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Now and Always

Chapter Text

Andy could see the town sign from a good distance away. Kicking his feet, his horse sped up to a run just as the sun was sinking in the West. He’d been riding for the better part of four days straight, stopping only to eat and sleep. He’d hoped to make better time, but he’d finally reached Pawnee, and that’s all that mattered.

From the looks of it, it was a little town. A few large buildings came into view first, with rolling hills far off in the distance. According to his map, he knew that once he hit the dirt road, it was a straightaway through the center of town.

He was hungry now, his supplies having run out nearly a day ago. In a way, it was perfect timing. The first thing he had to do was find a place to get some food. Then he’d need a place to stay. He slowed his horse to a trot as he passed an old, broken down wooden fence lining the side of one of the nearest buildings, a schoolhouse.

The closer he got, the more he noticed how few people were actually around. A couple of men were sitting on the steps of a nearby wood shop, staring at him as he passed. To the right was a bank, with a black sign hanging on the door that read “CLOSED,” outside of which a couple of boys were drawing figures in the dirt with sticks.

“How’s everything going over there?”

Andy turned his head sharply to the left, where a young man was leaning against a rather elaborate building at least four stories high. It was easily the tallest building in town. He was dressed a bit fancier than what Andy was used to, and he was holding a silver pocket watch.

“Evening,” Andy nodded toward the man.

“Where you headed to?” the man asked, standing up straighter and taking a few steps toward Andy’s horse.

“Looking for a place to eat,” Andy replied cautiously. If he knew one thing, it was that you never tell a stranger your business. Last time that happened, he’d nearly lost an ounce of gold.

“Well, you’re in the right place,” the stranger hiked his thumb over his shoulder, pointing toward the building behind him. “The Regal Meagle Saloon has the best food and drink in town. I suggest you check it out.”

“Yeah?” Andy raised an eyebrow. “You go there often?”

“I work there,” the man replied. He extended his hand. “The name’s Thomas Montgomery Haverford, but everyone calls me Tom.”

“Andrew Dwyer,” Andy replied, hopping down off his horse and shaking Tom’s hand. “Call me Andy.”

“C’mon,” Tom turned toward the door. “There’s a place to tie your horse right out back. I’ll meet you in there.”

Andy nodded, walking his horse toward the place Tom indicated. There were a few other mares tied up, waiting for their owners to finish whatever business they had indoors. He hoped his stallion would get along…Champion had a bit of a temper at times.

“Andy!” Tom waved him over to a spot at the bar as he stepped through the doors.

Several men stared at him as he walked in, but no matter. Andy was used to getting looks. When you never stay in one place longer than a week, you get used to being the stranger in a strange land.

Tom clapped him on the shoulder as he took a seat. Andy did his best to smile, taking his hat off and placing it on a nearby hook.

“What’ll it be? I bartend here, so I can make you anything you’d like,” Tom gestured at the various bottles of alcohol behind him.

“Whisky,” Andy mumbled.

“Tommy, who’s your new friend?”

A woman came through a door behind the bar. She was outfitted even more elaborately than Tom was. Her dress was made of red and black silk, and she was wearing a matching headband with three large feathers sticking out of it. Rings glittered from each finger, paired with a large ruby necklace.

“Andy, this is Donna Meagle,” Tom explained. “She owns this place and all the guest rooms upstairs. Donna, this is Andy Dwyer. He’s passing through.”

“Nice to meet you, ma’am,” Andy nodded at her. “Great place you’ve got.”

“Thanks honey,” Donna winked at him. “My boy Tom here will take care of you. If you need a place to stay, come find me. We’ve got a couple of vacant rooms upstairs on the third floor.”

“She seems nice,” Andy pointed out, after Donna had made her way to the other end of the saloon.

“She is,” Tom nodded. “But she’s fierce as hell, too. Don’t ever cross her.” He handed Andy his glass of whisky. “So, what’’ll it be?”

“Bread’s fine,” Andy shrugged. “Bread, cheese, potatoes, whatever you have. I’m not picky.”

“You got it.”

 

Once he was done eating, and after another whisky, Andy placed some money on the bar and stood. He wasn’t sure what his plan was, but he was dead tired and needed to rest.

“Tom?” he said, once the other man had cleared away his empty glass. “You think I could stay in one of those empty rooms?”

“Sure thing,” Tom nodded. “Just bring your horse in the stable out back, and meet me back in here in five minutes.”

Andy did as Tom instructed. The stable was warm and clean, which was a good sign. He found an empty stall for Champion, and pulled an apple out of his saddle bag to feed him.

“Take a rest, buddy,” he patted the horse’s mane. “We’ve been riding a long time.”

It was true. Andy couldn’t remember the last time he’d been home. He’d written to his mother a few months back, but that was the last contact he’d had with any family since. It was a lonely business, being out on the road.

Once he was back indoors, Andy found Tom again. The bartender held a keyring, from which he removed a small key marked with the number four. He handed it to Andy.

“Third floor, room four,” Tom explained. “There’s a bed, a table, a couple of chairs, and a wash sink. If you decide to leave in the morning, just make sure to pay Donna before you head out. Like I said, she isn’t so sweet when people try to rip her off.”

“Got it,” Andy nodded. “Thanks for all your help, Tom.”

He began his ascent to the third floor, yawning as he did so. By now the sky was dark, and the moon shone brightly through the windows. He must’ve been more tired than he imagined, because by the time he reached his room, he was out of breath.

The space was just as Tom had described. A little small, but cozy, and the bedsheets were clean. At least it beat sleeping on the ground…his back ached from the very thought of it. Kicking off his boots, he stretched out across the bed and immediately drifted off.

 

A voice woke him not three hours later. Andy sat up and rubbed his eyes, peeking out the window. It was still dark…he hadn’t been sleeping for long. Whatever the noise was, it was right outside his door.

He stepped out of bed, his right hand resting on the butt of his pistol still holstered to his belt. No one was likely looking for him…at least he didn’t think so. Either way, he crept to the door and waited.

A female voice was talking, to whom he had no idea. He didn’t hear a second person, just the scraping of the woman’s boots as she loitered outside in the hallway. Andy let his curiosity get the better of him, and slowly opened the door.

Across the tiny hallway, a young woman was fumbling in a bag, looking for something. Her face was hidden, but she was short, with dark hair tied back in an elaborate style. Her clothing was almost costume-like, with bright violets, blues and blacks, shining from a corset and skirt combination ending in long, fishnet stockings. She turned when she heard him.

Andy swallowed hard. Now that he saw her face, he noticed how pretty she was. Large brown eyes stared at him, tired yet lively. She looked away quickly, finally pulling a tiny brass key out of her bag.

“Thought I locked myself out,” she muttered, flashing him a tiny smirk as she let herself into her room. She closed the door behind her with a soft snap.

Andy blinked, shook his head, and closed his own door. As he tried to fall back asleep, he wondered what a young woman like that was doing out so late. Especially on her own. He didn’t know these parts very well. Yet, from the look of things so far, Pawnee seemed a little desolate. Then again, maybe someone was waiting for her inside? He tried not to think too hard about it. After all, he had to head out first thing in the morning.

Chapter Text

The morning dawned bright and clear. A shaft of sunlight spilled in through the window, hitting Andy hard in the face. His sleep had been surprisingly comfortable—something he didn’t often expect from places like this. For once in a long time, he felt refreshed.

He gathered what little belongings he’d brought with him. The first thing he had to do was head to the bank to trade some gold. He decided he’d stay for one more meal, pay Donna, and be on his way.

Tom was standing outside the saloon, just as he’d been the previous evening. When he saw Andy, he waved him over.

“Andy! How was your sleep at the Meagle?” Today, Tom wore a velvet three piece suit of deep purple.

“Fine,” Andy replied, placing his hat on his head to avoid squinting in the sunlight.

“Gonna stick around a bit?” Tom asked. “There’s plenty to do here.”

Andy knew he may not always be the brightest guy around, but he found that hard to believe.

“Nah, I don’t think so, Tom,” he shook his head. “I’ve gotta hit the bank and head out. But I’ll stop by again for more food before I go.”

“That’s a shame,” Tom shrugged. “I mean, there’s plenty of good people around here. And like I said, plenty to do. There’s a circus just down the road. Hundreds of people come to see it. There’s also been an influx of travelers since they found gold up in the Pawnee River.”

Andy turned abruptly, his eyes narrow. “You say there’s gold?”

“Well, that’s what I heard,” Tom said. “A guy by the name of Christopher Traeger had some luck about a month back, now folks from all over want to see if they can do the same.”

Andy thought hard. The whole reason he was passing through was to get to Eagleton, which was the next town over. They’d had more luck with gold in the last month than any other town in the area. Now though, Tom was telling him Pawnee had some too…

“I guess I could stick around for a bit,” he reached into his pocket and pulled out some money, placing it in Tom’s hand. “Here, this is for last night, and two more night’s worth for that room.”

“You won’t regret this,” Tom assured him. “You’ll love it here.”

“Yeah well…it beats traveling full-time.” He peered down the road. “I’ll catch you later, Tom.”

“Sounds good, Andy.”

Before heading to the bank, Andy took a moment to check on Champion and feed him another apple. His horse looked as comfortable as he could be in the stable. He was probably just as worn out as Andy was.

 

The early hour didn’t stop the bank from buzzing with people. Clerks ran back and forth behind a large wooden counter as customers waited patiently.

“Can I help you?” one man behind the counter asked, once it was finally Andy’s turn.

“Yeah,” Andy nodded. “I wanted to cash something in.”

“Well, what’re you looking cash in?” The man narrowed his eyes at Andy, sizing him up.

Andy pulled a sizable golden nugget out of his pocket, placing it on the counter. The clerk’s eyes went wide.

“That’s…quite the piece,” he muttered, taking out a magnifying glass to get a closer to look. “This can fetch you a pretty penny.”

“That’s what I plan on doing,” Andy replied. He was proud of this piece. It had taken him nearly a week to find it. He’d been carrying it on him for the past month, guarding it with his life. Now though, he was out of any proper money. He needed to change that to keep going forward.

“Okay, just a moment,” the clerk disappeared into a back room, taking the gold with him.

As Andy waited patiently for him to return, his eyes roamed around the building. A few people gave him odd looks, but most minded their business. He really had no idea why these people felt the need to stare…unless of course, they really didn’t like strangers in their town. Finally the clerk returned, the gold in one hand and a large cloth sack in the other.

“This is the payout,” he said in a soft voice, trying not to draw too much attention. “If you sign here, it documents that the trade was made fair by the Pawnee Town Bank, and you agree to the terms.”

Andy wasn’t good at stuff like this. He did his best to remember everything his father had taught him about gold and money. That was before he’d died while Andy was still a kid, so a lot of the knowledge was fuzzy. However, he trusted this banker enough. Something about him seemed genuine.

“Sounds fine,” he shrugged. He signed the dotted line, and the clerk handed him the sack.

“Anything else I can do for you?”

Andy shook his head. “I don’t—well, actually…where’s this circus I’ve heard about?”

“Just down the road,” the clerk replied. “Take a right out of here, and keep walking. You’ll come across a sign, and then you’ll see the tent. Big red and white canvas. Can’t miss it.”

“Thank you,” Andy reached out to shake the man’s hand.

“Ben,” the clerk replied. “Ben Wyatt.”

“Andy,” he smiled.

“Take care, Andy.”

 

Ben Wyatt was right. The tent was huge. There was no way anyone could miss the large pattern of red and white stripes. It towered as high as some of the trees.

A couple of men were hanging around outside the tent’s entrance. One was seated next to a sign displaying the times of each show. The other one squinted at him, leaning his back against a nearby wagon filled with hay. Andy couldn’t help but notice the dirty looks they gave him as he approached.

“Here to see the morning performance?” the one in the chair asked in a gruff voice. He was filthy from head to toe, and his clothing was patched in several places.

“Yeah,” Andy took out a few coins and paid him.

“Through the tent flap there…choose any seat.”

Surprisingly enough, there weren’t as many people as Andy was expecting. Sure, it was still early in the day. But from the way Tom was talking about it, he was sort of expecting a larger crowd. Regardless, he took a seat near the back row and waited.

There were three large rings in the arena, all of which contained a brightly colored platform. The one on the right had a cannon mounted on top, the center one was empty, and the left one had about five clowns juggling balls in a circle. It was only when Andy turned his head toward the back of the tent that he saw her.

She was in the same costume-like outfit she wore when he saw her outside her door, fumbling for her key. Her black, shiny hair was tied back in an elaborate braid, and her dark eyes shone as she led two of the circus horses to the center ring. She lifted her hand in greeting, and the small audience gave a cheer as she mounted the horse and proceeded to perform trick after trick.

Andy watched with wide eyes as she leapt over hurdles and fences. At one point she dismounted, guiding the stallions as they followed her every command. There was something about her that pulled at him. It was as though he couldn’t seem to focus on anything else. Even when she led the horses back out the tent flap, he couldn’t concentrate on the high-flying trapeze act that followed. Instead, he stood up and made for the exit.

There was practically nobody outside. One man had disappeared, leaving just the one collecting money for the tickets.

“Hey, um,” Andy said, looking around. “Have you seen the woman who just performed? I saw her come out this way and—“

“What’s it to you?” the man asked, his eyes narrowed.

“I just wanted to talk to her for a minute,” Andy said.

“She doesn’t got any time to talk, she’s got to get ready for her next act.”

“Okay,” Andy muttered, frustration creeping up on him. “When’s her next act?”

“Bout ten minutes,” the man spit near the side of the tent.

“Great,” Andy walked in the opposite direction, glancing back over his shoulder. Once he was sure the sitting man was distracted and no one else was looking, he turned and ducked behind the back area of the arena, where a large sign spelled out “EMPLOYEES ONLY” in bold lettering.

Sure enough, he saw her about twenty feet away, tying the reins of the horses to a fence. She looked up when she saw him approach.

“Hello,” Andy said pleasantly.

“Hello,” she responded, backing up slightly. Andy saw the fear in her eyes. It gave him a weird feeling that he couldn’t shake.

“I saw your act a few minutes ago,” he said congenially. “You were really great. I don’t know how you train the animals to do what they do.”

“Thank you,” she replied, petting the horse’s mane. “It takes some work, but they’re smart animals.” She looked him up and down, crossing her arms. “Is there something I can do for you?”

“I don’t know if you remember me,” Andy said, taking his hat and holding it in front of him. “But I saw you last night…when you were trying to get into your room. I’m the room across from you. You said something about losing your key?”

Her eyes widened, and recognition spread across her face.

“That’s right,” she smiled. “God, that was embarrassing. I do remember now.”

“I’m Andy Dwyer,” he extended his hand.

“April,” she shook it.

He couldn’t help but notice the blackish-blue bruises that littered her thin arms. His stomach did a funny clench. April must’ve noticed him staring, because she yanked her arm away quickly and hid it behind the horse.

“So,” she looked around, and her eyes landed on his pistol, carefully tucked into its holster, and the revolver on his other side. “You work for Jamm?”

“Who?”

“Jeremy Jamm,” she said. “He owns the circus and a bunch of other stuff in town.”

“Oh, no…” Andy shook his head. “No, I just got into town yesterday. I’m just staying for a few days, and a couple of people told me I should check out the circus. So I did.”

“Oh,” April actually smiled a bit, her face looking more relaxed than it had since they started talking.

“I was actually—“

“Hey!”

They were interrupted as one of the men from earlier stormed into the area, his face red and sweaty, chest puffing in and out like he’d been running.

“What the hell d’you think you’re doing?” He pointed a long finger at Andy. “You’re not allowed back here. She’s supposed to be onstage in two minutes, and she’s not even ready for the next act.”

“I was talking to her,” Andy said darkly. “That a problem?”

“As a matter of fact, it is,” the man replied. “You,” he pointed to April. “Get your ass in there.” He grabbed her arm, and with a hard shove he pushed her toward the back entrance of the tent.

Immediately, Andy’s hand went to his belt, fingers grazing the butt of his gun.

“I wouldn’t touch the lady like that again, if I were you,” he said angrily, standing between April and the other man.

“That’s none of your concern,” the man replied angrily. “She doesn’t work for you. She works for us.”

“Andy,” April’s voice was soft. She looked terrified. “Don’t—I have to go, okay? It was nice meeting you.” With a quick movement, she disappeared into the tent. Andy watched her go, his mind racing.

“I think it’s about time you got outta here,” the other man growled.

Andy gave him the darkest look he could muster, before pushing past him and out toward the front of the tent. Slipping back in through the flap, he took his previous seat in the audience and waited.

 

The Pawnee River turned out to be a bust. Not only did Andy walk away empty handed, but there were so many town folk looking for gold that there was barely any room to maneuver. To make things worse, no one really looked like they knew what they were doing.

Maybe Tom was right, and maybe at one point the river had gold. Now, whatever was there was long gone. By the time he arrived back at his room, Andy was exhausted, frustrated and disappointed. Not to mention…a little distracted from the events that had transpired earlier.

 

Andy stayed up late that night. He wanted to wait for April to return to her room. He didn’t want to seem like a creep, but at the same time, he felt obligated to check on her. He really didn’t trust those men she worked for. The way that guy shoved her…the bruises on her arms…it had given him an unsettling feeling that left him distracted for the rest of the day.

It was after midnight when he heard the shuffling outside his door. This time, he could hear her talking to someone.

“Hey,” he opened the door slowly, peeking outside. April stood there, her eyes widened at his sudden appearance. Slung over her shoulder, fast asleep, was a small girl.

“Andy,” she breathed. “I wasn’t expecting you to be up.”

Andy stared at her and the little girl. He didn’t know what to say.

“You…um,” he hesitated. “She’s yours?”

“Yes,” April replied softly, shifting the sleeping child to her other shoulder. “This is my daughter. Her name’s Amelia…well, I call her Mia.”

“How old?” Andy asked curiously.

“She just turned four a couple of months ago,” April said.

“She’s pretty,” Andy smiled. “Looks like her ma.”

“Thank you,” April smiled back at him. “Um, I’ve gotta get her to bed…”

“Oh! Of course,” Andy said, feeling foolish for letting her stand there carrying the sleeping girl for so long. “Let me help you.”

He bounded forward, opening the door up for her. As April walked in, Andy took a quick glance around her living space. It was slightly bigger than his. She had one larger bed in the corner of the room. In the other corner was a door, leading off into a smaller, separate area, where Andy could see another bed. A rug was rolled out under her little table, and a few children’s toys were scattered across the floor. There was no sign of anyone else there other than the two of them.

“Thank you,” April said, walking over to him once Mia was tucked in bed. “I get home so late and she’s always asleep by the time I get out.”

“Does she stay at the circus with you?” Andy asked.

“No,” April yawned. “She stays with a friend of mine.”

“Oh.”

A silence fell between them. Andy stared down at April…this tired-looking circus performer who couldn’t have been any older than twenty…and he felt a rush of pity.

“So listen,” he began, scratching his neck. “Those men who run the circus—“

“It’s fine,” April shrugged, cutting him off but not meeting his eyes. “It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it. Everyone calls that guy Sewage Joe. He’s gross and he’s horrible to everyone.”

“Do they hurt you?” Andy asked seriously, his eyes lingering on her arms. He couldn’t help but notice a fresh, angry bruise on her shoulder blade. It definitely wasn’t there when he saw her earlier.

“Hey,” she said, bringing a hand up to rest on his arm. “Thank you for sticking up for me earlier. It meant a lot. I’m fine though, okay? Don’t worry about me.”

“Your arms—“

“It’s nothing,” she shook her head. “Thank you, Andy.” Without another word, she leaned up and kissed his cheek. Then, she turned and closed the door softly behind her.

Chapter Text

“You new to the area, son?”

Andy turned on his bar stool, his breakfast of ham and eggs barely touched. The voice startled him. No one aside from Tom the bartender really gave him the time of day in this town.

Standing behind him was a tall, stocky man, with the bushiest mustache Andy had ever seen. On his vest was a gleaming sheriff’s badge, and around his waist was a revolver that reminded Andy of his own, encased in a thick leather holster.

“Yeah,” Andy blinked, staring down at the man’s elaborate belt and boots. “I’m just passing through. Name’s Andy,” he said, extending his hand.

“Ron Swanson,” the man replied, taking a seat beside him. He raised a hand to Tom, who only nodded.

“You the sheriff?” Andy asked, knowing the answer already but not sure what else to say.

“Yep,” Ron nodded, taking a sip of the whisky Tom placed in front of him without question. “I’ve been the sheriff for the past ten years. For some reason, no one’s had a problem with me yet.”

Andy grinned. There was something about this Ron Swanson guy that he liked.

“Well, that’s pretty impressive,” Andy nodded.

“You could say it’s one of my grander accomplishments,” Ron’s mustache twitched. “Where you from?”

“Not around here,” Andy said, sipping his own drink. He looked at Ron’s belt again. It reminded him of the one his father used to wear. His old man always used to tell him, “You can learn a lot about a man by the way he wears his guns.”

“I see,” Ron nodded.

“Andy’s a great guy,” Tom piped up, leaning on the bar. “He’s staying here at the Meagle while he’s in town.”

Ron nodded knowingly. “Donna Meagle is a fine woman,” he said. “She’s fair, she’s honest, and she runs her business better than any damn man I’ve ever known.”

“Yeah, I’ve talked to her a few times,” Andy said.

“Plus, her bar has a damn fine whiskey,” Ron added.

“That she does,” Andy laughed.

Ron finished his drink, tossing some money on the bar as he stood.

“Well, if you decide to stay for a bit, and you want to make some extra money, let me know,” he said. “I run a wood and blacksmith shop in town, and I’m always looking for people who look like they’ve got a good head on their shoulders. I pay well, too.”

“That’s nice of you,” Andy grinned.

“Give me a call if you decide you want some work,” Ron inclined his head, turning to walk out.

As the older man headed for the door, Andy had a sudden thought. Ron said he’d been sheriff for ten years in this town. Surely he’d know a thing or two about a certain circus performer and the people she worked for.

“Oh, hey…Ron?”

The sheriff turned back around to face Andy, his eyebrow raised.

“What can you tell me about Jeremy Jamm?”

Andy watched Ron’s eyes darken at the name.

“Son, I’ll advise you not to go get mixed up with him or his sort,” Ron said sternly. “Jamm is one of the most dishonest men I’ve ever had the displeasure of knowing. I don’t know how he’s got his hands in so many businesses in town, but I can assure you, none of it is honest. I’ve been trying to bust him for years, but I can’t seem to catch him in the act.”

“He runs the circus, though,” Andy said. “The circus is pretty popular, right?”

Ron nodded. “It is. People like entertainment.”

“How do you think he treats his workers?”

By now, Donna had come into the main bar area. Andy could see her listening from the door to the kitchen.

Ron sighed. “Probably not very well,” he said. “But a lot of them have no where else to go. You take care, Andy.” With that, he turned and walked out into the street.

Andy stared at the rest of his food, his meager appetite completely gone. If April was stuck working for the worst man in town, it certainly wasn’t a good situation. For her, or her daughter…

“Andy,” Donna spoke up, leaning across the bar top to whisper to him. “Why d’you wanna know?”

“I met a girl…a woman,” he said. “She lives across from my room upstairs.”

Donna’s eyes narrowed.

“She’s the animal trainer at the circus, and I met her the other day,” his voice was low. “She uh…she’s got some bruises on her arms. She won’t tell me what they’re from, but I bet it’s got something to do with those men who work there.”

“April Ludgate,” Donna said softly.

“You know her then?” Andy’s eyes brightened. “Is she okay? What can you tell me about her? Does she live alone? She’s got that little girl, and she’s always home so late, and—“

“Andy,” Donna held her hand up, silencing him. “It’s best if you don’t get involved.”

“What are you talking about?” Andy looked at her incredulously. “She’s getting abused!”

“I’ve tried to help her,” Donna told him. “I give her a deal on rent, and food for her baby girl. She won’t open up to me though. She won’t open up to anyone. It really is none of my business, nor yours.”

“Donna,” Andy couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “She can’t live like that. That’s not healthy, it’s terrible.”

“We live the only way we know how,” Donna said sadly. “We’re all just trying to survive in this town.”

 

When he left the Meagle shortly after, Andy’s head was pounding from all the new information. He was only planning on staying in Pawnee one night. That next morning, he was supposed to be on his way, never to look back.

Now though…now all he could see was April. April with the bruises…April carrying her young daughter up all those stairs to the tiny room at midnight. The look on Sewage Joe’s face when he saw her talking to Andy the previous day. It was circling his brain like a tornado, and he couldn’t clear it.

He couldn’t leave. Not yet. Not now.

