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The Best in the West

Chapter Text

As he neared the railroad tracks, Arthur slowed his horse to a walk. Up ahead, he could spot the small blemish on the horizon of the dilapidated station building. The area was dry, dusty, and the sun was blazing on the back of his neck the whole ride over. Suffice to say that he was in a bad mood. He was more than ready to get his bounty and head back to Armadillo for his money.

The bricks that formed the old station were half gone, and the place didn’t even have a roof. He used his binoculars to scope the area out. The work was easy due to the nature of the place; the four men that were holed out there had nearly nothing to cover themselves. They did the right thing in keeping themselves all in the southwest corner of the building, where the most bricks and the highest walls were, yet their horses remained in plain sight.

Arthur edged closer to the station and worked a plan through his head. He readied his rifle and his revolver, ensuring that they would be in top shape for whatever was to come next.

He started simply enough: one shot into the air.

The horses spooked and scattered, and Arthur remained stock still on his golden brown steed.

A flurry of curses shot into the air, once dead and now full of life, and a man quickly whirled around the wall to see what just happened.

Arthur expected someone to peak and had his revolver ready. The man looked too long, and before he had time to realize it, Arthur shot straight into his nose, blowing his face apart. Bits of pieces of muscle and bone scatter through the air and his body flew back lifelessly. Arthur could hear more cursing erupt from the other men.

“I’m just here for Skinny Abe!” Arthur yelled. The echos from his shots were still ringing in the air. “You other rats can piss off, just give me Abe!”

“Fuck you!” He heard someone spit.

“Fine. If it must be that way, then you’ll have it that way,” he muttered to himself. He spurred his horse into the next gear and moved quickly to the right, around the side of the building. The men shot at him, all of their bullets blowed a meter passed him as his horse drove him forward. Arthur gritted his teeth and moved forward.

Arthur kept the horse moving around in a circle until he heard the bullets stop. He reared his horse, its hooves skidding in the hard dirt and sand of the land, and aimed his revolver. There were two men on either side of his target, both standing about stupidly as they moved their unsteady hands to reload. Even a practicing teenager could hit them. Skinny Abe stayed crouched, low to the ground and covered by what little bit remained of the north-facing wall, which was about a foot high.

With ease, Arthur shot the two fools, hitting one in his chest and the other in his neck. They both fell to the ground in heaps, and blood quickly pooled beneath their bodies.

“Your time is up, Mr. Skinny!” Arthur called out.

Skinny Abe cursed and spat and stood up and promptly yelled back, “Go fuck yourself!”

Arthur shot him in his knee before the man could even get his gun up high enough to shoot. He wailed and fell onto his side, and he clutched his bloodsoaked knee in a cradle.

Arthur got off his horse, patting him on the way down, and headed over to the wreckage. He kicked the guns away from the bodies, not sure if the one who’d been hit in the chest was yet dead, and looked down on his target.

Skinny Abe was indeed skinny, his hair wispy and bald in many places, and his limbs as thin as Arthur’s wrists. His clothes were covered in layers of dirt and his pants had patches sewn all along them. “I am sorry it had to be this way, partner, but your friends here made me do it,” Arthur said as he put his hands on his hips and looked about. He shook his head. “And aren’t you a funky little fella.”

“I’ll bite your cock off!” Skinny Abe growled in between his cries. He yelled in anguish and anger at once, and Arthur looked at him plainly.

“Now why’d you have to go and bring this on yourself, burning that nice lady’s house?” Arthur scolded, almost sounding like his own adopted mother. The thought shook him a little, but he threw it off and whistled for his horse. The thoroughbred listened immediately and swiftly and came to Arthur’s side.

Arthur grabbed his rope from the saddle and made quick work of hogtying his bounty. Skinny Abe yelled at the top of his lungs when Arthur forced him to straighten his leg, and Arthur shut him up. Once he was done, he lifted the man onto his shoulder, surprised at the ease of which he could move a man so small as him, and threw him over the rump of the horse. “Let’s get you to Armadillo,” Arthur said. Skinny Abe whimpered and moaned, but cursed no more. Arthur thought he had to be close to passing out.

Arthur swung up into his saddle and spurred his horse into a trot. He kept his eyes on the horizon, not knowing how many people his target may have at his disposal, and kept a steady pace throughout the country. After a few hours went by, Arthur allowed himself the time to survey his revolver. He let go of the reins and controlled the horse with his legs, but it was mostly unnecessary; the horse knew what needed to be done and reacted well its rider. Slowly and methodically, Arthur took out a rag and some oil and passed the time by cleaning his weapons and singing a merry tune. His eyes never stayed too low for too long.

 

“You still alive back there?” Arthur asked. Skinny Abe said nothing. Arthur slapped him across the face, and criminal mumbled and moaned, but still said nothing. “That’s enough for me,” Arthur mumbled to himself.

The town of Armadillo was small and dusty. It was one street and dominated by the saloon and the railroad station with an assortment of stores dotted throughout. A small ranch sat off to the side of the town, its corals empty and small. It was nothing more than a middle point for most people who took the train and were headed somewhere else, but there was still more people that inhabited Armadillo than Arthur was comfortable with.

He didn’t want to waste any more time with this bounty. New Austin wasn’t the place for Arthur, who preferred a much greener country full of life and trees. The desert was a sad and scary place, and the sheer openness of it unnerved him to his core. It was always dirty business out in New Austin’s open land and deserts, and as good as the money was for him, it pained him to take orders in the region. The men were wilder than anyone in the east, and their crimes always seemed to on an extreme scale.

The jail in Armadillo was small but worked well as any other. Arthur hitched his horse to the post outside and reached into his satchel for a carrot. “That’s my good boah,” Arthur cooed to the stallion. The horse ate it gratefully, but Arthur saw how his eyes continued to shift and look around the town. “You look for trouble almost more than I do,” he chuckled.

Arthur left the horse with a pat and moved to his backside, where he pulled Skinny Abe off the horse and back onto his shoulder. He carried him in as easy as moving grain from a silo, and opened the door to the sheriff’s building.

“I’ve got a nice present for you boys,” Arthur told the sheriff and deputy, both of which were sitting lazily in the office and smoking cigars. The deputy looked up wildly and moved his hand to his belt before he realized who Arthur was. “Easy there, Green Blood,” Arthur said pointedly.

“How many times have I got to tell you-”

“Quiet, John,” the sheriff cut the deputy off mid-sentence and his gaze slowly moved to Arthur and the man on his shoulder. “Oh, yes, that one. You can go ahead and put him in a cell. John, go lock him up, will you?”

The deputy gave Arthur a sour look and reluctantly stood up. “I s’pose,” he grumbled.

“Thank you, deputy.” Arthur followed Deputy John to the cell on their right, and when it was opened, moved forward and dropped Skinny Abe onto the floor. He grabbed his knife out of its sheath on his belt and cut the rope that bound him, taking a quick look at his knee, which was completely red and difficult to ascertain what was what, then turned and closed the cell door. The deputy did his job, but not with a happy tone. The sound of the lock turning was cold.

“I shot his knee pretty badly. Might want to get that checked,” Arthur told the sheriff.

“Maybe later,” the sheriff waved. “Here, your money’s in the drawer.” He reached into his desk and pulled out a clip of bills. “I believe twenty-five was the offered price.” He tossed it onto the desk and leaned back in his chair and threw his legs onto the desk.

Arthur grabbed the money and tossed it in his satchel. “Thank you, Gabe,” he said. He moved to leave the office, but Deputy John spoke up as Arthur put his hand on the door.

“Twenty-five is too much for this kind of work. You don’t deserve it.”

Sheriff Gabe scoffed. “What do you know about work?”

Arthur said nothing and shook his head.

“There’s been a new bounty posted. I reckon you couldn’t do it even if you wanted to,” he challenged Arthur.

“I’m not rightly looking for anything at this moment,” Arthur told him. “It’s time I go on a little break from this state.” Arthur breathed heavily and rolled his eyes as he spoke.

The deputy ignored him and continued. “A new poster’s been printed for a man from Dutch Van der Linde’s gang. One thousand dollars. Folks been seeing them up in West Elizabeth. Says they’ve been on a roll robbing coaches and trains alike.”

Arthur narrowed his eyes, but his interest had been piqued. “Where’s this poster?”

The deputy smiled mischievously and looked at the sheriff. He crossed his arms and waited.

The sheriff sighed and took his feet off the desk. Once again, he opened a drawer and rummaged around before he pulled out a freshly folded piece of paper. “This one here. We were meant to post it tomorrow. It's been sent out to just about every town and ranch in the western half of the country.”

Arthur took the poster and looked at it.

