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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.

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Joshua was never going to breathe a word to his brother about how terrified he had been arriving at the Robicheaux home: a long month short of six years old, short, scrawny, underfed, and half wild. The entire trip from Missouri to Louisiana had been Monsieur Robicheaux informing him in increasingly vile and rude ways about how Joshua wasn’t to expect anything of this new home; that his wife was taking the boy in because it was the Christian thing to do, not because she wanted him, even if she had been the one who had sent Monsieur Robicheaux to retrieve him; that he was going to be raised by a nanny he had already hired, a stern woman who wasn’t going to take any nonsense from him but was going to keep him in line; that if Le Bon Dieu was willing, this would be the last Monsieur Robicheaux would ever have to see of Joshua.

After a long talk like that, he had fully expected Monsieur Robicheaux’s wife to hate him on sight, and he got the feeling that she had expected to as well. Instead, she had taken one good long look at him the minute Monsieur Robicheaux physically dragged him in the home, one big hand wrapped completely around his arm and pulling hard (he had had that particular bruise for weeks), and declared him to be her ‘pauve ti bete’, and she had immediately set to babying him like he was one of her own. Even Ma hadn’t babied him the way Maman Arthémie Robicheaux did; Miss Ethel certainly never had been able to. Hell, he had thought for nearly a year that ‘mon pauve ti bete’ was just how you said Joshua in Louisiana French.

Maman Arthémie had set to feeding him almost from the moment he had walked—been dragged—in her front door. She had also despaired at his lack of winter clothes, never mind that Louisiana winters weren’t nearly as bad as the winters in Saint Louis and he hadn’t lost any extremities to the cold yet, and she had promptly wrapped him up in Goodnight’s old clothes that he had long since outgrown. He had felt like a blonde, silk-wearing, perfumed whirlwind had descended on him, leaving him uncertain which way was up and which way was down, and it had taken him until he had been recovering from the long day alone in his new (surprisingly large) bedroom before he realized that he had just been more or less adopted; he never even got to meet the nanny who was supposed to raise him, because Maman Arthémie had dismissed her by the next morning and ended up taking an approach to raising him that was just as personal as it had been for her own real, blood children.

Of course, that made him a damn usurper in the eyes of his newfound big brother and big sister. Colette had been the baby for years, and she and Goodnight had liked it that way. She had been nearly twelve and Goodnight almost thirteen when Joshua showed up and basically stole their Maman. For all that he had latched on to Goodnight after his second night and followed him around like a little shadow, it had taken a week for his brother to actually start speaking him and another week for it to be politely without Maman Arthémie threatening to wash his mouth out with some strong lye soap. It hadn’t exactly endeared him to Goodnight that most of Joshua’s vocabulary at the time at consisted of swear words that he got away with using because he ‘didn’t know better’ or a similar explanation.

Colette had come around to him first. That, or she had realized that he wasn’t going away any time soon and she might as well get used to him. Three weeks after he arrived in Louisiana, she had decided she liked him well enough to start assisting her maman in feeding him up. By another week after that, she had started favoring him a few smiles here and there. Within two months of him becoming a Robicheaux, Colette had been treating him like he had always been one.

It took Goodnight another month and a half, to which Joshua had despaired, because he had desperately wanted his new big brother to like him. It wasn’t as if Monsieur Robicheaux liked either of them all that much. The only one of his children that Monsieur Robicheaux cared for had been Colette, and even that was in a distant sort of way. Monsieur Robicheaux made no bones about why he hated Joshua, given his bastard status, but he had never really made heads or tails of why he had hated Goodnight. Maybe he had cottoned on that Goodnight preferred men to ladies, a fact Joshua had picked up on fairly early on himself, but maybe it was something else. Maybe the man had just hated children.

He was never going to tell his brother that few of the bruises he had worn throughout his early childhood had anything to do with playing, no matter how rambunctious he got to being. Monsieur Robicheaux had never forgiven Joshua for existing and for taking away the respect of his other children, never mind that Joshua had literally had no choice in either matter. He had been fond of reminding Joshua of this at any given moment, though especially if they were ever alone.

Joshua had learned early to take care to not be alone with Monsieur Robicheaux if he could avoid it, and he learned that only certain people counted as far as ‘not alone’ went: Goodnight, Colette, Maman Arthémie, Nana Jolie, and any houseguests that might show up. He had learned those sorts of lessons early, from the minute he could walk: never be alone with someone who wanted to hurt you. The Robicheaux household had just reinforced those lessons. Spending so much time with Goodnight as a child had been equal parts self-protection and fascination. It had hurt so much those three and a half months that Goodnight held that grudge on him, but at least Goodnight was never cruel, just dismissive. Maman Arthémie had taken Goodnight to task over his attitude a time or forty, but honestly, Joshua hadn’t cared too much, as long as Goodnight didn’t send him away, which thankfully he rarely did.

Of course, Goodnight was always the overdramatic one of the three of them, so he waited until Colette’s birthday in April to start giving Joshua the time of day. To this day, he was glad that Goodnight hadn’t waited until his own birthday in June to give him a chance. His little heart might not have lasted that long in anticipation. Of course, it had been in the middle of Colette’s party, with all her town friends gathered around the table while he and Goodnight had hung back trying to avoid as much of the loud giggles as possible, when Goodnight had busted out with that ridiculous nickname for him. Colette had taken to calling him JoJo almost immediately after accepting him into the family, but until that day, Goodnight had spoken to him only when absolutely necessary and never by name.

In the middle of that party, he had gotten a nudging elbow in the side, accompanied by a whispered “Hey”. He had been a little confused at first, to say nothing of trying to hide that he had been sore in that area already, thanks to Monsieur Robicheaux’s last drunken rage. He couldn’t think of who might have wanted his attention, but then he had glanced over at Goodnight, who had been sitting right next to him and grinning fit to be tied as he commented, “Think we should leave the ladies to their party, T-Jo?”

He had been around Louisiana folks long enough by then to know that the ‘T’ was a shortened form of petit. It made sense to him, logically speaking, because he was still really short, but it had still taken him a moment to process that Goodnight meant him. Once he finally realized it, he had damn near broken into a squeal that would have put Colette’s town friends to shame and had to bite it down hard. As it was, he had managed a grin of his own, a little gapped because he was starting to lose some of his baby teeth, and said just loud enough to be heard, “But I wanted a piece of cake.”

“You know good and well that Cooky’s saving you a piece or two in the kitchen,” Goodnight returned. “Let’s go get it.”

