During his last moments, as he's slowly bleeding out from a gunshot wound in his abdomen, Arthur Morgan finds himself thinking.
He thinks of many things; his life and whether or not he's happy with how he's lead it.
He thinks of all the strange but amazing people he'd met during his travels through the states and if they're all doing well. He wonders if they'll even remember him after he's gone?
He thinks of the Marston family and whether or not they got out okay. He hopes they did. They, especially little Jack, deserved a good, long life.
And he thinks of Dutch and the look on the man's face as Arthur lay at his feet, slowly bleeding out from the gunshot wound in his abdomen, telling him how he had given him everything, how Micah had been the rat all along. And how the other man had just left him there.
He thinks of those who had lost their lives along the way and how much they didn't deserve it. He can only wish that he'll see them again once he closes his eyes for the last time.
And then, as the sun slowly creeps over the trees, his final thought is of Charles Smith. Of his long, ink black hair, the warmth in his eyes, his low, soft voice, and of the small, rare smiles that only few have had the pleasure of seeing and how proud he his to be one of those few. He thinks of the feeling of Charles' hand on his sore throat after he was nearly strangled to death in that damned cornfield, and the short yet strong embrace the two had shared after Arthur had returned from that godforsaken island, as well as the one they had shared while saying their last goodbye.
He thinks and thinks and thinks until the sun's rays become a bit too bright for his sensitive eyes and he finally lets them close.
"-hear me? Arthur?"
The deep, faint groan that spills from Arthur's lips is meant to be words but whoever is with him seems relieved with the sound going by the breath of air that leaves their lungs. The hand moves from his shoulder to his cheek and Arthur leans into it involuntarily, seeking out the warmth greedily. A thumb rubs gently yet briefly against his cheekbone before the touch moves away completely.
Arthur finally manages to pry his eyes open and the bright light from the sun makes them fill with tears. He blinks them away rapidly and he peers at the figure with bleary eyes. "...Charles?"
He doesn't get much of an answer due to the other man focusing on temporarily wrapping the wound on Arthur's stomach. Charles' hands are covered with blood, even some on the cuffs of his jacket, and his hands are moving fast to cover the wound. it doesn't take Charles long to finish before he's hastily wiping his hands on his jeans, though it doesn't do much good.
"I'm gonna move you now, okay? Leave the work to me, save your strength."
He gives Arthur only a few seconds to brace himself before he begins pulling the older man by his underarms. The movement is met with a guttural groan and Charles mutters an apology, his head twisting to look over his shoulder in order to see where he was going.
Getting down the mountain was tricky and required careful footing on Charles' part. Loose rocks tumble down the mountain around them and Charles can only hope that none of them crash into his feet; that would be bad for the both of them. Arthur, who is now on his feet with an arm thrown over Charles' shoulder, tries to help as much as he can, though it's difficult in his weak condition. Being at such a angle makes him dizzy.
By the time they make it to the ground, it's nearing the afternoon. Taima is digging curiously at the ground when they approach and she lifts her head at the sound of their footsteps.
Arthur is rightly nauseous by the time he, with some assistance from Charles, gets up onto the small appaloosa. His fingers grip at the back of her saddle, his jaw clenched. His stomach churns dangerously and he sucks in a deep breath in hopes the fresh air would dull the feeling. Charles climbs up into the saddle in front of Arthur and takes the reins in his hands.
Arthur secures one arm around Charles' waist while his other presses over the reddening bandages. His face is resting against the other man's back, his nose squished uncomfortably and he uses his last bit of strength to turn his head so it's his cheek that is pressed against the fabric of Charles' shirt.
Charles steers his mare onto the road and Arthur's heart clenches painfully as they pass by his large, black Shire lying in the dirt. Atlas was a good horse. A pain in the ass at times, sure, but he was a good, strong horse, one of the best Arthur's ever had. John's horse, Old Boy, lies only a short distance away, and Arthur feels relief over the fact that he had gotten the younger man out safely. He hopes he's okay.
Arthur doesn't stay awake much longer, no matter how hard he tries. His body aches and his head pounds painfully and he tells himself he'll only rest for a few minutes as he lets his eyes close for the second time with nearly his entire body weight resting upon Charles' back.
When Arthur awakes some time later, he closes his eyes immediately upon opening them. The light is dim but stings his sensitive eyes nonetheless. It takes a few more tries before he can fully open his eyes without too much discomfort and he picks his head up a bit to look at his surroundings.
