Disclaimer: First off, I only saw the movie and don't know anything about the characters. I don't known if Joe had joined the Kelly gang only a short time before they all got killed, and honestly, I don't care.

Childhood Friends

Mara Wilson was the youngest of the four children in the farmer's family. Frederic Wilson had left the family when Mara was born, joining the military, trying everything to get himself killed. Shauna, the mother, was content with the way things were. She and the four kids, three sons and one girl, worked hard on their small field and traded the fruits and vegetables for other things that they needed. The family had a close friendship with the Kelly's who lived only a few leagues away. Ned, the oldest son, sometimes helped with the horses, and Dan fixed the carriage from time to time. Grace and Kate were Mara's best friends, although Mara was a couple of years older than the youngest of the Kelly's.

One day in early June, Mara went outside to fetch water from the quite faraway river, when suddenly Ned and Dan Kelly and their moron friends, Joe Byrne and Aaron Whatever-His-Name-Was blocked the narrow path. She looked up and had to squeeze her eyes nearly shut because of the sun standing low in the sky. She saw four black legs, four brown legs and 8 chestnut coloured legs, belonging to the horses those four young boys rode. She couldn't tell if they were ponies or just small horses. "Hey there, lassie!" Someone said. It was Joe. "Dun call me lassie, laddie!" she snorted back and tried to walk around the ponies. Joe and Dan laughed loud and steered their chestnut coloured mares to the left when Mara went to the left, and when she walked to the right, Joe and Dan blocked her way, too.

"Why don't you want to talk to us, Mara?" Joe asked again. "'Cuz me ma told me not to talk with you boys." she answered but couldn't suppress a smile She liked the four boys. "And you always do what yer ma says?" Dan laughed and turned his horse around because Mara had found a way through the horses' legs and was just about to start to run. She knew perfectly well that she could never outrun the four boys. "Oh no, lassie, don't leave just now..." he shouted and pushed her backwards, into the horse of Joe Byrne. The latter reached down and pulled her slick black hair playfully. "Let go of me, you..." "Me what?" Joe said and grinned. He leant over to her, bending down over the horse's neck and gave her a little kiss on the cheek. Mara giggled and tried to break free from him. He smelled of leather and soap, a clean and yet fascinating scent. After a few seconds, he let her go. She grinned from ear to ear, just like he did. Ned then spun his horse around and led the group of boys away into the town.

- - -

This was almost 10 years ago, but Mara remembered it as if it had been just yesterday. Her mother Shauna had died a few years ago, her brothers had left home and now lived scattered across the country. Most of the time, she lived in the Kelly's house and helped Ned's ma with the housework and such. Lately, since Ellen had been born, Agatha Kelly needed an extra hand with all the work. The boys, Ned and Dan, were of no help. All they did was shoot at leaves in the forest or get arrested. Ned had been arrested a few times, so had Aaron. She hadn't heard of Joe for a long time, although Aaron and Dan sometimes spoke of him.

Grace had just turned 13, when Ned returned from his latest prison-stay, together with Aaron and Joe. He had been arrested for horse-theft and sent to jail for 3 years. Dan and his new friend, Steve Hart, were outside playing their childish game of soccer when the three of them arrived. Grace and Kate ran outside, Mara followed. Ned embraced both of his sisters and then his brother, his mother who was carrying the baby, stood in the doorframe with a big smile on her face. "It's Neddy!" she said out aloud and Mara began to smile when Joe waved at them. Agatha handed her the baby and walked hastily over to her son to embrace him.

Aaron nudged Joe as they walked over to the others and Joe looked at Mara as if it was the first time he saw her. She had changed, indeed. Her black hair had grown long, longer than Kate's, and her green eyes shimmered even more like the emeralds that he remembered every night in his dreams. Mara probably was the only girl that had impressed Joe in his early years. And since then, no other girl had. He had been having casual love affairs and on- and off-girlfriends, just like Ned and Aaron had. It was a common game between them and nothing about it was seriously, but still, right now, Joe felt that it was some kind of an unfair thing towards Mara. Why did she make him feel like that? It was not that she was incredibly beautiful, he had met women and girls who were unbelievingly beautiful, but she had something about her that caused him sleepless nights.

He had thought about her many times, although he hadn't seen her during the last 3 years, maybe even longer. He couldn't remember. He also couldn't remember many of his affairs, but he had always remembered her. Now Kate hugged Joe tight, almost making him fall down. He tried to unlock Kate's arms that were flung around his neck, but didn't succeed without the help of Grace. She wanted to be next. Joe lifted her up and hugged her, then put her down again. He gazed over to Mara and smiled, and Mara smiled back. Her green eyes glimmered in the reddish sunlight. Aaron now went over to Dan and Steve and joined the two boys in their soccer game. Ned kissed his mother on the forehead and then waved for Mara to come closer so that he could see the baby. When he took it from Mara's arms, she stepped back into the shadow of the roof. Joe walked over to her and stopped when he was in front of her, so close that he could smell the soap that she had used to wash herself this morning. Mara smiled at him and all he could do was smile back. Suddenly he felt as if he had no power and will over his own body. He wanted to hug her and tell her that he missed her, but he couldn't. But Mara did not seem to expect that. She seemed content just smiling at him.

Later, they all gathered inside the house for dinner. Mara and Kate had cooked a fantastic meal of meat and vegetables, and everyone said that they had never eaten anything that tasted better. Mara and Joe exchanged shy glances, but somehow, there was a certain sadness in her eyes. At first he didn't understand, but when they started to get ready for sleep this night, he understood. Tomorrow morning she would leave this house. Ned was back home and she wouldn't be needed anymore. She would go into the town and ask for employment, find a nice apartment and someone who would care for her. Joe suddenly realized that this was probably best for her. He knew that he would not see her again, at least not some time soon. Sighing a little, he drifted into an uneasy sleep, knowing that she wouldn't be there in the morning when he woke up.