It was a simple mistake. Very simple, and at the same time Kieran’s face burned with humiliation.
He hated it when people talked about him like he wasn’t there. Saying all the things about him. It was hard enough when he was first captured, but now? These were people he knew, he interacted with, the closest thing to “friends” that he had.
Hosea, Susan and Dutch were sitting at a table, with Arthur and Strauss adding in details. The last thing Kieran wanted was to make things worse, so all he could do was just walk by and listen in on the little snippets of conversation he could hear.
“The boy can’t read-”
“Too much of a liability, gotta let him go-”
“Just think of the horses, Dutch-”
“We’re supposed to keep a low profile-”
“Shouldn’t have come in the first place-”
But the more Kieran heard, the worse it was. He found himself waiting for the meeting to adjourn, for Dutch to announce that Kieran was no longer part of the gang. He wouldn’t be surprised. But what happened after would definitely be the part he wasn’t looking forwards to. Left for the O’Driscolls? Executed? The more Kieran thought, the worse it was starting to get-
“O’Driscoll boy.” He felt a boot lightly kick his arm. Kieran scuttled off the stump he was sitting on, the saddle he was maintaining long forgotten. He stood up straight. Micah was there, and that was even worse - whenever Micah was around, things always went south. “Is my saddle ready or what?”
“Um, yeah...here you go.” Kieran picked up Micah’s saddle and handed it to him, but the gunslinger didn’t move.
“Nice job in Valentine, by the way.” Micah suddenly shoved Kieran down, and the stableboy grunted as he felt his arm bang against the rock. “I’m surprised Dutch hasn’t shot you yet with how much of a troublemaker you are. Seriously, even Bill knows what ‘No Entry’ means!”
You shot up half of Strawberry , Kieran thought, but he knew better than to say it to Micah’s face. Between Micah and Bill, his two most feared tormentors, Kieran knew which one he’d prefer - and it would be worth every threat against his manhood.
Micah finally stalked off, and Kieran was left to stand up, to brush his coat off all by himself. It was much too common for his liking, to be so hurt and alone.
“Don’t listen to a word he says, Kieran.” The man turned around to see Mary-Beth.
Mary-Beth, his one saving grace in the gang. The first person to feed him, to treat him so gently and nicely. Sure, Tilly had given him water, and people would forget where their “late night snack” went. But Mary-Beth was the one he remembered the most.
“Are you alright?” She asked, and Kieran snapped back to reality. He desperately wanted to say no, that he made a mistake that might as well cost him his life, but he nodded.
“I...went somewhere I shouldn’t have by mistake. Got the law called on us in Valentine.”
She gave him a reassuring pat as she went back to her sleeping spot, and Kieran followed. “Oh, don’t worry about that, there should’ve been a sign. I’m sure you-”
“There was a sign, Mary-Beth, but...I can’t read.”
A moment of silence, before she spoke. “Kieran, you’re 19 and you never learned how to read?”
He shook his head, his cheeks turning red once more. “N-no...my parents died of cholera, no one around me would teach me-”
“I’ll teach you.” Kieran looked up, right into her blue eyes, so full of hope. “I can teach you how to read, Kieran. And write, too.”
Kieran couldn’t have said yes faster.
It’s very hard at first - Kieran thinks of Jack and Hosea. He’s seen Hosea teach Jack how to read, and if Hosea, who’s an old man, can teach a child like Jack, surely Mary-Beth can teach a completely willing adult.
But slowly, it’s starting to come together. Kieran feels proud when he can somewhat make out what Mary-Beth’s novels say, understand the labels on cans. It’s a very long road, but Kieran doesn’t want to be a liability anymore.
Writing is a bit of the hard part, but thankfully Mary-Beth has the perfect solution.
“Arthur keeps a journal and so do I, so I figure you can too!” She places a piece of paper and a pencil into Kieran’s hands. “Just write about what happened in camp today. I do it too, but it’s so different. I write mine like a letter, isn’t that funny?” She clasped her hands together. “Dear Diary, Miss Grimshaw can just be so awful. And Micah is just such a creep, but thankfully Arthur is always there to make things better. He came in with a deer today, and whenever he does Pearson’s stew doesn’t taste as bad as it usually does.”
“That sounds really poetic.” Kieran nodded along. “I think I can manage that.”
Not much happened today. I mean, this is my first entry and all. Sean took all the good bits from the stew before I could, but Javier got mad.
There’s a lot I want to say but I don’t know how to write it out. Mary-Beth’s been helping me with spelling and all.
Kieran looked over the letter. The writing was scrawly and didn’t exactly seem legible, but it was a step.
This would be the start of things to come.
Kieran wasn’t sure about today. It wasn’t good, but it also wasn’t bad.