A voice broke his concentration, and he looked across the street. A blonde woman was leading a group of children toward the school house, all of them filed in a straight line. It was a mixture of boys and girls, and most of them appeared to be around the same age.

At the very front of the line, holding the woman’s hand, was Amelia.

“Hey there,” he raised his hand and walked over, smiling at the woman and the kids. The group of them looked up at him, the children’s eyes wide and fearful.

“Hello,” the woman said nervously, glancing at the children. “Can I help you?”

“Would you happen to be friends with April Ludgate?” Andy asked.

The woman hesitated before answering. “Yes, I am,” she said, pulling Amelia closer to her. “Do you know her?”

“I’m sort of her neighbor,” Andy explained, kneeling down so he was at eye level with the kids.

“April is my mama’s name,” the little girl spoke up suddenly, her brown eyes searching him from behind the woman’s dress. She looked just like her mother, down to the way she bit her lip. Her coloring was the same, except for her hair. It was curly, and much lighter than April’s dark locks.

“I’ve met your mama,” Andy said, smiling at her. “She’s a very nice lady.”

“I’m Leslie Wyatt,” the woman said, looking a bit more relived. “I was just leading the kids back to the schoolhouse. I’m the their teacher.”

“Wyatt?” Andy asked. “Is your husband Ben Wyatt?”

“He is,” Leslie nodded. “You’ve met him?”

“At the bank yesterday morning,” Andy nodded. “He’s a good man.”

“Thank you,” Leslie smiled. “I think so too.”

By now, the children were starting to get restless. The older ones whispered quietly amongst themselves, and Andy noticed a few of them pointing to his gun belt. Amelia didn’t break her stare.

“Are you my mama’s friend?” she asked quietly, looking from Andy to Leslie. “Mrs. Wyatt, is he a nice man?”

“Well, are you?” Leslie grinned, raising her eyebrow.

“Well, I like to think that I’m your mama’s friend. And I’m definitely a nice person,” Andy laughed.

“She doesn’t have a lot of nice friends,” the little girl said sadly, staring at the ground.

There was an awkward silence, in which Leslie looked at Andy with hard, tired eyes. Andy stared back, unsure what to say. Finally, he cleared his throat.

“Well, it was really nice meeting you all. Don’t let me keep you…I’ve gotta be off.”

“Nice to meet you, too,” Leslie said. “Hopefully we’ll see each other again.”

“Definitely.”

 

As he walked the path to the circus, Andy did a mental check of how much money he had. Definitely enough to keep traveling for a few months. Eventually, he would run out. That gold was the last bit he’d had on him, and he only had a handful of other cash from before. He’d probably have luck in Eagleton. Everyone did.

Then again…did he even want to go to Eagleton anymore? Every time he thought about leaving, he felt guilty.

Ron Swanson’s offer was in the back of his mind. A solid, steady job would be a nice change. He could stick around for a little while longer. Maybe even help April with some money issues. He could buy her and her daughter something nice.

Before he knew it, he was at the tent’s entrance, but Sewage Joe was no where in sight. Instead, a young man was sitting on the stood.

“Can I get a ticket, please?” Andy asked, handing him some money.

“Sure,” the man was dressed in a tight-fitting one piece costume or silver and blue.

“Do you perform here?”

“I’m one of the trapeze artists,” the man said. “I’m Derek. My partner Ben and I are a team.”

“I thought you looked familiar,” Andy nodded. “Where’s the guy who usually collects the money?”

“No idea,” Derek shrugged. “He told me to come out here for a minute and hand out tickets. He also told me if I tried to steal any, he’d cut my arm off…but why the hell would I try to steal something, right?”

“Right,” Andy squinted at him. “D’you happen to know if I missed the animal trainer act?”

“Not yet,” Derek said. “She’s about to go on. Might not be her best today, though.”

“Why’s that?”

“She got hurt this morning,” Derek said. “Hurt her arm pretty bad.”

“How?” Andy asked, feeling the unease creep up his spine.

“Don’t know…just saw her a little while ago and she was in some bad pain.”

“Um…are there any days the circus is closed? D’you guys ever get a day off?”

“Sundays are the only day,” Derek replied.

“Okay, great. Thanks for the information. I’ll see you in there.”

Andy hurried to take a seat, his heart pumping furiously. She got hurt. How in the hell did she get hurt from the time he saw her last night to right now, early afternoon?

Unless it was no accident, which he doubted it was. One of those men was probably responsible. Anger welled up inside him, and he clenched his fists tightly at the thought.

Luckily he had arrived right in time for her performance. He watched as April came out, a huge smile on her face as she waved to the crowd. They all cheered.

If he’d blinked, he would’ve missed it.

As she turned to mount her horse, she winced. Her arm gave way as she was pulling herself up. She stumbled a little, stopping herself before she hit the ground. Andy leaned forward in his seat, gripping the arm rests until his knuckles turned white.

As though it was no big deal, April got up, smiled again, and mounted her horse, where she proceeded to do her usual tricks.

Five minutes later, as her act came to a close and the audience clapped, Andy looked back to the other end of the tent. There he saw them. Sewage Joe, and two other men standing against the poles, watching her every move.

He stood up immediately and darted through the tent entrance. Sprinting down the road, Andy didn’t stop until he found Ron’s wood shop.

 

For three whole days, Andy worked non-stop. He woke early, worked late, and went to bed at a reasonable time to be in his best form. Ron was pleased that he was such a fast learner. Skilled with wood working, and even more so with blacksmithing, Andy earned every cent he made.

Ron seemed to take a liking to him, too. Andy learned a lot about the older man in those three days. He learned that he had a wife, and three young children. He also learned that he’d lived in Pawnee his entire life, and had no intention of moving any time soon.

“Nice job, son,” Ron nodded, as Andy turned out horseshoe after horseshoe, his hands calloused and dark and burned, but never tiring. “You’ve got a talent, there.”

“I used to help my dad a lot,” he shrugged, wiping his forehead with a cloth. “Me and my brothers used to work with him every day.”

“How many brothers do you have?” Ron asked.

“Had,” Andy corrected him. “I had six brothers. I lost one about six years back. He caught some sort of fever. I lost another one when I was really young. Got shot by some outlaws for not paying back a debt.”

“Sorry to hear that,” Ron said seriously.

“Yeah,” Andy nodded. “They were good guys.”

“How old did you say you were?” Ron asked.

“Twenty-nine,” Andy replied.

Ron nodded. “Well, you’re one hell of a worker. I’d love to have you stay on as long as possible.”

Later that afternoon, as Andy received his day’s pay from Ron, he finally realized why he liked the man so much. He honestly reminded him of his own father, and a little part of him ached because of it.

 

When Sunday dawned bright and clear, Andy woke early. He managed to bathe himself as best he could—God knows he needed it—and dressed in freshly laundered clothes, all thanks to the generosity of Ron’s wife, Diane Swanson.

He ate breakfast, payed for another week’s worth of rent, and tended to Champion. Finally, when he was sure he wasn’t too early, he hurried back upstairs and knocked on April’s door.

After a bit of shuffling on the other end and hushed voices talking quickly, April peered through the crack. Once she realized was who it was, she widened the gap.

“Morning,” Andy smiled at her. It was the first time he’d seen her in something other than her circus costume. Today she wore a simple grey cotton dress.

“Morning, Andy,” April said, stifling a yawn. “It’s been a few days.”

“I didn’t know you noticed me,” he said, honestly surprised.

She smiled, but didn't elaborate further.

“Yeah, I actually got a little job,” Andy explained. “So I haven’t been able to stop by the circus as much.”

“That’s fine,” April shrugged. “I mean, I don’t expect you to watch all the time. It does get boring day after day.”

He felt the urge to tell her that he could never get tired of watching her perform. In that moment though, he kept that particular thought to himself.

“Listen, um,” Andy scratched his neck. “I hope I’m not waking you up or anything…”

“You’re not,” she shook her head.

“Mama! Who is it?” Amelia’s little voice called from somewhere in the room.

“It’s Andy, baby,” April answered. She looked up at him. “Mia said she saw you the other day while she was with her class.”

“That’s right,” Andy nodded. “I was on my way to your show, actually.”

“She keeps asking me if you’re my friend, and if you’re a good man.”

“What do you tell her?” Andy raised his eyebrow.

“I tell her that you are,” April smiled.

“Well, that's good to hear,” he laughed.

April’s face lit up. Andy couldn’t get over how beautiful it made her look, despite the tired eyes and pale cheeks. Somehow, the smile made all the difference.

“Do you want to come in?” April asked, opening the door a little more. “We’re about to have lunch.”

“That would be nice,” Andy said. “Thank you. There’s actually something I wanted to give you, too.”

“Mama, why’s Andy here?” Amelia came hurrying out of the little side room, a rag doll in her arms.

“Hi Mia,” Andy inclined his head to her.

“Andy’s going to join us for lunch,” April explained, setting out three dishes, a loaf of bread, and some honey.

“You can sit next to me,” the little girl smiled, climbing up onto one of the chairs.

“I’d be honored to,” Andy grinned.

“So, how did you know I’d be home today?” April asked, cutting them each a slice. Andy noticed how delicately she moved her right arm.

“Well, by chance I met one of the trapeze artists the other day. He was handing out tickets for the show instead of that—” Andy stopped, looked at Amelia, and decided to choose his words more carefully. “That other guy.”

“Oh,” April said softly, rubbing her elbows. “I see.”

“It’s nice that you get a day off,” Andy said. “You must be exhausted.”

“I am,” she nodded. “I’m just glad I get one day with Mia where I get to see her the entire time.”

“Mama, can I have more honey, please?”

April sighed, looking at the small jar. “We don’t have enough right now, Mia,” she said softly. “You can have more with dinner, okay?”

“She can have my share,” Andy said quickly. “Really, I don’t mind!”

“No, she’ll be fine. You’re our guest,” April pointed out.

Amelia looked at her plate sadly, the bread already mostly gone. Andy took the knife and cut his own slice in two, and gave one half to her.

“I had a big breakfast,” he said.

“Thank you,” Amelia said softly.

“You’re very welcome. Anyway, there’s a reason I wanted to talk to you today,” Andy said, turning back to April. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a stack of money. “I want you to have this.”

April’s eyes went wide. She looked from the cash, to Andy, and shook her head.

“I can’t take that,” she said, waving her hand.

“I’m giving it to you,” Andy said seriously. “Please, take it.”

“It’s yours.”

“I told you, I’ve got a job now. It pays well. I want you to have it.”

April bit her lip. “What do…I mean…is there something you wanted from me in return?” she asked, her face falling.

It took Andy a moment to realize what she meant. It hurt that she even had to ask such a thing.

“What? No! Of course not!” He shook his head frantically. “It’s a gift!”

She relaxed, and suddenly her eyes looked wet. She stood up without warning, and flung her arms around his neck.

“Thank you,” she whispered, her small form shaking against him.

Andy held her close, his large hands nearly covering the entirety of her back. He could feel her hands clinging to him, a mixture of relief and fear. His neck was wet from her silent tears, but still he held her.

“Is my mama okay?” Amelia asked nervously, clinging to her doll.

“She’s fine, sweetheart,” Andy nodded, smiling at the little girl.

“I’m fine, baby,” April sniffed, finally breaking away. She swiped at her eyes with her sleeve and sat back down. “Everything is fine.”

Chapter Text

Time has a funny way of creeping up on you. Andy learned this pretty quickly. His stay in Pawnee had morphed into something much more, and before he knew it, an entire month had passed.

He was still working for Ron. Still staying at the Reagle Meagle. He was still visiting the circus as often as he could. At some point, the thought of traveling to Eagleton became a far away dream in his head. He didn’t think about it often…he didn’t even want to. It was just there, dormant and uninteresting compared to his life at the moment.

Sewage Joe had grudgingly let him in to the show every single time, only because Andy was willing to pay. Apparently, money overrides flat-out dislike, but Andy wasn’t surprised. Such was the way of the world.

Every night, he would stay up waiting for April to get home. He had to know that she and Mia were safe. It got to the point where he couldn’t sleep if he didn’t. Only when he saw her safely back at her room could he relax, and drift off to be ready for work the following morning.

Then there were those times, and Andy was always fearful of them, when April would show up with a new bruise. The night she came home with a horrible dark mark above her right eye, he’d nearly lost it. She would never tell him where they came from, or who had given them to her, but he knew. That time, she had to stop him from storming out of his room at midnight with his gun drawn.

“Andy, it’s nothing,” she’d assured him, pressing her hands against his chest as he tried to push past her down the hallway stairs.

“It’s not nothing!” he’d said angrily. “It’s never nothing! Why are you letting them hurt you like this?” He’d yelled, angry and fed up that no one was doing anything about it.

“Please,” she had whispered, as her eyed filled with tears. “Andy, please…”

He’d gone to bed angry that night, angrier than he’d been in a long, long time. When he woke up not long after, sleep avoiding him, he left his room intending to apologize for raising his voice to her. He certainly wasn’t expecting to hear her crying though her door.

Her door was still unlocked. With a soft knock, he let himself in, only to see her sobbing on her bed. Wordlessly, he scooped her into his arms and held her, rubbing her back until she had fallen asleep. It was the closest physically that they’d ever been, but neither of them had complained, nor did they mentioned it the following day.

Andy was hoping that she would’ve been able to take the money he gave her and quit working the circus. He soon realized that her life wasn’t that simple.

 

Sundays turned out to be the best day. April allowed him to spend time with her and Amelia on her one day off. They would eat lunch in the field, or ride horses to the outskirts of town and through the paths of the woods.

One afternoon, Andy invited the both of them to the wood shop to watch him work. Not only did Ron greatly approve of Andy’s friendship with April, but the older man was charmed by Amelia. So much so, that he and his wife gifted the girl with several new toys and a bunch of hand-me-down dresses from Ron’s older daughters. April had been simply overwhelmed by their generosity.

“That was too kind of your boss,” she said to him as the two of them rode down their typical path through the woods one beautiful Sunday. “Mia’s never had so many nice dresses before.”

“Ron is a good man,” Andy nodded, directing Champion over the familiar brush and bramble. “I’m really honored to be working for him.”

“You should be,” April replied, steering her borrowed horse from Donna’s stable. Andy admired her skills as a rider. They extended far beyond the circus arena.

“Speaking of Mia, where is she this morning?”

“She’s having a playdate with Leslie’s daughter,” April told him. She stole a sideways glance, her smile apparent no matter how she tried to hide it. “She really likes you, you know.”

“Oh yeah?” Andy grinned at her.

April nodded. “She always asks about you…nearly every day. She was a little sad she couldn’t come with us, but I told her she was going to have a fun time with her friend Sonia.”

“She’s a great girl.”

“Thanks,” April said. “It’s been hard, you know, raising her alone. But I think I’m doing a decent job.”

“You certainly are. Better than decent.”

“As long as she grows up to be a good person, that’s all that matters.”

They rode in silence for another half mile or so, listening to the wind rattle the trees and the babbling of a brook to the right of the path.

Andy had been withholding a particular question as long as he’d known April. He was never sure when to bring it up, or whether or not it was even appropriate in the first place. Now though, since they were on the topic…now might be a good time.

“April,” he started slowly, staring straight ahead. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” she nodded, pulling the reins to slow her horse down.

“Where is Mia’s father?”

He knew right away that he’d struck something in her. April’s entire demeanor changed. It was as though a cloud had descended over her, and her eyes looked sad.

Andy felt terrible. “I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “That’s none of my business, I—“

“He’s dead,” April said, looking up at him. “He died when she was a baby.”

“Oh.”

“She never knew him.”

“I’m sorry,” he said sincerely.

She shrugged, silent.

Another half mile, and neither of them had spoken again. Andy was worried that maybe he’d said the wrong thing, and now April was mad at him. If so, he hated himself for asking something that was honestly none of his business in the first place.

He was about to offer up another apology when April spoke.

“I got pregnant when I was fifteen years old,” she said.

“Oh,” was all Andy could manage to say in response.

“I had her when I was sixteen. Her father was from Eagleton,” April chuckled lightly. “God, no one understood why he would take up with someone like me. Especially his own parents. They were way more upper-class than my family and they disowned him after that.”

“That’s stupid,” Andy shook his head.

“Well, it was nothing compared to how my own parents reacted,” April said bitterly. “It was out of wedlock, so my father beat me for it.” She stared ahead, her eyes narrow. “I couldn’t walk for two days. I’m surprised I didn’t lose the baby.”

Andy felt sick. He didn’t know what to say. Sure, there were definitely times when his own father would give him or one of his brothers a well deserved smack. But never, ever, did any of them get beaten.

“We were going to get married,” she continued. “He was…ugh, it sounds so stupid. I thought he was the love of my life. We had everything planned out. We were going to run away from home, move north past Eagleton. We wanted to see what was out there and raise our baby away from both of our hateful families.”

“So what happened?” Andy couldn’t stop himself from asking.

April gave him a sad look. “My father paid to have him killed.”

“What?” Andy thought he’d heard wrong.

“I had just given birth to Mia about a month earlier. It was really hard on me. I was in bed for weeks after, barely able to walk. Somehow, my father found out we were planning on running away. He had some ongoing business deals with Jeremy Jamm. My father worked for one of his other businesses…the wheat business, or something other food-related job. He paid to have Mia’s father killed. His reasoning was that her father was trying to ‘steal me away from my family’ and kidnap Mia. Not like he cared about my daughter in the first place,” she scoffed. “He just wanted it to sound legitimate.”

“I’m sorry, April,” Andy said, looking at her.

“I didn’t even know it was my father’s doing at first,” she shook her head. “They told me Mia’s father had had an accident, and I believed them. Then, about three months later, my father gets into some bad business with Jamm. He owed him a lot of money. Instead of getting the punishment he knew was coming he, uh…he sold me.”

Andy pulled Champion to a stop. April halted a little ahead of him, glancing back over her shoulder.

“April,” Andy whispered.

“There was nothing more to it,” she shook her head. “For the past four years I’ve worked at the circus, slowly chipping away at my father’s debt. He was free once he gave me away, and the money he owed was transferred to me instead. I haven’t seen my parents since. Last I heard, my mother had passed a year ago. I didn’t even get to go to her funeral. I mean, not that they would’ve wanted me there.”

“You haven't tried running away?” Andy asked, although he knew it was a stupid suggestion.

“I can’t risk my daughter’s life,” she said simply. “They would find us. He’s got men everywhere. Jamm knows he can hold that over my head. If it weren’t for Mia, I wouldn’t care what happened to me.”

She led her horse to a little clearing where the trees opened up on both sides of the stream. Andy followed silently and dismounted, and they let the horses graze nearby. April sat down against the trunk of the largest tree, her knees drawn up to her chin.

Andy sat down beside her, resting his hat in the grass nearby. He looked at her sadly.

“Have you ever been in love, Andy?” she asked him. “Like, real love?”

He was taken by surprise at the question. No one had ever asked him that before.

“Once,” he answered truthfully.

“I told you my story,” she said playfully. Although, she couldn’t hide the sadness in her eyes.

“I loved a girl once, back in my hometown. I was twenty-three when we met, she was twenty-one. Everyone thought we were going to get married.”

April nodded knowingly.

“We were never officially engaged, but we knew it was coming.” He leaned back against the tree trunk, staring into the clouds. “Then she got sick.”

“Sick?”

“Mmhm,” he nodded. “Fever. Same one that killed my brother.”

“You must’ve taken that very hard,” she said softly.

“I did,” he said. “Worst part was, it happened while I was away. I was riding west with two of my other brothers looking for gold. By the time I came home, she was already gone. My brother was too. Doctor said it happened over the course of a week.”

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.

“She was…um,” he cleared his throat, trying to ignore the tightening there. “She was pregnant.”

“I’m so sorry,” she said, staring at him. “That’s…losing a child has to be the worst thing in the world.”

“Yeah,” Andy picked at some grass by his legs. “No one knew except for the two of us. Y’know…like you mentioned, the whole out-of-wedlock thing wouldn’t have gone over well with either of our families. I got pretty depressed at the time, though.”

“Of course you did,” April nodded. She leaned into him, resting her head on his shoulder. A warmth filled his chest at the sudden contact.

“You’re the only one I’ve told that story to in six years,” he smiled softly. “I guess I put it out of my mind.”

It had been so long that he was starting to forget what she had looked like. Details were fuzzy, slipping away a bit more with each passing year. Even now, as he sat here with April, the thought of his past seemed distant and wrong.

“At least we’re both here,” she said, staring off at the trees across the stream. “That’s what matters now. I’ve got my daughter, and you’ve got your whole life ahead of you. I know you’ll do amazing things.”

Andy wasn’t even sure what he wanted to do anymore, but he did know one thing for sure. He wasn’t going to leave April and her daughter trapped like they were.

“I’m going to help you pay off that debt,” he said.

“Andy, that could take years,” she shook her head.

“I don’t care how long it takes,” he promised her. “I’m going to help you. I’m going to get you out of that circus. I’m going to get you a real home, and I’m not leaving until I do.”

April sat up straight. Her wide brown eyes bore into him, searching his face.

“Of all the people I’ve ever met in my life, Andy Dwyer,” she said, her gaze unflinching. “You are by far the most amazing.”

He didn’t have time to reply, because in that moment she was kissing him. Her lips were warm against his, soft like the rest of her as she opened her mouth for him and he felt her tongue brush against his own. Just like that, he was lost in her.

His arms wrapped around her naturally, grasping her slender waist. Her own were wound around his neck, tangled in the curls at the base of his head. Slowly, without breaking apart, he moved her down into the soft grass and her body followed his lead without question.

“I promise,” he kept whispering between kisses, while his hands ran up and down her sides.

“Mmhm…” She was breathing deeply through her nose, refusing to break away as his much larger body hovered over her own. Her hair, which had been tied back so neatly, became a tousled mess as she lay back in the grass, while her hands found their way under his shirt. He felt them brush lightly over his stomach, his muscles clenching automatically.

He couldn’t help the groan that escaped his lips when he felt her palms sliding against him, reaching down over the obvious bulge in the front of his pants. April showed no signs of slowing down, so neither did he. Everything in that moment felt so right, so unbelievably raw and primal. His brain’s sole focus was to pleasure her, to make her happy.

“Yeah?” he breathed against her lips.

“Uh-huh,” she whispered, running her mouth over his jaw.

As he kissed her, he reached around her back to fumble with the buttons of her dress. She sat up a little, just enough to help him along. He kissed down the side of her mouth, biting gently at the soft skin when he reached her neck. She tasted like sweat and honey, and every nip was mesmerizing.

“Hurry,” she whispered, freeing her arms from her sleeves. She was frantic, her chest heaving against him when he finally managed to get the top of her dress down.

Andy leaned back, if only to marvel at her. She was beautiful; her breasts small but perfect. Her torso was slim, almost frighteningly so. He couldn’t tare his eyes away from her bruises, though. Small ones, large ones, scattered throughout. Marks painted her perfect skin like a canvas, and he felt anger trying to push aside the desire, both emotions fighting together for dominance.

“Hey,” her voice was soft as she cupped his cheeks in her hands, diverting his attention back to her face. “It’s okay,” she smiled.

“It’s not,” he shook his head, bringing his hand to rest on her cheek.

“It is,” and she pulled him back down to kiss him again, eagerly tugging at his shirt, helping him shed his vest and the rest of his outer layers.

He nodded, distracted by her motions. She slipped the rest of the dress down around her ankles until she was naked before him, staring up at him in the warm grass.

“God,” he breathed. “You’re so beautiful.” She was the most gorgeous woman he’d ever laid eyes on, and in that moment he couldn’t imagine ever being with anyone other than her.

April only smiled, reaching down his front to help undo his pants.

He stiffened completely at her touch, his erection pressing angrily against his pants. Hurriedly, he reached down himself to shed his belts. Once that was done, the rest of his clothes were off in an instant.

She let out a tiny thing of a moan as she gripped him bare, running her hand up and down his shaft in slow swirling motions while he stared at her longingly.

“You okay?” he asked as he leaned over her, lining himself up at her entrance. His heart was pounding. “This okay?” He reached one hand forward, slipping one finger inside her while circling her clit with his thumb.

“Oh,” she gasped. “Oh, fuck…yes,” she nodded furiously. She reached down to grasp his wrist, helping him pump his fingers. “Like that.”

With her free hand, April reached up to slowly stroke his cock. Andy let out a deep, guttural groan, bending his head down to mouth her breasts. They were soft and warm…and felt absolutely perfect against his lips.

“Fuck…fuck,” she cursed loudly, guiding his wrist faster and faster. “Andy…please…God…” He could feel her tightening around his fingers, her breaths coming in ragged gasps, until she moaned loudly beneath him.

He took a moment to kiss her softly, helping her relax through her comedown. She felt so soft, so delicate, that he was afraid to place his full weight on her for fear of crushing her. Instead, he propped himself up on his elbows while he ran his lips down the valley between her breasts.

