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It doesn’t matter that his throat hurts. It doesn’t matter that he can hardly swallow. It doesn’t matter that a handful of hours ago he’d been slowly dying with a rope tight across his trachea.

What matters is the image of Charles, with the sun burning on his shoulders like a devil, face cast in shadows. What matters is the look of indignant rage that pinches Charles brow, the casual, meticulous speed in which he dispatches Arthur’s captor. What matters is the sweet, dizzying air filling his lungs, and the delirious thought that passed in his head -

I don’t know this man.

It’s that thought and those images seared into his mind that has Arthur stumbling and cursing at the underbrush. In the background, the quiet sounds of camp at night - soft conversations and the crackle of fire - fade. He makes it far enough to be hidden in shadows, only the moon guiding his feet, where others are unlikely to find him.

Leaning back against a tree, Arthur heaves out a sigh and runs a hand through his hair. “You got it bad, Morgan.” His voice is gravely and strained, but that does nothing to stem the pulse of thunder in his veins. Biting his lower lip, he drags a hand down his chest, pulling at each button of his shirt until the tips of his fingers brush the hem of his pants. They creep down, each agonizing inch drives heat higher and higher into his cheeks. Finally, with a gusty sigh of relief, Arthur palms himself, pushing against his erection, an ache jolting up his spine to the top of his head.

It’s been a long time, too damn long, since he’s been this hard. Since he’s had time to indulge, really. Between stress and schemes and running around like chickens with their heads cut off, getting a moment alone has been impossible. As soon as Arthur’s head hits the pillow at night, he’s out like a light. Let alone the fact that his ‘tent’ is more an open lean-to and it offers no privacy. Compounding this is that Arthur cares for the gang’s weapons and ammunition. It means, even in the small hours of night, there are folks stumbling around. Privacy has been a long lost lover for years now.

But there’s no point in thinking on that when his pants are unbuttoned, suspenders hanging loose and floppy by his side, and a hand is fishing his cock out. He lets out a sigh, the same sort he makes when finally slipping into a hot bath after days of grime. A luxuriating, pleased little sound, as he caresses himself, stroking from root to tip.

Arthur closes his eyes, lets himself sink into a fantasy - warm sun, dizzying air in his lungs, a stranger named Charles standing over him.

“You should have taken the money.”

“I know, I’m a fool.” the fondness in those words, the teasing edge of it, still draws something warm and heavy into Arthur’s gut. It’s the same heady feeling he gets when being praised.

But the images die, fizzle out; his mind, in an almost boyish shyness, fights against the fantasy. It’s not because it’s immoral - if Arthur Morgan was a moral man, he would have left the way of outlaws long, long ago - but something deeper. It’s the worry of how this could ruin whatever bond Charles and Arthur have. It’s the nagging anxiety that he’ll let a word, a name , slip and someone could hear. It’s the fear of losing Charles’s small, secret smiles, or the glances of incredulity when they all suffer someone’s tall tale.

It’s the terror of disappointing the man, perhaps the only man who has seen Arthur in action and has ridden by his side, that can still say with unwavering certainty - “You’re a good man, Arthur Morgan.”

He pushes it all aside; Arthur is smart and weary. He’s got this under control. Anxiety coaxed into submission, the fantasy replays again. Arthur on the ground, Charles over him.

Charles, kneeling, straddling his waist. Arthur forgets to breathe as a hand rubs against his throat. It still aches, bruising quickly, the skin rope burned. But his touch is feather soft.

“But since I didn’t, I’ll take my reward elsewhere.”  He tries to imagine what Charles’ hands would feel like. Rough and calloused, but also clever and skilled. They brazenly push up his shirt, grab as his pec and squeeze. Arthur is helpless, moans brokenly as he arches. Strong thighs keep him pinned to the ground.

Hot words press to his ear, “As long as you’re okay with it.”

“Yes. Please.” Arthur Morgan, reduced to begging. It earns one of those special smiles, one that warms his skin the way the sun or hot water never can. He wants more, wants to taste those lips, to let Charles brand kisses and bites to his skin. But this Charles only nods and leans back enough to take Arthur from his cotton trousers.

In ecstacy, Arthur moans, his hand working fast and hard along his shaft. Mouth agape, panting soft little huffs as he teeters closer to the edge. He bites back the name he aches to moan, swallows the words down.

“That’s it  Come on, Arthur.”

“Who’s out there?”

The fantasy shatters, Arthur going stock still. Charles’s voice morphs from his mind to the real world. Only the very soft shuffle of branches and leaves are a clue that he’s moving. Even then, that could be a light breeze coming from the lake. Arthur opens his mouth to speak, but is petrified.

“Show yourself!”

Shit. The very real threat of being gutted or shot breaks whatever bonds are keeping him paralyzed and mute.

“It’s - It’s Arthur!” Clumsily, his cock is pushed back into his trousers, but all he can do is preserve some little modesty, as the hunter was closer than he thought. Charles steps out from some trees, though he’s still looking around slowly, sweeping his gaze back and forth.

