Arthur was far from healthy, Charles knew, but at least he was back on his feet.
They had only been living on their little homestead for a few months after nearly a year of running and hiding and praying that every night wouldnt be their last.
And things were looking up. Arthur was able to carry buckets of water and feed, and brush the horses and tend to the goats -- and sometimes Charles even caught him trying to chase a chicken that refused to stay in the pen.
But there were still days where his breaths were too raspy and he tired himself out too quickly and even riding seemed too difficult.
Charles didn’t mind taking on most of the work. He would do whatever it took for him and Arthur to settle down and live an easy life. He worked from dawn to dusk day after day and never let Arthur say one sorry thing about himself because all that mattered was they were alive.
But the feeling of safety didn’t set in right away. It took a while for the fear and the guilt and the feeling that every day they lived on was a lie to wash away.
Until one day Charles caught sight of Arthur rolling in the grass with the mutt they had adopted. The sunlight gleamed in his hair, and his laughter rang out loud and free. He looked happier than Charles has ever seen. So open, so unafraid. Arthur met his eyes, and they both knew.
This was home now.
Charles dropped the lumber he was carrying and kissed Arthur right there in the afternoon sun. It was something they had been without for so long between the running and Arthur’s illness. They had exchanged gentle, chaste kisses and soft, easy touches but nothing this heated and passionate.
They kissed until Arthur had to pull away for breath. He had Charles pinned to the grass, and even through the denim, their hips slotted together so perfectly. Charles moaned softly at the pressure and the friction, and Arthur dived in for another kiss as their hands wandered rough and shameless.
Shirt buttons came undone by fumbling fingers, and whispered curses slipped between their lips as they tried to take as much of each other as they could get.
It was a celebration. A testament.
Arthur’s heart was pounding, beating harder than it had in weeks. He tried to drink in as much of the kiss as he could, but his chest and throat screamed with the need for air. It was torturous, the joy and ecstasy of having Charles in his arms, of feeling their bodies so close.
He craved the friction, the rough scrape of denim against denim and the tug of flannel as their shirt buttons caught against each other. Charles wound his fingers in Arthur’s hair and pulled.
Arthur’s moan was cut off in a ragged gasp that quickly turned to a wheezing cough. He pulled away quickly, falling to his hands and knees as he desperately tried to pull in air between violent, wracking coughs that seemed to shake his ribs in his chest.
Charles was calling to him, but he couldn’t find his voice to answer. The sound of his blood in his ears grew louder and then faded away, and his eyes watered from frustration and pain.
One of his fists beat against the earth. He thought he was past all this. The haunting shadow of his illness had disappeared in the recent months, and to have the reminder come at this moment of all moments felt like the cruelest of punishments.
“I’m sorry,” Charles was saying, again and again as his hand traveled the length of Arthur’s back.
“It’s not your fault,” Arthur managed to say, voice weak and rough. “I guess I still have some healing to do.”
Charles realized too late that a bottle of whiskey apiece was a bit overkill.
He wanted to do something special: the finest cut of meat he could afford from the butcher with all the best herbs he could find on the hillside, fresh vegetables and a pie he bought off the windowsill of one of the houses in town. He had spent the entire day inside cooking, reading off of a faded recipe he had found tucked away in a book
The star of the show was supposed to be the fancy bourbon. One bottle for each of them. Barrel aged for some ridiculous number of years and displayed in a beautiful glass bottle with an artistic label -- the booze had caught his eye almost immediately.
Charles felt a bit silly lighting candles to set at the center of the rickety wooden table next to a mason jar of lupine, especially since they didn't have any fancy plates or silverware -- just the faded tin they always ate off of. He had scrubbed everything as clean as possible and tried to plate the food like one of the fancy restaurants in the city where everything looked too nice and expensive to actually eat.
The sound of the gate latch outside caught his attention, and he straightened his collar and vest as Arthur's boots creaked on the porch.
