So, this is coming to this small fandom very late. It had been awhile since I had watched this, but after recently falling back into the Miniseries, I was struck by an idea that wouldn't settle. Of the few fics that are on here, most cover the historical events, and I love that! But I wanted to write more of a small tale that takes place in between any important dates, and I will still be referencing those subtly in this story. I am a huge fan of the Southern Gothic genre, and even though it would technically be after the Hatfield's & McCoy's time period, there's no reason I can't make one now. We could all use a little more Southern charm in our lives huh?!
Disclaimer: I own nothing but any OC's and original plot ideas that aren't historical.
The whole area was in an uproar, and not because of the ongoing feud between the Hatfield's and the McCoy's. For the moment, that issue had leveled out, but no one was foolish enough to hold their breath and wait for a declaration of peace. No, the real cause of the ruckus was the two new comers that had settled in close to Mate Creek, passed the woods and close to the mountains. Though no one had heard any whisper or caught sight of the folk, they were a topic that most had invested their time in discussing. It was only for the simple fact that they were from the North, Yankees, and that hadn't settled well with the masses on the border of Kentucky and West Virginia. All that was known was they were a supposed wealthy father and daughter pair, no matriarch with them, and they had come down from New York. No one could get past that they were Yankees, and that was the only word anyone cared about. The two of them would have likely been driven out by the harsh words being spewed about them by now, but as it remained, they had yet to be heard from other than by word-of-mouth.
Most members of the Hatfield clan hadn't bothered themselves with matters pertaining to that, though they could have been given more cause than most, considering the proximity of the Yankees property with their Uncle Ellison. He hadn't seen them either, though his boy Cotton had been adamant on catching a glimpse of the strangers, and day in and day out he had sat outside under the shade of a tree, waiting. The rest of his family hadn't seen him around as often because of it, but his father wasn't worried, and so the rest of them had no reason to be either.
It was getting dark and the hour was late. The sun was nestled just above the trees of the wood, making the ground orange where William "Cap" Hatfield was walking. He had gone out hunting with Johnse in the afternoon, though the effort had been more to mend their strained relationship seeing as the pickings were slim for any real game. Ever since the McCoy bitch had disrupted the peace in their home, Cap had not wanted to be close with his brother. Blame it on his loyalty, or whatever it was, but it just didn't sit right with him, what Johnse had done. There were plenty of girls out there, and Lord knew his older brother never had trouble getting them. Keeping them was another matter, and that's what seemed most important to Cap, if ever he was to get married.
He was alone now while walking, after having both decided they would double their chances of finding anything if they were to split up. It was more likely that the awkward silence had been too much, and Johnse wanting to get away from it, had come up with the suggestion. Cap didn't mind the silence, but he wasn't going to force his brother into it as well; after all, he had been the one to make things tense when he had barely acknowledged Johnse's talk with grunts for responses. There just wasn't much to be said those days. He did feel a flicker of worry though; because their Pa had advised everyone to stay in pairs should they get jumped by some of the McCoys. Jonse had quick reflexes, and Cap trusted in his own abilities with a gun, so he could let the guilt subside just this once. It was unlikely any McCoys would be coming in close around the property at this time anyway.
Cap was certain he wasn't alone now though, and that he hadn't been for a while. Sometimes a twig would snap or the fallen leaves would rustle, and it was too coincidental to be the wind because it kept happening to his left. He couldn't spot any tracks, and he had crouched down more than once to get a look at the ground. Only some leaves had been disturbed, but there was no clear path on what had torn through the area. His eyes narrowed, the one good one seeing everything of use as he tracked after his prey.
The brush was dense, low branches pulling at his clothes as stepped quietly between bushes and trees. All of his wandering had led him out to the creek, the water dark and murky as the sun continued to fade. He really needed to be getting back home, but the sight of blood stains over the gravel close to the water gave him pause. A whimper resonated up ahead, and his eyes did a quick scan of the creek before settling on the little overhang of dirt. It was too small to be a cliff, but below, dug into a dirt recess was a person, all limbs huddled together, feeble and frail. They were hardly moving, and Cap would have thought he'd stumbled upon a corpse if it wasn't for the small sounds coming from that direction. The blood on the rocks was still wet, so he assumed it belonged to them, and so for the moment he was driven by a need to help the defenceless, all while keeping his guard up for an attack.
