It was a miscalculation on Dutch’s part, he sees that now. The whole damn thing, from start to inevitable finish. He should have put an end to it when Arthur lost twenty straight dollars against Abigail at poker. He should have reacted and stopped it.
A man like Arthur doesn’t lose so spectacularly to a woman as bad at poker as Abigail is without some sort of a ploy. Or a serious, serious distraction.
Dutch has his theories and he has his hunches and he cleans his gun and he watches Arthur staring side-eyed at his hands and he confirms enough to know what he’s in for.
And he tries to stop it.
But he doesn’t try very hard.
Arthur is so fragile and open between his palms. Drunk, drunk, drunk, but vulnerable in a way that Dutch is not at all used to seeing. Not his Arthur, his tough sonofabitch. His ruthless killer.
Arthur shudders in his hands and his green eyes are swimming with wetness, glinting gold and blue in the firelight. Awash in warm hues of it. And instead of saying “Stop this, Arthur” Dutch hears himself say: “Arthur, are you sure?”
And Arthur is sure, the fucking moron.
And now they are very, very fucked.
They make camp on the sprawling bank of a river. It’s spring and birds and fish and game are plentiful. Their Game is less so, the nearest town is a dusty day’s ride away, but honestly, for the moment the gang isn’t want for money.
Not any more so than usual anyhow.
It’s Hosea who comes to him first.
“We should talk, Dutch,” he says in that proper way he has of making everything seem more dire than it is. A charlatan on so many fronts.
Dutch pauses in cleaning his gun. The mindless motion of his hands slows and stops.
From across the camp, he can see Arthur’s scarlet face. Frozen in place walking up from the river. There’s a bucket upended in front of him. Caught mid-chore. His fingers are twitching and Dutch can imagine the bucket tumbling from his nerveless grip.
“Dutch,” Hosea says again. “Can we take a walk?”
“Of course,” Dutch says. “Of course.”
So they walk. As they amble from camp and toward the horses, Dutch can feel Arthur’s gaze on him. Vibrant, hopeful, throbbing.
Dutch should have put a stop to it.
“Arthur’s been off the past couple days,” Hosea says. He clicks his tongue and his horse breaks into a trot. The Count takes a little more goading, he snorts and huffs when Dutch coaxes for speed.
They’re still getting used to one another, but there’s a good horse somewhere under all that stubborn.
“Dutch,” Hosea says, “are you listening to me?”
“Of course I am. You’re worried about Arthur.”
“I’m worried about you. What did you do to that boy?”
Dutch blows a breath between his teeth, rolls his eyes. “I didn’t do anything to him, Hosea.” Hosea scoffs. “I didn’t, really.”
“Camp’s small, Dutch. We aren’t as many people as we used to be. I know Annabel—“
“Don’t say her name.”
“And why not? This is about her isn’t it? Arthur is a...some sort of a substi—“
“Don’t say that either,” Dutch says. Yells. Voice barking out louder than he means it to. It’s a good thing they’ve ridden away from camp. The Count makes an unhappy whinny between his thighs; Dutch absentmindedly pats as his neck.
Hosea is staring at him. Head tipped to the side. He’s going grey, that blond hair of his glinting gun metal in the morning light. He’s getting old.
They’re both getting old.
“It’s not like that. I know what it looks like, I do, I know. But you have to...to listen, Hosea,” Dutch says. “He asked me to.”
For a moment Hosea is silent, processing. He’s frowning a little bit. Thinking it through.
“I have no doubt that he did,” he says finally. “But why were you stupid enough to do it?”
Dutch lets The Count slow his trot. Loosens the reigns until the horse comes to a complete stop. It’s the question he’s been asking himself for three days now.
How could he make such a stupid miscalculation?
“Arthur means-means a lot to me,” Dutch says. “And I was trying to-to-to make him. Make him feel better. This whole thing with John has him...bitter. And I didn’t want him to leave.”
“Arthur wouldn’t leave us,” Hosea says.
“I know that,” Dutch says. And he does know it. He does. But he’d held Arthur’s face and felt Arthur pressing himself so trustingly into his hands and Dutch had allowed that feeling of power to just...just slide a little out of his control. That’s all it had been. A slip.
“I was afraid,” he says because he will not slip up again.