 

THE SHERIFF’S OFFICE OF THE TOWN OF BLACKWATER IS OFFERING A
-------------------------------------------------------------------
$1,000 REWARD
FOR THE APPREHENSION AND DELIVERY OF

JOSEPH VAUGHN

MEMBER OF THE NOTORIOUS DUTCH VAN DER LINDE’S GANG.

WANTED FOR UNLAWFUL KILLINGS AND ROBBERIES OF STAGECOACHES.
------------------------------------------------------------------
VAUGHN IS OF HEAVY BUILD, LIGHT SKIN, SHAVED HEAD, AND MEDIUM LENGTH BEARD.

LAST KNOWN WHEREABOUTS WAS

SOUTH OF TALL TREES
------------------------------------------------------------------
ALL REWARD CLAIMS WILL BE PAID FROM THE

BLACKWATER SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT.

 

He looked over the poster and felt a mix of emotions whirl inside of him. He had personal debts to go after the Dutch Van der Linde gang, however, he knew as well as anyone that they were a gang that shouldn’t be messed with. Yet when had that ever stopped him before? He’d gone after nearly every gang or family in the country, except Van der Linde’s. The prospect of it made his stomach float with butterflies. He felt dizzy from the struggle within himself.

Arthur looked at the deputy, then the sheriff, and back at the deputy. With one last glance at the bounty poster in his hand, he nodded once, and folded the sheet into quarters. He put the bounty poster in his satchel and turned and left without another word. He liked to think it was to cow the deputy, but deep down, Arthur knew that another moment of hesitation would have stunted him. He would be Van der Linde’s next biggest threat, and he promised himself that.

Chapter Text

The road to Blackwater was a nice change of scenery compared to New Austin. The ground progressively got browner and less red, the grass began to fill once again, and trees were few but miles more than in the desert. Arthur had felt his face lift and less tense the farther he got into West Elizabeth. The ranches he passed along the way were much nicer, especially the MacFarlane Ranch. Arthur’s horse was happier too; the stallion huffed and puffed less and bobbed his head.

As Arthur traveled, he worried about the man he was chasing. It was bad news for the people in West Elizabeth that a gang as powerful as Dutch’s was happy and confident enough to move about freely and attack so many stages in quick succession. It also called Arthur to wonder just why the group was robbing so many stagecoaches to begin with. Aside from the obvious incentive, there had to be something else to justify the risk. And Dutch’s past was primarily centered on trains rather than stagecoaches. He predicted that the gang was looking to either terrorize the people and make them scared to travel, yet he didn’t know what good that would do them.

Tall Trees was an effective place to set up camp, too. It was dense and full of wildlife, meaning Arthur would never be able to track down their camp on his own. He would have to go at night, however the presence of grizzly bears and cougars kept that impossible. His only hope was to find some kind of lead in Blackwater.

The city of Blackwater, like everything else when compared to New Austin, was much larger and livelier than Armadillo. People trolled the streets in suits and overalls alike, and wagons moved throughout often. The stable was huge, and Arthur had heard there was a lumber store that sold pre-cut houses.

Arthur noticed the number of people immediately. It made his spine tickle with unease. He felt like an outsider, and rightly so. He believed that nothing good came from so many people in such a small space.

Like any other bounty hunter, Arthur headed to the saloon. It was his best bet, and he would look less out of place in there. In his dusty jeans, sun-beaten and stained collared shirt, two holsters on his waist, a long but well-kept beard, and a rifle on his saddle, he didn’t quite fit the bill for a normal rancher. Once outside the building, Arthur hitched his thoroughbred outside and patted his neck. Arthur smiled at the horse, then turned and went inside.

When he went inside, Arthur headed immediately to the bar. As he walked, he looked around and surveyed the place. It was full of men of all kind, from ranch hands, ranchers, travelling men, and wealthy businessmen. The place had naturally segregated itself. Ranchers and poorer folk remained near the windows and at tables in the front, as well as the bar, while the richer folk stayed in the back near the piano and playing poker. Arthur found a seat at the bar and got the barkeep’s attention.

“One whiskey, please.” Arthur's voice was hoarse and gritty from little use. He slid two dollars across the table. The bar was shiny enough, but Arthur could see dents, dings, and scratches along the surface. When he slid the coins, he could feel the grooves of them under his rough, calloused palms.

The barkeep walked over and grabbed a glass along the way. He reached down for a bottle and poured a drink, then sat it down and slid it to Arthur. He grabbed the two coins as the glass slid. Arthur nodded his thanks and the barkeep went on with his work.

Arthur lifted the glass to his lips and took a drink. The liquor left a fiery trail down his throat and a warm pool in his belly. A drink after such a long journey, and such a long time in New Austin, was his own slice of heaven. Right after money in his pockets.

His ears remained open to the saloon as he drank. He listened to every individual and group in the hopes of garnering any information. He discerned a mix of accents and sifted through much that didn’t pertain to his business. Arthur didn’t quite care to know that Billy from across the road dropped his new revolver and shot his horse, or that little miss Emily vomited trying to birth a foal. The saloon was lively that night and full of many people; Arthur sighed at the prospect of spending the whole night there working. All the money he’d earned would be gone in a lick, and it simply wasn't fun.

After some time, Arthur began to focus his attention away from the average folk and onto the richer men. He turned and looked over his shoulder. There were four men playing poker, which was being run by a young, dark-skinned gentleman. Three of the men were bantering amongst each other, while one man spoke loud and often and had an ego that was bigger than his new shiny boots. He was sure of himself and let the other men know it. If anything went against his favor, he let the other men know what a mistake that was for them and how he would make their lives miserable soon enough. The gamekeeper kept his mouth shut.

There came a point where things started going downhill for the egotistical man. Within a few short minutes, he had lost nearly all of his chips, and he started to fume.

“You’re cheating, you son of a bitch!” He yelled at the man across from him.

Arthur, who had turned his head back to the bar after first glimpsing the men, returned his gaze to the poker table. Everyone else in the saloon did the same, attracted by such commotion.

“Oh, please!” The accused man scoffed.

“Give me back my chips, or I’ll make sure you pay for it! I work for a powerful man!”

The accused man had been sitting comfortably in his chair, leaned back fully. He then leaned forward, arms fulling on the poker table and face scrunched. “Hell! No!”

The yelling man threw his cards onto the table as he stood up hastily. The chair scraped against the floorboards with the force. If someone hadn’t been watching before, they were then. The piano abruptly stopped and even the pianist had his eyes trained on the egotistical man.

“My boss runs nearly all the oil business in Lemoyne! And half the mines, too! You don’t want to mess with me, he and I are close!”

The accused man stayed seated and shook his head. He spat at the man’s feet.

“What’s your name?” The man clenched his fist at his sides. Arthur could imagine the steam spewing out his ears, and his face was as red as a tomato. “He’ll be down here in a few days. I’ll make sure he knows of you.”

Arthur watched and saw the gamekeeper perk at the mention of the man’s boss coming into town. A spark lit up in his belly when he saw it, and tingle crept across his spine. Arthur wasn’t the only one looking for leads, it seemed.

The fight ended when the barkeep had had enough. Claiming he didn’t want any more shootouts in his business, he told the egotistical man to leave, or he’d have the sheriff in here. The man took offense to such a statement and demanded the barkeep’s name too, to which he replied, “I don’t listen to nobody in my own bar. I don’t care who owns what.”

The sheriff was in fact brought to the saloon and the man had to be escorted out, or at least to the door. Arthur downed the last bit of whiskey in his glass and stood up. He headed out of the saloon, where the sheriff stood next to the door to make sure the man did not try to come back. Arthur saw the man walking briskly, head held high, towards the hotel.

Arthur cleared his throat and slowly ran to the man. “Mister! Hey, mister!”

The man turned quickly and scowled at Arthur. “What is it you want?”

“I heard you’s talking in that bar over there. Heard you’s good friends with a wealthy business man, eh? I could really use some work, mister.” Arthur tilted his head and put a desperate look on his face. “Please, please, mister.” He had an inkling that a man would like to be begged at, to think he’s important enough to deem a man worthy.

“Oh. . .” the man’s face flickered for a moment until he smirked, smug. “Yes, I suppose I could help someone in that matter. But why should I?”

“Please, mister, I’m just a poor man looking for some honest work. I just need a little money.” Arthur lifted his hands, palm up, in a sign of defeat. He held them at his sides.

Arthur watched as the man looked him over. The man’s eyes lingered at his weapons. “What are those for?”

“I’ve been traveling all over the place. The wildlife is, well, wild.”

Arthur chuckled internally when the man nodded with not a single follow-up question. “Well, my boss is should be here tomorrow. Maybe the day after. If you come with me, I can introduce you to him. He likes to personally question the men he has working for him.”