Then, finally pulling his hand away, Andy thrust forward, quickly burying himself inside her. April arched up into him, her nails digging into his flesh as she let out a loud, sharp moan.

“Yes,” she cried, reaching up to cup his cheek.

“God, you feel so good,” he groaned, staying still for only a moment, enjoying every explosion of nerves.

His eyes clouded over as he became lost in the sensation of her body. Everything was April. Everything he could see, smell, feel…he was completely gone from that first thrust, knowing full well that no other feeling would be as good as this.

“Fuck,” he groaned. He pumped slowly in and out, trying to find a rhythm.

She leaned up to kiss him, their mouths connecting so forcefully he thought he was hurting her. He felt her teeth against his lips, felt the desire that had been suppressed for so long.

“Faster,” she pleaded, arching up to meet him while her slender body shook. “Please, Andy…fast—ugh,” she cooed sharply as he angled himself. “Faster.”

Leaning forward, he ran one hand through her hair. With the other, he reached down and added his fingers to where they were joined once more, circling her slowly and deliberately. He watched her eyes widen, her breasts heaving at the double sensation.

“I’m never leaving you,” he said suddenly, unsure why he was saying those words, only knowing that they felt right. He continued to pump into her, occasionally biting down roughly on her neck. “I’m going to…to take care of you from now on.”

April smiled against his lips. She rarely broke eye contact, only looking away to watch him bury himself in her over and over. Suddenly, her breathing hitched, and it wasn’t long before she was writhing beneath him again, crying out as her entire body tightened around him.

“God, April…that’s it,” Andy whispered, kissing down her neck until his lips found her nipple.

She arched up into him with one final wave of ecstasy, before her body went limp. Breathing through her second release, she kissed his neck as his thrusts became furious, sliding her whole body with him against the grass. Andy knew he was close…it had been too long, and there was no way he could make this last even if he wanted to.

He felt the familiar tightening in his stomach, the buildup too much to handle any longer. Then, with a deep growl that echoed through the little clearing, he was emptying hard inside her and spilling down her thighs.

They lay there in silence, breathing roughly against each other. A welcome breeze cooled their sweat-covered bodies, and the sound of the brook seemed suddenly too loud.

Andy looked down at April, his mind working furiously. She stared up at him with that same soft smile. Without another word, the both of them moved at once. Their mouths met, soft and warm against each other. Slow, deliberate, gentle…perfect.

 

“I meant what I said, you know,” Andy whispered in April’s ear, as the two of them were huddled together at the trunk of the tree.

“I know you did,” she was nestled against his chest, wrapped in the spare blanket they’d brought with them. Their clothing remained discarded nearby, as neither of them had bothered to get redressed. “But you don’t have to.”

Andy shook his head. He knew she would refuse, knew she would insist that he continue with his own life and not worry about hers. He wasn’t having any of it.

“I am,” he mumbled, his lips pressed against the side of her head. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“Andy,” she said, her voice stern.

“April,” he said, mimicking her tone.

She tried staring him down, trying her hardest to make those big brown eyes serious and frightening. It didn’t work. Her mouth twitched and she laughed, hugging him tightly.

“You can’t get rid of me, darling,” he laughed. “I’m here to stay.”

Chapter Text

It was hard to stay apart after that afternoon in the woods. Every night when Amelia was fast asleep, Andy would come to April’s room, or sometimes she would come to his. More often then not, they found themselves tangled together in a sea of limbs, too tired to speak, drifting off into a dreamless sleep. Every night, the thought of leaving Pawnee drifted further and further away from Andy’s thoughts.

He also found that he had much more time to spend with Amelia. At five o’clock in the afternoon when he got out of work, he would go pick her up at the Wyatt’s house. They’d spend the rest of the day doing all sorts of activities. He’d take her to dinner at Donna’s saloon, they’d go fishing at the lake, and on special days, he’d take her riding with him and Champion. Those days were her favorite.

April was beyond grateful. As much as she loved Leslie and Ben and everything they did for her, she was happy that Amelia had taken so well to Andy. Never having a father figure of her own, it was a huge deal for her.

Andy loved the little girl so much in return, he’d even been working on a secret surprise for her. For the past three weeks, with Ron’s help, he had been constructing a wooden dollhouse. Amelia had a few toys, but certainly nothing of that caliber. He couldn’t wait to give it to her.

“What’s this big surprise you keep talking about?” April asked him one Sunday evening, as the three of them were sitting down to dinner.

Andy glanced at Amelia’s face. She was too busy looking at the roasted chicken her mother was carving to notice. They’d never had anything so delicious for dinner, and that was thanks to Andy’s monetary contributions.

“You’ll see,” he smirked. “Still working on it.”

“Well, you keep dropping hints,” she shrugged, handing him a plate. “I think I have a right to know…”

“You will see,” he said again. “I promise.”

“Okay, fine,” April threw her hands up in the air with a smile. “Don’t tell me.”

 

However, picking Amelia up from school meant Andy didn’t get to visit April at the circus as often. As April refused to have her daughter come and watch, he wasn’t permitted to bring her with him.

“Have you talked to this Jamm guy lately?” Andy asked, as April arrived back at her room one night, well past midnight. “How much debt do you actually have left?”

“I don’t know,” she shrugged, yawning. “He rarely makes an appearance. He’s always off tending to another one of his shady businesses.”

“I think I should go talk to him,” Andy said.

April’s face paled. “No!” she shook her head frantically. “No, that’s not necessary…really, it’s not.”

“Why the hell not?” Andy asked, watching her go into the bathroom to change.

“It’s just not.”

“April—“

“Andy, I’m tired, okay? You’re welcome to stay tonight, but I need to sleep.”

“Fine,” he said, climbing into bed beside her. “I won’t do anything that makes you upset.”

“Thank you,” she whispered, already drifting off.

“Sure,” he ran his lips across her neck. April squirmed, chuckling softly.

“Too tired,” she sighed, reaching around to rub his cheek.

“You sure?” he practically purred, giving her breast a soft squeeze.

“Mmm,” she hummed. “Tempting, but not tonight, all right?”

“All right,” he chuckled, kissing her once before he leaned back into the pillow. As he settled into bed, he couldn’t help noticing a strange red mark sticking out of the sleeve of her nightgown. Carefully, he pulled the cotton piece back, and his stomach curled.

Across her back were lash marks. Three of them, running from her shoulder to the bottom of her spine.

A fury like he had never known made his blood boil. Without a moment’s hesitation he climbed out of bed, careful to avoid waking an already sleeping April. He crossed the hallway to his room, got dressed, and with a loaded pistol made his way downstairs.

The Meagle Saloon was quiet. No one was around. One solitary light illuminated the stairs, but all else was dark. Andy had barely stepped one foot out the door when he heard a voice.

“Going somewhere, son?”

“Ron?”

The sheriff was there, leaning against the outside of the building. He had a cigar in one hand, and the other was resting on the butt of his revolver.

“What are you doing here?” Andy asked, taking a step back in surprise.

“Could ask you the same,” Ron inclined his head downward, where Andy’s pistol was tight in his grip.

“It’s not your concern, Ron,” Andy said quietly.

“Son, I may just be your boss at work, but I’m also the sheriff of this town. It is my concern.”

Andy’s hand began to shake. It was like everything was coming to the surface. All his anger, all his sadness…everything.

“They’re fucking hurting her, Ron,” he said, choking on the words.

“Who is, Andy?”

“Jamm’s cronies,” he said, pointing in the direction of the circus. “Jamm himself. I don’t know, she won’t tell me! But every night, she comes home and she’s hurt. I need to go and put a stop to this.” Without waiting for Ron to reply, he turned to walk away.

“Andrew,” Ron grabbed him by the shoulder, his grip firm.

“Let me go, Ron,” Andy said darkly.

“No, I will not.”

“What’s wrong with you?” Andy spat, the anger overcoming him. “Let me go, damn it.”

“I hate that this is happening, Andy,” Ron said sadly. “But do you have any proof, any at all, that would point to these men?”

Andy paused, breathing hard. April had never explicitly told him anything. Whenever he would bring it up, she would change the subject right away. Nor had he actually seen them hurting her, aside from the day Sewage Joe shoved her.

“No,” he said angrily.

“We cannot do anything,” Ron held up a finger. “Not until we know for sure.”

“Why?”

“Because with powerful men like Jamm, there is a lot at stake. You cannot afford to make a mistake. If this is really happening like you think it is, we’re bound to catch him.”

“What then?” Andy asked, his eyes getting damper against his will.

“Then,” Ron’s eyes flashed, and a dark smile spread across his face. “Then we get them.”

 

“Andy…”

He sat up in bed, groggy. It was still dark out. He barely remembered falling asleep after he’d grudgingly walked back inside to April’s room.

“Andy?” April called him again, her voice weak and raspy.

“Hey,” he said, leaning down again beside her. He wrapped an arm around her and kissed her head. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t feel good,” she said, turning her body until she was facing him.

For a moment, he was taken back to that fateful night.

He was packed and ready to leave. His brother was waiting for him outside the house.

“I don’t feel good,” she’d said, her long blonde hair limp and damp with sweat. “I think I’m gonna lie down for a bit. You don’t mind if I don’t see you off, right?”

“That’s fine,” he’d told her, kissing her fiercely. “I’ll only be gone a few weeks. You rest up, and I’ll be back before you know it.”

She grinned at him. It would be the last time he would see her smile.

“I’ll be back,” he’d promised. “And we can finally start that life we’ve been talking about.”

“Don’t be too long. We need you, you know,” she put a hand on her stomach, gently rubbing the little swell there.

The last thing he remembered about that night was bending down to kiss her belly, and closing the front door behind him. That was the last time he would ever see her alive.

Back in the present, Andy panicked.

He felt April’s skin. It wasn’t warm and she wasn’t shivering. No sweat was beading on her forehead. There was no fever. He let out a breath of relief.

“Shh,” he stroked her hair, pushing closer until her head was settled on his shoulder. “It’ll be okay. What do you need? I’ll get it for you.”

“Nothing,” she shook her head slowly. “Just want you to stay with me.”

“Okay,” he whispered, nodding against her. “I’m here.”

He felt her nod in return, until her breathing evened out and she was fast asleep once again.

 

“Is there any way you can…you know, just not perform?” Andy asked her two weeks later, as April changed into her circus costume. “You haven’t felt much better. You look pale.”

“I have to,” she said, shaking her head. “You know I have to.”

It was true, Without the animal trainer, the show would literally have to be cancelled. That didn’t stop Andy from trying, though.

“I’m going to come see you on my break today,” he said, picking up his discarded clothing from the night before. “That sound okay?”

“Okay,” she smiled at him, but the usual vibrance in her face was gone.

“After I drop Mia off, I’ll head to work. Then I’ll stop by around lunch time.”

“Great,” April replied, although she sounded less than enthused.

“Everything all right?” Andy asked, staring at her curiously.

“Yeah,” she nodded. “I’m fine. Just a little tired, that’s all.” She leaned up to kiss him, lingering on his lips for a while. “Can you blame me? You certainly know how to keep a girl up all night.”

“It’s a talent of mine,” he chuckled, kissing her nose, although he couldn’t help but notice how quickly she could change the subject.

 

April steadied herself as she stood beside the horse. The evening crowd was big today. There had to be two hundred people at least, which was the most they’d had in a long time. Ticket sales were probably through the roof.

As promised, Andy had arrived right around noon. He watched the end of her second morning show, and they talked briefly in between acts when April was permitted to eat something for lunch. He brought her real food; chicken, bread, and fruit. Not the watery soup and stale bread the circus owners usually provided their performers.

Sewage Joe and his friend had been eyeing them the entire time, but April honestly thought they were afraid of Andy. Their eyes never traveled far from his guns, and Andy never failed to make himself known when he was around her. It was as though he was silently daring them to have a go at her while he was there. They never did.

He left soon after, with a brief kiss and a promise that he would take Mia fishing at the lake after school.

Now, her head was spinning as she tried to focus on her performance.

“You ready?” Derek the trapeze artist was by her side, Ben trailing along after him. Both were looking at her with a strange expression.

“Yeah, of course,” she nodded, gripping the reins.

“You look terrible,” he pointed out.

“Thanks,” she mumbled.

“Really though,” he pushed. “What’s wrong with you? Ever since you’ve been spending time with that Andy guy, you’ve been acting all funny.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked, suddenly annoyed. “I can’t be happy outside of work?”

“No, it’s not that…it’s just…I dunno, it’s just something I’ve noticed.”

“I’m fine,” she said stubbornly, walking her horse to the entrance of the arena.

In reality, she wasn’t entirely sure how fine she was. Maybe she was catching some sort of cold after all. She stared off into the ring, her mind lost in thought. As she waited for the current clown act to end, footsteps signaled someone approaching.

“Well, well…here’s my favorite animal trainer,” an oily voice called out from behind her.

April turned around, face to face with Jeremy Jamm himself. She scrunched up her nose and looked away.

“Why so glum, Miss Ludgate?” he sneered, grabbing hold of her arm and spinning her around roughly. “I’m talking to you.” His nails dug into her arm painfully, but she refused to give him a reaction.

“I’m not glum,” she said, still refusing to make eye contact. “I’m just…I’m a little tired.”

Jamm glowered at her. “Well, maybe if you spent your time off practicing for the show instead of fucking that cowboy, you’d be feeling more up to performing,” he said bitterly, the false smile gone from his face.

Now April looked at him, meeting his glare, matching it with the same fire and dislike aimed back at her.

“That’s right,” he glowered at her. “Don’t think I haven’t heard about your little trysts with that bastard.”

“On my off time I can do whatever the hell I want,” she pointed out, her mouth a thin line. “I’ll spend time with whoever I want, too.”

“Easy there, girl,” Jamm said, his voice dangerous. He grabbed her chin and tilted her head upward. “You forget who you’re talking to. Now get out there before I change my mind about just how much money you owe me.”

Wrenching free without another word, she mounted her horse and rode out to the loud cheers of the audience.

 

Andy stepped outside the wood shop for a breather. The sun was beating down hard this particular afternoon. He took a rag and wiped the back of his neck, taking a drink from his jug of water. Pawnee was quiet today. Most people must’ve been indoors to avoid the heat.

“Here,” Ron had stepped outside, leaning against the wall beside Andy. He handed him a glass of amber liquid. “This will make you forget how hot it is.”

Andy laughed, taking the whiskey and downing most of it in one shot.

“Thanks,” he said, staring down the road. “Y’know, sometimes I think—“

At that moment, a large crowd of people hurried past, heading down the road through town. Some of them were running, but most of them were walking and talking hurriedly amongst themselves.

Ron stood up, squinting at the group. “What the hell?” he followed their direction with his eyes.

Andy grabbed the arm of one of the nearest passersby.

“Hey,” he said, trying to be as friendly as possible. “Can you tell us what’s going on? Where’s everyone going?”

“There was an accident at the circus,” the young man said, pointing in the direction of the tent. “Someone got hurt during one of the acts.”

A cold dread crept up Andy’s spine, and before he knew it he was bolting full speed down the road. He could hear Ron calling after him, but he never once looked back. Not until he reached that red and white canvas did he slow down.

A large crowd was gathered at the entrance, where a man was trying to block them from entering without paying.

“Get in line!” he shouted, standing in front of them all on a stool. “Please, if you want to see the show, you need to get in line!”

Andy pushed his way through the crowd. He was a lot taller than most of them, which certainly helped matters. However, when he reached the front, the man on the stool held him back with a hand to his chest.

“Let me through,” Andy said angrily.

“If you want to see the show, you must—“

Andy didn’t let him finish. With a hard shove, he knocked the man off the stool and barreled past him, overtaking the people swarming in after him.

Another crowd was gathered around the entrance to the first ring, all of them staring at a single, fixed point on the ground. Andy pushed his way through that second crowd amidst angry shouts and particularly nasty words aimed at him, but he didn’t care. One of April’s horses was trotting around nervously, the animal’s eyes large with fear.

There, lying on the ground not far from the ring was April, her face white and still. A small pool of blood was soaking through her costume.

Andy had never felt such fear in his entire life than in that moment. He dove down onto the ground, gently lifting her limp body into his arms.

“April,” he whispered, the tears thick in the corners of his eyes. “April! April, honey, wake up… I’ve got you… It’s me. I’ve got you.”

“Fell off her horse,” a voice said from above. Looking up, Sewage Joe was standing there, looking down at the two of them with suppressed glee. “Horse reared and she fell off. Not much of a rider after all, I guess.”

Without thinking, Andy jumped up and tackled the man to the ground. He easily overpowered him, throwing punch after punch with as much power as he could muster. The audience was shrieking, unsure what to do. Andy just continued his pummeling, while the other man tried to fight back. It was useless. Andy had him pinned. Blood was spurting everywhere.

“What the fuck did you do to her?” Andy roared, the anger overtaking him. “I know it was you, you son of a bitch! What did you do?”

“ANDREW,” Ron’s voice was somewhere off to the right, but Andy’s fury was too great to bother turning around. All that mattered right now was beating the shit out of the lowlife beneath him.

“STOP,” Ron’s hands were on his shoulders, and Andy felt himself being pulled off Sewage Joe, who by now was half-conscious on the ground. “SON, STOP THIS NOW!”

Andy’s heart was pounding. He was breathing so heavily he felt like his lungs were on fire. He tried to wrench away from Ron’s grip, but it was useless. The older man had about sixty pounds on him.

“Let me go, Ron,” Andy yelled, kicking the dirt with his feet, as Sewage Joe groaned on the ground in front of him. “Fuck! Let me fucking go!”

“Andy! April,” Ron said, spinning him around forcefully so he was facing her again.

She was no longer alone. A woman was kneeling down beside her, feeling for the pulse in her neck and wrist. She was bent over April’s face, pressing her cheek to her nose and mouth.

“Don’t touch her,” Andy dove down beside her, throwing his hand out over April’s chest. “She’s hurt, she’s—“

“She’s alive,” the woman said, sitting up. “We need to get her out of here.”

“Who are you?“

“Andy, this is Ann Perkins,” Ron said. “She’s the town’s medicine woman.”

“How did she—“

“I grabbed her on the way over here,” Ron said. “I had a feeling we might need her.”

Ann stood up, wiping her hands on her apron. Andy saw the splotches of blood from where she examined April.

“I need you to carry her to my place,” she said. “We need to do this quickly. She’s losing blood.”

Andy turned once more to look at a beaten-up Sewage Joe, who was finally starting to sit up. Far off across the tent, another man dressed in an elaborate suit was staring at Andy with narrowed eyes and a grimace unlike anything he’d ever seen.

“C’mon,” Ron clapped him on the shoulder. “Let’s go, son.”

Ignoring the gawking crowd, Andy lifted April as gently as he could, her arm dangling in front of him.

Derek and Ben were watching from the outside of the tent, but neither of them said a word as Andy hurried past them.

They didn’t stop until they reached Ann’s place. It was a tiny house, filled with herbs and medical supplies, and three cots lined up in a row in the center of the main room.

“Lay her here,” Ann gestured to the cot to the far left. “Help me undress her.”

Andy did as he was told. By now, his clothes were soaked with blood, but he ignored it. Ron turned, obviously uncomfortable.

“Is there, um…” he cleared his throat. “Anything I can do to help?” he asked, glancing over his shoulder.

“Yes,” Ann nodded, not looking at him and instead unwrapping a long strip of clean white cloth. “Go to the school house and tell Leslie what happened. April has a daughter, right?”

Andy nodded wordlessly.

“Let Leslie know that the little girl needs to stay with her tonight. Tell her what happened, but don’t scare the children, and don’t tell April’s daughter.”

“Yes ma’am,” Ron nodded, hurrying out the door.

Ann turned her attention back to April. Once her circus costume was removed, she grabbed a blanket, and draped it over her chest.

“Do you have any idea why this happened?” Ann asked, not looking up.

“N-no,” Andy shook his head, grasping April’s cold hand in his own. “She…she said hasn’t been feeling well for the last few weeks…but she didn’t have a fever or anything,” he said. “Someone did this to her. I know it.”

“Where did she get all these bruises?”

“She comes home with them,” Andy choked out. “It’s those men she works for. It has to be.”

Ann nodded, wiping the blood from between April’s thighs with a warm, wet cloth.

“She’s not cut anywhere,” she pointed out. “She has no fever. She’s pale, but she’s not sick.”

“What’s wrong then?” Andy asked.

“She was pregnant,” Ann said, finally looking up to meet his gaze. “She miscarried when she fell.”

His insides felt cold all of a sudden. This couldn’t be happening again.

“No, she would’ve said something if she was pregnant,” Andy shook his head.

“Unless she didn’t know,” Ann pointed out.

Andy felt the tears burning his cheeks. “I…” he tried to say something, but the words wouldn’t come.

“Do you have any idea who the father was?” Ann asked, although from her look he figured she already knew the answer.

“Yeah,” Andy stared at April’s unconscious form, the words thick on his tongue. “It was me.”

Chapter Text

Andy woke the next morning in the cot next to April’s. His hand was somehow still entwined with hers from the previous night, when he’d pushed the beds together to make one large one. It was nothing like the beds back at Donna’s place, but the simple mattresses did the trick.

He also noticed the fresh bandages around his fingers, courtesy of Ann. He examined his bruised knuckles, and for a minute he completely forgot about the beating he gave Sewage Joe the previous afternoon. If only Ron had let him finish…

“Morning,” Ann called out to him, walking over with a dish of sliced bread and some water. “Here, eat this.”

“I’m not hungry,” Andy waved her away, turning to look at April beside him. She was still asleep, breathing slowly.

“You need to eat something,” Ann pointed out, sitting down beside him. “April’s going to need you to be in your best form.”

“So she’s going to be okay?” he asked, resting a hand on her chest.

“She’ll be fine,” Ann nodded. “It could have been worse. She was very early into the pregnancy.”

Andy’s eyes searched April’s sleeping face. She looked so peaceful…and then it hit him that she probably had no idea what happened.

“I can’t believe I let this happen to her,” he rubbed his forehead, sighing.

“Let what happen?” Ann asked. “This wasn’t your fault.”

“It was,” he said, without looking at her. “I should have gotten her out of that damn circus sooner.”

“Andy, it was an accident,” Ann said. “Women lose babies. It happens more often than you think.”

“This wasn’t an accident,” he shook his head. “I know it wasn’t.”

“What are you—“

“It was Sewage Joe…and Jamm.”

“How do you know?”

“I just know.”

There was a prolonged silence, in which Andy could see Ann watching him out of the corner of his eye. Maybe she thought he was crazy. Honestly, he didn’t care.

“Well, she’s too weak to go back there now,” Ann handed him the glass of water.

Andy accepted it, taking a sip. “She’s never going back there again,” he said firmly.

They sat in silence again. Andy just stared at a spot on the wall, too angry to really think or speak. Never again..he would make sure of that. Let them try to come and take her back. He’d be ready for them.

“So…they said she just fell off her horse?” Ann shook her head.

Andy nodded solemnly. “That’s what they said. I don’t believe that for a second. She’s too good of a rider for that to happen. Someone or something must have set that horse off to make it buck like that.”

“Do you think someone told Jamm about the pregnancy?” Ann asked. “Maybe they wanted this to happen.”

“I don’t see how,” Andy said. “Unless April knew, but—“

“Andy?”

April stirred on her cot, her eyes opening slowly as she adjusted to the surroundings. Andy turned to her in a hurry.

“Hey!” he grasped her hands. “I’m here. How are you feeling?”

“Where are we?” she asked as she looked around. “Where’s Mia? Andy—where’s my daughter?” She sat up, starting to panic.

“Mia’s fine,” Andy promised, gently helping her lie back down. “She’s safe. She’s with Leslie right now.”

“April,” Ann sat on the end of the cot. “Can you tell me what happened yesterday?”

“Who’s this?” April asked, staring at Ann before looking up at Andy for an explanation.

“This is Ann,” Andy said softly. “She helped take care of you. We’re at her house right now. She’s practically a doctor.”

Ann nodded silently.

“My legs hurt,” April said, not taking her eyes off Andy. Her own hand shook as she gripped his tightly.

“I know,” he said gently. “I know. We have so much to talk about, but if you need to rest, you can rest.”

“Andy, we should try to find out what happened first,” Ann pointed out.

“She’s tired,” Andy said. “She needs to rest.”

“No, it’s fine,” April looked up at him, a weak smile on her lips. “What do you need to know?”

“What happened yesterday at the circus?” Ann asked. “What do you remember before you woke up here?”

April sighed, leaning back onto her pillow.

“I was talking to Jamm,” she said, looking at Ann. “He was being an ass like usual, and I just walked away to start my act.”

