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The Secrets we tell the Forest

Chapter Text

Micah was being a dick (as usual) but fortunately for the brooding Arthur, the sniveling suck-up was nowhere in sight. Considering how drunk he was, it was for the best. Wouldn't want his smart mouth to insult Dutchy's new fav-or-ite son! Nah! woudn want that now would we.

Arthur swayed slightly as he lifted the jug and gulped down another healthy swig of moonshine. The liquid swashing around the almost empty bottle as he dropped it heavily to the ground.

And there he sat, drunk as a skunk, staring into the warm glow of the campfire. So naturally, the inebriated outlaw turned his attention to pondering human advancements and the "what ifs" of modern inventions. "Duuutch!" he called out, slurring the name as he saw the vague shadow of the vested man passing by. "If you flapped your arms really reeeally fast, you think we could fly to Tahiti like an air'o'plane?"

"Go to bed Arthur." was all he got from his father-figure, marching past... off to do something like scheme with MICAH, probably.

The thought churned his stomach like alcohol.

Was a time when Dutch would've called him 'son', would'a laughed. Would'a stopped to sit with him, ask him if he was ok. Maybe even help him off to bed cause he was probably to unsteady to manage it on his own anyhow... but those days were over. He could feel it.

He sighed, these were thoughts too complex for his drunk mind to comprehend right now. Hell, they were probably too complex for him to comprehend sober. He laughed at his own self-deprecating humor like the drunken idiot he was.

He sat alone.

He drank more.

The fire had died to coals when he finally left for his tent. Scuffling forward he'd somehow managed to collide with the solid frame of a tree. At least he thought it was a tree. Just as well, he needed to piss anyways.

"Arthur, what are you..."

The drunk blinked up in surprise at the gruff voice of the tree. Maybe they could sell it? He immediately thought. Seemed like a good idea. Dutch could get a ton a moneh froma talkin tree. Maybe the lumber could talk too? Split it up. Make little baby talkin trees. Science can do wonderful things.

"What the hell are you going on about Arthur?" Perhaps he confused the tree, maybe that's not how little trees are made? Are there mommy and daddy trees?

"God, you smell horrible."

Not a very pleasant tree now was it?

"Ok, whatever you say you drunken fool." The tree laughed.

Wait, could trees read minds?

"You really think I'm a tree?" the tree said.

Arthur tried not to think. An easy task for him to do. He was testing his psychic tree theory.

"Alright, let's get you to bed."

What a thoughtful tree, it'd be a shame to chop it up.

The tree, already close from Arthur knocking into it, pulled him closer. It's branch-like arms wrapped around him and turned him in the opposite direction he was facing. "your tent is over here."

Head spinning from the turn, Arthur couldn't think of a reply so he just grunted.

"I hope you know I'm never letting you live this down." the tree gave an abrupt barked of laughter as Arthur stumbled, probably tripping over one of the trees god damn roots.

"don matter, you'll be kindlin come morning."

The tree laughed again, jostling Arthur with its jerky movements. He leaned further against its otherwise steady presence. There was something about it. Something familiar, something sure like the foundation of a massive monument. He found himself aching for something this steady in his life. Dependable, strong something he could lean on when the weight of the crumbling camp fell on his shoulders.

But no, he was alone. Just as much now as always was, like he was at the campfire.

"You're not alone." the tree said.

Arthur, ever the doubter according to Dutch, remained in doubt.

The tent flaps parted as they entered his tent. At least he thought it was his tent. Nothing was really in focus anymore, what with it being so dark... and him so drunk.

He flopped down on his cot with an unceremonious plop. The swaying feeling of walking still swam in his head as the tree took off his boots.

Arthur closed his eyes as a blanket was tossed over him. It was all over. He had already lost everything. Dutch, Hosea. Hell, he'd even managed to push John away. Fool may have deserved some of it but now Arthur was alone. Their time was over and he was going to die alone, he could taste it like bitter moonshine.

