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Arthur Morgan has a special reverence for horses

It’s one of the first things that Charles learns about him, evident in innumerable small ways, not hidden— not something that would probably even occur to Arthur to hide— but nevertheless easy to miss. It’s in the way the man moves so easily around the animals, the way his first morning task is to see to their wellbeing, the way he greets all of them by name, softly murmuring and stroking their necks— all of this regardless as to whether or not they are his mounts and thus his responsibility. Arthur Morgan is more relaxed around horses than he is around humans, even those of the gang, who are as much family as the man has.

(Hosea is a possible exception— one of Arthur’s surrogate fathers, there is a boisterous kind of comfort there, all warm teasing and trust— a fact not entirely true of his other father. Dutch, the other man who raised him, to whom Arthur is clearly loyal and with whom he has a kind of comfort— but the kind that’s associated with a known risk, fierce and usually fair, but also potentially capricious and violent. Dutch is the kind of father archetype with which they all have familiarity, and Charles is too new to this group to be entirely sure how to classify Dutch within his internal taxonomy of men: whether this talk of freedom is empty promises, or if it’s real and if Dutch is a man worthy of the kind of devotion that Arthur shows to him.)

Anyone who knows Arthur would know that he’s a man who is fond of horses, but they might pin that on the man’s tendency to return with new ones regularly, or to the familiarity and ease with which he rides— not necessarily for the warmth with which he regards them or the peace he seems to draw from them. Just as it wouldn’t occur to Arthur to hide those things, it wouldn’t occur to most to look for them.

But Charles has been running on his own for most of his life, and he knows to watch for the smaller and subtler tells— those are the things that let you know what kind of men you’re running with, if and when and how they’ll try to betray you. These tells are, in fact, the only reason that Charles bothers to look beyond the surface of Arthur’s reputation—  to not immediately dismiss him as a brute of few words, bound first (and most importantly) to his leader, and second to an internal set of ethics of dubious quality and uncertain application.

The aggression and power of Arthur's primary face as the gang's enforcer and Dutch's loyal right hand tend to draw the most external attention. Oh, there's the honor, too, and nobody can miss how deliberate and kind he is to the women in the camp, that he is willing to help the legitimately vulnerable— but these are the idealistic traits associated with Dutch's gang more broadly, they’re the things that attracted Charles to their circle instead of to any other gang of ordinary outlaws, these small attempts to counter the wanton cruelty of the frontier wilderness-- both the actual wilderness and that of civilization-- at the heart of this brutal and cruel American country. Such efforts do not, however, overwrite the conditions of violence that form the staple of their lives: they are bad men, as Arthur occasionally says in that low gritty cowboy drawl of his, and they do bad things, and their pretense of honor cannot change that.

And Arthur-- well, if this is a wilderness, then it is populated by animals, and Charles knows animals. Arthur is a beast of a man, as physically imposing as he presents himself to be: something between a bear and a mountain lion, all long ropey muscles and a dangerous kinetics. Charles has seen Arthur Morgan beat a man to death with bare fists— he’s seen Arthur kill in many different ways— but the thing that he remembers most strikingly are the power of his physical blows, the way those swings of his carry the same terrifying momentum as if they came from a wild creature shaped by nature herself.  That kind of ferocity is loud, distracting-- it's the first thing people notice about the man.  Frequently, it's the only thing they notice. Ferocity is a shallow thing: few men so vicious have any depths at all, much less the ability to hide them.

Charles does not know how much of Arthur’s brutish reputation is professional affectation, or if Arthur legitimately thinks that the violence is everything the he is and all that he is good for

But Arthur certainly does have hidden depths, and that’s intriguing. At first, they a source of curiosity: Charles catalogues these things about Arthur, the same way he catalogues Micah’s dangerous volatility or Lenny’s earnest youth or Sean’s boisterous gregariousness, and if Charles looks twice at Arthur, it’s because the man is more than he was expecting to find. But as the weeks wear on and Charles spends more time among the gang, the curiosity shifts to something more enthralling: Charles, a hunter, who’s been out in the wilds and tracking animals nearly as long as he’d been walking, feels something very like that private thrill of the chase he associates with tracking dangerous and sacred game, with hunting bison. It’s a reverent hunger, a want that compels him to silent observation, to note the small nuances of body language and voice and action between Arthur and the rest of the world.

And like hunting Bison, there is danger here— not that of being gored, but not that far separate from it either. To act on these desires, to turn this from an exercise in tracking to an exercise in hunting, would involve a proposition that is still dangerous to make, even among men who openly call themselves sinners and outlaws. Charles would not have survived so long on his own if he didn’t understand the nature of all three strikes that the vicious hypocrisy of ‘civilization’ levels against him: the first two for his parentage and his skin, and the third for loves that they call a perverse inversion (as if what most men do to most women is anything but that, especially against such a word as ‘love’.)

