“John Marston, you breathe a word of this to anyone and I will kill you with my bare hands.”
“How can you when you're throwing up every five minutes?” At your wince, he huffs out a breath. “You gotta tell him, at the very least.”
“Are you crazy?! He's the last person I wanna mention this to. Besides, I don't even know if I'm actually—” Your throat constricts, denying the word simple passage through your lips. Pregnant. Maybe if you don’t speak on it, it won't become true.
Your Ma used to say the same things about demons.
John scoffs, lights up a cigarette as you mount your horses. “And people think I’m stupid. Jesus Christ.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You think he won’t notice when, I dunno, your stomach grows four times its size?”
“John, I’ll tell him eventually. Just… not right now.”
Thankfully, he drops the subject and allows a tense silence to fall between you. Much better than arguing like you’ve been doing the past week while out collecting bounties, more specifically the money it entails, for Dutch.
By the time you reach camp, night has fallen, only a few people still awake to greet you in passing.
“Your man’s already asleep,” Karen slurs, elbowing Sean in the side as she chortles.
You roll your eyes though smile at their drunken laughter, contagious and nonsensical as it is. “Oh, Karen, I love you to death.”
She waves you away with a hand as you head toward Arthur’s makeshift tent, fingers twitching toward your belly. Too aware of its presence.
Like most nights, Arthur sleeps on his stomach, hat and coat discarded to their usual place, face buried in a flat pillow. You hate to wake him, hate to interrupt the few precious hours he gets of rest, but you’re exhausted and the thought of not having him by your side tonight outweighs any and all guilt.
You card fingers through his hair, brushing out the tangles as you go, delighting in the familiarity of it all. After all, he began to grow it out at your request. “Arthur...”
His eyes open as soon as your weight dips into the thin mattress, sleepy gaze meeting yours. And then he recognizes you a few moments later, lips curling into a smile, hand reaching out and pulling at the pocket of your jacket. “There’s my girl. C’mere.” He rolls onto his back so you can rest upon his chest. “Where the hell have you two been? I was ready to go out and drag your asses back myself.”
“I, uh, I’ve been sick the past few days and it put a wrench it our plans.” At the sharp expand of his chest, you rise onto both hands and cut him off. “And yes, I’m fine now. Probably some bad fish or something.”
“But you ain’t hurt?”
“Maybe a bruise here and there. The bounties were real easy for the most part.”
Arthur nods and sits up, presses a lingering kiss to your neck that leaves you arching against him. His voice lowers into a whisper, as if sharing a long-kept secret. “I missed you real bad, sweetpea. You ain’t ever been away this long.”
You mimic his tone, warmth swirling in your voice like cigarette smoke. “Yeah. Usually you’re the one leaving for days on end.”
He chuckles, nips at the curve of your shoulder. “I see now. Was this supposed to give me a taste of my own medicine?”
“Come to my tent and I’ll give you a taste of something you’ll really like.”
You tug him off the cot and lead him toward the other side of camp, ignoring Karen’s drunken cheers in favor of the warmth of Arthur’s arm around your waist.
“When you asked to put your tent all the way over here, I thought you was crazy. Turns out, you’re the smartest one out of all of us.”
After discarding your bag and removing your shoes, you plop down onto the floor and light the oil lamp in the corner. Mood lighting and all that. “What can I say? I like my privacy.”
Arthur closes the tent flaps to block out both windchill and curious eyes before lowering down next to you, undressing as you rummage around in your bag.
“I brought you back some candy. And more gun oil. Also, a new journal I bought off this cute old man near Strawberry. He hand-makes ‘em.”
As you strip to your underwear, Arthur inspects the gifts you layed out. Takes a bite of a chocolate-covered cherry as he runs his fingers over the leather-bound notebook. When he chuckles, you know he’s found the silly doodles you left on the front page.
“Do you like it?” you ask, lowering onto your knees next to him, head resting on his shoulder.
“You didn’t even have to do this, but thank you. ‘Course I love it.”
You breathe a sigh of relief and press a kiss to his skin. “This is the least I could do. You're too good to me.”
