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Wandering

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Beecher’s Hope 1911

He couldn’t sleep. As always it was the recurring thoughts of his past keeping him up. What he could have done differently, had he wanted to. John Marston rose up from bed, his now thirty-eight years old body not making it as easy for him anymore. He was still young, he thought. But had he still run with the Van der Linde gang, he probably would have lain in his grave years ago. 

“Outlaws for life”, he mumbled as he walked over to his bedroom window. The bright moonlight casting various shadows on the ground from the trees. Dutch’s words echoed in his thoughts so vivid it was as John could hear him right there and then. 

He gave his former family almost fifteen years of his life. Arthur gave even more… He missed them sometimes and thought of them often. He missed how the gang were before things turned south. At the time he could almost see the downward spiral take form after Blackwater. Hell, everyone must have seen it. For some time, the event made the group stick together. Forced them to keep a greater faith than before. But then Hosea… And with that, Dutch’s paranoia. Even so, after all that happened, John could never hate Dutch, he and Hosea were his fathers in a world that took away his real one far too soon. The years Dutch gave John when growing up meant more than those last weeks of betrayal. But people don’t forget, and nothing gets forgiven. John tried his best not to hold grudges against ghosts from the past. 

John sighed heavily, knowing he always got like this when he’s alone. Sleepless and pondering.

 

-

 

John went on with his chores for the day, though saving some of them for Uncle. Their ranch at Beecher’s hope had turned out real fine and it felt good doing an honest day’s work - everyday. Leading an honest life. Jack helped out a lot but had plans on becoming an author. John tried his best in supporting him even though some years prior he often scolded him for all the books he read. Then he thought of Arthur...forever thankful that he provided them this opportunity so many years ago. So John came around, of course he wanted Jack to build his own life and he knew that his son’s future plans demanded him moving to a more civilized part of the country. It was bound to happen sooner or later. 

“What the hell are you even good for, old man?” John sweared as he kicked lightly on Uncle. He woke up with an annoyed look on his face. 

“You know my lumbago’s gotten worse with the years boy. Damn I swear you’re turning more sour with each day that passes!” Uncle exclaimed with an incredulous look on his face. 

John grinned at Uncle. “That don’t mean you can take every day off, you drunk. Why don’t you feed the horses and make yourself useful?” 

Uncle sighed, getting up on his feet, leaving the comfortable shadow under the tree. 

“Alright alright”. Uncle passed him by, holding his hands up in surrender. John smiled, maybe he was a little rough on him, Uncle had actually been a real rock for his family, at least in the beginning. John’s mind wandered to Charles and then to Sadie. He wondered when they were gonna visit next time. 

“Pa?” John’s gaze landed on Jack who was smiling at him, nudging at him with his free arm, the other one carrying a bucket of water. 

“Just daydreaming, is all”. 

“Everything alright?” 

John took a deep breath, as though he was considering his answer. “Everything’s just perfect son”, John answered truthfully, now returning a warm smile.

 

-

 

John was in bed again, another quiet day, just like Arthur wanted for them in what felt like a whole lifetime ago. His mind wandered to the first time they met when he was barely a teen, wandered to himself growing up a man, wandered to his first robbery, wandered to him. The feel of his touch that first time when it wasn’t out of brotherly affection or friendship. The lust that had been brewing for years before acted upon. Their first time would always have a special place in John’s heart, the only thing he regretted was that it didn’t happen sooner than it did. All that time doubting, holding back. They wasted so much time but John reminded himself that it truly didn’t matter anymore. Not when things turned out the way they did. He did think that he turned out alright, he had really grown up to be a real man. Taking responsibility for his son and creating a good future for them.

John smiled slightly, thinking about how hot headed he’d been in his youth, not too long ago really. How he always spoke his mind no matter the consequences. Nowadays, John was more of a quiet man, his actions and choice of words reflecting the calm of his inner peace. The old John Marston was long gone and he was glad for it.  

Before he finally fell asleep a memory caught up with him. It was from a few nights before the bank heist in Saint Denis. He thought of blue eyes meeting his brown, a gentle caress on his cheek from a rough but careful hand. A slow approach until chest met chest and lips met lips. Hands intertwined as they made love like it was their last chance to do so.

 

Horseshoe Overlook, 1899

Arthur paced through camp, Hosea always said he had a wandering soul. He saw Kieran brushing Branwen, he could have swore it was the third time today. Arthur respected horses and cared for them, but Kieran really loved them animals. Even if he often pestered the kid for his time with the damn O'Driscolls, Arthur had grew fond of him, he could tell that Kieran genuinely wanted to find a belonging in this world and so he was trying his best to earn his keep. Arthur figured things were pretty much settled when the Duffy boy decided to shoot an O'Driscoll, thus saving Arthur’s life. Arthur did doubt folk, never letting his guard down. But he did, on the other hand, consider himself being quite good at reading people and the boy wasn’t bad. At that time, he just ended up with the wrong people, was all. 

“Gimme your money!” Arthur shouted when he got to his temporary destination. 

Kieran jumped, Branwen slightly startled. Arthur couldn’t help but let out a little laugh at the kid’s reaction. 

“I’m only jokin’ witchu”. 

“Whatever you say, Mr. Morgan, good day to ya”, Kieran answered with a nervous look in his eyes. 

Arthur gave him a bored look and continued his walk through camp. He went on with all the remaining chores fitting a man his size. The camp’s supplies seemed to be well stocked and he had already brought in a deer this morning. Life was pretty good but he could never seem to relax. It was always the threat of other gangs in a new area or a looming encounter with Pinkertons that left Arthur on edge. He would always have to protect his family no matter what, he would happily die for them. For Dutch. For...John. Arthur stretched his arms in a rolling motion when he finished chopping wood. He hadn’t time for that bullshit of a thought. Things were better between them than they had been after John’s return from what Arthur called his vacation and a few years had passed since. Arthur shook his head at the thought of it. Pushing it aside, never really processing his feelings for John whatever it now consisted of. 

As Arthur wandered the camp, he heard that familiar scratchy voice he would recognize in a crowd of hundred others. 

“Arthur! Come here a second!“ 

Arthur stopped in his tracks, turning his head and facing John’s direction. He stood by a tree, holding what looked like a map of some sorts. Arthur reluctantly closed the distance between them, approaching slowly. 

“Whatchu want, wolf boy”? He quickly asked, sounding a bit more annoyed than he actually was. 

John sighed. Arthur knew how irritated John got from his nicknames and he couldn’t help but grin. John did not look amused. 

“Okay, let’s hear ya out”. 

“How about we rob us a train?”

Chapter Text

The robbery went smoothly enough, a few close calls of course, especially one with Sean nearly killed. But of course Arthur would have none of that and quickly drew his Volcanic pistol on Sean’s attacker, leaving only a bloody mess where there once had been a face. The take was better than expected and John was surprised when Arthur had actually praised his plan instead of insulting it, telling him the usual “you gotta have a brain to come up with a plan”.

John could sense that the ice barrier between them was slowly melting. It hadn’t been this good in years and it wasn’t exactly as friendly as he wished it could be. Hoped it would be. Arthur still meant a lot to him even if he himself was worth shit in Arthur's eyes. He still dreamed of him, dreams both loving and intimate. Had been for a long time. But since such matters were considered foul and unnatural he had always pushed them aside and never acted upon them. He knew that Arthur was a ladies man as well and that he and Arthur could never happen, not ever. He had gotten used to the regular ache in his chest or knot in the stomach when he thought of what he never could or would have. A little booze never hurt in such matters. 

He was sitting at one of the tables, drunkenly celebrating the day with Bill and a bottle of bourbon. They spoke of old days, telling old tales of robbery and shooting not long forgotten. Some in the camp were asleep and some sang along to Javier’s guitar playing, of course with Uncle as the lead. 

John and Bill was in the middle of a laugh when suddenly that familiar voice made way. “You’re pathetic, John Marston”, the voice said, venom in its tone. He looked up at Abigail who stood there with her arms crossed, her look referring to the drinking or whatever else he’d done wrong. Then she walked away with harsh steps. John rose up and hurried after her away from camp. 

“Abigail, I’m just celebrating is all, I’m not harming anyone”, he tried when he managed to turn them into a stop. 

“You’re setting such a good example for the boy, drinking and shouting out horrible stories like that!” 

“Really? So us, even you, living as an outlaw, surviving life that way, is supposed to set a good example then? But my stories of what an outlaw actually does, is worse?” John snapped, tired of Abigail’s logic in some matters. The slap hit him from nowhere, Abigail with tears in her eyes. 

“I only want what’s best for him, you should know that by now. You should want it too by n-”, her voice broke. John was still surprised by the sudden pain on his cheek but he slowly tried to comfort Abigail, stroking her hair. She slapped him again, this time his hand. “Don’t you touch me”, she hissed and once again walked away from him, only this time John did not follow. He held his arms out, giving up. 

John took a deep breath, exhaling slowly and closed his eyes. He had never loved Abigail, he wished he could because she truly deserved it. She really was a good mother and he couldn’t blame her for wanting Jack to be safe and grow up in a normal environment. He figured he didn’t need to be so loud in all the gruesome details of a robbery gone wrong back in the days. Jack didn’t need to hear it. But it was late and he assumed the boy was asleep. Hell, he didn’t know what the boy was up to half of the time. They barely interacted with one another.

John slept in his own tent, not sharing space with Abigail since she announced her pregnancy. He remembered the insecurities that had followed with it. He did want to be a good father for the boy even if there was a possibility of Jack not being his. He had tried to let go of his doubts and accepting Jack as his child. He wanted to try. But right now, his fatherly instincts did not come naturally and he just had to give it time. That was the part Abigail could never understand. He did respect her deeply, but he could never love her the way a husband loved his wife. It was like an obstacle he just couldn’t pass through. He felt bad for the lack of intimacy he should give her, the lack of love he should provide… He just couldn’t. Not the way she wanted. 

“That was one helluva slap, Marston. She didn’t happen to open the stitches on ya, did she?” Arthur asked humoured, leaning against a tree further away, with a smoke in his hand. 

The gruff voice made John open his eyes slowly but he held his gaze to the ground before him. He really wasn’t in the mood for Arthur Morgan right now. 

“Don’t think so”, he answered quietly and headed to his tent, leaving a puzzled Arthur behind.

 

-

 

A couple of weeks had passed since Arthur had witnessed the argument between Abigail and John. He lay on his cot, thinking about the event. He had been a bit from camp when suddenly Abigail came storming a few yards away with John following. It was a short but ugly fight, full of suppressed desperation from both sides. When John stood there alone, Arthur didn’t really knew what to say, there was no way he could leave without John noticing him, he wasn’t that far away. They had been so caught up in the argument that Arthur must have been invisible for them at the time. Arthur had watched the younger man, a long time had passed since he really studied him.

He had been thinking about drawing the other man but never let himself go through with it. But now John was there, unaware. He wasn’t really a boy anymore, he had grown up a handsome man, with a narrow waist and strong arms, his skin had always been a shade or two darker than the regular white man’s. Arthur didn’t think that the scars made John ugly, quite the opposite really, making him look more rough. He studied his long and wild dark hair, his stubble, his eyes were shut but Arthur just knew that they would be hypnotizing starry if he opened them. Arthur couldn’t see every feature in the dark of the moon but he knew every inch of John’s face, had fantasized of caressing it for a long time.

He shut off the images within him and did what he does best, antagonize. To his surprise, John hadn’t act up, he had just answered with normalcy and walked away. John had been testy ever since and hadn’t given much as a glance at Arthur’s direction.

Tonight, John had closed his tent that was pretty much aligned with Arthur’s. The whole camp was asleep by now, the silence settling over them. Arthur usually went to sleep early but he couldn’t rest his soul this night. And now John kept him up, not that it was the boy’s fault.

Arthur’s mind had been wandering to John several times a day these past few weeks. Arthur had held an interest in him for a year or so before he had run  away and after his return, the older man had found it hard to forgive him. He had after all abandoned his family. But still, he had come back.

Arthur had this strange feeling that he needed to talk to John, had been planning on doing so for days but never followed through. Maybe it was the worry of John’s condition after the wolf attack in the mountains that had made him soften lately. Maybe he was just tired of being an asshole. Maybe it was because he felt that he didn’t have enough time left, or the fact that he indeed was getting older. Arthur knew it was his own hurt that had made him act this way, resentful and angry. He rubbed his eyes, frustrated of the roller coaster of emotions he had. After what felt like an eternity, Arthur rose up from his cot and did something un-Arthur-ly and walked over to John’s tent.  

“Marston”, he whispered, opening the front of the tent enough so he could slip inside. 

“What, Morgan, what?” John answered, annoyed but quietly. He lit up the kerosene lamp that stood on the ground next to his cot. What did Arthur want, and in the middle of night? 

He hadn’t really thought about what to say to John, knowing his real feelings could never come out. “Just wanted to say sorry about Abigail, things seem to have been kinda hard on you two lately”, Arthur said, settling down on the wooden planks a few feet away, facing him. 

John let out a little laugh, a sad one. “Well, I must say, you surprise me. You just decided to be nice to me for a change? And you know Abigail and me is not a pair anymore, haven’t been for years. What did you really want or have you just gone blind and stupid?” 

Arthur stayed quiet, it was true he hadn’t been nice to John. Not in years. And mentioning Abigail was really a bad call, of course he knew. Maybe he should focus on the real matter. He tore his eyes away from John for a moment, trying to decide what to answer. 

“Didn’t want nothing”, he stated almost inaudible. 

John looked him over, the older man seemed bothered about something so he tried to speak with a calmer tone. “I know you hate me, so whatever you want to say to me, just say it. If I did something wrong, please tell, because I’m getting awfully used to it”. 

What he said to John next surprised them both. “It ain't like that...just worried about you, is all”, Arthur said with a strained voice. “It was a long time since I checked on you. Figured that maybe it was time we started over you know…Go back to the way it used to be”. 

John looked at him dumbfounded, like he couldn’t believe a single word he had just heard. Arthur gazed at John, never letting go of his dark eyes. “W-well, shit Arthur, what’s gotten into you all of a sudden?” Arthur didn’t answer, he had taken a risk, a dangerous one. But all he meant was for them to become friends again and not just someone in camp you had to tolerate. He knew it was mostly his own fault things had turned sour between them but he had become so bitter these years it was hard to let go of it. John continued, more to himself than to Arthur. “Hell, we’ve practically been like strangers to each other all this time…this is the most I’ve heard you speak in years”. 

“You know me John, and I know you”. 

“Well, yeah , but…we drifted apart a lot”. 

“So let’s not go on with that, what you say?” 

John felt his stomach turn, nervous about saying something wrong. Thrilled about having Arthur close again, opening up to him. If he only could tell the older man every feeling inside of him, what he felt for him all these years, why he had run off that time. Then he reminded himself of the reality of the situation and only answered with a nod. 

“Alright then, well I should get going, I need to get some sleep and so should you. Night Marston”. 

“Mmhm”. 

Arthur went back to his cot, what the hell was he thinking? “Stupid”, he murmured. He regretted he had gone to John but at the same time it had felt good, trying to patch things up with him. There were a lot of things he wished he could tell John and he wished for it to be easy. But he realised that would never happen. John had his family, his son at least. And what would Dutch and Hosea think of Arthur if they knew? He was their son after all and this wasn’t exactly how they had raised him. What would the gang think? He had acted upon his urges more than once, a few men here and there, but that were his secrets. Suddenly everything seemed to be closing in on him and he felt he needed to get away from camp. He mounted up Iron, his trusty Ardennes. He took off and rode through the night.

 

-

 

Arthur went through his satchel, fishing up the letter from Mary. He sighed when he read it again. Of course he would help her, he always did. He sat by his makeshift camp, sleeping out of camp last night. The day was getting bright and the sun hadn’t warm up the air yet. Mary would always be special for him, they were so young when they first met but it had never worked out between them, it never did. A part of him had always wanted to settle down with someone and build a family. He had that plan with Mary but she respected herself enough not to do so. He couldn’t have asked her to come with him, she was from a respected family and he lived as an outlaw. Mary knew that. Eliza knew that... 

It had worked for a time with Eliza and Isaac living on their own and with him visiting and providing for them. He had enjoyed that time in his life...he loved Isaac, he was such a good kid. After their death he felt a part of him had died as well and he thought he could never feel again. He wished he had done more for them, that he could have saved them somehow. It was a long time ago now but he would never forget. 

He sometimes thought of Jack, how he wanted to find a better place for him as much as Abigail did. He could never leave the gang, but he pondered about what it would be like to settle down on a place far from here, with John by his side and Jack in their hands. A new chance in life. Arthur smiled thinking about it. Of course that would never happen, he knew that. But it somehow spread a wave of warmth and joy in his thirty-six year old body thinking about it. The boy had his parents, best is to forget about it even if it was just a dream of his. He was, after all, loyal to Dutch and he couldn’t see that change any time soon.

 

-

 

John woke up at noon, he really shouldn’t have slept this long but his mind was a mess after last night. These past weeks had been tough on a personal level. His insecurities of being a father to his son, a disappointment to Abigail, and Arthur trying to make things right between them. What was going on? He needed to set things right with all of them, maybe he could take Jack fishing some day. He didn’t know what the child enjoyed doing really.

He got up and grabbed a bowl of stew and then he took one of the rifles and got to watch duty. For weeks they had been pulling off smaller robberies but nothing that was enough for them all to leave. They had left a great amount of money in Blackwater but the town had been in lockdown since and there was no way of getting in unnoticed.

For some reason, John had been doubting Dutch lately. He knew it probably wasn’t anything of importance but he had a bad feeling. Like something was gonna go wrong. He never liked that Micah either and he noticed that Dutch kept a lot of faith in him. He decided that it would do for now, he still trusted Dutch, he was like a father to him and he wanted to stand by his side no matter what.

 

-

 

“Where have you been, son?” Dutch asked. 

“In town, just running some errands”, Arthur answered, sounding bored in hope of them letting the subject go. 

Hosea glanced at Dutch, his arms crossed over his chest. They exchanged a discreet smile. A knowing smile, the kind of smile that only life long friends understood. The three of them stood in Dutch and Molly’s tent. 

“Well Arthur, we do not wish to interfere, but perhaps these errands you speak of, may have to do something with Mrs. Linton being in town?” Hosea asked in that soothing voice of his. 

Arthur exhaled loudly. “Look, it’s not like that, she needed a little help is all. Jamie had run off to a cult of some sort, I got him back. That was it”. 

“You know we only want what’s best for you son, and things didn’t exactly turn out pretty the last time with that girl. And let’s not forget how her family treated you”, Dutch lectured, not harsh, but determined. He had never liked Mary, didn’t trust her. Hosea was always the more understanding and accepting of the two. 

“Dutch, me and her ain’t gonna happen again...she’s made it very clear to me”. 

“Do you want to be with her, Arthur?” Hosea asked, Dutch mildly tensing up by the question, focusing his eyes on Arthur.  

“Let’s say I did, it wouldn’t work out. I can't leave you and she can't leave her life. It’s always been like that”. 

“You want to leave, Arthur?” Dutch challenged. 

“Of course not, I would never! You know that Dutch”, Arthur almost pleaded, anxious over the doubt he was given. 

“You always were a good boy, and you belong here with us. With your family”, Dutch smiled. 

Arthur nodded after a few moments, Hosea nodding back, allowing him to leave the tent. He was halfway out when Dutch gave him a reminder. “Oh, and you should deal with Micah pretty soon, there is talk of hanging him”. 

“Sure”, Arthur answered through his teeth, then he was on his way again. He had promised to get Micah days ago, but had postponed it. He didn’t trust the fool one bit. But he did what Dutch wanted, not wasting a second, and mounted up Iron and took off to Strawberry.

Chapter Text

Things had been a little better lately, John thought. He and Abigail had been talking things through and John had tried to spend more time with their son. At least when he wasn’t shooting people’s brains out and robbing them while he was at it. Maybe it was the other way around.

It wasn’t as tense between him and Arthur and it got better with each day that passed. Arthur found himself smiling a bit more often whenever he spoke to John and it was as an alien feeling for him but…it felt good

John had this idea that they were gonna steal some sheep and sell them to the auction in Valentine. It would have to wait a few days though. He wanted Arthur on this one and they were sitting next to each other by the campfire going through the plan. John sat on the ground, leaning against the big log, Arthur sitting on said log. 

“You tryna prove something, Marston?” Arthur asked, more teasing than insulting. 

“What you mean?” John asked, looking up. Arthur was truly beautiful in the light of the fire, he thought. 

“Ever since you got back on your feet you’ve contributed more than ever. And that really surprises me”. 

“Shut up, since when haven’t I helped out?” 

“Well, maybe that one year where you took off without a word”, Arthur scolded. John was surprised by the sudden change of atmosphere. He looked away, always ashamed when Arthur brought it up. Even Abigail had let it go. 

“Arthur… “. 

“Don’t you ‘Arthur’ me. You left us all when we needed you. Ain't no excuse for it”. 

“Are we going through this again? I thought you said you wanted to start things over, set things right and all”. 

Arthur sighed, John was right, he had said that. One thing came to Arthur’s mind. “Yeah, I know. It’s just…we haven’t talked about it. Not really. Maybe that's why I never could let it go”. And with that Arthur lowered himself to the ground next to John. Their legs so close they could feel each other’s warmth radiating. “What really made you leave?” Arthur asked, piercing his gaze. John held his blue eyes that seemed to have turned green all of a sudden. He wanted Arthur to leave the subject, what if he kissed him right there and then? John would probably earn a punch for it, putting him to sleep. Maybe that would have been preferable. 

“I, I wasn’t sure about this whole thing with Jack you know, if I could go through with it. I needed time to think. Time for myself”, John tried. He did not succeed because Arthur gave him a sceptical look. It was part true, mostly true but there were of course other reasons. 

“Sounds like there’s more to it”, Arthur stated, like he had read his mind. 

“There isn’t”. 

“Fine”, Arthur said, heaving himself up. 

“Don’t go”. John took Arthur’s wrist in his hand, stopping him from leaving. Arthur looked down at John, there was desperation in his eyes. That sadness that’s always been there. Arthur slowly sat down again. 

“We can’t speak of it here”. 

“It’s after midnight, everyone’s asleep, ‘cept Charles who’s on watch”. 

“No, we can’t speak of it here”, John repeated, pronouncing the words harder. His intensity made his hand travel to land on Arthur’s knee. Arthur hadn’t seen John this serious, ever. He meant what he said and the look in his eyes were almost showing fear. Without thinking about it, he laid his hand on top of John’s, giving it a little squeeze. A small gesture of understanding.  

“Alright… How about we grab a few drinks in town? Been a while since we did“, Arthur suggested. 

“Okay…”, John slowly nodded. “That sounds just fine”. 

Arthur rose, letting go of John’s hand. They mounted Iron and Old Boy and rode into Valentine.

 

-

 

“Just be careful with the whiskey, last time I was here I thought I’d lost my mind. Started seeing Lenny’s face on everyone…”. 

John chuckled, he remembered them telling about it the day after. As they walked over to the saloon John felt nervous. He could have just lied back in camp and told Arthur any made up reason for why he had left. But a part of him wanted to tell the truth, if only the half of it. John had kept it within him for so long that he had just become…tired. Tired of holding back and he realised that the worst thing that could happen was that Arthur would beat the shit out of him and never speak to him again…he guessed. At least he knew Arthur well enough to know he wouldn’t do much more than that. They had too much history after all, Arthur had practically taken care of him the first few years. John sighed and scratched at the back of his neck with frustration. 

While inside they found a pretty secluded spot in the corner. There was so much noise that speaking of a particular subject wouldn’t be a problem. 

John took a seat and waited for Arthur. When he was done he settled next to him, bringing two whiskeys for them. “We shouldn’t have too many of these, we need to get back to camp in one piece”. 

“Getting a bit old, Morgan?” John teased. “Besides, we can always set up camp, just like we used to”, John continued, a bit more careful. Arthur only looked at the younger man, sweeping the drink. John followed his lead and went to buy another round. The drank and talkediof nothing in particular until they felt more at ease and John a little less nervous, not that he showed it. 

John downed his fifth drink. “So, you truly want to know?” he asked suddenly, leaning a bit closer to Arthur’s side. 

“Why else would we be here, Marston?” Arthur answered impatiently. 

John didn’t look at him, he faced forward, not looking at anything specific. Here went nothing. “Well, I’ve always respected Abigail, but I’ve never loved her”, he explained and shook his head slowly. “I was, in fact, in love with someone else. I pictured this person before me whenever I slept with Abigail and it wasn’t that often truth to be told. When she told me she was pregnant I felt that I was stuck in a place I didn’t want to be. At the time I didn’t want no child. I didn’t even know if he was mine. Hell, it don’t matter no more, Jack is mine and I’m going to do my best for him. This other person, I’ve held dear for a long time, before even Abigail joined the gang. When she told me she was pregnant, it was around that time I had planned on confessing my feelings. But I knew they would never be answered”. 

Arthur had a lump in his throat, it was hard to hear John talk about his passionate love for someone else, he wondered who it might be. He couldn’t help but feel a little jealous. 

“So, where is she now?” 

“Oh, around. At camp.” 

“Tilly? Mary-Beth?” 

“Like I said, I’ve cared for this person a long time. Nine…maybe ten years, last time I counted”, John chuckled dryly. He could have just lied but he had gone too far to turn back now and the alcohol made him feel a little more brave. Now he just wanted to see the look on Arthur’s face when he figured it out. The old brute was as stupid as rock sometimes, he couldn’t see what was right before him. 

“Well who is it then, Miss Grimshaw?” Arthur laughed but he felt a growing sense of unease of the answer. 

“Anyway, it just became a little much to me. I wanted my life to look a whole lot different than it turned out at that time. I had to get away in order to decide how to go on from there. I did come to a conclusion. I simply had to let go…and when I got back, it wasn’t that hard going through with said decision, considering that person truly didn’t want me by then. He… had felt betrayed. He had felt abandoned and did not take it - leaving your family - that good. I do care for him…”. John gave Arthur a quick look only to turn his face forward again “ to this day but I know it would never be you and me because that is not how we do things around here”. 

Arthur’s heart stopped, he stared at John who still didn’t face him. He got up from his seat and headed for the bar. He didn’t know what to say right now. 

John felt like he was gonna faint. He had actually done it. He had told the truth. And Arthur just left. He didn’t look after him and only held his gaze at the table in front of him. He had expected a fist to his face by now but it never came. Not yet at least. He was pretty sure Arthur had been disgusted and was heading for his horse, riding back to camp. Instead another round of whiskey was set down in front of him after a few minutes. John looked up in surprise only to find a calmness in Arthur’s face. It was so soothing he could feel the knot in his stomach dissolve.

 

-

 

Arthur just needed a minute to absorb this new information he was struck with and leaned against the bar. His heart beat fast and he felt a little lightheaded. He closed his eyes and when he stood there he could feel the smile creeping up on him. A choice had to be made and it truly wasn’t too difficult. He reminded himself that this was really happening and he - they - had nothing to lose, if they were just being careful. He returned to the table with the drinks he decided they both needed and was greeted with John looking up at him with the saddest eyes. He gave a reassuring smile and something in John’s face lit up. Made him look more alive. Arthur settled next to him on the bench, looked around the saloon and slowly took hold of John’s hand, the table hid most of the touch. He caressed it while deeply looking into those dark eyes. He would kiss him tonight. He would take whatever John would give him and he would give whatever John would take. His whole life had changed in minutes and it was an overwhelming feeling. 

John was tempted to lean in and kiss Arthur. Him holding his hand was enough of a confirmation to know that Arthur actually wanted this. John felt confused and wondered if it was all a dream but knew better than to question what he always hoped for. 

“How about we find another place?” Arthur asked, a fierce lust in his voice. 

“They got a hotel, don’t they?” 

Arthur gave John a smile and looked at him in the way he had always wanted, not concealing a single meaning behind it.

Chapter Text

When they got inside the room, they gave each other long scrutinizing looks. Arthur pacing around slowly.

“How long, Arthur?” 

“I don't know…was a bit…jealous…when you got together with Abigail. So four, five years maybe. Ever since I saw you’d turned into a grown man”. 

John sighed, slowly shaking his head. “All this time…wasted”. 

“No, no, no. Not anymore”, Arthur reassured, slowly closing the distance with John who was leaning against the door they entered. He started to caress John’s cheek, how he had dreamed to do this. Blue eyes met brown. John held on to Arthur’s waist, pulling him closer into their first kiss.

Their lips moved in unison, fitting perfectly together. At first they moved with hesitation, trying to get familiar with the sensation of a new person. John’s tongue eagerly entered Arthur, playing with his who did not fail to react. They moaned into each other's mouths, craving more the more they got.

Hands started to caress every part of their bodies that was available. John stroked Arthur’s golden hair behind one of his ears, it was starting to get real long by now. Arthur did the same at first but continued to, almost violently, grab a handful of John’s hair and force him to turn around. He pushed him against the door, still holding his hair in a tight grip as he pulled his head back. Arthur kissed John’s exposed neck and started grinding his hardness against John’s ass.

The younger man turned his head and leaned up a little and started kissing Arthur, an uncomfortable position but exciting as well. Arthur was quite hard but so was the younger man so he guided Arthur’s hand to his front, rubbing against it almost with desperation. 

Arthur groaned when he felt John for the first time, it was a bit intoxicating really. He started to rub his own cock harder against the younger man. Slightly feeling the teasing gap between his firm cheeks, it was after all hard to feel more than that with two pair of pants in the way.

John kicked off his boots and Arthur all but followed his lead. He released John’s hair and fumbled with the younger man’s pants instead and got them off as fast as he got off his own. He led them to bed, lying down with John straddling him. They unbuttoned each other's shirts in a haste until they were completely naked.

John lay on Arthur and they shared tongues again. They held each other tightly, as if no one was willing to let the other one go. They touched, exploring one another’s body as they felt heat radiating from every part. They held eye contact while doing so up until John rested his forehead to Arthur’s while he closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths. He couldn’t believe this was actually happening.

Arthur had never wanted anyone this bad and right now he wanted John to take him like he had sometimes fantasized about whenever he touched himself. “Don’t wanna haste things Johnny, but how about you come up here and...take me...in my mouth... Reckon both of us have waited long enough... ”. 

John was completely stunned by the dirty words, he had never expected such to come from Arthur, the man was basically a prude. But with no doubt they made him harder by the second. He lifted himself up in an awkward position, his legs all shaky from the arousal and undeniable nervousness he felt. Arthur moved up further, half sitting up against the bed’s headboard. John followed and almost sat on Arthur’s stomach as his erection was only inches away from the other’s face who showed a look of approval and longing. He almost looked hypnotized, John couldn't help but think. 

Soon enough he was inside Arthur’s mouth, the latter not hesitant to taste every bit of him. John couldn’t breathe from how good it felt...from how right it felt. Arthur held on to his hips, urging him to move.

John did as he wanted and started fucking him, slowly at first but Arthur kept encouraging him to move faster. He did and he thought he had ended up in heaven as he fastened his pace...that warm and wet mouth of his was the best he had ever felt. 

John was a bit worried to hurt Arthur but he suspected the man had done this before with the way he moved his tongue and lips around him... John gave in and started to pump mercilessly into him, moaning his name and cursing with almost each thrust.

Arthur looked up at him with the most intense eyes he had ever seen. Then John felt a finger moving around his hole, it was a teasing touch as much as it was an unnerving. He wanted to feel it inside him but he guessed he would need to be prepared first, that much he knew at least. 

“Arthur... I’m gonna-” 

Arthur started squeezing his ass, giving it a push so John thrusted even deeper. After a few pumps John let go of everything and came so hard he could see stars. Arthur took everything that was given to him, strains of cum running down his chin. John was out of breath by both the orgasm and the sight of Arthur and his steady gaze while he kept swallowing every drop of him that hadn’t escaped.

Eventually he moved down and placed himself on top of Arthur and started kissing and licking away the cum from his lips and chin, tasting himself. He kissed Arthur’s lips while carefully leading his hand to the man's front. Arthur automatically pushed against John’s hand, precum was already leaking down his shaft. He was really hard and John moved down once more and took him in his mouth without giving it too much thought. 

The smell and taste of Arthur made him lightheaded, it was far better than he had ever imagined. Arthur moaned so loudly John was afraid he was gonna wake everyone in the building. He went on for a long while, his head bobbing up and down as he tried to focus on making it good for the older man. Arthur thrusted lightly while closing his eyes and just let himself enjoy the sensation of the other man despite how careful and unsynced he moved. Arthur didn't mention it. 

“I’m close...”, he panted after a while, stroking his fingers through John’s dark hair. The younger man only moaned as answer and started to massage Arthur’s balls lightly, he could feel them tighten when the warm seed exploded into his mouth and he heard the other man repeat his name under breaths of pure ecstacy. He kept swallowing like he had seen Arthur do, not leaving a drop and then he carefully licked him clean. The older man chuckled lightly when he got down from his high. 

“Hey, leave it be, that tickles”. 

“Just couldn’t get enough”, John answered as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. They shared a short laugh, then Arthur reached out his hand, begging John to lie down with him. They lay facing each other, looking deep into the other man’s eyes as if they somehow could enter one another’s soul.

 

-

 

John awoke alone. He wondered if it all had been a dream again but got his answer when he felt Arthur’s smell on the pillow next to his. He hugged it, inhaling the smell further. Where was he? John figured he had went back to camp, he did have a lot on his shoulders. He could see why he was the gang lieutenant. Arthur was the most loyal of them all and did all the work even if it meant getting his hands dirty. As John pondered, the door slowly opened, a fresh and dressed Arthur stepping inside. He closed the door as quietly as he could, John shut his eyes and pretended to still be asleep. Arthur made his way to the bed, settling by John’s side, a hand lifting to caress John’s scarred cheek. A finger following the trails of the rough skin. John leaned into his touch.

“Hey”. 

“Morning”. 

“Morning? It’s past noon, you sleepy head”. 

“You could have woken me up”. 

“Well, I got up not so long ago myself, truth to be told”. 

“And of course you had a bath already”. 

“I think you need one as well. I don't think you’ll manage to drown in the tub. Water ain't that deep” 

“Very funny, Morgan”. John rolled his eyes. He had never learned how to swim, had always been afraid to do so after several incidents, some of them involving rescues from Arthur. 

“I think I preferred you saying my name like you did last night”, Arthur seduced with his deep gruff voice, his hand making its way under the cover caressing the inside of John’s thighs. 

“Maybe I should take that bath… “ 

“Yeah, you do that”.

 

-

 

John washed himself. His stomach complained loudly when he got back to the room. Arthur was sitting in an armchair by the window, looking out. “You hungry?” he asked without tearing his eyes away from whatever got his attention outside. 

“It can wait. The only thing I want right now is you Arthur”. His voice a bit more hoarse than usual. “Again and again...”. 

Arthur looked at him and gave him a faint smile, there was a noticeable sadness in his eyes. 

“Me too, but I gotta go. I remembered I was supposed to collect a debt for Strauss today”. 

“Do you enjoy doing that? Getting your hands dirty over what? 30? 40 dollars?” 

Arthur sighed heavily, focusing his eyes on the floor. “No, not really, but someone’s gotta do it”. 

“Probably another poor bastard Strauss tricked himself upon. Maybe a family man, probably an honest man...”. 

“You think honest men get themselves involved with our kind to begin with?”  

“Yeah, if they’re desperate enough, anyone would... Who is he anyway?” 

“Some Thomas Downes feller, seen him a couple of times here in town but it don’t matter, I’m still going". 

There were a few moments of silence, the only sound coming from the sheep and trotting horses from the outside world making its way inside. 

“Arthur, listen to me, we’ve just… found each other…Why can’t we take this day to ourselves? Why can’t you? You never rest. We can say we scouted the area where them sheep will be in a few days. I’ve already told Dutch about the plan, no one will look for us... And that debtor you was gonna visit, he gets another day without getting all beat up. Hell, I can even visit him for you first thing tomorrow. Come on…give yourself to me, if only for today. I want you… all of you”. 

Arthur looked at John, seeing him through different eyes. What lay next for them in this world? he wondered. Then he smiled.

 

Beecher's Hope, 1911

When they were younger Arthur had enjoyed using his camera, taking pictures of the nature and of various animals. Quite a few of the photographs were of John and one in particular was of a more intimate kind but still innocent. John remembered that day very clearly. 

They had just given themselves to each other in a rented room. They lay in bed and John had sat up and pulled the cover over his lower body, a little ashamed that he was all naked while Arthur was fully dressed. John held his arms around his knees and he turned his head to Arthur and smiled when the older man had given him a compliment.  

“Stay like that”, Arthur had said.  

John watched Arthur get up and get his camera and then lay back in bed again.  

“Look at me just like you did before”.  

And so John did and the picture was taken.  

“I think you’re beautiful”.  

Another reason to why John remembered it so clearly was because that same day they had their photograph taken. Arthur seldom wanted to be in photographs himself but John had been able to persuade him that time. John held their picture. They had taken it at a studio in Saint Denis after things had calmed down, a few weeks after Jack’s abduction that year. He had been so scared, Arthur too. Abigail had been a mess. But they had gotten him back unharmed fortunately. To this day he is certain that if Arthur hadn’t been by his side, he would never have made it this far. None of them would. He flipped open the journal Arthur had kept that period. One of the last drawings he had made in it pictured them, looking like they did in their photograph. At that time they only had that one picture of them together so John had kept it, and Arthur had made his own copy. He was truly talented when it came to create in that way. John had tried but he never did got the hang of it. He put the picture frame down gently. “I sure miss you”.

 

-

 

Jack was getting the wagon ready, handling the horses with finesse. 

“You heading into town?” John asked. 

“Yeah, we need some supplies”. 

“What kind of supplies? Uncle and I was in town a few days ago” 

Jack didn’t answer. John smiled gently to him. “Son, if you want to see your mother you can take one of the horses, you don’t need the whole wagon.” 

“Figured they could use the exercise”, Jack answered shyly. 

John let out a little chuckle. “I’m sure they’ll be fine. Leave the wagon. I haven’t seen Abigail in a while, maybe I should come with ya?”

Jack’s face brightened a bit. “Sounds good pa”. 

“You go ready the horses, I just need a change of clothes”.

 

-

 

They raced to Blackwater, Jack had become real good with the horses but he hadn’t beaten his father just yet. Rachel had been a good horse to John for years now, never letting him down. 

Abigail had moved into Blackwater a few years back, not long after the ranch had been finished. They had all lived together on the ranch, he and Abigail mostly sleeping in separate rooms. She had worked as a seamstress in a tailor parlor and still was. She had grown fond of the owner who had turned out to be a real good man, giving her the love she could never get from John. They had married not long after they’d met. Their marriage seemed to be thriving still and John was happy for her. She visited the ranch from time to time, checking in on the boys. Jack had been difficult in the beginning but came around when he understood what was best for his mother, he even lived with her in town for a time. That was until he got older, realising he was gonna be more useful at his father's side. 

They got into the tailor parlor, no customer in sight. Abigail by the counter browsing through a catalogue, contemplating what to order. “John! Jack, my boy!” Abigail exclaimed, her eyes radiating of joy. “Oh, it’s good to see you”. 

“Hey, momma”, Jack smiled, hugging her tightly. 

“Hello Abigail, how are you?” John asked, giving her a hug as well. 

“Oh you know how it is, always working, never a day’s rest. But that's how I like it”. 

“Glad to hear that, sweetheart. Jack wanted to see you, figured I could check in on you as well. Mr. Jameson treating you well?” 

“Oh of course he is, he better be nice to me, he knows damn well a lady like me can take care of herself. Everything good at the ranch?” Abigail asked, a little hesitant. 

“Uhm, yeah”, John answered quickly, the subject was always a bit sensitive, not that he could blame her. “Well, I figure the boy can find his way back home when he decides to leave. Just wanted to say hello”. He turned to Jack. “You be good to her and do what she tells you”. 

“Of course pa, maybe I can even stay the night with you momma?”

“Sure, I think Walter will be more than thrilled. He probably gonna show you all the books he brought from the bookstore last time he was there”. Now Jack was the one thrilled. 

“Well, I should probably get going, take care Abigail and say hi to Mr. Jameson for me”. 

“Alright John, say hi from me as well, bye”. 

And with that, John rode back to Beecher’s hope. Life was quite alright.

Chapter Text

 

Clemens Point, 1899 

It had been too close. Way too close. Arthur had been furious when John had been held with a knife to his throat in Valentine. Leviticus Cornwall had been there personally with his Pinkerton agents, practically taken John and Strauss hostage. They had been lucky, nothing else. Now they had found this place, Dutch thought it was a promising spot with a lot of opportunities. They couldn’t go back to Horseshoe. Besides the mess in Valentine, Pinkertons had caught Arthur off guard while fishing with Jack. They were a lot closer than the gang had thought. 

John and Arthur kept their business a secret, no need for anyone to know. They had come closer to each other, often staying up and talking when no one could hear. Arthur had found some kind of inner peace, a little hope in the darkness. John hadn’t been so sour lately, making amends with Abigail and taking care of Jack when there was time at his hands. Arthur could see a change in John Marston and he knew it was for the better. 

They were close to a town called Rhodes and gotten involved in a brewing family feud that had been going on for a few generations or so. They had cheated both families by now. Arthur wondered how long they could keep this up before the families found out. Their latest hustle consisted of John, Javier and him stealing the Braithwaites’ horses and selling them off a fence. A sick joke if you asked Arthur. He didn’t know which family was worse. The job had been successful nonetheless. 

Back at camp, Arthur and John had gone out for a hunting trip, their family still needed food on the table and the two men needed each other, in more ways than one. 

“Mmm”, Arthur moaned as John pushed him against a tree, catching his lips. The night was dark and they were far from any human being. They had already prepared their tent and gotten a fire started. They fondled each other lovingly, though both men had it in them to become rough when overwhelmed. They kissed slowly, Arthur held the back of John’s head softly, stroking his fingers through his long hair. John guided them to their tent, Arthur lowering himself to lie down on the bedroll with the younger man on top of him. They undressed slowly, Arthur kissing what he could get, sucking on John’s nipples and relishing the taste of his skin. As they pressed together naked, John opened his satchel, grabbing the tin of grease and started to smear it over his fingers.

“Spread your legs for me...”, John requested with a voice that made Arthur’s cheeks even hotter. He was almost out of his breath when John slowly started to prepare him, finger by finger. 

“Jesus, John...harder...more”, Arthur breathed after a while as the other kept a slow pace with two fingers. 

He did as the man pleaded and pushed in a third finger and started to fuck him, pushing the fingers in and out with a force that made Arthur cry out of joy. The man was desperate, not really knowing what to do, grabbing at the cover with both hands. Arthur looked at John with a fire in his eyes that was only getting hotter. 

“I want you inside me...now, John...”, he panted. 

“I’m right here”, he reassured, pulling out his fingers carefully and pressing his lips to Arthur’s. He took another click of grease and slicked up his aching cook, more than eager to enter. The older man spread his legs further, an inviting and beautiful sight for John. He aligned himself with Arthur’s hole and let the tip slide in. They stayed like that for a while, John brushing his lips over Arthur’s face, slowly entering, inch by inch. The golden haired man had shut his eyes, his whole body trembling. 

“You alright?” John whispered and placed a few kisses over the other’s cheek and the corner of his mouth.

“I’m more than alright, ain't ever felt nothing like I have with you, John Marston. Not ever...”, Arthur admitted with a soft voice, holding a firm gaze with John. Looking deeply into the dark eyes he so often found himself lost in. 

John felt his chest warm up, almost forgetting the sexual act. He could feel himself tear up so he shut his eyes and buried his face to the other’s neck as he started to push himself in deeper. When he bottomed, he slowly started to pull out only to push himself in harder. The sensation so intense he felt dizzy. He felt that often with the other nowadays. Arthur locked his legs around John’s lower back, making the position a bit less complicated. 

“Faster...”, Arthur commanded as he gripped onto John’s moving hips, caressing them in a haste and ushering him to do as he asked. 

John wanted to please him so he started to thrust in and out hard. The movement made both men moan in uneven waves of pleasure. They breathed into each other's mouths, eyes locking onto one another’s. John tightened his grip under Arthur’s thigh, trying to get in even deeper. Arthur’s breathing increased until he was almost hyperventilating. That sweet spot making his whole stomach warm up and his cock leak of precum.

John rested his head against his shoulder while traveling one of his hands to Arthur’s swollen member. It only took a few drags to make him scream and John took the opportunity to fuck him harder, making Arthur’s orgasm even more intense. The sight and sound of him send John shaking through his own climax, the younger man not able to produce a sound.

John pumped himself empty inside Arthur and then carefully pulled himself out, all but collapsing next to him. They just stared at the tent’s ceiling for a few minutes while catching their breaths. Arthur felt the warm wet mess slip out of him, happy it was John’s warm wet mess. He grabbed a rag and cleaned himself off from his own cum on his stomach and from John’s between his ass cheeks. John turned his head, watching him. Always freshening up, he thought. When Arthur was done, they lay on their sides facing each other. They often did, enjoying to study one another.

 

-

 

Arthur sat up, he usually woke up when the sun rose, the light automatically waking him up. They needed to hunt today, they had left in the afternoon the day before. No reason to drag things out and make folk suspicious. He leaned down, kissing John’s forehead. John opened his eyes sleepily, frowning. 

“Hi there”, Arthur welcomed, his voice gruffier than usual in the morning. John smiled at him, stroking Arthur’s hair behind his ear. His length of hair now equally as long as his own. He was gonna cut it, Arthur had said, but had never gotten to it. His haircut the least of his problems after all. John continued down, caressing his stubbled cheek and planted his thumb on the scar on Arthur’s chin, caressing it with a circular motion. The scar had caused a bald spot, never letting his beard grow out properly there. He had always had it because John remembered it when they first met. 

“We should probably get going”. 

“Yeah, I can fix up some breakfast, brew some coffee while you take care of the tent”, John suggested. 

“Sure”.

 

-

 

“What took you boys so long? Dancing in the woods perhaps?” Micah. 

“What you going on about? We went yesterday to be back early today”, John explained, trying to keep a good spirit with the asshole. 

“And early you certainly are, it’s afternoon. There's something else going on I don't know about?” 

Arthur dropped one of the deers by Micah’s feet. “What it look like we was doing, huh?” Arthur snapped back, gesturing at the dead animal. 

John dropped off the other deer at Pearson’s, the camp’s chef looking very pleased. “I’ll make a good stew out of this yet! Thank you, Mr. Marston, Mr. Morgan”. Pearson tipped his hat to the men. He really was a backbone to this camp. Always trying to keep everyone fed and happy. 

“I’m sorry cowpoke, didn’t know you’d be so testy today. Just making sure you and the golden boy over there are loyal to the gang and the gang only”. He pointed at John’s direction. 

“What you just say?” Arthur snapped again, closing in on Micah with his fist clenched. Arthur could be an intimidating sight when intending to. A man his size with a broad frame and strong arms contributing to said sight. He could have swore he saw Micah flinch, if only for a second. 

“Enough!” Dutch demanded, turning his attention to both men. “We are not children, and I will not tolerate this kind of behaviour from either of you”. 

“You should be glad I didn’t let you hang in Strawberry, if it weren’t for Dutch you’d be a rotten corpse by now”, Arthur hissed, venom in his words while pointing his finger at Micah. 

“Arthur!” Dutch shouted. “Like I said, I will not tolerate this kind of behaviour”. He tightened his eyes at Arthur, disappointment in them.  

Arthur grunted, turning away with angry steps. Micah let out his taunting laugh, almost jumping in place out of all the fuss. “Lighten up, sunshine, I was just messing around!” He shouted after Arthur. With the lack of attention, he turned around, starting to bother anyone who got in his way. John’s eyes never leaved Micah. He was bound to cause trouble, John could see in his face he was not to be trusted. He was surprised he hadn’t jumped Micah already but Arthur’s reaction had kind of taken the upper hand. Micah was starting to act up, making his voice heard and John didn’t like it one bit. Especially when he was making faulty accusations that could be dangerous for them.

He just hoped Dutch wouldn’t doubt the two of them, they were practically his sons after all but he had taken a liking to Micah real fast. Maybe he was planting ideas into Dutch’s mind, convincing him that the pair of them, was not to be trusted anymore. But why? It was ridiculous, Arthur and John would never betray the gang. He and Arthur had, on the other hand, been sneaking out of camp together more frequently but not for the reasons Micah was afraid of. They needed to be more careful from now on. John figured he should be relieved Micah hadn’t accused them for things that, in fact, were true. John did not follow Arthur that day, knowing when the man needed to be left alone. He had learned a lot about his nature these past months.

Chapter Text

“What you done with my hat?” 

“I don't know what you’re talking about”. 

“John Marston, I could always read you like an open book. Besides, those pretty dark eyes of yours could never lie to me”. 

John looked at him with concern in his eyes. “I’m not a superstitious feller but I hope the feathers gonna bring you some luck, you sure could need it today”. 

Arthur’s eyes returned John’s concern, the younger man looked worried. “Didn’t know no feathers could give you that. And certainly not chicken and goose feathers”, Arthur laughed, confused by the seriousness in a humorous situation. He looked at the hat he was holding in his hands. He never liked when other people messed with his belongings. But he wasn’t mad at John, instead he was a bit flattered by the thought. 

John smiled, but not with his eyes. “Well, it's a first time for everything and the best I could do for now”. 

“Hey”, Arthur almost whispered, moving to stand beside John who leaned against a tree. They hadn’t bothered going too far from camp, it was early and they were simply talking. “What you thinking about?” 

“It’s a trap and I’m sure of it. Going through with this gonna put all three of you at risk. They’re gonna kill him, Arthur. Maybe they’ll kill you too”, John whispered. 

Arthur sighed. He had a bad feeling about this too. Why would Colm O'Driscoll want to parley? Why now? They had been enemies for decades and nothing of it made much sense. He answered, whispering as well. “Dutch does what Dutch thinks is best, all we can do is comply. There’s not much to it really”. 

“I’ve tried to talk some sense into him but he wouldn’t have it. Was about to beg him to let me come instead of you before you waltzed in on me”. 

“Now that would be a real stupid move”.  

“Why? I’m better with them rifles and you know it”. 

“Because…Jack needs you. Shouldn’t put yourself in harm’s way when there's no need for it”. 

“But you can go, is that it?” 

“Yes, that’s exactly how it is!” Arthur raised his voice, frustrated by John’s stubbornness, he stepped away, turning his back to John. “Don’t you think you’ve got a say in this. Dutch asked me to go with them and that's what I’m gonna do”. 

“Then go!” John snapped. “Get yourself killed, I couldn’t care less”. Arthur turned around at John’s words, the man’s eyes had become darker than he thought was possible. 

Arthur nodded, breathing audibly through his nostrils. The two men watched each other, challenging for a few moments. He pushed his hat to John’s chest. “You hold on to this, then you have something to remember me by when I’m gone ”, Arthur said with sarcasm in his voice. John moved forward and his fist hit the older man’s cheek with a force Arthur wasn’t prepared for. Arthur stumbled back, his hand covering the pained area.  

The outside world carried on as usual but still everything seemed to have turned quiet. John became a little nervous, knowing what Arthur’s rage could do to a man. He swallowed lightly, observing Arthur’s next move. He hadn’t the time to react when a strong hand clenched around his throat, practically throwing him to the ground. Arthur loomed over him, his face close to John’s ear. 

“You want to fight, is that it boy?” Arthur asked with a strained voice. He was furious. “You want me dead, huh?” 

John struggled to get the words out, Arthur’s hand almost strangling him. “O-of course not. You got it all wrong”. 

“Thought you said you didn’t care”. Arthur’s hand tightened its grip. He saw red, it was stupid of John to punch him. Arthur always was the one ending a fight. 

“I-I do”, John whispered, the words barely making a sound. John held his hands over Arthur’s, he thought he was gonna faint from the pressure on his throat and from the hurt he felt. He didn’t fight it, he just let go. A part of him wished he would die now, he was very much tired of living his whole life surrounded by constant violence and death. And now, he and Arthur were living in a different kind of danger and the risks they were taking by simply being together could very well be their downfall one day. Perhaps all of this was never meant to be and he would happily die by Arthur’s hand, he thought. He closed his eyes. 

Instead of darkness, he felt the strong grip release itself from him. He started to cough violently. He opened his eyes and was met with panic in Arthur’s eyes. The older man got up and backed away. 

Arthur looked at John one last time, his eyes watery and filled with shame. John sat up, he felt himself tear up. He struggled to swallow. “Arthur”, he pleaded. His voice more hoarse than ever. 

Arthur shook his head slowly then turning away, leaving the area before John could say anything else.

 

-

 

John looked over his neck in the mirror. The bruises had started to lose its blackness, transforming to an ugly yellow and green shade. Arthur hadn’t been back yet but Micah insisted everything had gone according to plan. Dutch and Colm had made peace. 

“You know how he gets sometimes, off camping in the woods for days. But he always comes back to us, my dear boy, don’t you worry.”

Dutch’s words echoed in John’s head. 

“Morgan wasn’t exactly the brightest sunshine that day. Never seen him so dull. Was afraid he was aiming at me with that rifle and not the O'Driscolls. Probably off fucking some whore or drinking his brains out”.  

Micah had a point when he thought about it. That day hadn’t been easy for him. Arthur had tried to strangle him. Maybe he was too ashamed to return for now but it wasn’t like Arthur to just leave without a word. 

“You worried about him?” Abigail entered his tent. She looked over the bruises. John had lied to everyone who had asked. Just a fight with some stranger in town. 

“A bit, yeah”, he admitted quietly. 

She settled on his cot and reached her hand to him. He took hold of it carefully, letting her drag him to her side. He settled next to her. She caressed his one hand with her both, stroking her soft fingers between his knuckles and over his fingers. 

“Me too, he’s always been kind to me. And to little Jack”. 

“Where’s Jack now?” John suddenly worried, looking over his shoulder, eyes searching the camp. 

“Don’t worry, he’s asleep, a bit tired since Hosea’s been teaching him to read. He’s not too happy about it but he will thank us later”. 

“Of course. Hosea is the best”. 

“He did teach you after all, and Arthur I guess”. 

“No, Dutch was the one who taught me, he always was a good teacher but I guess he’s too busy for things like that nowadays”. 

Abigail nodded, giving him a faint smile. John smiled back, putting his other hand on top of hers, squeezing them slightly. 

“I’ve noticed you and Arthur been kinda close to each other lately. You boys been able to fix things between you?” 

“I guess, these past few years been kinda hard between us, we figured we should try to get along more. He’s like a big brother to me, you know”. 

“A very close brother indeed”, Abigail stated quietly, more to herself than to him. 

“What you mean?” 

Abigail eyes flickered, a nervous laugh escaping her lips. “Oh nothing, I guess I’m a bit tired is all”. She let go of his hands and gave him another smile. John could see her eyes tearing up. “I’m fine”, she continued when she saw John’s worried look. “Better get some sleep, it’s getting late”. 

John was about to speak up when he heard Dutch’s voice from a distance. “Miss Grimshaw! Reverend Swanson! We need help!” 

Abigail and John exchanged a look, John heaving himself up and running past her. Abigail closed her eyes, the tears escaping them and running down her soft cheeks.

Chapter Text

John stopped when he got to the group. They were lifting Arthur to his cot. He had a gunshot wound on his shoulder and his skin was the lightest shade of white. John felt his gut turn inside out.

Reverend Swanson asked for privacy so most of the group scattered reluctantly. His hands were steadier than ever when he started to examine Arthur’s unconscious body for further wounds. John lingered, waiting for Swanson to come out of the tent. Dutch and Hosea stood by as well. 

“How is he?” both Dutch and Hosea asked when Swanson finally stepped outside. 

“He’s gonna be fine. He must have cauterized the wound himself, if he hadn’t he could have bled out. Besides that, he’s got pretty bad bruises on him, a few broken ribs but not much more than that at least. He needs to be properly cleaned though, he’s got days of dried blood on him”. 

“That son of a bitch will pay for this, you heard what Arthur said. Colm was gonna set the law on us, Hosea”.

“I warned you Dutch. I did. And still you went. He could have been dead by now!” John yelled.

Dutch didn’t answer, something John hadn’t been prepared for. Dutch always had the last word. 

Swanson excused himself, feeling he had done what he could. Hosea took notice of the tension in the air. “John, my boy, why don’t you get Arthur cleaned up? The sooner the better”, he asked kindly, focusing his eyes on the young man. John slowly nodded then he fell back to get the supplies.

Hosea and Dutch walked over to the river bank, gazing over the water. 

“I suspected them to try and kill me , not Arthur”.  

“I know Dutch. It seems as their intentions were well planned. It’s lucky he could escape at all”. 

“I’m glad he did. I never thought he was in danger. Maybe I should have listened to John”. 

“We both know Arthur has the soul of a wanderer, he could have been anywhere these past few days. That's just how he is. But still, I suspected Colm to have something in the works”. 

“You were right Hosea, you usually are...I just thought if we could finally have peace with Colm then we wouldn’t have to worry about getting our throats slit in our sleep. I see now what fool I’ve been”. 

“Getting killed in our sleep could happen any day of the week, not necessarily by the hands of an O'Driscoll. That is how we live”. 

“I guess that's true, old friend. What would I ever do without you?” 

Hosea gave him a smile. “Maybe lose your footing in this world at first…but I think you would manage. Eventually”. He patted Dutch’s shoulder. “We should probably get some rest. We can check on Arthur in the morning, Reverend said he was gonna be okay. Let John take care of him for now”. 

With that, the both men turned in for the night.

 

-

 

John sat on a stool next to Arthur’s cot. He carefully wiped Arthur clean. He had layers of blood dried up on him and it took some time to get it all off. When he was done John could see that he had looked worse than he was. He was glad Hosea had asked him to do this and not one of the women in camp. Arthur had never been shy but the rough man still had his pride, not needing to get his body examined by curious eyes. John had seen every inch of his body and he figured he was the best choice for it. Not that Hosea would know. Or did he? The man always had a knack for observation. 

John put the rag back into the bucket, setting it aside. He sat by his side an hour or so until he decided to retreat to his tent, sleep if he could manage.

 

-

 

Arthur woke the next day, Jack by his side. The light made its way through the small crevice of the tent flaps. 

“Hi, Jackie”, Arthur said, his voice raspy and barely audible. 

“Uncle Arthur! You’re awake!” 

“That I am, son. Could you get me something to drink?” 

Jack fetched a bucket of fresh water, eager to help out. Arthur scooped up the water, using his good arm, drinking until he could swallow properly again. 

“Thanks, kid”. 

Jack stared at him with his big brown eyes. “You’ve been shot. Did it hurt?” 

“Yeah, it did. Don’t remember too much but I’m okay now. Just glad I’m back here with you”, he said, playfully nudging Jack’s nose with his finger. It made the boy laugh and his eyes sparkle. It made Arthur forget his situation for a moment. He felt massive pain in his shoulder and his stomach was aching from hunger. 

“Say, why don’t you be a good boy and get your daddy for me, huh?” 

“I can do that”, he answered, already on his feet. 

“But Jack? Do it quietly, don’t tell anyone I’m awake just yet. I wanna surprise them, and your daddy is the first”. 

“But I was the first!”

Arthur laughed. “That you were, but after you then”. 

Jack smiled, then he hurried away. 

Arthur grimaced in pain, now fully focusing on it. It didn’t take long for the younger man to appear, entering slowly. He held his distance, not completely relaxed. Arthur’s eyes rested at the bruises that colored the man’s neck and again he felt a sting of guilt. 

“Hey”, Arthur began. “Forgive me John…” 

“No need for that now, is there anything I can get you? Hell, you’re the one who got shot. Did they do anything else to you…?” 

“Don’t want to talk about that right now. Maybe you could sit down”. 

John hesitated but slowly settled on the same stool he had sat on the prior night. 

“These last few days, all I could think of was getting back to my family...to you. I needed to get back so I could tell you how sorry I was for what I did”. 

John looked away. “I had it coming, shouldn’t have punched you. Always known you was a mean son of a bitch, seen what you’ve done to some folk...I should have known better”. 

“No, no…” Arthur felt bad, he had just lost it that day and he regretted it each minute. “It’s different now, no matter what we call this thing we have, we can’t deny that we’re involved in some way. I did wrong by you and I’m truly sorry for it”. 

John nodded slowly. “It’s okay Arthur...already forgotten about it. Now I want you to tell me what happened to you”. 

Arthur sighed and reached for John’s hand, the younger man grabbed it in an instant. He moved closer, placing himself on the cot. Arthur kissed John’s hand, then guided it to his chest, planting it over his heart.

Chapter Text

A month had passed since Arthur’s capture. He still felt a bit stiff but the shoulder had pretty much healed to normalcy. He felt a sort of stillness at Clemens Point, like his soul had gotten the time to regenerate its calm. Maybe it was because he had been forced to pause his hastened lifestyle for a bit. He felt it had been very much needed, he couldn’t remember the last time he hadn’t killed a person in a period this long. He pondered on what kind of man he had become the months that had passed since Colter. He never considered himself to be a good one, not in a million years. But he realised that a change had taken hold of him and he knew it was because of John. What he didn’t know was if it was welcomed or not.

Arthur was sitting at one of the tables playing Dominoes with Mary-Beth, there had been quite a few rounds of them since he was expected to rest during his recovery. He figured he could make the most of it since he pictured himself saddling up in a few days. The time he had left he wanted to enjoy with people he never really had time for otherwise.

“And I win again…!” Mary-Beth exclaimed, not in a teasing way.

“Yeah yeah, was sure I had gotten the hang of this but maybe I should stick to five finger fillet”.

“Now don’t be like that Arthur, surely you’ve won a few rounds”.

Mary-Beth, always the humble one. She always was a sweetheart. There were so many good people here but Arthur had always been very fond of her and Tilly. They were kind souls, both of them. He truly wished they would live a different life in a couple of years, as much as he liked to have them around.

“What is it you’re writing on in that journal of yours all day long? I’ve been dying to find out”.

“Oh, nothing special really. A few personal things”, Arthur waved off while he collected all the dominoes.

“I’ve always wanted to be a writer you know, I try to come up with stories in my head but it’s kinda hard to put it into words sometimes”, Mary-Beth told him with a dreamy look in her eyes.

“Yeah, I know what you mean but don't you give up just yet, I’m sure things will work out for you one day”.

“Why thank you Arthur, I hope so too. Not that I don't like it here. I do. You’re like family to me”.

“Don’t worry kid, it ain't wrong to have dreams. Without them you won’t go nowhere. It’s good you’re loyal, but sometimes you gotta be loyal to what matters, whether it’s love, family or writing. If you get a chance at that, you take it, you hear?”

“I hear you Arthur. I will. Maybe it’s for the best. Don’t feel I can pull my weight as much as you guys”.

“Not all of us need to carry a gun or rob folk to pull a weight. You help out just fine here at camp, Miss Mary-Beth, no matter what Miss Grimshaw tells you. She does care of every last one of us, so don’t take it too hard when she scolds you”.

Mary-Beth smiled with her whole face, showing her gratitude. “Sure you don’t want to to go for another round?”

“Nah, think I’m good, gotta talk to someone anyway”.

“Is it John ?” She had lowered her voice, bless her.

“Yeah, wanted to see how robbing that stagecoach went, he got back a few hours ago”.

“Don’t think they’d be here so soon if it hadn’t worked out”.

“Well, let’s just say I want to hear it more in detail then”. Arthur raised a brow.

“Whatever you say, Mr. Morgan”, she smiled. She stood up, planting a kiss on his temple. “I’m real happy for you Arthur”.

Of course Mary-Beth knew, she had caught them off guard one evening, kissing, when John was on watch duty and she had needed to use the ladies. But her being her, Arthur knew she wouldn’t tell a soul. Instead she had been very helpful with keeping the suspicions down, telling folk how ridiculous they sounded when they mentioned the subject.

 

-

 

“Marston”.

“Hey, Arthur”.

Arthur found him by the water a bit from camp, looking out over the mirror-like surface. Arthur leaned against a big tree, arms crossed.

“Thought you’d be nervous being this close to the water”.

“Oh shut up, don’t think you can drown just by looking at it”, he answered, gesturing to the water.

“Now, you see…” Arthur left the tree, taking small steps towards John, a glint in his eye and a mischievous smile on his lips. “...I wouldn’t be so sure of that. Accidents happen all the time, someone might just push you in because you was too busy looking at it”.  

“Stop it Arthur, don’t you dare”. John tensed. He enjoyed when Arthur was being playful, but not on his behalf. 

“You afraid, boy?” Arthur continued, sounding almost malicious.

“Don’t come any closer”.

John held his hands out in peace, but Arthur wouldn’t have it and quickly aimed for John’s stomach, lifting him over his shoulder. The younger man started to kick and shout, Arthur was laughing and enjoying every moment of it. He took the few steps to the water, preparing to throw him in. John damned him, they weren’t kids anymore but still Arthur acted like one. He damned him for healing up this fast, his shoulder had been useless only a week ago.

“Here it goes, Johnny boy, best learn how to swim right now!”

John prepared himself to feel his body hit the cold treacherous surface of the water when Arthur heaved him up from his shoulder. But it never happened, instead Arthur lowered him down and John felt the ground under his feet. His legs were shaky but Arthur held him steady for a few moments. John was almost out of breath and started to laugh at the situation, the turn of events confused him profoundly.

When he calmed, he took in Arthur’s gaze, not playful anymore. His blue eyes watched every inch of his face. Arthur cupped his cheeks, rolling his thumbs over John’s rough but at the same time soft skin, resting his forehead against his. “I’m only playing around. I would never do that to you, John, not ever”.

“Well, you got a strange way of getting your point across”, John whispered. He wasn’t even mad. Arthur closed his eyes and pressed his lips to John’s.

“Share the night with me?” Arthur asked between their kisses, hope in his voice and a longing in his eyes when he opened them.

“Ain’t that a bit risky? Mary-Beth already caught us once. What if Micah, God forbidden, would see us share a bed?”

“I haven’t left camp in weeks. Figured you and I could sneak out and stay the night in Rhodes a fine evening like this”.

“I guess that could work”, John smiled.

“Let’s go then”.

Chapter Text

“They haven’t even got an inn here, Arthur”.

“Ah shit”.

They had gone to the saloon. John was a little annoyed, it had taken them over half an hour to get here, they could have just put up a tent ten minutes from camp. Arthur forced a smile to John, maybe he hadn’t thought things through. He loved being out in the open, making camp wherever he felt like but he also preferred a safe place for them to be. He had heard of the Lemoyne Raiders drifting around in the area, not too inclined to run into them in the darkness. A small town wasn’t exactly preferable but it had worked before. But now this shithole didn’t even have a room to rent.

“How could you not know? You’ve been here several times before”.

“Wasn’t exactly my first priority them times”, Arthur snarled back.

They leaned against the bar, figuring out what to do next.

“You fellers looking for a place to stay?” the bartender suddenly asked, wiping a glass in his hand.

John looked at Arthur, his face sceptical. “Only for the night, you know of one, friend?”, John asked.

“We actually do have a hotel here, the Mountview, easy to miss that one, not exactly a big sign pointing towards it”, the man chuckled. “On the other hand, there’s never any vacancy there anyway, let’s just say its residents are of the permanent kind. But you’re lucky this evening, I got a spare room upstairs, rent it out from time to time, but it will cost ya”.

The two men looked at each other. “How much?”, Arthur asked with another sceptical look on his face.

“Ten dollars”.

“Ten dollars!” Arthur exclaimed, his voice turning hoarse.

John figured the bartender looked friendly enough, that smug bastard. He lifted his brow at Arthur. The man did not look pleased.

“Fine”, Arthur said after a few moments of John’s stare, reaching for his satchel and fishing up the money. “Here’s your goddamn money you leech, now give me one of them drinks, expect the first one’s on the house”.

The bartender only grinned, pouring a drink each for them. “Sure thing. But remember, no funny business while you’re staying here or I’ll have the law on you in seconds”, the bartender stated while handing them a key. “Expect you to be gone in the morning”.

Arthur grabbed the key and exhaled loudly. “Yeah yeah”.

 

-

 

They had taken a few more drinks before their affection had gotten the better of them, making them turn in for the night quite early. The room was neater than they had expected but soon there were clothes spread out all over the floor.

John lay on his stomach while Arthur drunkenly kissed his way along John’s spine, moving downwards. He got to his destination and John shivered when Arthur started to bite on one of his ass cheeks, licking a trail of wetness until he reached his gap. Arthur spread him and without hesitation did he take all of John as he started kissing and licking around his hole, teasing to enter.

“Fuck, Arthur”, John gasped and bit down on his fist.

Arthur sucked on his puckered hole, creating a warming sensation in John’s cock. The younger man needed more and lifted his ass desperately. This excited Arthur even more and he frantically started to push his tongue until it was pass John’s muscle. He held on to his hips and practically fucked him with his tongue which made John moan loudly as he enjoyed every sensation of Arthur moving inside him. Arthur suddenly stopped, a disappointed whimper leaving the younger man’s lips. The sensation was replaced with a finger, John eager to push back immediately.

His preparations didn’t take too long, John more than willingly and Arthur too aroused to wait a second longer. “Lift yourself up”, Arthur murmured and John did as he asked and got to all fours. 

Arthur placed himself behind and looked at the body before him and felt spellbound by it. He slowly dragged a hand along the warm skin on John’s back as he moved himself closer. 

Arthur groaned when he penetrated him and John let out a moan in unison. A bit loud perhaps but they could hear the piano playing and people shouting in drunken tirades from downstairs. They made love to each other with Arthur holding a firm grip on John’s hips, pushing into him with experienced movement.

Arthur reached his hand for John’s chest, pulling him up and back towards himself to stand on his knees in a position similar to his own. John balanced himself with a hand on the headboard to the new position. Arthur buried his face into his neck, sucking on and tasting the fragile skin there.

