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Eyes in the Branches

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She was supposed to hang today.

The rope around her wrist were proof that she was bad on some accounts.

An ungodly one at that.

Two others stood before her, her mother – a kind woman who had taught her everything – and a boy around the same age as her. He was a wild one, said very little when spoken to, and he fought back with the law when he was dragged in by his scruff.

He was caught stealing from a shop; held the shopkeeper at gunpoint like some novice thief. Her mother sure mocked him for his folly, laughing softly at his scrunched scowl.

Then morning came, and the Sheriff came in with the keys swinging from his fingers, “Looks like ya’ll are swingin’ today.”

They walked single file through the mud of the small little farm town, several men walking alongside them and behind them. Annabel stayed in the back, her mother was placed at the front, and the boy – John, she thinks – stands between them.

There’s an energy – an aura that circles around her – and it's calming. Her mother does her best to sooth the deep pit that settled in her stomach and with the comfort she was getting from her, it wasn’t working.

They were going to hang today. After a year of running, they were going to hang.

There was a crowd, and Annabel felt herself starting to cry. Tears dripped down her cheeks, and she could feel the suffocating energy that swirled around her. Too many people, too many eyes, she was going to collapse from the predatory eyes of those spectating. The calls were there, but their voices were muffled; snarls and snaps of wolves were filled in their place.

They were vulnerable; their feet walking up the weathered wooden boards, the creaking feeling like nails on a chalkboard.

This was their end.

This was her end.

“I’m not done yet.” She lets the tears fall, as the Sheriff sneers at her mother. He pushes her forwards, the noose looking like a snake with its fangs ready to latch and swallow their souls.

Her mother always told her witches were meant to be burned; otherwise, the magic that still seeps from their skin could become corrupted from another witch.

“It was the one thing the French got right.” Her mother would joke; morbid humor but there was truth to it.

Her mother’s energy was strong; it engulfed her with powerful barriers as the protective marks and runes that covered her skin burned hot and harsh as her mother tried to push her body’s power into her daughters.

“Today, we ask God to watch over these three degenerates. We hope that they get their deliverance and that he finds it in his heart to give them clemency for the mistakes that they made in this life.” Her mother scoffs a sardonic laugh with venom dripping from her tongue.

“Your God means nothing to me. I will dine in the halls of Valhalla, alongside my ancestors and my Gods.”

The Sheriff could only scowl, unsure how to respond to her sneer.

“Do it.”

Annabel wasn’t sure of the energy that surrounded her when her mother was around; it was a calming energy and she always assumed it to be her own. The energy that swirled around her like willow vines in the wind was merely her own. It was soft, comforting, cooling and warm all the same. It was always around her, always keeping her safe, always something.

Then the deputy pulled the lever and she watched her mom drop quickly. The rope was taut; creaking as she softly swung under the gallows.

That energy dispersed faster than the snap of her mother’s neck. It was cold, then hot, then scorching. Her body felt red, her eyes started to blur, her ears started to ring.

There were gunshots, but the life around her seemed to slow. Blood spilled around her as she stood there, unmoved and catatonic.

Annabel wanted to scream, she wanted to kill everyone there. This was their fault. They did this. They killed her mother.

But she stood there, her body cooling as she started to feel her energy grasp her soul again. Breathless, she gasped as the world around her came back to her. Bodies lay on the ground; on the scaffold and blood seeped, soaked, and dripped into the mud below.

She looked around, her eyes bloodshot and her throat dry. Only four of them stood.

John, and three others. All older.

“Miss!” One of the older men – he had a unique voice, dark hair, a well-kept face, calming eyes – held his hands out to her in an attempt to placate her. She didn’t like him at all, with how his lips moved carefully around the words he thought. “We’re not here to hurt you.”

She feels her feet planted to the soft, worn wood but her mind tells her to run; run away from him.

But then she sees John, trotting behind him with his dirty hair and bruised face.

“She’s a witch, Dutch. She’s gonna curse us or some shit.” He’s quiet with his words, but Annabel could hear him. Ignorance would be his downfall – she knows that – but with the way Dutch scowls at him and how the other two drag him away by his scruff (a popular thing one does to a mutt like him), she feels as if the others weren’t as bad as he.

“I’m sorry about what happened to your mother.” She tries to find her voice; her body; her mind. Anything, at this point as this man – Dutch – gets closer to her. She feels wild; almost feral in a sense of the wolf that runs deep inside her, but she doesn’t snap at his movements.

Instead, she feels her body welcome it in its time of weakness.

“Traitor,” she thinks as the man pulls a knife out slowly. Annabel doesn’t flinch, she knows the power she holds, but she’s tired and weak and hopeless.

Ropes are cut and she notices from the side of her eye the noose move unusually. There’s grunting, some cursing before she hears a body fall lifelessly into the blood-soaked mud.

Her lips move before her mind could stop her, stomping her bare feet down the steps. She slips in the mud as she pushes the two men away from her mother, her small body covering her mother’s body.

“I’ll be damned…” she runs her fingers over her mothers’ cheeks, blinking away the tears that still come from her eyes. “I know this woman.” The older of the two calls out; to whom she doesn’t care much as she sobs into the dead witch’s chest. “I didn’t know she had a child.”

“What are you talking about, Hosea?” there was a clinging sound of spurs as Dutch walks down the steps, his thumbs pressed into his gun belt.

“It was that witch that was settled up in Annesburg, from all those years ago.” His voice sounds familiar, but she pushes down that acknowledgement deep into her chest. “She healed your injuries after that failed robbery you were so confident about.”

“Oh, Mrs. Fletcher. She was a different woman.”

“I hate to break a tender moment, but we need to move before more of the law shows up.” The oldest man leans down to take Annabel’s hand, and in that moment, she remembers them. Her mother hid her under the floorboards for days when they came across their home.

She was barely four years old, bundled into the dark, hidden compartment in their house. Her mother used to keep her spell books, her wooden boxes full of herbs and stones, her wand, and her divination cards down there.

Everything that would be a tell that she was a witch, it was kept a secret under the floorboards.

Just like she was.

“Miss, we must go.”

“She needs to be burned.” Her voice is barely a squeak, and she clears her throat and sniffles. “I can’t leave her body; she needs to be burned.”

“Arthur, take the girl.” She snarls, ready to let a yell out as a man goes to reach for her.

“’s okay, miss. We’ll get you someplace safe, then you can figure out where you wanna go.”

His gloved hand presses against her bicep, gently pulling her up from her mothers’ body. The magic that still leeches from her warm, lifeless body pushes her back as Arthur pulls her away. Annabel looks over her shoulder, as Arthur places an arm around her in hopes to keep her from watching.

Hosea takes a bottle of liquor from his satchel, an amber glass bottle with an amber colored liquid that soaks her mother's dress and seeps into her skin.

She turns away right as Hosea strikes the match on the heel of his boot.

.-.-.

She rides on the back of Hosea’s horse; a sweet, calm stallion with a soft coat. Silver Dollar was sturdy and hearty but smaller than what she would imagine.

“We’ll try to get your stuff back from the town when things die down.” She nods against his back; watching the dust kick up and swirl around them. Her arms gripped his waist as he took a turn slightly too tight, but all she could do was chuckle against his back and all he did was chuckle with her.

His energy was warm – father-like and full of love – and she could soak in his energy until she grows old and dies under the heat. His energy soaks and twirls around not only her, but Dutch whose energy reminds her of strong alcohol and a hearty stew – strong, bold flavors that can only be taken in small, slow bites.

Then there’s John – a mutt of a boy who’s more of a wolf that she is – a boy who called her a witch. She can’t be mad at him for knowing what was true, she’s mad that he’s scared of her when she saw her mother place a protective spell over him. Her mother placed protection over a stranger who was small but with a bite that’s just as big as his bark.

And Arthur – a boy in a man’s body or is it a man in a boy’s body – well, she can’t pinpoint him all that well. He has no energy that surrounds him and if he does, she’s oblivious to the matter. He’s guarded, a little sad, but she’s sure that there’s more to him then what he lets off.

Annabel doesn’t want to admit it, but she wants to get to know him. She wants to know what his energy, his drive and his aura says about his soul.

Hosea pats her hand – the one that gripped his white button up till her knuckles turned white – pulling Silver Dollar to a slow trot as they come up to a small camp with few people. It’s covered by thick, low hanging oak trees with branches and trunks that are gnarled and weaved into unusual ways. The trees have adapted in a way, she thinks as she slowly slides off Silver Dollars romp with Hosea’s hands supporting her.

There’re few people who reside within the comfort of this camp: two woman who converse over a round table, playing a simple game of dominos and a glass of whiskey in each of their hands. Their auras mingled together; twirling and tying a deep-seated knot as a show of their bond. The flow of it all was enough to cause her to gulp down the lump in her throat.

A heavy-set man, balding and stressed over the lack of provisions. He’s rattled, unsure and ready to explode, and she can see that just from the tension in his shoulders. He does his best; she can tell that much but she’s not sure how much credit he’s given within this makeshift home.

When all five of them stepped within the threshold of the camp, one of the women with thick, strawberry blonde hair ran up to Dutch; her drink abandoned in the grass below.

He spins her around, his energy no long bold and instead it softens. He softens for the woman in his arms, allowing them both to mix like honey and tea.

“Come, let me introduce you to Ms. Grimshaw.” Hosea’s hand is placed on her shoulder, his fatherly smile gracing his lips. “Ms. Grimshaw! Come meet our newest guest!”

Annabel feels all eyes on her, and she hunches her shoulder. It’s suffocating, having all of these eyes on her body – as if their peering into her soul.

The runes on her body can’t protect her now.

“My goodness, sweetheart, look at you!” her glass of whiskey is left behind along with the game of dominos as she paces over to her. She’s taller than her, not by a lot, but just enough for Annabel to have to look up. “Where are your shoes!?” she looks down, pulling her dress up to show her feet. She was always slightly pigeon toed, and the idea of shoes always felt like she was taking away a sense of feel.

“I don’t have any.” Her voice is quiet, unsure and unaware of the reaction she’ll get from her – or really any of them.

“Well, we can get you some.” Ms. Grimshaw’s fingers dug slightly into her shoulder and she was pulled away from the comfort of Hosea. “I’ll prepare some hot water, and we’ll sponge you down. Get all that muck off of you.”

She lets Ms. Grimshaw do what she wants; allows her to strip her from her blouse and her bodice. Leather string is unlaced, and her dress falls from her body with ease.

“No corset I see.”

“I can’t run in a corset, let alone hunt.” She covers her breasts from the woman’s eyes before she sits down on the boar skin rug, her knees drawn tightly to her chest.

“You’re a hunter?” Ms. Grimshaw throws the dirty dress over her left arm, along with her bodice and her blouse. Annabel can tell that she’s doing her best not to stare at the deep, blue markings that permanently stain her skin.

“More or less.” She looks down at her feet, taking her fingers to pick at the dried mug under her toenails. There’s a small, awkward silence before Ms. Grimshaw huffs and leaves the tent.

She allows herself to breath; to meditate in the stance that she’s in and she tries to call to her Goddess – to pray – for help in some way. She asks for a clear path to put her back on track. Her fingers twitch and dig into the fur of the boar skin rug under her.

She calls for her Goddess once more, desperate and in need.

All she gets is an ear-piercing headache.

Her body grows numb under the sponge bath that Ms. Grimshaw gives her. Her pulse is rapid in her ears, loud and deafening all the same. It leaves her motionless and emotionless as she relaxes under the warm but firm touch of the woman before her.