He turns to face you, eyes soft, crinkled at the edges from his grin. And although you crave the warmth of his skin against yours, the intimacy of love making that leaves you sated and soft, your eyes burn from exhaustion. Maybe he sees it, too. That's why he pulls the blanket over your bodies and settles in against your side.
“I was planning on riding you clear ‘til sunrise, but—”
“We ain't doing nothing while you're this tired. Now hush up and go to sleep.”
. . .
You wake up the next morning to roiling nausea that sends you scrambling out of bed and over to a tree near the tent.
The following few days continue in that same vein, your stomach never able to fully sit well, refusing to keep any food down.
As you make your way back to camp from another forest trip, John catches your eye, shoots you a knowing look that sends you reeling.
The dumbass was right.
“Must've been something you ate , huh?”
“Shut the hell up, John. I'm not in the mood.”
But he follows you anyway, waiting until the others are out of earshot before resting a warm hand on your shoulder. It brings you a sense of comfort, despite his unknown intentions. “Not to get sappy but…” he trails off as Micah passes, hissing a snide comment about sloppy seconds, but both of you are too bothered about your predicament to care, “you're my friend and, well, I don't like seeing you like this. So maybe I can talk to Abigail, see what she did to—”
“John, no. Just stay out of it, alright? I got myself into this mess, I can deal with the consequences.”
He watches you duck under his arm and stomp away, not bothering to compromise or stop you. Maybe you're just too stubborn to chase after. Maybe you're a lost cause.
But you wish someone would try.
John understandably distances himself from you after that, saving his breath from idle chats and jokes and teasing you when you walk past.
The world grows a little more lonely as the days drag on as you slowly isolate from everyone in camp, your only solace found in the wide open spaces of wildflowers and fields of barley, where no eyes steal nosy glances and no tongues wag. Where you can sit in thought, in regret, in your own tears until Charles — always Charles — comes looking for you.
You need to tell someone. Get this off your chest. Who better than him?
“Can I tell you a secret?”
Your fingers weave a purple flower into his unfinished braid, thankful for the idle task that keeps you focused, less anxious.
“And you swear you won't tell anyone at camp?”
“You have my word.”
You work the words inside your mouth, hesitance holding you back for a moment too soon. “... I think I'm pregnant.”
He hums, dark eyes meeting yours when you find enough courage to look up. “I'm guessing you haven't told Arthur yet?”
“Jesus, no. The man has enough on his plate without worrying about me.”
“Have you ever thought that maybe he would rather worry about you than not know at all?”
Charles, ever the thought-provoker.
“You haven't known him as long as I have,” is the only pitiful answer you can give, because he's right.
He already lost a lover, a child, and your selfishness has completely removed the option for rightful involvement — he's the love of your life, your unborn baby's father. And he deserves to know. You understand that, but—
“Charles, I'm terrified.”
He grips your still-busy hand, squeezes ever so slightly before letting go. “I’ll help in any way I can. You have my word.”
. . .
Your pants finally cease to fit almost three months after your last cycle, and then you know for sure. No maybes or second guesses. This is real, and you're terrified.
A gang is no place to raise a child. No place for a pregnant woman. Too much violence and strife and death. And with Dutch's short fuse, his rash decisions, worry settles in the empty well of your stomach at what he'll drag you into next.
You're forced to wear a baggy dress that Karen lent you during the winter until you can find the time to venture into town for new clothes, but at least it's loose around the middle to hide the small bump of a baby. Your baby. Arthur's baby.
While you were asleep, he stole a moment to draw you, the sketch folded neatly atop your clothes, ready for you to divulge after the remnants of grogginess washed away. You trace a finger over the lines of his pencil and smile at the sloppy heart in the corner of the paper.
You miss him. Have been avoiding him like the plague since this whole situation began, fearful of his ability to sniff out your lies. And you know how unfair it is to him, despite your own personal wariness, and it's stupid because your sun rises and sets around him. Your every thought always trails back to him. And yet you can't. Can't find the strength, the drive, the courage to tell him the God's honest truth. You hate yourself for it.