He couldn't help but stroke his thumb over John’s lips while fucking him faster. The younger man responded by opening his mouth slightly, starting to kiss and lick on Arthur’s fingers.

“You like that huh? Tasting yourself?” Arthur whispered into his ear as he picked up the pace with his cock and pushed his fingers inside his mouth, making John eagerly suck them clean.

John moaned while relishing his own flavours, he wished Arthur could fuck him in his mouth as well. He wanted him everywhere.

Arthur moved his other hand to John’s member, stroking it with each thrust of his own cock. After a while, John couldn’t take it much longer and released himself all over the cover and Arthur’s hand with a desperate whimper.

Arthur pushed John down to his stomach and grabbed him by his hair as he started fucking him hard into the mattress. Arthur relentlessly pounded John on his sweet spot and John hadn’t the time to ride out his orgasm until he exploded into a new one. Arthur came hard, his whole body trembling as he buried his face into John’s neck, emptying his seed deep into the other man.

“Shit, that’s the best ten dollars I ever spent”, Arthur mumbled when he could breathe properly again.

“I ain't some common whore”. John’s voice unsteady from all the action.

“No, you’re not. But you’re mine and mine only”, Arthur stated and pressed his lips to John’s head, damp hair and all.

John pulled his lips into a small smile. “Now would you mind getting out of me Morgan? I can't sleep like this”.

Arthur pulled himself out, cleaning up the mess from both of them. When he was done he lay down on his side, his back against John. The dark haired man put his arm around Arthur’s chest and pulled him closer.

“This was nice”, John whispered as he caressed Arthur’s chest. Arthur took hold of his hand and kissed it.

“Reckoned it's been a while since we shared a bed”, Arthur mumbled, getting more sleepy by each minute.

“I wonder how things gonna turn out for us”, John said thoughtfully after a few moments.

“You probably gonna end up on some farm...ranch perhaps, become a real rancher boy. Abigail and Jack by your side”.

“And you?”

“Oh I’m gonna be a farmer. Only I’ll be in Tahiti, growing mangoes”. This made both men chuckle. “Hell, maybe I’ll even marry someone there and settle down”.

The words caused a silence to enter the room. Arthur was only joking but John knew there were always some kind of truth in his words. “You miss them?” John asked with caution.

“Miss who?”

“You know who I mean”.

Arthur sighed heavily. The subject had always been tabu for everyone. Arthur preferred not to speak of them but something in him gave in that evening. “Every second of every day. Isaac wa-…Isaac was a short lived joy of my life. Finally I had something that wasn’t made out of lying or stealing or killing. And he was all mine. He was innocent, that one. And Eliza...she had a pure heart, taking care of our child ever since she found out she was pregnant. We always were on good terms with each other and I tried to do right by them but it never was enough. I sometimes ask myself if I could build a family on my own again and the answer’s always no”.

Arthur closed his eyes and paused for a few seconds. He took a deep breath and continued. “I’m not a good man and I do believe that whatever’s next for me won’t be pleasant and that I deserve every last bit of it. I don't think I’ve got too much time left whether it’s a bullet or a noose causing it. I’ve had this feeling for a while now…it's like I can't see a future for myself no more. Dutch is making all these promises and I’ve been by his side for so long, believing every word. But lately…I-I’ve been doubting him, questioning my own loyalty. Our luck turned long ago and I’m afraid matters are only gonna get worse soon. I don't like this business with the Grays and the Braithwaites but Dutch is still going through with it”. Arthur stopped talking, thinking about how to formulate the next words that had filled his mind for some time now. “I’ve been thinking about you, about Jack and Abigail. I would never leave the gang but I’m thinking that maybe you should consider it if things get any worse”.

John didn’t know what to say. Arthur had been keeping all of this inside him for how long? He had spilled his heart out, dumping it all out before him and John didn’t even know what to say...He hugged Arthur harder, the latter gladly accepting the tight embrace.

“Thank you for telling me all this”.

“Never really talked about it before, you don’t need to say nothing cause I don't wanna hear it. Just think about what I said, about getting out”.

“I will”. He had already. The major difference was that he had included Arthur in his plan.

 

-

 

“What if they recognize you?” Sean had asked.

Arthur hid in the back of the wagon. Sean talked his way into the Grays’ area, that boy could really be useful sometimes. When they reached their destination, they moved fast, both slashing the guards’ throats.

They were pouring out the moonshine all over the tobacco fields. Arthur didn’t like this one bit, they were playing with fire and not just literally. This business with the families couldn’t possibly last. Sooner or later things would turn south.

When the flames rose all hell broke loose. They had to shoot their way to an escape route. Grabbing two horses, they fled the scene with a fiery image behind them 

“That was some fine shooting, English!” Sean praised when they were out of danger, making their horses slow down to a trot.

“You did good Sean, don’t know what will come out of this but I guess trouble”.

“There ain't nowhere Sean MacGuire goes without causing a little bit of trouble”, he laughed.

“I wasn’t talking about you, stupid. I was meaning-”.

“I know what you meant Arthur. Worried about folk?” Sean interrupted, a more serious tone in his voice.

“I guess. Just think we gotta be careful is all. Things like this draws a lot of attention at a direction we don’t need”.

“You know we have to trust Dutch. He knows what’s best. You losin’ your faith or what Morgan?”

“Of course not. But there are a lot of good people at camp and I only want what’s best for them”.

“Anyone special you mean?”

“No. Well, everyone except Micah really”. That made Sean laugh, the sound of it made Arthur’s troubles disappear for a few seconds. He really liked Sean, he thought. Despite him never shutting up or the fact that he caused havoc wherever he went. He could be trusted when it really mattered and Arthur was happy they had gotten him back all those months ago.

“Yeah, he’s a cheeky bastard alright”.

“Maybe we should pick up the pace, we don’t want to risk anyone following us back to camp, in case they catch up to us”.

“Is it that or are you hoping that John’s still up?”

Arthur froze. Had they been so careless?

“I know you fancy him. Seen the way you stare at his arse whenever he passes by or how you sometimes go after him when he’s on watch. The lad don’t look too bad if you’re into that sort of thing. If it were up to me, I would take Karen every night for the rest of my life if I could but she won’t have me no more. Not since first and last time hehe”.

Arthur was speechless. Sean knew something and yet he spoke of it so plainly. But he didn’t seem to know the whole story so Arthur decided to play along.

“I don't fancy him or whatever you call it but there ain't nothing wrong with looking at someone, I reckon. It can get pretty boring sometimes and it’s been a while”.

“Whatever English, I certainly don’t care where or who you want to stick it in, just be careful. Not all people take too kindly on stuff like that. Some things should be kept a secret”.

“I’m not planning on sticking it anywhere. I’m getting too old for things like that”.

“Don’t doubt it”.

“Shut your mouth”.

Arthur relaxed a bit. Sean knew nothing of their relation. He just assumed Arthur held an interest and that was way better than to admit their mutual…relationship. Anyway, Sean didn’t seem to care very much and Arthur hoped the boy would keep this to himself.

Chapter Text

“Found you!”

Jack laughed, trying to get away but John was faster, grabbing onto the boy and lifting him up. He started to tickle him and Jack responded by frantically kicking and shouting in a way only a child does, unless you’re a grown man about to be thrown in the water. They laughed together, John carrying him and placing a kiss on his cheek. Jack held his arms around his father's shoulders, clinging onto him like he was afraid to let go.

Abigail watched them from a small distance, smiling. John had really tried to make it up to them both and she was glad for it. Finally taking his responsibility. Her heart hurt a little bit less from that confirmation. The other hurt she felt was one of jealousy and of love. She did love John but she knew he had never wanted her the same way. He barely looked at her whenever they made love back in their days. She had often wondered why she never was good enough for him. She had thought it was because of her early days as a prostitute or the fact that many men had her before him. But no, that was never the problem. He was in love with someone else and it hurt like hell . But she knew better than to try convince him otherwise.

She saw the longing looks they gave each other when they thought no one noticed. The discreet brush of one’s arm when passing by. She had confronted him about it at last, John confirming her suspicions. She had cried and he had comforted her. This was weeks ago and she was slowly starting to accept the fact that she and John would never be. She would never tell anyone about them, she loved John too much and respected Arthur more than enough.

Abigail turned around, catching a figure at the corner of her eye. The woman settled down under a tree, the big hat covering most of her face when she kept her gaze downwards. Sadie. Abigail had tried to do her best for her, not leaving her side in the beginning. They had grown fond of each other. Maybe even considering the other as a close friend. Abigail sighed and got closer to Sadie.

“May I?” Abigail gestured at the space beside Sadie.

“You may”, Sadie answered with her dull tone and hoarse voice that made even John sound like an angel. Abigail sat down on the grass.

“How you getting on, Mrs. Adler?”

“Please Abigail, you can call me Sadie, I told you. You’re one of the few I actually like around here”. She hadn’t lifted her head once.

Abigail felt a bit of pride, honored that she was considered as one of the good ones. She continued. “So, Sadie , how are you?”

“Not too much has changed really. I reckon things gotten a little easier by each day but I still miss him…I want to kill them for what they did. Every last one”.

“Then why don’t you?”

Sadie finally looked up, meeting Abigail’s green eyes. The woman was serious.

“Was actually planning on it. I’m not too good around here. Pearson and I don't exactly get along and I can't stand Micah when he’s back at camp. I feel I need to get out from time to time. Figured maybe Dutch would let me ride with his boys sometime. I’ve already went to town with Arthur, them Lemoyne Raiders snuck up on us but we had it covered. Don’t tell Dutch though, he wanted us to stay out of trouble and all. Besides, I’ve heard of this Jenny, was told she was a sharp one. If she could ride with them then why shouldn’t I?”

Abigail admired her strength even if it was in an early stage still. Abigail had helped the men with robberies before, riding beside them. But with Jack being born she felt her duties lied with him more than the gang. So she had stayed in camp these past years but she’d never forget what she was capable of. “Don’t think Dutch would mind that. They could always use an extra gun by their side. And, if anyone, it's Dutch who knows what you’re going through right now. Maybe you’ve heard of Annabelle?”

“I did and I still don’t understand why Colm is alive. If I was Dutch I would have put a bullet between his eyes long ago”.

“But you have the same reasons and still you haven’t”, Abigail stated. Sadie gave her a confusing look, not really sure what to answer.

“I will ...some day. I know how to use a gun just fine, only need to practice my shooting a bit”.

“That sounds like a good idea”, Abigail reassured and patted Sadie on her back. The light haired woman watched her and Abigail leaned her into a hug. Sadie squeezed her fingers at Abigail’s back, it was a long time she had felt a warm embrace of this kind.

“Thank you…for being so kind to me”, Sadie said with a low voice. They returned to their previous positions.

“Of course, we women need to stick together. Can't trust a man to take care of us for the rest of our lives, especially not in our line of work”.

“You speak for yourself, I’ve barely even gotten involved in your line of work ”.

Abigail smiled as an excuse. “Well, I need to check on Jack”.

“Abigail, I’m sure he’s fine. He’s with his father right?”

“Well yeah, but you never know with John…”.

“Let them spend some more time together. How about a round with them cards with the other girls? Maybe we can get Miss. Grimshaw to ease up a little”.

“Can’t stand the old hag. She never once liked me…but sure, that sounds a little fun. Been a while since I enjoyed myself. I’ve had much more time at my hands now that John’s looking after the little one from time to time”.

“John seems good enough, besides living as we do I mean, why haven’t you married him yet? Not that it's my business”.

Abigail found it hard to swallow. She would gladly tell her why but she couldn’t. At least not of the true reasons. “He needs to get his act together before I ever marry him. But it’s difficult with this life and all. We’re not really together at the moment. Only thing we got in common is Jack and this gang”, she explained.

“I understand. Well, I’d say he’s a real fool for not seeing how lucky he is”, Sadie stated and gave a warm smile to Abigail.

Abigail could feel herself tear up so she quickly heaved herself up. “How about that game you mentioned”.

“Sure, you go find the other girls. They could use a little break from Grimshaw’s yelling. Hell, Grimshaw could use a break from herself”.

 

-

 

John left Jack to where he was, the boy was eagerly counting audibly while keeping his eyes shut since it was his turn to find him. As John passed them, he observed Abigail and Sadie. They seemed to have taken a liking to each other and it made him happy, Abigail hadn’t always had it easy with the other women. Being the only mother in camp, they had always treated her differently. They were being careful whenever she was around, like she was better than them in a way. Not necessarily a bad treatment but different still. It wasn’t unusual that Abigail went days without speaking with any of them because of it.

Now Sadie had come along and they had hit it off straight away. John didn’t know much about their newest member but he knew she was a broken woman. It would take some time for her to really heal, if she ever would. He heard of what happened to her in the mountains and it wasn’t pretty. He hoped for her own good that she would come around soon, for months she had just been sitting around not doing much of anything. In the end everyone had to pull their weight for the gang. He didn’t doubt she would, she seemed to have opened up more and more lately. Slowly integrating herself back into the world.

John found a good hiding spot behind a broad tree a bit away from camp. He didn’t want to make it too hard for the kid, knowing how bored he could get if he looked for more than a few minutes.

 

-

 

Arthur just got back to camp, taking another route to visit one of the debtors. Lenny, Karen and Bill had already arrived. He was welcomed by Dutch, informing him of what the rest already had. The take from the bank in Valentine had been a successful one. Best one yet since Blackwater and he should be happy because this time they actually got to keep the take. But he wasn’t.

The visit at Downes’ farm filled his chest with some form of guilt he hadn’t felt before. Thomas Downes had died a while back and Arthur had just taken all the money his family had left. He never liked to recover debts but he had always done it, never caring much of the people’s useless excuses or explanations to why they didn’t have the money. If you could only give me more time.

They always sounded the same, so...pathetic. He never cared, but he slowly started to see the bigger picture. He knew he had done mostly the wrong things in his life, but this was…truly wrong. It wasn’t like them. Dutch often gave to the poor when Arthur was first taken in by him and Hosea, not taking from them. But as everything else, Arthur put his thoughts aside, not wanting to question Dutch about Strauss’ business. Their leader knew every bit of it after all since he didn’t take too kindly on people doing jobs on the side he had no knowledge of. Arthur sighed, no use in pondering too much, he would continue doing all of it because that was his part after all. 

He saw John getting behind a tree a bit away, he wondered what on earth he was up to. Then his eyes landed on Jack on the other side of the camp who held his hands before his eyes. He slowly made his way to the child.

“Whatchu up to?” he asked.

Jack separated his hands from his face. “Oh hi Uncle Arthur. Me and pa is playing, he’s hiding and I’m gonna go find him. I always do!”

“You want some help with that? You can go left and I go right, the one who finds daddy first gets to-”.

“Tickle him!”

“Oh, okay”, Arthur laughed. He knew how much John hated that.

“But if I find him first I get a candy as well. I know you have some in your bag”.

Arthur laughed, the boy was becoming a real talker. “Sure, now let’s go find him”.

Arthur and Jack hurried at opposite directions. When Arthur got to the tree, he stopped. He held a hand to it, and quietly made his way around it, dragging his hand along the rough bark. When he got to the other side, the dark haired man had his back turned to Arthur, his head slightly sticking out from his hiding spot as he watched Jack’s movement.

“Found you!” Arthur put his arms around John from behind and the younger man jumped and cursed him.

“Shit Arthur!” John exclaimed but even so he didn’t push the man away. Arthur wrapped his arms around him tighter while placing a kiss against his neck, inhaling the scent of his hair. He held onto his firm body for a few seconds, the moment becoming more affectionate than he had intended. He caressed John’s chest with his palm, the other hand leading to his hip, his lips placing warm kisses on the back of John’s neck. John closed his eyes, giving in to the warm touches.

“You found him!”

John immediately wiggled himself free from Arthur’s embrace. The both men turned around at the light voice.

“You’ve already tickled him! I missed all the fun”, Jack said with disappointment written all over his face.

John looked confused, Arthur let out a laugh at the boy’s misinterpretation, thankful for the innocence in a child’s thoughts.

Arthur kneeled before Jack and lowered his voice. John stood there dumbfounded, crossing his arms and not understanding a thing. “You know what? I’ve barely got started. What do you say we jump him?”

Jack held back a smile and slowly nodded, mischief in his eyes.

“One...two...three!”

John was attacked by the both of them, Arthur held his arms and dragged him to the ground.

“What the hell! Stop that!” John shouted, but Jack was already on him. Tickling him under his arms and on his stomach. Damn Arthur for this, he knew how sensitive he was. All three of them filled the air with sounds of laughter.

Miss Grimshaw left the poker table, reassuring Abigail she would handle this and hurried to the racket and stopped when she saw what was going on. She crossed her arms and started to smile. The constant worry she carried around on left her for a few moments. She didn’t interrupt them, instead she slowly turned around with her face filled with joy, an unusual sight for anyone. It had been a long time since she heard laughter of the innocent kind. So pure. She remembered when Arthur and John had been children. Barely children. How often she comforted Arthur through nightmares from the past. When she took care of John when he had the chickenpox, quite late for his age, and what he had told her when she sat by his side. “If I had a mother, I wish she would have been like you”. The words made Susan’s heart smile. There were some beautiful memories and she was glad she got to see another one form today.

“I give up, I give up!” John repeated until Arthur let go of him. John didn’t move, he was completely out of breath. Everyone just rested for a moment until John sat up. “That wasn’t very nice”, he said with a humoured tone.

“We said that whoever found you first got to tickle you! But then I said if I win I get a candy but Arthur found you first”, Jack said with another look of disappointment.

Arthur stood up and lifted Jack up to hold him in his arms. John stood up as well. “Guess what? I think you’ve been a real good boy, you found us not long after I found daddy so I reckon you deserve a little something”. John raised his brow at the word. The older man reached into his satchel with his free hand and grabbed a small bag of caramels. He took one out and handed it to Jack. The boy’s face lit up.

“Really? Can i, pa? Can I?” Jack asked hopefully, turning his head to look at John with big eyes.

John only nodded, backing up a few steps to really look at them. This was what he wanted…he thought. Only this and nothing else. Arthur kissed Jack on his head, squeezing him in his embrace a bit before lowering him to the ground. “Don’t tell your mom on me now or you’ll never get a treat from me again”.

“I promise! Thanks Uncle Arthur,” Jack said, devouring the caramel. “I’m gonna go find her now”. Then he hurried away.

“You do that”, John answered and looked after the boy to check his route.

“He’s changed a lot”, Arthur stated.

“That, he has. He’s acting like a real child, like he should. Not too long ago he just quietly wandered the camp and sulked. Never leaving Abigail’s side”.

“I think all he needed was his father”. Arthur turned his face to John who met his eyes.

“Yeah…”

Arthur lay his hand on John’s shoulder, the latter putting his on top automatically. They stood like that for a few moments, enjoying the soft breeze that swirled by.

“Say that again”, John suddenly asked him.

“Say what now?”

“Daddy”.

“...Daddy…?”

John snorted, a smile formed on his lips. “Sounds like home, in a way. Hearing you say that”.

Arthur lifted his brow, curious to hear John’s point.

“It’s like I can imagine you saying that in more circumstances than this”. Arthur clearly didn’t follow and gave a confused look. John took notice of it and tried his best to explain this new feeling. “Just seeing you two together…When you called me that it felt as though the three of us was a family. A real family. You were as his father as well”.

Arthur lowered his head. He knew what he meant. These thoughts had gone through his mind more than once, the three of them living together as a family far from here. The chance of him being a father again, giving Jack what he couldn’t give Isaac. Giving John what he couldn’t give Eliza or Mary. He desired this more than he had the right to. After all, Jack had his mother and Arthur had the gang. “I know”, he finally said. “But you know as well as I do that ain't gonna happen. We earned a lot of money today and maybe things will get better from now on. John, I…I couldn’t leave even if I wanted to”, he whispered.

John only nodded, the words had hurt him more than he thought. He turned around and walked away, leaving Arthur with a roller coaster of emotions.

Chapter Text

Sean had died and Arthur felt as he’d lost his sanity when the shooting finally stopped. The town of Rhodes was filled with dozens of bodies, creating blood pools sinking into the dirt, giving it a darker shade of red. He wanted to kill Micah and Bill. He couldn’t stand seeing them right now. How could they have been so stupid? How could he? The Grays had made the move Arthur had feared to come. This wasn’t the fate Sean deserved, he was a good kid with a kind heart. This life…

“All you ever do is complain cowpoke”.

“Shut your mouth before I shut it for you!” Arthur growled. He was furious. He lifted Sean’s body, the boy’s skull was nothing but a leaking mess, and stowed him on Bill’s horse. “You take Sean and you bury him somewhere nice”.

“Sure thing Morgan…”.

“Micah, I think it’s best if you and I avoid one another for the time being”.

Micah mounted up. “Whatever you say, cowpoke. Yaa!” Baylock quickly turned into a gallop, leaving the bloodshed behind.

“Somewhere nice, Bill”, Arthur repeated. Bill only nodded and left the scene. Arthur held his hands over his face, rubbing his eyes and scratching his cheek. What a pure goddamn mess this had turned into. He mounted Iron, walking slowly to observe the chaos they had caused.

 

-

 

The ride back to camp wasn’t quick, Arthur wasn’t in the mood to haste. He just wanted to slow things down a bit, breathe a little. They were in constant movement. They had barely had a chance to settle down at Horseshoe before they were forced to move to this place. And now? They were gonna have to leave this place any second. They couldn’t stay, they had practically shot up the whole town. He was tired of running. So Arthur lingered, getting off his horse from time to time to gather some herbs he needed more of. He even let himself rest for a bit, writing and drawing a few pages in his journal before he decided his time was up. When he got to camp, longing for a night’s rest, matters had turned even worse.

The whole gang was gathered, worry or confusion written all over their faces. “Arthur, there you are! Have you seen Jack?” Dutch asked desperately.

“What? No, I just got back…”.

“Where is my son?! They’ve taken him haven’t they!” Abigail practically screamed.

“Kieran thought he saw some men sneaking around, they looked like Braithwaites”.

John joined the group, his usual darker skin tone had turned pale. He didn’t say anything, he just looked…lost. Arthur was starting to get real worried, he couldn’t face another loss. Not in the same day and certainly not his…not a child. Memories of a crying Isaac struck him.

“You gotta be brave son, I know you’re sad, but I’ll be back before you know it”.

“Wh-wh-why can’t you stay with us? Why are you always leaving?” Isaac cried while sitting in his father's lap, clinging onto him. Squeezing his small fingers around the rough leather of Arthur’s coat. Arthur held him tightly to his chest. Eliza watched them with a sad look in her eyes.

The boy’s mother kneeled beside where they were sitting on the floor. “Isaac, my sweet sweet boy. Daddy has to work and his work needs him for a few months at a time. He’s not leaving us, he’s doing this so we can have food on the table and so that you’ll be able to go to school some day. He’s only doing what’s best for us”, Eliza softly spoke, caressing the little boy’s back with a soft hand. Arthur exchanged a concerned look with Eliza. She smiled caring at him, holding his hand for a few moments. Then she got up to her feet, leaving the two alone. The boy needed his father.

“I don't want school, I want you here daddy. Can’t you find another job?” Isaac’s voice broke.

Arthur sighed while slowly patting the boy’s head and back. “I’m afraid not...Maybe one day but not right now. You’ll just have to wait for me Isaac. I’ll always come back, you know that”.

“Promise me you won’t leave. That you won’t forget about us”.

Arthur put his hand under the boy’s chin, lifting his head up so he could see his face. It was all red and damp from all the crying. “I promise Isaac. Whatever it takes. I won’t ever leave you”.

“O-okay”. Isaac calmed down a little bit, his breathing easing up.

Arthur took his black bandana that was tied around his neck and wiped the boy’s tears away. “There you are, now I see you. You know what you are?”

“No…”.

“You’re my boy, my sweet and brave boy”. He hugged Isaac harder, planting a kiss on his little head.

“I love you daddy”.

“Oh, I love you too”.

They had said their goodbyes at the front door. Arthur hugging Eliza and holding Isaac for a few moments longer. Arthur didn’t know it was gonna be their last goodbyes.

Arthur embraced the memory instead of pushing it away. He suddenly found it very hard to breathe and backed away from the shouting voices of the group. When he was out of sight, he leaned forward and held his hands on his knees that felt far too weak to keep him up. He dropped down on them and lowered his head and closed his eyes. He practically had to gasp for air. He leaned forward once more and supported his hands on the ground. Damp grass against his palms and between his fingers. He stayed like that for a minute or two and when the breathing had calmed down he opened his eyes. “Whatever it takes”, he said quietly to himself as a promise. He rose up and felt a bit lightheaded but he knew they were wasting time with each minute that passed.

“I promise you Abigail, we are gonna get the boy back safely”. Dutch gave a concerned look in John’s direction, then he turned to all in the group . “Saddle up! I think it’s time to pay the Braithwaites a little visit!” Dutch preached.

“Dutch, you need an extra hand?” Bill asked, rifle ready in his hands.

“Oh I think we’re gonna need every man we can get, Mr. Williamson”.

Nearly all men in camp mounted up, riding hard and fast towards the Braithwaite manor. There was a burning wrath in the atmosphere of the group. Everyone could sense it. Arthur was a bit surprised to see how many decided to help, no questions asked. The gang hadn’t been this united for a long time and he was thankful for it to happen when they needed it the most. John felt like he was slowly losing his mind. His anger grew stronger the closer they got to the manor.

The eight men got off their horses and closed in on the big house.

“Get down here now! You inbred trash!” Dutch yelled.

“What the hell do you want?” a voice answered back. A few men left the house and closed the distance. There were men on the balcony as well and Arthur couldn’t help but wonder how this would end.

“We’re here for the boy”.

“You shouldn’t have messed with our business now, should you?”

Dutch demanded Jack’s return but the Braithwaites wouldn’t have it. A fire was shot and with it followed a hailstorm of bullets. Everyone threw themselves at different directions to escape the gunfire. The Braithwaites that were taken down were replaced with more men coming out of the manor. John fired his rifle and hit every man he aimed at. No one was gonna walk out of this alive, he thought. To take an innocent boy, his boy, was beyond him.

Arthur got ahead, entering the manor with both guns in his hands. He searched every room, taking out the few men left.

“Jack, can you hear me?!” John shouted in desperation.

Arthur felt his panic rise. What if they already were too late? “Jack! Jack, where are you?!” No answer.

Javier, Charles, Bill and Lenny guarded outside the manor while Dutch and Hosea followed inside and moved upstairs, there was one particular door that wouldn’t budge. Dutch and Hosea tried to break through but suddenly a bullet whistled past them from the opened balcony. Everyone took cover immediately but John sprinted out to the balcony without hesitation, answering with his own bullets but Lenny got to it first, keeping his ground by quickly shooting the two men hiding. Arthur followed John to the balcony and observed their surroundings. The area before them slowly filled with burning torches in the dark, closing in on the manor. Reinforcements…and there were many of them. Arthur pushed John out of harm’s way, he had barely had time to see the shooter hidden behind a tree. John and Arthur took cover behind each pillar. After a few minutes the shootings stopped. Bill and Javier wandered the yard, executing the remaining men who bled out on the ground.

“One bullet…”. Javier shot a crawling man in the back of his skull. “...is all it takes sometimes”.

“Amen to that”, Bill answered with a short laugh, finishing another one off. Charles shot a disapproving look to both men.

Upstairs, Arthur and John assisted Dutch and Hosea but the door still wouldn’t budge so John took the other way around, returning to the balcony and disappearing around the corner.

“Arthur! Gimme a hand here!” he shouted.

Arthur left the unbreakable door and followed John outside. His hopes went up when he saw John had found another way in. “Okay, this is good John. Let’s go, one, two, three!”, Arthur said and together they broke through the door. They were met with gunfire, fortunately with not a very talented aim. There were two of them and they took out each Braithwaite. At the same time Dutch and Hosea managed to break through the first door. The four of them stormed in from both directions and found Catherine Braithwaite in her room.

They pushed her against the wall. “Where is the boy? Who took him?” Hosea demanded. Dutch held his gun to her throat but she refused to give up Jack’s whereabouts.

Where is the boy?” Dutch repeated, his voice twice as threatening.

“You killed my sons! You filth!” Catherine all but screamed. One of her sons suddenly started to move, not quite dead yet, but Dutch mercilessly finished him within a second, his skull exploding into a fountain of blood and brain substance. Catherine screamed a haunting sound of rage and sorrow. Dutch grabbed her by the hair and all but dragged her downstairs. “Burn all of it to the ground”, he ordered. Arthur rubbed his fingers against his temple, things had gone out of hand but he let it all happen because Jack was more important right now. But he wasn’t here . John and Hosea lit up the manor with torches and all of them went outside, the fire quickly devouring the inside.

When Catherine finally cracked, her answer did nothing to ease John’s mind. “My sons gave him to Angelo Bronte…so my best guess is Saint Denis. Or on the boat to Italy!” Her voice was filled with nothing but hate towards them.

John and Arthur looked at each other, there were all kinds of emotions in their faces. The gang left Catherine Braithwaite behind, her screams and cries echoed through the night as she watched her family house lit up in flames.

 

-

 

They had just gotten back to Clemens Point when Agent Milton arrived with a few of his Pinkerton agents. He preached about how they would settle with Dutch, giving the others in the gang a chance to walk away from all this. Arthur held his hand on one of his guns and carefully watched any possible movement from the agents. Dutch spoke calmly, closing the distance between him and Milton. He knew Milton's group were outnumbered and he held no worry over the situation. When Dutch sarcastically offered himself to them every member of his gang raised their guns, proving a point to Milton and his men. Dutch gave a smile to the man who knew better than to push his luck. They retreated, Milton promising he would return with fifty men one day to end them all. When they were gone the group quickly packed up their camp, preparing to move once more.

Chapter Text

Shady Belle, 1899

Arthur found John in the woods. He just stood there with his fists clenched at his side and his back turned against him. Arthur closed in, he could see John had heard him, slightly turning his head only to face it forward again. Arthur stood behind him, not sure of what to say. So he pushed his hands between John’s ribs and arms, carefully holding him from behind. Arthur rested his face against the back of his neck, enjoying the soft hair against him. John didn’t respond to his touch. The atmosphere between them had been a bit strained since their last private conversation by the tree where Arthur had said that they could never be a family of their own.

“You ready to head into Saint Denis? We’re gonna find him. We have to”.

“We don’t know what kind of man this Bronte is. What he’s done to Jack. When I wandered as a child, I saw what terrible things could happen to a lost kid. What if the harm’s already been made?”

“What you mean?”

John didn’t answer. Arthur hugged him harder, burying his face deeper. “I want him back as much as you, John”, he whispered softly.

“I don't think you do”, John said indifferently, moving away from Arthur’s embrace. Arthur lowered his head. “We best get going”, John stated quietly and started to walk back to their new camp. He and Arthur had cleared it only a few hours ago and now they had to continue to Saint Denis. John hadn’t slept in days and neither had Arthur. John felt disoriented and all he wanted was to hold his son in his arms again. If only he knew how much Arthur’s heart ached over Jack. If only he knew how scared Arthur felt as well. Arthur watched John walk away, slowly following his trail back.

 

-

 

John, Arthur and Dutch had met with Angelo Bronte. He had been a reasonable man and had promised them Jack if they took care of a few graverobbers wandering the city’s churchyard. Arthur and John moved quickly, taking care of the business in a haste. After an hour they headed back to Angelo Bronte’s mansion where Dutch waited. John was afraid that Jack had been hurt in more ways than one and Arthur was worried that Bronte wouldn’t hold up his end of the bargain.  

When they reached the mansion, Dutch waited with Jack. John’s heart stopped and he quickly ran through the open gates and took Jack in his arms who had come running to him.

“Pa!”

“Thank God…!” John exclaimed and held Jack in his embrace. He buried his face into Jack’s little shoulder, not willing to let go just yet. Jack ranted about his stay with Papa Bronte and how fun it had been. John felt all his worry leave his body.

Arthur watched them from outside the gates, feeling that he didn’t quite have the right to hug Jack, to hold his little hand or to kiss his forehead, to show how happy he was to see him again. Not really. He had taken too much freedom in those matters lately. He had reminded himself that the boy wasn’t his, could never be. He loosely held his thumbs at his gun belt while observing their reunion. He wanted John and he wanted Jack and he wanted them for himself. But mostly he wanted his family, all of the gang, to be safe and maybe they could find the needs for that in a big city like Saint Denis, even if he wanted them to move away from it as soon as possible. He hated cities. He hated the constant movement in the cities. All that civilisation…but he hoped things would work out here, only for a short period of time though. His wishes were fighting a constant battle within him. He felt he was drawn to two opposite sides at once. Much like his struggle of doing good or bad. A while ago he had wondered if the change John had made within him had been welcomed or not. He still didn’t know, but he knew that one side would always beat the other. The question was which one.

Arthur was awakened from his thoughts when he felt the presence of the younger man, standing in front of him with Jack still clinging onto him. John smiled carefully at him, studying him with his dark eyes, Arthur didn’t return the smile or look and he lowered his head again, not wanting John to see the sadness he felt. Dutch came along as well, saying something about how they had to start a business with this Bronte that seemed decent enough. Then he mounted The Count and asked them if they should ride back to camp. Arthur was gonna answer and say yes but John got to him. “You ride ahead Dutch, I think I need a moment longer. Need to settle my mind a bit”.

Dutch’s face showed an inch of suspect but after a few moments he answered with his usual voice. “Sure thing son but don’t you linger too long. This is new territory. Arthur, you ride with them, make sure you all get back safe”.

Arthur didn’t know where he wanted to be right now but he slowly nodded. “Sure”. With that, Dutch took off, riding fast into the dark night. Jack was getting sleepy, it was way past his usual bedtime. John patted him on the back.

“You want to hold him?”

Arthur flinched almost unnoticeable. John lifted Jack away from his chest and Arthur took him in his strong arms. Jack wrapped his arms over Arthur's broad shoulders. Jack’s sleepy eyes looked up at him.

“Hi Jack, it's good to see you. Did they treat you good?”

“Mmhm”, was his only answer and then he closed his eyes. Arthur squeezed him a little more against his chest. A bit overwhelmed by the relief he felt.

John watched them and smiled. He could feel that a part of Arthur wanted this but something held him back. Arthur had made it clear that they could never be a family on their own and he was probably right. For the moment, everyone had everyone they needed and that was more than John could ask for. But the thoughts of running away with Arthur by their side still wouldn’t leave his head. 

Arthur handed Jack over to John when they got to their horses. John held a firm grip around Jack in front of him as they made their way back to their new home. The child drifted in and out of sleep as they rode.

 

-

 

Abigail rushed to them as soon as they got back. Jack awoke but was more than happy to see his mother again. She held him closely and kissed him all over his face. Jack squirmed a little but accepted the affection either way. She thanked them both with tears in her eyes. Miss Grimshaw told Arthur that they had put him in a room upstairs, next to Dutch and Molly and the Marston’s . John reacted to this, he usually didn’t sleep in the same bed as Abigail but maybe he could place a bedroll on the floor.

They held a party for Jack’s safe return but the boy wasn’t able to stay awake for too long and neither was his father.

John walked away a bit, lighting a cigarette between his fingers. Shady Belle. It would have to do for now. He realised he had been thinking the same way about each camp lately. He saw Arthur retreat into the big house, he was probably worn out and so was he.

Arthur entered his new room, it had been a while since he even had a room and a real roof over his head, not counting the numerous rooms he and John had rented when they needed time for themselves. Colter was the last time and a few months had passed since. He was so tired, looking forward to get some sleep. Hell, he had been looking forward to sleep ever since the aftermaths of Sean’s death. The event was so fresh still, only a couple of days had passed since that fateful moment he saw Sean’s brain spill out over the red ground. He hadn’t had time to even start mourning him. He was like a brother to him and he would never see him again. They had saved him only to watch him die. Arthur sighed, he really needed some sleep. Arthur was thankful someone had already made his bed, the only thing he needed to do was crawl in under the covers and make himself comfortable. The bed was a bit bigger than his usual cot and looked a whole lot comfier. Not that Arthur minded his previous cot, he could sleep on the floor for all he cared. He stripped down to his underpants and lay down in bed. He relished the feeling of soft fabric against his sore skin.

Just when he was about to fall asleep, he heard the creaking of a door. His door. He opened his eyes and saw the familiar silhouette of him in the dark. None of them uttered a word. Arthur observed John through sleepy but curious eyes as the other man quietly undressed, stepping out of his boots and leaving his clothes in a pile on the floor. Arthur lifted the cover and John crawled in. They hugged each other tightly. John kissed him, only a soft brush of one’s lips. Then he let his hand glide in between Arthur’s thighs, carefully making its way up to palm Arthur through the thin fabric and rub slowly. Arthur calmly lifted John’s hand away.

“No”, he said, shaking his head. “Just want to hold you tonight”. John didn’t answer for what felt like minutes until he slowly nodded, disappointment painting his face. Then he turned around to let Arthur hold him and so Arthur did.

 

Beecher’s Hope, 1911

"Arthur Morgan’s dead”.

The words still haunted John to this day. Not that it really mattered anymore. For some reason, the mere thought of it always made his stomach turn in a way similar to when the words first had been spoken. He sometime thought of that day, about the sheer panic that had swept through his chest. How he had died as well, in a way. But he had no choice at that time than to just keep going. He had needed to bring Abigail and Jack to safety and get them out once and for all. If not, everything Arthur had sacrificed for them at that time would have been in vain.

John sat on the steps to his porch. He wished Arthur was here right now to sit beside him. He always felt so empty without him by his side. The sound of crickets filled the evening air and he took a few sips from his beer bottle while enjoying the cool breeze that swept by.

“And you’re calling me a drunk”.

John had probably been deeper in his thoughts than intended because he hadn’t even heard the front door open.

“The difference is I don’t drink when I’m supposed to be working, old man”, John answered with a smile.

“Eh, now where’s the fun in that, boy? Besides, the liquor help me ease my pain”.

“Whatever you say, Uncle”.

There were a few moments of silence. “How are you? You’ve been a bit quiet today. Quieter than usual, that is”, Uncle finally asked.

“Just thought about Arthur a moment…Other than that, it's just been a warm day for work is all. Looking forward to fall, in a way”, he answered absently while dragging his hand through his long hair.

“Forget about him a little, he ain't exactly going nowhere”, Uncle stated with a small chuckle. “Mentioning work, I think it was stupid of you to let Charles go. He could finish your work half your time and he did some of mine as well”, Uncle smiled, reminiscing the memories.

“Please, that was years ago. And I wasn’t exactly one to decide where he should or shouldn’t be. A grown man has the right to wander wherever he pleases”.

“But it sure was a fine time back then. You, me, Charles, building all of this instead of letting your family live in that shithole you said only needed a woman’s touch”.

“You mean me and Charles did while you stood by and watched?” John chuckled. “But yeah, it sure was. We were doing something right for once. I still owe you for that”, he said sincerely.

“You sure as hell do but still you go around treating me like cattle”.

The both men laughed together. John still found it odd that he and Uncle had found each other after all those years but everyday he felt thankful for it. Uncle was his family, now more than ever. John was glad that Uncle had survived The Skinners all those years ago, poor bastard had practically been cooked alive. He remembered how hard it had been on them, Uncle’s skin had healed in a painfully slow pace and they had to treat the burns on his back several times a day to avoid any infection. Uncle’s back would never look like it used to but they all had scars on them and they could either wear them with pride or with regret. Or maybe as a reminder.

“Jokes aside, I’m just glad you let me stick around. When the gang separated I had nowhere to go. For years I wandered without any direction but where the booze was. Felt good to have a place to call home for once”.

John gave a warm smile to Uncle while slowly nodding, taking in every single word to his heart. “This is our home and no one’s ever gonna take it from us”.

“Nope, they can die trying…or we’ll die defending it”.

“Yeah…let’s hope it's not gonna come to that”.

“The boy’s still with Abigail?”

John nodded. “It’s good for him, just wished he would speak about his wishes more often. You know…he prepared the whole wagon the other day, said he was gonna get some things we needed. But he really just wanted to see her”.

“Jack’s always been humble, unlike his father hehe. He’s a good kid”.

John didn’t bother about the remark. “I know. Maybe he’s too kind for this world sometimes”.

This world? John, I would say we live in a pretty kind and forgiving world as we speak. If the gang had somehow pulled through we wouldn’t have survived anyway because this world has moved on”.

“Guess you’re right…that was something Dutch could never accept. That our time was coming to an end. You ever think about him?”

“Hell no. He was a crazy bastard in the end, that's why I left in the first place. Best thing for everyone is to keep staying out of each other’s ways”.

“I don't even know what happened to him”.

“I’d say let bygones be bygones”.

Uncle gave John a meaningful look and John only nodded. He was right. Some things should stay in the past. Same as every sorrow John had felt in his life. They didn’t belong here anymore. What mattered was his life right now and he couldn’t ask for anything else. He truly felt happy. They decided to turn in for the night, both men a whole lot older than their first adventures with the Van der Linde gang. John retreated to his empty bed and lay awake for a few hours until sleep finally took him under its spell.

Chapter Text

Shady Belle, 1899

There was a knock at his door. “Yeah?” Arthur asked, looking at John who had just put on his hat and was getting ready to leave. The day was still early and the air outside was refreshing and cool for a change.

“It’s only Abigail”, she called through the door.

John paused in his steps, then slowly nodded to Arthur. He opened the door then turned away. “Just gonna put these on, then I’ll be on my way”, Arthur mumbled, lifting up the boots he was holding in his hands.

“Actually, John, would you mind? I mean to speak with Arthur. Alone”.

The two men exchanged a confused look lasting only a second. “Sure thing”, John answered carefully, leaving the room and heading downstairs. Abigail closed the door after him.

Arthur sat down on his bed and focused on putting his boots on, avoiding Abigail’s gaze. He had always liked Abigail and when John had been gone he looked after both her and Jack. Now he felt as though he had taken her family from her instead. Jack still was his mother’s boy and he knew the child only considered him his uncle which was good enough even though a part of Arthur wanted to have a different meaning for him. He was ashamed that he had made any chance for John and Abigail’s relationship to work near non existent. He knew John wanted him but if he hadn’t played his part maybe the couple would have had a chance to set things right between them. If he had turned John down maybe the man had learned to love and appreciate Abigail the way she needed. Arthur felt as though he had betrayed her, that he had gone behind her back and drifted John further away from her.

“Will you look at me?” she said coldly. “It’s the least you can do”.

Arthur sighed, his eyes lingered to the floor beneath him. He fumbled with his fingers, straightening out a crinkle on his pants. He then lifted his head, meeting her light green eyes that held a look he couldn’t decipher.

“I know things haven’t been great between you and me lately. And I’m gonna be honest, a part of me hates you for this business with John...But another part of me sees that he’s become a different man. A better man… And I still remember what you’ve done for us through the years. What you’re still doing for us”.

Arthur didn’t answer, he felt that whatever he chose to say wouldn’t make a difference.

“It hurts you know, badly . And you and I haven’t even spoken a word about it with each other”.

“I’m real sorry Abigail…I’ve never wanted to hurt you. Not any of you”, he finally said. Arthur did not dare to meet the eyes of the woman before him for too long. It was either the shame in his body or the utter power in hers that made him look away.

“I know Arthur”, she said shortly. She walked the few steps over to where he was sitting and Arthur stood up on his feet as she got closer. “I still love him, Arthur…You need to promise me you take care of him. Whenever you two are out there you look after him, you hear?”

Arthur nodded slowly and found the courage to look her in the eyes again. It was important for him that she knew he meant every single word. “I hear you just fine, Abigail. Don’t you worry about that”.

“Good”.

They stood there for a few moments, studying each other. Arthur reached for her hand and she let him hold it. “Thank you”, he said quietly. Abigail only nodded then she pulled back her hand and walked out the door. If only she knew how Arthur had always looked out for John. Ever since he was taken in by the gang had Arthur tried to keep him safe. And now things had changed and John was of an even bigger importance to Arthur than before. Arthur would always look after him, he promised himself. Until the day he stopped breathing.

 

-

 

The attack from the O'Driscolls had come suddenly, taking them all by surprise at the Shady Belle. It was a miracle none of them got killed during the shooting . Kieran’s remains were taken away for a proper burial. Arthur took his death a lot harder than he had expected and he cherished the memory of the two of them fishing together at Clemens Point when the nervous boy finally had the courage to ask Arthur if he wanted to join him. He wished that he could have prevented the awful fate Kieran got. But Arthur being Arthur he never mentioned his sorrow and just shrugged his shoulders when John asked how he felt about his death. He put those kinds of feelings away until he could express them later on in his journal. The gang had been lucky and Arthur wondered once again how many times more they would be. He sighed loudly as he and the others started to drag away the dead bodies from the area.

“You did good, Mrs. Adler”.

“Thank you Arthur. Too bad about Kieran but what can one do? It was probably too late for him, even if anyone had noticed he was gone”, she stated as she grabbed a pair of legs and started to drag the body away with a lot of effort, taking it slowly.

She was right, he thought. They hadn’t, in fact, noticed Kieran was gone and Arthur felt bad for it. On the other hand, the young man hadn’t been one to stand out, always keeping himself out of the way while tending to the horses and minding his own business.

Arthur watched the fair headed woman with her big hat and bold pants. He and Sadie had become closer lately, all in a friendly way. He had learned a lot about her character and sure, it was a mess sometimes but mostly he admired her. She talked a lot ever since their little trip into town that first time. Her wearing her two revolvers, just like Micah, turned her into a completely different person, Arthur thought. Or maybe she became the person she was always supposed to be.

“Here, let me give you a hand”, Arthur offered and gestured at the O'Driscoll’s arms.

“Don’t need no goddamn help”, Sadie spat out with her hoarse voice. She was fond of Arthur but she hated being, what she felt, patronized in any way.

“Oh, I know you don’t, haven’t claimed otherwise. But it will go faster this way and you ain't exactly quick about it”, Arthur shot back.

“Fine”, she answered angrily, knowing Arthur was right. Arthur grabbed each arm of the body and together they found a secluded spot in the marshy grounds to hide one of the many bodies.

 

-

 

Arthur stood a bit from the house lighting up a cigarette, he didn’t like this place. The air felt sticky against his skin and the ground was wet almost everywhere he stepped. He missed the solitude at Colter, the dryness of Horseshoe and the warmth and closeness to water at Clemens. Dutch had made them turn east a bit more with each move. They were supposed to be heading west and nothing else. Now they were slowly tossing themselves into the hands of civilisation, something Arthur would never dream of them doing. And Dutch had allowed it.

He hoped that his leader would realise what risks they were taking by being this close to a big city. Their kind weren’t welcomed here and people would see right through them for what they truly were. Hosea had shown his doubts for their location as well, suggesting to Dutch that they’d move again. His suggestion was quickly turned down because Dutch had this grand idea that a heist in Saint Denis could be the answer to all their hopes and dreams. Arthur had been stupid enough to believe that Shady Belle would be a brief stay, considering they had gotten Jack back weeks ago. But now they were getting involved with Angelo Bronte and he had felt ridiculous when they had attended a ball the man had invited them to a few days ago. But they had, on the other hand, managed to gather some valuable information concerning future robberies. He had been forced to wear a tuxedo or a tailcoat or whatever it was called but he had still looked better than Bill, he thought.

“What a shithole”, Arthur said to himself while taking in the view of his surroundings. He tossed the cigarette to the ground, the wet mud taking its glow out.

 

-

 

Arthur and John had left the Shady Belle at noon riding towards Saint Denis. For now, the gang had been lying low for a few days, Dutch and Hosea planning their next job. John had suggested to Arthur that the two of them could observe the city’s movement and see what possibilities laid in store for them. The two men leaned against a wall between two shops with their arms crossed, the pavements and streets of Saint Denis filled with constant movement. Across the street laid the Saint Denis bank.

“Hosea said we was gonna rob the bank eventually. He and Dutch is working through the plan as we speak”, John told with a low voice.

“Yeah but first it's that trolley station Angelo Bronte mentioned at the ball. I really don't think we should do both”.

“We’re taking huge risks here, you see how many lawmen there is, just walking the streets?”.

“I know. But a bank in a city like this gotta be worth it. I goddamn hope so at least”.

John scratched his stubbled chin, observing the lawmen in their blue uniforms. They were patrolling and it was just mid day. “I think you’re right. The trolley station is gonna draw unnecessary attention, what if they increase their security at the bank?”

“That’s what I’m worried about. We barely got our asses out of that riverboat job last week and it really stirred up a lot of shit. Wish you could have seen how nervous Trelawny was, but it’s a good thing you weren’t with us, you would have drowned as we escaped”, Arthur chuckled. “Sure, the take was fine but it wasn’t enough...never is. That’s why I think we should focus on the bank. That's where the money is”.

“God I wish there was a way to get that fucking money from Blackwater. It’s everything we need”.

“Yeah, I know. But the city’s in lockdown, we would die before we get our hands on it”.

“That’s what Dutch says but do you really think so? It’s been months since Blackwater. You don’t think they would have let their guard down by now?”

“If that's what Dutch says then that's how it is”, Arthur answered shortly but John’s words had spread an unease through his body. Dutch wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t lie to them about the money, would he?

“We should be heading back”, Arthur continued.

John lowered his head, the hat covering his face. “There’s another thing I want to check out before we go”.

“And what’s that?”

John lifted his head, choosing his words carefully. “Well, since we look decent enough with our clothing today, maybe we can take our picture. One of them fancy ones. I think I saw a photograph place a bit down the street”.

Arthur glanced at John with his lips shut in a serious line. “Mm, I don't know...”. He shook his head.

“Come on Arthur. You’re using that camera of yours all the time, almost pestering me with it. I want a picture of you as well. Of us. It would mean a lot to me”.

Arthur placed his hands on his hips, looking away. He felt uncomfortable but it was true, he had taken quite a few pictures of John, wanting the moments to last. It was only fair to give one of himself to him. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, it wouldn’t be the first time he’d taken his picture after all. He held out his hands in surrender. “Fine”.

The word made John smile with his whole face and in turn it made Arthur’s chest warm up with affection. “Thank you, Arthur”.

They got to the studio that was quite small. Arthur took off his coat and hat and quickly combed his long hair with his fingers, pushing it behind his ears as best he could. He looked at John, the man’s hair had always been of the wild kind and sometimes a lost cause but that's what Arthur liked about it. John looked very happy in that moment, just as much as Arthur felt.

 

-

 

“Want to stay in town for a bit? Not much to do at camp today anyway”, John asked when they walked out of the studio.

“You’re probably right...It’s just that I don't want folk to wonder about us and what we might be doing”.

“We’re not doing anything out of the ordinary…for the moment. But that can be arranged of course”, John smiled, his eyes glued onto Arthur’s with a seducing look.

What was with John today? Arthur wondered. He felt so carefree and bold and it made him feel a little…aroused. “What are you suggesting?” he asked with his arms crossed, lifting a brow and stepping a little closer to the younger man until their faces were only a few inches away. They were standing in the middle of a crowded pavement but no one bothered to even glance at their direction.

“I want to suck you off, Arthur...” John whispered so only Arthur could hear it. His eyes had a dirty look in them and he discreetly licked his lips sending all kinds of forbidden images through his head.

Arthur felt himself harden and had to cover the growing bulge with wrapping his coat around him a bit tighter. He looked around, feeling as though everyone could see what they were up to. But of course no one did, the whole town was in such a hurry. He looked at John again.

“I want you to take me in my mouth...fuck me there...any way you like. Fast, hard, slow, gentle”, John continued slowly with a neutral expression on his face. But his eyes were completely locked onto Arthur’s and this time he couldn’t look away from the spellbinding darkness of the younger man’s eyes. He wanted to push him down on his knees right there and then and fuck him in both openings.

Take me Arthur”, John said with a yearning in his voice, repeating his thoughts. Arthur hadn’t uttered a single word, completely taken by that seducing deep and scratchy voice of his…John was always able to send shivers down his spine when he used it like this, saying all the right words to make him weak in his knees. He knew they couldn’t stand here all day so he grabbed John by his wrist and hurried to the nearest hotel.

The check-in gave Arthur a chance to settle his mind a bit and he was thankful that his erection had gone down. The man at the counter gave them a frown when John amusingly said to give them the cheapest room they had because they only needed it an hour. Arthur couldn’t believe him sometimes... 

As they went up the stairs and through a small hallway to their rented room, John only smirked, probably enjoying how easy he could make Arthur all hot and bothered. He felt a bit lightheaded and blamed it on the younger man's behaviour.

Arthur sat on the bed, John between his legs. They hadn’t been in the room even for half a minute before John had managed to tear off Arthur’s coat and boots, pushing him to the bed and gotten down on his knees working on his belt buckle. Arthur had grown hard and fully by the sight of John’s desperate touch and by the looks he send him while he fumbled with getting his cock out. When John finally did, he started to lick it with slow strokes between the root and the tip and back again, all while lingering at the head of his penis when he got there.

Arthur couldn’t help but caress John’s head, letting locks of dark hair run softly between his fingers as he watched him move between his legs. He adored every inch of the man before him and felt a bit overwhelmed by the thought.

Arthur closed his eyes and leaned back a little, resting his hands behind him as support and to fully relax and enjoy what was to come. It was hard to hold back the urge to start fuck him inside that sweet mouth of his. John kept teasing him, licking him but not taking him. He let out a frustrated grunt but the bastard clearly enjoyed his reaction, with the way he smiled and started over with his frustratingly slow movements of his tongue.

Arthur tried to push inside but John still wouldn’t take him, he only continued to lick trails of wetness along it, continuing down to his sensitive balls. His cock ached from the lack of contact and he grew more impatient by each second.

As much as he appreciated John’s treatment, he was very aroused and it soon became too much so he sat up straightly and took a hold of John’s head with both his hands while he pushed himself inside. Arthur swore he could see a smirk form on John’s lips before he entered but he was too busy in welcoming the sensation of wetness and warmth to think about it further. John held a steady gaze with him, almost challenging him. Arthur took this as his cue and fastened his movements until he found a perfect pace.

The room filled with the squelching sounds of John’s mouth while Arthur fucked him. He moaned with each thrust and John found it difficult to keep up with the violent force of them. Arthur went in hard and deep and John held back the urge to throw up. He felt tears running down his cheeks but still he enjoyed every moment of having the man's cock down his throat.

John focused on keeping his lips tight around him and suck as best he could, trying to give as much pleasure as possible and he could hear Arthur’s moans become louder. He held his hands on Arthur’s thighs, clutching on to them while the man set an impossible pace making him gasp for air through his nostrils.

Arthur lost his breath when he came, slowing down his thrusts while he emptied himself down John’s throat. The younger man swallowed what he could but a few drops of cum still escaped his lips.

Arthur lay back on the bed exhausted and John sat down on the floor and wiped his mouth from the warm fluid. John had been very much aroused by Arthur’s treatment and now he could fully focus on his own exploding erection.

He palmed himself outside his pants and let out a quiet moan. Arthur reached out his hand and pulled John into the bed until he was on top of the younger man. He placed kisses on his neck and started to unbutton John’s shirt, placing a new kiss to every part of his chest and stomach that became exposed before he pulled off the shirt altogether.

Arthur continued to unbutton his pants, pulling them and his underpants slowly down until they were below his knees. Arthur rested his eyes on John’s swollen member for a few seconds while biting his lips before he moved down once more, sitting on his heels by John’s feet.

John lifted his legs up slightly as the other man pulled each boot off his feet and threw each one over his shoulder, causing a carefree laugh to escape John’s lips. Arthur returned it with a warm smile and John could only look at the other man with widened eyes and in complete awe as Arthur pulled off the rest of his clothes and lifted one of his legs and started to kiss it, his blue eyes never leaving his brown. Arthur returned upwards with a trail of kisses along his body. It was perfect, he thought. John really did have the most beautiful body he’d ever seen and he would never get enough of it. For the rest of his life, he never wanted to stop touching him.

Arthur rested his body on top of John’s, their faces close enough for both of them to breathe in the other's air. Arthur looked at him a little too long, causing John’s eyes to flicker in uncertainty.

“What?” John asked with a nervous laugh.

“I…I...”, Arthur spoke quietly, his own eyes starting to flicker. Love you...He finished the sentence in his head... John looked more than curious and almost demanding to hear what he had to say but instead of giving it to him, he just closed his eyes and pressed his lips to John’s. The latter responded by lifting his head up, pressing his lips even harder to his. They breathed quickly through their noses and moaned into each other's mouths as their kissing turned more intense. Arthur could taste himself as John pressed his tongue inside him, playing with his own.

He started to caress John’s body, his warm hand making the man tremble as it rubbed back and front slowly just below his belly button, his hard member getting some minor contact as Arthur went on. Soon, Arthur took him in his hand, stroking him up and down, making John’s eyes roll back and a loud moan escape his lips. Arthur rested his head at John’s cheek, his ear catching every blissful sound his lover made as he tightened his fingers around him.

Arthur moved so he could lay on his side next to him, seeing all of him in his glory. He started to place kisses at every part of John he could reach with his lips. On his neck, on his shoulder, on his upper arm and back to his neck where he started to suck and lick gently, relishing in the salty taste of sweat and everything that was John.

John caressed Arthur’s moving arm as it moved faster over him. Arthur watched him as he pressed the back of his head harder against the pillow, the man's breathing increasing with each stroke he provided.

“Ah, shit, this is good…”, John panted, opening his eyes to see himself being taken in Arthur’s big hand.

Arthur kissed the side of his head and John started to pump back into his hand, grabbing onto the sheets and moan loudly when he was about to come. Arthur caressed his lips softly over John’s scarred cheek while jerking him off harder. The man started to tremble almost violently and Arthur watched him in fascination as he succumbed fully to his orgasm, letting out a desperate cry in pure ecstasy. When he was finished he only lay there with his eyes closed, raising his brows slightly.

“Holy hell, Arthur...”, John breathed when he opened his eyes. “Think I lost conscience for a while there...”

“Think you mean consciousness, you idiot”, Arthur laughed amused as he rolled to his back.

John turned his head and looked at him. “You see what I mean then. Can’t even find the right word. Shit, Arthur”, he continued as he put his palms at his forehead.

Arthur felt pleased by John’s praise and fished up a handkerchief from his pocket, wiping his hand off. He threw it at John’s half hard cock, making the other let out an annoyed sound. “Here, wipe yourself off for a change. Not doing it for you this time”, he stated as he rubbed his suddenly tired eyes.

“Alright, alright”, John answered and got to it.

They rested for a few minutes, both of them with a smile on their lips.

“How come I’m all naked while you still have both shirt and pants on?” John asked and gestured at Arthur’s body while covering his own parts with the cover.

“Now don’t you blame me. You was in such hurry when we stepped through that door. Besides, I enjoy seeing all of you”, Arthur mumbled while pulling his pants up properly.

“Guess I got a little overwhelmed”, John answered and sat up, holding his arms around his knees. Arthur looked at his back and reached up a hand to rub it slowly over the incredibly warm skin.

A little?” Arthur laughed. “But you know what? I liked you like this today. You was making me all hot before you even opened your mouth about it”.

John turned his head, glancing down at Arthur with a shy smile on his lips. Arthur thought he looked very nice like that. “Stay like that”, he suddenly said, heaving himself up from bed. He fetched the camera from his satchel and lay back in the same position. John didn’t really know how the device worked but Arthur handled it with experience. “Look at me just like you did before”.

John turned his head to him again and thought of the words Arthur had said, letting himself feel the joy of them again. He smiled again while watching Arthur. The other man snapped the photo and put the camera away.

Arthur sat up and rested his chin on John’s shoulder, caressing his cheek “I think you’re beautiful”, he almost whispered. John leaned into his touch and closed his eyes.

 

-

 

They had fallen asleep for a few hours and John woke with his arm wrapped around Arthur. He hugged him tighter and breathed in that familiar scent he had learned to love. He stroked a few bright locks of hair out of Arthur’s face and put them behind his ear to see him properly. Arthur woke up with haste and looked a bit confused about his surroundings until he remembered where they were. He closed his eyes but not with the intention of falling asleep again.

“Hey, Arthur?”

“Mmhm?”

“We do have the room until morning since you couldn’t rent by hour…”, John chuckled. “...and it’s almost evening now. How about we spend the night here? We can wander the streets a little, see what more this town has to offer”.

“We ain't robbing places”.

“Wasn’t talking about that. I meant…a moving picture or a show at the theatre. Maybe head to the saloon for a drink or play some poker”.

Arthur opened his eyes and sat up. “What is it with you today, Marston?”

“What you mean?” John asked with confusion and heaved himself up as well.

“I don't know, you’re acting all...strange. You’re nicer than usual”.

“I just…wanted to be with you today when we had the time for it. Nothing else. If you want to head back it’s fine by me, I can stay here till tomorrow, I sure could need it”.

Arthur pondered on it for a few moments. “Well, I reckon we could stay the night if we leave early tomorrow. And then we could pick up that picture, it should be done by then”. John’s face lit up and Arthur returned a warm smile to him.

“But think before you speak when we’re out there. Thought it was kinda stupid of you to say that to the clerk. About how we only needed an hour. But we ain't dead yet and that's something, I guess... Just remember that we gotta be careful around here. I don't want any of us to hang just yet, Marston”.

John felt a little bad when Arthur put it like that. He had only been joking around but he knew well enough that saying the wrong things could eventually get you killed, joke or not. John sometime forgot that Arthur was ten years his senior and that their traits and level of maturity could often differ because of that. “I know”, he said quietly and with a pinch of shame in his voice.

Arthur watched him carefully, he couldn’t stand when John sulked so he tried to lighten up the mood. “Well, you’re gonna go out naked as the day you were born or are you gonna put some clothes on that fine body of yours?” Arthur asked with a cheerful tone while he scanned the younger man’s body with an appreciative look on his face. This made John smile a little and he got up to get dressed.

Together they wandered the streets of Saint Denis. Arthur hated the city but was surprised to find it so relaxing this evening and he knew it was because John Marston was by his side.

Chapter Text

Just like the trolley station, the Saint Denis bank heist had been a disaster. Arthur didn’t know what made his heart break the most. Hosea’s death or the news of John’s capture. At least John seemed to be alive…for now. Agent Milton had practically executed Hosea in front of them. Shooting him on the street like he was some rabid dog. Then all hell had broken loose.

“Let’s go!” Arthur shouted, he and Lenny made their way over the rooftops, Dutch and the others following them. Several lawmen showed up around a corner and Arthur hadn’t the time to react before they gunned down Lenny in front of him. Arthur quickly drew his guns and fired, making all three drop dead. He hurried to Lenny and held him in his arms. The boy wasn’t breathing.

“Leave him Arthur, we can’t stay!” Dutch yelled as he ran by.

Arthur knew Dutch was right but still it was hard to let go of Lenny but he reluctantly did just that. They ran and jumped across the rooftops until they found an open window to a building that seemed abandoned. All of them climbed in and Arthur looked around the group, Dutch, Javier, Charles, Bill and Micah. God he wished Micah would have been in John’s place.

The men hid as best they could and stayed quiet for several minutes but no one had seemed to follow them there.

“Hosea…”, Charles started.

“Hosea is gone and there’s nothing we can do about it”, Dutch said coldly with a steady voice but Arthur could see the hurt in his eyes as much as he himself could feel it.

“What the hell happened to John?” Arthur asked, he felt both furious and saddened at the same time. He hadn’t seen what happened from where he’d been on the roof and he cursed himself for not looking after the other man.

“He was gonna go after Abigail, it was his own goddamn fault he got captured”, Micah answered.

Why didn’t anyone stop him?” Arthur snapped.

“If the idiot wants to go after that whore of his, who are we to stop him, cowpoke?”

Arthur jumped on Micah in an instant, pushing him back. He shot his fist at Micah’s face, making the back of his head pound against the wall they had hit. He would have killed him if Bill and Javier hadn’t grabbed onto Arthur’s arms, pulling him away. Micah only laughed as blood gushed out of his nose, holding one hand to stop it and the other to raise one of his revolvers, gesturing with it as he spoke. “Oh, did I hit a sensitive spot there, sunshine? You’re getting awfully riled up by this whole thing, huh?”

“Micah, just shut up”, Charles said, stepping between him and Arthur.

“Get out of my way, redskin, or I’ll make you”.

“Put that gun down. Now", Dutch demanded, his own hand ready to draw. The gesture made Arthur feel a bit relieved considering how often Dutch had parted with Micah lately.

Micah started to laugh like a crazy person but nonetheless put his gun back in its holster. ”Sure thing, boss”.

“Are we gonna be civilized about this?” Dutch continued, focusing the words at Arthur.

“Yeah, are we, sunshine?” Micah repeated tauntingly.

“Just you wait Micah. Get off of me goddamnit!” Arthur tried to break free from Javier and Bill’s hold but they wouldn’t let him go.

“I said, are we gonna be civilized about this, Arthur ?” Dutch asked again, his tone a bit rougher this time.

Arthur wanted nothing more than to beat the laughing shit out of Micah but he knew better than to make things worse than they were. They had concerns bigger than their dispute after all. “Yes”, he answered reluctantly, dragging out the word.

“Good”. Dutch nodded at the two men and they released their grip on Arthur’s arms. He turned around and placed himself in a corner, putting as much distance as possible between him and Micah. He crossed his arms while Dutch started to explain his new plan.

“We hide here until nightfall and sneak our way onto the docks and get the hell out of here. We need to lie low for a few weeks”.

“What about the others?” Charles asked. “We can’t just leave them”.

And we can’t go back to camp, not now. The roads will be filled with cops looking for us, would do more harm to go back. They’re on their own for now”.

“Let’s just hope Abigail got out so she can warn them”, Arthur said thoughtfully. “They knew we were coming Dutch”.

“Isn’t it awfully fitting that all them Pinkertons showing up just in time when Abigail’s nowhere to be found and John miraculously is ‘arrested’ and not shot on sight?” Micah pointed out. “Hosea got caught, but where was Abigail?”

Arthur tensed, this was getting out of hand. “John and Abigail would never do that”. Arthur looked at Dutch for some kind of support but he didn’t answer, he seemed to be even considering Micah’s ridiculous accusations.

“We have a rat in this gang and those two are my best bet. Think about it, Abigail is always going on about giving that bastard son of hers a better life. Maybe even cut herself a sweet deal with them Pinkertons”.

“Don’t you call him that you bastard…You must have hit your head pretty hard back there Micah because now you’ve really lost it”, Arthur hissed, his voice turning hoarse from the intensity of it all. Dutch still wouldn’t say anything and it worried Arthur. Javier and Bill hadn’t uttered a word but he could see that Micah was getting into their heads just like with Dutch. Charles was the only one Arthur felt he trusted in this. The man had defended Arthur more than once in several concerns and he was relieved to have at least him by his side.

Micah surprisingly didn’t respond to Arthur’s words. No one did. All of the men retreated into silence and afterthought. Arthur had known John for more than half of the younger man’s life, the past few months a lot more. He would never do that to his family. Abigail neither. Arthur sighed and lowered himself to the floor in his corner. What a mess. He felt helpless considering he couldn’t do anything to get John out. He didn’t know when or if he was gonna see him again. He hoped that the remaining members of the gang would make it and that Abigail was safe so she could return to Jack. He hoped with all his heart that the boy was safe.

 

-

 

They were heading for Cuba and Arthur couldn’t feel more lost. But he followed Dutch anyway, the man had a point and this way they would at least be alive even if the plan was somewhat drastical. He was a little saddened that Charles had run off, distracting some policemen on patrol they had run into on their way to the docks. But if he had made it, at least Arthur knew that Charles no doubt would make his way to the others, giving them a chance to get to safety. Dutch had bribed the captain to let them stay on the boat and not simply throw them all overboard and he had agreed to take them to Cuba. Arthur had a million of feelings inside him, all of them not so good. He wanted to hold John in his arms again but being the realist that he was he knew there was a possibility that the last time had already been.

As the five of them stood out on deck, Micah pointed to the distance. Looked like there was a storm coming their way and it didn’t look too good. Unfortunately there was nothing they could do but hope for the best.

 

-

 

Dutch woke Arthur with panic in his voice.

“Arthur! Get up!”

“Why? What’s happening?” Arthur asked with a muffled voice, half of him still asleep. He got up quickly when he saw the look on Dutch’s face. The boat was complaining loudly, metals screeching all around them and he could feel the vibration in the floor. This wasn’t good.

“We need to get out!”

Arthur hurried after Dutch but lost him on the way in all the panic. People were all over the place screaming and Arthur pushed his way through, determined to survive. When he got out on deck he realised the boat was in fact sinking and he had no other choice than to jump into the dark water and swim at the direction he thought he had heard Dutch call for him. But when he hit the water he was pulled into the violent movement underneath. He thought he was gonna die for sure.

The next few hours was a blur for him, drifting in and out of consciousness, holding onto some kind of debris that had followed from the ship. The last thing he thought of before he succumbed to the horrible darkness once more  was the beautiful darkness of his lover’s eyes.

 

-

 

John couldn’t wipe away the sight of Hosea’s face from inside his head. The way he had looked just before he was killed. It was as the old man knew exactly what was gonna happen and yet he seemed to accept it, for once he hadn’t tried talking his way out of the situation. He had only stayed quiet this time and it hurt John to see such a great man simply give up.

Hosea had been with Abigail but she was nowhere to be seen. As the shooting started John knew he had to get to her. She was his child’s mother and had been something more than that in another life and he couldn’t just leave her behind. He looked over at Arthur who had just blown a hole with dynamite through the back wall of the bank. He would understand, John thought. So when Arthur climbed up to the roof to prepare to cover them, John turned to the nearest man.

“I’m going after Abigail, gonna try to take a few of them out while I’m at it!”