He let out a little whistle from between his lips, coaxing their attention without having to use his words. All movement stopped, and a pale head of hair, nearly as white as Cotton's—though it was difficult to tell with all of the gunk streaked through it—looked up at him through red and tired eyes. Cap was beside himself with surprise to see it was a girl. What business did she have out here in the woods? Lost no doubt, but injured too, and so he put aside his frustration as he quickly hopped over to her through the water. She was shaking like a leaf, suspicion of him milling behind her eyes as he slowly approached with his hands raised, gun hoisted over his shoulder where he could get to it quick. Her knees were huddled up tightly to her chest, all of her painted in dark mud, even on her cheeks and in the tangles of her long hair. It was down to her back, wild and loose with no bonnet on her head. The only thing keeping her warm was the skirts of her dress and the sleeves on her arms, all which were filled with the damp.
Now Cap wasn't the best at providing comfort, especially to a female, and that left him feeling apprehensive. That job he left that up to his brother, and he cursed Johnse's name for not being with him at that particular time. He very well couldn't leave her alone to fend through the woods, not if she had been attacked.
"Hey, I ain't gonna hurt ya," He said soft and gruffly. She didn't give much of a response, her green eyes flicking over him with distrust. He waved his hand, motioning for her to come forward, and out of that dank and dirty crevice. "C'mon out here so I can get a look at ya."
Slowly her arms unwound from her legs, and she shimmied forward until her feet were the first things to dangle out of the hole. They were bare, the soles caked in mud and blood, and he was startled to see the vermillion substance covered most of the rest of her as well, save for her face.
"Oh Hell," He cursed before he could help himself in front of a lady. He sincerely hoped she hadn't been forced against her will, or else it was going to make his task difficult to get her to trust him. He watched as her toes wiggled, probably to get the blood back into them again after God knows how long she had been held up in there. He stepped a little bit closer, but she did not shrink away from his presence. "Have ya lost yer sense girl? Wanderin' out here, nothin' on yer feet? Yer gonna catch yer death a'cold."
"No," Her voice was small as she argued against him, and she shifted even further out of the hole, her hands pulling herself forward as she wearily peeped out into the bush, looking over her shoulder at the horizon. She pinned him with a stare as her eyes came back around, the nervousness absent from her face. "I'm feeling rather feverish in fact."
Probably suffering from delirium too no doubt. He wondered how long it had been since she had eaten or drank anything. Hopefully she had not ingested that filthy creek water. "C'mere so I can take ya back to my Ma. It's gettin' dark, n' she'll fix ya up good n' proper."
Her brow furrowed. "But I don't know you."
It was her right to be distrustful, but it also made Cap suspect she'd never been around helping people before. "You can call me Ca—er Will." He decided someone with her face would be more trusting of a first name rather than a moniker.
He winced at his full name. "Jus' Will."
She hummed softly in acceptance. "Well alright I guess, but don't try anything funny 'Just Will'."
It sounded like a warning, but he doubted she would be able to do anything if he did do 'something funny'. Her feet created a splash as she hit the water, spraying up her legs while soaking into the hem of her dress. It had probably once been an off-white shade, but now it was a syrupy brown all the way up to her shoulders. He scratched at the back of his neck before propping his gun down on the ground so he could free himself of his jacket. The girl backed away hesitantly, her lips trembling with worry at the action.
"What are you doing?"
"You need'a take a good look at yer self. My house ain't far, but if I come walkin' in at this time with ya lookin' like that, it'll give my Ma n' the children a fright."
"Oh," She said lamely, her shoulders caving in with defeat as she glanced down at her dress. "It is that bad?"
He shot her a funny look. She was a strange one. "Here, take it."
He held out his jacket for her to take, the breeze not bothering him so terribly as he stood out in the woods without it. The jacket was tailored for his height, so it was an ill-fit on her, the sleeves so long that they covered her hands, and the collar seemed to swallow her from the neck up. Still, she buttoned it closed, concealing most of the mess that remained beneath. She looked up at him expectantly, and he shot her a wry smirk with one corner of his mouth raised.