Charles know this danger, and so he’ll content himself to only watch, to proprietarily treasure only these small observations that he makes during morning watch and other at small innocuous moments. Only in his dreams will he chase Arthur Morgan, and know what it is to cover those hands and that body and all that ropey muscle— so capable of meting out both violence and gentleness in equal measure— with his own.

——

Arthur is not a man who can summon words easily. He knows this about himself, and accepts it.

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t try. He hails strangers on the road, because doing so sometimes yields good information, and good information is the gang’s lifesblood, enabling them to move from one hustle to the next with all their limbs and all their people. He’s practiced with some kinds of speech, so much that it’s easier to summon those words: banter and teasing and the sort of light threats that pass so easily between those of the Gang, who live out of each other’s pockets and love each other in that dysfunctional way common to families of both choice and blood. Real threats are the kind of words that come most naturally, and once Arthur would’ve pinned that on training, but now he’s not so sure, thinks that they may be a product of the thing that he is, a sign that the cruel weight of the inevitable violence and death of this lifestyle are the only things to which he is truly suited. These days, the words that voice anger take almost no effort at all.

But other words are beyond him, and this he also takes as a sign that his role as Dutch’s enforcer is the only one for him: the poetry in those books that Dutch and Hosea trained him on, nice to read but absent a resonance in his soul, for all of Hosea’s efforts; the soft words that society says are required to earn the attention of ladies, and their more honest cousins that might’ve convinced Mary to stay with him despite her family’s reservations; the words that might explain the sick fear feeling he pushes down whenever a job goes bad and people start shooting at the men who are his brothers, the same feelings responsible for that dark current of betrayal and anger and hurt that still bubble forward whenever he thinks of John and how he left them all behind. Any of the words that really matter, those are the words that are beyond him, and the more they matter, the farther away they are.

But Arthur still tries to give voice to the words that aren’t laden with rage, because— in some abstract way, in the far reaches of his mind, where thoughts coalesce without his coherent awareness— he thinks that the attempt may be one of the things that differentiates him from men like Micah, mad dogs who think with the lowest parts of themselves. He may be a Bad Man, but he is, at least, an honorable one— and he hopes that, should he ever go rabid and violate that honor, Dutch would put him down. (Once, he was certain that this was the case, but the way Dutch talks lately about Micah’s heart, insisting that the snake is a good man underneath a layer of bluster, has Arthur beginning to question what previously was a foundational certainty to the world. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, and so Arthur avoids the thought when possible.)

For the same reasons— similarly inexplicit, less coherent thought and more intuitive groping for some vital resource he’d otherwise lack— he seeks the company of those who should receive such words, to varying extents. Javier and Hosea, Tilly and Karen and Mary Beth and Abigail and Jack, Lenny, Sean and Uncle (nuisance though they are)— once, Dutch and John, though no longer, for different reasons— Charles.

But most of them also draw on his energy; the cost of such conversation is real, for all it does him good, and so he tempers it with periods of solitude, where there is not so much pressure to fill a silence, as if it were an empty thing.

Charles is an exception, and a notable one, and paradoxically that makes Arthur feel far more aware of that pressure of the inadequate language he does have. It’s stranger for all that Charles is new to the gang, only been running with them a few months; Arthur keeps expecting something about the man to change— to learn that his quietness was actually reticence, that he was hiding some part of who he was, surrounded by strange men in this cruel country— but, no, nothing about the wordless easiness that passes between them changes as Charles spends more time with Dutch’s strange family. With Charles, he can ride in silence for hours, broken intermittently by conversation that doesn’t feel forced. They share stories of their past— sometimes the blustery stories that get told around the campfire, but more often the quieter things, the things that would ordinarily feel too vulnerable to share with hard men, even those hard men that were also his brothers by choice: Hosea and Dutch actually teaching him to read, the occasional story about Charles’s mother, the usual tales about old scars, stripped of the veneer of glory and boasting. It was comforting in a way that Arthur was both very aware of and didn’t quite notice directly, and for which he was grateful.

Charles made Arthur aware of other things, too, but the redirection of such wants was something with which Arthur had more practice. If those wants became too much, he’d ride into town and buy the affection of a woman for an evening, charming them and distracting the part of his mind that would’ve preferred it be Charles’ strong, wide hands roaming his body, instead of those of the delicate ladies he typically sought for this purpose. Otherwise, the privacy of Arthur’s imagination was a welcome indulgence, so long as he made sure to remember that what occurred there could only ever exist there— something he could usually manage fine enough.
Arthur thus seeks Charles out, regularly inviting the man on two and three-man missions, as much for their mutual warm and wordless social congruence as for the fact that Charles is legitimately one of the most reliable men running in their gang, solid in a crisis and as capable on his own as he is working in a small group.

