Chapter 1: A Chip on Your Shoulder
It’s been eight days, fourteen hours, and six minutes since Dutch and the other boys left — without Arthur. He’s been left to sit and worry and wait, and the only reason he’s in town now is to check for any signs of life. Abigail had sent him out for something worthwhile, and it’s taken every part of him to resist running off and doing something mindless to get his thoughts on something else.
As he finally pulls himself from his horse, he haphazardly tosses the reins over the hitching post and meanders towards the post office at Annesburg. It’s the least he can do after sitting around and moping about anything and everything, but that doesn’t make him feel any better about doing it. It’s been days since he’s seen mail from anyone, so he wouldn’t be surprised if there is nothing, yet again.
Pushing the door open, he looks directly towards the clerk, who immediately takes a step back and glances at the sorting station beside him.
“Name, sir,” Arthur sighs and leans his hands on the small lip of the counter.
“Kilgore.” He waits a few moments before the man shakes his head and moves towards the window again.
“‘Fraid not, come back again tomorrow,” the man nods and glances towards the door, but Arthur doesn’t move for a second, only lowering his head. It’s probably for the best, and he should move on. Dutch has steadily been going insane over the past few months, so maybe it’s finally time to move on to better things.
“Thank you, anyway,” Arthur nods, turning around and wandering towards the door. As much as he wants to stay, that would be inappropriate; that, and he wonders if he can sneak out onto the docks and fish for a few dollars while he’s here. After all, he’s got that lake lure from Hamish, so he might as well put it to use before he finds himself keeled over.
After stepping back into the sunlight, he lets out a slight sigh and slowly moves back towards his horse, pulling the reins from their loose hold on the post. As he pulls himself up, he glances to the side and notices the boy selling papers across the way.
He’s not sure why he hasn’t thought of checking the news yet, but perhaps he expected to simply know if Dutch has gotten himself into trouble. What a ridiculous idea.
Tugging on his horse’s reins, he trots over towards the boy. When he’s nearby, he retrieves a couple of coins from his pocket and tosses them down into the hat on the ground, curtly jutting his hand out to take a paper when the boy glances up at him.
He’s handed one and gently pulls the reins away from the boy when he looks down at it, but he’s barely given a moment to look at the words, much less dignify them with meaning, before someone calls out behind him.
“Kilgore!” A man shouts, and Arthur immediately straightens, turning to look at the post clerk, who is tripping over himself to get to Arthur. “Tacitus Kilgore!”
“Yeah, yeah, pipe down,” Arthur replies, shifting and lifting a leg off of the horse to place it on the ground. “What is it?”
The clerk stumbles his last few steps, panting as he shoves a letter out towards Arthur. “Thought I missed you, barely saw it peekin’ out after you left.” Arthur hesitates for a second before reaching out and taking it, flipping it over and glancing over the name.
Archibald Smith. Scribbled in Dutch’s hasty print — which initially concerns Arthur. Dutch only writes so expeditiously when he’s in a hurry and when he needs to get a message out, and fast. What could have possibly caused him to write in such a fashion? “Thank you,” Arthur chokes out, the words tumbling over his tongue as he lugs himself up onto his horse again. The newspaper is unceremoniously folded and tucked into a saddlebag as he tears the letter open, hearing the clerk scrambling back to his post as he snags the reins between two fingers and snaps them down.
His horse kicks into a sudden run while Arthur scrambles with the letter, fingers pressed white from how tightly he’s holding onto the envelope. He’s able to tug the parchment out from inside, sliding the creased envelope into his satchel as he unfolds it. “My sweet nephew Tacitus,” he grumbles aloud, lowering himself to be level with his horse’s neck as she runs. “Our trip has, unfortunately, been cut short,” he shakes his head, furrowing his brows. Now what? Did they run into lawmen, just as Arthur had expected? “By the time you get this, we’ll be headed down towards Louisiana instead to meet with your—” Arthur sits up straight. Anywhere, they could’ve run, but Louisiana? Christ, this man has gone absolutely insane!
Folding the parchment again, he’s careful to place it in a safe spot underneath the newspaper in his saddlebag and rides harder. The sooner he can get back to camp, the better. He can gather up the remaining others, and they can ride out through the mountains, perhaps. Catch a train to Louisiana as soon as they can. Maybe they’ll be able to send out a letter — though, he’s not sure to where he should send it, so perhaps that is a lost cause altogether.
Taking a sharp turn into the entrance to camp, he almost hopes that The Count will be waiting for him there, or Dutch himself. Anything to let him know that Dutch is still alive.
But there is nothing like that, only Tilly sitting at a table while Abigail paces. Abigail looks up immediately after hearing the hooves against the ground, rushing towards him. “Arthur!”
“Abigail, there was a letter, they—”
“Give it here!” She calls, noticing as Arthur reaches for his saddlebag, and beats him to it. She tugs the newspaper out, dropping it on the ground in her haste as she marches away from the horse and looks over the letter.
“You should let me read it, too, Abigail, ain’t nothin’ gonna come from you hunchin’ over it like that!” Tilly pulls at her shoulder, Arthur pushing himself off of his mount as he notices the two bickering. Clearly without Susan, tensions have grown to record highs in the past few weeks. And with none of the men, specifically John, around, they’ve got no one to separate them; Arthur’s in no shape to do it himself.
“Like you could read it if I did!”
“And you’re pretendin’ you can read it at all!” Tilly shouts, still trying to pull the letter from Abigail’s grasp. Arthur rushes over, carefully grabbing at her shoulders and pulling her away from the frantically-reading woman.
“Settle down, now, it’s alright, I already read through a little of it—”
“Louisiana, Arthur? You think they’re really goin’ down to Louisiana?” Arthur pauses and looks up at Abigail, whose jaw looks to be completely loose of its hinges. He shakes his head, shrugging when there is a moment’s silence and Tilly has stopped fighting to reach for the letter.
“It’s the best idea we got at the moment, Abigail. Now I ain’t sure about all of it, and I ain’t been sure for a while—”
“Dutch has gone completely insane!” She calls, throwing the letter and marching off in another direction. Arthur jolts and catches it before it’s able to hit the mud, only succeeding in crumpling it up further. “He— he thinks he can take John off to Colorado for a little bit of gold, and now they’re ridin’ off to Louisiana!” Arthur looks at the letter, feeling as Tilly peeks over his shoulder. “How much you want ta’ bet they got nothin’.”
As Arthur listens, he also skims the last few paragraphs he had ignored on his first reading of it. “They’re goin’ for a boat,” he simply states, still reading, “says there’s one out there waitin’ for us.”
“For them .” Arthur looks up, finally handing the letter over to Tilly, who retreats back to the table and quietly sits there as she reads it.
“Maybe not,” he shakes his head. “Maybe… well, he sent the letter, didn’t he? Means he wants us to know where it is they’re goin’.”
“Or he’s leadin’ us into a trap again, and we’ll die out there on that boat. Maybe he will be the one to kill us!” Arthur lifts his hands to sedate her for a second, taking a breath before he speaks.
“We…” he looks away for a second, then shakes his head and looks back up at her. “We don’t know. But if we don’t try, Abigail, then there’s even less a chance we live; you live; Jack lives.” He reaches up and grabs her upper arms. “I ain’t in any place to say this, but if you ain’t gonna do it to see John again, then do it for Jack.” She appears to stiffen, her shoulders hunching before they lower again as she thinks. The thoughts clearly play coy with her face many times over. “We’ll pack up everythin’ and we’ll go. Just the four of us. It’s our last chance.”
Arthur wonders if this spiel will get them anywhere. More than anything, he wants to see Dutch. Then again, he also doesn’t, because he knows the man will be standing next to that vile rat and he’ll be thrown back to that night… that horrid night, from which memories still taunt him and tease him in his dreams. But he wants to see Dutch.
Maybe they’ll get to Louisiana and they’ll only see the others for a split second, but he wants to tell Dutch, if nothing else. Tell him everything. Tell him about the Tuberculosis. Tell him about what he’s wanted to tell the man since his late teenage years, but hoped he would grow out of.
Maybe they won’t see each other at all, and Arthur will die trying. It seems that’s what many people in the Van der Linde gang die doing. Trying. Trying for Dutch, and trying to regain an America which is so far gone that it is unrecognisable now. But he has to attempt, if nothing else. Attempt to give Abigail another chance, and Jack a proper life. Because maybe they will make it, and maybe they will see everyone again.
Maybe they’ll get on that boat, and everything will finally work out for them, if just for a little bit. They’ll make it to Tahiti and they’ll sell mangoes, and Dutch will finally be happy. He’ll set up a business. They’ll all be happy.
“Jack,” Abigail says, breaking the extended silence between them. “Get your things, we’re goin’ on vacation.”
“Am I going back to Papa Bronte’s house?” Jack calls, wandering out of their tent with a book in-hand.
“Please, Jack,” Abigail says as she nears him, “quit callin’ him that.”
Chapter 2: Like Father, Like Son
It only takes a couple of hours for the four of them (with marginal help from Jack, of course) to pack everything up. Luckily enough, Arthur’s wagon was left in camp, but he doesn’t think it’ll do much good for them. If they do make it to Louisiana for a boat, they likely won’t want to pull something so large onto it, especially if they are thieving the boat before leaving with it. So he packs everything necessary into his clothing chest and leaves the clothes he doesn’t need, behind. The outfits he’s able to store in his saddlebags are packed in as tightly as they can be, many of the alcoholic drinks in the bags being left behind as well. He’d been saving those for something — maybe selling them off at a fence for coin, but it seems now that they won’t do any of them much good.
He sits for a while and holds the flower in the jar, looking down at it beside the picture of his mother. For the longest time, he’s looked into keeping these things; little knick knacks that remind him of his life before the gang, but now, he feels less of a draw. Of course there is still a strong connection to the items, and Arthur finds it very difficult to let them go, but he knows that leaving them behind is for a better cause than himself. Besides, he’ll be dying off soon, and he doesn’t need the useless memorabilia he’s collected over the years, when he’s dead.
So he lifts his horseshoe from the side of his cart and sets it on the cot, along with the image of Copper, and the image of him, Dutch, and Hosea. These are set beside the photograph of Arthur’s mother and the one of Mary. As they lie there, he takes a breath and finally gathers all of them up, wrapping them in his “bedding” of sorts and setting them on the ground to be forgotten with many other things.
“Arthur,” Tilly wanders closer, the letter from Dutch in her hand. He looks over his shoulder at her, grunting to let her know that he’s listening. “I think I found somethin’ that Dutch wrote on here, that no one else would see.” She sets it down on Arthur’s cot, flipping it over to the back and gaining Arthur’s attention. “Says here that there’s somethin’ under Dutch’s tent, and that he wants us to bring whatever it is, with us.”
“What is it?”
“Not sure, he doesn’t say. Just that it’s there, and that he really needs it,” Arthur sits up a bit straighter, glancing over at Dutch’s tent. The wind is blowing through the flaps, lifting them gently and almost beckoning Arthur inside. But after that night, he’s not sure if he can set foot under that canvas. Not again.
He looks to Tilly, then back at his things. “Tell you what, you go get whatever it is, and I will be waitin’ here for your return.” She lifts the letter and nods, turning her back to Arthur and walking over to Dutch’s tent. She pushes the flaps aside as she moves in, letting them fall shut behind her as soon as she’s got her eye on something. Arthur barely spares the tent a second glance before his own gaze is back on his things, but his mind still lingers. What on Earth could Dutch have left, that he needs so much, now?
Shaking his head, Arthur stands and begins to take down his lean-to style tent, hoisting himself up onto the cart in order to remove the nails keeping it hung. He folds it as soon as he’s back on the ground, figuring that he should keep a few things, just in case they have to set up camp elsewhere and the others need blankets. Sure, his tent’s canvas won’t do much, but at the very least, it’ll repel some water. He’s also sure to grab the skin lying over his boxes, folding it with the canvas and setting both of them on top of his chest.
After all is said and done, he’s taken a few things here and there from his cart, and left the useless memorabilia. No need to keep the past with him; he’s got bigger and better things to look forward to. Like mango farming, and living with Dutch in a steady place again. It won’t be the same as it was when Hosea was around, but it’ll be close, because they’ve still got family.
“Arthur,” Tilly manages to sneak up on him and he jolts before turning around, letting out a quiet laugh. She’s standing there with her arms behind her back, obviously carrying something moderately weighty. “Sorry, but, I think I found it.”
“What was it?” Arthur steps closer, setting the box he was carrying on the ground.
“A key,” she doesn’t hold anything up, keeping her arms behind her back. “And that lead me into the cave a ways, and I found this,” she maneuvers a tin box around her body, holding it out. It’s crushed, and Arthur recognises it immediately. The tithing box, which had mysteriously gone missing a while back.
“I think he hid it from all of us,” she nods. “In the cave.” Arthur looks at it, seeing the key in the lock. He reaches forward and slowly twists it, the box popping open with a tired creak as he does. There’s several stacks of cash, looking to be quite a sum, under an expensive-looking pearl necklace and several golden bands. “It was pretty far in there, under a wagon.”
“Was there anything else?” Arthur reaches a hand inside and pulls out the jewellery, furrowing his brows. “Looks like less than anything Dutch would care about.”
“There was a chest in the wagon, looked like somethin’ Dutch would have.”
Arthur nods, setting the jewellery back into the box and locking it shut again. “Show me,” he lifts the box from Tilly’s hands and sets it on the ground, pointing towards the cave. Tilly nods, leading the way and lifting a lantern from the ground by the entrance. She lights it and waves Arthur along, showing him along the twists and turns until they reach the wagon and she hangs the handle of the lantern over a protruding nail.
“Found it under here,” she points, then wanders around to the back end of the wagon and reaches into the carriage of it. Arthur moves to help, tugging the chest down to the ground and lowering himself to break the lock. He forces his knife into the opening, shoving it upwards and watching as the brittle lock snaps apart. The lower half of it clatters to the ground and Arthur opens the chest, his jaw dropping when he sees the amount of gold bars inside of the chest.
“This is the Blackwater money,” Arthur shakes his head, lifting one of the bars from the bottom of the box. For what it’s worth, the whole thing is still majorly empty. They could probably pack the blankets in here on top of all of this, and use the wagon to carry what they can, seeing as it’s still together for the most part. But the one thing left unanswered is how Dutch got this back here. After the boat job in Blackwater, there is no possible way it could’ve suddenly appeared here. That is, unless…
“Arthur? Tilly?” Abigail calls into the cave, and Arthur sets the gold bar back into the chest before looking up to her. “Jack and I have everything we need, so we’re set to go.”
“Alright,” Arthur nods, lifting the lid of the chest to shut it. He lugs it off of the ground and back onto the cart, turning back to Abigail. “Could you, by any chance, bring my horse in here with a bit of rope? I think we have a wagon here that’ll make life a hell of a lot easier.” Abigail nods, turning around and moving back towards the entrance of camp. Tilly turns around and looks at Arthur.
“What are we supposed to do with that money? They see it on us, we’re dead in seconds.”
“I got a plan, Tilly, don’t worry about it.” Arthur stands straight when he sees the crest of Abigail’s silhouette again, moving to hand the hanging lantern to Tilly.
“You’re beginnin’ to sound like Dutch.”
Arthur nods, taking the reins and the rope from Abigail when she hands them to him. He nods and leans down to tie the rope around a loose end, then around the horn of his saddle. “With how many years I been with him, you’d think it would’a happened sooner.”
He’s able to get to the front of the wagon and push as his horse pulls, ignoring the warnings from Abigail as she notices the bumps and steep fall that would likely result in Arthur flattened against the ground and a smattered wagon. It’s tedious and slow, but they get it to steady ground and begin to load things onto it. Arthur removes the chest while Abigail is retrieving hers and Jack’s belongings, and places the folded skin and canvas over the money, now joined by the tithing box. Might as well put the money together, said Arthur, that way they can attempt to hide what is worth monetary value.
The chest is tucked away under the others’ things, and Arthur places his own worn chest at the very back. It falls, oh well. He can certainly pull the clothes off of other men’s backs, however little he wants to do that with Jack nearby. Arthur ties his two horses to the front of the wagon, smiling a bit as they both chew on and make messes of a pair of oatcakes. “My girls,” he mutters, dragging his fingers through their manes, surprisingly soft as they are.
Abigail tosses one more thing up on the pile of everything, then drapes and ties a canvas from another gang member’s tent over it, seeing as they don’t need it much anymore.
“Abigail, Jack, you’re up on the wagon. Tilly, you ride with me.” He steps away from the horses, watching as one nuzzles the other. As of late, they haven’t gotten much time to see one another, but he supposes he hasn’t been thinking about that. It’s only been arrive and leave. “We won’t be stoppin’ for a while, so I suggest you all get your ducks in a row before we go.”
“Just like Dutch,” Tilly nods to herself, leading her own horse closer and tugging the straps on her saddle tight.
Arthur leans himself against the wagon and pulls out a map Dutch had once given to him, tracing a line along the trail they need to follow through the mountains. Looks like it’ll be a while, but there’s a train station just on the other side of the Grizzlies, just past Brandywine Drop, and they’ll be able to take that one as far as it’ll go. They’ll take it as it comes.
He’s placing the map back into his satchel as an unexpected coughing fit passes over him, but he’s luckily still leant against the wagon when it happens. He covers his mouth, his chest heaving heavy, wet breaths before he spits onto the ground. It seems to alleviate it for now, but it doesn’t solve the pain still residing in his lungs.
The few minutes pass and Arthur makes sure everything is tight inside of the wagon before pulling himself onto Tilly’s horse, waiting for the lot of them.
Jack and Abigail clamber onto the wagon and Tilly pulls herself up behind Arthur, lying her arms so delicate and innocent around Arthur’s waist, before they’re off on their whirlwind adventure to Louisiana.
Arthur takes the lead, careful to keep them at a steady pace while still trying to push their speed. No reason to leave Dutch waiting, especially when he’d written that letter with such urgency.
And when he’s sure Tilly is asleep, from the way her modest weight is pressed against his back, he quietly hums a song, hearing it more through his head than through his ears. There’s a small smile on his face, because he has just a sliver of hope, somehow. After all of that, he still believes that they will make it, because it’s about time they get some good luck for once.
Chapter 3: Son of a Gun
Six hours pass before they make it to the train station, and Arthur is pleased to find that it’s one of the richer-people trains, on which they load all luggage, have a specific area for horses, and another for wagons. Arthur is sure to watch them load everything on, purchasing the tickets with his own money, or what’s left over from his savings. He’d made sure to grab what he had before leaving, bringing him to a total of a few hundred dollars, but that will get them to Louisiana if they spend it wisely. Hopefully, they won’t need to use the money in the chest.
Arthur is the last to board the train, sitting down with the others and watching as the car begins to move.
It’s in the train that he actually falls asleep, which is a first in a few days. He’d been much too stressed; much too worried; much too sick, to sleep, and he’d simply gone without it. It was surprising to find that he could stay awake for the six hours it took to arrive at the train station, but being awake doesn’t always mean vigilant. Especially when he’d had Tilly leaning on him with that slight addition to his weight, pushing and pushing and pushing him forward and closer to a horizontal position, in which he would’ve fallen asleep.
He’s glad that his body allowed him to wait it out just a bit longer and kept him awake enough to load the luggage onto the train.
After the train ride, which lasts about four hours, Arthur pulls himself out of the car first and makes sure that everything is accounted for in their wagon before retrieving the horses and immediately getting the four of them back on the road. They shouldn’t keep Dutch waiting.
Another three hours fall over them before Abigail forces Arthur to take a break, in which they pull to the side of the road and decide that Arthur will take Jack’s place, and Jack will ride with Tilly. Getting situated, they’re back on the road, and Arthur is damn near passed out in the seat beside Abigail — that is, after giving her directions of where to go.
He’s shaken awake three and a half hours later by a harsh cough almost throwing him off of the seat, likely caused by his mouth being stuck open as they rode. Whatever the cause, he accidentally sends Abigail’s frightened hands loose of the reins and he has to snag them back before the lot of them ride off of a cliff. She ends up taking a breath and passing the job of driving onto him until further notice, so he gets comfortable and plays little mind games with himself to keep awake.
He’s about to fall asleep again after some four hours of driving before the reins are snagged from his hands and Abigail demands he sleep “while she still cares enough to keep them on the trail”. This time, it takes a while for him to relax with Abigail beside him, but he’s out cold for another three or so before his shoulder is touched and he wakes to see a lush, green landscape before him. Abigail points off to the side and Arthur’s eyes lazily follow her arm, the sign signifying their arrival, greeting him.
“We’re here,” Arthur says, sitting up and looking down to Tilly, who is struggling to keep a sleepy Jack on her horse. Arthur pulls himself down from the seat, carefully telling Tilly to let him go and lifting him up to the wagon’s seat. He straddles the horse, making sure everyone is set before driving everyone forward again. “Did it say where he was? Where they were headed?”
“He said a pier near the Southwestern edge of Louisiana, I’m not sure—”
“Well, if nothin’ else, we’ll be able to see them somewhere, so,” Arthur reaches into his satchel and feeds an oatcake to the horse. It won’t do much for its stamina, but they need all they can get. “Let’s ride until we do.”
And they’re off again.
Only a few minutes pass before they’re riding into the nearest town and they hear shouting. Arthur’s the first to stop the horse and search for the source of the noise, but it doesn’t take too long to spot the newspaper seller arguing with a man, disheveled and drunk-looking. The boy continuously lifts the paper and tries to shout around the man’s shoulders, but he moves to block the boy’s path, and Arthur grumbles to himself as he watches it all happen. “Sell us somethin’ interestin’, and maybe we’ll buy,” pushes the man, but the boy tries to ignore him and shouts about some breaking story over the man’s shoulder.
Arthur watches the exchange, easily catching the attention of Tilly, who pulls at the sleeve of his shirt. Arthur gently removes the hand and furrows his brows, his lower jaw sliding to one side as he watches the man push the boy into the post behind him. This would’ve been Arthur’s breaking point, but he considers the consequences for himself and the man and doesn’t move.
That is, until the bastard harshly snags up the hat full of coins on the ground and attempts to take off with it. The boy begins to chase after him before stopping and looking back at the stack of papers, clearly attempting to decide between the money he’d made and the papers he’ll have to pay for if stolen. So Arthur lurches off of the horse and towards the man, skidding to a halt before he gets too far. He turns to look at Abigail. “Get the wagon somewhere safe, and go look around for any signs of them. They might be here, but even if they ain’t, we might as well look.” Abigail nods curtly before Arthur takes off again, spitting off to his side as he runs after the man. “Get back here, you maggot!”
The man turns and looks over his shoulder, seeing Arthur, who is steadily gaining on him. He’s rather heavy and slow, but Arthur’s not in too good of shape, either, so they’re almost at a tie. Then again, Arthur’s also got the upper hand of not having a wagon stopped in front of him, where as the man does, and he’s sent to the ground without knowing what happened, having been looking over his shoulder. Arthur slows himself when he watches the man fall, hearing the hat hit the ground a few feet away. He’s careful to swipe it away with the toe of his boot when the man makes a lousy reach for it, picking it up, along with the few coins which had spilled out on its way to the ground.
“You like stealin’ from kids, mister?” Arthur asks, looking down at him. Instead of a stranger’s face, he’s met with Bill Williamson’s, and he’s in utter shock. In the few days they’d been gone, Bill had shaved and had gathered a few extra scars, which completely changed his appearance. Arthur makes a face as he moves himself to look at Bill, reaching a hand out to help him up. And as bitter as ever, Bill ignores the gesture and pushes himself to his feet.
“You’re actin’ like you ain’t ever done worse, Morgan,” he growls in a low voice, but Arthur only shakes his head.
“What on Earth are you doin’ pesterin’ a kid like that. That ain’t like you—” Arthur thinks back to previous conversations and shakes his head, beginning to walk back towards that kid with his hat. “Well, I wish it weren’t like you to do that.”
“You ain’t much to talk about types, Morgan. I never thought you were a hero.” Bill brushes off his shoulders, that scowl set on his face, and even as Arthur stares at him, he can’t find it in himself to be comfortable with the clean-shaven look. “What? I got mud on my face?” He wipes a hand over his own face, hard enough to press down his nose as he does.
“No, it…” Arthur looks away, shaking his head. “Why’d you all run off like that? Without me?”
“Dutch said it would be better. ‘Sides, Sadie came along. Turns out, she’s an even better shot than you,” Arthur silently bristles. Not at the comment about the competition between him and Sadie, but the fact that Dutch had said it would be better to go without him. What had he meant by that? What could he possibly mean? Is it really true, all of the things Arthur had thought these past few days, are happening? Micah is clearly replacing him, but to this degree? How much had that rat whispered in Dutch’s ear? How many lies have been told about him, and behind his back?
That’s almost the worst part — Micah can’t even do it to his face. Not fully. He tries, and he’s threatening alright, especially being Dutch’s lap dog, but he’s never told a lie to Dutch, right in front of him.
Hasn’t he, though? About the rendezvous with Colm. That had been a blatant lie, and Micah had tried to put him to death, but he came back anyway. He came back, hoping that Dutch would be there for him; stand up for him, but all he got was a “welcome home” and a stinging pat on the back a few days later.
Seems Dutch hasn’t gotten any better at caring for people.
“He did, did he?” Arthur pushes it out as if he’s laughing, adding a fabricated chuckle to the end of his words in order to play it off. “And where is he, now?”
“Talkin’ with somebody about the boat. Supposedly, we head out for it in less than an hour,” Arthur nods, looking down at the hat in his hands. “He sent me to talk to this kid, because he’s been shoutin’ about that shit show in Colorado.”
“ Dutch told you to do that?”
“Sure,” Bill gestures to the kid. “Said it was the best way we’d get him to shut up.”
“Well, don’t take it from me, but I think the best way to shut him up is by skippin’ town and forgettin’ he was ever an issue.” Bill shakes his head.
“You know Dutch, he ain’t about lyin’ low and avoidin’ trouble. He’ll do whatever he can to make a show of himself; to make a show of us all. We’re all just circus freaks, Arthur, and Dutch has the whip.” Arthur takes a moment to really bask in what Bill has just said, approaching the kid with the hat and noticing that Bill has stayed back a little ways to avoid any more fights.
“Here’s, erm,” Arthur holds the hat out the the kid, whose face lights up quite a bit. “Your hat, an’ your money.”
“Oh, thank you, sir,” he smiles and lifts the hat, setting it on the ground before taking Arthur’s hand and shaking it with both of his own. “I wouldn’ta eaten for the next few days if it weren’t for you.” The boy takes a step back and looks at the paper in his hand before offering it to Arthur. “Here, for your kindness.”
Arthur laughs a bit, taking his own step back. “You can keep it for someone who pays, don’t worry about me.”
“Take it. Clearly, you care about the news, so you should have it.” Arthur sees the commitment in the kid’s eyes and reaches out for it, taking it and folding it in half. “I hope you have a wonderful day,” the kid smiles and Arthur does as well, nodding and walking back towards Bill. He seems to have found Tilly, filling her in on the things she’d missed.
“Oh! Arthur,” Tilly spots him. “Abigail was lookin’ for you, said she found a few of the others at a saloon down thataway,” she points, then waves the both of them along. Arthur looks around at the buildings, seeing that it’s not too different from Lagras in a few ways. It’s definitely just as marshy, but many other things lead him to wonder if they really are out of New Hanover.
They’re lead to a small saloon, Tilly pushing the doors open and spotting the others immediately. She shows them to Arthur before catching his shoulder and telling him that she’ll be out looking for Abigail. He nods to her and watches as she leaves before wandering over to the group of the familiar folk, glad when John steps over and nudges him with his shoulder.
“We were all wonderin’ where you got off to,” he’s got a drink in his hand, and it almost looks like he’s enjoying himself.
“Not Dutch, sounds like,” Arthur shakes his head, leaning against a wall as he surveys the others, who may or may not know of his presence at the moment.
“Not Dutch?” John repeats, clearly confused. “If anythin’, he were the first to ask.”
“And the last to make the decision of leavin’ me behind.”
“Arthur?” John tilts his head, his brows furrowed. “What’s this about?” Arthur looks over at him for a second, sees the liquor playing coy with his mind, and shakes his head, figuring it would be a conversation better fit for a later time, when he’s certain John won’t go off laughing unknowingly about it with the others.
“Nothin’, John, just…” he tries to think of something to excuse himself. “Was left with the women, y’know? Takes it outta you.” John laughs, lifting his beer bottle and tilting his head.
“A toast to that.”
“And a toast to our good fortune,” says another voice, and Arthur suddenly feels his stomach clench, like he’s about to vomit. “Ain’t that right, my brothers?”
“Micah,” Arthur greets him, not making eye contact. John is somehow able to slip away and back into the crowd of others, leaving Arthur and Micah to their own conversation. “I see you’re doin’ well, despite my worst intentions.”
“And yourself!” Micah jeers. “Seems you couldn’t join us on this previous journey, eh, Black Lung? Had a little coughing fit, so you couldn’t go?” Arthur scowls, furrowing his brows but trying to remain silent as to not stoke the fire. “Had to have a woman step in for you? Well, let’s hope she’s a keeper, because when you’re dead,” Micah whistles a descending tone. “She’ll be first candidate.” He laughs to himself for a second. “Aw, who am I kiddin’? She’s replacin’ you now. Dutch said so himself.”
“I’d like to believe that and be happy for her, Micah, but I still don’t believe a bit of that bluster which comes out of your ass— oh, my mistake. That’s your face.” He crosses his arms, moving to step away from this conversation.
“Cowpoke’s got a temper on him, I see,” Micah steps in his way, Arthur biting the inside of his cheek. “Why don’t you wait here with me for the guest of honour to arrive.”
“Who, Agent Milton?” Micah scowls and swiftly stamps a foot down on Arthur’s toes. Arthur makes a face, shoving Micah away.
“No, the object of your poor puppy love,” Micah sneers, and Arthur shakes his head, seriously refraining from throwing a fist into the rat’s face. Micah laughs to himself before cooing at Arthur in a teasing fashion. “Poor Cowpoke, can’t have big Dutchy all to himself.” He shakes his head condescendingly towards Arthur. That’s when he feels himself snap a bit inside.
“Yeah, says me,” Micah snaps in retort.
“I weren’t the one mouth to mouth with him the other night.” Micah’s quiet for a second, but out of his peripherals, Arthur almost swears he sees Micah’s moustache realign itself a few times before he speaks — almost as if he’s not sure what to say.
“I did,” Arthur finally admits, his arms still crossed.
Micah lets out a sharp breath through his nose before tugging harshly on Arthur’s arm. “Come on, Black Lung, let’s take this outside so we can really hear one another.” Arthur almost stops himself from going for the fear of being publicly humiliated, but it’s too late by the time he thinks to stop it. He’s shoved outside and Micah immediately throws his glass to the ground, shattering it. The rat reaches up and throws his hands around Arthur’s neck before shoving him against the wall, watching as he squirms uncomfortably. He’s not holding tightly enough to choke Arthur, but just tight enough to keep him there.
“You like seein’ that, Black Lung? You get off on that?” Arthur shakes his head, finding his voice raw from the pressure as he tries to speak.
“If it has you involved, trust me, I’m abstinent for a few years .” Micah grins, laughing in Arthur’s face.
“Ain’t that just nice and perfect? I won’t have to worry about you, then, because you’ll be dead by the end of the month, the way you’re goin’.” Arthur takes a moment to respond, tilting his head back against the wall to gather a breath through Micah’s slowly-tightening grip.
“Touché,” he says, and Micah laughs again.
“You want to know how much he liked it?” Micah asks, hissing in Arthur’s ear like a serpent. “How he begged me to do it again, because he’d been waitin’ so many years?” Arthur’s brows knit together and he focuses on making his movements look believable as he struggles.
“You ain’t… even known him that long,” Arthur catches him in his lie, and Micah looks to be flustered for a moment before a dagger is shoved in his left shoulder. He lets go of Arthur immediately, trying to tear away from the blade and only succeeding in forcing it deeper into the muscle tissue. Arthur lets out a slight cough as air rushes into his lungs, but he’s too focused on the squelching of blood under his knife. He twists it, listens to Micah groan in pain. He does it again, forcing it deeper.
Somehow, this makes up for all of those years. Then again, it would be much better if he were truly killing Micah, but behind a saloon is not the place to do that. Not right now.
He retrieves his knife and watches as Micah shudders on the ground, his lips parting and connecting to form words but never collaborating well enough. He steps away and returns his knife to its sheath, spitting at Micah before walking back into the saloon and spotting the guest of honour, smiling like he hasn’t smiled in years.
Chapter 4: Chopped Liver
“Arthur! What a pleasure it is to see you, son!” Dutch cheers, smiling and clapping a hand down on Arthur’s shoulder. Arthur catches himself before he steps away, shunning his mind and his muscles for working in cahoots against him. He wants to be near Dutch, but there’s a fear of rejection, more prominent than it's ever been.
“Yeah,” he blinks a few times, lowering his gaze and trying to make his step away a little less obvious. “Figured I should warn you about the lady screamin’ outside about how we’re here.” Dutch’s face drops, and Arthur almost wants to retract his lie. Almost.
“What was she saying?” He furrows his brows in concern and looks at the others, then turns the both of them away from the crowd, lying his arm over Arthur’s shoulders to keep them close. Arthur is uncomfortable.
“That she’s ‘bout to ride out an’ get the police at the next town over.” He shifts awkwardly against Dutch, raising a shoulder to attempt getting Dutch away from him, but the man’s fingers only tighten around the other shoulder and push them closer. “Hoped you’d show up so we could talk about somethin’—”
“Everyone, get your things,” Dutch turns around, lifting his arm from Arthur’s shoulders. Arthur is left to stare at the wall he was previously gazing at with Dutch, but it suddenly feels so much lonelier as he looks by himself. “We got the boat, all we need is to get there. Some of you will need to ride with another, so get over yourselves and divvy that up.”
Arthur is lost in his mind, wondering if Dutch heard that he’d had another thing to say, or if Arthur was simply too quiet to hear in general. His shoulder is touched after a few moments, and he snaps out of it, looking over to see Dutch.
“Come on, Arthur, we need to get going.”
At the very least, he’s caring more than he did when he left, even though Arthur had suddenly gone missing from camp overnight. “Sure.” Arthur follows Dutch out of the saloon, his heart buried so far in his chest that he’s sure he won’t be able to express it, but he can try, at the very least. “Dutch,” he tries, and the man turns his attention to Arthur, a look of distracted concern on his face. “There’s somethin’ I just wanted to talk to you about, maybe we could ride to—”
“Oh, did you get the item I asked for in my letter?” Arthur furrows his brows, a pang of regret swelling in his chest as Dutch ignores his words completely. Really, he can’t blame the man, what with all that is going on in his head, but it was still unlike him to cut Arthur off like that. Arthur nods, and Dutch returns his gaze with an excited grin. “Good. We can chat when we’re safe and on that boat, sailing away to Tahiti, got it? Things are finally going our way.” Dutch smiles and gestures widely with his hands, rushing forward and immediately returning to directing the others. Arthur stops in his tracks again, wondering if this is even a good idea. It was something personal, something Arthur had no right to be seeing, and he’s acting as if he’s entitled to control Dutch, on top of that.
He finally picks up his feet after a few moments, shaking his head and searching for Dutch — he must be seated on a horse by now, but after spotting him, Arthur feels his heart sink as he notices the man is sitting with Tilly behind him. “Arthur!” She calls, waving an arm and gesturing for her horse. “You finally get to ride on your own!” Arthur nods after a second, quietly thanking her as he pulls himself up onto the steed.
“Is everyone accounted for?” Dutch calls over his shoulder, looking for anyone willing to call out a missing.
“Micah ain’t here,” Bill announces, and Arthur bites his tongue to keep from cursing aloud as he wants to. “Should we wait for him?”
“Does he know where the boat is?” Arthur asks, and Dutch nods, brows furrowed in genuine concern, unlike the half-assed look he’d been getting just a few moments prior to now. “Well, he said he’d meet up with us. Said he had somethin’ to do, but to trust him on gettin’ there— and if not, he said he’ll get there on another boat, even if he has to fight tooth and nail.”
“What on Earth is he doing to take that long?” Dutch asks, confused. Arthur feels dirty lying to their leader like this, but clearly the man likes liars, or else he wouldn’t’ve been enjoying Micah’s company. Besides, he, himself, is a liar.
“Didn’t tell me, but I remember him mentionin’ a woman he’d like to see one more time before he leaves,” Arthur shrugs. “I don’t think he’s worth waitin’ for, Dutch, what with all that could be lost. ‘Least not here.”
“I know how you feel about him, son, but he is an important part of this gang; this family .”
“Look, I think Arthur’s right. I may not like ‘im much either, but he said he’d get to Tahiti. You trust ‘im, don’t you?” Javier, piping up, seems to be on Arthur’s side, and he’s silently thankful for that. At least someone will back him up in the war threatening their gang at the moment — the war between truth and lie.
“Well, sure I do, but that doesn’t mean it’s right to leave him behind—”
“You left me.” Arthur says, meaning for it to sound nonchalant and uncaring, but it comes out with more feeling and he regrets saying it at all.
“I did not leave you, son, I knew you would be safe.”
“Is now really the time to be fightin’ over all this? We got a boat to catch!” Sadie pipes up, trying to settle the tension between them. At the very least, it can wait.
“Then why is it any different? Because you care more about a man you met at a bar than someone you’ve seen as your son for years?” Arthur asks, and watches the shock as it hits and fades over Dutch’s face.
“Miss Adler is right, now is not the time for this,” Dutch shakes his head and snaps the reins down on The Count, riding ahead and waving for the others to follow.
Arthur clenches his fist over the reins, watching as everyone follows after Dutch. He has half a mind to go off on his own, but there’s still something keeping him from doing it. Maybe it’s the jealousy, or the feeling of needing to be right, but he kicks his horse forward and follows anyway. John comes up beside him after a bit, looking at him. “What happened when we were gone, Arthur?”
“Nothin’,” he says, shaking his head. “Just seems like there’s somethin’ he’s not tellin’ me about Micah.” John nods, tilting his head a bit as he tails the gang with Arthur. “Seems like that rat came between the lot of us, and with Hosea gone, I…”
“I know,” John says, looking down at his hands, the reins between his fingers. “He’s not the same anymore, is he? Dutch, I mean? He seems… confused. Like he doesn’t really have the plan he always used to shove in our faces.”
“We’re all different.”
“What can we say, Arthur? We lost someone who was important, and we’re slowly losing someone else who will end up gettin’ us all killed if he hears the wrong command. He’s just a dog, and we’re all dumb enough to listen to him for orders.” Arthur laughs a bit, nodding and thinking about it. In reality, Hosea was Dutch’s rock. The man was cool and calculated, always knew what to do, and had the brain to run the gang. Dutch was following in Hosea’s footsteps and taking all of the credit. And Hosea never complained about it. No wonder Dutch is conditioned to getting his way, no matter what.
“What happened in Colorado, John?” Arthur asks after a while, and John goes quiet.
“Nothin’ anyone should be proud of.” He tilts his head, looking over at John, who is looking ahead and refusing to turn his gaze to anything else.
“Was it all the money you hoped it would be?”
“Sure, but that came with a price,” John shakes his head. “Shouldn’ta done it. I told Dutch it was a bad idea as soon as we walked in there, but he was sure, and he did it anyway. Forced all our hands to do it.”