Ms. Grimshaw wanted to be a mother, she could tell with how stern she is with John – who was scolded heavily as the water she put on the fire for Annabel’s sponge bath boiled – and she’s stern with Arthur, but he plays himself as a man who understands the world already enough.

She leaves Annabel’s skin covered in goosebumps’ as the hot cloth leaves clean, cold, wet streaks. No matter how much Ms. Grimshaw scrubbed, Annabel will never forget the blood that soaked her dress and skin and the way her fingers ghosted over her mother’s dead body even though it was still warm and alive with magic.

“Are you hungry, dear?” she shakes her head, soft and subtle. A blanket is placed carefully over her shoulders and a fresh outfit was placed on the cot. Ms. Grimshaw said nothing as she left the tent, but Annabel knew there was a subtle hesitation as she swept herself through the tent flaps.

“How is she?” Annabel’s head turned to flaps of the tent, she could hear the whispers between Dutch and Ms. Grimshaw.

“She’s coping with whatever happened.” There was a strike of a match and she could faintly smell a cigarette burning. “She’s got these… markings on her, like someone tattooed her.”

“Do ya think she’ll want to talk?” there was a hum of disapproval.

“I don’t think so. Not with you at least.” A pause, then the stench of smoke filled the tent, “Maybe send Annabelle.”

“I’ll talk to her and see if she’ll do that.”

Annabel dresses herself, slipping the white button up over and pulling the thick woolen skirt over her hips. The belt is pulled tight around her waist and the hem of her dress is tucked up into the belt. The cuffs on her shirt are buttoned up tight, and the collar is tightly buttoned.

She knows that she can’t stay.

Annabel is unprotected in her current situation. Her mother wasn’t there to keep her safe and restrained from the wild sense in her belly. She was untrained with undiluted magic that she wasn’t sure how exactly to harness.

Her mother would always tell her that her magic was… dark. Her mother would scare her into thinking that if Annabel were to stray away from her, she would succumb to the wolf that tears at her guts and ravages her mind.

Her mother described her magic as a curse for witches, and her mother – being a witch with nullifying abilities – was her safeguard with her magic keeping Annabel from falling into the dark pit of black magic.

“Entropaths are terrible witches, but I’m not gonna let that happen to you. You just need to stay with me and listen to everything I say. I will keep you safe. I will keep your magic at bay. I won’t let you fall to the call of black magic.”

Night falls quicker then she thinks, and the waning crescent moon casts a soft light over the oak trees. Her toes dig softly into the soft dirt and green grass, she can hear a woman reading to someone her voice soft and sweet. The men were relaxing around the roaring fire, the smell of roast and cigarettes burning the air.

The earth pulses beneath her feet and the fire that burns in her chest causes her to break into a cold sweat. The energies that swirl around her are so much; before her mother died, Annabel never had to deal with such forces and pressure.

There’s a call from the edge of the woods; a wolf's growl and a hawk’s cry. It echoes around her as her feet drag their way to the edge.

Her vision blurs and her hands shake. Voices start to whisper in a language she both understands and doesn’t, and blood starts to drip from her nose.

“Sweetheart?”

Annabel turns, and the one woman with the thick strawberry blonde hair walks up to her. She was beautiful, with deep hazel eyes and clear complexion. Her lips were stained a pinkish red, and Annabel seemed to think that she was perfect in every way.

She pulled a delicate handkerchief from her sleeve, pressing her left hand on Annabel’s cheek and dabbing the stark white cloth against her nose.

“What happened?” she was motherlike – more so than Ms. Grimshaw – with a smile that never seemed to leave her lips.

“I heard a wolf.”

“I’ll grab Arthur, he’ll take care of it.” The woman’s arm wraps around her shoulder, pulling her away from the dark edge of the forest.

“It wasn’t a real wolf.” Her voice was but a whisper, her eyes casted down to her bare feet. “It was a spirit. A call.”

It became quiet, but the woman still pressed a deep warmth from her core and into Annabel’s. It was comforting, sweet, and oddly nauseating. That feeling stuck to the back of her throat like molasses and sticky bread. She hums, trying to keep herself distracted from the feeling of discomfort.

“They weren’t lyin’ when they said you were the daughter of a witch.”

“I don’t think they like me much.”

“I don’t see why they wouldn’t.” her laugh was intoxicating, but Annabel finds herself looking bewildered and confused by her words. “You’re not the only witch here.”

You?

“Yes.”

Annabel would never have thought. She hid herself well with strong barriers that keep her safe from her surroundings. As the days went on, she would find that the woman – who was named the same as her, which left her being called Anna – was a healing witch that embedded her magic into the littlest things.

She would go to bond with the woman – in more ways than one – and she would soon find her to be simply a place marker for her mother. Where her mother had failed to teach her, Annabelle would come in with a healing heart, a sweet smile and a thick, leather bound book full of words of the wise and spells and divinations. She never called to a God or Goddess – she couldn’t bring herself to call to one or agree to let one in with how demanding one could be – and instead, she found herself to be a goddess in her own right.

“My mother always told me that witches – no matter their power – were protectors of the world and of the living beings that walked among us.” Annabelle would cover the small girl with thick woolen blankets and place her book in her hand. “But we are just as mortal as the next man or woman. We forget things, we have intense emotions, we cry, and we scream, and we laugh.”

“What is this book?”

“A Book of Shadows.” Annabelle unclasps the journal, showing pages filled with script and spells and sigils. “It’s a witch’s companion to their life, next to their spirit guide and a familiar.”

“My mom had a spirit guide, but he wasn’t always the nicest.” Annabel grimaced, looking down at the pages filled with black ink, “It was a large blue jay with an inferiority complex.”

“Spirit guides who come in small appearances usually are.”

The two would talk day in and day out, and Annabelle would teach her how to weave magic into sewing and cooking and healing.

She never picked it up, but Annabelle treated her better than her mother ever did.

“How dare you cast a spell, Annabel!” her mother would strike her across the cheek after she had lit a candle without a match. “Do you want to die? Do you want to be taken away and strung up like an animal?”

She was with them for a month when Arthur brought home a tall gelding. He was stolen – from a gang that was always sneered when said – but he was tall, he was sturdy, and he was good.

Annabel remembers when Arthur came up to her, his stride long and dripping with purpose until he saw her at the provisions wagon with Pearson. She was cutting up pheasants and ducks and potatoes for that night’s stew. Her hands were covered in blood, there were fowl guts in a metal bucket at her feet, but she still looked so at peace as she stripped the birds of their feathers and their hearty breast meat.

“Miss Anna.” She looks up, her hands frozen in place. He removes his hat – out of respect she thinks, but maybe it was for something else – and he nods his head towards the tall gelding. “I have a gift for ya.”

“A horse?” she sounds surprised, he can sense that from how her brows shoot up to match her tone. “What for?”

“We’re plannin’ on movin’ soon, and Dutch was plannin’ on findin’ a stallion for ya in town. I thought a stallion would be too much for ya, with how tiny you are.”

“Mr. Morgan, are you laying low blows?”

“Never, miss.”

She wipes her hands on her apron, blood staining the white linen, as she walks around the table. Her feet relish the dewy grass as she walks over to the horse.

He’s tall, standing four inches taller than Annabel at the withers. His mane is roached, thick brown mane that sticks up perfectly. His neck is speckled with soft white dappled spots that look like snowflakes against his bay coloring. His back and belly and romp are covered in white with soft black dots that collect and cluster over his hips and romp. His tail is cut short, with a clean cut near the base of his tail bone. He’s got soft feathering at his fetlocks.

He’s got an even temperament, almost dopey with a following type personality. He leans his head down as Annabel extends her hand to his nose. A majority of his face is white, a blue eye peaks from his forelock.

“What kind is he?”

“The stables think he’s a Clydesdale and Appaloosa cross.”

“He’s very sweet.” She places a hand on his neck, a thin layer of dirt and grime sticking to her bloodied hand. “Seems young, too.”

“What’re ya gonna name ‘im?”

“Not sure, I didn’t think I’d be getting a horse today.” She pats her hands on her apron once more before she placed a hand on his bicep. “Thank you, I really appreciate it.”

He tips his head, placing this hat back on his head, “Ah, it was a pleasure really.”

“Whatever you say, Mr. Morgan.” Her hand lingers then fell back to her side before a soft playful laughter bubbled in her throat. “But I do appreciate it, so take my gratitude and go busy yourself for once.”

Before he can dispute her teasing’s, she had walked away from him and her new horse right back to finishing up the stew with Pearson.

.-.-.

If Annabel were honest, she doesn’t remember much about how or why she was running.

The mud was wet, sloshy and ungodly deep as she did her best to push her gelding farther. She knows that it’s raining – hell, its actually pouring that the raindrops could be mistaken for hail. Zander grunts; his body tenses and moves as he continues to keep her on his back.

She feels like someone is chasing her, and in some way someone was. There’s a snapping and growling as paws shook the ground and howls blew the trees. Claws dug into the dirt and for some reason – godly or not – she felt those claws into her body with each impact they made. The motion and the pain causes her to gasp and cry out.

“Anna!” it was a woman’s voice that calls for her, but the voice is so far away, and it becomes replaced with a ringing static sound; horse hooves booming deep in the earth. She keeps pushing, though, scared out of her wits as she pushes with a brave façade.

The wolf snaps and demands for her to call his name. She can hear it, its fizzy in her head and it causes her vision to blur. Her gelding is a brave horse – kicking his back leg out when the wolf grows close – but he starts to get antsy. He throws his head back when the wolf barks and snaps at his legs.

She falls from his back, her back bending awkwardly as she rolls in the dirt. Adrenaline pushes her to move, to keep going, and so she does. Her bare feet slip under the mud; finding traction almost impossible but she did her best. Her heart pounds against her chest, her blood runs through her ears, her fingers shake as she white knuckles her skirt. Mud cakes and collects under her nails, she feels blood trickle down the side of her temple and down her neck, and she starts to feel nauseated as she continues to push.

She falls down a hill, large raindrops hitting her face and body painfully, rocks and mud scraping against her skin on her knees and shins.

The wolf catches up to her, pouncing and pushing her front into the mud. His claws digging deep into her shoulder and her side, teeth sinking deep into her bicep.

“Say my name!”

“I don’t know!”

“SAY IT!”

He continues to ravage her body – claws and teeth tearing away at delicate skin – before a moment of clarity hits her harder than the pain did. Its raw and hot against her tongue; against her lips. She screams as he continues to tear at her skin.

“Silas!”

Then it all stops and she’s free. Blood seeps from her wounds, her body shakes terribly, and she cries and sobs and weeps as the wolf lays over her. Pain radiates hot – too hot and too painful – but she’s not used to her body radiating a harsh warmth like this.

Blood soaks his fur as he licks some of the wounds he put there clean. She cries and seethes from the pain of his rough tongue against her exposed injuries, and she shakes and tries to move away from his hold.

They lay there for hours, her body growing numb and her injures healing slowly with each swipe of the wolf’s tongue. She had called him by his name – something he had demanded from her for months. He haunted her dreams, she kept her from leaving camp and from leaving her surrogate mothers’ side.

But now she was alone, and lost, and hopeless. No one was coming for her. No one will find her.

She knows that Annabelle called for her, but Zander was powerful. She thought that someone would have found her by now – she missed Annabelle with a deep ache in her chest – but there was no one in sight. It was just her, and this wolf.

