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Wicked Ones: The Early Years

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So far as he was concerned, no one knew the real version of Joshua. There were days he was Joshua Faraday, and there were days when he was Joshua Robicheaux. Sometimes there were even days when he was both, though thankfully never at the same time; that would be probably the most confusing thing that could possibly happen to him.

Still, there were secrets that he had from everyone. Secrets he kept from his remaining family, not that he had much of an opportunity to speak to his brother these days, but he never put any of his secrets in the letters he had written over the years. He didn't exactly have much in the way of friends, not anymore, but even if he did, he would have imagined that he would keep some these secrets from them as well. He managed to avoid having actual employers, so that was another group of people he didn’t have to worry about knowing things he would much rather keep private.

Although, listed out like this, it made him sound like the most miserable son of a bitch in the Western Territories… or at least the loneliest. He wasn’t, not as far as he was concerned. He had his work, and he enjoyed it, both the gambling and the bounty hunting.

Granted, since he’d been on his own these last several years, he had had to develop a rattlesnake mean reputation as a bounty hunter, but that was no real problem. He had had a great example of a mean bastard to live up growing up, after all.

If anyone ever asked, he would say that he hadn’t had a daddy. Yeah, there was the man who got his mother in the family way and then promptly took off back to his other family and home in Louisiana, Monsieur Robicheaux, but that man was not a daddy, not by any stretch of anyone’s imagination. Even his actual legitimate son would agree with that assessment. He would, however, say that he had more than his fair share of mamas: Ma, the woman who had birthed him and given up everything for him to have something like a good life; Miss Ethel, who had tried to take care of him after Ma died and then tried her best to save his life; Maman Arthémie Robicheaux, who had taken in another woman’s child by her husband and somehow managed to love him; and even Colette Robicheaux, for all that his half-sister had only been a handful of years older than him.

But a daddy? Not a one to be seen, just a mean bastard that he and his siblings called Monsieur Robicheaux, rather than any friendly or familial term. He had celebrated when he had gotten his brother’s letter that the old bastard had died of dysentery midway through a campaign march. He couldn’t think of a better fate for the man than that, shitting himself to death.

He used everything he had ever known about Monsieur Robicheaux to make Joshua Robicheaux into a bounty hunter to be feared, despite his relatively young age. When it had been him and his brother hunting together, he hadn’t needed a separate reputation of his own; his older brother’s had been spoken loudly throughout the South and slowly moving westwardly through the years, and they had been able to use it to open a lot of doors that might not have been available otherwise; but the minute he was on his own, people stopped taking him seriously, so he got mean.

Well, meaner. Mean in almost every way he could recall the old bastard being in his childhood, with some notable exceptions: he was never going to raise a hand to a lady or child… and only to a man if he actually deserved it. In fact, he would kill any bounty that hurt a lady, no matter her chosen profession, and if they hurt or, worse, killed a child… Well, he had overheard a couple of old-timers putting it best: it would be best for the bounty to slit their throats and hope to hide in hell when Joshua Robicheaux was the one after them, because if they had been hurting kids, he took extra pleasure in their deaths.

He still got to be Joshua Faraday, the name his Ma had given him, in the meantime, when he wasn’t turning in a warrant, when he wasn’t actively tracking someone. When he and his brother had first started this, he had used ‘Faraday’ on the sly to keep from besmirching the Robicheaux name with his gambling. Now it felt like the gambling was his only real chance to be himself these days.

He had secrets that he would never tell his small remaining family. He was never going to tell his brother that he had forgiven the words that had been said about him within a few months of them parting ways—but that he still heard them in his sleep sometimes. He was never going to tell his brother that the man had long since been proven right about the bounty that had separated them. He was never going to tell his brother that the only reason he had not tracked his brother down and said something in person was because he didn’t want to give someone else the chance to abandon him first… or in Goodnight’s case, again. He was never going to tell his brother that he wanted him to come to Joshua because maybe—just maybe—then his brother wouldn’t take off on him. And he was certainly never going to breathe a single damn word to his brother about his life before he had lived with the small Robicheaux clan, about the lengths his Ma had been willing to go to in order to keep him fed and clothed, if not particularly well educated via books.

Miss Ethel had been the proprietor of the establishment where his Ma had worked after he was born, after all. She had been a foul-mouthed woman who did everything she could to keep her girls safe, and when Aileen Faraday had shown up on her doorstep with an infant and in need of work, with few skills other than needlepoint, she had barely blinked an eye. Instead, she had simply added Aileen to her roster and never said the first word to anyone about where Joshua was growing up. When he was four and Aileen died, Miss Ethel had tried to keep him on for nearly a year, finding little odd jobs for him to do around the place for a good year or so. But eventually there had been two very good reasons why she had written to Monsieur Robicheaux and asked him to retrieve his child: money was always a lean thing, even for someone in this particular profession, making it damn difficult thing also feed someone who couldn’t help themselves. The other reason had been kin to the first: Miss Ethel also wasn’t about to add him to the roster, not at five years old, no matter how many twisted men asked her about it, because Miss Ethel was a classy lady, damn it, and she had been his first surrogate mother.

After he and his brother had parted ways eight years ago, the first place he had drifted was Missouri and, more specifically, Miss Ethel’s. He only knew a single one of the ladies working there at that point, Miss Ethel’s own daughter, Miss Jane, but Miss Ethel had still been there. After some introductions and disbeliefs, she had even shown him where his Ma was buried, and he had given her every single penny he could spare for all the help she had given him over the years. It had been then that she had told him why she had shipped him off to Louisiana, with the firm belief that she had probably saved his life doing that. Maybe she even had. Of course, Miss Ethel had died less than a year later, leaving him with only his brother to name as family… and only barely that. He still sent money back to the establishment when he could spare it, about every couple of months, because Miss Ethel’s daughter was running the place now and, being of a similar age, they had played together before he’d been shipped off to Louisiana. He still considered Miss Jane one of his few friends in this world, such as he actually had friends.

But childhood playmates did not a family make.