“Did you talk to anyone else?” Ann pressed.

“Um…Derek, he’s a trapeze artist,” April said. “Right before I talked to Jamm, actually. I remember being on my horse, and we were doing the usual tricks. Then, someone shot off a gun right near me. The horse got scared, and I tried to calm him down. That’s the last thing I remember.”

“Thank you,” Ann nodded. “I’m going to go find Ron, and I’ll give you two some time. But first I want to make sure you’re healing all right.”

“Healing from what?” April asked, looking from Ann to Andy.

Ann gave Andy a knowing look, before lifting the bedsheets to examine April. Once she seemed satisfied by what she saw, she handed Andy a fresh roll of linen bandage.

“If the bleeding starts up again, change out her bandage,” she said. “If you’re having problems, I’ll be back in less than an hour.” With that, she left.

“What’s she talking about?” April asked.

He took a deep breath, unsure what to say. She honestly had no idea, and it was killing him that he had to be the one to tell her.

“April,” he said, rubbing his thumb across her palm. “Listen. You um…you were…” he stared into her nervous eyes. “The reason you’ve been feeling sick lately is…” he took a deep breath. Why was this so hard? “You were pregnant.”

“What?” she asked, in probably the smallest voice he’d ever heard.

“Yeah,” he nodded. “You were pregnant. When you fell, you uh…you lost the baby.”

Her face was unreadable. Her eyes had a dead look to them now, like something inside them had been extinguished.

“Are you sure?” she asked.

“Yes,” Andy nodded slowly. “We’re sure. There was…there was a lot of blood.”

She nodded her head quickly, barely looking at him.

“April—“

“It’s okay,” she said, her voice catching.

He sat next to her, wrapping her in a tight hug as he planted a kiss on her head.

“I’m just…it’s fine. It’s fine, it’s perfectly—just—“ she tried to wrench free of his grip, her chest heaving as the first tears rolled down her cheeks. Finally she gave in, pressing her face against his neck.

“It’s okay,” he rubbed her shoulder, rocking her slightly. “I promise you, you are never going back there again.”

 

Thankfully, her recovery was a relatively quick one. April was back on her feet in a matter of days. Ron permitted Andy to miss a few days work to help care for her, but he certainly wasn’t alone in doing so. Diane Swanson had come with food and blankets. Ann made routine visits with herbal remedies for pain and fresh bandages. Leslie came every morning to take Amelia to school. Even Donna came up to tell April that she didn’t owe any rent that month.

That got Andy thinking. So, on a particularly good weekend where April was feeling good and he felt confident enough leaving her alone for a bit, he headed to Ron’s wood shop.

“Andrew,” Ron looked up from his current project. “What brings you here? Come to pick up Amelia’s doll house?”

“No,” Andy shook his head. “I’m not done with it quite yet. I came here to ask you something.”

“Ask away,” Ron said.

“I’m going to ask April to marry me,” Andy said, never more serious about anything in his life.

Ron stopped his woodworking to look up at him. Andy could see a smile from under his bushy mustache.

“Well, bully for you, son,” he nodded. “I think that’s a great idea. How’s she doing, by the way?”

“Good,” Andy said. “She’s been walking around a lot, but mostly resting. She’s a bit torn up about losing the baby, but…she’s doing well.”

“Well, that’s understandable,” Ron said knowingly. “So, what is it you needed from me?”

“I want to build us a house,” Andy said. “We can’t keep living at Donna’s saloon forever. I was wondering if you’d help me.”

Ron took off his gloves and brushed the sawdust off his apron.

“Absolutely,” he grinned. “Nothing would make me happier.”

 

The walk back to Donna’s place was a good one. Andy felt better about everything now. All he had to do was ask April to marry him, and they could start a real life together.

As he turned the corner to the Reagle Meagle, Tom was standing outside with a concerned expression.

“Andy,” he said, beckoning him forward quickly.

“Hey Tom,” Andy smiled. “How you doing today?”

“Fine,” he said quietly.

As Andy made to walk past him into the building, Tom grabbed his wrist.

“Listen,” he whispered, looking around cautiously. “There’s a guy in there looking for you.”

“Who?” Andy narrowed his eyes.

“Don’t know, but he asked for you, and when I said you weren’t here, he said he’d wait. He’s at the bar right now.”

Without another word, Andy stormed into the place. He made straight for the bar, where he saw a familiar-looking man seated facing the door. He recognized him as the other guy who hangs around Sewage Joe.

“What do you want?” Andy asked, cutting straight to the chase. He had no time for any of Jamm’s shit. He wasn’t afraid of them in the least.

“I’m here with a message,” the man said, leaning back on the bar stool. “from Jamm himself.”

Andy stared him down, waiting.

“Said he wants his circus performer back,” the man said. “Said she’s had enough time off, and she needs to come back to work.”

“She’s not coming back,” Andy said, resting his palm on the butt of his gun. “She’s done with that circus.”

“Don’t think she is. She still owes him a lot of money. Plus, you really roughed up one of his best men, so he’s seeking additional compensation for that as well.”

Andy felt a rush of adrenaline as he took another step forward. He was pleased to see the other man scoot back, sliding out of his previously casual position.

“Listen to me,” Andy said, his voice dangerous. “April is never coming back to work for Jamm. You hear me? She’s done. She’s not paying him any more money. If you want to scurry on back to your boss and let him know, I’d appreciate it. If he’s got a problem with that, he can come see me. But don’t you dare try to come and see her, because if you do, I’ll kill you.”

He’d never been more serious. Jamm’s messenger must have realized it, because at that moment, his smug face was gone. He stepped off the stool and made for the door.

“You’ll be sorry,” he said, looking back over his shoulder. “He’ll come back for her someday.”

“I’d love to see him try,” Andy laughed darkly. “You tell him I’ll be waiting.”

 

April was sitting up in bed when Andy arrived at her room, not a minute later. She was snuggled next to Amelia, reading her a story book. She looked up when he entered, a smile on her face that had him feeling relieved.

“Hey,” she said, putting the book down. “Where’ve you been?”

“Oh, just a few errands,” he said, taking off his hat and placing it on the table.

“Andy!” Amelia yelled happily, hopping off the bed and running to give him a hug. “Mama’s reading me a book! Want to come listen?”

“I’d love to,” he said, hugging the little girl tightly. “How are you feeling?” he asked, looking up at April.

“Great,” she said. “Feeling so much better today than I have in the past few days.”

“That’s good to hear,” Andy nodded, joining her on the bed. “Because I’ve got some good news for you.”

“What’s that?” she asked.

“You’re done with the circus,” he smiled, glancing at Amelia in the process.

April’s smile disappeared. “What?”

“You’re done,” he said again. “You never have to go back there. You don’t owe any more money. I promise you, you’re done.”

She stared at him for a moment, her eyes searching his face, almost looking for some sort of “but” or stipulation. When he just continued smiling at her, she sat up suddenly and pulled him into a hug.

“Thank you,” she whispered, burying her face in his shirt. “God…thank you so, so much, Andy.”

He hugged her to him, kissing the top of her head. “I made a promise, didn’t I?” he said softly. “I keep my promises.”

“Mama doesn’t have to work anymore?” Amelia asked, looking from her mother to Andy, her little face surprised and confused all at once.

“No more,” Andy shook his head, opening his arm out to welcome the little girl into their embrace. “She gets to stay home with you from now on.”

 

“April,” Andy whispered her name as he gave a soft thrust. She moaned softly, her back flush against his stomach, as she arched into him.

“Yeah,” she replied, breathless.

“I love you,” he said, reaching around with his free hand to grasp hers.

He heard her sharp intake of breath as he pumped into her slowly. He wasn’t searching for anything. He wasn’t even necessarily looking for a release. He just wanted to be with her, one with her, and to let her know.

“I love you too,” she said, squeezing his hand.

“Marry me,” he said, his mouth grazing her ear.

“What?” she turned her head as best she could, trying to peek at him over her shoulder.

“Marry me,” he said again.

“Andy—“

“I love you so much,” he said, stilling inside her for a moment. “I’ve loved you since day one. I love Amelia like she’s my own. Marry me, April. I don’t want to leave Pawnee. Or we could leave together and never come back. It doesn’t matter to me, I don’t need anything else. I do need you, though.”

She smiled, and he could see her blushing. God, if she knew how serious he actually was.

“I don’t want you to leave,” she took his hand and brought it between her legs. “I don’t want to imagine what life would be like without you here.”

Andy’s heart pumped faster. “So you’re saying yes?” he asked.

“Yes,” she nodded. “I’m saying yes, I want to marry you.”

He’d literally never felt such happiness. Not as long as he could remember. Everything in that moment was perfect.

They fell asleep still joined not long after, the both of them smiling.

 

Construction on the house began a week later. Ron came over to help after he and Andy finished up each day at the wood shop. The little plot of land was just on the outskirts of Pawnee, away from the main part of the town. At April’s request, they’d looked for land that could easily house a farm, something she and Amelia had always dreamed about.

“Looking good, son,” Ron nodded, as another day’s work came to a close. “Should be finished up in about another month or so.”

“Thanks for your help,” Andy said, wiping his forehead in the hot sun. “Wouldn’t have been able to do this without you.”

Ron waved his words away, shaking his head. “It’s nothing.”

“Honestly, Ron,” Andy said seriously. “I don’t know how to thank you for everything you’ve done for me, and April, since I’ve lived here in town. It means a lot to me.”

“Like I said, it’s nothing,” the sheriff said. “Actually, I wanted to ask you…did you hear the news?”

“What news?”

“The circus is packing up and moving,” Ron said. “They’re gonna be relocating to Eagleton.”

“That’s just about the best news I’ve heard all week,” Andy grinned, taking a swig from a jug of water. “What’s the reason?”

“Word around town is that Jamm’s ticket sales have taken a hit since April left,” Ron said. “Gonna try his luck somewhere else, I assume.”

“Tough shit for him,” Andy laughed. “Good riddance.”

“I’ll be glad to see him go,” Ron nodded, taking the water jug from Andy. “Only wish I could’ve busted him or his men for something before they left.” He shook his head sadly. “Speaking of April, when are you two going to tie the knot?”

“We were thinking as soon as the house is done. Then we can move right in,” Andy said. “Only thing we need is a judge.”

“Well, that won’t be a problem at all,” Ron said. “You haven’t met Jerry Gergich yet, have you?”

“Who?”

“He’s the Mayor of Pawnee, and he’s also a judge.”

“Oh!” Andy said, remembering. Yes, he’d definitely met Mayor Gergich, although he didn’t know who he was at the time. He’d been eating at Donna’s for lunch one Saturday, and Jerry had come in with his wife. Donna had talked to him for a while, and even introduced him to Andy, but at the time, Andy had been too preoccupied thinking about April to pay attention. “Yeah, I know who he is.”

“Well, just pay him a visit and he’ll run the whole ceremony. He loves stuff like that.”

“Sounds great,” Andy nodded. “I’ll talk to him first thing tomorrow morning.”

 

They couldn’t have asked for a better day for a wedding. The skies were clear. The temperature was perfect. In the little clearing in the woods, where they’d made love the first time, Andy and April stood hand in hand, facing each other.

Andy couldn’t take his eyes off her. April was glowing. She looked absolutely beautiful and so, so happy.

Amelia stood a little by her side, dressed in a new white dress to match her mother. She wore a crown of flowers in her hair, and she too looked beyond excited as she grasped the side of her mother’s dress.

Andy’s suit was brand new, courtesy of Ron.

They’d only invited a few people to witness the ceremony. Ron and his family were there, as were Ben and Leslie Wyatt and their three children. Tom and Donna came, and Ann the medicine woman. That was it, and that was all they needed.

April stared at him as Mayor Gergich officiated, her smile saying everything he ever needed to know. She refused to take her eyes off him, even when it was her turn to speak.

“Now, the bride and groom have a few words prepared,” Jerry said, smiling wide. “Andy?”

Andy took a deep breath. He didn’t actually prepare anything, hoping instead to play it by ear. Then, the words just came to him without question.

“April,” he said, squeezing her hands slightly. “When I came here to Pawnee, I wasn’t planning on staying more than one night. I wanted nothing more than to get some sleep, head out, and never look back.” He paused, and smiled at her. “Then I met you, and everything fell into place. Now, I can’t see myself anywhere else. I don’t want to see myself anywhere else. My sole purpose in this life, I realized, was to find you. I love you so much, now and always.”

He could hear Leslie sniffing loudly from the audience, and Ben whispering something in her ear.

“April?” Jerry signaled her.

She took a minute to compose herself, as a single tear rolled down her cheek. With his thumb, Andy gently wiped it away.

“Andy,” she started, her breath catching. “You saved me from a four-year nightmare. You brought love and stability to me and my daughter. You helped us even though you didn’t have to. You put your plans on hold for us, and I will always be eternally thankful. The day you came into my life, everything changed. I keep waiting to wake up from this crazy dream, but now I understand that good things can happen in life…and it’s all very real. I love you, more than words.”

Andy wanted nothing more than to take her in his arms right then and there, and kiss her for all to see.

Jerry sniffed, dabbing at his eyes with his robe.

“Now the rings,” he said.

Ron stepped forward, and placed two plain silver bands in Andy’s hand. Andy slipped April’s carefully on her finger, and she did the same.

“By the power vested in me by the state of Indiana, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss your bride!”

Andy didn’t need another moment’s hesitation. He pulled April into his arms, and kissed her furiously as the little crowd cheered. In his excitement, he lifted her right off the ground. April wrapped her arms around his neck, twirling her fingers through his curls as she let out a happy sob.

 

If someone had told April she was in a dream, and she was going to wake up any moment now, unfortunately she would have believed them. All of this was too perfect to be real. Yet, miraculously, wonderfully, it was real. It was her life. It was Amelia’s life. They finally had a chance to be a real family.

And Andy…

Andy, who was her husband. Her protector, her lover, her everything… Sometimes she didn’t think he was real either.

But now, now, as his hands carefully slid up under her dress, bringing the soft white fabric over her head in one gentle flourish, she knew just how real he was.

There, in their new house. The home be built for her, for them. In their new bed, in their own bedroom, on their official wedding night…they sat up, tangled together.

His hands on her breasts, running over the soft skin there carefully, slowly, meticulously. His thumbs circled her nipples as he stared into her eyes, smiling at every moan that escaped her lips. Then, when he brought his mouth down to suckle softly, she slid further into his lap with a shudder.

“God, more,” she whimpered, curling her fists in his hair. She could feel his cock against her thigh, hard and hot and ready for her. But she wanted to cherish this moment, make it last longer than it had any right to.

“Anything for you,” he groaned, smiling against her soft flesh.

“Andy,” she moaned, arching into his chest, further pushing his length against the heat between her legs.

“Yeah,” he breathed, moving his lips from her breast to her neck, where he took his time before slowly traveling upward.

“Do you ever thing about,” she paused, gasping as his hand traveled south where they were so deliciously pressed against each other. “Oh…”

“Mmhm?” he toyed with her, and she loved it. His lips continuously pressed against her neck, gently biting here and there.

“Do you ever think about trying for another baby?” she asked softly, now dipping her own hand down to grasp him, churning her fist in slow, tantalizing circles.

His hand froze between her legs, and his mouth stopped somewhere beneath her ear. He pulled away, if only to look at her.

“Yeah,” he answered, and she knew he meant it. “I think about that a lot, actually.”

She smiled warmly, taking her free hand and cupping his cheek.

“Good,” she whispered, nipping at his lips. “That makes me so happy to hear.”

“I want nothing more than to have a baby with you,” he smiled. “A whole bunch of babies, actually. All of them looking like you,” he laughed.

“Well,” she said, pressing her lips to his in a quick kiss. “I’ve got some good news for you.” She grinned.

Andy stared at her a moment, uncomprehending what she meant. Then, she carefully pulled his hand up to rest on her belly.

He looked up at her, his eyes wide and excited.

“Really?” he asked, his voice barely audible.

“Uh huh,” she nodded. “I missed my cycle this past month. We’re having a baby.”

“Oh my God,” Andy choked out, pulling her against him. “This is the best news I’ve ever…I love you so much, honey,” he whispered.

“I love you too,” she replied, before lifting her hips and quickly sinking onto him.

“Shit,” he moaned, as she angled her knees against his thighs.

Carefully she lifted herself over and over, letting herself drop onto his dick in slow, tantalizing swirls of her hips. She wanted to give him this, to let him enjoy himself the way he deserved to for everything he had done for her. Though she knew Andy was never looking for anything in return, nothing at all. She just wanted him to know how much she loved him, and show him with her body.

“I love you,” she said again, kissing him again and again, letting her tongue explore his mouth hungrily as she continued to ride him.

“Love you,” he managed to grunt out, bringing his mouth back down to her breast.

She could feel him trying to restrain himself, the familiar tightening in his stomach muscles while his arms hardened around her. The friction was starting to get to her, too. She could feel the fire in between her legs, deep in her center, slowly making it’s way up through her belly and chest.

It only took a few more swirls of her hips before she shook around him, her legs clamping into his sides as she cried out loud into the air, everything in her body unwinding in euphoric bliss.

She could still feel him pulsing inside her, now occasionally thrusting up into her as she slowed down. It took another moment before he moaned out her name, coming hard inside and filling her with the warmth she craved so badly.

Together, their mouths bumping against each other lazily, they fell down onto the mattress. Sweaty, out of breath, and never leaving each other’s arms.

Chapter Text

It was strange how quickly time passed now that Andy had no where else he’d rather be. Fall and winter followed that long, hot summer, and now the first signs of spring were making themselves known throughout Pawnee.

In their little house, April moved more slowly now. In the final stages of her pregnancy, she needed more help than ever with chores and meals, and Amelia was always eager to lend a hand when she wasn’t at school. Andy often felt guilty leaving her at home when he went to work for Ron, but at the same time, they all knew that’s where the money came from. April always insisted she was fine, regardless.

Ann paid regular visits to April to continuously monitor the pregnancy. She warned April that she may have another difficult childbirth, and told her to rest as often as she could. Andy was making sure of that. He took Amelia to school, he cleaned up at night, and he spent the weekends doing everything that needed to be done around the house.

He was often exhausted…but it was worth it.

“Papa,” Amelia said, balancing the breakfast plates in her little arms as she made her way over to the wash bowl. “Can we go horseback riding again soon?”

Andy smiled. “Sure sweetheart,” he said. “As soon as we get a chance, we can go. Maybe tomorrow will work out.”

“Yeah,” she nodded. “And maybe someday you can teach me how to look for gold?”

“I think my gold-searching days are over,” he laughed. “I’ve got more honest work to do, and more important people to take care of.” He lifted her high in the air, kissing her cheek as she giggled loudly. “C’mon, let’s say bye to your ma and get you to school.”

“Is Mama gonna have the baby soon?” she asked, taking his hand as they headed up the little staircase to the second floor.

“I think so, honey,” he said. “Miss Ann said it could be any time in the next few weeks.”

“Mama doesn’t like Miss Ann,” Amelia said, shaking her little head.

“She doesn’t—what d’you mean?” Andy asked, confused.

Amelia just giggled, pushing open the door to the bedroom.

April was resting in bed, laying on her side while she read a book. Despite how tired she looked, Andy never once thought she was any less beautiful…even at her most exhausted.

“Hey,” she sat up slowly, opening her arms for Amelia’s hug. “How’s my best helper?” she asked, kissing her daughter on the nose.

“Good,” Amelia smiled. “Papa said he’s gonna take me horseback riding tomorrow.”

“I said maybe,” Andy said, kissing his wife. “Depends on how you’re feeling.”

“I’ll be fine,” she rolled her eyes. “You two go. You haven't been in forever.”

“We’ll see,” Andy replied. “All right, say bye to your ma,” he turned to Amelia. “We’ve gotta get someone to school.”

“Bye baby,” April said, hugging her daughter once more. “Have a great day, and be good for Mrs. Wyatt.”

“By Mama,” Amelia replied, hurrying back downstairs as Andy kissed April goodbye.

“Bye,” he mumbled against her lips, giving her one more quick kiss. “Rest, okay?”

“Okay,” she hugged him, holding him as close as she could with her stomach as large as it was. “I always do.”

“That’s what I like to hear,” he winked, and turned to go follow their daughter.

“Oh,” April called to him, catching him as he was about to head downstairs. “If you see Ann Perkins today on your way to work, tell her I’m fine and she doesn’t need to check on me.”

“Why not?”

April sighed loudly, rolling her eyes once more. “Because she comes here every damn day, and for once I’d like a day to go by without having to see her frustratingly cheery face, telling me to eat better.”

“Well, now I know what Mia meant,” Andy laughed out loud. “Okay, will do…”

 

April was in dire need of a snack by the time she had finished reading. Hours had gone by since Andy had left, and she’d spent most of it in bed, as instructed. All this rest was incredibly uneventful. It was starting to get on her nerves.

She made the slow walk down to the first floor, gripping the railing of the stairs as she did so. If Andy every caught her walking down completely unassisted, he’d put on that worrisome face and give her a lecture about how she needs to make sure she’s careful, for her sake and the baby’s. She loved him so much, but as the pregnancy progressed, so did his worries, and so did his watchful eye.

April grabbed an apple and a slice of bread, and lowered herself into the kitchen chair, sighing once the pressure was off her feet. This baby was certainly bigger than Amelia had been. At least then, April had been able to move more freely. This time around it seemed as though she was carrying two, even though Ann was insisting that there was only one in there.

As she was finishing her lunch, a noise from outside startled her. The gravelly sound of boot hitting ground…it sounded like someone had dismounted from a horse. It was far too early for Andy to be home, she realized.

She stood up slowly, making her way to the window. Looking left, and then right, she saw no one. Not even an animal was passing by.

“Huh,” she muttered.

Then, she heard the footsteps.

Heavy, crunching footfalls were right outside the house. The sound of a horse neighing, and the subsequent shushing from its rider were clearer than ever.

April rushed—or rather, moved as quickly as she could—to the closet, where Andy kept a spare pistol. He’d taught her how to use it months ago, and told her where it was kept in case of emergencies. Now, she loaded it and pressed herself against the wall near the front door, waiting, as her heart beat furiously against her chest.

A few minutes passed, and nothing. She couldn’t hear any more movement, she couldn’t tell what was happening in that moment. Just as she was about to check the window again, the sound of a gunshot rang out loud and clear through the yard, like the crack of a whip. April’s heart nearly stopped, a horrible pain shooting up her chest. She rushed to the front door, gun in hand, and swung it open.

Andy was standing there, his revolver still raised, looking down at the still figure of a man lying on his back only a couple of feet from the door. Staring at the figure, April realized it was Sewage Joe. Andy’s eyes were dark as he looked down, so much anger on his face that April could barely recognize him. When he saw her standing there, he dropped his gun arm and breathed a sigh of relief.

“Oh my God,” April ran to him, dropping her own gun on the ground. He wrapped his arms around her tightly, burying his face in her hair. She could feel his heart pounding against her own chest where they stood.

“Are you okay?” he asked, his voice a raspy whisper.

“Yeah,” she nodded. “I’m…yeah.”

“You’re not hurt or…he didn’t—“

“No,” she shook head quickly. “He never made it inside.”

Andy closed his eyes, all the energy seemingly draining out of him in that moment. Sewage Joe was still.

“Is he dead?” she asked, feeling herself shiver slightly.

“Yeah,” Andy nodded. “He’s dead.”

 

They had clung to each other on the spot, both of them a bit frozen in shock for a good five or so minutes. Finally, once they stepped apart again, Andy looked over his wife worriedly. She was unharmed, just as she’d said. He almost didn’t believe it until he inspected her for himself.

“How did you even know to come home?” April asked in a small voice.

Andy frowned. “I saw him riding through town from far down the road. I thought it was odd that he came back to Pawnee…first off because I warned him to never come near us again. Second, because they moved the circus. I just got suspicious, and left Ron’s to follow him. Good thing I did.”

“You killed him, Andy,” she said, sounding as though she couldn’t believe it.

“I told them I would,” was all he replied. He would do it again, if he had the chance.

Refusing to leave her alone, Andy helped hoist her up on Champion’s back and kept a firm grip behind her as they rode into town to find Ron and tell him what happened. There was a body in their front yard, and Andy had to get rid of it.

April was silent for most of the ride there. Andy rubbed her back soothingly, lost in thought and silent worry.

“What do you think he wanted?” she finally spoke up as they neared the center of town. They could see Ron’s wood shop coming up on the left.

“They wanted you,” Andy thought to himself, sick at the very idea. Would she have been able to defend herself with that gun had he not gotten there in time? The alternative scared him to no end.

“Probably looking for me,” he replied. “Probably still pissed about that beating I gave him…”

“Andy,” she said, her voice stern. “Tell me the truth.”