Morning comes; a holy sun that shows no imperfections. Her body was still numb – mostly from the cold mud that dried and stuck to her clothes and skin – but her wounds were gone; healed.

The wolf – Silas – rumbled deep in his chest as he pushed her up into a sitting position. She gasps from the pain in her joints, scrunching her nose as she listens to the crack under the pressure of choppy movements.

She notices how large the wolf is. Thick, rust colored fur with soft patches of white and black covers him. His eyes are dark as they bore holes into her but, in some ways, soft. He towers over her sitting form, looking down at her and pressing his black nose to her forehead.

He pushes her with his muzzle, rumbling once more. Zander was a few yards away from them both, grazing away in a field of bright purple lupine. Her horse pulls at the long stalks of flowers, his teeth grinding as he continues to pull more from the earth.

Annabel clucks towards him, and his head lifts with ears pressed forward. She clucks once more, and he lowers his head as he walks towards her.

“You are strong, but you still have a lot to learn, child.”

She scoffs at the wolf, and he curls his lips.

She mounts Zander.

Then she rides north.

Chapter Text



Arthur knew that the O’Driscolls were no good rat bastards. Colm was a rotten shit for brains who only cared about quantity than quality, so the bullets that rained between the two gangs were almost unmatched to each other.

The sheer force of rain that pelted down over the valley covered the sounds of the O’Driscolls hiding away within the cover of the oak trees. Anna was the first one who realized there was someone there when she was pulling her saddle from her horse.

Her screams were muffled over the sound of the rumbling rain, but Dutch heard and ran from his tent yelling for Arthur and Hosea. They were almost overrun and taken over by the sheer numbers of O’Driscolls that invaded and ambushed their small camp.

The women scattered, Annabelle and Ms. Grimshaw pulled Anna away from the gunfire, the two women shooting their own revolvers with aggression equivalent to a mother bear. Pearson did his best to shoot several O’Driscolls down, and he only managed to take a few down. He watched as the three women sprang onto their horses and galloped away from the ongoing rage of men.

The fight went on for hours, and Arthur watched Dutch press his thumbs into Colm’s brothers’ eyes. The scream that emerged from his throat was blood-curdling and raw; there was nothing but snarls and curses from Dutch, but he wasn’t listening. He would go on to smash the back of his head into the ground until the bones cracks and breaks under the pressure and nothing, but blood and brains oozed from the skull.

Dutch saw red, and continued to see red. He fumed and paced at the edge of the camp; waiting for the women to come back. The rain refused to let up as Hosea urged Arthur to start packing everything up and get ready to move while they waited for Ms. Grimshaw to come back and guide them.

But the night went on longer and longer, and it left Dutch in a path of anxiety and rage. Hosea had to pull him from the edge of the camp, pressed a cigar into his hand and told him to relax.

“Those three women are more resourceful then all of us men combined. Annabelle and Susan are smart, and Anna will be safe with them.”

But they never came back, not until morning.

The sun rose, and only two horses came into view of the camp. Annabelle and Susan were somber, with Annabelle looking like she had cried before she came back home. Her cheeks were stained with tears, her eyes were bloodshot, but what gave everything away was the way she fell from her saddle and into Dutch’s arms.

Arthur stood at the base of camp; taking over for Dutch when Hosea had pulled him away and given him a welcomed distraction. He didn’t hear too much of their conversation because it was kept at a small sobbing whisper behind thick canvas walls, but from what Susan had said to him he was certain that the two were mourning.

Annabel was with them since March, and Annabelle had taken care of her like a mother would. Arthur knew that Annabel wanted a child, he remembered the talks that him and Dutch would have about the prospect that Annabelle might be carrying his child, but every month, she would bleed.

They had given up on the prospect – Annabelle more out of shame of not being able to do the one thing that was expected of a woman in this day and age – but Dutch continued to show her the love she deserved.

Then Annabel came into the picture – young and lost and damaged – and Annabelle came in with her soft hands and pulled her into the family. Annabel was the daughter Annabelle could never have, and Dutch – only wanting what made Annabelle happy – fell into the father-like, cookie cutter mold when it came to showing Annabel the ways of the world.

She already knew how to read and how to write, but without a proper education she was similar to how John was when the had pulled him from the nooses end.

Slightly feral and skittish around people who she wasn’t sure of.

Dutch would read her the same books that he would read John and Arthur. Those thick philosophy books with big words that even he had a hard time pronouncing, and understanding all together, but Annabel would take the books with a soft smile and read them in between chores.

She understood the literature but fought him on some parts when it came to his worldviews. His idea that this developing world leaves people filled with apathy, but Annabel would come in with a snappy rebuttal. “Yes, but the developing world has left you filled with empathy.”

“Well, it is a wonderful point.”

She understood his drive and want for a world where men can live the lifestyle they choose, to be free of rules and control. She had expressed her drive and love for hunting and wondering, and in that instant Arthur knew that Dutch could mold her into something with a similar drive equivalent to his own.

The two raised her like how Dutch and Hosea raised him and John. They pushed her to have ideals and morals and personal values that revolved around loyalty, liberty, equality, and cultural tolerance. Hosea taught her how to con a man, and how to pick pocket someone without them noticing anything missing. Dutch taught her how to shoot a gun, and how to pick a lock. Arthur would bring her things from the town they were closest to, simple things that she could use in a situation.

John would challenge her – they were the same age, after all – and he would always find himself on his back with Arthur laughing about how a girl put him on his back.

She was a joy to the camp – though Arthur would never admit to that simple truth – and hearing Annabelle cry about the found blood, the scraps of her dress, lead him to believe that she was lost to the wild of the valley.

Dutch tried to console her; trying to make promises that were as empty as his whiskey bottle, but he was pushed aside, called a liar.

Annabelle slept in Anna’s cot that night, and both Dutch and Arthur went out the next morning to see if there was a body they could’ve buried.

They found the tracks of blood first where her palms could have grazed against the rough tree bark. It was dried, and barely visible but they followed the tracks.

More scraps of her dress – a brown pleated wool scrap – before they found fur stuck to a twig.

“Dutch.” Arthur already knew what could’ve happened, though the words were stuck in his throat. “We should get back to camp. Get ready to leave soon.”

Dutch takes a moment, holding the scrap of wool between his calloused fingers. He’s reminiscing, confused and unsure of what comes next. With no body, what does he do? What does he say to his sweet Annabelle who was just as distraught as he was?

Dutch simply nods, pocketing the scrap, before mounting the Count with Arthur tailing close behind him.

.-.-.

A month after Annabel had passed, an older man – a lazy, sodden old fool that never did a damn thing – joined the gang. His stories were enough to entice the young John, and his drunken escapades were enough to keep Arthur on his toes.

Uncle talked of times in Africa – though Arthur wasn’t sure exactly how true those stories were – about how they worshiped him like a God in the Congo.

Uncle talked a big talk, but he was always caught drunk and asleep under a shady tree or hidden away from Ms. Grimshaw.

The days went by slow since Annabel. Dutch tries to comfort his lover – who grew into a deep depression and frustration – but he was a leader, a surrogate father to John and Arthur. He had to step up in some places and make sure his small, make-shift family was safe and feed and out of the law’s beady eyes.

But the days were becoming normal once more and Annabelle started to get color back to her complexion as she made her way back into the world she loved so much.

Soon months went by, then three years were gone within the pages of his journal and the wind that the whimsical whispered to. Arthur would run his jobs, leave for a few days every other month to drop money off at Eliza’s house and see his estranged son.

Then they moved north, closer to the snow. It’s the end of November of 1892. Annabelle started to ride with them once more, a fierce outlaw in her prime once more. Her smile was back, and her energy was at its peak. But Arthur Morgan was not built for the cold.

His wool coat that was lined with sheep’s skin kept him warm, but his face would flush a deep red and his nose would run when he ran around too long in the cold. He would sweat, feel it cool as it dripped down his temple.

His body ran so warm, and with the cold and running jobs constantly, it left him with a fluctuating internal temperature.

It was a simple train robbery, or it was meant to be. Arthur would stop the train before it hit the next station, with Dutch and Annabelle climbing into the cars and taking what they could from the rich city folk. Hosea would keep watch with John as Arthur made his way towards the back with Dutch.

That was the plan, at least.

It soon became a turf war; a game of finders’ keepers.

O’Driscolls.

Ever since Dutch did the things he did – and Arthur will never forget the sight of his ring clad thumbs pressing into the soft, gooey flesh of eyeballs – the O’Driscolls were out on a game of revenge.

A game of vengeance.

It was an ever-losing battle that Arthur tried to tell Dutch time and time again. He claimed that revenge was a fool’s game, and in a way it was.

But sometimes he wonders if Dutch saw honor in revenge.

There was no real revenge for Dutch to take part of, but Annabelle sought it like a bee to honey. The O’Driscolls took her only semblance of a child from her, she blamed them for her lose and her grief and her anger.

Dutch saw it; the way her eyes burned hot with an anger that could smoke the devil out of hell, a snarl on her perfect lips and sharp teeth that could tear flesh.

Then it hit her.

Everything felt so slow and so hot in that moment alone. Arthur heard Dutch yell – a fear filled scream really as he ignored the enemy not twenty feet away to run to his lover – then he saw the red. It stained her white blouse and her blue jeans. It stuck to her tongue and her lips as she gasped and whined for air. He saw tears run down Dutch’s face, softly dropping onto her soft, blush dusted cheek.

Arthur covered Dutch, but still yelled his name. They needed him – he needed him, to focus.

But Annabelle was dying right in Dutch’s arms.

The only woman who could hold his heart.

She died to the sound of Dutch’s voice – all choked up and sobbing – and gunfire.

She was burned later that night.

Dutch wasn’t the same after that, his heart hardened and he hyper focused his ideals and morals into his work to get them west.

That was his new focus – one to keep him from feeling the pain.

First his only daughter, then his lover.

Arthur didn’t sleep that night, listening to the deep howls of wolves. He could only hear two, a higher pitched howl and a lower, deeper one. Both fill with mourn and sadness and regret, as if the wolves could feel his family’s pain.

With a pain that swirled in his belly and tears threatening to spill, he howled back.

.-.-.

Annabel felt it all happen.

She didn’t want to believe that her surrogate mother passed, as a fire bloomed hot and heavy in her abdomen. It hurt, the way her body crackled with heat, that she fell from Zander’s back and into the thick, white snow.

It crunched under the sound of Silas’s paws, his cold, wet nose pressing against her temple.

Bonded witches were special – whether it was between lovers, friends or family – it was a bond that could keep the other safe. It was a way to keep the other from feeling too much pain as the other passed on. She and her mother never thought they would have to deal with it.

Hot tears drop onto the snow, sobs crack from her throat as Silas continued to push her to stand. She feels weak, and hot even as she melts the snow below her and allows her garments to soak the water.

She hears a whisper – a call of love and want – but her head starts to thrum from pain.

Annabel starts to peel her furs and wool coat from her body, leaving her body exposed to the cold under her. She can hear an echo of gun fire, yelling and sobs that seemed uncharacteristic of the man they were coming from. She heard words – muffled and full of static – but she could see a fuzzy picture as she raised her head to look over the darkening sky and glittering snow.

“I love you.” Annabel sobs at that, knowing full well that it was her mother – the only one she would consider to be her true mother.

She screams, pressing the heels of her palms into her eyes. The earth below her rattles, Zander starts to rear and grow restless and Silas is left with his ears pinned back and his tail tucked below him.

