Thank you for the feedback! I was afraid y'all might find the bit at the end of chapter 1 to be a bit weird, but seems good! One of you suggested I make it so Arthur never gets TB, but your worries about THAT issue are unfounded. I always hated that Rockstar killed him off with that, and I will never write that kind of thing into my stories.
They woke early, packing up camp before sunrise. As they mounted their horses and started toward the old Adler Ranch, Sadie had some time to think about the previous day.
Arthur had taken his pump-action Winchester '97 into the snow. She'd asked him once why he didn't use the semi-automatic she knew was sold by the gunsmiths they'd found. He'd always gripes about how they fired too fast for him to aim properly. For whatever reason, he'd had that shotgun with him when he killed those wolves. But Sadie had been practicing with her own, and she could never have fired it that fast. Hell, she could fire her Lancaster repeater that fast!
And yet, she could not deny the speed at which she'd heard the shots discharged. How had he fired so fast?
She was lost in thought when Arthur walked up behind her and tapped her shoulder. She jumped in surprise, and he burst into laughter. "Scared of an old man like me?"
She slapped his shoulder lightly. "What do you want, Morgan?" she snapped, a little harsher than she meant.
Arthur sobered immediately. "I'm ready to go. You comin'?"
"Yeah, I'm right with you," she responded, keeping pace all the way to their mounts. She watched as Arthur speedily mounted up, knocked Spirit a few steps to the side. The mare recovered quickly, not quite yet used to his habitual method of saddling up. Sadie took her time with Bob, making sure she would be as comfortable as possible for the few hours' ride to her old home.
About halfway to the old ranch, Arthur decided to ask her some questions.
"Why do you want to see the old place? It's mostly, if not completely burned down by this point."
Sadie took her time finding the words for her response.
"Because I want to see what I escaped from. I want to know what might've happened to me if I'd stayed behind."
Arthur was silent for a while, his gaze distant.
"I've found more often than not that looking back on anything doesn't do any good for anybody. There's only two ways you should look: at where you are now, and to the future."
Sadie saw the truth in his words. She'd been mourning Jake ever since he'd been killed. It had been so long, so many months spent wallowing in her grief, her hatred festering and stewing alongside it. She wondered: what the hell had it all been for? She didn't even know who exactly had killed him, and it wouldn't help her long-term either. There was nothing left for her with Jake; nothing could come from that anymore.
The present, on the other hand, she thought as she looked to her riding partner, holds many, many possibilities.
As they crossed through switchbacks, Sadie pondered Arthur, what they had. What did they have? Right now, they were close friends, fellow gang members.
What did she want to have? That question held answers that she did not yet know. She knew she wanted to remain close with him. But in a relationship? She was very much sweet on him, yes. But to be together, to be with him, she needed to do more. She knew he deserved better. He could do better than her, if he wanted.
Hell, look at how long she'd been hung up over one guy! And she'd spent so much time in an emotional quagmire, despair and visceral hatred holding her there. Did she deserve this loyal, kind, amazing man?
She was roused from her thoughts by Arthur himself, pulling back on his reins.
Sadie had to haul back to stop Bob from running straight into them. Sadie was about to call out and ask what the hell was the holdup, but then she caught sight of what was ahead.
The old Adler ranch.
They dismounted quietly, the wind picking up to a slight breeze. Snow began to fall in little flurries. It would have been rather picturesque, if not for the burnt-down ranch house and scavenged corpses.
Sadie ran to where the house's threshold would have been, surveying to find anything the fire might have left behind. She went to the old brick-and-mortar fireplace, which had only been scorched by the heat. She stepped forward to run her hand along the stones when her foot crunched on something, something not snow or rotted wood.
She bent down to see what she'd encountered, finding a picture frame, oval in shape with smashed glass and the picture torn. It was the picture of her and Jake, the one taken on their wedding day. The tear went right down the middle, between herself and Jake. A blotch appeared on the photo, then another, then a third. Sadie wiped her eyes, frustrated that she still couldn't move past it. Maybe today would help. She prayed to God, if he still heard her, that she could get past this and move on to other things, other people.
She stood, pocketing the picture, and turned to leave, and locked eyes with Arthur, who had moved to the threshold during her spell of reminiscence. She embraced him, needing the comfort of his presence. He hugged her back, his chin finding its place resting just in front of the crown of her head. Her tears came slowly, the last drops of grief from the woman left behind. When they dried up, she pulled back, but remained in his arms.
"We should probably-"
"Burial?" He interrupted, looking off to his left. She turned to look, and saw the little gravesite marked with a small wooden cross fashioned from some of the less-burned planks.
"This site's pretty remote, and it's been awhile since this all happened, so I don't think we need to worry about looters or more scavenging predators."