“What the hell happened , John?” Arthur pushes, worried and slightly frightened by the tone in John’s voice. The man shuts his eyes and finally lowers his head.
“We’re all alive, and that’s what matters.” Arthur wonders if that newspaper had the story in it, and that was why the kid was yelling about it. Then, of course, he remembers setting the paper down on a table as soon as he’d walked into the saloon. Way to lead them on the trail, he thinks, but if nothing else, Micah would’ve sold them all out anyway. He’s a sucker for listening to the law, as has been proven on many previous occasions.
Then again, there was that paper which was placed in his saddlebag — no, that was dropped on the ground back at Beaver Hollow. Of course. “Do you know just what Dutch is planning to do in Tahiti?”
“Mango farmin’. Still set on that dream, has been for a while.”
“That he has,” Arthur nods, recognising the lull in conversation. He feels an itch in his throat suddenly, trying to swallow and fix it, but ending up clearing his throat to force it further. It doesn’t go away, so he forces a cough, and he regrets that almost immediately when he feels a fit beginning to take place in his lungs.
John is watching, as Arthur can see out of the corner of his eye, but he does nothing as Arthur barks and coughs and drives the horse to swerve back and forth on the path. Luckily, this is one of the kinder fits and he gets off with a warning, slowly breathing and hearing as his throat struggles to make it soundless.
“You alright over there, brother?” John asks, and Arthur simply waves him off, his coughs gentle in comparison to the previous ones, now squeaking out and causing less pain and more discomfort.
“I’m just peachy,” Arthur takes a breath, finally settling his lungs. He clears his throat to gain a voice again, looking over at John. “Well, let’s just see where this takes us. Hopefully, it’ll be quick and painless.” He hears John laugh, allowing himself to pick up the pace as he notices the gang already has.
Chapter 5: Fish Out of Water
Arriving to the boat is almost surreal. Dutch is grinning ear to ear, even though Arthur can tell that he’s looking around for Micah to arrive any second.
They’re able to load everything from the wagon onto the boat, and maybe if Susan were still alive, there would have been a bit more order to the chaos which ensued, but Arthur finds that he gets a room. Sadie’s the one to tell him about it, pointing him down a hallway that looks just a bit too fancy to be something they can afford, but clearly, looks can be deceiving.
Arthur is setting down the chest of his clothes when Sadie walks out of the room, then turns around and steps back in, having forgotten something. “Oh, and Arthur?”
“Yeah?” He looks up at her, leaning back on the bed for just a bit of proper rest where his legs aren’t being spread over the width of a horse or he’s sitting on hard wood.
“You will have someone sleepin’ in here with you, just wanted to warn you.”
“Who?” Sadie shrugs.
“Not sure, I didn’t hear that part of it. Only cared enough to make sure you got yourself a room.” Arthur smiles at the knowledge of another gang member backing him up. Seems he’s made a few more friends than he thought.
“Thanks, Sadie,” he nods, and she smiles in return, nodding as well. He’s expecting her to walk away, probably needed for the others to find their places of sleep and all, but she doesn’t. There’s a pause.
“Why’d you go missin’, Arthur?” Sadie asks, and he shakes his head, sighing.
“Just got a little stomach ache, needed to take a walk. It got later than I wanted it to, and I got back just after you all left,” he shakes his head again, bowing it as he accepts the shame setting in. Clearly, he’s been showing too much of his anger and sadness over this whole ordeal, so much that the others can see and they’re asking.
“You sure?” She presses, and Arthur sighs, sitting up and looking out a window. The sun is setting over the water, and he would’ve seen it as beautiful if he weren’t being pushed to explain why he seems to have purposefully avoided going to Colorado with the lot of them.
“Yes.” He nods. “Everyone’s makin’ it out to be a hell of a lot worse than it really is.” Sadie hums, leaning against the doorframe. She looks like she doesn’t believe him, the way her shoulders are slumped and her hands are pressed against the insides of her crossed arms.
“Okay,” she says, stepping away with a finalising tone to her voice. “Well, if you want to come clean, Mister Morgan, I’m just down the way, all ears.” She finally walks away from the door, leaving Arthur to wonder who exactly is going to be sleeping beside him. Clearly it’s not John, with Abigail and Jack by his side, so maybe Tilly? It seems unlike everyone to put him near her, just seeing how little they talk. It might be Bill, and Sadie said she’s not sleeping in the room with him, but whomever he is sharing the room with, also has to share the bed. It’s large, thankfully, but still not large enough to be supporting two who are unacquainted with one another or uncomfortable with the mere idea of sharing it.
He takes a breath and sighs, leaning his weight into the bed and retrieving his journal from his satchel. At the very least, he got to keep this .
Flipping open to his last used page, he reads through to make sure he’d finished his last thought. This specific entry was about that night, now over a week ago, and everything he’d felt as soon as he’d found out that they’d left him for dead— well, pretty much dead. He could still make it back to camp, but the fact that they hadn’t sent anyone looking had him concerned. Then again, he’s gotten up and disappeared for days on several previous occasions, so he supposes that he’s only set himself up for failure on that account.
He turns the page and writes a new entry, beginning with their journey to Louisiana and everything that happened within it, then going on to what happened at the saloon. He sketches out the shape of Micah lying on the ground on the next page, then scribbles it all in when he screws up the face a few times. The boat begins to move, as Arthur soon realises when he glances outside and notices the passing water, but he doesn’t think much of it, figuring that the others would enjoy it if he simply went to bed without celebrating their “escape” with everyone. Seems everyone prefers him missing, anyhow — aside Sadie, of course.
Jumping when he hears a knock at the door, he looks up and sees Charles standing there. “We’ve got food if you wanted any, Arthur. Dutch is making his grand speech to everyone about how he knew all along that we’d make it; I know you don’t want to miss that.” Arthur laughs a bit, shutting his journal and latching it shut. He places it in his satchel and removes the whole thing, lying it over a chair.
“You’re right. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Charles smiles a bit as he watches Arthur stand, stepping away from the door frame and walking down the hall towards the front-most part of the boat. Must be where everyone’s eating. Arthur follows in Charles’s footsteps, wandering out towards that direction until he catches Dutch’s voice and begins to step towards it, making out words. He doesn’t see anyone, but he most certainly hears Dutch proclaiming his thanks to everyone.
“You all have done a wonderful job, and I couldn’t possibly ask for a better group of friends — no, family , to stand by my side and bring us along.” Arthur leans against a wall and listens, his brows furrowed and his arms crossed as he listens to Dutch saying these things. “We may have lost a few along the way, and don’t get me wrong, they were wonderful people: Miss Grimshaw, Lenny, Sean. Kieran, Hosea.” The room suddenly feels a bit more tense, but Dutch sounds as if he’s trying to lift everyone’s spirits. “But tonight, we celebrate them. We give our thanks to them, just as they gave their lives for our cause; for our wellbeing. A toast,” there’s a pause, where Arthur figures he lifts a glass of champagne or cheap wine. “To those who allowed us to get here.” Arthur shakes his head, trying to listen closer to the people in the room. “And although we have a few absent from our celebration tonight, namely Micah,” Arthur cringes, suddenly feeling a surge of anger and disappointment. “We will celebrate in their honour.”
Arthur doesn’t know what he expected, just that it wasn’t this. Something. Any sort of praise. But he got absolutely nothing.
He turns around on his heel and forgets dinner, as his appetite has been squashed by the emotions of the day, shutting the door to his and someone else’s room, whomever it may be. He doesn’t lock it, but walks over to the side of the bed furthest from the door and sits on it as he kicks off his boots. Might as well sleep it off, he figures, so he removes his belt and his suspenders, sliding his pants and shirt off to leave him in his union suit. His clothes are folded over a nearby stack of half-empty boxes, not belonging to anyone in particular, and he reaches for his satchel. There’s a can of strawberries lying inside, and Arthur sets the bag down when he’s retrieved them. After swallowing the syrup and fruit, he finally pulls himself under the covers and shuts his eyes.
They’re silky and warm compared to his usual sleeping situation, but he supposes he won’t have to go back to that for a while. As far away as Tahiti is, they’ll be on this boat for a month, if not longer. So he’d better hope he’ll get used to this kind of life, and used to whomever is sleeping beside him.
It doesn’t take long for him to fall under, especially when the small waves are rocking the boat just gently, but he hears a knock at the door after some amount of time. There’s a second knock before nothing else comes, and Arthur wonders if that was Charles or Sadie coming to check up on him, seeing if he’s eaten or if he’s just gone overboard.
Just as quickly as he falls asleep, he is roused again an hour or so later. There’s a lantern set somewhere stable behind Arthur, but he assumes the light is what woke him. He sees a shadow pass over the light every moment or so, but whomever it is, is trying to make as little noise as they can. Arthur’s instincts kick in and he turns around, slow as he does, to look at the person, worried they may be stealing or something worse. He’s surprised by the person he sees standing there instead. “Dutch?”
Arthur’s tired voice breaks through the quiet creaking of the boat and the man turns around to look at him. “Ah, didn’t mean to wake you.”
“What’re you doin’?” He asks, not connecting the dots.
“Well, looks like we’re bunked together for the time being.” Arthur is confused by the words, somehow having forgotten that Dutch even needed sleep. “You look confused. Think you can handle me sleeping here?”
“Sure,” Arthur nods, then shakes his head. “Sorry,” he apologises for no reason, not quite understanding why he does. If anything, it should be the other way around. “Tired.”
“I hear you.” There’s a pause between them where Dutch is folding his pants over an arm, then tucking them away into a drawer. Arthur rolls back over, lying back down and thinking about what kind of peril this arrangement will bring onto his sleeping pattern. “Why didn’t you come celebrate with us, Arthur? We were waitin’ for you, sent Charles to come get you, but you never showed.” Arthur stops what he’s thinking, opening his eyes again.
“You did?” He asks stupidly.
“Of course we did, Arthur,” Dutch’s tone is playing this off as common knowledge, as if his words had passed on the same message, despite carrying the exact opposite. “You disappeared. You seem to do that a lot, especially recently.” Arthur nods slightly.
“Don’t apologise, son. I only wonder why, that’s all. I worry.” Arthur smiles a bit, trying not to let it show as much as he wants it to. Dutch really does care, he even worries. “Which brings me to what we were talking about earlier, or what you wanted to talk about, earlier.” Arthur’s smile drops. Of course he remembers. At least now, he’s turned away and can play his silence and simple phrases off on sleepiness.
“It wasn’t all that important,” Arthur shrugs. “Only wanted to ask you how you been these past few weeks. Just… aren’t yourself, is all.” Dutch’s shadow depicts him dropping the shirt he was folding onto the bed.
“I’m fine, Arthur, you should know that.” Arthur nods, raising his eyebrows a little bit. “I’ve been scrambling a bit to find jobs for us as of late, but that’s over now. We’re off to a better place. Paradise.”
“What about Hosea?” Dutch sounds in reply, questioning. He sounds a bit defensive, but Arthur pushes a bit more.
“Feelin’ any better about that? An’ about Susan?” Dutch goes quiet for a minute, but his shadow tells a story as he raises and lowers his head a few times, then nods gently as he lifts his shirt and trails over to the drawer again.
“Grief takes time, Arthur, but I’m getting there. Just as we all are.” Arthur slowly nods, feeling a yawn creep up and out. Dutch looks over at him for a second, but Arthur can’t depict what his expression is saying from the shadow, so he’s unsure if he’s supposed to react in any way.
It’s silent again and Arthur doesn’t really fall asleep until Dutch is in bed behind him and likely, sound asleep. When he does fall asleep, of course, it isn’t long-lived before he wakes up again two hours later to the feeling of retching hurrying itself up his spine and he immediately bolts himself upwards. He hears Dutch stir for a moment as he tries to settle his stomach with a few deep breaths, but it doesn’t help, and he immediately pushes himself around the bed and towards the door. The boat rocks beneath him, but he keeps strong as he keeps his goal in mind.
Finding the door handle as quietly as he can in his state, he stumbles out onto the deck and wanders towards a door he’s spotted. Opening it, he finds himself outside, immediately hit by the cold chill of the sea, with the spew of sea water and the smell of salt remaining thick in the air. He reaches the railing and immediately leans over it, breathing heavily and still trying to steady his spinning head. The rocking of the boat is helping very little, and he honestly wishes it would stop. He’s not a man with sea legs, and he doubts he ever will be.
Maybe that can of strawberries was a bad idea, especially just before bed.
He lies his forearms over the railing and bends, his entire back going flat and creating a straight line with his arms as he looks down at his feet and blows a breath out through puckered lips. He’s trying his best to be quiet, but at the moment, he just wants this feeling to leave his body.
Pushing himself back up to stand a moment later, he hears a voice behind him. Jolting, he turns around and notices that he’s without a weapon, panicking for a moment before seeing Dutch’s silhouette there, illuminated slightly by the moon. “Upset stomach?” Arthur nods instead of speaking, afraid to stir the boiling pot if he parts his lips. “Come here,” Dutch begins to near Arthur and he tenses his hand against the railing before he feels Dutch’s hands on his shoulders, turning him around and facing him out towards the open sea.
Arthur panics again before Dutch touches his arms and sighs. “Calm down, you’re all tense.” He takes a breath and does, leaning against the railing a bit to get comfortable. Dutch’s hand returns to Arthur’s back after a moment, Dutch stepping up to stand next to him as he rubs circles over Arthur’s back. “Pretty sky out here, innit?” He looks up, and Arthur does as well, focused on the hand gently soothing him with soft circles.
“Yeah,” Arthur dares, and he finds that his throat tenses up, but his stomach remains as irritable as it was, having not increased his discomfort at all.
“Have you ever learned about astronomy, son?” Dutch glances over, and Arthur simply shakes his head, a confused look on his face as he gazes over the twinkling spots littering the dark sky. “The study of stars and the shapes they make?” Arthur shakes his head again, more certain.
Dutch’s hand is still soothing him, drifting down to his lower back and making sure to brush his thumb over Arthur’s spinal divot where he can feel it accentuated. It secretly sends a shiver over Arthur’s body, but he’s glad it’s chilly enough to blame on the environment.
“Well, every single one of those up there is a sun,” Dutch says, referencing a book he’d peeked over Hosea’s shoulder to read once. “Some are even bigger than our own.”
“They’re so small,” Arthur furrows his brows, focusing on a small cluster of them just above the horizon. “How can they be suns?”
“Distance,” Dutch smiles. “Some are thousands and thousands of miles away.” Arthur shakes his head, laughing at the mere idea of picturing that distance. “I’m telling you the truth, Arthur, I’m not quite sure why you’re laughing,” Dutch teases, and Arthur looks over at him with a small smile on his face. It’s an image of beauty, the slightly-mussed hair and the smile on the man’s face. Even the stubble which has grown over the past few days. “They make shapes.”
Arthur looks back up at the sky when he sees Dutch pointing, looking in that direction.
“See there? Those three that line up are supposed to be,” he takes a pause, humming as he tries to think of the name. “Orion’s belt.”
“Who’s Orion? Where is he at?” Dutch lets out a small laugh, and it sounds genuine this time.
“Well, think about it. Or,” he points to a completely different spot. “The Big Dipper. Like a ladle. And the Little Dipper.”
“All I see is stars, Dutch,” he grins and they both look at one another before breaking out into quiet laughter. Arthur forgets the last time he’d been able to do this with Dutch. It had probably been before they were on the run, before they even had Susan. When Hosea would sneak off to find Bessie, and they would be left all alone to drink — especially when Hosea was the better “father” and didn’t allow Arthur to drink whiskey. When he was gone, that’s when Dutch and Arthur would bring out the big guns and get completely smashed. Didn’t take too long for Arthur to be gone, but even then, he remembers Dutch doing something similar to this when he’d get that vomit sensation.
“Are you replacin’ me, Dutch?” Arthur suddenly asks, and Dutch’s joyful mood suddenly falls into something unreadable. “With Micah?”
“What got into your head to make you think that, Arthur?” He replies with a question, avoiding Arthur’s. He steps a bit further away, but Arthur feels the sudden distance between them and the slowing of Dutch’s hand on his back.
“I just,” Arthur sighs, refusing to look over at him for fear of falling for that trap of being made into a fool. “I know you, Dutch, and you did it with the ladies when they first got into the gang. You’d suddenly skip from one to the other, and I always felt bad for them, but now I…” he shakes his head, allowing it to hang and his shoulders to rise. “I think I understand how they felt.”
“You’re being ridiculous, Arthur.” Arthur raises and shakes his head, turning to face Dutch. His own expression must be cast in shadow, but he doesn’t really care.
“Then answer my question,” he says. “Are you replacin’ me?”
“I think you already know the answer to that—”
“ Are you ?” Arthur snaps in a shouted whisper. Dutch pauses for a moment now, taking a breath and shaking his head, but not in a way to show that he’s answering the question. He must be regretting following Arthur out here, only wanting to soothe him. All he wanted to do was do something nice for Arthur, especially after everything before now. And Arthur’s gone off at him now, over seemingly nothing.
“I,” Dutch says, his chest rising and falling slowly as he seems to be searching for a proper answer.
Arthur stares at Dutch for a moment, his gaze drifting all over the man’s face as he tries to read what is playing on it. It looks like shock and confusion, and just a hint of fear. Arthur shakes his head after the sound of silence and flowing water gets to be too much, and he lowers his gaze.
“I’m sorry,” Arthur backs up a bit. “I didn’t mean to get all heated like that, it’s just been bothering me for a while. Don’t answer.” He completely backs off and turns back towards the water, looking up at the stars and feeling himself shiver with the damp breeze again. “You can head back to bed, I’ll be back in a bit when you’re asleep.” He’s trying to shut himself off as he feels Dutch’s presence linger beside him, but when it moves again, it's not towards the door.
Arthur feels a strong hand touch his shoulder, turn him, and then he’s chest to chest with Dutch. The man sighs, his arms wrapped high around Arthur’s shoulders. “I’m not replacing you.” Arthur freezes, his arms stuck at his sides before they finally rise to clasp together around Dutch’s back. “John’s off in his own world with Abigail, and Hosea…”
“I miss him, too.” Arthur relaxes into the embrace after a moment or two, trying to lean himself on those four words being true. He pulls himself closer, feeling Dutch do the same.
“I got you left. That’s all. No one else.” Arthur nods a bit, understanding completely. “You are all I’ve got left of that old world. You have got my morals, and I admire that. I am not replacing you. I wouldn’t dream of it, my son.” Dutch finally separates the embrace, looking Arthur in the eyes. “Just trust me.”
“I do,” Arthur nods, refusing to break the strong eye contact he’s holding with Dutch until it’s been long enough and he steps away. There’s a few beats as Dutch raises his shoulders and takes a breath.
“Your stomach feeling better?” Arthur notices that it’s gone away completely in the time he’d been given to forget about it, and he nods. “Come on, then, back to bed with you,” Dutch tilts his head towards the door.
“You go on without me, I’ll stay out here for a little longer.”
“Arthur, you fell asleep while talking to me earlier, you need all the sleep you can get.” Arthur looks at him as he gestures again with the tilt of his head. “Now come on.”
“Alright,” Arthur nods, following him back to the room, and the bed, they now share.
Dutch is the first to get back under the covers, Arthur lingering around his side of the bed as he listens to their conversation on repeat. He wonders, when they were standing as close at they were, if he should’ve moved in for a kiss. If Dutch was waiting for it. But then again, he’d called Arthur his son multiple times during their encounter, so was that a simple nod towards that not being the case? How was he supposed to read that?
Arthur finally slips under the covers and lies himself down, almost feeling Dutch’s eyes on the back of his head as soon as he’s been lying there for a moment or two. “You comfortable over there on the edge, Arthur?” He glances down at the floor and notices that he is rather close to rolling off, so he pushes himself back onto the bed a bit.
“Used to sleepin’ small.”
“Sure,” Dutch agrees, and gently pulls Arthur a bit closer by his arm before running his hand over Arthur’s back again. Dutch had noticed how sleepy Arthur had looked to be when he’d been doing it earlier, and he hasn’t been turned away yet, so he just continues on, allowing his rings to drag over the fabric of Arthur’s union suit.
Arthur relaxes almost immediately, sighing out and pushing himself even closer to Dutch as he lingers over unconsciousness. He remembers nights where Dutch would be begging him to go to sleep, simply because he was an anxious teenager worried about the state of the world, until they both found that this would put him to sleep almost instantaneously. It was almost magic, how easily Dutch could drag his fingers over Arthur’s back and knock him out, in such a way that not even Mary could replicate.
It’s strange; it’s always been strange.
Of course, back then, it was more of Arthur being stubborn enough to lie down and turn away from Dutch, before waking him up just as he’d been falling asleep, and that was put to an end almost immediately as Dutch pulled him down and allowed Arthur to rest his head on Dutch’s chest.
That changed over time, especially when Susan had come into their lives.
And Arthur hated the change.
He’s glad it’s slowly making its way back.
Chapter 6: What Goes Up, Must Come Down
Arthur doesn’t know what wakes him, just that he’s awake when he is, and he can hear someone’s heartbeat, loud and clear in his left ear. He can feel their warmth comforting him, and the smell of their existence granting him access into heaven itself. It doesn’t frighten him much at first, but when he begins to think about it, he begins to worry about whom it may be.
Lifting his head, he finds himself to have been sleeping on Dutch’s chest, still turned away, but the man had hung a loose arm around Arthur’s shoulders when he was lying there.
Jolting, Arthur pulls away from the hold. Clearly, he’d fallen asleep and gotten himself comfortable. Dutch must’ve been tired enough to imagine Molly, or someone else. Micah, even, as much as Arthur despises the idea.
He’s careful to lower Dutch’s arm to the bed rather than letting it fall, not wanting to wake him up when Arthur’s gotten himself into such a curious position. He pushes himself away from Dutch, lying himself back down and pulling the covers up over his shoulder. He’s looking out the window as he does, seeing the blue sky over the water. Midday.
His heart pounds as he hears Dutch shift behind him, trying to stay as still as possible in the case that the man is still asleep and only readjusting himself. But then he feels a hand on his arm, and he hears a groggy, curious voice, making him swallow harshly. “What happened? Why’d you move?”
“Didn’t mean to get so close when I was sleepin’, was just movin’ away again,” Arthur keeps his back turned to Dutch as he speaks, hoping that the man won’t get too angry. After all, Arthur was asleep, and he didn’t do it on purpose.
“Why?” Breaks through the silence from Dutch, and Arthur tenses. It should be obvious, shouldn’t it? Because Dutch couldn’t care less if Arthur were dying in front of him, begging for his help; that much has been proven. So why should he care that Arthur had been that close, had slid closer overnight? He shouldn’t.
“I overstepped my bounds,” Arthur shrugs. “Sorry.”
“Why are you apologisin’ so much, Arthur?” Dutch asks, and tightens his hold on Arthur’s arm, trying to pull him back — and unsurprisingly, succeeding.
“I’m not meanin’ to, it’s just happenin’,” Arthur wraps his own arms around his front and pulls his legs up a bit as soon as he feels them touch Dutch’s. “I don’t want to be over here,” Arthur says, and Dutch stops. He hadn’t meant to say it, not at all, but he did, and now Dutch is retracting his arms.
“Oh,” he says, and pulls himself away from Arthur a bit. “My apologies, then.”
Arthur feels suddenly uncomfortable next to Dutch and his stomach is starting to get sick again, but he doesn’t mention it. Doesn’t want to burden Dutch with something else.
So he sits up and moves himself towards the edge of the bed, lazily fixing the covers behind him and moving towards the door. His hand is on the knob when he hears that voice again, silky and concerned and oh-so tempting. Why, now, is Arthur denying himself this bliss? Micah’s gone. Won’t be showing up any time soon. Now, of any time, is his chance to draw Dutch in. But he knows he won’t. He’s not the type. He’ll wait and second-guess himself until he dies of a broken heart — or TB, whichever gets to him first. “Your stomach bothering you again?”
Arthur lowers and shakes his head. “No,” he lies, taking a breath but keeping it slow to assist him in being quiet. “Just goin’ to get a cup of coffee.” There’s another silence to fall over them as Arthur suspects Dutch is glancing at the window and picking his lie apart.
“It wasn’t my intention to make you uncomfortable, Arthur,” he says, and Arthur just shakes his head again, opening the door. “Get me a cup, will you?” Arthur pauses in the doorway and slowly nods, then shuts it behind him. As he’d been standing there, his nausea had increased by quite a bit, and he’d begun to wonder if he’d be sick by the door. Hopefully, though, he’d held it together well enough to keep Dutch from coming to look for him on the deck, where he’s wandered out to.
His hands press against the wood and he takes a breath of the salty air again. He wonders if he’ll get used to this — the feeling of the air and the water droplets. Probably not, considering that he’s gotten sick two days in a row now, but he has hope that he will.
Then again, as soon as all of the shit going on with Dutch is finished, he’s sure he’ll be able to function properly in general. It might take a lot of work and a lot of alone time to figure everything out, but he’s sure he’ll be able to. Even if it means giving up the pining he feels for Dutch, or giving up something else, whatever it may be.
“You’re up late,” Arthur doesn’t jolt with this voice, simply looking over his shoulder and seeing John standing there with a cigarette between his lips.
“Sure,” Arthur nods, sucking a breath in through his teeth. “Wanted to get out of that room, anyways.”
“I heard you were put with someone, but I didn’t hear who.”
“Dutch,” Arthur says, and he hears John hum his disapproval. John’s been the closest person to him, seeing as they essentially view each other as brothers, and he’s known about this little thing Arthur’s had for Dutch, for years. Arthur hadn’t needed to tell John, either, he’d just been able to tell. “I know.”
“Tryin’ to keep from doin’ somethin’ you’ll regret, then?” John wanders up beside him and leans his elbows on the rim of the railing.
“Not really,” Arthur shakes his head, looking out on the water. “I just…” he purses his lips and feels the stubble on his chin brush against his upper lip. “He’s just so confusing.”
“Don’t I know it,” John chuckles. “I bet it’s harder for you to understand him, though.”
“I woke up this morning with my head on his chest,” Arthur says suddenly, his voice quiet. John inhales too sharply and chokes on the smoke from his cigarette, looking over at Arthur with red and teary eyes.
“Jesus Christ, and you went off at me about needin’ to be subtle,” he manages, before letting out another cough.
“I know. I did it while I was sleepin’… I woke up and tried to move away, but his arm was over me, John.” The man furrows his brows and gestures for Arthur to continue on. “And then after I lay back down he says, ‘why’d you move?’. What am I supposed to say to that? So I tell him I was just movin’ away, all nice, and that bastard says ‘why?’.” John nods, taking a drag from his cigarette and blowing it out. Arthur is luckily upwind, so he doesn’t catch anything other than the smell of it.
“What did he look like?”
“No idea. I was turned away. But after that, he tried to pull me back,” John looks at Arthur, who nods. “An’ I… I panicked. Said I didn’t want to be on that side of the bed, and he let me go. Said he was sorry.”
“Why’d you say that? Thought you wanted—”
“I don’t know . When I got up, he said he didn’t mean to make me all stressy, then I left.”
“You moron,” John shakes his head, obviously disappointed. He’s never been one to endorse the kind of relationship Arthur wants with Dutch, but for some reason, maybe because Arthur is his brother, he’s willing to help in any way he can. “And I thought I was the worst person at it, that I knew.”
“I didn’t know what to do, John,” Arthur places both of his elbows on the railing and buries his face in his hands. “He makes me all warm, an’ when he talks about Micah, I just feel so angry…”
“I get it.” John nods, looking over to Arthur and dropping a hand down on his shoulder. “Still the lovesick teenager I once knew.”
“Shut up,” Arthur grunts.
“I figured I’d find you out here,” Dutch’s voice rings loudly through Arthur’s head, and he tenses, but doesn’t look back at him like he had for John. “And good morning to you, John. Sleep well?” John eyes Arthur before looking to Dutch, who approaches and stands on Arthur’s left, while John is on his right.
“Sure, and yourself?”
“Not too bad,” Dutch smiles, poking an elbow at Arthur. “This one half knocked me to the floor in the middle of the night, but other than that, it’s better than it has been in a long while.”
“Got that right,” John nods, leaning a hand next to Arthur, who is still trying to get the nausea out of his system again. There’s a comfortable silence between the three of them — that is, except for Arthur, who is still trying not to heave — before John sighs. “Well, I better be gettin’ back to Abigail, she seems to be puttin’ an awful lot of thoughts in his head.”
“We’ll see you later, then, John,” Dutch nods and smiles as John turns on his heel and leaves him with Arthur. “Thought you said your stomach wasn’t an issue,” Dutch comments, dragging a thumb over the back of Arthur’s neck. He tenses and shivers with the touch, worried he’ll collapse here and now.
“It wasn’t,” Arthur lies through his teeth. “Didn’t hit me until a few… seconds ago, I don’t know.” Arthur tries to finish up his sentence quickly, feeling the nausea hitting him again with a suddenly-rocking ground beneath his feet.
“Should’ve told me, I’m right here,” Dutch slides the hand along Arthur’s back again, but it feels different from the night before, in the way he twists his hands and allows his fingers to fall over every dip in Arthur’s spine. It’s like there’s another emotion behind it, rather than something fatherly.
Arthur stands up straight, Dutch’s hand falling from his back, and Arthur’s almost glad it does. Almost . He craves to have that hand on him. Keeping him in check when he steps too far, or lying just gently on his leg under a table, or in his own when he’s feeling a little worse for wear, as he has for the past few weeks.
He doesn’t even want to think about something truly intimate, especially with Dutch right here, but he remains on that thought for a little while after he first thinks of Dutch’s hands; those rings. What sorts of things would Dutch know how to do, just because he’s another man? Certainly nothing Arthur will ever experience, but it’s a wonderful thought to have.
Dutch goes quiet after Arthur had so clearly tried to remove his hand, and takes a step away, standing beside him. There’s a long silence — so long that Arthur begins to wonder if Dutch has fallen asleep standing up, but he doesn’t really mind it. If it weren’t for the rocking boat, he would’ve been a lot more comfortable in general, but he supposes that he has to lose in some way. Dutch lights a cigar at some point, one of the flavoured ones that always interested Arthur, but since his diagnosis, has been less of a draw.
After a while, Arthur feels that familiar scratch in his throat and tries to clear it to dispel the itch, but it doesn’t disappear for long before he’s turning his head away from Dutch and coughing over the railing slightly. The smoke from Dutch’s cigar isn’t helping at all. He clears his throat again, turning harsher and spitting over the edge, into the water. “Sick, son?”
“Somethin’ like that,” Arthur shrugs, then feels that tension set over them again. Arthur’s being overly standoffish, and Dutch is clearly recognising it.
Unfortunately enough, when Dutch steps away from the edge and back inside, leaving Arthur to his own, he doesn’t feel any better. Sure, his stomach has settled a bit, but he’s still worried about where he stands with Dutch. If the man had really wanted Arthur to rest near him, that near him, then Arthur should’ve taken it. If he can’t handle something so small, how can he handle the entirety of Dutch? The man is a passionate lover, as Arthur has learned, but his infatuation often overcomes the actual loving part of his relationships, and he gets bored.
What a thought — getting bored of someone.
After standing out by the water for God knows how long, Arthur turns and walks back inside. He spots the door to his and Dutch’s room, glad when he peeks and sees no one, and slips inside. Lighting the lantern, he searches for his journal, then steps back towards the bed, when he spots himself in a mirror. He’s still not dressed this late in the day, and that’s a surprise to even him, but after slipping on his clothes from the day before, he feels better.
Relaxing against the headboard of the bed, he opens his journal and refrains from chewing on the eraser of the pencil as he has many times before while he reads through his last entry.
On the left page of the next available pair, he sketches his view of the room from his side of the bed. The wooden boards lining the walls, and the battered rug beneath the foot of the bed. The boxes piled around the corners of the room and restricting walkspace, the dresser Arthur is facing, which he will likely never use. No need to, he hasn’t got much to keep in there anyway. The sidetable to the right sporting the lantern and a folded newspaper he hadn’t initially noticed when lighting the room. He stops his hand and glances at it, his brows furrowed. He flips and sets his journal face-down on the bed, reaching for it and snagging it from the table. Sure enough, it’s the newspaper he’d received from that boy in Louisiana.
On the very front of it, there’s a heading which catches him off-guard.
VAN DER LINDE GANG STILL AT LARGE
18 CHILDREN KILLED IN SCHOOLHOUSE FIRE.
FIRE SPREADS FROM BANK TO SCHOOL DURING ROBBERY.
Dutch Van der Linde, accompanied by many subordinates, was spotted in Oxbend, Colorado on Friday, September 15th, robbing Oxbend Bank of approximately $60,000.00. In the gunfire, a bullet was shot into a lantern and set the bank ablaze, later leading to the spread of flames to the nearby schoolhouse. 18 children were killed, 6 left with burns to the first degree. Van der Linde’s current location is unknown, and police warn citizens in any town to keep eyes open and a gun on-hand. Always accompany your children. Report any and all knowledge on Van der Linde’s or any subordinate’s location.
Arthur is simply stunned by the words on the page. Dutch wouldn’t really do something like that, would he? And simply flee the scene? Granted, it was a huge sum to get from such a small bank, but they’ve also got the Blackwater money, so what could Dutch possibly be planning to spend it all on? Mangoes?
Then again, what could Dutch have done? Perhaps have been more vigilant, or allowed himself to pay more attention. He wonders who shot the bullet into the lantern in the first place.
Arthur shoves himself up from the bed, forgetting his journal and forgetting everything else other than his anger. He has the paper tight in his hand as he tugs the door open and pushes past Abigail, who avoids him against the wall of the hallway.
In the front room, Dutch is laughing with Charles and Javier, but Arthur’s entrance removes any amount of joy from the three of them.
“A school, Dutch?” Arthur’s chest rises and falls. “ Children? ” He raises the newspaper as Dutch’s face seems to pale a bit. “You set a goddamn school on fire?”
“It wasn’t intentional, Arthur. It was a catastrophe, yes, but there was no ill-will.”
“Fuck-all there wasn’t!” Arthur doesn’t care about Jack in some room, or the three sitting before him in silence. “Do you know the kind of things the law does to people who do that?”
“Send them to the electric chair? Give them a life-sentence in prison? A sanitorium? Hang them? Arthur. I’ve had a rope around my neck for years. They just haven’t gotten close enough to pull it tight. And they won’t.” In this instance, Arthur can’t help but think about Isaac. About the things he could’ve done, but never got the chance to do, because he was killed. He thinks about the woman Strauss had sent him after, for whose debt he paid, before sending the German out of camp and off to a new life somewhere. Who knows if he’s still alive, and Arthur doesn’t really care.
Charles and Javier look uncomfortable, so Arthur pinches the bridge of his nose and points to the hallway behind him. “Can I talk to him for a second?” The two look up at Arthur and nod before making their way out of the room, Arthur storming over to Dutch in a fit of anger. “Eighteen kids, Dutch. And six others that have to live with burn scars on their bodies for the rest of their lives.”
“I read it, Arthur,” he sounds so uncaring, so nonchalant about all of this. Does he even care?
“What the hell is wrong with you!” Arthur raises a hand, biting down on the inside of his cheek as he swings it forward at Dutch. It’s caught and he’s suddenly turned around, shoved across the room. Dutch sits again, and Arthur shakes his head, still burning with rage. “Is this even about the government anymore, Dutch? Or are you just out to kill everyone, now?”
“You know I’m not like that, Arthur. It was accidental!”
“Accidental? That’s it! You goin’ to walk up to the parents of eighteen children who are now dead in a school building, unrecognisable from wood ash, and apologise because it was all an accident? ‘It won’t happen again! I swear!’ Do you hear how ridiculous you sound?”
“You’re pissing me off, Arthur, I don’t want to hear about this anymore. I’ve heard enough from everyone else.”
“Well, maybe if I was there instead of that rat talkin’ in your ear, you would’a thought about it a little more, and it wouldn’ta happened!” Dutch goes quiet. He stands, and Arthur suddenly feels as if he is worlds smaller than the man.
“Is that what this is all about? Micah?”
“No, that’s not what it’s all about. Sorry you can’t read me like you can him, but I’m talking about all of the kids you killed! ”
“Arthur,” Dutch warns, but Arthur doesn’t stop himself, throwing the newspaper to the ground and marching forward a step or two.
“We had the Blackwater money all along. Will you ever stop and think for five seconds!”
“Arthur, god damn it, will you shut up!” Arthur, despite hearing the words and feeling the emotion, only allows it to flow through his words rather than shutting him up.
“Do you know how it feels to lose a kid? Your kid? How it feels to look at their cross and think about their corpse beneath your feet?” Arthur asks, and Dutch suddenly looks up at him, a look of something so suddenly childish that Arthur almost wants to laugh. He looks like he’s just been scolded by his mother for reaching for the sweets before he was allowed.
Arthur feels that scratch at his throat and is forced to let out a cough or two with all of his yelling, but it seems to be a good day. Doesn’t mean his chest doesn’t hurt like hell, though.
The room goes silent with Arthur’s coughing. When he’s caught his breath again, they hear nothing other than the water sloshing against the underside of the boat. “No, I don’t.” Dutch says, sounding pathetic. But Arthur won’t give in to it. Dutch is horribly manipulative, and has caught Arthur with his tricks on several occasions. Not this time. This is too far.
“I wish I treated Isaac better. I wish I was there for him more than I was, but I was always with you, off to change the world. Keep the freedom that was slipping between our fingers. I followed you in every step. Even when I didn’t trust you, I did. I had to. You were a father where I never had one.” Dutch looks dumbfounded, standing a few feet away from Arthur as his voice is lowered. “I used to tell myself that there was no limit to how far I’d walk for you. I mean, hell, I almost had a wife. But you mattered more to me, and she’s gone.”
Dutch’s shoulders rise as he takes a slow breath in with the following pause. “What are you saying, Arthur?” Arthur shakes his head, looking down at the scuffed-up toes of his boots.
“I don’t know, Dutch. I don’t know if there’s another boat back to America, or if they can just take me to some other country, seein’ as I’d do better there anyway, but I don’t think…” He shuts his eyes, his brows furrowed as he really thinks about what would be logical and what would be practical. “You went too far, and Micah got too far into your head. You ain’t… you , and I can’t do this anymore.”
“I’ll get my things and I’ll sleep out here, or somethin’.” He turns on his heel and walks himself back down the hall and into their— or, Dutch’s, room, shutting the door behind him.
Chapter 7: Rolling With the Punches
Several hours creep by, and Arthur sits in the room for the entirety of them. No one knocks, and there isn’t a voice to be heard. Only the sound of a creaking boat and the waves beneath it.
However, over the time, Arthur’s been considering this change. He can’t just leave, he thinks, but he could. As soon as they get to Tahiti, he’ll hand over a gold bar or the remaining cash he has on him, whichever one is easier to smuggle off of the boat before then, to someone with a boat, and they’ll take him somewhere. Even if it’s Australia, or China, or something like that.
Who is he kidding. He’ll probably be dead by the time they get to Tahiti, anyway. Why is he even bothering cutting ties with everyone this late?
To prove a point.
He doesn’t need Dutch, and he doesn’t need the gang, as much as he loves them.
Arthur sits on the bed and stares at his hands for the longest time, thinking about all of the pain they’ve caused and the lives they’ve taken. All because he was snatched up by Dutch and Hosea when he was younger.