Moonlight, cold and ethereal, dances on each strand of Charles’ hair. It brushes against the hook of his nose and the plumpness of his lips - Glints off the cruel metal barrel of the repeater he’s holding.

“Is someone else here?”

“Huh?” blinking from his stupor, Arthur painstakingly turns around. Had someone been here? Watching him? His gut twists, but there’s no signs of another party. Just Arthur and his imagination, “No. Don’t think so. Why?”

“Thought I heard moaning.”

If the ground would open up and swallow him whole, he would appreciate it then. Eyes pinched shut, he curses himself for not being more vigilant, for not being quieter . Taking a slow breath, Arthur swallows to alleviate some of the dryness in his mouth, but does nothing but make his throat click. “Nope.” He sighs out. When was the last time he’d been busted doing this? “Just me and my lonesome.”

He waits for... for something. Charles to speak or leave or apologize. When none of it comes, Arthur opens his eyes. The other man is still standing there, but instead of looking around the area, he’s staring only at Arthur. Hairs on the back of his neck rise up. This, this has to be the feeling Charles’s prey got when being stalked. There’s something piercing, unraveling in that gaze. For a paranoid second, Arthur wonders if somehow his friend knows , if those intelligent, deadly eyes have unlocked all of his secrets in an instant.

“You should have said something.” Is all Charles says in that affectionate, teasing manner. It eases a bark of a laugh out of Arthur, some of the tension bleeding from his shoulders.

“Guess I should have announced it; ‘Hey fellas, I’m gonna go alleviate myself by these trees. Don’t come lookin’ for me now.’” Arthur chuckles nervously, half expecting his friend to leave silently, or maybe with a coy ‘I’ll leave you to it, then.’

But instead, Charles remains still, head tilted in careful consideration. Right at the edge of worrying that his friend is gonna shoot him, Charles does the unthinkable:

“You want a hand?”

Time seems to slow, skip, falter, and outright stop. Blinking rapidly, Arthur’s voice comes out a pitch higher than it has in decades, “A hand?”

There is no clarification. For a split second, Arthur thinks this is a trap - some weird test to out the homosexual in their midst. But it’s only a second, of flash of paranoia, before reality comes crashing in. Charles only says what is necessary. Charles has never lied, to Arthur’s knowledge, about serious matters. Charles…

“Sure.” Arthur’s voice is soft, like he’s admitting something bigger than agreeing to a quick handjob. Thankfully, Charles doesn’t need anymore than that. He’s in Arthur’s space - the scent of beer and something sweet lingering on his lips. Arthur doesn’t have to wonder long, soon he’s tasting it.

Beer is there, but so faint it's more a long lost memory. What is strong is the mellow sweetness of huckleberries. They found a whole slew of them further south, and Arthur only had a few. Not much of a sweet tooth.

But the flavor on Charles lips… It’s the best damn thing he’s ever had. Slowly, his eyes roll closed. Once more his cock is fished out, but by a stranger’s hand. Arthur gasps, his pulse galloping away, and Charles, quick and clever, slips his tongue between his lips.

Arthur’s hands scramble, one to fist Charles loose blue shirt and the other tangled in his inky black hair. They kiss until a burning ache starts at the corner of Arthur’s lips, blazing a path way to his cock. The strokes are inelegant, unknowing - but that adds a quality that is all the better. Unfortunately, it is slow, so slow. Arthur tries to buck up, to chase his pleasure, but is quickly pushed back into the tree.

One knee slots under his balls, Charles using his weight and better footing to keep Arthur damn near motionless. Bark bites into his back as he scrambles to find purchase but there’s none to be found. He’s helpless, at the mercy of his friend. He moans into the kiss, the sound trailing off as it is broken. Against his hip, he can feel something hard pressed there - at first Arthur assumes its the butt of the long forgotten repeater.

But finally, peeking through his lashes, he realizes with a rush of relief that it’s just Charles. Charles, flushed and breathing heavy, grinding slowly against him. Seeing that Arthur is paying attention again, he asks in a low, rough voice, “What were you thinking about?”

He could lie. Could say it was Mary, but that’s about as far from the truth as it comes. Could say it was just a fleeting urge, but that feels wrong. Especially since Charles made the first move. He opened himself up to this and was brave.

So before Arthur can overthink it, he groans, “You.”

For the first time, Charles makes a sound - small though it is. A breathy grunt as his hips stutter out of the rhythm he was grinding on Arthur’s leg. Knowing that such a simple thing is enough to get Charles to do that makes all the worry wash away. Hell, he’s filled with down right joy knowing he can get that sort of response.

Charles kisses at his throat, at his adam’s apple, at the days old stubble he didn’t bother to shave. Arthur tilts his head back, gives him space. He’s done this to a few girls in his day, but never had it done - it’s wonderful. Tingling warmth and sensitivity that winds soft, pleased sighs and groans from his lips.

Lips press to the shell of Arthur’s ears, warm words, husky and honey sweet, drip in, “What was I doing?”