He sighed, pulling Champion to a stop in front of Ron’s.

“I need to talk to Ron,” he said, helping her dismount. “C’mon, I don’t want you out here alone.”

“I’ve gotta go get Mia,” April pointed out, looking further down the road in the direction of the schoolhouse.

“We will,” he promised. “Just come with me first, okay?”

Relaying the story to Ron, the older man listened silently the entire time, not saying a word until Andy had finished talking. Andy noticed how Ron’s mouth was nothing more than a thin line—a telltale sign that he was not pleased.

“What’s the next step, Ron?” Andy asked. He glanced over to where April had been sitting. At that moment, she had stepped out to use the bathroom. In a quiet voice, he leaned in. “I think I’ve got to move my family out of this town. That was just Sewage Joe…there could be others, and I can’t risk that. Not with Mia and the baby on the way…I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if something had happened to April. I was lucky this time.”

Ron nodded solemnly. “As much as I’d hate to see you go, son, I think it’s for the best. At least for a little while. Where will you go?”

“Far away from here,” Andy shrugged. “Somewhere no one knows us.”

Ron looked thoughtful. “My mother lives about twenty miles away, west of here. I’m sure she’d be happy to take you three in for a little while. Hopefully you’ll be able to come back once April has the baby and I get this whole situation sorted out. I’m going to put a team together to investigate this circus, and whether or not they’re still in business.”

“Thanks,” Andy said, and he meant it. Ron had done more for him than anyone else he’d ever known, and he’d be forever grateful to him. “I’m gonna head to the school to get Amelia, and then I’ve got a body to bury…”

“I’ll call the coroner,” Ron waved Andy’s suggestion away. “He was an outlaw anyway, and I’m not gonna punish you for killing a man who tried to harm your family. Not to mention, he’s been up to no good from day one.”

 

It was late that night when Andy sat with April on the front porch of their little house. Dinner had been a quiet affair. Amelia was put to bed early, with several questions as to why her parents were acting so strange.

April hadn’t liked the idea of moving from Pawnee. She met Andy’s suggestion with flat out refusal at first, turned to frustration, then to sadness. He didn’t want to leave either, especially with their new house finally feeling like a home and all the friends they had in town.

“I don’t understand why we’re letting them get to us like this,” she shook her head, leaning back in his lap until his chin was resting on top of her head. “I wanted our baby born here…and Mia loves her school and her friends. It’s not fair to her.”

“It’s not safe for her,” Andy whispered.

“I don’t get why—“

“April,” Andy interrupted with a sigh. “Sewage Joe came here earlier to take you back to Jamm.”

“What?” she looked up at him, but he wouldn’t meet her eyes.

“A while back, I ran into one of Jamm’s other associates. Cronies, I should really say. He told me Jamm wanted you back at work, and that he’d come for you someday. I told him I’d love to see him try, and I warned him I’d kill him if he came near you.”

April remained silent, listening to Andy speak.

“I didn’t want to tell you because I didn’t think you needed to know.”
“Why wouldn’t I want to know?” April asked in a low voice.

“Because you didn’t need that stress…especially after losing the baby the first time. D’you see why I want us to get out of here now?” he asked, pressing his lips to the back of her head.

“Yeah,” she nodded, grabbing his hand and giving it a squeeze. “I see.”

“We’re gonna start packing tomorrow, and hopefully we can be on our way out in a couple days.”

“I need some time to say goodbye to Donna and Leslie,” she said softly.

“I know,” Andy nodded. “We’re not gonna be gone forever, April. Just until this whole thing blows over and Ron gets them sorted out.”

“I just wish—“

The sound of hooves galloping in the distance interrupted April’s thought. Andy straightened up, like an animal ready to attack. He was stiff, still, and he stared straight ahead. The hooves grew louder.

“What’s that?” she whispered.

“Don’t know,” he replied, squinting into the miles of darkness that led away from their house. “Get inside.”

“What if it’s Ron?” she asked hopefully.

“It’s not Ron,” Andy said stiffly. “Get inside, April.”

“Andy, you come inside with me!” she said, sounding alarmed. “You don’t have your guns, let’s just go get them—“

Andy stood now, helping April up and stepping protectively in front of her.

“Sweetheart, I need you to go inside, and I’ll be right behind you, I just—“

A gunshot rang out through the air, loud and sharp and horrifying in the dark. Andy felt a sharp, piercing pain in his thigh, causing him to stumble forward a bit where he stood. He could already feel the blood running down his leg.

“Andy?” April’s voice shook. She must have noticed him fall forward. “ANDY!”

“Get inside,” he said, through gritted teeth. “April, get inside!”

“No, I’m not leaving you out here—“

Another gun shot, and this time Andy felt it right below his left shoulder. He stumbled forward, yelling out in pain.

His mind was going fuzzy, his body was numb. Thoughts were beginning to blend together, but the one thing he kept thinking to himself was how he needed to get April inside.

“ANDY!” April screamed again, and he could feel her small hands trying to pull him back upright. “Oh my God…”

Footsteps were getting closer now, almost running forward. The light of a lantern swung high above their heads, and another joined it, until the people holding them came into clear view.

“Well, isn’t this a nice surprise,” the oily voice of Jeremy Jamm made Andy want to vomit on the spot. “Not so tough now, are you…damn bastard cowboy.” The circus owner stepped forward, and on his left was the man who’d met Andy at the bar all those months ago. “I see you’ve already met my friend Dexhart, here.”

Breathing hard, Andy pulled April behind him, the two of them seated on the stairs to the porch now.

“Get…fuck, get the fuck out of here,” Andy gasped, his chest starting to hurt.

“No, don’t think we will,” Jamm sneered. “I came to collect what’s mine and that’s precisely what I’m going to do.”

“Mama?”

Andy and April both turned toward the front door, where Amelia was peeking out. Woken from sleep, she looked drowsy as she stood there in her nightgown, rubbing her eyes. When she saw the men with guns, her eyes widened in fear.

“Mia, stay inside!” Andy yelled, coughing a bit now.

“Papa, you’re bleeding—“

“MIA!” April yelled, “Listen to us, stay inside!”

Dexhart stepped forward and pointed the gun at Andy’s torso.

“Can I get rid of him once and for all?” he asked, looking at Jamm. “We don’t need him.”

“Be my guest,” Jamm shrugged. “All I really want is my circus performer back. Not sure what use she’ll be with a baby though.”

“We can always sell it.”

“Good point,” Jamm pointed his gun so it was level with April’s stomach. “Or we could just get rid of it. On second thought, why should I bother with this one, when I’ve got a brand new circus performer inside? She’ll be easier to train if she starts off young.”

“Don’t fucking touch her,” April tried to stand, but Andy’s grasp on her arm was too strong, even in his weakened state.

“Take care of him, I’ll get the girl,” Jamm ignored April.

“NO!” April screamed, and Andy acted before she could. Pushing himself up with a grunt, he leapt toward the front door, grabbing Jamm in a headlock. Amelia, terrified, hurried out the door and ran to her mother’s side, amid April’s protests.

Jamm was caught off guard as Andy grabbed him and started punching at every inch of him he could reach, and in the process he dropped his gun. April made to grab it, but another gun shot cracked the air, and Andy fell forward, this time unmoving.

 

“PAPA!” Amelia screamed, and April pulled her daughter close to her chest, shielding her from whatever would come next.

“Bout time,” Jamm grumbled, disheveled, straightening himself out. “Forget her. Shoot her and take the girl.”

“NO!” April yelled again, covering her daughter with her own body, pulling her tightly and closing her eyes.

She heard him cock his gun again, heard him chuckle darkly to himself. She heard the gunshot…but there was no pain. No nothing. Instead, she heard a pitiful scream. Opening her eyes, Dexhart was lying on his back in the dirt, a bloody bullet wound gaping through his torso. She looked to Andy, but he was still lying immobile nearby.

Ron stepped out of the darkness, pointing one revolver at Dexhart and another at Jamm. Another shot was fired, and April knew Dexhart wouldn’t be getting up again.

“What the hell?” Jamm yelled, backing up against the house. “Don’t come any closer, or I’ll shoot.”

Ron ignored the man. Taking slow steps forward, he fired again. This time, he aimed right for Jamm’s leg. The man fell forward, grabbing his leg with a pitiful yell.

“I suggest you don’t try to move again,” Ron said, anger seeping through his voice.

“Ron, help Andy,” April pleaded.

“Benjamin,” Ron said, seemingly to no one, until Ben Wyatt the banker stepped out of the darkness to the right. “Get his gun.”

April must have looked shocked, but that was nothing compared to when Leslie followed behind Ben, timid, pale and nervous. Leslie ran to April and Amelia, hugging them to her before wrapping them in a heavy blanket she must have brought with her.

“C’mon,” she tried to help them up. “We need to get you inside.”

“Not without Andy,” April shook her head. “He’s hurt—we need to help him.”

“Come on, sweetie,” Leslie tugged at Amelia’s arm, leading her back toward the door.

“Mama,” Amelia called out nervously. “What’s wrong with Papa?”

“Nothing baby,” April tried to smile. “He’s a little hurt but he’s going to be okay. Go inside with Mrs. Wyatt, okay?”

Striding forward, Ron grabbed Jamm and wrenched his hands behind his back, cuffing him. Tossing him unceremoniously to the ground, he watched as Ben grabbed the gun, before hurrying over to Andy.

“He’s bleeding pretty bad,” Ron muttered. “Ben, ride back to town and get Perkins.”

“What about Jamm?” Ben asked.

“Tie his legs and gag him,” he suggested. “When you get back to town, go find Donna Meagle, and have her send some of her saloon men to haul his ass to jail. He can wait for me there.”

Ben nodded, grabbing the reins of his horse and ready to gallop away, but not before doing as Ron had asked.

“You’ll be sorry—“ Jamm started, but was cut off as April delivered a heavy punch to his face. He spit out blood just as Ben took out the gag.

“If anything happens to Andy,” she said, her voice laced with poison. “I’m going to fucking kill you myself.” Without another glance, she hurried as fast as she could back to where Ron was examining her husband.

She felt her heart drop when she saw how pale Andy was, how much his three bullet wounds were bleeding, and how shallow his breathing was.

“Andy,” she whispered, kneeling beside him and pushing back some hair from his damp forehead. “It’s gonna be okay…we’re gonna help you. We’re—ahh,” she winced, clutching her stomach.

Ron was in the process of cutting some of Andy’s clothing to wrap tourniquets around the wounds to help stanch the bleeding. He turned to April.

“You all right?” he asked.

“Yeah—yeah, I’m fine,” she nodded, reaching for her husband’s cold hand. “Focus on Andy, he needs it.”

“Maybe you should get inside with your daughter.”

“I’m not leaving him, I’m—shit,” she moaned, tumbling forward.

“Leslie,” Ron called, and the schoolteacher appeared in the doorway. He could hear Amelia crying in the background. “Get her inside. She’s in labor.”

“I’m n-not,” April gasped for breath. “N-no, he needs me here—“

Leslie hurried forward and attempted to pull April up, but she wouldn’t budge. She wasn’t going to leave Andy here. She’d have her baby in the damn grass if that’s what it took. Trying to wave her away, she doubled over as pains ran up her back and throughout her hips.

Abandoning Andy for the moment, Ron stood and lifted April into his arms, despite her meager protests. He carried her though the threshold, intending to head up the stairs.

“No, lay her here,” Leslie gestured to the rug in front of the fireplace.

“You ever delivered a baby before?” Ron asked.

“No,” Leslie sighed. “But I need her down here in case I need Ann’s help while I do. Amelia?” she turned to the little girl, who was wiping her red, wet eyes.

“Y-yes?”

“I need you to go get me some blankets, okay? Can you do that for me?” Leslie got the fireplace started as she spoke.

“Yeah,” Amelia hurried to the closet.

April was breathing heavily now, the pains getting stronger and much closer together now. This couldn’t be happening at a worse time. Andy wanted so badly to be present when she went into labor…now she didn’t even know if he was going to be okay. How could she focus on pushing out a baby while her mind was so preoccupied?

“Ron, I need to be with him—“

“You need to focus on having this baby,” he countered. “You can’t do anything for Andy right now.”

“Please,” she whispered, tears in her eyes now. “You need to save him.”

“We’re gonna try.”

The sheriff hurried back out the door as Leslie put some water to boil on the fire. She got some pillows for April’s head, loosening her dress to make her more comfortable.

“Leslie, I can’t do this right now,” April shook her head.

“You’re going to have to,” Leslie sighed. “You can’t worry about Andy now. We need you to focus all your energy on having a healthy baby. That’s what Andy would want.”

April knew Leslie was right, but that didn’t stop her from feeling the way she did. As another agonizing pain ripped through her, she felt a wetness between her legs. Her water broke.

The last thing she saw before she nearly blacked out from the pain was Ron lying Andy across the dining table, and Ann hurrying through the front door.

Chapter Text

The pain was unbearable. April was finding it hard to concentrate on her breathing, even as Leslie tried to coach her through each contraction. Amelia was seated on the floor by her mother’s shoulders, applying a wet, warm cloth to her forehead as Leslie had instructed. Every once in a while, April would glance over to Andy lying motionless on the table.

“We need to get him undressed,” Ann said briskly, laying out her bag of medicinal herbs and other supplies. She took a pair of scissors and began cutting through his clothing, no time for buttons and belts and the like. Ron stood at the end of the table, his hands clutching the wood, waiting on any instruction.

Andy grumbled something in his delirious state, causing April’s head to jerk up suddenly.

“Andy?” she called, her head spinning.

“Mhm,” he hummed softly, turning his head toward her voice.

“Andy, we’re here,” she breathed, her breath hitching as another labor pain swept over her. “Mia and me, we’re here…we’re okay. We need you to get through—“ She jerked her head back down to the pillow with a groan.

“Ann, she looks like she’s almost fully dilated,” Leslie said, checking beneath the blanket over April’s legs.

“Good,” Ann said, not looking over but extracting a long pair of tweezers and dipping the tips into the flame of the fireplace. “Once she’s there, she needs to start pushing.” She brought the sterilized tweezers back to where Andy lay, eyeing Ron. “I need you to find something to put between his teeth. This is gonna hurt.”

The older man grabbed Andy’s belt, folding it over a couple of times before having Andy bite down on it. April tried to watch, but the mental and physical pain was too much. Instead, she focused on her daughter beside her, holding her hand.

Mia was strangely calm during the whole process. April knew she had seen more in her five years than any child should ever see, but still, the adult-like demeanor with which she held herself in this situation was shocking.

“You all right, baby?” April asked, giving her a smile.

“Yes,” the girl nodded. “You’re doing great, Mama.”

“Love you,” April whispered, kissing Amelia’s hand briefly.

“Okay,” Ann called. “Here we go. Ron, hold his shoulders down.”

Slowly, carefully, she began to remove the first bullet lodged in the flesh below his shoulder. As the tweezers made contact with Andy’s wound, he began thrashing around on the table, face contorted in pain and erupting in a muffled yell through the belt clenched between his teeth. Ann concentrated on her mission with steely determination, not flinching one bit as she used her body to hold down his legs while Ron managed to keep his top half still.

April couldn’t bear his screams. She tried to look away, but stole glances whenever she could. Her husband was lying there in nearly nothing, bleeding profusely while Ann and Ron held him down as he writhed in agony. Fresh blood was spurting from the bullet wounds. It was too much.

“April,” Leslie pulled the blanket away. April couldn’t have cared less about exposure at this point. “I’m gonna need you to start pushing now. You can do this. Mia, keep holding her hand.”

“Okay Mrs. Wyatt,” Amelia nodded.

Andy’s yells spurred April on as she began to push. This baby was theirs, hers and Andy’s, and she was going to make damn sure he or she would meet their father. There was no alternative. She could only imagine Andy there beside her, whispering sweet words in her ear and rubbing her shoulder, just as he’d intended to do. He had been so excited about all of it. She wasn’t going to let him down.

“Shit,” she groaned, sweating, out of breath and exhausted.

“You’re doing great,” Leslie nodded. “You’re fine April, good job.”

“Andy,” she panted. “How’s he—how is he?”

“I’m handling him,” Ann said quickly. “Keep pushing.”

“He needs to meet his baby,” April said, making sure Ann knew. She had to know. “You need to make sure he does, Ann, or I swear to God—”

“I understand,” Ann said loudly, over renewed yells from Andy as she moved on to the second bullet. By now, the blankets under him and the table underneath were soaked through with red. Andy was still so, so pale. “Ron, he’s losing a lot of blood. The tourniquets aren’t working.”

Ron used the scissors to cut more strips of fabric, tying them over the previous ones which were now a rusty brown mixed with bright red, from the horrible combination of dried and fresh blood. The smell of it was heavy in the air, and April felt sick.

“I can see the head, April,” Leslie announced, holding on to April’s legs. “Mia, toss me that blanket. Come on, you can do this. We’re almost there.”

April nodded frantically, all her energy gone now.

“We’re losing him, Ron!” Ann shouted, abandoning the bullet removal and rushing to her hospital bag. She pulled out a terrible smelling solution and rubbed it over his wounds. “Pump his heart for me. Forget holding his arms. I need to get the rest of the bullets out before the blood poisoning takes over.”

April felt like her world was crashing down around her. The voices in the room faded to nothing and everything was spinning. She took a look at her daughter, who was still by her side, then at Leslie, mouthing something that she couldn’t hear. She could feel the pressure between her legs, could feel the pain and taste blood as she bit her tongue. Her body felt like it was on fire. Finally, she took one last look at Andy lying there, Ron pumping his chest, Ann moving like lightening, Andy’s hand giving a feeble twitch.

She hated herself. She hated getting him involved in her horrible, messy life. She hated that she tore him away from his own goals, his travels, his plans. Worst of all, she hated that he may never get to meet his baby. The only solace she took from all this was that maybe, just maybe, he’d be able to see his fiancé and unborn baby again. He’ll finally be happy. That thought made her calmer, as she felt herself slipping away into nothingness.

 

“She’s awake.”

“Is she going to be all right?”

“I don’t know yet.”

The voices became clearer, yet softer, as April’s thoughts came into focus. She felt cold and sore, sweaty and nauseous. As she opened her eyes, the room came into view. It wasn’t the same room as earlier though. Now, she was in her own bed, dressed in a fresh nightgown. She tried to sit up, but she couldn’t feel anything except numbness in her lower half. She couldn’t even wiggle her toes. The shrill cry of a newborn filled her ears, and at once, April’s heart raced. Her baby made it…

“Leslie?” she called, her voice all but gone. “Mia?”

Leslie hurried into the room, her eyes wide. She rushed to April’s side immediately, feeling her forehead.

“We’re so relieved you’re awake,” Leslie breathed. “Thank God.”

“Where’s my baby?” she asked. “Where are Mia and Andy?”

Leslie sighed. “Mia’s in bed. The poor thing was exhausted and scared, and she needed sleep. No child should have to go through what she just witnessed.”

“The baby…I heard crying.”

“The baby’s fine,” Leslie told her. “He’s with Ann right now.”

“It’s a boy?” April asked, a small smile on her lips.

“Mhm,” Leslie nodded. “He’s a little pale and a bit bruised from his journey into the world, but he’s a good sized boy, and he’s going to be all right. I’ll have Ann bring him up. He needs to eat…you’ve been out for nearly three hours.”

“What happened to Andy?” April mumbled the question, not really wanting to know the answer.

“Ann got the bullets out,” Leslie said quietly. “She did her best to sew up the wounds, but Andy developed a fever in the process. Ann thinks it was blood poisoning. He’s in rough shape, and he’s alive…but barely. The bullet near his left shoulder only missed his heart by a few inches, so he was lucky. He’s on a makeshift mattress in the living room.”

“I want to see him,” April pressed.

“You can’t go anywhere right now,” Leslie reminded her. “You need to feed your son, and then maybe I can talk to Ron about bringing Andy up here. I’ll be right back.”

The minutes were agonizing as April lay there, waiting. The good news was that Andy was alive, and her baby was fine. The bad news seemed to be that she was stuck here for the time being, helpless and unhelpful, while Andy was gravely ill.

Finally, Leslie pushed the door back open. In her arms she carried a tiny little thing in a blanket, squirming around noisily. April felt her heart skip a beat.

“April,” Leslie smiled, leaning down beside the bed and placing the bundle in her eager arms. “Meet your baby boy.”

April could have burst into tears had she had the energy. The baby was perfect. He had a fine brown fuzz covering his little round head. His eyes were clear and light, just like his father’s. They looked up at her curiously, as though wondering what he was doing there in the first place. His little face was pink and scrunched, in only the way a newborn’s would be.

“He’s beautiful,” April said aloud. “He looks just like his papa.”

Leslie smiled down at the both of them. “Do you have a name picked out?”

“Jack,” April said without pause. It was a name they had both already discussed and agreed on months ago, if their baby had been a boy. It was Andy’s father’s name.

“That’s a good name,” Leslie nodded her approval. “A strong name for a strong little boy.”

April loosened her gown and brought him to her breast, where Jack began to nurse greedily. His little hand lay spread across her chest and he closed his eyes.

“Can Andy hear you if you talk to him?”

“We’re not sure,” Leslie said uncertainly. “He doesn’t respond when we do, but every once in a while he groans or makes an indistinguishable sound that could very well be him trying to speak.”

“I need to see him,” April pleaded again. “If you don’t bring him up here, I’ll go down there myself. I don’t know what you did to my legs, but I’ll throw myself down the damn stairs if I need to.”

“You’re not going anywhere,” Leslie said sternly. “I told you, we’ll bring him up here soon. Until then, you need to feed Jack and rest.”

 

From what April had found out, Ann had numbed her bottom half with a double dose of syringes once Jack’s head started to make an appearance. There had been some difficulty as he tried to come out. Apparently, the cord was wrapped around his neck, and Ann had to cut him out of her. She hadn’t felt a thing. In fact, she didn’t remember anything save for right before she blacked out. They’d sewn her back up, dressed her wound, and carried her very carefully up to her bedroom, waiting for her to wake while Jack was cleaned up. Ann told her it could take anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days before she regained feeling in her legs. Until then, the medicine woman would be staying in their home with them to help.

Ron had done what he could, but had to get back to town to deal with Jamm. Once he returned, Ben made his way back to the house, having been relieved of his lookout position. Apparently, Ron had warned him months ago to be aware and suspicious of any activity regarding Jamm and his men, and when they’d come to the house the previous night, Ron had previously warned the banker of his gut feeling that something just wasn’t right. The both of them—and Leslie—had made the ride out to the Dwyer’s place to make sure everything was okay. It hadn’t been.

Ron eventually returned to the house, and Andy was brought up a couple of hours later. By then, it was nearly morning. The sun was creeping over the trees from the window as the light slowly filled the room. They placed him in the large bed, next to April and their son. He looked the worse for wear, but just having him near again was enough to calm her nerves. She tried not to think about how rough a shape he was in.

“Hey,” she whispered, stroking his hair. Jack lay asleep in her arms, his little feet twitching beneath the blanket he was swaddled in. “Our baby’s here, Andy…we have a little boy. Little Jack Dwyer, just like we talked about. He looks so much like you.”

Andy breathed slowly in and out, a peaceful expression on his face. His forehead was warm, but he still shivered slightly while tucked under the blanket.

“Take whatever time you need,” she continued, adjusting the baby against her. “We need you to get better. I love you so much.”

She was getting sleepy again. She placed Jack in the little wooden basinet Ron had brought over. It had been used by each of his three children when they were infants, and now he had gifted it to them. He’d crafted it himself out of beautiful dark oak. Carefully, she leaned over and kissed her husband on the lips, curling up beside him. If there was one thing that calmed her in that moment, it was the steady, slow beat of his heart against her ear as she drifted off to sleep.

 

The first thing Andy felt was the sharp pains all over his body. His leg, his shoulder, his side…everything hurt. His head hurt too, but that was a different type of pain. The strong scent of medicinal salve was heavy in the air.

He tried to sit up a little, but found it near impossible. Each tiny movement sent a million little jabs into his spine, so he gave up on that pretty quickly. When he finally opened his eyes, he saw that he was in the bedroom, dressed in soft cotton clothes and buried deep within the blankets. That was good, because he was freezing.

As he lay there, everything came back to him in flashes. The gun shots, shielding April from Jamm and his men, Mia running out the front door and his horror that something would happen to her. Then, he remembered nothing more.

“April?” he called out her name, but all that came out was a dry, raspy shout. He could barely hear himself.

What if something happened to them?

Wincing through the pain, he sat up. Stars and colors burst in front of his eyes, but he muscled through it. Tossing the blankets aside, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood up shakily, clutching the bedside table for balance.

