with a tray of moonshine in his arms. When the men didn’t budge at first, Hosea just bribed them with more money: after all, what harm could they really do?

The men moved along and Arthur took the moonshine inside the saloon and behind the bar.

“Gentlemen! Gentlemen!” Hosea shouted until the bar quieted down. “My name is Melvin. This is my brother Fenton. He’s a bit funny but boy can he pour drinks fast. For the next thirty minutes, the drinks in this-here bar in this-here town are entirely free! The only rule is that you gotta drink ‘em, so put ol’ Fenton to work.” He paused for effect. “Don’t make him mad, though… His momma made him mad, and we buried her.”

The patrons laughed and flocked to the bar. Arthur poured shot after rancid shot of moonshine. Half an hour turned into an hour which turned into half the damn day. Arthur had been pouring drinks for hours and the bar had gotten progressively more and more rowdy. Hosea was giving entire bottles of the stuff away to the patrons. 

As suddenly as the party had started, it ended. Silence fell over the crowd but Arthur couldn’t see why until he heard someone whisper ‘it’s the Lemoyne Raiders.’ The mere mention of the name set Arthur’s blood to boil, heart pounding against his chest.

“Good evening, gentlemen.” Hosea said from atop the stairs. “Quiet libation?”

“You!”

“Me?” Hosea touched a hand to his chest.

“You’re the ones that stole the liquor we was gonna buy!”

“Gentlemen, we’re in advertising-”

“That’s our liquor!”

“An honest mistake-”

“Boys, get ‘em!”

Arthur heard that, alright. He hopped over the bar and pushed through the crowd with such blind rage that he didn’t hear Hosea calling his name, nor felt the people falling to the ground as he brutally pushed his way to the first Raider in his path. He hadn’t drawn his gun before Arthur’s fist connected with his jaw. Arthur felt the man’s jaw shatter underneath his knuckles. 

"They done made Fenton mad now." Spoke one of the terrified patrons who was cowering underneath his table.

There were only three raiders at the front. Hosea had down two before Arthur had pulled his revolver and killed the third, but they were not the only ones.

“Upstairs, Arthur!” Hosea called. “Come on!”

Arthur felt like a wild animal, breathing hard and looking for his next target. He stalked up the stairs and was tackled by a Raider coming in through the balcony. Arthur grabbed him by the belt and hauled him over the railing and down unto the bar below. There was another Raider out on the balcony ready to shoot, but Arthur put a bullet through his skull while barely even looking at him. Hosea was getting choked by one of the Raiders further down the hall and Arthur stomped over, whipped his knife out and planted it clean through the man’s skull. It was so gruesome that Hosea had to stand and look at the knife sticking out of the man’s head for a moment before Arthur pulled it back out. One more Raider came through the door leading out to the other balcony. Arthur was looking to tackle him to the ground and beat his head into a pulp, but Hosea just shot him. 

“Whatever’s got into you, we’re leaving. Now.” Hosea said, pushing him forward. They jumped out onto the parked wagon and Hosea drove them out of Rhodes while Arthur took care of the Raiders coming in left and right.

When a group of them rode in a cluster behind the wagon, Arthur reached into his satchel for a stick of dynamite he still had leftover from when they blew up the still. Hosea was shocked enough that he nearly stopped the cart.

“You- We don’t-”

"Just drive, Hosea."

Arthur lit the stick and threw it in the middle of the stampeding horses, blowing both them and their riders to pieces. It created the goriest fireworks Arthur had ever witnessed in his life. It also deterred any further Raiders from chasing them, and Arthur sat back down.

Hosea was quiet the entire ride back to camp, but stopped Arthur from getting off the wagon immediately.

“Don’t let it consume you.” Hosea looked at him with a worried, stern expression. “We don’t need another gang to feud with.”

“Don’t lecture me.” Arthur grumbled, taking off the stupid hat and throwing away the stupid pipe.

“I’ll lecture you as much as I damn well need to, dear boy.” Hosea said. “I mean it. In the meantime, I’ll go return some of this to old Ma Braithwaite… Call it a peace offering. Might be some more money in it for us. Before you know it, we’ll have gotten ourselves good and lost.”

“Need a lot more money for that.” Arthur sighed, getting off the wagon.

“We’ll get there. Go back to your boy, now. I know you want to.”

Hosea rode the wagon back to the Braithwaite manor. Arthur went back to their tent, hesitating. He had Raider blood all over his clothes, hands and probably his face, too. The last two could be helped and he washed his hands and face in the basin, but left his clothes as they were.

He crawled into their tent and found Elijah awake, reading a letter by the light of their lantern. He looked at Arthur with a cool, assessing eye.

“Everything go alright with the ‘shine?”

“How’d you know?”

“Hosea told me he was thinking of bringing you along.” 

“Ran into some Raiders.” Arthur mumbled, tracing the outline of one of Elijah’s arm bruises. “Took care of them.”

Elijah put the letter away and touched a finger to his bloodied shirtsleeve. “Did it help?”

Arthur knew he was referring to the rage, the grief, the desire for retribution that he’d felt and shook his head after a moment. “No.”

For weeks, Arthur had been plagued by nightmares. Every night, without fail, he dreamt of showing up to that fateful alley in Saint Denis to find Elijah lying on the cobblestone streets bleeding out from his head wound, eyes turned heavenwards and vacant. He arrived too late every single time.

He’d woken up in a cold sweat each time, scrambling to turn over and find the very alive, very tired sleeping form of the man in question next to him. It had been many weeks since he’d been brought back into camp, battered within an inch of his life. As far as they could all tell, he was going to make a full recovery. His ribs had healed nicely - Arthur surmised that maybe they’d only been badly bruised - and the wound on his shoulder was starting to settle into a star-shaped scar, slowly but surely.

Abigail had taken the stitches out of his face a couple of days ago. His eyebrow had healed and left a thin scar running through the hairs, while his lips each had a jagged little scar, one on either side. The cut on his nose had healed well, only barely scarring at all, though his nose was the tiniest bit crooked to one side now. At least it didn’t seem to impede his breathing, which had largely returned to normal after about two weeks. He was still mottled with bruises, but they were starting to fade to yellow and green tones rather than the stark blue and purple marks. These days he could even open his eyes and wear his spectacles again.

They had gone to sleep shortly after Arthur arrived, both of them tired and unwilling to discuss their mutual discontent while there was preciously little to be done about it. Arthur woke, as he had every night for weeks, gasping for breath and chest heaving as he tried to banish the spectre of Elijah’s lifeless face from his mind. He turned over in hopes of finding him asleep next to him, but found a cold bedroll instead.

He was on his feet and out the tent before he even realised he’d started moving. His eyes frantically took in the camp, but everyone was asleep. Somewhere in the distance he heard the splashing of water and he followed the noise until he, at last, found Elijah, bathing in the lake by himself. The moon was full and bright tonight, illuminating the glistening skin and his saturated hair. 

They hadn’t actually spoken all that much in the intermittent weeks. Arthur didn’t do well at hiding the fact that he had been and still was worried sick and Elijah didn’t hide his annoyance at being coddled very well. They understood each other’s needs, though, and Elijah endured Arthur’s fussing while Arthur suffered through an enduring stream of sarcasm.

“You sure you should be doin’ that?” Arthur asked him, leaning against a tree near the lake's shore. 

“I haven’t washed in weeks. I can do most things by myself again. Why shouldn’t I?” 

“Thought you didn’t want folks findin’ out about you, is all.”

“They’re all sleeping. Plus, I’m sure they all know, anyway.” His sentences were clipped and aggravated.

“Why’d you think that?”

“Come on, Arthur.” He whipped his head around, hair flinging around and sticking to his face. “You think in all those weeks, no one saw? No one wondered why we went to take a hike multiple times each day? You don’t actually think no one saw me while you had me on that cot, do you?”

Arthur was beginning to realise he was angry. “No one’s said anythin’...”

“Just because they’re polite about it doesn’t mean it’s not obvious. They all treat me like I’m this fragile little thing. John got called Wolfman for three months straight but I get the kid gloves? Fuck right off.” He was aggressively scrubbing at his arms with a washcloth. Arthur fought the instinct to tell him to be careful.

“That ain’t fair… Yer not… Like us.” Arthur faced the same reality he faced weeks ago. Elijah wasn’t meant for this life. “You don’t shoot, you were born and raised in civilisation, you know how to play their games but barely survive ours. Can’t blame us for bein’ concerned.”

“Got Cornwall off your backs, though, didn’t I? I’m not like you but I’m good enough to do the work.” He washed his face with vigor. “Cornwall got such bad cold feet he moved up further north. He’d have to make a round trip to chase you boys down, so he won’t.”

Arthur knew that was true. They hadn’t been bothered by him in ages and the Saint Denis tram and train infrastructure had rapidly undergone a re-branding. It was all over the newspapers in the region. Cornwall had, for all intents and purposes, been bested at his own game.

“Without so much as firin’ a single bullet, you’re right.” Arthur admitted. “But that still don’t mean we want you in the line of fire like that. To each their strengths, is all.”

Elijah looked over at him with dawning realisation. “You think it’s the first time I’ve been beat up like this.”

“Ain’t it?” Arthur squirmed a little under the scrutiny. “You never said.”

“I didn’t think I had to spell it out for you.” Elijah retorted venomously. “You think I could grow up and live like this without getting hurt? I’ve been beaten up by most people I’ve ever met, family members included. They usually just weren’t with as many men.”

“Or as heavily armed. The Lemoyne Raiders are a dangerous bunch.” Arthur was unwilling to compromise on this. 

Elijah left the water, stepping over to Arthur, droplets of water raining down his body.

“Why’s it matter? You think there’s no gangs near Annesburg? That’s Murfree country, Arthur. There’s gangs, gators and gun toting morons all over the place. You never had a problem with me being ‘in the line of fire’ like that before. What changed?”

“Ain’t that obvious?” Arthur spat. “You nearly died.”

“And?” 

That shocked Arthur into silence, but Elijah pressed on.

“I’m serious. I’ve known my life was on the line the moment the O’Driscolls caught me and Kieran. I have no illusions about living on borrowed time.” He pulled on one of Arthur’s shirts that had been hanging over a tree branch, large enough to cover him down to his knees. “And neither do you, so what changed?”

Arthur didn’t have a poetic way with words. He didn’t know how to begin putting together the sentences to say that all his life he had been taught what life should be like, not what it could be. Elijah had given him a glimpse into what his and the gang’s life could be like: they could be together, safe and far away, but it took sacrificing a lot of their close-held philosophies to do so. Arthur had been chipping away at his own for months, and only now had the gang slowly started to come around and, rather than blindly following Dutch, had started bothering him with questions about the plan. Elijah was a force of nature in the same way that Micah had been, but rather a cleansing storm than an all-destructive wildfire. 

Elijah was still waiting for an answer. Arthur gave him the only thing he had: the truth.

“I had a son, once.” He said quietly. “His mother, Eliza, was a waitress I met. When she got pregnant... she knew who I was, what my life was. I didn't wanna promise nothing I couldn't keep, but... I said I'd do right by them. Every few months I'd stop by there for a few days.”

He swallowed around the lump in his throat, eyes misty. “They was robbed and killed for all of ten dollars. I went to visit and found their graves outside her home.”

Elijah closed his eyes, taking it in. Processing.

Arthur continued. “After that, I… I knew I didn’t deserve nothin’ in life. I was just here to make sure the gang could continue after me. You changed that.”

“Arthur…” Elijah started, but Arthur didn’t want to hear it just yet.

“You made me want a different life, for all of us. I don’t-  I can’t-... I want you to have a place in that life.”

“What was his name?” Elijah asked after a brief silence. “Your son’s?”

“Isaac.” Even now, years later, his heart still hurt when he spoke his name.

“Poor lamb.” Elijah breathed. “I’m so sorry, Arthur.”

“I know I been… Fussin’ too much.” Arthur begrudgingly admitted. “But… I just want you to be safe.”

Arthur realised Elijah was about to argue what it meant to be ‘safe’ in a place like this before he dropped the matter entirely. He just sighed deeply and took Arthur’s hand in his.

“Let’s get back to bed.”

Back in their tent they found each other at last. It was a melancholic, desperate hurrah for life and three cheers for those who had passed on. Arthur had taken off the shirt and kissed every trace of bruising as delicately as he could. Elijah hadn’t even touched him while he did and had simply lay back, enjoying the attention. Arthur couldn’t get close enough, too afraid of hurting him and too afraid of never being able to let go again. Elijah grasped his chin and pulled him back up to face him.

“You’ve been having nightmares.” He said rather stupidly, like he’d known for days but had only just dared to bring it up.

“I have.”

“What about?”

“You. I… I’m too late, every time.”

Arthur wasn’t sure who had initiated what, but they made love, all desperation and awkward limbs. He was so terrified of hurting Elijah that he held himself up well above his body, bending down occasionally to kiss him. Elijah got tired of it very quickly, biting Arthur's lip when he came down again. It stung; Arthur stopped moving, staring down at Elijah’s annoyed expression.

“I’m not made of fucking glass, Arthur.” He growled, using his legs to push Arthur onto his back and straddle him instead. Surprisingly, Arthur realised, this had been the first time he was on top. When he was fully seated on his cock, Arthur wondered why in the hell they hadn’t done this before.

“I know that.” Arthur breathed in response, shuddering with pleasure. “I know.”

“Do you?”

Arthur thrust up, hard. “Yeah.

It was a fervent race to release for both of them. Arthur came first for a change, too far lost in the sensation and the overwhelming desire to let go. He felt his fingers cramped tight on Elijah’s hips, tight enough to bruise, and he pulled back like he’d burned himself. Elijah bent down to kiss him, carefully, still wary of his sore torso.

“Don’t you dare apologise.” He whispered against Arthur’s lips.

After, he rolled Elijah back onto his back and got between his legs to eat him out, fingers slicked right down to his palm with his own cum as he fingered him to completion. Elijah came, biting down on his hand and trying to stifle his cry of complete abandon.

Afterwards, Arthur held him in his arms, Elijah’s back pressed and held firmly against his chest. For once, he was the one who felt like crying, though he hadn’t yet.

“How’s the pain?” He asked as he had a hundred times before over the past couple of weeks. His voice was only barely steady.

Elijah turned over in his arms to look at him. Arthur’s fingers came up almost entirely of their own accord to feel the edges of the scars on his face.

“It’s fine.” Elijah said quietly. “How’s yours?”

Arthur laughed softly. “Ain’t the first time I got hurt.” He deliberately refused to give an honest answer, but he got caught.

“That’s not what I asked.”

“I know.” Far be it from him to admit that it felt like his heart had been torn clean out of his chest a month ago and still hadn’t healed. His fingers lingered around the scar on Elijah’s bottom lip.

“At least I finally look like one of you.” Elijah muttered, changing the subject. With his index finger, he traced the scar on Arthur’s chin. “Though I reckon it makes me look more like a clumsy child than a rugged outlaw.”

“Hmm.” Arthur hummed, pressing two tiny kisses to either lip scar. “Dunno ‘bout that.”

“No, but then you never had sense when it came to me.”

“I suppose the same applies to you.” Arthur replied, pulling him back against his chest. “You ain’t never had no damn sense when it came to me, neither.”

God knew that much was true and so did Elijah, who remained silent.

“Maybe we’re both idiots.” He concluded eventually.

“Sounds about right.” Arthur agreed.

“I know I haven’t been… As grateful as I should be.”

“Ain’t no need to worry ‘bout all that. I understand.” Arthur gently stroked his belly, soothing mostly himself.

“No. I do need to worry about that. You’ve taken care of me for weeks and all I did was… Well.”

“I ain’t much liked you fussin’ over me either. Guess that makes us even.” Arthur smiled against his shoulder, kissing gently.

“Suppose it does.”

Arthur thought he’d fallen asleep after an extended period of silence, but he spoke once more.

“I love you, Arthur.”

“I love you, too.”

“Don’t ever ask me to leave again.” Elijah followed up, startling Arthur with his tone. “I know you don’t think so, but I can handle myself. If I’d wanted to leave, I would’ve done so a long time ago and you never would have found me ever again.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” Arthur said earnestly.

“Promise me.”

“... I promise.”

Elijah took his hand from his belly and kissed it. “Good.”

Chapter Text

For the gang, things had returned to a relative sense of normalcy. Dutch and Hosea were busy puppeteering the Grays and Braithwaites, taking it slow and steady and letting John take some of the work as well as some of the girls. What they needed more than anything was a family effort to play this right. If the Pinkertons got any word of it being Dutch or Hosea being behind it all, they’d have relocate immediately once more and they were rapidly running out of places to hide.

Arthur, though, had been feeling everything but normal. Even now that Elijah was back on his feet and doing fine, so fine that Hosea was already talking of bringing him out on rides to the Braithwaites to act as his son, Arthur still couldn’t sleep. It’d been a month and a half and he’d been going on cat naps and about three hours of sleep a night, if he was being generous. The nightmares had become less frequent but more intense, shifting from finding him dead to watching him get tortured until the light left his eyes. He didn’t want to talk about it in general, much less bother Elijah with it now that he’d finally recovered, but Arthur could see him watching him, worrying. The last thing Arthur wanted was for Elijah to worry about him: everything was fine now, so why wasn’t he?

At night, he woke with his heart pounding against his ribs and his breathing ragged like he’d run a mile. He heard Elijah behind him, shifting, sitting up and lighting the lantern in their tent. Arthur turned onto his back, chest heaving and body covered in a thin sheen of sweat.

“Didn’t mean to wake you.” He forced his eyes open against the light to look at Elijah, who sat and stared at him with a slightly amused look on his face.

“It’s not the first time, don’t worry about it.” His voice was soft, kind and patient. Arthur knew he was in for a long talk when he spoke like that.

“It ain’t? Sorry ‘bout that.”

“You've actually punched me in the face in your sleep before.”

“What?!”

“Twice, but your aim was off so it didn’t hurt too badly.”

Arthur scrubbed a hand over his face and sat up. “I’m real sorry…” He felt like he was slowly losing every last one of his marbles. “Ain’t been sleepin’ too well.”

Elijah took his hand and squeezed it. “How ‘bout that walk?”

The skies above were rumbling ominously as they walked through the dense woods around Clemens Point. They were just wearing boots, shirts and trousers. Elijah hadn’t even bothered to button his up all the way, his chest exposed to the warm light of Arthur’s lantern. His hair had gone uncut for so long that his bangs flopped over his eyes. Arthur thought he looked like a debauched prince, like those from the fairy tales Jack read. He briefly wondered if that made him the damsel in distress. Maybe he was, a little bit. Just for now.

“Where we goin’?” Arthur asked after about ten minutes of aimlessly traipsing through mud. The moon and stars were nowhere to be seen and the first droplets of rain were starting to fall. It was looking to be one hell of a storm.

“Wherever you need to be to talk to me.” Elijah answered quietly, stopping and turning to face Arthur. “I’m sure you think you hide it well, but you don’t.”

“Hide what?”

“That you’re struggling.”

“I ain’t got time to struggle.” Arthur huffed.

“Suffering waits for no one.” Elijah stepped forward, into the light of the lantern. The bruises around his eyes had almost faded completely and Arthur could once again, finally, see the full blue of his irises.

“Suppose it don’t.” Arthur sighed, chewing on his lip and looking away to the side. “I dunno what’s wrong with me. You’re alright, Raiders haven’t been givin’ us any trouble, Cornwall’s off our backs… Ain’t no reason to feel…”

“Afraid?”

If there was one thing Arthur both appreciated and disliked Elijah for it was his ability to get to the heart of matters in an instant, but he wasn’t wrong.

“… Yeah.”

“What’re you afraid of?”

“Everythin’ feels… Fragile. Like we’re back on our feet but it could slip away at any moment.” Arthur faced the skies for a moment, letting the rain fall onto his face. “We finally got a chance, a real chance.”

“To do what?” Elijah mimicked him, smiling as the rain hit his face.

“Better.”

“Better how?”

Arthur shrugged. “Bunch’a things. Killin’ less, robbin’ richer folk, not poorer… Bein’ better for each other.”

“You mean with Micah gone?”

“Yeah.”

“Sounds like you’re afraid of losing a potential future you never even knew you had.”

Arthur laughed. “Well, it’s fancier than I would’ve said it, but…”

“I did almost go to university, after all.”

“Suppose you did.” Arthur looked down at him, rain dripping off his nose. Elijah just opened his eyes to look at him. “If you had… A choice.”

“Arthur-”

“No, please. Just… If you had a choice, would you change things?” Arthur looked to the sky again. “I would change so many things.”

Elijah pondered that question for a while. “I suppose I would, but there’s no point in dwelling on it.”

“Guess not.” Arthur sighed.

“And not to sound like a trite asshole but I’m reasonably happy where I am. Suppose I could have been happy without hanging with a gang of criminals in some other life, but it turns out I wasn’t in this one.” Elijah shrugged. “It is what it is.”

“Suppose I’m glad to hear I make you ‘reasonably happy.’” Arthur said softly, unsure himself whether he was joking or not.

Elijah’s head dropped as well as his jaw, realisation hitting like thunder. “Oh fuck, I’m a complete fucking idiot.”

Arthur didn’t understand. Elijah took his face in his hands and pulled him down to eye level.

“You blame yourself for what happened.” Elijah’s eyes closed against the onslaught of thoughts. “That’s why you can’t let it go, why you were pushing me to leave.”

“You will never be safe as long as you’re with me.” Arthur whispered. It felt like a confession.

“You idiot, stupid, moronic fool of a man.” Tears had welled up in his eyes. “Haven’t I made it clear that I’m never safe anywhere, no matter who I’m with? That’s my lot in life. I threw it in with yours because at least then I could be unsafe on my own terms.” His thumbs rubbed along Arthur’s stubble, tears mingling with the rain pouring down his face. “Would you take that away from me so that I could be unhappy, locked away somewhere safe?”

“I-” Arthur realised that his desire to have him safe but gone had been equally selfish as his desire to keep him close but unsafe. They were the two sides of the same damned coin. “No, I wouldn’t.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Arthur. Wasn’t anyone’s but the Mayor’s.” Elijah put their foreheads together, rain streaming down between them. “If you’d been there, they would’ve just shot you, too. It’s because you weren’t that I was able to come home.”

“Home?”

Elijah opened his eyes and smiled at him a little tearfully. “With you, I found a home.”

It was Arthur’s turn to cup his face and kiss him like it was the last thing he’d ever do. He’d pulled Elijah up as high as he could go. He was balancing on the very tips of his toes so he wouldn’t be forced to let go and break the kiss. Above them, the sky opened and poured rain down onto them like a deluge. Arthur grabbed him by his thighs and hitched him around his waist, finding mediocre cover underneath a large tree. The kiss was like fighting a sweeping tide, as if, if he didn’t hold him close enough, he would simply wash away.

We don’t deserve each other. Arthur thought. And we both know it.

Eventually, Elijah came up for air, breathing hard and sweeping the hair out of Arthur’s eyes with his fingertips. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Neither am I. Arthur kissed him once more, softly. Ain’t nowhere else I’d rather be.

They were soaked down to the skin, clothes hanging limply off their limbs.

“Take me home, Arthur.” Elijah whispered against his cheek as the rain pitter-pattered onto the leaves above them.

“Reckon I’ll sleep well tonight.” Arthur said, putting him down. Elijah just stared at him, eyes hot.

“Yes. I was going to make sure of that.”

Chapter Text

Every lover Arthur had ever taken had been different. Eliza had been sweet and passive, letting Arthur go ahead with whatever and pleased to just lay back and be tended to. Mary had been passionate, fierce and occasionally playful. The few men he’d bedded in his life had all cowered under the shame, civilisation and the church stripping away their freedom to love and be loved. Those were all quick, hasty affairs. He didn’t remember any of their names and could only barely recall their faces.

As for his current predicament, well… Arthur had many words to describe Elijah as a lover: attentive, gentle, playful, and – right now – a goddamn tease. If Arthur thought he knew his body well, Elijah knew Arthur’s well enough to play him like a damn fiddle. He was lying on his front in their tent, rain crashing down onto the canvas. Their soaked clothes had been left abandoned on top of a small chest Elijah kept near the front of the tent. The man in question was straddled over Arthur’s hips, strong legs keeping him pinned in place.

He’d spent a solid quarter of an hour just massaging Arthur’s shoulders, pushing and pulling at the tight, knotted muscles until some of the tension eased. After, he’d given Arthur’s entire back a good, thorough rub, leaving Arthur pliant and relaxed. Fingertips danced over his back, tracing scars and scribbling little messages Arthur couldn’t decipher for the life of him. He felt Elijah’s wet, stringy bangs tickling between his shoulder blades as he kissed a trail down his spine, hands smoothing down his sides. It made him shiver.

“You ever do this for Kieran?” Arthur asked. Elijah paused halfway down his back, hands still on Arthur’s sides.

“Why d’you ask?”

Arthur was kicking himself mentally. “Forget I asked. Just, lot of things I don’t know ‘bout you, I guess.”

He felt Elijah’s huff of laughter against his back, hot air dispersing over his spine. “I see. Lots of things I don’t know about you, either.”

“Suppose we might work on that.” Arthur mumbled, glad that his faux pas had been met with grace.

“Suppose we might.” Elijah replied, kissing further down. Arthur jumped when he felt a sharp pain on his left ass cheek, followed by Elijah laughing. “To answer your question: no. Kieran, believe it or not, likes to be in charge. In a very… Tender sort of way.”

“‘Course he does.” Arthur supposed it suited him. “Any… Other… People?”

“Hmm.” Elijah sat up, his warmth dissipating. Damp cold clung to Arthur’s skin. “There were a few, over the years.” His hands trailed over Arthur’s ass and Arthur fervently wished he would, but not on his life would he draw attention to the fact that they… Couldn’t. That Arthur wanted to be taken as much as Elijah did was something he kept to himself.

“What were they like?” Arthur asked, curiosity getting the better of him. Those clever hands were kneading his ass and Arthur resisted the urge to grind down against the bedroll.

“They were fascinated, for the most part.” Elijah murmured quietly. “I’m sure they thought they were doing me a great favour by allowing me to bed them.”

“Fools.”

“Hmm.” Elijah hummed in agreement. “There was one girl, though.”

“You been with women?” Arthur turned his head to look at him, surprised. “Didn’t realise you…”

“I don’t. I was trying to convince myself that I should. At least then there would be one thing about me that was… Normal.” He sighed and Arthur regretted ever asking. “But… She was nice. I think she pitied me.”

“There ain’t nothin’ wrong with you.” Arthur said with fervour.

Elijah laughed and it sounded all wrong. “There are many, many things wrong with me, but… Not that. I know that now.”

It saddened Arthur that his romantic life had been one where he was nothing but a curiosity to his partners.

“But… Kieran did right by you, right? ‘Till he ran away like a coward.” Arthur grumbled, still feeling some type of way about that.

“Kieran was better to me than the lot of them combined.” Elijah resumed rubbing at Arthur’s behind and Arthur lay back down. “He never hurt me.”

“The others did?”

“Remember what I said about having been beat up by most people I ever met?”

Arthur felt rage building in his chest. “Why?”

“Because when I stopped being interesting, they realised what – or rather, who – they had done, and that horror very quickly turned to violence.”

He sounded so detached from it, so clinical. With staggering clarity, Arthur remembered that fateful night in Strawberry.

It’s happened to me before that in the unforgiving light of day people feel differently about me than they did during the night.

He wanted to turn over and take him into his arms, but he felt Elijah’s hand steadying his shoulder. “Stay. It’s alright.”

Arthur lay back down once more, sighing. “I don’t understand why they’d hurt you. Ain’t like they weren’t there when they decided to take you to bed.”

“People have gotten killed for far less than what they hurt me for. I should think I’m lucky.”

“It ain’t right.”

Elijah laughed softly. “I watched you nearly beat a man to death for less than fifteen dollars. Was that more justifiable than what happened to me?”

For a moment, all that was heard was the rain falling on the canvas and into the lake outside.

“No, it weren’t.” Arthur decided, eventually. “Neither of them things is right.”

He felt a kiss being pressed to his right shoulder. “And then there’s you.”

“What about me?”

“Hm, what indeed…”

Arthur could practically hear him smiling as he spoke.

“For one, easily the most handsome man I’ve ever been courted by.”

“Don’t really feel like we courted much at all.” Arthur commented, deliberately ignoring the compliment.

“Something about the way you carry yourself, the way you talk, how capable you are…” His voice got progressively huskier, culminating with a tight squeeze of Arthur’s ass when he paused. “I hadn’t really known what it was like to want someone until I met you.”

“What about Kieran?” Arthur asked, still very much ignoring all the nice things that were being said about him.

“Kieran was safe and sweet. We clung to each other to survive. You, though… I had wanted you for weeks before we went to Strawberry.”

Arthur tried not to feel embarrassed by all the attention. He didn’t think much of himself. “Don’t see why…”

“Strong, built like a barn, handsome and… Kind, at heart.”

“I dunno ‘bout that.”

“Yes, but then you don’t get paid to think, do you?”

Arthur laughed. “Suppose I don’t.”

“Now.” Elijah said, definitively ending that line of conversation. “I believe I’ve found something I didn’t yet know about you.”

“What’s that?”

“I believe… You like this.” Elijah murmured, barely audible over the rain, before spreading Arthur’s cheeks, exposing him. Arthur gasped softly, tilting his hips ever so slightly in response. Behind him, Elijah sounded smug. “Thought so. You’ve done this before, then?”

“I have. Been a while, though.”

“And here I genuinely believed you were too gruff and manly to receive. I stand duly corrected.”

“Don’t much care ‘bout that, just care ‘bout it feelin’ good.”

“Clever man.”

“Now that I never been accused of before.”

They laughed, softly. Elijah gently stroked his rump. “How come you never said?”

“I didn’t wanna make you feel…”

“… Inadequate.”

Arthur had expected him to sound sad or dejected, but he didn’t. Rather he sounded… Fond? Arthur turned his head once more to look at him and found him smiling down at him so sweetly, spectacles low on his nose. When had he put those on?

Elijah leaned over him to kiss him softly, the heat fogging up the glasses slightly. “No need to worry about that. There’s ways. Some of which will have to wait until the next time we get you in a bath. For now, though... You got any grease?”

“Satchel.” Arthur felt anticipation building in his gut. It had been so long since he’d even had an opportunity to do it to himself. Elijah rifled through his satchel until he found a tin, frowning at it.

“You… Definitely shouldn’t put this in your body.” He mumbled, turning it over to read the back of the tin.

“Never did me or any of the fellers I was with any harm. Quit fussin’.”

Elijah looked at him with a smug little smile on his face. “Impatient, are we?”

“Don’t start…”

“Oh, well, if you say so-”

Arthur turned over with force, knocking Elijah off of him. Elijah yelped with surprise but laughed when Arthur wrestled him down to the bedroll to pepper kisses all over his face.

“You are so goddamn annoyin’.” He muttered with great affection, pressing a final kiss to those smiling lips. “Every one of them sorry bastards was a fool.”

Elijah hummed against his lips and leaned up to kiss him again. “Aren’t you lucky that they were?”

Arthur would’ve rather been a thousand times less lucky and have Elijah be unscathed, but he didn’t voice that opinion. He just put all of his heartache into a single kiss onto Elijah’s forehead before lying back down on his back. Elijah got between his legs, kneeling between them and looking Arthur over from his head down to his cock, lying limply against his thigh, steadily filling.

“Have you done this before?” Arthur wondered aloud, trying to keep his voice steady among the myriad of kisses being pressed around his groin and the soft hand on his cock that gently stroked it.

“Yes. Don’t care for it being done to myself, but I will gladly indulge you.”

“If only you would.” Arthur sighed dramatically. Elijah snorted.

“Fine, fine, since you’re so needy.”

He slicked up the fingers on his right hand while steadily stroking Arthur with his left, using his shoulders to part Arthur’s legs further. In the dark of night with rain drowning out any other sound, Arthur felt perfectly safe to let himself be exposed like this. When he felt the pad of one finger gently rubbing circles around his hole, Arthur sighed with pure bliss.

Elijah gently sucked his cock into his mouth, taking it slow, thumb and index finger of his left hand loosely enclosed around the base of the shaft. Arthur moved his hips in tandem, trying to get more friction where he wanted it. He thought he felt Elijah laugh again, but he couldn’t be sure. Any and all other sensations were drowned out by the finger pushing past his sphincter and gently, very gently, pushing in and out. Arthur moaned, low and content, spreading his legs further.

It was evident that both of them had done this before. Elijah knew where to push, where to curl his finger, where to press his thumb below Arthur’s balls, already drawn close to his body. He wasn’t like some of the more nervous men Arthur had fucked, who had treated his prostate like it potentially held oil. Instead he gently rubbed, eased off when Arthur tilted his hips when it got too much and returned when Arthur pleaded for more. Arthur was squirming on the bedroll, cock rock solid in Elijah’s mouth and steadily leaking pre-cum and hands fisted in the blanket underneath them.

“More.” He grit out. “Please, boy.”

He felt the hum of approval around his cock, sending an electric shock that tingled all the way up to his shoulders. The slight burn and stretch of the second finger was lost in pleasure in less than a minute. His whole body felt like it was on fire, every nerve tingling pleasantly with sensation. He didn’t want to come just yet, but he didn’t feel like he could hold back much longer, either. Elijah had started gently pressing against his prostate, too, no longer easing off. Arthur’s hips bucked and Elijah met him halfway, taking him into his throat and holding him there for a second.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph.” Arthur breathed shakily, balls tight, pressure building. “Boy, if- If there’s anythin’ else you want-”

Elijah eased off of him, slightly, but didn’t let him out of his mouth. He crooked his fingers just so and Arthur arched his back, groaning with abandon. Even if he wanted to, there was no stopping it. He reached out and took hold of Elijah’s hair, felt him moan softly around him and fucked his mouth while he continued getting fingered. Arthur didn’t register Elijah’s left hand creeping up and gently pinching his right nipple between his middle and index finger, but he sure as shit felt it.

“You might- You might wanna-” Arthur tried, desperately trying to hold off. “I can’t-”

Arthur heard and felt another desperate moan down his cock and Elijah swallowed him down once more. Arthur saw stars and let go, shuddering through his orgasm with his lover’s name on his lips like a prayer. He shuddered long and hard when Elijah pulled his fingers out, easing off his cock and letting him breathe. Once he’d caught his breath, he raised his head.

“Did you-?”

“Obviously.”

Arthur’s head flopped back down against the pillow and he laughed breathlessly. “You are somethin’ else.”

Elijah cleaned his fingers off as thoroughly as he could with a damp cloth and lay down next to him with a grin on his face. Arthur turned onto his side to kiss him, running his fingers through the damp hair at the back of his head. He yawned halfway through the kiss.

“Sleep, Arthur.” Elijah whispered, turning him over on his other side and making him the little spoon for once.

“What about you?” Arthur asked, feeling the slightest bit guilty. “I ain’t that tired.”

“How are you an outlaw and this shit at lying?” Elijah laughed at him, stroking his hand through the fuzzy hair on his stomach. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll have you, all in due time.”

“If you’re sure.” Arthur mumbled sleepily, eyes heavy. He let himself be held, listening to the rain outside. “G’night, sweetheart.”

“Night, love.” Elijah whispered, kissing his shoulder and settling in for the night.

For the first time in weeks, Arthur fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Chapter Text

Arthur had no idea what time it was when he woke, but it was light out and life at the camp appeared to be in full swing. He was lying on his back, yawning and turning his head to find Elijah next to him, his back turned to Arthur. Though he couldn’t quite tell if Elijah was still asleep, he rolled over and pressed himself to his back, kissing the small constellation of freckles at the top of his back. To his delight, Elijah arched right into him, sighing contentedly.

“Mornin’.” Arthur said, voice sleepy and rumbling deep in his chest. “Sleep well?”

“I did.” Elijah replied, twining their fingers together over his chest. “You?”

“Best I slept in ages, thanks to you.”

“Glad to hear it.”

“Rain’s stopped.” Arthur commented, raising himself up a bit so he could kiss up Elijah’s shoulder. He untangled his fingers from Elijah’s and stroked down his flank. “’s Too bad, really.”

“Why’s that?” Elijah asked with a smile on his face so massive that it belied the fact he knew exactly why Arthur was lamenting the loss of the rain.

“Was hopin’ we might continue where we left off.”

Elijah snorted and laughed, voice still rough from waking. Arthur loved that sound. “You’re astonishing.”

“Naw, that ain’t it.” He whispered, tilting Elijah towards him and bringing his hand up to tilt his chin up towards Arthur's face. “You just been hurt so much you think anyone who wants you must be insane.”

That shocked Elijah into silence, eyes large and vulnerable. Arthur kissed him, softly. He needed him to know.

“Now there are many, many things wrong with me.” He said, repeating Elijah’s words from the night before. “But wantin’ you ain’t one of ‘em.”

It startled a laugh out of Elijah, who was still regarding him with such naked, open bewilderment that it made Arthur’s heart hurt. He cupped his face, thumb resting just on the scar on his bottom lip.

“You’re precious, to me.” Arthur said, finally.

Elijah made a sound that was halfway between a gasp and a sob. “Arthur… Christ. You can’t be sweet talking me this early.”

“Who’s gonna stop me?”

“Eli! Eli!” Sounded Kieran’s voice outside the tent, panicked and urgent.

They were dead quiet for a moment. “Talk of the devil…” Elijah sighed eventually, sitting up. Arthur flopped onto his back with a resigned groan, palming himself under the blankets to both relieve some pressure and not scar Kieran for life. “What is it, Kieran?”

“I, uh…”

“You can come in.”

Kieran pushed the canvas aside and hunched over to peer inside. “Oh, God- Mister Morgan-”

“Kieran.” Arthur said, steadfastly staring at the top of the tent.

“I didn’t mean to- I-”

“Kieran.” Elijah interjected. “What do you need?”

“It’s Mary-Beth, she ain’t well. I think she’s sick. You were always good with medicine ‘n stuff, can you take a look at her?” Kieran rambled with pale, frightened face.

“I’m still not a doctor, but… Sure. I’ll be there in a second.”

Kieran ran back to Mary-Beth and Elijah sighed. “Duty calls.”

“I’ll come with.” Arthur said, concerned. “Mary-Beth don’t usually get sick.”

They got dressed quickly. Arthur had kept some dry clothes in Elijah’s chest for weeks now for easy access.

Outside of the tent, they found the camp celebrating and enjoying some much needed downtime after Javier and Sean had successfully robbed a house and its family blind way back up north. There was to be a grand feast tonight. Hosea had saved them two bottles of moonshine from his last ride to Catherine Braithwaite and Charles was out hunting for their dinner. There was an excitement about the camp that Arthur hadn’t felt since Sean’s return. Oddly enough, nobody seemed too worried about Mary-Beth at present.

They found Kieran and Mary-Beth sitting in the shade of the big tree in the centre of the camp, just across from John’s tent. Mary-Beth looked a little pale and her eyes were bloodshot. Kieran was kneeling by her side and holding her hand.

“She’s been throwin’ up real bad.”

Elijah stopped in his tracks. “Has she? How much?”

“Been a couple days of it now…” Kieran seemed scared out of his wits.

Arthur heard Elijah whisper ‘oh brother’ under his breath.

He kneeled down in front of Mary-Beth and touched the back of his hand to her forehead, cheeks and the back of her neck.

“No fever.” He concluded, sighing. “Mary-Beth…”

“Yeah?”

“When was the last time you bled?”

That earned him a sharp slap across the face. Silence fell over the camp for a moment.

“I ain’t answerin’ that!” She hissed, indignant.

Elijah rubbed at his cheek red, stinging cheek. “Alright. Well.” He got up and made to walk away.

“No, wait!” Kieran pleaded, still holding Mary-Beth’s hand. “Mary-Beth, please…”

Mary-Beth looked at him and huffed a petulant sigh. “Fine. Been about two months now.”

Elijah looked at Kieran, who was virtually begging him with his eyes, and sighed, kneeling back down. “Has that happened before?”

“… No.”

“Lucky you.” Elijah mumbled. Mary-Beth gave him a confused look. “Anything else you’ve noticed, besides nausea?”

She looked to Kieran, embarrassed. “You tell ‘em.”

“I- Alright. Uhm.”  Kieran stuttered nervously. “She’s… Well… Her corset…”

“Her… Corset…?” Elijah queried, confused. Kieran was making awkward gestures at his chest. “Oh! Right. What about them?”

“They… Hurt. Right, Mary-Beth?”

“Sometimes.” She had her arms crossed like she was protecting herself from the three men around her who were trying to not stare directly at her chest and failing.

Elijah heaved a heavy sigh and got up again. Kieran looked up at him. “I-Is it bad?”

“That depends on your personal philosophy, I think.” Elijah said, hands on his hips. “But as it stands, Kieran… Congratulations.”

“W-What?”

“Looks like you’re gonna be a father. No way to tell for sure yet, but that’s what it looks like.”

Arthur, Mary-Beth and Kieran all looked at him like he’d grown a second head.

“I’m… Pregnant?”

“I think so, but I’m hardly qualified to say so. I just… Know things.” Elijah said, awkwardly trailing off.

“Well, I’ll be damned.” Arthur said, smiling. “Jack's gettin' a little cousin.”

Kieran hadn’t said anything yet. He was just staring at Elijah, mouth open, eyes wide.

“Might be a good idea to talk to Abigail.” Elijah murmured, deeply uncomfortable. “She’ll be a much bigger help than I am.”

Mary-Beth nodded, seemingly a little numb. Kieran finally snapped out of it.

“A baby?”

Mary-Beth stared at him, surprised. A smile was growing on his face and he laid a hand on her stomach.

“We’ll have a baby, Mary-Beth!” He was practically shouting. “I’m gonna be a dad! A-and… You’re gonna be a mom.”

“… Suppose we are.” Mary-Beth said slowly with a smile creeping onto her face. Kieran’s enthusiasm and joy were so infectious that she couldn’t help but catch it.

Kieran got up and caught Elijah in a tight embrace, weeping with joy. “I’m gonna be a father!”

Elijah didn’t say that he had no way to be sure, just pat him on the back and laughed. “You do right by them now, Kieran. You hear?” He held Kieran’s shoulders for a moment. “Don’t you dare run out on them.”

For a moment, Kieran’s laugh faltered to be replaced by righteous fervour. “I won’t. I’ll do right by ‘em. I promise.”

“Good man.” Elijah said softly, patting his shoulders once before letting him go. He turned away and walked to Pearson’s wagon to get breakfast while Kieran and Mary-Beth had their moment together. The news would spread through the camp like wildfire, he was sure.

“Looks like we’ll have one more thing to celebrate.” Arthur said as he grabbed bowls for the two of them. He found a wedge of cheese and broke off a corner.

“Indeed.” Elijah replied absentmindedly, busying himself with breadrolls. Arthur came up behind him and fed him the piece of cheese. That, at least, put a smile on his face.

“You ever want kids?” Arthur asked with a casualness he didn’t feel.

“What do you think?” Elijah laughed, shaking his head like the very notion was ridiculous.

Arthur shrugged. “Some men want kids.”

Some men haven’t had nightmares about pregnancy since they were children.” Elijah replied. He filled the bowls with stew and took them to the nearby table. They sat opposite each other, legs touching underneath. “I dreamt I birthed a carrot once. That was one of the less severe ones.”

It was such a bizarre thought that Arthur spat out his mouthful of stew laughing. “Alright, fair enough.”

“Besides, I just… I don’t understand children.” He stirred through his bowl, broke the bread and dipped it before taking a bite. “What their lives are like… I don’t think I had much of a childhood. Maybe that’s why it doesn’t make sense to me.”

“Think none of us really got to play happy families.” Arthur muttered. “Abigail seems to do fine with Jack, though.”

“She tries very hard.” Elijah said between bites of bread. “Christ, a baby in the camp…”

“We done it before.”

“Yeah, but did you do it with Pinkertons chasing you?” Elijah snapped, a little more defensively than Arthur had been expecting. He seemed to mollify immediately after, a little embarrassed. “Sorry. ‘s Just… From what I gather, you lot haven’t been in this much danger in a while… God knows what it’ll be like half a year from now.”

Arthur supposed that was true. “Guess we’ll just have to get ourselves lost good ‘n proper before the baby’s born, then.”

Elijah nodded before shaking his head like he was trying to clear it of a terrible thought. “Dear God in Heaven, I hope Molly or Karen don’t get pregnant before then.” He said with eyes wide with horror. “Can you imagine?”

“What d’you mean?”

“Those kids would be insufferable.” He shuddered to think about it: half Molly and half Dutch or half Sean and half Karen. Arthur laughed and gently kicked him under the table, which made Elijah laugh in turn.

They ate in silence for a while. Arthur kept turning what had just happened over in his head and putting his bowl down with a sigh, looking to the side, to Abigail and Jack.

“Wish John would do right by them, too.” Arthur lamented.

Elijah followed his gaze, nodding slowly. “Why doesn’t he?”

“Reckon he’s scared. Don’t know nothin’ about bein’ a father, let alone a good one.”

“You show me a father who knows about being a father and I’ll show you the Holy Grail.” Elijah muttered cynically. “John could have a good thing, right there. Abigail’s a lovely girl and Jack’s a wonderful boy.”

“I know.” Arthur sighed through his nose. “I know, but try convincin’ him of that.”

“I’m sure there’s ways.” Elijah said slowly, narrowing his eyes. Arthur knew that look. That look never ended well for him. “I’m sure… There’s… Ways…”

“What’re you plannin’?”

“Nothing.”

“Elijah…”

“Yes?”

“Don’t do nothin’ stupid, please.” Arthur pleaded.

“Nothing stupid, but it might be funny. For me.” Elijah grinned at him and took their bowls to the washing bin. Arthur sighed heavily and got up to follow him, catching him with a finger through one of his belt loops.

“What’re you gonna do?”

“Ah, you see, but there is absolutely no fun in me telling you that.”

Stubborn little shit, Arthur thought fondly. “Guess I can’t let you outta my sight.”

“You’re gonna have to. I’m gonna take Jack and Cain out for a walk and you’re not invited.” Elijah reached up to peck him on his lips, detaching his hand from his belt and heading over to Jack.

“Thought you didn’t understand kids!” Arthur shouted after him.

“No, but I understand dogs!”

Cain. The poor mutt who had just stumbled into Clemens Point one day and Jack had taken an instant liking to him. He’d first come around while Elijah was still recovering from his beating by the Raiders, but the moment he was well enough to walk around for longer periods of time, he’d taken the dog on walks together with Jack as much as he could. Arthur struggled to let him out of his sight, truth be told, but the fact that Elijah seemed to love the dog as much as Arthur had loved Copper made Arthur feel a little fuzzy on the inside, like that was part of some distant future they could have together.

A future he’d never known he could have.

“Arthur! Arthur? Hello?”

Dutch was snapping his fingers in front of Arthur’s face. “Jesus, son, you got it bad.”

“Sorry, Dutch. I was miles away.”

“Reckon I don’t need to guess where you were, neither.” Dutch said with a raised eyebrow. “Listen, I want you to head on over to Caliga Hall; the Gray family plantation. See what’s what, but don’t do nothin’ crazy, now.”

“What am I gonna be lookin’ for?” Arthur asked as he walked towards his tent to grab his guns and hat.

“Nothin’ specific yet. Just wanna know what kinda ‘business opportunities’ we have. You ‘n Hosea pullin’ that stunt with the moonshine was good, but it put the Sheriff on edge. We gotta manage our friendship with him, now.”

Arthur was just glad that Dutch seemed to be keeping his head for once with the plan. “John find anythin’ else useful yet?”

“He’s looking into those Braithwaite horses Archibald mentioned, but horse rustlin’ ain’t exactly our… Forte, if you will.” Dutch sighed. “But we gotta make money some way.”

“That we do.” Arthur tightened his belt and checked his holsters. “Alright. I’ll see what I can find.”

“Make sure you’re back in time for the party.” Dutch said, walking with him to Mordred. “Think we can all use a little celebration of life, of us as a family.”

Arthur mounted up. “Reckon we do.”

It’d been a while since he’d been out on the trail by himself. Mordred sure as hell hadn’t been out much. Arthur patted his neck by way of apology.

“Gonna make it a good ride today, boy.”

The sun was high in the sky and Arthur took his hat off to feel the sun on his face, even if just for a moment. He felt like he’d exclusively seen the inside of a tent for weeks, though he knew that wasn’t true. It’d been suffocating. The lack of sleep intensified the looming sense of dread he’d felt about Elijah’s recovery to the point where he couldn’t stop feeling it even after the danger had passed. For the first time in ages he dared to breathe again, to feel the warmth on his skin and let the sun warm him through to his bones. It was good to be away for a bit, to feel the breeze comb through his hair.

When he was out on the open roads he spurred Mordred on and rode like the wind. There was nothing like the feeling of a strong horse beneath you and its hooves thundering on the ground. He made good time to Caliga Hall, getting there just before the mid-afternoon.

The guards at the gate weren’t eager to let him in until Arthur told them he’d been recently deputised by Leigh Gray himself. One of the guards immediately assessed that the Sheriff must’ve been drunk when he did it and let him through. Arthur hitched his horse to the fence and went about questioning a few of the workers, none of whom seemed eager to talk to him. Eventually, one of them referred him to Beau Gray, who wouldn’t lift a finger to work but could talk a dead man back to life. Arthur found the young man by the store houses.

He was fit, young, and distinctly wealthy looking, hair curled and tended to in ways Arthur’s never had and never would. The realisation that he vaguely reminded him of Elijah made Arthur uncomfortable, for some reason. Not that they looked alike, but he was… Fine, delicate in the same way, dressed nicely but entirely inappropriate for the wilderness.

Arthur refused to give the awkward feeling credence, even if he knew it was because he thought Elijah was far more suited to a life on an estate than one running with a gang of outlaws. They’d had that conversation. It was done.

But he’d seen Beau before…

“Ain’t I see you at the Sheriff’s office?”

Beau looked up from his sketchbook, full of notes and little drawn portraits. “Excuse me, friend.”

“We friends?”

“Not yet, but here’s hoping.” He closed the book and regarded Arthur patiently.

“I guess.”

Beau smiled at him. “We don’t get a lot of traveling men here and suddenly there’s a whole phalanx of mysterious but strangely helpful Yankees about the place.”

Sometimes, it really passed Arthur by just how much had changed in twenty odd years. A gang of outlaws used to be commonplace. Now they stuck out like a sore thumb in a town like Rhodes. Still, no need to tell Beau that.

“Is there?” Arthur asked instead.

“What’re you doing here?”

Arthur shrugged. “I’m just looking for work.”

Beau wasn’t buying it. “Well, looking for somethin’. Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me.”

“What secret?”

Beau wasn’t paying attention. “I got a secret of my own.”

“Are you secretly normal?” Arthur mumbled, annoyed.

“Excuse me?”

“Never mind.”

“The thing is…” Beau said, looking behind the store house to check that no one was listening in. “I don’t care if you kill the whole lot of us and the Braithwaites.”

Arthur raised his hands, equal parts flabbergasted and defensive. “I don’t wanna kill anyone.”

“I love her, you know.”

“Love who?” Arthur laughed. What was this kid on?

“Penelope, but it’s impossible!” Beau snapped.

“Well, love tends to be complicated.” Arthur said with another shrug, trying not to smile. If there was one part that wasn’t complicated about his current circumstances, it was loving and being loved.

“She’s a Braithwaite! I’m Beau Gray! Son of Tavish Gray, nephew of Leigh Gray the Sheriff and grandson of ol’ Murdo Gray.” Beau sighed with frustration. “We Grays have been loyal to the State and murderers to the Braithwaites for so long now, no one can even quite explain why. Beyond blind loyalty and stupidity…”

Arthur had gathered as much from Hosea as well. Beau was still raging.

“I’m supposed to be loyal to some nonsense, while she…” Beau had to gulp for air for all the desire pouring from his lungs. “She’s amazing. She’s like a woman from the future!”

In his mind, Arthur wondered if he’d ever looked or sounded as stupid talking about one of his partners. Beau was still going.

“She’s like… Tomorrow, if tomorrow turns out fine.”

Dear Lord, Arthur thought. “Well, I’m sorry for your predicament.”

“Would you help?” Beau asked earnestly.

“I don’t wanna get involved in gang feuds… It seems unseemly.” Arthur said, like a liar.

“I’ll pay. I’ve got money.”

Shit.

“We Grays, we’ve always got money. No brains, mind, but money.” Beau added.

“Well, in that case…” Arthur sighed. Beau hurried back to his book and got out the letter he’d written to Penelope.

“I know she loves to sit out in the gazebo on the edge of the Braithwaite property.” Beau handed Arthur the letter. “Take her this letter and…” He got out a small package. “This bracelet. Please.”