What could’ve been, if he hadn’t been picked up by the two of them? What kind of person would he have turned into? One of the beggars on the side of the road? Some random man asking for money because his parents are both dead, and he’s got nowhere to go, nowhere to be?
Or maybe he could’ve been rich. He could’ve gotten himself a job, and a wife, and a kid. Maybe he’d be a ranch hand, and he’d work up to have his own ranch. He’d be happy, because he wouldn’t’ve ever taken a single life, and he would’ve followed the law. There’s a reason it exists, as much as Dutch loves to protest it, and it’s there to protect those who need protecting.
Maybe that’s why Dutch is so against it.
As long as Arthur lies, sits, stands, and paces in the room, though, he doesn’t come to a complete consensus. He’s known these people his entire life, and has grown on Dutch. Maybe it’s just a bad day, or he overreacted, but leaving feels wrong. Even the idea gives him a sour feeling, but it also seems like the most logical choice. That is, if Arthur wants to live. Happily or not, he’ll likely live longer if he’s away from Dutch and his troublemaking gang.
Arthur’s finally gotten all of his things together and is carrying them out to the main room at sunset, and there are a few people lingering in the room when he enters it. They whisper and mumble until Arthur steps in, then they go eerily quiet.
He steps past them with his chest and sets it down, eyeing them quietly as he leaves the room again.
Dutch hadn’t been in there anymore, but Arthur didn’t really blame him. After everything that happened in there, along with the whole passing time thing, he probably didn’t want to be in there too long.
Passing Dutch’s room again, Arthur sees him sitting on the bed, silently thumbing something in his hand. It’s small enough to be covered up by his fingers, so Arthur can’t really see what it is, but he doesn’t mind it all that much. Whatever it is, is Dutch’s business.
He steps away from the doorway despite needing to get his journal, worried Dutch will look up again, but it’s rightfully his property, and he doesn’t want the man reading it, so he pushes himself into the room and pretends to be shocked by the man sitting there. He walks around the bed, an apology for not knocking stuck in his throat. He’s able to lift his journal and the pencil beside it before he makes it back to the doorway and is stopped there.
“I’m sorry,” he hears Dutch say, broken. The man is still looking down at the item in his hand, but he sounds emotional, which is a sharp contrast from what he’d sounded like earlier. Maybe this long without Micah has allowed him to clear his head. “For shouting, earlier, and for this morning.” In reality, Arthur had completely forgotten about what happened he’d been so focused on the past years, not today or the night before, when Dutch had allowed himself to show that he had a heart after all. “You’re right. I haven’t been like myself, and it was pointless for me to go off at you about it.”
Arthur turns around, and he sees that Dutch still has yet to lift his gaze from his hand.
“You’re my right-hand man, Arthur. My best gun.” Dutch shakes his head. “I hadn’t even thought about you leaving, it was just so…” he takes a noisy breath through his teeth and finally looks up. “Think about it,” Dutch says. “Please? Don’t allow yourself to make a brash decision too quick.” Arthur nods as he watches Dutch set whatever the item is in a drawer without allowing Arthur to see it, whether or not that was intentional.
“I will,” Arthur nods, gently sliding his journal into his satchel on his hip. “And I have,” he continues, despite the warning in his mind telling him to let it rest until at least tomorrow. A day is hardly enough time to make that sort of decision, but any less than that would be moronic. “Already, I mean. But I’m not set on anything, yet.” Arthur looks at Dutch, sees the emotion in his eyes.
He craves to be sitting next to the man, to lean against him and bathe in his warmth, to allow the man to soothe him, but he’s worried that Dutch will be able to throw his arm around Arthur and drag him back in, even if he chooses not to stay. Dutch has a way with people that, frankly, terrifies Arthur.
But he moves forward anyway, slowly. He sits down on the bed and looks over at Dutch, who looks so defeated. After last night, he must be thinking about how horrible Arthur is. Waking him up on accident when Arthur had gotten a stomachache, then snapping at him about being replaced after he’d been so kind as to soothe Arthur’s plight.
In reality, Dutch hadn’t killed them on purpose. And it wasn’t the act that Arthur was most upset about, it was the fact that Dutch could care less about what he’d done. That worried him to an extreme degree, and he’s glad that he was able to knock some sense into Dutch, even if it was in the worst way possible.
“Arthur,” Dutch says, and Arthur looks up at him on-command. “Do you remember what I said to you last night? When we were standing outside?”
They’d been embracing, but that’s close enough.
“Yes,” he nods, looking away as he thinks back to all of the things that were said, all of the things that caught him off-guard.
“I meant every word of it,” Dutch says, then glances up at Arthur. “Never noticed how much you meant to me until it was too late, I suppose.”
There’s the reverse-psychology. Arthur shakes his head.
“It ain’t too late, Dutch. I’m still here.”
“You don’t have much choice, son.” Dutch looks troubled when Arthur looks back up at him. He looks as if he’s trying to make a difficult decision in that brilliant mind of his, and that’s frightening, but Arthur doesn’t retreat like his mind is still pulling him to. It’s too early, but Arthur doesn’t care. He wants to make up for everything.
“Sure I do,” Arthur replies, and Dutch looks confused before his eyes snap up to Arthur’s in disbelief.
“You wouldn’t, would you?” Arthur laughs just a little.
“No, I wouldn’t.” Dutch seems to relax a bit, but that perplexed air is still hanging around him like smog. A beat, then another. “I’m sorry, too,” he says, finally, and Dutch looks to make eye contact with Arthur again. “For yellin’ and for causin’ such a fuss. I should’a kept it between us. Would’a avoided everybody’s silence.”
“You can’t say you weren’t dignified, though,” Dutch says, and Arthur nods. He’s admitting that he was wrong. This is a step back towards the old Dutch, and a step Arthur is overjoyed to see take place. “There was purpose.”
“Sure,” Arthur nods, and there’s another silence. He still wants nothing more than to fall against Dutch’s chest and forget anything ever happened. After all, John had been more than willing to say that everyone had made a mistake, and they had, but that helps ease the anger inside of Arthur a bit more. “What was in your hand?” Dutch looks up, then at the drawer.
“Oh,” he says, sounding like he’d forgotten. “Do you remember when you, Hosea, and I all went to the beach in California, so many years ago, now? We’d been runnin’ past there and you wanted to run out on the sand. You hadn’t ever seen what it looked like, and frankly, neither had I, so Hosea was forced to go.” Arthur laughs a bit, nodding. That was an exciting time. Dutch had almost gotten snipped by a hermit crab, but he’d thrown it back into the water before it could grab him.
That was the sort of thing that caused Arthur to fall over laughing. Especially with the sound that came out of Dutch when he’d seen what the little bugger was up to.
“Well, when we were there, you’d sat on something in the sand, and you started digging where you sat, because apparently you sat on something sharp buried there.” Arthur nods again, remembering being pricked in the ass by something, but forgetting what it was. “Dug up this tiny old bottle of whiskey, and you pouted when you found that it had been filled with sand. So you worked hard at that thing for a while, pulling little pieces of seaweed and sand out.”
“Right, Hosea told me that I wouldn’ta gotten to drink it, even if it was full,” Arthur laughs again, drawing a small smile out of Dutch. He still looks like he’s thinking too hard on something.
“Then you found the driest sand you could, and a little seashell, and you filled it up to the brim. You put the seashell on top, then corked it shut, and you gave it to me.”
“Really? You kept that?” Arthur asks, watching as Dutch doesn’t verbally answer, but reaches for the drawer and fishes the little bottle out. Arthur looks at it, remembering the work he’d put into it. He hadn’t meant much by giving it to Dutch, but apparently it meant a hell of a lot more to the man than it did to Arthur.
“Meant a lot to me,” Dutch smiles, looking down at it. “That’s about the time I knew you and Hosea and I would get along.” Arthur smiles as well, gazing at Dutch. He seems genuine, as if he’s dropped the reverse-psychology. He’s remembering, at this point, and that brings a real smile to Arthur’s face, similar to the one that he’d had the night before when they were joking about the stars.
Dutch goes quiet again as he looks down at that bottle, now shaken up and with the shell lying deeper in the sand than it had been initially. They share a semi-comfortable silence for a while before Arthur whispers, gently pushing his way through it. “What’re you thinkin’ so hard on over there?”
Dutch looks up at Arthur and replaces the bottle in the drawer, then really looks Arthur in the eyes. Arthur looks back, swallowing around the lump in his throat keeping him from speaking again with the look Dutch is giving him.
There are no words exchanged, just a hand slowly lifting to Arthur’s shoulder, then sliding down his arm and to his hand. Arthur doesn’t freeze up this time, his fingers tightening around Dutch’s. Dutch leans closer, and Arthur wants to move in as well, but he pulls himself back a bit. “What’re you doin’?” He watches as Dutch shakes his head and lifts the hand from Arthur’s to gently climb to the back of Arthur’s head.
“Something I should’ve done a long time ago,” Dutch whispers, then slowly pulls Arthur’s face closer to his own, brushing his lips up against Arthur’s.
And Arthur, contrary to what even he’d believed he’d do, lifts a hand to the thick curls of Dutch’s hair and digs his fingers into them. His shoulders rise and fall slowly with his breath, not quite catching up on the anxiety and fear and elation filling his body.
Their lips part for a second when Arthur lifts and sits himself down closer to Dutch, the hand not leaving Dutch’s hair. His other finds the man’s hand and squeezes it as Dutch begins to push forward a little more, and Arthur finally separates it. They look at each other for a second before Dutch glances at the open door and tilts his head towards it. “Shut it and keep going, or should we call it for the night?”
Chapter 8: Lickety Split
As much as Arthur wants to keep going, there is something pulling harsher and harsher at the collar of his shirt, and he pulls away. He looks down at his and Dutch’s hands, Dutch drawing a thumb over the back of Arthur’s as he thinks.
Dutch doesn’t push like Arthur expects him to, so he looks up and shakes his head with a small smile on his face. “We should leave it here, I think,” he sounds as if he’ll continue speaking, but doesn’t. His mind wanders to the feeling and the taste, like something he’s never experienced before. The gentle brush of Dutch’s nose against his own when they’d separated for just a moment, then the feeling of Dutch’s hand on the back of his neck, providing a safety for Arthur.
“That’s fine,” Dutch nods, removing his gentle hold on the back of Arthur’s neck. Arthur lowers his hand from Dutch’s curls, though he plays with one as he does, softly pulling at a tress and watching it curl back up to its previous place on Dutch’s head. He looks at the man before him and switches his gaze between the man’s deep auburn eyes.
“Why’d you do that, Dutch?” He asks, curiosity taking over. “I ain’t ever…” his words disappear and he simply shakes his head, letting out a small laugh to dispel the thoughts of manipulation bounding around in his mind. Then again, Dutch had offered to continue, so could it be that he really, truly enjoyed it as much as Arthur would like to say he did? After all, he’s not really sure. He doesn’t know if he’s really awake, from the way his mind allowed him to forget the feeling all at once like that.
Dutch shrugs, glancing at the door once more before tugging himself closer and stealing another short kiss. It’s split much too fast for Arthur’s liking, but he understands. Their hands are separated and Arthur takes a breath, standing.
“This won’t change my mind,” Arthur says, and Dutch shakes his head, shrugging again.
“Didn’t expect it to,” Arthur nods, moving away and out the door. Shutting it behind him, he wanders out to the front room and tries not to disturb those already sitting.
This becomes the norm: avoiding those who feel the tension in the air, but it lessens over time, and the others begin to speak to Arthur again. Three weeks cling to one another, each day passing with a large amount of rest on Arthur’s part, and an equally large amount of reading on Dutch’s. He’d find reasons to come out to the main room and sit near Arthur — or, that’s what Arthur liked to tell himself — if only to read for a while. The company became more or less soothing.
Although his stomach begins to cope with the swaying of the boat, he slowly starts to get worse over the weeks, his coughing becoming more frequent and painful as they ride along the waves. He doesn’t mention the pain to anyone, seeing it as unimportant. The sound almost becomes part of the daily routine for everyone, despite the fear of the cause.
It almost seems natural until it forcefully shakes Arthur awake and up off of the floor, where he’d put himself after that day with Dutch. It’s the middle of the night and a sudden lurch of his chest sends him to his feet, his hand beating on his chest as he feels the pain in his lungs multiply. It’s a horrible feeling, and he wants nothing more than for it to be gone, but with how harshly his throat is reacting to the sudden hoarseness, his eyes are tearing up and he’s suddenly stumbling.
He spots a doorway through half-blind eyes, the coughs getting slowly softer as he finally reaches the edge of them. He puffs out a few breaths before one hits a sore spot and Arthur is coughing all over again, his entire body shuffling forward. He loses his grip on the doorway, his limbs falling weak as he sees a place to hold himself up and steps towards it. Losing his footing, he barrels towards it, hands outstretched and ready to catch himself on it, but his eyes widen too late for him to notice as he spots the water below him and feels his weight beginning to throw him over.
He’s not sure if it’s the unexpected rush of fear in his mind or the previous exertion being forced onto his body, but before he hits the water, he blacks out. He feels something surrounding him, but surprisingly, it’s not ice cold; rather, warm. Perhaps the waters near these tropical islands are warmer than they are in the middle of the ocean as Arthur had heard.
It would make sense after all. Dutch would want to come here for a reason.
The stinging in his chest stays obvious as he supposedly drowns, but his mind is disconnected from his body and he is unable to struggle. He’ll die here, in the middle of the ocean, in the middle of the night, because his moronic mind sent him overboard.
What a way to go.
Except that’s not what takes him, because when he wakes again, he’s lying in Dutch’s bed and he’s completely dry. His breaths are loud and laboured, and he opens his eyes to see Charles sitting before him with a syringe and a bottle of clear liquid. Arthur flinches, seeing the needle and finding himself curious about the necessity of it.
“What’s that?” Arthur manages to rasp, his voice conflicting with his mind. Charles glances up at him before looking back down at the items in his hands and inserting the syringe into the bottle. “Charles,” Arthur tries again. “What are you…” Arthur’s chest heaves with a heavy breath and he lets it out with an equally heavy cough, causing him to groan out in pain. The image snaps into his head finally and he furrows his brows, looking up at Charles again. “Is… was that the Reverend’s?”
“It was,” Charles nods, pulling the syringe out and setting the bottle aside. “Morphine. It’s a pain reliever and it should make you strong until we reach our destination.” Arthur tenses as much as he can with how drowsy and out of it he is, shaking his head.
“I’m fine,” he says, moving to sit up before being pushed back down. His arm is held still as he watches the needle slowly near his bicep. He’s able to look away just as it’s about to touch his skin, but that doesn’t keep the pain from affecting him as much as it does. If anything were to wake him up, it would be that. He shuts his eyes and feels as Charles places his thumbs on either side of the injection site and begins to rub in firm circles. Arthur shouts in pain, lifting his other arm to his forehead and trying not to tense the one Charles is pressing his fingers into.
Dutch appears in the doorway shortly after Arthur makes the sound, but Arthur’s too busy being shot up with morphine to notice. His eyes are covered and he’s tensing every muscle in his body aside his left arm, which is finally released after a moment or two of Charles spreading the drug around and getting it going through Arthur’s body.
Arthur hears Charles’s voice as he pants and tries not to move his arm, then Dutch’s.
“He should be good to go for a while, just don’t let him know where the bottle’s at or he may become addicted,” Charles says, and Dutch supposedly nods.
“Thank you,” he sends Charles off with these two words before Arthur hears the door shut, and for a moment, he thinks he’s alone.
As the mattress shifts beneath him and he feels a hand on his uninjured arm, he thinks again. Dutch is there when Arthur lowers the appendage, looking up at the man with a look of complete innocence, discomfort, and pain. His lip is pushed out just slightly as he winces and tries to lie his left hand over his stomach.
“I know,” Dutch says, moving to lie down beside Arthur. He draws a few fingers from Arthur’s forearm to his shoulder, then along to the middle of his chest, where the hand stops and snakes around the centre of Arthur’s ribcage a few times. “Bold move, trying to throw yourself from the boat like that.”
“You saw?” Arthur asks, his voice still incredibly hoarse. Dutch hushes him, the hand on Arthur’s chest rising to curl and toy with Arthur’s hair.
“I was the one who caught you and lugged you back up onto the boat, Arthur.”
“Why were you out?”
“Heard you coughing. Figured I ought to bring you a drink, seeing as I had a bottle of water corked from the boil we had earlier,” Dutch is watching his fingers slide so elegantly through Arthur’s hair, and the latter finally takes notice of how intimate Dutch is being. They hadn’t been near as close to one another after that night, and they hadn’t even thought about revisiting the events of the night, anyway, so this behaviour is beyond strange.
Arthur nods, lying his head back against the pillows and gazing up at the wooden ceiling. They’ve been cooped up in this boat for who knows how long, and Arthur’s lungs have finally had enough of it. At the very least, he’s been eating more with Dutch around to remind (and force) him. “How much longer ‘til we’re there, Dutch?”
“Should only be a couple days, now. I know, you’re trapped up here with all of us, and you’re bored out of your mind, but I’m sure there’s more to do here than you think there is.” Arthur chuckles, drawing out a soft cough in comparison to earlier. Dutch shakes his head, a small smile on his lips.
“Figure I should ask, but you’ll tell me anyway.”
“Tell you what?”
“What there is to do,” Arthur says, still looking up at the ceiling rather than at Dutch’s face.
He begins thinking about how he’s had Dutch all to himself for the past month, and Micah’s been lying at some old saloon for that same amount of time. On the off-chance he lives, Arthur has Dutch in a strong grip, and he’s sure he won’t let go this time — though, he’d thought he had Dutch when they’d been family for over twenty years, but a loud-mouthed drunkard walked his way between them and disregarded everything Arthur stood for.
So much for that, now.
“Well, Five Finger Fillet isn’t quite a safe option, seeing as we have no table and no guarantee that the boat will stay still, but it’s an option all the same.”
“Right. Or Dominoes?”
“Sure, or —”
“Poker? Singin’ campfire songs around the little lantern we got?”
“Well, there’s more than that, Arthur. Think about it.”
“Coughin’ up a lung.”
“That’s exclusive and only relates to yourself, smartass.” Arthur laughs again, causing himself to move his left arm and hiss out with the pain in both his ribs and his arm. At the very least, his chest is beginning to get slightly less feeling, and that’s allowing Arthur a bit of hope for the future. If he’s able to keep taking that for the rest of his life, he should be fine.
“What else is there, then? Drinkin’ games?” Arthur lazily turns his head and finally looks at Dutch, the man’s copper-brown eyes drifting between Arthur’s before he finally leans forward and presses their lips together. Arthur hadn’t entirely expected that response, but he can’t honestly say that he was that naïve about it. In reality, he was only dragging Dutch’s chain to get him to do something, but he’s also half out of it, and he’s not quite thinking right.
Arthur shifts, his left arm moving as slowly as he does, bringing his legs up a bit and curling to the right in order to make himself more comfortable. Reaching up just a bit with his right hand, he cups the side of Dutch’s face and slowly slides his hold back until his thumb is just behind Dutch’s ear and his fingers are tangled in Dutch’s curls again. Dutch seems to be more of a natural, hands gliding and holding and feeling all over Arthur’s upper body.
Lying down and doing this certainly is a challenge, but they get past it, Arthur, at least, simply soaking Dutch’s attention, in. This seems to have been the only free-time Dutch has had in months, so he’s lucky he’s caught the man’s eye in this way.
Arthur feels Dutch’s hand lowering to his belt line, slowly grasping and pulling at the shirt to remove it from the confines of Arthur’s belt, and he’s both worried and intrigued. Dutch is the one pushing this forward, not himself, so clearly the man must want something, right?
Dutch’s calloused fingertips find skin under Arthur’s shirt and Arthur takes a slow breath, trying to prepare himself for whatever’s coming before there’s a knock at the door and Arthur immediately pulls himself away. He lies there on his back, trying to keep from hissing as his left arm goes slack and tries to keep him on his side.
Dutch stands from the bed, Arthur slowly pushing the hem of his shirt back under his belt as the door is opened. Arthur clears his throat to play the part of being sick (which isn’t hard in the slightest), accidentally sending himself into a slight coughing fit before he hears the news.
“Dutch, you said a day or two, but there’s an island out there,” says John, pointing for Dutch to take a look. The man leaves the doorway and steps out onto the deck, immediately seeing what John is talking about. He returns and nods to John, thanking him and telling him to go inform the others.
“We’re almost there, Arthur. Happily, it’s sooner than we expected.”
Chapter 9: Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks
After nearly being caught red-handed, Arthur is worried to continue with what they were doing. He’s absolutely still in the mood, but his mind is finally pulling him away from the situation and forcing him to look a little deeper into what could’ve happened.
Even as Dutch shuts the door again and returns to his previous position, Arthur is unable to initiate anything. He’s worried.
“Arthur,” Dutch whispers, and immediately, Arthur’s back from his world of worry, and looks directly into Dutch’s eyes. “What’s got you so quiet?”
“Just worried about gettin’ caught, is all,” he says, looking to the door and then back to Dutch. The man is so handsome, as Arthur’s come to notice. It didn’t take long after he and Hosea swiped him off of the streets, seeing as Dutch simply is , but he’s being reminded of that fact in this moment, and he adores it.
“Let them see,” Dutch replies, and Arthur pauses.
“I said,” the man pulls Arthur close, doesn’t care that he was a few feet away and is now a few inches. Arthur’s heart stops. “Let them see.”
“Why? Wouldn’t that, y’know, turn your reputation to pigeon shit? Bein’ with another man? With me ?”
“Why would it, Arthur? They all’ve stayed with me, and you’ve stayed with me, so why would something like this suddenly change anything?” Arthur stops again and begins to think about it. As always, Dutch is right. He should’ve figured that Dutch would be that way. But what about Arthur’s reputation? Part of him says that there’s not a reputation to ruin, a second that his reputation can’t get any worse, and a third that is worried the people who really, genuinely trust him will suddenly despise him.
“I guess you’re right,” he whispers, still looking away. He’s unable to look Dutch straight in the eyes anymore. Especially when their noses are this close to touching, and then they’re brushing up against each other as Dutch tilts his head and kisses Arthur, who would enjoy it, if it weren’t for the constant worry in his mind. He pulls away just a moment after Dutch has slipped his hands up to Arthur’s jaw to hold him closer. “Really, why are you doin’ this?”
“I simply am , Arthur; humour me.” Those lips catch Arthur’s for a split second before he pulls away again.
“Do you like it, Dutch? Or are you just… doin’ it to do it?”
“Yes, Arthur, I like it.” He tries again, and Arthur pulls back a third time, this time his entire body moves away.
“It just… feels wrong. I don’t know,” Arthur says, although he really just wants to do this no questions asked.
“Get over here.” Dutch suddenly snaps, quieter than his normal speaking voice, but louder than a mutter. His hand strongly grips Arthur’s ass and pulls him closer, the other staying on Arthur’s face. But immediately, Arthur arches with the feeling of that hand on his ass. He gasps in surprise, looking down at the hand. “Will you quit doubting me, Arthur Morgan? I do enjoy this. I want to do this. I don’t care if anyone on this boat walks in on us. Do you hear me?”
“Yes,” Arthur chokes out, looking Dutch in the eyes, now. They pass glances for just a second before Arthur makes the first move forward and plants his lips against Dutch’s, not planning on removing them any time soon. It’s his time, and it’s his greatest fantasy finally coming to life, so why shouldn’t he milk it for every drop it’s worth?
Arthur’s arms are completely around Dutch, now, who groans into the kiss, his searching hand groping and squeezing and feeling. Arthur’s hips twitch forward with every squeeze, but he doesn’t complain at all.
“Dutch,” Arthur breathes, furrowing his brows and pursing his lips as he really makes sure he wants to do this. “What’re you doin’?”
“As much as you want to do,” Dutch says, and Arthur feels a wave of relief mixed with nervousness fill his body.
“If I knew you thought of me like this, I would’a done somethin’ a long time ago.” Arthur’s leg is moved to rest on Dutch’s hip with the help of Dutch’s hand slowly dragging it there, and he strangely enjoys the position. It might be feminine and frankly, not Arthur’s style, but Dutch is Arthur’s style, and he’ll go along with whatever.
“I know,” Dutch whispers, and Arthur feels the man slowly pressing his hips forward and retreating again at the same pace, his entire body seemingly into it. Arthur’s less of that, his head doing most of the work while his arms stay clamped around Dutch. Overall, it’s pretty awkward, and not at all how any of Arthur’s fantasies had played out, but that seems alright. Because Dutch is touching him, kissing him. Enjoying him. “Let’s start our new lives off nicely, Arthur,” Dutch grins, moving back in for a kiss as Arthur expects, but his lips are missed and he feels Dutch’s tongue on his neck.
Goosebumps line his arms and his legs under his clothes, and Arthur lets out a small breath.
“What’re you doin’?”
“Haven’t you ever been in this way with anyone, Arthur?”
“Sure. I just ain’t ever had that done to me before.” Arthur relaxes and tenses slowly as Dutch’s body continues to flow like waves against Arthur. His lips and his teeth collide with Arthur’s neck over and over, and Arthur is only able to make small noises as he does.
Dutch is able to push himself up to hunch over Arthur after a few moments, Arthur lying on his back and enjoying the sweet sensation that comes from Dutch being near him — not to mention the things it’s doing to Arthur in other means. But he doesn’t feel shame for it, seeing as Dutch hasn’t made a point to check the rest of his body. That is…
He tenses as he feels Dutch’s fingers suddenly working at the buttons on his shirt. He begins to wonder if Dutch is really, truly serious about this. If he’s not pulling Arthur’s chain and simply leading him on. If he is, he certainly is doing a damn fine job of hiding it — not that he doesn’t in any other situation, of course.
Dutch’s voice leaves Arthur’s lips again as the buttons slowly come undone, then the suspenders, set to either side of Arthur’s body on the bed. The clasps on Arthur’s union suit come undone after, Dutch following them this time. His lips are placed where every button had been before they were separated, and Arthur’s legs tense shut on either side of Dutch.
“I ain’t sure about this, Dutch,” Arthur says, looking up at the ceiling more than he is at Dutch. The man stops, sliding a hand down to Arthur’s thigh as he moves forward and leans on a hand, placed on the pillow by Arthur’s head.
“About what, Arthur?” Dutch sounds less demanding than usual, catching Arthur extremely off-guard. It’s like he’s a completely different person. So Arthur stutters, fumbling with his words several times over before he’s able to make a coherent sentence.
“ This . I ain’t sure about this or anythin’ havin’ to do with it. How long’s it been since you were with a woman, Dutch? You can’t be this desperate.”
“That’s because I’m not desperate, Arthur.” Dutch sounds patient, like he truly cares about what Arthur is saying and cares about why Arthur is having such a difficult time with all of this at once.
“Sure you are, you’re… you’re in bed with me , when you could be with anyone else. Maybe not now, but in Tahiti? Pretty ladies who are better lookin’ than me, and could probably keep up with you better, will be hangin’ off your arm. You’re definitely pretty enough to get them goin’, but me?” Dutch goes quiet, lowering his head. It hangs there for a second as Dutch thinks, and Arthur truly thinks that he’s thrown the man for a loop with all of his words over the past month.
“Arthur.” Arthur completely freezes.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean ta’— you can keep goin’ if you want, ignore me and my chatterin’—”
“Will you quit?” Dutch suddenly pushes himself up, his brows furrowed as he looks Arthur in the eyes. Arthur shrinks back into the bed, worried and trying to back track. If he just hadn’t said anything…
“Forget I said anythin’ just keep goin’,” Arthur tries, his eyes moving quickly from the ceiling to Dutch, then back to the ceiling again. Not now, when Dutch has finally done something.
“No,” Dutch says, and Arthur pauses.
“No.” He repeats, firmer this time. “I’m not going to ignore you. All you ever do is talk down on you and all you accomplish, Arthur. Is there really nothing you see as good about yourself?” He takes a moment to respond, expecting Dutch to continue on. Arthur shrugs his shoulders, opening his mouth to speak, but before a word comes out, “No. Don’t just shrug, Arthur. This isn’t…” Dutch shakes his head, taking a breath. “There is really nothing? ”
“Not really,” Arthur admits, shaking his head and trying to refrain from shrugging again. “Nothin’ good about an ugly moron.” Dutch looks baffled, yet his eyebrows show an overwhelming amount of pity, along with the look in his eyes.
“You can’t mean that, son.”
“Jus’ what everyone says, so it’s gotta be true.” Dutch’s face changes again. He looks like he understands; like he’s just come to a complete realisation.
“I see,” is all he says, before dipping down and placing a soft kiss against Arthur’s slightly-puffy and abused lips. “You know I don’t think of you like that, don’t you?”
“Figured everyone did,” Arthur shakes his head, finally dragging his eyes somewhere else. “Just somethin’ I give off, or somethin’ like that.”
“I don’t,” Dutch repeats, shaking his head and gently grasping Arthur’s chin to assist in their eyes meeting, this close. “I think you’re awful pretty for a cowboy.”
“You do?” Arthur sounds like a child hearing shocking news. Dutch hates that it has to be this topic Arthur is so naїve on.
“‘Course I do. You ever seen yourself?” Dutch’s fingers slowly drag along Arthur’s jaw, his eyes attached to Arthur’s face and his expression as he smiles a crooked, handsome smile.
“You been drinkin’ old man?” Arthur teases, and Dutch shakes his head.
“Not at all.” There’s a silence between the two of them as Arthur’s eyes survey the man above him, who is doing the very same to the one below. They exchange glances a few times and Arthur keeps catching himself on Dutch’s lips, where his gaze lies for a large amount of time. “What ain’t you sure about, Arthur?”
“I’m only worried you’ll regret it.”
“Maybe I will,” Dutch says, clearly back to his old self, telling the truth as it is. “But that will wait until I’m finished with you.” He moves back to his place from before, lips returning to the spot just below Arthur’s ribs. Arthur shivers, feeling as each of the buttons on his union suit is undone and lessens the tension on the fabric.
Dutch’s lips get lower and lower, until Arthur’s pants are unbuttoned and the suit is left clasped. He feels a warm breath over his groin and straightens, gasping softly.
The question still prods at his mind. He wants to ask before it gets too late and Arthur finds out that he’s been the victim of someone’s sloppy seconds, specifically Micah’s, but he’s not sure if he should bring it up. Then again, Dutch is in such a chipper mood, he should take it well, shouldn’t he?
“Dutch,” Arthur struggles to get the entire name out at once, but he knows he’s gotten Dutch’s attention when the slight pressure against his groin lessens. “You…” he wonders, last-moment, if he should really ask this now.
Better late than never.
“You an’ Micah ever do anythin’ like this?”
And Dutch is silent, so Arthur looks down and sees the man with his jaw slack, his brows coming together in what looks like a sad amalgamation of betrayal, anger, disgust, and…
He shouldn’t’ve said anything. Should’ve kept his mouth shut, and should’ve never brought it up.
“Never mind. Just my dumb mouth goin’ off again.”
It’s silent. Eerily silent. Dutch’s gaze shifts between Arthur’s eyes as he clearly tries to sort this out.
“Are you serious?”
Dutch looks utterly lost and hurt.
“I was just caught up in the moment, Dutch, I didn’t mean anythin’.”
Dutch pushes himself up, leaning against an arm as he looks at Arthur, the face turning to that of almost pure disgust. He looks over the man’s body. The disheveled clothing and the slight flush of red painting Arthur’s skin.
“You were really thinking about him? While I…”
Arthur shakes his head, trying to grab at Dutch’s wrist before he moves it and leaves Arthur with nothing but empty space to wrap his fingers around.
“No, no, it was just me thinkin’ about everythin’ else, and it just came out, I didn’t mean to— don’t go, Dutch,” Arthur pleads, but Dutch pushes himself to his feet, shaking his head with that look of pain and betrayal on his face again.
“If I had known this was some sick competition you two were part of, I…” Dutch shakes his head, moving towards the door. Arthur’s heart leaps and he pushes himself up onto an arm, then to a knee, trying to follow, but he’s stunned in his spot. “You’re pathetic, Arthur Morgan.”
The door opens and shuts, leaving Arthur alone once again.
Chapter 10: Down for the Count
It’s just over an hour later that they’re finally tied to a dock and everyone is able to stretch their legs.
Arthur’s been sitting in that room since Dutch had left him there, his head in his hands and his shirt remaining undone. His suspenders are still lying loosely by his sides, but at the very least, he’s gotten himself to the point of being able to fix his pants and his union suit. It’s simply the lack of motivation that’s kept him from making himself presentable, at the very least.
There’s a knock at the door when Arthur hasn’t emerged from the room yet, and initially, Arthur doesn’t respond to it, for fear that it’s Dutch. Maybe he’ll believe Arthur’s asleep and can’t be bothered to say something so idiotic again.
There’s a second knock, more insistent this time. He doesn’t reply again, and he hears a sigh on the other side of the door. “I know you’re in there, Arthur, come on.” John.
“I’ll be out in a few,” Arthur supplies, and John’s silence signifies a disbelief. “Go on, go see what the sand’s like. Bet it’s warm with the sun.”
“Quit changin’ the subject, Arthur. What the hell happened between you and Dutch?”
“Nothin’.” Arthur hears the door open behind him, then shut again.
“Don’t give me that. You know I don’t believe that horseshit for a minute.” John sounds pissed, and Arthur almost wants to tell him to leave, because he’s fed up with people being pissed off at him. Dutch, on one hand, is more than enough, but if John, his brother, is as well? “Tell me.”
“There’s nothin’ to tell, John.”
“Arthur,” John snarls, moving around the bed and stepping to stand in front of Arthur, his brows furrowed in anger, but at least it’s not the look Dutch had given him just an hour before.
“Forget it,” Arthur shakes his head, lowering his gaze even further as he slouches and leans against his elbows, which are resting over his thighs. He feels a hand on his face, tightening around his cheeks and pressing them in against his teeth to lift his head.
“Tell me!” Arthur feels something snap inside him, and he throws a fist at John’s face, then watches as he stumbles back and rocks the boat a bit with the sudden weight shifting.
“Know your place, Marston.” Arthur frowns, standing from the bed and beginning to button up his shirt as he turns away and glances out the window. “Your disgusting fingers ain’t got no business on me.”
“I just don’t want you to end up like O’Shea.” John has a hand clasped over his cheekbone, and he’s still glaring at Arthur. The man’s stronger than that; holding his hand over a wound like that. He’s been shot, for God’s sake. But seeing as it was Arthur who did it, it’s less of a surprise that it takes him with that much power.
“I ain’t goin’ to,” Arthur shakes his head, turning to walk towards the door. “Pretty sure I’m done with him, as it is.”
“You are?” John asks, and Arthur pauses to look over his shoulder at the face John’s making. Their eyes meet and John shakes his head. “No, you’re just kiddin’ me, aren’t you, Arthur?”
“Why would I—” Arthur’s lips part in a cough and he turns back to the door, hitting the side of his fist against it as he gently cuffs his throat with the other, coughing and barely catching a breath between them. His chest hurts, and his lungs hurt, and frankly, the coughing has gotten old by now. “Christ,” he rasps, clearing his throat.
John is silent; after a moment, Arthur stands up and shakes his head, taking a breath.
“Forget it.” He pulls the door open, and before John can respond, he pushes himself through the doorway and out into the hall, then out onto the deck. Arthur is immediately taken by surprise with the feeling of the air and the weight of the humidity making him feel much heavier than he really is. He also spots Dutch in further on the dock, speaking to some man about something or other.
Arthur decides that he doesn’t care — or at least, that he shouldn’t, and looks away, moving forward and out onto the dock. He sees a group of the others; Bill, Sadie, and Charles; standing off to his left, and pushes himself towards them, stepping into their conversation with his thumbs hooked over his belt.
“How nice of you to join us, Morgan!” Bill cheers, and after a month of being able to grow his beard back, he’s finally looking like he used to. That is, aside the greys slowly making their way into the lot of brown there. He looks thinner and clearer in mind, too; seems like Sadie was able to keep his hand out of the limited amount of liquor they were able to grab before leaving.
“Thought I needed to step out of that rickety old thing for once.”
“Wish we all had a chance to have a break here and there, but you know, I think I like solid ground a lot more now that I’ve been without it for that long,” Sadie smiles, and Arthur nods, smiling a bit but keeping his eyes low.
“Hard bein’ in such close quarters for that long, feels like we’re all still stuck there.” Arthur comments, lifting his hand to brush his fingers over his cheek and the short beard he’s gathered over the time he’d gone without a shave. “Glad we ain’t anymore, but this’ll still take some gettin’ used to.”
“Dutch says we’ll be having a get-together tonight at the nearest hotel. At least that’s something we can say isn’t going to change,” Charles supplies, Sadie eyeing Arthur and noticing his behaviour, especially on that boat. Then again, the lot of them are rather fed-up with one another after being so close and without much to do but sleep and play cards for that long.
“And what is that?” Bill turns to Charles.
“Dutch is still the same man. Always likes to dress things up for us.”
“Nice and pretty,” Arthur agrees, though his heart aches at knowing that Dutch will likely want nothing to do with him after that stunt he pulled. At the very least, they won’t be seeing any more of Micah, and they’re finally getting settled into a real life. They’ll just have to forget all of the the years, all of the lives, and all of the money it took to get here.
“Lighten up, Sourface,” Bill jeers, and Arthur glances up at him. “We’re in Tahiti, now. Livin’ out Dutch’s dream, and you’re over there pouting.”
“I ain’t meanin’ to,” Arthur says, shaking his head and standing a little straighter, although his tired spine begs him not to. “Just worried, is all.”
“Worried about what, Morgan? That the mangoes won’t be ripe enough?” The teasing is becoming ridiculous, and Arthur begins to wonder if he really does need as much alone time as his mind is telling him he does. “You need a drink.” Bill lifts and slaps a hand down against Arthur’s back, making him straighten and grit his teeth in pain from the movement. Bill begins walking him towards land.
“That what you think’ll get me to stop worryin’? ‘Sides, how are you gonna get drinks, anyhow? Ain’t we out?”
“Look at where we are, Morgan. I hear them coconuts is full of whiskey.” Arthur’s brows furrow together.
“You kiddin’ me? In those?” Arthur points at a nearby tree, spotting one of the things hanging a long ways above them. It doesn’t seem to be something that could possibly produce whiskey, but he supposes it’s unknown to the both of them and anything is really possible by now.
“Who knows? We’ll find out!” Bill walks him towards the land, and after pointing him towards all of the places Dutch had talked about, he finally quietens, and there’s a long lull in their conversation.
“Looks an awful lot like Guarma,” Arthur says, and Bill nods.
“I tried not to mention it.”
“Guess I can see why Dutch got them confused.”
“You can? I don’t know about you, Morgan, but I don’t see any cannons and I don’t hear any guns. This feels like Guarma, only better.”
“And with whiskey growin’ in the trees.” Bill nods, smiling. Arthur’s not sure he’s ever seen the man smile this much. What could’ve possibly gotten into him? “So, you takin’ me to this hotel?”
“Sure. Javier’s already there, said he’ll find out whether the locals speak English.” Arthur nods, going quiet again as they walk across the sand.
It’s definitely hot, and Arthur feels a little overdressed, even without his coat. He used to think he spent too much time in the sun; too much time in the heat, but Dutch always told him that he’d work up a tolerance for it, and that he did. It’s just not the same when there’s also the weight of the entire ocean weighing Arthur down and causing his breaths to feel much more forced.
