Disclaimer: I don't own the Hatfields and McCoys series. Though historical accuracy may appear, this is a work of pure fiction. I do not claim any connection to the real William 'Cap' Hatfield, or any other historical people mentioned in this story.
A/N: Thanks to everyone who reviewed! Please keep them coming. Every one counts in a small fandom like this!
Almost Heaven, West Virginia
Logan, West Virginia, 1878
It was cold in February, far colder than Libby liked it to get. And tomorrow, she would be on the road, a long stagecoach ride to Virginia where they would then board a train that would take them all the way up the coast to Boston. Chet wasn't thrilled about the journey, as he would be staying behind to continue his work with Anse and the timber, but they two women in his life had him wrapped around his finger, and Lucy insisted Libby meet her Great Aunt Victoria before she passed, as the woman was coming along in age at seventy-seven years old.
Today was William's birthday, his fourteenth to be exact, and because it was in a cold month, was usually celebrated alongside a party for Johnse as well in the warmer months, since he too was a winter baby. But Levicy always made a fuss of dinner on the boys' birthdays since it was too cold to throw a big gathering outside, inviting close family and friends to the Hatfield cabin and passing out bowls of her famous stew, and biscuits covered in her prized elderberry preserves. Corn from the harvest was grilled and a pig was roasting on a spat outside, tended to carefully by Anse, Jim and Lias, who could be heard bantering about how to get the most succulent flavors into the meat.
Libby was close to the fire, holding her stew on her lap and eating it slowly, enjoying all the warmth both the food and hearth provided.
"Stew's great Mama!" Will called over his shoulder at the woman in the kitchen, the Hatfield boy in a bright mood, as he plopped down beside Libby near the flames, using some bread her mother had brought to spoon the soup into his mouth.
"Best there is, I reckon," Libby agreed before taking a sip of her tea and imitating him, only being much neater about it.
"Heard yer pap say you was leavin' for yer A'nt's t'morrow," he mentioned casually. Will was about as fond of the idea as Savage Chet was though, finding that he'd become rather used to having Libby around all the time, and she'd been trying to teach him to write better since he wasn't very good at it, though she'd already helped him to learn his letters and how to read words. He wasn't the best yet, but he was working at it, slowly but surely. But coming into manhood left him with more and more distractions in life. So it was a slow process. He hadn't needed her to read a newspaper article to him in the past five months, though he'd gone to her anyway with them, him and Johnse and even Robert E now too, all still fascinated by the tales of the growing population of American outlaws. Even Skunkhair liked to listen every so often if he was around, being illiterate himself, though he felt foolish having to listen to a little girl read to him.
"Yeah. I ain't lookin' forward ta that coach ride. It's gonna be colder than the top 'a the Appalachians!" The truth was, Libby was excited to go on a trip with just her mother to a place she'd never been. But she would miss her friends, because by the time she got back, spring would be in the air and that was quite a long time to someone her age.
Giving her a half-hearted smile, Will shrugged a shoulder. "Nah, I think ya'll are gonna be just fine. Shoot, ya get ta go on a train an' everythin' Jus' don't get robbed." Fate would have a funny way of making them regret their laughter at William's words.
A silence fell between them, but only momentarily so they could eat more, then Libby's eyes brightened and she put her bowl on the floor for a brief second before she reached around to her other side. "Here, this is yours," Libby said happily to Will as she handed him a leather bound book tied with a white ribbon he recognized as being the kind she used to pull her hair back.
Smiling, and a bit surprised, Will took the birthday gift gratefully. Her parents had already given him something, so he wasn't expecting Libby to have something of her own for him. Though he had to say, he was a little less surprised when he saw it was a book. Untying the ribbon, Will opened the cover to the first printed page. "The Adventures 'a Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain? What's this?" he questioned, only missing a beat at the long word. Sure, Libby had helped him read, but it had all been newspapers until now. He'd certainly never tackled a book before, and this one had quite a few pages, and no pictures to boot.
