The gallop north was more nerve racking than it should've been. Arthur's eyes darted back and forth, right and left. Searching for any sign that he was being followed by Pinkertons or better yet, Micah. But nothing ever reared it's head, save for a few animals here and there. An agitated huff from Buell let him know he wasn't the only one who was paranoid. Arthur smiled and gave a firm but thankful pat to him. After going through the going through that firefight at Beaver Hollow, he must've been just as nervous as Arthur. Hell, probably even more so, he'd actually been shot. Still, the pair pushed on up into the hills, taking the more isolated paths rather than traveling through Annesburg.
Finally, the familiar path to Charlotte's cabin was running under their feet as they trotted through the trees that kept her lodge a secret to most of the world. When they were finally within sight of the cabin a strange song reached their ears.
"Nobody knows what waits ahead. Beyond the earth and sky. Lie-d Lie-d Lie. I'm not afraid to die"
Arthur halted Buell some feet still in the forest, out of sight of Charlotte's cabin and presumably the woman singing . Though female, Arthur didn't recognize it as Charlotte's voice. It was older and more prickly sounding than the kind woman he had first met at her husband's grave. Yet oddly enough, it sounded familiar.
"And there the work of my own hand. Be broken by and by. Lie-d Lie-d Lie. I'm not afraid to die"
Arthur's brow furrowed, trying to figure out exactly he had the voice before. He thoughts drifted back to his time in Lemoyne and he started combing through memories of anyone or anything that could point him in the right direction. The Braithwaite girl who fell in love with a Gray? Nah, the voice sounded to old. A female Lemoyne Rider? Come to think of it, he couldn't recall ever running into a female Lemoyne Rider so that was out.
"Sometimes it finds me fast asleep. And wakes me where I lie. Lie-d Lie-d Lie. I'm not afraid to die."
His mind remembered the sound of a firing Gatling gun and Arthur could picture himself standing in front of a lonesome house just inside a Lemoyne swamp, rigged with explosives to ward off bounty hunters and called home by a woman who at one time was one of the most feared gunslingers alive. With a nervous smile, Arthur gave a light "Hya" to Buell who continued on out of the forest and into view of the cabin. The woman singing must've caught sight of him shortly after as Arthur was greeted by the entrance to the cabin with the familiar sight of a Lancaster Rifle pointed square at his head.
"That's close enough." The woman called out, her voice now hard yet still keeping that prickly flare that Arthur had recognized. "You a bounty hunter?" She asked.
Arthur could do little else but let out a sigh. Did this woman always have to greet people this way? "No I ain't." Arthur replied, raising his hands above his head. "And you should know that, Ms. Belle."
Black Belle kept her rifle on Arthur as she tilted her head. She was still dressed in the same dark colors he had seen on her when they first met but her signature had was gone, allowing Arthur to see a rather messy sprouting of long grey hair atop her head that was combed to her left side. She blinked a few times before her eyes widened in recollection. She let out a light chuckle and slightly lowered her weapon. "Well, I'll be damned. Jim Calloway's boy."
Arthur shook his head in annoyance. "That's not my name."
"It's reason why we met, if I recall correctly." Belle replied. "Though honestly I didn't recognize you without the hat."
"Yeah, I done gave it to someone else. " Arthur nodded. "And that Calloway business has been behind me for a while now. I"m actually just here to see a friend."
Belle's steely gaze softened as she understood. "You a friend of Charlotte's?" Belle asked, finally taking her aim off Arthur.
"I think so." Arthur replied, happy to lower his arms. "I was wondering if I could rest up here for a while. I've..." His words were stopped in his throat as a familiar bout of coughing burst from his mouth like an opened dam. It hit with such surprise and force that Arthur lost his balance and grip on Buell. The pain that came with him hitting the ground only worsened the coughing fit as Arthur started covering his mouth and gasping for air in between coughs.
Whatever lingering suspicions Belle might've had for Arthur vanished the moment he hit the ground. Tossing her rifle behind her, she pulled one of her undershirts over her mouth and knelt down to the sick man in front of her. "Easy, Easy." She told Buell who looked like he was about to get spooked at the sudden movements in front of him. With that solved, she gritted her teeth as she lifted Arthur's arm over her shoulder and heaved him back to his feet. A painful groan from her did little to halt Arthur's coughing as the two stumbled into the cabin. Once there, Arthur again found himself on Charlotte's mattress fighting back a sickness that just wouldn't go away. Bell, searched through his pockets looking to see if he had any medicine.
Struggling through his cough, Arthur managed to get out two words. "Saddle...bag." Belle understood and marched right back out to Buell. She tore through the saddle looking for vials or bottles of liquid that could help in this situation. After a moment or so, she finally felt inside a pack that had a few bottles in side. She pulled one out half expecting it to be whiskey but smiled when it read MORGAN MEDICINE. She rushed back inside to the still coughing Arthur and quickly uncorked the bottle. He downed it quickly spitting up some as a cough got in the way but most made it down his throat until he was about a quarter through the bottle.