From that night until a couple of years later, when a eighteen year old Goodnight—who had, by then, ‘Goody’ to Joshua and no one else, for only a few days less time than he had been ‘T-Jo’—had left with their father for the war, they had been practically inseparable. He had come up with excuses to sneak over to Goody’s room at night, just in case Monsieur Robicheaux got too drunk one evening and wanted to whale on the bastard child. He might not have fit in well with Goody’s sophisticated friends when they were visiting, not in the least of which being because he was between five and ten years younger than most of them, but they had accepted him well enough. Or at least they had tolerated him, and that had been good enough in his book.

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“Now remember, my darlings: this is like to be the only time you will ever see your father’s bastard,” Maman said seriously, a scowl on her pretty face. “You will be cordial so that your father has no reason to become… angry.”

Old bastard don't need no excuse, Goodnight thought uncharitably but nodded at his mother’s request. He wasn't far off from thirteen now, and the only sibling he'd ever had was Colette. She was closing in on twelve herself, and having a new child come in who weren't older than six wasn't anything like they'd expected.

“Good. Thank you, my lambs,” Maman said gratefully. “This is not going to be easy for any of us, but the new nanny is going to be responsible for the boy. Goodnight, I expect you to keep up your studies despite this… upheaval.”

“Yes, Maman,” he replied, and his mother smiled fondly at him.

The door to the foyer opened then, they could all hear it from the sitting room. Maman smoothed out her skirts and stood up straight, a severe expression on her face; Colette did her best to mimic it with some success, while Goodnight let his face slide into the indifferent mask he oftentimes wore when faced with the man who'd sired him. Monsieur Robicheaux’s boots sounded loudly on the hardwood flooring, then the door to the sitting room opened and the old bastard all but dragged a scrawny little someone into the room.

Don't they got food in Missouri? Goodnight thought irreverently, blinking at just how tiny this supposed six year old was. Kid was only wearing threadbare clothing, the shirt about three sizes too big and pants with a hole in the knee and shoes that likely should've been tossed last year. Add to that that the boy looked terrified, and he was positive that things were about to not go the way his bastard of a father wanted them to.

“Oh, my poor little thing!” Maman all but squealed, crossing the room in a flurry of silk skirts to catch the boy’s face in her hands and look him over thoroughly. “Oh, but you are freezing. Where is your coat, little lamb? Where the hell is his coat, Etienne?” This part was hissed at the old bastard, who looked thunderous.

“The bastard don't need no coat, Arthémie,” Monsieur Robicheaux all but snarled in response. “Besides, it was falling apart anyway. Tossed all that shit off the train halfway between here and St. Louis. Now can we please just toss him to the nanny and forget he exists?”

Damn it, Goodnight thought, exchanging a look with Colette. You just guaranteed that Maman ain't ever letting him outta her sight.

Sure enough, Maman’s spine stiffened, and she stood up to glare darkly at her husband. “No,” she said sternly. “You will dismiss her, or I will. I am going to get some suitable clothing on this child, and he is going to eat and get some sleep. You are not coming close to him for the rest of the day. Poor thing is terrified. What did you tell him was going to happen here, Etienne?”

The kid did look frightened… and more than a mite confused. That was likely to do with the quickly spoken French than the actual argument, honestly. Colette turned to look up at Goodnight, and for the life of him, he wasn't sure what was going to happen next.

“Can we go to the library, G’night?” she asked hopefully, a thread of fear lacing her tone.

Goodnight looked over at his parents, still glaring darkly at one another, and his new half-brother who was looking their way almost curiously. “Yeah, Letty,” he replied. “We’ll be safer there.”

That was the last he set eyes on his new brother — because there was no doubt in his mind that Maman had gone and adopted the boy the second she saw him — for a couple days. When he did climb his way out of the books in his mother’s safe haven, it was to find that she had gone through his old clothing to get something more suitable onto the boy. And whereas he could have been angry that his hand-me-downs were being utilized by a usurper, Goodnight was just pleased that the kid was cleaned up and looked as if Maman was trying to fatten him up some.

Even so, Goodnight didn’t really talk to the boy. He was leery of the old man’s temper at the moment and hoped in the back of his mind that his mother had been keeping the child close at hand; more than a couple times now, Monsieur Robicheaux had stalked by the library and glowered in at his two legitimate children, causing both himself and Colette to keep seated and look back innocently… and not leave the room until Nana Jolie came by to fetch them for bed. He wouldn’t dare lay hands on either of them with the slave girl around; she would go immediately to Maman, who would go to the old man and make threats of contacting the authorities. Nothing would come of it, of course, as it would be a woman’s word and that of a slave against a man’s, but it oftentimes served to curb him for enough days to allow Goodnight to recoup from a beating.

When he did finally speak to the child, Joshua, it was to snap at him for being underfoot. He was fairly confident he called the boy an annoying little shit, only to have the kid snap back that he was a damned fool jackass. Yet Goodnight was the one punished for cussing, which weren’t fair and left him hiding in the library in a snit for a full day and a half. In spite of this, Joshua kept just being there, in the background, like a little six year old shadow. It wasn’t until another week went by that he was willing to speak cordially to the boy, and even then he kept it to a minimum. He knew the old man was angry, and he hope that minimal contact might keep the kid safe from a whooping.

Even so, whenever Colette would come wandering up and asking him to read aloud to her, Goodnight noticed that the boy would silently slip in and hide behind a settee. And so he would read to both his siblings, keeping one eye out for when Joshua eased out from his hiding spot and slipped closer slowly. Given that Goodnight read aloud in both the French he’d learned first and English, he hoped that Joshua was at least gleaning a bit of the new-to-him language. Maybe someday, if he could trust that the old man would leave them in peace for a few hours, Goodnight would actually sit down with the boy and tutor him some.

It was sometime during the third week of Joshua living with them, on a day that he knew for goddamn sure that Monsieur Robicheaux was in the house, when Goodnight looked up from his lessons with his tutor to realize it was far too quiet. It could just be that Colette, who’d taken a mind to feed up their new brother, had dragged Joshua off to the kitchen to get Cooky to make them some snacks. It could be that Joshua had found a different hiding place from the library where Goodnight’s tutoring was taking place that day.

Hell, it could be that Joshua had slipped out to the stable to see the horses. The child was obsessed with horses, and Maman intended to get him a yearling to train to saddle before his seventh birthday rolled around.

But Goodnight was terrified that the silence meant he’d failed as a brother, that the old bastard had caught the youngest member of the family and that next time Joshua appeared, it would be with bruises and cuts.

