SPOILER WARNING: Please do not read if you have not finished the main campaign for Red Dead Redemption II.
This story assumes the events of the "good ending."
A buck. It was a buck. Grazing on a field of grass so far away.
That much Arthur Morgan was sure of.
He groaned, but no sound came out. He craned his neck, trying to see what was before him. But his body would not listen.
Where was he? What had he been doing last?
The buck raised its head. Turned towards him, beady black eyes and all.
It knew he was here. But Arthur was not afraid. He sensed no hostility from the creature. Just a gentle aura, one that invited him to come ever the closer.
And so he did. He could not feel his arms, but they carried him forward inch by inch. He could smell the grass now, sweet and warm underneath him. The gentle breeze caressed his face.
Then he laid before the majestic creature. It was larger and taller than any buck he had ever seen. Its antlers stretched as far as the skies, casting a shadow over his entire body. Arthur sucked in a tight breath. Still, he wasn't afraid. Just...tired.
The buck tilted its head down. Their eyes met. It stared straight at him...into him. Arthur's mind whirled.
"It is...over now, Arthur." The voice was distant. Dutch? Was that Dutch?
"I'm a survivor, Black Lung!" A bitter anger. "A survivor! That's all there is, living and dying!"
Arthur's chest burned. He opened his mouth to cough, but nothing came out. The buck's solemn features were beginning to fade from his vision.
Was this it? Was he finally going to hell?
His body was seized by an unwelcome cold.
"Arthur Morgan?! Mr. Morgan?!"
"Uh..." Was that his voice?
"Arthur? Is everything okay?" Dutch's face swam into view, features twisted in concern.
Arthur blinked. "Dutch? That you?" Once. Twice.
Dutch was still there.
The man sighed. "Are you okay, Arthur?" He squinted into the distance, but there wasn't much to be seen in the endless sheets of snow. "Has the weather gone to your head? I can ask Mr. Smith to come instead."
"...Sorry." It was all Arthur could come up with at the moment.
Where...where was he right now? What happened to eternal burn in his chest? The fading pain and anger from his final moments? Micah? Dutch...
A terrible bitterness rose within him.
"Arthur?" He could see the impatience growing on Dutch's face, a reminder that it would be bad to keep the man waiting.
He shook his head to clear it. Oh, how he wanted to reach out and grab Dutch, to shake him, and demand "why?!" over and over until he knew just why. But, the situation wasn't right. This world, wherever he was, seemed too real and alive, and the years had taught him better than to act impulsively.
"I'm...I'm fine," he managed to rasp. "Let's go."
It was all Dutch needed to hear. "Good." He turned away, raising his lantern in yet another futile effort to see through the heavy blizzard. "Micah and John are out there somewhere in this goddamned weather. Hopefully, we'll come across one or the other soon enough."
The information was beginning to sound familiar, as was this exchange. While he puzzled over his current dilemma, a figure approached them in the distance. Two horses followed close behind, surprisingly resilient in the unforgiving weather. "I've got them." Charles emerged from the snow, one rein in each hand. He nodded at them. "You can borrow mine, Arthur. Hope everything turns out fine."
Satisfied, Dutch clapped his gloved hands and reached out for the Count's reins. "Thank you." In one swift motion, he had swung himself atop his horse.
"Here." Charles had stepped forward and extended a hand. He offered his horse to Arthur. With a nod in her direction, he began to introduce her. "Her name is Taima. She's never failed me once all these years."
"I...uh." Arthur stared down at the rein, dumbfounded. Was it an illusion? Were Dutch and Charles illusions?
If this was hell, why was it making no sense at all?
"Thanks, I suppose."
Dutch ran his hand down the Count's back, giving it a few gentle pats. "Looks like we're all set to go," he said, looking down. "Mr. Smith, go get yourself warm. Mr. Morgan, let's ride." Brain like scrambled eggs, Arthur could only do what he was told. He reached out and grabbed the rein, mounting Charles' horse with ease.