So you seek him out, hopeful that he hasn't completely written you off just yet.
You find him a few feet from camp sharing a log with Tilly, cigarette in hand as they converse. And you pause, wondering if their conversation is meant for your ears. Before you turn and run, however, Tilly's sweet voice calls out to you, mouth curling into a smile at your approach.
“Hey, Miss Tilly. How're you?”
“Mighty fine, sweetpea. Better than you these days, it seems.”
“Better than most of us these days,” you quip, stealing a glance at the man seated next to her, jaw clenching as he takes another drag of his cigarette. He refuses to look at you, focusing instead on the setting sun framed beautifully by a lake and two mountains.
“You mind if I talk to Arthur for just a minute?”
She rises from her seat, shoots you a wary look that turns your blood to ice. He must be in a bad mood, all because of you. She has every right to be snippy. “Of course. I was about to get ready for bed anyway. Night, Arthur.”
He responds in kind, the deep timbre of his voice drawing you near, coaxing your hand toward hat-mussed hair that you run shaking fingers through.
“Ain't seen you actually awake in a couple'a days. Had to hear from Charles that you weren't out getting into trouble—” a hand, bleeding irritation and thin patience, pushes your wrist away, “cause I sure as hell wasn't gonna hear it from you.”
His rejection stings—more than any bullet wound or bruise or cut you've ever had, and if it weren’t for knowing the ins and outs of Arthur's brain, you'd run off into the woods and never return.
But you know already, before he even asks the question, where his concerns lie.
“I was a goddamn fool,” he mutters, voice barely heard over a distant argument. And your heart drops. “How long?”
Goddamn it. You clear your throat, grateful for his aloofness so he can't see the way your hands shake, your teeth chatter. “What?”
He reminds you of the Arthur from years ago, back when he kept you at such a far distance you didn't even know he could speak. Back when you both denied and repressed feelings of like then love because happiness was too risky (and you deserved none of it anyway).
“How long has there been someone else?”
Tears blur your vision despite your best effort to blink them away.
The thread between you pulls taut, thin enough to break. He's slipping away, pushing you away to keep from the pain of heartbreak. And you can't blame him, especially can't hate him—your heart beats because he exists and smiles at you and deemed you worthy enough to exist within his world, where you see him sad and laughing and stripped bare and all the good and bad and—
“Arthur, are you crazy? I love you . And I'm sorry I've been absent lately but things are so hard right now and I didn't wanna seem a bother. I…”
The furrow of his brow denotes confusion, and he opens his mouth to speak, slowly reaches out to you like a person would a spooked deer. “Honey, you're crying.”
“I don’t know what I'm supposed to do. Where we go from here. Everything seems to be falling apart and nothing is getting better and I'm just so goddamn tired.”
He stands, steps over the log, pulls you into the safety of sturdy chest and thick arms and his warmth, and a dam breaks behind your eyes. You can't stop crying, and when you think you might, one look at the concern on his face leads you to sobbing again.
Arthur says nothing, no chides or snide remarks or scoffs, and leads you over to your tent, away from everyone else.
By the end of it all, you end up with a headache and puffy eyes and bone-deep exhaustion.
“You could've come to me, ya know. Just ‘cause I'm busy don't mean I won't make time for my special girl.” At his smile, sincere and sad and open, you take his wrist and nuzzle the palm of his hand. “I figured you knew that much.”
You stay silent, desperate to hide the guilt on your face, and you know that he knows. Sees in your face the swirl of stress that leaves you dizzy.
“If you need to talk, I'm here. I swear. You can tell me to shut up and I won't even say nothing.”
As emotions—relief, sadness, love—overwhelm you, you find comfort in his kisses. He reads your body with precision, lips almost bruising against yours.
You need this, both of you. A welcome distraction amongst the chaos.
“Arthur, please, I just— please.”
“I know. I'll take care of you, sweetheart. Just relax.”