He bent at the waist to retrieve his rifle, only to frown as she started to walk towards him, her bare feet still submerged in creek water. Dammit. "Gonna hafta carry ya back," said Cap as he turned to face her.
"I beg your pardon?" She said incredulously.
"Look, ya ain't gettin' my boots as well, n' ya won't make the walk back in jus' yer skin."
"I'm not cold," She refuted stubbornly.
"Yer toes are blue."
She huffed at him, which he found to be amusing, and he hid his smirk under the brim of his hat as he tilted his head down to the ground for a moment. "Well aren't you the know-it-all."
The argument was settled there, and he carefully approached her. She was a skittish little thing, and it would make her weight easy to bear all the way back to the house. She had to have been lying about not being cold; she was like ice in his arms, and that was felt through the material of her clothes. She wrapped her arms around his neck while he supported the rest of her weight under her knees, carrying her like she was a child.
"Won't you get tired carrying me?" She asked concerned.
"Nah, yer as skinny as a doe." He paused for a beat before looking down at her critically. "Wut's yer name?"
His nose crinkled at the unfamiliar sound. "Never knew anyone with a name like that. Know a Claire, n' even'a Clara or two."
He felt her shrug against him, unapologetic for that which was beyond her control. They started their walk back, the darkness creeping up on them as the sun was now half hidden past the horizon. The shadows made it difficult to see, and everywhere Cap was conscious of movement. In all of the excitement of finding the girl, he had forgotten about Johnse, and now he couldn't help but worry if his older brother had made it back home or not. Lord knew Johnse wasn't the best navigator without his horse.
Cap became startled out of his thoughts by cold fingers on his skin. The tiny digits of her hand were gliding up on his left cheek, her thumb just tracing under his eye. Hell, why do women hafta get all touchy?
"Did it hurt?"
"Yep," He said curtly, popping the 'p' as he said it. This just wasn't something he wanted to talk about with her.
"But you can still shoot," She said, her hand leaving his face to tug on the strap of his gun.
"Scariest thing in these woods ya could'a ran into," He said with certainty.
He was met with a skeptical look from her, but she didn't say anything, and Cap was at least glad she was a girl of few words. Most of the ones in Mate Creek seemed to waffle on constantly about nonsense that he couldn't be bothered to lend an ear to.
He was surprised when she didn't shed a jolt as a twig snapped to their right. Without looking, he already could recognize the sound of Johnse's graceless footsteps approaching. He let out a sharp whistle for his brother to follow back to them. Cap wasn't looking forward to this reunion, knowing his brother was likely to make some uncouth comment. That boy had fluff between his ears.
"Cap?" said Johnse as he stepped out between two bushes, his gun at his side. His light blond brows hit his forehead in surprise, and Cap groaned softly, expecting what was coming next as the familiar crinkles took root around Johnse's eye in a smile. "Ya got it wrong brother, we was supposed to bring somethin' back'ta feed the family, not jus' for yer self."
Cap thought about dropping the girl just for a second so he could go and throttle his brother for saying such a thing. He was constantly a flirt and a tease, never taking anything serious. Sometimes Cap was envious of his carefree way of living, but most other times he just wanted to knock the perfect teeth right out of Johnse's head. "Shut up Johnse, it ain't like that. I'm takin' 'er back'ta the house so Ma can get a look at 'er."
As Johnse stepped close, his face broke into startled realization as he saw how much of a mess she was, "Christ on the cross, what happened?"
She didn't make a peep, and Cap shrugged as best he could. "Don't need'ta know."
Johnse nodded stiffly, his eyes never leaving Clarice's face. "We'd best get movin' now that we're losin' the light. It's nearly sundown."
"Sunset," She piped up.
Cap looked down at her while Johnse looked confused. "What?"
"I know it as sunset."
Johnse's eyes nearly popped out of his head. "Hey, yer one of them Yankees!"