Annabel feels like she’s being ripped in half as she hears the voices more clearly – Dutch speaking to her in soft tones, Annabelle coughing and trying to make words through the struggle, even Arthur who was yelling for Dutch’s attention.

“She’s alive, my love.” Annabel pulls her face from her hands, but her vision is swimming with a sea of blue and static, “Our sweet Anna… I can see her now.”

Hazel eyes are the only thing that is clear to her, along with mother’s face. Even in death she is still beautiful, with full lips, flushed cheeks and a soft expression.

“I’ll find you both in the next life.”

She feels everything explode within her. It’s hot – sweltering – and all Annabel can do is rip at her clothes and scream. The tree’s rattle, Silas is no longer a physical entity – but a soft blue flame that flutters away from Annabel to keep himself from getting consumed. The earthquakes under her legs and snow seams to flutter down from the evergreens.

Then it all stops, and she feels numb in her skin.

When she comes back to her reality, the sun is no longer peaking over the horizon and the moon as taken it’s place high in the midnight blue sky. Stars light the sky, with a waxing gibbous lighting what it can.

She howls, unsure of her body to do anything proper in that moment and she howls for a long quiet moment before Silas joins her once more.

She shivers, but she doesn’t care. She howls like that for mere minutes, hoping it would keep her from mourning.

Then she hears a howl – human like and in the distance. It’s too deep to be a wolf’s howl and a single howl isn’t something that would normally happen in a pack.

The wind picks up, and she hears the human howl once more. The wind pushes the emotion from the howl and into her and her body starts to prickle with anxiety and excitement.

Silas nudges her, nipping at her long-braided hair. A chill runs down her spine before she picks up her coat and her furs.

She whistles for Zander who happily nickers to her commands and trots up to her side.

She rides south, hoping that she’s not mistaking that newfound energy for someone – or something else.

.-.-.

After the death of Annabelle, Dutch wasn’t able to keep himself still and Arthur couldn’t blame him for it.

He needed a new focus, something that would keep him from breaking down over the idea that his bed would no longer be shared with the women he loved so dearly. Arthur and Hosea couldn’t bring that to him, and well – John was just John and it left Dutch with one thing.

Moving.

The rode back south, then east. They simply traveled, finding nothing and everything with each passing day.

Ms. Grimshaw would grow tired though, and scold Dutch into next week. She would demand that he stop and let everyone rest, but really it was because she was tired of listening to Uncle talk and complain from behind her in the wagon.

So, they set their sights back north, deeper into the snow then the last time – much to Arthur’s dismay – with the hopes that over the mountains they would find a nice little town that would be ripe for the taking.

A lumber and livestock town was soon in their sights with its thick evergreen trees. The roadways in the town were soggy with mud, but fresh powder covered the tops of the saloon and the general store and the houses along the hill. The stark contrast of dark wooden homes against the pure white powder.

They settle their camp a mile out from the town, a few abandoned cabins laid along the edge of a canyon. It was an easy place to stay while they waited the snow and cold out, but late December rushed into early January and then right into February. The snow barely let up, but that didn’t stop Hosea from running into the lumber town for leads, or for Uncle to ride to the saloon in hopes for warmth and alcohol.

It was nearly the end of February, and Arthur was left shivering near the fireplace in the cabin he had claimed as his temporary home. He remembers that morning required him to run through the snowy wilderness to find some game for that day’s stew. He remembers Hosea asking him to meet him in town for some help with a scam, which Arthur gladly agreed too.

He placed a bottle of whiskey in his hand and then a bolt action rifle before flashing a warm smile. He went back to warming his hands against the fire, a book sitting in his lap.

Arthur leaves for a hunt for a few hours, pulling in a string full of white and gray hares, and some Canadian geese that rested close to a pond west of the abandoned cabins.

When he came home with small game strapped lifelessly to his saddle, he saw Dutch with a hand on a man’s shoulder. He looked drunker than Uncle on a good day, but he had a spark in his eyes as he slowly sobered under the touch and silver tongue of Dutch.

Arthur merely grumbled as he slung the game over his shoulders. Dutch would soon call to him for introductions, but all he wanted to do was run into town to meet up with Hosea like he had promised.

Arthur!

He knew it.

The introductions were short – blunt and to the point – but he noticed the way his eyes shifted and the way his body slouched under the weight of Dutch’s hand on his shoulder.

Arthur squinted at him, but still extended his hand out to shake his hand.

“Let’s get you acquainted with everyone else. Arthur, Hosea said to remind you to meet him in the big saloon in town. You better get on, if you plan on meeting him before sundown.”

Arthur nods at him, waving his hand at him as a response. He watched Dutch guide Bill – the drunken bull he is simply stumbled under his heavy feet – towards where Ms. Grimshaw was settled in washing some sheets. Dutch was starting to get back to normal, but he could still see the heavy sadness behind his eyes when he catches the older man reading the same books that Annabelle would read to him at night.

Arthur would watch him flinch slightly and place a worn piece of cloth – a brown woolen cloth that looked like the same piece they found when they went to look for Annabel – into the page before stretching a smile and calling for his son.

He spurred Boadicea out towards the town, his coat pulled tight around his body as he rode into the falling snow.

.-.-.

It had been nearly four years since she had felt Dutch and Hosea’s energy around her and for the first time since she had run off, their energies were lingering along her skin like morning dew.

She had made home in a small cabin just on the outskirts of a small lumber town, selling medicinal herbs to the only doctor in town in exchange for goods and money. The snow was melting but just barely, even though it was nearly April.

The bell rings as she pushes open the store’s door, stomping her boots on the thick mat to get the snow and mud off her boots.

“Good morning, Miss Anna. I have your order ready.”

“I just finished the first half, but I’m gonna have to go south to pick up some yarrow and ginseng.” She places a few coins and a canvas bag filled with tonics. “I’ll be back in a few days, so I hope your customers can wait a little while longer.”

“Without you, we wouldn’t be thriving like we do so we’ll wait until your return.”

Dr. Galloway was a good man, young and sweet and itching for adventure even though he was stuck in the town where his family has been for generations.

He’s sweet on her, she knows with the way he sometimes brings her flowers that only grow in the snow or places a chocolate bar in some of her orders. She things he’s great, but she hasn’t had interest in men since… never.

But she plays along, afraid of breaking a relationship that benefited her in more ways than one.

“Is there anything I should grab while I’m down that way?”

“Maybe if you find some sage or lavender. Some of the men have been experiencing insomnia, and I know that some of your tonics with lavender have helped them sleep.”

“I’ll do what I can.”

And with that she leaves, feeling his lingering eyes on her back as she pulls the door open. The cold is bruising against her skin, her nose and cheeks growing flush as she pulls her furs closer over her face.

Zander stands hitched in front of the shop, heavy annoyed puffs of air billowing from his nose as Rowan sat close to his reins.

She remembers when she found Rowan, a young eyas who fell from his nest just south of Strawberry. She tried to place the bird back in the nest only for the parents to throw him from their nest once more.

Annabel took him home after watching him fall from the top of the tree, his small body nestled between her and her fur coat. She taught him out to fly, watching him learn to be independent from her as she taught him how to hunt on his own.

She tried to release him but, in the end, he would always fly back to her – his talons digging softly into her thick leather gauntlet on her left arm – with the expectations of food and a home.

Annabel thought about it for months before she finally went through with it, worried about what would happen if she did it or not.

She shook her head one night, sitting across from the fireplace in her small cabin and meditated. She had to focus on the good, pulling the pureness from her soul in preparation for the transfer.

Once the sun started to slowly break the horizon, she started to prepare the meal she caught for him. Minced rabbit and the stringy meat of a snake as she cooked up some turkey meat in a thick stew with wild carrots.

They ate in silence as she burned a smudge stick and lit some small white candles. Her words flowed slowly as she placed a barrier around the temporary hearth before she fed the two of them.

Rowan sat comfortably on his perch as the full moon slowly scaling the sky with Annabel placed in front of him, sitting straight upon her knees as she started the incantation. There was a surge of energy that rustled the trees, but the two of them stayed calm as Annabel continued to chant and pull part of her own soul to place into his.

She stayed up through the night, perfecting the chant over and over and over until the sun rose over their home. The warmth spread through her skin as she watched the bird – her new familiar – flap his wings in an awkward excitement.

Since then she found that they were inseparable.

He flew close to her when she rode off, his calls piercing her ears, but she would simply laugh. Zander grew antsy and annoyed with his presence, but she could tell that he preferred the bird over the greater wolf that follows.

Zander pushed through the snow in a canter, snorting and huffing along as they made way to the muddy trails. Her woolen hood was pulled over her head with her furs pressed close to her nose, covering her face from any passerby’s who might have been curious.

She saw several men approach her in the distance, and she debated on taking a different path to avoid seeing people or having to kill men who harass her.

A striking white Arabian, a beautiful dapple-gray Turkoman and a strong palomino thoroughbred passed by her, and as they did, she felt her soul clench and her stomach churn.

She pulled at her reins and turned Zander to watch the three riders’ backs.

It was Dutch and Hosea and Arthur.

Her old family.

Had they found her? Was she considered a traitor? She had half expected them to come find her that night, but they never did. They had left her bloody and bruised in the night, with a great wolf – who claimed to be her spirit guide with sharp teeth and piercing eyes – and a broken heart.

They were her family; the only family since her mother’s murder, and the first chance they had, they abandoned her.

She felt a sob creep up through her throat as Rowan placed himself on her left shoulder. He watched with her, his feet adjusting and readjusting over and over.

When they turned the corner of the path, she let out the sob in a rough croak. How had she not felt them before? There was talk from Dr. Galloway of some travelers who had made home in the old abandoned town just a few miles out.

She pushes Zander to a trot, hoping that the constant and jarring movement will pull her from her harsh emotions.

Her travels are filled with frequent stops as she moves from the snow into the mountainous valley, picking berries and herbs and roots along the way. Rowan brings home a rabbit at night, dropping the lifeless body harshly in front of Annabel’s slouching body as she relishes in the warmth of the fire.

She skins the punctured animal, stripping meat and tossing it towards the red tail hawk who made home on her stretched out thigh. He squawks and pulls at her dress with his beak for more, and she could only laugh at his pestering before throwing a chunk farther and watching him run with his wings stretched out and his legs carrying him weirdly.

She places the rabbit saved for herself over the fire to roast, grounded up oregano and rosemary pressed into the slightly bloody body.

The night was calm, with the moon shining high over their small tent and roaring fire before gun shots – two of them, in succession – sounded loudly up the hill.

Rowan started to get agitated, Zander started to huff, and – as if he materialized out of thin air – Silas pushed himself through the bushes and placed himself next to her by the fire. There was a pull, an itch that stuck itself deep into her skin as she looked at Silas with curious and worried eyes.

“I need to go see what happened.”

Silas knew as a spirit guide – especially her spirit guide – that she wasn’t one to leave things behind. She is bound to the energies that swirled around her, and her emotions were always involved.

Her feet – bare and warmed from the fire – pushed her forward as she climbed the hill with her knife in hand, and Silas at her side. Rowan fly on ahead, giving her the chance to have a warning if there was anything that could cause her harm.

As she grew closer, she saw a small house with a small garden and a few cows which, she found, laid lifelessly in the grass with blood staining their white and brown fur. Their throats were slit, she knew that wouldn’t be the cause of the gun shots.