“You’re gonna get yourself killed Marston, but be my guest!” Micah yelled back. The bullets were whistling from everywhere, making it hard to hear nothing but the sound of them.

John knew this was a stupid move, she could be anywhere. But he had to try, he could never forgive himself if something had happened to her. He ran through the side entrance right after Arthur started shooting from the roof, causing the distraction he needed, and hid behind nearest obstacle just outside the bank. No one seemed to have noticed. If he only could make his way to where Abigail and Hosea had detonated the dynamite that had served as a diversion from the bank, then maybe he could follow her tracks from there somehow. It would be way too risky but it was the only thing John could come up with for now.

“If you need to go, do it now!” Micah yelled through a broken window and moved away, starting to shoot wildly with one revolver in each hand from another window in the front. John watched several men go down. He would have to give it to Micah that he was the fiercest sharpshooter amongst them.

John advanced through the street. It was crazy how many policemen and agents there were. He hid behind a stagecoach, planning his next route, as he was almost hit by a bullet. They had seen him. Several men started shooting at his direction, splinters from the coach started flying everywhere. John turned to look at Micah who nodded at him, raising his guns. John leaned out and started shooting at the men, all of them scattered all over the street in front of the bank. Micah had raised his guns but didn’t fire. Lenny, Javier, Bill and Charles had all made it to Arthur and Dutch waited, watching them both as he called for him and John to get the hell away from there and climb up the ladder so they could get away.

“Sure, boss”, Micah said mostly to himself as he watched John get pinned down from the flying bullets. Neither did he stop the man sneaking up on John from one side of the wagon. The last thing he saw of the scarred man was him turning around seeking assistance but was welcomed with the back of a rifle to his head. Micah never trusted him anyway. He laughed shortly and started to make his way to the ladder to catch up with the rest of the group. He was met by Dutch who had a harsh look in his eyes. Micah felt a bit scared for a split second, he realised Dutch had seen what happened. He was surprised when his leader simply said they had to go.

 

-

 

John’s head pounded painfully as he woke. He lay on a bed with a hard and uncomfortable mattress. His eyes had a hard time adjusting at first but he couldn’t miss the bars that served as walls. He was at the Police station, no doubt about that. There was another cell, empty, opposite him. The cells were in an own area and he could hear muffled voices through a door further away.

“No...no, no, no”, John repeated to himself in panic before he let out a cough, his throat felt awfully dry. He got up and tried to find a way out but of course there was none. He felt his stomach turn and his eyes widen. Was this it? he thought. It was actually over. He would hang and he would never know if Abigail made it out, or Arthur… He would never hug Jack again. This was actually it. John had a hard time grasping his situation so he walked back to the bed with shaky steps and slowly settled on it. He held his face in his hands and started to sob. He had always been a man that held a lot of feelings and this was no exception. He was gonna die and he wouldn’t get the chance to say goodbye to Jack. He would grow up without a father, maybe without a mother, just like John had.

“No, no, no, no”, John went on again, shaking his head. He couldn’t accept this. Whatever it would take, he would fight to stay alive. But he knew he would never make it out of there without help. Help he felt he wouldn’t get. Suddenly he could hear footsteps approaching and he could see into the Chief’s office as the door further away opened. It was the only exit from here. He quickly wiped his tears away as Agent Milton stepped inside, closing the door after him and walking over to John’s cell.

“So you’re awake. About time”, Milton stated, carrying a jug of water and a glass.

“How long was I out?” John asked and he started to cough again as he spoke. He rose up to his feet and closed in on Milton, resting his hands against the bars.

Milton poured the water into the glass and handed it to John through the bars. John didn’t want anything from this man, he had killed Hosea after all. He took the glass and threw the whole thing at Milton’s face, the water pouring down on him and the glass breaking into pieces against the concrete floor. Milton backed away and simply dried himself off with a handkerchief. It was as nothing had happened.

“Oh, more than half a day now. Quite the sleepy head”.

Nearly a day? He almost didn’t want to know what had happened since, afraid of what he would hear. John didn’t answer.

“Outside we were discussing the fate of little Johnny Marston, or should I say Rip Van Winkle as I recalled you telling me your name was, last we saw each other”.

“Spare me the small talk, I know what’s next for me and I’d prefer not seeing your ugly face last thing before I go”.

Milton did not look amused but still let out a little chuckle lasting only a second or two. “We could make a deal, you and I. You only need to tell me where Dutch is or where your camp is. If you do that, you are free to go”.

John snorted, smiling. “Why don’t you try that on some of the others you caught”, he tried.

“Unfortunately, the ones we did caught are dead. Hosea Matthews, as you saw for yourself, and some colored boy, Lenny Summers if I remember correctly. I’m afraid the others are yet to be found”.

John was saddened by the news of Lenny, he was a good kid and everyone could see that he had the best opportunity of getting out and make something of himself. Now he would never have the chance. He knew Arthur had been fond of him as well and wondered how he would take it. The good news was that Milton’s words meant that Abigail had managed to get out and so had Arthur and Dutch. It was a small victory for John and he held back the urge to burst into laughter.

“Why did you run into the other direction? It was a pretty stupid thing to do, Mr. Marston”, Milton continued.

“I thought I would make it that way. Sneak out while you were all distracted. I’m not the brightest”, John smiled sarcastically.

“Look, I’m making it easy for you here. Just tell me about his whereabouts and you get to live another day in that degenerate life of yours”.

John let out a huff. “Truthfully, I don't know where he or anyone else is. And even if I did I would never tell you. You can stand here all you want and try to make me tell you anything but it ain't happening. Might as well hang me now”.

“Hang you?” Milton laughed amused. “We’re not going to hang you, yet. Oh no, you’re going to the Sisika Penitentiary for some time, far away from the mainland. While you’re there, maybe you decide to change your mind. Enjoy your new stay”, Milton said, walking away from the cell and out through the door.

John just stood there with his mouth slightly open and a frown on his face. He blinked his eyes and drifted them back and forth across the cells as though he was looking for something to focus on. He shook his head slowly. He wouldn’t die, just yet. He started to laugh hysterically, the relief washing over him.

 

-

 

The prison was close to hell but nothing John Marston couldn’t manage. The prison guards were mean sons of bitches and they often antagonized John into lash out so they could have an excuse to beat him. Hell, they did that to everyone.

The days were long but passed quickly enough as he was working the fields. The one thing that bothered him the most was the heat. At the end of the day his prison garb was practically glued on to him and he could twist the fabric in his hands to watch the sweat drop out of it. This made him sleep naked, only to give the clothing a chance to dry overnight. John didn’t really have a problem with it, considering his body was pretty ideal for a man his age, his weight near to perfect and the outlines of his muscles intensified by his somewhat darker tanned skin. He smelled terrible but got used to it after a few days.

There were a lot of shifty men at the prison and he tried his best to stay out of anyone’s way, not knowing what crimes they had committed to be here. John shared a cell with a man named Tom but he preferred Tommy which he made very clear. The man was decent enough but a bit twitchy and John couldn’t learn the man’s nature. He had sprawling thick black hair that was in dire need of a haircut more than John’s own. Tommy had a makeshift knife hidden on him and John felt an urge to take it from him and kill every guard on this island so he could escape. But it wasn’t that easy. This was after all a maximum security prison facility and there was no way to escape without any help from the outside.

John had observed the outside surroundings when he was working. They had a few watch towers, each one had a guard with probably a sniper rifle. There were both patrolling and riding guards spread over the island. John knew where the jetty was but he still didn’t know if there were any boats outside the gates or if the boats were kept on mainland, only used when the guards changed shifts or when inmates were taken in. He couldn’t exactly swim from there. And even if he got his hands on a boat it would be hard to shoot and row at the same time, if he even got a hold of a gun. Everything seemed impossible and he figured his best bet was to get a hold of the keys to the cells and quietly make an escape in the middle of the night, the outside was probably less guarded by then. But since all cells were cramped together the other inmates would raise hell about it, exposing him. He could of course let them all out as well, thus creating chaos, but he didn’t know.

John sighed loudly and turned to his other side in the bunk bed, his thoughts were a mess to the point he just gave up.

“Can you please shut up, Marston? I wanna sleep and all you do is shift around and breathe loudly. Don’t want to hear your moans. You jerking off or something?” Tommy ranted and kicked his foot up under John’s bunk.

Please, John thought. “Stop that, can’t sleep is all”.

“Well you better learn how to real soon, or maybe this blade of mine will come in real handy. Then you won’t be so loud, will you?”

John tensed a little. He wasn’t afraid of him, John could defend himself just fine but he didn’t want to cause problems he didn’t need. Problems that could hasten his probable death sentence. “I’ll be quiet alright? Just let me be”, John said tiredly.

Tommy let out a laugh. “You really believed that, Marston? You’re an easy one”.

John rolled his eyes, he badly wanted to shut him up but it was better this way. “Yeah yeah, good night”, John said as another inmate shouted for both of them to shut up.

A guard passed through outside the cells, holding a lantern. John turned to lie on his stomach and watch the guard. It was always the same one. There was something about him. He looked pretty young to be working here, maybe John’s age or younger. John kept observing him as he passed his cell, their eyes met for a few seconds and the damn guard even studied John’s naked body slightly, running his eyes up and down all of him, before he continued his round. John smiled as he went through the new plan in his head.

Chapter Text

“Arthur, let’s say that the bank job tomorrow works”.

“It has to work. It feels like this is the last chance we got”.

“Yeah, and if it does, what would you do with your share?”

“What you mean?”

“I love Dutch but…I’m starting to get real worried about him. You saw what he did to Bronte. That's not him… And I’ve been thinking about what you said...about getting out”.

Arthur fumbled with John’s fingers, caressing them with uneven touches, anxious about the other man’s next words.

“I think that maybe the time has come for Abigail and Jack to start over somewhere else. Somewhere they would be safe, far from this. If we get enough money tomorrow then we could leave right away”.

“Sounds good Marston, I’m real happy for you…”. John noticed the half truth.

“I’m begging you Arthur, come with us... We take that money tomorrow and we just…go”.

“I can't leave...”.

“You can…”.

Arthur shook his head but stilled after a few seconds. John pleaded with his eyes but Arthur looked away from him. John rested his head at Arthur’s shoulder, making the older man face him again.

Blue eyes met his brown, a gentle caress on his cheek from a rough but careful hand. A slow approach until chest met chest and lips met lips. Hands intertwined as they made love like it was their last chance to do so.

“Maybe. I want to…”, Arthur had said afterwards.

John realised that maybe that was their last moment of intimacy. He had pushed the thoughts of Arthur away for more than a week now, only focusing on getting out of Sisika, but right now that memory was his only comfort.

He lay on the cold floor at the Warden’s office while trying to swallow the blood in his mouth. He was on his side, his arms tightly wrapped around his legs as he watched the warden and two guards slowly circulate around him. They had beaten him for what felt like hours.  

The warden kneeled next to John, grabbing him by the hair roughly and lifting his head. “I’m gonna be in the front row when they hang you, boy”.

John only met his eyes with his own, indifferent about the situation. He couldn’t blame them, not really. He had taken advantage of the looks that night guard had given him, they told him that his name had been Dean.

 

-

 

John had been able to get a hold of a pen and a piece of paper to write on. He had slipped the note to the guard when he was doing his round, the paper filled with all kinds of forbidden words.

“What you staring at?” John asked after the guard had walked away.

“What the hell are you getting yourself into, Marston?” Tommy questioned from where he sat on his bed, picking at his teeth with his knife.

“How is that any business of yours, huh?” John asked, crossing his arms and leaning against the bars, his prison garb all plastered to his skin by the movement and John realised all over again just how much he missed his own clothes.

“Whatever it is you’ve planned, it won’t end well”, Tommy smiled, just like he held all the answers.

“Maybe I’m just looking for some fun. Ever thought about that, huh, Tom?”

“I told you I fucking hate being called that”, the man spat out but John merely chuckled at the other’s anger. “Oh you laugh now boy, won’t be able to do that when I stick this into you”, Tommy threatened, gesturing with his knife.

John rolled his eyes, the man was threatening to stab him every chance he could get but John knew well enough that his words held no truth to them. “Sorry, Tommy”, John said only to spare himself the trouble.

“Apology accepted”, the man answered quickly enough before he settled to lie in the bed. John only furrowed his brows at the other man’s words.

John figured he should catch some sleep as well. He wasn’t sure that this would even work but he couldn’t lose faith now. He pulled off his damp clothes and jumped up to his bunk bed.

It had in fact worked and a few hours later the same night the guard named Dean had opened the cell, quietly waking John up. A few of the inmates noticed but didn’t cause too much commotion about it when John dressed and was taken away in chains around his wrists. They knew better as well than to question anything questionable. 

The guard shoved at John’s back to make him move faster through the dark corridors, Dean’s lantern working as their only light source.

“When we pass the storage room, you need to move quiet, you hear?” Dean whispered and pointed at the door on the right that was left ajar at the other end of the corridor. “Move quickly when we get there though. Don’t want anyone seeing you, do we?” Dean adjusted the wick knob of his lantern, lowering the flame to minimum.

John nodded and did as he was told. When they passed it, loud voices and drunken laughter could be heard from the room.

They made a few turns and continued through some doors Dean had to unlock with his keys and John realised this was probably the staff’s quarters. Dean started to shove at John again at the direction they were heading.

“Where are we going?” John asked with a whisper, turning his head to look at the man behind him.

Dean gave him a sneaky smile. “Oh I know just the place, you’ll see. You can speak normal, the place is empty at these hours”.

Empty was good, John thought. “The storage room, wh-”.

“Oh yeah”, Dean interrupted, saying the words like he had just been reminded of something. “Just a few guards not doing their job very well. Let’s just say they spend their working hours mostly on booze and cards”.

“And what about you? Is… this …a part of your job then?” John couldn’t help but question.

“Let’s not talk about me, Marston”, Dean answered and gave him a faint smile. “Here we are”, he continued in a casual tone as he gestured at the door before them.

“The warden’s?” John asked incredulously while looking at the writing on the glass of the door.

“Sort of hate that man. Thought it would be fun to fuck somebody on his desk. He’ll never know”, Dean told him absently as he stared at the door.

John furrowed his brows at the words but opened the door nonetheless.

As they entered the office and closed the door, Dean lifted the lantern to John’s face, stroking a few locks of his hair away from it to study his features. “You’re really one ugly son of a bitch ain't you?” he insulted as he leaned forward, moving closer to John. “And you smell bad too, not that I’ll care within a few minutes…”

“Fuck you”, Marston shot back and shoved the other man away.

“Fuck me?” Dean laughed while pointing at himself. “Fuck you, I’d say”, he answered and raised a brow. “That’s what you promised me in that note of yours anyway, ain't that right?” he said, drifting his eyes over John's body with a hungry look.

John only stared at the other man in annoyment as he placed the lantern on the floor and approached him again, slower this time. John knew well enough what the look meant and before he could react, Dean grabbed him roughly by his hair and pressed their lips together.

John tried to break free from his hold but Dean pulled roughly at his chains, all but dragging him over to the desk. He shoved John down on his stomach over it, looming over him from behind. “Don’t you try anything now, you hear”, Dean whispered into his ear as he started to unbuckle himself.

Easy there...I want this as much as you...”, John said and spread his legs further, rubbing himself against the other’s front. This earned a small moan from the other man and he started to rub back, grabbing John by his hips while doing so. “I want to see you when you take me…”, John panted and turned his head slightly to see him, pleading with his dark eyes.

Dean looked a bit surprised but agreed easily enough, turning John around so he could jump up to sit on the desk. John locked his legs around Dean, bringing him closer. “Kiss me again…”, John encouraged in a whisper.

As Dean leaned forward to do just that, John headbutted him with as much force he could manage straight to the nose, causing it to break and making the other man stumble back with one hand covering his injury. Dean hadn’t the time to react further before John jumped him, making both men fall to the floor. As Dean was taken by sheer surprise, John quickly shifted his position until he was behind the other, grabbing at the chain between his wrists and putting it around Dean’s throat. John put one knee in the back of his neck and pushed with it at the same time he pulled with his hands. Dean tried to break free, his hands desperate to come between the chain and his neck but John pressed too hard to give him any chance.

John only shut his eyes as both their bodies twisted violently from the other’s panic, Dean’s hands desperately trying to grab on to any part of his assailant. John tried to shut out the sounds the man was making and answered by pulling harder with the chain.

After a few minutes of struggle, the other stopped moving but John didn’t release him straight away, wanting to make sure he wouldn’t wake up again.

When he released his grip, he started to search the body. He fumbled with the keys Dean had around his belt and soon the chains were off and he could see that his wrists were bleeding somewhat. He stripped the man out of his uniform and then he worked on getting his garb off.

John felt ridiculous in the blue uniform as he sneaked through the corridors but he couldn’t care less. His heart beat fast as he tried to find his way to the prison yard outside.

 

-

 

John coughed once more as the warden kicked him in the stomach. John had underestimated their number on the outside that time of night. While he had managed to knock out a few guards, another one on patrol had spotted him.

They had shot him in his arm out in the prison yard as he tried to get away but luckily it was only a flesh wound, it still hurt like hell though. He had been overpowered when they closed in on him but he refused to go down without giving all of them hell. He broke at least two more noses before he got pinned to the ground, earning quite a few beatings before they had dragged him to solitary confinement and ripped the uniform off of him, later throwing his prison garb at him.

The warden had arrived in the early morning and was met by a surprise in his office and here John was.

“He had a family”, the warden told him, naively trying to make him feel bad.

John looked at the corpse lying across the room,  dead eyes meeting his own. He should probably feel bad about it. “Well…”, John started between his heavy breaths. “...did you know that he liked to suck cock?” John started to laugh at them, his teeth all covered in red. The warden and the two guards only looked at each other for a second before John earned another kick, this time in his back. He spat out a pool of blood on the floor from the hard blow.

“Get him out of my sight!” the warden yelled to the guards while waving John away, his face all red from the rage.

John was placed in solitary far from the others. There wasn’t any bed but at least he could take a shit in private, he thought.

 

-

 

John was forced to work harder for what he’d done and his wounds had barely been taken care of. He tried to clean them as best he could with the water he was allowed to drink. Food wasn’t even an option. After a few days he passed out while working the fields and to his surprise he awoke in his old cell with a chunk of bread and a jug of water placed on the floor, John practically jumped to it. His arm seemed to have been cleaned and he had a bandage wrapped around it.

The warden suddenly stood outside his cell, a taunting smile plastered on his face. It was only the two of them in the cell block since every other inmate were on work detail.

“Got good news for you, Marston”.

“And what’s that?” he asked with his mouth full.

“Since you’re not willing to cooperate with the law and the fact that you killed a guard, assaulting several others, you’ll get the noose in six days. I insisted upon it”.

John slowed down his chewing as heard it, lowering his gaze. He swallowed the last bit of bread in his mouth, contemplating the words spoken. “Alright”, he answered after a while.

The warden smiled and let out a malicious chuckle before he only turned around and left him.

John drank some water while he pondered his situation. A part of him knew it would come to this. He wasn’t gonna give up the camp’s location, they had probably moved anyway, and he would never give up Dutch. Not even if he knew where the man was. Not even if Dutch actually had been able to help him in Saint Denis but hadn’t… John had seen it all. He had looked back for help, meeting Dutch’s eyes. The man had simply turned his back before everything had blackened.

John felt saddened but a wave of relief swept over him nonetheless considering he really had no way of getting out of this anymore. No more running. No more fear or denying who he was.

He only wished he could speak with Abigail once more and to hold Jack one last time. And Arthur, oh he wished he could kiss him one final time. That they could have one more moment together. He wanted to feel him again, to make love to him like the last time when Arthur had fully given himself to him. He wanted to hold him one more time while telling him the words he had felt so strongly for so many years. Now...he would never get the chance… The most ironic thing was that a part of Arthur had given in to him. He had practically agreed to leave with John when the time came and now they would never be able to go through with it. John sighed loudly, closing his eyes. “This is it, I guess”, he told himself.

 

Blackwater, 1907

“Well, I thought I was done for at that time”, John chuckled, telling Charles about his stay at the prison and the news of his hanging. Of course leaving out the ‘sexual’ incident with that guard.

“But then Arthur and Sadie came along and saved your skinny ass”.

“That they did”, John smiled, reminiscing their prison break.

“How was Sadie when you met her?” Charles asked before downing his drink.

“Good, good. She’s all into bounty hunting nowadays. Don’t tell Abigail but I helped her with one of her bounties the other day just for the sake of it. Hell, we don’t need the money but it felt good to ride again. Told her she could visit us at the ranch sometime. Believe it or not, she was glad to hear about you and Uncle being all alive and well”.

“Don’t worry, I won’t”, Charles reassured. “I always thought she had a wild look in her eye... Maybe she’s happy now, doing something she’s good at”.

“No…I don't think she is… But maybe she’s content. And that's enough sometimes. I think she only wants a purpose in life and if bounty hunting does it for her, then good for her. I guess”.

“She’s a fine woman”.

John nodded, maybe in another life he could have fancied her but she had become nothing more than a friend. He was glad she had found him again after all these years apart. Sadie had brought up Arthur last time they spoke but John had almost refused to speak of him. He didn’t want to think about that right now either, he just wanted to enjoy this evening drinking with Charles in the saloon. “Yeah, the best”, he answered absently while raising his glass filled with golden liquid. “To Sadie”, he saluted mostly for himself before finishing his drink.

“I’ll be right back”, Charles said. John nodded as he watched him head for the door in the back that led outside.

“There is actually a thing called a lavatory here, you know”, he hollered after him.

“Yeah yeah”, Charles said, only waving him off.

John snorted and remembered his glass was empty. He needed another, he thought. And another after that one. As many as it would take to just feel….alright, at least. It was all he asked for. It had been like that back and forth for a few years now and John found himself in the middle of one of those periods since a couple of months back.

The saloon was very much alive, the piano filling the building with cheerful tones and drunken men singing along to them. He walked over to the bar, leaning over it while waiting for the bartender. Suddenly, he felt a rough push at his side.

“Oh, my bad”, the man at his side excused.

“No harm done, friend”, John assured. His younger self would have probably shot a fist at the man’s face before he even had the chance to apologize. But John waved it off, he usually did nowadays, promising Abigail that he wouldn’t cause trouble.

“Say, why don’t you put your drink on my tab? As an apology, I mean”, the man beside him continued.

John looked at him and let his eyes linger a little longer than necessary. “I can pay for myself”.

“I’m sure you can, was nothing but mere courtesy, my friend”.

John thought about it for a moment. The man was quite handsome, a little thinner than John but he could still see the outlines of his muscles in the black shirt he was wearing. He had a nice face…dark blonde hair and an even darker stubble, features that reminded him somewhat of Arthur’s. He felt a sting of sadness in his chest by the thought of him but pushed it away with all his will-power. “Alright…that's mighty kind of you, mister”.

“Good. What are you having?” the man asked in a cheerful tone.

“Two whiskeys I guess”.

“Two? You’re quite the drinker aren’t you?”

John chuckled dryly. “One for my friend. After all, it was quite the push you gave me”, he said but with a glint in his eye.

“That dark feller with long hair?”

John tensed a little. Had he been watching them? “Why do you want to know?” he asked with a hardened tone.

The man just smiled with confident filling his whole face. “You just happened to catch my eye as I was about to retreat to my room”. Then the man leaned to John slightly, lowering his voice. “Don’t want to know anything, except your name”.

John raised one of his brows as he met the other’s eyes, his face only inches away from his own. Was this man for real? John turned his head away, snorting at the absurd situation as he decided what to say next.

“Jim”.

He smiled as John told him his name. “I’m Jesse”, the man spoke, letting his thumb caress over John’s skin as they shook hands.

John nodded and pulled back his hand, not sure on how to react to the touch. “Now…ehm, how about them drinks?”

Jesse brought three whiskeys to the table John led them to and Charles was a bit surprised to see the new face when he returned. Jesse turned out to be a traveler of some sort, he said he was a salesman but left it at that. He was only passing through and had rented a room upstairs since he was set to leave tomorrow.

They had a good time for a while but eventually Charles had a few too many and decided to ride back home if he could manage. As John’s body warmed up from the liquor he felt himself become more careless. Jesse had practically told John what he was after in less than a minute into their encounter.

“Did you bump into me on purpose?” John asked, interrupting the man while he was telling him about an incident in Mexico.

Jesse turned quiet, looking at John in a way that could be interpreted as though he had been caught red-handed. Even so, he recovered quickly enough with a carefree smile. “Perhaps”.

“You’re a sneaky one”, John stated with a short laugh but turned his voice into a more serious tone after a few moments. “What you do...could get you killed… Another man could have just shot you right then and there”.

“Guess I’m lucky you’re not that kind of man then, shooting people for no good reason”, Jesse answered. If only he knew, John thought before the other continued. “And well, that's unfortunately a risk you have to take but I guess a part of you revealed itself for me”.

John thought that the man before him was stupid. Bold but stupid. He was intriguing as well. “How?”

“The way you looked at me when I said I would pay for your drinks. You studied my face in a way that only men like us do. If I hadn’t seen that then I would have let you be and been on my way”.

John didn’t answer, he felt something he hadn’t felt for a long time and he didn’t know if it was the man or the alcohol causing it, perhaps it was a combination of both. He felt desire.

Jesse lowered his voice slightly, moving his face dangerously close to John’s once more. “With that out of the way, I wondered if you would like to know more of me”.

John and Jesse looked deeply into each other's eyes for what felt like minutes. A part of John wanted to move on. To give himself to someone else if only for one night. But the other part just couldn’t let Arthur go. He was still the love of his life but their time had been short lived and taken away from him far too soon. Far too young. John felt the familiar sorrow hit him again but decided that he would go through with this. He nodded.

 

-

 

John had taken Jesse more than once through the night and he had given Jesse all pleasure he could offer with both hand and mouth. It had been eight years since John had touched someone else. Eight years since he and Arthur had made love and their very last time hadn’t exactly been…ideal, unfortunately. John avoided to think about that time even if it sometimes filled his mind as he was drunkenly touching himself nowadays, imagining Arthur doing it to him all over again despite how bad it actually had been for both of them. A part of John still despised Arthur by the memory of it but his love for him was always stronger, making him see beyond every hurt Arthur had ever caused him.

Afterwards with Jesse, John didn’t feel bad but he didn’t feel too good either. The bond he and Arthur had shared could never be replaced and it hurt John still. He allowed himself to lie in Jesse’s arms as they tried to sleep, letting the warmth from the other man’s body comfort him.

 

-

 

John had left Jesse at the crack of dawn since he couldn’t sleep all that well. They had said their goodbyes and became nothing more than a faint memory to each other. The sun was rising in the distance, painting the sky with all kinds of shades of pink and orange. When John got closer to the ranch he felt empty inside. He never had closure about Arthur’s death considering he and his family had been moving around ever since, making temporary homes and John had gladly allowed it to keep himself busy so he could just push the feelings away to a later occasion. It was only now they had settled properly and he had no real escape from processing every detail of his life long lost. He had been running away from his inner struggles for so long that now it all came crashing down on him all over again and he had no idea how to handle it.

After letting Rachel into the stables, he wandered to the three big trees growing close to each other, making out a beautiful spot in the center between their trunks, all while offering a pleasant shade during the warm days under their many branches. He passed them every time he rode into the ranch. When he got to them he settled beneath them on the dusty ground, going through his satchel. He had picked some flowers on his way back from Blackwater, not much and not the prettiest, but they would have to do for now. He held them carefully in his hands and placed them below the wooden cross he had made for Arthur.

He never had a chance to bury Arthur back then since he was on the run in opposite direction, focusing on bringing Abigail and Jack to safety. John didn’t really want to think about what had happened to Arthur’s remains and even if he wanted to, he knew he would never find out what became of them anyway. A symbolic grave was the best John could do, giving Arthur a resting place so he could be by their side in some way.

“Hi Arthur…”, John whispered softly as he sat down before the cross. He leaned back against one of the tree trunks and rested his eyes at the grave. “I may have done something last night that you surely wouldn’t approve of… All I can think about is how jealous you must be…remember when I told you about what happened at Sisika? God…you were so mad at me. Well…you always did say I was yours and yours only…”, John spoke with a saddened smile on his lips. “It wasn’t my intention you know…I felt lonely…and you’re not around no mo-…”. John’s voice suddenly broke and he had to blink the tears away, burying his face in one hand. “...and you’re not around no more…and I can't just sit around and wait for a miracle to happen, I just can't…”

John wiped the tears away with a rough hand, making his skin turn all reddish. “You’re gone Arthur...you’re just...gone. Have been for a long time… And I can't bring you back…I wish I could, then maybe I wouldn’t feel so goddamn sorry for myself”. John let out a small and defeated chuckle, crying at the same time. “You would have been angry with me if you were here”, he continued. “Me and Jack, we uhm…don't exactly get along nowadays. He’s mad at me all the time and I rightly don’t know what to do with him. If you were here you probably could have talked some sense into the boy…”.

John fumbled with his hands, not knowing what to do with them. It was as he felt ashamed for telling Arthur all of this even though the man wouldn’t hear a single word. “It breaks my heart you know, knowing you missed out on his childhood…I know how much you wanted to be with us. How much you wanted to raise him as well…what we have now is an angry teenager barely speaking with his own father. And all he has is a miserable drunk of a father, acting even worse than Uncle ”.

John lowered his head at his own words, acknowledging his own disappointment of himself. “I have to move on, Arthur...I’m sorry, but I can't live in the past no more. There’s nothing for me there…”. John looked at the cross for a minute or two like he was waiting on some kind of response. He didn’t say anything else, he only sniffled one last time and lifted himself up to head inside the house.

John paced around in the living room, everyone was still asleep. His night with Jesse had made him forget about Arthur for a moment and it had been welcomed. He didn’t want to forget Arthur but he couldn’t hold on to him anymore either. He remembered how he, in the beginning, had written several letters addressed to Arthur Callahan only to tear them into pieces. A tiny part of him dared to hope that Arthur was alive but every time he had written, he felt forced to accept the harsh reality. This time, John let himself sit down and write one letter, mostly for his own peace of mind. To say farewell to Arthur Morgan once and for all.

“...wherever you might have wandered...Yours, always. Jim Milton”, John whispered while writing the last few words of the long letter before reading every sentence on the paper over and over before folding it.

John still wrote in aliases. One could never be too careful even though the bounty on his head had probably cooled down years ago. He wrote the same words on several more papers. When he was done he rode back to Blackwater and send them all over New Hanover, Ambarino and Lemoyne for the first and final time. The letters wouldn’t serve any purpose but they wouldn’t do any harm either. For John, this was so much more. For him, this was a very much needed closure.

Chapter Text

Lakay, 1899

As he got to Lakay, Arthur had been so relieved to find his family and he hugged Jack tightly as he promised him and Abigail that they would get John back. Jack held on to Arthur’s hand, the latter squeezing it back with a comforting touch.

Turned out Sadie had been a real rock for the family, bringing them all to safety while he and the others had been away and she and Charles had managed to find this place. Arthur gave a grateful nod to her and held his hand on her shoulder while he gave it a little squeeze and she responded with her own nod.

“This is Agent Milton with the Pinkerton Detective Agency…”

Everyone turned around and almost froze at the now familiar voice calling from the outside. Arthur motioned Jack to move behind him as he slowly backed them away from the window. Arthur searched for some kind of course of action from Dutch but the other man wasn’t able to give out any order before the agents started firing without mercy.

Arthur threw himself to the floor, covering all of his body over Jack as the bullets flew in by hundreds.

“Keep your head down Jack!” Abigail screamed in panic from her spot on the floor.

“Arthur, follow me!” Sadie called from across the room, crawling to the door in the back.

Arthur pulled Jack with him as he crawled over to Abigail, handing the boy over to her. Abigail held Jack tightly to her as they pressed against the floor. Jack was crying and Arthur could see that the child was scared to death and he could feel himself become infuriated with the men outside. He was gonna end every last one of them for this, he promised himself.

“It’s gonna be alright Jack, you just gotta be brave son, you hear?” Arthur said and Jack nodded quickly with tears streaming down his face. Arthur couldn’t offer more comfort for the child before he started to crawl after Sadie that made her way outside. As they got out of the house and sneaked their way to a better position, Arthur focused on taking the gunner out first, shooting him straight through the head.

“Arthur, there are more coming through the woods! Get to that gun, now!” Sadie called after they had managed to take out enough men to advance forward.

Bill and Sadie covered him as he made his way to the gatling gun the agents had used against the house. When he jumped up to the wagon it was placed on he quickly maneuvered it around and started to pump out the bullets at every moving target.

Soon, the remaining agents started to flee in the other direction but Arthur wouldn’t have it. He continued to fire, pumping the bullets straight into their backs as they ran away. He watched one after another go down and he wouldn’t stop shooting until every last one of them was dead. They really believed they could walk out of here alive? he thought. After what they were gonna do? They had been prepared to kill a child and for that, there’s no kind of forgiveness.

Arthur stopped firing, the adrenaline made his heart almost jump out of his chest. He damned that Milton and the fact that he was nowhere to be seen. He jumped down from the wagon, running back to the house and pushed the door open.

“Are everyone fine?” Arthur asked in worry, hurrying around and scanning for the members of the group. He gave out a sigh of relief as he learned no one was hurt.

“Are the bad men gone, Arthur?” Jack asked with a whisper, pressed against Abigail’s chest. They had managed to sit up and she held her arms wrapped tightly around the boy, caressing his head with hastened movements.

Arthur lowered himself to his knees before Jack. “Yeah kid, we’re safe now”, he all but whispered back.

Arthur wished for his words to be true but he knew that Jack would never be safe as long as he he was here...in this kind of life. The boy moved away from his mother’s bosom and pressed himself against Arthur who responded in an instant by embracing the little one in his arms. Abigail’s whole face was still covered with shock from the event but she managed to give a careful smile to Arthur as their eyes met over Jack’s shoulder. She reached for one of Arthur’s hands that was placed on Jack’s back and squeezed it tight. She gave a simple nod to him with wet eyes and he could only interpret the gesture as a way to thank him. Arthur squeezed her hand back, but as a promise.

 

-

 

“We can’t stay here. We need to move. It's just a matter of time before reinforcements get here”, Dutch said to the group who had gathered around him.

“They wouldn’t have found us in the first place if it wasn’t for Bill’s stupidity”, Arthur hissed and gestured his hand angrily at the man's direction. “Asking around about us…dragging all them Pinkertons with him...”

“Shut your mouth Morgan”, Bill spat out in defense.

“Now, that’s a mistake you won’t do again, son”, Dutch ordered.

Bill’s eyes sank to the floor. “No, boss...”, he answered with shame in his voice.

“What about Marston, Dutch…? We need to get him out and real soon”. Arthur didn’t want to bring it up so soon but Dutch had been very laid back about it the whole time and they didn’t know how much time John had.

“Arthur, you heard what Abigail said. He’s at Sisika … Sisika!” Dutch exclaimed, pacing around with quick steps, a habit Arthur had taken after. “We’re gonna get him out…eventually”.

“What do you mean eventually? ” Abigail asked with a raised voice. “They’re probably gonna hang him Dutch! We need to act fast or he’ll be dead soon”.

“Not. Yet”. Dutch dragged out on the words. “The plan was to lie low after the heist. Breaking that boy from prison isn’t my idea of lying low. It will bring us even more attention”.

“The heist…”, Arthur said and shook his head. “And where’s that money now, huh? Lost at the bottom of the goddamn sea! And if you hadn’t noticed, their attention is already directed at us, they was trying to kill us all moments ago!” Arthur yelled, he hadn’t raised his voice to Dutch in years and the man did not look pleased.

“You do as I say, and right now I say we do nothing . Not until the time's right. Then we get him out”. Arthur knew when Dutch had his last say about something and this was one of those moments.

Arthur walked away from the group, waving Dutch’s words off. He stepped outside and walked through the piles of dead bodies they had created.

“I’ll figure something out”.

Arthur halted and turned around, Sadie looked at him with her hands held to her waist and her head raised high.

“Sisika is located on an island, Sadie. It won’t exactly be our regular jailbreak. That place is heavily guarded and we can’t exactly trick our way into it”, Arthur answered, he felt that this was a lost cause already but he couldn’t give up.

“Like I said, I’ll figure something out. We can’t leave him behind”.

“No, that we can’t”. Arthur was grateful for her spirit but didn’t say anything more than that, not wanting to get his hopes up so soon.

“I know you and him are close. Heard that the both of you were taken in at quite a young age”.

Arthur nodded thoughtfully. “I’ve been running with them longer but John was taken in younger. He was only twelve when Dutch found him and brought him home. I remember that day like it was yesterday. He was a wild one, the most unruly kid I ever saw". Arthur chuckled a little at the memory. “I tried to do my best for him and I think he kinda looked up to me when we were younger. But then he grew up and became his own man, he still is”. Arthur found himself telling a bit much about their past, things he rarely spoke of. He decided to leave it at that, lifting his head to look at Sadie. She only gave him a faint smile.

“Let’s just hope we make it to him in time then”, she simply answered.

 

Beaver’s Hollow, 1899

Beaver’s Hollow…their new fancy cavern camp, Arthur thought. Inhabited by the notorious Murfree Broods. Well, that was until Arthur and Charles had taken care of them. Now their hideout was the van der Linde gang’s hideout. How nice to be this far up, they were heading north all of a sudden. Arthur felt his thoughts become bitter as he lay on his cot.

It was hard for him to sleep that night. After their stay in Guarma, the island he and the others had drifted ashore after the shipwreck, he had felt weak. There had been lack of proper food and water for quite a while but he was sure he would recover properly within a few days.

He had never felt such heat as the one he had felt on that island and he didn’t miss it one bit. It was a beautiful place but far too dangerous. He still thought it was a miracle that all of them had gotten out of there, all while surviving a raging civil war and even taking part in it.

Things had been a little tense between him and Dutch since Guarma and Arthur worried about the man Dutch was slowly turning into. He had killed an old woman out of paranoia on the foreign island, afraid she would turn them in. Maybe she would have but it was still unlike Dutch. He only killed when he had to and Arthur hadn’t felt the threat as clearly as Dutch had. And now he didn’t want to bring John back to them. Not yet, he had said, but Arthur had sensed that there was more to it. Like he was prepared to let John die for the greater good. He didn’t seem to care of what would happen to him, as though John was just another holdback of Dutch’s plans. But it didn’t make any sense because Dutch loved John...Arthur knew the both of them were Dutch’s favourites even if the man had never said it with those words. 

The same went with Hosea, oh beloved Hosea…Arthur hadn’t the time to mourn him yet, so caught up with getting away from that island. Now the feelings came crashing down all at once and Arthur could feel himself tear up. He tried to swallow the lump in his throat as he closed his eyes. He lay like that until he could feel the anxiety ebb out.

Arthur scratched violently at his head. He had finally cut off his hair. He didn’t know why, since he didn’t really minded it and John seemed to like it, with the way he always stroke his beautiful fingers through it, all while looking at Arthur through eyes intoxicated with either a fierce lust or what Arthur sometimes thought could be love from the dark haired man. Maybe he had done it because he felt disoriented and felt he had slowly been losing his grip of reality these past weeks.

He sat up and opened his journal, he was at least glad that one of the ladies at camp had packed his things as they had left the Shady Belle. He wondered if anyone had taken a peek in it. It didn’t matter right now but there were images and words written in it that no one should know of. Words of intimacy and confessions of affection to a person he shouldn’t hold such feelings for. It could be dangerous if the wrong person found out but he decided to cross that bridge when he got there.

He started to sketch the last image he had of Hosea even if it hurt. He wanted to do this. He needed to. He was his…father...and he hadn’t the chance to say goodbye to him, telling the old man what he really had meant for him all these years. He truly hoped that Hosea had known just how much he had loved and respected the man before he died. Now that he was gone Arthur could see that Dutch was starting to lose his footing. Hosea had always been the one keeping their senses together and Arthur feared how things would proceed from now on. He thought of the accusations Micah had brought up after the heist and wondered if Dutch’s reluctance to get John back had anything to do with them. He didn’t want to believe that but Dutch hadn’t defended either John or Abigail when the subject emerged.

Arthur stayed up, drawing and writing until he felt his last drop of energy completely drained. As he lay down he closed his eyes and thought of their last night together in Shady Belle. The way John had made love to him…how he had let John take every inch of his body until there was nothing left for Arthur to give except the promise that maybe he would follow him when the time came.

“I will get you back, I promise…”.

 

-

 

“Marston!”

John sat up in a second in his bed and felt his whole body tense. He had been fearing this day ever since he got the news of his fate. But it was a day too early than said date but since he was gonna die anyway it probably didn’t matter. He had come to terms with the fact that no one was gonna come for him and that every possibility of him walking out of this alive was close to zero.

“Marston, get down from there and get your ass over here”, the guard demanded angrily.

John jumped down from his bunk bed. He wasn’t working the fields today either, the warden had made him stay in his cell ever since the news of his hanging, probably to mess with his head and force him to be stuck with his inner demons all day long every day. And of course to minimize the risks of him escaping again.

“Is it time?” John asked with indifference.

“Just come with me, goddamnit”.

John let the guard put on the chains around his ankles and was roughly shoved to start walking. What was going on? John thought. The guard seemed stressed out and he was perspiring profusely. 

They reached the gates to Sisika and John figured they were heading for a boat, taking him back to Saint Denis for his hanging. When he went through the gates his eyes widened and he felt his knees turn weak. The guard shoved at him again but not following him.

“Go!”

“Get here, Marston!”

John was confused by the situation but didn’t hesitate to run forward, Sadie meeting up with him and shooting the chain off. Arthur held a guard at gunpoint in his arms, Sadie dragged him past them and ushered him to run. And so he did. Then the shooting started and he turned around quickly to see if Arthur kept up with them. Sadie handed him a pistol and together they shot their way from the facility until they reached a boat. Sadie started rowing while Arthur took down the guards that followed them from land.

Not until they were far out on the water could John breathe out and process what had just happened. John didn’t know what to say to Arthur, he felt speechless. “Thank you…”, his eyes drifted quickly back and forth between Arthur and Sadie. “Thank you both”.

Arthur and John’s eyes locked and didn’t leave each other for a long time. Arthur had lost a little weight, his usual strong chest seemed hollowed out and there were dark circles under his eyes and his skin held a reddish tone, like he had been sunburnt. He looked exhausted. John studied Arthur’s hair, it had been cut quite short and would take some time to get used to seeing again.

Arthur watched John, he had lost weight as well and his face was all covered with ugly bruises and small wounds that were on their way to heal. A short but thick grown beard framed his face instead of his usual stubble.

None of the men moved closer to each other from where they sat on opposite ends of the boat with Sadie rowing between them. During several weeks, both had sadly been too prepared to never see the other again so when they finally did, all they could manage was to do just that. As the minutes passed, both Arthur and John teared up by the sheer sight of the other. Sadie let out a few sentences but none of the two could hear a single of the words being uttered.

When they got to mainland Sadie yelled at them to hurry up as she mounted her horse. Arthur jumped up on Iron and reached his hand down to John, pulling him up to sit behind him. As they rode John tightened his arms around Arthur, his hands holding to his chest and stomach, pressing the side of his face against the other’s back. Arthur placed one of his hands over John’s. The younger man didn’t care that Sadie rode beside them as he closed his eyes and placed a kiss on Arthur’s shoulder.

Arthur turned his head a little and John moved even closer. “I’m right here”, he reassured as he caressed John’s hand. Sadie watched them and was reminded of what she once had.

Chapter Text

Dutch was not pleased when the three of them rode into the new camp. Abigail hurried to meet them as soon as she saw them on their horses.

“John! Thank God!”

John responded with a warm smile to her as she took her hand in his before she thanked both Arthur and Sadie. The rest of the gang kept in the background as Dutch closed in with hastened steps.

“John! What are you doing here?”

“Why exactly shouldn’t I be here, Dutch?” John answered incredulously as he and Arthur jumped off of Iron.

“I hadn’t sent for you. Yet”.

“I went”, Arthur stated, meeting Dutch’s eyes with defiance.

“You know what I said Arthur”.

“And I felt differently”.

“Is that so?”

“Yes”, Arthur answered shortly, lifting his chin slightly as to challenge Dutch.

“Dutch, they was gonna hang me. Tomorrow. If Sadie and Arthur hadn’t come along when they did, I’d be nothing but a memory”, John told him truthfully.

Micah stood by Dutch’s side, he always did nowadays. “And what a fine memory that would have been”, Micah said. Abigail tried to jump him but John took a hold of her just in time.

“You rotten bastard!” she yelled with nothing but disgust towards Micah.

“Oh, go to hell, Micah!” Sadie snapped at the same time as Abigail.

There were a few silent moments of tension in the air, two sides only staring at each other, waiting for the next move. It was ended when Dutch spoke. “Well, in that case, we are all glad you’re here…”, he said with little truth to his words, he and Micah backing away. “But now…they may come and hang us all!” Dutch exclaimed, having the final words before he and Micah walked away with Bill and Javier following them.

Sadie left with her arms crossed and with an angry look on her face, she knew well enough that it was better to cool down some place else, given her temper.  

John kept his eyes to the ground at Dutch’s words, he had been far too naive to ever think that the man would be happy to have him back.

Arthur stood so close next to John that their hands could brush against the other and all Arthur wanted to do was take his hand in his to offer some sort of comfort to the man. Arthur was surprised when John actually caressed his fingers over Arthur’s, all while keeping his eyes in the same place, never looking at Arthur while doing it. The small gesture of affection could be easily missed if one wasn’t paying attention, unlike Abigail who never missed it. She stared at their hands for a few seconds before the moment was replaced with Jack running to John. The boy had been with Charles, eager to help the man as he had taken to gather some plants right outside camp.

John lowered himself to his knees, keeping his arms wide open as Jack practically jumped to him. “Hi, son”, John smiled as he lifted Jack up and pressed their cheeks together while caressing the back of the boy’s head. John closed his eyes and only held his son in his arms. “You have no idea how glad I am too see you”, he spoke softly.

“Where have you been pa?” Jack asked. “Mom’s been crying everyday when you were gone”.

John looked at Abigail by the words and she only lowered her eyes, as did Arthur. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here, Jack…I wanted to but I couldn’t. It doesn't matter where I’ve been because I’m here now, aren’t I?” John tried while giving the boy a reassuring smile.

“John? Can I speak with you for a moment?” Abigail asked with an unsteady voice.

“Yeah…alright”, John answered.

“I can take the boy…”, Arthur almost mumbled.

John planted a kiss on Jack’s head. “Why don’t you go and be with Arthur for a moment?”

John lifted Jack down who grabbed the hand Arthur reached out to him. Jack looked back at his mother and father as he and Arthur left them.

Around him there wasn’t a single happy face and Arthur sensed the atmosphere in the camp was worse than ever and he feared deeply that the gang was broken.

 

-

 

In her closed tent, Abigail gathered some clean clothes for John but he only shook his head.

“I need to wash up first. I haven’t in weeks”.

Abigail nodded, looking around to find the soap. “I’m so glad you’re back John…I really am. What Jack said back there…he wasn’t lying”, she said with a whisper. John looked away from her, there was nothing he could do whenever Abigail spoke of the feelings she unfortunately still had for him, putting him in a helpless state. “I didn’t know what to do that day. They caught Hosea right in front of me and he told me to run, so I did. Then Charles told me about you and I have never been so scared my whole life”. She started to cry. John moved close to her and opened his arms to hold her tightly while gently stroking her black hair.

“I’m okay…thanks to you. They told me how you’ve practically forced them to get me back, Sadie said that you even planned on coming along”.

Abigail let out a short sad laugh. “Oh no, they had already made up their minds when I begged them for help. Arthur would never leave you, you know… Consider yourself lucky”, she said and sniffled.

“Hey”, John said softly. She looked up at him with tears running down her cheeks. John wiped them carefully away with his thumbs as he held her face in his big palms. “I would never leave you either, I was coming for you, that's why I got captured in the first place”.

Abigail’s eyes widened and she blinked quickly. “Charles told me…but it means a lot hearing it from you…thank you”.

“I’d never leave you behind, whatever bad thing that happened between us before”.

Abigail pressed herself even closer to John. It had been such a long time since they had touched in this way and she hated herself for missing it this much. She was overwhelmed by her feelings and couldn’t help herself when she held her hand on John’s cheek and reached up for a kiss. She pressed her lips to his harder, desperate to feel some kind of response…but none was given to her. She slowly parted her lips from his and looked up at him. John watched her at first but slowly his eyes drifted away.

John shook his head. “I’m sorry Abigail. I can't...I’m just...sorry”.  

Abigail pushed herself away from his embrace. “Why are you like this?” She had raised her voice and it almost broke on the last word. She closed her eyes and John could see her whole body tremble as more tears escaped her. “Why did you choose him?” she almost yelled.

He froze, his mouth opening slightly but not a word left it. Everyone must have heard her. John gestured with both his hands for her to keep her voice down.

“I see you touching…holding hands”, she spoke with almost a disgust in her voice. “...looking at each other…and all I ever wanted was for you to do that with me”.

John let out a sigh and rubbed his face in one hand. “Come here”, he soothed, stepping closer to Abigail to embrace her again, hoping to calm her down.

“No! Just go John”, she cried out in desperation, throwing the bar of soap at him. John didn’t want to leave her in this condition but he knew when Abigail needed space.

He was ready to storm out of the tent but turned around to her in the last second, deciding to speak his mind for a change.

“You know what Abigail? I didn’t choose him over you, because there was no you and me. Not for years”. Abigail’s crying became more intense as he spilled out the harsh facts. “Quit your goddamn crying and get over it already”, he said as his last words. He angrily picked up the clothes and the soap and made his way out of the tent.

Everyone nearby looked at him but no one said anything about it. Arthur sat by the campfire with Jack by his side but John looked away when Arthur met his eyes. He lowered his head as he walked over to Old Boy. He patted the big horse, happy to see him again after all these weeks. He jumped up on him and made his way to a nearby lake to clean himself up. What a fucking mess, he thought.

 

-

 

“Why did you choose him?” Arthur could see the nearby faces shift their attention to the tent and then rest their eyes on Arthur, like pieces were being put together. Not everyone had heard, Dutch, Micah, Bill, Javier hadn’t been close enough, they were holding up in the cavern, probably going through some plans Arthur once could take part of beforehand. Arthur trusted the rest of them to not simply lynch him and John on sight if they did understand. 

Jack looked up at Arthur and gave him a questioning look. “Why is momma yelling?” he asked.

“Nothing to worry about kid, she’s just a little upset”, Arthur murmured.

“What did she mean by that? Have pa been bad again?” Jack continued.

Arthur sighed, feeling the guilt rise in his stomach. “Maybe I can tell you when you’re older…and no, your pa hasn’t been bad, I guess”. He turned his head and watched John make his way out of the tent. Their eyes met but John looked away instantly. Arthur faced forward again, not wanting to show the disappointment in his eyes in case John returned them again. All he wanted was to hold John, if only for a few seconds. It had only been a few weeks but he had missed him quite terribly. Even if he wouldn’t admit it to himself, he had been afraid. Afraid that he would lose John forever, just like he had with Eliza and Isaac.

“Daddy looked sad”.

“What? Oh, ehm. Sometimes you get sad when someone you care about is sad”.

“So if I make momma happy, then maybe pa will get happy too?”

Arthur smiled slightly and felt a warmth in his chest at Jack’s words. “Well, I don't know kid. But it doesn't hurt to try, now does it? Go on”.

“Okay, uncle Arthur”. Jack got up to his feet and hurried to the closed tent Abigail was in.

Arthur hoped that Abigail would feel better someday. It must have been hard on her, even if she said she had accepted it. Arthur knew she was lying, he could see it in her eyes. Several months had passed since he and John had gotten involved with each other but Arthur knew well enough how long a heartache could take a hold on oneself. Arthur hadn’t told John about his last meeting with Mary in Saint Denis, not that John would have said anything about it. He rarely interfered with Arthur’s personal business, considering John being a relatively private person himself, craving solitude in long periods from time to time.

Arthur thought about following John to where he was going but Abigail’s words had drawn unnecessary attention to them and he didn’t want to make matters worse.

 

-

 

As the days passed, Arthur found himself thinking of the inevitable. The look on Jack’s face as the Pinkertons had almost slaughtered them all with that gatling gun. The fact that John had almost been hanged. And Dutch…how he had handled John’s situation with such indifference. They had never been safe in this kind of life but now they were actively being hunted like never before.

They needed to get Jack out as well as his mother and father.

“I can't leave…”

“You can…”

“Maybe. I want to…”

Arthur knew what he had said to him last time they spoke of leaving the gang and Arthur had both lied and told the truth at the same time. He wanted to be with John but he didn’t want to leave his family behind. The gang was, in fact, his real family as much as he wanted a family of his own with John.

He always believed that John would have a chance in life, unlike himself. Arthur felt he was already doomed, he had lived this kind of life for so long that there was no other way living it. As much as he doubted Dutch, questioning every bit of his actions lately, he couldn’t just betray him. Because that's how Dutch would take it if he left. Dutch did say once that Arthur would betray him in the end. As Arthur pondered over it, the more he thought that Dutch believed his own words to be true, like he had sensed Arthur’s longing for another life. A life with him . A life without all this lying, stealing and killing... 

Arthur knew what choice he needed to make and he knew it wasn’t going to be easy on John. But it had to be done and there was no use in acknowledging how wrong it actually felt.

 

-

 

A week had passed since John’s return and he and Arthur hadn’t had the chance to as much as glance at each other. Not that they didn’t want to do more but things were tense in their new camp which was the worst one yet in Arthur’s opinion. Besides, Arthur had been busy with reluctantly going through with Dutch’s plans that were becoming more and more absurd. Dutch had said that they needed to make more noise. Yesterday, he and Bill had stolen a whole wagon filled with explosives in Van Horn. The idea was to blow up a bridge, frequently used by the government and the military as a means of transport of wares and riches, in order to get the law to turn their focus somewhere else.

Arthur spent the following day helping Rain Falls. It felt very much needed getting away from Beaver’s Hollow, if only for a few hours. Dutch didn’t know about the help Arthur had given Rain Falls and would surely not approve of it since Dutch himself was working with the chief's son Eagle Flies, slowly inciting him to start a war with the army to create more of that noise, much to Arthur’s disapproval.

Rain Falls and Arthur had connected in a way Arthur wished he could with Dutch. Rain Falls loved his son in a way he didn’t have to describe with words but even so, Arthur could see it clearly.

On their way, Arthur had to retrieve some sacred relics for Rain Falls taken as a laugh by a group of army men.

“I’m grateful that you chose not to harm anyone”, Rain Falls stated afterwards as they headed down the mountains, their horses moving forward in a slow walk.

“You asked me to avoid it if I could. Besides, they were a bit drunk so there was no need”.

“Is that such a bad thing? To avoid violence and death when and where it serves no purpose?”

“Think you’re talking to the wrong person here, chief. Do I need to remind you of what kind of man I am? Hurting and killing people is all I ever been good at. What I’ve been taught...how I’ve survived my whole life…”.

“And still, you’ve chosen to help me and my tribe’s cause even when it's nothing for you to gain. For that, we thank you”.

Arthur shrugged his shoulders. “Well, don’t thank me just yet. Your fight is far from over and to be honest I don't think it ever will be until either your people or theirs are dead”.

“I’m not giving up, at least not yet. Maybe all of this is a lost cause but I will try to make another effort. Next step is to sit down with Colonel Favours and try to reach an agreement that could serve both parts involved”.

A small laugh slipped from Arthur’s lips while he shook his head. “From everything you and Eagle Flies told me, that man don't seem like someone you should be trusting, let alone meet with”.

“I’m aware of the risks Mr. Morgan but I have to at least try and Captain Monroe will be by my side. What else is there to do?”

“The truth? No offense but I think you should all leave, let them have the land. If you stay I fear the army’s gonna drive all of you away with any means necessary, no matter what. Leave and find another place to start over. On different land. Either that or start a war”.

“Me and my people have been wandering our whole lives. There is no place for us anymore”.

“Yeah…I know what you mean”, Arthur answered thoughtfully, thinking about his own people.

The both men fell into silence, Arthur relishing the cool and fresh air, taking a few deep breaths.

“What do you search for in life, Mr. Morgan, if I may ask?”

“Me? I don't know”, Arthur answered and rubbed the back of his neck. He always felt a bit uncomfortable when personal matters were being mentioned. He started to brush his fingers over Iron’s rough mane, it had always been a soothing touch.

“You’ve spoken a lot about your leader Dutch. Father figure you called him. I understand that he’s of great importance to you. And you spoke of the family you once ha-...”.

“Eliza and Isaac are of the past”, Arthur interrupted. Rain Falls looked at him for a few seconds, contemplating his next words.

“Sometimes the past stick to us. Become a part of us. I did not wish to trouble your heart, I simply wondered if there is someone you hold dear today, besides your leader”.

Arthur sighed, focusing his eyes elsewhere than Rain Falls’ face. “There are two. Two people I hold dear but am not allowed to have”.

Rain Falls nodded but didn’t say anything. Arthur stayed quiet as well until he understood he was expected to continue.

“I want a child that isn’t mine. In many ways, he reminds me of what I had long ago...and even if he’s not my blood, I’m gonna protect that boy until I draw my last goddamn breath. I want to do for him what I couldn’t for my son. The other person...well”, Arthur shrugged his shoulders again. “I don't know what to say about that...except that we are not supposed to… love each other”. The last words came out almost inaudible.

“Want and love can be dangerous when handled poorly but I see that you are a man of reason, Mr. Morgan. I don't think that you would let anyone come to harm by your own desires. Desires that, to me, sound nothing more than human”.

“It’s more complicated than that”.

“Is it, really?”

Arthur turned his head to face Rain Falls, a bit frustrated that the man saw things with such ease. He only saw things for what they were. Arthur couldn’t do that, because there was always so much more than that lurking around the corner.

“A part of me wants to run away with the both of them and never look back. I know I’ve done nothing but bad things in my life and I’m slowly coming to terms with that but...I’m tired chief”.

“I know, my friend…but there’s never too late for redemption”.

“I don't know about that. Many things…I can't set straight, the harm’s already been made”.

“Maybe you can try to do the best with the time you have, you’re still young. Leave with them. Try to live a different life with people you love. It’s not too late, Mr. Morgan”.

Arthur felt a lump in his throat. He was about to tear up but only shook his head slowly to himself. “This other person, he uh, believes I’m gonna leave together with him when the time comes but I know it’s never gonna happen. And I have to tell him soon. That I can't go with him… because I can't leave Dutch behind”.

“Are you willing to follow your father, even if it could mean your death?”

Arthur didn’t know what to answer this time.

Chapter Text

Arthur and John had just blown up Bacchus Bridge to create the noise Dutch so badly craved for but Arthur doubted it would help them in any way. He had never felt so hunted like he did nowadays. The Pinkertons would eventually succeed, he thought, and he would probably die with his guns blazing, literally. He feared that all of their dreams would eventually turn into nothingness, along with himself. Dutch always said they needed more faith but Arthur had lost most of it after Hosea’s death, only following Dutch because he didn’t have it in his heart to do the opposite.

As they had ridden more than halfway back to camp, Arthur gestured for them to make a stop. “Better let the boys rest a bit”, he suggested and patted Iron on his head. The big animal neighed in response.

“You think we’re good?” John asked while looking around. “We’re not that far away from home. I think the horses can manage”.

“Yeah well, Dutch don't really want us to ride straight to camp anyway. You know that”, Arthur mumbled.

“Alright”, John answered, a little hesitant, looking around again with worried eyes. Things were tense all the time now, he had been lucky to escape the noose two times in his life and he wasn’t too kind on facing it a third one.

“You hungry?” Arthur asked as he dismounted his horse and started to lead it into the woods, leaving the road.

“A bit maybe, but we shouldn’t linger too long. Dutch probably wants to know how it went”, John answered as he started to follow him.

Arthur didn’t answer, he just kept moving forward with determined steps for quite a while until they got to a small lake.

“I thought this was the place, O’Creagh’s Run, it's called. Rode past it a few times. Beautiful huh?”

John let himself take in the view of the nature surrounding them. “Almost as beautiful as Clemens Point”, he stated and Arthur nodded thoughtfully. “There’s a cabin on the other side of the lake”, John pointed out.

“Probably abandoned. Don’t need to check it out though, this spot here will do just fine. It’s secluded enough”.

John hitched Iron and Old Boy to a small tree and fed them a couple of carrots while Arthur went through one of the saddlebags and fished up two cans of beans. “I’ve got these and some dried meat”, he informed while walking away to some boulders they could sit on.

“That’s uhm, fine, Arthur”, John answered with a simple shrug of his shoulders, observing the other man. John thought he acted a little odd, like he was miles away.

“Why don’t we sleep here for the night?” Arthur asked without looking at him. “Yeah…what you say…it's a nice spot, don’t you think? It’s getting late anyway…”, he rambled on with a mumble.

John frowned, Arthur had his back turned to him and kept fumbling with getting the cans open. John stepped a little closer to the other and could see that Arthur’s hands were shaking, it was near to unnoticeable but John always had an eye for the older man’s body language. He walked over the few last steps to Arthur and rested his hand on top of his. He guided it to put away the can and so Arthur did and then with the second one as well. John pulled at Arthur slightly so he could face him. “What is it, Arthur? You’re acting awfully strange”.

Arthur wouldn’t look at him. He flickered with his eyes and John felt a tiny bit of sorrow seeing the usually proud man succumb to a state of uncertainty.

“Come here”. John pulled the other into his arms and Arthur wrapped his own around John’s body, gripping onto him tighter than ever before. John could feel Arthur clench his fingers at his shirt as he caressed his one hand over Arthur’s back while the other held the back of his golden head. “Tell me what’s wrong, Arthur”.

“Everything’s wrong. You know that”.

“Yeah…”, John breathed out and lowered his eyes.

“You and Jack have to get out soon…maybe in a couple of days even. I mean it this time...there’s nothing good in it for you no more”.

We will leave”, John corrected and furrowed his brows.

Then came the moment Arthur had feared for days. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath before he opened them again. “I’m not coming with you, I’ve already made that part clear”.

John shied away from Arthur, hurt written all over his face and confusion filling every of his word. “That was a while back…I thought things were different now. You said you wanted to come with me last time we spoke of it”, John tried desperately.

“They’re not, John. I know what I said and it was foolish of me to make you believe that would ever be our life...I’m sorry…”. Arthur spoke with a calm tone while shaking his head slowly to the words. Arthur needed him to understand, just this time. “I want to come with you...I don't think you know how much…But my place is by Dutch’s side, I can't just leave him…I’m gonna talk to him about letting you, Abigail and Jack go. He has a plan about one final score and if it works I’m gonna give you my share also so you all can leave for good”.

John shook his head, tears making him see nothing but a blur. “No”, he whispered. “You have to come, Arthur. I thought we were in this together… ”, he pleaded and started to fumble with Arthur’s hands, arms, every part of Arthur as his desperation turned into close to panic.

Arthur felt a knot in his stomach when he saw John’s tears escape his beautiful dark eyes and roll down his cheeks. “There’s a big prize on my head, I would only put all three of you in harm’s way if I come with. It’s Dutch they’re after John, next one is me and then Micah, then maybe Bill. But you …you can make it”. Arthur’s voice had become unsteady, he couldn’t bear this much longer.

John suddenly pushed Arthur away. “What the hell’s wrong with you? I’ve run with this gang for fourteen goddamn years! You broke my ass from prison barely two weeks ago! I’m already on their wanted list. You think I should send Abigail and Jack out there alone because me being with them puts them in harm’s way? No way…”, John let out the two last words in a whisper and shook his head in disbelief. “I’m ready to take our chances if it means we all can be together and so should you ”. John was starting to get real upset, his voice making it very obvious. “You’re just too goddamn afraid, aren’t you? You’re nothing but a coward”, John spat out with every piece of detest he felt in that moment.

Arthur ignored John’s efforts of trying to provoke him, it had always been the man’s way of dealing with his sometimes very strong feelings, always biting back to cover up his own hurt. His sensitivity made his own reasoning somewhat clouded, making it harder for himself to accept reality. John was fragile in that way, he felt too much, his heart stronger than his mind.

For Arthur it had always been the other way around, putting the rewarding of thinking before the consequences of feeling, no matter the cost. Arthur had felt too much sorrow in his lifetime already and knowing well enough that a hurt would always mend with time he was aware that sometimes you had to end something good in order to have something better. And he believed that John and Jack would, in fact, be better off without him as much as he himself wanted them. Arthur thought it would be selfish to act by his own desires when there clearly was a bigger concern to the matter.

Arthur knew he himself was right but he also knew that John had a point. Being together with his family was what John wanted most and Arthur truly wished he could be a part of that. “Oh I know you’re a wanted man Marston, what I meant is that you’re not their priority . You would have a better chance of survival without me drawing attention, considering I’m the one with the second highest bounty in several states”, he explained slowly, keeping his patience with John since he knew this couldn’t be easy on the man, as much as he also knew this conversation was gonna be hell for both of them.

“I hate to say this Morgan, but can't you see ? Dutch don't want you around no more”. Arthur flinched a little by the way John articulated the words painted with nothing but the ugly truth of it all. “He’s all about Micah now. He don't want me and he don't want you. Dutch has made his choice to throw away the years you’ve given, over that asshole that’s been here for what? Eight, nine months now? You know it’s true…You’ve seen what Dutch has become. You know…back in Saint Denis, for a second, I swore I could have seen him turn the other way. Like he could have done something to help me, but chose not to. It’s only a matter of time before he turns his back on you as well ”.

Arthur found himself in a state of shock. He didn’t notice how wet his cheeks had become, he couldn’t feel the multiple tears that had rolled down them during John’s outburst. “Dutch would never do that”, Arthur said quietly, trying to deny the reality of John’s harsh words.

John’s voice almost broke when he spoke his final words over the matter. “Not the Dutch we grew up with, but this one would. Just you wait , Arthur Morgan”.

At a different circumstance Arthur would have shut the other man up with a fist to his jaw but in that moment he felt what could only be described as loss . Unable to hold his feelings back, he sank to his knees and sat on his heels, his breathing became strained just like the night of Jack’s abduction. Arthur gave in and started to cry.

John had never seen Arthur like this before but it reflected what he himself felt. He looked away, closing his eyes. So this is how it would end? They would go separate ways because of a leader that was more than happy to give them both up.

“FUUUCK!” John screamed at the top of his lungs until his voice broke, clenching his fists until he felt his nails dig deeply into the palms of his hands. He paced around quickly, rubbing his face frantically. “God damn you, Morgan. God fucking damn you!” John exclaimed as he fell to his own knees before Arthur, grabbing him by his collar while raising one of his fists. He wanted to hit some sense into the man, frustration and heartache mixed together inside of him until it had hit overdrive. “Shit, shit, shit”, John repeated as he tried to calm down, lowering his hands before he did something he probably would regret.

As reality started to sink in more profoundly John found himself to only stare into the distance as the harmonic sound of singing and chirping birds accompanied by the sound of Arthur’s sobbings filled up the background. John shook his head slowly to himself, realising that all of this not only meant that Arthur wouldn’t follow him, it also meant that they would never have each other…ever again. John could feel the panic hit him and he covered his face with both hands as he let it consume him fully.

Arthur hadn’t stopped crying, he felt so weak and helpless. Their future was so uncertain and bleak at this point and Arthur knew he didn’t want this at all…but he knew it was for the best. His idea was for them to have this night alone and together but Arthur wasn’t so sure that they would be able to relax after this. In a matter of minutes, he had broken everything they had into pieces. It was just an ugly mess. Both of them were crying and John let his whole body fall to the ground with his hands over his face while making the most awful sounds of despair that made Arthur break even harder. “John…”, Arthur tried between his sobbings, reaching out a hand to the younger man who had turned his body into a fetal position. He weakly slapped Arthur’s hand away. “Don’t you fucking touch me!” John burst out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

STOP READING HERE AND CONTINUE TO THE COMMENTS IF YOU WANT TO AVOID THE NON-CON PART 

  

 

 

Arthur wanted to comfort John but a selfish part of him needed the other’s closeness in order to comfort himself, it wasn’t often he felt these overwhelming emotions and definitely not all at once. He pushed John to his back while he put his body on top of him, trying to embrace him. John squirmed and shot a fist to Arthur’s face, making blood stream out of his nose in an instant. Arthur moved away and wiped some of the blood off with the back of his hand but more kept gushing out and he could feel it stream down over his lips.

They only met each other's eyes for a few moments, John’s showing no form of regret and Arthur’s showing no kind of anger. The older man ignored the warning from the other as he more desperately moved closer to press their bodies together again, he knew John would never calm down if he didn’t force it upon him to do so. John tried to push him away but Arthur responded by holding a strong grip around John’s wrists and pin them to the ground on each side of his head.

“No! No, I don't…fucking…want you!” John screamed to him between his efforts, trying to break free from Arthur’s hold by squirming violently and kicking frantically with his legs.

“Hey, hey. Look at me John…”, Arthur spoke with a gentle voice, struggling to calm the other. When John refused, Arthur pressed his cheek against his, both feeling the wetness from the other’s tears as they mixed together. “It’s okay, just breathe. Breathe”, Arthur continued but John kept pushing away in panic and yelled for him to let go of him. Arthur lifted his head, trying to seek any kind of contact with him. When he found none he could feel himself lose the last of his patience. “Would you calm down goddamnit!” Arthur demanded with a raised voice.

By pushing one of John’s legs aside with his foot he forced himself between John’s legs, making the younger man struggle even harder with kicking at him. John tried to pull away his arms from where they were being held but Arthur pushed them down harder and John winced slightly by the pain as Arthur tightened his grip around his wrists with force. Arthur pressed their foreheads together, refusing to let John’s eyes escape from his. As their eyes finally met all they could do was breathe heavily into the other’s mouth.