The bed he lies in is pushed into the corner of the room and a light blue quilt covers his body. He eyes the pattern for only a few seconds before moving his gaze elsewhere. A wooden blue chair sits in front of the bed, as if someone had been watching over him at one point. A wood stove is about five feet behind the chair and a white kettle sits on top of it, a few small clouds of steam puffing out from the spout.
His eyes continue to move across the room, studying almost every little detail as if it would help him figure out where he is. It isn't long before he's slowly pushing himself up, wincing at the pain that flares throughout his worn figure. He pauses in a sit up position, blanket pooled at his hips, and he breathes deeply and slowly as he waits for the pain to subside. He waits a minute or so before swinging his legs over the side of the bed. His feet make contact with something soft and he looks down at the fur under his feet. His toes just barely curl into the soft fur before he's willing himself to get onto his feet.
Standing takes more attempts than he will ever admit but once he's on his feet, he's slowly but surely making his way towards a door he can only assume leads outside. He braces a hand on the wall to his left and begins shuffling across the room, his steps short and slow. A couple of minutes pass before he has to stop, his body screaming for him to lie back down and his breathing labored.
His hand grips at the step of a ladder that leads high up to a hole in the ceiling and that's when it finally clicks where he is.
The Loft was a place he and Charles had found while the camp was holed up in Shady Belle, just days before everything went to shit.
Arthur wasn't having the best day, snapping at everyone and unwilling to listen to anyone's attempt at calming him down; they had just lost Lenny and Hosea, and Jonas had made the decision to leave after admitting to Arthur that after the loss of Sean, Kieran, Hosea and Lenny, he couldn't just sit around and wait for others to die. So he left. Sneaked out in the middle of the night, taking Evangeline, Mary-Beth and Tilly with him. He had promised to keep them safe and Arthur had no doubts that he would.
Arthur hadn't blamed him for leaving. The poor guy was still heartbroken after the loss of Sean and Kieran, but Hosea and Lenny were the tipping point. But that hadn't stopped Arthur from being angry. He had lost so many people, good people, and he had lost them so fast, he didn't know how else to react or handle it all.
Charles had asked him to go hunting. "It's been a while since we've went. C'mon." He'd said. He wouldn't take no for an answer.
They'd stumbled upon the place while looking for somewhere to set up camp before the oncoming storm hit. They'd both agreed that it was better and more secure than their tents and stayed in it for the night. They'd gotten wood into the stove to warm the place up and grabbed a bottle of whiskey from the shelf by the door.
They had almost the entire bottle downed by the time the storm hit.
That night was the first time Charles had ever seen Arthur cry. Arthur wasn't entirely sure what had caused him to break down into such tears but they hadn't stopped until Arthur had fallen asleep, head resting against the other mans shoulder. The next day while they were on their way back to camp, a buck on both of their horses, Arthur had apologized to Charles, with burning red cheeks and a soft voice, for completely falling apart in front of him. The latter simply told him not to apologize, there was no need to, and he admitted that he was surprised the older man hadn't broken down sooner, after everything that had happened.
He briefly wonders where Charles is. He hasn't seen or heard him since waking. Had he just imagined Charles peeling him off that mountain? Was it someone else? Or did he manage to get himself off the mountain? No, that didn't seem right...
Arthur peers up at the opening in the ceiling before he closes his eyes, lowering his chin to his chest. He takes a moment, inhaling and exhaling slowly, before continuing his tiring journey to the door.
He pushes the door open as soon as he's close enough to do so and steps outside. A soft breeze kisses his face, ruffles his dirty hair, and sends a chill throughout his body. He lets his eyes adjust to the brightness and looks around. It's around mid-day and there's not a cloud in the sky. A flock of birds fly by and a butterfly flutters past, dangerously close to Arthur's face; so close he can hear it's wings. A plume of smoke rises from a fire down below the loft and there's a large tent set up with a bedroll inside. There's a few crates sitting around, littered with some cans and a few different plants. A rack made of wood is drying what looks like pelts from deer and rabbits, as well as some meat.
Arthur's legs begin shake beneath him and he slowly lowers himself to sit down on a piece of wood embedded into the ground as a makeshift step. His eyes slip closed as he breathes in the cool, crisp air.
He doesn't even hear the footsteps approaching until there's a warm, calloused hand on the back of his neck that pulls him from his thoughts. "Arthur? What are you doing out here?"
