It's been a long time since I've written anything, I know. Life has kept me pretty busy, but I've been inspired by RDR2 and couldn't leave it alone. Story is finished and will be uploaded incrementally. Let me know if any of you are reading!
Disclaimer: I do not own anything other than my own imagination.
Summary: No one had asked him if he wanted a brother. Yet here he was, trying to figure out how to deal with an unruly twelve year old, trying to do his part to contribute, and trying to understand where he belongs within this odd gang that had all but become his family. And it feels like the harder he tries, the further away he ends up. Arthur isn't a kid anymore, and he's trying to grow up...but he's afraid it isn't enough.
A/N: I'm not an expert in the RDR universe, but recently played the second game and fell in love with it. A comment by Arthur, 'I was the prized pony once, now I'm the work horse," left me thinking of the early days of the Van der Linde gang, and the relationship between Arthur and John. This story focuses on the time shortly after John joins them, with Arthur trying to deal with his feelings about everything, most notably jealously as he is no longer the main focus.
He had been sleeping peacefully. Had being the key word. For a moment he was befuddled, eyes blinking rapidly, trying to figure out where he was, and what exactly it was that he was hearing. Half a moment later his gaze focused on the shape in front of him, a spike of fear racing down his spine, a deep gnarly knot settling in his stomach, almost as if he had been punched. What the hell...
"Christ sakes alive, kid. What the hell are you doing in here?"
He took a breath, trying to calm his pounding heart as he pushed himself up into a sitting position, blankets pooling around his waist. John Marston, the bedraggled twelve year old that Dutch and Hosea had taken in just a few months back had been nothing but a pain in the ass, and apparently this morning was proving no different.
"I'm hungry," John didn't seem the least bit fazed by his outburst.
Arthur pressed a hand against his face, rubbing tired eyes as he still struggled to calm himself. "What the hell do you want me to do about it? There's food out by the fire, go and eat."
Did he really need to point that part out? He wasn't going to spoon feed the damn kid. He was plenty old enough to shove food in his own damn mouth. There was no need for John to wake him up, or to scare him half to death. Not that Arthur would ever admit he had been scared.
"Yeah, some old bread and cheese," the boy all but pouted. "I want some real food."
Arthur was still failing to see how this involved him even in the least bit. He met John's gaze, the boy briefly looking away, only to look back with a sigh. "You can go hunting?"
Was it a question or a demand? No way in hell was he going to be taking orders from this little whelp. "You go hunting."
"I dun know how," John protested, "'sides, Dutch and Hosea won't let me."
"Well, go complain to them," Arthur shook his head as he laid back down.
"They're still sleeping."
Well, wasn't that the truth. What did John think he had been doing up until this point? What time was it even? Arthur fumbled for the pocket watch near his pillow, squinting in the faint light. Holy hell, it wasn't even five in the morning yet.
"Are you insane?" He wondered, shaking his head once more, "Never mind, don't answer that." Arthur wondered mildly what his chances were of getting the kid to fall back asleep. Not very good, seeing that expression on his face, something akin to the look Copper had when the dog wanted something. And the whining..
"Aright, fine. But you're coming with me. Now get out here, let me get dressed," he shooed the kid out the tent, moving to his feet. Getting up at this god damn hour to go hunt because the kid was hungry, and apparently above eating dried bread and cheese. Arthur had not agreed to any of this when they had taken the boy in.
"What other option do we have?" Dutch had asked him. "Let him hang? He's a boy!"
Arthur agreed that hanging seemed a bit harsh, could agree that taking him from that homestead had been the right thing. But there were plenty of orphanages they could have dumped him off at, plenty of charming folk that would have taken him in. But Dutch wouldn't even entertain the idea. "Be nice to your brother." When the hell did he agree to be a brother?
"We care for people that need caring for," Dutch had insisted. Hosea agreed, had reminded Arthur that they too had taken him in when he needed help. Arthur had tried to argue, had tried to point out that it was different, but couldn't quite come up with the proper words. Not like it would have mattered. Dutch had the final say in the matter, and that was that.
And oh how they loved that kid. Even Grimshaw doted on the boy, saying something along the lines of how nice it was to have a youngin to look after. Hosea had wasted little time in trying to teach the boy to read and write, the same way they had done with Arthur. And like Arthur, John had fought it every step of the way. Perhaps the only thing they had in common. But Arthur was never that obstinate. At least, not that the could remember.
He pulled on a coat to help chase away the chill, tossing his satchel over his shoulder. The last thing was his boots, stepping out into the early morning. It was mostly dark still, the faintest wisp of light teasing the horizon.
There was some coffee left over, old and bitter, but at least it was something. John had dressed himself as well, all bundled up in an oversized coat, fumbling to pull some gloves on. Dutch had gone to town, had gotten new clothes for the kid, but had misjudged the size, so everything looked a little funny on him. "He'll grow into it," Dutch had defended the simple mistake.