"It's about a boy who lives on the Mississippi, an' his friend, an' the trouble they get in with this murderer." Libby's eyes would fill with excitement whenever someone asked her about a book she liked, and Will could tell this book had been previously owned, presumably by her. But she reined in her enthusiasm, not wanting to give the story away, because she knew he'd never read it if she spoilt the ending for him. He reminded her of that every time she'd talk about a book to him, saying eh wouldn't read it because she already told him the whole story. "Can't ya jus' read it? I know ya ain't much fer books about fake people, but since ya can read now…" she trailed off, though she wanted to just threaten to smack him with t if he didn't.
"Sounds like some made up junk you like ta read," he accused, looking skeptically through the chapters, reaffirming his initial suspicions that there were no pictures..
"I think you'll like it though Will. An' it's my new favorite. I read it seven times already. Just give it a try, would ya? For me? Just this once? An' I won't ever ask you fer nothin' again," she wore, to which William snorted disbelievingly.
"C'mon now, we both know that's a lie," he reminded her. But it was his birthday, and it had been a good birthday for him, so he was feeling generous today. "Only fer you, Libby girl. I'll read yer stinkin' book." Again, he flipped through the pages, this time a dreadful mindset taking over, regretting the promise he'd just made when he saw how many words were printed on these pages. But the back page, that was ceremoniously blank, caught his eyes just before he closed the book, quickly catching it and reopening it to the last page.
"Hey, did you write in here?" he questioned her, though he knew it was her handwriting and could see her signature at the bottom. Her handwriting was very neat and feminine, curvy and slightly slanted. The words, 'I'll miss you the most,' were neatly written in letters Will could read across the slightly frayed page, and Will smiled a genuine smile as he read the words, knowing he really would miss her when it came down to it these next few months while she was gone.
Blushing a little and returning to her stew, Libby avoided William's eyes beneath her cover of her long lashes, though she couldn't help but peek back at him a few times.
Will read the words again, noticing she had drawn a heart near her name at the bottom. It was only within the last year that he had started to notice that Libby fancied him, his uncle and brothers teasing him about it time and time again. "Shoot Lib, you tryin' ta trick me inta missin' ya?" he joked, throwing an arm over her shoulder and giving her a squeeze. "Thanks. An', I'll read it by the time yer back. Promise."
"I'm gonna remember that promise, so ya better William," she assured him, before they were called to the table for the ham and corn.
Logan, West Virginia, 1878
It was well into a chilly, mid April evening when a frantic knocking echoed through the otherwise quiet home of Devil Anse Hatfield. The children had all turned in, early to hide from the cold under the blankets, even Johnse and Will who fought to stay up as late as they were permitted to usually.
But being older and more aware than their other siblings, the two young men both stirred in their sleep at the sound of unexpected visitors. It was the familiar, hurried voice of Chet Sawyer is what made the two boys look at each other in the darkness and rise to find out what the fuss was all about though.
"What's goin' on Pa?" Johnse asked sleepily, though he looked as though he was forcing himself to be aware. There was a thick tension in the air that both boys immediately sensed, he panic-stricken expression on Chet's face a dead giveaway that something was horribly, horribly wrong.
Devil Anse turned to his two sons, revealing his uncharacteristically worried eyes, and it jolted the two of them awake immediately. Savage Chet, a tall, burly man who was near, if not just as, intimidating as their own father looked like a broken shell of what they all new him to be, as if his life had shattered completely. Levicy sobbed in the corner, her back to her sons still, pressing a handkerchief to her mouth to cover her cries, for Chet had brought grave news with him.
"Go on an' get dressed boys. A tragedy's happened," Devil Anse informed his two eldest. They were well old enough to be helping in a search, especially around these parts. He knew his boys wouldn't be able to get lost in these hills if they tried, night or day, and with Johnse's quick reflexes and Will's dead aim with his rifle, Anse felt comfortable allowing them out on their own even at this hour.
Chet lost his composure as the boys did as they were told without question, though they were anxious for specific details, running to dress quickly, adding extra layers to tolerate the cold air.
"We're gonna find yer girl Chet." Anse attempted to comfort his friend, pulling his own coat and boots on. Both Anse and Chet had made some enemies in their lifetimes, and there was always the worry of vigilantes and plain old stagecoach robbers. But no one could hate the man enough to do this to him.
And his poor family.