Although unfamiliar with its rider, Taima was as gentle as its master. A few silent commands and the horse was galloping at a steady pace right behind Dutch. Arthur made no motion to speak, however. For once, he found himself grateful for a snowstorm as relentless as this one. He needed the silence now, to collect his troubling thoughts and...memories?
Bits and pieces were drifting back to him now, like some kind of bad dream. Hosea, who he loved even more Dutch, shot before his very eyes by Pinkertons. Sean, the fun-loving Irish bastard, head blasted off without warning. And young Lenny, who he had shared an unforgettable night with at the saloon, felled by faceless men.
Regret. Oh, there was so much regret.
Something warm trickled down his cheek. Then it faded just as fast, wiped away by the bitter cold. Arthur bit down on his lip, hard. His grip tightened around Taima's reins. He had a sudden urge to scream. Scream into the darkness of the night, where no one could ever hear him.
Dutch stopped a few feet in front of him. His lantern was raised and his dominant hand lay rested on his pistol with caution. "Who's there?" he called.
Micah. An automatic thought.
"Gentlemen." A familiar voice.
His memories were playing out like the final script for a play. Moments later and the curtains of snow parted to reveal the traitorous rat. Arthur gritted his teeth, feeling the sudden rush of blood and anger to his head. It took everything he had not to shoot him right then and there.
"How did it go?" Dutch leaned forward, beckoning for Micah to come closer. "Did you find anything?"
"I did," Micah responded. "A house, a little ride down."
"Sure. Place is blazing with light and noise. Sounded like a party in there."
"Could be the O'Driscolls," Arthur chimed in. If his memory was to be trusted, this was when they had first encountered a certain Mrs. Sadie Adler. "We should be careful."
Dutch raised a single eyebrow. "I was just beginning to wonder when you would finally talk, Arthur." Stuffing away the lantern, he reached for the Count's reins. "Well, what are we waiting for? Let's go take a look."
Micah nodded and turned his horse back around. "Follow me, men."
Arthur obeyed wordlessly. He remembered now. It was on this day that the O'Driscolls had utterly ruined Sadie's life. If they had not come when they did, well, he dared not think what would have happened. Looking back, Sadie's rescue was probably the one and only positive thing that came out of their run from Blackwater.
"I'll take the flank, Arthur," Dutch called out. "Go check on Micah."
Arthur grunted in response. He tugged on Taima's reigns and the horse launched forward with a soft neigh. Even if these feelings of his told him Micah was the spawn of Satan himself, he couldn't act without thinking. There would be time to deal with him, sooner or the later.
Falling into line with Micah, he kept his gaze concentrated on the road ahead. The man turned to face him and he glimpsed the slightest smirk on his face. "Ah, Mr. Morgan." He wondered how he had the patience to put up with this insufferable son of a bitch for so long. "I never thought I would be so pleased to see your face."
He chose to remain quiet a bit longer. He tried thinking back to what felt like an eternity ago. What had he said to Micah at this point of time? Even more...who was the person that he was before everything had happened?
Or had he never really changed?
"Are you sure about this?" he finally asked.
"Well, that's why we're taking a look now, aren't we?" Micah's words were laced with jest. "I'm just following Dutch's orders. Look, but don't talk to no one. I'm a good boy."
Hardly in the mood for pleasantries, Arthur could find nothing more to say. This was reality now, he told himself, illogical as it was. Some part of him still hung in utter disbelief, but every time he opened and closed his eyes, nothing changed. Not the freezing cold, his hollow feelings, or even Micah's ugly features.
It seemed that even his sense of time had been thrown in complete disarray. He was certain, just thirty minutes ago, that he was living the final moments of his blasted life. He had even caught a glimpse of the rising sun. Now, he was trapped in some perpetual nightmare, filled with faces he never wanted to see again. Did Marston make it out at least?
Besides him, Micah's horse slowed to a trot. "Alright, we're close now. It's just ahead."
The three riders paused over the snowy hill, surveying the area below. An uncanny sense of déjà vu began to overwhelm Arthur. Everything was exactly as he remembered it, down to the minute details. A house, a shed, and a barn a little further down. It was a home away from all homes. He wondered why Sadie had chosen to live in the middle of nowhere.