"Oh, he'll be fine, once we get some meat on his bones", Grimshaw had agreed. She and Dutch just loved playing parents to the kid, spoiling him. Hosea too, Arthur noticed. More than once the man had slipped a treat John's way...
Arthur shook off the memory, ignoring the pressing feeling that was creeping up his back. He wasn't a kid anymore, and he could take care of himself well enough. If he wanted a damn treat he could get it himself, he didn't need to wait for someone to toss him a bone. But it would be nice, he mused...
"Hey boy," the thoughts were chased away, the dog racing up to him, nearly jumping into his arms. Arthur held him in a warm embrace, fingers scratching behind his ears before reaching down to pat his side. "You have to stay here."
Doubtful the dog would listen. Copper was never very good at listening. But the dog also had a short attention span. He would probably follow them for a while, before getting distracted and taking off on his own. It wasn't that odd for the animal to disappear for a day or two at a time, always coming back, usually covered in filth. Grimshaw would always scold him, yell at Arthur to clean him. "No one will be that dirty in my camp, not even a mutt!"
"Come on, Arthur," John was tugging on his arm, trying to get him to follow. "When are we going?"
"Why in such a hurry?" Arthur shook him off. He dropped down near the supply wagon, digging through the crates there, shooing Copper away when the dog stuck his head in to see what was happening. Arthur dug around, looking to see what there was. Some bait, a few rounds of ammo...he shoved a piece of bread in his mouth, pulling out his journal and tearing off a blank page.
"What are you doing?"
"Leaving a note, kid," he sighed, annoyed by all the questions.. It was way too early for all of this. He scratched a few lines, explaining he and John were out hunting, that they'd be back in a few hours. Arthur slid the note in Hosea's book on the crate, knowing the man always read first thing in the morning.
"Alright, come on," he waved at the kid to follow him, picking his way through camp to where the horses were tied. It took some time to saddle up the flaxen chestnut, a small Morgan horse dubbed Clover that had been given to Arthur a few years back. She was an older girl with a fine temperament, and there was little that seemed to spook her. "Been around so long, there's nothing she's afraid of anymore. Seen it all already, I guess," Hosea had told him once.
She was a good horse, but he was starting to outgrow her. Or rather time was starting to catch up to her. Arthur had noticed the last few times they had gone out riding he had fallen behind. Had noticed that she had stumbled more than once. Dutch had said it was because he wasn't good at riding, but Arthur wasn't quick to believe that story.
He had said something to Hosea, had asked about getting another horse, had been told maybe. Horses were expensive, and sure, they could steal one, but horse theft was dangerous. "They hang horse thieves," Dutch had warned him. Arthur had dropped the subject then, but each time they had gone into a town, he had found time to stop by the stables, to check it out.
One time he had seen a beautiful grey Hungarian Halbred, a young stallion they had just gotten in. The stable hand had said the horse was well trained, would be loyal, a strong worker. Arthur had wanted him, then and there, had asked about the price. Had left empty handed shortly after that. One hundred and fifty god damn dollars. That was true robbery.
It had left him in a foul mood, bitter for the rest of the night. Dutch had grown irritated with him, and Grimshaw mostly ignored him, but it was Hosea who had finally prodded him into a confession. He expected the man to laugh, but no, he had listened, and offered a proposal to go take a look, much to Dutch's chagrin, claiming Hosea was spoiling him.
The following day they had ridden out, Hosea encouraging him but making no promises. Still, his heart had leapt at the thought, the very notion that he would own a fine horse like that, would finally be able to beat Dutch at a race. He had even had a name already picked out, was going to call him Barely, and he would take fine care of him, build an even stronger bond than what he had with Clover. She was a good horse, he loved her, but he knew it was time.
Then they had gotten there only to find out that he was gone. Bought by some rancher who needed a strong horse to pull a wagon. What a damn waste. There were a few other horses there, a couple of Morgans, one Tennessee Walker, but Arthur was no longer in the mood. Especially considering the price...he wasn't going to waste that kind of money on an old nag. He had twenty dollars to his name, money he had worked hard at obtaining despite the questioning of it origin, and it was better spent on whiskey. Much to Hosea's annoyance. He really hadn't cared at that point, and since then hadn't asked about a horse again, simply deciding that Clover would have to do for the mean time.
He whispered to her quietly, smiling as she perked her ears at his approach. He offered her a sugar cube, ignoring John's protests that they had to get moving, that he was taking too long. Arthur gave her a few more pats, purposely stalling, drawing more irritation from John. The damn kid would just have to learn to wait.