Arthur took both and glanced inside the box at the bracelet, shaking his head. “Don’t remember courtin’ bein’ quite this expensive…” Arthur murmured.

“Surely there’s no price to making someone happy?” Beau asked, all earnest naivety and privilege.

“Not to you folk, I’m sure.” Arthur held up his hand in goodbye and took his leave. While unhitching Mordred he remembered the previous night.

Don’t really feel like we courted much at all.

And they hadn’t. Arthur had slowly fallen in love with Elijah and vice versa, there was never the time or the place to go see a show, to take a stroll and slowly discover the miracle of holding hands. There were no stolen kisses in a dark corner of the saloon.

Maybe it was just because he’d aged, Arthur thought. Maybe all of that was just part of being young and being older meant you didn’t have to try so hard. Then again, maybe Beau had a point, somewhere. Not with regards to money, but with regards to putting in effort.

Saint Denis wasn’t far form Caliga Hall. He could go there, find a gift and make it back to camp before sundown.

“Damn it.” Arthur said out loud, spurring his horse on towards Saint Denis. Cornwall was gone and it’d been a month and a half since everything went down with Lemieux. Surely he could go in safely now.

Arthur hated the city the moment he rode in. It was busy, filthy, smelled of smog and the air was thick, soupy and sour. It felt like the soot of the factories clung to his skin. No, Arthur was sure he could never live and be happy in a place like this, but it did have considerably more shops than any of the small towns did. He hitched his horse somewhere along a bustling high street and looked around for a store – any store at all – when he heard a familiar voice.

“Arthur!”

He turned and saw young Miss Renee approaching. He tipped his hat.

“Madam.”

“Good to see you!” She said, extending her hand to shake. They shook hands and Arthur remembered why he’d liked her just by virtue of her firm handshake. “How are you? How’s Elijah?”

“Fine, and… Good. Got a couple scars but he’s no worse for wear.”

“I’m glad to hear that!” She seemed relieved. “What brings you to Saint Denis?”

“Wanted to see what all the fuss was about.” Arthur said, looking to the side and kicking his foot against the pavement, a little embarrassed. “And… To get a gift, or somethin’. I dunno.”

“Not much fuss these days. Lemieux was impeached two weeks after it all went down.”

Arthur’s head shot up. “What? Why?”

“Someone else exposed his prior corruption and the people had enough of it.” She shrugged. “The city’s been more peaceful. Less Raiders about, too.”

“Well… That’s good. You reckon it’s safe for Elijah to come back sometime?”

“Maybe in another couple weeks, but sure. You said something about a gift?” She seemed genuinely interested, too.

“I-… Yeah.” Arthur scratched the back of his head. “Just… We didn’t really step out together, or anythin’. Weren’t really ever the time for gifts ‘n all that, so…”

“You wanna make up for lost time.” Renee said.

“Suppose so, but… I dunno. What do you even get for someone these days?”

“If going somewhere together is not an option, you can always make something.” Renee offered. “A shawl, or something nice made of leather. If you know how to make a necklace, that might be nice.”

Arthur remembered Jack’s flower necklace that he’d made for Abigail on their fishing trip and sighed. “Whatever happened to flowers? Ain’t flowers good enough no more?”

Renee regarded him with an expression that was eerily similar to Elijah’s carefully constructed expressionless mask.

“Flowers are nice.” She said, eventually, voice flat. Arthur laughed and shook his head.

“Alright, alright…”

“Something practical is also always good. Clothes or a new pair of boots.” She looked him over and grimaced. “Might do you some good, too.”

Arthur looked down at himself: his torn vest, his dirty white shirt, his stained trousers, his worn down boots…

“Maybe a haircut and a shave, if you want to go… Y’know, whole hog on the courting thing.” Renee said, looking like she was between wanting to say more and regretting what she’d already said. Arthur just laughed.

“Jesus, Renee. Anythin’ else?”

“A bath?” She grinned at him. “Hey, listen.” She put her hand on his arm and squeezed. Arthur hadn’t felt such a rush of brotherly affection for someone in a long time, but he appreciated Renee, her candour and all she had done for them. “No matter what you do or don’t do, he loves you. I should know. He wouldn’t shut up about you.”

That flattered Arthur more than it probably should. “And here I was afraid he’d run off with the tailor…”

Renee pulled a disgusted face. “I wouldn’t worry about that.”

“Why?”

“You’ll see.”

“Alright, well… Thanks for all your help.” He turned to leave but Renee stopped him.

“Please give Elijah my thanks.”

“What for?”

Renee looked a bit confused, as if she hadn’t expected Arthur not to know. “He made me and my wife a marriage certificate.” She quieted down a little, afraid of others hearing her. “When we leave the city and settle down… All I gotta do is play it well and we could build a home together somewhere.”

Sometimes, Elijah’s kindness still staggered him. “I’ll pass it on.”

“Thank you, and all the best.” She waved at him.

“And to you.” Arthur tipped his hat again and walked off into the streets of Saint Denis. He had no idea where to start, but Renee’s comments about the state of himself had gotten to him.

Damn it.”

After some asking around he eventually made it to the tailor and immediately felt both too poor and severely underdressed. He was sure he could afford it – he’d saved some money over the months since Colter – but he had no idea why he was even considering it. He wanted to turn around as soon as he walked in but the tailor stopped him.

Arthur wanted to laugh out loud the moment he saw him. An elderly, tiny Frenchman with a mighty white moustache and sparse curls on his head spoke to him.

“Can I help you?”

He was hunched over and had a measuring tape hanging from his neck down his chest.

“I… Maybe. I’m just lookin’ for some new clothes.”

“You are in the right place, sir.” The tailor said, coming out from behind the counter. “Any ideas on what you would like?”

“Not really… Maybe just a nicer version of… This.” Arthur said, vaguely gesturing at himself.

“That can be arranged.”

Arthur had no idea how long it took, but a considerable while later he found himself outside in a crisp, white dress shirt, a deep red paisley vest, some striped black town pants, brand new black and red preacher boots and a goddamn puff neckerchief. The latter he’d objected to from the start, but the tailor wouldn’t stop talking about how handsome he looked in it. No wonder Elijah kept coming back with clothes: that tailor could’ve sold Arthur a wet newspaper and he would’ve bought it.

He spent another hour getting his hair cut and his beard shaved. Even he had to admit to looking half decent with his hair swept back and his face clean shaven. Afterwards he went and had a bath at the saloon. Arthur couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt both this clean and this ridiculous. All of this effort, and why? What was it for? Because Beau Gray wanted to surprise his girl with a bracelet and Arthur had felt insecure about his own lack of gifts?

“I’m a goddamn moron.” Arthur muttered to himself as he scoured shops and went back to Mordred empty handed. Nothing felt right to give. It wasn’t until he passed the general store where he saw a small glass jar that an idea popped into his head.

“Flowers ain’t good enough, huh…”

On his way back to camp as well as the Braithwaite mansion he passed a tree carrying a single bright yellow cigar orchid. Arthur dismounted, gathered a good handful of tree moss and gingerly laid the flower in the moss before closing off the jar with a small length of rope. It was technically handmade, Arthur supposed, but more importantly: it was personal, far more personal than a necklace or a shawl, neither of which Elijah wore, and clothes were… Difficult for him.

Of course, that didn’t keep him from doubting himself and regretting the entire affair the whole way home. Delivering the letter and the bracelet was a damned annoying affair: for one, he had to sneak past a whole bunch of guards while also trying to not arrive back at camp as dirty as he’d left it, and two, Penelope Braithwaite gave him a letter to give back to Beau. Oh, sure, Penelope was a modern woman alright and Arthur didn’t mind her, but he did mind being the goddamn errand boy.

By the time he got back to camp the sun had been down for a few hours. Campfires were lit and music sounded clear through the air. The party was in full swing and Arthur felt like a complete idiot. When Dutch saw him, he whistled low.

“Lookin’ sharp, Arthur! Where the hell have you been?”

“Saint Denis, got… Sidetracked between the Grays and the Braithwaites.”

“What’d you find?”

“An inbred retelling of Romeo and Juliet, mostly.” Arthur grumbled, feeling the flower jar in his satchel.

Dutch looked intrigued but just shook his head with laughter. “We’ll talk ‘bout that later. Ain’t a work night tonight! Go, enjoy, celebrate!” Dutch patted him on the back firmly and sent him on his way. Arthur only now noticed he was starving. He found himself a bowl of stew and could immediately tell it hadn’t been Pearson who cooked it. The layers of flavour had Elijah written all over them and it warmed Arthur to his core.

“Mister Morgan!” Miss Grimshaw appeared at his side. “I must say, you’re lookin’ very fine tonight.”

“Thank you, Susan.” He smiled at her between bites of his stew. “Enjoyin’ yourself?”

“I sure am. It’s good to not have to chase these girls for one evening.”

Arthur laughed. “I bet.” He looked around and saw Dutch was dancing with Molly near their tent while Karen, Sean, Elijah and Abigail danced near the campfire. Javier played his guitar and sang to them. The gang tried to sing along but couldn’t, not really, leading to a lot of stumbled words and sentences strung together mostly by humming. The entire scene made Arthur momentarily forget the day’s stupidity.

“Not sure what we’ll do with Mary-Beth, though.” Miss Grimshaw sighed. “What with her bein’ pregnant and all.”

“That ain’t been confirmed by a doctor yet.”

“It don’t take a doctor to spot pregnancy in a vomiting young woman, mister Morgan. It just takes another woman.” She said sternly. Arthur winced internally at the implication.

“I… Sure. I wouldn’t know. So everyone knows?”

“They do. Kieran was given so much booze that we had to put him to bed by dinner, poor buffoon.”

They shared a look of silent laughter between them.

“Either way, it’s nice to see everyone happy again.” Arthur said fondly.

“That it is, mister Morgan. That it is.” She gently pat his shoulder and went back to the campfire.

Arthur saw John stewing somewhere off the side of the camp. He put away his empty bowl and went over to him first.

“Don’t feel like joinin’ in tonight?” He said, lighting a cigarette and offering one to John. He refused it.

“Just don’t feel like bein’ around people right now.”

“Why?”

“Maybe you oughta ask your man why he’s dancin’ with Abigail ‘n taking Jack out for candy in Rhodes.” John grumbled with his arms crossed. He sounded like a petulant child.

Arthur frowned. “Now why’s that bother you?”

“It don’t bother me.”

“Seem pretty bothered to me, John.”

“Leave me alone, Arthur.”

Arthur sighed and took a long drag from his cigarette. “You could have a good thing with them, y’know?”

“The hell are you on about?”

“Abigail and Jack. Could have your own family if you bothered with ‘em.” Arthur took another drag and blew the smoke away, watching it disperse as they looked out across the water together. “Told you before, don’t try to be two people at once. Be one or the other, not both at the same time.”

“And I told you it ain’t that simple. You know it ain’t.”

“Ain’t it, though?” Arthur challenged, moving to stand in front of him. “Yeah, we live rough. The way we live might not be suited to a kid but he’s already livin’ it, John. With or without you, ‘cause you know Abigail ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

John was quiet for a while. Arthur stood by his side again and finished his cigarette, pushing it into the wet mud. Eventually, John spoke.

“What if I can’t do right by them?”

He sounded so small to Arthur. So fragile and afraid.

“You try again, and you keep tryin’ until you do.” Arthur said with conviction.

John breathed a laugh. “You make it sound easy.”

“Nah, not easy. Tryin’ ain’t always easy, but you gotta, before it’s too late.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” John turned towards him.

“Abigail won’t leave the gang, but she might move on from you. When she does, so will Jack.” Arthur warned him. “Make sure you start tryin’ before she does.”

John stared at the campfire where Abigail was still dancing with Elijah, laughing at something that’d happened that John hadn’t seen.

“She might move on to yours.” John said, half joking. Arthur knew he was trying to make light of what he felt and failing at it. Still, Arthur laughed.

“Doubt it, not that it’d matter if she did.”

John gave him a confused look. “Why?”

“You really are as dumb as you look, Marston.” Arthur shook his head and left him standing at the lake, walking over to the campfire.

Elijah spotted him over Abigail’s shoulder and his eyes opened to twice their size, taking Arthur in from head to toe. Arthur stepped forward.

“Mind if I take over, Abigail?”

“Not at all.” She said, handing Elijah over. “It’s about time I turned in, anyway. Thank you for the lovely evening.”

“My pleasure.” Elijah replied, taking Arthur’s hand.

Abigail clapped her hands together. “C’mon Jack, time for bed.”

Jack whined and got up. “Can Uncle Elijah read me a bedtime story?”

Arthur had his hand on Elijah’s waist and was not intending to let go, but Elijah seemed to falter. “Well, I-”

“I’ll do it.” John said, suddenly at the campfire. “I-If that’s alright.”

Abigail looked at him, surprised. “I… Sure. Why not. C’mon Jack, daddy’ll read you a story.”

Jack cheered and willingly went with them to his bedroll. Arthur had watched the entire encounter with amazement, but when he turned back to face Elijah, he saw him smirk.

“What’s so funny?”

“Oh, you know.” Elijah grinned at him, putting one hand on his shoulder and slowly stepping with Arthur to Javier’s music.

Nothing stupid, but it might be funny. For me.

“… You did all that on purpose. Takin’ Jack out, spendin’ time with Abigail.”

“I may have.” Elijah admitted.

“You conniving shit.” Arthur laughed, bending down to kiss him. “I can’t believe it worked.”

“He just needed a push in the right direction.” Elijah shrugged, the hand on Arthur’s shoulder stroking over his chest, feeling the fabric of the vest. “Now, are you gonna tell me what all this is?” The hand came up to stroke his freshly shaved face. “You’re all… Clean ‘n fancy.”

“Ah it’s… Nothin’…”

“Don’t lie to me, Arthur Morgan.” Elijah warned with mirth in his eyes. “These are Jean-Baptiste’s, aren’t they?”

“Who?”

“The Saint Denis tailor.” Elijah narrowed his eyes. “You went to Saint Denis.”

“And I ran into Renee.” Arthur said, eternally grateful for being able to derail that particular conversation. “Lemieux has been impeached. Not a damn Raider to be found. She also said to pass on her thanks for the certificate.”

Elijah smiled at that. “I’m glad it found her well, and I’ll let you get away with it but only because you got lucky with Lemieux’ impeachment.”

Arthur grinned, turned, and dipped Elijah low. “She was also the one who said I should get some clothes, a bath and a cut.” He murmured, pressing a slow kiss against Elijah’s lips before raising him back up again. It had the desired effect, too: Elijah’s eyes were dark and half-lidded with simmering desire.

“Why’d she suggest that?” Elijah asked, not as easily distracted as Arthur had hoped.

“Well… Somethin’ that Beau Gray said…”

“Who?”

“Dutch sent me to sniff around the Gray estate today… Found the Sheriff’s nephew, Beau. He…” Arthur sighed. “Wanted me to deliver a letter ‘n a gift to his Braithwaite girl. Said somethin’ about there not bein’ a price to makin’ someone happy, so…”

He watched Elijah’s face change with dawning understanding, landing somewhere between teasing and touched.

“You did say you felt we hadn’t courted… But I was a bit busy at the time.”

Arthur felt a rush of arousal course through him at the memory. “Yes you were.”

“We might wanna pick that up again, later.”

“We might.” Arthur agreed. “Anyway, just… We ain’t like these kids no more but I wanted to do… Somethin’, at least.”

“And I appreciate it, Arthur.” Elijah said earnestly. “You look beautiful.”

Arthur moved their joined hands and clutched them close to his heart, pulling Elijah to his chest and holding him close. They danced slowly while Javier played and Uncle told one of his many, many stories at the campfire. Sean and Karen had once again disappeared somewhere and Arthur was glad that John was preoccupied with reading to Jack, because he could damn well guess where those two had gone off to. He supposed he was grateful it was never his cot or Elijah’s – their – tent.

Around the camp, the party went on into the very small hours of the morning. John eventually had to kick Sean and Karen out of his bed – again – and Uncle had fallen asleep so close to the campfire that Arthur and Pearson eventually decided to move him, just in case. Elijah was pleasantly buzzed on moonshine and had retreated to their tent a fair bit earlier than Arthur had. Hosea and Tilly had played dominoes until the sun came up and neither of them could remember the score at all anymore.

Arthur, too, crawled back into their tent after the sun had come up, leaving his fancy new boots just inside the tent. You never knew what new chew toy Cain fancied on a given day. Elijah reached for him, all fuzzy edges and sleepy softness. Arthur wanted to undress, but Elijah sat up and steadied his hands.

“Let me.”

He took the neckerchief off first, laughing at it a bit.

“He tried to sell me that, too.” Elijah giggled.

“God damn it.” Arthur responded with a sigh.

It slipped free from underneath Arthur’s collar and found its way to the chest. Elijah unbuttoned his vest, shifting closer on his knees until he was close enough to nuzzle at Arthur’s jaw and press kisses against the still smooth skin.

“You smell nice.” He mumbled, voice rough with sleep and strong drink. “Soap, shaving cream…”

“Like that, do you?”

“Yes, but it’s not for me to ask you to shave.” Elijah took the vest off and tossed it to the chest as well, reaching for Arthur’s satchel next. He frowned. “What’ve you got in here?”

Arthur had almost completely forgotten about that. He reached in and took out the jar, holding it in his hands between their bodies.

“My momma… She passed away when I was a child… I don’t remember much of her, but she used to believe that flowers bring good luck, so…” He held it up for Elijah to take, who took it in his hands like he was holding the most fragile little bird with an expression of pure awe on his face.

“You made this for me?”

“’s just a flower in a jar, really…” Arthur muttered, feeling more than a little silly.

“It’s not just, it’s never just.” Elijah shuffled over to the chest and put it on the far end in the corner, where it was safest, then came back to Arthur. “I don’t know what to say… Thank you.”

“It’s nothin’. Ain’t a twenty dollar bracelet.”

“God, you really are a moron, Arthur Morgan.” He said, taking his face in his hands and kissing him soundly. Arthur pulled him close, feeling the heat of his body right through his shirt. Elijah let him go and began fiddling with the buttons on his shirt at the top. Arthur met him halfway, having started at the bottom. He pulled the shirt off without breaking the kiss and tossed it on the chest behind him.

“Glad you like it.” Arthur murmured against his lips, eventually. “Wasn’t sure if…”

“You could’ve given me a dead sparrow and I would’ve been happy, you idiot.” Elijah whispered breathlessly, trying to get his belt off while unbuttoning his trousers at the same time.

“… A dead sparrow?”

Elijah blinked at him like he fully hadn’t realised what he’d said. “Right. That’s another Dutch expression. It’ll keep.” He finally got Arthur’s pants open and pulled them down. Arthur wrestled himself out of them and was, at last, gloriously naked.

“Now, where were we this mornin’?” Arthur asked, stroking a hand up Elijah’s bare leg and feeling the downy hair standing on end. He lay down next to him and turned him over on his side, his back to Arthur’s chest. “Somethin’ like this, I think…”

“I’d say you were about there, yeah.” Elijah breathed, fisting his hand in the blanket when Arthur kissed the back of his shoulders, nipping here and there. “God.”

“Don’t usually get this biblical ‘till later, sweetheart.” Arthur murmured, teasing. “What’s got you so riled up, then?”

“Did you see yourself?” Elijah nearly whined, grinding his hips back against Arthur. “If it weren’t for the others I would’ve had you by the campfire.”

Arthur laughed softly, stroking his waist and hip. “So you was waitin’ for me, is what you’re saying?”

“Might have been, yeah. Fuck, Arthur, can you get a move on?”

“And you had the stones to call me impatient. C’mere, then.”

Arthur pulled him flush against him and put his hand underneath Elijah’s knee, lifting his leg with ease. He’d been hard for the past couple of minutes and found that he hadn’t been the only one who was eager: Elijah’s slick coated the head of his cock as soon as he touched it to his cunt.

“Look at you…” Arthur purred into his ear, holding his leg steady and pushing in with a low moan. Elijah had held his breath until he was all the way sheathed, releasing it shakily.

It was the slowest, most intimate lovemaking they’d had, or so Arthur thought, at least. Eventually, Elijah had just laid his leg over Arthur’s while Arthur held him against his body with an arm around his waist. Arthur had free reign to kiss his shoulders, his neck, the shell of his ear and, when Elijah turned his head, his jaw and the corner of his mouth. Orgasm didn’t come quickly for either of them, but neither minded. For all its delay, it was all the more intense.

Arthur had been keeping himself near the edge for God knew how long. He felt Elijah quivering against him, shivers and convulsions gently rocking his body in Arthur’s arms. Whispered pleas for release fell from his lips and Arthur took pity. He moved his hand down his belly and found the hard little nubbin of his clit, pulsing with need. It took a mere few passes of his fingers and for Arthur to pick up the pace of his thrusting before Elijah was chanting in whispers for him to keep going. Arthur held on for as long as he could himself, wanting for once to experience it with him.

When Elijah came, moans and whines choked off to the best of his ability in the dead silent of the morning, his pulsing cunt was all it took for Arthur to let go as well. They shivered and shook through it together, heads pressed close, sweat mingling between back and chest. For long minutes they lay together, still joined, their breathing out of sync and loud in the tent.

After a little while, Elijah yawned and laughed softly. “Suppose you might pop that cork, now.”

“You reckon?” Arthur mumbled sleepily, a smile on his face.

“The rag’s on your side.”

“Why?”

“That’s where I left it last night.”

Arthur grabbed it and folded it until he had a clean side. He pulled out with a gentle shudder and lovingly held the cloth against Elijah’s cunt, much to the other’s amusement.

“Oh my word, if my mother could see me now.”

“I’d much prefer she didn’t.”

“Suppose so, but I do wonder what she’d think of me.”

“I think she’d be damn proud.” Arthur said, refolding the cloth and wiping the last remnants of semen away. “I know I am.”

“You are?” Elijah turned over. “Why?”

“Don’t ask stupid questions this early. It don’t become you.” Arthur tossed the cloth to a far off corner to be cleaned tomorrow and laid back down, his chest instantly occupied by a fuzzy blonde head.

“Reckon your mother would be proud, too.” Elijah whispered after a little while.

“Doubt she’d be proud of an outlaw.” Arthur sighed.

“That ain’t all you are.” Elijah countered on a yawn. “You’ve become much more.”

“Like what?”

“Good.”

Arthur wanted to ask him what he meant by that, but he’d been trailing off and he heard him snoring moments later. He knew he’d be awake in less than an hour to pee, so he just left it there. For now.

Chapter Text

Arthur was doodling in his journal when Elijah stirred next to him, early afternoon light casting rays of warm light onto his bare back. He turned and looked at Arthur, then his journal.

“Morning.”

“Sleep well?” Arthur asked, not willing to stop sketching just yet. He’d just gotten to a difficult bit of shading on the flower jar he was drawing.

“Usually do after you’ve had your way with me.” He stretched long and hard, muscles quivering and back arching before he sat up. “What’re you drawing?”

Arthur smiled at his response and pointed his pencil towards the jar. Elijah laid his head against his shoulder and watched him sketch.

“You’re very good.” He said with a voice full of amazement. “Genuinely… Very good. Academies are filled with people who can’t even do half as well.”

Arthur shrugged it off. “Ah, it ain’t nothin’… I just draw what I see.”

“That’s the first thing they teach you, Arthur, and yet.”

“Well, I suppose it’s quite a compliment from someone who almost went to university to study art history.” Arthur teased and barely dodged the swipe at his arm. He turned and kissed Elijah’s head by way of apology.

“I used to draw all the time…” Elijah sighed. “I lost all my sketchbooks when the O’Driscolls took me and Kieran.”

“How?”

“They were used for kindling, mostly.”

He spoke to softly that Arthur knew it had really, genuinely hurt him very badly to lose them. “You never got new ones?”

“It felt pointless. I sketched some on loose paper and stationary here and there, but…” He shrugged. “Dunno.”

“What’d you draw?”

“Portraits. I was never very good at animals or landscapes, not like you are.”

“I ain’t much good at portraits myself. Nature’s easier than people.” Arthur smudged a bit of pencil to create the illusion of reflection on the glass.

“That holds true for most things.” Elijah kissed his shoulder and rubbed his cheek against it, happy as a cat in sunlight.

“You still got them?” Arthur asked then.

“What?”

“Them portraits you drew.”

“Oh. Uh.”

Arthur looked at him and found him looking mortified. “What? They can’t be that bad.”

There was a pinch at his side that he couldn’t dodge, but he grabbed Elijah’s wrist and kissed it, laughing.

“They’re not bad, just embarrassing.”

“Why?” Arthur fully did not understand how a portrait could be embarrassing.

Elijah sighed and reluctantly reached for a shoulder bag he kept by the side of his bedroll, rifling through and retrieving a stack of folded papers. He leaned against Arthur again and unfolded the stack. Arthur wrapped his arm around his waist and laid his head against Elijah’s to look at the drawings with him.

The first page was a handful of small portraits of what Arthur thought were a couple of O’Driscolls. He spotted Colm among them. The second page was Kieran three times and the third page was a portrait from the waist up of a sleeping, shirtless Kieran. Arthur could virtually feel the affection from the drawing alone: it was vulnerable and soft, the way only a lover could capture another.

Then, pages filled with faces very dear to Arthur: Dutch while he was reading, Hosea sleeping with his hat over his eyes, John standing guard, Miss Grimshaw hissing at one of the girls, no doubt.

“How’s any of this embarrassin’?”

Elijah hesitated a moment before putting those pages aside, holding about five sheets of paper in his hands, still. The first of those five was Arthur from three different angles: front, profile and a three-quarter view with neutral expressions. The second page was Arthur doing various things: brushing Mordred (Mordred’s head had been violently crossed out), smoking a cigarette, aiming his rifle. The third page was Arthur sleeping in their hotel bed in Strawberry. Lying on his stomach, spread out in the middle of the bed with a blanket barely covering his surely bare ass. The fourth was various studies of his body: his hands, his back, his waist and hips.

Between the fourth and the fifth page, Elijah’s finger stuck between the papers and didn’t move. Arthur made the decision for him and took the fourth away, revealing a light, quick sketch of the two of them, evidently laughing in the midst of the throes of passion on their bedroll. Elijah didn’t speak and didn’t look at Arthur.

Arthur took the drawing from him. “This what you’re so embarrassed about?” He asked, tracing the lines.

“I feel… There is…” He sighed. “It’s nothing. Stupid, pompous nonsense.”

“Tell me.” Arthur said, putting a finger underneath his chin and lifting it until they were looking at each other. He was blushing furiously. Arthur wanted to kiss him badly but he held back.

“Every time I draw someone I love… It’s stupid.”

“C’mon, Eli.”

“Do you know the ten commandments?”

Arthur laughed at the turn of the conversation. Of course he wouldn’t just tell Arthur, certainly not without an odd segue halfway through telling him the truth.

“Some of ‘em, and I break ‘em regularly.”

“Do you know what ‘thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image’ means?”

“No idea.”

“In short, it’s the commandment that forbids people from creating and worshiping idols or images rather than true Gods. Other religions have similar commandments or rules. The point is that images can be so powerful and contain so much beauty that people might prefer to worship those over the real… Deity, I guess.”

“Okay, and?”

“When I… Draw someone I love, I create a graven image.”

“You’ve lost me.” Arthur said, smiling apologetically.

“I told you it was pompous and stupid.”

“Explain it to me like I’m an idiot.” Arthur asked. “Please.” He wanted, very badly, to understand.

“Drawings of loved ones are pieces of me.” Elijah at last confessed, softly. “I draw primarily from memory. What you see isn’t so much you as it is how I see you in my mind’s eye. It’s my image of you, my… Idol, if you will.”

“You sayin’ you worship me?”

“Drawing you often feels that way.”

“I see.”

“Do you?”

Arthur nodded and bent to kiss him softly. “I been doin’ a fair amount of my own.”

He didn’t like to share his journal with others. It was private. They were his thoughts and his drawings and it was no one else’s business how he chronicled his life. For the longest time he almost considered it his legacy: this was what he would leave behind when the short time he had left on this earth inevitably ended. Arthur had been so sure of that.

He wasn’t, anymore. And so he flipped back into his journal to the pages that contained Elijah’s face, sleeping, laughing, reading, writing, and one particularly intimate scene where he’d drawn him praying. Naked as the day he was born, his back towards the viewer, face barely visible and only the tops of his hands shown with the rosary between them. Elijah gingerly took the journal from him and flipped between the pages, being careful to avoid any that had any writing on it. He traced the lines of his own face just as Arthur had done with his drawing moments earlier.

“You even got my birthmark.” Elijah mumbled, idly touching the tip of his finger to the small spot on his chin. “Took me years to notice it myself and you’ve just…”

Arthur smiled at that. At the time, well before the Raiders roughed him up, it had been the only thing on his face that stood out as a blemish to Arthur, if you could call it that. Compared to his own torn up, mangled face…

“These are beautiful, Arthur.” Elijah said and gave him back the journal. “I don’t know what else to say.”

Arthur shrugged. “You showed me yours, I showed you mine.”

“Hmm. You sure did.” Elijah looked at him with a dopey smile on his face. Arthur kissed it; couldn’t help himself even if he'd wanted to.

“What’re your plans for today?” Arthur asked, tossing the blanket off and crawling over to the chest for his clothes. Elijah tilted his head to appreciate the view.

“Believe Hosea wants me to come along to the Braithwaites today. Have to pretend to be his son, all that.” Elijah pulled his own shirt on, mismatching the buttons and not noticing until he got to the top. He sighed and started over again. Arthur handed him his spectacles and said nothing of it.

“Y’all want me to come along?”

“Think so, but later.” He took his vest from Arthur and caught his hand to kiss it. “You?”

“Gotta deliver young Miss Braithwaite’s mail to the damn Gray boy.” Arthur grumbled while he pulled his pants on. “He’d better not give me another letter back to her.”

“What a thrilling life you lead. Arthur Morgan: mailman of the West.”

“I’ll take the mailman over the acting job any day.”

“That’s because you’re not good at acting.” They pulled their boots on and got out of the tent. Arthur couldn’t resist.

“Really? Here I thought I was gettin’ away with pretendin’ I’m listenin’ to you all the time.”

Elijah didn’t respond.

“Eli?”

“Oh, sorry. Did you say something?” He had a grin so wide it wrinkled the skin underneath his eyes and scrunched his nose a little bit. Arthur huffed a laugh.

“Suppose I deserved that.”

“Suppose you should’ve seen it coming.” Elijah slapped his ass and reached up for a kiss. “I gotta go find Hosea.”

“Y’all behave now. Don’t do nothin’ I wouldn’t do.”

“Well, that leaves just about everything, doesn’t it?”

“Exactly.” Arthur waved him goodbye and went to find Mordred.

Time to find the local goddamn Romeo.

Chapter Text

If several months ago someone would have told Arthur that he would be going from being a glorified mailman to marching with suffragettes while on the run from Pinkertons and while being in a deeply loving relationship with another man, Arthur would’ve punched them in the face. There would have been no saving that person from their insanity regardless, or so Arthur would have thought. He hadn't even tallied his being deputised in a small village, either.

Now, though, sitting on a wagon with the local suffragette leader next to him, Beau Gray riding alongside while Penelope Braithwaite marched with the women, he was forced to reconsider. Penelope had been determined to march and Beau had been terrified of her getting into trouble because of it, so Arthur went along. He wasn’t even entirely sure why, he hadn’t even bothered to ask for any money for the letter he’d delivered, though he’d taken Beau’s money to come along to the march.

So, here they were. Penelope had only allowed Beau and Arthur to stay on the condition that Arthur would drive the wagon for them so that they could shout louder. He was seated on the wagon next to the suffragette leader, Ms. Olive Calhoon. The women sang their protest song in the back of the wagon while Arthur and Olive talked and the men who saw them drive by shouted obscenities.

“Mr. Morgan, are you an old friend of the movement?” Olive asked him.

“I’m just a driver, Ms. Calhoon, and maybe a shotgun messenger if it comes to it but… I hope it won’t.” The last thing Arthur wanted was a gunfight near a group of unarmed women.

“Our message will be delivered peaceably, Mr. Morgan. You can keep your shotgun to yourself.” She directed him to go left on Main Street, towards the bank. She marvelled at all the people who clapped for their rally and even those who heckled them. “It’s about to get exciting. I can feel it.”

Arthur saw dangerously angry looking men from the corner of his eye. “I believe you might be right.”

She called out the Sheriff, asking him to make sure it would be a peaceful assembly, and told some fool who shouted at them to go home to shut up. Arthur could only hope it wouldn’t go further than that.

“Mr. Morgan, I give you the male of the species.” She spat, looking down her nose at the men shouting from their porches.

“That’s a pretty dumb specimen, I grant it.”

“Stop just past the bank.”

As soon as Arthur stopped the wagon and all the ladies got down from it a group of men was upon them, shouting for them to shut up and leave. The women’s singing only barely drowned them out, until Ms. Calhoon spoke and everyone quieted down.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a great day for all of us.” She was met with cheers and heckling in equal measures. “For today is the day we begin to live as equals.”

“Equals? Ha!”

One of the men had made his way to the front, arguing loudly that the entire rally was unnatural and nonsensical. Olive had to raise her voice to sound out over the commotion.

“Fair, equal and free. Just as the Founding Fathers intended.”

“Founding Fathers!” The man shouted. “Not Founding Mothers, you silly old goat!”

Arthur sighed at the spectacle. Two men made their way through the crowd, not paying any attention to Olive or the other women. Arthur perked up from where he’d been leaning against the wagon wheel, following them with his eyes. They made their way right over to Beau.

“Hey!” One of them shouted only to be loudly shushed by the women immediately. He ignored it. “What the hell are you doing here, boy?”

Beau didn’t even look at him and spoke to him in a bored, annoyed tone of voice. “Hello, darling cousin.”

“Don’t you ever speak to me like that! What’re you doin’ here?”

“Listenin’, I suppose.”

Penelope pulled on Arthur’s arm. “Go help Beau! His cousin is a moron… And stop them from ruining the speech!”

Arthur pat her on the back. “Sure.” He made his way through the crowd where the Gray cousins were still speaking to each other. The one that had been talking – fat, balding and with a moustache – was threatening Beau.

“You’ll learn yourself some manners, cousin!”

Beau finally turned to face him. “Haven’t you got anything better to do?”

“You always was a cocky little s-”

“Beau.” Arthur appeared at the fat cousin’s side. “Weren’t we just leavin’?”

“Who the hell is this?” The cousin asked, pointing a grubby finger at Arthur.

“Follow me ‘round here.” Arthur said to Beau, hurrying around the side of the bank to their horses.

“I know a place. An old battlefield no one goes to.” Beau said. “Follow me!”

Now that they’d mostly shaken off the cousins, Arthur wanted to rib him a little bit. “You don’t wanna go back and hear the speeches? I ain’t voted before but I’m gettin’ kinda hot for voting rights.”

“I don’t know whether to take you seriously, Mr. Morgan.”

Best you never do, kid, Arthur thought. Beau was still talking.

“My cousins are my primary concern right now… If everyone knows about Penelope and me…”

Everyone knows about Penelope and you.” Arthur pointed out. If Leigh Gray had spoken to him about that the very first time Arthur saw him at the Sheriff’s office, surely he had realised by now that their relationship wasn’t exactly a secret? “I know about Penelope and you, and I been here all of ten minutes. Sooner it’s out, sooner it’s resolved.”

“The sooner it’s dealt with, you mean. We’re dealt with. Our families, the Grays and the Braithwaites, we bury our secrets and we bury ‘em deep.”

“Your secrets and your treasure…”

“Catherine Braithwaite’s got a daughter. No one’s seen her in years. Penelope said she weren’t … Quite right.”

Arthur didn’t care too much about that. “I ain’t heard about daughters. I heard about gold.”

Please, Arthur thought, let there be some goddamn money among all this inbred bullshit.

“I wouldn’t know about that. Been rumours like that for years.” Beau sighed, halting his horse at the battlefield. “This is awful.”

“No one died. Ain’t that awful.” Arthur commented. Kids.

“My cousins are vindictive bastards- My brothers are vindictive bastards, my cousins are worse.” Beau rubbed his hands over his face. Arthur shrugged.

“They started it.”

“I know, but-”

“You should leave.” Arthur leaned on the horn on his saddle, bored.

“I will. As soon as I have enough money.”

Arthur almost burst out laughing right there. Where had he heard that one before? “Ain’t you always sayin’ you got money?”

“My family has money. I don’t.”

“Is your family very rich?” Arthur asked, as if he hadn’t been able to tell by the massive, sprawling estate.

“I believe so, but uh… They keep me out of the discussions. I have more of a… Artistic temperament, so…”

“Is that what they call it?” Arthur mumbled.

“Yes- Oh. You made a joke. I really love her, I do.”

“Yeah, I know.” Arthur sighed. “You’ll find a way. You love her enough to try all the stupid things you shouldn’t to make it work.”

“What’s that mean?”

Arthur shook his head. “Nah, don’t matter. Don’t listen to me, I’m an old fool.”

Beau handed him his payment with a knowing smile. “A fool in love, maybe. Got yourself a girl then, Mr. Morgan?”

“I… No, I’m sure some would say so.” Arthur said uncomfortably. “But I wouldn’t.”

“She’ll come around, I’m sure. Now, I gotta go.” Beau hopped back on his horse. “Thank you, and good luck!”

Arthur waved him off and sighed with relief, glad to have gotten out of that particular conversation. It was getting late. He wondered if he would still even be in time for the Braithwaite meeting. Hosea had told him to ‘come if he wanted to’, but that they’d probably be just fine without him. Sean would be there to take the lead on whatever the task entailed this time and Elijah would follow that lead.

Above all things, Arthur pitied him for having to spend an evening with Sean.

Rather than visiting the Braithwaite mansion, Arthur went back to the see the tail end of the rally just in case he was needed. He didn’t care much about voting: anyone who thought the constitution meant anything and who thought that voting mattered was a fool as far as Arthur was concerned. But, he supposed, that if people were going to be dumb enough to vote, everyone should be allowed to exercise their own stupidity, women included. The rally was about as rowdy as it had been when he left it, and he had to remove one or two overly zealous men who were getting a little too close to Ms. Calhoon for his comfort, but other than that the women fared well.

When he got back to camp he found Hosea, Sean and Elijah had already returned. Hosea was already asleep, hands folded on his stomach and hat over his eyes, as Arthur had seen him do thousands of nights before. Sean was regaling the gang with tales of their adventure. Arthur went to sit by the campfire to listen.

“Oh, I tell ya, he seems real nice but he’s a little weasel. Won’t harm a fly but sneaks, lies and cheats his way through everythin’. While I was doin’ all the hard work of dousin’ the fields and cuttin’ guard throats, he snuck off and got all the cash out of that payroll wagon. Suits him better, I reckon, with that tiny little frame of his.”

“He ain’t that much smaller than you.” Karen interjected, hand on a bottle of drink and already slurring her words. “Just smarter.”

“Very funny, my love, very funny!” Sean said. “Either way, we light the fields on fire and he suggests we just leave. Leave! Without takin’ care of the guards! Bastard was gonna leave me to fend for myself so I went. Only then does he tell me he already took the horses from the wagon so that we could escape.”

“Like I said.” Karen hiccupped. “Smarter.”

“They were shootin’ at us, Karen! And all he was doin’ was coughin’ his lily lungs out from the smoke!”

“Yeah! And that runt can’t shoot for shit! Of course you run!”

Arthur and the others laughed. “She’s right. Think you were better off not fightin’ ‘em. Besides, you got the job done, by the sound of it.”

“I suppose. Would’ve gone a lot different if you were there, though, Arthur.” Sean sat back down on the log and took the bottle from Karen.

“I’m sure it would’ve. That don’t mean it would’ve been better. We’re tryin’ to kill as few people as possible. Don’t need more heat on us than we’ve already got.” Arthur said. “We still need to get them Braithwaite horses, too…”

“Think I’m closin’ in on that.” John said. Jack was sat at his feet, playing with a stick in the mud. He and Abigail were sitting close enough for their legs to touch. It made Arthur smile that, apparently, something of a family was slowly growing between the three of them.

“Let me know when you’re ready.” Arthur said, getting up. “We’ll ride together.”

“Will do.”

Arthur went to find Dutch and inform him that his scouting of the Grays was, effectively, completely pointless. Beau didn’t know anything about the gold, if there even was any.

“That’s a shame.” Dutch sighed, closing his book. “We only got a couple hundred from that tobacco job, too…”

“Ain’t looking too worthwhile, this whole feud.” Arthur lit a cigarette and took a long drag. “Maybe we oughta think of somethin’ else.”

“Them horses might still pay.” Dutch countered. “We gotta keep trying. Besides, Trelawny mentioned somethin’ about bounty hunters when we took him to Rhodes.”

“Bounty hunters?” Shit.

“Gunnin’ for us, apparently. He’s stayin’ in a caravan in Rhodes. Take Charles there tomorrow, see what you can find.” Dutch got up and pat Arthur’s shoulder. “We’ll make it, Arthur. We’ll get our money and get the hell out, all of us.”

“If you say so, Dutch.” Arthur sighed, unsure. “Been a while since we had a good haul… That house they robbed up north was decent money but we need a hell of a lot more than that.”

“I know, son. We keep trying. For now, get a good night’s rest.”

Arthur nodded, finished his cigarette and went to search for Elijah. He found their tent empty but heard the tell-tale sounds of water splashing a bit further down the bank. Upon investigating he did, in fact, find Elijah, bathing vigorously.

“You're really just out in the open now, huh?” Arthur leaned against a nearby tree.

“The only person who would come down here is Swanson, and he’d probably ascribe it to a morphine hallucination.” Elijah said before dunking his head underwater and roughly scrubbing at his scalp.

“Easy now. You’ll be bald if you keep goin’ like that.”

He came up coughing and wheezing. Arthur was instantly on alert: his breathing hadn’t been this laboured since the Raider business. Elijah saw him come closer and waved him off.

“I’m fine. It’s fine. Just… Don’t handle smoke well. I’ll be fine in a day or two.” He caught his breath and calmed himself. “Had a bad bout of pneumonia about five years ago… Lungs ain’t been right since.”

“I never noticed… Breathing usually seems fine.”

“Don’t usually breathe in a plantation’s worth of tobacco smoke.” He hacked and coughed until he spat what Arthur imagined was a considerable amount of phlegm into the water. “Vile.”

“You never complained about my smokin’.” Arthur noted.

“You don’t smoke in the tent. So long as it’s not in my face, I’m fine.”

“And the washin’?”

“I hate the smell of it.” He got out of the water and Arthur handed him his towel.

“Never mentioned that, neither.”

“You smell worse of sweat, swamp and campfire than you ever do of tobacco, Arthur.” He dried off quickly and put his shirt and trousers back on. “Besides it’s… Well, it’s you. I don’t mind it when it’s you.”

Arthur laughed. “You’re a fool.”

“Never claimed I wasn’t.” He tilted his head up towards Arthur and Arthur could only oblige, bending down to meet him in a kiss. “Welcome back. How were the kids?”

“Went to a suffragette rally for votin’ rights.” They walked back to their tent together, two of Elijah’s fingers grasping Arthur’s ring and pinky finger. “Quite the experience.”

“I can imagine. How’d you find the rally?” Elijah asked as they crawled into the tent together. Arthur lit the lantern and lay down beside him.

“Don’t care about votin’ in general, but if I did I imagine I’d want everyone to be able to.”

Elijah chuckled. “Sound position to take from where you’re standing.”

“Why, what d’you think?”

“Well, as your friendly local city boy…”

“Here we go.”

“If a country is to be run by matter of voting, everyone should be allowed to vote. Whether you like it or not, this country is run that way, so everyone should.” Elijah shrugged. “I’m sure we’ll all eventually find some untouched land that we can mould into our personal paradise, but civilisation will catch up eventually. By the time that it does, I’d like it if everyone had a say.”

Arthur sighed. “You make our dreams sound hopeless.”

“Not hopeless, just not ever-lasting. Dreams rarely are.” He laid his chin on Arthur’s chest, regarding him with a patient expression. “I don’t reckon the world likes outlaws much anymore, but that doesn’t mean you can’t live. Just… Probably a little differently than you’d imagined.”

“I ain’t becomin’ no damn mailman.”

They both laughed at that. “No, I know. Not saying you should, and it doesn’t matter anyway. We’re a long way yet from having the money to move, let alone buy land.”

Arthur hummed in agreement and ran his fingers through Elijah’s wet hair, playing with individual strands of glossy blonde hair. “You ever miss it? The city?”

“Sometimes, but I can’t abide by it anymore.”

“Why?”

“I was never good with… Too much noise. Cities are loud, busy and never sleep. This life is much harder than a city life, but I would take it just for the quiet of the night.” He wrinkled his nose. “And cities smell like shit.”

“So do most of us, to be fair.”

Elijah laughed. “That’s just ‘cause you don’t bathe.”

“I ain’t lookin’ to have no snake biting my pecker, thanks.”

“I’ve never been bitten by anything while bathing here, Arthur.” He raised an eyebrow. “You’re just very delicate about the cold water.”

“Pardon me for likin’ it warm. Besides, I bathed just two days ago.”

“Yes, you did. You smelled lovely.” He shifted a bit until he could bury his nose in Arthur’s collar. “Now you just smell like sweat again. Not that I mind.”

Arthur turned his head and inhaled deeply through his nose. “You smell like a pack of cigarettes.”

“God damn it.” Elijah moved to get up again and Arthur pulled him back in by his elbow.

“So do I, I’m sure.”

“No. Taste of it, though.”

Right. “Sorry ‘bout that.”

“I don’t mind.” Elijah smiled a little sheepishly.

“You really are a strange one.” Arthur mumbled, taking him into his arms and kissing him deeply. Elijah rolled them over, Arthur on top with his weight resting on his forearms. He could tell Elijah was smiling throughout, even with his eyes closed. “Sean said you was sneakin’ all about that Gray place.”

“I was.” Elijah reached up for another kiss, short nails scratching softly against the back of Arthur’s scalp. “Can’t shoot, but I’m fast and quiet if I need to be.”

“Never seem all that fast or quiet to me.” Arthur dodged the cuff against his head and laughed, kissing his cheek.

“I just didn’t want to kill anyone that didn’t need killing.” Elijah mumbled. “Sean killed a guard we could’ve just knocked out… I’m not like that.”

Arthur felt that familiar pulling at his heart strings that he got whenever he realised Elijah didn’t belong in the gang. He’d killed so many people for jobs that didn’t necessarily need killing he couldn’t count them all if he wanted to, much less recall faces or names.

“Well, it’s good you’re not.” Arthur said. “The less we kill, the less chance Pinkertons’ll come after us.”

“That’s not why I don’t kill people, Arthur.”

“I know.” He soothed, kissing along his jaw. “I know. You ain’t a killer. Never was.”

Elijah enjoyed the attention for a bit, especially when Arthur opened his shirt and kissed over his clavicle. “Will you… Will you ever stop killing, you think?”

Arthur was blindsided by the question. He raised his head from the mole on Elijah’s chest he’d been kissing around to look at him. His eyes were concerned and a little fearful, like he was preparing himself for Arthur’s answer.

“I…”

Would he ever stop killing? He felt he’d already tried to limit pointless bloodshed as much as possible all his life, but maybe that hadn’t been true for a while, there. Tommy in Valentine… If Mr. Downes hadn’t stopped him, he would’ve killed him, no doubt about it.

But what Charles had said and what he himself had said just a couple of days ago had left a profound impact on him. They could be better, and if they wanted to survive they had to be better.

Arthur knew what he wanted his answer to be. “I hope so.”

Chapter Text

Mornings in Clemens Point had a different sort of quality to them than their previous camp in Horseshoe Overlook. The weather in The Heartlands had been pretty mild and most mornings were sunny or overcast. They never really had a surplus of rain or terribly cold nights, nor particularly hot ones. Clemens Point, on the contrary, was always hot. Even right after a thunderstorm like they’d had a couple days prior, the air was thick, hot and humid. Dense fog tended to cover the lake at night, too.

Arthur enjoyed the mornings in Clemens Point the most: the air was the freshest it was going to be all day, before the hot midday sun could heat up the lake again. The birds and frogs would drown out the insects buzzing about their tent. Slowly the sun would rise over the lake, white light reflecting off the water and illuminating their camp through the fog.

This was one such morning. Pale streaks of light shone through the opening in the canvas. Arthur had woken a moment ago, eyes still heavy with sleep. His body still felt clammy and slow with lethargy. He looked to his left and found Elijah dozing on his side, facing Arthur. All that blonde hair was puffed up and curling down over his eyes, almost touching the tip of his nose. He had his left hand lying close to his head, as was one of his sleeping habits, Arthur had noticed.

Arthur burrowed further down under the blanket, bringing his hand up to stroke his index finger along Elijah’s pinky, moving it alongside the side until he could gently lift the tip of it to inspect the nail. They were still bruised and split, but the worst of it had grown out over time. Arthur put his finger down and went back to stroking his hand, now with three fingers gently tickling over the knuckles, barely feeling the small collection of scars there. He did feel where the skin had been damaged along his fingertips: he had a poor habit of chewing on the skin around his nails when he was nervous. Arthur never saw him without some rough patch of skin somewhere on his fingers.

Elijah still hadn’t stirred. Arthur moved his hand up, gently pushing his middle finger through the curtain of hair until he barely grazed his forehead. He moved the hair aside and gently tucked it behind his ear. He looked so peaceful when he slept, Arthur thought. He brushed his knuckles gently over his cheek, where most of the bruising had faded some time ago. He moved his hand down to rest of his jaw and stroked his thumb along the left scar on his bottom lip. The stitches had come out a week ago and it had closed up nicely.

He felt a kiss being pressed against his thumb.

“Mornin’, sweetheart.” Arthur whispered, heart fluttering in his chest when Elijah smiled. In his heart of hearts, Arthur cherished moments like these the most.

“Morning.” Elijah whispered back, voice hoarse still from the tobacco smoke. Arthur moved his hand down and Elijah caught it in his, pressing a kiss against his knuckles. They hands laid between their bodies, held together and fingers teasing softly. Arthur’s heart ached with love for this man.

“C’mere for a bit.”

Elijah let himself be manhandled by Arthur, only barely cooperating himself. Eventually, he was laid down right on top of Arthur, head burrowed in the crook of his neck, arms resting aside his chest and legs sprawled somewhere half on top of him. Something about the solid weight of him was grounding to Arthur and he basked in the feeling of holding him in his arms, stroking his back, side and hair.

“Ain’t you just the prettiest boy?” Arthur mumbled against his forehead, kissing there.

“Daft man.”

“Wish we could stay like this.” He confessed. The sun warmed his feet through the blanket. Not long now and the gang would be getting up for the day.

“One of us will have to piss, eventually.”

“I forget you’re such a romantic sometimes, you know that.” Arthur grumbled. He felt Elijah smiling against his neck.

“We can stay for a bit longer.” Elijah yawned softly, breath puffing out over Arthur’s neck and clavicle. “Wouldn’t mind if we did.”

“I gotta go look for some bounty hunters soon…” Arthur sighed. “Bounty hunters, just what we need.”

“What fun.” Elijah mumbled. “Be careful. I would like to keep you in my bed longer than just today.”

“Sure.” Arthur chuckled.

They lay together for a while. Arthur murmured some more sweet nonsense that Elijah disregarded at every turn, smiling all the while. At one point, Arthur found himself holding up Elijah’s hand, thumb stroking over his ring finger. He caught himself trying to memorise the size, wondering if Mary’s engagement ring would fit. Would Elijah even accept that ring? He’d given it to someone else first after all, but that was so long ago now…

Eventually they did have to get up, dressing slowly, passing clothes back and forth between them until they had their outfits sorted and Arthur didn’t once again find himself stuck in Elijah’s pants and vice versa. Right before crawling out of the tent, Arthur caught him in a kiss while putting the hat Elijah had bought in Annesburg on his head. Arthur liked that hat on him, and maybe he had noticed that Elijah kept forgetting to put it on and kept coming back to camp with a sunburn.

“Good luck today.” Elijah told him as he went off to help with breakfast. Arthur would eat later, he decided. Best to head out now while it was still early.

He and Charles rode out minutes later.

“Where are we going, exactly?” Charles asked.

“Dutch wants us to have a talk with Trelawny about these bounty hunters who are comin’ for us. He’s hopin’ he can tell us who they are or where they’re comin’ from.” Arthur turned out of the woods and towards Rhodes.

“Deputies hunting bounty hunters, nothing strange about that.” Charles commented drily. “How’s that been going, anyway?”

“Ahh, I don’t know.” Arthur sighed. “The Grays don’t seem to have that much gold at all and them Braithwaites only have those horses… If those don’t make us a lotta money I reckon we’re done with both families.”