At your insistence to keep your dress on, he pauses, regards you with a furrowed brow and slightly parted lips, and you attempt to distract him by shoving his pants down his thighs. But the plan doesn't work, even when you curl insistent fingers around the base of his cock and surge up to meet his lips.
“What's gotten into you lately?” he sucks in a sharp breath when your mouth latches onto the sensitive skin of his neck, right along his pulse.
He knows you too well. And you just want to forget.
“Nothing. I just missed this.” You break away from him long enough to discard your underwear, then dip petite fingers— his feel so much better—into yourself before replacing them around his cock.
His head lowers, breath inconsistent and heavy as you work him with an uncharacteristic fever inside your gut that needs to be broken.
Arthur, ever headstrong and disobedient, tries yet again to undress you, the heat of his palm pressing just under the swell of your belly before your grab his wrist and push it away.
“I said not to touch me, didn't I?”
He pulls away from your own touch to gather his thoughts, the heady presence of lust radiating from you both, thickening the air within your tent. Stifling, causing you both to sweat. “Now you know that ain't fair.”
“Life ain't fair, Arthur.”
You reach for him, smiling ruefully, when he stops you, grip iron and solid around both of your wrists.
Something else cloys in the air—tension, unspoken anger, resentment even, and the sharpness in his eyes rivals that of throwing knives. His anger fuels the fire inside your belly, makes your thighs fall open, makes you beg for his touch.
But he denies you, in the end, just like you knew he would. Rearranges his pants while you tend to pained wrists.
“When you find yourself growing tired of this game, come find me.”
And he leaves you unsated, unsatisfied.
It takes less than a minute to finish yourself off to the thought of him taking you on hands and knees, his palm rough against the roundness of your belly, words filthy and full of praise about how beautiful you look ripe with his child—
You come silently, jaw clenched tight, eyes shut, brow furrowed.
And then everything snaps back into place. The fog lifts along with fuzziness, and you curse yourself up one side and down the other as you clean up your mess, guilt heavy inside your chest.
. . .
After Arthur leaves, Dutch requests your presence the next day in his tent, and your mouth runs dry as fear clings against each rib and squeezes.
Charles and Micah already stand at the entrance, the three of them watching as you saunter over.
You offer them a quick greeting before Dutch begins to rant about a tip that Micah found of a train heading toward Saint Denis with a bunch of rich folk.
“What's my role in all this?”
Dutch smiles behind the smoke of his cigar. “You're gonna stop the train before it can get to town. We make you look real pretty, put you on at Annesburg, and they won't know what him ‘em until you three are long gone.”
Your fingers twitch toward your stomach, and Charles shoots you a nervous glance.
“Don't you think Karen would better fit that position?”
“Charles,” Dutch speaks in a tone of disappointment, admonishment, “do you know how many times our little Sunshine has robbed a train blind?”
Charles huffs out a breath of resignation. “No, Dutch.”
Your leader inclines his head, prompting you to speak.
“M… maybe 15 or so.”
“So you see, Charles, why I specifically asked her for this job.”
Dutch sends all of you on your way, Charles immediately stopping you with a hand on your shoulder, voice barely above a whisper as he speaks. “You should tell Dutch to send someone else.”
“I should do a lot of things, Charles. But am I gonna? No.”
He releases a breath through his nose, chest heaving in frustration at your thick skull. “Can you not see the danger involved? For not only you, but—”
He stops himself, glances around the camp as people amble about.
“You don't need to finish that. I get your point.” You press the tips of your fingers to your belly, feel the slow-setting hardness, and pray that you're making the right decision. “But you know that if I don't pull my own weight, I'll be forced to leave.”
“Then I would go with you. As well as Arthur.”
“Where, exactly, would we go? Huh?”
“We would find somewhere, just as we always do.”
Charles, wrapped up in his optimism, a stark contrast to your drained hope at seeking a better life.
“Listen, you can't stay here like this. Would you want them ,” he nods vaguely toward your stomach , “to?”
“Goddamn it,” you run a hand over your face, grit your teeth as the ghostly press of a blade settles cold against your neck, “no. No, of course not.”