There’s no hesitation now. Arthur’s hands uncurl from the death grip they had on Charles’ shirt, assured now that his friend isn’t going to bolt off like a frightened colt. Instead, he strokes along his back, feeling the firm muscle there. “After you saved me today. You… You not taking the cash, but…”

Embarrassment stills the words, his face going even hotter, “Well… You get down on top of me. Start undressing me, grabbing me, markin’ me up.” In the interim of speaking, Charles has been busy. Something warm and slightly wet touches his cock, jolting a surprised gasp from Arthur as he glances down.

A thicker cock is against his own, tangled in Charles hand. It’s a stretch, his fingers no longer fully holding each inch, but the sensation is all the better. Velvety warmth and friction heighten the exchange. Precome leaks down from Arthur, wetting the slide even more.

“You’d look good below me.” Charles whispers as he nips Arthur’s earlobe.

For a split second he’s mournful - this will be over soon. He already feels the pressure in his pelvis, the tension slowly locking his muscles, his breath coming in shorter, sharper gasps. It’s only a split second before giddy joy replaces it.

“Arthur, be quiet.” The hissed command is muffled against his neck. Charles doesn’t slow for a moment, if anything going faster, harder.

“I…” The words fail, and Arthur has to muster more focus than necessary to speak, to think. His fingers fist into Charles shirt again, holding on for dear life, “I’m tryin’.”

“Try harder.”

But there’s no way to, not when he’s at the edge, “Charles… Charles! Cha--”

Arthur’s pleas are silenced by a rough kiss as he comes. Bliss and relief weaken Arthur’s knees until only the tree and Charles are keeping him upright. He’s panting, open mouth as they kiss sloppily, more tongue than lips at this point. Charles keeps tugging him through it, his strokes bordering on painful as overstimulation kicks in. It’s moments later when Charles groans, the loudest sound he’s made yet.

Mind still blank, so mercifully blank, Arthur doesn’t know he’s being sat down until his bare ass crunches into some leaves. His heart is still hammering, the relaxed state still strong, but he gets his wits about him to at least open his eyes.

Charles kneels between his parted legs, hair sticking up in odd ways, likely from being grabbed by Arthur. Some sticks to his skin, sweat heavy on his brow. He had something in his hands - it takes a moment for Arthur to recognize his handkerchief. Charles is wiping his hands and prick down before cleaning up Arthur.

“Hey now… That ain’t yours to use.” He jokes lightly. Charles smirks at that, even going so far as to fold it back up so the mess is on the inside, and tucks it back into Arthur’s pants pocket.

“You can clean it up in the morning.”

Charles doesn’t say anything after they are cleaned, but he lingers- not leaving, but not coming closer and it simply won’t do.

Rolling his eyes, Arthur grabs him by the forearm with a gruff, “Come ‘ere, you.” Charles goes with a soft laugh, settling in much closer now. The kiss they share isn’t like the ones before - this one is sweeter, slower. When they break, its lingering and mellow - Like finally climbing into bed after an exhausting day. It feels right.

They bask in one another's presence, but it’s Arthur, always worried, that breaks the peace. “We okay, Charles?”

That earns a raised eyebrow and a quizzical look. “Why wouldn’t we be?”

And well… That’s true. Charles was the one who approached him, the one who made the offer, was the one escalate it to jacking them off together. Seems silly to be asking. Arthur reaches up to tilt his hat down and cover his eyes, but it's not there - its back at his tent. Instead, he scratches his hair.

“Well I… Dunno. Never done this with another fella.”

Charles hums, encouraging more, and Arthur finds its all his tongue needs to keep going, “Don’t wanna hurt what we got, you know?”

“And what do we got?” Charles questions are easy enough, but sometimes, like now, they irk Arthur. Still, they force him to examine each word carefully.

“Friendship… And I…” A man didn’t just go casually offer a friend a handjob. Didn’t kiss him dizzy. Didn’t demand to know what fantasies were running in his head. And sure as hell didn’t stick around once he knew it was about himself. “What is this? Like a whim or uh…?”

Charles was quiet, his eyes heavy on Arthur’s collarbone as his brows pinched in concentration. Always so choosy, so particular with what he said. Only speaking when it was necessary. “What do you want it to be?”
Now that was a good question. When nothing more than a simple clarification comes to mind, Arthur decides to start with that, “Not a whim.” To his relief, Charles nods along. This wasn’t a whim. Saying it outloud doesn’t ease more words like Arthur hopes. In frustration, he sighs, “I don’t know.”

For being honest, Arthur earns a soft kiss. It is filled with silent promises, ones that have Arthur leaning forward as Charles pulls away. “Go to bed, Arthur. We can talk about this is the morning.”
Charles helps him stand, they dress themselves, and share one more light peck before Arthur ends up moseying back to camp. Half of him expects there to be a posse of men, holding burning torches, rope, and guns waiting for him. Instead, it’s the same quiet, sleepy camp. The only thing that has changed is Arthur.

He crawls into bed, exhausted, a smile on his face. It was unclear what they were, but it wasn’t a whim. As he starts to slip off to sleep, Arthur Morgan realizes what Charles is to him - a Friend, A Partner in crime… And someone he is sweet on.

Tomorrow morning can’t come quick enough.