The house was dimly lit, and the door was ajar, and she took the risk of climbing the stairs. The wood was smooth from the excessive use, and so was the knob as she pushed it open.

Blood seeped through the cracks in the wooden planks, but she saw the way it pooled and puddled under the two bodies in front of her.

A woman and a child, with a shot each to the head.

Annabel fell backwards, her body shaking from the impact. Her hand covered her rapid breathing as she looked around the homestead. The dresser was pushed over, the bed was thrown apart, the table was flipped to its side with its matching chairs broken and splintered.

She sobbed from the shock, unsure of how to truly react to the scene.

The woman – young and beautiful – was splayed out on the floor with her skirt hiked up and her bloomers pulled to her ankles. A weird substance – a substance she refused to name – stuck to her inner thighs and her pelvis. The boy was only a few feet away, bruising over his cheeks and temples and throat but thankfully his clothes still stayed on his small body.

He was young, his mother was young.

She probably gave herself to the intruders in hopes to be left alone.

Annabel scrambled out of the house, screaming into the night. The painful aura’s that lingered from their bodies was still in the house – in the air – and she could only do one thing.

Scream.

She screamed until the sun rose over the eastern mountains, and when the birds started to squeak and tweet along to a morning serenade, she started to dig two graves.

Silas helped, using his powerful body to dig deep holes for her to bury them in, using his strength to drag them carefully into the holes. She helped him push the dirt over them, tears dripping down her face as she casted a protective spell over the graves.

She placed two crosses over their graves, hoping they would never be forgotten by those who knew them.

Annabel sat on her shins, still weeping silently over the sight she saw them in and bowed her head into the dirt. Her apologies were unheard, but she hoped that their souls were in a better place than this. Rowan placed his wings over her back protectively, letting out a call into the sky that only Annabel knew would be considered mournful.

Silas took her back to camp when the sun was high in the sky and her fingers digging deep into his fur.

.-.-.

When Arthur found two graves in front of the house, he panicked. He had taught Eliza how to shoot, just in case someone wanted to cause any trouble, but he was sure those graves were theirs when he saw the decomposing cows and the dying crops.

He rushed into the house, his lungs laboring under the panic he tried to control. That panic cascaded over him once he saw the blood – died and cracking over the soaked wooden planks – and all he could so was cry.

He cried out in pain, in anger, in an unholy despair with an urge to find the men who did this and make them pay for taking away his only semblance of a life.

His son – the only thing that was so seemingly untouched by his bloody hands – was six feet in the ground and his mother was right there next to him.

It was Isaac’s goddamn birthday, too.

He had brought the kid a toy gun – he had been asking for one just like his fathers – and now he sat here on the floor sobbing from the overflow of emotions.

He feels broken, inadequate, useless as he threw the gift into the cold fireplace.

The woman and child had barely any money, and he knew that because he did his best to provide them with enough to get by each and every month or so.

And now…

He couldn’t think, he couldn’t breathe, his throat was closing up, but he felt like he was going to throw up from the way his stomach was clenching and gurgling.

Who shoots a fucking child?

What kind of monster would kill a family without a father –.

He was the father. He was supposed to take care of them, protect them.

He failed.

He fucking failed.

Chapter Text

 


The crackling of fire mixed with the mild panic that filled her veins as she watched the trees edge. The bushes rustled and voices whispered like the demons in her head as she watched with doe like eyes. Two men walked through the brush, pushing prickly leaves that left imprints on their hands and small scratches on their arms. She stayed still in her tent, hoping they would see she had nothing and left.

But that wasn’t the case.

One of them peaked into the tent, a smile creeping over his chapped lips. The bitter December air grazed over her cheeks as she paled at the site of the man with the pale red hair. He called for his partner – a man who matched him in facial expression and hair, who copied his smile with such a menacing way – before reaching and pulling her from the tent.

Annabel screamed, throwing her fist into his arms and chest and shoulders as best she could, but she was outnumbered and outweighed by the two bastards that threw her to the ground with a smile that could kill the simplest of men.

“How long have you been following us?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She seethed, spitting at the first man’s boots which only earned her a slap against the cheek.

“Don’ lie to me, I don’t have problems killing women like our other camp mates.” Blood started to leave a bitter, coppery taste on her tongue, but she snarled with blood stained teeth and a fire in her eyes.

“Fuck you.”

“Suit yourself.” He pressed her into the cold dirt, taking her arms and legs and tying them together with rope as tightly as he could. She screamed and snarled and cursed the man who pushed her down, only to have a hand hit her once more.

She didn’t stay silent, even as they tied a bandanna around her mouth and dragged her by her hair. She didn’t stay silent as she kicked her legs out in hopes to loosen her ropes and get the upper hand on the two men who dragged her away from her makeshift camp.

How did things end up like this?

How did she end up here?

.-.-.

Its the end of August and she has the urge to run.

Her skin itches from the way the clouds start to roll over the midnight sky, and she finds herself tugging at the sleeves of her coat. Her feet dug into the dirt that was starting to grow soggy as the thunder started to roar and lighting lit the sky.

She ripped her clothes from her body, letting the force of the moon pull the feral feeling from her skin. Silas lets out a low, guttural howl that sends the birds from the trees. He sends waves of emotions through her skin and all she could do was sigh as the storm continues to pull over her. She howls, letting the shrill of her voice pierce the sky as rain starts to pelt down against her hot skin.

It’s cooling and refreshing, the way her feet splash against the mud, sending mud to cake her calves and thighs and stomach, and the way her braid grew heavy with rain and fallen leaves. Silas is next to her, keeping up with her at a slow gait, keeping his ears up for any danger. His fur soaks up the water and mud and leaves, as his paws kick up and leave large tracks in their wake.

They run – wild and free and feral – with howls dripping form their tongues as their soak up the moons cooling light.

Annabel trips – over a rock or a branch, she can’t really tell – and feels her body collide with the cold mud and slush under her. Silas rumbles, almost amused but still worried as he pushes his nose against her skin. His breathe his hot against her cheek and her body starts to feel sore, but she can’t help but feel empowered and enticed by the way the earth sticks to her body.

Silas’s head raises as his lips curl slightly. With the years that she’s traveled with him – learning over and over about her own magic as well as his own – she’s picked up on his cues. His yellowish teeth show from his lips, and his ears are pinned against his head.

Possible danger.

His energy looms over her, acting as a protective barrier as she sits up and looks to where he is.

A tent lays close to the forests edge, bathing in the moonlight and rain. The small fire that sat outside of the tent was starting to go out as the rain grew heavier; pelting against the hot wood with a sizzling effect.

Annabel gets up, pushing some of her hair from her face – caking mud to her unruly strands, only to have it washed out as she stepped from the forest that protected her. She pushed forward, even with Silas’s warning growl that rumbled below her feet and continued to take careful and silent steps towards the dying fire and the canvas tent.

A horse – a beautiful palomino that looked oddly familiar – snorted and nickered at her out of agitation. Hooves started to paw at the dirt under her, as he bobbed her head with pinned ears. Silas made her nervous; that wasn’t something new for Annabel. Silas would make anyone nervous if he was seen in broad daylight like this.

She peaked her head into the tent, her hands slowly moving the flap away to show what was hidden. There was a nervous and exciting edge that bubbled in her gut as she pressed her feet into the mud to move a little closer to the entrance. She wanted a full view of what was hiding away during a storm like this. It was an enticing wonder – knowing that someone slept away without knowing of her presence – but as she pushed the flaps more and made her way into the dry and warm tent, she grew cold and stiff with an awkward nervousness and fear.

Arthur laid on his belly, a thick woolen blanket thrown over his body and his back slowly rising with each shallow breath. His eyes were still puffy – the same hers would look after she cried so much it felt like her eyes would pop from her skull – and his cheeks still held glistening streaks from the tears. It looked tired and worn and god awful under the pale light of the moon and behind her shadow.

But – despite Silas’s protective growls of warning, and her mind telling her to run – she pushed in farther and kneeled down at his feet. Something swirled in her gut as she started to crawl her way towards his face, pressing a delicate hand to his cheek and swiping away the drying trails of tears that stained his skin. An overpowering surge of energy pushed through her body when her hand met his cheek and all she could do was let the tears fall from her eyes.

She’s never felt his energy before – ever since they’ve met, his energy was guarded like a fortress that. He sealed a deep aura within his body, and the moment her hands met his skin, it melted away like butter over a fire.

She felt pain first, a pain so hungry for suffering it left her breathless. He was mourning and blaming himself for something and that pain she was feeling was wanting more and more and more. It was as if a demon settled in his bones and no amount of exorcism could expel that insatiable bastard. A cold breeze pushed through the tent; softening the pain that was trying to pull Annabel in.

She pressed her other hand to the crown of his head; weaving fingers through dirty golden locks and swiping her thumb over his forehead before muttering something that Annabelle once taught her.

“Even in the dead of night, I hope your dreams are nothing but light. And even in the deepest sorrow, there will always be a tomorrow.”

That pain that settled within his bones started to pull through his muscles and into hers. Arthur didn’t deserve this pain; no matter how guilty he felt, she was willing to take that pain even if it was only for a while.

She barely knew the man – eight months isn’t much time when you’re anti-social and angry – but she knew he had a heart, and a soul, and a mind that ate away at anything good.

But the energy – that deep seated, calming aura with a hint of self-loathing – caught her off guard more than finding him out here alone.

She left the tent, not looking back out of fear she would want to feel his energy once more – an energy filled with a softening sorrow and a quiet masculinity that raged in his soul like a beast – so she simple stood in the rain, letting the cold mix with the hot tears that fell.

She walked back to her camp with Silas by her side, and a new call that ached in her belly.

She didn’t sleep that night, packing up everything in her tent onto Zander, only to ride out at dawn to find Arthur’s tracks leading east.

Arthur was terrible at covering up his tracks.

After the night before that still left her with achy bones and a new call – a new urge that pulled at her gut like a rope around her waist – she found that she wanted to go home.

And Arthur was that ticket.

But Annabel is shy, and she’s rather feral from the last four years running around with nothing but her stead, her familiar and her spirit guide. She talks to herself when she thinks, she chews on her nails out of nervousness, she walks around without shoes because the feel of the earth below her keeps her alive.

Not to mention, she still has a set of conflictions about being left behind.

Would it be worth it to run back to the people who barely even tried to look for her? Was she really about to want to face the people who abandoned her?

She paces, a few yards from Arthur’s makeshift camp for the night. She wonders if she should abandon the whole thing and run back up north into the snow and cold and trees. She could run back to Dr. Galloway; she knew he would give her everything if she’d ask.

But that wasn’t what she wanted. She wanted her old home with her old family who took her in without a second thought.

She continued to follow Arthur until she made it to the edge of their new camp. It was larger than she remembered it; livelier with a few more men walking around, drunk and loud.

Annabel watched Dutch greet Arthur with a somber hug that lingered a little too long. Words were quietly passed between then before Hosea came up to place a comforting hand on his shoulder. Ms. Grimshaw was on him, pushing Dutch out of her way and wrapping her arms around him while scolding him for running off without warning.

He was the golden son, next to John. He would always be brought in with open arms if he were to leave and come back.

Maybe she’d get that.

.-.-.

She didn’t think following Arthur would lead to her being dragged back with her hair threatening to be pulled form her scalp and the threat of death looming over her heart. She scared, but she won’t show fear – fear only gave away weakness to the enemy and that wasn’t something she was going to do in moments like this.