They reach a rather large building after a while of trekking through sand, and Bill spots Javier almost immediately, obviously looking confused as he tries to speak to a native, but seemingly gets nowhere. They approach, Arthur staying behind just a bit to look around at the place. It’s pretty nice, for what it’s worth, but Arthur can’t help the stinging feeling in his stomach from how easy this seems. It can’t be this simple, and they can’t be in the clear after that. It was too easy .
“Morgan,” Bill calls, and Arthur finally pulls his gaze away from the building, watching as Bill turns to Javier and shakes his head. “Braindead, I tell you.” Arthur spurs himself forward, noticing that the woman has walked herself away.
“That boat really did you in for something, didn’t it?” Javier comments, and Arthur shakes his head, shrugging.
“Still worried,” Arthur says, trying to get the attention off of him and onto someone or something else.
“About?” Javier’s face looks genuinely interested in what Arthur has to say, unlike Bill’s. He shakes his head and makes sure he’s loud enough for many of the others lingering around, English or not, to hear him.
“He needs a drink. Maybe a broad on his arm.” Arthur shakes his head, disregarding it as he clears his throat and attempts to change the subject.
“So, we’re stayin’ here until we get our own place?”
“Or until Dutch pisses the owners off,” Javier smirks, Arthur not taking it as much of a joke as he nods and turns his eyes away. He feels a resounding discomfort from being in the presence of the family and friends he’s known most of his life, and that, in itself, causes him to feel a bit awkward.
Arthur pushes a laugh.
“Yeah, well,” he clears his throat, feeling the itch crawling up and trying to drag a cough from him. “I’ll see you both later. I should…” he glances over his shoulder as he hears the voices of two familiar friends approaching. Dutch and Sadie. “Help get everythin’ off the boat.”
“Sure,” Bill waves his hand to dismiss Arthur, who turns on his heel and tries not to hold his breath as he stares at the ground, teeth grit.
The two speaking come around a corner and Sadie spots Arthur before he spots them. She’s the first to say anything between the three of them, and unfortunately enough, it doesn’t lift the blanket of tension. “Good to finally stretch your legs, ain’t it?”
“Sure,” Arthur nods, his gaze drifting up to Dutch after a moment or two, only to find the man looking at Sadie, anyhow.
“Come on, what happened to the Arthur Morgan that went off ridin’ as soon as we got to a new camp?” Sadie can feel it, and that much is blatantly obvious, from the way she’s trying to drag the conversation through the mud right now.
“Looks like he got his sea legs, Sadie. Ain’t the same man.” Arthur looks up to Dutch again, then away.
“I’m sure he ain’t. ‘Least not without a drink,” she teases, and Arthur nods. Seems that’s all he’s able to do today, aside quietly agreeing. “Well, I hope you find joy in knowin’ that you will be sleepin’ alone this time.”
Arthur nods, pursing his lips and furrowing his brows, then lifting them, then lowering them again as he thinks.
“I should get my things.” Arthur says after a moment, and before either of them can reply with anything, he pulls himself away from the conversation.
Arthur drags his feet through the mud as he walks himself back to the boat, and he wonders if anyone will miss him if he doesn’t show at the celebration tonight. It would be nice to drink something other than syrup from canned fruit for once, but he’s sure he can skip it. Especially if he can miss out on the discomfort of being around Dutch again.
He knows he’s not acting like himself, but hopefully, he can gather his feelings long enough to fix it by tomorrow. After all, he’s been through worse than a simple miscommunication with Dutch. Besides, Arthur got his hopes up, and he’s told himself not to, time and time again.
At the very least, Micah won’t be showing up again, and that gives Arthur the slight peace of mind he needs.
Chapter 11: A Hard Pill to Swallow
Arthur is carrying his chest up to his room when he hears Dutch beginning his speech about something or other, but he really doesn’t want to join everyone. He’s still worried about everything, and with the way the day has been going, it doesn’t seem that he’s been very good at keeping that off of his face.
He’s careful to set it down slowly, though the stress on his back begs him to drop it altogether, and he sits himself back on the bed. It feels as though the comforter is padded with feathers from the way it breathes below him, and he wouldn’t really be surprised with the decor of the place. It’s much fancier than any of the hotels he’d stayed in over the past year. Perhaps it’s only America plunging itself into debt, and the other countries are actually much better off. Besides, how it sounds, this place is apparently owned by France, which is a huge step in the right direction, seeing as they all want secrecy over their names and over their family.
After a while of sitting and listening to Dutch’s lecture, he lets out a heavy sigh and pulls his journal out of his satchel, leaning back a bit against the mattress. Flipping back through the pages, he passes by a sketch of the sand bottle Dutch had shown him. It’d been a while after Dutch had shown him that he’d kept the damned thing, but the simple suggestion of Dutch caring that much meant a lot to him.
Arthur’s fingers place themselves around the corner, pinching. He doesn’t realise that he’s begun to tear it out until half of the page is gone, along with what’s written on the back of it. He swears under his breath and lets go of the page, looking directly at where his thumb and forefinger had been creasing the page in the corner and glares at it.
There’s a tear directly down the centre of the page, so Arthur grumbles to himself and just finishes it off, tearing the rest of it out. He’d tried to tell himself that he wouldn’t tear pages out, seeing as he has the journal for a reason, but there’s no point in keeping a half-torn page anyway.
He crumples it up in his palm and sets the journal aside, latching it shut and placing it back into his satchel with his empty hand. Dutch’s voice is still going on downstairs, so he figures he can sneak out and back to the boat to go sketch it again. The back of the page had only been talking about it, and he can rewrite how he feels now, if he cares to.
The main point is that he wants to see it again.
He hasn’t spoken to Dutch, let alone been in the same room with him for only a couple of hours, and he’s already worried. Has been since he let those words slip out of his mouth like only an idiot would.
Arthur’s an idiot.
He doesn’t understand why he needs to reiterate that to himself time and time again, because it’s common knowledge at this point.
Pushing himself to his feet, he keeps the page tight in his fist and moves out into the hallway, quietly shutting the door behind him. Making his way down the corridor, he keeps his steps light and keeps his ear out for anyone coming up the stairs before he descends them.
Reaching the bottom and peeking around a corner towards Dutch’s voice, he’s able to see everyone outside and all of their thrilled expressions.
He supposes there was no reason to go off wondering about whether or not others would miss him, because it has always been obvious that they wouldn’t, and they don’t.
Arthur pulls himself away from the corner and takes a breath as he leans against the wall, trying not to allow himself to feel anything about it. After that long, and after everything he’s done, not even Sadie comes looking, nor does Charles or Dutch, though he’d be surprised if Dutch came looking now. There’s a rift between them, and he’s uncertain as to when it will be repaired — if it will be repaired.
Lifting himself from the wall again, he looks for a way out. It’s simple, seeing as the place is pretty open on the bottom floor and closed on the top, but he’s still worried that the others will spot him as he’s running back to the boat. “What are you doing,” they’ll say, “come join us,” they’ll say, “lighten up,” they’ll say.
Then Arthur remembers the paper in his hand, and remembers spotting a fire off to the right a bit from the rest of the gang. If he’s smooth about it, he’ll be able to get over there and toss the paper into the fire, but as for right now, he’s worried the others will get bored of Dutch’s droning and turn their heads just as he’s arriving. What’ll he do then?
He shakes his head and moves quickly, thinking of it as hunting a deer. Resilient, and those ears can hear anything Arthur throws. So he’s careful to make his way around the building, then approaches from behind.
He spots the fire, and it seems that everyone’s turned away. Dutch will be able to see him, and blatantly so, as soon as he steps into the light, but he doesn’t expect the man to announce his presence. At least it seems he wants to ignore it himself.
So he pushes his way into the light and tosses the paper into the flames, watching it disintegrate and warp before making eye contact with Dutch. It causes him to tense, but thankfully not to freeze, and he’s turning away to escape just as he hears Bill’s voice over his shoulder. “Morgan! We were all wonderin’ where you got off to.”
He must’ve made a mistake. Dutch must’ve kept his eyes for too long, or they all saw him, and now he’s the main attraction to the gathering he hadn’t wanted to be a part of in the slightest.
“Yeah,” he stands, clearing his throat and leaning on one leg in an attempt to show that he’s relaxed. “Was just headin’ off to check the boat for any forgotten things.”
“You should join us,” Bill says, lifting a bottle of something Arthur can’t recognise. Must be something foreign. “They got somethin’ strong here for us.”
“I will,” Arthur says, though he doesn’t mean it in the slightest. “Just goin’ to check Dutch’s room for any of my things.”
“I’ve cleared everything out, Arthur, but if you’d like to check again, be my guest.” Dutch calls from his elevated stance above the crowd, however much his voice sounds like it wants to be finished with Arthur’s name altogether. Arthur nods, turning on his heel and trying to hurry away from all of the staring eyes. It unnerves him to the hugest degree, and he doesn’t understand how Dutch can stand before them and speak like no one is watching. Then again, he craves their attention, while Arthur avoids it. Another thing the two of them have a difference over, however insignificant.
He’s walking himself back down the beach now, his eyes gazing over the glistening sea. It’s just like it was on the boat with the moonlight over it, only Arthur’s stomach isn’t upset over the seasickness, and rather the fear of an irreparable tear between him and Dutch.
He spots the Big Dipper above him and mistakes a few stars for Orion’s Belt, but he remembers that night and it causes him to cuff his hands around his arms and hunch his shoulders.
If jealousy weren’t an emotion his body could understand and replicate, perhaps he’d be better off. He and Mary would be together, rather than her with that man who gave her that last name. Or he and Dutch would be, and they would be celebrating together, with the remainder of the gang. Micah is nowhere to be found, especially here. He should be happy; overjoyed.
But he’s not.
He’s worried about everything and nothing; the past and the future; the rights and the wrongs; all at once.
Arriving back to the boat, he finally pulls his eyes from the water, walks himself onto the vessel, into the hallway, and into the room he and Dutch shared for only a night. It smells like the man when Arthur first steps in, but the items that Dutch had placed in here are gone, just as he’d said. This is why Arthur’s confused by his surprise, but all the same, he knows he is not thinking right in the slightest.
He lowers himself to his knees and checks under the bed to find nothing, then begins to check the drawers, bottom to top as he’s already on the floor. He tugs them open and shuts them again when he doesn’t spot anything, but then he does, in the top drawer.
Reopening it, Arthur finds the bottle of sand lying there and rolling around with the sudden opening and closing of the drawer.
Dutch had said he’d gathered all of his things, so why is this here? Perhaps he’d forgotten it, but it’s the only thing. There had been other items in the drawer when he’d placed it in there. Arthur’d seen other things.
So why is it the only thing left behind?
Surely, it must be a mistake, he thinks, trying not to let his mind jump to the worst, but it does anyway.
Dutch wouldn’t just leave this behind like that, would he? After expressing to Arthur how much it meant to him? He wouldn’t let some petty fight get between him and his memories, would he?
Why wouldn’t he?
Arthur’s such a fool.
He lifts the bottle from the drawer and shuts it, looking at it. It’s cold, unlike when Dutch had been holding it and looking at it for all that time. He moves out of the room, holding it snug between his fingers and his palm, and he tries not to allow his lip to quiver as his mind drifts back to that memory Dutch had shared with him.
He remembers Hosea’s voice.
The way he used to speak in such a nuanced tone, and the way he would smile when it was just the three of them.
Like when they’d all gone fishing out by Clemens Point, and they’d reminisced on old times.
Arthur furrows his brows, his eyes shutting as he feels a pain in them. He rubs the meat of his empty hand over them and opens them again, but after the third time, he finds a log to sit on by the edge of the forest and places himself down.
He shakily lifts the bottle up to look at it again, and remembers Hosea’s face. When he’d first met Arthur, then that night on the beach with this stupid bottle, then in Blackwater when they’d been planning that heist.
When he’d looked Arthur in the eyes, then was shot dead in the chest by that bastard, Milton.
It isn’t until he’s hunched himself over and is tugging at the hair on the top of his head that he even realises there are tears falling from his eyes.
All he’d ever done was mock and tease Hosea, and he’d seldom thank him for the experiences he’d been given. All of his praise had gone to Dutch, even with the similar amount of mockery. What a fool he’s been, all these years.
He trembles, remembering that day as such a warped and far-away dream. Like Hosea could still be alive somewhere. Although he wishes it were true, wishes he could replace Hosea in every walk of life, he knows it isn’t. Hosea’s gone; Arthur and Dutch are the only two left of this family, and now it seems that it’s falling apart.
“Jesus,” Arthur mutters, swiping a hand across his face as he’s able to look up and blink his vision clear.
Suddenly, he’s back in that forest, that night.
It’s been longer than a month, now. Maybe five weeks? But he can’t get that image out of his mind. Can’t get the burning out of his lungs. Can’t get the pain out of his mind; his heart; his entire being. It’s late. He’s beginning to lose his breath.
And suddenly he’s launched into a fit of coughs, one hand around his throat and the other dropping the bottle to the ground.
Hosea’s face plays in his mind, and Arthur is unable to differentiate the sound of his heartbeat from the sound of his footfalls, but he knows he’s teetering forward, then back again.
It’s all his fault. It’s always ever been his fault.
Hosea. Lenny. Sean. Kieran, Susan, Molly, Mac, Davey, Jenny, Isaac, Eliza.
Their faces flash across his vision as he blindly catches himself on a tree trunk with a weak arm, hearing their voices. The things they’d said to him. The kind things they’d say to him, which he never returned in sincerity.
Hosea turning to face his bullet, before dying in the street.
Lenny, on the rooftop, just after Hosea, as they ran from what they’d done.
Sean so unexpectedly murdered in Rhodes, over some familial issue they’d found themselves tied up in.
Kieran sent riding into their camp, beheaded.
Susan shot in camp in the middle of the mess already happening.
Molly just the same.
Mac, Arthur’s lucky not to have seen his death.
Davey suffering through the cold before his body finally allowed him peace from that bullet wound.
Jenny hardly making it out of Blackwater after she’d tried so hard to get the rest of them out.
Isaac never getting the chance to become his own person, because he was shot over ten dollars.
Eliza becoming so distraught after making one mistake with the wrong man, then regretting it until she died, nineteen years later, just beside the son of a man she’d barely become friendly with.
Arthur is able to gasp in another breath and open his eyes to see the world becoming splotchy before he shuts them again and feels his hand slip from the tree.
The ground against his side is the last thing he feels before everything suddenly disappears, and he’s left to wander amongst the spirits haunting his mind.
Chapter 12: Scot-Free
A gentle cough is the thing that wakes Arthur, and he finds his throat in even more pain than he’d left it in. Sure, he’d felt it as a distant idea in his mind, but he’d expected to wake to it being in its usual, waking pain.
He’d also expected to wake up inside, or maybe in the presence of others.
But he’s lying on a rock, cold against his shoulder as he slowly shifts into consciousness.
The previous night comes flooding back to him, and he wonders if he’d fallen asleep with his mouth open again, and that’s why his throat is physically begging him for any sort of relief.
Pushing himself upright, he groans out in pain. If the simple sound weren’t enough to set his nerves on fire, he’s sure the pain in his spine would’ve done the trick. Must’ve screwed it up when he’d fallen, and then forced it into a screwy position as he’d blacked out and left it that way for hours.
It’s morning now, according to the sun, which is luckily blocked out by a few trees as Arthur lies there and tries to gain his stamina.
Despite feeling like he’s been run over by a train, he pushes himself into a sitting position and looks at his legs, finding one of the knees on his pant legs torn open. He grumbles at the fact, remembering that Hosea had always been the one to fix and patch his pants. Now, he supposes, he can ask Tilly, but it seems far less personal in a way he can’t quite describe.
Thinking back on the night before, he recalls all of the names and the faces which joined him in his dreams. As much as he’d expected them to be nightmares, they were much nicer than that; much nicer than he deserved.
He lets out a sigh and feels his throat strain to make the sound, feeling a dryness in his tongue and along his lips. If anything, he needs a drink, and he needs it sooner rather than later.
Besides, the fact that no one found him clearly means they didn’t come looking, but that doesn’t really surprise him at all. They’d probably all prefer he walk himself into the ocean and drown, or something like that. Just as long as his sour face and attitude are gone.
Arthur slowly lifts himself to his feet, wobbling when he feels a gash around the area of where his pants had been torn. Must’ve happened when he fell, he figures, so he tries to ignore it and glances out at the water. He spots the boat, and immediately he gets his bearings, but before he begins his way back to the hotel, he remembers dropping the bottle.
If nothing else, he wants to keep it. He wants to hand it back to Dutch and look the man in the eyes as he shakes his head and turns on his heel, not listening to whatever excuse Dutch will likely conjure up for the moment. Arthur doesn’t want to hear it.
Stumbling around, he looks at the ground. There’s nothing for a while, and at first, Arthur begins to worry that it’s been picked up by some bird or by another person, but no one would want something with a bit of sand in it. Not even Dutch, it seems, even if it has meaning behind it.
Then he spots it, with the light of the sun glinting off of the edge of it, and he snatches it up off of the ground.
Immediately after picking it up, he’s turned back towards the boat and is heading back to the hotel, a limp on one leg as he tries to ignore the brush of his torn pant leg against the gash. Whatever happened, it feels deep enough to need some alcohol poured over it, and he has no doubt that Charles will be more than happy to oblige and pour as much of it over Arthur’s leg as he can, just to see him squirm and tense up in pain.
It takes more than ten minutes for Arthur to trudge himself back to the hotel, but when he does, he’s met with the sight of Dutch at a table, his eyes brighter than he thinks they’ve ever been, and a large, cunning smile adorning the man’s face. He stops just beyond the wall around the patio half covered in sand and ducks behind one a bit to watch as he speaks to a woman.
She’s explaining something to him, using her hands just as Dutch has a habit of doing, and he looks extremely interested in whatever it is she has to say.
This is where he and Arthur differ, because Arthur feels such a pain in his chest, and it’s not from breathing in the heavy air around him. It’s from the heart, which is somehow still beating against Arthur’s will, clawing at the inside of his ribs and crying out where Arthur knows he won’t allow himself to. He won’t stoop to that level, especially in front of Dutch.
He hears Dutch’s voice loud and clear, like his mind is trained to hear it over any other sound.
“I think you’re awful pretty for a farmer,” he grins, and Arthur recognises that line.
Before he knows it, he’s marching out onto that patio and looking directly at — almost through — Dutch. The man is shaken by Arthur’s presence at first, but with a onceover, his brows furrow as if he’s about to laugh right in Arthur’s face.
“What in God’s name happened to you last night? We were all waiting for you to return, but you never did.” Dutch looks over to the woman, who is gazing up at Arthur.
“An’ you didn’t think to send anyone out after me?” Arthur rasps, watching the shock splashing Dutch’s face just as it likely does his own.
“Figured you would be fine. Not too many things to kill you out here, are there?” Dutch turns to the woman, who shakes her head. Arthur flinches. Dutch hadn’t even known, and he’s asking this woman, who has not right to be around Dutch. She’s almost as bad as Micah in that way.
“No, but you should watch out for mosquitoes. Those things can hurt like hell when you start itching at them.” To Arthur’s surprise, she speaks in an accent that is similar to his and Dutch’s own. Sure, a bit more proper and city-like, but American, all the same.
“Noted,” Dutch smiles like Arthur hasn’t seen him smile since… “Oh! How could I have forgotten,” he jumps in his chair as if he’s been shocked before he gestures to Arthur, then to the woman, and vice versa. “Arthur, meet Charlotte; Charlotte, meet Arthur.” She sticks a hand out, and Arthur tenses. She’d stuck out a hand, which Arthur would have to shake with his right, currently holding the bottle of whiskey.
“Pleasure,” Arthur nods, his voice still struggling to keep up with him. She lowers her hand, nodding and easily sending the tension off of her back, unlike Arthur.
“Now, son, what happened to you?”
“Got lost after I started to take a walk. Fell asleep with my mouth open, probably.” Arthur says, trying to play himself off as idiotic — though, that doesn’t take much effort at all.
“Where’d you get that from, then?” Dutch glances pointedly at Arthur’s wound, which he has yet to see himself. Arthur pauses.
“Slipped,” Arthur says, trying to draw the attention off of himself, just as he’d done the night before, when suddenly, everyone’s eyes were on him, and he could make a mistake any moment. Only this time, Arthur threw himself between their conversation.
He suddenly feels a surge of confidence and tightens his fist around the bottle in his hand, his brows tensing.
“I found somethin’ in the boat, Dutch,” Arthur says, watching as the both of them look up to see him. “Thought you might want to know.”
“Oh, did I leave something behind?”
“Yes,” Arthur chokes, swallowing hard as he keeps the tears from surfacing in his eyes again. Looking at the damned thing did this to him, and now, simply thinking about it does the exact same. What is he supposed to do?
He knows what he’s supposed to do, and it clicks into place as soon as the anger, the frustration, the sadness, the misery, and the confusion all pile up and become much too great for Arthur to handle alone.
Arthur holds out the bottle. He shows it to Dutch, whose face doesn’t change aside from a small tilt of the edge of an eyebrow, and his fingers reach forward to take it before it’s snatched away and lifted above Arthur’s head, then brought immediately back down.
The sound of glass forcibly shattering against the ground is what brings Arthur back to reality, and he recognises the darker sand mixed with the lighter which had already been lying on the ground before them. Arthur looks down at it, spotting the shell. It’s blue and tiny, lying there amongst the unfamiliar sand it had been packed into that tiny bottle with.
“Arthur—” Dutch begins, a look of confusion and something else Arthur doesn’t care to read on his face.
“Get John to fill up another one for you, maybe you’ll like it a little more,” Arthur spits, before lifting his foot just a bit and pressing it down to crush the shell under his boot. The sound is underwhelming and small, but the face it forces Dutch to make is beyond worth it. Like pain. Like regret. Like something he hasn’t felt, and Arthur has, instead, for the longest time now.
Charlotte is silent as Arthur silently turns and walks off, trying to ignore the slight dragging of the foot attached to his injured leg.
Dutch’s face spurs him on and up the stairs, ignoring the pain. He doesn’t feel it, too elated with the emotion he’d been able to drag so forcefully out of Dutch. Then again, it’s tainted elation, in a way, because he’s still not happy with himself. He still doesn’t like seeing those kinds of looks on Dutch’s face, especially if he hadn’t meant to cause them.
Arthur’s conflicted with whether or not he should be happy about Dutch’s dismay.
Maybe it’s the idea that Arthur had caused him to feel something other than smugness over Arthur’s self-deprecation, or maybe it’s the idea that he’s finally brought himself to say something like that to him. And now, there are glass shards littering the patio to prove how much he absolutely despises that bottle.
He’s glad he tore that page out, and he’s glad he smashed that bottle.
It never meant anything to him, anyway.
Arthur reaches the top of the stairs and makes it to his room with the door shut, then the bed, before his adrenaline completely falters and he collapses. His gash hits the bed before he’s down and he hisses, but the pain doesn’t stick around for long before it becomes a steady beat following just a second after every one of Arthur’s heartbeats. He can hear them in his ears, as is usual, with the whole sickness.
He blinks once, then twice, then finds himself going limp against the mattress, his body accepting the proper sleeping position despite the whining of his spine from being in that crunched up way all night.
The sound of the bottle smattering against the ground rings in his ears, but it only brings a small smile to his face, seeing as he’d done that. He’d stood up for himself to a man he’s been afraid of for years , and now, he’s proud of himself.
He’s proud of what he’s done.
And that’s the absolute worst thing to feel, especially in this instance, with this man.
Chapter 13: A Hit Below the Belt
“Get up, Arthur,” Dutch’s voice breaks through the blanket of darkness enveloping Arthur, and immediately, he jolts. He feels the pain return to his leg as he sits up and accidentally drags the open gash along the comforter, turning himself onto his back to look up at Dutch.
There is only a light from the lantern Dutch is holding, but it still hurts and strains Arthur’s eyes.
“Get up,” Dutch repeats. “We’re going on a little walk.” Arthur’s brows furrow and he slowly pushes himself up, feeling his spine crack in several places but never fixing the pain.
“What time is it?” Arthur asks, getting to his feet and trying to keep from looking directly at the only light visible.
“A little past eleven,” Dutch answers, but shakes his head. “Doesn’t matter. I think we need to take a walk, just you and I.”
Normally, Arthur would be excited about this; Dutch wants to spend time with him and has reached out for him. But now, after what he did with the bottle, Dutch’s offer is threatening — no, not offer.
Arthur nods, clearing his throat and straightening his back. “Lead the way, then.” Dutch doesn’t respond, simply turning around and walking down the hallway. Arthur slowly follows, the limp returning and paining him more than it had been before he’d fallen asleep. He should’ve fixed it; it’ll probably get infected now and hurt him more, but he supposes it’s too late and he doesn’t want to ask Dutch, who seems very decided, to stop and wait.
So he uses the wall as a guide, following the light and the silhouette it hides behind as it gently sways.
He’s lead down the stairs, where Dutch waits and allows him to catch up. When he does, Dutch turns back in his direction and continues on, albeit slower, without a word, leaving Arthur uncomfortable in this silence.
For all he knows, Dutch is dragging him out here to kill him off finally, and it wouldn’t be a surprise with the way he’s acting, all secluded like he is. He’s not like himself. He almost seems sadder; diluted, and Arthur’s not quite sure why.
“Arthur,” is the first word to break through the silence, which has followed them out onto the break between the beach and the treeline, where Dutch has brought him. Arthur looks up at him, seeing his front rather than his back, which he’d gotten used to as they’d made their way out here. “Do you know why I brought you out here?” Dutch reaches for the lantern and slowly snuffs out the flame, leaving them in the pale light of the moon, high in the sky.
“No,” Arthur admits, shaking his head, “no idea.” Dutch frowns, and Arthur finally allows the weight of the situation to set in on him. Dutch has brought him out here for some reason, and while Arthur is unaware of what it may be, he’s not treating it seriously. “Why did you?” Dutch shakes his head, looking at the sand beneath their feet, then to a log, which is lying behind Arthur. He moves towards it, and Arthur slowly follows, finally allowing the weight to shift off of his leg.
“Are you angry with me?” Dutch asks, being upfront and frankly, catching Arthur by surprise.
“Angry?” Arthur pauses, thinking for a moment. “No.”
“Then why did you break that bottle?” Arthur stops; stops breathing, stops blinking, but doesn’t stop thinking. “I told you about how much it meant to me, and you broke it. You made such a scene of it, and I only want to know why.”
There’s a long silence where Arthur thinks. He was angry. He’s not anymore, after exacting his revenge on Dutch, but he’s trying to think back on how angry he was about being left to possibly die out here, and accidentally tearing the page out of his journal — although, that wasn’t Dutch’s fault.
“Is this about Charlotte?” Dutch questions, and Arthur looks up to meet the man’s eyes in the dim light. “You didn’t seem too fond of her.”
“No,” Arthur answers quicker than he has with the other question, but he’s still thinking on the reason behind his actions — or, rather, how to explain them in words. “It weren’t about her.”
“Then what was it, Arthur?” Dutch pushes, setting the lantern down and gently reaching for Arthur’s hands. He takes them both in his own and gently squeezes, Arthur looking down at them and locking his gaze there after a moment.
“Not sure,” is his answer at first, before he expands. “I was angry then, but I ain’t angry now. Can’t remember why, it’s all sorta… fuzzy.” Dutch nods, not looking at their hands, connected where their legs are almost touching, but aren’t quite.
“What happened last night? To you?” Arthur glances up, then away and out towards the water, reflecting the moon on the surface and soft waves of the tide.
“After I disappeared?” Arthur asks, and Dutch simply nods again. “Found the bottle in the boat, then I…” he remembers what happened, but he’s not quite sure he wants to go into that yet. He doesn’t want to make Dutch think he’s weak, simply because he cared too much about Hosea, who became a father figure after all of those years. Then again, he wants to open up to someone, and although Dutch may be the very wrong person to open up to, he still feels an urge. “I started thinkin’ about Hosea.” Dutch’s hands loosen once before they tighten and his shoulders raise. It’s like he knows what Arthur’s talking about; insinuating; without the words being spoken. “I started coughin’, then fell, scraped my leg, and knocked myself out all at once.”
“All of that, from the bottle?”
“I thought you meant to leave it behind because I pissed you off the other night with my jabberin’.” Arthur looks up just in time to see Dutch shut his eyes and shake his head as if he’s shunning Arthur — at least, that’s what it seems like he’s doing. “I got so sad, an’ I started thinkin’ about what woulda’ happened if you never grabbed me up. Then everyone that died, Hosea, Lenny… Mac an’ Jenny, too, started showin’ up an’ yellin’ in my ear.”
“You thought I would leave somethin’ behind that meant that much to me?”
“Thought you lied. Way you talked to me made me think you only told me a story to get me to…” Arthur finds himself tripping over the words before he’s able to say them aloud. “To get my pants off, dumb as that sounds.” He tries to pull his hands out of Dutch’s and shun himself, but the fingers tighten around his own and he sighs. “Don’t see why you’d want to do anythin’ like that. Wouldn’t get much from it.”
“Arthur,” Dutch sounds like he’s warning Arthur of something, and he looks up to see Dutch with such a perplexed face, it’s frightening. “How many times I gotta repeat that everythin’ I said was true before you believe me?”
That reminds Arthur of what Dutch had said to Charlotte at the table. That line he’d used on Arthur. Is that just something he’s doing now? If it worked on Arthur, it must work as a good pickup line on the women.
“Maybe I just won’t believe you,” Arthur’s tired and he wants to fall asleep, but he’s worried that he won’t get this time again. Unfortunately, he feels his emotions collapsing in on themselves. It’s awful, and he suddenly feels hopeless; there’s no way the two of them could work in any way. Dutch is too much of a ladies’ man, and Arthur would never be enough to keep his eyes for more than a night or two.
“Maybe you won’t.”
Arthur feels cold, and he wants to pull his hands away from Dutch just as much as he wants to keep their hands together like this for the rest of their lives. Arthur won’t live much longer, but at least he’s got a better shot here than anywhere else.
It’s just the idea of living much longer than he’d expected that is catching him by the teeth.
“I love you, Arthur,” Dutch says, and Arthur tenses. Luckily, his hands don’t tense, but the entire rest of his body is searching for an escape Arthur doesn’t want. He wants this affection, as much as he also doesn’t, and doesn’t understand either reason for wanting or not wanting it.
Arthur nods and doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t know what exactly he’s supposed to say in this kind of situation, because it feels wrong to reciprocate, and it feels wrong to say anything else.
“Who is Charlotte?” Arthur asks a random question, and Dutch looks to be taken by surprise — which is no surprise on its own, seeing the context of the question in their conversation.
“She’s a woman who will be helping us get our business set up here soon,” Dutch’s eyes are watching Arthur’s as he looks around, anywhere but at Dutch or at their hands. “She apparently moved here years ago, and has loved the place ever since.”
Arthur feels that surge of confidence again, though it is disguising itself as silent determination now, and he feels his hands tightening slowly around Dutch’s fingers as he goes on about her. She’s single, and that’s where his fingers stop tightening and he finally pulls a hand away, lifting it to Dutch’s shirt collar. The second hand comes away easier and he uses that one to grasp the other side of the collar, tugging the man’s face closer.
He’d like to say that it’s much more romantic than it is, lips crashing together and thoughts finally coming to conclusions, but it’s not. Dutch’s hands find their way to Arthur’s shoulders, pushing at him. But Arthur doesn’t remove himself for long, catching his breath and pushing forward with more force. He kisses harder than he’s sure he ever has, trying to get Dutch’s mind stuck on him again, but Dutch’s hands are insistent on pushing Arthur away.
His arms hook around Dutch’s neck and he tries one more time to get Dutch into it, but the hands only push harder and eventually, Arthur pulls away, his eyes locked on Dutch’s as they drift from one eye to the other, then back again.
“What the hell are you doing, Arthur?” Dutch presses, and Arthur feels something break.
“Why on earth would you do something like that?”
He’s acting like that night hasn’t ever happened.
Is that the way Dutch deals with pressure? He pretends that something like that; something so significant , didn’t ever happen?
Arthur feels his nose scrunch up like he’s seen women’s noses do, only they look pretty even when they’re crying, and he doesn’t. Not by a long shot. They can keep their noses clean and they can keep their lips from quivering, but Arthur can’t. His eyes’ll turn red and he’ll be a bumbling mess if he lets himself get that far.
But he won’t.
Arthur's nose scrunches up all ugly and his eyes get all shiny and he doesn't care as he opens his mouth again and speaks like a frightened teenager trying to scare someone.
“I hate you.”
Chapter 14: On the Ropes
“What?” Dutch’s voice wavers.
“I hate you,” Arthur repeats, this time with a layer of disappointment and anger at himself for saying something like that. Of course he doesn’t hate Dutch, it’s all a big misunderstanding and he simply let it tumble out of him, just like that, but it’s out there in the world before he has half a mind to stop it and retract it.
Dutch is absolutely silent, though it looks like he doesn’t want to be. His mouth keeps opening and closing, and it really reminds Arthur of a fish out of water, only with less rapid thrashing and more of a distressed look on his face.
“You don’t mean that,” Dutch looks away, probably down at Arthur’s shoulder, then back up to meet his eyes. “You don’t…” Arthur doesn’t answer, his brows furrowing and his head lowering to hide his face. “You can’t mean that.”
“Sure I can.” Arthur doesn’t know what the hell he’s saying until it’s already said. His jaw and his fists clench as he thinks about how far gone their relationship, or whatever there ever really was of one, is at this point. He’s done this. It’s all his fault again, though that is no big surprise. He’s all about talking shit and frightening decent people, so why can’t that drift into his personal life? Especially here? After everything was so easy.
“You don’t mean that.” Dutch’s tone suddenly changes and Arthur feels a pressure on his leg. He lifts his eyes just a bit to see Dutch’s hand, then feels it press harder against his gash. His teeth dig so far into his bottom lip that he can taste blood, though he knows he hasn’t quite broken the skin. “Arthur. Tell me you don’t mean that.”
Arthur stays silent, his hands gripping the log underneath him and trying to pull him back and away. But Dutch’s fingers only tighten and force Arthur to let out a pitiful yelp as the pressure becomes too much.
“Tell me you don’t mean it, Arthur,” Dutch demands, looking Arthur in the eyes now as he presses even harder. Arthur can feel the warmth of his blood slowly being released and soaking into the torn fabric of his pants. Arthur tries to push himself to his feet to escape, but Dutch follows, the other hand suddenly so tight and restricting around Arthur’s throat that he starts to pull at the fingers but is only able to free one at a time. “Look me in the fucking eyes and say it, then I’ll believe you.”
“I—” Arthur chokes out, his brows hooking together as he remembers Micah. It’s almost the exact same, in a way, especially when he feels his back pressed up against a tree and the back of his neck is scraped so carelessly across the bark. “Dutch,” that itch tears through his lungs faster than he thinks it ever has and he coughs harsh enough to send his head back against the bark and give himself spinning vision for a second before coughing again, then again, and again.
Dutch doesn’t let up, though Arthur can’t really see what his face looks like. He can only look up at the tree above him and the sky, and he begins to think about Dutch’s true motive until he lets out another cough and pulls again at Dutch’s hands.
“You what , Arthur?” Dutch taunts, and Arthur finds himself not able to make a sound with his voice anymore, only sounds of choking and fruitless tongue movement breaking through the noise of Arthur struggling against the tree.
He feels lightheaded and continues to feel himself get lighter and lighter, until he no longer feels the pain in his leg where Dutch is likely still drawing blood. His eyelids feel like the heaviest part of his body aside his arms, which suddenly drop and loosely hang at his sides as he feels his breath disappearing. His body still wants to cough, but he’s got no breath to do it with and eventually finds himself unconscious under Dutch’s hands.
The sound of a heartbeat wakes Arthur, and the first thing he feels is a tightness around his leg where the gash is. He’s shaken out of his sleepiness as soon as he feels it, but after sitting up, he feels it shift with him. It’s bandaging, tight enough for Arthur to see the blood soaking through it.
It’s only after he sees this that he finally looks over to see Dutch lying beside him and immediately jolts, pushing himself back. The man’s arm is lied in such a way that it’s hooked around Arthur’s waist, but he feels that if he moves slow enough, he’ll be able to get himself loose and away.
There’s an overwhelming sense of fear in his body, and he’s not sure how to feel. Dutch has never done anything like that to him before, nor with John, or with Hosea. What on Earth has gotten into him? Was it just everything Arthur said and did, finally snapping into place and breaking Dutch?
He feels Dutch shift and he freezes as the arm lifts and hooks around his waist, slightly tighter this time. At the very least, Dutch seems to be asleep and won’t notice that Arthur’s half-upright and is slowly trying to make his way out of this man’s reach and as far away as he can be. His movements are slow as he moves the arm and begins to push himself towards the edge of the bed, then freezes.
“Where are you going?” Dutch asks, and while it seems menacing, it’s completely innocent, and Arthur tries not to allow himself to bolt as soon as he hears the words from behind him.
As soon as he opens his mouth to speak, though, he only finds air being pushed out. It’s almost like a forced whisper, but Arthur’s got no control over it. He turns around and looks at Dutch, who only glances up to meet Arthur’s eyes before reaching forward and gently grasping Arthur’s wrist to pull him back in.
“C’mere,” Dutch whispers, and Arthur finds himself shaking his head, however slow and however frightened. “Arthur,” he says, a little louder in the case Arthur couldn’t hear him at first. “Lay back down with me for a while.” Arthur shakes his head again, looking Dutch in the eyes. He tries again to speak.
Nothing comes out aside forced air.
What is happening? Why can’t he speak? Is it the Tuberculosis finally taking over?
“Arthur.” Dutch’s voice is firmer, and Arthur tenses, then pulls himself back in and lies back down. He doesn’t have a choice. It’s either listen and obey or be forced, so he figures it will just go faster and be easier for the both of them if he simply obeys.
Since when has this been the sort of relationship he and Dutch share.
“You’re wheezing,” Dutch points out, and after a few breaths, Arthur can hear it, too. It’s like he’s rattling, and he can hear the struggle his lungs are having while trying to drag in a small breath.
“Hurts,” Arthur is able to force, which only drags something more painful from his throat as he coughs and finds himself grasping at his throat as it feels like it’s being torn out. Then he feels the tenderness there and grazes his fingers over it until Dutch’s hands rise to pull Arthur’s fingers away from the skin.
“I know it does,” Dutch nods. “Hush, just sleep, it’ll be alright.” Arthur shakes his head again, and Dutch’s face drops, immediately forcing a reaction out of Arthur. One of surrender; of apology. Dutch looks calm again. “I don’t like that you’re telling me no.”
“Sorry,” Arthur’s able to push air through his mouth to make the ‘S’ before he has to rely completely on lip reading on Dutch’s part.
“Sleep now, Arthur,” Dutch says, and his fingers rise to Arthur’s hair, where they gently stroke through the locks and point out new bruises forming. Arthur lowers his eyes and stares at the room, certain that he’ll be unable to sleep with Dutch around. Especially after what happened the night before.
What happened the night before?
It’s all a blur after Arthur told Dutch he hated him.
Arthur told Dutch he hated him.
If that weren’t a true story, maybe Arthur would be happier. He doesn’t quite remember what he hates Dutch for, but he knows that he hates the man and he’s got bruises on the back of his head and likely more on his neck, from whatever. He also can’t speak.
Did Dutch strangle him?