He didn’t realize he was having an anxiety attack until his tutor had shaken him out of it in an effort to gain his attention again. Goodnight forced himself to pay attention to the rest of his lessons, but his mind was more focused tracking down his T-Jo—and just when had he started to think of the boy by a nickname, one that was so close to the JoJo that Letty was calling him whenever they spoke of him—and making sure he was okay.

The second the tutor released him, he all but ran to the kitchen to start his search. Cooky took one look at him, clucked her tongue, and directed him to the stable. He found his brother easy enough, even though it was obvious T-Jo was trying to hide, and it was also clear that the old bastard had found him first. Rather than say anything, Goodnight pretended he hadn't seen him and moved to tend to his pony. He spoke softly to the creature, more directing his assurances towards his brother, and hoped that the child took some comfort there.

Because Goodnight Robicheaux would be dead and buried before he let Monsieur Robicheaux touch his brother again without going through him first.

And he did his best to keep that promise.

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Keeping his promise wasn’t always easy. Letty had the bad habit of trying to put her own self in the way whenever Monsieur Robicheaux was deep in his cups, mainly because the bastard at least pretended to be apologetic when his only daughter ‘somehow’ met with his fists. Even so, Goodnight hated when that happened, and continued to paint the target on his own back.

And unfortunately, somehow T-Jo had picked up on a bit of that nobility that the elder Robicheaux brother had in abundance—Goodnight credited his noble streak to Maman, so he presumed that his baby brother’s came from his own maternal influence—and likewise threw himself in between their bastard of a father and their only sister. Goodnight absolutely hated seeing those bruises bloom, but allowed the child to pretend that they came from playing too roughly.

But still, he managed more often than not to make himself the target rather than T-Jo. The lack of fading bruises on his brother’s skin was worth the pain and dark marks on his own skin, was worth the hurt ribs and the minor limp from where the bastard had more than once kicked him in recent memory. It was a couple of months since his decision to be the primary target, and Letty’s birthday had come upon them more quickly than he anticipated.

Of course, it was a huge affair. Monsieur Robicheaux always made a fuss of his only daughter’s birthdays, because he planned to marry her off to one of the other wealthy families in the area. So of course she was primped to perfection no matter how annoyed her eyes showed her to be, and she gave enough smiles to make it seem like she was happy with the fuss even though Goodnight was positive she’d be much happier running around the grounds and climbing trees as she did every other day she could get away with it.

And, he noted, his baby brother was just as annoyed and unhappy with the turn of events. T-Jo was more than used to it just being the three of them kids around, with the slaves and Maman and rarely Monsieur Robicheaux, and there wasn’t even time to slink off to get away from the rigmarole.

Well… technically speaking, there was no time to slip away. Realistically, Goodnight knew for goddamned certain that the library would still be a safe haven to hide away in. Letty would be pissed that they slipped off and left her to entertain their guests, but… it wasn’t like any of the folk out there cared for the male Robicheaux siblings, given that neither of them were admirable prospects.

After all, T-Jo was a bastard in the literal sense of the word, and Goodnight already knew that he was bent in that manner that would not lead to him fathering children. Monsieur Robicheaux worked hard to keep rumors from spreading, but female companionship didn’t even sound appealing to the elder brother. He knew what men and women were supposed to get up to, but he had found some more… risqué material amongst Maman’s books that hinted at men and men together, and that was of far more interest to him.

Plus, Goodnight hadn’t made his disdain of some of the young ladies Monsieur Robicheaux invited over with their families a secret. If anyone suspected, the instant the old bastard started trying to make marriage prospects the rumors would explode. And he’d probably be dead, so best to make the most of life while he could.

That was why, when Letty finally managed to get away from her “gentleman callers” and find a table to set up at with her town friends—and why were girls always so giggly?—Goodnight decided he had enough of being sociable and proper and that it was time to go elsewhere that the old bastard couldn't find him or his brother for a while.

If they were lucky, maybe they could even have time to go out to the stable and let out the old man’s show ponies. He hated it when the fussy little things got even a little bit dusty; it had been raining all day and there was enough mud out there to turn a white pony brown. Hopefully that would happen, and they could avoid catching trouble for it by ‘being in the library’ the entire time.

“Hey,” he said softly, nudging his baby brother’s side gently to catch his attention; poor thing had been going all glassy-eyed with boredom. “Think we should leave the ladies to their party, T-Jo?”

Goodnight had spent so long just thinking of his brother by the nickname that he didn’t really notice saying it out loud. At least, not until he saw the way the younger boy’s face lit up brightly, and he had a brief moment to wonder if he should have tried actually spending more time with T-Jo sooner.

The boy gave him a gap-toothed smile, but his reply was just as soft-spoken as his own words had been. “But I wanted a piece of cake.”

Goodnight chuckled softly. “You know good and well that Cooky’s saving you a piece or two in the kitchen. Let’s go get it.”

To be honest, that was the moment their relationship changed. T-Jo was never too far from his side, which made it much easier to keep him safe from Monsieur Robicheaux; if he managed to get himself caught in the cross-hairs of the old man’s rage… well, that was all the better for both his younger siblings. Goodnight was careful to watch over both brother and sister, and he was happy that T-Jo was more than comfortable around him.

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The worst beating Goodnight took in the time between his thirteenth birthday and when he was forced by Monsieur Robicheaux into the Confederate army at eighteen was after the Mardi Gras party when he was fifteen. And while he wasn't happy that it had happened, Goodnight was glad that he’d kept Letty and T-Jo’s part of the events leading up to it a secret.

Thank God he’d already changed out of the chartreuse monstrosity of a dress Letty had loaned him, or else she might have received a beating of her own. Although Goodnight still thought that the old bastard had known that the girl was keeping his attention away from where the eldest child was… entertaining one of their guests in a more private setting.

T-Jo’s role had been to give an early warning just in case Letty failed at keeping their parents—but especially Monsieur Robicheaux—distracted, and thankfully he hadn't had to do so. And Goodnight had been able to enjoy the festivities, find a young man with similar leanings as his own—granted, said young man was a man of twenty-three who was just passing through town, the cousin of one of Letty’s town friends—and enjoy a few hours of being doted upon, pampered, and losing his virginity.

Again, thank God that T-Jo had been down the hall and not right outside his rooms. His brother was too young to go hearing that sort of thing.