She continued to curse the two men who brought her back to their camp, and soon enough a fear that was true and heavy settled in her belly as she thought about those who would recognize her. Dutch would know she was following her, Hosea would see how much she’s grown, Arthur and John would see the woman she’s become, and Ms. Grimshaw and Pearson would know how much she’d learn.

But she was frightened by the fact that she would be rejected from her has been home. The man she called her father – a man who was more of a father then the one who bore her – would have the chance to judge and scrutinize her from running away from them instead of coming home.

But they had left her to the mercy of a wolf who claimed he was her spirit guide and to the mercy of the wilds of the world. She had run from bounty hunters and witch hunters and people who wanted to out her, and now she was about to be shown to the people she had once trusted.

Would she be able to stay once more?

Would she be able to trust again?

The man pulling her by her hair yelled out, his voice high with excitement as his brother kicked at her calf. She snarled and tried to snap at him with a cloth in her mouth, but it did now good.

“Mac, what are you doing?” She knew that voice. Hosea called out to the man, the one who dragged her, and she knew she would get her revenge one day if she were to live through this. “I don’t remember knowing you disrespected women like this.”

A small crowd started to form, a few she didn’t recognized but she saw the way Hosea’s eyes widened as she scowled at everyone around her.

She watched everything around her happen in slow motions as John started to push Davey and yell at him in his gravely voice, telling him off about hurting a woman – his sister – like that. Hosea kneeled down, easing Annabel’s worries when she flinched at his sudden movements.

“I can’t believe you’re alive, Anna.” She stretched her jaw, groaning at the slight discomfort she felt.

“I can’t believe I found you.” Hosea cut through the ropes like butter before wrapping his arms around her shoulders.

She stiffened under the pressure of the embrace, unsure of how to feel. Should she cry? Should she yell at them for abandoning her? Should she stay unmoved or maybe run back to her camp? She didn’t know until she felt her cheeks grow cold with her tears as she shoved her face into the juncture of his shoulder.

“I missed you, Hosea.”

“We missed you too, sweetheart.”

“What’s going on over here!?” Dutch’s voice was always recognizable, with the way his octaves pitched a certain way when he grew angry and the way his heels stepped heavy into the muddy ground with a sense of power and pride. The group parted for him, showing the small woman leeching herself to Hosea for a comfort she didn’t know she needed, and he froze. His daughter – the only girl that he and his sweet Annabelle had claimed as their own – laid shaking softly in the arms of his greatest friend and partner in crime.

He called out to her, but she didn’t look up at first. Fear was one hell of a thing to have coursing through one’s body but with Hosea’s encouraging voice and soft hand on the small of her back, she looked up at him – brown eyes on brown that were both full of emotion and regret and want – and all she could do was hold back a sob by biting her lip.

Arthur watched it all from the sidelines, from right next to John who had a soft smile upon his lips. Annabel, the girl who disappeared and was thought to be dead for four years, only for her to be in front of them – alive and well (despite the rope burns and the angry curses she threw towards the Callander boys) – as she pushed herself to her feet and throw herself into Dutch’s arms.

Arthur has never seen Dutch cry – he barely shed a tear when Annabelle died in his arms, but he knows that he sobbed and screamed in the privacy of his tent once the rage had left his blood – but in that moment, tears fell silently from Dutch’s eyes, staining his cheeks as he laughed in an melancholic sense.

Words were whispered into shoulders as Annabel leaned up and Dutch leaned down to embrace each other. Other dispersed with Ms. Grimshaw pulling both Callander boys to scold them and telling John to grab Annabel’s belonging from where they had taken her.

The night was spent in relative silence, Dutch and Annabel catching up within his tent as John and Arthur set up her space between Dutch’s and Arthur’s space. She had an abundance of furs, and she still had the same horse that Arthur brought her one day all those years ago (but he won’t admit that it warmed his heart at the thought that she kept him for all those years). The gelding was still young, but less green as he followed and obeyed with a calmness he hasn’t seen in a horse. He’s well taken care of, with his shiny coat and easy mouth, he required little to no push to move forward and he was friendly with about anyone.

The talk between Annabel and Dutch still went on, and Arthur could see the tears that made their stripes known along her cheeks and dripped down onto her dress and hands. She was trying her best to not seem so vulnerable but when it came to Dutch, she could only weep about the past and hope that she had a future within their make-shift home.

Arthur knew that Dutch would bring her back within a heartbeat, no questions asked. She was his only daughter, the only thing that kept the idea of his lover alive.

She was the last living remnant of his lost love and he wasn’t about to let that slip by.

So, she stayed within the camp, working along side Ms. Grimshaw with a confidence that surpassed their previous memories of her. She’d grown into that body of her, full of maturity and love and pure, hellish fight, but Arthur merely watched from afar.

He’d hate to admit it, but he was afraid to grow attached to her. There was a fear that was deep seated from his previous interactions with women, that she would disappear from his life if he grew close to her.

Mary had left him, Eliza had been killed, it wouldn’t surprise him if he grew close to her if she turned to dust in front of his very eyes.

But the idea of it still clenched his chest far to tightly to be very comfortable.

So, he avoided, running on job after job after job just to avoid her linger eyes filled with worry and annoyance. She’d grown so close to those around the camp, taking care of Bill when he gets too drunk to take care of himself, scolding Uncle when he falls over his own two left feet, and even going as far as stitching up John’s injuries when he comes back with a deep wound that he got from a robbery gone wrong.

Arthur hoped that he’d never have to encounter her eyes – the ones that were soft and harsh all the same, with a comforting judgment that he would live to encounter over and over and over – but that day came when he was holding his coat over his abdomen with shaking hands. Blood seeped through his fingers like water and soaked his palominos coat to the point he wondered if he stained her beautiful fur.

He heard her scolding before she felt her hands pulling him from his saddle, and he was almost glad that she pulled him down from his high horse – literally and figuratively. She had Bill and Mac drag his sorry ass to his cot as John helped Ms. Grimshaw boil water and grab clean cloth.

Annabel’s soothing words reminded him of that night he spent under the hot August night – the one that where he dreamed a pleasant dream instead of the harsh nightmares that plagued him until he was an insomniac. He heaved heavy breaths, only to have his anxieties soothed by her slender fingers pushing through his damp hair.

“I got you, don’t worry.” Her whispers are heavenly, and they pull him from the brink ever so softly. She was comforting, and he can remember that was the first time he fell for her.

Sure, he remembers the days all those years ago when she was angry and filled to the brim with hatred and hell fire, and he would tell anyone that he had liked her then, but in this moment – so soft and so endearing and so comforting – he would tell those close to him that this was the moment he knew that he was a romantic at heart.

His cornflower blues mixed with her umber eyes, and the way she smiled at him with the softest crinkle in her eyes, he melted under her touch and gaze and voice.

“This is going to hurt, Arthur.” She would speak his name as if she was an angle ready to take him to heaven, even though he fought and yelled and screamed that he didn’t deserve a place in those sacred clouds.

He still let her run her soft fingers through his golden locks.

She cleaned and stitched him up with little resistance, her humming pulling the pain from his body and leaving him tingly all over. The tune that vibrates from her throat is reminiscent of the one that Annabelle would sing to not only her but to John when he couldn’t sleep because of nightmares.

He was softening – far too early and far too soon – and he starts to convince himself that he didn’t deserve the attention that she gave him.

He builds a wall, with stiffening shoulders and bitten cheeks as she continues to hum while she cleans his forehead with a damp cloth and checks on his wounds every hour.

Arthur swears that would be the last job he takes from information Bill gives him.

.-.-.

Annabel sits by the fire, darning needle in her left hand and Bill’s blood-stained shirt in her right. She weaved the needle into the fabric watching carefully to keep her fingers from the point. Ms. Grimshaw was off to her right, washing stains from shirts and jeans as Pearson chopped up wild vegetables and plucked the feathers from the turkeys that Annabel brought home that morning.

She had found herself growing comfortable with her presences in camp. She and John were the closest, bickering like siblings only to drink by the fire with Bill as she talked about her travels into Canada and down into Mexico. They were a team on con jobs when Hosea pulled them from their chores, playing the stereotypical newly weds among rich bankers and railroad magnates.

John had settled himself next to her by the fire, his cup filled with fresh coffee. She poked fun at how sweaty he was, telling him he needs to get in better shape if he’s having a hard time hauling bales only a few feet.

They joked, something they do consistently now a days, when Annabel froze and stiffened. The air shifted, but John didn’t seem to notice the way she turned her head towards the end of camp and poked her finger with the needle. Blood bubbled slightly and soaked into the brown shirt that she was darning, as she cursed and stuck her finger in her mouth.

Uncle rode up with a tipsy smile along his lips, a young woman clinging to the back of him. She had a healing black eye along her delicate cheek, and thin arms showing the lack of nutrition she must have gotten on the streets.

“What did you bring us now, Uncle?” Arthur called out from his place chopping wood. The call grabbed Dutch’s attention as he looked up and audibly sighed. The drunken old man always seemed to bring him more problems then solutions.

“This is Abigail, and I saved her.” Annabel placed her project over the log, making soft strides along the crisp grass. Spring took over the area, leaving a sweetening breeze and a warm sun over their nomadic home.

“Why do I feel like he saved her from himself.” She mumbled to John, who followed closely next to her. He muffled a chuckle into his mug, but she could tell that he was failing by the crinkle of his crows’ feet.

“Uncle, I can’t have you bringing strays into camp.” Dutch placed his hands on his hips as he watched Uncle help – or really pull – the woman from the romp of his horse. Ms. Grimshaw was the first one at Abigail’s side, pushing Uncle away and swatting away his filthy hands and taking full responsibility of her newest girl.

Annabel knew that she would get pulled into chores with the guise of protection from the outside world.

Abigail was young from what she got from their small conversations from the fire. Barely eighteen years of age, a prostitute by trade, or well, she was before Uncle brought her in. She was smart and keen, and Annabel tried to get to close to her, tried to get to know her but she was short tempered and snappy with most of the residences of the Van der Linde Gang.

She did well on jobs with Hosea, but Abigail closed herself off for the first few weeks within the camp.

The only time she opened up was in the midst’s of midnight, under the confinement of the men’s tents when she knew that god wouldn’t look down on her. Annabel felt energy surge through the air, thick and heavy and filled with a need for satisfaction and satiation. It was a deep-seated lust that left Annabel sick to her stomach. Each night, Abigail’s energy would mix with the men who lived close enough for her to hear their snores.

First it was Bill, but that was the only time she ever felt their aura’s swirl. It was filled with childlike curiosity and uncertainty. She wasn’t sure who’s was who, but it was the first and last time she felt it.

Second time was Dutch, who she did her best to create three-layer barriers to hide her mind from the idea that her surrogate father was doing such things to someone so young.

Then there was John, who did his best to avoid her at night, but soon enough he couldn’t help himself. She was on the brink of sleep, curled up among her furs when she woke up in a cold sweat when she felt the softening and glow like energy suffocate her.

Abigail was showing love, something that she wasn’t used to feeling during the other times. She could barely feel John’s aura as Abigail surrounded and sheltered the young – and frankly oblivious – man with a feeling that left her slightly uneasy but also happy.

Then, she felt Arthur.

And she grew nauseated.

And jealous.

Annabel couldn’t judge her too much, if at all. She remembered her time traveling alone, filled with pent up rage and arousal. She remembered the men who weren’t so soft against her skin, who took instead of gave.