No. That’s insane. Dutch would never do something like that. Not to Arthur, who is extremely close to him, and whom he would not dare to hurt, right?
“Calm down,” Dutch says, and his voice is almost soothing to Arthur as he gently takes Arthur’s hand. It’s trembling. “What’s the matter?”
Arthur shakes his head. He can’t respond with anything more than that at this point, as it seems.
“Close your eyes, Arthur, go to sleep. You need rest.”
And somehow, he does just that, fading out of existence.
When he wakes again, Arthur doesn’t see Dutch. Doesn’t feel him. Only the bed beneath him and the sheets, which are still moderately warm but cold enough for Dutch to have gone for a while.
His first thought is to cross the room and check himself over in the mirror, so he slowly pushes himself out of bed and to his feet. The pain in his leg from the bandaged gash is immense, but his determination to see the pain inflicted is more prominent.
His steps are light, surprisingly enough, and he looks himself in the mirror after a few steps.
He’s horrified by what he sees. The deep, sunken eyes and the blotchy face, then the red and irritated neck, surrounded by one large bruise in the shape of four fingers and a thumb on the other side — a handprint.
There’s nothing he hates more than the sight before him.
He wants to go back to hating himself because of a busted lip or because of an unfortunate blemish. He wants to go back to staring himself in the mirror because he’s trying so hard to compliment himself, but can’t.
He doesn’t want to be standing here, looking himself in the eyes as he sees himself. He looks like absolute shit. Like he hasn’t slept in weeks, and like he’s been smacked across the face a hundred too many times. Like he’s afraid, from the way his shoulders rise when he sees the shadow of a tree shift over the curtains of the window. Like he’s petrified in the way his fingers twitch and his body shakes just a little bit.
Looking himself in the eyes, he begins to wonder if this is the end of Arthur Morgan. He’ll be choked one more time because he says something wrong, and he’ll just go. The Tuberculosis has already done its job, weakening him as much as it has, so all his body is waiting for is death. The relief of not having to do anything and fight any more battles for the sad sack of shit it’s supporting.
Pathetic, just as Dutch had said.
Chapter 15: Quality Time
Arthur returns to the bed after staring for however much longer. He dares to lift his shirt, but he’s relieved when the only bruises seem to be above his neckline. It’s when his leg begins to throb that he finally sits down, feeling lightheaded. There’s no pain anywhere but his leg and above his shoulders (aside his lungs, but those have hurt for months, now), so he’s relieved. Dutch wouldn’t do that, anyhow. He wouldn’t use Arthur like that.
As he sits there in silence, Arthur tries to pin the blame on one of them, and as always, it ends up on himself. He’s the reason any of this happened, after all, he said what caused Dutch to get so angry. He remembered what happened upon seeing the initial handprint around his throat, and he’s swimming in the words Dutch had said to him as he was pinned so helplessly up against that tree trunk. The language he chose to use to show how angry he was.
Somehow, even in this moment, he thinks back to their time in Guarma. The woman Dutch had strangled for no good reason. He looks up slowly as he makes that connection and furrows his brows, feeling his jaw release tension.
Is Dutch alright?
Sure, he’s the one who’s been killing for no good reason, but Arthur is frightened by the fact that he simply doesn’t know Dutch anymore. The man used to be like an open book, but now all of the pages are folded together and soaked with water. It’ll take some work, Arthur decides, but it’s worth it.
Then he pauses.
Is it worth it? Is Dutch worth it?
He tries to tell himself that Dutch is worth everything he’s going through, but even his mind is boggled by the thought that he’s trying to convince himself of this. If he has to think about it, surely it’s not, right? A man — Dutch, even — is not worth this much. He’s not worth being strangled and losing a voice over, and he’s certainly not worth the injury to Arthur’s leg, which he still hasn’t seen. All he sees is that there’s old, dried up blood caked to the bandages, and he’s sure he needs to get them changed.
Is he allowed to leave?
The question catches Arthur off-guard. Of course he’s allowed to leave, why would that change? Arthur’s an adult and certainly, Dutch won’t hurt him any more. Then again, the way Dutch spoke to him this morning could be pretty indicative of another story.
Arthur slowly pushes himself to his feet again, feeling his leg tense as the pain returns. At the very least, the gash isn’t throbbing anymore, so he’ll be able stand if he’s careful and keeps himself near a wall.
His coat is hanging on the wall and he lifts it, thinking about the bruises around his neck. If nothing else, it’ll hide that. His face is still on display, but when hasn’t it been? When hasn’t he looked this bad on a daily basis?
That may be a bit far, but Arthur still thinks it as he drags the fabric over his shoulders and he settles into the familiar feeling of it.
Moving across the room proves more difficult than it needs to be, but he catches the handle of the door and pulls it open. It’s silent when he steps out into the hallway and shuts the door behind himself, his hand trailing along the wall beside him as he steadily walks himself to the stairs. He’s not sure what he’s going for, but something to eat would definitely be nice, or some of the coconut whiskey (if there’s any left, after all, Bill seemed to be pretty drunk off that stuff) to soothe his pain a bit.
He halts at the bottom of the steps when he hears voices.
What if Dutch sees him? What will he say? What will he do?
Arthur swears he hears the floorboards creak from the top of the stairs and throws his head around to look behind him, but all he gains from his violent reaction is a soreness in his neck. There is no one there.
It shouldn’t matter what Dutch will say or do. Arthur is capable of standing up for himself.
Then why does he feel a chill run along his spine when he thinks of hearing Dutch’s voice around the corner? And clench his teeth when he pictures Dutch in front of him? He can’t scream for help now, although he knows he wouldn’t anyways, because he doesn’t want to appear weak.
He doesn’t hear Dutch’s voice, so he chances a look around the corner and sees a few figures.
A breath is pulled from his lips as his shoulders lower and he moves quietly away from the stairway, walking out into the main room with as little a limp as possible. The others continue on in their conversation as Arthur moves gently towards a table, having spotted a kettle of tea.
Jesus, what he’d give for a cup of coffee right now.
“Arthur!” The fact that John is the one speaking doesn’t register as quickly as the fact that the person is shouting his name so he freezes, yanking his hand back away from the kettle as soon as he hears it. John tosses a hand down on Arthur’s back and he arches, trying not to cry out in pain from how much everything suddenly hurts. John pulls his hand away and steps up beside Arthur, his brows furrowed. “You alright, brother?”
Arthur knows attempting to answer verbally will only result in catching himself in such a negative state, but he’s not sure what else he’s supposed to do, so he simply nods and stands up straight again.
“Haven’t seen you in quite a while, you been up to anythin’?” Arthur’s muscles tense and relax as he sees John lean against the table in his peripheral. John’s tone clearly indicates that he’s insinuating something, but Arthur wants nothing more than to stop thinking about Dutch altogether. He said he hates the man, he’d better start acting like it.
Arthur simply shakes his head, reaching for the kettle and a mug sitting nearby.
“Arthur?” John asks, and Arthur shakes his head again, harder this time to make sure that John saw the movement. “Why aren’t you talkin’?”
Arthur shrugs as he pours the tea into the mug and sets the kettle back where it was. He turns around and leans against the table beside John, his eyes constantly over his shoulder as he glances around for any special appearances from Dutch.
“Hey,” John lifts a hand and snaps in front of Arthur’s face, bringing his attention back. Arthur looks back to John but tries to keep his face turned away to avoid — “Holy shit , Arthur, what happened to your face?”
Arthur simply shakes his head and shrugs, lifting the mug to his lips. Luckily, it wasn’t warm when it came out of the kettle, but at least it’s not bitter and room temperature yet.
“No, don’t just do that. What’s with the cold shoulder, Arthur? I do somethin’?” Arthur pauses for a moment after taking a sip, looking down at the liquid inside the cup. He would’ve much preferred a cup of coffee over this.
“No,” Arthur rasps, and John’s jaw drops. Arthur can see it again, in his peripheral. He tries to keep his eyes off of John as he speaks. “Weren’t your fault.”
“What’s the matter, then? Sick again? Avoidin’ us all?” Arthur nods his head once, then twice before taking another slow sip and trying not to make a face at the taste of it. Tea has never been his favourite, but he won’t take it for granted now. He needs whatever he can get for soothing his aching throat.
“Yeah,” Arthur says, his voice hoarse and awful.
“Doesn’t look like it. You look like you’ve been beat black an’ blue.”
“That just ain’t nice,” Arthur says before laughing, but John doesn’t. Not at all.
“What’s really the matter, Arthur?”
“Told you, I’m sick,” Arthur says, downing another small mouthful before his lungs are able to kick up a cough, which he can feel approaching at any time, but wants to avoid at all costs.
“That’s a lie, Arthur, and you know it. What happened.” Arthur glances over his shoulder again. Does a onceover of the room, then a second. “You keep lookin’ over there like somethin’s gonna happen to you.”
Arthur shakes his head in response again, but this time John doesn’t try to drag the answers out verbally, rather reaching forward and pulling the collar of Arthur’s coat away from his neck.
“Jesus Christ,” John says, his hand rising to cup over his mouth. “What is this, a handprint? Arthur.”
“Got in a bit of a fight with a native,” Arthur shrugs his hand away and is able to finish his cup of tea in a few more sips. “I’m healin’.”
“Doesn’t really seem like it, the way you’re bleedin’. Who really did that to you?”
“A native, I told you—”
“Yeah, I know what you told me, Arthur, but you know as well as I do that’s a lie,” John’s voice is suddenly much louder, and Arthur hears the others in the room quieten. Arthur tenses. “All you do is lie to me, Arthur.”
“I don’t mean to—”
“Bull shit you don’t mean to!” Arthur flinches, shrinking back against the table. “Tell me what happened to you!”
“John, quit yellin’—”
“I’ll quit when you drop the act!”
“Quit yellin’ at me!” Arthur suddenly barks, his voice mangled and awful as ever. John’s hands completely leave Arthur’s collar, and it falls, his neck revealed to those looking. The mood in the room suddenly turns tense and Arthur looks at John, an expression mocking horror and disappointment and fear on his face.
“What’s going on in here?” Dutch’s voice rings through the room and Arthur’s heart stops. He feels his blood run cold and his limbs go numb. John must’ve noticed it as well, because he doesn’t make a show of letting go of Arthur, but rather slowly steps back.
Arthur’s gaze rises to Dutch’s just as the man’s eyes darken.
“Arthur, come with me,” Dutch sounds kind and nods his head towards the stairway. At first, Arthur doesn’t move. Doesn’t want to be away from the others, because he knows that’s what Dutch is doing, acting as if he's going to go take care of Arthur. In reality, he’s only taking Arthur away from where the others can see him and what’s happening so he can have his way without anyone else knowing.
Dutch approaches, placing a hand on Arthur’s shoulder.
“Come on,” Arthur’s body autonomously stands to his natural height as he sees John move away. Arthur’s own eyes are low again so he can’t see what John’s are saying, but he can see the clenched fist by John's side as he’s walking along. Dutch’s hand slowly drifts to the other shoulder, closer to himself as he leads Arthur back towards the stairs.
Arthur, in a last-ditch effort, turns his gaze again to see John there and slowly shakes his head, his eyes silently begging. Then he turns back around and carefully follows Dutch around the corner. There, he’s grabbed by the collar of his coat and shoved forward, his calves harshly, yet somehow, noiselessly knocking against the stairs as he stumbles.
“ Get up there .” Dutch growls, low and almost silent.
And Arthur does as he’s told, scrambling to his feet and pushing himself up the stairs.
Chapter 16: Swinging for the Fences
It’s morning by the time Arthur surfaces again, lying now on his back, his head pounding with an onset headache, his stomach growling in protest of his hunger, and his mouth incredibly dry. His mouth tastes metallic, like blood, but he doesn’t feel anything. Maybe something left over from the last time he was awake, though he doesn’t want to be awake again now. Even the sound of his own heartbeat in his ears is enough to send him wanting to go deaf. His head is already pounding.
Even through the sound and everything going on his head, he feels something brush over his neck and his eyes open immediately. He sees Dutch there, his face breaking Arthur’s heart.
Dutch’s lips are spread just slightly and his brows are knitted together loosely, curving up just a little in the centre to show pain and sadness. His eyes are staring directly at Arthur’s neck, his fingers so gentle as they glide across the bruises there. Arthur’s immediate reaction is to pull away, but even that is slowed as he sees that horrifying look on Dutch’s face.
“No, no,” Dutch’s voice is gentle, his movements quick as he reaches for Arthur and so lightly touches Arthur’s shoulder. “Shh,” his eyes are now on Arthur’s, such an expression that Arthur completely stops and stares back into them. “Arthur, I—” Dutch’s voice breaks and he lifts the hand from Arthur’s neck to so softly brush his fingers across Arthur’s cheek as his eyes drift visibly between both of Arthur’s eyes. “I didn’t…”
Arthur feels his chest rise and fall, but he hears it more than anything else, the rattling sound still remaining there. There’s a long, drawn out silence as Arthur tries to figure out what it is Dutch is trying to say, and as Dutch tries to force the words out.
“I don’t know what I was thinking.” Dutch shakes his head, his shoulders rising and falling in an unsteady pattern. “Jesus Christ, what was I thinking?” This time his voice is quieter and he moves closer, forcing Arthur’s instincts to pull himself back. He regrets it almost immediately, seeing the distress on Dutch’s face. “You’re afraid of me.”
Arthur shakes his head as a matter of his body forcing him to. He doesn’t want Dutch to hit him again, so he wants to avoid any possibility of pissing the man off.
“Don’t give me that, Arthur, you…” Dutch’s brows come closer before he pulls himself back a bit again and lightens his touch on Arthur again. “You have every right to be.” Dutch moves slow, his eyes following his hand as he oh-so lightly presses a thumb against Arthur’s cheek. Arthur feels a twinge of pain there, brows pulling together, but Dutch’s hand immediately retreats when Arthur reacts. “I did this to you, Arthur. How could I…”
“It’s okay,” Arthur mutters, finding his voice much quieter and more painful to force than yesterday. He clears his throat a bit, Dutch lowering his hand to Arthur’s chest, touches still light and cautious.
“It’s not. Don’t try to tell me it’s ‘okay’ when you’re sitting here in front of me with…” Dutch looks down at his own hand, the one that had caused Arthur so much pain and created that ugly bruise. He lifts it so slowly to Arthur’s neck and Arthur’s mind is sent into a frenzy. He shoves himself back, Dutch jolting with the sudden violent movement. “Calm down, calm down!” Dutch’s voice is hushed as he shakes his head and lowers his gaze. “You’re… I’m…” he shakes his head again and pulls himself back. “I’m sorry.”
“Why?” Arthur manages, looking up to Dutch, whose eyes are showing that his mind is far away from here. He snaps back just a moment after Arthur speaks, his face worried and almost disgusted.
“‘ Why ?’” Dutch repeats, throwing a hand through his hair and mussing it up in the back where he grips at the curls. “You’re asking me why I’m sorry?”
Arthur slowly shakes his head and points at his neck, where the bruise is almost glowing from how much it contrasts from the shade of Arthur’s skin. Dutch doesn’t dare look at it again.
“Why did I do it?” Dutch tries, his voice quiet. Arthur nods, pushing himself up slowly into a sitting position and leaning back against the headboard. The back of his head is painful to lean against the board, but Arthur makes do with what he has and looks at Dutch, waiting for an answer.
The man before him looks dazed and confused. He’s lost.
“I was drunk, Arthur.” Dutch says, and Arthur looks up at him. Come to think of it, he had smelt a bit off, and although Arthur wasn’t really thinking about it in the moment, he looked a little angrier and redder in the face that night. How couldn’t he have recognised the smell of alcohol? Perhaps a new drink on the island that Arthur simply hasn’t become acquainted with quite yet? Perhaps a new drink he doesn’t want to become acquainted with, if it causes a man to do something like that. “I was angry, and I snapped. I lost control.”
Arthur nods, hearing Dutch’s words echo in his head loud and clear.
“You broke the bottle… why? Was it truly and purely out of spite for me? Because I left it behind?”
“There weren’t anythin’ left in the drawer, Dutch. You left it there,” Arthur says, his voice slowly returning as he uses it just a bit more. “Took everythin’ else out and left it.”
“It was an accident,” Dutch tries, but Arthur shakes his head, looking away and dispelling the conversation just as quickly as it had started. There’s a silence where Dutch moves just a bit as he looks Arthur over and tries to avoid the bruises. It’s an impossible feat, the way the bruises litter Arthur’s skin and his entire upper half looks like he got hit by a train. “How do you feel? Is it painful?”
“Little bit,” Arthur downplays the pain a bit, pushing it off on the Tuberculosis. That’s the main reason for his lungs hurting anyway, so why can’t it also be connected to the pain in his throat? Especially with all of the coughing he’s been doing. “Nothin’ I can’t handle.”
“I know,” Dutch nods his head. “You’ve always been the bravest and least spoken man I’ve known.”
“Don’t try to butter me up, Dutch,” Arthur calls him out right then and there, Dutch looking up to meet his gaze.
“Was I?” He looks completely innocent, like he hadn’t noticed he was doing it until Arthur pointed it out. Is it really that bad? Is he that far gone that he can’t even notice his habits of manipulating people like he does?
Arthur simply nods, and Dutch quietly apologises.
There is another long silence, but Arthur doesn’t find it all that uncomfortable in the way that he normally does. It’s only uncomfortable because they’re both afraid of what the other will do. If Arthur might stand up and run, or Dutch might lunge forward at Arthur again, they both don’t know, and that’s putting the both of them on-edge.
“John was asking about you,” Dutch says, and Arthur’s attention is immediately caught. “Not really asking, but I told him you needed to rest.”
“He believe that?” Arthur still feels tense. It’s not like it used to be. Then again, Hosea isn’t here to guide them both through a conversation like the proper adults they are, so of course it’s going to feel a huge amount different.
“Not a word,” Dutch forces a laugh, and Arthur can tell it’s fake, but he cracks a bit of a smile anyway. It makes him feel a little bit better. He still feels that awkwardness in the air as he thinks about one subject only; one that he’s been focused on ever since a few nights ago when Dutch had first injured him like that. As little as he wants to think about that night at all, Arthur wonders about Dutch’s actions. About what he said.
“Why didn’t you kiss me,” Arthur says without fair warning, and Dutch’s shocked reaction, however subtle, is obvious. “The other night, I didn’t…” he swallows hard. “You pretended like we ain’t ever done that before.” Dutch slowly nods.
“I wish we didn’t.” Arthur’s heart falls and he looks over immediately.
“No, no,” Dutch lifts his hands a bit. “Don’t get me wrong, I loved it, but I…” he looks to be shocked by the fact that he’s just admitted to loving the interaction with another man — with Arthur , but he goes on anyway. “It was a mistake.”
“You…” Arthur says, and that’s all he’s able to get out before his mind completely changes. He wants to be alone. He doesn’t want to talk to anyone; he doesn’t want to talk to John, and he most certainly does not want to talk to Dutch anymore, who believes that being with Arthur in that way was “a mistake”.
“Not a mistake ,” Dutch tries to restate, but Arthur seems to be blocked off completely after that word was uttered. “It’s only that those choices led up to this.” Dutch gestures to Arthur’s injuries. “Led up to me hurting you in this way, in one way or another.”
“You’re blamin’ that for all of this?” Arthur’s in absolute disbelief. “That…” Arthur wants to say that it was the best experience he’s ever had, but that seems too quick, as much as he’s thinking about that sort of relationship right now. But it would be a lie if he said any differently. All of those kind words said to him, coming from Dutch, made up for everything else. That is, aside his loud mouth interrupting the both of them uninvited, but overall, that experience was wonderful.
Arthur shakes his head and shuts his eyes, then opens them again a moment later.
“Forget it, then,” he says, and Dutch pauses.
“I didn’t mean it that way, I don’t want to just forget it, Arthur.”
“Why not?” Arthur feels the itch and clears his throat, the muscles straining and causing him to breathe a little heavier after he coughs like that and irritates them.
“Why would I want to forget that, Arthur? There’s no reason. ‘Sides, forgetting it won’t make it so it didn’t happen, because it did. I’m just thinking about what might be different if we hadn’t.” Arthur understands, as much as he wishes he didn’t so he could remain naïve to the idea of understanding Dutch’s tactics and plans.
“Why’d you do it?” Dutch starts to tense a bit, then as he looks away, he steadily loosens, muscle by muscle.
“What do you mean?”
“You ain’t ever showed interest before that, I want to know what made you want to do it all of a sudden.”
Dutch looks guilty, the way his eyes shift left to right, then down to his lap, then glance over Arthur once, twice, then they return to Dutch’s lap again.
“I…” Dutch covers his eyes with a hand, a look of disappointment on his face as he drags the palm over his eyebrows. “I read… your journal.” Arthur freezes. Completely freezes.
“You what? ” Arthur asks, his nerves getting the better of him and causing him to suddenly go off, however quietly with the lack of voice.
“It was lying there on the bed, and I was curious.” Arthur’s mouth is stuck open and he keeps shaking his head, raising his shoulders every second or two.
“Why?” Arthur asks, his voice threatened and frightened, while still strong and continuing to get angrier. He doesn’t let Dutch answer. “Big surprise,” he shakes his head, again, not letting the man answer before completely changing the subject. “You said John asked for me?”
“Sure,” Dutch replies after a moment or two, cautious and anxious that Arthur will stand and attempt to bolt. Then again, he’s not entirely sure he wouldn’t want Arthur to run. It would give him the freedom Dutch has failed to provide him recently.
“Think he wants to see me?” Arthur cracks a joke, but neither of them laugh or smile over it. Dutch simply shakes his head and sarcastically replies “No.”
“You’re probably starving,” Dutch says, glancing down at Arthur’s stomach, despite it being clothed anyway. “Tired of eating fruit and drinking the syrup, I bet.” Arthur slowly nods. “Javier found iguana off in the jungle, if you wanted to try that. Haven’t tried it myself, but I’m sure you’ll enjoy it if I don’t, and vice versa.”
How very telling.
“Would you like to come downstairs with me? I’m parched.” Dutch stands from the bed and Arthur eyes him as he steps closer and offers a hand for Arthur to take. After a long moment, Arthur finally sets his hand in Dutch’s and allows the man to help him out of bed.
The first step towards trusting Dutch again.
Chapter 17: Down To Earth
The first thing to register in Arthur’s mind when they get downstairs is John’s eyes on him, then on Dutch. Then the gaze turns much angrier and suddenly John is marching up to them, his glare clear on his face.
“John, I brought—“ and John’s clocked him across the face, Arthur cringing just a bit but not reacting much more than that. Dutch recoils and places his fingers over the place John’s knuckles had just been, but to Arthur’s surprise, he only stands up and attempts to ignore his split lip.
“You hit him again. I heard it.” John is straightforward with it, as he is with many other things. “I see it. There’s another bruise. Another fucking bruise.”
“John,” Arthur finally says, quiet and trying to keep him from saying something to tempt the beast which seems to have been tamed for the time being. He reaches a hand out to stop him when he starts to move forward again, but he pushes it away and Arthur returns it again, harsh and firm against John’s chest as he shoves the man back. “He already apologised.”
“An apology ain’t gonna reverse it.”
“It don’t need to be reversed,” Arthur says, then glares and shoves John back harder when he tries to rush at Dutch again. “Calm down, will you?”
“He fucking strangled you, Arthur. You’re gonna stand up for him after he did somethin’ like that to you?” Arthur stands there for a moment then shakes his head, stepping back and glancing over his shoulder at Dutch, who is rocking his jaw back and forth with his fingers.
“You got a hefty punch on you, son,” Dutch says, and Arthur lowers his eyes to his leg, still bandaged with that same wrapping. It’ll be infected for sure, now, with everything, but Arthur doesn’t really care at the moment. It’s the least of his worries. Lifting his gaze again, he gently clears his throat before looking back up at John.
“I was told we’ll be eatin’?”
“Oh, sure,” John nods, still glaring off at Dutch. Arthur steps in the way of his view and gives John a tired look. He doesn’t want to deal with this.
“I haven’t tried it yet. Told it’s pretty good, though.”
“Well, I’m starvin’, so we should…” Arthur sees John look over his shoulder at Dutch again and Arthur grumbles for a moment, turning around and walking himself outside, where he sees a few others sitting around a fire. Sadie’s is the first face he notices, so he carefully sits himself down beside her and spots a pile of cooked iguana limbs. She looks over at him immediately and then sits back, this look of playful knowing on her face.
“You look like shit, Arthur,” he smiles a bit and nods, quietly agreeing with her.
“Just about,” she sits up straight again and looks around the fire to the other two lounging around, then back to Arthur.
“Sounds like you’ve been gettin’ the brunt of Dutch’s ‘aggressions’.” Arthur takes a moment before nodding, slow and hesitant.
“You could say that.”
“‘You could say that’? Arthur, have you seen yourself?” He reaches forward and lifts one of the cooked limbs from the square of cloth it is lying on, careful to lift it into his mouth before the blood seeps out onto his clothes. He chews it from there, his brows furrowing as he tries to pin the taste.
It’s chewy but stringy, and just like snake, tastes similar to chicken but has a slight difference to it that Arthur can never quite describe. It’s almost sour, but not in the way that a lemon or moonshine might be. Almost salty, in a way. Strange as that sounds.
“It ain’t an image I much like to gander too long at, Missus Adler.” She shakes her head and replicates Arthur’s actions, careful to pull the skin off beforehand. Arthur sees this and raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t question it.
“Don’t suppose you could tell me why,” she glances up as Javier turns to walk away, heading out towards the beach. Bill isn’t far after him, leaving Arthur and Sadie alone by the fire with a pile of uncooked meat, and a smaller pile of cooked meat. Those, and the pile Sadie’s creating of her scraps. Seems she isn’t all for scales, but that doesn’t surprise Arthur too much.
“I ain’t much for spillin’ my life story, either,” Arthur says, and Sadie gives him a look. “I see a bit of my daddy in my face, is all.”
“Daddy issues?” Arthur looks at her once before turning his head away.
“Somethin’ like that, I guess.”
“Well,” she backtracks in the conversation a bit as she grabs a leg. “He’s been pretty rough on all of us lately, but it seems you’re gettin’ the worst of it.”
“All he does is yell at us, while he’s actually got his hand around your neck. An’ he gave you that, didn’t he?” She points at the bandage around Arthur’s leg, just above his knee.
“No, he didn’t give it to me,” Arthur dispels the rumour and glances over his shoulder to see John and Dutch inside, John obviously shouting his head off at him. Probably something about Hosea being his brain, or something like that. John’s been complaining about Dutch going off his rocker for a while, it just seems that it’s all pouring out now that someone’s gotten hurt. “Made it a hell of a lot worse than it was, though.”
“And that?” She points at Arthur’s face, and Arthur looks confused. He hasn’t seen his face since the time he’d stared himself down in the mirror, but he does recall John mentioning something about a new bruise on his face. “Got a nice shiner.”
“He hit me that hard?” Arthur sounds surprised, but Sadie’s concern isn’t focused on that.
“You mean to tell me you don’t even remember him doin’ that to you?”
“Not really,” Arthur says, shrugging. He picks up another piece of meat and bites into it, chewing for a second. “Told me he was drunk when he did it. And the time he gave me that,” Arthur gestures to the handprint. “Guess I just wasn’t payin’ attention and didn’t smell the alcohol on him.”
“Yeah, they got some strange drinks here. Some of ‘em look nasty, but hell, they taste good.”
“None of ‘em make you start thinkin’ weird?”
“Weird enough to hit you? No. But he’s in a bad spot. If my life were as rough as it seems it is for him, I’d be that far gone, too.” She pauses for a moment. “I’m just glad I wasn’t quite that far gone when my husband was taken from me.” Arthur goes quiet as he takes another bite.
“Bless his soul,” he tries, and she raises her eyes, nodding and smiling a bit. Arthur smiles as well. Finally, something he’s done right.
“So, Arthur? How does that lizard taste?” John sounds much perkier and happier now that he’s had that talk with Dutch, and he approaches, sitting down across the fire. He looks between Sadie and Arthur and furrows his brows, narrowing his eyes. “I interrupt somethin’?”
Both Sadie and Arthur immediately scoot apart, both shaking their heads.
“Not at all.”
John eyes them before reaching forward and looking up at whom Arthur suspects is Dutch, but doesn’t dare to look with how much pain his neck is in.
“It any good?” Dutch’s voice is heard.
“Tastes like snake,” Arthur says, lifting a piece from the square of fabric and handing it up to Dutch, who takes it after making a disgusted noise.
“Never liked snake,” Dutch says, moving to sit to the right of Arthur. Only then does he see the damage John has done. Dutch’s lip is still split, though is bleeding now, and his nose is all red, a bloody mess clearly having been quickly dealt with before he’d made his way out here. He’s clearly going to be all battered and bruised, and Arthur sends a look at John. “Like frog, it just doesn’t sit right with me.”
“What?” John asks after a moment of Arthur looking at him over the flames. Dutch quietens with his mindless chatter, taking a quiet bite as Arthur silently looks at John, then shakes his head.
“I told you, he apologised.”
“And I told you, somethin’ comin’ from this piece of shit isn’t worth anything. You’re bein’ played, Arthur. He just won’t admit that to you.” John says everything aloud with both Dutch and Sadie sitting there, so Arthur shrugs his shoulders and shakes his head.
“So be it.”
“You’re… just gonna take that?”
“Sure,” Arthur says, and John looks completely lost. Dutch and Sadie are trying to avoid eye contact aside from with one another, but it seems to fail as Dutch looks back to Arthur every few moments. “You’re convinced, so I should be.”
“No,” Arthur says, looking over to Dutch, who looks pathetic. But John remains untouched, and that’s what really matters overall to Arthur. Dutch didn’t fight back. He took it. Felt what he did to Arthur, felt what kind of pain he caused. And that warms Arthur just a little bit inside. “But you’ll keep tryin’ to convince me.”
There’s a moment of silent chewing and distinguishing of tastes before Arthur pushes himself to his feet and struggles there for a second. He steadies himself and looks at Dutch, then at the door.
“You’re bleedin’, come on,” Arthur says, offering a hand. Dutch looks suddenly relieved. As to what, there are too many things it could possibly be, but Arthur doesn’t really care as Dutch takes his hand and pulls himself to stand. The other two are silent as Arthur looks them over, though John has a look that is slightly more skeptical than Sadie’s, which is one of quiet suspicion.
They move towards the door, Arthur pulling it open and allowing Dutch to walk through while leaning over to a water spigot and dragging a few pumps of water into a bucket sitting beside it. He lifts it and carries it inside, Dutch leant up against the table as he approaches and sets the bucket down on the surface beside him.
Arthur spots a cloth draped over the back of a chair and retrieves it, dipping it in the water before ringing it out and lifting it to Dutch’s face.
“Awful motherly of you, Arthur, don’t you think?”
“Hush,” Arthur says, and Dutch chuckles for a second as Arthur gently wipes at his lip.
“I am sorry,” Dutch is quiet. “For everything over the past few days… it’s all been a mess.”
“I know you do, and that scares me, Arthur,” Dutch says, and Arthur gives up on trying to wipe at Dutch’s lip, which seems to be wanting to move a little more than Arthur is willing to put up with. But he won’t stop Dutch in the middle of an apology, even if he’s heard it more than enough already. It only feels nice to know that Dutch would go to these kinds of lengths. “You shouldn’t’ve had to deal with all of this.”
“It was my fault,” Arthur says plainly, then sees the look on Dutch’s face and slowly lowers the cloth. “What?”
“You think that was your fault? What could you have possibly done to—”
“I broke that bottle. I tried to kiss you. I said those things about Micah while we were…” he shakes his head and lowers his gaze, shoulders dropping. “You just got mad, Dutch, and for good reason, too.”
“ Good reason? Arthur, a good reason to get that mad is you having shot my dog,” Arthur cringes just a bit at the example and Dutch quietly apologises for saying something like that. He knows how close Arthur and Copper were. “I’m just lucky I didn’t kill you,” he sighs. “I don’t know if I would’ve lived without you here.”
“You’re bein ridiculous, now, Dutch.”
“No,” he says firmly, but surprisingly enough in Arthur’s state, it doesn’t frighten him. Only enforces his silence. “I told you how much you, John, and Hosea meant to me. I told you how you’re the only one I have left. If you disappeared, and because of me ?” He furrows his brows and lets his head hang. “I’d shoot myself.”
“Now, don’t say things like that.”
“It’s the truth,” Dutch is quiet again, raising his head only for Arthur to gently dab and wipe at the remaining blood. He tries to be as gentle as possible, lightening up the pressure on the spots that make Dutch pull away, if only a bit.
Arthur’s able to get all of the blood off of Dutch’s face and he dips the cloth one more time before ringing it and hanging it over the rim of the bucket, taking a breath. Dutch moves quickly as he presses his lips to Arthur’s again, but the kiss is much slower than his movements as soon as it’s connected.
Arthur is careful, an arm lifting to rest on Dutch’s shoulder.
“Thank you,” Dutch whispers after a moment, a hand taking one of Arthur’s. “I don’t deserve this much from you after all I’ve done.”
“You’re startin’ to talk like John.”
“He’s right, Arthur. I’m a monster for having done this to you—”
“Shut up,” Arthur says. “Just… quit talkin’, alright?” And Dutch is silent as Arthur slowly presses forward again.
Chapter 18: On the Same Page
Arthur’s mind begins to wander as he stands there with his lips on Dutch’s, and he purely begins to wonder how in the hell they got to this point. It’s not just about the past few days, but about the past few years, where Arthur has been nothing but loyal and followed behind Dutch every step of the way.
In reality, his feelings for Dutch had all but disappeared. He’d pushed them down for long enough that his mind had finally accepted the truth of the matter, and that was (and is) that Dutch would never reciprocate. Would never hold those types of feelings for Arthur, even if Arthur continued to push. Even if he changed himself to look and act like Molly, the stuck-up woman she was. Even if he started insinuating, which he never did. He simply left Dutch to his own and watched the others; how they acted around Dutch and how they spoke to him, then he recreated that.
Seems he didn’t read Dutch right at all.
He feels a strong pain strike through his leg and he sucks in a breath through his teeth, leaning back and looking down at his leg. There’s nothing obviously wrong, but it’s clearly complaining for a reason.
“Something wrong?” The hand connected to Dutch’s is squeezed gently and Arthur nods, then shakes his head.
“No, I… leg’s just botherin’ me,” Arthur clears his throat, brows furrowing. Dutch nods, glancing down at Arthur’s bandage.
“Jesus, Arthur, have you not changed that?” Arthur shakes his head, looking back up at him. Dutch stands from the table and pulls out a chair, sitting Arthur down in it. “Stay here, I’ll be back in a minute.” Arthur shakes his head, feeling Dutch’s hand leave his.
“No, Dutch. I’m fine. You shouldn’t have to deal with me. I’ll get Charles to do it. Maybe Sadie.” Arthur looks Dutch in the eyes as he turns around and gazes at Arthur.
“Deal with you? Arthur, I’m not dealing with you, I’m caring for you.”
“I don’t need you carin’ for me, Dutch, I’m fine.” Arthur slowly pushes himself to his feet with a hand placed as a balance on the table, grunting as he does. I can handle it.”
“Clearly you can’t, seein’ that you have yet to change your bandage.” Dutch approaches, his hand on Arthur’s shoulder and beginning to push him back into the chair when they hear a knock on the wall and Dutch turns to see Charlotte. Arthur’s face drops a bit when he feels Dutch’s hand leaving his shoulder. “Charlotte,” he moves towards her, completely forgetting about Arthur.
“Dutch,” she returns, then glances at Arthur. “And… Arthur, right?” Arthur lifts a hand and slowly puts a couple of fingers loosely to his brow, pulling them away to signify a “hello”. She looks back at Dutch and sees the new bruises, likely having not seen Arthur’s, despite them being incredibly visible from any distance. “What happened to you?”
“Me?” Dutch asks, a stupid question as it is. “I was helpfully reminded of how to treat those close to me.”
“And that resulted in your face getting all bruised like that?”
“John’s a…” Dutch chuckles a bit. “He’s pretty rough when he wants to get his point across.” He glances over his shoulder at Arthur, who stands a bit taller when he notices that Dutch’s eyes are back on him. “I’m going to have a short meeting with Charlotte, here. Get that bandage taken care of, won’t you?” Arthur nods.
“Sure, boss,” he turns on his heel and makes his way towards the door as Dutch follows Charlotte out the other door. He looks out to see John chewing on a piece of iguana and complaining to Sadie, who is idly baking another leg over the fire. She almost looks bored listening to John go on about anything and everything, so Arthur pulls himself over and sighs, placing a hand on Sadie’s shoulder. “Hey, Dutch just gave me a mission.”
Her face brightens immediately and she stands. “Oh, I’ve been dyin’ here! No action!” She suddenly tugs her revolver out of her holster, and Arthur jolts, glancing over his shoulder and pushing the barrel back to the ground.
“Jesus, woman, calm down,” he whispers, Sadie frowning.
“Thought you said we had a mission!”
“Not that kind of mission, Sadie.” She frowns even deeper and reholsters her revolver.
“What other kinds’a missions are there?” She shifts to one foot and crosses her arms, looking Arthur over.
“I need you to help me change this bandage,” he admits, and she cracks a smirk.
“You’re jokin’.” Arthur shakes his head.
“Nope. I can get Charles to help me, though, if you don’t feel like you’re up for it.”
“Sure, I’m up for it. But you owe me.”
“For changin’ a bandage?” Arthur starts walking back towards the door, Sadie following him.
“Alright, you think it’s so simple, I want to see you do it yourself.”
“I wouldn’t have to ask you if I knew how to do it myself,” Arthur moves to the table and leans his hand on it, still feeling the warmth from where Dutch had been leaning just a few minutes ago. Sadie hums, making her way towards the stairs.
“That’s what I thought.” She disappears from Arthur’s sight and almost instantly, Arthur’s lungs have something to say about his speaking. He’s been pretty quiet as of late, at least, so his coughing has been kept to a minimum, but that doesn’t mean it hurts any less when he does end up coughing, and he does. He lifts the side of his fist to his lips and shuts his eyes, his other hand placed on the table as he coughs. His lungs squeak and he finds himself making more noise than he wanted, but at the very least, it doesn’t last long. After a moment, he just sits there and takes a bit to breathe.
Sadie returns a while later with quite a few things, one of them namely a bottle of moonshine. Arthur’s brows furrow and a smile passes onto his face, intrigued.
“Never took you for the heavy drinkin’ type, Missus Adler.”
“Ain’t for me, Mister Morgan,” she returns, setting it, a bundle of wrapping, and a bucket down near Arthur. He sits back in the chair a bit, watching as she approaches and slowly picks at the bandaging, then peels it off. Arthur cringes, especially when he feels it sticking to the wound, but Sadie only tuts and raises her eyebrows.
She’s able to get it off, setting it to the side and lifting a cloth from the bucket, then wiping the wound down a bit. Arthur tenses until she suddenly stops and goes silent, making him look down at her.
“Dutch did that to you, too, didn’t he? That’s what you meant by ‘he made it worse’?” He looks at the wound, recognising that he hadn’t even seen what it looked like. There’s a bruise here, too, only it’s redder than the one around his neck and is clearly the cause of the majority of the pain.
“It ain’t as bad as it looks.”
“Well, it looks like Dutch put another handprint here,” Sadie warns, and Arthur shakes his head, shrugging. “You’re makin’ this seem like somethin’ normal, and that worries me, Arthur.”