But somehow, Monsieur Robicheaux had found out. Either Marcel had not been half as stealthy leaving the Robicheaux home as he'd been entering the upstairs during the party with Goodnight—and that had been very interesting, sneaking through the halls in a gown, corset, and heels—or one of the slaves had been ‘convinced’ to tell the old bastard what he or she had seen during the evening, but Goodnight had been finishing up in preparing for bed when the man burst into his room and grabbed him by the hair.

He was just glad the bastard had dragged him down the hall to the upstairs study rather than beating the shit out of him in his own bedroom; he never would have been able to sleep there again.

And it had been one hell of a beating, one that seemed to go on for hours even though no more than ten minutes could have passed during it or else someone—likely Maman—would have come looking for the bastard. Worse than the physical blows, worse than the cracked ribs that Nana Jolie had had to wrap for him, worse still than the dark bruises that took forever to fade from his arms and face, were the words Monsieur Robicheaux had spat at him. Every single derogatory word in his vocabulary regarding people with the same bent leanings as Goodnight, every insult growled in disgust, every accusing thought of Maman having an affair with Uncle Dempsey—his mother’s oldest friend and one of the few men in the world that the children felt safe being around—with Goodnight himself being the result, ending with a solemn vow that he would kill him if he ever caught him with a man, that he would be married off to some society belle when he was of age or that he would be cast out for good.

That, Goodnight couldn't allow. If he was gone, who would keep T-Jo and Letty safe?

He had made a solemn promise to himself that he would do whatever it took to keep his younger siblings as safe and as happy as possible, even if that meant running away with the both of them.

Somehow he had managed to drag himself back down the hall to his room, where T-Jo was already waiting nervously inside. He had been the one to run for Nana Jolie, had been the one to hold his hand as he bit back whimpers of pain as the aging woman tended to his injuries as best she could. It had been T-Jo who carefully climbed into bed next to him, pressing a kiss to his unbruised cheek and offering a watery smile.

“S’okay, Goody,” he said quietly, ever aware that the bastard was always around. “It’s okay. You just sleep now. I'll protect you.”

And that was how it was: the brothers protecting each other and Letty as best they could, every single day up until the horrible day he’d left to go to war. Which, in all honesty, was yet another way to keep the younger children—although not so much children any longer, with Letty a beauty at seventeen and T-Jo himself already eleven—safe from harm. After all, if Monsieur Robicheaux was distracted by the ‘glory’ of war, then he couldn't do any damage to the two children still in St. Martinville.

And with any luck, the old bastard would die soon enough and Goodnight could go back home.

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Joshua was never going to tell his brother that he still had nightmares about Mardi Gras 1859. He had just turned nine, and Colette was going to be turning fifteen that year. Goody would have been fifteen at the time, if he remembered right, given that his sixteenth birthday wasn’t until June. It had been early March that year, again, if he remembered correctly.

It had been a particularly raucous party. At the time, he hadn’t been sure what to think. He had been to parties, sort of on the sidelines, a lot of times, but this seemed to be one of the biggest ones he could recall. It was definitely the loudest he had attended to date. Maman Arthémie had been in a state for weeks getting everything ready, and honestly, he couldn’t remember ever seeing that much food in one place at one time ever before or since.

He had actually spent so many hours in the kitchen helping Cooky—trying to help Cooky—that Goodnight had had to go track him down there at least a dozen times. If Goody had made one production of heaving him up off the chair he had been standing on to reach the counter, then he had to have done it ten times. One of those times, he had been covered in cake frosting and cookie crumbs; he remembered that much for certain.

The adults had been having their own party, one that ‘the children’ were not invited to. Entire rooms of the house had been opened up to air for days beforehand, and he had been glad, personally speaking, that Monsieur Robicheaux had been completely busy with that, too busy to be bothered with the bastard. If this was what it took to keep him away, then honestly, Joshua would put up with a party every day of the week.

It had been a lot fun for most of the party. There hadn’t exactly been children his own age there, but some of Colette’s town friends were there. Most of Goody’s friends had gone down to the bigger celebration in New Orleans, since the big parade there was still new and exciting. Besides, one of Colette’s friends had brought a distant cousin that had held a lot more interest for Goody than Joshua could remember ever seeing before.

He and Colette had slipped away, nearly being pulled along by Goody, all three of them laughing so hard that breathing had actually been an issue a time or two. The dress Colette picked out for Goody to wear wasn’t exactly a color that favored him well, but then that particular shade of chartreuse didn’t look attractive on her either. He wasn’t exactly an expert at the time or anything, but the cut looked good on his brother, better than it had on Colette the only time he had ever seen her wear it. Lacing him into that corset had resulted in Joshua and Colette having to lay on the bed, wheezing between giggles, but Goody bitching about the shoes had probably been the best part of the whole thing.

At nine years old, he hadn’t had any particular interest in paying attention to Goody’s playing around in the parts of the party he could access. He hadn’t had any particular interest in watching Goody flirt with some guy that, personally speaking, Joshua thought might be way too old for his brother: that distant cousin of one of Colette’s town friends, Marcel. He hadn’t had any particular interest in watching that Marcel guy flirt back or the way the two of them had started casting eyes towards the upstairs levels of the house.

What he had had an interest in was standing guard at the end of the hall once the pair of them had vanished upstairs. Colette had been running around the party making sure her own guests were attended to—and that Monsieur Robicheaux was too well and truly busy with his own party to go looking for Goody. It helped that the man was playing the gracious host for his guests. It also helped that the only people at the party who would be looking for Joshua were his siblings and Maman Arthémie.

People didn’t tend to pay him a lot of attention most of the time anyway, so it wasn’t hard for him to just sit on the top step, half hidden behind an indoor plant, and keep an eye on downstairs—and an ear towards Goody’s room back the hall. Given where he’d grown up before moving to Louisiana, he had more than a strong idea of what was going on back there, but that was his Goody and he had no wish to actually hear that. He damn sure didn’t need to see that Marcel guy strut like a peacock back downstairs a while later; nope, the guy definitely wasn’t worth his brother’s time or attention. Then again, he wasn’t sure there was a guy out there worthy of his brother, but he wasn’t going to tell his Goody that.

It was a bit longer before Goody emerged from his room, once again in the clothes he had started out the party in, and Joshua eyed him carefully. Okay, he looked entirely too pleased with himself as he sauntered back to Colette’s room to return the clothes, and he certainly didn’t seem like anything was bothering him in the least. He definitely didn’t act like he was hurting anywhere, so maybe Joshua wouldn’t have to track down Marcel and hurt him in some petty way, not in the least of which being some rather vivid fantasies about tripping him down the stairs.