Arthur's eyes flutter open at the voice and he snaps his head up. Blue-green meets a warm dark brown and Arthur can't help but smile faintly, completely ignoring the look of concern on Charles' face.
Charles doesn't even wait for an answer and begins pulling Arthur to his feet, his hands as gentle as always, and places Arthur's arm over his shoulders.
"What're you doin' here?" Arthur voices his thoughts as Charles begins guiding him back into the warm loft.
Charles adjusts his grip around Arthur's waist so he can push the door open. "Getting you back into bed, you fool."
A chuckle bubbles up from Arthur chest. "N-No," He pauses with a small hiss as he's guided to lie down on the bed. He continues as Charles covers him back up with the quilt. "What're you doin' here? I thought you was-"
"I heard the gunfire," Charles cuts him off quietly as he settles himself on the edge of the bed. "Just had a feeling it was coming from camp. There wasn't much left when I got there but I managed to pick up some tracks. Once I found Atlas, I knew you couldn't have been too far away..."
Arthur stays silent, his eyes watching as Charles' expression shifts to something unreadable. "Arthur, I-" He stops himself again and a crease develops between his brows. "I thought I'd lost you."
The tone of Charles' voice, soft and quiet, makes Arthur's heart clench in his chest and he wants to say something, anything, to try and bring some comfort to the other man but his mind runs blank.
Before Arthur can even think attempt to say anything, Charles silently changes the subject by beginning to steadily unbutton Arthur's union suit.
The latter's brows rise.
"At least take me to dinner first, Mister Smith." The words fall from Arthur's mouth before he can really think about them and his cheeks color as Charles huffs a quiet laugh, his fingers unwrapping the bandaging around Arthur's torso.
"How about after you can walk on your own, hm?"
Arthur doesn't have time to react to the words before Charles' fingers are gingery poking and prodding at the wound on his abdomen. The older man visibly winces and looks down at the red, irritated wound. It's the slightest bit inflamed, most likely from Arthur moving about like the idiot he is, but it's looks a lot better than he was expecting. Charles reaches over to the small table next to the bed and grabs a small tin, his fingers working the top off. Inside is a thick salve and the younger man scoops a bit up with his middle finger. He applies the salve over the wound with a gentleness that Arthur thinks he doesn't deserve.
"How long have I been out?" Arthur questions quietly as Charles buttons his union suit back up. "''Bout a week. You've been in and out... How're you feeling?"
Arthur shrugs as best as he can while lying down. "'Bout as well as you'd expect." He responds with a half-smile. "...Have you heard anythin'? 'Bout the others?"
Charles's gaze drifts towards the window as he thinks. "Not much... Jonas and Evangeline are headed towards West Elizabeth, last I heard. The girls decided to stay in Saint Denis." His hand reaches for a small bottle of tonic sitting on the side table and he uncaps it, handing it over to Arthur.
The latter downs it wordlessly, making a small face at the taste, and places the empty bottle into the awaiting hand. Charles rids of the bottle and begins moving about the space, his hands working to make a small cup of... something. Arthur can't quiet see from where's he's lying but he can only guess that it's some kind of tea.
"M'sorry I worried you." Arthur's voice fills the silence and Charles pauses for only a second before he continues pouring hot water out of the kettle and into the metal cup. He picks up the cup and walks back over to the bed, his gaze meeting Arthur's own.
As Arthur slowly sips at the tea, Charles speaks, "You can make it up to me by getting better," He starts and his eyes sparkle a bit as he continues. "And you could also give a rest to the whole "trying to die" thing. It's exhausting." He smirks faintly.
Arthur exhales a chuckle into the cup, causing some small droplets of tea to splash onto his face. "Deal." He mumbles.
The medicine he was given begins to do what it's supposed to as a wave of tiredness washes over his sore and aching body. He lowers the cup away from his cracked and dry lips and clumsily sets it on the side table, a curse slipping through his lips as some of the liquid sloshes over the rim of the small mug. He settles into the bed, his eyes fluttering as he allows himself to relax into the mattress.
His eyes finally close and it's only a short moment later that he feels the warmth of the quilt over his chest. There's a touch of soft lips on his forehead, light and certainly not long enough, and Arthur would smile if he weren't so damn tired. He does, however, manage to mumble out a small, "Missed you."
He isn't quite sure if Charles had even heard the words but as he drifts off, he hears a soft response.
"Missed you, too, cowboy."