Today was pretty nice. Miss Grimshaw convinced Arthur to get spices for Pearson’s stew, and it was pretty great! And Javier made sure Sean didn’t take the good bits either.
That was the good part of the day, he supposed.
Bill was drunk again, shoved me around and threatened to geld me. I wanted to tell him he thought more about my balls than I did, but I’m pretty sure he would have skinned me if I said that.
Reverend Swanson is drunk again, and he’s following everyone around singing some song. I should go before he finds me.
Bill bumped into me and made me spill my coffee on Javier. Now Javier is really pissed at me, even though I told him it was Bill. I guess he trusts Bill over me.
Sometimes I wish it could all just stop. I don’t want to be made fun of anymore.
Sean took the good bits from the stew again, and Javier let him even if he meant he’d get soup. I told him I was sorry a lot, but he won’t believe me.
At least today Brown Jack let me feed him a carrot and a sugar cube.
“Hey, Kieran...you wanna drink with me?” Kieran turned to see Bill at the table, offering him a bottle of beer.
He considered it for a moment, but he was all too familiar with how unstable, how hotheaded Bill could be when he was drunk.
“I-I’m good, thanks…” Kieran hurried off.
Bill Williamson is one strange man.
Javier was still ragging on me about spilling coffee on his poncho, but then for some reason Bill made him stop so they could rob a homestead together. But then it turned out that the homestead had nothing, because when I got their horses back, I heard them talking. Why would he make Javier go into a dead end house?
Sometimes everyone goes around the campfire and sing, but they never really invited me, but Bill actually made a spot for me, said “Sit by the damn fire, O’Driscoll”. It was really weird being in it, and I still don’t feel like I belonged there, but it felt nice.
Kieran’s stomach growled, and he eyed the pot of stew cooking over the fire.
I’m so hungry, but whenever I try to get food Sean always has to take the good bits.
Kieran put down his pencil, folding up the paper and hiding it under a rock when he was sure no one was looking. He stood up, slowly making his way towards the stew pot. No sign of Sean.
His hand reached towards the metal bowls, but just as he did, Sean’s hand appeared faster than he did, always like clockwork.
“Aw, too slow. Better luck next time, O’Driscoll.” The redhead rummaged about the pot with the ladle, catching as many good pieces of meat as possible, and was just about to pour it in when they both saw the towering shadow behind them.
It wasn’t Javier. It was Bill.
“Sean MacGuire!” Bill grabbed at the Irishman, who scuttled back, terrified of Bill’s hot-headed, drunken wrath. The ladle dropped back into the soup, where the good pieces scattered. “Will you stop taking the good bits for once in your lifetime?”
“I, uh…” Sean stammered an apology and quickly scooped the stew into his bowl, scurrying away. Bill then took his turn at the stew pot, scooping in his fill, but Kieran noticed something - Bill didn’t have anything that seemed good in his plate.
The gunslinger seemed to notice as he stuffed his mouth full of soup and a bit of potato. “The hell are you looking at, O’Driscoll?” He shot back, and Kieran almost felt himself get sprayed with stew.
“N-nothing, Mr. Williamson.” Kieran quickly took the next stew bowl, loading it with as much stew as he could shovel in five seconds and bolted.
“Better be nothing!” He could hear Bill behind him shout. “Else I’m gonna geld ya. You wanna join them horses, huh?!”
You’re a really strange guy. I don’t know how I feel about you.
I used to feel really scared of you. You would always threaten to geld me, and I’m pretty sure you even tried to that one time.
I guess you’ve worn that off, got bored or something. But I still wish you’d stop being so mean to me. You, and Sean and Javier and everyone else. I know it’s a lot to ask, and it’s not special treatment or anything, but I like it when you guys just treat me nice. No O’Driscoll Boy, no shoving or teasing. It feels great. You're like that when you're sober, and you're always nasty when you're drunk.
A scuffle, a commotion drew Kieran’s attention from his little entry. He looked up at Bill’s tent, where Micah was reading out a letter.
“Dishonorable discharge on the count of murder and... deviancy , huh, Bill?” Micah snickered as he held the letter out of Bill’s reach. “Is life imitating art or is it the other way around?”
Bill could swipe all he wanted, but Micah was the one with the letter in his hand. “Hey, you give that back! It’s mine!”
Kieran turned back to his letter.
You probably aren’t going to read this anyways, I just want to get this off my chest without getting cut to pieces.
As soon as he returned from hiding the letter, Bill had picked up the carbine repeater at the nearby wagon - it was his turn on guard duty now.
“Heard Pearson put horse meat in the stew this time.” He chuckled as he walked off. Kieran looked to the stew, where the chef was stirring the pot. Molly walked by, took a look inside and hurried away.