For a moment, John seemed to calm down and all they could see in each other's eyes was the pure despair both felt. Their faces were so close they could feel the warmth radiating from the other’s lips and something desperate in Arthur made him press his to John’s. It wasn’t beautiful or gentle in any way but John responded even so. They kissed violently with Arthur’s blood filling their mouths, causing a metallic taste to spread over their tongues.

John started to squirm again and Arthur released his grip around one of John’s wrists and planted the hand over John’s throat, holding it in a strong grip to keep his head still as the younger man tried to break away from the kiss. Arthur kissed him more wantonly and John soon responded by giving in to him and kissing as desperately as him, his free hand touching at anything he could get. Arthur released his other hand and let it wander to John’s thigh, moving to the back of it to lift it and spread his legs further for him.

John’s hands moved over every part of Arthur but stopped at his hips, pulling at them to move Arthur even closer. Arthur pressed himself roughly between John’s legs, rubbing his growing hardness against him, his hips moving with rolling motions. Arthur pulled away from the kiss to look at John while the latter closed his eyes, breathing quickly as Arthur applied the pressure of his hardness against John’s own. John’s face was wet with tears and he had blood all smeared out around his mouth and Arthur couldn’t have wanted every inch of the man before him more fiercely than this moment, rubbing against him more frantically and squeezing his hand over his throat harder.

When John started to moan, Arthur caught his lips with his own and moved one hand between them to unbutton John’s pants. Arthur pulled away and quickly heaved the younger man around to lie on his stomach. Arthur didn’t know what got over him. He didn’t think, he only gave in to what his body wanted in that moment as he started to tear off the younger man’s pants, dragging them down to his knees with haste. John could feel the cool grass against his exploding member and make its way up between his thighs. He felt exhausted in both mind and body as he rested the side of his face against the grass and listened to Arthur fumble with his satchel, grabbing their tin.

After a few moments, he felt one hand spread his cheeks and a slick finger seek its way into his hole and he couldn’t help but gasp at the sudden sensation. Arthur pressed in a second finger far too quickly but John accepted it nonetheless.

Arthur didn’t know what he was doing and he didn’t care when he started to unbuckle himself and smear all of his aching cock with their lubricant. He only knew how badly he wanted John’s body in that moment, refusing to wait a second longer. He didn’t prepare John like he needed and when he penetrated him with force all the way to the bottom of his cock the younger man let out a cry of sheer pain.

John started to panic for a few seconds, grabbing onto the grass and twitching with his legs but his efforts were replaced with another thrust from Arthur and then a second and a third. John’s heart beat fast and he could barely breathe from the burning and ripping sensation inside him. He half-heartedly attempted to crawl away from his position but Arthur kept him in place by yanking him back, pressing his body over John’s while he pumped into him.

“A-Arthur…”, John stuttered with a pathetic voice, unsteady from every painful pump his body was taking. Arthur only responded by burying his face at the side of John’s neck, kissing and sucking at the soft skin there while pushing himself in deeper, ignoring the other’s pleading and after a few moments John didn’t try to fight it either. He gave in to the mix of pain and sheer desperation of feeling something other than the chaos in his chest. Arthur still had his whole body on top of him and John became more and more lightheaded with each thrust Arthur made, each one causing more pain than the one before.

Arthur pushed himself in and out for what felt like an eternity for John, all while digging his fingers roughly onto one of his hips, the other of his hands holding one of John’s, squeezing tightly with his fingers along with each thrust. John just lay there pinned to the ground, still with his cheek against the grass all while letting himself be taken. He knew he could stop the other man but he didn’t dare to. He wasn’t sure if he even wanted to.

Arthur felt even more guilt in his stomach when John started to cry again. Arthur couldn’t handle that right now so he only started to thrust faster into him. The latter soon making a few sounds of his movements, a mix of pleasure and pain when he hit the man’s spot.

It was mostly the sorrow that bothered John and made him sob again so when Arthur picked up the pace, he only pressed his face against the grass as he cried and tried to shut all the emotions out by pushing himself against Arthur and give in to the sensation of the hardness hitting his prostate. He started to moan and Arthur pulled himself out and rolled John to his back, pulling off his boots and pants altogether. He spread John’s legs and put one hand under him, lifting him up slightly to align himself better. Arthur looked down between their legs as he entered him once more, then his eyes drifted to John’s as he moved inside him with slower thrusts.

Despite the pain that tore his insides out, John could feel a heat spread through his hurting and confused body as Arthur penetrated him, not only with his cock but also with his gaze that held a fire the younger man did not dare look away from and John could feel his own cock slowly harden again. He whimpered as Arthur fastened his pace, never breaking eye contact while doing so.

John widened his eyes and let out a soft moan as he both watched and felt Arthur push in deeper, hitting his spot with relentless force, John’s whole body moving half an inch upwards along the grass with each thrust. Arthur lowered himself over him, trying to move closer to his face by resting an elbow to the ground while holding a hand behind John’s head, pressing it up to himself. John met his lips and they kissed messily, tongues moving without any order and Arthur started nibbling at the other man’s lips as he pumped into him. John responded by biting the other man who pulled away in sudden pain and slowed down his movements while John watched the fresh blood mix together with the now almost dried on Arthur’s lips. Arthur felt himself harden more than he thought was possible from the treatment, John’s gaze sending shivers down his spine.

He pulled out and dug his hands behind John’s back and lifted him up in his arms to kiss him again, making the younger man sit in his lap and both tasting Arthur’s blood in their mouths again as they kissed. Arthur prepared to reposition them once more as he lowered himself to lie on his back, demandingly lifting at John’s hips to allow himself to enter. The small detail made John’s temporary confidence disappear and he somberly prepared for the new position.

John knew what was expected of him and he felt nervous of the pain that would follow once more, hesitantly and very slowly pushing himself down on Arthur’s cock until it bottomed him. Arthur helped John with the position as it occurred to him that this may be the first time John rode someone. He held his hands in a firm grip around each of John’s hips, setting the pace as he pumped into him, John carefully pushing back and meeting each thrust. He held his shaky hands over Arthur’s as he felt unsure how to move himself properly, a hundred of emotions occupying him, making it hard to concentrate on what they were doing. John winced with each thrust and he knew Arthur could see every inch of it but still none of them stopped.

John felt lightheaded by the hurt that continuously ripped through him as he moved up and down and it felt as Arthur had become bigger inside of him even though he had felt himself become more stretched out. A part of John felt sick to his stomach by it all while another only wanted more…more of whatever Arthur would give him and he thought that he had never felt this confused in his whole life…both hating Arthur and loving him fiercely at the same time.

As they watched each other during their act John could feel the tears sneaking up again, blurring his vision once more. He pleaded at Arthur with his dark eyes, a look Arthur well enough could decipher. A look that begged Arthur not to do this to them...to not make this choice for their future. Arthur closed his eyes and shut him out, not wanting to meet the other's eyes as he felt the guilt rip through his body, ignoring him once more as he focused on the feeling of being inside the other man. John started to sob at Arthur’s rejection that was like the final blow to his decision about them. John felt it all that moment and couldn’t shut out the hurt of two kinds. The air became filled with the sounds of John’s cries of hurt and pain and Arthur’s moans of guilt filled pleasure.

John didn’t help him with the position, he was just...there, letting himself be taken again. The older man made the last few thrusts and then pumped a part of himself inside John with a violent tremble before the younger man got off of him and fell down on the grass next to him.

Arthur was out of breath as he pulled his pants up and only stared absently at the sky above them. John pulled up his pants as well, not caring about the mess of cum, and drops of red liquid escaping him. His hands shook so violently he wasn’t able to button his pants, he gave up after a few attempts and rolled to his side, his back turned to Arthur.

They didn’t speak for several minutes, the both of them lying in the same position and none with the courage to change it. John kept his eyes focused on Iron and Old Boy standing further away and envied their world of harmony and ignorance.

As the time passed, the confusing and intense situation gnawed at the older man. The looks on John’s face during their intercourse had been impossible to misinterpret along with the sounds he had made. Arthur knew he was hurting him when he did it but he hadn’t stopped…he just couldn’t . And John had let him go through with all of it…he had let himself go through with it.. Arthur contemplated on what he had done and felt more awful by each second that passed, covering his eyes with both hands. He started to sob again, quietly, but John noticed.

“I’m alright. I’ve would have stopped you if I wanted to. Trust me”, John stated indifferently, his back still turned to Arthur. Of course he couldn’t have said no to the man even if he wanted to and John knew it.

“Ain’t no excuse for it John, I don't know what the hell got over me”.

“Well…I don't really blame you. It’s been an interesting day, to say the least... Guess both of our feelings sort of got the upper hand… ”, the younger man spoke with an utterly defeated voice.

Arthur turned to his side and moved closer to him, putting a gentle hand on his arm. The man still wouldn’t look at him but Arthur still held him for several minutes, burying his crying face into the back of the other man’s neck.

“Abigail thinks she knows where Dutch is keeping all of our money. They’re somewhere in the cave”, John said plainly out of nowhere. He didn’t want to speak of what had just happened, for once not wanting to process anything in his head. It would be time for that later, no doubt.

Arthur wiped his tears away and lifted his head slowly. He felt confused by John’s lack of acknowledgement to the situation. “Really? Because usually the money is at a safe place outside of camp”.

John finally turned to lie on his back, meeting Arthur’s eyes. “She’s not completely sure but she’s gonna take a look”.

Arthur didn’t want to take the money from Dutch but if he could get a hold of some of it then maybe it would help John and the others on the way. He didn’t know if this last robbery was gonna go smoothly or how much the take would be. If it didn’t work then maybe this was their last way out. Their backup plan.

“Before you say anything Morgan, remember that we have earned a part of that money just as equally. It’s ours too. And I don't think he’s exactly gonna hand a share over to me if I ask”.

“No, that he won’t”, Arthur answered and very carefully threaded his fingers through John’s hair. He moved his body closer to John’s side, both men studying the other.

Arthur contemplated on the choice he had made. What if it was the wrong one? What if he and John could manage? They could have a life together someplace else, in peace. Maybe the law wouldn’t find them at all. Arthur pushed the thoughts away and reminded himself of the reasons that had made him make this decision in the first place. He sighed in exhaustion.

“We can still stay here the night if you want”, Arthur reminded him with hope in his heart. He put a hand on John’s cheek and caressed it with his thumb carefully brushing over the damp skin. John put his hand on top of Arthur’s, caressing it as well for a few seconds before he lifted it off from his cheek, his eyes slowly drifting away from Arthur.

“Nah, figure we’re through…You had your way with me one last time like you wanted…and I want to get back to Jack before it gets much darker”.

Arthur pressed himself harder against John, wrapping an arm around him while he felt the guilt hit him all over again. He wanted to hold John one last time. Sleep by his side one last night in peace but he knew he had destroyed all his chances and right to do so. He reluctantly stayed put as John buttoned his pants and put on his boots and got up on his feet. Arthur stood up as well and followed John’s movement to the water, cleaning up the dried blood from his face before he got to the horses. “Gonna ride back to camp, you can stay here a while, don’t want to create more suspicions around us. Not that there is a ‘us’ no more”.

Arthur lowered his head at the words. How could he ever think that John was gonna take this the right way. He had been foolish to ever think he would understand. And now Arthur had practically taken him by force and created an even bigger mess. “I’m sorry John, for everything… ”, he whispered and lowered his eyes.

John released Old Boy’s reins from the tree they were tied to and heaved himself up on him. “Ain’t nothing to be sorry about. When I was a kid, you always told me that we don’t owe shit to anyone. And you know what? You were right, and you don’t owe me a goddamn thing, Arthur Morgan. So stop apologizing and get your head out of your ass. I’ll be gone soon, far from here. After, when you sit there in your own regret and misery, you can apologize all you want. But I won’t forget. Nothing gets forgiven”.

Their eyes met and locked for a few seconds, then John turned his horse around and took off through the woods, heading back to the main road. Arthur looked after him until he was out of sight. “You goddamn fool, Arthur Morgan”, he said to himself.

Chapter Text

It was a somber ride back for John and he had never felt so blue. Arthur had made the final decision about their fate and he couldn’t exactly say it was a welcomed one. He hadn’t felt this worn out since he was recovering from that gun wound and wolf attack a few months back and this right now wasn’t even a physical hurt. Well, that was if John overlooked the intense pain in his backside, hurting greatly with each step Old Boy took. John winced from time to time when the pain took the upper hand. He closed his eyes and breathed in and out slowly, trying to accept the reality of the situation.

In maybe a week or more he would be long gone, with Abigail and Jack by his side. He was happy for that but didn’t want to get his hopes up until they were far away from Dutch and the gang. It hurt all over again when he reminded himself that Arthur wouldn’t come with them. Lately, the other man had made it seem as though he wanted to get out as well, and even would. Arthur had never stated it to be true though. For John, it was the only future he ever wanted. With his family. Arthur would always be a part of that even if he never could realise it.

Arthur had said he wanted to go with him but he was too loyal to Dutch still. John couldn’t blame him for that. A part of him always feared that the loyalty would be Arthur’s downfall. He would die for Dutch, no doubt about it, even after the man had practically replaced him with Micah. John had lost a part of his loyalty when Dutch had looked the other way in Saint Denis, but even more so after his welcoming party after the prison break. John understood Dutch’s point about risking everyone else’s lives but he couldn’t understand how easily Dutch had been willing to let him hang. He wasn’t even happy to see the man he himself called his son. That hurt a lot, considering their history.

He missed the old Dutch. The one who gave to the poor when there was enough money, the one who took in boys that had nowhere to go, the one that taught them to see what was good in the world and the one that sat down and taught them how to read. John would never forget that Dutch once had saved his life from a certain death and he would always be in debt for that. John knew he still loved Dutch, even after all he had done.

John sighed as he got closer to Beaver’s Hollow, he nodded to Javier who stood watch. He ran his eyes over the camp and saw Abigail at her tent with Jack in her lap and a book in her hand. He could see Dutch and Micah standing in the entrance to the cavern, observing his arrival. John could hear Karen’s drunken hollering and singing from miles away, she hadn’t taken Molly’s death that good, screaming at Miss Grimshaw whenever she had the opportunity. John never liked Molly O’Shea but he found it odd that she had been the rat all along. It didn’t quite fit her picture. She had loved Dutch far too much, maybe even to an unhealthy point. John guessed that love could make you do all sorts of crazy things, even bad ones, much like Arthur had. Not that any of them had claimed to love the other.

Tilly and Mary-Beth were going on with their chores and Pearson was preparing what little food they had with the help of Sadie. The woman did not look pleased but she and Pearson had started to get along more lately. Uncle and Bill sat by a table and played cards. Charles, Reverend and Trelawny sat around the fire, each one with a distant look on their faces. Strauss sat by his table, probably going through his list of debtors. John thought about that poor feller Thomas Downes and wondered how many more desperate souls Strauss had exploited. Arthur had continued with collecting the debts, and always with a reluctance before heading out to do so. He seldom spoke of it and never answered when John asked about it.

John dismounted Old Boy after his quick scan over the gang’s members, all gathered in one place. It would, after all, be one of his last chances to do so. He wondered if there was anyone except him and his family that wanted to leave.

John lifted the saddle off of his horse and started to brush him down. He probably should clean himself up properly, he could feel the wetness inside his underpants, reminding him each second about their too rough intercourse. That's all it was, he thought. Just a sexual act gone too far.

Most of all, he probably should go speak with Dutch about the bridge but he wasn’t in the mood right now, only wanting a couple of minutes of peace. Or maybe he was afraid that his leader would see right through him. John had no time to think about it further as he heard his voice. “John”, Dutch called while he and Micah closed the distance to him. “Are you too high and mighty to enlighten me nowadays, son?”

“No, no Dutch. Everything went fine. Won’t be no crossing over that bridge anytime soon. We weren’t followed”, John answered with a stone face.

“Good. Good. Now it’s only a matter of time before that payroll comes in. After we rob it out of the train it rolls in on we can finally leave, once and for all”, Dutch preached like a hundred times before. “Where’s Arthur?”

John raised his brows a little at the mention of the train. “I honestly don’t know. He thought it was best for us to split up after the explosion, minimize the risks of being followed and all”.

John watched Micah glance at Dutch while the latter answered with a thoughtful nod. John didn’t like the look of it and he knew exactly what it meant.

“Good work, son. Arthur’s probably gonna be back soon. I hope”.

“Don’t doubt it”.

With that, the two men left John where he was standing. When they entered the cavern and walked deep enough into it, Micah spoke up.

“I’m telling you Dutch, we can’t trust Marston. We need to get rid of him. Him and Morgan both. They’re always sneaking out of camp when they think no one’s looking”.

“Molly was the informer”.

“Yes, but do you think the Pinkertons would settle with one? Why not them as well. Like I’ve said before, Marston has all the reasons to betray you. Probably little Miss Roberts who’s gotten into his head. And now they try to turn everyone against you, including your dear boy Arthur”.

Dutch’s face tensed and he crossed his arms and lifted one hand to his face, his fingers slowly rubbing the stubble on his chin. He didn’t know what to believe anymore. Micah had a point about Arthur distancing himself more and more. Dutch knew that he and John hadn’t gotten along for years but something had happened at Horseshoe and they had been more friendly to each other ever since. Had Arthur given Dutch up when Agent Milton ambushed him and Jack when they were fishing? Arthur had sworn that he didn’t say anything about them but everything somehow made sense. It was after that things had pretty much gone south, ever since their stay at Clemens afterwards.

Dutch knew Arthur and John had been like brothers before, and he himself was as their father. He had loved them both with all his heart once but he reminded himself that not every man could be trusted, no matter what history they may have shared. Dutch felt betrayed at the same time he didn’t want to believe that John or Arthur would do such a thing. A few months ago he would have laughed the accusations away, but now...everything was different.

“Want me to get rid of them, boss?” Micah asked, pulling Dutch out of his thoughts. “If you ask me, they shouldn’t be in on this last score, if they are working with the Pinkertons as I believe, they’re gonna fuck everything up. Everything you’ve been working for. I think it would be best for everyone if we took care of the problem before that happens”.

“Well, I haven’t asked you now, have I ?” Dutch responded, giving Micah a harsh look. Micah shut his mouth and held his thumbs behind his gun belt while letting out a short laugh in uncertainty. “You let them be, for now. I need to be sure about them before we do anything”.

“That’s a pretty stupid move, but alright”.

“You do not question me again, Mr. Bell, or it will be the last thing you do”.

Micah raised his hands while backing away slightly. “Sorry boss, won’t happen again”.

Dutch ignored Micah’s reassurement. “Now, you mentioned a little something about some extra firepower”.

“Yeah, I’ve got these fellers, Cleet and Joe, they could be here in a few days they said. They could come in real handy with that train job, Dutch”.

“Send for them”, Dutch said while nodding. “Now, I need a moment of peace and quiet”.

Micah left the cavern and Dutch only paced around. What would he do with John and Arthur? He wasn’t sure about anything anymore. He didn’t know where they stood in all this but he knew that he would find out for sure after this last job.

 

-

 

Sadie could see that something was bothering Arthur deeply ever since he got back from the bridge job.

Their evenings in camp didn’t longer consist of happy singing around the campfire and it was as the gang had divided into smaller groups, drifting further and further away from the family they all had once been.

Sadie looked around the small group that had gathered to warm themselves around the fire this evening. It was quiet and no one spoke. They all had one last robbery to go through with before their future was decided and it was as everyone could feel the tension in the air. In less than a week, maybe all their troubles would be worth it and maybe they’d be on their way to a different country.

Sadie would go her own way when she got her share. She have had enough of this life, as short lived as it was. Now she had to figure out who she had become without Jake. She knew she could make it on her own, she just had to. But before she could move on with her life, she needed Arthur’s help with one final act of…vengeance, you could call it. After Colm O'Driscoll’s hanging she had felt a weight leave her chest and for a moment she believed that she was ready to let go of her sorrows.

But the more she thought of it, the more she realised that Colm wasn’t in fact responsible for what had happened to her and her husband. She knew Colm was as bad as they came and he deserved that noose more than anyone but still, he hadn’t killed her husband and he hadn’t assaulted her. Not by his own hands.

Arthur, Micah and Dutch had taken care of most of the men responsible as they had looted her house but Sadie knew one man had gotten away and she was constantly searching for him. At her free time she asked around about the O'Driscolls’ whereabouts and scouted several known hideouts. Yesterday, she had found Hanging Dog Ranch. She had found him.

She would probably be dead by now if she hadn’t held back the urge to just shoot up the whole place. There were too many of them and she knew she couldn’t do this alone. What if this was the last of them? What if she could end the O'Driscolls once and for all? Maybe then she would be able to look forward and not just cling on to the damage they had done to her, because right now her need for revenge was the only thing forming her person and she wanted to be more than that.

Sadie studied the men around her, the light from the flames dancing over everyone’s faces with an orange tint. Javier, Charles, John. Each one had settled on the logs that surrounded the fire and none had uttered a word. Javier was playing carefully on his guitar but still, no one was singing.

Arthur approached the group slowly, hesitantly closing the distance to John. Arthur greeted them all with a mumble and everyone except John greeted back absently. Sadie’s eyes followed his movement as he carefully settled next to John, his eyes wandering over the scarred man’s face. The younger man sighed and heaved himself up and moved away from Arthur, moving himself to opposite direction to settle by Javier’s side who looked up at him but only continued playing on his strings. Sadie shared a look with Charles by the strange exchange between the two men. In silence, Sadie watched Arthur as he watched John.  

As the minutes passed, John drifted his eyes to Arthur’s, he had been avoiding them since the older man had joined them by the campfire. As they studied each other, their eyes spoke a thousand emotions that couldn’t be uttered with words. Arthur’s eyes held a desperation and it was as he was pleading with them to John, who only stared back defiantly with his arms crossed.

Finally, John shook his head before he lifted himself up, walking away with angry steps in the direction of his tent. After a few moments of hesitation, Arthur heaved himself up and followed.

Sadie could hear upset voices from John’s tent, though not able to make out the words being spoken since they kept a low tone.

After a while, Arthur rushed out of the tent and hurried away from camp, making his way into the woods.

 

-

 

“What is going on between the two of you?”

Sadie had followed Arthur into the woods. Charles had said it was best to let Arthur be for now but Sadie had always been stubborn.

Arthur lifted his head to her, his eyes watery and without joy. “I suspected you knew about us…guess everyone does”.

“Not everyone, Arthur…”

Arthur nodded after a few seconds, biting his teeth.

“Just answer my question”, Sadie continued.

Arthur shook his head, letting out a huff, more to himself. “It ain't pretty, I’d tell you that”, Arthur answered with a low voice.

“What, you think I can't handle it?” Sadie laughed.

“Oh I know you can”.

“Then tell me”.

 

-

 

Sadie felt her whole body shake as she pulled out the knife from the lifeless body before her - the man that had participated in her violation and her husband’s death up in the mountains. Arthur watched her, all her clothes were drenched in freshly spilled blood.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Yeah”, Sadie answered between her quick breaths. Arthur lifted a chair to her who she settled on in an instant, the gesture very much needed. “He was a good man, my Jakey…we were always sweet on one another”, she sobbed quietly.

“I’m sure”, Arthur answered truthfully and patted her on the shoulder.

“I miss him everyday, every moment...”, she all but whispered. “They turned me into a monster, Arthur”, she spoke with venom in her voice. He studied her face that became soft again. “But my memories of him...they still pure”.

The atmosphere inside the dim farmhouse was somewhat heavy. Arthur knew how much this meant for Sadie. To avenge the love of her life and the woman she once had been. Arthur didn’t even got that with Isaac and Eliza. For all he knew, the man or men who killed them could still be out there somewhere, maybe he had met them in a saloon somewhere without even knowing. Maybe he had already killed them. He would never know.

“Aside from my Jake, you’re the best man I’ve known”.

Arthur snorted, he wasn’t a good man. “Even after what I told you last night?” he almost challenged, begging Sadie to release her anger over all of him.

Sadie bit her teeth, shaking her head. “I didn’t say you was perfect, or good for that matter, just…the best man after...him”.

“Besides, I know the company you keep, the competition ain't too fierce”.

Sadie huffed at his words, but left it that.

“We should get away from here”, Arthur stated and gestured down the stairs. Sadie got to her feet and they slowly made their way out of the farm house. Outside lay dozens of bodies, hopefully they had eradicated all of the O'Driscolls and what was left of them.

Arthur, Dutch and Sadie had each gotten some kind of closure when they had witnessed Colm O'Driscoll hang a few days ago. For Arthur, it hadn’t been as important but he know what misery the man had caused both Dutch and Sadie. So he had agreed to help them go through with it as easily as he had agreed to come with Sadie to this hideout.

Sadie whistled for her horse. “I think I need to be alone for a bit”, she told him.

“I understand. You...might wanna get yourself cleaned up”. Sadie looked down at her bloodied shirt and back to him.

“Thank you…for all of this, Arthur”. She hopped onto her horse but stayed put. “What we talked about before, don’t you worry. I will do my best, I promise”.

Arthur nodded and smiled gratefully to her. “I know you will”. Arthur watched her ride away.

Sadie took a deep breath as she left the place. She didn’t feel any better than she had before but knowing that man and another group of O'Driscolls weren’t in this world anymore gave her soul a little more rest.

Arthur had told her some of his secrets in confidence, about the plan of getting John out. She would get out as well, she had told him, to start over somewhere else. Sadie held a respect for Dutch ever since she was taken in by him up in the mountains. But as she had realised, the man that wrapped a blanket around her that night wasn’t the man before them today. So she would leave, promising Arthur to look after John and his family, at least in the beginning to get them to safety. Abigail was her friend after all and she would never doubt in helping them.

Arthur had told Sadie about the ugly fight he and John had after the bridge job, about how he had ended things with John. Sadie could sense that there was more to what had happened between the two men and she suspected Arthur to leave out something of importance. He had made it seem as he had done something terrible but his recollections of the event didn’t quite match his state of mind or guilt towards it.

She had called him a fool for not going with John but she respected the man’s choices nonetheless, not questioning further. Sadie kicked her spurs harder, making the horse gallop faster. The further she got away from Hanging Dog Ranch, the better.

 

-

 

Arthur noticed Trelawny looking a bit pale one day and have a nervous look in his eye, a suitcase by his side. He sat by one of the tables in the outskirts of camp.

“Josiah”.

“Oh, hello Arthur”, Trelawny answered, his voice a bit strained.

“You leaving again?” Arthur asked while frowning at him.

“Only for a while, I’ll be back”, he tried to reassure.

“No you won’t, don’t you try to tell me otherwise…”. Arthur looked around the camp. “You should leave now , the place is pretty quiet. Go on”.

Trelawny gave him a surprised look and got to his feet. “You’ve been a fine friend to me, Arthur”.

Arthur gave him a smile. He envied him a little. Josiah Trelawny was free in every way Arthur was not. He was the only member that could freely disappear and appear whenever he felt like it. Arthur knew well enough how any other would be looked at had they done the same, considering Marston’s little vacation.

John happened to pass them in that moment and Arthur met his eyes. John quickly turned his head and went on his way, not acknowledging Arthur in any way. These past days hadn’t been pretty. John was pissed at him but most of all he was hurt and disappointed. Arthur knew that well enough, considering it was all he could think of right now. But he knew it would get easier once they had parted. It had to be.

“You care for him”, Trelawny stated slowly, pulling Arthur out of his thoughts.

“What?”

“You care for him. Maybe even love him. I have an eye for such details”.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Trelawny”, Arthur tried with little effort.

“How do you expect a man like myself fit into the high society of big cities if he doesn't know every little secret of the people around him?” Trelawny smirked.

Arthur looked at him dumbfounded for a few seconds but relaxed when he reminded himself that it didn’t matter, Trelawny was leaving anyways. “Maybe”, he mumbled. “Maybe I do care for him”.

Trelawny smiled at him and Arthur couldn’t make out any hostility in it. “And he cares for you”.

Arthur didn’t want to know how Trelawny knew all this and he didn’t really care. The man had always been sneaky but deep down he had a kind heart. “It’s just stupid. Silly , as you prefer to call it”.

“Oh Arthur, how can romance ever be silly? It’s all we have”.

Arthur snorted at the words. “Well, you best be on your way. You go with my blessing”.

“Thank you, Arthur”, Trelawny said in earnest. Then he hurried away from camp. The two men would never meet again.

Arthur sat by the table for a while. Trelawny’s words stuck to him slightly and he didn’t think twice when he got to his feet and started to make his way to John who sat by one of the tables in the middle of camp. He saw the younger man from a distance, he had started to clean his weapons. Arthur smiled a little, always enjoying to study the man when he wasn’t aware. He just wanted to speak to him. They barely had since…since that day. The other night, John didn’t even want to hear him out as he had followed him to his tent. He hoped that John would want to now but before he could make it there, Charles called for him. Rain Falls needed them to join the meeting with Colonel Favours.

John watched them ride out but only continued cleaning his guns.

 

-

 

Abigail and John had ridden out of camp to speak in privacy one day, Abigail holding her hands wrapped tightly around John as they rode.

Abigail had apologized for her outburst a few weeks ago but John hadn’t even been mad about it. He had said that it wouldn’t matter if everyone found out about him and Arthur. Not anymore.

Abigail had seen the sorrow in John’s eyes as he had returned after the bridge job a few days ago. They had talked about what was to come and he had told her about Arthur staying behind. She didn’t even know that their plan of leaving involved Arthur in the first place but she could see that John was hurting and hadn’t questioned him about it.

“The money is in the caves. It’s in a chest under the wagon. I just need to get a hold of that key”.

“You sure? Because Dutch always says he never keeps the money near camp”.

“I’m sure, John!” she exclaimed.

“Okay, okay…then we just have to get that key”.

“You and the boys will be robbing the train soon. We don’t need all the money John. If the take is good from that robbery then maybe that's enough, just to start over?”

“I hope so but a part of it’s still our money. We need as much as we can get if we’re gonna do this”.

Abigail nodded understanding. “I’ll see what I can do”.

“That’s my girl”, John answered and put his hand on her shoulder, caressing it gently.

“Don’t call me that…”, she said quietly while shying away from him.

John let his hand fall to his side and he lowered his head enough so his hat could hide his eyes. He was tired of this. He knew she would always be hurting as long as she loved him and he needed to be patient with her. But it had been years since they had broke it off and the only thing he felt he did was hurt her, over and over. He didn’t want any of that. He only wanted her to be happy. But he knew that he would act the same if he was in her position. “I’m sorry, didn’t mean nothing by it”.

“Oh I know you didn’t, that's exactly why”, she almost whispered. “Shall we?”

John only nodded and got back on the horse. The ride back was quiet and Abigail only held her hands on his waist instead of around him this time.

Chapter Text

“Just you wait, Arthur Morgan”.

John’s words echoed in his head and Arthur could see now how right the man had been. He sat outside the chief’s tent in Wapiti. He, Charles and Paytah had brought a dying Eagle Flies to his father. Arthur held out his hand in front of him and watched it as it shook violently. He closed it into a fist and lowered it to his side. He rose up when Rain Falls stepped out of the tent.

Arthur could barely look at him. “I’m sorry. Eagle Flies...he gave his life for me…It’s all my fault”.

Rain Falls looked at Arthur with tears in his eyes. “He was my last son…”.

Arthur watched Charles who was helping the people to pack and get ready to move. The tribe couldn’t stay here anymore and Arthur knew who to blame.

“He…Dutch…used him”, Arthur said with a lot of effort.

“Eagle Flies made his own choices but your father led him astray and we were too late to stop it…”, Rain Falls answered, lowering his head.

“He used him for his own goddamn cause…!” Arthur exclaimed in anger and shook his head, more to himself.

“And still, he’s the man you choose to follow”.

Arthur didn’t know what to answer. He felt ashamed and he felt foolish. How could he have let this happen? “I’m staying here, gonna help you be on your way before I ride back”. Arthur looked at Rain Falls through saddened eyes. He felt bad and he closed his eyes and tried to make sense of the situation.

“His death was not your fault. My son created his own path”, Rain Falls tried to reassure.

Arthur wished he could believe that one day but for now another shot of guilt hit him. “I’m truly sorry Chief, for everything that you and your people have endured. I wished things were different, I truly do. I could have done more...”.

“We can’t change what has happened. It is time for us to move on”.

“Where will you go?”

“We will see”.

 

-

 

It was late into the night when Arthur got back to camp. He greeted Sadie that patrolled the area.

“Is everyone asleep?”

“Yeah. How did it go?” she asked.

“Eagle Flies is dead”.

“Shit”.

“The day after tomorrow, we rob that payroll train, we leave right after”.

We?”

“Well, there's been a change of plans. I’m coming with you”.

 

-

 

Arthur entered John’s tent without asking. The younger man was still awake and sat up quickly when the dark silhouette of him appeared.

“It’s only me”, Arthur whispered.

“What do you want…?” he asked hesitantly. His whole body couldn’t help but tense up by the closeness between the two. “How did it go with Eagle Flies?” John continued, trying to put focus on another subject.

“Not so good, I’m afraid...the boy didn’t make it”.

“Aw, hell”.

“Yeah but…that's not why I’m here. Come with me. Quietly”.

John was confused by the other man’s words and he felt himself become nervous as Arthur grabbed for his hand, helping him up to his feet in a strong movement. The two had barely spoken to each other since that crucial day and John had tried to shut the thoughts of Arthur off but hadn’t been very successful. The ache in his heart reminded him of Arthur’s choice every second of every day and the pain of their last sexual act still lingered inside his body. He should be mad at Arthur, he had been greatly at first. The anger had turned into disappointment and then settled at sorrow. Every day that passed was a day closer to losing him forever and John could barely stand it. So he followed Arthur. They passed Sadie on foot on their way out of the area but she didn’t so much as look at them, minding her own business.

“How are, uhm…how are you…holding up?” Arthur whispered carefully as they walked slowly.

“How do you think I’m feeling Arthur?” John answered. Arthur could hear in his voice every hurt he had caused. “It’s like you’ve torn everything that is me apart. I can still feel you, in my heart and…inside me”, John spoke with a defeated voice and Arthur hadn’t felt this low in his whole life.

He lowered his head and felt the regret in his whole body. “I’m truly sorry...I wish I could take it all back, John… ”.

John looked away from him. “Well, I guess it's too late for that since you seem to have made up your mind about us a long time ago”, he stated as he angrily wiped away one single tear that had escaped him. “Just lead the way, Morgan”, he continued and gestured in front of them with one hand. Arthur did as he asked and fastened his steps, John pulling back to walk a bit behind him.

When they were further away from camp, Arthur turned his head, reaching back his hand to John. The younger man looked at it and hesitantly grabbed it. Arthur threaded his fingers with John’s and squeezed a little but did nothing more than that. He fell back to John’s side and they walked together, hand in hand. They had never done that before and it felt a bit strange at first but soon John felt it had been a welcomed touch.

“Where the hell are we going, Morgan?”

“A little bit further. I’m not taking any chances”.

John was afraid that Arthur was gonna make him leave tonight instead and this would be their final goodbyes. But it didn’t make any sense, the robbery was set the day after tomorrow.

Arthur slowed down after a few minutes and looked around. It was really dark but they didn’t need light. He hadn’t seen much of bigger animals in these parts anyway. Arthur let go of John’s hand and started to pace around like he sometimes did. “I should have listened to you”.

John furrowed his brows at the words but slowly took the few steps to Arthur. He stopped him from moving around by holding a hand to his cheek even if he wanted nothing else than to take a swing at the man. “What do you mean?” John asked with a soft voice, putting his anger aside for now.

Arthur leaned into his touch and put his own hand on top of his. “Dutch left me to die in that building in the oil fields earlier. When we were inside, a pipe burst over me and I fell. One of the men got on top of me and tried to shove a knife into me. I called for help but Dutch just walked away. He saw it John, he knew what was gonna happen and he did nothing . Eagle Flies was the one that saved me and he was killed because of it”.

John’s face tensed and his eyes darkened. “That bastard...I knew it. A part of me wished I was wrong about him but I guess not. Remember what I told you about Saint Denis?”

Arthur nodded. “When I confronted him about it he denied every bit of it…I haven’t spoken to him since”.

“He’s only gonna wave it off again, we should leave right away”, John exclaimed. Then he realised what he had said. “By we, I didn’t mean you. I know where you stand in this…”.

Arthur shook his head and John’s eyes widened. “No. I’m gonna leave with you, John. Sadie will come too. Dutch was ready to let me die. Ain't no forgiveness for that kind of betrayal. Doesn't matter if he is our father, our leader or our goddamn brother in arms. No more. He’s gone crazy and I still let myself believe in his lies and promises of a better life. There’s no such thing and I’m sorry it took me this long to realise it. I’m not gonna let you slip out of my hands…”, Arthur spoke as he gently threaded his fingers through a few locks of John’s hair, his eyes looking deeply into the other’s. “...I love you…too much for that to happen and I was a fool for almost letting you”.

John was speechless. The words had made him tear up but he wasn’t ashamed for it. Before them being uttered, he had never felt so devastated in his whole life and in less than a minute he had never felt so happy. Arthur’s ability to completely turn things around frightened him and he knew it was all because of his weakness for the other man. The words were all he wanted to hear and they swept a wave of relief over all of him. “And I love you… ”, he answered and leaned in for a kiss. Arthur’s lips responded in an instant and all of their despair and sorrow were channeled into that kiss, begging for a release. They held each other tightly and Arthur’s hat fell off from their movements but he couldn’t notice it any less. “I love you…I love you…”, John whispered into Arthur’s mouth between their kisses. Arthur opened his eyes and met John’s. Arthur couldn’t help but smile and John responded to it with a carefree laugh before the older man kissed him once more.

They embraced one another for a while, pressing their cheeks together while inhaling the other man’s scent. “Let’s leave tonight, Arthur”, John whispered to his ear. “We don’t need the money. I have some I’ve saved and I know you do as well. Let’s just settle with that. We can be on our way before morning and be gone before anyone notices”.

Arthur let go of John to look at him. “We need that money John. Sure, we have our savings but what if it comes to us leaving the country if there’s no other way? What if we want to buy land in the future when things have cooled off. Them savings won’t be enough and you know it”.

“It doesn't matter. We can work, earn some honest money”.

Arthur shook his head. “We need to lie low in the beginning, working and getting people to know you ain't exactly ideal”.

“If anything happens during the robbery all of them would leave us without hesitation. It’s not worth it anymore”.

“I know… But I have to try. What if you leave first and I catch up to you?” Arthur suggested.

“No way”, John stated. “Okay…we do this one last time but we gotta watch each other's backs. When we reach camp after the bank job, I’ll make sure Abigail and Jack is ready to leave right away”.

“Sounds like a plan, Marston”, Arthur smiled.

“What if we get separated?”

Arthur thought about it for a while, pacing around once more. “If we get separated, we meet at Copperhead Landing and lie low, the people around the marsh don't ask too many questions so I think that's our best chance. Let Sadie rent a room with another name if needs to”.

“Copperhead Landing”, John repeated to himself.

“And if one of us don't show up…If we get separated and I’m not there the next morning, then you’ll go John, you hear? You and Sadie leave with Abigail and Jack, bring them to safety. You just go, and don’t you do anything stupid like trying to find me”.

John shook his head. “It’s not gonna come to that”.

“No…But we gotta have a plan, just in case. I would never want to leave you either but we need to get Jack out of this. He’s what matters”.

John looked at him thoughtfully as he got closer to Arthur . “I consider him to be your son too, you know…”. Arthur swallowed and only blinked at the words. He lowered his head, not wanting to show the tears that threatened to escape him but John still knew how much those words had meant for Arthur in that moment. John reached for him and held him in his arms. “We’re both his fathers”.

Arthur closed his eyes and pressed his lips to John’s, he felt overwhelmed with emotions and tried to still himself through the kisses. “ Our son…”, Arthur said quietly after they parted, as to test the words in his mouth. John smiled. “ My son…”, Arthur continued. He looked at John and stroke a lock of dark hair behind his ear. “If the other one has to leave from Copperhead, we write each other. You write to Arthur Callahan , I write to…?”

John thought about it for a few seconds. “Jim Milton”.

“And I’ll write to Jim Milton. If we can’t find each other then we write letters and send them all over New Hanover, hell, all over the country if needs to. That way we would at least know if the other one made it and so that we could find each other”.

“Alright, that sounds as good of a plan as any”.

 

Beecher’s Hope, 1907

They lit the campfire some evenings, the same one that all of them had practically slept at before the house was finished. Those evenings they were singing around it and staying up late just like the old days. John remembered Abigail’s singing a few weeks back, how he and every man had only sat in the background, enjoying every beautiful tone of her voice. This night John had lit the fire and sat by himself, staring into the flames lighting up the darkness.

He remembered how Reverend Swanson had held a speech one evening around their campfire all those years ago. At Clemens Point, if he wasn’t mistaken. He couldn’t remember the exact words but he remembered how quiet everyone had been, listening to every word he spoke. John knew most people had looked at Swanson like he was some joke but beneath his drunk facade he probably held more wisdom than any of them. The older John got, the more he really understood the man. The memory of the Reverend’s words sent a shiver down his spine.

“You gotta love yourself a fire…”, John said quietly before he took a sip from the bottle of whiskey, both relishing and hating the numbness it caused his feelings. A little more than two weeks had passed since he had written his final goodbyes to Arthur but the man wasn’t so easily forgotten. He still haunted John’s dreams from time to time and this was one of those occasions. The night was dark and John couldn’t fall asleep again so he tried to drink his way into it. He lit a cigarette and took a long drag from it.

“We should have just left when we had the chance. Goddamn idiot, Morgan”, he mumbled to himself.

He was still mad at Arthur even if he knew that wouldn’t change one thing. He dragged his fingers through his short hair and closed his eyes for a bit.

“You drinking again?”

John smiled by the sound of that familiar voice, opening his eyes slowly. “Sure, why not darling”.

“Oh, shut up”, Abigail answered with a smile. “Can’t sleep?”

John shook his head then he gestured for her to join him by the fire. He watched her as she sat down. He didn’t know if he should speak of him, he tried to avoid it as much as possible but it was probably the booze that made him all talkative. “Dreamed of him again. One of the bad ones this time”.

Abigail gave him a sympathetic look. “Oh, John...I’m so sorry”.

“Nah, it's okay, you can't do nothing about it. Just wish I could forget him, is all. It’s been quite a few years now and somehow it doesn't feel much better than that day”.

“Well, you never did get the chance to say your goodbyes to him. That kind of thing would be hard on anyone”.

“Yeah but…it was always too late for goodbyes, you know. He was already gone when all of you waited for him back then. He died not long after me and him got separated. I don't really want to think about it but a part of me needs to know what happened. I don't even know how it went down. Was he in pain before he got killed or did he go peacefully? What were his last thoughts? Did he try to fight back or did he just give up in the end? It’s these kinds of questions that keep me up at night Abigail, and when I finally get some sleep I see him die before me, a different death in each dream…I just wish I could make it all go away”.

Abigail watched him with glossy eyes, she didn’t know what to say so she reached out her hand to his and he grabbed it with a somber smile on his lips. They sat like that for a few minutes, listening to the sound of insects coming alive at night. Abigail grabbed the bottle of whiskey and took a sip. Then another.

“Haven’t seen you drink since you were eighteen. Before we got Jack”, John smiled and reminisced the younger her.

“There’s a lot of things you haven’t seen about me, John Marston”, she teased.

“Don’t doubt it. You was always good at keeping your secrets”.

“That, I was”, she answered absently.

“Give me that”, he gestured at the bottle.

Abigail hesitated for a few seconds but handed it over to him nonetheless. “I don't think you should forget him. You two had something special, even if I was a downright bitch about it at the time...I was only jealous”.

“No, you were a real sweetheart about it”, he said sarcastically but with a glint in his eye.

“Don’t make me shoot you”, she threatened but she couldn’t hold back a small laugh.

“I’m only kidding… You know, I don't blame you for anything Abigail…It wasn’t easy on you and I’m still sorry for making you sad all the time. You didn’t deserve that”.

“How many times do I need to say it, John, I’m fine. Really. You made me a happy woman when you decided to finally look after Jack. That meant the world to me and whatever has happened between us I’m glad that we have all this together. That we made it”.

John felt a shot of guilt when she mentioned their son. Things hadn’t been too good between him and Jack these past few years…. “It was you who found this place and I’m glad that you wouldn’t give up on it”.

“But it was you who turned it into a home. A real home”.

“And Charles”.

And Charles ”, Abigail smiled.

“And Uncle”.

“Yeah yeah”, she chuckled. They looked at each other, only sharing the moment in silence for a bit. “You know, I’ve been thinking about looking for a job in town. Think I’m gonna head out there tomorrow”.

“That sounds just fine Abigail, if that's what you want”.

“I think it is actually. Want to feel what it’s like to have a decent job. Earn some honest money”.

“I can come with you”.

“I’ll manage, you keep up with the work here. A ranch won’t build itself”.

John gave her a smile and they enjoyed the warmth from the fire for a few moments. “Why are you awake anyway?” he asked, only now coming to think of it.

“Believe it or not, you’re not the only one who can’t sleep. Besides, you’re not the most quiet of people, you bumped into every furniture on the way out and you know I’m a light sleeper. I figured you were going to the outhouse but then I couldn’t hear you coming in again”.

“Sorry”.

“Don’t be. But maybe we should head inside”, Abigail suggested. “You really shouldn’t be drinking this much, John...You’re going to the saloon several times a week already”.

John sighed, he knew she was right, in both matters. “I know”, he simply said and tried to wave it off. He didn’t really want to return to bed and he knew sleep wouldn’t be so easy to achieve. He followed her inside and tried to be quiet this time, there were after all three more souls sleeping under the same roof. He followed her to the master bedroom and was about to say good night when she opened her mouth.

“If you want, you can sleep with me tonight”, Abigail whispered. “Oh, don’t give me that look, I got over you a long time ago. I just thought that maybe it could ease your sleep. Nothing needs to happen, we can just hold each other”.

John didn’t see all of her features in the dark and he was glad she couldn’t see his. They knew each other so well but he hadn’t realised how much he had needed her closeness up until that moment. “Alright”, he agreed. They stepped into the bedroom and she took off the robe she had put on before she had gone outside. Underneath she wore a white nightgown, displaying all of her feminine curves that was as beautiful to look at as ever. John hesitated a few seconds before he started to undress. It didn’t matter, he thought. They had seen each other from every awkward angle in another life and he reminded himself that they were both grown up people.

They faced each other when they settled in the bed. Hugging one another and John felt a relief with the pressure of her body against his chest. He hugged her tighter and she responded with kissing him on the cheek.

John leaned back slightly so he could see her face. “I’m sorry for never giving you what you wanted...or needed”, he said sincerely with sadness in his voice.

Abigail sighed. “I’m still happy for the time you did give me. I felt heartbroken for a long while but it doesn't matter no more. I did love you John, I loved you so much it hurt”.

“I know…and I love you Abigail, in my own way. Always have. I just didn’t realise it back then. Too bad it was the wrong kind of love”.

“Ain’t no thing as a wrong kind of love. I cherish everything we had and everything we have . If it weren’t for you I would never have Jack”.

John couldn’t help but kiss her on her forehead, giving her a faint smile as he moved back again. “Thank you, sweetheart…for everything”.

“Hush now, you better try to sleep”.

“Yes ma’am”.

Abigail laughed. She was beautiful, John thought, admiring every inch of the woman before him. Their eyes locked for a few moments too long and John didn’t think when he answered the kiss she laid on his lips. He lifted his hand to her cheek and caressed it gently with his thumb. He pushed in his tongue and she responded eagerly with a soft moan. He placed himself on top of her, spreading her legs so he could move even closer. He let one of his hands run up the side of her thigh, bringing the nightgown up with it. He started to caress her between her thighs, dangerously close to her parts.

John didn’t want to lead her on but at the same time he knew she had moved on a long time ago and was a woman who made her own choices. Besides, he was doing this more for her than for himself.

As he felt his body non responsive to their intimacy, John moved downwards, kissing at the inside of her thighs, making the woman almost tremble and moan his name. He wasn’t sure he was able to perform, and it wasn’t because of the alcohol, so he thought that he could go down on her, remembering she had enjoyed that when they were younger. He wanted to give her as much pleasure as possible, Abigail sure deserved someone giving her this.

The both of them needed some kind of intimacy but Abigail didn’t want to ruin the trust they had built over the years, as much as she wanted to feel him. “We shouldn’t be doing this”, she said out of nowhere, gently pushing John’s head away from where he was between her legs.

John was surprised but he pulled away nonetheless, moving up and lying on his side again, facing her. It was for the best, he thought as well. They had something good going on and maybe this would only complicate matters. “I’m sorry…”.

“No, no. I want to… it's been a long time…But we shouldn’t. This is not who you are and it’s taken me a long time to accept that. I don't want to change the man you are, John. We felt lonely, was all. Don’t want to do anything we both gonna regret in the morning. It took a lot from me to let you go and I don't want to feel that hurt ever again… Have you again just to lose you”.

“I wouldn’t regret it. I never did regret anything with you, Abigail. And like I said a long time ago, I would never leave you...and you’ll never lose me…I’m right here”.

“I know…”.

He wrapped his arms around her, stroking her raven hair, feeling the softness from it between his fingers. “We will always have each other”, John reassured.

“I hope so”.

John hadn’t slept that good in years.

Chapter Text

Beaver’s Hollow, 1899  

Tomorrow, everything would change for Arthur and John. Arthur felt more than nervous but he didn’t want the other man to notice. Arthur had been with the gang for so long he couldn’t imagine what it would be like without them. He was afraid. Afraid of what he would mean to the world without a belonging or purpose. But that wasn’t completely true, he was about to create his own family now and he would do anything to protect them, giving him another reason to move forward in life.

He knew it was foolish of them to go for the money but he wanted them to have a chance when they got out. He felt just like Dutch the more he thought of it. Arthur wanted as much as they could get if it meant he and John could survive. He thought that maybe the two of them should skip this last robbery and stay behind in camp and take all the money the gang had in the cavern but he didn’t want to leave the others stranded in case something went wrong on the heist. But what if there was no money on that payroll train? Or not as much as Dutch anticipated?

Even if Dutch had betrayed him, Arthur couldn’t find it in his heart to do the same. He was only gonna take their share from the train job and what was rightfully theirs and then be out of the way. No more, no less. They would get out before Dutch would notice that some of the money was missing. That way no one needed to get hurt and Arthur could leave with a clear conscience, not that he had needed it before. But this was different. He was about to leave his leader and father since over twenty years back. The reality of it still didn’t make much sense but he couldn’t afford to hold any doubts now. Things were settled and he wouldn’t back out of this.

He had spoken to Sadie about all the details and John had spoken to Abigail and Jack. It was important for the little one to not question anything that was about to happen one day from now.

Arthur noticed how many fewer faces there were at camp. They were smart enough to leave a sinking ship when they had the chance and he prayed to himself that they were all safe and that they would find a better life somewhere.

He disliked the faces of Cleet and Joe, he could see that they were just as rotten as Micah. He couldn’t understand how Dutch had let two strangers in so easily considering his paranoia with informers and traitors as he so often spoke of. Nothing made much sense anymore.

It was evening and everyone was tense, a familiar feeling nowadays. John wanted to spend this last night in the same bed as Arthur and he had agreed. They had nothing to lose right now, considering they would leave everything behind tomorrow. Arthur didn’t really care anymore if everyone found out about them. They wouldn’t have the time to do anything about it either way. It had come to his knowledge that the majority of the gang knew but it had been the better majority and it was beyond Arthur that it had slipped by Micah and Dutch. Probably Bill as well. Maybe they were too busy with throwing accusations of him and John being the rats. Maybe they were just blind or stupid. Or perhaps they were planning on killing them both and hadn’t bothered bringing it up. Arthur truly didn’t know but what he did know was that he was gonna take every opportunity provided to be with John, for the rest of his life.

Arthur slowly followed him inside his tent, not bothering to look around camp before entering and not having any intention of coming out until morning. He closed the flaps after him and John kneeled to lit up the lantern that was placed on the ground. As John moved to stand up straightly, Arthur closed in on the younger man from behind, moving one hand forward to the space between the other’s arm and ribs until he embraced him, his own chest pressing firmly against John’s back and the other hand resting at John’s waist. It was one of Arthur’s favourite positions in terms of closeness.

“Hi there”, he whispered as he pressed a kiss to John’s neck and then to his cheek, all while caressing John’s chest in small circular motions. John leaned his head a little to the side, exposing more skin for Arthur to kiss on.

John smiled widely and grabbed the hand resting on his chest, lifting it up to his lips to leave a gentle kiss on it. “After tomorrow, everything will be different”.

“I know…”, Arthur sighed, brushing his nose over John’s hair, inhaling the scent he often found to still his soul.

“It’s gonna be frightening. Dangerous even”, John said as he squeezed Arthur’s hand a little harder.

“Oh it's gonna be more than that and I’m looking forward to every goddamn bit of it”, Arthur spoke with a fire in his voice, all while leaving a trail of warm kisses along the length of John’s neck.

“Such bravery…!” John couldn’t help but let out, only a bit distracted since Arthur’s lips sent a tickling sensation down his spine and into his stomach.

Arthur let out a small laugh. “Well, one of us has to be brave and I know it ain't gonna be this blushing maiden over here…”, Arthur whispered into his ear before he started to gently nibble on John’s earlobe.

“I ain't no goddamn maiden”, John huffed, closing his eyes to Arthur’s affectionate touches, knowing he was looking exactly like what he claimed he wasn’t.

“Oh really, how come you always needs saving, huh?” Arthur continued, starting to tickle John.

“Stop”, John laughed. He pulled away from Arthur and placed himself on the cot. He gave a mischievous expression to the other before he reached for the satchel Arthur had placed on the ground and started to dig in it.

“What are you doing?” Arthur asked with a frown and a low tone in his voice.

“Gonna take a look in that journal of yours. It’s about time I did”.

Arthur turned serious and reached for the book as John was about to open it. “Don’t, Marston… Just don’t. That’s mine and I don't want anyone looking in it”. John let him take it from him without objection, a bit disappointed but still respectful of his wishes. Arthur watched John lower his eyes. The older man sighed. “Tell you what…if we make it out of this I let you read and look at every page there is, how about that?”

John looked up with pure joy in his eyes. “You’ve got yourself a deal”.

Arthur only blinked at John, he wished he had the time to draw him but he decided to save it for another day, one where they would live their new life. He at least had a few pictures of him, always keeping them close in his tent. And he had that drawing of their portrait, John held the original.

“Abigail's gonna pack the essentials while we’re away tomorrow. Can’t risk doing it with Dutch and Micah around. What do you need?” John whispered.

“Nothing much. Just my pictures, maybe a shirt. We need to travel light”.

“I’ll tell her in the morning”.

Arthur nodded. They studied each other for a long time, no one saying anything. They understood each other well enough only by the looks they send the other. The air felt heavy and Arthur sighed deeply, like he had done so many times this evening. “Is any of this actually happening?” he asked, more to himself.

“I’m afraid so… ”, John whispered and gave him a faint smile. “At least we’re in it together”.

“Yeah…guess you’re right”.

Arthur met John’s eyes as the latter started to undress, taking off his long coat and tossing his hat in a corner. Arthur couldn’t help but slowly lower himself to his knees before John to where he sat on the cot. The younger man gave a confused look and Arthur couldn’t miss the inch of nervousness displaying the other’s eyes. Both knew what John was afraid of, the event still so freshly etched into his mind and most of all his body. Arthur didn’t dare to bring it up, he only continued by taking off John’s boots before he rested his head in the dark haired man’s lap, one of his hands caressing the side of John’s thigh slightly and without any intention but to get some kind of closeness. John studied the man beneath him and he slowly drifted his hand to land over Arthur’s head, caressing his golden hair. Arthur turned his head to bury his face into John’s thigh, almost seeming to want to hide himself from the world. It felt strange in a way and it became so quiet, John could almost hear their heartbeats.

John knew what Arthur was thinking about as well, he couldn’t deny that a part of him was afraid that Arthur would claim his body as the older lowered himself to his knees. John’s body hadn’t healed yet and having sex in any way was the last thing on his mind but it seemed as it was the last on Arthur’s as well. The big and usually rough man just wanted comfort much similar to a child craving her mother’s attention and confirmation. So John only leaned his body slightly, awkwardly covering Arthur with himself as he caressed his head and back with reassuring hands.

“I love you, Arthur …”, he whispered so quietly that for a second he was certain the other hadn’t heard it at all but Arthur pressed his hand harder into John’s thigh by the words and buried his face deeper.

John lifted his body up and turned it slightly to lift at the cover before he started to pull at Arthur’s arm, motioning him to follow him into the bed.

Arthur lifted his head up and let himself be pulled into John’s embrace as the latter lay down on the cot.

Arthur kicked off his boots and placed himself on top of John, both hugging tightly. Arthur wouldn’t look at his lover, he only buried his face again between John’s shoulder and neck as the younger man caressed his back with comforting touches.

After a minute or two, John squirmed slightly from his position under Arthur and the older man lifted his body to allow John to move.

“Come here…”, John encouraged as he had settled to lay on his side and Arthur turned his body as well, letting John embrace him from behind, pulling the cover over their bodies.

They had gotten used to the slightly bigger bed Arthur had at Shady Belle and now he had to squeeze himself next to John but none of them minded the closeness. It helped with the temperature as well, it wasn’t as warm in Beaver’s Hollow as it had been in their last few camps. Arthur could count on his two hands how many times they had shared a bed during their time together and he couldn’t help but think that they soon would be able to spend every night together.

John held Arthur that night, the older man listened to the younger man’s light snoring way past midnight. He caressed the hand John had rested to his chest and again the thoughts and insecurities of his place in this world started to gnaw at him. Who would he be without the gang? Who was Arthur Morgan?

 

-

 

“John, Arthur”.

Sadie peeked into the tent, the two men were sound asleep. They had time to sleep longer but Arthur had asked her to wake them up early and so she did.

“Hey, John! Arthur”. No response. Sadie sighed and stepped into the tent and started to shove at Arthur. The man awoke with a rough grunt. “Don’t you fall asleep now, you asked me to wake you up so get up !”

“Yeah yeah…just need a moment…”. Arthur looked at the younger man in his arms, he hadn’t even moved an inch from their voices. “Thanks Sadie, we’ll be right out”.

“With him, I doubt it”, Sadie said with a faint smile. “When you’re ready, I think it’s best if all of us go through the plan once more”, she whispered. Arthur nodded to her and Sadie walked out, closing the flaps after her.

Arthur looked at John again, his hair covered most of his face and he was still snoring. Arthur brushed the hair away and was met with a sort of harmony in John’s face, weeks of worry completely eradicated from it. He caressed his cheek and moved closer to press his lips to John’s. The younger man moved slightly and Arthur figured he would have to wake him up, as much as he enjoyed the stillness... “Hey”. Arthur shook the man a little and soon John woke up with a jerk and a rushed inhale of air.

“What is it?” John asked quickly, blinking his eyes in a haste as though the action would give him an answer to his half awake confusion.

“Nothing. We have to get up. Got a big day ahead of us”. Arthur saw the realisation hit John and the younger man blinked at him more slowly and soon were in his full senses.

“A part of me just wants to lie here with you all day”, John breathed out and buried his face into Arthur’s neck.

Arthur chuckled at the words. “Apart from you know, me getting shot, stabbed, half beaten to death, I don't think I’ve ever spent a whole day in bed. Especially not with someone else. But after today, maybe we can do just that”.

John looked up at him with a loving smile. “That sounds fine by me, Arthur”.

For a moment, it was as they were the only ones existing in this here and now. Just like so many times before, they looked deeply into one another’s eyes as they somehow could see into the other’s soul.

They kissed each other tenderly for a while, no one caring about freshening up for the day. Every day could be their last one together and both knew it.

“We have to watch each other's backs today. And if anything goes wrong, if one of us is...killed…we have to continue, get Jack out, you hear?” Arthur reminded.

“I hear you… The same goes for you. If anything should happen to me, you just go, alright? Take Abigail and Jack and...whatever happens, you take care of them for me, Arthur…”.

Arthur hugged John tighter and really wished he could stay right here with John, only forever.

 

-

 

They stayed close to each other while on the train. Men kept pouring out from the car up ahead but the two men were on killing spree, they had found themselves doing this too many times in their lives.

John shouted to Arthur to keep pushing forward as they advanced through the train. As a man aimed his gun at him, Arthur lifted the shotgun he had brought and the other flew backwards as the shots exploded into his chest. The dying man’s gun went off, the bullet causing one of the lanterns on the train to start a fire.

“John, jump on!” Bill shouted from his horse, he and the rest of the gang riding beside the train. John did as he was told while Arthur jumped to Dutch’s horse. As they jumped back on the train beyond the burning carriage, Arthur got up and watched the flames grow thicker.

“Uncouple that carriage before it blows us all up!” Arthur ordered while pointing towards the fire.

“I’m on it!” John answered and hurried to it.

Suddenly the train passed by a man who saw the whole event and he started to yell and warn about the train being robbed. Just what they needed, Arthur thought.

To be prepared, John demanded Arthur to make use of the weapon and the golden haired man started to put the heavy pieces together on the gatling gun, all while John pulled out the heavy latch holding the burning car. They watched as it derailed within seconds with a loud crash.

John yelled for Bill to jump on the train and so he did, landing heavy on his side.

Arthur and John shared a look for only a second but the moment was interrupted with blood spraying from a part of John’s upper body and he fell backwards off of the moving train.

Arthur reached his hand out instinctively. “John!” he shouted after him but a bullet flew past his head and he had no choice but to duck. He turned around and on top of the train car stood a man they had missed to take out. Arthur drew his gun quickly and fired at the same time as Sadie, Cleet and Bill. When the threat was out of the way, Arthur turned around quickly and tried to locate John but the train had moved too far away to see him.

“I have to go back and get him!” Arthur shouted in panic to Dutch and the rest who rode beside the moving train. He started looking for his horse, both Iron and Old Boy followed steady behind the train but Arthur prepared to jump onto Bill’s horse who was closer.

“No! I’ll get him, you protect that money!” Dutch answered back. “They need you here, Arthur!”

Gunfire made Arthur flinch and he looked over to Bill and the others. “I see patrols coming this way! Go after John or man the gun, Arthur! But you have to decide right now! ” Sadie yelled from behind with her revolvers raised. Cleet and Bill started to fire with their guns at the lawmen that now could be seen in the distance.

Arthur looked at Dutch and a familiar glint of the old him shone through his face. “Trust me, Arthur…! Trust me, just this one last time, I’ll go get him, alright?”

Arthur swallowed and nodded quickly even if he was afraid he had made the wrong choice. But Dutch’s eyes hadn’t lied. Arthur would have to believe him this one last time and he watched Dutch, Micah and the others turn around and gallop in John’s direction. Arthur could only pray that he had made it.

“How’s it going with that gun, Morgan?!” Bill shouted and Arthur quickly put the last pieces together and maneuvered the gatling gun, firing at the riders coming through. He did so without mercy, men and horses dropped down dead or in agony but Arthur couldn’t care less. All he could focus on was staying alive and get back to John as quick as possible. If he was even breathing.

When the lawmen were out of their hair, Arthur used the dynamite to open the carriage holding the money. When the smoke eased up, Arthur entered it. Dutch had been right. There was money, and lots of it.

 

-

 

“Dutch!”

Dutch turned his face to Micah as they rode. “What, Micah?”

“Can you just hold up for a second? Jesus ”.

They were closing in on the area where the carriage derailed and Dutch ignored the man’s wishes. He jumped off his horse and started to search their surroundings.

“John!” Javier shouted while he and Dutch looked around. Joe and Micah only stood by and watched.

Dutch saw some drops of blood on the ground that led to the outskirts of the woods right next to the railroad. There John lay on his stomach, unconscious by the looks of it. “John?” Dutch asked softly while moving the young man to lie on his back. He had been shot in the arm. Javier and Micah went to Dutch’s side while Joe waited by the horses. “He’s still alive”, Dutch stated. John’s eyelids flickered for a second. “John?” he asked again, trying to shake him into consciousness.

“We need to move, boss. Taking him with us only gonna slow us down. He’s a lost cause…”, Micah preached indifferently. “Remember what we talked about, Dutch”, Micah continued. “He’s most likely one of them and I say the problem’s been taken care of”.

Dutch closed his eyes as Micah went on. A part of him had been scared when he saw John go down, he only saw the sweet boy he had taken in all those years ago. The son he had loved more than anything in this world. But the more Micah reminded him about these last weeks of uncertainty, the threat of betrayal and lack of trust, he opened his eyes with a coldness in them. He looked up to Javier who met him with a simple shrug of his shoulders over the matter. Then he turned to look at Micah. “More patrols are probably gonna ride this way soon Dutch, considering the turmoil we’ve caused. If he does survive, they’re at least gonna pick him up and tend to his wound...before they hang him, that is. Ain't no blood on our hands…”, Micah spoke plainly while watching their surroundings, resting a hand on one of his guns.

“I think we need to ride back to the train. What if Bill and the others need our help?” Javier reminded.

“Javier’s right, boss. We need to go. Now. And this business with John, it's for the best. No need for loose ends. I say we leave him…or do you want me to off him? Maybe that would be the kind thing to do”, Micah chuckled.

Dutch wanted to protest but a part of him had come to despise John, even Arthur. They hadn’t been on his side for a long time and had made it clear that they didn’t have any faith in him any more. He felt that Micah was the only one he could trust nowadays…the man was probably right.

Dutch’s mind was fighting a constant battle and he was getting tired of choosing between one thing or the other. He did not surprise himself as he decided to do what he had done two times before. “No, just…leave him. Let’s ride boys, we have a lot of money waiting for us”. Dutch’s eyes lingered at John’s face for a few seconds before he patted him on his head like he used to when the boy was a child, then he stood on his feet, making his way to The Count.

Micah shot one last look at John while letting out a short laugh before he turned away and followed Dutch. “Leave the horse, we don’t need it”, Micah said to Joe and the man slapped Old Boy on his backside, making the horse hurry away at opposite direction.

“Adios, Marston”, Javier said quietly as he sat on his horse and looked down at John. The four men rode off, leaving John Marston behind.

 

-

 

After they had jumped off the train, they watched it run off the broken bridge and crush against the mountainside beneath.

“Well, let’s move”, Bill said and the four of them turned around, each and every one of them carrying a heavy bag of money.

They were met with Dutch and the others riding towards them with the rest of the horses following. Arthur’s heart dropped when he couldn’t see him. Sadie looked at him with concerned eyes.

“Where’s John?” Arthur asked impatiently when they closed in.

“I tried, Arthur…I tried”, Dutch answered with sheer sorrow in his eyes, shaking his head slowly to the words.

Arthur lowered his head, the hat covering his eyes.

“He didn’t make it. That patrol killed him…we had to run”.

Arthur looked at Micah, tears threatening to escape his eyes. He glanced over to Javier who kept his own eyes lowered. “Javier…?”

Javier shook his head. “It’s true. He didn’t make it…sorry Arthur…”, he told him with a low voice.

“Come on, let’s go. Before another patrol turns up”, Dutch demanded.

Arthur let his eyes fall to the ground beneath him. He felt completely frozen and Sadie put a hand on his shoulder. He shrugged it off and slowly walked over to Iron and stowed the large bag of money on him. Arthur felt his knees turn weak and he had a hard time breathing. He shook his head to himself, refusing to believe what had just happened. John was actually gone. “I…I need to get him…”, Arthur said with an unsteady voice, his head turning right and left without order as he did his best to not break.

“You can’t. The law is gonna be here in minutes. We have to get out of here right now or we’re gonna get ourselves killed. You’ll just have to come back for him later…”, Dutch said with determination.

“It’s gonna be too late by then! They’re just gonna take him away if we don’t get to him. He deserves a goddamn proper resting place!” Arthur all but yelled in a mix of rage and loss.

“Go ahead and get him then, cowpoke. But leave the money to us if you do”, Micah said and looked at the bag on Arthur’s horse.

“Arthur”, Sadie said and pulled at his sleeve. “We need to go”, she stated with a harsh voice.

Micah looked at the two, rolled his eyes and motioned for Baylock to turn around.

“Whatever happens, you take care of them for me, Arthur”.

John’s words echoed inside Arthur’s head. He looked at Sadie for a few moments and finally nodded. Others needed them now. Arthur got up on Iron and Dutch started to ride. The rest of the group followed and Arthur and Sadie fell back to ride further behind them.

“I’m so sorry, Arthur…”, Sadie spoke quietly in earnest.

Arthur didn’t answer. Jack was his priority now.

Chapter Text

During the ride back to Beaver’s Hollow, Arthur believed matters couldn’t get any worse than this. How wrong he was, for they were met by a riding Tilly yelling in panic, Jack sitting in front of her on her horse. She told them that Abigail had been taken and that she and the boy had managed to hide.

The whole group turned into a stop. “Who took her?!” Arthur demanded.

“Agent Milton and his men. Took her to Van Horn to be put on a boat and tried for murder!” she exclaimed.

“I am sorry to hear that…”, Dutch said while shaking his head.

“We gotta let her go”, Micah stated coldly. “John’s a...well, sorry son”. Micah looked at Jack who slowly lowered his head, the realisation hitting him like a freight train. “Without John, she’s just bait. We got a bunch of money, Dutch. She’s just a girl…they won’t do nothing to her. But, me and the boys know…”. Micah looked back at Cleet and Joe. “...we need to keep on riding on this one, Dutch. You know it, every man here knows it”.

“So we just gonna let the boy be made an orphan?” Arthur exclaimed and looked at Dutch.

“It-it ain't like that!” Dutch tried.