Torn between the perception of right and wrong, a double-edged sword that you must impale yourself upon as you finally meet the crossroads of consequence. Only two ways to go from this point, and neither are particularly promising.
“I'll tell Arthur when I get back. About everything.”
“Good.” He glances back at Dutch. “We're all running out of time here.”
. . .
Your foot refuses to stop bouncing against the rattle of the train's floor. Upon your lap, your large purse feels unnaturally heavy with the gun stashed inside, ready at a moment's notice.
How many times will you have to do this? The acidic burn of blood still hasn't washed off your hands from years of killing and robbery, and you think that it never will. But unless you leave, the stench of it will cling to your skin and hair and clothes until your dying breath.
Outside your window, you spot Charles and Micah, an unsuspecting pair only stopping until the road is clear.
You rise from your seat with a flurry of apologies, push past people with the excuse that you're pregnant and need to be sick. Not far from the truth, what with the bubbling of your stomach, and your condition forces everyone to steer clear as you head toward the cab.
Charles makes it there before you, however, knocking the man unconscious and stopping the train with a lurch that knocks you to your knees.
“Stay here,” he says upon seeing you, tone holding no room for argument, but you'll be damned if he orders you around like your Pa.
You pull the gun from your bag and make your way through the cars, collecting money and shooting guards until you arrive at the luggage car.
So far, so good.
Your dress makes movement difficult, but with some help from Micah and Charles, the train is cleared of all valuables and started up again.
You swear that you're in the clear. The weight of fear doesn't settle as hard on your back, replaced instead by adrenaline-induced restlessness.
None of you expect the shouts of men, dressed unlike policemen, as they chase you through the woods. Their aim is eerily accurate, piercing your shoulder, then the leg of Charles's horse. Both of you cry out as you tumble to the dirt, the men hot on your heels, hooting and hollering when they catch sight of you, bleeding and covered in mud as you are.
Micah is nowhere to be found.
Charles tugs you to your feet, clenches a fist around the bullet wound. “You need to get out of here. I'll distract them.”
“Stop being selfish . This isn't just about you anymore. Now go!”
The hiss of his voice has you sprinting into the forest, wincing against the pain in your shoulder. You glance back at the sound of heavy hoofbeats, watch with silent horror as two men steadily gain speed on you.
"Leave me alone! I ain't got nothing for you!"
"Oh, you got something alright!" The implication of the man's words forces you to run even faster, leaping over decaying trees and bursting through thorn bushes. All in an attempt to escape a violent end.
And then you reach a large, broken-down cabin. Infested with spiders and rats, creaking floorboards, dusty furniture and though you're not a religious person, you pray to God above as you hide beneath an overturned shelf that they don't find you.
But someone gets to them first.
A flurry of shouts and gunfire erupt outside the building, causing you to retreat further beneath your hiding place and into a dust-covered bedroom. You scurry beneath the bed as two sets of footsteps rush toward the other side of the wall. A voice, gruff and low and threatening says something indiscernible before a final shot rings out and silence thickens throughout the house.
Wood breaks, remaining books tumble to the floor, and you hold a hand over your mouth to stifle large huffs of breath.
Not how you thought the evening would go, hiding like prey from a gang hell-bent on getting your money.
Boots enter your field of vision, the leather covered in mud and fresh blood and steel toes. The figure stalks confidently about the room before stopping in front of your hiding place.
“Ain't no sense in hiding, girl. I know you're under there.” The rustle of fabric, the cock of a gun, and suddenly the bed shifts to reveal your injured arm. Just enough for the strange man to grab as you cry out in pain.
He wrenches you out and up, knocking your head against the metal frame in the process so you're left disoriented.
A man you've never seen before, covered head-to-toe in fresh blood, hovers above you. “What did them fellers want with you ?”
“I have no idea, but listen, I’m—” You despise pleading, but Charles is right. You aren't living for yourself anymore, “I'm pregnant. Please don't kill me.”
