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soul taking root.

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“Amos Kinsley, lets take it outside.”

Matthew’s vision tunnels and he’s vaguely aware of the others speaking, distant, far away, but his mind is going dark. His world is narrowing down to that one thing, that one name, and his forearm is burning and everything is dark.

He’s on horseback and the moon is heavy and full, low to the horizon, but there’s nothing else around him, stretches of barren land as far as his eyes can see.

Then the moon isn’t a moon, it’s the cap of a shotgun shell and the world isn’t quite dark.

He’s on the stairs of the church, looking out over the town, watching a man slink his way to the Bullock, casting glances over his shoulders. Like something’s dogging his heels. And then he’s in Al’s office and he looks over and meets blue eyes.

And he’s being tossed off a horse, a hand held out to pull him up.

Then he’s standing on the edge of a pit, ”Anchor me.”

Shots ring out, but that’s not in his mind, that’s here now, in the present.

And the others are outside.

The others are outside and he stumbles out after them, feeling like a newborn colt and he can see blood blossoming on the front of Clayton—Amos—Clayton’s shirt.

“Wait,” he croaks out, but his voice doesn’t work like it’s supposed to.

He pushes passed Miriam and Arabella, can only distantly feel them trying to grab his arms, trying to stop him, but there’s no point to it, not when all he can see is Clayton, bleeding through his shirt, not even trying to stop Aloysius.

“Wait,” he tries again and Clayton looks at him then, his expression softening, and Matthew doesn’t think about it, surges forward.

Another shot rings out and pain blossoms bright and hot between his shoulders and there’s a lot more shouting. He can’t make any of it out though, staggering forward under his own steam, and Clayton is staring at him, some mixture of amazement and disbelief and disdain maybe?

“You fuckin’ fool,” Clayton hisses at him, though it drops off when Matthew sags against him, the breath heaving out of him in one great burst.

He’s got to be in pain, Matthew knows, gut shots hurt like hell, but the world is going fuzzy again and he’s pretty sure it’s not because of the name permanently etched into his forearm. “You knew,” he accuses lowly, fingers scrabbling at Clayton’s arms to keep himself up right.

“Idiot,” Clayton adds, but then he’s looking away, “Bella! If you’re done trussing him up like a hog, I think the good reverend could use some help over here!”

Matthew’s pretty sure that’s fondness he hears.

It takes him several seconds to realize they aren’t standing, that he’s on his knees in the dirt and there’s blood under them and he’s not sure whose it is, but he brings a hand up, tries to cup at Clayton’s jaw and maybe actually sort of smacks him a little. “Don’t run,” he pleads quietly, “Please don’t.”

“He’s not going anywhere,” Miriam says sternly, as she starts pulling at him, tugging him away from Clayton, and he’s not got the energy to fight her now.

He blinks up at her as he hits his back in the dirt with a hiss, “Miriam, you can’t let him,” he tells her, grasping at her dress, and more tears are sliding down her cheeks and he hates that a lot, “He’s... he’s mine,” he adds, tongue getting thick as his vision swims, “My name.”

“Oh, honey,” Miriam touches his forehead, brushes his hair back, “I’ll tie him up too if I have you.”

Nearby, he hears grumbling that he thinks is Clayton saying, “She can damn well try.”

Then Arabella’s face is above him and the world swims more, darkness taking the edges.

-----

When he wakes again, dragging himself forcefully to consciousness, not convinced that everything’s not been a vivid dream, the world is dark out the window and he’s in his room at the hotel and Arabella is in a chair by the bed, reading a book.

He swallows around what feels like a pound of cotton, “Arabella,” he croaks out.

The book snaps shut as she looks at him, “Oh, thank god,” she looks tired, dark smudges under her eyes, lips dry and cracked. “Let me get you some water,” she stands and pats his hand that’s on top of the covers.

“How many days?” He asks her hoarse, before she leaves the room.

She glances over her shoulder and her smile is strained, “Four.”

He nods and she slips out the door, pulling it shut behind her.

It takes him a few minutes to take stock of everything, to even get the blanket off himself so he can, looks down the line of himself to wiggle his toes, bend his knees, wiggle his fingers.

Wonder about who undressed him and decide it’s better he doesn’t ask.

His arms are bare and he lifts the left one up to himself, presses his fingers to the black lines of the name that’s been there most of his life. Amos Kinsley stares back at him, near illegible for how scratchy the script is.

He drops it to the bed when someone knocks, “S’open!” He starts tracing the bandages wrapped around his chest, the thickest part right at the middle and only dotted with a single pinprick of red in the middle.

The door cracks open and he tries not to feel disappointed when Miriam sticks her head around the wood, “Matthew,” she says, all relief and steps in fully, with a pitcher and a glass in her hand, “It’s about damn time you woke up,” she adds, though her chastising falls flat.

It takes a whole lot of effort to push himself up to sitting against the pillows and she scowls as she rushes to put the items on the table by the bed, “You shouldn’t be straining yourself, you great big lug.”