"Damn, Charles," Arthur said as he stepped inside, tugging his boots off and hanging his hat on its usual peg by the door, "that smells delicious. My mouth was watering from the water pump." He hardly even glanced at Charles at first. His skin was still damp from where he had washed up outside, and his shoulders rolled as he tried to work out the tension from working with the animals.
Charles watched his fingers as Arthur unbuttoned the top of his shirt and then ran a hand through his hair.
Arthur finally noticed the candle and flowers and fancy plating on the table. More importantly, his eyes landed on the crystal bourbon bottles sealed with wax "What's all this for?" He raised an eyebrow.
Charles shrugged. "Just wanted to do something nice. I figured we deserve a night just for us."
Arthur was never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so he simply nodded and took his usual seat. He waited quietly until Charles was done fussing with the table setting and dropping a sprig of rosemary onto both plates before cutting into the meat. All of the hours of hard work were immediately paid in full as Arthur hummed and closed his eyes at the first bite. “Where did you learn to cook like this?” he asked. “I can throw a slab of venison over a fire but I can never make anything that tastes like this.”
Charles bashfully looked at the chipped wooden edge of the table. “I like to read recipes. Whenever I find one I try to hang onto it.”
Arthur nodded appreciatively. “I’ll keep an eye out for any and be sure to grab them for you if I can. I could get used to eating like this.” He used the knife from his belt to break the wax on both of the bottles of bourbon. They raised the bottles in a toast before taking the first drink.
“Rich. Little bit of a kick.” Arthur took another long pull from his bottle. “This fancy label sure wasn’t lying.” He ate and drank enthusiastically, heaping praise onto Charles for his impressive culinary skills. By the time Charles brought out the pie, Arthur had put quite a dent in his bourbon and had the flush to show for it. Still, he wasn’t going to say no to dessert, and Charles happily watched him scrape every last bit of cherry filling from his plate.
“Whew.” Arthur staggered and had to steady himself on the table when he stood. “Been a while since I drank that much.”
Charles smiled fondly as he remembered the days Arthur used to stumble around humming to himself when things got lively at camp. Rosy cheeked and off key with a kind word for everyone he bumped into.
They decided to leave the washing up for the morning and tumbled into bed together. Arthur blinked in surprise when Charles landed beside him, grinning dopily and reaching for him with fumbling hands. “Hey there, handsome,” he purred.
“Hey, yourself,” Charles quipped back, leaning in so their foreheads were pressed together. Their lips barely brushed, and Charles could taste the last bit of cherry filling at the corner of Arthur’s mouth. His hands slid under the open front of Arthur’s shirt, indulgently squeezing at the soft flesh of his chest. Arthur’s own hands found his hips, and Charles let out a panting breath as large fingers kneaded at his ass and thighs.
And then there was an incessant yapping and yowling from outside. At first they tried to ignore it. Surely it would stop if they just ignored it.
The noise didn’t relent.
“That damned dog,” Charles groaned, burying his face in Arthur’s shoulder. “I’ll go see what’s got him making such a racket.” He reluctantly pulled himself away from Arthur and off the bed.
By the time he made it outside, whatever animal it was had long been scared off. The dog sat out in the yard like a loyal soldier waiting for praise. Charles gave it a halfhearted scratch behind the ears and returned to the house.
He heard the snores before he even made it to the bedroom. Sure enough, Arthur was fast asleep. Charles didn’t have it in him to wake him, not when he looked so peaceful and at ease. So he sighed and shucked off his clothes before climbing into bed beside his husband and cursing himself for letting them drink so much.
After his unsuccessful attempt to bed Arthur using a fancy meal and expensive liquor, Charles decided to change his approach. He felt a little ridiculous stooping to such indecent measures, but he wasn’t afraid to exploit his assets if it meant getting Arthur’s attention.