A sudden crying filled his ears. It wasn’t Mia…it was an infant, and it was new…unrecognizable. His heart pumped faster as he tried to make it to the door to the bedroom, his steps slow and short. It was no good…he collapsed in pain on the floor.

As he lay there, his body throbbing, he tried to figure out how to get back up. Just as he contemplated trying to roll over, the door swung open, and April hurried in. Her eyes went wide when she saw him.

“Andy?”

Relief flooded his chest when he saw her alive and well. As a last ditch effort, he pushed up from his hands, and leaned his back against the bedside cabinet, breathing hard.

“Oh my God,” she muttered, falling to the floor beside him and running her hands through his hair. “You’re awake—“

“You okay?” he asked her, lifting one arm to pull her against him.

“Fine, I’m fine,” she whispered, checking him all over. “You—“

Andy pulled her to him in a kiss. It was all he’d been thinking about since he saw her face. As they broke apart, April had tears in the corners of her eyes.

“Hey,” he grinned, “no more tears, okay?”

She nodded, wiping away the wetness with the back of her hand. The baby’s cries sounded again from another room, and Andy turned his head toward the sound.

“Is that—“

“That’s our son,” April said happily.

“A boy?”

“Mmhm,” April sat up, carefully putting her husband’s arm around her shoulder while grabbing his side to try to lift him back into bed.

“No,” Andy shook his head. “Don’t, I can do it.”

“No, you can’t,” April corrected him. With their combined efforts, Andy managed to swing his legs up and onto the bed again, grunting through the renewed pain.

“Hey,” he saw her clutch her side. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” she waved him off. “It’s nothing. Just a few stitches from bringing your son into the world,” she laughed softly.

“Mama, Jack is crying!” Amelia burst into the bedroom, and froze when she saw her father. “PAPA!” she screamed, rushing forward and climbing up onto the bed. She threw her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly.

“Hey beautiful,” he smiled, hugging the little girl back, grateful that she was safe and well like her mother.

“Be careful, baby,” April warned her gently. “Papa’s still sore.”

“Sorry, Mama…”

“No, it’s completely fine,” Andy assured her, kissing Amelia’s head as she snuggled against him. “You okay, sweetheart?”

“Yeah,” Amelia nodded against him. “Guess what happened while you were sleeping? Mama had the baby, and I helped!”

Andy glanced at his wife, and sadly realized how much he missed while he’d been out. April gave him a small, sad smile, before hurrying down the hallway. When she returned, she was carrying a soft, blue blanket close to her chest.

He could feel his eyes getting wet, even before April placed the bundle in his waiting arms. His son stirred slowly, blinking his tiny eyes open and yawning wide. He was completely fine. He was perfect.

“Jack, meet your papa,” April smiled, gently tugging the blanket away from their son’s face so Andy could get a better look at him.

“Jack,” Andy repeated, staring at the baby boy. He couldn’t take his eyes off him. “April, he’s perfect…”

“He is,” she nodded her agreement, scooting up beside the rest of her family on the large bed.

This was what it was like. This was what he’d been missing. Holding his son in his arms for the first time, everything in his life seemed to make sense. He wasn’t born to search for gold. He wasn’t put on earth to travel until he found a place to stay for a few days. He was here because of this purpose. Because of April, and Mia, and Jack, and he needed to be there for them. They were his to love, to care for, and to protect forever.

“You need to tell me everything,” Andy looked at her. “Everything I missed…how you—how everything happened.”

“I will,” she whispered, tucking some curls behind his ears, where her fingers lingered far longer than he knew she needed them to. “Not now, though…right now, let’s just enjoy this moment.”

 

“Three days?”

“Yeah,” April nodded, as the two of them lay in bed together late that night. “Three days where we didn’t know if you were going to wake up or not. Those three days were awful.”

Andy could only imagine the mental anguish April must have been going through. He’d thanked Ann when he saw her that afternoon for everything she had done for his family and for him. For essentially saving his life, and April and Jack’s as well.

April told him that Jeremy Jamm was in jail, waiting to be sentenced to a hanging. Ron had reported back to the house a couple days back, telling her that the trial would likely be an easy one. So many people had been aware of his backwards dealings and broken promises, and with his gang dispersed, there was no one to be afraid of anymore.

“I wish I could’ve killed that bastard when I had the chance,” Andy grumbled.

“Shh,” April rubbed his chest slowly. “Not in front of Jack,” she whispered, although he could tell by her voice that she was smiling.

Jack was fast asleep in his little bed, blissfully unaware of his parents’ conversation.

“I’m so proud of you,” Andy pulled her closer to him. “You kept going even when you didn't know what was going to happen…you didn’t stop to worry, you just made sure our family was safe when I couldn’t. I’ll never forgive myself for letting them get me like that.”

“Hey,” April shook her head. “That was something no one saw coming. Even someone who carries two guns around with them everywhere they go.”

Andy shrugged. “Well, looks like we don’t have to move anymore. Unless of course you wanted to—“

“God no,” April shook her head. “I wanna stay right here.”

 

It was the following night that April snuck out of bed, once she was sure that Andy was fast asleep and her children were safe in their own beds. Ann had gone home for the night, after giving Andy a strong dose of pain medication to help with his persistent fever and discomfort. Although he was getting better, the wounds still stung, and his body hadn’t fully recovered. He still couldn’t get up and walk around, which drove him crazy. This was her only chance. She knew he’d never let her go alone if he was awake.

Dressed in some slacks she primarily used for riding, she tucked Andy’s revolver in her belt as she quietly took Champion from the stable, brushing his mane soothingly.

“Shh,” she kept her voice low as she climbed into the saddle. With a few nudges, they were off. She headed straight for town in the pitch black of night.

 

The jail was empty, save for a guard or two and Jamm himself. When they saw April coming, they moved aside, almost as if they were expecting her.

“Well, well,” Jamm called out to her when he saw her approaching. “Look who’s here. Miss Ludgate, to what do I owe the pleasure?”

“It’s Mrs. Dwyer now,” she said coldly, standing two feet from the bars of the cell.

“How’s widowed life treating you, Mrs. Dwyer,” he sneered, laughing a bit at his own words.

“Wouldn’t know,” April replied. “My husband is perfectly fine, sleeping back at home right now. As are our children. Both of them.”

Jamm’s face fell slightly, but he recovered quickly enough. “Shame,” he said. “I thought for sure we’d finally put an end to that son of a bitch. Ruined my whole damn circus.”

“You failed,” she said simply. “Didn’t go exactly as planned, did it? Andy’s not some frail man who’ll go down after one fight. He’d have killed you had he been alone. It was a cheap game you played, coming after us in the dark, while he was unarmed and our daughter was with us.”

“Never said I played fair,” Jamm shrugged. “Too bad though…your daughter would have made a better performer than you. We could’ve trained her.”

“I’d never have let you take her…only to put her through what I did. You ruined four years of my life,” she said coldly. “And because of you, I lost our first baby. I know it was you who told them to shoot that gun off. Don’t even try to deny it.”

“What good would a pregnant horseback rider be? I heard you talking to that Derek boy and put two and two together.”

“That circus was nothing but hell for those who worked in it,” April muttered. “Every bit of business you conducted was unfair. You knew it, my father knew it. Mia’s father knew it. Then you had him killed.”

“That was on your father, girl, don’t blame me,” Jamm shrugged. “He just paid me. I paid you, didn’t I? I fed you, I let you have a day off to go spend with your kid. You were my star performer. I was fair.”

“Fair?” April’s voice rose slightly. “Was it fair when you killed Mia’s father, and tried to make it look like an accident? Was it fair when you took me from my family when I was sixteen years old, and forced me to work six days a week, fourteen hours a day? Or how about all those times I was beaten or lashed because you weren’t satisfied with the size of the crowds at the shows? Was it fair when you had your men rape me when you didn’t have enough money to pay them?” She could feel herself shaking at the distant memories. She would never forget them as long as she lived.

“Business is business,” Jamm said simply.

“No, it’s not,” April shook her head. “But guess what? You lose.”

“Maybe so, but no one in this town is going to convict me.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” she grinned. “They would. But they’re not gonna get the chance to.” She pulled the revolver from her belt and aimed it right at him through the bars.

Jamm backed up from where he sat, his eyes narrowed. “You wouldn’t even try,” he sneered, thought she could see how nervous he was.

“You tried to kill my daughter, my baby, and my husband. Don’t tell me what I wouldn’t do.”

“I’ll make a deal with you,” he was panicking now, she could tell. “I’ll pay you back whatever I took from you. All those years of taking your pay to relieve the debt. I’ll pay it back.”

“What’s the use?” she cocked the gun. “You’re a dead man anyway. What use is a dead man’s money to me?”

The gunshot rang through the jail, reverberating off the walls and floor. The two guards barely glanced at April as she mounted Champion and rode for home.

 

“Honey?” Andy whispered sleepily, as she crawled back up beside him.

“Shh,” she kissed his chest, taking his hand under the sheet. She was pleased to see that Jack was still fast asleep. He’d be up to eat again soon, but for now, she still had some time to relax.

“Where’d you go?” Andy asked, his eyes closed.

“Just sleep. We’ll talk about it tomorrow, I promise.” April closed her eyes, lost in the wonderful feeling of security that she hadn’t felt since she was a child.

Andy smiled, shifting under the covers until he could drape one arm over her side. “Whatever you say, darlin'…sounds good to me.”

Chapter Text

News of Jeremy Jamm's murder spread quickly throughout Pawnee. Questions were asked, whispers were shared. Who had done it? Was it someone he’d stiffed in the past? Someone from out of town? One of his own men from days long gone? Regardless, no one was truly upset. Most were just disappointed they couldn’t see him hang.

It took Andy another week before he was able to get himself around again. He’d grown tired of being restricted to bed while April was stuck managing the house and taking care of their children. He may not be as quick as he once was, but it was better than nothing at all.

It wasn’t long before he found out about his wife’s involvement in the murder, either. It happened one day while their little family was outside, enjoying a quiet, beautiful spring afternoon. April had been much less talkative the past few days, and Andy had started to worry that there was something wrong.

He checked to be sure Amelia was within eyesight and that Jack was snug in his basinet by the house, before he came up behind his wife unannounced and scooped her into his arms.

“Hey,” he smiled, giving her a deep kiss as her feet were lifted off the ground.

She merely smiled back at him, leaning her head against his chest.

“Everything okay?” he asked, a little more worriedly.

She took a moment to respond, instead walking her fingers up his shirt until they landed at the base of his neck.

“I need to tell you something,” she said softly. “Don’t be upset with me, okay? You promise?”

“Okay…” Andy looked her up and down nervously. “Are you all right? Did something happen?” He sat them down on the porch steps. Mia’s laughter was carried on the wind as she chased a butterfly through the flowers.

April stared off in the direction of her daughter, seemingly lost in thought. Finally, she turned to Andy.

“I killed Jamm,” she whispered.

Andy looked at her a good long while, not truly comprehending what she said.

“What?” He looked directly into her eyes, searching for some sort of explanation. “No, you didn’t…honey, you’ve been home all this time. When—“

“The night after you woke up,” she said, staring up at him. “You were out cold. I snuck out, took your gun, and went to the jail. I shot him, Andy. The guards didn’t even stop me.”

“April—“

“After everything he did to me, to us…I wasn’t going to let him get away without looking him directly in the eyes while he died.”

Andy couldn’t believe what he was hearing. All the things that could have happened to her…he didn't want to think about it.

“Do you realize how unsafe that was?” he said, a little more sternly than he’d have liked. “April, you could’ve…something could’ve gone seriously wrong!”

“Nothing was going to go wrong,” she shook her head. “He’s gone. We have nothing to worry about any more. I had told him on that awful night that if anything had happened to you, I’d kill him. He made us lose our baby. He tried to take Mia and kill Jack…and you. No, I wasn’t going to sit by and watch him hang after that. I’ve lived the last four years under his terms. This was going to be on my terms.”

Andy was still finding it hard to believe. He knew his wife was tough, but killing a man…that’s not something you forget soon enough. He’d learned that the hard way.

“I don’t…I mean, does Ron know about this?”

“He figured it was me. He stopped by the following morning, after he’d found the body. I know he knew. He didn’t say much, but his look was enough.”

“Are you okay?” Andy asked. These types of things leave psychological effects on a person. They don’t just go away.

“I’ve been through worse things mentally, emotionally and physically, Andy,” she grabbed his hand and held it. “I’ll be fine.”

He nodded, staring at her with a mixture of worry and admiration. And of course, love…so much love.

“I mean, I wish it could’ve been me who did it, but hell…” he shook his head, trying to come to terms with everything. “Anything else you’d like to tell me?” he chuckled lightly, as Jack began to fuss beside them. “God, I’m asking this after my wife literally shot a man…”

April carefully lifted their son, bringing him to her breast to eat.

“Yes, actually,” she smiled. “Ron filled me in on a bit. By the way, he really can’t wait until you feel better enough to come back to work. He misses you, although he wouldn’t say it out loud.”

“Oh yeah?” Andy stared down at Jack, reaching for his little fist. The baby’s fat fingers clasped around Andy’s large ones.

“He told me someone bought the circus.”

“Who?” Now Andy was genuinely intrigued.

“Remember that Christopher Traeger guy who found all that gold a while back?”

A memory stirred in Andy’s brain. He thought back to the previous year, when he’d first ridden into town. Tom Haverford had told him that Chris Traeger was the first Pawneean to have any luck panning for gold.

“Yeah, I think I do,” he nodded.

“Well, he heard about Jamm and all that. He wanted to take over the circus and turn it into something fair and honest. He wants to pay the workers fairly so they’ll stay, and he’s bringing in a new animal trainer to take better care of the animals I used to work with since I’m no longer there.”

“That’s great news,” Andy smiled. And it was.

“Yeah, he’s bringing it back to Pawnee once it’s ready to be up and running again. Thinks it will help bring more profit into town. Ron told me Traeger had asked around for me…apparently he thought I’d be interested in getting my old job back. For fair pay, of course.” April glanced up at Andy, a tiny smirk on her face.

Andy felt his stomach clench immediately. “You told him no way in hell, right?”

“Don’t worry,” she kissed his cheek. “I did exactly that.”

 

Two years later…

A gorgeous spring breeze picked up scattered flower petals and swirled them in the air. The sky was a perfect blue, the temperature ideal. Andy leaned back in the grass, watching his children play in the wildflowers.

Jack was running on chubby legs, trying his best to keep up with his older sister. At two years old, he had all the energy in the world. He chased Amelia until she collapsed on Andy’s lap, laughing and giggling and out of breath.

“I’m safe,” she cried, red-faced and happy. “I reached Papa first, I’m safe, you can't get me, Jack!”

“I safe too!” Jack bellowed, and Andy opened his arms wide to accommodate both children.

“Caught you both, haven’t I?” he chuckled, pulling them to him tightly. “No escaping now!”

Jack and Amelia burst into giggles. The sound was contagious, and Andy would never tire of it for as long as he lived. He looked up when he heard the door of the house open, and April stepped out, carrying a basket on one arm and their eight-month-old daughter in the other.

At once he stood up, relieving her of the baby as she spread the picnic lunch out in the grass where their children waited.

“Hi my beautiful girl,” Andy whispered to the baby as he kissed her chubby cheek. “Have a good nap? Ready for some lunch now?”

“I want to sit next to Melody,” Amelia announced loudly. “Papa, put her next to me!”

“Tell you what,” he said. “Mama still needs to help her eat, so you can sit right next to the two of them. Deal?”

“Yeah, deal,” Amelia nodded.

“Jack, how about you sit with your old man?” He pulled the two-year-old over to sit beside him.

“You’re anything but old,” April smirked at him, sitting down beside her eldest daughter while she adjusted the baby on her lap.

Andy grinned at her, his eyes meeting hers, the both of them undoubtably thinking about the previous night’s activities that lasted long, long into the morning.

“Guess you’re right, honey,” he nodded, winking at her. “Feeling okay?” he asked, eying her rounded stomach where their newest addition was still growing strong. “If you need to hand Melly over I’ll take her for a bit.”

“No, I’m fine,” she shrugged him off. “I’ve done this before, remember? Lot’s of times.”

“Your mama’s a tough one,” Andy smiled, passing a plate to Amelia.

“Nobody’s tougher than Mama,” Mia said confidently.

“You’re absolutely right,” he agreed.

 

Much later that evening, after the children were put to bed and all else in the house was dark, Andy and April stared up at the ceiling in their bedroom, bodies intertwined, breathing heavily as sweat dampened their foreheads. The crickets were chirping outside the bedroom window, while the moon cast a single beam of light on the corner of the sheets.

She leaned in for another kiss, and Andy willingly obliged. There was nothing as amazing as feeling her against him.

“I love you,” she whispered, kissing down his neck all the way to his chest. His heart hammered loudly against her, and he had to close his eyes to gather his thoughts.

“I love you too,” he replied, his hand winding through her damp hair and coming to rest on her stomach.

“How much different things would have been if you’d never come to see me at that circus…” she mumbled softly, pushing herself closer to him, though there was barely any space as it was.

“I don’t want to think about that,” he said simply. “I never want to think about that. I just want to think about now, and everything good that’s happened since the day I met you.”

April smiled, rolling over so her back was flush against his chest. “That sounds fair,” she chuckled softly.

“Yeah?” Andy kissed up her shoulder until he landed on her ear, biting down gently.

“Yeah,” she nodded.

He rested his arm over her side, pulling the blankets up over them. Sleep was already pulling at him, and he knew April was feeling the same.

“Remember that time,” she yawned, her voice getting breathy as she drifted. “In the woods? Under the trees?”

“Of course I do,” he nodded against her. “I’ll never forget that day as long as I live.”

“You promised you’d help me…and find me a real home…” she trailed off.

“Mmhm…”

“You did…and then some,” she smiled sleepily.

“Now and always,” he reminded her.

“Now and always,” she nodded.

Andy watched her fall asleep, his chest light and his heart full. Life couldn’t get more amazing than this.

Chapter Text

April woke as the first ray of sunlight stretched across their bed. It was an absolutely beautiful spring morning, the type that would make anyone grateful.

As she stretched, she felt her husband stir beside her, winding his long arms around her and instinctively pulling her close. It was the way they always slept—she was never far from his embrace, and she loved it that way.

“Mornin’ sweetheart,” Andy yawned sleepily, pressing a kiss to her neck.

“Morning,” she replied, giving him the tiniest of thrusts backwards, enough to make him chuckle into her hair.

Jack stirred from his bassinet beside them, causing the both of them to turn to him and smile. April lifted him gently, nuzzling his cheek while Andy grasped his tiny hand.

“He’s so handsome,” April marveled. “Like his papa.”

“Half of him comes from you, honey,” Andy smirked. “Don’t forget that.”

She grinned, as Andy shifted on the bed beside her. She was too busy looking at their son to notice him slip something around her neck, not until he pulled away.

“Andy, what—“ she reached around her neck and her fingers closed around something smooth and cool to the touch. Looking down, she saw a white oval gemstone on a silver chain. “What is this?”

“Happy Birthday,” he whispered, wrapping his arms around her from behind.

“You didn’t have to…this is too expensive.”

“I absolutely did,” he kissed her cheek. “And no, it’s not. I’ve been saving for a special occasion, and this is it.”

April felt the warmth in her cheeks and the tears in her eyes. All her life, she’d never celebrated a birthday, not once. Her parents, who were more interested in their farm then their daughter’s well-being, never acknowledged the yearly date, to the point where she’d never even heard of the concept until she was eight years old.

“Thank you,” she said softly as she turned to him, with one hand clasped around the pendant and the other arm supporting Jack.

“I know…y’know, you’ve never had a real…you told me—“ Andy struggled to find the appropriate words, but April silenced him with a kiss.

“Thank you,” she said again. “I love it. And more importantly, I love you.”

Andy smiled, his big beautiful toothy grin that spread from ear to ear. April placed Jack back in his bassinet and pulled Andy back down with her against the mattress, snuggling into him.

“Whatever you want today, I’ll take care of everything,” he mumbled against her cheek.

“Don’t want anything,” she replied. “Just want to spend it with you.”

Before Andy could reply, Amelia burst through the door and jumped onto the bed with her parents, her brown curls a wild mess.

“Happy birthday Mama!” she yelled, brandishing a drawing in front of their faces as she collapsed into the fluffy mattress.

“Thank you so much, baby,” April pulled her daughter up with them and hugged her tightly. “How’d you know it was my birthday today?”

“Papa told me,” Amelia grinned at her father, who shrugged like he had no recollection of such a conversation.

“He did, huh?” April chuckled.

Mia nodded, her smile turning into a giggle fit as Andy tickled her stomach.

April didn’t grow up with much, and she was okay with that. She could never afford nice things, and she was okay with that too. Now, with her husband, her daughter, and their newborn son, she had everything she could ever want forever, and that made up for absolutely everything.

Chapter Text

Andy swore he would never let anything happen to April again. No one was going to try to harm her, or their children, for as long as he lived. Not after everything they’d been through.

However, not even Andy could stop illness. That was a matter all its own.

The fever swept through Pawnee almost overnight, and it didn’t discriminate. No one expected it to be as bad as it was. Children, adults, seniors…all were affected. A few of the very ill even died. Ann Perkins, the town medicine woman, had her hands full day and night. She wore a cloth mask over her nose and mouth to keep the disease at bay, and somehow, miraculously, it worked for her.

So when April, six months pregnant with their third baby, came down with the same sickness one morning, Andy’s world felt like it was collapsing in on him, and for once, he didn’t have the strength to hold it up.

 

Amelia and little Jack had gone to stay with the Wyatt family for the week for Andy’s fear that they would catch it from their mother. April was devastated, but she knew it was for the best. For the first day or so, she was still able to function on her own, although slowly. By the third day, she wasn’t even sure where she was at times.

No matter how many quilts she covered herself with, she shook uncontrollably. Her hacking cough was unbearable. Doubled over, blood spattered the pillowcase as she tried to catch her breath, the heavy whooping sounds ringing in Andy’s ears.

“Breathe,” he instructed, as his wife near-collapsed in his arms. Her breath sounded hallow and shaky, and her skin was hot. “That’s it, April…breathe…”

“Andy,” she groaned.

“I’m here,” he assured her, his hands on her waist. “It’s okay.”

The coughing was over for now. She lay back in the bed and closed her eyes.

“The baby…” she mumbled, in her fever-induced delirium.

“The baby’s gonna be fine,” Andy said, making promises he knew he had no right to. The fever had already claimed the lives of three unborn children, their mothers too weak to carry the early pregnancies to term. He refused to believe April would be next.

“No,” she shook her head. “Not okay…” Her words were never in complete sentences as of late, and it was terrifying.

After a couple of days of this, Ann had told him he should take April to her house, where the medicine woman could treat her with other sick patients and Andy would be safe from catching the same thing. He refused. He didn’t care if he caught it. He was more concerned that being around all those other sick people would make April worse. He flat out refused to leave her side.

“Honey?” Andy brushed aside some sweaty hair that was stuck to April’s cheek. “Can you drink some water for me?”

“He’s gonna be so mad,” she mumbled, her eyes closed. She clutched at the bed sheets and shivered. “So mad about the baby…”

“Who, sweetheart?” he asked, stroking her hair back.

“My father…”

Andy felt a pit in his stomach. April was hallucinating about things that happened literally years ago.

“Don’t want to leave,” she went on. “Don’t want to go…”

“April, it’s me,” Andy said, softly. “You’re home, okay?”

She gave a weak twitch, before the coughing started again. Andy pulled her against him and held her through it, the little flecks of blood spattering his shirt. All he had to offer was the drink Ann had given him, made for April to take every couple of hours. It was supposed to keep her hydrated and potentially bring the fever down. Other than that, he was on his own.

“Andy?” she whispered, her eyes fluttering open for a second.

“I’m right here,” he said immediately.

“G-good…” she gave him a weak smile, then softly, “I think I’m dying.”

Andy shook his head frantically, tears leaking out of his eyes. He held her hands in his, and they were hot as ever.

“No, you’re not,” he said, his voice catching. “Don’t say that, April.”

“My chest is on fire,” she groaned. “I can’t breathe.”

“You’re gonna be just fine,” he said, helplessly. “You’re gonna get better, and the kids will come home, and then we’ll have our baby soon…”

“Y-yeah…the baby,” she brought his hand to her stomach and smiled. “You’re amazing,” she chuckled feebly. “You’re such a good husband. So lucky you’re my husband…”

“Not as lucky as I am, honey,“ he smiled back, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand.