“Oh, that’s just wonderful, God bless you sir, God bless!” Arthur put his hands together and bowed his head momentarily. “Please, I’d like to introduce myself. Name’s William Smith.” Arthur held his hand out eagerly.

The man took it and shook. “John MacKinnon. Now, I must really be getting back to my residence. Meet me outside the post office at sunrise.”

Arthur nodded vigorously. “Yes, I will! Again, thank you!”

John turned around and continued walking towards the hotel, his step not as hard and his posture resumed to that of a smug banker. His head was full of delusions. Arthur turned around himself and went back to the saloon, where he could now properly rest and relax. That whiskey was damn good, now that he had thought back on it.

Chapter Text

It was a perfect morning. The sun rose smoothly over the horizon and its rays swept over Blackwater. When Arthur sat outside the post office, he could feel the heat slowly fill in the town. It felt just right on his sun-beaten and scarred face; just another thing he liked about West Elizabeth.


John MacKinnon arrived near an hour after Arthur arrived. He carried a briefcase that was shining with signs of little to no use, and a silver chain hung down his chest from a pocket watch inside his breast pocket. His mustache and hair were well oiled compared to the somewhat ordinary appearance he had the other night.


Arthur stood up quickly when he saw the man. “Why, good morning, mister MacKinnon!”


“Good morning, er, Smith, yes? Yes, that’s it. We’re traveling shortly. Do you have a carriage?” MacKinnon spoke quickly, hardly leaving room for Arthur to answer.


“No, sir, but-”


“Why, of course you wouldn’t, look at you! Well, I’ll just have to borrow one from someone is all.” MacKinnon looked around the town and found a recently used wagon nearby. It was stopped across the street, close to both the stable and a general store, and hooked up to it was two burly workhorses. From the looks, Arthur gaged that they hadn’t been working very hard but had been up since dawn.


“That one’s quite workable,” MacKinnon said and started to walk towards it

.
“Do you know the man who owns it?” Arthur asked and took a hesitant step with MacKinnon.


“No. No, but I know once we meet my boss and follow him back into town everything will make sense for the man. He’ll understand. Later, is all.” MacKinnon reached the wagon and inspected it, including the horses, their bridles, the wheels, and the contents of the wagon. Arthur followed him, his step a bit stronger now, but still lagged behind. He didn’t know what to believe of this man, and while it was incredibly telling how willing he was to steal a wagon, in the end, it wasn’t really Arthur’s problem. Arthur saw from the contents of the wagon that the owner was simply trying to make a living, either selling his goods or acting as transportation for someone else’s.


“Right, well, looks well enough. Hop on.” MacKinnon threw his briefcase in the back of the wagon and moved to the front, where he climbed up the wheel and into the seat. Arthur climbed onto the other side and waited a moment to lean back.


“I think I’d feel more comfortable if I took this out,” Arthur told MacKinnon and patted his rifle slung across his arm.


MacKinnon waved, “Yes, yes.”


Arthur took the rifle off his shoulder and rested it on his lap, the barrel pointing outwards, away from MacKinnon. Arthur felt an increasing urge to clean the weapon but refrained himself. He looked around and saw his horse had not moved far from where he had left him at the post office.
“You mind if my horse follows behind us, mister?”


MacKinnon raised an eyebrow at him but sighed and agreed. Arthur whistled, and the thoroughbred came to the wagon. The sight of the stallion brought a smile to Arthur’s face.
“Let’s get started, aye?” Arthur said to MacKinnon.


“Yes, let us.” MacKinnon grabbed the reins and the wagon began to move. Arthur called out to his horse as the wagon moved and told him to follow. As he did so, Arthur started to look over his shoulder and search for any angry-looking farmer coming from the town. In the pit of his stomach, Arthur felt a small tumble, but ultimately shoved it away. The wagon moved forward and picked up speed quickly for what it was, and the pair of men were outside of Blackwater’s agreed limits in under a minute.


“So, what’s the plan here?” Arthur asked MacKinnon. Arthur’s eyes shifted and stayed along the horizon, which was still easy to do in West Elizabeth, only with more hills.


“We’re going to meet my boss at the border between West Elizabeth and New Hanover. He likes to switch his escorts around. I had another man in mind for this job, but he charged too much. You were almost like a blessing.” MacKinnon chuckled and shook his head. “But once we get there, we’re turning around and coming right back.”


Arthur nodded but said nothing. If the gang was going to strike, and it was known for this somewhat note-worthy man to travel in pairs of wagons, then he imagined he wouldn’t have to worry too much about being attacked on the way north. It was always possible they could be attacked, and Arthur never let his guard down, but the chances were much lower than he imagined they would be later. Posing as the man’s escort would be too risky and too much work for a normal stage robbery; for the gang to do such a thing would be ridiculous.


The rest of the ride was unfortunately not as silent as Arthur would have liked it. MacKinnon was a very vocal man and had many opinions. Throughout the journey, the man managed to talk not only about himself and his supposed ranking, but about the government, a local rancher that had gotten on his nerves, the current trajectory of the oil business, his mother, the man his mother dated, and, least of all, his opinions on Indians. Arthur worked hard to hide the fact that he was rolling his eyes and gritting his teeth the entire time, instead, he filled the void with an abundance of “uh-huh’s” and “is that so, mister?’s” and “Ohh’s.” His knuckles were white with how tight he was gripping the rifle.


Their wagon made it to the stream that split the two states eventually, and Arthur saw that there was no one there. “What’s this about, mister? Where’s your boss?”


“He’ll be here eventually, Mr. Smith,” MacKinnon reassured him. “Don’t you worry about that.”


Arthur looked around the place and felt entirely off about the whole situation. The area they were in was not suited for a meeting ground, in his eyes. They were in the middle of a basin, surrounded on nearly all sides by high ground, the only exception being downstream, where the water ran into the sea. There was only a handful of rocks and boulders to hide behind should it be required. And he heard no sounds of another wagon nearby.


Nonetheless, Arthur bit his tongue and held strong. He looked behind him and made sure his horse had followed, just as he did countless other times on the way there. The thoroughbred remained nearby. Arthur whistled and motioned for him to walk up beside him, parallel to the wagon.


It took some time before Arthur heard the semblance of any other life form, and it was loud. When the carriage came around the bend and down the hill it was no wonder why. MacKinnon’s boss rode in a hefty carriage that was run by a total of four horses, all of them huge Dutch Warmbloods, who made the ground shake and rumble as they kicked up dirt and rocks. In front of them was another carriage, equally as expensive looking but somewhat smaller, and ran by two horses.


“Why, there he is!” MacKinnon sat up straighter and patted his knee.


“There he is, indeed,” Arthur mumbled to himself. MacKinnon didn’t hear him or ignored him. His eyes were set hard on the carriage ahead of him. Arthur would have won money had he bet that he could take the money right out of his pocket at that moment.

 

The first carriage pulled off to the side, letting MacKinnon’s boss move forward and cross the stream.


“John! Is that you, dear John?” A voice called out from the carriage.


“Yes, sir!” MacKinnon answered.

The man driving the carriage looked over his shoulder and waved the first one off, easily done with them. The carriage promptly turned and went back up the hill they came.


“I apologize sir, but you’ll have to wait while I get this lump of a thing turned around,” MacKinnon told his boss, who had now stuck his head out the window.


“Right. Where did you get such a blasted thing, anyways?” MacKinnon’s boss had a curled mustache, a small patch of hair on his chin, and wore a bright red neckerchief. Otherwise, he looked as any other professional, rich guy ought to. Arthur paid him no real mind. He had seen many people like him, and there was nothing special about him.


“Oh, nothing to worry yourself with, I assure you. Once we return and let the man I borrowed it from hears about you, all will be well!” MacKinnon started the effort to turn the horses so they would be pointed back towards Blackwater.


Arthur’s worries increased as time went on. They were sitting ducks in this water, literally. A trace feeling wound through his limbs and up his spine, and he felt his hands start to buzz. He looked across the tops of the hills and cliffs around him and inspected every detail.


“I think I spot something,” he whispered to MacKinnon.


MacKinnon heard nothing, too busy chatting with his boss about what would be done with the wagon once they were done. His boss, who Arthur still did not know the name of, chastised MacKinnon for choosing such a shameful ride to escort him into Blackwater. Arthur moved his rifle and focused his eyes on the hill to his left.


“Guys, seriously, I think I-” Arthur started to speak, his voice rough and absent of any poor-rancher tune that it had had, when two gunshots blasted through the air.