Besides, he has plenty of platonic thoughts about Charles— the man, for example, does not have a horse, and that’s a crying shame. He’s been using a rotation of the camp’s spares, and this does not seem to bother him; indeed, he treats those horses as kindly as if they were his own, and had been for years— it is one of the things Arthur respects and admires about the man. And though Charles has never voiced a complaint about this, Arthur notices that his eyes slide over the horses available for sale at various livery stables that they occasionally pass by, never entirely satisfied with what’s available on offer— Arthur can understand this. He is no stranger to riding new horses, but he always has two or three more familiar mounts available, beloved animals that he’s worked with extensively, his stolid reliables. He understands how it feels to be without a horse that’s known to you, but how important it is for that horse to be the right horse, sound of body and compatible of mind with its rider. You can’t rush those kinds of things.

Arthur sometimes finds himself looking at Charles appraisingly, and not just to admire the strength of his form, but to imagine what kind of horse would suit the man. Nothing flashy, not like the Count, or the occasional hotblooded arabian or thoroughbred that tends to catch his own eyes— something solid and as desperately beautiful as is Charles himself, something that was made for the wild and can survive there in a way that the delicate mares of Arthur’s own preference were not made to.

A mare, probably— a reliable lady who knows her own business, who could operate alone as easily as she could lead a herd. It’s hard to find that sort of horse, but he’s seen them before, and Arthur can be a patient man, for the things that really matter.

He finds himself looking over the horses he sees whenever he’s out of camp, trying to match the characteristics he’s been imagining against them. The part of him that thinks without conscious consideration has already made a decision: if he sees an animal that fits, he’ll buy it or catch it or steal it, whichever the situation requires. And because the thought never quite reaches the front of his mind directly, never puts itself to words even for his own consumption, he can never question it or its origins, can never ask himself if this is something he’d’ve done for any other man about whom he felt this way.

To the best of Charles’ knowledge, Arthur isn’t a hunter. He’s heard many stories about Dutch and Arthur and Hosea over these past six months, knows that they’ve all been together for a long long time, but he’s never seen Arthur bring home game nor show an interest in doing so. Hosea is the only one of that three who’ve talked with the familiarity of a hunter, and he’s generally shown more interest in trophies than meat.

(It’s a slight disappointment to Charles; he, too, has noticed and enjoys the way that the two of them fit together well socially, and thinks it would be nice to ask Arthur to join him on his hunting trips, the way Arthur invites him along on jobs. He wonders if it’s because nobody’s ever taught Arthur the skill, or if the man’s just not interested— Charles knows Arthur is capable of the quiet patience required by tracking, but he’s not sure if the man enjoys its exercise.)

Charles is thus surprised by talk around the campfire one night, during one of those stints that has Arthur gone from the camp for several long days at a time. Dutch has started talking about one last big job before they make a break out west, where the Law hasn’t yet entrenched itself quite so firmly; Hosea has joined him in the planning— if slightly reluctantly— as has Micah, who is excited, always restless, seeking hasty action despite the infancy of the job’s planning stages. It’s early enough in the process for the idea to be mostly exciting rumor, and thus the camp discusses it eagerly, even while the ideas percolate, incomplete and unformed, coalescing slowly in Dutch's mind.

Lenny has asked if Arthur’s out casing the potential location of the robbery, but Javier laughs and shakes his head. “Nah, it’s too early for that.” The man answers as he tunes his guitar— he’ll play music before too long, but he’s enjoying the the gossip as much as any of them. “He’s out huntin’.”

Charles has only been paying half attention to the conversation— plans for a job do not interest him until they are more solid, when their potential merits and weaknesses can more properly be assessed, and it’s typically not a great idea for newcomers to a gang to question plans much, anyway. This, though, makes him shift his attention. “Arthur hunts?” he asks, before his mind quite catches up to the fact that he’s speaking.

Javier shakes his head absently, laughing again as he plucks one of the guitar’s strings, checking the correctness of the sound against a tone that exists only in his memory. “Not like you do, for game.” Javier flashes him an amused smile, “But he goes out and catches horses sometimes, wild ones, on his way back from a job sometimes. I seen him do it a few times; uses his lasso to catch one, gets up on its back, and stays on as best he can until it calms down or bucks him off and gets away.” Javier shrugs, shaking his head slightly; it’s a dangerous hobby, but, then, so is everything else about all the things they do together in this gang. Javier won’t begrudge Arthur this. “Sells most of them, I think. Don’t go for much, though, without papers.”