“It ain’t anythin’ normal, either.”
“Then quit makin’ it out to be that way!” Sadie snaps at him and he sits back again, watching as she looks the wound over and shakes her head. She lifts the bottle of moonshine after ringing out the cloth into the bucket, pouring the liquor onto the cloth and squeezing it a few times to spread it around. Arthur’s fingers grip the table as he feels the cloth pressed to his skin, his legs tensing and his teeth gritting.
“Shit,” he utters. “That hurts.”
“Shouldn’t’ve let him do it to you, then,” she says, and Arthur decides that he’s had enough of her talking Dutch down like that. He was drunk, after all. He wasn’t thinking straight.
“Will you quit talkin’ like that?” Arthur says after she removes the cloth and shifts to grab the bandaging. “He didn’t mean anythin’ by it.”
“If he didn’t, he wouldn’t’a done it, Arthur.” She begins to wrap the cloth around Arthur’s leg and he shifts a bit to help her get the proper angle around his lower thigh.
“I know, but he says he was drunk, and with everythin’ goin’ on, I don’t blame him. I wouldn’t blame him if he were out chewin’ a whole container of cocaine gum at once. He’s stressed , Sadie. Can’t you tell that?”
“So you’re gonna let him beat you up until he figures everythin’ out.”
“I might just have to. He needs an out, and really, I don’t want him goin’ after all of you. Who cares if I get a few bumps and bruises here and there.”
“We all do,” Sadie says, avoiding Arthur’s eyes. Her eyebrows are raised and she’s trying not to sound as angry as she clearly is with what Arthur’s just said. “You might not care, and maybe Dutch doesn’t, but the rest of us? We do.” Arthur goes quiet for a minute, then shakes his head when he sees Sadie beginning to clean up.
“You ever had coconut, Sadie?” She shakes her head. “Had some mango drink, but I’m sure it ain’t my taste. To each their own, but hell, those things is juicy.”
“Sounds like it should be a good thing.”
“Well,” Sadie hoists the bucket up and walks herself towards the door. “I weren’t raised on sweet and juicy, Arthur Morgan. I like meat. I like to taste blood and taste the metallic tang from the tip of that arrow, or the shine of that bullet.” She pushes the door open and tosses the water out, watching it fall against the ground where there had been other splashes before. She steps back in after ringing out the towel and setting the bucket down by the spigot again.
“I see,” Arthur says, and Sadie picks up the bottle of moonshine, setting it on a shelf.
“Think the natives’ll like that?”
“Guess we’ll have to see,” Arthur says with a laugh, picturing one of them trying and completely despising it upon the first sip. “But, I wanted to ask if you would care to join me in findin’ one of them coconuts — Bill says there’s whiskey inside, or maybe a mango, since those seem to be the popular food here.” She looks a little disappointed that there will be no gunslinging anymore, but Arthur’s sort of happy about that fact. Maybe she’ll go back to having a normal life without having to worry about needing a gun on her hip at all times. Maybe she’ll lose that terrifying thirst for blood that has gotten her into many misunderstandings, time and time again. Whatever the turnout, he’s sure it’ll only go uphill for Sadie Adler. She’s only got bright skies ahead of her, while Arthur can only see clouds. Deep, dark, angry ones that won’t clear a way and feel much too thick to keep Arthur’s hopes up at all.
“Sure,” she nods. “I need to get away from this place. Been cooped up in here for too long.” Arthur nods, standing.
“Got all you need?”
“A pair of fists and an attitude?”
“That’s you as a whole, Missus Adler,” he teases, placing a hand on her shoulder and beginning to walk her towards the door. “But I am pretty sure we won’t be runnin’ into any smartmouthin’ coconuts any time soon.”
“Let’s hope for the best of all of us we do, because I got one hell of a trigger finger.”
“And I’m startin’ to wish we took that gun away from you a long time ago,” Arthur says, leading her out and onto the beach, then in the opposite way from the direction of the boat. He doesn’t want to find himself worried and frightened in that area where Dutch had brought him. Not so soon.
Before he knows it, they’re laughing and carrying on (with the common coughing break from Arthur laughing just a little too hard) until they approach a tree with a fitting coconut, not too far away fro the hotel. They stare at it for a while before Arthur challenges Sadie to climb it, and she takes one look at it before shaking her head and glancing around.
Then they’re throwing rocks.
Arthur throws one, then Sadie throws one and it ricochets off of the tree trunk, Arthur scattering to avoid getting hit by the rogue stone. He returns with another, skillfully hitting the coconut but not freeing it from its grasp on the tree.
“You think it would be easier to find one on the ground, Arthur?” She asks after a while of chucking rocks, Arthur panting a bit.
“Maybe, but I don’t see too many around here. You want to go take a look, I’ll keep throwin’?”
“Oh, like I’d let you puff and wheeze a little more. Go look for one, I’ll be here until I get this baby down.”
“Or pass out.”
“Not an option,” she speaks so seriously and Arthur can’t help but laugh as he sets his handful of rocks down by her feet, turning and wandering off towards the shoreline, but keeping in the trees. He sees none for a while, then gets excited when he spots one and rushes for it. He’s disappointed to find it cut in half and dry, dropping it back to the ground and falling down beside it. He breathes for a second and shuts his eyes to rest them, his lungs shuddering.
Then he hears voices and opens his eyes again, turning to see Dutch walking along a pathway with Charlotte, a ways away. Her voice is strange, though. Doesn’t sound like the way he remembers her speaking. Her voice sounds richer; deeper. And she speaks with an accent.
That’s when he pins the voice as Molly’s, and he’s kicked gently in the thigh by a boot.
“Couldn’t even find yourself some shade, could you?” He truly opens his eyes to see Sadie there in a much redder light, the coconut in hand. There are little scratches all over it, and somehow, she’s split it in half. It’s no surprise, but Arthur feels a little stiff as he stands himself up and stretches, cracking his back. “You’re all red, and it ain’t just the sunset.”
“Was I out here for that long?”
“Must’ve fell asleep while I did all the work.” She teases him, and he grins, taking one half of the coconut, as is offered to him. She lifts her half and Arthur does as well, noticing the water slosh around inside as he does. “To your health and good fortune, Arthur Morgan.” She taps the rim of hers against Arthur’s and he nods, agreeing.
They both toss back a large amount of the liquid before immediately spitting it out simultaneously. Sadie laughs a bit, Arthur coughing as it got a bit further down his windpipe than he’d wanted it to.
“That sure as hell ain’t whiskey.” Arthur shakes his head, lungs squeaking as his coughs lighten and he wipes his lips. “Not even close.”
“So much for trustin’ Bill Williamson,” he chuckles, watching her toss the empty half away.
“Connoisseur of foreign… fruits?”
“Sure.” Arthur nods and they begin to head back, Sadie leading the way and explaining that she only used the blunt of her knife to work at it as she walked to find Arthur, having broken it open just a few moments before spotting him. Arthur mentions that he should’ve worn his hat, maybe his face wouldn’t feel as hot as it does now, but he’s gotten worse sunburns before. Besides, a tan never hurt anyone — to which Sadie’s reply is disappointed and motherly, saying that he should be taking care of his face, right now more than anything.
Then they’re back at the hotel, and Sadie leads Arthur inside. He follows behind, spotting Dutch almost immediately, looking to be wrapping a few things up with Charlotte. He keeps to himself as Sadie moves back to the fire and sits beside Abigail, who is reading something with Jack. Tilly is doing something or other, being taught by a native she clearly can’t understand but is attempting to learn from anyway. Arthur’s proud of her for doing that. He wishes he’d taken more creative liberties and learned to create things like that in his freetime. Maybe looping beads on a string isn’t quite his thing, but painting, maybe. More drawing. Perhaps he could’ve sold his drawings in a past life, but he doubts a single person would want to offer up money for one of his shitty drawings. They’re in his journal and kept to himself for a reason, after all. None of them are works of art in any way.
Arthur feels a hand on his shoulder and turns to see Dutch, who leans closer and looks outside, smiling a bit.
“That’s a family, Arthur,” he sounds almost sweet, in a way. Trying to get into Arthur’s head, possibly, but Arthur, for once, doesn’t hear that if it’s there. It sounds genuine. Like Dutch is truly happy again. Finally happy with the way things are going. “So many different people with different backgrounds and ideas, but they’re all people brought together by one common goal; one common standpoint.” Arthur nods, smiling a bit. He wonders if Hosea got this talk, too, when they’d first started gathering a true gang following.
“Well, you’re a pretty good leader, Dutch.” Arthur says, the first in a long time. “No wonder.” Dutch smiles a genuine smile, and Arthur doesn’t have to look at him to see the way his eyes twinkle off the far-away firelight, even though the window.
“I think I’m headed to bed soon, would you care to join me?” Arthur feels that curiosity bloom in his chest, but it doesn’t hurt like a rose’s thorns, this time. All he feels are the gentle petals of a lily brushing against his stomach.
“I’m sure I could figure that out, what, with my busy life nowadays,” Arthur plays, and Dutch gazes out the window for a moment before placing a kiss against Arthur’s neck.
Arthur is lead towards the stairs. Not by a hand or by the wrist, but by the simple draw of Dutch’s alluring presence. He tails the man up the stairs and into Dutch’s bedroom, which is much nicer than even Arthur’s is, but it seems to be that way purely because of the decoration Dutch was allowed to keep. Arthur begins to wonder if he should’ve kept those pictures. The one of his mother; the one of himself, Dutch, and Hosea; the one of Copper; the one of Mary; his first horseshoe, which is ridiculous to keep as it is, but sentimental all the same.
The thoughts are whisked out of his mind when he hears the door shut behind him and a hand is placed on his hip, his movements almost natural and fluidly moving with Dutch’s. His back is placed against the duvet and he feels the down fluff out before settling around him, Dutch’s lips pressed to his lips, then his chin, then his neck.
And he smiles.
Chapter 19: Playing Possum
Two whole months pass like nothing. Arthur heals, his bruises slowly disappearing and his scrape scarring over. It’s a light spot on his leg, but at least the bruises disappear, and with them, the fear of that night happening again.
He and Dutch don’t really do anything more than the night after he’d tried that coconut with Sadie. Even then, they’d only gone so far as Dutch slowly touching Arthur’s body and savouring every moment of it before Arthur had called it a night and lied down with Dutch, his head on the man’s chest.
Since then, though, it’s been much busier, and they’re both too exhausted to hold a short conversation, much less continue on much more than simple kissing and touching. In reality, they’re acting like teenagers while being restricted by the responsibilities of adults; adults who are building a proper house for the lot of them, and fencing out a plot of land for the mango trees Dutch imagined. And just as promised, the land is in the back of the house.
It takes over a month for the lumber to arrive from overseas, but they’re luckily able to get a shipment in from Australia after Dutch sweet-talked a salesman arriving for a monthly shipment of goods from the other countries. Seems these people are pretty well off, and they’re able to use the salesman as a sort of translator for a few hours before he leaves again.
When the lumber finally arrives, Dutch gives everyone a job — that is, aside from Jack, who sits with Abigail most of the time and watches the rest of them do a heavy amount of the work. Arthur is also told to sit off to the side quite a few times when he starts panting and wheezing, trying to ignore it and help with the building, but being caught every time. It’s painful for what is left of his ego, yes, but he listens anyhow and allows himself to collapse under the shade of a tree.
Then, the house, in its seven-bedroom glory, is finished and everyone takes several steps back to gaze at what they’ve accomplished. Dutch is overjoyed that day, and the lot of them celebrate with a night under the stars, dancing around on the beach and just allowing themselves to settle in.
It’s also that night that Arthur has to pull himself away from the party and the festivities due to an unexpected coughing fit, taking himself deeper into the jungle with every lingering cough. He finds a tree to prop himself up against and sits, chest heaving and lungs screaming for relief from the pain. There are a few minutes where he just sits there and tries to breathe, until eventually, he finds himself sitting up straighter and holding himself against the trunk as he lets out a few more coughs. They linger for a long while until he finally dislodges whatever was blocking his air and spits it into the mud, sitting back down.
“Arthur?” Dutch asks, suddenly so close. Arthur stiffens and looks up to see the man, his brows rising.
“Didn’t know you were out here.”
“I wasn’t,” he moves closer and gestures to take the spot beside Arthur, which he is obviously granted. “Noticed you sloped off and went lookin’ for you.” Arthur nods, laughing a bit.
“You didn’t need to do that.”
“And yet, I did,” Dutch says, and leans against the tree beside Arthur, gazing up at the night sky through the thin cover above them.
“Why? Shouldn’t you be… dancing with Abigail, or Sadie to celebrate?” Dutch shakes his head, letting out a heavy, tired sigh.
“You know how exhausted I’ve been recently. Can’t seem to lift a finger without feeling like I need to hit the sheets for at least a few days’ time.” Arthur laughs, but Dutch sounds serious, and he slowly, quietly stops and apologises.
“And yet you come chasin’ after me?”
“Sure. You, unlike them, are worth it,” Dutch says, and Arthur can’t help but smile. He lowers his eyes to his legs stretched out before him, thinking. Dutch’s arm is pressed against his own, but he doesn’t care enough to change it at all. As a matter of fact, he loves the silent indication that there is something there between them, it just hasn’t been dignified with a title yet.
He feels Dutch’s weight on his side slowly getting heavier and he looks over to see Dutch’s head leaning, then touching his shoulder as the man rests. It seems even he needed a break from the party.
As much as Arthur wants to continue sitting here, he believes that they should head back to the hotel and sleep (as they likely will remain in these rooms for a while, seeing as their shipment of furniture is taking its sweet time). At least now, he can wake Dutch without the man being too far gone and too weak to care.
“Hey,” he whispers, shaking himself and feeling Dutch shift with his shaking. “Dutch,” he hears the man grunt, clearly tired. “We should head back to the hotel if you’re this tired. Maybe we can get a full day’s rest, if that sounds good to you.”
“I’m fine,” Dutch says, straightening and slowly pushing himself to his feet. Arthur follows, confused as to what Dutch is doing.
There’s a comfortable silence as they look at one another, Dutch smiling a bit.
“As a matter of fact, I’m feeling much livelier now.”
“Then we should head back—”
“Dance with me?” Dutch says, holding out a hand. Arthur looks down at it, then back up at Dutch. He’s never been a proper dancer, nor has he been a good lead, always adding his flair a little too often for any woman’s taste. Then again, seeing as their dynamic has been with Dutch being the more “masculine” of the two, perhaps he won’t have to worry about leading. He’ll only have to worry about not stepping on Dutch’s feet as he follows and tries to keep his eyes off of their movements.
“Aw, Dutch, that’s nice, but you know I can’t dance.”
“Doesn’t mean I can’t teach you.” Arthur pauses, looking down at Dutch’s hand, which is outstretched a little more as soon as it gains Arthur’s attention. Arthur hesitates for a moment before looking at Dutch for confirmation. If he’s really feeling up to it, then sure, so is Arthur. Dutch gives him a nod and he places his hand in Dutch’s, that hand immediately being moved to the man’s shoulder. He feels a hand on his hip and another slowly taking Arthur’s vacant hand, then letting them hang, loosely hooked together by the knuckles. Just from seeing others, Arthur knows this isn’t proper etiquette, but he doesn’t really care.
Dutch begins to rock them back and forth, slowly moving himself closer to make their stance a bit more comfortable. Arthur looks up at him, worry clear in his eyes. Dutch leans forward and places a kiss on Arthur’s chin, shaking his head.
“Quit giving me that look, you’re doing fine,” he teases, and Arthur huffs.
“Can’t help it.”
“Stop doubtin’ yourself, Arthur, and it’ll go away.”
“I’ll do that when—“ Arthur pauses, thinking it wrong to mention what’s truly on his mind. He thinks of making a reference to Micah’s absence, but thinks better of it. Then he wonders if he should mention their lack of taking this “all the way”. Dutch has been so kind and so courteous, but Arthur’s only waiting for the word to take Dutch for his own. He’s only waiting for Dutch’s sign, whenever it’s willing to show up. Any longer, and Arthur won’t be alive to savour that feeling he imagines. He’ll be buried in the sand somewhere or sent out on a wooden raft wrapped in his tent’s canvas.
What a way to go.
“— when I’m confident enough to think I won’t make a moron of myself.”
Dutch only hums, pulling himself even closer and leaning his forehead up against Arthur’s. Immediately, Arthur feels a warmth to him. Maybe it’s just the sun or the fact that he’s been standing around fire for the past few hours, but Arthur pulls back and looks up at him, his brows furrowed.
“You’re all warm,” he says, and Dutch shrugs.
“I don’t feel anything.”
“Alright,” Arthur nods, returning to his position and shutting his eyes as he’s slowly swayed back and forth. After a while, the warmth doesn’t dissipate, and immediately, Arthur gets an idea. “Want to come see how cold the water is with me?” Dutch raises an eyebrow, but he certainly doesn’t detest the idea in any way.
“Away from the others?”
“I’m sure they can manage.” Arthur smirks to replicate Dutch’s. “You up for it, old man?”
“I’ll show you ‘old man’.” Dutch turns and begins towards the beach, Arthur walking beside him. He watches Dutch pull off layer after layer of clothes, hanging each piece over his arm as he walks. His vest, then his belt, then his shirt, which, as Arthur notices, reveals a much thinner frame than what Arthur had expected.
“You… been eatin’ recently?” Arthur asks, and Dutch pauses in his movements to look over at him.
“What was that?”
“You look thinner. I can see your ribs.”
“No, I haven’t eaten much recently. Been busy with building that house.” They come into view of the water and Arthur begins by unfastening his suspenders, then working his shirt off. Dutch glances over as he’s kicking off his boots. The man sets his pile of clothes down and kicks off his own, followed by his socks, and eventually, his pants.
Arthur can’t help but look every now and again as he takes off his own, silently critiquing every part of his own body that doesn’t look remotely as attractive. Dutch is like a god under the moonlight, and Arthur is certain enough in that aspect that he could tell Dutch directly to his face, but he knows he won’t.
Soon, Arthur’s down to his union suit and pauses there, taking a breath.
“You’re acting like I’ve never seen you nude, Arthur,” Dutch says, and Arthur shakes his head, slowly undoing every clasp along the front of him. He’s anxious as Dutch watches, but he figures it’ll be sooner or later that Dutch will see him, so he’d rather make it sooner.
He steps out of the union suit and feels the breeze over his bare legs and arms, moving towards the water when Dutch finally works at his own final layer.
The water is unbelievably warm. It’s not hot by any means, and it’s not cold, but it’s a comfortable warmth around his ankles, then his calves, his knees, his thighs. He wades into the water until he’s about mid-chest deep and turns around to see Dutch, standing there in all of his glory, nude as the day he was born.
He wades towards Arthur, humming with the temperature of the water as well.
“That’s actually really nice,” he says, and Arthur quietly agrees as Dutch moves closer, a hand placing itself on Arthur’s hip underwater. “It’s no hot spring, but it’ll do.” Arthur laughs a bit and lifts a hand to cup Dutch’s right cheek. He can feel Dutch’s front against his own, but as much as he wants to say something to alleviate his nervousness, he keeps himself silent and just looks into Dutch’s eyes. “I suppose we’ve tested the water, haven’t we?”
Arthur nods, then shakes his head.
“A little while longer,” and he tilts his head, lips pressing against Dutch’s, which fight back with an unexpected amount of force. Arthur hums through the kiss for a moment as he feels it, but it’s far from unwelcome as his own hands glide over the front of Dutch’s body. His stomach is solid and Arthur can’t help but let his hand slip lower until Dutch quits kissing at his jaw and pauses for a minute. “Didn’t mean to—“
“If you’re going to touch, Arthur, at least do it.” Dutch’s voice is teasing; playful and sensual as all hell. Arthur feels it; Arthur replicates it.
“You want to do this right now?”
“Maybe,” Dutch shrugs, shaking his head. “I guess we’ll find out.”
Chapter 20: Mouth-Watering
Arthur pulls back to look Dutch’s face over, eyes scanning the man’s expression for any sign of sarcasm. When there is none, Arthur dives back in immediately, lips almost desperate in their movements against Dutch’s. But, contrary to what he thought the man would do, Dutch is moving with Arthur, just as desperate and wanton as Arthur’s own movements.
Arthur’s teeth clash against Dutch’s a few times before he finally gets his bearings, hearing the water slosh around them as his fingers grasp and tug at Dutch’s curls.
With his reaction, he has half a heart to completely drop it because of how much he knows he is flushing and the embarrassment of it all. But he doesn’t, because Dutch doesn’t go silent and still like Arthur had expected him to. He’s moving, breathing, grasping, feeling; grunting when, in his excitement, Arthur pulls a little too hard on those curls of his, now damp from Arthur’s fingers having been in the water.
At one point, Dutch finally allows his hand to trail down Arthur’s front from his arm, catching one Arthur’s pelvis and rubbing sweet circles into the bone. And for some reason, Arthur comes apart. His fingers tighten their hold and he folds forward, an arm lifting itself to rest on Dutch’s shoulders.
Even through all of their movements, their lips only separate for a few seconds at a time at most, then come back together with teeth and tongue and everything in between.
Arthur feels Dutch’s hand move around to his backside and eagerly draw their hips together, then feels him push his hips forward to rut them up against one another. Arthur breathes out noisily, followed by the uncertain sound of clearing his own throat, worried that making any noise will result in Dutch completely shoving him away and leaving him here to likely drown himself out of horror.
Every possible negative outcome comes to mind and Arthur feels Dutch reel back a bit. He immediately surfaces and gazes at Dutch’s eyes, which are switching between the two of Arthur’s.
“Did I lose you for a moment there?” Arthur shakes his head, slowly catching himself in the lie. Sure, Dutch had lost him. And if it happens again, surely, Arthur will go underwater and he’ll drown before Dutch notices. He’ll drown out of embarrassment and out of regret for mentioning it at all… It’ll all go bad.
“In my own head about things, is all,” Arthur says, his voice quiet and low as to be heard over the subtle sound of the water around them, then the party a ways off now, which is still emitting light, even from as far away as they are.
“About what things?” Dutch sounds genuinely curious, and Arthur feels that hand slide up to the small of Arthur’s back, Dutch’s thumb stroking over his spine as he asks.
“Nothin’ much, just… nervous.” If nothing else, he’s getting exceedingly more nervous with Dutch’s hand on him like that. This seems like a dream. Arthur doesn’t deserve this sort of treatment, and Dutch has proven that before…
He tries to kick himself for thinking such a thing. Dutch was drunk . He wasn’t thinking straight. Arthur’s made a fool of himself now because he can’t gather himself enough to trust anyone at all, and now Dutch seems to be suffering for it.
Seems to be .
He’s probably pretending for Arthur’s sake, because Arthur acts happier and does a lot more when he’s being treated this way.
Arthur notices a bit too late that Dutch’s lips are back against his own, hardly moving to counter them at all. Dutch retracts, looking Arthur in the eyes once more.
“Do you want to do this, Arthur?” Dutch asks, and the genuine emotion behind it warms Arthur’s heart. “You don’t need to feel like you’re being forced by myself.”
“Forced?” Arthur asks, “by you?” He almost laughs, but catches it before it makes itself known. “I feel like I’m makin’ you uncomfortable by forcin’ you.”
“You think you’re making me uncomfortable?” Dutch asks, and Arthur slowly nods, worried that he’ll be shoved into the water at any point. A quick and painless death. But Dutch’s hand moves to Arthur’s arm, slowly dragging from his shoulder to his palm before looping two fingers around Arthur’s wrist. Arthur keeps his eyes on Dutch’s as his hand is moved and he feels a sudden stiffness between his fingers. “Does this seem uncomfortable to you?” Arthur swallows harshly and shakes his head, half tempted to move his fingers along the length of it but feeling too nervous to do anything like that.
Dutch guides Arthur’s fingers when he feels Arthur freeze up again, sighing and placing his lips against Arthur’s.
“Maybe we should just stick to this for now,” he says, while moving Arthur’s hand forward and back, his abdomen tensing every few strokes until he removes his hand, returning it to Arthur’s cheek and pulling him closer. “Seems you aren’t quite ready for everything yet.”
“I’m ready,” Arthur says, a sudden confidence in his tone as he moves his hand a bit faster, watching Dutch’s face twist into that of undeniable pleasure. “Only a little worried.”
“Maybe we should move this inside, then,” Dutch whispers against Arthur’s lips when he returns them to their rightful location, one hand on Arthur’s back and the other holding Arthur’s face in such an angelic grip.
“No, I want to try it here,” Arthur says, trying to talk himself into everything. He’d done it before when he was younger and pining, so why can’t he do it now that the opportunity has presented itself like it has?
“Are you sure, Arthur?” Dutch’s breath is hot against his chin as it moves back to his neck. “We can go back inside so I have something soft to fuck you into.” Arthur’s eyes widen and Dutch must’ve noticed as he swallowed with such ferocity at the words. Dutch is simply too good at talking like that. If he’s not careful, Arthur’s sure he’ll be sucked into everything with that tone and that context. “We’ll get dressed, walk back, and avoid everyone, then I’ll take you upstairs and show you what it’s really like to be with me.” Arthur’s voice escapes him for a moment before he catches it and breathes out, his words quiet.
“What’s it like to be with you, Dutch?” Arthur asks, his hand slowing but applying a bit more pressure as Dutch speaks to him. The man looks to be unaffected on the surface, but Arthur notices the subtle change in behaviour, like the goosebumps on his arms and the teeth which find their way to Dutch’s lips on more than a few occasions.
“I’d love for you to find out for yourself,” Dutch teases, a smirk on his face. “But we’ll have to head back inside.” This spurs Arthur into the idea, nodding in agreement as his hand quickens and works at Dutch just as he likes it himself. Dutch makes a noise he’s never heard from the man before — something between a moan and a grunt — but it’s outrageously lovely and Arthur feels a warmth in his stomach beginning to form as he hears it. He wants to hear it again, but Dutch’s hand stops him and he’s looked in the eyes as Dutch pants a bit. “As much as I want you to keep going, tonight won’t go too far if you do.”
The pride of getting Dutch to that point already is enough to shove Arthur towards shore, followed shortly by Dutch.
He doesn’t care to dry off as he dresses himself again, looking over when he’s finished to see Dutch prepared as well. They make back towards the hotel with haste, both trying to keep their hands off of one another as they walk. Dutch is noticeably carrying a few clothing items hung skillfully in front of his groin in the case anyone catches them, but no one does, and they’re able to sneak up to Dutch’s room before they break and Arthur drops everything, undressing right there to continue where they left off. Dutch is sure to lock the door before setting things to the side, eagerly following in Arthur’s footsteps.
Dutch does the same, still in the process of kicking his boots off when he feels Arthur ‘s lips on his neck, then teeth, followed by tongue. As little as he hated Molly doing any sort of thing like that, he can’t bring himself to hate this. Not when it’s Arthur, and when he’s already so worked up for release.
He hurries as Arthur’s hands begin to wander, slowly getting more confident until eventually, Arthur’s hand dips under Dutch’s waistband and slowly works at the stiffness he finds there. Dutch doesn’t counter his movements, actually bucking up into Arthur’s hand once or twice as he’s working his belt and his shirt off.
Then after a few moments, he’s forced to hurry himself along when Arthur’s touching suddenly becomes too much. He drops everything when he feels the last piece of fabric hit the floor, both hands lowering to grab Arthur’s wrists and lift them away.
“Thought I told you not to do that,” he says, with very little bite behind it. Arthur looks up at him, not taken by surprise when he’s suddenly shoved back against a wall and Dutch’s mouth is returned to push and move against his. Only now, he can feel every part of Dutch, and there’s no barrier of water restricting them.
“Dutch— Jesus,” Arthur breathes, his head tipping back against the wall as he returns to Arthur’s collarbones this time. “God damn.” Dutch’s hands rise to Arthur’s shoulders, then trail along his arms until they reach his hips, then his thighs. One traverses to continue along Arthur’s leg while the other takes Arthur’s unoccupied hand. The other is back in Dutch’s hair, getting as tangled as it can in the damp tresses.
Arthur feels his leg being lifted from the ground, but he doesn’t mind it until he feels a hand against the innermost part of his thigh and he lets out a shaky breath.
“That feel good?” Dutch playfully says, and Arthur nods, feeling Dutch’s rough fingertips drag along the skin which is likely the softest part of his entire body. “Anyone ever touched you here?” Arthur shakes his head again, the back still against the wall and tipped back. “They’re missing out.”
“I’m… sure,” Arthur’s voice is shaky as he feels both of his hands move to Dutch’s chest, suddenly shoving him away. He sees the worry in Dutch’s eyes immediately appear before Arthur’s pushing him towards the bed and then forcing him to lie down on his back. Dutch doesn’t take this very well, however. His face gets that competitive, excited look again as he suddenly turns the tables and pushes Arthur down, using a large amount of his weight to keep him pressed there.
“Thought you could move things along that easy, cowboy?” Dutch teases, shaking his head and leaning down to place a kiss against Arthur’s lips. “Just lie back and relax. I’ll make this lovely, just for you.”
Chapter 21: Quick and Dirty
The first thing Arthur recognises when he wakes up is the immense heat surrounding him. His eyes open to a dim room, but the realisation of the arm draped over his front is what makes him still and look at Dutch, who seems to be so blissful as he sleeps. Sure, his face has grown to be a little thinner than Arthur is comfortable with, but that will change as soon as this business is running smooth.
The warmth suddenly gets to him and he tosses the covers away, feeling himself sweating. It’s only then that he sees that the both of them are completely nude, and he recalls everything that happened the night before. The dancing; the skinny dipping; the feeling of being with Dutch in the water before coming inside. The touching, the kissing, the pleasure and pain of it all. Slow, then quick. Then slow again. His mind plays it back to him again as he lies down, a little more comfortable now that the covers are off of him. Dutch is still warm from being under them, but he’s sure he can manage.
Then, Dutch grumbles and furrows his brows, moving that arm from around Arthur and reaching for the covers, pulling them back up.
“Dutch, what are you doin’? It’s hot as hell in here.”
“I’m cold,” he sounds young and sweet, so Arthur can’t resist him, but after only a few moments, he feels himself beginning to boil again. He breathes out and shakes his head.
“Why is it so hot?” Arthur lifts a hand and begins to fan himself. “I think I need to get up.”
“Stay here,” Dutch says, soft and less of a demand than Arthur expects it to be. “I’m still cold.”
“What’s the matter with you?” Arthur asks rhetorically, slowly pushing himself up into a sit.
It’s when he gets about halfway up that a strike of pain shoots through him and he hisses. His teeth come together as he lies back down. “Shit,” Dutch slowly opens his eyes to look down at Arthur, his expression softening quite a bit.
“You alright?” He moves his hand to massage the area and alleviate the pain, but as soon as Dutch’s fingers press just the slightest bit into the muscle, he tenses and pulls away, causing him even more pain. It’s like a cramp as it would be in his arm or his leg, only more painful and suddenly throbbing like nothing else on his body ever has. “Arthur?”
“Yeah, just…” he shakes his head, lying his head back down. “Didn’t expect it.”
“I told you it would hurt, but you told me to hurry it along.”
“I know, I know,” Arthur is still buried by this heat, and he figures he has to decide between lying here and suffering from that or getting up and suffering from the lasting pain. He settles on lying here, slowly shifting his foot towards the edge of the covers to get at least some airflow in and under the covers there.
“Did you enjoy last night, Arthur?” Dutch asks, his hand lingering slowly and gently touching Arthur’s cheek. Arthur nods, looking back up to meet the man’s eyes.
“I did,” he nods again, giving a small smile. “Didn’t expect it to happen like that. Figured it would be some grandiose thing you been plannin’ for months, or something like that.” As he says this, he begins to wonder why he would think Dutch would go to those lengths for him . Anyone else, yes, but not Arthur.
“Did you, now?” Dutch laughs a bit, the smile on his face showing true joy and happiness. Arthur feels it. “Well, perhaps when I’m feeling a bit more up-to-speed, we can try again. I’ll steal you away and treat you to a wonderful dinner, then we’ll get to the real passion of the night.” Dutch winks, and Arthur feels himself tense, instantly regretting it as the muscle just behind his abs aches and cries out in pain.
“You know you don’t need to do that to please me, Dutch.”
“Doesn’t mean I don’t want to, nor does it mean I don’t enjoy your face when you see me go out of my way to do things for you.” Arthur takes a moment before he grins, pulling himself forward and kissing Dutch. This one is slow and, daresay, loving, in comparison to the lustful and passionate kiss they shared the night before, and many times over. Arthur’s not particularly sure he knows which he prefers, but he’s sure he doesn’t need to have a preference. As long as he can have both, he’ll be happy.
What he does notice is the bit of stubble scratching at his chin and his lip. Dutch is uncommonly found with a scraggly beard, but Arthur’s intrigued by the image his mind paints for him. The last time he’d seen Dutch without a perfectly shaved moustache (and soul patch to boot) was in Guarma, and Arthur, if he’s able to, would much like to forego that round of memories for today.
“Did you enjoy it?” Arthur asks, curious in his own right.
“Maybe a little too much,” Dutch says, and Arthur’s confused at first, especially when Dutch smirks and follows that up with a, “but that’s a story for another time.”
Arthur hears a knock at the door and immediately panics, Dutch’s eyes drifting to the handle and spotting that it’s still locked from the night before. He glances back at Arthur and puts a finger over his own lips before standing.
“Lie back down, turn away from the door. Don’t make a sound,” he whispers, moving quickly across the floor. Arthur doesn’t see much more as he lies back down and follows Dutch’s requests, sliding a foot out to touch the cold air as he regrettably pulls the covers higher over his shoulder. He hears clothes being rustled and hurriedly put on, then the door open. He freezes. Is Dutch standing in the way of the door? Is he trying to hide Arthur? Or is the man silently making fun of him? His mind is outrageously curious.
“Dutch,” John’s voice is heard. “That Charlotte lady is here to talk to you.”
“Is she?” Dutch can be heard adjusting his clothes, but at the very least it seems to be early in the morning and it’s acceptable to be putting on clothes at this time. Especially for Dutch, whom both John and Arthur know, sleeps without clothes a majority of the time. “What does she need?”
“Just wants to talk to you. Says it’s important— you know, Dutch, she gives me a strange feelin’. Like somethin’s off about her, I just don’t know what.”
“Well, tell her I’ll be out in a few minutes.” There’s a pause and Arthur can almost see the look on John’s face as he tries to comprehend that Dutch didn’t pay attention to what was said.
“Also, have you seen Arthur this mornin’?”
“Can’t say I have. Why?”
“He ain’t in his room, and no one’s seen him since last night when he wormed his way out of the party. Just don’t want him wanderin’ off and disappearin’ for a day again, y’know?” John forces a laugh and it is painfully obvious.
“Sure,” Dutch sounds sure, and that worries Arthur. If he’s this good at lying like this, Arthur’s certainly got to be careful when trusting the things Dutch says. There’s a moment where Arthur’s sure John has left, but then Dutch cuts sharply into the silence. “Oh! Matter of fact, I did see him. Said he’d be back by noon today, but he’s goin’ out to try another coconut. Said he didn’t think that one did any justice, so he’s out to look for one that tastes better."
“Really?” John asks, and again, Arthur can see the look on his face. Dumbfounded. An eyebrow up, his head tipped just a bit to the side. “Why didn’t he bring anyone else?”
“You know even better than I do that he doesn’t much like crowds. Look, if he isn’t back by noon, then we’ll start to worry. Put a little trust in your brother, John Marston.” John goes quiet for a second, letting out a sigh. He sounds like he’s not completely sold, but at the very least, he isn’t questioning anymore.
“Okay,” Arthur hears his voice get a bit quieter as he steps away from the door. “I can send Charlotte up if you want—”
“I’ll be down in a minute or two.”
“…Alright.” The door shuts again and Arthur hears Dutch sigh, picking up what he’s sure is a belt from the floor. Arthur slowly sits up, his face contorting as he feels that pain again. It’s not too bad, but it’s definitely there.
“Why’d you lie? Thought you said you’d let anyone walk in and be fine with it.”
“You remember that?” Dutch’s voice is quiet in case John is still nearby, but he looks over at Arthur as he buckles his belt. “Thought you’d want a little more privacy. Being this close on the island has surely left us with little to do in terms of getting away from one another, so I don’t want anyone coming to bite you on the ass.” Arthur nods, pushing himself to his feet. He wobbles, then holds a hand against the wall.
“So you’ll leave that to yourself, then?” Dutch chuckles, nodding.
“I suppose I will.” Arthur moves slowly as he takes his first few steps, but eventually sets into a subtle limp as he moves towards Dutch, leaning down to gather his clothes. He feels a hand on his ass and pauses, still unable to pretend as if that touch is nothing. The fingers knead and press at the muscles to loosen Arthur up a bit, but how much it affects him otherwise catches him severely off-guard. “You don’t suppose we could take a crack at round two, do you?”
For a moment, Arthur thinks about it. Wants it, even. But the sense sets in and he shakes his head. All it would do is hurt him, even more than he already is, and neither of them need or want that.
“Much as I want to, I have to decline,” Arthur says, standing up and gently leaning his back against Dutch’s front. “No need to make everythin’ worse than it already is.”
“Even if we take it slow?” Arthur pauses to think for a second. Dutch is making excuses to do something like this for him. Shouldn’t he allow it? No, he’s the one who has the sense in his mind right now, and there’s no use. They can do it again another time.
“I ain’t sure, Dutch. Charlotte’s waitin’ for you, and—“
“At least let me get you off again, then?” Arthur doesn’t stop to think this time, simply turning his head to look Dutch in the eyes. He wants to see if Dutch is really genuine with his words. The way his eyes linger over Arthur’s, then slowly trail down to his lips, tells him that at least on this, he’s completely true. And Arthur loves that.
“I guess I don’t see why not,” Arthur says. “But we need to make it quick,” his last word struggles to make it past the end of his tongue as he feels Dutch’s hands immediately dive for his groin. His head tilts back and rests on Dutch’s shoulder as those skilled hands work him loose in a new way, Arthur grasping at Dutch’s arm as he moves it for some semblance of control. The other hand is caught in Dutch’s empty one, his fingers curling tighter and tighter around Dutch’s. “You’re so… eager recently.”
“I got you, Arthur. How can’t I be?” Arthur shakes his head, laughing a bit.
“What do you mean, ‘sure’? I’m telling you that you make me this way, and you reply with ‘sure’?” Dutch’s fingers suddenly tighten in random bursts and Arthur’s nerves light on fire with every press.
“Arthur,” Dutch says, his voice suddenly much more serious compared to Arthur’s laboured panting and the mere fact that he’s asked to get Arthur off before going to meet with Charlotte, who had said that whatever she needs to speak to Dutch about is important and urgent. “You excite me. You are the reason I’ve been like this, and hell, look at what I’m doing now. I asked to do this.” Dutch’s hand slows and Arthur can only nod, swallowing a thickness in his throat. He wants to ask Dutch to hurry along and get down to talk to Charlotte, seeing they’re pushing their luck as it is, but no words come and he imply grasps Dutch’s hand harder as he feels that rising sensation hit him.
“Dutch,” Arthur says, breathing out and leaning his head back again. “Shit.”
“That’s it,” Dutch is watching, but Arthur’s not worried about that right now. Normally, he would be, but he’s not right now. “Good.” Dutch recalls the night before, how Arthur responded so positively to compliments rather than anything degrading. Then again, Dutch hadn’t said a single thing degrading as the worry of Arthur shutting himself off again crossed his mind several times over.