Arthur was too groggy to startle as a cool hand cupped his face."Good night Arthur." a disembodied voice said gently. But Arthur couldn't have cared less about talking shadows. Besides, he'd already met a talking tree that night.

The next morning had Arthur regretting all his life decisions.

His body ached and the current pounding in his head had never come close to being rivaled. Miss Grimshaw got some sick amount of glee by demanding, very loudly, he wash up. He'd never been manhandled by a woman before but after being slapped upside the head (with the sort of hangover he had) he was willing to admit defeat. Cause for this fight at least, he was outmatched.

Arthur curled into himself as he sat at the wooden table, nursing a glass of juice. Compliments of Abigail.

He looked up as a tin cup was set down in front of him. This time raw eggs. Hosea smiled knowingly. "tough night?" he asked.

"Something like that," he grunted, downing the eggs in one go before finishing off the juice just as quickly.

And he must have looked especially pitiful that morning since even Dutch came over. Something dark in his expression had Arthur flinching away.

A strange silence settled around them and for the first time since he had Joined up with them, Arthur felt like an outsider.

"So," Dutch began. "John said you had an eventful night last night."

Chapter Text

Oh god, Arthur thought, what did he do? He tried to recall last night. He'd gone hunting, robbed a stagecoach, yelled at Uncle for being a lazy useless drunk, confiscated his bottle of moonshine, drank a bit... Well, more than a bit if he was being honest. He drank a lot... and that's when things got a little fuzzy.

Well shit.

Arthur knew he was drunk last night, the hangover a dead giveaway but to be blackout drunk was not normal for him. He almost always remembered everything. He wasn't his father, a drunkard. He refused to be like him. Yet last night was just gone from his memory.

"Um," he began elegantly, "I'm sorry if I broke something. I'll fix it, pay for it whatever."

"You didn't break anything." Dutch replied looking angrily at Arthur.

Arthur paused under the glare, if he wasn't an angry drunk then maybe he was a mean drunk? Did he yell at Dutch? His face paled at the thought, eyes growing large and he opened his mouth to apologize but Dutch lifted a hand to silence him.

"You didn't yell at anyone either."

"Well, whatever ridiculous thing I did-"

"We're not here about any of that."

That made him stop short. What did he do? Not mean, not angry, not ridiculous enough for it to be mentioned first? Then the slow horror of what must have happened hit him. Oh GOD NO! He couldn't bear to look at Dutch any longer, his pride wouldn't allow it, so he turned to Hosea but the gentle sadness was all the confirmation he needed.

He groaned putting his head into his hands. He was a sad drunk, why couldn't he have been more like his father? "What did I say?"

"Well, it wasn't us you said it to." Hosea began. "You were talking to John and well, worried him quite a bit actually."

"Look." Arthur interrupted. "I was drunk, it was the rambling nonsense of-"

"Children and drunks are the most honest among us." Dutch corrected. Tho the anger from before seem to have dissipated some, he still had a stern clench to his jaw. "Do you remember any of it?"

"Ehh, last I remember is sitting at the fire."

"Anything about Tahiti?"

"What?"

"Nevermind, what's important is what John told us."

Embarrassment reared up and Arthur cast a look around for anyone eavesdropping. It was only then that he realized how empty the camp was. Micah, Javier, Charles, Sean, even Uncle were gone. He could see John tending to the horses but he only counted four of them.

When had Miss Grimshaw left? She was here this morning along with Pearson, Bill, Abigail and Jack but now it looked like they were gone as well.

He turned a bewildered look back to Dutch prompting a shrug and an explanation. "Decided everyone was due for a day of fun in town."

Arthur balked at the obvious lie. Uncle was with them.

"Alright, what is really going on, this an intervention? I get shit face drunk one time and you send everyone away?" his irritation masking a growing sense of insecurity, and insecurity quickly becoming twisted into outright fear. What if HE was the one they were sending away? As in, kicking him out permanently. Officially replacing him with Micah. "You all know I pull more than my own weight around here, do everything I can to keep things running smooth, keep people safe, happy and fed."