Anse had found out this much; Lucy and Libby Sawyer were expected to return hours ago, and now the cause of their delay had been discovered, previously assumed to be maybe some snow out by the mountains postponing their train.
It was a gruesome scene.
The stagecoach driver, and Lucy's two escorts were both dead, along with Chet's wife herself. The carriage had been raided and the horses stolen, Lucy stripped of her clothes and jewelry, likely violated, though no one had asked. And Chet's young daughter, the only child they'd ever been able to have, was missing from the scene of the massacre.
"What went on?" Johnse demanded once again, pulling one of his boots on as he hobbled back into the room, his brother right behind him, buttoning his jacket. The younger kids were now up, Robert E behind his brothers, knowing he wouldn't be allowed to go, but wanting to know what had happened no less. Levicy hushed him and Nancy, who hadn't come out, but could be heard awake, and sent them both back to bed, telling them it wasn't anything for their ears to be hearing.
Both Will and Johnse felt their stomachs sink like stones.
Devil Anse looked at his two sons. "Boys… they found Lucy Sawyer's body off the road 'bout twelve miles east. Her driver. Two escorts too. Whole coach's been pilfered through." Johnse looked horrified, and William thought he might be sick at the idea. Anse didn't dare elaborate, on the circumstance's of Lucy's murder, sparing his young sons the cold reality of it, but there was one detail he dreaded telling them even more.
"An' what about Libby?" Will hesitated before he asked, afraid of the answer.
"Yer Uncle Wall come across 'em headin' this way. Says… says there's still some snow near the trails an' he saw the tracks goin' off the road. Found the coach then, an' the blood—," Chet choked on a sob, a sight both boys were scared o see, since they had never seen this particular man in such a weak state of being. "B-but he says Libby ran. Tracked her ta a swamp, but lost the trail, so he come ta fetch me. He's down gettin' yer Uncle Jim and Lias now."
Both Johnse and Will looked at one another, white as ghosts. They had never known anyone their age who'd died before, not good like they'd known Libby. It seemed Chet didn't even want to weigh that option though. "M-my baby girl… she's somewhere out there. Alone. Scared. Lost. She ain't got much woods sense. Wall said, ain't no tracks folloin' her but his own." So she hadn't been chased at least, somehow escaping the criminals, because it was doubtful they'd just let her run. Somehow, relief was able to wash over both Hatfield boys hearing this, even though that meant they still needed to rake these hills to try and find her. She'd likely freeze overnight. April was still a frigid month once the sun went down at night, and they'd had fresh snow not even three days ago.
That confirmation was enough for Devil Anse to put a search together. First, he ordered his sons to go and alert Ellison and while he and Chet found a few others, and they'd cover the area in a short enough amount of time. If she was alive, they were bound to come across her by sunrise.
Everyone prayed Wall was right, and she'd gotten away without being tailed, she most likely found a place to hide somewhere. He doubted a little girl like that would do much wandering around, especially knowing her. Savage Chet didn't live up to that name when it came to his daughter; spoilt that girl rotten, and lord knows she was never brought out hunting or fishing, or even riding, scared to get on the animals ever since Johnse's old pony had dumped her when she was just a wee thing. She was a proper thing, educated by her similar mother, taught to play piano and fiddle, able to sew and cook. But survive out in the wild? That wasn't likely. All they could hope is that the attackers hadn't caught her at all, and she'd found somewhere to hide, staying put and waiting on them, preferably, close by a road. The girl had brains, so it would be possible she'd realize someone would come looking for her soon enough. "Boys, I want you out by the north hills; less ground ta cover there. Tell Ellison he's ta go east of ya, an' I'll send Lias an' a few others ta him. We meet down near the ol' fishin' spot in three hours. Keep yer time, an' boys." Anse looked seriously into his sons' eyes, William receiving the prolonged stare. "Keep yer guns close."
The two boys immediately left the house, both stunned by this information, not even discussing it as they saddled their horses faster than they ever had before and burst out of the barn into the frosty, moonlit night.
At least there was a chance she wasn't dead. If Uncle Wall had said no one followed her, then no one had followed her. But he'd lost her trail at the swamp Johnse and Will caught frogs at in the summer, and they both knew the girl couldn't swim to save her life. It wasn't so deep in most spots, but it was cold, and if she were wet, she'd be on her way to hypothermia.