“Wooooooo-haaaaaa!” A voice bellowed from somewhere above them. Arthur looked up, and he saw a pudgy man with bushy mutton chops move from his cover behind a rock. He dual-wielded two revolvers, and he held both of them skyward. “How’s everything lookin’ down there, fellers?”


“Shit!” MacKinnon yelled. His boss ducked his head back into the carriage, and the man riding started to whip the reins of the carriage. It wasn’t long until a bullet was lodged into the man’s skull, and the horses were blocked in by the wagon that Arthur and MacKinnon sat on. They didn’t move far before they needed to rear back.


Three men walked down the road behind Arthur, where their wagon had come down to meet MacKinnon’s boss. They all carried rifles and looked poised to use them. Their faces were covered by cloth below the eyes.


Arthur felt a jump in his stomach when he saw one of them. He couldn’t see the beard due to the face mask, but one of the men definitely had a recently-shaved head. He was a big man, taller than Arthur, and built like a brick, easily shadowing the two men he stood next to.


“Now, now, we just want your money, boys,” a fatter man yelled out. His voice was rough and unpleasant, and hair poked out from the top of his shirt where three of the buttons were undone.


Arthur looked to his right. His horse was still by his side, tail flicking back in forth in agitation and worry. He would have to do something, and soon.


“You, in the carriage!” A smaller, thinner man with shoulder-length hair yelled out. “Come out with your hands up!”


MacKinnon whispered, “Oh, God, have mercy,” and puked.


Arthur took the chance, as odd as it was, and jumped from the wagon to his horse, instantly shifting his weight and drove his horse to the right. Shots fired at him once the man realized what was happening. For the second time in a matter of days, Arthur heard and felt the whizz of bullets pass his head. Yet his body was taut with focus and adrenaline, and he was ready for the fight.


He maneuvered himself through the shallows of the water and behind the carriage. As he neared it, he turned and shot at the man on the hill. His first priority was to get anyone with a high ground advantage gone. The first shot missed. Arthur pulled the lever on his rifle and shot again, which hit the man in his stomach and knocked him to the ground. He didn’t worry about whether it was fatal, and he didn’t notice the sounds of MacKinnon’s boss screaming inside the carriage. Nearby, MacKinnon had fainted and fallen off of the wagon.


Arthur returned his sights on the men that were in front of him. They had scattered and were now in whatever cover they could find, which was little good, but they continued to have a number advantage against him. Arthur moved his horse to left and went back around the carriage, the way he had first gotten there, in an attempt to throw them off.


The two men were missing him almost entirely and were shooting wildly, not caring too much about staying in cover for very long. The only one whose bullets he could hear accurately was Joseph’s, and that made Arthur curse.


Arthur brought his rifle up once again and shot at the fatter man. The bullet hit his shoulder, and he dropped his rifle, cursing into the air.

 

“Shit!” The skinny man yelled. He whistled for his horse. Joseph saw the damage and did the same.


As the horses ran down the hill, Arthur continued to keep shooting at the fat man and the skinnier man. Joseph was needed alive and he was the only one who had found solid cover behind both a boulder and a tree. Hitting just his limbs would be difficult, if not impossible.


The horses arrived at the bottom and the three men all jumped onto one. The fat man was having some issues, wavering once he got in his saddle.


“Get him back!” Arthur heard Joseph shout.


“Yah!” Arthur yelled and spurred his horse forward as fast as possible. Joseph had gotten onto his own horse, and the three men raced up the hill as fast as their horses would let them. Arthur grit his teeth and threw his rifle over his shoulder. He grabbed the pistol from his belt in his right hand and the reigns in his left hand.


The three men split at the top of the hill. Joseph went left, the other two went right. On another day, Arthur would have followed the two men in an attempt to find their location. But the gang was too strong in its current state, and Arthur needed to dismantle them slowly before going after the big fish. He went left.


The land of West Elizabeth was full of rolling hills and high grasslands. The earth was dry and trees were sparse. Arthur knew that unless Joseph went into Tall Trees, the only place he could go was New Austin, which was even worse in comparison, and Tall Trees is where the gang was hiding. The winner of this bout would be upon the horse, and Arthur had strong hope in his own.


“Let’s do this the easy way!” Arthur called out.


“Fuck you!” Joseph yelled over his shoulder.


Arthur growled under his breath. The faster this could get over with, the happier he’d be. When we watched the rider ahead of him, Arthur was honestly surprised that the tiny little Tennessee Walker could carry a man the size of Joseph. His belief in his own ability and horse grew.


“Damn it, Vaughn, just give it up already!”


Joseph grabbed his own revolver and fired blindly and hazardously behind him. The bullet wasn’t even close, but Arthur got the message. He spat a curse and shot his revolver in return, but his aim was much better. He watched as his bullet flew passed the skull of Joseph. The man didn’t flinch, and Arthur was taken aback for a moment before he was able to recuperate.


Joseph took Arthur over and down countless hills and under bridges to no avail. The Tennessee Walker was getting burned out, and Arthur could see it from the distance they were at. The horse was slowing, and Arthur’s distance from Joseph fell steadily.
Arthur holstered his revolved and reached behind him to grab his rope from the saddle.


“Come on, Joseph!” Arthur brought his arm up and began to swing the rope, the loop circling above his head.


Joseph said nothing. His horse continued to slow.


Arthur threw, missed. He wasn’t worried; the Walker was beginning to shake her head and become wilder. If Joseph wasn’t smart, the horse could buck him off at any moment. He brought his arm back up and started to swing again.


He threw the rope a second time and he hit his mark. The rope landed squarely around Joseph’s chest, and when Arthur pulled back and tightened the loop, his heavy body was taken clean off of the horse. The Walker, now free of such a burden, immediately reared and whinnied in protest and pain. Arthur watched as Joseph’s body fell on the ground and dust flew into the air.


Arthur quickly signaled for his horse to slow and hopped off. He held a tight grip on the rope as Joseph struggled and kicked, squirming side to side like a rattlesnake.


“Come on, now, Joseph, just let it over with,” Arthur walked to the man and brought the rope in as he did so, hand over hand, always taut. When he stood next to Joseph, Arthur was forced to jump back as his captive tried to headbutt his shin. “You’re feisty.”


Joseph’s face was scrunched in anger, teeth bared. The face mask had flown off at some point between the stream and now, and there was no mistaking this man. His baby blue eyes were anything but babyish and fueled by the flame of anger, and Arthur thought to himself that the bounty poster was nowhere close to capturing the pure, calculated power of this man. Now up close, and struggling to contain him, Arthur could see that Joseph’s size was pure muscle. He would not have looked out of place traveling with the circus as a strongman.


Although Joseph was more than likely stronger than Arthur, Arthur was able to hogtie the man, if with extreme difficulty. Arthur liked to compliment himself on his big wrists, but Joseph’s were even bigger. Arthur was never a small man in any sense of the word, but he felt tiny next to his bounty target.


“We’re gonna have fun together, right mister?” Arthur asked rhetorically. His voice dripped with sarcasm, but far back, Arthur continued to feel something odd in his stomach. He had never felt such a feeling with other bounty targets. Arthur looked Joseph in the eyes and immediately looked away and swallowed. He stood up and caught his breath, hands on his hips and eyes anywhere but on Joseph’s.


“This is a good spot as any for camp tonight.” Arthur turned and quietly called for his horse to come close to him. He pulled the necessary items off of his saddle and started to think about what his plan was for this man. Arthur became anxious and wondered if this was the right bounty for him, or if he had taken a bite too big for his own mouth to chew. 

Chapter Text

West Elizabeth was full of plains and grasslands, perfect for bison, but not so much hiding. Arthur managed to capture Joseph near a large tree that provided nice cover compared to most of the land that surrounded them. It was the only one within a reasonable distance, and Arthur was content with it. He moved the horse to the tree and hitched him around the trunk. He patted the thoroughbred’s neck and gave him a small smile. Joseph was still some ways off and layed in the dirt where Arthur had tied him

“S’pose I should bring him over,” he mumbled to himself, and partly to the horse. The idea seemed daunting. Arthur wasn’t sure how the night was going to go, and he knew for a fact he was not going to get any sleep tonight. His stomach roiled with nerves and anxieties as the possibilities laid out in his head. If he was stupid enough, he would have taken Joseph straight to Blackwater, but bounty thieves ran rampant across the country, and Arthur needed strength to fight back if that were to happen. He worried about the other two men and where they were, and what the rest of the gang was plotting. By far, the hardest part about this bounty was the consequences.

Arthur walked over to Joseph and took long, heavy steps. Joseph had his head turned to the side and looked Arthur up and down. His eyes constantly moved and assessed every last inch of the bounty hunter. Arthur felt a strange tingle at the nape of his neck as he noticed, and he could almost feel the other man’s eyes raking over him. Ever since he had nearly been robbed by the man, Arthur had not had a moment where he felt his normal self. He clenched his fists and jaw and narrowed his eyes as he looked down on the man.