Dutch just looked at him unimpressed as he continued prattling on like a beggar asking for a job. Cause at this point that's what he was. "I bring in more money than anyone else, we could check the ledger right now if you don't believe me. I'm a damn good shot too, better than Micah by a mile and I've always had your back Dutch. Micah can't-" he stopped suddenly, knowing that the unchanged expression on Dutch's face meant he wasn't getting through.

He was openly panicking now, sweating and desperately searching for someway to convince them he should stay. "If this really has to do with John, then get his greasy ass over here!"

"Enough Arthur." Dutch growled. "This isn't about John or Micah, it's about you."

And honest to god, Arthur flinched. Flinched enough that even John over by the horses seemed to notice. He cast his eyes down in shame. "So, you've been thinking of getting rid of me for a while then?"

No one moved, no one breathed.

"Arthur." the word was whispered gently enough that it could have been from Abigail wishing Jack good night but it wasn't, it was Dutch of all people. "Arthur, look at me."

And after a breath to steady himself, he did.

He didn't know what Dutch saw when he looked at him but his face changed from sadness to pure grief. "Oh son," he said "I honestly didn't believe John until now. God Arthur. The things you said last night, you really believe them?"

When had Dutch gotten so close? They were face to face now. Warm hands reaching up to cup his face. "We aren't... Arthur, my boy, we are not getting rid of you. We are never going to get rid of you and we are not going to replace you with Micah. Or anyone else for that matter. YOU are MY son. You are OUR son." He corrected hastily, a quick glance at Hosea before returning to Arthur. "You are not alone, you are not going to die alone."

Dutch always had a way with words but this was a sharp shot to the heart.

He hiccuped an ill-suppressed sob and suddenly he was in Dutch's arms. Months of grief, stress and loneliness sprang to the surface and no amount of pride could shove the oncoming flood back. The dam was already burst open by a night of careless drinking.

"Go on son, let it out." Dutch whispered. "You haven't lost us, we are right here. Arthur..."

He sobbed like a child.

"Oh son, what can I do to make this better?"

He shook his head wishing some explanation would be forthcoming, but apparently he wasn't drunk and therefore couldn't express himself with words anymore.

"Get rid of Micah," John said coming up behind Dutch. "He's a toxin. He's changed the way the camp functions. He's changed us."

Dutch sighed irritably.

"I mean it Dutch, look at Arthur if you want proof."

"You think this is because I've been planning with Micah and not Arthur?" He challenged.

"It ain't simple Jealousy Dutch! You didn't see him last night. The man, I I can't explain it." his frustration clogging his thoughts. Perhaps John was also someone better equipt to explain things when drunk? "The man is bad karma, bad I don't know, bad something..."

"I agree with John." Hosea said. "Micah is a different sort of outlaw. Too reckless and it's not just youth. I know you owe him your life Dutch but look what he's done to your son. Micah isn't worth this. I say let him go."

Arthur scoffed at being called out so bluntly multiple times and pulled away from Dutch. He tried to act normal but between the crying, the hangover and his current emotional hell... he probably wasn't very convincing.

"I do owe him my life," Dutch growled, averting his gaze from Arthur as his anger rose back up. "I would have thought by now my family would see that, that MICAH can help us. He isn't so different than any of us."

"I don't know about that," John said stiffly. "Far as I can tell Micah is only good at making his plans sound good but they rarely ever turn out right."

By now Dutch was fuming. "Do you all feel like this?"

"I'm sure if we took a poll of the entire camp a large majority would agree." John continued.

Hosea leaned forward, kicking the char out for John to sit.

Arthur cleared his throat. "I'm fairly certain he killed Cain."

"You sure?" Dutch asked surprised.

Both John and Arthur nodded next to each other followed by Hosea when they made eye contact.

The table was silent.