“Maybe Trelawny has a better idea about where to get money. I just hope we don’t get more law on our tail with all these different pots boiling…” Charles didn’t seem too excited about any of it and Arthur didn’t blame him.

“We ain’t been makin’ that much noise…” Arthur tried.

“Burning tobacco fields seems like a lot of noise to me.” Charles said matter-of-factly. “Not to mention, I get the feeling that Pinkertons just come sniffing if they hear about trouble anywhere. They just assume it’s us now.”

“Maybe you’re right… We gotta make money somehow, though. This is the only way we know how.”

“I know.”

Arthur got the sense that they both wished it was different, but the time when they could change that about them had long since passed. If they wanted to have a ‘normal’ life, whatever that would mean for them, they would have to get more money than most normal people made in their lives and they had to get it fast.

“Trelawny…” Charles mused. “I’ve only met him a couple times, but he’s… He’s a strange one.”

“Fear not, he’s just a cockroach in fancy britches.” Arthur said. “But… He gets into nooks and crannies the rest of us can’t.”

“Like Elijah on that Cornwall job?”

“Yeah. Just that Trelawny more often gets us into trouble than out of it.”

“And we need to get him out of trouble more often than not…” Charles mumbled.

They rode up to where Dutch had told them Trelawny’s caravan was. Arthur thought it was probably the one that had the fire outside and got off his horse. The caravan was a worn down little thing: the windows were either broken or partially boarded up, curtains were barely curtains anymore and- shit.

“This don’t look good.” Arthur said, stepping into the caravan. For one, the door had been open but nobody was home. Two, there was blood on the floor just next to the bed. The food on the table had been set out for breakfast but barely touched, like he’d left in a hurry. The blood spatter continued into the bathroom and right outside, bloodied footsteps going down the steps and into the mud.

“They went down the path here…” Charles said as he touched the earth. “How’s your tracking these days?”

“Alright, I guess…” Arthur got back onto Mordred and they followed the trail together. It turned left out of Rhodes and towards the Braithwaite estate. Arthur and Charles talked about Trelawny in the meantime.

“Not the kind of place I would expect Trelawny to be stayin’ in.” Arthur said. “Usually scams himself into the best hotel in town.”

Charles laughed. “Guess Rhodes doesn’t really have a hotel fine enough to be worth scamming yourself into.”

“Guess not.”

“When me and Javier went with him to get Sean out of Blackwater… He talked the whole way and never actually said a damn thing.”

“Thought you knew? That’s Trelawny’s special talent.”

They rode on and passed railroad tracks, Trelawny’s trail still leading them on until it eventually veered off into the forest. Two men had set up camp near the trail.

“Let’s go see what those fellers have to say.” Arthur said as he dismounted Mordred. On the ground near the men was an all too familiar walking cane and Arthur kept his hand ready to reach for his revolver.

“Hey, fellers.” Arthur said. The men just looked at him. “We’re uh… We’re lookin’ for our friend.”

The men looked at each other. “I don’t… Think he’s here.” The one sitting on the chair said. The other, who had been lying down on a bedroll underneath some canvas, was just sitting up.

Arthur chuckled at that. “He’s a… Strange sort of feller, sort of formal?”

“I seen strange, sure… Formal? No.”

Charles bent down and picked up the cane. “He uses a cane… Looks a lot like this one.”

The man that had been lying down moments earlier was now standing up and menacingly approaching Charles.

“Alright, you two…” Arthur put his hand on his revolver. “Where the hell is he?!”

The man closest to Charles lunged at him, but Charles just stepped back and whacked him so hard across the face with the cane that he knocked him clean out. The man closest to Arthur was unarmed, so when Arthur put his pistol against his forehead, all he did was raise his hands.

“Now, you’re gonna tell me where Trelawny is, or I’m gonna decorate your camp with the inside of your skull. Your choice, friend.” Arthur cocked his gun.

“T-They took him to the cabin, over by the cornfields.” The man stammered, terrified. “Please, let me go.”

“Which cornfields?” Arthur pressed the barrel of his gun further against the man’s forehead.

“Left! Left down the path here by Braithwaite Manor.”

Arthur lowered his gun and put it back in his holster. “Get the hell outta here, and don’t let me see you no more ‘round these parts.”

The man ran for his horse and sprinted away the moment he was in the saddle. Charles stood by his side.

“That was good of you, not to kill him.”

“Been tryin’ to kill less. If they got Trelawny they already know we’re in the area. Nothin’ he could say that could make it worse.” Arthur sighed and passed a hand over his face. “We need to get outta here… We need to head back west…”

“We do, but let’s get Trelawny first.” Charles patted his shoulder and got back onto Taima. Arthur followed him on Mordred. The fact that they were so close to Braithwaite Manor didn’t sit well with him either. Were they playing the families or were the families playing them?

Charles led them around so they wouldn’t have to cross through the estate.

“What do you think they want with Trelawny?” Charles asked him after a while.

“Could be any one of a hundred things, just depends if any of ‘em involve us.”

“You think he’ll talk?”

“‘Course he’ll talk! He’d sell his own sister to save a train fare! He don’t know how not to talk… But he don’t know where we’re holed up, though. Or… At least I don’t think he does.” Arthur fervently hoped he didn’t.

“I don’t know why Dutch still deals with him.” Charles said, peeved. “Always disappearing for weeks on end, always getting into trouble…”

“He’s got his uses.” Arthur commented. “But, well… Loyalty matters to Dutch.”

But it don’t matter to me as much no more, or… Not like it used to, anyway, Arthur thought. He was still loyal, just a lot more to the gang and a lot less to just Dutch.

“Of course, but is Trelawny loyal?” Charles asked.

“I guess. He ain’t  disloyal, he just got a big mouth. Not to worry. If he talked, I’ll find out what he goddamn said.”

They rode through the fields until they were deep in the Braithwaite estate and between the cornfields. There was a tiny little cabin at the top of the hill overlooking the fields. The door burst open and two bounty hunters came out pushing a tied up, black-and-blue, bloodied Trelawny out in front of them.

“Get out there, boy!” One of them shouted.

“Thing is, after that shack, this’ll be a good time.” The other laughed.

Arthur and Charles both aimed their guns at their heads. “Put the man down, gentlemen.” Arthur said.

They dropped Trelawny and ran into the cornfields. Charles cut Trelawny free and ran after them.

“Is that the lot of them?” Arthur asked him. Christ, Trelawny looked like shit.

“I think so.” Trelawny struggled to get up.

“So you’re alive?” Arthur reached out to grab his hand to help him. Trelawny took it and let himself be pulled up.

“Allegedly.”

“Don’t worry. They won’t be for much longer.”

“Go get them, Arthur!”

And Arthur went and did, though it was not a smooth sailing affair. The first two they found relatively easily among all the corn stalks, what with all the birds flying away and the rustling, but the third caught Arthur unawares and before he knew what was happening he was being strangled with a rope.

Charles stepped out of the corn while Arthur was choking and struggling to get the rope off his neck. It was cutting into his skin and squeezing his throat shut. He gasped for breath but couldn’t, legs kicking against the dirt.

“He’s mine!” The bounty hunter shouted, freeing one of his hands to aim his gun at Charles. “Let me take him, you get outta here.”

Charles looked bored, hands raised. “You… Have my friend.”

“He’s not your friend! I’ll give you money.” The bounty hunter lowered his gun and went to reach into his pocket. With razor sharp reflexes Charles reached for a throwing knife and threw it right into the man’s throat. The rope loosened around Arthur’s neck and he hacked and coughed until he could draw air again.

“You-…” He tried, coughing still. “You should’ve taken the money…”

“I know.” Charles deadpanned. “I’m a fool.”

“Shit…” Arthur rubbed at his sore neck. “Thank you.”

They were still being shot at. Arthur quickly divested the dead bounty hunter of his cash.

“Shootin’ is comin’ from that barn. Let’s go!”

There were only two more in the barn and it was easy enough to take care of them, even if Arthur still felt a little lightheaded. He found an odd looking scoped rifle that he took: extra guns were never bad to have.

“That’s all of ‘em.” He said, leaving the barn with Charles. “Let’s go back for Trelawny.”

“Wonder how much trouble he’s brought with him.” Charles said as they walked back up the hill.

“We’ll soon find out… Our luck’s run this long, we got outta worse scrapes than this one.” Arthur wasn’t too worried just yet, but it had started gnawing at him. Something wasn’t right.

“So I heard…” Charles replied. “I hope you’re right.”

Damn Charles and his sensible, cool head. Trelawny was waiting for them on the porch of the shed, looking absolutely rattled.

“Put your feet up, why don’t you?” Arthur said as they approached. “You okay?”

“Never finer!” Trelawny said, still sounding as big a fop as Arthur had always known him.

“Who was they?” Arthur said as he helped him out of his chair and towards his horse.

“Bounty hunters… Another lot of Ike Skelding’s boys… They weren’t looking for me, per se.”

Shit. “That bastard from Blackwater, from Sean?”

“Indeed.”

“What’d you tell them?”

“Not much… That I was an intellectual who had come down from Oregon, looking for a job at the university. ‘Course, they didn’t believe me.” Trelawny strained through gritted teeth as Arthur lifted him up onto his horse. “Seems you stirred up quite a hornet’s nest in Blackwater.”

“So I keep hearing.” Arthur sighed.

“It might be best if I stay with you gentlemen for a while. Can’t go back to that caravan, now.” Trelawny spurred on his horse, trotting alongside Arthur and Charles.

“You’d better not bring them bounty hunters to our damn door, Trelawny.” Arthur growled. “We got enough problems as it is.”

“Do you?” Trelawny sounded equal parts curious and smug. “Dutch tells me that there’s a young man now who is most capable at diverting your problems elsewhere.”

“Dutch said that?” Arthur could hardly imagine him praising Elijah.

“In much more colourful language, I assure you. He seems about as fond of him as I am of stepping in dog shit, but there is a measure of respect there, truly.”

“That sounds more like it.” Arthur chuckled. “I think the feeling’s mutual.”

“Yes, Dutch believes so too. And yet, no mutiny! Truly astounding.” Trelawny seemed in high spirits in spite of the fact that he couldn’t see out of one eye. “He also tells me you’ve rather taken to him.”

Arthur heard Charles snort a laugh. He sighed. “You could say that.”

“Fascinating. The last time any of us saw you with a man was in that barn-”

“Trelawny…”

“Really a rather compromising position we found you in.”

“You wanna keep that other eye of yours?”

Charles held Taima back a bit so he could ride next to Trelawny. “No, I wanna hear this.”

“Never thought I’d hear you ask for Trelawny to keep talking.” Arthur grumbled. Trelawny regaled them with the tale of Arthur’s embarrassing romp in some small farmer’s town to the west. By the time they finally made it back to camp, Charles’ ears were ringing with the amount of excruciating detail Trelawny had provided and Arthur was ready to kill.

Dutch walked up to them. “Look what the cat dragged in!” He patted Trelawny on the shoulder. “You might wanna get that looked at. We have a wonderful new camp nurse who’ll fix you right up.”

“Arthur’s infamous young fellow, I presume?”

“Indeed.” Dutch winked at Arthur and mouthed 'we'll talk later' before he pushed Trelawny in Elijah’s direction. Arthur turned his eyes heavenward.

For all that he couldn’t stand Trelawny, he was sure those two would get along swell. They were both well-read, well-travelled conniving little bastards. Arthur had no doubt those two could gossip until the sun came up.

“Hell is empty.” Arthur sighed, before walking towards the two of them to face the eloquent music.

Chapter Text

Trelawny was sat on Arthur’s cot while Elijah took a look at him. His cheek was cut and his neck badly bruised but besides that and some torn clothes, he seemed mostly fine.

“You’ll live.” Elijah said while he got a clean rag and some of his iodine ready to clean the wound. “Don’t even need stitching up, unlike this one.”

He’d nodded towards Arthur who was leaning against the tent pole just behind Trelawny.

“Arthur does tend to get into more scrapes than I do.” Trelawny said, hissing through his teeth at the stinging of the disinfectant. “It only seems fair that he should receive more care.”

“Oh, he does.” Elijah mumbled, shooting Arthur a sly look. Arthur returned it with a wink.

“I’m sure. Dutch tells me they picked you up in the mountains and that you’re a reformed O’Driscoll?” Trelawny was fishing for information, as he ever did.

“I prefer to think of it as being held hostage by Colm O’Driscoll indefinitely.” Elijah muttered while diligently cleaning the blood off Trelawny’s face. “But yes, they did.”

“And young Kieran, too?”

“Yes.”

“Interesting, very interesting. Dutch is under the impression that you don’t like him very much.”

Arthur resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Where was he even going with this?

“Dutch and I have an understanding.”

“Which is?”

“That I don’t like him and he doesn’t like me, but we’ll work together to make sure the gang makes it through.” He closed the bottle of iodine and put it aside. “I can fix up your clothes for you, if you like.”

“My, a regular seamstress! Would you? It’s all I have with me right now, I’m afraid.” Trelawny’s shirt and vest were torn at the seams and dirty.

“Sure. You can wash them yourself, though.”

“I’m sure Miss Jackson will rise to that particular task.” Trelawny gave him his shirt and vest and got up. “Thank you. I must go speak with Dutch, now.” He walked off towards Dutch’s tent and Elijah sighed, rifling through his satchel until he found needle and thread. Arthur sat down next to him.

“You ain’t gotta do that.” He said. “That ain’t your job.”

“My job is to do whatever helps, Arthur.” Elijah kicked his boots off and pulled his legs onto the cot, crossing them and draping the shirt over them before feeling the seams and looking for the start of the tear. “How’d it go?”

“Well, we got Trelawny back… But somethin’ about it ain’t sit right with me.” Arthur said.

“What’s that?”

“Them bounty hunters was Ike Skelding’s boys, same ones that took Sean. Followed us all the way down here, caught damn Trelawny and took ‘em right to some corn shack on the Braithwaite’s estate.” The whole thing pissed Arthur off, really. What was going on?

Elijah didn’t reply for a little bit, rhythmically stitching the shoulder seam closed. Arthur could practically see the cogs turning in his head. Eventually, Elijah hummed.

“Did any of them get away?”

“We let the ones that weren’t shootin’ at us go.” Arthur sighed, regretting his decision. “Doubt it matters, anyway.”

“I agree.” Elijah said, snipping through the thread with his shears and turning the shirt over to stitch the other side. “Wouldn’t surprise me if Ike Skelding’s boys and the Pinkertons are working together, or at least informing one another. If the bounty hunters know we’re in Lemoyne, so do the Pinkertons.”

Arthur nodded. He’d figured the same. “We gotta get outta here…”

“We do. You’d better hope you and John get good money out of those Braithwaite horses, because I don’t think we can push it much further. The Grays are very upset about their fields, apparently. Dutch has already been summoned by the Sheriff to talk about… God knows, arresting the entire Braithwaite family, I reckon.” Elijah heaved a long sigh. “Catherine is ecstatic, of course, or so Hosea says. Sure that’ll change as soon as her horses go missing.”

“You reckon they’ll know it’s us?”

“If Ike Skelding’s boys can get onto her heavily guarded property and hold Trelawny there with no one batting an eye…” Elijah pointed out.

“Yeah… I thought the same.” He leaned back against the wagon parked against the canvas of his tent. “Least they don’t know where we’re hidin’. If we can pull it off, get the money and get outta here, it won’t matter if they knew all along.”

Elijah hummed again and didn’t speak for a little while. “Hosea told me about Blackwater a little while ago.” He still hadn’t really looked at Arthur, too focused on completing the task lying in his lap. “From what he’s told me before it didn’t seem too different to other robberies that went wrong.”

“Dutch killed a girl in a… Bad way, but… Can’t imagine the law much cares about that.” Arthur muttered. “Think it’s mostly Cornwall’s funding and them not wantin’ to let us go now that they got us properly on the run and with no money.”

“Maybe it’s just the times.” Elijah said, finishing the other shoulder and inspecting the shirt for more tears. “Hosea was right: civilisation never rests. Reckon in another ten years you won’t see gangs around at all anymore.”

Arthur turned his head to look at him. They’d all known it for a while, he thought, but they never talked about it. It felt like admitting it out loud amounted to giving up. Still. “Might be right.” Arthur mumbled eventually.

Elijah, at last, raised his head to properly look at Arthur. He frowned. “Your neck.”

“Yeah, one of them got me with a rope. Charles was there in time, though.” He touched his fingers to the sore skin on his neck. The rope had dug in pretty deep and the skin felt tender and a little burnt from scraping against the rough twine.

“I’ll look at that in a second.” Elijah replied while he worked on Trelawny’s vest. Arthur’s hand found a spot on Elijah’s knee that wasn’t occupied with Trelawny’s damn clothes and rested there, thumb stroking back and forth. They sat in silence for a couple of minutes while Elijah worked. When Trelawny came by after his talk with Dutch his clothes were finished.

“My, you do work efficiently.” Trelawny said, pulling his clothes back on. “I am in your debt, dear boy.”

“I reckon there’s other people here that you’re indebted to that should take precedence.” Elijah grimaced at him. Trelawny only laughed.

“And quick with his tongue, too. You’ve done well, Arthur.” He bowed out of the conversation and went to find a place to rest. Arthur watched him go, shaking his head.

“Cockroach.”

“Harmless, though, and I’m sure he’s got his uses. He got us Sean back.” Elijah stretched his legs.

“That he did.”

“C’mere, let me see your neck.” He was already holding out his hands. Arthur obliged and shifted closer on the cot, lifting his jaw. Gentle fingers touched and tested the skin, looking for places where the skin had broken.

“Don’t look too bad… I might have some salve that’ll make it hurt less.” He let go of Arthur’s neck and sat back. “Told you to be careful and you go and get yourself hanged before your time.”

“Just tryin’ to put myself into Micah’s shoes for a moment, see if I could figure out why he was such an asshole in life.”

“Did you?”

“Reckon it was just his character.”

They laughed, the stresses of the day momentarily forgotten. Later, Arthur spoke to Dutch about the entire thing not sitting right with him. Dutch heard him but the need for money outweighed any other concerns. John was still looking for a horse fence to sell the Braithwaite horses to but the rest of it was ready to go: he knew where the horses were, he knew Tavish Gray wanted them gone and he knew just about how many guards they’d have to deal with. All they needed was a fence and another person to ride with them.

Arthur was about to voice his doubts about how lucrative this entire operation was (or wasn’t) when Pearson walked up to them, red-faced with excitement.

“Dutch!”

“Mr. Pearson! What’s got you so worked up, old friend?” Dutch turned away from Arthur and towards Pearson. Arthur sighed and decided to leave it for later: it’d take them a while to find a horse fence, anyway, and the horses sure as shit weren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

“It’s peace, Dutch!” Pearson stopped in front of them, catching his breath.

“Peace?” Dutch and Arthur exchanged a confused look.

“The O’Driscolls. I mean, I think there’s a way.”

“What on earth are you talking about?” Dutch already sounded like he didn’t want to have this conversation anymore. Arthur couldn’t blame him. He didn’t particularly want to deal with Colm and his ilk right now, either. Still, a chance for peace was worth investigating.

“I just got back from town, met a couple of the O’Driscoll boys. Things were about to get ugly, but you know how I am in a fight, huh?” He pulled out his knife and stabbed the air. “Like a cornered tiger!”

Arthur heard a barely restrained snort from beside him and found that Elijah had joined them. So had Kieran, Bill, Javier and John, all with bemused looks on their faces.

Pearson cleared his throat awkwardly. “Anyway, somehow it didn’t, but… We got to talkin’ and they suggested a parley to end things… Like gentlemen. Today, at four, by the old Oil Derrick up north.”

“Gentlemen?” Dutch barked, advancing on Pearson and walking him out of his tent. “Colm O’Driscoll? Have you lost your mind?”

Arthur shrugged. “You’re always tellin’ us Dutch: revenge is a fool’s game. If it ain’t revenge we might as well try peace.”

Hosea looked up from where he’d been reading the newspaper at the table. “They want a parley?” He laughed. “It’s a trap.”

“Gotta be a trap.” Bill said.

“Sounds like a trap to me.” Spoke Javier.

“We can’t let the feud go on forever, even if it might be a trap.” John sighed.

“It probably is a trap, Dutch, but it might be worth a shot.” Arthur agreed with John. He’d wanted to end it by killing Colm all those months ago at Six Point Cabin. Now, he would be glad to just have it over with. He’d only ever hated Colm O’Driscoll because he and Dutch had their feud going on, and who Dutch hated, Arthur hated.

No more.

Dutch looked between the four of them and nodded at Kieran and Elijah, who hadn’t spoken but were exchanging uneasy glances with one another. “And what do our former O’Driscoll boys think?”

Kieran spoke first. “He don’t like you, and I mean he really don’t like you, but… He ain’t dumb, either. Peace might be a way to get y’all out of his hair for once. No offence.”

“None taken.” Arthur spoke for them.

“And you?” Dutch asked Elijah.

“Colm is a vindictive sack of shit with no purpose in life. I doubt he knows how to spell ‘peace’, let alone make it.” He shrugged. “But, worst case scenario, you shoot them first. We’ve killed so many of them and they haven’t killed any of us yet, so the odds are in our favour.”

That, at least, was true. Dutch seemed to genuinely be considering it, fiddling with the lit cigar in his hand.

“I killed Colm’s brother a long time ago… Then, in return, he killed… A woman I loved dear.”

Arthur remembered Annabelle. She had been a lovely woman and a dear friend to many in the gang, as well as Dutch’s companion. If Arthur was completely honest with himself, he’d liked her significantly more than he had ever liked Molly. At least Annabelle had pulled her weight.

“It was a long time ago, Dutch.” Arthur said softly. “It might be best if we try and put an end to things while we still can.”

The silence that followed was tense, with Dutch deciding what to do.

“Let’s go. With any luck I’ll be back in time for tea time with the goddamn Sheriff. Arthur, John, you’re comin’ with me. Arthur, you got that rifle, don’t you?”

“Sure do.” He went and got his scoped rifle. “What do you want with it?”

“I want John by my side and you watchin’ over us. If it’s a trap, you kill the lot of ‘em.” Dutch was already headed towards The Count with John close behind. Arthur slung the rifle over his shoulder.

“And what about me?” Pearson shouted.

“Now ain’t the time for tigers, my friend!” Dutch shouted back as he mounted up.

Elijah caught Arthur’s hand as he walked past. “Be careful. Colm always has a trick up his sleeve.”

“I will.” Arthur bent down and kissed him, once, their hands held tight between them. Moments later, he, Dutch and John were on the road to The Heartlands.

Dutch spoke as they rode.

“You know, I been fighting Colm for so long now, I can barely remember a time when it was different.”

“And now’s the time to end that, Dutch. We just gotta be careful.” Arthur said.

John rode next to him. “Makes me nervous, though. If they got to Pearson, that means they been around Rhodes. Probably saw us all a bunch’a times and never approached us. Why would they go through Pearson and not you?” He asked Arthur.

“I dunno. ‘Cause I’d shoot first and ask questions later.”

“Guess it’s easier to question a tiger.”

The three of them laughed at that, at least.

“Maybe it’s good to not be fightin’ on all these fronts, though. We already got rid of Cornwall. Now we got bounty hunters and Pinkertons. Might as well try and get rid of Colm O’Driscoll, too.” Arthur said after a while.

“Maybe you’re right.” Dutch sighed. “Maybe it’s time.”

“You sure you don’t want me on the ground with you, Dutch?”

“It might still be a trap, so we’re gonna give you the high ground. No, my dear and trusted friend, with you watching over me, I would walk into hell itself.”

Always with the poetic drama, Arthur thought fondly. “Fine. John, you’d better make sure he don’t get shot.”

“What about me?” John balked, offended that his safety was a secondary concern.

“You’ll be fine. If three wolves couldn’t kill you, I doubt Colm O’Driscoll can.”

When they were almost at the meeting point they saw a couple of O’Driscolls on the trail up on the hill. Apparently Dutch hadn’t been the only one with a contingency plan.

“I don’t like havin’ eyes on us.” Arthur grumbled.

“You’ll be the eyes soon enough. There’s a perch up on the pass you can get up to. Doubt they’ll see you there.” Dutch said, pointing towards a rock ledge that stuck out some from the hill. “John and I will go on foot from here. You find yourself a spot.”

“Alright, alright.” Arthur said, turning Mordred around. “However this shakes out, let’s aim to meet back at the fork in the road afterwards.”

“We’ll be there, Arthur.” John said, leaving Old Boy behind and walking with Dutch to the pass. Arthur hitched Mordred at the bottom of the hill and began his climb. After a few minutes he found himself on the ledge, rifle next to him, checking on John and Dutch through his binoculars. In the distance, he heard the sounds of hooves approaching and saw Colm and two O’Driscolls riding in on their horses, getting down just in front of Dutch and John.

He got his rifle out and took aim. No matter how much he strained to hear, he couldn’t at all hear what was being said over the sounds of the wind and birds around him. Colm got closer to Dutch first but Arthur couldn’t tell whether it was friendly or hostile, and Dutch got closer to Colm after that. Neither of them looked happy, but they didn’t look angry, either. Just when they really started to get into each other’s faces, Arthur heard rapidly approaching footsteps behind him and he turned around to see who it was.

Except he never really got to see who it was. He could guess, but his head met the hard end of a rifle butt and the world went dark.

Chapter Text

“Hello, sugar!”

Arthur’s skull felt like it was splitting in half. He tried to open his eyes but the sunlight was overwhelming and he had to shield his eyes. Even then he could only barely make out the men standing over him.

“You ain’t dead, is you?” Spoke one voice.

“Not-” Something came down on Arthur’s right shin, hard. He could feel the bone crack, pain lancing through his lower leg. “-Yet, anyway!”

Tinny sounding laughter assaulted Arthur’s ears, followed by brutal kicks to his ribs, legs, arms and punches to his head. By the third punch, he was out of it completely.

When Arthur next came to he was lying on the ground. His eyelids felt crusty and sticky with his own sweat and blood, stinging his eyes when he tried to open them. Pain pulsed in his right leg. The O’Driscolls were talking but he couldn’t piece the words together. He thought he heard them say something about handing him over to the law, but he couldn’t be sure. As quietly as he could he tried to crawl across the ground and away from them.

It didn’t work. He didn’t even make it ten feet away from them before they heard the rustling of leaves and twigs snapping underneath Arthur’s weight. Arthur tried to get onto his legs but he couldn’t put any weight down on the right. A lasso caught around his legs and pulled his legs fully out from underneath him and he was dragged right back to camp.

“Did I kill ya?”

Arthur groaned. “Oh, not yet.”

One man laughed. “Of course not. Not yet, but I will.”

Arthur heard a gunshot explode next to his left ear and his vision went dark once more.

He faded back into consciousness for a minute while he was on the back of a horse. Every single bit of him hurt. How long had they been travelling? Had no one found him yet? Where were they going? All those questions and many more barely lucid thoughts went unanswered as the world faded to black again.

By the time Arthur woke next he wished they really had just killed him in the camp. He was hanging upside down in nothing but his shackles and his union suit. His hands and limbs felt either completely numb or heavy and thick with bruising and blood. The ropes around his ankles were pulled tightly and his right leg was killing him. It was impossible to tell if it was a full break or just a greenstick fracture. Arthur struggled to focus his upside-down vision: the world swam before his eyes and his head was pounding. His mouth tasted of bile while his stomach still roiled with nausea.

All in all, Arthur felt like a metric tonne of shit in a two pound bag.

Above where Arthur was hanging a hatch opened. He had to close his eyes against the warm, bright light of an oil lantern. Someone was descending the creaky stairs. Arthur could hear rain pouring down outside, droplets leaking off the muddy, wooden stairs. The footsteps mingled with the water, quiet splashes underneath thin soles.

Arthur tried to focus, his vision clearing enough to see the man standing before him with a lantern in one hand and a bowl of warm, fragrant food in the other.

Colm O’Driscoll.

“Arthur Morgan. It’s good to see ya.” He said, thin lips cracking into a smirk. Arthur watched him set the lantern down on a nearby crate. The basement came into view: there was a desk with an unlit candle nearby and a table on his other side.

“Hello, Colm.” Arthur replied, almost choking on the words with how dry his throat was. The inside of his mouth tasted like he’d been chewing bullets.

“How’s the wound?” Colm asked, gesturing at it with his spoon.

“I hardly feel it.”

“You will.” Colm prodded his spoon against his swollen, bloody shoulder. Arthur cried out and grabbed his wrist with his right hand, trying to stop him. He was assaulted by another wave of nausea and had to let go until the world would stop spinning.

“Septic,” Colm continued. “Ain’t nice. Now, tell me, a fine gun like you… Why you still runnin’ around with old Dutch? Could come ride with me and make real money.”

“It ain’t about the money, Colm.” Arthur said. It hadn’t been for a while now, though Arthur felt they had been very close to letting it become about that. Colm pulled up a chair.

“Oh, no… It’s Dutch’s famous charisma!” He shouted out of nowhere near the end, delivering a hard kick against Arthur’s left shoulder. Arthur growled through the pain and tried not to give in to the urge to gag. It wasn’t like he’d eaten anything yet today.

Colm was still talking. “You killed a whole bunch of my boys at Six Point Cabin.”

“I ain’t got no clue what you talkin’ about.” Arthur lied through his bloodied teeth.

“Oh, you lie, my friend.” Colm got in his face, as did his revolver. “And I thought Dutch preached truth!”

“Let me go, Colm.” Arthur was tired of fighting. “And end all this crap between you two… We all got real problems now.”

“The way I see it, they get him, they forget about me.”

“They ain’t the forgettin’ sort. If I were you, I’d run as soon as I had the money.”

Colm chuckled. “Oh, I know you would… But see… We lure an angry Dutch in to rescue ya, grab all o’ ya and hand ya in, then disappear.”

Arthur tried to think through the fog in his head. “So you only met with him to grab me?”

“Of course. He’s gonna be so mad! He gonna come ragin’ over here, and the whole lot o’ ya… And the law’ll be waitin’ for ‘em.”

Rage and concern coursed through Arthur’s veins like liquid poison. Even the goddamn O’Driscolls had a deal with the damn Pinkertons? They were fucked. They were completely and utterly fucked. If Arthur made it out of this alive, they had to get the hell outta dodge as soon as possible.

Colm saw him struggle and laughed. “Oh, Arthur. I missed you.” He took the butt of his revolver and beat Arthur viciously, each hit against his already battered torso had Arthur gasping for breath until he thought he was going to choke. Colm stopped and laughed again, taking the lantern and walking back up the stairs.

Arthur didn’t know how much time had passed. All he knew was that he’d seen at least one morning through the now open hatch and it was now dark once more. The candle on the nearby desk had been lit in the meantime. Arthur didn’t know why or when that had happened.

He had to get out. With all the power he could muster he pulled himself up a bit to check if there was anything he could use to free himself. There was something sharp and metal on the table next to him. A file? What kind of supreme moron would leave that lying around?

Whomever it had been, Arthur was grateful for their stupidity. He swung from left to right until he could just reach the file, grabbing it off the table. Cutting the ropes was a whole other matter. Arthur’s ribs cracked and burned with the effort to reach his ankles and his leg felt about ready to fall off entirely. He managed, just about, and got to filing. The twine was cheap and old and gave way easily to the rough file. Arthur braced himself to fall but it didn’t help: he landed mostly on his upper back and pain seared from his shoulder right down to his toes. His skull felt like it might crack under the pressure of his headache.

He touched his fingers to the wound, breathing through the pain. The bullet was definitely still in there and it had to be taken out as soon as possible. He got up, as much weight as possible leaning on his left leg, and sat on Colm’s chair.

First, he had to clean the file. He held the file’s tip in the fire until it was heated through, gritted his teeth and stuck the file in next to the bullet, prodding and cutting until it became dislodged enough that Arthur could wriggle it out with his fingers. All his focus was on not passing out from the pain and getting out as soon as possible. Next, he took a shotgun shell that was sat on the table, bit the cap off and poured the gun powder onto the wound. He tossed the shell aside and grabbed the candle. His hand shook badly and he had nothing but willpower to get him through: after a moment’s hesitation, he jammed the flaming candle against the wound, cauterising it.

“Shut your hole.”

Arthur’s head snapped up and he stopped breathing. Someone was coming down the stairs. It was still raining. How long had it been raining for? What kind of Godforsaken subtropical hellhole had they landed themselves in? Had the O’Driscolls taken him all the way back to Lemoyne? Christ, well. If he had been, that’d make the ride home a hell of a lot easier, at least.

He got up from his chair and kept himself close to the wall next to the stairs. The O’Driscoll coming down held up his lantern and stepped into the room.

“What the hell?” He said as soon as he saw Arthur was missing from his usual spot. Arthur wasted no time: he caught the man in a chokehold and choked the life right out of him. Thank God his right arm was still mostly functional. Looking around the room he saw none of his possessions anywhere. He hadn’t brought much in the first place: just his satchel, his revolver, his knife and that scoped rifle he’d used during the parley. That left him with no choice but to look for them, and he had to climb the stairs for that. At the top of the stairs he heard two more O’Driscolls talking to each other.

Each step of the stairs was agony. At least he was barefoot, he supposed: the mud and water barely made any sound underneath his foot soles. He had to lean heavily against the side of the stairs to support himself and try to not put too much weight on the right leg. After several long, painful moments he was at the top of the stairs, trying to calm his breathing. There was an O’Driscoll to the left but nobody else. Where the other had gone, Arthur couldn’t see from here. Light reflected off the bountiful rain pouring down. The ground was a wet sludge of mud and grass. Arthur had no idea how he was going to find a horse and get out of this without either further injuring himself or alerting a whole posse of O’Driscolls, but that was a matter for later.

As quietly as he could he sneaked up behind the O’Driscoll to his left. Fortunately for him the rain drowned out almost any other noise and he wasn’t noticed. He took him down as well and dragged his body to the stairs until he could let him slide down the steps and out of sight. In the distance he could see the faint light of a lantern from one of the patrolling O’Driscolls. Behind him the light illuminated a small structure; a shed?

Arthur tried to sneak the long way around but his feet kept slipping away in the mud. If he could just make it there and take out that last O’Driscoll, find his things and get on a horse…

The O’Driscoll was trying to light a cigarette but his matches wouldn’t cooperate. Through his frustration and the rain he couldn’t hear the squelching of mud behind him, nor Arthur pulling himself up by a plank on the shed before bashing the man’s skull against the shed hard enough to hear it crack. He was out cold, if not dead. With another couple of limping steps, Arthur was inside the shed.

“Small mercies…” He mumbled to himself as he found his satchel, knife, revolver and the rifle all stashed together. Now, he actually had a fighting chance to make it out alive, even if he really didn’t want to have to shoot himself out of this.

He took a moment to assess the situation outside: there was one more lone O’Driscoll who, so far, hadn’t noticed that none of his companions were talking anymore. They weren’t the brightest bunch, after all. Arthur couldn’t see very far: it was dark and the moon was hidden behind the clouds, but judging by the type of trees and grass he could see, he was still fairly certain he wasn’t in Lemoyne. It wasn’t all that hot and the air didn’t feel as oppressive, either. If he had to guess, he’d say he was either in West Elizabeth or still somewhere in The Heartlands. The former would mean he had a several hours long ride ahead of him in Pinkerton territory, the latter was marginally safer, but still a long trip.

Just next to the shed, Arthur heard horses whinnying. The O’Driscoll had turned a corner and was now behind the shack Arthur had been in, out of sight and hopefully out of earshot. Arthur stumbled and limped through the mud, holding on to the side of the shed and trying not to give in to the urge to just lie down and let it be. He had to make it home.

Peeking around the corner of the shed he saw a handful of horses hitched to a fence. Among them, he spotted the familiar mahogany bay markings of a well-loved Tennessee Walker.

“Mordred.” Arthur sighed with relief. He double-checked that the O’Driscoll was still gone and made his way over. The other horses whinnied with protest, but Mordred pushed his nose into Arthur’s hand as soon as he offered it. He led Mordred away from the other horses so he could get on, fully raising himself over the saddle so he could lift his right leg over with as little strain as possible. The pain was bad, but at least he was sitting down, now. He patted Mordred’s neck, glad to have at least one friend by his side now. As quietly as his hooves would allow, he rode away from the shed, leaving deep, muddy tracks behind.

The further he rode away from the shack, the more certain he was that he was, in fact, in West Elizabeth. Now that the adrenaline was starting to settle, he felt his cold and wet clothes sticking to his skin, a chill settling in his bones among the constant drone of hurt. His body couldn’t spare the energy to shiver, not even when the wind picked up and intensified the cold tenfold. Arthur clung to Mordred’s neck, too tired and too hurt to hold himself upright.

There was no telling how long he’d been riding north along the Dakota. He still hadn’t found a place to cross the water into The Heartlands. His fingers and toes had started to feel numb with the chill. A damn cold snap in the heart of summer and Arthur was caught in the middle of it.

That wasn’t the only thing that’d caught him, either. Through the rain Arthur barely registered the sound of hooves galloping behind him. That last O’Driscoll must’ve followed his tracks through the mud.

“Now or never, boy.” Arthur said to Mordred, raising himself up and digging his heels in hard. Mordred neighed and bolted forward so quickly that Arthur could barely hold on, but it didn’t matter.

The first shot grazed Arthur’s side, warm blood pouring down his right hip and leg. Arthur gritted his teeth and kept riding.

The second shot didn’t hit him.

It hit Mordred.

With a pained whinny, Mordred collapsed underneath him. Two more shots were fired and Arthur was sure those hit Mordred too, but he couldn’t tell. His left leg was trapped underneath him and all Arthur could do was crawl closer to him, gently stroking his mane and neck.

“Thank you…” Arthur whispered, grief settling over him like a fog. This was it. He’d failed.

“Thought you could get away, ya ugly bastard?” The rider behind him shouted over the rain and rumbling of the sky. He set a lantern down next to Mordred’s still form.  “Killed the other boys, too, so now yer comin’ back with me for another fun night.”

He grabbed Arthur’s left arm and pulled. Arthur screamed and lightning lit up the sky followed by a clap of thunder so loud overhead that it left both of them reeling. The O’Driscoll shoved Mordred aside with his foot and Arthur wanted to kill him more than anything, but he couldn’t move. Even after his leg was free, he had no energy left to fight. His limbs felt heavy and sluggish. The single swipe he made for the man’s face was met with an immediate rebuttal: a firm kick to his chin.

Arthur was forcefully turned over, arms pulled behind him while the O’Driscoll tied his wrists together. From the corner of his eye, Arthur could barely make out the features of his face, but he was sure it was the same man that had shot him at the camp-… How long ago? A day? A week?

With his wrists tied, the man loomed over him, gnarled face coming into view in the lantern light. “I’m gonna make sure you pay for each one of them boys. You might wanna start thinkin’ on your last words before I pull all your teeth out, one by one.”

Arthur’s vision swam, but he could just barely focus on the man’s face. “Great, then I’ll look just like you Irish boys. Can finally become an O’Driscoll after all.”

The man kicked him in the ribs and Arthur coughed so hard that this time he couldn’t keep from retching, but nothing came up. His head was hauled up by his hair and he felt the old wounds on his head reopening. They were face-to-face and Arthur truly thought the man’s menacing, horrifying grin was the last thing he’d ever see.

“Real tough guy, ain’t ya?” The O’Driscoll sneered. “Couldn’t make it out even with a horse.”

Arthur wanted to reply, but found he no longer really had to. He just smiled and the O’Driscoll narrowed his eyes at him.

“What’s so fun-”

The beaded chain of a rosary wrapped around his neck, digging into the skin and choking him. He dropped Arthur to the ground and his hands flew to his neck. Arthur saw him being wrestled to the ground, a knee pushed into his back as his assailant pulled the rosary ever tighter.

“Hello, Declan.” Elijah growled through his teeth. His voice was shaking with unrestrained rage. “Long time no see.”

Declan couldn’t reply, thrashing about and trying to reach for his gun. Arthur crawled forward and caught his wrist, preventing him from doing as much. Elijah had the rosary pulled so tight that Arthur thought he might decapitate him, his eyes wild and murderous. Thunder roared through the sky, white light flashing over the scene. The sounds of Declan trying to gasp for breath, spit rattling in his throat while his eyes were practically bulging out of his head would haunt Arthur for weeks to come. Elijah dug his knee in viciously, forcing Declan’s shoulder further into the ground. It served no purpose other than to hurt him, Arthur recognised.

After another couple of seconds, Declan stopped moving entirely. Elijah still hadn’t let go, the rosary digging into his own fingers, skin bulging red and white.

“He’s dead.” Arthur breathed, letting go of Declan’s wrist and rolling onto his back. Rain poured onto his body as he lay in the mud. He heard Elijah getting up, heard the faint clicking of the rosary beads against each other as he wound it back around his wrist. He walked past Arthur, standing over Mordred, hands balled into fists at his sides. He raised both of his hands and the clear sound of his whistle cut through the noise. Arthur heard the distant galloping, but this time he needn’t fear for his life.

Elijah knelt beside him, quickly assessing all the damage done. Arthur saw his lip quiver and heard his uneven, shaky breathing. He only now noticed the man was armed to the teeth, too: two of Arthur’s rifles on his back, a revolver he recognised as Hosea’s on his right hip, Charles’ hunting knife on his left alongside Arthur’s sawed-off shotgun. What the hell had he been doing?

“We’re gonna get you home, Arthur.” He said, swallowing hard. “Can you get up?”

Arthur tried to sit up but the torn skin on his side was radiating pain all throughout his torso. Elijah caught him underneath his arms and tried to lift him but he wasn’t strong enough.

“C'mon Arthur.” He pleaded. "You have to get up, you can't- I can't-"

Frustrated, terrified tears mingled with the rain pouring down his face. Arthur's vision blurred and swam, Elijah's distraught face fading in and out of focus. Vincent huffed, snorted, and stomped his hooves uneasily. When another clap of thunder split the sky, he reared and neighed furiously. Arthur, incapable of doing anything else, pitied the poor creature. Elijah's body had sagged against his. In spite of everything, Arthur could feel him trembling. A hushed litany of whispers found his ears.

"Oh, God... Please help me. Please, please, please..."

"God can't help me now." Arthur commented drily. "Not that I think-" His dry throat caught on the words and he coughed. "-That he would."

For whatever reason, that spurred Elijah back into action. With quaking thighs, he planted his feet firmly in the ground, took hold of Arthur once more and lifted. Arthur groaned with the pain even as he was lifted off the ground. Behind him, he heard the faint clinking of Vincent's stirrups hitting the saddle.

"Lift your leg." Elijah said, completely out of breath. "Now."

In a supreme feat of strength and willpower, Arthur managed to lift his right leg just barely across the saddle. Vincent, it appeared, had knelt on the ground for him.

"Didn't realise Vincent was a trained poodle." He mumbled. Elijah didn't respond and got on behind him. Without further ado, he spurred Vincent onward through the mud and rain, homeward at last.

Arthur allowed himself to lean into Elijah’s warm body. After a few minutes of catching his breath and getting his bearings, he spoke. “It was a set up to get to me. Colm thought Dutch was gonna save me and then he could hand ‘em over to the law…”

“Pinkertons offered Colm a price, too?” Elijah practically shouted.

“Looks like it.”

“I’m going to kill Dutch. Make your peace with that before we get to camp.”

Arthur wheezed through a chuckle. “Save it for after we get the money.”

“I won’t make any promises.”

“How’d you find me? ‘Specially in this shit?” He looked towards the skies for a moment, rain streaming down his face.

“Kieran and I spent a day writing down every O’Driscoll camp or hideout we remembered.” Elijah replied grimly. “I’ve just come down from the one near the Downes’ farm. Lone Mule Stead was next on my list.”

Lone Mule Stead, right outside Blackwater. God damn it, Arthur thought but didn’t say. “How long you been lookin’ for me?”

“About a week.”

“Shit.”

“I heard the gunfire. Then you and Declan. Mordred…”

Arthur swallowed the sour taste of bile and grief that sat like ashes in his mouth. “Poor thing.”

Vincent was a considerably faster horse than Mordred had been and Arthur could feel Elijah pushing him to ride faster still. It was dark and the lantern on Elijah’s saddle was doing very little to help. They sprinted through the forests while the storm raged on. Arthur hadn’t felt this cold since Colter.

When Vincent tired of sprinting they were barely halfway to Rhodes. Arthur was struggling to keep himself upright and conscious, leaning heavily against Elijah’s chest, watching the clouds pass by in the dim moonlight. They had passed the worst of the rain.

“Hang on.” Elijah stopped Vincent and climbed out of the saddle. Arthur held onto the horn on the saddle for dear life while Elijah stood in front of Vincent, feeding him one of the oatcakes Arthur always had on hand. He was cooing something or other to the horse while sweetly rubbing his nose, but Arthur couldn’t understand it.

“You… You speak Dutch to your horse?” Arthur asked in a desperate attempt to gain some focus.

“Sometimes.”

After another minute of him talking to the horse and feeding him, he got back on. Arthur was extremely grateful to have his back rest back.

“Think they broke my leg.” Arthur mumbled as they continued riding. “And I been shot, twice. ‘n They beat the shit outta me.”

“I’ll take care of you. Just stay awake.” Elijah sounded rushed and desperate, already spurring Vincent on to run faster. Vincent snorted with protest and shook his mane. “Kom op, jongen…”

“Boy’s had a hard few days, I bet.” Arthur chuckled softly, coughing through it.

“Nowhere near as hard as you have.” Elijah responded, irritated. Vincent was back up to galloping, well aware of whom his rider was. Arthur leaned his head against Elijah’s near his right shoulder.

“I’m glad it was you.” He said.

“What?”

“Who found me.”

“Of course it was going to be me. The rest of them are fucked if they run into Milton and his goons.”

Arthur smiled at the stubborn impatience with which he’d said that. “I know. Still.”

“Can’t believe they offered Colm a price.” Elijah sounded angry. “It’s always Dutch. Every single time.”

Arthur let him rave and rant. If the positions were reversed, he was sure he’d be just as angry. He just struggled to accept that someone could be this angry on his behalf. Elijah was still spouting venom next to his ear.

“It’s never you, or Bill, or John, Charles, Lenny, Javier… It’s never even fucking Hosea. It’s Dutch. It’s always about Dutch. The entire gang could disappear without Dutch tomorrow and they still wouldn’t stop, because they just want him.” He ran out of breath in his fury. If it weren’t so heart-breaking, Arthur would’ve laughed. “And the reverse is true, as well. It’ll stop the moment they get Dutch, even if we’re all right there.”

Somewhere within the crevices of his mind, Arthur knew where he was going with this and he probably wasn’t wrong either, but Arthur didn’t want to hear it. He couldn’t stomach the possibility of it. Elijah had finished speaking, spurring Vincent on to sprint. They’d entered Lemoyne: it wasn’t far now.

Arthur was struggling to stay awake, eyes falling closed despite his best efforts to the contrary. He felt himself slumping to the side, only to have his right side dig into Elijah’s arm, pulling on the wound in his side. With a jerk he sat bolt upright, startling Vincent.

“Easy, boy!” Elijah tried to soothe him and slowed down. “You okay, Arthur?”

“Tired…” Arthur breathed, hands limply holding on to the horn.

“Stay awake, Arthur. I need you awake.”

Elijah spurred Vincent on again, panic rolling off of him. His elbows were dug into Arthur, holding him upright against him as they rode. Treetops shot across Arthur’s vision in rapid succession to the drum of Vincent’s sprint. He wasn’t sure how long they’d been going when he felt Elijah abruptly stop and he suddenly became aware of the voices around him. They faded into his hearing like he was waking up from a deep sleep.

“John!” Was that Elijah?

“On my way.” Right. That was John’s raspy voice.

“Help him down, I’m not-… I’m not strong enough.”

Arthur could barely feel himself being lowered off the horse until someone tried to hold his lower right leg and he cried out.

“Careful! He said he thinks it’s broken. Get him on the bed and get me boiling water and towels. Quickly!”

Three people helped him into his cot. Was Vincent parked in the middle of the damn camp?

Grimshaw won’t like that, Arthur thought stupidly. He vaguely saw Kieran leading the horse away before he saw Elijah’s worried face above him again. “I’m gonna cut you out of this. I’m sure you’ll forgive the immodesty.”

If Arthur could feel his face, maybe he could tell if he was smiling. “Do whatever… You gotta do.”

The blunt end of a knife slid coolly across Arthur’s skin, one neat cut down either side. The union suit was pulled off. His satchel and weapons had been pulled off by someone else already. When had that happened?

“My boy, my dear boy…” Dutch was by his feet, concern written all over. “What happened?”

“The goddamn O’Driscolls got him, Dutch.” Elijah snarled. “All of that can wait. Get me a light.”

Dutch lit the candle on Arthur’s table. Elijah took it and held it up to the wound on the shoulder.

“Is the bullet still in?”

“I took it out… Cauterised it myself. It’s fine.” Arthur’s vision was swimming.

“That explains the wax… Fuck me, Arthur, what a mess…”

“You’re tellin’ me.”

Boiled water and towels arrived within minutes. Elijah wet a towel and hung it to cool over the back of his chair. He disinfected the wound on his shoulder to the best of his ability, but it was always going to look mangled and gnarled. The gash on his side was worse: it had to be cleaned, pinched, stitched and bandaged. Dutch sat on the chair and held Arthur’s hand through it while Elijah sat on his knees by the cot, stitching and babbling to himself.

“The hell’s he sayin’?” Arthur asked Dutch, feeling only slightly delirious with pain.

Dutch looked at Elijah a moment, listening intently, then turned back to Arthur. He held Arthur’s left hand in both of his.

“You just let him pray, son.”

“How’d you know it’s a prayer?”

“Some things you ain’t need to speak the language for to understand.”

Arthur had to sit up to be bandaged. Elijah rolled his last little roll of bandage around Arthur’s torso until he was sure the stitches were covered and held tight. He sewed the bandage closed rather than tying it.

“Alright…” Elijah breathed shakily. Arthur opened his eyes and only now noticed how tired he looked. How sad. Elijah moved down the cot, to his lower leg. It was badly bruised, Arthur saw, and swollen thick on the shin. “You said you thought it was broken?”

“Reckon it is.”

Shaking hands gently closed around his ankle and calf. Arthur flinched badly.

“This will hurt, but I need to feel how bad it is.”

“Do it.” Arthur gritted out. Elijah picked up his leg and tested the bone. Arthur was sure he was going to break Dutch’s hand. His leg was put back down and he breathed out, hard, panting for breath.

“It’s not a full break, but you shouldn’t walk for a while.”

“Great.”

Elijah took a nearby shirt and tore it to strips before he tightly bandaged his leg. It did little to ease the pain, but at least some of the pressure seemed manageable now. His blanket was rolled up and pushed underneath his knee to support his leg.

“I’m gonna give him a wash now, Dutch.”

“Right, right… I’ll be…” He nodded his head backwards and got up to make room for Elijah. The towel he’d prepared earlier was cool and damp now. It was almost pleasant to feel against his filthy, bloody skin. It was a slow process, what with all the cuts, bruises and broken bones. By the end of it, three towels were nearly black with dirt and dried blood and Arthur was as clean as he was going to get.

Elijah was sat in the chair next to him, face buried in his hands, listening to Arthur’s breathing. Arthur had his eyes closed, but he heard him get up eventually.

“He’ll pull through, I think.” He heard Elijah say. “He just needs to rest now…”

“And so do you, dear boy.” Spoke Hosea. How long had Hosea been there?

“Later.” Elijah replied, followed by silence. Eventually, Arthur heard the sound of someone lighting a cigar.

“What?” He heard Dutch say.

“I’d like a word.” Arthur could hear the chill in Elijah’s voice. Two pairs of footsteps moved away from his tent. Someone sat onto the chair next to him. He heard a book being opened, pages turning.

A couple of minutes later he momentarily rose to consciousness to hear the middle of a screaming match between Dutch and Elijah. He opened his eyes and saw Hosea still sitting next to him, who was staring at Dutch’s tent. The closed canvas did nothing to mask the noise nor hide the angry gesturing of their silhouettes against the light inside.

“Thought that might happen.” Hosea said with an amused look on his face.

“What… What’s happenin’?” Arthur rasped.

“I think Elijah is in the process of tearing Dutch a new asshole, is what I think is going on.” He sighed and went back to his book. “And Dutch is handling criticism about as well as he usually does.”

Arthur wanted to sit up but Hosea held him down. “Let them.”

“It won’t end well for Elijah, Hosea.” Arthur protested.

Hosea was having none of it. “I know, but it was always going to happen. I’ll speak to Dutch later. Rest.”

The screaming had quieted down a bit, reduced to angry hissing that he couldn’t parse, either.

At least he was home, he supposed. Now he only had to hope the cost of coming home wouldn’t be too severe.