He laughs and it’s hoarse and he’s sweating just from that little bit of effort, “I was gonna ask how y’all got me up here.”

She tuts, “I think you’ll be surprised how persuasive Miss Whitlock and I can be when we put our minds to it.”

“No, I wouldn’t be,” he says immediately and she smiles at him as she pours a glass of water that he takes gratefully.

It’s stale and luke warm and he doesn’t care, gulps it all down greedily, passes it back when it’s gone. Sleep is already trying to drag at him again and he fights at it as best he can, “Miriam,” he says quietly, eyes on the door.

She sits on the edge of the bed, touches the back of his hand, “He didn’t run, stop looking like a kicked dog, if you’d be so kind,” she tells him with a shake of her head, “He’s been resting off his own wounds as well.”

He nods, rubs at his jaw, face twisting when he feels how much beard he’s grown already, “What about... what about Aloysius?”

Her expression shifts, fury and sadness in equal measures, “He’s gone,” she says quietly, looking down at their hands, “After he shot you, he just... walked away. He didn’t take his gold, didn’t say a word. Simply walked out of town.”

“Do you think he’ll come back?” He asks low.

Miriam sighs and shrugs her shoulders, “I couldn’t say. Who knows what came over him,” she answers.

The door swings open then, “Enough depressin’ conversation,” Clayton says as he strolls right in, bumping the door shut behind him.

Before he even tries to sit up, Miriam pushes a hand to his shoulder like she knows, “No strenuous activity, Mr. Sharpe,” she declares sternly, then she leans in and presses a dry kiss to his forehead. “We’ll get these bandages changed in a bit, it’ll be a lot easier with you awake to move yourself,” she says as she stands, brushing her dress down, “I’ll make sure you get a hearty dinner too.”

She passes Clayton, stops to kiss his cheek, before she slips out the door, drawing it shut with a soft click.

Matthew stares and Clayton stares back.

“How are you?” Clayton asks suddenly, moving further into the room finally, to the side of the bed, though he hovers there like he’s unsure of what to do with himself.

Matthew huffs out an incredulous sound, enjoys the dry, flat look that Clayton gives him a little too much. He holds out his right hand, tentative but hopeful, notes only then that Clayton’s shed most of his usual layers, is only down to a simple shirt with small white buttons.

The sleeves are rolled up to his elbows and his eyes dip unbidden to the left one.

“Here,” Clayton says and sits by his hip like Miriam had been, holds out his left arm, expression serious, drawn, but not shuttered.

Matthew watches his face for several seconds before dropping his gaze down, wrapping his fingers loose around Clayton’s left wrist as he draws his arm closer, to see there in black the proof. His own name stares back at him, in his own clunky, large writing. “You didn’t say anything,” he tries to not be accusing.

Then, rubs his thumb over the letters.

It’s like what he imagines getting struck by lightning would feel like, the jolt that strikes into his spine, right through to the tips of his fingers and he’s distantly aware that he gasps aloud, hears Clayton’s sharp intake of breath as the spots clear from his vision.

“Damn,” Clayton says with a great exhale when Matthew slides his fingers away from the spot.

“Ow,” Matthew says in turn, but he’s smiling so hard his cheeks are hurting and there’s a lot of things he wants to say, wants to do, wants to haul Clayton to him, but they’re both still injured.

Then Clayton is nudging his thigh with the back of his hand, “Budge over.”

It’s easier to slide sideways than it had been to sit up, and he ends up slipping down the bed a little, which is good, great actually, because when Clayton settles next to him, their sides pressed together, hips to thighs to ankles, he can tilt his head against Clayton’s shoulder.

“I wasn’t going to stay,” Clayton says quietly, tangling their fingers together, “I saw you and I heard your name and I knew I had to get the fuck outta here before... well, before what happened happened,” he explains slowly, “but I was greedy and you were—”

“I was?” He prods quietly.

“Handsome,” Clayton snorts, voice very quiet, “Good, earnest. I thought ‘just one more day and then I can leave’.”

Matthew hums, rubbing his thumb along the side of Clayton’s hand, “What changed your mind?”

Clayton’s quiet next to him, for a long while, “All of you,” he says at last, “but also what I found in Farnum’s office.”

Eyebrows pulling together, he resists the urge to look at Clayton, trying to remember what it was Clayton found, but he doesn’t, he’d been too focused on the deeds he’d found.

“Wanted posters,” Clayton answers eventually though, “for me and—”

“For me,” Matthew supplies, heart squeezing, “Why didn’t you say anything?”

Clayton laughs quietly, “I didn’t give a shit by the time I looked,” his shoulders lift a little, “I burned them, all of them, outside the Gem. Yours, mine, the whole pile of them.”

Rubbing his free hand over his face, over his jaw, he exhales, “I did those things,” he says, with more conviction than he feels about it. “But I get the feeling that you didn’t do anything you may have been accused of.”

“Still don’t give a shit,” Clayton says and doesn’t elaborate on the rest, which is answer enough at this point.