“What is it like ?” Arthur all but growled to the man.

“I wanna live, cowpoke”, Micah said before he directed his words to their leader. “Dutch, it's just a girl…”, he repeated.

Arthur couldn’t believe what he was hearing. The sight of Dutch even listening to Micah’s words about leaving Abigail behind was the final and true reveal of Dutch’s nature. But still, Arthur couldn’t give up.

“You’re right…”, Dutch finally said to Micah.

“Dutch!” Arthur pleaded and hopped off of Iron, making his way to Dutch. He looked up at him and grabbed onto the dark haired man’s arm with a tight grip.

“It pains me to say it Arthur, but Micah…he’s right ”.

Arthur begged one final time for all he was worth but it wasn’t enough, never was.

“Come on, boys”, Dutch ordered and Arthur watched him and the leftovers of the gang ride away.

Arthur figured that this truly was it. Everything he had given Dutch all these years, it meant nothing anymore. Arthur moved his eyes around the small group, Sadie had stayed behind with him and he wished Charles was here as well but the man had stayed with Rain Falls and his tribe, helping them on their way. He and Sadie were the only ones Arthur could trust by now.

His eyes landed on Jack, the boy’s eyes were filled with tears where he sat on the horse. Arthur walked over to him and lifted his arms up to him. Jack held on to Arthur’s shoulders and let himself be carried by the man. Arthur held him, humming soothingly. “It’s okay, son…I’m gonna get you your momma back, don’t you worry…”, he reassured as he gently pressed his forehead to Jack’s while caressing the back of the boy’s head.

“I want pa t-to come back too”, Jack stuttered between his crying.

The words made Arthur’s heart break and he felt himself tear up. “Me too, kid…me too”, he spoke quietly as he hugged him tighter. “Look at me, Jack”, Arthur said and forced a smile to the boy. Arthur grabbed his black bandana from around his neck and wiped away the tears from Jack’s cheeks. “There…there you are. Now I see you”. Arthur felt another form of loss as he realised he had said the very same words to a crying Isaac that day he didn’t know would be their last together. But still, he continued. “You’re my ...you’re a brave kid…the best. I’ve always loved you, Jack. Just like you was my own…”. Arthur’s voice broke on the last sentence and he couldn’t hold back the tears. Jack pressed himself to Arthur, tightly holding his arms wrapped around the back of his neck as he buried his face into Arthur’s shoulder.

“I love you too, uncle Arthur…”, he cried with a muffled voice.

Arthur felt overwhelmed by the words and he couldn’t do anything but to hold Jack even closer to his chest, rubbing the boy’s back slowly as comfort. He only wished he could have said and heard those words during different circumstances…happier ones.

Sadie and Tilly looked at each other somberly. “I’m sorry Arthur, but we have to go…”, Sadie stated with a low voice.

Arthur nodded. He wiped his tears away and lifted Jack back to Tilly. “Don’t leave me, Arthur!” Jack cried out while reaching his hand out for him.

Arthur’s heart broke all over again and he grabbed Jack’s little hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. “Oh, I’ll be back son, me and Mrs. Adler both. We need to get your momma first”.

“But what if she’s dead , just like pa?” Jack cried.

Arthur flinched slightly by the words, but shook his head with determination. “No, I’ll promise you, I will get her back”.

Jack nodded slowly between his sobbings. Tilly wrapped one of her arms around the boy and pressed her lips to his head.

“Arthur?” Tilly said as he was about to turn around. “Abigail got a hold of the money belonging to you all. She told me where it was before we hid. I got it all here…”, she told him and lifted at the bag stowed on her horse. “Along with some supplies and belongings of ours”.

Arthur looked at her surprised. They had everything they needed and more, he thought. “Abigail always was a good thief”, he said with fondness. “Miss Tilly, you take this too...”, Arthur said and went to his horse. He lifted up and carried the large bag of money and put it on Tilly’s horse along with the other luggage. “You take Jack and wait for us at Copperhead Landing. You lie low there, protect the boy”.

“Of course Arthur, I will”, Tilly assured.

“You’re a good girl…”, he said and took her hand in his. “And if I don't make it back, you live a good life now, you hear?”

“Alright, Arthur…be safe”.

“You too, sweetheart...you too. Until we meet again”, Arthur said with a faint smile.

“Let’s go Arthur, you and me is all we need”, Sadie said with her head held high.

Arthur looked at Jack one last time, giving him a smile before he turned around and mounted Iron for one of the very last times. “Mrs. Adler, ride with me!”

 

-

 

Everything had been a blur for John, drifting in and out of unconsciousness, remembering half of everything. When he opened his eyes he found himself just in the outskirts of the woods. He had somehow crawled further in, lying on his stomach in the middle of a small glade surrounded by thick trees covering the area from the roads. How lucky. He managed to sit up and he winced when he felt a sudden sting of pain in the upper part of his left arm. “Shit!” he exclaimed. He slowly took off his coat and looked over the wound, it wasn’t all that bad considering his history with this type of damage. It had bled a bit but John was sure enough to know it wasn’t life-threatening. But still, he needed to be careful. He tore off a piece of his shirt and wrapped it tightly around his arm, tying it firmly. He got to his feet and looked around. His head hurt massively and he felt a little sore in his body and figured it was the fall from the train that had caused it. “The train…”, John reminded himself. Suddenly, fragments of Dutch and Micah’s conversation came rushing to him.

“He’s still alive”.

“...need to go”.

“Maybe…kind thing to do”.

“...leave him…”.

Dutch’s voice. John tried to swallow the lump in his throat. He must have been half awake when they spoke because he remembered part of the words clearly now. He shouldn’t be surprised, he thought, but still...it hurt more than it should. John knew better than this but still he felt saddened to know that the man he once had practically worshipped had chosen to dispose of him so easily. Micah had taken a far greater hold of Dutch than he and Arthur had feared, he figured. But Dutch could still decide for himself and he wouldn’t have an excuse for what he’d done this time.

A selfish part of him felt hurt that Arthur hadn’t gone back for him. Had he tried? John reminded himself of their agreement and waved the thoughts away. Besides, Arthur had probably been more needed on the train. Or maybe something had gone wrong. What if the man had been killed or arrested? He didn’t know anything.

John got to the railroad and looked around, he picked up his hat that had fallen off there. He let himself fall back into the woods again, far enough to remain hidden but not too far so he couldn’t see the railroad. John looked up to the the sky, too much time had passed already and he started to run. He needed to go back to camp to get to Abigail and Jack. He hoped with all of his heart that Arthur had made it to them.

To his surprise, he found Old Boy after a couple of miles along the way, grazing naively on a patch of grass. “Come here”, he encouraged. The big brute moved closer to John and he patted the animal. “Such a good boy…”. John mounted Old Boy, making his way to Beaver’s Hollow one final time.

 

-

 

Micah Bell had been the informer all along. Arthur cursed his name as they shot their way from Van Horn.

Once again they had been lucky, Sadie had covered Arthur from the lighthouse as he had made his way to where Abigail had been taken, taking down the two men surrounding her inside the building. He had been ambushed by Agent Milton but with a little struggle he had been able to bring the man down, once and for all.

Abigail was safe for now, she sat behind Sadie on her horse and Arthur rode beside them. The agents followed them a long way but soon they were able to lose them. They rode hard and fast for a while, Arthur eager to put as much distance behind them as possible. He felt a burning rage inside of him as he had learned Micah’s true intentions. A rage combined with the last few drops of patience made Arthur decide his fate in that very moment.

“Stop!” Abigail suddenly pleaded. Sadie and Arthur turned into a stop and Abigail looked between the two, ready to ask the question to which she feared the answer to. “Arthur…why isn’t John with you…?”

Arthur lowered his eyes, making Abigail’s face twist in despair and her eyes flicker with worry. Arthur got to his feet and lifted her down so she wouldn’t fall off the horse from the bad news. “I’m sorry Abigail, he didn’t…didn’t make it…”.

“What? No!” Abigail yelled as the tears filled her eyes in merely seconds. Sadie moved down from her horse and held a hand at Abigail’s shoulder while giving Arthur a sympathetic look. Both had lost the one they loved today. Sadie didn’t know who needed comfort the most so she tried to do both.

“I was on the train and I didn’t see it happen… I…I couldn’t see him…I’m sorry, Abigail…”, Arthur spoke with a shaky voice. The own sorrow he felt ripped him apart anew.

Abigail cried while Arthur tried to hold her in his arms but she pushed him away. “You promised you would look after him!” she yelled between her sobbings, hitting her hands at his chest with what little force she could manage in that moment. Arthur flinched by her words, remembering his promise to her all too well. Abigail saw the look on Arthur’s face and she quickly regretted what she had said. “I’m sorry, Arthur…I’m sorry…” she cried out after a few moments, letting herself accept Arthur’s embrace. He only closed his eyes while they comforted each other. Both of them knew that John had been Arthur’s but that didn’t make the pain any less true for Abigail.

“We got Jack, he’s safe. He’s with Tilly… Mrs. Adler is gonna take you to him”, Arthur almost whispered as he hugged Abigail.

We are gonna take her to him, right?” Sadie said and stared at him.

Arthur let go of Abigail and shook his head slowly. “You two gotta go, now”, he said and pushed at Sadie to get on her horse.

“Arthur, what are you doing?” Sadie asked almost angrily but still did as he wanted, mounting her horse.

“I’m going after John… It’s the least I can do for him”.

“The place will be filled with lawmen, you’re gonna get yourself killed!” Sadie tried.

“Well I’m not just gonna leave him to rot!” Arthur spat out angrily.

Sadie closed her mouth, her lips shut into a thin line. “Alright, Arthur…”, she reluctantly agreed.

“I’m gonna get him, bury him some place he deserves, then I’ll find you all”, he said to Abigail.

More tears escaped Abigail by Arthur’s words. “Oh Arthur…”.

“Don’t you ‘oh Arthur’ me, neither of you two, not now”, Arthur said with determination before he helped Abigail up on Sadie’s horse.

“John cared for you Abigail, don’t you doubt that… And whatever happened…all that mattered to him was to keep Jack safe. And for me, well, this is just something I gotta do. I’ll catch up to you, I promise”. Arthur rested his eyes at the two before him. “You’re good women…good people...the best”. Arthur smiled at them. “Now go, get outta here”. Sadie let her eyes linger at the man, not wanting to leave him but she reluctantly hit her spurs against her horse and did exactly so.

Arthur didn’t look at them as they left him. He mounted Iron and patted the brute on his big head. He fished up his hat from the saddle bag and looked at the two feathers John had decorated it with in the beginning, his fingers carefully brushing over them. He smiled to himself by the memory as he put the hat on.

He had lied to Sadie and Abigail. He wasn’t going for John’s body, not yet at least. First, he was gonna take care of Micah. After what he’d done, he don’t get to walk away, Arthur thought. John would have to wait, it was already too late for him. For them.

Arthur knew how much he had lost that day and he wasn’t sure on how he would come back from this. He barely had with Eliza, with…Isaac.

He broke his promise to John as he started to ride, ignoring the man’s wishes of Arthur taking care of Abigail and Jack for him. But he wasn’t intending to die just yet and the plan was still to get back to them and keep said promise. But the savage in him wouldn’t let him follow through with it just yet. As Arthur rode his way back to Beaver’s Hollow, all he could think of was those dark eyes he would never get to meet with his own again.

 

-

 

Arthur slowed down as he was nearing camp. He thought for a second that maybe he should turn around, let this business with Micah be. But the rage inside him couldn’t let him walk away.

As he rode into camp, the gang, or what was left of it, were packing and Micah went around and scolded everyone into hurrying up. Arthur got off of Iron and closed in on the group. “I just saw Agent Milton, Dutch”, he told the man. He could see Micah flinch slightly in the corner of his eye as he mentioned the name. Dutch looked at him in confusion before Arthur continued. “Abigail’s fine, by the way, not that you’d care about that”. Arthur turned his face to Micah, Cleet and Joe. “You rats, all of you”, he shot out in disgust.

“What the hell are you going on about, cowpoke?” Micah asked with a threatening voice.

“It was you all along… Milton told me before I killed him”, Arthur stated.

“Well, that's a goddamn lie”, Micah answered with a small raise of tone.

Dutch looked even more confused as the two men tried to convince him of their words. He looked at both of them, not answering.

“It all makes sense now…”, Arthur continued.

“No, it damn well doesn't”, Micah said indifferently before he drew one of his guns, the other one held at his side. Arthur reacted just as quickly and aimed at Micah. Behind him stood Cleet and Joe, ready with their weapons as well. Bill stood by and watched, not sure of what to do.

“Dutch, think! ” Arthur demanded.

“Dutch, be practical now”, Micah said.

Their leader looked between the two men, not able to decide which one to trust with the allegations presented.

“Dutch!” a third voice shouted further away. Arthur’s breathing almost stopped. He would always recognize that voice, even in a crowd of a hundred others.

 

-

 

Everyone turned their faces to John who stumbled into the area. Arthur’s hand started to shake unchecked as he saw him.

“John?” Bill said, he must have been just as surprised as Arthur.

All of them stayed as silent as death itself when John told them Dutch had left him for dead.

“My boy…I didn’t have a choice”, Dutch said. John knew better than to fall for any of his lies this time, ignoring every excuse his leader tried. “John…I didn’t...I didn’t have a choice”, Dutch repeated, a pinch of shame filling his voice.

Arthur followed John’s movement. The younger man held his hand at his wounded arm, things didn’t look too bad after all. The turn of events made him both happy and scared to death. John and he shared a look and Arthur gestured with his eyes for John to come to his side. The latter took it slowly, not making any quick movements as he took one step at the time sideways, his eyes never leaving the stand-off.

Arthur raised his voice. His hand had stopped shaking, the gun in it keeping a steady aim at Micah. “All of you! You pick your side now because this is over” . Arthur turned his face to Dutch. “All of them years Dutch…for this snake”. Arthur shot his eyes at Micah who only laughed tauntingly.

“Oh, be quiet cowpoke. Be quiet . You live in the clouds”.

“No, you be quiet, Mr. Bell, and put down your gun”, Miss. Grimshaw suddenly said while aiming her rifle at Micah as well. Arthur had forgotten she was here but was grateful for the fire that woman still had in her.

Javier came rushing in, warning them about Pinkertons closing in on the area.

The distraction gave Micah an opening and he shot Miss. Grimshaw straight in her stomach. It took everything from Arthur to not rush to her side but he couldn’t afford to lower his gun as much as he wanted to. Now that John was here, all he wanted to do was run with him. But things had gone too far and there was no going back now.

Dutch raised two guns and held each of them aimed at Arthur and Micah. He demanded an answer to who were on his side, all while Miss Grimshaw screamed in agony until she succumbed to her death.

John finally reached Arthur’s side, the older man grabbed at his good arm and pushed John slightly behind himself as to protect him with his own body. It seemed as Dutch had made up his mind as he distanced himself further away from Arthur and John. Micah and the rest backed to Dutch’s side and Arthur pleaded for Javier and Bill to make the right choice. He hoped that at least Bill would think for himself, considering Javier had already betrayed them. It made no difference as a shot from the outside flew past them and everyone had to take cover. The Pinkertons had arrived and there were lots of them.

Dutch and the rest scattered in different directions while John and Arthur held the agents back as long as they could manage but eventually they were forced to fall back.

Arthur grabbed at John, ushering him to move as quickly as he could. “I thought you were dead! Them bastards lied to me!” Arthur shouted in anger as they ran further into the cavern.

“It damn figures! But why are you here? You should be with Jack and Abigail by now! Did they got out?”

Arthur ignored the first question. “They made it, Sadie and Tilly are with them, same place as we said!”

John and Arthur ran for all they were worth, climbing up ladders and jumping up on the rock platforms as one agent shouted for the two of them to surrender. “Micah was the rat all along, John! Agent Milton told me!”

Goddamnit! Should have killed him months ago!”

After they had climbed the last ladder up leading to the opening on higher ground, Arthur held on to John’s arm and pushed for them to continue. His priority was to get them both out alive and he refused to lose him in any way ever again. They whistled for their horses and while they looked around for them John quickly put his good arm around Arthur who wrapped his own around the younger man in an instant, only just now both given the chance to do so. “Thank God you’re alright…”, Arthur whispered as their cheeks pressed together. They hugged tightly before the older man pulled away as he saw their horses come running.

Further behind the gang came in full speed, either to destroy them or to escape in the same direction as them. Arthur didn’t want to wait to find out and he and John quickly turned their horses into a gallop and tried to escape through the dark of the night. Pinkertons had them almost pinned from every direction, all while Micah and the others rode in their tracks. John and Arthur made a quick turn to the right, avoiding an incoming army of men. That would probably keep the gang busy.

As they pushed forward further uphill, both men suddenly flew off their horses and hit the ground hard. Old Boy died instantly from a shot in the head while Iron whined from the sheer pain of several gunshot wounds spread across his body. John took care of the assailants while Arthur crawled back to Iron. “No…no…”, he panted as he ran his shaky hands over the animal’s body, lowering his head closer to Iron’s as he brushed his fingers over his mane. The big horse had nothing but panic in his eyes and Arthur could only pat the horse as the only means of comfort in his very last moments. “Well...thank you”, he spoke quietly to the animal and watched the life slowly run out of the beast.

As John had taken down the shooters, he landed his eyes on Old Boy and his heart sank. He had been the best horse he ever had…but at least he hadn’t suffered... As much as it saddened him, he needed Arthur to move forward with him if they were gonna get out of this.

“Arthur! Come on!” John demanded as flying bullets were making their way past them both, fortunately shot from a distance too far to hit their targets properly. John pulled roughly at Arthur’s shirt to make him get up from his spot. He grabbed Arthur’s hand and the older heaved himself up and they started to run once more, heading for even higher ground.

Together they made their way further up the mountains, it was their only escape route that moment. But as they went, Arthur felt a sudden sting of pain in his leg and he fell to the ground. He quickly examined his leg and it felt like the world turned into a stop as he and John looked at each other with worry, knowing what the gunshot wound may cause to their situation but none uttering a word over the matter. John didn’t hesitate a second and quickly aided him by putting Arthur’s arm over his shoulder and lift. “Goddamnit!” Arthur grunted in pain as they prepared to continue once more.

He could support on it if he had to but when he did, it was unfortunately still slowing them down at a fast rate. John tried his best to keep Arthur up but the hurt in his arm made it difficult for him to either shoot his gun with it or assist Arthur with it if they changed positions. The older man tried to move on his own but John didn’t want him to fully support on his leg, afraid he would bleed out before they even had the opportunity to get to a hiding spot. They needed to tend to his wound when or if they found one.

As they moved, Arthur’s hope of them getting away slowly diminished…There were simply too many of them and…eventually they were going to overpower the two of them as there seemed to be no ending to them. They were being hunted by the agents like animals to be put down and they would never stop… Arthur slowly and reluctantly came to terms with what had to be done if John was going to survive this.

As they got further up on the mountain, catching their breaths slightly as they were momentarily protected from the bullets flying, Arthur looked at John and it was as time slowed down for a few seconds, every single of their happy moments and time spent together came rushing to him and he couldn’t help but feel a joy spread through his body. If only John made it, he would be… content , he thought. Arthur shot a saddened look to John. “You go”, he breathed out and gave him a warm smile, despite it all.

“What? We ain't got time for this Arthur, let’s go”, John panted and pulled at the other to make him move. “We just gotta push, Arthur, come on”.

“I can't… run ...with this…”. Arthur spoke and  gestured at his leg while leaning at the mountain wall, supporting himself. “At least not as fast as we need to. John…you...you have to go. I’m gonna hold them sons of bitches off. I can do it…you know I can. And when I have, I’ll catch up to you”.

John shook his head, tears already filling his widened eyes by the sudden change of plans. “No, Arthur…no. I can't just leave you…”.

“Well, I say that you can!” Arthur ordered. “It’s not up to you, Marston… Just do as I say! I’m not the goddamn priority here…” Arthur took his hand in his both, giving it a tight squeeze as their eyes locked. “It would mean the world to me…if you made it out”.

“We’re both gonna make it, you just need to come with me!” John begged and pulled hard at Arthur’s arm again to make him move.

Arthur raised his voice. “I’m sorry, but we ain't got time…”. John only stared at Arthur and he responded by studying the younger man, his hat was gone, he noticed. Must have happened when the horses fell... Arthur took off his own hat and put it on John’s head. “You hold on to this…” He smiled gently to John as the tears filled his eyes as well. “...until I get back to you”.

“Arthur…”, John cried out and Arthur held a steady hand at the other’s cheek as he leaned in to press their lips together. No one was willing to let go but the sound of bullets flying more closely past them interrupted the touch.

“Go!” Arthur demanded and shoved at John.

John couldn’t do anything but grab Arthur’s hand and pull one final time with a pleading in his eyes. “We can make it, Arthur. I know we can”, he tried one final time, quickly nodding to the words as though the action made them truer.

“No, think about Jack. Just go, goddamnit! I’ll find you John!” he yelled as the sound of gunfire continued to fill the air, Arthur giving John one final look before he moved away from their cover to answer with his own bullets.

That night, it took everything from John to let go of Arthur’s hand and turn around. As he escaped the mountain, the sound of bullets became more distant as he fought the urge of going back to what he’d left behind.

 

-

 

Arthur fended off the Pinkertons as best he could, keeping himself covered at every given opportunity. He made every bullet count as he aimed for their heads. He had every intention of surviving this and if he wouldn’t, at least he would bring down as many as possible, giving John a chance.

A few minutes had passed and after taking down around a dozen of them, things surprisingly seemed to calm down and he couldn’t make out any men moving in the distance. For now.

Arthur turned around to continue in John’s direction until he was met with another force. Micah jumped him from nowhere and they wrestled each other to the ground until the both of them rolled down the small cliff, falling to the ridge below. The fall knocked the air out of both men.

When they managed to get up, Arthur shot a fist at Micah, making him stumble backwards from the blow. Arthur limped to him and Micah took notice of the wound and kicked at his leg. Arthur cursed in pain but managed to stay on his feet. Micah aimed for his stomach, bringing Arthur down and landing on top of him.

“Should’ve killed you a long time ago!” Arthur yelled in disgust between the beatings Micah gave him. Arthur managed to take a hold of his throat and throw him off of him. Both men equal in strength, Arthur could only hope for Micah to tire himself out before him.

“I’ve already won, cowpoke”.

“But I got what I wanted ”, Arthur answered before they took a swing at each other again.

After a few minutes, when both their faces and knuckles were all bloodied and battered, both of them could feel the exhaustion kick in. Arthur looked for his pistol that had fell out of the holster. Time to end this, he thought. He located it a bit back and turned around. He moved as fast as he could with the limp he had and managed to get a hold of the gun but Micah grabbed onto him and pushed him to the mountain wall, making Arthur hit his head against it. As he managed to turn around, Arthur punched Micah, making both men fall to the ground for the third time since they started. Arthur lost the hold of his pistol and watched it slide away. He started to crawl towards it as quickly as he could. “Goddamn you, Micah!” he cursed between his heavy breaths. While putting his hand upon the pistol, a boot stepped on his hand. Dutch.

“It is over now…Arthur. It’s over”. Dutch looked down at him with a look Arthur couldn’t tell was one of pity or disgust. Arthur stayed where he was out of caution.

“Dutch…He’s a rat. You know it and I know it”, Arthur stated with both anger and determination in his voice.

“He knows you don’t want him no more, he’ll tell you anything, Dutch”, Micah said between his own heavy breaths as he got to his feet.

Arthur looked up at Dutch in equal part despair, equal part bitterness. “I gave you all I had...I did. Twenty-one years , Dutch”. Once again Arthur could see an inch of the old Dutch in the man’s eyes but he knew it didn’t mean anything anymore. The man who had raised him was long gone and Arthur wouldn’t be surprised if Dutch himself decided to put a bullet between his eyes. That’s the kind of man he had become.

“I…I”, Dutch moved backwards, not able to give Arthur an answer.

“Come on, let’s go buddy. We made it”, Micah said to Dutch. The latter only stared at him. The man seemed lost and Arthur hoped that Dutch would just walk away, make the right choice for once.

When Dutch didn’t respond to either man, Arthur gave up the last hope he held. He was done with the begging, the pleading... He rolled onto his back, looking up at the star filled sky that was turning brighter. It had been a very long night. “ John made it…” Arthur said with a faint smile and a distant look in his eyes.

Chapter Text

John didn’t know how long he had run for. Eventually he had to stop, the taste of blood filled his mouth and he cursed himself for not having a drop of water on him. He breathed rapidly and the sweat poured down all over his body. He threw up only seconds after stopping and he knew it had nothing to do with the running. He wanted to scream at the top of his lungs but he knew it wouldn’t change a thing.

Arthur’s decision had come so suddenly and he still couldn’t quite grasp the reality of it all. Everything had happened so fast and he cursed himself for listening to the man. Only two days ago had they expressed their love for each other and now… now he may have made the biggest mistake of his life and lost it all together. All of his heart told him to turn back as fast as he could. He breathed quickly, looking back at the direction he came from. He felt he had betrayed the most important person in his life by running away. It didn’t matter that it was what Arthur wanted…It didn’t matter that Arthur had promised he would get back in one piece. He had still done it. John had still left him. He had run away and he felt like a coward for doing so.

John looked at the direction he was going. He swallowed what little saliva he had left in his dry mouth as he closed his eyes for a moment. The truth was that Arthur wasn’t the most important person in his life, would never be. Jack was . Even when John left him, Arthur’s priority had also been Jack. Had always been. They had promised themselves and each other that whatever happened, Jack was what mattered. John closed his hands tightly to stop them from shaking so violently. “I’m so sorry, Arthur…”, he said quietly as he reluctantly made the decision to not return to him.

He needed to move, he had to find his family and to be with them. Besides, there was still a possibility that Arthur had made it out. Maybe he was on his way right now... The thought made him continue pushing his body to the limit.

John could barely see in the dark but he kept his fast pace nonetheless, making him almost trip over a few branches and small boulders here and there. He stayed off the road as long as he could and eventually he ran into a small ranch. Out in the small pasture he could see five horses standing in harmony. He observed the place, it seemed quiet enough. He could really use one of them horses, he thought.

He slowly made his way to the pasture, climbing over the fence that surrounded the area. For the first time since the darkness had fallen, was he glad for it. He calmed one of the horses nearest to him, anyone would do really. What he got was a grey hungarian half-bred and the animal was easy enough to handle. John led it out as quietly as he could, not even thinking about finding a saddle for it. He had ridden bareback quite a few times in his life and this was no different. He left the area as quick as possible, getting caught with stealing a horse, a good one as well, was the last he needed.

The sun had started to rise in the distance and he hoped that Arthur enjoyed the view as much as he did, despite it all. The night had been long and the light was very much appreciated. The only disadvantage was the lack of cover it provided. As he rode, he looked up to the sky that was turning golden and all it reminded him of was his lover’s hair in a certain light.

 

-

 

After John had ridden for more than an hour, he had to cross a river, the Kamassa if he remembered it correctly. He got off the horse and dropped to his knees by the water. He cupped his hand and lifted the water to his mouth in a haste, drinking plenty until he felt his thirst disappear. When he was done, he looked around the woods. He wasn’t too far from Copperhead, the only problem was that the water was too deep to cross and he couldn’t swim across it. He mounted the horse and continued until he could see a small road up ahead he figured was the one leading to the bridge that crossed the river.

As he moved slowly with the horse, not wanting it to trip over in the rough terrain, John could hear the distant sound of riders approaching and he turned to a complete stop in the outskirts of the woods, merely a yard away from the road. “Why the hell are we even here for?!” a loud voice exclaimed in frustration.

John threw himself off the horse in an instant and hid behind a tree big enough to cover his body. He lowered himself to the ground, making himself as small as possible.

“You heard that?”

“Heard what?”

John carefully peeked out of his cover. There were two men approaching on horses on the small road. They were dressed in a familiar way. Agents, no doubt. They came from a sharp turn and John would without a doubt have run into them if he hadn’t heard them. The horse stood for the whole world to see it and it was far too near him if the men chose to approach it, considering how friendly the brute was. He looked for basically anything on the ground and found a small rock. He grabbed it and threw it at the horse. The animal neighed and hurried away from him, trotting closer to the road.

“It’s only a horse, you idiot”.

“I’ll be damned, that's a fine looking one. What on earth is it doing around here all alone, there aren’t any herds around these parts”.

John’s heart beat fast as the men got off their horses. He moved his head back and pressed it tightly against the tree.

“You need to pat it? Leave the horse be, we got more important matters to attend to”.

“I say we go back, I hate the fucking marsh, and there’s no way Dutch van der Linde is hiding around here. Like I said, he’s headed west”.

“You might be right, but still, Ross wanted us to cover these grounds”.

“The man could be anywhere… ”.

The other man sighed. “What about the others, huh?”

“What others? You mean Bill Williamson? John Marston?” he huffed. “It’s Dutch we’re after, not his insignificant subordinates. And you heard what he said, Arthur Morgan is dead . He was the only one besides Dutch that would be worth going after”.

He closed his eyes. Everything started spinning and John felt his stomach turn by the words. He did everything in his power to keep himself pressed to the tree and not produce a single sound.

“We’re not bounty hunters. What we do is cleaning up this country, it doesn't matter if it’s the great Dutch or Javier fucking Escuella, they’re all criminals and every last one of them deserves the noose. That’s what we get paid for you idiot”.

“That’s hypocrisy, you know”.

“Fine, let’s head back then. Can't stand your yapping anyway”.

“I’m taking the horse with me”.

John managed to peek out once more and as the two men had moved far enough he crawled forward in an instant, throwing up the last contents of his stomach. All of him shook violently and he tried to get up to his feet but they wouldn’t carry him. He fell back to the ground and it felt like something ripped out of him. He hummed softly to himself while wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt. John stared into the distance for a long while, not able to comprehend the words spoken.

“I’ll find you, John!” He thought of Arthur’s words, his eyes flickering at the slow realisation that they were his very last to him. John blinked away the tears in his eyes and slowly lifted himself up again. He took a few unsteady steps and continued when he felt his legs were able to carry him this time.

He moved forward slowly, each step feeling like it was impossible to take until he had to stop. He leaned forward, supporting himself with his hands against a tree as he lowered his head. He dug his nails into the rough bark and he could see small lines of blood form under each nail as he clutched onto the tree harder. Arthur was dead… Arthur was gone and it was all his fault, John thought. He wished he himself was dead in that moment. A part of him did die as he had heard the words, he could feel it when it happened.

As he had left him, both knew what it could mean for the older man’s fate but still, Arthur had seemed more than determined to get back to him. What if he hadn’t left him? He would have given his life for Arthur but now, he had given his for John.

The older man had believed his decision to be the only way for John to survive and perhaps he wouldn’t have if he had stayed with Arthur. But if he had stayed then Arthur at least wouldn’t have to be alone his last moments in life. John could have died by his side, they were in this together after all… John shook his head slowly, feeling almost detached from his own body. It wasn’t gonna come to this, he had naively stated only two nights ago. How wrong he had been because everything that wasn’t supposed to happen, had.

The shock made him numb and he didn’t panic even if he rightly could have. What had just happened…it was too strong to even react fully to. He couldn’t let himself fall apart now because if he did, he would never get back up. So he opened his eyes and straightened his back before he took another unsteady step. He didn’t even care that he would have to walk after all, given they had taken the horse.

John stumbled to the road and followed it slowly until he got to the bridge. As he crossed it, he stopped in the middle of it and turned to gaze over the water. He stepped close to the edge and looked down. He could see his reflection, a vibrant image of himself on the dark blue surface. He moved forward even more until he could feel the toes in his boots move freely over the edge of the bridge. He couldn’t see the bottom of the river and he felt hypnotized by the constant movement of his reflection. He felt an urge to feel his body hit the mirror-like surface, he wasn’t afraid of it like he had been when Arthur had lifted him that time at Clemens. This time, he wanted to welcome it. Let it embrace him.

“You okay, mister?”

John slowly turned his head to the small voice, his eyes lingered on the surface of the water until they were forced to move away.

There was a boy a bit away at his side, nine perhaps ten years old by the looks of it. John studied him through the tears in his eyes. The boy held a fishing rod over his shoulder and a small cloth bag in his other hand. The boy had dirty blonde hair and the bluest eyes John had ever seen. His face was all dirty and his clothes seemed to have spent more time with getting patched up than being made. Even so, the boy looked very happy and careless and the mere sight of him felt very much unreal in that moment. Like a patch of colorful flowers in a burnt down forest.  

“You might fall in if you stand any closer to that edge there, mister”.

John looked at his feet and backed away from the edge. “Yeah…”, he breathed out with a joyless smile and wiped away the tears that had escaped his eyes.

“You look sad… My dad always said that fishing helped cheer him up. It’s the stillness that does it, he said. Wanna come fishing with me?”

John gave a frown, not really sure of what to answer to the sudden question.

The boy continued when he saw the look on John’s face. “I know a great spot but it will take some time to get there. There’s this huge fish in a lake that no one’s been able to catch yet. It’s this way, to begin with”, the boy said and pointed upstreams, already turning around to start walking, eagerly trying to make John follow him.

“Sorry kid, I need to uhm…I’m headed the other direction”, John answered truthfully.

“Oh, okay”, he answered simply and stopped in his tracks, turning his body so he could face John again. “Where you going then?”

“My son… I gotta get back to him. He’s waiting for me somewhere”.

“Well in that case…what are you waiting for? You better get to him then”, the boy spoke with determination in his voice. “And you’re sure you don’t want to come with?”

John looked at the boy and then to the direction the boy had pointed to. The direction he had just spent the last few hours to move further away from. “I don't know, kid… ”.

The boy seemed to study him. “I understand. I wait for my daddy all the time, you know. Can't say it's fun”.

He frowned once more at the boy. “And where’s he?” he asked.

“It’s just me and momma right now”.

John lowered his eyes. “Sorry, son”.

“Don’t be. Dad will come back one day, he promised me. Just...not quite yet”, the boy smiled to him and they only observed each other carefully for a few moments. “I like your hat”, he said and gestured at it.

John gave him a faint smile. “It belonged to the greatest man I’ve known…”, he said quietly.

“Don’t doubt it…”.

They smiled at each other one more time before John looked at the direction he was headed.

“Don’t let him wait”, the boy said.

“I won’t”, John answered and prepared to continue. “Well… take care of yourself, kid”.

“You too, mister”.

 

-

 

John looked around the town of Copperhead Landing. It wasn’t even a town, just a simple little village located right next to the Lannahecee River. The same wide river he, Arthur and Sadie had crossed with a boat not long ago when they had gotten him out of prison. He didn’t thought the agency of Pinkerton would come down this far but how wrong he had been. In a way, he was glad he had run into them. Now he knew of Arthur, at least…

The ramshackle buildings in the area could fool anyone into believing it was nothing more than a ghost town. If it weren’t for the small numbers of people walking by from building to building, John would have thought he had found the wrong place. There wasn’t much to see, he could run his eyes over all of Copperhead in merely seconds. There was a small wooden jetty, some cabins, a saloon and one general store, nothing else.

An older lady passed him by and John asked her about the three women with a child he searched for. The old woman didn’t want to help him at first but pointed him in the right direction when he assured he was family and meant them no harm. The folks around the marsh didn’t take too kindly on outsiders but still they gave shelter to those in need, not questioning their business here if they could sense they were on the run from somewhere. Or someone.

John stood in front of one of the small cabins. He knocked at the door and waited. No one opened. As he was about to knock again he saw a silhouette approach in the corner of his eye.

“John…?”

Sadie lowered the revolver she had aimed at him. Her eyes were open wide in disbelief as John smiled faintly to her. He walked the few steps over and wrapped his arms around her. She hugged him back tightly.

“Thank God you’re here, Sadie… Thank you…”, John whispered before he pulled away from her.

“Don’t mention it. But how are you here? We thought you were dead, John... Where’s Arthur…?”

“We can speak of it inside”, he said shortly with a lump in his throat.

“We heard the knocking. I jumped out through one of the windows in case it was one of them agents”, she told him quietly as she looked around. She then walked to the door. “It’s okay, you can open up”, she called through it.

Tilly opened slowly and stared at John. “My God, am I happy to see you”, she exclaimed as she put a hand at his cheek and leaned in for a hug.

“Me too, Tilly”, he answered sincerely with a rub over her back as they hugged. “Where are they?” he asked them both as he parted from Tilly and stepped inside, closing the door after him.

“In the bedroom. Abigail’s hasn’t stopped crying since she found out you were ‘dead’. She and Jack’s been sleeping for a couple of hours now. None of us could get an ounce of it during the whole night… Too riled up for that, I guess…”. Sadie’s eyes quickly drifted right and left, like she was unsure on how she should continue. “What happened?” she asked after a few moments.

He didn’t answer, he only walked past them and headed for the door at the other end. He opened it slowly and looked inside the very small room. There they were. Abigail had her arms wrapped around their little boy, both of them asleep though their faces showed that perhaps they weren’t getting the most of it. Their facial expression showing worry even when relaxed. Now he was here with them and soon they needed to leave. Again. But for now, he wanted them to rest, so he closed the door gently and examined the cabin properly. It was a depressing sight. A thick layer of dust had gathered on every single furniture, not that there were many of them. There was only a couch with a table, some dressers and the tiny kitchen, nothing else.

Sadie and Tilly observed him as he settled on the couch. He didn’t know where they would go from here but at least they were together… John lifted the hat off his head and let it rest against his lap. Only now did the two women notice he was wearing Arthur’s. “He’s dead”, John said quietly.

Sadie and Tilly both lowered their gazes. Tilly’s eyes filled with tears at the realisation while Sadie shut her lips into a thin line and shook her head as though she refused to acknowledge the words spoken. “Goddamnit!” she said with a raised and upset voice. She crossed her arms and turned her back to him. “What the hell happened, John?” she all but demanded.

He took a deep breath and told them of everything that had went down during the night. He didn’t know if Tilly knew of him and Arthur and he put no effort in trying to disguise it. She settled next to John and held his hands in hers. She didn’t say anything and there was no need for it. “I-I don't know how it happened”, he almost whispered. He felt exhausted and shattered into pieces as he had to relive the events so freshly imprinted in his head and heart. It was as he died all over again. He wanted to let himself break and he knew without a doubt that this would haunt his soul for the rest of his days.

A part of him wanted to go back and look for Arthur’s body but he reminded himself that he couldn’t risk it, they weren’t safe here at all. What if the agents came back?

“I’d say we leave right away”, Sadie said with a somber tone, not quite recovered from the news of Arthur. “We need to get your family out. But before that, we need to look over that wound of yours”. John rested his eyes at his arm. He had actually forgotten he had been shot. He hadn’t felt it at all since he parted with Arthur.

“I’ll go check what they got in terms of supplies around here”, Tilly told them and left the cabin.

John nodded to them both and got to his feet. His legs had a hard time carrying him as he returned to the bedroom where his son was.

There had been a lot of crying, in terms of both joy and sorrow as John had waken Abigail and Jack. He minded what he told them as the boy didn’t need to hear the whole story, especially of Arthur’s death. But still, Abigail could sense what had happened. He could see it in the way she looked at him.

  

On a lonely road in The Heartlands, 1899

A couple of weeks had passed since John’s reunion with his family. Tilly had parted her ways with them and had headed to the outskirts of Saint Denis where she had an old friend she would stay with. John had thanked her for everything and sent a good amount of money with her so she could at least have a chance at a new life. They had bought some horses and a wagon and made camp at a different spot every night for now, staying out of bigger cities and small towns. Sadie held the reins and Abigail sat next to her.

John felt very strange. The long hair that had framed his face for most of his life was gone and he had a hard time getting used to the sensation of it. It was for the best, he thought. Too bad he couldn’t do anything about his facial scars. He knew he looked odd with the short hair, Arthur would have laughed.

John was in the back of the bumping wagon with Jack and what little supplies they had. The two of them sat closely to each other and John had one arm wrapped around his son as the boy leaned against him and read in one of the books Arthur had given him while staying at Horseshoe. John looked at the pictures in the book over the boy’s head and caressed his chest absently. He pulled him tighter to him and lightly rested his chin at Jack’s head.

Arthur wouldn’t leave John’s mind and he didn’t think when he reached his free hand at the other direction and pulled out the pictures that belonged to Arthur. He looked at every single one of them and rested his eyes at the one of himself taken that day in Saint Denis. I think you’re beautiful. Arthur’s voice echoed in his head and he only wished he could hear it more vividly.

He looked at Jack, the boy was too caught up in his book to even notice what John was keeping himself busy with. John continued through the pictures and remembered every moment they had been taken. He put them all together when he was finished and put them back in the bag Tilly had been able to bring with. He felt something more solid and took out the frames that lay in there. “Beatrice Morgan”, John murmured as he looked at the face of the woman in the picture. He had of course seen it multiple times before, and the one of Mary Gillis as well. He wondered if Mary knew what had happened to Arthur. Even if the man hadn’t told him, John knew Arthur had met with her more than once these last few months. Words spread fast in camp when it came to what letters were delivered to whom. She always asked him for help when no one else offered it and Arthur always offered it when asked. John didn’t think about if anything had happened between them because he knew who Arthur’s heart had belonged to and he would never doubt that for as long as he was breathing.

John was certain that he himself would never love again, that he’d lost what he and Arthur had…forever. A part of him felt a sadness spread through his body by the realisation of it but another part knew that it was…alright. The love he held belonged to Arthur only and it would forever only be his. John decided that he would cherish the memory of him, fiercely, for as long as he lived. If it couldn’t be him then he would settle with none.

John sighed heavily and put the picture frames back carefully in their bag. He continued to read and look over Jack’s shoulder for a while before he drifted his eyes to the front, observing Abigail and Sadie. None of them were speaking at the moment and he looked up to the sky, the air was fresh and cool against his skin.

The only one missing was Arthur. He should be by their side right now, it was the only thing John wished for and the one thing he couldn’t have. He closed his eyes and thought of their last night in camp together. The pure closeness and affection towards one another and how hard it had been to separate from each other in the morning. Maybe they should have stayed all day in bed that morning. Maybe none of this would have happened.

Arthur had given his life for him and the only thing he could do was to honor it. They had enough money, their future was certain in that part. Jack would be able to get an education in the future, if he wanted to. For a time, they needed to lie low, go by different names. But in the future, they could perhaps buy a house of their own. Buy some land if they wanted to, or leave the country altogether. But Arthur wouldn’t be a part of any of it. John opened his eyes and lifted off Arthur’s hat from his head. He studied it before him.

“You hold on to this…until I get back to you”.

Arthur would never get back to him. That was his reality now.

Instead, John remembered the first time the other had ‘given’ his hat to him. That ugly fight in the beginning when everything was still very new between them. A time where they hadn’t fully explored the depths hidden behind the other’s persona.

“You hold on to this, then you have something to remember me by when I’m gone”.

Arthur hadn’t meant it at that time. John knew that. And neither of them had known how right Arthur actually had been when he had said it. For he was truly gone and the hat was only a memory of him now.

John put the hat back on and rested his eyes between Abigail and Sadie, focusing on the road ahead. What lied next for them, he couldn’t say.

 

Upper Montana River, 1907

John observed Sadie while she drank straight from the bottle. She was almost as bad as him, he thought. He had helped her again with catching a bounty she was after. He didn’t want the money so he let her keep his half. She had celebrated by bringing them a fine bottle of whiskey and they had ridden to the river north of Blackwater. The both of them still sat on their horses, overlooking the still water that glistened beautifully by the full moon. She handed the bottle to him and he gladly accepted it, pouring a little too much down his throat. Then some more. Sadie was the one to break the peaceful silence.

“I know you don’t want to speak of the past but there's something you should know”.

John lowered the bottle. He tried not to speak of Arthur or any matters related to the man nowadays. He already felt like he had said too much that night a few weeks back when he and Abigail had stayed up, talking and almost doing something more. He took a swig from the bottle before he decided what to answer. “No, I’m not too fond of it but tell me anyway”, he said.

“I think I might know where Micah Bell is”.

John flinched and almost shivered from hearing the name being spoken, he most certainly hadn’t been prepared for it. He had held a hate for the man for a long time but after a few years he had mostly forgotten about him for his own sake. “ Really ?” John asked with disbelief in his voice.

“Well, not exactly, but I heard from the Sheriff about this Cleet feller. Remember him?” Sadie asked and John nodded. “Seems he’s been getting into a whole lot of trouble lately. If we get to him then maybe he’ll talk. Maybe he’ll give us Micah’s location”.

John didn’t know what to say. He blamed Micah for mostly everything those crucial last months with the gang. Besides, he didn’t know what happened that night and what if Micah was the only one who could tell him, since the members of the former gang he had run into of course couldn’t. The man had been working with the agency after all, so he should know.

John would, without a doubt, shoot him straight between the eyes if he ever got his hands on him. A burning rage inside of him was awakened by the sheer memory of the man. “Where’s this Cleet?” he asked almost through his teeth and without meeting her eyes.

“Close. Strawberry ”, Sadie dragged out on the town name and gave a content smile, a malicious kind. She was riling herself up with her own information.

John nodded and breathed loudly through his nostrils, considering what their next move would be. He shouldn’t go after the man but he still wanted to avenge all of what Micah had destroyed so many years ago. He had ripped the gang apart, drifted Dutch into insanity and he had killed Miss. Grimshaw in cold blood. He had caused them all such pain that it was hard to let this opportunity slip away. What if he was the one that killed Arthur? Perhaps it wasn’t the Pinkerton agency after all. John felt himself become more furious by each second that passed. He wanted to find him. He wanted to kill Micah Bell.

John nodded again. Slowly at first, soon more determined. “Let’s do it”.

Sadie raised her brows at the words. “In that case, give me more of that, will you”, she said and gestured at the bottle which John handed her. “I’ve already spoken with Charles about it, last time I visited you all. He’s gonna come too. Reckon we can leave in a few days”.

“Working plans behind my back, huh”, John said with a half humoured tone. The alcohol had started to make itself useful and he felt himself become more content with...pretty much anything.

“I wasn’t sure you you was gonna say yes. We need to be at least two for this. Three’s better though. Charles wasn’t even sure at first, said that Arthur wouldn’t want this and whatnot”.

John reflected over the words for a few moments, becoming more and more certain of the statement he would make. “He’s right you know…Arthur wouldn’t want this… He was never one for revenge… In a way, he was the most forgiving man I ever did know. Well, not forgiving maybe, but he just…accepted how things were…he never needed…hell, I don't know what I’m saying…”, John’s voice faded into a whisper and then to nothing but silence. “I say we go after Micah. Doesn't matter what anyone wanted…it's too late for things like that…”, he stated after a while with a slow voice.

They nodded to each other in agreement and continued to gaze over the dark water from where they sat on their horses. John was happy Sadie had visited them at the ranch the other day. Abigail had been real happy and the two women had been talking almost through the whole night. Sadie had stayed by their side for a while in 1899 but when things had calmed down she chose to go her own way and she had been on the move ever since, living in solitude and taking on mostly bounty hunting jobs that could be found throughout. John believed that Sadie coming to visit them at the ranch meant more for her than she was willing to admit. They had enough room for her and he hoped that she would consider staying with them. But knowing Sadie’s nature, he doubted she would.

“It helps, you know”, Sadie said with a soft voice.

“What does?” John all but slurred while absently patting Rachel on her head.

“To talk. About him . When I lost Jake I never tried to forget about him. I still think of him to this day…About what we had. And so should you, for your own good”.

Her words made him feel unease and he felt forced to defend himself. “Talking about Arthur won’t bring him back, Sadie”, John said indifferently and grabbed the bottle from her hand and lifted it to his mouth. He swallowed several times and closed his eyes, relishing the burning sensation in his throat.

When he opened his eyes again he could see in the corner of his eye that Sadie was watching him with that look only Sadie had. He was starting to get a bit irritated and decided to let things be.

More than a minute passed without anyone saying anything and he still felt her gaze gnaw at him. Like she expected him to just become enlightened by her suggestions. Like it was that easy… The more he processed her advice, the more angered he got, especially when she kept her silence, only waiting for him to adjust himself to his own life. He felt himself lose control. “You know what? I cherish the memory of him every goddamn day, in silence . I would gladly speak of him all day long if it didn’t hurt that fucking much!” he exclaimed, directing all his anger towards her. “I’ll never get him back Sadie, you if anyone should know that. So give me a goddamn break and let me deal with it my own way. You have no right-”. John’s voice broke but he quickly got to it again. “No right to tell me what I should or shouldn’t do. You left us and only now got back to us. Why is that, huh?”

Sadie only looked at him with a face that begged him to please, go on. It made him even more ill-tempered.

“Why is that, Sadie? Because you realised how lonely you fucking are? Or is it that when your beloved Jake died, you realised that ‘oh shit, I’m nothing without him’”.

Sadie lifted her leg in an instant and kicked John off from his horse, making it neigh in worry. He landed with a hard thud and she jumped off her own horse and walked over to him. John exhaled loudly as he put his hands over his eyes. The fall had knocked the air out of his lungs and the world was spinning. He couldn’t figure out if it was the booze or the fall that had done it.

“You’re drunk, Marston. And I hear that's fairly common for you nowadays. You can't even hold your liquor”, she spat out while looking down on him with her hands on her hips. “And don’t you ever speak to me like that again, you asshole…”. She moved her arms once more to cross them while she observed John as he started to laugh like a crazy person.

John didn’t know what got in to him. Sadie’s words had started to sink in to his head and it was as he was feeling too much of everything and couldn’t do anything but laugh at the confusion of it all. Soon one feeling took the upper hand and the laughing slowly faded out. He lifted himself up to sit and put his hands to the dusty ground as he tried to get to his feet. He fell back down and settled with sitting for now, only lowering his head.

“John?” Sadie asked after a few moments.

He didn’t move, he felt that it was impossible in that moment. He only rested his eyes beneath him and didn’t say anything. He knew he was gonna get real upset any second, these sort of roller coaster of emotions had come frequently the first year after Arthur and he hated that Sadie was here to witness it all. He tried to push the panic away but soon he was breathing too fast to keep up and he felt the whole world spin a lot faster. He looked around in a haste, trying to focus on anything but the emotions inside of him. Sadie could see the despair within the man and she tried to comfort him, settling on the ground beside him.

“Just go…just…”, John panted between the sudden sobbings and quick breaths while he tried to crawl away from her, much like a wounded animal trying to find a dark and hidden place to be able to die in peace, away from the rest of the world. He felt his whole body tremble but he didn’t put up a fight when Sadie pulled him into her arms.

“Schh”, she soothed and John leaned his whole weight against her and Sadie gently stroke her fingers through his short hair. She practically cradled him in her arms for a few long minutes.

To his surprise, John felt a little better by the touch and her gesture. He felt his breathing ease up a little and couldn’t remember it pass this quickly before. Whenever this happened he was always alone or walked away and he would suffer from it until his body and mind simply gave up out of exhaustion.

“You’re right”, Sadie said after a few minutes more, John still pressed to her chest. “I don't have the right to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do”, she admitted quietly.

John didn’t answer on that, knowing he had been in the right in that matter. “Sorry for speaking harshly to you”, he apologized instead.

Sadie caressed his back with soft and slow movements, her eyes drifting away over the water. “I meant it though, don't you ever speak to me like that again, Marston”.

“I know, won’t happen”.

“Good. Now get up”.

Sadie quickly pulled away from him, John almost fell to the ground from the lack of support against his upper body. He observed the woman as she pulled herself up on the horse. John lifted himself up with effort. Everything was still spinning and he wondered if he was able to ride. He stumbled to his horse and heaved himself up, the action taking three times longer than usual.

“Abigail’s gonna kill me when she sees you”, Sadie said, mostly to herself.

“Yeah...she’s a tough one”, John chuckled with exhaustion.

 

-

 

Sadie tried to support John as his legs had decided they weren’t able to carry him after all. When they got to the living room Sadie dropped him off on the couch, not wanting to push her luck by trying to get as far as his room. She thought they had managed to remain quiet enough and quickly turned around from the living room only to be met by Abigail coming out from the bedroom.

“What’s that?” Abigail asked when she could see them properly, her arms crossed while nodding at the man who was already snoring.

“Uhm, we shared a bottle…”.

Abigail grabbed her by her arm and pulled her away and into the kitchen. “I told you he had been drinking too much lately. Why the hell would you let him drink?” she almost hissed.

“Thought you were exaggerating a bit. I’m sorry”.

“Well don't do it again, you hear?”

Yes , Miss. Roberts”, Sadie said and rolled her eyes. She quickly regretted her gesture as Abigail had crossed her arms again. The latter could almost hear Abigail tap angrily with her foot given the harsh look she got. Sadie forced a smile and after a few seconds of tension in the air Abigail let out a short laugh, like she couldn’t react in any other way to the situation. Sadie snorted as a response, half smiling at the relief.

“Never seen you nervous before”, Abigail said with a humoured tone.

“Oh please. Wasn’t that nervous”.

They watched each other for a moment. The atmosphere returning to the usual between the two.

“You can stay the night if you want”, the raven haired woman offered.

“You know what? I think I might just do that”, Sadie answered. “But I’ll have to leave early in the morning”.

Chapter Text

John awoke to their dog barking at something from the outside. He had a pounding headache and he cursed the sun for making its way inside, it was way too light for his taste right now. He still had all his clothes on and he reluctantly got up to his feet and into the kitchen where a jug of fresh water had been placed. Probably Abigail looking out for him as always, he thought while he drank a whole lot of it. It was odd not having her around this morning and the few that had passed. She had been able to find a job as a seamstress in town and did her third day, or was it fourth, today.

He looked out through the window. Jack was helping Charles building the fence to their corral. He didn’t know if Sadie had stayed or if she had ridden to wherever she slept during the nights. The memories of last night came back to him and he felt a little ashamed that Sadie had seen the part of him he had only showed to Arthur before. But she had helped him through it nonetheless...

John’s mind landed on Micah and he felt himself become a little nervous, knowing what he had agreed to. He needed to speak with Abigail about it first, she deserved to know what was going on. It didn’t matter if she had any objections concerning the matter, he was still determined to go.

John felt not so good and decided to skip breakfast, afraid it would only find its way back up again. He only wanted to go to bed but this was his ranch after all and he if anyone should take care of it. But first he was gonna check on Uncle. The man was pretty much healed up from the burns on his back and had been up on his feet several times this past week. John still cursed the animals that called themselves the Skinners and he was glad he and Charles at least had taken out the men responsible for Uncle’s wounds but the group in a whole still wandered the woods, no doubt about that.

When he made sure Uncle didn’t need anything else, John put on his hat and went out to Charles and Jack. They glanced at each other as he joined them, as if they hadn’t expected his presence at all.

“Rough night?” Charles asked when John rolled up his sleeves, preparing to get to work.

“What you mean?”

“Heard you and Sadie return quite late”.

“Oh, you heard that, huh… Sorry to wake you…”, John said while rubbing the back of his neck, he must have slept in a funny position because it was hurting like hell.

Everyone could hear you stumble in…”, Jack mumbled as he tried to hammer the post Charles was holding up for him. He didn’t do too good, his strength still the one of a child’s, the post not even close to impale the surface of the ground.

John sharpened his gaze at his son, the boy was pretty annoyed with his father nowadays. Not that he could blame him, they hadn’t spent too much time together lately. Jack often retreated into his books when he had free time at his hands and John had been struggling with his own wellbeing for years, making himself as busy as possible to avoid dealing with it. And now, ever since they moved here John felt forced to do just so and he knew his sanity was slowly declining with each day and it was becoming harder to get back up, only damaging the fragile relationship he had with his son even further.

John didn’t answer to the boy’s remark. “Why don’t you take this day off, son? Study a bit, or read some of your books perhaps?” he asked him in a tone that could be interpreted as kind but also sarcastic. Jack looked at him with scepticism, waiting for his father to continue. So he did. “You can do that…If you’re willing to come hunting with me tomorrow”.

Jack went through his options and John raised a brow, waiting for an answer. His father and Charles shot a look at each other, the latter seeming to bite on his lip, holding back a smile. “Fine. I’ll go hunting with you tomorrow…”, he finally answered, shrugging his shoulders.

“Good”, John said shortly and started to walk closer to the fence, grabbing the hammer from Jack’s hand. “Now git”, he said with a harsh tone while waving Jack off with one of his hands.

Jack looked like he wanted to have the last word but decided to walk away before his father changed his mind.

“Nicely done, John…”, Charles said when the boy was far away.

“What? He’s acting up, can't have that here. I need to bribe my own son into spending time with me?” he asked as he started to hammer the post into the dusty ground.

“Well you haven’t exactly…forget about it…”.

“Exactly what?"  John demanded with a raised voice, turning his body to Charles in one quick motion. He took a few steps closer to the large man, never breaking eye contact.

Charles raised his chin slightly as John seemed to challenge him, standing threatening close. “You haven’t exactly shown you wanted time with him in the first place”, he finally said with a calm voice.

John just stared at him and became frustrated with how right he knew Charles was. He didn’t answer to the words, he only backed away a few steps and motioned for the darker man to hand him one of the wooden boards. They worked in silence that day.

 

-

 

“For rabbits, you’re gonna need a Varmint rifle”, John explained and lifted the rifle from his shoulder and showed it to Jack.

“Can’t we use the bow? It’s the only thing Charles ever uses when he’s out hunting”.

“He does use a bow, works on big game as well. We can use that too. But if you want to keep as much meat on the animal as possible you'll need different arrows. I don't have them on me but we can make some if you want, I can show you how”.

Jack only rolled his eyes.

“...Or we can use regular ones…I guess”, John sighed, noticing his son’s boredom as the latter only passed him by, not finding his lectures interesting.

John went through the basics of hunting and usage of the bow, training him with aiming and hitting some targets. He didn’t want to make it too hard on the boy, settling with small game for now. To John’s surprise, Jack eventually listened to him and didn’t question a single word. After some training, the boy moved silently and raised his bow, aiming with focus before he fired the arrow, impaling a larger rabbit through its head.

“I’ll be damned, son”, John said and let out a short laugh from the surprise.

Jack actually smiled at him for once and hurried to where the rabbit was. Jack lifted the animal up by its ears with a proud look on his face.

John suggested that they’d hunt for another one and then he could show how to cook them properly by a fire.

They sat at some logs around their fire, John observed Jack as he ate the meat they had prepared and remembered where he himself had been at his age. When John was twelve he had wandered alone for years, eating anything he could get his hands on. He was starving constantly and every day was only about surviving until the next one. He wouldn’t, without a doubt, have made it if Dutch hadn’t found him when he did, saving him from a most certain death when he had been caught stealing. When he took him in, John was pretty much wild like a rabid dog and needed to be handled with care. Dutch, Hosea, Susan and Arthur had been by his side equally, slowly bringing him back into the real world.

He still remembered when Arthur had taken care of him in different ways. How he had felt important whenever he was with the then young man. With Arthur, the child John had been felt like they were constantly on a quest, especially when the young man was letting John ride on his back as they explored the woods surrounding whatever new camp they had settled in. Years of undernourishment made John quite small for his age and he remembered how he had looked up to Arthur, almost wanting to become like the big man, in both his physique and hard personality. He also remembered the time as one where the man wasn’t as rough as he later had become. A time where Arthur had been carefree and his lots in life hadn’t been quite so traumatic yet. Even then, John didn’t remember him as happy but perhaps as content, at least.

He reminisced how he had been in Jack’s position and Arthur in John’s as the lessons of hunting were being taught.

How Arthur had tickled him playfully and John’s worries from his past had disappeared for a moment only by the pure joy of being allowed to be a child again.

When John was twelve years old he had for the first time found a home and with it a brother that would later become what he hoped could be his life partner. It was more like the home had found him. A home he couldn’t have with his late father.

Besides Arthur, Hosea was the one John missed the most but the sorrow over Arthur often took the upper hand, making him forget the old man slightly. He wished he could speak with Hosea once more. He was as his father for a long time and John truly wished he could have done something differently to save him. Even though Hosea had been of much importance to him, he loved Dutch more... It had always been like that…John suspected he was Dutch’s favorite and Arthur was Hosea’s, even if both of the older men said they cared for them equally. They probably did.

“You’re doing it again”, Jack said, pulling John out from his memories.

“Doing what?”

“Disappearing or whatever you call it. Like you’re not really here”, Jack told him quietly and lowered his head.

John realised maybe he had drifted away slightly and felt a bit ashamed. “Sorry, Jack. Don’t have no excuse for it, only…my mind wanders. Always been my problem”.

Jack watched him, not quite disappointed but not quite pleased either with the answer. “Thought you wanted to spend some time with me. Or is it mom that's talked you into it?”

“Of course not. I wanted to be with you… And I know I haven’t been the best father lately but I’m really trying here, Jack…”.

Jack slowly nodded. “I know, pa. I know”.

“What else do you want me to do?” John almost pleaded, desperate to set things right.

Jack pondered for a while until he tried his luck. “I know I’ve asked you before...and you never once answered me properly”, Jack started and flickered with his eyes slightly before he continued. “What happened to uncle Arthur? I only remember bits of him but I know he was important to you and I believe he was to me. The clearest memories I have of him come back sometimes”.

John blinked and let his eyes drift around his surroundings quickly, like he was looking for a way to an escape. He wasn’t prepared for this and didn’t think he ever would be. He had always said that Arthur had to go his own way, that he was in a better place somewhere far from here and that there was no need to worry. He had been very vague from the start since he didn’t have it in him to tell the boy that he was dead. Jack had been asking a lot the first two years but as he had gotten older he had asked about him more seldom, much to John’s relief.

John had only assumed the boy had forgotten most of him by now but it seemed as though Arthur had left a far greater impact on more people than him.

“What really happened, pa? I know we waited for him but he never got back… And I just want to know a little more about him…I guess I’m just confused is all, and maybe it doesn't matter anymore but - “.

“Yeah, you’re right”, John interrupted him with an unsteady voice. “It don't matter no more and you should just let it be”. John rubbed his face and took a deep breath. “Please Jack…I don't want to talk about him. Alright?”

Jack looked defeated but his face shifted into something more determined. “No…”, he breathed out while shaking his head. “No. You’re always avoiding it and if you want to be a better father you can start by telling me the truth!” Jack demanded with a raised voice.

John bit down on his teeth and leaned his head slightly to the side as he stared to the ground. His one knee moved rapidly up and down in all of his frustration from Jack’s refusal to listen. One of his hands pressed to the log he was sitting on as he tried to not lose it altogether.

He drifted his eyes to the boy, the latter showing a face of sheer stubbornness and defiance, reminding him how alike they were. John nodded his head without the intention of making it an affirmative answer and he did it more to himself as he gave a very humourless smile, letting out a huff as well.

Jack waiting for his father's response and fearing his reaction was like watching milk simmer. Eventually it would reach its limit and start to boil over without forewarning and too fast to react. Jack wasn’t afraid. He wanted to push his somewhat estranged father's buttons, he wanted to tear down that facade of his, refusing to help him build it further than he had by not simply daring to challenge him.

In their stare-down, John could read every inch of Jack’s face, all the expressions that escaped him. The anger displayed with his brows, the fire in his eyes, the lips that was nothing more than a thin line from how tightly closed they were from not getting as he wanted. A child’s body language. A child’s stubborn will. He knew exactly what was going on inside the boy’s head but once more he refused to give him what he wanted.

None of the two looked away or even wavered with their eyes. In that moment two wills were simply too strong but one of the two having said will had the upper hand of being the other’s father.

“Go back home. Now”. he said with a low voice, aborting the unspoken challenge between them. Jack looked like he was gonna object but John interrupted his intentions. “Get the hell . Away. From me”, he almost growled, not even looking at his son, emphasizing that his say wasn’t negotiable in any way.

Jack felt hurt by his father's harsh words but grabbed the bow and threw the strap of his satchel over his shoulder and quickly heaved himself up to his feet. He looked at the bow for a short moment, then he threw it at his father who only turned his head in the opposite direction, letting the bow fall to the ground. Jack turned away from him slowly and got to his horse.

John didn’t watch Jack ride away and he was regretting everything already but he knew he needed to gather his thoughts for a bit, so he stayed behind.

He took a few deep breaths and buried his face in his hands. Everything felt like it was slowly falling apart and it was as his mind followed with it. He couldn’t return home in this condition and he was thankful in a way that Jack had left because John could feel himself become more and more unstable, not completely trusting himself anymore. God he wished he had some liquor on him. Maybe he should ride to Blackwater for a drink. Anything to calm his nerves. John suddenly felt very exhausted and decided to try to sleep a little. He didn’t have a bedroll with him like the old days but it was afternoon and the sun warmed the air just fine. He just lay at his side by the fire that was about to go out and closed his eyes.

 

-

 

“I’ll find you John!” He awoke in panic, sweat pouring down his face and neck. He had dreamt of him again, of his last words. John sat up, it was almost dark and he had slept way longer than intended. His mind wandered instantly to Jack and he remembered their argument. “Shit”, he murmured. “You fucking idiot”, he said to himself and hurried up, grabbing all the weapons and stowing them on Rachel. He mounted her and took off to Beecher’s Hope. He scolded himself internally for not thinking clearly. Jack deserved better than this and he hoped that the boy had it in his heart to forgive him one more time. The cool air that hit him while riding was very welcomed, his body was perspiring profusely and he noticed the tremors in his hands. He closed one hand into a fist before he opened it again, stretching his fingers. It had gotten worse, he realised.

As he got closer to Beecher’s Hope he slowed down. The small road to the ranch leading from the main road was one rarely traveled by strangers and he didn’t recognize the silhouette in the distance slowly leading a horse by its side, seemingly making its way to the ranch. The sun had set and it was getting harder to see properly.

He turned into a stop and got off Rachel. John had feared that the agents or what was left of them would eventually find him and he sure wasn’t gonna take any chances. He lifted his revolver from its holster and closed in on the man further away. When John was in a good enough distance for him to feel sure he could hit his target, he raised his gun and spoke up.

“Who goes there!” John shouted.

 

-

 

John could feel his heart beat fast in his chest and he held his raised gun aimed at the man. His clothing looked like anyone’s, just a simple hat, a shirt and a pair of jeans. Nothing out of the ordinary and definitely nothing an agent would wear. John’s eyes drifted to the horse who had some luggage stowed on it. Perhaps it was a simple traveler who was lost, he thought. The man stopped and turned his head slightly, glancing at John only for a second before he faced forward again, lowering his head. He slowly lifted both his hands up.

“Stay where you are!” John ordered. He walked slowly, closing the distance between him and the mysterious man who kept his silence. John could make out the silhouettes of the weapons at the man’s sides. “Lose the guns”, John continued with a lower voice as he got closer to him. The man did as he asked and unholstered them, dropping both guns to the ground, kicking them away from himself. John could see some more details of the man at this distance and he stopped when he could speak at a normal level.

“Turn around”, he demanded.

The man hesitated, his head still lowered, the long hair displaying a light brown color, or perhaps a darker blonde or even a golden shade.

“Turn around, I said”, he repeated.

The man turned around slowly and John only stared at him.

“Hi, John…”, he spoke with sadness filling both eyes and voice.

John lowered his gun slightly only to raise it again. Soon he lowered it completely and dropped it at his side. Arthur lowered his hands as well. John dropped down to one knee and supported himself with a hand against the other as he looked away from the man before him.

John shook his head, whispering to himself as he only managed to glance at Arthur’s direction for no longer than a second. “No…no…”, he let out so quietly Arthur could only make out the words by reading them on his lips. “It ain't him… no…can't be…”.

If John had been prepared to see Arthur ever again in his life, perhaps he would have welcomed him with open arms and in tears of joy. Now…he didn’t even dare to look at the man for he was truly afraid he had lost what little sanity his mind had left when he saw him.

John tried to form any word but couldn’t. The memory of Arthur and the abrupt ending to their life together had haunted him for so long and every single day that had become his reality.

He tried his very best to keep it together, he felt more lightheaded with each second that passed and his heart couldn’t beat much faster than this.

Arthur looked at him through the tears in his eyes and felt frozen to where he was standing.

John positioned himself to both knees and lowered his backside to his heels. He supported himself with his hands to the ground before him as a few sounds escaped him. He felt like he had hit his breaking point.

 

-

 

Arthur felt his eyes tear up and his legs turn weak as he had heard that voice he would recognize in a crowd of a hundred others.  

He had thought of what to say to John when they would meet but everything disappeared for him when the moment truly came. So he just stood there like an idiot, obeying every word the other man shouted out.

Arthur didn’t know how he had thought the other man would react to seeing him again but seeing the hurt he had caused John made his heart break even harder than when he had broken things off between them after the bridge job all those years ago.

When he had the strength, Arthur took a few unsteady steps to the man. When close enough, he dropped down to his own knees in front of the other and took off his hat, placing it in the ground next to them. John had barely looked at him since he saw him and the younger man seemed so… lost…He could see that John was talking to himself, shaking his head like he didn’t want to believe what he was seeing.

Arthur wanted to see his face but still handled him without haste and with the care he had learned the other needed, now more than ever. He lifted his hand carefully and let it rest against John’s cheek, the latter leaning into the touch and closing his eyes. Arthur caressed his cheek slowly while the other hand rested on top of John’s. He pressed his forehead to the man’s lowered head and closed his eyes as well.

“I’m right here, John. I’m right here…”

John rested his hand on top of the one planted on his cheek as he lifted his head, making his forehead press to Arthur’s. The older man pulled away slightly to see him completely. John’s face was all wet from tears Arthur hadn’t noticed and the latter wiped them away as best he could with the sleeve of his shirt.

“Come here”, Arthur encouraged as he sat down and pulled gently at John’s arm. He didn’t hesitate and let Arthur embrace him, their cheeks pressed tightly together. Arthur caressed John’s back gently while squeezing his other hand at everything that was John… He had his arms wrapped tightly over Arthur’s shoulders, refusing to let go.  