“ God .” Arthur grits his teeth, the hand on Dutch’s forearm growing tighter around the limb. “Fuck, please.”
“Please what, Arthur?”
“Can I? Please?” His words are hurried, like his body is building up to something (and it is). Dutch remembers telling Arthur to ask his permission the night before, and just as he’d asked, Arthur requested before he released. And with just that, Arthur became one of his favourite sexual partners. He is loyal and playful, yet reserved and incredibly keen on obeying.
“ May I,” Dutch corrects, his hand quickening. He feels Arthur’s hips move forward with the sudden change in pace, Arthur’s lip bitten white and his eyes screwed shut.
“Please. May I? Dutch, please , I-I can’t—”
“You may,” Arthur nods, swallowing harshly behind grit teeth as his body is finally allowed to follow through. He shudders as his orgasm strikes through him and Dutch’s hand begins to draw him towards the line of overstimulation, but he doesn’t complain. He’s tired again, but he knows he can’t fall asleep with Dutch right now. He’s got things to do; people to see.
“Thank you, Dutch,” Arthur struggles to get the words out, his hands still holding on tight as Dutch lifts his hand and slowly runs his tongue over his palm. He grins and nods, carefully walking Arthur backwards to the bed and sitting him down before allowing himself to let go.
“No, thank you,” Dutch places a kiss on Arthur’s forehead, still smiling.
And just like that, he buttons his vest and is gone in less than a minute. Arthur’s stunned by the simplicity of it, but he’s much too tired and blinded by pure bliss to truly think through how quickly (or slowly) Dutch left.
So he doesn’t, simply pulling himself back up to the pillows and tugging himself under the covers. They’re cooler now and he favours them much more than his own, but he won’t tell anyone. Specifically Dutch. Arthur’s mind begins to think of all of the things Dutch would say to get Arthur sleeping in his bed again, even if it’s without all of the other activities.
Oh, the mind boggles.
Chapter 22: Wake Up Call
Arthur lies in bed for a while after coming back to the surface about three to four hours later. He’s stuck on the thought of Dutch’s hands on him, and the words Dutch used to insinuate such and act, and just before he needed to run off to Charlotte. In a way, Arthur’s glad Dutch made time for Arthur, especially when he’s effectively put Charlotte on the second rung.
After about ten minutes, though, he’s unable to keep himself lying there and doing nothing, so he gets himself to his feet — albeit slowly, what with the throbbing in his lower abdomen — and starts to get himself dressed. He recognises that he misses Dutch’s presence immediately, but even through his longing, he feels that dull pain and settles on getting himself ready for the day. If he’s going to be any good at hiding this act, should it happen again, he should start off on the right foot.
No one will know he was in Dutch’s room. He’ll simply sneak out while he can, and no one will see him. Neither Dutch nor him will be related to one another, because John is both the most inquisitive and idiotic person he knows. Even while he’s a little dim sometimes, he can be smart in how he ties the strings together, and Arthur just needs to watch his actions a little close for the next few days — that is, as long as this doesn’t happen again.
When he’s dressed, he stands himself up as straight as he can and takes a breath, stepping forward to place his hand on the doorknob. He’s careful to make his movements quiet as he pulls it open, then looks up and down the hallway a few times. When he’s sure there’s no one to be seen, he moves out from the doorway and shuts the door behind him, keeping his hand on the knob for a moment, moving a foot to take a step towards his room. Only then does he see Tilly stepping out of that specific doorway.
They meet gazes.
“Arthur?” She asks, and Arthur tries to keep himself calm as he lowers his hand from the doorknob. There’s no reason to fret, right? Dutch doesn’t seem to care if they’re suddenly outed, but Arthur does. He’s not sure why, but he does, and he’s frightened by the mere thought of it; the looks they would get from Charles, or Javier, or Sadie. John’s not the worry in this situation, and rather everyone else. At least John has known about his preferences.
“Tilly,” he responds, his voice wavering. He hears it in his own tone, hoping Tilly didn’t recognise it. If she did, at least he hasn’t dug a hole deep enough quite yet. “Mornin’ to you.”
“Were you…” her voice is low as her eyes dart over to the door and her brows slowly come together. Arthur clears his throat, shaking his head.
“No, no. I… left my journal in there, s’all. Had to get it again.” Tilly glances down at Arthur’s empty hands, followed by the door behind her.
“Funny,” she laughs once, arms crossing over her chest. “Just saw it in there.” Arthur swears he’s caught from the look she gives him, but he’s certain he can work himself out of this somehow.
“Hold on. Why were you in my room?” He tries to pin something on her to get her to forget it, but her face only changes to one of an even more smug nature.
“Had somethin’ to drop off. Thought you’d like it, but I saw you was out somewhere else, so I just left it.”
“What was it?”
“What were you doin’ in Dutch’s room?” Tilly leans forward a bit, her eyebrows raising. Clearly, she’s been spending too much time around Sadie. The craziness must be rubbing off on her, seeing as Sadie has enough and then some to spare.
“Just, I-I…” Arthur tries another lie, but nothing comes out and he sighs. “Look, I ain’t proud of it.”
“Dutch seems to be. Looked to be pretty damn happy this mornin’, big shit-eatin’ grin on his face n’ everythin’.” Arthur sighs and runs a hand over his face, brows knit together. What is he supposed to do now? Surely, she won’t tell everyone , but once someone else knows, they’ll spread it and twist it into something worse, whatever that incomprehensible twist may be. Arthur opens his mouth to speak before he’s stopped, and she shakes her head. “I won’t tell anyone.”
As much as Arthur wants to thank her, all he can ask is, “Why?”
“Because you saved my life, believe it or not. And Dutch did, too. I owe this entire gang more favours than I can even count.” Arthur pauses and just looks at her, then nods. He supposes she’s right, but Arthur’s long since forgotten the meaning of a favour. Especially when Dutch has been asking favours of him ever since.
“I suppose,” Arthur nods, looking back up at her as he relaxes a bit and rests his thumbs over his belt, leaning back a bit. It’s when that twinge hits him again that he stands up a bit straighter, watching as Tilly is surprised by the movement, then she smiles a bit, nodding as if she understands. “Now, what were you doin’ in my room?”
“Clearin’ it up, mostly. Gettin’ your things out to bring to the house.”
“Well, I’m sure I can handle that. Ain’t much left after that rush to Louisiana,” Arthur chuckles a bit, wandering past Tilly to take a look into the room. He sets his hand on the knob and opens the door, stepping in and spotting something radically familiar on the bed. He pauses, trying to remember what it is. All he knows is that it definitely wasn’t there before.
“Thought I’d give you a little gift. I know you’ve been coughin’ and hackin’, so just to give you a little peace of mind,” she gestures to the wrapping of bedding sitting on the covers.
“Saw it on the ground while we were packin’ up. We had a little extra room, so…” Arthur steps closer and sits on the bed, his hands slowly untying the knot which has gotten much too tight by now to slip easily. The first thing he spots is the horseshoe — his horseshoe, and a smile cracks onto his face.
“You didn’t need to do this,” he lifts the little jarred flower, still in the same condition. Had Tilly really cared so much as to gather all of these things for him? The next thing to be lifted is the picture of him, Dutch, and Hosea, only now, Arthur’s missing. He’s been torn off, and uncleanly, at that.
“Of course I did. They’re your—” she pauses, moving closer and looking at the photograph. “Did… did it get damaged?” She takes the image from Arthur and looks at it, her hand cupping over her lips. “I’m so sorry, Arthur. I tried to make sure everythin’ was set down nice and slow, and I kept an eye on it the whole way here.”
“It’s alright, Tilly,” he assures her, shaking his head. As much as it pains him, it doesn’t hurt as much as he’d expected it to, or as much as it would’ve, had it been a few years prior. It was one of his prized possessions, and Dutch allowing him to keep it had been one of the best days of his life. The Industrial Revolution was taking over, and Arthur was seeing only the best parts of it, while Dutch always saw the worst.
“No, no. If it’s still here, maybe I can…” She shakes her head, careful to sift through the other photographs. The other piece of the image is completely gone, likely lost somewhere along the roads they’d taken to Louisiana, or somewhere buried in the Tahitian sand months ago, or back at the camp where the items should’ve been left to rest as Arthur had accepted. “Arthur, I…”
“It’s okay, Tilly. Really,” he reaches to take the photo from her, watching as she slowly allows the image slip from her grip.
“It’s not okay, Arthur. I tried to do somethin’ kind for you because you’ve been feelin’ sick, and…” she shakes her head, sitting down on the bed beside Arthur.
“Hey,” Arthur places his hand on Tilly’s shoulder, waiting until she looks up. “At least the best part of the picture’s still here with us, right?” He tries to poke fun a little, but his self-deprecating joke doesn’t seem to be cutting it as her shoulders slump and she stands, sighing. She makes her way for the door, Arthur watching her every step of the way. “Tilly.” She turns to look at him, Arthur raising his eyebrows. “Thank you.”
She nods and takes a step away from the doorframe, then walks along the hallway to the stairs, descending them. Arthur looks at the items still splayed out and smiles, his grin a little smaller this time. He sets the torn photograph down and looks at the others, Mary’s image coming into view.
Arthur recognises, in this moment, that he will likely never see her again.
While it’s a liberating thought by itself, it also terrifies him. He feels so small — he is so small — in this infinitesimally large world. So many lives, so many thoughts, and so many things happening all at once, and Arthur feels tiny. Looking at Mary’s photograph, he wonders where she got along to. The last time he’d heard from her, she’d left the ring he’d proposed to her with. In whom else’s world, would that have happened? Out of all of the things that could have been the finale to a relationship, Arthur finds that he got one possible version of the story. What other things could have happened?
After a long while of thinking and imagining everything and nothing, Arthur sits up and takes a sobering breath. His eyes are wet, but after a quick swipe across his face, he’s glad to find that nothing has escaped.
Mary’s picture will stay with him, but perhaps he will lie it down as a symbol of something. Of turning another leaf; of finding someone else.
“Arthur!” Tilly calls from downstairs, her voice panicked and frightened. Immediately, Arthur’s straightened and pushing himself to stand, his entire lower half begging for otherwise. He trips as he pulls himself to the door, looking out to see her approaching the top of the stairs. “It’s Dutch. Sadie says he collapsed on the beach near the house, I—” before she’s able to say much more, Arthur’s jolted forward and nearly launches himself down every step at once, his feet catching on every second or third step.
His feet hit the floor after a moment and he turns back, seeing Tilly waving her hands for him to run off. He does, trying to ignore the painful cries of his lower abdomen as he pushes himself faster and faster, worried out of his mind. What could’ve possibly happened to him? Randomly collapsing like that?
Arthur spots the house when his coughs begin to get to him, his lungs trembling and forcing him to wheeze out a few barks as his feet slip and try to find their way in the sand. Even as his boots beg for traction, though, he pushes himself. He needs to see Dutch. To see the man and make sure he’s alright, because if he’s not, surely, Arthur’s to blame somehow. Especially after wearing Dutch out the night before? But he seemed so lively this morning, and so happy. What happened between then and now?
Thoughts rush back and forth across his brain so quickly that he’s almost sure he’ll black out and have to join Dutch — that is, if anyone cares to pick him up and take him back to the house — in the bittersweet bliss of sleeping while in pain.
His foot slips out from under him and he hits the sand, the wind being knocked out of him. He coughs into the grains, his arm slowly lifting him to an elbow’s length from the ground as he turns his head and spits off to the side. It takes a moment for his mind to stop spinning before he pulls himself to his feet and stumbles when he gets there, his world dizzying him quite a bit. There are another few beats before he clears his throat and pushes on, finally arriving to the house.
After pushing himself inside, he spots Bill and Javier standing at the bottom of the stairs, looking up towards the upper floor. Arthur shoves on and moves past them, his stance a little wobbly as he tugs himself up the stairs and stumbles towards Dutch’s room.
When he stands in the doorway, he spots Sadie and Abigail bent over him, Abigail with a rag pressed to his forehead and Sadie pulling the covers up higher. He doesn’t seem to be moving, but Arthur steps into the room anyway. Abigail’s the first to look up, gasping.
“Arthur! Dutch— he just fell, an-and Charlotte came runnin’ for us, an’—”
“ Charlotte ?” Arthur says, his voice hoarse and painful. He clears his throat harshly to free up his vocal chords. “She was with him when this all happened?” Sadie must sense the pointed anger in Arthur’s voice, because she looks up and shakes her head, brows knit together.
“Arthur, don’t go pointin’ fingers like that. You don’t know she did anythin’—”
“But you don’t know if she didn’t.” Arthur says, marching forward and standing in where Sadie had been a moment ago. He looks Dutch in the face, seeing bags under his eyes. How much has he been sleeping? And the bones in his cheeks are even more accentuated than they normally are.
There’s a moment of silence as Arthur looks him over.
“Get him somethin’ to eat,” he says, looking over his shoulder but not quite at Sadie. He doesn’t want to take his anger out on her, but it’s coming out whether he likes it or not. “Somethin’ easy on the stomach.”
Charlotte did this. She sabotaged him. Arthur knew he had every right to dislike her from the moment he laid eyes on her. She’s awful.
Sadie leaves and Arthur thinks for a moment, watching Abigail.
“Go with her,” he says, “shut the door, I’ll keep an eye on him. No need for anyone else in here. When he wakes up, he don’t need a parade.” Abigail is slow to stand but she nods, straightening and moving towards the door. She pauses there before leaving, doing as Arthur asked and shutting the door behind her.
After a moment, Arthur lifts his hand and brushes it over Dutch’s cheek, worried for his sake. What the hell did she do to him? Drug him somehow?
There’s a knock, and Arthur sighs.
“Who is it?”
“It’s Charlotte,” she says, Arthur tensing. He wants nothing more than to shout for her to leave and never approach Dutch again after this stupid, stupid stunt she pulled. She’s lucky she hasn’t killed him yet, because then she’d have the wrath of the entire gang to rest on her shoulders. “I want to see how he’s doing.”
“Too bad,” Arthur says, and she goes silent.
“Can I come in?” He has half a mind to bark for her to leave and never come back. To leave the island. To disappear. But he knows he won’t, and he doesn’t.
She sounds confused as she replies. “I… I want to see how he’s doing. He just blacked out, and…” there’s a moment of silence as Arthur thinks of how to reply. His hand is still brushing over Dutch’s face, and he’s not sure if he will remove it if anyone comes in. He’s not sure if he can, with how much he’s worried. “I didn’t do anything to him, Arthur.”
“What makes you think I did?” She sounds desperate, sighing. “If you brought him back like this, after he’d been out walking with you, do you think the others would think you did something horrible to him, Arthur?”
“You ain’t me, and you ain’t part of us, no matter how much you’ve been plannin’ with the boss. And don’t call me by my goddamn name.”
“And why aren’t I?”
“Because we don’t accept city folk like you,” he snaps, his brows furrowing and his eyes shutting. His hand removes itself from Dutch’s face to fist the covers closer to himself. “Folk who, unlike all of us, got a good life for a while. All of us got our servin’ of shit, and we’re still dealin’ with it. We don’t need the likes of you comin’ to make it worse.”
“I didn’t do anything to him, I—” she sighs more aggressively this time, audibly turning on her heel and walking herself down the hall.
Arthur’s still got his eyes on Dutch, who begins to stir a few minutes later. Arthur’s there to welcome him, and he groans when he first surfaces. His voice is incredibly hoarse as well, and as soon as Arthur’s gotten him to sit up against a few pillows, he lets out a cough. Arthur’s tension rises there as he does. “I got a bit of sand in my throat when I fell, I think,” is the excuse he gets, but a deeper, fuller cough follows that one.
Dutch lifts his arm to cough into his sleeve and Arthur cringes a bit when he does, careful to lift the rag from his head when he does. Dutch clears his throat a few times after that, lowering his arm.
Then Arthur spots it.
No, it wasn’t Charlotte. Charlotte didn’t do anything, nor did anyone else sabotage Dutch. If anyone, it was Arthur.
He should’ve seen it coming from a mile away.
There, on Dutch’s sleeve, rests several drops of deep red, and Arthur’s heart completely drops.
Chapter 23: Plot Thickens - The
“What’s that look for, Arthur?” Dutch’s brows knit together just the slightest bit and Arthur can spot the confusion almost as well as he can spot the concern. Dutch reaches forward to touch Arthur’s face, or hold his shoulder, or something, but Arthur shakes his head, eyes still latched onto the spots of red on Dutch’s shirt.
Never has he ever felt the urge to vomit when seeing blood, but now, because of this particular sight, he feels sick. His thoughts are spun together, and he only wants to see Dutch healthy again. The bags under Dutch’s eyes. The warmth of his body. His thinner frame. His lack of energy. His everything has been consumed by this sickness, and it’s all Arthur’s fault. He’s done this to the man, and the gang hardly knows about Arthur’s sickness. How will they react to Dutch’s? Will they know what the two of them have done? The closeness they’ve shared?
“You…” Arthur says, moving away from the hand. He watches as Dutch glances at his own sleeve, brows rising just a bit.
“Oh, didn’t notice that,” he chuckles a little, shaking his head. “Don’t mind it, it’s nothing.”
“I’m sorry,” Arthur is quiet, his voice just above a whisper.
“Sorry? For what?”
“This… you… you’re sick, and it’s my fault,” he’s in disbelief, not wanting to succumb to the idea of causing this. But the facts are being shoved into his face all at once, and the evidence is there, plain as day, on Dutch’s arm.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Arthur, come here,” Dutch reaches for him again, a cough squeaking out from between his lips before another follows, then another. Arthur cringes, shaking his head and standing from the bed despite the ache, which is being dulled by the thoughts racing through his mind and causing him to not know what is true anymore. “Before they come back, just lie with me, won’t you?” His voice is horrid again and he clears his throat to dispel it. Arthur settles on that sound — that gritty, painful noise — being the worst sound he’s ever heard.
“No, I can’t,” Arthur feels like throwing himself onto the tracks of a nearby and live train. Or turning himself in to the law. Or allowing himself to be eaten by a cougar.
But he can’t do any of that, either, because they aren’t in America anymore. Shit, they’re in a place where they can hardly speak to the natives without making large gestures or movements. Everything is different, and Arthur supposes he’s just figured that out now. It’s crashing down on him, just like the regret and the guilt of getting Dutch sick. Someone all of them depended on. How could Arthur allow himself to be so foolish?
“Sure you can,” Dutch shakes his head, a small, almost innocent, smile on his face. “No one needs to know, and that cough is clearing up. I think by lungs finally got rid of the sand with that last one.”
“It ain’t no sand , Dutch,” Arthur says, throwing a hand down in frustration and turning on his heel to pace a bit. “And it ain’t just gonna’ go away.” Dutch scoffs playfully.
“Arthur, will you quit talking like that and lay with me?”
“No!” Arthur shouts, catching his voice much louder than he wants it to be. “No,” he repeats, quieter this time. “I got you sick. Ain’t you seen me coughin’ and hackin’ and carryin’ on these past few months?” Dutch pauses, and it almost looks like the realisation sets in on him.
“We’re both fine, you’re only making it out to be much worse than it really is, and that’s scaring you.” Arthur pauses and turns to look at him, a look of disgust and utter shock painted on his face.
“You really think I’ve only had a cough for a few months? It’s nothin’ else than that?”
“Well, it may be more, but it won’t hurt neither of us. Trust me on that, will you?”
“No, I won’t.” There’s a long silence after Arthur says this, Dutch surprised by the words and the lack of respect Arthur is paying him right now. “Look, I saw a doctor. Some feller picked me up in Saint Denis after I damn near blacked out in the street,” he leans against the wall by the door, his arms crossed and his eyes meeting the floorboards as he explains that day, which still gives him night terrors now and again. At this point, he’s only waiting for the one he doesn’t wake up from. “Demanded I see a doctor, so he dragged me there. Doc sat me down in the chair, and checked only a few things about me…” Arthur’s not sure if he’s ready to tell Dutch, or if he’s ready to see the look Dutch gives him, so he keeps his gaze low. “Tuberculosis.”
Dutch is eerily silent, but Arthur keeps himself from looking up, for fear that he will look right back with such a distressed, angry, tired, sick, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, expression and Arthur will break.
“‘It’s a hell of a thing’, he said,” Arthur tries to fill the silence that seems to be lingering on for much longer than he wants it to. But he knows Dutch hasn’t fallen asleep: the sound of his breathing is enough to tell him that the man’s awake, but that’s almost as terrifying as having him fall asleep. At least awake, he can hear Arthur out. “Told me I’d be best somewhere warm and dry.”
After another long pause where Arthur is afraid to continue, Dutch finally speaks. He’s careful and the tone of his words is frightening, purely because he sounds so saddened by what Arthur has just told him — but who wouldn’t be?
“Why didn’t you tell us?” Arthur finally looks up to see Dutch staring at his hands in his lap. “No, why didn’t you tell me ?” Arthur wants to answer immediately, but when he tries to think of a quick-draw answer, nothing comes out. He really had no reason not to tell them.
“I…” Arthur says, dropping his arms and standing straight from the wall again. “I don’t know. I figured you all knew. Seemed everyone else put two and two together.” Dutch shakes his head, brows lifting a bit.
“Did you think we wouldn’t find out?”
“It’s not that,” Arthur steps closer, moving to sit on the end of the bed. “I… I guess I just felt you all didn’t care. Didn’t want to know.”
“Why? Why would you think that, Arthur?”
“I guess I didn’t want any of you thinkin’ I was useless,” Arthur says, and Dutch goes quiet again. “They’re bringin’ food here in a bit.”
“I’m not hungry,” Arthur shakes and bows his head, face in his hands.
“You haven’t eaten in days, Dutch.” There are a few approaching footsteps heard outside of the door and Arthur tries to put on a face, taking a breath (albeit loudly) and sitting up a bit taller.
Abigail and Sadie walk in a few moments later, knocking first and being allowed entry. They’re each carrying a dish of something, and Sadie smiles when she sees that Dutch is awake. The door is shut behind them and Sadie marches on over to Dutch, proud. Abigail, on the other hand, makes her way to Arthur and hands him the dish she was holding, nodding towards it. It looks to be some sort of stew, but that doesn’t really surprise Arthur too much, especially with what they’d been eating for years after Pearson arrived.
“Well, big man, I brought you somethin’ to eat,” she sets it down on a tray, which she’d nicely borrowed from the hotel to return later. Dutch smiles a bit, shaking his head and lifting it to move it away.
“I’m okay,” and these words strike Arthur with such ferocity that he snaps.
“ Eat it. ” The others turn to him, and while he can hardly see Sadie and Dutch from his position, the look of shock on Abigail’s face is enough to give an example of what they look like. Arthur starts to eat his own serving, shovelling it in while his stomach will still accept it. Any longer than is allowed, and he’ll feel sick for hours. Glancing up at Abigail again, he sees the look on her face as she looks at Dutch. She looks down at him and her look intensifies, then she pointedly looks at Dutch once more. Arthur angrily shoves his dish down on the bed and stands, turning to look at him. He glares at Dutch. “ Eat it! You’ll starve if you don’t, so if you keep this shit up I’ll shove it down your goddamn throat!” At this point, Arthur recognises that he’s so close to Dutch, and his hand’s around the man’s neck, threatening him as if he’s a stranger — as if he owes the gang money, and won’t cough it up.
Arthur knows a look of fear flashes across his eyes before he lets go, and even though he wasn’t putting too much pressure on Dutch, he regrets it. Regrets threatening him, regrets ever kissing him, regrets doing what they’d done the night before, which he can’t even bring himself to put a name to.
He storms out of the room after that, shutting the door behind him and walking himself down the hall. He descends the stairs and locks eyes with John before tearing his gaze away and angrily pushing himself outside.
It’s when he gets outside that he doesn’t know what to do with himself, so he walks out towards the treeline and sits with his back against one of the trunks. It’s not the most comfortable position, but anything beats arguing with that man in there.
Arthur’s to blame for all of this. He’ll be the reason Dutch keels over randomly one day, and Dutch will despise him for it. Probably already does, with the way he spoke to Arthur about not telling anyone. But truthfully, how could he have not seen it? The darkness in Arthur’s face, and the thinner frame, and the hoarse voice? Is he blind or ignorant? No — it’s not Dutch who is to blame for all of this. It’s Arthur, and he’s already kicked himself many times over for doing it. He doesn’t plan on stopping, only reminding himself time and time again so he can feel bad for Dutch and find one more thing to hate himself over.
Not like he needs many more, he might outstretch his quota.
The sun is down many hours later, but Arthur finds himself waking to utter darkness, aside the lights from the house a ways off. He’s even more sore now than he was, after sitting like that for that many hours, but he tries to ignore it as he clambers to his feet and makes his way back towards the house.
There’s an obvious limp in his step as he rubs his eyes and blinks to clear the exhaustion from them, climbing the few steps and pushing his way inside. No one seems to be awake at this hour, which is a relief for Arthur, but a worrisome sight at the same time.
Arthur’s not sure what he’s doing here. Maybe coming to sleep, but he knows there’s only a bedroll and a round of terrible shivers to await him in his room, so he figures it’s not that. Maybe coming to speak to the others about earlier, and to apologise for his behaviour, but everyone’s asleep, so that can’t be it.
When he’s climbing the stairs and walking just a bit down the hall towards Dutch’s room, that’s when he figures out why he came back.
He wants to check on Dutch. Make sure he’s still breathing, and make sure he ate something. Maybe soothe him a little bit so he’ll sleep and get some of his energy up, though he knows it won’t help as much as he thinks and hopes it will; he’s been through that. Maybe apologise for his behaviour and ask for forgiveness, because Dutch certainly owes it to him by now.
No, he doesn’t.
Arthur gave Dutch a death sentence, slow and painful. That’s enough to tip the scale of favours towards Dutch in every aspect. If anyone owes anyone anything, it’s Arthur. He’s always the one at fault.
Arthur places his hand on the doorknob and pauses there for a moment, worried Dutch won’t want him in there after dropping such huge news so many hours prior. But he sucks it up and shakes his head, raising his shoulders and straightening his back as he twists it and pushes in.
He spots Dutch lying there asleep, but what he doesn’t expect is the silhouette of someone standing over him. He blinks a few times, watching as whomever it is turns to look at him, chuckling in the devil’s voice.
“Hello, Black Lung.”
Chapter 24: A Fool and His Money
Arthur is stunned to silence, the man’s face finally coming into view when his eyes adjust to the darkness of the room. What is he doing here? How could he possibly have come here, after Arthur basically left him for dead?
Is that it?
Because Arthur didn’t deliver that final blow, Micah got up and is standing here, now. Granted, there’s a limpness in his arm that wasn’t there before Arthur shoved that knife into his shoulder, but he’s still here and he’s probably done something to Dutch.
“You look confused, Morgan,” he sneers, his voice staying moderately low. At the very least, he still has some amount of respect for Dutch. “Don’tcha recognise me?” Micah bows his head with that ugly grin on his face. “An old friend, now returned — more or less broken, as you may have noticed.” He gestures to his arm hanging limply at his side. Somehow, that makes him creepier. The pure idea of keeping a dead limb on one’s body, if only just to hang there, makes Arthur sick, but that’s not new, especially with Micah around.
“What are you doin’ here.” Arthur demands a response rather than asks, his teeth grit as he continues to glance to Micah, then to Dutch, then to Micah again.
“What do you mean ‘what am I doin’ here’, Black Lung? I’m part of the gang, ain’t I? I deserve every part of this you do.”
“You’re a rat, Micah,” the name on his tongue again brings Arthur to taste the bile threatening its escape. Whether that’s because of his frenzied eating earlier or not, he’s not sure, but part of it is absolutely because Micah is standing before him, smug as ever. “You don’t deserve to stand near him, you don’t deserve to grovel at the very goddamn land he stands on.”
“Oh, did I hit a soft spot?” Micah teases, and Arthur’s face scrunches up in a mix of confusion and disgust. “See, I didn’t say anythin’ about Dutch, here, that was you .” Arthur catches himself with this shocked and worried expression on his face. He can't have been caught that easily. If Micah knows, suddenly the entire gang knows. He’s the worst of all of them.
“That supposed to scare me?”
“Seems it did the trick,” Micah raises an eyebrow, that smirk having deserted his face, leaving only the smugness and the bitterness to remain.
“He completely forgot about you. Hasn’t talked about you in months,” Arthur tries to fight back against this force in a silent battle he knows he wouldn’t win, especially when it came to Dutch.
“I’m sure he has, Morgan. Especially when he’s had another broad to covet his time, inn’t that right, Pillow Biter?” Arthur feels his face combust, but he doesn’t allow it to affect him in any other way as he shakes his head. Besides, Micah likely can’t see the redness in his face as well as Arthur is imagining he can.
“At least he liked bein’ with me.”
“And what makes you say that?” Micah shifts, a thumb hooking over his belt. The other arm is left to hang, Arthur’s eyes coming in contact with it briefly before drifting down to Dutch as he thinks of what Dutch has said, and what he’s done. “He ever say that?”
“Sure,” Arthur nods, remembering a few times when Arthur had truly asked whether or not Dutch enjoyed being with him. Of course, one of those times was just before he mentioned Micah, and the whole memory comes flooding back. He never got his answer. He doesn’t know if they’ve gone that far, and the image his mind paints almost forces the bile threatening to climb his throat, onto the floor.
Micah’s tongue clicks as he turns and runs his live hand across Dutch’s cheek, watching the man unknowingly tilt his head with the touch. Arthur fists his hands at his sides, hating the scene before him. Micah is the worst possible person to be touching Dutch, and here he is, doing just that, to taunt Arthur. “He sounds like you, Black Lung. You get him sick?” Arthur furrows his brows, lowering his head. He doesn’t inherently respond, but apparently that simple movement is answer enough, because it causes Micah to laugh. “Well, ain’t that just so sweet.”
“Ain’t what so sweet.” Micah’s hand is still on Dutch’s face, almost softly touching him in a way Arthur knows he would probably never repeat again, after seeing Micah’s grimey, scratchy fingertips all over. It’s almost like Dutch has been marked as untouchable with these few movements that set Arthur ablaze.
“Two star-crossed lovers finally get together after everythin’ clears,” Micah sounds almost fatherly in these words, and the tone sends a shiver down Arthur’s spine. Micah as a father is such a horrid, horrid idea. “Only to find out their paradise weren’t what they asked for.” Arthur is still watching Micah’s hand, and it’s slowly getting to the point where Arthur’s boiling over with tension and anger and fear all at once. “Tell me, Morgan. Would you die for him?”
“Yes,” Arthur says without thinking, only then noticing the revolver on Micah’s hip, even in the dimness of the room. “That’s what bein’ in a gang is for, Micah. We’d all die for each other.”
“That’s your first mistake,” Micah shakes his head, clicking his tongue in disappointment. “Ain’t nobody worth your time, except for yourself.” Micah’s fingers brush over Dutch’s lips and the man smiles groggily, Arthur reaching his tipping point and steps towards the pair, his teeth grit to keep him from shouting and alerting the others in the house.
“Get away from him, you—” As he’s rushing forward, Micah pulls that revolver and aims it. Not at Arthur’s head, no. Dutch’s. Arthur freezes in his spot and swallows harshly, hearing Micah let out a sickening chuckle.
“Careful, Cowpoke. Don’t want ta’ push your boundaries, do you?” Arthur doesn’t dignify his words with a response, turning his head and watching as Micah looks back at Dutch with an expression unreadable in the darkness.
“What do you want.”
“I want the money, Morgan. Plain and simple. Didn’t Dutch tell you there was some company spikin’ with sales over the past month? Or did he keep that from his boy toy?”
“Quit it with the nicknames,” Arthur pushes, but Micah only shakes his head, the humour completely gone from his voice as he continues on.
“All of you ain’t even planted a seed. Not one. And while my arm was healin’, I took someone else’s business under my wing — now, whether that was their decision or not, it don’t matter. A bullet to the brain certainly does change someone’s mind pretty quick, don’t it?” Micah tilts his head towards the gun, still pointed at Dutch and still putting unto amounts of tension into Arthur’s shoulders.
“You’re usin’ him,” Arthur says, quiet. Micah laughs, speaking in that quiet tone as well.
“Yes. That’s all I’ve ever done, Morgan. He thinks he’s so clever, wormin’ his way into people’s brains, that he doesn’t dare to notice when it happens to him.” Micah shakes his head, laughing again. “What a sore loser.”
“All of that. I… I saw what happened that night, right before all of you left—”
“ I know, Cowpoke.” Micah’s words are serious again, a bit louder than they were just moments before. “It’s good to know you’re sloppy seconds, inn’it?”
“You don’t want him,” Arthur sounds like a broken record to himself as he furrows his brows and tries to comprehend this. Of course, it’s Micah, so it has never once been out of the question, but with the emotions he’s felt in his chest since Dutch first kissed him on that boat, it’s difficult — though not impossible — to imagine using someone like he knows Micah has used Dutch.
“Disgusted by him,” Micah nods, grinning. “Loved shovin’ my tongue down his throat, though. Made me think of you.” Arthur cringes at the thought, his eyes squeezed shut as he tries to remove the mental image his mind has so kindly provided.
When he feels the butt of the revolver thrown against his nose, he stumbles back and reaches for his own, finding his belt not there. Not his holsters, nor his knife; not a thing. He’s thrown back against a wall, seeing Micah’s face up close again. He hasn’t changed much since the last time Arthur had seen him, but it almost helps Arthur imagine him dead, because the dead don’t age. They simply haunt and appear whenever. But this feels real. Especially when he feels those hands around his throat again.
Immediately, he flashes back to Dutch, in the forest.
He remembers the trees and the sound of the waves off to their right, and the moon glinting off of the water, and Dutch’s words.
You don't mean that.
Arthur closes his eyes tight and tries to struggle against the grasp, his fingers prying at the hands around his neck.
You can't mean that.
“Stop—” he struggles, his voice catching in his throat. He’s powerless. He’ll die now, knowing that he’s the only one who ever knew about Micah and his scamming. Knew about Micah being here tonight and threatening Arthur with shooting Dutch.
You don't mean that.
Except Arthur doesn’t see Micah when his eyes are closed, he sees Dutch.
Tell me you don't mean it, Arthur.
Those eyes are furious and uncaring, the look of bloodthirsty malice in his eyes.
Look me in the fucking eyes and say it,
Then I’ll believe you.
You don’t mean that.
Arthur realises for not the first time, but likely the last time, that he’s afraid. Utterly fucking terrified, because he's terribly, horribly alone.
You what, Arthur?
Chapter 25: Down and Out
Arthur feels himself being lifted by two arms under him, and he initially panics. His eyes fly open, as weary as he is and as much as he just wants to keep them closed and let whatever happen, happen. It’s blurry. Everything is. His head is pounding and he’s ridiculously thirsty to go along with it, but when his throat moves to make the movement of swallowing, he tries to make a sound of pain but nothing comes out.
“Arthur,” a voice says, and it almost sounds worried. Is it still Micah? Here to kick him and leave him dead to find in the morning? “Arthur, please,” he opens his eyes, not having noticed that they’d closed again, and recognises the lasting feeling of having been kicked in the stomach. Whoever is touching his side and lying him down against something is likely not the person who did it, considering that Micah would not stick around for much longer. Whomever is there now is so kind as to lie him against something soft, which he feels under his tired, aching body as he’s set down. “Say something. Open your eyes. Move your fingers. Anything.”
Arthur’s surprised the words are making it through the smog passing across his mind. He can’t even open his eyes, how can he possibly move his hand, or speak a word? Shouldn’t the person looking at him notice that his chest is rising and falling?
After a moment, Arthur regains enough control to slowly, shakily, open his mouth. It trembles when it’s opened just a bit, but Arthur keeps it there, and he hears a relieved sigh.
“I thought you were gone, son,” the name strikes something familiar in his mind, but he can’t imagine who is speaking to him as he can only picture Micah. The voice is unfamiliar in his blurred mind, but Arthur doesn’t really care as he feels his mouth fall shut again. There’s a hand in his own and it’s lifted, but Arthur almost wants to pull it away with how much it strikes pain everywhere else in his body. He can’t, though, so he suffers and feels his mind slipping under again.
Days come and go before Arthur’s able to sit up and look around comfortably. He’s not sure what the hell Micah did to him, but whatever it was has damaged him somehow. And still, until the day he finally opens his eyes, he hasn’t seen who has been taking care of him. He doesn’t know who to trust, and he doesn’t know why he trusts the person when he’s never seen their face.
All he knows is that they are not Micah, and he feels a security from knowing this simple fact.
When the door opens, Arthur’s eyes drift slowly to it. A man stands there, familiar and unfamiliar all at the same time. When he approaches the bed, Arthur can do nothing more than stare at him. His throat has been unrelentingly dry, and he hasn’t been able to speak. Not that speaking would do him any good, because his vocal cords would be damaged with all of the pained moaning and groaning Arthur knows he’d be spewing; if not that, then with the coughs which always seem to leave him breathless and with black spots lingering around his vision.
“How are you feeling?” The man, as Arthur has noticed now, is holding a cup of something which is steaming and obviously very warm.
But that’s not the thing that strikes him as strange.
Arthur takes notice of the man’s features, and his voice. Is this the man that has been taking care of him over the past few days?
Arthur pictured him differently.
A beard, not the moustache and the little spot of facial hair Arthur doesn’t inherently understand the purpose of.
He imagined whiter hair, the way the man talked.
A kind smile that always hid something behind it, but barely anyone ever saw what that is
He doesn’t expect the man he’s given, nor does he expect the wave of nostalgia he carries with him.
Arthur turns his head away and furrows his brows a bit, probably looking sorry for himself — but who his he kidding? He is sorry for himself.
“Still can’t talk?” The man eyes Arthur as he slowly shakes his head, barely moving it as he doesn’t want to dizzy himself more than he already has. The man nods after a moment, letting out a sigh and offering the cup to Arthur. “Brought this for you, if you’re up to drink it. Might make your throat feel better.”
Arthur’s hands slowly rise to the cup, shaking as much as they are as Arthur’s been unable to eat without it making a reappearance shortly afterwards. He’s able to grasp the cup, the man not letting go of it as soon as he sees Arthur’s state.
“You want to drink it?” The man asks. Arthur is slow to nod, and even slower to lift it to his lips as the man guides it there. He sips at it, feeling the warmth immediately in his throat. He swallows after a moment, enjoying the feeling as it slides down his throat and lands somewhere Arthur doesn’t care to think about. At least if he thinks about it, he’ll have less of a chance of losing the drink later.
The cup is lowered from his lips and he glances over at the man, making eye contact with him.
He notices that he has actually made one correct assumption, in that he’s got a look in his eyes that is hiding something. Maybe he’s only hiding it from Arthur, though, because Arthur knows he probably looks absolutely dreadful.
It doesn’t really matter much as he feels his limbs going all numb again, and he looks up at the man once again before shakily sliding back down into a lying position and allowing himself to slip.
It’s the end of the week when Arthur finally regains his ability to speak.
It’s painful at first, but it’s when he’s sitting with the man that he finally tries and hears a brief, hoarse squeak before it begins to sound more or less like a human voice.
The man is ecstatic, asking Arthur how he feels almost immediately.
“I wanna die,” Arthur admits, a small, joking smile on his face. But the man doesn’t take it so lightly, his face dropping into a deep frown before he shakes his head, looking at Arthur.
“You don’t mean that.”