Kieran didn’t eat at all that day.
It was hard to focus. Kieran stumbled back and forth as he carried the sack of maize to Pearson’s wagon. His head was throbbing, and he was definitely not breathing well. It felt like he was burning up and slowly melting. His limbs were sluggish, his legs dragging against the grass as he set the sack down with a great relief.
“Mornin’, Sadie.” He greeted to his fellow new arrival in camp.
“What’s wrong with you?” It was normal for Sadie to be so hostile towards him considering his former affiliation, but now she seemed concerned. “Kieran, I think you should take a rest...”
The stable boy nodded, holding his hand against his forehead. He wasn’t burning up, was he? His head felt fine. “I’m fine, don’t worry. Once I take care of the horses, I’ll rest.”
It seemed like everyone seemed to notice how sick he was as he worked with the horses - Hosea looked on in concern as he brushed his horse. When Lenny returned from guard duty, he took one look at Kieran before the diagnosis was complete - “I think you should sit down for a bit.”
Hell, even Branwen seemed to notice Kieran’s deteriorating state. She nudged at his hand when he offered her a sugar cube. “Come on, Branwen, you ain’t usually like this…” He popped the sugar cube into his mouth.
“Hey! O’Driscoll Boy.” Kieran turned around to see Bill, but everything felt wrong. Bill was out of focus. He could barely keep his eyes open. He couldn’t just stop now, not when Bill was in front of him, but-
“Mr. Williamson...I-I don’t feel so good…” Kieran’s vision soon blacked out, and he could feel himself falling.
In the meantime, Bill was about to ask for Kieran to get his saddle when the stable boy flat out fainted. For a few seconds, he stared at the limp body in front of him, shocked.
Hearing footsteps behind him, he saw Tilly, holding a basket of laundry.
“Bill.” She managed to get out after a second. “What the fu-”
When Kieran awoke, he couldn’t tell where he was. “Mm...what happened?”
“Shh. Rest up.” Was that Bill? Kieran had to get out of there, but for some reason he felt safe. Still, he tried to rise, to get back to work so he wouldn't become a freeloader.
“Hey, hey, easy. Not gonna hurt ya.” Bill helped Kieran sit up. He was resting in Bill’s bedroll. “You been sleeping?”
Kieran shook his head. The last night had been really cold and windy, and Kieran, having no bedroll, slept against a rock. “Not much.”
He could see Reverend Swanson approaching with a bowl of soup - probably from the stew Pearson had been making. Bill took the bowl, holding it to Kieran’s lips. “Drink.”
Kieran drank the stew. It didn’t help much to his fever, it only made him feel hotter, but he still felt a ton better. Like he was cared for. And it was amazing. Swanson pressed his hand to Kieran's forehead - it was actually pretty cold. “Ah, he’s burning up.” He could hear Swanson say.
Did he actually have a fever? Kieran pressed his hand to where the priest’s hand was - it felt normal temperature. “I feel fine…” He mumbled. The headache, however, was much worse, like he was drunk. He tried to get up, but only ended up latching onto Bill.
“Must be delirious. And we can’t go into Valentine just yet, either, after what Arthur, John and Dutch just did.” Swanson sighed, patting and ruffling Kieran’s hair. “You’ll have to put your plans aside for later and watch over him, I have to check on Strauss now.”
Kieran wasn’t actually delirious - he was pretending to and it seemed like Bill and Swanson were taking the bait. “Ngh...gotta get back to Branwen...” He latched tighter to Bill - the poor gunman had been relegated to being the guard for Kieran.
“Shh...just shut up and sleep. You gotta get better first. Branwen’s fine.” Bill ruffled Kieran’s hair as well, and Kieran just hugged Bill tighter into his chest.
Kieran pondered over his words quietly and closely. It was so hard to concentrate with the hot, humid weather of Lemoyne.
I think I might...fancy you. Mary-Beth has romance novels about men and women falling in love, but I’ve never heard of two men falling in love, and yet here I am. Is there something wrong with me? Or am I the first?
After you helped me get better, I was still feeling all hot inside...and not because it’s hot in Lemoyne. I thought I was still sick, but I get really anxious around you. And not in the bad way, my chest feels all light and I get excited to talk to you.
He paused a bit to drape himself over Branwen, his horse and best friend not minding the extra weight one bit.
I wish we weren’t in Clemens Point now. Whenever I talk with you I get so hot I have to take my coat off. I know we probably might not ever be together since you might still hate my guts, but I just got a feeling that maybe we might.
For now, I’ll keep two sugar cubes in my pocket for the day I confess. One for me, and one for you.
Kieran didn’t even have the heart to write a name.