Arthur pressed his lips to John’s cheek, planting a soft kiss to it and John closed his eyes when he felt it. He turned his head and let his own lips drift to Arthur’s cheek, carefully kissing his way to the latter’s lips. When they were on his he only planted small and slow kisses, both relishing in how the other man felt. Both trying to remember what they once had and both treating this new moment like the most fragile of glass.

They closed their eyes and John kissed away all of his troubled mind and heart and Arthur answered just as desperately.

John broke away after a few moments, lifting his head up to meet the eyes of the man before him. “Is any of this actually happening?” he asked with a whisper.

“I’m afraid so”, Arthur answered with a humorless smile, remembering when he himself had asked that very question to John their last night together in camp.

John felt sick. He badly needed a drink and he was trembling and sweating involuntarily as he tried to keep a steady gaze with Arthur. He moved away and settled at the other man’s side.

The older man drifted his eyes over John as he studied him, frowning slightly as his hand examined John’s much shorter hair, gently pulling his fingers through it. John didn’t look at him while Arthur couldn’t stop looking at him, taking in the view of John Marston. He looked like shit right now but was still more beautiful than Arthur could ever remember.

“Where have you been…?” John asked quietly with a shaky voice, trying nothing but to keep it together.

Arthur let out a hollow laugh lasting no more than a second. “It’s a really long story, John…”

John nodded in a hurry, his stomach turning by the words. Arthur tried to assist him when he crawled away to throw up but John only held up a reassuring hand to him as he tried to empty the contents in his stomach. Even so, nothing would come up and he let out a violent cough from his efforts.

John was very pale and Arthur was becoming more worried about his condition. “We should probably get you inside John, you don’t look too good…Reckon that's your house over there...”.

John laughed halfheartedly at the words, struggling to keep his eyes open as it only made him more dizzy. “We’ve only just met, Morgan…ain't gonna...ain't gonna…head inside. I just want to…”. John couldn’t finish the sentence before he collapsed.




Grizzlies East mountains, 1899


“I…I”, Dutch moved backwards, not able to give Arthur an answer.

“Come on, let’s go buddy. We made it”, Micah said to Dutch. The latter only looked at him. The man seemed lost and Arthur hoped that Dutch would just walk away.

When Dutch didn’t respond to either man, Arthur gave up the last hope he held. He was done with the begging, the pleading… He rolled onto his back, looking up at the star filled sky that was turning brighter. It had been a very long night. “ John made it…” he said with a faint smile and a distant look in his eyes.

The two men looked at Arthur where he was lying on the ground but none answered him. “Come on, let’s go Dutch”, Micah finally said again.

Dutch drifted his eyes between Micah and Arthur. For the first time in his life, Dutch wasn’t able to make a decision. Arthur had been as his son for most of both their lives and a part of himself felt as he had failed the younger man. He could see that now. Dutch didn’t know what to believe about Micah and he feared that Arthur’s words had been the truth after all. He truly didn’t know what to do and he chose to take no man’s side. Now, it was every man for themselves, he thought. He continued to back away slowly and left them both to their fate.

Micah yelled after him in vain. To Arthur’s surprise, Dutch hadn’t done anything about the gun in his hand and he gripped it more tightly as he followed Micah’s movement. Arthur felt relieved that Dutch had done something wise for once, leaving Micah behind. But he had left him as well…

The blonde man became angered by Dutch’s choice and he paced around, not sure of what to do next. Arthur lifted himself up slightly and supported himself on his elbows, observing the other man as he cursed audibly. Micah looked at him and walked over, pulling his gun on him and aimed it at his head.

“Wipe that goddamn smile off your face…You’re not better than me, Morgan”.

“Whatever you say, you fool”.

Micah laughed a little at Arthur’s words before his whole face twisted into something more serious, something more dangerous. “Damn you…”, he said through his teeth with complete disgust, the gun shaking in his hand from the burning rage inside of him.

“Damn us both!” Arthur shot back in sheer hate and drew his gun which even Micah couldn’t react quickly enough to. He fired, making Micah flinch when he was hit. As he stumbled backwards he fired at the man on the ground without aiming. Micah continued to back away and started to laugh again, not holding back an inch. “I can't believe y…you shot me, cowpoke… ”, he panted before he let out a growl of sheer pain and rage.

Arthur laughed back and let his head fall to the ground. He lifted a shaking hand to his shoulder and felt at it. When he lifted it away his hand was covered with warm fresh blood and he sighed with defeat. “Well…you got me too…”, Arthur told him and cursed him for shooting him in the same shoulder as the O'Driscolls had.

Arthur looked at Micah who held a hand against the side of his face, the blood was gushing out between his fingers and Arthur could see that most part of his left ear had been ripped straight off. That would leave some scar, Arthur thought with content. “Didn’t think you could get any uglier, Micah”, Arthur said exhausted while he lifted himself up to sit. “But I guess I was wrong”.

When Arthur looked up he was met with Micah aiming his revolver at him again. Only a second after, he pulled the trigger. They only heard a small click and Arthur raised his pistol while heaving himself up to his feet with a lot of effort. Micah tried to reach for his other revolver in its holster but Arthur fired a warning shot past the other side of Micah’s face, making him hear nothing more than ringing sounds for a long time.

He met Arthur’s eyes when he had gathered himself enough. He reluctantly lifted both his hands in surrender, displaying the awful wound that reached from his cheek up to his ear. Blood was covering the whole side of his face and streamed down his neck. Arthur kept a steady gaze with Micah as he leaned forward and unholstered the other revolver from him, aiming it at Micah as well with a very unsteady arm. Even in a situation like this, Micah couldn’t hold back a taunting smile.

“Turns out, I’ve won, Micah”, Arthur said between his heavy breaths. He was starting to get real dizzy and he struggled with standing straightly. The pain in his leg and shoulder made him lose his focus and he backed away with a limp, not wanting to get jumped at by the other man.

“Just do it, Morgan”, Micah said to him with a calm, almost defeated voice. 

Arthur only studied him, almost hesitating to pull the trigger before a “there he is!” could be heard in the distance. He had forgotten all about the reinforcements that without a doubt would have come. And now they had. Arthur turned his head and saw several men moving uphill beneath the mountains. Micah ran off and jumped to the ridge below and Arthur cursed as he was forced to move forward, leaving Micah to his escape. Arthur moved as quickly as he could down the mountain, the adrenaline pumped violently through his body, making him ignore most of the hurt in it.

He held his hand against the gunshot wound in his shoulder, blood was gushing out of it, a big stain of red only growing bigger and bigger on his shirt. He could hear shouting voices in the distance behind him but focused on where he was going.

Up in the sky, the sun was slowly rising and during different circumstances maybe he could have enjoyed the view of it.

After a while, Arthur found himself away from the mountain and running on a small road that crossed another. He chose wisely and continued on one of them, falling back into the woods while moving alongside it. He pushed himself to the limit, ignoring the shots of pain in his leg and he could feel fresh and warm blood streaming down it with every couple of running step. He wasn’t fast but had managed to shake loose most of the agents by choosing his route carefully, trying to take advantage of the thick forest, always keeping himself hidden and sheltered behind various trees. He had done this too many times before but never this wounded.

Arthur couldn’t hear any voices in the distance anymore but he wasn’t gonna slow down until he found a good hiding spot. He really should tend to his wounds but he couldn’t take any risks by stopping. Not now.

Arthur felt himself become too lightheaded and eventually had to slow down. Soon, the pain in his leg became too overwhelming and he all but dragged it after him with each step he took as he scanned the area around him. When he got out on the road he had avoided from the start he was getting pretty sure where it led.

"There’s a cabin on the other side of the lake”, John’s voice echoed in his head. Any other day Arthur would have known where he was a long time ago, considering he had a very good sense of direction but this wasn’t just any other day. And he was delirious to say the least. He continued along the road, it was way too open and it was getting very bright outside. Then he saw it, the cabin at O’Creagh’s Run. He hurried forward, closing the distance between him and what was his only hopes of safety. Arthur had believed it to be abandoned but had never checked it out, not knowing what could be waiting for him inside. He took a few slow steps as it was whitening before his eyes in small bursts. He was getting nearer the cabin but fainted only a few yards away from it.

Chapter Text

Van Horn, 1899 

Little more than an hour had passed since Micah Bell had escaped his death once more in his life. All he could think of was the pure goddamn mess everything had turned into. Dutch was gone, as was the rest of the gang…meaning he had failed with the only thing expected of him.

He was pretty sure the latest agents hadn’t seen him in the mountains, Morgan had been the one in their point of view when they had arrived. And all of the agents before them had all been killed so he figured no one would ask why he hadn’t brought Arthur in when he had the chance.

As he got to Van Horn, he went to their regular meeting place. He had kept pressure on the side of his face nonstop and the terrible wound had finally stopped bleeding and Micah wondered if it wasn’t too bad that Arthur had missed his shot after all. That would at least have spared him this hell called life. 

He knocked on the back door to the small abandoned building and waited until one of the agents opened and let him inside.  

Agent Ross studied a map on the desk in the makeshift office and gave out orders to the men surrounding him. 

“Ross”, Micah said.

“Where the hell have you been? And what happened to your face?” Agent Ross asked but Micah had no chance to answer as the other man continued without as much as a pause. “We were supposed to round everyone up last night but the whole plan has been nothing but a disaster! Miss Roberts escaped, Milton shot in the goddamn head and no Dutch!” Ross ranted with his face turning all red and twisted in anger. “Now I’m in charge…And I’ve sent search teams all over the Grizzlies…and so far, no goddamn luck!”

Micah held back the urge to shoot up the whole room, his revolver fully loaded this time. “We got separated in all the turmoil, everyone just scattered. Your men shot at everything that moved, including me ”, he spoke with almost a boredom in his voice.  

“You should have brought us Dutch when you had the chance, Mr. Bell”, the other man all but hissed to him. “What did we get? Susan Grimshaw, sure, but dead”, Ross laughed mockingly. “She was nothing. Just as that O’Shea woman we were able to bring in…No, we need more…”, he demanded at first but soon shook his head slowly as if he came to a new conclusion. “Needed more… Now? You are the one that's nothing...You’ve been nothing but useless from the start... You’re no better than the rest of them…”. 

Micah really did hate Agent Ross with all his guts and had hated Milton even more . Hell, he despised all of them and he refused to let them or anyone else decide whatever lied next for him. “Is that so…? You see…I know where Dutch is…”. Micah could see Ross turn his complete attention to him. “That’s right…he told me where to meet him before we got separated. I can take your men there... Dutch is probably expecting only me so my suggestion is I go first, lure him out. Then he’s all yours”, he said with a malicious smile. 

Where?”

“Oh, can't spill out all the details, can I? No, where’s the fun in that…but I give you this, it's just a short ride north-east of here…same way we came”.

Ross slowly nodded before he yelled out his new order. “Well what are you waiting for, go!” he demanded to the two men by his side. They grabbed at Micah and the three of them prepared to leave. 

Micah sighed deeply before he stopped at the door. He was most certainly gonna regret this… but it just came to him in that moment. “Oh, one more thing, Agent Ross”.  

“And what’s that?” 

“My face? Arthur Morgan did that, the bastard … I’m afraid I...well, got a bit… overwhelmed you can say”, Micah chuckled. “I showed him alright… Blew his brains straight out… So no use in looking for him no more”.

“Goddamnit, Bell. I wanted him alive!” Ross yelled at him and started to pace around, rubbing his face tiredly. “Oh well…we get paid to clean up this country, maybe it was for the best…I guess”, he sighed, feeling the issue to be a minor one compared to all of the recent chaos. “Where’s the body then?”

“Yeah, maybe it was…”, Micah said mostly to himself. “Good luck in finding it, shot him on my way here, he fell straight into the Kamassa River, he’s probably long gone by now…”, he smiled but it was abruptly ended as one of the agents shoved at him to move when Ross angrily waved them off, saying he would catch up with them soon. 

Agent Ross sent for two other men to enter the office. He pointed at the map. “I want the two of you to search the areas leading to Bluewater Marsh, who knows where the rest of these bastards are hiding”. 

One of the men rolled his eyes. “They’re probably headed west, Boss. Why the hell would they go the marsh?” he questioned. 

“You do as you’re told, is that understood?” Agent Ross demanded. 

“Yes boss…”.

“Arthur Morgan is dead, allegedly , so forget about him for now. We may know where Dutch van der Linde is and I’m gonna ride out there… Still, we don’t know for sure, so keep your eyes open”, Ross told and reminded them. The both men nodded and left for the marsh where they would almost bump into John Marston.

 

-

 

Micah Bell had lied so many times in his life that he barely knew what was true anymore. Ross’ intentions were clear as day and Micah would, without a doubt, have the noose around his neck as soon as they were done with him. So he had lied about Dutch, luring the several agents onto a secluded road before executing them all not far from town. After last night, he knew The Pinkerton Agency was short on men, a large scale of them had died in the mountains and a bigger reinforcement wouldn’t come anytime soon. No excuse to linger around though, as much as he wanted to. 

Micah knew he himself was as bad as they came and he would always be but even so, betraying his gang was probably the most rotten thing he’d ever done in his life and he knew it.  

Micah had never had anything to live for. Nothing to love and no one to care for him. The gang was the closest a man like him had to a family. And he had betrayed them all… He wouldn’t go as far and say he regretted what he had done but he did wish things had turned out a little different. He wished he hadn’t been picked up by the Pinkertons in the first place. It was sloppy of him to get caught, given how he usually never let his guard down.  

All his life, all that mattered to him was saving his own skin. Nothing else. And he would do everything to not lose. To not lose in life. But the more he thought of it, the more he realised he had already.

Out of everyone, he knew Morgan was probably the one he had afflicted most damage upon. Arthur was loyal. Micah was not. And he had taken everything from Arthur in the end. His whole purpose in life destroyed by forcing him to question his own loyalty. Micah had succeeded that much, turning Dutch against his own ‘son’ and his son against him. He should be proud of himself but he couldn’t deny that it left a bad taste even in his mouth…  

Arthur was the only one who had known the truth of him. He had been the good one, only trying to do the right thing. But only two had followed him back then. Only two persons had listened to him in the end. One which Micah had killed, the action a final effort of saving his own skin again. That must have stung for Arthur, knowing no one in the gang trusted him, not even after everything he had done for them. Micah should laugh. He should relish in the other man’s misery. But he didn’t. Not this time.  

Micah thought of how Arthur had waited to shoot him… Even after all he had done, Arthur had still hesitated. And he couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if the agents hadn’t arrived. Arthur would probably have pulled the trigger in the end, Micah thought. But still, by making a pathetic and useless choice to decide over a man’s life or death, Arthur had unknowingly given him a chance. A chance to survive.

He also remembered how the other had saved him from his hanging in Strawberry all those months ago. He knew Arthur hadn’t wanted to but he had still gone through with it. He hadn’t sent someone else to do it and together they had shot their way out of the town. Worked together. Sons of Dutch, makes us brothers, Micah thought somberly. They had tolerated each other back then. Before all…of this…

Last night, no one had been able to end the other. They were alike in that way, refusing to die by someone else's hands. Micah didn’t even know if Arthur had made it. Hell, he had two bullet holes in his body and was still up and walking before he made his escape. Tough son of a bitch…he if anyone deserved to live, he figured without putting too much care or thought into it. Pondering wasn’t his way, after all. Why start now? 

The one thing Micah damned Arthur the most for was that he had taken his other revolver. Arthur knew exactly how much Micah would go through to get it back but considering the circumstances, he reluctantly accepted that he would have to part ways with it once and for all. Oh well, he knew Morgan would take care of it at least, it was way better than that Volcanic pistol of his, couldn’t even get the job done with him.

He didn’t completely know why he had done it but with his lie, maybe Arthur Morgan would have a chance somewhere. Micah Bell wouldn’t. He would remain hunted for the rest of his life as he disappeared into the west.

 

O’Creagh’s Run

As Arthur opened his eyes he wondered how the hell he was alive. He felt dead enough and coughed violently as he tried to swallow, his throat as dry as a desert. He waved off the flies that were pestering him, landing on his bare chest and on his face and several circulating around the bloodied bandage on his shoulder. 

He found himself in a comfortable bed of all places. He lifted the cover and looked over his leg, both of his wounds had been patched up but were pounding violently with shots of pain. He lifted himself to sit up but gave up just as quickly. He winced as the exertion froze up his whole body as he moved, reminding him how it would never get used to getting shot when it really came to it.

He pushed away the hanging cloth working as some sort of curtain, concealing the bed from the rest of the dim room. He drifted his eyes around the place that was lit up by some candles, it sure wasn’t the biggest cabin he’d been in. 

It was evening by the looks of it. A fireplace was located right next to the bed he found himself in, warming up the whole cabin. Who had taken him inside? he wondered. He got his answer quickly enough as the door nearest to him was opened. Out of instinct, Arthur pretended to be asleep and only listened to the person moving around. He carefully opened his eyes after a few moments, watching the old man as he threw some firewood into the cabin’s fireplace. 

“Don’t even think about doing something stupid”, the old man suddenly said, not even looking at Arthur. The latter shut his eyes quickly and held back a furrow of his brows as he heard the words. The man took the few steps over to him. “Oh I know you’re awake”, he continued as he settled on the chair placed next to the bed. 

The curtain… Arthur realised . He reluctantly opened his eyes and looked at the gray-haired man who now met them. He didn’t know what to say and he didn’t know what kind of person this man was but Arthur knew the same could be said about him and more.  

“Not very talkative, huh?” 

Arthur didn’t respond, he only observed the other man as he did the same. 

“Well, why don’t you tell me your name, that's the least you can do, considering the hell you put me through by dragging you inside…”.

He let out a small and sudden cough as he stared at the man asking for his name. “Arthur…”, he finally spoke with a low voice. Probably a bad call to tell a stranger his name but like the man said, he owed him that much. And considering he wasn’t lying dead or in a cell he could probably trust the old man enough.

“Nice to meet you, Arthur. The name’s Hamish”, he said and let out a smile to him. His eyes didn’t smile, they were only watching him with caution and rightly so. “You hungry?" 

“Starving actually…”, Arthur admitted. 

Hamish warmed what food he had and Arthur couldn’t help but notice the limp the old man suffered from, one of his legs looked a bit odd as he moved. Arthur forced himself to move up at least a few inches as the food and water was served, ignoring every bit of pain shooting through his damaged body. He practically licked the whole plate clean and felt much better when a small part of his energy slowly made its return. “Thank you… Thank you for taking me in, and for this”, he said sincerely as he gestured slightly with the plate, Hamish only responded with one simple nod. “How long was I out?” Arthur asked.

“Was gonna go out fishing yesterday morning when I found you lying behind the cabin. You were bleeding quite terribly but I tended to the wounds quickly enough so you wouldn’t bleed out, had to stitch you up a bit. Must have taken an hour to get you in that bed…”, Hamish chuckled. “I may be old, but I ain't weak, no sir”. 

“That long huh…”, Arthur mumbled and thought of how much time had passed. He smiled carefully at the man. “Never thought anyone lived here…Damn lucky I was wrong”, he said. He could see the other frown at his words. “Oh, I've passed it by from time to time on my way to…”, Arthur told him but stopped in the middle of the sentence. He was gonna say camp but he wanted to avoid giving up too much details of who he was and where he was from.  

The old man didn’t question further, seeming to notice Arthur’s reluctance. “What happened to you anyway?” he only asked instead. 

Arthur wasn’t surprised by the question, he found it odd the old man hadn’t asked it sooner than he did. “Think you’ll be better off without that kind of information. I’ll be gone in the morning”, Arthur spoke in naivety. 

“In the morning? You surely don’t believe that, do you?” Hamish almost laughed, referring to Arthur’s wounds.

“I appreciate the hospitality mister, but I can't stay here”, Arthur answered shortly while shaking his head quickly. “I’ve got somewhere I have to be…”.

Hamish gave him a long scrutinizing look and it was as pieces were being put together. “Don’t worry, ain't gonna turn you in…”. 

Arthur swallowed and averted his eyes from his. He didn’t even try to deny the man’s suspicions. “Thank you but I…I can't be here”. 

“For your own sake…you should rest a couple of weeks at least”.

“Well, I can't!” Arthur exclaimed with frustration. Frustration over how wrong he knew he himself was, given his situation. He wanted to believe his own words. He truly wanted to. 

Hamish didn’t flinch by Arthur’s raised voice, he only met it with another frown. “A stubborn one, ain't you? Fine, leave in the morning. It’s not up to me but I doubt you’ll get very far”.

 

-

 

As much as Arthur had slept, he felt he needed to rest further and couldn’t wait for morning to come. He needed to get back to John. To their son...he still found it both odd and exciting to call Jack that. He hoped that they were alright and that John had made it safely to the rest. They should be on their way to the west by now so Arthur would have to find them somehow, starting from Copperhead. 

He would have to write the letters and address them to Jim Milton too, he reminded himself. Despite how hard it was for Arthur to relax about their whereabouts and safety, he trusted that all of them had made it, considering how many times before they all had. And knowing that they had more than enough money to survive made it all easier. 

And despite the longing for John, the last thing Arthur saw before he fell asleep was the look on Dutch’s face as he had ultimately left him to his fate.

 

-

 

Traveling with his wounds wasn’t gonna be an option, Arthur reluctantly accepted the day after. He could barely support on his leg, considering how he had pushed it to its limit only two nights ago. He had lost a lot of blood too and only trying to get up on his feet inside the cabin made him feel like he was gonna faint any second. He told himself ‘just one day more, just one’ as his body slowly turned weaker and weaker. 

Even if he would have been able to walk, to ride, he didn’t even have a horse to begin with and he couldn’t stop thinking about Iron. He missed the damn brute so much and wished he could bring him back somehow. Knowing that would never be possible, he had to settle with forever being grateful to both him and Old Boy for taking him and John as far as they did.

 

-

 

As a third day had passed Arthur accepted that he wouldn’t be able to leave anytime soon, realising he no longer held any power of his body’s wellbeing. “Think I’ll stay a few days longer…”, he told Hamish with a low and weak voice as the latter helped him clean his wounds and change his bandages. 

“I knew you would come to your senses”, Hamish answered. “Not letting your body heal properly could mean death in the end. I’ve seen it happen more times than I’d like to admit”. As the old man pulled off the old bandage from Arthur’s shoulder, the corner of his mouth twitched slightly but he carried on nonetheless. 

Arthur noticed but only nodded to the man’s words and swallowed. “Don’t doubt it…but I...I feel a bit worse today…”, he told him with half conscious eyes and winced when the old man started with the cleaning process. Arthur’s body wavered as it went on and he couldn’t ignore how cold he had been feeling. “How...how’s it look…”, he breathed out, not daring to look at the wound a single time. 

Hamish’s face turned more serious and not as cheerful as he had tried to seem as Arthur looked up at him, asking for a verdict. “To be honest with you, this don't look too good”, he told the younger man with a somber tone. 

A joyless laugh slipped out of Arthur. “Well ain't that my...usual luck…”, he stated absently, only staring into the wall. The humorless smile died out on his face as he processed his situation. How ironic. Micah would perhaps win after all. “I’m gonna repay you. For the supplies, for the food. Everything. Even if I go…”, Arthur mumbled and swallowed the lump in his throat. “I got the money...How much you want?” he asked as he looked up at the old man now patching up his shoulder with a new bandage. 

“Don’t need no money. I have everything I could ask for out here, close to nature and far away from anyone”, Hamish stated without a care in the world. “And you ain't gonna ‘go’, we'll get you through this. I will head out… locate some plants we can use”, he said with determination. “But come to think about it, I guess there’s one thing you could do to pay me back. When you’ve healed , that is…Which you will” .

Arthur only snorted at the other’s optimism. “And what’s that?” 

“Before you leave, all I ask is that you’ll come fishing with me. Haven’t had company in more years than I can remember, never needed it anyway…But I guess it would be fun having someone to help me catch that damn monster in the lake”. 

Monster ?” Arthur asked with confusion.

“I call him The Tyrant, biggest fish I ever did see. Been trying to catch that bastard for a long time”, Hamish told him with passion, his eyes almost glowing as he spoke of the fish.  

“Okay. Sure”, Arthur agreed.

 

-

 

A few days turned into a few more as his wounds indeed had become infected despite Hamish’s efforts of keeping them clean. A feverish Arthur found himself quietly crying to sleep most of the time. The unwilling bed rest played tricks on his mind, making him unsure of a lot of things.

He was suffering from fever dreams. Faces he didn’t knew he remembered haunted him in each one, people from the past reminding him of all the wrongs he had done to them, saying that they would never forget. He sometimes heard their words with their voices, sometimes with John’s. He believed he was in hell for sure and every time he woke, the feeling lingered, following him into his reality.

And when he was awake, another torment consumed him. The moment he had been afraid of for so long had come and one more time he wondered who Arthur Morgan really was. He had absolutely no idea and the thought made him terrified. For over half of his life he had been so certain about his place in this world and now he had lost Dutch and the gang all at once. It had been inevitable but he wasn’t quite prepared for what it really felt like to lose one’s purpose.

 

-

 

“You’re a dead man, Arthur Morgan”, Hamish said one day when he entered the cabin.

Arthur blinked his eyes open. He had been sweating oceans all day long but guessed it was a good thing, meaning the fever was on its way down. His wounds was starting to look better, or that's what Hamish told him anyways. Said that his recipe of natural remedies was starting to make itself useful. He didn’t feel much better but he had to trust the other man who practically nursed him back to life. 

“I sure feel like one”, Arthur answered weakly, his head feeling swollen and half awake all the time. He struggled to lie on his back in the bed, even the smallest of exertions making him completely exhausted. “How do you know my real name’s Morgan?” he asked as he realised he had never told Hamish that part. 

“Just got back from town. Saw a torn down poster with your face and name on it along with a prize . Almost ripped in two, it was. I asked the deputy Sheriff about you and he said the word was that you’re dead. ‘No use in going after that bounty’ he said”.

“You’re joking”.

“No sir, I am not”, Hamish answered, his eyes telling nothing but the truth.

“Huh”, Arthur only said, confused about this new information.

Hamish fetched a bucket of cool water and dipped a rag in it. He settled on the chair and started to wipe the sweat away from Arthur’s face and neck. “Guess you’re not a wanted man anymore. The van der Linde gang, huh?” Hamish said before he started to tell Arthur about the names of his previous gang members that had their wanted posters on the wall of the Sheriff’s in Annesburg.

Arthur reacted to the mention of Micah Bell’s name but he didn’t answer. He felt confused, how could he be presumed dead? He moved away from Hamish’s care and turned slowly to lie on his side with his back turned to him. The old man left the bucket on the floor next to the bed and walked away, continuing with his own business in the kitchen, tinkering with some new fishing bait.

“Did you check the post office?” Arthur asked into the wall with a mumble, not moving from his position.

“I did, wasn’t anything for you there”. 

Arthur turned his head to look at Hamish with confusion. “Did you…”, he swallowed and had to pause to take a few breaths, struggling to keep his eyes open. ”...did you check under the name Arthur Callahan?” he asked slowly. 

“I did as well, and like I said, wasn’t anything for you there”. 

Arthur frowned, slowly turning his head back to its previous position. His eyes drifted quickly back and forth by Hamish’s answer. Why hadn’t John written to him? He had promised to do so if they got separated. Arthur had barely been in his full senses to complete the letter he had start writing on before the fever had gotten him. He was only now starting to feel properly conscious again. He couldn’t make sense of the situation before his body succumbed to the sleep he didn’t wanted but needed.

 

-

 

Arthur was dreaming vividly that night but wasn’t aware of it. It was filled with all of his deepest fears and guilt, displaying his most primal sides. All of it in its ugly glory. 

The dreams that melted into each other were of scenarios that had already happened. Memories but with differences. 

He found himself in a warm bed with one particular person beneath him. Arthur was kissing him tenderly, he moved very carefully and John whispered his name into his ear as the golden haired man gently thrusted into him. Arthur remembered he had experienced this moment before. It was the first time they had sex.  

Arthur …”, John moaned between his increasing breaths and hugged him tighter to his body.  

“Mmhm?” Arthur mumbled with a smile before their lips met the other’s again. “I love you …”, Arthur whispered between their kisses. He hadn’t said it that time. Not then.  

“If you did, you wouldn’t have done it” John whispered, still with a moan, making a confused Arthur pull away from him.

He found himself outside by the lake. They were having sex again, this time more violently, the latter crying out with a particular hard thrust. 

“Arthur…”, he pleaded. Just like that time.

Arthur got off of him and stared at John with wide eyes. He assisted the younger man to lie on his back, making him face him so he could look him over.

He had a tight grip over John’s throat, strangling him. The other was struggling to breathe and Arthur released his hand from him in an instant and pushed himself away from him. Arthur breathed quickly, not comprehending what was happening.

He and John sat next to each other by the campfire at Horseshoe Overlook and the only thing that could be heard was the crackle from the burning firewood. The night was still, calm. Arthur remembered this too. They would become each other's within a few hours. For the very first time in so many ways.

“You were never good to me”, John stated, only resting his eyes at the fire and speaking almost  like he was answering a question, distant and plainly. They sat so close to each other, their warmth radiating to the other’s body, just like that time. 

Arthur tried to form any word but he found himself stunned by all the past events replaying before him. 

John still watched the fire and when he spoke, it was as he was holding back a laugh. “You’re not a good man, Arthur Morgan. Never was. Just think about all the hurt you’ve caused over the years…Making me look like some goddamn Saint...”. 

Arthur swallowed the lump in his throat, his eyes starting to tear up. “I’m sorry…I-” 

John shook his head but he wouldn’t turn it to look at him, as much as the latter needed to see him. “ Not good enough , when are you gonna figure it out, huh? You really thought we could be a family? That I would let you any way near Jack, and for what? To see him become the same monster as you?” 

He shook his head. “No John, I would never-…”. He didn’t know what to say so he gripped onto John’s hand. The latter responded by moving away from him and Arthur reached out his hand as the dark haired man raised himself to his feet. There was nothing to grab at and he could only look after him as he disappeared into the darkness. Arthur was all alone and he didn’t know what to do. 

He found himself standing beneath the steps to the house belonging to one of Strauss’ debtors. Arthur Londonderry’s house, the miner who had died, leaving a wife and a child not much older than Jack behind.

“There ain't nothing left, mister! ” the widow exclaimed from her porch, just as vividly as the first time he had heard the words. He remembered he had demanded the payment her late husband had owed. He remembered how low he had felt.

“Maybe I’ll keep her in black, on your behalf”, Arthur found himself saying. He was standing before Archie Downes, the son of Thomas.

Arthur flinched by his own words and the coldness in them. His eyes drifted to the boy’s mother, Edith. She was in tears, her whole self completely shattered by Arthur’s action of reclaiming a debt right after they had buried her husband. Just like he had done again with Londonderry’s widow. 

“I’m sorry…I…”, Arthur whispered and stared at them with what could only be described as shock. He backed away from them and turned around. He moved with quick steps, keeping one hand over his mouth as he felt it all. The shame...the guilt…the regret… 

Arthur walked with a lowered head and as as he raised it, he wasn’t really there again.

They sat at the campfire. “Do you see it now? What you did?” John asked him as he spoke, whispering the words to his ear as his eyes watched Arthur closely. “And that right there ain't even the whole story. Hell…you really believed you deserved to live a normal life the rest of your days?” the dark haired man half smiled. “No…You did this, Arthur. Not me, not Dutch, not the gang…just you …” he said, making Arthur lose the last hope he still believed he had. “I think it’s best for everyone if you just stay dead…”, John finally spoke.  

Arthur awoke from his dream, his whole body drenched with sweat. He breathed rapidly and it took a while to land into reality again. He was afraid he was going to find himself in another place he held no control over. It was only a dream, he assured himself like he had done every night. But dream or not, he couldn’t deny how real it all had felt and he couldn’t ignore the feeling that lingered inside of him even when awake. Arthur buried his face into his hands by the realisation of why John hadn’t written to him.

 

-

 

Hamish handed his old crutches to Arthur. “You sure about this?” 

“Not really…but let’s do it anyway”. Arthur heaved himself up from the bed, he hadn’t been on his feet for longer than he’d like to admit. He knew it was probably too early to walk around but he still took a few unsteady steps, supporting himself with the crutches and minding his bad shoulder. 

Hamish walked by his side, ready to support him if he needed the help. Arthur moved slowly but still too quickly than he could manage, eager to breathe the outside air. Hamish grabbed onto his good arm as Arthur’s leg almost gave out. 

They managed to get to the small wooden jetty in front of the cabin and Arthur lowered himself slowly to sit down. He hadn’t even put on his boots in the first place so he carefully lowered his bare feet into the cool water. The sensation was refreshening against his unwashed skin and he wanted to jump into the water immediately but changed his mind just as quickly as the pain from both leg and shoulder made themselves acknowledged. For a few critical days Arthur believed he would die but Hamish hadn’t given up on him and his efforts had finally paid off.   

Arthur felt weak, no doubt about that. He wondered if he could ever use his left arm properly again in the future, considering how much damage his shoulder had taken in this short period of time. 

He watched Hamish as he settled at his side, both turning their faces to let their eyes rest over the blue surface of the water. They sat like that for a long time, both enjoying the sun warming their faces. 

Arthur felt amazed how well he and Hamish got along. In only a short period of time, he felt like the old man had known him all his life. Arthur had told him the relevant details of his background, leaving out the most personal ones with John. Hamish had never judged him even if he could sense that he didn’t agree with his now past lifestyle. 

Arthur found the old man just as interesting as Hamish found him. He had learned the old man was a war veteran and had been living out here all alone ever since he lost his leg. Arthur saw an inch of Hosea in him whenever he went on about the different kind of animals he’d been trying to hunt.

“Why did you help me? Arthur suddenly asked, breaking the silence. “You didn’t know who I was. I could have hurt you, robbed you or even worse”.

Hamish looked at him thoughtfully, giving a faint smile. “Yeah…I didn’t know who you was but at the time I only saw a man in dire need of my help. Didn't really thought about it much, I only…acted, you know? Guess that's always come naturally for me... Besides, I’d like to think that if I was the one needing help, you could just as easily be the one to offer it”. 

He felt a little ashamed when Hamish told him his reasons to take him under his care. He remembered too many times he himself had just looked the other way when people had needed his help. Sure, he had assisted a few strangers here and there but he had always expected something in return.

“Not too fond of people but I couldn’t just leave you to die. I figured out quite quickly that you was on the run from the law… And perhaps…the right thing to do would be to turn you in…truth be told…”.  

Arthur lowered his eyes. A part of him agreed with Hamish but another part knew if it came to that, he would kill the old man from preventing him from doing such a thing.

“I don't believe you’re bad, Arthur. You’ve probably done things I’ll be better off without knowing but…you seem to have a kind heart…I can see it in your eyes. And I’ve dealt with more bad men in my life than you ever will so I think I got a fairly good idea of what I’m talking about”. 

Arthur didn’t agree with his words but he didn’t want to argue. “If you hadn’t helped me…I would have been dead by now. I owe you my life…”, he almost whispered instead. 

“Don’t mention it. Can’t say no to a little excitement in this still but sometimes dull life of mine”, Hamish chuckled. He continued after a few moments. “You know, maybe now is the time to think about straightening out your life”. 

“Funny thing is, that was kinda the idea before I got shot. Twice ”. Arthur fished up the letter from his pocket. He had filled the whole page with words addressed to Jim Milton and he read them all over again.

“That’s the letter you told me about? I can head into town tomorrow morning to send it, or later today if it’s urgent”, the old man offered.

“It was an urgent letter…”, Arthur answered absently. “But I reckon it can wait a bit longer… ”.  

“Who’s it for anyway?” Hamish asked.

“My uhm…brother. We were gonna leave together that night. Start over someplace else. But the more I think about it, the more I believe he’s better off without me… I realise now how bad I've been for him…and I mean really bad”, Arthur sighed. Hamish only waited with patience for the other to continue. “And he has a son…and all I want is for the two of them to live a good life and I’m afraid that I’m…I’m not the answer to that. Besides, the boy has both his mother and father, he don't need me…”. Arthur shook his head slowly to himself, his eyes drifting over the letter to John. “My brother…Jim’s his name…hasn't written me. I believe…he thinks I’m dead”, he spoke quietly.  

“You sure about that?” 

“Quite. He promised he would write to me. Either he’s dead…or he believes I am. Why wouldn’t he? You said yourself that the word is out…Arthur Morgan died that night in the mountains… Now…well, I’m thinking that maybe I should stay behind”, Arthur sighed heavily. “I don't know what to do”.  

Hamish looked away from Arthur, knowing that the younger man found himself at a crossroads. “It’s not up to me, Arthur. You have to decide for yourself what to do next. I don't know the history with you and that brother of yours but you shouldn’t give up on family…”. 

Arthur nodded to the words, unable to make a choice. “He ain't the only one I’ve done wrong by. There are others. My whole life basically I’ve done nothing but bad things… And a friend of mine told me once it was never too late for redemption and a part of me truly wants to believe that…while another part is certain that it is, in fact, too late”, Arthur shook his head as he swallowed the lump in his throat. “It’s almost like I don't know who I am anymore… ”. 

Hamish looked him over with concerned eyes. “What if this is your chance to set things right? When your body has healed, maybe you could head out, seek forgiveness, right your wrongdoings…”

If someone had spoken those words months ago, Arthur would have laughed in their face, probably firing a shot at it. Now, those words gave him some sort of hope. He felt like he had hit his lowest point of existence and he couldn’t quite grasp how sudden this inner crisis had come. The months that had passed since Blackwater had without a doubt made him change, mostly because of his relation with John but his brush with death and loss of the gang made Arthur feel like he could see everything more clearly.

John…Arthur hoped he was alright. He hoped Jack was alright. He hoped everyone from the gang was alive and well. Even Dutch. Arthur would never stop hoping that, even after all he had done to him. 

In a way, Arthur could feel that John was hurting in this very moment. The man could never control his feelings, and he could almost see John’s reaction to his alleged death.

In their silence and afterthought, Arthur’s eyes drifted to the other side of the lake. Somewhere there, in what felt like happened in another life, he and John had given their bodies to the other for maybe the last time. Arthur swallowed the lump in his throat as he reminisced the event, knowing that it was more like he had taken the other’s body without John giving him the right to do so. Both knew exactly what he had done but still, John had said he loved him only a few days later. It somehow made it all feel even worse and they hadn’t even spoken about it afterwards. Not like he knew they both needed to, especially John. In all the turmoil, both had put the subject aside as Arthur told him he would leave with him.

Despite it all, Arthur felt that he and John was a part of the other. They were one and he knew their souls would forever belong to each other and no one else. But as his dream had reminded him, had brought forth the deepest regret in him, Arthur felt guilt over how poorly he had handled the person that was the love of his life. How wrong he had treated him right from the start. Perhaps, all of this…staying behind, would serve as the last hurt he would ever cause John Marston. 

“Maybe you’re right”, Arthur answered as he folded the letter he would never send and put it back in his pocket.

 

-

 

The longer Arthur stayed at O’Creagh’s Run, the more time he had to think about every little thing he’d done in his life, distancing himself more and more from the life he and John had hoped for. 

He often thought of Jack. How pure and untouched he was by all that was bad and rotten in this world. The same couldn’t be said about himself so Arthur had made the final choice of never returning to the family he had hoped to be his.   

Without the gang, every action Arthur had made during his time with them filled his whole body with more guilt. People he never thought about otherwise haunted him, people he had killed, people he had robbed, people he had hurt…as if without the gang there was nothing to justify everything he’d done. 

The two things that didn’t make sense was why he was presumed dead and why Micah was a wanted man. Arthur sat on the small steps to the cabin and examined every inch of the man’s revolver in his hands. 

“Vengeance is hereby mine…”, Arthur murmured as he read the etched words on the barrel. Micah being a wanted man must mean he didn’t have immunity anymore, either the Pinkertons had betrayed him or he had done something he couldn’t go around this time. “What did you do, Micah?” Arthur asked quietly. 

Arthur decided to not ponder on it too much, he wasn’t exactly planning to cross ways with the man ever again. He got up from where he was sitting, heading inside. He opened a cardboard box that served as his storage for the few belongings he had. Inside laid his journal, he had barely touched it after the mountains and he remembered the promise he had made to John about letting him read everything in it if they made it out...

He was gonna get a new journal, he thought. One he started over in, the old one’s pages were almost completely filled anyway. He put the revolver down and closed the lid, pushing the box back under the bed where it wouldn’t be touched for many years to come.

 

-

 

The two women laughed loudly at a dirty joke Sadie had told as they sat around the fire in their temporary camp. John smiled slightly by the sound of their laughter but didn’t have it in him to feel the joy like they did. Abigail looked at him like she felt ashamed that she was enjoying herself. She knew John wasn’t in a good place right now and both her and Sadie had tried to make him feel better. Some days were better than others but all of them included no response from John as they tried to speak to him about Arthur. He just refused.

Today had been a good day, nonetheless. They had enjoyed a good meal and shared a bottle of bourbon around the fire in the dark of the moon. They hadn’t bumped into any agents for a long while and things seemed to have calmed down for the first time since they had gotten away from the gang.

Jack had fallen asleep in John’s arms and he absently caressed his fingers through the boy’s hair. He could sleep through anything, John thought, he was even worse than his father.

Arthur smiled as he observed them from his spot. They couldn’t see him from where he was standing in the woods, his arms crossed and leaning his side against a tree, he was too far away and it was too dark. He had left Buell a bit back, walking the rest of the way. It hadn’t been easy to track them down but locating people had always been one of his talents, for good or worse. 

Arthur let himself sit down against the trunk of the tree and listen to the women’s conversation. They seemed happy and John smiled from time to time.

He remembered how distant the younger man and Jack had been before, six months ago John wouldn’t even speak with his son and now it was better than ever between them. 

Arthur didn’t allow himself to give in to the pure desire to make his presence acknowledged. As he watched John and Jack he could feel it all. The sorrow, the loss, the longing…but he chose to smile instead, knowing that they had made it, and that nothing else mattered, not his own feelings, his desires…nothing.

He didn’t want to linger too long, he had gotten what he wanted and he couldn’t risk being seen. Not now. As he got up and prepared to turn around he could see John lift the boy from his arms and place him on the bedroll by the fire. 

He and Abigail exchanged a few words, John telling her he needed to use the gents. Arthur hid behind the tree and watched John as he moved closer to the outskirts of the woods, unknowingly closing the distance to the man he believed he had lost. 

Arthur moved quietly as he avoided John’s line of sight. Before he knew it, John passed him by only a few feet away and continued walking further into the woods. 

He knew he should probably head back but he couldn’t help but follow him. It felt good seeing him again…but he reminded himself over and over that he didn’t deserve him…or more that John didn’t deserve the wrongs Arthur had done to him, the wrongs he feared he would do again. 

Arthur kept his distance, relieved that the trees were growing so thickly together in these parts. He became curious as John quickened his steps. What was he doing? Arthur wondered.

John seemed as in a hurry until he slowed down, almost stumbling forward to support his hands against a tree. He lowered his head and started to fumble with something in his pocket. Arthur moved without a sound and got as close as he could, peeking out from his cover. Their only source of light was the bright moon and it helped Arthur see that John had taken out a picture. In the moment he was only staring at it but Arthur couldn’t make out what picture it was. 

He could make out a smile form on the younger man’s lips. He couldn’t help but smile as well, despite it all. John brushed his thumb over their portrait before he lowered the hand holding it to his side. He started to tremble and supported himself once more with a hand to the tree. 

Arthur’s heart sank as he heard the sobbings escaping John. His heart told him to go to him, comfort him. He only needed to take a few steps and reach out a hand to make it all go away for the other. His brain told him to leave it be, don’t make anything worse than he already had. Arthur looked at John through saddened eyes, wishing he somehow could take over the emotions John held. Arthur knew he was mourning. Mourning him and what they had.  

Arthur moved his head back quickly as John turned around slowly and lowered himself to sit down against the trunk, much similar to Arthur’s position a few minutes back. The younger man wrapped his arms around his legs and buried his face to his knees, comforting himself. He looked almost like a sad child as he sat there and wept. Arthur took a risk as he watched him carefully, he was so close to him... 

Even so, Arthur only looked at him one final time before he turned away and left John where he was, knowing if he waited any longer he wouldn’t be able to hold back his desires. 

As he had gotten far enough, Arthur walked faster, moving more determined. As he got to Buell, he mounted him and didn’t even look back at the direction his family was.

Chapter Text

Saint Denis, 1907

Arthur had no intentions whatsoever as he rented the room in Saint Denis. He wasn’t gonna drag someone willingly here and have his way with him or her like he sometimes had done in his youth. No…he knew exactly what had drawn him here.

The receptionist was amusingly enough the same man that had been tending to his and John’s check-in all those years ago. Arthur knew the man didn’t recognize him, no one did nowadays. He had let his hair grow quite wildly with a thick beard accompanying it, looking more like Hamish each year. He smiled at the thought. The receptionist looked at him funny when Arthur asked if one particular room was available.

As Arthur entered it, it looked pretty much the same except a few changes of furnishings. It had been eight years since he had spent the night here with John and he couldn’t help but sit down on the bed, remembering every touch they had given each other's bodies.

He had needed to get away from the cabin for a bit and Hamish had sensed it, suggesting that Arthur would ride out a little. He probably didn’t mean this far south but as he and Buell rode out, Arthur couldn’t help but continue as far as the horse managed to take him. He hated the city, sure, but he hadn’t been here for so long and he couldn’t deny how many memories the town of Saint Denis held.

Arthur lay down on the bed and stared at the ceiling. He wondered all over again whatever happened to the rest members of the gang and he hoped with all his heart that they had made a good life for themselves. He had bumped into a very few over the years and no one had been able to enlighten him over the whereabouts of one particular man.

His mind wandered to Dutch just as much as it had in the beginning and he knew well enough why. The abrupt separation from the man that was as his father had caused an emptiness inside him that couldn’t be filled unless he met with the man again. He knew he needed to find him in order to heal that part of himself. Of course that wasn’t an option, he had no idea where the man was except the rumours he had heard. The man had just disappeared out of thin air and for the law there had been no luck finding him. Even so, the years that had passed, Arthur tried to tell himself that Dutch no longer formed who he was. He held no power over his person and it was a liberating feeling, being someone different than before. Someone true. Being the person he perhaps was always meant to be, without anyone else deciding for him.

Arthur felt like he had come a long way these years, helping people out whenever he could, stranger or not. Quite a few of his encounters had become friends as well and he found himself answering to letters sent by each one of them when he had the time, not wanting to lose contact.

“...there's never too late for redemption, Mr. Morgan”.

He could hear Rain Falls’ voice so vividly still and he tried to live by his words each day. So he had traveled around these years, finding people from his past who he sought forgiveness, offering them whatever they needed to make up for the damage done. More often than not, it wasn’t about the money. Just like Hamish, the people he met with asked him to repay them with simple means, a favor, running a tough errand for them, helping them out a few weeks on their ranch or perhaps paying their late father's or mother’s funeral. It could be anything really. Things they couldn’t manage to do on their own and Arthur had provided every time. Of course there had been people who had refused his help and just like Arthur had feared, the damage had already been far too great.

Arthur hadn’t only tried to pay back to the people he had robbed, hurt, or even killed a family member to, he had tried to save people he otherwise would have chosen to ignore during his travels. Each person he could help was as getting a piece of his soul back.

All these years this was what he’d kept himself busy with but as the time passed he realised that there was, in fact, one person he had put aside. He had been thinking about him more often these last few months and as much as he tried to tell himself that John was better off without him he couldn’t help but long for him far more greatly. He had pushed John and what they had aside for their own good. To prevent himself from hurting John ever again and for his own sake he had needed these years for himself to really deal with his own shit… And now…well, he was slowly realising that he would never be complete without the other man. After he had helped as many as he could, the still life at O’Creagh’s Run the later years had made him restless, it was like having an itch he couldn’t quite scratch.

Arthur had been going back and forth in his head if he should write to Jim Milton, he had after all no idea where he was. The thought was quickly shut down when he reminded himself that John hadn’t written to him, because for John, Arthur was still dead. To go back to him after all these years...John would probably shoot him on sight. It was for the best, he thought with a sigh.

 

-

 

He felt shivers run down his spine as he walked the street in front of the Saint Denis bank. His eyes rested at the spot Hosea had been lying dead that day and the memory send a pang through his heart.

His eyes drifted to the rooftops of the opposite buildings. Lenny had died there somewhere… Arthur lowered his head by the memory of them both. Two good men killed the same day...but the truth was they weren’t good men. No one had been. Perhaps their hearts were but not their actions.

Arthur spent the evening doing what he and John had done when they were here together all those years ago. John had been eager to just spend some quality time with him and he remembered how he had felt just like anyone that evening. Arthur had found it strange with how quickly he had considered himself and John to be nothing but a normal couple only interested in having a good time together, if you could say that two men were a normal thing, he thought somberly. Even so, it had been nice, being something other than an outlaw hunted by the state and every nearby, if only for an evening. To forget that part of himself momentarily and be convinced that it wasn't all he was. The day after, they had returned to camp and gone back to their ‘normal’ lifestyle. The feeling from the night before had quickly disappeared and Arthur had once more found himself foolish to believe there was more to life than this.

He bought a ticket to go see a moving picture and when he sat there amongst the people looking at the screen, his mind wandered to the last time he had been here.

Arthur was focused on the moving images before them while John couldn’t help but move in his seat. He looked around the very dark room and studied the amazed faces smiling and laughing from the movie. Arthur looked quite happy as well and not bored as John felt.

Can’t you just relax, Marston?” he whispered, never tearing his eyes away from the screen. “You dragged me here so don't even think about leaving”.

John sighed and faced forward at Arthur’s words. The man was right, he had dragged him here, wanting to try out what normal people did together. He drummed with his fingers at his thigh but it was interrupted with Arthur catching his hand and resting their both in his lap. John froze.

"You said we had to be careful around here, Morgan…”, he whispered through his teeth near to inaudible as Arthur threaded their fingers together.

“Schh”, he let out and John only looked at his profile, seeing the corner of Arthur’s mouth curve up into a discrete smile. Then the older man looked around quickly before he lifted John’s hand to his lips and planted a kiss on it before lowering it to rest in his lap again. He caressed his thumb in circular motions over John’s hand and it made the younger man’s heart flutter.

Arthur found himself to only stare at the screen the whole time but not really watching what it was showing. Before he knew it, the time was up and the movie had ended. He stayed behind as the rest of the people got up and left. Something in the memory left an ache in his heart.

 

-

 

Arthur walked around whole Saint Denis and he remembered when he had gotten robbed by those orphaned boys when he, Dutch and John had been asking around about Angelo Bronte in their search for Jack and he couldn’t help but wonder what became of them. As he took a shortcut through an alley, a man accidentally bumped into him coming from the main streets.

“Watch where you’re going”, the man said before the both of them recognized each other.

“Javier…”, Arthur said quietly. The other man snorted and drew his gun but not aiming it at him. “No need for that...”, Arthur continued. “Thought I’d never see the day but…I don’t have a gun on me”.

Javier looked him over and found the words to be true. Even so, he didn’t put the gun back in its holster, only lowered it to his side and gesturing with it slightly as he spoke. “Shit Arthur… Word is that you’re dead”.

“And that's how I prefer it to be”, Arthur told him with a low voice, emphasizing the purport of the words.

Javier only stared at him in silence before he dared to offer a hollow smile to the other, “You look like horse shit, brother”.

“Well, can't argue with that. And I know you’ve seen better days too ”.

Javier shot an irritated look at Arthur. He had never liked to get his looks insulted but recovered quickly enough and shrugged it off with a short laugh. “How are you even alive?” he asked afterwards.

“Takes a little more than an army of Pinkertons to put me down”, Arthur chuckled lightly. “I don't know why folk believe me to be dead. Just a simple misunderstanding, I guess…”.

Javier only nodded with a faint smile, not questioning further because he knew none of them would get any answers either way.

Arthur noticed the man’s face to look worn out, his eyes bloodshot and skin almost greyish and a whole lot paler than he remembered. At his prime, Javier could be considered quite a handsome and fierce young man but the years had made sure to destroy all evidence of such a statement. Arthur couldn't help but think Javier looked older than he himself was. 

“It’s uhm...good to see you again Arthur. It’s been a while”, Javier spoke in earnest, much to the other man's surprise.

“That it has… How’s life treating you then?” Arthur asked with an almost sarcastic smile, suspecting and hoping the other man’s answer wouldn’t be a pleasant one.  

“It’s been…been bad Arthur. I ran with Bill for a long while but we went separate ways not long ago. He’s changed…he...his heart’s turned cold”.

Arthur nodded thoughtfully at the words. He should probably ask more about Bill but his attention was directed elsewhere. “And Dutch…?” he asked after a few moments, hating himself over how much hope the words were filled with.

Javier snorted at the mention of the name. “Haven’t seen him or Micah since Beaver’s Hollow. That puto took off with all of the money we’d saved for the gang”. He spat on the ground next to him as to add to his detest for the man.

Arthur only blinked a few times, feeling disappointed that once more he wouldn't get any clarity of their past leader's fate. “Yeah...Dutch really fucked us all over in the end, didn’t he?” he answered absently before letting out a sigh. “And I guess you ain't got any idea of where he might be?” Arthur tried anyways, hoping for a direction in the right way or even a rumour, hoping for just about anything.

“Nah, brother. Can't help you there…You looking for him?”

Arthur didn't answer to the question, busy with accepting that he would have to go without answers altogether. “Where will you go now, Javier?” he asked instead.

The darker man frowned at Arthur’s avoidance of the subject but chose not to ask twice. “I’m thinking Mexico... Gonna travel through New Austin in a few days, it’s about time I returned home. Believe I’ll be needed there, one way or another…”

Arthur didn't really know what Javier meant by that but he wasn't really interested in the man's life anyway so he only nodded.

“So…What have you been up to all these years anyway?” Javier asked with curiosity in his voice.

“Just…wandering, you know?” Arthur decided there was no use in digging deeper into the subject. Javier wouldn't understand. “Hosea always said my soul was like that”.

“Yeah, I remember…”, Javier answered, drifting his eyes past him as he recollected. “He was the best...I miss the old man”. He nooded to his own words as his eyes drifted back to rest at Arthur’s face.

“He sure was…”, Arthur agreed quietly and shared a few silent moments with the other, almost as if they were paying their respects to the late old man.

Both men felt that there were a thousand more  things that needed to be said but Javier backed away, preparing to leave.  

“Would have appreciated if you kept this business with me between us”, Arthur asked.

“Of course, Arthur…we’re still brothers”, Javier answered with sadness in his voice, not completely convinced by his own statement.

Arthur met the words with an own kind of sadness mixed with anger. “No, Javier...We are not brothers”. He chose not to disguise his feelings towards the man. He had been polite enough. “I won't forget what you did …lying straight to my face about John being dead ”. Arthur spoke the words with intensity, realising in that moment what strong feelings the memory still evoked.

Javier looked away from Arthur’s hard gaze that this time was filled with almost an ice cold blue color. The corner of his mouth twitched slightly before he managed to speak. “I’m sorry Arthur. I…I looked up to Dutch, you know? Ever since he brought me in and all... I don't regret that”, Javier said and shook his head, looking almost a bit ashamed. Almost. “But I regret I was so blind in the end…maybe I chose the wrong side”.

Arthur looked the other man over, knowing all too well he was lying. Javier didn't regret what he had done as much as he tried to make it seem so. He wasn't a man to regret words spoken or choices made. Arthur know who he had been, was probably how he still was. “What’s done is done”, Arthur said shortly with indifference as he lifted his chin slightly. “Ain’t nothing we can do about it”.

“I know…”.

And with that, the two men backed away from each other slowly, meeting the other’s eyes one last time before turning around, each man having different destinations in time and place in life.

 

O’Creagh’s Run

“Did your travels do anything to still that forever restless soul of yours?” Hamish asked with a smile as Arthur got back to O’Creagh’s Run. The old man sat by the porch with a book rested in his hands.

“Mm, not really…”. Arthur shook his head, joining him by the porch but not settling. He walked back and forth slowly, his hands threaded together behind him.

“What’s going on inside that head of yours, boy?” Hamish wondered and put the book aside.

Boy ?” Arthur laughed. “I’m getting quite old by now, if you hadn’t noticed”.

“If you’re old, then I must be ancient”.

The two men smiled at each other. Hamish had become like a father to Arthur and he wondered why he always felt like he needed a father figure in his life, almost desperately searching for one and not wanting to leave them behind as soon as he found one. He often thought about Rain Falls, having met with him two or three times over the years, almost prepared to follow him once.

Arthur knew he could have found his own place right after he had healed up all those years ago but he had made the choice to stay with Hamish. During his travels around the country, O’Creagh’s Run was always the home he found himself returning to, time and time again.

“Feeling a bit out of it, I guess…”, Arthur said. “Feeling some sort of emptiness. I don't know…”, he continued, shrugging his shoulders to the subject he thought was ridiculous for a man his age to speak of.

“I believe it would be good for you to find yourself a woman, build a family, don’t you think? It’s not too late, and it's a whole lot better than wasting your life on this miserable old bastard”, Hamish spoke, referring to himself.

“Now don't you start with that self deprecating of yours, we both know that's what I do best”, Arthur told with a humoured tone but realised the words had some truth in them. “And to answer your question…no, don’t want no woman. I’m passed that stage by now…”. Arthur had mentioned Eliza and Isaac. Once. Hamish had sensed Arthur’s reluctance to talk about them and hadn’t brought it up since. Arthur had never spoken about John either besides that time by the jetty and even then, he hadn’t told him the whole truth. Only referring to John as his brother and not as his lover.

Hamish nodded thoughtfully to his answer, never trying to make Arthur tell him more than he seemed willing to. Never feeling any need to. Arthur respected and appreciated that trait in the man, always feeling relaxed whenever they spoke.

“Then I rightly don't know what to do with you, Mr. Morgan”, Hamish spoke as he raised his brows and shook his head.

“Don’t need to do anything, Hamish. I like it here, always have. Don’t need nothing else”, Arthur mumbled as he lit a cigarette and took a long drag from it.

“If you say so”, Hamish answered and opened the book, his eyes drifting over the pages again.

Arthur settled on the steps to the porch and overlooked the lake, it was as still as ever and he should be happy, he thought. Most of the time, he was…okay…but he knew deep down what was missing and he could feel it more clearly ever since he had ‘run out’ of people to help, making him stay at O’Creagh’s Run more frequently these last few years.

Besides Hamish, another close friend Arthur had was Charlotte. A woman he had helped in her lowest point in life. Only a chance encounter in the woods as he was out hunting with Hamish one of the first times. She had practically been starving when they found her and she was in a deep state of…well, Arthur knew the feeling all too well. Had been in a similar state after Isaac.

Charlotte lived not too far away from here and the two had some sort of unspoken chemistry between them. It had been close one time that they had become something more. Sharing something deeper… but Arthur hadn’t gone through with it. Hadn’t wanted to. He had pulled away as she had pressed her lips to his. A part of Arthur was certain that if the circumstances had been any different he and Charlotte could just as easily have been each other's. But his heart belonged to John, always. He dreamed of him from time to time and it always left a bitter sweet sensation inside of him every time he unwillingly woke up from the dreams, forced to part from the soulmate he thought he could spend the rest of his days with.

“There’s a few letters for you inside, Mr. Callahan . On the kitchen table”, Hamish suddenly said, just now remembering it.

Arthur nodded and put the cigarette out before he heaved himself up. “Gonna make some coffee while I’m at it”.

“Sounds good, be there in a bit”, Hamish mumbled as answer.

There were two letters on the table and he smiled to himself while he settled on the chair to read Albert Mason’s. He put it aside when he was done, he was gonna write to him later. He was thinking about paying a visit to Charlotte tomorrow anyways, then he could post the letter from Annesburg when he was nearby.

Arthur opened the second letter and became confused while reading the first sentences. As he continued, not even halfway through, his hands started to shake and he dropped the letter, got up on his feet and backed away from the table as though the piece of furniture was something malicious.

He swallowed a few times as he ran his eyes back and forth in the kitchen. He hurried back to the letter and started to read it again.

 

Dear Arthur  

For my own peace of mind, I should have written this a long time ago. I promised that, didn’t I? You said to me that if we got separated, we would write each other, no matter what. Sorry it took me this long.

I can proudly tell you that I’ve become a rancher, just like you said I would. I have made a permanent home for myself, with the help of a few friends of ours we built a house together. My family is still by my side and we live near Blackwater now, as unbelievable as it may sound.

I still think about you even if I know I shouldn’t. I don't know what happened to you that night and it haunts me to this day. I think about the life I have, the one we always hoped for together and I feel myself become bitter as I know you were supposed to be here with us. With me.

It feels like a piece of my soul is fading away every day that passes without you and soon it will turn into nothingness. It wasn’t just you that died that night in the mountains, I did as well.

I know this letter will lead to nowhere. I write it mostly for myself and I know this and the several others will eventually be forgotten or tossed away as they will be claimed by no one.

Maybe, in another life, you will find me, just like you promised before I lost you forever. Still, I hope you found your peace, wherever you might have wandered.

Yours, always

Jim Milton

 

 

Arthur dropped the letter one more time as he put his elbows on the table and buried his face into the palms of his hands. His body started to shake unchecked as he couldn’t hold back the tears that had filled his eyes when he read John’s words.

After all this time…after all these years. Arthur released every bit of sorrow he had held inside him for so long and he cried in the purest state of despair, letting out all of the ugly and desperate sounds belonging to such a state. It couldn’t feel more real than this. The love, the longing, the loss of the life he could have had.

Hamish entered the cabin after ten minutes or so and scanned the inside until his eyes landed on a devastated Arthur.

“Arthur?” Hamish asked with a confused but gentle voice. He walked over to the kitchen and only stared at the other, not sure of what to do, given the past outlaw had never been in this state before. He patted Arthur on the shoulder as he wept like a baby. The younger man didn’t look up, he only let out a few awkward sounds as he cried into his hands, his back moving up and down in uneven movements from his equally uneven breaths.

Hamish’s eyes landed on the letter in front of Arthur and he looked at the man for a few seconds before he decided to examine it.

Arthur didn’t stop him from reading it or perhaps he didn’t even notice that Hamish had lifted it from the table. His eyes drifted over the words and when he was finished he only furrowed his brows and squeezed his hand a bit tighter at Arthur’s shoulder.

“Jim…that the brother you told me about?” Hamish asked very carefully. The letter seemed to have held a strong way of…affection but Hamish guessed that the brothers just deeply cared for one another.

Arthur sniffled several times, lifting his hands away from his face only to wipe them over his face and down his cheeks who held a reddish tone. “His name is… is...John…and he ain't my goddamn brother…”.

Hamish frowned in confusion as he pondered over how to formulate his next question.

When Arthur had gathered himself slightly he spoke quietly before Hamish had the time to continue. “Jim was just a name he used, just as Callahan…he was my brother in arms…before we became something else…we uhm, we were partners you could say…”.

Arthur struggled with getting the words out, he had never told anyone about his and John’s involvement with each other, everyone else had just found out and even then, none had talked much about it. He knew he didn’t need to tell Hamish about it, never had he wanted to. But eight years of keeping all of this to himself was quite a while and perhaps he needed to speak of him. If only to hear it himself. For his own sake.

Arthur glanced at Hamish, not being able to meet his eyes for too long. He could see that the old man didn’t quite follow. “You might want to shoot me, Hamish…”, Arthur let out and gave a quick and rushed laugh in insecurity before he gathered himself. He had always found being straightforward to be the best way so he took a deep breath. His face stilled as he said it. “I loved him…I did. And he loved me ”. Arthur nodded slowly to the words as he glanced at Hamish again, tears still filling his eyes. The old man gave an expression of realisation and Arthur couldn’t help but notice that Hamish lifted his hand away from his shoulder and slowly backed away from him. The small but significant detail made it all worse but Arthur still chose to continue. “We were uhm… together for a few months and it was… good …the best…but as the time passed, our gang fell apart and we were gonna leave together that night. It didn't end well. When I got wounded I told him to leave without me. He didn’t want to, I could see it… but he did and well…you know the rest”.

Arthur observed Hamish as the old man lowered himself slowly to sit on the chair opposite him, a frown still lingering on his face. Arthur sniffled and knew this would make Hamish push him away, he would throw him out or maybe even kill him. Even so, all that mattered for Arthur in that moment was to stay true to whatever person he had become, given how much he had sacrificed to finally become said person. To become the man he had never had the chance to be until now.

The minutes passed with no one saying anything. The forced atmosphere became almost tangible so the younger man spoke. “I’m gonna pack my things and go”, he told Hamish with a low voice and a lowered head. He took the letter in his hand and folded it carefully. He got up to his feet and was about to leave the small kitchen as Hamish stopped him.

“Arthur”.

He stopped in his steps, his back turned to the old man.

“I’m not gonna shoot you, Arthur…”, he told him with a sad tone in his voice while slowly shaking his head. Arthur turned around carefully, wiping the latest tears away from his face. “Hurts me you would believe such a thing of me… Besides…who else will want to hunt with me if not you...?” Hamish said, speaking in earnest while giving a reassuring smile to him.

Arthur returned a faint smile to the other man as he felt the relief he didn’t need sweep over him. “Thank you, Hamish…It means a lot...but I…I still have to go…I believe...I got a family waiting for me…”. Arthur almost frowned and didn't realise what he himself said but he welcomed the words with a new found happiness.

“Well, that went fast… ”, Hamish chuckled.

Arthur let out a short laugh as well, remembering what Hamish had suggested only twenty minutes ago.

 

-

 

“Guess you’ll forget all about me now”, Hamish said as Arthur mounted Buell.

“Would never do such a thing, Hamish, have a little faith will you? I’ll write you. I'll be back one day too”, Arthur told him in earnest. “You sure I can take him?” he continued, patting Buell on his head.

“All he ever does is buck me off. No…think I’m good with the missus over here”, Hamish said and patted the mare Arthur had bought a few years back, naming her Boadicea, in memory of the animal he’d lost before Iron . “Be safe now, Arthur”, Hamish spoke quietly.

“You too…and thank you…for all of it”.

Hamish only nodded and Arthur tipped the front of his hat to him before he turned Buell around and started his journey to Blackwater.

 

-

 

The letter, as heartbreaking as it was, had lit up a hope inside Arthur. He knew he hadn’t thought things through as he closed the distance each day to John and their love lost.

Arthur realised how little it took for him to make this new and completely unexpected choice. Reading his words that must have been written only a few weeks back revealed just how deeply John still cared for him even if he was a dead man in the other’s life.

He stopped several times on his way, finding himself in some sort of dilemma as his doubts made themselves acknowledged., He had made the choice of never returning to the family he hoped would be his and he had done it all for their own good. That’s at least what he had told himself up until a few days ago. Knowing that John was still hurting over him made him feel regretful of his choice all those years ago. It felt almost like it had been for nothing, given John hadn’t forgotten about him at all…hadn’t moved on from what they had shared. Arthur felt like he had wasted several years. For nothing.

No , he said to himself. No, these years hadn’t been for nothing. Eight years ago he had told himself he wasn’t a good man, the parting with the gang had made him realise that more than anything. Now…he at least felt that he had paid back to the world. He was content with what he had contributed with. He could never take back the things he had done but he had at least tried…Tried to set things right. He had done his best. Perhaps, if he hadn’t done all of this, he would’ve never been able to find...peace.

Arthur found himself at another crossroads. He knew he had done wrong by John, never reaching out to him, staying dead all these years. But perhaps it wasn’t too late for them. Maybe. He found himself going through the different scenarios that could play out when he found him. What would he say? What would John do? There was a possibility that his presence would be rejected. The thought alone made him feel terrified. But then again, it would be well deserved. For eight years he had made the biggest mistake in his life but at the same time he couldn’t call it that.

He knew he was being selfish. He knew he was doing this because he had felt he couldn’t stand another day being alone the last two or three years. The emptiness inside him needed to be filled and he couldn’t find that anywhere but home. Home for him would always be wherever John was and now…it was time to return. Even if only for a minute or two. Whatever decision John would make, he would accept it. John didn’t owe him shit. Just like he had said Arthur didn’t.

Arthur had been so deep in his thoughts he realised he had turned Buell into a stop. He was just staring into the distance and the road before him and he didn’t know for how long he had done so.

Jack would be twelve years old now, Arthur came to think of. He was certain that the child wouldn’t remember him by now and he believed it was for the best. He hadn’t forgotten about Jack, quite the opposite really. Every year that passed, Arthur reminded himself that it was another year he missed of the boy’s childhood. He would never get that, he realised. That part was too late. But it wouldn’t have to be from now on if John still wanted him. After everything.

Arthur let out a sigh before he started to ride again. Knowing this was the most foolish choice he could make but at the same time the very best.

 

Blackwater

John had written that they lived near Blackwater. It felt strange riding into the town. Last time Arthur had been here they had all fled for their lives from the ferry heist gone wrong. He hadn’t participated in the job and in all the turmoil, he had been forced to locate the gang afterwards.

He remembered how worried he was when John had disappeared, getting separated from the gang. It was a time when John wasn’t his and it felt strange knowing there had been such a time. Fortunately, he and Javier had been able to find him, both shot and mauled by wolves and alive against all odds. Much like the very last train job. To this day, Arthur believed John to be the toughest son of a bitch of them all. He would probably outlive each and everyone of them in the end.

Arthur didn’t know where he would start look for John but he knew it couldn’t be that hard. He needed to look for a ranch and he had already searched the area north of here. That meant John lived west or south from Blackwater. He felt elated knowing he was so close to him . At the same time he felt more nervous than he had ever been before.