The man was attractive, smooth with his words and his caring soul was paled in comparison of his strong heart.

That didn’t stop her from sitting among her furs, her nails digging crescents into the skin of her palms.

Annabel would be lying to herself if she said she didn’t feel something for Arthur, from the moment she found him on that one full moon out in the middle of nowhere. She took his pain and ate it only to convert it into pleasant dreams and a sobering mind. He was sweet and kind and she wished he still didn’t try to avoid her.

But now, she felt Arthur’s and Abigail’s energy meld together like honey and sugar, something she wished was Arthur and her.

She wished she could mix with him like honey and milk – like oil and fire. She wanted to feel his fingers brush against her skin and his teeth to nip at her throat. His hard body pressing into her softening belly as she danced spells into her moans that were casted into the moon lit sky. She wanted to carve her name into his back with her nails, mark her vows into his neck with her teeth, leave letters of love and adoration with her tongue on his lips.

Annabel scoffed, snarling at her own thoughts as she left that night by horseback.

She came back in the morning, a deer along Zander’s back and a nasty scowl across her face.

Annabel noticed, practically weeks later – after watching and listening and feeling – that was the one and only time he spent the night with her.

Chapter Text



It was barely three in the morning when Abigail stumbled from her tent towards the tree line. Her stomach churned with heavy discomfort as she leaned against a tree and heaved the contents of last night’s dinner from her stomach. The feeling burning her throat and causing her stomach to churn harsher than before. There was nothing left in her stomach, but it didn’t stop her stomach from trying to push whatever through her throat.

She gasps and leans against the tree, beads of sweat pearling on her brow, as she wipes her mouth with the back of her hand.

Someone reaches for her, and she looks over to see Annabel looking concerned. She’s silent, knowing neither of them wanted to wake the men or Ms. Grimshaw. Annabel guides her back to her tent, allowing Abigail to sit among of her bed covered in furs. Abigail watches as Annabel pulls vials and roots from wooden boxes. Ginger root was pulled and shredded with a blade; freshly sharpened with a handle made from elk bone.

Its blade is thin, but a few inches long with the purpose to be easily concealable. She watches as Annabel places the herbs in a mortar and pestle.

“How long have you been feeling sick?” she adds a few drops of water within the porcelain bowl.

“I don’t know. A few weeks.” The smell of ginger with ginseng and mint overpowers both of their senses but Annabel doesn’t seem bothered by the strong scent.

“When did you last… you know.” She pulls one of her camp spoons and handed them to Abigail. “When did you last have sex?”

Abigail paused in her motions. It was a few weeks ago, and she’s been trying to get close to John (in more ways than one). They’ve been so busy with moving around from town to city to state, that privacy wasn’t an option.

“I don’t know. A few weeks.”

“How long has it been since you’ve bled?”

Abigail sits and thinks hard about it. She thought it was just stress, so she didn’t worry about it. But now it’s starting to make sense.

“Oh, God. Anna…”

“First eat what I gave you, it’ll help with the upset stomach.”

She eats her spoonful of paste, making a face as the overpowering taste of mint sitting at the back of her mouth.

“Why so much mint?”

“Helps with breath.” Annabel kneels in front of Abigail, her hands on the younger woman’s knees.

“Did I wake you?”

“Kind of, but it’s okay. I was about to get ready for a hunt.” Abigail looks down at her hands, unsure of what to do in the moment. It’s still dark out, but the sun would be rising within the hour or so and with the July heat hitting everyone hard, it’s no wonder she wanted to rise before the sun.

“What do I do?” Annabel sighs, pushing herself up to sit next to Abigail. She holds her hand between her own.

“I’m not sure. I’ve never had to deal with this, but… I think the first question is whether you want to keep the child or not?”

“Of course, I want to keep the child. How could you even ask that?” Annabel raises a brow as Abigail seethes at her. She would yell and scream because how could someone ask her that? Why would she ask her that?

“For many reasons. The life we live isn’t safe or stable for a child, and you’re young. On top of it, do you even know who the child’s father would be?”

Abigail sat there in silence, her body burning hot from the news. It was settling in now, the idea that there could be a child within her belly. She sits there with her palm pressed to her stomach, her mind reeling more and more as she continued to think about it.

“You’re in your head, I can hear your thoughts.” Annabel was far to kind to her, Abigail noticed. Her hands rubbed circles over her shoulder blades, a soft humming sound came from her throat. “Do you know?”

“John’s.” her voice was barely a whisper, but Annabel made a face before she could hide her own thoughts.

“Oh, gods…” she sighs, pinching the bridge of her nose in concern.

“Why do you make is sound so terrible that he’s the father?”

“Because he’s irresponsible and a child.” Annabel looks down at the ground, thinking about what was going to happen once this gets out. “But I could be wrong. He might step up if you tell him.”

They sat in silence, Abigail’s hand on her stomach as Annabel leaned forward on her thighs.

The sun rises and shines through the tents opening, leaving the two of them basking in the warmth of the sun and the cold silence.

.-.-.

John didn’t react to the announcement well.

It started off a rather quiet day, Annabel skinning rabbits that she had collected from her traps as Pearson chopped up the wild carrots that she brought home from her morning hunt. There was a playful banter between them as she cubed the gamey meat and threw into a wooden bowl to be seasoned.

“Maybe we should get you out there with a bow or a rifle and get you to come back with meat instead of complaining that there’s never any food.” He chuckles, even though he crinkles his nose.

“The day you get me out hunting, is the day we eat a feast.”

“Of market bought game.” She bites back, flashing a amused smirk towards Pearson, who merely shook his head with a chuckle rumbling from his chest.

He goes to rebuttal; something weak most likely, but the moment his mouth opens, John’s voice echoes through the camp.

“That’s bullshit, Abigail!”

“Don’t be a fool, John! I should know who’s the father! I’m the one making the damn child!”

Annabel puts her knife down, a heavy sigh leaving her nose as she cleans her hands of the blood. “Oh, boy…”

“Did she just say child?” Pearson comes to Annabel’s side, peaking around her to watch the two young adults argue and yell at each other.

“Yes.”

“She’s pregnant?” she groans this time, placing a hand on his shoulder.

“I’ll go calm them down.”

The yelling and the raging energy that swirled around the two was unbearable, a lingering and heavy aura that felt like she was being crushed by a rock. Her chest felt tight, but she still pushed through to the eye of the storm, placing a hand on Abigail’s arm.

“You are insufferable, John Marston!” Annabel did her best to keep Abigail from reaching out to hit John, holding her back by her waist and trying to talk calmly in her ear.

“What in god’s name is goin’ on!?” Dutch and Arthur finally peered from the privacy of Dutch’s tent, the both of them bounding over to where John continued to yell at Abigail.

“She’s pregnant and she thinks it’s mine!” Abigail lunged at John, and Annabel nearly stumbled trying to hold her back.

“I know who the child’s father would be! And it’s you, Marston!”

They continued yelling until John grew fed up with the pitched screaming and mounted his mare and rode off. Abigail pushed herself from Annabel’s hold, cursing John’s name as she did so and ran to her small tent with tears spilling from her eyes.

Annabel was left in the middle of the camp, her eyes following Abigail as she shuts herself from the world around her.

“Well, it makes sense why she’s been throwin’ up.” Hosea commented, bookmarking his novel and placing it down on the rounded table.

“Should we send someone to go after John?” Annabel looked from Abigail’s tent to the forest line that protected their makeshift home.

“No, let them both cool off. They’re young and stupid, but they’ll soon enough have to grow up.”

Annabel huffs, placing her hands on her hips as Arthur stands next to her with his thumbs hooked into his gun belt.

“Well, that was eventful…” she looks over at him, a worried look furrowed into her brows.

“You know how John is.” He sighs, pulls a cigarette and a match from his satchel. “He’s hot headed, and dumb.”

“He’s young.” She mutters under her breath, running her hands over her face.

“You and John are the same age.” She looks over at him as he chuckles into his lit cigarette. She gaps, trying to hide her smile behind her futile bickering.

“Yes, but he’s still…” she laughs at this point, knowing full well that she wasn’t any better than he was. “He’s gonna have to get used to it, huh.”

“Yep.”

They stand next to each other in silence, watching the way the wind pushed through the leaves. She enjoys his presence whenever she’s around him, and she wish it wasn’t as rare as it was now. He goes day’s away from camp, running jobs with Hosea or scouting robbery’s with Bill and the Callander boys. He was working, constantly and coming back to camp in time for there to be leftovers from their nightly meals.

She sighs, soft and hopefully inaudible, leaning her body towards Arthur’s. He had a pull on her, she knew that and for some reason, she found that to be dangerous as well as exciting.

“Well, I should get back to making dinner.” She whispers, looking over at him as he finishes his cigarette and snuffing the remaining embers in the dirt below. “Will you be joining us tonight?”

“Most likely. Hosea and I are ridin’ out tomorrow morning to a city down south.”

“I’ll be sure to pack you some food for tomorrow.”

“That would be mighty nice.”

Silence lays down thick and awkward, his hand scratching the back of his neck and her bottom lip caught between her teeth.

“Okay.”

She walks off after that, not sure what to do next.

Gods, she felt like a child once again.

.-.-.

Her hunts were filled with an unsettling silence, her bow thrown over her shoulder with her arrows thrown into quiver. The morning was covering in dew and fog and the echoing bugles of elk. Turkeys gobble with the morning light, flapping their wings at the sudden movement that she caused.

She stayed kneeling behind the brush and trees, an arrow already nocked and her breath already settling low in her belly.

She sees a cow elk, grazing along the river line with her herd. The cow wanders farther from her herd to graze along the berry bushes, closer to where Annabel settled with her weapon.

She waited until the cow was settled, pulling at the hardy leaves as Annabel pulls the arrow back and lifts her body over the bushes.

She whistles and the cow’s head pops up right as she releases the arrow. The cow drops as the arrow sticks from its skull, and the heard goes running in a mild panic from the sound of a body dropping harshly.

She lets out a long, low whistle for Zander, who nickers and trots his way over to her. Strings of rabbits and pheasants were tied to the sides of her saddlebags, blood dripping from their open wounds.

She skinned the elk with deft fingers, pulling at the hide and cutting as much meat from the animal as she could. Meat was ripped from the hocks and shoulders, wrapped up neatly in a canvas cloth before she stripped the meat from the rips in small pieces, packing them the same way she did the hocks and shoulders.

Everything was packed and thrown onto Zander’s rump, and by the time she made it back to camp, the sun was high in the sky. Her hips rocked with the motion of Zanders canter, a hand resting along her thigh as she hummed a soft tune.

She trotted into camp and was met with Dutch calling for her. He had a man under his arm who tried to make himself seem small. He seemed quiet, but Dutch was boisterous as he dragged the man over to where Annabel stood, throwing small game over her shoulders.

“Anna, I want you to meet Javier.” He stood back, placing his hands out towards the man in some grand gesture. She could only smile softly, before placing the string of animals into the man’s arms.

“Nice to meet you, do you think you can take those to Pearson?” he watched, slightly wide eyed and unsure before looking down at the fresh animals, “I’ll meet you over there, don’t worry. He has no bark, let alone a bite.”

Dutch pulls the hide from Zander’s romp, a wide smile along his lips as they both walked towards Pearson’s wagon. “Where’d you find him?”

“I was stealing chickens.”