He made sure Arthur was nearby when he began setting out logs to split. He was shirtless… and maybe he had rubbed some flaxseed oil over his chest and shoulders to give his skin a bit of a glow. This was a tactic he had perfected since he first arrived at camp: strategically helping with chores that would let him show off his strength in front of Arthur. It had worked for him this far, and he wasn’t about to give up yet.
The logs split easily under his axe, and he could feel Arthur’s eyes on him the entire time he worked. It would be a long time before they needed more firewood, but Charles was determined to put on the best show possible.
Wiping the sweat from his brow, he stacked the wood at the side of the house and took to his second task. He hoisted the heavy bales of hay and bags of feed over his shoulder again and again, carrying them all the way from the wagon to the barn or from the barn to the animal pens. He knew he was distracting Arthur from his own work, but surely it would all pay off.
Sweet, sweet success came in the form of Arthur’s lips against his jaw as they both washed up at the water pump that evening. They had both stayed out working far later than they meant too, a combination of frequent distraction and their own stubborn diligence. Arthur kissed the rivulets of water from his skin with greedy, needy hands wandering everywhere they could reach. Charles tried to hide his smirk.
He tried to tone it down a bit for supper that evening while still flexing his culinary skills. Instead of rich, heavy food and liquor he settled for something a bit lighter that hopefully wouldn’t knock Arthur out cold.
Charles was the first to make it to bed that night, and he laid out in the low light in nothing but his drawers waiting for Arthur.
Except Arthur didn’t take the bait. Even though his eyes roamed across every inch of Charles and he flushed all the way down to his chest. He simply climbed into bed beside him without even the barest inclination of something intimate.
“You must be exhausted,” he said. “You really worked hard today and you went through the trouble of cooking.”
“I’m not that tired.” The hint was evident in his voice.
“That’s good,” Arthur hummed. “Then I was thinking we could get that new wire set up around the chicken pen. I’m tired of chasing the damn things all over the place.”
“Yeah, I can help with that,” Charles sighed. He loved Arthur to the end of the world and back, but the man was just so damn clueless sometimes.
“Well, goodnight,” Arthur said as he turned out the lamp. Charles was still fighting with himself if he wanted to say something when he heard Arthur’s breathing slow and knew he had fallen asleep.
It was a few more days before Charles caved and finally mustered the courage to just ask for what he needed.
“I miss you,” he murmured one morning as they sat together on the sofa.
Arthur stared at him in confusion. “I haven’t gone anywhere, Charles.”
He shook his head. “Not like that. I miss you . I miss having you.” It was awkward and uncomfortable to talk about. “Ever since you’ve been sick we haven’t been able to sleep together. I thought that maybe you just didn’t feel like it… but it’s starting to feel like I’m doing something wrong.”
“What? No. You’re not doing anything wrong Charles. I love you. And I love being with you. I just have a hard time believing that you would want… that with me. I’m just a sad, ugly old brute.”
Charles scoffed. “Well I’m certainly not going to go sleep with someone else . I want you Arthur. I don’t care that you think you’re ugly and old and sad. You’re still beautiful to me, and I’ve been trying everything I can to get your attention lately.”
Arthur’s eyes widened. “ Oh , that was on purpose.” He stared at Charles. “Do you have any idea of how hard it has been? Watching you these past few days? I can’t take torture like that.”
“You could have done something about it,” Charles challenged him. It was all he had wanted, for Arthur’s infuriating resolve to break and the two of them to fall into bed together. Maybe they wouldn’t even have made it that far.
“I just didn’t think- I didn’t realize.” He deflated, curling in on himself. “I’m sorry if I made you think I didn’t want you. That’s never the case. I just haven’t been feeling up to much of anything lately.”
“Arthur, it’s okay,” Charles assured him. “I love you. I just… I just want to try. Only if you want it too.”