All the same, he’d waited until Goody had headed back downstairs himself to follow his brother, trailing in his wake like always. He had eventually broken away and headed over to Colette to let her know Goody was back, before heading to the kitchen. There was every chance, after all, that Cooky had saved some normal, not party, food for him. At the very least, there was probably a pastry or two in it for him. Tomorrow was Ash Wednesday, after all, which would mean no more treats for over a month, and Cooky would certainly hold a few back for him if at all possible.

The rest of the party had passed in a bit of a blur, not in the least of which being because he’d spent large portions of it in the kitchen and some of that stuffed full of sweets and halfway to asleep. Granted, he had left the minute Maman Arthémie had appeared in the doorway, ever eager to better behave for his new mother. If he hadn’t gotten so big and she hadn’t been dressed so nicely, he figured she’d have probably carried him back into the main house and to his room. As it was, he had let her guide him by her hands on his shoulders, keeping him tucked into the edges of her fancy gown, all the way up to his room. The blonde whirlwind that was his third mother had seemed rather exhausted herself, but it had been really late by then. He barely remembered getting changed and getting into bed before he was asleep. It had been a long time since he had slept alone in his own room, but there was just no helping it now, not when he couldn’t keep his eyes open.

He wasn’t sure how long he’d been asleep when he heard thunderous steps coming up the stairs. The second he heard them, though, he was wide awake, panic thrumming through his veins.

This wasn’t good. It had been a good day. It had been an amazing day. He didn’t want Monsieur Robicheaux coming in here and ruining it. He never wanted a beating, but he really didn’t want one now, not when he’d been having such a good day. And he didn’t think he’d done anything wrong. At least, nothing wrong that Monsieur Robicheaux should know about.

He’d been good. He’d been so good this year. He’d learned his lesson last Mardi Gras: don’t do anything, don’t be seen, don’t say a word. Don’t do anything that might be bad, or else get a beating that had landed him in his bed trying desperately to draw a full pain-free breath for a week.

Had Monsieur Robicheaux seen him sitting on the stairs waiting for Goody? He had been thoroughly instructed to stay out of sight during the party again this year. He thought he'd been successful. What if he hadn't been though? What if someone had seen him? What if someone important had seen him?

Oh God…

Oh God… Oh God…

He was going to be in so much trouble. He was going to be in so much trouble that Maman Arthémie and Goody both weren't going to be able to get him back out of it. He'd be lucky if he wasn't dead by the time the sun came up if it had been someone important.

Maybe, maybe, maybe…

Maybe Monsieur Robicheaux wouldn't hit him in the face. Everything always got so much worse when he left bruises where Maman Arthémie and Goody could see them.

The pounding steps finally finished coming up the stairs. He held his breath as they came down the hall. He'd learned a long time ago to tell where those heavy footsteps were, the better to know how long he had before a beating. That was him going by Colette’s door, but he never, ever stopped there. Joshua’s door was next…

But he wasn't slowing down.

No, he was powering right past Joshua’s door. And there was only one more bedroom on this side of the house.

No…

No, no, no, no, no

No, he wasn't allowed to go after Goody. Goody had been having such a good night, better even than Joshua’s. This couldn't happen.

If his brother was in his place, he would be out in the hall already, doing his level best to redirect some of Monsieur Robicheaux’s anger onto him. Joshua… froze.  He wasn't even sure he was breathing. He didn't think he could breathe.

Goody’s door slammed open. His brother made a strangled cry. That got him moving. He was on his feet and at the door, pulling it quietly open, before he could even register that he had moved. He bit his lower lip hard enough for it to start bleeding as he watched Monsieur Robicheaux drag Goody to the only other room in the hall: the study that was supposed to belong to the three children.

He knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to go down the hall and make that Monsieur Robicheaux son of a bitch leave his brother alone. He also knew that he was entirely too small to make that happen. Especially not when he could hear just what was being said—screamed—at Goody. Even if he ran in there right now and used all his weight to physically hang off the bastard’s arms, it wouldn’t stop. If this was anything like what had happened when he’d made the mistake about asking Maman Arthémie questions about his own Ma where the son of a bitch could hear it, it wouldn’t stop. It would only make it worse, in fact.

But there was something he could do. It wasn’t brave. It wasn’t noble. It wasn’t anything his Goody would do. But maybe, just maybe, it would be helpful. Maybe it would be enough.

Moving on silent feet, he ran down the stairs and into the servants’ quarters. It wasn’t too far to Nana Jolie’s room, and a frantic, if whispered, explanation of what was happening was more than enough to get her to follow him back to Goody’s room. The pair of them had waited worriedly, hearing the son of a bitch leave the study much more quietly than he had entered it. The door to one of the bedrooms on the other side of the upstairs opened and closed, so he was now retired for the night.

He had worked himself into quite a nervous state by the time Goody finally staggered back into his room. With every ounce of gumption he had in his body, he’d bitten back down on the tears and trembling breaths and shaking limbs. This wasn’t the time for childish fears and self-centeredness. Not now, no. Now, he needed to be helping his brother however he could.

He had helped Goody cross the open expanse of his room to sit carefully on the bed. He had sat beside him and held his hand as Nana Jolie wrapped his chest in bandages. He had winced along with him while the woman dabbed iodine on a few spots where one of Monsieur Robicheaux’s rings had cut the surface. He had cautiously watched Nana Jolie measure out a dose of laudanum for his brother and just as carefully watched his brother to make sure he took the whole thing.

He had helped Goody change into his long nightshirt when he’d flat-out refused to let Nana Jolie do so. He had let the woman out of the room, closing the door firmly behind her, and while he had considered trying to find a way to barricade it shut, he didn’t know if that might not make the situation worse, so he had talked himself out of it.

And he had helped his brother lay down and had even laid down next to him on the bed, doing his best to ignore the little gasps of pain as Goody had tried to find a comfortable place to lie down.

Instead, he had leaned over to kiss one of the few unbruised places he could find on his brother, his cheek, and whispered, “S’okay, Goody. It’s okay. You just sleep now. I’ll protect you.”

Never mind the fact that he apparently couldn’t protect anything.

Goody had fallen asleep quickly… or at least succumbed to the effects of the laudanum. Joshua had stayed awake the entire night. He had scarcely dared to close his eyes. He’d already had a good idea of what kind of night terrors would await him if he’d let himself go to sleep and dream, and he didn’t need the reminder of what his life would be like without his brother.