"I need a smoke." Dutch groaned fishing out a cigar from someplace Arthur couldn't see cause his head was dipped low enough it almost touched the table.

"Well then, lets put it to a vote." Dutch prompted. "All in favor of Micah staying say aye."

More silence.

"All in favor of him leaving."

"aye."

"aye."

"aye."

"... aye." Dutch said somewhat forlorn and Arthur snapped his head up to look at him. Surprised to find him looking right at him with a wistful little smile. "If this is what it takes to make you all happy, then so be it."

The sheer amount of relief that flashed through him was so transparent it made Dutch laugh.

"Are you feeling better Arthur?" Dutch asked.

From a health perspective, he still felt like horse shit but everything else... "Yeah Dutch, I'm fine."

Chapter Text

*ONE MONTH LATER*

Arthur pulled his leather jacket tighter as he coughed dryly into the lapels, his horse walking slowly up the grassy path back to camp.

It was going be a very cold night and after such a long day of running errands, Arthur was trying to decide whether or not he had sufficient energy to dig through his things and find his winter coat. (The fluffy one he hadn't needed since just after Blackwater) Or if he should just dump everything he owned on top of him and go to sleep under a pile of dirty laundry. Miss Grimshaw be damned.

"Who is it?" Bill's distinctive voice asked from the shadows.

"It's Arthur, ya moron!"

Bill chuffed or laughed, Arthur couldn't tell. "Stay warm out their tonight." he cautioned as they passed, receiving a brief wave for his concern.

Arthur was surprised to find the camp quite busy as he rode in, seeming to only catch the attention of Charles who immediately came trotting over to assist him.

He greeted Arthur with a brief nod, rubbing gloved hands together for a last second or two of warmth before chilled, clumsy fingers, set to untying the blankets and other supplies.

Brisk wicked wind whisked around them, flapping cloth and tent polls alike.

Arthur was glad to be back, this was not a day for travel. Too much of the sun's warmth was hiding behind dark ominous clouds.

An especially harsh gust of wind blew in and knocked over a few empty crates, the domino effect sent the corner of a tent flapping wildly. Tipping his hat and ducking his head into the blast, Arthur happened to see John rushing over with a rope while Dutch yanked the cloth back into place.

"It been like this all day?" Arthur asked, hauling a saddlebag over his shoulder.

"Pretty much. It's rained some off and on but mostly it's the wind that's been wreaking havoc on everything. We've had to rearrange the camp a bit since most of the tent polls couldn't handle the wind. Everyone's been moved into two makeshift tents. The women in one, the men in the other."

Charles nodded in the direction of the two large frankein-tents. Each side appeared to be a collection of tarps, the largest tarps Arthur recognized as belonging to Dutch and the Marstons, had become the roof. The walls were roped down and secured in place and fortified by various crates, boxes and heavy barrels.

Arthur and Charles each clutched a bundle of woolen blankets as they made their way to the mound of tarps in the center of camp.

"Everyone decent?" Charles called as they approached.

"As decent as we'll ever be." Karen answered with a cheery shout.

"Oh, hush up you drunken fool." Miss Grimshaw chided opening the tent slightly.

"We come bearing gifts." Arthur said with a rye smile. "Warmth and food."

"Alcohol?" Karen asked as they entered.

"Ah'course." Arthur answered with a widening grin, tho he made sure to pass that particular goodie off to Miss Adler. Who promptly hid it behind Miss Tilly.

"Well in that case what the hell are you waiting for?" Karen hollered, unaware of the exchange.

Miss Grimshaw pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes at Karen, a clear sign for Arthur and Charles to make a hasty exit. He gave a polite nod to little Jack as they left, good luck kid. he thought. your gonna need it.

Returning to the horse the two unloaded the last of the supplies, medicine and more blankets.

As they entered the men's tent, Arthur noticed it was a bit bigger than the other, which he was quietly thankful for since he didn't relish the idea of sharing the limited floor/bed space with Uncle. The inebriated fool was already tipsy, plopped in a corner complaining to Person about his lumbago acting up... again.