I feel so useless.
Today had been a mess. First Micah tripped him while he was carrying maize and made him spill it on Sadie, and both her and Miss Grimshaw gave him a tongue lashing about how clumsy he was.
Everyone’s pulling their weight, but I can’t seem to do things right.
It wasn’t fair. The O’Driscoll’s weren’t a threat now, but the Lemoyne Raiders were, and yet he was still the black sheep of the camp, the scapegoat of everything that went wrong.
I wish I could be as good as everyone else. Like Javier, he’s really good at the guitar! And Charles can make really cool fire arrows, and Sean’s a good whittler. I’ve seen Arthur draw in his notebook, and John’s made plenty of heists and Sadie’s an amazing fighter! And Lenny seems to know so much, Hosea too in a different sense. Karen’s a good drinking buddy. And Dutch can make real great speeches.
Sean somehow slipped past Javier and stole all the good bits, but left his bowl for Kieran to pick up. And when Javier found out Kieran was the one stealing all the good bits now, he gave Kieran a good shove off.
And Bill...well, he ain’t perfect, but just the way he cared for me was enough. I ain’t even good with horses anyhow, they still bite and kick at me sometimes.
Bill had gotten drunk, angry and actually threatened him with the gelding tongs again. Another grim reminder that maybe Bill might not actually care about him after all.
The gang might not actually be my place, but is it so much to just ask for a place where I feel appreciated?
To top things off, something had happened with John’s horse. Kieran got kicked trying to pluck a stone out of Old Boy’s hooves, only for John to tell him off for not being able to pick it out in the first place. It took a lot of work on Kieran’s part to finally get it out, but John was too focused on Old Boy to pay him any mind.
I guess I’m just thinking of myself too much. Gotta just focus on the gang and the horses.
It was night, and Kieran could hear everyone around the campfire, singing and laughing. No one paid him any mind.
He didn’t bother to sign his letter, or even replace the stone weighing down and hiding his letters. All he wanted to do was just curl up, cry and sleep.
It had become windy in Lemoyne, and Kieran had just gotten back from his fishing trip with Arthur when he sensed something was wrong. Mary-Beth was the first sign as she rushed towards him.
“Kieran.” She panted, panic in her eyes. “Those don’t happen to be your journal, are they?”
“Those” referred to the papers that flew across the campsite. Each one of his daily logs, his feelings, his admissions, all of them, exposed for the camp to see. Kieran picked one up, the fear in his eyes confirming his greatest nightmare come true.
Mary-Beth handed him a small stack of papers. “Here, this is all I can pick up right now before Miss Grimshaw finds out I’ve been skipping out on laundry.” She hurried away to the river, where Tilly and Karen were.
Kieran sifted through the papers - thankfully, it didn’t seem like Mary-Beth had read through them. Even if she did, these ones weren’t too special anyhow. He stuffed them in his pant pockets.
“Kieran.” The stableboy turned around to see Charles, with two sheets in hand. “I believe these belong to you. Don’t worry, I didn’t read anything.”
A sigh of relief left the dark-haired man as he took the sheets, but there were still a lot more. Worse yet, people were picking them up and reading them, passing them around. There was no way he could catch up without everyone knowing his true feelings.
And then he saw it. Bill was seated at the table, brows furrowed as he read over that entry, the one time when he waxed poetic about how great everyone was on his worst day.
Micah bounded over to Bill, handing him a letter. “Hey, might wanna read this. O’Driscoll’s got a bit of a puppy crush.”
Kieran’s entire body felt like it couldn’t move, but his stomach dropped when Bill finished reading the letter and looked up at him. Usually when Bill approached him, it was easy to tell if he was going to rough Kieran up or just give him small talk, but now he was unreadable.
He slowly stood up. Kieran bolted immediately to the horses as fast as his legs could carry him, practically jumping into Branwen’s back. “Branwen. We gotta go.” The urgency in his voice was enough to spur her on, and the two sped away.
“Hey! O’Driscoll’s ditching us!”
“Get back here, you little shit!”
“Kieran!” He blinked back tears as he heard Mary-Beth call after him. “Come back!”
He couldn’t face them, not after everything. It was his own fault for not replacing the rock that hid his letters. His journal, his log, all his feelings about everyone, all exposed.
Oh, and the fact that he rode off on his horse without a word. So the gang thought he was ditching, which meant he couldn’t face the gang without dying afterwards.
He could hear horses behind him - no doubt Arthur, once more with a lasso in hand, just like in the Grizzlies. “Kieran!” The man warned. “We can do this like in Colter, or you can slow down and explain everythin’ and we can sort this out!”