He stands, sheaths his weapon, and you begin to weep. “You oughta be more careful out here. It ain't safe, especially for a woman in your condition.” You babble at him, a mess of thanks and apologies, and helps you to your feet before rummaging around in his pack for bandages and vaseline. After patching up your shoulder, he leads you outside, over to a freshly-brushed horse. “This here's Polly. You can borrow her to get home.”
. . .
When you roll into camp after a full day of riding, Hosea is the first to greet you, face pinched, hands on his hips.
“Where the hell have you been? Micah told us you were dead.”
“Not yet,” you mutter, adjust your grip on your injury. The blood stopped some time into the night, and all that's left is a sharp ache down to the bone. “Listen, Hosea, I appreciate your concern, but I'm fine.”
Hosea follows you over to Dutch's tent, where you throw the bag of valuables at the latter's feet as he nurses a cigar.
“Welcome back to the living.”
“You didn't feel like telling us there was another goddamn gang wanting to rob the same train? They almost killed—” Your head whips around, searching amongst the crowd for— “Charles? Where is he?”
“He's resting. Pretty beat up, but he'll be alright.” He regards you for a moment, gaze almost pitying. “And no, I didn't know a damn thing about that other gang. If I did, I would've sent more than you three.”
“Doesn't change the fact that Micah left us for dead.”
Micah’s voice grates your ears as he walks up to you, settles an elbow upon your injured shoulder so roughly that you gasp. “I was under the impression you and Charles planned all this to take the money for yourself and run away.”
“Get the hell away from her, Micah.”
Arthur, covered in blood and sporting a nasty bruise beneath his eye as he dismounts his horse. He must have just come back from whatever crazy escapade Dutch sent him on.
“What, nobody else can touch your little pet but you? Is that it?”
You clench a fist, shift your weight to your right foot, and swing. Something cracks, indents beneath a knuckle, blood spurting all over your hand. Micah falls to his back with a cackle, clutching at a broken nose.
Out of the corner of your eye, Arthur shrugs. “I warned you, partner.”
Dutch quiets the argument that immediately begins and, with all eyes on him, lifts your bag into the air, filled to the brim with future bills. You storm off at the sound of his speech, too exhausted and angry to tolerate the sound of his voice and the shallowness of his words.
Your time is running out.
Arthur interrupts your packing with his presence. “Sweetpea, what're you doing?”
“This place ain’t safe for me no more. It took me too long to realize it but, as soon as I start showing even more, I'll be kicked out with nowhere to go. And even if they let me stay, I ain't living like this the rest of my life.”
You pause, spine straightening as you realize what you've done. Your goddamn mouth. The secret's out.
“Arthur, I'm—God, I'm pregnant.”
“You knew this and still decided to rob a train.”
At your insistent silence, too focused on packing your things, he grabs your arm and shakes you. And for a moment, your head pops out of the water and you can finally breathe. His eyes shine with tears, jaw working beneath the skin.
“A little over three months.”
“And you… you've kept this from me?”
Arthur never cries. Maybe once every few months you’ve caught him in his tent with red eyes and in need of a hug. But now? He sobs. Not tears of happiness, or excitement, but of anguish borne from your selfishness. His shoulders shake, tears absorbing into your dirty dress, and all you can do is hold him until they subside. And eventually, they do.
“So all that avoiding me? The thing with the dress? The sickness?”
“I didn't want you to worry.”
“I worry about you every time you step outside this camp, so nothing would’ve changed.” His voice holds no resentment or anger or disappointment. Just… cold, far-away melancholy. But it dips until you can barely make out words. “We gotta get you out of here.”
You match his same volume. “How? You know Dutch won't let you leave, especially with the state he's in now.”
“I wasn't gonna ask.”
He pulls away, wipes his face on the back of his arm, and nods to your bag. “Finish things tonight. The majority of us'll be gone tomorrow on account of the train robbery.”
Fear swirls in your gut. Dutch is growing reckless, greedy. “Even you?”
“You know I have to. But I'll make it back to you, I swear.”
The gears inside your head turn as a plan slowly hatches. “There's a run-down house a little ways North of here. We could meet each other there.”