Chapter Text

“You had best remember who the hell you’re talkin’ to, boy!”

Canvas rustling, someone stumbling through the grass.

“I know exactly who I’m talking to, you ridiculous, selfish clown.”

“What did you say?”

“Senile and deaf, are you?”

The sound of a revolver cocking, someone rushing through the grass. “That’s enough, both of you!”

“Give me one goddamn reason I shouldn’t shoot you right here.”

“By all means! We’ll all be dead within three months anyway, the way things have been going.”

“I said, that’s enough!

A quiet click, the sounds of leather as a gun was put back into its holster.

“Mind your head boy, before you lose it.”

Someone spitting on the ground. “You mind your neck, Dutch van der Linde. While you still can.”

Grass crunching underfoot, the strike of a match, tobacco burning, an inhale.

“Hell hath no fury like a young man scorned, it would seem.”

“Keep him… The hell off of my back, Hosea.”

Arthur woke with a start, breathing hard. Had that been a dream or a memory? He opened his eyes: it was light out, fog coming in off the lake. It took him a moment to get his vision to stop swimming and to let all the painful sensations in his body settle. He turned his head to the left and found Elijah sitting in the chair next to his bed in a white shirt, suspenders and pants with his ankles crossed just over the edge of the cot, hands clasped in his lap, rosary tangled in his fingers. His head was hanging low, eyes closed, asleep.

You got a bad back as it is, you silly fool, Arthur thought sadly. He took stock of what’d happened: the parley was a set-up, Colm O’Driscoll had a deal with the Pinkertons to hand Dutch over to them, bounty hunters knew where they were and so did the Pinkertons, probably. Maybe they were just waiting for the right moment to arrest Dutch or maybe they hadn’t found the camp at all yet. Arthur had been beaten within an inch of his life, shot twice, had his horse killed and he wouldn’t be able to walk for a few weeks. If they found the gang now, Arthur wouldn’t be able to do a damn thing.

He tried to sit up but all it did was cause a coughing fit, pain stabbing through his chest with every ragged breath. A gentle hand pressed against his chest, urging him to lie back down. Moments later, his head was being raised and a cup of water appeared at his lips. He drank greedily, only now noticing how parched he’d been. His head instantly cleared up, too.

“Thank you.”

“How’re you feeling?” Elijah asked him, sitting on the edge of the cot and looking Arthur over. He had a blanket pulled up to his chest now, the bullet wound in his shoulder alarmingly dark against the rest of his skin.

“Better than yesterday.” Arthur replied, because that was about as far as he could stretch the truth. Everything hurt, but he was cared for: that was one hell of an improvement compared to the week prior.

“That’s not hard.” Elijah echoed his thoughts. “At least you slept well.”

“And you?”

“… I slept.”

“Sure you did.” Arthur turned his left hand over, palm up. Elijah obliged him and laid his hand in Arthur’s. “Heard you and Dutch knockin’ heads last night.”

Elijah didn’t answer him. His tired eyes stared at their joined hands, Arthur’s thumb stroking his knuckles.

“Sweetheart?”

“Yeah, I…” Elijah sighed and rubbed at his eyes with his free hand. “I told him he should turn himself in to the Pinkertons.”

“What?!” Arthur had raised his voice. “Why would you do that?”

“Because it’s the only solution. I’m not having this discussion again, Arthur. If you wanna argue, do it with Dutch, I’m not going to.” Elijah snapped back. His eyes were furious, bloodshot and dark rimmed. Arthur felt his own anger and indignation deflating and sighed.

“You’re tired.” He said, squeezing Elijah’s hand. “You need to sleep.”

“I’m fine.”

“Go lie down. I won’t die while you take a damn nap.”

Elijah didn’t look convinced but he made to move anyway. Arthur held his hand and pulled him back.

“Gimme a kiss before you go.” Arthur said softly. “I ain’t had one yet.”

“You’re an idiot.”

“So kiss the damn idiot.”

That, at last, conjured half a smile onto Elijah’s tired face. He bent down and hesitated a moment, lips hovering over Arthur’s, before he lowered himself just enough to kiss Arthur so softly it felt like the passing of a butterfly’s wings.

“Put your damn back into it, will ya? I can’t move.” Arthur grumbled. He felt Elijah’s laugh against his mouth and smiled. After another moment, Elijah indulged him and kissed him firmly on the lips. Two more kisses followed, one on each corner of his mouth. When he raised himself back up, Arthur was smiling like the idiot he was.

“Thank you, doctor. Got me feelin’ like a new man.”

Elijah huffed and turned away from him, muttering something along the lines of ‘soft dumbass.’ Arthur let himself enjoy the rush of affection he felt before he would surely be assaulted with melancholy again.

“Finally. Thought he was gonna keep you occupied until the next winter.” Dutch said, sauntering over to Arthur’s bedside and turning the chair towards Arthur before he sat down and lit a cigar. “Boy ain’t got no goddamn manners.”

Arthur laughed weakly. “He’s the most polite person I’ve ever met outside of Trelawny.”

“Whatever. How you feelin’?”

“Oh, spry. Just dandy, really. Saw Colm yesterday, that was nice.”

“That little piss ant will get what’s comin’ to him, Arthur, mark my words.” Dutch was gesturing angrily with his cigar. “A goddamn trap. Coward.”

Arthur didn’t want to point out that just about everyone had told him it was a trap, even if he and John had wanted to get it over with.

“It was all a set-up to get me. Pinkertons offered him a price for your head.”

“Yes, as I was so kindly informed by your beau last night.” Dutch spat between drags of his cigar. “Told me to turn myself in. No goddamn respect, no loyalty.”

“He was just tired, is all.” Arthur tried, even if he knew he was lying. “It’ll be fine, Dutch. He just wants us all to be safe, you know that.”

I am your best chance at getting somewhere safe, Arthur!”

“He don’t see it that way.” Arthur said calmly, though it hurt to say. “That’s all. He ain’t no traitor, he’s just nervous.”

Dutch blew smoke through his nose, dark eyebrows drawn. “We are all nervous, Arthur. We’re runnin’ out of opportunities. If those horses don’t earn us a big take – and they won’t – I dunno what we’re doin’ next. Elijah’s an asshole but he was right about one thing: there’s blood in the water and gators afloat.”

Horses... If we can even sell those before the Pinkertons find us, Arthur thought miserably. “Maybe we oughta just go west.”

“Maybe… But we’re seeing this… Inbred shitshow… Through to the end. We invested too much damn time.” He finished his cigar and crushed it underneath his heel.

Arthur stared at the top of his tent for a little while.

“Did Elijah really call you a clown?” He wondered out loud, recalling his dream from that morning.

Dutch gave him such a murderous look that Arthur couldn’t help but laugh.

Yes, he did.

Chapter Text

Recovery was a slow process, Arthur found, an incredibly slow and boring process. The fact that tension was ever-present in the camp didn’t help matters, either. Dutch had been frantically trying to manage his relationship with Sheriff Gray, doing odd jobs here and there and occasionally helping him to take down another Braithwaite distillery. John, on the other side of their playing field, had found a fence for the Braithwaite horses but was unwilling to move forward with it until Arthur was back on his feet.

That would still take a little while, what with his stitches still healing. His leg had healed enough that with a little help from someone else he could make his way to the treeline to relieve himself a couple of times a day, but that was about it. At least he could get dressed now, he supposed. Elijah still cleaned his wounds diligently every single day and had, when Arthur expressed how annoyingly long his beard was getting, even shaved him.

“I’m a bit nervous.” Arthur had said at the time, sitting upright on his cot with a sheet draped over him while Elijah stood over him with the blade in his right hand and a comb in his left.

“Why?”

“You ain’t exactly got experience.”

“Wrong.” Elijah tilted his head back and combed through Arthur’s beard. The straight razor cut right through the hair, metal clicking against the wood of the comb. Quick glides of the razor cut off the worst of the length until shaving cream could actually touch his skin. He worked with clinical precision: lathering Arthur’s beard up, shaving in the direction of its growth, neatly trimming his sideburns. There was a damp, sun-warmed towel at the ready when he was done, too. Arthur took the mirror to inspect his face and, contrary to all of his expectations, was very pleased.

“That’s pretty damn decent.” Arthur said, rubbing along his smooth chin and turning his head to look at himself. The more superficial cuts and bruising had started to heal up nicely, though some others were definitely going to leave more scars. “Where’d you learn to do that?”

Elijah was silently cleaning off the razor with a towel and taking off the corrosion with a leather strap. Arthur could see the tension in his shoulders. It’d been a rough couple of weeks for him, Arthur knew, though he’d rather choke than admit that to Arthur while he was still bedbound. His extinction burst at Dutch had caused a bit of a divide in the camp between the people who wanted him gone for doubting Dutch and people who wanted him to stay on account of all he’d done for the gang so far. Arthur also knew the former had far more supporters than the latter. He himself didn’t want either Dutch or Elijah gone but felt that at some point in the very near future, something would have to give.

“Ain’t it about time you left?”

Bill stumbled over to Arthur’s tent as he had done at least once every two days ever since the argument. He was drunk and leveraging a menacing look at Elijah, who just regarded him with detached impatience.

“Ain’t it about time you sobered up for once, Marion?” Elijah shot back, laying the razor back down on the barrel next to Arthur’s cot.

“You’d better watch your goddamn mouth, boy.” Bill growled and got in his face. Arthur was struggling to stand up to intervene. Rather than taking a step back, Elijah stepped forward. Bill lost his footing for a moment but held fast.

“Or what?” Elijah said, chin raised defiantly at the taller, much stronger and arguably much more dangerous man. “You’ll shoot me? Apple doesn’t fall very far, does it?”

Bill bared his teeth. “You’ll be gone before the month is out.” He hissed. “On a horse or in a casket, that’s your choice.”

With more force than Arthur had thought him capable of, Elijah shoved Bill back so hard that he stumbled and fell over. He approached Bill slowly and Arthur, in spite of knowing that he shouldn’t, pulled himself up to put a stop to it. Hosea was also approaching rapidly.

“We’re all going to die, Marion.” Elijah said softly while Bill struggled to get up. “It never mattered to me how I’ll die, so do your worst. Just know that when you bury me you’d best not look at my face, or it’ll be the last thing you’ll ever see.”

“Enough. Bill, go sleep it off. Elijah, shut up.” Hosea said. Bill finally got to his feet.

“Well excuse me for tryin’ to get the traitor out of the camp!” Bill shouted as he tried to advance on Elijah. Hosea pulled his revolver on him.

“I think I’ve excused you quite enough, you drunken fool! Go sleep it off!” Hosea shouted right back, his patience having worn extremely thin over the past couple of weeks. Bill dodged back, hands raised.

“My world will long outlive yours.” Elijah said to Bill before turning away. “You remember that.”

Elijah walked off in the direction of the lake and Bill slumped back to his tent. Arthur had just barely made it to the end of his cot when Hosea walked up to him.

“Lie back down, Arthur. I got it.” Hosea helped him back down onto the cot and sat with him for a moment, sighing heavily. “Your boy is as good at solving problems as he is at creating them.”

“I know.” Arthur mumbled and ran a hand over his face. “Dunno what the hell he was thinkin’.”

“He was thinking of us, Arthur.” Hosea said firmly. Arthur looked at him, confused. “Molly… She came to me last week.”

“What about her?”

“The Pinkertons caught and questioned her outside of Rhodes not too long ago.”

“What?!” Arthur couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “What’d she tell them?”

“Nothing. She spun some tale about being an Irish damsel travelling the country on her own to prove something or other to her family. They had to let her go.” Hosea was still holding his revolver, turning it over in his hands. “They caught Strauss just as we left for Lemoyne.”

“Jesus, him too?”

“Molly said they killed him. Probably said that just to scare her, but still…”

“But Elijah didn’t know none of that.” Arthur protested. “He was just angry ‘cause of what happened to me. Worried ‘bout that deal Colm has with the Pinkertons.”

“No.” Hosea sighed. “He was the one to find Molly in Rhodes, that day he was out with Jack.”

“He knew?” Arthur was baffled.

“He did, and he swore to keep her secret. If she hadn’t told me herself I still wouldn’t have known.”

“Does Dutch know?”

“No. We tell him right now, Molly and Elijah will both be shot or dismissed for treason. It doesn’t matter, anyway.” Hosea sounded dog tired, Arthur realised. “They won’t make a move on us until they know where we really are. With any luck we’ll see this Braithwaite-Gray business through and get ourselves lost in the west, with our without our own land.”

Arthur was seething. If he’d known he could’ve spoken to Dutch, John and Hosea about it. They could’ve left it all behind weeks ago before Colm got hold of him, before they lit the Grays’ tobacco fields on fire, before the goddamn bounty hunters got to Trelawny.

“I need to have a word with Elijah.” Arthur grumbled, trying to get up. Hosea tried to stop him but Arthur pushed his hand away. “You can help me get there or you can leave, but I will talk to him.”

Hosea gave up and let Arthur lean on him, taking him to the pier step by limping step. Elijah watched him approach with a confused look on his face that only got more intensely confused when Arthur dismissed Hosea. Arthur could just about keep himself standing if he put his weight on his left leg.

“You knew.” Arthur accused him. “About Molly, about Strauss.”

Understanding, disappointment and fierce determination crossed Elijah’s face in rapid succession. “I did.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Arthur was trying to keep his voice level and failing. “Ain’t we got enough on our damn minds without schemin’ behind our backs?”

Elijah, arms crossed over his chest and eyes wide, stood there for a full five seconds with his mouth agape.

“I beg your fucking pardon?” He asked, eventually. “Scheming?”

“Ain’t that what you been doin’? Keepin’ Molly’s damn secrets. You know more about Pinkerton activity than all of us, ‘specially with that Cornwall business, but you don’t seem to think any of us need to know ‘bout that.” Arthur angrily pointed towards the camp. “You knew for weeks that they were here and didn’t tell us!”

“Neither did Molly, but I don’t see you goin’ off on her.” Elijah said coolly.

That took some wind out of Arthur’s sails, but not nearly enough. “We’re talkin’ about you right now.”

“When aren’t you?” Elijah scoffed. “More than half the damn gang wants me gone, Arthur. If even you start accusing me of being a traitor, just say the word and I’ll be out of your hair.”

That stung, Arthur had to admit. “You would turn your back on us that easy?”

Elijah shook his head like he had to physically get rid of the words spewed at his face. “I’m sorry- What the hell do you want from me, Arthur? You accuse me of going behind your back and then act surprised when I tell you I’ll leave if you want me to. Can’t have both, so which is it?” He snapped.

“Why didn’t you tell me, or anyone?” Arthur had well and truly lost his cool.

“What good would that have done?” Elijah was fuming as well. “Dutch knew about those bounty hunters for almost two goddamn months before he sent you to investigate. You think it never occurred to him that maybe we’d been found? You think Dutch isn’t aware of just how bad things are?”

That was also true. He had known since they got Trelawny out of Sheriff Gray’s prison wagon and he had waited until well after Elijah’s business with Cornwall was settled to send Arthur and Charles looking. On top of that, they’d been hiding out here for a while now and hadn’t exactly been lying low. He knew all of that rationally, but emotionally…

“You should’ve told us. We could’ve taken different routes to camp, could’ve been more careful with them two damn families, could’ve just gone west if we’d known they weren’t just on our tail but right up our asses!”

In response to that, Elijah outright laughed at him. It made Arthur so angry he momentarily felt nothing but pure contempt.

“Would you have?” Elijah asked, Arthur’s contempt mirrored in his own eyes. “Don’t bullshit me with that ‘could have’ nonsense. Would you have? Because from where I’m standing, the lot of you were still robbing cattle after Agent fucking Milton approached you five minutes away from camp! And because Dutch is still going out and about, Cornwall finds him and you shoot up an entire town in the same damn day! Tell me, how would my informing you of the Pinkertons have helped anything?”

“‘Cause your plans always go smoothly, that it?” Arthur yelled. “Goin’ back to a city you just turned upside down, gettin’ beat up and needin’ to be rescued like a dog by someone who should never have known where the hell we are!”

It was a low, ungrateful blow to deal, but Arthur didn’t care. Tears of rage had gathered in Elijah’s eyes, threatening to spill. He closed his eyes and breathed in and out three times before he looked at Arthur again, eyes filled to the brim with cold, hard hatred.

“I’m going to say this exactly once, so pay very close attention.”

Arthur didn’t fear him, not exactly, but he still felt dread enclose his heart at the threatening, poisonous undertone to those words.

“All I did, all I’ve ever done during my time here, has been for you and your family. I have pulled the strings that Dutch has been grasping at since that train job in Colter by keeping my plan to myself and you have the gall to mistake my silence for treason?”

Elijah paused, breathing hard.

“You think that if I’d told you, you would’ve escaped? That you would’ve done everything in your power to get everyone to safety? Dutch started a pissing contest with the Law and Cornwall right when he could’ve gotten you all to safety. If you don’t see that, you’re still following him like a blind dog.”

He spat on the ground. Arthur had his jaw clenched tight, fists balled at his sides.

“You know it, I know it, and Hosea has known it from the moment you boys set off to rob that train. If you’d gone west like he’d told you to, you would have been safe, but you chose one more haul over safety.” He sniffed with contempt. “One more take, there’s always one more. When is it enough, Arthur?”

Arthur just shook his head, not knowing what to say or how to speak without his chest exploding with anger.

“You’re right that I was careless, but that was only ever me.” Elijah pointed at his chest, finger jabbing against the centre of it. “I got beat up, I was wanted by the Raiders and it was my fake name in the Saint Denis Times. You ever see any mention of the gang among all that?”

Arthur still didn’t respond, but Elijah took his silence as an answer.

“No, didn’t think so. Everything Dutch touches affects all of you. Everything, so when is it enough? When Jack doesn’t have a father anymore? Does Mary-Beth need to give birth knowing she’ll have to raise a child by herself? What? What does it take? What needs to go up in flames before you lot finally realise that as long as Dutch is wanted and with you, no one here is safe?”

“I…” All of Arthur’s anger had vanished like smoke into thin air and been replaced by abject misery.

“You know why Dutch threw me out of his tent?” Elijah asked quietly, stepping closer.

“… No, I don’t. Didn’t catch that bit.” Arthur looked down at him and felt empty. This man that he’d loved so ardently and who had given him his heart in return looked up at him with eyes that seemed so far removed from feeling any love or affection. In the corner of his mind, Arthur recalled what he’d thought many years ago: you can’t live a bad life and expect good things to happen to you.

“It wasn’t that I pointed out that the Pinkertons were beginning to surround us on all sides.” Elijah began. “It wasn’t that I told him that he was the reason they were hounding us in the first place. It wasn’t even after I called him a pompous hick.”

Arthur couldn’t help but huff a laugh at that. “God knows where you get your balls from…”

“As far as the gang’s concerned, I’m using yours that I keep in my satchel.” Elijah commented drily.

Arthur didn’t want to grace that with a reply, though he knew it was true. “Why did Dutch throw you out, then?”

“Because I wanted him to tell me his plan, and when he couldn’t produce more than that he allegedly has one, I told him he didn’t have a goddamn plan.” Elijah shook his head with latent amazement at what had happened. “If he actually cared about your safety, you folks would’ve been west months ago. Even after all that happened with Micah getting hanged, I…”

“He ain’t changed… Not enough, at least.” Arthur supplied sadly.

“It’s not that I think he doesn’t care at all.” Elijah was looking out across the water, arms still crossed tightly across his chest. “It’s just that I believe he cares more about it being him that leads you to safety through some… Grand master plan that has never happened and never will."

“We can’t… We can’t let him turn himself in, Eli…” Arthur felt weak even as he said it. “He’s all we got. I been in this gang for twenty years and he got us out of worse.”

“Has he, or was it all of you?” Elijah shot back. Arthur didn’t know what to say to that either.

“You should’ve been in politics.” He grumbled. That startled a laugh out of Elijah.

“You can’t accept that Dutch knows how bad it is, because that means he’s been wilfully acting against the best interests of the gang. This was never about Molly or my not telling you.” Elijah drove his point home, each word like nails in the coffin of Arthur’s faith. “You don’t want to lose Dutch. That’s fine. I have no such qualms. You matter to me, and if things continue as they have, you will be dead within the next few months.” Elijah shrugged, voice breaking at last. “Do with that information what you will. I’ll be in my tent until it all inevitably comes crashing down.”

He walked past Arthur, who tried to take his hand to stop him. “Eli…”

“Don’t.” He pulled his hand away like Arthur had scorched him and went to his tent.

Arthur stood on the pier watching the sun glint off the surface of the lake. He couldn’t really walk back to his tent on his own, anyway. After a little while, Hosea was at his side again.

“How’d it go?” He asked, only a little awkwardly but just enough that Arthur knew he’d probably heard the whole thing.

“I don’t know…” Arthur let himself be helped back to his tent and sat down on the cot with a heavy sigh. Hosea sat on the chair across from him, waiting for him to speak. “What the hell are we doin’ here, Hosea?”

“I’ve been wonderin’ that since Blackwater.” Hosea said casually, tapping his fingers on his knee and looking towards Elijah’s tent behind him. “I know Dutch don’t like him and neither do the rest of the camp anymore, but it was nice to have someone on my side for once.”

“I’m sorry we ain’t listened to you.” Arthur said earnestly. “This goddamn mess… I don’t see how we’re gettin’ out of it.”

Hosea shook his head slowly. “We ain’t played out yet, but it won’t be long now. Arthur…”

“Yeah?”

“I’ll tell you the same thing I told Abigail and Mary-Beth.”

“Which is?”

“Make a plan. When the time comes, you just make sure you and that boy get to safety.” Hosea said calmly. “We ain’t all gotta go down because I couldn’t convince Dutch of a better plan.”

Arthur balked at that. “It were never your fault, Hosea.”

“No, it was. We were supposed to be a team and I let it all go to his head… I’ll be by his side until one of us dies, but I do blame myself for what’s happened.”

Arthur stared down at the ground between his feet. Was this it? They all just had to have an emergency plan at the ready for when the Pinkertons showed up?

“What about the family, Hosea? I-…”

“I’m not goin’ anywhere, Arthur.” Hosea reminded him. “But you, John, Abigail, Jack, Mary-Beth, Kieran and Elijah… You all got lives to live. Dutch wants us safe, but he’s… Well, I don’t think he knows how to do that anymore.”

“Ain’t there any other way?” Arthur asked desperately.

Hosea breathed out, a long and tired sound. “Who knows, maybe Dutch will hand himself over to the law and we all get to live another day.” He laughed at that but it sounded hollow. “Or maybe he’ll see the light and we’ll be headin’ west tomorrow, but I doubt it.”

“And those goddamn horses…” Arthur mumbled. Hosea laughed again and it sounded more genuine.

“Oh, I’m sure those will get us all the money we need. We can move to Paris after that.”

Arthur laughed in spite of himself, groaning long and miserably. “Alright, well… They ain’t at our door yet, so… We’ll have to make the most of the time we got.”

“That’s the spirit, Arthur!”

“So I’m gonna need you to help me up one more time, old man.” Arthur said, holding out his right hand for Hosea to take. “Think I got some apologisin’ to do.”

Together they stumbled over to Elijah’s tent where Hosea helped him to kneel down, all weight on his left knee. “Can I come in?”

Elijah pulled the canvas aside after a moment with an annoyed frown on his face. Seeing Arthur struggling on all fours, he sighed, rolled his eyes and let him in. Hosea bent down.

“You’ve still got friends here, Elijah. You remember that now.” He extended his hand and, after a moment’s hesitation, Elijah took it and they shook hands. Hosea left after and Elijah let the canvas fall closed. Arthur was lying on his back on his bedroll, right leg outstretched. Even that little bit of pressure from having his leg bent to crawl hurt badly.

“What do you want from me, Arthur?” Elijah asked quietly. He sounded defeated and tired.

“To apologise.” Arthur lifted his head to look at him and pat the bedroll next to him. Elijah just looked at his hand and didn’t move a muscle. “I’m sorry that I… I let it all… I said some stupid things.”

“You made me out to be a traitor.” Elijah said with ice in his voice. “And then mocked me for getting hurt after my plan succeeded.”

“I know, I shouldn’t have said that. Either of them things.” Arthur wanted so badly to hold him. He felt woefully ill-equipped to express his regret in words. “You ain’t a traitor, I even told Dutch as much a couple weeks ago, I just… I’m afraid.”

“I know.”

“Whatever happens next… I’m afraid it’ll be somethin’ we ain’t never been through before. We all keep pretendin’ like we been through worse and maybe that’s true, but we ain’t never been through anythin’ like this before.” Arthur swallowed hard against the rising sensation of impending doom. “We was set up in Blackwater and we ain’t been chased by the law like this in all my life. Whatever happened in Blackwater could’ve blown over if we hadn’t robbed Cornwall.”

Elijah only nodded and let him speak, still making no move to come closer.

Arthur felt his eyes sting with unshed tears. “Maybe what started in Blackwater started years ago, I don’t know… Maybe you were right and the times have changed, the world’s changed… What we had, what we were as a gang, that can’t continue… We all know it, even if we try to trick ourselves into thinkin’ otherwise.”

He saw Elijah’s eyes soften in the slightest and continued.

“You got Cornwall off our backs and there weren’t so much as a goddamn ‘thank you’ from Dutch. I don’t blame you for not likin’ him, I just…” He felt a sob hitch in his throat and he averted his gaze. “He’s like a father to me, but…”

“Fathers shouldn’t offer their sons as lambs to the slaughter, Arthur.” Elijah spoke quietly. Arthur closed his eyes and felt a single tear track down his cheek.

“Weren’t that what you called Isaac?” Arthur asked. “’Poor lamb’?”

“It was.”

“That what I did? Offer him to the slaughter?”

Elijah didn’t reply and Arthur thought that was probably for the best. He knew better than to take Elijah’s silence for treason, now. If anything, his silence was only ever an expression of honesty with nowhere to go. Arthur had known that for a long time now.

“Hosea told me to make a plan.” Arthur said eventually. “For you ‘n me to get out when the time comes.”

Elijah made a sound halfway between a laugh and a sigh. “Arthur, don’t… Don’t.”

“Don’t what?”

“I’m not ignorant of who you are. I will not attach myself to someone who will spend the rest of his days trying to go back to his family.” Elijah shook his head. “There are people in the gang who could thrive outside of it. You’re not one of those. If and when the time comes, I will not stand between you and them.”

Arthur tried to piece together what that meant and decided he didn’t really want to know just yet. It was too much to handle in one day.

“I’m sorry, Eli.” He said instead. “I really am.”

Please, Arthur thought, if it can only be one good thing, let it be you.

“Do you trust me, Arthur?”

“With my life.” Arthur said passionately. “You done saved it more than once.”

And in more than one way.

Elijah nodded, seemingly having reached a conclusion. “All my life I have never loved anyone as I love you, but… I cannot stay where I am not wanted.”

“I want you here and I ain’t the only one. Forget Bill, he don’t know what the hell’s goin’ on.” In spite of the pain in his arm, Arthur reached over and took Elijah’s hand. “John, Jack and Abigail, Hosea, the girls, Kieran… They all care ‘bout you.”

“Karen wants me to die, I’m pretty sure.”

“Karen’s a good gun and a good conwoman but she ain’t always the brightest.” Arthur assured him.

“Maybe if she drank less.” Elijah mumbled. Arthur just smiled and pulled on his hand, hoping to get him to come closer. “You’re still hurt.”

“Don’t care. Please.” Arthur was practically begging him. Elijah very, very carefully laid himself along Arthur’s left side, lips ghosting a kiss over his shoulder. They looked at each other, two pairs of stormy blue eyes locked in a staring contest of who felt the most hurt.

“I love you.” Arthur said eventually, barely above a whisper.

Elijah moved a single strand of hair away from his forehead and stroked his knuckles along Arthur’s smooth cheek. “I love you, too.”

Arthur had a million things he wanted to ask but was too afraid to, so he left it. All he wanted was for the two of them to lie together just like this while they still could.  

Chapter Text

It took another couple of weeks for Arthur to recover to the point where he could get on a horse and ride without trouble. Elijah had let him borrow Vincent for the time being, until there was an opportunity to get him a new horse of his own. Arthur and Vincent had an interesting relationship: Arthur liked Vincent, he was a strong and fast horse that had carried both Elijah and Arthur to safety more than once.

However, horses tended to be a lot like their owners: Boadicea and Mordred had been fearless, strong horses. Not the fastest, sure, but as fast as they needed to be, just like Arthur. It therefore stood to reason that Vincent was stubborn as all hell. On top of that, he didn’t seem to like Arthur very much.

“Think your horse is tryin’ to kill me.” Arthur said after he’d come back from another ride. He could walk without pain now and his left shoulder was almost back to normal, though the scar pulled on his skin and got irritated easily. The stitches in his side had come out two days earlier and that, at least, had healed properly thanks to diligent daily care.

Elijah had been cooking. Pearson was one of the people who didn’t really take either side in the matter between Dutch and Elijah. He was just glad of the help and didn’t bother with the debate.

“Vincent? He’s never even bucked me off, what the hell are you doing?” Elijah asked him incredulously. Arthur stood in front of him at the table and lifted his chin with a finger to kiss him. When he pulled back, Arthur got that heavy feeling again: that they were rapidly approaching a total crash and burn. Elijah looked tired, like he was fraying at the edges. Arthur knew that the comments and glares from some of the gang had started to get to him.

“I don’t know!” Arthur said as he pulled a leg up onto the table to sit. “He’s a fast horse but he ain’t seem to wanna move when I ask him to. Damn near threw me off on the way back.”

Elijah frowned at him for a moment before realisation dawned. “I see.”

“Do you?”

“Yeah.” He put his own foot against the edge of the table. He was wearing those black boots he’d bought in Saint Denis, though Arthur noted the absence of the silver spurs he’d had on there before.

“He don’t like spurs?” Arthur asked, confused. “Christ, he’s as fussy as you are.”

Elijah chuckled softly. “He didn’t complain as much with me at the start, but after a while he really started to whine so I took them off. He’s been sweet as pie since.”

“I’ll try that tomorrow, then.” Arthur sighed. “No spurs… What is the world comin’ to.”

By his side, Elijah had continued chopping vegetables with a small smile on his face. Arthur looked him over and felt longing pulling at his heart strings. It was like they were both bracing themselves for the inevitable end of it all and therefore couldn’t quite get as close as they wanted to anymore. They slept together in their tent again and had since Hosea had first dropped him in there even if it made things like getting up considerably more difficult. Arthur had just wanted to remain close to him. Even then, things felt… Off. It had been impossible to find intimacy together: Elijah was too afraid of hurting Arthur, and Arthur was too afraid of breaking whatever fragile connection they had retained since their argument on the pier.

The long and short of it was that it hurt both of them and neither knew how to fix it.

Javier appeared at their table, freeing Arthur from his thoughts. “Arthur.” He said, very obviously and deliberately ignoring Elijah.

“Javier.” Arthur said.

“You ready to get them horses tomorrow?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be. This one took good care of me or it would’ve taken a hell of a lot longer.” Arthur said with a nod to Elijah.  Javier spared him a dirty look and turned away from the table.

“Meet us at the Gray mansion tomorrow, by the gate. Gotta let old pa Gray know that we’re gonna take care of those horses for them. Dutch thinks it’ll get the Sheriff off our backs.” He spat on the ground. “Or he can turn himself over to him, that might work.”

“If you’ve got something to say, Javier, at least do it to my face.” Sounded Elijah’s tired, bored voice. Javier whirled around.

“Yeah, I think you gotta get the hell outta here.”

“Uh huh, and what else is new?”

Arthur moved himself to stand between the two and Javier backed off a bit.

“Don’t do this, Javier. You’re a better man than that.” Arthur said softly, trying to defuse the brewing conflict.

Over the past couple of weeks he, John and Hosea had run quite a bit of interference between Elijah and Dutch’s biggest proponents. These primarily consisted of Bill, Javier, Karen and Sean, though the former two were significantly worse. Most of the rest of the camp had either decided to not get involved at all or to simply continue as if nothing had happened. Arthur was forever grateful to Hosea, John and his family, Charles, Kieran and Sadie for still talking to Elijah and taking him out of the camp every now and again to hunt, fish or retrieve a bounty. Cain kept him occupied, too, always wanting to play.

Arthur knew, too, that all of that mattered very little to soothe the overwhelming sensation of not being wanted at the camp. The active hostility or passive ignoring of the matter by others tipped the scales heavily towards that.

Javier sneered. “Someone’s gotta be the better man. You’re right, Arthur.” He walked away and waved. “Tomorrow at noon!”

Arthur sighed heavily and turned back to Elijah, who was still cutting vegetables, slowly and deliberately. Whatever light-hearted conversation about Arthur’s scruples with Vincent they could’ve had, had been firmly ground into the dirt. Arthur just lit a cigarette instead and stayed near Elijah while he prepared their dinner, even if for no other reason than to make sure he wouldn’t be harassed further. When the stew was simmering in the pot, Elijah leaned against the table next to Arthur. Mary-Beth walked past them, smiling at both of them. Arthur thought she was glowing, happily enjoying her pregnancy with Kieran fussing and panicking by her side almost always. She had started showing considerably more in the weeks following Arthur’s kidnapping by the O’Driscolls.

“How far along is she?” He asked Elijah when Mary-Beth had passed.

“I reckon about four months now, but she oughta see a doctor.” Elijah said with no small amount of frustration. “I’ve been trying to convince them to settle in Saint Denis, but… No success so far.”

Arthur fought his knee-jerk reaction of feeling like Elijah had gone behind his back again. Hosea had told them the same thing, after all. “Mary-Beth’s been with us a long time… Reckon she wants her family near when the time comes.”

“I know.” Elijah sighed through his nose. “I know.”

They stood quietly side by side for a little while, Arthur smoking while Elijah picked at the skin around his nails.

“My brother wrote to me, a while ago.” He said suddenly. “I’ve got a little niece. They sent me a family picture, she’s a lovely little thing and he’s… Gotten so much older.”

It was hard to miss the yearning behind those words. “You miss ‘em?”

“Every day.” Elijah breathed, swallowing hard. “He keeps asking me to come home.”

The word ‘home’ meaning anything beyond the camp hurt more than Arthur cared to admit. “Will you?”

“I don’t know. I’ve been putting him off but he’s getting more insistent with every letter.” Elijah laughed softly. “Stubbornness runs in the family.”

“You don’t say.”

He got a gentle elbow in his ribs for that. Elijah smiled a little in spite of himself.

Arthur asked what he hadn’t dared to. “Do you want to go back?”

Elijah stared ahead for a bit before shaking his head slowly. “No. I can’t return to it, not anymore. Maybe I still could have before the O’Driscolls got to me, but… I wouldn’t know how to pick up a life like that anymore, now. So much of it stopped making sense to me.”

“Does this life make sense to you?” Arthur wondered.

“Not in the slightest.” Elijah laughed sadly. “But maybe a different version of it could.”

Arthur nodded and gave in to the one thought his battered heart had been telegraphing all over the inside of his mind for weeks.

“I don’t want you to go.”

Elijah took a deep breath and nodded. “I know.”

The silence of all they left unspoken between them was deafening. When Pearson eventually called for the stew to be served Arthur found that Elijah had slipped away to their tent without another word. Arthur thought he might choke on all that he couldn’t say if he joined him there, so he spent the evening eating and drinking with the gang. They had always been good at celebrating during the worst of times.

Only when the world had started spinning and the moon was raised high over the lake did he stumble over to their tent, tired and sad. He pulled his clothes and boots off messily and crawled onto his bedroll, facing Elijah’s bare back. With the tips of his fingers he traced his spine, tapping the constellation of freckles just below his neck. Goose bumps rose up underneath his fingers as he stroked his side, his breathing suddenly loud in the tent.

“Arthur…”

“Yeah?” Arthur’s voice sounded rough even to his own ears, thick with whiskey and regret.

“… I wish things were different.”

“Me too, sweetheart.” He pressed himself to Elijah’s back and held him tight. “Me too.”

If nothing else, Arthur felt connected in their shared grief. Elijah’s heart beat strong against the palm of his hand where it rested over his chest, its rhythm lulling the both of them to sleep.

In the morning, Arthur left him to sleep in the tent. Elijah had slept in more and more lately and Arthur didn’t blame him. He’d been sleeping poorly, which Arthur only knew because he also hadn’t been having the best time sleeping lately.

Vincent, to his credit, listened much better without spurs poking in his sides. Arthur still got the distinct feeling that the horse didn’t care for him, but at least he went where Arthur wanted him to, as fast as he needed him to. At the Gray mansion Arthur was directed to ride around the estate to the stables where John and Javier were waiting for him already. By the sound of it they’d been talking to old Tavish Gray for a while now. Arthur just caught him saying that they – meaning, the gang – had turned up in town, helped everybody, and now there was trouble everywhere.

It stopped Arthur in his tracks, just before he would’ve turned the corner into the barn. The first thing that shot through his mind was that they were done for, the second that they had no choice but to continue.

Oh, Hosea, old friend, Arthur thought regretfully, we should’ve listened.

He walked into the barn and John looked incredibly relieved to see him. Introductions were made between them and it wasn’t very long before John steered the conversation back to the Braithwaites being a supposed family of degenerates. Tavish rose to the bait with such ease that Arthur momentarily wondered if he was just actually that dense or so smart that Arthur couldn’t see when he was being had. The old coot offered them gold, dangling it in front of them like they were merely fish on the line.

“How much gold?” Arthur asked.

Tavish turned to him. “Enough. These are prized horses I’m talking about. Them will get you… Five thousand.”

Five thousand wasn’t nearly enough to buy them land, but it might be enough for them to survive for a couple of months while they got that sorted.

If they would even make it that far.

John didn’t seem to think it likely either. “Five thousand?” He scoffed. “For horses?”

“Easy, and I know you’ve been in contact with the fellers over on Clemens Cove to sell them. He’ll run ‘em out of the country and give you fifty cents on the dollar.”

John and Arthur exchanged incredulous looks but John extended his hand anyway. “Mister, you got yourself a deal.”

And what a deal it turned out to be. On the way the three of them talked about how insane Tavish Gray had seemed and what the Braithwaite woman must be like. Arthur thought she was the epitome of an old plantation family matriarch. John and Arthur also agreed that there was no way they were getting five thousand for those horses but that even a third of that would make the entire endeavour worth it.

Arthur had been on the estate before, what with all his mail delivering between Penelope and Beau, and knew how to avoid the guards to make it to the stables on the south side of the estate. There were guards there, too, but they were easily led to believe these fine young men were there to make a purchase. The fields to the stable were expansive and empty: with any luck, they wouldn’t have to kill everyone on their way out. If the Pinkertons were breathing down their necks he in the very least wanted to not be caught red-handed with a bunch of horses in tow.

The stable hand was just as much of a fool as the guard had been. It took Arthur virtually no effort to convince him they represented a ‘famous stable and stud farm from Saratoga.’ The man didn’t even ask for a name. As he was showing each of the horses to them – two stunning Thoroughbreds and two fierce, strong Arabians – Arthur knocked him out quickly and quietly. He saw no reason to kill the man for doing his job, even if he was doing it poorly. John told them to put their bandanas up before leaving and Arthur, somewhat fatalistically, wondered if it’d be the last time he would ever put that bandana on.

Leading the horses out was quick and easy. Arthur took both Arabians and led them out while John and Javier each took one Thoroughbred. The horses were tethered to Boaz with John riding point and Arthur covering the back in case there were any problems.

At first, there didn’t seem to be any. They mounted up and rode out in relative quiet. It wasn’t until they were riding towards the gate that they’d be leaving through that Arthur heard the trampling of hooves behind him. He turned to look and found five riders with their guns drawn on their tail.

Shit, ride! I’ll take care of this!”

Javier and John bolted for Clemens Cove with the horses in tow while Arthur slowed down to take care of the riders. Bullets flew past him and he could only hope that Vincent would make it, or Elijah would, in fact, kill him.

Fortunately for Arthur, this didn’t seem to be Vincent’s first rodeo. He rode steadfastly forward, fast as the wind. Arthur turned in the saddle and got to taking out the riders one by one with his rifle, not risking using his revolver for this and missing his shots. It was quick work, even if he felt one bullet whizz right through the very top of his hat. Some of the field workers had also fired bullets at them, but had quickly retreated between the crops once they saw they didn’t stand a chance against a gun like Arthur.

They were taking the long way around the property, but it was preferable to leaving through the heavily guarded front gate. The horses were badly spooked and uncooperative, but they eventually made it to Clemens Cove just fine. Arthur was mostly glad they hadn’t gotten to fighting the Braithwaites out on the open road. He got off of Vincent and gave him a couple of good pats on his neck.

“You done good, boy.” Arthur said affectionately. Vincent, to his surprise, pressed his nose gently against Arthur’s shoulder in return.

“That could’ve gone smoother.” Javier sighed as he got off of Boaz and lead the horses forward.

“That’ll be on my gravestone.” Arthur commented.

The fence – or fences, Arthur supposed – were something else. Slimy, greasy bastards, though only one of them was talking. The other was a simpleton, it seemed.

“What you boys want?” The talking one asked. He was a grimy little moustachioed man, as far as Arthur was concerned.

“Heard you paid a good price for horses.” Arthur said, wanting to get it over with.

“Oh, we’ll buy just about anythin’, pop.”

“That so?” John asked while he moved to stand next to Arthur.

“Sure, pop. I’m Clay Davies, that’s my brother, Clive.” Clive waved at them. “We’re twins.”

None of them really knew what to say for a moment, but surprisingly John had the sense to introduce them. "Arthur, Javier.” He said, pointing to each. "And we've... Well, we met before."

Clay nodded. “Clive don’t talk. I was born first. He came out all yellow and black, but he’s fine.”

“… Sure.” John said. Arthur was glad he didn’t have to take the lead on this one.

Clay walked over to the horses. “Yeah, I know these horses. I was only expecting three of them, though. Can’t move four right now.”

Arthur sighed heavily. “That’s fine. We’ll keep the black Arabian. I need me a new horse anyway.”

Clay shrugged. “Seems fine to me, pop. And I like you fellers, so I’ll give you… Six hundred and fifty for the three of ‘em.”

John and Arthur nodded at each other before John turned to Clay. “I was told I could get up to five thousand dollars for ‘em.”

Clay got in his face. “And I was told the moon was made of ladies’ tears, only it ain’t true. Not one little bit.”

“But…”

“I like you boys, but I ain’t got more than seven hundred on me. You want it, or you want to ride them fellers into town and maybe someone there’ll hang you?”

“We’re gonna need more than that.” Arthur protested.

“I ain’t got no more money, pop.” Clay said again and threw the stack of bills at John. “Here. Take it or leave it.”

John sighed. “Alright…”

Arthur shook his head. “Should’ve known.”

“Ain’t no one ‘round here got five thousand dollars, boys, but nice meetin’ ya.”

He and Clive lead the three horses away, leaving their own and the black Arabian behind. Arthur tethered him to Vincent and mounted up. “Well. Less than a seventh, even.”

“Dutch won’t be too pleased.” John said, getting up. “But then I guess he ain’t been pleased in a long while.”

“Yeah, well. You can blame his puto for that.” Javier snapped.

“Don’t start, Javier.” Arthur warned.

“I can’t believe you’re okay with what he said.” Javier got back in his saddle and turned Boaz to face Arthur. “What the hell is wrong with you, where’s your loyalty?”

“I’m loyal to our family, Javier.” Arthur growled. “You ain’t got no idea the shit we’re in, so you shut your goddamn mouth, boy.”

John drove Old Boy between the two of them and turned to Javier. “I’m real goddamn tired of this shit. Elijah told Dutch off for bein’ careless and rightly so. I don’t agree with all he said but that don’t make him a traitor. Get over it, Javier. You and Bill both.”

“You’ve just gone soft ‘cause you got yourself a girl now.” Javier spat. “Dutch is our one way outta here, he always has been.”

With that, he spurred Boaz on and left John and Arthur alone.

“We oughta split up.” Arthur said. “Meet you back at camp.”

“Arthur.” John said before Arthur could ride away.

“Yeah?”

“Whatever happens, I got your back. We both do, me and Abigail.”

“I know. Thank you.”

The ride back to camp was blissfully uneventful. Vincent had been annoyed with the Arabian at his side but was pacified quite easily with an oatcake. Mordred’s saddle had remained behind when Elijah rescued him, so Arthur made do with one of the spare saddles and resolved to find a proper one once all this mess was dealt with.

Arthur brushed and patted the Arabian until the horse stopped being so damn nervous. “What’re we gonna name you, boy?”

The horse whinnied softly and Arthur heard gentle shushing to his side.

“He’s beautiful.” Elijah said softly, trying not to scare the horse and gently holding out his hand for the beast to sniff at. “Javier came to hurl insults at my tent so I figured you boys made it back alright.”

“Javier needs to watch his damn mouth.” Arthur grumbled, to which Elijah merely replied with a hum in agreement. “I was tryin’ to come up with a name for ‘em. Don’t wanna ride around for ‘nother couple months with no name like I did with Mordred.”

Elijah seemed grateful for the change in subject. “Mordred was a fine horse.”

“That he was.”

“You wanna keep the whole King Arthur theme?” Elijah asked with a sly smile, knowing Arthur hadn’t necessarily been a fan of that in the first place.

Arthur shook his head, not finding it particularly funny. “I ain’t felt like any sort of king in a while now.”

Elijah gently rubbed his hand over the horse’s nose. His eyes were terribly sad but there was a smile on his face. “A dark horse… How about that?” He said softly while patting the horse’s face so very sweetly. After a while, he looked to Arthur, who had been staring at him motionlessly.

“What about Styx?”

“Styx?”

“The ancient Greeks believed there was a river between the Earth and the Underworld. It was called the river Styx.”

“Why would I name my horse after the damn river to hell?” Arthur didn’t get it.

“I very often feel that Vincent is the only thing standing between me and immediate death, to tell you the truth.” Elijah confessed. Arthur abruptly remembered he’d spent a week chasing down O’Driscoll camps to find him and understood. “But if you don’t like it…”

“No, it’s… Short, powerful…” He patted the Arabian, feeling his glossy coat slide underneath his hand. “Styx…”

“Some myths hold that the Styx had the power to make you invulnerable.” Elijah followed up.

Arthur laughed. “Well… We could use some of that, couldn’t we, boy?”

Styx snorted but didn’t seem to disagree.

“So… Horse rustling went well?” Elijah asked as they walked back to their tent, stopping for stew on the way. Arthur didn’t particularly feel like sharing a campfire with Javier tonight.

“As well as I expected.” Arthur mumbled as they sat down on the ground before their tent. He sighed. “Made seven hundred bucks off them three horses we sold. That old Gray fool promised us five thousand, but that were never gonna happen.”

“Hm.” Elijah concurred, poking at his stew. “Black Arabians like the one you have back there go for a thousand at the Saint Denis stables.”

Arthur nearly spat out his stew. “That son of a bitch… We was never gonna make that off a fence!”

“No.”

“But…” Arthur sighed again. “We was never gonna make that much off them horses, period.”

John walked out of Dutch’s tent, tipped his hat at the both of them and went back to his own tent. A very curmudgeonly Dutch came out of the tent after, hands on his hips and smoking a cigar like it was going out of fashion.

“Guess he got the news.” Elijah mumbled with his mouth half full. Dutch walked up to them.

“Arthur.”

“Dutch.”

“John told me about what happened with them horses.” Dutch said, sounding impatient.

“We always knew them things weren’t gonna pay our way outta here.”

“No, no… I been talkin’ to Sheriff Gray. None too pleased about them torched tobacco fields, but I’m pretty sure they think it was the Braithwaites. Been working real hard to keep their trust.”

Arthur put his bowl down. “I don’t think they think it was the Braithwaites, Dutch.” He said, looking up at him. “That old… Tavish Gray said somethin’ about us causin’ trouble everywhere. Reckon they’re onto us, and so might the Braithwaites be, I dunno. Them bounty hunters seemed to have real easy access to their land.”

Dutch blew out a puff of smoke, angrily. “Have some goddamn faith, Arthur. They would’ve killed me weeks ago if they’d known it was us, and I’m livin’ just fine!”

“Maybe, but they needed someone to take care of them horses for ‘em, and you been takin’ out all them stills with the Sheriff. Me ‘n Hosea weren’t exactly subtle about sellin’ that liquor in town, neither. They’ve been usin’ us, Dutch, and they’ll keep usin’ us until they don’t need us to take care of their problems no more.”

For a moment, he saw Dutch’s confidence waver. Elijah hadn’t said a word and Arthur knew he wasn’t going to, for which he was grateful. Nothing got Dutch’s hackles up more than that.

“Maybe… Maybe you’re right.” Dutch said, finally, sounding like it pained him to say it. “But Sheriff Gray told me that as soon as we took care of them horses like his brother asked us to, we should head on over for another job.” He took a puff of his cigar. “You, Bill, Sean and John are headin’ out there tomorrow as a show of good faith. Sure we can clear up the entire misunderstandin’ about them horses, too.”

“Sean?” Arthur protested. “Sean was the one who torched their fields!”

“It ain’t like they saw him!”

“No, but they heard him.” Elijah spoke at last, in-between bites of stew. “His voice and accent will be a dead giveaway in these parts, but by all means.”

Dutch scoffed and laughed. “Let Sean’s Irish blood be the end of us all, then. Oh, Doubting Thomas. Never was the smartest of the apostles.”

Elijah sniffed indignantly. “You seem to have forgotten that Christ died on the cross, Dutch.” He looked up from his stew, glaring daggers. “Though I suppose it’s more poetic than the noose.”

“Are you threatening me, son?” Dutch asked menacingly.

“Oh, no.” Elijah said drily. “I don’t think I need to add to your present troubles.”

Dutch was about to retort when someone called for him. He turned his head towards them, back to Elijah, growled with frustration and stomped over to whomever it had been that had called him over.

“That mouth of yours’ll be the death of you one day.” Arthur said, relieved that a head-on collision between the two had been narrowly avoided.

“Maybe.” Elijah slurped the last of his stew out of his bowl. “But it’s the best weapon I’ve got, so at least I’ll have died fighting.”

Arthur laid his arms on his pulled up knees. “This goddamn job with them Grays…”

“Definitely a trap.” Elijah took their bowls and went to put them in the washing bin, leaving Arthur to stew for a moment. What choice did they have? When Elijah rejoined him, Arthur had decided it had to be over after this.

“It’ll be the last damn thing we do for ‘em, I’ll make sure of that.”

“Hmm.” Elijah didn’t sound convinced.

“What?”

“There’s always one last job.” He said, voice rife with sadness and disappointment, moving to crawl into their tent. “I’m going to sleep.”

Arthur let him go, not in the mood for an argument. He got up and went to find Dutch, pulling him apart to talk to him.

“Listen, about tomorrow…”

“We’ve said all that needs to be said about that, Arthur. All, and more.” Dutch said pointedly.

“Just… After, we gotta go. It don’t even matter where, we just gotta leave. We been in one place too long.”

“You’re just nervous, Arthur.”

“‘Course I’m nervous! I don’t want none of us to die or get caught or…” He rubbed a hand over his face. “Promise me it’ll be the last damn job we do for these inbred bastards.”

Dutch looked taken aback by his insistence at first, but softened eventually. “I… Very well. One more job in Rhodes, then we move on. Lenny found a house near Saint Denis. He and Bill took care of the Raiders holed up in there… Could be a good place to lay low while we figure out what to do.”

“Saint Denis is further east, Dutch.” Arthur pointed out.

“I know, I know… It’s just to figure out how and where we’re gonna go. No more… Jobs.” Dutch said, deflated. “Just this last one. Can you do that for me, son?”

Even now, Arthur felt his heart clench when Dutch said that. “I can, and I will. If you think they’ll believe our ‘show of good faith’, then…” He gestured vaguely. “We’ll go.”

Dutch clapped him on the shoulder. “Thank you, Arthur. We’ll leave this town with them being none the wiser and with nothin’ but nice things to say about us. That’s all I want.”

“Doubt the Pinkertons’ll care about what they gotta say about us, Dutch.”

“Maybe they’ll realise there’s bigger fish to fry, like these goddamn Lemoyne Raiders. They’re all over the damn county!” Dutch gestured at the people gathered around the campfire. “This is all we got, we ain’t nothin’ compared to them.”

Arthur supposed there was some sense in that. He still doubted it would matter and he still doubted that the job was a good idea – because it wasn’t – but at least he had Dutch’s word they’d move on after this. That was all he could ask for.

Chapter Text

Arthur hadn’t been able to shake the feeling of dread all night. Even now as he rode towards Rhodes he felt the sense of impending doom looming over him like a dark, thunderous cloud. 