“N-no, I can’t, I-” Kieran was starting to hyperventilate. It was all coming too fast, he didn’t know what to do, he didn’t know where to go, he had to get to Rhodes or Saint Denis-
A rough hand grabbed him, but it didn’t feel like Arthur’s. It was different, and suddenly Kieran felt himself getting dragged off his horse. “N-no, help, Arthur-!” He tried to take his coat off, hoping the hand would end up with some sugar cubes, but his assailant was quicker, snatching him around the neck and leaving the coat on Branwen.
He felt himself on another horse, in someone’s lap. His hands and legs were tied, no matter how he struggled. “What’s going on?”
“Shut up! You rode into Lemoyne Raider territory, this is what you get!” Kieran felt a burlap sack get thrown over his head.
Bill slowed his horse down as he saw Arthur standing there with Branwen. “Arthur? Where’d he go?” Behind him was the majority of the gang’s fighters, with Hosea not too far behind.
“Lemoyne Raiders took ‘im. Damn rats, and Lindsey Wofford, their leader? Wanted dead or alive in Saint Denis.”
“What, so we’re gonna just leave him there?” Bill looked through the clearing, to where he could see Fort Brennand, the hideout of the Lemoyne Raiders. His hands gripped around the reins. “You have no idea what they could do!”
“It ain’t really worth the risk to just storm in there!” Arthur countered. “Do you know how many of ‘em there are?”
Bill looked around at everyone. They all seemed hesitant to go after Kieran.
“Well.” He finally managed to choke out. “I’m going in. I don’t care if I get gunned down, but I’m not leaving anyone behind.”
“Bill, that’s suicide .” Arthur slung his shotgun, holding it in his hands. “There’s no way you can take all of them at once.”
The gunman hopped off Brown Jack, picking up Kieran’s horse. “And there’s no way we’re leaving Kieran. We’re going to shoot those sons of bitches and get Kieran back.”
But everyone else was still cautious, still deciding. Javier was actually starting to turn around and Bill was starting to get peeved. “Fine!” He holstered his rifle. “I guess we can leave him there. But don’t say I told you so when the Raiders start riding into camp.”
“Guess who complained in his journal about how hot Clemens Point is?” Bill smirked as he mounted his horse, knowing he had the entire gang cornered. This would be one of his best, smartest moments in his life, it seemed. “And guess whose journal we had to clean up around camp and return to? Any takers? Hint: he just got snatched up by Lemoyne Raiders!”
Javier suddenly stopped his horse mid-turn. “You’re saying those letters…”
“Yes! Those letters are in Kieran’s pockets!” Bill waved his arms about. “And guess what? He has a fucking account on everyone here! So, it’s just a matter of when you want to die. Right now, or in two weeks when the Van der Lindes get snuffed out for good?”
Everyone looked around uncomfortably, before Hosea got off his horse, walking forward. “I’m in. But we’ll have to send someone to camp to warn them. In case we…” He trailed off, but everyone knew exactly what it would entail. “Sean?”
The Irishman nodded, spurring Ennis on to speed back. “I’ll be back! With fire bottles!”
Bill picked up Kieran’s jacket. “Alright, we wait for Sean, then spring it on those Raiders. Who’s with me?”
Javier hopped off his horse, followed by Sadie. Lenny, Charles and Hosea all readied their weapons, and everyone else joined them.
“That’s what I thought.” Bill saw the two sugar cubes in his pocket, and gave one to Branwen. Poor horse. But to his surprise, Branwen didn’t even seem to react to the sugar cube being offered to her.
“Huh…?” Suddenly, Bill remembered the confession letter Micah gave him.
For now, I’ll keep two sugar cubes in my pocket for the day I confess. One for me, and one for you.
Bill put the sugar cubes in his pocket. He’d save them for later.
Once Sean got back, the group all stormed Lindsey Wofford’s base. They walked through the open, battered walls.
“Lindsey Wofford!” Arthur called out. “We have a warrant for your arrest...or the other thing if it comes to it. You have a friend of ours. Now, I can burn this poster and forget it ever happened, but we gotta make a fair deal.”
“A federal warrant?” A white haired man stepped onto the balcony. “No, no, no, that don’t mean much on a sovereign territory. As for your friend here...soon, he won’t mean much too. We’ve been driven out long enough. Let’s make a stand, boys!”
A raider quickly took the gatling gun and began spraying bullets, everyone quickly ducking for cover. “Lenny! John! Take out the big gun.” Hosea ordered. “Arthur, Bill, check the shed for Kieran. Keep your eyes open for Lindsey.”
Lenny and John each took turns aiming their pistols at the operator without getting gunned down. A lucky shot from Lenny hit the gun itself, the weapon exploding and sending a shockwave across the fort.