You don’t mean that .
Arthur’s thoughts come to a complete halt as he hears those words.
He looks to the man who suddenly seems all too familiar, and his first reaction is to get himself as far away from this man — from this threat as he can. It’s when his wrist is caught that he thinks he’s completely finished.
He remembers this man strangling him on the edge of the jungle, then again, later. What doesn’t match up is the fact that both times were in the exact same place, and they repeated the same words. Is Arthur having some trouble and confusing one experience with another? It definitely wouldn’t be out of the question, with how awful Arthur’s mind is working at the moment.
“Arthur,” the man says, calming, yet frightened. “Please, calm down, I don’t…” he sounds like he doesn’t know what he’s saying, but Arthur’s energy level, which had spiked in that moment of fear, suddenly drops out of nowhere and he’s pulled back by the firm hand on his wrist. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“You already did,” Arthur rasps, and the man suddenly looks so distressed and so sad that Arthur wants to take back whatever he said to make that expression valid.
“This was someone else, Arthur, I just don’t know who,” the man shakes his head. “You don’t remember, I know you don’t. And you look at me as if I’m a stranger.”
“You’re not?” Again, that look deepens and Arthur bites his tongue as to not say another thing worthy of upsetting this man who has been nothing but kind to him since he woke up. At the very least, he can hear this side of the story before making a decision of whether or not to run.
“Not in the slightest,” the man places his face in his hand as he sighs. “I found you on the floor, your nose damn near broken and your neck covered in bruises. The bump on the back of your head told me you got kicked against the wall… and you have pretty bad bruises here, too.” The man points to Arthur’s abdomen, and in reality, he’s afraid to see it. “You don’t remember me, do you, Arthur?”
“Then maybe something will jog your memory?” The man looks desperate as he lifts a hand and places it on the back of Arthur’s head. Arthur tenses, confused until those lips come in contact with his own and his mind soars, trying to find the person behind this face and this persona.
The worst part is that the face he has in mind doesn’t match this sort of behaviour at all, just like the behaviour doesn’t match the face. Who is this man?
“That’s got to have something.” Arthur looks confused, shaking his head. “Do you know John? Sadie? Bill?” All of the names at once are initially overwhelming, but he’s slowly able to put names to faces and he nods. “But nothing for me?”
“No,” Arthur sounds defeated as he tries to think, tries to figure this puzzle out.
“Can you tell me, then, at least, who did this to you?” Arthur looks confused as he tries to conjure a name. He remembers the horrid moustache and the long hair, and he remembers the revolver, but he doesn’t remember a name.
“Saw you,” Arthur says, trying to stall as his mind supplies names and faces at random. “As it was happenin’.”
“I’m so, so sorry, Arthur, it was only—”
“If I could have everyone’s attention,” Dutch calls into the camp from his tent below the lip of the cave, illuminating it in the darkness of night. Beaver Hollow had never been anyone’s favourite place, and with everyone constantly at each other’s throats, it’s definitely challenging for it to be, but Dutch has a look of certainty on his face as the few gang members still around look to him and wait for him to speak.
Arthur stands from his cot, wandering towards the posts keeping his tent up, and standing near them as he listens close to whatever the big man is thinking. Seems all his talk is crazy nowadays, but Arthur will stay loyal until he proves to have gone too far. Many began to believe that he’d already gone too far back in Blackwater, and left this life behind while they still could, but Arthur believes that this man can still lead them through this fog; at least, better than anyone else could.
“I want to thank you all for accompanying me on this journey. You all still have some amount of conviction in me,” Dutch glances over at Arthur for a moment, Arthur losing the gaze from the distance across the camp, “some, more than others, but I must really thank you all for sticking with me.” Arthur watches as Micah tails him out of the tent, the rat’s hat covering his eyes as he chews at his lip and watches Dutch give his speech. Arthur wonders if they’d talked before this, or if Micah had simply snuck in the back while he was occupied. “You all know that I care deeply about every one of you, and you know why I am still fighting to get us somewhere safe.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Arthur spots John moving towards the lip of his tent and looking out. Arthur gives him a look, the man simply shrugging and shaking his head in response. He’s clearly still recovering from Sisika, but he looks to be functioning better than he was when he first arrived.
“That is why I need my strongest men to accompany me to Colorado tomorrow. It’ll be a long ride, yes, but I’ve got an idea; a plan. This is our big score, and we’re out.” Dutch announces, a smile on his face as he tosses his arms out to the side. Bill shakes his head and moves back to his bedroll, grumbling about something or other. “There’s a bank, hardly ever touched by anyone, but you know what’s up in them mountains? Gold. Money.”
“And how are we supposed to know this ain’t gonna end up like the Saint Denis bank, Dutch?” John asks, Dutch shaking his head.
“You doubt me, son, but that will not last much longer,” Dutch raises his hands and smiles. “We are almost there, my friends,” Dutch nods, his voice quieting just slightly as he chuckles and looks at John. “We are about to be in paradise, picking mangoes out of trees in our backyards. Just one more job. One more.”
Micah looks up at Dutch and claps, looking out, directly at Arthur with an expression Arthur is unable to read. It looks like anger, but as far as Arthur knows, it might be the happiest expression the man has ever portrayed. Micah’s always been hard to read, and while Arthur’s never been the best at doing the reading, others are, at least, a little easier. “Good plan, Dutch,” Micah hideously carols as he clearly sucks up to Dutch, always has, and Arthur despises it. Despises that little look Micah has when he’s playing Dutch’s pet, like Micah’s known him as long as Arthur has known him; that snake. “As always.”
“Get some rest, everyone,” Dutch nods to Micah, almost disregarding him. Arthur silently chuckles to himself at the face Dutch makes, one of irritation and being fed up with the rat beside him. He ends up gently coughing into his fist, clearing his throat of whatever’s blocking it before looking back up and noticing that Dutch hasn’t recognised the noise in the slightest. “Make some good of the place while we’re still here, because we won’t be for long.” Dutch nods, taking a step back from the lip of the tent and holding it open for Micah. Arthur watches as the flap falls behind them and waves just a bit in the wind, and a candle is lit inside of Dutch’s tent, illuminating their silhouettes as they sit and begin to talk.
Leaning back on his cot, Arthur watches as the shadows move across the tent. They’re only broad shapes cast across the canvas, but Arthur can tell that they’re talking about something important and will likely be talking about it for a while, so forgetting his dissatisfaction for letting Micah near Dutch for this long with how Micah’s been acting recently. He’s been exceedingly close to Dutch, bumping shoulders with him and offering to plan things more often. It’s absolutely strange, but Arthur hates the simple thought of Dutch reciprocating those kinds of things.
Arthur lies himself down and turns onto his back, linking his fingers and staring up at the view of his overhead cover. Every now and again, he glances over to the tent, eventually pushing himself to face the direction of his wagon and forget about the other two remaining awake on the other end of camp.
Arthur stirs again when a firm shiver shakes him, the wind passing by suddenly and causing his entire body to tremor for a moment. He slowly sits up, raising his shoulders and moving to rub along his upper arms in order to warm himself, but stops short when he sees the light from Dutch’s tent still illuminating the camp. His brows furrow and he stands from his cot, opening his mouth and taking a breath through slightly-chattering teeth.
Reaching into the chest at the foot of his cot, he shrugs off the tan coat he’d fallen asleep in, replacing it with the blue winter coat and fastening the front. It’s cold from not being on his body, but it’ll warm up soon. As for right now, Arthur’s much more focused on the silhouettes still moving around in that tent. What on earth could they be talking about in there?
Stepping out from under his tent, Arthur looks up at the sky. The moon had been much lower when they first went in, how many hours has it been? Three, four?
Arthur looks around camp and makes sure no one else is up as he looks at their silhouettes. They must be further from the candle this time, but Arthur can see as they near one another. Micah, the visibly shorter silhouette throws a punch at Dutch’s arm and laughs, Dutch turning his head for a moment before looking back. Micah’s mouth is moving to suggest that he’s speaking to Dutch, but he’s not as loud as he usually is. He’s trying to be secretive about whatever the hell is going on in there.
Dutch turns slightly to step away, his hand lifting to scratch the back of his neck. Arthur’s eyes are trained on the silhouettes, following their movements as the shorter man steps closer again and grabs the taller’s raised arm.
Dutch looks to be uncomfortable, and extremely so, from the way his legs shift under him and how long the two men seem to be looking at one another without speaking a word.
Arthur turns his eyes away when he feels the familiar scratch of a cough climbing up his throat, moving to expel it into his arm, but his eyes are caught by a sudden movement of the two nearing one another unexpectedly.
Arthur’s lips part in a heavy, unexpected gasp as he watches the shadows near each other and clearly depict a kiss being shared between the two creating the silhouettes. Dutch looks to be enjoying it, as uncomfortable as his posture looks to be — but he’s always that way, shuffling his feet — and his hands land on Micah’s shoulders, the shorter man’s hat falling to the floor being the last thing Arthur sees before he finally tears his eyes, now watering from the sudden gasp and inhalation into poisoned lungs, away. He lets out a sharp cough, throwing the side of his fist up to cover his mouth and muffle the sound.
He stumbles backwards and feels the back of his legs hit the cot, his weight shifting as he falls backwards, luckily catching himself with his hand against the thin cushion, hardly making any noise. It takes a moment for him to stabilise himself again, letting out painfully quiet barks and stumbling around to get away from camp as fast as he can. He looks over his shoulder and sees the shadows still standing somewhat together, feeling a pain in his chest as he turns back around and stifles another noise.
Catching himself on a tree just a bit downhill from camp, he feels something come loose and harshly clears his throat, spitting it quickly into the grass. His vision is extremely blurry with the tears from the coughing, but he’s also lost in the emotion of the situation.
Doubling over with another tremor, his fingernails scrape across the bark and catch on a few ridges. The edges of his vision go purple and red and green, but he doesn’t stop walking forward. He needs to get away from camp before he really begins to feel the weight of that… that horrible sight.
Dutch had never looked at him like he did with Micah, has that always been a look of knowing, and Arthur’s simply been too idiotic to notice it? A look, only secret lovers share? Or has it always been nothing at all, Arthur is simply overthinking this entire thing, and Micah is only a loud-mouthed bastard Dutch met one night at a bar? No, that can’t possibly be the case, because Dutch is now mouth-to-mouth with this rat, this vile creature which has no right to be in Dutch’s tent with him, alone.
What has Micah done that Arthur hasn’t, and without twenty years’ time, has gained him this much trust?
The thought brings such a disgusting image to Arthur’s mind, and he turns his head away as if that will dampen the noise at all, or prevent it from reaching the ears of those still sleeping in camp, only twenty or so feet away from him. He feels the tips of his fingers, raw as they are now after being brought so harshly over the bark, beginning to throb with his heartbeat, the cool breeze blowing over his exposed skin not helping in the slightest.
Following an inhale, he feels another cough squeak out from his lips, and his legs push him onward, further from the camp. The further he can get from it, he thinks, the better.
That won’t stop the constant relapse of the image in his mind, picturing it as if the canvas of the tent didn’t exist, and they were standing just before Arthur. He sees Dutch, smirking at Arthur before he presses his lips to Micah’s, and Arthur finds himself gagging, his tears pouring along his cheeks from the irritation in his throat.
Despite his lack of vision, he continues to stumble on, hands on trees as he follows the sound of the river to his left.
Maybe if he hadn’t cared so much about Dutch, hadn’t grown such a (clearly one-sided) connection to the man over the years, he would be fine with this. After all, he’s never been one to enforce the beliefs of a religion; to each their own, so he would’ve been fine with it. Sure, it would’ve made conversations with the both of them that much more difficult, but he’s not even sure where he stands with Dutch anymore. With the things that went down in Guarma, after several heartbreaking deaths, after Dutch had attempted to abandon him on that boat as it sank, and now this? What is he supposed to think?
How long has this been going on?
Arthur recognises that he lost the sound of the river long ago, and is now trailing, lost, in the woods. His head is pounding, and he hears nothing but the wilderness around him.
The best he can hope for, at this point, is a bear which will come to maul him, and save him from the ache in his chest — not only caused by the Tuberculosis slowly destroying him, but also the regret of not confessing sooner; not speaking his mind.
He’s so dumb.
Arthur takes a ragged, noisy breath, then a step. He staggers.
He takes another breath, wheezing, and collapses to his knees with the following step.
This is where he finally curls in on himself and sobs: in the middle of the woods. He’s blind, lost, and likely going to die here, alone. He’d hoped he’d at least get to see the sunset, maybe feel the warmth on his face one last time, but the cards don’t seem to be playing in his favour. They never have been.
He grasps at the front of his coat, his chest heaving as he lets out a cry of agony, vocal chords straining to create the noise. It sounds painful on its own, like the desperate plea a fawn makes as it’s downed and left to die.
Arthur is like a fawn, he supposes, and he’s been shot in all four legs. He can’t run, and he can’t flee, but the hunter has forgotten him anyway. He’s miserable, and he won’t be put out of his misery.
He doesn’t deserve that.
He barks out another cough, feeling the blood painting his lips as he croaks and quietens slightly. His forehead is packing the earth down beneath him, the tears streaming down to the dirt and allowing it to cake his skin.
A shiver rips through his body and he feels his teeth chatter, his sobs still causing his chest to tense up over and over.
He doesn’t know how long he’s there, only that his throat is torn to shreds by the time he’s finally able to sit himself back.
He opens his eyes, having to force them open as they’d been sealed shut by the salt in his tears, and immediately blocks his vision as he sees the sun overhead. His back aches like no other from the position he’d been in, but it seems that he’d fallen under a while ago and allowed himself just a bit of rest.
There’s very little energy left in his body despite the rest, and he’s barely able to lift his hand to wipe at his mouth before he falls back and wheezes with his eyes shut.
At the very least, he feels a little better than he did the night before, but his throat is still incredibly dry and he is completely lost, with no way of finding his way as he lies on the ground, basically incapacitated.
The thoughts from the night before come rushing back and Arthur recognises now why his eyes are so irritated. It’s no wonder, with all of the tears shed over something so damn trivial.
He thinks back a bit further, his eyes snapping open when he remembers that Dutch had mentioned leaving for a score, early this morning. He shuts them again and finds the sudden will to sit up, his eyes squinted as he glances around. Maybe he can catch them as they leave — doesn’t mean Dutch will want him to accompany them, seeing as his face is likely covered in dried blood and tears and mud.
Arthur’s hands press against the earth, slowly helping him to stand. He staggers there for a second, his head disagreeing with the sudden shift in orientation, and he glances around to get a grasp on where he is.
The road isn’t far, but it’s nowhere near the river, and he wonders how in the hell he got this far without being eaten. He was certainly making enough noise to call a cougar over, and with his position, he would’ve been easy to kill, there and then.
He takes a shaky breath and stumbles forward a step. A hand grasps at a tree, and he hisses at the pain from the raw fingertips he’d forgotten about, but he continues on. There’s a rock he recognises, one that’s pointier than the others, and he stares at it for a minute before taking another breath and moving toward the next tree.
As he sways, he feels his stomach clench at the memory of Dutch kissing Micah in that tent. It was only last night, meaning that the image is still so fresh in his mind, still affecting him and causing him to trip over an exposed root and hit the ground again. He’s narrowly able to cross his arms over his chest and curl a leg up slightly before he hits the ground, but it hurts even more than he expected it to, with the forming bruises and sensitive areas all over his body.
Lying there for a bit, he finds himself on his side, chest clenching and releasing every few seconds as he feels the silent sobs threatening to escape again. “Jesus,” he mutters to himself, hearing his hoarse voice struggle to make the noise at all.
A darkness feathers at the edges of his vision, and Arthur begins to wonder if he’s broken his ribs with how much it hurts to inhale and stretch his lungs.
Just before he’s about to pass out again, possibly for the last time, he gets a second wind. It carries him to his feet again and he struggles along the way, but he reaches the path and he slowly slogs his way along. He can hear the river to his right now, and despite his struggle, he pushes, and he pushes hard. If it’s the last goddamn thing he does, he wants to tell Dutch what he’s sacrificed for the gang, for Dutch. What he’s lost, and what he’s gained, if even for a short amount of time.
That is, if Dutch is even still there.
As he toils along with his protesting limbs, he tries to remove his mind from the pain in his body by thinking about something else, but as always, his mind is lead directly back to Dutch. His laugh, the most wonderful sound. The last time he’d heard the sound, so genuine, was the night that Jack had been returned. How many months has it been, now?
Certainly long enough for Arthur’s infatuation to grow to this level.
Arthur spots his cart, and the colour of it, illuminated by the sun, is the thing carrying him along. He focuses on each step while he climbs the hill, teetering on each foot as he scales it and finally spots the camp.
Unfortunately enough for him, when he finally drags himself into camp, he spots Dutch’s tent open, and several horses missing.
“Oh, we were wonderin’ where it was you got to,” Arthur turns to look over his shoulder at Abigail, who has her arms crossed over her chest. “They were in a big rush this mornin’, barely looked at me, much less heard what I was sayin’.” Arthur opens his mouth to say something, but before he can make a sound, she finally furrows her brows and really looks at him. “Jesus, you look like you been dragged behind a horse a couple’a miles. What happened to you?”
Arthur opens his mouth to speak again, his voice croaking as he tries to explain. His throat burns and his eyes immediately tear up from the pain of it. He shakes his head when his voice fails to work as he wishes it to, throwing a thumb over his shoulder at Dutch’s tent and making a face.
“Dutch? He and all the guys ran out this mornin’ blabberin’ on about a bank.” Arthur’s heart drops into his stomach. He’s already gone, likely to be snatched up and dropped taut on a rope as soon as he sets foot in Colorado. They’ve known about that place being swarmed with cops, especially after all of the gold was found deeper in the mountains in the past years, and has been constantly stolen. Arthur tosses his arms to the side and turns away, looking at the road for a second before turning back and looking at Abigail.
“Time,” he’s able to muster, the sound extremely forced.
“What time, how…” Arthur takes a breath, voice straining itself. “How long… ago.” Abigail makes a face of knowing, slowly shaking her head. Her curls bounce a bit as she eyes Arthur and tries to figure out just what’s wrong with him.
“Maybe six hours? Sun wasn’t even up yet when they left.” Arthur shakes his head, throwing a hand through his hair. There’s no way he could possibly catch them, now. They must be at least halfway there, if not further, and Arthur’s horse can only go so fast. “What happened to you, Arthur?” Abigail asks again, and Arthur only clears his throat, a harsh noise coming out.
“I’m fine,” he dismisses the question, throat angrily forcing him silent after the words are said. It seems that Abigail takes this as a worthy enough answer, as much as she clearly wants to disagree with it, so she leaves Arthur to sit and worry.
The scene has played in his mind many times over the following weeks, especially with the knowledge of Micah returning, but at the very least, his strength has returned with the tail end of December. The new year will be rearing its head soon, but with the way Arthur’s life in Tahiti has been going over the while they’ve inhabited the island, he’s not sure he’ll make it. Even with just a week left, there’s a worry constantly scratching at the back of his neck.
Micah has made no new appearances, which frightens Arthur, but Dutch seems to be on his side, now. Seems like he’s with Arthur rather than against him as he had been over the time he’d been listening to that rat. Then again, with the way the man changes with the flip of a coin, it would be no surprise to Arthur if he suddenly turned around and was right back with Micah again. If Arthur can give Micah credit for anything, it’s his capability of using his words to so quickly talk an idea out of its grave. Dutch is capable of doing that, but he’s always aspired to be better at it. There was no surprise when Dutch began to surround himself with such folk.
At least Hosea had a bit of class to him when he did it.
Dutch seems to be optimistic about Micah never returning. He’s sure the man has made his point and has backed off for real, but after planting that first mango seed a few weeks back, he’s been grinning ear to ear. “Finally,” he’d said. “ This is it . We have finally made it, Arthur Morgan.” Before dropping it into the soil and scraping the pile of wet dirt he’d made off to the side, back into it. Arthur knew from that point on that Dutch would be nurturing it like he would a child, and sure as hell, he was right.
The man would check on it every few hours. Would make sure it was always getting enough sunlight. Made sure the soil was always damp.
It was almost sweet, watching Dutch care so purely and so much for a plant. But it gave Arthur hope. Dutch has changed. Whether or not it’s for the better, who knows?
Arthur doesn’t really care to know whether or not it’s better. It’s just a nice change; Dutch is like an entirely different person. Speaks to everyone differently. Has a new air to him. He seems like the man he was before Blackwater; before they even went that far East; before they left Penzance, as dull and uninteresting as that town was; before even Susan became part of Dutch’s (now extensive) list of women.
Dutch is happier.
He smiles more, and he’s overwhelmingly optimistic, which is a startling change, but a wonderfully nice one all the same. And it’s nice to see, especially when Arthur has given him the death sentence which was hoped to stay with Arthur and never be allowed to move on.
He hasn’t stopped blaming himself, and he doesn’t think he ever will, even though Dutch continues to pester him, usually when they’re alone in Dutch’s room. “This… we never would’ve happened if you hadn’t taken that risk,” to which Arthur would always shake his head and refuse to leave the spot of his mind in which he has allowed himself to thrive unhealthily. “ I was the one who kissed you , Arthur. Not the other way around.” And Arthur would be forced to agree, because Dutch would quietly coo to Arthur until he finally looked up, almost like a mother would to a pouting child. “I don’t, and will continue not to regret it, unless you do.”
Arthur barely spends time in his own room, leaving the gorgeous furniture — which, of course, Arthur feels he doesn’t deserve in the least — to be coated with a layer of dust more often than not. He’s usually in Dutch’s room, but with Dutch’s history of having lengthy conversations with a singular person over the span of several hours, it’s not questioned.
Life seems to be getting better.
Arthur’s lying beside Dutch, his finger tracing slow, comfortable circles over the man’s back as he looks up into the darkness of the night, trying to figure out what the future holds. When he was younger, most of his actions were brought about by knowledge of the past and no thought on the future, but it seems, with Dutch’s influence, he’s been changed in that way, too.
They’re both covered only by the thin sheets, the down covers having been tossed towards the end of the bed earlier in the night. Dutch’s arm is over Arthur, and he can feel the man’s breath on his neck as he sleeps so soundly, while Arthur hasn’t been able to gather a good night’s rest in the better part of a year. It’s been hard, especially as he’s been constantly thinking about when it is he’ll finally keel over and die, or when Dutch will snap and fire a bullet into his head, or when it is he’ll find himself something to believe in. He remembers speaking with Sister Calderón. Admitting he was afraid.
He has yet to find something to guide him along the way; to believe in.
Maybe he never will.
But at the very least, he’s got a family here that will keep his mind off of it until he does lay down and die one of these days.
He’s shaken quickly from his thoughts when he hears a sound from the room beside them, or Arthur’s, vacant as it may be. Furrowing his brows, he glances towards the door and shifts his legs a bit, worried he’ll have to tug that duvet up and suffocate under the warmth of it until whomever it is, is gone. They still haven’t told anyone, nor have talked about telling anyone. They’re content keeping it silent, but they doubt it will stay like that forever, so it’ll be revealed at some point, whether it’s intentional or not.
Arthur thinks to all of the others heading to bed, then to who might be shuffling around in his things.
His heart lurches when he remembers all of the money they’d stashed in there.
Dutch had said Arthur would be keeping the money safe, but after they’d began sleeping in the same bed, however unofficially, Arthur’s forgotten about them being there.
He slides himself out of the bed and away from the warmth of Dutch, stepping over towards a chair he’d lied his clothes over the night before.
Not worrying about anything more than the necessities, he’s quick to pull himself into his union suit and slide into the jeans lied there. It’s a slow line of thoughts to get to remembering that his guns have all been stored in there as well, but he takes a breath and moves to the side table. As always, Dutch’s revolvers are lied in there. Arthur laughs just a bit at the fact that he’s been able to guess the man all these years, if only for something so trivial.
Retracting one from the drawer, he moves towards the door and unlocks it. The darkness awaiting him there is nerve wracking as much as it is promising, but he hears another sound from his room and advances, pulling the door to Dutch’s room shut, but not latched, behind him.
There’s a dim light inside of his room, seen through a crack in the unclosed door. He’s careful to step close and open it, hearing the silhouette hiss a curse before he recognises the shape.
In his thoughts, he must’ve completely overlooked the possibility, but when he sees that crooked hat and the ratty waterfall of flaxen hair coloured orange with the light of a lantern, he understands. He sees those hands working at the lock on the chest, but he doesn’t seem to be getting far, with how frustrated he’s getting.
Arthur approaches, his bare footfalls silent against the wood as he nears and keeps his weapon drawn. His shadow flows across the walls and the ceiling, but the click of the hammer when Arthur spurs it is what causes Micah to stop in his movements.
For a moment, Arthur thinks he sees hesitation in Micah’s shoulders and in his hands, but then he’s chuckling, and Arthur feels that disgust set in on his stomach.
“Gee, Morgan. Figured I wouldn’t have to hear that awful breathin’ again,” he grins, and Arthur can see it. He despises that he can, and despises that he can taste the bile slowly climbing to his throat. “Thought you’d gone off to see that crazy old man, Hosea.”
“He weren’t crazy, Micah. Only you.”
“Sure,” Micah nods, then the room falls silent, and Arthur shifts on his feet. “You gonna shoot me or what?”
“I’m tryin’ to decide whether or not I should let Dutch deal with you instead.”
“You know he ain’t gonna do anythin’ to me. He ain’t gonna shoot me if I can talk that gun out of his hand. You? Well, Morgan, if I can give you anythin’, you ain’t as dull as him.” Arthur scowls and presses the barrel of the gun to the back of Micah’s head, hearing him chuckle again.
“Quit talkin’, you piece of shit.”
“Big words comin’ from you, Black Lung,” Micah suddenly moves, and Arthur’s not sure whether it’s the drowsiness or the Tuberculosis clouding his mind and keeping his finger from pulling that trigger, but the gun is snatched easily from his hand and is thrown to the bed where it bounces once and settles silently. Arthur stumbles back. He has a glare on his face, still, but with the light sourcing from beneath them, the shadows crawling along Micah’s face are making him look much more intense. “You’re smart, Arthur. So much smarter than him.”
“Shut up.” Arthur’s fists tense by his sides.
“Why do you listen to him, even though you know it’s wrong? You’re like a goddamn dog, rolling and sitting when you’re told. Why?”
“Because he cares about us. He cares about his family. He ain’t like you, lettin’ everyone die over a few dollars.”
“Then what happened with Hosea, Morgan?” Arthur goes silent, his teeth grit.
“ I did nothing. Hosea was all-in for that plan, and Dutch was, too.” Arthur remembers Dutch being hesitant. He remembers hearing Dutch’s voice, hearing his words as he surveyed the map of the town and asked Hosea several times if he was sure. “Dutch didn’t care, and he knew all those agents would be in the area.” Arthur shakes his head, standing his ground.
“ You were the one that got all those goddamn Pinkertons on us, you rat!” Arthur’s voice gets louder, snarling as he tries not to rush forward and allow Micah to know he’s gotten to him.
“Yes!” Micah cheers, though it is sarcastic and unempathetic in every way. “And that is why you and I would be such a good team, Morgan! You figured it out, and even the roughest, toughest outlaw couldn’t, when it was right in front of his nose.”
Arthur can’t bring himself to speak. He doesn’t want to. Micah will twist his words and shoot them back at him until he’s filled with holes, and he doesn’t want to allow Micah that much power over him. Not now. Not when Micah is so close to getting away with everything.
“Be smart. I know how to make a shit ton of money. Already have. You just need to say the word.”
“No,” Arthur shakes his head, brows furrowed. “You don’t know him, and you don’t know me.”
“Come on , Morgan.” Micah grins, reaching out a hand. Arthur glares at it for a second, then begins to think about his options and what they would truly get him. If he goes with Micah, there is no more Dutch. There’s no more of the sweet kisses, or whispered nothings, or the soft caresses.
But Arthur’s gotten over much worse than Dutch. He’s gotten over Mary, for whom he knows he would about-face his entire life to assist and be with again. Doesn’t matter that she treated him as if he was garbage, because he was. He is.
She was the one who gave him this idea, and he’s been running with it for years. Can’t seem to drop it.
Arthur takes a step forward, slowly lifting a hand. Micah’s grin widens, and Arthur sees it out of the corner of his eye, but just before his palm is about to touch Micah’s, his face changes and he shakes his head, throwing a fist across the rat’s face. He watches the man catch his footing and riposte, rushing forward. Arthur’s able to cross his arms in front of his face to block the punch, but he’s caught off-guard when another is jammed directly into his stomach.
His entire body tries to cave, but even as he’s turned around and put into a tight headlock, he continues thrusting his elbow back into Micah’s ribs. Arthur coughs and sputters a few times, trying to catch his breath from being winded like that, but he’s eventually able to break from the grasp and stumble across the room, taking a heavy breath as he turns around.
“You’re gonna regret that, Morgan.”
“I’m sure I will,” Arthur brushes a hand across his lips and takes notice of the blood smeared over the skin when he glances at it, but he doesn’t pay it much heed as he notices Micah shuffling forward again. He mimics the movement, taking a quick jab at Micah’s face. He feels the bone under his knuckles, but even though Micah is knocked back by the blow, he still turns around and throws the back of his hand across his now-bleeding nose, the red beginning to stain his moustache.
Arthur shoves forward now, able to gather a handful of Micah’s hair and use it as a counter for his knee jutting directly into Micah’s abdomen, but he remembers his stock of guns, just in the dresser on the other side of the room. If he can get there…
A fist is jutted directly between Arthur’s ribs and he coughs out, stumbling back. He glares at Micah, then at the ground, and then he’s off of his feet, the room spinning. Despite this, he grunts and pushes himself back to his feet, shaking his head.
“Give up, Black Lung. You ain’t gonna win this.”
“Maybe I won’t,” Arthur agrees, his vocal chords struggling to make sound around the blood gathering in his throat. “But at least I’m fightin’ for somethin’,” he coughs out again, his lungs wheezing as they are emptied of air with a few more quiet coughs.
Arthur figures this could be his last day. Just a week before the new year, and at the hands of Micah Bell. What a horrible way to go. “Ain’t that just so sweet,” Micah teases, chuckling. “You think you lived for somethin’ worthwhile.” He laughs again.
As Micah is preoccupied, Arthur stumbles back in his slowly-executed plan to grab one of those guns and shoot the bastard in front of him. He catches a hand against the dresser, still stumbling as he glares up at Micah, who is moving towards the bed with his hand placed over his stomach. Arthur hurries as soon as he has a hand on the dresser handle, pulling out his own revolver and pointing it at Micah as soon as the man has gotten within a few feet. He puffs and wheezes as he sits there, his lungs fighting against his movements.
There’s a barrel pointed directly at his forehead, just as there is to Micah’s, but neither of them move to pull the trigger. Arthur feels his body relaxing, and he’s not sure he’ll be able to conjure up any more energy to fight if he’s forced into that position again. He trembles as he stares up at Micah, who is grinning and using the dresser as something to hold him up.
“Shoot me, then, Black Lung,” Micah says after a moment, grinning. He lowers his gun, and for a moment, Arthur wonders what’s gotten into him. But the next moment comes quick and he pulls the trigger, his terrors being realised as the trigger clicks back and makes no other action. Arthur freezes.
“Oh, no!” Micah grins, laughing despite it looking as if it hurts, from the way he uses the dresser as more of a balance. “Ain’t that so sad.” He stands, removing his hand from the dresser as he points the gun directly to Arthur’s forehead. “I told you, Morgan. You had no chance.”
Arthur relaxes against the wall, hearing the bullet leave the barrel much more than feeling it. It almost sounds as if it’s from the other end of the room with the sound ricocheting off of the wall, but he’s glad when it doesn’t hurt. He doesn’t want to imagine all of those people he’s shot in his life, suffering just before they die.
Then, a powerful thud shakes his eyes open. He sees Micah lying motionless on the floor, and he takes a breath at first, but his eyes slide over to Dutch, who is standing near the doorway with his other revolver in his hand. His expression is unreadable, but exceptionally blank.
“Dutch,” Arthur says, breathless and relieved as ever. He’s not sure if he can stand right at the moment, but it doesn’t matter as he sighs out against the wall and relaxes.
Micah is dead.
A week later, Arthur is healed, yet again, but at the very least, he didn’t lose his voice again. There are no bruises around his neck, nor are there emotional ties to what happened.
Dutch decided to take all of the valuables (there weren’t many) off of Micah, and as everyone argued over who should carry him downstairs, he lit a fire on a faraway section of the beach, where the tide would soon rise and lift that burden off of them. The whole time, Arthur was there to accompany him and talk to him, but he was surprisingly silent. Like he was lost in his head, and Arthur was locked out. Despite this, Arthur kept trying.
Micah’s body was burned on the morning of December 26th, and although he was surrounded by people, none of them truly desired his presence. Not even Dutch, who opened up to Arthur about that night. How Micah completely forced that on him, and had done it many times before. The thought chilled Arthur to the bone.
Nevertheless, on the 31st, Dutch announces that they shouldn’t allow any of the past week’s occurrences to upset them in any way. They are so graciously gifted a foreign liquor from the natives, and surprisingly enough, it’s sweet. “Nothin’ like cold, hard, whiskey,” as Bill comments, but it’s delicious, anyway.
The night is far from spoiled by the death of Micah, and for a majority of the time, Arthur forgets it even happened. He’s smiling and enjoying himself, talking to old friends and allowing himself to finally relax on this island as soon as he realises that really, there is nothing else to concern him.
Dutch places his hand on Arthur’s shoulder at one point when the moon is getting higher in the sky, but isn’t quite there. Besides, Jack’s been carrying a little handheld clock around with him all night, reminding everyone of the time. Arthur pauses what he’s saying to John as he looks back, Dutch tilting his head for them to head out somewhere for a while. How long, who knows? But Arthur won’t admit that he would much rather prefer a one-on-one private conversation with someone over a conversation in a crowd of people, where one is often heard over everyone else.
“I think I’ll catch up with you later,” Arthur says, looking back to John. “Places to be, people to see.”
“As it usually is,” John nods, glancing at Dutch, who nods and turns to walk for the wooded area in the other direction. John catches Arthur’s arm just as he’s moving to leave, giving Arthur a look. “Don’t do anythin’ stupid, brother.”
“Won’t do anythin’ you wouldn’t do,” Arthur grins, and John shakes his head.
“Very funny,” is the last thing he hears as he moves to catch up with Dutch, who has breached the treeline by quite a ways by now. Arthur wanders up behind him, glancing back before sliding his hand into Dutch’s. The man smiles, laughing quietly.
“Got somethin’ to say?” Arthur asks, smiling as well.
“Not at all,” Dutch shakes his head and allows them to walk in a comfortable silence for a minute before pointing out a little clearing.
“Just wanted to steal you away for a few minutes,” Dutch says, walking them to the centre of the clearing before turning to face Arthur. He places a hand in Arthur’s, then lifts Arthur’s other hand to his shoulder.
“We’re out here to dance, Dutch?” Arthur smiles, not quite understanding. “If you wanted to dance, we could’ve done it with the others,” he feels Dutch’s feet beginning to lead him, so he catches up to the pace and keeps it steady with him.
“Not like this,” Dutch leans forward and places a kiss to Arthur’s lips. It’s a feeling Arthur is sure he will never be able to get used to. He lifts the hand from Dutch’s shoulder to the side of his neck, holding him there in the kiss.
They sway out of rhythm with the music that is much too far away to be recognisable at this point, both of them seeming to have found a similar pattern.
Dutch leans his head back after a moment to rest his forehead against Arthur’s, raising his eyebrows.
“I’ve got something else, if you’re interested,” he lifts something looking to be a fruit, but one Arthur’s sure he’s never seen before. It looks tropical, but Arthur wonders if it will taste just as bad as the coconut if Dutch is planning on having him eat it. “Haven’t tried it yet.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a mango,” Dutch says, and Arthur looks up, tilting his head. “From the tree I planted a while ago.” Arthur nods after a moment, smiling.
“So you brought me out here to try your mango,” Arthur teases, and Dutch shrugs playfully, stepping away just a bit to pull his knife and work the skin off. Arthur watches as it falls, curious.
“Heard it was best without this,” he says. “Figured it would be best not to have another coconut situation.” Arthur nods, laughing.
He watches as Dutch slides the blade across the green and red and yellow, only to reveal something inside. Strange enough, it looks almost like peach. He wonders if it tastes anything like that. After a moment or two, Dutch slices it in half and hands it to Arthur, nodding.
“Here goes nothing.”
Both of them take a bite at once, and Arthur’s not quite sure what to think at first. It tastes sour, then it slowly gets sweeter on his tongue. It’s like something he’s sure he’s never tasted before, but somehow, he can’t imagine his life without it now. How has he missed out on this for his entire life, as it seems?
Arthur hums, brows furrowing. Dutch nods, his own brows furrowed as well.
“That’s really good,” Arthur says, smiling. Dutch agrees and takes another bite, finishing his half off within the third. Arthur does the same, flicking his hands off, then running them along the pants of his legs a few times to get the juice off.
“I thought for a while there, I’d hate it.” Dutch’s hand returns to Arthur’s, and Arthur’s other hand to his shoulder. “I was worried I’d try it and completely hate it,” he laughs, Arthur doing the same. Though now, his thoughts are caught by something else. After a moment of silence, Dutch ducks his head to meet Arthur’s gaze. “Something wrong?”
“Just thinkin’, I guess.”
“About?” Dutch sways them, eventually pulling Arthur closer and moving a bit faster.
“Me and you. I mean, us. We’re just…” Arthur struggles, Dutch nodding in an attempt to get him to continue. “Will the others find out?”
“Sure they will at some point, but that doesn’t need to be now. Why?”
“I don’t want to keep it a secret anymore, Dutch, it’s just that I’m…”
“You’re worried they’ll think differently of us.” Arthur looks up at him, their swaying slowing for a moment. “I know. I worry the same thing.” Dutch cups Arthur’s cheek, Arthur tilting his head into it a bit and letting out a sigh. “But they shouldn’t hate us, should they? Just because we like something different?”
“It’ll still be pretty private, won’t it?”
“Of course it will.” Arthur nods, feeling Dutch’s lips against his own again. He smiles a bit, feeling Dutch do the same. He tastes faintly like mango.
“When will they find out?”
“I suppose anytime. We could tell them tonight, if we wanted to.” Arthur takes a breath, thinking about it. About the faces they’ll make and the impressions they’ll have. He blows it out.
“Not tonight.” Dutch laughs just a bit, nodding.
“That’s perfectly fine.”
There’s a moment of silence again.
“Can you believe all of that happened in a year?” Arthur says, and Dutch pauses for just a second as he thinks about it. “Last year this time, we was in Blackwater.” He’s right. All of that mess happened in the last year, but they lived. They survived.
“Still had Jenny.”
There’s a long pause after that one.
“Yeah, Hosea.” Dutch agrees.
Arthur turns his head when he hears celebratory shouting from the house, raising his eyebrows. It’s every second or so, so Arthur begins to wonder if it’s a countdown. Dutch doesn’t say anything, simply keeping the pace, however slight.
“You think you’re ready to put that all behind us?” Arthur asks, his head still turned away. They’re toeing the line of a new century; a new year to bring them better fortune.
There’s a final cheer and Arthur looks to Dutch, who smiles. Arthur takes a breath.
“A toast to 1900,” Arthur says, and Dutch nods, grinning.
That's a wrap!
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