Cap had noticed the absence of the usual twang in her voice since she had first spoken up, but it hadn't seemed important to mention it. Trust his brother to draw attention to the obvious. "Is that the only word about me?"
"That's 'bout it," Johnse confirmed. "Poor Cotton, ill'be so disappointed someone beat him to spyin' them Yankees."
It was merely chance that brought Cap to Clarice in the woods, but he did feel a twinge of guilt at stealing the moment away from their cousin. It was all Cotton-Top had talked about for days, and now his efforts were wasted.
Johnse kept shooting indiscreet side glances at him as they walked, a hesitant sigh falling from his lips before he looked at Cap with a reserved expression. "Don't think Pap's gonna like ya bringin' her back."
"Yeah? Better than some McCoy bitch," Cap snarled, effectively silencing all of them with his vicious tone. Johnse knew better than to argue back with Will when Roseanna McCoy was the discussion; all he'd get in return was a good pummeling.
The longer he had to carry Clarice, the more she began to feel like dead-weight in his arms, and he was relieved by the sight of their home coming up in the distance. So quiet she had grown in his grasp, and Cap was surprised to see as he looked down, that she had fallen asleep. He had to keep his eyes squinted as the last light of the sun glared beyond the hill, but he could see the shallow breaths she was taking. Johnse tossed him a quizzical look, both of them sharing the same thought.
"What do ya really think happened?"
"Don't know. She doesn't seem to be injured, but gettin' a good look at 'er, it ain't pretty."
"No," Johnse agreed before a smile bloomed on his lips. "She's gotta pretty face though, or maybe ya didn't notice."
"Shut up Johnse." Of course Cap had noticed, but it had been a passing thought, one he had barely entertained once he had seen the filth she was covered in.
Cap let Johnse run into the house first to retrieve their mother, while he carried Clarice up the porch and into the cool shade. It was a quiet evening with most of their family inside, and their Uncle Jim out missing in action, likely at a whore house. Normally Cap would split his time between his family and Skunkhair, so he was feeling a bit restless with the change in routine. Clarice stirred awake, a weak look of discomfort on her face as she shifted in his arms.
"Can you please set me down?"
He moved silently, carefully placing her down onto the rocker on the porch as she gathered her bearings. With his back leaned against the wooden railing of the porch, he stood scrutinizing her critically as she combed her fingers through her matted hair, trying in vain to fix her appearance.
"That ain't helpin' any," He told her bluntly.
She stopped almost immediately, her hands falling uselessly into her lap while she stared at her fingers. Cap was trying to get a good reading on her, but found it difficult with how quiet she was being. She was twitchy, her legs bouncing up and down as she flexed her feet on the wooden porch, toes not as blue as they had been in the water. She hadn't shivered once.
The door flew opened again and Johnse came back out with their mother in tow. Levicy Hatfield had a stern look on her face, marred with concern as well as she took a good long look at Clarice. The girl appeared uncomfortable under the watchful eyes, but she never moved in her place.
"Well, let's get ya into the house dear girl," said Levicy with reluctance. "We'll bring ya up'ta the girls room, n' get ya cleaned up. Have…Roseanna give ya somethin' ta wear." Their Ma still had trouble getting past Randall McCoy's daughter being with them, always getting a tight look on her face whenever she mentioned her.
The women disappeared back into the house, Clarice shooting one last look at Cap, an emotion in her eyes that he couldn't peg. She was out of his hair now though, and he had completed what he had set out to do after helping her back to the house. Johnse stood awkwardly across from him, not knowing where his place was, and a lot of that had been going around with his older brother lately. Things were tense, and Cap much preferred the silence outside as he blew out a breath between his lips, only now starting to miss the warmth of his jacket.
"What'd ya tell Pap 'bout her?"
He saw Johnse shrug out of the corner of his eye, taking a step closer to the railing to join him. "Nothin', seein' as he was absent. He's out back with Uncle Jim. Arrived jus' before we did."
"Maybe ya outta go back there n' join 'em?" Johnse suggested, envy coloring his words. It was no secret that Cap was the more favored upon with both their father and their uncle. He was in as deep as they were with this McCoy feud, unlike Johnse, whose recent transgressions had put him at odds with his own kin.