"Lights off," Dutch commanded the party. "Let's proceed with caution. Oh, and leave the talking to me. One lonely man is far less menacing than three...nasty looking degenerates in this weather."
They hitched their horses by a rock near the house. Arthur reached across Taima's saddle for his usual rifle, then realised he was riding a borrowed horse. "Shit," he muttered to himself. Now, he had only his pistol to rely on.
"Micah, hide behind the shed there. Arthur, take the barn on the left." Dutch had gone on ahead. Arthur watched as he approached Sadie's house, . "Remember to stay quiet and let me handle this."
He followed the instructions given and stepped inside the rotting barn. It would be a matter of minutes before the O'Driscolls discovered who they were dealing with. And not far from him, Micah would uncover the poor, frozen body of Jake Adler, the love of Sadie's life.
Things were slowly making more and more sense, and he didn't like it one bit. Here he was, at the very beginning of the end. Though, it would hardly be fair to call this the beginning. Dutch should have listened, back in Blackwater, back before they went for that setup of a ferry, or even back before Micah was a part of them all.
Goddamn, what did it matter now? If he was to suffer through the events of his sinful life once more, why couldn't he have been here earlier? It wasn't just about Mac, Davey, and Jenny anymore. When the gang approached its final moments, Sadie had been the only one he could rely on. Her help and encouragement was something he would never forget. If there existed the chance to give Sadie the normal life she deserved, he would have grasped it in a heartbeat.
"Arthur!" Micah had lifted the cover over Jake's body. "Hey, Arthur! This isn't good. There's a body here!"
"I know." Arthur moved a single hand towards his holster. Soon, he would be forced to use it. "I told you we was dealing with O'Driscolls!"
A few of them had left the house, armed to the teeth as they closed in on Dutch. "Hey! Come here!" The one in the front door was motioning at Dutch. "Let me get a closer look at you…"
Another stepped back in clear surprise. "Holy shit, you're Dutch Van Der Linde! Wait till ol' Colm-"
It was his signal for action. Arthur stood, pistol in hand. He barely noticed the recoil of the shots as three of the O'Driscolls fell dead, sniped clean through the head by his bullets.
"Leave some for me, Morgan!" Micah complained.
Another thirty seconds passed and the three were surrounded by a slew of dead bodies, filled with alcohol and laughter just moments before. Adrenaline dying, Arthur suddenly felt sick to his stomach. What had he just done? Even if they were O'Driscolls, was it right of him to have killed them? These boys were no different from him, really. All fools, living the same mislead lives.
No, that wasn't even it. His mind was already made up. This time, things would be different. He couldn't just sit back and watch the tragedy unfold. Piece by piece, he would do something, change something, change everything for the better.
"Arthur, come see what we can find in the cabin!" Dutch's voice. Arthur could hear him scurrying about in the kitchen, banging pots and pans to uncover every last stash. He may have accepted the situation he was in now, but Dutch...somehow, he could not bear to think about the man. The last twenty years of his life had been filled with fond memories spent with the gang. If he closed his eyes, he could still remember all the moments he shared with Dutch and Hosea. They were the family he never had.
The Dutch now was not the Dutch then. That Dutch had refused to rescue John and Abigail, that Dutch had listened to the whispering of a traitorous rat, and that Dutch had stepped away, the one time Arthur needed him in all of twenty years.
But Rains Fall's words remained a shadow in the back of his mind. The old Indian might have been right all along, and that people only grew to become more and more like themselves. Perhaps that was the truth he didn't want to face, not now, not ever.
"I...I think I heard something in the barn," Arthur called. An idea was starting to form in his head. Dutch aside, he had wanted to make a change, didn't he? "I'll check to make sure no one shoots our backs!"
No response from Dutch for a moment. Then, "...Alright!"
He could begin right now.
Arthur seized the opportunity at once, running as fast as he could to the stables. Once inside, he closed the door behind him and waited for his attacker.