His cough lingered on for another few moments but there was a noticeable relief. So much so that Belle's eyes were wide with disbelief. A cough that bad meant more than likely the man was suffering from TB. And she knew from experience that no medicine worked that fast or at all for such a disease. She looked at the bottle again then back to Arthur who finally seemed to be able to catch his breath. And after a few moments of deep breathing, Arthur spoke again.
"Thanks, Ms. Belle."
Belle shrugged and pulled the shirt down from her mouth. "Don't thank me, it was this medicine ya got." She said handing him the bottle. He took it with a groan as he sat up and put his feet back on the floor. "I ain't never seen anything like it. Man coughing like that should be spitting up blood and in a sanitarium somewhere."
Arthur gave another nod. "You ain't exactly wrong Ms. Belle." He looked up to her with a renewed interest. "You didn't seem shocked when I fell of my horse."
Belle scoffed and leaned up against the wall across from Arthur. "These days, it's rare I come across something I haven't seen before. How long have you been sick for?"
"A few months, I guess." Arthur replied, almost instinctively. He froze as he remembered Grimshaw's grave and the seemingly long amount of time that must've passed between then and now. "Actually, can you tell me what year it is?"
"What do ya mean?"
"I think, I've been in a..." He struggled to find the right word for it. "A sleep of sorts?" He shook his head at how silly that sounded. "And I just need to know how much time's gone by."
Belle looked skeptical but nevertheless gave a quick nod. "Fine, when did you fall asleep?"
"1899, I think."
Belle's eyes went as wide as dinner plates and she smiled, seemingly waiting for the follow up to a joke that never came. All she got was Arthur standing in silence, cautiously awaiting his answer. When she realized that he was truly serious, her smile vanished. "It's 1907, kid. April 23."
Arthur's face went white with confusion. He gave a half smile before shaking his head and letting out a cold, sad, chuckle. "That's uh...That's long time to be out of it."
"Seems like it." Belle replied. "If you're telling the truth, that is a first."
"Well, glad I could surprise you Ms. Belle." Arthur said, rubbing his forehead. Eight years? That wasn't possible. Nothing about this situation was. He moved to scratch his chin when he realized his beard was gone as well. He let out another chuckle at the thought of Francis Sinclair having to shave an unconscious man. "Don't suppose anything big has happened since I've been out of it?"
"You're asking the wrong woman." Belle laughed. She leaned against the wall opposite to him right by the window. "All the years start to blend together when you're my age."
Even though Belle had a few years more than he did, Arthur couldn't quite disagree."So, where's Charlotte?"
"Out fishing." Belle replied. "Apparently I can't cook for shit, so she took off to catch something herself."
Arthur raised an eyebrow. "Charlotte wouldn't say that."
"I didn't say she said it, but I can put two and two together." Belle explained. "Besides, her cooking's better anyway."
Arthur wanted to smile but his thoughts were still on his long sleep and how much people can forget in that amount of time."You think she'll remember me?" He asked looking to the ground.
"Eight years ain't that long." Belle replied, leaning over and tapping his shoulder. "Besides if you're the same man she wrote about, I imagine she'll be delighted to see you."
Arthur looked up to Belle."She has a book now?"
"I wouldn't call it a book, more a journal." Belle corrected. "Anyway it talks about how some mister who came across her one day and decided to help her turn her life around. I take it that's you?"
"Bah." Arthur shook his head at the wording of it. "It wasn't anything like that. I just gave her some basics. She turned her own life around."
Belle scoffed and crossed her arms."Not the way she talks about it but whatever you say. So I guess that makes you Arthur Morgan."
"I am." Arthur replied.
Belle let out a chuckle as she looked over him. "Well good to officially meet ya. Maybelle Colter." She extended a hand which Arthur took gladly.
Arthur gave a thankful smile as he stood back up. "Likewise Ms. Colter."
"Ah, you can stick with Belle if ya want." Belle replied with a wave. "It's what I'll be remembered for."
The pair walked out of the bedroom and into the living area. "You want some coffee?" Belle asked, walking into the kitchen.
"Yes, please." Arthur replied,his mouth feeling dry and excited at the thought of a warm brew. He then remembered just who had asked him that. "If you don't mind me asking Ms. Belle, what are you doing here?"
Belle shrugged as she poured. "I got tired of running. Got the idea of setting up a little place north of Annesburg and live out my days quietly." She walked back to Arthur with a full cup. "Little did I know, someone already had that idea. "
Arthur nodded thankfully, and quickly sipped some coffee down his throat. It was piping hot and almost dirt-like in taste but the smile he had told Belle that he loved it. "So I met Charlotte, told her who I was and, being the nice girl she is, she decides I can stay up here until death finally mans up and comes after me." Belle finished, walking back towards the still open door to the outside. "Sometimes, I wonder what's taking him so long?" She asked in a lowered voice more to herself than Arthur.