"Maybe," was all Cap said in return.
"Think you'll ever get married Will?"
The question caught him off guard, and he frowned for a moment. He wanted to ask the same thing of Johnse, seeing as how he was living out in sin with the McCoy girl. They should have been long married by now, but Johnse was empty promises wrapped up in a pretty package. Maybe things would have cooled if he had at least lived up to his end of the bargain he had been spouting off about since the start. Roseanna McCoy was an outcast by her Pap now though, so it wouldn't make one bit of difference if they would one day decide to go and see their Uncle Wall and make it legal.
"Probably one day I reckon, but I don't really give much thought ta' it."
Silence again. The bugs started to chirp more as night moved in on them, the smoke rising from the chimney stack inside their family home as a fire burned in the hearth. Cap was about ready to call it a night and return inside, but their sister Betty surprised them both as she peeked her head out of the door, her eyes full of question as she searched the porch.
"Did that Yankee girl come back out'ere?"
Cap shared a confused look with Johnse. "Nah, we thought she was inside with you n' Ma?"
"She was, only, I went with Ma ta' the kitchen jus' fer a moment to fetch her a glass a' water. When I went back ta' give it ta' her, she wasn't there no more. Ma can't find her neither."
They didn't need any more prompting as they both ran into the house, looking for the girl. Levicy's face was stricken with panic, and Johnse went to calm her down while Cap went to search the bedrooms, walking straight past Roseanna McCoy at their kitchen table. For the moment their Pap was still with Uncle Jim, and they were all probably better for it without having to see Devil Anse's disapproving gaze while having Uncle Jim weigh in with his opinion. The man could be crude, and Cap suspected that their Ma didn't always like having him around.
The last room Cap checked was the girls, a place he hadn't entered since he was little when it wouldn't have been considered inappropriate. Hell, he hardly ever used his own bed anymore, instead just retiring wherever he was when the hour was late. Robert E. Hatfield probably liked that he had one less brother to share the room with now anyhow. According to his sister, the girls' bedroom had been the last place Clarice had been, and there was nothing unordinary about it as he peered inside.
"She'd been sittin' on the bed there," Betty said, hanging close to his side while she pointed. "Momma had jus' given 'er some water to wash her face off. She wasn't injured or nothin', n' I don't think she wanted no help."
Cap scoffed as he walked into the room towards the window. "Well unless she jumped from'ere, I don't see how she coulda left the house without me n' Johnse spottin' her."
"But she is," Betty insisted, following him into the room as she picked up a folded bundle on the bed. It was his jacket. "She's jus' gone Will."
Cap stared at his jacket in his sister's arms, not wanting to touch it for reasons unknown. Johnse's breathing interrupted the silence as he stood in the doorway, his eyes searching the room until they landed on Will. "Did 'ya find'er?"
"She ain't here." said Cap.
"The Hell did she go?"
"Doesn't matter," Cap said finally, taking his jacket from Betty while he strode past Johnse. "She doesn't wanna be found, n' she never wanted ta' be here. Shoulda left her in those woods. Don't say nothin' ta' Pap unless Ma does first. It's her decision."
The house settled into silence again; only the dull thud of Cap's boots making noise against the wooden floors as he marched back outside to the porch. He sat down on the rocker—his Pap's chair—that Clarice had occupied not long ago. As he looked out to the treeline under the white moonlight, he wondered if he had dreamt her up. But…Johnse had seen her too, and his Ma and Betty. Hell, even the McCoy girl must have watched her entrance, so where had she vanished to? The thought disturbed him because he had gone out of his way to help her. She was like a willow tree, pale and flaking, and so small amongst a forest of giants. Maybe Cotton would have better luck after all, because he doubted if he'd be seeing her again anytime soon. Cap fell asleep outside, a restless feeling in his heart that the same creature from before was still stalking him in the dark, and it wasn't until the dawn came that he truly felt alone.
So, I could continue if the response is in favor of it. It would be a short fic, filled with mystery over these two New Yorkers living in close proximity. I have a desperate desire to write for Cotton too, so let me know in reviews or PM's if you want to see more!