“You n-need to take care of our babies, okay?” she said, squeezing his hand. “Make sure you keep them safe…tell them I love them so much—“

“Stop,” Andy interrupted her, feeling sick to his stomach. “You’re not dying, April…don’t talk like that—”

April coughed again, turning to her side, before she started talking about things that didn’t make much sense to Andy anymore. She mentioned Mia, and Leslie Wyatt, and something about having to go to work at the circus, which she hadn’t done in years. All the while Andy listened silently, holding her.

The bedroom door opened slowly, making Andy jump. Ann had returned, carrying a sack over her shoulder and wearing the same mask over her nose and mouth.

“How’s she doing?” she asked, hurrying over to the bedside.

“I think she’s hallucinating,” Andy said. “She keeps taking about things that aren’t happening…or already happened.”

“Ann?” April turned her head toward the other woman’s voice, her brown eyes half closed.

“I’m here, April,” Ann said, pouring some strong-smelling liquid into a cup.

“Don’t let Andy die,” she said. “Don’t—don’t you let him die. You n-need to help him—“

“What do you mean, April?“

“She thinks it’s the night I got shot,” Andy said sadly. “She’s hallucinating again. Sweetheart, I’m here,” he cupped her cheeks. “I’m okay, I’m not hurt. That was years ago—“

“Don’t let h-him!” April’s breathing sped up, and suddenly she was hyperventilating. “Andy—“

“April!” he looked at Ann helplessly, and she was already bringing the cup to April’s lips to get her to drink.

“Medicine,” Ann said simply. “It’s going to help—“

“Andy,” April was crying now, pulling at his shirt as she tried to push the liquid away. “No, I don’t want it, Andy! Make her stop!”

It was too much. Seeing his wife like this, seeing her pain and her tears was making him feel sick, and it took all the mental strength he had to ignore her pleas and hold her down while Ann forced the liquid down her throat.

Once she’d swallowed as much as Ann could give her, April seemed to calm down a bit. Her grip on Andy’s shirt slackened, until she was lying back against the mattress with blank, heavy eyes. After a minute or so, she drifted to sleep.

“Is she all right?” Andy asked.

“She’s fine right now,” Ann assured him. “It’s supposed to calm her down.”

“Ann,” Andy said, the words getting caught in his throat. “Is April going to be okay?”

Ann sighed, reaching out to feel April’’s forehead. After a moment, she cleared her throat. “It’s…um…it’s hard to tell, really.”

“Tell me,” he said flatly. “You’ve gotta have an idea.”

“She’s in rough shape,” Ann said softly, not meeting his eyes.

“And the baby?”

“If the baby somehow makes it through this,” she said slowly. “…I’d be very surprised.”

Even though Andy knew it was coming, the words still stung. He stood and turned away from both April and Ann, and leaned heavily against the wall.

“I have to get back,” Ann said softly. “I came to check on April, but there’s not much more I can do. I need to tend to my other patients.”

Andy ignored her. He just wanted her to leave.

“I’ll be back tomorrow,” she went on. “If you need anything, you know where to find me.”

 

Andy didn't sleep that night. He stayed awake for hours, holding his wife, fearful that every shuddering breath she took might be her last. The life had long seeped out of him. Nothing mattered to him right now, only April.

“I can’t lose you,” he whispered. “I can’t.”

The hours crept by, and eventually the sun started to peek over the trees. Andy’s eyes were barely open, but still, he held her.

“You’re gonna get through this,” he said. “I know you will. The baby will too.”

As if by some miracle, Andy felt the tiny nudge against the hand placed over April’s stomach. He froze. Surely, he’d been imagining it.

Then, when it happened the second time, he smiled for the first time in days.

 

It was a little while later that he heard it. Her voice was soft, barely louder than the wind outside the window, but it was there.

“Andy…”

She was weak, and for a moment, Andy thought he was dreaming. Her voice sounded far off, like an echo from miles away.

“A-Andy?”

It was real. He wasn’t dreaming.

He opened his eyes and sat up, dizzy and disoriented. April groaned beside him.

“April?” He felt her forehead. Her skin was wet with sweat. The fever was breaking.

“What’s going on?” she asked, her voice raspy. “Why…where did Ann go?”

“Do you know where you are?” he asked, hoping, praying…

“Home,” she said immediately, her hand going to her stomach. “I got sick…but I don’t remember much else.”

“You got sick,” he nodded. “…but you’re fine.” He laughed, relieved. “You’re gonna be just fine.” He kissed her softly, unable to stop himself or the tears that came again. “I promise.”

April pulled him closer, grasping at his hand like a lifeline. She smiled, about to say something else, but glanced down quickly. “Oh…”

“What?” he asked, panic flaring up at once.

“I—I felt the baby kick,” she whispered, looking at him and smiling. “Andy—the baby kicked!” She pulled him down for a kiss, cupping his cheek. “The baby’s fine,” she laughed happily.

Andy joined, overjoyed, relieved, exhausted, happy…it hit him all at once, and suddenly he wanted nothing more than to fall asleep for hours with his wife. He pulled her against him and wrapped his arms around her. There would be hours, days, weeks…all this time they’d be able to spend together, because his wife was strong, amazing, and on her way to feeling like herself again.

Everything was going to be just fine.

Chapter Text

The day was one of the most beautiful they’d seen in weeks. April couldn’t think of the last time the temperature had been this perfect, the sky this clear. It was gorgeous out, and she and her children spent the entirety of the afternoon outside trying to make the most of it.

She tended to the little garden she and her eldest had built a couple of years back. Amelia, ten years old and beautiful, loved to help her maintain it. It was something they did together, and April looked forward to it as much as she knew her daughter did.

While they worked, her other children played in the flowers by the fence. Jack kept a watchful eye on his younger sister and the twins, and April couldn’t help but smile at how fatherly he tried to be, even at five years old. At least while their actual father was working, anyway. The little ones picked daisies and laughed at butterflies, and the sound of their giggles made her swell with a pride she never knew she had.

The day was pretty much perfect, that is, until the strange man rode up the path to the house.

Melody spotted him first. The little girl stood on her tip toes, looking out over the fence and down the road. She started bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet, pointing excitedly.

“What’s wrong, baby?” April asked, wiping some sweat from her forehead.

“Papa!” the four-year-old pointed.

“That’s not Papa,” Jack said knowingly.

“Yes, it is!” Melody said angrily, sticking her tongue out.

“No, it isn’t,” April stood up straight, staring warily at the figure still a ways away. “Your father won’t get home for a little while. Also, that’s not Champion…”

As he came closer, the man pulled his horse to a trot. An odd sense of foreboding washed over April then, and she quickly stepped out of the garden and came to stand by her children.

“Who is it, Mama?” Amelia asked, following her mother.

“I don’t know, honey,” April shook her head. “Why don’t you take Jack and Melly and go inside?”

“What about Owen and Joshy?”

April peeked over at her twin boys, the both of them playing contentedly on the quilt she’d laid out. They were nearly three, but far too young to really care what was going on. As much as she trusted the other children, she couldn’t chance them alone with the two of them without her there.

“I’ve got them,” April smiled. “Just go inside.”

She watched the three of them go, their little heads of hair reflecting brown and black in the sunlight. Turning her full attention back to the road, she stood her ground and waited.

It wasn’t often that they had visitors, and even when they did she could usually recognize them from far enough away. This person was different, and there was a strange urgency to his riding that didn’t sit well with her.

“Well, well,” the stranger called out, his voice loud and clear once he was close enough. “That can’t be you, April! Good lord, you’ve grown up since I last saw you.” He hopped down off his horse and finally came into full view.

April didn’t need to see his face once she’d heard him speak. She’d never forget that voice, even if she hadn’t heard it since she was sixteen years old. For a moment she felt dizzy, like she was back in that house all those years ago. Clutching the fence for a bit of stability, she stood in front of her babies and looked her long-lost father right in the eyes.

“Aren’t you gonna say hello?” he asked, looking her up and down.

April stared at him, her expression stony and eyes like ice. “Why are you here?” She wasn’t going to waste niceties on the likes of him. He didn’t deserve them.

Her father squinted at her, and briefly looked down to the twins at April’s feet. Owen, ever more observant than his brother, sensed the change in atmosphere right away. He hurried to hide behind his mother’s dress, while Josh held his ground, continuing his mission of pulling up clumps of grass and throwing them.

“Two boys, huh? Yeah, I heard you married some cowboy on my way up here…anyway,” Lawrence Ludgate spit loudly, coughed a few times, and continued. “I just so happened to be coming through town on business. I remembered you worked in that circus so I thought I’d check up on you. I was surprised when I went to see a show…totally different from what I remembered. They told me you hadn’t worked there in years and that that bastard Jeremy Jamm was dead.”

“If by ‘different’ you mean decent?” she said angrily. “That place used to be terrible, and you know it. It was bought out by a good man and it’s far better now than it ever used to be.”

“Regardless,” her father said. “I had to go back into town and ask around. All it took was flashing some coins around the right folk and they told me where I could find you.”

April wasn’t afraid of him anymore. She stood her ground, unflinching. Still, she wished her husband were here. Andy would never have let this man get within ten feet of the house if he knew who he was.

“That’s all good and great,” she rolled her eyes. “But why are you here?”

“Aren’t you listening?” he scowled a little. “I said I wanted to check up on you—“

“That’s not why,” she said. “It’s been ten years. You had all the time in the world to check up on me. Funny, you didn't seem to care about what was happening to me when I was Jamm’s circus slave, though did you? I seem to remember you selling me off like livestock, just to pay off some debt. How’d that work out for you?”

“I know, I was wrong,” Lawrence said. For a moment, his eyes darted down again to her boys. “I remarried, y’know,” he said suddenly.

“My condolences to my new step-mother.”

“Listen,” he said, taking a step forward. “I know I was wrong in the past, April. I think it’s important to let bygones be bygones and forget those things. Look at you. You’re all grown up and beautiful. I think it’s about time we reconnected.”

April opened her mouth to speak, but the slam of the screen door averted her attention. All at once, Amelia and Jack were chasing little Melody through the yard while the four-year-old barreled straight toward her mother. She collided with April’s legs and held on tight. The two older children finally caught up, panting and out of breath.

“Sorry Mama,” Amelia said, breathing hard. “She just took off and we couldn’t catch her—“

“I told you to stay inside,” April said sternly.

“She won’t listen!” Jack said, shaking his head. “We told her what you said.”

“Good lord,” Lawrence said, looking at all five kids. “These all yours?”

“Who are you?” Jack asked, his scowl unmistakable as he puffed his little chest out.

“I’m your grandpa, son,” April’s father said.

“No,” Amelia shook her head. “You’re not our grandpa. We don’t have a grandpa…”

“Honey, please go back inside,” April whispered, starting to lose her patience with the whole situation. She needed to put a stop to this one way or another.

“Shit,” Lawrence’s eyes widened. “This the kid? Last time I saw her she was barely a month old…”

“I think it’s about time you left,” April said. “I don’t know why you thought it was a good idea to come here, but I have nothing to say to you. After what you did to me, you don’t just show up after a decade and expect to be forgiven.”

“April, listen—“

“Hey.”

The voice was low and dangerous. All the children looked up at once. Andy had arrived, dirt and sweat covering him from head to toe after a long day of work. He stared daggers at the strange man in their yard who was far to close to his wife and children.

“Papa!” All of them shot toward him like bullets, grabbing at his legs and hugging him tight. Even the twins tried to keep up, their smiles wider than ever at the sight of their father.

April looked past her own father to where her husband had arrived. She hadn’t even noticed him walk over, but she’d never been happier about his timing. Andy took a moment to hug and kiss his children, but his expression remained hard.

“Kids,” he said softly. “Go inside the house. I brought you a present from Uncle Ron and Aunt Diane.”

The kids cheered and took off in the direction of the house, and Andy stepped forward, walking until he was standing slightly in front of his wife.

“Can we help you?” he asked coldly.

“You must be the husband,” Lawrence smiled, although there was no kindness in his voice. He extended his hand, but Andy didn’t shake it. “I’m Larry Ludgate…April’s father.”

Andy glanced back at her briefly. “Like I said,” he went on, as if the other man’s introduction meant nothing. “Can we help you?”

“I was just here visiting my daughter,” he said, in overly honeyed tones. “It’s been so long—“

“Where exactly have you been the last ten years?” Andy asked coldly.

“Well, I’ve been fairly busy…lots of business prospects for sure—“

“You sold her,” Andy said, grinding his teeth. April watched as his right hand went to rest on the butt of his revolver, which was always holstered securely to his belt. “You gave up your right to see her the moment you handed her and Mia over to Jamm.”

“Now wait a minute,” Larry said. “I told her I made a mistake. I know I did. I’m ashamed, and I came here to make it right.”

“There is no ‘making it right,’” April spoke up. “I don’t care why you’re here, and I don't want to get to know you again. You need to leave.”

“I was hoping,” her father ignored her, stepping forward to address Andy. “to speak to my daughter alone for a bit.”

“No,” Andy said simply.

The atmosphere changed in an instant. The tension rose to an all time high, making the hairs on the back of April's neck stand up and her heart pound in her chest.

“Well,” Larry said, sneering as he pointed a finger at Andy. “This one’s smarter than the last one, I’ll give you that. What was that boy’s name?” he asked, thinking hard. “Eh, I don’t remember, but all you had to do was tell him to leave and he’d take off. Did whatever it was you told him to without question. Probably why he ended up dead. I knew he was no good for you.”

“You had him killed!” April spat, anger taking over. “Don’t lie to my face like I’m stupid. I know what you did. Everyone knew. Now tell me the truth. You came here hoping to borrow money, didn’t you?”

“Sweetheart—“

“I’m not your ‘sweetheart,’” she said. “That’s it, isn’t it? You’re in another bad business deal and you came looking to me for money. What the hell made you think I even had any?”

By now, Lawrence’s expression had turned sour. He looked at his daughter and son-in-law with dislike etched in his face, and spit on the ground again.

“Thought maybe you’d smartened up some,” he said angrily. “Thought perhaps you’d made some better decisions about your life, but I guess I was wrong. You’re still going around and getting knocked up left and right. Should’a beat that first kid out of you when I had the chance, that’a showed you—“

A loud pop filled the air, as Andy’s fist collided with the man’s face in a sickening crack. Lawrence Ludgate went down like a pile of rocks, clutching his jaw that was undoubtably broken and cursing loudly.

“Get out of my yard,” Andy said angrily, standing over the much smaller man. “You have two minutes. If you’re not gone by then I’ll shoot you.”

“You’re married to a slut,” the older man said, pulling himself up, all the while clutching his face. “A dirty, stupid—“

Andy pulled his gun out, and the other men yelped and turned back to hop up on his horse. With a final look back, he clicked his heels and rode off down the path, leaving nothing but a cloud of dust in his wake.

Once he was gone, April exhaled sharply, deep breaths making her dizzy as she swayed on the spot. Immediately, Andy turned to her and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her into him as she buried her face against his shirt.

“It’s okay,” he whispered, stroking her hair. “Deep breaths, honey…he’s gone.”

 

Once the children had been put to bed for the night, April filled the wash tub with warm water. She stripped off her clothes piece by piece, her dress falling to the floor in a pile, and stepped in. She shivered, savoring the warm and cool sensations until she sunk down low, submerging everything except her head. Then, she closed her eyes and breathed deeply.

It didn’t take long for Andy to find her. Wordlessly, he removed his clothing as well. April watched him, watched his hardened, scarred body flex as he moved, and she scooted forward to allow him enough room to sit behind her. It wasn’t a big tub, but it was all the more cozy when her husband wrapped his strong arms around her.

Gently, he rubbed the soapy water up her back and over her shoulders, softly kissing and massaging the back of her neck and her ears. She let her full weight rest against his chest.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she whispered.

“I’m here,” he said, and April understood the meaning of his words. He would always be there for her when she needed him, whether it be to talk or laugh or cry, but also when she simply needed his silent presence, comforting and strong.

“I know.”

She could feel his hands playing at her hips, gently squeezing the ample flesh that remained after birthing five children, something she hated about her body but Andy simply loved. She found his hand beneath the soapy bubbles and gave it a squeeze.

They often talked about her past, but never in front of the children. April knew that someday she’d have to tell them why they never had a relationship with their grandparents, or who that strange man was who came to their house that day, but now was not the time.

She’d lived a difficult life up until she’d met Andy. She was hardened through trauma that she never wanted her kids to have to face, with the scars along her body to prove it. In the past, an encounter like that one might have drudged up all those terrible memories, sending her spiraling into a depression that could only be cured by time. Things were different now, thanks to the man she loved who never showed her anything but passion and adoration, and the five children they were raising together.

“It’s okay to cry,” he said, his voice barely louder than the chirping of the crickets outside the open window. “I just want you to know that.”

She nodded, biting her lip to stop herself from doing that very thing. She was stronger than that. She had to be. Instead, she reached up to cup his cheek, a silent reminder that she understood and she was fine.

“I love you,” he said, soft against her ear.

“I love you too.”

“I’m so proud of you.”

She sighed, leaning her head back against his chest.

She was proud of herself, too.

Chapter Text

“Good Lord, that poor woman…”

“I’m sure she’s got to be due soon…”

“Does she have any idea how bad it is for her to be walking around like that so far along in the pregnancy?”

April grunted as she walked through the town, her husband only a half step behind her with a gentle hand on her lower back. She was so sick of the people in this town, all of them staring at her like she was some sort of circus act—and yes, she realized how ironic that thought was—as she went about her day to day errands.

Yes, she knew this pregnancy—her fourth—was much more difficult than the others had been, but that was only because she was so damn huge. She refused to believe it was anything more than a large baby, because technically her due date was still three months away. The only reasonable explanation she could come up with that might say otherwise was that Ann Perkins had gotten her math wrong. It was hard to tell, anyway. There wasn’t really a day that passed without her and Andy having sex.

She shook her head, ridding herself of the complicated thoughts as she walked. They were almost at the medicine woman’s house for her monthly check up. April refused to be forced to stay inside and insisted they go to Ann this time instead of the other way around.

“How you making out, honey?” Andy asked.

“I’m fine,” she muttered. “I’d be even better if people would stop looking at me like I’m going to explode,” she said pointedly, staring at nosy Mrs. Langman, who was on her way back from the bank.

“Sweetheart,” Andy smiled. “People are just worried about you, that’s all,” he insisted.

“I doubt it,” she sighed, as they turned the corner. Ann’s house was another few buildings down. “They’re all just watching because I look like some kind of freak show to them.”

“You’re beautiful,” he kissed her head. “I don’t care what anyone else thinks and you shouldn’t either.”

April smiled, despite her annoyance. Together, they stepped through the door of Ann’s home. The woman was sitting at her table in the far right of the room, putting together jars of herbs and medicinal items to shelve for later use.

“Hey you two,” she said brightly, standing up and immediately walking over to help April.

“I’m fine, God, I don’t need any more help,” April said frustratedly, waving Ann away.

April caught Andy giving Ann an apologetic look. Ann merely nodded and smiled. “So,” she sat beside them as April spread out on one of the cots. “How are you doing, April? Anything changed since last month? Any issues?”

“No,” April shook her head.

“Any appetite changes?”

“No.”

“Any pains?”

“Yeah, a ton,” April said.

“Really?” Ann’s eyes went wide. “Where?”

“Oh, just about every damn person in this stupid town!” April burst out suddenly, scowling.

Ann looked at Andy, who shrugged, grinning. “She’s uh, a little…frustrated,” he said delicately.

“Frustrated?” April said loudly. “I’m friggin annoyed! People act like they’ve never seen a pregnant woman before! I get it, I’m big for six months. Come on, though!”

Ann chuckled softly. “Well, if that’s the only thing you’re concerned about, then I’d say you’re doing pretty well.”

“I can’t have sex with my husband because I’m so damn huge,” April added quickly. “Do you know how much that sucks, Ann? Tell me how I can fix that.”

“I—“

“Honey,” Andy said quickly, looking at her with wide eyes. “That’s not really why we’re here.”

“No, it’s true!” April shrugged. “She’s a doctor, she should know.”

Yes, she was oversharing a bit. At the same time, it felt so good to get all these annoyances off her chest. It was like everything came to a head at once, and venting seemed to be doing the trick. She was feeling a little better, at least.

“Well, I can talk to you about other ways you and Andy could…um,” Ann sighed, rubbing her forehead with her thumb and forefinger. “Well, let’s just check you up first, okay?”

April pulled her dress up and leaned her head back. Ann took her time, moving around and doing the usual things. She pressed her ear to the side of April’s abdomen. She felt around, first with one hand and then two. She checked all the areas April really didn’t want anyone but Andy getting that close enough to. Then, finally, she felt the sides of April’s stomach again, her eyes narrowed.

April’s steely demeanor changed at once when she saw Ann’s face. “What’s wrong?”

Andy looked up too, and April felt the grip on her hand tighten a little.

Ann looked at the floor as she felt around, her face screwed up in concentration. “How often does the baby move?” she asked.

“A lot,” April answered immediately. “So much that I can barely sleep.”

“Where do you feel it moving the most?”

April looked at Andy worriedly before she pointed to a spot just below the left of her belly button and another spot under the right side of her rib cage. “Ann,” she said softly, all the anger she’d been feeling replaced with worry. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

Ann looked up, moving her hands. "There's nothing wrong,” she smiled. “You’re just having twins, is all.”

There was a moment where neither April or Andy said anything at all, but merely stared at the medicine woman with blank expressions while Ann grinned back at them. Then, Andy cheered.

“Twins?” he laughed loudly. “You…we…we’re having twins!” he turned to April and took her face in his hands, kissing her on the lips.

April felt her chest lighten at the news. It was all so much to take in at once. She had been expecting something bad…that was the way it typically went when Ann looked that concerned. She was expecting more heartache, because it seemed to follow her in some form throughout her life. But this was good. Better than good, even. This was amazing.

“Oh my God,” she smiled, reaching again for Andy’s hand and pulling him down for another kiss. “Andy!”

“That explains why you’re…hmm, how to put this delicately,” Ann hummed. “Why you’re so large this time around. Not to mention when I was checking you there’s undoubtably two babies in there. I could feel them on either side.”

Andy wiped some wetness out of his eyes and stood back up. “You sure there’s only two in there? Not three or anything like that?”

“No, just two,” Ann assured them. “And I want you to rest as much as possible,” she said, looking at April seriously. “I know how much you hate bedrest and all that, but it’s important.”

April knew Ann was right. There weren’t many families with multiples in Pawnee. It was a difficult child birthing process, and oftentimes one—or in particularly devastating situations both—of the babies didn’t survive. Leslie Knope was a prime example of a woman who’d birthed triplets, all of them healthy, and to this day the other townsfolk wonder how she did it.

“Don’t worry,” Andy said, looking at April. “She’s gonna rest as much as possible.”

“Fine,” April said, smiling at her husband. The last thing she wanted to do was try to force herself to overexert her body by being stubborn and trying to prove a point. She knew enough about the health issues involved for her pride to get in the way.

“I’m sure Leslie will be willing to give you a few pointers,” Ann went on. “Of course, this also means you're going to need to get some extra help around the house. You guys don't waste too much time between babies, do you?”

Andy scratched his chin and chuckled, glancing at April with a mischievous smile. Melody was barely five months old when April became pregnant this time around. Before that, Jack was only seven months old when they conceived Melody. Maybe it was her genetics. Maybe it was Andy's. Either way, together they couldn't seem to stop making babies.

April knew they should probably take it easy after this. Yes, Andy was the best father in the world, and April loved their children with everything she had, but it would be nice if they could go a full year without her getting pregnant again.

“We’ll take it easy after this,” April mumbled, with a slight roll of her eyes. “Okay?”

“I would agree with that plan,” Ann said kindly. “Your body could use a rest. I can even give you something after this to help change your cycle.”

“Change it like how?” April asked curiously.

“Well, it's a sort of drink that stops pregnancy from happening,” Ann explained. “It’s made from roots and herbs and it’s completely natural. I’ve been testing it on myself to make sure it works.”

Andy looked uneasy. April knew he didn't like potions of any kind, even ones that were supposedly concocted to help you. “We can worry about that later,” he said quickly. “Okay April?”

“Yeah,” she held his hand tight. “We don't have to worry about it at all,” she shook her head.

“Okay,” Ann nodded. “You're all set to go, by before you do I wanted to let you know…multiples never reach full-term. I wouldn't be surprised if you went into labor a month early, maybe sooner. That being said, I want to see you once a week from here until they're born.”

“Seriously?” April groaned.

“Seriously.”

“She'll be here,” Andy said firmly.

“I'll come to you,” Ann said. “No use putting all that strain on yourself walking here when I can just as easily make the trip.”

“Even better,” April mumbled, leaning her head back.

“You think the other kids will be excited?” Ann asked, helping April sit back up on the cot.

“Oh my God, yes,” Andy said excitedly. “They love babies.”