Arthur looked up from his drink and back over to the door where Belle stood, looking out into the surrounding forest. It was stupid that he was realizing this just now but she really had changed since he last saw her. While there was still a kindling of fiery spirit in her but she seemed more weary now. It painted a vivid image in his head of how much he himself had changed in little under a year and how much Belle could've in eight times that. He let out a sigh as he finished his drink and walked over to her. "For what it's worth, I'm glad I got to meet you again."
Belle let out a surprised laugh as Arthur walked up to her side. "Well aren't you a sweetheart."
It was Arthur's turn to laugh. "Far from it ma'am . Just speaking the truth." Arthur replied. For one reason or another, he felt like he could be honest with this woman in a similar way he could with Hamish. He almost frowned at the memory of the old veteran but quickly refocused his words. "Before I, went to sleep." He still hated how that sounded. "I had to rethink a lot of things and...I wanted to try and be better."
"Well I thought I'd be dead by this point." Arthur chuckled. "But at the same time..." He looked out to the woods and breathed in a cool breeze that blew out from the trees. "I'm glad I'm not." Not a moment after he finished his words, the pair caught sight of five silhouettes emerging from the forest. Each of them dressed in dirty overalls and wielding various firearms and knifes.
Arthur stepped forward as Belle pulled her Lancaster off her back. "You lost friend?" Arthur asked, shifting his gaze from each man until one spoke up.
"Nah, I think we've found what we're lookin' for. Right boys?" The leader of the grou said, removing his shotgun from his choulder and pointing it downwards. He eyed both Belle and Arthur with and gave a cruel smirk that practically looked demonic. "You can't trespass on Murfee land without us knowing." Murmurs of agreement went through the group of men as each eyed the home and occupants who stood outside it with an animalistic glares and rotten grins.
"You have a habit of being followed. You know that Morgan?" Belle asked, stepping up to his left side. Just like last time, she was clearly ready for a fight.
"You know you don't have explosives this time, right?" Arthur felt the need to remind her.
"Yep." Belle winked back. "Might actually make this fun."
Arthur gave one last look over the group and silently wondered if he could give them a chance to leave. That idea was crapped when his thoughts went back to Beaver Hollow and the poor woman they had trapped in that god forsaken camp of there's. These men didn't deserve such a chance.
Taking in another deep breath, the world seemed to slow down as the first time in eight years, Arthur Morgan's hands shot to his holstered revolvers. And not too long after that, the thunder of gunfire echoed through the peaceful woodland air.
Charlotte cursed, wiping the sweat from her head as she rushed back to her home and towards the sound of a firefight. Why hadn't she expected this? Sheltering a wanted woman on the run from bounty hunters, of course that was gonna draw people towards her home, given enough time. Either that or the Murfee's Brood gang was moving further North. She had been set upon by such men in the past but that had always been when she traveled further south and closer to their established territory. They shouldn't be this far north, there's no one to rob or kill. Except her, of course.
She gripped her gun with a reserved courage and slowed her pace as she closed in on upon her home. The once loud cracking sounds of gunfire had been silenced and fearing the worst, Charlotte decided to move a bit quieter so as not to be spotted before she could survey the men whom had come to her home. She found a decent spot behind one the trees closer to her home and aimed her gun out towards the open area of her home.
"You're looking sloppy, Morgan." Belle's voice rang out from nearby. Charlotte wanted to let out a sigh of relief but couldn't until she spotted this Morgan she seemed to be talking to. The only Morgan she ever knew was...
Charlotte's train of thought came to a screeching halt when she saw the very man she was thinking of, standing near the door of her home, looking almost exactly the same as the last time they met. The man who had taken pity on her and taught her how to survive in this land. Charlotte slowly walked out from behind her tree and into view of the other two still living people in the area. "Arthur?" She smiled at the outlaw who looked to her and holstered his revolvers.
"Hey Ms. Charlotte." Arthur replied, he looked over the now deceased men of Murfee's Brood and shrugged. "I apologize for the mess."
Charlotte paid them no mind walking right by the bodies and quickly moving to Arthur only to give him a surprisingly strong hug. Arthur, so shocked by the action almost didn't return it. But after a few seconds passed, gave her a strong pat on the back as well. "I thought you were dead." She laughed.
"You and me both, Ms. Charlotte." Arthur replied. "You and me both."
A/N: Well, I think I'll call it a chapter here. Though out of pure curiosity I have to ask which of the romances you had wished for Arthur had he lived. Were guys Mary Linton fans? Mary-Beth fans? Charlotte Fans? Sadie Fans? Or even Belle fans? I know some of you are out there. It won't have any significance on the story as I made up my mind a while back, I was just wanting to know.
Anyway, hope you guys enjoyed it, and I'll see you all later.