He hadn’t slept much, or at all. Most of the night he’d spent staring at the top of the tent with Elijah breathing quietly beside him. Arthur knew he wasn’t asleep; if he had been, he’d have been snoring. The silence in the tent had felt laden with unresolved tension, things they’d wanted to say to each other but hadn’t found the strength to. As he had gotten dressed to leave for Rhodes, he had seen Elijah staring at him blearily. They hadn’t spoken, and Arthur had slipped out without another word.

Just one more, boy, Arthur had thought desperately, just one more. Hold on, now. 

Initially, he’d wanted to take Styx into town but realised that probably wasn’t the best idea, what with having stolen him the day before. Without thinking on it further, he took Vincent instead and rode out.

Sean, Bill and John were waiting for him on the steps of the Bank of Rhodes.

“Don’t you look nice today.” Bill said mockingly. Arthur could only imagine how tired and frazzled he looked.

“Shut up.”

“We’ve been waitin’ for ya, Arthur!” Sean said, his rifle already resting on his shoulder.

“Well, I’m sorry to have kept you.” Arthur said sarcastically. “Any reason why you totin’ that thing already like we’re here to have a damn gunfight in the streets? Put that thing away.”

Sean laughed in that annoying, high-pitched way of his. “Come now, Arthur! It’s a lovely morning and all you are is cranky. Your boy not been playin’ your thin whistle enough?”

“Alright, that’s enough.” John said, pushing an angrily approaching Arthur back with a gentle hand against his chest. “Let’s go.”

Arthur decided to drop the matter, for now. “What’s the plan?”

“Dutch said we oughta just go meet the Gray boys over at the Sheriff’s.” Bill said, his gun slung over his shoulder. 

“That all the info we got? This seem like a good idea to you all after the farce with them horses yesterday?” Arthur questioned, nervous about how quiet the town seemed. It was early still, but even then the townsfolk were usually about... “Why we doin’ this?”

“Because Dutch damn well asked us to.” Bill spat angrily. “Have you forgotten how the damn gang works, Arthur?”

“We ain’t had any decent money from neither family so far. They ain’t payin’ us well enough for us to just do whatever without askin’ questions.” Arthur retorted.

“From the high and mighty big man himself! You know, you never used to ask questions. Ever! It was always yes, Dutch, of course, Dutch, always, Dutch, would you like a cuppa tea with that, Dutch?” Sean laughed at him. 

Bill spoke up again, too. “Listen, I know these Gray boys. I been comin’ with Dutch a bunch the last few weeks and they always got another job lined up. This is on the level!”

“What about them fields we burned?” John asked. They were about halfway to the Sheriff’s now.

Sean snorted. “Pff! Like they knew that was us, they’re still over there thinkin’ it was the Braithwaites. Ease up, yer gettin’ as tight as Arthur.”

Arthur shook his head. “We’re stuck in the middle of some ancient feud and instead of playin’ both sides, we’re bein’ used by both of ‘em!” He said, echoing what he’d told Dutch the night before.

“What’s it matter as long as they pay us?” Sean turned around. “Honestly, Arthur. You pulled me out of Blackwater, don’t get scared by a tiny backwater swamp town like thi-”

A bullet shot clean through his head, knocking his hat off as he collapsed onto the ground.

“Shit!” John shouted.

“What the hell?!” That was Bill, running for cover.

“Get down!” Arthur shouted, hiding behind a couple of barrels. “God damn it!”

His voice and accent will be a dead giveaway in these parts.

Let Sean’s Irish blood be the end of us all, then.

“Dutch was a fool for this.” Arthur heard John say, breaking through the cacophony of his memories and guns firing.

“Dutch been a fool for a lot of things lately but this takes the damn cake.” Arthur growled through gritted teeth. 

Somewhere he heard Bill shouting that he couldn’t believe he’d been shot.

“You okay?” Arthur shouted while he was reloading. How many of those goddamn Grays were there? Were they all family or deputies? Christ .

“I’m fine! Is Sean dead?”

Arthur wanted to strangle Bill. “Look at him! Of course he’s dead! How could you not think this was a trap?”

Definitely a trap, Elijah had said and Arthur had agreed with him, had even told Dutch that it didn’t seem right, that the Grays were probably onto them and so were the Braithwaites in all likelihood. Even then, Arthur had agreed simply to get Dutch’s word that they would move on. He’d agreed to avoid further conflict.

And now another one of us is dead, he thought furiously. In the midst of the crossfire, bullets whizzing past him as he hid, Arthur realised that he’d known it months ago.

Every time you come up with a plan, someone dies.

“I been a goddamn fool.” Arthur said out loud to himself, before taking quick aim and taking out a handful of Grays with his revolver.

“They’re in the gun store!” John shouted, bursting through the door. Arthur sneaked around and took the backdoor, catching two Grays in the back while John fought with another before shoving him off and shooting him in the head. They took cover on either side of the entrance. Arthur checked outside and saw a dozen Grays approaching.

“Where the hell is Bill?”

“I ain’t seen him in a while.” John said, hastily reloading his revolver. “Ready?”

“Does it matter?” Arthur growled. 

He and John stood side by side as they emptied the chambers in their guns completely. An almost neat row of Grays fell down, bullets clean through their foreheads. The last couple of them turned heel and ran away.

“We gotta find Bill.” John said, breathing heavily. 

“Do we?”

“Yeah, we do.” John grabbed his shoulder and pushed him forward. “We can fight about it later.”

Arthur looked around and found that he didn’t see the Sheriff anywhere.

“Sheriff Gray!” Arthur roared. “Where are you, you goddamn coward?”

“Who do you think you are?!” Came the Sheriff’s voice from inside his building. “A bunch of two-bit thugs from God knows where? You’re so dumb to think we don’t know what you been doing?”

Yes, we were that dumb, Arthur thought bitterly. “Come out, Sheriff, it’s over! Half your sorry little town is dead!”

“We put down far worse than you! A hundred times over! This is the Grays’ town. Always has been, always will be!”

“Y’all had best start fuckin’ your sisters again then, ‘cause it needs repopulatin’!” Arthur wanted very badly to open fire on the building, looking over to John, who shook his head and mouthed ‘Bill.’

“You want us to come out?” The Sheriff shrieked. “We’ll come out!”

Bill, as it turned out, was being held hostage inside the Sheriff’s by the Sheriff himself and his numbskull deputy Archibald. 

“Shit!” Bill cursed as he was pushed forward by the Sheriff.

“Ah, Bill…!” Arthur couldn’t have been more disappointed if he’d tried. 

Archibald had a rifle trained on Arthur’s head. “Guns on the ground, both of you!”

“Don’t do it!” Bill shouted.

“You know we can’t do that.” John said, bored of this. There were only four men in total holding Bill hostage and they’d just mowed down an entire town between the three of them. They could manage.

“You put the gun down, Sheriff!” Arthur said. 

The Sheriff put his gun against Bill’s head. “I’ll blow his brains out!”

Arthur breathed deeply, found whatever small centre of peace he had left, whipped out his revolver once more and shot all four of them down. “Goddamn wastes of space.”

“... Shit.” Bill said, impressed and horrified.

Arthur knelt down by Sean’s head, which was lying in a pool of his own blood and grey matter.

“He was a good kid… Most of the time.” Arthur lamented.

“How the hell was we supposed to know?” Bill protested, grabbing his gun from where it had fallen on the ground.

“Well, let me see… They set us up with them horses, they definitely knew it was an Irish bastard torching their fields, I told Dutch they was onto us, and there weren’t a goddamn civilian out in the entire town when we arrived this mornin’!” Arthur was breathing like he’d run a mile, his heart pounding against his ribcage with fury. “We never should’ve done this, but you’re all so busy chokin’ down all that loyalty that you don’t see what’s in front of you!”

“Then why was you here, huh? Why ain’t you just run off yet with that pansy ass little brat?” Bill got in his face, teeth bared.

“‘Cause I thought we still had a chance to save ourselves.” Arthur growled low. “I was wrong.”

 “We don’t need savin’.” Bill hissed. “Dutch’ll come up with a plan and we’ll get our big take and get out. That’s what’s gonna happen.”

“Best hope you’ll live to see it, then.” Arthur had his hand on his revolver, but the fight was once again broken up by John picking up Sean’s body.

“Don’t know about you two, but I’m gonna give this poor boy a proper burial. You comin’?”

“Yeah.” Arthur said. “Get the hell outta my sight, Bill.”

They split up. Bill went back to camp and John and Arthur went to bury Sean to the north of Clemens Point. The earth was soft and moved easily underneath their hands. Their fingers and nails were black with dirt, but they got Sean into his grave. It was a beautiful place: underneath a large tree, nicely in the shade except for when the sun would pass over it in the early evening. They weighed the earth down with rocks and cobbled a grave marker together from two pieces of bark, carving Sean’s name into it with Arthur’s hunting knife.

For a little while they just stood over Sean’s grave silently. John was the first to speak.

“This can’t go on.”

“No, it can’t. Dutch said we’d move to some house near Saint Denis, but…”

“Further east? Why?”

“Place to lie low while we sort out travel to the west, but… Knowin’ Dutch we’ll end up robbin’ the damn bank in the city.” And getting gunned down in the streets, he thought but didn’t say.

“Jesus Christ…” John sighed, rubbing at his eyes with the palms of his hands. “We gotta convince him to go west. You, me and Hosea. We need to leave all this behind.”

“Agreed.” Arthur nodded. “Now, I probably oughta return Vincent before… Well, I doubt it matters now.”

They walked back to their horses together. “What do you mean?” John asked.

“I think he’s leavin’ me.”

“What? Why?”

“‘Cause I let Dutch get another one of us killed. He told me it was a trap last night and we went ahead with it anyway.” Arthur shrugged. “I been a fool, and he tolerated that for a long while but… I reckon that’s over now.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” John said softly. “Really, I am. He’s… Odd, but I like him. Smart, quick on his feet, dedicated… Can’t shoot, though.”

Arthur laughed softly, even as he felt his heart breaking. “Yeah, that’s his worst quality by far.

They got back to camp to find absolute pandemonium. The gang was gathered around Dutch like an angry mob, with Abigail at the head of it, only barely held back by Charles. She was raving, screaming, crying. John was off his horse so fast that his foot stuck in the stirrup and he fell into the mud. Arthur hitched Vincent and found that Styx had disappeared.

“What the hell is goin’ on…?”

The chaos of voices slowly began to make sense to his ears: Jack had disappeared.

“Where’s my goddamn son, Dutch?!” Abigail wailed. “Where is he!”

“Abigail?” John was by her side and Charles let her go. John gathered her in his arms as she wept. His dark eyes met with Dutch’s, his fury against Dutch’s floundering concern. “Where’s Jack, Dutch?”

“I don’t- I don’t know-”

“What the hell do you mean you ‘don’t know’?! He’s four goddamn years old, Dutch, you tryin’ to tell me ain’t nobody here was watchin’ him?!” John was rapidly losing his cool. Charles put a hand on his shoulder.

“We’ll find him. Elijah and Hosea are already out lookin’ for him.” He said, trying to calm both John and Abigail down a little.

Arthur arrived just in time to hear that. At least that explained where Styx had gone.

“Everybody calm down.” Dutch said. “Arthur, have you seen that boy, Jack?” 

“No, I been a little busy buryin’ Sean after that firin’ squad you sent us to meet.” Arthur barked. “I goddamn told you they was onto us, Dutch, and you sent us anyway. Now Sean’s dead and Jack is gone, this all part of your plan?”

Dutch was, for once in his life, actually speechless. “I…”

“We got Pinkertons and bounty hunters and now two entire goddamn families huntin’ us down and now the damn kid is gone! You-... You-!” Arthur didn’t even know what to say, he was so angry. “All them years I believed in you…”

“Don’t-- Lose faith now, Arthur-” Dutch tried, clearly out of his element with the uproar.

“Really? Not now? Seems to me like this was the best goddamn time to lose faith!”

“What the hell is wrong with you!” Javier shouted, stepping out in front of Dutch. “We gotta stay together and you wanna pick a fight now? Are you right in the head?”

“Are you?” Arthur spat.

“Now you will all calm the hell down.” Miss Grimshaw interjected, a thunderous expression on her face. “Now is not the damn time. Dutch, you done made some piss poor decisions lately, I’ll give Arthur that much, but now is not the time.” 

Arthur was grateful for her support, if nothing else. John was still comforting Abigail. Arthur stepped over to them.

“We gotta wait for Elijah and Hosea to get back, ain’t no point in us rushin’ out now and gettin’ caught by… Well, whoever gets to us first, I guess. We gotta wait.”

John shook his head. “I can’t… We can’t just sit here, Arthur.”

“I know, but we gotta.”

“Don’t nobody know what happened?” John asked, looking around.

“I-I saw a couple fellers by the lake, but… That was when Jack was still here, and I ain’t seen who they were.” Kieran said suddenly, shaking in his boots with Mary-Beth by his side. “I think Eli ‘n Hosea are tryin’ to find them.”

“Then we wait for their return.” Dutch said, having found his voice again.

The next couple of hours were incredibly tense. Every distant passing of hooves had everyone on edge until the sound inevitably faded in the distance again. 

“Hosea!”

Silver Dollar rode into camp with a tired looking Hosea on his back. He dismounted slowly. The gang gathered around him, eager to hear, eager to know. Abigail pushed through.

“Hosea?” Her voice trembled, fresh tears gathering in her eyes. “Where’s Jack, where’s my boy?”

“The Braithwaites got him.” Hosea said solemnly. “We tracked them to the mansion but we didn’t make it past the main gate. Barely made it out alive, actually.”

“Elijah not with you?” Arthur asked, looking around for the frightening vision of his shadowy new horse.

“He thought he saw a wagon leaving the estate and went after it. Sent me back to tell you all.”

“Stole Arthur’s horse and bolted for greener pastures, you mean.” Bill jeered. For the first time in years, Arthur witnessed Hosea punching someone in the face, rubbing his sore hand afterwards while Bill cradled his jaw.

“I will not have you insulting any member of this gang who is risking their necks for the sake of us.” He said sternly. “Dutch, we don’t know if the boy is at the estate, but it’s our best bet.”

“Get me my goddamn son, Dutch!” Abigail said, clinging to John.

Dutch nodded, hastily. “We will find him, we will bring him back to you, and we will kill any fool that had the… The temerity to touch one hair on that boy’s head. Abigail, you have my word.”

Nothing about him or anything he said was right, Arthur noted. It was all fragile, off-kilter, like he’d lost his footing and couldn’t find it anymore. Perhaps the double hit of losing Sean and Jack in the same day had finally made him realise what position he’d put their family in.

“Just get me back my son!” She shouted in response. “Your word ain’t worth much if it don’t get me my son back!”

“I will get that boy back, so help me God.” Dutch said, walking away and towards the horses. “Kieran, you stay behind. Anyone strange turns up, you kill ‘em! The rest of you, ride with me!”

John took Abigail’s face in his hands and kissed her forehead. “I’m gonna get our boy back, Abigail. You just stay here and stay safe.”

“John…”

“I know.” They kissed, quickly. “I know.”

Hosea rode at the head with Dutch, Arthur and John.

“They figured out what we was up to, Dutch.” Hosea said grimly. 

“We just got shot to hell by the Grays in town.” Arthur added.

“I know.” Dutch said, far more quietly than Arthur was used to from him. “And Sean… I don't even wanna think about that right now.”

“You should’ve done your thinkin’ about that yesterday, Dutch.” Arthur said, unwilling to drop the matter even now. “Should’ve gotten outta here weeks ago.”

“I know, I… We gotta focus on Jack.”

“I swear, I’ll kill everyone there.” John shouted over the thundering of hooves.

“Try to stay calm, John.” Hosea said. “They wouldn’t hurt a little boy.”

“What about the gold, Dutch?” Bill asked. “How are we gonna get paid after this?”

John whirled around in his saddle. “Who gives a damn about the gold?! They got Jack!”

Hosea sighed. “I don’t think there ever was any gold. If there is, it’s hidden somewhere no one knows.”

“What?!” Bill shouted.

“I been tryin’ to tell Dutch, but… I’ve turned every stone, so has Elijah, so has Arthur. The family younguns don’t know anythin’ about gold and the elders deal in horses and tobacco more than they do anything else. I reckon all the gold there was was probably lost in the war.”

“Another perfect scam.” Arthur said, angrily looking over at Dutch, who was looking steadily forward and not taking part in the conversation happening behind him. 

“We underestimated them.” Hosea assessed simply. Arthur agreed with him. The worst part was that they’d known it, too, and had still let it happen.

In fairness, Arthur supposed they’d been doing that for months now. They knew when things weren’t right, when a kill shouldn’t have been made or a robbery shouldn’t have been planned, they knew all along. All their philosophies, all their plans, all those years… Micah had certainly made things worse for a while, but Arthur began to realise that he merely made the pre-existing gaps and holes in Dutch’s philosophy more visible. When he’d died, Arthur had lost sight of those again for a while only for them to resurface now, much larger and much more unforgivable than they had been before.

It was done. Whatever was left of them after this would never be the same again.

Now that autumn had arrived the days were much shorter. The sun was already setting and by the time they’d made it to Braithwaite Manor, the sky had gone dark against the warm light of the mansion’s interior. They all dismounted and drew their guns, rifles and revolvers glinting in the light.

“Nobody makes a move until I say so.” Dutch said as they walked through the front gate and towards the house. 

Lenny shook his head. “First Sean, now Jack… We should’ve stayed outta all of this.”

“Bit late for that, isn’t it?” Bill muttered.

“We’re going to fix this, right now.” Dutch said. Arthur heard the edge of desperation, there. “Follow my lead.”

“There they are.” Hosea said, nodding towards a couple of the Braithwaite sons or guards hanging out on the porch.

“Who steals a goddamn boy?” Dutch wondered, seemingly to himself.

“I’m gonna let fly at those sons of bitches…” John said, seething.

“Stay calm, John.” Hosea said, briefly extending his arm to squeeze John’s shoulder.

Dutch, however, seemed to not take heed of that bit of advice. “Get down here now! You inbred trash!”

“What the hell do you want?” One of the Braithwaite boys replied.

John was already rushing forward, but Hosea pulled him back again. “Easy, John.”

“We’ve come for the boy.” Dutch said. “You must’ve known we would.”

“Shouldn’t have messed with our business now, should you?” Said another Braithwaite. Arthur counted about half a dozen in total, though he was sure there were a couple hiding inside and behind pillars.

“Whatever… Whatever complaint you have with us… That is a young boy.” Dutch continued. “That is not the way you do things. Hand him over.”

“Get the hell off our land.”

The double doors on the ground and first floor opened, revealing another set of Braithwaites. Shit. At least they were with more men than they’d been in Rhodes, and they made it through that mostly unscathed.

“If you ain’t gonna be civilised about this…” Dutch sighed, pulling his revolver and shooting the nearest Braithwaite in the head. The gunfight broke out and Arthur ran for cover behind a nearby wagon together with Lenny. He heard glass shattering, stone crumbling and wood splintering from the house behind them.

“What the hell was we thinkin’?” Lenny asked him as he came down from firing his rifle. A bullet crashed through the wood overhead, splinters falling onto their clothes.

“We wasn’t. Think that’s been the problem for a while now.” Arthur replied. He came back up and shot another two in quick succession. “Let’s just hope the damn boy ain’t in a place where we can shoot him… Shit… Shit! We ain’t even thought of that!”

Arthur stood up. “Don’t shoot the god damn house, we don’t know where Jack is!

The bullet spray quieted down considerably but didn’t stop. Lenny went back up, shot, and Arthur heard a Braithwaite falling from the balcony and landing on the ground below with a sickening crunch.

“Good shot.” He said to Lenny.

“Thanks. We gotta move up on ‘em.”

They pressed onward and to the house itself, stepping over the corpses of Braithwaites on the way. He was sure he recognised a few of the old hag’s sons, but not all of them. 

“Arthur, John, Hosea: with me!” Dutch shouted as he kicked the already unlocked front door open, shattering the glass completely. “The rest of you, stay outside for any other arrivals!”

They turned over every room in the house. Arthur saw so many bits and bobs glittering with gold but he took none. It felt pointless, asinine. Upstairs, Hosea and Dutch were trying to break through a door but couldn’t.

“Jack!” He heard John shout. “Jack, can you hear me?”

“Jack, you in here?” Arthur said, opening a door and finding a study with an overturned desk. Behind it sat another one of the Braithwaite sons, crouched down. 

Arthur cursed, drew his revolver and shot him three times in quick succession. It was messy and inaccurate, but the man fell down with a wet squelch all the same. John was standing in the middle of the hall, looking lost.

“C’mon.” Arthur said, gently pushing him forward. “They need us upstairs.”

“It’s barricaded.” Hosea said, once they made it up the stairs. “Maybe we can get in from the other side…”

“We got more comin’ in!” Javier shouted outside. 

“Arthur, John. Get out there, we got this covered.” Dutch said.

Braithwaite guards were riding in on wagons. Arthur, frankly, didn’t have the patience anymore and lit two sticks of dynamite, flinging them towards two of the wagons. “Incoming!”

The gang got down and covered their ears while the Braithwaites couldn’t leave their wagons fast enough and got blown to bits. John took care of another couple, hiding behind the pillar just as a bullet shot through the stone near his head. Down on the ground Arthur saw Charles throwing a tomahawk right into the shooter’s skull.

Arthur and John moved over to the right side of the balcony where guards had also arrived. It felt like a long, drawn-out shooting gallery with no end to it. All Arthur wanted was to find Jack, but the house seemed empty except for that one room they couldn’t get into, and he still hadn’t heard the boy…

“They’re running!” John shouted. 

“Let’s find a way into that room, then.” Arthur said. Just behind them were the wooden patio doors that led into the room. “Gimme a hand, will ya?”

“On three.” John said, and the both put their shoulders up against the door. “One, two, three…”

It took all of their weight and strength to push the cabinet up against the doors away. Two Braithwaite boys jumped behind a dresser. John shot the first; Arthur the second. Hosea, at last, broke through the door on the other side of the room.

Dutch walked in, slowly looking around. His eyes focused on the single other door in the room. He kicked it open and Arthur heard Catherine Braithwaite screaming. Dutch dragged her out by her hair, throwing her into the middle of the room, just over the corpse of one of her sons. She was wailing, hands scrambling to put pressure on their wounds but it was too late. Dutch pulled her up and pushed her against the wall.

“You want me to kill you too, old woman?”

“You bastards!” She said, falling forward towards her sons again.

Hosea pushed her back against the wall again. “Where’s the boy?!”

“We have lived in this house for a hundred and twenty years. We never had no problems ‘cept for Yankees!”

“Where. Is. The. Boy?” Hosea repeated. “Who took him?”

“You killed my sons!” She wailed in response.

Dutch held her wrist so tight Arthur thought he might break it. “And I will surely kill the rest of them unless you start talking.”

“Oh, I know your type.” She hissed at Dutch. “Common scum.”

Dutch got real close to her. “Where is the boy?”

“You… Filth.” She spat on his face. Dutch wiped it off with his sleeve and stood up straight.

“Get her out of here.”

“What about all them Braithwaites?” Arthur asked. Dutch responded by putting another bullet into one of the two Braithwaite boys on the ground. Catherine cried as Dutch tried to drag her down the stairs, desperately grasping at the railing and kicking her legs. Eventually, Dutch just took her by the hair again and dragged her down to the ground floor where the gang had set fire to the house.

“That’s right, burn this dump to the ground! You boys sure Jack ain’t in here?”

“We searched everywhere, Dutch.” Hosea said sadly. 

One more of her sons crawled across the floor, wounded. Arthur put a bullet into him just as a mercy killing. Flames engulfed the wooden archways, the floors, the carpets. Hot coal sprung through the air and a thick, dark smoke trailed through the hallways. 

“Guess that’s the end of the goddamn cribbage game.” Hosea said as they left the manor. Dutch threw Catherine onto the ground where the gang surrounded her.

“I never liked you…” She whined to Hosea.

“Why’d you take the boy, Mrs. Braithwaite?” Hosea snarled.

“You stole my liquor!”

“Boys are off-limits!”

“You stole my horses! Ain’t no ‘rules’ in war, Mr...”

“Matthews.”

“Yes… Yes, that’s it.”

“Where’s the boy?” Hosea asked one final time. 

She sat up, hatred rolling off of her. “My sons gave him to Angelo Bronte. So my guess is Saint Denis!”

Dutch, John, Arthur and Hosea exchanged looks with one another.

“Either there,” Catherine finished. “Or on the boat to Italy!”

“Let’s go!” Hosea said, leaving the pathetic woman behind. Arthur stared at her.

“What do we do with her?”

“Leave her.” Dutch spat.

As they returned to their horses, Arthur looked back to see Catherine running back into the flaming, collapsing house. If she wanted to die among the smouldering remnants of her home, Arthur was going to let her.

He heard the gang departing for Clemens Point, hooves pounding into the ground and growing distant quickly. When he turned back towards the road, Arthur saw a lone rider on a dark horse standing in the middle of the road. He led Vincent by his reins and walked on over.

“Eli.”

“Oh, Arthur.” Elijah said, eyes wide as he stared at the house. Arthur saw the flames reflected in his eyes, usually cool blue eyes ablaze with distant fire. There was a thin sheen of sweat all over his face and his clothes stuck to him. He must’ve been riding like all hell to make it back this quickly. Slowly, he turned his eyes downwards to Arthur. “What have you done?”

Chapter Text

The ride back to Clemens Point was excruciating.

Elijah and Arthur had traded horses before the burning Braithwaite house and had ridden side by side. Arthur had told him about what had happened in Rhodes, what had happened to Sean. Elijah hadn’t said a single sorry word, staring resolutely ahead. It almost made Arthur wish that he’d just say ‘I told you so’ and got it over with.

“And then Jack…” Arthur sighed as they rode along the treeline. “And the Braithwaites…”

He heard Elijah bark a sudden laugh, if he could call it that. He sounded distraught.

“I wonder if the Pinkertons will at least have the courtesy to wait until after breakfast to arrest all of us.” Elijah wondered aloud.

“The hell is that supposed to mean?”

“If they hadn’t found you yet, I reckon they only have to follow the god damn smoke signals and ten different horse tracks to camp.”

Arthur looked over and found him holding back tears of rage, his knuckles white with how tightly he was holding on to the reins.

“Listen, I know you told us-” Arthur began.

“Yes, I damn well did tell you!” Elijah roared, breathing harshly. Arthur just stared at him. “Told you after you got Trelawny back, actually! Now you’ve gone and massacred two of the most powerful families in the entire State! I’ll be fucking astounded if the entire fucking army isn’t at our doorstep tomorrow!”

“What was I supposed to do?!” Arthur shouted back, having lost his temper.

“Flee? Stay away? Not light the entire manor on fire?” Elijah pinched the bridge of his nose. “Why were you there, anyway?”

“To find Jack, what the hell do you think?”

“He’s with Angelo Bronte in Saint Denis.” Elijah gritted out. “I know because I followed the damn wagon. Didn’t Hosea tell you that?”

God fucking damn it. “Why didn’t you get him back?”

“Six armed guards versus my one rifle while I’m sitting on their stolen horse. Thanks for that, by the way.” Elijah spat at him. “Bronte wouldn’t hurt him. We’ll get Jack back but not with guns, not if you want him to live.”

“We started shootin’ before we even knew if he was in the house.” Arthur grumbled. “We gone and lost our minds.”

“Yes, you have. You should have let me investigate, but you lot never think before you do anything.”

“What will we do now?” Arthur asked him, dreading the answer.

“God knows. I really thought… I really thought that we’d turned the tide, but we just ignored it until the water was up to our necks.”

“I know.” Arthur said softly. “Maybe we oughta pack up and go west. Those who want to come can follow.”

“They won’t want to come.” Elijah sniffed and swallowed down his tears. “Not while Dutch is here.”

Arthur knew that was true, too, but he struggled to admit it.

“I’m sorry for takin’ Vincent.” He said instead.

Elijah just nodded and said nothing for a while.

“You really wanna leave and head west?” He asked eventually, just as they rode into Clemens Point.

“When we get Jack back.” Arthur said decisively. “After that, we can go.”

 “The gang might not want me to join.” Elijah pointed out as he dismounted.

“Reckon I don’t care ‘bout that.” Arthur took his hand and tried to catch his eye, but Elijah stared to the side of them, into the dimly lit camp.

“… I’m afraid the problem is that I do.” He said, finally, briefly squeezing Arthur’s hand before slowly making his way over to their tent. Dutch was smoking outside his tent with Hosea sitting by his side with a drink in his hand. John’s tent was closed and most of the others appeared to have either gone to stand guard or gone to bed. It was quiet in the camp. All that could be heard were the sounds of the night: the nocturnal birds, the insects, the occasional squeal of a rodent.

The calm before the storm.

Arthur wandered over to Dutch’s tent and sat down, sighing heavily. “Hosea… Dutch.”

“Arthur.” Dutch replied. Hosea raised his beer bottle at him in greeting.

“What’re we gonna do?” Arthur asked them.

“Move.” Dutch said quietly. “We’ll get ourselves to that house, we’ll get Jack and then we’ll… Find a way west from there, I guess.”

“Then we oughta move now. Them Pinkertons are comin’ for us and it won’t be long before they’ve found us.”

“People need… Rest. I need rest.” Dutch had a faraway look on his face. “If the Pinkertons show up…”

Arthur looked up at him. Dutch looked wrecked.

“Then what?” Arthur asked him.

“I… I don’t know.” Dutch finished his cigar and threw it in the general direction of the campfire. “Maybe I need to sleep on it.”

“Elijah find anything, Arthur?” Hosea asked suddenly.

“He found Angelo Bronte. That wagon you was talkin’ about earlier went to Saint Denis. He knows where Bronte lives, I think.” Arthur finished his cigarette and tossed the butt away.

“Then we’ll ride out with him tomorrow.” Hosea decided, getting up. “I’m gonna sleep. We’ve got a long day ahead of us later.”

Arthur got up just as Hosea left. “Think I’ll go, too.”

Dutch didn’t reply. He looked like he was miles away, so Arthur left him.

Just as he was about to open the canvas to their tent he heard snoring coming from the inside: Elijah was asleep. Arthur knew he was an incredibly light sleeper and that he hadn’t slept at all last night. In the end, he left him be and went to sleep on his cot instead. It felt odd to be lying on his back without Elijah’s warm body resting close, always within reach to touch, to reach for in the early morning when Arthur wanted to busy himself with greeting every freckle on his shoulders with a kiss.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to Arthur to realise that he really, truly loved him. That if he had any say in the matter at all he wanted to spend his life with him doing whatever. If it would come to it, Arthur would even stoop to becoming a mailman if it meant a life with him, together with their family.

Family…

Was there any left to speak of? Over the past half a year so many of them had found friends in smaller circles. Bill and Javier had become inexplicably close companions; Arthur, Charles and John had become progressively closer friends, with Sadie, Elijah and Abigail somewhere along the periphery of that group; Karen and Sean got together, so did Kieran and Mary-Beth; Hosea and Elijah had become fast friends… Arthur loved each and every one of them and had loved Sean just as much, like he was an annoying little brother. Now, with Sean dead and the gang in chaos over Jack’s abduction, people whom Arthur had considered brothers had nigh on turned against him.

And then there was Dutch… Never in his life had Arthur feared a tomorrow more than now. When the first pale streaks of light rose over the camp, all he wanted was for the gang to disappear. Miss Grimshaw had evidently already spoken to Dutch the night before and was up early, getting ready to organise the full packing up of the camp.

Against his wishes to the contrary, dawn had broken and the day had begun.

The cot creaked and groaned underneath him as Arthur sat up and swung his legs over the side. He rubbed a hand over his tired face, scruff scratching against the palm of his hand. Over the past six months or so, Arthur felt like he’d aged two decades. He felt old and washed out where he’d previously felt he was reasonably in his prime. Now it felt like his time was nigh on done, like his very soul was protesting against this existence.

Just to his left he saw that Elijah had woken as well and was breaking down his tent per Miss Grimshaw’s instructions. The sight of it stung so much that Arthur had to look away: it didn’t feel like he was packing up to leave with them, it felt like he was merely packing up to leave. Period.

On his right, Dutch had woken and was standing outside of his tent, arms hanging by his side as he surveyed the campsite. He wasn’t even fully dressed: his hat and vest were missing. Arthur couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen Dutch in just his sleep-crinkled shirt and suspenders. That usually only ever happened after a night of heavy drinking. Dutch looked to his left, catching Arthur’s eye.

When Dutch slowly shook his head after they’d stared at each other silently, Arthur felt fear cramping his stomach. In front of them, Hosea was sitting at the table with a map in front of him, hands folded underneath his chin as he tried to devise a route or a plan or God knows what he was thinking. John, too, emerged from his tent and sat down at the table with Hosea. After another moment, Arthur got up and joined them. Eventually, so did Dutch.

The four of them were sat around the table. They didn’t speak. Around them the hustle and bustle of packing things and loading them onto the wagons continued, but it was like time had stopped at their little table. They were suspended in time inside their own little world where they all knew they were moments away from the end, standing on the edge of their downfall into the abyss. Over the years they had skirted by that very edge but never had they ever quite gotten this close, much less stared down into the ravine below. All Arthur could see was opaque, bleak uncertainty.

He wondered what the abyss looked like to Dutch. Probably not all that different from the real world: with civilisation encroaching on all sides and nowhere left to run to. An outsider in a world he believed he had the right to change.

Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. Arthur didn’t know and was past the point of caring about their belief in a better world, not that he still could. It was hard to believe in a better world when they had single-handedly killed over fifty people in a day. They weren’t the bringers of salvation to an ever-changing world; they were harbingers of death and destruction. In the end, they had become the very things they’d fought to oppose, though Arthur could hardly remember the last time they had fought it. At this point it felt like they had taken to killing and robbing indiscriminately as long as it meant the gang lived another day.

John was the one to break the silence. The world spun back into view with dizzying clarity.

“When are we ridin’ out for Jack?”

Dutch looked like he was waking up from a dream. “I…”

“Hey, Dutch! We got a problem.” Arthur looked to his left and saw Lenny approaching.

The moment he recognised the two men following behind them, Arthur felt his stomach drop: Agent Milton and Agent Ross. Arthur stood to face the music, briefly looking back towards Elijah who had been bent over packing up his clothes and was now slowly raising himself up. Their eyes met and Arthur could hear Elijah’s voice in his head.

Guess they didn’t want to wait ‘till after breakfast.

“Not a problem, visitors! A solution…” Milton corrected him. “Good day, fine people.”

Within moments, most of the gang had gathered around them in a large circle with the notable absence of Elijah, who kept close to his tent, though he had ceased packing.

“Mr. Van der Linde, Mr. Matthews, I presume...”

Dutch still hadn’t gotten up, but the rest of them had. He appeared to be frozen in his seat, staring blankly at the table. John already had his hand on his gun, to which Agent Milton raised his brow.

“And who are you?”

“Rip van Winkle.” John said. Arthur almost wanted to laugh.

“Huh… Good day, sir. Agent Milton, Pinkerton Detective Agency.” He gestured to the fellow behind him. “Agent Ross.”

Arthur stepped forward, standing in front of Dutch who still had his back turned as he sat at the table.

“Ah, Mr. Morgan! Nice to see you again.” Milton smiled at him, all facial muscles and not an ounce of emotion.

“Why are you here?” Dutch asked, his voice hoarse. Arthur frowned and turned to look at him. No clever retort? No insult? What was going on?

“I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but one can usually expect to be arrested after shooting up a town and lighting up a mansion with its inhabitants still inside.” Milton sniffed indignantly, shoving his hands into his trouser pockets. “If you want to pretend that human dignity and basic decency is outmoded or not as yet invented, you’ll have to be quieter about it than that. Regardless, it ends here.”

“Dignity… Decency…” Dutch rose from where he was sitting and turned around, but there was no fire to his words. Not like there used to be. “I have worked all my life to instil these values into the people you see around you. Unlike you, we define those according to their relationship with all things, not merely with greed and man obsessed with profit.”

“So as a consequence of that ‘philosophy’ you get to take what you please, kill whom you please and hang the rest of us?” Milton punctuated his point with a step forward. “Who made you the messiah to these lost souls you’ve led so horribly astray?” He said, looking around at the gang. The girls had gathered just outside of the inner circle of men, though Miss Grimshaw stood beside Lenny with a shotgun in hand.

Arthur was watching Dutch carefully. In spite of how angry he’d been at Dutch’s recklessness and unwillingness to listen, Arthur desperately wanted him to fight back, to say something witty, but he seemed to not have a reply ready to the Agent’s last barb.

“No messiah,” Dutch said eventually, seemingly having weighed his words carefully for once. “But I have tried to be a shepherd.”

“You have tried to be nothing much more than a killer, Mr. Van der Linde.” Milton replied coolly. Arthur saw Dutch close his mouth, an unreadable expression in his eyes.

“But I came to make a deal.” Milton continued. “It’s time. You come with me, and I give the rest of you three days to run off, disappear and go live like human beings someplace else.”

Dutch looked around at his gang, the faces of those he held dear and had for many, many years. Most of them either had their guns drawn or were ready to. If they hadn’t been out in the open one could’ve heard a pin drop for the intense silence that fell between them. He looked to Kieran and Mary-Beth, how she cradled her belly; at Abigail standing in the distance, bereft of her little boy; at young Lenny, so loyally looking to shoot Milton if he made a wrong move.

“You came for me. Only me.” Dutch said quietly. “All these… Lowlifes and killers in this den of depravity, and you risked your life coming here for… Me.”

Arthur watched his head turn to the left, slowly but surely, until he eventually found Elijah behind the crowd, still standing by his tent. Some of the gang followed his gaze. Elijah stood stock still with his arms crossed, letting the scrutiny wash over him and not giving an inch.

Milton saw him too but didn’t seem too interested. “I don’t wanna kill all these folk, Dutch.” He turned his gaze back to Dutch. “Just you.”

Another long silence where Dutch stared at the ground, then at the camp, then at Milton. “Perhaps… It is time.” He said and took a step forward. Around him, guns were pulled from holsters and revolvers were cocked. Miss Grimshaw readied her shotgun and Lenny pushed the rifle closer to Milton’s head. Neither Agent Ross nor Agent Milton so much as twitched an eyebrow. Hosea, Arthur noticed, hadn’t moved and hadn’t reached for his guns.

“I think your new friend should leave now, Dutch.” Miss Grimshaw said, steel in her voice.

“Put your guns down.” Dutch very nearly whispered. The gang exchanged confused glances, Arthur heard Mary-Beth’s intake of breath, heard Kieran taking a step closer to her. Abigail walked up to John, sneaked her hand in his and held on tight. Bill was the one to step closer to Dutch.

“Dutch, you can’t be seriou-” Bill said with his voice and eyes full of disbelief.

“Put your guns down! Now!” Dutch shouted loudly and suddenly, breathing hard. Some of the people around him holstered their guns but others refused to give in, anger mingling with the confusion on their faces.

Dutch breathed and passed a hand over his face. “I made a pledge to you all a long time ago that you would all survive, that we would head west and find our own paradise. I promised you all… Greener pastures, a better world.” He spoke, slowly and deliberately, and this was the quality of speech that Arthur had expected from him earlier.

However, if someone had asked him to choose between death and hearing this particular speech, Arthur knew what his choice would have been. He closed his eyes and lowered his head, accepting the inevitability of it.

You knew, he thought, ain’t no reason to be so surprised.

“But…” Dutch continued, turning around the circle to address everyone. “It was brought to my attention some time ago that I wasn’t doing a very good job of that.”

“Don’t listen to that puto, Dutch!” Javier cried with an edge of desperation to his voice.

“I didn’t, Javier.” Dutch admitted. “Not one little bit… And here you are.” He said, gesturing at the two agents. “Perhaps it is time for us all to admit that I am no longer your best chance at survival… And I haven’t been for some time. Jenny, Davy, Mac, Sean, Micah... They’re all dead. Little Jack got taken on my watch… I am a danger to your prosperity.”

Arthur heard Abigail hold back a sob beside him, saw John pull her in closer. He couldn’t take any more of this and stepped forward, turning Dutch to face him by his shoulder.

“You’ll leave us? Now? We ain’t even got Jack back, you can’t abandon us like this.” Arthur said. “Now ain’t exactly the time for this!”

“There was never going to be a good time, Arthur.” Dutch said, covering Arthur’s hand with his own and patting it comfortingly. “And I don’t think we’ll have another chance.”

“You won’t.” Milton said calmly. “I take it you accept my deal?”

Dutch took one, single deep breath. “Yes.”

“No!” Molly wept, standing behind Agent Milton. Dutch shook Arthur off, stepped over to her and took her face in his hands.

“Oh, my dear Miss O’Shea…” He said, and Arthur felt it was genuine for the first time in a long while. “Promise me… Promise me you’ll live a good life. Find a man who can give you what I couldn’t and live.” He kissed her tenderly on the forehead and let her go, turning back to his gang. His family. “That goes for all of you!”

“Can’t expect us to just let you walk outta here, Dutch!” Bill spat. “After all them years! All we been through!”

“You’re gonna have to, Bill, old friend.” Dutch said. “I will go, and you will stay. You will live. You will leave this place and find paradise together. Hosea will take good care of you, won’t you, Hosea?”

“I will.” Hosea said, nodding solemnly. “Those who wish to stay will have a home.”

“Arthur, John…”  Dutch said, taking both of his revolvers out from their holsters and giving one to each man. “You take these now, to remember me by… And sons?”

Arthur tried to swallow around the massive lump in his throat so that he could speak. He heard Mary-Beth crying, heard Kieran and Tilly comforting her. “Yeah?”

“What?” John said, gruff and barely holding on. He turned the revolver over in his hand, shaking his head.

“Be free, and be happy.” Dutch said quietly. He turned away from them and walked towards Elijah, much to everyone’s surprise, including Elijah’s. Arthur couldn’t for the life of him hear what was being said and he wasn’t sure he wanted to. Eventually, he saw Elijah extending his hand and Dutch taking it, a firm handshake between the two. It was the first time in a long time that Arthur couldn’t spot any measure of animosity between them.

Dutch took a slow, deep breath and turned away from him. He walked towards Agent Milton and looked at all the mournful, familiar faces one last time. “Farewell, all of you.”

Milton and Ross turned to let him pass between the two of them. Dutch turned around one last time.

“I don’t want any of you comin’ after us, you hear?”

Milton laughed. Arthur hated him.

“Yes.” Milton said as they left. “I would take that under advisement.”

The entire gang was shell-shocked. Some were crying, others were talking to each other in hushed tones, others were too stunned to say anything at all. Molly, however, was irate.

“This is all your fault!” She screamed at Elijah, rushing over to him and delivering a weak push. Elijah stared at her, bewildered. “If you hadn’t put those bloody ideas in his head he would still be here!”

“Can’t believe I’m saying this, but I agree with Miss O’Shea.” Karen said, her voice low, angry and dangerous. She was still holding her rifle, too. “I think it’s best you get the hell outta here.”

“You think we’ll let him leave?!” Bill shouted, taking aim with his rifle. Arthur felt himself returning to his body with a violent shock of movement and stood in front of him.

“You’d best put that gun down, Bill.” Arthur growled. “Right now.”

Miss Grimshaw walked up to the two of them, putting her hand gently over Bill’s gun and lowering it. “He can leave. No murder in the camp.” She said, softly but sternly. “Get him out of my sight, Arthur.”

Arthur felt like he’d just been beaten about the head with a ten ton hammer. “Everybody just calm down.”

“Arthur, come on.” John said, sounding tired. “It’s over. We gotta move.”

“Agreed.” Hosea said, moving into action. “Everybody pack up! There’ll be time to drown our sorrows later, we need to get outta here!”

Slowly but very surely, everyone began to move and pack up the camp. Arthur turned back and found that Elijah had led Vincent over and was tying his meagre possessions onto his saddle. The tent and bedrolls had found their way onto a wagon. Arthur walked over.

“You’re leavin’?”

Elijah sniffled. “Yeah, I am.”

“This can’t … You can’t … I can’t lose you ‘n Dutch in the same day.”

“Well…” Elijah smiled at him through a veil of tears misting his eyes. “You’re going to have to. They were never going to let me stay if Dutch left.”

Arthur felt like his soul was bare on the ground for all to see, trampled over by horses and people and left for dead. “They ain’t get a say in that!”

“Yes, they do.” Elijah stated simply, like he was unaffected by the chaotic maelstrom of events. “More importantly, I get a say in it.”

“You… You want to leave?” Arthur’s ears were ringing.

“I told you that I cannot stay where I’m not wanted.”

I want you here! Ain’t that enough?” He asked desperately, grabbing Elijah’s hand just as it finished tying another bag onto Vincent’s saddle. “Please…”

“Oh, Arthur…” Elijah sighed sadly, a tear rolling down his cheek. He kissed Arthur’s hand, pressing his lips hard against the bloodied, ashy knuckles. “If one person was ever enough, I wouldn’t even be here today. I’d probably never even have left my country. I had a home here, with you, but I’d choose death before I’d stay in a home where I am universally disliked. No, I…” He looked around the camp for a moment, letting Arthur’s hand fall limply to his side. “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land, and it was… It was lovely, for a while.”

Arthur didn’t know what to say, didn’t know whether to weep or to scream and shout and rave until he brought the skies down upon them. Nothing felt like it mattered.

“Let me come with you.” He felt insane even as he said it. Elijah shook his head.

“Your family needs you much more than I do, Arthur. I’ll be okay.” He tightened the straps on his bags and mounted up.

With every breath he took, Arthur could feel him drifting further away, slipping through his fingers like cool water from the lake. “Where will you go?”

“Saint Denis. It’s not hard to find an apartment there and I’m sure Fellowes won’t mind taking me on for work. Plus, Jack…” Elijah sighed. “I know Bronte. We’ve met. He would never hurt a child, but you will need my help to get him back to safety.”

Arthur just nodded, feeling anger bubble up at how unaffected Elijah seemed by all of it. “Right.”

“Meet me in Saint Denis at noon tomorrow, when everyone’s… Settled. I’ll… I’ll try and find out more.”

“Sure.”

It was silent for a moment.

“Arthur, I… I really…”

“Don’t.” Arthur said, shaking his head. “Whatever you’re about to say, I don’t wanna hear it. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Elijah swallowed hard and nodded, then clicked his tongue to get Vincent to move. Just like that, he trotted out of the camp. Arthur’s body moved of its own accord, mechanically packing up his things. Everyone wisely avoided him, even as they mounted up and made their way to the house near Saint Denis: Shady Belle. Bill and Lenny rode point, as they were the only ones that knew where to go, while Arthur and Hosea had a wagon in the back.

“I know I shouldn’t ask, but are you okay?” Hosea asked after a little while.

“No.”

“I didn’t think so.” Hosea sighed softly, reins held in his hands between his knees. “I never believed Dutch would go through with it.”

Arthur raised his head. What? “He told you?”

Hosea shook his head. “Not exactly. All he said was he didn’t know what he was gonna do if those Pinkertons showed up, but… I think he knew. He’d probably known for a while. Not sure what I was expectin’, though.”

“Well.” Arthur sighed long and deep. “At least they’ll leave us alone now.”

“One can dream.” Hosea said flatly. “One can surely dream.”

“Elijah says that Bronte feller would never hurt a kid, so Jack is safe.” Arthur said, changing the subject. “Told me to meet him in town, said we’d be needin’ his help.”

“Well, he ain’t been wrong about a lotta things, lately.” Hosea admitted.

With you, I found a home.

That ain’t all you are. You’ve become much more.

I love you, too.

“Nah.” Arthur said gruffly. His eyes stung. “He been wrong plenty.”

Chapter Text

Shady Belle was a moldy, humid hellhole. They hadn’t been here for a day and already Arthur had been forced to shoot two gators that had slithered their way into camp. The house was right in that sweet spot in the swamp where it was both too close and too far from the city: too far to be civilised, too close so that it always smelled of the city smog coming from Saint Denis and the muggy, dank swamp simultaneously.

Arthur hated it.

He’d given his cot to Mary-Beth, feeling that as she was starting to show more and more she shouldn’t be sleeping on the ground anymore. She’d seemed very grateful and had sheepishly confessed that her back had started to hurt a little bit. Arthur was glad to help: he had no desire to sleep on his cot, currently. Even the damp ground outside was preferable to that cold cot in a lonesome little room. At least outside he was among his friends.

Though the gang had soldiered on enduringly while setting up camp, it was during the evening campfire that it became clear they had not made it out as unscathed as they’d thought. Bill was angry and ranting to whoever would listen that he was going to go after Dutch and that anyone ‘who had any loyalty left’ was welcome to join him. Karen, still heartbroken over Sean - though she would rather die than admit to that - had gotten swept up in his tirade and taken up her gun. Miss Grimshaw had tried to tell her to simmer down but that had only served to make Karen even more obstinate. If there was one person she wasn’t going to listen to, it was Susan Grimshaw.

Javier had been on board almost from the moment Bill had started shouting. They fuelled each other’s blind fury and for a moment Arthur was afraid young Lenny was going to be hooked in too, but he stayed calmly where he was.

“Need I remind you that Dutch told us not to follow him?” Arthur had pointed out tiredly. He wanted this nightmare so badly to be over. “You’ll get yourselves killed, or worse, you’ll get all of us killed.”

“They caught him at a difficult time!” Bill had shouted indignantly. “Sean got killed and Jack got kidnapped by them weirdos, it was just a bad time! Moment of weakness!”

Hosea had shaken his head. “It won’t end well for any of you or Dutch, but I won’t stop you if you want to go. Our lives will be very different from here on out and I don’t expect everyone to stick around for that.”

That had just made Bill angrier.

“Y’all ain’t got a damn shred of loyalty! None.”

“How’s doin’ what Dutch told us to do bein’ disloyal?” Arthur had asked drily.

Few things confused or pissed Bill off worse than logic. “Screw you, Morgan!”

No one else expressed interest in going. Mary-Beth and Kieran certainly weren’t going anywhere, nor were John, Abigail, Arthur, or Hosea. Pearson wasn’t the fighting type and neither were Uncle and Trelawny. Charles refused to go against Dutch’s explicit order and so, it seemed, did Lenny. Susan and Tilly had seemed to consider it for a moment but stayed on account of Mary-Beth, whom they felt needed her family around her. Sadie simply had no stake in saving Dutch one way or another, nor did she feel comfortable going against what Dutch had told them to do. So, in the end, Karen, Bill and Javier had set off towards Blackwater alone.

“Do we even know for sure that the Pinkertons are takin’ Dutch to Blackwater?” Arthur had wondered aloud.

“No, but I’d say it’s a bigger problem if they do run into the Pinkertons.” Hosea had replied simply, shrugging. “I ain’t stoppin’ em.”

“Me neither.”

Much like the night before, Arthur hadn’t slept at all. It was too hot and too humid and he was too alone. He kept repeating his last conversation with Elijah over and over in his head, hoping to find the moment where he still could’ve changed things. Where, if he’d said exactly the right thing, Elijah wouldn’t have left.

But he didn’t find it. He got up as the sun rose over the camp, body simply going through the motions as he washed his face and shaved, his vacant expression reflected back to him in the mirror.

John didn’t look much better. They still had a couple of hours to kill before noon, but John wanted to head out immediately.

“Elijah said to meet at noon.” Arthur protested.

“What? What’s he got to do with it?” John was viciously smoking a cigarette like it was personally responsible for his problems. “I don’t wanna see his face right now.”

“He’s met Bronte before, and I thought you said you liked him?”

“That was before Dutch left with them Pinkertons.” He crushed the cigarette butt into the mossy ground. “That was his idea, weren’t it? I never agreed with that.”

Arthur sighed bitterly. Neither had he, really, but he also knew there wasn’t any real alternative that didn’t end with most of them dead. “He can still help us.”

“We don’t need his kinda help, Arthur.”

“We ain’t even know where Bronte lives, John!”

“We’ll find out! What’s wrong with you? Thought you’d finally learned how to ask questions and now you suddenly can’t ask for goddamn directions?” John spat, tired, cranky and fearing for his son’s life.

“Fine… Fine. But if we don’t find him before noon, we find Elijah.”

John threw his hands up and went to find Old Boy. Arthur followed him to the horses and they rode out to Saint Denis.

Arthur didn’t like it any more the second time around than he’d liked it the first. He had no idea where he was even supposed to start looking. It wasn’t like he’d exactly remembered the layout of the damn place the last time he was here.

“Let’s find ourselves a bar. Sure they can tell us something there.” John suggested, and for once it wasn’t a bad idea. There was a saloon in the centre of town, Arthur remembered, so they rode through the cobblestone streets until they could hitch their horses just in front of it. Arthur caught himself looking at every hitching post in the hopes of spotting Vincent somewhere, but no such luck so far.

“Alright, reckon we split up and meet back here in an hour.” Arthur said. “I’ll take this place, you just ask around.”