“Why don’t you look spectacular at this angle,” Joseph said, his voice facetious, and a smirk began to curl on his lips.

“Shut up,” Arthur groaned. He leaned down to lift Joseph and grabbed him by his middle. As he lifted, his hand had to shift to balance the weight and he took hold of Joseph’s thigh.

“Oh, wow, I would have never thought you had such magic hands,” Joseph said.

Arthur’s heart jumped and he fought against his instinct to tighten his grip in anger and embarrassment. He felt heat begin to flare in his chest and face and he moved his feet faster in a desperate attempt to get back to the tree. When he did, he flung the larger man onto the ground, making sure he landed hard.

Joseph groaned, but Arthur was surprised to see that the man looked barely fazed at all. At most, the landing was just a small annoyance. Arthur allowed himself to clench his fists again.

Silently, Arthur started to work on making camp. He walked around and found enough tinder for a fire and picked a spot for it. The whole while, Joseph’s eyes followed him. Arthur could see the light blue of his irises, which were stark in contrast to their darkening surroundings and the brown beard that covered his face. At one point, Arthur had subconsciously reached up to feel his own beard, which was bushy and poked out in every which way, compared to Joseph’s tidy and combed one.

Arthur kneeled down next to the fire and reached in his pocket for his matches. He scraped the match twice before getting a flame, then dropped it carefully onto the pile he had made.

“It’s about time you started that. I’m starving, you know.” Joseph said. The nonchalance of the statement made Arthur roll his eyes. He started to think that maybe the ones that curse and spit at him were better, and in a weird way, he missed people like Skinny Abe. Hard to imagine that he had just caught that fool only days prior. Their responses were easier to deal with and expected; he didn’t know what to do about Joseph. Was his nonchalance something to worry about? He supposed that being apart of such a prominent gang, he expected a swift rescue.

“You better shut your got-damn mouth, boy,” Arthur calmly told him. He pushed his worries to the back of his mind.

Boy ? Have you seen the size of yourself?”

Arthur spun around and glared at the tied-up man, who had a cheeky smile on his face. Joseph behaved as if he wasn’t tied up at all, and Arthur could see he was having fun prodding the bear.

“I mean, seriously, look how teeny you are. It’s kinda cute, in a weird way.” Joseph laughed fully now.

“Size hasn’t seemed to keep you out of that rope,” Arthur pointed out. His voice was deeper than usual and rough. “Or have you noticed?”

“I’ve more than noticed,” Joseph said. “But you haven’t even looked at me since you’ve got me all bound up.”

“I don’t need to look at you. I just want the money that’s on your head.”

Arthur felt as his eyes started to move over Joseph regardless, unable to help himself, and took in as much as he could. Joseph’s arms were thick as tree branches, and his coal-black union shirt stuck tightly to his body. He had a bit of a stomach that popped outwards, but Arthur didn’t let that detract him from the real strength that he knew was hidden behind the skin. When his eyes went lower, Arthur felt a new rush of heat when he saw a small tent at the bigger man’s crotch.

Joseph laughed and threw his head back. Arthur turned quickly away and back to the fire, where he stared intently in an attempt to distract himself. He felt the heat begin to pool in the bottom of his stomach and fought against his conscious to hold it off.

“Oh, come on now,” Joseph said, “are you a damn nun or something? Why are you so embarrassed?”

Arthur remained silent and moved his hands around the campfire in an effort to look busy, but all he did was move some sticks.

“You’re no fun. I bet I could make you say something if I was untied.”

Arthur shut his eyes and felt his stomach do a full twist. Unwillingly, he felt the blood and heat begin to rush south, and his jeans became tighter in his groin.

Arthur stood and turned hastily to his horse. His satchel was on the saddle, and he needed something to do to keep him occupied. He laid out a plan; first to cook some pork, then craft a few more bullets, and maybe he’d widdle something neat. Anything that would distract his roaming thoughts and imagination. He stuck his hand in his satchel and started rummaging through it.

“At least be a decent man and give me some relief,” Joseph pestered. He was never-ending, and Arthur felt his own judgment begin to slowly seep away. The proposed idea began to swim in his head.

“Shut the hell up!” Arthur shouted at him from over his shoulder. He found the pork, wrapped up in some paper and string, and grabbed some herbs as well. From the saddle, he took down some metal wires and plate, which he used over the fire to roast the herbs into the meat. When he had everything, he turned back around, taking care to turn away from Joseph, and went back to the fire.

Joseph huffed and didn’t reply, but Arthur felt the sickly sweet feeling that he had felt all day as Joseph’s eyes followed his every movement. Suddenly Arthur felt insecure and aware of his own body. He started to think about how it’d been a few days since he had visited the bath in Armadillo, and how his hair could use a good trim and pomade. His clothes were a mess and covered with dirt and sweat. His hands felt light and uneasy, and they quivered as he set up his tools for cooking.

Once everything was ready, the fire was tall and bright. Arthur sprinkled some herbs onto the meat and put it on the plate, then held it down with his knife. It would take a few minutes for the food to cook, and as he waited Arthur couldn’t help but think about Joseph and what he had seen. He knew this had to be some ploy by the other man, but it had been so long since Arthur had felt the touch of another man. A few years, at least, when his last bounty partner had been shot by one of the men they were chasing.

Arthur had never been with someone bigger than him, and deep inside he felt some kind of draw to it. He wondered what it would be like to feel the full flesh and strength of the other man envelope him, what it would be like to have Joseph’s rough hands slide down his ribs and over his hip. And he thought about how much skin there was for him to touch and kiss and stroke. Oh, and the size of him, I wonder if it correlates, he thought to himself.

He shook his head and clenched his eyes shut. None of that, Arthur, he chided himself. It was as if he was a teenager again, running off to the woods to imagine some boy he saw on the train.

Halfway through cooking the pork, Arthur started to hear Joseph rustling behind him. He turned his head and saw the man squirming, rubbing his side and back along the dirt and moving his wrists and legs.

“What’s the matter with you?” Arthur asked. He narrowed his eyes.

“I need some relief,” he said, matter-of-factly. He looked Arthur dead in the eyes and moved his hips. “Come give me a hand.”

“Why would I do that?” Arthur felt his gaze shift lower on Joseph’s body. The tent had grown, and Arthur’s mouth started to water and tingle, as if tiny shocks of energy were being sent through him.

“You look lonely. Let me help you out.” Joseph’s voice lowered and got slower. His blue eyes were shocking and kept Arthur in one place. Arthur didn’t move a muscle. In the back of his mind, he heard the pork sizzling on the fire, but he dropped his knife on the ground and stood up. His breathing picked up pace and he felt the adrenaline begin to rapidly carve through his veins.

Joseph’s eyes widened partly and a sly smile began to creep on his face. He shifted his hips some more and looked at Arthur hungrily.

“I shouldn’t be thinkin’ about this,” Arthur said quietly. He took a couple of steps towards Joseph.

“Who cares? It’ll feel good.”

Arthur felt fire burning in his eyes as he appreciated Joseph for what he was. His lips, although half hidden behind his beard, looked soft and plump. And with the size of the tent in his pants, Arthur could only imagine how his cock might look underneath. He licked his lips and continued to move closer until he was by Joseph’s side.

Joseph looked up at Arthur. His eyes twinkled and Arthur saw his chest move up and down faster than before. His chest was nice and full of raw strength, and Arthur wanted to take ahold of him and squeeze his pecs.

“You look nice all tied up like that,” Arthur told him. “You’re so helpless.”

Joseph narrowed his eyes and smiled. “That’s what you think.”

Arthur kneeled down into a crouch next to the bigger man. His mouth hung open ever so slightly as he took in Joseph’s body. He reached out a hand and lightly brushed his knuckles from the top of his chest down to his navel. Joseph was pure muscle, and he could feel how taut his body was even through the shirt. He kept his hand just above Joseph’s groin and left his fingertips sitting gently on his shirt.

“Do you want me to touch you?” Arthur asked and moved his head to look Joseph in the eyes. Arthur’s forest green eyes clashed with Joseph’s blue, and Arthur watched as the other man’s pupils grew in size.

“Obviously,” Joseph said.

Arthur took his hand and back-slapped Joseph. It was lighter than Arthur would normally hit somebody, but he hoped he got his point across regardless. Joseph groaned and moved his tongue around his mouth and opened and closed it in an attempt to bring feeling back into his cheek.

Joseph’s browns drew down fully, and Arthur imagined that the man would growl at him if he were a dog. Joseph bared his teeth, same as when he was caught, and bucked his hips.