Hosea’s eyes narrow. Dutch can feel the way Hosea reads every breath Dutch takes. Whatever he is looking for, whatever he sees, he must find it to his liking because he sighs, slumps on his horse. “Alright, Dutch,” he says, “alright. It was stupid but we’ll preserve. It won’t break us but you...You have to talk to him, Dutch.”
“I do talk to him.” He has been nothing he congenial to Arthur the whole time they moved camp. Been nothing but smiles and hellos and cheer.
“You know what I mean,” Hosea says. “He thinks you’re ashamed of him.”
“He tell you that?”
“I had to wrestle it out of him. You know how stubborn he can be.” Hosea swallows. “Maybe hearing that you’re ashamed of you will help.”
Ashamed. Dutch hadn’t thought of it that way. That he should be ashamed.
“Anyway,” Hosea says. “There’s a fishing spot up ahead that I heard about in town. Say there’s a monster of a bluegill that swims around those parts.” His eyebrows are raised in challenge.
Dutch smiles, his teeth catch on his lip.
They set off at a trot; there is no need to rush.
“Hosea seems to think we need to have a conversation,” Dutch says. Cornering Arthur that night as the younger man makes his way from the mess tent to the hitching post.
Arthur hisses something inaudible, tosses the hay he’d been hauling down. “I told that old snoop to stay outta my business,” he says. “I’m fine, Dutch, ain’t anything we need to talk about.”
But Arthur is staring at Dutch’s hands as he says it. He licks his lips, unconscious most likely, a habit, a desire. They are plump and pink and shiny, even in the low evening light.
“Since when have you made it a habit to lie to me, Arthur Morgan.”
“I ain’t lying.”
“You are lying. I thought you understood, I want you to talk to me, son. I’m here for you.”
Arthur shudders. His shoulders shake. It’s easy to read his desires, the things he wants to hear. It’s easy to say them.
So Dutch does.
“I’m not ashamed of you, Arthur, I could never be.” And there is truth there, Dutch surprises even himself with the amount of truth there is there. The depth and sincerity to it.
And he isn’t sure how, but it’s happening again. The urge to just...reign Arthur in. To exert that control over him again. Watch him come to pieces, watch him break and crumble over and over. Dutch’s strongest son, reduced to a quivering, over-stimulated mess.
“I think I understand,” Dutch says. Even if he doesn’t fully. The scope of Arthur’s devotion runs deeper and fuller than he can truly define. His own unending fascination with it is just as treacherous. Dark, difficult to navigate.
“Dutch,” Arthur says, breath puffing against Dutch’s chin.
Dutch blinks, hadn’t realized how close he had drifted. How intimate. His hand caressing the strong cut of Arthur’s cheekbone, the jut of it just below his eye.
“Dutch,” he says again. “I’m—“
“Say it again.” A third time, it must be in threes.
Arthur swallows. He opens his mouth. Dutch crushes the two of them together, slides his tongue possessive into the space between Arthur’s teeth. Arthur sags against him, a marionette with the strings cut loose.
“Come on, son,” he says. “Let’s go to my tent.”
They move through the gathering dusk not touching. Arthur is a shade of crimson even visible in the spring gloom. Anyone who happens to glimpse them will have no questions about what is happening. No question beyond the obvious. How the hell is Dutch allowing this again? Miscalculating so badly again? How? How god in heaven how?
Arthur is on his knees before the flap of the tent is even fully secured behind them. He falls so quickly Dutch is almost worried for a second. Almost worried. Almost.
He’s soft when Arthur fishes him out. He was soft that night too, even with Arthur coming to pieces in his hands. Arthur touches him with a reverence Dutch had not thought him capable of. His fingers smoothing so gently over Dutch’s cock. He doesn’t look disappointed in the lack of reaction, his expression is one of awe. Lip caught between his teeth, eyebrows flexed, a worry line between them.
Dutch runs his fingers through Arthur’s hair. The strands are soft. He must have gone into town, gotten it washed professionally.
“I’m sorry,” Dutch says.
“You don’t gotta be. You’ve done...done a lot for me. Everything for me.” Arthur looks away. The breaking of his gaze is the first sign something wrong. His voice doesn’t even tremble when he says, “I can go, Dutch, if you want. You don’t gotta do this.”
“I want to,” Dutch says. And even though he is still soft, he shoves Arthur up and backwards, onto the cot.
