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a heart that will not ever go astray

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Nights in the Great Plains are colder than you would expect. Beecher’s Hope is safe and warm, and it gives cover from the wind and the darkness. It doesn’t give cover, though, to the feeling of tightness that former outlaws might experience, after a lifetime of sleeping in the wilderness.

That might explain why there’s a campfire in the middle of the ranch, and why they’re all spending almost every evening together, out in the open. They spent a whole winter huddled in the houses, trying to stay warm, and now that it's cold, yes, but not freezing, they've finally started spending their evening out together again.

Jack is playing with sticks and stones, possibly recreating one of the scenes from one of his favorite books - Arthur will never stop being amazed by the vivid imagination of that kid.

Abigail is sitting behind him, keeping an eye on her kid and the other on the fire, and they’re lucky to have her, really. John is sitting next to her, exchanging insults with Uncle, who seems to be doing good with a nice bottle of something in his hand.

Sadie is there too, busy exchanging stories of what she saw during her last business trip with Charles, who sits between her and Arthur.

Arthur was drawing earlier when his eyes weren’t tired yet and the fire was still burning bright enough for him to see his journal. Now he’s resting, leaning comfortably against Charles’ side.

As far as a happy ending goes, this one isn’t bad at all.

Charles seems to somehow guess what Arthur is thinking, and he brushes his fingers against Arthur’s leg in a covert way.

Arthur shivers, half because of the cold and half because Charles’ fingers always have that kind of power over him, and Sadie chuckles lightly.

“I guess storytime’s over, isn’t it?”

“Someone here requires my attention,” Charles sounds as serious as he could be, but Arthur knows him far too well not to hear the light undertone of that sentence.

“I’m cold,” he declares deciding to ignore the teasing tone, huddling closer to Charles.

And maybe it's because they spent almost every winter night alone together, maybe it's because it's late and they're tired, but for once neither he nor Charles seem to worry about being affectionate in front of other people.

And why should they? That's their family.

Charles sneaks his arm around Arthur's shoulders, and Arthur sighs happily, a warm feeling of contentment spreading through his chest. Charles chuckles lightly against his hair and leaves a light kiss on the top of his head.

"What- isn't that a little bit too much?"

"What are you talking about, John?" Abigail asks with an exasperated sigh, almost like she's already good to go and ready to yell.

"I mean- that's a little bit... you know. Two men. Being affectionate. You know."

There's a stunned moment of silence when they're all collectively trying to figure out what the fuck John is talking about. After a few seconds, Arthur realizes what's going on.

"You mean you didn't know?"

"Didn't know what?"

"You didn't know?" Sadie yells, half screaming and half laughing, almost falling backward on the ground. "John Marston, you didn't fucking know?"

"Know what? What the fuck are you talking about?" John yells in response, red in the face, and with that look in his eyes that means stop making fun of me or I'll leave stomping my feet on the ground. It's a look that Arthur knows far too well.

"John. Arthur and Charles," Abigail begins to explain, with the usual patient tone. She must be a saint, Arthur thinks, still huddled close to Charles. But she chose John, so it's up to her to deal with the fact that her husband is as dense as a goddamn brick. "You know they're together."

"What the fuck does that mean?"

"What the fuck do you think it means?" Sadie howls, still half on the verge of laughter and half on the verge of yelling.

There's another moment of stunned silence - there are a lot of those for a single evening, in Arthur's honest opinion - while John tries to understand what they're all implying.

"You mean to tell me- you two are together. Like together together."

"You finally got it," Uncle whoops from behind the bottle.

"And you all knew it?"

"Well, we're not blind," Abigail intervenes, probably trying to make her husband see reason. "They run away together, with us. They've been together for a long while, John."

“But you never told me!” John yells, this time directed to Arthur.

Arthur huffs, still leaning against Charles - still with Charles' arm around him, and Arthur has never loved Charles' ability to seem unphased more than he does now. John has a wild look in his eyes, but Arthur knows him well enough not to be worried. Well, not too much.

"You never told me!"

“John. We have a house, we’ve been living together in the same house, next to your house. Together, alone, under the same roof.”

“Well, yeah! As two bachelors! Like- friends, sharing a house!”

“I suppose we are all of those things,” Charles chuckles and proceeds to ignores John’s dirty look. "You didn't notice we have only one bed?"

"I-" John starts protesting again, and then falls silent. "Well, now that you mention it."

By now Sadie is sprawled on the ground, laughing her lungs out, joined by Abigail's light chuckles and Uncle's braying laughter. Even Jack's smiling, with a bit more edge than usual.

John looks like he's mortally offended, and probably he is. Arthur waits for a few minutes more, before untangling himself from Charles and grabbing John's arm, taking him a few steps away from the campfire.


"It's not that I have a problem. I don't. I don't have a problem with that, with you. With- you get it. I don't care what you two do together, I don't, I'm happy for you. It's clear this makes you happy and I want you to be happy. I don't have a problem with that. It's just- I wished you'd tell me."

"Stop whining."

"... You should have told me, though."

Across the fire, Charles laughs and Abigail rolls her eyes. Sadie will probably never stop laughing, and Uncle will probably never stop making fun of John.

Arthur is secretly way too happy to give him too much of a hard time.