Arthur just rolled his eyes and stretched his aching arms, preparing to brave the bitter chill once more.

"Arthur." He heard Hosea's gentle voice call before he stepped outside. "How are you feeling my boy?"

"Go on," Charles coaxed "I'll tend to the horses." and he was gone before Arthur could turn back to face him.

If Arthur wasn't so exhausted he would have gone after him but he was so he didn't. Instead, he settled for a gracious "thank you." that he hoped reached his friend's ears before making his way over to Hosea.

The old con sat on a chair with his legs up on a crate, lamp-lit beside him with a book propped open in his lap.

"I'm feelin just Fine Hoesa." He assured the old codger, taking a seat on the floor. He leaned against a heavy crate and took the opportunity to stretch his long legs while he still had the room to do it. The resulting sigh was deep enough that it turned into a yawn.

"Are the roads as cold as out little camp?"

"Colder, didn't have the benefit of trees on some roads to block the wind."

"Have you eaten?"

"not yet, I-"

"Good, Pearson made a relatively good Beef and Bean stew for supper, you should try it."

"I even saved you some." Pearson piped up. "I think there are some good coals left, I'll go heat it." Arthur figured Pearson's sudden enthusiasm had more to do with avoiding Uncle rather than actual pride in his food. Reheating food for one was just something they didn't bother with but he didn't argue.

Bill, Javier and Reverend Swanson came in soon after. Each tucking their arms tight to their frozen bodies.

"How can it be so cold without snow on the ground?" Reverend Swanson complained.

"I knew we should have headed south." Javier agreed.

Arthur smiled absently as he watched them huddle together in solidarity. All voicing their support of Dutch's Tahiti plan.

He hadn't noticed how blurred his thoughts had become until he was woken up by a warm bowl being placed into his hands.

"Better eat it while it's still warm." Pearson suggested walking away.

Looking up Arthur realized the entire male contingent of the camp was now occupying the entire tent. Arthur surveyed the group quietly between mouthfuls of... well, actually quite good stew.

John sat across the tent form him on the floor laughing at something Dutch was saying. Bill was off guard duty and listened with Javier to every word Dutch was saying. They sat on crates as he stood above them, regaling them with some story. His arms waving in the telling, probably a wild tale of a daring heist he had been in. No doubt embellished with the famous Van Der Linde charisma.

Reverand Swanson, Kieran, Sean and Straus were all playing poker. Didn't seem to be going very well for Straus.

Pearson, Hosea and Lenny were gabbing about something. Charles whittled on a piece of wood, offering the occasional comment here and there, not too far from where Arthur sat.

Behind him, Arthur could hear the girls tent. A silvery laugh that sounded like Mary-Beth or Molly, rang through the air like a song and a chorus of giggles followed after a brief silence.

Then a snort, probably from Karen, followed by more laughter.

Arthur leaned his head back on the crate and took in the sights and sounds of contentment surrounding him. A happiness that had been absent since before Blackwater had somehow found refuge with the little bunch of undeserving outlaws. He marveled at how far they had come and how close they had become.

Arthur didn't remember when he last felt so at home, so safe. Perhaps it was when he still had Isacc and Eliza?

He opened his eyes again, not sure when he had closed them, this time to see John making his way towards him through the crowded tent. A concerned scowl across his face.

"How'r you doning?" he asked, sitting heavily beside Arthur.

"Fine." he answered, and John raised a questioning eyebrow in response, "Just thinking. Thinking about what we have." he gestured to the room as a whole. "We'd been running from everyone, O'Driscoll's, Pinkertons but once Micah left... I don't know, it's like-" he fumbled for the right words.

"Well, for one thing, we aren't fucking up our jobs anymore," Hosea added, joining the conversation abruptly. "That's for damn sure."

Uncle nodded sagely as tho he had somehow contributed to that improvement.

"Things have become calmer around camp." Charles said after a moment. "we are more at peace I think."