He could imagine that well enough all on his own.

Shortly after dawn, Colette had slipped into Goody’s room, and the two of them had had a whispered conversation of what to do next over by the door, doing their absolute best not to wake up their brother. It had been Colette’s idea to get Maman Arthémie involved as much as was safely possible.

If nothing else, Colette had been worried about what would happen if Goody wasn’t at Mass for the ashes. Joshua had pointed out that he’d been too sick for it the previous year—where ‘too sick’ meant that he’d been in much the same shape then as Goody was now—and Maman had had the priest bring some of the ash to the house. Maybe they could do that again?

To say no one was happy about any of this was probably an understatement. No, scratch the ‘probably’ there. It was definitely an understatement. Maman Arthémie was livid, angry enough that her hands had been shaking finely when she'd stroked Goody’s hair back from his bruised face. Colette had been that silent kind of angry she had long since perfected, lips nearly white with how hard she was pressing them angrily together. And Joshua was willing to bet that the priest, Father Jean Michel, hadn't been too happy about having to make the house call yet again.

Personally speaking, Joshua had only left Goody’s room long enough to get dressed, leaving his brother under Nana Jolie’s watchful eye for the few moments that had taken. He had begged and pleaded with both Nana Jolie and Maman Arthémie until both women agreed to let him stay with his brother until he woke up and could move around on his own.

Never mind that he wasn't planning on leaving any time soon if he could help it.

Chapter Text

The last time he tried to stand up to Monsieur Robicheaux—and coincidentally the last time the bastard laid a hand on him—was shortly after Louisiana seceded, and folks in the area began talking about how the south would prevail in the war that was certain to come.

Monsieur Robicheaux had had guests over nearly every night, those friends who he had completely fooled with a genial demeanor and the good booze. He had not failed to notice his eldest child’s presence, in fact seemed to expect him to be nearby to learn the things a ‘real’ man needed to know.

And the more drunk he got, the more he spoke about how the state was already seeking volunteers, how the men who joined up from Louisiana would lead the South to victory, how they would fight with sticks and rocks if need be and still whip the Northerners into submission. Sometimes, when he had a few cups in him, he forgot about Goodnight’s presence and began to complain about how Maman shouldn’t complain about his indiscretions—and honestly? The bastard was still out fucking other women despite having three children that he knew about? How many other siblings were out in the world?—when she’d done the same thing, how he should get respect and accolades for raising ‘Arthémie’s bastard’ and giving the boy a name.

A few of the men would remember he was present, would shoot him uncomfortable looks, but Goodnight would just ignore them in favor of his own whiskey. If he snuck back downstairs after everyone was in bed for the night and liberated the bottle, who would know?

But the talk continued to grow more serious, to the point where the bastard was talking about it at the dinner table. Maman’s nose would wrinkle in distaste, and she would demand a change of subject. Letty honestly seemed like she wanted nothing more than to pick up her salad fork and put it through their father’s eyeball; given that he had seen her pick off squirrels in the garden with a rifle out of sheer boredom, he had no doubt she could manage to stab the bastard to death with silverware.

T-Jo… well. His baby brother just looked terrified at the prospect of war coming on the horizon. Given that he still had no idea what his brother’s life had been like prior to arriving in St. Martinville, Goodnight could only guess to as what part was most disturbing to the boy.

So, when official word came of a volunteer army cropping up and Monsieur Robicheaux stated his intentions of joining up? Goodnight knew time was almost up.

Because he knew, without question, that he was going to get dragged along as well.

He was two months shy of eighteen now, nearly of an age to go out into the world. Before the talk of war, before South Carolina actually went through with secession this time, Goodnight had hoped to be sent off to college for a time. He had even planned out ways to request that T-Jo be sent along with him, just so he could know his brother was out of harm’s way. He’d known that the old bastard would probably allow it… after giving his eldest child a beating, that was.

But this? War was not on his agenda.

So, after dinner had been cleared away and the ladies of the house had retired to Maman’s library, once T-Jo had wandered into the kitchen to help Cooky with cleaning up, Goodnight made his way to their father’s study and knocked on the door.

Monsieur Robicheaux looked up, his expression mild but not looking in the least like anything approaching safe. “Yes, Goodnight?” he asked, the first traces of a frown appearing on his face.

“Could I talk to you, Père?” was his response. It still made him twitchy, referring to the bastard in any respectful manner, but he had learned over the years to call him what he really was in his head—or with his siblings only—in order to keep any… discipline to a minimum.

“You may,” the bastard said mildly. “Come in. Close the door behind you.”

Goodnight did as bidden, feeling uneasy as he was cut off from the rest of the house. This was probably not going to end well, but he still had to try.

“I was thinking about the future,” he said calmly, keeping his hands clasped behind his back. “I know there’s still some months left until my birthday, and until the start of a new year for the university, but I—”

“No.”

The word was sharply spoken, and Goodnight stopped talking abruptly to blink at the man. “What?” he asked, a feeling of slow, dawning horror settling in his stomach.

“I said no, Goodnight.” The man sneered a bit, looking down his nose and finding him lacking, as usual. “What part of that was difficult for you, bâtard? There are more important things happening in this world than sending your ungrateful little ass off to college.”

Goodnight felt his jaw clench. He’d known, somewhere deep in his heart, that Monsieur Robicheaux truly believed that Maman had had an affair with Uncle Dempsey. This in spite of his uncle having a beautiful wife—Sabine, a free black Creole who had more class in her little finger than the bastard had all together—and no desire to do more than spoil his best friend’s offspring. He just hadn’t been aware of the fact that his father was so adamant of this ‘fact’ that he would keep him from leaving home.

“I have no desire to die, Père,” he replied steadily, keeping his tone even. “You are planning to go off to war, when it comes. I will not be going with you.”

He somehow didn’t see the blow coming. One moment he was looking his father in the eye; the next he was on the ground, ribs aching where they’d never really seemed to heal properly since that Mardi Gras when he was fifteen and staring up at the man in too much shock to move.

But of course, Monsieur Robicheaux wasn’t finished yet. He was the sort of man to kick someone when they were down, and in this case, that was quite literal. Goodnight’s only option was to curl up as much as he could, arms wrapped up over his head and leaving his midsection vulnerable as the bastard all but stomped on him repeatedly for several minutes.

When he was tired of that, Monsieur Robicheaux bent down. Tangling his fingers in Goodnight’s hair, he yanked his head up and glared at him until he dropped his eyes. When he spoke, the words were almost amiable in spite of his murderous expression.