Watching Arthur strip for him is an experience. The younger man is jittery and shaking as he undoes the button’s of his shirt, trembling like he’s cold as he pushes the trousers off his hips. Sharp, craggy shapes in the low lantern light. He’s getting too thin. Ribs and knobby knees and hips.
Dutch touches that peak, that thin smooth skin pulled so taut across the bone and Arthur shudders. His cock leaks.
And Dutch can’t help but chuckle. Soothing, rumbling, reflexive.
“You don’t gotta laugh at me, Dutch,” Arthur says. But Dutch just grins, shakes his head, removes his hat, tosses it to the side. Followed by his vest. He undoes the first few buttons of his shirt.
“Not at you, son,” he says. “I’m just amazed. Speechless.”
“Well that’s certainly a wonder.”
“Very funny,” Dutch says, warmly enough. Pacified from any real annoyance by the way Arthur melts as Dutch strokes up and down the cleft of his ass. Dry, tickling pressure. He needs oil, some sorta slick; he leans forward to root around in the small table next to the bed.
He finds an unopened tin of hair pomade. The thick waxy smell of it fills the space between them as Dutch cracks the seal.
“Did you wash yourself for this,” Dutch asks, teasingly. “When you went and got your hair washed, did you ask for this as well?” It feels clean, washed and scrubbed as Dutch presses his finger into Arthur’s pliant body. Teasing at the rim the way he’s teasing at Arthur’s ego.
Arthur is red, red, red with his embarrassment but he doesn’t lift his hands to cover his face. He swallows, Dutch can trace the frantic bobbing of his throat. “I didn’t have anyone—wasn’t gonna pay some woman to—I did it myself, Dutch.”
“For you. Jesus Christ, Dutch, everything I do is for you.”
There was the Father, there was the Son and there was the Holy Ghost and all three were the same and yet different but Dutch had only ever been able to see the differences.
The one was there to lead, the one was to inspire.
And the last one was to die.
“Would you die for me, son,” he asks.
Arthur’s body clenches and tightens around Dutch’s fingers and with barely a breath of hesitation Arthur says, “Yes.” His cock flexes, red and sore looking and still leaking out onto his belly and Arthur says, “Yes, yes, Dutch, anything.”
“The world,” Arthur keens.
Dutch’s fingers move faster; he drives them into Arthur so hard his knuckles ache dully from the intensity. From the undulating pressure of Arthur’s body around him. Shuddering, fluttering muscles.
Dutch doesn’t really know what he’s doing, but Arthur doesn’t appear to have any complaints beyond sighs and curses and Dutch’s name slurred throughout. Must be Dutch’s hands, Arthur’s obsession with them, must have something to do with that.
Dutch shoves (not gentle, not tender, shoves, pushes, takes) his ring and middle finger as deep as they’ll reach, flexes and curls them the way he would in a woman and Arthur freezes beneath him. Muscles snapping taut and tight, tense.
“Oh fuck,” Arthur says. Haltingly. To the roof of Dutch’s tent, voice trembling and reedy, vocal chords stretched from where his head has fallen back, ragdolled on his neck.
“Like that, son?” Dutch asks and he does it again.
He doesn’t get through the motion a third time before Arthur is coming, thick and full-bodied. It’s amazing to watch, even more so than the first time had been.
La petite mort.
The job of the son.
Dutch sniffs, sits up. He rubs his soiled fingers over Arthur’s lips, watches with his breath caught in his throat as again Arthur licks the traces of his release from Dutch’s knuckles. The tent is filled with Arthur’s panting, Dutch’s own heavy breathing.
Somewhere in the mess of it, Dutch’s cock has finally gotten interested. It juts from the open plackets of his trousers, red and throbbing. Bumps against Arthur’s hip as Dutch leans over him to drag him into a kiss. Sloppier than Dutch likes; Arthur’s tongue as it rubs against him tastes salty and slick.
Dutch sits back with another huff, rocking himself slightly to rut against the seam of Arthur’s body.
“Want me to help with that, Dutch,” Arthur asks. With none of his usual bravado. It could be a question asked in jest, teasing. Dutch can even hear how it should sound. But it doesn’t.
He sounds hesitant, unsure of himself. So unlike Dutch’s Arthur.
And Dutch can’t even begin to pretend that that isn’t what has him hard.