He pulled Arthur into his arms, glad when he didn’t pull away. They kissed hesitantly at first, before growing more confident and each taking more from the other. Arthur’s thigh slipped between Charles’ legs, and the pressure was delightful. He keened and wound his fingers into Arthur’s hair, tugging as he ground his hips downward.
Finally. After weeks and weeks, he was finally able to love Arthur in the way he wanted. The mortifying conversation had paid off. It was this closeness that he craved, the warmth and weight of Artrhur in his arms. Even if Arthur wouldn’t give him everything, this was enough.
But Arthur seemed to want just as much as Charles. His hands wandered everywhere, over his waist and hips, under the hem of his shirt so he could run his palms over Charles’ chest.
And then there was a horrible banging on the door accompanied by an unmistakable voice.
“Arthur Morgan! I’ve got a bounty to collect and I’m not leaving until you open this door!”
The rough voice of Sadie Adler was only slightly muffled by the wood of the door. Arthur and Charles exchanged fond, exasperated glances and reluctantly disentangled from one another. Sadie had not let up in her banging, and had taken to shouting profanities.
When Arthur returned from his ride with Sadie, Charles was simply glad to see him safe. However, worry gripped him when Arthur winced and limped the second he was out of the saddle.
“What happened?” Charles demanded, rushing over to help Arthur up to the house as he cursed and tried to avoid settling too much weight on his right leg.
“You’re gonna laugh at me,” Arthur grumbled.
Charles was considerably less worried at that statement. At least Arthur didn’t get hurt doing something life-threatening and dangerous with Sadie. An embarrassing injury was probably a best case scenario.
“I’m going to find out one way or another,” Charles said, helping Arthur onto the sofa and turning to fetch some medicine from the cabinet.
“It was Buell,” Arthur said quietly, maybe he hoped Charles wouldn’t hear.
He couldn’t suppress a snort of laughter. “That beast is nothing but trouble.”
“I know,” Arthur groused. “He bucked me for no goddamn reason and now my hip hurts like hell.”
Charles mustered some sympathy for his poor, injured husband and handed over the bottle of medicine. “You and that horse are made for each other. Stubborn as can be.”
“You gonna hang around in here all day and give me grief?” Arthur’s irritation didn’t run as deep as his words impled. He was a little frustrated, but not angry. He most likely just wanted to be alone so he could wallow and feel sorry for himself.“Don’t you have something else to do?” Charles kissed him on the cheek.
“Holler if you need anything. I’ll be close by.”
That night, after Charles had helped him out of his clothes and into bed, Arthur spoke up.
“I’ve been thinking about what you said…” he started. “About being more intimate with each other.”
Charles was not expecting that particular topic of conversation and immediately perked up. “Yeah?”
“I want to try it,” Arthur said. “I want it just as bad as you do, even though I’m not as… lively as I used to be.”
None of that mattered to Charles. He leaned over to kiss Arthur, surprised when he was met with even more intensity.
“It feels like everything on earth has gotten in our way,” he complained, kissing Charles deeply and rolling until he was on top. The only response he received was a frustrated groan and a pair of hands tugging at his drawers.
It was perfect. They finally had the time, the privacy, the strength. Charles couldn’t help the shiver of anticipation that seemed to light up across his skin. He let Arthur undress him, a smattering of reverent kisses and desperate touches as he settled between his legs. Arthur took notice of just how eager Charles truly was as his cock twitched against his hips.
Arthur took his time getting him ready. His fingers were more than Charles had taken in a long time, and he could probably finish just from the way Arthur’s knuckles brushed the perfect spot. It was perfect, and he knew he sounded like a fool when he whispered garbled words of adoration at every crook and flex of Arthur’s fingers.
But he wanted more.
Arthur kissed him gently, lining himself up and sinking into Charles with a string of profanity. It had been just as long for him, after every time they had tried and wanted and been interrupted, and it felt almost meaningful as they gasped and moaned in their dim bedroom.
“Please,” Charles asked. Arthur didn’t need any more encouragement. He rocked his hips forward, slowly at first but more forceful with every motion.