In the meantime, the rest of the gang fought off the waves of raiders as they stormed the compound from behind. Hosea unloaded his barrel into one raider, while Sean quickly grappled with another.
The shed had some raiders in it as well. Arthur and Bill each dispatched one, while Karen took out another from afar. Sean was scrambling to get to the big gun as Charles and Sadie took out two more enemies.
“There!” Arthur pointed to a trapdoor, and Bill wasted no time throwing it open and climbing down.
Kieran wasn’t sure how long it had been. Not more than a day, obviously. But every second felt like an hour to him because of the sack. He had been tied to a pole now, and his mind raced back to Horseshoe Overlook, when he had been tied to a tree for days.
“Hehehe...think of the things we’ll be doing to you.” One voice said as a knife blade lightly pressed against his neck. “Don’t worry, as long as you tell us where your little gang is, you’ll come out safe and sound-”
“No!” Kieran yelled as loud as he could. “I-I won’t tell anyone! I-”
The sack was yanked off, and his eyes adjusted to the low light of the candles. He felt the barrel of a shotgun get shoved into his mouth, and he began tearing up from how badly he didn’t want to die, not before he confessed to Bill-
“You’ll tell me. I ain’t gonna shoot your head off right now, but…” The raider licked his lips as he eyed Kieran’s bound hands. “Ten fingers, ten toes, two eyes, and plenty of arm and leg to go around…”
Kieran’s eyes might as well have been wide as dinner plates as he shook his head. “Nnf!” He protested, mouth filled with shotgun. He managed to wrench the gun out. “I ain’t runnin’ with a gang!”
His captor laughed, holding his stomach, for a good minute. “A-Ain’t running with a gang, ooh, that’s a kicker! I saw that man you was bein’ chased by. That’s Arthur Morgan, dumb shit!” Kieran grunted as he felt a hand smack his face. “Van der Linde gang made a real big splash up in Blackwater. Now, normal people don’t just find themselves bein’ chased by Arthur Morgan-”
“Yes they do.”
Slap! Another hit in the face, and Kieran fought back the tears. “Shut up! Now, you must’ve gotten in hot water with Arthur Morgan for you to encroach on our territory. We’re a free land, and we don’t appreciate other gangs on our turf. So, you’re gonna tell us where the Van der Lindes are holed up, or - and you can quote this from Lindsey Wofford himself - I’ll make sure your last days are gonna be a living hell.”
Kieran gulped, but he could hear gunshots upstairs. “No. I won’t tell a soul. You can do whatever you want to me, but I ain’t tellin’ anyone!”
The sack was suddenly thrown over his head as a trapdoor was thrown open. Footsteps slammed onto the floor of the basement, and the sack was ripped off - it was Arthur and Bill!
Bill took out his knife, cutting him loose, and Kieran ripped the gag out of his mouth. “Bill, I’m sorry...thank you.” He rushed forward, hugging the gunman, crying into his shirt. “They were pl-plannin’ to do all sorts of-”
“Kieran, no time.” Arthur placed a revolver into Kieran’s hand. “Let’s get rid of the rest.”
The stableboy nodded, but something was amiss. The shotgun was on the ground, and he picked it up. “Wait, there was-”
One of the cabinet doors flew open, and the raider hiding inside jumped out with a knife. “Got you three, now!”
But before he could reach Arthur or Bill, Kieran tackled him onto the ground, pinning him. He loaded the shotgun and pointed it to the raider’s head. “You won’t be hurtin’ anyone any longer.” He pulled the trigger, and blood splattered against the ground as the captor’s head exploded. Kieran stood back up, looking at Arthur and Bill’s shocked faces. “...What? Come on, let’s get out of here.”
The three ascended the ladder to the rest of Fort Brennand. More raiders had joined the fight, and the trio wasted no time in dispatching as many as they could. Kieran wasn’t exactly an expert fighter like everyone else, but at close range Kieran managed to do just fine.
It wasn’t long before they had cleared the fort, and Arthur dragged out Lindsey from his hiding place. “Alright! Let’s get ya to Saint Denis-”
“Wait.” Kieran interjected. “Let me take care of him.” He walked to the hogtied leader, staring him down. “I want to make sure he knows who he’s messed with.”
“You wouldn’t hurt a fly.” The man spat at his feet.
“I wouldn’t.” Kieran picked him up, over his shoulder. “But I won’t hesitate to kill a bitch.”
Kieran took about an hour in the shed grilling Lindsay for information, and then dragged the leader into the basement for the next half hour. By sundown, he took several return trips carrying the pieces of Lindsay Wofford’s body, before looking to Sean. “Let’s burn it all down.”