“In the morning,” he said evenly, “you and I are going to the recruitment office. And you will sign yourself up quietly, do you understand me, boy?” When the young man managed a nod, he said, “Good. Because if you don’t, I won’t be happy. And you know what happens, and who it happens to, when I am not happy, don’t you?”

When Goodnight managed another small nod, Monsieur Robicheaux let go of his hair and stood up. He walked back over to his desk, sat down behind it once again. “You may go now. Close the door behind you when you leave. That’s a good boy.”

He spoke as if nothing ever happened. Just like he always did.

Goodnight forced himself to his feet, forced himself to give the connard a small nod before doing as bidden. He made his way up the stairs and into his room, thankful that for once his brother wasn’t there. He needed to see how bad the bruises were going to be, needed to know so he could decide on his clothing for tomorrow.

After all, it wouldn’t do to let the bruises be seen.

Even as he did this, Goodnight began to make other plans. He might be forced into service for a cause he had no belief in, but that didn’t mean he was going to sit back and wait for fate to kill Monsieur Robicheaux.

He’d poison the man dead if he had to, and now all he had to do was wait for the right opportunity. Even if it took years, it would be worth it to keep his brother and sister safe from harm.

Chapter Text

Joshua didn’t think he was ever going to know if Goody had signed up for the war or if Monsieur Robicheaux had signed him up for it.  The day that they were both leaving to join their unit, Goody had pulled Joshua aside and explained everything that was going on as best he could. Joshua still remembered standing there at the depot, trying his best to pretend that tears weren’t running like rivers down his cheeks and that he wasn’t making weird choking sounds every few seconds, and saying, “But I don’t want you to go, Goody.”

Goody had mussed his hair, standing there in his pressed grey uniform that made his blue eyes darker, and said, “You’re going to be the man of the house, T-Jo. I need you to take care of Maman and Colette for me.”

Even at eleven years old, he had known he was being played, but a quick glance over his shoulder had revealed Maman Arthémie in near hysterics and Colette bravely trying to help hold her mother together as she herself silently cried, something he had never seen from either woman before. He took a deep breath, bit his lip, turned back to face his brother, dried his face, and nodded. “Okay, Goody, I will.”

That had been late July 1861, only a few months after the attack on Fort Sumter. Monsieur Robicheaux had been dead of dysentery by August 1861, which Joshua had damn well celebrated in the privacy of his own room to keep from upsetting Maman Arthémie or Colette, who had both been feeling mighty down without the other members of the Robicheaux family around, though he doubt they were missing the son of a bitch Monsieur Robicheaux at all.

Or maybe he had missed some early signs, because a week later, he had been writing to Goody to let him know that Colette had taken sick and the town doctor thought it might well be yellow fever. A day or so later, he sent a second letter saying that Maman Arthémie was ill as well. After that, it was nearly a letter a day, detailing as well as he could the course of the ladies’ illnesses, despite the chills and aches starting to rack his own body.

But then three weeks later, once he had been feeling better himself for a fortnight, he wrote one last letter, telling Goody that Colette and Maman Arthémie had succumbed to the fever and that he was on his own in the Robicheaux house. The only person still with him was Cooky, because the old slave woman had seemed to take as much a shine to the youngest Robicheaux as the mistress of the house had and seemed to regard him a surrogate grandson.

These days, now that he was older and meaner and a hell of a lot more cynical of the world, he wondered if Cooky had just been too afraid to leave and be an old escaped slave in her final years. She had always seemed to like him, but he wasn’t sure he trusted to his memory of the situation. He wasn’t sure he would like himself much if he were in Cooky’s shoes. Maybe she had just liked the fact the youngest Robicheaux gave her some security.

He had managed, with Cooky’s help, to give Maman Arthémie and Colette proper Catholic burials in the Robicheaux family crypt a few long and sad days after their deaths in the early days of August. He had tried a few times to tell Cooky she could leave if she wanted to, but apparently, eleven year olds couldn’t free their own slaves if they wanted to. Cooky wouldn’t even let him slip away to try his luck at the recruitment office; the one time he had tried, she had gotten him by the ear and shaken him a good one before hugging him tightly to her. He had still felt like he needed to be somewhere else, somewhere where he could be helping Goody. Any gun he got his hands on would likely have been bigger than he was, but he could probably play the bugle or the drum. That would be helping.

And then, wonders of all wonders, towards the end of September, Goody had appeared in the middle of the night. That fine grey uniform had been nowhere in sight when he shook Joshua awake, but a hunted look was in his eyes as he glanced around, like he was expecting to see a horde of Yankees slip through the bedroom door any second. “Goody!” he had exclaimed, wrapping himself around his brother like he was more octopus than a child.

“Hey, T-Jo.” Goody had been holding on to him just as tightly as he had been wrapped around his brother. Even at the time, he had noticed that Goody’s hands were shaking. He had been able to see it clearly as they drew up a contract freeing Cooky if she wanted and leaving her any money that could be found in the house. He had never told his brother that he had realized that fact from that first night and so many days and nights since then.

He also never told Goody that it had not taken him long to realize that his brother had temporarily deserted his unit to come retrieve Joshua. Hearing Goody’s pained confusion on being called ‘Private Robicheaux’ a few times had made that clear enough. He had come back because of the high price of desertion—usually death, if found—and because the Army commission was enough to keep them both above ground, though only barely. Thankfully, he had been able to avoid any punishment aside from his demotion, likely because he had a good way about organizing strategy… and an even better way around a rifle. Goody had been among the first men in Connelly’s unit to earn the title of sharpshooter, one that had stuck with him through the end of the War.

It had been apparent from the beginning that Goody’s unit, the Louisiana Tigers, didn’t want an eleven year old tagging along to war, but he made himself useful from the start. He never got any good on the bugle, but he was decent enough at the drums. He was also still fairly small and capable to getting water to men who needed it and slipping in and out of dangerous places to pass orders along. He could even got decent at helping the medics boil up whatever rags were available for cleaning wounds. Eventually he did get his first pistol, though it took months before he ever had a chance to use it. But they damned sure weren’t sending him home to Louisiana either, not after word reached in April 1862 that the Yankees had taken New Orleans. The Robicheaux homestead wasn’t in or near the city and there had been no reports of Yankees burning anything, but they were taking no chances.