He dismounted Buell and hitched him to one of the many posts in the center of Blackwater. He looked and smelled like some sort of wild man and he didn’t believe it would help his cause in any way. He had to locate the barber’s.

“Want me to take the hair too?” the man asked after he had shaved off the thick beard Arthur had been keeping for years.

Arthur only stared at the barber in the mirror by the question. He had gotten used to the way his long hair had framed his face for so long. He remembered when he had the length during his and John’s time together. It had been the happiest of times. The peak of their relationship. A time where the both of them had the opportunity to just study each other's faces after they had made love…or when they sneaked out of camp only to let the other one know how much they cared for the other. Whispering soft words, giving reassuring smiles, all while speaking with their eyes the words they hadn’t at that time. He remembered how often John brushed his fingers through his hair. Always before they kissed, always afterwards. Always when he could.

“No”, he answered. “You leave it be”.

Afterwards, he paid for a bath to wash away all the grime and layers of dried in sweat from the several days on the road. He put on some clean clothes as well and he couldn’t quite recognize himself in his reflection from the many buildings’ windows as he passed them.

“You know of a Jim Milton living around these parts, Mister?” he asked the bartender in the saloon. The place was quiet. It was only afternoon and it seemed as though they had barely opened, some of the chairs still up on the tables.

“Milton…no, can't say that I have. Sorry”.

“Well, you know of any ranches nearby?”

“There's one just west of here. A nice feller bought the land earlier this year. But I don't think he’s the one you’re looking for. His name’s John, not Jim”.

“John…?”

“Marston. He comes in a few times a week. Lives in Beecher’s Hope”.

Arthur stared at the man. John used his real name nowadays. Huh.

“Sorry I couldn’t help you”.

“Oh, you’ve helped me plenty”, Arthur said and nodded to him before he left the place.

 

-

 

Arthur sat on Buell and overlooked the ranch from a distance. He felt himself get cold feet the closer he got. He became afraid of what would happen next and cursed to himself for being so cowardice.

He stalled for a long while, letting Buell move in a slow walk, all while going through what to say to John. He moved on the roads surrounding the ranch but never closing the distance to it.

“You damn fool…”, he murmured with frustration. He got off Buell and paced back and forth while rubbing his face with one hand. “Stupid…”, he continued. His words incoherent and saying them only to get the edge off.

Arthur put his hands on his hips and lowered his head. Before him was the ranch, he could see it in the distance. All he needed to do was start walking.

After going through everything in his head one final time, he put one foot in front of the other as he held on to Buell’s reins. He took it very slowly, both excited and terrified of what was to come.

Halfway there, deep in his thoughts, he missed the silent steps that sneaked on him a bit back.

“Who goes there!” a hoarse and very familiar voice suddenly shouted.

Arthur turned into a complete stop, realising whose voice it was. He would always recognize it, even in a crowd of a hundred others.

Chapter Text

Beecher's Hope, 1907 

“John! Wake up!”

John believed the voice to be just another part of some tragic dream he often found himself having. He wasn’t quite prepared that the voice would wake him up from a dream he wasn't even in. Instead, it had been feeling like he was floating in nothingness, almost as if he was drifting through blank space.

He knew that voice…and he knew he had loved the person the voice belonged to, he knew he still loved him. As he slowly drifted back into consciousness, he could hear him more vividly and he tried his very best to blink his eyes open.

When he managed to do so, he was met by him gazing down. Arthur’s face...Worry filling every part of it. That beautiful…beautiful face with those very blue eyes. The bluest he knew.

In his state of half awake, half unconscious, he could hear the other man ask him if he was okay. “I’m fine”, he answered and managed to give a weak smile as the other mumbled something about how much John had scared him.

He wasn’t fine. His body was a wreck, he was cold sweating, shaking and feeling weaker than he’d ever been. But he didn’t care one bit, all that mattered in that moment was the man whose lap he had his head rested on. Up until now, he was afraid he had imagined it all…but feeling the other man pressed to himself made him certain he hadn’t. As unbelievable as it was. 

As he was being held by the person he thought he’d lost forever in another life, he couldn’t help but cling onto him, grabbing at every part within his reach. He held onto Arthur’s arm as the older man’s hand caressed his cheek, all while begging for Arthur to not leave him.

The golden haired man lowered himself and embraced him, his gentle hands helping John to sit up properly. When he sat in his new position, John hugged Arthur tighter while burying his face to his shoulder.

“Stay…”, John whispered.

Arthur tightened his wrapped arms around the younger man. “Not going anywhere ‘less you want me to”.

John pulled away to take in the view of Arthur, his face turning anxious and serious equally. “Ain't gonna lose you again, Arthur”, he said and shook his head with a form of determination.

“You're not going to”, the older man answered before he moved his face closer to press their lips together.

John let out a moan by the sudden kiss placed on his lips. He had sadly forgotten Arthur’s taste the years without him but in that very moment, he could remember everything. Every touch they had given each other so long ago… He could almost relive every moment they had shared and whatever emotion belonging to each of said moments, all at once.

Arthur pulled away slowly and only brushed his thumb over John’s cheek again. The younger man smiled, their lips still so close they could almost feel them.

Arthur had been quite worried as John had passed out and even if the man assured him he was fine he didn’t really looked like he was. He looked like he was running a fever and was trying his best to not collapse again.

No one knew how much time passed as they only carefully watched each other, sitting as close as possible to the other. None of the men uttered a word and both cherished the moment equally.

Despite this newfound happiness and life changing event, John had a thousands of questions to ask the other. Things he knew he needed an answer to and most of all he wanted an explanation to where the other had been all this time…the thought of it made him anxious but the effect of seeing him again was stronger. For now, he only wanted to be with him…to feel happy again…

In all the turmoil he couldn’t help but feel ashamed he had forgotten about his son as he remembered their little fight earlier. How he had spoken to him...He needed to sit down and talk with him after all this...

As John pondered over the new situation he found it most ironic that the reason he and Jack had gotten into a fight in the first place was because of his refusal to speak of Arthur over the years. And now…the man was actually here, breathing and everything and Jack didn’t even know who Arthur had been or really meant for them all so long ago. It was his own fault, John figured, taking away Jack’s right to get some answers. And now…he had to tell Jack everything this very evening…he couldn’t hide Arthur anymore, didn’t want to, and he sure wasn’t gonna send the man on his way when he just got here…not even for a minute.

A part of John wanted the other all for himself for now, maybe ride away with him for the night and make a small camp someplace where they could manage to focus on nothing but each other. But he knew the others had the right to know about Arthur as well. And he was sure Arthur wanted to see them also, especially Jack…No, he would have to bring him inside, better to get it over with. John himself felt pretty shaken up by everything and perhaps it was better that they all welcomed Arthur together in this fragile moment he didn’t know if he could handle on his own. He had absolutely no idea how any of them would react to Arthur’s unbelievable return…and most of all he didn’t know how his son would handle the situation, given how little knowledge he actually had of their past with Arthur.

“We can head inside…if you want…”, John finally suggested after a long while and gestured with his head in the direction of his house further away.

Arthur only blinked at him and looked over to the house whose windows lit up the darkness. “You sure?” he carefully asked. “John…What about Jack?…I’m not so sure of what to say to him. He won’t even remember me…”. Arthur mumbled the last sentence to himself.

John observed the other man for a few moments, thinking about how to formulate himself properly. “Ain’t gonna lie…he doesn't know that much about you. I’ve seen to it…It’s my fault”, John admitted with his eyes lowered, avoiding to meet the other’s as if a shame filled his body.

Arthur nodded slowly to John’s words. He felt a bit saddened by it but also…relieved, perhaps. He didn’t really know. He had chosen to not come back at all a long time ago, wanting Jack to grow up without Arthur Morgan for his own future good. Now he had come back, not properly thinking things through about what impact it could have on the Marston’s after all these years. He became more and more unsure of John’s suggestion.

“What if you and me ride into Blackwater instead? Maybe it’s not good for the boy…seeing me after all this time. It’ll be confusing for him and-”.

“Don’t you want to see him?” John asked with an unsteady voice, interrupting him in the middle of his sentence.

Arthur opened his mouth, forming words but not saying them. If only he knew how much he wanted to see Jack…how much he wanted to hold him in his arms. To see if his face looked like he had imagined. To tell him how much he had missed him. To ask about the years he had missed out on… He didn’t say anything of it so he closed his mouth and only met John with his wavering eyes.

“He’s asked about you a whole lot”, John continued. “Maybe he doesn't remember you all that much but he haven’t forgotten you, that's for sure…”. The last words came out almost in a whisper and he moved even closer to Arthur, holding his hand in his shaking one.

After a few long and quiet moments, Arthur swallowed, choosing to put his doubts aside for now and giving in to what he truly wanted. He couldn’t afford to deny himself that anymore. “Let’s head inside then”, he said with a faint smile before he lifted himself up and reached his hand down to the other who gladly accepted the help.

When they were on their feet, Buell looked at Arthur with what could be described as boredom and he walked over to the animal. “You okay, boy?” he said and patted the brute on its head.

“We can put him with the others”, John stated and whistled at Rachel who he had almost forgotten about. He started to take a few shaky steps towards the ranch.

The younger man unknowingly distanced himself as they unsaddled the horses inside the barn, the questions continuing to gnaw at him. Questions only Arthur could give answers to and there were simply too many thoughts and mixed feelings taking over him from the older man coming back to him.

When they headed for the house, they walked side by side very slowly. Both could feel the atmosphere between them turn somewhat strained as the older man brushed his fingers over the other’s and John didn’t respond, seeming very absent in his thoughts. Arthur’s hand fell back to its previous position by his side and he didn’t show the disappointment he felt from the lack of contact. He couldn’t blame the other man. He must be very confused, given how close they had been no more than ten minutes ago. Arthur knew John was pondering. And he had a good sense about what. He was a bit surprised John hadn’t brought it up after he had awoken. Maybe John was just as afraid as he himself was feeling from giving the answers the younger man sought.

He couldn’t deny how nervous he felt about meeting Jack again. Abigail too, really. As they stood on the porch, Arthur grabbed at John’s arm before the latter lifted it to open the door. “Just want you to know that I…”, he started, struggling with getting the words out.

John only raised one brow, waiting for him to continue.

“I know you probably want an explanation about what happened that night…and after… And I’m gonna give it to you…but before that, I just want you to know that…you were always in my thoughts, John. You and Jack both...just… remember that, will you…”. Arthur looked at the other man carefully, waiting for an answer…any answer.

John gave a hollow smile, looking more and more exhausted with each second that passed. “I believe we do have a lot to talk about…”, he said with a neutral face. “But we’ve just found each other, Morgan. Why don't we hold on to that…if only for a moment”. As he spoke them, John realised he probably needed to hear those words more than Arthur.

Arthur tried to swallow the lump in his throat as those dark eyes pierced his own, impossible to read in that moment. He finally nodded, lowering his eyes. John opened the door to his house.

 

-

 

John had told him to wait in the hallway as he made his way to his family who he found in the living room. Jack and Abigail sat in the couch, she was knitting and the boy sat with a book in his hands.

“Where have you been, John? You missed dinner…”, Abigail said with a scolding voice, putting the needles and ball of yarn away on the table with an irritated motion. “What happened to you? You look like you’ve seen a ghost”, she said as she looked up at him properly. John didn’t respond, thinking about how fitting her claim was.

“Ma, I already told you we were out hunting, far from here. I headed back earlier, didn't find it that fun”.

John frowned at his son. The boy hadn’t told her about their fight and he was covering for him as well, given they had only been in Tall Trees which was very near and not far away as he’d put it. Jack did it without knowing where his father really had been and perhaps he did so to spare himself the scolding part from Abigail just as much. John tilted his head slightly to the side as Jack met his questioning eyes. They exchanged a few looks like only father and son knew and John could see that Abigail drifted her eyes over the two, knowing something was kept hidden from her. She also noticed John hadn't brought in anything they had allegedly hunted for. Even so, she didn’t question further, she only sighed and muttered something about what she would do with the two of them.

“Where’s the others?” John asked and wiped away the pearls of sweat from his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt. His body was still shaking somewhat but he did his best to conceal it, supporting himself with one hand to the back of a chair.

“Charles rode out with Sadie, she was looking for you a couple of hours ago but you weren’t here so…”.

Arthur listened to the exchange of words from his spot and he felt elated to hear Jack’s voice. Abigail’s too. It felt just as heavy as he had imagined it would and they didn’t even know he was here yet.

He felt happy to hear the names of Charles and Sadie, knowing they had made it here as well. Up until then, he hadn’t realised how much he had missed them. Charles and Sadie had practically been his only friends in the end and losing them both due to his change of life had caused an emptiness just as much.  

“It’s been a good day for Uncle, said he had spent the day outside for once. He’s resting now though”, Abigail continued.

Uncle? That old bastard was here too? Arthur thought. During different circumstances maybe he could have managed to laugh, happy that the old man was all alive and well.  

John nodded as Abigail went on. He wasn’t really hearing her, only thinking about what to tell them instead.

No use in waiting, he guessed. He could almost hear his rapid heartbeats, given how violently he felt his heart pound in his chest. When Abigail expected John to answer whatever question she had asked, he only stayed silent and turned to look at his son again, slowly taking the few shaky steps over to him. He lowered himself to his knees before him and Jack only frowned at him.

There was silence for a few long moments, the boy unsure on how to meet his father and the sudden seriousness in his face. Abigail’s eyes followed his movements and she raised her brows as John kept ignoring her, seeming very unfocused. John watched his son, drifting his eyes over the young face riddled with so many questions. “You asked me about Arthur…”, he finally said.

Jack’s eyes widened, as did Abigail’s. John had told her to not mention Arthur in front of their son and she had reluctantly agreed, avoiding the subject whenever Jack brought it up.

“...said that if I wanted to be a better father I could start by telling the truth…”, John continued, speaking slowly to his son.

Jack could only stare at his father.

“John…”, Abigail tried, noticing John wasn't quite himself in that moment. He wouldn’t listen. He only glanced at her, giving her a look that begged her not to interfere.

“You know where we come from, Jack…You know what life we left behind, ain't that right?” John asked his son in the more rhetorical way.

Jack nodded. His parents hadn’t kept that a secret during his time growing up. Even if they had, he would have found out sooner or later. How else do you explain moving around several times a year and changing your names whenever they came to a new town? Jack wasn’t stupid but there were other things he simply didn’t know. Things he had asked about without being given an answer. He realised that his father was about to open up to him and finally tell him of the mysterious man Jack only remembered fragments of.

“When I rode with that gang…there was this man… Arthur. Me and him, we...we were very close and he looked after you just as much when you were a child...just like you were his own”. Something shifted in Jack’s face. Almost like he remembered something when John spoke the last sentence. Jack knew he had heard those words somewhere but he couldn’t remember from where or when.

“You’ve always called him your uncle but he wasn’t... not really. Not by blood at least”. John took a pause and studied Jack’s face, trying to find any sign that told him to stop. He found none and decided to continue after a few moments. “Arthur was family to us and when we had to leave that life behind...he was going to come with us...but he didn’t… he got hurt and me and him got separated”.

Arthur swallowed, closing his eyes as he listened to John telling the boy about that night…about him. Without thinking about it, he had been making his way closer to the living room from his spot, taking slow steps through the small hallway lit up only by the kerosene lamps on the walls.

John’s eyes had become wet but he wasn’t crying. Jack watched him with his mouth slightly agape, not quite prepared for any of this. Abigail held her hand over her mouth as she witnessed the exchange between father and son, knowing just how much this meant for both of them.

“For years, I thought he was dead. We all did”.

John could see in the corner of his eye that Abigail flinched, not understanding what he was meaning. He glanced between her and Jack, both of them waiting for a better explanation. “I didn’t know, Abigail…”, he whispered and rested his tear-filled eyes on hers. “I didn’t know but now I do…”, he stated with a low voice, directing his words to both of them.

Abigail frowned and tried to form any word. She felt more than confused by John’s strange behaviour and she could sense that something had happened with him, for better or worse. She had no idea what John was saying and she could only frown at him, begging him to go on.

From his position, Arthur supported himself with a hand to the wall. He knew he had avoided this for too long but a part of him felt like running away, once more afraid he would only mistreat the family that could have been his. That the sheer presence from him would stain the boy with everything bad in this world and destroying his innocence. He knew he didn’t deserve to be here but he also knew he couldn’t leave now and certainly not again. He wanted to be here…It was everything he had ever wanted but hadn’t allowed himself to have. He took a deep breath and decided to not drag things out longer than necessary.

John wanted Arthur to stay behind only for a moment. Enough so he could speak with Jack. So the boy could understand, if only a fragment of it all. He had been keeping this from him for far longer than he had the right to. He realised that now. But seeing the look on Jack’s face made him wonder if it still hadn’t been too early. He sometimes forgot that Jack was only twelve, he both acted and felt like he was much older. But the truth was , he was only a child and John felt worried that all of this would come too sudden for him. Maybe he hadn’t thought things through. It wasn’t too late to wait... He could meet Arthur another day, John thought but it was abruptly interrupted.

“Arthur…”, Abigail whispered. John closed his eyes and lowered his head, he didn’t have to turn around to know the other man had made his way to them even if he had told him to wait.

John watched Jack, making sure he was alright by this. The boy only stared at the man but didn’t seem too affected by Arthur’s presence so John lifted himself up to his feet and faced Arthur as well.

Abigail slowly raised herself from the couch, her eyes never leaving Arthur’s face. The woman always held some unspoken power over him and Arthur didn’t dare to meet her eyes…But when she asked him to look at her, he did. He expected an angry look on her face and perhaps a slap to his cheek but he was only met by a gentle smile and tear-filled eyes as she walked over to him. “You’re alright…”, she whispered almost inaudibly. Arthur closed his eyes as she hugged him. The touch did so much for him in that moment, like a weight lifted from his shoulders… To learn that his return was welcomed from her side too. When she pulled away she rested both hands to his cheeks and only studied him for a few long moments, almost like she was making sure he was really there. He could see sadness in her eyes even if she smiled beautifully to him. He smiled back at her and watched her through his own teary eyes and rested his hand on top of one of hers. After a while of shared silence, Abigail stepped aside and turned her head to Jack who hadn’t moved an inch.

Arthur felt like the world stopped as the child that once had been as his son met his eyes. John watched them closely but stayed in the background, backing away to settle on a chair. He hadn’t felt how lightheaded he had become again from it all and he closed his eyes for a moment. He opened them as soon as he could hear Jack get up from his sitting position in the couch.

The boy looked at Arthur with several expressions on his face all at once. Jack frowned, trying to make sense of the new situation and this new…reality. For years, he hadn’t become any wiser when it came to his uncle, or whatever he had been... Now, everything had dropped down on him within minutes. The boy and the older man studied each other for the longest time, getting familiar with the other’s face. Both getting to know the face belonging to a family member which only one of them knew the history to.

Eventually, Jack broke eye contact. Those eyes were so intense blue and a part of him felt afraid of the rough man before him. As if he stared too long, the man would be able to kill him only with his eyes. But he felt something else…something more…as if the sight of him awakened emotions within him he couldn’t quite describe. He felt something familiar but at the same time estranged.

Jack felt a gentle hand on his shoulder, carefully giving it a squeeze. He welcomed his mother’s soothing touch and when he looked at her she only gave a reassuring smile, telling him without words that it was okay. Abigail encouraged her son and looked over to the golden haired man.

Jack nodded and took a few careful steps towards the man. He was pretty big and tall just like his father but the older man had a much broader frame, all in all. The boy’s eyes wavered as he tried to make contact with the man who only seemed to study every inch of his face. As he dared to meet the man’s eyes again, he decided to really take a look at his face and soon he could see things more clearly.

The man that was Arthur looked at him with nothing but kind eyes and with a faint but warm smile. He wasn’t so intimidating as he first had felt. Ever since he had entered the room, Jack noticed he had kept his head slightly lowered, almost as if he was ashamed about something. Jack didn’t feel so afraid in that moment and he didn’t back away when the man stepped closer to him.

“Jack…I…I…”. Arthur couldn't speak more than that. He bit on the inside his lip, almost grinding with his teeth as he struggled with holding back the tears starting to burn in his eyes. He wished he could say something. Anything.

John observed them, following Arthur’s movement as the latter opened his arms and Jack responded by leaning into his embrace. John had a hard time breathing as he watched them. God he could really use some air, he thought. But still, he stayed, not wanting to miss any part of the much needed exchange between them.

Jack only let his arms hang at his sides at first, his face pressed to the area between Arthur’s chest and shoulder. He raised his arms and returned the hug that seemed to mean very much for the rough man who almost squeezed the air out of him. For Jack, this was more confusing than fulfilling. Even so, he couldn’t deny the mixed emotions within him as they hugged, knowing that the feeling of the man was familiar, as well as the smell of him. He knew he recognized it all without even remembering it.

Very few words had been uttered since Arthur stepped into the room and it wasn't all that strange, given how no one had the ability to. John still watched the two from the background and he and Abigail exchanged a look that no one made the effort to read. All of them were only here. Together in this moment.

 

-

 

At Beecher’s Hope, they lit up the campfire some evenings, the same one that all of them had practically slept at before the house was finished. Those evenings they were singing around it and staying up late just like the old days. But this evening was like none of them for they had gotten back a member to their family.

Around the burning fire, there had been a few laughs as Abigail and Jack kept telling Arthur about some fun memories from their travels over the years, telling him of everything he had missed. Arthur found himself to not be able to stop smiling as he listened to Jack, given the pure joy of seeing the child again made him somewhat overwhelmed. He drifted his eyes over to John from time to time, the latter being somewhat of a riddle this night. They didn’t sit next to each other, rather opposite. Arthur felt hurt by the other distancing himself but accepted it nonetheless, knowing he had expected something far worse than this upon his return. So he didn’t press on, leaving John be for now, giving him the time to process it all. Arthur gladly welcomed the others’ stories, drifting the attention to the real matter further away from himself.

Uncle had woken up from his sleep and had moved downstairs only to be met by the sight of none other than Arthur Morgan. He had been surprised at first and none of them had uttered a word upon seeing each other. It hadn’t taken long before Uncle had started to laugh almost hysterically, not denying how happy he was to see the younger man. Arthur had actually given him a smile for once.

When they had been in the gang, Uncle and Arthur weren’t two to get along all that easily. Arthur was always hard on him, frequently scolding him for how little he found Uncle to pull his weight to their family.

He knew he could be lazy sometimes but most of all Uncle knew he had a problem with his drinking, hell he had been having said problem most of his life. But he always tried to stay cheerful, even in the darkest of days.

The old man looked around the small family. The fire was very much alive and he couldn’t have wanted it any other way in that moment. His back had healed as best it could and wasn’t aching as much in that moment.

He could see that John was watching Arthur. Uncle knew the two of them had some relation back in the days, as strange as it was. He wondered what would happen now when Arthur had made his way back to the younger man.

John found himself to switch between staring at Arthur and staring into the fire. It was past midnight and only a few hours ago, Arthur had returned to them all. His body hadn’t reacted that well, feeling like it was shutting down… betraying him. He felt okay now, given his body and mind had gotten what was needed to reach a calm.

It had been strange at first, seeing his son getting familiar with Arthur after all these years, the man nothing but a stranger to the boy but both of them sharing a bond Jack still could sense. John saw that his son was trying to get to know the older man, he looked eager and acted like any child does whenever they got excited about something or someone.  

All of them forced to adjust to the new and sudden situation, they all had talked some more inside the house in order to get familiar with Arthur again. But not John. He kept in the background and only listened, despite he should be the happiest one of them all. Arthur had tried to seek contact, he could see the desperation in his eyes but John wouldn’t give in for now. He felt a bit out of it, not really knowing why he did it at the same time he knew exactly why. Besides, Arthur was a bit busy with all of the others in the family seeking his attention, none of them shy of showing their happiness or interest in him being back. Uncle had said this needed to be celebrated and here they were, all of them sitting gathered round the fire with bottles of liquor being passed around. Even so, Uncle and John were the ones doing most of the drinking.

As their laughing faded out, Abigail addressed the issue that no one had brought up yet in all the celebration. The issue that had occupied John’s mind the whole evening. “So…what really happened that night, Arthur, when we got out...?” she asked. “And why did they say you was dead?”

Everyone became quiet by her question and turned their focus on Arthur.

“Yeah, why didn’t you come back to us?” Jack continued.

Arthur swallowed and lowered his eyes. He could see in the corner of his eye that John was observing him, probably waiting for a good explanation. The younger man had been very quiet the hours that had passed and Arthur could see why.

The older man sighed heavily, knowing this was inevitable. He couldn’t just show up and expect people to just go along with it. Of course he would have to tell them. He only wished it could wait a little longer so he could enjoy the moment a bit more. He didn’t know what the outcome would be and he was more than afraid that John wouldn’t forgive him this time. Or more like he wouldn’t understand him. Understand his reasons.

Arthur started to speak, trying to postpone the matter. “Well, it's getting pretty late and it’s gonna take some time-”.

“Oh we have more than enough…”, John interrupted. “Considering how long we’ve waited”. Arthur met his eyes with his surprised ones. John sounded bitter. But what could he expect? The man was probably coming down from his high of seeing him again and now reality waited and with it, an explanation from his side. Arthur glanced at the bottle in John’s hand and then back to his face. The younger man looked defiant and he wouldn’t break eye contact even when he took a swig from the bottle. He almost seemed to challenge him.

The quiet moment consisting of some sort of stare down between the two went on longer than necessary and Arthur ended it by looking away from him and give a nod, agreeing to tell them of the years that had passed. He stared into the burning fire and took a deep breath.

“Micah Bell got in the way that night”, he began.

 

-

 

John bit his teeth when Arthur had finished telling them of the night in the mountains and his years apart from them afterwards. Abigail stared into the dying fire and Jack’s eyes were wide open in awe from Arthur’s story. Uncle stayed quiet, knowing when even his jokes couldn’t ease up the situation.

Arthur tried to seek contact with John but none was given to him. Not even a minute had passed since he had stopped speaking but it was enough to learn John didn’t take it very well.

John nodded to himself as he breathed audibly through his nose, trying to accept what he had just heard. He didn’t manage and he heaved himself up from the log and threw the empty bottle to the dusty ground, giving Arthur a look almost as a warning afterwards. Jack jumped slightly by the sudden sound of glass being shattered and his eyes followed his father's movement as the latter turned around and headed for the house with a lowered head. Arthur didn’t know if he should go after him or if it was best to give him some space.

Uncle met Arthur’s eyes with sympathy. He couldn’t say he was agreeing with Arthur’s choice of not coming back to his family, given the history they had. But he could understand it, respect it. “Things will work out in the end, Arthur. John’s always been sour but he’ll come around. Don’t you worry about that”, he only said.

Arthur stared at him with an incredulous look on his face, feeling that Uncle’s words did nothing to help his situation.

“You’re really something, Arthur Morgan…”, Abigail spoke with a low voice. Arthur could see she was more than mad at him.

“Abigail, I’m sorry…”, Arthur tried.

“Ain’t me who does the forgiving”, she said coldly.

Arthur felt low in that moment. Feeling his presence was very unwanted.

“Oh what is it with you men…”, she exclaimed angrily. “Go. Talk to him, goddamnit”, she ordered, making Arthur more than surprised.

Arthur looked around the group for a few moments before he excused himself, following the younger man inside.

 

-

 

He called his name inside the house but wasn’t given any reply. Eventually, he found him in what he assumed was John’s bedroom, the latter leaning against the wall next to the window, expecting him.  

Arthur slowed down his steps until he turned into a stop. He closed the door after him and the two of them were all alone in the dark and quiet room. John huffed, fishing up a cigarette as he observed the older man’s movement.

“That’s quite an adventure you’ve had, Morgan”, he said and let out a smile with no happiness in it. “Wanna know what I've been up to all these years?” he continued as he lit the cigarette with a match, taking a few long drags from it as he waited.

Arthur looked away from him, the corner of his mouth twitching slightly.

When John didn’t get a response, he continued, not holding back any of the sorrow he felt and spoke with a very somber tone. “I thought you was dead, Arthur. Eight years I thought you was…I mourned you. Mourned what we had…and I blamed myself every goddamn day, believing it was my fault you got killed. My fault that you weren’t with us. Now you’ve come, telling us that the reason you weren’t with us was because you didn’t even wanted to…”. John laughed with no humor causing it.

“Don’t twist my words, John…you know it ain't like that. I wanted to be with you…with Jack… At that time, I only thought my choice was for the best and-”.

“Well you was wrong … ”, John interrupted with a whisper, looking like he was about to break any second.

“I’m sorry…”, Arthur whispered back. “I’m sorry for breaking my promise to you... That I didn’t find you all… I regret that part. I regret that we lost them years together”, he spoke with desperation.

John tried to swallow the lump in his throat, trying his very best to not give in to the other man. Arthur took a few careful steps, trying to get closer to him. John only remained in his spot by the window, not even trying to move away.

“I hated myself, hated the man I had become…I knew it was because of the gang, of that life…what I did to some people…”, Arthur shook his head as he remembered it all one more time. “After, I found myself answering to the wrongs I had done. I told myself that I was no good for any of you. I believed it, still do. And I wasn’t good to you, John...hell…I tried to kill you in the beginning…over what? Because you punched me?” Arthur let out a huff and shrugged his shoulder once, like he couldn't believe he had been able to do something like that, which he in fact couldn't. “And that time by the lake, I…I…”. Arthur shook his head again, finding it difficult to finish the sentence.

“Just...don't… I don't want to hear of that”, John begged, pushing away the memory. Arthur did as he asked and only continued with taking a few more steps until they were within reach to each other.

“I couldn’t be with you. I just couldn’t. Not then”, Arthur stated shortly.

“What makes you think you can now, then?” John asked with sudden coldness in his voice, meeting the other’s hurt eyes with his own defiant ones. He tossed his cigarette out through the half opened window before he continued. “What makes you think I even want you? After all of... this? …after all this time …?”

“I don't expect anything from you, John…I only hope that you’ll forgive me… hoping that maybe…it’s not too late...for us … Despite what we’ve lost”. Arthur reached out his hand to hold one of John’s in it. He rolled his thumb over it, hoping that John would answer the touch in any way.

He thought he could see a part of John give in as they only stared deeply into each other's eyes, their faces moving closer to the other’s without really thinking about it. Standing so close to him, Arthur could smell the liquor over all of John but he didn’t think about it further. Arthur found the younger man to breathe a little faster as he positioned himself with his hands rested on the wall on either side of John’s body, making the latter press his back against the wall a bit harder. Arthur looked him over, almost as asking for permission. John didn’t try to move away from him, he only rested his eyes on Arthur’s lips, seeming to want him to make the next move. Arthur closed the last distance and leaned in for a kiss but John turned his face away, rejecting him.

“Things will never be the same between us”, John stated, shoving one of Arthur’s arms away to be able to pass by him. “Not after what you’ve done, leaving us all”, he mumbled

Arthur was afraid of this. Had been expecting it after all. “I only wish you could understand…”, Arthur let out, more to himself. He shouldn’t have, because the words lit up a raging fire within the other man.

John huffed and stared at him, deciding to let out all the bitterness inside of him. “Understand what , exactly? Understand why you did what you did?” he asked. “You really believe all those years of redemption made you a different man, huh?” he continued with a dangerous tone in his voice, almost begging for the other to take a swing at him. “I know you… and you know me. That’s what you said to me a long time ago, remember? And you want to know what I think?”

Arthur wanted to stop the other before it turned into an ugly fight but he couldn’t manage. He wanted to hear what the other had to say, despite how raw it would be.

John was seeking out the parts of Arthur that would hurt the most, wanting to cause as much damage as possible. “I believe you’re just the same. The same man that robbed people blind…shot them dead without any reason…shooting a fist at someone only for the laugh of it”. John walked slowly to him and whispered into his ear as he got there. “And I don't think you wanted to be with me at all. You try to tell yourself that you’ve changed but I don't think you have. You’re still the Arthur Morgan I know. Just as I am still the John Marston you know. Men like us…we don't get better, as much as we like to believe we can”. John kept his gaze at Arthur’s profile, shaking his head to his words as to amplify their meaning. “You always said you weren’t a good man. And I realised today how fucking right you was”. John gave him one last cold look before he turned away from him and walked over to the nightstand by his bed. He opened the drawer with one aggressive motion and pulled out a small bottle of unknown liquor. He settled on the bed with his back turned to Arthur, shutting him out completely.

Arthur had hit a new low from John’s words, realising that perhaps the other was right. Perhaps he always would remain the same as much as he had worked to become different. To become better. He didn’t want to give up on them but he knew nothing would come out of this. At least not tonight.

“I left out a small detail”, Arthur told him as he fumbled with the piece of paper in his pocket. John didn’t respond or had any intention of doing so as Arthur spoke. He ignored the other, only lifting the bottle to his lips and consumed the content in it.

“It was your letter that made me come back...I’ve got it here”, Arthur continued with an unsteady voice. He could see John flinch as he mentioned it. “Knowing that you still cared for me, despite everything…In that moment I knew I had to try. Try to get back what we had…even if I knew you’d hate me”. John turned his head slightly, enough so he could see Arthur in the corner of his eye. “Just give us time, John…I’m begging you…”, the older man finally said, the last words to the matter by the looks of it.

John wiped away the tears that had escaped him. He blinked quickly, not sure of what to answer to such a plea. He told himself he hated Arthur. Hated the way he had decided for them all those years ago.

John did understand Arthur’s reasons despite how much he chose to resist with accepting them. He resisted because there was nothing else he felt he could do for himself. He could never forgive Arthur for this…even if he made sense. He felt drained and knew the other must be as well, looking just as exhausted as he felt and John knew that he himself would never be reasonable in this state. He knew he was slipping…losing control of himself like so many times before. And again, it had everything to do with Arthur Morgan.

He had lied when he said that men like them would never get better…and that Arthur was still the same. He didn’t feel that way, didn’t believe it either, he was only meaning to hurt the other just as he had hurt him. But it would never be enough, John thought. What Arthur had done to him, consciously letting him believe he was dead, John wouldn’t have it in him to cause that kind of pain to anyone.

He should probably ask for Arthur to be on his way. To leave him alone and denying him the life they once hoped to have together. It was what Arthur deserved after all, no doubt.

But being John Marston, he was never able to turn his back on the other, not even after something like this. As he and Arthur gazed into the other’s eyes through their tears he almost missed what he himself said. “You can sleep in Charles’ bed for now. I don't think he’ll be back for a couple of days…”. John knew Charles wouldn't be back for a few days. John had missed out on their ride to Strawberry to find Cleet. If Arthur hadn't been here, he would have ridden after them straight away but he couldn't manage to do so given the circumstances.

Arthur closed his eyes in relief, realising that John was giving them a chance. “Thank you...”.

John gave a simple nod to him before he turned his head away, fumbling with the bottle in his hands. “Could use some extra hands before this place could be called a ranch anyways. Lots of things that needs to be done around here”, he mumbled, not making it too obvious a part of him wanted Arthur to stay. 

Arthur nodded despite the fact that John couldn't see it. “I'll pull my weight…”, he said instead, letting the younger man know he would do just about anything for him. When John remained silent, he prepared to turn around and leave him.

“Hey, Morgan”, John called right before he slipped out through the door. Arthur couldn't help but hope that John had changed his mind and wanted him to stay and share his bed with him for the night. John heaved himself up from the bed and walked over to the wardrobe placed in the corner of the room. Arthur couldn't see what John was reaching for but his heart skipped a beat as the younger man closed the door of the furniture and he was finally able to see what John had been fumbling with. He walked over to Arthur to where he was standing by the doorway. “Thought you might want it”, the dark haired man stated with a completely different voice this time. He was being respectful. “You uhm…said I should hold on to it…Until you got back to me, so…”.

Arthur stared at the hat John held out to him, touched by the man’s gesture of putting aside his own hurt for now…for this.

“Besides…I know it belonged to your father…not that I uhm...believe he means anything for you…but still…I know it's important to you…so here”. John rested his eyes on the floor as he spoke, missing the hundreds of emotions sweeping over the older man's face.

Arthur finally lifted his hands up to accept the hat that belonged to him. His fingers brushed over John’s as they got there and he couldn't help but keep them there. He started caressing his hand more deeply and Arthur watched the other man’s face more closely as to be prepared if he chose to focus his gaze on him. It never happened. John pulled away both hands and turned around slowly, returning to the same state he had been in right before this short but significant moment between the two. It made Arthur take the few steps out of the room as he reluctantly accepted another rejection.

And with that, the two men turned in for the night, sleeping in separate beds despite both of them wanted nothing more than sharing the night together.

Chapter Text

When he came back to Beecher’s Hope in the middle of the night, Charles hadn’t been quite prepared to see a man lying with his back turned to him in his bed. He grabbed onto the man and yanked him around, pulling his knife and holding it to his throat. When he was met by Arthur Morgan’s face he believed his heart stopped.

Uncle was awoken from the turmoil, his bed was after all placed in the same room. He cursed them both for disturbing him and in the middle of the night.

Charles and Arthur had headed outside, none of them able to speak properly for several minutes. They walked around for a bit side by side in the darkness until they settled with standing by the gazebo, Arthur starting to give answers to the questions Charles without a doubt had.

Arthur told him he had returned to them a few days ago, the same day Charles had ridden away from the ranch. He told him of everything that had happened during the years and Charles had listened with a patience Arthur had never seen in another human being. Charles was never one to judge him and time after time, Arthur would always find the man to have a most calming effect on him. He couldn't help but think that he felt safe with Charles , in a way.

“So you see the mess I'm in…and the dilemma he is in”, Arthur said. He realised he and Charles hadn't really talked about John all that much before. At least not like this, with minimum effort of trying to hide any of John's meaning to him.

Charles rested his hand on Arthur’s shoulder, a much comforting touch for the latter. “I've only been here for a couple of months but it's enough to see how he’s changed. He drinks a lot. He doesn't smile anymore…”, Charles spoke with that ever so deep voice of his.

Arthur sighed. “Figured as much…”, he answered, referring more to the drinking part. “Abigail’s been telling me a little about it”.

Charles squeezed Arthur’s shoulder a bit harder before he decided to lift his hand away and lower it to his side. “Just give it some time, Arthur”.

“Goddamnit, I am… !” Arthur almost exclaimed, taking one deep breath before speaking with a calmer voice. “...I am giving us time…but I ain't so sure he will”.

“Well, can you blame the man?” Charles asked and looked Arthur over, the latter showing a noticeable look of guilt on his face. “You broke his trust”.

“I know, goddamnit…”. Arthur rubbed the back of his neck angrily and started to pace restlessly around. He stopped after a few turns and closed his eyes, letting out one deep breath. He tried to still his thoughts, they were nothing but a mess and he had always hated to be in this kind of state. He felt helpless in the situation he was in and patience had never been his strong suit. And now patience was the one thing needed from him more than ever. “I can count on two hands how many words John have said to me these last couple of days”, Arthur told the other man with a defeated voice. “It's even worse now. He’s fucking with me…”, Arthur muttered. “...putting me on work to avoid me, placing me as far as possible from him…almost refusing to speak to me as I bring it up”. He sounded as bitter as he felt.

If it weren't for the other man being so upset by all this, Charles would probably let out a laugh. Never in his life did he expect to see Arthur in this kind of state and most certainly not because of someone else. Sure, he had seen him and John argue one or two times in their camp but Arthur had never showed the desperation he was showing in this very moment. Or maybe he had done a better job of hiding it back then.

“The one good thing…”, Arthur continued. “...is that I get to be with Jack. That, John allows at least, never saying anything about it”.

“Well, the man's not evil , Arthur…”, Charles stated shortly while shrugging his shoulders. “John’s always been too kind for his own good. Maybe not so much nowadays though…”.

Arthur only blinked a few times at the other man, he knew Charles was right. John had always been that and he had never understood how or why even if he looked up to that part of John. Respected it. “Abigail’s been kind too”, he only said. “Says that it's good for the boy to get to know me again. Also saying that she's tried to talk to John about this problem of ours”.

It had become pretty clear that no romantic feelings had evolved between her and John, both acting like nothing more than close friends and with the way at least Abigail talked about John.

Arthur remembered how Abigail had been like when he and John had first become involved, he hadn't forgotten how hard she had taken it back then.

Now…she was being the most neutral of them all, despite how angry she first had been with him and rightly so. It was clear she still cared for John and what was best for him and perhaps that was why she tried to help Arthur. Maybe she had the same hope for them as Arthur had.

Soon, he found he didn't want to speak of the man further and he felt a bit ashamed that he had forgotten to ask the other man about what he had been up to all these years. “Enough of this…talking about it won't change anything…”, Arthur stated while shaking his head. “How are things with you , Charles? And how on earth did you end up here?”

Last time Arthur had heard of Charles was from Rain Falls, the latter telling him that Charles left as soon as the tribe had managed to get to safety from the army. He had no knowledge of what had happened to him after that.

Arthur listened to Charles for a long time as he spoke of the years that had passed. Things hadn't been too kind on the man but Arthur was happy John had found him at least.

Out of everything Charles told him about, one thing made his heart drop completely.

“I only heard rumours...but I went to the mountains anyways, not long after …”, Charles started, speaking with a bit of sadness in his voice. “I went there to locate your body…So that I could bury you… And I didn't have it in me to tell John about it when he found me a while back. To tell him I couldn't find your remains…”.

“Charles…”, Arthur all but whispered, not able to do much more. He felt very touched by it all and at the same time very blue.

“You would have done the same for me”, Charles simply said.

Arthur nodded. “I would…”, he answered in earnest.

The moment became a little much for them so Charles decided to bring up a matter who was of much importance to them all . “I never trusted Micah completely back then and when John told me he had been working with the Pinkertons, I suspected he had something to do with what happened to you that night. Guess I wasn't that wrong…”.

“He got away that night because I missed my goddamn shot…”, Arthur stated with close to no emotion to it. “But I try not to think too much about that lying sack of shit nowadays…”.

Charles mumbled something that was supposed to be an answer as he thought about if he should tell him or not. He chose the first. “Well...maybe he got away that time. But he doesn't need to this time”.

Arthur frowned and gave a questioning look to the dark man. “You know where he is?”

Charles didn't answer to that. “Remember Cleet? The one Micah brought in before the train job?”

“Yeah, how can one forget a rat face like that”.

“Well, me and Sadie had a little chat with him up in Strawberry. John was supposed to ride there with us but I guess his mind wanders a bit too much nowadays…Besides, now you're here…I don't blame him for not coming along”.

“What did this Cleet say then?” Arthur asked almost impatiently.

“He gave us Micah’s location, Arthur”.

He could only stare at Charles.

“I only got back here to inform John of it. Me and Sadie think it's best to ride out whenever he's ready. I’m gonna talk to him about it as soon as he’s up on his feet, which I believe isn't too long now”. Charles looked up to the sky. The sun would soon rise and Arthur hadn't realised how long they had been up for. “But with you being back, I doubt John would want to go after him”.

Arthur had mixed feelings as Charles told him of Micah. He knew he should be furious only by the mention of the name, he should head out there and kill him himself right away. Maybe it would be for the best to do so. Something stronger inside him told him not to do such a thing.

“I said to them that this wouldn't have been what you wanted...but since you're not dead, you can very well speak for yourself now”, Charles told him.

“Yeah. Guess so…”, Arthur answered a bit absent.

Charles gave a simple nod to him before he prepared to turn around. “Gonna head inside”.

“Okay. I think I’ll stay out here for a bit. Start with my damn chores or something, I don't know”. Arthur watched the other man as he started to walk away from him. “Charles?” he called as the dark man was halfway to the house.

“Yeah?”

“How is Sadie?” he asked.

Charles gave him a smile. “I believe you can ask her for yourself when she comes by”.

 

-

 

“I know how much you want to go after him, John”, Charles said. “But maybe it can wait a few days, considering ”.

John frowned from where he sat on the edge of the bed, putting on his clothes tiredly as he had woken up not too long ago, being met of Charles telling him everything of the short visit in Strawberry. “Considering?” he asked and raised a brow.

“With Arthur being back. I spoke to him”.

John chuckled lightly but with no joy. “So I guess he's told you all about what he's been up to then?”

“He did”.

“Good, then I don't have to”, John answered shortly, starting to button his shirt. He didn't want to speak of the subject further even if he was the one to bring it up.

Charles noticed and only let out a grunt as answer. “You think he would want to ride up there with us?” he asked instead.

“Of course”, John answered with another frown, more than sure that Arthur would follow them. “Why wouldn't he? He's got all the reasons to”.

Charles on the other hand, wasn't so sure. The golden haired man had almost seemed hesitant as he had spoken of Micah and all of them going after him.

“So you want to do this? Despite the fact that Arthur’s alive?”

“Yes”. No hesitation whatsoever. “Now more than ever”.

Charles hadn't been prepared for John's persistence over the matter given the new situation but he merely nodded. He didn't believe John was thinking clearly and so he said what he could to make the other man realise what was right in front of him. “I think we should give Arthur some time to decide, the man only just got here…”.

John paused in his movements and his gaze rested on his lap. He let out a deep sigh, not knowing why he agreed to the man’s suggestion. Maybe because it was Charles, always the wise one. “Alright. A few days then”, he reluctantly agreed, hoping with all his heart that Micah wouldn't slip out of their hands during those days.

Charles nodded again and John watched him as he left the room.

John hadn't spoken to Arthur about Micah even if he should have, hadn't even planned to ask what the man felt about it. The truth was they hadn't spoken much at all these days, the older man had tried but John had denied him as much every time.

 

-

 

Ever since Arthur had gotten back to them, the dinners were always a bit forced. Most of the time, John left the table as soon as he found Arthur speaking a bit too much for his liking, taking his plate with him to eat somewhere else, mostly outside.

He didn't do so this evening and it made Arthur feel a tiny bit of hope. Sure, the younger man practically ignored that he was even there but Arthur could see that John looked over to him occasionally, averting his eyes as soon as Arthur noticed.

For Arthur, it was a slow hell.

The rest of the family tried their very best to keep a happy face but all of them could feel how strained the atmosphere was whenever the two men were in the same room.

So it wasn't too strange everyone kept themselves busy as soon as there was free time at their hands. This evening, Abigail sat down by the piano with Charles and Uncle only appreciating her tunes while Jack retreated into his room to return to one of his books.

John had disappeared from the dining room without him noticing and Arthur let out a tired sigh from it. Things weren't going to get better if the younger man kept this up…

After some time, he decided to head for the washroom but found that John was actually there of all places. The door was wide open and the man stood there without his shirt on and had started with trimming down his beard, not looking too enthusiastic about it.

“Thought you had gone for a ride”, Arthur said a few moments after he had stopped at the doorway. “You usually do nowadays, disappearing and whatnot…”.

John cursed internally but didn't turn around by the other man's presence. “You're keeping an eye on me, Morgan?” he asked with nonchalance as he only kept his gaze focused into the mirror and the chaos that was his reflection. His beard had grown too long and thick for his own liking these past months and he just used a pair of scissors to get the worst off, not caring how uneven the result would be. He could of course spare some time and just take it all off but he couldn't stand being clean shaven. “Why can't you just leave me the hell alone?” John asked with just as much coldness that was intended, still keeping his back turned to the older man. He had a headache from the depths of hell and being met by a questioning Arthur wasn't what he needed right now. John felt like slitting his own throat.

Arthur’s face displayed much disapproval by the hostility the other man showed. “You could have just shut the damn door, Marston”, he shot back, slightly irritated by the treatment he didn't really want to get used to. “If you wanted some privacy, that is”.

John looked away from the mirror and glanced over his shoulder to the other man. “It's my damn house, I do whatever the hell I want around here”, he muttered. “As long as you're here, you don't get a say in just about anything”.

Arthur thought John was acting like the most immature child but of course he didn't say that. The man wasn't exactly wrong but he wasn't being sensible either.

“I know you have the right to treat me like shit, Marston. And I guess you know it too because that's all you've been doing this past week”. He left the doorway and walked the few dangerous steps to the other man.

John had been quite harsh and he knew it. Deep down, he knew he wasn't like this but he didn't feel bad by it in the slightest. He cut the the thick grown hairs almost violently until the result became near to acceptable. He ignored Arthur and continued with rinsing his face to get the loose hairs off.

“And it's gonna take some time getting used to each other again. I know that”, Arthur continued when he got no response, standing very close now.

“And it's gonna take a whole lot longer if you don't get your sorry ass out of my sight…”, John all but whispered and finally turned his body so they faced each other.  

Arthur could see how wet John's dark and wide open eyes had become as they only stared at each other but the latter refused to even blink. “And I know you're doing this on purpose”, Arthur challenged.

“How else would I do it then? By mistake ?” John huffed and reached for a towel to wipe his face dry.

Arthur looked more than tired with him but his facial expression turned into something far different after he had taken a few deep breaths. As if he found a stillness within. “What I was meaning to ask is…have you even tried to feel what you want? You push me away and rightly so…but you're doing it because you want to or because you believe you want to?” Arthur spoke with a steady, almost soothing voice.

John’s felt the tears burning in his eyes but he refused to let them escape him. He damned Arthur in that moment, it felt like the man was always trying to… fix him. To make him into what he wanted John to be like.

Internally, John’s thoughts were at a raging war with each other but on the outside he only stared into those blue and sad eyes with a blank expression on his face.

The time passed. Half a minute, maybe closer to one. John couldn't say. All they could hear were the cheerful tones Abigail provided from the dining room, the music filling up every room of the house.

Eventually, he for once, was the one to break eye contact. Something in Arthur’s way of speaking with that calming tone of his made John think more clearly. He admitted to himself that Arthur was showing that he cared. Nothing else. He was trying , something he himself wasn't .

“What were you gonna do in here anyway?” John asked instead of answering Arthur’s question.

Arthur’s heart sank a little by the other dodging the question but he only cleared his throat before answering. “Was looking for that thing”, he said and gestured half-hearted at the pair of scissors John had put away.

“Oh”, John answered with a quiet voice and Arthur had no luck in interpreting the underlying emotion. Even so, he believed he could see an inch of disappointment on John’s face.

John glanced at Arthur who was still within reach to him. He briefly studied the fair locks of hair while doing so. He couldn't remember when was the last time he had brushed his fingers through them, couldn't remember if he had done so the evening of Arthur’s return.

When the moment became too uncomfortable, John reached for the packet of cigarettes he had placed within reach. He fished up two and reached one out to the golden haired man.

Arthur mumbled something John didn't listen to and accepted the cigarette offered and placed it between his lips. John didn't hand over the matches to him, instead he lit one himself and held it for the other man who gave him a short lasting frown.

Still, Arthur leaned closer to light his cigarette and John took the time offered to look at the man's hair properly one last time as he decided to not reach his hand out and touch him after all. He lit his own cigarette and backed away a few steps to let Arthur have the mirror.

John leaned back to the wall with the smoke in his hand and merely observed Arthur as the latter stood by the mirror and cut his long hair to a short length. No one spoke for the whole time.

 

-

 

Sadie had almost cried when she saw him. Almost. They had embraced each other and it had felt heavier than she ever thought a hug could possibly feel. They had never touched like that before but none of them had hesitated upon seeing each other again. They had talked for the longest time while getting familiar with each other again. She had slapped him once and Arthur had let her.

This morning though, she had come to talk about Micah since John had said they couldn't wait much longer. It was time to prepare and head out there for him. It had been a successful short stay in Strawberry, well, not for Cleet perhaps. She hadn't hesitated to pull the trigger. Not even when he begged for his miserable and worthless life. She didn't care to hear it. The one useful thing he had done was providing her and Charles with the information they sought.

Not too long ago, the three of them had decided that they would to this. They would kill the man that had betrayed them all so long ago.

But as all the concerning parts argued in front of the house at Beecher’s Hope, Sadie realised that the major reason for her to go after Micah Bell had been to avenge Arthur. She never had any doubt that he had something to do with Arthur’s death and like for John, it became as her obsession.

But seeing Arthur back here with them and knowing he was alright... Knowing he was alive… well, she couldn't deny that it changed something inside of her and suddenly this matter with Micah wasn't all that important anymore.

Arthur had been a good friend to her when she had needed it the most and now it was her time to be the same to him. To help him get his revenge like he had helped Sadie get hers.

She believed Arthur would want to kill Micah more than anyone considering his past with him. The man had after all tried to kill him in the mountains and would have done so if Arthur hadn't been so lucky.

But she noticed that he kept his silence, not picking a side yet and he kept himself mostly out of the discussion with an absent look on his face. When he finally spoke, everyone could see that it was much to John’s disapproval.

“We shouldn't go after him”, Arthur finally said to them all with a steady voice as Abigail was trying to tell the same to John.

Thank you, Arthur”, Abigail said and shot an angry look to the dark haired man.

What?” John asked and sharpened his gaze at  the other man as he took a few slow steps to him. “The hell you're saying?”

“Oh, you heard exactly what I said”, Arthur answered with an intensity in his voice and met John with the same defiance the younger man always had.

John looked like he was hurt by an insult from the other. “Not even after what he did to you?” he asked and started to take more shallow breaths, getting more upset by the second.

“You damn fool, Marston…”, Arthur let out and returned every bit of anger the younger man was pouring over him. “It ain't worth it goddamnit! Stop being a fucki-”

You if anyone should want this!” John yelled and was about to jump the other man. Charles got in the way and grabbed at John in the last second, all but dragging him further away from Arthur.

The older man only sighed tiredly and lifted a hand to his face, starting to scratch at the stubble on his cheek as John went on.

“You with me or not, Morgan?” John demanded to know as Charles let go of the hold he had of him. Arthur shook his head, the movement not an answer to his question but more an action to let the other one know he wasn't going to take this right now.

“John, calm down”, Abigail ordered with a sharp voice.

“You're a fucking coward, you know that?” John continued anyway and glared at the older man with part hate in his eyes.

“Call me the hell you want”. Arthur refused to budge. He knew he was right and he knew there was no use in talking with John when he was out of control on this level. Still, he tried, as always. “You should listen to Abigail. It's too dangerous…you could get hurt...get killed . Think about your boy, John…”, Arthur spoke with a low and calm voice, letting the other one know just how serious he was being, how important it was for him to listen just this once.

Sadie could see that John took Arthur’s rejection as some sort of defeat because he didn't answer to the words at all. She couldn't help but being sympathetic to John. She could sense that he needed to do this. Maybe in order to move on, maybe to take away the hatred inside of him, maybe to simply let go... She knew the feeling all too well. Knew that one did strange things when you finally reached your limit. That's why she said it. “I'm still with you, Marston”. Because she gladly would be.

John looked over at her with wavering eyes. He gave a simple nod to her, showing the small but meaningful wave of gratitude towards her. He looked over to Charles. “What about you? You’ve changed your mind?” he asked.

“No…but maybe…it's not up to us anymore…”, Charles answered and looked over to the older man. “Maybe Arthur’s right. Maybe it's not worth it”.

John ignored him. “Me and Sadie ride out in the morning, whether you're with us or not”, John said and left them all with angry steps.

 

-

 

Arthur had followed him to the three large trees growing closely to each other. John didn’t turn around from whatever he had rested his eyes on in the center of them as he heard Arthur’s steps.

He stopped, keeping a knowing distance to the younger man. “Whatever grudge you have…you gotta let it go, John”.

“I’m doing this for myself”, he answered shortly, glancing over his shoulder as he spoke. “Don’t take that away from me”.

“What Micah did…with Dutch...to the gang…and to me …I hate him every day for it, don't you doubt that”, Arthur told him with an evident sadness in his voice. “But going after him will only bring out what we left behind... I don't want you to go…because I don't want to lose you… And Jack…he needs his father here …not out there, seeking a goddamn revenge he don't need”.

“But I do need it”, he let out with little effort. “If he hadn't…changed Dutch like that, then maybe things wouldn't have turned out the way they did”, John spoke with an almost beat voice, turning his head and resting his eyes on the spot between the trees again.

John was right, Arthur couldn't help but think. He himself had been going through it all in his head more times than he’d liked to admit. He still did. Still wished Dutch could have been saved somehow…Still wished he could meet him once more. “You can’t think in that way. If you do, you'll end up crazy one day. What's done is done, there ain't nothing you can do to change that”. Arthur knew it too well, after all.

They shared a silence for a long while before John turned around and walked away from his spot. As he was about to pass Arthur by, he slowed into a stop so they had their sides facing each other. “Remember when I asked you to not go with Dutch and Micah to meet with Colm? How you refused to listen…even when I begged you…? Why do think this is any different?”

Arthur grabbed at John’s arm, pulling him closer with a firm, almost rough motion. “Because this is the last chance we’ll ever get…”, he whispered and moved his face closer to force John to meet his eyes. “If you go…you may die ... Jack grows up without a father and I’ll lose the person that matters the most to me. You know what you’re getting yourself into. I didn’t ”.

John looked deeply into Arthur’s blue eyes but he didn’t give away what he was feeling. He yanked his arm back from Arthur’s hold and prepared to leave.

“Please. Just…think about us, John”, Arthur begged him one last time.

John ignored his plea as quickly as it had come. “While I’m away, you make the most of it, Morgan...spend some time with Jack…because when I get back, I expect you to be gone . I don't want you here no more…”, he spoke with an indifference that scared Arthur because it was so… final . John didn’t even look back as he left him.

Arthur could only nod to the words and look up at the bright sky. He had given up, at last. He had occasionally believed that things were becoming better between them. Small details really… But each time one such moment occurred, a greater one took its place and drifted them further away than ever before. As now. For the last time.

John wouldn’t come around, not now, not ever. The damage was far too great and he had been a fool to ever believe they had a chance. Arthur believed he could be able to fight for this. Fight for what they once had and perhaps could have again. But John didn’t want him here at all and he refused to give them the time Arthur knew they needed. John didn’t care for him anymore. Why force it? Why force any of it…

As Arthur started to walk, just wanting to get further away from the ranch, he passed by the spot John had been standing at. He lowered his eyes and was met with a wooden cross with his name on it in the center of the trees.

Arthur lowered himself to his knees before it and  the sight of it all, his dead name and the withered flowers lying on the symbolic grave, made his whole body tremble.

Not long ago, this was John's reality. He was without a doubt the one to have made the cross and put the flowers there, Arthur realised.

He did not tear his eyes from his grave as he got up to his feet, as if he was expecting something to shift there if he chose to look away long enough.

The one thing that hurt the most besides losing John, was that he would lose Jack too . But the boy was getting older, in a couple of years he would be able to make his own decisions. Maybe he could visit him at O’Creagh’s Run in the future…

He realised that would certainly never happen. He himself couldn’t stay here, John had made that much clear.

 

-

 

In the early afternoon the same day, John observed Arthur as he was working on a horse in the corral. Charles had managed to bring it in south from here. It had been running alone across the plains and Charles said it had been the same one he’d seen each time he had passed the area.

Arthur didn’t argue when Charles had asked him to tame it, the dark man remembering it to be one of his better traits. Arthur did anything to keep himself busy this day, the final rejection from John was the one thing occupying his head after all.

The big animal was wilder than most horses Arthur had encountered but he remained calm as he tried to move closer to it, each step more careful than the last.

John had just finished with cleaning the stables and filling up drinking water for the animals as he stumbled onto a focused Arthur inside the corral.

He walked over to Charles who leaned against the fence, joining him to observe Arthur as he time after time had no luck in calming the animal.

Despite how hot it was outside, Arthur didn’t want to stop. Not even when Charles said he should give it up for now. He felt he needed to break it. He knew he and the animal could reach a calm within the other, he just needed to show it. It felt impossible for him to simply give up.

He glanced over his shoulder and could see John standing there next to Charles. The man would head out tomorrow, going after Micah and Arthur would let him go through with all of it. He had no say in this and in a couple of days he weren’t welcomed here anymore. John had at least been kind enough to let him stick around to spend some more time with the boy.

It’s too damn hot…Arthur thought and it made him lose his focus. The shirt had plastered itself on his body and he could really need some water. The big brute of a horse was a full black coat and it was sweating profusely as well. He observed it as it drank from the water they had placed to it. Arthur decided to take off his shirt. He had never liked to do so but this wasn’t just any heat.

John blinked a couple of times as he saw Arthur undress, the man throwing the wet shirt away only for it to land on top of one of the many fence posts. It had been a long time since he had seen Arthur like that. Seen his skin. It was full of ugly scars afflicted from the many wounds over the years spent in that dangerous lives of theirs. John carried quite a few too but not more than the other.

“This can go on some time”, Charles stated, referring to Arthur’s efforts of breaking the animal. “I’ll go get the man some water”.

John nodded and lit a cigarette as his only answer. He was too caught up with watching Arthur’s body to utter a word. John remembered the sensation of the other man. He remembered how their bodies used to be tightly pressed together whenever he was given the permission to fuck him.

Their touches had been minimal since Arthur had gotten back, John thought with a sort of doleful feeling inside him. Only the same evening he had returned had they kissed, and that was the most intimate they had managed.

John rested his elbows on the top of the fence and lifted one trembling hand up to rub in circular motions over his temple. He closed his eyes for a bit. A part of him had regretted his final decision about sending Arthur away just as quickly as he had said it, knowing Arthur would always do as he asked. In other words, he would leave, no doubt about that.

The truth was…John felt afraid. He was scared to death about giving Arthur another chance. The man had hurt him in ways he couldn’t describe with words and it could only be compared to a form of betrayal. He never wanted to feel that bad ever again and he was too much of a coward to try ... try making them come closer to each other. He had given up his hope before he had even managed to have some.  

And now Arthur didn’t want him to go after Micah, almost denying him his right to. Again, Arthur tried to decide for him, for them , and in turn, John had ended what little they had left together.

John lifted up a hand and lowered his hat, not making it too obvious he was studying Arthur’s half naked body. The other had gotten a bit older, sure, but his body hadn’t changed all that much. He still looked… good , John figured as he drifted into more forbidden thoughts. He tried to think of something else but couldn’t. Didn’t want to. He more than enjoyed seeing Arthur, if only for a few minutes. It was his last chance after all. He had seen to it himself.

 

-

 

Arthur hadn’t managed to break the horse, the heat wasn't good for the animal or him and he had reluctantly stopped and given up for the day.

As soon as he had been given some free time, Jack had found him. Asking him if they could go fishing together. Arthur had been a bit surprised, remembering how he had tried to go fishing with the boy as a child but the latter hadn't shown any particular interest.

“Why fishing?” Arthur asked after they had managed to catch two or three. “You didn’t enjoy it as a child…”. He figured John may have been able to encourage the boy in the end.

“Momma said you enjoyed doing that with me so I figured why not give it a go”, Jack answered, shrugging his shoulders. “But…truth to be told…I kind of hate it...”, he added after a few moments, admitting what Arthur already suspected.

Arthur let out a short and very carefree laugh. “Well...I’ve seen better fishers too, no offense, kid…”

Jack let out a huff and the expression on his face could only be read as him not believing Arthur had just said that to him. Even so, he recovered quickly enough from the minor insult.

They put the fishing poles away when they had caught enough fish for a dinner. They sat down at the river bank, only resting their eyes over the Montana River. Arthur decided to take out one specific journal after a while, one whose pages weren't filled as much as the others. One that was dedicated to one single person and not to the rest of his thoughts or feelings.

“I made a few drawings over the years. It’s not much but I think maybe you’d want to see them…”.

Jack only stared at the journal Arthur had put in his lap. He carefully opened it and was met with a beautiful handwriting.

“The reading part you can save for another day…”, Arthur told him. The boy nodded and flipped another page. “You were uhm, four then”, Arthur said as Jack stared with eyes wide open at the sketch of himself as a child.

You did this?” the boy asked, looking up at him and then back at the drawing before him. The man nodded. “It’s amazing , Arthur…”.

“Flip the pages if you want”, Arthur murmured, studying the boy in his amazement.

Jack did as he was told and paused at each sketch to simply absorb every emotion they brought forth within him. As his eyes landed on the last ones, he stopped at each drawing much longer, his eyes starting to waver. He looked up with a questioning look to Arthur. “When did you make these?”

“Ever since 1899…”, he said and looked away.

“But…but how did you know…?”

“I didn’t”, Arthur admitted. “I uhm…made the first one from memory. Then I made some more…one each year. Latest was from a couple of months ago…”.

Jack looked at Arthur’s last drawing of him  again. It wasn't identical but… ”But you can see it's me…”.

“Yeah well...That’s because you are your father's boy…I remembered his face when he was your age… Only imagined how yours would look like today, didn’t really think it would come that close…”. Arthur smiled timidly to him.

Jack could only stare at the man who had such a hidden talent. It felt almost surreal, seeing his own face on a simple piece of paper, drawn with such depth and emotion .

“Keep it”, Arthur suddenly said.

“No…Arthur, I-I couldn’t…”, Jack tried halfheartedly. He wanted to have the journal after all. “It's yours…”.

“And now it's yours ”, Arthur assured. “Go on, don't make me say it again”.

Jack’s mouth formed words but he couldn’t utter them. Arthur gave the warmest smile. “Thank you, Arthur. I’ll keep it close”, the boy finally managed to say through a big smile, closing the journal and pressing it to his chest as if he was protecting it.

Arthur gave a simple nod to the boy before he drifted his eyes back over the surface of the water. The temperature in the air had dropped somewhat, much to his satisfaction.

“We should head back, ma will probably get back from town soon and she always wants me to help her with dinner”, Jack informed.

Arthur pondered. “Think you’ll manage to ride back home on your own?” he asked.

“Please, it's only a couple of minutes”, Jack assured and heaved himself up quickly. “What are you gonna do?”

“Just…enjoy the view for a bit…maybe I’ll go for a swim or something. I don't know…”.

“Oh, okay then”.

Arthur handed him the bundle of fishes and watched the boy as he carefully put down the journal in one of the saddle bags. “I’ll be back soon”, Arthur told him.

When he was alone, he lowered his head and contemplated over his situation. Not much time had passed since he and John had found each other again and now they would part once more.

“Yeah…probably for the best…”, Arthur mumbled to himself. He walked the few steps over to the water and undressed himself almost in a rush as his thoughts became a mess.

He relished the cool water against his body and without enthusiasm he washed away all the dirt and sweat he had gathered over the day. He wanted to drown himself a couple of times.

 

-

 

Arthur found himself in John’s room later that day. It was almost evening and the rest of the family sat outside, spending quality time with each other and telling stories and whatnot. Arthur didn’t feel well at all, the emptiness that had filled him for so many years was starting to make its way back to him. So he had left them all when they had started singing one of Uncle’s songs, sneaking quietly inside.

He didn’t know what he was seeking as he entered John’s room. He walked around it in mere seconds, not really studying anything he saw. He eventually stopped at the bookcase as a picture frame caught his attention.  

His heart ached when he saw it was their portrait. He remembered how happy they had been that day. When things hadn’t been so complicated. But the truth was that they had been…then more than now really. The both of them were free now, or at least free enough to not hide what they felt for each other. Or what he felt for John, he guessed.

Arthur wanted to disappear. Hide somewhere to never be found again. That was his future anyways so he figured he would have it in no time. He put the picture frame back to its place.

He suddenly felt very tired and in more ways than one. He figured he would have to turn in for the night, as early as it still was. Ever since Charles got back from Strawberry, Arthur had been sleeping on the couch, not a preferable spot since he had spent most of the last eight years in an actual bed and getting used to it as well. Charles had offered to switch with him but Arthur had of course refused.

Still, he decided to not leave the room even if he really should. He didn't care of the consequences when he walked over to John’s bed. He just lay down and wept like a child. He comforted himself by hugging one of John’s pillows. He inhaled the man’s scent from it, remembering everything they once had shared before he fell asleep.

Chapter Text

John was drunk again.

Abigail, Sadie and Jack had went inside a while ago and Charles and Uncle were having a laugh just like so many other times before. John wasn’t. He had seen Arthur head inside quite early, figuring he had turned in for the night. He wanted to go after him. He really did. But he didn’t allow himself to. Not now. Not when he had ended things between them. He hadn’t told anyone about it, it was no one’s business but theirs anyway.

He told Charles at least he would turn in for the night, they had after all a pretty long ride ahead of them in the morning.

John was a bit surprised to not see Arthur in his sleeping spot as he passed the living room and he wondered where on earth he could be. Had he ridden out?

John stumbled to his room, he couldn’t see much of anything inside as he opened the door, only being met by sudden darkness. The only light source came from the moon outside but it didn't help all that much, at least not yet. He rubbed his eyes as he was becoming more sleepy with each second.

He started to undress, taking off his vest and shirt and kicking off his boots. He considered sleeping with his pants on, too tired to even take them off. He changed his mind as he was reminded of how hot the night actually was and of how uncomfortable it would be to sleep even without clothes on. So he undressed his lower part as well until he was in nothing but his underpants.

As he looked forward to get some well needed sleep while crawling into the bed, he found someone already lying in it. His eyes went wide open and he jumped back from the surprise. He stilled himself as he realised it was only Arthur. His eyes were starting to adjust to the darkness, helping him see the other man more clearly now.

He just stared at the sleeping man who had his back turned to him, confused with how he even had the nerves to be in his bed. John pondered the situation, considering to leave right away. Let the other man have the bed. He himself half sat, half lay ridiculously close to the edge and his body wavered as he couldn't decide if he should go or not.

Still, he found himself to stay. Hesitantly lowering his body and making himself comfortable behind the other man. He didn’t touch him, he only kept his hands rested at the empty space between their bodies.

A few minutes passed and the older man’s balanced breathing could still be heard and John did nothing to wake him up. He turned to lie on his back and he covered the upside of his forearm over his eyes. He cursed internally over the situation and tried to ignore the other man's presence… Existence .

The truth was he wanted to feel Arthur's warm and soft but at the same time rough skin under his fingertips again. Hell…in that moment he wanted nothing else than to hold him and let the other do the same with him.

John sighed deeply and lifted his head to grab the pillow his head rested on. He put it over his face and buried it into the pillow, almost whimpering from the dilemma he found himself in. He wanted to scream .