Charles is bemused- he doesn't react verbally, but nobody expects him to. He’d assumed most of those strange horses Arthur rode back to camp were stolen, or conned away from marks, or the mounts of men unlucky enough to cross Arthur with violence. It’s not necessarily hard to square this new piece of information with the image of Arthur that already exists in his mind, but it nevertheless takes him by surprise. Charles wishes to see this process with his own eyes, to see how Arthur applies that gentle reverence, so clearly on display when he brings the creatures back to the camp, to the initial breaking of an uncooperative mustang. It’s an intense desire, exhilarating, and Charles can only hope it does not show on his face.

If it does, the others mistake it for a simpler kind of surprise, and the conversation turns back to topics the others find more interesting— the nascent blackwater job, and what those potential leads might be.

Arthur returns to camp the next night, which is good, because Dutch is starting to get restless and ask after him. Their leader has some duty that he wants to entrust only to his favorite son; if needed, it would’ve probably been foisted off on other shoulders, but that doesn’t mean Dutch will be happy about a second choice, and an unhappy Dutch is a stormy thing that shift the gentle calm of the camp into eddies of tension and discomfort. Charles is standing watch upon Arthur's return, and the relief he feels upon hearing Arthur’s gravely drawl return his hail is a palpable thing.

Arthur has a second horse with him; not unusual, and it recalls the previous night’s conversation to Charles’ mind. He moves out of the way of the two animals and their rider, eyes lingering on the appaloosa coat of the second mare— she is a pretty thing, and Charles wonders if this will be one of the horses Arthur holds onto for awhile.

“Ey Charles, come up the hitching post for a moment.” Arthur calls as he passes, giving his mount— a chestnut mare he’s been riding off and on since Charles joined up with the gang— her head, this close to the camp. She has designs on the hay pile Arthur left out for the herd this morning, and isn’t about to take off anywhere. Charles blinks curiously, looking after them as they go, and rolls his shoulders to himself, following after at a distance far enough not to spook the horses.

Both are tied to the hitching post as Charles reaches them, Arthur removing the saddle on his morgan, clearly in camp to stay for the night. Without being asked, Charles unfastens the bridle, sliding it off the mare’s face. “Dutch was asking after you.” He tells Arthur in a low voice, “Think he has a job.”

Arthur nods, but makes no move to hasten through the work of settling the horses down; he’s moving with a little more tension than usual, a stiffness to his spine and movements that isn’t usually present among the two of them. Charles wonders if it’s about the impending job, or if something happened— he’s resolved to ask, when Arthur pats his morgan on the flank lovingly, letting her move away to join the rest of the herd. He reaches for the appaloosa, and then hesitates a second, half-turning to Charles, that tension still present in his shoulders.

“I, ah.” He begins, and then frowns deeply, his strong features twisting a bit with a specific frustration that Charles does not entirely recognize. He looks at the appaloosa for a long minute, sighs, and then holds out the lead to Charles.

Charles takes the rope automatically, looking uncertainly at Arthur’s face. This action has Significance, but Charles isn’t sure what the significance is, and the tension that Arthur is radiating is really quite similar to that of the appaloosa mare, whose ears are twitching forward and back as she examines these strange surroundings in which she has found herself. Several long, confused seconds pass, and then Arthur says, in a tone full of the same self-directed frustration present in the lines of his body, “You, uh, don’t have a horse. Your own horse. I saw her, and.” He abandons this line of speech abruptly with a shrug, looking away to look at the mare directly; his scowl softens, because it is very possible that Arthur is incapable of looking at a horse with any kind of anger. “She handles real nice, and she’s smart. Gonna need a bit of training, but.” He shrugs, ending that sentence abortively too. “Won’t be offended if you sell her or nothin’, but she’s yours if you want her.” He pats the appaloosa softly on the neck, looking at Charles from the side of his eyes— almost like a horse himself, scoping out a potential threat— before turning on his heel and stalking to Dutch’s tent, ever the obedient son.

Charles has no idea what to make of any of this, so he watches the Arthur’s retreating back for a moment, before turning to look at the mare to look at her more closely. She returns his gaze, eyes sharp and intelligent, sizing him up as if she’s making her own judgments about his worthiness as a rider. For all that he remains bemused, Charles cannot help a smile, patting the mare fondly on the neck as a sense of warmth passes through him, deeply touched.

Arthur has a reverence for horses, and this is no small gift.