"Yeah." Person supplied off-handedly. "Overall, camp moral is the highest it's been in a long time." he quickly looked up at Dutch as if realizing what he'd said. "I- I'm not saying Micah leaving and the camp moral boost are related."

"Yeah," Arthur mumbled under his breath, "Just like the Aberdeens."

"The who?" asked John.

"You don't want to know."

Fortunately for Pearson, Dutch was too occupied with the conversation going on between him, Bill and Javier to notice, and possibly take offense to his comment.

Tho Arthur doubted he would have. Dutch had recovered surprisingly quickly from the loss of Micah, especially considering how much he had defended the man in the past. Then again, Dutch had a tendency to fixate on things and get passionate about projects. Perhaps that's all Micah ever was, just a passing project? Now left behind, abandoned and forgotten.

In the back of Arthurs mind, he wondered if that's all he was too.

A brief nudge from his brother brought him out of the morose thoughts. John had been doing that more and more lately. Actually, they all had. Dutch, Hoesa even Charles was observant enough to figure out what was going on and joined in. This time the subtle touch was disguised as taking the bowl from his hand but Arthur was growing too accustomed to the well-timed interventions to see them as other than what they were. A way to keep him from diving too deeply into the darkest corners of his own mind.

Arthur still wasn't completely sure what he had said to John that night in the woods, drunk out of his mind but whatever happened had been taken seriously by those he considered family. And for that he was grateful.

But the day's travel was quickly catching up with him again and despite how lively the room was, he knew he wasn't going to stay awake much longer. But just being here, in this moment, made him feel very fortunate. Even as he tipped his hat down over his eyes the voices somehow got quieter. A woolen blanket was pulled over him triggering a vague memory of something similar yet different. He remembered something, something from a different time and place... the same situation yet so different. In a camp where he didn't belong. But this one, this one he did.

Chapter Text

The main difference between sad drunk Arthur and happy drunk Arthur is in the volume. If he's happy he will shout yell and sing... even dance if he really gets into it. Sad drunk Arthur gets quiet and mistakes John Marston for the forest and tries to pee on him... then forgets about it.

So needless to say, John much prefers a happy drunk Arthur.

"I just can't believe I told you all that. I musta been drunk outa my mind." Arthur moaned sitting next to his brother on the edge of the firepit.

He was drunk, much like he had been months ago. Tho this time he was in a much better mood.

John's mouth twitched up like he was trying not to smile.

"What?" Arthur demanded.

"You thought I was a tree."

"Pardon?"

"A tree," John's voice pitched up high around a laugh as he passed the square bottle back to Arthur. "Woulda pissed all over me if I hadn't stopped you." Marston was clearly trying his level best to stifle his laughter but it was no use as the next breath caused a huff of laughter to sprang free. "You wanted to chop me up and make baby trees."

Recovering from his initial shock, Arthur roared a laugh of his own that only encouraged John.

John tried to drink from the bottle that was no longer in his hand before continuing. "Also thought baby trees came from mommy and daddy trees."

"God no." Arthur took a fresh swig before swaying back into John. Their shoulders brushing as John plucked the bottle from Arthur's grasp. "Wait a minute," Arthur said dazed, trying to find the bottle... "where do baby trees come from?"

John's laughter stopped abruptly allowing his last brain cell to consider his brothers' question. "I don't know..." After a half second of serious eye contact they both erupted in loud joyous laughter at their joint confusion. Both leaning heavily enough on each other that they were both in danger of toppling over.

"You also thought I was psychic." John continued, dowing the last of the alcohol.

"You shut up right now."

"You thought you could sell me and my babys for a profit."

"You tell anyone this and I will kill you." Arthur threatened gruffly, only half serious. Then he froze. "You didn't tell the others about THIS part did you?"

"Only Hosea."

"Damn it John." Arthur growled behind a large grin. "Wait a minute, if Hosea already knows... then maybe he knows where baby trees come from?"