He nods his head, reaches forward to press a wary palm against your belly. “I hope we're doing the right thing.”
You rest a hand over his own. “Me too. But it ain't just about us now. Never will be from this point on.”
He raises his gaze to meet your eyes, sadness written in the upturn of his brow. “Second chances, right?”
You reach up and cradle his cheek in hand, thumb caressing the bruise under his eye, and he leans into your touch. “We'll be better than our parents were. Better than all this. It's just a matter of time.”
Arthur rises to his feet and heads toward the tent entrance.
“Wait—” you catch his wrist, the simple gesture emanating comfort and safety, “I just wanna say that you have every reason to be mad at me about all this, but you gotta understand why I did what I did.”
He huffs, refusing to meet your eye. “Later, when this all blows over.”
“I love you, Arthur. Through all this, you're all I thought about.”
And then he turns, presses a kiss to your forehead. “Love you, too.”
. . .
You spend the evening with Abigail and Jack as a subconscious goodbye, and watch with a heavy heart at the way she tickles him and they laugh and read together.
Would you be a good mother? A worthy one? The thought both terrifies and excites you.
Ma always said that, although you were a surprise, you were the greatest gift God could have bestowed upon her. Maybe you would teach your child the same things she taught you.
For the first time in months, you pray. For peace, for bravery, for safety, and most of all: for guidance. You don't know what the future holds in store, have no idea if you'll even wake up tomorrow, but at least you have a reason for being. This baby needs you stronger than ever, and you'll be damned to allow foolishness to guide your actions from this point forward.
So you pretend until nightfall. Play cards with Lenny and Bill and Hosea, do chores around camp, visit Charles yet tell him nothing because he needs no more danger or pain.
You even visit John in his tent, offer well wishes and advice for him to do the same, “before Dutch takes you all down with him.”
Of course he argues about loyalty and bravery, and you tell him that bravery involves doing what's best for yourself, for those that rely on you, in the end. He leaves you with a hug, promises that he'll talk to Abigail.
The next day, the men ride out as predicted, Arthur catching your eye as he mounts his horse.
You change your bandages, check and recheck your bags to make sure that you packed everything.
“What's got you in such a tizzy today?” Abigail asks, tone light and joking.
You wave her over and she steps into Arthur's tent. “Can you hold this open for me? Doing things with one arm is a lot harder than I expected.”
She assists you with stuffing Arthur's clothes into a bag, asking no questions, as if she already knows why.
“John told me you was pregnant. And I know you don't want my advice, but this is the best thing for you and that baby.” Unspoken words sound loud and clear: ‘I wish I had that option’.
“You can come with us, ya know. I think Arthur's gonna talk some sense into John about the whole thing.”
Abigail laughs, though no humor shines through. “God, I wish I could leave. Jack deserves more. Hell, we all deserve more.”
You fall into a companionable silence as possessions are packed up and moved to your horse. Brush off insistent questions and pleas from the others, hell-bent on the task at hand.
You're leaving this place, so help you God. And Abigail and Jack right along with you.
Saying farewell to the others, especially Tilly, you head out toward the meeting place, gun at the ready in case of trouble.
Jack blissfully breaks the silence with stories and childlike wonder, stopping every so often to ask where you're going, how long it'll take to get there, where his Pa is.
Freedom appears within arms reach as the cabin appears through a mess of trees, and you greet the familiar man sitting on his porch as Polly whinnies beneath you.
“You ain't brought along trouble, have ya?”
You shake your head as he invites you inside and heads for the kitchen. “No, sir. I just wanted to bring your horse back before we left.”
He exits the kitchen with a glass of water that he hands to Jack before joining you at the table. “I was hoping you'd come back.” Lights up a cigarette. “You're all I've been able to think about.”
The hair on the back of your neck stands on end, and you spare a glance toward Abigail as she sits on the couch facing away from you, talking to an upset Jack in her lap.
“How do you mean?” You know, desperately, that his answer will not be diplomatic or wholesome, and when he lays a hand on your knee, you flinch.
