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Arthur never thought about why he sketched. If pressed, he would probably say that he was doing it to try and categorise his surroundings, keep everything straight in his head. No one ever pressed, though, so that thought was never conceived in his head. Very young, and very quickly, he had lowered a veil between himself and the rest of the world. He was there, he could see and hear and touch through it, but it was blurred, muffled, fuzzy. That was okay. Utterly fine. He was safe, as well as numb, and that was an acceptable trade.

What he would have thought, if he'd tried, was that he sketched because he saw beauty in everything, all of it, every broken and scarred and tattered and stained thing, despite his efforts to prevent it; and, despite his efforts, he clung to that feeling like anything. By moving that feeling from his head to his page, he stored it away for later, in case he was ever short. He didn't try to think it (or he tried not to think it) because he was far too much of a dullard to think things like that, and far too much of a simpleton to hope that he could ever achieve it. On top of that, it sounded far too goddamn queer.

All of that broke like a fucking dam when he saw Charles one morning, sitting on the bank, drinking a cup of coffee and looking out over the lake. It was ridiculous - nothing was new, nothing had changed, he saw him every goddamn morning, but he had never seen him like this (or never let himself see).





As fine and gleaming as silk. A few flyaway strands of hair curled around his jaw, but most of it was tied with a ratty piece of string at the back of his neck, drawing in then flowing out again, elegant as a mountain brook. His mouth was still, his jaw and nose and brow made up of the prettiest curves, and he was looking down at his hand curled around his coffee cup, one finger running backwards and forwards along the lip. His shoulders moved as he breathed deep and even. He was broad as a bull elk, as steady, as still, and Arthur's mind was filled with the thought - he must feel just as warm. A bolt of panic chased the thought away.

Charles seemed to notice him, and turned his head towards him. He had the beginnings of crows' feet around his deep, dark eyes, soft as worn linen. His skin shone with every colour of the sunrise surrounding them. He exhaled quickly, his lips parting a fraction of an inch, and Arthur shook.

He expected him to say hello, or good morning - something - but he didn't, just looked at him, and Arthur couldn't see anything in that look that would explain it, but nonetheless it cut through him like nothing ever had. Their eyes held each other for a few seconds; then Arthur turned and walked away with such abruptness that he was ashamed of it. He walked away from the lakeside, towards his horse, feigned checking something in her saddlebag, soon gave in to just leaning into her neck, breathing deep and shaky. He felt like a coyote caught at a kill, or a deer frozen in the path of a wagon. The illusion of camouflage gone in an instant.

He finally raised his head, looking over the crest of the mare's neck, looking back at camp before really deciding to. Charles was gone from his spot by the lake; he'd gone back to the fire to refill his cup. He was crouching by the stew pot, holding his cup and the coffee pot, but he wasn't pouring it - and he looked lost, somehow. His eyes were wide and far away, his mouth was just a little open, like earlier - then he jerked down, moving to pour the coffee quickly. He looked up again. He was - he was smiling. It was the smallest, softest, quietest, most timid smile Arthur had ever seen, so much so that he wasn't sure it was there.

He looked over to the lake again. Mist was rising from it in the weak morning sun. The trees on the distant bank were still dark, yet to be breached by the day. A pair of deer drank long and still from the shore before the trees. A duck burst up from the water, shaking its little head. He didn't know how many different bird songs he could hear - probably dozens, if he concentrated. There was a family of coyotes barking and chirruping nearby too. He could smell the new growth in the trees. His mare rumbled and sighed as she turned and pressed her warm forehead to his chest. He felt tears pricking his eyes.