“Right… Right. If I find anythin’ I’ll meet you here.” John nodded, setting off in the direction of the nearby park. Arthur went into the saloon and every single conversation fell quiet. Patrons stared at him for a moment too long, then went back to their idle chit chat. Arthur looked down at himself: to be fair, he was wearing old, dirty clothes and he hadn’t bathed in some time. He still smelled of the ashes of the Braithwaite manor and he didn’t doubt that he had an air of pure piss and vinegar about him. He meandered through the room towards the bar and ordered a whiskey.

In times like these, whiskey before noon was a necessity rather than an indulgence.

“That’ll be a dollar.” The bartender said, pushing a shot glass his way.

“For a whiskey?” Arthur said, astounded even as he pulled out two dollars.

“Sure, this the real stuff. From Scotland.”

“Well… Here, have one for yourself.” Arthur said, tossing the coins onto the bar.

“Thank you.” The bartender said, pouring a glass for himself and tossing it back together with Arthur.

“So, mister… Can I ask you a question?” Arthur asked, idly pushing the glass around the bar.

“What’s that?”

“You ever heard of a feller named Angelo Bronte?”

“Who’s askin’?”

“Me, I’m askin’.”

“No, leave it, friend.”

“What you mean, ‘leave it’?”

“Look, friend, I don’t know what business you involved in, but leave it. Angelo Bronte ain’t no kind of man you want dealings with.” The bartender wasn’t being obtuse or annoying, Arthur realised. He was genuinely trying to warn Arthur to keep away out of kindness. There was no information to be had from a man like that, he decided, so he left the bar and went to find someone else to talk to.

“Bronte? Angelo Bronte?” A man said, grabbing Arthur by his arm. “Mister Big? Mister-Italian-spaghetti-eating-long-streak-of-piss-big?”

“Sure. You heard of him?” Arthur said, walking outside with the man and cutting his bizarre tirade short.

“Yeah. Swarthy little cocksucker, he makes my skin crawl.”

“Where can I find him?”

“He lives in one of them big fancy houses by the park, I ain’t sure which one, though.” The man said. “He can’t be trusted. Foreigners can’t be trusted.”

Arthur reached for a couple of dollars in his pocket and gave them to him. “Dunno ‘bout that, but thank you.”

He found a bench nearby and sat down. That went significantly easier than he thought it would have, though he didn’t see John anywhere yet. He decided to wait the rest of the hour, listening to people’s conversations around him. At one point, two men were squabbling underneath some hotel’s window and a chambermaid emptied a chamberpot over their heads. Arthur laughed out loud at the sight of it. This, at least, was something you didn’t get to see out in the wilderness.

Still, that hardly made up for everything else that Arthur disliked about cities. There was simply too much of everything: too much noise, too many people, too much civilisation.

When the hour was almost up, John sat down heavily next to him on the bench. He was drenched with sweat.

“Where the hell have you been?” Arthur asked him.

“Got robbed by some fucking kids.” John gritted out, lighting a cigarette. “But they told me where Bronte lives, in the end.”

“By a park, I was told.”

“Yeah, across from it. It’s got a big gate, apparently.”

“‘Course it does.” Arthur huffed.

Once John had calmed down a bit they rode over to the park and hitched their horses by a massive mansion with a big white gate. There were a handful of armed guards stated outside of the house but behind the gates. John walked up to the gate but Arthur held him back.

“Mind your head. We go in guns blazin’, Jack will definitely be killed.” He said sternly.

“I ain’t that goddamn stupid, Arthur.” John snapped at him and shook him off. He went to stand in front of the gate. “Is this Angelo Bronte’s house?”

“What’s it to you?” One of the guards asked.

“We was told he’s had a fine young boy over for a visit here recently.” Arthur lied smoothly, nodding to John. “Just that that’s his son and we’d like him to come home, now.”

The guard laughed at them. “Get lost.”

“Excuse me?” Arthur said, taking a step closer to the gate.

“I said ‘get lost’, buddy.” The guard waved them away. “Mr. Bronte don’t deal with the likes of you.” He turned his back and walked back towards the house. John banged his fists on the gate.

“Where’s Jack?!”

“Listen, friend. I ain’t got no idea what you’re talkin’ about.” The guard laughed, obviously lying. Arthur took John by the arm again  and dragged him away from the gate.

“This ain’t gonna work.” He sighed. “We might as well wait ‘till noon.”

“No.” John said resolutely. “Either we go and find him right now, or we break in and get Jack.”

“John…”

“If we don’t get that boy back, Arthur…” John said, swallowing hard. Arthur squeezed his shoulder.

“We’ll get him back, but… Well, without Dutch’s famous charm it ain’t easy for the likes of us to get into places like this.”

“Why’d he have to leave at a goddamn time like this?” John kicked a rock on the sidewalk and sent it flying into the street.

“If he hadn’t, we might be dead by now.” Arthur said sadly. “He sacrificed his life so that we might have a chance at having one.”

John stared at the house, jaw working furiously. Eventually he just shook his head in acquiescence. “Fine. Let’s go. Where were we supposed to meet?”

“... He didn’t say.” Arthur realised dumbly.

“Jesus Christ, you ain’t even know where he is?”

“He ain't mention it. City ain’t that big, shouldn’t be too hard to find him.” Arthur said, fully aware he was kidding himself. They mounted up again and spent the better part of an hour trailing through the streets of Saint Denis looking for Elijah. No one knew him or had seen him, nor did they find Vincent at the stables. Noon was drawing ever nearer and Arthur began to feel nervous.

Then, he heard the distant ringing of church bells.

“I got an idea.” Arthur said, spurring Styx on towards the cathedral he knew was just two streets away from the saloon. Hitched to a post just outside the fence surrounding the cathedral was a familiar dappled black thoroughbred. “There he is.”

He and John dismounted, staring uncomfortably up at the cathedral.

“You can’t be serious.” John muttered.

“You reckon we’ll catch on fire if we go in?” Arthur asked.

They looked at each other and with a heavy sigh they walked through the double doors. The inside was eerily quiet and the church was mostly empty. It appeared that mass had just ended and people had poured out of the building before John and Arthur had arrived. On a pew near the front, right in front of the magnificent chancel, Arthur spotted a familiar head of blonde hair. Arthur and John sat down on either side of him. He was wearing his finest clothes, Arthur noted. The three piece suit he’d worn to the Mayor’s party, though his bowtie had been replaced by a royal blue puff tie.

“Morning John, Arthur. You’re early.”

His voice was off. Hoarse, tired and lacking its deeper register. Arthur looked at his face and found red-rimmed, bloodshot eyes. Either he hadn’t slept or he’d cried recently, Arthur couldn’t tell which and told himself that he didn’t care, either.

“Didn’t realise we had to make an appointment to get my son back.” John sniped from where he was sitting.

“No, I know you’re accustomed to thinking everything happens on your time.” Elijah said, voice devoid of emotion. “But Angelo Bronte has his own schedule, and we have an appointment.”

“Do we?” Arthur asked.

“Yes. I arranged it last night. He remembered me from my dealings with Lemieux and Fellowes.”

“Your what with who?” John asked.

“The Cornwall business.” Elijah summarised. His eyes hadn’t left the crucifix in the centre of the main altar even once.

“Right.”

“I take it you’ve already been to Bronte?” Elijah then asked.

John and Arthur looked at each other over Elijah’s head. “Why?”

He shrugged. “Dunno. Seems like something you’d do.”

Arthur felt equal parts annoyed and embarrassed at being caught once again not following any sort of plan and just acting on impulse, though he felt they could be forgiven for being anxious to get Jack back.

“We did. They didn’t let us in.” Arthur admitted.

Elijah laughed softly. “No, I didn’t imagine they had.”

“So are you comin’ or what?” John asked impatiently. “We got other shit to take care of, too.”

“How’s the new place?” Elijah’s tone was casual, detached.

“That ain’t no business of yours no more.” John spat.

“Suppose it isn’t.”

Arthur tried not to pay too much attention to the way his heart felt like it was bleeding in his chest. “When’s the appointment?”

“Quarter past.” Elijah finally looked away from the crucifix to fish a pocket watch out of his waistcoat that Arthur had never seen before. “About forty-five minutes.”

John sagged in his seat. “Can’t just sit here waitin’ around…”

“You’re welcome to wait elsewhere.” Elijah pointed out as he put the pocket watch back. “But wait you must.”

“I’ll wait outside.” John got up. “Arthur?”

“I’ll wait here.” Arthur said, never taking his eyes off of Elijah’s face.

“Suit yourself.” John walked out of the church, lighting a cigarette just outside the doors. Elijah said nothing, eyes fixated on the crucifix once more.

“You might’ve told me we was meetin’ here.” Arthur said, eventually. Even speaking quietly caused his voice to echo in the vast acoustics of the cathedral.

“I forgot, but I had a feeling you’d find me just fine.” Elijah said softly.

“Why’s that?”

“You just have a habit of doing so.”

“It was you who found me when I disappeared.” Arthur pointed out. “Might even say I rather happen to have a habit of losin’ you.”

Elijah breathed a sad laugh. “You found me in other ways.”

“What’s that even mean?”

“Does it matter?”

“I ain’t sure what’s worse.” Arthur said suddenly, shaking his head. “You leavin’ or you treatin’ me like a stranger.”

“I’m sorry.” Elijah turned to him, eyes wide and apologetic. “I don’t mean to.”

“Then why are you?”

“Because it…” Elijah shook his head. He looked miserable. “I thought it’d make it easier.”

“It ain’t makin’ nothin’ easier for me. Look, I… I understand why you had to go. I just…”

Arthur wasn’t good at this. It felt shameful and weak to admit out loud that he’d hoped to have a life with him, that he’d dared envision it where he’d never dared to dream about such a future, not since Eliza.

He took a deep, steadying breath. “I just thought we was gonna make it.”

“I wanted to, more than anything in the world.” Elijah spoke so very softly, like he was afraid they’d be punished if the cathedral halls carried his words to undeserving ears. “But I don’t think I could’ve borne it, things as they are right now.”

“I know.”

“You once asked me if I would change things if I could.”

“Eli…”

“I think, if I could go back, I would’ve… Been more tactical in talking to Dutch.”

That surprised Arthur. “Why?”

Elijah took a deep, shaky breath. “Because I acted… On impulse. I hadn’t slept in days, I was angry, I was sick with worry, I…” He shook his head. “If I’d played my cards differently, maybe things would be different.”

Arthur wanted to reach for him but it wasn’t the time and very much not the place. He had always valued Elijah’s particular brand of honesty, but Dutch hadn’t taken to it very well. Then again…

“Maybe.” Arthur said quietly. “But Dutch likes bein’ manipulated even less than he likes bein’ talked straight to. Even if things were different, that don’t mean they’d be better.”

“Do you… Do you think, in the future…”

They looked at each other, desperation thick in the air. Arthur had no real answer for him.

“I dunno… Don’t know how long we’ll be stayin’, neither. Hosea’s already been lookin’ for ways to head west after we get Jack…”

Elijah nodded. “I see.” Arthur saw his eyes were brimming with tears. “In another life, then.”

“In another time.” Arthur agreed softly, hope crumbling to dust in his chest.

They spent the rest of the time sitting silently side by side in the pew. Arthur said nothing when Elijah tried to not-so-discretely wipe at his eyes. At around ten past noon, they went outside, found John and rode for Bronte’s mansion.

“Right.” Elijah said, having composed himself to the best of his ability. “Stay behind me, stay quiet, and don’t shoot.”

John looked at Arthur with a pained expression but Arthur ignored it and walked after Elijah. All he had to do was stand in front of the gate and the man who had earlier refused Arthur and John access now opened the gate without preamble.

“Good to see you again, Mr. de Groot.”

“And you, Lorenzo.” Elijah replied with smooth, fake grace. “How’s Norma?”

“Very well, thank you.” The man nodded with a smile on his face. Arthur wondered how he’d gone from being a huge asshole to being so humble in such a short span of time. “Your suggestions were… Very helpful.”

“Glad to hear it.”

They passed five more guards before they were even let inside of the house. What Arthur assumed was the butler told them to wait in the hall while he notified Bronte of their arrival. The house was decorated in dark woods and light damask wallpapers. It was gaudy and ugly, as far as Arthur was concerned.

He turned to Elijah. “What suggestions you been makin’?”

Elijah snorted. “I brought two fine bottles of drink here last night. A good vintage for Bronte, an even better one for his men. Eventually he fessed up that his wife hasn’t been very satisfied, lately.” He shrugged. “If you want to play a powerful man, play him through his workers.”

“Evidently.” John said pointedly. Arthur closed his eyes for the inevitable backlash that never came and opened them again to find Elijah’s looking equal parts betrayed and murderous. Before he could retort, the door opened and the Butler ushered them through.

Angelo Bronte was a slick, well-dressed, middle-aged Italian man whose clothes were only slightly more pressed than his face. Arthur hated him immediately.

“I had heard there were some clowns out by the gate.” Bronte said with a smile as he stood to shake Elijah’s hand and press a kiss to either cheek. “I had not realised they were yours, otherwise I would have let them in. After a bath, of course.”

“Of course.” Elijah laughed and sat down, motioning for Arthur and John to sit on either side of him. “Forgive them, though. They’re eager to be reunited with the boy.”

“Yes, yes, of course.” Bronte waved his hand and drinks appeared in front of them on a tray. John was the only one to take one and drink it back immediately. Bronte raised a perfectly groomed brow at him, but turned his attention back to Elijah quickly. “Now, let us talk business.  You say these men can take care of my little problem?”

“Absolutely.” Elijah nodded and crossed his legs. He was so poised that Arthur barely recognised him. “And I’ve brought payment, of course. For keeping the boy safe.”

Elijah fished into his jacket pocket and retrieved a thick stack of bills, bending over the coffee table to hand it to Bronte. Arthur and John’s eyes met over his head, wondering where the hell he’d gotten that kind of money.

Bronte took it, flipped through it to his satisfaction and handed it off to another servant. “Very good. Now, we’ve had some graverobbers in the cemetery lately, desecrating the dead and not paying tribute to the living. If they see my men, they run a mile, so I need you two-” he said, pointing at John and Arthur. “-to take care of that little problem for me. You stay, my friend. I’m sure the boy will be glad to see his uncle again.”

Just as Arthur and John were begrudgingly leaving the room, he heard Bronte ask whether they were ‘really his brothers’ and ‘how come they looked and smelled like shit.’

“Sooner we get Jack back, the better.” John grumbled as they got on their horses.

“You’re tellin’ me.”

It didn’t sit well with Arthur either that Elijah so seamlessly slipped into a role like this. It was like he was a completely different person. He’d seen Hosea do it, but he’d been an actor in his early years and his theatrics were nowhere near this slimy, manipulative, detached persona that Elijah put on. Plus, that money…

“You know how to get to the cemetery?” John asked, breaking Arthur out of his thoughts.

“Yeah. We rode by it earlier.”

Graverobbers, it turned out, were actually stupid enough to rob graves in broad daylight. How the law hadn’t found them yet was beyond Arthur. There were a total of four of them, two of which he and John managed to take out quietly as they were elbow-deep into some poor unfortunate’s grave. The other two opened fire on them, so they fired back.

That set the law off, apparently. He and John had been forced to sneak through the grave monuments like it was a labyrinth and their Minotaur was a Saint Denis lawman. As they were crouched low between a grave and a mausoleum, Arthur idly wondered if Dutch would be buried at all. It was a thought so depressing that Arthur hadn’t noticed John moving on until he heard a lawman whistle just a bit too close to him and he was spurred back into action. Outside of the gate he and John stood by their horses for a moment.

“Robbin’ graverobbers.” John huffed an incredulous laugh, shaking his head. “This must be that paradise Dutch was always talkin’ about.”

“Ain’t much worse than failin’ to rob not one, but two families.” Arthur argued.

“Suppose it ain’t.”

Back at Bronte’s mansion they found Elijah sitting on the stairs with Jack playing in the grass nearby. Lorenzo opened the gate for them and Jack turned his head.

“Pa!”

“Jack!” John ran forward and scooped Jack up into his arms, hugging him tight. “Am I glad to see you. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine!” Jack sounded perfectly happy and healthy, much to both Arthur’s and John’s relief.

“Took your time.” Elijah said, smiling softly and kicking a rock down the driveway.

“Where’s Bronte?”

“Had another meeting to attend.” Elijah shrugged. “Come, we should go.”

He thanked Lorenzo on behalf of all of them and the gate closed behind them once more. Jack was prattling off about all the things ‘Mister Angelo’ had taught and given him, among which was spaghetti. John was too relieved that he was alright to care that Jack was so apparently pleased with his own abduction.

“We’re gonna head home.” John said.  “Arthur, you comin’?”

“I’ll catch up with you boys.” Arthur said, trailing behind a little.

“Alright.” He turned Old Boy around and rode up to them, Jack in front of him on the saddle. “Elijah.”

“John.” Elijah said, looking up, eyes squinting against the gleaming sun.

“I… Thank you.” He held Jack firmly with one hand but extended the other. Elijah took it and shook it firmly.

“Be well, John. You, Abigail and Jack. Take care of each other.”

“We will.” John promised. “You take care, too.”

John rode off to Shady Belle, fielding Jack’s many questions left and right. Arthur and Elijah remained behind in awkward silence, neither willing to mount up and leave. They spoke at the same time.

“Arthur…”

“Elijah.”

Another awkward silence as they looked at each other. Arthur nodded his head. “You go first.”

“Come see me, before you go.” Elijah asked with a fine tremor in his voice. “I don’t think… I don’t think I’m leaving this place anytime soon. I’m staying with Renee right now, but I’m looking at an apartment later today.”

“I dunno…” Arthur sighed. “Maybe we oughta just… Let it be.”

Please, Arthur.” Elijah begged him. “It’s all I’m asking.”

Even after the gang had rejected him, he’d still gone to quite some length to help John get his son back. There was loyalty there that went far beyond friends or family: it was dedication to doing the right thing. It was loyalty to the idea that if there is ever a right choice, that choice must be made, no matter how painful that might be.

Realising that, Arthur knew Elijah would never actually go back in time and change his talk to Dutch. It had been the right thing to do.

“I… Fine. Where is this... Damn apartment of yours? How are you payin’ for all of this?” Arthur asked him.

“It’s just across from the bookstore by the Grand hotel, and… I always have money, Arthur.” Elijah shrugged. “I’ve never stopped forging. Plus, I still had some of my father’s inheritance sitting in a lockbox back in New York… That took a sweet while to get here.”

“How much money we talkin’?” And why the hell were you ever in the gang in the first place?

“Not enough to buy land in the west, but enough to sustain myself and contribute to someone else’s dream of buying land in the west.” Elijah smiled a little. “All the money we gathered over the last six months should set you guys well on your way.”

“I hope so.” Arthur sighed, taking a step forward. “Listen, I…”

Elijah took a step back, shaking his head a little, darting his eyes around the street. At first, Arthur felt angry that it mattered at all what people thought, but the feeling was quickly replaced by abject sorrow. Even if Dutch was gone, even if Elijah had left, he could go home to his family and be free. Elijah, on the other hand, would stay in this prison, unfit to survive in the wild on his own but smart enough to survive in the city.

“You can still…” Arthur tried, but Elijah shook his head.

“Don’t… Condemn me to their hatred, Arthur.” Elijah swallowed thickly. “Don’t do that to me.”

“Is this better?” Arthur asked, gesturing at the city. “Livin’ in this dump? You can’t… Live free, can’t live much at all, really.”

“No, but I can survive.” Elijah said stubbornly. “I can fade into the background, I can… In this city, nobody sees me.”

Nobody sees me. The words echoed in Arthur’s mind, a faded memory from a stormy night in Strawberry.

“Alright, alright…” Arthur gave up. “I’ll come see you when the time comes.”

Elijah sagged with relief. “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me.” Arthur replied swiftly, getting onto Styx. “Please don’t thank me. I ain’t done nothin’ worth thankin’ me for.”

Elijah held off on mounting Vincent, sad blue eyes staring up at Arthur.

“I’ll see you.” Arthur said gruffly, heart aching and beating forlornly in his chest. He spurred Styx on and rode away, barely registering Elijah’s aborted wave.

Chapter Text

They had been living at Shady Belle for three weeks when Hosea made the call: they were packing up and heading west. They’d accumulated a decent couple of ten thousands, and while it wasn’t enough to buy land that was big enough for all of them, it’d set them on their way to a loan. Hosea was also trying to come up with a way to retrieve the Blackwater money so they could buy land. He’d been considering sending Sadie, but Sadie had taken to hunting down O’Driscolls in her free time at the hand of Kieran and Elijah’s map. She always came back, but Hosea considered her too volatile to send for such a crucial undertaking. In the end, he decided that if that money was lost forever, then so be it. They had to move: they were never going to get anywhere by simply sitting on their money hoping for it to become more on its own.

And there was the matter of the gang slowly becoming smaller and smaller, of course. Kieran and Mary-Beth were still at the camp, but Arthur knew they were getting closer and closer to finding a home in the city. Their worries about giving the baby a safe place to grow up were starting to outgrow their attachment to the gang and its infinite meandering.

Trelawny did as he always had done and slipped away before any of them had ever realised he was gone. Arthur wasn’t even sure if he hadn’t already left by the time Bill and the rest had, but then no one ever really noticed whether Trelawny was present or not. He was and always would be slipperier than an eel in an oil barrel.

Molly had left almost immediately. They weren’t two days into their stay at Shady Belle before she had upped and disappeared, most of her belongings gone and she with it. There was a letter addressed to Hosea written with a neat, precise hand. Molly had written that with Dutch gone, her adventure here had ended and she was needed back home in Ireland. In his mind, Hosea had wished her well: this had never been a life that she was well suited to.

Pearson woke up one day halfway through the third week and started packing up his wagon. Hosea and Grimshaw had watched him from a distance, cups of coffee in their hands. Pearson waited until he was finished a good hour later to acknowledge them.

“I’m leaving.” He’d said, stating the complete obvious. Hosea had laughed.

“Where to, old friend?” Hosea had asked, not one note of judgment in his tone. Pearson had breathed with relief, a smile breaking on his face.

“Rhodes. A little while before we left I met myself a girl there.” He’d been red up to his hairline. “She’s asked me to come visit. Reckon I can find myself a job there.”

Grimshaw and Hosea had exchanged fond, incredulous looks.

“Good for you, Pearson.” Hosea had raised his cup in his honour.

“Can’t believe you’re leavin’ us without a cook at a time like this.” Grimshaw had sighed because she’d known she’d be the one to take over the cooking.

“Well… You can always ask that boy to come back.” Pearson had meant it mostly as a joke, but Grimshaw had actually looked like she was considering it.

“You think he would? Bill and Karen frightened that poor foal somethin’ fierce.”

“Might I remind you, Susan, that you told Arthur to get him outta your sight?” Hosea had pointed out, dry as dust.

“Yeah, well… Don’t matter much now. Dutch is probably dead and them fools ain’t come back from their damn wild goose chase. At least the kid was useful.”

“You’re serious?” Hosea had asked, a plan forming in his mind. “‘Cause that would fix a little problem of mine as well.”

Pearson had folded his arms, pleased that his suggestion had sparked something between the now de facto leaders of the gang. “He got us Jack back, too. Heard Arthur ‘n John talkin’.”

“Talkin’ ‘bout what?” Arthur had asked, walking up as he chewed on a bite of apple. “What’s goin’ on over here?”

“Arthur, do you think Elijah would be willing to come back?” Hosea had bluntly asked him. Arthur halted mid-chew, shaking his head.

“Think we’re past that, Hosea.” Even now, it had stung to say it.

“Pearson’s leaving.” Hosea had then said. “And I need someone to go and get the Blackwater money.”

Arthur hadn’t been able to believe what he was hearing. “I ain’t askin’ him to come back just so you can put him to work. That ain’t fair.”

“How’d he seem, last time you saw him?” Hosea had asked, raising an eyebrow. 

“He… Well, it was just the day after. He’s a city boy, he’ll find his way.” Arthur had murmured.

“He’s asked you to visit before we leave, right?”

“I… Yeah.”

“Think it over, Arthur.” Hosea had said, getting up. “Might be good for everyone involved.”

Arthur hadn’t called his bullshit just then, though maybe he should’ve. He wasn’t ‘thinking over’ a goddamn thing: their feelings were clear on the matter, it was done. They would see each other one more time and say their tearful farewells.

There had been few times in his life when Arthur had felt less prepared for something. So, naturally, on the day that Hosea announced they’d be leaving the next day, Arthur spent most of his time dragging his feet and procrastinating. Oh, sure, he’d washed and shaved and dressed nicely even, but he hadn’t been anywhere near Styx all day. It was well after dinner when Hosea sat next to him by the fire.

“Evening, dear boy.”

“Hosea.” Arthur said quietly, playing with a cigarette between his fingers.

“Surprised to see you’re still here.” Hosea raised an eyebrow at him.

“Ah, I dunno… Maybe I oughta just leave it.” 

“I never took you for a coward, Arthur.” Hosea admonished him. “What’re you so afraid of?”

Arthur stared around the camp. Most of their things had been packed up and loaded onto the wagons, ready for their next big adventure in the west. He supposed Hosea mostly hoped that it’d be a less lethal adventure this time.

“Guess I just… I don’t want it to be the last time I see him.” Arthur confessed to Hosea and their campfire. 

Hosea patted his shoulder. “Then make sure it isn’t.” 

“It ain’t that simple.”

“Sure it is. Won’t be if you don’t get the hell outta here, though. C’mon, up you get.”

With a heavy sigh, Arthur got up. “Fine…”

“Enjoy yourself, Arthur. Really.” Hosea waved him off.

Arthur smoked his cigarette on his way to Styx, hoping it’d give him some courage or at least some peace of mind. It provided neither, nor did the evening ride to Saint Denis, though even he had to admit there was something pretty about all the distant little lights shining through the fog over the river.

“Across the bookstore… By the Grand hotel…” Arthur murmured to himself as he rode through the streets. It was dark and Arthur didn’t know the city all that well to begin with, though he was sure he’d seen the hotel before. He kept looking for a massive white building and only found it because its windows were bright in an otherwise dark street. Across from it lay the bookstore, so he was in the right street.

Across from the bookstore was a jewellery store with apartments above it. Next to it was a gate into the alley. Arthur went into the alley and found a door that he assumed would lead to a stairwell, but he couldn’t open it. He banged on the door a couple of times and waited. When he heard nothing after two minutes, he banged on the door three more times and waited for another minute before turning back and calling it for the fool’s errand he knew it had been.

He was almost through the gate when the door swung open. “Arthur!”

Elijah’s head was poked out the door and he stepped out into the street. He looked washed out and tired in spite of being fully dressed in shades of vibrant blue. His hair looked dull and limp and his spectacles did nothing to obscure the dark circles underneath his eyes. Arthur tried to ignore the pull in his chest.

“Took you a minute.” Arthur said, walking back into the alley.

“Sorry, I… It took me a moment to make it downstairs.” Elijah said sheepishly. “You’re here.”

“I am.”

“That means you’re leaving soon.” Elijah deduced. He seemed much slower than usual, like he’d just woken up.

“Tomorrow.” Arthur said quietly. There was a brief, laden silence between them.

“Right… I…” Elijah took a deep breath and put on his brave face. Arthur wished he could say how grateful he was for it. “There’s a late show at the theatre… We should go.”

“Theatre?”

“The joys of civilization, dear friend.” Elijah smiled at him, a little crooked. Arthur laughed softly.

“Sure.”

The walk to the theatre felt a little awkward. Arthur still heard Hosea in his mind, telling him to ask Elijah to come back. It was warring with Arthur’s refusal to ask questions he knew the answer to, but…

“How’ve you been?” He found himself asking as they walked slowly through the streets.

Elijah chewed on the inside of his mouth a moment. “I’ve got work, I’ve got a roof over my head… All things considered that’s more than I’d hoped for.”

“That ain’t an answer to my question.”

“I know.” Elijah huffed a quiet laugh. “I hate living here.”

“Why? Thought you missed the city?”

“I miss the city I was born in. Not this…” He gestured broadly at the city of Saint Denis. “There’s… Too much happening, all the time. The city never sleeps, it’s never quiet, there’s always something.”

“And you?” Arthur asked as they turned a corner.

“What about me?”

 “Do you sleep?”

“Hardly.” Elijah admitted, sighing. 

“Me neither.” Arthur confessed. “Got used to you bein’ there, I think.”

Elijah smiled at him with shining eyes. “I do miss your snoring.” 

Arthur’s heart swelled so badly in his chest at the sight of that mischievous, genuine little grin that he nearly dropped to his knees in the streets to beg him to come back, but he swallowed it down. They were reminiscing. It was part of saying goodbye. 

“I might snore like a hog but at least I ain’t treatin’ the entire bed like it’s my kingdom.” Arthur shot back with a smile on his face.

“I had to, because the blanket kept getting away from me somehow. Plus,” Elijah said as he opened the door to the theatre. “You made for a very comfortable pillow.”

Inside, they had to keep their memories to themselves. Arthur was glad of the fact that they could at least talk and laugh about it. Tonight would be one last happy memory between the two of them. They paid for their tickets and went inside to see the show. The theatre wasn’t all that packed but they still sat in the back, neither of them particularly eager to sit close to others.

The show they were seeing was some singer named Robin Koninsky. She was talking about how the song she was going to sing was about a new modern convenience called ‘the telephone’ that would carry a facsimile of your voice all across the country. Arthur, frankly, had no idea, but Elijah seemed familiar with the thing. Robin started singing and the crowd clapped and laughed along with her antics, the little jokes in her lyrics setting them off each time. It was a fun, jaunty little song. Next to him Elijah laughed too, tapping his fingers along to the rhythm on his knee.

Arthur looked around. They were pretty much alone in the back row together and the crowd certainly wasn’t paying attention to them. He looked down and saw their thighs were touching, Elijah’s hand tapping along just shy of Arthur’s thigh. His hand moved seemingly of its own accord and, eventually, their pinkies touched. He felt Elijah’s hand stutter in its rhythm, but he didn’t stop tapping, though he’d slowed down. Arthur spread his fingers, pinky and ring finger gently brushing along Elijah’s knee. The latter didn’t move his hand at all, waiting to see what Arthur would do.

I’m a fool, Arthur thought, but you’re no better.

The both of them were still looking at the show, though Arthur hadn’t been paying any attention. Elijah had turned his hand over and was tickling the palm of Arthur’s hand with his middle finger while Arthur gently stroked his thumb along Elijah’s. Even among all the ruckus from the crowd in a large theatre hall, it was shockingly intimate. Their fingers slotted together gradually, until Arthur’s hand covered Elijah’s completely, their hands clasped together where their legs touched. Neither dared to look at the other even as Robin continued singing, ignorant of what had transpired in the very back of her cheering audience.

Arthur remembered the first time he held Elijah’s hand. Those cold, clammy fingers from the rain, how his fingers had trembled before settling peacefully between Arthur’s, how very fragile the moment had felt. 

This felt equally fragile. When the song ended neither of them clapped until someone in front of them stood to clap and it broke the spell that had bound them. They stood, too, both dazed and having no recollection of what they were supposed to be applauding for.

They followed the steady stream of people out of the theatre and found themselves back out in the muggy streets of Saint Denis. The dark skies rumbled overhead and the first specks of rain stained the sidewalk.

“We’d best get back.” Elijah said. “That’ll turn into a deluge with a quickness.”

“Yeah, I’ll… I’ll walk you back to your place.”

They walked quickly through the steady drizzle of rain. Arthur’s brain, for lack of a proper expression, was full of fuck. He’d spent weeks convincing himself that it was over, that there was nothing more to be done, that Elijah simply could not coexist with the gang and vice versa and that they had both said their piece. What little miserable, lonely comfort he had found in the apparent untruth that it was well and truly over had been obliterated when Hosea and Grimshaw suddenly asked for him to return with a casualness akin to discussing the weather. 

Think it over, Hosea had said, and Arthur had flat out refused. He had put it out of his mind as much as he possibly could have and soldiered on until it became inevitable. Even on his ride to Saint Denis he hadn’t wanted to consider it, not even when he was standing right in front of his door.

But seeing him. Oh, God. Seeing him undid every defence Arthur had put up in an instant. There were too many memories of that tousled head of blonde hair napping noisily on his chest on a sunny morning. Too many times he’d laughed at something Arthur said, always with that flash of those two slightly too large front teeth and the crinkling of his nose. Too many memories of his hands bandaging, stitching, cooking, writing, laid at rest by his head while he slept.

Arthur had loved him with all his heart, such as it was, and was fairly certain Elijah had loved him just as much.

By the time they made it to Elijah’s door they were reasonably spattered with rain and the rumbling had gotten ever louder. Elijah was fumbling with his keys and Arthur still didn’t know what he wanted to do. He felt like he was torturing himself by not simply asking him to come back, but he didn’t know how to pose the question and didn't know how to tell him why he’d been asked to come back in the first place.

“Look, I…” Arthur said eventually, stepping forward and taking Elijah’s hand, interrupting his fiddling with the lock. “Thank you for tonight, but…”

“Share a drink with me.” Elijah interrupted him. “Please. It’d… It’d mean a lot to me.”

Arthur looked at him and saw those soft blue eyes staring back at him through those damned spectacles and strands of damp hair, and felt powerless.

“Sure. One drink.”

Elijah led him up the stairs and through another door, into his apartment. It had a tiny kitchen and dining area, a small living area with a couch, a coffee table littered with papers and a desk with a gramophone, and a bedroom that held no more than a wardrobe, a chamberpot, a large double bed, two nightstands and a mirror. It was all muted midtone woods and bland, pale blue textiles with some small potted plants scattered here and there.

It was a perfect nobody’s home, unassuming but neat and with zero real connections to its owner. Elijah had his back turned and was pouring them drinks. They hadn’t said a word since they got in and Elijah had asked him to take his shoes off. Arthur walked up to the desk and saw that there was still a record on the gramophone. He glanced at its title - ‘The Swan’ - and then at Elijah, who was still busying himself with a decanter. Arthur wound up the gramophone and moved the needle onto the record.

The tinny sounds of piano filled the room, followed by the dulcet tones of a cello. It was nothing like the dramatic operas that Dutch had favoured. Compared to powerful sopranos and heavy orchestras this was romantic, delicate and a little sad. 

Elijah had turned to him when the music started, decanter forgotten on the kitchen counter behind him. Arthur walked over to him slowly and held out his hand, asking silently. Elijah took his hand and stepped forward, his other hand settling over Arthur’s shoulder while Arthur’s rested on his waist. They stepped through the narrow room together, never breaking eye contact, dancing as easy as breathing.

“Where will you go?” Elijah asked him softly.

“Don’t know. ‘West.’ Hosea’s tryin’ to find a way to get the Blackwater money.”

Elijah nodded slowly. “That would help.”

“Sure would.” Arthur agreed.

“He’ll figure it out.”

“I hope so.”

Elijah took a deep, shaky breath. “I will… Miss you.”

Arthur closed his eyes against the upwelling of yearning in his chest. “I been missin’ you for a while now.” The words tumbled from his lips before he even knew what he was saying.

“My whole life, all I wanted was to wake up to a life I wanted to have every day, a life I’d chosen on my own terms.” Elijah whispered, the hand on Arthur’s shoulder moving up to his collar. His index finger trailed along the edge, barely touching the bare skin on Arthur’s neck. “When I woke up, that morning in the mountains…”

His chest felt so tight Arthur feared he’d stop breathing at any moment. He remembered that cold morning clear as day.

“I knew I wanted it to be you.” Elijah finished. “I wanted to choose… A life with you.”

The music had stopped. Only the rush of the rain outside and the rhythmic tick in the gramophone’s white noise filled the room as the record kept spinning past its playtime. They had stopped dancing, standing frozen in the centre of the room, pressed so closely together that Arthur imagined he felt Elijah’s heartbeat against his chest, rabbit-quick.

“Have I been a terrible fool, Arthur?” Elijah whispered into the silence of the room.

“Yeah,” Arthur breathed, throwing caution to the wind and giving in. “But I ain’t been much better.”

They met each other halfway, sinking into a kiss that felt like coming up for air for the first time in weeks. Arthur caught that soft face in his hands and felt short, bristly hair prickling his fingertips. Had he gotten his hair cut?

He broke the kiss to see: yes, he had. His bangs were still long and unruly but the back had been trimmed neat and short. Confused eyes met his and Arthur smiled, kissing him again, soothing the worry and letting the light shine into the dark corners of his mind.

“What are we doing?” Elijah whispered as Arthur buried his face into the crook of his neck and inhaled.

Roses?

“Are you wearin’ perfume?” 

“... Perhaps.” Elijah cleared his throat. “Do you mind?”

“No.” And he didn’t. It was understated and, frankly, delightful. When he kissed the top of Elijah’s head and breathed deeply, he smelled that familiar scent of rain and musk. “Ain’t nothin’ about you that I mind.”

“Except my absence.” Elijah said quietly.

Arthur held his gaze and stroked his cheek with his thumb. “Yeah. ‘Cept that.”

They touched their foreheads together, Elijah’s hand gently encircling his wrist, the other still resting in the crook between Arthur’s neck and shoulder. 

“I wish things were different.” Elijah said.

“Would you have me, if they were?” Arthur asked bluntly. 

“Truth be told, I would have you even as they are.” Elijah replied, carefully pressing a single kiss against Arthur’s throat. “You being here, looking as you are… I’m no saint, Arthur Morgan.”

“That why you wanted me to come by?”

Elijah pulled back to look at him with a slightly betrayed look on his face. “No. I’ve dreaded this day from the moment I last saw you.”

It wasn’t just me, then, Arthur thought. “Why?”

“If you never came, I could pretend you were still out there somewhere.”

It was such a naked, vulnerable confession, so very close to Arthur’s own feelings.

“I’m sorry I was so late.” Arthur bent down somewhat, still cradling his face in his hands. “I wanted to see you, I just… Didn’t want it to be the last time.”

“Yeah, well…” Elijah swallowed hard and pressed a kiss against Arthur’s palm. “There’s always the next life.”

Arthur tried to laugh but his throat felt tight. “Reckon you could find me?”

“Sure. We’ll both return as fat, red cats and spend our days laying in the sun together on some poor rancher’s fields.”

“Well…” Arthur did laugh, in the end. “It might not come to that.”

“Why?”

Now or never, Arthur knew. “Miss Grimshaw and Hosea… They wanted me to ask you to come back.”

Elijah did step back from him then, eyes wide with shock. “Grimshaw?” He laughed nervously. “Why, did Pearson leave or something?”

Arthur really didn’t want to answer that, but his expression spoke for him.

“... He did?”

“Yeah, couple days back.” He scratched the back of his head awkwardly. “Molly left, too. So did Trelawny, and, well, Bill, Javier and Karen went after Dutch, but they still ain’t returned, so...”

“And the rest of them?”

“Tilly ain’t leavin’, she don’t feel safe in Saint Denis on account of some former gang of hers wanderin’ around and Lenny ain’t got nowhere else to go neither. Kieran and Mary-Beth, well… They still around, but I reckon they won’t be for much longer.” Arthur heaved a deep sigh. “Swanson and Uncle ain’t sober enough to go nowhere on their own. Charles stuck around ‘cause he wants to head west with us… Sadie is off on her own a lot but I reckon she’ll come with. And, well…”

“You and the others have been with the gang for most of your lives.” Elijah supplied. “And you need a cook.”

“I… Hosea wants to send you for the Blackwater money. He’s the only one who knows where it is but he can’t get to it without gettin’ arrested for sure.”

Elijah was silent for a moment while Arthur braced himself for his response. He’d felt dirty even as he’d confessed, but at least he’d been honest. In spite of how much he despised how dispensable Elijah had been to the gang, he held the faint, far, selfish hope that Elijah would return.

“Not good enough to criticise your mighty leader, but good enough to do the dirty work.” Elijah said slowly, anger simmering below the surface. Arthur didn’t blame him in the slightest. “Is that… Is that why you’re here?”

“No! No.” Arthur immediately denied. “I didn’t wanna ask, I told ‘em it weren’t fair.”

“Then why did you?”

“Because I… I wanted you to come back.” Arthur gave up on trying to hide it. “I thought now that they wanted you back, you might consider it, comin’ back to camp. Back to me.”

Elijah closed his eyes, tears gathering in the corners. “And am I to be discarded again when I am no longer useful?”

Arthur reached out to touch him, cupping his face and tilting it up until Arthur could look him in the eye. “No. That will never happen again. I promise you that.”

“And what if it does anyway?”

“Then you ‘n me take our horses, get out and never look back.” He said with burning conviction. Elijah laughed at him and sniffled.

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep.”

“Oh, I’ll keep it.” Arthur’s voice rumbled in his chest. “As I am now or as a fat red cat, you have my word.”

“I always wanted a fat red cat named Arthur.” Elijah laughed through his tears. Arthur wiped them away with his thumbs and kissed the smile from his face.

Arthur felt his own heart beat strong in his chest, bright and clear for the first time in God knew how long. “You may have me, in this life or the next.”

“Let’s make it through tonight first.” Elijah whispered against his mouth. 

Had they made it through after all? Arthur wondered. He let Elijah slip from his hands to turn off the gramophone and to remove the needle from the record. Arthur watched him as he stood by the window, looking down towards the street below where drunken patrons were stumbling in and out of the hotel to the right. He found the light switch and flicked off the lights, darkness falling over the room. 

But they could find each other in the dark just fine. They’d done it so many times before it was easier than falling asleep. 

Arthur turned him around and pushed him backwards until his back hit the bedroom door, lifted him by his thighs and hitched his legs around his waist. He pressed his face against Elijah’s neck and breathed that scent of him: wild roses on a clear spring day intermixed with rain and sweat. 

Maybe we could grow our own roses , Arthur thought, feeling insane. He didn’t feel like he had a definitive answer just yet, but at least he felt there was a chance now, however small it might be. If he did decide to come back, Artur vowed to keep him safe better than he had, even if that meant keeping him safe from the gang. He would swear it on Dutch’s damn grave if he had to.

“My, you do like that perfume, don’t you?” Elijah murmured against his head. Arthur could hear the smile in his voice.

Arthur bit down on his neck gently and felt Elijah’s fingers tangling in his hair. “Just get the damn door, will you?”

One hand moved away to try and reach the door handle, knocking into the doorframe and handle until eventually, the door gave way and Arthur stumbled inside, bumped into the bed and dumped Elijah unceremoniously into it. He was about to apologise when Elijah’s hands caught his vest and equally ungracefully pulled Arthur on top of him.

“How I’ve missed you.” He whispered with his head thrown back while Arthur kissed his neck down to his open collar. “I must’ve ridden to Shady Belle half a dozen times.”

Arthur raised his head from where he’d been devoting careful attention to his clavicle. “You did?”

“I saw you out on the balcony with Kieran, once.” Elijah murmured. He sounded embarrassed. “I think Charles saw me, but he didn’t say anything.”

It shocked Arthur to know that he’d effectively risked his life for the chance to see Arthur at a distance. “If it’d been Bill, you’d have been shot.”

“I know, but… I wanted to see you. I needed to know you were still here.”

The window behind his bed barely let any light through. The moon was hidden behind dark clouds and what little light they had from the hotel did Arthur no favours, either. He couldn’t see what Elijah looked like at all, but he’d sounded full of longing.

“I’m right here.” Arthur leaned over him, ghosting a kiss over his parted lips. He felt Elijah smile.

“But I can’t see you.”

“That’s alright.” Arthur murmured. “I see you just fine.”

Elijah exhaled shakily. “I know.”

He was pliant and willing all night. He’d let Arthur undress him so slowly, sigh after agonised sigh as Arthur kissed every newly exposed bit of skin. His shaking fingers fumbled with Arthur’s buttons and buckles so badly that Arthur eventually batted his hands away and did it his damn self.

“You just lie there ‘n look pretty.” Arthur had joked. Elijah had chortled in response.

“Excellent, I’m very good at that.”

“Don’t I know it.” Arthur had muttered, unable to dodge the gentle smack against his head in the dark that followed. That didn’t keep Elijah from doing exactly as he’d been told, though. Arthur had the feeling that he could do whatever he wanted and Elijah would let him in that moment, a responsibility he took very seriously. 

It had been a while since they had made love at all, but Arthur knew that soft body like he knew his own. With just a hand on Elijah’s hip he turned him over onto his front, fingers tickling up his spine and raising goose bumps all over his back. It almost felt like magic that he could light up the man’s nerves with a touch of his fingers. When he kissed the pebbled, sensitive skin Elijah whimpered with delight. Even in the dark, Arthur roughly knew where those freckles below his neck were, kissing them from memory. 

When he’d teased him beyond the point of coherency, Arthur turned him back over and spread his legs with his right hand, stroking down the inside of his thigh until he found damp curls at his fingertips. 

“You want this?” Arthur purred into his ear, middle finger teasing the wet slit.

“My word, do you need a written invitation?” Elijah snapped in reply, exactly as Arthur had hoped. All that snark disappeared right when Arthur pushed a finger in and gently rubbed the pad of his thumb against his swollen clit. 

“What was that, boy?”

“Nothing, nothing at all.” Elijah sighed, raising his hips to meet Arthur’s finger. Arthur raised himself up, added another finger and caught the moan right in their kiss as he curled his fingers inside of him. He was trembling already, all the stress and anxiety replaced by pleasure.

“Fuck me already.” Elijah sighed desperately when Arthur felt him starting to clench down. "Please.

“Well, if you insist…”

“I do insist, you shit.”

Arthur laughed, got between his legs and lifted them right over his shoulders.

“You let me know if you don’t like this, now…”

“Do hurry up, Arthur.”

He’d laughed again at that stubborn tone and lined himself up, pushing in slowly. Few things felt better than being joined and few things sounded better than that contented little sigh Elijah breathed when Arthur was all the way in. 

Arthur also discovered he was reasonably flexible, in that Arthur could just about bend him in half to kiss him while fucking him resoundingly through the mattress while he moaned and cursed like a sailor on leave visiting his first brothel. The bed creaked and protested underneath them but Arthur didn’t have the wherewithal to be bothered about that. His entire world was in his arms, thrashing and writhing and digging his nails into his arms.

Elijah came around his cock with such a fierce cry that Arthur was grateful they weren’t anywhere near anyone who would recognise them in the morning. It was the single most gratifying sound Arthur had heard in his life and he wished he could’ve bottled it for a rainy day. He let Elijah’s legs slip off his shoulders and let him catch his breath before he turned him over again, pulling at his hips.

“On your knees. I ain’t lettin’ you off that easy.”

Elijah laughed softly, exhaustedly, and got on his knees. Arthur pushed his cock back in and didn’t know what felt better: the feeling of his tight, wet cunt around his pulsing cock or the sound Elijah made when he slid back in.

“Good?” He breathed, hands stroking Elijah’s rump gently.

“Moooove.” Elijah whined, weakly rocking his hips to get friction. Arthur snapped his hips and he yelped with pleasure, teeth sinking into the pillow underneath his head. There was no way Arthur was going to last long like this, thrusting hard and fast until he felt and heard Elijah cum a second time, holding his cock in a vice grip while he shook to pieces. Arthur followed right behind, pulling his hips tight against him until he stopped pulsing inside of him, wave after wave of pleasant shivers coursing through his sated body. After he pulled out and flopped onto the bed he heard Elijah rifling around for something to clean himself with, followed by the vague sounds of fabric rustling and being discarded a moment later. After that, silence.

“You okay over there?” Arthur murmured sleepily.

“Yeah, just… Can’t move. Don't want to, either.” 

Arthur laughed softly and rolled onto his side, finding soft, damp skin and wispy strands of hair.

“Ain’t no need to move, now.” Arthur whispered, kissing his temple.

“I’ll move… In the morning.” Elijah replied, dozing off.

Elijah started snoring and Arthur settled for whispering his ‘I love yous’ against his skin, hoping the message would arrive anyway.

When he woke the next morning to Elijah packing his bags and humming softly to himself, he knew it had.

Chapter Text

Arthur hadn’t made a sound yet. He was lying on his back watching Elijah quietly pack his things, humming something or other to himself. The sun was shining in through the window behind the bed, illuminating the room and casting rays of sunshine right over Elijah’s bare back. The both of them were still stark naked after their midnight rump from last night, which Arthur spent a moment joyfully remembering.

Part of him still felt fearful that none of this was real, that he was going to wake up from a nap he would have been taking on one of their wagons, miles away from Saint Denis and with Elijah nowhere to be found nearby.

But, well… It was hard to ignore his present reality when it was prancing around naked in front of him, he supposed. Arthur thought he looked so comfortable in his skin in the privacy of his home, so unlike how he tended to hunch his shoulders and curl in on himself around others. Sure, when he was acting a part he kept his back straight and his head high, but out of it he always seemed to shrink. Now, though? Arthur watched him sort through clothes in his dresser and put away what he wanted to bring, scratching his ass like he didn’t have a care in the world. Only now did Arthur notice the orchid he’d given Elijah weeks earlier sitting on the dresser.

Arthur was overwhelmed by such sharp longing that it left him breathless for a moment. He’d missed him so badly and had never allowed himself to dwell on it. Elijah turned his head and Arthur looked at him from the side, his perfect profile cast in sunlight. 

“I’m sorry I woke you.” Elijah said with a smile on his face. Arthur followed his gaze to the side and found him looking at Arthur in the mirror.

“‘s Alright.” Arthur said, sinking further into the pillows and folding his hands behind his head. “Just enjoyin’ the view.”

Elijah snorted and shook his head, going back to folding the pair of pants he’d been holding. 

“You think they’ll be glad to see me back at camp?” He asked, his smile having faded from his face. Arthur thought he looked terrified.

“Hosea will be. So will Kieran, Charles… Hell, even John might be. Grimshaw’ll just be glad there’s someone to do the cookin’.”

Elijah laughed at that. “Can’t even say I mind that bit. I enjoy cooking.”

“To tell you the truth, I don’t think there’s anyone left that still has the strength to be angry.” Arthur sighed. “We’re just lookin’ to survive, now.”

“You’ve been doing that for years.” Elijah pointed out, folding a shirt. “There’ll just be a lot less murder involved now. Or, well, I hope so.”

Arthur chuckled softly. “Yeah, well… I know you ain’t never approved of the killin’ very much.”

“No, I like to refer to that flaw in my character as ‘common sense.’”

“I watched you kill someone with your bare hands.” Arthur pointed out. “Well, with your rosary, I suppose.”

Elijah was quiet for a little bit, folding clothes and stacking them on top of the dresser. Arthur felt bad for a moment, slowly realising that killing was something he had been brought up to do, but Elijah certainly hadn’t.

“Does it bother you?” Arthur asked him, sitting up with the blanket pooling around his waist. “That you did?”

“Of course it does.” Elijah said with a rush of air. “Declan, the other boys I shot back in Ewing’s Basin… Arthur…” He turned around with a confused expression on his face. “I don’t feel anyone has the right to end another person’s life, nor do I believe the State should hold that right.”

“Then who does?”

Elijah huffed a laugh. “Life does a stellar job ending itself, usually. Though there’s rumours of a vampire in this city, so I guess not always.”

Arthur still didn’t understand. “Now them O’Driscolls up north, I understand. You was gonna get shot by us or them and you took your chances. Why Declan?”

Elijah shrugged his shoulders and picked at his fingers. There he was as Arthur had known him: shoulders hunched and curled in on himself.

“In that moment, I didn’t know how not to kill him.” Elijah murmured eventually. “It was all I knew how to do just then.”

“Killin’s always been the only thing I knew how to do.” Arthur replied. “Dutch sure made good use of that.”

“You were a child, Arthur. Hosea told me they found you when you were fourteen. Dutch did make good use of you but I don’t believe for a moment you were a good killer before he found you.” Elijah said furiously. “Most of Dutch’s gang is angry young men who had nowhere to go and nothing to lose, of course you all did what he asked of you. He was all you had.”

Arthur fell quiet at his outburst. He had, over the past couple of months, come to realise that most of Dutch’s philosophy was mostly just an excuse to shoot whomever they had to shoot to survive, but he hadn’t really thought about how Dutch had been telling him the same stuff since he was a kid. It had probably been an excuse back then, too.

“Well… It don’t matter anymore, now. He’s probably dead.” Arthur said quietly, his heart aching.

“I’m sorry.” Elijah rubbed his hands over his face, frustrated at himself. “I know he was like a father to you, I just… I don’t have any patience for bad fathers, especially not those who take it upon themselves and then…”

“… Turn their children into lyin’, robbin’ killers.” Arthur finished for him.

Elijah sighed deeply. “Yeah, acting like it’s no small matter to deprive someone of a beating heart.”

“Suppose I never thought ‘bout it like that.”