“Are you going to hit me back?” Arthur cooed, one eyebrow raised. He smirked. “No, of course not. Do you want me to touch you?”

Joseph scoffed, then said, “Yes.”

“Good boy,” Arthur brought his hand back up and put it just above the tent in Joseph’s pants. He circled his fingertips before he moved his hand lower. His fingers ghosted across the top of the tent as he traced the shape of Joseph’s manhood, and he drew a very quiet whimper from the other man. Arthur felt his own cock start grow full and stiff and felt the tip wetten with his pre-cum.

Arthur moved his hand to unbuckle the dark brown and worn leather belt that was around Joseph’s waist. The belt buckle shined and was roughly three inches; Arthur imagined Joseph stole it, which was probably the truth. He undid the buckle and pulled it out of one of the loops to loosen Joseph’s jeans.

“Lift your hips,” Arthur directed Joseph and grabbed ahold of the sides of the jeans. Joseph lifted his butt from the ground and allowed Arthur to tug his jeans down to his lower thighs.

Arthur saw the wet spot on Joseph’s underwear where his pre-cum had spread and could see his cock in more detail. He grabbed the shaft and moved his hand slightly just to tease the larger man and Arthur watched Joseph’s face fall slack and his head hit the dirt with the hint of relief.

Arthur slipped his hands under the hem of the underwear and pulled. Joseph’s cock flung out once it was released and Arthur smiled. The man was girthy and long, and the vein on the bottom of his shaft was thick and pulsing. His head was partly covered by his foreskin, and the precum on his slit gleamed from the firelight. Arthur grabbed the shift in full this time and started to move his hand slowly.

“That’s a nice one you’ve got,” Arthur cooed. Joseph grunted and bucked his hips.

Arthur flicked his thumb over Joseph’s head, covering his thumb with precum, and brought his hand up to his mouth. He licked the precum off and licked his lips. Joseph, who had opened his eyes when Arthur removed his hand, watched intently. His eyes were nearly completely pupil at this point, surrounded by a very thin iris. Arthur could see Joseph’s pulse in the artery in his neck and fought the urge to bend down and rack his teeth across it.

Arthur returned his hand to Joseph’s cock and stroked a little faster. “You’ve been such a bad boy lately,” Arthur told him. His voice was low and deep like a wolf’s growl. “Does it make you happy to watch people suffer?”

Joseph moaned and arched his back. His cock was slick with his precum, which had started flowing again after Arthur grabbed his cock.

“I like to watch men suffer, too,” Arthur said, and he tightened his grip on Joseph’s cock. His pace picked up and Joseph’s breathing became louder and faster. Arthur heard the air through the other man’s mouth, which hung agape. Joseph’s muscles in his thighs twitched and clenched.

“Do you like it when I touch you like this?” Arthur asked.

Joseph groaned.

Arthur snapped his hand left hand forward and grabbed Joseph’s jaw. “I asked a question, boy.”

“Yes, I like it.” Joseph’s voice was muffled by the way his mouth smushed from Arthur’s grip.

“‘Yes, I like it,’ what?”

“Yes, I like it. . . sir,” Joseph stumbled. Arthur saw the conflict in Joseph’s eyes when he thought the words over in his head. He smirked, and he enjoyed the view of the big man fumbling and breaking underneath him.

Arthur quickened his pace again. Joseph’s breathing stuttered and caught in his throat as became more erratic. Arthur caught the signal and his own jaw slackened with his focus. “Are you close, boy?”

“Y-yes, sir.” Joseph’s voice became a whimper, and Arthur loved it. The big man had fell like a log, and Arthur heard it.

“Yeah? How close?”

“Very. . .” Joseph moaned nearly every breath by this point. Arthur’s hand moved fast and flicked once he reached the head. Joseph’s bucking hips helped his movement, and Arthur knew it was nearly time. He watched the subtle facial expressions on Joseph’s face and waited. One more moment. . .

Arthur ripped his hand away from Joseph’s cock and watched as the tied man’s eyes snapped open. His hips bucked and jerked and he looked from his cock to Arthur wildly. “What the hell!” He yelled. His cock twitched and his face bubbled red with anger.

Arthur chuckled. “I want to watch you suffer.” He grabbed Joseph’s underwear and tugged them up to cover Joseph again but left the jeans down. Joseph thrashed and cursed him out as he did so. When he was done, Arthur stood up, dusted off his hands, and moved to the fire. He noticed the pork on the grill and cursed, then picked it up with his knife and flung it to the side. It was wasted and charred to all hell on the one side, but luckily he had a nice supply of venison from his time in New Austin that he could cook.

Before he went to the saddle to fetch the venison, Arthur unbuckled his own belt and pulled his pants and underwear down to his knees. The sun was only a sliver on the horizon and the firelight caressed Arthur’s strong thighs covered by an ocean of curls. Joseph shut his mouth, still full of anger but distracted by the sight of Arthur’s cock.

Arthur wasn’t as thick, but he was long, and when his foreskin was down he had a perfectly shaped head. It was red and glistened with his precum and stood tilted up toward the sky slightly. Arthur took ahold of it and started to stroke, nice and slow, his movements calculated and smooth. He rubbed his palm along his head and tilted his head back and moaned. It was loud and primal, and Joseph’s cock twitched again.

With increased speed, Arthur started to loosen his jaw and bend his head forward. He watched Joseph intently as he stroked himself and thought about how useless the man was on the ground, tied up and flustered. Arthur thought about all the ways he could fuck the big man and how he’d make him scream his name. In the end, all of his bounties cursed and damned him, but none would be so sweet as Joseph. He wanted revenge, and Joseph was apart of the only gang Arthur wanted to see end so badly. There was something sinfully beautiful about fucking the man who burned your house down.

Arthur started to feel his own heartbeat race and stutter, and his breathing caught in his throat as he felt his balls tighten and the heat in his stomach pooled. He yelled a furious moan as his climax hit, and his sperm shot out and landed next to Joseph. His hips bucked forward and his head fell back; his thighs were taut and strained.

Arthur gasped as his climax slowly ended and his blood began to return to the rest of his body. He slowed his pace and let the last drips of his cum slowly fall from his head and onto his knuckles. He pulled up his jeans, careful to not touch his knuckles on anything, then went to Joseph. He bent down and put his hand in front of Joseph’s face. “Lick it off,” he commanded.

Joseph stared at Arthur for a few seconds before he moved his head forward and stuck his tongue out. The width of it made it easy for him to take it all off in one long stroke. He made it short and sweet, and he looked Arthur in the eyes the whole time. Arthur’s hairs stood on end and a shock went through his spine at the feel of Joseph’s tongue on his skin.

“Good boy,” Arthur whispered. He ran his hand along Joseph’s cheek, then abruptly stood up and went to his horse to find the venison. Maybe he would sleep after all.

Chapter Text

Arthur woke up the next morning feeling stiff from sleeping on the hard dirt. The hotel in Blackwater had treated him too well, and even that one day there had him feeling pampered. He sat up and scooted forward in his tent until he was out and able to stand, and his joints popped and crackled with his movements. He sighed and soothed an ache in his shoulder, briefly unaware of the events that happened the night before. The morning amnesia was the one blissful moment he could enjoy everyday.

When Arthur took a look at his surroundings, his eyes finally landed on his captive, who laid in the dirt at the base of the tree, still tied up. Joseph's eyes were closed, but Arthur assumed that he wasn’t asleep. It was better to be safe than sorry. Arthur walked over to the other man and kicked his boot into his side.

Joseph grunted and kept his eyes closed.

Arthur kicked him again, a little harder this time, and ordered, “Open your damn eyes, you fool.”

Joseph opened his eyes. They glittered in the soft, early morning light and his eyebrows were drawn inward in irritation. As Arthur looked at him, he wondered what thoughts must have been racing through the larger man’s head. While Arthur was able to shove the events of last night to the back of his skull, he doubted Joseph would be able to. Weirdly, Arthur liked that the other man would have a difficult time being able to forget their little encounter. The idea that Joseph would be sitting in a jail cell perpetually aroused made him want to chuckle.

“Time to wake up, princess,” Arthur told him. Arthur turned once he felt Joseph was sufficiently awake and started to close down their camp. He kicked around the pile of ash that was their fire last night, then moved to his tent and started to take the stakes out of the ground. Joseph’s eyes tracked his movements like a cat stalking its prey. Arthur would say he felt like prey, but both men knew that Arthur held the power in this situation.

“Today’s the last day you’ll see me,” Joseph said suddenly as Arthur rolled his tent.