Finally he mounted, helping the fidgety teenager up in front of him. He wanted to hold the reins, Arthur snapping at him, threatening to leave him behind if he didn't keep his mouth shut. John protested, but it was short lived as Clover took up a gentle trot through the woods, following a path out to the main road.
"Where we going to hunt at?" the excitement was easy to pick up on, the earlier argument about who held the reigns all but forgotten.
"To the north," Arthur answered, fighting off a yawn. He could do with more coffee...not much he could do about it now, he supposed. "Hosea and I saw some deer off that way earlier in the week. Some nice looking bucks."
"I like deer," John seemed to approve. "Grimshaw puts something on it when she cooks hers; it's really good."
"Yeah she does," Arthur agreed, "I think it's thyme."
"What takes time?"
"No," Arthur shook his head. "thyme, it's a plant...it kinda looks like leaves."
"Oh," the kid nodded, seemingly understanding. "I've eaten leaves before."
"You have?" he coaxed Clover off the road, letting her pick a way through the trees as John rambled on. If they kept in this direction they should start seeing the hills soon. Night was waning fast, a golden sun starting to warm the land below. Morning was a good time to hunt; Arthur seemed to have had the most luck then.
Hunting was something that was still somewhat new for him. Sure, Dutch and Hosea had taught him to use a gun years back, and he had shot his fair of people, but hunting animals was completely different. You had to know where they lived, had to know how to track them, had to know how to shoot them for a clean kill. Deer had been about the only thing he had hunted, having gone with Hosea a few times. Mostly it was Dutch and Hosea, the pair going off together that did the hunting. And when they were close to town, they stocked up on supplies, bought meat that had already been hunted.
Currently, they were low on supplies. It had been almost a week since they were last in town. Dutch and Hosea had been working on a scheme with some rancher to the east, a prudish man with no sense in his head according to Hosea. Just the night before the pair had returned, a smile on their face, a sizable amount of cash. An easy scheme apparently. Arthur has asked about it, had wanted to help, but was turned down. There was no need for brawn, just brains, and he had been reminded more than once that he lacked the latter.
"You're good for a fight, Arthur," Dutch had told him, "But when it comes to sense, God knows that's not your forte." He wasn't sure what forte meant, but he reckoned it simply meant that Dutch and Hosea didn't want him there. It had stung a little, feelings he had repressed because there was no use in complaining over something he couldn't change. He didn't need to be a part of everything, knew that before he was there, before Grimshaw was there, it had been just the pair. They weren't required to bring Arthur along on everything, let alone anything...
"Whoa," he slowed Clover down, quieting the protest coming from John. What had he just seen? It was almost missed; the smallest of flickers, a bit of white. Not bright white, like a clean shirt. No...dirty, like a shirt after a romp in the mud. Arthur worked free a gun, a small cattleman revolver, readying it. Like it would do much against a wolf; he could feel the tension rise, could hear his heart pound, noticed every minute noise...
Clover pawed the ground under him, impatient, but not worried. Up ahead he saw it again, the small creature racing away. A fox...nothing but a damn fox. Arthur let out a breath, holstering the gun, ignoring John's questions as he eased Clover back into a trot.
"It's nothing, kid," he reassured him, still trying to calm his racing heart. Damn he hated wolves. It had been a while back; he and had Hosea had been hunting, had been tracking a good size buck through the snow. Hosea had crested a hill, had seen the creature, had taken aim. The wolf had come out of nowhere, had knocked the older man down. Arthur had panicked, had shot at it. Hadn't killed it, but had startled it, sent it running. Hosea hadn't been hurt, not really. A few bruises, said his pride had been hurt. They lost the deer, but the man had told him they had been lucky. "Wolves travel in packs, son. You always have to watch for them."
He had once asked Dutch how big a pack of wolves was. The man had shrugged, said he had read once about a pack back east that had killed an entire family. The town had gone, had hunted them down, and said there were over twenty of the things.
"You're scaring him, Dutch," Hosea had scolded him. "There's no such thing."
"He ain't scaring me," Arthur had protested. It was a lie. That had happened years ago, and even now the simple thought of wolves sent a chill down his spine. Twenty of those bastards...he couldn't even imagine. He shook off the image, smiling as he saw the clearing before them.
Arthur pulled Clover to another stop, helping John down first before following suit. He hitched Clover to a tree, pulling free his rifle, making sure it was loaded, and motioning John to follow him. At the edge of the clearing he paused, dropping to one knee as he dug through his satchel.
"Here, put some of this on. Make sure you cover everything."
"It feels funny," John complained, sticking one finger into the tin. He scooped out a bit, rubbing it between two fingers, a grimace on his face.
"It's cover scent," Arthur growled at him, working some into his own skin. "It'll let us get close to the deer. If they smell us, they'll run off long before we get close enough to shoot."
"I don't like it."
"I don't care," Arthur glared at him. "You wanted to hunt, this is how you do it."