“What will we do, out west?” Elijah asked him suddenly, blue eyes fearful. “Because, to be honest, if we’ll continue the way we have, I…”

“No chance of that.” Arthur said, getting out of bed and walking over to him. “Hosea never approved of us bein’ a buncha killers, neither. You ‘n he are a lot alike.”

Elijah smiled at that, eyes crinkling slightly at the corners. Arthur tilted his chin up to face him.

“We’re gonna build ourselves a home, somehow.” Arthur murmured before bending down to kiss him gently. “That’s what we’ll do out west.”

The smile on that freckled, familiar face grew until his face lit up with it. 

“What’s so funny?” Arthur asked even as he was smiling, unable to help it.

“I never thought I’d get to build a home, or even have one.” 

While Dutch had been unsuccessful in providing a home, Arthur had always believed they would eventually have one. Elijah hadn’t even had that, and it made Arthur feel desperately sad.

“We’ll have a home.” Arthur said fervently, taking his face in both hands, needing him to understand. “We’ll have a fireplace, a real one. Cats, dogs, probably some chickens. No kids, but we’ll have a full home.”

Elijah put his hands over Arthur’s on his face, smile a mile wide. “We used to have a little aviary with parakeets, back home…”

“You were a damn rich kid, but you can have all the damn birds you want.” Arthur promised him. Elijah laughed and Arthur kissed him, kissed him until he ceased laughing and clung to him instead.

“I’m nearly packed.” Elijah said against his lips even as Arthur continued to press kisses against them. “Shouldn’t we be heading back?”

“They can wait.” Arthur grumbled, pulling him in by his waist.

“What if they won’t?” 

“They won’t go nowhere without me.” Arthur said, nibbling at a sensitive spot on his shoulder. “And I ain’t goin’ nowhere without you.”

“That so?” Elijah breathed with delight, raking his nails down Arthur’s broad, strong back. 

“Yeah.” Arthur walked back towards the bed until it hit his knees and sat down, pulling him into his lap. “And we ain’t goin’ nowhere ‘till I’ve had my way with you one more time.”

Elijah straddled him with a smirk on his face. “Always in the morning…”

“It ain’t that.” Arthur said earnestly, tilting him back until he could kiss his chest, kiss the scars that lived there. “Just that that’s usually the time we’re alone ‘n awake together.”

“Last night not enough for you?” Elijah teased, allowing himself to fall back into Arthur’s embrace, trusting him to hold his weight.

“No. For three weeks, I...” 

Elijah raised his head to look at him. “Arthur?”

“I thought we was done.”

“So did I.” Elijah stroked his cheek, Arthur’s scruff scratching against his thumb. “I tried to convince myself I was lucky.”

“Lucky?”

“For about six months, I had a home. I loved and was loved in return. It was more than I’d ever dared to hope for.” 

You ain’t never done a bad thing in your life, Arthur thought sadly, and you ask for nothing.

“You deserve more.” Arthur said with burning conviction. “I ain’t deserve nothin’, but you, all you tried to do was live.”

“There are many people who died whose biggest crime was being alive.”

And I killed a lot of ‘em. “I ain’t talkin’ about them.” Arthur bit down on his neck, heard him gasp, felt his fingers in his hair. “I’m talkin’ about you.”

“I ain’t special, Arthur.”

“You are.” Arthur pulled him in close again and kissed his clavicle. “You are, to me.”

Elijah chuckled and kissed the side of his head. “I still don’t deserve more than others, but...” He said, before Arthur could interrupt him. “Everyone has a right to a home, and if I should get to have one with you, well… Then I am a very lucky man, indeed.”

They made love in the light of early morning. Pale blue covers rustled underneath as they moved, their gentle chorus of faint gasps and moans interspersed only by the rhythmic touch of skin. Arthur spoke more to him during that time than he’d spoken over the course of the past three weeks put together. It felt like he was in confession, closed off from the world with only one person taking in all his sins with cool, refreshing grace.

Arthur told him how he’d missed him, how he’d longed desperately for him during the night, how he hadn’t slept since he’d left and how badly he wished he’d said something, anything at all to keep him from leaving. Elijah pulled his leg up and rolled them over, straddling him and settling on top of Arthur like it was his throne. Arthur didn’t mind in the slightest.

“I loved you when I left.” Elijah whispered to him in return, hips undulating slowly and smoothly. He took Arthur’s hands from his waist and pinned them over his head. If he’d wanted, Arthur could’ve broken free in an instant, but he had no desire to. 

It often startled Arthur to look at Elijah and realise he could break him with ease just as he had broken many, many people before. That he should still possess the capacity to use his hands to love instead of kill still amazed him, sometimes.

Elijah spoke again. “And I loved you while I was away. I have loved you all this time. There was nothing you could have said to stop me, it had nothing to do with you.”

Arthur let him have his way even if the tempo - or lack thereof - was driving him insane. The complete lack of control was foreign to him as well, but he welcomed it.

“I tried not to love you after you left.” Arthur confessed. Elijah sat up a bit, grinding his hips down so perfectly that Arthur felt shivers of pleasure all throughout his body.

“How’d that work out for you?” Elijah asked with a sly little smirk.

“I’m here, ain’t I?”

They laughed together, joy seeping into their kiss.

“That you are.”

Eventually, Elijah let his hands go and Arthur sat up to turn them over again. With Elijah on his back he grinned and got off the bed, pulling Elijah with him.

“What’re you- Oh!”

Much like the night before he hitched Elijah’s legs around his waist and pushed him up against the door.

“I been wantin’ to do this for months.” He growled, pushing back in and fucking him right up against the bedroom door.

“Can’t really-... Do this in a tent…” Elijah sighed with pleasure, granting Arthur full control back just as easily as he’d taken it. Whatever smartass little remark was gonna come after that was banished with one well-aimed thrust and Arthur relished in the little squeal of pleasure he got instead.

“If only all the fine people you played in this city knew you was like this.” Arthur teased him, catching him in a bruising kiss, Elijah’s head bumping into the door with a soft thud. “All blushed up ‘n pretty with your legs spread.”

Elijah laughed softly. “You kidding me? I bagged the biggest prize in Saint Denis. They wish they were me.”

That halted Arthur in his tracks somewhat. He buried his face in Elijah’s neck. “I ain’t no kinda prize.”

“Yes, you are. There’s no bigger prize than a man who tries.”

Arthur wanted few things less than to argue about his own worth, since he and Elijah were of rather opposing opinions on the matter. Instead of engaging with his argument, Arthur threw him back onto the bed and crawled over him, gathering him in his arms as he fucked him slowly. Clearly, he wasn’t the only one losing patience: Elijah reached down between their bodies and touched himself, slowly at first, until Arthur saw his eyes slip closed and he heard his breathing speed up. When his name fell from those soft lips as he came, it sounded like a benediction.

In truth, Arthur wasn’t too fussed about his own orgasm, but the headstrong man underneath him clearly was. Arthur laughed and let himself be pushed around until he was right back on his back with Elijah riding him hard and fast, willing him to cum with his body. Arthur pulled him down onto his cock and gave in, shuddering with his entire body.

Later, when they had dressed and gathered all of Elijah’s belongings and were walking towards the stables to pick up Vincent, Styx in tow, they talked about the elephant in the room: the Blackwater money.

“You said Hosea wanted me to go and get it.”

“Yeah.” Arthur sighed and took Elijah’s bags while he retrieved Vincent from the stables. They tied his pack to his saddle together and mounted up to leave Saint Denis for good. “He reckons you’re the one least likely to be recognised outta all of us.”

“He’s probably right.” Elijah agreed. “Milton and Ross saw me, though.”

“Yeah, but the rest of them Pinkertons don’t know who you are.”

“Well, I’m sure I can always ask Hosea for a disguise.

They laughed at that, remembering Arthur’s hat and pipe affair in Rhodes. Arthur still had no idea how they’d gotten away with that, though he supposed that they hadn’t, in the end.

The closer they got to Shady Belle, the more nervous Elijah seemed. They rode into camp and were immediately greeted by Hosea.

“My dear boy, am I glad to see you.” Hosea shook his hand immediately after he’d dismounted. “You’re back for good, then?”

“If you’ll have me.” Elijah said sheepishly.

“We need a cook.” Miss Grimshaw piped up. “And Pearson’s gone and left us, so you was the next best thing.”

Charles had just greeted Arthur and was now looking towards Elijah. “Good to have you back.”

Elijah nodded at him and spotted John approaching over his shoulder. John tipped his hat; Elijah smiled back at him.

“Eli!” Kieran shouted from across camp, briefly kissing Mary-Beth’s hand as he climbed down the wagon they’d been sitting on. “You’re back!”

“Yes, I am.” Elijah said, having snapped out of whatever fog of insecurity he’d been in. “And you’re leaving.”

“W-what?” Kieran stuttered, looking around at equally confused Arthur, Charles and Hosea.

Elijah dug around his satchel and produced a set of keys. “Take Mary-Beth, take your things, and get the hell out. You got a child on the way, you shouldn’t be travelling across the damn country.”

When Kieran didn’t take them, he forcibly took Kieran’s hand and put the keys into it.

“You’re a good man, Kieran. Don’t deprive yourself of the opportunity to be a good father, too.” Elijah said, looking a little sad. “The apartment is by the Grand Hotel, across from the bookshop. It’s the dark door in the alley, first floor, third apartment to the left. You got that?”

“I… I…” Kieran looked to the key, then to Elijah, then to Mary-Beth, who had joined them. 

“Mary-Beth,” Elijah said softly, taking her hand and kissing it. “Tell this fool you need a doctor and a warm bed to keep this baby safe.”

Miss Grimshaw, Tilly and Sadie had joined their little group. Mary-Beth hesitated as well.

“How will we pay…?”

“It’s been paid for. No worries.” Elijah said quietly. “It’s furnished, too.”

Hosea dug around the money box and produced a stack of bills that Arthur estimated to be about a thousand dollars. “Take this, too. Never hurts to have some money, ‘specially not with a kid on the way.”

Mary-Beth looked like she wanted to cry and Kieran wasn’t far off.

“We’ll miss you.” Arthur said, standing next to Elijah. “But he’s right. You gotta think about your future together.”

“We can visit.” Elijah smiled at them. “And we’ll write.”

Kieran embraced Elijah tightly. “I ain’t never gonna forget you.”

“Right back at you.” Elijah replied, letting him go and embracing Mary-Beth. “The two of you be happy, now.”

“Please let us know how you are.” Mary-Beth said tearfully, grasping Tilly’s hand. “And where.”

“Of course we will.” Tilly said, hugging her dear friend. “This ain’t farewell.”

It was bittersweet to watch them go, but Arthur knew it had been the right thing to do. Jack had seen and experienced things no child ever should have. Kieran and Mary-Beth’s child would be spared that.

After they left, the gang packed up the very last of their things, including Elijah’s pack.

“Everyone ready?” Hosea shouted from the front of the caravan, riding point. Those who were still left - Arthur, Elijah, Charles, Uncle, Swanson, Miss Grimshaw, Sadie, Tilly, John, Jack, Abigail and Lenny - shouted their affirmatives, and the newly ‘complete’ van der Linde gang set out for greener pastures out west. Arthur and Elijah rode with Hosea at the front, one on each side of his wagon, while John guarded the rear. 

“What made you come back?” Hosea asked Elijah eventually, just when they’d cleared the swamp and were back out on the open road.

“I’m a glutton for punishment.” Elijah replied drily. Hosea laughed while Arthur and Elijah exchanged knowing looks.

You.

Chapter Text

Arthur knew, rationally, that it was a good call on Hosea’s part to involve exclusively Elijah in the plan to retrieve the Blackwater money. Rationally, he understood that the less he and others knew about the plan, the better. He’d understood it, rationally, when Elijah had done the same thing while he was working on getting Cornwall off their backs.

Emotionally, however, he felt like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum in a sweets shop. 

It had been a three days ride to make it through Lemoyne and New Hanover to West Elizabeth. They hadn’t ridden this long or this hard since leaving Colter and everyone was tired, including the horses. For now, they‘d set up camp north of Fort Riggs in a small valley surrounded by tall trees and hills. Hosea had taken Elijah aside almost immediately to discuss his plan with him, even though they were both dead on their feet. When Elijah had finally returned to their tent he had looked profoundly unhappy, nestling against Arthur’s chest without a word. Arthur had merely held him, knowing he couldn’t speak of the plan and, therefore, not about what had made him seem so unhappy.

Now, about a day after he’d ridden out to Blackwater in the first place, Arthur was pacing the camp and furiously smoking a cigarette in the faint hope it would calm his nerves. Miss Grimshaw had already told him to settle down, but he couldn’t. Elijah was unarmed, alone in a city he’d never been before, attempting to retrieve a sum of money he’d had nothing to do with in the first place. Arthur couldn’t quite shake the feeling he’d been made to do the dirty work, though he knew that they’d had very little choice and he’d taken on the task willingly. 

Maybe Arthur was feeling particularly sour because he hadn’t even been able to kiss him goodbye or wish him luck: he’d gone in the dead of night while Arthur had been asleep. He crushed the cigarette underfoot and rolled another, lighting it and taking another deep drag, his throat feeling rough with hot smoke. 

“You okay, Arthur?” Hosea asked him. The others were gathered around the small campfire they kept: there was no need for two campfires anymore. 

Arthur blew the ashy smoke into the night’s sky. “I’m fine.”

Hosea laughed softly. “Last time I saw you this angry I was about twenty years younger, and so were you.”

“Why’d you have to send him?” Arthur said then, unable to contain himself. “He only just got back, for Chrissakes. What if them Pinkertons recognise him?”

“He’s a smart young man, Arthur. Resourceful, too. He’ll be fine.” Hosea assured him with a hand on his shoulder. “Had us all fooled for months, after all.”

Arthur looked at Hosea and knew within an instant what he’d meant, shock over Hosea knowing fading quickly before the indignation he felt. “He ain’t foolin’ no one, Hosea.”

“Right, perhaps I should have worded it differently.” Hosea cleared his throat. “What I meant to say is he carries himself so well that none of us could have guessed at his past. Considering the circumstances, that’s quite a feat.”

“How’d you know?” Arthur asked him. “And keep it to yourself. He ain’t told maybe more than a handful of people in the damn world.”

“I wanted to go fishing once, early in the morning. Seemed I wasn’t the only one who preferred the early waters.” Hosea said quietly. “And of course, Arthur. We’ve all got secrets. I wouldn’t dream of exposing him to people who might not understand.”

Arthur closed his eyes for a moment, well aware that he’d pointed out to Elijah more than once that he was going to get caught one day, and he had been. “And you do?”

“This might surprise you, Arthur, but I’ve been around for a while.” He smiled as Arthur laughed, put at ease with Hosea’s easy acceptance. “In my younger years I met a lovely young lady named Lydia. This was when I was still an actor. You see all sorts in theatre, really.”

“I can imagine.” Arthur agreed quietly.

“Lydia was a… Soft spoken, elegant, beautiful woman. I had intended to court her, but I fell into some trouble after the director found his pocket watch in my coat.”

Classic Hosea. “So what about her?”

“A couple of days before I was… Forced to leave, I asked her out to a drink. You know how these things go, one thing leads to another…” Hosea shrugged. “Needless to say it turns out she had more of some things and less of others.”

“And that ain’t bother you?” Arthur wondered. “Even I was… Surprised, and you know I ain’t never been fussy ‘bout that kinda stuff.”

“It was certainly a surprise.” Hosea admitted. “A-And I’m ashamed to say I left not too long after that.”

“Then what?”

“I went back the next day to apologise and we talked all night. She told me her whole story.” Hosea sighed and shrugged. “To live a life like that in this world… I felt quite silly for gettin’ spooked by somethin’ so small.” He paused and huffed a laugh. “Well…”

Arthur laughed and patted him on the shoulder. “And then you got caught robbin’ the director.”

“Not before I stole a kiss off her, I didn’t.” Hosea smiled fondly at the memory. “I didn’t know what fearlessness looked like until she kissed me with a night’s worth of stubble on her chin. To live true to yourself is bravery at its finest.”

“You ever heard of her, after?” Arthur wondered.

“Oh, yes. She’s done very well for herself, up on stages all over New York.” Hosea turned and smiled at Arthur. “She was my first foray into the world of her kind of people. Elijah is only the second, and he’ll be fine. If he’s anything like Lydia, he’s gotten himself into and out of much worse.”

“I… Thank you, Hosea.” Arthur said softly. “Really.”

“You hold onto him, Arthur. You don’t run into fellers like him every day.”

“Don’t I know it.”

They rejoined the others at the campfire. It was different, now that so much of their family had gone their separate ways. He wondered what had happened to Dutch, Bill, Javier and Karen. Pearson, he knew, was doing just fine in Rhodes. They’d stopped there to stock up on food and to say goodbye one last time. His girl, Ethel, was a nice enough lady. Arthur wished them both the very best.

More than anything, he missed the music. Javier’s singing had been a staple of their evenings for years and while he’d started to hate Javier near the end, he’d been his brother longer than he had been his enemy. As for Dutch’s gramophone, well… None of them felt comfortable using that just yet. It felt disrespectful to touch it, let alone play music with it.

So, most evenings around the campfire were relatively quiet, though they hadn’t forgotten how to laugh together. Miss Grimshaw, to Arthur’s surprise, had grown protective of Tilly in the absence of her other girls. Abigail had never really been under her jurisdiction while Karen, Tilly and Mary-Beth had. With the latter two gone, she didn’t appear to have the strength anymore to badger Tilly. They did the washing together and had formed a formidable bond over the past month.

Swanson had, surprisingly, cleaned up his act a bit. He appeared to be drinking less and while he still had a nervous, paranoid disposition, he actually seemed to have moments where he was reading an actual bible rather than rifling through the one that held his last supply of morphine. 

Lenny was one of the people Arthur actively worried about. He’d believed in Dutch and had trusted him. He, too, had been an angry young man with nowhere to go and nothing to lose when Dutch and the gang had found him. With Dutch gone he’d gotten increasingly withdrawn, primarily keeping to himself in spite of both Charles and Sadie’s best attempts to draw him out of himself.

As for Charles and Sadie, well… Arthur suspected there was something going on there, but he wasn’t the type of person to pry. They got along swell and were the primary camp guards, occasionally rotating with Tilly and Arthur.

For all the things that had changed,  a lot had stayed the same. They still drank, they still shared stories they’d heard dozens of times before and they still stumbled off to bed when the moon was already dipping beneath the hills again. Arthur desperately hoped to wake up and find Elijah sitting by the campfire, and not just because that would mean they’d have a cooked breakfast again instead of stale, hard bread. 

But he didn’t, and he spent another day wandering aimlessly about camp until Charles had enough of it and took him out hunting. They didn’t talk much: Arthur didn’t want to talk and Charles didn’t press him. Still, Arthur felt his stalwart companionship and appreciated that he worried enough about Arthur to try and get him out of his own head, even if only for a moment. They returned with an elk and skinned it together. Grimshaw, peeved that Elijah hadn’t returned to cook, took it upon herself to prepare their dinner. It was better than Pearson’s, but Arthur knew whose cooking he ultimately  preferred the most. 

Not that he was about to admit that out loud. He didn’t have a death wish, after all.

That night, Arthur woke to the faint rustling of tent canvas, sitting bolt upright almost immediately.

“That you, boy?”

“Yeah.” Elijah said, sounding strained. “It’s me.”

Arthur didn’t like the sound of his voice one bit and reached for the lantern, only to have his hand slapped away sharply by Elijah.

“Leave it.”

“Why? What’s goin’ on?”

“Just… Leave it.” He sat down on the bedroll with a pained hiss. “Here.”

Arthur couldn’t see much of anything. The canvas had been pulled closed tighter than usual. All he heard was the clinking of buckles and the creaking of leather as Elijah took off what Arthur assumed were the satchels he’d taken to recover the money. His assumption proved correct when they landed next to him with a heavy thud and a solid clank of gold bars hitting each other inside the satchel.

“... You got the money?” Arthur was stupefied. All those months of struggling desperately to survive with no end in sight, and at long last the end to it now lay on the ground next to his bed.

“I did.” Elijah said. Arthur felt him move, arms bumping into Arthur as he tried to undress much slower and more carefully than he usually did. He heard the vest and shirt being dumped on the ground, followed by the faint clinking of his belt buckle. After what sounded like him struggling with his trousers followed by a hissed ‘fuck it’, he felt him lay down ever so slowly onto the bedroll. Elijah sighed deeply and shakily.

“Where was it?” Arthur asked, trying to ignore the worry gnawing at his stomach.

“In the dumbest fucking place imaginable.” Elijah grumbled. “Behind a tree near a damn military camp.”

“How’d you get it?”

“Does it matter?” Elijah huffed annoyedly. “Look, I… There’s a tin of vaseline in my satchel. Could you get it?”

Arthur bristled at how prickly Elijah was being, but not wanting to argue he tried to find the damn thing in the dark anyway. The tent was a mess of clothes, holsters and satchels and he couldn’t tell what belonged to whom. He could barely make out his own hands in the very faint glow from the campfire outside.

“If you want me to find it, I’m gonna need a light.” He said, eventually.

It was silent for a moment.

“Fine.”

Arthur lit the lantern and the tent was bathed in warm light. He looked to Elijah immediately: he was covering his chest and stomach with his arms but Arthur still saw the vivid red lines underneath. Arthur’s eyes travelled up to his face and he felt his mouth fall open.

“Boy…”

“Vaseline, Arthur, and a cloth.” He said stubbornly, eyes decidedly not aimed at Arthur.

As Arthur rifled through the tent and found Elijah’s satchel, he tried to process what he’d just seen: his cheeks were red, his lips were stained a beet-like pink and his lashes had been darkened considerably. There was a faint shadow around his eyes that Arthur suspected wasn’t just exhaustion. His hair was flat and styled oddly with pomade. 

Arthur found the tin and handed it over together with a clean scrap of cloth he kept in his own satchel for hunting. Elijah snatched it from his hands and liberally applied the grease over his face, rubbing harshly across his lips and more gently around the eyes. When he was done, he wiped it all off with precise, clean sweeps. His hand felt around for his flask and he wet a clean corner of the cloth to wipe away the worst of the grease, tossing it to the side after. 

When he was done he still didn’t speak to Arthur, chest rising and falling with each measured breath.

“You wanna tell me what happened?” Arthur asked him quietly, not wanting to pry but needing to know.

“Not even a little bit.”

“Tell me anyway.” Arthur insisted. He lay down beside him and tried to gently lay his hand on Elijah’s stomach as he had done so many times before, but Elijah pushed it away. His jaw worked furiously as he seemed to weigh whether or not to tell Arthur.

“I was never gonna make it in and out of that damn town with four satchels full of cash. Couldn’t exactly hide them in my trousers so I had to come up with something else.

A skirt, Arthur’s mind helpfully supplied. “What of them soldiers?”

“Well, they were very amicable to sharing a drink with a lovely young lady.” Elijah spat, a faint tear trailing down the side of his face. “So when they were drunk enough I went and got the goddamn money.”

“Hosea put you up to this?” Arthur was ready to storm out of his tent and give him a piece of his mind if he had to. 

“No.” Elijah shook his head. “He thought I’d be fine because Milton didn’t pay any attention to me, but even then… If someone were to see me in Blackwater, see my face…”

“It’d be all over West Elizabeth in a day.” Arthur finished for him. “You ain’t have to do all that. If it were that hard we could’ve just done without the damn money.”

“Grimshaw would never let me hear the end of it.” Elijah grumbled. “It’s done. No going back.”

“And these?” Arthur asked, indicating the lines all over his torso with his finger.

“Don’t wear a corset, or at least do a better job of tying it than I did.”

“Wasn’t plannin’ on it.” Arthur murmured. He felt terrible. In what he could only assume was a desperate attempt at earning his place back in the gang - as if he owed them anything rather than the other way around - he’d gone and done the unspeakable to himself. “That why your back hurt?”

Elijah bit the inside of his lip and nodded sharply, once. “That, and…”

“And?”

“Turns out I can’t carry a grown man by myself.”

That downright confounded Arthur. “Why in the hell would you need to do that?”

“Well, I had to move him from my wagon to his grave.”

That just made matters more confusing. “You killed someone?”

“No.” Elijah sighed slowly and closed his eyes. “In my moment of rouge-induced insanity I wanted-… You all cared about Dutch, even if I didn’t.”

It knocked the air clean out of Arthur. The world seemed to halt in its tracks for a moment before continuing to spin as if nothing had happened.

“... You buried Dutch?”

“Yes.”

“How? How’d you even…?”

“I bribed the damn mortician while pretending to be Dutch's niece.” Elijah spat. “He didn’t smell too good, I can tell you that much.”

Arthur had no idea what to say, but his brain settled on the least relevant reply it could think of. “He never were much of a bather.”

At least it made Elijah laugh, though the faint shocks of laughter made his back spasm and he went rigid with pain.

“Where’d you bury him?” Arthur asked softly, heart aching. “Christ, I can’t believe you went through all that-... All that.”

“On the top of a hill near the cliffs, facing Blackwater.” Elijah said on a strained breath. “Thought he’d appreciate the poetry of it.”

“Poetry?”

“Blackwater was the beginning of the end.”

“And now it’s over.” Arthur flopped onto his back, overwhelmed. Elijah had risked his life, his entire sense of self to not only get them the money but Dutch back. Well, not ‘back’ exactly, just in a place where the gang could remember him being. A place where they could say their last farewell if they wanted to.

He’d gone above and beyond for people who had treated him like dirt.

Arthur hesitated to ask, but he had to know. “You see Bill, Karen or Javier anywhere?” 

“No, but… They ain’t fared any better than Dutch.” Elijah said, a little sadly. “The mortician said he couldn’t even really perform an autopsy on them anymore. They were shot like dogs.”

Arthur had known it in concept for weeks now, but hearing the facts presented still weighed heavy on his chest. “We warned ‘em…”

“Loyal ‘till the bitter end.” Elijah mumbled, shaking his head. “Fools.”

“You reckon they’ll get buried?”

“Eventually, I’m sure.”

“I ain’t know how to thank you.” Arthur said, turning back onto his side and covering Elijah’s hands with one of his own. “What you did, I can’t imagine- I… I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologise. Just don’t ever mention it ever again. That’ll be all the thanks I need from you.” Elijah whispered, tired and hurt. “If I could forget the past two days, if I could burn away the memories from my mind, I would.”

“I know. If there’s anythin’, anythin’ at all-”

“Don’t talk about it. Not with me, not with anyone.” Elijah said sternly. “If anyone asks, I was just very, very sneaky.”

Arthur laughed to keep from crying and laid his hand on Elijah’s face, turning it until he could look at him properly. A million different emotions were warring on that soft face and none of them good. Splotches of red from where he’d been too rough with the cloth dotted his face, bleeding into the scars he’d gotten in service of the gang as well.

“We ain’t deserve you.”

“That’s fine. You’ve got a whole life now to make it up to me.”

In a lot of ways, loyalty was all that had ever mattered to Arthur. It was all he’d ever known. Elijah, Charles, hell even Sadie had taught him that loyalty could look very differently from what he’d been taught. If anything, Arthur had developed loyalty to the future, and his future was right in front of him.

“I know.” He whispered, leaning in to kiss him. “And I will.”

They kissed, softly and slowly. Elijah got to being too tired to keep his head up and Arthur let him lay back down.

“Need help with them pants?” Arthur asked him, stroking his hair and watching Elijah lean into it like a cat.

“Please.”

Arthur got his trousers off with a lot of gentle tugging, trying not to jostle him in the process. It was a lot colder here than it’d been near Rhodes and Saint Denis, so when Arthur saw him shiver ever so slightly he pulled the blanket out from underneath him and covered the both of them.

“Better?”

“Yeah. Thank you.”

“There ain’t a damn thing you need to be thankin’ me for right now.” Arthur muttered, settling against Elijah’s side and resuming his petting of Elijah’s head. “Rest.”

When he fell asleep, Arthur stroked his hand over his stomach as though his hands could wipe away the corset’s imprint. Maybe if he could remove every trace of the ordeal from his body it would fade from his mind as well, though Arthur doubted it. More than anything, Arthur felt he’d failed to protect him in more ways than one this time.

“I’ll do better next time.” He promised to the dark of night. “I ain’t a good man, but God help me if you ain’t made me wanna try.”

Chapter Text

Arthur had been dreaming pleasantly of lush green fields when he was abruptly woken by the sound of cheers outside the tent. He looked to his left and found that Elijah wasn’t there. Worried about his back, Arthur got his clothes on as fast as he could and got out of the tent. 

Most everyone was already awake, gathered around Hosea while he showed off the Blackwater money. Everyone but Sadie and Elijah - both absent - was chatting excitedly, suggestions of where to settle down floating through the air. Hosea saw Arthur and walked up to him.

“Arthur!” Hosea clapped him on the shoulder, holding up the two belts of satchels in his hands. “I told you he’d be fine. More than fine!”

Arthur’s knee jerk reaction was to point out that he very much was not fine and had not been fine either, that he had allowed himself to be forced into a position where he had to perform a role that was unconscionable to him. Not to mention, he had hurt his back something fierce.

“Yeah, well… He got us the money.” Arthur admitted. “Think he pulled a muscle or somethin’ in his back, though.”

Hosea nodded and sighed. “He told us about Dutch. We’ll make a bit of a detour to visit the grave when we leave… Feels like it’s the right thing to do.”

“I agree.”

“Sadie’s gone into Blackwater to make sure we’re in the clear, makin’ sure we won’t have no bounty hunters chasin’ us out west.”

“Good. Best make sure no one saw Elijah, neither. I ain’t want no heat on him now that we’re finally in the clear.” Arthur looked around. “Where is he, anyway?”

“Think he went to relieve himself in the trees someplace.” Hosea said, pointing vaguely in the direction he’d gone. “But it’s been a while.”

“I’ll go ‘n check.” Arthur sighed, setting off in the appointed direction. It took him a moment, what with how dense the surrounding swathes of trees were, but eventually he found him, lying on the ground on his back.

“You okay?” Arthur asked him. 

“I can’t get up.” Elijah sounded downright surly. “Managed to piss by that tree over there, just about. I crawled over here and then gave up.”

“Alright…” Arthur stepped over him, feet planted on either side of his knees, and bent down. “C’mon then. Put your arms around me, I’ll get you up.”

Elijah did as he was told, wrapping his arms around Arthur’s shoulders while Arthur gently wrapped his arms around his back, underneath his armpits.

“This might hurt.” Arthur warned him.

“It already hurts.”

In one smooth motion. Arthur lifted him upright, holding his body against him and feeling him vibrate with tension. His brows were drawn and his mouth downturned: he was in pain.

“Feel like you was almost better off that time them Raiders got to you.” Arthur said, trying to go for levity. It did put a small smile on Elijah’s face, but it disappeared just as quickly as it had come.

“Bruises, cuts, hell even the bullet wound… If I kept still, those didn’t hurt too much. This just hurts no matter what I do.”

“I know.” Arthur tried to wipe off the worst of the dirt, leaves and twigs stuck to his clothes and hair. His hair was greasy and standing at incredible, gravity-defying angles. For a moment, Arthur wished they could wash out the pomade, as if that had any priority at all, whatsoever. “I’ll take you back to camp.”

They walked - or rather, limped - back to camp together, Elijah supporting himself by leaning heavily against every tree on the way. By the time they got back, the camp had been broken down and packed once more. It was much faster and easier than packing up their full camp, for which Arthur was grateful.

Hosea gave Elijah a sympathetic look. “We’re headin’ out. Sadie’ll catch up with us, she knows we’re ridin’ through Strawberry so if she ain’t caught up with us before then, we’ll wait for her there.”

Silver Dollar was pulling one of the smaller wagons and Arthur was about to suggest they have Vincent pull one of the bigger ones when he witnessed Elijah trying to mount up in spite of having been unable to get up moments earlier.

“The hell you think you’re doin’?” Arthur asked him. “You can barely walk, ain’t no way-”

“Arthur.” Elijah said sternly. “I rode into camp on Vincent, I will ride out of camp on Vincent.”

In a feat of incredible stubbornness and very little else, he pulled himself up and into his saddle. Arthur knew that had hurt and badly at that. For one, he seemed unable to speak for a full fifteen seconds afterwards, and two, he was holding his hips in a way that told Arthur he couldn’t fully sit down just yet.

“Suit yourself.” Arthur told him, and went to mount up himself. 

They rode out in the same formation they’d kept since leaving Shady Belle, Arthur and Elijah at the front with Hosea’s wagon. Arthur occasionally spared a glance in Elijah’s direction and he knew that within an hour they’d have a falling out over this: Elijah was cramped, his expression set somewhere between despondency and abject agony.

They took the long way around to Strawberry by going south first so that they could visit the grave. It was a beautiful late autumn day: the air was crisp and cool but there was no wind. The sun was shining brightly overhead. Even as they got off their horses and walked to see the grave at the top of the hill, the skies did not darken to grace them with the gloom befitting the moment. They stood gathered around Dutch’s grave with the late October sun filtering through the tree against which his gravestone had been put.

It was a simple slab of stone with his epitaph crudely carved into it, running into the edges of the stone where there was too little space to fit the words.

Dutch van der Linde

Let me not then die ingloriously and without a struggle, but let me first do some great thing that shall be told among men hereafter.

Elijah stood silently by Arthur’s side, having struggled his way off his horse and up the hill. Arthur took his hand and squeezed.

“Thank you for doin’ this.” Arthur said, earnestly. “I know you didn’t…”

“I didn’t do it for him.” Elijah replied simply. “It’s for all of you. You all get to live because of his… Sacrifice. If nothing else I thought you might want to… Not... Think of him rotting in a jail cell, or swinging from a rope, but laid at rest.”

“This was very kind of you.” Miss Grimshaw said quietly. “Thank you.”

Hosea gently patted him on the shoulder and said nothing, eyes fixed on the grave of his very old, very dear friend. Reverend Swanson actually appeared to be praying while the rest of them just looked and felt sad, some looking towards Blackwater in the distance and undoubtedly wishing they had never gone there in the first place.

“What’s it from?” Arthur asked Elijah, pointing at the slab of stone. “On his gravestone.”

“The Iliad. I felt it suited him better than a bible verse, in the end.” Elijah explained. “It was close, though.”

Hosea seemed curious. “What verse would you have chosen?”

Elijah was quiet for a moment before citing it from memory. “‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.’ From the Gospel of John.”

Hosea nodded once, still looking at the grave. “Both work well for him, I think. Larger than life, he was.”

“He did love you all, in his way.” Elijah conceded. “Turning himself in was an act of love. Not quite what he had in mind, I’m sure, but…”

“But it was.” Charles agreed. “An act of love. Not the home he’d promised, but a chance at it.”

“He ain’t see it, but that’s more than we ever had.” Arthur murmured quietly. “We ain’t had a real chance before, I don’t think.”

“He tried.” John said. “But I don’t think he ever realised it weren’t workin’.”

“No, but that didn’t stop him from tryin’.” Abigail sighed. “He weren’t a good man, but he tried to do good in his way.”

“What a way that was.” Uncle chuckled, shaking his head. “G’bye, Dutch. Thanks for all them years.” He touched his fingertips to the stone and turned his back, heading back down towards the caravan. Slowly, the rest of them followed until only Arthur, Elijah, Hosea, John, Jack and Abigail were left.

Elijah left first, squeezing Arthur’s hand before he went. 

“Wait by the wagon.” Arthur said. “Please.”

Elijah threw his hands up in acquiescence and Arthur turned back to the grave with a heavy sigh. 

“You reckon he’s in hell?” John asked suddenly.

“John…!” Abigail hissed, mostly for Jack’s benefit.

Hosea shook his head. “He believed in an earthly paradise much more than he did in an afterlife. If Dutch is anywhere right now, it’s probably an eternal gunfight in the sky.”

“Sounds like hell to me.” Arthur muttered.

“Yes.” Hosea smiled at him, his thin, craggy face wrinkling with it. “But then, you’ve changed considerably since Blackwater, haven’t you, son?”

“I guess.” Arthur sighed heavily. “Dutch never did change much, even after Micah died…”

“Dutch was always like this.” John said. “We just ain’t notice it in time.”

“Is that fair, John?” Hosea asked him. “You think the Dutch from Blackwater would’ve done what the Dutch at Clemens Point did?”

John considered it for a moment, then shrugged his shoulder. “I… Maybe not.”

Hosea was the first to step forward and touch the gravestone. “Farewell, dear friend.”

Abigail followed, holding Jack’s hand. “Goodbye, Dutch. Thanks for givin’ me a home.”

Arthur and John stood by the grave together, neither knowing what to say. A thousand thoughts flitted through Arthur’s mind like falling stars and he couldn’t hold onto any of them.

In the end, he took Dutch’s revolver out of its holster and placed it by the gravestone, returning it to its rightful owner. John followed suit. It had never felt right for them to have those. Time would weather them as it had Dutch, until the earth took both the guns and Dutch back. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

“C’mon.” Arthur said eventually, turning away from the grave. “We got a long ride ahead.”

And they did. They would have to cross through the mountains west of Owanjila to even make it to New Mexico. If they could make it through, they would be in the warmer states and travelling in winter would be no problem. The mountains, though… That was going to be a challenge.

When they made it back down the hill, Elijah was sitting on the back of Silver Dollar’s wagon, waiting for Arthur.

“We’ll have Vincent pull Grimshaw’s wagon as well.” Arthur said, tone brooking no argument. That didn’t keep Elijah from trying, of course.

“What? No. I’m fine, Arthur.”

“Don’t bullshit me, boy.” Arthur spat. “Can’t ride for a damn hour, state your in. You’re gonna lie down in the damn wagon and spare yourself an even worse back than you already got.”

Knowing full well that Elijah couldn’t move fast enough to stop him, he led Vincent over to Grimshaw’s wagon and helped her get him set up to pull. By the time he got back, Elijah looked like he was about to explode, but Arthur didn’t care. He’d had quite enough of Elijah’s lack of self-preservation for one day.

“Arthur!”

Sadie came riding up to him, halting Bob right next to him. “They’re gonna hang Colm.”

“What?!” Arthur said. “When? Where?”

“Saint Denis, tomorrow.” She pulled a newspaper from her coat and handed it to him. It was a small column on the side of the front page, but there it was: Colm O’Driscoll was to be hanged tomorrow on the scaffolds in Saint Denis.

“I’ll be damned.” Arthur muttered, unsure how to process this on top of everything else.

“I’m gonna make sure that son of a bitch swings.” Sadie said, determined. “You comin’ with?”

“I-”

“No.” Elijah interrupted him before he could so much as think about it. “We barely made it out of Lemoyne alive thanks to Dutch. You’re not heading back and risking a massive bounty on your head for some bullshit revenge. Out west there’s not a damn soul that cares about him. Let it go.”

“He’s been on the scaffold more than most.” Hosea pointed out as he sat at the front of the wagon. “Wouldn’t be surprised if he slips away again.”

That’s why we’re goin’.” Sadie drawled. “Look, I’m goin’ no matter what you do, and I’m ridin’ out right now. If we ride fast, we can make it before tomorrow mornin’ and be back in Strawberry the day after. It’ll be no more than a two day delay.”

Arthur, for his part, didn’t care enough about what Colm had done to him to want revenge, but Dutch… Dutch had cared so much. 

If Dutch couldn’t get peace through parlay, he would get eternal peace through Colm dying with him, Arthur decided.

“Fine.” Arthur said. “Let’s go.”

“Then I’m coming with.” Elijah growled, struggling to make it off the cart. Arthur blocked him and took his hands.

“I gotta see this through, boy, and you’re in no state to come with.” He pressed a single kiss against his forehead and went to get Styx. Charles rode up to them and looked down to Elijah.

“I’ll go in your stead.” He said. “Make sure things don’t get crazy.”

That, at least, seemed to appease Elijah a little bit. “Don’t let it turn into a bloodbath, Charles.”

“I’ll try. I promise.”

Hosea sighed dramatically. “Well. We’d best find a new place to set up camp, then.”

“There’s a nice bit of forest south of Strawberry.” Arthur suggested. “That oughta be fine for a day or two.”

Hosea waved him goodbye with two fingers. “Very good. Good luck, all three of you.”

With that Arthur, Charles and Sadie set off towards Saint Denis one last time, if not to end the feud forevermore, then to allow Dutch to truly rest in peace.

Chapter Text

Arthur was getting too old for this stupid shit.

It had rained on the morning of Colm’s hanging. Sadie had dressed up as a lady of high Saint Denis society while Charles and Arthur had suited up. Sadie had suggested they dress up as lawmen until Charles had asked her about the likelihood of them hiring a black and Indian lawman. She had acquiesced to the suits just fine, in the end.

Knowing that Colm had escaped the noose more than once they had been wary of any O’Driscolls hanging about. When Charles had pointed up towards the rooftop opposite the scaffold where another O’Driscoll was getting ready, Arthur had known this was not going to be a pleasant day. Among the crowd they’d spotted at least two more O’Driscoll boys and Arthur thought them fools to dress so obviously in a place like this.

Now, as he made his way across the slippery roof tiles of a Saint Denis art gallery, he was beginning to doubt whether coming along with Sadie had been such a bright idea. On the one hand, they’d finally get to see Colm swing. On the other hand, if they got into a gunfight in the middle of the city, there was no telling how fast the Pinkertons would be back on their trail. Not to mention, well… He’d wanted to see it through in honour of Dutch’s memory, in spite of the fact that Dutch was now dead and their ridiculous feud had died with him. Even so, Arthur couldn’t help but feel that letting Sadie go on her own would have been an even worse idea. There was a voice in his mind that sounded suspiciously like Dutch that kept telling him to see it through just one last time.

And of course, there was Elijah’s voice calling him a goddamn moron, too, but Arthur didn’t need him to tell him that just now. Not when every time he put his foot down onto a new tile he had a small heart attack when he felt the tile slip before it held fast. He was nearing the roof terrace where they’d last seen the O’Driscoll setting up and Arthur could see his rifle lying on the ground. Arthur wanted nothing more than to get off the rooftop and onto the terrace before he fell to his certain death below, but he had to wait for the O’Driscoll to reappear or it would be pointless. He wasn’t about to be caught unawares twice in a row by those Irish bastards. 

After what felt like an eternity, the O’Driscoll walked out of the building across from Arthur’s and settled down by his chosen sniper’s perch. Arthur had been so cramped trying not to slip off the roof that it was agony to get moving again, but he just about managed to climb down silently. The dirt on the terrace crunched underfoot as he sneaked up on the man with his hand on his knife, but he didn’t seem to take notice as he was focused solely on Colm standing by the scaffold below. That distraction served Arthur just fine, and without further ado he plunged his knife into the man’s neck. With a sickening gurgle he collapsed to the ground, bleeding out and choking on his blood while Arthur took the rifle and got ready. Sadie and Charles breathed sighs of relief below, nodding their heads at Arthur instead of waving. When Colm was brought onto the scaffold to the cheers of many of the onlookers, Charles and Sadie mingled with the crowd, keeping close to the two O’Driscolls they’d spotted earlier.

“Well, Colm…” Arthur muttered to himself as he looked through the scope on the rifle. “There goes your escape plan…”

The man who’d brought Colm on was speaking.

“Fair citizens of Saint Denis!” He began. “For as long as any of us can remember, it is justice that separates us from barbary. Yet justice itself can at times be barbaric.”

He turned back to give Colm a dirty look. “For sometimes a man is so savage, the only way to deal with him justly is by savagery. Colm O’Driscoll is one such man.”

Lawmen pushed Colm forward until he was underneath the rope which was swinging ominously overhead. The man kept speaking.

“He has murdered, tortured, robbed, stolen, raped, and abused for a decade across five states. Seemingly with impunity. Today, justice catches up with him!”

Colm, still ignorant of what had happened on the rooftop, cackled like he was not about to meet his maker. “As well you may! I’ve been a baaad man!”

“Silence!” The man bellowed, to which the lawmen gagged Colm. “This is not a court in which you shall be tried. This is a place where your sentence is to be carried out, and your sentence, Colm O’Driscoll, is that you are to be hanged by the neck until you are dead.”

Sadie and Charles rushed forward, grabbing both O’Driscoll boys from the back and putting a gun each to their heads. 

“Don’t you damn well move.” Sadie hissed.

“Easy now.” Charles said calmly. 

Through the scope, Arthur saw that Colm had noticed the both of them. Though he was surely unfamiliar with both, it was clear his own boys weren’t going to be able to help him. Fear began to creep through his confident exterior, until he remembered that there was another backup and turned his eyes towards the roof hopefully. 

Arthur stood and waved at him from where he was kneeling with the rifle to his shoulder. Despair fell over Colm like an icy bucket of water. 

Realising that every single one of his plans had been foiled, Colm began to tremble with the terror of a man who knew he was drawing his final breaths. Sweat beaded above his brow and his chest heaved with each ragged, terrified breath. 

“This is not a task we take lightly.” Spoke the man at the front of the gallows while the lawman affixed the noose around Colm’s neck. “It is not a task we enjoy, but it is a task we must carry out if our civilisation is to prosper.”

Colm was frantically looking around for a way out, any way at all, but there were none. 

“Gentlemen, are we ready?”

The lawmen gave the affirmative.

"Colm O’Driscoll… May God, in his infinite wisdom, have mercy upon your soul." 

He gestured towards the lawman to let him fall whenever they were ready. Arthur held his breath.

The lawman pulled the lever and Colm fell through the scaffold, legs twitching until he was, at last, completely still. 

Tell Dutch I said hi, Arthur thought solemnly. 

It was the end of Colm O’Driscoll, but the start of complete chaos at the gallows. Not because the crowd was rowdy, not because the O’Driscolls had decided to shoot the lot of them, but because Sadie was apparently overcome with rage and had shot her captive in the head. Arthur heard Charles shout something incomprehensible as the crowd dispersed in all directions. Sadie shot Charles’ captive, too, and O’Driscolls came crawling out from behind trees and fences. 

Arthur had the benefit of distance and a massively powerful scoped rifle, so he wasn’t too worried for himself. Charles and Sadie were on the ground and all he had to do was clear a path for them. It was a matter of aim, shoot, load and repeat while Charles and Sadie tried to get a clear shot in. His suspicions of something going on between the two were confirmed the moment he saw Charles pull Sadie in close to shield her, with Sadie pulling Charles down and into cover a moment later. 

“Go!” Arthur shouted as he shot another one down, waving his hand wildly. “Get outta here!”

Sadie peeked around the corner of their hiding spot and made a mad dash for a nearby wagon, pulling Charles with her. A bullet whizzed past Charles but caught Sadie in her arm, sending her stumbling for a moment before she gritted her teeth and pushed through, using her good arm to climb up onto the wagon. Arthur found and took out the shooter while Charles took the reins and shouted the horses into action, whipping the rains hard. The horses neighed, reared slightly and sprinted off. Arthur would catch up with them later, after he’d gotten out safely. Lawmen were pouring into the streets and Arthur crawled down behind the half wall he’d been perched behind, abandoning the rifle. He kept close to the ground as he made his way to the door he’d seen the O’Driscoll walk out of and opened it. The inside of the building was silent and Arthur carefully made his way inside, closing the door behind him. 

He took a moment to breathe: at long last, it had ended. Contrary to Dutch’s wishes though, both he and Colm were dead. Arthur wondered if it ever really could have ended any differently. The world hadn’t wanted men like them for some time now.

Arthur briefly wondered when he’d stopped thinking of himself as one of them. He’d just shot about a dozen O’Driscolls, so he supposed he wasn’t, really. It was just that once the philosophy surrounding the outlaw lifestyle had stopped making sense, so had most of the aspects of that lifestyle. There were still things he held true and dear to his heart: the poor were not less deserving than the rich, some people deserved to die and the law simply was not inherently just. 

For at least an hour, he hid inside of the building until he thought it was safe to leave. He left through the back entrance of the building which led into a small pavilion instead of the street. Through the alleyways he made his way back to where he’d stashed his own clothes at the saloon. There was law everywhere but they didn’t seem to be paying an awful lot of attention to Arthur, not even when he came back out of the saloon in a completely different outfit than he’d been wearing when he went in.

In his mind he was quietly grateful for the fact that Dutch had never lived to get this close to Saint Denis. He was sure he wouldn’t have been even half as anonymous if they had.

He rode Styx like the wind, wishing to leave the stinking city and its lawmen far behind and return instead to the forests near Strawberry where his family was waiting for him to return. First, he had to catch up to Charles and Sadie. He hadn’t seen their horses by the saloon anymore, so he’d assumed they’d gotten themselves a head start. 

Styx, though, was a much faster horse, and it didn’t take long before he’d caught up to them. Sadie’s arm had been bandaged and Charles rode closer to her than Arthur was used to seeing him do. It looked to Arthur like he was protecting her, and Arthur couldn’t help but smile: if there was one woman in the world who no longer needed protecting, it was Sadie Adler.

“Took you long enough.” Sadie told him when he rode up. “You make it out okay?”

“Yeah. Hid in an apartment for a while, they weren’t even payin’ attention to me by the time I left. Once the shootin’ died down I reckon they was mostly preoccupied with gettin’ the last of them O’Driscolls outta the way.” Arthur replied with a shrug of his shoulder. “How’s that arm?”

“It’ll be fine.”

“I’m sure. You made it out just fine, then?” Arthur asked her, leaning over his horse to see Charles.

Charles sighed. “Yes, though it took a lot of riding around town to lose the law and make it to the saloon to change clothes. They definitely saw us. I just hope they won’t chase us.” 

“I doubt it.” Arthur said. “We ain’t shot nobody but O’Driscolls. Far as they’re concerned, we did them a favour.”

“I hope you’re right.”

Sadie scoffed. “It don’t matter, anyway. We’ll be halfway across New Mexico by the time they’ve cleaned that mess up enough to send anyone after us, anyhow. I ain’t worried.”

“Gotta make it across them mountains first.” Arthur pointed out. “And winter’ll be upon us soon.”

“Whatever happened to those bison pelts?” Charles asked, suddenly. Arthur didn’t actually know.

“I know Elijah cleaned ‘em, but I ain’t sure if they was turned into blankets or anythin’. He mighta made a coat for himself or somethin’.” Arthur mused. “I’ll ask him when we get back.”

“We gotta make it through them mountains before the blizzards hit us again.” Sadie mumbled, not looking forward to another one of those winters. “And we oughta stock up on food again before we go.”

“Let’s not keep them waiting too long, then. At this rate we won’t even make it to Strawberry before winter.” Charles had a small smile on his face that Arthur thought was mostly relief at Sadie being okay and there not being any law on them at present. All in all, it was a mostly successful endeavour.

“Let’s ride.” Arthur said. “I got someone waitin’ on me, too. Sure he’ll chew me right out the moment I get there.”

“You need me to protect you?” Sadie asked with a sly smile.

“Nah.” Arthur grinned back. “Reckon I can handle him just fine,”

I hope you can rest easy, Dutch, Arthur thought, ‘cause we won’t be, not for a while yet.

They spurred their horses on and rode hard, hooves thundering like the oncoming storm.

Chapter Text

Arthur was tired. Styx was tired. Sadie and Charles and Bob and Taima were tired. They’d ridden about six days worth of riding in two days and they all needed at least a day’s rest. There was a stiff wind carrying cold rain and they hadn’t exactly dressed for this, so when they finally found the camp hidden in the woods near Strawberry, they were shivering and cold down to the bone. Charles helped Sadie off her horse in spite of her protesting while Arthur tried to warm his cold, clammy fingers. His clothes were soaked through and he wanted nothing more than to curl up by the fire and forget the entire ride.

The bitter cold almost made him wish they’d waited out the worst of the winter in Shady Belle, but part of him felt that waiting for the right moment, the right opportunity, the right circumstances were exactly what had landed them in so much trouble in the first place. Dutch had always been waiting, waiting, waiting… No more. They had to move, come rain or shine. The weather was something they could prepare themselves for, that they could make or buy clothes for to survive through. The one thing they could not shield themselves against, Arthur had come to realise, was the law. He’d spent a life trying to outrun it and it had caught up to them every single time, though they’d made it pretty far.

Well, most of them had, anyway. Not Jenny, nor Davey, Mac, Micah, Sean, Bill, Javier, Karen, Dutch… Of course, he didn’t mourn Micah and he struggled to do so for Bill, Javier and Karen, but the others… 

Charles and Sadie were sitting by the fire, talking. Arthur vaguely noted that there seemed to be some distance between them, but it wasn’t his business, nor did he want to make it his. Lenny was standing guard and greeted him, though everyone else was sleeping. He spotted Hosea sleeping with his head cushioned by the soft moss at the base of a tree and decided that the report could wait until the morning. A couple of tents had been pitched for the others to sleep in, and all was silent in the camp.