The gang rode to Saint Denis amidst the backdrop of the burning fortress, a ragtag posse of outlaws. The lawman at the front raised an eye at the state of the raider’s corpse, but directed Kieran to the wagon out back.
“Well, I suppose it’s better than nothing. The Lemoyne Raiders will never be the same, that’s for sure.” The lawman lit a cigarette, reclining in his chair. “Which one of you was the final shot? I have a hundred dollars for you.”
“Oh, no, it wasn’t any of us.” Arthur shook his head, pointing to Kieran. “It was all that feller.”
His eyes widened, looking to Kieran, unassuming as ever as he dumped the second last piece of the Lemoyne Raiders’ leader into the wagon. “He doesn’t seem like he would hurt a fly!”
“Well, that’s what we all thought, and that’s what Mr. Wafford said to him, but he sure showed us.” Hosea stopped Kieran. “Kieran, we’re going to go outside, alright?” The former O’Driscoll nodded, and everyone left the station. Once Kieran finally put the last of Wofford away, he stepped out into the Saint Denis night.
The ride back was quiet, somewhat awkward. When they got back to camp, Kieran wasn’t exactly welcomed back with open arms immediately as he had hoped. Dutch was still wary - after all, Kieran had just run off - but it took enough explaining from Hosea, Mary-Beth and some convincing from Arthur before he finally relented and let Kieran stay in the gang.
Of course, Kieran knew that after what he pulled, there was absolutely no way the gang would let him near them anymore, so he sat by the scout campfire, away from everyone. He didn’t exactly want time away from everyone by himself, but there was no way anyone would be willing to talk to him anymore.
Some more footsteps behind him now - again, Bill, having finished taking care of his horse, was walking towards him. His heart was aflutter now, but Kieran was getting nervous. What if Bill didn’t return his feelings?
His fears were confirmed as Bill stormed over right to him. Kieran was scared Bill would raise some fists, but instead the burly man just stood there. “That was some stunt you pulled, O’Driscoll Boy.”
“I-I told you, I ain’t no O’Driscoll-” Kieran whimpered more as Bill squatted down, getting closer to his face. He could smell the alcohol off of Bill’s breath, but it felt like he had only taken one drink..
“I don’t give a shit, Duffy.” The stableboy’s face grew red just hearing Bill growl out his name like that. “Dutch ain’t happy you ran off like that. You think you can just…”
Kieran was starting to tune out whatever Bill was spitting into his face. There wasn’t an emotion that would accurately describe what exactly he was feeling, only that he was absolutely done with dealing with all of Bill’s antics when he was drunk.
And so, without even thinking, he put his hands on Bill’s shoulders and pushed him away, standing up. “I think I have every right to run off after every way I been treated in this camp.” He seethed, trying to keep his voice low so no one would hear. “You think I like every gun aimed on me if I don’t breathe right?!”
Bill was absolutely stunned by Kieran’s outburst, but the stableboy wasn’t finished at all.
“Bill, please just pick somethin’ and stick with it! I can’t tell if ya like me or not! One minute you’re carin’ for me, next thing I know you’re drunk and you’re gonna geld me.” Kieran’s head was starting to hurt - he had never been so angry like this before. “This ain’t healthy!”
Kieran was starting to come down from his rage-addled outburst, and his mind was going haywire. His breathing was ragged, too quick, and he could feel tears in his eyes. Why was he crying? “I...I just…I just want to know why you’d be so...nice to me sometimes if you’re just gonna push me around after.”
Bill was silent, before he sighed, rubbing his forehead. “I don’t know.” He stood up, trying to look bigger - and he was, even if they were almost the same height. “There. You happy? I don’t know! I don’t know why! I-I just couldn’t keep my eyes off of you-”
“You like me back, don’t you?” Kieran got closer to Bill. “So all the gelding jokes, all the times you got drunk and pushed me around? Because you were afraid of what everyone else might think? Because you ain't got anythin' better to do but to get drunk and mess around?!”
Bill was completely red in the face now, and Kieran couldn’t tell if it was embarrassment, shame, hell, even the alcohol. His hands were balled into fists, but somehow Kieran knew he wouldn’t get punched. Great. So all the time it was actually some weird form of flirting. “Why didn’t you just say so? How was I supposed to figure out you like me from all that ?!”
“I-I’m sorry, ‘bout all this, Kieran, even if it don’t mean much.” Bill held his hands up in defeat as he finally admitted it. ”It's pretty obvious you ain't gonna be with the guy who wanted to geld ya-"
Kieran just rushed forward and wrapped his hands around Bill’s larger frame. “Oh, Bill. I just...want it all to stop.” He pushed his face further in, like Bill was about to leave. “I just want you, alright? Don’t push me back. Especially when you're drunk.”