“I’m sure Amelia will love to help out,” Ann nodded.

April sighed, her feet aching from the sudden use after the short break from walking. With Andy’s help, she stood up. “So…when do you come over?”

“One week from today,” Ann smiled. “Same time. If anything changes, let me know.”

April nodded, the revelation of their situation suddenly hitting her in an almost terrifying way. As life-altering that it was that their family was about to grow, she knew there was no use worrying about things. She and Andy would make it work. That’s what they did, that’s what they’d always do.

“Thanks Ann,” Andy said, leading his wife to the door.

“No problem,” Ann held it open for them. “Oh, and April?”

April looked up.

“Sideways, spooning position,” Ann said softly, while Andy was momentarily distracted.

“God Ann,” April rolled her eyes at the medicine woman, but couldn’t suppress her grin.

They’d make it all work.

Chapter Text

April had been staring at the same piece of parchment for hours now. The cream-colored sheet was crumpled in several places. It was stained and a little ripped, as though it had been handled roughly and traveled far. Even now, she was afraid of picking it up because that would make the words on it even more true, and she wasn’t sure she could handle that right now.

She could hear the sounds of her children playing outside in the yard. Their shouts of laughter at something undoubtably innocent tugged at her, and even though she wasn’t a religious person she prayed that they’d never have to grow up the way she did.

No, of course they wouldn’t. She’d make sure of that.

The sound of her husband’s voice rang out now, joining their children before she could hear his heavy footsteps approaching the door. She picked up the letter and clutched it in her hand just as he let himself in.

“Honey?” Andy smiled when he saw her, and she ran to his arms like she did every day. “Hey,” he tossed his hat on its usual hook and kissed her, his skin sweaty and boots dirty from a long day of work at the wood shop.

“Hey,” she responded, her voice soft.

Andy frowned at her. “Is everything okay?”

He was always so good when it came to reading her emotions. Sometimes too good…

“Well,” she sighed. She was going to tell him about it anyway, just…she hadn’t planned on now. This was supposed to be for later, when the kids were asleep and they could relax in bed, alone, where April could let loose the emotions she bottled up whenever something from her past tried to reach out and grab at her. “Andy…I got a letter today.”

He arched his eyebrows at her, looking from the paper clutched in her fist and back to her face. “About what?”

“Well,” she sighed, glancing at the unfamiliar handwriting. “This is apparently from my father’s second wife,” she began. She could see Andy immediately tense up. The last time she’d seen her father was nearly a year ago, and an entire decade had passed before that. Needless to say it hadn’t ended well. Andy nearly shot him. “He’s dead,” she said immediately.

Andy’s eyes went wide. “He’s dead?”

She nodded. “He had a heart attack about a month ago.”

“So,” Andy took a deep breath in, “why is she writing to you? Just to tell you?”

April felt dizzy, like the room was getting smaller. It happened to her all the time. “She’s sick. She said she’s dying and she needed to tell me that she’s sorry…that she knew he wasn’t a good person before she married him…and she married him for the money she thought he had not long after my mother died all those years ago. Apparently she’d been seeing him on the side even before that.”

“Makes sense,” Andy growled. “That’s all she wanted?”

“She also needed to tell me another thing,” April’s voice was soft now. “Apparently I have a sister.”

Andy watched her. He must have seen the wetness of her eyes, because next thing she knew he was stepping forward and putting his hands around her waist, gently pulling her closer.

“Honey—“

“She’s seventeen,” April said quietly. “Her name is Natalie. She doesn’t know about me.”

Andy nodded, taking in her every word.

“I…have no idea what I’m supposed to do with this information,” she mumbled, resting her forehead against his chest. Slowly, the anxiety she’d felt when the letter had arrived had been lessening since Andy’s return. It always helped having him there. “It says they live in Eagleton. They’ve always been in Eagleton all these years.”

“What do you want to do?” He spoke softly, rubbing the small of her back.

“I don’t know,” April said truthfully. “Is she writing to me because she wants me to reach out? I mean, if she’s dying…does she want me to watch after Natalie? I’m so confused, Andy…”

“Let’s take a minute here,” he said soothingly. “This is a big decision and I’ll support you no matter what, you know that. Right now though, I think you should sleep on it.”

“Yeah,” she nodded. “I think so too.”

No matter how hard she tried to put it behind her, there always seemed to be a part of her past reaching out to pull her back. She hated it.

 

That night as April lay beneath the warmth of Andy’s arm, she couldn’t stop thinking about her sixteen year old self. She’d been young, naive, and helpless. She’d never felt love from her parents as far as she could remember. The only relative that had shown her any kindness had been her paternal grandmother, and the woman had passed when April was twelve. After that, there was no one…not until Mia’s father.

She wondered if Natalie had known the same man that she had. Had he been cruel to his second daughter, just as he’d been to his first? Did he force her into some form of slave labor to relieve himself of debt, or was she free to live the life of a happy child, which was something April had never known? If Natalie was seventeen, she’d been born when April was ten. All those years her father had been living his double life, and April’s mother had been none the wiser. Or had she? Had she known about his infidelities and simply chose to ignore them in the hope that they’d just go away?

Her head was starting to hurt. She nuzzled closer into Andy’s warmth, hoping to be lulled to sleep by his breathing. She knew that she was safe now, and no matter how she chose to approach this situation, her husband would be there for her. That thought was the only thing giving her comfort as she stared into the darkness around her. At some point she lost track of the minutes.

 

“I want to reach out to her,” April announced the next morning, once the children were at the schoolhouse and Andy had yet to leave for work.

Andy nodded. “If you’re absolutely sure, then fine. I want you to be totally okay with this.”

“I am,” she said, trying not to sound as nervous as she inwardly felt. “I need to do this. I mean, Natalie could have had to deal with the same stuff I did. If that’s the case, she’s probably scared and has no idea where to turn. I need to make sure she’s protected from any future abuse indirectly caused by our father.”

Andy sighed. April knew he was worried about it. He didn’t want her to do anything that would bring up those bad feelings. He did everything in his power to keep her safe since day one. Now, a marriage and four children later, he was still protecting her. He couldn’t protect her from her past, though.

“Okay,” he gave her a small smile. “I’m coming with you, though. Whenever that may be.”

 

April had written back to the return address that very day. She told them that if they wanted to meet, send word back as soon as possible. The past had taught her to never be too careful, so instead of writing her home address on the envelope—in case it were to get lost, or this was some elaborate, fake plot by her father to cause her harm—she wrote the post office’s.

She waited for three whole weeks and no response had made its way back to her. Eventually, April started to wonder if it even reached Natalie’s mother. Maybe this was a trick after all? Maybe some things were still too good to be true. For a brief moment, she thought that she could have a chance to connect with a real family member, something she hadn’t done since her grandmother had been alive.

Then, one afternoon, Andy returned from work with an envelope in his back pocket. Wordlessly, he handed it to his wife and stood by her while she tore into it. April’s hands shook as her eyes scanned the words.

“She’s coming to Pawnee,” April said slowly. “Natalie…she’s taking the train down. It says she’ll be here in a week.” She looked up at Andy with wide eyes.

“It’s from her mother?”

“Yeah,” April nodded.

“You okay with this?”

She bit her lip. There was no turning back now. “I am.”

“Okay,” Andy said. “What about the kids?”

“We don’t have to tell them anything yet,” April decided. “I want to meet her first.”

“That’s probably a good call, honey,” Andy agreed.

April moved forward and took both his hands, idly swaying them back and forth between them. She stared at their feet and sighed. “I hope so.”

 

The Pawnee train station was old and run down, but somehow they still made good business. Probably because there wasn’t really a faster way to move through southern Indiana…but April still avoided it. She hadn’t taken a train since she was a little kid.

Andy stood behind her at the station gate as they waited for Natalie’s train to arrive. It was already five minutes late. April looked around, taking the scenery in. Off to the left, a stern-looking woman with long blonde hair was chatting with a shorter man who was balding and sweating profusely. Behind them, a family of seven was trying to stay together, the mother and father helpless as their five daughters laughed and giggled and ran in different directions. April wondered if any of them felt as nervous as she did.

“Leslie told me that woman there is Tammy Swanson,” Andy whispered quietly in April’s ear, nodding toward the stern-looking blonde woman.

“Swanson?” April stared, bewildered.

“Ron’s first wife,” Andy added. “Heard she was back in town trying to steal some of Ron’s fortune again. Every five years or so she shows up.”

“That’s not the woman I remember,” April said. “I thought Tammy Swanson was a brunette?”

“That’s the other Tammy,” Andy chuckled darkly.

“Good God,” April rolled her eyes. “How many times has Ron been married?”

Andy was counting on his fingers when the train whistle startled all of them. April tensed up immediately, standing on her tip toes as the engine rolled up along the tracks, grinding to a halt in front of the station entrance. People began to shuffle off it immediately as others got on, hundreds of Pawneeans going in different directions.

“I have no idea what she looks like,” April whispered.

“You’ll know,” Andy said confidently.

He was right. Within minutes, a young woman stepped off the platform. She was short and thin, with dark hair and eyes that April had only seen in her own reflection. She had an anxiousness to her that April recognized immediately, and a scowl to match.

April stepped forward, her throat dry and her nerves all over the place. The other girl seemed to notice them staring, because she stared right back at them and frowned.

“Natalie?” April said slowly.

The young girl looked from April to Andy and rolled her eyes, before nodding.

“I’m April,” April said quickly, trying to smile and obviously failing.

“Great,” Natalie mumbled, her eyes never straying from Andy and the guns strapped along his belt.

The station was starting to empty as the train whistled again, ready to head to the next destination. April stood silent, watching her younger sister with interest. She could sense the same apprehension in Natalie that she’d felt over the past month since she’d gotten the first letter. Only there was something else there…a tinge of anger that April also recognized from her own teenage years.

“This is my husband,” April took Andy’s hand and tugged him forward a little, “Andy.”

“My mother didn’t tell me you were married,” Natalie said slowly.

“How is your mother?” Andy spoke up. “She—“

“She’s dead,” Natalie said quickly, glaring at the two of them.

“Oh,” Andy said, his mouth hanging open a little. “Sorry…she um…she told April in her letter she was sick.”

“She had tuberculosis,” Natalie said shortly. “She died a week ago.”

April looked at Andy, unsure what to do. He gave her the most subtle of nods, and somehow that helped. She sighed, staring at her long-lost sister. “I’m sorry to hear that,” she said truthfully. “My mother died a while ago, so—“

“Yeah, well, unlike you, I actually liked my mother,” Natalie cut in, shouldering her bag.

April didn’t know what to say. Natalie’s response was as unexpected as it was true, and April wasn’t sure which part made her more uneasy. Trying to break the tension, Andy reached out to take Natalie’s luggage.

“Let me take that for you,” he offered.

Natalie wrenched it away. “No, I got it.” She strode forward, away from them and toward the exit. April didn’t know what else to do but follow, Andy in tow.

“Natalie,” April walked beside her, trying to make some kind of connection. “I know this is strange for you, you know, just meeting me like this. Believe me, it’s strange for me too…but there’s got to be a reason your mother wanted us to meet—“

“Yeah, because she was dying and she probably felt guilty and all that shit, I get it,” Natalie said, slowing down a little as they walked the path through town that would eventually lead back to the house. “I was going to leave home anyway. I’m only here for a couple of days.”

“Where will you go after?” April asked.

“Who cares?” Natalie shrugged.

“You can stay with us as long as you need to,” April said, trying to sound welcoming and failing at that too. She was never good at this type of stuff. “We have room.”

Natalie stopped and looked at April. “You sure that’s okay with him?” she gestured to Andy, who was purposefully lagging behind to try to give the sisters some privacy.

“Why wouldn’t it be?” April was confused. “He’s my husband.”

Natalie smirked, but there was no laughter in her eyes. “Yeah, I know.”

“So what’s that supposed to mean, then?” April asked, her nerves finally rattled enough to bite back.

“I mean, is he gonna beat you for making that decision without him?” There was no joke in Natalie’s eyes as she stared at April.

“You’re serious?” April crossed her arms. “Andy’s never laid a hand on me and he never will.” It was important for April to make sure her sister understood that. Not just because it was absolutely ridiculous to even think Andy would do such a thing, but because it was so random and out of the conversation that April didn’t know how else to react.

“So he always has guns around his waist?” Natalie went on. “I don’t see many other people walking around with an arsenal strapped to them.”

“Andy’s always worn them,” April said, annoyed now.

“Okay,” Natalie shrugged, though she didn’t seem totally convinced.

They spent the rest of the walk in silence. Andy finally caught up with them as they approached the path to the house. He gave April a questioning look that she tried to respond to, while Natalie stared up at their house like she couldn’t believe this is where they were actually stopping.

“Natalie, make yourself at home,” Andy said, smiling. “Let me know if you need anything.” He pulled April in for a kiss on the head. “I’ll be right outside while you guys…um…get settled.”

“Thanks,” April said, giving his hand a squeeze as they broke apart.

Natalie watched him walk away, then looked at her sister. “You guys live here?”

“Yeah, of course,” April said. “Why else would we stop here?”

“I dunno,” Natalie shrugged. “My house was much smaller than this…”

“Well, Andy built it,” April said. “He always wanted a bigger house…and we’ve had to add onto it since the kids were born.”

“You’ve got kids?” Natalie looked surprised.

“Yeah, five of them,” April smirked.

“Holy shit.”

“Why don’t you come inside and we can eat something and maybe talk?” April tossed the idea out there without expecting much. Natalie reminded her a lot of herself when she was a teenager, and if it weren’t for becoming a mother at such a young age, she’d probably be a lot more closed off than she already was.

“Fine,” Natalie agreed. “Let’s talk.”

 

It was an awkward silence in the little kitchen. April sat at the small table with a cup of tea, a dish of bread and cheese and fruit between them. Natalie hadn’t touched her drink—water, she’d refused anything else—and stared around the room with that same curious expression. The sounds of Andy working in the yard floated in through the open windows.

“How long have you been with him?” Natalie asked suddenly.

April’s eyes shot up. “Six years,” she replied.

“He’s tall,” Natalie said randomly.

“Yeah,” April squinted at her.

“You said you have five kids?”

“Yup.”

“How old?”

“Eleven, six, five and the twins are four,” April said.

Natalie chuckled dryly. “So you had one, took a break, and now he just knocks you up once a year?”

There it was again. That anger that April could sense since the first moment Natalie had stepped off the train. She knew she needed to get beneath it…find out were it came from so she could try to understand her. If she was right in her thinking, it had a lot to do with the man they both called their father.

“No,” April said patiently. “I already had my oldest daughter when I met Andy.”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-seven,” April said.

“So…you had her when you were sixteen?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Who’s her father?”

“He’s long dead,” April said quickly. For some reason, the rapid-fire questioning didn’t bother her like it usually did.

Natalie bit her lip the same way April often did, and leaned forward, her voice low. “Did Andy kill him?”

“What? No!” April huffed. “What’s this fascination you have with assuming my husband is a bad person? It’s starting to get frustrating, you know.”

“Men are terrible,” Natalie said quickly. “I just don’t understand how you’re married with five kids at the age of twenty-seven if you’re not being forced into it.”

“I’m not forced into anything, believe me,” April said.

“Yeah,” Natalie laughed bitterly. “Sure…”

“I’m not,” April said, a little louder now. “You think I’m the type of person who takes that type of shit from people?”

“I don’t know, you tell me,” Natalie shrugged. “I’m not the one with my own personal bodyguard wherever I go.”

“Don’t try to make Andy out to be a bad person just because he cares about me,” April said, a warning tone to her voice now.

“You know what?” Natalie threw her hands up. “I believe you. You probably have no idea what it’s like to be forced into anything, now that I think of it.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Look at you,” Natalie scoffed. “Look at your clothes. Look at your skin. You’re perfect, and you live in this big house with your big husband who apparently lets you come and go and do whatever you want. Sounds to me like you have it pretty easy.”

“You think so?” April said, the anger rising in her chest. “You think I have it easy, do you?”

“Yeah, I do,” Natalie said. “I don’t think you have any idea what it’s like to live with an abusive father who used to beat you if you said the wrong thing, did the wrong thing, ate too much food. A father who forced you to help him place bets with the rich men who came into town by offering up his daughter as a prize if he lost, just to get out of paying the money he owed.”

April listened to Natalie’s words, her heart sinking. So she was right. He’d treated her just the same. There was no difference, and if he’d had—or has—other children out there somewhere, no doubt they’d had to face the same horrors.

“Natalie,” April said softly. “I do know what it’s like, okay? I know all too well. You think this all came without a price? You think I just fell into my current situation with no strings attached? Because that’s as far from the damned truth as you can imagine.”

“Please,” Natalie shook her head. “Tell me how hard your life is. Tell me how difficult it is to have a loving husband who carries guns around just because they look fancy and stares at you like you’re the most incredible sight in the world. I’m dying to know. What’s it like to actually be loved by someone without having to suck their dick for some affection in return?”

“Before I met Andy,” April said, trying to keep herself level-headed and not explode with anger at that teenaged girl before her. “I was working six days a week, fourteen hours a day in the Pawnee Circus. I was the animal trainer.” Natalie rolled her eyes, and April went on. “You know how I got there?”

Natalie shrugged.

“Our father sold me when I was sixteen. He owed the owner a lot of money.”

Natalie looked at her now, her eyes softer. “Oh…”

“So that would’ve made you six years old at that point. You had no idea at the time, but he’d already been mistreating me and cheating on my mother for years.”

“I—“

“He beat me when I got pregnant,” April said. “I couldn’t walk for weeks. It was punishment for having sex before I was married and making our family look bad. I guess it didn’t matter when he ran out of money. Suddenly selling your daughter to the circus didn’t seem so bad compared to getting killed for your debt.”

“What about the baby?”

“She came with me,” April said. “I lived in the circus for a while at first, sleeping in the bunks with the other homeless people who worked there and had no where else to go. Some of them helped me with my daughter—Mia—because she was so young and so small…until I had saved up enough of my pay to rent out a space at a saloon in town. I stayed there from that point on and met some pretty amazing people who helped me out a lot over the next four years.”

“What about your kid’s dad?” Natalie asked. “You said he was dead. How did he die?”

April sighed. “I guess I forgot to mention that part. Right before he sold me, our father had him killed because we were planning on running away together.”

Natalie paled, and April could see the fear in her eyes. “He killed him?”

“No, he had the man who I worked for kill him and he tried to make it look like an accident.”

“I didn’t know,” Natalie said softly. “I’m sorry.”

“Every single day was hell while I was in that circus,” April went on. “The only thing that kept me going was my daughter. I was all she had and I wasn’t going to give up as long as I had her.” April pulled the sleeve of her sun dress down so the very top of her back was visible. “See those lines?”

Natalie leaned over to get a closer look. From April’s shoulder down to her lower back were lash marks, pale pink and faded after so many years, yet the scars remained.

“I was whipped constantly when I screwed up. When the circus crowds weren’t big enough. When I gave them attitude or refused an order.” April took a deep breath. “I was raped. I was beaten. I was treated like an animal. So yeah, I know what it’s like. I’ll never forget for as long as I live.”

Natalie was white as a ghost now. She stared at her older sister with fear in her eyes. “How did you get away?” Her voice was soft and scared. April realized Natalie was clutching the edge of the table so hard her knuckles were white.

“Andy rescued me,” April said, glancing toward the window where the top of Andy’s head could be seen as he worked. “At first he tried to help pay off the debt. We spent lots of time together and became really close. Things got worse and I got pregnant. Then there was an accident.”

“An accident?” Natalie had lost all sense of that previous anger now. She merely stared at April, waiting to hear more.

April took a deep breath and told the story of the baby they’d lost, why they’d lost it, whose fault it was. She needed Natalie to understand that Andy was the reason she’d even made it the way she did. They had everything they had because of everything they’d lost in the first place.

“He saved us,” April said finally. “I don’t know how much better I can describe it. I guess the thing you need to understand is that without Andy, I might still have been in that circus. He did everything he could to get me out of there and he nearly died for it. He’s never ever hurt me or our children, and he never will.”

“I’m sorry I said those things about him,” Natalie said, averting her eyes. “I’m not used to men who…I don’t know. Men who don’t want anything in return.”

“That’s okay,” April said. “I understand. Until I met him, neither was I.”

“He seems like a decent guy.”

“He really, really is. He’s a damn good father, too. He loved Mia from day one. He never once treated her like she wasn’t his. As far as he’s concerned, he’s the only father she’s ever had.”

“Yeah,” Natalie sniffed. “I’m also sorry I said you had it easy. I should’ve known you didn’t…not with the father we had.”

“He was a horrible human being,” April said. “No one deserves to be treated the way he treated you.”

“And you,” Natalie added.

“Yeah, well…I’m fine now. At least as fine as I’ll ever be. I’m happy for the first time that I can remember.”

Natalie smiled for the first time since they’d met. From the look of it, she didn’t smile much. “I wish my mother was still alive,” she said softly.

“I know,” April nodded. “I’m sorry.”

“She did the best she could. I only wish she told me about you before now.”

“I can understand why she didn’t,” April offered. “She probably didn’t want to tell you that he abandoned his first family. I just wish she had done more to protect you from him.”

“She was afraid of him too,” Natalie said. She pulled up the sleeve of her dress to reveal huge, greenish bruises that were halfway faded. April gasped when she saw them. “I know,” Natalie sighed. “Honestly, the best news we ever received was that he had that heart attack while he was off gambling his money away. I know it sounds awful, but we celebrated by burning all his horrible, alcohol-stained clothes.”

April smirked, taking Natalie’s hand in her own. “You’re definitely my sister.”

Natalie grinned.

“Just so you know,” April said, “you’re safe now…okay? You don’t ever have to worry about being treated the way you used to be. I promise. It gets so much better once you realize you’re free.”

Natalie didn’t reply to that, but April watched as she slowly stood up and leaned forward to hug her. They stood like that for at least a minute, April wrapping her arms around her sister’s far-too-slender frame and remembering what it was like when her clothes used to hang off her like that.

Finally, the younger girl spoke up, her voice barely a whisper. “Can I meet your kids before I head out?”

“Of course you can,” April said, blinking back some unexpected tears. “But why do you need to leave? You just got here.”

“You don’t want me hanging around,” Natalie shrugged, wiping at her own eyes. “You’ve got enough going on as it is.”

“Stay with us,” April said quickly, unsure why it seemed like the right thing to say, only that it did. “We have room. Only if you want to, I mean. At least until you get your bearings around Pawnee.”

Natalie glanced out the window. “Will Andy mind?”

“Not at all,” April said immediately. She stuck her head out the window. “Honey?”

“Yeah sweetheart?” Andy called back.

“Natalie is going to stay with us for a little bit.”

“Okay,” he said brightly.

April pulled her head back inside and grinned at her sister. “See?”

 

“Mama?” Owen clung to his mother’s skirt as the little family stood together in the living room of their home. Her four-year-old and his twin stood behind her, their two pairs of green eyes staring at the stranger in front of them. “Who is that?”

April smiled and took her boys’ hands, leading them forward just close enough. Amelia and Jack stood beside them, the latter holding the hand of their father while Andy himself held five year old Melody in his arms. On their sofa, Natalie looked even more nervous than the children did.

“I want you all to meet someone very special,” April said. “This is your aunt Natalie. She’s my little sister.”

“You never told us you had a sister, Mama,” Amelia said, her dark eyes darting from her mother to Natalie. It was then that April realized her eldest had the same eyes that she and Natalie shared. Almond-shaped and dark brown…beautiful and kind.

“I didn’t even know, baby,” April said, the nickname coming naturally even though her daughter was nearly twelve years old now. April doubted it would ever change. “She was a surprise, but the best kind. She’s going to stay with us for a little while.”

Melody clutched her father’s shirt, but stared at her aunt with so much curiosity that April couldn’t help but smile. “She can stay in my room, Mama,” she said, her little voice full of confidence.

“No, mine,” Josh piped up.

“Mine,” Owen said.

“We share the same room, dummy,” Jack said, exasperatedly for a six-year-old.

“Oh yeah…”

“Jack,” Andy said sternly. “Don’t call your brother a dummy.”

“Sorry.”

Natalie looked a little overwhelmed, but April could see something else there. Something that she knew the girl had never felt so much of in her life before. She felt wanted, loved, and accepted. April was thrilled that they were the ones to give her that.

There would be more time to tell her everything about the past. About how she met Andy, how she nearly died giving birth to Jack, about how she shot Jeremy Jamm… These were all stories waiting to be told, and April finally had someone to share them with who just might understand.

“How long will she stay with us?” Amelia asked.

Natalie opened her mouth to reply, but April cut in. “As long as she wants to.”

The sisters looked at each other and smiled.