At first, Charles mistook Arthur’s expression for one of pleasure rather than pain, but his discomfort quickly became evident as he pulled away and lowered himself back onto the bed.
“Damn it,” he cursed. “It’s my hip.”
Charles immediately felt a pang of regret. He should have known better. He shouldn’t have tried to sleep with Arthur when he had just gotten injured.
“It’s alright, Arthur,” Charles assured him. “You need time to rest and heal.”
Arthur reached for him, brows furrowing. “But I want to. I want this. There’s got to be something I can do. I feel like a useless old man.”
Charles thought for a moment. “You fingers,” he admitted. “I was so close even then. That was more than enough.”
The idea seemed to appease Arthur. Charles let him get situated however was most comfortable. He tried to put as much gratitude and sympathy as he could into a single kiss, hoping Arthur would understand.
As soon as they were far enough from town and certain that trouble wasn’t on their trail, Arthur reared to a stop.
Charles was expecting the way Arthur ran to him, cupping his face in his hands and carefully looking him over. His lip was bloodied, and bruises were beginning to show across his cheek and jaw. There was a scrape over his brow as well, but Charles had endured far worse many times before.
What he wasn’t expecting was the fierce press of Arthur’s lips against his. A fiery, desperate kiss that made his heart thrum and his stomach flip in excitement. While he wasn’t sure that this was the best time for such activities, he didn’t have it in him to push Arthur away.
He hadn’t wanted to fight. It was always a last resort. But those men had thrown the first punch, and he wasn’t going to let them get away with their stupidity. Arthur hadn’t even had time to join in on the scuffle. By the time he had helped the poor woman out of the way and made sure she was unharmed, Charles was standing over three unconscious bodies, chest heaving and knuckles bloodied.
Still, as he tasted his own blood on Arthur’s tongue, he couldn’t help but pull away. “What’s all this about?” he asked.
Arthur’s eyes were dark with desire. “There’s something about watching you fight. I don’t know.”
It was something he had always loved about Charles. His skill with a bow, his knowledge, his confidence. The way he could take a hit and hit back twice as hard. He was one of the strongest men Arthur had ever met, not to mention loyal and compassionate and kind.
He leaned in once more.
Charles kissed back hesitantly. He was flattered that Arthur wanted him, but he also felt a sense of resentment towards Dutch for the violence he had imparted onto his son. Arthur was raised in nothing but fights and brawls, always sent to clean up Dutch’s messes.
But it was hard to find complaint when Arthur’s palm found his cock through the thick fabric of his pants. His breath was hot against Charles’ skin, and the sound that escaped his throat was almost needy.
“I want you,” Arthur panted. “Need you inside me.” He was already shoving his own pants down his legs.
Charles found his fumbling, desperate movements amusing. “Slow down there, old man. Wouldn’t want to hurt yourself again.”
Arthur shot him a glare.
They both shed their clothes, kissing and touching the entire time. Arthur was already reaching to get himself ready, but he let Charles take the lead as he settled between Arthur’s thighs.
Arthur’s expression was so adoring, so wanting. Charles couldn’t help but to lean in to him, to try and be as close as possible. He wondered if he could make Arthur come with just his fingers, but he had to be patient.
It was all worth it when Arthur straddled his hips and sank down on him to the hilt. The weeks of wanting, of waiting, didn’t sting so much when he had Arthur like this. Just for him, so loving and desperate.
They came together, Arthur’s eyes fluttering shut and his head thrown back in ecstasy. Charles thought he might have looked like an angel.
“I love you,” he whispered, pulling Arthur in close and savoring every second as they lay there skin to skin.
“I love you too,” Arthur murmured. “And I certainly think we should do this more often.”
Charles chuckled. “Maybe without a brawl in the middle of the streets?”
“Yeah,” Arthur conceded. “That might be a good idea.”