Closest to the fire was Elijah’s tent and Arthur’s heart ached to be close to him. He was dog tired and deeply conflicted over whether their trip to Saint Denis had been worth it at all. Would it really have mattered that much if Colm had gone free? Had it been worth the delay in their travels and Sadie getting shot? Had any of it been worth it, period?

Arthur wasn’t sure. In search of answers and warmth, he crawled through the canvas and found Elijah’s familiar, sleeping form.

It felt like coming home.

He didn’t have to do anything to wake him. While Arthur could sleep through a war, Elijah woke at just about anything. Watching him wake up always reminded Arthur of waking a cat: it was never a slow, gentle awakening. He always opened his eyes and focused instantly, or tried to. His eyes were puffy and his hair was a wispy cloud of blonde hair, all poofy up on his head. He couldn’t really see, either. Arthur thought Elijah’s story about being able to see up close ‘just fine’ was big, big bullshit, given how he often squinted at things a mere two feet away if he wasn’t wearing his spectacles, just as he was now.

“Arthur?”

“Yeah, ‘s me.”

With a relieved sigh, Elijah collapsed back onto the bedroll. “Thank God.”

“Yeah, well, God ain't had nothin' to do with it. Now scoot. I’m freezin’.”

Elijah turned over to face Arthur and raised the blanket to let Arthur into the pocket of warmth. Arthur shed his damp clothes and decided he’d get dry ones in the morning. No point going through the wagons in the dark to try and find them now, so instead he just crawled underneath the blanket.

“Mother fucker!” Elijah shouted as soon as Arthur’s chilly fingers touched his waist.

“Told you I was freezin’!” Arthur protested, tangling his legs through Elijah’s even as he squirmed against Arthur’s very cold extremities. “C’mere.”

“If this was a bed I’d kick you right out.” Elijah muttered, teeth chattering as Arthur slotted his cold body against his front, fingers and toes trailing like icicles until they settled. “But I can hardly put you back out into the rain, huh?”

“Won’t you warm up a cold, lonely feller like me?” Arthur replied in a low, soft voice. “I been ridin’ through the cold rain to make it back to you and this is my welcome? I ain’t even get a kiss?”

Elijah snorted but Arthur knew damn well he couldn’t resist when Arthur turned his country charms on him. 

“Fine.” He mumbled, tilting his face up and welcoming Arthur back into his arms with a soft kiss. “You haven’t shaved.”

“Ain’t exactly had the time, what with makin’ sure Colm would swing an’ all that.” Arthur said. He rubbed his bristly cheek against Elijah’s, having worked up a halfway decent beard since they left Shady Belle about a week ago.

“How’d it go?”

Arthur sighed. “He had a backup. Bastard always does. We took care of ‘em. Barely made it outta the city; Sadie got shot and there was law everywhere, but… Reckon we made it out alright. They ain’t seen me, but they saw Charles an’ Sadie alright.”

“Well…” Elijah tapped his fingers against Arthur’s back before rubbing gently, warming him. “Suppose it could’ve been worse… Sadie alright?”

“Yeah. She’ll be fine. She’s got Charles lookin’ out for her.”

That made Elijah laugh, softly. “He still hasn’t given up?”

“What you mean?”

“Ahh, just… Sadie isn’t ready for him yet. She still feels guilty every time she looks at Charles and feels… Something like she felt for Jake, I guess. Feels like it’s disloyal to his memory.”

Arthur understood that, on some level. “Shame to be hung up on a ghost…”

“I felt the same when my mother died.” Elijah admitted. “I felt guilty whenever I laughed or didn’t think about her for a moment… I felt guilty every time I had to look at her picture to remember what she looked like. Sadie doesn’t even have a picture of Jake, all she’s got is memories… All she’s got is-... Ghosts.”

“You reckon she’ll ever…?”

“She might, she might not. It’s up to Charles how long he wants to wait for her.”

“Charles is a patient man.” Arthur said. “He’ll hold on for a while yet.”

“Fire and water, those two.” Elijah chuckled. “We’ll see.”

Arthur hummed in agreement and burrowed closer, holding Elijah flush against him. He buried his nose in that fluffy blonde hair and inhaled the scent of him, glad to be lying down at last.

“So, Colm’s dead?” Elijah asked him after a little while. 

“Yeah… I know you ain’t wanted me to go, but… I had to see it through, for Dutch.” Arthur felt conflicted even as he said it. “But I ain’t sure if it was worth it.”

“Why? He’s dead, you’re alive… I didn’t want you to go, but it’s a best case scenario, as far as I’m concerned.”

“Just… All I ever done was for Dutch, and I just ain’t sure no more if he would’ve done the same for me.” Arthur turned over onto his back; Elijah followed, pillowing his head on Arthur’s chest. “He weren’t a good man. I always… I always knew we was bad men, but I…”

“But you thought that at least to you, Dutch was good.”

“Yeah, and lookin’ back… I ain’t so sure no more, is all. I’m glad I saw Colm swing and that we ended it for good, only felt right that they should both...”

“Get their just desserts?”

Arthur sighed, long and deep. “I ain’t sure Dutch… Deserved it, like that…”

“But?” Elijah yawned.

“I dunno. Maybe I’m just tired.”

“You don’t have to know.” Elijah mumbled sleepily. “People are rarely all good or all bad, mostly they’re just people. Even… Even my father, who made mine and my brother’s lives into living hells, wasn’t all bad.”

Arthur doubted that very much, based on what he knew. “Weren’t he?”

He felt Elijah shake his head on his chest. “No. He was a man who kicked his children, threatened to kill them, to light them on fire, who broke my brother’s nose when he was eight and who-... Well. I’ve mentioned.”

“You have.” Arthur murmured, pulling him in closer. “You ain’t gotta talk ‘bout that right now.”

“But… He was also a man who sat with me when I was sick and sneaked me candy. He was a man who played little puppet shows with my stuffed animals to make me laugh.” He yawned again, jaw popping so loud Arthur could hear it. “Point is, I don’t think my father was a good man at all, but he still did things that made me happy, sometimes… I know he was a bad man, but it took me a while to get there. You ain’t gotta know right now.”

Somehow, it had been exactly what Arthur had needed to hear. He had twenty years of Dutch to unravel in his mind and already he knew a lot of it was going to make him feel even angrier than he already was.

“I been angry for as long as I can remember.” Arthur mumbled absent-mindedly. “I was angry when my momma passed away and I was angry when I watched my daddy pass away, ‘cause it weren’t soon enough. Even after Dutch picked me up, I was angry… I still am. I wish I knew how to not feel angry.”

“It’ll come to you.” Elijah soothed him, his hand idly rubbing circles on Arthur’s stomach.

“How d’you know?”

“I watched my father die, too.”

Arthur wasn’t sure why that surprised him as much as it did, or how it related to Arthur’s anger. “How’d he die?”

“Oh, he was a… Portly man who didn’t enjoy much exercise beyond walking up and down the stairs once a day. His heart stopped.” Elijah sniffed and adjusted his head to a softer spot on Arthur’s left pectoral. “And I didn’t try to start it again.”

“Could you have?”

“Yes.”

Arthur supposed he knew why he hadn’t, but… “Why didn't you?”

“Because I thought if he died, all the poison he’d passed onto me would die with him. I thought if he died, I’d stop feeling angry.”

“Did you?”

“No, and that just pissed me off even more.” Elijah chuckled softly. Arthur recognised that feeling, too. “It took years to stop being angry about… Everything, really, but I did.”

“How?”

“I’m not sure. Time heals all wounds, but…” He lifted his head from Arthur’s chest and looked at him, eyes searching Arthur’s face as he thought on his words. “I came to realise I was angry because I knew I hadn’t done anything to deserve what had happened to me. Around the same time I realised that if God had no plan for me, I had to make it myself. Anger became a will to live and over time it just… Slipped away from me.”

And there it was. The material point.

“I ain’t never lived because I wanted to.” Arthur confessed. “I lived just ‘cause I hadn’t died yet.”

“You’re still alive, at that.”

“Am I?” Arthur wondered. “I ain’t sure, sometimes. Often feel I’m just a ghost in a world I ain’t know no more.”

Elijah stared at him with big, sad eyes. “You’ve drifted your whole life, Arthur. It’s no surprise you’ve never known a future, just lived towards the idea of one.”

“Always one more take, just one more…” Arthur sighed. “We had a lead on land once , and when Dutch didn’t come through on it, I weren’t even surprised.”

“It’s real, Arthur. This time, it’s real.” Elijah said with great conviction. “We’ll move as soon as you’re all rested up and head towards Owanjila and beyond… We’re headin’ west, for real this time.”

“What if we don’t make it?” Arthur whispered fearfully. His heart throbbed painfully at the thought. “What if it was all for nothin’?”

“Then we’ll die not knowing the difference.” Elijah replied. “But I’d like to try, all the same. I just want one shot, Arthur, one shot at life. A real one.”

“Was you always this brave?” Arthur asked, only half joking.

“As long as he was alive, my father terrified me.” Elijah said softly. “I’ve been scared for most of my life.”

“What changed?”

“I did.” Elijah said, simply. “I had nothing left to lose and everything to gain, so I did the most terrifying thing of all.”

“What’s that?”

“I lived.”

Arthur gently brushed his knuckles over his cheek, feeling a single tear wet his fingers. “How’d you stop bein’ afraid?”

“Who said I did? By God, Arthur, I’m scared all the time, but… I got a life in return, a free one, even.”

“Is it worth it?” Arthur felt terribly small as he asked it. “You ain’t never wanna… Go?”

“When my father died, he was scared and alone, crying for help that never came… If and when I go, I want someone there to hold my hand.” Elijah shrugged, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. “To get that, I need to live.”

Arthur’s heart was stuck in his throat, but the question presented itself all the same. “Would you hold my hand, if I died?”

“No.” Elijah said, lowering his head to kiss the centre of Arthur’s chest, just over his beating heart. “I’d make sure your heart didn’t stop.”

Chapter Text

Over the next couple of days, everyone in the gang prepared themselves for traveling through the snowy mountains west of Owanjila Lake. It looked like it wasn’t going to be too harsh a winter, but the mountains were unforgiving even during the gentlest of weather. Miss Grimshaw took Arthur into town to stock up on food while Elijah, Tilly and Charles worked together to clothe the gang appropriately. Sure, they’d survived Colter mostly fine, but they had still been bitterly cold.

They could do better. They had the time, resources and money to do better, so they did.

Lenny and Sadie had been the ones to take shifts guarding the camp, John occasionally jumping in. Abigail was exclusively busy with making sure Jack was getting what he needed. He’d been sick during and after their trip down from the mountain the last time and she didn’t want that to happen again.

In the evenings, Grimshaw and Elijah proved to be formidable forces in getting Uncle and Swanson to work. While Grimshaw was busy making sure their stocks were in order and well secured to the wagons, Elijah was working his fingers to the bone sewing coats, hats and gloves for everyone. Neither of them had time to cook, so they set the two arguably most useless people in the gang to work on that, with occasional supervision, of course.

It almost made them miss Pearson’s cooking. Almost, but not quite.

Arthur kept a close eye on Elijah, knowing full well his back had not healed fully and yet, there he was, sat on the ground with a thick needle and leather strips in his hand while he worked on another fur hat. Every now and again he would arch his back against the strain, but it barely helped. He pushed through it all the same, working until his eyes got too tired and his fingers were sore. 

“You gon’ have a hunched back if you keep that up.” Arthur commented one evening as Elijah crawled onto the bedroll and laid down with a pained sigh.

“Hunched backs run in my family, so I guess I’ll resign to my fate early.” Elijah muttered in a strained tone, flexing and arching his back, trying to get the knots and pain out. “At least my lower back ain’t as bad no more.”

“Yeah, but you ain’t doin’ yourself no favours sittin’ the way you do all day.”

“Who else is gonna make the clothes? Tilly can’t do it all by herself.”

“Suppose not.” Arthur sighed. “Turn over.”

“Is that a way to talk to your poor feller?” Elijah sighed dramatically. “Could at least get me dinner first.”

“No, dumbass.” Arthur helped him turn over onto his front. He trailed his hand over that sore, bare back and bent down to kiss his shoulder. “Just tryna help with the pain.”

Arthur moved his rough, calloused hands over Elijah’s back, trying to find the worst of the knots and quickly discovering that his back was locked tight in its entirety with the worst of it centring on his lats. He really had to dig his palms in and push and pull at the muscle with Elijah grunting against the pain to release the worst of it, and even then it didn’t feel right. His spine popped and crackled underneath his fingers, and for all the bones Arthur had broken in his time, this left him feeling far more unsettled.

“Feel better?” He asked, eventually, because he genuinely couldn’t tell and at this point he was sure he had left bruises in his pursuit to make the best of a bad back.

“Mm.”

Arthur laid down next to him, gently stroking up and down his back in long, gentle sweeps. “How much more you gotta make?”

“Just Jack’s clothes… Shouldn’t take me too long, about a day or so.” He yawned and scooted closer to Arthur, which earned him a kiss to his temple. “We’re leaving the day after tomorrow. Charles is gonna hunt for deer tomorrow so that I can salt and pack up the meat for the trip. You should go with him.”

“Why?”

“So that you can stop staring at me while I work. Plus, I think Charles could use a friend, what with Sadie and all.”

Arthur chuckled softly. “I ain’t one to be givin’ out relationship advice.”

“Oh, no. You’re terrible at those.” Elijah joked and Arthur snorted, lightly smacking his bottom.

“Brat.”

Elijah’s grin was as bright as the fire outside. “Ahh, you love me.”

“That I do.” Arthur mumbled, kissing his hair. “That I do.”

The next day there was a nip in the air and Arthur was glad of the new coat. Elijah had made his out of the white bison furs they still had lying around, to Arthur’s amazement. He thought those had been used months ago, but apparently they’d only been cleaned and put to the side. Maybe there had never been enough time. They’d had to move away from Horseshoe Overlook not too long after they went hunting for it, and there certainly hadn’t been any time at Clemens Point.

Now, he and Charles were crouched low by a bush, waiting for the deer in the distance to come within their range.

“So.” Arthur tried awkwardly. “How you been?”

“About the same as everybody else, I think.” Charles replied softly. “Why?”

“Well, you know. Been a rough couple weeks, might even say it’s been a rough couple months.”

“Sure.” Charles agreed. “But we’re moving, and it feels good. Feels like the first thing that’s right for us to do since Blackwater.”

Arthur snorted. “Blackwater felt right to you?”

“No, not exactly. It felt like we had a chance and we did our worst. After that it just felt like we kept trying to change course but never did.”

“Should’ve gone west before we robbed that damn train.” Arthur muttered, knocking an arrow. In the distance, one of the deer was moving away from its group. “Wonder what things would’ve been like if Dutch listened to Hosea instead of the other way ‘round.”

“I know. Think he’s been feeling real guilty about letting it all happen.” He gently laid his hand over Arthur’s bow, silently asking him to hold until the deer was closer.

“Weren’t Hosea’s fault. He tried to tell Dutch an’ he wouldn’t listen.” When Charles let go, he raised the bow and took aim, holding the arrow steady.

“Maybe. I guess we all let it happen, when it comes to it. Well, all of us except…”

“And look how that went down.” Arthur grumbled.

“Now.”

Arthur let the arrow fly loose, hitting the deer right through its eye and killing it instantly. Charles whistled for Taima and picked up its carcass before tying it to his horse.

“One more?” Arthur asked as he checked whether he could still use the arrow. The head seemed intact just fine…

“Yeah, why not? We’ll need all the food we can get.”

They rode around tracking deer for a little while until they spotted some drinking by a nearby stream. They were hiding behind a large rock this time. Charles had knocked his arrow and taken aim when Arthur’s curiosity got the better of him. 

“You an’ Sadie, huh?”

Charles missed the shot and badly at that, spooking the deer into running off. He sighed and got up.

“What about me and Sadie?”

“I noticed the two of you gettin’ close, is all.” Arthur tried for casual but realised he probably wasn’t pulling it off. “Don’t think I ever seen you get close to someone like that before.”

They led their horses and went on foot in search of more deer.

“I like her.” Charles admitted. “And she likes me, but it’s complicated.”

“‘Cause of her feller?”

“Yeah. She still mourns him, and that’s fine. It’s not my place to tell her how to grieve, or for how long.” Charles shrugged. “For now, we enjoy each other’s company.”

“That’s how it started for me, too.” Arthur reminisced. “I ain’t never thought it’d be like this.”

“It’s been good for you. You do well with someone to take care of.”

Arthur wasn’t too sure about that. “Reckon he’s been takin’ care of me, too.”

“You should’ve seen him.” Charles huffed a soft laugh and shook his head as he remembered. “After the O’Driscolls took you.”

“Why?” Arthur wondered. He hadn’t been told about that bit. All he knew was that Elijah had come looking for him on his own.

“It was like watching a wildfire. When Dutch didn’t send for you immediately they had a falling out so bad he ran out of breath screaming at him. Dutch told him to go himself if he wanted to get killed so bad, so he went. He made a map, borrowed some guns and went.”

Given how badly their stand-off had been after Arthur returned, it didn't surprise him that it'd started well before. “Don’t reckon Dutch ever liked him much, really.”

“No, but he respected him… On some level, at least.”

“The dislike was mutual, don’t reckon the respect was.” Arthur sighed. “Elijah ain’t never been a fan of Dutch’s.”

“Can you blame him?” Charles said. “Look; there.”

Deer were grazing between the trees in the distance. Arthur shut up and let Charles take his shot.

“No.” Arthur said when Charles had killed the deer. “Don’t think I can.”

They tied the deer to Styx’s saddle and rode back to camp. Everyone was hard at work preparing for their trek across the mountains: Elijah was fitting the raccoon-fur hat onto Jack’s head with Abigail’s supervision while Miss Grimshaw was busy loading up the wagons with everything they for sure wouldn’t need until the next time they could properly set up camp. To the front of the wagons was everything they did need: food, blankets, tent essentials, warm clothes and a couple pots, pans, plates and utensils for them to eat with. Swanson, not eager to repeat his cooking duty, was applying himself dutifully to packing. 

Uncle was taking a nap.

Arthur didn’t bother waking him up. He was in no mood to have another one of his attempts at dinner, so he and Charles busied themselves with skinning the deer, cleaning the skin and getting the meat ready for salting. The sun was beginning to set and Elijah hurried to put the finishing touches to Jack’s little, warm brown bear fur coat. He was swaddled in it, looking warm and comfortable.

When they lost all the light, Elijah called it a job well done and got to salting the meat and preparing their last proper dinner for the foreseeable future. Arthur stayed close, helping out here and there with chopping vegetables, stealing a kiss in between their dance at the cooking station. He occasionally stole glances in the direction of Sadie and Charles, who were chatting amicably by the fire while Charles checked on Sadie’s wound.

“Spoke to Charles today.” Arthur said as he dumped carrots into the pot.

Elijah stole a leftover piece of carrot in spite of Arthur swatting at his hand. “What about?”

“About the gang, movin’ west… Sadie.”

“What’d he say?”

“That movin’ west feels right an’ how Hosea probably feels bad for everythin’ that happened.”

Elijah hummed noncommittally. “And Sadie?”

“You’re just in it for the gossip, ain’t ya?” Arthur chastised him, grinning.

“Of course.”

“He said he understands and that he’s glad of her company. That’s all, really.”

Elijah nodded. “He’s a very decent man.”

“That he is.”

Over a late dinner, Hosea took the time to address what was left over from the gang.

“I know it’s been a rough couple of months and we… We lost a lot of good people.” He began his speech. “I think what happened in Rhodes goes to show that maybe this ain’t the life for us no more. We found that out just a bit late, though… It cost us Dutch.”

There were some sombre but agreeing mumbles from the group. Hosea continued.

“Dutch laid down his life so that we might have another chance at ours. Some of us will never see it. Jenny, Davey, Mac, Micah, Sean… And now Bill, Javier and Karen. None of them will live to see the paradise we - that is, Dutch and I - promised you.”

“It ain’t your fault, Hosea.” Miss Grimshaw interjected.

“This ain’t about that.” Hosea replied. “We’re about to move through the mountains at the start of winter. It’s not too bad right now, but we might get caught in a blizzard again. We might be stuck on the mountain for weeks once more, if we’re unlucky. My point is… If you don’t want to, if you’d rather have your shot at life right here… Then please, don’t stay on my account.”

A hush fell over the group. Arthur could feel his heart beating in his chest, telegraphing a loud, clear, resounding No.

“I ain’t goin’ nowhere, old man.” Arthur said defiantly.

“Me neither.” John agreed.

“I ain’t goin’ anywhere without John and Jack.” Abigail said.

One by one everyone voiced their desire to stay despite the odds. Even Sadie said she’d be glad to travel if it meant leaving this place.

Hosea was stunned, but touched. “I’ll do everything in my power to get us all to safety. We are… A family. We’re gonna make it.”

“Hear, hear!” Elijah shouted, raising his glass. The others followed, and the sound of cheering followed Arthur into his dreams until he no longer felt afraid of allowing his new life to begin.

The caravan rode out in the morning when the dew was still fresh on the pine trees, drops of water sticking to their fur coats like liquid crystals. The cold fog was close to the ground and the world was silent.

Their journey west had begun.

Chapter Text

The mountains were far less kind to them than Arthur had hoped them to be. Past Owanjila Lake they’d had to travel through rugged, foggy hills, manoeuvring the caravan through tall, bare trees. Branches got caught in the canvas wagon covers and it was a struggle to keep the wheels from getting caught behind fallen trees and stumps leftover from all the logging in the region. And of course, this was well before they’d even made it to the Sacramento Mountains. 

Between Arthur, Charles and Sadie heading back to Saint Denis, their return and the subsequent days of preparation, it had slowly become early November. As they followed barely defined roads through the mountains the air got colder and thinner, though the elevation wasn’t too steep and they weren’t rising all that quickly, The horses managed mostly fine now that they had less people to support, but the amount of snow they had to trudge through was still severe. 

Most of them had elected to not ride their horses and to have them pull the wagons instead. Their entire lives plus stocks for the coming weeks had been loaded into the wagons and they needed all the horsepower they could get. They had Lenny in the very back guarding the caravan, sitting in the back of John’s wagon, while Arthur and Hosea rode at the front with Elijah resting his back in the wagon, huddled into his bear coat. Snow was dusted all over their furry clothes and the horses before them as they trekked through the mountains during the light afternoon snowfall. 

“Let’s hope we can find a place to camp in this mess before it gets too dark to continue.” Arthur grumbled, pulling his coat closed tight against the cold. “I ain’t lookin’ to sleep in this pass.”

“Been a while since I came through here, but if I remember correctly there oughta be a clearing not too far from here.” Hosea replied, squinting to see through the shimmering flakes dancing before his eyes. “We should make it there before nightfall.”

“How long you think it’ll take us to make it through to the other side?” Arthur asked him. He didn’t want to spend a second longer freezing his ass off than he absolutely had to. “We’re makin’ decent time, I reckon.”

Hosea coughed twice and cleared his throat. The cold wasn’t especially kind to him either. “Shouldn’t take us more than a couple days, if the weather’s kind. If we get caught in another blizzard, well…”

“Then it’ll be a cold few weeks.”

“Exactly.”

Arthur heard Elijah sigh dramatically from behind him. “God help us all.”

“God can’t save you now, dear boy.” Hosea laughed. “You’re a long way from a church.”

Elijah scoffed. “All the church ever saved me from was smelling the shit in the streets.”

“Amen.” Arthur agreed, to Elijah’s amusement. 

They’d been riding for hours at this point. The sun had risen in the morning and promptly disappeared behind a thick blanket of grey and white clouds. The moment they’d started climbing the mountain, it had started snowing. Arthur almost missed the muggy heat of Saint Denis, but only almost. He’d die before returning to that God forsaken city even once more.

Unless it was to visit Kieran, Mary-Beth and their child, one day. For now, Arthur was going to stay as far away from that city as humanly possible. He couldn’t bear to think about all that had happened there, both good and bad. All he wanted for now was to not lay eyes on it again anytime soon. Instead he longed for grassy fields and trees as far as the eye could see with fertile soil beneath his feet.

He wondered what Dutch’s paradise had looked like in his mind’s eye. The man had always spoken of purchasing land and creating their own paradise, but what would their lives have been like? Would they have become ranchers, as they were intent on becoming now, or would they have built a couple of ramshackle sheds and continued robbing? Arthur struggled to imagine either of those things and thought that Dutch probably hadn’t ever really thought that far ahead. He’d had a utopian vision of some sort of ‘paradise’ that he’d never developed to the point where it was attainable, and that had ultimately been the problem. They had never truly had a goal to work towards, just - as Elijah had said - the idea of one.

And that had, at long last, finally changed. Arthur had always wanted to settle down in California and Hosea wanted them to all settle somewhere viable more than anything: somewhere they could actually live off the land and not have to resort to robbing once more. Hosea had suggested the Central Valley. From there, they’d have to actually find land to own. That was probably easier said than done, but Arthur felt peace returning to him every time he realised they had a filthy little diplomat sitting right there in their wagon.

They’d be fine, against all odds.

The mountain rose up high on either side of them, the snow falling through and into the pass. A single wind cut through, howling past the stone and chilling them to their bones. The snow was fine; it was wet and cold and tedious, but it was nothing like the wind cutting past their faces. It rattled the wagons and their contents, and on one particularly narrow turn, Arthur heard wood splinter and Uncle shouting while Charles told him to shut up. 

Arthur stopped the wagon and went to investigate.

“What happened?” He asked, though he really didn’t need to. The wagon wheel had gotten caught on the turn and had twisted upwards bad enough to dislodge the hub.

“I let Uncle take the reins for a moment.” Charles answered succinctly while he tried to investigate the wheel. 

“Oh, now it’s my fault!” Uncle protested, cheeks red with either cold or alcohol. 

“It is.” Charles responded. “Think you can get this back on, Arthur?”

“I ain’t sure. I can fix it temporarily but we really oughta get it seen to proper the moment we set up camp.” Arthur felt around and was relieved to find that the hub hadn’t broken entirely, it had just fractured slightly. They could repair that just fine, if the wagon survived until they made it to camp.

He and Charles pushed and pulled until the wheel was squarely on the ground again, after which they and John pushed against the other side to get the wheel to stick in straight again. The contents of the wagons clinked and shuffled until the wheel finally gave way.

“Alright, that should do it.” Arthur mumbled. “You take care of that thing now, Charles. I’ll go ask Hosea how much longer we got to go.”

As Arthur walked back to their wagon at the front, he saw Hosea leaning out from where he was sitting.

“Everything okay?” Hosea asked. 

Arthur climbed back onto the wagon and took the reins. “Yeah, but we oughta fix that wagon up when we set up camp. How much further we gotta go?” 

“Not too far now.”

For a moment, Arthur had been afraid they were not going to make it before it got dark, and darkness in the mountains with a thick layer of clouds covering the moon was significantly worse than, say, the dark out on the open range. Fortunately, they did make it to the clearing just as it was starting to get properly dark. Miss Grimshaw, seemingly tireless as always, got about organising the camp with Tilly and Swanson while Charles and Uncle unloaded the worst of the weight from their wagon. Elijah got to work on preparing their campfire, and it was almost like nothing had changed. They were missing some folk, but the gang worked as hard as it ever had.

Funny how that works, Arthur thought to himself.

Repairing the wagon was a more tedious task than he’d envisioned: the wood hadn’t splintered too badly but he still had to secure it to keep it from getting worse. Fastening iron clamps around it was nigh impossible in the dark, lying on his back underneath the wagon, but he managed. Just about.

“Can’t guarantee it won’t break again if you pull ‘nother stunt like that, Uncle.” Arthur said as he crawled out from under the wagon. “You’d best leave the drivin’ to Charles from now on.”

Uncle was revoltingly affronted. “Listen, I told him it weren’t a good idea to hand the reins over to someone with terminal lumbago, but he wouldn’t listen to reason! You know how he is.”

“Yes, I do know.” Arthur grumbled, getting into Uncle’s face. “He’s smart an’ knows how to drive a wagon, unlike you, you old fool.”

“You always were a sourpuss, Arthur Morgan.”

“An’ you always was a drunken bastard. Now you go an’ load that wagon back up.”

Uncle’s protest died down quickly when he saw Charles, John and Arthur staring him down. The former three loaded up the wagon, making short work of it between the three of them, while Arthur went and helped Elijah get some sort of cooking station set up. If they could even have a small bowl of beans and meat, Arthur would be grateful.

Of course, when they eventually did get their beans and meat, Arthur almost wished he’d stuck to a can of peaches instead. In spite of Elijah’s best efforts to make the sludge taste edible with the aid of some leftover herbs, it mostly just tasted of salted meat and beans.

It was preferable to starving, he supposed. Even Elijah appeared to be struggling to eat his own food. 

The fire was fighting to stay lit in the cold wind, even with Sadie periodically adding some wood to it. It was all they had for light and the fending off of potential predators, though Arthur doubted they’d run into wolves just now. If they did, they could always send in John: he knew how to handle the beasts by now, surely?

There was barely any warmth from the fire that Arthur’s tent had managed to maintain, and he and Elijah were huddled together underneath a large bison fur and their blanket. Their dripping, cold fur coats had been put on top to dry and warm them at the same time. 

“You think we’ll make it?” Arthur asked, unsure why.

“Sure.” Elijah yawned, breath fogging in the cold tent. “Given that the alternative was some dump near Saint Denis, I’d say we’re doing alright.”

It made Arthur laugh, at least. “You sayin’ you prefer this to livin’ in the city?”

“Say whatever you want, but I’m still from northern Europe and I spent most of my time in this… Wonderful country… Up north in New York. I’m used to snow, rain and wind, not cities like Saint Denis.”

“You know we’ll be travelin’ through Arizona, right?” Arthur pointed out. “Still a fair bit hotter than Lemoyne was.”

“Goody.” Elijah remarked drily. “Well, I’ll retract my previous statement: you’ll make it, I'm going to die.”

“You’ll be fine.” Arthur said, smiling in spite of himself. “So long as we don’t run into outlaws, a blizzard or a fire.”

Elijah snorted and laughed. “Outlaws? In 1899? Of course not.”

While Arthur knew it’d been a joke, it stung all the same. While he was glad to have a future or at least a chance at one to look forward to, it still felt scary and foreign to leave what had been his entire life behind. He’d never known anything else: at least being an outlaw was familiar, even if it was deadly and would have gotten him killed without a shadow of doubt about it. 

“Reckon you’re right.” Arthur admitted, eventually. “Just the blizzard, then, and the fire.”

“Mm.” Elijah hummed in agreement, huddling closer until Arthur felt his forehead press against his chest. “I’d say we’ve survived worse than a bit of snow or fire.”

“Yeah, well… You survived sleepin’ mostly outside durin’ the last blizzard. Some of us almost died just stayin’ inside. Before that, we lost a lotta money in a fire.”

“Really making me wish for the outlaws, here.” Elijah mumbled sleepily.

“Well.” Arthur kissed the top of his head and sighed. “Got what you wished for, didn’t you?”

Elijah didn’t respond, but when Arthur gazed down to look at him, he found that he’d fallen asleep with a smile on his face.

Chapter Text

They were at most another two days worth of travel removed from reaching the other side of the mountains and at last making it to the plains below when disaster struck. In spite of all their fervent wishing and praying to the contrary, a blizzard came right as they were travelling across narrow roads along the side of the mountain. They were completely exposed to the howling winds and the viciously cold snow as it came down onto them, their horses and their wagons like the very sky was descending. Every last one of the thick pelts that had been gathered in the days before their departure from Strawberry had been utilised to keep folk warm and dry. 

Hosea, unable to withstand a cold as severe as this at his age and in his condition - God knew what exactly was wrong with him, but Arthur knew he’d been doing poorly since Horseshoe Overlook - had traded places with Elijah on the wagon: Elijah drove alongside Arthur while Hosea rested inside, mostly shielded from the snowstorm raging just outside the canvas.

“This goddamn snow.” Arthur grumbled for the tenth time that day, shivering even in his warm coat. “We’re barely makin’ progress and the damn horses are gettin’ tired. I ain’t sure how we’re gonna make it through like this.”

Elijah, nose fiercely red, teeth chattering and without his spectacles, for they only made his vision worse in current conditions, nodded. “We can’t go back. The only way is forward, no matter what that means.”

“I know.” Arthur agreed, wiping the cold snow from his beard. He was grateful to not have shaved now: the cold wind was much more bearable with a thick beard covering most of his face. “I’m just hopin’ you got a plan to keep us goin’.”

“Oh, sure.” Elijah said, chuckling softly. “My plan is to simply not stop moving. It’s worked for me for years.”

“And if them horses stop moving?”

“If it should come to that, I’ll revise my plan then.”

Arthur laughed even though he shouldn’t have. “You’re startin’ to sound like Dutch.”

“Ridiculous. That implies he had a plan to revise.”

They shared a look and smiled to themselves. With little else to warm him, Arthur was glad to at least have some mirth among the complete tragedy of travelling in weather like this. Even when the wind rattled the wagons and made Arthur wish for even one ray of sun, one brief respite from whatever circle of Hell they’d landed themselves in this time, that small comfort held fast.

“Y’know,” Arthur said to him as they drove on. “Six months ago we was ridin’ through a blizzard just like this one, on the run from them damn Pinkertons after Blackwater. We’d been runnin’ for weeks, we was tired, hungry, cold… An’ I am cold and tired now, but we ain’t starvin’, we ain’t on the run… So much changed.”

Elijah looked at him, the thick leather cowl he was wearing underneath his hat flapping in the wind, wet hair stuck to his forehead.

Arthur sighed and shrugged. “Guess I was so busy wishin’ things were different that I ain’t realised how much was changin’ right in front of me.”

“You were one of the people changing things, at that.” Elijah pointed out.

“I guess, I was just tryin’ to do the right thing.”

Elijah raised his eyebrows. “If I’d told you we’d be having this conversation right now six months ago, you would’ve shot me.”

“Yeah, well… What I think is right now and what I thought was right back then is different things, ‘s all I’m sayin’.”

“It’s not a bad thing to change, Arthur.”

“Did I change, though?”

“Sure. You grew, that’s change, too.”

Arthur scoffed. “The only damn thing that’s grown about me is my beard.”

Elijah snorted and shook his head, looking ahead at the horses. “If you say so.”

Arthur vaguely heard some shouting behind them. He turned and leaned out from the wagon to find that Sadie was desperately trying to make her way through the snow to their wagon at the front. Arthur handed the reins to Elijah and hopped off, trudging through the snow that was up to his damn knees.

“What’s goin’ on?” He shouted against the wind.

“Uncle’s damn wagon’s broke again!” Sadie shouted back. “It won’t budge!”

Shit.

He and Sadie moved back past the two wagons behind Hosea’s and found Uncle and Charles trying to get the stuck wheel to move, but it wouldn’t. Not even an inch. 

“The hell did you do?!” Arthur admonished Uncle.

“I ain’t done shit!” Uncle responded heatedly. “You just did a shit job repairin’ the damn thing!”

Charles moved to calm Arthur down before he could punch Uncle the way he so badly wanted to. “We can’t repair it here. It’s too dangerous.”

“God damn it. Well what the hell else are we gonna do?” Arthur walked around the wagon, hoping for a solution to magically present itself. “John’s god damn wagon can’t move past with this one in the way, and what about our damn things?”

As if on cue, he heard little Jack coughing from inside John’s wagon, followed by Abigail’s mildly panicked attempts at soothing him. Arthur rubbed a hand over his face. “Alright… Alright. Charles, Uncle, start emptyin’ that wagon.”

“Then what?” Uncle protested. “Where’s it all gonna go?”

“The other god damn wagons, you moron.” Arthur motioned to Sadie. “Get Tilly and Miss Grimshaw, set up a line so we can move things quickly. We ain’t got no choice. We’ll cut Nell and Taima free as soon as it’s empty.”

Sadie nodded and went to get both of them while Elijah walked up to Arthur. “What’s up?”

“Wagon’s stuck, we’re gonna have to let it go.” Arthur sighed. “Listen… Jack, could you go check on him while we get this done?”

“Of course.” Elijah squeezed his hand briefly and made his way to the wagon in the very back. Moments later, Lenny joined them in emptying the wagon and relocating their possessions to the others. 

It was taxing and unforgiving work. As they trampled on the snow it hardened and became slippery underneath their feet. It was exhausting to have to mind their footing while carrying heavy barrels, boxes, furniture and food across a narrow mountain path. The snow didn’t let up either, covering their fronts and backs as they walked back and forth between Uncle’s wagon and the others. It was a huge hassle to distribute things evenly without overstuffing the other carriages, but they just about managed. They were forced to say goodbye to the table they’d had for so long, abandoning it to the cliffs and watching it tumble down and crash below. The rest of their things were saved and the horses were cut free. 

“Alright, well… At least this bit is easy.”

Arthur, Charles, Sadie, Lenny and John pushed the wagon as hard as they could, tilting it until its weight caused it to tumble sideways and off the road, plunging into the depths below and crashing violently upon the stone. They’d had that carriage for years. Arthur tried not to feel hurt for a thing when he had so many living, breathing people to take care of.

They had no way to hitch the horses to John’s wagon right now, nor anywhere to leave Uncle and Charles now that the wagons were so full. Everyone was halfway to being frozen by the time they were finally done and Arthur was in no mood to devote a lot of thinking to this particular predicament.

“Just ride. We ain’t got much choice.” Arthur decided.

“You can’t expect me to ride in this with my lumbago!” Uncle whined, painfully unaware of the severity of their situation.

“You’ll have more than lumbago to worry about if you don’t get on that horse real fast, old man.” Arthur growled. “I ain’t got the goddamn patience to worry about your whinin’ right now.”

Charles almost single handedly hauled Uncle up on his horse, equally out of patience but less outward in his anger. Arthur handed each of them another fur to wrap around themselves to ward off the worst of the snow.

Elijah emerged from John’s wagon, a worried look on his face.

“How’s the boy?” Arthur asked him as they walked back to their own carriage.

Elijah bit his lip and climbed back onto the wagon. “We need to get him warm and dry, as quickly as we can. We gotta keep moving.”

Arthur heard Hosea coughing behind them, pausing to gather his breath to speak. “If we don’t stop soon we’ll all be dyin’.”

“Ain’t none of us dyin’.” Arthur replied, more to himself than to anyone else. They drove on, snow be damned. “Least of all the boy.”

It felt like the weight of the world rested on his shoulders. Arthur worried for Jack, for Hosea, even for Charles and Uncle, riding their horses more exposed to the elements still than they were before they lost the wagon. He worried for the gang as a whole and whether they were gonna make it through at all. It was still a long ride to the plains and even longer in this weather. 

He wasn’t sure how much time had passed when the path turned downwards at last and there was more space to ride, the mountain spreading out before them. It had been scarier than he cared to admit to drive so close to the edge of certain death. Around them heavily snow-covered pine trees rose out of the ground, and they all felt easier for it. It had gotten dark enough to the point where Arthur couldn’t see the snow anymore if it weren’t for the lantern swinging from their wagon. 

That’s all they were, really. To the outsider’s eye they were naught but a series of faded lamplights in the distance, slowly moving forward through the storm, their trail fading moments after they’d left it. Ghosts on a snowy mountain. 

“What’s that?” Arthur said suddenly, squinting. He saw a vague shape in the distance that he couldn’t place.

Elijah reached for his spectacles and put them on, snow almost immediately hitting the glasses. “... Looks like it could be a shed.”

“Only one way to find out.”

They drove over and found a small shed with what looked like a small barn without a door near it. Fencing had been completely broken down with only a few posts still sticking out above the snow. Arthur climbed down, took the lantern and opened the door.

It was empty, abandoned. There was a fireplace that looked like it could be functional and a single bed with torn, dusty covers in the corner. There were a few pieces of furniture strewn about; a stool, a table, a cabinet. It was far from ideal, but it was much better than continuing through the night.

“Hitch them horses in the barn and get in here!”

For how tired and cold they were, the gang worked remarkably fast. Grimshaw and Tilly had a fire going within half an hour while Charles and Lenny took the horses into the barn. Elijah took Hosea inside along with a handful of meat and beans - God help them - and got to work on creating a meal. Abigail had laid Jack on the bed, swaddled in two or three of the driest furs they had.

“We’ll stay here ‘till we can continue safely.” Arthur said. “Ain’t no point in tryin’ to make it down in this.”

“I agree.” Hosea said miserably. He was sitting on a small stool by the fire, desperately trying to warm himself. “We made it this far, but I’m wonderin’ if we shouldn’t have stayed in Shady Belle ‘till spring.”

“No point wonderin’ about that now.” Miss Grimshaw grumbled. “No point at all. We survived ‘till now, we’re gonna keep on survivin’.”

Charles and Lenny joined them inside, drenched with the snow. “Horses are settled. I’ll take first shift.”

Arthur shook his head. “We ain’t need no guards. What the hell’s gonna be out there tryna steal our horses? Rest ‘till tomorrow, it’ll be fine.”

“You sure?” Charles asked.

“We ain’t seen a soul in days.” Arthur shrugged. “Reckon it’s fine.”

Stew - or some semblance of stew - was served hot and hearty. Elijah sat with John, Jack and Abigail as they ate, watching over the boy with eyes like a hawk. He still coughed and he didn’t seem to want to eat much, which worried Arthur, too. Between all thirteen of them and the fire, the shed warmed up quickly and they could lay their furs to dry by the fireplace. Most of them had fallen asleep moments after finishing their bowls of food, comfortable and sheltered. 

Arthur sat against the wall and took his hat off with a heavy sigh. Elijah collapsed next to him and leaned into him, head on Arthur’s shoulder.

“We just gotta make it through the next couple days ‘till this damn storm dies down.” Arthur said. “After that it’ll be fine.”

Elijah nodded, too tired to speak. Arthur let him sleep, and the soothing crackle from the fire paired with the wind rushing past the shed lulled him to sleep soon, too.

They were woken hours later by the frantic neighing of their horses and the sound of barking. It was still pitch black out. Charles was up and out the door with his gun before Arthur had even woken up enough to know what was going on. He heard Charles curse and fire two bullets followed by a series of whines. Arthur stumbled to his feet and grabbed the nearest lantern before heading outside.

“I should’ve taken that first shift.” Charles said coldly. He was standing in the barn in front of Nell’s mangled corpse. The other horses were rearing and stomping their hooves, terrified of the wolves that had snuck in and attacked while they were hitched and had nowhere to go. Nell had been closest to the entrance, unguarded. Arthur held up his lantern and saw two dead, bloodied wolves lying in the snow.

“Shit… We gotta get all that outta here.” Arthur sighed. “I’ll deal with them wolves.”

“Skin them and save the meat. They got into our food, too.” Charles nodded at the wagon that had held most of their food: the canvas had been torn near the back and Arthur could see the meat lying in the snow, partially chewed up. They had a decent amount of canned food, but sugary peaches and beans wouldn’t see them through the next however many days they’d be stuck here. Their rations had already taken a considerable dent because they’d been stuck in the blizzard longer than anticipated, and now this.

They got to work. Arthur skinned the wolves and took their meat, but decided that trying to clean the hides was pointless in this weather and instead buried the carcasses deep in the snow a bit further away from the shed. Charles, Elijah, John, Lenny and Swanson took care of poor Nell, burying her in the snow as well. The ground was frozen solid and too hard to dig a proper grave. Uncle was so desperately sad that for once, he was actually quiet.

Charles ended up taking that first shift after all. Elijah, dog tired but determined, made sure to salt and preserve the meat properly before he all but collapsed in front of the fire, curled up on a now dry bear fur. Arthur, feeling like he could physically do no more that evening, sat next to the fireplace and caught Elijah’s final moments before falling asleep.

“You still think we’ll make it through?” Arthur asked him softly, unsure where else to look for hope.

“... I don’t know.” Elijah replied in a whisper, eyes falling closed.

“No.” Arthur breathed, worry constricting his heart. He supposed it was too much to ask for hope if he, too, couldn't muster any. “Neither do I.”

Chapter Text

They were stuck for days. Snow kept falling and their supplies kept dwindling. It got to the point where Arthur, John, Lenny, Charles and Elijah had stopped eating to make sure the older members of the gang, the women and Jack could eat. They would be fine without for a little bit, and hunting out in this weather was a nightmare. They couldn’t see well enough and the pine forests were dense and difficult to hunt in.

Jack had improved somewhat. He was no longer running a fever but he still had a pretty bad cough. What little herbs Elijah had left were brewed into tea for him to soothe his throat. They’d managed to salvage the smallest jar of honey they’d purchased over in Rhodes months ago, and every sugary crystal was carefully scooped out and put into the tea until the jar was pristinely clean. At least it kept the worst of the cough at bay.

Hosea had recovered from the cold enough to the point where he could at least think straight again. He spent days at the table with a map, trying to figure out where they were and where they had to go to make it to the plains and beyond. Arthur knew he felt a lot of misplaced guilt for taking the gang across the mountains during the winter, but they’d had precious little choice. They couldn’t trust the Pinkertons to not come after them after all if they’d stayed in Lemoyne, especially not after that shootout with the O’Driscolls in Saint Denis… No, it was good that they’d moved, even if some of them were lethargic with hunger while others slowly started to develop cabin fever.

Arthur and Elijah were sitting in the barn, taking a guard shift together. Well, in reality, it was Arthur’s shift: Elijah just needed to get out of the shed for a little while. They were staring outside at the falling snow.

“Not sure if I’m going insane or if the storm’s actually calming down.” Elijah mumbled, tired, dark eyes blinking slowly. “It’s been almost a week… We have to move soon, no matter what.”

“We’re runnin’ outta food… Charles went out to hunt but it were no use in this.” Arthur gestured outside, trying to gauge whether the snow was actually falling slower or not. “Hosea’s tryin’ to find us a way forward even if the blizzard continues for a couple more weeks, but I think it’ll be the death of us to move in this.”

Elijah nodded slowly. “It will be, as we are now.” On cue, his stomach growled loud enough for Arthur to hear. He pulled his legs in closer as if it would somehow make the sound less loud in the barn. Vincent, who hadn’t eaten all that much either, gently rubbed his nose against the top of Elijah’s head in a show of solidarity.

Deep down, Arthur wanted to tell him to eat. He felt he should have been exempt from the other young men not eating, but there was no way to explain that to the others and he knew Elijah wouldn’t take it for the kindness that it was meant to be. All it would do was serve to remind him that he was different from them, and Arthur had no desire to do that.

That didn’t mean it wasn’t torture to watch him like this: hungry, cold, frail, shivering against the breeze even in his thick coat.

“C’mere.” Arthur said softly, extending his hand. Elijah seemed momentarily nonplussed, like he’d been woken from a dream, but scooted across the floor eventually. It’d been a while since Arthur had held him in his arms and it was nice to have his solid weight against him again, even if it came at the price of a cold little nose nuzzling at his neck.

“Can’t wait for you to shave.” Elijah whispered.

“Me neither.” 

His beard has grown long and unruly. Sure, it kept the cold out, but it was inconvenient all the same. He hadn’t exactly kept his tools handy to trim, so it’d have to wait a while. 

Arthur gently rubbed his back, trying to warm him through the thick fur coat. Snowflakes drifted into the barn, melting as soon as they hit the ground. It reminded Arthur of a moment similar to this, though it had occurred some time ago and things had been rather different between them.

Though, if Arthur was being entirely honest with himself, it was the start of ‘them.’

“You remember that night by Lake Isabella?” Arthur asked him, smiling. “You was so cold…”

“And you were so warm.” Elijah’s smile was as bright as the night was dark. “I remember the morning more than the night, though.”

Right, when Arthur had gotten caught staring. “Yeah, well… I thought you was pretty. No harm in lookin’.”

“No harm in taking a man to a Strawberry hotel after getting drenched in the rain, either.”

“Sure ain’t.” Arthur agreed. “No regrets?”

“Plenty of those, just not really where you’re concerned.”

Arthur scoffed. “Really? None?”

“Not particularly.” Elijah snuggled a little closer, shivering no more. “You think I’d want to marry a man I have regrets about?”

Marry. “Shame you can’t ask Dutch for my hand now.” Arthur joked, aiming for levity and landing halfway melancholy. 

“Why would I ask him twice?”

Arthur pulled back to look at him and found that familiar grin, that smirk that spelled ‘got you’ and usually meant Elijah had gotten up to something.

“... When?”

“You don’t remember?” Elijah asked softly. “We shook hands on it.”

Briefly, Arthur’s mind was assaulted with the memory of Dutch’s last moments with the gang, when he’d suddenly broken away from the group to speak to Elijah. Nobody had been able to overhear, but Arthur remembered that handshake: it had seemed amicable, respectful and completely unlike most of their other interactions. Frankly he couldn’t believe Elijah had asked him in that moment. To ask a dying man to marry his… His…

“He told me to take care of you. After he called me an obnoxious asshole, mind.” Elijah shrugged. “So I told him I would. For the rest of my life, if he’d give me his blessing.”

Arthur was reeling. “And you thought he’d say no.”

“He never said yes, either. I just offered my hand and he took it. God knows what that means.”

That sounded a lot more like Dutch. So much so that it made Arthur laugh. “Guess you’ll still have to go by Hosea.”

Elijah laughed too. “Maybe. When he’s less busy. If I forget, I’m sure we’ll manage between the two of us.”

Arthur shook his head incredulously. “I still think you’re insane for wantin’ to.”

“In my defence, you asked me if I would have you.”

“Guess I never expected you to follow through on it.”

“No, but then you never expect nice things to happen to you.”

Arthur huffed a soft laugh. “You’re one to talk.”

They fell silent, content to be tangled together on the barn floor, warm and sheltered.

Outside, the snowflakes tumbled from the sky until the last crystal hit the thick blanket of snow and the storm, at long last, came to an end.

Chapter Text

“Wake up, Arthur.”

Arthur started awake. Hosea was standing over him and Elijah lay sleeping in his lap. If he hadn’t woken up but Arthur had, he must’ve been truly, profoundly exhausted.

“What is it?” Arthur asked quietly.

“We’re leavin’. Storm’s over and we ain’t got no oil baron’s trains to rob, so… To greener pastures we go. Wake him up and get ready, we’re headed out within the hour.”

Hosea smiled at him and Arthur smiled back. He tried not to dwell on how they could’ve been in the very same situation half a year ago and how that would’ve saved them a world of hurt, but then hindsight was always clearer than the present ever seemed. Not to mention, there was no telling what path Dutch would have led them down if they had gone west at the time. 

Arthur watched Hosea leave the barn and found that all the horses had already been taken outside. Had they been so exhausted merely from not eating for a few days that they'd slept right through that ? Evidently they had, as the lightest sleeper Arthur had ever met was still snoring in his lap. Gently, Arthur shook his shoulder to wake him. When that didn’t work, he sighed and pinched his nose.

Elijah was not amused upon waking, staring up at Arthur with dark rimmed eyes and a sour face.

“Mornin’, beautiful.” Arthur said, grinning. “We’re leavin’ soon.”

Annoyance made way for confusion and Elijah turned to look out of the barn, squinting against the bright light and feeling around for his spectacles by Arthur’s hip until he found them and put them on.

“Snow’s stopped falling.” He mumbled, relieved. “Finally.”

“Maybe we’ll finally make it off this damn mountain.”

Arthur stretched and got up, shaking the sleep from his limbs while Elijah slowly clambered upright. He looked gray and faded, Arthur thought. Hopefully they’d be able to find some food soon.

They gathered what little belongings they’d taken from the wagon and packed back up. Uncle sat in Sadie and Swanson’s wagon while Charles rode along with Miss Grimshaw and Tilly. Now that they were one wagon short it was cramped in the leftover carriages, but it would have to do. 

Hosea seemed to be in good spirits and Arthur was glad of it. The last thing they needed was someone preaching more doom and gloom after the week they’d had. Most of them were famished and the rest was antsy and irritable, ready to move far away from the snow and high altitudes. It was high time they hit the road again. 

“C’mon, everyone!” Hosea called, climbing onto the wagon beside Arthur. Elijah was napping in the back, lethargic and tired. “We’re gonna find ourselves a home.”

Those who still had the energy to cheer did so, and their caravan moved forth through the snow once more. The snow and ice crunched underneath hooves and wagon wheels as they drove over the mountain. Hosea had mapped out the trail for them and Arthur was more relieved than he cared to say that they wouldn’t be going past any cliffs anymore. 

“We gonna keep travelin’ once we make it to the plains?” Arthur asked Hosea, trying to distract himself from the feeling of his stomach gnawing at his backbone. 

“I think so. Might set up camp near a town to get some supplies, but I think we can keep movin’. Winter ain’t gonna be so harsh once we get off this damn mountain. New Mexico and Arizona are as bearable as they’re gonna get all year, so we should move through ‘em before spring arrives.”

“Yeah, I ain’t look