William had a lump in his throat, riding in silence other than the noise he made to encourage his horse to pick up speed as he raced down the dirt road that led to Ellison Hatfield's home. All Will could remember was that one of the last things he'd said to her had been a joke about not getting robbed on the train. He had only said it because they liked to read about the train robbers so much. He certainly hadn't meant it. Somehow, he felt he'd jinxed her. It might've never happened if he hadn't tempted fate in the first place, and now Libby's mama was dead, and she was nowhere to be found.
The sound of the horses hooves furiously crashing into the dirt as they came up to their uncle's house must've alerted Ellison to their presence, because he was already waiting for him at the door, looking groggy and confused. "Uncle Ellison! Libby Sawyer's gone missin'. Uncle Wall found her mama dead. Some robbers done it," Will summarized, wanting to get out to look for her as fast as he could.
The shock was apparent with Ellison's changed expression. "Sonovabitch," he hissed, disbelieving of this tragic news. What was the world coming to? A woman and child couldn't even travel safely anymore without stagecoach thugs attacking them?
"Libby's gone missin'?" Cotton Top questioned fearfully from the doorway, apparently awake due to the commotion, hearing what happened. Elizabeth was always of a mature nature for her age, and Cotton tended to be found following her around on occasions where they were in each other's presence. She was kind to him, and never lost her temper, or teased him like so many others, even his kin. And she certainly never called him mush-head, the way all the other kids did.
"We're gon' find her Cotton," Will confidently assured him, and Ellison looked to Anse's middle son with slight hesitation, the promise of a potentially unlikely outcome making him nervous. That was a little girl to be out on her own like that, in this cold especially.
"Go on inside Cotton. I'll be home." Sadly, Cotton obeyed, going back inside the house while he sobbed quietly and Ellison followed to get his boots and jacket, trying to comfort his son with a strong hand on his shoulder, while William swung his horse around, clicking with his mouth for his horse to take off and run. "Pap says go east 'a the hills near Lincoln an' meet up at the fishin' spot in three hours!" Will couldn't waste another second. Inside, he was panicking, and had been since the moment he'd found out what was happening. He needed to find her, and he needed to do it immediately.
As Will left his brother in the dust to wait for Ellison, he went through every worst case scenario he could in his mind, to prepare himself. There were a lot of horrible things that could happen out here. For one, whoever got her mama might've caught up to her too. A bear, or a cougar might've torn her up. Could've curled up in a foxhole and froze to death already. He really hoped she hadn't stumbled upon any McCoys; things had only been getting worse with those hillbillies. And there were a few of Ol' Rand'll's boys he most definitely could imagine treating Libby less than respectfully.
He would ride a half-mile before he'd stop and listen, hollering her name out, before continuing on and doing the same thing once again. Luckily, the moon was waxing, and nearly full, illuminating the sky and making the task of seeing a bit easier. Johnse was able to catch up to him about an hour into searching,
By the time it was approaching three hours, it had actually felt as though they'd been out all night looking. The boys were cold, and the horses were tired. Their eyelids were heavy, and they craved the feeling of their warm beds and the fireside.
"We been out here near three hours now. She ain't here," Johnse huffed exasperated, tired and grouchy from being woken up from his deep sleep, then having to rush out to help find the Sawyer girl.
"So what, you wanna jus' leave her out here? Libby?" Will asked Johnse incredulously. The younger boy didn't think he'd get a minute of sleep knowing she was maybe out here waiting for someone to find her, vulnerable to all kinds of things, people and animals alike. His brother looked ashamed when it was brought to his attention like that.
Sighing, Johnse reluctantly headed down the left side of the fork, calling out to Libby. William shook his head at his older brother and went the opposite way riding until he couldn't hear his Johnse's calls anymore. If he gave up now, she was dead, and that'd be that. He was afraid to give up, because then it was over.
"Libby!" he yelled as loud as he could, then waited, listening to the sound of his own voice echoing off the hilltops. He could see his breath in the air as his eyes scanned open valley to his right, watching for any sign of life, but found none.