The war dragged on for four long years. Their unit ended up being folded into the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia for parts of the war, so they saw more of their fair share of battles. They had already been through the First Battle of Manassas and Antietem but then came Fredericksburg. Then came the devastating loss of General “Stonewall” Jackson at Chancellorsville to friendly fire. Then came the disaster that was Gettysburg. They were still with the Second Corps in late 1864 when they were cut down to by nearly half of their original numbers after Monocacy, the first battle in which he had been officially in the fight as a soldier, though he had taken up a fellow soldier’s rifle a few times before that to protect Goody’s back… and the Tigers hadn’t been very large to begin with by that point. Hell, there had been a time or two when there hadn’t been ammunition enough for the brigade, and they’d resorted to throwing rocks. By the time General Lee surrendered in April 1865, Goody and he had been in the Tigers almost from the time it had been formed until the surrender parade.

Joshua had been fifteen when the War ended, while Goody had been going on twenty-two. Goody didn’t look his age; in fact, he looked like he had aged twice as fast as Joshua had: already starting to go grey in the hair, his hands shaking as often as they were still, a dark and hunted look in his eyes if he thought Joshua wasn’t watching. He usually was, though, and stayed as close as he dared to Goody, back to being his shadow all over again.

And he worried. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, how he worried. He had long since lost count of the number of people some asshole commander had ordered Goody to kill. He knew there had been at least twenty-three confirmed men at Antietam, because they had gotten that number from Connelly himself. He knew there had been nine confirmed at Fredericksburg, eleven confirmed at Gettysburg, and so on down the line. He also knew that those were the confirmed numbers, the ones that could be uncontestedly attributed to Goody. He knew, by war’s end, that the confirmed number had to have hovered in the high nineties to low one hundreds. He didn’t particularly want to think too much about the total count, including the ones who couldn’t be confirmed or that died later of their injuries. He didn’t think he could possibly count that high.

Chapter Text

After the War ended, Joshua and Goody had tried going back home to St. Martinville… only to find no home left. With no one tending the house, it had fallen into disrepair. Rumor had even spread that both Robicheaux boys had died during the war. Some enterprising soul had even taken the wood from the building to repair other homes in the area, apparently figuring with the ladies dead, the head of the house dead, and the boys supposedly dead in the war, it was free game. He could have shot the bastard if he had known who it was, but Goody had just looked relieved. They had spent a night or two in town, living on the good graces of former friends, before heading out once more, striking their way west.

He had never told Goody the favors he had traded to get them both decent horses and tack with very little money and a lot of goodwill, though sometimes he thought Goody suspected that one, since he had had to throw every ounce of Robicheaux charm in to sweeten the deal.

He had never told Goody that he wasn’t the only one in the family with some distinct leanings, and he did his damnedest to keep it well hidden; he would rather be alone most nights than lose an opportunity to keep his brother safe like Goody had kept him safe when they were children, a lifetime of pain ago, and it was no great hardship to spend a night in the company of a lady of the evening; it was like visiting an old friend, even if he had never met her before. Sometimes, though, it had been like an itch that wouldn't go away until he scratched it… and he had.

He would never tell Goody that he had given some thought seeing how far west they could both ride or maybe stopping and settling in some West Texas town that was favorable to the boys in grey and were willing to take them in. He would never tell Goody that he had killed at least two people in those first few months to keep them both alive; he didn’t dare breathe a word of this one, ever, since Goody had been the one to teach how to use a rifle.

He had never told Goody that bounty hunting probably shouldn’t have been their first choice of professions as they headed west. A lot of men had gone into bounty hunting after the war, and at times, there were more predators than there was prey. Yes, they could bank on Goody’s reputation to help some, but eventually there was going to be someone—maybe several someones—who weren’t intimidated by the name of the Angel of Death. When those days came, Joshua spent more time than he wanted to consider pumping bastards full of lead so that they could  stay above ground a few days longer.

He had finally grown into his limbs and filled out some when his horse finally came up so lame outside Indian Territory in Oklahoma that he had to put a bullet to her. It had taken some convincing, but he had eventually paid the princely sum of $48 to buy a nineteen month old hell beast of a stallion off one of the Seminoles in the area of the Indian Territories in Oklahoma. Joshua had named the horse Jack, though Goody had quickly taken to calling him Wild Jack.

That had been October 1870, and the war had been over five years. He didn’t know it yet, but he only had a few more months left with his brother before Texas, Billy Rocks, and the fight that had driven them both to say things that should never have been said (‘drunk green Paddy’ on Goody’s part, which he sometimes still had a hard time believing had come from his usually genteel brother, and Joshua knew he had definitely called Goody a molly obsessed with getting a leg over… and punches had been thrown on both of their behalf’s), and that had been the end of that.

He’d lit out for Missouri, and once Miss Ethel had his head on straight again, he had tried writing a letter to Goody. He had been severely drunk at the time, working hard on drowning his sorrows in whatever Miss Ethel and Miss Jane would serve him, and he had burned the letter before he could just as drunkenly send it.

He had stayed with Miss Ethel for a couple of weeks, before heading back west, this time settling in Carson City. It was a big enough city to have a bounty office and yet small enough that he wouldn’t have to be concerned with people recognizing him. He could set up shop there with impunity, where no one knew too much about it.

It was in Carson City that he’d first started bounty hunting on his own, a fat stack of writ sheets in his vest pocket. He carried one on the bottom of the stack for over a year, all the way into 1872, where he would always know where it was: one for Billy Rocks. He had ended up consigning it to the fire on New Years Day 1873, and good riddance.

He was never going to tell Goody about that either, if he ever got to speak to him again.

Once he had a permanent address in Carson City, he actually received a letter by post nearly a month later, almost five months after he and Goody parted ways. He could tell right away that it wasn’t from his brother: the handwriting was all wrong for Goody, even Goody when he was drunk, who had the most flowing handwriting he had ever seen from a man if he was sober… and the most sharpest if he wasn’t sober. That had made it pretty damn easy to guess that it had been Billy Rocks writing to him. He hadn’t gotten far in the letter.

In some rather stilted, blocky English, Billy Rocks had begun with the fact that Goodnight did not know he was writing, that Goodnight was still angry, that Billy thought reconciliation might be better for Joshua and Goody. That had been the point that the letter had been thrown in the fire and he had started knocking back an entire bottle of whiskey. No one was supposed to call his brother ‘Goody’ except him. That was the way it had always been. That was the way it was always supposed to be. Just who the hell did this Billy Rocks character think he was, sneaking in and stealing his Goody out from under him?

Well, apparently not his Goody anymore.