“A good-looking woman like you?” He whistles low, light eyes dipping to roam the expanse of your body. And you suddenly feel naked and cold, a whisper of fear running down your spine. “I'd do anything to have you in my bed.”
You grit your teeth so hard that your jaw aches, hands tighten into fists. “With all due respect, sir, I wouldn't accept anything you offer.” When his eyes grow dark and stormy, you backtrack. Offer up your sweetest smile. “Because I'm a taken woman, you see.”
He looks around and laughs, leans back in his chair with an aura of misplaced authority. “Then where the hell is he?”
“On his way, you creep,” Abigail interjects, now standing next to the couch, Jack held protectively behind her skirt. “Sunshine, let's go. Now.”
You quickly stand from your chair and head for the door, but he wrenches you back with a hand on your bandaged shoulder.
“I’m keeping this one, if you don't mind.”
Your head pounds, the beginning of a migraine digging into your skull. You curse yourself for getting into this mess, knowing that this world is no place for a woman, and humans bear no kindness in their hearts. All thought leaves your brain except one: survive.
“Abigail, go. Take Jack and go. I'll be okay.”
“I ain't leaving—”
The crook of the man's arm presses hard against the front of your throat, sparking stars that flit across your vision. “Think about your boy and be brave.”
A tug of war wages within her mind before Jack curls a hand around her wrist, and she blinks. “I'll come back for you, I swear it.”
She flees from the house, and you watch as her silhouette passes by the see-through curtains.
“Now that that's taken care of,” his grip grows tighter around your neck, and you struggle against him. Scratch at his face, kick against his knees, drive the heel of your boot into his groin.
He keels over, releasing you in the process, and you scrabble toward the door on hands and knees, vision blurry and peppered with white specks.
Before your hand reaches out, he jerks you back by the collar and lands a heavy kick to your face, spraying blood from a busted nose.
And every last drop of energy drains from your body. Your ears ring, drowning out whatever vile things he says to you.
You're tired. Too tired to fight. But you tried, if the scratches on his face and neck, if the limp in his step proves anything.
He rests a hand upon the swell of your belly and nausea gathers in your throat. “We'll be a good pair, me and you. I'm excited.”
As he leans down to press a kiss to your face, a knock at the door lifts him to his feet. Then the pounding of a fist, and you register the voice on the other side, but can't bring yourself to care. You only want to sleep.
Just before your eyes close, Arthur kicks in the door, already disheveled from the train job. His eyes land on you sprawled out on the floor, face a mess of blood, before his body stalks out of your line of vision.
You fall asleep, only waking to Arthur's insistent shaking of your shoulders, pain slicing down your arm when his thumb presses against the bullet wound.
“We gotta get moving. Dutch and the others were right on my goddamn trail.” You reach for him, and he cradles you in his arms all the way out to his horse.
“Our bags,” you mutter, voice hoarse and breaking. “We need our bags.”
“I got ‘em. Don't you worry about that right now.”
Your body calms after a while of being in Arthur’s arms, his voice soothing the ache at your temples.
“I’m sorry for all this. I know them folks back there was your family,” you mutter, coughing at the sharp sting against your windpipe.
“You're my family now, alright? ‘Sides, Dutch was a ticking time bomb.”
“But nothing.” He presses a kiss to your hair as the horse settles into a steady rhythm. “We both knew how this was gonna end. No business being sad... We got each other.”
You exhale an amused breath through your mouth. “That we do.”
After a long silence, Arthur speaks with his chin on your non-bandaged shoulder.
“So, where to? Chicago, maybe? Or do you wanna go out west?”
You sigh wistfully, ignoring the pain in your face. “I don't know. I fancy cities for the most part, but I couldn't live in one.”
“The outskirts, then.”
The press of a large hand to your belly, thumb soothing the swollen skin, has you beaming, smile so wide your cheeks ache. You cough, vision shrinking, muscles relaxing in his hold. “Sounds like a plan, Mr. Morgan. A mighty fine one, at that.”