“No more pushing you back.” Bill noticed Kieran fumbling around in his coat, and he took the sugar cubes out of his own pocket, popping them into his mouth. “I believe I got somethin’ you’re looking for.”
“H-huh?” Kieran looked at Bill, who grabbed his head and pressed their lips together. Bill’s tongue pushed one sugar cube into Kieran’s mouth.
The idea should have worked in theory, but the sugar was half-melted and tasted slightly of alcohol, so both men ended up gagging and spitting the sugar on the ground.
After a moment of laughter, Kieran settled just for a nice hug. “I think...I just really like this feeling.”
“I...I like it too.” Bill grew strangely solemn and quiet. “It’s been a long time.” He muttered, which only made Kieran hug him tighter.
He’s just like me. Kieran thought, knowing just what the two of them shared, or lacked. When he thought of it, Bill was always the one teased for being so stupid, botching some train job or something. So maybe Kieran was the first person who showed him some respect, some form of real companionship.
“Wow, about time.” The two turned to see Sean standing there with a cigarette. “All of us were wondering when the both of yas would ‘fess up.”
“Sean!” Karen hissed, from behind a hay bale. “What are you doing?”
The Irishman flicked his cigarette away, putting his hands on his hips. “I think both of you have a story to tell, ain’t that right? We want to know the full story of what happened in Fort Brennand, come on.”
It was tiring, but Kieran finally earned his place at the fire, next to Bill. The gang listened as he regaled his tale of fighting with the Lemoyne Raiders, even if he did change it a little so he wasn’t as much of a damsel in distress as he was. But Bill and Arthur’s account of Kieran blasting a raider’s head off with a shotgun was enough to keep everyone interested.
And when Bill had tuckered out, Kieran curled up right next to him. It was a weary day, and everything was starting to catch up to him. Bill mumbled something in his sleep, and shifted to wrap his arms around the man next to him. Kieran sighed happily, snuggling in. No more sleeping alone.
Bill stirred a bit. He looked out the window. The dream had come again, about the gang.
It had been years now, since 1899, and the events still replayed in his mind, except warped. Distorted, wrong. Things that shouldn’t have happened, yet did, anyways.
He rose, opening the door slowly. The air of New Hanover wasn’t too chilly, considering how close they were to Lemoyne, and the sun was always a bit unpleasant at first.
“Mornin’ Bill.” There he was, on the railing of their porch. Bill smiled as he approached Kieran from behind, embracing him and feeling him up a little.
The two stayed there for a bit, just admiring the view of their homestead.
It had been a long few years before Bill’s weary heart was allowed reprieve. First, Kieran had gone missing, and it was obvious it was the O’Driscolls who wanted him back. Bill had massacred half the camp and was close to dying when he finally found Kieran, but it was worth every scar.
After that, failed heist after failed heist ended up fragmenting the gang, and in the end, it was a matter of who trusted Dutch more. It broke Bill’s heart to point the rifle at his former taskmaster, his surrogate father figure, but everything was starting to fall apart.
Kieran and him managed to settle a bit - Kieran found work in Emerald Ranch, and Bill got by, doing some odd jobs here and there, and eventually they amassed enough to build a small homestead together.
“I dreamt about them.” Bill said, somewhat lost in his own thoughts. “The gang.”
Kieran nodded along, and it was obvious he missed his time in the gang, even if his beginning and end were both rocky. “I wonder how everyone’s doing. Javier, John, and Karen…”
Even now, they still kept in touch with Mary-Beth and Tilly, and sometimes the two would come over with tea, but the rest was still a mystery. Their thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a horse, and the appearance of three familiar gunslingers.
“Speak of the devil.” Bill’s eyes widened as he stepped down to greet them. “Sadie, John and Charles! Never thought I’d see you!”
“Bill.” John hopped off his horse, tipping his hat to Kieran. “And Kieran.”
Kieran joined his husband. “It’s great to see you. What’s going on?”
“We found a new lead on Micah, up north in Mount Hagen.” Sadie slung the rifle over her shoulder. “You wanna come with?”
He looked to Kieran, who nodded. “I’ll get Branwen and Brown Jack ready.” The farmhand walked off to the barn.
“I’ll get our things.” Bill went into the cabin, taking his rifle off the wall. The bolt action rifle had seen many years of use and he had been happy to retire it, but as he cleaned it out, Bill found he was excited to get some action again.
Kieran seemed to share the sentiment too as Bill handed him his revolver, mounting up on Branwen. “I gotta admit...I’m kinda excited.”
“Come on. Let’s ride.” The five started off towards Ambarino, towards a new adventure.
“I can say one thing.” Kieran admitted to Bill as they rode next to each other, past Valentine and up into the mountains. “This life is never uneventful.”