“Use your mouth,” Dutch says and not for a second does he think Arthur will question him.
Arthur doesn’t question him.
Dutch has a knack for telling these things.
It’s a moment of scrabbling, Dutch can feel the way Arthur has to put his brain back together again. Reassembling some pretense of personhood. When he moves it’s with jerky, clipped, economic motions. And then Arthur is on his knees and Dutch can trace the elegant curve of his spine, the shadows of his shoulder blades.
He sinks his hand in Arthur’s hair once more. Less gentle this time. Firm and guiding; Dutch doesn’t think of it as demanding. Arthur shivers. His breath puffs warm and foreign on Dutch’s cock.
His back curls. Pliant.
Giving everything, everything, everything to Dutch.
As it should be. The job of the Son.
“Suck,” Dutch says, between his teeth, pulling Arthur’s hair. Tugging those soft, clean strands.
And Arthur, Arthur, the Son, his son, his best and his toughest and his favorite, complies.
His mouth, Dutch finds, is like any other mouth. Wet and warm. Sloppy, inexperienced. Annabel had been too once, too much tongue and too much spit. The thought of her makes Dutch’s heart ache, makes him think of Hosea and Hosea’s uncharitable view of the current predicament.
Arthur as a substitute.
Arthur is not a substitute. He’s something different.
Dutch’s lip curls, his fingers tighten from where they had fallen lax in Arthur’s hair. Curling into fists to drag Arthur more fully against him; taking what Arthur has so freely offered. Taking everything.
Arthur makes a surprised, gagging sort of noise as Dutch begins to saw his hips back and forth; a spasm ripples down his spine, back muscles twitching. Dutch pays it very little heed. He keeps on until Arthur is once more still and smooth beneath him, pressing his tongue meekly to the cock pushing against the back of his throat.
“So good for me,” Dutch says. Hardly aware that he’s speaking, muttering praises and encouragement. Whispered so under his breath it’s a wonder Arthur can even hear him.
Maybe Arthur doesn’t hear him.
It doesn’t matter.
Dutch grips tighter as he reaches his peak, pushes his cock as deep as he can and releases right down Arthur’s throat. He is mildly aware as orgasm softens the world around him, that Arthur is pulling back, hacking into his fist, drawing ragged lungfuls of air. Spittle and come at the corners of his mouth.
Dutch grins, lazily, thumbs some of the liquid from Arthur’s chin and back onto his lips. Arthur, eyes glazed, teary, red-cheeked, sucks the moisture off.
“You did good, son,” Dutch says and Arthur shivers, nods. He’s silent as Dutch stands and fully removes his trousers, his shirt; Arthur is not himself still, not all the way together. Dutch pulls a cigar from his pack, lights it and the snap of the match seems to bring Arthur back some.
A hand outstretches, Arthur’s fingers wiggle slightly; the universal sign: hand it over. Still malleable from his orgasm, Dutch complies. He watches Arthur take a nice, long drag.
For a moment all is still and silent and content.
Arthur hands the cigar back. He stands. His body is trembling, goosebumps in the fair skin. Dutch switches places with him, falls onto the cot as Arthur fetches his own jeans, his ratty shirt. He pulls both of them on.
“Running out on me,” Dutch asks only after Arthur has dressed in everything but his boots.
Hope, even hopeless hope, looks so heartbreakingly beautiful on Arthur’s young face. It only escapes for a second, then Arthur clears his throat, runs his hands through his hair.
“I was-was gonna go clean up,” Arthur says. “This ain’t you, Dutch, cuddling after. After that.” He isn’t wrong, Dutch shouldn’t be surprised Arthur knows him so well.
Dutch chews on the end of his cigar, slow and thoughtful. Makes a show of it. When he plucks it from between his lips, he is aware of Arthur watching his hands. His hands, his hands, always watching. “If that’s what you want,” Dutch says.
Arthur swallows. He’s blushing when he says, “I dunno what I want, Dutch.” Lying again, a habit they’ll have to break him of soon. His eyes have taken to wandering, gaze skittering along the line of Dutch’s collar, his belly, his cock which he has not moved to cover.
“Well I’m here,” Dutch says, “while you figure it out.”
And for the moment he is; it is not a lie. Dutch doesn’t lie to his boys, his family. To Hosea. He is here. To lead, to guide.
He always will be.