“And I’ll be glad for it.” Arthur pulled the leather strap he used for his tent out from his back pocket and wrapped it around the roll. The metal clinked together softly as he did so, which filled the tense silence between the men.

“You know the gang doesn’t leave anyone behind. You aren’t getting any money for me from the sheriff.”

Arthur scoffed. “Whatever you want to tell yourself.”

“Do you think you can take on whoever comes to get me?” Joseph scooted himself along the ground. Arthur looked at him with a cocked brow and narrowed eyes, almost humored. The man looked like he was trying to be intimidating, but he just looked like a big slug. It’s hard for a man to look scary when they’re tied up, and Arthur could only think about the plethora of things he could have done to the man the other night.

“Probably. But I don’t think we’ll have to see.” Arthur shoved the roll of his tent into a pocket on his saddle. It fit tight and snug and showed the years of practice that Arthur had after countless nights in the country. Satisfied, he turned and went to grab his bedroll.

Joseph looked more peeved than he had the day before. In only half a day’s time, it would be a full day since he was captured by Arthur. Arthur imagined that Joseph had never had to be apart from the gang for such a long period of time, and he was probably used to getting those that are left behind with haste. Joseph’s breathing was fast compared to normal and he appeared to be struggling to get air through his throat.

Arthur shook his head and rolled his eyes. It took longer than the others, but in the end, all his bounty targets end up the same way: panicked.

Within a quarter hour, Arthur had the camp packed up and his horse ready to go. After he grabbed a quick bite of salted beef, Arthur went over to grab Joseph.

“Round two, huh?” Joseph said, but Arthur couldn’t find any humor on his face. The man’s face was pale and sweat beaded his forehead. His eyebrows were drawn down and his jaw was constantly clenched, meanwhile his eyes moved rapidly and everywhere.

Arthur could relate to the guy in a weird way. It was easier to joke your problems away than it was to face them. Joseph was nervous beyond hell, and Arthur prepared himself mentally for the ride ahead. If Joseph tried something, he would be a tough fish to catch again.

“Shut your mouth ‘fore I shut it for you,” Arthur threatened, then leaned down and grabbed ahold of Joseph around his waist in a bear-like grip. His legs lifted Joseph with only a slight struggle, and the larger man landed heavily on top of Arthur’s shoulder.

Arthur whistled for his horse to come closer in order to relieve himself of his burden faster. He wanted to laugh at how much Joseph felt like a piece of game, as if he had just hunted a perfect moose specimen. Maybe he should hang up the iron star and retire to the woods, where he would have a cabin, and make his own clothes. When the horse was by his side, Arthur shifted his weight and threw Joseph across the horse’s rump. His horse shook his head and blew air out of its nose, and Arthur chuckled in agreement.

“You’re near too damn heavy for my horse, and he has to lug me around.” Arthur took a deep breath and checked to make sure Joseph was tightly bound and wouldn’t fall off once they got going. Joseph didn’t reply. His face was focused and tight, and Arthur left him be and decided he would start to make his own plans now, too. If Joseph was plotting something, Arthur would have to have something of his own.

With one easy motion, Arthur was onto the saddle and his feet in the stirrups. “Alright, boy,” Arthur clicked his tongue and moved the reins while he gave small commands with his legs. If he was serious to himself, most of it was for show; the horse and Arthur had spent so much time together and formed such a bond that Arthur needed to give him only minute directions to get him to do what was wanted.

Once they got going, Arthur reached behind him and grabbed his rifle from the saddle, which he had put away when he started to tear down camp. He cleaned it last night in his tent before he went to sleep, but it was pure habit for him to look it over and make sure all of the parts functioned and nothing was blocked, clogged, chipped, or otherwise broken. He knew his rifle like the back of his hand, and it gave him comfort to know his tools.

With a rag that he kept in his satchel, Arthur dropped a small blotch of oil on it and started to rub it gently over the barrel. He didn’t look at the rifle itself, his eyes continuously shifting and checking the horizon. The motion of cleaning his gun eased his mind and soul. Having a man such as Joseph on the back of his horse had anxieties spinning and climbing all over his system, and he was eager to be rid of him, as nice as the night before was.

“How’d you end up hearing of me anyways?” Joseph finally asked after some time on the road.

“You’ve got papers all the way in Armadillo.” Arthur put the rag away and rested the rifle horizontally across his lap.

The environment of West Elizabeth made every moment with Joseph feel oddly surreal. The endless rolling hills let the horizon pierce them from every direction, unending, until the distant mountains from New Hanover arose. Those were so far away that it felt like Arthur was in the middle of a wild land, and he was alone with one of the most dangerous men that were alive in these parts. Trees were sparse and only dotted the landscape, which made Arthur feel vulnerable from every direction. The wind was the only noise in his ears and he hated it. Now that his hands were free of movement and sat still on his rifle, he felt the itch of a tingle crawling over his spine yet again. He couldn’t see why the government wanted to come west so badly; the place was eerie.

“That’s strange,” Joseph said, his voice quiet. “We’ve had to move so much lately and for the life of me, I don’t see why. We haven’t moved this often in years.”

“Well boo-fuckin’-hoo,” Arthur sneered. What did he care that they had to keep moving? Arthur had a chance at a normal life before those mongrels showed up. They didn’t deserve even a speck of dirt to lay their heads.

“I haven’t been with them long, you know.”

Arthur wished Joseph would shut his mouth. Words traveled a long way in winds like those in West Elizabeth. He didn’t want others to hear their conversation, lest they be the wrong ears. The last thing he needed was for a passerby to hear who Joseph was and start an inconvenience.

“Why would I care? Shut up before I treat your jaw with the back of my hand.”

“You seem like you got a grudge, is all.” Joseph shifted his weight and Arthur swung back and hit him in the face with the back of his hand.

Joseph spat and grunted. “Fuck you!”

If only, Arthur thought. He let Joseph mumble in anger and settle down, but the hit wasn’t enough to keep him from speaking again.

“Why do you hate us anyways? There’s a lot of reasons, sure, but most people don’t have the guts to come after us these days.”

“I don’t got to explain nothing to you, fool,” Arthur gritted his teeth and let the words scrape passed his throat muscles. He felt the anger start to flicker in his chest. Joseph was almost certainly not apart of the gang when the situation happened, and would have had no way of taking part in it, but Arthur couldn’t help but see him as an enemy. In his eyes, he was apart of them.

“When did it happen? I know I couldn’t have done it. You’ve been doing this a long time, I bet. And I’d remember a face like that.”

Arthur took a deep breath to strengthen and steady himself. “Twelve years ago. Or something.”

“I was still in the mines at that age,” Joseph told him. His voice was much steadier than Arthur’s, and Arthur could tell that the man seemed proud that he was right.

“Well aren’t you special.” Arthur gripped the reins tighter. His knuckles were almost bone white and it made the dark brown hair on his skin contrast starkly.

Joseph stayed silent for a short period. Arthur didn’t know what the man was trying to get at with this conversation and it made him uneasy. He looked over his shoulder and Joseph still looked taut with stress and uneasiness, but he talked to Arthur like it was a normal day of travel. Arthur took a deep breath and returned his gaze to the front of his horse and checked his surroundings.

“I’m sorry for whatever happened to you.” Joseph’s voice was steady but the words seemed to come out of his mouth in an unnatural way, like the man wasn’t used to saying something like that.

“Maybe you are, but that doesn’t change my mind about you and your gang,” Arthur grumbled. “Plus I make good money off boys like you.”

“You’ve got a good shot. That doesn’t come from just being a bounty hunter.”

Arthur felt his heart rate skyrocket. His hands started to feel clammy and he cleared his throat. “Well, it is, so deal with it.” He was getting paranoid at this point and his head never stopped moving. Why was Joseph so damn calm? And why wouldn’t he stop talking?

He moved his head to check on Joseph again and saw that Joseph was moving his own head and looking for something. Arthur snapped his eyes up and looked behind them. Nothing seemed too strange, but Joseph’s attitude didn’t make him feel good.

“I think you’d make a good addition after you’ve talked some things through.” Joseph dropped the ball unexpectedly and Arthur was stunned for a moment as he thought through the words. His natural reaction was to reach back and slap Joseph across the face, and he did so. Arthur’s eyes were wide and his breathing was rapid.

“What did you just fucking say to me?” Arthur’s voice was a whisper.

Joseph spat and worked his jaw in an attempt to ease the pain. “God, you’re a snappy fuck.”

Arthur’s ears rang with the rage that forced its way into his body. With a struggle, he managed to maintain his focus and hold it at bay. It was times like these that he was glad the mount underneath him was so privy to his needs that Arthur wasn’t worried about steering him. Although the horse was fairly unhappy with the circumstances on its back, he pushed forward with little complaint.