A second passed. "You bastards killed my cousin!" The O'Driscoll came plunging down from above. Fortunately, Arthur was prepared this time around. He sidestepped the boy, managing to catch his wrist at the last moment to prevent any serious injuries. Then he wrapped an arm around the O'Driscoll's neck, holding him in a tight grip as he motioned desperately for his victim to be quiet.
"Listen," Arthur urged in a hushed voice. "Don't make no noise now because the two out there, they would kill you before you could blink."
The O'Driscoll twisted his head to stare at him, eyes wide with fear.
"Your cousin's gone now, ain't nothing we can do about that. But I'm giving you a chance to live and git." Arthur reached into his satchel, pulling out a can of peaches he still had left from Blackwater. "Take this and go hide up there. No moving until you hear us ride away."
The boy's fear washed over with confusion.
"Arthur, what is taking you so long?!" Dutch's voice was drawing close.
Arthur snarled, pressing the can into the boy's hand. It was now or never. "I'm not repeating myself, boy."
The O'Driscoll obeyed without another word. He scrambled up the ladder just as the doors to the barn burst open. Panicked in the moment, Arthur spun around and threw his hands into the air. "Whoa there!" he shouted at the unsuspecting horse. "Easy! Easy!"
He held his breath as he waited for Dutch's response. Then relaxed as he heard the man chuckle. "I had almost forgotten you lost your horse back in Blackwater!" Dutch exclaimed. Thank God the man had fallen for his farce. "That is one fine-looking steed. Why don't you lead it outside?"
"Sure thing." At last, something that Arthur was happy to oblige to. He turned his attention back onto the horse. A few practiced motions and it was more than happy to let Arthur lead it outside. He turned back around, making sure to close the doors tight behind him. There was nothing more he could do for the O'Driscoll now. Hopefully, the boy managed to survive this goddamned blizzard.
"Let's go, boy." Arthur ran a hand down the horse's mane. It neighed with delight, now comfortable enough to move its mouth towards Arthur's satchel. He almost smiled with amusement. Even the snow wasn't enough to stop the horse from smelling the treats on him.
As they approached the cabin, frantic screaming filled the air a few yards away. "Stay away!" Glass shattered, things shattered, and Micah laughed his horrible laugh. "Get away from me!" Fire erupted without warning, creeping along the structured wood to create an unusually festive scene in the dead of winter.
The door swung open. "You are fine now, lady," he heard Dutch say. With a protective arm around Sadie, the man stepped down the stairs as he guided her to his horse. "You will be fine," he repeated. "We are going to take you somewhere nice and warm, where you won't be harmed."
As they got close, Arthur faced away and busied himself with his new horse. He thought he had felt every emotion possible up until now, but he suddenly found that was he afraid. Was it Dutch? Was it Micah? Was it the inevitable future? He couldn't even begin to understand.
It was like being told he had tuberculosis again.
"Arthur? You alright?" Unexpectedly, Micah approached him. If Arthur didn't know any better, the man almost sounded concerned.
He straightened at once, reaching up to pull the rim of his hat over his eyes. The last thing he wanted was for Micah to discover yet another thing to torment him about.
"Just fine," he grunted. "Let's go." He climbed onto his new horse and gave it a few gentle pats. It was no Taima or Boadicea, but it was a beautiful and sturdy beast all the same. A bit of a push and it was galloping strong in the storm.
He spent the ride home staring at Sadie's back, heart heavy with regret. He would have helped her if he could, but it was too late now. She had started her path of vengeance and bloodshed, never to be the loving wife of a loving husband.
All he could do now was save as many people as he could in the gang. Separate them as far as he could from Dutch's "Tahiti" and Micah's destructive tendencies.
It was the very least he could do, with this godforsaken life he had to live once more.
Note: Boadicea is the name of Arthur's old horse in the game. He mentions it to Hosea on their hunting trip for the legendary bear and it seems to have been lost during the events of Blackwater.
1/3/19: Heavily edited parts of the chapter for better flow.
I do not write fast, but I will keep this story updated to the best of my ability.