She cracked a small smile at the little act of compassion. "Thank you," she said, and kissed him on the cheek.
She chuckled at his dumbfounded look, and broke away, nudging past to get to the horses.
Given enough time, Arthur finally remembered his own name and why they were here. He moved to join her, but stopped before he saddled up.
"Would you mind if we made a little detour?" He asked. "There's a location I've been meaning to check out, heard stories of a rare white Arabian."
"Of course! Race you there."
Arthur, being the rider that had a goddamn racehorse, won easily. They arrived at the spot Arthur had mentioned, and came to a halt. Sadie waited while he tracked the animal. Finally, having gone in multiple circles, he grunted in frustration.
"Trail ends," he said. "It was here, but it's moved on by now, and there'll be no catching it, unfortunately."
"Well at least we found out who was the better racer," Sadie joked.
"You knew I was gonna win from the start. No way Bob can keep up with Spirit."
"But it was fun, right?" she teased, tapping the brim of his hat lightly. "Well, I guess it's time to get out of these mountains."
"I suppose it is," was his response.
They had only just come down out of the mountains, on a trail leading past Hanging Dog Ranch on the way to Rigg's Station, when Arthur suddenly whipped Spirit around to go back up the trail. Sadie hauled back on her reins, Bob skidding a little in the new mud.
"What the hell are you doing, Morgan?" she demanded, keeping her eyes on the tree line for a predator she might not have seen.
"We have to go back."
"What are you talking about?" she asked, incredulous.
"Hanging Dog Ranch is a stronghold, Sadie. A gang strongpoint."
Sadie's eyes blazed. She only knew one gang that operated in West Elizabeth.
"No." Arthur blocked the trail in front of Bob, interposing himself between the O'Driscoll hideout and the woman whose life they had upended.
"You can't stop me, Morgan," she said simply, her tone icy in opposition to the hellfire that burned in her eyes.
"There's nothing but pain down that path, Sadie," Arthur tried to reason with her.
"I know and I don't care," Sadie fumed, drawing her Schofield. She aimed it at Arthur, not thinking about anything anymore, too lost in her rage. "Not her the fuck out of my way."
Arthur stayed right where he was. "You gonna shoot me with that revolver there, Miss Adler? Because if you are, better get to it."
His callousness jolted Sadie from her burning need for vengeance. She immediately holstered her firearm, scolding herself as she did. How could she think, even for a second, about shooting Arthur. "Arthur, I'm-"
"OI! Who've we got here?" The thickly accented Irish voice cut her off, drawing their attention to a lone footman approaching. Sadie quickly took stock of his weapons; Spencer carbine repeater, Colt revolver sidearm, hunting knife backup. Standard foot soldier.
The guard looked to Arthur, and his eyes flashed in recognition. Shit. He'd probably seen wanted posters of Arthur put up by the county after that little adventure in Strawberry. He began to shout "Arthur-"
His head snapped back, courtesy of the cloud of smoke from Sadie's Schofield. She prayed to God that no others had been alerted. She heard shouts from the compound beyond the trees. Damn, guess they heard it.
"Get down!" Arthur barked the order halfway through dismounting. Sadie jumped off Bob and took cover in the trees. There was about 80 feet or so worth of open ground between them and the O'Driscoll hideout.
Arthur's strategic mind worked quickly. "I'm moving up! Cover me!"
"On it!" she replied, poking out and emptying her twin Schofields in the general direction of the collection of buildings.
She heard nothing for a few moments, then Arthur yelled, "GO! I'll cover you!"
She peeked around her tree and selected the shack she'd use for cover. She waited for Arthur's signal, hearing nothing but the sharp cracks of the repeaters and revolvers of the enemy.
She heard the dynamite explode, then she was moving, sprinting like her life depended on it. Because it did. She reached her cover without giving herself enough space to really slow down. She slammed her back against the shack, feeling the wood vibrate against her spine.
She heard more shots, the farther ones from the O'Driscoll goons and the nearer ones from Arthur emptying his own Schofield and Mauser back at them.
She peeked out less often than Arthur, taking potshots at any O'Driscoll heads she saw, hitting most. The noise finally died down, the number of goons dwindling, until the ranch fell silent.
"That everyone?" Sadie whispered to Arthur.
He stood back from the barn wall that he'd been using for cover, holstering his weapons. "I think so."
He started moving toward her, but as he passed an opening in the barn wall, an O'Driscoll jumped through and tackled Arthur to the ground. Sadie froze, watching the struggle with eyes that did not believe.
She moved without thinking, barreling into the O'Driscoll with such speed that they both rolled for a few feet after she hit him. She recovered first, grabbing the young man by the lapels of his duster coat and heaving him through the window.