John slapped Arthur on the leg, or he tried to but ended up brushing his knee. "That is a great, i-idea Arthur. Let's go fin-"

"HOSEA!" Arthur hollered. His voice rang clear and loud as it pierced the night. "Hosea, Jon has a question fro ya!"

Unfortunately for Arthur, it was Mis Grimshaw that marched over to greet them. John snickering as drunk Arthur's mind caught up to his drunk mouth.

"Er, ello Mis Grim-"

"Save it!" She snapped hastily. "I know you boys have been working extra hard to make up for the absence of Mr. Bell but people are trying to sleep."

"We didn't mean nothin by anything." Arthur replied, reasonably certain that made sense.

"It's alright Susan." Hosea said leaving the shadows and walking into the glow of the firelight. "It's been ages since they've taken a break like this and I think it's long overdue. Pay them no mind, please."

"Naw." John balked. "You Just want to see Arthur try to pee on me again."

Hosea chuckled taking a seat as Miss Grimshaw turned to leave, tho not before giving a rather disturbed glance to Arthur. He smiled in a way he hoped was innocent.

"So John, what can I help you with?"

John traded a blank look with Arthur. "I... need help?"

"Dearly." Hosea said. "I mean, what was your question?"

"Um... Trees, Where do baby trees come from?"

"From seeds you dumb ass."

"So are all trees boys or girls?"

"Well, floral trees reproduce with pollen and-"

"Dear god, you're not seriously giving them the 'trees and the bees' talk are you?" Dutch looked amused but also thoroughly gobsmacked at what he was seeing. "Not when they are both three sheets to the wind."

"Figured last time we missed quite a show."

"I knew it." John stage whispered to Arthur who nodded and then puked.

"See." Dutch gestured "I think it's time to call in a night boys."

"Oh all right." Hosea consented. "Wich one do you want to tuck in?"

"I'll take Arthur, you take John?" they nodded in agreement before wandering around the fire to their chosen drunkard.

"Come on son, up you go." Dutch said. And it was the warmest thing Arthur had heard in a long time. Like a favorite song being sung by a favorite singer come back from the dead.

"Ok, Dutchy."

"Boy are you drunk."

Arthur chuckled. Dutch was back, his family was back. After so long of being terrified it was gone forever, the camp was back to how it should have been.

Arthurs' head lulled to the side, his neck apparently giving up on him, and rested at Dutches' collar. Dutch for his part didn't seem to notice or at least didn't shove him off. A few steps further and Arthur recognized his tent.

He was set down gently and then, Dutch was gone.

Arthur teetered there at the edge of his cot as his thoughts swiftly grew dark. What he had done wrong? Perhaps he had misread Dutch, perhaps his mentor was actually angry with him over how drunk he was? What if Dutch thought he was becoming like Uncle?

He grunted angerly, pulling at his boots, only succeeding in getting one to pop off before knocking himself over.

"What are you doing?"

Arthur turned to see Charles and Dutch standing in the entry of his tent, both holding metal cups.

"I was trying to get my boots off." He said wiping a stray tear from his face. "Now I can't get up."

Dutch shook his head as Charles crossed the small tent, set his cup on the table and crouched down to help Arthur into an upright sitting position. Then he reached back and offered one of the cups to Arthur. "Drink, you need to stay hydrated."

"It'll also get rid of that vomit taste in your mouth." Dutch added.

Arthur looked up, surprised at the gentle smiles he received. Not just from Dutch but also Charles. He was unaware of his own blush as he drank. Maybe Dutch wasn't mad at him? Maybe he was just being foolish?

"I'm not mad at you Arthur." Dutch said.

"And you're not foolish." Charles assured, handing him the second cup before Arthur realized he had finished the first. Arthur smiled gratefully in return.

With both cups quickly drained, Dutch and Charles helped him to bed. His eyes closed as he felt a warm hand brush his hair gently.

"Sleep well Arthur."... and he did.