He was determined to teach the boy something. No way in hell was he going to be doing this for him again. John was frowning still, opened his mouth to argue, but stopped when the tin was thrust out to him again. With a bit of a pout the kid picked it up, fingers jabbing into the goop, sloppily running it over his face and neck.
"Finally," Arthur stuffed the tin back in his satchel, motioning for John to follow as they made their way out of the trees. He walked a fair distance, more than once scolding John for making too much noise; the boy kept talking, kept stomping his feet. Christ, he would scare away half the country at this rate.
"Right," he kept his voice low, crouching in a spot. This would have to do. Not the most ideal spot, but he couldn't risk taking John any further in. Arthur dug in his satchel, pulling out the cloth, taking care to unwrap it. "Some flowers, and some mushrooms; deer love these. We'll put them here, and go find a nice place to hide."
He glanced up at the boy who was watching him closely. Truly he could be dense at times. "When the deer come, we find a good one, and shoot it." Really, it couldn't be any simpler than that. He laid the bait on the ground, making sure to spread it out evenly. The cloth was wadded up, stuffed back in his bag, and Arthur motioned for John to follow. They found a good tree to hide out by, crouched behind some ferns, and waited.
Waiting was the hardest part. It took time. More time than he liked. Hosea had often chided him, telling him he needed to be more patient. He had gotten better, so he liked to think. Especially now, a few glaring looks shot over towards the kid who kept fidgeting. It was taking a lot of self control to not reach over and simply smack him. Finally John settled, leaning against the tree, and within moments he had fallen asleep. Probably for the best.
Arthur settled down as well, found a comfortable position. His rifle was ready, and all he needed to do now was wait. Slowly he reached in his satchel, easing out his journal. It was light enough to see now, and began sketching, drawing the clearing that was out in front of him. That took some time...still no deer yet. He turned the page, his attention turning to where John slept, making a quick sketch of the kid, following it up with some writing.
John woke me up this morning, damn kid nearly gave me a heart attack. Still not used to him being around I guess. I asked Dutch the other day when we was dropping him off at an orphanage. He acted like I had suggested killing the kid. Won't be asking that question again, at least not anytime soon.
I just don't know what Dutch is thinking. We're outlaws; we rob and steal, and yeah we help folk when they need it, but helping and raising? That's two different things. This is no place for a kid. Doubt that my thoughts matter much. Seems like he's here to stay. Guess things could be worse; have to admit, I do kind of like the kid.
It was a strange feeling. One he was having trouble understanding. As irritating as he often found him, Arthur had to admit the kid had a certain charm...he closed the journal, tucking it away quietly. There, in front of him...not very big, a few seasons old maybe. But a beauty still.
Arthur raised the gun, keeping his breaths even, butt of the rifle coming to rest against his shoulder, finger playing on the trigger. The buck was eating, nosing its way through the bait. Another moment, he just had to be patient. Give it a moment, he'd let out a whistle, would have have a split second to take a shot, and-
He jumped at he scream, John scrambling to his feet near him. "Look! A deer!"
It was already too late. The buck had taken off at the first yell, long legs propelling it out of the clearing and back into the woods. Still he tried; had raised the weapon, had pulled the trigger. The shot was nowhere near.
"Damn it, kid!" He snarled, turning towards John. "What the hell was that?!"
The boy stood there, a mixture of surprise and slight panic on his face. Arthur knew he could be terrifying, had been told as much by Dutch and Hosea. Arthur bit his lip, turning away. John was an idiot...but damn, he was still just a kid.
"I'm sorry," the apology was quiet, half muttered, almost a cry. Christ, he couldn't deal with a crying kid.
"Come on, let's go home."
John turned back to the clearing, "What about the deer?"
"It's long gone now," Arthur threw up a hand. "So is anything else that might be out there."
"But...I'm still hungry."
This kid...Arthur shook his head. "Look, we'll see if we find a rabbit or something on the way home. Come on. There's no point in waiting around here, nothing's going to be out there."
He was angry, of course he was still angry. But he was doing his best to hold it in, something he was not very good at. Arthur made his way back to Clover, stroking her neck gently, letting it calm him down. There was something about horses that always calmed him, something almost therapeutic. He offered her another sugar cube, glancing over as John came slowly, dragging his feet. Arthur let out a sigh, stowing the rifle, helping John up first this time, settling in behind him.
"Here," he offered him the reigns. He hated to see the kid moping like this. And heaven help him if he came back to camp with a depressed John. Dutch would never let him live that down. Thankfully the offering seemed to work, a smile crossing the boy's face as he took the reigns. Clover was a good girl, taking to John's coaxing, even if it was a little sloppy. She seemed to understand the situation, taking the lead, assuming a steady pace.
Arthur patted her neck, gave her some sound encouragement. "Let's go home, girl."