“I don’t want to hear those words come out of your mouth again,” Arthur told him. Joseph looked up as well as he could and saw Arthur’s eyes were wide, almost crazy. Joseph felt his throat squeeze. He couldn’t make a retort even if he wanted to.

Arthur turned back around. The idea couldn’t even be entertained to him. That gang had killed his wife and child, no if’s or but’s about it. How could he ever get along with the people that did that to him?

Yet, as the man had said, Joseph wasn’t with them when that happened, but the things that he could’ve done with them after is what blurred the lines. Add to that the events of the night before, and Arthur was a cesspool of emotions that he couldn’t control or even identify. Arthur craned his head to pop his neck and squeezed his eyes several times in an attempt to clear his mind. His heart felt like a bear in a cage, unrelenting and angry.

His mind was forcefully cleared at the sound of horse hooves beyond the hill in front of them.

“Listen, I-”

“Shut it!” Arthur whispered, holding his hand down to his side, where Joseph could see it. It hovered over his revolver but posed a threat to his captive simultaneously.

Arthur stopped his horse and grabbed his rifle with his left hand. He held it to the side, parallel with the horse’s body. His right hand edged closer to his revolver, until the palm rested perfectly on the hilt. He flexed his fingers and rolled his shoulders, and waited.

From the sounds of it, there were four horses. Whether it was one man per horse, Arthur couldn’t say until they crowned the hill. Arthur shifted himself to the side of the road, almost onto the rough, unridden land. In just a few seconds, Arthur was able to stabilize himself and get his breathing under control. His mind could wait. Now he had to deal with what could be a very real issue.

Arthur stayed perk and alert, and he strained and attempted to hear what the men were saying, but to no result. The horses were in a small trot, and with the amount there was, it was impossible to discern words between the men. Joseph was just as still on the back of the horse, his neck craned to look across the horse and over Arthur’s leg. His mouth was slightly agape.

The horses crowned the hill and revealed four dangerously attired men. They each wore long, dark brown duster coats. One of them wore a snakeskin hat, with a wire of gold wound along the brim. Most importantly, they all had shining rifles resting on their legs, pointing towards the sky. Arthur could see the sunlight glint off their golden triggers and hammers, and the steel barrels were shining. Two men rode next to each other, and the other two men rode slightly to the sides behind them.

Arthur kept his hand on his revolver and waited.

“Hello, sir,” one of the men spoke. He was in the front, on Arthur’s left. “Quite the delivery it seems you got there.” He nodded towards Joseph on the horse.

Arthur eyed all four of the men, assessing the situation. There was no cover here, aside from a tree to his right, nearly forty feet away from him. With four rifles on him, Arthur didn’t like the idea of running with his back to him. He said nothing and instead spit onto the dirt.

It didn’t phase the men at all. The same man asked, “Joseph Vaughn, perhaps?” He reached into the pocket of his duster and unfolded a piece of paper. Arthur knew the paper before it could be revealed, and was not let down when the man held up a bounty for young Mr. Vaughn.

“What of it?” Arthur called out. He put a heavy drawl on his voice and nearly swallowed the words.

“Well, we here would like to persuade you to hand him over to us. If not, democracy will have it that four is more than one, and we’ll have him regardless. What can we do to sway you?” The man next to the first said. He smiled, and even from this distance Arthur could see the metal in his teeth.

“You can fuck off, turn around, and ride to anywhere but Blackwater. Maybe Thieve’s Landing has something for you.” Arthur could feel Joseph start to stir on the back of his horse.

“Cut my ankles,” Joseph hissed. “Let me run.”

Arthur dismissed the idea immediately, until he realized what it would mean for him. The men would be distracted and, hopefully, give him enough time to drop one or two. The others would have to decide if Arthur or the bounty was more important at that point, and either they’d split up, or Arthur would be able to easily deal with them. He narrowed his eyes and chewed the inside of his cheek. To the men in front of him, he was debating what to answer.

“Let me get him off my horse,” Arthur told the men.

The four men looked at each other, before the man who had spoken first gave one curt nod.

Arthur swung his right leg over the saddle and landed on the dirt with a splash of dust. He remained facing the men and his hand went from his revolver to his knife that was just behind it on his belt. He stepped back and gripped the handle, and in one swift motion, cut through the rope around Joseph’s ankles and raised his rifle with his left hand.

One handed, Arthur shot his rifle at the leftmost man. The recoil threw his arm slightly to the side, but the bullet managed to hit the chest of his horse, which stumbled and fell to the ground. The man went down with him, and his legs were crushed under the weight. He screamed, and the rifle skirted somewhere in the dirt.

Joseph wiggled his way off the horse’s rump and fell to the dirt. With his hands still tied, he shoved himself up and started to run towards the tree.

Arthur kept an eye on him the whole time. He wasn’t about to let his first hit on the Van der Linde’s to get away this easily.

As he sidestepped to his left, Arthur put the knife back onto his belt and regained proper hold of his rifle. He pulled the lever under the trigger and shot again, this time at the frontmost man, who had let his hand stray from his rifle when he pulled the bounty poster from his jacket. The bullet hit his neck, and Arthur watched as blood spurted from his neck. The man dropped the poster and his rifle, grabbed his neck, then teetered off the horse, which spooked and ran.

With a glance to the side, Arthur saw that Joseph had managed to make it halfway to the tree. The last two men finally managed to look at each other and understand what just happened, but they hesitated long enough for Arthur to pull the lever again and take aim.

Shot. Hit. Drop.

“Fuck!” The last man yelled. He managed to grab and aim his rifle as Arthur continued to move to his side and circle him. He got a shot off, and Arthur felt the bullet whiz passed his right side. The man kicked his horse, but the animal was spooked and refused to move forward. It hopped and scooted backwards, and the man struggled to stay balanced on the saddle.

Arthur tracked the man in his sights and fired again. The bullet missed as the man’s head was whipped to the other side from the horse’s movements. He got his rifle ready again, and tried once more, his sights aimed a little lower this time around. The bullet hit the man’s stomach, and with a grunt, he fell to the ground. Blood pooled on the dirt, and Arthur allowed himself to look fully at Joseph.

Arthur’s horse and ran off somewhere, and he was unable to get back on it immediately, as he would have liked. He started to run towards Joseph and brought his fingers to his lips. He whistled three times and moved his legs as fast as possible after Joseph, who had just arrived at the tree.

As he ran, Arthur could hear his horse coming to him from behind. Once it was close enough, he slowed, allowing it to come to his side, then grabbed the horn and reins and threw himself onto the saddle as they ran together. Now on his horse, Joseph had no chance getting away from him.

Joseph looked back over his shoulder and cursed when he realized Arthur had already gotten back on his horse, but he didn’t slow. Arthur came up behind him, then beside him, then reached down and knocked Joseph off his feet from the knees. The bald man shouted and fell face first to the dirt and attempted to grip his leg, but the rope kept him from doing a good job.

Arthur brought his horse to a halt and rushed off the saddle. He grabbed the rope on the way down and threw his rifle over his shoulder.

The bounty hunter got down on one knee and gripped Joseph’s wrists, then backhanded him once, and then again, before he finally managed to get the man to stop struggling. With one hand on the bigger man’s chest, Arthur kept him to the dirt, his face bloody and mouth open with a grimace. Arthur could see the blood on his teeth.

“You’re a bitch,” Joseph grunted. His eyes were locked to Arthur’s, and something about having the man under his complete control yet again stirred him, and he could feel his loins start to stir. Arthur took a deep breath and his eyes roved over the heavily built man underneath him. The shirt on him was much too small, and each crevice of his muscles were accentuated, and his sweat stuck.

In his moment of weakness, Arthur didn’t notice the sound of hooves behind him until Joseph grabbed a handful of his shirt and threw him to the side. A bullet hit the dirt just above Joseph’s head, and dust flew into the air and into Joseph’s eyes. Blinded, he turned onto his side.

Arthur was thrown from his daydreams and saw the last man he had shot back on someone’s horse with a revolver in his hand. He was doubled over, his left arm cradled his stomach, and breathing hard. His thumb slowly and achingly pulled the hammer on his revolver, but in his state, Arthur easily took out his own revolver and shot the man once more. This time, the man fell for good, and Arthur walked over and shot him again for good measure.

Arthur stood, his shoulders almost shaking with the rate of his breathing, and his head was full of strange thoughts and the echoes of gunshots. His ears rang with adrenaline, and he knew that without his captive, he would have been shot in the back of his head. A sitting target.

He slowly looked over at Joseph, who still had his fingers in his eyes to get the dirt out of them. Both men were dazed and vulnerable, but Arthur couldn’t move.

That man just saved his life.