He stopped once he'd reached near the end of that road. Following the bend would take him over one of the tallest hills, and he sure hoped she hadn't gone that far. Wasn't nothing up there but wildcats, wolves, and the sorts of people that caused this problem in the first place. She was as good as dead if that's where she'd gone.
William squinted in the darkness, looking around. There was no movement other than the bitter breeze. He just sat, surveying, and waiting, and hoping for a sign of life. "Libby!" he hollered out loudly once again.
But it wasn't life that had caught his eyes.
Something was catching the moonlight, and Will quickly pulled his horse backwards, moving past again to catch the right light once more, certain of what he'd seen when the glimmer shone in the distance for the second time.
"Hya!" Will commanded his horse, kicking the quick filly and sending her in the direction he'd noticed the gleaming light.
It could've been nothing. But something told him to go check, just in case. If they didn't find her tonight, there wasn't going to be much hope for her survival. And Savage Chet hadn't looked like he could take the news of his daughter being lost after his wife had already been robbed, raped and murdered in cold blood.
Dismounting his horse, Will made his way over to a small grove of trees, where he'd seen the glittering, and when he got close, the moon caught it right again, revealing the exact location of the source. Rushing over to it, Will best down in the half-melted snow, now icy in the night air, and picked up a ring.
A ring he'd most definitely seen before.
It was a fine piece of jewelry, and William held it up in the moonlight, just to be sure he wasn't mistaken. But he wasn't. It was Miss Lucy's ring, her family ring that had reluctantly been given to Chet when he asked for her hand in marriage by Lucy's mother.
Shooting back up to his feet and pocketing the jewelry, Will spun around in all directions looking before he shouted out her name once again. "Libby!"
This time though, when he listened, he heard something other than the sound of his own voice reverberating off the hilly peaks. A whimper, and the chattering of teeth.
The Hatfield boy had spied a foxhole before he'd found the ring's location, but not even thought to check it. Not until now, realizing that is where the sound was coming from.
He went to the head of the burrow and looked inside, unable to see much even with the help of the bright moon. "Lib? Libby? You in there?" William suddenly realized, if it was her in there, after the state her mother had apparently been found in, the girl must be scared out of her mind. " 'S me. Will Hatfield," he tried adding to lure her out. It had been a few months since he'd seen her, but he was sure they were still friends.
To his relief, he was met with a promising reply. "William?" she whimpered out from inside the abandoned hole. "You found me?"
He couldn't fight the triumphant and relieved smile that pulled across his lips when he heard her ridiculous question. "Yeah, Lib! C'mon! Johnse's down the other way!" He was pretty ecstatic he'd found her, and on his own too. His Pa would be proud, and he was eager to get her out of here and back home. "Shoot, e'eryone's out lookin' for ya. You all right? What happened? How'd you get this far out here anyhow?" If she had run, she'd run far and long to be this far from where the looted carriage she'd been traveling in had been found.
But his questions were silenced as he watched her emerge from the hideout, offering his hand when she was within reach and pulling her the rest of the way out. She was covered in mud and wetness it looked like, and her hand was cold as ice. Ripping his jacket off, he pulled it around her tightly, knowing he could bear the cold long enough to get her to his mom and by a warm fire. He could send Johnse to alert the others and meet by the fishing hole.
Most startling for him though was the look of pure horror fading away to absolute relief as she broke down, launching herself forward and into him with all the strength she had left, arms encircling his neck so tightly he had to bend his knees a little to match her height so he wouldn't fall over. But once he'd steadied his footing, he'd tightly wrapped his arms around her comfortingly, for both her and himself, and made sure it was strong. The fear on her face, haunting her eyes, was enough to make him sick to his stomach. And how they had changed to so thankful and relieved when she'd actually set eyes on him and seen it wasn't just her imagination, or worse, the escaped attackers.
But the moment she'd crawled out and collapsed into him, was the moment he knew she certainly was aware that her mother was dead.
"C'mon. Your Pap's out with mine and my uncles. He's all torn up. We gotta get Johnse first. I'll send him ta find them an' I'll take ya back ta my mama." William slowly let her go and led her to his horse, giving her a leg up quickly before he got on behind her, taking the reins in his hand and galloping off in the direction Johnse had gone, calling out to his brother as he did.
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