The time passed, he didn't know for how long and couldn't count how many times he had twisted and turned in the bed to try and relax. Half an hour, maybe longer, he couldn't tell.

Arthur hadn't even moved a single time since he got here and he figured the man must be exhausted in both mind and body. John knew he must be, considering.

John didn't remember when he first had turned his body to its side again. He knew he was being odd, only staring at the back of the sleeping man's head with a silence any sensible person would be startled by. He gazed at Arthur almost in anger, knowing that he wouldn't manage to restrain himself much longer.

John believed more than an hour must have passed since he first entered the room when he gave in to his desires and moved closer to the other, resting his head close to the back of Arthur’s. He inhaled the scent of his hair, relishing the familiarity of it.

John reached out one of his hands, letting it rest lightly on Arthur’s waist for a few long moments. He eventually found his courage and let his fingers run along the jeans’ waistband, carefully pulling up the tucked in shirt the other was wearing.

John held his breath slightly as he moved his hand under the fabric, closing his eyes as he brushed his fingers over the unbelievably warm and slightly sticky skin there. It was really hot in the room and he himself was sweating from just being there.

He felt with the palm of his hand over Arthur’s stomach, surprisingly firm for his age, and continued up across his chest. He felt the hairs there, letting his fingers comb through them before he moved over one of his nipples.

It felt as good as he had imagined it would, caressing Arthur’s body after all this time and reminding himself of how it once had been on a regular basis. John found himself to breathe a little faster and he felt his heart pound almost a little harder with each minute that passed as he relished in being close to the other again. He sometimes brushed his lips over the other man’s neck, breathing out warm air to the already warm skin. Arthur’s body jerked slightly from time to time, making John stop with his touches until the older man’s peaceful snoring could be heard again.

John didn't really care about the excruciating heat and the fact that it became even hotter when he pressed his chest completely to the other man’s back. He was holding him now and he couldn't help but bury his face into whatever part of the other man's body was available to him. It became somewhat overwhelming for him and he felt like crying as he embraced Arthur like this for the first time in eight years.  

John held him for the longest time and eventually he lifted his head to be able to kiss Arthur along his neck. He tasted the salty skin there and his lips moved with more purpose as he, to his own surprise, gave a small push with his front against the other’s backside. He had gotten pretty hard only from the pure closeness to the older man’s familiar body so it wasn't too strange that the smallest form of intimacy made his body react the way it did.

Even so, as he slowly abandoned his bodily control, he wondered if it was the alcohol that caused it or if it was seeing Arthur earlier that day that made him give in to his body’s wishes, god knows what images had gone through him then. Now, those images started filling his mind and his touches became more of a desperation than a search for comfort.

Arthur mumbled something in his sleep and let out what could only be described as a short muffled moan as John started sucking on the fragile skin on the side of his neck.

He drifted his hand down from Arthur’s chest and let his fingertips brush along the other man's waistband again, almost challenging himself to slip his hand inside. He chose not to but his growing erection made itself reminded and his momentarily lack of boundaries made him rub himself slightly harder against Arthur for a few moments. John dug his hand onto Arthur’s hip and kept a firm grip there as he closed his eyes and relished in the pressure applied on his cock with every rolling movement from his own hips.

He breathed more wantonly, not caring that each breath sounded more like a deep and desperate moan. As Arthur started to move, about to wake up, he didn’t stop. John believed it to be too late to do so and also that nothing could have made him stop. He was thinking more with his cock in that moment and all that mattered was searching for any pleasure available for him. He let out a sound resembling a growl and lost it altogether as he started working on Arthur’s belt buckle, causing the latter to come to his full senses quicker than he had begun to. John noticed the other man move with a beginning confusion but he kept him in place with a rough hand, almost as a warning.

Arthur reacted in an instant. He was more than confused at first, not remembering exactly where he was the first few seconds from drifting into his awake state.  

He felt a very noticeable hardness push against him and there were lips starting to kiss along his neck. Most of all, he felt a desperate hand forcing him to be still as he tried to turn around, until said hand moved down and continued to work on his belt buckle. If Arthur hadn't known it was John lying behind him he could never have guessed that the touches came from him. He was being aggressive, a quality John rarely, almost never, had brought to bed.

He let out a groan as John bit and sucked on his neck, the sweet sensation spreading down his spine and to his lower regions which reacted quickly enough. Arthur breathed out the other man’s name several times as he could only close his eyes and let John do whatever he wished. He reached back a hand to caress whatever part of the other man he could get.

He felt overwhelmed by feeling the younger man touching him, both of them putting aside the obstruction their relationship had reached for now. If the circumstances had been different, Arthur might have stopped them both from going through with this. But right now, he realised...this intimacy was the only and maybe last thing they had together. Maybe their very last chance of bringing themselves closer to one another. So he didn’t stop either of them, neither did he want to.

John moved up and supported himself with his elbow to the mattress as he towered over Arthur, reaching his hand down to the older man’s growing bulge. He had managed to pull down Arthur’s jeans slightly and he started rubbing him back and forth outside his underpants at first, all while continuing with his love bites.

Soon, he touched with more pressure from his hand and he could feel Arthur grow bigger with each passing second. John felt the other man’s desperate hand guide his own, urging him to take his length in it. John complied with the man’s wishes and moved up his hand only to slip it under the thin fabric.

Arthur felt John’s fingers explore his parts as the latter moved his fingers along his cock’s length and down to his balls. Arthur shut his eyes tight as John started cupping and massaging the sensitive parts with a touch that made the hairs on his arms rise. He shuddered.

Arthur became breathless as John started working on his now considerable erection. He reached back with his hand again and planted it wherever. It landed on John’s hip and he traveled it in between their bodies.

He let John’s hardness push against his hand instead of his ass and he tried to focus on making it good for John as the man was doing for him. He managed to slide inside and pull out the younger man's length so he could take him at the same time.

He tried for a while but it was an awkward angle for Arthur to work with and he suggested that they would move into a more agreeable position but John only breathed out a non-negotiable ‘no’. Arthur bit his teeth, irritated that the other was making it so difficult for him but the feeling was replaced by an even firmer grip around his length and soon he found himself to breathe a little faster with every blissful stroke John was providing.

John didn’t want Arthur to turn around. He didn’t want to see him in the eyes as they touched. He knew there was an ‘after’. After they had done all this, their problems would still be there. What they did now wouldn’t help solve any of said problems and therefore there was no need for making this any more affectionate than it had to be. John was being naive as the thought occupied his mind, given how it was already too late. A change had already taken form within him. He just didn't realise it yet.

“Slow down a bit, will you…”, Arthur panted and drifted him out of his thoughts. The younger man realised how rough he had been with his hand and he loosened his grip slightly and started over with a more steady pace, making Arthur moan softly into the pillow again. John noticed his own erection had gone down slightly even if Arthur was touching it keenly and with the experience John remembered he had always had from the start of their relation.

He started to concentrate and moved his hand with more control and he felt Arthur’s move more unfocused over his own cock because of it. It felt good either way though. But it could feel even better, he thought as his mind wandered back to what he had imagined earlier that day.

John breathed more heavily as he thrusted into Arthur’s big hand with a hardness that was only growing and growing until it reached its full potential again. Impatient to feel more skin pressed to his body, he moved his hand away from Arthur’s cock and to the front of the man’s shirt instead. He basically tore it off, not caring that he ripped the buttons straight off from the rough pull. John was being more than aggressive, pulling the shirt up and off from Arthur’s arms recklessly until he could feel the man’s naked back to his chest but the sensation was short-lived as Arthur rolled over to his back and hurried to get his jeans and underwear off.

John assisted, moving himself downwards to pull them down and past his feet. Arthur almost kicked him in the face as he too was becoming just as desperate to undress, eager to feel more naked skin to his own.

As John was returning to his previous position, he let the palm of his hand slowly drift over Arthur’s leg and up his thigh, kneading it as he stopped there for a second. They didn't break eye contact as John slowly undressed the last piece of clothing he himself was wearing, they could only pant and take in the view of the other’s naked body.

Arthur watched John's chest move up and down in his aroused breathing, there were some beads of sweat over the tanned skin and they glistened in the light of the moon. He lowered his gaze and paused for a long time at the unbelievably swollen erection the younger man had. Arthur felt himself become even harder.

John could almost feel the sensation of what was to come and his cock pulsated so violently it almost hurt. Arthur’s breaths came out in small bursts as he stared at John’s member and waited for him to make the next move. The younger man watched him with starved eyes, Arthur thought. It was the only thing he could describe him with. And John watched Arthur like he was the one thing that could still his dying hunger.

“Turn around”, John finally said with a gruff voice, much more composed than Arthur had expected it to be.

“John…”, Arthur tried and reached for his hand. He wanted to see him as they touched but John didn't seem so interested in that as he only rejected his hand by pulling his own away.

“Turn the fuck around”, John continued with a now trembling, almost dangerous voice. “I'm not asking again, Morgan”. Once more, his wishes non-negotiable.

He shoved at Arthur to lie on his side and the latter reluctantly agreed and did as he commanded. He closed his eyes as John placed himself behind him again.

The short-lasting disagreement between them was soon replaced with pleasure as John moved his hand over all of Arthur with demanding touches, kneading one of Arthur’s ass cheeks and occasionally spreading it and letting his cock brush lightly against the opening. The older man focused on the sensation until it was all he could feel.

Arthur moaned quietly as he touched himself, all while John's hands continued to caress different parts of his body. It felt really good now, he thought after a minute or two as both only relished in the closeness to a familiar body.

No one really took the next step up until the younger man started rubbing his exploding erection between Arthur’s ass cheeks as he lifted his head to kiss at the other man’s shoulder, soon replacing it by biting and sucking at the skin there as well.

Arthur kept on motioning for the other to move closer as he pulled up his leg slightly, making John moan from the sheer sight of Arthur spreading only for him. He pushed forward with his cock just enough so it could slide in between Arthur’s ass cheeks again, sometimes touching the hole when the angle became just right, almost challenging himself to make one hard thrust.

It was almost intoxicating to feel John tease him the way he did and Arthur found himself to half lying on his stomach and spread further for the other, more than willingly to invite him inside. It had been too damn long, he thought and wished John would just take him already…

“Don’t need to drag things out, Johnny …”, Arthur breathed out with a pinch of anger mixed with drowning lust in his voice.

John frowned irritated but chose to ignore Arthur’s way of saying his name like he used to in their past, mostly in moments like these. John only turned his body and opened the drawer to the nightstand with one quick motion. Arthur didn’t have to guess twice what it was and he couldn’t help but wonder if John had used it with someone else.

John sat up and slicked up his fingers greatly with the vaseline he had. Arthur turned his head and watched him expectantly right before the younger man prepared to work him open.

Arthur moaned into the pillow, suffocating the sound into it as he became penetrated for the first time in eight years. John had pushed in two fingers at once and they moved with purpose and without any hesitation inside the tight space. He spread his fingers slightly while inside and Arthur felt himself become lightheaded as John pushed deeper.

John moved closer again, pressing his chest to Arthur’s back as he fucked him with his fingers. He got in as deep as he could and started to massage that spot like so many times before. He himself remembered how he had literally screamed once as Arthur had done it to him one particular time in a secluded spot in the woods. Arthur had learned him everything when it came to having sex with a man and all that followed. But he had never told the older man that.

He stared spellbound at Arthur who looked like he had lost sense of time and space as he rubbed his fingers more ambitiously inside him. Arthur rolled to his stomach and gripped onto the cover hard, making his knuckles whiten. He started fucking himself on John’s fingers and the latter almost stopped pushing inside with them as he fascinated watched Arthur’s body move up and down without any order and in a deep state of despair. It felt chaotic. John found himself to switch between breathing out a laugh and to stare in complete awe at the man before him.

Arthur finally had it with the restricted way of handling emotions around here so he rolled back to his side and turned around his head with the fingers still inside him. Arthur quickly reached for the back of the younger man's head before he gripped at his hair and roughly pulled him closer. He almost knocked their faces together as he forced John to finally kiss him.

John had kept a pretty low tone the whole time but couldn’t help but moan loudly as Arthur pressed his tongue inside his mouth. It took him utterly by surprise and he first tried to move away but a very determined Arthur kept him firmly in place, making him close to docile.

It wasn't beautiful, they were kissing in a rather sloppy way and made too much noise while doing so. Even so, like they always had, both felt like they fit perfectly together as their salivas mixed. Their tongues seemed to be at war with each other. Both men could feel their stubbled skin scratch and tickle the other before their kisses turned deeper and far more controlled. Both cupped the other's cheek as they kissed, both keeping their eyes shut almost painfully, both breathing in a chaos.

Their kisses slowed down to eventually fade out and as they opened their eyes, they could only breathe one another's air and look at the view the other man's face held . As they did, John could feel his sturdy built walls come crashing down and he pressed his lips once more to Arthur’s.

In all of the overwhelming emotions inside of him, John answered with pressing in a third finger inside the other, causing Arthur to let out a sudden whimper from the sensation.

Eventually, the older man pulled away only to bury his face into the pillow as John fastened the pace with his arm.   

When he figured Arthur was spread enough, John believed he better get going. He smeared the lubrication over his tip and worked downwards, coating the rest of his cock so the other man could finally take him. As John prepared himself, Arthur could only catch his breath and get ready for all of him.

John held his cock and placed it between Arthur’s cheeks, searching for the entrance. He aligned himself with Arthur’s warm and wet opening but didn't want to enter just yet.

Arthur cursed to himself as he felt that John didn't even move past his muscle. Even now, he was fucking with him and not literally. He could feel John’s warm and uncontrollable breaths to the back of his neck as the younger man continuously rubbed and pushed his swollen tip over his sensitive hole and not even entering before he started over again with the process.

John relished in the sensation of wanting someone this much again, to let the mere thought and want in having that person's body devour him entirely. That someone being Arthur. John was teasing himself more than Arthur by doing this but he couldn't keep up with it for too long, his arousal becoming more and more unbearable.

John touched himself for a few seconds, pulling his foreskin up and down with every intention of making himself as blood filled as possible for the other despite how rock hard he already was. He was almost shaking as he held his cock steady and finally decided to enter.

The first few inches went impossibly slow and Arthur's muscle wouldn't give way for him that easily and the friction was still too much. Arthur seemed like he was in a high despite it, almost twisting and turning in his spot. John cursed quietly to himself and reached an impatient hand back to the nightstand in order to to add some more lubricant, all while Arthur ordered him to get a move on with a very unsteady voice.

When he finally could continue, John whimpered and closed his eyes as he slowly forced himself inside and very soon a part of him was past the tightest space and he thought he might faint.

Arthur bit his teeth and groaned deeply as he became filled by the other man. He could hear his own rapid breathing as he tried to relax and get used to the always so strange sensation of having someone inside one's body. And after all this time. The offering part of the sex was never the easy part but most of the time it was worth the trouble so Arthur eventually found the courage to push back with the first proper entrance from the other, enclosing a few more inches of the latter’s hard length inside of him.

Arthur tightened his muscle as the other was inside and he could hear John’s breathing stop for a second or two from the extreme tightness around his cock. John breathed out as in a tremble from the overwhelming sensation of being inside him again. He held on to the other man’s hip and simply gave up all that was tender as he decided to push in the rest of his length, eager to let Arthur take all of him.

Arthur had forgotten just how big John was and he gripped onto the cover as the latter pushed the rest of himself inside with one purposeful thrust. And it wouldn’t stop there, he just kept on going, each thrust harder than the last. John bottomed him with each push with his hips and Arthur ignored the small shots of pain that had followed, not so unusual for this type of sex and especially not with the size his hole was working with.

Even so, the sweet sensation of John’s impossibly hard cock filling him was like no other time and he felt delirious as the younger man didn’t even try to be gentle with him, despite how he always had been in their past.

It took everything from John to stay quiet as he moved inside the other, not wanting to wake anyone up if they hadn't already. It didn't help that the bed whined under them with each thrust John made.

He didn't manage to think about it further, he was after all a bit distracted from the heaven he had reached. It had never felt like this before…Well, the one time he could remember a sensation being this intense was in fact the very first time he had made love to Arthur…first time he had fucked any man. The memory of that very emotional and significant event in his life made him hold Arthur close by wrapping his arm around his chest, hugging him from behind. Arthur responded by pressing John’s arm tighter to his body as they moved more slowly in unison.

The short and shared moment of that kind of intimacy was ended when John pulled his arm away and continued with working up the pace they had lost. He all but wrapped his leg over the side of Arthur’s thigh as he started to thrust frantically inside, peeking down for a few seconds at a time to see his length pump in and out of the other’s body, a few wet sounds accompanying the movements. Arthur bit his teeth hard and let out a few sounds, revealing just what a challenge it was to be taken by the other.  

They moved almost automatically and without speaking to a more comfortable position, both knowing it would be far more pleasure in it along with easier access. As Arthur lay on his stomach, the younger man placed his body on top of his and he felt John caress his hand down and along the back of his thigh, motioning him to move one leg to the side and up.

Arthur obeyed and spread for the other further and John responded by supporting himself with his trembling arms on either side of Arthur as he prepared to enter again. John breathed heavily through his aroused dizziness as he glanced down and aligned himself once more. It was almost too slippery now and the tip of his cock slid over the slick hole a few times until Arthur quickly lifted up his ass and reached back a very impatient hand to guide him inside. John felt almost delirious but he started fucking the other man again because there was nothing else he knew in that moment.

Arthur couldn’t deny this was the best sex he and John had ever had as the latter picked up an even more unforgiving pace than their previous position. When John penetrated him, it was as nothing else existed. He had forgotten all about the worry inside of him, all he could think of now was the cock he was happily taking every inch of.

Arthur worked himself on the hard length inside of him, pushing back with each thrust making John to come in as deep as he possibly could.

Arthur thought he would come undone only by this and John seemed to share the thought as he lowered his body completely, putting almost all of his weight over Arthur.

John left a wet and hot trail of kisses along Arthur’s spine and up to his shoulder. He reached up a strong hand and placed it over Arthur’s throat and kept a tight grip, imitating the gesture the older man often had made on him during their love making in the past. Arthur groaned loudly from the multiple sensations John was providing at the same time.

“Gotta be quiet…”, John whispered before he started to nibble on Arthur’s earlobe. The latter only mumbled a mmm as answer as he bit down on his lip. “God…I've forgotten how good you felt…”, John breathed out, sounding almost like he would cry.

Arthur could only shut his eyes as John made shorter thrusts, only focusing on hitting his spot with relentless force. He stopped every once in a while as he bottomed him, letting the tip of his hard length work his prostate.

Arthur started to rub his own hardness wildy against the mattress, he felt like he would explode any second and he could feel a familiar warming sensation form in the lower part of his belly.

“Quit moving so much…”, John panted into his ear and made the hardest thrust thus far, sending Arthur’s body up a few inches in the bed.

“John...John …”. Arthur couldn’t finish his sentence before he had the most intense orgasm in his whole life. It was whitening before his eyes in small bursts and he lost his breath completely as John tightened the strong grip around his throat during the whole duration of his ecstasy.

Arthur all but spasmed through it and still did as John could focus on chasing down his own orgasm. He had been holding it back for quite a long time and it only took a few deep thrusts for him to lose himself entirely inside the other man with a broken moan. John buried his face to Arthur’s back as he emptied himself with a few slow and long pumps.

John rested his body on top of Arthur’s, only just now feeling how completely soaked they were. He could only guess how wet the sheets must be from the pools of sweat they no doubt had managed to create. It took a moment for both of them to get down from their highs and when they did, John hadn’t realised they had been holding hands during the intercourse and he couldn’t remember when he first had threaded his fingers on top of Arthur’s. He pulled away his hand and released the grip of Arthur’s throat with the other. This was the after John knew they couldn't avoid. The after he was afraid of. 

He pulled out, not caring what a mess it would be to take care of later on as his cum dripped a few times from his softening erection. Arthur had probably made an even bigger mess, he thought.

John settled to sit on the edge of the bed and Arthur just buried his face completely to the pillow. Both men took the time needed to catch their breaths from this type of exertion.

After the few minutes of shared silence, Arthur rolled over so he could watch the other man who had buried his face to the palms of his hands. He reached out a hand and planted it on John’s arm, trying to not lose the emotional contact they had managed to attain.

No one spoke for what felt like minutes and John couldn't deny that Arthur’s reassuring touch was more than needed. He closed his eyes and tried to swallow the lump in his throat as he could hear the older man shift behind him. He lifted his head up from its shelter as Arthur came to him.

Arthur wrapped his comforting arms around the younger man's warm body. He brushed his lips over his shoulder and let his fingers drift over John’s chest, almost playfully. John let him. “Don't leave tomorrow”, he whispered. “Stay”.

“Wh-...I…”. John tried to give him an answer but couldn't so he only lifted one hand and let it rest over Arthur’s that was planted over his heart.

“I know you want…us”, Arthur continued and threaded their fingers together. John didn't respond and Arthur could feel the younger man’s heart beat violently in his chest, despite his outer calmness. “If you don't want to talk, then just…listen”. Arthur spoke with a gentle tone, all while caressing and continuing to brush his lips over the other. “Remember our first time? Up in Valentine?”

Arthur watched the other closely as he waited for a reaction. John finally nodded. “I remember”, he whispered.

“ ‘Give yourself to me’, you said…”, Arthur continued. He rested his head at John’s shoulder as he watched his profile, seeing the tears form in the younger man’s eyes. “And I did. I stayed... I didn't go to that feller to collect that damn debt that day. I stayed with you because I already loved you back then. Just as much as I do now…”.

John closed his eyes by the words and without thinking about it, he leaned himself to Arthur’s body, allowing himself to do that for once. “This is a whole lot different…”, he whispered. “But I get your point…”.

Arthur’s heart beat a little faster as John’s facade was starting to fall.

John swallowed and shook his head slightly to himself. “The truth is…I'm doing this for you, Arthur…For what Micah did…to you”, John admitted quietly. “That's why I have to find him. That's why I have to kill him…”.

Arthur sighed and hugged him harder as John told him. He couldn't make sense of all this, realising that even when the younger man hated him was he doing what he thought was best. Doing it all for him. Another day he was sure he could have felt flattered, even touched by it all. But now, trying to get John back to him was all that he could focus on. “You gotta let go of that hate, John…”, Arthur pleaded. “Going after him won't give us back the time we could have had…”.

John turned his head and met Arthur’s blue eyes who were as soothing to look at as so many times before. Arthur could see that he was breaking.

“I'm sorry for what you lost, John… What we lost....”. Arthur’s tears fell and he gripped onto the younger man, trying to comfort them both. “But like I said…it's not too late for us…”. Arthur’s voice broke, something that rarely happened. “So please...just... give yourself to me… like I gave myself to you…”. Arthur begged and the both of them only stared at each other with their tear-filled eyes because there was nothing else they could do.

John’s own tears escaped him and he finally squeezed Arthur’s hand as his answer.

 

-

 

“Did you hear that?” Sadie asked in the darkness.

“Hear what?” Abigail asked in her half asleep state and blinked her eyes open. She turned her body quickly to lie on her back as she noticed what the other woman had referred to. The both of them had been lying awake in bed and talking for a while, mostly about the situation with Micah. It was only just now they had prepared to catch some sleep.

“You don't think that…? Is that…?” Sadie spoke incoherently as she frowned and sharpened her ears.

They were silent for a few moments more as they could hear an even and unmistakable noise of a creaking furniture struggling with keeping up with the nightly activity taking place on it. It wasn't loud but it wasn’t unnoticeable either. The walls weren't that thick after all. “Oh, that was definitely John!” Abigail all but hissed as they could hear a muffled moan escape the other room. She sat up straight and crossed her arms.

Sadie found the moment so strange that she couldn't help but let out a few sounds that were supposed to resemble a laugh.

“Oh you find this amusing, do you?” Abigail asked her and Sadie bit on her lip.

“Oh come on , Abigail. This is rather fun”, Sadie answered and chuckled as she lifted herself to sit up as well.

Abigail let out a huff but chose to not argue further. “God, I can't listen to this...”, she only said but still found her mood to lighten up slightly despite the absurdity of it all. She realised she wasn't really mad, she just hoped that Jack wasn't awake…but given his room was on the other end of the house and the fact that he had inherited his father's ability to sleep through anything, she wasn't too worried. It wasn't loud enough to wake anyone anyways. She had barely heard it.

Sadie sighed as she watched the other woman whose features could be made out from the light of the moon sneaking in through the window. “Is it hard for you?” she asked in a more serious tone, all of her earlier amusement completely eradicated as she made sure the raven haired woman was fine.

Abigail met her eyes and gave her answer some thought before she opened her mouth about it. “The truth? No... I've already told you I don't care for him like that anymore”.

“You did…but you also told me that the two of you kissed-”.

“I know what I said…”, Abigail interrupted, not in an irritated way. “That was a while back...and it didn't change anything between us. I know what I feel...so does he…”, she spoke with a low voice. “Ever since Arthur came back, everything has changed for John…and they don't seem to be in a good place right now so I guess that this…”, she paused and gestured with her hand almost impatiently, referring to the background noise. “...is maybe what they need”. She sighed.

“What, a quick fuck before John heads out?”

Sadie!” Abigail exclaimed by the other woman’s choice of words and stared at her with wide eyes. Still, she found herself to hold back a smile, half agreeing with the other. “What I mean is that they have a lot to sort out and whatever thing that could make it easier for them is a good thing”.

“I've always found John to be quite thick in the head, truth to be told…but I sort of agree with him on this one. Don't get me wrong, I respect Arthur’s choices and all...but what he did? I would've probably killed him if I was in John’s place”.

“Yeah me too probably…”, Abigail murmured. “But John don't realise how much he need him…”, she said, more to herself. “You don't know how he's been these years, Sadie”.

“Oh, I think got a pretty good idea of how he's been. He's an asshole…”.

Abigail only stared at the other woman before she let out a short laugh. She thought that Sadie always had been brutally honest and straightforward and it always took her by surprise but she appreciated those traits in her more than anything. “He has been an asshole”, she agreed.

They shared a few silent moments, or as close to a silence that was possible considering the circumstances, and watched the other thoughtfully.

“You ever think about settling down again?” Abigail asked carefully, trying to be respectful to the woman next to her.

Sadie swallowed and looked away from Abigail, lowering her head slightly. “Sometimes. But I try not to”, she answered quietly. “I will probably ride out soon…try my luck elsewhere, maybe find a place to call home. I don't know…”.

As much as Abigail enjoyed having Sadie around again she knew better than to try convince her otherwise. “You do what you need to do, Sadie”, she only said and gave a reassuring smile to the fair headed woman. “Come to think of it, John said Charles was thinking about leaving too...he hadn't decided though”.

Sadie turned her head to Abigail again with an attentive look on her face, almost as if she was considering a proposal. She only nodded as answer. “Do you think about it? Settling down, perhaps with another man?” she asked instead.

Abigail was the one to look away this time. She smiled faintly as she spoke. “Not really. But the man I work for in town has been awfully kind to me. Making me think perhaps he's a bit sweet on me…”.

Sadie only gave a faint smile of her own. “He'll probably ask you to marry him”, she joked.

Abigail snorted at the words and rolled with her eyes, certain that such a thing would never happen.

“We should probably try and sleep”, Sadie stated. “If we can manage, that is...”.

They said their goodnights and lay down with their backs to each other. None were able to fall asleep for a long time, not even when the noises from John’s room had died out. Sadie still had second thoughts about the issue with Micah but she tried not to ponder too much. She reminded herself how much she had hated the man and she would gladly be at John's side on this one. What she didn't know was that she would never go after Micah. Not in the morning. Not ever.

Chapter Text

Beecher's Hope, 1907

Several months had passed since Arthur's return and both men would be lying if they were to say it had been easy. Learning to live side by side again and mostly of all together after all lost time had been a tough trial for both. Much because John kept his distance for a while, even after they had shared the night together in the beginning.  

The first few months, Arthur believed he could almost see and touch the very noticeable barrier between them and it had been difficult at first, impossible at some occasions. He had done his very best to be patient, knowing that he needed to be if he ever wanted to fix what he had broken.

In a way, he was reminded of the time of John’s return to the gang after he had disappeared for a year. He remembered how he had treated the younger man then, remembered what a slow process it was to forgive him for leaving. But comparing these two separate but shared events in their life, Arthur realised once more that John would always be the better man of the two… Even so, Arthur couldn't help but wonder if John's ability to time and time again find it in his heart to forgive was more a curse than a blessing.

Well…John hadn't actually forgiven him and Arthur wasn't so sure he ever would. No...Arthur believed the younger man had mostly accepted the situation for what it was. He could see that the younger man was trying though…trying for their sake. As Arthur had said, this was after all the last chance they would ever get and he knew John took those words to heart with each passing day.

And it wasn't for nothing, Arthur believed the past few weeks had been…good. Better . The new adjustment to the still life they now shared had been quite strange for them at first…. Sharing the same bed, waking up next to the same person each day. John never had that in his life before, neither had Arthur. Not like this anyway but none of them couldn't really deny how quickly they had gotten used to it.  

Despite it all, Arthur sometimes worried over the life they now had, afraid that it would come to other people's knowledge. People that weren't as… open-minded as them. People that condemned what they felt for one another and happily would punish them accordingly, including by death. 

John never worried. He often laughed over the matter and said that this was his ‘goddamn land’, and that he did whatever he pleased when he was on it, including having a man instead of a woman. Arthur could only wish he was able to see it the same way. 

John had always been a bit less careful than him when it came to such matters. Or perhaps a bit braver . Foolish either way, was Arthur's opinion.

One thing John was right in was that as long as ‘everyone kept their damn mouths shut’ about it, they would be all right . And it wasn't too hard to avoid people and their curiosity, he figured. John seldom rode into town, the saloon visits close to none nowadays.  

Only time they did have any business around people was when they needed to buy or sell supplies and given that no one lived nearby John’s ranch, they were mostly alone with no one bothering them and Arthur preferred it exactly so.   

Even if things were getting better, Arthur knew John’s mind wandered still and he often found the younger man to disappear from time to time but more often than not he always found him close by, like this day. 

“Wondered where you might’ve run off to”, Arthur said and held his thumbs at his belt and gave a careful smile to the other man.

"Arthur", John said as he turned his head around, studying the older man from head to toe with a sort of approving look. He got up on his feet from where he had squatted down by and faced the older man, half smiling as Arthur took the last few steps to him and leaned lightly with his side against one of the trees.   

Arthur got one of those almost mischievous looks on his face, his blue eyes all but sparkling as he took in the view of the dark haired man. “Shouldn't you be milking the cows or something?” he asked with a smirk on his face.

John merely snorted. “Thought it was your turn today, Mr. Callahan”, he joked, knowing that Arthur had never been much for that chore. The older man didn't look amused and John shoved at him more playfully than rough before his smile eventually faded out. “Jokes aside…Just needed a moment was all…”. 

Arthur looked the younger man over who wasn't so much younger than he himself had been when they first started this thing they had. “You ain't feeling shaky again, do you…?” he murmured, hoping that wasn't the case. “Because if you do, we can g-”.

“No”, John quickly breathed out and forced a smile to him, shaking his head. “No, it's really okay...It's been a while since…You know that”.

Arthur nodded, knowing that John’s physical wellness was far better now than all those months ago. "John Marston, I've already said I could read you like an open book, haven't I?" he asked and gave a meaningful look to the other man.

"Yes, you have…", John admitted quietly. 

"So...what’s on your mind then?” Arthur continued and tilted his head an inch, focusing his gaze upon the face he always found so soothing to look at. A face that showed much uncertainty in that moment.

The younger man lowered his head and started  kicking at a rock with his boot to the dusty ground, much like a child does when it's forced to give an apology it doesn't really mean. “It's just…when I woke up this morning and couldn't find you next to me, I thought you was dead all over again… Then I saw you out here, working already…and I felt…I don't know, like an idiot I guess”. 

Arthur lifted his hand up to hold John’s cheek, making the younger man meet his eyes, if only for a second at a time as he repeatedly averted them. “You’ve done more stupid things than I could ever count…”, he said and brushed his thumb over the scarred skin. "...but you're not an idiot. Far from it, really…".  

John’s lips couldn't really decide if they should turn into a smile or not as the other man insulted and complimented him at the same time. He simply settled with a deep sigh. “Just a bit…unsettling, you know. I couldn't remember what was real or not for a moment”. 

Arthur tried to give a careful but comforting smile to him before his eyes rested at the spot behind the other. “Say, why don't we get rid of that thing once and for all? Later this evening”, he suggested and gestured to it with a nod. 

John glanced over his shoulder. "About fucking time we did…", he agreed.

 

-

 

His eyes followed John’s slow steps as the latter walked over to the fire and stopped right before it. John swallowed and brushed his fingers over the name he had carved into the wooden cross he held in his hands. It only said ' Arthur', nothing else... John of all people knew what Arthur had been for him, he hadn't felt the need to add anything else at the time.

The cross had remained in its spot for too long and with time it just became something that was there in the background during the challenging months. No one had forgotten about it, far from it. Every time each man happened to pass it by it always served as a sort of reminder to them both. Arthur always felt a shot of guilt in his body and John became reminded of the life that now seemed so distant. The odd part was that no one had really addressed it with each other, as if both felt the cross should remain where it was until…until they had truly found one another again.

John glanced over to his side and met Arthur's eyes that already paid attention to him and had been for a while.   

John once more rested his gaze on the bad memory he was holding in his hands before he decided to just toss it into the fire, believing he would be indifferent about it.

Arthur moved behind John to embrace him, resting his chin on his shoulder as they both watched the flames devour the cross, causing a few crackles to be heard in the still night. 

Arthur held him tighter, keeping his strong but safe arms wrapped around the younger man’s body. John turned his head slightly by it and gave a faint smile, a mere gesture of showing his appreciation of Arthur’s closeness. He remained like that for a few seconds before watching the fire again.

John hadn't been quite prepared for how much this actually meant for him in that moment. Neither was he ready for how it felt inside him, like a big cold rock in his stomach was slowly dissolving. He felt he could breathe in a way he hadn't before, knowing that what the cross symbolized was never going to be his reality again, or at least not the lie it was based on.

Because lately, he was becoming more sure of that fact, allowed himself to feel as much anyhow… A part of him believed he would never trust Arthur again, not like he once had. But ever since he had allowed himself to have some hope, he had realised that Arthur wasn't intending on hurting him in any way ever again…that he could trust him with that at least. The older man made as much clear with each day they spent together and with time, John found himself to smile more frequently. To feel the joy a bit stronger. 

And now , for the first time he felt he was able to relax, knowing the state he'd been in before Arthur had come back to him, was a state he hopefully would never find himself in again. Maybe that was why he had never really dealt with the cross until now…because it was only now he was certain that most things would work out alright between them…that they would look out for each other, always.  

So the both of them only stood there together, trying to say their goodbyes to past mistakes and sorrows in nothing but silence.

After some time they settled next to each other on one of the logs, there was always at least one by fires like these. The two of them were alone for now and both just enjoyed the possibility to co-exist in this here and now, if only for a minute or two. 

“I still can't believe Abigail left us”, John said and broke the silence, once again reminding himself of the still so recent and unexpected event.   

Arthur frowned but couldn't help the short laugh slipping out of him from the younger man’s displeased face and to the change of atmosphere. “ What ?” he asked, staring at the other man with a humored expression.  

“What do you mean 'what'?" 

"I mean, why is it so hard to believe? Abigail’s got all the right to build a life of her own, haven't she?" 

"Of course…I'll just miss her, is all…", John admitted.

"Marston. She's in Blackwater , not Tahiti".

John shot a tired look at Arthur by the mention of that place.

"What I mean is, she's not exactly far so quit worrying so much".

"I know… God, I just hope that feller treats her well”, John muttered.  

“Or what? You gonna pay him a visit? Bring that gun of yours? Arthur joked.  

“I might”, John answered, dead serious. 

Arthur merely chuckled. “Yeah well…If it comes to that , I'll might even join you, Marston”, he assured.   

“Good”, John said, not expecting less from the other man. 

Arthur couldn't help but smile a bit as he watched the man next to him. John’s hair had grown to a more approving length and Arthur was happily brushing his fingers through it whenever he was given a chance. Just like now. 

Abigail wasn't the only one who had gone her own way, Arthur came to think of… “I do hope Sadie and Charles are alright…”, he said absently, brushing a few locks of hair behind John's ear. 

“The both of them can handle themselves…perfectly…fine”, John answered between his efforts of motioning Arthur's hand away from his hair, slightly annoyed because he didn't want that touch in that very moment.

Arthur rolled his eyes but agreed to pull his hand away, a very noticeable sigh escaping him while doing so. “Of course they can”, he agreed without any doubt. “I just…I hope they'll find a good life somewhere. They deserve as much…” 

“You know I said they could stay here but they wouldn't have it…And who am I to decide?” John shrugged his shoulders to the words. 

“Yeah, well, Charles did say he wanted to build a family of his own someday, said he was thinking about Canada… Can't really blame the man… ”, Arthur told him, knowing all too well how Charles felt. “If he's lucky, he’ll find that”.

John tapped his fingers on his thigh as he came to think of something he hadn't brought up with the other man yet. “You ever suspected that maybe …”, he started but paused as he tried to hold back a smile, biting his lip for a second or two.

“Suspected what?” Arthur asked and raised a brow, curious to what the other had to say. 

“I don't know…but don't you think he was a bit sweet on, uhm, Sadie?”

Arthur let out a snort by the words. “Not saying too much…but they did leave together, said they were gonna 'ride in the same direction’ up north…so who knows? Maybe they'll find a place to call home, together ". 

"You think so?" 

"Part of me don't really believe that…another part wishes it to be the truth”, he murmured. 

John smiled. “Well…whatever happens, I'm sure things will work out for them, wherever they go. Alone or together…Like you said, they deserve as much…and they're both good people”.  

“The best”, Arthur added. 

“And both of them did say they would write us”, John reminded. “So maybe you're the one who should quit worrying so much”.  

"Yeah, yeah…"

They fell into a silence again and John found himself to glance at the older man who only kept his eyes focused on the fire before them. Eventually he found his courage to speak up about a certain subject.

“So I've...read those journals of yours”, John told him suddenly. "All of them."

Arthur found it difficult to answer with words so he merely nodded, letting the other one know he had heard him at least. He had kept his promise in the end, letting John read his journal from all those years ago. But he had given him a couple of others as well, journals from their time apart. Not because they didn't speak with one another of their time apart…but mostly because Arthur sometimes found it hard to let John in . Perhaps if the younger man could see into those parts of him he never shared with anyone could John fully understand him.  

“You mentioned Thomas Downes’ widow and son a few times over the years”.

Arthur let out a deep sigh by the mention of them, his eyes flickering for a second. "I did", he stated shortly.

"Seems as they always found a way back into your head. Even after you tried to help them…"

Arthur kept staring into the fire, resting his elbows in his lap as he felt the restlessness start in his legs. “Don't know how much help it actually was…I did what I could for them at the time…before it was too late. Provided them with what they needed to start over someplace else…", he spoke with a low voice as he remained calm on the outside.

"You know…I remember now that you never told me much about the debtors back then…but I remember you mentioned him once or twice”.  

Arthur scratched the back of his head almost violently as he felt that familiar knot form in his stomach whenever he thought about past mistakes. “Wasn't much to tell really… Nothing pretty anyways".

"You only wrote that he died of sickness". 

The older man cleared his throat, not so sure if his voice would hold. "Yeah…I rode up to their farm a few days after, you know, our stay in Valentine back then…But he was already dead when I got there… Tuberculosis, they said…”  

“Huh…”, John answered with a thoughtful look on his face. "Perhaps it was for the best, you know", he said after a few seconds.

"What you mean by that?" Arthur frowned in confusion, lifting his head up to look at the other.

John almost frowned too, thinking that it was good because then that poor bastard at least didn't had to get all beat up by Arthur if it came to that. It wasn't exactly fun to take a punch from the man, John had earned quite a few when they had been younger and had gotten into fights with one another and of course he would never forget that one time when Arthur had lost his temper completely. And the fact that the debtor had been sick… Well, it just felt even worse. "Nothing…I don't really know what I meant…", he only said, waving his own comment away.

Arthur’s gaze lingered for a few seconds before he decided to not dig further into what went through John's head.

"Thought you went there a bit sooner actually", the younger man continued. "It seemed to be in such a hurry back then, you and me had just, I don't know, started something and you was prepared to leave me at the hotel because of a damn debt", he chuckled dryly.

"…I guess some things you said stuck to me…", Arthur murmured.

"Like what?"

Arthur breathed deeply before answering. "You always…always questioned me, being the stubborn bastard you are…". He gave a look to John, smirking for a second before turning serious again. "You made me question what I was doing…question what was right…don't think it was your intention though…"

Arthur remembered how often he felt that John had caused a change to take form within him but he had never known what exactly at the time. He believed it must have been then he first started doubting in himself and what purpose he really had.

"You saw what was good in the world far sooner than I ever did…Small things really… But it didn't do much for me back then…I still went…because I truly didn't give a shit about people". Arthur lifted his head and looked up at the star filled sky, blinking quickly a few times as he listened to his own cold words told in nothing but raw honesty. 

"I gave his widow some more time but eventually I threatened them…took all the money they had, not long after they had buried him…because that was what I was supposed to do, nothing else". Arthur nodded to the words, choosing to not hide any of those past actions despite how distant they were from his person now. 

"It…it was wrong of me to treat his family like I did after he had passed. I knew it was, even when I did it…I just didn't care..."

John looked at him with a serious expression, not being able to sympathize with the man as much as he would like to. Just as he didn't expect Arthur to sympathize with him if he ever were to feel his regrets as clearly. He knew he himself was no saint and he knew he had done just as bad things as the man next to him…but he wasn't like that anymore and he wouldn't let those kind of mistakes eat him from the inside, like Arthur still seemed to be doing. No…things like that, he couldn't do anything about it. "Did it ever occur to you that maybe the one you need forgiveness from the most is perhaps yourself? " John asked him plainly but also a bit challenging.  

The older man turned his head to him and looked like he had gotten a slap across his cheek. Then he looked more like John had said something so absurd that Arthur possibly couldn't believe he had just heard, a mix of confusion and irritation.

John noticed that the man was trying to say something, trying to form any word but didn't quite manage to.

"You did what you could, Arthur. Hell, ain't that…enough?" John said with close to an exhausted laugh, tired of the fact that the other man always chose to dig whenever he found himself in a hole.  

Arthur looked away again and kept silent for the longest time, not having any intention in answering.

John finally sighed and held out his hand to the other who at first hesitated, only glancing at the offer of physical contact. He accepted not too long after and let their fingers brush over one another's. Without words did they choose to not speak of the subject further, remaining silent in thoughtfulness for a few minutes. 

When too long time had passed, almost becoming uncomfortable, John decided to give his share of regrets also. “Read about Charlotte too…”, he suddenly said and glanced at Arthur much like he had when he broke the silence the first time, all while letting his fingers play with the other man’s. 

“I knew you would…and I knew you wouldn't be happy 'bout it bu-”

John sighed and shook his head. “It's not that…it's...”. He paused as he found it difficult to find the right words.

“Nothing happened, John…”, Arthur assured. “All I could think of was you…”

“It's not that…”, John repeated, the words a bit harder to utter this time. "It made me think about certain… encounters of my own, you can say".

Arthur frowned, noticing John’s wavering eyes. He thought he would be mad but the younger man almost looked ashamed instead. “What then?” he asked with hesitation, not knowing if he wanted to know the answer after all. The suspicions had been gnawing at him for some time. 

John felt a bit nervous as he reminded himself of the stranger he had slept with during the time he believed Arthur was gone. He had been feeling bad about it for a long while, ever since he and Arthur had been able to save what was left between them. “I uhm, was with someone else while I thought you was dead…”, John told him calmly, nodding to the words as he spoke. He didn't want to try and hide any of it. “Just once though”, he added, not that it mattered.  

Arthur looked away from him and lowered his head, realising he had been right after all. He nodded to himself slowly by John’s confession and glanced at him, nodding to him as well. “Yeah well…I figured as much…”, he mumbled.

“Was afraid you wouldn't take it well, that you'd be angry…” 

“I’m no-…”, Arthur started and shook his head before he forced a smile to the other. “I’m not angry…I don't even got the right to be… I don't like it, but…”, he sighed and looked down at their hands. He brushed his fingers over the warm skin, letting them drift over John’s wrist and further up his arm. Arthur distracted himself by doing so, the touch helping him to keep himself composed. “... you did nothing wrong…if it's anyone's fault, it's my own… and I appreciate you telling me but you don't owe that to me”.

“Just needed to get it out there, I guess…”

Arthur didn't want to ask him more of the event. He didn't want to know, not really… it was no business of his anyhow, despite how jealous he really felt on the inside. The mere thought of John being with someone else for the night or in any way almost made his blood boil. He never let it show though.  

Arthur could feel the air become somewhat heavy from the conversation and he knew he didn't want that at all. From now on, he only wanted them to be as fine as they could be so he tried to lighten up the mood. “I'm a bit surprised you didn't do it more than once though. With that body of yours, you'd make anyone weak in their knees”, he said with hungry eyes as he studied the younger man’s body, emphasizing the words. 

Arthur was joking with him at the same time he was telling the truth. Despite the other's intentions, John snorted and shook his head by the man's praise and only that easened up the atmosphere greatly. 

“Before me, I'm sure you was with plenty lucky fellers and ladies, you gonna apologize for that too, huh?” Arthur continued and attacked the other with his hand, aiming for his stomach as he tickled John roughly, causing a little panic and curses from the man as he almost fell back from the log. It was a childish gesture really. A gesture that had followed them from a time when they had been nothing but mere brothers to each other. John was finally able to shove the other's hand away from him, an irritated look on his face while doing so. 

As they stilled their movements, the older man could have sworn that John’s face had turned into a reddish tone, as if he was blushing. Arthur found it strange because the other man never did that. “What?” Arthur asked after a few seconds of confusion. “What did I say now?” 

John averted his eyes from his as he once more was reminded by how easy the older man could read him. "Were no men before you, Arthur", he spoke quietly, deciding to not keep that a secret any longer than he already had. 

Arthur only stared at him, not believing the man at first. He huffed but not in an angry manner. He frowned and smiled shortly in disbelief but settled with a more serious look on his face as he threaded their fingers together, letting the other know he didn't find it laughable at all. "I was your… first?" he asked even if the younger man had already provided him the answer. He swallowed and watched John closely as the latter mumbled a ‘yes’.

Everything made more sense, he figured, remembering their first time clearly. John hadn't been so relaxed at first, clearly nervous but hell, so had Arthur been. It wasn't exactly everyday you got the person you wanted and all that belonged, including letting your bodies become one. 

He remembered that right before it, John had said he wanted him 'again and again', speaking with confidence and a longing that was hard to say no to. Arthur had of course provided fully and quite literally at that time, the fool that he was… 

"Why lie about it…? Why the hell didn't you say anything?” the older man all but whispered.

John just shrugged his shoulders. "Never found it necessary…", he answered just as quietly. "Wasn’t really a big deal, Arthur".

Had Arthur known then he would have been more gentle with the younger man in the beginning, he remembered how frequently they had shared intimacy back then, even he himself had been so very eager to have the younger man’s body again and again. He knew John had been less experienced than him but he still touched and acted like he knew what he was doing. He felt more than confused.  

In the middle of all this, Arthur realised that John never had been good at putting himself first. Not only with the sexual concerns but also in mostly all aspects of their relationship. John had always complied to whatever Arthur wanted or what he believed Arthur wanted, at least up until his momentarily rejection a few months back. Only then had John put himself first but in the end he had still fulfilled Arthur's wishes, like he always did.

Arthur sighed and gave a disapproving look to him. “Why?”

John simply shrugged his shoulders again. “Reckon I didn't want to let you down so yeah, maybe I pretended for a bit. Long time ago now though…"

"John".

The younger man's eyes lingered in Arthur’s blue before his gaze moved elsewhere for a few seconds before returning, something dreamy in them as he reminisced his past self. "I've always looked up to you, Arthur…always wanted to prove myself to you, in a way”, John admitted and smiled with warmth and sadness at the same time as he remembered. "I did it as a boy and…and why do you think that would change when I grew up and suddenly felt something different for you?"  

"I never asked you to please me all the damn time". 

"What if I wanted to?" John asked, his dark eyes so spellbinding starry that it made Arthur remember the first time they had started to make him feel something else entirely than brotherly affection. He still remembered the fierce desire back then. John must have been twenty-one…twenty-two years old when Arthur started seeing him through different eyes, the older man feeling a bit guilty while he was at it. He hadn't known that when he first started feeling something for John had the younger man felt something for him for years already. And he wouldn't even come to know it up until a few years later than that… He guess both had been too good at hiding their interests in one another. Years wasted and wasted again… Arthur thought somberly.  

As hypnotizing as they were in that moment, he didn't let John's eyes make him take lightly on the younger man's small confession. “Forget about what I said earlier, you really are an idiot , Marston, you know that?” Arthur said, slightly irritated.  

“Was an idiot in love…Still am”, John answered with nothing but honesty, making Arthur shift slightly from the unexpected words to that moment.

Arthur studied him closely once more. He could see how much older John had become, not thinking about the physical part. He had become older in the way he spoke and acted nowadays. He was starting to reach the point in life the older man had been in their beginning. Arthur stilled himself and squeezed John's hand more tightly and lifted it up to plant a kiss on it. “Well…that goes for me too”.

 

Beecher’s Hope, 1911

 “About time”, John said to Uncle one late afternoon as he saw his son ride into the ranch. The both men had finished with herding the cattle back into the pen after their pasture and had just started with mucking out the barn.

“There he is”, Uncle greeted with a smile as the young man dismounted his horse inside.

“Hi, Uncle”, Jack smiled back. “Uhm, sorry I was gone for so long, pa. Guess I missed momma more than I thought".

“Don’t need to apologize, son…”, John said and took a break from his work to assist his son who was preparing to unsaddle his horse. “But I guess I wished you had come sooner than you did... ”, he continued with a most serious tone and an equally serious face, not even looking at the young man as he lifted away the saddle and placed it with the others.

Jack looked between his father and Uncle, confused with the scolding he thought awaited him. 

John sighed tiredly. “If you had, then I wouldn’t have to be all alone with this miserable and complaining old bastard for so long...”. John gestured with his thumb over his shoulder, making the old man stop shoveling. “Having Uncle as your only company isn't exactly preferable”, he continued and added a smirk, making the boy more than relieved that his father only had been joking.

“What is it with that mouth of yours, boy?” Uncle exclaimed with an upset voice to John. “Oh you think this is funny, do you?” he asked, directing the words to Jack who bit on his lip in order to hold back a grin.

“Sorry, Uncle…”, Jack apologized in a more joyful tone than regretful.

“Can't believe you…”, Uncle muttered and waved them off. “Like father like son…”, he continued and shook his head as he turned around to continue with his chore.

“Put Rio in the corral when you’re done”, John said to his son, referring to the horse. “Want to hear all about your stay, just need to finish up here first".

 

-

 

He joined his father when the sun was starting to set. The man looked worn out, his eyes tired and dark circles under them. But he still gave a carefree smile to his son even if the young man noticed it took some effort. Jack lowered himself to sit on the steps next to him in front of the house. “So…Arthur isn’t back yet?”  

“No, he said he’d be gone for a few weeks. I told you that already. Even he told you that”.

“Just thought he might come sooner”, Jack answered with a simple shrug of his shoulders, not making it too obvious he missed Arthur.

John studied him but only smiled shortly. “He's got the soul of a wanderer, son. That's what your grandpa always said about him…". He blinked a few times as the memory of Hosea came back to him, even after all this time. "No... Arthur will be back when he needs to be back. You know that”. 

Jack only nodded to the words. “Maybe you and me can head into Tall Trees tomorrow, Arthur said it was about time you teach me how to track a bear…”

"Arthur has definitely not said that", John answered as a statement and twisted his eyebrows in disbelief. "A bear? It ain't happening", he continued, shaking his head. "Not until you're older".  

"I ain't a child no more, pa… I'm sixteen years old", Jack tried anyway. "I'm almost a man now". 

"That's right. Almost. There's a difference and I think even Arthur would agree with me on that one".

"Yeah he probably would, he still goes around calling me 'kid'... ", Jack muttered.

"What?" 

"I said, he still goes around calling me kid" , Jack repeated, sounding even more sour this time.  

John shrugged his shoulders as if he didn't find it strange in any way. "So what? He's always called you kid, Jack…He probably will when you're all grown up too…just so you know", he joked.  

"Ugh, forget I said anything…", Jack sighed tiredly, knowing that he wouldn't win the argument this time either, reluctantly accepting the smirk on his father's face. "But when Arthur gets back, can we all at least go hunting together? We could use the meat anyway. I'm talking about a deer now".

“Yeah, sure…”, John answered with an inner sigh, brushing a few locks of hair back before putting his hat on. Jack had probably asked that ten times already these last couple of weeks.

They sat quietly for a minute and Jack kept staring at the cigarette in John’s mouth. “Can I have one?” he asked when he finally found the courage. 

John raised one brow to his son who looked expectant and seemed to be waiting for an affirmative answer. He grunted after a few moments and reached for the pack in his pocket. 

He studied the young man as he placed the cigarette between his lips and grabbed for the matches John handed to him.

John really didn't want to gloat but he didn't manage to hold back the amusement he felt as Jack started coughing violently from his very first drag. “You happy now?” he chuckled.

Jack shot an irritated look to his father but reached out the cigarette nonetheless as if he was accepting a defeat. John took it and tossed away the one he was already smoking. It was almost out anyway, he thought as he took a long drag from the new one.

“What you want is not always what's best for you”, John said with a more serious tone. “Sometimes it’s not what you expect either”.

Jack watched his father from under a few longer locks of his hair. Arthur had been saying that he was looking more like John each day and when the boy wasn't around to hear it, he also questioned John of how he could ever doubt Jack was his own once.

“That your words of wisdom for the day, father ?” the young man teased.

“Something like that…either way, they're the truth. When you get older you'll know them too. Hell, you'll learn a lot in life… Things that haven't made so much sense before”. 

“Yes, sir”, the young man answered, often taking his father’s words to heart and trying his very best to understand the man’s meaning even if he spoke in goddamn riddles sometimes.

Jack knew his father had always done his very best for him, never did he doubt it in any way. It was just…his father had been a difficult man to truly get to know over the years, the man's hard persona enough to make anyone keep a distance to him, including his own son.

As a child, Jack had sometimes felt that he was a bit afraid of his own father, never quite able to read him or understand his true feelings. The man was a mystery most of the time, never talking much of what was going on inside him but now Jack realised it had always been an effort from John to keep him away from all that...all that chaos and unhappiness that occupied the man. Maybe John was more afraid of himself than his son was.

But being as stubborn as his father, Jack didn't care if he sometimes pushed his limits a bit further each time they ended up in an argument or fight with each other, continuing to press on even if he shouldn't. He sometimes saw John do the exact same thing to Arthur after all.

Even so, the years that had passed since Arthur's return had been a change for the better, John not being quite as reserved as he used to be. It had changed many things, including the bond Jack shared with the dark haired man. It had become far stronger, based on what Jack felt as unconditional love even if John never said much about it. He could see it in the man's eyes after all, just like this very moment. How John's gaze occasionally lingered when his son spoke, Jack sometimes feeling he was some God to be worshipped when John looked at him like that. It was all in the details really…and Jack figured it was only now he could see them more clearly. See what had been there all along. John had never stopped caring for him…not once, not even when Jack had been more than certain of that fact a couple of times.

And he realised that despite the years of a sort of estrangement between the two of them, he truly respected his father and he knew his father respected him. Even if John constantly reminded him of how young he still was, the man often treated him as an equal and not as some stupid child he had power over. Most of the time anyways. 

Arthur did as well, if not more. He sometimes felt guilty as he thought of Arthur as his father too. He had accidentally said ‘dad’ to him one time a couple of years ago and it had made Arthur’s face turn into something he couldn't decipher. He had seemed surprised but a part of Jack could swore that the man had been touched by it because back then, he could almost see that Arthur had become a bit teary. He had been extra careful since, perhaps Arthur had become saddened by it. Jack knew the man had lost his son a very long time ago after all. Isaac was his name…Arthur had told him that much. 

But he guessed he knew what it was about because Jack didn't really know who Arthur was for him if not a father figure. Him calling Arthur dad probably meant more for the man than it had for him at that time. Because that's what Arthur truly wanted to be for him.  

Jack hadn't called him uncle once because it felt a bit strange to do so, given the man's bond with his father. Jack had found it odd at first, not really knowing that two men could even have what a woman and a man traditionally shared. Not knowing it was even possible up until then. But since he had no earlier knowledge of it, it wasn't really too difficult to adjust to. Besides, he had never seen his mother and father touch or speak like he only guessed parents should do, so in a way, much made sense as his father told him about caring for Arthur in…in that way .  

And Jack had realised quickly enough that Arthur was a whole lot easier to get answers from, not defiant like his father. He often found himself listening to old stories from their time in the gang. Arthur knew where to stop though, seeming to leave out details he believed Jack shouldn't hear about.

Jack couldn't deny that he was taking advantage of the fact that there were two parts of paternal authority. What he wasn't allowed from John, he tried with Arthur and vice versa. It worked sometimes, the young man thought with elation as he reminded himself to try and convince the golden haired man instead into learn him to track a bear.

So it wasn't all that strange that Jack considered Arthur to be his father too even if he called Arthur by his name. Even if they didn't speak of it. And everyone seemed content with that. With all those thoughts running through his head, Jack figured he had gotten what he wanted in the end. The truth of everything that only his father could provide.  

“So, tell me all about what you’ve been up to this last week”, John asked, Jack being the one who drifted away in his daydreaming this time. He looked at John who gave an attentive look to his son, genuinely interested in listening to his boy. 

John found himself to smile from time to time as Jack went on, the young man eager to tell about all the books Mr. Jameson had bought for him. Abigail had fixed some new fine shirts for him as well but Jack hadn’t found it all that necessary, given how seldom he used such garments. Getting your clothes all dirty and in dire need for a patch-up belonged to the life he preferred at the ranch with his father...fathers.

 

-

 

It was an early night when Arthur returned to his home at Beecher’s Hope. He prepared to head inside the house via the front door and almost missed the silhouette over by the gazebo. John was half sitting on the railing and he merely observed Arthur as the latter made his way to him in the darkness. “Well, you’re back early”, he stated, believing the golden haired man would be gone for a couple days more at least. 

“Maybe I missed you”, Arthur returned and settled next to him, leaning against the railing too. He took the beer bottle from John’s hand and downed the rest of its content before he put the bottle away, causing the younger man to stare tiredly at it like he couldn't believe Arthur just did that to him but at the same time accepting that he actually had. Indifferent as usual.

Arthur just shrugged his shoulders as John's eyes focused on him instead, the shrug suggesting he hadn't done anything wrong to the dark haired man. He had his reasons after all.

When he had returned to the younger man four years ago, Arthur had unfortunately learned that the other man had been stuck in it for quite a long time. It had been pure hell back then, trying to take care of that problem the same time both tried to patch up what little they had. John had pulled through eventually, as close as he could at least. 

Still, Arthur couldn't exactly decide for the man so small gestures like these would have to do sometimes. “Why are you sitting all alone in the darkness for?" Arthur asked as the small moment of communicating only by looks had ceased.

“Can’t... fucking...sleep is why... ”, John answered while he brushed his fingers through his long hair with frustrating motions. 

“Well... you always get like that when I’m away”, Arthur murmured and rested his eyes on the younger man’s tired face. “One might think you would have gotten used to it by now”, he whispered and leaned a bit closer to the man at his side.

“Yeah”, John breathed out. “One might…”

Arthur tilted his head slightly as he continued to study John’s features in the moonlight. “You never let that brain of yours rest". 

“Always been my problem”, John admitted and noticed the frown the older man gave him. "My mind returns to the past, all the time".

Why?” Arthur asked, sounding a bit amused. “Why go through…old memories?” It was ironic of him to ask that given how often he himself did the same. 

“I rightly don’t know...”, John answered and shrugged his shoulders. "Well it's not just the bad ones you know…I often think of the happier times when we were with the gang. Of what you and I had back then too…Went through some of our old pictures the other day".

“You have missed me, haven't you?” Arthur grinned and gently bumped his shoulder to the other’s.

“Of course I’ve missed you, Arthur... I know it’s only a couple of weeks but whenever you’re gone, it sometime reminds me of when you were... really gone”. John sighed, not sure if he would ever get rid of that dark feeling despite how many years had passed already. He truly felt pathetic.

“Hey...I’m not exactly going anywhere...", Arthur reassured.

“Yeah... Uncle said that too the other night”, John said with a faint smile, furrowing his brows at the déjà vu experience. "The exact same words I believe". 

“Did he now?” Arthur asked as he pushed himself away from the railing, moving with some sort of elegance John didn't expect to see coming from the rough-looking man that Arthur was. “Well, he's right. I’m not planning on living my life anywhere but here... ”, he whispered as he placed himself in front of John, resting his hands on the railing on either side of the other man. “...with you. You know that already”.

John gave a faint smile and nodded after a few seconds. "How did the ride go?" 

"Went fine, if you don't count the multiple times I almost rode into those damn automobiles that's taking over", Arthur all but spat out, showing the pure detest he felt. "I swear, they're gonna be on every goddamn road in a couple of years and I'm not looking forward to it one bit…"

"Who are the idiots that chooses to drive those things? Give me a horse any day...", John said, agreeing with the older man.  

Arthur crossed his arms, becoming more upset the more he thought about the modernisation of the world. 

“Apart from that, then?" John continued, internally enjoying the other man's irritation over the tiresome subject.

"Other than that, I got no bigger complaints".

"And Hamish, how was he?”

“Old”, Arthur answered. “Older", he corrected. "Said he would manage and I think he will...for now. He’s always been a tough son of a bitch but for how much longer, I don’t know..."

“Why can't he just come and live here with us…Would spare you some worry and he would have it easier, in more ways than one”.

Arthur shook his head in an instant, shutting down the suggestion as quickly as it had come.”He would never agree to that. He’d rather die than leave that damn place behind. Besides, he can still look after himself fine. No, he just gotta accept he ain’t as quick as he used to be”.

John nodded, not intending to convince the other further. “It’s not up to us, I guess”.

“It damn well isn’t”, Arthur agreed and let his eyes linger a bit too long at the other man’s face before he asked something he had been thinking about for a while. “Maybe you want to come along? Next time I visit him?” he murmured, not making it too obvious it would mean plenty to him if the man said yes. 

John crossed his arms, looking at Arthur to see if he was being serious or not. He seemed to be the first. “Well... who wouldn’t want to meet the man who saved mine?” he answered plainly.

“Okay”, Arthur smiled, more than content. “Say...why don’t we uhm...try and get you in bed?” he suggested after a few moments. “You look like shit...” 

“Sure… ”, John agreed and prepared to move away from the railing. His effort was stopped by Arthur not moving out of his way. “What?” John asked with a tiny bit of annoyance in his voice, not having the energy for Arthur acting like they were children or whatever intention the older man had with that tricky expression on his face.  

"Nothing, just…". The older man stopped the sentence as he bit on his lip and placed his hands on John's hips again in order to hold him in place as he slowly pressed their bodies together. John could feel Arthur's thumbs rub on him before the older man lifted one hand to the back of his head, letting his fingers run through the dark hair as he closed the last distance to kiss at his neck. 

John relished in the warm lips moving over his skin, the touch always spreading a tingling sensation to the rest of his body. 

“Gonna make you feel good tonight, Marston…”, he whispered into his ear.  

The younger man could only close his eyes and feel his body become a little bit hotter as Arthur continued with kissing him and whispering promises of what was to come.

 

-

 

“Shit, I’m getting too old for this…”, Arthur breathed out and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. 

John didn’t answer at first, he was still breathing too heavily from the high he had reached from Arthur’s treatment. He just stared at the ceiling as the other man moved up, all but crashing down beside him in their bed. 

“I can assure you it don't make much difference, Arthur... You still feel as good...”, John panted and gave an equal assuring look to the other who only returned a small and modest smile.

John lifted his arm to allow Arthur to rest on him before he reached for the cover, which they had thrown aside, and sheltered the lower part of their naked bodies with it.

John pressed a kiss to Arthur’s forehead and brushed his fingers through the short hair. “Your hair’s starting to get some gray in it”, he stated.  

“Like I said, I’m getting old”.

John chuckled lightly. “You’ve aged well though...You’re still strong... still handsome to look at...”, he spoke in earnest, hoping that the older man would know it to be the truth, because it was…

Arthur didn’t respond, he never did whenever he got a compliment. Still, he felt happy internally with the praise he was given from the other man.

He let himself be held by John for a while, he had always loved the sensation of their naked and warm skin pressing to each other, always so soothing for him.

In that moment he felt so…happy. He often did nowadays and he believed he had never smiled or laughed as frequently as he had these last couple of years. It was still hard to believe sometimes…that they actually shared all of this together. A proper life at a goddamn ranch. And it was fucking working.  

“What you thinking about?” John suddenly asked, interrupting the thoughts in his euphoria.

“Nothing”, Arthur mumbled, answering almost too quickly. He realised he had been smiling to himself and must have looked like an idiot to the other man. 

John raised a brow but just shrugged it off.

Arthur cleared his throat and lifted himself off from John to lie on his back. “Was thinking about bringing Jack along next time we hunt”, he told him. 

“Please do, he’s been pestering me about it while you was away... “, John murmured and rubbed his eyes. He was getting more sleepy with each minute, much to his own delight. 

“Don’t want to come along, huh?”

“I do… but I think it's best if only the two of you head out. There’s work to be done around here and I don’t want Uncle to wear himself out, he's getting old too, you know… Besides...Jack’s missed you. He never talks about it much but I can tell". 

“Okay, just me and the kid then", Arthur answered absently, thinking that maybe he should stop calling him that soon. "Looking forward to it, was a while since he came with".

"Just don't go after any grizzlies when you're out there", John murmured.

The older man didn't answer on that. He just rested his eyes on the ceiling like John did, one concern occupying him more often lately. "Jack’s getting older…”, he stated quietly after a few moments. “Almost a man now”.

“Yeah…”, John sighed, an inch of sadness filling his voice, thinking about how quickly Jack had grown up. “Everyone is all of a sudden…”, he said somberly, referring to the aging part. 

Arthur didn’t want to think about it too much. Whatever path the boy would create for himself, he was happy he had been able to be a part of his life this far at least and he hoped with all his heart that he would always be in the future too. He wanted Jack to become something true to himself and he knew the young man always spoke so fondly about writing. And it wasn't too strange, given how often that boy disappeared into the world of those books he had.   

Arthur remembered his own first few books after…after Dutch had taught him to read so long ago now. He remembered he hadn't enjoyed it at all at first, turning pretty much everything into a challenge for the man. Arthur had been unruly as a kid. He knew that…but Dutch had never given up on him despite how hopeless it had seemed sometimes. The older man always tried to make him see his own potential or that's what it felt like at least.

And it hadn't been for nothing, the man succeeded eventually and with time, Arthur learned to appreciate reading…writing and drawing. Creating something himself and disappearing into a world of his own from time to time. 

He was grateful to Dutch for so many things, teaching him how to read being one of said things. He was grateful that he and Hosea had been the ones to raise him in the later years, they had after all been far better fathers than his own ever was.

He sometimes wondered of what had happened if he hadn't been taken in by Dutch when he had. In a way, Arthur believed the man saved him from a certain death because of the very uncertain future he indeed had before meeting him.  

What pained him the most was that in the end, Dutch had instead left him to a certain death, not knowing what the outcome would be and Arthur still wondered if the man had even cared in that moment. 

"You're thinking about him again", John stated, knowing it as a fact from the so many other times he had found Arthur lost in these kind of thoughts.

"Yes". Arthur never denied it, knowing John could read him just as well as he could read the younger. 

“I do too sometimes…”, John admitted quietly.

“I guess that what bothers me the most is that we never got to know what became of him…”, Arthur spoke with a somber tone.

John turned to lie on his side, facing the other man. “It don't matter, Arthur. What Dutch did to us…to you… ”. John sighed and rubbed his face tiredly with one hand, too angry by the memory of Dutch to complete that sentence. “He ain't a part of us no more”, he stated instead.  

Arthur swallowed and kept staring at the ceiling, not even noticing the gentle touch on his arm.

John watched him for a few moments, hoping  the man could just pass this obstacle this time as well… He didn't know what answer he was expecting from Arthur but as the older man only kept his silence, John became more and more certain that the older man would never truly move on.

“I know”, Arthur finally answered, making John blink a couple of times. The golden haired man rolled to his side as well and lifted his hand up to stroke the dark locks of hair he had always loved. “And I don't want him to be”.  

John hadn't the time to answer before Arthur moved his body closer and pressed his lips to his, making him answer and never with hesitation. As their kiss deepened, John once again felt a calm spread through his body, knowing that both were so certain in what they shared.  

Whatever haunted them from their past, John knew they would manage…they were in this together after all.

Their kisses eventually faded out and they only embraced one another afterwards. “You're right... It don't matter. Not anymore...because being with you ... being with Jack…That's the best I ever did... ”, Arthur whispered to him, each word the truest he ever spoken. “And I wouldn’t want it any other way”.  

John hugged him tighter by the words, letting him know just how much it meant for him. They shared one last kiss and Arthur closed his eyes, continuing to slowly brush his fingers through the dark hair.

Arthur pulled away slightly to say something about how they should really get some sleep but he found that John had drifted into it already. He studied him for a while, realising he was smiling the whole time as he did.

“Goodnight, Marston”, he said in the darkness and only closed his eyes to wander into the world of dreaming.