He landed on the hay inside, barely missing hitting his head on one of the support posts. Good. He didn't deserve a quick death.
Sadie vaulted through the window, unsheathing her knife. She stood over the O'Driscoll, and grabbed him by one of his lapels. She held the knife to his face.
"How does it feel, huh?" She snarled in his face. He whimpered, trying to scoot away from the knife. She boxed his left ear with the pommel of her knife and pressed it once more to the side of his face, drawing blood now. "How does it feel to be powerless?!"
She removed the knife from his face, and he visibly relaxed. He tensed again almost immediately, his face twisting in pain as she drove the knife deeper into his gut. She twisted it once she'd seated it against the hay under his back, reveling in his cries of pain as he bled onto the floor.
"It's pieces of shit like you that make this world hell for women like me," she growled into his ear, removing her knife.
"You're going to die now. There's no fixing that gut wound. But there's still time for me to make you suffer, as you and your 'friends' have made me suffer."
She stepped back from the body, feeling unsated. He'd died too quickly. Why had she gone all the way through on the gut wound. She should've made it slower, She should've-
"Sadie?" The subdued voice came from behind her, and she whirled, knife in hand, ready to wreak her terrible wrath upon another of her husband's killers.
There stood Arthur, nursing a lump on his head, his eyes filled with confusion and pain at the sight of her. She looked down at her clothes, soaked through in blood. She gasped in confusion, turning to look at her victim. The red haze of bloodlust cleared, and she saw what she'd done.
He was more boy than man, not more than 16. She saw the barest hint of stubble on his ruined jaw, the still slight frame of a man that had yet to grow into his duster.
He'd only been a boy, and she'd killed him. Tortured him.
She stumbled backward, hitting a roof support. She bent double, vomiting onto the ground. What had she become? She was so obsessed with avenging Jake, she'd become the very monster she sought to destroy.
She turned toward Arthur, meeting his clouded blue-green gaze with her own hazel eyes. She saw her own pain reflected back at her.
She was cut off as a man fell onto her from the rafters above, knocking her to the floor. He grabbed her around the neck with one arm, drawing his revolver with his other.
"You bitch! You're gonna pay for what you did to Billy!" He dragged her backward, making for the main barn doors. She struggled halfheartedly, not wanting to die, but not sure she deserved to live, not after what she'd done.
They made the main yard when Arthur stopped the man, drawing his weapons.
"Put the guns down, or the lass dies!" He snarled.
Sadie looked to Arthur. Her friend of several months now. One of the best men she'd ever known. The first man she'd... loved, since Jake's passing. Tears flooded her eyes as she looked at him, pleading.
"Arthur," she asked, struggling for breath against the goon's arm. "I'm sorry."
"It's okay, Sadie," he replied.
"Dammit, Arthur, let me go!" She begged. "Please. I-I'm not worth it."
"You are to me," he replied. He holstered his weapons, but left his right hand resting against the Schofield strapped to his hip.
"C'mon, mate, no funny business, y'hear?" The man shouted, digging the muzzle into Sadie's temple. She prepared for her death, looking straight at Arthur.
The change was instant. She was looking at Arthur, the man she loved. She blinked, and he was gone, replaced by a demon, Hellspawn, the Devil, whatever.
His face was gone, the skin and flesh melted away to bone, a dirty skull marred by a black X. His eyes sat back in their sockets, preserved by some dark magic.
His eyes. The blue-green gaze that held so much emotion. The eyes in which she'd seen so much life.
They were gone, replaced by burning black orbs, with irises the color of blood and gold.
The creature drew its Schofield with lightning speed, hitting the man before he could've pulled the trigger. Sadie took in a gasping breath, trying to break that gaze. She turned to the man who'd taken her hostage, his body limp on the ground with a hole perfectly placed between his eyes on the bridge of his nose.
She turned back to face whatever demon had come to fetch her back to Hell. The creature was gone, and Arthur once more stood before her.
"Sadie?" He asked, moving forward to hold her. "You okay?"
She scooted just out of his reach, tucking a strand of loose hair behind her ear. "I'm fine. We need to get back."
Arthur looked at her, confused. "Okay."
That was... um. Yeah.
I had to tone waaaay back on Sadie's torture bit. The way I was going, it probably would've forced me to M all on its own. I cut it out completely, no graphics, no nothing. I did NOT need Sadie looking like a villain here, thank you very much.
By the way, what do y'all think of Arthur's Deadeye? I wanted him to have some sort of visual representation for Deadeye, but the whole skull bit was kind of on the spot. I had the eyes idea going pretty much since this story began, just needed to figure out colors and stuff.
Next chapter in the works, should be fun. Relationship things, whoot!