He squeezes Clayton’s hand, “So do you prefer Amos or Clayton?” He asks, when they’ve sat in silence for several minutes, only broken up by the normal sounds of Deadwood below the floorboards and out the window.

“Clayton,” is the immediate answer.

“Alright,” he replies.

There’s a brush to the top of his head that takes his foggy mind too long to realize is a kiss, “Get some sleep, Matthew.”

He exhales quietly, “Think that’s the first time you’ve actually called me that.”

Clayton hums, but says nothing more, and sleep eventually drags him under again.

-----

It’s weeks before Aloysius returns.

Matthew’s in the church, sitting on the floor, nailing boards into place, sweating through his shirt and occasionally stopping to rub at the ache in his chest, when Arabella comes slamming through the door, hair a wild mess.

She looks good otherwise, full of color and light, “Matt,” she wheezes out, leaning over, “Whew, might’ve taken it too fast,” she adds on a pant, “But, he’s back, he’s here, you gotta...” she wheezes out another breath and he’s already standing, “I think Miriam’s gonna try and shoot him.”

He blinks at her a few times, “Well, lets go then,” he says and passes her out the door.

“The Gem,” she says and flaps a hand that says ‘go on ahead, I’ll catch up’.

It still takes what feels like too long for him to get there, after all the laying up he had to do to heal, but when he bursts in through the door, Miriam’s sitting at the bar, bottle clutched in her hand, glaring something fierce at one of the tables.

Aloysius is seated there and across from him sits Clayton, both of them in deep conversation. There’s a pile of guns and blades, some that he recognizes, in a pile on a different table.

He blows out a breath, rubs at his chest again, and tries to edge around towards Miriam, but accidentally kicks a table leg and the table scrapes on the floor loud and he finds himself under several pairs of eyes, “Uh, good afternoon.”

Clayton snorts loudly, already shaking his head, “C’mere, Matty,” he says and kicks out the seat next to him.

The room is silent, too much attention still on him, but he’s already heading for the chair before he’s fully aware of himself, focus on Clayton and carefully not on Aloysius until he’s sinking into the chair. One of Clayton’s hands lands on his thigh, squeezes.

“Reverend,” Aloysius says when Matthew finally looks at him.

“You look like shit,” Matthew says before he can stop himself.

Clayton sighs loudly next to him and he even hears Miriam snort into her glass.

Aloysius only nods, “Feel a bit like it,” he adds, then drums his fingers on the table top, “I was just telling Clayton here about the trip I took.”

“Walk around to clear your head?” He asks, teeth gritting, but Clayton’s fingers dig hard into his thigh and he reigns himself in, waves his hand as he sits back hard in the chair. It creaks a little and he stills, feels Clayton still next to him, but it holds up.

“Rev if you break another one of my damn chairs!” Dan calls from behind the bar.

Aloysius shakes his head, “I made my way down to Texas,” he explains, “Jack County to be specific.”

Matthew looks at Clayton, but he looks relaxed, at ease, aside from the warning fingers still digging into his thigh under the table, so he turns his gaze back to Aloysius.

“As far as the state of Texas is concerned, Amos Kinsley is dead,” he says, then nudges the bag that Matthew hadn’t even noticed, “I figured the bounty would go a long way to fixing up your church or something.”

“Oh,” he says dumbly, then, “Shit.”

“Doesn’t make up for trying to shoot Clayton in the street!” Miriam calls from the bar.

Aloysius hums softly, “I don’t expect it to,” he replies, to them instead of her, “I can’t even begin to explain or hope that you’d forgive me.”

Clayton leans forward then, “I don’t care that you tried to kill me, water under the goddamn bridge,” he says, but then points a finger at Matthew, who look between the two of them bewildered, “But.”

“I get it,” Aloysius says, but he’s grinning now, a sly thing, reminiscent of before, “so you two—”

“It’s awful,” Arabella declares, causing Matthew to near jerk out of his skin cause he hadn’t even heard her come in, but she drags a chair up to the end of the table, sinks into it, “Couple of giant saps these two.”

Miriam deigns to join them then, giving Aloysius her best stink eye still, “They still gotta figure out how locks work as well.”

Next to him, Clayton snorts and Matthew covers his own face with his hand, “One time,” he says to his palm, “One damn time.” Clayton’s fingers drag up the inside of his thigh and he turns his face in his hands to shoot him a half hearted glare.

“It’s not as though you ladies are in any position to talk,” Clayton says, not looking at him, though his thumb is rubbing distracting circles high on his inner thigh.

That makes Aloysius grin even wider, makes Miriam’s features smooth over, at least until Aloysius leans over the table, “Reverend, I do believe you owe me five dollars.”

He barks out a laugh before he can stop himself, fully prepared for the smack that Miriam’s levels to his shoulder, “That I do, how about I pay up in a round?” He doesn’t wait for any sort of proper answer, holding his hand up to Dan, “How about a couple rounds for the table, if you’d be so kind?”

Clayton’s fingers squeeze his thigh and he turns a smile in his direction, leans in to kiss the answering smile because he can, because he’s allowed to, because he wants to.