“You? Stealing chickens? Well, I’ll be…” she sets down her bow against the butchering table, a smile gracing her lips as she thanks Javier with a nod, “What’s his story?”

“Not sure, but he’s got potential.”

“He seems quiet.”

“Give him time, he’ll surely open up.”

Annabel hums as Dutch throws the hide down on the ground, before placing a soft hand upon her shoulders, “Maybe you can talk to him, I know how you and Annabelle used to play folk songs by the fire. Get to know him and,” he points a finger towards Bill, who laid down by the fire like a drunken fool, “keep him away from Bill.”

“I’ll do my best.”

“Good.” He places a soft kiss upon her forehead, something that started to become common the longer she stayed within camp.

She did as she was asked, got to know the man that seemed rather skinny and feeble. He barely spoke any English, but both she and Hosea worked their way into helping him learn. It took some time, but he grew accustomed to the roll of English along his tongue.

It also helped that an older witch that Annabel learned from was from Mexico and taught her Spanish during the two years she ran with her before her death. She liked that woman; she was old but stronger than most in her age and wiser beyond her years. She told Annabel of the witch trials that occurred in Spain when her great grandmother was still a child. Her family has fled from there, hoping to find peace and solace within Latin America. She was a sweet lady, kind and willing to teach the young witch what she knew.

“Her name was Sofia.” She talks with Javier in his native tongue, shocking the both of them that she could even hold a conversation with each other.

She laid among her pile of furs holding a talisman that Sofia had given her. A hag stone tied up into a beaded necklace and blessed under the full moon and rushing rivers.

“Never forget that magic is laced with intentions. Don’t let the anger that resides in your belly, taint the good within your heart.”

.-.-.

The cold started to disperse and spring brought along a flourish of flowers and pollen.

Abigail was swollen, close to giving birth.

Annabel was worried; the way Abigail groaned in pain and would have to stay bed bound through most of the day because she wouldn’t be able to stand or do much for very long. Her fatigue was growing the bigger her belly grew and by early March, Annabel had a feeling that she would be due.

It was the middle of the night when Annabel woke in a cold sweat. Her light cotton chemise sticking to her sweat sheened body as she threw herself from her cot covered in furs and blankets. She kneeled into the ground, her fingers gripping the furs as she gasps for air.

Her nightmares are coming in harsher voids, her body taking a toll from the memories that she’s done her best to repress into the back of her mind.

She lets herself breathe, pulling the thinning cotton blanket from her cot to her shoulders before she heard a scream. It pierced through the camp, leaving a chill down her spine as she rushed from the comfort of her tent, her blanket now abandoned.

She forgot that she was barely covered, but at this point it didn’t matter when Abigail was wailing in pain.

“What’s going on?!” Annabel rushes over to where John and Ms. Grimshaw talk in rushed voices, Ms. Grimshaw looks at her with incredulous eyes. She was still dressed in her chemise, a thin sheen of sweat still covering her skin. “Where’s Abigail?”

A scream of pain pierced through the three of them, and Annabel pushed past them and into Abigail’s tent. She’s on her side, clutching her stomach and soaking her cot with sweat.

“Ms. Grimshaw!” Annabel placed a hand on the woman’s hip, feeling the way her skin scalds under her fingers and in that moment, she felt time freeze around her. She knew that magic is transferred from mother to child, but it’s rare to see a mother’s magic come from the creation of a child.

Abigail was a witch.

The aura was hot and thick, and she’s surprised how long it too her to notice that she was a witch. She screamed as another contraction hit her, and a surge of energy burst and shook the ground below Annabel. Maybe, that was her imagination since no one else reacted the same way she did.

“Oh, what do I do now…” she mumbles as Ms. Grimshaw comes in with a bucket of hot water and towels over her shoulders.

“How is she?”

“Her contractions are rather far apart, we’re gonna be here a while.”

Annabel heard the hushed voices of the men from behind the tent flaps, Dutch talking to John about how this was a big day for them. Uncle talked in drunken slurs, while Javier played a soft tune by the fire.

Abigail does her best to keep her voice quiet as her contractions hit her closer and closer together but as the morning sun rose and heated the dewy grass outside, her voice started to grow raspy and course with each contraction. Damp rags covered in blood were thrown out of the tent, Abigails wails only grew louder as the child’s head started to crown.

By the time evening came around, time stood still once Abigail’s last push brought the child into this world. The energy that burst was hotter than fire and it hit her like a wave of hot emotions that left her breathless and suffocated. Thank the gods Ms. Grimshaw was there to take the child with a linen white sheet, placing the small delicate infant onto the new mother’s chest.

“It’s a boy.” Ms. Grimshaw’s smile is wider than ever, excited at the prospect of a child within camp. Annabel can’t seem to find air within the fabric walls of the tent and pushes herself through the flaps and into the cool evening air.

She traveled down to the end of camp, sitting on a rotting log covering in overgrown moss. Annabel had to get her bearings straight, her head seemed far too fuzzy and drunk on the energy that cast a barrier around Abigail’s tent. It left her feeling tingly, her lungs constricted and the way it tied its way around her neck and pulled her into the essence that made Abigail a witch.

A witch… She couldn’t believe that Abigail was a witch. Of all the people in the world, it had to be the young mother. All she could do was scoff, pressing the heels of her palms into her eyes until she was seeing spots behind her lids.

A blanket is draped over her shoulders and she flinches just slightly at the contact. Fingers brushed over her shoulders, and she reached to pull the blanket closer to her body for warmth, though it’s not like she needs it with how feverish she feels.

She looked over her shoulder, watching as Arthur threw his legs over the leg to settle next to her. They reveled in the silence, letting the sun give them the last bit of warmth before it settled below the western horizon. The breeze that brushes over their bodies is refreshing and easily leaves Annabel dazed and exhausted.

Arthur scribbles in his journal, his pencil scratching at the thick paper. She knows he probably writing or sketching something, but she doesn’t peak, and she doesn’t talk.

She enjoys his company while she can, despite how distant he’s been.

.-.-.

 

A year passes and John breaks.

He’s tired, Annabel can tell. He’s got bags under his eyes, he’s snappier than usual (it’s left Annabel smacking him across the ear more than once) and it takes only one last push from Abigail for him to pack his shit and leaves.

He throws his saddlebags over his mare, a tired sigh pushes through his nose. Annabel is up, peaking through her tent at his commotion. He’s like a bull in a China shop, his heels stomping into the grass and his gun belt jingling with each step.

She slips through, a robe covering her body and all John could do was glare at her.

“You’re not gonna convince me to stay, are you?” she furrows her brow, crossing her arms and huddling into her body.

“John –,”

“I can’t do it, Anna.” He seethes, and she wonders what he means. “That child is not mine.”

“John –,”

“No, Annabel. Don’t even try –,”

“Would you let me speak.” She snaps, baring her teeth and snarling at him. “I’m not gonna try and convince you to stay, dammit. Just,” she runs a hand over her face, before taking soft steps over to Pearson’s wagon. “at least take some food with you.”

She pulls a canvas bag from the wagon, pulling canned foods and salted meats from crates for John. He watches her, confused with dissipating frustration.

“Why aren’t you stopping me?”

“Because it’ll only make it worse.” She ties the bag, holding it out to John as she walks him to his horse. “I’ve had a feeling for a while that you’d leave.

They stand in silence, John looking down at their feet, kicking some dirt with his toe. Annabel leans down to look up at him, a hopeful smile along her face. She wraps the robe tighter to her body once more, before placing a hand on his shoulder.

“May you find what you’re looking for, and may your soul find its way home.” He chuckles, his façade breaking for just the slightest moment.

“You still practicing that witchcraft shit?”

“It’s my way of life, John. I’ll never stop practicing.”

They stand like that, listening to the calmness of earth beneath their feet. Wolves howls, and owls hoot into the night. There are coyote yips that dance through the wind as they hunt their next meal. They simply enjoy their company before John sighs once more.

“Goodbye, John.”

“Goodbye, Anna.”

He rides off, and she wonders if she’d ever see him again.

She was stoking the fire, preparing the stew for the morning. The morning started off somber, almost melancholic as she started to make a broth and cube up meaty chunks. She hums to herself, softly whispering a good morning to Pearson and Ms. Grimshaw.

She continues to work as Abigail runs from her tent, a letter within her grasps – and Annabel is sure that the paper is crumpled between her fingertips – as she stomps over to Dutch’s tent to scream and sob.

Annabel continues to cook food as the camp falls into dismay, Dutch wondering if it would be possible to follow John’s tracks, Arthur growing anger consumes and blankets the camp as he fums and stomps around with intentions to beat John once they find him.

If they find him.

.-.-.

She remembers how Sean came to be apart of the gang.

Dutch and Hosea had invited Annabel on a job, a simple in and out larceny. They would distract the bar, and she would sneak back into where the employees would stash their items before work. It was simple and easy and with how small she way, sneaking around would be easier.

They left the bar with their pockets filled with cash, and the men’s belly’s filled with warm whiskey and rum. The alleyway where they had planned to sneak away from the town before anyone noticed their items gone was when a man comes up to them and points his dirty revolver at Dutch.

Annabel stands there, behind the two men she’s grown to call her family.

And she listens to them laugh.

The Irish man threatens them, his hands shaking from either adrenaline or the lack of food in his belly. Hosea and Dutch merely continue to laugh, and Annabel merely gives them a look of cluelessness.

“Go ahead,” Dutch continues to chuckle, lighting a cigar without a care in the world. Annabel places a hand on his arm, perturbed by the instigation. “Shoot us.”

Three clicks go off, his gun dry firing each time, and he stands there in shock.

The Irishman cowers, afraid for his life now that he’s threatened two men and a woman with an empty revolver, but he laughs with anxiety and tears dripping from him.

And when Annabel thought she would have to convince Dutch not to put a bullet within his skull, she watched as he walked up to him and wrapped an arm around his shoulders.

“Let’s get you a bite to eat, son.”

Sean rode on the back of Annabel’s gelding, who had less of a temperament than the older men’s horses.

She’ll never forget the incessant flirting she had to experience the whole ride home.

But she’d tell Ms. Grimshaw later that she enjoyed the flirting, no matter how silly it was.

Now, Arthur was different. He had a hard time getting used to Sean. He was loud mouthed, barely did what he was told, and always found a way to antagonize Annabel.

Though, it wasn’t antagonizing if Annabel invited it, right?

He was jealous, though he would never admit it to anyone – or himself – that he felt that way. How dare he feel jealous over a woman that wasn’t his. He shouldn’t even be thinking about getting into another relationship with how all of the others seemed to end terribly.

He’d only bring her down; or worse, get her killed.

So, he continued to fum from his tent, reading books that Hosea would bring back for him, or spend time with Abigail, getting to know his little nephew who was just starting to walk on his own. He wonders and imagines what it was like to see Isaac take his first steps, to watch the young boy wobble with confidence as he hobbled over to him.

He didn’t think too much of it as Jack stumbled over to his lap, plopping over his knee and crawling into his lap.

“Ah, te little lad likes ya.” Sean called from across the fire, Annabel pressed close to him as the night turns colder. He wondered what it felt like to have her so close, what her body felt like pressed so close to his side; what kind of warmth radiated from her body.

He merely grumbles, letting Abigail take the child from his lap as she cooed a soft tune in order to put him to bed.

He dismissed himself, not wanting to watch Annabel smile at the red headed man any longer than he’s already witnessed.

He barely slept as he heard her softening whimpers and Sean’s muffled grunts from her tent.